If you're a Game of Thrones addict like myself, you couldn't wait for the "Battle of the Bastards" to air this past Sunday. Ramsay Bolton has haunted our dreams for three seasons now, and the mere thought of him maybe getting what he deserved made me thirst for blood just as much as Sansa.
But once blood began to spill on the battlefield, my desire for Ramsay to get his turned into a real-life depressive funk, and I haven't been able to shake it since.
Listen, I know that Game of Thrones is just a fantasy series, but HBO has brought George R. R. Martin's world into such strong focus that at times it feels hyper-realistic. Sure, the show features dragons and white-walkers and zombies, but every character's actions are driven by realistic human needs and desires. Even though the characters are works of fiction, the psychology behind them is not.
That realism is one of the reasons we tune in week after week — and the show's "fantasy" elements protect us from feeling guilty in taking pleasure in such a brutal world. But this week's ultra-intense medieval battle was inspired by actual human history, and its horrifying violence is just too much to ignore.
According to showrunner David Benioff, the mountain of dead bodies we saw on screen wasn't a mere fantasy, but rather a real-life anecdote. "You read accounts of the battles in the Civil War where the battles were piled so thick, it was actually an obstruction on the battlefield," said Benioff.
If that doesn't give you the shivers, I don't know what will. I mean, sure, Jon Snow had Wun Wun the giant, but the brutality of the crushing bodies, the spears closing in on a mass of trapped people and the blood and mud masking all signs of house loyalties as men brutalize one another to settle a score? Those things have happened, and continue to happen, all around the world — only now we use guns and bombs.
Perhaps it's because — as a nation — most of us are so far removed from the horrors of war that we're able to take pleasure in the "epic" nature of the battle's cinematic accomplishments. But is that a good thing? I can't help but think no.
Every Sunday, we tune in to watch Martin's characters suffer horrendous misfortune so that we can spend the days following wondering how they'll get their revenge. It's a pretty dark thing to do.
And in a particularly contentious election season, where mass-shootings have become the norm and basic civil rights are being challenged across the nation, GOT's gross violence has me feeling incredibly depressed about man's base nature and our propensity to brutalize one another.
Not to mention the pleasure we take in watching such a spectacle of violence for entertainment's sake.
I won't be quitting GOT anytime soon, but I'm sure going to be a little more aware of reveling in its darkness — and maybe, instead of just feeling sick about the show's (and mankind's) brutality, there is an opportunity to have a deeper discussion about human nature and the unexpected insights we can gain from watching Game of Thrones, not just as a form of entertainment but also as lesson in human behavior as well.
You can listen to the Game of Thrones showrunners discuss the brutal "Battle of the Bastards" in the clip below.
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