The GOT Countdown

On April 14, HBO will broadcast the first episode of Season 8, the final season of Game of Thrones.  All dedicated, borderline-obsessed GOT fans will then have the chance to savor six new episodes that will wrap up the TV version of the story of the Targaryens, Lannisters, and Starks.  (Don’t even get me started on when we might get the next installment of George R.R. Martin’s book series that launched the TV show, which has been the subject of almost as much speculation as the Mueller Report.)

jon_snow_and_daenerys_targaryen_got_png_by_nickelbackloverxoxox_dcrioxu-preI’m interested in seeing exactly how the story comes out, of course.  (Hey, I sure hope the living somehow defeat the Night King and his Army of the Dead!)  Mostly, though, I’m just curious about who is going to even survive until the story’s end.  There are so many characters on the show it’s hard to remember and list all of them, as we realized when we were talking about the show with friends over the weekend.  (Don’t forget Grey Worm, or Tormund Giantsbane, or Podrick Payne, or Eddison Tollett of the Night’s Watch!)  And one thing has been clear about Game of Thrones from the beginning, whether you’re talking about the books or the TV show — even leading characters get knocked off with Grim Reaper-like regularity.  And since it’s the last season, I’m guessing we can expect a real bloodbath, and maybe a colossal battle or two in which multiple characters that have gotten a lot of screen time get mowed down.

Because it’s clear that many characters are going to be stabbed, hacked, hung, immolated by dragons, poisoned, or have their throats deftly cut by Arya Stark, I find myself putting the characters into death-related categories.  There are the characters that need to get killed to satisfy the bloodlust of the viewing audience (Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, the Mountain, and Qyburn, Cersei’s evil wizard/chemist/mad scientist), characters that you know are going to bite it at some point, but at least are likely to die in heroic fashion (Beric Dondarrion, Brienne of Tarth, Ser Jorah Mormont, Varys, Theon Greyjoy, and probably Gendry, King Robert’s hammer-wielding bastard son), and characters that you would be really angry to see get killed but you know deep in your heart that it could happen because the show likes to throw shockers at you (Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark).  There are characters that you don’t want to get killed but, if they must, you hope that they get some richly deserved revenge first (Asha Greyjoy and the Hound).  But what about the Khaleesi?  Jon Snow?  Sansa Stark?  Missandei?  Ser Davos Seaworth, my favorite?  Creepy white-eyed Bran?

One of the great things about Game of Thrones is its utter unpredictability, from the point Ned Stark got beheaded through the Red Wedding to the present.  And we’ve got less than three weeks to go before we start finding out.

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!

Bad News For A Song Of Ice And Fire Readers

If you are a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series of books, upon which the fine HBO series Game of Thrones is based, you’ve learned to be patient.

776466_510_promo_frames_16_00170187[1].jpgLike me, you’ve read the existing books in the series, reached their end with the epic tale still completely midstream and tantalizing plot threads dangling, did some reading about the pace of Martin’s writing, and realized that the next volume wouldn’t be coming out for years — but the books were so good that you were willing to wait, and wait, and wait, in hopes of seeing where the plot line goes and finding out, at some indeterminate date far, far, far into the future, how the story finally ends.

So when we all heard that the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, was planned to be released in conjunction with the airing of the next year of Game of Thrones, this coming April, we rejoiced — but many of us also maintained a healthy bit of skepticism and an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude.

Now we learn that that skepticism is justified, as Martin has announced that the book isn’t done, it won’t be released by April, and he doesn’t know, in fact, when it will be finished because the writing is going slower than he anticipated — and this is from a writer who took six years to produce A Dance With Dragons, the last book in the series.  It’s disappointing, but I can’t say it’s really surprising.

So this leads to a quandary:  should the fans of the books and the TV series watch the next season of Game of Thrones, when the storyline moves past the end point of the last book?  I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m going to watch, because the TV show has diverged from the book plotting, anyway.  In my view, the world created by Martin’s fertile imagination is sufficiently rich that it can support two alternative approaches to a great story, and I just can’t wait much longer before I learn about what happens to Jon Snow — in the TV universe, at least.

In the meantime, I’ll wish George R.R. Martin a long, long, long (and productive) life.

A Song Of Fight And Ire

As a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, I view the HBO series Game of Thrones as both a blessing and a curse.

The TV show is a blessing because it helps to fill the Westeros void as we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for Martin to finish the next installment in the series of epic books.  It’s a curse because the course of the TV show is, increasingly, veering away from the established plot lines of the books.  The variances are both large and small.  Unless you have a complete recall of what happened in A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons — something I cannot claim — you can’t even identify all of them.

There is no way that a TV show could possibly present all of the plot lines in Martin’s vast landscape of characters.  I can understand the Game of Thrones producers taking shortcuts in the storytelling and lopping out characters — like, apparently, the tale of the Iron Islands and Greyjoy clan and the post-death Cat Stark.  Even so, this year the TV show is treading on increasingly thin ice (and fire).  Sansa Stark back at Winterfell and betrothed to the sadistic Ramsay Bolton?  What the hell?  Jamie Lannister off to Dorne on a half-assed mission to retrieve his daughter?  Sir Barristan the Bold killed, and maybe Grey Worm, too?  And where is Bran Stark, anyway?

I still enjoy the TV show, because it is well done and the Martin-inspired tapestry is so rich.  But increasingly I view it as an alternative history of Westeros, the Wall, and the rest of the world, a tantalizing kind of “what if” approach to the characters we’ve come to enjoy while we all bide our time waiting for the release of the next book — which will tell the true story.  And when will that be?  Only George R.R. Martin knows for sure.

Censorship And Safety

Who is responsible for pulling the film The Interview from its planned Christmas Day release in the face of threats from terrorist hackers?  Was Sony craven, as many have suggested, or was it the theater chain owners who triggered the decision to pull The Interview because of liability concerns, as Sony responds?

I don’t know the answer to that question, but I do know this:  Totally removing a movie, or any other form of expression, from widespread public distribution because of threats is censorship and sets a terrible precedent.  Does anyone really dispute the conclusion that somewhere in Pyongyang or some other rathole the terrorist hackers are high-fiving over their success in this instance, and that terrorist groups elsewhere haven’t taken note of the new weapon that has now been added their arsenal?  What movie, book, play, or TV show is going to be the next target of this technique?

The Interview isn’t the kind of movie I would ever go to a theater to see, but that’s obviously not the point.  The next time it might be  controversial biography I’ve been eagerly anticipating, or the next installment of the Game of Thrones series because the terrorists disagree with how religion is depicted by George R. R. Martin. Regardless of the subject, a free society cannot tolerate a world in which terrorists dictate who gets to see, read, or consider what.

One other point: if I were an author, actor, or historian, I would be thinking long and hard about who brings my work to market and whether they have the courage to do it in the face of threats.  I don’t think I’d want to entrust my creative work product to a company, or a theater chain, that crumbled and caved in the face of threats.  Are actors, directors, and producers going to shy away from Sony projects?

O, To Be A Game Of Thrones Character, And To Name Your Death!

George R.R. Martin, the author of Game of Thrones and the other books in the A Song of Ice and Fire series, is offering fans a unique opportunity:  in exchange for contributions to worthy charities Martin supports, they can get interesting items related to the books.

The best prize?  Two people — one male and one female — who contribute $20,000 will have a character named after them in an upcoming book in the Ice and Fire series, and can choose their character’s station in the world of Westeros and the method by which they go to meet the Seven.

I don’t have $20,000 lying around — more’s the pity! — but the notion is intriguing.  If you could be a Game of Thrones character, what would you be, and what would you want to be the cause of your untimely demise?  You wouldn’t want to duplicate some of the more gruesome deaths that already have occurred.  Ned Stark has locked in beheadings, for example, and the no one could possibly carry off having their head crushed by hand like the Red Viper of Dorne.  And we’ve seen people immolated by dragon fire and wildfire, killed by molten gold poured over the head, shot full of bolts from crossbows, poisoned, stabbed by a creature of smoke, crucified, pushed through the Moon Door, and stabbed through the back of the skull — among countless other causes of death.

So what’s left?  There are still some good choices, I think. A foolishly brave hedge knight who tries to protect a main character from a charging direwolf and is torn to bloody bits.  A gluttonous lord who is stabbed through the eye by a broken off chicken bone.  A turncoat meister who is tortured to confession and then fed, alive, to one of Daenerys’ dragons.  A rogue supporter of Roose Bolton who consumes a potion that causes his bowels to explode through his torso, mail, armor, and all.  A plucky young page who is impaled on one of the tusks of a wildling mammoth and then crushed against the Wall by the rampaging beast and the giant who spurs him on.

Yes, I’d say good choices remain.  Now, where’s that $20 K?

In The Game Of Thrones Book-TV Confusion Zone

Kish and I have been happy to see the ads for the new season of Game of Thrones on HBO. We love the show and think that everyone could use a few more dragons in their lives.

My problem, however, is that I’ve read the books and watched the TV episodes. The books take you to events beyond the TV show, and now I’m having a hard time remembering where the HBO blockbuster left off. Seeing previews with Joffrey Baratheon — that miserable, sniveling little sadist — helps to place the show on the timeline of the overall story, but there are countless other characters that I need to place on the story arc. Let’s see . . . Robb’s been killed in a monumental act of betrayal at the Red Wedding, but where are Sansa and Arya? How about Brienne of Tarth? Where was the story of Jon Snow left off? How far has Cersei slid down the path to her own personal humiliation and madness?

With a tapestry as rich as that woven by George R.R. Martin in his books, with dozens of prominent characters and hundreds of weird-sounding names, it’s not hard to lose a plot thread or two. Fortunately, HBO has recognized that and has scheduled a catch-up program to allow us all to remember precisely where things stand.

Speaking of Martin, the release date for the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, still has not been set. Martin continues to tantalize his fans, however, by periodically releasing parts of the book — including most recently a single paragraph about Tyrion Lannister. The internet buzz is that the book has been written in rough form, is more than 1,000 pages long, and is in the process of being edited, which probably means it won’t be hitting the bookstore shelves for some time. I hope we get plenty of advance notice, because I’ll need some lead time to reread the series and get back up to speed.

Season 4 of the HBO show, in the meantime, begins on April 6.