Back in June 2011, John Perich wrote on Overthinking It about an emerging genre. His basic premise was this:
You’d be forgiven for confusing the many, many period dramas that have aired on premium cable in the last six years. . . . Rome, The Tudors, Deadwood, Spartacus, Boardwalk Empire, The Borgias, Camelot, Game of Thrones, and doubtless others. The historical eras depicted by these films span thousands of years—and even enter the realm of fantasy—and several continents. But they all share one genre. In this genre, familiar stories are retold with an emphasis on violence, sex, and dishonest scheming. If there’s not a better name for this genre, I’m calling it Blood, Tits and Scowling. . . .
The beauty is that, when you put them all together, it creates a perpetual engine for drama. www.overthinkingit.com/2011/06/28/blood-Tits-and-scowling.
The whole essay is worth reading for anyone interested in the mechanics of storytelling. In addition to discussions of the particularities of telling stories at extended length, he goes on to discuss precisely why the BT&S mode is such a comfortable fit for stories set in either fantasy worlds or historical periods so distant they “might as well be another world.”
A fine example of the similarities came that year. The Game of Thrones episode “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” concludes with a chance encounter at a crossroads inn: Tyrion Lannister, a dwarf, the king’s brother-in-law, meets Catelyn Stark, a lady of house Tully, wife of the king’s most trusted advisor. Catelyn believes that Tyrion has attempted to murder her son. In George R. R. Martin’s novel, the scene unfolds thus:
“You in the corner,” she said to an older man she had not noticed until now. “Is that the black bat of Harrenhal I see embroidered on your surcoat, ser?”
The man got to his feet. “It is, my lady.”
“And is Lady Whent a true and honest friend to my father, Lord Hoster Tully of Riverrun?”
“She is,” the man replied stoutly.
Ser Rodrik rose quietly and loosened his sword in its scabbard. The dwarf was blinking at them, blank-faced, with puzzlement in his mismatched eyes.
“The red stallion was ever a welcome sight in Riverrun,” she said to the trio by the fire. “My father counts Jonos Bracken among his oldest and most loyal bannermen.”
The three men-at-arms exchanged uncertain looks. “Our lord is honored by his trust,” one said hesitantly.
“This man came a guest into my house, and there conspired to murder my son, a boy of seven,” Catlyn proclaimed to the room at large, pointing. Ser Rodrik moved to her side, his sword in hand. “In the name of King Robert and the good lords you serve, I call upon you to seize him and help me return him to Winterfell to await the king’s justice.”
Six months later, the second episode of the second season of Boardwalk Empire featured this scene. “Chalky” White, the undisputed leader of the black criminal gangs of Atlantic City, is held in a large, segregated, cell with several other prisoners. Dunn Purnsley, newly arrived from Baltimore, starts taunting White.
WHITE: . . . get your finger out of my face.
PURNSLEY: What I don’t like about you? . . . the uppity way you tell the world you better than Dunn Purnsley when all you be is another jigaboo in a jail cell.
WHITE (speaking past Purnsley to another prisoner): Harold C. Madison. How your daddy keeping?
HAROLD: Tolerable, sir. He thank you for the doctor bill.
WHITE (to a second prisoner): Noah Hookway. . . . Things good down at the gold room?
NOAH: Supposed to work today.
WHITE: I’ll talk to ’em. (to a third and fourth prisoner) Timothy. Cornelius.
TIMOTHY: Mama grateful for the turkey, sir.
WHITE: All righty then. (The others grab Purnsley from behind and beat him. Chalky returns to his bunk.)
Centuries, universes apart. History is a series of stories. The same words shape them; the same narratives flow around.
Stories repeat because the shapes of the bricks are all alike.
—Kevin J. Maroney and the editors
A PDF or ePub copy of the NYRSF issue in which this editorial first appeared is available for purchase at Weightless Books.A printed copy of issues 295 and 296 is available for purchase from lulu.com.