Thursday, May 28, 2015

All May Be Well On “Game Of Thrones”

The last two weeks I’ve been fairly critical of the way HBO’s Game of Thrones has deviated from George R.R. Martin’s books. But after last week’s episode, “The Gift,” I’m feeling better about how everything might work out in the end. As usual, some *SPOILERS* will follow.

Cersei's story is progressing like GRRM intended.
My two big beefs from the last two weeks were the death of Ser Barristan the Bold and the fact that Sansa Stark was placed in Winterfell in the clutches of the psychotic Ramsay Bolton. At the time, I had speculated that what the writers were trying to do was preserve a number of the key storylines in A Dance With Dragons and A Feast For Crows, but portray them with fewer characters. Hence, Sansa was stuck into the unfortunate role of Jayne Poole, Jaime Lannister is playing the role of Ser Arys Oakheart, etc. After last week’s episode, however, I am more convinced than ever that the show’s writers are doing just that. 

The writers have jettisoned some storylines from the two books, including the Ironborn plotline, the story of Jon Connington and the (possibly fake) Aegon Targaryen, Sam and Gilly’s voyage to Old Town, and the tale of foolish Prince Quentyn and his attempts to win Dany’s heart. With these out of the way, the show is focusing on, arguably, the seven most powerful storylines – and, with one possible exception, I think the writers intend for these to play out the way they do in the books. If true, there may be hope yet for fans of the novels (at least those that are okay with a little deviation). Of course, I have no idea what the writers will do next year without The Winds Of Winter

Could Brienne and Pod save the Winterfell storyline?
There’s only time to discuss two of those storylines today, the first being Winterfell. In the books, this plotline does not involve Sansa. Rather, it’s the tale of Theon’s reemergence from the persona of Reek as he’s compelled to save poor Jayne Poole. Theon’s actions take place during a series of mysterious murders in Winterfell, all against Ramsay’s men (yay!). In the books, the mysterious assassin turns out to be Mance Rayder, though he seems to be dead in the show. But since the show has Brienne and Pod lingering outside Winterfell, I could see her playing Mance’s role and ultimately setting the Winterfell plotline back on track. Sure, things will remain bad for Sansa, but who’s to say she won’t be working with Brienne? And maybe she’ll end up saving Reek too. 

These two could keep things straight in Meereen.
The second plotline concerns the events in Meereen. Earlier, I thought the death of Ser Barristan left a huge hole in that storyline. But after I saw how the writers handled the reunion between Ser Jorah and Daenerys, I truly think Jorah, or some combination of he and Tyrion, might fill poor Barristan’s role just fine. 

With the exception of the Dorne storyline (which is just fun, by the way, with Bronn, the Sand Snakes, and a love-struck Marcella), I think the other four storylines may roughly follow that of the books. By this, I mean that the tales of Cersei, Stannis, Arya, and Jon Snow should play out like they do in A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons. Of course, anyone who has finished those books knows what’s coming – and THAT, I promise not to spoil!

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Sansa Stark Shouldn’t Be In Winterfell

Honestly, it’s not my goal to turn this blog into a weekly commentary on HBO’s Game of Thrones, but the show’s divergence from George R.R. Martin’s novels are starting to bother me, even though I still enjoy watching every week. As always, *SPOILERS* will follow for those who haven’t read the books.

This should have never happened.
Let me just say it: Sansa Stark is NOT supposed to be in Winterfell! She’s not supposed to be in the clutches of that maniac Ramsay Bolton. She just isn’t. 

Sansa has already endured one insane little man in Joffrey, and not even George R.R. Martin – who is notoriously ruthless towards his characters – was sadistic enough to throw her into a bedroom with Ramsay, who may be the most purely evil character in A Song of Ice and Fire. In the book, Ramsay’s victim is Jayne Poole, a minor character who is forced to pose as Arya Stark, only to be abused and broken by Ramsay. But Martin never makes us watch. He just shows us the effects: a shattered, terrified girl, covered in bite marks. This was never meant to happen to Sansa. Perhaps Laura Hudson said it best in her recap on Wired
Forcing [Sana] back into the role of victim and sexually humiliating her at the hands of yet another sadistic fiance adds nothing that we haven’t seen before, and indeed, feels regressive. All the forward momentum of her character development is undercut by this assault, transforming her back into the same little girl she was at King’s Landing, weeping as her dress was torn off. Shoehorning additional abuse and rape into her story at this point isn’t just upsetting; it’s boring and counterproductive. Poorly done, show. Poorly done.
Look, I understand the writers had to do something with Sansa since her entire story line from the books was completed last season. But clearly, Martin has a plan for her because she’s a viewpoint character in The Winds Of Winter – and being Ramsay’s victim isn’t it. 

The show’s writers are combining characters to limit the number of story lines they have to portray this season. Sansa has become Jayne Poole. Ser Jorah is playing the role of himself and a bit of Jon Connington’s now that he’s secretly contracted grayscale. Jaime is playing the role of Arys Oakheart in Dorne. But the problem is, Jaime still needs to play his own role, as he does in the books. And so does Jorah, and so does Sansa. With Ser Barristan dead, maybe the show is setting up Tyrion to take his role as the Hand of the Queen in Meereen. But that’s not supposed to happen either. Tyrion undoubtedly has a different role to play, even if we have to wait for The Winds Of Winter to learn what it is. 

I’m not blaming the writers for having to stray from the books (although if they had added in the Ironborn story line and kept Dorne its own subplot (sans Jaime), they might have had enough material to get through season 5 without changing too much). But with Sansa Stark, I can’t help but believe the writers made the wrong choice.

** Image courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Another Huge Break From The Books On “Game Of Thrones”

Before this season began, I predicted there would be some changes between the show and George R.R. Martin’s books, particularly because the show’s writers are running out of source material given Martin’s delay in producing The Winds Of Winter, the sixth book in his series. But I never imagined a change as big as last week’s episode, and I’m not sure I’m okay with it. (Book *SPOILERS* to follow.)

Ser Barristan dead? I didn't see this coming!
In the episode titled “Sons of the Harpy,” we saw Grey Worm and Ser Barristan Selmy get ambushed by assassins loyal to the now deposed slavers of Meereen. Selmy gets a knife in his gut, but I had assumed he was just injured. Ser Barristan couldn’t have been killed in an alley, right? He’s far too important to the books.

But last week’s episode, titled “Kill The Boy,” seemed to confirm that Ser Barristan is dead (barring some wild twist where, like James Bond in You Only Live Twice, he’s only pretending to be dead). If he is dead, however, this changes everything. And not in a good way. Hear me out.

Ser Barristan is a viewpoint character in A Dance With Dragons, meaning that a portion of the story is told from his perspective. He is also one of the genuine heroes in the books. When Daeneyrs’ life is imperiled in A Dance With Dragons, Selmy is the noble knight determined to uncover the true villain in Meereen and save what’s left of her kingdom. He’s about the only hope the reader has in this part of the story, and he’s so brave and noble that not even George R.R. Martin tries to kill him off. Think about that. Even Martin realizes that at least one of the good guys needs to survive in the cruel world of A Game Of Thrones. But on the show, Ser Barristan is gone.

Ser Barristan has some chapters in this - oh well . . .
I suppose this signals that Daenerys’ storyline is about to diverge wildly from the books, even though I thought it was one of the three plotlines the writers would try to keep intact. Yet I hope I’m wrong. I hope Ser Barristan is secretly alive, waiting to pull a James Bond when the sh*t hits the fan in Meereen. But I have a very bad feeling that’s not going to happen – especially after reading this article on EW. Barristan the Bold is dead, and I fear the story will suffer for it. 

With Ser Barristan’s death, the divergence between the show and the books seems irrevocable. And right now, I don’t think I like it. Not one bit.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Who Was King Arthur?

Work has left little time to write this week, so I'm re-running a post that relates in a way to my recent posts about Ragnar Lothbrok of History's Vikings.

Leading up to my next installment in my series on Medieval Fiction, I thought I’d pose some questions about one of the late Fifth Century’s most legendary figures: Who was Arthur of Britain? And was he a real person or a purely mythical figure?
Arthur vs. Mordred - One of my favorite Arthurian images!
These are questions that scholars have debated, and writers have explored, for a very long time. What Arthur most certainly was not was a king in shining plate mail who lived in a massive structure that looked something like Bodiam Castle (below) as depicted in movies like Excalibur and the ├╝ber silly First Knight (you know, the one with Richard Gere as Lancelot wearing some of the most ridiculous armor ever donned for the silver screen).
Camelot would not have looked like this!*
Massive stone castles with lots of towers, a huge curtain wall, and a moat weren’t built until the late Eleventh or Twelfth Centuries, and plate armor was not in style until the Thirteenth Century. But Arthur, if he existed, would have lived during the late Fifth or early Sixth Century. Here are just seven possible versions of Arthur from historical and literary sources (and trust me, there are many more than these!):
  • He was a Romano-British leader who fought the invading Saxons and killed 960 men at the Battle of Mount Badon (from the 9th century Historia Brittonum);
  • He was Ambrosius Aurelianus, a historical figure and one of the last Roman lords of Britain (the 2004 film King Arthur went in this direction, making Arthur a Roman cavalry officer named Artorius Castus);
  • He was the fifteen-year-old King of Britain and the son of Uther Pendragon (per Geoffrey of Monmouth who wrote the Historia Regum Britanniae c. 1138; Geoffrey’s depiction became the basis for many Arthurian legends);
  • He was a boy named Wart who pulled a sword from a stone to become King Arthur (see T.S. White’s The Once and Future King);
  • He was Arthur Pendragon, the nephew of the Roman war leader Aurelius Ambrosius and the cousin of Merlin, who would become the king to unite all of Britain (see Mary Stewart’s The Merlin Trilogy);
  • He was a Celtic king ruling from Camelot during a time of tension between the old pagan and new Christian faiths (see Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon);
  • He was not a king, but a warlord – the bastard son of Uther, High King of Britain (see Bernard Cornwell’s The Warlord Chronicles).
Sir Thomas Malory wrote Le Morte d'Arthur in the 15th Century
I’ll have more on this topic when I return to my series on Medieval Fiction, which will happen as soon as I free up some of my free time, which has been spent lately on some exciting promotional work for my novel Enoch’s Device – more on that soon!

In the meantime, let me know if you have a favorite theory as to who King Arthur really was? Or simply a favorite depiction of Arthur from Arthurian fiction?

* Bodiam Castle - Photo attribution