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Review: I just don't get 'Game of Thrones' and 'House of the Dragon' obsessions

A scene from 'House of the Dragon.' (HBO Max via CNN Newsource) A scene from 'House of the Dragon.' (HBO Max via CNN Newsource)
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Winter never came for me.

I say that not even fully understanding what that means, though I do know it means plenty to fans of “Game of Thrones” and “House of the Dragon.”

Bring on the fire breathing, as I am fully prepared to be judged for all of what I am about to say. I completely understand fandom. I better, given that I’m an entertainment reporter by both trade and choice.

Not to mention that those two shows have been massive hits for HBO, which shares a parent company with CNN.

I also admit to some FOMO when others are all in on pop culture obsessions, because I want to play too! And people love them some “Game of Thrones.” Like seriously love it.

My mom will tell you that pop culture has been in my blood almost since the beginning, especially television shows. If you wanted to keep me quiet as a kid, you either handed me a book or you plopped me in front of a television. Especially anything having to do with historical fiction.

So it would make sense that “Game of Thrones” would be my jam since it’s based on the incredibly popular “A Song of Fire and Ice” fantasy book series by George R. R. Martin. Upon seeing the promotional photos before the series debuted in 2011, I immediately thought “medieval drama!” and was ready to be all in, starting with the novels.

The struggle began when I was reading the first book in the series. I am that annoying type of person who MUST read the book before the thing it’s based on comes out. (I also have to read book series in strict order, but I digress).

The first book is titled “A Game of Thrones” and I settled in fully expecting to be engrossed by all 694 pages. I even poured my favorite beverage in my chalice goblet to set the mood for what I had heard was a powerful tale of the inhabitants of the fictitious lands of Westeros and Essos.

Things didn’t go as planned.

I just couldn’t seem to connect with the book, despite Martin being a fine writer.

“Maybe I just can’t read it,” I thought, and downloaded it on Audible to listen instead.

Dear reader, it became the first audiobook I have ever fallen asleep to while listening.

So my expectations were already low when the series debuted. I tried to watch the first few episodes and they seemed too dark to me — and I’m not just talking about the subject matter. The cinematography seemed so dark, at times I felt like I was struggling to make out the characters.

It all felt so…bleak. Add the fact that, as an empath, I really can’t do beheadings, and I decided to tap out.

'Succession' but with swords

The show very quickly began to take over my social media feeds and thus began my feelings of being left out of what plenty of people appeared to be enjoying.

I tried to sort out why exactly I wasn’t vibing with the “GOT” franchise.

Rhys Ifans and Olivia Cooke in 'House of the Dragon.' (Ollie Upton/HBO via CNN Newsource)

Was it because I’m not the biggest fantasy fan? No, I loved “Lord of the Rings” and “Shadow and Bone.”

Was it the violence? Perhaps, though anyone who knows me (or followed either my writing and/or my social media) knows that I am a huge fan of mob movies. I even wrote an essay inspired by the fact that I rewatch Martin Scorsese’s classic “Goodfellas” at least once a week even though, in fairness, I watch a sanitized version that I recorded off of television so it’s not as violent as the original.

The closest explanation I’ve been able to come up with centres on the fact that “The Game of Thrones” characters aren’t the greatest people, and even the incredibly handsome visage of Jon Snow (played by Kit Harington) doesn’t change that fact.

As my editor Megan Thomas pointed out, it really is like “Succession” with swords. Almost every character has an angle, and most of them aren’t people you’d want as friends in real life.

“Succession” is another hit HBO show by the way, so make of that pattern what you will.

When it comes right down to it, even for someone who enjoys watching any and all things having to do with the mafia, “Game of Thrones’” storylines of rape, war and incest felt way too brutal to me.

Solace can often be found in community, and I feel like Adam Elkus nailed it in his 2015 Medium piece titled “Why Game of Thrones Is Making Us Stupid.”

“It is a form of power pornography in which viwers [sic] watch human beings degrade, hurt, betray, abuse, and destroy each other and then compulsively compete to see how can make the most clever gif or Imgur image out of such depravity,” he writes.

Author George R.R. Martin poses at the premiere of the film "Tolkien," at the Regency Village Theatre on May 8, 2019, in Los Angeles. Warner Bros. Discovery is sticking with safe bet franchises that will likely lure viewers, including a “Harry Potter” series and a “Game of Thrones” prequel for its rebranded Max streaming service, the company announced Wednesday, April 12, 2023. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP, File)

Heavy, right?

With this weekend’s premiere of the second season of the “Game of Thrones” spinoff “House of the Dragon,” I decided to try again. This is the part where I should write something noble about how I feel like a different person or that I am in a different place years later, having survived the pandemic or something like that.

The truth is my friend actress LaNisa Renee Frederick has been documenting watching “Game of Thrones” for the first time on her Instagram account and cracking me up with her comments like “These people need baths,” “Is he gonna die soon,” and “Is he Black? Are there Black people in this?”

With remote and snacks in hand I tried again to binge watch “GOT” and … nope. Still not for me.

Before you suggest that I jump straight to watching “House of the Dragon” and abandon all hopes of its predecessor, scroll back to the portion where I mentioned my obsessive need to read things in order. That goes for watching things in order as well, and while it’s technically a prequel, just thinking about doubling back like that feels like I would be disturbing something in the force. (I know that’s a Star Wars reference but, I’m really trying to placate the fantasy fans who might feel tempted to come for my head.)

Plus, these days I’m searching for as many things as possible to feel good about. So sorry “House of the Dragon,” it doesn’t appear we’re meant to be.

Don’t feel sad for me that I’m missing out on all the action of the eagerly awaited second season, because I’m cool with it. And should anyone try to shame you for the same or express that they can’t believe that anyone wouldn’t love “GOT” or “HOTD,” share this piece with them. I want them to know it was me.

AJ Willingham is a Senior Writer for CNN Digital in Atlanta. She covers internet subcultures, religion, positive news and various obsessions.

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