I never came across the phenomenon of “shipping” until I became a Once Upon A Time fan – this particular kind of fan behaviour is pretty big in connection with Once. For those as ignorant as I, to ship two fictional characters is to really, really wish for them to end up in a relationship (hence “ship”). If the two characters are already a couple, you root for them to stay together and be happy. You go “aaah” over their romantic scenes, get upset over their break-ups and view any threat to their relationship with hostility. My delight when I found out that there are others like me, who obsess over the love life of their favourite fictional characters the same way or even more than I do, has been tempered by the circumstance that shippers, apparently, have something of a bad reputation among other fans. They can start “shipping wars” and turn the fandom “toxic”. I can readily believe that plenty of shippers go completely overboard, but crazy fan behaviour (confusing the actors with their characters, harassing writers etc.) tends to be the same whether it’s shipping-based or not. I see no reason for not indulging in some shipping, as long as it’s done responsibly and without becoming a complete pest about it. For my own part, my obsessions tend to be less with a particular couple and more with individual characters (i.e. villains), with whom I am prepared to ship practically anyone as long as my favourite’s getting some.
I will give sceptics of shipping and romantic relationships in drama in general one thing, though: if romance is to be made an important part of the story, it has to be done well. It is generally done well in Once: even if you might not be entirely convinced by all the show’s pairings, a lot of effort is put into the relationship side of things. Now in Game of Thrones, on the other hand…
Which finally brings me to the topic in hand. At long last, I have finished watching season three of Game of Thrones (at this rate, I will never catch up with the rest of the world with my GoT viewing), and yes, I’m still interested enough to want to continue with season four. There were times during this season, though, when I was prepared to give the rest of the GoT saga a miss. There are characters who annoy me (Daenerys Targaryen, a soulfully pretty, slave-liberating, somewhat self-righteous contender for the Iron Throne) or don’t interest me at all (principled, pouty Jon Snow), so whenever the story centres on them I’m tempted to twiddle my thumbs. Then there’s the excruciatingly drawn out, deeply unpleasant storyline centring around Theon Greyjoy – already the unluckiest bastard in all the seven kingdoms – being held prisoner and tortured in scene after scene by a sadistic captor who seems to be doing it just for kicks. This was the plotline that nearly made me give up on GoT altogether, because the writers seemed to be torturing Theon just for kicks as well. His sufferings in no way bring the story forward, and yet (to judge from some stray comments on the Net) they are apparently expanded upon compared to what happened in the original novels. For pity’s sake, why? It really bugged me, and I don’t even like Theon very much.
And then there are the romances, which for the most part are unengaging. Several of them follow the same template, too. Tyrion Lannister falls in love with a beautiful slave girl with a mysterious past who doesn’t appear to be very wedded to the Lannister cause. Robb Stark falls in love with a beautiful female medic from another realm who isn’t very wedded to the Stark cause. Jon Snow falls in love with a beautiful “wildling”, i.e. a girl who belongs to the tribes which The Black Watch (which Jon forms part of) is always driving away from the northern border, and who – understandably enough – has no truck with his cause whatsoever. These love interests are little more than horizon-widening plot devices. There’s no interesting dynamic between the characters in the couples in question. The men love the the women because they’re hot. The women love the men, because… they just do. The relationship between Jon and Ygritte the wildling girl takes a potentially interesting turn, but mostly, whenever one of these pairings are on screen, even I find myself longing for some derring-do instead.
There is, however, one potential relationship that shows promise. Jaime Lannister isn’t a character I’ve mentioned before, as I regard him as more or less a waste of space. I suppose I should give him points for trying to be the witty villain who tells his enemies unpleasant truths about themselves, but the fact is, he’s just not very funny, which makes his attempts at wisecracking more irritating than anything else. In this season, the imprisoned Jaime is entrusted to the female warrior Brienne, whose mission it is to engineer a hostage-swap where he’s traded for the Stark family’s two daughters. All sorts of things go awry, however. After having showered insults over Brienne for a long part of the way – mostly on the theme of how unattractive she is – Jaime finds himself minding when she stands in peril of being raped, and comes up with a stratagem to save her. Brienne, for her part, feels herself honour bound to fight Jaime’s corner when the soldiers who pick them up viciously turn on him. Throughout Jaime’s and Brienne’s subsequent adventures, they start looking ut for each other, and come to respect each other.
It might not lead to romance, but I’d love it if it does. If not, at least we’ll have a properly built-up relationship of some sort between a man and a woman which doesn’t hinge on the woman’s sultry charms. The Jaime-Brienne dynamic isn’t the only reason I’ll persevere with Game of Thrones – there are other things to admire, such as the overall first-class acting, the deft plotting which juggles a large number of characters and storylines skilfully, and the no-expense-spared production values which make all those grim fortresses and wealthy slave cities look so convincing. But I confess, at the moment, I’m kind of shipping it.