Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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4

July 2016

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Occasionally Casting Logic Aside, Season Six of Game of Thrones Succeeds at Being Good Television

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My thoughts on the events of the season finale line up pretty well with my feelings on season six as a whole, both good and bad. A lot of exciting stuff happened and quite a bit of it didn’t make sense. Characters died and others were crowned with very questionable claims to the thrones. Above everything else, season six had an obligation to set up the rest of the show, which only has two shortened seasons remaining. With that in mind, it carried out its duties quite well.

This season did often feel untethered by logic. The high body count seemed driven more by a desire to cut ties with unnecessary characters rather than what made sense for the story. With limited time left, it’s hard to argue against scrapping plotlines like Dorne, even if the execution made zero sense whatsoever. Avenge Oberyn Martell by killing off the rest of his house? As preposterous as it was to see the Sand Snakes seize control of one of the major regions in Westeros without any opposition from any of the legitimate houses, wasting more time on Dorne would have been worse.

It’s hard to believe how much hype was given to Jon Snow’s death prior to the start of the season considering the way the show handled it. His death only served as an out from The Night’s Watch, and even then, it’s hard to fathom why no one in the North besides Ramsey seemed concerned that he was a deserter. Also, I’ll say it again one last time. Jon’s decision to execute Ser Alliser, Olly, and the rest of the mutineers completely undercuts his “release” from his vows. If his death freed him from his duty, he shouldn’t have carried out one final order.

The decision to elect him King in the North is just as baffling as Sansa’s lack of explanation for why she kept the Vale army secret. Why does Jon need to be king? It doesn’t inherently change anything about R + L = J or even the Azor Ahai prophecy, which the show has played down.

By and large, the Northern plotline was pretty good, aided by latecomer Lyanna Mormont, who became this season’s breakout star. The Battle of the Bastards was one of the most visually impressive achievements of the series. My only problem was the unanswered questions. It’s frustrating because none of these gaffs are related to the bigger picture, unless the show wants to do a War of the Three Kings with what little time it has left. Just lazy writing.

Even after being snubbed, Sansa still had her best season. Her storyline was one of the most compelling and she helped guide the Northern plotline in the right direction after Jon spent a few episodes moping around Castle Black. Her final scene with Ramsey was perhaps her best of the show. While it was time for Ramsey to get what he deserved, he was easily the show’s best villain.

One element of the Northern plotline really bugged me as the season came to a close. The Brienne/Davos/Mel dynamic was pretty bizarre, but what was even weirder was the show’s decision to wait until the finale to discuss the burning of Shireen. The passing of time was an often discussed topic throughout the season, with characters traveling all over the map at unfathomable speeds. The idea that it took a full season and the chance discovery of a wooden stag left over in a snow covered old battlecamp for Davos to question what really happened to Shireen was a little preposterous.

That said, Davos was simply excellent this season. Best character on the show by far.

The audience’s knowledge of Dany’s impending arrival to Westeros presented a unique challenge for the King’s Landing plot, which needed to present itself as a high stakes storyline given all the key players involved. It all looked like it was headed somewhere… and then everybody died. No Mountain trial by combat. No Margaery planning. Just Cersei as Queen even though she blew up the most sacred religious building in the city, perhaps even in Westeros.

Could there have been more to King’s Landing? Of course. We didn’t need multiple High Sparrow lectures. We didn’t need all that buildup to a Tyrell/Faith Militant spat, only to have a stand down that didn’t go anywhere. Tommen could have had a personality. I really wanted to like the KL storyline, but there really wasn’t much to like here besides some quality acting from Lena Headley, Diana Rigg, Natalie Dormer, and Jonathan Pryce.

Meereen suffered from many of the same problems. Everyone sat around waiting for Dany to come back. Even the characters knew how boring their plotline was. The many Tyrion/Grey Worm/Missandei conversations weren’t aided by Tyrion’s admission that his companions were lame. Tyrion is perhaps the best character on the show, but had nothing to work with this year. I’ve said this in a few recaps and on my live show, but this season really highlighted the mistake of killing off Ser Barristan last year. He could have singlehandedly improved Meereen and it’s not as if his death really served some great purpose.

I was however, a big fan of Dany’s storyline this season. Outside of her two big moments in winning over the Dothraki and sailing to Westeros, she didn’t have much to do, but made the most of every scene she had. Furthermore, limiting her onscreen time allowed much of the other plotlines to breath. It can be hard to care about Westeros when you know that Dany is about to arrive with her massive army and three dragons. The ending of episode four was perhaps the best executed scene of the season and the fact that it came midseason just makes it even more impressive.

My only problem with Dany’s storyline was Ser Jorah. It’s baffling that he’s still alive after this season killed off nearly every expendable secondary character on the show. Telling him to go out and find a cure for his incurable and unnecessary disease was a little ridiculous. I love Iain Glen, but Ser Jorah is nothing but a deterrent at this point. The show handled Dany’s breakup with Daario as well as it could. I wish Ser Jorah had been mercifully allowed to become one with the many rocks in the Dothraki sea.

Arya’s story is a bit hard to judge without instantly thinking about the absurd Terminator 2 style chase through Braavos. Like Dany, Arya had to spend much of the season waiting for other events to unfold before she could return to Westeros. I mostly enjoyed this and don’t want to let the ridiculous fatal stabbing detract too much, but that image comes to mind just about every time I think of Arya. That said, her storyline for next season should be on the most interesting.

Oh Bran. I can’t really say I hated his story, aside from that horrible moment where Hodor valiantly dies saving him as a result of some weird time stuff that the show probably didn’t need to cover, but his absence from season five highlights how little I care about him in general. The three-eyed raven was a bit underwhelming, as were the revelations of Benjen as Showhands and the Tower of Joy. He wasn’t really in this season that much though and that’s probably for the best.

Perhaps it’s fitting since he had the worst storyline of last season by far, but Jaime likely had the best arc of season five, unless you want to count The Hound’s fun couple of scenes as a major storyline. The Riverlands were excellent on all accounts. Jaime’s scene with Edmure in the tent was one of my favorites. Jaime also had a great moment with Brienne which showed the depth of his character, with his deeply conflicted feelings. The show also provided some good moments for Bronn, who hasn’t had much to do since leaving Tyrion’s service.

The Ironborn could have been a great storyline. Book fans rejoiced at the prospect of a kingsmoot. It was all pretty lame, including Reek’s bizarre journey from the middle of the North to the Iron Islands, as a highly sought after captive with no money for a ship. Yara had some good moments, but Euron was a big fail. Hopefully he gets some good scenes with Dany next year.

Sam gets some points for not being in this season much. He loses points for everything else he did. Why did he take his father’s sword? Why didn’t he leave Gilly and baby Sam at Hornhill, the safest place possible? Why didn’t the Citadel know about Joer Mormont’s death?

While this season had its fair share of eye rolling moments, it was quite effective in setting up the rest of the show. Perhaps more important, it made for very entertaining television. Thank you all for reading. Also for another bit of self- promotion, I recently came out with a new book. If you’ve enjoyed my recaps, please consider ordering The Princess and the Clown or any of my other books. They’re pretty cheap on Amazon. Thank you for reading!

Finally, back by popular demand, it’s time for some letter grades for this season!

Jon Snow: B

Lyanna Mormont: A

Sansa: A-

Davos: A

Melisandre: B

Tormund: A-

Wun Wun: A

Ramsey: B-

Rickon: F

Littlefinger: B

Sweetrobin: A (King in the Vale?)

Dany: A-

Tyrion: C

Varys: B- (better time traveler than Bran)

Grey Worm/Missandei: F

Ser Jorah: F

Daario: B

Cersei: B

High Sparrow: F

Tommen: F

Olenna Tyrell: B

Margaery: C+

Pycelle: A (I’ll miss him)

Qyburn: B-

The Mountain: A-

Sand Snakes: F

Sam/Gilly: D

Randyll Tarly: B+

The Hound: A-

Beric/Thoros: B+

Jaime: A

Brienne: F (why didn’t Brienne/Tormund happen?)

Bronn: A-

The Blackfish: D

Edmure: A-

Bran: C-

Hodor: A (never forget)

Stannis: A (still haven’t seen a body)

Arya: B

Jaqen: B

The Waif: C+

The Braavos Theatre Company: A-

Season as a whole: B+

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Monday

23

May 2016

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COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 5

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

Last night’s episode was the first time that it really felt like the show was spoiling the books. There’s been minor stuff here and there, plus Jon’s revival which everyone knew was coming, but the show has deviated so far from the books in general that’s it’s hard to say any particular storyline has been spoiled. The Sand Snakes probably aren’t going to foolishly kill their relatives, Ser Alliser didn’t participate in the mutiny and won’t be hanged, and Jorah isn’t going to be needlessly infected with greyscale.

The Night’s King being head of the White Walkers though. That’s a big one. So is the death of a certain gentle giant, whose death revealed the mystery behind perhaps the most famous word to come out of A Song of Ice and Fire.

I don’t mean to suggest that this is a fault of the show. We, the book readers, knew the risks. I’ve never been one to let spoilers get to me anyway.

Hodor’s death hit me. I think it hit just about everyone with a heart. Tragedy has always been a predominant element of ASOIAF. I don’t think there was any greater example of that left for the show to give. The whole time traveling/destiny thing perhaps makes it sadder. I’ll hold off on full judgment until we see how Bran comes to terms with this responsibility, but a lot of why I was so sad about Hodor dying was that it had nothing to do with his own free will.

We haven’t really seen that in the series, at least with noteworthy characters. Ned died because he made poor political choices. Same goes for Robb and to a lesser extent, Catelyn. Others, like Drogo, Tywin, and Stannis were simply beat out by their opposition (keeping it simple here). We have reason behind nearly all the deaths over the course of the whole series. We sort of do with Hodor as well, but it’s a crappy reason.

The other thing I couldn’t really wrap my head around with the deaths of Hodor and Summer was the balance of story contrasted with the show’s recent obsession with trimming down the cast. It’s clear that Hodor’s death will be similar in the books, with the important “hold the door” line. Summer may die in that battle too. I’ve mentioned in earlier recaps that it’s clear Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor, can’t carry Issac Hempstead Wright anymore. The show may not want to pay for the CGI required to feature Summer, which is at least partially supported by the death of Shaggydog last week. Who knows which category these deaths fall under?

I used the phrase “half-baked” to refer to nearly all the other plotlines in the episode during my video recap last night. The idea that Jon, a resurrected bastard Night’s Watch deserter, can rally the North is half-baked. Brienne doing absolutely nothing about Davos/Melisandre is half-baked. Euron openly admitting he committed regicide is half-baked. Yara and Theon running away with the whole fleet while twenty Ironborn watch Euron is half-baked. Jorah and his stupid greyscale is half-baked.

Littlefinger has quietly become the show’s most interesting character. Book readers won’t find this surprising, but the character has been portrayed so inconsistently on screen that it’s hard to really care most of the time. Does he actually love Sansa? I’m not willing to say no to that and not just because of the books. He put himself at great risk being alone with her. He may wish to do right. Maybe not.

Sansa lying is weird. I’m sure it’ll serve some future plotline, but as with LF’s decision to marry her off to Ramsey, it doesn’t make much sense from a character perspective. Advancing the plot isn’t an excuse to defy character norms and we didn’t get anything that resembled an explanation.

I’m excited to see the Blackfish again. He’s a favorite in the books. It is a bit weird that the Frey’s have been essentially written out of the series. No troops were at Winterfell with the Boltons and they somehow lost Riverrun, an easily defendable castle for however long it would take to get reinforcements.

Arya continues to be an interesting storyline to follow. I liked how the play had errors with the storyline as people in Braavos wouldn’t necessarily have specific details and likely wouldn’t care either. It gave Arya a chance to question her loyalty to the House of Black & White.

I don’t love the introduction of another red priestess, as the show has been fairly inconsistent with the Lord of Light. It’s clear that they’re starting to lay down the framework for a Jon/Dany faceoff to see who’s the Prince(ss) who was Promised. I did take note of Varys’ hatred of the Red God and was pleased to see it mentioned here.

Poor Jorah. Infected with a stupid disease. Not sure where he’s going to go. Is he going to call Dr. House?

Boy the Kingsmoot was a bomb. I guess Yara’s going to go visit Dany first. I’ll say this again though because it merits repeating. How did she escape with the whole fleet?

I could talk about Bloodraven dying some more. I don’t want to. He was kind of a letdown. I’m excited to see how Bran explores the Children of the Forest creating the White Walkers, but I’m almost rooting for them at this point. Hodor.

That’s it for this week. Sorry for the brevity on non-Hodor plotlines. I’m happy to answer any questions you have, either here or on my Facebook page. See you next week.

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Friday

11

March 2016

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COMMENTS

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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Friday

28

August 2015

1

COMMENTS

Game of Clickbait: A Song of “Journalists” and Thieves

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

I saw something unfortunate on Twitter this morning as I looked through my friends’ tweets. The Huffington Post’s Bill Bradley put out an article on Wednesday claiming to have a “new” Game of Thrones theory regarding the parentage of Jon Snow and Meera Reed. Given that A Clash of Kings, the first book to feature Meera, was released in 1998 and that this series can be called a worldwide phenomenon since at least 2005, when A Feast For Crows hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list (a rare feat for a fantasy novel), it is more than safe to say that this theory is anything but new.

If you google “Jon Meera twins,” tons of posts come up that are earlier than Wednesday. Without even clicking on a single link, I see one from asoiaf.westeros.org from 2012. I doubt that’s the oldest either.

It’s embarrassing that HuffPo calls this journalism. The site has been praised by many for ushering in the modern day era of the news. While there’s plenty of truth to that, things like this thievery aren’t just a disgrace, they’re sad.

It’s sad because there are countless ASOIAF/GOT fans who have put in thousands of hours of research and discussion who then go uncredited by major news websites. This goes even beyond that. You have a guy who pretends they don’t even exist and that he’s the first to make this groundbreaking revelation.

We know why. Game of Thrones has over a hundred million fans. Articles like these are cash cows, especially when the research only takes a three-word Google search. It’s free money.

Dishonest money. I’m lucky to consider many of the top ASOIAF commentators to be friends. I’ve featured many of them here in my “Interviews of Ice and Fire” feature. I haven’t featured Bill Bradley and don’t plan to. I wouldn’t want to go through the trouble of finding someone to answer his questions for him.

The people who work hard to produce new content whether it’s articles, podcasts, or even just posts on the subrebbit or other the forums play a crucial role in Game of Thrones’ worldwide popularity. They’re the reason why genuinely new theories are still being discovered years after the last book in the main series was released. Without them, Huffington Post and Buzzfeed would have no one to steal from.

Here’s the thing that really bugs me and the reason I decided to write this. The top commentators in the ASOIAF/GOT fandom are good people. Beyond that, they’re not difficult to get ahold of. If they answer my tweets and e-mails, I imagine they’d respond to requests for paid freelance work.

I imagine this article will be discovered by a crony of one of the clickbait websites at some point in time. If you feel ashamed reading this, good. You should be ashamed. There used to be a code that journalists abided by. Just because you’re behind a computer writing for an online publication rather than a print newspaper doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be integrity in your work.

For you, the reader, check out the work of this expansive fandom. It’s good stuff and you won’t have to wait years for mainstream media to find it.

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Tuesday

25

August 2015

1

COMMENTS

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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Monday

1

June 2015

5

COMMENTS

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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Thursday

12

March 2015

0

COMMENTS

The Advantages of Deviation for Game of Thrones

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

Since the recent trailer releases for the season five of Game of Thrones, I’ve been asked how I feel about the show taking creative liberties from the books. The footage seems to suggest a stronger deviation than there has been in the past, but this is hardly new. Just ask Ros and Talisa Stark.

A Feast for Crows gets a lot of hate. That’s not that surprising. Tyrion, Daenerys, Stannis, Bran (okay, not a big loss), Hodor (much bigger loss), Theon/Reek, Strong Belwas, and Benjen Stark are all absent while Jon Snow only gets a small cameo in Ser Piggy’s first POV chapter. Perhaps more importantly, there isn’t really a climax that makes up for all the missing major characters.

Which is a shame because AFFC is a fascinating read filled with character development and clues for what lies ahead. Personally, I prefer it to A Dance with Dragons, which also suffers from a slow moving plot and lack of climax, but contains all the characters that get featured on the cover of Entertainment Weekly. I wouldn’t call it the best in the series by any means, but I think it’s the one that benefits the most from a second read.

As a complete work, it’s basically unfilmable as far as Game of Thrones is concerned, along the same lines as Dune Messiah (or the whole Dune series for that matter). You can’t have a season where the action highlights are summed up by Brienne’s brief skirmishes, Samwell banging Gilly, and Myrcella losing her ear. Combining it with the early parts of A Dance with Dragons doesn’t really change this all that much.

Deviations must be made. The masses want action. You can’t have major characters wandering around, doing nothing, or simply not there at all for large chunks of time (I’ve covered this in previous articles as well). That’s not how TV works.

Game of Thrones has to forge its own path. It can’t do justice to the Northern Conspiracy or the Dornish/Tyrell/Greyjoy/Illyrio/Citadel Master Plans. We can’t speculate on who poisoned the locusts (without Strong Belwas, there’s no one to eat them anyway). If we’re lucky, we’ll get more Ser Pounce. For that, I am grateful.

As an author, my loyalties will always lie with the written word over the spoken word. It’s important to not only acknowledge these two as separate mediums, but to also not hold the latter accountable for deciding to do things a bit differently. There are tens of millions of fans of Game of Thrones. There are not tens of millions of fans who can tell you all the regions of Westeros (which isn’t that difficult).

I roll my eyes when magazines like Entertainment Weekly talk about the battle for the throne and only mention Tyrion, Jon, Arya, and Daenerys as if this is really what it’s all been about. They’re doing that for the masses. Fine, even if it comes as a slight to a certain one true king.

What’s important is to not let the deviations interfere with your enjoyment of the show. This is a high budget production with hundreds of talented people working both behind the camera and in front of it. Including George R.R. Martin himself.

It’s true that not all deviations are created equal. The show should be faulted for ones that don’t work. We should not however, fault the show for making changes solely on the grounds that it’s different from the books. That isn’t fair.

There is the problem of the finale, which will almost certainly come before A Dream of Spring or an eighth book, which I think is likely to happen. I can’t really say that’s not going to be a problem because I don’t know. This is pretty unprecedented as far as screen adaptations go. I imagine this is something that GRRM has thought about once or twice.

That’s a problem for another year. Until then, I’m going to enjoy Game of Thrones and do my best to keep my inner ASOIAF geek at bay. If I had a gold dragon for every time something was changed in the upcoming season, I’d be richer than the Iron Bank of Braavos. To say that time and time again would grow more annoying than Joer Mormont’s raven demanding corn and it would also be ignoring the fact that deviation is fundamentally in the best interest of the realm (Earth).

I will be doing recaps of the upcoming season. To ensure you never miss one, I encourage to subscribe by putting your e-mail address in the “Free Candy” form on the right. Also, I’d like to thank all of you who helped make A Trip Down Reality Lane a bestseller in metaphysical fiction and thank you for reading!

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4

March 2015

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Coldhands, Quaithe, and the Nature of Identity

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

While much of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire status as a worldwide phenomenon is attributed to the popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones, it’s important to remember that these books were hugely successful years before the show was even conceived. A Feast For Crows debuted at number one on the New York Times Best Seller List, joining a club of fantasy novels with more exclusive membership than those who have pitched a perfect game or played James Bond. It’s not hard to see why.

The depth of this series is deeper than the crypts of Winterfell. Martin has woven an intricate puzzle that’s been the subject of countless articles, videos, and cocktail party conversation (I can attest to that final one). Re-reading the series is almost like reading a whole new series when you realize how much you’ve missed the first time around.

Identity has always been at the core of ASOIAF. Jon Snow’s parentage is the series’ most popular mystery. Even fans of the show who haven’t opened the books know about R + L = J. Martin’s use of the POV device allows him to shroud plot progression as much as he likes, which provides mystery at nearly every corner if you dig deep enough.

This also allows characters to mask their identities to the reader. On some occasions, Martin provides enough evidence to piece the puzzle together. The Gravedigger is probably Sandor Clegane and the Oldtown novice Alleras is probably Sarella Sand. On the flipside, Aegon Targaryen is probably not Aegon Targaryen (my guess is he’s a Blackfyre, though that’s a subject for another article).

A probably completely intended consequence of this is that it leads one to question the identity of many characters that Martin may not necessarily shove in the reader’s face quite like the Gravedigger. The overall depth of the series coupled with the long wait for The Winds of Winter has lead to countless theories that will likely be proven untrue. Once someone is somebody else, than anyone could be anyone else. The best example of this is Howland Reed as the High Septon, which is sort of explainable as Reed is a complete enigma, but lacks common sense from a story standpoint.

My two favorite mystery characters are Coldhands and Quaithe. I doubt not a coincidence that these two are linked to the stories of ice and fire respectively. Though they both make multiple appearances in the books, we know next to nothing about who these two might actually be and more importantly, what their agendas are.

It’s pretty clear that Coldhands used to be a man of the Night’s Watch. What’s also pretty clear is that he isn’t anyone from the books. Leaf eliminated Benjen Stark, Will, and Waymar Royce, when she said “they killed him long ago.”

This leaves The Night’s King as the only possibly person of note, but I wouldn’t use process of elimination to name him Coldhands. If Coldhands had bore some affection toward Houses Flint, Umber, Magnar Bolton, Norrey, Woodfoot, or Stark (putting aside what he did for Bran) then the notion would have some credibility. He doesn’t and further more, it seems unlikely that The Night’s King would act as a henchman to the three eyed crow, who’s significantly younger.

My personal theory is that if Coldhands is someone from the books, it’ll be revealed through a future Dunk & Egg novella. Bloodraven is mentioned almost excessively (like Tyrion’s waddling) in the first three and GRRM has said there will be at least eight D&Es. Bloodraven had a pretty loyal following, along with many of his Raven’s Teeth, accompany him to The Wall and his disappearance was clouded in mystery. If a future D&E novella features an elk riding follower of Lord Rivers, then I think we can pretty sure who it was.

Quaithe is a whole different story. We know she’s a shadowbinder from Asshai and that’s about it. She somehow has enough pull in Quarth to be part of Dany’s welcoming committee, but she urges her to get out of there as soon as possible. Quaithe’s agenda doesn’t appear linked to any of the other factions in the city. She gives Dany cryptic advice and appears to her via some weird sorcery.

The two leading theories are that she’s either Ashara Dayne or Shiera Seastar. Unlike Coldhands, neither of these candidates can really be eliminated. Like Bloodraven, Shiera is also mentioned prominently in the D&E novellas as a lover of Lord Rivers. She’s also mentioned as having an eye defect, which could be an explanation for why Quaithe wears a mask. Applying the same logic that Coldhands could be from a future D&E, it stands to reason that Quaithe could be as well. This would further tie the two character together as Coldhands, a henchman of Bloodraven, would be helping on the ice front while Quaithe aids Dany with the fire portion of the story.

There is some logic to suggest that Quaithe is neither of them. Ser Barristan frequently mentions Ashara Dayne, reaffirming her importance, but he doesn’t have anything to do with Quaithe even though he’s in close proximity to Dany for much of her story. Shiera Seastar makes sense from the angle that if Aegon is a Blackfyre, she’d naturally hate him as Bloodraven’s lover, who was a major player in the Blackfyre Rebellion. Quaithe warns against “the mummer’s dragon,” but not anymore than she warns against anyone else.

An important question to consider is what exactly changes if Coldhands’ or Quaithe’s identities are revealed? While Quaithe’s identity is likely more important than Coldhands’ is, it doesn’t mean she still isn’t a cryptic crazy woman. Further more, identifying her as Shiera Seastar does next to nothing for the majority of ASOIAF’s fanbase who haven’t read Dunk & Egg. This isn’t necessarily a compelling reason, but it’s something to consider.

ASOIAF is messy. That’s why it’s so fun to write about and why it has a rabid fan base who still engage with the series despite the long gaps between books. Our appetites are tamed a little bit by the novellas, sample chapters, and The World of Ice and Fire, but this is a feast for crows compared to The Winds of Winter.

We shouldn’t forget that there are errors. Tyrion has acrobatic skills early on in A Game of Thrones that disappear and there are a few inconsistencies in the appendixes. This shouldn’t be held against Martin, but it also goes to show that not every single word in this massive epic series serves to play into the bigger picture.

Some mysteries don’t get solved. I’ve done this with my own writing. The narrator of A Trip Down Reality Lane lacks a name. That’s just a secret that isn’t getting revealed. When it comes to ASOIAF, we can be sure that there’s plenty that won’t get answered, which will ensure the series’ popularity long after all of us have passed (and hopefully not come back as Lady Stoneheart). We aren’t going to get all the answers.

Coldhands can just be Coldhands and Quaithe can just be Quaithe. I’ve provided a few possible reasons why they are in fact secret identities, but there isn’t really any compelling motives for why this needs to be the case. ASOIAF is in many ways, a massive jigsaw puzzle. We can put together many of the pieces, but we’re probably not going to get all the answers. There’s nothing wrong with that.

 

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February 2015

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Game of Thrones IMAX Proves Some Free Things Are Worth Paying For

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

Last night I went to see Game of Thrones in IMAX. The allure of seeing the Battle of Castle Black on big screen was enough to get me to shell out money to pay for something I could not only watch for free, but have already watched for free. This being the first time that a TV show was shown in theaters also had some appeal as a fan of popular culture.

The biggest surprise of the night didn’t come from the episodes, naturally, but the theatre attendance. The theatre was at around 75% capacity. Granted, it was a Saturday night, but the attendance wasn’t noticeably smaller than the crowd that was at the showing of The Hobbit I attended (coincidentally in the same theatre in that cinema). Game of Thrones is a worldwide phenomenon and clearly more than the die hards showed up. There weren’t many people sporting GOT attire, but I did see one Hodor shirt. I probably would have left if there weren’t any.

The episodes translated beautifully to the big screen. The battle looked like any battle you’d see in any epic fantasy, maybe even better with emphasis on actual people instead of CGI. I spent most of my first viewing of the episode counting the differences between it and the battle shown in A Storm of Swords and found that the IMAX was so aesthetically overpowering that I could just sit back and enjoy the show.

“The Children” fits well as a companion to “The Watchers on the Wall” for the big screen. The decision to start the episode at the Wall when the previous episode was nothing but Wall proved intelligent as movie goers were treated to the complete narrative, briefly interrupted for a “previously on,” and the credits for a second time. The episode is less about battles and more about plot resolution, but there’s enough in here to justify its presence on the big screen.

The trailer at the end was a nice treat. I’m glad I didn’t watch the leaked version before seeing it in theatres as it was beautiful to watch on IMAX (particularly Peter Dinklage’s new goatee). As some characters are completely caught up on the books (though some are not entirely through A Storm of Swords), this coming season will have plenty of fresh material for book and show viewers alike. The days of “that didn’t happen in the books” may not be over, but they might get increasingly standard, as it becomes more the rule than the exception.

Was it worth it? It wasn’t cheap. The ticket was the standard cost of an IMAX film despite not being a film or anything new besides a few minutes of trailer. That doesn’t answer the question.

Yes.

It was fun. That’s the point isn’t it? The battle was beautiful. Brienne fighting the Hound was luscious. Hodor hodoring through crisp sound was marvelous. IMAX makes everything better and that was certainly the case here.

I don’t think this has widespread ramifications for the TV to big screen debate that’s sprouted up as a result of this event. Analysts are quick to judge the viability of TV on the big screen as this is the first time its been done. The fact that many viewers watch the show on a computer or tablet is certainly a relevant point. “It’s not TV, it’s HBO” took on a whole new meaning, but I wouldn’t call this a game changer just yet.

This worked for two reasons. First, Game of Thrones is huge. Big enough to justify the hype. The only other show with the fanbase to make something like this work is Downton Abbey. I’d probably pay to see that in theatres too.

Second, these two episodes worked perfectly in conjunction for something like this. Without the battle centric “The Watchers on the Wall,” it wouldn’t have worked. The narrative jumping around as it does normally would’ve made it feel much more like a TV show than a movie. Having just The Wall made it feel just like a movie.

The only other season of Game of Thrones that could’ve pulled it off was season two with “Blackwater” and “Valar Morghulis.” I don’t doubt that HBO will want to try this again with season five. Whether or not that’s a good idea remains to be seen, but without a battle centric episode, it seems like a bit of a reach.

It was a unique experience. I wouldn’t flock to the theater to see TV in more or less any other instance, but as an ASOIAF fanatic, I felt obliged to indulge. It could’ve used more Stannis, but all in all it’s worth seeing if you’re a big fan of the show.

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October 2014

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Thoughts on George R. R. Martin’s 92Y World of Ice and Fire Talk

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

Last night I attended a talk regarding The World of Ice and Fire with George R. R. Martin at the 92Y in NYC. The event was crowded, though not sold out, and Martin supplied an evening of observations concerning the world of Westeros and the kind of work that goes into creating a book like this. For this article, I wanted to highlight some of the parts of the event that stood out.

Martin was quick to distance the moderator’s suggestion that The World of Ice and Fire was his answer to Tolkien’s The Silmarillion, reminding the audience that the GRRMillion is still to come. Instead, Martin compared TWOIAF to the numerous illustrated fantasy series that have come before. He also discussed the process that went into making a book like this, crediting Elio Garcia and Linda Antonsson with the initial rough draft before deadlines at years of delay and excessive word counts clouded the picture.

Martin also talked about the difficulties he found when it came to revealing certain parts of the history that haven’t been covered in the books or the novellas. Summerhall was specifically singled out as an event he wanted to save for a future book and orchestrated a careful dodging of the event. He did say that both Garcia and his editors persuaded him to include more new material than he initially intended.

While there was no mention of The Winds of Winter, the notion that there will be seven or eight Tales of Dunk & Egg was reaffirmed. D&E actually got a surprising number of mentions, including an illustration of Ser Duncan the Tall fighting as a member of the Kingsguard. The GRRMillion was also talked about many times, though it appears to be at this point largely theoretical.

Mentions of Game of Thrones were kept to a minimum. At one point, the moderator suggested that this was intentional. Martin was complimentary of the show’s decision, including the placing of the Eeyrie’s moon door in the floor rather than the wall. The show served as a contrast to the artwork of TWOIAF, which was able to capture Martin’s own vision in a way that television simply cannot realistically achieve.

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening that supplied more information than was to be expected from that type of event. Questions like “who is your favorite character” were excluded and the general tone didn’t shy away from spoilers though there were few to be had. Martin is a living legend and it was a treat to see him in person.

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