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Game of Thrones: Who are the dragonriders? July 26, 2014

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MAJOR SPOILERS potentially ahead. Did showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss tell us who the dragonriders are in Season 4 of “Game of Thrones”? Maybe the fansites have long since picked up on this, but if not, check out our friend Ben’s theory below. I know the identity of the three dragonriders has been a hot topic for “Game of Thrones” enthusiasts and fans of George RR Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire.

Everyone assumes that all three of Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons will need riders if Westeros will be retaken for the Targaryen dynasty. It’s not enough for Dany to show up on Drogon; it took Aegon the Conqueror three dragons and three dragonriders (the other two were his sister-wives) to take Westeros to begin with. Now we again have three dragons, but just one rider. Who are the other two?

In our friend Ben’s opinion, Season 4 was pretty heavy-handed about the reveal. And since the showrunners have talked with Martin about how the series ends, they probably have a pretty informed idea of how the whole dragon thing works out. Let’s look at how Season 4 played out in terms of dragonriding:

First, there’s Prince Oberyn of House Martell of Dorne. To intimidate a couple of Lannisters, he slowly passes his hand over a candle flame and obviously isn’t burned. We know that the Targaryens and the Martells have married in the past; Prince Oberyn has come to King’s Landing expressly to revenge himself for the death of his sister Elia, the wife of Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen. He had also offered to wed Princess Arianne Martell to Vicerys Targaryen. That Oberyn’s line has Targaryen blood is demonstrated by his imperviousness to fire. But, due to his gruesome death at the hands of the Mountain, he obviously won’t be a dragonrider.

Second, there’s an interminable and completely unnecessary scene between Daario Naharis and Daenarys Targaryen in the first episode of Season 4, where he offers her three flowers. The first is a blue rose (aka dusk rose), the symbol of Lyanna Stark, her favorite flower. Lyanna was the sister of the late lamented Eddard Stark and the mother of the son she pledged him to claim as his, to keep the vengeful Robert Baratheon, who was determined to wipe out every last child of the Targaryens, from killing this child, fathered by Rhaegar Targaryen, the heir to the Iron Throne. Eddard dutifully proclaimed the child his own and named him Jon Snow. Jon has the best claim to the Iron Throne of anyone, and as half Targaryen, a fine claim as a dragonrider.

Daario also offers Daenaerys a bunch of Lady’s lace, a flower with multiple strands of white flowers like Daenerys’s elaborate white braids. I don’t think we need to overthink this one.

Finally, Daario offers Daenarys a beautiful red flower with prominent yellow stamens in the center. He tells her this flower is called harpy’s gold, and even though it’s beautiful, she should beware of it because it’s poisonous. Red and yellow are the colors of House Martell. If we recall that Prince Oberyn was called the Red Viper, and that poison was his weapon of choice, this flower points to him and his offspring, the girls known as the Sand Snakes. Oberyn himself won’t be riding a dragon or anything else anytime soon, but one of his daughters might. My bet’s on Nymeria, who was born of a noblewoman, but it could be the fierce warrior Obara Sand. All the Sand Snakes bear Targaryen blood through their father.

So, there you have it: Three dragons, three riders. Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow (aka Jon Stark Targaryen), and Nymeria Sand. What do you think?

Series that shouldn’t have stopped (plus). July 18, 2014

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As we all wait…and wait…for “Game of Thrones” Season Five (and for “The Hobbit” and “Mockingjay” and… ), our friend Ben is picking up the theme from yesterday’s Silence Dogood post “Feel-good films.” There are some film series and TV series that Silence and I loved and feel simply shouldn’t have stopped, or should have swapped out leading actors. Here are a few that ended before their time, starred the wrong guy, or passed on the chance to star the right girl:

* The Conan movies. We love “Conan the Barbarian” and “Conan the Destroyer.” Rather than waiting until Ah-nold was too old for the role, then trying to revive the series with a younger man (Jason Momoa of Khal Drogo fame), they should have kept going while the going was good. (And kept Conan’s original sidekick rather than replacing him with that creepy little man.) Robert E. Howard wrote many Conan stories, so the filmmakers had plenty of material to work with. A missed opportunity for fun for all ages, more classic lines from Ah-nold, and campy entertainment for adults.

* The Tony Hillerman PBS “series.” Tony Hillerman wrote a shelf or two of Navajo murder mysteries featuring Jim Chee and Joe Leaphorn, with a slew of great recurring characters, lots of Navajo, Hopi, and Zuni rituals and beliefs, and the breathtaking backdrop of the Four Corners as his setting. Robert Redford saw the books’ rich visual potential and filmed three PBS “specials” starring Wes Studi as Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Chee, and the marvelous Native American character actors Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than making a regular series, Redford made one episode a year, stopping after just three. He should have filmed all the books while the cast was together, rather than letting them drift and losing momentum.

* The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Alexander McCall Smith’s series of novels that follow the adventures of the beloved Botswana detective, Precious Ramotswe, her assistant, Grace Makutsi, and a cast of gently humorous and unforgettable characters (shout out to you and your famous fruitcake, Mma Potokwane), calls out for a series. And it looked like it was finally getting one, with Anika Noni Rose giving a true star turn as Grace Makutsi, but it fizzled and died after just three episodes. No fault of the series or the actors—the director suddenly died. I’d have thought another director would have been brought in, but instead, the series ended just like the Tony Hillerman specials. We are hoping, hoping, hoping that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and the Tony Hillerman novels both get a second chance.

* Master and Commander. Russell Crowe and the ensemble cast gave such a strong showing in the film version of Patrick O’Brian’s Napoleonic seafaring novel, showcasing everything from warfare at sea to natural history and Regency-era espionage, that it seemed a natural for followups based on O’Brian’s subsequent novels. Instead, no more were ever made. Silence and I are still waiting.

Moving on to casting:

* Sean Connery in “Shogun.” James Clavell wrote the lead character in his blockbuster novel Shogun with Sean Connery in mind, and Connery would have been perfect for the role. (He proved his range beyond Bond once and for all in “The Man Who Would Be King,” and gave his greatest performance, in our opinion, in “Rising Sun.”) Watching the series, if you picture Connery in Richard Chamberlain’s place, everything suddenly makes sense. What a wasted opportunity, since everyone else in the series was so good, and Sean Connery would have made it perfect. But in this case, it wasn’t the producers’, director’s, or casting team’s fault. Whoever played Pilot-Major Blackthorne would have had to commit to filming in Japan for two years, and Connery wasn’t willing to do that. Chamberlain was.

* George Lazenby as James Bond. Speaking of Sean Connery, there have been a lot of Bonds over the years, but none were so perfect in our opinion as Australian model-turned-actor George Lazenby, who was chosen to succeed Connery. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” Lazenby proved virile, resourceful, intelligent, educated, and—in the only instance known to Bond—capable of actually falling in love. (Well, it was Diana Rigg.) You could totally believe both his 007 and human sides. This is a depth of character missing from most Bond portrayals, and, as Silence is constantly pointing out, he was very easy on the eyes, too. Yet he just played Bond in the one film. Why? Because his agent told him that being typecast as Bond would hamper his career. No doubt that great advice is why we all know him as an A-list actor. (Sarcasm.) I hope that agent is now supporting himself as a Wal*Mart greeter. We think Sean Bean, who played villain Alec Trevelyan in another Bond film, “GoldenEye,” would have made a fantastic Bond, too, so much stronger than Pierce Brosnan.

* Liv Tyler as Arwen Evenstar. Peter Jackson brought back Hugo Weaving as Elrond and Cate Blanchett as Galadriel, but passed on the opportunity to bring the gorgeous Liv Tyler back to Middle Earth in his film trilogy “The Hobbit.” She was, in our opinion, the strongest character in Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy (sorry, Sean Bean and Andy Serkis, we loved you, too), and since they decided to simply stuff Orlando Bloom’s Legolas into “The Hobbit,” not to mention Galadriel, we don’t see why Liv Tyler’s Arwen couldn’t be there, too. We do applaud the choice of Richard Armitage as Thorin Oakenshield, though.

Speaking of “The Hobbit,” which stars Martin Freeman as Bilbo Baggins and Benedict Cumberbatch as the dragon Smaug, we are very concerned that the series “Sherlock,” starring Cumberbatch as Holmes and Freeman as Watson, might go the way of the Tony Hillerman specials. As it is, you’re lucky to get three episodes of “Sherlock” every two years, and its stars, and even its co-creator Mark Gatiss, who plays Sherlock’s brother Mycroft in the series and now the Banker of Braavos on “Game of Thrones,” are becoming increasingly busy with other projects. They’re promising a “Sherlock Christmas special” in December 2015 and three more episodes in 2016, but gee, that’s a long way off, and a lot of inertia and dispersion can happen between now and then. Hey, guys, show some pity! We could be hit by a bus between now and then and miss the next installment… if there even is one.

In an ironic turn, Sir Ian McKellen, who plays Gandalf in all the Peter Jackson movies, is also playing Sherlock Holmes (at 93) in the upcoming movie “Mr. Holmes.” We look forward to seeing it!

Now it’s your turn: Tell us some we missed, or what you miss.

Sex versus violence. June 30, 2014

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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood were outraged by yesterday’s coverage of some preacher doing a video rant about how watching the giant HBO hit series “Game of Thrones” was like “crucifying Jesus twice.” We have watched the first three seasons of the show (not having HBO, we won’t see the fourth season until after the fifth has aired in spring of 2015). And it is unquestionably the most violent show either of us has ever seen, with routine murder, death, and torture (physical and mental), as well as the seemingly relentless killing of every noble, virtuous character on the show and corruption of the rest.

To say the least, “Game of Thrones” is not a cheerful, upbeat show, and its point seems to be that morality is doomed and corruption conquers all in a violent conflagration that leaves thousands of innocents dead in its wake. Not to mention that one character does indulge in a mass crucifixion, and others in enthusiastic flayings, both of which Jesus endured. You would think, no wonder a preacher would caution his followers against this show.

But the violence wasn’t what outraged the preacher at all. It was the female nudity on the show, the intimations of sex, that got his blood in an uproar and caused his furious condemnation of the show. Apparently, showing some woman naked crucified Jesus, but endless and endlessly bloody, horrific violence did not. A woman’s naked rump was far more horrifying to this man than someone losing his hand or having his head cut off or his eyes gouged out or a woman being forced to have sex with her own father or having her baby cut out of her womb as she was murdered. Oh, no. It was the naughty bits that got this preacher all riled up.

This reminds us of a wonderful recurring theme in the very great movie “Cinema Paradiso,” where the local priest had every movie screened before it was shown in the town’s cinema, and forced the poor guy who ran the films to cut out everything the priest found unacceptable, such as kissing. (He didn’t censor violence either.) It also reminds us of the notorious trial of the pornographer and publisher Larry Flynt, where Flynt showed photos of his spreads from his magazine “Hustler,” very mild by today’s standards, next to photos of Holocaust victims, and asked which was the true atrocity. Flynt was ultimately acquitted. But the sex/nudity quotient still drives the movie ratings over violence, hatred, bad language, and the like: You’ll get a PG-17 rating for sex or nudity, but a PG-13 rating for horrific violence and mutilation. For shame!!!

As Supreme Court Justice Byron White famously said when ruling on the film “Carnal Knowledge,” “The only thing obscene about this film is that it is obscenely boring.” Our friend Ben and Silence don’t indulge in watching pornography ourselves, but feel that as long as it doesn’t involve children, animals, or sadism, those who do choose to indulge should be left alone. Films and shows that promote and revel in mindless, horrific violence in the name of “entertainment” are quite another matter. What’s a bare bum compared to somebody’s head being blown off?

We certainly don’t think that Jesus would be a fan of gratuitous nudity or pornography. He respected the sanctity and dignity of every human being. But to think that He, the Prince of Peace, would uphold media violence while denouncing media sexuality is blasphemy. Beyonce or Miley Cyrus or Kim Kardashian in a see-through costume is surely better than the Taliban cutting off a beautiful girl’s ears and nose because she advocated education for women, or someone shooting a Pakistani girl in the head for doing the same, or setting a woman on fire because she declined to marry someone, or stoning her to death for having dared to marry the man she loved.

Preachers, direct your rants to things that matter.

What’s your family motto? June 16, 2014

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In the TV series “Game of Thrones” and the books it was based on, George RR Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, the great noble Houses of Westeros all have mottos. House Stark’s motto is “Winter Is Coming.” House Lannister has an official motto, “Hear Me Roar,” and an unofficial but equally well-known one, “A Lannister Always Pays His Debts.” House Greyjoy’s ferocious raiding (Viking*) nature is expressed in its official motto, “We Do Not Sow,” and its suitably bleak unofficial motto is “What Is Dead May Never Die.” House Tully’s motto is more noble: “Family, Duty, Honor,” and the allied House Arryn has a similar motto, referencing their keep, The Eyrie’s, high perch, “As High as Honor.” The motto of House Martell of Dorne is “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken;” that of House Targaryen is “Fire and Blood.” And the motto of the royal house, House Baratheon, is “Ours Is the Fury.”

This practice is based in mediaeval history, when the royal and noble houses of Europe all had mottos. The most famous of all is probably King Edward III’s motto for the Order of the Garter, which he founded in 1348: “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense.” (I learned this as “Evil to him who evil thinks of it,” but the preferred translation from the Middle French is “Shame on him who thinks evil of it.”)

Why a French motto for an English chivalric order? England’s nobility may have actually managed to learn some English after nearly 300 years of English rule since William the Conqueror of Normandy cleaned the battlefield of Hastings with poor Anglo-Saxon King Harold Godwinson’s blood. But the official language of the court was still French, and the English monarchs still laid claim to the French throne, and continued to do so through the infamous and tumultuous reign of Henry VIII. (For all our friend Ben knows, they may have continued to lay claim to the throne of France until the Hanoverians, the German family from which Queen Elizabeth II descends, assumed the throne, but a little thing called the Spanish Armada sort of shifted their focus from France to Spain.)

Think about it: Wouldn’t you like a motto for your “house” (aka family, lineage)? Unless you’re descended from nobility, chances are that you’ll have to create your own. Like the great Houses in Westeros, you’ll want it to either express the traits that characterize your family and its situation or the aspirations it has to honor and glory. Many of the Westerosi Houses base their mottos on their House sigil, typically but not always an animal (the lion of House Lannister, for example, or the dragons of House Targaryen), their location (House Stark were once kings of the North, and House Arryn’s keep, The Eyrie, is indeed perched on a treacherously high peak), or their history (Dorne was the only kingdom in Westeros that was able to resist the Targaryen invasion, thus, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”).

So, how to proceed? You need something catchy, short, and memorable. “Mine Is the Endless Slog at the Corporation While My Brilliance Is Unrecognized and My Idiot Boss Humiliates Me and Takes Credit for My Ideas” might be worthy of Dilbert (and many of us), but it’s just not going to make it as a family motto. By contrast, “Follow Me” might be appropriate for Elon Musk of Tesla and SpaceX fame. The Knights Templar’s motto was “Do Your Duty, Come What May,” probably not too popular in today’s “One for All and All for Me” world. I’d suggest thinking about what matters to you and your family, then write it down, then condense it to something catchy and memorable.

The catchphrase of the Red Priestess Melisandre in “Game of Thrones” is “The night is dark and full of terrors.” I think, for our friend Ben and Silence Dogood here at Hawk’s Haven, our motto might be “The world is wide and full of wonders.” And our sigil would be a huge black German shepherd (our beloved Shiloh) with a red-tailed hawk (our totem) soaring above her.

What would you choose?

* Ironically, in the growing season, the Vikings were all farmers. They only took to raiding once the crops were harvested, unlike the Ironborn of “Game of Thrones,” who fished from their stony island and raided for every other item that sustained life.

The chickens of “Game of Thrones.” May 29, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. Our friend Ben and I are getting a small flock of new heritage chickens in early July. There will be six, and as always, each will be a different heritage breed: Rhode Island Red (red), Barred Rock (black and white), Buff Orpington (gold), Delaware (white), Ameraucauna (red and gold), and Silver Laced Wyandotte (black with white edgings). Quite the colorful group, and all are hefty birds that lay big, brown eggs, except for the Ameraucana, who will lay blue or green eggs.

We’ve never ordered pullets through mail-order before, but couldn’t find anyone locally who would sell us some. (Pullets are young hens who are about ready to lay, as opposed to the day-old chicks that are normally shipped and sold in April.) Luckily for us, Murray McMurray hatchery (http://www.mcmurrayhatchery.com) sells pullets individually, so you can buy one of each or any number that you want. They carry many heritage breeds, and they let them range on grass and eat grass and forage for bugs, seeds, and etc., as opposed to cutting their beaks as other hatcheries do, a horribly cruel practice akin to declawing cats. I suggest that, if you’re interested in chickens, you check out the Murray McMurray website; they’ll even ship you a free catalog.

So what does this have to do with “Game of Thrones”? Well, we’ve always named our chickens, since once we get them, we keep them (well-fed on organic pellets and grains, along with fruits, veggies, bread, and scraps from meal prep and leftovers) until they eventually die of old age. They also have their own enclosed yard, safe from predators, including hawks and owls, with a grapevine growing over it for shade and a chicken coop with a window and a transparent roof to let in light. We know from experience that every chicken knows its own name and will respond to it.

In the past, I’ve named chickens for Regency heroines (Venetia, Sophia, Lucretia, Charis, etc.), Tolkien characters, and the like. But at the moment, OFB and I are on a “Game of Thrones” kick. (And, alert viewers, chickens have appeared in a number of episodes.) So we’ve named our soon-to-arrive flock accordingly: The Delaware, white-feathered, for the white-haired Danaerys of House Targaryen. The Buff Orpington, gold-feathered, for the golden-haired Cersei of House Lannister. The Rhode Island Red, red-feathered, for the red-haired Catelyn of House Stark. The Ameraucana, red-gold, and less domesticated than the other heritage breeds, for the Wildling Ygritte. The Barred Rock, black-and-white, a fearless breed, for Arya of House Stark. And the Silver-Laced Wyandotte, a fancy, glamorous girl, for Margaery of House Tyrell.

Have fun with your own flock and their names. T.S. Eliot once noted that “The naming of cats is a difficult matter.” We beg to differ, both with cats and with chickens. But it’s especially fun to choose a theme for your flock and name them accordingly.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Bring back “Sherlock.” May 28, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. If there’s one thing that’s really aggravating, it’s when your favorite books finally are made into a series and then they just… vanish. Today, “Game of Thrones” fans are outraged because the producers chose to skip a Sunday showing over Memorial Day. Fans have to wait two weeks for the next episode.

But this is not a hardship compared to fans of “Sherlock,” who are apparently now going to have to wait until 2016—and, in case you’ve forgotten, it’s now 2014 and we last saw a season of “Sherlock” in 2013—for the show’s next season, thanks to star Benedict Cumberbatch’s hectic filming schedule.

Or fans of Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mysteries. Robert Redford took an interest and filmed three great PBS specials starring Wes Studi as Joe Leaphorn, Adam Beach as Jim Chee, the marvelous Graham Greene as Slick Nakai, the always delightful Gary Farmer as Captain Largo, and the fantastic Sheila Tousey as Leaphorn’s wife Emma. But rather than filming a weekly series, Redford chose to release a single episode a year. For three episodes, total. No surprise when you have a bunch of busy actors and are trying to get them together once a year. But what a disappointment, since we know there will never be any more episodes with these beloved actors. Shame on you, Robert Redford! You had a great chance, great plots, and great actors, and you blew it.

Ditto for Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series, starring Jill Scott as the beloved, compassionate, and wise detective Precious Ramotswe and the incredible Anika Noni Rose as her outspoken assistant, Grace Makutsi. The director died after just a few episodes were filmed, and the project was sidelined. For those of us who’ve read all the books and wait eagerly for the next tempting slice of the formidable Mma Potokwane’s famous fruitcake to be served up, this was and is a serious blow. Can’t blame the director this time, or the producers for not knowing how to move the series forward without him. But what a shame.

So, “Game of Thrones” fans, it’s tough to skip a week. But think of those of us who don’t get HBO and won’t pirate the series and are going to have to wait a whole year to get Season 4. Aaaagghhh!!! At least the showrunners are promising that they’ll take “Game of Thrones” through Season 7.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Think about what cheers you up. April 25, 2014

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Silence Dogood here. It must be very hard to be a child actor working on such a relentlessly grim, violent, and dark series as “Game of Thrones.” Poor Jack Gleeson, the actor playing the despised and despicable boy-king Joffrey “Baratheon,” had to endure a worldwide celebration when he was poisoned. He has announced that he’ll never act again.

Isaac Hempstead-Wright, who plays Bran Stark, takes a different approach to relieving the grimness. He told an interviewer that when he needs cheering up, he watches a little of “The Simpsons” or “Spongebob Squarepants.”

Way to go, Isaac! Our friend Ben and I love to start our day by watching a few clips of the films in the Pink Panther series. We especially love the clips featuring that comedic genius, Herbert Lom, as Chief Inspector Dreyfus, always battling his arch-enemy, Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau. (My favorite is when Dreyfus is forced to give Clouseau’s funeral oration, only to discover that he’s alive after all. OFB favors the “mad dentist” scene.) Soon we’re howling with laughter, and I can’t think of anything more healing. What a great way to start the day!

Think about what makes you laugh, and try to get more of it in your life.

‘Til next time,

Silence

Love ’em or hate ’em on “Game of Thrones.” April 16, 2014

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Let’s ignore the awful return of winter and turn to more entertaining pastimes. As a fan of “Game of Thrones'” Hodor, our friend Ben was highly amused to see a poster of Hodor yesterday that said, over a photograph of Hodor, “King Hodor of House Hodor,” then, in much larger letters at the bottom of the poster, “First of His Hodor,” “Long May He Hodor.” (Hodor, actually named Walder, is a benign, simpleminded giant whose only comment throughout the series is “Hodor.” When an interviewer asked the various actors what their character’s wittiest comment was, Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor, paused as if for thought, then replied deadpan, “I’d have to say, ‘Hodor’.”) Long may he Hodor!

This made me think about the death of Joffrey Lannister on last week’s “Purple Wedding” episode, for the simple reason that everyone online apparently reacted with joy, since they hated Joffrey more than any other character on “Game of Thrones.” While I wish Joffrey had choked to death on his way home from visiting Winterfell and removed his annoying self from the series early in Season 1, he always struck me as a spoiled, cowardly, sadistic brat who was allowed to grow into what he was by a rotten, corrupt, hate-filled mother (Cersei Lannister) and an indifferent “father” (King Robert Baratheon, who actually said “I was never meant to be a father”), while Joffrey’s true father, also his uncle, Ser Jaime Lannister, could do nothing to redeem him. To me, he was far from the most hateful character on the show.

Hmmm, I thought. Who are the most loved and hated characters on “Game of Thrones”? Turning to my good friend Google, I found answers that really surprised me, certainly not the answers I would have given in most cases. (Except one: series author George R.R. Martin, for killing off noble, beloved characters like Lord Eddard Stark and leaving the North defenseless without a second thought. You’d have thought that having the Mad King burn Eddard’s older brother Brandon and his father, and the Mad King’s son, Crown Prince Rhaegar Targaryen, imprison and repeatedly rape Eddard’s sister Lyanna, ultimately resulting in her death, might have been enough. But oh, no: There was no end to Martin’s torture of the only truly noble family in Westeros, the Starks. I was genuinely surprised and gratified at the fan response to this, placing the blame squarely where it belonged.)

If you’re a fan of the books and/or the series, you’ll have your own favorites to love and hate. But here are mine:

LOVE

Eddard Stark, Lord of Winterfell, Warden of the North, and reluctant Hand of the King: Like the man who raised him and his foster-brother Robert Baratheon, Jon Arryn, Ned values honor above common sense and fails to see that others value survival and power more than honor. Ned, Jon Arryn, and Robert Baratheon all die because of this basic failure of perception. But he remains my favorite character.

Tyrion Lannister, “The Imp:” Lord Tyrion has had to learn to use his brain and tongue as weapons, since he can’t compete with weapons of steel and hold his own. Despite his father’s and sister’s hatred and horrific acts against him, he manages to hold his place in Westeros and even prove himself a hero, as well as showing compassion whenever he can.

Stannis Baratheon: True heir to the Iron Throne, a brilliant general and honest man. Westeros under Lord Stannis’s rule would hardly be the cheerful, debauched place it was under his elder brother Robert, but Stannis would be a just ruler and a good, fair Winter king.

Mance Rayder: King North of the Wall, Mance has a great sense of perspective and a great sense of courage and daring. No man alive knows the threats this coming winter poses for all Westeros better than Mance, and no man knows how to truly rally extremely diverse peoples under his banner better than Mance (though Tyrion is underrated as usual in this regard).

CAN’T HELP BUT LOVE:

The Hound: Who wouldn’t love the Hound? Anyone who wouldn’t love the Hound is just a dog.

Lord Samwell Tarly (don’t forget he really is a lord and heir to a house)

Crown Prince Aemon Targaryen, Maester of the Wall; he’s seen it all.

Lord Jeor Mormont, Lord Commander of the Wall; like Lord Eddard, an honorable man.

Hodor: Long may he Hodor!

Ramsay Snow: The single cheerful character in all of “Game of Thrones.” He truly loves what he does.

Maester Llewyn of Winterfell, the one wise man.

Lord Varys: Who would be too stupid to love Lord Varys?!

Littlefinger: Lord Petyr Baelish might be completely self-absorbed, but his rise to power is an object lesson.

Ros: As is the whore from the North, Ros, who leaves Winterfell to become both a spy for Lord Varys and a whoremaster for Lord Baelish. She is both the most beautiful actress on the series and the most impressive instance (in character) of a nobody rising through their own talents to a position of more prominence than they could ever have hoped to have achieved.

The Smartasses: Seasoned fighters who are always there with a quip when needed to remind the novices that life and death are only life and death, and it’s way better to meet them when they come than run off screaming. Ser Davos Seaworth, the Onion Knight, Stannis Baratheon’s Hand. Bronn of the Blackwater, Tyrion Lannister’s sellsword and protector. Syrio Forel, First Sword of Braavos, Arya Stark’s “dancing master.” Jaqen H’gar, the face-changer who saves Arya Stark from Tywin Lannister. There are plenty of others, like the recruiter from the Night’s Watch who tries to protect Arya and Gendry and dies at the hands of the hated Gold Cloaks with the immortal line (while killed by a crossbow) “Always hated crossbows; take too long to reload.” Watch for them, they’re all great.

Lord Tywin Lannister, head of House Lannister: He’s so horrible but so wonderful. Thank you, Charles Dance, for a superb performance. You’ve always been amazing, and now you have Ciaran Hinds as Mance Rayder and Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon (and Mark Addy as Robert Baratheon and Sean Bean as Eddard Stark, for that matter), to make sure you stay good and sharp.

Vicerys Targaryen. He too was cheerful, now that I think of it. Too bad he died so early on. I always enjoyed his on-screen time, and still miss him. Don’t want to wake the dragon!

Khal Drogo. Too bad about him.

Shae. Brave, good, fierce, loyal, beautiful, true to her “lion,” Lord Tyrion: What’s not to love?

Lady Brienne of Tarth. She is as honorable as Eddard, just not the brightest bulb on the string. I’d love to have Brienne on my side as long as I was giving her her marching orders, not assuming she could figure them out on her own or choose her alliances wisely.

OKAY I HATE THEM

The bitter old men. Balon Greyjoy squatting like a toad on his rock while he mutters “I was a king, I was a king” as he sends his children off to die. Walder Frey, host of the Red Wedding. Grandmaester Pycelle, the lecherous coward. Craster, the monstrous wildling lord who marries his daughters and gives all his incest-born sons to the White Walkers.

Theon Greyjoy. That filthy, weak, ungrateful traitor.

Cersei Lannister. In case you didn’t get that the first time. Cersei was the spoiled only daughter of the super-rich House Lannister, considered the most beautiful woman in all Westeros, married to the then-handsome hero Robert Baratheon and so Queen of Westeros. She had more reasons than anyone in the series to be happy, but instead was filled with more poison than the Red Viper and always ready to spew it out on anyone and everyone from her brother Tyrion to Sansa Stark. Speaking of whom…

Sansa Stark. Filthy, lying, self-serving little turncoat, she turns against Arya and her father Eddard and dooms her poor direwolf Lady to death. Too bad she didn’t break her neck in the first episode!

Catelyn Stark. Even worse is her mother Catelyn, whose mindless hatred makes poor Jon Snow’s life a living hell and whose terrible judgment dooms her son Robb, her husband Eddard, and many another innocent to death. Of all the characters, I probably hate her most.

Lord Janos Slynt. The head of the Gold Cloaks who betrays Lord Eddard to his death. At least Lord Tyrion manages to send him to the Wall.

Melisandre. The “Red Woman,” High Priestess of the Lord of Light, has corrupted Stannis Baratheon, an honorable man, and turned him into a fanatic. Shame on her!

The madwomen: Lysa Arryn of the Eyrie and Lord Stannis’s wife. The sooner they’re offed, the better.

Joffrey Lannister. All right, all right, of course I hate Joffrey and his revolting retainers. But not as much as many another on this list.

So which characters do you love, hate, and love to hate?

What’s the next “Game of Thrones”? April 13, 2014

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David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, are you listening? Probably not. They’ve got their hands full with a little hit series called “Game of Thrones.” But for all the stations who wish they had HBO’s hit series on their hands, it might be time to take a look at two science-fantasy epics that are way overdue for serialization. Silence Dogood here, and here are my choices:

The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen (Joan D. Vinge, winner of the Hugo Award for best novel for The Snow Queen). The back cover of The Snow Queen sums it up well: “A classic work of speculative fiction, The Snow Queen is Joan D. Vinge’s Hugo Award-winning triumph, a novel that combines the ancient power of legend and myth with modern social issues of ecology, feminism, and basic rights, transforming all through the fabric of a brilliantly realized, far future tapestry.

“The imperious Winter colonists have ruled the planet Tiamat for 150 years, deriving wealth from the slaughter of the gentle sea mers. But soon the galactic stargate will close, isolating Tiamat, and the 150-year reign of the Summer primitives will begin. Unless Arienrhod, the ageless, corrupt Snow Queen, can destroy destiny with an act of genocide. Or unless Moon, a young Summer-tribe sybil, can break a conspiracy that spans space. For Moon is the Snow Queen’s nemesis, the Snow Queen’s lost rival,the Snow Queen’s lost weapon, the Snow Queen’s lost soul. Moon is the Snow Queen’s clone.”

These massive, rich, diverse books, like “Game of Thrones,” portray a struggle between Summer and Winter. In Tiamat’s capital, there’s more than enough sex, drugs, crime, violence, and perversion to rival anything King’s Landing has to offer, with Queen Arienrhod putting Cersei Lannister to shame. Yet the real villains are the high techs on a distant planet, who observe a rigid caste system, and the Hegemonic Assembly, the travelling board of aristocrats who rule what is left of the Old Empire and hoard a dirty little secret—and the rewards it brings them—at the cost of all sentient life.

Spanning worlds and galaxies, yet firmly centered in the drama on Tiamat as Winter’s reign ends, The Snow Queen and The Summer Queen take no shortcuts and have no fairy-tale endings. (The Summer Queen follows the arc of Moon’s rule, with its hardships and heartbreak.) This is no fairy tale. (Admittedly, I was flummoxed by the reference to feminism on the back cover, since both Winters and Summers always choose a queen to rule, until I recalled the fight for recognition of a female police officer who was hindered and belittled by her male colleagues at every turn.) There are even two additional novels, World’s End and Tangled Up in Blue, that explain some of the rich backstory.

Ms. Vinge’s series has its Cersei, its Danaerys, its Jaime. It has its monsters (all human) and opportunists, its aliens, and its very modern blue-collar workers and careerists who are just trying to do their jobs until the cycle turns and they can get off the primitive, corrupt planet where they’ve been sent to further their careers or just try to scrape by. (There’s even a robot who might end up reminding you a lot of Hodor.) A creative team could get many, many seasons out of this series, and it could bring together fans of “Game of Thrones” and “Avatar” to create a huge following.

Golden Witchbreed and Ancient Light (Mary Gentle). These massive novels also are set on a distant world, Orthe, where half the inhabitants are civilized and half are superstitious primitives, much like the Wildlings beyond the Wall and the inhabitants of Westeros in “Game of Thrones.” Into this world comes Lynne Christie, a diplomat from Earth who’s sent to see if Orthe is worth cultivating in Earth’s interests. But what she must learn while dealing with the court’s corruption and subsequently the tribes’ superstitious horror of “the other” is that, whatever they are, these people are not human, and that she is the naive one in this particular Game of Thrones.

As the novels progress, Lynne is sent deeper and deeper into the mystery of the hated Golden Witchbreed, the race that came from afar and enslaved the native population, only to disappear… or so everyone hopes. But what is the truth? Who are the Golden Witchbreed, and why did they come to Orthe in the first place? Why did they allow themselves to die out? Who, ultimately, is Lynne Christie, and where do her loyalties lie, with the corporate conglomerations on Earth and the mission they’ve sent her on or the people she’s come to know on Orthe?

Again, there’s a lot in common here with “Avatar,” and a lot of sex, violence, perversion, betrayal, and the like. (Yet, like Joan Vinge’s novels, these came out years before either “Avatar” or “Game of Thrones.”) Very much like “Game of Thrones,” every time you think you have something figured out, the game changes. It keeps you engaged, and it keeps you guessing. A great choice for a series. Lynne Christie may be a Danaerys, but watch for Lord Varys and Littlefinger, Lord Baelish, and the warlock of Qarth behind every pillar.

What would you choose for the next “Game of Thrones”?

Stop bashing Tolkien. April 9, 2014

Posted by ourfriendben in wit and wisdom.
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Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are fans of the HBO hit series “Game of Thrones.” We don’t get HBO, so we’ll have to wait a year to see Season 4, but we own the other three seasons and have been re-watching them as Season 4 takes hold of the popular imagination.

We’ve also tried to keep up with the new season vicariously by reading press releases, interviews, reviews, and plot summaries. My favorite characters are Tyrion Lannister and the Hound, with Tywin Lannister a close third; Silence favors Lord Eddard Stark, Stannis Baratheon and Mance Rayder. (But then, she loves Sean Bean, Stephen Dillane and Ciaran Hinds, so I’m not sure what this is really saying.)

But I digress. Point being that we’ve noticed a really ugly trend in the reviews: Tolkien-bashing. It seems as if reviewers can only say good things about “Game of Thrones” if they say bad things about “The Lord of the Rings.” This is like comparing James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans to Tony Hillerman’s Navajo mystery series, or, as Silence points out, Gulliver’s Travels to Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”

Think “A Song of Ice and Fire” author George R.R. Martin, on whose novels “Game of Thrones” is based, decided to see how J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic of Middle Earth would play out in real time? Fine. There are plenty of interesting parallels. What’s not fine is to gleefully shriek “A stake has finally been driven through Tolkien’s heart!” or “Tolkien is dead; long live Martin!” as we’ve seen in recent reviews.

As we’re sure many of you have, Silence and I grew up with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I used to read the whole cycle once a year, until it finally dawned on me that the characters in LoTR were so wooden and, unlike The Hobbit, there was no humor in it. But Professor Tolkien wasn’t trying to become famous or rich by writing a hit series. He was trying to make his life’s work—the study and translation of early to mediaeval Norse, Anglo-Saxon, and Celtic myth and literature—relevant to his generation.

He included heroes and monsters, trolls, elves, dwarves, goblins, dragons, and wizards as well as humans in his series because they were all in the lore and legends of the cultures he studied. For those peoples of the North, as for the Starks in Westeros, winter was always coming, and it was always long, dark, and brutal. And he wove the great mediaeval myth of chivalry, the noble knight, Sir Gawain, Sir Lancelot, into his epic as well, that honor will triumph, that weakness will be defeated. Aragorn and Gandalf win. Saruman and the Nazgul lose. Does anyone actually like Aragorn, or Gandalf, for that matter? To me, the only likeable characters in LoTR were Gimli son of Gloin, Samwise Gamgee, and Pippin. The rest were place-holders for a myth JRR Tolkien chose to weave and populate.

George Martin chose to bring this mythical world kicking and screaming into our modern age, sort of a bastard child of Tolkien and “Rome” and “The Tudors.” He has no education in the original works, unlike Tolkien. He also sets his action in a mediaeval world, and peoples it with mythical characters (giants, white walkers, dragons, witches—think Melisandre, the Red Witch—warlocks and wizards, as well as those like Bran and Rickon who are “wargs,” able to see through the eyes of others). But he brings the myth to the present with clever spins, from making the mythical dwarves of Tolkien into an actual physical dwarf, Lord Tyrion, to turning chivalric heroes into brutal sadistic monsters like Ser Gregor Clegane.

All this, and the ambivalence that pervades “Game of Thrones,” that makes a character like “The Spider,” Lord Varys, a hero, and a hero like Lord Eddard Stark a loser, is great plotting, great writing. But it is no excuse for reviewers to bash the books of someone long dead, someone who had a very different agenda: to make the past come alive for a new generation. True, there was no sex, there was no nudity, there was no sexual ambiguousness or titillation in Tolkien’s books. There was no gratuitous torture or violence. That’s because in his heart, Tolkien was a knight.

He lived what he wrote, all of his life. At 17, he fell in love with a 19-year-old girl at his boarding house and wished to marry her. The priest in charge of him (Tolkien had been long orphaned by then), afraid he would waste his brilliance, demanded that he leave his sweetheart without a word of explanation and not dare to approach her or any other woman until he reached his majority at 21. Tolkien felt honor-bound to agree. The day he turned 21, he rushed to London to propose to his true love, and they remained married and passionately in love until her death. He based one of his most astonishing stories on their love, and had the names of the characters he created for them carved into their tombstones.

Is this the world of “Game of Thrones,” where sisters and brothers have sex and murder anyone who might have found out their secret? Where scenes in whorehouses are as common as scenes on the battlefield? Hardly. Yet, George Martin has benefited from JRR Tolkien’s world, if only to use it as a ball to bounce off of. For reviewers to rush up to take pot shots at Tolkien now is despicable. Let “Game of Thrones” be “Game of Thrones,” and Tolkien be Tolkien.