Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Interviews of Ice and Fire: Nina Friel

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, IOIAF

With season six of Game of Thrones only a month away, Interviews of Ice and Fire is back to take a closer look at the vibrant A Song of Ice and Fire community. Today I’m honored to welcome Nina Friel. 

One of your recent essays focused on House Peake, a house barely featured in the main series. Can you tell us a little about the research process that goes into such an obscure topic? Is it different from your work on more well-known Houses/topics?

It is different, but not as different as you might think. For that essay in particular, I really had to delve into The World of Ice and Fire; I noted each point in Westerosi history where the Peakes were notable actors, and I looked critically at whether the Peakes’ actions were in each case truly unjustifiable or merely ambitious. On the similar side, though, with many essays I like to consider topics that are sometimes thought of more one-dimensionally, and then expand on and complicate them. I did that for Viserys Targaryen, and Brandon Stark, and I wanted to do it for House Peake as well. My goal was to show the Peakes not as the easy villains they might always appear to be, but as simply another ambitious Westerosi house which has on occasion gambled poorly in the game of thrones.

So, for example, I looked at the driving of the Manderlys out of the Reach. As readers, we’re conditioned in a way to like the Manderlys – how often is Wyman’s “the North remembers” speech cited as a favorite quote? – so when we hear this fact, it might be natural to think of the Peakes as terrible villains for it. Yet the Manderlys also built White Harbor with money brought out of exile – a substantially expensive project. Could it really have been so black and white that the Manderlys were the poor “good guys” hastened into exiled by the Peake “bad guys” if the Manderlys had sufficient funds to build an entire city and castle in the style of the Reach’s “fine castles and towers”? That’s the sort of question I would pose to myself while writing this sort of essay.

As with any essay, I try to tease out as much meaning as possible from what little information is available. When writing about more obscure topics, there will of course be less information, so I do a fair bit of educated guesswork. Why was Lorimar Peake able to convince King Perceon III Gardener to exile the Manderlys? Well, it seems likely the Manderlys had done something to merit King Perceon’s distrust, because Yandel doesn’t note that any other houses of the Reach complained about the blatant royal tyranny in depriving a family of its holding for no crime. It’s a little bit of sailing into uncharted territory – I have only my own conclusions to go on – but that’s exactly what I like about writing about these less-talked-about: I feel especially with these essays that I’m really adding to the fandom.

You make the case that Varys took Tyrek Lannister in your “Heirs in the Shadows: The Young Lion” essay quite well. What do you think this means for Tyrion’s role in Varys’ plan?

Glad you liked that essay! I think for Varys, Tyrion provides another level of training for Aegon. He’s a seasoned Westerosi politician, from an eminently noble family, with no Westerosi allies and no reason to betray Aegon’s cause (because what is he going to do, go back to Westeros, where he’s a wanted man?). So long as Tyrion was with Aegon, he would be nicely mined for his political and dragonlore knowledge. Then, when Aegon returned to Westeros, Varys could stage a clever PR move, clasping the kinslaying, kingslaying, traitorous Tyrion in chains and parading him through the capital before executing him. Aegon has all the knowledge Tyrion imparted, and Tyrion himself could serve as a useful scapegoat for the new Targaryen regime. Varys is not a nice person, and has demonstrated that he is willing to kill even good, useful people (like Kevan Lannister) to further his aims.

Building off Varys’ scheme a bit, I wanted to ask a question about master plans in general. As an author, I’ve always been fascinated by the concept that GRRM came up with some of his characters’ motives back in 1996 that have yet to be fully revealed. Do you think that some of these characters have been following the same plan since AGOT?

It’s hard to say, right, how much George R.R. Martin envisioned when he started the series versus where he has it now. You look at something like the 1993 pitch letter, and it’s very bare bones – no Baratheon brothers, no other Great Houses, hardly anyone except Starks and Lannisters and Daenerys. Now, it’s Starks and Lannisters and Daenerys, and Tyrells and Martells and Greyjoys and Targaryen pretenders and R’hllor and Essos and everything else – it’s exploded as a narrative, which is wonderful of course as a reader.

So much has been added to the story, though, that I don’t know how characters can have stuck to exactly the plan the author had way back when the series started. Could Varys have been motivated, say, by a desire to sit a Blackfyre claimant on the Iron Throne way back in 1996, when the Blackfyres themselves wouldn’t be mentioned for four more years? No, probably not. But, might Varys have always wanted to seat a boy he claimed was the baby Prince Aegon on the Iron Throne? Possibly; we hear pretty early that the baby prince’s head was dashed against a wall, allowing for the possibility of a switched infant. So I think while very general character motivations have remained the same, I think as the novels have expanded greatly, details have been added to make these motivations more complex, more nuanced, more in keeping with the breadth of the novels themselves.

You did an article on “The Rogue Prince” back in January. The question of Archmaester Gyldayn’s credibility has been called into question several times over the years. Did the fool Mushroom’s testimony lead to any other questions regarding Gyldayn’s account?

“The Rogue Prince” and “The Princess and the Queen” were such a delight for me because I am a shameless historian (the same reason I adore The World of Ice and Fire). The narrative in the main series is wonderful, but reading these secondary source accounts of the court of Viserys I and the Dance of the Dragons warmed my historian heart. That format definitely made me consider the biases of the primary sources, as I would in any real work of history. Septon Eustace, for example, is an important eyewitness to court events, but he also anointed Aegon at his coronation, and as such carries some bias in his writing (like his probable invention of Aegon II nobly refusing the crown at first, before accepting it). Mushroom presents another view, but he himself thrived on exaggeration, reaching for the most scandalous and lurid tales to write an explicit, debauched chronicle. Gyldayn, as the historian, has to present these viewpoints, even when they conflict, leaving it for the reader to decide who had the right of it in different aspects of the history. Of course, Gyldayn himself is suspect in what he chose to include in his accounts, how he chose to frame issues – little enough is noted about Aegon’s extramarital affairs, while Rhaenyra’s having supposedly bastard sons consume a large chunk of “The Rogue Prince” – but that may be going too far down the rabbit hole.

What I think is fascinating about Gyldayn as well is that he was the last maester at Summerhall before it burned down, and may have well been there for the tragedy that took the lives of Aegon V, Prince Duncan, and Ser Duncan the Tall, among others. I don’t know how that fact affects “The Rogue Prince” and “The Princess and the Queen”, but I sense that there is a definite reason that Summerhall’s last maester wrote these two important histories that we have, and the section on the Conquest from The World of Ice and Fire.

Will we see a fifth Blackfyre rebellion, if that’s not what Aegon is up to at Storm’s End anyway?

I definitely think Aegon is a Blackfyre descendant through the female line, but I don’t think it will ever come up in the narrative beyond a few hints that he is, in fact, no true Targaryen. Aegon is claiming Westeros in the name of not the Black Dragon but the Red (even if he happens to be a black dragon made red with rust); the last Blackfyres barely made it to Westeros – hell, Maelys the Monstrous never made it past the Stepstones! – but there are still Targaryen sympathizers in the realm, and they may well rally to the supposed son of Rhaegar.  Not that the boy himself knows – as far as he is aware, I think, he is truly Rhaegar’s son. But even if he calls himself a Targaryen, Illyrio and Varys get their Blackfyre pretender, the Golden Company gets to return home under a victorious dragon banner (and fulfills that “contract written in blood”), and Aegon gets a crown. Everyone wins. So, perhaps in some way a de facto Blackfyre Rebellion, but don’t expect anyone outside the fandom to call it that.

(Technically, though, the War of the Ninepenny Kings was the Fifth Blackfyre Rebellion, led by Maelys, the last of the male Blackfyre line. This war would be the Sixth, which in a funny coincidence would also be Aegon’s regnal number.)

The frustration regarding The Winds of Winter has been well documented across the fandom, but we haven’t seen much from the perspective of the commentators. As a historian, how does the “yet to be revealed” aspect of the series affect your research?

In a way, it’s sort of freeing; when you don’t know where the story will go, you can really let your creativity lead your analysis and speculation. So, for example, in my Heirs in the Shadows series that I stared recently, I’ve been able to offer a number of theories about possible inheritors of Westerosi seats. Will Tristan Rivers, for example, actually be the Bastard of Darry and become lord of that castle? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s fun to think that it could happen while making sense for the narrative.

On the other hand, of course, that open space can make my doing research – well, not exactly intimidating, but maybe a little uncertain. I have a feeling, whenever I write The Winds of Winter speculation, of “I could be totally off-base about this, and it will be proven in the not too distant future.” It makes me think about the wildly different conclusions members of the fandom came to – myself included – about Sansa’s “controversial” chapter in The Winds of Winter; when that chapter came out, I at least definitely didn’t think it was nearly as controversial as some of the theories would have had it.

But it’s still fun to speculate, whether I actually end up being right or not, and the wait for The Winds of Winter definitely brings out the creativity. I don’t mind the wait; of course I’d love The Winds of Winter right now, but if the wait means that we’ll get that much better of a book from GRRM, then I’ll wait to have the book.

Does the show play a part in your analysis?

No, it does not. I base everything I write off of the books, and I only speculate to the future narrative of the books. I know it has been said that the show and the books will end in roughly the same place, but how the show gets there is a mystery I am wholly unqualified to solve.

Some fans are refusing to watch the show until the books are finished. The question of how much will be spoiled is one that I’ve wondered for the past year. How much are you concerned about the spoilers?

I completely understand people who don’t want to watch the show because of spoilers; when you’ve invested so much time in the series (and some people have been reading these books for 20 years now), you might not want a TV show not even half that old telling you the ending. For me, though, the show is sort of its own universe: it certainly takes from the books’ narrative, but so much has changed story-wise for so many characters that even if the two narratives end up roughly in the same place, there will be so much left to surprise us in the books. Characters dead in the show remain alive in the books, characters who don’t exist in the show are very important in the books, and the limitations of television – the show has 10 hours every season, George R.R. Martin has as many pages as he’d like to write (that can fit in a hardcover binding, at least) – means that the books have the luxury of very expansive storytelling.

As an example: I don’t think the Aegon storyline will be explored in the show, but as Jeff has been writing about in his Blood of the Conqueror series, there’s so much that Aegon will do and looks likely to do in The Winds of Winter. His storyline is going to affect a number of characters, and Daenerys, for one, may very well struggle with facing him as a challenger to the throne she’s thought for years was hers. I think it will be fascinating to watch that struggle – to watch Daenerys balance him as a potential nephew and a false pretender – and that’s something show watchers will not be able to enjoy, no matter if Daenerys ends up in the same place in both storylines.

So, in a roundabout answer, no, I’m not concerned about spoilers. What happens in the show may or may not happen in the books exactly the same way, and that’s how it goes. I’m excited to read the narrative, I’m excited to see what George R.R. Martin really excels at – drawing extremely lifelike, relatable, fully dimensional characters – and whatever happens on the show happens on the show.

If you could have one TWOW spoiler right now, which would it be?

Just one? Damn. Hard, hard question. Well, if we’re talking specifically TWOW spoilers, but just one … I want to know, without any other information, who is on the Iron Throne at the very end of the book. Just the names of the king and queen or queen and king-consort (if there is a consort in either case). I have some thoughts, but whether I’m right or wrong, I would still be able to play around with how the pieces got there.

You joined Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire a little over a year ago. How has writing about the series changed your perspective?

It has been an absolutely fantastic experience writing for the blog. I was completely flattered when Jeff messaged me asking if I would write, because I had read the essays on the site and had always been impressed by the quality of their analysis. In that year, I have grown so much as a writer and generally as a fan of the series; I’ve been able to go deeper into the details than I ever thought I would, and create rational, narrative-based explanations for characters and stories. Writing for the blog has taught me not to judge characters and situations immediately, but to consider circumstances and actions very carefully: a man who seems devoted to his cause – like Wyman Manderly – can at the same time be ambitious for his house; a woman who seems good-hearted and altruistic – like Alysanne – can at the same time be politically active and subtly imposing.

Reception for season five was fairly lukewarm among the fandom when it first aired, though obviously did quite well at the Emmys. Has your opinion of it changed at all a year later?

No, I would say not. I was not shy about saying how I felt about the season when it aired last year, and I don’t believe that my opinions have changed in a year. In some aspects, the show did quite well – the Walk of Shame was particularly well executed, Jonathan Pryce did a very nice job as the High Sparrow, and Arya’s final scene had a nice show-only twist that I thought was very welcome – but in many aspects, I thought the quality simply did not match what had come before on the show. The writing in particular I thought suffered a severe downgrade from previous seasons, and again, I don’t think multiple viewings solve the problem for me.

Generic question, but one that I always like to ask. Who is your favorite character? Is the same true for the show?

Favorite character? Definitely Sansa. Sansa is a character that I really connected to at the beginning, and have grown in my love of as the series as progressed. George R.R. Martin excels as a writer when he takes what is so fundamental to a character and slowly, painfully, strips it away from him or her, and we see that so viscerally with Sansa. Chivalry and court life are exposed for the deadly game of power politics that they are, and Sansa is forced to endure physical abuse, public humiliation, and treatment as a political pawn. Yet she never breaks, never becomes cold or bitter (even though these would be perfectly natural, human reactions to what she’s endured); she survives, and adapts, demonstrating an admirable wisdom and courage as her story has continued.

As for the show – well, my favorite characters on the show are the characters that when I watch them, I go “Yes! That’s [Character Name]!” Charles Dance is now whom I imagine in my head when I read Tywin: he exuded Tywin’s firm power and Lannister pride in every scene. Jerome Flynn as Bronn has actually been far more entertaining for me than Book!Bronn, while still retaining that sellsword independence that so marks the book character. Of course, any scene with the Queen of Thorns is a delight; Diana Rigg embodies Lady Olenna perfectly, giving her the sharpness and wit she deserves.

It’s been close to five years since we had a full length ASOIAF book, with only sample chapters, novellas, and The World of Ice and Fire to tide fans over yet the community  continues to be as ever. What do you think it is about ASOIAF that cultivates such a loyal fanbase?

One of my favorite attractions at Epcot in Disney World – don’t laugh – is Ellen’s Energy Adventure. “Ellen DeGeneres teaches you about energy” sounds sort of silly, and it is, but it’s charming in its way. Anyway. So she’s on Dream Jeopardy, and the Final Jeopardy answer is “This is the one source of energy that will never run out.” The correct response is “brain power”, which is a completely cheating answer that had nothing to do with the science-based categories before that, but again, it’s Disney World, you sort of knew that would happen going in.

Yet despite how cheating it was, that answer is sort of how I feel about the ASOIAF universe. The sheer amount of creativity George R.R. Martin has pumped into this universe, I think, inspires readers to creativity as well; the complexity of the novels challenges fans, to be sure, but in the best sort of way, forcing them to become careful readers, to connect seemingly obscure dots. That habit of careful, dedicated analysis, picked up through reading, transfers into the fanbase. Anytime you think you’ve read all there is to read about ASOIAF, go on Reddit, go on Tumblr, read some ASOIAF blogs, and I guarantee you you’ll find a theory or an analysis you’ve never seen before. Heck, it’s been nearly five years since A Dance with Dragons came out, but Tumblr friend Poor Quentyn just finished a truly amazing read through of Tyrion’s arc in that book, citing points and themes I never considered. ASOIAF endures and grows because its fanbase remains so motivated to find more, to fill the gaps, to continue to play in this highly detailed, highly expansive universe George R.R. Martin has built. ASOIAF kindles and encourages fan brain power, and that brain power will not run out in the foreseeable future.

I like to end these interviews with a question regarding one of the series’ larger theories. Since you already have me fascinated with Varys kidnapping Tyrek, I’d like to ask who you think ordered Mandon Moore to carry out the hit on Tyrion during the Battle of the Blackwater.

Oh, Littlefinger, 100% for me. Tyrion committed the ultimate crime in Littlefinger’s eyes: he made Littlefinger look dumb. Littlefinger is obsessed about being the smartest man in the room – and not just being the smartest, everyone has to know and acknowledge that he, Littlefinger, is so much more outrageously smart than all of them. The aristocratic system of Westeros did a number on Littlefinger in youth – how dare he think himself good enough to wed and/or bed a Tully! – so now he needs to outfox and pointedly humiliate his social betters, the people who personally wronged him. So when Tyrion tricked him – convincing him that Myrcella would be betrothed to Robert Arryn, and that he would get Harrenhal for arranging it – Littlefinger got pissed, and pissed, he sought revenge.  (It also did not help Tyrion’s case that Littlefinger might have thought Tyrion knew he had helped kill Jon Arryn – Littlefinger was certainly caught off guard when Tyrion mentioned Arryn’s “true killer”, though ironically Tyrion himself did not suspect Baelish.)

I’d like to thank Nina for taking the time to answer my questions. You can find her on twitter by following @ninafriel.

 

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Tuesday

25

August 2015

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Interviews of Ice and Fire: Ashaya of History of Westeros Podcast

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, IOIAF, Pop Culture

It is a pleasure to welcome Ashaya of History of Westeros Podcast to the site. History of Westeros is one of the most in depth ASOIAF resources available; creating episodes that piece together the series’ confusing timeline along with commentary on the houses, theories, reviews of Game of Thrones, and just about anything else imaginable. HoW recently wrapped up an in-depth series on Summerhall. You can support HoW through their Patreon campaign.

HoW just wrapped up two podcasts on the Tragedy of Summerhall, one of the series’ strangest mysteries and certainly one that’s overlooked by casual fans. Given how little information there is on the topic, can you tell us a little bit about how you approached it? In terms of difficulty, how did it compare to some of your other series?

 The episodes in our Religion & Magic series are generally the hardest to put together, specifically the episodes on weirwoods. The possibilities of magic are just so wide open, and that tends to make it harder to decide how to frame the narrative of the episode, and how to organize and present everything. The Tragedy of Summerhall episodes weren’t part of that series, but they obviously deal with magic as well, and so they did have some extra difficulty. We speculated about the magical aspect of it a bit, but more so focused on the role of prophecy and on the impact Summerhall had on characters like Aerys, Rhaella, and Rhaegar (and the realm).

 One thing that’s stuck with me since listening is the potential involvement of the pyromancers and how Jaime had a particular hatred of them. Given that they had seemingly no friends in court during Robert’s reign and plenty of people who don’t seem like they would be particularly fond of their line of work (Robert, Jon Arryn, Stannis), why do you think they were kept around at all?

I don’t think Robert or Jon Arryn would have felt any particular motivation to outright end the Alchemists’ Guild, which is a rather drastic course of action. If we’d had Jaime in a position of power, he likely would have, though! That said, their power has waned and waxed over time, so they weren’t as prominent during Robert’s time as they are currently in the series or (obviously) during Aerys’ reign.

One thing you mentioned that I’ve never even thought about was Aerys II’s lack of known bastards. Do you think that is an oversight on GRRM’s part or could something larger be at play?

 Questions like these are difficult because well, I do often find myself debating whether something can be explained sufficiently in-universe or whether the Doylist method is more appropriate. I know that there are a lot of fans who are pretty firmly Watsonian, but I enjoy both types of explanation, though I favor the Watsonian view overall. So often obscure things in A Song of Ice and Fire make perfect sense, and you don’t have to look at things from an out-of-universe perspective. My answer, then, is that while I think it’s possible that it was an oversight, I think there are a number of in-universe explanations, namely a) Aerys had issues with fertility (my pick) or b) Varys dealt with his bastards.

One more Summerhall question as you mentioned Shiera Seastar and she’s one of my favorite tertiary characters. I’ve often viewed her as a parallel character to Bloodraven. As unanswerable as this is, does her being Quaithe preclude her from being somehow involved in Summerhall?

No, though I personally don’t subscribe to that theory myself.

My favorite HoW episodes are the ones you did on the Battle of Ice. Granted, the two are completely different but have any of your thoughts changed since season 5?

The landscape (hah get it) of the show is indeed entirely different from the books; for instance, we theorized about the ice lakes (now you get it) having a role in the battle, with Stannis laying a trap for the Freys (we also theorized that it might backfire and get the Manderlys, but let’s ignore that). I would say that it had an effect on me, but I strongly feel that if Stannis is going to be the one to burn Shireen in the books, it will be for something far direr, and so I still don’t think that the Battle of Ice is the end for Stannis in the books. In the podcast, I said I thought that Stannis would win, and I still feel that way (with a touch more doubt, admittedly).

Since Euron = Daario seems to be unanswerable, I shall ask, how do you feel about that theory in general? Do you think there are too many identity theories floating around?

There are definitely too many identity theories! Why, I’ve even seen theories that Amin of A Podcast of Ice and Fire is my very own Aziz of History of Westeros. I try to be diplomatic about most theories, but I can’t do it for theories about Euron being Daario, Rhaegar being Mance, Arthur being Mance, etc.

If you could pick the topic for the next The Princess and the Queen or The Rogue Prince style novella, what would you pick?

Fun question! My answer for this is different than what it would be if it were for a more traditional style rather than the masterly historical style of those novellas. I would love to read an account of the Rhoynar migration and find out more specifics about the people Nymeria traveled with and so on…that might be a bit large for a novella, though, even in the history style. Alternatively, the Conquest of Dorne.

What is the craziest theory you think might actually be true.

I’m not a big theorist, especially not crazy theories, but I’m fond of the Citadel Conspiracy theory, Jojenpaste, and, (our own idea), the theory (more of a hypothesis really) that weirwoods have some sort of connection to genetics, with family looks sticking for thousands of years due to their influence. In the case of the Citadel theory, I don’t think there’s a mass conspiracy, but I think their bias is clear and should always be considered in analysis. In the case of Jojenpaste, I just like it and think it’s (deliciously) dark. The third is pretty crazy for us, but given the length of time that the appearances of these families have remained in stasis, and that we know magic is involved in the genetics, I still find myself liking the idea.

I know HoW has been to many fan conventions over the years. Can you think of a highlight that you’d like to share?

Not as many as I’d like! Though we have plans to go to Mysticon and Balticon next year, so soon there will be more under our belt. It was a huge honor to meet George, talk to him, give him our card, etc., but I think hearing him read the History of the Westerlands from The World of Ice and Fire was the highlight for me. This was prior to the release of the book, and so we were particularly hoping for material from TWOIAF. When we met GRRM the day before and told him that our podcast was titled ‘History of Westeros’, he told us that we should be excited for the reading the next day, then, so we knew in advance that we would for sure be getting new material. Let me just say…it was so hard to sleep! But then at least it was very easy to get up early due to my excitement. We frantically took notes at the reading, and were able to publish it on our website, which brought us some good publicity, which was a nice bonus. But! The day got even better, because during the Q&A after the reading, GRRM picked me to ask him a question….I was able to ask a long-burning question (what is the Unnamed Princess of Dorne’s name?), which was a dream, even if he didn’t have an answer (boo). One day I’ll have a name for her!

What shocked you the most about season 5?

That Tyene used the phrase “bad pussy”, which is, by the way, a non-canon piece of slang that has never been used in A Song of Ice and Fire, save for once in the term “pussy willows” in The Mystery Knight.

How many times a day do you get asked if Jon Snow is still alive?

Me, personally? Hardly ever. How many times a day do I have to read other people speculating based on things like his hair? Often. As an aside – it’s always the wrong question, anyway, he’s obviously dead, the question is whether Jon Snow will be brought back to life.

Will HoW do book to show episodes next season?

Definitely! They were a lot of fun, and it was great to have more opportunities to have guests like Radio Westeros on. I myself will likely be in the first few and then drop out for the rest of the season, as I did this past season. I like talking about the characters when they are first introduced, and speculating on where the season will take us, but, at least last season, I quickly got burnt out and frustrated. We’ll see, though, for all I know, I’m going to love every episode of next season! (I crack myself up)

Generic question, but who is your favorite character? Is the same true for the show?

I’ve actually done this great ASOIAF character sorter, which takes hours and hours, and I found that my number one is Sansa Stark for both A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones (the GoT sorter…yes I did both). It’s difficult to compare POV characters with minor characters, but some of my other favorites are Arianne Martell, Samwell Tarly, Maester Aemon, Varys, Wylla Manderly, Alys Karstark, and of course the usual suspects like Arya, Tyrion, and Jaime. I need a historical character sorter still, but I am particularly fond of Rohanne Webber, Egg/Aegon V, Nymeria of Ny Sar, and of course our patron saint, Septon Barth.

What’s next for HoW?

We are continuing our series on the Blackfyre Rebellions as well as preparing episodes on a few different houses like House Dayne and House Royce, and preparing an episode on Nymeria of the Rhoynar. We will also have live Q&A episodes more often as we are close to hitting that milestone on Patreon.

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Sunday

28

June 2015

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Interviews of Ice and Fire: Hamish Duncan aka Militant Penguin

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, IOIAF, Pop Culture

Season five might be over, but I’m excited to keep the Interviews of Ice and Fire going with our next guest. Hamish Duncan, known throughout the ASOIAF community as Militant Penguin is a contributor to Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire. He is also one of the moderators for the ASOIAF subreddit.

One of your essay series covers the “would be” kings of Westeros. Given that none of them have POV chapters to call their own and we can only see them through the perspectives of other characters. Obviously this leads to some discrepancies depending on how the individual character felt about each king. Which do you think got the fairest shake from the characters in the series?

I’d say that Stannis probably gets the fairest shake of all of the kings. Robb is definitely a close second though. Stannis is viewed from multiple POVs all of whom have their own agendas and biases. However, I think that the greater number of POVs representing their own views about Stannis actually benefits his overall character and gives him a more realized form. Eventually all of these biases and views start overlapping and you see the more realized form of a character. It’s sort of a blend of a mosaic and a Venn diagram in a way.

Davos Seaworth, Eddard Stark, Maester Cressen, Melisandre of Asshai, Asha Greyjoy, and Jon Snow give us a more reasoned, positive, and deeper perspective into Stannis. They see beyond the hard, stubborn, teeth grinding king and battle commander. They see the man for what he is, a deeply conflicted, imperfect, and flawed man who is ultimately good in his own niche way.

Cersei Lannister, Tyrion Lannister, and Catelyn Stark have their own views on Stannis that are somewhat negative but do give a great insight into how hard it is to like Stannis when you deal with him on a shallower, administrative basis. Stannis is a stickler for the rules and the law, with some bending one way or another, and people like that are not really fun to be around and are quite unpopular. They get the job done but they are not well liked for it.

Theon Greyjoy and Samwell Tarly are scared of Stannis, although Theon is more afraid of Ramsay, because Stannis is absolutely terrifying. However, they give ample insight into what it means to know such an imposing man and be at the mercy of his mood.

Stannis gets the fairest shake of any king in the series because we hear far more peoples’ thoughts on him than any other king. The positive, the negative, the fearful, the shallow, and the deep all give a far more complete picture of Stannis Baratheon both as a king and as a man.

If you could give one of the kings a POV chapter, which would you pick?

Definitely Robb Stark. I would have loved to have seen the Westerlands campaign from his point of view. However, I think that Robb as a POV character would have been a great read. He strikes me as one of the more tragic and tormented characters of the series. He’s left in charge on his own at a very young age while a lot of the family he grew up with leave Winterfell, he rides to war to save his father who is ultimately killed, he is effectively blackmailed into a marriage pact with a woman he may never love, he has to earn the respect and win the loyalty of battle hardened veteran soldiers under his command, he must win victory after victory or risk annihilation, he is elected king at a very young age, he has to defend the indefensible Riverlands while the Greyjoys attack his home, his best friend betrays him and apparently burns down his home and kills his brothers, he is wounded and accidentally sleeps with a kind girl who nurses him in his darkest hour, he betrays a marriage pact to save her honour at the expense of his own because he’d never want his own possible child to suffer like Jon Snow did, his uncle apparently unknowingly botches his entire campaign plan that ultimately results in the him being effectively surrounded, he is abandoned by the Freys and Karstarks because he did what he thought was right if not smart, in his desperation he turns to the man whose marriage pact he betrayed for help while one of his top generals actively sabotages the war effort and plots behind his back, he finally figures out how to get back home before a wedding where his friends and allies are butchered before his eyes before he himself is murdered after possibly dying inside of his own direwolf beforehand.

Imagine reading all of that from Robb’s perspective. If you thought Catelyn’s chapters could be depressing imagine reading Robb’s right up until his death.

One of your other essays goes in-depth into The Great Council, which has an impact on the series that most people don’t really realize which of course directly lead to the Dance of the Dragons. How different do you think the series would be if Rhaenyra had ascended to the thrones?

I think the end result may have been the same on the condition that a civil war still occurred. The people would have turned against her, providing the war lasted the same amount of time and did the same amount of damage, and she would have likely died, probably being murdered by one person or another. I think Aegon III probably still would have ascended to the throne but would have had a lot of difficulty in ruling a land ravaged by dragons.

If the war never happened and succession went ahead like Viserys I planned with Rhaenyra ascending to the Iron Throne without issue there may have been a decent chance for peace. However, given her later paranoia, violence, and the past moves of Alicent Hightower, it probably would have come to war in one way or another if Rhaenyra made a move against the Hightowers and Aegon if she felt they were a big enough threat to her continued reign. 

The thing that bugged me about season five more than anything else was Jorah contracting greyscale. In reading your Rhaegar essay over, I see a fair amount of book parallels between Ser Friendzone and Jon Connington. 

Jorah and Connington are definitely birds of a feather when it comes to their histories and personalities. Both were exiled from their homelands, lost their honour in some way or another by being sellswords and either by slaving or by allegedly dying as a thieving drunk, and both are doomed to love Targaryens even if it ruins and kills them.

They are similarly tragic characters who are ultimately the architects of their own destruction and they’ll do it all for someone unattainable that they obsessively love.

Jorah wants to get back in Daenerys’ good graces after betraying her and being exiled. It’s about guilt for Connington who blames himself for Rhaegar’s death and is willing to do anything to make up for it. Guilt is one of their commonalities; Jorah’s actual guilt for being a spy and Connington’s imagined guilt over Rhaegar’s death. Love and guilt are ultimately going to destroy these men and they are too wrapped up in it to the extent that they haven’t quite realized the mortal danger they have put themselves and/or others in.

I really enjoyed your essay on Domeric Bolton. Is it safe to say you’re not a believer in the “Bolt-On” theory that Roose plans to pull a Buffalo Bill and wear Ramsey’s skin?

Thanks very much. I really enjoyed writing that essay. It was great fun trying to play detective. I’m not a believer in “Bolt-On” but I love that theory. It is a hell of a lot of fun to read. I think there was a YouTube video last year that laid out “Bolt-On” in all of its skinless glory and it somehow made not seem as farfetched as you’d initially think after reading it for the first time.

I will always encourage and support fans who do that amount of out of the box thinking. A Song of Ice and Fire is a great universe to play around when you make your theories.

You’re a moderator for the ASOIAF subreddit. Since this time last year, we’ve seen the releases of “The Rogue Prince,” The World of Ice and Fire, season five of Game of Thrones, and another TWOW sample chapter while of course the one thing everyone really wants is still sitting on GRRM’s Wordstar, Have you noticed a heightened sense of urgency within the fandom as the show is only a few months away from blowing past the books?

I would definitely agree that there is a heightened sense of urgency within the fandom and I am absolutely a part of that as well. When you’ve been waiting for a series of books to finish for a number of years and its show adaptation is blowing straight past it to completion while hitting almost every single high note that you’ve been waiting years to read about, it can absolutely affect your sense of urgency.

Not to sound like a purist but the book fans love the intricacies of the story and how it all builds up to each individual climax. I’d say that we love the journey as much if not more than the climax but when a ten episode season often blows over the journey and straight to the climax it feels underwhelming and unfair. We walked the journey, analyzed the text, and theorized about the probable outcome. The show, often by necessity, can skip the large part of the fun journey and build up, and just do the highlights.

I’d say the urgency in the fandom comes from a lack of journey in the show, due to basic budget and production requirements, and the seemingly unearned and spoiler heavy climaxes. We want to see what happens with Jaime and Brienne in the Riverlands when they meet Lady Stoneheart. We want to watch the Battles of Fire, Ice, and Winterfell and see how it compares to our beliefs. Will Jon Snow be reborn in the lordly light of R’hollor? Will Daenerys conquer the Dothraki? Will Euron hit Oldtown and how will the Redwyne Fleet fair against the might of the Greyjoys? How will Littlefinger fall? Will Arya get her revenge? Will hype be acquired? And most importantly, will the North Remember?

It’s about the how, when, where, why, and what. Like the Faith of the Seven would argue, it’s not just about one aspect, it’s about how they fit together to make the greater organic whole.

I want to read about the events as they were originally built up and meant to be told before the show spoils the outcome of these events for me.

I recently wrote an article calling Kit Harrington’s interview with Entertainment Weekly a red herring. Have we seen the last of Jon Snow?

I’m thinking he’ll be back but in what sense is beyond me and that is something I am dying to read and watch. How will he return? Will we have a Beric Dondarrion/Lady Stoneheart situation? Will Jon live out his days in Ghost while his body is wighted? Or, and this is taken from an awesome, if grim theory I read a while back, will it even be Jon inside his body or will a much greyer character possess Jon’s body for his own purposes while Jon is left stranded inside of Ghost and trying to maintain his humanity before it fades away – the apparent fate of wargs when they make their final journey into their animal companions?

Jon will be back but he might not be the Jon we know.

Casting speculations have lead many to believe that we’ll see a Tower of Joy prequel scene next season. If you could film one event from before the main series, which would you pick?

Probably the Dance Over Harrenhal, an aerial dragon duel between Aemond ‘One-Eye’ Targaryen and Daemon Targaryen.

What were your thoughts on season five as a whole?

Season 5 had a lot of good going for it that prevented it from sucking outright. It was just meh to me. I wasn’t at all emotionally engaged. It was an entire season of “oh, well that happened”, imperfect writing, and not well thought out changes. I think it could have been really great if things were just executed better.

Season 5 was about a 7/10 for me. It was okay when it could have been brilliant.

In further detail though and to encapsulate it in one phrase, lack of immersion.

Unlike the previous seasons I just wasn’t encapsulates by the show. I just didn’t care overall apart from when it came to the Stannis changes but that’s an external and not an internal thing. To me there was just no tension or emotion in this season. It just felt hollow and there was no reason to give a damn or emotionally invest in characters anymore.

With previous seasons you were drawn into the show and felt less like a passive viewer and more of an in universe observer, as pretentious as that sounds. Stuff like the music and the effects drew you in and made you feel; hate, joy, love, fear, and even morbid laughter at times.

I wasn’t at all emotionally engaged with this season.

Episode 9 is a good example to highlight the issue I had.

The previous penultimate episodes definitely made me feel something before.

Baelor – Sadness for Ned, hatred for the Lannisters, and sadness and pride for Robb and Catelyn.

Blackwater – Hatred for Joffrey, morbid laughter with Cersei, pity for Sansa and Lancel, pride for Tyrion, Podrick, and Bronn, and awesomeness for Stannis.

The Rains of Castamere – Dread for Robb, Catelyn, Talisa, and the Northerners, morbid laughter with Walder Frey and the Blackfish, fear from Roose Bolton, happiness and sadness for Robb and Talisa, pride for Robb, happiness for Edmure, hatred for the Boltons and Freys, sadness for Grey Wind, and horror. It’s my favourite episode and I fucking love and hate it all at the same time.

The Watchers On The Wall – pride for Jon, Grenn, Sam, and Thorne, sadness for Grenn and Pyp, sadness for Jon seeing Ygritte die, morbid laughter at Hob, the Giant archer, and Janos Slynt.

Dance of the Dragons – meh.

What worked and what didn’t for you?

What Didn’t Work

– Dorne was not great save for Siddig, Flynn, and Coster-Waldau. Things like the dialogue, choreography, editing, and writing just didn’t work.

– Loras is a problem I’ve mentioned before. He’s a really bad gay stereotype, a pretty demeaning one at that, when he could be a really interesting character. Despite its wonderful and awesome gratuity at times, Spartacus knew how to write gay characters and they were awesome.

– Bad writing and characterisation. This affected a lot of people. Stannis, Olly, Sansa, Melisandre, Selyse, Sand Snakes, Elliara, Loras, Doran, etc. A lot of plot contrivances.

– At times, bad fighting choreography.

– Littlefinger’s ridiculous plan.

– Too many black and white characters. Not enough grey.

– New material often wasn’t that well thought out, written, and executed. I have no problem with new material but just as long as it is executed well.

What Did Work

– House of Black and White along with Arya.

– Acting was on point for a lot of the season, save for our serpent friends.

– Effects were great as always except for Dany on Drogo in episode 9.

– Hardhome was excellent. One of the best the series has ever done.

– Faith Militant and Sons of the Harpy were suitably imposing and intimidating.

– I liked Daznak’s pit and the gladiator showcase. A lot of good differing fighting styles were put on display for us to enjoy.

– Cersei’s walk was well executed.

– A lot of great chemistry between the cast members.

– Excellent music as always.

I often felt that this past season saw some unnatural character deviations, mainly from Littlefinger, Stannis, and Brienne. Am I being too hard on D&D?

I think it there are definitely some deviations in the show that are unnatural for characters. Littlefinger, as much as I hate him, is not stupid and wouldn’t risk Sansa’s life like that. She’s far too valuable to leave in that kind of unknown situation.

As for Brienne, I think this comes down to not having much for her to do this season. Some of her scenes were a little too obvious at times and a bit contrived but I think she remained as intact as she could, save for calling Renly the king – in no world was Renly not a usurper.

Properly characterizing Stannis has always been an issue for the show from his first appearance. Stannis is arguably one of the most morally grey characters in the series and that can be incredibly hard to capture in a limited amount of scenes that are just a few minutes long. Sometimes, and I’m hardly unbiased about this so take it with a pinch of salt, I think the showrunners intentionally made him a lot darker than he should have been. They just didn’t do a great job of adequately capturing a lot of Stannis’ inner and outer character conflict. They made him a sexually obsessive religious fanatic who proclaims his love for his Greyscale infected daughter one day and burns her alive the next and that is rushed characterization for anyone. There was no tension or build up. It would have been better if we got a truer sense of how truly desperate Stannis’ situation was. Also, giving him Melisandre’s lines from A Storm of Swords about the value of an innocent life against a kingdom, removing the fact that it was Stannis who, following Davos’ council, chose to go to the Wall to rescue the Night’s Watch, and having him burn people for being infidels as opposed to the outright traitors they were really sticks in my craw. Stuff like that is unnecessary and annoying.

Getting back to your original point, sorry for the rant by the way, I think we are all entitled to our criticisms and praise for a piece of work. When it comes to adaptations of a beloved series this gets slightly more intense because there is already a piece of original work to compare the adaption to, this original work is often almost sacred to a fan base and a lot of them don’t like changes being made to the source material, which I totally understand.

However, as much as I dislike a lot of the changes made by D&D, I accept that a lot of them are necessary for one reason or another. I think as long as you don’t make it personal, there is no reason why you shouldn’t critique a piece of work as much as you like for what that work is and how it is executed.

It’s an adaptation, and as much as I’m salty about various changes, it is its own beast now. Books are still awesome and the show is really good too, for the most part. In all honesty I really don’t have this kind of enlightened attitude during the show season. Come next season I’ll probably be caught bitching with the best of them. 

What’s the craziest theory that you actually believe could be true? 

Howland Reed could actually be the High Sparrow and I would be totally okay with that. It would definitely detract from the characterization of both the Faith Militant and Cersei in the books but I really wouldn’t mind that much. 

Generic question, but one that I always like to ask. Who’s your favorite character? Is the same true for the TV show?

Favorite book character has got to be my beloved Wyman Manderly. This doesn’t carry over to the show unless he is cast for next season so my favorite show character is Ser Bronn of the Blackwater.

I was excited to see Benjen in the “previously on” for the season five finale, though the wolf pup didn’t appear. I’ve always though there’s a bigger reason that he joined the Night’s Watch besides the fact that he wouldn’t inherit Winterfell. Why do you think he took the black?

Well, the Starks do have a history of sending younger sons to the Wall but given all that happened during Robert’s Rebellion and how many Stark lives were lost, I always thought there must be a greater reason why Benjen took the black. I’m thinking, in a fashion similar to Ned, Benjen carries around the guilt of knowing something, probably the truth that Lyanna willingly ran off with Rhaegar, and has essentially gone into self-imposed exile in order to assuage his guilt by serving a realm that he played a minor part in nearly destroying. He may have also taken the black in order to prevent him from benefitting in one way or another from the deaths of his father, brother, and sister if a succession issue should’ve arisen.

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June 2015

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Interviews of Ice and Fire: Radio Westeros

Written by , Posted in Game of Thrones, IOIAF, Pop Culture

I am very excited to welcome Lady Gwynhyfar and yolkboy of Radio Westeros to the site. Radio Westeros, the only radio station this side of Asshai, produces insightful and entertaining podcasts on all topics related to ASOIAF. RW has also teamed up with the History of Westeros podcast for book to show reviews for Game of Thrones’ fifth season.

Radio Westeros is hosted from two different countries with Lady Gwyn stateside and yolkboy in the U.K. Can you tell us a little bit about how you two decided to team up?

yolkboy: We were regulars at the westeros.org forums and both liked each others theories and writing. We started messaging, got along very well, and both felt like we wanted to do something more ambitious in the ASoIaF realm. Eventually I mentioned that I knew how to put a podcast together and asked if LG was brave enough to take a step into audio. Once we agreed on the concept, everything just came together. The distance between us has never really been an issue, although our episodes do take heaps of preparation and coordination.

Your most recent episode focused on Ser Barristan Selmy. How did you feel about his death on Game of Thrones?

yb: Given the changes they’ve made in the Meereen storyline we weren’t entirely surprised, but we think he’s got more story left in the books. Ultimately we suspect he’s a doomed character, but it was sad to see him go out like that.

 

You’ve partnered with the History of Westeros Podcast for book to show reviews of season 5. How do you (generally) think the changes have been handled?

LG: In general we’re very understanding of the constraints faced by the showrunners, so overall we’re pretty philosophical about them. That doesn’t mean we like or agree with every change though.

 

What’s your favorite change so far? Least favorite?

yb: The visit to Hardhome was thrilling television, excellent. Sansa’s story though seems to have sacrificed a lot of character development, It’s a shame to see her take steps backward.

LG: I agree that seeing Hardhome on screen, rather than off page, made for great television. On the other hand the changes to the Dornish storyline were pretty disappointing. Although I can see that the decision not to include certain characters made some changes necessary, it would have been nice to see a greater differentiation between the Sand Snakes for instance, and in my opinion the changes to Ellaria Sand’s character were not positive.

The ASOIAF/GOT community is certainly at its busiest when the show is airing new episodes. Do you find yourselves altering your approach at all to lure casual fans into the world of ice and fire?

yb: The only change we made is to team up with History of Westeros for their show reviews. Radio Westeros will always be books only analysis, so this was a great outlet and chance to connect with new people.

The general consensus amongst the ASOIAF community before this season premiered was that fans were accepting of the fact that this season was going to be vastly different from the books. Given the general lukewarm reaction to this season, do you think that may not have been the case?

yb: When you’ve lived and breathed these books, changes become very jarring and sometimes hard to take. It’s a simple fact of being fanatical about the books.

LG: I agree. Also, people always have lots to say about adaptations like this, whether they’re casual fans or more serious students of the source material. I worked in a bookstore for fifteen years and every page to screen adaptation engendered some level of discussion. So while fans may accept the fact that changes will be made and spoilers will arise, it comes as no surprise to me that they will still have plenty to say about it.

This season has largely ignored or heavily changed all the plots of A Feast for Crows. Given the book’s positive reception amongst dedicated fans, do you think this was a mistake?

LG: Given the compression of many storylines and the fact that the show has moved into book spoiler territory, it was disappointing not to see them take up the story in the Riverlands , for instance, in favor of diving into TWoW territory. Leaving that out this season left Brienne’s character fairly static, and I think Gwendoline is one of the best assets GoT has. (We can always hope for next season though!) That said, I can understand the need to eliminate settings and characters in any given season. Feast and Dance are both hugely expansive, in terms of the world of ASoIaF, and present major challenges in terms of adaptation.

Would you have rather seen the Ironborn instead of the Dornish (this can become its own question if your answer is long)?

LG: I would have rather seen them spend more time developing Dorne actually. Hopefully we’ll see the Ironborn next season.

Two of your episodes focus on characters that died and came back to life with Catelyn Stark and Sandor Clegane (well, likely in The Hound’s case). For a series often known for its death count, how do you feel about Martin’s decision to revive certain characters, which has lead to lots of fan speculation on just about every dead character?

LG: I think second life, in one form or another, is a major theme throughout the books. And it definitely lends itself to conspiracy theorizing, which can be both a blessing and curse in the fandom.

Cersei and Catelyn have both made many decisions which, often inadvertently, endangered their children’s lives? Who’s the better mother?

LG: Having done episodes on both of these characters, which means deep dives into both arcs, I can say that I believe they both love their children. But Cersei is a product of her own upbringing, and is both a selfish adult and someone who views children as pawns. I don’t believe Cersei truly has anyone’s best interest other than her own in mind. On the other hand, Catelyn agonizes over her children’s welfare often, and is continually placed in a position of having to choose the lesser of two evils, or one child over another. Sure she made some choices that can be questioned with the hindsight of a reader, but I don’t think we can deny that she is written as THE mother of the story, and it is her conflicts in that role that define her as a character. Even one of her post mortem monikers- “Mother Merciless”- speaks to that fact. But I’d like to say that judging “best” is very difficult. You have to judge based on intangible things like inner reserves and moral character, as well as past experiences and present situations. It’s not a level playing field for these two in that regard, so I recommend empathy for both.

What is the most ridiculous theory that you think might actually be true?

yb: That ‘The Winds of Winter’ will be delivered before Season 6!

LG: I wouldn’t actually call these ridiculous, but my pet theory is that Lem Lemoncloak is Rhaegar’s squire Richard Lonmouth… yolkboy’s is that Melisandre is the daughter of Bloodraven and Shiera Seastar.

Episode 9 certainly caused a stir by likely spoiling The Winds of Winter with the sacrifice of Shireen. While other deaths such as Ser Barristan and Hizdahr can’t exactly be called spoilers given the massive plot deviations, are you concerned about the book/show relationship moving forward?

yb: The show overtaking the books will be very sad for hardcore book fans. Surprises will be slaughtered. Fans will canonise show events, and some of them won’t be from George’s hand. There will no doubt be nerdrage on an epic scale.

LG: Yes, it will be very difficult. As yolkboy pointed out on a recent History of Westeros review, if the shows had been made prior to AFfC & ADwD being released, fans might have considered Sansa + Ramsay canon, and assumed it was coming in the books! On the other hand, events like Cersei’s arrest by the faith and Dany’s departure on Drogon would have been spoiled. It will be great if George manages to release TWoW early next year, but it will only postpone the inevitable choice book readers will have to make– continue watching, or have the end of the story spoiled by the show.

Generic question, but who is your favorite character? Is the same true for the show?

yb : To read, it’s Arya. To study, it’s Melisandre. I like them both on the show too.

LG: I don’t really have a favorite, but I love studying Sansa, Arya, Brienne and Theon. And yes, probably same for the show.

What’s next on the agenda for Radio Westeros?

LG: We have an episode on the Battle of Fire coming out very soon, featuring contributions by Aziz from History of Westeros, Steven Attewell of Race for the Iron Throne, Valkyrist from Vassals of Kingsgrave and with guest host BryndenBFish of Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire. It’s done in a ‘live news-report’ style and is our most ambitious production yet. After that we have Daenerys and Tywin.

Radio Westeros episodes are avaialable from their website, YouTube, or iTunes

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June 2015

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Interviews of Ice and Fire: Preston Jacobs

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, IOIAF, Pop Culture

I’m very excited to welcome Preston Jacobs to the site. Since his YouTube debut last year, Preston has stirred the ASOIAF pot with his “Rereading Ice, Rethinking Fire” series of videos, amassing over 40,000 subscribers. Covering topics such as theories, book to show comparisons, and individual episode commentaries, Preston’s videos have over 5,000,000 views.

I’ll lead off with the question that I think everyone thinks when they watch your videos. How do you come up with them?

That’s quite an existential question: where do ideas come from? What’s funny is that normally people strive for original ideas. I’m instead trying to discover GRRM’s ideas hidden in the text. In the end, we shall see if I’m successful in my quest to not have an original idea.

But regarding the creation of ideas, I think a fundamental aspect of their creation is identifying a gap in logic or information. After finding the gap, the mind will then naturally search for a solution.

Can you take us briefly through your research process?  

To produce a video, I usually start with a topic that has been bugging me or another fan. I then reread the chapters surrounding that topic and look for things that don’t quite make sense. Finally, I try to come up with solutions that explain the inconsistencies. I find six techniques really help me: 1) I reread the series by character or by location; 2) I focus heavily on the seemingly extraneous information and characters; 3) I read the appendixes; 4) I do quite a few word searches on the electronic version of the story; 5) I constantly think about character allegiance, best interest and motivation; and 6) I often consider POV conclusions to be inaccurate.

That last technique may need a bit of clarification. What I mean by that is GRRM likes listing plans and possibilities and then going with something that isn’t listed. For example, in Tyrion’s first chapter of A Dance with Dragons, Tyrion thinks he might be going to Braavos, Tyrosh, Myr, Dorne, the Wall or Lys. In the end, it’s Pentos. When a POV character has solved a mystery, I question it. And that’s a huge reason why I don’t think Euron killed Balon – because Asha is certain of it.

When it comes to your longer series, are your ideas fully fleshed out before you start making them or do you discover some new stuff along the way?

To my own detriment, I’ve never been a planner. And few, if any, of the ideas in my video are fleshed out when I start. When I finish “Part 1” of a series, I have only a vague notion of what “Part 2” will be. It’s actually pretty perilous and, for this reason, my series do often meander a bit. For example, The Littlefinger Debt Scheme wandered so much that I had to spend half an episode centering it again. The Dornish Master Plan, on the other hand, had more of that satisfying, big picture cohesiveness. A series can actually cause me a bit of anxiety. I’m continually frightened that I won’t be able to bring things together or find the answer. But, at the same time, that fear motivates me quite a bit.

Most of your older videos ended with you saying “I’m probably wrong about half of this.” When you craft a theory, do you account for potential errors?

I recognize that human beings make connections that aren’t always there. We form opinions, become emotional and suffer from confirmation bias. I know I must be guilty of this. And I am human and make mistakes. As it turns out, GRRM and his editors are humans as well and also make mistakes.

I also recognize that GRRM is trying very hard to deceive us. For example, we were clearly led to believe that Bran’s attacker was hired by Cersei or Jaime. Then, out of nowhere, it turns out the attacker was hired by Joffrey. GRRM hid this reveal very well and even laid down false information about this event to keep the reader confused.

What is difficult, however, is divorcing my error from GRRM’s error from GRRM’s misdirection from a legitimate clue. For example, Summer and Shaggydog fail to smell Wex as he hides in a tree at the end of A Clash of Kings. This seems very off to me. Am I in error in not knowing the ins and outs of a wolf’s nose? Is GRRM in error in forgetting that the wolves should have smelled Wex? Is GRRM screwing with us by planting inconsistent information? Or is this a clue on the nature of Wex? I certainly hope it’s a clue. And it’s a lot more fun to think it is.

You’re possibly the most famous R+L=J skeptic on the internet. Does the story about how GRRM asked D&D who Jon Snow’s mother was at their first meeting sway your opinion at all? 

Don’t get me wrong, there are things that make me think that R+L might equal J, but the Game of Thrones series is not one of them. GRRM is writing his magnum opus and the mystery of Jon Snow’s mother is a major piece of it. It’s a mystery that GRRM has guarded for two decades. Ask yourself, if it were you, would you trust D&D with the answer? Would you trust anyone with the answer? I certainly wouldn’t.

Also, if one looks at GRRM words about the meeting, he says that D&D “answered correctly.” Not to split hairs, but answering correctly is different from having the correct answer. If someone has been properly deceived, they are answering correctly in a way.

You’re also likely Sweetrobin’s number one fan. What is it about the Lord of the Vale that captivates you? Is he destined to marry Shireen? 

Like Tyrion, I have a tender spot in my heart for cripples and bastards and broken things. But, it goes beyond that. I’ve always been bothered by children acting too old for their age in fiction. And admittedly, our story is very guilty of this. For example, Ned claims that Rickon, at three years old, “must learn to face his fears” and is old enough for a direwolf. It’s laughable. Sweetrobin, of course, acts too young for his age, but his situation is still much more realistic and relatable than the reverse.

I am also intrigued by the mystery of Sweetrobin’s abilities. How does this small, weak boy know the things he does? He recognizes an aunt he only met when a baby. He hears Marillion’s posthumous singing. He knows Harry the Heir wants him dead. How?

A Sweetrobin-Shireen marriage does seem pretty likely to me. They are of an age and the alliance would be a powerful one. The only thing that makes me think it won’t happen is that Maester Cressen already suggested it in A Clash of King. And, as I mentioned, GRRM doesn’t like fulfilling announced plans. 

Your Tower of Joy series breaks down the timeline problems with Robert’s Rebellion. Do you think GRRM would go back and make the war longer if he could?

I’m not sure if it’s the length of the war that is the issue necessarily, but where GRRM placed the events. The real problem event is the Battle of the Bells and the real problem testimony is Jaime in the Harrenhall bathhouse in A Storm of Swords.

The Battle of the Bells seems like a battle that should be at the beginning of the war. After all, it leads to the Tully alliance, Ned’s marriage and him marching off to war and leaving Catelyn for a year. But then Jaime describes the Battle of the Bells as happening near the end of the war. According to Jaime, the battle quickly leads to Tywin’s abandonment of Aerys, the wildfire incident and Aerys’ death.

No matter how you slice it, our characters are spending months upon months twiddling his thumbs somewhere. Ned either sat at the Trident for seven or eight months or spent that time in Dorne. I think GRRM’s big mistake was not adding more events between the Battle of the Bells and the fall of King’s Landing.

When I first read “The Hedge Knight,” I wrote it off as just a fluff contribution to Legends. Your videos, particularly your “Dragonless Ambitions” series, use quotes from the novellas. Do you approach using them differently than you do with the main books in the series?  

In my opinion, the Dunk and Egg stories are the best of GRRM’s writing. They are simply fantastic stories. That said, they seem to be a little more straightforward than his other work. I will say they are good for understanding the nature of Targaryens, how bastards are seen by society, the Faith of the Seven and Bloodraven.

The Rogue Prince and the Princess and the Queen are the opposite. On first read, they are quite dry, but they are also dense and filled with glorious lies. The stories remind me greatly of the Roman histories of Suetonius and Tacitus and I’m certain that’s what GRRM was going for by having the story told through “Archmaester Glydayn.” We have a biased author collecting the writings of other biased authors. One has to know the biases and catch the contradictions to unlock the truth.

Do you think that GRRM will need more than two books to finish the series given the amount of ground that still needs to be covered?

It’s hard to imagine that he can do it two books. And it’s certainly in his publisher’s best interest to push the series to eight. I would say there’s a very good chance there will be an eighth book. Many people simply assume that there will be a lazy slaughter of characters to close plot lines in two books.

That said, GRRM’s other stories do not shy away from ending unresolved. His first novel, The Dying of Light builds up to a huge showdown and then ends before the fight. It makes me ask myself things like: if the Ironborn story ended with Theon and others returning home for a new kingsmoot, would I be satisfied? Does Theon need to win the kingsmoot or is returning home good enough for me? Because there’s a good chance GRRM will end it unresolved. 

Which character do you think is best at backdoor politics/scheming?

It’s a boring answer, but Varys. Somehow Varys rose up from humble beginning to be Aerys’ Master of Whisperers and then, somehow, convinces Robert not to kill him. That’s pretty impressive. The guy hides in walls, moonlights as a black cell guard and seems to get men that hate him (like Ned and Barristan) to do things for him. The only other person that comes close to working this hard is Littlefinger. 

Which two characters would you like to see sail together on a small fishing boat through Valyria on their way to Meereen? 

I feel Cersei and Lady Stoneheart would have some very interesting conversations. 

What are your thoughts on season five so far?

Season five, quite frankly, is a disaster. The actors have done their best and many scenes are beautifully written, but the larger story just doesn’t make any sense anymore. I believe the big problem was trying to combine plots and characters. It forced characters to do illogical things. In my opinion, D&D should have just written a new story. After all, the title of the series has “Game” in it and I think a big element that people love is the logic to that game. They love hypothesizing about what characters will do next. There is such a massive leap in logic with Littlefinger handing Sansa over to Ramsay that it’s hard to get over.

Generic question, but who is your favorite character in the books? Is the same true for the show?

I fluctuate, but when it really comes down to it, it’s Theon. He is such a real, flawed, relatable and tragic character. And he’s the one I really care about and am overwhelmingly invested in emotionally. Theon’s escape from Winterfell was one of the most nail-biting reads for me. I want him to live and find happiness, if he can.

When it comes down to it, Theon is a lot like Jessie from Breaking Bad. He may lack wisdom, but he has deniable raw talent. And he may annoyingly use faux-confidence to cover his insecurities, but he is actually just looking to make friends and find acceptance. He has done some horrible things, but he is actually a good person underneath. At some point, Theon, like Jessie, has become our son.

Which character do you think has gotten the worst treatment by the show?

Jaime, hands down. Jaime’s story should be an unexpected tale of redemption. In the books, he starts out the worst of villains –he murders the king, he sleeps with his sister, he tries to murder Bran and he kills Jory. Then, somehow, it all turns on its head during his journey with Brienne. Jaime becomes someone worth rooting for.

Jaime of the show has no journey. He just starts out pretty likable and never really changes. I understand why they made this change. The story is filled with characters and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau needed screen time to familiarize the audience with Jaime. That said, by endearing the audience to the character of Jaime early, they spoiled everything.

Last but certainly not least, what the hell happened at Summerhall? 

There is a paradox in the word “dream.” We know that dreams are a jumble of past memories, yet we use the word to talk about our ideas of the future. And, somehow, the notion that dreams are prophecy has sprouted up.

Shakespeare’s Othello deals with this subject in great depth. Iago whispers in Othello’s ear, which, in turn, becomes Othello’s dream. Othello then thinks his dream is prophecy – a “foregone conclusion.” In the end, Othello kills his lover and himself.

So, when I hear about Valyrians, their dragon dreams and their doom, I’m not so concerned with how they killed themselves. Clearly at Summerhall, Egg or one of his kin believed some crazy idea about hatching dragons or bringing forth the Prince That Was Promised. And it resulted in a fiery mess. The real question is: who is the Iago?

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May 2015

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Interviews of Ice and Fire: Aziz of History of Westeros Podcast

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, IOIAF, Pop Culture

I am honored to welcome Aziz of the History of Westeros podcast to the site. The History of Westeros is one of the most in depth ASOIAF resources available; creating episodes that piece together the series’ confusing timeline along with commentary on the houses, theories, reviews of Game of Thrones, and just about anything else imaginable. Aziz is also a contributor for the recently released Tower of the Hand anthology A Hymn for Spring.

The History of Westeros Podcast features some of the most in depth discussions on ASOIAF. Can you tell us a little bit about the research that goes into each episode?

One of the most important things we do is take our time. We don’t rush to record anything. It’s easy to miss details, and we all know that. What’s not so obvious is that having a fresh perspective on a topic can really change your mind on a few things. There’s no way to have a “fresh perspective” if you work on the same topic steadily for several weeks.

So we are typically researching at least 5, often as many as 10 topics at once. This way every topic stays relatively fresh in our minds, which keeps us open minded with regards to new ideas.

As for research itself, we scour every book and all the Q&A records (SSM’s)  for references to whatever the topic is. Then we do the same for references to subtopics, all the while looking for good quotes. We dump everything we can find into a document, then start organizing it and figuring out the best order for everything to be in. Having things flow nicely is important when dealing with a large topic.

But it all starts with knowing where to begin, which comes from already knowing the material well before beginning any project. That of course, means reading the books many times.

Your website says you became a fan of ASOIAF back in 2000. What made you decide to start a podcast?

Technically, I didn’t start it. Our friend Steve Mangiameli did, and I first met him through a mutual friend. She told me he wanted to do a “History of Westeros” podcast call in show, and suggested I participate for fun. I did, and it was great. He invited me to be his co-host soon after and I got swept up in all the possibilities. So it was a bit of an accident, you could say.

Your podcasts use plenty of analysis found in the novellas, which many fans tend to overlook. Which one is your favorite?

Probably “The Hedge Knight” because we see so many different ancestors to so many major families, including so many Targaryens.

As someone who’s been involved in the ASOIAF world for fifteen years, can you tell us a little about how you’ve seen the fandom evolve with the TV show and later installments in the series?

Definitely. It’s incredible how well versed the fandom is in the material in general. Back when I was new to it all, even some of the most now-widely-accepted theories were a tough sell, and discussions would be rife with mistakes. There was no wiki nor e-books either, so it was hard to settle such things or even look things up. Now there are people who volunteer huge amounts of time track cross referencing every little detail amongst two canons (ASOIAF & HBO).

I’m constantly impressed by the devotion and intelligence of the fandom. I actually appreciate how long the books have taken to come out, (a recent realization) because without it, this amazing situation would not exist. The experience of living through the wait, of making friends, of podcasting… none of it would be here if the books came out quickly.

Did the release of The World of Ice and Fire cause you to want to go back and change any of your past episodes?

We’ve actually taken quite a few down, though partly it was due to our earliest episodes having some audio problems. We avoided quite a few topics for about a year and a half in advance of The World of Ice and Fire’s release, because we knew we we’d risk treading ground that was likely to shift.

Episodes of your podcast frequently focus on a specific house. Which house(s) would you like to see more of in Game of Thrones?

Some of the houses that are faves of mine and of many readers are barely represented or not represented at all. Dayne & Manderly come to mind. Velaryon as well, because of their Valyrian heritage. But none of those are likely. As far as something that might actually happen, I’ll say Greyjoy.

One of my favorite episodes of THOW was when you covered the Arianne TWOW chapter (still not sure how you managed to talk for two hours about that). As someone who’s been a fan for a long time, what do you think of GRRM’s decision to release so many sample chapters over a long period of time?

It’s a great idea and a smart decision. It renews interest for many fans and gives us all something new to break up the long wait. TWoW will probably have around 80 chapters, so even if we see 8 or so of them, it’s only 10% of the book, and it’s a 10% chosen for being on the side of set up and exposition, rather than major events and plot points.

What’s the craziest story you can tell about recording the History of Westeros?  

If we’re talking about the actual recording process, we have 5 cats that don’t get locked up while we’re on camera… They have video-bombed us many times, enough so that we have had many requests to talk more about them or even do a video specifically on them. We also once lost a recording to Ironborn raiders.

Was the Mad King truly mad?
I’d say there’s little doubt. He was so paranoid that his fingernails were as long, or longer, than his fingers. A sane man would at least cut his nails on his own. He believed the wildfire planted around King’s Landing, when lit, would transform him into a dragon. Even if the stories are exaggerated (possible, since many/most accounts of Aerys are tainted by being written under Baratheon reign), I trust Barristan’s and Ned’s judgement on the matter, and they both seem pretty clear on it.

Generic question, but who is your favorite character in the books. Is the same true for the show?

Davos in the books, because we know he’s really as honest and loyal as he acts, since we’ve seen inside his head.

Tyrion in the show.  Davos is featured too little, and we don’t get that same sense of knowing him. Peter Dinklage’s acting wins the day in this medium.

What are your thoughts on season five so far and the changes from the books?

I have a very high threshold of tolerance for the changes. That’s how I set my expectations from the beginning, and I credit that as a major factor in my enjoyment of the show. I embrace the differences as much as I can, though I can’t help but be critical from time to time. That said, we’ve just now scratched the surface on real changes. Even late in season 5, most characters have not caught up with their book arcs, though many are extremely close, and of course a few have gone in a completely different direction. Season 6 is where we’ll see the biggest divergences, and that will likely be surpassed by season 7.

Ser Barristan’s death in the show has made me reconsider my thoughts that he’ll survive the Battle of Fire. Has anything that’s happened in the show caused you to reconsider your opinions?

The biggest to date, and expect there will be more, is the scene where the baby is carried far to the north by a White Walker, and given to what we’re told is Night’s King. When we did our episode on Night’s King, it was impossible not to at least consider how this could relate to the books. Ultimately, it needs to be treated separately, but undoubtedly there will be some parallels.

Can you tell us a little about your contribution to A Hymn for Spring?

In terms of the project, it was great to be part of a group who have all done similar projects before. Marc Kleinheinz made the process simple, all we had to do was write our essay and spread the word through our show. The essay itself, on the subject of Harrenhal and its curse, was a lot of fun to write and research. We tried to capture the feel of our show, which is to be perceptive, funny and thorough. We combined meta-analysis of what a “curse” is and what it means to Westerosi of all levels with historical analysis woven in.

A Hymn For Spring can be purchased here

 

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Wednesday

13

May 2015

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Interviews of Ice and Fire: Jeff Hartline aka BryndenBFish

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, IOIAF, Pop Culture

I am honored to welcome Jeff Hartline, known throughout the A Song of Ice and Fire community as BryndenBFish, to the site. Jeff is one of the most decorated ASOIAF commentators who serves as a moderator for the asoiaf subreddit and is one of the masterminds behind the Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire blog. Jeff is also one of the contributors for the recently released Tower of the Hand anthology A Hymn for Spring.

When did you first start reading the ASOIAF books?

I first started reading the books in June 2012. I just finished Season 2 of Game of Thrones, and I had to know what was going to happen to Samwell. They wouldn’t kill Sam, right? I finished reading in October 2012, and I think embarked on an immediate re-read.

How did you get involved with the ASOIAF community?

Well, once I finished reading, I had dinner with my brother (another bookreader), and he told me about this great community on reddit called /r/asoiaf to discuss everything about the books. I immediately got an account on reddit and joined the community. The 1st post I remember reading on reddit was a fan-recount from The World of Ice and Fire on Aegon’s Conquest. I was hooked!

What was the first theory/in depth essay you ever worked on?

The 1st one was an essay series called The Complete Analysis of Robb Stark as a Military Commander on reddit. In a series that had war as a prominent feature in many character and plot arcs, there was a disproportionate lack of analysis and exploration of the topic.

So, I wrote an analytical evaluation of Robb Stark as a military commander exploring each of the battles and phases of the War of the Five Kings. Ended up coming to the conclusion that Robb Stark was an excellent tactical commander, but a failure at the strategic level. Since then, I’ve revised my original thesis some, but I still look back on those essays with a lot of fondness.

Looking back, I think the most important thing about writing on the military side of the series was its comfort level for me. Sometimes, people think they have to write about certain topics, because it’s what people are interested in. But in reality, writing about something you’re interested in will make for more compelling writing.

So, advice to folks writing/analyzing ASOIAF, start in your comfort-zone and move your way out.

Though the show, The World of Ice and Fire, and the novellas offer new ideas, there hasn’t been a new book in four years, yet the community seems as vibrant as ever. What do you think keeps people engaged with the series?

A Song of Ice and Fire is a fun read by itself, but it becomes an incredibly engaging and engrossing read when you get past the easy plotlines and start looking into the individual character arcs and deeper meanings of the story. When you embrace the meta, you start feeling rewarded for reading. It becomes a fun experience to discover deeper meanings, hidden truths and Lord knows that every ASOIAF fan loves the foreshadowing (but only on re-read)

As one of the moderators on the ASOIAF subreddit, what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen happen during a heated discussion?

To be honest, nothing really crazy. I’ve seen plenty of essay length responses to things, and I… may have done that once or twice.

Your bio mentions that you are a veteran. Has serving in the Army impacted your approach to ASOIAF?

It certainly helps with understanding the military campaigns and some of the battle tactics used. But there’s something more. Though my experiences with war are nowhere near the experiences of many fellow veterans, I also don’t have to imagine what the carnage of a battlefield looks like.

It’s funny to me – when I first read ASOIAF, I thought that GRRM had to have a military background in order to write his military/battle scenes the way he did. When I found out that he was a conscientious objector to the Vietnam War, it made me re-evaluate the story as having a strong anti-war component to an already gritty low fantasy epic.

In the ASOIAF community, particularly asinine theories are commonly referred to as “tinfoil.” What’s the craziest theory that you think might actually be true?

There’s plenty of crazy theories out there. Of all the theories out there, I think there are probably 3 theories that I hold to that could be construed as tinfoil. They are:

  • I think that Brienne of Tarth was raised from the dead by Lady Stoneheart at the end of A Feast for Crows
  • I think that Varys is a secret Targaryen
  • I believe that Euron Greyjoy is following the Iron Fleet to Meereen and will seize a dragon out from under Victarion in The Winds of Winter.

 I assume you’ve read the books more than once. Which book do you think benefits the most from a second read?

A Dance with Dragons for a surety. When I first read A Dance with Dragons, I was disappointed. Sure, we got our Big 3 characters (Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon Snow), but the plot was disappointing. Where were the battles? Where were the kickass moments from A Storm of Swords?

But after several re-reads, I came to realize what Martin was doing with A Dance with Dragons. He was showing the consequences of the wars and the badassery. And that puts a pretty amazing spin on the book. Instead of chafing against Dany’s quest for peace in Meereen, I began to understand what was going on. Daenerys was walking the hard road of peace just as Jon was.

Unfortunately for them (but fortunately for those who want ASOIAF to move back to the bloodletting of the 1st 3 books), both Daenerys and Jon turn against peace at the end of their arcs in A Dance with Dragons. So, we’ll see a return to bloody form come The Winds of Winter.

Much has been written about the (pun intended) stark deviations from the books this season. Have you been pleased with season five thus far?

Season 5 has been a disappointment so far. In an attempt to move the plot along, they’ve taken 2 books and tried to adapt it into 1 season. This has major consequences. Major storylines and characters have hit the cutting room floor. And other major storylines have been dramatically shortened. In contrast, the show spent 2 seasons going through A Storm of Swords (and early scenes from A Feast for Crows & A Dance with Dragons).

Jon’s election as Lord Commander suffered the most from this. In the books, the plot tension ratchets up with Jon considering Stannis’ offer to become Jon Stark and the Lord of Winterfell. Meanwhile, Samwell conspires to get Jon elected as Lord Commander. These two plotlines work in parallel until the very end when Jon is elected as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. It’s great writing and keeps your gaze fixed to the page.

In the show, it was over and done with in 15 minutes. It was a disappointment. But I have hope that Season 5 will improve as the season progresses.

Generic question, but who is your favorite character(s) in the books? Is the same true for the show?

In the books: Jaime Lannister by a country mile. I love the ambiguity, and I think GRRM accomplished something akin to a literary triumph with Jaime Lannister. We think he’s an asshole and a murderer in the 1st 2 books. And like many of you, I groaned when I saw that the 1st chapter of A Storm of Swords after the Prologue was JAIME. But as I read, I became more and more engrossed. I loved Jaime’s fall, the ironic loss of his sword hand and the revelations about the Mad King. I saw a superhuman humanized. By the time of A Feast for Crows, Jaime was firmly my favorite character in the series. I loved his turn against Cersei, and I loved his alternating guilt and desire to become Goldenhands the Just.

I won’t lie though. I’m fearful of what will happen to Jaime in The Winds of Winter.

In the show: Eddard Stark: Sean Bean did a wonderful job portraying Ned. I can’t picture Ned when I re-read the books without seeing Boromir’s visage giving grim looks.

Which character from the books would you like to see in the show that isn’t already?

I miss Jon Connington. I don’t think that we’ll see JonCon, but in A Dance with Dragons, he’s an amazing and tragic character. (I won’t spoil it for your non-book reader fans). I also miss Arianne & Quentyn too.

In terms of who might show up… I suppose I’d like to see Lady Stoneheart or Randyll Tarly in future seasons.

Tell us a little about A Hymn For Spring. What can we expect to see out of your contribution and the anthology as a whole.

A Hymn for Spring is an anthology book of A Song of Ice and Fire essays from various luminaries from the Tower of the Hand website. The essays in there range from character analysis on characters like Barristan, location analysis on Harrenhal, military analysis on Robert’s Rebellion, economic analysis on the schemes of Littlefinger and various other interests in the series. It comes in at over 200 pages. So, if you’re looking for some fascinating analysis on A Song of Ice and Fire, this is your ticket.

My contribution was an essay on Stannis Baratheon entitled Iron Bends. In the essay, I take a contrarian view to the common perspective of Stannis Baratheon as an inflexible justice robot. As I read through A Song of Ice and Fire, I came to find that Stannis bends all the damn time. (Though no one recognizes it as such). So, I invite your readers to read my essay with an open mind and if you disagree, let me know. I love a good discussion as Ian will tell you!

Thanks so much for having me!

A Hymn for Spring can be purchased here

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