Monday, August 21, 2017

A Fan Theory Gets Dashed “Beyond the Wall”

The ending of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones contained a huge surprise that I suspect few people saw coming. And with it, a popular fan theory ended as well. *SPOILERS* to follow.


Last season, the show confirmed one longstanding theory of fans of George R.R. Martin’s novels, that Jon Snow was actually the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. A corollary to that theory is that Jon was going to join Daenerys as one of three dragon riders who will fly out to defeat the white walkers. The theory stems from a vision Dany has in the House of the Undying at the end of A Clash of Kings (depicted in season two of Game of Thrones), where Rhaegar tells her, essentially, there has to be three heroes because “the dragon has three heads.”

As for the third rider, most of the speculation has surrounded Tyrion, who some believe is also secretly a Targaryen (due to an affair between Dany’s father and Tyrion’s mother). Well, last night this theory went up in smoke – or should I say ice – when the Night King killed one of her dragons. So there’s one less dragon to be ridden by Dany and her crew.

Instead, the Night King has created what promises to be the most destructive force ever to be unleashed since The Long Night. My guess is the first thing this “ice dragon” takes out is The Wall, and I would not be surprised if that happens next episode. Hopefully Bran saw this whole thing unfold, because Winterfell is about to be in some very serious danger!

* Image courtesy of HBO

Friday, August 18, 2017

“Game of Thrones”: 3 Subtle Reveals from “Eastwatch”

“Eastwatch,” much like the first episode this season, set the stage for the season’s final two episodes on Game of Thrones. A lot happened, with little fanfare, but there were 3 subtle developments that should have a big impact on the show.


Sansa’s Letter


Last week, I wrote that aside from the white walkers, the most dangerous thing in the North was Littlefinger lurking around Winterfell. And in “Eastwatch,” we begin to see why. Petyr Baelish is nothing if not cunning. He realizes his position is precarious, especially now that the Starks outnumber him at Winterfell.

The arrival of Brann was bad, in more ways that Baelish realizes. But I think Littlefinger thought the return of Arya was even worse – particularly after he saw her go toe to toe in a swordfight with Brienne of Tarth. That said, he also realized Arya and Sansa don’t like each other. Both sisters have changed dramatically since Ned Stark’s death, yet neither one realizes how different the other has become.


Enter Sansa’s letter. As many writers have observed over the past week, this was the letter Cersei forced a very young Sansa to write after Ned was captured, but before he was beheaded. (Vanity Fair has a great article about this, complete with a video clip of that scene from Season One; you can read it here). The letter’s purpose was to convince Robb Stark to swear fealty to Joffrey. In reality, it had the opposite effect. Robb suspected Sansa wrote the letter under duress, which helped spur him to oppose the Lannisters. Arya, however, doesn’t know any of this, and her opinion of Sansa is so low, she might not give her sister the benefit of the doubt.

Littlefinger made sure Arya knew of the letter, and then planted it in a place where Arya would find it. So what’s he up to? Presumably, he hopes the sibling rivalry gets so bad that Arya leaves (or is banished from) Winterfell, removing one huge obstacle to Littlefinger’s survival. I also suspect Littlefinger intends to take Sansa’s side in this feud, hoping to repair their broken relationship. His real problem, however, is Brann. The three-eyed raven could see through this whole charade in two blinks of his three eyes. The only question is whether Brann has retained enough of his humanity to intervene when his sisters are at each other’s throats. 

  

Gendry’s Return


One of the more delightful developments in “Eastwatch” was the return of Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s only surviving bastard, whom Ser Davos found at his old smithy in Fleabottom. We’ve waited three seasons to find out what happened to Gendry after Davos saved him from Melisandre (who was going to burn him alive because of his royal blood). Now we know he returned to his old life as a blacksmith, just like Hotpie returned to baking.

I believe, however, that Gendry’s return suggests he has a bigger role to play in this war, and others have suspected this too. First, he’s now met up with Jon, and who else needs a good smith to forge weapons from Dragonglass? Even more, as another good article from Vanity Fair points out (here), Gendry was the apprentice to the smith who turned Ned Stark’s massive Valyrian steel sword Ice into two blades. And other than Dragonglass, what else kills white walkers? Valyrian steel. In other words, Gendry’s skills could come in handy.

In the next two episodes, I bet we’ll know if this speculation proves true. Gendry has joined Jon, Ser Davos, and the unlikely band of heroes who ventured beyond The Wall at the end of “Eastwatch.” I’ll state right now that I’m 100% certain not everyone on that team – which also includes the Hound, Thoros of Myr, Berric Dondarrion, and Tormund Giantsbane – is going to make it back alive. In fact, two or three of them may be goners. So we’ll know soon if Gendry is merely making a cameo before becoming a casualty, or if he truly does have a bigger role to play on Game of Thrones.


Jon’s Bloodline


The most subtle reveal that many are talking about was Gilly’s discovery in the Citadel that Rhaegar Targaryen’s marriage to Elia Martell had been annulled, and that he was married to someone else in a secret ceremony that same day. The “someone else” is Lyanna Stark, whose alleged abduction by Rhaegar sparked the war that put Lyanna’s finance, Robert Baratheon, on the Iron Throne.

Last season, we received the big revelation (and confirmation of the longstanding fan theory, R + L = J), that Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, who incidentally was being protected by Rhaegar’s best knights – a clear hint she was more important than your typical hostage. Thanks to Gilly, however, we know that Jon is not even a bastard. Instead, he’s the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and his claim is even superior to Dany’s.


The thing is, Jon has no idea about any of this. And even if he knew, I’m not sure it would change what he’s doing as long as the Night King is threatening Westeros. (Though I wonder how Dany may react, especially after having learned how much her dragons like him.) What I do believe is that this revelation is another piece in the puzzle that proves Jon Snow is the true hero of Game of Thrones. Riley McAtee of The Ringer made a great case for this theory earlier this week, declaring that “‘Game of Thrones’ Is Officially Jon Snow’s Story.” This is something I’ve written about and suspected for a long time. Two seasons ago, “Hardhome” gave us a huge clue with that staredown between Jon and the Night King, all but ensuring they’ll meet in some climactic battle. Yet long before then, we had the old paperback cover to George R.R. Martin’s first novel in the series, A Game of Thrones. Just look at this old-school fantasy artwork and tell me you can’t guess who the hero is in the Game of Thrones?

Look, it's Jon Snow and Ghost too!
But those are just my thoughts. What did you think about the revelations in “Eastwatch’?

** Photo images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Where Things Stand After “The Spoils of War”

The shortened season of Game of Thrones hit its midpoint last Sunday, giving us one of the more epic battles in the history of the show. But how much did the episode change the great game?


Who Is Winning Now?


This one seems easy after Daenerys barbequed the entire Lannister army and torched all the grain intended for King’s Landing. The Dothraki, who according to George R.R. Martin were inspired, in part, by the medieval Mongols, proved that you don’t want to meet them in an open field. And imagine what will happen when Dany unleashes two more dragons on the board? (Though maybe they weren’t there because she needs two more dragon-riders?)

The attack will go down as one of the all-time great scenes on Game of Thrones, and it puts Cersei in a terrible position. With the Lannisters decimated, the Unsullied should have no trouble meeting up with Dany’s Dothraki. And while Euron’s navy has proven formidable, it failed to stop Daenerys from landing ashore, and what good is it now that the battle is on land? The best Cersei has going for her is Dany’s conscience, which might prevent her from killing throngs of innocents by besieging King’s Landing with dragons. Though a curious clip from the trailer for next week’s episode makes me question how long this deterrent may last.


Is Daenerys Becoming the Mad Queen?


So far, we still have the Dany we know and love, but we also know a little about her gene pool. Her father was the Mad King, who enjoyed burning people alive. And this week, The Ringer wrote “Does Dany Enjoy Burning People Too Much?” Just Google “Daenerys Mad Queen” and you’ll find a host of articles speculating that Dany may become the show’s next major villain.

I want to believe that even though she has mad queen tendencies, there’s enough good in her to resist them. I also still believe she may be the “Prince Who Was Promised,” even though Jon Snow seems to have an equal claim to that role (maybe it applies to both of them). Also, why would the madness affect Dany, but not Jon? He is just one generation removed from his Mad King grandfather. But maybe sanity skips a generation.


What Will Happen to Littlefinger?


Aside from the White Walkers, I believe the most dangerous thing in the North is Littlefinger lurking around Winterfell. But never before has he been in so much danger. First, he’s around Bran, who has the power to know every sin Littlefinger has ever committed. The only thing Littlefinger has going for him is that Bran seems to have gone full Doctor Manhattan and lost his humanity, so maybe he’ll never tell his sisters the things Littlefinger has done.

That would be good for Petyr Baelish, because if Arya ever finds out Littlefinger betrayed her father, he may end up like Walder Frey. Or worse. And wish Petyr luck finding a place to hide in Winterfell that she doesn’t know about. Then there’s Jon, who someday will return home, and his patience for Littlefinger appears to have reached its end.

But where else could Littlefinger go? Cersei already knows what he is, and I can’t see Euron having any patience for him. And there’s no way Dany will trust him – especially with Varys and Tyrion whispering in her ear. She might even feed Littlefinger to Drogon. If I were Littlefinger, Bravos is looking wonderful right now.

In all seriousness, however, Littlefinger is the lord of the Vale, and Jon needs the Vale army to help him fight the White Walkers. This may be the only thing that saves Baelish.


Will Jaime Sleep with the Fishes?


The most startling development of last week’s episode was what happened to Jaime Lannister. After he realized his whole army was literally toast, he seemingly lost his mind and decided to charge Daenerys with a spear. She was distracted, trying to remove a giant crossbow bolt from Drogon’s side, but Drogan was fully alert and very pissed. But for a miracle save by Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, Jaime would have burned like a Beltane bonfire. Instead, Bronn succeed in knocking Jaime into the deepest river you could ever imagine flowing through a desert-like plain.

Unfortunately for Jaime, he’s wearing a full 60 pounds of plate mail, and if you’ve ever seen A Knight’s Tale, you know it takes forever to get that stuff on and off. Also, one of Jaime’s hands is made of metal, making it unhandy for unfastening buckles. All of this raises a question: How in the world does Jaime survive?


I cannot believe this is the last we’ll see of him, but I’m scratching my head over how he avoids drowning, unless: (a) Bronn is the strongest swimmer in the world and will be starring as Aquaman in the next Justice League movie; (b) they can turn the “scorpion” crossbow into a massive fishing pole and pull Jaime out of the drink; (c) Lannister armor comes off like an NBA sweat suit with Velcro; or (d) Tyrion convinces Dany to let Drogon swim down and save Jaime (assuming Drogon decides not to eat him while he’s down there). Either that, or Thoros of Myr or Melisandre will happen on by and perform another resurrection.

If Jaime somehow survives, it’s likely he would become Dany’s prisoner and reunite with Tyrion. The two brothers were always fond of one another, and Jaime knows now that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey. Maybe Jaime will even switch sides, making this the most unexpected game changer so far . . . Assuming Dany doesn’t go full “mad queen” and crispify him. After all, he earned his “Kingslayer” nickname by killing her daddy, and we’ve already established that people reap what they sow on Game of Thrones.

But those are just my thoughts. Where do you think things stand after the “Spoils of War”?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and HBO.

Friday, August 4, 2017

People Reap What They Sow on “Game of Thrones”

Season Seven of Game of Thrones is moving at a breakneck pace. Events that may have taken a season to develop in earlier years, are happening every episode this go around. It’s hard to process the implications of so many developments, but here’s one thing I realized after last week’s episode, titled “The Queen’s Justice.”


This season has brought just deserts to a number of characters and houses. For example, in the season’s opening scene, the members of House Frey, who carried out the Red Wedding, all died in a similarly spectacular celebration. (The “Red Toast” perhaps?) In short, House Frey reaped what they sowed.

Then in last week’s episode, two more characters got their comeuppance. Ellaria Sand, who murdered a truly innocent character in Cersei’s daughter Myrcella, received the titular “Queen’s Justice” from Cersei, who poisoned Ellaria’s daughter Tyene in the same manner that Ellaria killed Myrcella. Even more, Cersei imprisoned both Ellaria and Tyene in the same cell, forcing Ellaria to watch her daughter die and rot. In many ways, Ellaria reaped what she sowed.


So did Olenna Tyrell. She was the culprit who poisoned King Joffrey, causing him to endure a horrible death at the Purple Wedding. At the end of last episode, she was outsmarted and defeated by Joffrey’s parents, Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Then she was forced to drink poison, meeting a fate similar to Joffrey’s. The poison is faster acting, much to Olenna’s delight, who relished informing Jaime that she was the one who murdered his son. Yet in the end, Olenna reaped what she sowed, even if her murder of Joffrey may have been more justifiable than Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella.

The more I think about it, this type of Karmic justice has occurred throughout Game of Thrones. Walder Frey, an evil man if there ever was one, was killed by Arya, avenging the death of her family members at the Red Wedding. Joffrey, who murdered Ned Stark in a public spectacle, was murdered at his own wedding, also a public spectacle. Ramsey Bolton, who liked feeding people to his dogs, died the same way. And Tywin Lannister, who was willing to let his son Tyrion die for a crime he didn’t commit, met his end by Tyrion’s hand. Just deserts, in my view.


About the only people who don’t get what they deserve on Game of Thrones are the truly good characters, most of whom happen to be named Stark. Neither Robb nor Catelyn Stark deserved to die at the Red Wedding. Robb did spurn Walder Frey by breaking his vow to marry Frey’s daughter, but that hardly warranted a massacre. Likewise, Ned Stark committed no crime that warranted Joffrey having him beheaded. And can we say any less about poor Rickon?

Some non-Stark good guys got a bum rap too. Ser Jeor Mormont was betrayed by the men he capably led. And Mance Rayder did not deserve what Stannis and Melisandre had in store for him. Neither did Stannis’ poor daughter Shireen. Clearly, being good is a dangerous thing on Game of Thrones


But I wonder what this Karmic trend may mean for some of the remaining bad actors on the show? Jaime, despite his noble traits and a character arc that often has him seeming more a hero than a villain, did push a ten-year-old Bran Stark out a window. If this Karma trend continues, it may not bode well for Jaime.

Then there’s Cersei. Her crimes range from the murder of her husband Robert to the mass murder of everyone at the Great Sept of Baelor. Though I suspect we won’t learn Cersei’s fate anytime soon. While the ultimate adversary on Game of Thrones may be the Night King, he’s not a villain who stirs the audience’s passions. (In fact, it’s hard to blame him for what he does; after all, he was turned into an undead monster by the Children of the Forest.) Cersei, however, is like Joffrey, the villain the audience loves to hate. Good stories need a villain like that, and I suspect the writers realize the show will suffer if she exits too soon.

The big question is whether Cersei will get her just deserts? Or will Martin and the showrunners throw us curveball and let the most conniving character of them all win the Game of Thrones?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fortunes Change Fast on “Game of Thrones”

I’ll be the first admit that I did not see the end of last week’s episode of Game of Thrones coming. Just when we thought the chessboard was set, it was blown to pieces in one epic battle. So where does this leave things on the show after “Stormborn”? *SPOILERS* clearly follow.


All was going great with Daenerys’ plan to defeat Cersei. Until it wasn’t. In one swift and unexpected move by Euron Greyjoy and his hastily built fleet of very impressive ships, half of Dany’s allies were captured or killed, and suddenly the game board looks a whole lot better for Team Cersei.

Who Survived the Attack?


The show left this question with a murky answer. In the final shot, we see a woman hanging from a bowsprit, who I assumed was Yara Greyjoy. After further review, I believe it is Nymeria Sand hanging from her own whip, because higher up on the sternpost is Obara Sand impaled on her own spear. Though it looks like Tyene Sand, the third Sand Snake, may have been captured.


We know Theon escaped, by making what looked like the coward’s choice and jumping overboard as opposed to trying to fight to save his sister. I suspect that’s because there’s a lot of Reek left in him, and when he saw Euron’s men mutilating Yara’s crew, he panicked. Though maybe it was the right move, honor be damned. There was no way Theon was going defeat Uncle Euron. In the real world, Theon probably would have drowned, but at the end of the episode we see him clinging to some wreckage. (I suppose he’ll paddle several miles to shore like Brody and Hooper did at the end of Jaws.) Theon has become like Game of Thrones’ version of Gollum. We haven’t seen the last of him yet.

We don’t know if Yara’s alive. While I no longer think that was her hanging from the bowsprit, one would think killing Yara would be high on Euron’s agenda. He doesn’t strike me as the merciful type, though I suspect we’ll learn her fate later this season.

The one person we know survives is Ellaria Sand. She even begged Euron’s men to kill her, but they refused. I’m convinced she’s the special gift Euron promised Cersei, and who better to offer her than the woman who killed Cersei’s daughter Myrcella? After episode one, I had speculated that gift may be Dragonbinder, the massive Valyrian horn Euron used to win the kingsmoot in A Feast For Crows, which can supposedly control dragons. But now I have serious doubts about that. The horn, like Lady Stoneheart, might only be a thing of the books, which makes we wonder how differently this all might play out if George R.R. Martin ever finishes his novels.


What Does This Mean for Daenerys?


Dany may be more screwed than she knows. My guess is that Yara’s fleet not only was going to take the Dornish to King’s Landing for Tyrion’s planned siege, but also ferry the Unsullied and Dothraki to Casterly Rock. If so, the end of Yara’s fleet leaves a lot of soldiers stuck on Dragonstone. And even if the Ironborn can build new fleets in a miraculously short time, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of trees on Dragonstone. Or Ironborn for that matter.

As for Dorne, who knows what role it will play now in the great game. The show has never explained who would rule Dorne in Ellaria’s absence. The entire royal family appears dead, and Arianne Martell, the daughter of Prince Doran who is a viewpoint character in the novels, has never appeared on the show. In the world of Game of Thrones, I don’t think she exists. So there’s clearly a power vacuum in Dorne, and it’s anyone’s guess who might fill it.

Which leaves the North as Dany’s best potential ally, and this certainly looks to be where the show is going. I don’t know how many ships Jon Snow has access to, so I can’t say how he’d help get Dany and her army off Dragonstone. But his army should be more than enough to replace the Dornish. The problem is he wants to fight the white walkers, not Cersei. I have no idea how Daenerys will react to Jon’s priorities, but finding out should be fun.


What Will Happen in The North?


When Jon left for Dragonstone over the objection of many a Northern lord, he put Sansa in charge. Sansa, I believe, will be a perfectly capable ruler, and maybe even a master of dealing with Lannister-like politics. The problem is that her first major crisis may be an attack on The Wall by the Night King and his army. If Jon has been ignoring the danger to the South, Sana’s the one ignoring the danger to the North. She also has no bloody clue how to defend The Wall or kill an army of undead wights, yet that is where I predict the show may be heading. Hopefully Lyanna Mormont can help her out. She may be small, but I doubt she’s afraid of white walkers!

These, however, are just my thoughts. Where do you think the show is heading after the surprise ending of “Stormborn”?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Is a Lack of Source Material Affecting “Game of Thrones”?

I’m finally getting around to writing about “Dragonstone,” the premiere episode of Game of Thrones Season 7. As much as I enjoyed the episode, I’m beginning to wonder if the lack of source material is starting to affect the show. Here’s why. *SPOILERS* to follow.


Most of “Dragonstone” was basically set-up to remind the audience where the various characters were after the events of “The Winds of Winter.” There were some important, yet predictable, moments such as Daenerys finally reaching Westeros and Bran returning to the Wall. And a few unexpected developments, like Euron’s marriage proposal to Cersei, and perhaps the beginning of a rift between Sansa and Jon Snow. Oh yeah, and House Frey was wiped off the map thanks to Arya Stark, who disguised herself as Walder Frey and staged her own version of the Red Wedding!

While the opening scene at House Frey was fascinating – and included some of the episode’s best dialogue too – the show has never explained how Arya can transform into whoever she wishes. That is the only thing about “Dragonstone” that bothered me, and I think the reason may be because the show has gotten so far ahead of George R.R. Martin’s novels. 


Over the past few seasons, Game of Thrones has provided plenty of instances where the Faceless Men of the House of Black and White can change their appearance. In fact, Jaqen H’ghar did it all the time. The House of Black and White was full of masks (err faces), but the show never explained how this magic worked, nor did it reveal how Arya learned to master this power. We didn’t see her steal a few masks before she left Bravos, and if she can make masks on her own, the show certainly never told us how she does it. This is the one thing on the show that remains a complete, unexplained mystery, and I find it a bit annoying.

Martin used magic in the novels sparingly, but when he did he usually explained how it worked. As for the magic of the Faceless Men, here is what he told us near the end of A Dance With Dragons:
Mummers change their faces with artifice and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with.
But Arya’s storyline in A Dance With Dragons ended with that chapter. Martin never got to the point where Arya learned – let alone mastered – these arts. And neither did the show. To me, it feels like a link is missing in the chain. I assume Martin will reveal how Arya masters this power in the series’ sixth novel, The Winds of Winter. If that material had existed, the show’s writers might have been able to offer a more cogent explanation for how Arya turned into the spitting image of Walder Frey. Or at least readers watching the show would not be questioning how she does it. Yet I’m beginning to fear the entire TV series will be over before The Winds of Winter is ever published.

This makes me wonder if we aren’t losing something on the show because, at this point, the writers are working off an outline, instead of a novel. In a sense, this has made the show more fun because we, as both readers and viewers, have no idea what’s going to happen next. But I fear some subtle and significant details have been lost in the process.

That said, I still have high hopes for Season 7. Without a novel to spoil the plot, I’m sure the season will be full of surprises.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, July 10, 2017

Historical Fiction: “Liberty Boy” by David Gaughran

After a brief vacation and a near month-long hiatus from the blog, I’m back today with a review of Liberty Boy by Irish author David Gaughran. It’s the first book I’ve read about Dublin that didn’t involve Vikings (who founded the city way back when), and one I highly recommend.


Liberty Boy is a well-paced, beautifully written novel that puts the reader on the edge of a tension-filled uprising in early nineteenth century Dublin. After crushing a violent rebellion a few years before, the English soldiers are determined to keep order by any means necessary. And they’re making a habit of hanging rebel prisoners in Dublin’s public square.

Into this tension comes Jimmy O’Flaherty, a young Irishman and the son of a famous and martyred patriot. Jimmy, however, wants nothing to do with the rebellion or his father’s past. His only desire is to scrape up enough money to book passage to New York and get the hell out of Ireland. Everything looks to be going as planned until he meets a pretty girl named Kitty Doyle.

The execution of Irish Patriot Robert Emmet plays a role in the novel.
As much as I empathized with Jimmy, it was Kitty who stole the proverbial show. She’s a brave, strong-willed, and smart-mouthed heroine who is more than just a sympathizer for the Irish patriots. She’s also Jimmy’s inevitable love interest and the cause of much of the story’s conflict, dragging him into the brewing rebellion he hoped to run from. 

At only 261 pages, Liberty Boy is a quick, but satisfying read. Gaughran gives the reader a great feel for nineteenth century Dublin, with its many breweries and the smell of burnt hops filling the air. He also has a true knack when it comes to dialogue, and I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to use the phrase “for feck’s sake” after reading this book!

The novel is the first in a series, and ends with a cliffhanger of sorts. But fortunately, the sequel, Dieman’s Land, is coming out soon, so readers won’t have to wait too long to learn what happens next.

Thanks to Amazon, you can read a sample of Liberty Boy here.