The battle at Hardhome was good though, right?

MANY MAJOR SPOILERS for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire!

It was the not-best of seasons, it was the arguably-worst of seasons. But there were a few bright moments, no? Okay, the one bright moment. Hardhome was, IMO, the best set piece Game of Thrones has ever done.The rest, though. Damn, you guys.

Here are my thoughts on the most controversial bits.

Sansa plugged into the Winterfell storyline
I would’ve done the same thing. Sansa is one of the show’s stars, and at this point in the book she’s babysitting the most annoying character George R. R. Martin has ever written. Meanwhile you’ve got a major storyline featuring a minor character the audience doesn’t know or care about. The swap was a no-brainer. That doesn’t mean it was executed well, though. So onward to…

Sansa’s rape
Well, once you’ve put her together with Ramsey, this sort of thing is pretty much inevitable, isn’t it? I don’t object to where the story went. I do object to some sloppy characterization. A great deal of screen time, going back to last season, was spent trying to convince us that we’ve got a new, badass Sansa, one who is going to be a player now. But in That Scene, and in fact most of the scenes leading up to it, she does nothing but tearfully submit to it all. I’m not victim-blaming, I’m writer-blaming. Imagine Margaery Tyrell in Sansa’s position and you’ll see what I mean. Tell me Margaery doesn’t immediately, expertly assess those psychos and begin trying to manipulate circumstances in her favor. (Whether she’d be successful or not is beside the point.) Because she has game. That’s what game looks like.

Shireen
The producers strongly implied that George told them this happens. So… Book-Stannis does this? “No more burnings” Stannis? “If I die, put my daughter on the iron throne” Stannis? Ok, but if that Stannis burns his only heir and brings the House of Baratheon to extinction, it’ll be because he’s sure beyond doubt that it’s the only way to save the realm he’s responsible for from immediate and certain destruction. That is the only way it fits his character, and if he does it for any other reason, I’ll happily call bullshit on George, too. Meanwhile, the show utterly failed to establish those sorts of stakes. The destruction of the realm is hundreds of miles away, neither certain nor immediate as yet. He’s not facing white walkers; he’s facing a few icicles and twenty of Ramsey Bolton’s undersecretaries. He’s not fighting for the realm; he’s fighting for Winterfell. This is a subtask of a subtask on the Save The Realm Gantt chart. Even in the kind of twisted mind where there’s a good reason to murder your daughter in an incredibly painful way, this is not that reason.

The Dorne plot line
Much as I appreciate the screen time for the always-hilarious Jerome Flynn, seriously, why is this here? It was a slowly moving story in an already way too slowly moving season, that accomplished almost nothing in the end. If the whole point was to kill Myrcella, just have a single, five minute scene in which Darkstar leaps out of the shadows, kills her with flair (but limited accuracy), and leaps back off screen again. No need to explain who he is or why he’s done it. He is of the night! That’s all people need to know.

For the watch
Kit Harington says he’s really dead. The producers say he’s really dead. He sure looked really dead. Eh. I still don’t think he’s dead. Certainly not before some big reveal about his mother. Jon Snow is endgame. Maybe not in the show, and maybe Show-Jon really is dead. If that’s the case, I’ll be okay, because at least he died without the whole pink letter and him behaving completely out of character leading up to it.

The scene in the fighting pit
While others are raging over poor Sansa and even poorer Shireen, this is the scene that really convinced me that Game of Thrones has lost it, possibly irretrievably. I’ve seldom seen anything so stupid on television, and I’m including reality TV in that. So you’ve got these horrible terrorists, right? So horrible they killed Ser Barristan! They butcher people randomly all over the arena. Just blood everywhere, no mercy for anyone. They close in on their prey. They’ve got her surrounded! There are dozens and dozens of them! They’re vicious! So they… come at her two at a time. Then when she flies off to reenact The Neverending Story, leaving the people who’ve just been defending her with their lives completely vulnerable, these fearsome, bloodthirsty terrorists… disperse. I just can’t even with this. And thanks, by the way, for ensuring that Limahl song was in my head for three days after. Seriously, I have to end the post here, because there are no words for this badness.

Game of WTF?

Yes, I have a lot to say about Game of Thrones. So much WTF. But I’m going to wait until after the season finale on Sunday before I say any of it. Who knows, maybe that last episode will change everything. Maybe Dany will wake up next to Daario and say, “Honey, I had the weirdest dream! I was jumping over a shark…” And then we’ll get the real story.

Search terms: you ask, I answer

This is one of my favorite games to play on my other blog, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it here. I feel it’s only polite to try to help those who visit me seeking something specific. Luckily, WordPress can tell me what they were looking for.

real dornish peppers: It would have been better for you to hear this from a loved one, but I’m afraid there’s not a real Dorne. I imagine you could substitute any of several varieties of chili?

things that are not scary: Macaroons. Napkins. Toothpaste. The Blair Witch Project.

sansa loves lemon cakes: Yep.

jen rasmussen hawaii nude: Not that I recall.

richard armitage butt: Seriously, four of you in the last thirty days? I am not the proper resource for this. Meaning no offense to Mr. Armitage, there aren’t very many people whose butts I care to know stuff about.

american horror story briefly topics: Ghosts, aliens, medical experiments gone awry, odd explanations for the Black Dahlia, creepy clowns, creepy nuns, creepy war criminals, completely uncreepy and nonsensical witches, serial killers, and ladies who want babies. Not in that order.

info on murder of jen rasmussen: I imagine I’d be the last to know.

we found a witch may we burn her: How do you know she’s a witch?

jen scary thing: Not generally. Maybe if that Hawaii thing was true.

where do you send for letter to cary fukunaga: I can’t help with this, but if you write to him, tell him I loved his Jane Eyre!

four and tris with supernatural powers: I agree this would be cool.

excessive planning: THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS.

i would always rather be happy than dignified: Jane and I both approve.

mr rochester x reader lemon: This is almost certainly code for something, but as I’m not a Cold War spy, I don’t know what. Perhaps my commenters can offer suggestions, if it wouldn’t blow their cover.

O Hai!

My apologies for my lack of attention to your blogs and such. I’m trying to catch up. I’ve been in and out of it, and I’m not going to whine too much, but man, the flu is BAD this year, peeps. It’s a lot like World of Warcraft, actually. Just when you think you’ve put it behind you for good, it sucks you back under.

As a result of my hermitizing (sure it’s a word) I haven’t even seen the last Hobbit movie yet. DON’T TELL ME. But I’ll be reviewing it here once I do.

I have been reading, but I never did finish Revival. I’m sure I will at some point. I like curling up with a good historical love story in the winter time, although I shy away from the erotica end of things, and that is all the rage in romance these days. I’ve read the first couple of Elizabeth Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series, and it’s pretty darn graphic, but enjoyable nonetheless because it’s a cool period and I like her weaving in of the gin trade in London. It adds meat to the story, but isn’t so preachy that I have to roll my eyes and go read something else. The books aren’t entirely historically accurate, but what historical romance is? At least these heroines are products of their time and conflicted about sex, which is a dimension I like.

I keep trying, and failing, to finish the second Outlander book too. I guess I’m showing a lack of commitment these days, but what can I say? Too many books, not enough time. Even the likes of Stephen King and Diana Gabaldon have to stay sharp and keep me interested, because I have so many other choices to move on to if they don’t.

Exception: George Martin, you don’t have to be sharp or interesting. Seriously, I promise, it’s okay. Just send them the draft. We don’t mind. Statistically speaking, I’m past the halfway point in my life now, and I need to know who Jon Snow’s mother is before I die.

Actually I take that back. You can take your time, George. If you don’t tell me soon, HBO will. But is that really how you want me to find out?

Astute readers will note that the cover for Ghost in the Canteen has changed. (Yes again, but only once since publication, so that makes it okay.) The change is populating around all the many nooks and crannies of Amazon and the interwebs that book covers live in, so it may be inconsistent for a bit. (For example, the Amazon widget in my sidebar is still showing the old one as of this writing.)

While working on the cover for Peak of the Devil, we decided on a slight change to the look and feel for the series as a whole. One of the challenges with dark snark is that it’s by nature contradictory. Conveying that it’s bloody and scary but in a totally funny way can be difficult, but I think the new look strikes that balance better.

Peak is moving along on schedule for a release the last week of April or first week in May. After that the remaining three books in the series will be coming along faster, three to four months apart.

Nonetheless, I want HBO to know that if they’d like to offer up some spoilers by buying the television rights and producing it faster than I do, that’s totally okay.

On the murder of our evil little friend

This post contains significant spoilers for Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire (assume that includes all five books, because I can’t be arsed to look up which book things are mentioned in).

So of course I had great fun watching Joffrey die. (But Jack Gleeson, I’m sad to see you’re giving up acting, because it’s not just any actor who could make me feel I’m going to miss that little shit.) Afterward, my husband, who doesn’t read the books, had a few questions. We watched the scene again and I pointed out that wiley Queen of Thorns doing her thing with the necklace. He thought that was all well and good, but voiced his suspicion of Littlefinger, even though we haven’t seen him in ages.

So I blithely explained Joffrey’s death as I’ve always seen it: the Tyrells, or maybe just Olenna, conspire with Littlefinger to both kill Joffrey and frame Sansa and Tyrion for it. For their part, the Tyrells need a more tractable lad to be the king to Margaery’s queen, and one who is less likely to, say, cut Margaery’s limbs off and fashion her severed hand into a candy dish. Building a scapegoat into the plan is a good idea too. For Littlefinger it’s the reverse; dead purple Joffrey is a bonus, but what he really wants, for reasons both political (o hai Winterfell!) and personal (o hai Cat!), is to separate Sansa from the Lannisters and get her under his control. If he can get Tyrion executed and free her up to marry again, so much the better.

No, he can’t know that Tyrion will be put in such obvious and direct contact with the cup, following such an obvious and public humiliation by Joffrey. Those details are a bit of luck for him. But Littlefinger’s a pretty clever guy, and it’s a safe assumption that at some point during that feast Joffrey is going to be a dick to both Tyrion and Sansa, because name the last time that didn’t happen. One way or another, motive will be taken care of for him; plant the murder weapon on Sansa, and you’ve got means and opportunity, too. Done and done.

Except not. Because in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, George himself said:

I think the idea with Joffrey’s death was to make it look like an accident — someone’s out celebrating, they haven’t invented the Heimlich maneuver, so when someone gets food caught in his throat, it’s very serious … I think that’s what the murderers here were hoping for — the whole realm will see Joffrey choke to death on a piece of pie or something.

Then why… what?

For the Tyrells, if you’re not trying to frame anybody, wouldn’t it be easier to just bring the poison in one of your pockets? Less variables in the mix that way. But maybe having Sansa carry it is just a backup plan. Okay, I’ll buy that. I would like to think Olenna doesn’t mean Sansa any harm (because Olenna is awesome), but she’d also want to make sure that even the worst case scenario will still turn out well for her (because Westerosi grandmas are a ruthless lot). It may be her intent that things look accidental, but if someone does cry murder and someone must be blamed, then getting the keys to Winterfell away from the Lannisters is certainly preferable to anyone in her family falling under suspicion.

But I can’t think of any way Joffrey dying in a freak choking accident benefits Littlefinger. (And we know, by things he says later, that Littlefinger is indeed involved in the murder plot.) Destabilizing the realm is fun and all, but I don’t buy that his alignment is just chaotic evil and that’s all there is to it. There’s a method to his madness, and he looks to profit as much as possible from every nasty thing he does. If Joffrey’s death and Sansa’s escape from King’s Landing aren’t meant to be linked, why put them together the way he does? Of course he knows she and her husband will be blamed. Of course that’s his intent. Right?

Except GRRM says not. Maybe when he said “the murderers” he just meant the Tyrells, though?

Confused.

Top eleven questions I have about the GoT trailer

Warning: vague spoilers for Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire.

The new Game of Thrones trailer was released; you can find it here. I think it’s well done: the shots come and go too fast to spoil anything, but still convey the tone nicely. As usual, they’ve cut some good music in there.

But I have questions.

11. Why did Jaime get Joffrey’s haircut?

10. Is that the Queen of Thorns walking past Joffrey at the beginning? Oh dear, wonder what she’s up to.

9. Which one of these shots is of a secret Targ, and which is of a secret Benjen?

8. Why does Theon look so much like, um,Theon?

7. When did Rast turn into Craster? Or, wait. Rast. CRASTer. I see what they did there.

6. How is that kid who plays Joffrey so good at making me want to punch him in the face with just that tiny bit of screen time, and why isn’t everyone nominating him for awards?

5. Not really a question, but needs moar lemon cakes.

4. Who is Littlefinger talking to?

3. Is Varys having a scene with the Red Viper the most awesomest thing ever?

2. Dragon flying over King’s Landing WTF?

1. WHERE IS COLDHANDS?

Things writers can learn from Skyrim

Video games aren’t known for their high quality storytelling. They tend to be derivative and clichéd and trope-embracing. You want to give people something familiar to work with as they jump in to play, and while you’ve got to have both story and backstory, you don’t want any of it to be particularly hard to figure out. Nobody wants to spend more of their gaming time trying to work out who Jon Snow’s mother is than actually killing stuff. Or, in the case of me and Skyrim, decorating their house, because I really only kill stuff in support of my search for a really good vase to put between the shelves in my library. Stop judging me!

But plot and characters aside, setting is where video games like Skyrim shine. Forget that it’s a story about killing dragons by scolding them really loud. That world feels real. And yeah, because graphics. But also because a lot of effort has been put into making you feel like your story isn’t even most of what’s going on in that world, let alone all there is to it.

Very few of the NPC’s in that game are nameless. They have more specific and personal things to say than “Death to all who oppose us!” when you click them. (Not that I object to “Death to all who oppose us!” I always answer my door with either that or “The reckoning is at hand!”) They have histories and petty arguments with their neighbors and quests of their own to deal with.

Same goes for every town and city. They’re not just sets you’re passing through so you can sell all the junk you’ve picked up. (Or, you know, stolen. From corpses.) They’ve got politics and threats and complicated histories. Okay, and sometimes also vampires, which annoy me as a story element, but I’m not saying the game is perfect either.

The point is, Skyrim always feels like a place that was living before you came along, is continuing to live all around you as you go through your storyline, and will keep right on living after you leave. And I wish I saw this done more often, and better, in novels. I don’t mean high fantasy – people who write high fantasy pretty much know they’ve got to create a whole world – I mean everything. Horror. Romance. Thrillers. I wish the authors of stories about accountants drinking coffee set them in meticulously constructed worlds.

Not that it’s easy. It can be very hard to toe the line between providing enough detail to make the reader feel like they’re there, and boring the stuffing out of them by spending two paragraphs describing a chair. And every reader has a different threshold. But I love reading about what they ate at the Hogwarts Halloween feast and Joffrey’s wedding feast. I love all the bits of history Tolkien scatters around. I love Derry and Castle Rock and the way Stephen King takes the time to flesh out even the most minor character, and I love everything Jasper Fforde does, ever. I love Tom Bombadil. There, I said it.

The common thread there is that I don’t want to read your book, I want to fall in. And nothing kills immersion like shrinking your world down to the size of your story.

Fall is for fantasy

51io0QNtvmL._SX260_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_Maybe because the Renaissance Festival comes to my region in the fall, or because the weather gets cooler and it’s a great time to curl up with a book, or just because of Halloween and haunted houses and witches. Whatever combination of these factors makes it so, this is a time of swords and sorcery and castles and stuff.

And not just books either. All sorts of things, including food. Back when more of my family played WoW together, we’d have Azeroth themed nights in which our adventures were preceded by some Westfall stew (because fall is also for stew) and homemade cherry pie. Come to think of it, why hasn’t anyone written a Warcraft cookbook? Or have they and I just don’t know about it? We need one of these.

And then sometimes we do a Harry Potter thing at Halloween, with pumpkin pasties and cauldron cakes and so forth. Harry Potter is great for the sweets. Not much in the way of stew though.

For this year, I just ordered A Feast of Ice and Fire. I’m thinking: October. Crisp air, crunchy leaves. And lemon cakes. Then more lemon cakes. I haven’t got much farther in my planning than that. Because when you think of Westerosi food, lemon cakes is the first thing, right? Come on. THEY’RE HER FAVORITE. Fiery Dornish peppers comes a close second though. I’d actually like to see some stats on how often these phrases are mentioned.

According to the description, one of the clever things about this cookbook is that it includes both medieval and modern versions of many recipes, and suggested substitutions for those things you just don’t tend to stock in a normal kitchen in the real world. I kind of wish there’d been something like that when I was making those gooey spider cakes.

More on A Feast of Ice and Fire when I’ve actually made one.