Westeros does not make sense
June 29, 2016 12:38 PM   Subscribe

Westeros has geography problems. The size, armies & populations of the seven kingdoms make no sense - a great demonstration of how numbers in books are written in the magnitude of plot not reason.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory (205 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I will concede that Westeros has numbers problems, but the thing that keeps me up at night is why the snitch both ends the game and is worth 150 points. Quidditch does not make sense!
posted by mcstayinskool at 12:43 PM on June 29, 2016 [55 favorites]


When asked how fast the ships in Babylon 5 travel, creator J. Michael Straczynski replied that they travel "at the speed of plot."

How big is Westeros? "Plot-sized." How many people live there? "Plot thousand." How do they make their living? "Tilling the plot."
posted by kindall at 12:53 PM on June 29, 2016 [111 favorites]


It's a beach book kids. sheesh.
posted by sammyo at 12:56 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


Never trust pre-modern population estimates!

This. And, for the same reason, don't trust the estimates of characters in the book, since they would necessarily have the same unreliability as their real-world pre-modern counterparts.
posted by The World Famous at 1:05 PM on June 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


Why believe any population or land area figures in the books?

After all, as I'm sure his publisher would agree, GRRM is an unreliable narrator.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 1:09 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


Some non-contiguous selections from the article that are rather telling:

Westeros is Poorly Designed

I’m also a general-purpose nerd nerd, and a hobbyist world-builder. Yes, hobbyist world-building is a thing. But because I’m both kinds of nerd here

in most cases, the obvious demographic and economic illiteracy of an author is totally forgivable because they’re not making any claims to realism...There is an exception to my forgiveness: Game of Thrones

It is important that we begin with the size of Westeros!

Never trust pre-modern population estimates! They’re always always wrong, and always inflated! Unless you have a list of names and addresses, don’t trust it!

That’s ridiculous. Let me say it again: that’s ridiculous.

Consider the Targaryen dynasty. They lasted 283 years on the Iron Throne, with 17 rules, for an average of 17 years of reign per ruler. That is incredibly implausible, even with fire-breathing dragons.

We see the same thing with the rise of Robert Baratheon. What, he can just beat the Targaryens and that makes him King? Psh, yeah right. That’s incredibly silly. That’s not how feudalism works.

Make Westeros Realistic (Again?)
Some Proposed Parameters


This is the most tiresome form of nerdery. This is the sort that has arguably been forgotten or defined away from the term when we talk about nerds now: not fans or players of games, not mere enthusiasts, not people familiar with some specific canon, not people with advanced education, but humorless, self-righteous, axe-grinding, dismissive, exhaustively loud-mouthed attention-hogging auto-didacts with absolutely no sense of perspective or self-awareness, to whom Being Right overrides any and all other social/aesthetic concerns.
posted by clockzero at 1:10 PM on June 29, 2016 [79 favorites]


And, as a really nerdy teaser, yes, I have a project of my own in the works that inspired these calculations.

Blogspam.
posted by T.D. Strange at 1:11 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


It’s a beach book kids. sheesh.

What kind of fatalist brings a book to the beach that endlessly reminds them that Winter is coming?
posted by Going To Maine at 1:13 PM on June 29, 2016 [31 favorites]


If the characters in SOIAF were revealed to be Sandkings, scaling wouldn't be a problem at all...in fact, that would even account for the height of the Wall and how it got to be built so quickly.

In fact, that would also account for the rampant inbreeding, too.

Hmm...
posted by Smart Dalek at 1:17 PM on June 29, 2016 [14 favorites]


Who brings a book to a beach fight?

The problem with asserting that things in Westeros can be "plot-sized" is that people keep using the "realism" of the books to justify all sorts of things (perennially, rape, but also the general air of barbarity). If you are going to invoke "plot," you can't invoke "reality," and you might have to consider why the plot contains some of the things it does.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:19 PM on June 29, 2016 [26 favorites]


in most cases, the obvious demographic and economic illiteracy of an author is totally forgivable because they’re not making any claims to realism...There is an exception to my forgiveness: Game of Thrones

Given the tiresome grimdark tits-and-ass misogyny that G.R.R.M. and his fans say is demanded by his commitment to realism, I'm all for ripping into the lack of realism here. Like, it's a special exception, specifically for G.R.R.M.

Also, kind of as a tangent - as another hobbyist worldbuilder, this is one of the things that I enjoy thinking about when I read fantasy or sci-fi books. The dismissive tone isn't that fun, and I can understand would make people think this kind of nerdery is only about Being Right (tm)--but there are a lot of us who find things like demographics and government and blah blah blah genuinely interesting, and notice when authors write things very unrealistic.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:19 PM on June 29, 2016 [41 favorites]


What kind of fatalist brings a book to the beach that endlessly reminds them that Winter is coming?

One where, after 6,000 pages, it's barely gotten any closer?
posted by schmod at 1:19 PM on June 29, 2016 [27 favorites]


Also, kind of as a tangent - as another hobbyist worldbuilder, this is one of the things that I enjoy thinking about when I read fantasy or sci-fi books. The dismissive tone isn't that fun, and I can understand would make people think this kind of nerdery is only about Being Right (tm)--but there are a lot of us who find things like demographics and government and blah blah blah genuinely interesting, and notice when authors write things very unrealistic.

Demographics and government and so forth are genuinely interesting to me, too, which is why it's not really fun to have conversations about them with people like the fellow who wrote this.
posted by clockzero at 1:27 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


This is the most tiresome form of nerdery. This is the sort that has arguably been forgotten or defined away from the term when we talk about nerds now: not fans or players of games, not mere enthusiasts, not people familiar with some specific canon, not people with advanced education, but humorless, self-righteous, axe-grinding, dismissive, exhaustively loud-mouthed attention-hogging auto-didacts with absolutely no sense of perspective or self-awareness, to whom Being Right overrides any and all other social/aesthetic concerns.

“This person is enjoying this thing wrong” is a bad look.
posted by Going To Maine at 1:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [20 favorites]


What kind of fatalist brings a book to the beach that endlessly reminds them that Winter is coming?

They're called Minnesotans.
posted by mcstayinskool at 1:32 PM on June 29, 2016 [13 favorites]


I was going to say Chicagoans.

(Full disclosure: I start growing my winter beard as soon as we get the first summer heatwave.)
posted by srboisvert at 1:39 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


If the characters in SOIAF were revealed to be Sandkings

stoppit stoppit STOPPIT
posted by praemunire at 1:39 PM on June 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


“This person is enjoying this thing wrong” is a bad look.

I struggle to find evidence of any enjoyment in this exhausting, fussy, relentlessly critical 5,000-word treatise dedicated solely to explaining, in painstaking detail, why an unevenly-defined setting for a series of fantasy novels doesn't stand up to the strictest empirically-based scrutiny that this person can muster.
posted by clockzero at 1:45 PM on June 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


Some editor needs to apply Hackmaster rules to GoT. I mean, how can you suspend your disbelief?
posted by My Dad at 1:47 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't agree with the "tiresome form of nerdery claim" or I would not have posted this.

Tiresome nerdery is agreeing about how fictional things work in fictional universes - for example dilithium crystals or midichlorians or whether a system of magic is consistent.

This article is arguing about how real world systems work and showing that fictional worlds have a disconnect between what we accept in stories and how the real world works.

I think these two kinds of discussion are quite distinct. How midichlorians work is boring and dumb - but how stories discussreal human issues we deal with in our actual politics like migration, population and human interaction and how that compares to the real world is for me the heart of what makes stories interesting.
posted by Another Fine Product From The Nonsense Factory at 1:52 PM on June 29, 2016 [21 favorites]


The dynasty section is where I was simply unable to continue. Longest dynasties in history - there are quite a few that lasted longer than 17 rulers.

If the author had actually done a well-researched, critical analysis of ASoIaF's worldbuilding I'd have read the shit out of that. Instead we get, "here's a random example from history that we will take as definitive". I mean, there's no wrong way to enjoy a book, if this is his Thing fair enough, but I suspect that his target audience of fellow "nerd nerds" (whatever that means) will find it relatively uninteresting.
posted by AdamCSnider at 1:52 PM on June 29, 2016 [13 favorites]


Setting aside the tone, a lot of this is just factually wrong, both in terms of the contents of the books and of history:

We see the same thing with the rise of Robert Baratheon. What, he can just beat the Targaryens and that makes him King? Psh, yeah right. That’s incredibly silly. That’s not how feudalism works. In the truly dynamic setting of a truly Medieval society spanning an entire continent, the end of the Targaryens would be the end of a united Westeros.

Now real fans may say, “But that is what we’re seeing! The end of a united Westeros!” maybe, but it makes little sense that it came after the death of Robert Baratheon, instead of after the end of the Targaryens monarchy.


Robert held Westeros together because he led a political and military alliance of many of the realm's most powerful families, who defeated the forces of the ruling dynasty and supported and cemented Robert's new rule.

This happened frequently in history, a good example being the War of the Roses which Martin has stated he based a lot of the political struggles of the books on.

Consider the Targaryen dynasty. They lasted 283 years on the Iron Throne, with 17 rules, for an average of 17 years of reign per ruler. That is incredibly implausible, even with fire-breathing dragons.

Except actual medieval dynasties did last that long. The Plantagenets ruled England for 331 years. The House of Capet ruled France for 341 years; their successors the House of Valois would rule France for 261 years.

Or consider a group very like the Targaryens: the Mongols. Like the Targaryens, they were an ethnically foreign conquest-dynasty arriving with uniquely powerful weapons that, after they acculturated to the new place, eventually decayed. The united Mongol Empire lasted for 4 rulers realistically, 6 in nominal terms. Individual Khanates lasted longer, but the point is that in realistic political struggles, long dynasties are incredibly rare. The founding dynasty of the Holy Roman Empire lasted just 6 rulers, and there was only one double-digit dynasty ever.

Or consider a group very like the Targaryens: the Manchu people, foreign invaders who conquered China and ruled it for 268 years.

This guy either has no idea what he's talking about, or is cherry-picking examples to fit his ideas.
posted by Sangermaine at 1:54 PM on June 29, 2016 [53 favorites]


I don't agree with the "tiresome form of nerdery claim" or I would not have posted this.

Well, that's just my opinion. Obviously there's a lot to talk about here and I don't want to monopolize the discussion.
posted by clockzero at 1:58 PM on June 29, 2016


This was so great! I love this essay! Would read an entire book about populations in fantasy novels!

No one ever likes this kind of essay except me and the people who write them.

It is a relief to find that somewhere there is someone else who finds Middle Earth's economy (or "economy") to be massively improbable and distracting. (I myself explain Middle Earth by saying that history is written by the victors and it's really the story of Western colonization of a thriving east, so there's actually lots of stuff going on but because it's swarthy Easterners it doesn't count and gets left out of the narrative.)
posted by Frowner at 1:59 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


This guy either has no idea what he's talking about, or is cherry-picking examples to fit his ideas.

I vote for both.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:02 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


Some editor needs to apply Hackmaster rules to GoT. I mean, how can you suspend your disbelief?

You can't. When Gary Jackson died, all his luck went with him.
posted by Smart Dalek at 2:02 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


I struggle to find evidence of any enjoyment in this exhausting, fussy, relentlessly critical 5,000-word treatise about why an unevenly-defined setting for a series of fantasy novels doesn't stand up to the strictest empirically-based scrutiny that this person can muster.

I hate to make accusations of "fake geek boyhood," but have you met any nerds of this particular stripe? Because not only do you seem to hate them (and their most tiresome form of liking things) you don't seem to understand what makes them tick, either.

I don't know the author, but I know his type (I'll admit to, at times, having been his type), and this kind of obsessive comparison to real world theories and what-ifs and conjectures is really just fun for some people. And I get the sense from reading the article that the author had a lot of fun thinking about it. It's not necessarily everyone's preferred way of enjoying something, and that's fine -- don't read articles about it. Just like, if Lyman Stone hadn't enjoyed reading/watching ASOIAF/GOT he would have stopped doing so.

And yeah, you can make Comic Book Guy allusions and assume that this guy is forcing his opinions down the throats of people who just want to watch the damn TV show already. But AFAICT, he wrote a Medium article -- he's not taking up precious media bandwidth that one could use to enjoy better

I mean, I know this kind of stuff can go too far. I assume that Neil deGrasse Tyson has a lot of fun taking overblown (and hamburger-laden) "offense" at bad science in movies, but I know his tweets are tiresome to many. But, on the other hand, getting people to think about science in popular culture is getting people to think about science -- which is kind of his life's work.
posted by sparklemotion at 2:02 PM on June 29, 2016 [16 favorites]


I can see why people would find this tiresome, but I found it interesting. I especially liked his comments on the lack of diversity in the population of Westeros, and how diversity-- ethnically and linguistically-- is important.
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 2:02 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


Except actual medieval dynasties did last that long. The Plantagenets ruled England for 331 years. The House of Capet ruled France for 341 years; their successors the House of Valois would rule France for 261 years.

England & France are both quite a bit smaller than Westeros, though.
posted by Going To Maine at 2:07 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


How midichlorians work is boring and dumb

Well as long as we're engaged in the right and interesting kind of nerdery then
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


The problem with asserting that things in Westeros can be "plot-sized" is that people keep using the "realism" of the books to justify all sorts of things (perennially, rape, but also the general air of barbarity). If you are going to invoke "plot," you can't invoke "reality," and you might have to consider why the plot contains some of the things it does.

Given the tiresome grimdark tits-and-ass misogyny that G.R.R.M. and his fans say is demanded by his commitment to realism, I'm all for ripping into the lack of realism here. Like, it's a special exception, specifically for G.R.R.M.


This really isn't what people mean when they talk about "realism" with regard to GoT. They're talking about realistic portrayals of people's behaviors, rather then whether the number of square miles or the inflation rates are accurate.

When they invoke reality, what's meant is that history is rife with brutality and misogyny, and that rape has been a tool of war and a fact of life for women for ages. Look up things like the Hundred Years' War or the 30 Years' War.

If the people in the books are supposed to be like us just in different circumstances, then you expect them to behave like us. And we, demonstrably, behave like shit and slaughter and rape each other.

One of Martin's goals with his series was to show how terrible the worlds portrayed and glorified in traditional modern fantasy would be for almost everyone involved. It wouldn't be shining heroes and noble ladies holding back the forces of evil.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2016 [12 favorites]


Oh god, the nerds got in my pseudo-medieval fantasy novel series analysis scene. This is worse than the time I found out the guys making my favorite Star Trek podcast are total dweebs.

Anyhow, fun premise for an essay, bad execution.
posted by The Gaffer at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think sparklemotion has it - for people who like this kind of thing, there is no contradiction between enjoying the thing in question and picking apart its implausibilities. Part of the enjoyment of built worlds, in fact, is fussing around with whether you think they're probable or not and why.

And on a genre-issues level, I enjoy this kind of writing because it foregrounds how fantasy works - by now, I think everyone is aware of the long-running tendency to default to cod-medieval cod-European fantasy land, yes, but there's other stuff too. Like, it interests me that fantasy all but requires the production of a flattened world without too much diversity - how could you even produce a viable epic fantasy story which didn't do this*? What techniques do writers use as sort of sleight of hand to produce a "diversity effect"? (Sofia Samatar, long may she wave, is excellent at producing a diversity effect through her use of language, image and viewpoint.)

Also, I don't know about you, but I have come away from both the essay and the thread considering a bunch of different things about dynasties, diversity and urbanization rates. I couldn't tell you what the best way is to calculate medieval population densities, but I now know that it's tricky, somewhat controversial and important when I'd never even really considered it one way or the other until now. This type of essay doesn't make anyone an expert on dynasties or populations or whatever - but it sure does tip off the casual reader to important concerns in understanding societies.

*There are fantasies which don't, but they are often either smaller (Pavane) or lyrical, mythic or parable-ish, like Lud-In-The-Mist.
posted by Frowner at 2:11 PM on June 29, 2016 [12 favorites]


Yeah, the politics don't really bother me, and you can see lots of War of the Roses peeking through here and there. And if I stop to think about it I realize the Wall being 600 feet tall is wildly implausible and the size of the continent is incorrect for travel times and political organization and medieval societies would not function on this scale, but oh hai it's a fantasy novel, that's okay, I can cope. I'm even only bothered by how seasons last years and so you don't know anybody's actual age and a lot of things would clearly not function properly if I stop to really think about it.

The two things that really make me NUTS though are 1) whenever anybody eats an apple (apple trees have to have winters to set fruit! YOU HAVE NO APPLES after years of endless summer, you just don't) and 2) the fleet of the Iron Islands which is wildly implausible in all possible ways -- technologically, economically, demographically, time-to-build-wise, manpower-wise, etc. THIS IS NOT A NUMBER OF SHIPS THAT EXIST IN THE WORLD, and definitely not from a little province made of barren rocks, and OMG THE SAILS AND THE CLOTH SUPPLY AND TECHNOLOGY PROBLEMS. (I have complained extensively on fanfare.) You know how many ships were in the Spanish fuckin' Armada? 130, of which only 28 were warships, and that's like at least 100 earth-years later than GoT is theoretically set. Know how many ships are in the modern US Navy? FOUR HUNDRED THIRTY. The Iron Islands just do not have a thousand ships, they just don't. You know what would have been a way better line than "a thousand ships"? If the Iron Islanders were like, "We're going to build the greatest armada the world has ever seen! We're going to build ... THIRTY SHIPS!" and everyone gasped in horror at the total Napoleonic madness of this undertaking.

It's funny how you can accept all kinds of things in fantasy novels as story devices or acceptable elisions of reality, but then one little thing will pull you up short and throw you right out of the novel's world, and for me, for these novels, those things are apples and ships.

(I still enjoy them and I'm still reading/watching, but I do have to stop to bicker with the books/show every now and again. And I do think for this sort of lengthy, elaborately world-built fantasy, some of the fun is in the holes that you notice when you step outside the narrative and stop being engrossed by the story. That the world is realistic and thorough enough that you can notice the holes is itself an achievement. Plenty of SFF just handwaves everything so there's no structure to notice holes in.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:16 PM on June 29, 2016 [58 favorites]


It's not economic, but previously
posted by The Gaffer at 2:21 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's been summer for like, 20 years. The cop yields are gonna be completely different to medieval Europe.
Also Dragons.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 2:23 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


If the people in the books are supposed to be like us just in different circumstances, then you expect them to behave like us. And we, demonstrably, behave like shit and slaughter and rape each other.

You need to start drinking in different bars.
posted by howfar at 2:24 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


BTW, I basically read the entire series on a beach.

It was not worthwhile.
posted by schmod at 2:26 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


That is, it is difficult to write an epic journey over vast territories if the language changes every hundred leagues or whatever - all kinds of things that are tropes of fantasy just don't make sense unless you flatten the world.

So you end up saying, for why do we write these things, since they're sooooooooooo materially implausible? And what does that mean? And why do what we might call "fantasy effects" work as they do? Why does it sound cool to call some place the Iron Isles (I mean, for some values of cool?) Why is an unrealistic thousand ships better than a realistic, in-world huuuuuuuge armada of thirty?

I think that epic fantasy is, at best, about landscape and images, about setting them in a frame that allows us to experience them as sorta-real. Like, if I write a lyric poem (an awesome lyric poem!) about a knight galloping across a landscape toward a harbor where there are ten thousand ships, it doesn't have the same fantasy-effect as if I write a story. The story stabilizes the image and lends it a kind of artificial depth. This kind of epic fantasy is about being able to look at big landscapes and complicated designs. (And we have to look at ourselves when it also turns out to be about looking at the colonization and destruction of marginalized people or the abuse of women and/or children and/or vulnerable men....but we'll assume that this isn't actually necessary to make fantasy work.)

If you're Michael Moorcock or China Mieville you think that creating a kind of frame to support these images is escapist or bad or politically immature. I don't particularly think this, perhaps because I get a great deal of pleasure from - to name a politically dubious thing - the parts of Perelandra where Ransom is just sailing around on the strange mobile island, seeing marvelous sights.

Angela Carter's novel [Something something] Desire Machines of Dr. Hoffman deals with this problem that lurks at the core of the fantastic. (It's also....huh, racist isn't the exact word, because I think she intended to highlight the stereotypes and tropes that inhabit fantasy, but still very, very disconcerting to a contemporary sensibility, so if you read it you need to be prepared. Plus lots of sexual assault, some of it very graphic.)

There's lots of kinds of fantasy; I'm not talking about all the kinds.

M John Harrison's Viriconium books are, I think, an attempt to get at the landscapes without the reality-effects. Lots of marvels, lots of swash-buckling, a pervasive sense of unreality.
posted by Frowner at 2:27 PM on June 29, 2016 [13 favorites]


This really isn't what people mean when they talk about "realism" with regard to GoT. They're talking about realistic portrayals of people's behaviors, rather then whether the number of square miles or the inflation rates are accurate.


But you can't have people act "realistically" in a world where history isn't realistic, culture isn't realistic, the economy isn't realistic, religion isn't realistic, demographics aren't realistic, and so on and so forth. You know what medieval nobles did a lot more than going to war? Brought lawsuits. Really, the first book should have been called A Gathering of Lawyers, and involved hundreds of pages of pouring over conflicting legal claims, precise st, and conflicting jurisdictions.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:27 PM on June 29, 2016 [26 favorites]


I still enjoy them and I'm still reading/watching, but I do have to stop to bicker with the books/show every now and again. And I do think for this sort of lengthy, elaborately world-built fantasy, some of the fun is in the holes that you notice when you step outside the narrative and stop being engrossed by the story. That the world is realistic and thorough enough that you can notice the holes is itself an achievement. Plenty of SFF just handwaves everything so there's no structure to notice holes in.

I think there's a certain part of being a fan of something that includes the need to nit-pick/bicker and point at the holes and the flaws and whatever else, and still enjoy the thing anyways. Everything I'm a fan of I can sit and bicker about/with; the death of fandom is not bickering but apathy.
posted by nubs at 2:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I mean, three books later, you could get on with the stabbing.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


metapedantry.com is still available if anybody wants to start a blog about what does or does not qualify as a tiresome nerd.
posted by tempestuoso at 2:28 PM on June 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


Something in this reminded me of something that I realized while watching the series after having read the books. I'm sure that in every worldbuilding exercise there are gaps and obvious places where more care has been given than others, but, maybe because there's so much opportunity for scrutiny, you can really tell where and what Martin cares about and doesn't. Of course the epic span of history is mostly flat and featureless but suddenly perks up right before the books start, because that's where he started caring about what was happening on a level beyond "also, they have some myths and there's some references to the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England" and put in some specifics and characters with vaguely human motivations. It's kind of like how in the show the characterization of some of the secondary characters was fairly generic in the early books because he didn't have to think about what Cersei was doing or thinking in any given scene, but that's pretty much the only thing that Lena Headey has to think about, and once someone is actually thinking about it, all sorts of texture and nuance appears.

It's a hard thing to criticize an author for, because doing the level of worldbuilding that would result in a vaguely plausible fantasy world is probably the work of multiple lifetimes, much of which would be spent studying stuff like the demographics of agrarian societies, hydrology, and, I dunno, the aeronautics of dragons that have nothing to do with the actual story you want to tell, but if you really phone it in, like Martin has in some places, it can get so distorted from any sort of pseudo-realism that people will get convinced that it's intentional and there's something deeper going on, like the folks who think have a sort of Westeros Phantom Time Hypothesis, so the reason the continent's history is unrealistically boring and unchanging is an in-world conspiracy by the Maesters to suppress the truth about the past.
posted by Copronymus at 2:29 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


But you can't have people act "realistically" in a world where history isn't realistic, culture isn't realistic, the economy isn't realistic, religion isn't realistic, demographics aren't realistic, and so on and so forth.

Sure you can. They're realistic with regard to the needs of the story. Everything in a story is in service of the story, so the focus is going to be on the exciting and interesting. The reality of the vast majority of police work is paperwork and drudgery, but action movies would be pretty boring with Riggs and Murtaugh behind a desk. Yet the characters still need to act like recognizable human beings in their outlandish situations.

Really, the first book should have been called A Gathering of Lawyers, and involved hundreds of pages of pouring over conflicting legal claims, precise st, and conflicting jurisdictions.

As an attorney I would appreciate this. Legal history is very interesting. They could have had animal trials.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:40 PM on June 29, 2016 [14 favorites]


I think that epic fantasy is, at best, about landscape and images, about setting them in a frame that allows us to experience them as sorta-real.

While I think that this is true, I also think that epic fantasy at its best is also about people. And telling stories about those people that you couldn't necessarily tell in a world that has more lawyers than soldiers, or where existential threats (say...winter) were more cyclical so people were better about planning for them because they happened every year. Or where a half dozen super powerful families who all know each other have oligarchical control over the world.

How midichlorians work is boring and dumb

I think this is a bad example because midichlorians are pretty much universally understood to be a boring and dumb part of a boring and dumb thing (though apparently I don't understand millennials so...). But in general, discussing how certain fantastical elements within fantasy/sci-fi worlds work can, in fact, be fun. It is, of course, important to be able to put things in perspective as far as their relative importance to how the world holds together, like for example, when the apple trees aren't plot relevant.

But now I'm going to be that girl:
(apple trees have to have winters to set fruit! YOU HAVE NO APPLES after years of endless summer, you just don't)

Why would you assume that the apple trees in a world that has 20 years summers act the way that the apple trees of our world do? Couldn't they have evolved some kind of mechanism to set fruit during the winters so they could continuously regenerate it through the summer? Fruits grow at the equator on Earth, don't they?
posted by sparklemotion at 2:43 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


Like, really? Everything between the Shire and Rohan is depopulated save for a few ruins here and there? Did the land just up and stop yielding harvests or something? Sure. Okay. That’s some plausible economic geography.
I only got this far, and I already don't trust this guy's analysis. Yes, this does happen, either when a) climate changes a bit and some land dries out more than others, or b) when political structures get weak and people stop farming an area because the most likely result is that their crops will be burned and they will be killed. This has happened many times in many places.
posted by clawsoon at 2:45 PM on June 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


I could take this faux-academic spreadsheet-laden missing-the-point stuff more seriously if it used real measurements like hectares or square km.
posted by meehawl at 2:48 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


"Really, the first book should have been called A Gathering of Lawyers, and involved hundreds of pages of pouring over conflicting legal claims, precise st, and conflicting jurisdictions."

So we're talking maybe Njal's Saga: Westeros Edition?

"Why would you assume that the apple trees in a world that has 20 years summers act the way that the apple trees of our world do?"

Yeah, yeah, I know, that's what I try to tell my brain to make it shut up about these really quite trivial points and just enjoy the story. But my grandfather was an apple farmer, it tends to jump out at me. :)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:49 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


I hate to make accusations of "fake geek boyhood," but have you met any nerds of this particular stripe? Because not only do you seem to hate them (and their most tiresome form of liking things) you don't seem to understand what makes them tick, either.

Well, I feel a bit ambivalent about the idea of making this too personal, but I will freely admit that I used to be a nerd of this particular stripe, and despite now being an academic in the social sciences, I like to think I've mostly grown out of the more grating habits of mind this 'type' evinces (e.g., the lack of distinction between critique and analysis, the imperative to expose at exhaustive length the foolishness and error of others, the Quixotically single-minded pursuit of Correctness in a fictional context, etc).

I don't know the author, but I know his type (I'll admit to, at times, having been his type), and this kind of obsessive comparison to real world theories and what-ifs and conjectures is really just fun for some people.

This guy is also selling something, NB, as he alludes to at the end of the piece, but I know that conjecture is fun for many people (myself included) and that's not what I'm talking about. Besides, as Sangermaine pointed out above, this guys doesn't have his historical facts incontrovertibly straight anyway. His empirical standards are not good, so the whole thing feels that much more gratuitous and absurd.

And I get the sense from reading the article that the author had a lot of fun thinking about it.

I did not get the sense that fun was involved in this, personally, so I guess that's a matter of opinion. It certainly wasn't fun to read.

It's not necessarily everyone's preferred way of enjoying something, and that's fine -- don't read articles about it.

Responding to a critique by telling the critic to not read the text in question seems functionally similar to just asking them to stop talking.

Just like, if Lyman Stone hadn't enjoyed reading/watching ASOIAF/GOT he would have stopped doing so.

I guess? I don't know if he enjoyed it in a way that would be recognizable to me. I'm not saying that the author definitely didn't enjoy reading the series, but rather that this thing he wrote seems devoid of joy or appreciation.
posted by clockzero at 2:50 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


The reality of the vast majority of police work is paperwork and drudgery, but action movies would be pretty boring with Riggs and Murtaugh behind a desk. Yet the characters still need to act like recognizable human beings in their outlandish situations.

The point of action movies is that they aren't realistic, nor are the characters' responses realistic. No one holds the Leathal Weapon Franchise up as a realistic look at police activity. AGoT characters don't act anything like medieval people; Westeros is a cracked fantasy mirror or what "Medieval Europe was like," assuming you bought the myths Enlightenment writer made up -- if Westeros is as realistic as that, then we don't need so much mysogyny and rape.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:51 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


So we're talking maybe Njal's Saga: Westeros Edition?

Nah, Gunnar would have done in all the Lannisters with his mad spear skills before the end of Season 1. Dude could jump his height in armor.
posted by GenjiandProust at 2:54 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


the guy thought he was writing a paperback trilogy about his medieval knight figurine collection killing and fucking each other. things got out of hand
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:55 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


The thing I tend to notice is whether there's any nod to a plausible economy – have your surprisingly-large city, sure, but at least have someone note the stream of wagons coming in from the farms, or how long it takes to ride past the fields, etc. My memories of the first two books are mostly questions about how they could feed large armies, recruit soldiers to replace heavy losses, etc.
posted by adamsc at 2:55 PM on June 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


Except actual medieval dynasties did last that long. The Plantagenets ruled England for 331 years. The House of Capet ruled France for 341 years; their successors the House of Valois would rule France for 261 years.

Except he, later in the piece, he makes clear that he is talking about the length of the dynasty in relation to the size of the continent. Indeed...

"if Westeros is much smaller than we estimated, if in fact the whole continent is only about the size of the Byzantine Empire, then the stability of the Targaryens is easier to explain"

So, I think he agrees with you?
posted by howfar at 2:56 PM on June 29, 2016 [8 favorites]


As an attorney I would appreciate this. Legal history is very interesting.

TYRION (to BRAN): Let's put it this way, Bran. All this fuss and feathers about primogeniture, do you think it hurt you any?

BRAN: Ser?

TYRION: Did it do you any harm? You still feel reasonably fit? What the Three-eyed Raven told you, did it hurt your jousting game any? Affect your shield arm?
(punches BRAN'S right arm playfully)

BRAN: No ser, I'm a cripple.

TYRION: Broken, eh? Still honor your mother and your father?

BRAN: Sure. Their memories, anyways.

TYRION: Haven't murdered anyone since breakfast?

HIGH SPARROW: Objection!

JUDGE: Objection sustained.
(TYRION shrugs).

HIGH SPARROW: Ask him if his faith in the Book of the Seven has been shattered -

TYRION: Like his spine? When I need your valuable help, Highness, you may rest assured I shall humbly ask for it.
posted by nubs at 2:57 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


The only thing I care about at this point is that we get a Unified Theory of Direwolves. I mean the Starks each getting a wolf foreshadowed something right? Right?!!?? I require that to make sense at the end. Other than tha: dragons, zombies, army size, peopletreesblah bah blah whatever cakes.
posted by fshgrl at 2:57 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Game of Thrones isn't real?!?!
posted by pashdown at 2:58 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


Responding to a critique by telling the critic to not read the text in question seems functionally similar to just asking them to stop talking.

Complaining about how tiresome and joyless a work is seems functionally similar to just asking the author to stop talking.

The criticism of this piece based on actual factual errors in the piece is useful criticism, and is creating a discussion that at least some people in this thread seem to be enjoying having. Hell, even criticism of the more-historical-than-thou tone is worthwhile.

Implying that the piece shouldn't have been written because the author does nerding out wrong (whether or not there is an agenda behind it) isn't critique, it's threadshitting.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:00 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


It feels like people don't understand that Martin knows that a lot of this stuff isn't real-world realistic. He didn't sit down and decide to write a realistic world, he sat down and decided to write a world representative of traditional epic fantasy and such worlds contain these kinds of unrealisms. The whole point of his series is to write in that setting. It's like criticizing a magical realist author because that shit doesn't happen in real life?
posted by Justinian at 3:01 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


I was just looking at my copy of Njal's Saga the other day and thinking about re-reading it. Weird to see it mentioned here. (You weirdos!)

Anyway, robocop is bleeding is right: What would a medieval epic be without an unreliable narrator? You should see the armies in the Song of Roland. (Did you know that Charlemagne is over 200 years old?)
posted by clawsoon at 3:03 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


The only thing I care about at this point is that we get a Unified Theory of Direwolves.

The direwolves are a metaphor. For herrings. And one of them has red eyes. Because the herrings are red.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:04 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


I started reading this because I've recently been binge-playing Civilization V and it sounded relevant to my interests, but around the time he started comparing the population density of Westeros to that of South America, my mind wandered to whether I should keep those Aztec cities I captured puppets or finally annex them
posted by ejs at 3:06 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Did you guys know that Winterfell is described as having greenhouses in the courtyard to grow crops during the long winter? Except if you graph the size of the courtyard against the height of the walls you would see that the sun would not be high enough in the sky long enough to provide enough sunlight. It's obviously terrible.*

*this is all actually true.
posted by Justinian at 3:11 PM on June 29, 2016 [16 favorites]


I started reading this because I've recently been binge-playing Civilization V and it sounded relevant to my interests

Crusader Kings II (and it's GoT mod) is probably the better fit here, from a gaming perspective.
posted by nubs at 3:15 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think I would have enjoyed the analysis of demographics and related data more if it hadn't been laced with personal insinuations about George R.R. Martin.

"GRRM Messed Up His Army Sizes" -- or did he just create the army sizes with an eye towards creating literature?

"GRRM seems to have a loose grasp at best of the size of Medieval urban populations" -- or did he not base his book strictly on the size of Medieval urban populations?

"...world-builders tend to build mirrors of their own minds in one way or another. For GRRM, this appears to mean exploring an undiverse world killing each other while a looming threat of external diversity rises up to destroy the unsuspecting white people." -- um, really? If you're going to write an essay about how Martin is a xenophobic racist, maybe you should lead with that and provide actual examples of his opinions rather than extrapolating from an extrapolation of an extrapolation?

I think nitpicking can be fun, but it can also be vicious and mean.

"Warp drives are unrealistic because of the following reasons..." can be quite entertaining.

"Warp drives are unrealistic, and Roddenberry was an idiot for not realizing this" feels both inaccurate and unnecessarily personal.

"Warp drives are unrealistic, and Roddenberry invented them because he's pro-colonization and wishes India was still under British rule" is unhelpful and spiteful.
posted by lore at 3:16 PM on June 29, 2016 [21 favorites]


Except if you graph the size of the courtyard against the height of the walls you would see that the sun would not be high enough in the sky long enough to provide enough sunlight.

That's assuming that sunlight would come down at a lower angle during the winter because the sun is lower in they sky, which of course never happens because Planetos is a hollow generation starship with the clockwork "sun" directly overhead.
posted by The Tensor at 3:25 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


It's like criticizing a magical realist author because that shit doesn't happen in real life?

MeMail me to read my long and angry essay on the implausibility of Borges's "The Aleph".
posted by Sangermaine at 3:27 PM on June 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


Unlike most authors, who cross their fingers and hope Hollywood will want to adapt their novel so they can sell the rights for a fat seven-figure deal, George R.R. Martin set out to write A Song Of Ice And Fire actively wishing that no one would want to touch it. Before he started work on his multi-volume epic, Martin was working as a TV writer, scripting episodes for The Twilight Zone and then Beauty And The Beast on CBS. It was his experience working for the small screen that made him want to write an "unfilmable" novel in the first place.

"All of my first drafts tended to be too big or too expensive. I always hated the process of having to cut," he told Entertainment Weekly in an interview prior to Thrones' premiere on HBO. "I said, 'I’m sick of this, I’m going to write something that’s as big as I want it to be, and it’s going to have a cast of characters that go into the thousands, and I’m going to have huge castles, and battles, and dragons.'


The year: 1991. George R. R. Martin is sitting down to write a novel.

GRRM: (excited) "I'm going to have huge castles, and battles, and dragons!"

[mstokes650 arrives in a time machine from the future, and describes the future to GRRM]

GRRM: (incredulous)"...and then I'm never going to hear the end of it from pedantic nerds who tell me that the castles shouldn't be that big, the battles shouldn't really be that big, and the dragons couldn't possibly grow that big? And then it's going to end up getting filmed anyways, and when they film it they'll have all the same shit about not being able to afford that many extras or film that many battles that I am so sick of?"

[GRRM proceeds to slam his forehead against the keyboard of his 1,000-year-old, Wordstar-running computer 50,000 times.]
posted by mstokes650 at 3:30 PM on June 29, 2016 [21 favorites]


I've been reading folktales lately, and I wonder if people ever heard them and said "if the knight is supposed to feed his magic horse ten crisp white loaves and ten cups of good white wine every day, how is he carrying all that food while he's riding out of the Kingdom of the Western Sun? Clearly someone hasn't thought things through."
posted by teponaztli at 3:33 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


you can really tell where and what Martin cares about and doesn't. Of course the epic span of history is mostly flat and featureless but suddenly perks up right before the books start, because that's where he started caring about what was happening on a level beyond "also, they have some myths and there's some references to the Anglo-Saxon invasion of England"

Oh boy, as someone who has done many a deep dive on the ASOIAF wiki looking into the complicated lineages of Westerosi houses, I don't think that's at all true. GRRM includes so many allusions to past conspiracies and overthrown kings that you get the sense that he could have set the story at any time after Aegon's Landing and it would be just as gripping and tumultuous. This is probably not entirely true, but it really feels like he has the whole history mapped out, revealed piecemeal in side conversations and stray thoughts. Occasionally he writes a larger side story about the Dance of Dragons or a Dunk and Egg novella; they fill in some of the gaps, but it's clear that the events surrounding them could have been afforded epic trilogies of their own. The sense of continuous history is one of my favorite things about the books, and it doesn't really exist in the show, which hews much more tightly to a core cast and a conventional narrative structure.

(This is also a reason I think he's having trouble wrapping the story up. History does not have an end; it just keeps going, and no time is any less interesting than what comes before or what comes after. And Martin doesn't know how to deal with having narrative closure forced upon him.)
posted by painquale at 3:35 PM on June 29, 2016 [12 favorites]


[GRRM proceeds to slam his forehead against the keyboard of his 1,000-year-old, Wordstar-running computer 50,000 times.]

and that, my friends, was how the Jon Connington chapters were written
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:35 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


King’s Landing does not have 500,000 residents. GRRM has stated that the city is larger than Medieval London or Paris, but smaller than Constantinople or ancient Rome. The GoT wiki suggests Medieval Constantinople had a million residents. To which I say: buuuuuuuuuuulllllsh*******t.

He's cherry-picking his nits here. Sure, the Constantinople numbers on a fanwiki might be off, but imperial Rome did have around one million people living in it, and it's pretty well attested that Paris reached a population of at least 200,000 in the early 1300s. Half a million residents for the capital of a continental empire during the equivalent of the high medieval period is entire reasonable.
posted by Iridic at 3:38 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


and that, my friends, was how the Jon Connington chapters were written

"I've heard the fans speak loud and clear. Winds of Winter is entirely devoted to the childhood adventures of Young Griff."
posted by Sangermaine at 3:40 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


" It's like criticizing a magical realist author because that shit doesn't happen in real life?"
"MeMail me to read my long and angry essay on the implausibility of Borges's "The Aleph"."

Hahahahah wait until you hear my spitting hatred for The Last Temptation of Christ which has literally nothing to do with the theological content and everything to do with the fucking dream sequence device that turns the entire movie into ONE GIGANTIC CHEAT MODE so nothing fucking counts and you as the audience just wasted two hours of your life and a possible egging by protesters to get fucking cheated. Yeah it's super fucking hard to choose to die on the cross after you find out the guy who told you you could get off it is literal Satan and you already got to live your entire life with two wives and some kids and it wasn't that great actually and you accidentally destroyed the entire world in fire by doing so and OH WAIT HEADFAKE NOTHING COUNTED.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:41 PM on June 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


well. I never wanted to put a mod on my Forever Enemies list, but there are bright lines

I'll just say for now that instead of the cheat mode metaphor, imagine an incredibly long and complex JRPG with permadeath and what it would mean to deliberately choose to overwrite a saved game you had 80+ hours on to go back and sacrifice all that progress for reasons you still struggle to understand. Also, your dad is making you return the game to the rental place that night
posted by prize bull octorok at 3:48 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


It's funny that everyone is complaining about this, when (mefi's own) cstross single-handedly convinced me to read The Traitor, Baru Cormorant based on a minor blurb in a blog post which promised that "climatology and demographics (the iron hands that dictate crop yields, the price of bread, and revolutions), and economics and high finance" would be more correct than normal. Some of us find this stuff wildly engrossing, and novels that do it right seem better than those that don't.
posted by TypographicalError at 3:53 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Really, the first book should have been called A Gathering of Lawyers, and involved hundreds of pages of pouring over conflicting legal claims, precise st, and conflicting jurisdictions.

As an attorney I would appreciate this. Legal history is very interesting.


I was pretty interested in seeing Cersei's trial, I figured Westeros followed an inquisitorial model, but would she have representation? Could she call witnesses on her behalf? Who the hell would speak for her?

Needless to say all those questions were moot.
posted by T.D. Strange at 3:56 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


We see the same thing with the rise of Robert Baratheon. What, he can just beat the Targaryens and that makes him King? Psh, yeah right. That’s incredibly silly. That’s not how feudalism works.

It's awesome how the author has disproven Henry Tudor becoming king of England after winning over Richard III of the house of York in the battle of Bosworth Field. How unrealistic.
posted by sukeban at 3:57 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


Needless to say all those questions were moot.


More like soot.
posted by nubs at 4:04 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


On the subject of medieval kings and law: the grandfather of king Ferdinand II of Aragon (the one who married Isabella of Castile) was put on the throne because the previous dynasty ended up with no heirs. Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia then sent three representatives each to decide on the new king, which was Fernando de Trastámara. So, eh, bring on the lawyers and the diplomats.
posted by sukeban at 4:08 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Occasionally he writes a larger side story about the Dance of Dragons or a Dunk and Egg novella; they fill in some of the gaps, but it's clear that the events surrounding them could have been afforded epic trilogies of their own.

I don't disagree and this actually goes along with the point I was trying to make. When he sketches out the background for stuff, it's pretty compelling, because he's good at coming up with intriguing stories in this universe. It's just that he has to consciously turn his attention to it because a lot of the history, especially earlier on in the timeline, is completely lacking in characters and events and it's not really clear why he set the dates there other than to let the characters say big numbers. It's the 7000 years of Northern history between the building of The Wall and when he starts building toward the main book plot (with the Targaryen invasion and all that) that I'm talking about. It's the time where there's a Stark in Winterfell who is basically exactly the same as the current Stark family and most other things are broadly the same, too, that I'm talking about as the flat and boring parts. 7000 years is an incredibly long time, roughly the time between now and the invention of the wheel, but because the history is almost static (in terms of social, economic, and cultural development not to mention the identities of the important families) throughout that entire time, it feels a little off.

I also realize that this is kind of a dumb complaint, and really the more interesting thing to me is I guess what I'd call the visible hand of the author in all of this in conjunction with what you're saying about the sense of continuous history, because there are plenty of fantasy universes where no one cares for a second what happened before the first book to set up the plot or what's going to happen after the book ends. Meanwhile with GRRM, people do care about the edges and gaps, and he's shown that he's good at filling them in, but he's given himself so much canvas with 12,000 years of history that you just sort of have to accept that there are huge stretches of time that had virtually zero impact on later events. Or, if you're an Internet crank, you come up with an improbable conspiracy theory involving the AI running the spaceship preventing technological development or something to explain it.
posted by Copronymus at 4:12 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


See I always assumed Westeros was great-britain sized, and Essos was basically Asia. Like a Mad fold-in where line A is at the Channel and line B is at the Dardanelles. And somehow Cornwall is Spain and on the East.
posted by condour75 at 4:13 PM on June 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


The western coast of Essos is clearly a Continental Europe analogue, though, with Braavos as ersatz Venetian Republic and Pentos more like France.
posted by sukeban at 4:16 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Westeros has geography problems.

Could the dragons be used to reshape some of the geography? Blast a path some mountains, clear a thick forest? That would be interesting. As the rest of the original article, well...man.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:17 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


This really isn't what people mean when they talk about "realism" with regard to GoT.

Absolutely it is, and you're doing it right here, when you claim that realism is the reason he wrote so many rape scenes, in the way that he wrote them:

When they invoke reality, what's meant is that history is rife with brutality and misogyny, and that rape has been a tool of war and a fact of life for women for ages. Look up things like the Hundred Years' War or the 30 Years' War.

And right here I'm going to suggest that it is super-duper condescending to assume that (a) I don't know that history is full of brutality toward women, and (b) that I need to look up famous wars.

One of Martin's goals with his series was to show how terrible the worlds portrayed and glorified in traditional modern fantasy would be for almost everyone involved. It wouldn't be shining heroes and noble ladies holding back the forces of evil.

And this is just the claim that I was criticizing. You're trying to defend it against my criticism by just repeating it, but that doesn't work.

I'm sure that G.R.R.M. had this as a goal. I've certainly heard it enough. (Hence why I wrote the comment.) However, you're suffering from a huge failure of imagination if you think that determined the frequency or the manner in which G.R.R.M. portrays rape in his books.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 4:19 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


The mighty Pedants gathered on the Blue Plain of Metafilter, and the Internet trembled. Five thousand strong were they, and a million comments did they hurl at the forces of ignorance!

And I, grandchildren, was among them!
posted by clawsoon at 4:22 PM on June 29, 2016 [17 favorites]


But you can't have people act "realistically" in a world where history isn't realistic, culture isn't realistic, the economy isn't realistic, religion isn't realistic, demographics aren't realistic, and so on and so forth.

As a fan of genre fiction, I would say that you actually can. Yes, sometimes "realism" is used to justify misogyny, racism, and fantasies of being a noble served by armies of subjugated people. But sometimes the realism of a work takes a different form and it can be very satisfying.

I'm personally a relationships person. I don't care as much about plot as I do about the characters and how they relate to each other. So, for instance, a mystery series I really like is by Julia Spencer-Fleming. It features the kind of idyllic small town where every third person is a murderer—completely unrealistic on that basis, but it's the genre excuse for the series to exist, so I'm willing to go with it. What I like best about the series is that the two main characters, a woman who is an Episcopal priest and former Army helicopter pilot, and a man who is also a veteran and now the chief of police in this small town, fall in love while he is married, and for four or five books they walk a complicated line as they try to grapple with their feelings for each other in the context of each of their moral convictions and the reality that he is also still in love with his wife. I am a cat; this kind of thing is my catnip.

When I recently started reading certain subgenres of romance novels, it was like a revelation to me—these are books where the relationships and the plots are exactly the same thing. Where writers can just do away with all those pesky "storylines" that get in the way of people interacting with each other. To be a fan of romance, in whichever of many subgenres you prefer, you also willingly accept a whole variety of tropes that run the gamut from wildly unrealistic to wildly unrealistic, because these tropes are the scaffolding on which the beautiful, beautiful relationship story can play itself out.

My fifteen-year-old doesn't much care about "characters" and "relationships." He likes what he calls "lore," which is to say, the world-building. He loves Brandon Sanderson for Sanderson's pleasing habit of writing novels set at various periods in a world in which history actually happens—none of this epic fantasy stuff where a civilization has been stable for longer than it's been since humans invented writing, because he can't accept the unreality of a world in which history basically doesn't happen, but he can accept a premise in which people use metal to do magic.

He's currently devouring S. M. Stirling's Emberverse series, which begins with Dies The Fire, a book in which, for reasons nobody knows and which aren't explained, it becomes much, much harder to set things on fire or get them to explode. It's a post-apocalyptic series about how things play out once this mysterious change has taken place. Book after book after book of world-building stuff.

He was really excited when I found, and bought him, a fanmade map of...something. I can't remember what. One of the video games he plays, maybe? As I was reading this article, I though, "E would be interested in this." Maybe not quite to the level of detail the writer decided to go into, but the question of whether and how a writer's world could word as described would be an interesting one to him, even if on some level he's willing to accept that Westeros doesn't follow the same laws of population distribution that Medieval earth did.

I think there are interesting questions about how you could create a written world that dealt with these issues realistically. In science fiction, realistic settings are often overcome with unrealistic plot devices: universal translator in Star Trek, translator microbes in Farscape. "Is my story about the challenges of language diversity? No? I'm going to solve that problem with magic."

But there are books out there that are about the challenges of language diversity. Mary Doria Russesl's The Sparrow is about the tragedy of misunderstanding between two peoples who are, with all good will, doing their very best to understand each other.

It seems to me that the kind of cultural trimming that is done in a series like GRRM's—from however many ethnic groups to five; from dozens of dialects to a couple of main languages—is the kind of thing a writer does in order to write epic fantasy. But I could imagine a book that focused on two or three city-states in relatively close proximity to each other, where the differences of culture and language could be given more attention.

Also, I am a men's gymnastics fan. The US men's Olympic trials were on June 23 and 25th, and the national championships had been earlier in the month. Between the championships and the first day of trials, and then between the first and second days of trials, the gymternet was going wild with data nerdery. The scores from all four nights of competition all counted, so you had:

18 gymnasts
6 events on each night of competition
4 nights of competition
An Olympic team of five gymnasts, chosen to maximize the potential score in an Olympics team final in which three of the five would compete on each of those six events, and all three scores would count toward the team total.

Spreadsheets. Arguments about spreadsheets. Each gymast's highest and average scores on each event during nationals/olympic trials and historically. One popular blogger made an interactive tool where you could try different iterations of three gymnasts on each of the six events.

Which is to say: you will never hear me criticize a person for their enjoyment of data wankery.
posted by not that girl at 4:24 PM on June 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


> It's the time where there's a Stark in Winterfell who is basically exactly the same as the current Stark family and most other things are broadly the same, too, that I'm talking about as the flat and boring parts. 7000 years is an incredibly long time, roughly the time between now and the invention of the wheel, but because the history is almost static (in terms of social, economic, and cultural development not to mention the identities of the important families) throughout that entire time, it feels a little off.

The dodge GRRM picked for this — always tell the story from the POV of one or another of the characters — renders this unproblematic. There's no good records from back then. There's a lot of stories, though. Numbers in stories of time periods for which they are no good records have a tendency to make themselves more impressive by puffing themselves up as much as they can.

Basically we can't say anything for sure at all about the heroic age of Westeros or how long it lasted. At some point some folks came over and made peace with the elves. Sometime later on some other folks came over and made war with the elves. A long night happened, a wall went up, some other folks came over from the Rhoyne, and then eventually some extremely blonde weirdos with dragons came over and took over. probably all of this took less than a thousand years? but it might have taken seven thousand? There may be some books buried in that library Sam's in that might clarify things, but no one in power (and we've for the most part been following around people in power) knows or cares what's in 'em.

> but because the history is almost static (in terms of social, economic, and cultural development not to mention the identities of the important families) throughout that entire time, it feels a little off.

What's really fun is reading medieval translations/adaptations of material originally from Greek sources. Chaucer, for example, writes Thebes well-stocked with honest-to-god knights in medieval armor going around angsting about courtly love and chivalry and honor. Unless they're trying very hard to do otherwise, people tend to write the past to look like the present. As such, it absolutely completely makes sense that the Westerosi of A Song of Ice and Fire would populate their stories of the deep past of Westeros with people who look and act very, very much like contemporary-to-them Westerosi, operating within systems of government and control that look very much like their own.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:36 PM on June 29, 2016 [13 favorites]


I mean GRRM is a hack writer, don't get me wrong, but the flatness of the deep history of Westeros isn't really a flaw.

(and look we should all aspire to be hacks. hack writing makes the world go 'round.)
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:39 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've said this before, but I think that Sarah Monette's Doctrine of Labyrinths series does a great job of world building, giving enough detail to let you imagine greater depths without crushing the story under mountains of irrelevant details. Her world seems real, full of flawed, fallible characters who struggle to do the right thing against absurd odds. The main villain is a little two dimensional, and I have a little trouble with her depiction of gay men, but it's an epic story with plenty of grit and texture that does not go on forever (in fact, the last book seems a bit rushed, weirdly). (If you give it a try, and you want any closure, you need to read Mélusine and The Virtu, you can then go on or stop). And there are rapes (and lots of other kinds of emotional and physical trauma), but they are rapes with real consequences for the characters, not added in for the embellishment of other characters' story arcs or anything. And her prose is nowhere near as leaden as Martin's has become.

Someone behind the counter of a coffee shop asked me what one of the books was about. I thought for a bit and said "It's about three people trying really hard not to hurt each other, and mostly failing. With wizards!"
posted by GenjiandProust at 4:42 PM on June 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


hack

GAAAAAH. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
posted by Justinian at 4:42 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


He's currently devouring S. M. Stirling's Emberverse series, which begins with Dies The Fire, a book in which, for reasons nobody knows and which aren't explained

I figure its the Draka messing with the multiverse to create a ready-made source of more serfs, just as the Nantucket sequence was a Samothracian hedge against the same.
posted by Justinian at 4:44 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


would you prefer haxx0r? Can I call GRRM a 1337 haxx0r?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:44 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


. 7000 years is an incredibly long time, roughly the time between now and the invention of the wheel, but because the history is almost static (in terms of social, economic, and cultural development not to mention the identities of the important families) throughout that entire time, it feels a little off.

I really enjoyed the first part of Seveneves, when they're on the space station trying to figure out how to get enough people up there and keep them alive long enough to maybe someday have a viable human population again, and it's one problem being thrown against them after another, and this brutal war of attrition that eventually pares them down to seven women as the last survivors, and the first progenitors, of the human race.

And then it jumps ahead something like 5000 years, to a time when they're beginning to explore returning to earth, and it is still possible to identify a person by which of the original seven she was descended from, and her personality would be shaped by the qualities of that member of the original seven...and I simply couldn't swallow it. We all seem to have our things we're OK with, and things we're not, and it's possible to do a kind of ex post facto apparently-thoughtful argument about why, but it seems to me that it often boils down to, "for reasons of personal preference which are, overall, mysterious and hard to trace to their origins, I can suspend disbelief in these areas; not suspend it at all in these other areas, and thus find works that require that kind of suspension of disbelief unreadable; and, in these areas, sort of suspend my disbelief while enjoying the process of examining and critiquing the various degrees to which this trope is, or is not, effective."

One of my favorite romance novels features a protagonist who is a fan of romance novels. At one point, he says, "I've been thinking of starting, like, a pro-romance nonprofit that educates people about their literary value. Skillful wielding of genre tropes is an underrecognized art form."
posted by not that girl at 4:44 PM on June 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


would you prefer haxx0r? Can I call GRRM a 1337 haxx0r?

Well, no, 'cause he's obviously neither 1337 nor a haxx0r nor a hack.
posted by Justinian at 4:45 PM on June 29, 2016


okay okay I get your point: he's the world's slowest hack.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:45 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


A hack is someone who rapidly churns out words whose quality he or she does not care about in order to rake in the big dough. Basically none of that applies to GRRM.
posted by Justinian at 4:46 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


I guess there's this tendency he displays in all of his books to lean very, very heavily on whatever word or grammatical structure was striking his fancy. Everyone's got a "this is the word that GRRM was hung up on this week" thing that they can't unnotice; for me, it's the long stretch of ADWD, I think it was, where more often than not any fancy garment or hat worn by a noblewoman would inevitably get described as a "confection."

The tendency to get hung up on words and use them over and over again, combined with the overall workmanlike quality of his prose (which isn't a bad thing, mind), is what I guess I was talking about. You don't read GRRM for the sinuous quality of his sentences or whatever, for the interesting ways he expands the field of what language can do. You read him to find out what happens next.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:56 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


Could the dragons be used to reshape some of the geography?

Operation Plowshare with dragons!
posted by BungaDunga at 5:01 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


You don't read GRRM for the sinuous quality of his sentences or whatever, for the interesting ways he expands the field of what language can do. You read him to find out what happens next.

My e-reader died in the middle of devouring book two, and I suddenly felt profoundly free.
posted by Going To Maine at 5:06 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


and this brutal war of attrition that eventually pares them down to seven women as the last survivors, and the first progenitors, of the human race.

Well. I guess I don't need finish the book, thank god I was reading this thread about Game of Thrones.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:08 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


you'll never guess which seven, though.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:11 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Knowing that bit of info, I think I can pick out 4 of them, it's not a deep book.

Though now I'm bummed that Doc dies.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:16 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


My e-reader died in the middle of devouring book two,

And that is the tragedy of electronics, next day delivery and a reload.


As for realism, I think we'll need to cancel campfire stories unless there is full documentation on actual occurrences of "The Man with the Hook", or shark movies, or actual journalism about "The year of Shark Attacks" which actually was a year and other that two well publicized accounts had the fewest attacks on record. So, yes, have fun analyzing a fantasy story, I'm impressed.
posted by sammyo at 5:19 PM on June 29, 2016


"Realism" is dependent on the author. Part of the impetus for ASOIAF was GRRM's observation that Middle Earth didn't have much religion (even though there were actual gods.) Conversely, GRRM has been terrible at distances and measures, which may be intentional inflation, but also at anything resembling a legal system besides (dramatic) trial by combat.

There's no good records from back then. There's a lot of stories, though.

Lampshaded when Sam explores Castle Black's library and similarly questions the accuracy of the records.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 5:26 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Arrgh, I can't leave this alone. Okay, anyway, proceeding from the assumption that King's Landing really does hold half a million people...

Applying rank-size distribution (a power law governing city size proportions) to the five next largest cities of Westeros gives us 250,000 people for Oldtown, 166,000 for Lannisport, 125,000 for Gulltown, 100,000 for White Harbor, and 80,000 for Sunspear.

We can look for real-world analogues to those cities in order to gauge the size of their corresponding regions. For example, Oldtown, the chief city of the Reach, is a bit larger (~x1.25) than medieval Paris. The Reach (fertile, populous, temperate, great vineyards) is already a cultural analogue of medieval France, so it's not crazy to posit that it's a somewhat larger geographical and demographic analogue as well. Tweaking the late medieval demographics of France by a factor of 1.25 gives us about 24 million people living on 300,000 square miles.

Eyeballing the area of the Reach at ~1/7 to 1/8 the area of the Seven Kingdoms, that puts the whole of civilized Westeros at 2.1 to 2.5 million square miles. That's not nearly as big as South America (and somewhat smaller than Australia), but it beats the Byzantine Empire, the Mughal Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Alexandrian Empire while remaining conceivably governable with late medieval technology.
posted by Iridic at 5:45 PM on June 29, 2016


As for realism, I think we'll need to cancel campfire stories unless there is full documentation on actual occurrences of "The Man with the Hook"

No one claims that a dedication to "realism" leads to the gleeful bloody details of "The Man with the Hook." They admit that they like them, get to feel mildly scared, and it's all fun (until the actual killer offs the campfire teens, of course). However, AGoT fans seem to like to defend the rapiness and general treatment of women as "realistic," yet, when they are challenged on the lack of realism elsewhere in the novels, suddenly it's unreasonable to hold Martin to that standard.

I'm perfectly happy to accept that Martin has written a kind of middle-of-the-road fantasy series with characters and plots that some people like, but which also has a lot of casual misogyny and rape in it. Martin is an old guy, and I'm not surprised that he doesn't do a great job with his women characters. His befuddlement about how badly his (mostly women) fans of Beauty and the Beast reacted to that show's ending is certainly evidence that he didn't read his female audience well at all.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:49 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


Late to this thread, but in re lawyers:

You know what medieval nobles did a lot more than going to war? Brought lawsuits. Really, the first book should have been called A Gathering of Lawyers, and involved hundreds of pages of pouring over conflicting legal claims, precise st, and conflicting jurisdictions.

I am but an amatuer at this, but i have actually been reading/listenng to a bunch of medivale history lately. One of the best primary sources we have for England in the Wars of the Roses is the Paston Letters, which are mostly written between a lawyer at the King's Bench in London and his wife back home at their country estate. And there's a lot of discussion of ongoing lawsuits about some disputed land with a castle that the husband is trying to secure rights to.

There's also discussion about how the husband need to send arrows and armour back home because the local lord is sending an army round to beseig said disputed castle. You know, because the law suit isn't going so well.

Game of Thrones is certainly more on the Grand Guiginol side of things. As a reaction to and critique of Tolkein's version of high fantasy, that seems fine to me. I mean, if you want to dispute realism, realism according to when? GRRM's fantasy world draws a lot on the Wars of the Roses, but also on the Norman conquest, the Cruades, the Mongol invasions, the Republic of Venice. If you want to you can scoop out examples of outré human terribleness by the dozens from any of those locales. A 90-year-old blind man sacked one of the greatest cities in Western Civilization once in order to collect on some debts. Edward Longshanks hung Robert the Bruce's sister and daugher in a cage outside a castle for four years, and counted himself merciful because he gave them a bucket to shit in. Henry V slaughtered all the French nobles taken prisoner at Agincourt.

Is game of thrones more lawless than the actual late 15th century? Perhaps; Paston eventually won his case, though not without being imprisoned in the Tower for a while when his opponent was in favor at court. Is it more lawless than the 14th centruy, the 100 Years' War? Than The Anarchy?
They oppressed the wretched people of the country severely with castle-building. When the castles were built, they filled them with devils and wicked men. Then, both by night and day they took those people that they thought had any goods - men and women - and put them in prison and tortured them with indescribable torture to extort gold and silver - for no martyrs were ever so tortured as they were. They were hung by the thumbs or by the head, and corselets were hung on their feet. Knotted ropes were put round their heads and twisted till they penetrated to the brains.

They put them in prisons where there were adders and snakes and toads, and killed them like that. Some they put in a 'torture-chamber' - that is in a chest that was short, narrow and shallow, and they put sharp stones in it and pressed the man in it so that he had all his limbs broken. In many of the castles was a 'noose-and-trap' - consisting of chains of such a kind that two or three men had enough to do to carry one. It was so made that it was fastened to a beam, and they used to put a sharp iron around the man's throat and his neck, so that he could not in any direction either sit or lie or sleep, but had to carry all that iron. Many thousands they killed by starvation.

I have neither the ability nor the power to tell all the horrors nor all the torments they inflicted upon wretched people in this country; and that lasted the nineteen years while Stephen was king, and it was always going from bad to worse.
That's the Peterborough chronicle, a primary source compiled by Anglo-Saxon monks. I mean, it's certainly wise to take the words of Peterborough with considerable salt; it's certainly not clear how much of what he recounts is rumor and how much is stuff he's witnessed. But skull-popping via a rope certainly seems about on par with anything on GoT.

To me it's an open question --- I think the Game of Thrones reality is certainly heightened. But even if GRRM's pulling from the worst of human history, the worst aspects of humanity certainly seem to have been a far greater feature of actual medieval European history than the idealized vision of feudalism and chivarly that inspired, say, Mallory or Tolkien.
posted by Diablevert at 5:56 PM on June 29, 2016 [14 favorites]


If somebody's going to piss on my cheerios, I'd like the way they craft an argument to suck slightly less please. Otherwise I'm just going to get grumpy.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 6:00 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm admittedly actually frustrated with this guy's aside about Middle Earth, because his description of "nothing between The Shire and Rohan" ignores:

Bree, Rivendell, Lothlorien, The Actual Freaking Misty Mountains, the Men of Rhudaur, the Men of Dunland, the Men of Isengard, and the fact that much of the land is full of dangers that would not be common in historical medieval accounts. Y'know, like the orcs, and the Trollshaws, and the haunted forest of Fangorn.

So the "cherry picked examples" gripe seems applicable to both the history he's looking at and the fiction he's comparing it to, to me.
posted by Archelaus at 6:03 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


This is awesome! I need references to figure out population densities and suchlike and his link to a medieval estimate giver is sublime~!
posted by Deoridhe at 6:04 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


But even if GRRM's pulling from the worst of human history, the worst aspects of humanity certainly seem to have been a far greater feature of actual medieval European history than the idealized vision of feudalism and chivarly that inspired, say, Mallory or Tolkien.

The problem is that, despite all the rape and torture it has sprinkled on top, at its core the political / moral situation of ASoIaF is just as simplistic as that of Tolkien. We're still expected to identify with a bunch of good nobles (Jon, Daeneris, Tyrion, etc.) against bad nobles (Ramsey, Cersei) and the "always chaotic evil" white walkers. The "smallfolk" exist only in the abstract, except when one needs to be brutalized in order to remind us how evil Ramsey is.
posted by Pyry at 6:21 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


> I guess I don't need finish the book, thank god I was reading this thread about Game of Thrones.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 5:08 PM on June 29
[2 favorites −] [!]


and to be fair no one's spoiled you in the important part of the book: the hundreds upon hundreds of pages of painstaking description of orbital mechanics, upon which Stephenson spent much more time and energy than he spent on thinking about human societies and how they work.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 6:30 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


A bit late to the thread, but come on, I gotta:

Metafilter: Humorless, self-righteous, axe-grinding, dismissive, exhaustively loud-mouthed attention-hogging auto-didacts with absolutely no sense of perspective or self-awareness, to whom Being Right overrides any and all other social/aesthetic concerns.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 6:31 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


Oh my god, I'm so late to this! Sorry, I didn't read, so I don't know if it was brought up, but let me copypasta my own personal worldbuilding nit to pick with Gurm.

People do not build settlements on river outlets! It's an almost total derail, but as long as we're talking about the physical and human geography for GoT, every major city in Westeros is built on the delta where the river meets the sea.

NOooooooo!

Begin Copypasta(s):
Near where rivers meet oceans, absolutely. But, the actual spot where rivers let out into oceans, not so much.

For starters, because those areas are usually wetlands, they are disease traps that discourage initial settlement. Swamps can be drained with effort, sure, so I guess Aegon could have just forced everyone to drain Blackwater Swamp at dragonpoint so he could move off of Gloomy Island. People been draining swamps since antiquity, but it's labor intensive as hell, doesn't always succeed, and still doesn't really account for all of those cities that developed organically over centuries being situated on river exits. Take (another, I'm sure) tour of the map and see how often it happens.

Since rivers are the pre-industrial highways and the oceans have always been the corridors of international trade, it seems then natural place to put them but in actual practice physical and human geography work against the practice. Another factor is silting. Rivers can't be de-silted, at least not without some industrial-grade technology, and so the very advantage the settler would hope to gain here is actually lost. Even absent the swamp, the Blackwater is going to be dumping thousands of tons of silt in Blackwater Bay yearly and someone is going to have to remove it yearly otherwise it's a hazard to navigation. For ocean-facing settlements, which all these coastal cities obviously are since there is only one functional road in the entire kingdom, the quality of the harbor is the most important thing there is, and the river degrades that all day every day all the time forever.

I mean, I guess the Maesters could have a civil engineering program that everyone just takes for granted. But they're going to have to keep doing that - yearly - for the rest of time in every major city in the world? No. We don't even do that and we live in a world with Arthur C Clarke levels of magic and we don't even do that without special purpose.

Also: Obviously the biggest killer of people has always been disease, but the most dangerous urban calamities have always been fire and flood. Dropping your city at the mouth of a continent size river is going to cause some pretty regular flooding, especially when that 4-year-long-winter snowpack melts, or in the decade long thunderstorms of a Stormlands summer.

Rivers and river valleys are the prime target for preindustrial cities, absolutely, but most of those settlements would be up the river some, with satellite settlements attached to nearby oceangoing harbors.

Like, historically, Rome is on the Tiber River, but the major port was Ostia - not on the mouth of the Tiber - 30 miles away. Eventually the Romans did build a port (Portus) on the mouth of the Tiber after they were gigantic enough to point an army of slave labor at any project that struck their fancy, but it was a huge hassle to deal with until it was finally abandoned and lost to silt. Likewise Alexandria was founded like 45 miles from the west-most outlet of the Nile River.
posted by absalom at 6:31 PM on June 29, 2016 [25 favorites]


What irks me about analyses like this is that they are always written and propagated by nerds. While gatekeeping in academia is bullshit, it also sets a standard of knowledge and skillset for a large group of people who participate in it. This is convenient for the reason that it produces people who, most can agree, have at least a bare minimum of required knowledge to offer judgement, on the topic of their training.

When I see someone call themselves a "x nerd" I lower my expectations. Not to say that all people who claim to be nerds about x or y have zero qualifications or knowledge. It is that so many people adopt self-endowed titles, and tout autodidactic prowess sans possession of any real insight or acumen. For some, the matter of nerdism is one of bestowing prestige to their hobbies.

Really, I'm talking about the problem of pseudointellectualism. It's one thing to have an opinion, but it's another altogether to invest a self-sourced authority to buttress your opinions and discourage disagreement; to equate your expertise with that of professionals. "Listen to me because I received a degree from the Internet-University of Wikipedia. The dean -Myself- personally identified me as an exemplary student. Don't listen to these other dilettantes and philistines. They have not my sagacity!" From the same font flows pop-culture nerd-dom, and its vicious dismissiveness. This is a culture of pecking orders, of wounded pride, ego, and bitterness.

The egregious cherry picking prominent in the article is its greatest flaw. Other posters have already pointed out the bizarre omittance of historical scenarios that contradict the author's points. If he hadn't included such cocky accusations of wrongness towards GRRM, I would have received this article more favourably.

I believe this illustrates my own point. It's okay to have interests, and thoughts, and theories. It's not okay to forward your opinions with qualifications you fabricated for yourself. It's doubly not okay to tear people down while presenting a weak argument, ensconced in a deflective shield of the aforementioned self-granted authority. If I had written a similar article, it would be undermined by my lack of nerd chops. I'd be a layman. A pleb.
posted by constantinescharity at 6:32 PM on June 29, 2016 [9 favorites]


I know that makes me the worst stereotype or whatever, but I read an article about it once in an academic journal and I can't ever, ever, ever unsee it. Honestly, to me it's more glaring for all the meticulousness to be found everywhere else in the novel. It doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel, but kind of hurts my love of the map. Maps are important in fantasy novels.

In fact, as soon as a ran that article, I went into my own little fantasy-map sandbox and spent hours moving all my settlements off river mouths. Maybe I just have a grudge.
posted by absalom at 6:39 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I was going to say "heaven help him if he ever finds out about the 'World' of Warcraft", but then I figured it out. Lyman Stone--he's just bitter because he's a bastard of the Vale.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:51 PM on June 29, 2016 [6 favorites]


and it is still possible to identify a person by which of the original seven she was descended from, and her personality would be shaped by the qualities of that member of the original seven...and I simply couldn't swallow it.

Wasn't that the result of deliberate genetic tinkering? They baked it right into the genomes. Certainly I'd hear the argument that they didn't have the tech to do that yet when it would have had to have happened but that's a different argument.
posted by Justinian at 6:52 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


The spoiler is coming from inside the house title!
posted by Justinian at 6:53 PM on June 29, 2016


When I see someone call themselves a "x nerd" I lower my expectations.

Wait, I thought talking about yourself as an x nerd was a way to acknowledge that it's a little embarrassing to know a lot about some things. Like, I'm a Victorian-household-items nerd, but I describe myself that way because I'm a little embarrassed when I'm hanging out with my super cool friends (like, cool in the conventional way, not in the liking-Romantic-literature-is-cool-too kind of way) and mention that my weekend plans were visiting a historic farmhouse to look at the kitchen implements on display.
posted by teponaztli at 6:54 PM on June 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


Sorry, I'm just a little concerned because I can easily imagine scenarios where I probably sounded really obnoxious for calling myself a ____ nerd out of embarrassment.
posted by teponaztli at 6:55 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Well, I certainly have had problems with geography on the show. Like, the Iron Islands seem to be practically speaking a pirate culture that is completely removed from the rest of Westeros, and yet Yara's attempt to free Theon from the Boltons made it look like what separates the Iron Islands from Winterfell was the kind of little stream that divides the boys' camp from the girls' camp in a 1980s teen sex comedy. And of course the previously fantastic distance between Westeros and Meereen seems this season to be an overnight trip. But ultimately who really cares? I don't.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 6:56 PM on June 29, 2016 [4 favorites]


The problem is that, despite all the rape and torture it has sprinkled on top, at its core the political / moral situation of ASoIaF is just as simplistic as that of Tolkien. We're still expected to identify with a bunch of good nobles (Jon, Daeneris, Tyrion, etc.) against bad nobles (Ramsey, Cersei) and the "always chaotic evil" white walkers. The "smallfolk" exist only in the abstract, except when one needs to be brutalized in order to remind us how evil Ramsey is.

That strikes me as a critique you can make much more strongly of the TV show than the books. Personally, I consider GRRM to be a pretty mediocre writer in a lot of ways, but he spends a considerable amount of time in the stories detailing the ravages of the war and its effect on the small folk. We spend like an entire book dragging around after Brienne in her search for Sansa, all of which serves little purpose else than to illustrate the effect of the war on the smal folk. She encounters religious revivalists, marauding bands of soldiers, starved peasants, burned houses, orphaned children. There's one particular set in the books, an large inn, which many characters pass through during various books and whose decline helps chart the effect of the war. The first half of Arya's story also served this purpose, before she takes off for Bravos.

The show cuts a lot of this, but that's not GRRM's fault. They spent a little bit of time showing some smallfolk perspective through Arya --- Hot Pie, Gendry, the dying famer doing ersatz Beckett --- but they ditched that when she left. Of course, the flip side is that the show has a limited time and a limited budget, which they have chose to use to tell the story, rather than spending 9,000 words on plotless world-building a la GRRM.
posted by Diablevert at 7:03 PM on June 29, 2016 [12 favorites]


This really is all about how much disbelief you're willing to suspend, and what kind.

The most celebrated acts of world-building generally make no sense at all if you take a literal approach. Every time someone in the Dune universe has a fancy-ass drink it's what? It's Kirana brandy, which for me is just a word that means "fancy drink". Otherwise, that's what, thousands of worlds, with just as many mostly isolated cultures, with at least tens of billions of people! And they all came up with ONE THING that's worth drinking? Food, even worse: It's either slig meat, or it's fancy because there's so much spice in it.

The way GoT deals with this (i.e. the problem that nobody can *actually* create a universe) is different, and way better in my mind: Just assume you're in medieval Europe (the realism of apples being able to procreate nonwithstanding) and fill in the blanks... Roast boar or whatever, and wine and beer, and mutton stew and just extrapolate from there. Food done. No suspension of anything required.

I respect universes that keep the suspension of disbelief under control, and limit the amount required to specific areas. GoT does this well: Dragons, some Gods that actually exist, a little magic, weird climate. All woven into our cultural fabric. And sure, slightly strange geography... But try for a minute to think about how many students are at Hogwarts, and your brain will hurt much worse. Or god help you, think about the sophomoric and nonsensical world of the hunger games.

I think of this as spiderman vs superman -- And how does spiderman not win this hands down? Just assume something awesome happens if you get bitten by a radioactive spider. Done. Everything else follows. Superman, nothing makes sense. You have to suspend your belief in Newtonian physics (and that's just the start) to even buy any part of it.

GoT is so solidly in the spiderman camp that I'm not even willing to entertain the kind of nitpicky bullshit in this article. I feel comfortable (well comfortable might not be the word) buying into every part of it for as long as it takes .
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 7:07 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


Is the tl;dr of this "GRRM is maybe not the greatest at numbers. And also the author of this article may not be quite as clever as he thinks he is."?

Meanwhile, I seem to recall an article saying that GRRM realized he made The Wall way too high after seeing it rendered on-screen for the TV show. Not that it was too high to build per se, but rather that he had written somewhere about people at the top of the wall shooting at and hitting people/targets at the bottom of the wall with bow and arrow. After seeing exactly how tall 700 ft. really is (70 stories! taller than the Gateway Arch!), he realized how implausible that would be.
posted by mhum at 7:19 PM on June 29, 2016 [7 favorites]


Sorry, one more thing and I'll shut up, but I forgot to address this:

We're still expected to identify with a bunch of good nobles (Jon, Daeneris, Tyrion, etc.) against bad nobles (Ramsey, Cersei) and the "always chaotic evil" white walkers.

Again, I think this is something where the show may be less nuanced than the book (with the prominent exception of Cersei) but a lot of the nobles we are asked to identify with aren't good, or are a mix of good and bad, redeemable at points, contemptible at others: Jamie, Tyrion, Tywin, Stannis, Theon. The most pure, noble characters are also the most likely to get killed for their stupidity: Robb, Ned, Jon. And there's hints that some of the people we're currently rooting for are capable of descending into blind blood rage: Arya, Dany. GoT, especially as a show, tends I think to suffer from the same problem that Breaking Bad did --- even when the show presents the a clear case that what a character's doing is evil, people will stil root for that character if they're invested enough.
posted by Diablevert at 7:27 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's a lot wrong with this analysis. Basing the size of the empire on the perceived lack of diversity is particularly galling -- the story is about the upper classes, and in almost every country, the upper classes are from a fairly small group of ethnicities/cultures/languages. If you wrote a grand epic about Ancient Rome, all the characters relevant to the story would be speaking Latin -- even though the vast majority of the peasants and the slaves spoke their native tongues.
posted by miyabo at 7:39 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


One point I've never seen discussed (not that I've actively gone looking for it, but still---) is about the detailed descriptions of the armor and formal wear of the various Westerosi aristocrats we meet. Time and again, you hear about burnished bronze armor with intricate heraldic patterns, dresses incorporating fancy designs in chased silver and beaten gold, etc etc. Where are the artisans who are making these?? Where are they getting their raw materials from? Considering that even relatively minor nobles seem to have this sort of apparel, Westeros is in dire need of some sumptuary legislation.
posted by Bromius at 7:44 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


This whole discussion has me thinking how probably the greatest, most unrecognised piece of genius about Tolkien's works is the literary device where finished books (The Hobbit and LotR) are explicitly defined in the canon as being excerpted sections of The Red Book of Westmarch written by Bilbo, Frodo, and Sam in Westron and then translated to English. Any nit you want to pick is therefore a simple case of mismemory, mistranslation, imperfect knowledge, or embellishment for effect.

The true genius of this device, of course, is that the in-universe explanation for the nitpicks ends up being exactly the same as the "real world" explanation.

I think GRRM's third person point-of-view convention causes a lot of problems in this regard. Being privy to a character's inner thoughts and expected to treat them as an accurate description of what the character is thinking primes us to take the descriptions of the world around those characters as equally accurate.
posted by tobascodagama at 7:47 PM on June 29, 2016 [5 favorites]


If you wrote a grand epic about Ancient Rome, all the characters relevant to the story would be speaking Latin -- even though the vast majority of the peasants and the slaves spoke their native tongues.

<pedant>Actually, oddly enough, Greek would have been the everyday lingua franca for patrician characters throughout most of the Roman period. Classical Latin was mostly for formal occasions like literature or state functions, which is why it's rigid to the point of almost being a conlang and also fairly consistent from around the late Republic until it fades into medieval Latin. Plebs, though, would indeed have spoken whatever form of vulgar language was common to their area.</pedant>
posted by tobascodagama at 7:57 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


His seasons are too long, his characters too young, his sense of time erratic, and he envisions a pre-modern society that has stayed technologically and culturally stagnant for thousands of years.

The man picks numbers that sound good and dramatic, irrespective of their realism. I am not surprised by this essay's conclusions in the least.
posted by schroedinger at 8:04 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


If the Iron Islanders were like, "We're going to build the greatest armada the world has ever seen! We're going to build ... THIRTY SHIPS!" and everyone gasped in horror at the total Napoleonic madness of this undertaking.

Was this the face that launch'd a thousand thirty ships,
And burnt the topless actually not that tall towers of Ilium.

Faust kind of loses a bit of its charm.
posted by Literaryhero at 8:14 PM on June 29, 2016 [11 favorites]


His seasons are too long, his characters too young, his sense of time erratic, and he envisions a pre-modern society that has stayed technologically and culturally stagnant for thousands of years.

I'm not actually sure that is so. I mean, is there any reason to believe the people of Westeros have always had the level of technology they currently display? If anything, there's every reason to believe each of the major migration waves from Essos brought with them superior technology that allowed them to dominate. The First Men brought, well, themselves and probably sticks and stone age weapons. It took them, like, centuries to make their way up the neck. When the Andals showed up, they brought with them superior weaponry - probably bronze - that allowed them to conquer at a much more rapid pace. Steel easily could have developed over time, or maybe the fallen Valyarians brought it with the dragons. Who knows? But, there's no reason to think technology hasn't evolved over time. The very existence of the maesters suggests that it has.

I mean, it's still pretty simplistic, but there is a lot of room for technological growth in GoT lore, and even examples of it.
posted by absalom at 8:17 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


I'm very sorry I spoiled Seveneves for Brandon. I forget to be careful about spoilers because I don't mind them myself, and because I forget that not everybody has finished every book. I'll rot13 the heck out of stuff in the future.
posted by not that girl at 8:19 PM on June 29, 2016


"Was this the face that launch'd a thousand ships,"

I mean technically Helen's face launched a thousand penteconters and a few biremes, which barely count, and are tiny, and not really ocean-going. If the Iron Islands launched a thousand penteconters instead of big-ass carracks, I would withdraw my complaint! The books actually talk about longboats quite a bit w/r/t the Iron Islanders, which is much more appropriate for sea raiders and are fairly quick to build, but that's totally useless for transporting horses; you need at least a trading cog. And -- well -- obviously the number of troops being transported makes no sense even with much later ships -- ARGH stop making me think about this it just makes me nitpickier!

Suffice to say the ship parts don't bear thinking about too hard. :) But again! This is a totally personal thing that nags at me when I read(/watch) ASoIaF and I don't think it should stop other people from enjoying the books, and indeed it doesn't stop ME from enjoying them, it just makes me periodically annoyed at the ship parts. And I really do think the ability of readers to nitpick your worldbuilding shows a significant success in worldbuilding! GRRM's done a good enough job that we can fuss at the logic of it, or lack thereof, which means it's an actual simulacrum of a world that we can envision and see the flaws in.

(Whereas when I complain that the cars in Cars have handles and what is inside???? everyone's just like, "Um, I don't think Pixar really thought it through that far." Which clearly they didn't, none of the infrastructure in that movie makes any sense whatsoever unless the cars slaughtered all the bipedal creatures with thumbs that originally built it, this is not what a world built by cars would look like; it's all just there to be cute and clever. The only people this bothers is parents on viewing #400, and only after they've developed elaborate theories on the economic failures of Sir Topham Hatt and the corrupt aristocratic system propping up such a ridiculous failure of an industrialist.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:49 PM on June 29, 2016 [18 favorites]


What about the fact that the giant fleet at the end of the last episode was so close together? Like they were a bunch of rowed brown-water galleys rather than galleon under sail in blue water?
posted by Justinian at 8:54 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Also it seems like the whole supply situation might have been easier to handle if you bring your army to the east edge of the stepstones overland where they can forage and then shuttle them across to Dorne bit by bit. There's no need to load all your dudes on ships AT THE SAME TIME. Far fewer ships, far fewer supplies. Sure, the overland portion will take longer but the Dothraki are all mounted light cavalry and it's not like they didn't march overland from Vaes Dothraki to Mereen anyway?
posted by Justinian at 8:57 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


Rome had a million people, yes, but that population was supported by significant infrastructure - sewers, massive aqueducts and a bespoke fleet of ships bringing grain from north africa and Egypt. Much of the Empire's history can be explained in terms of protecting that one city's jugular, even after the capital moved elsewhere. The city seems to have coped with the loss of Egyptian grain after those crops were diverted to Constantinople in the 4th Century; it may still have had up to 750,000 people well into the 5th Century; but once the aqueducts were broken by, and north africa was lost to, the Vandals, the city's decline was precipitous.

King's Landing appears to lack the infrastructure to feed, hydrate and flush half a million 400,000 people. It might manage a couple of hundred thousand, thanks to its river setting, but plague and pestilance must be rife.

And of course, all this has already been beanplated elsewhere.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 8:58 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


To be fair that isn't an official map...
posted by Justinian at 9:03 PM on June 29, 2016


They cover that. :) Also, a link I meant to inclyde about Rome.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 9:22 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


You guys are starting to make me think none of this happened the way GRRM describes it.
posted by teponaztli at 9:33 PM on June 29, 2016 [10 favorites]


If anything, there's every reason to believe each of the major migration waves from Essos brought with them superior technology that allowed them to dominate. The First Men brought, well, themselves and probably sticks and stone age weapons. It took them, like, centuries to make their way up the neck. When the Andals showed up, they brought with them superior weaponry - probably bronze - that allowed them to conquer at a much more rapid pace. Steel easily could have developed over time, or maybe the fallen Valyarians brought it with the dragons. Who knows? But, there's no reason to think technology hasn't evolved over time. The very existence of the maesters suggests that it has.

I mean, it's still pretty simplistic, but there is a lot of room for technological growth in GoT lore, and even examples of it.


According to The World of Ice and Fire, the First Men were bronze age; the Andals came after the rise of Valyria forced them to flee or be enslaved, and they came with iron and the faith of the Seven. Not clear when steel came about - the books distinguish between castle forged steel and Valyrian steel. But there is evidence of technological progress and change happening.
posted by nubs at 9:34 PM on June 29, 2016 [2 favorites]


How do you even launch a ship with your face? Do you like, bite a rope and drag it or something? </kidding>
posted by XMLicious at 11:07 PM on June 29, 2016 [1 favorite]


Oh God this is so tone-deaf to the fiction and proud of itself. I don't know why it's proud of itself, when the thought process seems to be "GRRM says this, but he must be wrong! And those wrong numbers don't fit medieval demographics. There's a source that contradicts what I'm saying about that, but it's also wrong!" Okay, okay. You feel Terribly Smart. We get it.

I mean the thing with ASoIAF that people don't get is that it's very particular about where the grim verisimilitude levers get thrown. This is a series that sends characters into battle wearing bejewelled, incredibly ornate armour that real medievals generally kept away from warfare. It has magic swords, thrones made of dragon-welded swords thirty feet high (that's in the books; the Iron Throne of the show is significantly downsized) and sub-Ghormenghastian castles. ASoIAF is (genre-wise)Gothic as fuck in many respects, but sets the grit and politics in deliberate tension with that atmosphere. (The problematic aspects of the series are more in keeping with Gothic fiction, and all the family shame.) The show doesn't do this so much.
posted by mobunited at 12:06 AM on June 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


This is a series that is very particular about saying look at how realistic I'm being, everyone's eating buttered mashed turnips not potatoes, and then Theon says he aimed his crossbow at a wild turkey* and Arya happens upon a field of maize**. So, eh.

And, of course, writers in general tend to be crap about numbers.

* AGOT : “I spied a turkey,” Theon said, annoyed by the question. “How was I to know that you’d leave the boy alone?”
** ACOK ch 9: “It’s sweetcorn, better’n a stinking old black bird like you deserves,” one of them answered roughly. [...] They roasted the sweetcorn in the husk that night, turning the ears with long forked sticks, and ate it hot right off the cob.

posted by sukeban at 1:14 AM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


I complain that the cars in Cars have handles and what is inside????

And where do baby cars come from? I mean how does that even work?
posted by Literaryhero at 1:42 AM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Realism is more like that time that Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stumbled into some kind of dimensional portal and had to live in the Alexandrian-era Near East, on Earth.
posted by thelonius at 2:57 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Whereas when I complain that the cars in Cars have handles and what is inside???? everyone's just like, "Um, I don't think Pixar really thought it through that far."

How does Mrs. Incredible's circulatory system work when she's stretching? How does Violet see when she's invisible and completely transparent to light? Not even the Fantastic Four could explain that, and Reed Richards is a super-genius.
posted by Halloween Jack at 4:30 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


How does Mrs. Incredible's circulatory system work when she's stretching? How does Violet see when she's invisible and completely transparent to light? Not even the Fantastic Four could explain that, and Reed Richards is a super-genius.

Warren Ellis did a take on this in Planetary and his "Mr. Fantastic" constructed special goggles for her. But "The Four" were all murdering psychopaths intent on selling Earth to extra dimensional gods. Or something. So making the goggles was about the nicest thing that "Mr. Fantastic" ever did, before he was killed in a humiliating fashion.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:57 AM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Being privy to a character's inner thoughts and expected to treat them as an accurate description of what the character is thinking primes us to take the descriptions of the world around those characters as equally accurate.

I couldn't disagree more. You're getting everything through the POV character's biases and filters.

ASoIAF is (genre-wise)Gothic as fuck in many respects

Southern Gothic, yes. It owes more too Faulkner than Tolkien. If you've read ASOIAF and haven't read As I Lay Dying, go do that right now
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 6:12 AM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I'm very sorry I spoiled Seveneves for Brandon.

No worries, it really wasn't spoiled. The characters are behaving like such idiots, that reading the book has become more of some sort "I WILL FINISH THIS" thing.

and to be fair no one's spoiled you in the important part of the book: the hundreds upon hundreds of pages of painstaking description of orbital mechanics, upon which Stephenson spent much more time and energy than he spent on thinking about human societies and how they work.

Having played enough Kerbal Space Program that I have a decent grasp of orbital mechanics (I can dock ships!) these pages are just skipped after a certain point.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:31 AM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


> Having played enough Kerbal Space Program that I have a decent grasp of orbital mechanics (I can dock ships!) these pages are just skipped after a certain point.

... I'm pretty sure I just realized how Neal Stephenson spends most of his time these days.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 7:36 AM on June 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


I mean the thing with ASoIAF that people don't get is that it's very particular about where the grim verisimilitude levers get thrown. This is a series that sends characters into battle wearing bejewelled, incredibly ornate armour that real medievals generally kept away from warfare. It has magic swords, thrones made of dragon-welded swords thirty feet high (that's in the books; the Iron Throne of the show is significantly downsized) and sub-Ghormenghastian castles. ASoIAF is (genre-wise)Gothic as fuck in many respects, but sets the grit and politics in deliberate tension with that atmosphere. (The problematic aspects of the series are more in keeping with Gothic fiction, and all the family shame.) The show doesn't do this so much.

Yes - and this is precisely why it's interesting to see where fantasy breaks down. And this is what I meant upthread by saying that very often epic fantasy is about creating a frame to hold a picture - a picture of Shame As A Gorgon, or Knightly Heroism On The Field, or a sky full of dragons, or whatever. Epic fantasy plots very often work to stabilize these pictures, these moments, which is precisely why they do not need and cannot have verisimilitude.

A real world (let's just say that you construct one modeled fairly carefully on what contemporary scholarship says about demographics, agriculture and politics in medieval Europe) could not produce the plot of GoT. So we're left with "verisimilitude effects" - what methods does GRRM use to convince us of the "realness" of his story?

Someone like M John Harrison is always, always signaling to us in all kinds of ways that Viriconium is not a stable, "real" place - it's shifting, it's unreliable, it drops in and out of metaphor, sometimes it's actually London, etc. GRRM is doing the opposite - he's using verisimilitude effects to give us the sense that we're reading something that is "realistic". This is, to me, an interesting way to consider a specific fantasy text.

Then we get to some political questions - what makes something "realistic" and why? What inaccuracies are we willing to tolerate, and why? This is where GRRM doesn't hold up so well, as so many people have pointed out.

I think the attempt to say that fantasy should be "realistic" is always going to fail, because (leaving aside the pomo-y 'what is reality, how can it exist on a page' stuff) if you write a "realistic" enough novel, you end up writing history with the names and dates changed - that is, there's no particular reason to write fantasy if fantasy doesn't do something different from realistic fiction.

If I say "I want to write a novel about Thomas Cromwell where he is a sympathetic, intelligent and modern guy but where almost everything else is as true-to-history as I can get it", to what degree is that a fantasy novel? Obviously, Hillary Mantel doesn't get shelved with GRRM because of a bunch of economic and social factors, but is there anything we can say about the genre of fantasy when considering Wolf Hall?

What does fantasy do that historical fiction doesn't? Is this difference just an artifact of economics and social class?

Obviously fantasy does a lot of different things - Pavane doesn't have the same purpose as Kingdoms of Elfin or Perdido Street Station. But again, I think there's some things that epic fantasy tends toward.

I think GoT as gothic is a great point, and speaks neatly to GRRM's very odd book Fevre Dream, which I think I will reread over the weekend. I do not guarantee this book as the Best Ever Discussion of Race In The South, and indeed if memory serves it has some significant problems in that regard, but it's....an odd little book, and a particularly odd little book for 1982, when it was published.
posted by Frowner at 8:13 AM on June 30, 2016 [11 favorites]


ASoIAF is (genre-wise)Gothic as fuck in many respects, but sets the grit and politics in deliberate tension with that atmosphere.

Of course in that case, one shouldn't make the argument that the rape and misogyny scenes are in there "because history and war". The scenes are in they're purely Nevada's the author thought they were kewl, drsmstic and titillating. And notice that the MEN never hey raped- evidently that element of historiy isn't worth putting in.

Of course the "throughout history" argument is also saying "rape and misogyny is to be expected- it's normal." And also it's not so subtly saying "Women don't know how good you have it nowadays, so shut up about sexism"
posted by happyroach at 8:20 AM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Of course the "throughout history" argument is also saying "rape and misogyny is to be expected- it's normal." And also it's not so subtly saying "Women don't know how good you have it nowadays, so shut up about sexism"

Well, that's one reading. For me ---- my feeling is that classic high fantasy is a pretty conservative genre, you know? Modernity is bad, machines are bad, hell, democracy is bad. Times were better when society obeyed the natural order, in which all men have a place, and knowing their place, are at peace. Order flows from the justice and nobility of the king, is embodied by him. His body is strong and beautiful, his blood is magic.

And that vision is still quite appealling, you know? It tugs at us, it overlaps a lot with practically every version of the hero's quest ever depicted. This one kid, they may not look like much, but deep down inside they've got something special, they're marked for greatness, and when they triumph everything will be put to rights. All other men should kneel and serve this blessed one.

To my mind, ASoiAF is at its core a critique of that power structure, a critique of the idea of nobility through a depection of the brutality of the patriarchy, of the necessity that gaining and maintaining power through this system requires such brutality. When the king's blood is magic, when the possession of a son who shares that blood is the keystone of legitimacy, no woman's body can be her own. A womb is a nuclear weapon, that must be kept under lock and key. When there is no other route to legitimate power than possession of that blood, those who cannot access that power will scheme and plot and corrupt the institutions they are meant to serve. When you are a person who doesn't quite fit into the place that that world has reserved for you --- a noble woman who prefers a sword to a sowing needle, a man who cannot weild a sword, a son who does not wish to become a father, or who loves books better than battle, the wheels of this world will crush you. You don't fit, therefore you pose a danger to the rickety jenga-tower of legitimacy, and you'll always have a target on your back.

To my mind, the question GRRM is answering is "How does power really operate under a feudal, patriarchal system?" The gore and the blood and the rape and the tryanny are the answers to that question. To win the game of thrones, you rule by fire and blood.
posted by Diablevert at 8:47 AM on June 30, 2016 [13 favorites]


Of course the "throughout history" argument is also saying "rape and misogyny is to be expected- it's normal."

I think I'm the woman who first raised the issue in this thread.

I've already mentioned how frustrating it is that it presupposes that I'm ignorant of the fact that history has been brutal toward women. In fact, I probably know more about history than the average person making the argument. My disagreement with the way that G.R.R.M. handles rape can't be "educated away."

But bringing it back to realism:

If I put aside the social reasons that it bothers me, there is still the issue of realism.

My major criterion for "realism" when it comes to fantasy works is internal consistency. That is, I can buy dragons, because magic, but I have a harder time buying an economy that doesn't make sense. This goes for characterization, too. I want a character's personality and beliefs to make sense in the context of their world, not to be determined by what is palatable or demanded by the plot.

I would actually have trouble suspending my disbelief if Westeros had gender equality and no sexual violence against women. In fact, I would suspect that it was an oversight--a male author failing to think through women's issues (again). It would strike me as internally inconsistent with the world G.R.R.M. set up.

Where my suspension of disbelief breaks, then, is when I can tell that a rape scene ostensibly from the female victim's point of view was obviously written by a man who thinks about women sexually. That is, rape scenes written with the male gaze. And when the context is more such scenes like that--more than is needed for "realism"--then it becomes even harder to ignore.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:57 AM on June 30, 2016 [12 favorites]


This was a fun exercise, but the author missed so many things: like first that Westeros does not have a uniform density. Specifically, The North is the largest region while also being the least populous.

The rest of the "unrealism" is basically acceptable fiction: armies and cities are excessively large because they reflect the perceptions of size from a medieval perspective. Dynasties seem larger and more stable than we would expect because the entire civilization has lasted longer than we could reasonably expect (10,000 years of written history!).

The only thing that bothers me is that Westeros is supposed to be a backwater compared to Essos. And maybe relative to Essos it is, but the size of Westerosi cities, even accounting for unreliable narrator estimates, is larger than a backwater could sustain. Then again, the Laws of Narrative Fiction prevail: no one wants to read about a continent that has at most a single large city the size of Somerville, MA punctuated with other "cities" roughly the size of Brookline and Amherst.
posted by deanc at 10:54 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


The only thing that bothers me is that Westeros is supposed to be a backwater compared to Essos.

That seems to be Essos prejudice that has some justification (ground lenses are imported from Lys) but is rooted in Valerian notions (it took a century after the Doom for the Targs to decide Westeros was even worth the bother of conquering.)
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:29 AM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


Westeros also outlawed slavery, and had a relatively stable form of government for many centuries, albeit one enforced by the Targaryen Air Force. What passes for peace in Essos mostly depends on various Dothraki khals accepting the tribute of various cities.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:38 AM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


There's also some parallel between 'backwards' Yanks helping turn the tide in WWI and Aegon the Conquer's opposition of Volantis' attempt to reestablish the Valerian Empire.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 11:49 AM on June 30, 2016


The only thing that bothers me is that Westeros is supposed to be a backwater compared to Essos.

Honestly, it makes sense if Westeros is less-diverse-England, which it seems like it is. Less diverse England with dragons, extra rape, even fewer women with power and agency, and placed along the Mediterranean so those differently colored people with their different different cultures seeking white saviors to save them are just across a small body of water. This is fairly firmly in the tradition of High Fantasy so it's hardly a shock; that it is largely unremarked and unchallenged is part of how Martin is operating unconsciously within that paradigm even while trying to critique it. It's interesting to see how the tv show is subverting his own subversions and lack thereof.

I also think it's not entirely true that no men are raped in his books; I believe one of the male characters is raped as part of a general torture him until he's unrecognizable plotline. That it takes such an extreme position for a man to be raped is notable in of itself in contrast to the regularly of rape used against and to marginalize women.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:52 PM on June 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


placed along the Mediterranean so those differently colored people with their different different cultures seeking white saviors to save them are just across a small body of water

I don't see this as a valid analogy. Slaver's Bay is on the eastern edge of the easily "accessible" world, not a quick jump across the sea from Westeros. No entity in GRRM's world is precisely correlated with the "real world," but the idea is that The Free Cities directly across the water are the Italian Maritime Republics and Flemish cities on the cusp of the Renaissance while Westeros is still scraping by as a relatively poor, cold, fractious region no one really cares about. ASOIAF is based on the War of the Roses, but the economic/political state of Westeros is closer to that of early Middle Ages where the continent is just *barely* hanging on as a recently-unified entity.

If anything, the outcome I see is that it's Essos that effectively forecloses on Westeros, as they are out of money, and the royal houses are going to end up without any descendants to keep the seven kingdoms together. Westeros is the "main character" because that's the topic, but they aren't the "heroes" in that they conquer the world. Rather, we are watching a dying civilization trying to save itself.
posted by deanc at 1:38 PM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


The thing about realism is that it's the wrong word for what GRRM is trying to do. ASOIAF is a rejoinder to (what were at the time he started) the conventions of high fantasy, drawing selectively on the brutality, intrigue, and other not-so-heroic aspects one finds reading medieval history. He does to an extent "have" to include the torture and rape because that's part of his premise. This does not mean you are wrong for finding his obsession with torture and rape offputting or the whole gritdarkgrimegrim thing tiresome, especially since a couple decades on that's becoming the new set of fantasy cliches.
posted by atoxyl at 1:47 PM on June 30, 2016 [5 favorites]


It was Westeros that got conquered and colonized by Essos and its dragons. Maybe instead of history repeating itself, the end of all this will be native Westerosi zombies throwing off the yoke of eastern dracotyranny once and for all.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:51 PM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I understand the assertion that ASOIAF was a deconstruction of early/mid-90s epic fantasy writing. It may even be true, I wasn't reading much of any fantasy being published around that time. It sounds about right when it comes to stuff like the noble Stark family getting repeatedly shit on when they try to do the noble, romantic thing.

But I also feel like random rape scenes in the middle of epic fantasy stories were more or less de rigeur at the time. If GRRM's use is a deconstruction, then I'm not sure it's particularly distinguishable from the thing he's deconstructing.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:24 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


I mean, I know that reading Eye of Argon for a laugh was still really common at the time, and surely the reason that story was and remains a popular in-joke is that its hackneyed tropes -- random rape scenes being one of them -- were all immediately recognisable to fan audiences.
posted by tobascodagama at 2:29 PM on June 30, 2016




My major criterion for "realism" when it comes to fantasy works is internal consistency. That is, I can buy dragons, because magic, but I have a harder time buying an economy that doesn't make sense.

To my mind, it really depends on the fantasy- there's a lot of metaphorical fantasy out there these days, where the world is deliberately set up not to be realistic. And that's OK- Wonderland shouldn't be plausible.

But if the intent is to make a secondary world, it shouldn't have to be perfect, but at least some effort towards making the ecology and economy workable is a good thing, to me (I say, having spent way too much time in Google Earth and reference docs figuring out required agriculture areas, plausible societies and trade routes for far-future Fantasy Central Asia).

I would actually have trouble suspending my disbelief if Westeros had gender equality and no sexual violence against women. .

With the way Game of Thrones is set up, yeah. But I have really fundamental problems worth Westeros being a Medieval Europe clone on a completely different continent. And it's not like there's an impressive in fantasy to write Medieval Europe clones.

And the "historical rape" argument also gets into the fact that our current views of medieval society are themselves informed by what we want to say about our current culture. Both the pastoral Patrice paradice views of Tolkien, and our "it was a hellhole of rape, war and disease" ideas probably say more about us than the actual history.

Where my suspension of disbelief breaks, then, is when I can tell that a rape scene ostensibly from the female victim's point of view was obviously written by a man who thinks about women sexually.

That is wince inducing, and makes me wonder about the actual motives of the author- no wait, I don't wonder about them at all.

Finally, I think authors and readers need to be reminded that there is no requirement that rape be involved, just because a work is a fantasy. There is no need to have say, "Child of a Hidden Sea" or "Moribito" have the passage "And then the heroine was raped, because REALISM, AMRIGHT?"
posted by happyroach at 2:57 PM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


Finally, I think authors and readers need to be reminded that there is no requirement that rape be involved, just because a work is a fantasy. There is no need to have say, "Child of a Hidden Sea" or "Moribito" have the passage "And then the heroine was raped, because REALISM, AMRIGHT?"

I don't really get this, as a critique. Because I'm not seeing anyone saying the same thing about murder and mutilation. Kill as much as you want, sever hands, sever heads, pop eyes from their sockets, crush skulls, shoot a man in the bowels and catch the scent of shit mingling with the blood, but no rape? Never rape? If you want to make the argument, "no author should ever portray such levels of brutality, because forcing the reader to mentally experience it is in itself a wrong," that'd be consistent, to my mind. But to portray a world in which a character is hunted, raped, flayed alive and fed to dogs and only object to the second verb doesn't make sense to me.

I don't really see how you can write a book whose point is "patriarchy is fucked up, yo" and avoid the ways in which control of women's bodies by men is a central lever of power, that under a patriarchal fuedal system the womb is a natural resource to be put to use sustaining the future of your great house, and therefore to threaten that or to destroy that is one of the most important ways you can harm your enemies. Rape is a weapon, in that world. If you want to depict a world in which violence never rises to that level ---- in which murders are rare, family-wrecking events, violence far more often threatened then enacted --- sure, then you don't need to show rape. But I don't think you can have a world in which murder is a commenplace --- when such is the absolute power of nobility over the peasentry that they can let their bastards flay people alive as a hobby --- and have rape be the untouchable, unthinkable, umentionable subject. Whether or not there's too much rape in ASoIaF, that's up to each reader to decide for themselves. But I don't think there's more rape than there is murder, and torture, and theft, as a matter of fact.
posted by Diablevert at 3:14 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


The difference is that each of us doesn't know several people (or is someone) who has been flayed.

"Don't get upset about not terribly well thought out depictions of rape" is a super bad hill to die on.
posted by The Gaffer at 3:22 PM on June 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


Just to be clear, I wouldn't ever tell someone that it's wrong for them to be upset by something they've read. You have every right to feel what you feel. My only objection is to the notion "it is wrong for the author to have written as they have written."
posted by Diablevert at 3:30 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


I think the problem is that Martin clearly enjoys writing violence and torture generally. I've no idea whether he enjoys writing rape more, but he clearly doesn't enjoy writing it less. That's really fucking difficult for me to take. Does that make Martin a terrible person? I don't think so. Does it make the books worse? Yes, I think it does.

I don't buy the idea that Martin's purpose in writing the books is to critique patriarchy, although there is an element of that critique in them. He is writing entertainment. There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't provide, in my view, moral cover for depictions of any form of violence. So I think we come back to the utilitarian question of what specifically is depicted and what it specifically means and achieves. I think that the depictions of rape in the books, like the depictions of violence, are primarily titillating. I think you can just about get away with that in relation to most violence, but there are a whole raft of issues that make such depictions of rape unjustifiably harmful.
posted by howfar at 4:05 PM on June 30, 2016 [4 favorites]


I don't really get this, as a critique. Because I'm not seeing anyone saying the same thing about murder and mutilation.

OK, fine, I will. One does not need to put murder or mutilation in a work just because it's fantasy. There's no need to make a point that patriarchy is fucked up just because it's a fantasy.

One can go ahead and put them in there, but at least be honest as to WHY they're included. And no, "realism" is not a justification.

I look askance at explanations that rape and grimdark violence is necessary because it's a "deconstruction". At this time, 30 years after I read the first grimdark "Oooh we put rape and ultraviolence in it" fantasy, it's not something original, it's not saying something new, it's just the mainstream like all the other dark fantasy books with rape and ultra-violence.

I just want authors to be aware and honest as to WHY they're doing things, and to stop making excuses
posted by happyroach at 4:06 PM on June 30, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think the problem is that Martin clearly enjoys writing violence and torture generally. I've no idea whether he enjoys writing rape more, but he clearly doesn't enjoy writing it less

That's an argument you're going to have to flesh out. I'm not sure he particularly enjoys violence and torture. Ramsay could take notes from medieval (or Elizabethan) practitioners.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 4:58 PM on June 30, 2016 [1 favorite]


Below is a list of as many rapes and attempted rapes I could find on one pass, just for reference.
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 17:34 on June 30 [2 favorites +] [!]


Thank you so much for this. I find aspects of the show problematic, but I do not truck with people who claim it is more sexually violent against women. The prevalence of rape and the loving, sexually-charged detail in which it was described was one of the primary reasons I can't read the books. Off the top of my head, at least three of GRRM's primary female characters (Dany, Cersei, Yara) got the "I said no, but then I liked it" treatment, and that's without reviewing.

It's one thing to say "Oh, but it's realistic to point out the ways women were exploited within medieval societies". That's cool! I'm OK with that! But you get side-eye from me when the author claims that and then his descriptions are sexualized and his victims enjoy themselves. That's not cool, that's fucked up.

Say what you will about the show, but at least when women get raped they aren't sighing lovingly about the experience afterwards and reflecting on how satisfied they feel.
posted by schroedinger at 8:34 PM on June 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


I don't really see how you can write a book whose point is "patriarchy is fucked up, yo" and avoid the ways in which control of women's bodies by men is a central lever of power, that under a patriarchal fuedal system the womb is a natural resource to be put to use sustaining the future of your great house, and therefore to threaten that or to destroy that is one of the most important ways you can harm your enemies. Rape is a weapon, in that world.

You can do that, but you can make the descriptions not sexy, and not have the women be happy about it afterwards. You know, make it a rape, not a rape fantasy.
posted by schroedinger at 8:42 PM on June 30, 2016 [8 favorites]


I understand the assertion that ASOIAF was a deconstruction of early/mid-90s epic fantasy writing. It may even be true, I wasn't reading much of any fantasy being published around that time. It sounds about right when it comes to stuff like the noble Stark family getting repeatedly shit on when they try to do the noble, romantic thing.


My claim was more that he was part of a wave of 80s-90s dark fantasy writers deconstructing the Tolkien-esque stuff they grew up on - less responding to their own era than defining it. But you make a good point which is that you can find deconstructions of heroic fantasy from different angles going back to the early 70s, and of course some pretty lurid pulp stuff before Tolkien. So it's fair to question whether the grim fantasy ever wasn't there. (I actually thought GoT came out sonewhat earlier than it apparently did, also.)
posted by atoxyl at 8:49 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


This would have been more interesting to me if he'd assessed the impact of using crows for communication (which clearly was a key element in administering an unprecedentedly large empire like Westeros) and considered the demographic impact of years and years without winter--and thus extra harvests and surplus food--and how a surfeit of young people without land could contribute to ambitious lords raising abnormally large armies and trying out their fortunes.

Seriously, find a hook for this stuff. Challenge yourself to see if your complaints stand up--try to make Westeros work. As it stands it's a boring list of things that don't correspond reality that matter to the author, who seems to think its objectively valid because other people do like some other things that (they think) correspond to reality. (I'm personally not at all sold on the idea that large empires don't have long dynasties or complaints about army sizes, but at least make it interesting if you're going on about it.)

I started writing this post by giving a positive example, too wordy and basically irrelevant but I'll leave it here. Because there are ways to have fun with this stuff.

The Annotated Sherlock Holmes is in my opinion the classic of good writing in the class. It's the complete works with a summary of "scholarship" on Holmes in the margin. The thing is an impressive artifact of what people with too much time on their hands did in the pre-internet days. (This was the group that had a magazine with a contributor list bigger than the subscriber list--"never has so much been written by so many for so few.")

One key conceit is that the stories are treated as historical, so every attempt is made to interpret them in that context. Inconsistencies are not mistake by Doyle--they are the obtuseness of Watson, gambits by Holmes or cunning moves by villains. So the lazy and boring "Lion's Mane" story gets torn apart, but as a sad insight into Holmes' senility in his later years.

I don't even like Holmes that much but this sort of thing was a minor art form that seems, perversely, to be dying as genre stuff goes more mainstream and it gets easier to comment on it. You don't need to write about it well, you just toss it out there.

------------------------

Also, because I'm also a boring nerd who drones on about this stuff as well, and it bothers me and I can't let it go, professional armies in the middle ages were not larger. Byzantine armies got larger, relative to population, when they went from full professional to the semi-pro theme system and English armies got smaller when Edward III focused on trained longbowmen in a way his granddad didn't. Professional armies took more resources and didn't match the size of unprofessional levies. If you're going to say this stuff, glass houses and stones and all that.

posted by mark k at 11:06 PM on June 30, 2016 [2 favorites]


I look askance at explanations that rape and grimdark violence is necessary because it's a "deconstruction". At this time, 30 years after I read the first grimdark "Oooh we put rape and ultraviolence in it" fantasy, it's not something original, it's not saying something new, it's just the mainstream like all the other dark fantasy books with rape and ultra-violence.

Sure, but that's like criticizing the film Aliens for the cliched space marines or Warhammer for ripping off World of Warcraft. The causality is backwards. Martin more or less defines the current trend. Yes, you can find examples that predate him. You can also find examples of high fantasy which predate Tolkien or fangfuckers which predate Laurell K Hamilton and so on. But in all cases they're the trendsetters and originators.

Erikson, Abercrombie, Lynch, you name it; they wouldn't be writing exactly what they're writing without Martin.
posted by Justinian at 12:59 AM on July 1, 2016


Scott Lynch doesn't look to GRRM, Scott Lynch looks back to Fritz Leiber and the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories (and speaking of low fantasy...)
posted by sukeban at 2:17 AM on July 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


Is Cersei meant to be bad? She's one of the characters I most respect.
posted by jaduncan at 2:22 AM on July 1, 2016


Say what you will about the show, but at least when women get raped they aren't sighing lovingly about the experience afterwards and reflecting on how satisfied they feel.

The moment I noped out of the show forever was when Cersei got raped by Jamie and nobody involved with creating this scene was aware that it was a rape scene.
posted by tobascodagama at 5:40 AM on July 1, 2016


The moment I noped out of the show forever was when Cersei got raped by Jamie and nobody involved with creating this scene was aware that it was a rape scene.

To be fair, that would be wholly in line with the source material:
There was no tenderness in the kiss he returned to her, only hunger. Her mouth opened for his tongue. “No,” she said weakly when his lips moved down her neck, “not here. The septons…”

“The Others can take the septons.” He kissed her again, kissed her silent, kissed her until she moaned. Then he knocked the candles aside and lifted her up onto the Mother’s altar, pushing up her skirts and the silken shift beneath. She pounded on his chest with feeble fists, murmuring about the risk, the danger, about their father, about the septons, about the wrath of gods. He never heard her. He undid his breeches and climbed up and pushed her bare white legs apart. One hand slid up her thigh and underneath her smallclothes. When he tore them away, he saw that her moon’s blood was on her, but it made no difference.

“Hurry,” she was whispering now, “quickly, quickly, now, do it now, do me now. Jaime Jaime Jaime.” Her hands helped guide him.
Hey man, if she says no and tries to push you away don't worry about it--she'll totes be into by the end! So romantic! So sexy!
posted by schroedinger at 5:57 AM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think people just didn't realize it was a rape scene until it was actually depicted on screen. Like a lot of GRRM's "sex" scenes.
posted by schroedinger at 6:04 AM on July 1, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think of him as "George 'You Said Rape Twice' Martin".
posted by howfar at 7:10 AM on July 1, 2016


Scott Lynch doesn't look to GRRM, Scott Lynch looks back to Fritz Leiber and the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories (and speaking of low fantasy...)

And for "deconstructing fantasy," you have Leiber (30s), Moorcock (60s), Cook (80s), Gemmell (80s), and others, all of whom bring gritty (or at least louche) to high fantasy. Martin is not exactly a pioneer in this....
posted by GenjiandProust at 11:12 AM on July 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


I only got through the first Black Company book, but I really have to retake the series.
posted by sukeban at 11:55 AM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Scott Lynch doesn't look to GRRM, Scott Lynch looks back to Fritz Leiber and the Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser stories (and speaking of low fantasy...)


What I really like about Lynch (although I think there's too much pointless violence and torture in his books too) is that he is so obviously well read outside of genre fiction, without feeling like I'm getting that fact crammed down my throat. GRRM is a decent writer, and on his day writes excellent chapters, but once I decided that there was a lot of stuff I didn't really like about the stories, there wasn't enough to the prose to draw me on.

Lynch's books are still too long, though. But that's a product of market forces. God I hate the fact that authors are required to publish by the pound.
posted by howfar at 12:06 PM on July 1, 2016 [2 favorites]


To be fair, that would be wholly in line with the source material

Oh, I'm sure, which is why I'm not particularly bothered to read the books at this point.
posted by tobascodagama at 12:49 PM on July 1, 2016


I actually stopped watching the show for a season after one of the rape scenes. I only got back into it because my partner kept watching it and I happened to catch an episode. I'm just awfully tired of the whole grimdark thing, as are a lot of people. It's not even a realism question, it's just a "I've seen movies about suicide that weren't so gratingly dark" thing. Even when I do watch the show, I'll be like "this goddamn show again," because everything is written in such a way as to really drive home the suuuper deep point that everyone is flawed. And then they blow our minds with "even people we think are good are capable of bad things" plot points. It's sadistic and cruel, and sadism and cruelty stand in for depth and, yes, realism far too often.

I didn't like TFA because it was all "Medieval France couldn't... etc etc," and it didn't touch on the failure of this kind of storytelling. It's like yeah, everyone talks about how gritty and "real" the show is, and that justifies some awful content, but I don't think talking about how "there couldn't actually be a thousand ships" touches on any of that except in the most oblique way. It's the Neil Degrasse Tyson approach to what feels like a real, infectious problem in modern storytelling (even Alan Moore says he regrets The Killing Joke).
posted by teponaztli at 1:10 PM on July 1, 2016 [3 favorites]


Even when I do watch the show, I'll be like "this goddamn show again"

See also: The Walking Dead.
posted by tobascodagama at 1:43 PM on July 1, 2016


I am still watching and am a fan of the show. If Season 6 was like Season 5 I would've quit, but the show has wholly redeemed itself, at least in its treatment of women.
posted by schroedinger at 2:43 PM on July 1, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah, season 6 is the only reason I started watching again. As far as I understand, this is the first season where the material is mostly not from GRRM, and I've been wondering if that's why I think this season is so much better than the last one.
posted by teponaztli at 2:59 PM on July 1, 2016


I only got through the first Black Company book, but I really have to retake the series.

I've been wondering why I enjoyed the Black Company books so much more than Game of Thrones, when similar atrocities happen in them, and I'm thinking partially it may because they wern't done for titillation, I don't remember any "then she began enjoying it" element.

And then of course there's the wonderfully self-aware Lady. I think that one of the reasons I didn't finish the third book were the strong implications thrat she would die or be disempowered, and I didn't want to read that. I wanted her to go on being the unsupportable ruler of the world.
posted by happyroach at 3:12 PM on July 1, 2016 [4 favorites]


As far as I understand, this is the first season where the material is mostly not from GRRM, and I've been wondering if that's why I think this season is so much better than the last one.

Season 5 definitely took liberties with which characters were in what situations . . . though the situations themselves were unfortunately all GRRM.

We know GRRM gave D&B outlines, but I don't know how detailed. The treatment of female characters in Season 6 was a huge departure from Season 5, and I can only imagine it is partly a response to the outcry. So I'm guessing GRRM's outlines couldn't have been that detailed.
posted by schroedinger at 5:46 PM on July 1, 2016


It doesn't need to make sense.

It makes money.
posted by ostranenie at 5:31 PM on July 3, 2016






homunculus: "It’s Okay That Westeros Is Poorly Designed - Answers to Some Comments"

"Finally, a huge shout out to the wonderful commenters who complained about the improbably delta-side locations of GoT cities (you’re correct), the ridiculous size of the Iron Islands navy (correct), or the many other minutiae. You are my tribe."

YESSSSSSSSSSSS.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:52 PM on July 6, 2016 [4 favorites]




History Has Some Bad News for Game of Thrones’ Daenerys Targaryen

The foremost one would be that family trees should not be shaped like a mangrove even if inbreeding gives you pretty silver-blonde hair. But hey, fantasy.
posted by sukeban at 12:24 PM on July 7, 2016


Game of Thrones Beginner’s Guide: Uncensored (Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson)
posted by homunculus at 9:56 PM on July 12, 2016 [1 favorite]




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