Very frequently when I watch movies or TV shows, I find myself caught up on one particular bit of dialogue. As a writer, I’m more or less a hack, but I do like to think I have an ear for dialogue, particularly in how to make it sound like actual people are saying it. I’ve decided I’m going to try writing up these instances and how I’d improve the dialogue. By that, of course, I mean, I’m doing it this once. Let’s see if I actually make a pattern of it. My history of blogging is not encouraging in this regard.
What caught me in last night’s Game of Thrones episode (“Second Sons”), didn’t have anything to do with feeling natural; obviously the show takes place in a heightened and arkane reality where characters regularly use language that would sound stilted in more realistic or modern setting. Last night I stumbled on a bit that was two missed opportunities at once.
It’s our introduction to Daario Naharis. (It’s worth noting at this point that I haven’t yet read the books [yes, I know, bad nerd], so I have no idea where this character is actually going. I don’t know if this dialouge is taken from the books or was written new for the show. I’m writing this from the perspective considering Game of Thrones purely as a TV program.) He was seen briefly introducing himself to Danaerys, and then later we’re given a scene with him and the other captains of the Second Sons, meant to establish his personality.
The other captains are needling Daario about not sleeping with prostitutes.
Dude: Daario Naharis, the whore who doesn’t like whores.
Daario: I like them very much. I just refuse to pay them. And I am no whore, my friend.
Dude: She sells her sheath [grabbing the crotch of the woman sitting on his lap], and you sell your blade. What’s the difference?
Daario: I fight for beauty.
Other Dude: For beauty?
Dude: We fight for gold.
Daario: The gods gave men two gifts to entertain ourselves before we die. The thrill of fucking a woman who wants to be fucked, and the thrill of killing a man who wants to kill you.
Dude: You’ll die young.
Now, this whole scene and back and forth is a little problematic, but keeping in the spirit of the way the show treats sex and sex workers. When I tweak dialogue or, it’s always an effort to make a better version of the story the writer wants to tell. This is not necessarily the story I would be trying to tell, but that’s ok in this context.
My focus here is Daario’s last line. This is a bit that is clearly meant to be quotable, memorable, and give us insight into his character. He’s a hard man with a playful edge, who sees the world in very simple terms. He speaks plainly and efficiently.
Two problems, though. Firstly, it misses an opportunity to have some mirrored language that would make the quote a bit more effective memetically. It’s akin to John McCain fumbling the “change we can believe in” turn of phrase in his speech after Barack Obama became his presumptive opponent. (Skip to about six minutes in.)
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The original line:
The gods gave men two gifts to entertain ourselves before we die. The thrill of fucking a woman who wants to be fucked, and the thrill of killing a man who wants to kill you.
My simple edit, change in bold:
The gods gave men two gifts to entertain ourselves before we die. The thrill of fucking a woman who wants to fuck you, and the thrill of killing a man who wants to kill you.
Win! Now the line matches in a more memorable way, yet still retains the character’s problematic worldview (ladies are for sexin’; dudes are for killin’).
But it also becomes a marginally less offensive line! Even seeing women as objects useful only for his pleasure, with this edit, he becomes a man who wants the woman to want to have sex with him. She no longer simply “wants to be fucked,” presumably by any phallus that happened to wander by; she is now willingly engaged in the moment with a partner she desires.
As I said, I haven’t read the books and am not sure where this character is headed. Given that his next meeting with Danaerys involves sneaking into her bath, holding her servant at knifepoint, and pledging his heart to her, it could be that he is someone who will take advantage of vulnerability. Maybe he shouldn’t be trusted. Maybe that odd skip in the line was intentional — this is a man who is not overly concerned with the consent of his partners, perhaps?
But, watching the show in the moment, it still bothered me that the line could have been made both more rhetorically interesting and less misogynistic with just one simple edit.