Alyssa Rosenberg: How much violence is too much on ‘Game of Thrones’? {Spoilers}


Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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42 Responses

  1. The reason Ned Stark’s (Sean Bean) beheading at the end of the first season of “Game of Thrones” is so upsetting isn’t just because of the blood or violence involved. It’s because Ned’s death lets us know what characters like Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) have done and are willing to keep doing to survive

    That is, Rosenberg has no idea why Ned got killed and who did and didn’t want that to happen.Report

    • Avatar Don Zeko says:

      I doubt many show watchers (or book readers, for that matter) would know who to, ahem, finger for that particular crime.Report

      • Even he didn’t expect Ned to wind up dead. The fix was in: Ned would confess to being a traitor and be allowed to take the Black, which gets him completely out of the way (at the edge of the world and sworn not to mess with politics) without starting a civil war. But they didn’t figure on a certain monster whose word was law.Report

        • Avatar Don Zeko says:

          The circumstantial case is fairly convincing that somebody whispered in Joffrey’s ear. So who benefits from a dead Ned? Like you say, Ned’s death prevented the quick and relatively bloodless resolution of the war, which was what both the Starks and the Lannisters all wanted. Littlefinger, on the other hand, ungrq Arq sbe zneelvat Png, fcrag gur ragver svefg obbx pbafcvevat gb oevat gur Ynaavfgref naq Fgnexf vagb ivbyrag pbasyvpg, and saw instability and war as a ladder by which he could punish those that he felt had slighted him and achieve the power, love, and social standing that he felt had been denied him due to his low birth.Report

          • Interesting. I’d never gone beyond “Sure, that’s what monsters like Joffrey do”, but you make a plausible case. Though one of Joffrey’s motives was that he enjoyed being sadistic towards Sansa, and hurting her is one of the few things Littlefinger wouldn’t do.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              The key in the show was the reaction shot. Varys and Cersei screaming, and Littlefinger sitting there smirking.Report

            • Avatar Don Zeko says:

              If Littlefinger was so concerned about causing Sansa emotional harm, he wouldn’t have done, well, anything that he did in the series.Report

              • Avatar A Teacher says:

                It’s all about the goals. Sure she cries a little today, but he’s not someone who tries to win a game of chess on the first 10 moves. He’s got his win marked for move #408.Report

    • Avatar James K says:


      Indeed, she managed to get both the decision-maker and the motive wrong. Although, I submit the most shocking death of Season 1 wasn’t Eddard Stark, it was Drogo and Danaerys’s child.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      This ignores that Cersei had brokered a “confession” out of Ned, in exchange for which he’d get to take the black and his family would get to go home to Winterfell except for Hostage Sansa. Little Joffrey The Pissant ruined it all by insisting on another wolf being slain.

      The violence was necessary to the narrative there because Ned alive would have been too strong a focus for anti-Lannister resistance: even untested young Robb inherited that charisma and made a credible bid for independence. Leaving Ned in the picture means too many people agitating for King Eddard, the first of his name, of House Stark.Report

      • You’re forgetting about the oath that accompanies taking the Black. As much as Robert wants to kill every Targaryen, even children, he has no fear of ones in the Night Watch. And a publicly disgraced Ned, succeeded by his son in lawful fashion, is not particularly a source of outrage.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Tywin Lannister summarized it as “Madness and stupidity” and then backed up his sentiments with action by dispatching his most despised child to take charge of Kings’ Landing in his absence.Report

        • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:

          I agree with Mike’s assessment here. In the GoT world, taking the Black really is a magical reset button. It restores family honor, forgives you for murder, removes you as a threat to someone’s power, etc. And Ned was considered the most honorable man in Westeros. If he had taken the Black everyone would have known that removed him from the game.Report

    • Avatar El Muneco says:

      Sean Bean being beheaded wasn’t a surprise to anyone who has been paying attention to his career. If there was any surprise, it’s that it was in the first act, not the third….Report

    • Avatar A Teacher says:

      I think she’s very aware of who the culprit was in that particular case, but also that said guilty party isn’t a factor into the modern seasons. Lady Lannister, on the other hand, certainly ~is~ still a factor and her character weighs heavily on the minds of current viewers.

      Though I might take her to task for saying “to survive”….. She is clearly not just surviving, she is reaching for every bit of power she can.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Tywin’s child knows well the need for power, in order to survive. Does she reach for it as a sort of protection? Of course — for well she knows what lot the powerless have in life, adrift on the fated winds like thistledown.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko says:

        When you play the game of thrones, you win, or you die.Report

  2. Avatar LeeEsq says:

    Game of Thrones is supposed to be a deconstruction of the sanitized medieval world of the typical fantasy novel. It goes to far in the other direction at times though.Report

  3. Avatar Saul Degraw says:

    You know, I’ve never seen an episode of Game of Thrones and probably never well. One day I am going to work on essay on why the Internet seems to make pop culture a compulsion.Report

    • Avatar Mike Dwyer says:


      Wasn’t a lot of the high-culture that you prefer to consume actually the pop culture of its day?Report

      • Avatar LeeEsq says:

        Some high culture used to be the pop culture of it’s day but a lot of it was high culture and remained so. During the late 19th century pop culture was vaudeville, music hall, sports, and early movies. The popular theater were melodramas were basically spectacles on stage rather than Ibsen or Chekov.Report

    • Which is entirely up to you. But can you see how off-putting it is when you say it that way?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      It’s better than dune.
      But if you’ve never seen Lynch’s Dune, you owe it to yourself to watch it — simply for the set design and worldbuilding.
      Lynch given a budget does amazing work.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    When I was a kid, we regularly had access to books that talked about pop culture and how wicked it was. Lyrics of “rock and roll” songs were listed (and the phrases from the songs that were played backwards) and scenes from popular movies, television shows, and even Saturday Morning Cartoons were dissected.

    Look at this album cover!
    Look at this stage outfit!
    Read what Papa Smurf said!

    Those provincial rubes.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      I never understood this aspect of Protestant Christianity. The Catholic Church exerted a great deal of moral censorship but it wasn’t as total as what some Protestants went for. The Catholic Church was perfectly fine with secular entertainment as long as it wasn’t too against the teachings of the Church. So something like a Frank Capra movie or Frank Sinatra would be fine for Catholics to watch or listen to. Some of the Protestant Churches went completely against all secular entertainment. If it wasn’t about Jesus, it was evil and immoral.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        “The Catholic Church was perfectly fine with secular entertainment as long as it wasn’t too against the teachings of the Church.”
        …dedicating an opera to the devil himself was a bit too far.Report

    • And that was before the internet! Imagine how useful a list of “Don’t let your children watch this film! Especially not the part starting at 23:17, when her low-cut top slips down” would be.Report

  5. Avatar Christopher Carr says:

    I think it’s interesting that we pretend our world isn’t just as violent and disgusting as the world of a Song of Ice and Fire.

    We describe it as a violent fantasy, when it is in fact simply realist.Report

    • Avatar LeeEsq says:

      There was a lot more casual violence in the world in the past but it wasn’t as gritty as Game of Thrones made it out to be either. The idea of law and order was important and most people really didn’t like being hurt or killed back than either.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        The princes of the day were paranoid sadists (see shooting animals that were in fences and couldn’t get away). The Powers that Be haven’t deviated much from that in the present, either.
        The idea of law and order is always important… for keeping the little people in line.Report

      • Avatar Christopher Carr says:

        You sweet summer child!Report

  6. Avatar Will H. says:

    What I find distasteful about the whole line of inquiry the subject article forwards is the underlying notion that everything is for everybody.

    If I am dismayed by moral depravity announced as the the triumph of man by Kenny Rogers because I am strictly opposed to gambling, then I must be looking a little too hard for something to whine about.
    Which is what’s going on with this thing.

    If the amount of violence in GoT is the biggest thing you’ve got to worry about– or even big enough to make it onto your radar– life must be pretty good.

    That is, when I say that the writer of this Post piece should go to hell, I mean that in the nicest possible way.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko says:

      Nonsense. Alyssa Rosenberg is an old friend to this very site.

      Writing about pop culture is her job. She’s pretty good at it, too.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Indeed, I suggest you worry about college football instead.
      [The humor in this is very deep and subtle. I find I enjoy a rather layered humor.]Report