Ian Thomas Malone

Game of Thrones Archive

Monday

20

June 2016

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 9

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

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.

Episode nine has become the most anticipated episode of the season for Game of Thrones fans.While it was clear that this episode was going to follow the Blackwater/Castle Black route more than the Ned’s beheading/Red Wedding, this is essentially the first major battle in the series where the outcome wasn’t revealed in the books.

I say that instead of “the first major battle where we didn’t know the outcome,” because it was pretty obvious. Littlefinger ex machina was always going to show up to save the day. That said, the battle was superb and easily the show’s most impressive action sequence.

Sansa’s role especially had an aura of inevitability to it. There isn’t really any logical way she’d be able to go find Littlefinger in time. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this lapse in plausibility, but I’d be remiss in my duties not to mention it.

Melisandre’s whereabouts was unclear for much of the season. I actually originally thought she’d headed south, only to see her hanging out by herself with the main forces. Her scene with Jon was important because it reintroduced the fact that Jon died and was brought back to life. The show doesn’t really do a lot with the Azor Ahai or The Prince that was Promised theories, but his revival shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought either.

Ramsey’s best line of the episode was when he mentioned that Jon was a Night’s Watch deserter. This is an elephant in the room that no one who wasn’t at Castle Black for his revival should ignore. I was disappointed that Lyanna Mormont didn’t bring it up two episodes ago.

Don’t love Rickon’s death. Many, myself included, figured he’d be Lord of Winterfell at the end of the series. The show doesn’t invalidate this, but he was still essentially just treated as a prop, which I don’t love. Clearly the show wants to position Sansa to have the clear claim, not a bad thing now that Ramsey is dead. I just didn’t love how a member of the Stark family was killed in such a nonchalant manner. We should care, but we also weren’t given any time to build a relationship with Rickon.

My only real complaint about the battle was the mountain of dead bodies. Who had time to stack all the dead people on top of each other? Wun Wun looked pretty busy being shot by arrows. Poor guy.

MVP of the battle: Wun Wun. Runner up: Davos, for doing his best. What are the odds that stag would still be in the snow? I thought winter was coming…

Where was Ghost? Did he desert Jon? Or did they not have the budget for a wolf scene?

Not that it really matters given the insignificance of House Arryn at this point in the show, but it’s interesting to note that House Arryn, one of the four main houses that lead Robert’s Rebellion, came to the aid of House Stark after sitting out the War of the Five Kings. Brings everything full circle.

I don’t really have a clue what’s next for the North. The Sansa/LF/Jon/Tormund dynamic is quite odd without considering what will happen if/when Brienne comes back. I suspect she’ll run into Lady Stoneheart next episode so this likely won’t happen. Odds are, the Winterfell gang will be limited to just a scene or two that sets up next season.

Unlike “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall,” this episode had other plots, albeit a single one, besides the battle itself. I liked that Dany got some screen time as she’s been sidelined for a few episodes now. Meereen is being wrapped up with the slaver’s defeated and Yara and Reek there to transport Dany to Westeros.

The mentioning of the Mad King was interesting. Yes, he was crazy and horrible. There are people in Westeros that miss him, considering Joffrey’s reign and all the war that followed. I don’t love Dany going around saying how awful her dad was. She hardly listened to Ser Barristan and Jorah’s criticism of him in the books. You can dislike your family, but mentioning it in public is a little declassee.

The final thing I’d note is that it’s hard to really get invested in what will happen in King’s Landing since it’ll be invalidated by Dany’s impending arrival anyway. This episode did an excellent job with the Northern plotline, which could have easily suffered the same sentiments, not only from Dany but also the White Walkers. Meereen suffered as a plotline as the culture of inevitability set in. Hopefully Dany arrives in Westeros quickly to set the stage for what’s to come. At this point, that’s really all we should care about.

Monday

13

June 2016

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 8

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

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.

I wonder how many people could receive multiple stab wounds to the vital organs region and still be able to run through a city in a Jason Bourne style chase? The morality surrounding Arya’s decision to leave the House of Black and White is essentially black and white. Jaqen took Arya in when she had nowhere else to go and trained her. In return, she broke the rules several times and abandoned him. As viewers and fans, we can be excited for Arya’s return to Westeros, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that she’s essentially defaulting on her student loans.

Many fans asked me about the potential “Jaqen as Arya” or “Waif is Arya” Fight Club twist this past week. Given Jaqen’s emotional ties to Arya, I didn’t want to rule it out. Their lackluster final scene certainly makes me wish that had actually happened.

Also, it was very rude of Arya to criticize Lady Crane’s soup. Being stabbed is no excuse to skirt one’s manners!

Could have done without the finger in butthole joke. Still hesitant to judge The Hound’s return until we see more. Under normal circumstances, I’d praise a potential alliance with the Brotherhood Without Banners given the need to give The Hound something to do. Problem is, the show didn’t need to give him anything to do. He could have just stayed dead.

The rapport between the Hound/Beric/Thoros (who rocked an awesome top knot) were pretty great. I wasn’t a big fan of the evil turn of the BWB last week and it seemed odd to see them completely reverse course an episode later, especially considering we haven’t seen them since season three. I also found it interesting that Beric knew about the White Walkers. As we saw with Lord Tarly, most of Westeros is either skeptical or unaware of the problems north of the Wall. Unless Thoros’ powers extend beyond reviving Beric and having great hair, I’m not sure who would have told them. Rumors of a Lady Stoneheart appearance have increased over the past few weeks. I’m not sure that would be a great thing for the show, but I also don’t think there’s a single book fan out there, myself included, who wouldn’t want to see it.

Once again Varys and Tyrion, the most famous dwarf in the world, are walking around without guards. I suspect Varys will be on his way to kill Kevan and Pycelle, something I naively suggested could happen last season, though Varys never made it to Meereen in the books as he was backing (f)Aegon.

Varys’ heartfelt goodbye with Tyrion was a good scene, but also helped remind us just how wasted Peter Dinklage has been this season. The show has tried to made light of how awkward the Tyrion/Missandei/Grey Worm dynamic is, but self-awareness isn’t really an excuse. Meereen as a whole has been very weak this season.

I received a few questions about the rumor that Cersei and Qyburn discussed in the throne room. My best bet is that it had to do with Margaery’s insincere piety. A more fun show answer would be whether or not Lancel confessed to his part in Robert’s death and Cersei’s incestuous infidelity, but I’m not holding out hope. Or maybe the Sand Snakes will reappear… I hope not.

Interesting that both The Hound and The Mountain had gratuitously violent scenes. I’ve always hated the idea of Cleganebowl, but that certainly looked like a plus for that theory. While The Mountain/Frankenstrong has been a more than adequate bodyguard, if I were Cersei, I’d definitely beef up security given the absence of trial by combat.

Jaime’s scenes were my favorite of the episode. It is important to note the change in power dynamic between Cersei and Jaime from the books to the show. In the books, Jaime, still a member of the Kingsguard, leaves King’s Landing because he won’t serve as Hand. At this point in A Feast for Crows, Cersei has near complete authority over KL.

This distinction is important as it sort of undercut the Brienne/Jaime relationship. Here in the show, Jaime is still completely in love with Cersei. The absence of Lady Stoneheart (for now) removes the need for Jaime to rescue Brienne, robbing fans of their much desired courtship, even if it would have created a weird Brienne/Tormund/Jaime/Cersei love square.

Pod and Bronn’s scene was also quite fun. A nice throwback to the days when the show didn’t take itself so seriously.

Poor Edmure. At least Jaime accurately laid out the situation. I would note that the idea of “good guys” and “bad guys” is much more ambiguous in the books. Stark loyalists might feel some loyalty to Edmure, but he’s always been portrayed as weak in the show and has been absent since I was in college (season three). The books make it easier to choose whom to root for, but the Jaime/Edmure dynamic was certainly fun to watch.

The Blackfish was completely butchered. His desire to defend Riverrun at all costs clashed with the book’s interpretation of the character as the Blackfish spent much of his life in the Vale with Lysa, though that wasn’t depicted in the show. The Blackfish also doesn’t really care about the Stark branch of the family, and has a particular distrust of Jon through Catelyn which also wasn’t depicted in the show.

It just seems odd that he’d pick a senseless death in the name of a good swordfight over fighting for his kin. Brienne’s escape also seems odd. She went there to recruit the Tully forces, something that wasn’t necessarily rendered void by Edmure’s surrendering of the castle. Couldn’t she have theoretically asked to have Edmure lead the Tully forces for Sansa? Oh well.

Where is Melisandre? Looking for Gendry?

Dany is back in Meereen. The pacing of her plotline has been pretty puzzling, though sensible I guess considering the bigger picture. I’ve said this before, but Meereen as a whole this season really made me wish they hadn’t killed off Ser Barristan, who is still alive in the books. Would have certainly given Tyrion some more characters to work with.

That’s it for this week. No Sansa, Jon, Reek, Yara, Bran, Showhands, or Hot Pie. See you next week!

Monday

6

June 2016

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 7

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

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. 

Tonight’s episode was unusual in that it showed a scene before the credits. I’m glad that the reappearance of The Hound and the introduction of Ian McShane were given such special treatment. In the books, the Hound’s reappearance is never actually confirmed, though he is heavily implied to be the Gravedigger at the Quiet Isles, which Brienne and Podrick travel through.

The Hound’s storyline is one that I can’t really judge as of this episode. My biggest concern is that in the books, he’s one of the few characters to achieve the ever evasive peace that eludes just about everyone else. Sandor gets a second chance to live out his days free of the hate he carried with him his entire life. While the book series isn’t over, there isn’t much reason to believe we’ll see him again besides the much anticipated CleganeBowl, which I personally loathe and hope never happens.

The show appears to take a different approach. I doubt we’ve seen the last of the Hound. The problem with this is that his season and a half long quest with Arya softened the character significantly more than the books ever had, making a redemption narrative seem quite unnecessary. He doesn’t fight Brienne in the books, though since they’re both in the Riverlands, a reunion seems likely.

Ian McShane’s appearance as Brother Ray was good, but his death was not at all surprising. McShane made headlines for leaking information about his appearance a couple months ago, which basically gave away the fact that he wasn’t going to be around for very long. His overall impact is yet to be determined, but it was a good little mini-arc.

What’s with the Hound’s neck/upper chest beard? Gross.

The absence of Lady Stoneheart makes the villainous turn of the Brotherhood Without Banners fairly confusing. None of the members of the group, even Thoros of Myr, are particularly devout followers of the Red God, which the show seems to want to use in an effort to make them appear more evil than we’ve actually seen. It’ll be interesting to see if they capture Brienne and Podrick as they do in the books. Part of me thinks they won’t, but there isn’t exactly a clear direction for that storyline either.

King’s Landing got a little more interesting, even if we were treated to yet another High Sparrow lecture. Margaery has mostly been sidelined this season and it was nice to see her get something to do. With the Queen of Thorns out of the picture, I suspect a Margaery/Cersei alliance could be in the works, which would make up for the uneven nature of this plotline as a whole.

The scene between Cersei and Olenna was perhaps the strongest of the episode, though the Blackfish/Jaime parley gives it a run for its money. We as viewers know that Cersei has made a huge mess and has essentially zero allies and thousands of enemies. I’ve often criticized KL as a whole for looking too weak to command any kind of power. Olenna reminds us that this sentiment is shared by many in Westeros.

The Riverlands were spectacular. Loved seeing Bronn back. Loved seeing the Blackfish. The scene with the Freys threatening to kill Edmure was practically identical to the books. The scene between the Freys and Jaime highlighted the poor battle strategy/bad attitude of House Frey in general. The worst part about no Lady Stoneheart/evil BWB is that they likely won’t go around killing Freys. Bummer.

Jaime really hadn’t done anything interesting since season three, mostly acting as a supporting character/taking part in the show’s worst plotline. I didn’t necessarily care that the Riverlands plotline was cut from last season, but it has been very strong so far this year.

Very conflicted about the Northern campaigning. Stannis did much of that off book in A Dance with Dragons. Longtime readers of my recaps know how I feel about him. These scenes were mostly strong, especially Davos, but there was one big elephant in the room the show failed to address.

The show was smart to acknowledge the problem of Sansa’s marriages to Tyrion and Ramsey, but failed to really address the fact that Jon is an undead Night’s Watch deserter. Why should any house trust him? Davos could’ve included a defense of Jon into his beautiful speech…

Does Lady Mormont count amongst the sixty-two Mormont troops? I hope so.

The scene with House Glover was my favorite of the Northern campaign as it highlighted something I’ve been saying for years. Robb made a lot of mistakes as king. The North bled for him while he spent most of A Storm of Swords/season 3 ensuring they’d lose. Loyalty only goes so far. As sad as it sounds, House Glover is smart to stay out of it.

Worst line of the night was when Sansa was critical of Stannis’ military prowess. Has she not heard of the Siege of Storms End, the Assault on Dragonstone, and the Greyjoy Rebellion. Maester Luwin didn’t do a very good job teaching the Stark children about history.

Tough to really analyze Arya’s stabbing. Will the theatre performers save her? Will she become Coldhands 2? Will she get another seen with Jaqen? I’ve been pretty complimentary of Arya’s plotline throughout the season, but this development was pretty puzzling.

Yara telling Reek to toughen up made for good TV, but he’s still an odd character. Did saving Sansa make up for all the other crap he’d pulled? I guess so.

That’s all for this week. No Dany, Tyrion, Strong Belwas, Coldhands, or Dornishmen. As a special programming note, my live video recap this week featured my sister, Bibble of House Malone. Check it out if you haven’t already. Thank you for watching.

Monday

30

May 2016

3

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 6

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

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. 

There was a brief moment during the Benjen is Coldhands reveal when I considered giving up on the show. That theory is one of my least favorite prevalent ones because it’s easily debunked in the books. I even wrote an article on it last year. Benjen can be “Showhands,” but it just doesn’t make sense in the books.

I felt a change of heart as I realized that this is actually a good thing. Benjen as Coldhands isn’t a book spoiler at all. It almost has the reverse effect as it reminds us that these are two separate entities. Benjen being Coldhands worked in the show because he revealed himself early on in the rescue (as opposed to leading Samwell and Gilly to the Wall and Bran and his friends to Bloodraven without a single mention of being a Stark) and the show also needed to give us an answer as to what the hell happened to him, something it doesn’t have all the time in the world to explain.

The one thing that needs to be criticized is the handling of Hodor’s death. For a show that dedicated several scenes last season to Brienne mourning Renly’s death that happened three seasons prior, it’s disgraceful that neither Bran nor Meera acknowledged the death of their fearless companion considering both ruined his whole life. Hodor’s death reminded us that a show with as much death as Game of Thrones can still use it as an emotional hook. Improperly handling the aftermath makes it harder to care.

This episode gave us two plotlines that the show had previously skipped over with Coldhands and the siege of Riverrun, which happened in A Dance with Dragons and A Feast for Crows. I doubt many people expected either Brienne or Jaime in the Riverlands at this point and now they both will be. The show has different obligations than the books, but I like that it still managed to work in good storylines that wouldn’t have worked in previous seasons.

The aftermath Red Wedding was never really addressed and didn’t necessarily need to be, but Walder Frey is too good of a villain not to feature again. Like many, I questioned Edmure Tully’s future on the show given Tobias Menzies’ obligations to Outlander. In the books, the Freys get to keep Riverrun after Jaime brokers a deal that sends Lord Tully to Casterly Rock to live a comfortable, yet imprisoned, life. I doubt this will happen this way given the presence of Brienne and Co., but it will be interesting to watch.

I’ve criticized the show in the past for making the figures in power in King’s Landing look ridiculously weak. Sending Jaime to help the Freys shows that the powers that be still have power. What this means long term, when Dany’s arrival appears to be in the not so distant future remains to be seen, but it’s important to show that KL isn’t just a setting for a soap opera.

The payoff for the High Sparrow stuff was rather underwhelming. It’s hard to care all that much with the White Walkers and Dany’s massive army, but the storyline moved perhaps a little too slow for its own good. We were treated to far too many High Sparrow lectures over the course of this season. I did think there was a good chance that Margaery could be killed, which would have likely pitted the Tyrells and the Lannisters against each other. That would have been far more interesting than what actually happened.

I’ve been pretty complimentary of Arya’s progress in Braavos for most of the season. I don’t love her decision to leave the House of Black and White, but it’s too early to condemn it entirely. It’s only natural that she feels a sense of loyalty to her family. Her driving force to leave Westeros, both in the books and the show, is that they’re all gone. There’s nothing left for her. We, the viewers, know this isn’t true. Bran and Rickon are alive and Sansa has escaped. She doesn’t. It seems almost unfair to Jaqen, who’s been fairly loyal to her.

Mixed feelings about the Sam/Horn Hill storyline. It was good TV. The presence of James Faulkner, who played a similarly sinister patriarch on Downton Abbey, enhanced the soapiness of the whole plotline. In the books, Lord Tarly is a highly respected battle commander, even recommended for Hand of the King by Kevan Lannister. Here, he’s quarreling with his son away from anything meaningful.

That goes for Sam as well. This season has really done a number on the credibility of the Night’s Watch. Jon is allowed to quit and Sam can go off gallivanting with Gilly. What do vows even mean anymore?

Dany didn’t do much. I talked about the fast pacing of her storyline two weeks ago. The Drogon appearance was very cool although as my sister noted, her horse seemed to have vanished.

It’s clear that Yara/Reek will supply at least some of Dany’s ships. I’m curious to see where she goes from there. The mainland of Westeros seems like the logical choice, but Euron/the Slaver’s could take her in a number of directions.

That’s it for this week. No Tyrion, Jon, Sansa, Ramsey, or Hodor… ever again. See you next week.

Monday

23

May 2016

1

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 5

Written by , Posted in Game of Thrones

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.

Monday

16

May 2016

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 4

Written by , Posted in Blog, Celebrity Apprentice, Game of Thrones

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. 

I think it’s safe to say that this episode was the best of the season and perhaps the best since season 4’s “The Watchers on the Wall.”

The reunion of Jon and Sansa is significant for a number of reasons. None of the major Stark children (excluding Rickon) have seen each other since season one and most have no idea which of the others are even still alive. Jon and Sansa don’t really have much of a relationship in the books, something that was sort of hinted at in the episode. Given that Sansa isn’t in the North in the books, this plotline will be especially interesting to follow.

Brienne’s hypocrisy is borderline intolerable. I sort of forgot about the weird Brienne/Davos/Melisandre dynamic since the Red Woman is the only one at the Wall in the books, but it was about as awkward as could be expected. Brienne, who “executed” Stannis on the “authority” of a dead pretender king, shows next to no animosity toward Melisandre, the woman who conjured up the shadow demon that killed Renly.

It is by no means a stretch to suggest that Melisandre played a much, much bigger role in Renly’s death than Stannis, being both the person who executed the plan and presumably also the one who came up with it. Couple Brienne’s carefree attitude toward her with Davos’ casual mention of Shireen’s death, in episode 4 mind you, and we have ourselves a prime example of the show’s laziness in closing up plotlines it doesn’t like. Like Dorne, Stannis’ arc was quickly wrapped up with little logic. I know most regular readers of these recaps are hoping for the day when I stop mentioning Stannis, but that was important to acknowledge.

The pacing of Sansa’s arrival to the Wall was superb, but the fact that Jon continues to hang around Castle Black is kind of weird. I liked how he mentioned his death releasing him from his vows, but if that’s all true, he sort of needs to move on. The divorce between Jon and the Watch looks quite messier than it should. At least he showed remorse for killing Olly.

Why does Tormund only have 2,000 warriors? What happened to the 100,000 that attacked the Wall two seasons ago? They couldn’t have all died at Hardhome.

It was hard to be excited about Littlefinger’s return since he’s one of the most inconsistently portrayed characters on the show, but his scene was excellent. His seemingly indefensible decision to marry Sansa to Ramsey was handled quite well by casting doubt on Lord Royce. The only thing that kind of bugs me is that Littlefinger does show genuine affection toward Sansa in the books. I wouldn’t be surprised if that turns out to be the case later on in the show, but it’s not really believable. Who wasn’t thrilled to see Sweetrobin again?!?!

The Meereen plotline got a much needed infusion of life into it, despite having two of the most boring characters on the whole show. Grey Worm and Missandei’s deficiencies only further show what a mistake it was to kill Ser Barristan last year. Tyrion was on point as usual, but he needs a stronger character to spar with.

Jorah and his magical durable shirt are back! Which means I have to make an obligatory “why does Jorah have greyscale?” mention. Doesn’t look like I’ll be saying that much longer. More on Dany at the end of the recap.

King’s Landing also perked up. I’ve been mentioning the Tyrell’s powerful army for about a year now. It’s about time someone brought up using it. Giving the key KL players something to do was long overdue. It’ll be interesting to see if both Margaery and Loras make it out alive. I’m guessing no, but I’m willing to sacrifice both if it means we don’t have to endure another High Sparrow lecture. Jonathan Pryce is great and all. I just don’t care about listening to him ramble anymore.

How did Theon get a boat? Seriously. Anyone?

The Yara/Theon interaction was another highlight in a very strong episode. Yara is the obvious candidate to rule the Iron Islands, though A Feast for Crows had a different idea. Euron stands as a better challenger than Reek, but this will make the Kingsmoot dynamic all the more interesting. It’s hard to speculate as to what Theon’s role will be beyond a mere endorser of his sister.

Osha falls victim to the “let’s get rid of all the characters we don’t want anymore” cleanse. I’m kind of okay with it. She’s a fun character, but the show was right to acknowledge the fact that Ramsey would definitely know about her involvement in their escape. Another scene where she gets to speak would have been nice, but this episode had a lot going on.

Finally we go to Vaes Dothrak. I was rolling my eyes at the idea that Daario and Jorah would help by somehow retrieving Drogon, Dany’s scene with the Khals was excellent. As with the Sansa plotline, I was surprised with its fast pacing, but that’s a good thing. Meereen is bound to be a complete wash with everyone inevitably setting their eyes on Westeros in the not so distant future.

The parallels to the end of Dany’s season one arc were to be expected, though probably not in episode four. I assumed there would be some kind of trial, but am pretty happy that there wasn’t. Dany now commands the largest force of anyone besides the White Walkers. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of opposition the show puts against her, given the mess in KL.

It is worth noting that GRRM has said that Dany is not immune to fire in the books. This is obviously different in the show, which is a good thing. That was a great way to end the episode.

Side note: Aggo, one of the Dothraki mentioned, is one of Dany’s bloodriders in the books. I’ve often been critical of how the Dothraki just disappeared after the Unsullied were introduced, but it was nice to see a tiny throwback.

That’s it for this week. No Arya, Bran, Dorne (yay), or Sam & Gilly, but this was a very strong episode. See you next week!

Monday

9

May 2016

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 3

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

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. 

The title of this episode, “Oathbreaker” is important as it’s just about the only defense that can be offered for Jon Snow’s desertion from the Night’s Watch. Many fans, including myself, expected Jon to leave the order, with the justification being that his death released him from his vows through the second line of the oath, “it shall not end until my death.” Trouble is, not only was this reasoning nowhere to be found, it was kind of irrelevant at that point.

The show could still reference the vows and it probably should, but that defense became moot the second Jon used his status as Lord Commander to execute Ser Alliser, Ollie, and the other conspirators. Jon’s death is an acceptable loophole, but he didn’t use it. He just resigned, breaking his oaths. This signals a big change in Jon’s character which should be very interesting to watch moving forward.

Samwell is back… The only reason I’m even remotely interested is because his father, Randyll Tarly, is one of the best tertiary characters in the books. What will be interesting to see is how the show handles the fact that becoming a maester takes years, which Sam doesn’t really have. I don’t expect to see Archmaester Marwyn in the show, but that would be very exciting as well.

Despite the great sword fighting, I was not a fan of the Tower of Joy. This is a major event in the books that was almost treated like a throwaway. While I understand show fans who aren’t familiar with the books aren’t going to have the same reaction, this is still a crucial element on a certain someone’s parentage. Howland Reed was also just kind of tossed in there like it was nothing.

In defense on the show, there are advantages to covering this flashback stuff through Bran’s dreams. In the books, we see glimpses of The Tower of Joy through Ned’s perspective in the first book, often through fever dreams. Obviously the show can’t do that with Ned dead and all, and it wouldn’t have made sense to do it back in season one. It just didn’t feel as important as it should have.

I’m not in love with the Dany storyline, mostly because I don’t think it’s necessary to add in the bit about the Khals needing to decide whether or not she can stay. The dialogue was a little weak, a common problem throughout most of the episode. I do suspect that Dany will use that opportunity to unite the Dothraki behind her cause, which forgives this current lackluster elements of the plotline.

Meereen improved slightly. Varys actually did something and to top it all off, there were actually guards present! You know who didn’t do anything? Grey Worm! The show even acknowledged how boring he is. If only the four amigos could go on a field trip somewhere. Maybe to Asshai? A man can dream.

Part of my dislike of the Meereen plotline comes from knowing that the show can’t really get into the huge war with Yunkai like the books, which makes Tyrion’s presence in Meereen a bit of a waste. I also hated how the show expects us to believe that the Unsullied are capable of fighting a war after how weak they were made to look all last season. It’s just lazy.

King’s Landing continues to be a mess, even with the return of Olenna Tyrell. Diana Rigg is a superb actress, but the whole plotline lacks any clear direction. The returns of Kevan Lannister, Pycelle (finally!), and Qyburn was nice and all, but still made me wonder why none of them seem too particularly concerned with how dismal the current state of affairs are, even though their combined forces could easily wipe out the Faith Militant.

I loved how the show made Qyburn look human with the “little birds,” who can’t talk in the books and are unwaveringly loyal to Varys, even after he left. Qyburn’s motives are one of the great mysteries of the later books and the show is doing a great job with a fairly minor character. It’ll be interesting to see how good he is at Varys’ job, which I’m hesitant to fully label “Master of Whispers” just yet.

Ser Gregor being called Ser Gregor was interesting. In the books, he’s known as Ser Robert Strong, with his true identity serving as a matter of speculation. I’m pretty okay with the switch as Ser Gregor being dead was crucial to the alliance with Dorne, something that doesn’t really matter here.

The show impressed me by adhering to its own continuity quite well at the meeting of the small council regarding whether or not Jaime rightfully had a seat on it. In the books, the Lord Commander always has a seat, but Ser Barristan was not present at the meetings in season one, nor was Jaime when he became Lord Commander, though he was rarely in KL for any of them.

The question of the seat does undercut the decision to dismiss Ser Barristan back in season one. If the Lord Commander doesn’t automatically get a small council seat, why did Jaime even need to be LC at all? That decision, along with appointing Tywin as Hand and Janos Slynt to the small council was all part of Cersei’s power play. Jaime still sort of fits into that, but definitely not as well.

Arya continues to quietly be one of the show’s better storylines. The plotline doesn’t take up a ton of time in the books and this is likely a case of less is more in the show as well, which is hard to do with a character as popular as Arya. The pacing has been superb. I imagine there was a bit of foreshadowing with the mention of The Hound, who is pretty much confirmed to be The Gravedigger in the books.

The Bolton/Umber scene was the worst of the season. Just awful. I get that the Greatjon hasn’t been around since season one and show viewers don’t care about him, but are we supposed to believe that “Lord Umber” is stupid enough to go to Winterfell and insult a known psychopath while asking for his help even though he wouldn’t bend the knee? None of that was even remotely believable, including discovering Rickon Stark and choosing to deliver him to Ramsey. I’d say poor Shaggydog, but it’s probably for the best that he isn’t involved in such a ridiculous plotline. Call it euthanasia.

Finally, I’d like to acknowledge how great a character Ser Alliser was in the show. His plot progression was almost completely different from the books, as he was not at the Battle of Castle Black and did not participate in the mutiny, but Owen Teale did an excellent job portraying him. And now his watch has ended!

That’s it for this week. Still no Littlefinger, even though he was in the “previously on.” I do think that this season is a significant step up from the last one. There’s a bit going on that makes no sense, but it’s been good fun. Just a reminder, I do live video recaps on my Facebook page after each episode. See you next week.

 

Monday

2

May 2016

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 2

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

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. 

He’s back. I’m honestly surprised that anyone is surprised. This had to be have been one of the worst kept secrets in popular culture. Kit Harrington was even listed in the opening credits.

That said, I was pretty underwhelmed with the way Jon Snow’s return was handled. Not only was the reviving ritual fairly lame, I don’t think the show ever did a good job explaining why Davos was willing to give his life to defend Jon Snow’s corpse. You can say that he didn’t believe that Ser Alliser would have actually let him go, but that was communicated.

It all felt too inevitable, including Melisandre’s presence. Which is what you get when you hype something for a year. Considering that every one of the brothers of the Night’s Watch standing in that room knew how important it is to burn corpses before they become White Walkers, I just wasn’t very impressed. It felt lazy. Foreshadowing Jon’s revival in previous seasons doesn’t mean that you don’t need to explain why characters make the choices they make. Davos is probably my favorite character left and the show should’ve given him more of a reason to be willing to put his life on the line on a whim like that.

The show is obviously setting up a Jon/Ramsey conflict as the Lord Commander is now released from his vows, having died. I don’t mean to suggest that I’m angry that Jon is back. His return just represented the same kind of lazy writing I’ve criticized the show for over the past two years.

Bran is back too! I’ve been critical of how eerily similar Bloodraven’s hideout is to Dagobah, both in the books and the show. Bringing in Max von Sydow to play a more colorful Bloodraven is probably a good idea for the show, but he did seem a little Obi-Wan Kenobi-esque, which is exacerbated by the fact that von Sydow was just in the new Star Wars.

I’d give the show points for how they handled the fact that Bran is now too big to ride on Hodor’s back, but I’d have to take them away for the fact that both Bloodraven and Euron Greyjoy both only have one eye in the books. Not really a big deal, but sort of annoying for book fans, especially since they were both introduced/reintroduced in the same episode.

King’s Landing continues to be a bore, which is a shame considering how many talented actors are involved. The High Sparrow storyline needs more direction. I did enjoy seeing Ser Robert Strong, but wish the show would at least make some effort to explain the current political structure in KL. I’ll give the show some credit for how it’s handled Tommen, who isn’t a particularly interesting character in either the book or the show.

The lack of guards continues to be annoying. Are we really supposed to believe that anyone thinks it’s a good idea for Tommen to walk around with only his one handed uncle/father as protection? The same holds true for Tyrion in Meereen and even Roose in Winterfell. Less people makes for a more intimate scene, but it isn’t very realistic.

Meereen is a mess. Killing off Hizdahr may not have been a big loss, but why does Meereen not have a single local official acting in any capacity? Are we supposed to believe that the Tyrion/Varys/Grey Worm/Missandei quartet is handling everything? I don’t think the show needs a ruling council like the books, but the current situation is borderline laughable. Tyrion did deliver the line of the night with “I drink and I know things.” That makes up for the ease with which he freed the dragons.

Roose’s death was a bummer considering how he was just talking about the Northern political structure, which is one of my favorite parts of A Dance with Dragons, but I get it. As I said last week and in my video, the show appears to be getting rid of characters it doesn’t need moving forward and that’s okay. I loved how Roose mentioned how preposterous it was to suggest killing the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch given how revered the order is in the North. Both he and Fat Walda will be missed. Ramsey got to be a monster in a way that progressed the story.

One thing that really irked me was the introduction of a new son of Rickard Karstark. This might be a minor detail, but the death of his sons was used as legitimate rationale for why he was so pissed at Catelyn for letting Jaime go. Having a new son pop up out of nowhere cheapened that.

Shouldn’t Brienne at least consider killing Theon for treason? Her character’s righteous indignation is appalling. Though we still don’t know for sure if Stannis is dead.

In The Winds of Winter sample chapters, Stannis is currently holding Theon, and Asha/Yara, captive and at least publicly plans to kill him to appease the Northerners, though he’s too valuable of a hostage for that to be fully believable. This has led me to think he’ll at least consider taking the black. I liked how the show referenced that possibility as well, though it’s probably not the best direction for the character.

The reintroduction of the Ironborn was handled quite well. Balon had more personality in this episode than he ever did in the books, though we only see him in A Clash of Kings. It was interesting to see Euron personally kill him as this has not be confirmed in the books, though it is basically a foregone conclusion that he hired an assassin, likely a Faceless Man, to carry out the deed. Like many, I am very excited for the Kingsmoot, which could be the highlight of the season (maybe).

Arya wasn’t in this episode much either, but that’s okay. Her storyline with Jaqen doesn’t need to move faster than it is. As I said last week, I didn’t expect Arya to remain blind for very long.

That’s it for this week. No Dany, no Dorne, no Littlefinger, no Pycelle, but this episode had enough going on. Despite my criticisms of Jon’s revival, I thought the episode did a good job building on last week in establishing the season’s storylines. Very little wasted time.

Just a reminder, I do live video recaps on my Facebook page after each episode. See you next week.

 

Monday

25

April 2016

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 1

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

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. 

I found myself constantly wondering about the timeline as the season opener progressed. At the beginning of A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin clarifies that the chapters aren’t necessarily linear and the show hasn’t always been either. The fact that several of the episode’s plotlines, mainly The Wall and Sansa/Reek appeared to happen immediately after last episode while others, mainly Dorne/King’s Landing/Meereen, clearly happened a little while later created a bit of uncertainty for me at least.

Pacing a ten episode season with a massive ensemble cast is very difficult. With that in mind, it seems hard to praise Davos’ bravery at the Wall with him still locked in that room by the end of the episode. I’m inclined to give this a pass, especially since I’m trying to purge the image of old naked Melisandre from my mind and am okay if that involves forgetting the rest of the plotline at Castle Black.

It is also important to note that there will likely only be thirteen episodes of the rest of the series after this season, which makes me think that a Sansa/revived Jon Snow/Stark reunion could happen sooner rather than later, depending on how quickly the inevitable Wildling/Alliser Throne conflict lasts. I say this mostly because Sansa’s story lacks any other logical direction and I don’t see how the merry band of Brienne, Poderick, Sansa, and Reek can wander around in the cold indefinitely.

Though it made sense for Brienne to finally stop wandering around Westeros in search of spare Starks, I have a bit of trouble accepting the fact that this woman obsessed with “duty” killed Stannis in cold blood. Longtime readers know my feelings regarding a certain One True King quite well, but this isn’t so much about what you think about Stannis, but rather whether or not Brienne’s actions were just.

Now you can make the case that Game of Thrones isn’t a show that’s concerned with having its characters have a black and white sense of moral justice, except that’s far truer in the books. We saw this on display in Ramsey’s first scene, where he displays a shocking amount of remorse for Miranda’s death. I was completely taken aback by how sympathetic the character was portrayed as, especially considering how controversial his rape of Sansa was last season. The show made up for this almost immediately with a rather out of place comment by Ramsey to merely feed her body to the dogs. Of course, Ramsey is a psychopath, but we didn’t need that scene to remind us of that. It seems puzzling as to what that scene tried to accomplish besides simply screen time for the character.

I have a hard time buying into the Lannister threat to the Boltons. In theory, this makes sense, but the Lannisters have never looked weaker. Who really thinks they’re in any position to move on Winterfell?

Cersei and Jaime aren’t really up to much at all. The whole prophecy bit made sense and all, but neither sibling seemed particularly troubled by Myrcella’s death and Tommen wasn’t even mention at all. For a show that constantly brings out the question, “who will win the game of thrones,” it doesn’t seem too concerned with who’s actually sitting on it.

The fact that Trystane Martell wasn’t even under arrest says it all about what the writers are trying to do with Dorne. I spent much of last season wondering where all of that was going and the answer is clear. Now that the show is freed from most of its obligations to the books, it doesn’t want people like Doran Martell and Stannis around.

I’m kind of okay with that. Book fanatics have been trying to figure out Doran’s plan for years. The show basically went and admitted that he doesn’t have one at all, but this shouldn’t alarm book fans. The show simply doesn’t have time to integrate a character like that into its end goal in any substantial way.

So why include them at all? I have no idea. The Sand Snakes don’t seem to have much appeal to anyone, especially after they committed needless treason. Is the viewer supposed to feel sympathetic to their desires for vengeance, which involved killing two innocent teenagers? Like much of their dialogue, this plot is laughable.

The Dothraki dialogue was also painful to read. I still can’t believe the writers won an Emmy last year. Pathetic.

Margaery in jail could have been handled better. It took me a while to remember why she was even there (for lying about Loras’ homosexuality). Jonathan Pryce is always a treat to watch, but it’s hard to care about what they’re doing.

I like the direction of Dany’s story. She likely needed Dothraki help even before the Sons of the Harpy burned her Meereen fleet. As a character, Dany works best as the underdog and it’ll be interesting to see how the Vaes Dothrak storyline plays out.

Obligatory Jorah still has greyscale for no reason mention (yes we’re still doing that and we always will). It looks worse. The scene where he and Daario discuss his weird love for Dany was creepy. Not as creepy as old naked Melisandre, but then again few things are.

The Tyrion/Varys exchange was a pleasant throwback to season two, but that also highlighted a major problem with Tyrion’s plotlines since. Tyrion hasn’t really done much big picture stuff since he commanded the troops at the Battle of the Blackwater. He spent season three recovering, four in prison, and five on the road/hanging out with Jorah. Now he has power, but he’s really far away from the main action. Peter Dinklage is one of the show’s biggest assets and while keeping him in Meereen makes sense given the timeline of the books, it doesn’t seem like the best place for him now that the show has gone completely off book.

Which is something that needs to be considered as the show moves forward if the rumors about there only being thirteen episodes left are to be believed. The show doesn’t have a ton of time to waste having Tyrion rule a city that’s relatively inconsequential to the bigger picture. I don’t want to come down too harshly on the whole plot based on five minutes of screen time, but the last season didn’t inspire a ton of confidence in that realm.

Arya is actually still relatively on book. Her blindness only lasts a single chapter in the books though. I don’t think blind Arya is particularly interesting so hopefully the show follows a similar path.

No Littlefinger, Samwell, Ironborne (if they’re actually coming), or Bran this episode. I hope there’s some direction for LF’s incomprehensible Northern plans. I sure don’t see any logic there.

All in all, this was a pretty good premiere. I don’t think it completely fixed the wrongs of season five, but there does seem to be some direction for most of the major players. After last year’s mess, I’ll settle for some entertaining set-up that promises better things to come.

Just a slight programming note. After each episode airs, I’ll do a live video on my Facebook page summarizing my thoughts. Written recaps will be posted on Mondays. Thank you for reading.

Friday

11

March 2016

0

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.