Add titleRe-Playing The Game of Thrones: Memory, time and fiction
My history with Games of Thrones is long and tumultuous. I was turned onto it by a friend, Leo in the summer of 2009, just after we had both left school. Leo was a fellow inspiring writer and knew how much of a nerd I was. I was Eighteen at the time and was searching around for another epic fantasy saga to come along and sweep me off my feet, as The Lord of the Rings and Phillip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy had before. I mention this to Leo one evening, sat around a bonfire with my housemates in the garden of the old vicarage where I was living at the time ( That is a story for another blog post dear readers!) I remember him describing the size and scale of The Wall that seperates Westeros from the wildings and my interest was piqued.
Leo was the kind of person who would hoover books up in one sitting. We’d both attended the midnight release of the fifth Harry Potter book. We were giddy with anticipation while waiting in the cue, and were cackling and almost hyperventilating when it came time to select our pristine door stopper from the cairn of copies inside. We got back to Leo’s house, after a short drive in his parents car during which time we’d tried to read by the wan streetlights. Soon, I was nestled in my sleeping-bag , lying on a camping mat on Leo’s bedroom floor. On the way home we’d both excitedly gabbled about staying up all night to read the book.
Indeed, for about twenty minutes there in Leo’s bedroom we were both studiously reading away. Soon though, my eyelids started to droop, I reached the end of the first chapter, reasoned that that was a nice natural stopping point, closed the book and went to sleep. When i woke up, I found that Leo had read the whole book in one night. He hadn’t slept a wink. I was agog at this feat of eyeball endurance. I have always been someone who thrives on routine and as a nerdy, home-bird fourteen year-old (for all my burgeoning beat-poet pretensions) I loved getting a nice early night, and the thought of staying up all night was just mind-blowing, let alone reading a whole 500 page tome in that same night.
I digress anyway, back to the world of Westeros. After reading the prologue – the Night’s watch discovering the true danger of what lies beyond The Wall – I was in, hook line and sinker. I gobbled up the first book that summer and went back to Leo to borrow the second.
I find the act of re-reading a book that made such an impression on me the first time round to be quite illuminating in ways I had not expected. In re-reading Game of Thrones, I remeber the experience of reading the book for the first time again. Ten years have passed since I first read Game of Thrones. Back then, at Nineteen, I was a very different person. I had just dropped out of my first degree, Fine Art and Creative writing, which i was undertaking at Bath Spa University. Looking back on it now, I can see that some of my gripes with the course were legitimate, but that a lot of my problems stemmed from a deep depression, that I didn’t have the where withal to notice,let alone seek help for. Add to this a nebulous fear of talking about how you feel, probably inherited from the culture at large, then you’ve got yourself the recipe for one sad Fred. I didn’t go talk to my tutor, I didn’t go see a university counselor, even though those things were eventually offered to me. I sent an email to the relevant department, and within a few weeks I was packing my stuff up into my Dad’s beaten-up old royal mail van and driving back to the Isle of Wight with my tail tucked between my legs. I had well and truly dropped out of university and over the course of the next year I would begin to feel like I had dropped out of life. I began signing on at the local job center, which was a new and confusing world of bureaucracy I was not prepared to deal with. My girlfriend at the time was living in London and (to my intense jealousy) having a great time.
I remember all of this when I re-read game of thrones, I remember reading it on the train to and from her halls of residence, I remember reading it in her cramped little kitchen .
Now, I have not only completed my B.A, but i have nearly finished my M.A and am thinking about the possibility of taking my studies further into the realm of the doctorate. I’m in a happy committed relationsship with a wonderful woman, to whom I am engaged. All of these things felt impossible back then, when I felt like iI had nothing, like I had been abandoned by all and sundry.
But I had westeros, I had stolid, honourble Ned Stark, and Danearyes and Kal Drogo and Arya and Sansa and scheming Tyrion and all the rest. Tyrion soon became my favorite character. As a disabled person, I have always felt like a freak to a greater or lesser extent. I have moved through my feelings about my disability and with the help of therapy have progressed a great deal but, certainly back in 2009, I felt like a complete freak who just wanted to hide the physical manifestations to ‘pass’ as able-bodied. If I wasn’t able to do that, then I just wanted to disappear.
But here was Tyrion, a character who won’t let anyone tell him what to do, who always manages to think his way around any opponent, who has a sense of humour about his body and how his place in the world is affected by it. One scene in particular, early on in the book, really hit home with me. Tyrion is talking to Jon Snow about his status as a bastard son to Ned Stark. (In Westeros this basically, means you have no rights, are begrudgingly housed, and in the case of Jon Snow, sent to The Wall to serve the black brotherhood for life in Gulag-style conditions. ) In the scene in question, Jon is complaining about his status as a bastard, when Tyrion says,
‘Let me give you some advice, bastard. Never forget what you are, the rest of the world will not. Wear it like armour and it can never be used to hurt you.’
This affected me deeply and still does to the day. Upon re-reading the book, I remembered encountering that line for the first time, ten years prior , and remembered the soaring vertiginous feeling of a writer peering at you from across time and geography, peering at you with a twinkling eye from between the lines.
So, I was fully bought into Game of Thrones, but i was also fully depressed. I lost motivation to do everything including reading, so I listened to the third and fourth books on my ipod classic. (back then they were just ipod current.) I say listened, I probably listened to about 60% of each book, then rest of my time was spent ignoring the content of the words being played back to my while my mind drifted this way and the buffeted by the dolorous wind of depression.
After a while, I started to get angry. Angry at myself angry at the situation I was in and, as I stalked around the creaking landings of my rented house, to get another plate of toast while avoiding eye-contact with my house-mates in the kitchen, I started to hate Game of Thrones. What had started out as a brave new literary world for me to get lost in, had turned into an obligation, a chore and a fixation. I had to know what was going to happen next, I kept hitting play on that ipod current, even though I hated every new word as it was intoned by the rich baritone reader. It’s a marker of how empty my life was at the time that I didn’t have other things to do that would divert my attention away from the world of Westeros. I had lost the thread of the story by this point, and was just experiencing the story as isolated clutches of prose, which i would then have to weave together into some semblance of a narrative later on. I fell asleep listening to Game of Thrones, I dreamt game-of-Thrones-y half-dreams, i woke up listening to game of Thrones. I couldn’t find my place again, because there was no place to gotback to. Unless you meant page one chapter one, but I was so in the throes of the sunk cost fallacy that I had to keep going.
So to cut a long story short, I let my depression ruin Game of Thrones for me. By the time the first stills from the HBO show were released, I was so sick of Game of Thrones that I barely noticed them. I had enrolled on an illustration course in London and was excited to finally be moving away. Game of Thrones belonged to the Isle of Wight, I thought, to the old me who I would leave on the shore of that isle of woe as i caught the ferry to my bright and brilliant future.
The next decade, is so often the case, didn’t go quite the way I had planned, but that’s a story for a different time. When book 5, a dance with Dragons was released the next summer, I bought it out of a sense of completionist duty from the Waterstones on the Isle of Wight, while visiting my parents during the summer break between my first and second years of University.
I never even opened a Dance with Dragons, it collected dust in my Dad’s caravan until after his death, when I discovered it while cleaning out his things. I toyed with the idea of reading it but donated it to oxfam. By the time I had put enough distance between myself and my drop out year, Game of Thrones the T.V show was already on its second season. I was always interested in getting into the show, but as more time passed it felt insurmountable, , like too much off a commitment. I also remembered the compulsive nature of the writing, the cliff hanger endings, the limitless appetite it instilled in you for just one more morsel of story. I heard from reviews and the reports from my peers that watching the TV show was much the same. I felt like I didn’t have the energy to keep up with that breakneck pace while the show was being broadcast, so I resolved t wait until the show had finished and I could buy a box-set and enjoy it all at my leisure. Time passed and I didn’t really pay much more attention to Game of Thrones, even as it became a global cultural juggernaut, even as the scarred face of Peter Dinklage gazed down on me from billboards and bus-stop all across London. Then this year, the hype machine lurched into gear for this final season of Game of Thrones and I found myself thinking about in more and more and the time-span the show encompasses, how it has been a constant companion for most of my twenties and is bowing out just as I approach Thirty. I found myself thinking back to those times, reading the first book nearly a decade ago, who I was then and who I am now.
Books have this strange meta textual power as skeleton keys, unlocking parts of our memories and emotional lives. The words carrying these associations for us like strands of sheep’s wool caught on a barbed wire fence.
I am in love with Game of Thrones, I am more attuned to the sheer feat of world-building it represents now than I was ten years ago, I am also reading my past in those pages and I am loving that experience too. I was pompous, I was self pitying but I was also all right too, back then and I just couldn’t see it.
Tyrion’s words come back to me now, as I am preparing to complete an M.A project in which i reflect upon my life as a disable person, how my disability has shaped me and those around me;
‘ Wear it like armour and it can never be used to hurt you.’