Game of Thrones – All the Houses. All the Seasons. So Far

This is really handy if you’re wanting to keep up with all the Houses in HBO’s Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones InfographicGame of Thrones Infographic

Game of Thrones Infographic by Fishfinger Creative Agency

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How Do You Rule in Westeros? WIth Fire and Ice

Fire and Ice – Game of Thrones

Westeros is the mythical kingdom in George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series and HBO’s television series, Game of Thrones.

As a result of the death of Robert Baratheon, who had managed to hold the seven kingdoms together after ascending the throne, his death, along with that of Ned Stark, sends the kingdom into chaos.

Joffrey Baratheon, who is actually the incestous issue of Robert’s queen, Cersi and her twin brother, Jamie, ascends the Iron Throne, but not only does he not have any right to that throne, he’s a psycho. With a capital P.

He dies, thankfully, and his younger brother Tommen, is now king. Tommen is also Cersei and Jamie’s son, but Tommen is nice. He even likes cats.

But he’s probably going to wind up being manipulated by dear old grandpa, Tywin Lannister, who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the kingdom or its subjects. He just cares about making sure his family and his legacy survive and thrive.

Robert wasn’t a very good king. He only managed to hold the kingdoms together though his political marriage to Cersei. He pretty much left the rule of Westeros to his councilors, which included Littlefinger who, we discovered in last Sunday’s episode, is pretty much responsible for ALL the bad stuff that’s happened in Westeros, or at least his actions were a catalyst for them.

So, does anybody in Westeros have what it takes to be a good ruler?

Yes, Fire and Ice.

Daenerys is Fire. She can’t stand seeing people suffer. She knows that to be a good ruler you have to care for the common people.. She accepts this condition of good rulership so completely that she’s delaying her return to Westeros to go back and kick the asses of those jerks who are re-enslaving the people she freed.

Jon Snow is Ice. He knows what’s right and what’s wrong. He was raised by Ned Stark, a man who was so decent and so honorable that because he wanted to spare Cersei and her children from Robert’s wrath, he pretty much gave Cersei the rope with which she hanged him. Jon has Ned’s blood in him. (Noticed I said “blood”) Did Ned ever come right out out and say that Jon was his son? I don’t recall it. He just said Jon had his blood. Meaning they were related.

But I digress. Jon would make a great King, and Daenerys a great Queen, because both of them are good, decent people. Not perfect, of course, but they care about others and they know what’s right and what’s wrong. And I think, or I hope, that both are savvy enough about people to not make the kind of mistake Ned Stark made in trusting people like Littlefinger or showing someone like Cersei mercy.

Long may he, she or they reign.

Once they do whatever they wind up doing in the series, that is.

Whatever it is, I hope it involves dragons.

Dragons being ridden by Jon and Daenerys.

And maybe Arya. There are three dragons, after all.

Or Tommen. Or Tyrion. Or Pod. Or Brienne.

Or some other cool, non-psychotic person.

As long as those dragons are scorching white walkers, the Night King and whatever other horror is lurking in the North.

Game of Thrones is Back!

Warning: If you haven’t seen Episode 1 of Season 4 of Games of Thrones yet, please be aware I’m going to talk about it. 

Game of Thrones is back! Yay! After a year wait we’re back in the land of Westeros but missing some notable characters with whom we had traveled for three seasons through Westeros. Namely more of the Starks. Catelyn and her son, the King in the North, Robb Stark, who were murdered at the infamous Red Wedding, which is going to prove interesting for the rest of the series.

Why? Well,although there are plenty of characters and storylines in the series, the Starks were the ones we were introduced to  first out of all of the families in Episode 1, Season1, a proud, noble family of Northerners whose family motto was a simple but evocative one: Winter is Coming. They were the characters most of us had been following to some extent and rooting for to avenge the death of Ned Stark back in Season 1.

The only remaining Starks are the youngest sons and daughters, all of whom have no real power, at least in the sense of military or political power, but who may be possessed, at least in the case of Bran and Arya, with powers that may prove far more important.

The first episode of a new season of Games of Thrones is kinda like old home week. We get to see where the characters are and what they’re up to since last season.

Jon Snow is reunited with the Night’s Watch but barely escaped being executed for killing one of the Night Watch members and breaking his vows by having had sex with Ygritte, his Wildling honey.

Daenerys is still across the Narrow Sea with her dragons, one of whom almost took a bite out of the Mother of Dragons when it thought she was interfering with its din-din.

Sansa Stark, now married to Tyrion Lannister, is dealing with the fact that her Lannister in-laws slaughtered her mother and brother and, as far as she’s concerned, making her the only Stark still alive. She has no idea of Bran, Rickon or Arya are even still alive.

Jamie Lannister has returned to King’s Landing, got a haircut and a shave, is back in his Kingsguard uniform, with the addition of a extremely gaudy golden hand to replace the right hand he lost in Season 3.

Joffrey is still as big of an asshole as he’s been since the beginning, even taken some nasty-minded swipes as his uncle (father), Jamie, and Ayra, oh, Arya, you and the Hound are fast becoming my all time favorite best-buds.

We were also introduced to a new character, Oberyn Martell, who is the brother of the wife of the former Prince of….oh, forget it, let’s just say he’s come to King’s Landing not just for Joffrey’s royal wedding. He’s got revenge on his mind with a great big capital R.

And we were also introduced to some other Wildlings called the Thenn. Really? The Thenn? Okay, well, anyway, they’re pretty creepy looking and in what is fast becoming a bit of a cliche, thanks to shows like Hannibal and the recent season finale of The Walking Dead, they’re cannibals. Not quite as much of a shocker as I think the show was hoping for.

So, all in all, not a bad first episode. The best scene was at the end with The Hound, that towering pillar of scarred testerone, taking on an inn full of Lannister soldiers and getting some help from Arya, who not only killed once again, but (yay!) got back her sword, Needle, that Jon Snow had given her back in Season 1. And her own horse, which she had been complaining to the Hound about not having.

So that last image of the episode was pretty cool with Arya and the Hound riding off together into a burning, devastated landscape.

The war is over, for now, with the death of Robb and the slaughter of the Stark soldiers along with the burning of Winterfell, but there are still many battles ahead.

Can’t wait for next week!

The Best Movies about Arthur and His Knights

KnightYesterday, I talked about the movie Knightriders, which is George Romero’s take on the Arthurian legends, but with the knights riding motorcycles instead of horses.

Today I thought I’d list what I consider the best movies on King Arthur. I’ve been a fan of the stories of Arthur and Camelot since I read Mary Stewart’s book The Crystal Cave, which is actually the first book in her trilogy about Merlin and Arthur, which includes The Hollow Hills and The Last Enchantment. The trilogy is told from the viewpoint of Merlin and was my first introduction to the world of Arthur and his knights. I highly recommend it.

If you want to find a list of movies and television shows based on the Arthur legends, Wikipedia has a list here.

The Knights of the Round Table – Released in 1953, it stars Robert Taylor as Lancelot, Mel Ferrer as Arthur, and Ava Gardner as Guinevere. Yes, that Ava Gardner. I’m not a big Robert Taylor fan, but this movie fits the decade in which it was released, with a lot of derring-do and pageantry.

The Sword in the Stone. This is Disney’s animated version from 1963. I saw this when I was  kid and it’s still one of my favorite animated versions of the Arthur legends.

Camelot – Based on the hit musical of the same name and released in 1967, this is a musical adaptation which stars Richard Harris (who went on to play Professor Dumbledore in the first two Harry Potter movies), Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere and Franco Nero as Lancelot. This is another version with a lot of pageantry and singing of course. But the songs are great, Harris is wonderful as Arthur and the ending is one of my favorite of the Arthur influenced movies.

Monty Python and the Holy Grail – Best comedy ever about King Arthur. Actually, I think it might be the only one. Anyway, if you haven’t seen it, put it on your must-view list. It was released in 1975

Excalibur – Released in 1981 and directed by John Boorman, this was probably the first of the Arthurian movies to get gritty, bloody and sexy. There’s nudity and sex in this film, bloody action and it also leaves no doubt that Arthur and Morgana got it on and produced Mordred. One of my favorite of the Arthurian films and features a young Liam Nesson as Sir Gawain and Helen Mirren as Morgana Le Fey.

First Knight – Not one of my all-time favorites (I still think Richard Gere is too old to play Lancelot) but in relation to Sean Connery playing a much older Arthur than is usually shown in the films, I suppose it’s alright. If you see this movie and you’re a Game of Thrones fan, you’ll see a younger Liam Cunningham playing the part of Sir Agravaine. In GofT Cunningham plays Ser Davos, the Onion Knight, and Stannis’ Baratheon’s right hand man. First Knight was released in 1995.

Merlin – 1998 saw Merlin brought to television as a miniseries. This film, like Stewart’s book, tells the story of Arthur from Merlin’s perspective. Merlin is played by Sam Neill (one of my fave actors) and features Isabella Rossellini as Nimue and Helena Bonham Carter as Morgan Le Fey. Arthur, Lancelot and Guinevere don’t figure as prominently in the film as in other adaptations. They’re more of a backdrop to Merlin’s ongoing battle with his former mentor, Queen Mab, played by Miranda Richardson.

Mists of Avalon – The 2001 TNT miniseries is based on Marion Zimmer Bradley’s book of the same name. It stars Julianna Margulies as Morgaine, Angelica Huston as Viviane, the Lady of the Lake and Joan Allen as Morgause. Mists is told from the viewpoint of the women involved in the Arthur legends and it’s one of my favorites.

King Arthur – 2004 saw the release of King Arthur, starring Clive Owen as Arthur, Keira Knightly as Guinevere, and Ioan Gruffudd as Lancelot. This version tried to base the Arthur legend more in historical “fact”. Arthur and his “knights” are Romanized and Merlin is more of an adversary than an ally. This movie doesn’t entirely work for me on all levels, but the performances are good and the action sequences exciting.

Finally, and one of my favorite Arthurian adaptations, the BBC’s Merlin. Once again, the story of Arthur and his knights are told from the viewpoint of Merlin, but in this version Arthur isn’t even king yet when the series begins. He’s Prince Arthur and his father, Uther still rules. Magic is outlawed and punishable by death and Merlin, who comes to Camelot as a young man, must hide the fact that he does magic but he must also protect and help Arthur to fulfill his destiny and become king. The series plays around a lot with many of the tropes of the Arthur legends, which I liked. The Arthur stories don’t always have to adhere  to what’s been done before. They shouldn’t. That’s the beauty of the Arthur legends. 

Whether the knights ride horses or Guinevere starts outs as a servant, the stories of Arthur, Merlin, Camelot and the Round Table continue to be told for a reason and will continue to be told as long as there are storytellers to tell and people to listen.

Tarot Tuesday – Tarot 101

tarot, tarot reader, tarot cards, fortune telling, fortune teller,The Tarot. What is it exactly? Well, it’s basically a set of seventy-eight cards. But it’s also more than that. In her book Tarot for Writers, Corrine Kenner calls the tarot a “cosmic model of the universe” and a “map of the human psyche.”

If nothing else, the tarot, at the very least, can be considered a cosmic model of your story universe and a map of the psyche of your characters.

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that if you were stuck somewhere on a desert island and you could only bring a few things with you and if, like me, you have an insatiable need to tell stories, all you would need to write your stories would be something to write with, something to write on and box of tarot cards.

But let me begin our journey of writing with the tarot by briefly explaining what the tarot is for anyone who is new it.

As I said before, the standard tarot deck is comprised of 78 cards, which are divided into three main segments.

  1. The Major Arcana
  2. The Minor Arcana
  3. The Court Cards

Major Arcana is Latin for “greater secrets. There are 22 cards in the Major Arcana, starting with 0 for The Fool and ending with 21 for the World.

The Major Arcana deal those big, dramatic, larger than life issues you want your characters to tackle through the course of your story. Love, death, temptation, justice, destiny, fate. The names of the cards reflect these themes and many of them carry such names as Death, Justice, and Strength or Lust as the card is sometimes called.

But the Major Arcana does not only deal with themes. It also deals with archetypes.

An archetype is a template. It’s an image or a symbol that has appeared over and over down through the history of humanity, It appears in dreams, myths, legends and it also appears in our current cultural landscape in movies, television, comic books and even TV ads.

It’s said that one person’s archetype is another’s stereotype, but I think that if you dismiss the idea of archetypes too easily you’ll be doing yourself and your reader a disservice. I’ll talk more about archetypes when I tackle using the tarot to create characters.

The Minor Arcana is comprised of 56 cards and, although it’s not as imbued with as much mystical significance as the Major Arcana, these cards are just as important. You could say that the Major Arcana deal with big issues and the Minor with those same issues but on a smaller scale. On a more day-to-day level.

The Two of Cups

There are four suits in the Minor Arcana. Coins or Pentacles, Cups, Swords and Wands. They’re similar to the suits in your standard deck, but instead of Cups, you’ll find Hearts. Spades replace Swords, Clubs become Wands and Coins are known as Diamonds. You’ll find a nice chart detailing the associations of the suits of the Minor Arcana here.

Each of the four suits has 10 cards or pips, ranging from 1 to 10. That gives you forty cards. The remaining 16 cards make up the Court Cards.

The Court Cards are known as the royal family of the Tarot because they are generally known as the King, Queen, Knight and Page. There are four court cards for each of the suits. So, for example, you’ll have a King of Cups, a King of Swords, a King of Wands and a King of Pentacles.

Court cards can be a little tricky, because they can represent people (which is probably the first thought you’ll have when you pull a court card), but they can also represent aspects of yourself, situations you may find yourself in, etc.

For the purpose of writing fiction, however, and to just make it easier, I’m going to use the Court Cards primarily for creating characters. And, once I get to that portion, you’ll see why.

To give you an idea as to why I think the court cards are perfect for character creating, I want to introduce you to the King, Queen, Knight and Page of Swords.

game of thrones, house lannister

Oh, wait. I’m sorry.That’s those crazy, crafty, conniving members of House Lannister from HBO’s Game of Thrones.

But they’re also the King, Queen, Knight and Page of Swords.

In the tarot, the suit of Swords usually stands for the intellect, for politics, for intrigue, for the mind and its ability to divide and to conquer. Swords are double-edged and they can be used in defense of an idea as much as they can be used to hurt.

House Lannister is one of the richest houses in Westeros, the mythical land in which Game of Throne is set. and you might think I’d want to associate the Lannisters with Pentacles, which stand for money and wealth.

King of SwordsBut, unlike those who  use money in order to enjoy the pleasures of life, the Lannisters use money to advance their agendas and, trust me, everyone in this family has an agenda, a lot of which involves them stabbing each other in the back along  with betraying and scheming against those who, as Cersei Lannister puts it, “is not us.” Not a Lannister.

The patriarch is Tywin Lannister (King of Swords), the father of Cersei, Jamie and Tyrion. Tywin is the darker side of the King of Swords. He’s ruthless, tyrannical and manipulative. He’s quite intelligent and uses that intelligence to advance his House and his family.

Cersei (Queen of Swords) is Tywin’s daughter, but she is also a Queen as she was married to queen of swords, tarotRobert Baratheon, the late King of the Seven Kingdoms. Cersei, like her father, also represents the darker aspect of the Queen of Swords. As her father tells her, she’s not as smart as she thinks she is but, except when it comes to her children, whom she truly loves, Cersei’s head rather than her heart rules her. She’s cold, unforgiving and vengeful and she has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to protect her children and advance her family.

Knight of SwordsJamie (Knight of Swords) is Cersei’s twin brother and, alas, the father of her children. Jamie encompasses both the light and dark sides of the Knight of Swords. He tends to use his mind in order to get himself out of scrapes, of which he finds himself in quite a few. He’s also reckless and impetuous, but there are sides to him that are starting to manifest which suggest there’s more to him than meets the eye. We shall see.

Finally, there’s Tyrion (Page of Swords), the youngest of the Lannisters. Tyrion is a dwarf and not the apple of either his father or his sister’s eye. His brother loves him, but the rest of the Lannisters…they barely tolerate him. Tyrion is smart. He reads a lot and as he tells Jon Snow, “a mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.” He loves outsmarting others and, honestly, does it quite well. Page of Swords

Equating the court cards with people you know or with characters from movies, books or television can not only help you learn the court cards, but can also be useful when brainstorming characters. We’ll talk more about that later.

So, there you have it. A rather brief, but I hope useful introduction to tarot. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask them in the comment section.

If you want a really excellent book on learning the tarot, I recommend the appropriately titled Learning the Tarot by Joan Bunning. It says it’s for beginners and it’s a great book if you are new to the tarot, but I’ve been studying tarot for years and I still use it.

Thursday, I’ll talk about spreads. What they are, how to use them and, especially, how to use them for writing fiction

Why Dragons are the Coolest Things Since Sliced Bread

wb051450First off, I’m not all that sure sliced bread is all that cool. Convenient, yes, but I think it’s also pretty cool to rip apart a loaf of bread, dip a thick piece of it in something hot and delicious and boisterously chew on it.Bread

But that’s the phrase one uses when you’re talking about something that’s really cool. Best thing since sliced bread.

If you watch HBO’s Game of Thrones, then you know there are dragons in the show. (I’m only going to chat about the television show. I haven’t read the books yet).

Daenerys Targaryen and one of her dragons – Game of Thrones – HBO –

Prior to  Daenerys Targaryen’s bringing dragons back into the world, there hadn’t been any dragons around for quite some time. They’d all died off or been killed. With the return of dragons, however, comes a rebirth of magic in the world of Game of Thrones. Both good and bad magic.

The dragons in GoT are pretty darn cool. They still haven’t done that much, but it’s been a treat watching them on the show.

Daenerys calls herself their mother. She cares for them as if they were her children. But, as the show goes on, like any child, these dragons are getting bigger and, as a recent short trailer showed, and as Daenerys is warned, they can not be tamed.

I’ve always thought dragons were cool. Ever since I was a kid. But what kid hasn’t? They’re like dinosaurs but with wings. They breathe fire, they eat virgins, they steal and hoard gold, and if you’re brave and smart, you can even ride one, like the Dragonriders of Pern.

Dragons, or some kind of dragon-like creature, exists in pretty much every culture of the world, but the most prevalent are the European and Chinese depictions of dragons. They are mighty creatures, evoking both fear and awe. They can symbolize great evil or great virtue.

There is certainly no lack of books on them. One that I haven’t read yet is A Natural History of Dragons , but it looks like an interesting read. I’ll put it on hold at the library.

I’m hoping they’ll do more with the dragons in the upcoming episodes and/or seasons of Game of Thrones. Personally, what I’d like to see is Daenerys, Jamie Lannister and Jon Snow riding the dragons and turning all the White Walkers to ash. 🙂

You can learn more about the dragons of Game of Thrones here.

Spring into Television!

Diana Castle, television, Game of Thrones, Vikings, Downtown Abbey, Face Off, Walking DeadSo here I sit still waiting patiently (although my patience is starting to wear pretty darn thin!)  for Spring to return with all its warmth and color and promise. Around here we’re still gripped in winter’s icy embrace. And I mean icy. We’ve gotten so much snow that there are just mounds and piles of it, as white as salt. Oh, and don’t get me started on salt. We need it to make sure the roads and sidewalks aren’t too slippery, but it cakes on your clothes and it mucks up your car and as soon as it’s, oh, about 40 degrees or so I’m taking the car over to the carwash.

But, since it’s now close to the middle of February, shows that were either on mid-season hiatus or are returning after a year off, are coming back.

First, there’s Walking Dead, which returns tonight after having been off for several weeks. I have to work on the weekends, so I’ll have to catch it On Demand later in the week. I have a love/hate relationship with Walking Dead. I love the characters, I sometimes hate the plotlines. But I’ve become too invested in these characters not to keep watching it.

Next up, Vikings, from the History Channel. I had heard about this show last year, but I never got a chance to check it out. My daughter urged me to watch it, but I’d already missed it but, fortunately, the History Channel is showing the entire first season as a prelude to the season 2 premiere on February 27th. What I’ve seen so far, which are only Episodes 1 and 2, I’ve liked. It’s kinda like Game of Thrones, gritty and sexy, but with Vikings.

The next two shows started in January, so I’m in the process of watching both of them now. I didn’t get into Downtown Abbey until last year, when I did one of those marathon viewings of Seasons 1-3. I like the show a lot. I like the characters and I like the way it’s written and directed. There are a lot of characters to handle and the series does a pretty good job of giving all the characters their due.

I hardly watch any reality shows. I have a hard enough time keeping up with my fictional shows. But I do like to watch Face Off on the Syfy Channel. I like Face Off because it involves creativity. The contestants are all make-up artists who are given a chance to compete for prizes and money. Every show is structured around the artists being giving a concept, like, create a Beast for Beauty and the Beast. They have three days to do it and then they are judged. Every creation has to also have a story around it, so it’s interesting watching how the artists base their makeup on both the concept they’re given and the story they make up.

Finally, there’s the granddaddy of them all. Game of Thrones, at least in my book. If nothing else, I know that  when Game of Thrones comes on, which is in early April, it’s either spring-like or close to spring. Season 3 was a bit slow and really didn’t pick up steam until the last few episodes, so I’m hoping Season 4 will be more exciting. I don’t have HBO anymore, but I may get it back. At least until Game of Thrones is done.