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Game of Thrones is True Blood in Medieval Drag

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If you want to see a glimpse of George R.R. Martin’s complex and epic fantasy series, it’s nowhere to be found in HBO’s Game of Thrones. But if you want to catch True Blood in medieval drag, it’s there and you’re welcome to it. But where True Blood’s campy soap may be a fair tribute to the original, Game of Thrones isn’t. Instead it maximizes the trashiest elements and wallows in them putting something that’s closer to Guccione’s Caligula than a quality production.

Watching the first 15 minutes that HBO put online, it’s easy to feel good about Game of Thrones. But that 15 minutes gives you about as much of the world building and the fantasy background as you’re going to get. It also gives you some of the better acting in the first episode. From there on in, it gets worse. Much worse.

No one involved with Game of Thrones seems to care much about establishing a plausible world, but they care even less about character background. And that quickly boils Martin’s complex intuitive tales about human vulnerability into a stream of bedhopping instead. Take the scene where Daenerys is told by her brother (one of the worst actors on the series) about her fate. What is a story about an abused young girl who is the heir to a lost kingdom on the page, loses all its context on screen for nothing more than a prolonged nude scene. When Daenerys says that she too wants to go home, the viewer assumes that she shares her brother’s motivation, but the reader knows that she only wants the small house where she lived for a while as refugees. The red door that was a symbol of her childhood is gone, and the 13 year old girl is aged enough that HBO can decontextualize what’s going on for a prolonged nude scene.

The rest of the first episode isn’t as bad, but it’s up there. Sean Bean is the name actor and the central redeeming factor. When he’s on screen the story has weight, but it doesn’t keep that weight for long when he’s off screen. The production tries to invest the northern life of the Stark clan with some authenticity, but it eagerly slips out to the bedhopping royals that it’s sure the audience really wants.

For an HBO series, the bad acting is surprisingly commonplace. But it’s not because so many of the actors are bad, but because the material isn’t being taken seriously. It’s True Blood in medieval drag, and too many of the actors treat it that way. There’s little suspense and unsubtle foreshadowing. The networks may be canceling the soaps, but HBO and Showtime are investing in a new kind of soap.

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