Last year the New York Times published an uh, interesting “review” for . I’m sure many of you remember it: reviewer Ginia Bellafante called the series boy fiction and the tide of internet rage was felt far and wide. I was ticked, and I wasn’t alone. Boo on sweeping generalizations. This year, a different New York Times reviewer has made a different, equally dismissive generalization. Neil Genzlinger says:
“What “Game of Thrones” needs if it is to expand its fan base beyond Dungeons & Dragons types is what most of the United States didn’t get this year: a hard winter. Life in this particular fantasy land consists of seasons of indeterminate length, and since the series began there have been references to an impending winter of fearsome power.”
Yeah, only Dungeons & Dragons types watch the series. You may as well say, “this show’s just for the nerds.” Never mind two co-workers of mine who are not in the least into anything fantasy or sci-fi (seriously, one of them didn’t know who Darth Vader was until the Volvo Superbowl commercial last year) who salivated over Game of Thrones last year and can’t wait for the upcoming season to begin. And actually, other than myself, I can only think of a handful of people who watch and adore the series and also play D&D. I realize I’m taking this to the most literal example, but that’s what the statement is sort of forcing me to do.
It’s one thing to say, “if you like D&D, you might like this series.” I do that in reviews. It’s entirely different to classify the entire audience into one generic group. Also? How about not assuming people are stupid? In regards to the number of characters, Genzlinger says the following after mentioning the number of kings, armies, etc now milling about and how there is no one person for the series to focus on now that Ned’s gone:
“The character board for the series on HBO’s Web site has 49 head shots on it. Thinking of jumping into the new season without having seen the first? Don’t even try; your brain doesn’t have that many neurons.”
I’m not denying it’s a lot of characters. It is. Sure, people are asking who the heck was who after an episode but eventually it sinks in. Viewers are smart and can handle it whether they have or haven’t read the books. In some ways, Game of Thrones is like a daytime soap opera. I mean, as far as I know there aren’t many decapitations on weekday afternoon television, but there are huge ensemble casts. Soap operas rotate between several characters and families and layers are built up bit by bit. People are perfectly able keep up with names and faces. Sure, they have repeated exposure with soap operas, but they'll recognize people from week to week.
Also, assuming the viewership is lazy is also bad practice (and lazy):
“Some people love this kind of stuff, of course, and presumably those addicted to the George R. R. Martin books on which the series is based will immerse themselves in Season 2, just as they did in Season 1. Will anyone else? You have to have a fair amount of free time on your hands to stick with “Game of Thrones,” and a fairly low reward threshold. If decapitations and regular helpings of bare breasts and buttocks are all you require of your television, step right up.”
The people who have read the books aren’t the only ones watching this series. There’s no way it could have got to season 2 without grabbing the attention of a broader audience. This show isn’t for everyone (no show is), but the first season garnered praise from critics darn near across the board. One of the supporting actors won an Emmy. Sure, nudity and bloodshed aren’t exactly rare happenings in Westeros, but I’d be very surprised to learn if those were the only two reasons for anyone tuning in.
When season 3 comes around, maybe the New York Times will just talk about the series and not focus on the audience. People have opinions, it's fine that reviewers dislike the series. But maybe, just maybe they'll leave the condescending tone out next time. Hopefully. But I’m not going to hold my breath.
You can read Genzlinger’s article in full here.