This week my friend Jamie Adair discussed How Much Violence is Too Much on Game of Thrones. I was amused to hear that Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys, was covered with so much fake gore after shooting one scene that, during a break, she got stuck to the toilet seat. But I really don’t find Game of Thrones that violent. Too much sex, yes. But the level of violence in Game of Thrones is not enough to make me cover my eyes, I might have cringed once or twice, but it’s not like watching a Tarantino film. I lost count of how many times I covered my eyes when I was watching Inglorious Basterds in the cinema. Django Unchained wasn’t actually quite as bad (although I might have covered my eyes once or twice). It was the scalping in Inglorious Basterds that got me. That is what I consider really violent. In fact, looking at the inspiration behind A Song of Ice and Fire, which is largely French and English medieval history, the show is quite tame. It could, in fact, be far more violent. And it seems fans expect violence.
This week I was reading some blogs on BBC’s The White Queen, and I saw a comment that made me laugh. They were complaining about the death of Henry VI, and that he had likely been beaten to death with a heavy instrument, rather than smothered. The person seemed quite concerned about being deprived of the gore-speckled faces of the murderers in question. Would The White Queen have been saved by more realistic violence? Well, no. A story can be told without someone’s brains being splattered around the room. In fact the scene where Margaret Beaufort was travelling through the aftermath of a battle and the grievously injured men was far more powerful than gore-spatter. Would it have made it more realistic? It wasn’t necessary. You can’t truly capture the actual violence of the medieval period without making your viewers vomit.
Medieval execution was gruesome. The beheading more often shown on television was a clean death afforded only to nobles. Criminals and commoners suffered being “hung, drawn and quartered”. This consisted of being hung, taken down while still concious to then be disembowelled, then cutting off the genitals, and brandishing the organs in the victims face while they died in horrible agony. The quartering you can figure out. This was usually viewed by spectators who purchased strawberries to snack on and heckled the victims. A noble’s corpse was still subject to humiliation, with the executioners having the right to keep and sell their clothing, meaning they would be stripped publicly.
Medieval people were gruesome, filthy, violent beasts, who witnessed agonising murders and the subsequent humiliation of the corpse, then popped off to hear mass. Nothing you see on television will ever capture this in full reality. And thankfully so.