Posts Tagged ‘fantasy’
The Walking Dead in Westeros
We’re comparing two of the biggest shows on television in this episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. One of them is an adaptation of a popular staple of nerd culture—a genre work that had only appeared in print before—which has translated its bleak themes, wide scope, and controversial use of violence into a modern-day ratings blockbuster. The other is Game of Thrones.
That’s right—the BLAH Boys are taking on The Walking Dead, and its current spinoff Fear the Walking Dead, by contrasting the shows and their source material to Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire. How does their treatment of violence in an unforgiving world of real and supernatural menace differ? What do the relationships between the original works by George R.R. Martin, Robert Kirkman, Tony Moore, and Charlie Adlard and their adaptations by David Benioff, D.B. Weiss, and AMC’s land of a thousand showrunners reveal about their respective ideas, ideals, aesthetics, and ethics? Which shows really deserve our moral outrage, and why? We’ll be examining all these questions and more. And one of us, at least, will be getting really freaking worked up. Enjoy!
The number one question people ask me about the series is whether I think everyone will lose—whether it will end in some horrible apocalypse. I know you can’t speak to that specifically, but as a revisionist of epic fantasy—
I haven’t written the ending yet, so I don’t know, but no. That’s certainly not my intent. I’ve said before that the tone of the ending that I’m going for is bittersweet. I mean, it’s no secret that Tolkien has been a huge influence on me, and I love the way he ended Lord of the Rings. It ends with victory, but it’s a bittersweet victory. Frodo is never whole again, and he goes away to the Undying Lands, and the other people live their lives. And the scouring of the Shire—brilliant piece of work, which I didn’t understand when I was 13 years old: “Why is this here? The story’s over?” But every time I read it I understand the brilliance of that segment more and more. All I can say is that’s the kind of tone I will be aiming for. Whether I achieve it or not, that will be up to people like you and my readers to judge.
The score was 10-1 in favor of the Staten Island Direwolves by the time he grabbed the mic and took the field, but George R.R. Martin was there to warn the boys of summer that winter could still be coming. “If they can only hold on for another couple innings,” the man behind the Game of Thronesphenomenon said, “I won’t have to kill another Stark.” The crowd roared. And when the live arctic wolf accompanying him took a dump near the third base line a few seconds later, they roared again.
From top to bottom, Saturday’s “Meet George R.R. Martin Night” at the Staten Island Yankees’ scenic Richmond County Bank Ballpark was a weird, wild event. With the Lower Manhattan skyline shining in the distance, a record crowd of 7,529 turned out to watch the minor league team, renamed the Direwolves for one night only, take on the Hudson Valley Renegades while wearing custom House Stark and House Lannister uniforms. Direwolf swag and autographs from the A Song of Ice and Fire author himself were available on a first-come, first-served basis. It was a star turn for the author, who’s been catapulted to celebrity status by the success of the HBO series based on his novels.
But for Martin himself, it was a time for wolves. His appearance was a fundraiser for New Mexico’s Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary, a non-profit rescue facility for the animals at the heart of his epic-fantasy saga – hence the beast who befouled the infield. The team cut the charity a surprise $10,000 check and launched a benefit auction of the custom jerseys. In the process, they enabled fever-dream sentences like “George R.R. Martin attends a Yankees farm team’s Game of Thrones-themed ballgame on Staten Island to raise money for wolves” to actually make sense…more or less.
Strange shit, but Martin’s seen stranger. “It’s pretty weird,” he told Rolling Stone, “but it’s only like a seven on the weirdness scale. That company that came out with leggings with my face on them? That’s up to a ten.”
Women of Westeros, Part V: Arya, Lyanna, the Sand Snakes, Arianne, & Ygritte
It’s ladies’ night once again for the Boiled Leather Audio Hour! We’re resuming our irregular series on the women of Westeros after over two years for an episode on a bunch of characters who break the world of Ice and Fire’s gender mold: Arya Stark, Lyanna Stark, the Sand Snakes, Arianne Martell, and Ygritte. Our topics of discussion are as diverse and varied as the women themselves: why Arya is too complex for the hero, victim, or monster labels; how Lyanna’s larger-than-life reputation suits her potential prophetic destiny; the Sand Snakes as Dorne’s answer to the #CarefreeBlackGirls movement-cum-meme; what Arianne has in common with another rebellious scion of a dynasty, Jaime Lannister; how seeing Ygritte exclusively through the eyes of the man who loves her shapes our experience; the true meaning of “strong female character”; and much more. Drop your Needle on that mp3 and tune in!
5. Sansa Stark
Sansa’s got the potential to be happy. First of all, she’s matured a lot. She actually liked Joffrey at the beginning! And given how terrible it’s been for her, she’s not doing too bad. I think that for her, it’s possible to recover from trauma. They show her to be that type. I mean, she’s pretty tough. She never got to the point where she just gives up. She thought everybody in her family was dead, but when it looked like Theon would light that candle and she would be saved, she really thought she was going to be okay. It didn’t go well, but even now she’s got hope again, now that she’s found out her little brothers weren’t killed. And also, she chewed Theon out, but then when she found out her brothers weren’t killed, she backed off. She’s not so angry and vindictive that it’s destructive. She’s appropriately so.
4. Samwell Tarly
This guy has peace. With his background of being bullied, he’s unusual because he doesn’t seem overly insecure. He’s not trying to prove to people, “I’m not really such a wimp!” He does stuff when he has to, not just to prove things. It’s not the usual outcome of his whole set of features for him to be comfortable with himself, but he is. He loves his girlfriend, he loves the baby she named after him, he has purpose, and he’s very comfortable with that. It’s not the overly driven ones who are happy, it’s the ones who find peace within. It sounds so trite, but it’s true.
Certainly, roads to Hell paved with good intentions are as easy to find inGame of Thrones as reanimated corpses at Hardhome. Tyrion Lannister did his best to mitigate the cruelty of his psychopathic nephew King Joffrey and wound up framed and sentenced to death for his murder. Daenerys Targaryen put aside her quest for the Iron Throne to emancipate the people of Slaver’s Bay and ignited an insurgency that forced her to flee on the back of a dragon. Brienne of Tarth swore to serve relatively decent sorts, like Renly Baratheon and Catelyn Stark, but couldn’t stop their murders, and she vowed to protect Cat’s daughters Arya and Sansa, only to be rejected by both. Their brother Robb broke a pledge to his weasel-y ally Walder Frey in order to marry his true love, Talisa, resulting in the Red Wedding slaughter of himself, his mom, his pregnant wife, and his entire army. Sunday night, his half-brother Jon Snow saw his humanitarian campaign to save the hated Wildlings from the far greater threat of the White Walkers lead to his own assassination. The Ur-example of all this, of course, is Ned Stark: He risked his own life to warn Cersei that he’d uncovered her crimes so that she and her kids could escape before her wrathful husband Robert killed them, but it’s Ned’s own head that wound up rolling. Time and time again, the better angels of characters’ natures are precisely what caused them to give up the ghost. As Ser Jorah Mormont — who, by the way, contracted a fatal disease when he risked his life to save Tyrion’s — put it when discussing the defeat of Dany’s apparently benevolent big brother: “Rhaegar fought valiantly. Rhaegar fought nobly. And Rhaegar died.”
Does this make Game of Thrones a fundamentally nihilist series — a work where, when it comes to the evil that men do, resistance is futile? Seven hells, no.
For starters, that would only make sense if the Game players who cheated consistently came out on top, and that’s hardly been the case. Stannis Baratheon’s decision to burn his daughter to death led directly to the collapse of his army. Joffrey Baratheon’s career as the Mad King 2.0 came to an early end when he was poisoned to death at his own wedding by the family of the bride. Theon Greyjoy betrayed the Starks and conquered Winterfell, but wound up forsaken by both his biological and adoptive families and tortured into madness by the Bastard of Bolton. The Warlocks of Qarth and Good Masters of Astapor tried to fuel their dirty deeds with Dany’s dragons and got roasted for it. Nearly every name on Arya Stark’s hit list of murdering shitbags — from child-molesting Meryn Trant to Gregor “the Mountain” Clegane, arguably the biggest sociopath in the series (literally and metaphorically) and now a mindless zombie — has been crossed off, whether or not by her hand. Cersei Lannister brutalized and betrayed her way to the top of the Seven Kingdoms’ power structure, yet it was her own scheming that led to her downfall when she was arrested, imprisoned, and ritualistically humiliated by the very fanatics she’d empowered in the finale’s most excruciating scene. And what of Lord Eddard’s rival patriarch, Tywin Lannister? The archetypal avatar of ruthless realpolitik who orchestrated the Red Wedding and sentenced his own son to death wound up dead on the shitter, with his pants around his ankles and an arrow in his gut.
While it may look like any choice leads to a slit throat or squashed skull, this is in no way an argument that morality doesn’t matter. The constant cruelty of Game of Thrones’ world only increases the importance of doing good deeds while you still occupy it: If all men must die, as the saying goes, this makes the decision to do the right thing anyway all the more valuable. Jon Snow’s murder does not take away the lives he saved by rescuing as many Free Folk as he could from the army of the dead. Ned may have been foolish to trust Cersei to flee rather than fight, but if he’d guaranteed their deaths by narc’ing to Robert right away, he’d have been little better than she was. Tyrion’s brief reformist reign over King’s Landing likely saved hundreds of lives from the madness of King Joffrey before it ended, and now he has the chance to repeat the feat in Meereen. Dany’s drive to free the slaves of that city and its neighbors is perhaps the most complex political question the series poses — its white-savior overtones and occupier/liberator dynamic are uncomfortable to contemplate, and deliberately so — yet it’s hard to imagine that the world would be better off had she marched straight for Westeros on an ocean of fire and blood instead of literally ending the slave trade in one of its most entrenched enclaves.
Take a look at the political game that gives the show its title. Things may be bad now, but the season began with the possibility of setting up something better, as a quartet of newly minted leaders took charge and tried to shape the system to suit their vision. The Night’s Watch elected good-hearted Jon Snow as their 998th Lord Commander. Daenerys Targaryen settled in as the monarch of Meereen, attempting to rule through diplomacy rather than dragons. Stannis Baratheon became the new King in the North, following up his daring rescue of the Wall from a wildling invasion with a plan to defeat the even more dangerous forces of House Bolton. And after a lifetime of playing second fiddle to the men in her life — her husband, her father, her son Joffrey, and her brothers Jaime and Tyrion — Cersei Lannister found herself in almost complete control of King’s Landing, ready to rule more or less openly on her own.
But as Lady Sarah of House Palin once put it, “How’s that hopey-changey thing workin’ out for ya?” Jon governed nobly, Cersei ruthlessly; Stannis and Dany somewhere in between. Yet all four fledgling regimes ended in roughly the same place — with their leaders dead, deposed, defeated, or stuck between a Dothraki and a hard place. In fact, each was undone by events they themselves had set in motion. Jon fell to the men who’d elected him after ignoring their concerns about the Free Folk in their midst. (Et tu, Olly?) Dany’s attempts to moderate and mollify her divided city by reopening its fighting pits led to a massacre that required a last-minute dragon-assisted exit. Stannis executed his own daughter to preserve his messianic image; he then lost his dignity, his army, his wife, his war, and quite likely his life in return. And Cersei empowered religious fundamentalists to eliminate her rivals, only to become their biggest victim.
…Each death was written and shot to feel unique, and uniquely awful.
Cersei Lannister’s walk of shame, however, felt even worse.
The Lannister lioness was shaven and shorn (much like another literary lion of note, Aslan from C.S. Lewis’ fantasy-classic Chronicles of Narnia), then forced to march naked through the streets of King’s Landing for a full five minutes of agonizing screen time. For critics of the series who believe that its repeated depiction of misogynistic sexual violence is, if not endorsement, then at least exploitation, Game of Thrones will have done itself no favors by preserving this punishment, drawn straight from Martin’s books. (Certainly, its track record with regards to female nudity is decidedly mixed.)
But too much art that purports to address uncomfortable topics does so by making them comfortable to encounter, leaving audiences feeling good about their own moral choices without ever asking them to confront anything deeper. This is not that kind of art. Terrible though her crimes might be, Cersei deserved this no more than Theon Greyjoy, murderer and traitor though he is, deserved to be tortured and mutilated. But as a male victim of sexualized violence, “Reek” is an exception; females, from the little girls purchased and abused by the late, unlamented Meryn Trant to the Queen Mother herself, are the rule. The gendered epithets hurled at her along rotten vegetables and buckets of shit demonstrate that as a woman, her fate was guaranteed to be worse than if she were a man. You certainly didn’t see her cousin Lancel, with whom she committed the crime, subjected to the same fate. Game showed us the screeching, leering face of patriarchy in all its ugliness and wouldn’t let us look away.
In doing so, it took one of its most unsympathetic characters and, in the space of five minutes, made her a person most of us would have bodily thrown ourselves in front of to protect. By the time the Queen started crying for her loss of basic human dignity, it’s likely viewers were crying too. Great art will do that to you. Maybe it must do that to you.
Now I get to feel all the nervous anticipation, stomach-churning dread, and jaw-on-the-floor shock everyone else does each Sunday at nine—or that I did, for that matter, every time I sat down to watch new episodes of Breaking Bad or Mad Men or The Sopranos or any other seminal New Golden Age drama you’d care to name. Much has been made of the excesses of spoiler culture, and complaints about the constant demand that not so much as a peep about the plot be uttered in advance of a viewer’s initial encounter with it are thick on the critical ground. But deciding what to reveal and when to reveal it is a core component of narrative fiction, every bit as deliberate and valid an aesthetic choice as the casting or cinematography or score — doubly so for a show that derives as much of its artistic heat from spectacle and shock as Game of Thrones does. Only now that the TV version has jettisoned its rocket-booster books and truly taken off, in other words, are book readers like myself genuinely seeing the show the way it was meant to be seen.
In practical terms, this is nerve-wracking as all hell. I greeted the ominous avalanche that signaled the arrival of the army of the dead with the same what-fresh-hell-is-this bewilderment as Lord Snow. I watched the White Wedding of Sansa and Ramsay with a mounting mix of queasy repulsion and vain hope that the coming catastrophe could be avoided. And by the time poor Princess Shireen took her long walk to a tall stake in the snow after an episode full of foreshadowing and fakeouts, I felt like I was being marched to the flames along with her. On the flipside, I got to witness the big When-Dany-Met-Tyrion moment with its full holy-shit power preserved. This is a show that’s all bass and treble — as Cersei put it, “you win or you die; there is no middle ground” — and I feel like I’m hearing it for the first time.
mramgine asks: Are you familiar with the controversy surrounding what happened with Green Lantern back in the 90s, where Hal Jordan was turned into a supervillain and fans got so pissed that some sent death threats to DC? Why do you think certain creative decisions in media cause such reactions? Are some of these people mentally disturbed or is there some other reason for such behavior?
“Meanwhile, other wars are breaking out on other fronts, centered around the last few episodes of GAME OF THRONES. It is not my intention to get involved in those, nor to allow them to take over my blog and website, so please stop emailing me about them, or posting off-topic comments here on my Not A Blog. Wage those battles on Westeros, or Tower of the Hand, or Boiled Leather, or Winter Is Coming, or Watchers on the Walls. Anyplace that isn’t here, actually.”
BLAH 39 | (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Bummer Stannis: Discussing “The Dance of Dragons” and Other Elements of Late Season Five ”Game of Thrones”
We’re back, and we’ve got a burning desire to discuss Stannis, Shireen, and the controversial scene that dominated the conversation around ”The Dance of Dragons,” Game of Thrones Season Five’s penultimate episode! This time out, Stefan and I tackle what the Mannis’s heel turn really means for the character, the adaptation, the fandom and more. We also take a quick tour of the disappointments of Dorne, gaze into the fires and give you our predictions for the season finale (including a theory from Sean that’s either bold or batshit), and address the very nature of criticism itself. All in a tight 32 minutes and 32 seconds!
The difficulty of telling true from false, of choosing sides, is precisely why the show burned Shireen. Why risk kneecapping Daenerys’ triumphant reunion with her dragon and the primal thrill of her first ride with this horror? The answer lies in the look in Tyrion’s eyes as he watches Drogon torch insurgents and bystanders left and right. The Imp, it turns out, is a true idealist (the biggest cynics often are; constantly being let down will do that to you). He had high hopes that the Khaleesi truly would “break the wheel” on which humanity has suffered for so long. Now, faced with the wrath of a literal monster, he sees what that the flames of war consume ally, enemy, and innocent alike. “You can stop this,” he told her minutes earlier when Ser Jorah Mormont fought for her favor in the arena. “She can’t,” Hizdahr said. Indeed she couldn’t.
This is the antiwar point the show is making even amid the wonder of Dany’s wild ride, just as surely as it did during the horror of Hardhome last week, when a literal avalanche of corpses rained down upon the living. This is the point it makes every time it shows us some all but unwatchable atrocity, no matter how hard we wish they didn’t. The elemental force that is war has one purpose and serves one god: death. Ice freezes. Fire burns. And as a wise woman once said, “When this kind of fire starts, it is very hard to put out. The tender boughs of innocence burn first, and the wind rises, and then all goodness is in jeopardy.”
At its best, fantasy — like horror, science fiction, and the whole spectrum of genre storytelling — uses unreality as a key to unlock aspects of reality that the reason and logic of the workaday world keep hidden. Simply put, the White Walkers are the series’ vision of war itself: death breeding death breeding death until nothing living is left. Sansa and Theon, Daenerys and Tyrion, newly minted pit-fighter Jorah Mormont and fledgling hitwoman Arya Stark have each caught their own glimpses of this truth. Tonight we saw that vision with crystal blue clarity, in the metaphorical form of a literal avalanche of bodies, and the creature responsible. Jon Snow saw it too. Now he carries its message, and the game — the real game — begins.
I reviewed tonight’s fucking magnificent Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone. The ending gave me the chills and made me cry.
As with solitaire or Angry Birds, we tend to think of the Game of Thrones as a single-player pursuit. We focus on the lords of ancient houses, like Daenerys Targaryen and Stannis Baratheon. We monitor the behind-the-scenes schemers, like Cersei Lannister and Littlefinger. We watch the dark horses moving along the margins, like Jon Snow and Tyrion the Imp. In each case, it seems like power is a weapon only one person can hold in the end. But tonight’s episode — “The Gift” — showed just how much this game is a team sport. Friends and family matter at every step, and if you lose them? Game over.
Few of these developments hold a candle to the episode’s most upsetting and controversial development: the wedding night of Sansa and Ramsay. In the books, Lady Stark’s place in this storyline is held instead by a childhood friend, groomed to impersonate Arya and dupe the Northern lords into believing House Bolton has wed itself into Winterfell’s ancient line. What befalls her is no less awful than what happens to Sansa, but because she’s a comparatively minor player in the saga rather than one of its most prominent and beloved figures, the events hit even harder here. The groom’s sadistic grin, the bride’s look of resigned and mounting agony (so reminiscent of Daenerys on her first night with Khal Drogo all those full moons ago), the tears of Theon Greyjoy as he’s forced to watch — these faces will be hard to forget.
So yes, Sansa’s rape by Ramsay is of the show’s own devising, and it feels every bit the violation it is. But by involving a multidimensional main character instead of one introduced primarily to suffer, the series has a chance to grant this story the gravity and seriousness it deserves. The novels present this material through Theon’s eyes, relegating Bolton’s bride to a supporting role in a man’s story. Sansa has a story of her own, of which this is now an admittedly excruciating chapter — but she, not Theon, is the real victim here, and it remains her story nonetheless. The next chapters will be hers alone to write.
They say “Winter is coming,” but for readers of A Song of Ice and Fire, the epic fantasy novels upon which Game of Thrones is based, it’s already here. Written by series mainstay Bryan Cogman, tonight’s episode — “Kill the Boy” — is the first in which every single storyline has been altered so substantially from the books that it may as well be brand new. Sansa Stark’s stint in Winterfell, Brienne’s quest to save her, Ramsay Bolton’s girl trouble, Jon Snow’s mission to the wildling village of Hardhome, Princess Shireen’s ride south to war with her father Stannis, Daenerys’ execution-by-dragon and shotgun betrothal to her aristocratic adviser Hizdahr, the death of Barristan Selmy, the romance between Grey Worm and Missandei, the dragon and Stone Men–haunted journey of Tyrion and Jorah: None of it happened in author George R.R. Martin’s original texts. Like the exile knight and fugitive Lannister, readers and newcomers alike are now all in the same boat.
Widescreen battles on one hand, intimate one-on-one dialogues on the other: Game of Thrones has long excelled at balancing the macro with the micro, the grand and sweeping with the up close and personal. Tonight’s very strong episode, “Sons of the Harpy,” is a case in point. Even as major political plotlines start bloodily barreling forward, simple scenes of odd couples in conversation more than hold their own amid the melées.
Let’s start by focusing on the High Sparrow, who’s as adorable as his fanatical followers’ actions are appalling. It’s his clout, not his cuddliness, that Cersei is counting on. With the Tyrell patriarch Mace on his way to bargain with the Iron Bank in Braavos — and the Queen Mother’s brutal kingsguard lackey Meryn Trant riding shotgun — nothing’s stopping her from making her move on her rival Margaery. Our lady of Lannister is a shrewd enough operator to do it indirectly, tipping the religious leader off to the homosexual leanings of Marge’s brother and letting intolerance take its course. Sure enough, King Tommen’s inability to bring his brother-in-law home drives the first serious wedge into his marriage.
In the long run, though, Tommen may have worse problems to face than sleeping on the couch thanks to his mother’s meddling. Sure, arming religious fanatics to fight your own cold-war enemy seems like a good idea at the time, but ask the CIA how they feel now about giving the Afghan mujahideen Stinger missiles to shoot down Soviet aircraft. A mass religious movement with a charismatic true-believer leader has just been empowered to assault and arrest the brother of the queen. Think they’ll stop there? This is not your father’s Faith of the Seven — it’s the ISIS of Westeros.