Posts Tagged ‘George R.R. Martin’

Sword-and-Sorcery Into Plowshares: Game of Thrones’ Anti-War Message

August 14, 2017

The sprawl, the spectacle, the sex, the swords, the sorcery—if you’re looking for reasons why Game of Thrones has become the most popular show on TV, they’re easy to find. But the epic fantasy might also be pop culture’s most prominent anti-war satire since Dr. Strangelove. It’s one long shaggy dog joke at the expense of military conflict. For the bulk of its six-plus seasons, Game of Thrones has chronicled the bloody power struggles of various aristocrats and their hapless followers—while, unbeknownst to most, an army of demons and zombies in the icy northern wastes masses to swoop down and slaughter them all. The wars making up most of the series’ action are not only pointless, but self-defeating: The only enemy these characters need to be fighting is a supernatural one.

Somehow this lesson is often missed, both by moralists who find the series’ violence exploitative and “bad fans” (as The New Yorker’s  Emily Nussbaum calls them) in it for the beheadings. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the conceit that hides the anti-war message in plain sight. Or maybe it’s the show’s unflinching depiction of man’s inhumanity to man that enables viewers to confuse portraying violence with endorsing it.

Yet the show has been true to the approach of George R. R. Martin, author of the novels on which the show is based and a conscientious objector during America’s assault on Vietnam. As Martin said in a 2012 interview, he does not shy away from capturing the “emotional stirring we feel when we see the banner flying in the wind and we hear the bugles charge”—which, “those of us who are opposed to war … tend to forget.” However, he noted, “If you’re going to write about war and violence, show the cost. Show how ugly it is. Show both sides of it.”

I’m thrilled to make my debut at In These Times with an essay on the anti-war message of Game of Thrones.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Five: “Eastwatch”

August 14, 2017

But for all the awe-inspiring imagery and white-knuckle tension, this is still a show that allows its actors to do the storytelling. There were almost too many intimate moments to list, but seven hells, we’ll try: There’s the way Lord Randyll Tarly reached out to hold his son Dickon’s arm, one last act of fatherly love before their fiery execution. There’s the tears in Jon Snow’s eyes as he touched Dany’s dragon, moved by its power. There’s the more or less open attraction these two rulers now have for another, visible to everyone from Tyrion to Jorah Mormont whenever the regents exchange so much as a glance. There’s the eerie, dead-eyed look Cersei shoots Jaime when he tells her he met with their little brother, and their embrace when the Queen tells the Kinglsayer she’s pregnant. There’s the villainous smirk of Littlefinger as he makes his moves, contrasted against the bright-eyed self-confidence of Arya Stark as she works to uncover them. And there’s the mix of regret and rage on Samwell Tarly’s face as he departs the Citadel, sacrificing his dreams for the greater good.

(By the way, Sam: When Gilly tells you that a maester annulled the marriage of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen so he could marry someone else in a secret ceremony in the same kingdom where Jon was born [cough, cough], you might want to listen!)

If there’s a bridge to be found between the massive political forces at work and these smaller, more personal connections, it’s in the episode’s closing sequence. The assembly of Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Tormund Giantsbane, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr and Sandor Clegane – and their transformation into the anti-zombie Magnificent Seven – is simply a smaller version of what the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North hope to do on a larger scale. Seeing this dream team of Westerosi tough guys walk off into the frozen no man’s land beyond the Wall is epic fantasy at its most heroic.

But it’s also more than that. The crimes and betrayals these men have committed don’t matter at all compared to the menace that is the army of the dead.The mystically minded Beric has it right when he says that no matter their beliefs or their reason for fighting, they’re all on the same side, for the same reason: the common struggle of humanity against the forces that would destroy us all. Solidarity forever – their union makes them strong.

I reviewed last night’s lovely episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

How Game of Thrones’ Fiery Battle Came Together

August 8, 2017

Sean T. Collins: Near the end of the battle, there’s a shot of two white horses who are hitched to a wagon that’s on fire. They’re desperately trying to run away from it, but of course they’re attached to it and can’t. Both the audience and some of the characters watch it happen. It really got to me, and a lot of other people too. What was the origin of that image?

Matt Shakman: We wanted something that was iconic and that could fit in the “all is lost” moment, something that really helped tell the story of the horrors of war, and something that could unite Tyrion and Jaime. Both of them are looking at the same image at the same time; it helps you understand where they are in the battlefield in relationship to each other, and that they’re both having the same experience as the potential end of the Lannisters is happening in front of them.

A few years ago [in season five’s ninth episode, “The Dance of Dragons”] there was the burning horse in Stannis’ camp. It’s quite a horrific image, as the horse runs by fully on fire. We talked about images like that. But then it became more compelling to do this idea of a wagon on fire, with the horses fleeing even as they’re still tethered to it. You have this idea of the wagon train that was supposed to be orderly and safe and heading to King’s Landing — now here it is, off in the wild, dragging flames behind it. I felt like it was a pretty good image to tell the story of the horror of that moment.

I interviewed director Matt Shakman about filming the battle sequence in this week’s Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War,” for Vulture. Fun fact: Shakman also directed “Mystery Date,” the episode that kicked off Mad Men’s run of back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to-back masterpieces during Season Five.

“Game of Thrones” Season Seven Halftime Report: Who’s Dead, Who’s Alive

August 8, 2017

Ice? Check. Fire? Check. Thrones? You bet. Game? Not anymore.

After last night’s incendiary hourGame of Thrones‘ shorter but still stunning Season Seven is now just past the halfway mark, and the stakes couldn’t be higher. The once-sprawling story is down to just three major factions now: King Jon Snow in the North,; Queen Cersei Lannister in the South; and Daenerys Targaryen, a.k.a. the Mother of Dragons,  on her native soil for the first time since her birth. The battles that followed eliminated entire houses and unleashed fire and blood on an unprecedented scale. Meanwhile, the White Walkers are prepping their own assault on Westeros – and if the war between humans continues, that attack will be impossible to resist.

In this status report that catches you up on all the major players, you’ll find the intel you need to prepare for the four episodes that remain … and the winter that’s about to hit.

I wrote a quick and dirty rundown of the events of Game of Thrones’ season so far for Rolling Stone.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Four: “The Spoils of War”

August 8, 2017

In “The Spoils of War,” these irresolvable conflicts get cranked up to an even more unbearable level. Jaime is a repentant villain deep into his redemption arc. Bronn is a mercenary who won over characters and audience alike with his wit and wisdom. Dany is a messianic conqueror who’s saved countless lives; the very existence of her her magical beast Drogon is a miracle. How can anyone feel comfortable choosing sides? Sure, House Lannister are clearly the heels in this war, but a victory that reduces beloved characters to ash would be impossible to enjoy.

Writers creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and director Matt Shakman offer us precious little shelter from the zero-sum nature of this bloody game. Twice, they stage one-on-one conflicts between the major characters: First when Bronn stares down the beast with his massive “scorpion” crossbow; then when Jaime grabs a spear and charges the Khaleesi. These are shout-at-the-screen, cower-on-your-couch moments. Even though it appears everyone involved makes it out alive both times, it’s to the filmmakers’ credit that you feel inches away from the death of a credit-topping character during every second of screen time.

And if you’re afraid, hey, you’re not the only one. After all, nothing sells the menace of the horselords – their tactics based on the real-world Mongols, who cut through armies from China and India to Iraq and Eastern Europe like a hot knife through butter – or the shock-and-awe power of Dany’s pet monsters like seeing seasoned warriors like Jaime, Bronn, and Randyll Tarly (Sam’s tough-as-nails dad) scared completely shitless for minutes on end. It’s so rare for actor Jerome Flynn look anything but cocksure on this show that his panic during the assault should come with a trigger warning. Meanwhile, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has long been an undervalued member of the cast, but he powerfully conveys the Kingslayer’s terror, horror, and grief at watching his men get massacred. When he makes that almost-sure-to-be-fatal suicide run on Daenerys, it feels as much like his version of “suicide by cop” as a last-ditch effort to save the day.

I reviewed last night’s excellent episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 65!

August 1, 2017

Azor Ahai a Hound? (A Patreon Production)

The Pooch Who Was Promised! In this episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour, Sean & Stefan respond to the request of one of our $50-a-month Patreon subscribers, Ryan, to evaluate the odds that Azor Ahai Reborn is none other than Sandor “The Hound” Clegane. Working with material from both the books and the show, the illustrious co-hosts branch out from there to discuss the nature of this pivotal prophecy itself, their own preferred candidates for the messianic role, and what qualities we should look for in a savior. Hmm, is that salt and smoke in the air?

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“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Three: “The Queen’s Justice”

July 31, 2017

Game of Thrones sends a message. You can focus on worldly, bloody matters like revenge. Or you can make the leap of faith and focus on the lives of your fellow human beings. “People’s minds aren’t made for problems that large,” Tyrion frets. Almost in response, Bran Stark tells his sister “I can see everything that’s ever happened to everyone” — a mystical callback to the far more self-interested seven-dimensional-chess advice Sansa’s advisor Littlefinger gave her. Seek triumph, and you’re merely a killer. Seek solidarity, and … well, that’s not quite clear yet. But if winter is here, which of the two would you count on to turn back the cold?

I reviewed last night’s Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #8!

July 30, 2017

Moment 08 | Our POV Preferences

This month’s subscriber-only mini-podcast question, or questions plural, courtesy of the folks at DalyPlanetFilms: Who are our favorite POV characters, and which minor POV characters would we like to see more from in the final two volumes of A Song of Ice and Fire? As you might expect when the topic is “tell us stuff you like,” this was a fun BLAM to record. Thanks to the DPF guys, and thanks to everyone who subscribes to our Patreon at the $2 level to hear these Boiled Leather Audio Moments, at the $5 level to ask a question we’ll answer in an episode, and at the $10 level to ensure your question goes to the front of the queue!

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Game of Thrones’ Nathalie Emmanuel on Missandei and Grey Worm’s Sex Scene: ‘It Was So Much More Than Just Two People Making Love’

July 26, 2017

Grey Worm was reluctant to take off his clothes, but Missandei insisted, saying, “I want to see you.” It reminded me of a line from one of the show’s other most romantic scenes, when Jon Snow and Ygritte are in the cave in season three and she tells him, “I want you to see me.” They both demonstrate that when you take your clothes off in front of someone you care about, it’s not just about turning them on. It’s vulnerable.

It is. In fact, it’s a trust thing too: I want to see you, and I want you to see me in my most vulnerable state. I’m scared, but I’m here. It’s the most vulnerable place you can put yourself, essentially. And I think this is a unique thing. Everyone knows that intimacy can be so scary when it’s someone you care about, but it’s especially so for Grey Worm, because he’s in a unique situation with his mutilation. His letting her take his clothes off is such a huge deal, because he probably never considered himself able to be intimate or a lover for any woman. The fact that he loves her is huge for her. It just shows how true their connection is. It’s a really beautiful thing.

A lot of people just focus on the mechanical nature of consummating their love. I think people have to stop and consider what consummating their love entails for these two characters, because of the fact that Grey Worm has that injury. People consider the anatomy of it and the mechanical nature of it, so they forget the emotional weight of it for these two characters — to be that vulnerable with each other, considering where they came from. Grey Worm has the obvious situation of having been castrated. And Missandei touching a man out of love and care, and with intimacy … no doubt, from where she’s come from, any sexual contact she’s had has been forced upon her. So for them, this is a huge moment. Almost like they’re essentially doing it for the first time, like they’re virgins exploring each other’s bodies. It’s a huge thing.

It’s not to say that what they do physically is unimportant, but the real consummation of their love is, as you say, seeing each other.

It’s almost not physical, which is so lovely about it.

I was very happy to speak with Nathalie Emmanuel about Missandei and Grey Worm’s love scene in the most recent episode of Game of Thrones for Vulture.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Two: “Stormborn”

July 24, 2017

Back in the Citadel, Sam is continuing to break the rules that stand in the way of doing the right thing, this time by conducting a risky, and extremely disgusting, operation on Ser Jorah Mormont in an attempt to cure his greyscale infection. While Sam’s dad is off playing power politics with Cersei and Jaime, the son he rejected is risking his own life to save a stranger. “The lone wolf dies, but the pack survives” is a Stark saying, but this maester-in-training would no doubt recognize its wisdom.

So would Theon Greyjoy, but the tragedy is he can’t act on it. Sailing south to Dorne with his sister and the Sand Snakes in order to rally their army, he finds himself in the middle of a gruesome, fiery battle with his uncle Euron’s fleet. And when Yara falls into the pirate king’s clutches, his nephew flees rather than fight. It wasn’t long ago that she risked her life in an attempt to rescue him from a different sadistic captor; when the moment comes to return the favor, Theon leaps into the ocean instead. The sadness of it all is written on both siblings’ faces. There’s no neat redemption arc, no valiant sacrifice, no blaze of glory – just a broken man, drifting among the flotsam and jetsam as Euron’s victorious fleet sails away, one more piece of human wreckage. When Tyrion warned Daenerys’s allies against turning the Seven Kingdoms into a slaughterhouse, this is the kind of carnage he had in mind.

I reviewed last night’s surprisingly moving Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone. Theon and Yara, Missandei and Grey Worm, Arya and Hot Pie, Arya and Nymeria — beautiful work.

Game of Thrones’ John Bradley Reveals What Was Actually Inside Those Bedpans: ‘Soaking-Wet Fruitcake’

July 20, 2017

Before we tackle the big issues, I’ve got to ask: What was in those bedpans?

Well, if you want to re-create human feces onscreen, the best thing to do is to use soaking-wet fruitcake and mold it into the shape of turds. The thing about wet fruitcake is, when you see it for the first time at 6:30 in the morning, it’s fresh. But when you get to 5 in the afternoon and you’ve been shooting all day, and the wet fruitcake has been in the water and under the hot lights all day, it starts to become only slightly less unpleasant than the real thing.

I recently found out, because our producer Bryan Cogman reminded me on Twitter, that while I was shooting that sequence on my own over five days, the rest of the cast were at the Emmys! They were on the red carpet in L.A. while I was on my own in Belfast, dry-heaving and pretending to scrape shit out of the bedpan. The balance is a little bit off here.

You’re like Sam, sacrificing for the greater good.

Yeah, though I was even less happy about it than Sam seemed to be. I totally forgot they were even there! I think they tried to make me forget, and not notice this kind of injustice writ large. [Laughs.]

But no, I needed to be able to shoot that sequence. It was so fragmented in those little five-second shots, so I didn’t get a sense of the overall shape until I saw it all edited together, but I knew it was going to be something special. It’s something that was never quite done on Game of Thrones. We’d never done an edited montage like that. It’s a comic set piece with such a different kind of flavor that it took people by surprise. I love the fact that we are able to take risks, because we do abandon the formula and introduce new elements and styles to it.

I think that’s why people keep coming back. Even after six seasons and 60 hours of TV, you never know quite what to expect. That could be a character dying or a pivotal plot development, or just a funny little montage they weren’t expecting. There’s so much scope to surprise people, and it’s something that Game of Thrones mines very thoroughly, and always has.

I interviewed John Bradley about Samwell Tarly, bravery, morality, and fake poop for Vulture. It’s been a while since I’ve interviewed someone from the show, but my streak of discovering that every single cast member has put a great deal of thought into their character, their performance, and the world they inhabit remains unbroken here.  Anyway, I’m psyched to be speaking to the cast and crew of the show for Vulture throughout the season, just like I did for Rolling Stone back in the day.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode One: “Dragonstone”

July 17, 2017

“Shall we begin?”

Seven hells, yes! After a longer-than-ever wait between seasons (for a smaller than ever run of episodes) Game of Thrones has returned – and so, for that matter, has. Daenerys Targaryen, heir to Aegon the Conqueror and rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms. The Mother of Dragons has finally touched down on her ancestral soil to reclaim what was once hers. The premiere of the show’s more-anxiously-anticipated-than-ever seventh season, entitled “Dragonstone,” concludes with a five-and-a-half minute wordless sequence depicting her arrival at the island fortress that gives the episode its title. When Dany utters those three words and the show smash-cuts to the closing credits, the message is clear: The game is on at last.

Not that the waiting for winter to come was ever boring. If it’s a neatly summarized story you want, one that proceeds neatly from beginning to end with no detours or delays, read a wikipedia article. The fact is that without the preceding six seasons’ many twists and turns, few of this premiere’s many beats would have an iota of their impact.

[…]

Yet despite the cast of dozens (seriously, we haven’t even touched Samwell Tarly‘s bedpan-and-broth montage, or Bran Stark‘s arrival at the Wall), the real protagonist of this episode is the audience. From the very first season’s inuagural scene, we’ve known the White Walkers were coming – and from that season’s parting shot, we knew dragons had been born. For over half a decade we’ve simply waited for the pieces to come together, while countless characters fought and died in ignorance of the big picture. How fitting, then, for this episode to feature not one but two gigantic maps – the boards on which the game of thrones is played. We’re getting closer and closer to the moment when the major players see the whole thing for what it really is.

Indeed, like the small-scale replicas of the Seven Kingdoms studied by Dany and Cersei, “Dragonstone” was the Season One model in miniature. After Arya’s lethal prologue, the main action began with the march of the Night King and his army of zombies, and ended with the arrival of the Mother of Dragons and her reptilian children. The show has essentially scripted our anticipation of this grand convergence from day one – a huge difference from basically every single other great show of the era, which kept audiences guessing at the endgame. Game of Thrones is designed to make us the greatest players of all. We’re finally beginning to reap the rewards.

I reviewed the premiere of Game of Thrones Season Seven for Rolling Stone. 

The 25 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Episodes – Updated

July 14, 2017

2. “Hardhome” (Season 5, Episode 8)

Bran Stark’s plunge, Ned Stark’s death, the Red Viper’s skull-crushing, Jon Snow’s assassination – all of them take a back seat to this episodewhen it comes to shocking the entire Game of Thrones audience. With no precedent in George R.R. Martin’s novels, which merely allude to a cataclysm at the titular village without giving us a clue what happened, “Hardhome” stunned book-readers and TV-viewers alike. After an ominous buildup, the armies of the dead descended on Night’s Watch and wildling forces alike in a literal avalanche of walking corpses, guided by the demonic Night King. As Jon Snow sailed away from a legion of zombified humans, the true menace of the White Walkers was made unbearably clear.

I re-ranked the 25 best episodes of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.

The 40 Best ‘Game of Thrones’ Characters — Ranked and Updated

July 13, 2017

37. Wun-Wun

He was a giant among men. Literally. Wun-Wun was the only member of his ancient, towering race to survive the wildlings’ battles against White Walkers, Night’s Watchmen and Stannis Baratheon alike – as well as the only one to cross south to supposed safety beyond the Wall. He wound up battling fiercely for the cause of his one-time enemy Jon Snow, giving his life to defeat Ramsay Bolton and defend the North against its many enemies. He may not have been human, but he was one hell of a guy.

I ranked the 40 Best Game of Thrones characters for Rolling Stone. It’s a very different list than it was when I first wrote one of these a few years ago!

‘Game of Thrones’: Everything You Need to Know for Season 7

July 7, 2017

When you play the game of thrones, you learn to expect the unexpected. But even so, the previous season of Game of Thrones did something totally unprecedented in the history of HBO’s blockbuster show: It got less complicated from start to finish, not more.

Yes, we are nearing the endgame, which means a whole lot of major players got knocked off the board last year. Now the unholy trinity of King in the North Jon Snow, Queen of the Seven Kingdoms Cersei Lannister and Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen are in undisputed charge of their respective realms. Meanwhile, north of the Wall, the menace of the White Walkers and their eternal winter draws ever closer. This is the real war that all these minor squabbles between rival human factions have done nothing but enable.

And if the true enemy is about to reveal itself, you won’t wanna go into battle without good intel, right? That’s where we come in. Below you’ll find a region-by-region rundown of where everyone and everything stands prior to the start of the new season on Sunday, July 16th. The royals and their retinues, the human and the superhuman, the living and the dead – you’ll find all the info you need, and then some, before winter falls for good.

The annual tradition continues: I wrote a cheat sheet for Game of Thrones Season 7 for Rolling Stone.

Thought Leader

June 30, 2017

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I really couldn’t ask for a more delightful criticism of my Game of Thrones Evil Rankings than Ross Douthat defending the High Sparrow

Every Major Game of Thrones Character, Ranked From Good to Evil

June 29, 2017

Jon Snow
A reformer with results. Ned Stark’s (alleged) bastard rose from the ranks to become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, then rose from the dead after his underlings murdered him for being too humane to their lifelong enemies, the wildlings. He then helped liberate the North from the bloody grasp of House Bolton. He’s also a generous lover (“You know nothing, Jon Sn — oh!”), a secret Targaryen prince, and most likely the messiah.

Sansa Stark
There’s a line in George R.R. Martin’s books about how alone among the Baratheon brothers, Robert was “the true steel,” strong and sharp and flexible and durable. Out of the Stark siblings, Sansa is the true steel. She’s shaken off a short lifetime of sexist princess stories, survived the lethal court intrigues of King’s Landing, weathered the untoward attentions of Littlefinger and the Hound, outlived her rapist Ramsay Bolton, and saved her brother Jon’s life. It’s possible that Petyr Baelish may win her over to the dark side, but until that happens, she’s on the side of the angels.

Eddard Stark
Ned is dead, but he didn’t deserve to be. He made moral compromises over the course of his life, from lying to his wife Catelyn and everyone else about Jon’s parentage (including Jon himself) to playing the game of thrones alongside his dissolute old friend King Robert. But in the end, he sacrificed his honor to save his daughters’ lives. It’s not his fault that Cersei, Joffrey, and Littlefinger repaid his kindness with a knife in the back and a sword through the neck.

93 Shades of Gray: Because I am insane, I ranked every major Game of Thrones character in ascending order of evilness for Vulture. This trio of faves is on the good end of the spectrum.

The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #7

June 16, 2017

Moment 07: Bran and the Time Travel Effect

On this month’s subscriber-only Boiled Leather Audio Moment, we’re going back…to the future! Okay, not really—that’s sort of the point of the discussion. In our first-ever BLAM available at our new $2 reward level, Sean & Stefan answer a question from listener Max B. about whether recent events on the Game of Thrones adaptation indicate that Bran Stark, everyone’s favorite paraplegic telepath, will have an increasingly dramatic effect on past events in the world of the story. Paradoxes abound, and to borrow Ser Barristan’s unfortunate phrasing we slice through them like a knife through cheese. Hit that $2 subscription button, then press play!

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The Boiled Leather Audio Hour Episode 63!

May 31, 2017

BLAH 63 | Our Favorite Fantasies

“What other fantasy books do you like?” It’s one of our most frequently asked questions, and in this month’s episode of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour, we’re answering it? Sean and Stefan tackle the works of J.R.R. Tolkien, R.A. Salvatore, Lloyd Alexander, Ursula K. Le Guin, Susan Cooper, David Gemmell, and Robert E. Howard (with detours into Dungeons & Dragons and H.P. Lovecraft) in a wide-ranging discussion about the fantasy authors and series that they enjoyed as kids, as grown-ups, or both, and what (if anything) separates one from the other. This is a fun one, if we may be so bold. Enjoy!

DOWNLOAD EPISODE 63

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The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #6!

May 31, 2017

Moment 06: Renly Baratheon: Threat or Menace?

On this all-new installment of our subscriber-only mini-podcast, we’re examining the character of one Renly Baratheon, courtesy of listener John Spinella. Was his move to cut ahead of his older brother Stannis in the line to the Iron Throne the ethical and political disaster many observers have said, or has dying before we could learn how he would really rule earned him a bad rap? Subscribe, listen, and find out!