The 'A Song of Ice and Fire' Domain



Game of Thrones Exhibit in Stockholm Report

Thanks to the good graces of HBO Nordic, Linda and I travelled to Stockholm this past Friday to take a look at the Game of Thrones exhibit in Kungsträdgården. A quick train trip from Gothenburg and after checking in to our hotel we took a walk over to the park, where we meet our press contact who got us our press passes. We had arrived too late to take part in the panel with Coster-Waldau, but Nikolaj has been a frequent interviewee of our site already so not a big deal, we thought.

The exhibit is housed in a large tent in the middle of the park, which extends down to one of the more scenic views of Stockholm’s glorious waterfront—though with the grey, windy weather, it wasn’t all that beautiful at the time. Ushered in, we were greeted first by a few heraldic banners, and then a mass of costumes, armor, weapons, and props that ran the gamut from all four seasons of HBO’s hit show… and even into the fifth season.  Naturally, we took many pictures.

While there, Nikolaj came in to do a series of television and radio interviews, but before they started he came by to chat with Linda (who he’d not met before, but evidently recognized) and I. He remarked that the Oculus Rift-driven Wall experience was particularly amazing and wondered if we’d tried it (we had.) And then back to interviews for him, and back to looking around for a bit more. During this time, Elana Loewenthal of HBO introduced herself, revealing that she was largely responsible with arranging the exhibit and its contents. She was particularly helpful, discussing some of the thinking behind the story of the exhibit—the way things were laid out in conjunction with one another—and the little hints of season 5 they were able to work into the show with the permission of executive producers David Benioff & Dan Weiss. Afterward, she said we’d see her again at the opening party held in a nearby gallery….

Review of Game of Thrones: Episode 2

The second episode of the Telltale Games Game of Thrones game was released today on PC. Titled “The Lost Lords”, the launch trailer can be seen below:

For the most part, our thoughts on the game based on the first episode hold—it’s a solid but (so far) unexceptional game, with some of the annoying Game of Thrones quirks present, like veritable teleportation between far-distant locations (made even more blatant in this episode, as a character makes his way to Yunkai from the North in what seems to be a span of a few days). So far the game seems to be moving around pieces on the board, not least because this episode introduces two additional point of view characters, but that seems reasonable in a six-episode series.

There are a few thematic notes that we’ll discuss beneath the cut, for those who (like us) are interested in how Telltale has worked the setting into its narrative.

Review of Game of Thrones: Episode 1

The newly released first episode of the Game of Thrones adventure game from Telltale Games—a company that’s been around since 2004, creating adventure games of all sorts, but which only fairly recently rose to prominence with the critical acclaim for its The Walking Dead game—has certainly drawn some attention. Reviews have varied (see Polygon at one end, IGN at another, and Rock, Paper, Shotgun is always worth reading) but everyone certainly seems to feel that they’ve captured something of the Game of Thrones TV series in its tone and style (even if, in certain areas—the sexual content, namely—it’s toned way down [so far]).

I myself have had a little experience of Telltales’ games, but from their pre-TWD period when the games they produced (such as the licensed Back to the Future and their first episodic title, Sam and Max: Season One). These were much more traditional adventure games, and were solid-to-pretty good. But the real boom of success that The Walking Dead brought—a success that has led to their Fables: A Wolf Among Us game based on Bill Willingham’s comic book series, and more recently Tales of the Borderland based on the popular FPS—was also paired with a very different approach to the adventure game. At the outset, Telltales Games made very traditional adventure games. No surprise there, really: several members of the company came there by way of Lucasarts, famous for its adventure games such as The Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, and the Secret of Monkey Island series among others. Those games generally featured a lot of puzzles, and while they had strong central narratives you had relatively little control over it. You might end up with two or three different end states, with some minor variations in the mechanics of how to get from point A to point B, but your character’s interactions would have little lasting impact in terms of the dynamics of character relationships. The characters would generally always think of you in the same way, regardless of what you did.

Osuna’s Bullring: Why Game of Thrones Shouldn’t Film There

It has been mooted about for awhile—ever since it was first announced that season 5 of Game of Thrones would film in Spain—that one of the locations that was under consideration was the Andalusian town of Osuna. Full of history, Osuna features some noteworthy buildings—the University of Osuna building was declared a monument, and the Colegiata church across from it is a noteworthy example of Renaissance architecture—and the arid landscape so common in Andalusia. It seems, on the face of it, an excellent location for filming scenes for the new season.

But speculation turned to one particular possible site for filming in Osuna: the Plaza de Toros of Osuna. Built in the early 1900s, it is a substantial bullring, capable of holding 6,500 specatators and has one of the largest diameters of any bullring in Spain. Many saw photos of it and immediately pronounced it a perfect location for a key sequence from A Dance with Dragons which many speculate will be part of this season. What we saw, however—and what, we think, a few others have seen—was a building whose sole reason for existence was the long-held tradition of the bullfight. Bullfighting has been romanticized by many notable persons over the years—Hemingway is an obvious example—and it continues to be a significant attraction in parts of Spain, particularly Andalusia.

Reports from Spanish language media and fan sites appear to confirm that the bullring will be used, and the mayor of Osuna is quoted remarking that the publicity the show will bring to their town “could not be bought”.  Even the official Facebook page of the bullring has remarked on the rumors regarding the filming of Game of Thrones:

On Season 5 Casting

With a number of fellow fans asking us to discuss the casting news from San Diego Comic-con, Linda and I have gone ahead and recorded a brand new Youtube video discussing just that. Note that it contains some spoilers for A Feast for Crows, and minor spoilers for A Dance with Dragons:

For more of our videos, see our Youtube channel. And yes, we’re planning at least a couple of more videos—we say as much in the video—but if there’s any other topics people are keen on hearing our thoughts on, do say in the comments!

Season 4 Impressions

In past seasons of Game of Thrones, we’ve posted impressions based on the screeners we received from HBO. This year, we’ve decided to change things up a bit, however, by turning to our Youtube channel to discuss some very early thoughts—not a review, thoughts!—on the first three episodes of the upcoming fourth season. You can find that video below:

Power Games: An Exhibit

That Game of Thrones is a global phenomenon is without a doubt. It appears in scores of foreign markets, has events around the world where actors are eagerly sought after as guests, and the fan base reaches to some of the remotest places in the world. So it’s no surprise that the exhibitions of the show’s props and costumes have ranged widely, across both hemispheres. Usually, these have been specifically tied to promoting the TV show, but in at least one case they have been used for quite a different purpose: educational. At Stockholm’s Royal Armory, Sweden’s oldest museum and part of the royal palace complex (which happens to be one of the largest royal palaces still in use as a royal residence), a new exhibition titled Power Games (Maktspel) was launched last week exploring depictions of power in television and cinema. Set alongside costumes and artifacts from Sweden’s 16th century were costumes from the films Elizabeth and Elizabeth: The Golden Age as well as Game of Thrones.

Linda and I were invited by the armory to take part, and so off to beautiful Stockholm we went! Given early admittance, we had the Iron Throne to ourselves for awhile. Besides the opportunity to take a shot on the Iron Throne, the exhibit features a terrific array of costumes. The gowns from Elizabeth are, suffice it to say, truly amazing… but a major part of the focus is on Game of Thrones, and with the help of HBO Nordic the museum delivers. Eleven costumes from show, as well as props, make their appearance, beginning with a look at one of Cersei’s gowns and Joffrey’s outfits.

Reviewing Season 3

Early Impressions on Season 3

Last week, we received the first four episodes of season 3 of Game of Thrones to review, courtesy of HBO. While our individual episode reviews and coverage will be held until the corresponding episodes air, it has become something of a tradition to share our general impressions of those early episodes. We did it for the first season, and we did it for the second season, so it seemed only right to do it again. The process of discussing even vague impressions will probably reveal some semi-spoilers, so reading on isn’t going to be a good idea if you prefer to stay unspoiled!

But lets just give a general summing up first, and get into the nitty gritty after: these four episodes are on the whole quite good; not perfect, but they may well be the strongest first four episodes as a whole for the series to date (certainly, they’re stronger as a unit than last season’s first four, though none of them are as good as “What is Dead May Never Die”). Some of our biggest fears going into this season seem, so far, to be unfounded. But there are some issues, such as the fact that a number of the anticipated new characters are rather underwhelming when they finally hit the screen and that there are one or two (largely invented) storylines that don’t really feel like they’re gelling for us.  Still, each subsequent episode goes from strength to strength, each one better than the last. So why do we feel cautiously optimistic? We recall that last season, too, the third and fourth episodes impressed us the most and left us pretty excited about what was to come… and then the cracks started to show and real problems developed that led to some major disappointments. Four episodes in a show like this is not enough to really gauge how the rest of the season will be, especially in terms of how well they’ll translate what’s in the novels to the screen.

Now, on to some more specifics.


Reviewing Season 2

Over at our Youtube channel, we’ve been posting various videos since last year—first discussing the A Song of Ice and Fire novels and then, this year, sharing our thoughts on each episode after they aired (plus a bit of A Song of Ice and Fire stuff, as well). Now that season 2 is a wrap, Linda and I have put together a long, two-part video covering each section of the story in rough, geographic area (very rough in some cases), and have discussed what we liked and disliked, what the differences in our reactions were from season to season, or hopes for the next season, and more.


First Thoughts on Season Two

Late last month, I had the privilege of attending the screening for international press of the first episode of the new season of Game of Thrones, “The North Remembers”. It was my first ever screening of anything—last season we received DVD screeners nearer to the premiere—and doubltess that added to my excitement when I saw it. Since then, we’ve had the opportunity to rewatch this episode and also see the next three episodes on screeners.

I do go into some detail as this review goes on, so if you prefer to be utterly unspoiled, I’d skip it (for you, I’ll just say: the visual and musical scope of the show has expanded to epic levels, as has the story, which is well-acted, but I do have a handful of quibbles and concerns)

Watching the sharply directed, beautifully shot first episode on a big screen, with a professional audio system in the screening room, was quite an experience, I have to say. It’s a show made for the big screen, to paint a lush image on that big canvas and fill your eyes with wonders. If HBO decided to premiere each new episode in cinemas in selected cities, I’m pretty sure they could sell out every single screening. Of course, part of the marketing promotion for the show entails early sneak peeks in theatres, so if you get wind of it taking place in an area where you reside, I really recommend trying to get in to one of those, if you can.

On Race and Gender: A Response to Certain Accusations

There are a couple of complaints I have seen made on Twitter and on various forums regarding the first episode that, quite frankly, baffle me. This may be something of a minefield considering the topics, but I tried sitting on my hands and it didn’t work.

A Lexicon of Ice and Fire

One of problems readers (and viewers) new to fantasy often bring up is the wealth of strange names, odd places and curious words that don’t always mean what you think they should mean. Of course, with Game of Thrones one could easily look up any of those odd words on the various sites dedicated to the books, but in doing so one would run the risk of being spoiled. In light of this, we’ve put together a mini-lexicon for Game of Thrones-newbies that basically gives short, spoiler-free explanations for some of those words that might give you pause. We’re not covering characters here (see our guide to the Characters for that) but if there’s something else you think we have missed, let us know!

Our First Impressions

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.

Belfast Set Visit Report: Part 5 and Last

[Note: You can read Part 4 here.]

It was about a 45 minute drive to Magheramorne, with our driver taking us past Carrickfergus Castle. GRRM quite admired it, and said he needed to visit it the next time he was in Northern Ireland. We spoke along the way about the production, how it’s very nearly matching GRRM’s wildest dreams, and the like. He also mentioned to me two particular points where small changes in the production may have some significant consequences in relation to fidelity to the series, but that these were things he was working with the executive producers on so that they wouldn’t be an issue. It was pretty remarkable to hear some of the little details in early books which are seeds for things that even now have not yet come to pass, and that even back when he started the series George had plans for things that wouldn’t come to fruition before the final novels.

On the whole, George and Parris sound quite happy with what they’ve witnessed and their interactions with the production. Stephen Warbeck’s selection as the composer was briefly brought up [note: Ramin Djawadi has since replaced Warbeck], and we had a laugh about Ladyhawke‘s daring (and, in our mutual opinions, ultimately failed) attempt to use typical 80’s synth music in the film. I suppose we’re all glad Toto wasn’t hired to score Game of Thrones. In discussing the need for the show—even one with a cast of about 300—to have to trim characters on occasion, George mentioned how he was sure there’d be complaints about some minor characters (at least, characters minor in A Game of Thrones) missing, and talked about the fans who seemed to love to support obscure characters.

For example, he has had fan mail regarding Lord Tytos Blackwood, a character who barely appears in the novels and is distinguishable just because of his raven-feather cloak and yellow-and-black armor. He wondered at this whole “Boba Fett syndrome”, which he’s spoken of before. Or, he said, take the Red Viper, a character who shows up in a few chapters .... I told him that I could understand his wondering at why Tytos would resonate with anyone in particular, but I did have to tell him that Red Viper fans were entirely his own fault, since he made such a charismastic character; Parris grinned and nodded her head in agreement at that.

Speaking of characters cut, in some cases there are partses which play a big role in later seasons, but who in this first season would have nothing to do but appear and speak a line or two. George said that the solution in some cases would be not unlike the “Ralphie Cifaretto” situation. Cifaretto (played by Joe Pantoliano) was introduced in the 3rd season of The Sopranos but viewers simply had to accept had always been around in the background even if he had never been mentioned before.

One more topic we touched on was the various forums for discussing the series, and particularly how certain characters were discussed. George suspected it quite possible that some of the characters with more vociferous detractors may well find much more support in their televised form; when much of the criticism comes from the way a character presents themselves purely through internal dialog, it may be that the lack of interior dialog on the show will make the character seem rather different. This reminds me of GRRM’s response to those who characterize characters like Catelyn as a “whiner”, where he pointed out that if you were never inside her head, you’d probably see the very strong and stalwart facade she tried to maintain without fully realizing the traumas and tragedies occupying her thoughts because she did her best to keep them to herself. Readers get a privileged position inside the heads of characters, and sometimes this can bias opinion (sometimes in the favor of a character, sometimes against them) which don’t quite fit with an outside view based solely on their actions.

Oh, Parris was greatly taken with Ron Donachie (Rodrik Cassel) as well. We took to talking a bit about George’s past works, and she said she always dreamed that Fevre Dream would be adapted. She then told me that if it were to happen, she really wished Donachie would play the lead role of Abner Marsh. It seems Donachie had read Fevre Dream many years before, and as we know from the past, has been an admirer of GRRM’s work for awhile. While Donachie was modertly uncertain that he could play such a role, Parris reassured him that he had her in his corner if an adaption of George’s Antibellum horror novel ever came about. I’d certainly pay to see it, as it’s a fantastic, gripping vampire story with some truly memorable characters.

We finally got to Magheramorne. We changed cars at the unit base, to something rather more robust, since the road the rest of the way into the quarry was a muddy, potholed, winding thing. George had warned me that layering up was best, because the Magheramorne site could be very windy and cold. It certainly was drizzling, but the weather hadn’t quite gotten cold enough for it to be more than a minor inconvenience (then again, I was used to giving the dog a walk in sub-zero morning temperatures just about then). As we rode along, the great quarry wall came into sight. George took great relish in sharing what he heard from the former quarry master, who now works with the production: from the surface of the lake at the foot of the quarry (this was once the location of the management offices, which are now underwater since the quarry was abandoned as a quarry site) to the top of the Magheramorne wall was a height of 400 feet. George was stunned, and kept looking at it and muttering, “I made the Wall too tall! It’s just too tall!” He later said that he had congratulated himself on not making it 1,000 feet tall, thinking that 700 was a more realistic figure. Quite a lot of chagrin and humor there, and he’d point this detail out to a couple of other people on the set while we were there.

When we stopped, I could see Castle Black a short walk up towards the face of Magheramorne, but what drew my attention was a dozen or so extras in the Night’s Watch uniforms, lining up at the catering area to get some hot food into them. They looked great, with their costumes looking worn and lived-in. And muddy. Oh, yes, muddy. There’s a lot of mud on site, and in my mind Magheramorne—which has a certain stark, natural beauty—became “that miserable mud-pit”. Greeted by HBO’s representatives, I was introduced to the international reporters (representing media in Canada, France, the United States, the Republic of Ireland, the U.K., and—yes—Sweden. The Swedish reporter and I were particularly introduced to one another, and funnily enough, she turned out to be an absolute fan of the series who had read all the books. She later asked me to take a photo of her with George.)

Let me pause here and say that at this point, I was sort of a hybrid of guest of the producers and media reporter. This means that my reporting on what I saw at Magheramorne has to be a sparse, because the reporters are embargoed until much nearer the air date, and so I’m going to respect that and leave things to them (maybe when the show airs and I see their reports, I can go back and fill in on things they missed). Let me just say that cast members such as Owen Teale (Ser Alliser Thorne), with his insightful interpretation of his character (which I later shared with GRRM, as he was very curious), and James Cosmo (Lord Commander Jeor Mormont), greatly impressed me as men of real craft and talent, and that they took this project on with complete determination to do the material justice. But this is how everyone I met that day and night seemed to be. I was also there for the David Benioff interview, where he said many of the things that were just what I wanted to hear about his approach to adapting this ambitious series.

So, besides these interviews, Bryan Cogman showed us all around to get a look at the set, which I’m told is a composite set, meaning it contains several distinct locations all together, so almost all Castle Black filming can happen right on the site. Everything looked real, even though I know many of these “stone” walls aren’t really any such thing. The reporters (and I) had hoped we could get a ride up in the elevator that’s providing the winch cage up to the Wall, but unfortunately a scene was filming and that simply wasn’t possible. An actor at the Moot later told me that the cage floor was basically a steel grid and you could see straight down as you went up the face of Magheramorne.

I mentioned a scene filming, huh? Happily, I can report on that. In fact, I saw two scenes, both from Episode 7, directed by Daniel Minahan. First, we had several takes of Lord Commander Mormont’s speech to the recruits as they were being passed on to become full members of the Watch. This scene involved most all the principal Night’s Watch actors, both recruits and officers, that have been named. It was a great experience to be there, to watch a scene being acted out that really was almost word-for-word from the novels (I was pretty sure of that when I heard it, and later double-checked it against the text).

The other scene I witnessed was also very close to the text, though a bit more compressed. This featured the incredible Peter Vaughan as Maester Aemon, who provides more detailed assignments and then has to deal with Jon Snow. Despite the rain, the cold, and his age, Mr. Vaughan was fantastic, showing Aemon’s undimmed wit. Harington as Jon Snow is a very intense young actor, and I think will fill the role admirably. It truly was a privilege to watch this being filmed. There’s an additional line here, a funny one, which George wondered aloud if that was his line or if they had added it. He laughed when I told him that it was new, remarking on my memory (well, I have read these books enough times!) David had to leave part way through the takes, and asked if he’d see me the next day at Paint Hall with the reporters. Alas, I was returning home then, but he thanked me for coming and hoped we’d meet again some time. Before he left, he handed me his headset so I could hear the dialog pretty much just as it would be on screen, while we all clustered around the monitors. In the course of this scene, George made a off-hand comment to Bryan Cogman about something he has planned for the series which was ... well. Unexpected. Very unexpected. And almost certainly likely to prove revelatory when it comes to pass.

One other thing we got to do was meet the sword smith involved in making man of the weapons, to discuss a bit about the job of his team. I won’t go into detail, but suffice it to say, they’ve made a lot of weapons for this production. In the hundreds, in fact. Many are simply cast out of resin, and are carried by extras who’ll never be looked at too closely. others are made of aluminum, for the fight scenes. Finally, a few are “hero” weapons, forged out of real steel. In the case of Valyrian steel blades, like Ice, they’ve created them using pattern-welded steel to get the appropriate rippling effect. The same goes for the infamous dagger… and for Longclaw, which was brought out for the reporters and I to see. I was grinning like a loon, I admit, when I was asked to hold its scabbard while George was holding it for a few photo opportunities.

Besides Longclaw, there was one more weapon, an unusual one because it was made of resin… but it was a “hero” weapon, in its way. It’s amazing what they can do with resin, including having it be entirely translucent, and still able to take a beating… I only wish I could have visited the armory where the weapons were designed, created, and stored; it did not seem to be at Paint Hall, but I may simply have missed it.

And with that, it was time to return to Belfast to get ready for the Moot. But I’ll leave this last set visit report with a remark I had from one of the reporters, later that evening at the Moot. I asked if they had much experience with being on television sets, and she told me they had been on a lot of TV sets before, in fact. I then asked what she thought of what we had seen, in light of thatexperience. Her response was that—bearing in mind they were primarily a television journalist—they had never seen anything so elaborate before, and it led her to suppose that this production was more like a film production than a television drama.

That’s what I took out of it, too. The time, effort, and passion that has been sunk into this project should leave us all very excited for when April 17, 2011 comes around. Something very sepcial is coming, thanks to HBO, thanks to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, thanks to all the cast and crew… and thanks, most of all, to George R.R. Martin, for creating a world that can be brought to life so vividly.