Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

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Monday

6

May 2019

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COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 4

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

Last season presented a simple reason for why Daenerys’ first act in Westeros didn’t involve taking King’s Landing and killing Cersei. If Dany invaded King’s Landing, burning tons of people in the process, everyone would hate her forever and she’d be a bad queen. Except, this isn’t really the reason. Dany didn’t invade the capital because the show needed to keep Cersei around for the final season.

As a result, Cersei got stronger and made allies who could shoot dragons out of the sky with giant sea scorpions. Who knew that the show’s most ruthless villain was also very smart? Tyrion knew all of that and yet he gave Dany a lot of bad advice anyway. Despite this, we don’t get a scene where they hash that out, because apparently, we needed a few focusing on mutiny. So here we are, in a position where Cersei has the upper hand largely because no one else bothered to stop her.

Winterfell was mostly fun, minus the virgin jokes and the Sansa/Hound conversation. Brienne’s sexual past was a weird thing for Tyrion to joke about, having been forcibly married to the woman she’s sworn to defend, while also sitting at a table with his brother who’s only ever had sex with their sister. Strange.

Sansa’s comments about her trauma were easily the low point of the episode. Yes, she’s survived a lot to get where she is. No, she probably wouldn’t still be a “little bird” if that hadn’t all happened. It’s great that she’s become a key player, but it would’ve been nice if the show hadn’t tried to sugar coat rape and abuse like that.

Huzzah for Lord Gendry Baratheon, who apparently isn’t interested in claiming the throne now that he’s a legitimate heir of Robert Baratheon. I liked how Arya turned him down. They had their moment, but she’s not destined for that kind of life. Arya and The Hound should get a spinoff.

Dany and Jon’s bedroom scene was very bad. Mentioning Ser Jorah in a sexual context was gross, but then Dany looked all desperate begging Jon to stay in the bastard closet. Weird that the person who came to save the North now looks weaker than basically everyone else.

We finally got an R + L = J moment that wasn’t right at the end of an episode. Of course, Sansa told Jon’s secret. Why shouldn’t she?

As much as I’ve criticized the Dany/Sansa feud for feeling forced this season, it was at least in service to sensible moments of conflict. The North is tired. Yes, they agreed to help Dany, but that doesn’t mean it has to be done immediately. It’s okay to have conflict about logistics, demonstrating Sansa’s leadership abilities in looking out for her people first.

Bronn is back. Does anyone care? Me neither. Should’ve been killed off last season.

The second half of the episode felt weirdly rushed for a show that took its sweet time taking in the post-apocalypse high. Putting aside how bizarre it was that no scout ship sailed ahead to take a look at Dragonstone, this episode really didn’t need to have a Dany/Tyrion/Cersei confrontation at the end, especially before Jon arrived with the rest of the troops. Why wouldn’t Cersei just order her archers to shoot them all and be done with it?

How did anyone know that Missandei was captured? She could’ve have drowned just as easily. Equally weird that this specific news made it to Winterfell. It’s a shame that she had to die for seemingly no reason. Poor Grey Worm.

Euron is smart enough to shoot a dragon out of the sky, but apparently doesn’t question how Tyrion knows that Cersei is pregnant despite being in the North all season, a clear indicator that the baby isn’t his. Maybe he doesn’t care? Or the show doesn’t care about either situation? I don’t really care either.

R.I.P. Rhaegal. Guess the show’s budget got tired of two dragons. Only one to go.

Could Bran have warned Dany about Euron’s trap? Probably. The fact that he didn’t isn’t necessarily surprising, but it’s weird how no one in the show has tried to fully tap into his superhero powers.

Oh Varys. I’m glad he’s still alive, but these mutinies are a little tiresome. He’s supposed to be a spymaster, not the monarchy’s ombudsman. He should either serve Dany or step aside. No more scheming to switch sides.

Brienne and Jaime happened. Wish they’d left it at that without the whole Jaime leaving bit. I get that it makes sense to send him to King’s Landing, but the Jaime/Cersei plotline is one long-running element of the show I didn’t need to see resolved in these last few episodes.

Tormund’s constant lusting over Brienne was beyond tiresome, but at least he gets to give Ghost a good home. Shame on Jon for not even giving him a pet on the way out. And they think this man should be king? Bah. A man who can’t even say goodbye to his direwolf is not fit to rule.

I hate how the show has portrayed Daenerys since she arrived in Westeros. Sure, something needed to happen to bring her massive army down a few pegs, but the writing for her character has been awful. She could be sitting on the Iron Throne right now if it wasn’t for bad tactical advice. Rather than explore that notion, instead the show’s been painting Jon as the reasonable alternative.

Between R + L = J and the lack of chemistry between Kit Harrington and Emilia Clarke, their romance has suffered a lot over the past few episodes. I just wish the show could figure out what to do with them rather than drag this monarchy quibble out for the whole season. It’s totally unnecessary and quite frankly, boring.

That’s it for this week. I actually mostly enjoyed the episode despite the numerous issues. There’s a lot of pacing questions that will certainly be answered in two weeks, but it’s hard to really get behind the way this episode decided to spend its time. See you next week!

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Monday

22

April 2019

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 8 Recap: Episode 2

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

Ideally, final seasons of long-running series seek to achieve two objectives, to remind fans why they fell in love with the show in the first place and to provide a satisfactory conclusion for the narrative arcs of their characters. Game of Thrones has had its eye on fan service for a few seasons now, perhaps best illustrated through Gendry’s reintroduction last year, when Ser Davos acknowledged the long-running “still rowing” meme. Episode two, appropriately titled “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” was an episode chock full of fan service.

Death is coming to Winterfell. Characters we’ve spent the last eight years with are going to die. As much as the show has emphasized the role of death with its high body count, Game of Thrones has usually done a good job emphasizing the larger narrative arcs of its key players. Season six serves as perhaps the one exception, where numerous characters were unceremoniously killed off in what looked like an effort to clear pieces off the board.

Episode two featured a lot of hanging out, waiting for the world to end. Like the premiere, reunions were in abundance. Moments that fans have wished for over the past decades finally came to fruition.

Ser Brienne has a nice ring to it. After all she’s been through, it was great to see Brienne finally get the recognition she’s long deserved. Women catch a lot of crap in Westeros, but it was great to see her receive the title that best suits her abilities. Gwendoline Christie handled the scene masterfully, letting the typically stoic Brienne take in her moment with plenty of emotion.

Ever since the first episode, fans have wondered what would happen to Jaime if he ever saw that boy he pushed out the window again. Turns out, not much, as was to be expected. I don’t love the idea that he still didn’t tell anyone about what happened, but such a revelation would’ve called for actions that the episode clearly didn’t care about. Bran’s not angry, might as well let that be that.

Bran also isn’t a very helpful battle strategist. I get that the show doesn’t want to fully deploy Bran ex machina, but this whole “use Bran as bait to lure the Night King” seems kind of ridiculous. We’re still not 100% sure what Bran knows about everything, but the idea of having Theon protect you seems fairly half baked.

Arya and Gendry. What a pair. No more “will they, won’t they.” They did it. Is there anything more to say? Probably not. For a girl who’s been as consumed with death as Arya has, it was great to see her have a moment like that with someone she cared about. Hopefully Bran wasn’t watching.

Davos cooked soup! Is there anything this man can’t do? Expert battle survivalist, master chef, all-around great guy. Hoping for the best for new Shireen.

Daenerys and Sansa are seemingly destined for conflict. Why? Because there’s time to fill, of course! Not the greatest conflict, two people fighting over a monarchy when the army of the dead is right at their doorstep, but the show does need a few conflicts to carry it to the end once that’s all finished.

The Dany/Tyrion conflict also seems quite born out of an interest to have something to argue about after next episode. Yes, Cersei lied to them. No, that’s not surprising to anyone. Does that make Tyrion a bad Hand? Sort of, but there isn’t really anyone else up for the job, a job that hasn’t really seemed all that important at all. His judgment isn’t really at fault here, other than the fact that he didn’t stop that idiotic quest beyond the Wall last season.

Ser Jorah got a few great moments. He got told off by Lyanna, received a fancy new toy from Sam, and had Dany tell him that Tyrion took his job. Hopefully this means he’ll die next episode! What else is there for him to do?

Beric Dondarrion sure looks like a goner. Great voice. What a man. He’ll be with Thoros soon.

We got to see Ghost again too! Direwolves haven’t been a big part of the show in recent years, likely a casualty of the CGI budget, but it’s great to see him around for the big battle. Somebody should give him a dragon glass retainer to bite white walkers with.

One of either Grey Worm or Missandei appears quite destined for death next episode. My money’s on Missandei, since I think Theon and Varys are also unlikely to survive the battle. Can’t kill all the eunuchs is one fell swoop!

R + L = J has been the definitive fan theory to rule all fan theories for the past twenty years. In the two episodes since its reveal in the season seven finale, we’ve seen it treated as essentially a footnote. Jon wasn’t in this episode much, but when he was, he sure wasn’t talking about his new parents. At least, not until he took Dany into the crypts of Winterfell.

Was the eve of a massive battle the right time to tell her? No. Obviously not.

The show has had close to a decade to figure out how to handle its biggest secret. The method it’s decided on appears to be to walk things as slowly as possible, something it’s done in tandem with all of Bran’s Three-eyed Raven powers. The result created this weird situation where Dany questions how Bran knows this stuff, putting aside the fact that no one appears to have told her what’s going on with the middle Stark child. The show just needs to pull the R + L = J band-aid off once and for all.

No scenes in King’s Landing this week, which I guess is fitting given that the next episode is going to be taken up mostly by the battle. Overall, this was a very enjoyable episode. We got to see many of our favorite characters interact for what could be the last time. Some of it was a little forced, but that’s okay. After all these years, a little fan service is not a bad way to spend an episode, especially since next week looks to be pretty brutal.

That’s it for this week. Tune in tomorrow to the Estradiol Illusions podcast to hear our roundtable analysis. See you next week!

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Monday

4

July 2016

2

COMMENTS

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

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sam gets some points for not being in this season much. He loses points for everything else he did. Why did he take his father’s sword? Why didn’t he leave Gilly and baby Sam at Hornhill, the safest place possible? Why didn’t the Citadel know about Joer Mormont’s death? While this season had its fair share of eye-rolling moments, it was quite effective in setting up the rest of the show. Perhaps more important, it made for very entertaining television.

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Monday

27

June 2016

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 10

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.

This episode fit in line perfectly with two of the big themes of this season. Expendable characters died while the show set itself up for the future. If the reports that we’re only getting seven episodes next season are to be believed, it makes sense that the unnecessary King’s Landing players see a quick and simplistic demise.

It’s hard for me to call it particularly satisfying, even with the music that played through much of the KL storyline. For weeks, I’ve been critical of the obvious low stakes of the entire plotline. We endured several unnecessary High Sparrow lectures with hopes of either an epic Margaery master plan or a big trial by combat fight.

Instead, everybody died. Well, almost everybody.

I’m not a fan of wrapping plotlines like that, but there’s also the notion that it’s good to be done with most of that nonsense. Of all the deaths, Pycelle’s was handled the best. I’ve predicted that Varys would be the one to do him in and got it wrong, though some of the lines were taken verbatim from his execution of Kevan Lannister at the end of A Dance with Dragons. Close enough! I’ll miss Pycelle probably more than any character who’s died this season besides Hodor.

Lancel’s death may have made sense, but the way he died reminded me of a James Bond scenario, where the villain tells Bond his plan and gives him just enough time to foil it. While Lancel didn’t stop the wildfire and we kind of needed him to be there to see what would happen, that entire scene made zero sense from a narrative standpoint.

In any other scenario, I’d be more critical of Cersei being made queen. It’s absurd. A Baratheon cousin/male relative would be in line for the throne, which isn’t something that anyone wants to see and more important, doesn’t matter since Dany is on the way. In some ways, it made sense to kill Tommen off now so Dany doesn’t look bad by killing a little boy king. I just don’t think Cersei’s coronation was anything to praise. Looked very foolish.

I feel the same way about Jon being made King in the North. From a storyline perspective, it looks great. It may even feel great. But the houses in the North and maybe the Vale just made a Night’s Watch deserting bastard their king while a trueborn heir sat beside him. I’d be willing to let that one go if the show bothered to offer a single explanation for why any character would be okay with any of that. Just one!

Sort of like how Sansa apologized for hiding Littlefinger’s army without explaining why she made that boneheaded decision, especially after she complained about not being asked for her opinion during the pre Battle of the Bastard’s war council. Jon’s coronation also undercut the Sansa/LF weirwood scene, which was a highlight of the episode. The power dynamic between those two makes for much better TV than just about anything else going on in the show right now.

The show clearly wanted to draw parallels to Robb’s coronation in season one, but it mostly fell flat aside from Lyanna Mormont’s brilliant scene. Robb being made king actually made some sense. Jon? Not so much, unless you want to step outside the realm of show logic and argue using facts that no one present at Winterfell could have possibly known. More on that at the end of the recap.

I wish I cared more about the Jon/Davos/Mel scene. It’s about ten episodes too late. Seriously. Are we expected to believe that Davos never received an explanation for Shireen’s death until now? What did they talk about while they were traveling around the North? I’d be more forgiving of the delay if Mel had a narrative purpose beyond bringing Jon back, but she’s done next to nothing since.

Does anyone care about Sam? At least he’s doing his duty, even though he doesn’t know that his buddy isn’t Lord Commander anymore. That shot of the library looked cool and all, but was pretty absurd for medieval architecture, even in a place like Westeros. I don’t really see the point in bringing Gilly/baby Sam or the Tarly ancestral sword along. Seems like she’d be much better off in Hornhill.

I like that Olenna Tyrell is still alive. Couldn’t care less about the Sand Snakes, but I hope she’ll have some good scenes with Dany next season. I suppose it’s sort of good that Dorne reappeared, but I doubt many people cared that they were gone, myself included.

The parallels between Walder Frey and Jaime made for an interesting scene. The old man was correct to note that there are plenty of similarities. Jaime was correct to be horrified by that. I certainly would have been. Walder’s thoughts on war made for one of the best scenes of the episode. I wonder if they’ll do anything with that with Jaime in the future, considering he can’t really “fight” in future battles, with his golden sword hand.

Loved Arya and the Frey Pies. In the books, it’s widely suspected that Wyman Manderly, who made his first appearance of the show in the North, killed three Freys and baked them into meat pies to bring to Winterfell before the battle of Ice. Obviously the show couldn’t have done that, but it was fun to see Arya get her revenge in a way that appeased the book fans.

Poor Daario. That scene accomplished two important tasks. Like many, I wondered if Dany was planning on straight up abandoning Meereen when she left for Westeros. Leaving the Second Sons in the city makes it look like she cares while also removing unnecessary characters from her entourage. Having Daario in Westeros really wasn’t needed, especially considering how few episodes are left in the series. He got a raw deal, but he wouldn’t be the first in the show.

The one thing that really bothered me was Tyrion bringing up the Mad King yet again. We get it. He was crazy. Imagine if you had a relative you loathed. Wouldn’t you get a little annoyed if someone unrelated to you constantly brought them up to criticize them? Seemed very unnecessary.

How did Varys get on the boat after being in Dorne? Can he teleport? Control time like Bran? Travel by map? Even if we accept a broader timeline, it doesn’t make much sense for him to personally travel back to Meereen, only to come right back to Westeros. Traveling is supposed to take forever in these kinds of stories.

Finally we end with the “big” reveal. R + L = J… sigh. What should have been a pivotal moment in the series came across as almost an afterthought considering everything else that happened. I wish that reveal had been made at the Tower of Joy. Diehard fans know already. I’m not sure how much casual fans cared that Jon is part Targaryen. Even then, without mentioning Rhaegar anywhere in the scene, it might have been a bit much to expect anyone who didn’t know already to put two and two together.

That said, I’m glad that’s out of the way. Bran looks like he’s headed south, which should actually make him the King in the North. That power struggle will be interesting.

That’s it for this week. No Brienne or the Hound. I was wrong about Lady Stoneheart…

Just as a programming note, like last year I’ll be doing a full season in review article with letter grades for each character. There will also be a season in review recap video! Also for a bit of self- promotion, I have a new book out tomorrow. If you’ve enjoyed my recaps, please consider ordering The Princess and the Clown or any of my other books. Thank you for reading!

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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!

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6

June 2016

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 7

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

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.

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Monday

23

May 2016

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Monday

25

April 2016

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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.

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Friday

11

March 2016

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Interviews of Ice and Fire: Nina Friel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does the show play a part in your analysis?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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August 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What shocked you the most about season 5?

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

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

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

Will HoW do book to show episodes next season?

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

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

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

What’s next for HoW?

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

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