Here’s a ‘Scandal’: ‘Game of Thrones’ is a Soap Opera

So guys, I know you are super excited that Game of Thrones is coming back tonight. I don’t blame you. It is a fun, entertaining, well-made show that is always full of surprises and keeps the audience guessing. I am looking forward to watching myself.

What I have to say next though, is probably going to upset some of you, so brace yourselves.

This show you love so much? It is a soap opera.  It is “The Young and the Restless” with scraggly dudes and dragons.  I know you don’t like hearing that you favorite show bears more of a resemblance to “Scandal” than “The Sopranos”, but that is God’s honest truth.

Before you completely write me off, let’s just walk through this together for a minute.  What are the generic conventions of soap operas?

-A serial narrative structure with numerous storylines that don’t always intersect –I still haven’t seen Khaleesi interact with anyone else from the cast, have you?  This narrative complexity you love, with seven or eight separate storylines isn’t new–Luke, Laura, and the gang at “General Hospital” perfected it half a century ago.

-Long scenes of dialogue—While there are action set pieces, pay attention to how often this show just features two people talking at one another.

-A penchant for the melodramatic with focus on interpersonal relationships—This entire show is basically about how people maneuver around one another in an attempt to gain power. While they aren’t exactly boyfriends arguing with girlfriends, think about how much of this show takes place within people’s homes or personal spaces.  This is actually a characteristic of women’s dramas—scenes that take place in domestic spaces like bedrooms or at home as opposed to in the work place or in public locations.  This show may as well be a Douglas Sirk movie given how all of the key power plays tend to take place in these intimate conversations, not on the battlefield.

-The characters tend to be glamorous and attractive—I’m not talking Hodor here or anything, but look at how sexualized the two most powerful women on this show are.  Bleached blondes who are clearly natural brunettes, Cersi and Daenaris are powerful women who are generally depicted as very sexualized beings (brief aside: I am shocked an academic hasn’t written a book about the absurdity of a tiny white girl liberating an entire slave population who, God forbid, seek freedom without her help, but I am sure that dissertation is somewhere in the peer review process).  In a world that exists without deodorant, the guys always manage to look pretty sexy too.  Even when Jamie is wandering around covered in shit without a hand, he still looks like he wandered in from his Vanity Fair cover shoot.

The one thing I will give GoT is that they are willing to kill off characters and, unlike “Days of Our Lives”, they don’t come back from the dead.  In fact, I think in twenty years, this will be the one thing this show gets remembered for.  Sorry y’all, this show is good, but it is not going to end up on any best of all time lists.  It will however, be credited as the show that sparked the trend of offing seemingly key characters at surprising points within the series.  I ought to mention though that other shows have done this. I recently started watching “Deadwood”, which pulled a similar trick almost a decade ago.  "Game of Thrones" seems to be the show that pulled it off to the greatest dramatic effect though, so much so that it now seems to be a signature of the show to have a stunning and startling offing of at least one major character every season.

I know I sound like I am not on board with this show, but that isn’t the case.  I enjoy it for the exact same reasons I enjoy “Scandal”.  These shows pack a whole lot of plot into each episode, keeping me engaged and wondering what diabolical chess move awaits in the next episode.  I enjoy seeing who will randomly join forces for a partnership of convenience to get what they want.  I enjoy seeing what glamorous outfits they will show up in, though there is not a female on this show who comes anywhere close to matching Kerry Washington’s style as Olivia Pope.

But that is really where my admiration for this much-lauded show ends.  It is a remarkably well-made soap opera with incredible production value and some great source material, but this isn’t Shakespeare.  They aren’t redefining any genres, they aren’t blowing me away with their execution, they are just consistently hitting solid line drives that keep the game going and keep me roped in the action.  Just because this doesn’t seem as geared for female audiences as “Scandal” doesn’t mean these shows aren’t completely comparable.  Sure, “Scandal” has been off since returning for its back nine episodes, but at its best, it is just as good as “Game of Thrones” for many of the very same reasons.  Both are shows about the quest for power and the compromises you make to obtain it.  Both shows interweave a number of complicated narratives and expect the audiences to keep up.  And both are able to absolutely make your jaw drop with a well-executed plot twist.  Yet, so many people speak of GoT as art and Scandal as a guilty pleasure.  So, I speak out not against “Game of Thrones”, but in favor of appreciating this show for what it is, not pretending it is something it isn’t.  Suds on up, watch those dragons, but just accept that you like a soap opera and there is nothing wrong with that.


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