2 December, 2021

Gimbling in the Wabe – In Which I Make a Confession

I have a confession to make.  I’m a wimp.Game of Thrones Jamie

Not in everything.  I’m a competent person; some who know me say I’m a very strong person.  I can put up with a lot, I’ve been able to handle a fair share of disappointment and heartache, and I’ve raised two children past the teenaged years – we’ve all come out of it relatively unscathed.

But I don’t think I’ll be able to make it through HBO’s “Game of Thrones”.

I love the books, passionately.  I’ve read all five of the “Song of Ice and Fire” books that George R.R. Martin has written so far, multiple times.  I’ve debated them with my son, who is also a big fan, and we’ve batted lots of theories and potentialities around as to motivations (on character and author alike) and what might happen in future volumes.

So when I heard HBO was making a television series based on the books, I was cautiously excited.  Upon learning that George R.R. Martin would be involved in the production, I dropped the caution and was openly enthusiastic.  Although finances kept me from being an HBO subscriber, I nevertheless kept up on the progress of filming; I followed fan sites and hung on casting announcements, thrilled to the photos that were released and devoured every teaser and trailer.

When the show debuted, I had to settle hearing about it from my son, who watched it (and still does) religiously.  He kept me filled in about the differences in the HBO series and the books, and we discussed their merits and drawbacks.  He gushed about individual acting performances, and how wonderfully the world of Westeros was being realized (and his disappointments -there were some, yes).

When the first season was released on DvD, it was the one thing I asked for and received for Christmas. I watched the first episode almost immediately, and was amazed and thrilled.  But then a strange thing happened.  I put the boxed set aside.  The excuse I told myself was that I wanted to find the right time to really delve into it, but to be honest, watching the TV show made me uncomfortable.

It wasn’t just the violence (which the books are known for) or all the exposed flesh (which HBO is known for) – I certainly was aware of what would be happening.  And there was so much to love about the series: the look and feel of the world was spot on, the performances were solid, the actors believable, the action, the dialog, the story – it all held together remarkably well.  So why, although I took great satisfaction in having the boxed set, was I so reticent in utilizing it?

Finally, months later, I managed to watch that first season – most of it.  I got to 9 out of 10 episodes.  But towards the end of the 9th episode, I stopped, unable to finish.

I doubt as if it’s a spoiler anymore, to say that the scene I could not watch was the one in which a main character is beheaded.  It’s not just the beheading that is hard, but that it was unnecessary and unexpected, after the reader/viewer had been led to believe there would clemency, where the situation demanded clemency.  I knew what was happening, why it was happening, what the fallout would be of its happening – yet I simply could not bring myself to watch that scene.  I hit a brick wall, and the boxed set went back on the shelf.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago.  The third season of Game of Thrones has aired, and the fourth season is set to start soon.  Talk is that the television series might outpace GRRM’s writing of the books themselves, and speculation is that if that happens, it may signal the end of the world as we know it.  I, however, discovered that my local library had boxed sets of Game of Thrones to lend, so after a long wait in a virtual line, I finally had a copy of the second season in my hands, and a week in which to watch it.

I had a game plan.  I returned to the first season and re-watched Episode 9, skipping the dreaded ending.  Yes, I just plain chickened out and moved past the scary part, the part I couldn’t face earlier, then proceeded to finish that first season and moved on to the second season in full anticipatory regalia.

And again, I stalled out.

This time, there was no good reason on why I couldn’t move forward after watching that first episode.   Certainly more horrific things had occurred earlier and far, far more horrific things would be occurring in the future – I knew that from reading the books.  Yet I found myself the night after watching that first episode pacing in the dark of my front porch, highly agitated.  I felt off, wrong, a feeling the extended to my bones.

I returned the boxed set to the library the next day.

Like I said, I’m a wuss.

I honestly don’t know why I failed so miserably in being able to watch “Game of Thrones”.  It’s not that the action was more visceral than in the books; perhaps even less so, because while in the books you can stop at something particularly unexpected or sudden (or beautiful), you can go back and reread it again, to make sure you “got it right”, whereas on television there would be no stopping, no non-artificial ability to back up and go over it again (certainly not on broadcast viewing).  And usually in the show – not always, but usually – the most violent acts were mercifully muted, with quick cutaways or a change in point of view, a quick fade to black.  Not so in the books, they were clear in what was happening, no inference utilized.  So why could I read the horror and the gore and the bloodshed and the heartache in great detail, and not watch a modicum of it on the small screen?

Perhaps it is due to how I process what I take in through my senses.  It’s always been easier for me to learn by watching than by listening; even more so, to learn by doing, even if that “doing” is an adjunct to the learning.  For example, in school I was a copious note taker, because that was how I absorbed the material.  When learning foreign languages – never an easy topic for me – I would copy and recopy reams of vocabulary words in order to absorb them, rather than speaking them out loud, often in exaggerated, large characters.  It was tying the visual with the mechanical where I did my deepest learning.

Both watching a screen and reading a book are visual acts.  While reading uses the imagination far more than watching a screen, we take in both the print on the page and the pixels on the screen with our eyes.  Yet in reading, although the experience is far more varied, vast, and personal, it also gives us the ability to take a step back, to understand intellectually, even sensorially, without having to concretely visualize what is going on in specific detail (at least for me).  What detail I do supply is intrinsic and understood without an external definition, it flushes my experience fully dependent on the skill of the writer and how deeply I am engaged in the words on the page.

Yet, I do not think I imagine in color when I read; it is both less visual and more personal than that.  I feel what I read rather than see what is happening, even though I take in the gist of the stimulus with my eyes.  I glimpse images, scenery, faces, colors, landscapes, but the “reality” of them as defined images is just not as important as the flow of the words and how they charge my deepest imagination.  It’s very hard to describe, but I’m willing to bet that a lot of you know of what it is I am attempting to relate.

When I read, the impact of the words becomes real to me without hinging on physical images.  In this way, I am able to encounter the horrific, the graphic, the visceral, the painful – and the glorious, the beautiful, the achingly lovely or achingly sad – the colors and shapes and sizes, and the smells and tastes and touches that are carried on those words in a way that doesn’t blunt the heart or the mind with a concrete reality, but allows me to experience the written word in an intimately personal way.  So when the colors and shapes and sizes are flashed on a screen, all vibrant and real and thrumming, when that buffer between my mind and my mind’s eye does not exist, it’s almost as if what I care about becomes hyper-real.  It’s more than I can take.

And I chicken out.  I become a wuss.

But you know, enjoyment is not a competition.  I know my son is somewhat disappointed that I’ll be unable to revel in the finer points of “Game of Thrones” with him, but that’s a disappointment we both can live with.  We still have the books, and I’ll still be able to follow along with his rants, his raves, his theories and his reactions to the show.  And I’ll still follow the trailers when they come out, getting a glimpse of the fullness of that interpretation of the books, and maybe, just maybe, I’ll try checking the boxed set out again.  Someday.  Maybe it would be better to try to watch in the summer, rather than in the winter.

Or maybe I’ll just wait to enter that world until the next book comes out.  That experience I will devour with bated breath.  With that experience, no matter what comes, I will be fearless and dauntless and even brash.  With that, I will be brave.

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