When you play the Game of Thrones, you win(ce) or you die (inside)

When I was thirteen, my high school English teacher assigned Lord of the Flies to our class. At first, I enjoyed the book. After all, Flies begins innocently enough: grade school boys shipwrecked on a mysterious island. It almost felt like an outdoor survival adventure—still a favorite genre of mine.

But soon the tone—and my outlook—shifted drastically. By the time the eponymous “Lord” made his putrified appearance, my mood had darkened. When the island’s suddenly-savage boys started slaughtering each other, I felt downright depressed. Flies pulled me into a listless, discouraged funk that didn’t lift till I finished the book. After turning the last page, I threw open every window in my bedroom, hoping to let some light stream into my psyche.

Media affects mood; it’s an amazing—and sometimes awful—phenomenon. I love the hopeful, broadened perspective I’m left with after an epic film. On the other hand, darker content fouls my disposition and leaves me feeling depressed.

Case in point? Game of Thrones, HBO’s hit medieval fantasy series. Thones is notorious for its raunch and gore. In Westeros, everyone is cruel, rape is common, and main characters get offed in gratuitous showers of blood. Unlike Lord of the Flies, which used violence to comment on society’s hidden darkness, Game of Thrones revels in nastiness, seemingly without purpose.

That’s a major turn-off. I can’t bring myself to wade into the Thrones bloodbath. I did try reading the Ice and Fire series, upon which the HBO show is based. But once the only admirable character met his bitter end in the first book’s finale, I gave up. George R.R. Martin (Thones’ author and mastermind) seems to relish dousing hope wherever it arises. Why volunteer for that sorry slog, when it makes me so unhappy?

Plenty of others do sign up. Each spring, Thones dominates my social media feeds. Both geeks and non-geeks obsess over the show. Otherwise mild-mannered friends cheer on the throat-slitting and village-pillaging every Sunday night.

I can’t join them, for some reason. Maybe I’m squeamish. Maybe I hold my media to absurdly high standards. Maybe I can’t properly separate my internal life from my imagination. Whatever it is, I don’t plan to play the Game of Thrones any time soon.