This series of articles takes a close look at George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series from the perspective of a Ph.D. in Medieval history and literature.  Each book in the series will be analyzed against actual historical events in the Dark and Middle Ages along with literature, factual or fictional, from that time.  This is the first time the author is reading the novels, so keep in mind that she’s unaware of major spoilers but that spoilers will be revealed as she progresses through the material.

By Catherine Smith-Akel, Ph.D.

Wea byð wundrum clibbor.

Wolcnu scriðað.

Maxims II

Survival of the Least Fit

George Martin incorporates quite a few characters who are the least fit to survive and yet are central to the story. The three most significant, up to this point in the book, are Lord Tyrion Lannister, Jon Snow, and Bran Stark.

Tyrion is the most obvious, of course, because he is a dwarf--a permanent physical disability from birth unlike Jon Snow and Bran Stark. The parents—who already have healthy twins—might be inclined to expose the abnormal baby to the elements. Infanticide of abnormal and deformed children was not that unusual. The Christian Church forbade infanticide and it was punished (but not by secular authorities, interestingly), but Martin’s story provides no such Christian overtones.

In life and in the literature, dwarfs were treasured creatures. Medieval dwarfs were often endowed with various magical powers. They were also supposed to be excellent craftsmen, particularly in sword-making; such swords made by dwarfs were also endowed with magical powers. The most famous sword said to be made by an elf from Avalon is Excalibur, King Arthur’s sword.

One of the most famous dwarfs in literature comes from the Arthurian legend of Sir Gareth.  In Malory’s The Tale of Sir Gareth, Gareth’s servant-dwarf is the vehicle for Gareth’s various adventures.  The unnamed dwarf also has a comic role in the tale, as he is physically picked up and carried around by another knight and by a lady.

The traditional role of a jester is also an anomaly rather than the norm.  It is true that the nobility liked to have a dwarf at court—they were considered almost as the court “pet”—but dwarfs were hard to come by.  If a noble were lucky enough to have a dwarf, the noble would care well for him.  However, several plates in medieval texts show court jesters as full-grown men.  So, the dwarf jester must have been a more unusual creature.

But the dwarf characteristic of wisdom seems to be the one in which Tyrion excels.   Tyrion prides himself on his mental capability—telling Jon Snow that in order to be a productive member of his family he feels obliged to develop a sharp mind as his brother Jamie has developed a sharp sword.  Tyrion studies books and so develops his wit.  Up to this point in the text, Tyrion removes himself from difficult situations through the clever use of language.  He baits and manipulates, sometimes getting himself into a lot of trouble when he can’t keep his mouth shut—such as in the Eyrie when he winds up asking for a challenge from one of Lady Lysa’s knights in order to obtain his freedom.  Again, he uses his language to get the sellsword, Bronn, to fight for him.  After Tyrion and Bronn are thrown out of the Eyrie—something Tyrion had not thought of in advance—he had to extricate himself from the Stone Crows, the outlaws who want to kill them.  He does so through quick talking and promises the Stone Crows the Vale of Arryn.

Unlike Tyrion, Jon Snow’s “deformity” is cultural—he is the bastard son of Eddard Stark and a yet unnamed mother.  Interestingly, in the book Martin gives bastard children surnames such as Snow or Flower (depending on the region in which they are born).  The surname signifies them as illegitimate, the children of nature. Read More...

The following review is from our friends at Westeros.org.  Last week they gave us their review of episode 3, Lord Snow, and stay tuned for our podcast review and discussion of episode 4 later on!

Written by Bryan Cogman

Directed by Brian Kirk

IMDB Synopsis (by HBO Publicity)

Arriving at King's Landing after his long journey, Ned is shocked to learn of the Crown's profligacy from his new advisors. At Castle Black, Jon Snow impresses Tyrion at the expense of greener recruits. Suspicious that the Lannisters had a hand in Bran's fall, Catelyn covertly follows her husband to King's Landing, where she is intercepted by Petyr Baelish, aka "Littlefinger," a shrewd longtime ally and brothel owner. Cersei and Jaime ponder the implications of Bran's recovery; Arya studies swordsmanship. On the road to Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys finds herself at odds with Viserys.

Analysis

Rewatching this episode this week led me to realize something: it's probably the weakest of the six episodes Linda and I have seen. Between King’s Landing and the Wall, we have a dozen new characters introduced (Old Nan—the late, great Margaret John—and Rakharo make an even fourteen). While they file onto the stage, the momentum of the plot largely grinds to a halt. Despite there being fewer chapters being covered than either of the previous episodes (my count places it at about 6 and a quarter chapters), the sense that there's a rush to move from scene to scene seems clearest of all. Some scenes feel too brief, leaving you with a sense of wanting something more. This is not to say it's a bad episode—I don’t believe there's a bad one in the bunch—but it seems like it may be the episode that could be the least satisfying to those who haven’t read the books, who won't get a thrill from seeing Varys, Ser Barristan the Bold, Littlefinger, the Old Bear, and more for the first time. It's a lot to digest.

Of all the characters in this episode, Cersei seems the most changed. When she's speaking with Joffrey, it's an ... interesting scene. Cersei tutors him, and… she seems much cleverer than she was in the books, suffice it to say; some of what she says sounds like they could come from Tywin or Tyrion. This scene, again more than any other, highlights how different she is from the Cersei of the novels.While for dramatic purposes it makes sense, I can't help but think that they're going to have difficulty keeping her narrative in the show along the same path as in the novels, if she's quite so clever as she’s being depicted. A purist part of me sort of wishes this scene was never shown—those 2.5 minutes could have been useful with some of the later scenes.Similarly, when she's with Jaime later on, Linda leapt on the fact that Cersei seem to have been genuinely upset at Jaime for having pushed a 10-year-old boy out the window, and this is a very good point: in the novels, Cersei was upset only because she thought it was precipitous to do, not that it was wrong to do it at all. This casts her earlier conversation with Catelyn in a new light, suggesting she was sincere in her remarks concerning Lady Stark's loss. In other ways, the scene plays very well for us, with a flash of temper from Cersei, and a show of Jaime's intense devotion. Interestingly, the writers again mine the later books when it comes Jaime – his quip about "the War for Cersei's Cunt" is straight out of A Storm of Swords. Read More...


The following review is from our friends at Westeros.org.  Last week they gave us their review of episode 2, The Kingsroad, and stay tuned for our podcast review and discussion of episode 3 later on!



Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

Directed by Brian Kirk

IMDB Synopsis (by HBO Publicity)

Arriving at King's Landing after his long journey, Ned (Sean Bean) is shocked to learn of the Crown's profligacy from his new advisors. At Castle Black, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) impresses Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) at the expense of greener recruits. Suspicious that the Lannisters had a hand in Bran's fall, Catelyn (Michelle Fairley) covertly follows her husband to King's Landing, where she is intercepted by Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen), aka "Littlefinger," a shrewd longtime ally and brothel owner. Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) ponder the implications of Bran's (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) recovery; Arya (Maisie Williams) studies swordsmanship. On the road to Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) finds herself at odds with Viserys (Harry Lloyd).

Analysis

Rewatching this episode this week led me to realize something: it's probably the weakest of the six episodes Linda and I have seen. Between King’s Landing and the Wall, we have a dozen new characters introduced (Old Nan—the late, great Margaret John—and Rakharo make an even fourteen). While they file onto the stage, the momentum of the plot largely grinds to a halt. Despite there being fewer chapters being covered than either of the previous episodes (my count places it at about 6 and a quarter chapters), the sense that there's a rush to move from scene to scene seems clearest of all. Some scenes feel too brief, leaving you with a sense of wanting something more. This is not to say it's a bad episode—I don’t believe there's a bad one in the bunch—but it seems like it may be the episode that could be the least satisfying to those who haven’t read the books, who won't get a thrill from seeing Varys, Ser Barristan the Bold, Littlefinger, the Old Bear, and more for the first time. It's a lot to digest.

Read More...

We're back for our second podcast review with our friends at Westeros.org!  This week, we take a look at "The Kingsroad" with a general consensus that the second episode of George R.R. Martin's masterpiece adaptation improved a bit over the first.  So once again, Westeros' Elio and Linda join MTV Geek's Tom and Daniel to break it down!

Click to listen: Game of Thrones 'The Kingsroad' Podcast

Podcast highlights:

"I love how they did [Bran's] awakening at the end, it's so eerie." - Elio

""The introduction to [Jon Snow's] circle of friends I'm looking forward to...and the officers of the Wall." - Daniel

"My favorite moment by far has to be Ned and Jon's farewell just because of the way they slip in the 'I promise' line and the echoes of that and Sean Bean is tearing up." - Linda.

And check out the new HBO "Critics' Reviews" trailer!


The following review is from our friends at Westeros.org.  Last week they gave us their review of episode 1, Winter is Coming, and stay tuned for our podcast review and discussion of episode 2 later on!


Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Tim van Patten

IMDB Synopsis (by HBO Publicity)

Having agreed to become the King’s Hand, Ned leaves Winterfell with daughters Sansa and Arya, while Catelyn stays behind in Winterfell. Jon Snow heads north to join the brotherhood of the Night’s Watch. Tyrion decides to forego the trip south with his family, instead joining Jon in the entourage heading to the Wall. Viserys bides his time in hopes of winning back the throne, while Daenerys focuses her attention on learning how to please her new husband, Drogo.

Analysis

This is a melancholy episode, with fully a third of it devoted to unhappiness, and right at the very beginning. First, the unhappiness and suffering of Daenerys, followed by some fifteen minutes of the poignant farwells of the Starks. Beautifully acted, this episode is the first to really give Kit Harington as Jon and Maisie Williams as Arya some meaty scenes, and they do wonderfully. Kit plays the awkwardness of farewell very, very well, while Maisie is endearing (Nymeria’s also rather cute!) Perhaps the most notable thing in these scenes, however, is a change to one of the scenes from the novel.

The choice to not have Catelyn to call Jon by name—something she’s never done before, in the novels (and something she never does in these two episodes)—and tell him that it should have been him is an interesting one, and feels part-and-parcel with the changes to her character and actions we noted in our previous episode analysis. According to the producers, the loss of the line was because it felt too blunt in the scene, and that the actors had already conveyed so much of the tension through their acting. It sounded to me, when speaking to them, that they actually had written the scene with the line in, but it was decided to remove it in the course of filming. In any case, these words are ones that lead many readers to positivelydespise Catelyn. This is, and alway will be, an incredibly harsh judgment given the circumstances.

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Welcome to our first podcast review of HBO's Game of Thrones done in partnership with Westeros.org!  Westeros' Elio and Linda join MTV Geek's Tom and Daniel to break down what they liked, loved, or hoped to see done better in the premier episode!

Click to listen or download: Game of Thrones 'Winter Is Coming' Podcast

Podcast highlights:

"We loved Harry Lloyd as Viserys.  We thought he did a wonderful job...next to Maisie Williams who plays Arya Stark, Harry Lloyd was the actor who most captured and was most translated one to one from the text." - Elio

"In the books they really go through great lengths to say nobody wears black except the Night's Watch because it's like the badge - you earn it and it marks you.  But in this [show] everyone is wearing black or dark, dark grey.  Whereas the book goes out of its way to say 'oh, they're tunic is this color or has this on the front.'" - Daniel

"I would have to say that other than seeing the wolves for the first time..which is an amazing moment, I really like the introductions of the Targaryens because Viserys has got that nervous, mad energy about him and I think that was really fitting...and he just stole that scene." - Linda

"I really like Ned, I like Cat...I felt like [Ned] was really well done and the changes, making him a little more genial, I think are absolutely necessary in order for him to carry a show for a whole season." - Tom

Listen here!


The following review is from our friends at Westeros.org.  Last week they gave us their early impressions of the first 6 episodes and stay tuned for our podcast review and discussion of episode 1 later today!


Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Directed by Tim van Patten

IMDB Synopsis (by HBO Publicity)

A Night's Watch deserter is tracked down outside of Winterfell, prompting swift justice by Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark and raising concerns about the dangers in the lawless lands north of the Wall. Returning home, Ned learns from his wife Catelyn that his mentor, Jon Arryn, has died in the Westeros capital of King's Landing, and that King Robert is on his way north to offer Ned Arryn's position as the King's Hand. Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea in Pentos, Viserys Targaryen hatches a plan to win back the throne, which entails forging an allegiance with the nomadic Dothraki warriors by giving its leader, Khal Drogo, his lovely sister Daenerys' hand in marriage. Robert arrives at Winterfell with his wife, Queen Cersei, and other members of the Lannister family: her twin brother Jaime, dwarf brother Tyrion and Cersei's son and heir to the throne, 12-year-old Joffrey. Unable to refuse his old friend and king, Ned prepares to leave for King's Landing, as Jon Snow decides to travel north to Castle Black to join the Night's Watch, accompanied by a curious Tyrion. But a startling act of treachery directed at young Bran may postpone their departures.

Analysis

From the moment we saw the Wall in all its majesty, Linda and I knew that we were going to love the grandeur of the show’s depiction of the locales of Westeros, even if not all the visuals necessarily fit our conceptions of how they looked. The production has stinted nothing in trying to capture the scope of the setting. Later on, we’ll discover that “stinting nothing” does not mean "breaking the budget", but it’s a testament to the production’s passionate embrace of the novels that they’ve done their best to keep their fidelity high.

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Welcome to the first in a series of articles that take a close look at George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series from the perspective of a Ph.D. in Medieval history and literature.  Each book in the series will be analyzed against actual historical events in the Dark and Middle Ages along with literature, factual or fictional, from that time.  This is the first time the author is reading the novels, so keep in mind that she’s unaware of major spoilers but that spoilers will be revealed as she progresses through the material.

By Catherine Smith-Akel, Ph.D.

Cyning sceal rice healdan.

Maxims II

The Seven Kingdoms

This series of articles is, essentially, a first-reader’s reaction to GRRM’s texts. A background in medieval (Old and Middle English) literature and history will allow me to “connect the (historical) dots” and bring some insight into, perhaps, the legends and history on which GRRM draws. Or—if that’s not the case—then history, whether factual or fictional, probably does repeat itself. The medieval themes of the story pop right off the pages of his book—superstition, the place and roles of women in the story, the emphasis on honor and loyalty, the focus on tradition; however, the strongest theme is survival, and not just survival of the fittest, but also survival of the least fit.

Martin’s generic medieval setting crosses the centuries of the Dark Ages and the Middle Ages, from about the time the Romans left Britain in the fifth century to 1485, the end of the Plantagenet Dynasty. This first book, A Game of Thrones, however, seems to be placed in the later centuries of the Dark Ages, say from the 6th and 7th centuries up until the Norman Conquest in 1066. The Saxons, after annihilating the Celts, created what is called the Heptarchy or the Seven Kingdoms: Kent, Sussex, Essex, Wessex, Mercia, Northumberland, and East Anglia.

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As we gear up for the premier of HBO's Game of Thrones and our weekly coverage partnership with Westeros.org, we'd like to get you started with the Westeros editorial team's first impressions of episodes 1-6!  That's right, they got to see them first, and we can all bleed jealously.  The following review is spoiler-FREE, so proceed with reckless abandon!

The following review was originally posted on Westeros.org on April 3

Before we launch into our general impressions of the first six episodes of Game of Thrones, some disclaimers.

First, the episodes are not complete—ADR, color grading, VFX, music, and sometimes even credits are still temporary—though the very first episodes seem much nearer to complete than the final episode.

Secondly, as “superfans”, Linda and I have been in some fashion involved in the fan community, the re-reading, the discussion, the news reporting and article writing, almost every day of our lives for the past twelve years or so—we have been about as immersed in the books as anyone not named George R.R. Martin can get. This gives us a perspective that is certainly very different from that of the new viewer unfamiliar with the books, probably very different from all of the professional critics (who have, none the less, been very positive so far about what they’ve seen), and even rather different from that of many other devoted fans of the novels. It’s very hard to divorce our views from our knowledge of what the story is in the novels, to try and imagine how it plays for those unfamiliar with it, so we’ll not make much effort to do that.

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: visually, this is a feast for the eyes. From the stunning main title (bank on an Emmy award nomination next year) to the closing credits, you’re treated to the epic, expansive sweep of Westeros; the tall castles, the knights in armor, the glittering courts, the rugged landscape, its all there. The production has not been afraid to put their own stamp on things—their conception of the Red Keep is a fantastical construction, the Eyrie is even more incredibly sited than what’s described in the books—but there’s definitely a real sense of this place being a world of wondrous vistas.

We might quibble about some details, about some of the general choices made in regard to arms and armor, or clothing (this is probably the area of the production where we have the most reservations; it’s well-done, but it has the strongest feel of changes having been made for the sake of the changes), but on the whole it’s simply amazing that so much effort was put into those details in the first place. There are tiny details that 95% of the viewing audience won’t even notice, but they’re there because the production believes they ought to be. The visual effects are eye-popping, as you can imagine, as are the practical effects (expect blood pumping out of a few severed throats here and there).

Musically, we can say less at this stage. Combined with the amazing title, the main theme by Ramin Djawadi is our favorite of the pieces of the music for the show. It, too, captures the epic sweep of the setting, and so is a perfect match for A52’s title design. One thing we believe we’ve noticed is that one common idea fans had—that each character should have a distinctive theme, something as a nod to the POV structure of the novels—does not seem to be Djawadi’s approach. Pieces of music are much more tied into the events happening rather than the characters they involve.

There are some events that don’t seem to be getting any music at all—the fight on the high road was one that stood out—but because of the incomplete nature of the episodes (particularly the later ones), we’re not sure if this is how it’ll be when these episodes actually air. So far, the music that does happen within the episodes is generally more atmospheric, and we have to say, nothing other than the main title has so far struck us as particularly memorable; but then, music that helps set an atmosphere isn’t necessarily intended to be remembered, but to support the action, so this may be a good thing depending on your perspective.

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We are proud to announce that for the duration of HBO’s Game of Thrones that MTV Geek and Westeros.org will partner to bring you complete episodic coverage of the series.

Episode reviews will be done by the Westeros.org editorial team and will be available on both sites followed by a weekly podcast by Westeros’ Elio M. García and Linda Antonsson and MTV’s Tom Akel and Daniel Craft.

Westeros.org, the A Song of Ice and Fire domain, is the premier fan site for George R.R Martin's highly acclaimed epic fantasy series. Not yet a fan? Check out the spoiler-free review of the first book, A Game of Thrones, which provides a great introduction to the series. If you are new to the series, be aware that the site does contain spoilers for all published books. Sections containing spoilers are marked as such, but use the search with caution.

Among what Westeros has to offer is the largest discussion forum for A Song of Ice and Fire as well as All Sorts of Weird Stuff, featuring news and information about the series and Mr. Martin's other projects. Westeros hosts an area dedicated to the HBO-adaption of the books, Game of Thrones, and The Citadel, an archive of thematic resources. The site also hosts the Blood of Dragons MUSH (an on-line, text-based role-playing game), a dedicated wiki, and A Ring of Ice and Fire, making series-related webpages more accessible to fans.

Westeros.org is lead by Elio M. García (aka Ran) and Linda Antonsson, fans of the series since 1997 who are currently working with GRRM on the forthcoming guide-book to the setting, titled The World of Ice and Fire.

Originally published in 1996, A Game of Thrones has become one of the most respected and popular fantasy series of all time.  And after 15 years, which is pretty quick or way too long, depending on who you are, the first 14 minutes of the new HBO series has premiered!  So without further adieu, we welcome you to Westeros!  Enjoy, we'll be back tomorrow to break down these scenes and give our thoughts!

HBO has released a new Game of Thrones trailer.  This one, entitled "Power", features some new footage of Peter Baelish and more of Viserys and Dany that we haven't yet seen.  The most compelling piece for fans of the books may be the line "You're not supposed to be here."

What we consider even better news is the Game of Thrones mobile food truck which will serve the gourmet dishes of Westeros to some lucky fans over the next two weeks in New York and Los Angeles.  If you happen to be in NY the week of the 28th or LA the week of April 4th, make sure you keep up with the official Facebook page and Twitter to find out where and when the truck will appear each day.  Only the first 300 fans who get there will sup on delights pulled right from the pages of the novels so keep your eyes peeled!

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HBO released 4 new high res images of Winterfell, King's Landing, and the Wall yesterday for Game of Thrones.  We've seen this look at the Wall before in a couple of videos, but these are our first clear views of Winterfell and King's Landing.

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The big buzz at Day One of C2E2 was the giant Thor hammer at the Marvel booth (the perfect place to snap a photo), Brightest Day action figure exclusives that sold out almost as fast as they were offered, and, as fate would have it -- a debate over Wonder Woman's pants.

Let's start with that hammer.

A giant replica of Thor's hammer was on display at the Marvel Comics booth, promoting of course the upcoming Thor movie. Also in heavy promotion was the Fear Itself event, the Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes cartoon, and the Captain America movie (which also received a nice huge banner featuring Chris Evans).

A pair of con attendees came up to me with not one but two cameras, asking me to take snapshots of them with good ol' Mjolnir. A popular pose was at the handle, straining to pick the giant hammer up. Read More...

Just yesterday we showed you the 4 new Game of Thrones posters HBO released earlier in the week and today they've added a fifth!  The latest features Kit Harington as Jon Snow, illegitimate son of Ned Stark, accompanied by the line "I Am The Watcher On The Wall."  Offhand, we don't recall that line from any of the novels so if you know where it's from please point it out.  In any case, it's great to see Jon used in HBO's marketing!

Click on the image to view it in high res:

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