With the seventh season Game of Thrones around the corner, reruns of older seasons have been airing on the Star World channel. Those who care enough about the show in India to want to refresh their memories of seasons past know to steer clear of these reruns – in keeping with Indian broadcasting rules, the show, famous for its nudity and imaginative murders, has been censored to a shadow of its real self.
Game of Thrones, based on George RR Martin’s novels, is by any standard a far better produced fantasy show than most other television serials or films of the genre. The sixth season, which ran through the first half of 2016, was especially beautiful, each episode tightly scripted, characters coming into their own, the works.
But the show can also drag. After the nth digression into a scene of sex or egregious violence just to prove that this pseudo-medieval world – set for good measure in your run of the mill high fantasy milieu of the European Middle Ages with a couple of dragons and ice zombies thrown in – is in fact in some way real, I begin to yawn.
Which is why watching reruns of the censored version of the show on Indian television sets is such a pleasant surprise. Each season comes with 10 hour-long episodes, of which, give or take, a good fifth is pointless sex or violence that does not serve to shift the plot forward at all. Instead of having to sit through all of that, Indian censors help you through instead.
Sure, the Red Wedding might get slightly confusing and you will never really be too sure of exactly how Ned Stark died given that even his severed head on a pike is blurred out in the second season, but at least one does not have to slog through episode after endless episode of bodies that are naked or mutilated for no real reason other than to shock or titillate.
This is not a foolproof safeguard against the frequent tediousness of the show. Indian viewers will still have to endure such diversions as the Dorne subplot and Bran Stark’s journey beyond the Wall – the latter so long that even the producers of the show decided to have Bran and company sit out one season. But it does significantly reduce the length of each episode.
Of course, I might feel this way because I have only ever watched a truncated version of Game of Thrones. Well before Indian censors got their hands on the show, I had found myself unspeakably bored by all the sex and violence, and began to skip past most of those scenes instead, before abandoning the show altogether. And the only reason I returned to the show at all was the censored version on television.
I succumbed to peer conversations and began to watch the show sometime in the middle of 2014, while the fourth season was playing in the United States of America. I went through the (pirated, uncensored) first season with excitement, hung on through the second season and halfway through the third gave up the show as a lost cause because the plot just did not move.
It was not that the premise of Game of Thrones was entirely dull. I substituted the fourth and half of the fifth seasons with Wikipedia plot summaries because I wanted to keep pace with developments. I was just too lazy to bother to sit through it myself.
And then, browsing idly through television channels with my mother just before the sixth season began to air in 2016, we came across censored reruns of the fifth season late one night. With a break of the equivalent of almost two seasons, I was unable to follow much of the plot or identify many of the new faces – my mother, having watched fewer episodes, floundered even more than I did. But my mother likes to watch television at night before she sleeps and since this was invariably on when I returned home, Game of Thrones slowly sucked me back in.
By the end of the fifth season, after having skipped with blissful unawareness the true depths of Ramsay Bolton’s villainy and the precise details of how Stannis Baratheon (spoiler alert) burnt his only child alive, I was hooked once again and ready for the sixth season.
This one I watched uncensored.