It is easy to become confused while watching Game of Thrones. Just ask George R R Martin, the writer of the novels on which the HBO series is based. He says he sometimes has to check with his diehard fans about the minutae of his complicated plotlines to be sure he is not introducing inconsistencies (Martin is working on two more instalments in the series).
But when state broadcaster CCTV started showing the first season of the series last week, it left viewers even confused to an altogether greater degree. In part that was because of all the edits it deemed necessary. In order to make the series more wholesome for the TV audience, the broadcaster reduced the running time of the opening episode – Winter is Coming – by a third, fans of the show have complained.
“I estimate that they cut about 20 minutes,” one netizen said. “The story feels discontinuous… my first reaction was ‘This can’t be!’ My second reaction was, ‘My God, what a mess.’”
“After deleting all the scenes that aren’t child-friendly, is it possible that the plot would still make sense? It is really killing Martin’s rhythm,” another moaned.
The first season of Game of Thrones actually made its CCTV debut in China in 2012 , but was broadcast with subtitles. This time round CCTV is showing it again (along with the second and third seasons) but dubbed into Mandarin.
“So they’ve cut about a quarter of all the fight scenes, and then a quarter of the nude scenes. I guess that’s okay if all you want to watch is a documentary about medieval European castles,” another netizen mocked.
Just last week Chinese media regulators enfuriated viewers by pulling American TV shows including The Big Bang Theory and The Good Wife off internet-based video streaming sites. The move was said to be part of a broader strategy to boost audiences for CCTV’s own schedules, including its exclusive rights to the Game of Thrones franchise. (CCTV will also broadcast The Big Bang Theory too.)
That plan appears to have backfired. “I’m not sticking around to wait for [CCTV] to air an edited version of The Big Bang Theory just like what they’ve done with [Game of Thrones],” a weibo user wrote. “CCTV wants to stop online video sites from streaming these American shows… They want to control all televised programming, and in the name of ‘reform’, exterminate innovation and competition, only maintaining the interests of their monopoly.”
(To be fair to the channel, it should be noted that lambasting CCTV is something of a national pastime among Chinese, indulged in at every opportunity.)
Still, critics wonder why CCTV decided to broadcast Game of Thrones, which is well-known for its violence and nudity (one of the most widely posted weibo comments this week: “Don’t try to watch Game of Thrones in the office. You never know when your colleague might walk by, just as a character decides to take out her nipples”).
Others claim the series has plenty of modern-day parallels. “Chinese politics is just like the Game of Thrones – every week there’s someone staking a claim to the throne,” commented one. Another wrote: “The reason for CCTV to show Game of Thrones is because it wants to tell us that China is like a big power struggle and it is to remind us peasants to stand on the side and not to get involved. Otherwise, ‘winter is coming’.”
The Washington Post agrees that there are some obvious similarities between the series and China. For instance, one of features of the Westeros landscape is the Wall, a massive sheet of ice that separates the realms of men from the wildling “free folk” and other terrifying creatures who stalk the glacial wilderness. Aside from China’s Great Wall, the country has also put up its Great Firewall that controls access to the internet.
And then there’s the Targaryens, the dragon-owning monarchy that sits in exile across the sea. The Targaryens once ruled over all of Westeros until a rebellion drove them to a small, craggy isle called Dragonstone. Does that remind anyone of Taiwan and the fleeing Chiang Kai-shek? “The story of Game of Thrones makes one thing clear… It’s the dissidents from the renegade island who will ultimately reshape the balance of power on the mainland,” the Washington Post suggests.
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