Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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April 2018

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Renly Baratheon: Queer Icon

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Power is a dangerous thing to assign motive toward. Its allure is so strong that it tends to skirt the good/bad spectrum in weird ways, as the seemingly noble can turn out to be completely full of it. People, just or evil, often find themselves drawn to power for the very same reasons.

As someone who’s championed the #StandWithStannis movement from the moment D&D committed character assassination against the One True King, I’m never been a huge fan of Renly Baratheon. He’s a terrible brother. He’s the kind of guy you might have fun with at a rave, but you probably wouldn’t count on him to show up to help you move apartments. Donal Noye’s observation that, “Renly, that one, he’s copper, bright and shiny, pretty to look at but not worth all that much at the end of the day” (ACOK: Jon 1) pretty much tells you all you need to know about the man.

Except one big detail. Renly is gay. I could say that fact doesn’t matter, or affect any of his decisions, but of course it does. LGBT people don’t live in a world where that fact doesn’t affect the macro order of things, especially one’s employment.

Renly challenged the status quo, not as the rightful claimant, but as the most desirable one. He was not the grumpy choice, the sadistic child option, or one that would split apart the Seven Kingdoms. He didn’t have a great claim, but he had a big army.  Under the old way of thinking, that wouldn’t have been enough, but gay people are used to encountering that kind of mindset that tries to keep a hold on the future. Renly wasn’t about to let the dated patriarchal structure dictate his ambitions.

Those who deny the existence of privilege often do so by pointing to a lack perceived “added bonus” for being white or male, ignoring the institutional benefits that stem from a system controlled in perpetuity by the patriarchy, a concept that occasionally manifests itself through the term, “boy’s club.” That concept has altered my approach to career opportunities since I came out, giving the stakes a heightened sense of importance each time one comes around. I am aware that there are plenty people out there who will never give me serious consideration strictly on the basis of my gender identity. Plenty of politicians want to make it so companies can legally discriminate against LGBT people. The playing field has never been fair.

The Westerosi power dynamic shares a similar fondness for nepotism. Kings are born, not chosen. Robert’s Rebellion changed that to some extent, but it wasn’t really until the legitimacy of his offspring came into question that the subject of the line of secession became a point that could be debated. Suddenly an opportunity presented itself.

Enter Renly.

Stannis & Joffrey claimed the Iron Throne by right of birth. Robb & Balon took a more isolationist, regional approach based off theory that King’s Landing was too much of a mess to properly govern over their regions. As for Renly, well, he just kind of wanted it. He said some stuff about how he’d be the best king and all, which probably wasn’t true, but that’s not really that important. What matters is that someone, namely House Tyrell, gave Renly a chance. LGBT people don’t get that many chances.

Can we fault Renly for seizing the greatest opportunity of his life? Some might point to the mess he made, costing Stannis the throne, or how he probably wouldn’t have made a very good king. The fact that Stannis was more qualified to rule Westeros is not that important when you consider that the throne is not decided on merit. The sole consistent qualifier is that the person should be the eldest male heir. Once that certainty was tossed out the window, there really weren’t any merits from which that question should be decided. That’s why war started.

People point to Renly as selfish, ignoring that being king is selfish. Selfish people rule Westeros just as they rule every institution of power. By comparison, queer people don’t rule over all that much. Renly tried to change to that.

There is a counterargument in the sense that as Lord of Storm’s End, Renly was already in a position of power, but this is not particularly relevant. Complacency is the enemy of activism. Few in the LGBT community are interested in settling for the victory of Obergefell v. Hodges when there’s so much progress left to be made. We don’t want to be told to be satisfied. Renly didn’t either.

Renly would not be my choice to rule Westeros, but I admire his drive. He saw something he wanted, went for it, and likely would have succeeded if he hadn’t been executed by a shadow baby. As a fellow member of the LGBT community, I admire his drive. It’s tough to throw yourself out there, knowing some people will laugh and think of you as a fool just because of who you are.

I don’t love Renly, but I’m glad Westeros’ most prominent gay character made a play for the Iron Throne. Life is about opportunities, including the ones you create on your own. Renly knew a thing or two about taking what he wanted, even he’d rather play at tournament than lead men into battle. At least that was his choice to make.

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Monday

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June 2015

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Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 9

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

This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. Spoilers will largely be kept to comparisons between the show and the books within the episodes themselves, 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. 

Game of Thrones has two distinct uses for its seasons’ penultimate episodes. One and three prominently featured executions while two and four were dedicated to big battles. While this episode featured both executions and battles, it wasn’t quite the same.

“The Dance of the Dragons” said goodbye to two characters who are alive and well in the books. Shireen Baratheon and Hizdahr zo Loraq aren’t exactly fan favorites (though show Shireen is quite endearing), but they’re also not really characters that anyone would wish death upon either. Their deaths have much different ramifications for the books. One of them is pretty important.

As I’ve pointed out in earlier recaps, Melisandre, Selyse, and Shireen all stay at The Wall in the books. Davos is also off doing recruiting for Stannis at White Harbor and later goes to find Rickon. It’s been long assumed by many book fans that Melisandre will sacrifice Shireen as she did in this episode. Problem with the show was that Stannis let it happen. That’s a big problem.

Book Stannis and Show Stannis have rarely matched up well, less so than any other major character. We know that D&D don’t particularly like him and that’s a big reason why show fans often struggle to understand the cult following behind “Stannis the Mannis.” I wrote an article about this last year.

Book Stannis is noble and also a master politician. BryndenBFish has an excellent piece on Stannis on his site that’s a must read for fully understanding the character. Show Stannis killed his daughter. I hate this.

In the books, Melisandre goes behind Stannis’ back to swap Mance Rayder out for Rattleshirt because she knows that Stannis’ sense of morality would prevent him from letting Mance live, though she obviously saw some use for him. While Melisandre’s allegiances certainly seem to be shifting toward Jon in the books, she can at least respect the code of law for Stannis.

Killing Shireen all but confirms that she’ll die in The Winds of Winter. That’s unfortunate. This might be the first real instance where the show has spoiled the books (maybe Ser Barristan, but that plot is so off course that it’s hard to say). Further more, the show basically forced all its viewers to hate Stannis. After he saved the Wall and had that great scene with Shireen earlier this season, that’s quite unfortunate. I’ll stop here because I could go on and on about how much I hated the burning of Shireen, but I’m sure most of you don’t wish to read that.

I did really like this episode’s depiction of Ser Alliser, who I like much better in the show than the books. He clearly hates what Jon is doing, but he’s smart enough to know that there’s at least some solid reasoning behind it. I would’ve like a scene mentioning Aemon’s death, but that’s not really all that necessary.

Olly will stab Jon. No doubt about that. Moving on.

The Dorne plotline sort of got some semblance of resolution even if it was stupid. Doran Martell could’ve easily refused Jaime and let that be that. King’s Landing is a mess right now. Why would anyone think that Myrcella is safer there than Dorne when her mother is on trial for regicide even with the Sand Snakes plotting?

It still remains to be seen whether or not there will be some sort of Dornish plan or if the Martells will just be treated as comic relief like the Tyrells. I hope there’s something going on or else it seems kind of pointless to introduce them at all. I would’ve rather seen the Greyjoys than this pathetic version of the Sand Snakes.

I like most of the Braavos storyline. It’s predictable, but that’s okay. Arya has managed to stay enjoyable without much in terms of plot.

It was also nice to see Tycho Nestoris again. This is another case of the show character being better than the books. I wish I could say the same for Mace Tyrell. What an idiot.

I get that Mace is portrayed as a complete idiot in the show. He’s basically an idiot in the books too, but not as outwardly pathetic. But where were the Tyrell guards? He has the largest army in Westeros and yet shows up to Braavos with Lannister men and Meryn Trant? Foolish. That is all.

While I don’t love how simplified Dany’s plotline has been, I actually really liked her scenes. While Hizdahr doesn’t die in the books and isn’t a complete fool either, I was okay with his death. The Sons of the Harpy stuff has been pretty inconsistent. They were a huge factor early on this season and then they were absent for a while.

Why does Jorah have greyscale? At least it wasn’t mentioned this episode, though I’m not sure why he’s not concerned about infecting Dany. Oh well.

Dany does fly off with Drogon in the books, though not in the middle of a battle, but the rest of the Meereen plotline is completely different. In the books, the city is about to be attacked by Yunkai with Ser Barristan prepping the defense. I imagine that will be swapped for Tyrion, Jorah, and Daario dealing with the Sons of the Harpy. Maybe we’ll see the Dothraki again. I hope so.

Where is Grey Worm? Have we stopped caring about him? I know I have. The Unsullied were pretty unimpressive in battle.

That’s it for this week. Only one more episode. There’s a certain stabbing that hasn’t happened yet, which requires a certain red priestess to be at a certain large wall, which probably means the end of a certain One True King. We’ll see if that actually happens.

Hoping for Lady Stoneheart. Well, maybe. She’s kind of weird.

Courting Mrs. McCarthy comes out tomorrow! Hooray for books!

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Sunday

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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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Friday

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December 2014

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Could the Onion Knight Bring a Belated Gift to the Bastard Wedding?

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

While the separation of the Stark children can lead one to forget about the importance of the North in general, excluding The Wall, much of A Dance With Dragons alludes to the depth of the Northern conflict. There’s been plenty of blog and podcast speculation on the Battle of Ice and for good reason. At first glance, we tend to forget about minor houses like Ryswell, Dustin, and Cerwyn in favor of speculation surrounding the more important characters. I initially set out to write an overview of my thoughts on the outcome of the battle, but instead want to focus on a more specific x factor in all of this who could change everything.

This article will approach things more from a literary/storyline perspective. There isn’t a lot of textual evidence so most of this should be treated as educated speculation. I’ll include some links at the bottom for more information on the Battle of Ice.

When we left Davos Seaworth in A Dance With Dragons, he was about to embark on a dangerous mission to secure the loyalties of House Manderly for Stannis’ cause. This involves traveling to the dangerous island of Skagos to retrieve Rickon Stark, who set out there with Osha and Shaggydog after A Clash With Kings. We don’t really know if they’re actually there, but for the sake of the storyline, I think it’s fairly safe to assume they made it.

There’s something odd about the placement of Davos’ chapters in A Dance With Dragons. They’re over well before the end of the book. Now you can argue that this doesn’t have to mean much because there’s a ton of characters and other major POV characters like Bran get similar shafts. But Davos’ quest has immediate ramifications to the story line while characters like Bran and Arya play more into the bigger picture.

The real question is, could Davos have enough time to go to Skagos, get Rickon, and make it to Winterfell before the battle?

Let’s look at a map and see.

Credit to James Sinclair of A Wiki of Ice and Fire

Credit to James Sinclair of A Wiki of Ice and Fire

 

Skagos is a bit far from White Harbor. Davos doesn’t really know anything about the island. It’s also kind of far from Winterfell and we don’t know that Osha and Rickon even want to go with Davos. It’s also winter and Davos isn’t an expert in Northern geography. Things rarely go perfectly in these books and they would need to for Davos to factor into the equation. Doesn’t look too promising, right?

Maybe.

Time is tricky in A Song of Ice and Fire. The events of Robert’s Rebellion are supposed to take place in just a year, which leaves plenty of discrepancies that haven’t really been explained. Factor in the fact that Davos is an experienced smuggler and Osha knows the area and you’ll see that we have what appears to be the best makings to pull off a job like this. Davos is the man who got past the Tyrell blockade to save Storm’s End after all.

The other kicker is the start of the battle itself. It hasn’t started yet and doesn’t appear to be completey imminent either. Stannis has his hands full with what to do with the Karstark’s and the Greyjoy’s. To answer the question of where or not its possible Davos to make it, the best answer is that it can happen if Martin wants it to happen.

Another thing to consider is what would happen if The Winds of Winter picks up with Davos in Skagos or even further behind in his journey. That pretty much takes this particular plotline out of the equation for the whole book, as we’d likely be treated to another traveling narrative. This plotline isn’t completely needed to fuel the Northern story, but its absence would create somewhat of a holding pattern that doesn’t seem too terribly likely with what’s happening at the Wall and in Winterfell.

Davos isn’t the only x factor in all of this. There’s another character whose placement is important when considering the likelihood of the return of a Stark to Winterfell.

Wyman Manderly

What’s he doing at the Bastard Wedding? Why does this obese man want to make the long trek in bad weather to attend a wedding of people he hates? Couldn’t he have sent someone else with his Frey pies and added that to the list of things he does to piss Roose Bolton off?

Yes, but he didn’t and that means something.

Davos’ quest is all about securing Manderly’s loyalties and yet Manderly seems to have a death wish at Winterfell. Bolton knows he’s up to no good. Is there really a scenario where Manderly isn’t a surefire goner in this battle?

It’s right up Martin’s alley to have Davos show up with Rickon right as Manderly bites the dust, or snow if you will. Which doesn’t really mean that Manderly’s army doesn’t defect, but the cause would be without its biggest Northern supporter still alive save for the captured Greatjon Umber. If Manderly is a goner and Davos doesn’t show up, doesn’t that sort of take some of the fun out of the White Harbor chapters?

Outcomes of the Battle of Ice are tough to speculate. It could go many ways. It’s hard to envision a scenario where Stannis loses, but doesn’t die. What does Davos do without Stannis? It’s not like he’s a throwaway character. With what’s happening at the Wall and with Mance fooling around, winning doesn’t necessarily mean all is well in the land of the Mannis either. Having Rickon doesn’t mean that all of the other houses will flock to his cause either. This whole thing is a mess, but that’s a big part of why it’s so entertaining.

Here’s my simple speculation for the outcome of the Battle just to give you an idea where all I think all of this could go (I am not at all confident that this is how it will actually go). Stannis wins after the Umber’s and Manderly’s unite behind him, Roose dies, and Ramsay flees back to the Dreadfort after seeing that Rickon’s presence ruins everything and they Frey’s won’t support him. This gives the fans an outcome without concluding anything in the North.

But I am confident that Rickon will be a factor. Why? Because now is the time where he matters. Wizard Bran, Azor Azai Jon, and Littlefinger backed Sansa aren’t part of the equation just yet, but likely will be down the road. Stannis needs some sort of boost to keep him in the picture, unless the Battle of Ice is his last stand. Which it could be, but if it is then where does Rickon come in at all? The Onion Knight should deliver because that’s what Davos does. He’s one of the series more bankable characters and easily the best person for this particularly job besides possibly Drogon.

So here’s my speculation. Is any of this hard evidence? Not when you compare it to something like R + L = J. But the depth of those theories is a big part of why ASOIAF is so special and not every single thing that happens requires a prophetic foreshadowing. This one’s foreshadowing comes from surface level logic. Thanks for reading and please leave a comment with your own speculation/thoughts if you feel so inclined.

Here are some links to check out for Battle of Ice related content

https://cantuse.wordpress.com/2014/09/30/the-mannifesto/

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=syFM7936yMs

 

https://bryndenbfish.wordpress.com/2013/11/15/a-complete-analysis-of-the-upcoming-siege-of-winterfell-part-1/

 

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