JALALABAD, AFGHANISTAN — A group of Game of Thrones fans in Afghanistan have taken their love of the show to an impressive new level, staging a recreation of last week's 'Red Wedding' massacre by gunning down a real-life wedding party in Kunar Province.
"We made it about as authentic as we could," said gunman Tariq Saifullah, referring to the attack in the Korengal Valley that left seven dead and twenty wounded. "We even started by stabbing a pregnant woman to death, but there was some confusion since that's typically done by the groom following the ceremony."
While deploring the violence, HBO executives are hopeful that the killings are a sign that more and more people in this nation of 31 million potential viewers are watching the show. Although popular around the world, Game of Thrones has been slow to catch on in a country that views the sudden death of prominent figures, constant betrayals, and shifting alliances, set against a background of rape and carnage — as just another Thursday.
"The biggest problem we've had is there's nothing the show can do that doesn't already happen in a typical week here," said Farooq Sharif, a spokesman for HBO Pakistan, which also services Afghanistan.
"When we ran the episode where they kill all the babies in Kings Landing, people thought it was a documentary about the Kandahar Massacre. When we had the bear fight with Brienne, we had dozens of angry phone calls complaining it wasn't a realistic depiction of a person fighting for life against a large animal. President Karzai even asked if we wanted to visit the bear pit he keeps underneath the presidential palace to see what one really looks like."
Sharif also explained how the bombshell Red Wedding had completely flopped: "Absolutely no one was surprised: massacring all the guests at a wedding is the oldest Afghan trick in the book."
"There is even a word in Pashto which translates as "inviting someone to a wedding for the express purpose of murdering their entire family." Technically there are a dozen different words for it, mostly subtle differences in pronunciation, which explain the reason: an insult, a drug deal, a tribal rivalry, to break in a new rifle, or because it's raining."
"Many of our viewers also couldn't understand why the wedding massacre wasn't blamed on an errant U.S. drone strike, or why House Frey wasn't trying to get a civil affairs project in compensation."
Game of Thrones has been controversial in Afghanistan ever since the show was first aired. The first two seasons were banned by the government after a poll showed most Afghans associated the incestuous power-hungry Lannisters with the Karzai government and the honorable oath-keeping Starks with the Taliban. An internal memo written by HBO at the start of Season 3 even despaired that Afghans would ever be a prime market for the network after the failures of Boardwalk Empire and True Blood, described as "boring" by many viewers.
The only successful show HBO has marketed in Afghanistan has been The Wire, since the character of Omar Little is considered a role model by many Afghans.
The real irony of course is that most of Game of Thrones is now filmed in Afghanistan, due to the country's rich archaeological heritage, subsidies for film production, and lax laws about torturing extras on the set. The Afghan Tourism Bureau has even run a series of tongue-in-cheek ads, showing White Walkers and the Unsullied (both of which are based on real events in Afghan history) to encourage tourists to visit the country.
Still, if interviews with the average man on the street are anything to go by, the show still has a lot of work to do.
"I tried to watch the scenes where they're torturing [Theon Greyjoy]," complained Jagran Akhtar, a major in the Afghan National Army, "but it's honestly no worse than the torture chamber I've got set up in my tent. And really, bringing those two prostitutes in there? I can't think of a worse way to tarnish the sacred bond between a man and the ones he tortures."
UPDATE: HBO has also denied a 'Game of Thrones' connection with Sunday's murder of two small boys in Zhari. The boys had been performing sexual acts on local policemen in exchange for scraps of food when they were beheaded by the Taliban as 'traitors.' The network, however, could not rule out a connection with 'Girls'.