Kish and I enjoy the Sunday night shows on HBO. The shows are addictive, but boy — they really push the envelope to a very uncomfortable extent.
This week, on Game of Thrones, we were treated to a scene in which a mother and her newborn baby are torn apart by a pack of trained dogs under the control of Ramsay Bolton, who is almost certainly the most sadistic character ever to be portrayed on a popular TV show. In a partial nod to the sensibilities of viewers, the murderous mauling wasn’t directly shown on-screen. Instead, we got to hear the screams and cries of the mother and child and the snarls and bites of the dogs and watch Bolton’s sick pleasure as he savored the carnage — which is almost as bad as watching the dog attack itself.
If you watch Game of Thrones, you’re used to seeing bloody death. In last night’s episode, Ramsay Bolton also assassinated his father, another character threw his brother from a bridge, a knight crushed the skull of a drunken serf against a wall, and a giant swung a member of the Night’s Watch into a stone wall and tossed him aside like a rag doll. It’s a show in which characters are killed in every imaginable way — stabbed through the skull, throats slit, poisoned, disemboweled, beheaded, shot with an arrow while answering the call of nature, you name it — and kids aren’t off limits. Last season we saw a sweet young girl being burned at the stake at the order of her power-hungry father and another young girl poisoned as she was sailing home. But still, this week’s scene of the mother and newborn being killed by dogs seemed to cross a line somehow.
Then, on Silicon Valley, which is normally one of the most hysterical satires on TV, we watched as the founder of a start-up tech venture talked to the company’s new CEO about a business issue while a ready-to-engage stallion graphically mounted a mare in the background. The point of the horse sex scene apparently was to show the wealth of the new CEO, who mentioned that he’d paid six figures for the stallion’s impressive services, while the founder was visibly discomfited by the horsing around, but . . . did we really need to see that? Couldn’t we have gotten the same message about fabulous wealth by, say, having the new CEO own a vineyard or a colossal yacht?
I don’t consider myself as a prude, but increasingly I think that popular entertainment consciously searches for new lines to cross and new ways to introduce graphic, gratuitous sex and violence in order to be shocking and edgy. Such scenes usually distract from the storyline rather than advancing it. HBO often leads this unfortunate parade.
I’m not going to stop watching Game of Thrones, but now that the story has moved beyond the book, I wish the show would dial it back a notch. It shouldn’t just be viewer discretion that is advised.