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Simonson Says: What's wrong (and very right) with Westeros

As many of you probably know, the much-anticipated third season of “Game of Thrones” premiered yesterday. I never thought I’d join the legion of “Game of Thrones” addicts when it first started becoming insanely popular a year or two ago. As far as I could tell, it represented everything that tends to put me off about fantasy series that aren’t “Harry Potter”: too many characters to keep track of or connect to with unnecessarily intricate backstories, drawn-out battle scenes wherein you can’t distinguish one frame from the last, and lengthy conversations of exposition and political intrigue that no one but the author could possibly follow or care about, all overstuffing a premise that is the very definition of “pedestrian.”

I first felt hints of intrigue about the show when I saw a gif of one of the characters. I didn’t even know she was from “Game of Thrones” until much later, but she looked exactly like my mental picture of the main character in the book I started writing/procrastinating three years ago. You know how, when you finally see a long-hyped movie or TV series that you feel like you’ve seen trailers and pictures of for years, you look for and latch onto the one character you remember from the promos? Well, I latched onto Daenerys before I’d even seen the show, but I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get into or keep up with the show even if I wanted to.

So I got my husband the first season for Christmas. I knew it’d be exactly his cup of tea (apart from the nudity — more on that later), so it wouldn’t be a waste of money even if I didn’t like it. I wanted to like it, though, which is rare for me. I’m not the biggest TV-watcher. I mean, I watch off-the-air sitcoms on Netflix and check Amazon every day for a new episode of “The Big Bang Theory,” but rarely do I actively seek out a TV series just to find out what all the fuss is about. Few turn out to be worth the time and energy required to get comfortable with them.

My husband and I were instantly hooked on the world of Westeros. The characters and their various storylines are so compelling that you don’t groan every time the camera ditches your favorite character for another setting, and it’s actually so light on the fantasy element — opting instead for ultra-gritty, violent drama that disturbingly captures what the Middle Ages of our own earth must’ve been like — that when the dragons, demons or zombies do pop in for a spell, you’re actually surprised, intrigued and left wanting more of them when the focus switches yet again. I’m even on the edge of my seat during the political back-and-forths, because darn it, Tyrion Lannister is just too clever and enigmatic. He’s like the Captain Jack Sparrow of this show.

Another aspect of this show done uncommonly right is the sheer array and diversity (personality-wise, anyway) of the female characters. It’s just not often that we get a franchise of this genre with even a quarter as many prominent, compelling female characters as there are males.

It’s this very strength, though, that makes the prevalence of sexualized female nudity on the show feel like a betrayal. I’m no big fan of nudity in TV and film, but I understand and can even appreciate that it adds to the unabashedly dark realism of the show. However, it detracts quite a bit from said realism when the women on the show are constantly naked and the men hardly ever are. You can’t claim “but we have to show it ’cause it’s like reality!” and then pretend it’s only beautiful women who ever get naked (yeah, yeah, I remember Theon . . . unfortunately). It can really be a letdown to female viewers when we think we’ve finally found a show that respects its female characters as fully developed human beings, only to find that it not only panders to the male gaze, but does so to a staggering degree.

As an aspiring (read: procrastinating) writer, though, I think the artistic merits of the show outweigh the aspects where it disappoints. I hear the books by George R.R. Martin flesh out the female characters more and focus slightly less on their physical assets, so I plan to read them after this season. For those of you who’ve seen the season premiere, no spoilers, please (I don’t even have basic cable, much less HBO). I’ve already been spoiled far too much. I know about Tyrion and . . . ah, I’ll return the favor and keep quiet.

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