Having never read the book(s) or watched earlier episodes, the hype, the shock, the intrigue, and the desire to share water-cooler conversation over a recent Game of Thrones episode bade me download what has been dubbed “The Red Wedding” (season three episode nine). My current research interests are representations of sex and violence in contemporary auteur cinema; HBO has been labelled the official channel for auteurs of television so there is no better place to begin my viewings of a television series than this fantasy story.
My first conclusion is that despite the complexities in plot and the volume of characters, it is possible to pick up an episode of Game of Thrones and still have a great sense of the general story and developments. This seems fairly standard for television programs; it would likely be a failure otherwise as the target audience is, I assume, still the weekly viewer (and not the downloader who spends a weekend with one season, a pizza, and bedsores). A good TV auteur then is one who is able to please the weekly audience and also, to some degree, appeal to and interest a first-time viewer. That being said, I claim no competence in assessing the particular themes, stories, narratives, etc., of the show. I claim that within the episode I was able to logically follow the developments; no event, dialogue, or psychological characteristics of the individual protagonists and antagonists seemed out of place or able to throw me off-guard. My genre expectations were met.
The violence of the last sequence of the episode wasn’t cause for so much pleasure or cinematic displeasure of gruesome or horrific acts. Bodies were stabbed, blood ran, arrows were shot. It was little more than what one could see on a made-for-TV film, except with extra blood red to provide a bit of ‘authenticity’ to the massacre. The editing was still so fast that I had little time to catch my breath, severely damaging any kind of realism or naturalism to the killing. When the edits are of such a speed less time can be spent on providing the act of violence with a naturalistic element. It’s basically the familiar editing practice whereby a punch is shot from one angle then edited together with a shot from another angle to make the punch ‘really’ look like it hit the opponent.
So what’s the big deal with this episode? This brings me to my second conclusion. Why was the first act of violence dealt to the pregnant wife and the last to the mother? Here we have two of the most central characters in the show shockingly dispensed with in rather unpleasant manners. The first is repeatedly stabbed in her pregnant belly – blood rushes from her gut in a clever edit and effect – and the latter is shown having her throat slit, ending the episode in an overly dramatic shot. Why these two and in this way? Why was it shocking? Here’s the key: identification and expectation (of a genre/medium/character). The two central characters are shockingly and surprisingly done away with, our most beloved and cherished characters dead and out of the story. Our narrative hopes and dreams dashed, like in Psycho, much too quickly and therefore causing such a shock. (See http://ca.ign.com/articles/2013/06/07/game-of-thrones-why-the-red-wedding-was-more-traumatic-on-tv for evidence of what I’m saying here – rupturing narrative and character identification is cause for ‘trauma.’)
What are the possible implications then? In writing for TV an author must expect 1+ seasons of episodes and much of the appeal for viewers will be in seeing characters develop, fail, succeed, etc. So for Game of Thrones to have made such a scandal with The Red Wedding, for the reception of television series, in the end it really did not matter whether they were murdered with much cinematic expertise or with very little. Since I wasn’t that impressed with the illusion of violence, I claim that the shock was the break with narrative conventions at a very precise moment, and this break was a positive rupture as the identification with characters had become so strong that their deaths produced in viewers heightened sensations (sadness, fear, sympathy, what have you).
To reiterate and to hypothesize: an auteur of television is still working within the paradigm set for television series, i.e., its immense focus on narrative, storytelling, and precision in giving viewers what they want to keep them absorbed over 1+ seasons. I think this is what defines the TV auteurs; the writers move up to auteur status rather than critics praising the directors or stars. Other facets of moving-image production – cinematography, acting, lighting, music, montage, mise en scene – falls away from the accomplishments of the writers who can deliver exactly what audiences want. Breaking Bad seems to deliver perfectly on this front as well.
I’ll end with fan’s tweets and other such nonsense (http://mashable.com/2013/06/03/red-wedding-game-of-thrones/):
sometimes I hate TV writers and their fucking god complexes! you can’t just fuck with my emotions like that! Fuck YOU HBO and D.B Weiss