If you’re a fan of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” series, and/or Game of Thrones (the epic HBO series it spawned), you’re used to defending the books and/or show when people say it’s too grim or violent.
It is grim and violent, but it’s a great story! The characters get in to all kinds of trouble and do all kinds of terrible things, but it’s fascinating because what motivates them makes a crazy kind of sense more often than not, and renders their appalling actions almost understandable. Nothing ever happens as you’d expect. And there’s more humor in there than people give it credit for. (It’s mostly acerbic, and it’s mostly from Tyrion, but it is there.)
Given that I’m aware that not everyone is a fan, I should not have been so flabbergasted when I read the New York Times review of Season 2 in the Critic’s Notebook. Long story short, Neil Genzlinger didn’t like it. Not only did he not like it, but he set up a tortured metaphor involving the heart and soul and guts of the story. Mostly he seemed annoyed that Ned was killed off last season (because Ned was a good guy), and he’s not very interested in what’s happening now: The king’s death created a power vacuum that a number of pretenders are now preparing to fill (grimly, and of course, violently).
Genzlinger is entitled to his opinion, and to be fair, he’s writing a review of the HBO program. Maybe it does move slowly for people who haven’t read the books? But it does sound as if he’s just cranky about Ned dying and impatient to get to… what? “So far, the rough weather and the invaders from the north have mostly been hinted at, vague threats that don’t seem in any hurry to materialize. Here’s hoping they get a move on.”
Well. He’s seen the first 4 episodes, and I haven’t. I’ll see soon enough—YAY! this Sunday—but in the meantime I’m giving a big thumbs down to his crappy review. And I’ll let George R.R. Martin have the last word on character, storytelling, and why he doesn’t listen to fans or critics on the direction his stories should go:
Sometimes you have ideas that are not immediately popular but nonetheless are the right thing to do to tell your story. I mean, if I had said, ‘Ok, fans, should I kill Ned at the end of the first book?’ He would still be kicking around! I mean, nobody would have voted to kill him; but killing him was the right thing to do. At least for me and my readers.
I acknowledge that my books are not for everyone. I have gotten many letters over the years from people saying, ‘I used to enjoy your books, but now you killed my favorite character and I’ll never read them again. I read for pleasure and relaxation… I don’t like to be kicked in the groin by my authors.’
And that’s fine. I understand where they’re coming from, and there are plenty of books out there by writers who will not kick you in the groin. There are people who are doing comfort fiction, where the hero’s always going to win the sword fight and is always going to be safe and the heroine is never going to be raped and everything will come out well in the end.
That just doesn’t happen to be the books I write. In the books I write, I want you not to know what the hell is going to happen. So there’s a mortal fear about what may happen when you turn the page…
If you’re interested: This is the last clip of a 3-part interview. He starts talking about focus groups, popularity, and why he can’t listen to all that—at around 8:50.
PS: I have nothing against this critic, other than the fact that he panned my favorite show. I’ve read and enjoyed many of his previous articles, including his recent review of You’re Looking at Me Like I Live Here and I Don’t, a documentary about Alzheimer’s disease.