There is something base and bestial in the way Game of Thrones is consumed. It’s almost like the appreciation for it stems from sheer desperation to be a part of the greater conversation than anything resembling an intrinsic interest in the medium of storytelling. If narrative storytelling was the most important aspect which determined one’s engagement with a particular film or series, then watching the live action version and not reading the source material from which is was based would be inauthentic. I’m not making the argument that we should all read the books before watching the show, absolutely not, but I’ve written enough essays about my favourite works to know that when translating a work from one medium to another, there are some nuances that will be lost in one another’s ether. It’s with all this in mind that I feel as if there is something wrong with the way that GOT is being consumed, not that I’m making the argument that there’s a right or wrong way to consume media either! GOT is an extremely influential property, but the love for it seems be from the perspective of the general public which one has chosen to represent, and not from a place that truly loves to engage with the story being told.
This only became a problem for me when a friend of mine started to watch GOT because “everyone was watching it”, and I would constantly hear the words, “You have to watch Game of Thrones” being thrown around as if such a practice is beneficial in any medium. If this is how and why GOT fans are watching it then I wonder if the enjoyment for it is genuine or not. If watching Game of Thrones is for reasons that don’t include a love for the story, the characters and the world that George R.R. Martin has built, then it wouldn’t be far off to assume that the need to be a part of this world is born from a desire to engage in the greater cultural debate that it inspires, and not what the story represents in the geek culture consciousness. What’s more, these days, it’s become uncool to not have seen GOT, than it is to eloquently allay every piece of symbolism that is woven therein, and to write 1000’s of words analysing the multitude of themes with which the story is abundant. Indeed, it would be much easier to convince you to watch the show for all the reasons I’ve just mentioned, but these are all the subtle details that film geeks like myself find the most value in, and isn’t a proponent that others who do love the series are interested in partaking in. To deprive you of the satisfaction to find your own personal resonance with the show will be no different than just telling you to watch it because “everyone is watching it.”
It would not be astronomically farther from the truth to say that narrative storytelling alone is the core appeal of the show. It certainly is a huge proponent that has played a large part in ensuring the longevity of the series, but more than that, that factor has been fundamentally detrimental to not just the story, but the future of all stories that receive the same following. To assume that everyone has to watch the series purely by virtue of its influence in the greater cultural consciousness runs the risk of stories that live purely on the strength of that popularity and not the merit of its storytelling. Let’s be clear here, no one HAS to watch anything, but at the same time, there is no way to consume media so wrong that it may kill you. An argument could be made as to why others should watch a particular show, film or series, or why they should value its existence, which is what I like to do with my favourite comics and anime. I like to make an argument of why these stories matter, and why you should love it as I do, and the fact that it is a popular show is neither here nor there. A subjective interpretation of why a particular work is great is better than abiding to the standards set by a non-existent objective community.
Finding the line between what is popular and what has value could mean the difference between pandering works of art and industry-defining stories. GOT is, no questions about it, an industry-defining story. To say that its popularity is baseless is not giving much credit to the technical achievement of the world that’s been built through years and years by extremely talented writers, producers and actors (I love you so much, Nathalie Emmanuel). The line that separates the valid and invalid way in which a story should be experienced is ‘engagement’. A personal engagement with the story and characters being told is the purest way to have a fulfilling experience, but an engagement with the community and the ones that seek to tell you that this is the only way that your life can be better will lead to a inauthentic appreciation of the story and a shallow understanding of what it’s trying to communicate. Perhaps, you should watch GOT, but only for you… Only if you love dark fantasy; only if you love compelling characterisation; and only if you love strong, well-developed world-building. Or just don’t watch it… Because, like all things, it’s only important if you want it to be.
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