Tag Archives: George R.R. Martin

Game of Thrones – “The Rains of Castamere”

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“The Rains of Castamere”

June 2nd, 2013

“The closer you get, the worse the fear gets.”

Every season of Game of Thrones has built to a big event in the season’s ninth episode. As a result, the end of each season has continually created a conflict between those who have read the books and those who haven’t: the pattern means that both parties know the season is building to something major, but only those who have read the books know what that is. This wouldn’t be as much of a problem if those people didn’t really, really want to talk about it.

In the first season, I would say fans mostly tried to keep quiet about Ned Stark’s death. The first season hinged on Ned’s story, and the initial shock of his beheading gave the show its big hook that could make casual viewers into fans and help sustain the show moving forward. In the second season, the Battle of Blackwater Bay was a fairly spoiler-free form of anticipation, as there’s nothing to really spoil: no one major dies, Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing is never kept a secret, and the episode was more about execution than surprise (and well-executed it was).

The third season was always going to be the problem. The “Red Wedding” has been on the tips of readers’ tongues since they read the books, considered by most to be the definitive moment in the series. It’s the moment that makes Ned’s death look like just a drop in the bucket, and the clearest evidence of George R.R. Martin’s wanton disregard for his own characters and their happiness. From the time the show first sprung into existence, this has been the moment that book readers were waiting for, and by the time it arrived in the third season there was no longer any concern about letting viewers engage with the series on their own terms out of fear for its future. This season has all been a buildup to this moment, to the point where the phrase “Red Wedding” was something that even those who tried to avoid spoilers were probably familiar with because readers could not contain themselves.

“The Rains of Castamere” arrives with intense expectation, and like many other book readers I sat through the episode with a slightly higher heart rate. As much as I think the fans went too far in proliferating the use of “Red Wedding” and hyping this particular episode as noteworthy, thus providing non-readers enough information to potentially spoil the episode’s conclusion, I can understand why they were excited, and felt that excitement in the moments leading up to the episode and throughout. This is as intense an hour of television that Game of Thrones will produce over the course of its run, and I’d argue it’s a particularly well-executed adaptation that makes some smart choices to salt the wounds left behind by this most storied of literary–and now televisual—weddings.

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Game of Thrones – “The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

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“The Bear and the Maiden Fair”

May 12th, 2013

“How do the men holding the banners fight?”

I’m always interested by what online conversation refers to as “Filler” episodes. By all accounts, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” fits the bill as far as I understand it: no major events take place, a lot of storylines are merely ways of reminding us of what’s about to happen and the stakes for those involved, and there’s not that big triumphant moment that takes the story in a new direction.

As a result, “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” never evolves into a particularly exciting hour of television, content mostly to sketch out the boundaries of the season’s storylines in preparation for the oncoming climax. In the hands of A Song of Ice and Fire author George R.R. Martin, the hour functions not unlike the dominant narratives of his books: a lot of people talking about doing something or going somewhere or being someone. At times cheeky in its references to future book material, the episode mostly settles for a sort of muddled clarity, a promise that there is a future even while acknowledging it to be a dark and complicated one.

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Game of Thrones – “Blackwater”

“Blackwater”

May 27th, 2012

“The worst ones always live.”

The discourse around this week’s episode of Game of Thrones has been fascinating to watch. For fans of the series, particularly those with familiarity with George R. R. Martin’s novels, “Blackwater” was always going to be the season’s high point: scripted by Martin himself, and focusing on a large-scale battle central to A Clash of Kings (and A Song of Ice and Fire as a whole), no fan of the series needed to be convinced to tune into this particular hour.

And yet HBO has very much promoted the episode as though people needed convincing. Press were alerted to an extended promo in advance of last week’s episode, an interview with producers Benioff and Weiss hit Entertainment Weekly as soon as “The Prince of Winterfell” concluded, and the Game of Thrones twitter account has been pushing the “#Blackwater” hashtag throughout the week, retweeting responses from those anticipating the episode.

I’ve found all of this fascinating because this feels strange when promoting the ninth episode of the second season of a television show. While this promotion serves the show’s fanbase, building further anticipation and increasing engagement and attachment to the series among those fans (as the Twitter account aims to do every week), it seems hard to imagine that the expanded discourse around this episode would convince anyone who hasn’t seen the previous eighteen episodes to tune into this one. HBO’s promotions have positioned “Blackwater” as “Event Television”—or perhaps “Event NOT Television” if we want to get take their slogan at its word—rather than simply an eventful episode of Game of Thrones, placing further expectation on an episode that was already burdened with both fan anticipation and the narrative pressure of serving as the season’s penultimate hour.

“Blackwater” answers these expectations by steering away from most of them. Isolating Stannis’ attack on King’s Landing and the storylines found within the city, the series tells a contained story about a war and the people who fight it. It would be a dangerous move if the episode had disappointed on that front, abandoning the other half-dozen narrative threads left hanging at the end of last week’s hour, but “Blackwater” is a tense, thrilling hour of television that lives up to its event billing and delays—rather than interrupting—the narrative climaxes which will now carry into next week’s finale.

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A Gloss of Thrones: Game of Thrones – The Complete First Season [Blu-ray Review]

It is now widely accepted that the way we watch television is a variable – if you’re reading this, chances are that I don’t have to regale you with the myriad ways we can now watch the programming we’ve historically viewed live in primetime, and so I can keep my big “DVRs, Streaming, and Bears, Oh My!” song and dance in my pocket for the time being.

However, I would argue that Game of Thrones represents a specifically complicated television text in this regard. Like all shows, there are questions of how it played on a week-to-week basis compared to how it would play as a marathon, questions that partly inspired the tremendous discourse around television narrative spurred on by Ryan McGee’s essay at The A.V. Club. However, in addition, the variables of consumption around the show are equally divided by the nature of its source material, with perhaps the clearest binary between “reader” and “non-reader” in television history. The result, I would argue, is a complex, diverse audience base who watches the show from different perspectives which make it difficult to generalize regarding what attracts them to a DVD or Blu-ray box set.

However, with Game of Thrones‘ Complete First Season (which I reviewed on Blu-ray), I really think HBO has succeeded in creating a set that has more than a little something for everyone, worth the price of admission for both readers and non-readers alike (along with those who are watching for the first time, for whom this set is a tremendous introduction). The production values are exceptional, the features are fairly plentiful, and the set fits comfortably into the quality aesthetics that both the show itself and the earlier paratexts achieved last year.

And yet, while I can easily recommend this set based on its own merits, there’s still some part of me who was left wanting, if not something more, than perhaps something different.

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Cultural Reading: George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons [Review, w/ Spoilers]

There are a number of ways in which George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons has been defined by its circumstances rather than the text itself.

It became almost a book of prophecy, initially intended to arrive soon after the last book (A Feast for Crows) but then entering into an endless series of delays. It was promised but never delivered, all the more problematic given that it was meant to hold the answers we had been waiting for. It was positioned as the second half of a larger whole, a continuation of a novel now over a decade old, and on some level an apology for a novel that some felt moved too far astray from the story they wanted to see.

The book’s challenge, in true fact, has nothing to do with these circumstances; in fact, the book’s greatest challenge is making it seem as if these circumstances do not even exist. More than ever before, Martin’s task is to get us lost in the world of Westeros and the lands beyond the Narrow Sea, to make us forget that we haven’t visited them for what based on some commentary has been an eternity. While the novel’s intertextual links to the book’s predecessors will remain, a reminder of what expectations have been placed before the text, it would be unfortunate if this book felt like an “answer” in any fashion. It instead needs to feel like its own statement, a statement not in response to criticism but in defiance to expectation.

I’d argue that Martin has managed this task. Although the novel’s odd position results in some issues with balance, strong thematic ties bind these stories together and fall into familiar rhythms that only gather more momentum as the book hurdles along. It is satisfying in every way I wanted it to be, and dissatisfying in every way that Martin intended it to be, ending on a note of utter disarray that nonetheless makes the novel (and its predecessor) feel whole.

I wrote all of this before diving into the discussion of the novel online, discussion that then made me incredibly self-conscious about the above. Now, it isn’t that I started to doubt my opinion: my reaction to the book has not changed upon reading these comments, and in some ways I feel more confident now then I did a week ago (when I liveblogged my reading experience). However, I have become wary of writing a larger review when it appears inevitable that I will be positioned as an apologist for having no large-scale problems with the narrative that Martin has put forward. I have my complaints, some of which I’ve seen bandied about, but the central complaints I’m reading about the novel are things that never really occurred to me.

It reminds me of when both Battlestar Galactica and Lost had their divisive series finales, both of which I enjoyed even while I had my quibbles with each. I’d be discussing the Lost finale with someone who hated it, who felt it shit on everything they loved about the show, and I’d sit there explaining why I felt absolutely none of those emotions and was satisfied. After having numerous such discussions, it became clear that we simply viewed the story differently, were watching for different things and for different reasons.

So when it came time to sit down and truly tackle A Dance with Dragons, it started with a question I didn’t want to be asking: could it be that I have been reading A Song of Ice and Fire wrong all this time?

[NOTE: There will be NO HOLDS BARRED spoilers for the entire novel. Admittedly, I’m vague about some details and probably won’t ruin every twist and turn, but I’m still forbidding anyone intending on reading A Dance with Dragons from reading.]

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Cultural Reading: George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons

The last book I purchased on the day of its release was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, fitting given Friday’s release of the final installment of the film adaptations of that series.

I remember going to my local grocery store early in the morning and picking up a copy, and then returning home to do nothing but read for the remainder of the day. I finished that book in just eight hours of reading, writing a live blog and a full review by the time the day was done.

That did not happen with George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons. Yes, I went out to get the book early in the morning, and I returned home and spent most of the day reading. However, this is not a book that can be consumed properly in a single day (at least for me), and it’s also something that I feel less comfortable evaluating as I read along. A few people have tweeted asking me for my opinion, but this particular book sort of confounds our traditional evaluation methods for literature.

This is mainly because the book is functioning as a chronological sequel to one book and a narrative sequel to another: despite coming after A Feast for Crows, it is picking up from A Storm of Swords. While I reread the end of A Storm of Swords to refresh myself on where we last left these narratives, there are nonetheless parts of A Dance with Dragons that pick up on story threads that were vaguely referenced in A Feast for Crows, which draws attention to the parallel narratives unfolding.

I don’t raise these as flaws so much as complications, especially to trying to offer initial impressions. While I am certainly enjoying the book, I sort of hesitate to make any broader statements given the myriad of variables within the current narrative structure. However, since many of you have asked for some thoughts on the novel and because shutting off my critical instincts for an entire 1100-page tome is nigh impossible, I plan on dropping in with some daily thoughts on my progress. Nothing evaluative, and nothing too complicated, but just a dialogue.

One ground rule, though: do not, under any circumstance, discuss or even gesture towards things I have not yet read. I’m going to include the page number that I am on, and I don’t want any details or even vague references to future events. I don’t even want “Oh, just you wait” style comments. I realize this could limit discussion, but I want to try to remain spoiler-free for the book, and I currently know extremely little about where the story is heading (or, rather, I know only what the book has led me to believe).

[Note: Spoilers for A Dance with Dragons, up to page 306, after the jump.]

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Season Finale: Game of Thrones – “Fire and Blood”

“Fire and Blood”

June 19th, 2011

“There you will see what life is worth when all the rest is gone.”

Earlier this week, I rewatched last week’s penultimate episode, “Baelor,” with my brother who was seeing it for the first time. Generally, I’ve been watching Game of Thrones alone, and any interaction with other viewers has been done online (or, if done in person, was done with people who I had previously interacted with online). For the first time, I was sitting in the same room as another viewer as we watched the show, and the experience made clear what I had known from the beginning but had never seen quite so clearly visible: Game of Thrones is a show that every single viewer likely considers differently.

It is not just that we can separate between readers and non-readers, although that is certainly the most obvious distinction to be made. Rather, we need to also consider questions of genre, gender, sexual content, race, and other qualities which have been called into question over the course of the season: regardless of whether I individually had concerns with the show’s use of fantasy, or its sexposition, or the Othering of the Dothraki, the fact is that those concerns existed, and have created a divisive response even among those who generally like the show.

In a piece earlier this week, friend of the blog Cory Barker wrote about his ambivalence towards the series, and kept trying to find reasons for it within the text. While his process was enlightening, he couldn’t find the silver bullet: there was no one part of the show that was creating a lack of an emotional connection. How we view the series can be defined by issues like genre which are inherent to the text itself, or issues like viewing patterns which are entirely extratextual but can define one’s experience with the text. My brother, for example, watched the season on a staggered schedule of short marathons, while my parents watched it on a weekly basis; as a result, they remembered different things, retaining different parts of the show that were highlighted by their personal experience with the text.

I raise all of these points because after a season of open interpretation, at least for those who hadn’t read the books, there is something almost prescriptive about “Fire and Blood.” While “Baelor” delivered a fatal twist, and suggested a certain degree of carnage to come in the weeks ahead, “Fire and Blood” steps back to serve as a more traditional denouement, laying out the various threads which will be followed into a second season. Rightly treating the fate of Ned Stark as the season’s climax, it seeks to explore the scenario that Mirri Maz Duur lays out to Dany early in the episode: what is the worth of each of these characters and these storylines in light of recent events? It’s a moment where the show actually has to step forward and proclaim its identity in order to convince the skeptics that this is a show worth watching, and to convince the believers that their faith has not been misplaced as the show transitions into the next stage of its narrative.

“Fire and Blood” doesn’t beat around the bush: it shows its hand from its bloody opening to its fiery conclusion, laying out a pretty detailed framework for what the second season of the show will look like. However, it never feels like an artificial framework, and that sense of interpretation never disappears even as the storyline becomes less open-ended. Serving as a fitting bookend to what I personally feel was a very strong first season, “Fire and Blood” reinforces central themes and delivers on what matters most: reminding us why these characters are following the path they’re on, and informing us why we want to follow that path next season.

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