Friday, 17 June 2016

What's in a Theme?

Let's talk about theme songs. They open our favourite television shows at the start of each episode, we hear them week after week. The pieces of music or songs which tell you something about the show you're about to watch, they are an often overlooked part of a show's success.

You can't think about Cheers without starting to hum "where everybody knows your name" or start an episode of Friends without wanting to clap in time with The Rembrandts' "I'll Be There For You". It's just not physically possible. Those songs are so intrinsically and inescapably linked to their associated television shows that hearing them immediately brings nostalgia tinged recollections of the show.

Funnily enough, it seems to me that often the song can be even more memorable than the show itself. I know chorus to "Where Everybody Knows Your Name" so well that hearing it is like meeting a good friend, warm and familiar.

And this is for a show I can barely remember. To be fair, it was popular before my time but I still didn't watch the show regularly, at least not that I can recall. Despite that, the song remains entrenched in my mind. It's more than just having a catchy hook or singalong chorus though. The song is wrapped in the 'feel' or essence of Cheers.

And people love the theme songs to their favourite TV shows and recall them fondly. If you type in "tv theme songs" into Google, you are immediately bombarded by lists of the best theme songs defining what makes a good theme.

This was just as much as I could catch in one screenshot. The lists go on and on and on. They never stop...

Which is something that interests me. How does a piece of music which is so intertwined with a show become so memorable that ir can actually surpass the show in regards to popularity?

I think part of this of course has to do with the fact that songs are significantly more transportable than a television show. What I mean by this is that a song can be recalled far easier than an episode or series. A drama is an hour of television while sitcom is between 22-25 minutes long and cartoon like Adventure Time or Steven Universe is 11 minutes.

So in terms of just time, they obviously take more of it but they also cover more in that time. An hour long drama can incorporate several plot-lines which have been carried over from a number of previous episodes and possibly a multitude of narrative twists or character developments in a single episode.

However, a good theme song condenses the themes and feel of a show into a digestible and identifiable minute long earworm which slithers into your brain forcing you to hum along. There's an art to crafting a great show theme. Speaking of which,

I think it's become quite clear that I have less than positive things to say about the last couple of seasons of Game of Thrones, particularly in regards to its poor writing and lack of consistent characters. But the theme song is simply put, perfect.

Since it debited in April 2011, the Game of Thrones theme has woven itself into the fabric of the pop cultural consciousness. It is one of the most covered TV theme songs of all time, from renditions with electric guitars and violins, in 8-bit, or with vocals repeating Peter Dinklage over and over, and many, many more.

On the wonderful Song Exploder podcast, where musicians breakdown the different elements which comprise their songs, composer Ramin Djawadi talked about his inspiration in crafting the grandiose theme for the show. What is interesting is how much it was a conscious decision to make the music match the feel of the show from the get-go.
"The one keyword that they [the show's creators] said to me about writing the main title was that they wanted it to be a journey. Because there's lots of different locations, there's lots of different characters, there's just a lot of travelling in the show. And that's something that they wanted to convey with the music as well."
The focus on matching the visuals/feel of the show with the main title theme should be obvious I suppose but since the soundtracks or scores aren't something which are often discussed in much detail, it's refreshing to examine how they are composed.

Oh, there's a voice and violin cover too.

For example, Djawadi discusses how the opening of the song starts with its recognisable riff in a minor key, then a major key before it changes back to a minor key. This key shift mirrors the complex way in which characters in the show change allegiances in the show as he explains,
"My intention was just because what the nature of the show is, there was so much backstabbing and conspiracy, and anybody can turn on anybody at any point, so I thought it would be cool to do the same play with the music so, even though the majority of the piece is in minor, there's that little hint of major in there where it kinda switches and then it changes back again so that's the opening."
Whether this is something that the average audience member would pick up on consciously is debatable, I'm not sure even most critics would notice, but I would argue that it plays to the success of the theme, not only as a piece of music but as possibly the most identifiable part of Game of Thrones.

Dwajadi even chose the cello for the instrument which starts the theme because it has a darker sound which matched the tone of the show. I guess what I'm trying to get at here is that it's clear a lot of thought goes into composing a memorable theme.

As must be abundantly clear, I don't have any formal musical training but the thing that I think makes great a theme song is whether it has what I'm going to term 'complex simplicity', because oximorons are fun. Essentially, a great theme often has a complex arrangement built around a simple musical hook, like the way Game of Thrones' epic theme is all built around its main riff - daaa, da, dun-dun, daaa, da, dun-dun, da.

The Daredevil title theme is one of my favourite current TV show themes and listening to it, what it striking is how simple its main melodic hook is. Played on a piano, its just descending notes played slowly over the spiraling strings in the background pulsating the song forward.

There's a great juxtaposition between the simplicity of the main melody and the rushing string arrangement. Similarly, the beginning of the theme starts with an easy arpeggio repeated high on the piano awash with atmospheric electronic sounds to hook the listener in. And just as a nice touch, the theme ends with the sound of a beating heart, tying into Daredevil's advanced hearing and the often gruesome violence in the show.

It's a neat trick to craft something that sounds simple but actually isn't. I always found it fascinating that a lot of Beatles songs sound simple because they are so melodic but they would often have weird chords and subtle time changes which were rather complicated.

But then again sometimes things are just simple and that's okay because when talking about the effectiveness of simplicity, Adventure Time's theme song is a prime example.

It opens with a soundscape as the visuals fly over the land of Ooo passing by all the characters of the show until we get to Finn & Jake fist-bumping. Cue a youngish guy with a slightly weak singing voice (listen to how he strains to sustain notes) declaring it's "Adventure Time, come grab your friends, we'll go to far off distant lands/With Jake the Dog and Finn the Human, the fun will never end, it's Adventure Time!" over the simple strumming of an ukulele.

You might think I'm being mean criticising the singer's vocal abilities but I'm not. I think the fact he doesn't have a powerful singing voice improves the song immensely since it adds an innocence and playfulness that a more capable singer couldn't have. I particularly love how he ends the song on a high note he can't quite reach, it just feels so human to me.

And this plays into the sweet playful nature of a show which has candy people, ice kings, unicorn rainbow dragons, and a sword wielding boy having adventures with his shape-shifting dog. Furthermore, the lyrics are great. In two sentences, they sum up the entire show and what it is about. I'm not sure what more you could ask from an opening theme song.

So let's change tack and discuss a finale theme.

That is the final piece of music for Avatar: The Legend of Korra and it is just beautiful. Composed by Jeremy Zuckerman with a mix of Chinese and western instruments, yet again it shows the value in simplicity married with a complex arrangement.

On the Song Exploder podcast, Zuckerman notes that his favourite musical cue for the series is "such a simple little thing". I truly believe it is through simplicity that we can most easily convey emotion through music. He mentioned how he was inspired by the Lonely Man Theme from The Incredible Hulk and wanted to tap into the melancholy feeling of that theme invokes while composing the cue for Korra.

Now, I don't want to SPOIL anything for anyone who might not have watched the finale of Legend of Korra, but in the last scene Korra and Asami leave to travel the Spirit World as a romantic couple. Zuckerman explains that the spot notes (where there should be music and for what function) for the final episode read,
"Transition to score for this last sequence: They will hold hands and turn to each other at the end so we'd like to have a more romantic feel for this last sequence to support the intention that these lovely ladies are going to get together."
What I thought was a lovely touch is that Zuckerman, who was also the composer for Avatar: The Last Airbender, mentioned how he put a callback to one of the more memorable music cues from The Last Airbender at the end of the piece because it was a culmination of the journey from Aang to Korra. That level of detail is always impressive to me.

I'm not crying, I've just got something touching my very soul.

I guess my main argument for this post is that although we don't often discuss music themes in the same way we do about the writing or characters of a television show, they can be just as important to the success of a show as the rest.

This isn't to say a great show needs to have a great opening theme or that bad shows can't have a great theme song. Rather my point is that music has an ability to touch us and worm its way into our brains like no other form of art, and creating a memorable theme song which also embodies the feel of a television show is something special.


Friday, 10 June 2016

Family Ties in Legend of Korra - Book 1

Alright, I've finally settled down to write on Avatar: Legend of Korra. This is something I've been wanting to write for a couple of weeks but couldn't seem to get started. I'm not sure why, it just is one of those things where I just needed time to get my head around what I want to say.

I have already written about Legend of Korra before looking at its steampunk inspirations, its narrative and character development (up to Book 3), and how it functioned as a sequel to Avatar: The Last Airbender. However, I wanted to focus on something a little different here, family. Specifically I want to trace all the familial relations through Legend of Korra book by book.

This includes all the relationships Korra forms throughout the series as well as other family dynamics like Aang's children, Tenzin, Kya, and Bumi, and those of the antagonists like Amon. I might have bitten off more than I can digest but there's nothing like rushing headfirst into something when it comes to Legend of Korra.

Yeah, I got this.

In my previous post on Korra, I discussed the much maligned love triangle between Korra, Mako, and Asami. Now for anyone not aware, the love triangle is a depressingly common trope found in television and movie writing.

For a succinct definition, please see TV Tropes,
Alice is in love with Bob, but Bob is in love with Charlie, while Charlie is in love with Alice. Well, that's one of them. A Love Triangle commonly involves three people, love, and decisions. It can be dramatic, or it can result in Wacky Hijinx. Sometimes a fourth person is brought in to make it right, sometimes somebody might be kicked out.
You can see this trope used relative well in things like The Hunger Games or terribly forced like in Twilight and it nearly always revolves around a choice where the primary protagonist has to decide between two love interests.

This dilemma is supposed to be dramatic but often is just boring since the decision is usually obvious (Edward, of course she's gonna pick Edward, everything screams Edward!) so the 'drama' created is pandering at best.

Asami isn't in for that pandering nonsense.

I had said that the love triangle in Book 1 was very high school teen drama, which I stand by. These are teenage characters so it makes sense that they would behave like teenagers, even if that behaviour is frustrating to literally anyone who is not a teenager.

Unlike a number of people, I don't have that much of an issue with it. Or at least, it doesn't distract too much from the overall narrative. But something I always wonder is why people forget this love triangle started out as a love square with Bolin in tow.

People often dismiss Bolin but I think this underestimates his role in the group dynamic. His levity and amiable nature offers a contrast to Korra's brashness and Mako's brooding. When they first met, Bolin was quite smitten by Korra and wanted to go out with her. They even went on a date where they had a great time and seemed to have perfect chemistry.

However Korra just isn't attracted to Bolin that way and while he didn't react to seeing Korra kiss Mako all that well, he quickly accepted that Korra wasn't in to him and remained her friend with no animosity towards her. When I first watched Book 1, I was always a little disappointed Korra and Bolin didn't date since they did seem to be perfect for one another.

Like seriously.

But then I realised they made much better friends than they would have as romantic partners. They're too alike in a number of ways, both are friendly but struggle to read people and often rush into things without thinking.

They work as friends since they share the same sense of humour and are there for each other but as LoK Gifs & Musings puts it, "their similarities allow for a mutual understanding, they don’t provide the emotional support or the push towards growth that either one needs".

On the other end of the spectrum, we get Mako and Asami. Now I honestly can't tell why Asami is dating Mako. They do have a nice meet-cute when she nearly runs him over with her moped which leads to a date that she orchestrated but I never understood just quite why she had a thing for him aside of the fact he was there and like, oh so hot, you guys.

I mean, just look at the man brood. He's got some serious brooding game.

There's almost a kind of contrived inevitability that they have to end up together because she's the spunky rich girl with a fabulous head of hair and he's the brooding good-looking jock. It seems to more a relationship of societal expectations than a real romance.

To be fair, Asami is real supportive of Mako and cares for him. Once they are in a relationship, it is obvious that she has feelings for him and when she finds out that he likes Korra, she is legitimately hurt. On his end, Mako seems to really like Asami and play the masculine protector role for her, a role she is happy to let him play.

However it just seems to be taken for granted that they would be dating after their meet-cute and so they are, even though I couldn't say why they would have started a relationship aside from the fact they are both young and attractive.

I wasn't joking about her fabulous hair.

But moving past that, Asami finds out that Mako has feelings for Korra (he was doing a terrible job of hiding it) and while she is hurt by the betrayal, she's such a classy lady that she doesn't flip out on him, although they do break off their relationship for obvious reasons.

However, I agree with Tumblr user beccatoria that the best thing about the love triangle subplot is that "Asami’s character was not demonised, and that the show specifically allowed her to reject the idea that she should blame Korra". Instead of Asami becoming catty towards Korra for 'stealing her man', she instead is rightly angry at Mako for his open attraction for another person when they are supposed to be in a relationship.

I'll get to Mako and Korra in a bit but as I'm sure you're all aware, at the end of the series, Korra and Asami get together and there are the slightest hints of attraction between them in Book 1. At least on Asami's end. She thinks Korra is amazing right from the get-go and wants her to like her. Korra for her part initially see Asami as a romantic rival but is shortly won over by her confidence and class.

What can I say, Korra likes a lady who can handle fast cars.

There isn't anything necessarily romantic between the two but they are quite attracted to each other as people and don't let the love triangle nonsense ruin their attitudes toward each other. Which I really like since so often the two 'rivals' in  love triangle are pitted against each other so this is a nice change.

But then we come to Mako and Korra. I'm going to analyse this relationship in more depth with Book 2 but here even more than with Mako and Asami I have no idea why these two would start a romantic relationship. To be fair, it's clear from the second episode after they meet that Korra has developed a crush on Mako and why not? He's good-looking and brooding after all.

However kinda like how Mako and Asami get together because it seems the thing to do by societal expectations, Mako and Korra seem to get together because of narrative convention.They are the male and female leads so they should get together, right? The fact Korra had more chemistry with Bolin, someone she wasn't interested in romantically, should speak volumes about how this doesn't quite work.

And if we're being really real here, Mako is kinda selfish and insecure. His primary focus is on himself and what is best for him. This is why he continues to be in a relationship with Asami while harbouring feelings for Korra. He says he is confused but really what he should have done was break it off with Asami until he sorted his shit out.

Let's move on to Tenzin.

I'm gonna put it out there for full disclosure, I love Tenzin. He honestly might be my favourite character in Legend of Korra. Firstly he is a badass Airbender and just a badass period. So often when the gang is getting taken down by a bunch of bad guys, Tenzin is nearly always the last man standing. And the fact he is voiced by an unrecognisable J.K. Simmons is just the cherry on the top.

I'll get into this more as the series progresses but Tenzin's relationship with Korra is fascinatingly complex. They both learn so much about each other and themselves through their relationship. Tenzin is not only a mentor and teacher to Korra but a surrogate father-figure away from home. Similarly, Tenzin sees Korra as much as a daughter as he sees her as his student or charge.

Tenzin's controlled and stoic demeanor belies his sometimes controlling and anxiety-ridden manner, which is something Korra, just by being her stubborn headstrong self, bristles. Tenzin has a lot of internalised anxiety in regards to upholding his father Aang's legacy as well as being the father of the next generation of Airbenders.

So sometimes he loses his cool.

Tenzin initially imposes strict restrictions on Korra since he sees structure and discipline as key to teaching. However he didn't give much consideration of the best way to adapt his teaching technique to nurture Korra and help her learn considering her rebellious nature.

However he eventually realises that by giving Korra the tools she needs and letting her use those tools in a practical setting she thrives. He also offers support for her emotionally, telling her he is always there if she needs to talk. He is truly proud of Korra, not only as his student but for who she is and as the Avatar.

For her own part, Korra is resistant to Tenzin's style of teaching and takes a lot of the frustration she feels at not being able to Airbend out on him. She also doesn't take well to his slightly patronising paternal instincts and desire to protect her at the cost of her freedom. But at that same time she respects him greatly as a mentor and confidant, eventually opens up to him about her fears.

Her complex feelings towards Tenzin sets up a breakdown in their relationship in Book 2 that blossoms into something truly wonderful by Book 3 but we'll get there when we get there.

We've got some bloodbending brothers to talk about in the meantime.

The antagonists of Book 1, Noatak and Tarrlok, have a complicated sibling rivalry. In "Skeletons in the Closet", the penultimate episode of the season, we learn from Tarrlok that Amon, the Equalist leader and Big Bad of the season, is actually his brother Noatak and from the Northern Water Tribe like himself.

He then goes into their tragic backstory. They are the sons of Yakone, a bloodbending crime boss who was escaped from Republic City after Aang took away his bending. When their father finds out that his sons are both Waterbenders, he starts training them in the taboo art of bloodbending. His training is intense and harsh as he wants to use his sons as a means to get back the criminal empire that was taken from him.

Tarrlok doesn't like bloodbending because of the unease he feels forcibly manipulating living creatures although Noatak is a prodigy. Throughout their training Tarrlok and his brother drift apart as Noatak becomes increasingly detached. Eventually Noatak turns on their father and leaves.

As an adult, Tarrlok makes a decision to go to Republic City, not to control it the way his father did through crime but lead it through legitimate channels. He works his way onto the City Council and sets up the task force charged with taking down Amon (who he doesn't know is his brother yet).

It doesn't go that well for him.

The Brothers Bad offer an interesting examination of the perils of parental pressure. Yakone pushes his sons to excel in a field he has chosen for them with little to no consideration of their own desires. He envisions who they want to be in order to vicariously get his own vengeance on Republic City.

Both of his sons reject what he wanted them to become. However due to their own ambitions, they end up becoming exactly what their father wanted anyway- the antagonists of the story instead of the heroes they wanted to become.

This is clear in Tarrlok's apology to Korra (for the whole bloodbending and kidnapping her thing),
"Avatar Korra. I am truly sorry for all that I did to you. I thought I was better than my father, but his ghost still shaped me. I became a soldier of revenge, just like he wanted me to be. And so did my brother."
So he decides to end their sad tale with murder-suicide. You know, for kids.

Now I've only begun to scratch the surface of the network of relationships within the series. I didn't get to mention Asami's highly complicated relationship with her father (who turned out to be an Equalist and not at all the man she thought he was), Tenzin's family and his wife Pema, or even Lin as Tenzin's old flame and her interactions with Korra.

Legend of Korra didn't always handle things perfectly. It made missteps here or there where the wider implications of the story they were telling wasn't considered and some elements didn't quite work but it did present a rich and varied text full of complicated and nuanced interpersonal relationships worth exploring.

The next one of these Korra posts will come out once I finished Book 2 so don't hold your breath since it might be a while. Don't worry though, I'm sure I'll find something else to write about in the meantime.


Love Triangle - TV Tropes

The Legend of Korra: Deliberately Deconstructed - beccatoria

Korra's Relationships - Avatar Wiki

Borra: The Greatest Bromance Ever Told - LoK Gifs & Musings

Bald Mentor Appreciation Day - Nerdswole

Tarrlok's Relationships - Avatar Wiki

Friday, 3 June 2016

High Fantasy Versus Low Reality: What Makes Fiction Real

This wasn't the thing I was going to write about this week. I was going to write about Avatar: The Legend of Korra but then I saw an article on the latest episode of Game of Thrones which made me want to write about something completely different instead.

The article in question was by Fandom Following and argued that the show doesn't deserve critical analysis examining the motivations of its characters or whether it is providing commentary worthy of discussion.

The primary reason for this is because Game of Thrones doesn't have a consistent internal logic since the writing continually breaks the established rules of its own world.

"Listen to them, son. It doesn't make sense how one episode you needed to hold a root of the weirwood tree to have a vision but the next you stay in a vision long after letting go of the root. And no, 'because magic' is not an acceptable answer."

Game of Thrones often tries to have it both ways. The show writers defend the use of rape for drama, explaining it is part of "the reality of this particular world" of brutal patriarchy. However they still want to have ladies occasionally be sassy or talk back to men for a fist-pumping moment which makes no sense in a toxic misogynistic environment.

Or as Fandom Following explains,
Because you absolutely cannot pretend that in a world where Talla is not allowed to express that her future husband isn’t appealing to her without being silenced, her mother would even think to speak out against Randyll in order to defend a wildling that mothered the illegitimate child of her disinherited son. Yet not only did she speak out, she did so in front of others, and in such a manner that was meant to shame him.

Why would a blatant and violent sexist like Randyll allow his wife to publicly shame him like this?

But I don't want to focus on Game of Thrones since I wrote about the show last week. Rather I want to examine the critique that since fantasy novels have a vaguely medieval setting, they should therefore be 'historically accurate' or gritty. This is often a criticism leveled against high fantasy works, things like The Lord of the Rings or The Wheel of Time in contrast to 'realistic' fantasy series like A Song of Ice and Fire.

The critique often follows something along the lines that it is unrealistic the main protagonists of a highly dangerous epic adventure are likable and all survive. How can it be taken seriously unless there is the real danger that any character could possibly die? Essentially, the real Middle Ages were a brutal place and since fantasy novels superficially reflect the Middles Ages, they should reflect that brutality in order to have real merit.

I'm sorry but I call bullshit. There is no reason why a quote/unquote gritty fantasy world should be considered more seriously than a high fantasy world. Darkness can exist in well-lit worlds, characters don't have to be anti-heroes in order to be nuanced or complicated, and compelling storytelling doesn't have to rely on a gritty setting full of death.

Captain America: Civil War dealt with complex themes of privacy vs security, agency vs accountability, freedom versus governance, and loyalty versus betrayal but I don't know if the setting was gritty enough for me to take it seriously.

Let's focus on death for a moment since so many shows nowadays follow the 'anyone can die' mould as way of showing how realistic their fictional world is. Todd VanDerWerff wrote an in-depth and brilliant article for Vox on how the proliferation of death on our television screens in recent years has actually diluted its narrative or emotional impact.

When you rely on death as a plot point, it becomes reduced to shock value and cheapens the narrative. A fictional world doesn't need to rely on the death of one or more of its main characters to raise the stakes in order for us to be invested.

For example, Harry Potter is a high stakes tale where a bespectacled boy battles wizard Hitler but we all knew going in that Harry, Ron, and Hermoine were going to survive. We didn't need their deaths to become invested in the world.

I can't possibly invest in this. They're laughing and none of them die.

Death can and should happen in fiction but it needs to matter. I mean there was death in Harry Potter but it had a purpose. The first character of any worth to die was Cedric Diggory but that was in the fourth book in the series and he was a minor secondary character. J.K. Rowling spent the three previous books developed a rich world inhabited by identifiable characters we related to and used his death to mark the severe consequences of Voldemort's return in a real way.

And Cedric's death had an effect. It signaled a change in the series as the tone become more adult and dark. One that heralded later more significant character deaths like Sirius Black in Order of the Phoenix. As Harry's godfather, Sirius' death was dramatically significant as he lost one more link to his parents and his sense of family.

This leads to Harry's first real emotional breakdown in the series as it all becomes to much for him to handle and he calls Dumbledore, his other father-figure, out on his bullshit. But Harry then learns from this what makes him different from Voldemort and how he will inevitably defeat the Dark Lord - he has the capacity to love.

I know it hurts Harry but at least his death wasn't a cheap shock.

Of course, there is Dumbledore's own death in The Half-Blood Prince but yet again, that wasn't an attempt to show the reality of this particular world so much as it served an emotional and narrative function. Dumbledore's death was effective emotionally not only because he was a beloved character but because his death was handled with sensitivity.

And thematically it made sense for him to die. Over the course of the story Harry lost his adoptive father-figures in order to become his own man and face He-Who-Was-Already-Named-In-This-Post. It could be seen as a metaphor for growing up since he could no longer rely on his 'father' to swoop in and save him.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that fantasy doesn't have to mimic the real world or be dark and gritty in order to be realistic. It just needs to establish the rules of its own fictional world and follow them. As Tumblr user Lindira puts it:
Fantasy does NOT have to follow real world rules. Fantasy does NOT have to relate to some real world event, country, concept, law, or history. Fantasy does NOT have to mirror any particular time period or country, even if you’re basing your world on a real world one. There is NO SUCH THING as “historical accuracy” in fantasy as it relates to the real world. 
THE ONLY THING Fantasy has to do to be believable is follow the established rules OF ITS OWN WORLD. Fantasy can literally be anything you imagine it to be.
This is why we all accept that Superman can fly and shoot laser beams out of his eyes but get upset when writers pull shit like this out of their arse:

Nothing in Superman's list of powers in the movies (or comics) ever mentioned or hinted at being able to throw cellophane S shields at his enemies. It is obvious that the writers didn't care this flew in the face of Superman's established powers.

In fact, the final act of Superman II is unfortunately riddled with this lack of care, which is a shame because I love that movie. Like Superman can suddenly make holographic copies of himself because that is somehow a thing.

And then there is the kiss. You know the one. Where Superman kisses Lois so hard she forgets all the events of the movie. There are so many things wrong with that that I don't even want to touch it.

You can't just make up things whenever you feel like it if they go against the rules of the fictional world. It just doesn't work. The only thing it shows is that the writer either doesn't care about either the fictional world they have created or their audience.

Now that I've established that, let's discuss The Wheel of Time for a bit. I am currently reading the series for the first time and have only finished the first three books so far but since that's a trilogy, it's as good a place as any to provide some reserved analysis.

I mentioned up top that due to the fact that The Wheel of Time is a high fantasy series where (as far as I've read) none of the main characters die and lacks the 'anyone can die' approach which is all the rage nowadays, it somehow is less serious than a work like A Song of Ice and Fire.

That argument seems to be based on the false premise that grim = realistic, one I've spent some time diffusing. It also ignores the fact that Robert Jordan was going for something completely different to George R.R. Martin. Now bear in mind that I am by no means well versed the works of either author but here's how I see the distinction between the two series.

To my mind Jordan is more interested in exploring notions of prophecy and determinism, the resistance between who the characters believe themselves to be and who they were fated to become, with an emphasis on duality. There's also a focus on the cyclical nature of time for some reason.

Hmm, an ouroboros entwined with a wheel. Whatever could it mean?

Jordan used his richly imagined fantasy world as a backdrop to explore those ideas in a manner which couldn't have been done in quite the same way if the story was set in a more 'realistic' setting. On the other hand, while Martin's fictional world is home to magic and mystical creatures like dragons, his focus is more on the medieval aspect of fantasy.

Martin uses fantasy to create as an a brutal, patriarchal feudal world and used the medieval values of that setting to explore the workings of sexism and ableism (and to a lesser extent racism), the expression of masculinity, and personal identification.

In A Song of Ice and Fire, rape is a very real thing since it is a symptom of the toxic patriarchal world Martin built and exploring, but it would seem quite anachronistic in a series like The Wheel of Time. This isn't to say that the regularity of rape within his narrative is completely necessary for the 'realism' of Martin's fictional world but it does make sense within its internal logic.

But just because his world is more brutal doesn't necessarily make it more serious. Both A Song of Ice and Fire and The Wheel of Time deal with gender politics and both have explored the cruelty of slavery or bondage to some degree for example.

It might not be clear but the lady in green is Egwene and she has a leash around her neck that the lady in red and blue is holding to control her. This is from the less serious The Wheel of Time series by the way.

Furthermore, while The Wheel of Time could be said to have a lighter tone overall than A Song of Ice and Fire, the historical backstory that lays the foundation for the series is undeniably dark. From Wikipedia,
A century after the initial breach of the Dark One's prison, open warfare occurs between the forces of the Dark One and those of the Light, until the chieftain Lews Therin Telamon, known as the Dragon, leads a force of channelers and soldiers to reseal the prison; whereupon the Dark One inflicts a malediction that drives male channelers of the One Power insane. 
Thus affected, the male channelers create earthquakes and tsunamis altering numerous landscapes in an event that comes to be called "The Breaking of the World." Lews Therin himself kills his friends and family, and is known afterwards as "Kinslayer." Given a moment of sanity by Ishamael, chief among the Dark One's servants, Lews Therin commits suicide.
Remember this is the story which some dismiss as 'high fantasy' like that's a bad thing and less worthy of attention. And that's my point. Fantasy can be whatever it wants to be. It doesn't have to be 'adult' in tone to handle some heavy stuff and it doesn't have mimic the real world to be realistic.

It just has to follow its own rules. Even if those rules include magic.


Stop Pretending Game of Thrones is Worthy of Analysis - Fandom Following

Game of Thrones writer defends Sansa scene in heartfelt new commentary - Entertainment Weekly

Fantasy Does Not Have To Follow Real World Rules - Lindira

TV is killing off so many characters that death is losing its punch - Vox

A'dam - The Wheel of Time Wiki

The Wheel of Time Wikipedia page