There will be Game of Thrones spoilers in this post.
George R. R. Martin can write.1 I’ve known that since I read A Game of Thrones nearly 20 years ago. I was bothered by crippling a child in one of the first scenes, and by the time I got to Ned Stark’s execution at the end of the book I knew that the series wasn’t for me. I haven’t read any other books in the series, and I haven’t watched a single episode of the HBO adaptation. But, because I follow a lot of pop culture with interest, I do keep up with most of the memorable moments. From the Red Wedding to the death of Jon Snow, I keep tabs.
And it’s pretty grim stuff.
It turns out that Jon Snow’s not dead after all, by the way. This is the big reveal in the most recent episode, but it was overshadowed by, you know, brutally feeding a mother and her child to a pack of ravenous dogs. Here’s what Kelly Lawler wrote about it:
So in an episode where fans were given what might be the greatest news they could hope for, they were also treated to a mother and newborn child being eaten alive by dogs. Why? I couldn’t tell you, but I can tell you that an episode like “Home” demonstrates what is the fundamental underpinning of this show: It will do anything in its desperation to shock you. And while having actors and producers flat-out lie for a year in the press is the more innocent end of that spectrum, we certainly hope we’re not forced to listen to more infants being eaten alive. Because that’s not the shock we’re looking for.
Lawler goes on:
And so the audience was treated to the sounds and very nearly the sight of a woman and her newborn son being ripped apart by dogs. We’ve already seen countless women raped, a young girl burned alive by her own father, not to mention the weekly grind of violence and death we’ve become accustomed to. Sure, some of that is par for the course with the genre and the path this show has decided to take, but even for the most ardent fans, for the most faithful viewer, when is enough enough? Is there no line this show won’t cross?
There is something that people do not seem to understand about values, and it is this. Particular values are subjective and contingent. But having values at all is objective and universal. Where a society chooses to draw lines in what is acceptable and what is not changes with history and location and context. That societies draw lines is not.
Lawler seems to think that the important question is, how far do you go? But that doesn’t really matter, because different societies–and different individuals–have their own tolerances and their own lines in the sand. Location is largely meaningless. What matters is direction. Lawler writes that the show “will do anything in its desperation to shock you.” Why desperation? Because the more you shock the audience, the less sensitive they become.
No matter what your tolerances are, the danger–I believe–comes in crossing them habitually and for no higher purpose and in so doing desensitizing yourself. The world we live in certainly does not need less sensitivity. It certainly does not need less empathy. It does not need less light.2
Just something to think about.