Return to Westeros: “The House of Black and White” Review

When I was first asked to come along on the review crew for Season 5 of Game of Thrones—and agreed to do so, mind you—I was intrigued to see what audiences would be in for this time around. It wasn’t until I sat down earlier to watch the most recent episode that my largest fear struck my gut like a failing test grade: I was going to get stuck with the Jon Snow episodes. Some cosmic piece of anxiety was preparing me to resign myself to this fate. Luckily, with “The House of Black and White,” I still remain at a cool zero for Jon Snow-centric episodes. Phew!

What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you.

What am I supposed to do when the best part of me was always you?
(via youknownothingjonsnow-daily @ Tumblr)

Unlike the other two reviewers this season, I haven’t actually read the books. As such, if events are diverging from Martin’s novels, I wouldn’t be able to point them out. While losing the ability to compare and contrast is somewhat aggravating, being able to experience everything for the first time offers an interesting perspective. And as this episode continues with the themes of shifting power dynamics, these perspectives are going to get a work out.

As usual, spoilers beneath the cut.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Deities: Religious Diversity and Game of Thrones

faith of the sevenInnovative worldbuilding is the true backbone of all fiction which is celebrated by geek culture. Our most beloved authors, artists, and filmmakers create worlds in which we can imagine ourselves. There are plenty of things storytellers do to make a world convincing: use science or magic to explain (or enhance) strangeness, compose detailed descriptions of food or foreign landscapes, or even base it on our own. When most storytellers create worlds, unfortunately, they usually do a poor job of including any kind of religion. It’s either ignored altogether, or inserted via boring stereotypes. That’s a pity, because religion can be one of the most powerful tools in a writer’s arsenal to tie together a peoples’ culture, history, and motivations. One author that does a great job of exploring this is George R. R. Martin in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, adapted into HBO’s Game of Thrones. 

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Sexualized Saturdays: Holy Gender Roles

One of the things I’ve always loved about fantasy literature is that it provides an escape from the real world. When I’m comfortably ensconced in a Robin McKinley novel or re-reading the Wheel of Time series for the ninetieth time, I am not worried about real life things like job hunting or school loans. It’s a mini-vacation from the suckiness of meatspace, and so it’s all the more depressing when some of the crappiest things in real life—sexism, racism, entrenched heteronormativity—show up in my fantasy novels.

Me encountering unpleasant -isms in my fantasy novels.

Me encountering unpleasant -isms in my fantasy novels.

One of my biggest frustrations in this sense is that, because fantasy novels seem to have become synonymous with “medieval stuff but with magic”, women are constantly relegated to the tasks and roles that would have been theirs during the Middle Ages. There’s a lot of embroidery and marriage-drama, and the female characters who do defy the gender norms are not met with societal acceptance or approval. Unfortunately, in the case of a lot of fantasy novels, even the mythical deities seem to have been stuck into very traditional gender roles. Continue reading

On Coverflipping and Perceived Intent

Back in May of this year, YA author Maureen Johnson issued a Tumblr challenge to her followers: coverflip a book. What exactly she meant by that was unclear, so as she explained it:

1. Take a well-known book. (It’s up to you to define well-known.)

2. Imagine that book was written by an author of the OPPOSITE GENDER. Or a genderqueer author. Imagine all the things you think of when you think GIRL book or BOY book or GENDERLESS book (do they EXIST?). And I’m not saying that these categorizations are RIGHT—but make no mistake, they’re there.

The saying “don’t judge a book by its cover” has been around for eons, but Johnson’s challenge made the point that yes, we do judge books (and books’ readers) by their covers. As covers are the first thing anyone sees about a book, it’s easy to formulate an (often incorrect) idea of the author’s intent from a graphic and a name. Does the cover feature half of a smiling girl’s face, two people kissing, or generally have a lot of bright colors? Probably written by a girl. Check the name. Does it sound like a girl’s name? Okay, I’m not in the mood for chick-lit romance today, I’m going to go for that book over there with a dragon on it! It looks like it’s written by a guy, so it’ll probably have a lot of action and adventure!

A bit simplistic, perhaps, but you get my point.

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