Should I (re)read Game of Thrones
June 4, 2012 10:13 AM   Subscribe

I tried reading Game of Thrones a couple of years ago, and I hated it. I maybe made it through half. Just watched the first season of the series and I (mostly) really liked it. Now that I have some interest in the characters, will the things I hated bother me less, or should I just stick with the show?

First season/book spoilers below.

Things I Hated About the Book:
1. So much creepy sex. I'm a grownup, I like sex in books, but with the twincest and the whoring and the raping, it was just gross.
2. It seemed like there were pages and pages about the dire wolf cubs and other stuff that did not push the story forward. The pacing felt way too slow.
3. The ridiculous number of characters and POVs and weird spellings (I figure that this should be less of an issue).
4. Lots of misogyny. I don't need to escape into a world that hates women so very much.

Things I Like About the Show:
1. The wall -- the characters, the scenery, the suspense about the white walkers
2. Arya
3. The horribleness of Joffrey
4. Danaerys (aside from the rape)
5. Dragons!
6. Tyrion (of course)
7. The horribleness of Viserys
8. The plotting at court
9. The acting in general, and the complexity of the characters and their motivations

Things I Hate About the Show:
1. A bit more creepy sex than I need.
2. Daenerys getting raped a lot. And then realizing that she just needed to change positions to totally fall in love with her rapist.
3. These people seriously never noticed that black haired people don't have blond kids?

The rape and misogyny aspects are the big thing keeping me from getting the books right now. I never finished Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever because I was so disgusted by the way the rape was addressed.

Apparently the book shows this monumental love story between Danaerys and Drogo, but I don't want that. I can appreciate the story arc of a woman finding her one area of influence in a generally powerless situation, and using that to gain a little more agency. But I don't buy that a teenager being raped on a daily basis falls in love with her rapist and becomes completely thrilled with her lot in life. I also don't buy that a scene where a girl loses her virginity in public without the ability to consent is tender and romantic.

The book also seemed to be very misogynist, though I'm not sure whether that's just some of the characters or Martin. After seeing the show, I can believe that Martin is good at writing misogyny as a character trait, but also good at writing strong and valued women when appropriate. But I don't want to read the books if the misogyny really does underlie every character.

I think there was great character development through the acting in the show, and I don't feel like I need to learn more detail behind everything. But I am interested in learning more about Westeros, and I want more time with the characters. So will I enjoy the books, or will the things that pissed me off not get any better? Since I know that Drogo dies, I can probably push through that if the rest of the book makes it worth it, but the misogyny is a nonstarter.
posted by freshwater to Media & Arts (30 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It's been a while since I've read them, but the fourth and fifth books both have a lot of detail about stuff you won't necessarily care about that doesn't push the story forward very much (or at least not as much as some readers would like). The creepiness continues apace, and women continue to be abused, raped, and mistreated. If you haven't read the third book, then you might want to pick it up again there. It's commonly recognized to be the best of the bunch, and the show does a good enough job with continuity that you can get in to the story line just from having watched the show and maybe the occasional use of a Wiki.

However, judging from what you've written, the stuff you dislike doesn't change very much, and he develops some irritating tics in the later books which tend to lead to a lot of dawdling around without much plot advancement.
posted by codacorolla at 10:21 AM on June 4, 2012

Still lots of rape and displayed misogyny all the way through the books.

Note that this is not the same as the book being pro-misogyny! Personally I think the depictions of rape are not prurient, and the show has immense sympathy with the situation of women in that world. It is unsparing about the description of their fates (as it is about the men's) and the consequence of being in a violent patriarchal societty where lineage is everything - so if you don't like reading about this kinda thing, it doesn't get any better!

* PS :Lots more creepy sex (sex for sexes sake and showing T&A!) on the show that in the book!
posted by lalochezia at 10:22 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

2. It seemed like there were pages and pages about the dire wolf cubs and other stuff that did not push the story forward. The pacing felt way too slow.

Yeah, if anything, the pacing of the books just gets worse. I'm thinking you should just stick with following the show.
posted by Grither at 10:22 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

But I don't buy that a teenager being raped on a daily basis falls in love with her rapist and becomes completely thrilled with her lot in life. I also don't buy that a scene where a girl loses her virginity in public without the ability to consent is tender and romantic.

FWIW, it's not presented like that in the book. It's definitely an arranged marriage, but I recall getting the sense, in the book, that Drogo was trying, perhaps a little clumsily, to be good to Dany from the beginning.

Having said that, the books are a slow burn relative to the show, and if you're picking up on misogyny in the show, you're going to pick it up in the books as well. It's a pretty fucking squalid world that Martin builds. I'm not going to take a position on whether the books are themselves misogynistic or wish-fulfillment or a commentary on power and its abuses or what-have-you, but yeah, that stuff is in the books, too.

It seems like a lot of what you like about the show are things intrinsic to the show: the scenery and the acting and so on. It seems like the textual equivalents to those things kind of bore you (descriptions of direwolves, slow pace). I'm not sure how you expect to get scenery and action into a book without description, which sometimes slows the pace, but if you're frustrated by this, there's nothing wrong with giving the books a pass. Or stopping after the first one if you don't like it.
posted by gauche at 10:23 AM on June 4, 2012

I watched the first season before picking up the books, and I think it made reading a lot better! I could picture the characters and I knew who people were, and I didn't feel like there was any boring parts (until the 4th book, which I still can't finish). There is a lot of misfortune and torture and sadness, but that didn't bother me as much as the gore/sex in the TV show.

In short, try to read again! You may get hooked.
posted by katypickle at 10:24 AM on June 4, 2012

I read through all the books, but I say skip reading them. The creepy misogyny doesn't decrease (although I think there's a lot less rape/incest after the first, and I don't remember all the weird Littlefinger/prostitute scenes that the show has), the wordiness does not get better, and you'll still be reading chapters upon chapters where you just pray for it all to end already so you can get back to finding out what happened to Arya/Tyrion/FavoriteCharacter. So unless you REALLY REALLY love Arya (and I do), it's really not worth it.
posted by specialagentwebb at 10:25 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh god, just stick with the show. I'm of the opinion that a short synopsis of the first book would have made a good pitch for a TV show, and there was never any point to killing all those perfectly nice trees in order to write a sprawling series of doorstops.

That said, I'm no great fan of sprawling fantasy epics.

Then again, I have to say I have no idea why you're subjecting yourself to any of this if the patriarchal aspects of Ye Olde Fayke Middl Ayges bugs you so much. You can't really write that sort of thing without going there, and writers who try to magically handwave that stuff away are worse than the ones who rub your face in it, in my opinion.
posted by Sara C. at 10:25 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was totally in your shoes: tried the books years ago, hated them. Watched the first three episodes of the show (that's all there was when I went through this) and loved them, so I went out and bought the ebook omnibus.

Hated the books (got all the way through 1 and halfway through 2) even more than I did the first time through and they totally turned me off of the show . So I vote for leaving the books alone. Enjoy the show for what it is and read a different fantasy epic.
posted by AmandaA at 10:26 AM on June 4, 2012

I loved the first book, gobbled up the second and third, and then, as the famous gap appeared, gradually lost interest. Currently I'm watching the show when it comes out on DVD, and enjoying the sleeker storytelling.

I think honestly you shouldn't worry about continuing to read the books. (This may be because that's the decision I've made!) As far as I can tell, the pacing gets worse, things continue in a bleak downward slide that includes all the stuff you dislike, the cast of characters bloats, and for me, things just get less worth reading about. I think that if you enjoyed sinking into the atmosphere of the books, with all the detail that involves, the pacing wouldn't be a problem.
posted by PussKillian at 10:28 AM on June 4, 2012

and I don't remember all the weird Littlefinger/prostitute scenes that the show has)

The show actually does a pretty good job of giving characters things to do, so they're not just standing around making speeches. Unfortunately one thing they often give them to do is hang out with prostitutes.

I really can't say if you should read the books or not, but I will say the 2nd is the best and most exciting, the 3rd and 4th drag a bit and one of them gets extremely Circe-heavy, and the 5th picks up again.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:43 AM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

Well, I'm a raging feminist but I've loved the books from pretty much the first page, so I'm not sure how helpful I can be. I agree the mystical direwolf stuff (especially with Bran in the first book) made my eyes glaze over, but I just sort of skimmed over most of that.

I think people with a strong feminist viewpoint seem to either love or hate these books. I love them because I feel like they put these very strong (as in, fully realized, not necessarily "full of strength) female characters into a very misogynistic culture and then we get to watch them fight and scheme and luck their way through very difficult situations.

The ONLY thing that's keeping me from saying you shouldn't keep reading the books is this: GRRM's big thing is setting up archetypes and then undermining our expectations for them, or at least making them a lot more complex than we expect them to be. Like the fact that we expect Ned Stark to be the great hero of the books, and then he dies at the end of the first one. Likewise, we're set up at the beginning to identify many female characters in terms of gendered archetypes - Catelyn is the fierce mama bear, Cersei the ice queen, Sansa the pampered princess, Arya the badass tomboy ninja warrior princess, Dany the badass hot ninja warrior princess. But throughout the books, the plot and characters unfold in a way that is much more complex.

But the sex stays just as weird and there are lots of side-plots and mystical happenings that you probably wouldn't enjoy. So if you hated the books so much, you might as well just spend your time reading something you like more and enjoy the TV show.
posted by lunasol at 10:50 AM on June 4, 2012 [8 favorites]

I read the first and liked it OK, then listened to the second on audiobook which was a huge mistake. The characters all sounded like the evil leprechaun from the movie Leprechaun, and all those annoying repetitive turns of phrase that you can just skim over when you're reading stood out like sore thumbs. And sex scenes in audiobooks... I can't say I've found one that works for me yet.

So I strongly un-recommend the audio version. It totally killed any interest I kinda sorta had in the books up until then.
posted by mskyle at 10:52 AM on June 4, 2012

The show actually does a pretty good job of giving characters things to do, so they're not just standing around making speech. Unfortunately one thing they often give them to do is hang out with prostitutes.

Just FYI, this has been dubbed with the neologism sexposition
posted by zoomorphic at 10:53 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

The first two books create the pivotal scenes and characters.

The third book is very fast-paced and exciting.

The fourth and fifth book drag, drag, drag. I want adult dragons and I want them now!

But the thing is, I loved all the books, even with the pacing issues, because I appreciated the writing. I saw the skill behind the world-building, scene-setting, character development--every little detail, right down to the food, lovingly crafted.

Of course, that made the series a long time coming, and the pacing drawn out.

But all the things that bother you about the books are part of what makes them great for me. I mean, yes, absolutely Martin's world is a harsh, unforgiving one, with a patriarchal bent that skews even harsher for women who try to live within its confines (and those who don't, like Arya and Brienne).

If you can't get past the stark (heh) reality Martin paints to enjoy the story he is crafting, you won't enjoy the books.
posted by misha at 10:54 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

3. The ridiculous number of characters and POVs

The cast and number of POVs balloons as the series progresses, so if you hated that in the first book it's only going to get worse. As an example, at one point in the fifth book there are no less than five POV characters in and around one location.
posted by 6550 at 10:56 AM on June 4, 2012

The things you disliked about the first book continue through the next four. I really like the series, but it sounds like it isn't for you. I suggest that you continue to enjoy the show and find other books to read. Life is too short to spend so much time reading books that you find boring and/or creepy.
posted by Area Man at 11:07 AM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Martin has said that, aside from a couple of one off chapters, he won't be adding any more characters that chapters written from their POV and (as you should probably expect by now if you're familiar with the series) number of POVs decreases a fair amount after book three.

There is something to be said for having read the books and watching the show. I've read the books and Mrs. VTX and I started watching the show. She likes that I can fill in a bit of the back-story that the show omits or glosses over. I like it because it's like re-reading the books (at a MUCH faster pace) with all the foreknowledge of what happens to them later. It really changes how I view some of the characters, their actions, and motivations compared to my wife.

That said, I don't think that you'll like the books any more now than you did the first time. Just re-watch the show from the beginning after they cover the material in book five.
posted by VTX at 11:11 AM on June 4, 2012

The elements you dislike not only stay but are amplified in the rest of the books. And they are SO VERY LONG - even thought I loved them and even though I read very fast, I found them long. If you hated the first one, you'll hate the rest even more.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:13 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Yeah, the creepy sex thing doesn't go away. I actually find the rapiness more difficult in the show because I actually have to SEE and HEAR it. In the book, I can just be like, "Ok, so-and-so is getting raped. Skipping ahead..." and move on.

I just finished the season 2 finale and honestly? I don't see how anyone who hasn't read the books is following along. They skipped A LOT of stuff and while I appreciate that they gave the audience at home credit for filling in the gaps, um. It's pretty gap-y.

Dany is my favorite character as well and there's TONS of her in the books. (I've only read through book 3. I've got a bit of a case of Epic Fantasy Fatigue right now.) I also adore Sansa and you really benefit, I think, from getting her narration in the novels. I totally hear you on the Dany/Drogo thing, but I feel like it was 1 part Stockholm Syndrome, 1 part two people who've never had anyone in their life be nice to them, deciding to be nice to each other, and 1 part Dany making the best of her shitty situation. Her feelings about Drogo and who he really is are addressed a bit more in the book than in the show.

The books are totally not for everyone; they are ugly as hell. But that's sort of why I like them. I feel like they're a deconstruction of the whole D&D/Renn Faire mythos. Like, "Oh, you want kings and queens and knights and dragons? War for the throne? Maidens in skimpy dresses? enjoy that." (Also, the Bran chapters make me want to gouge my eyes out. SHUT UP, BRAN. AND YOUR THREE-EYED CROW. SHUT. UP.)
posted by Aquifer at 12:23 PM on June 4, 2012

I loved the books, all of them.

I don't think you will.

I think having read the first book, it's much easier to follow the first season of the show. I haven't watch the second season yet, but I hear it diverges from the second book a lot more than the first season did from the first book.

(Also, I don't see the misogyny, really. The series parallels medieval times, the way women are treated and viewed is realistic. Most of the main female characters have more respect and power than they would have in actual medieval Europe. Because an author is writing a story about a society that doesn't generally view women as equal to men does not mean the author hates women. He also deals with most other aspects of life more realistically and harshly than most fantasy novels do. Terrible things happen to everyone on a regular basis.)
posted by catatethebird at 12:25 PM on June 4, 2012

I will warn you, if you decide to stick with the (book) series through A Dance with Dragons, there are some very, very disturbing chapters in that book. We're talking High Octane Nightmare Fuel. I have to skip those chapters - they are too much for me to read, and I am a fan of the series (on the whole; there are parts I have problems with).

I don't want to spoiler for people who haven't read ADWD yet so memail me if you want me to tell you which chapters might send you running away screaming (which is what I literally did. /shudder).
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 12:34 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

3. These people seriously never noticed that black haired people don't have blond kids?

That's really just not true. Most of the adults in my family have dark brown or black hair, and often the kidlets are sandy blonde. Usually their hair darkens as they get older, but in a few cases it hasn't.
posted by hermitosis at 12:48 PM on June 4, 2012 [3 favorites]

3. These people seriously never noticed that black haired people don't have blond kids?

I could be misremembering, but wasn't it specifically that when a Baratheon and a Lannister reproduced, the Baratheon black hair was always dominant throughout history?
posted by Aquifer at 1:48 PM on June 4, 2012

There are some significant differences (spoilers in both links) between the books and the series, and things happen in the series that either don't happen in the books or happen differently. So you might enjoy how the series tells the story but not the way the books do.
posted by kirkaracha at 1:51 PM on June 4, 2012

One sideways note -- if you're not enjoying the books (and I've only read the first, myself), go check out one of the sources that GRRM (cheerfully) admits stealing from: Robert Graves' I, Claudius and Claudius the God. They are rich with imperial intrigue, plotting, and other backstabbery, and while their's no shortage of horrible people, they don't have the same sort of creepiness that you're getting from GRRM. Graves was also a fantastic writer, which doesn't hurt, and the narrator (i.e., Claudius himself) is full of richly morbid humor. After all, this is a man who becomes Emperor of Rome strictly because the rest of his family assumes that because he's physically handicapped he must be mentally as well, and therefore nobody spares him any attention while they're all plotting to kill each other off and seize the throne.
posted by McCoy Pauley at 2:02 PM on June 4, 2012 [4 favorites]

I would say if you're enjoying the show - DO NOT continue reading the books. They are HORRIBLE to women.

Although I read them, they leave me feeling nauseated and uncomfortable - not in a "boy this is making me think" way, but "do I really want to continue searching for pearls of brilliance (which there are!) in these piles of shit?"

I'm not sure if you mean you made it through half the series or half the first book, but the books get markedly worse in their portrayal of women. There are only about five chapters in book two that do not involve a rape or a gang rape. None of these are against the main characters though, so we don't actually see the devastating effects of rapes in war (which is what some GRRM defenders say he is going for), just the conquest and victory side.

None of the female characters have more than one dimension. It's clear that GRRM is really trying with some characters - Arya, Dany, Asha - but he really falls short, they still end up displaying silly "girly" quirks.

Even the male characters become worse. Rob was awesome but then refused to trade for his sisters because they were just girls (in the television show I believe a nameless extra says this). Tyrion repeatedly threatens to have his kin raped, and even begins slightly abusing prostitutes/sex slaves.

It's just really, really frustrating. If there were only a tenth of the misogyny in it, it would still be misogynistic as hell - and I think the problem is it's dwelt on so much. This is a violent world, check, we got it. Some people want to say the books are overall violent, and the rapes are just part of that, but I don't buy it. yeah, anyway....I honestly prefer the TV show. The majority of female characters are stronger and more three dimensional in their own ways (except Arya and Asha who've been made a bit weaker, but oh well)....the only reason I read the books is that I got incredibly confused about people's motivations after watching the first season (and not reading the book). Reading the books helped me see the underlying motivations....but if you're fine without that, you're better off, I think.

Ah, and the plot does move slower, lots of doubling back and such.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 3:02 PM on June 4, 2012

All of the things you dislike about the books actually grow in prominence as they progress. Do not read the books; stick with the tv show. If you want to scratch a fantasy itch without making a thirty year commitment and holding your nose about rampant misogyny and other things that make you uncomfortable, there are plenty of other books/series. Could make an interesting askme...
posted by smoke at 3:36 PM on June 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is really helpful. I love fantasy and medieval stuff, but I think there's a difference between portraying the misogyny inherent in a societal structure and reveling in it. I think about Wolf Hall or Pillars of the Earth or Doomsday Book -- the women are constrained by their cultures, but still come off as fully realized people, and there's no sense of the author enjoying their suffering. Like I said, I didn't get far enough to ferret out whether Martin was just conveying his characters' views or whether it was his opinion, but it was icky.

I love I, Claudius and Claudius the God, and are satisfying in many of the ways of the series.

I think I'll skip the books.
posted by freshwater at 5:34 PM on June 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

Well, stick with the HBO series because frankly it's paced and plotted and edited 10X better than GRRM could ever have managed. Watching the series (having read all the books) makes me wish a few of the HBO writers had been hired on to edit his manuscripts because so far they've done a pretty good job of editing out so much fat and skipping over characters that aren't interesting.

Hell, even GRRM tacitly admits some of his characters aren't that interesting by simply abandoning them mid-novel (where the hell are Rickon and Asha, anyhow?).

Here's the thing though -- I'd bet money that Martin isn't going to finish his series. Quite simply, he's lost the plot.

So I'm thinking HBO might get to a season 4, but the fourth book of the series is terrible and filled with entirely new characters we've never met before.

So the books can be a trudge, but reading them might be your only chance to understand the series in the fullest possible way.
posted by bardic at 9:58 PM on June 4, 2012

Anyone who thinks the tv show is less misogynistic than the books is smoking the crack pipe. Seriously, it's about what you can handle while still feeling ok about yourself. They're both bad (and I say this as someone who enjoys the books). The show does change some things, and leave some things out, but after talking to a bunch of people who have not read the books, they're all following along ok with the show. There's no need to read the books unless you want to do so. The torture does get worse in the later books; but don't lie to yourself. The show has added some torture scenes that the book didn't even have. Like I said, it's about what you can tolerate. The show does cut out a lot of backstory, and most people have less trouble keeping up with something visual, so if that's your primary complaint after all, then why try to read the books? Something you enjoy vs. something you don't should be a no-brainer.

If you're asking someone to tell you the show isn't as misogynistic ad the books, you'll get a lot of opinions and very few scene-by-scene analysis, because quite frankly they're both do bad that I don't think anyone has the stomach for it. Also, when talking to anyone for any length of time you realize that comfort levels are radically different: what people experience and understand and their reality and petsonal philosophy very much affects what they're willing to take on in entertainment. Would you enjoy a second run at the books? All we can do is guess, and my guess is no, but since you enjoy the show, I'm guessing that reason is not violence or misogynism, even if those make you flinch, but rather what you identify as a writing style you don't enjoy. Yes, I know this was long , but maybe it'll help you with examining your media (book, movie, etc) choices and make those choices easier in the future.
posted by thelastcamel at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2012

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