Years ago, a friend let me borrow the first four seasons of The Sopranos on DVD. I got through something like 18 episodes before I stopped watching. It was a moral slog – I had to force myself to sit and watch; afterward I’d fall into a dark funk. My family noticed – “Why are you in such a bad mood?” All I can say is that I couldn’t stand watching the characters ALWAYS make the worst possible decisions. I’ll agree it was artfully made, but it wasn’t healthy for me.
I have a high tolerance for angst, as we say in my house. I like the tension of a good thriller, the emotional workout of a relationship drama; I generally don’t have a problem with fictional deaths, in fact I prefer to explore mortality issues via safe setting like a novel or a movie. On the other hand, Susan won’t have any of it. She is disturbed to the point of nightmares over what most people would regard as fairly innocuous material (she got upset when the Gilmore Girls weren’t speaking.) Even suspenseful music can send her out of the room. We all have an angst threshold, I suppose.
When I heard George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones was being made into an HBO series, I read the first two novels, got halfway into the third and finally gave up. Martin has any number of annoying quirks in his prose style, but what finally did me in was the absence of hope. When fans rave about the novels’ panoramic complexity, I don’t disagree (although I’m reminded of that great line from the movie Amadeus, about how the human ear can take only so many notes. The same goes for Martin’s words.) Martin loves humiliating and killing his characters, which is cited by some as a mark of artistic integrity. “People die in real life all the time,” they say. Yes, but we want stories to do more than just imitate life.
I thought the first season of the HBO series was decent – the visuals were appealing, and the adaptation choices were interesting, notwithstanding the showrunners’ fondness for the premium cable “titty trope” (a problem that even plagued David Simon’s otherwise irreproachable The Wire.) The second season resurrected my old Sopranos foreboding, and I’ve only gotten a few minutes into the third. Of course, I’ve read the recaps. I’ve followed the conversations about “when do dramatic portrayals of sexual violence cross the line?” (Almost always.) I’ve watched my social media feeds swell with anguish, as well as a certain amount of fanboy glee. (Those who’ve read the books can’t resist bragging. Hail their endurance! Their high angst threshold! Their lack of anything better to do!)
Sure, Game of Thrones, we get it. Everybody dies. Maybe that chick is going to come back with her dragons and win the game. Maybe not. But here’s what you haven’t answered, and probably can’t: Does it matter?