The [Insert Noun Here] At [Insert Location]

The other day I was driving through southern Pennsylvania when I saw a billboard for one of those condominium/retirement community developments.  The name of the place was “The Views at Bridgewater.”  What kind of views, I wondered?  I didn’t know, and I wasn’t going to stop to find out.  But I did notice, once again, what seems to be an alarmingly ubiquitous trend in naming new real estate projects.

english_word_22the22In the old days, a developer would have simply called the new project “Bridgewater,” but at some point a marketing genius decided that adding “the” and a one-word description would be much more attractive to potential buyers.  Maybe using the specifying “the” is thought to give the development a more distinctive feel.  Whatever the reason, this same naming convention seems to have been adopted by every real estate developer in America.  It’s always “The” followed by a noun identifying a physical feature followed by “at” followed by a location.  So, if somebody were to develop a condo project in the Westeros world of Game of Thrones, it inevitably would have a name like “The Walls at Casterly Rock” or “The Cliffs at Dragonstone.”  And if this naming convention had been developed before Seinfeld was broadcast, his parents would have lived in “The Units at Del Boca Vista” instead.

And just as disturbingly ubiquitous is the overuse of periods in advertising real estate developments.  Every “mixed use” development seems to feature “Live.  Work.  Play.” somewhere in its brochures and billboards.  Why the periods, rather than commas?  Probably because somebody did tests with a focus group, and decided that periods were more definitive and therefore more compelling.

Do these marketing approaches work with the average American?  They must, because they’re everywhere.  English teachers undoubtedly cringe at the overuse of one-word sentences, but at the same time feel a certain welling sense of pride that words and punctuation can be the difference between a successful real estate venture and an outright failure.

As for me, I’ll just continue to “Breathe.  Eat.  Blog.” here at “The Brickwork at German Village.”

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Immersion, Or Calculated Exposure

The other day someone asked why I wasn’t writing more about the latest episode in the ongoing Trump Administration Train Wreck in Washington, D.C.  I’m not sure exactly which deplorable event triggered the question — and I guess that’s the problem, isn’t it?

There are so many appalling, clumsy, bumbling, disgraceful, weird, inept, and dispiriting things happening in Washington, D.C. and the country these days that you could write about the misadventures of the President and his ever-changing team all day, every day.  And some people pretty much do exactly that.  They’ve become immersed in the failures and struggles and cheap insults and ill-advised statements and revel in addressing them and talking about them.

Then there are those of us, like me, who just don’t have limitless capacity for outrage and who like to think there is more to their lives than President Twitter.  I care about what’s happening, of course, but with everything else I’ve got going right now I just can’t deal with it 24 hours a day.  I don’t want the fact that Donald Trump is the President of the United States to permanently change my personality, or my outlook on life, or my relations with family, friends, and colleagues.  So I’m going with the calculated exposure approach.  I’ll try to keep track of the latest firestorm, but when it comes to really engaging with things I’m going to pick my spots.

We had some friends over on Saturday night, and as the evening ended I found myself thinking how great it was that HBO is airing the new season of Game of Thrones right now.  Why?  Because it gives us safe, neutral ground for talking about something other than Trump and politics.  Because it seems like pretty much everybody is watching the show, you can have an enjoyable conversation about most hated characters or best battle scenes or regrettable deaths, and nobody is going to get really angry because you identify Ser Davos Seaworth rather than Arya Stark as your favorite character.  It was great to be able to freely talk about something without worrying that someone was going to touch some third rail in the conversation that would leave people feeling upset.

For me, at least, there’s a lot more to the world than Donald Trump.

GOT Breakfast In The Making

It’s another beautiful Sunday morning, and the bright, uncommonly temperate weather can’t help but stimulate the appetite and put thoughts of Sunday breakfast in my head.  But, since another episode of Game of Thrones is in the offing, what kind of breakfast could help to stimulate a Westerosi mindset as well?  

Our local grocer doesn’t sell wild boar meat or unskinned rabbit, so a little improvisation is in order.  We’ll go for eggs and turkey bacon — the better to remind us of those unfortunate dragon-sizzled Lannister bannermen — some juicy fruit to simulate rivers of blood, and a cantaloupe that will allow me to get out a sharp implement and start flailing away with some satisfying thunks and hackings as I separate flesh from skin.  Put some onion in the eggs to acknowledge Ser Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, and you’ve got a feast worthy of Winterfell.

Dragons On The Wing

The current season of Game of Thrones is moving forward at a breakneck pace.  So many big-picture things are happening, it’s easy to forget parts of the story and to overlook the smaller, more evocative scenes that might be giving us some foreknowledge of things soon to come.

We’ve seen the rise of Euron Greyjoy and the further emasculation of sad sack Theon, the obliteration of the sand snakes, Stark after Stark returning to Winterfell, and Sam’s gross yet awesome surgical capabilities.  (Who knew that being a capable doctor just means following a set of written instructions?)  We’ve seen Cersei and Jaime throwing caution to the winds about their incestuous relationship, a bunch of long-anticipated first meetings and reunions, Tyrion’s sketchy abilities as general and war planner, and Bran’s creepy new three-eyed raven personality.  (No wonder the former three-eyed raven became part of a tree.  What living Westerosian would want to hang around with these guys?)  And maybe, just maybe, Littlefinger has maneuvered himself onto Arya’s shrinking death list.

dragon-from-game-of-thrones-season-7And last night, we saw dragons.

Sure, we’ve seen the dragons before, ripping people to shreds, hissing and terrorizing.  But last night, in the fantastic battle of the loot caravan, we finally saw what dragons can do on the battlefield . . . and it’s chilling.  With Daenerys in the dragon saddle, Drogon laid waste to huge chunks of the Lannister forces, leaving dozens of the bannermen of the lion lit up like screaming, flailing torches and turning the wagons of golden booty into melted hells.  Game of Thrones has shown us some epic battles, from the Battle of the Blackwater to the Battle of the Bastards, but last night’s dragon-blasting war scene was the best one yet, a hold-your-breath, what’s-going-to-happen-next jawdropper.   And with the show having no problem with knocking off characters, who knew if Jaime was going to survive his brave yet foolhardy charge at the wounded Drogon and Daenerys?

I’m not sure what I want to see more:  Cersei killed by being immolated in dragon fire, or Cersei killed by the combined talents of Arya and Sansa and the other remaining members of the Stark clam.  Until last night, I would have chosen the latter, but fully knowing what agony befalls the victims of dragon fire is making it a closer call.  And I think it’s high time to introduce the Night King and his staggering, lurching army of the undead to a little taste of what dragons can do, too.

Game of Thrones has gotten so good, with so many interesting things happening to so many characters, it’s painful to contemplate that it’s not going to be on forever.  But for now, we can relish the wonder of dragons — and rewatch the episodes, to make sure we aren’t missing anything.

Go Westeros, Young Man

Like everyone else in America, I watched the first episode of the new season of Game of Thrones last night.  It was good to see the old gang again.

I loved the first scene of the new season, but then I candidly just can’t get enough of Arya Stark killing the Freys.  In fact, I’m really kind of sad that she’s apparently ruthlessly murdered every figure in the Frey clan, from creepy Walder on down to the most obscure cousin once removed.  I’m almost hoping that we’ll discover some rump branch of the Frey family, so that she’ll have the chance to gut or poison them, too.

lyanna-mormont-gotArya was just part of the Stark Ascendant theme that’s playing out in Westeros these days.  With Arya gleefully knocking off Freys and now heading south to take on Queen Cersei, Jon Snow and Sansa ruling in the north and training every man, woman, and child to fight the White Walkers, and eyeball-rolling Bran finally on the Westeros side of the wall, we’re seeing the best days for the Starks since poor Ned lost his head.  Unfortunately, there’s already friction between Jon and Sansa, and it doesn’t look like the remaining members of the Starks will have a family reunion — at least, not yet — but it’s good to see the Starks back as a force, even if it probably will only be temporary.  And with the considerable support of the formidable Lyanna Mormont, who isn’t afraid to call out and face down every aging, bearded windbag leader of a northern house who punked out on the Starks in their time of need, who’s to say that the Starks can’t win in the great game?  If I were going to war, I’d definitely want the awesome Lyanna Mormont on my side.

As far as the great game goes, the pieces are all in position.  Cersei’s got her ally in the Iron Islanders and their horny leader, Daenerys has finally reached Westeros with her dragons, her Dothraki horde, and especially Tyrion behind her, the White Walkers are on the move south, and we haven’t even heard yet what the House of Dorne and the Martells are going to do to stir up trouble.  For now, we can just appreciate the fact that there are unoccupied castles, like Dragonstone, handy and available for the taking if one of the players decides they can use a forbidding base of operations.

I hadn’t realized how much I was looking forward to the new season until I watched the first episode and enjoyed seeing these familiar characters and their fictional world once again.  Now, if only we could get the next book in the series out of George R.R. Martin . . . .

Finally, All On The Same Chessboard

Last night’s Game of Thrones season finale was so chock full of quick cuts and action that the show ran 10 minutes longer than usual, and you almost needed to take notes to keep track of the developments.  But the upshot is that everybody is back in Westeros, or at least well on their way there, accompanied by flapping dragons overhead.  That means we’re heading toward a colossal confrontation next season.

051d9f9d686043c4_pro23-xxxlarge-1Watching the episode, I almost felt like the show’s creators wanted to be sure to touch every major character, and every major setting, at least once.  So we got to see Cersei exact her revenge on the High Sparrow and his acolytes, as well as Margaery Tyrell and her brother and father, by blasting the Great Sept of Baelor to kingdom come.  Of course, Cersei being Cersei, her triumph came at a cost, as decent King Tommen hurled himself from the Red Keep.  So, the old crone’s prophecy was right — all of Cersei’s children are dead.  That didn’t keep Cersei from somehow crowning herself queen, however.  And we also got to see that Cersei is moving well into dear departed Ramsay Bolton territory on the sadism scale, by letting what’s left of The Mountain have his way with Septa Unella, the burly, grim-faced nun who sternly shamed Cersei last year.

In the north, Jon Snow and Sansa have gotten back onto the same page.  Sansa has rebuffed Littlefinger’s creepy and huskily stated attentions — so far, at least, but he’s a pretty persistent guy — and thanks to the gutsy young girl leading House Mormont, Jon Snow has been crowned King of the North by acclamation.  (Wait . . . seriously?  Another King of the North?)  Even more shocking, Bran’s ability to see the past through heart trees has clued us in that Jon is not Ned Stark’s bastard son at all, but rather the son of Ned’s sister Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryen.  Since Rhaegar is Daenerys Targaryen’s older brother, that means The Unburnt and the Mother of Dragons is Jon Snow’s aunt.  It’s all pretty confusing, and sets up next season for some further reveals on what happened to start Robert’s Rebellion so long ago.

What else?  Well, Sam’s in the library of the Citadel.  Ser Davos got Jon Snow to throw the child-burning Melisandre out of the north.  Benjen’s brought Bran and his gal pal back to The Wall.  Jaime threw a few insults at Walder Frey and got back to King’s Landing in time to see his beloved sister crowned as queen.  Daenerys cut loose her paramour.  Grandma Tyrell made it to Dorne in time to hush the brash sand snakes and start to plot her revenge against Queen Cersei with the assistance of Varys — who really is getting around these days.  And speaking of getting around, Arya Stark made it from Braavos to the Twins in the blink of an eye and, using those skills learned in service of the Many-Faced God, got to scratch old Walder Frey off of her to-do list.  About the only people we didn’t check in on were Ser Jorah Mormont and his battle against greyscale and Brienne of Tarth.

The episode ended with Daenerys, and Tyrion, and the Unsullied, and the Dothraki horde, and her dragons, in full sail toward Westeros, where she will try to wrest the Iron Throne from Cersei’s cold, dead hands.  So, after long forays into Meereen, and Braavos, and the Dothraki plains, all of the main characters are finally coming back to the Westeros chessboard.

Oh, yeah, and one other thing:  The Citadel has announced that, as the Starks have long warned, winter has finally come.  We may as well start to get ready now for some undead White Walker action when next April rolls around.

Moving Too Far, Too Fast

We all knew that, this season, Game of Thrones the TV show would move past Game of Thrones, the books.  What I didn’t fully appreciate was how far, and how fast, the TV series would progress.

game-of-thrones-season-3-osha-630x355One of the most enjoyable things about the books in my view has been the deliberate pacing.  The stories have taken a long time to unfold, and in the meantime we got to revel in the sigils of the minor houses and what kind of elaborate food was being served at a banquet and the colors and cut of the doublet of some obscure lord who appeared briefly and then vanished from the storyline.  With the TV show, there’s none of that.  Major characters come and go and get knocked off at breakneck pace.

I hate it that characters I really liked are being killed right and left — like the wildling woman who watched after Bran and Rickon after Theon Greyjoy conquered Winterfell — but mostly I’m concerned that the story is just moving too darned fast.  In the George R.R. Martin world, it would have taken 300 succulent pages to get to the point of Daenerys torching the leaders of the Dothraki, and Sansa and Jon Snow resolving to march on Winterfell and try to kill the execrable Ramsay Bolton, but in the series it takes only an episode and a half.  How far are we going to get in the story line this year, anyway?

And that’s the big issue for me.  Much as I think the TV is great, I like the books even better.  What’s going to be left of the plot when this year’s episodes are over?  And if George R.R. Martin doesn’t bring out the next volume until next year’s episodes air, the disconnect is just going to be too much.

Slow down, HBO!