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Game of Thrones by Telltale Games

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When I finally picked up a copy of Telltale Game’s ongoing, episodic adaptation of Game of Thrones, I was more than a little bit skeptical. Video game adaptations don’t exactly have a reputation for quality, and the last attempt at a Game of Thrones game was considered pretty terrible even without taking its lack of female characters into consideration.

But Telltale Games do things differently, in the best possible way. The game is less of an RPG and more of a visual Choose Your Own Adventure (albeit one with pretty subpar graphics), where the player gets to select dialogue options and character choices, but where the movement itself is mostly out of your hands. It’s focussed on character and plot, and not on fighting at all.

The game has several playable protagonists, all related to House Forrester, bannermen to House Stark struggling to survive after the Red Wedding. Their lord and his heir are both dead, a young boy is now in charge, and the Boltons are threatening to take everything they have left away. Through that young boy lord, a squire who survived the Red Wedding, and Margaery’s handmaid/Forrester daughter Mira, as well as a few extras later on, the game considers the different ways that characters can contribute to, or disrupt, the delicate political web, and how each of their unique positions can help or hinder House Forrester’s recovery.

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Why Sansa’s new plotline is NOT about empowerment

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This post contains spoilers for The High Sparrow and for A Dance With Dragons.

I don’t think this can be said forcefully enough: Sansa’s plotline this season is not about empowerment. It’s about the idea of empowerment being used to manipulate her, while she continues to be a victim of an incredibly dangerous situation.

Yes, there’s something intriguing about the moment she meets Roose Bolton, when she visibly hides her feelings and switches on her courtesies. And yes, there are hints of a rebellion in Sansa’s favor, especially in the servant’s comment that “the North remembers.” But she’s still a victim, still a pawn, just under a different guise.

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Game of Thrones: The House of Black and White

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In The House of Black and WhiteGame of Thrones took a sharp turn away from the books, changing or inventing material for pretty much every plotline.

The results were, unsurprisingly, hit and miss. In some cases, the show provided intriguing alternatives to the book’s plotlines, streamlining the story while staying true to its spirit. In other cases, it veered off wildly, its changes reconfirming the show’s prioritization of violence and vengeance over any “softer” characteristics.

This post contains book spoilers.

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Game of Thrones: The Wars to Come

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Game of Thrones is back! And, as far as first episodes go, this was a good one. Well-paced, enjoyable to watch, and (gasp) relatively unoffensive, the episode did an excellent job of reintroducing us to the various characters and setting up their plot-arcs for the season. Although I went into the episode feeling uncertain whether I wanted to dive into this world of high and heart-crushing disappointments again, the episode reminded me why I fell for the series in the first place.

It also reminded me of lots of reasons why it makes me want to pull my hair out in frustration, but I suppose you can’t have everything in life.

Since character plotlines are getting more and more separate and no one really dominated this episode, this review is going to be split into sections based on key characters.

This post contains book spoilers.

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Can Game of Thrones spoil the books?

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A couple of weeks ago, the showrunners for Game of Thrones confirmed what fans have already suspected for a while: the show is going to overtake the books. While George RR Martin continues to work on The Winds of Winter and then A Dream of Spring, the TV show will plough ahead with the outline he’s given them, telling the story before George RR Martin has had chance to do so.

Book readers were understandably upset with this announcement. Many people dislike many of the show’s choices in the past, or feel less of an emotional connection with it than with the books. People who’ve been reading since before the show started might feel like their seemingly endless waiting was for nothing, as they’ll never get to read the final book as it was intended.

But as I’ve considered this disappointing news, one question has repeatedly come to mind: is Game of Thrones actually capable of spoiling the books? The answer, in my opinion, is no. While it can and will change the way that readers experience the books, the show cannot actually spoil the story to come.

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Revisiting Tyrion Lannister

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I’ve been writing on Feminist Fiction for over three years now, and that means there are some pretty old opinions floating around here that still get read fairly frequently (especially if they happen to be about Sansa Stark). Usually I let those posts and opinions stand as they were and clarify things in the comments if I feel the need, but there’s one that I want to revisit.

After reading this post on ASOIAF University, I’ve been thinking about an old article from 2012, The Misogyny of Tyrion Lannister. In it, I talk about how Tyrion is a subversion of the underdog trope, in part through his deep-seated misogyny that grows throughout the series.

One thing that I don’t mention, except vaguely through the terms of the “underdog trope,” is how Tyrion’s situation is shaped by ableism. Although Tyrion does benefit from Lannister riches and status, his entire life has been affected by people’s negative reactions to him and his disability. His father doesn’t want him as an heir. His sister has always been awful to him. People constantly villainize him, even when he’s saving their lives. If he’s bitter and hateful, it’s because the people around him made him that way.

The ASOIAF University post criticized the article on Tyrion for dismissing the discrimination that Tyrion faces and turning a complex issue into one purely about male entitlement. And I have to say, I’m not entirely happy with my original post, upon rereading it now. Some of the phrasing is problematic and I sacrificed some nuance in favor of arguing against the strongly pro-Tyrion stance that was everywhere at the time. But I really want to talk about this idea of ableism vs misogyny, and the suggestion that the existence of one excuses or negates the other.

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Missing Arianne Martell

A video of new Game of Thrones cast members was released at San Diego Comic Con last week, featuring the faces of new characters including Doran Martell, some of the Sand Snakes, and Trystane Martell. But notably missing was Arianne Martell.

Arianne Martell, for non-book readers, is the eldest child of Prince Doran and the heir to Dorne. Although Dorne is the one place in the Seven Kingdoms with absolute primogeniture, meaning the eldest child inherits regardless of gender, Arianne finds evidence that her father means to ignore her inheritance in favor of her younger brother, and becomes determined to defend her right to rule. She’s also described as having “olive skin,” making her, along with the other Dornish, one of the most prominent non-white characters in the series.

And her absence from the casting video shouldn’t be totally shocking. I doubt they’ve finished casting the entire season yet. Except that, in the casting press release, they describe Trystane as “heir to Dorne,” suggesting that, even if Arianne somehow ended up in the series, she wouldn’t be the character she was in the books. At best, she could still be Trystane’s sibling, attempting to supplant her brother with her schemes — either as an elder sibling who was overlooked, or as a younger sibling who wants more power than she has. That, at least, could lead to an interesting plotline. At worst, she’s been deleted entirely and her Myrcella-related plotline given to Trystane. Either way, it’s hard to imagine a greater irony than Trystane being declared the heir to Dorne in the show, when Arianne’s entire plotline is about her fighting the possibility that her brother will be declared heir instead of her.

In the show’s defence, most of Arianne’s significant actions could be given to someone else to streamline the plot. The only way her storyline has affected the other players in the series, at least so far, has been its impact on Myrcella, and it would perhaps be simpler to give that story of Myrcella’s betrothed. But this isn’t just a problem of whether the plot can still make sense, or whether the audience can remember yet another new character name. They’ve erased a competent, defiant, influential female character of color, and replaced her with a white male character. They’re taking away a female character’s fight for power that is rightfully hers, and handing that power to exactly the sort of character she fears will take it from her, assumedly for the very reason she fears she will be overlooked. Not only that, but if they erase Arianne’s role in the Dornish plotline, they’re erasing one of the few fantasy plotlines where a female character fights for (or manipulates, depending on your perspective) another female character, to win them both more power. Even if the storyarc itself is given to Trystane, that very compelling element will be lost.

I probably shouldn’t be surprised, given the show’s track record of misinterpreting and ignoring female characters and minimizing any hints of diversity. But this is, I think, the first time a highly significant and influential female character has been erased altogether. And since Arianne’s storyarc has lots of room for both big dramatic moments and ample nudity, two things the show seems to love, I can’t help thinking that both sexism and racism played a part in deciding that Arianne was better off as Trystane.

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Game of Thrones: The Children

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The Game of Thrones season finales are always relatively quiet, after the huge, shocking action of the week before. With episode 9 famous for beheading protagonists, epic battles and mass slaughters at weddings, episode 10 traditionally deals with the emotional fall-out, tying up loose ends and setting up for the season to come.

In that context, The Children was a pretty dramatic episode. Plot twists, epic sword fights, death, drama, the fate of at least one character still hanging in the balance… plenty of material for the most dramatic season finale of the show so far.

Yet it didn’t have emotional coherency. And, of course, some of the narrative choices were enough to make my blood boil.

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Game of Thrones: The Watchers on the Wall

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Not much to say this week, at least from the “feminist fiction” angle. A bunch of guys (and Ygritte) fought an epic battle for an hour. There were some good character moments, a couple of gasp-inspiring battle tactics, lots of tension, and one truly awesome continuous shot across the whole battle, but it was somewhat lacking in female characters to discuss.

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