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Flatiron Hot! News | January 17, 2018

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The New York Times Critics Just Don’t Get Game of Thrones

The New York Times Critics Just Don’t Get Game of Thrones
Eric Shapiro

The New York Times doesn’t get Game of Thrones, or the fantasy genre for that matter. One of the most (justifiably) prestigious publications in the world forfeits all credibility when it comes to nerd culture. Faced with true, unabashed fantasy, they are unable to delve beneath the set pieces and magic to focus on substance.

In her embarrassing review of Game of Thrones’ first season, Ginia Bellafante writes: “If you are not averse to the Dungeons & Dragons aesthetic, the series might be worth the effort. If you are nearly anyone else, you will hunger for HBO to get back to the business of languages for which we already have a dictionary.”

Here we see a critic totally unwilling to engage with the material in front of her, instead resorting to attacks on a genre she is not personally inclined towards. Of course, it did not take long for Game of Thrones to prove her wrong; it is a commonly-cited fact that the show has drawn in many viewers otherwise disinterested in the fantasy genre.

Most irksome of all, however, is the fact that said critics are unable to examine sex and gender through anything but a modern lens, one that is insufficient to comprehend the subtle points Game of Thrones makes about human sexuality. To be sure, the show’s tendency towards sexposition can be gratuitous, but does it warrant this absurd statement?: “The true perversion, though, is the sense you get that all of this illicitness has been tossed in as a little something for the ladies, out of a justifiable fear, perhaps, that no woman alive would watch otherwise.”

Never mind that it is difficult to see how graphic sex scenes will somehow attract women to a show they would otherwise stay away from, a highly condescending notion that insults the intelligence of female viewers. Can anyone really call the sex scenes between Danaerys and Khal Drogo, Tyrian Lannister and Shae, Jaime Lannister and Cersei Lannister, superfluous? Such relationships are essential to the story and, at times, quite meaningful.

Neil Genzlinger’s review of season 2 to is slightly more substantive, but still refuses to critique Game of Thrones for what it is rather than what it should be. He simply assumes that because he is not interested in following the complex web of separate yet interconnected narratives that is the essence of Game of Thrones, nobody is. He writes:

“The new season of this dense medieval fantasy set in a land called Westeros serves up a whole bunch of wartime posturing, a seemingly endless number of would-be rulers and the usual sex and (sometimes in the same scene) violence. But it sure doesn’t give viewers much to latch onto.” This is an extremely reductive way to describe the series, and denotes an unwillingness or inability to grapple with Game of Thrones’ dense, but rewarding, narrative structure. The great Russian novels have far more characters than Game of Thrones. Is this legitimate grounds to criticize them? It is one thing for Genzlinger to say that he does not prefer this kind of story. It is quite another to say that it is a weakness, and that the lack of one central protagonist means, by definition, the audience cannot become invested in the multitude of key players.

Ganzlinger continues: “What “Game of Thrones” needs if it is to expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types is what most of the United States didn’t get this year: a hard winter.”

Once again, Ganzlinger invokes the tired trope that only nerdy fantasy lovers are interested in what Game of Thrones has to offer. Its audience of millions and status as one of the most watched shows on TV (not to mention the most pirated) puts the lie to this statement. This is not to say size of audience equals quality. But it does prove that the show has wide appeal. Finally, the “long winter” Ganzlinger anticipates, a reference to the invasion of the White Walkers from the North, says a lot about his proclivities. If he prefers constant action and instant gratification in a fantasy setting, there are plenty of other series he can check out. That is, if he’s willing to get over himself and join the “Dungeons and Dragons types.” Don’t worry, Neil, it isn’t the Night’s Watch; you don’t have to remain celibate.

For Game of Thrones’ third season, Mike Hale grabs the baton of unfair criticism, albeit from the perspective of someone familiar with the fantasy genre. Unfortunately, this familiarity doesn’t amount to substantive insight. Following in the footsteps of many other critics, Hale compares Game of Thrones unfavorably to Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter. He does not back up his assertion, but the mere comparison is lazy and makes about as much sense as comparing Saving Private Ryan and Inglorious Basterds because they both take place during World War II. Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter are “greater achievements” and Game of Thrones is “overrated.” What does this mean? Are apples “greater” than oranges?

Hale also expands on Ganzlinger’s assertion that a dense, complex narrative featuring a large cast of characters is inherently a bad thing, rather than a narrative choice that has no bearing on quality. For this reason, Game of Thrones is allegedly comparable to Boardwalk Empire and Band of Brothers, two drastically different works with the only similarity being a slew of different characters and plotlines, which is apparently too much for Hale’s need for straightforward narrative purity.

It would be unfair to critique The New York Times’ review of season 4 because it hasn’t premiered yet, but it appears to be just as elitist and ignorant as its predecessors. Stay tuned for analysis.