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Creating Game of Thrones’ Cross-Demographic Appeal through Genre-Mixing Iconicity

by Ethan Tussey

by Garret Castleberry for IN MEDIA RES

HBO's Game of Thrones acheives cross-medium success for showrunner-producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Their adaptation of author George R.R. Martin's (still-in-progress) A Song of Ice And Fire fantasy books boasts the rare combination of cultural clout and prestige inheritance. Yet closer examination reveals GoT destabilizes traditional audience perspectives on fantasy genre not only through dense narrative complexity but also strategically (if not subversively) through cross-genre iconic suggestion. In the clips provided, narrative continuity between Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane (aka The Hound) in GoT's fourth season frequently denotes the graphic tenor and stylistic journey of the Spaghetti Western antihero made iconic by director Sergio Leone and actor/director/producer Clint Eastwood. 

Arya/Hound scenes largely pay tribute to the Western genre in form and style, but perhaps juxtaposing season four's Two Swords and Leone's For a Few Dollars More draws closest comparison. While the scenes are not exact replicas, they mirror one another through genre-mixing iconicity. Outside the inn, Arya's dour wardrobe strongly resembles the iconic poncho saddled upon Eastwood's Man with No Name. Both scenes emphasize cautious entrance into congested (and contested) spaces, evoking the Western binary opposition between interiority-exteriority which also signifies tensions between civilization and wilderness. Because GoT and spaghetti westerns each traverse narrative norms and conventional rules, interior spaces appear foggy and overstuffed, claustrophobic and ultimately dangerous. A POV scan across each respective room underscores the urban rot that "progress" brings paradise.

Each scene initially conceals the antihero/antiheroine as saloon surveyor, only to reveal his/her intentions through calculated risk. Leone/Eastwood create tension through silence during a forced game of cards, while Benioff/Weiss stage tension via gameful conversation where each threat signals a bid and raised stakes. The texts thus invert one another through verbal versus nonverbal action. These dueling sequences even pause for final indulgence (smoke/libation) before tension breaks. And once tension peaks, each scene dissolves the myth of interior safety through righteous antihero vengeance and nihilistically styled ultraviolence. Eastwood's revolvers puncuate those "Wanted" in the Wild West just as the Hound's longsword punctures those soldiers who want him in Westeros.   

Both scenes conclude climactic action with optimistic misdirections of supposed victory. Despite surviving their encounters, the respective antiheroes/antiheroine set off on horseback. These cold-blooded killers exit into oblivion. Particularly for Arya/Hound, the landscape signifies not the Western myth of Utopia but instead the smoldering ashes of Dystopia. Like Leone's iconoclast Western revisionism, Westeros is revealed to be paradise lost.

Creating Game of Thrones’ Cross-Demographic Appeal through Genre-Mixing Iconicity

by Ethan Tussey

by Garret Castleberry for IN MEDIA RES

HBO's Game of Thrones acheives cross-medium success for showrunner-producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Their adaptation of author George R.R. Martin's (still-in-progress) A Song of Ice And Fire fantasy books boasts the rare combination of cultural clout and prestige inheritance. Yet closer examination reveals GoT destabilizes traditional audience perspectives on fantasy genre not only through dense narrative complexity but also strategically (if not subversively) through cross-genre iconic suggestion. In the clips provided, narrative continuity between Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane (aka The Hound) in GoT's fourth season frequently denotes the graphic tenor and stylistic journey of the Spaghetti Western antihero made iconic by director Sergio Leone and actor/director/producer Clint Eastwood. 

Arya/Hound scenes largely pay tribute to the Western genre in form and style, but perhaps juxtaposing season four's Two Swords and Leone's For a Few Dollars More draws closest comparison. While the scenes are not exact replicas, they mirror one another through genre-mixing iconicity. Outside the inn, Arya's dour wardrobe strongly resembles the iconic poncho saddled upon Eastwood's Man with No Name. Both scenes emphasize cautious entrance into congested (and contested) spaces, evoking the Western binary opposition between interiority-exteriority which also signifies tensions between civilization and wilderness. Because GoT and spaghetti westerns each traverse narrative norms and conventional rules, interior spaces appear foggy and overstuffed, claustrophobic and ultimately dangerous. A POV scan across each respective room underscores the urban rot that "progress" brings paradise.

Each scene initially conceals the antihero/antiheroine as saloon surveyor, only to reveal his/her intentions through calculated risk. Leone/Eastwood create tension through silence during a forced game of cards, while Benioff/Weiss stage tension via gameful conversation where each threat signals a bid and raised stakes. The texts thus invert one another through verbal versus nonverbal action. These dueling sequences even pause for final indulgence (smoke/libation) before tension breaks. And once tension peaks, each scene dissolves the myth of interior safety through righteous antihero vengeance and nihilistically styled ultraviolence. Eastwood's revolvers puncuate those "Wanted" in the Wild West just as the Hound's longsword punctures those soldiers who want him in Westeros.   

Both scenes conclude climactic action with optimistic misdirections of supposed victory. Despite surviving their encounters, the respective antiheroes/antiheroine set off on horseback. These cold-blooded killers exit into oblivion. Particularly for Arya/Hound, the landscape signifies not the Western myth of Utopia but instead the smoldering ashes of Dystopia. Like Leone's iconoclast Western revisionism, Westeros is revealed to be paradise lost.

Game of Thrones and Genre Hybridity

A clip from Game of Thrones

from Game of Thrones (2014)
Creator: HBO
Distributor: YouTube
Posted by Ethan Tussey
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