I have not watched all of Game of Thrones. In fact, I end up falling asleep during most episodes due to its pacing. But when I do stay awake, I notice a similar set of beats. Brian wasn’t happy to hear it but I compared Game of Thrones to All My Children and other daytime soaps. The biggest difference is the language, nudity, violence, and the setting. But though they seem like big differences, they are not.
Let’s start with All My Children or As The World Turns, which are the two soaps I watched before they got cancelled. They have similar set-ups. There are groups of powerful families that are in powerful positions or run portions of the town. The Martin family in Pine Valley runs the hospital. You had the Chandlers, who were led by the patriarch Adam, an entrepreneur who had more money than he could do with but the sexual appetite of a 19 year old boy up until the end. You had the Kanes, which had a tie to acting and Hollywood, but over the years, Erica became the matriarch who wooed just about every person in town and married about half of the powerful men. But the marriages were not always about love. They generally revolved around revenge and power and intrigue. Because that is what people like to watch. Think of any soap opera you want whether it be primetime or daytime. Dallas had family fighting. Dynasty had family fighting. All for power. For control over something that really doesn’t make any sense except to the characters in the piece. Don’t get me wrong. This is drama generally. Shakespeare used all the same tropes, so I can’t just say family power struggles and end the argument.
My next point is more storytelling focused. Soap operas have to run five days a week, so they have large casts and multiple storylines. Usually in one episode, three or four storylines will get screen time cut into two or three minute segments and then the next day, one or two of those storylines may take a day off while we check in with other characters. Game of Thrones must hire all of England to be on the show. There are so many characters. Unlike soaps, it only has thirteen episodes each year so you would think with such a broad cast that they would be giving short shrift to characters (and they do). In the episode I watched last night, there was about six storylines, half of them basically got one or two short scenes with the other three getting the remainder of the episode, as if to remind you that these characters exist. There was brooding and sex and blood and more brooding. Lots of whispers that entailed blackmail. Lots of anger towards other characters. But I think the biggest fault of the show is that they rely on you to do some research and get outside knowledge. There are reasons that some of these characters are acting in certain ways and I can’t tell you what they are. I can assume the books, which are about 1,000 pages each, help with that. But the motivations sometimes feel petty – which is how all motivations seem on soaps.
My next point is strange character developments and reveals. Maybe it is because I have watched so many soap opera episodes, but every time they introduce a new character on Game of Thrones, I try to figure out who they are related to. All My Children would try to introduce characters who were not family members but they rarely stuck around. But if you brought in a mysterious character who turned out to be someone’s son! Jackpot! For example, back in the 1970s, Erica Kane had an abortion. This was a huge deal at the time because abortion was not a television topic. So, what do they do? In the early 2000s, they introduce a dark brooding man and his father, who is the doctor who performed Erica’s abortion. And low and behold, despite science not making this make any sense at all, the dark brooding man was actually Erica’s son. The child was not aborted! Make any sense? Of course not. But you didn’t see that coming! And you were able to tie that person to the history of the show. In the episode of Game of Thrones I watched with Brian last night, there were two characters who were revealed to be related to other characters. There were more characters trying to make sexual advancements that involved siblings. Mind you, there was a little weirdness between Erica’s newly found son and her newly found daughter (the child of when Erica was raped that she gave away for adoption but who came back) that seemed a bit incestual but that all went away once they knew they shared blood. But incest is basically one of three types of relationships on Games of Thrones.
I will call this a digression…And with that, let’s talk about rape. Soap operas love rape storylines. No idea why. Very few characters seem to not be raped on soap operas, so when I saw headlines a few weeks ago about how a character could never be redeemed because they raped someone on Game of Thrones, it tied to this piece very easily. Rape also is popular amongst comic book writers. And it is all disgusting. I have no idea why any writer wants to use this trope so often but they do. There are very few things as brutal on television as rape. Even death can be taken back on television. Murder can be taken back on television. But rape cannot. Downtown Abbey did rape this year – another soap that parades as high drama. So, besides the fact that here is another similarity – can we move past rape storylines or at least use them to teach a lesson and not just shock? Back on topic…
But in conclusion, since I have not seen all of the show, here is a list of soap opera tropes that are very familiar to me. Help me figure out if they are all used on Game of Thrones or add more tropes if you can think of them.
- Evil twin
- Dead but not dead
- Wrecked weddings
- Fake pregnancies
- If you’re shown in a car, you’re wrecking said car.
- In love with your partner’s sibling
- But I’m your son/daughter!
- Murder mysteries
- Underbelly crime syndicates
- Horrible natural disasters that affect parties
None of this is to judge the quality of the show. I love soap operas and wish All My Children was still on TV. In this article from Wired, they looked at demographics of Game of Thrones. It has a sizable female audience, with a 50/50 split in regards to social media presence. Yes, it is violent, but it hits a nerve in regards to emotion and drama and intrigue that soap operas and melodrama has used for a very long time. So, there is something about the structure of this show that appeals to men and women. People have always loved melodrama. And it is really interesting that Game of Thrones looks and feels like a soap opera. It actually makes me more interested and maybe less likely to fall asleep…just try to get Susan Lucci to guest star.
Check out the DVD opening versus the opening to All My Children. It’s pretty funny how similar they are: turn, stare, stand, walk, leaf, background, wealth.