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  • J. Gibson

Nostalgia Goggles and the Nitpicking of Fiction: From Game of Thrones to House of the Dragon


WARNING: SPOILERS, AND I AM A SHOW-ONLY WATCHER!


As House of the Dragon burst onto screens in 2022, many Game of Thrones fans were on the edge of their seats, excited yet wary. The new show had to live up to its predecessor’s legacy while also shaking off the bad taste left by its final two seasons. As expected, HotD has been under the microscope since then (see: that Blood and Cheese scene). However, this nitpicking isn't anything new. It's been part and parcel of the GoT fandom since the original series first aired.


When GoT premiered in 2011, it blew up quickly, but it wasn't without its critics. The opening episode, “Winter Is Coming,” has a solid 9.3/10 on IMDb, yet plenty of users on Reddit had complaints about it when it came out. One of the biggest was the portrayal of Khal Drogo as a rapist. Fans pointed out that in the book, at least from their perspectives, Drogo did not rape Dany; instead, he massaged and caressed her, asking for her consent before they had sex. They noted missing details from the books, such as Daenerys telling Drogo: “You have given me the wind.” These omissions, they argued, made the wedding scenes and their relationship more brutal than necessary and misrepresented their dynamic.


Drogo wasn’t the only character under fire. Some thought Sansa was “stiff.” Others were annoyed over the Targaryens' eye color (“Where the fuck are the violet eyes?”).


As the series progressed, the nitpicking continued. The now generally-beloved Episode 9 of Season 1, “Baelor,” rated 9.6/10 on IMDb, wasn’t spared. Some fans felt that the Battle of the Whispering Wood was not given justice and lacked clarity for viewers who hadn’t read the books. Tyrion’s battle disappointed many, who expected a more elaborate fight scene. The Season 1 finale, “Fire and Blood,” rated 9.4/10, faced scrutiny too over its CGI quality and character portrayals, such as Daenerys’s hair not burning away.


The nitpicking persisted into later seasons. Season 2’s “Blackwater” is highly rated at 9.7/10, but fans were quick to point out the missing chain from the books (blamed on budget constraints). Some even questioned the realism and execution of its battle scenes. Season 3’s finale, despite a 9.1/10 rating, was described by some fans as “underwhelming.” They thought it lacked the excitement of previous seasons and felt “extremely cramped” with events such as Davos sending Gendry away, Jaime arriving at King’s Landing, Ygritte showing back up, and Yara going to save Theon all squeezed in. Some reckoned half of this could’ve been pushed to the next season without any problems. Others felt like the whole episode was just “a race to the Daenerys scene,” which got the most funding but left out significant reveals or things to ponder before Season 4.


The “Red Wedding” episode of GoT, titled “The Rains of Castamere,” is hailed as one of the best episodes of the series and of television itself, holding an impressive 9.9/10 rating on IMDb. Despite its acclaim, it faced scrutiny and critique from fans, particularly regarding deviations from the source material. One significant point of contention was the inclusion of Talisa, Robb’s pregnant lover who was stabbed in the stomach during the Red Wedding. Many fans were critical of this addition because it wasn’t in the books.


The show’s portrayal of Robb as entitled and self-centered due to his persistent pursuit of Talisa made his betrayal of his oath seem selfish. In contrast, the book’s portrayal of Robb’s marriage to Jeyne Westerling felt more sudden and driven by a need to honor her after an impulsive mistake, making his character more sympathetic. This deviation led to feelings that Robb deserved his fate, unlike in the books where his decision, though unwise, was more understandable and driven by honor.


Another criticism was that in the books, Robb is young and not actively pursuing Jeyne, which offers some excuse for his actions. In the show, Robb is older, and it’s baffling that more people around him do not intervene to ensure he honors his pact with the Freys. The extended focus on Robb and Talisa’s romance made it seem unrealistic that no one would insist on him doing his duty by marrying a Frey, especially since it was possible for him to keep Talisa as a mistress. The rewrite of Jeyne into Talisa was likewise criticized for being cliché. Talisa was turned into a “not like other girls” character, said one user, which felt repetitive and caused the subplot to drag. This portrayal made the romance feel forced and less engaging.


Catelyn Stark’s actions during the Red Wedding were also scrutinized. In the books, her behavior, driven by a mix of rage and grief, set up her transformation into Lady Stoneheart, adding tragic depth and commentary on revenge. Without Lady Stoneheart, her actions in the show seemed less impactful. These changes made her appear foolish for bringing Talisa to the Red Wedding and failing to resolve the Talisa problem, after already starting a war by kidnapping Tyrion.


Overall, the decision to include Talisa’s pregnancy and her subsequent brutal death were viewed as an unnecessary addition to enhance the tragedy. This change deviated from the source material and complicated the story without clear justification, killing off a character who still lives in the books and potentially preventing her from playing a part in George R.R. Martin’s finale (not that it mattered!).


Despite these critiques, “The Rains of Castamere” remains a landmark episode in television history. Its ability to elicit strong emotional reactions, whether through shock, horror, or critique, underscores its powerful impact and the passionate engagement of its audience.


With HotD, such patterns of nitpicking have re-emerged. The adaptation of the Blood and Cheese storyline, for example, has been a recent point for criticism, with fans having various opinions on its faithfulness and effectiveness compared to the source material. Many viewers scrutinize character relationships and their development, comparing them to the book.


Looking back, GoT is often remembered fondly, at least for its first four seasons. However, this nostalgic view glosses over the criticism the show received during its original run. Many of the fans who now praise the earlier seasons have likely forgotten the vocal critics of specific scenes, character portrayals, and plot choices from the original airing, if they were even watching then.


Early episodes faced backlash for deviations from the books and portrayal differences, much like HotD today. Even major publications such as IndieWire gave the premiere of GoT Season 4, “Two Swords,” which has a 9.0/10 rating on IMDb, a ‘C+’ rating, calling it a “slog through fluctuating politics and random instances of gore.”


People reading the current article may argue that the examples given are true only of some fans, and the same can be said of critics of HotD too. That is, in fact, an edge of the point. The intense scrutiny and nitpicking of HotD are part of a long tradition among GoT fans.


While the new series faces the additional burden of overcoming the disappointment of GoT’s final season, it’s clear that fan criticism has always been a part of this universe. Nostalgia goggles frequently paint a rosier picture of the past, but a closer look reveals that the critical lens has always been sharp. As HotD continues to unfold, it will undoubtedly face ongoing scrutiny, but perhaps, like the better seasons of its predecessor, it will also be fondly remembered in hindsight.


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