Pat Stacey: I don't love Game of Thrones - the end of the series can't come quick enough
“How the hell can you call yourself a TV critic when you don’t watch Game of Thrones, the biggest series on the planet?”
I get that quite a lot.
“You don’t know what you’re missing. It’s brilliant! It’s the greatest TV show ever made!”
I get that all the time.
“You should read the books. They’re way, way better than the TV series.”
I get that occasionally.
This is what it’s like being someone who gets paid to write about television, yet doesn’t have much interest in what has become the most watched, most discussed, most analysed, most illegally downloaded series in television’s history.
I’m not the only one, either. A TV critic for a British broadsheet recently admitted she’d never seen a single moment of Game of Thrones. In preparation for the eighth and final season, she took it upon herself to watch all 67 episodes (now 68 after Monday night's season première on Sky Atlantic).
I won’t be doing that, because I have seen Game of Thrones, and more than once. I watched the first few episodes when it started in 2011, but didn’t feel any burning desire to carry on.
Back then, it wasn’t the biggest thing on television, and certainly didn’t look like it would quickly become a global phenomenon. It was just another series — although a hugely risky one.
George RR Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books always had a big following, but fantasy fiction was widely regarded, however erroneously, as the preserve of pale, male, moody, bedroom-dwelling adolescent nerds (we now know GoT’s audience is almost evenly split between men and women).
Fantasy had never been the easiest of sells to a broad television audience, so you have to admire HBO for taking such a huge gamble and pulling it off with spectacular success.
And I do admire the broadcaster. I also admire the tremendous skill, professionalism and talent, in front of and behind the camera, that goes into Game of Thrones at every level.
I just don’t particularly care for the series. Those early episodes didn’t do it for me. I’ve returned to it a few times over the past eight years and tried again, thinking maybe I really was missing out on something special.
I even made a point of watching the whole of season seven with my youngest daughter, a late GoT convert who’d spent the early weeks of summer 2017 binge-watching her way through the previous six seasons. And, of course, I watched last night’s episode.
It’s still not doing it for me. I’ve never been keen on fantasy anyway, not even when I was that pale, moody, bedroom-dwelling adolescent nerd.
It’s nothing to do with cultural snobbery, either. I’ll devour literary fiction, history and biographies, but I also have a deep and abiding love for certain types of genre fiction: horror, Cold War espionage (Le Carré especially), hardboiled private eye stories (Hammett, Chandler, Ross Macdonald, Walter Mosley) and science fiction — the hard, speculative kind, rather than something like Star Wars, which at heart is just an update of those black-and-white Flash Gordon serials from the 1930s and ’40s.
I don’t actively dislike Game of Thrones in the same way as comedian Stewart Lee, who famously dubbed it — slightly unfairly, perhaps, but hilariously — “Peter Stringfellow’s Lord of the Rings”. I do, however, share his distaste for all the female nudity, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence.
I accept that some of the time these scenes are necessary; the historical milieu, including the War of the Roses, from which Martin’s books draw their inspiration was violent and often depraved. But the way it’s presented on screen often feels cynical, calculated and gratuitous.
Ultimately , the worst thing about Game of Thrones is not Game of Thrones. It’s the superfans who insist on telling me I should watch it, I have to watch it. For some of us, that big finale can’t come quick enough.