When I was a kid, I loved watching professional wrestling on Sunday nights. I don’t ever remember watching it without knowing it was scripted. I enjoyed it for the violent soap opera, the stupidity of the storylines and the vulgarity of its villains (and its heroes, too). Hell, that’s why I still enjoy pro wrestling occasionally, though it’s changed a lot. Old fans bemoan that the WWE isn’t scripted very well—but I think I’m just 29 instead of 7. For most rasslin’ is a kids’ game. But Sundays nights still have a violent soap opera to watch occasionally: Game of Thrones. The HBO drama has surpassed pro wrestling as the thing for violence-loving nerds to watch. It’s better than wrestling. It’s better than The Sopranos. Sheeeeeeeit, it’s better than The Wire. It’s almost as good as professional football, which is pretty much the highest praise one can give to a violence-infused drama.
I’ve recommended the show to quite a few people, but the fantasy setting is a turn-off. That’s a shame. Don’t get me wrong—and, yes, I’m about to unfairly paint an entire genre with a broad brush here—the entire fantasy genre is usually terrible. The only passable fantasy films are The Lord of the Rings series, which took almost $300 million and Peter Jackson to make. Everything else is all dragons and wizards and other things that should be confined to mid-1990s Super Nintendo games.
But Game of Thrones works. There are only a few sets of large-scale violence on the show due to budget constraints and so the violence (and there’s a lot of it) is almost all personal. The acting is strong, so you care about what happens to the characters. When a big violent set piece does happen, it’s more important because—while the show is a constant bloodbath—there’s been a big build up. It’s weird to say this about such a ridiculously bloody show, but the violence usually matters.
If you haven’t had a lifetime of murderous video games and television to prepare you for the kinds of violence on this show, you might not be a fan. But if you think you might be interested, jump in! The finale of Season 2 is this Sunday at 9 p.m. Don’t worry about coming in after 19 episodes; you’ll be just as confused if you start from episode one. But here are some tips if you’re thinking of watching.
Your Guide to the Game of Thrones Finale
Find a nerd to watch it with. I started watching Thrones because a few friends of mine had read the books and knew I had HBO. I liked the first few episodes, but I was often baffled. Game of Thrones is known for its characters, including Arya, Tyrion, Tywin, Cersei, Catelyn, Sansa, Davos Seaworth, Hodor, Littlefinger, Shae, Jon Snow, Jon Arryn, Jon Arbuckle, Garfield, Nermal, Odie, Roy the Rooster, Wade the Duck and Binky the Clown. That’s a lot of characters! A nerd who has slogged through several thousand pages can tell you who the characters are when you forget.
Don’t worry about being lost. The dialogue in Game of Thrones is usually clear enough that the scenes can work on their own without any outside context. Do you know the extended backstory of Tyrion Lannister and King Joffrey Baratheon? Who cares! Tyrion just slapped the king and it was awesome. There’s always A Wiki of Ice and Fire if you really need to know more. (Or you could read the books, but the wiki is easier.)
Root for the little girl, the dwarf, the bastard son, his fat friend and the paralyzed kid. The only likable on characters on Game of Thrones are the outcasts. There are five you should root for. But don’t get too attached, because…
Spoiler alert: Everyone dies. HBO shows have long killed off characters in lieu of plot development, but Game of Thrones takes it to a new level. The main character of Season 1 was offed in the penultimate episode! If you’re the type of person who can really care about television characters you may need a box of tissues.