The Game of Thrones Awards, Season 8, Episode 6: End of Watch

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Greetings, and welcome! My name is Ben, and you have stumbled upon the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week I will be breaking down each episode of season  8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.

Season 8, Episode 6: “The Iron Throne”

As I read the last few sentences of Stephen King’s epic seven-book Dark Tower series, I found myself feeling rather dejected. After thousands of pages, dozens of well crafted characters, and some of the most interesting lore I’d ever come across, I could only think… is that all there is? A series I’d been following for decades was over, leaving me with only a litany of complaints about everything from characterization to the pacing.

At the time, I think I lacked a bit of perspective on just how incredibly difficult it is to wrap up a story so sprawling. I don’t want to give Benioff and Weiss (and George R.R. Martin, if some of these same shortcomings aren’t corrected on the page) a pass for some of narrative choices made these last two seasons, but ending Game of Thrones was always going to be a problem. The show has always been at its best when it puts its characters into a room and lets them explore their experiences. When you are writing a story that involves dragons and battle, the endgame is naturally going to involve more fire and swords than dialogue. I always suspected that this show was destined to let a lot of us down in the end. The decision to condense these last two seasons from twenty episodes into thirteen certainly now strikes me as not only the wrong one, but a sign of a fundamental misunderstanding of the story being told.

Still, as the credits rolled for the final time last night, I felt incredibly grateful to have experienced this show from week to week and year to year. My problems with seasons 7 and 8 make the Red Wedding no less visceral, the battle of Blackwater Bay no less exhilarating, Ayra’s and Sansa’s journeys no less moving. The rushed ending doesn’t negate the incredible journey I’ve followed down the King’s Road these last eight seasons.

That buildup might give you the idea I’m going to eviscerate this episode, and I am. Well, half of it anyway.

The first 40 minutes slowed the pace enough to let the story breathe in the wake of episode 5’s apocalyptic firestorm at King’s Landing. Tyrion’s walk through the corpse-strewn rubble was quiet, reflective, and heartbreaking. His reaction to finding his brother beneath the Red Keep is likely the clip that will earn Peter Dinklage another Emmy.

After Tyrion is imprisoned, his conversation with Jon provides another particularly strong part of the episode, even if it did act as something of a narrative bandaid. It’s almost as if the writers were unsure if the audience bought Dany’s heel turn; making Tyrion walk us through the warning signs was a bit on-the-nose, but necessary to get Jon where he needed to be for the episode and series to reach its inevitable endpoint; there was no way Daenerys wasn’t dying after the last episode’s massacre, but Jon’s turn had to make something approaching sense, and I think it did. As I said earlier, scenes like these where two characters can just exist in a room are the backbone of this show.

And so Jon meets Dany at the foot of the Iron Throne with murder on his mind. If some of the dialogue doesn’t quite track—Jon begs for Tyrion to be spared; had Dany agreed, would he have still killed her? What would that prove?—the execution no pun intended) of Daenerys’ death was fairly satisfying. It’s hard for the moment to land with the weight that the writers undoubtedly wanted it to, considering how rushed was both Jon and Dany’s romance and her eventual heel turn, but as a scene, it worked. Especially Drogon then went full Simba with the Queen’s corpse and then flew away with her to mourn (but not before slagging the Iron Throne (guess dragons are into heavy symbolism). 

The look on Dany’s face as she realizes Jon has betrayed her one last time is so painful because, despite her pivot to Mad Queen status, this is a character we’ve cheered on for a long time, and one who truly was acting out of a misguided desire to fix a broken world by any means necessary. It wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it was the one the show (and undoubtedly the novels, should they ever be published) demanded. If I have substantial problems with the journey, the destination seems right, somehow. 

But then…

In the aftermath of Daenerys’ death we jump ahead in time a few weeks, conveniently skipping over a few impossible scenes—we’re supposed to believe that Grey Worm didn’t immediately kill Jon and Tyrion in the wake of Dany’s death, and was content to just wait around for all of the (dwindling) lords and ladies of Westeros to show up for planning session? Weirdly, Tyrion starts the meeting as a prisoner, but a few minutes into it, he has basically single-handedly chosen the new king of Westeros. You’d think people would eventually stop listening to the guy.

And how about that choice of king? I will give Thrones some credit there: I definitely did not see Bran coming. Twist aside, it struck me as an underwhelming (and baffling) choice—not the least because, despite what Tyrion says, his story wasn’t all that great, and the show gave us no reason to believe that anyone else in Westeros would trust that he is actually the magical repository of human history he claims to be. He didn’t even use any of his powers to prove the point! The rate at which the crisis of succession is resolved feels like a slap in the face to viewers who may recall that we’ve spent eight seasons on the fight for the throne. Suddenly a bunch of characters we haven’t seen in several seasons (or ever) hold a quick vote, and no one much disagrees—we’ll get to Sansa in a second—and that’s it? Cersei would not be amused.

King Bran talks Grey Worm into letting Tyrion not only live but serve as Hand of the King? OK, sure. At least it make senses that Jon’s fate would be a little more complicated; it was still hard to accept Grey Worm letting his queen’s killer live, but if Jaime Lannister got to survive killing a king, I suppose Jon can kill the same king’s heir.

With my major problems with the finale outlined above, I’ll also try to end on a high note; upon all of a day’s worth of reflection, I was left feeling satisfied about where things ended up for many of the characters.

The way Jon’s arc wrapped up makes sense. He can’t go back to being a Stark, and he’s no Targaryen; having him end up detached from the other main characters (and likely living out his days beyond the wall) was a wise choice. He became the Queenslayer, a label that will follow him until the end of his days. Best to go where he can try to forget the past.

Speaking of slayers, perhaps the best resolution of the episode was Brienne’s choice to finish Jaime’s entry in the book of the Kingsguard, updating it to reflect the gray areas that lived in his character. Much like Jon’s, Jaime’s choice to end the Mad King’s life was much more complicated than history will remember it to be and that the history books will reflect. That being said, he still doesn’t deserve your tears Brienne!

Sansa being named Queen in the North feels right—she has in many ways become the strongest and wisest of them all—as does Arya’s decision to sail off the edge of the map. The former has spent years growing into the leader her people need, while the latter came to realize that she needed to learn how to be a person again. I know a lot of people wanted Arya to kill Cersei or Daenerys, but in retrospect, it seems like that was never where her arc was headed. That she took The Hound’s advice to not let herself be consumed by rage provided an ultimately more satisfying end; I didn’t want for her to have to live with the weight of having ended yet more lives, as much as her potential victims may have deserved to meet with the God of Death.  

Perhaps best of all is the fact that I can now imagine where this world goes from here; a good ending must also hold the future within it. I can foresee the arguments that will consume this strange new small council, which somehow includes Bronn of all people. I can imagine Sansa’s long and careful rule in the North. I can even see the coming of the next rebellion against the Throne. While in theory Bran should be able to avoid making some of the past (and future) mistakes, simply by the nature of his powers, we know that Westeros is not that simple, and pat as it is in some ways, the ending doesn’t really seem to suggest otherwise.

In closing, I would urge those of you who are upset about aspects of this final season to remember the good times, and why we cared so much about these characters in the first place. There’s probably nothing the writers could’ve done to satisfy everyone, but in the end, they did what not even George R.R. Martin seems able to do: they brought this dragon in for a landing.

And now, my watch has ended.

A few random thoughts:

—When Jon Snow said that “the war is over” I really wanted the ghost of Ygritte to appear and spout her catchphrase one last time.

—I like the idea that the new small council feels less need for a Master of Whisperers and a Master of War, even if Tyrion did say those positions will be filled some day; consider it a necessary reminder that peace never lasts.

—Tormund was one of the season MVPs, and I’m a little bummed he didn’t get a line of dialogue in that final, artful montage.

—The visuals that accompanied Dany’s speech to her troops felt a little too Star Wars to me, but I still enjoyed the spectacle of the moment.

—Edmure being told to sit down during the king’s moot in the dragon pit provided a welcome bit of levity in an otherwise unavoidably expository scene. As he started to speak I wondered if perhaps he did have some profound bit of wisdom to share. Nope. This man is, was, and always will be a doofus. Also, if I wasn’t already sold on her, this moment sealed it: Sansa is my queen.

—Bronn finally getting a castle from the Lannisters came off as more a joke than anything. I think his arc was one of several casualties of the shortened season, but then, the writers always liked him a bit more than was justified by the narrative.

—Samwell almost inventing democracy, only to be laughed down, was the worst joke the show has ever attempted. 

Quotable Quotes

“You master of grammar now, too?” —Sir Bronn of the Blackwater

“Now Varys’ ashes can tell my ashes…see, I told you” —Tyrion, pondering his potential execution

“Why do you think I came all this way?” —Bran with the mic drop on becoming King

Awards!

—The first (and last) “Self Indulgent Camera Wink of the Year” award goes to Samwell for bringing out an actual copy of a book called “A Song of Ice and Fire.” Just because it worked for Bilbo…

—The highly coveted “Best Boy of the Episode” award goes to Ghost, who by all accounts is a VERY GOOD BOY YES HE IS. Jon finally petting his direwolf felt like a direct response to all of the criticism the show faced over the marked lack of Ghost over the past few seasons. (Runner-up: Drogon.)

—The last “We Miss You and Wish You Weren’t Murdered in Horrifying Fashion” award goes to Ned Stark. His execution was the catalyst for almost everything that happened on this show. It was hard not to think about Ned as we watched snow covering King’s Landing, as his constant warning finally came to pass. Winter indeed has come, but maybe it won’t be as bad as he made it sound.

And Now, a Haiku by Tyrion

Arrested again
Seriously how many times
Has this happened to me?

What did you think of the finale? Are you hoping for a different ending on the page?

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The Game of Thrones Awards, Season 8, Episode 5: Queen of the Ashes

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Greetings, and welcome! My name is Ben, and you have stumbled upon the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week I will be breaking down each episode of season  8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.

Season 8, Episode 5: “The Bells”

A few minutes into “The Bells” I remarked aloud, “Huh, Dany sure looks like she’s about to kill a bunch of people.”

Well, let me correct my phrasing. What I meant to say was, “Dany sure looks like she is going to kill all the people”.

Welcome to Barnes and Noble’s coverage of the penultimate episode of Game of Thrones!

I have been beating a dead horse (there are definitely a few of those around during this episode) about the show’s weird pacing over the last few seasons, and that point was comically exaggerated by Lord Varys’ demise-by-montage at the start of the episode.

This was arguably the most careful and intelligent character on the roster, a man who has served a handful of subpar kings and managed to bite his tongue and wait for the right moment to act to help serve the realm, and he’s front and center on the beach telling Daenerys’ most committed ally that they should maybe try a coup? And a few minutes later, he’s being executed? Of course Jon Snow wasn’t going to turn him in, because… honor or something? But the damage was already done. Still, while the plotting was not particularly strong, the moments Tyrion shared with the Spider before his dragon-y death were compelling.

In many ways, the opening served as a microcosm of the season so far: there have been a lot of fantastic small moments, though perhaps compromised by a larger disregard of the characters and stories that got us to this point in the first place.

In terms of sheer spectacle and drama, there is still a lot to like about this episode. From a visual standpoint, Drogon decimating King’s Landing is the kind of spectacle that Game of Thrones was made for. I’m not sure if the writers intentionally were leading us to believe that the bells triggered Daenerys’ descent into madness, but I think it would be a clever choice if that was the idea—those same bells rang when her family was being destroyed in King’s Landing, and the attack against them didn’t stop either.

For many, the Mother of Dragons’ heel turn feels rather sudden, but I would argue that those people haven’t been paying attention. Her lack of patience and penchant for violence has been hinted at for several seasons now. If you think back to the time we spent with her in Essos: how many times was she coached to try diplomacy over fire despite her immediate impulses? And I don’t think that it’s a stretch to say that the journey across the sea—being met with resistance and mistrust be her allies; watching those she trusts most die or betray her; seeing her dragons die; almost getting killed by zombies— has taken a massive toll on her mental health. She had been conditioned to think for her whole life that when she returned to Westeros everyone would lay out the proverbial red carpet, and the reality has been quite a bit different.

The show seemed to suggest that hearing the bells ringing signaling the city’s surrender drove Dany over the edge and led her to burn it to the ground, but her arc is much more satisfying if you ignore all the “mad queen” nonsense and just consider it a strategic decision. Dany chose fear. We may not think it was the right decision, or a good one, but she chose the hell out of it.

And while watching innocent people be slaughtered isn’t my favorite past time, that Grey Worm and company chose to follow Dany’s lead and sack the city made sense to me, and was a good example of proper storytelling. The Unsullied are trained to follow their leader and little else, and did anyone forget about some of the Dothraki’s more… questionable impulses? These aren’t necessarily good people, these are people who were briefly allied to a part of a good cause because of circumstances. That cause has shifted, and so have they.

I feel less conflicted about one aspect of this episode, and if you’ve read any of my past recaps, you should already know what it is: we experienced @$&%$ #CleganeBowl, folks!

The Hound versus The Mountain delivered almost everything I wanted from that much-anticipated battle. The fact that Cersei’s hold on Gregor wore off (peace out, Qyburn) when confronted with the chance to murder his younger brother provided a thrilling start the festivities. Also, nice to see your face again, big bud! And by “nice” I mean… gross—Cersei’s Hand was a master as getting Ser Gregor up and moving, but he still looked as dead as he almost was.

The matchup was booked like a pro wrestling bout, with the hero getting in some shots early, being dominated by his opponent in the middle stages of the fight, and then tackling the villainand sending him into the burning rubble below. Hmmm, actually, I don’t think I’ve seen a lot of wrestling matches end like that. Regardless, that’s a hell of a way to end a sibling rivalry. In a season where some character arcs have failed to offer satisfaction, this was the exception—I can’t imagine a better end for the Hound.

But before all that happened, Sandor’s scene with Arya was another standout moment of the episode, as he convinced her to value her life over her mission. Cersei has been on Arya’s list longer than any other character, but as he points out, being consumed by revenge isn’t a pretty sight. As strong willed as Arya has been in the past, I struggle a bit with the idea that she’d come this far only to abandon the assassination attempt, but he did make a pretty convincing case that the queen was going to wind up dead either way.

And speaking of Cersei’s demise, I have a feeling her final moments will stand with the more controversial parts of the episode. I will start by saying that the plot gymnastics the writers have had to pull off to—both convince us that Tyrion would commit treason against his chosen queen in order to save Cersei of all people and to get Jaime to Cersei’s side for this final showdown—have been a bit tiresome. Why have Jamie abandon his sister in the lead-up to war just because said war is now happening (even if he did get to make a pit-stop to kill Euron Greyjoy on the way, thank the gods)? I know what they were trying to do—illustrate Jamie’s one true loyalty is to his twin—but it felt entirely too rushed and, frankly, unconvincing. Nevertheless, I suppose it fits that the Lannister twins got to leave the world the same way they came into it—together. Cersei wasn’t a good person, or even close to it, but while most would say she doesn’t deserve sympathy, Game of Thrones has always been a better show when it allows us to feel sympathy for the worst villains just the same.

I’m curious what next week’s episode is going to look like. Is Daenerys gonna be like, “Remember when I said I didn’t want to rule the ashes? Whoops, LOL!” How many people are left in Westeros to be ruled, anyway? Like 48? Will Lady Stoneheart make a last-second appearance just to spite you all for giving up on her?

Return next week for my coverage of the series finale! Because no one else on the internet will be talking about it.

A few random thoughts:

—Is this the episode with the highest body count of named characters? Varys, Jamie, Cersei, The Hound, The Mountain, Qyburn, and Euron (yaaaay!): is that everyone?

—While I don’t mind the way that Cersei died, did anyone else think it was a bit weird that she and Qyburn had no plan in place for this attack?

—Real talk: why has Tyrion been just the worst strategist in the world for the last few seasons? Releasing Jaime in the hopes that he’d be able to talk Cersei into surrendering was so stupid on so many levels, I could filled the entire preceding blog post with that rant.

—Arya riding off on a white horse at the end gave me some weird “Bruce Willis already dead” vibes, but I think the show might finally be done killing Starks. We’ll see.

—Tyrion trying to talk to the Unsullied in Valyrian, only to be reminded that they speak the common tongue, reminded me of some of my unfortunate attempts to order food while overseas.

—Was Euron’s “I killed Jaime Lannister” moment the worst thing ever, or only the second-worst thing ever? These are the only acceptable choices.

—Do dragons run out of fire at some point or…?

Quotable Quotes

“It was me” —Tyrion letting Varys know who sealed his fate

“Nothing else matters, only us” —Jaime with a nice callback to earlier seasons, just before he died

Awards!

—The “Most Valuable Murderer of the Week” award goes to Drogon. Really put out some good numbers.

—The “Most Ridiculous Fan Theory of the Week” goes to the baby dragons idea that circled the internet all week. We aren’t adding any more characters from now on, people. We are only killing them off by the thousands!

—For the second-to-last time we dust off the coveted, “We Miss You and Wish You Weren’t Murdered in Horrifying Fashion” award, and hand it to… Viserys Targaryen? Yes, Dany’s older brother may have been a jerk and a weasel, but even his transition into power would have likely been smoother than Dany’s.

And Now, a Haiku by Bran Stark

I too hate spoilers
Did not want to break the news
That the queen is nuts

What did you think of the penultimate episode? Let us know in the comments!

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The Game of Thrones Awards, Season 8, Episode 4: The Mad Queens

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Greetings, and welcome! My name is Ben, and you have stumbled upon the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week I will be breaking down each episode of season  8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.

Season 8, Episode 4: “The Last of the Starks”

Plenty of episodes of Game of Thrones don’t do much to move the plot forward, and for a bit over half its 80-minute runtime, “The Last of the Starks” felt like one of them.

But all that changed with one (gigantic) crossbow, which sent Rhaegal crashing to the bottom of the sea.

It seems odd to say, but I do miss those uneventful episodes. It took entire seasons to build to the Battle of Blackwater Bay and the Battle of the Bastards. Yet just one episode removed from what was by all measures the most important battle in the show’s (or Westeros’) history, we are already moving toward another massive confrontation—though this time all the parties involved are at least alive (except for The Mountain, probably).

Much like it was in season 7, the speed at which we are moving is a tad disorienting. Unlike that season, the story has been compelling enough to make me forget about that for the most part.

The episode begins with the mourning of the dead—Jorah, Theon, Lyanna, and thousands of others. Even from the opening shot, you can tell the recent victory has not given Daenerys with any satisfaction. Defeating the dead was necessary, but it meant very little to her personally. As she kisses the body of her longtime protector and advisor farewell, there appears to be a quiet rage building inside of her.

Her rage is only amplified at the subsequent feast “celebrating” the victory in muted fashion, as Tormund and company boisterously discuss Jon’s achievements (who would climb on the back of a dragon but a king indeed), and Jon’s subsequent refusal to keep his lineage from Arya and Sansa. The pair separated soon after—Jon to march south with the remainder of their armies; Dany off on an ill-fated plan to blockade King’s Landing rather than burn it to the ground at the cost of thousands of innocent lives—and it seems likely we’ve seen the last of their scenes together as a potential romantic pairing.

But before Jon leaves, he does indeed meet with the surviving Starks in the Godswood, and lets slip that he isn’t exactly one of them. Or presumably he lets Bran do it. Either way, we are curiously robbed of seeing Sansa and Arya’s reaction to this bombshell (perhaps they had already read up on the fan theories). Regardless, it takes Sansa exactly one scene transition to break her word to Jon about not sharing his secret; she blabs it to Tyrion, who tells Varys, which is as good as sending ravens to all points of the compass. The revelation kicks off a spirited debate between Tyrion (who remains loyal to Dany, either out of fear or stubbornness, or plain misguided trust) and Varys (who claims fealty to the common folk above any one ruler) over who should sit the iron throne. I thought we’d been over this?

No sooner do Daenerys and the blockade ships (carrying Grey Worm, Missandei, Tyrion, and Varys) reach the city than they were ambushed by Euron’s Iron Fleet, Daenerys’ payment for apparently forgetting not one but two of the primary weapons in Cersei’s arsenal (the Iron Fleet; the scorpion crossbows) costs her one of her two remaining children, a handful of her ships, and the counsel of one of her closest advisors in Missandei, who is somehow captured. In three minutes, the playing field is leveled considerably. Assuming Rhaegal is actually dead—it looked pretty definitive but we’re also lated treated to a suspiciously portentous line of dialogue from Euron assuring Cersei he saw the dragon sink beneath the waves, and as this is the same dude who apparently can’t tell how disgusting Cersei obviously finds him, his judgement is perhaps not to be trusted.

The subsequent “negotiations” between the Dragon Queen and the Queen of Westeros—conducted across an open field, with Cersei’s retinue perched atop high and heavily fortified castle walls—doesn’t go much better. After an ineffectual chat with Qyburn (a lovely reminder of just how creepy and matter of fact Cersei’s Hand is) Tyrion tires of his disturbing pragmatism and appeals directly to his older sister. Tyrion begs her to give up the throne and avoid sacrificing another of her children to her quest for power, and Cersei responds by ordering the Mountain to cut off Missandi’s head. Behind Tyrion, Daenerys looks pretty mad, in all connotations of the word. She has been talked out of burning King’s Landing to the ground several times, but after watching a second dragon die and witnessing Missandei ‘s execution, it seems that there might not be anyone left who can convince her to act otherwise.

This show (and it’s source material) has always excelled at inhabiting gray areas, and that’s certainly where we’re going to stay for the rest of the season. Is Varys properly looking out for the realm by attempting to conspire against the queen he spent so long supporting, or is he just a fickle man who will never be happy with any ruler? Is Daenerys truly losing her mind like her father, or is she correct that it will take a horrible act to truly “break the wheel” bring peace to Westeros? (If Varys is as smart as we are to believe he is, he should surely know by now that the man he’d prop up in place of the Dragon Queen has a track record of horrible strategic thinking, as well as ignoring good advice, no?)

Heavy plot lifting aside, before things got crazy in the latter half of the episode, there were actually a few moments of of levity, drunken debauchery, romance, and heartbreak in Winterfell.

The internet has been collectively pining for Jaime and Brienne’s hookup for years, and it was just as awkward as I always imagined it would be. His whole “is it hot in here?” routine was not as smooth as you’d expect from the guy who… has PTSD and is obsessed with his sister, actually, it was probably on point. And while the Kingslayer then choosing to ride off to King’s Landing to save (?) Cersei was obviously tragic for Brienne, I don’t have a lot of sympathy for her—TORMUND WOULD HAVE CHERISHED YOU FOREVER, GIRL!

The many layers of Jaime’s character often make for some good TV. They also make for some frustrating TV.

Speaking of heartbreak, it was an up and down episode for Gendry, who on one hand became Lord of Storm’s End, and on the other, unsuccessfully proposed to Arya. Even as he was dropping to one knee t I wanted to pat him on the shoulder and just say, “Oh, buddy.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Bronn returns to give us one of the funniest scenes in recent memory. His conversation with the Lannister brothers is quick, witty, and it does away with my looming sense of dread over the fates of Jaime and Tyrion—I can stop waiting from one of Bronn’s arrows to come flying in from offscreen. At least for a while, anyway—Bronn made no concrete promises, even after Jamie offered him lordship over High Garden. Anything that makes me slightly less stressed out while I watch this show is a good thing. Just the same, it seemed like too quick way for the show to take a piece off the board, so to speak, giving the writers one less character to worry about.

A few random thoughts:

—Can Tormund get hammered in every episode? Please?

—We’re told Yara has reclaimed the Iron Islands and pledged for Dany in one sentence, never to be mentioned again. Classic Yara.

—I was bummed that we didn’t get any insight into where Bran went when he “left” the battle last week. Also, Bran is still a big weirdo. “I don’t want anymore.” Whatever you say, Bran.

—Arya and the Hound are a great combo and I’m glad we will get to see more of them going forward, but Sansa’s scene with him was better—he reflected that he couldn’ve saved her from a lot of pain, and she claimed that pain as her own, and said it made her strong. Hard to argue with her at this point.

—#Cleganebowl #GetHype

Quotable Quotes

“I don’t know how to be Lord of anything, I can barely use a fork.” —Gendry, you adorable bastard

“Maybe Cersei will win and kill us all. That would solve our problems.” —Tyrion, looking on the bright side

Awards!

—The “We Miss You and Wish You Weren’t Murdered in Horrifying Fashion” award is back this week, and it goes to the recently deceased Jorah Mormont. I am getting reports that he was unable to accept the award because… well, he’s dead.

—The “Weak Sauce of the Week” award goes to Sansa Stark, who managed to keep the biggest secret in all of the Seven Kingdoms for all of seven minutes.

—The first “I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying” award goes to the moment Ghost whimpered as Jon left without saying goodbye. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: Jon Snow is the worst.

And Now, a Haiku by Samwell Tarly

Hey guys, I had sex
Yep, definitely had sex
Everyone hear that?

What kind of guttural noise did you make when Rhaegal got shot? Let us know in the comments!

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The Game of Thrones Awards, Season 8, Episode 3: Not Today.

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Greetings, and welcome! My name is Ben, and you have stumbled upon the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week I will be breaking down each episode of season 8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.

Season 8, Episode 3: “The Long Night”

Before I say anything about the battle of Winterfell, I must first thank Nicole for her spectacular job covering last week’s episode. But alas, her watch has ended, and you’re stuck with me again.

I have some friends that haven’t viewed a single episode of Game of Thrones (shocking, I know) and they generally fall into one of two camps—people who refuse no matter how many times they are told they need to watch it (the stubborn holdouts), and those who plan to binge the entire thing when it’s over.

While the first group likely can’t be helped, I take more issue with the latter philosophy. The beauty of this show is the anticipation it creates from from week to week and season to season, the (insane) fan theories, and the almost Super Bowl quality of the major episodes—like this one. Complaints about specific plot turns aside (and I certainly have a few), what else on TV can captivate so many of us this?

Before I start getting misty-eyed, let’s dive in!

The first ten minutes of “The Long Night” are wonderful theater, playing off the end of last week’s standout episode. Even before we even see the army of the dead, my stress levels were off the charts, and the tension was so thick you could cut it with a knife (or some dragonglass). The battle really kicked off with Melisandre showing up on horseback to set all of the Dothraki’s arakhs alight, a truly hopeful visual to start the last stand of the living against the dead. A much less hopeful visual shortly followed as all of those fires were put out from a distance by the White Walkers and their army. But, to be fair, if left to their own devices the Dothraki would still be raping and pillaging in Essos right? (Is this recap getting too dark too early?)

I have complaints about this battle, but the visuals (what we could see of them) are not one of them. When the dead first rushed the Unsullied and crashed over them like waves upon rocks, it was very clear very quickly what the living were up against. The threat triggered Daenerys to use her dragons too early. You know you are making a rash decision when Jon freakin’ Snow is the voice of reason.

It was nice to spend some time in the crypts before they got super creepy (to be fair they were already a little creepy), as Sansa tells some of the characters who have made a living being clever for the last eight years (Tyrion and Varys in particular) that they are useless in the face of such a threat. They might not like it, but she’s right. The time for schemes and plots is temporarily on hold.

As the battle waged on, and as impressive as it was in terms of sheer scale, I was struck by how many times the writers stuck to a particular theme: characters like Sam, Jon Snow, Grey Worm, Jaime, and Brienne teetered on the edge of death for extended periods of time. Are we really to believe that they were cornered by Wights for 30 minutes of screen time and were yet victorious, against all odds? All of them? I’ll have whatever they’re having.

While the battle untimately did not feel as high stakes as I thought it would, there were some losses. Let’s pour out a little Dornish wine for:

—Beric Dondarrion: He died as he lived, dying a lot.

—Lyanna Mormont: It’s hard to imagine a more heroic death than being in the clutches of an undead giant, about to be eaten, and then stabbing it through the eye with a sword. Life is unpredictable, but I would care to wager that my death will look a little different.

—Dolorous Edd: I’m too despondent to even talk about this one. Perhaps my editor will fill in something here, perhaps not. [Editor’s note: Nah.] We’re all going to die anyway so what does it matter? Oh, Edd.

—Jorah Mormont: Perhaps in death he can finally escape the friendzone. That seems like a meme that the kids will be doing, yes? But seriously, Jorah’s death puts a a spotlight on how truly talented this cast is—he hasn’t been given much of import to do for several seasons but remained riveting nonetheless. Jorah and Dany were a team since the first episode of the first season. This one stings.

—Theon Greyjoy: Theon’s character arc over the last few seasons didn’t do much o convince me that he deserved redemption, but something about his brief interaction with Bran followed by his charge directly at the Night King that made me go, “Okay, that worked.” So many of the atrocities visited upon the Starks were indirectly caused by his seizing of Winterfell many moons ago; that he sacrificed himself to save its last living male heir made sense.

—Melisandre: We’ll get to the Red Woman later, but it’s worth noting that her death looked exactly like me leaving work on a Monday.

Other thoughts: Jon and Dany’s storyline proved frustrating, in that it was rarely clear what they were doing, or even supposed to be doing. I get that the sudden, convenient, unexplained snow storm made their jobs difficult, but they why did they spend most of the battle circling and doing nothing? Why did they briefly engage the Night King on his ice dragon, then completely fallback? Why did Dany land for long enough to be unhorsed undragoned? For all I giggled at Jon trying and repeatedly failing to sneak past Viserion, their scenes made me seriously question whether either is ultimately fit to rule.

On a more positive note, Sana and Tyrion shared a very nice moment in the crypts. It wouldn’t really make sense for the show to turn either of these characters into action heroes, and I much more appreciated seeing the quiet, tearful connection between them at what seemed very likely to be the end of everything. (This was slightly before it became totally obvious that most of the characters who appeared to be on the chopping block weren’t going anywhere.)

Arya’s time in the castle hiding from the wights provided one of the episode’s standout moments. While she is a highly trained killer, she was, for a moment, transformed by her fear into a much younger version of herself. Yet she also understood that sneaking was a lot more effective than trying to fight her way out, which made for some marvelously tense television. Yes, having a character behave smartly on Game of Thrones does pay off. Her escape seemed important at the time, but I didn’t know exactly how important it would be. Luckily she soon after ran into Melisandre, who helpfully underlined it for us by repeating the prophecy she delivered to her way back in season three. It seemed like the writers tipped their hands too much with that line about Anya shutting many blue eyes forever, but to judge by the reactions on Twitter, many were still surprised.

Shameless segue: The Night King has been built up as quite the baddie over the last few seasons, and his reaction to having dragonfire pour over him for what felt like two minutes straight was definitely in line with that. I’m pretty sure he smirked. (Do White Walkers smirk?)

Anyway, having the dead part like the Red Sea as he and his lieutenants approached Brandon Stark  in the godswood ended up giving him his last badass moment. Suddenly, Arya Stark came out of nowhere to deliver the fatal blow to who we thought was the endgame villain of the entire series. It was not a bad moment, but I’m not sure if this makes sense given the theme Jon has been hitting us over the head with for at least three seasons—in short, that everyone should lay off the political maneuvering and face the real zombie threat. I guess not so much anymore; it really will all come down to playing the game of thrones. Cersei is a great villain, buthow can she compare to a guy who could waggle his eyebrows and make thousands of corpses move in unison?

All that said, and just for the record: I’m really glad that Jon Snow was not key to the final resolution in this part of the war. The show has continued to lionize him (er…) despite one questionable leadership choice after another, but this episode finally didn’t reward his general uselessness. (Cue the post-episode quarterbacking from the showrunners, who will probably tell us, “Arya could have never accomplished this without the limited screen time that she had with Jon in the first season.”)

Quotable Quotes

“It’s the most heroic thing we can do now” —Sansa Stark, about staying below in the crypts. Her transformation into one of the best (and smartest) characters on the show has been fun to watch.

“There’s no need to execute me, Sir Davos. I’ll be dead before the dawn.” —Melisandre, who was true to her word and fulfilled her destiny.

-”Theon, you’re a good man. Thank you.” —Bran Stark, who didn’t need his crazy sight to tell that Theon’s story had come to an end.

Awards!

—The highly coveted “Nightmare Fuel of the Week” award goes to all of the wights who stood just on the edge of the fire, patiently waiting for their pals to smother the flames with their bodies so the siege could continue. I don’t know how they are going to split this award, but good job everyone!

—This week’s “We Miss You and Wish You Weren’t Murdered in Horrifying Fashion” award goes to Stannis Baratheon, who really grew on me towards the end. He popped to mind shortly after Melisandre achieved her purpose and collapsed. She really believed in him, and it seems she just couldn’t quite get over being that wrong.

—The first ever “Holy Crap You’re Still Alive?” award is shared by Tormund Giantsbane and Brienne. After their big moments in the previous episode, it seemed likely that one of them (or both) would not make it out alive from this battle. (Honorable mention: Grey Worm.)

And Now, a Haiku by the Bran Stark

I had a good run
Raised some dead, rode a dragon
Best of luck, Cersei

Did the Battle of Winterfell live up to your expectations?

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The Game of Thrones Awards, Season 8, Episode 2: If Winterfell Is a-Rocking …

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Greetings, and welcome! My name is Nicole, filling in for Ben this week with the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week he breaks down each episode of season 8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.

Season 8, Episode 2: “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”

In this almost interminable build-up to the battle with the army of the dead, things are getting weird.

With every character except Cersei’s ghastly cadre of advisors in Winterfell, the reunions have been spectacularly awkward. Take, for example, poor Jamie Lannister, greeted once again by everyone he has ever wronged in the realm. (In a pseudo-bonding moment with Sansa, Daenerys spends the first scene of the episode upbraiding him for murdering her murderous father.)

But the other thing about all these characters locked up, waiting to die, in a castle in the middle of nowhere is that, well, waiting is getting everyone hot and bothered. Old flames, new flames, flame-haired Wildling rogues—doesn’t matter. This episode is chocked full of furtive glances, gallows flirting, and desperation bonking.

Missandei and Grey Worm talk of a future literally anywhere but the North. While Jamie watches, Tormund tries to woo Brienne by telling her a story that ends with him suckling from a giant’s teat. (Because reasons.) When Theon shows up at the door, Sansa throws herself into his arms in a surprise fit of joy. And then there is Arya and Gendry, who spend the whole episode doing something that seems like a bizarre version of flirting, which finally culminates in a slightly jarring (but entirely consensual!!) sex scene.

Elsewhere, Tyrion laments that his days of patronizing brothels are behind him. (Pour one out for Littlefinger.)

It makes sense that tensions (and hormones) are running high. Early in the episode, Tormund, Dolorous Edd, and Beric Dondarrion—fresh off finding that grotesque modern-art installation (“Screeching Child of the Undead Encircled with Human Limbs”)—turn up with an estimated timeline for the Night King’s assault. And that timeline is tomorrow.

This reality of impending doom provokes different reactions for different characters.

Those not looking for nookie opt for reconciliation. Prodded by Jorah, Dany not only forgives Tyrion for making a series of stupid mistakes, she also tries to extend the Northern equivalent of an olive branch to Sansa. In a stilted but hopeful conversation, she and Sansa seem to make progress. But the lady of Winterfell ends that swiftly by addressing the elephant (no, not the one you’re looking for, Cersei!) in the room: what will you do with the now fiercely independent North when you’re queen?

Likewise, Jamie has an awkward conversation with the entity formerly known as Bran in the godswood. When he apologizes for permanently disabling the boy, he is greeted by the customary riddles.

The center of the episode is anchored not by riddles but two curious group scenes with way different dynamics.

The first is a meeting of the war council, which apparently includes every single named character left in the show. Up for debate is Jon’s suggested strategy of cutting the head off the snake: kill the Night King and, thus, kill his subjects. How will it work? Why would he expose himself in battle? Leave that to Bran, once again lurking in the literal shadows, who pipes up to say that Night King will come for him, just as he has all Three-Eyed Ravens, the embodiment of all memory.

In a touching moment of his redemption arc, Theon volunteers his iron-born forces as protection for Bran the bait.

The other group scene involves a roaring fire, barrels of wine, and the following characters: Jamie, Tyrion, Brienne, Podrick, Davos, and Tormund. 10/10 would watch again for the triumphant display from two unlikely feminist allies: Tormund Giantsbane and Jamie Lannister. After Brienne explains to Tormund that ladies can’t be knights, he utters words that would make many a knee weak: “F@&$ tradition … I’m no king, but if I were, I’d knight you ten times over.”

Too bad he’s outdone by Jamie who, as a knight of the realm, bestows the honor on Brienne right then and there. This is a love triangle I wholeheartedly endorse, and not only because of the look of pure joy on Tormund’s face as he claps for Ser Brienne.

Meanwhile, Lyanna and Jorah Mormont exchange unpleasantries outside as the young firebrand refuses to take shelter in the crypts during the battle. I mention this only because I hope Lyanna wins this, the whole dang Game of Thrones.

You may have noticed two characters I have said little about: Jon Snow and Daenerys Targaryen. Or should I say, Aegon and Daenerys Targaryen. They’re kept apart for most of the episode, until the moment Dany finds her man in the crypts, peering at Lyanna Stark’s grave. Apparently having now fully absorbed last week’s bombshell, he springs the news of his heritage on his lover—and aunt. She does not take it well, justifiably questioning his sources (his best friend and his “brother”). But her reaction is cut short by the sounds of raised alarms.

The Night King is here, and he waits for no Targaryen.

And now, a few random thoughts:

— Beric Dondarrion doesn’t have a whole lot to do now that his hipster healer Thoros is gone, but he did come up with my new favorite euphemism for dying: “They’re fighting for the Night King now.”
—Everyone in this show is slowly morphing into Cersei. Jamie’s stolen her hairstyle and Sansa’s outfits are getting progressively more armor-like.
—Arya’s unanswered question—can dragon fire kill the White Walkers?—seems like an important one.

Quotable Quotes

“The things we do for love.” — Bran, with the sickest burn of all

”So. We’re going to die. At Winterfell.” — Tyrion, saying what’s on the mind of every non-Stark character currently trapped here

“Men do stupid things for women. They’re easily manipulated.” — PREACH IT SISTER SANSA

“The big woman still here?” — Tormund Giantsbane, lothario at large, upon arrival at Winterfell

“I stole a considerable number of books from the Citadel library” — Samwell Tarly, in reeling off his masculine credentials to his Night’s Watch brethren

“I’m not spending my final hours with you two miserable old sh!$s” — Arya has the last word in a conversation with a pair of men who both made her List at different points: Beric Dondarrion and The Hound

Awards!

— The “We Miss You and Wish You Weren’t Murdered in a Horrifying Fashion!” award goes to a character whose sunny demeanor I don’t particularly miss but whose absence was deeply felt: Tywin Lannister. Tyrion wishes his dear ol’ dad were still here to see his two adult sons preparing to die in defense of Winterfell. The look on his face would be almost as good as the one he had when you killed him on the toilet, Tyrion.

— The “Ridiculously Cinematic Shot of the Week” award goes to none other than Podrick Payne, whose strangely beautiful singing voice guides us through a montage of our favorite characters preparing for battle. Genuinely, I was verklempt when staring at all of these characters I love—and even those I tolerate—knowing that many of them will not make it through the next episode. Good job, Pod.

—Two new contenders take this week’s “Potential Spinoff Alert” award. I long for the future Grey Worm promises Missandei in which they leave this land of pale, frigid, bigoted people and make a new life somewhere warm and more racially diverse. Stay alive, you two.

And now, a haiku from Ghost the direwolf
Hello, it’s me, Ghost
I was in hiding, dummies
I could die any time

Who is on your Death List for the battle with the army of the dead?

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The Game of Thrones Awards, Season 8, Episode 1: In Which Jon Snow Finally Knows Something

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Greetings, and welcome! My name is Ben, and you have stumbled upon the ONLY Game of Thrones recap on the entire internet. Week to week I will be breaking down each episode of season 8, giving out highly prestigious awards, and wrapping everything up with a haiku.

Season 8, Episode 1: “Winterfell”

I’ve noticed a bit of a pattern with Game of Thrones’ premieres over the years, which is to say that, unfortunately, not a lot tends to happen in them.

As a fan, I can’t say it’s ever really bothered me that much, as after a long absence—it has been more than 18 months since the last episode aired—just seeing the characters again is usually enough for me. In the past, the first episodes have generally functioned as a way to remind viewers what’s going on in the 68 ongoing storylines. But as the number of storylines has shrunk dramatically by this point (or to put it another way, so many characters have been murdered) and we’re racing toward the climax, there is less justification for an episode to just hang out, sans a sense of urgency.

The writers seemed to understand this, as the first episode of season eight has a bit more going on than your average GoT premiere. That being said, it’s also filled with a lot of scenes that do little more than set the stage for the wars to come.

After a cleverly revamped title sequence (owing to both the, er, revised state of the Wall and the converging storylines, we spend a lot of time touring the interiors of Winterfell and King’s Landing), we begin with a nod to the pilot episode, the last time such a huge group of characters rode into Winterfell to discuss current affairs in the Seven Kingdoms (the little boy racing to get a glimpse of the soldiers—a la young Arya—was perhaps a bit on the nose, if nicely played). Of course the death of Jon Arryn (then) can’t compete with THE END OF THE WORLD AS WE KNOW IT (now). There have been several major signs over the last few seasons that we are arriving at the end game, perhaps none as jarring as seeing dragons soaring over Winterfell.

As you can imagine, not everyone is getting along. Sansa (and many of the North lords) are surprised at how quickly Jon has allied himself with Daenerys (it doesn’t help that Jon is soon seen soaring over the castle on the back of one of her dragons; that sound you heard was years’ worth of fan theories suddenly crystalizing into fact).

Personally, I’m torn: on one hand, it’s pretty easy to jump to the conclusion that he was thinking with his heart more than his head. On the other, I don’t know how many times I can handle watching really intelligent characters fail to grasp that you can’t defeat the army of the dead without some buddies, preferably the fire-breathing kind. We’ve been over this.

Speaking of the Dragon Queen, her presence in this season is going to be very interesting. We have spent years watching her liberate slaves and triumph over injustice, but while Jon Snow seems willing to sacrifice his title for the good of the realm, she still seems hung up on who is kneeling and who is not, and on who likes her and who doesn’t. During the opening moments of the episode she can barely contain how much she enjoys that her dragons are scaring the crap out of the common folk. I’m glad that this tension is in play; another painfully altruistic main character (sorry Jon) might make things a bit boring.

Arya and Sansa are leery of Dany, and suspect Jon is not focused on protecting their family. I can only imagine how much that paranoia will increase when they find out that Jon is not actually part of their family.

The biggest takeaway from the Winterfell plotline is that Jon Snow finally knows something. Sam’s revelation that Jon is not a bastard, but actually Aegon Targaryan, son of Rhaegar Targaryan and Lyanna Stark, and the rightful ruler of the Seven Kingdoms, is definitely going to cause a bit of tension. It’s unclear yet what he will do with this information, but we certainly haven’t heard the last of it. The fact that Sam got to drop the bombshell only moments after finding out Daenerys burned his family alive only intensified the moment.

Speaking of family tension, Tyrion is apparently the only one in Westeros who still thinks Cersei is going to keep her word and ride north with her armies. Sansa properly blasts him for it: “I used to think you were the cleverest man alive.” It’s an unfortunate reminder of just how irrelevant Tyrion has become to the major plotlines of the last few seasons.

Speaking of Cersei, things in King’s Landing have gotten a bit weird. I wouldn’t call what her and Euron have going on a romance, exactly, but it’s… something. Faster than you’d think it would take for ships to sail across an ocean and back, the Golden Company has arrived, 20,000 strong. Well, maybe 19,998 strong—Euron had to kill a few for cheating at dice on the boat ride over.

While King’s Landing used to be such a hub of activity and intrigue, it feels very empty now. I imagine Qyburn has a lot of down time to poke and prod dead people. Exciting stuff. One of the characters still there is Bronn, who has now seemingly been hired to kill both Jaime and Tyrion. This is going to end in heartbreak, one way or another.

As the episode ends, Jaime arrives in Winterfell and locks eyes with Bran, who seems to have been lurking in the background of every shot (is Jamie the “old friend” Bran was waiting to meet?). They no doubt have a lot to discuss. Perhaps Jaime can start with explaining the things he did for love.

Quotable Quotes

“I was told the Golden Company had Elephants.” —Cersei. I WAS TOLD THE SAME THING! DAMN YOU HBO! 

“You’ve completely ruined horses for me” —Jon Snow, after taking his first dragon ride

“You should consider yourself lucky, at least your balls won’t freeze off” —Tyrion, welcoming Varys to the North

Awards!

—The “Cringeworthy Makeout Session of the Week” award goes to Jon and Dany’s heavy smooching after they finished their impromptu dragon ride. Apparently whoever wrote the dialogue for that scene learned everything they know about romance from Attack of the Clones. (The dragons didn’t seem to happy about it either.)

—The prestigious “Nightmare Fuel of the Week” award goes to the penultimate scene, in which a child nailed to a wall in the center of a bunch of human limbs arranged in a creepy spiral, comes back to life to screech terrifying and is then set on fire. Even typing that out is a bit horrific. It was nice to see Ol’ Tormund “Blue Eyes” Giantsbane again though.

—Jon Snow is a two-time winner of the coveted “Aww Shucks Reunion of the Week” award for his reunions with Arya and Bran. It’s weird to think that these characters haven’t been in the same place since very early in season 1.

And now, a haiku by Yara Greyjoy

Nice to be rescued
But this really does feel rushed
Like all my plotlines

What did you think of the premiere? 

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25 Epic Fantasies for Fans of Game of Thrones

The B&N Sci-Fi and Fantasy Blog

Game of Thrones is coming to an end. In a sense. The TV series is entering its final season, promising a resolution to its own version of George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire. Given that we’ve still got no definitive word on when the next book in the series will arrive (though we’ve got our fingers crossed that it, like winter itself, is still coming), we’ll soon be bereft of the bloody tales of the queens, kings, dragons, and bastards of Westeros.

As we ramp toward the end of the show and continue our watch for the next book, there are many more fantasy worlds to explore. Below, we’ve assembled a list of books and series that might help to fill the void. Each of these epic fantasy sagas is a unique creation—none are facsimiles of Game of Thrones, but each includes elements that will appeal to fans of GRRM’s gritty fantasy world.

The Fifth Season, by N.K. Jemisin
The bloody power struggles that defined seven seasons of Game of Thrones are overshadowed, in these final episodes, by the larger, no-longer-existential threat coming from the north: a horde of zombies, heralded by the changing of seasons. Frankly, the Stillness, the setting of N.K. Jemisin’s three-time Hugo Award-winning Broken Earth trilogy, makes Westeros look like a Sandals resort. Catastrophic quirks of ecology mean the continent experiences an extinction-level event every few centuries or so; the only way humanity has survived is through institutional knowledge; life in the Stillness is defined by preparing for the next “Fifth Season.” Unfortunately, preperation by the powerful also looks a like like exploitation of the weak. Over the course of the series that begins with The Fifth Season, the downtrodden “orogenes,” who are able to move stone with their minds and have long been feared, controlled, and murdered for it, seek justice at the end of the world—maybe the last time it will ever end.

Status: Completed trilogy

Chronicles of the Black Company, by Glen Cook
Like the venerable Golden Company in GoT, Cook’s dark fantasy series stars the Black Company; both are groups of peerless fighters whose members each represent the best of the best among mercenary bands of their respective worlds. While GRRM’s mercs mostly stay in the background, following orders on behalf of whoever holds the purse strings, this long-running series brings the hardbitten sellswords to the forefront of the action. In a story that ultimately spans centuries, Glen Cook explores the storied history of the company—and, after a pause of more than a decade, he returned with a new installment in 2018.

Status: Ongoing series

The Blade Itself, by Joe Abercrombie
The world of Westeros is one of often shocking violence (insert dramatic character death here), as is that of Abercrombie’s Circle of the World, setting of the First Law series. This first book introduces an array of morally murky characters and places them amidst murderous conspiracies during a wide-ranging conflict in a medieval quasi-European setting that none of them is particularly well-equipped to handle. Chief protagonist Logen Ninefingers, an infamous barbarian who operates according to his own sort of moral code, would be a worthy contender for the Iron Throne.

Status: Completed trilogy (with standalones and a planned followup series in the same world.)

The Eye of the World, by Robert Jordan
The Eye of the World begins The Wheel of Time, one of the truly great modern fantasy series, and one that certainly more than gives GRRM a run for his money in terms of epic scope (and page count). Knowing that the Dark One is hunting for one of three young men in the village of Emond’s Field, the Aes Sedai Moraine leads them away in the hope that one will be the long-foretold Dragon Reborn. Though Jordan’s series runs more toward Tolkien then the revisionary nihilism of Martin/GoT, both stories range widely in both geography and character, and there are twisted parallels between Martin’s morally ambiguous priestess Melisandre and the The Wheel of Time’s Moraine, a representative of a cult in which female power is essential.

Status: Completed 15-book series

Wizard’s First Rule, by Terry Goodkind
Adopted son Richard Cypher grew up as a gentle guide through the woods of Westland, leading traveller safely through the forest and coming to know each plant and blade of grass. As Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series begins, the woodsman comes to learn that his real father is a man named Darken Rahl and that his legacy rests in D’Hara, a kingdom of wizards. When Daenerys and company visit the Qartheen warlocks at House of the Undying, they see what remains (and what may be again) of Westeros’ own kingdom of magic.

Status: Ongoing series (currently 22 books!)

Gardens of the Moon, by Steven Erikson
There’s tremendous discontent in the great Malazan Empire: endless warfare has sapped the will of its people, exhausted the imperial legions, and lead to infighting. In spite of all that, the rule of the Empress Laseen remains absolute as the first book in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series begins. That’s about the last time anything—including the reader—will be on sure footing throughout this enormously complex 10-book epic, which features so many winding plots and myriad players (both mortal and god), devotees often say you won’t really understand it until your second time through. In Laseen, Erikson creates a ruler to rival Cersei Lannister herself: fierce, born to rule, but utterly ruthless in keeping control.

Status: Completed series (with ongoing spin-offs)

The Night Angel Trilogy, by Brent Weeks
Azoth, unlike Arya Stark, was raised on the streets, scrounging to survive—but the two have much else in common. Weeks’ trilogy (now collected together in a single volume) follows the assassin anti-hero who knows an opportunity when he sees one. Under Durzo Blint, he seeks to become the perfect “wetboy”—an assassin navigating the dangerous politics of his world as well as its magic. The name he chooses: Kylar Stern means “one who kills and who is killed,” mirroring Arya’s role with the Faceless Men as a bringer of death, but also its servant.

Status: Completed trilogy

A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab
Kell, one of the last of the magic-wielding Antari, can travel between worlds: specifically, between three different Londons. Red London is full of magic, White is torn between magic and mundanity, and Regency-era Grey London is almost bereft of magic. There was once a fourth London, but it has been consumed by darkness—it is Black London. But the darkness appears to be spreading. Schwab’s wide-ranging world of magic welcomes people of color and an array of queer characters.

Status: Completed trilogy

The Ruin of Kings, by Jenn Lyons
Game of Thrones is at its best when it’s playing off the consequences of tortured bloodlines and family relationships that aren’t quite what they seem. Genly Baratheon, the illegitimate son of King Robert, discovers, for instance, that being related to royalty isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. In the debut novel to Lyons’ five-book A Chorus of Dragons series, a slum-dweller named Kihrin is claimed as a long-lost member of the royal family. But, instead of a fairytale, it becomes a nightmare, as he’s believed to be the son of a treasonous prince. The books are planned for release at nine-month intervals, which means there’s a very good chance you’ll get to read them all before the ending of A Song of Ice and Fire arrives in print.

Status: Ongoing series (With a sequel coming in October.)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf, by Marlon James
The fantasy debut from an award-winning literary author, Black Leopard, Red Wolf transplants some of the grittiness and earthiness of GoT to a vivid and luxuriantly depicted pre-colonial Africa of folklore, history, and legend. Tracker and his mercenary band of misfits and outcasts is tasked with hunting a missing boy–it sounds simple, but everyone has a different reason for finding the boy, or for making sure that he’s never found. In GoT, characters are frequently on the hunt for lost children (particularly if they’re Starks) to use as wedges or political pawns, and it’s no different here. There are also parallels with Essos, home to the Dothraki and a region of Martin’s world that’s more prone to contrasts of glorious cities and turbulent, unsettled wilderness.

Status: Ongoing series

The Raven Tower, by Ann Leckie
There’s dark magic in Westeros, with the red priestess Melisandre representing the god somewhat deceptively referred to as the Lord of Light. Leckie’s novel introduces the kingdom of Iraden and the god known as Raven, who sits in his tower and guards Iraden in exchange for blood sacrifice. Like R’hllor, Raven offers gifts to the faithful… but at a price.

Status: Standalone

Children of Earth and Sky, by Guy Gavriel Kay
Kay’s fantasy novels dive deeply into real-life history—here, it’s the Mediterranean of the Renaissance that sets the scene for his story. Much like GRRM, who used the English Wars of the Roses as the inspiration for elements of his saga, Kay also reshapes real events into fantasy while also structuring the story in a way that will be familiar to ASoIaF readers: this is the story of a variety of diverse individuals (warriors, spies, artists, merchants, etc.) caught up, to varying degrees, in the larger events of their time.

Status: Standalone (though set in the world of The Lions of al-Rassan and other works)

The Grace of Kings, by Ken Liu
The strain is showing as the long rule of Emperor Mapidéré is coming to a close. The first to unite the island kingdoms under one rule, he’s on his deathbed and rebellion is in the air. Two unlikely friends—drunkard Kuni Garu and noble Mata Zyndu—ultimately stand to play decisive roles in what’s to come. The dark political skullduggery is reminiscent of GoT, but Liu creates a unique world with wuxia-inspired action and settings and a decidedly Eastern narrative style.

Status: Ongoing series

A Crown for Cold Silver, by Alex Marshall
Among GRRM’s most beloved and compelling creations is Brienne of Tarth, one of the few genuinely noble characters in the story as well as an incredibly powerful female presence in a world in which physical power is presumed to be the sole domain of men. Marshall does one better here, in at least one regard: his chief protagonist, Cobalt Zosia, was a legendary general, but she’s now long-retired. Forced back into service, she’s no longer just a forceful leader but also an old woman. The wrinkles that run alongside her scars make her an impressive and welcome presence in fantasy, and her wry humor is a welcome companion on a bloody journey of vengeance.

Status: Completed trilogy

The Warded Man, by Peter V. Brett
The power of the magical wards that protect humanity is waning, and the powerful corelings are on the hunt. Each night for centuries, these demons—of wood, wind, sand, flame, and rock—have risen from the ground with a powerful hatred of humanity. Once humans were their equals in power, but now their fight is entirely defensive. Just as the people of Westeros shelter behind a crumbling wall protected by a dwindling Night’s Watch as the deadly White Walkers only grew in power, those unfortunate enough to live in the world of Brett’s recently completed five-book series are abut to discover that even their meager hold on safety is coming to an end.

Status: Completed five-book series

The Priory of the Orange Tree, by Samantha Shannon
The dragon known only as the Nameless One—and the army of dragons that attended him—was defeated long ago, during the age of legend. The West has come to believe that only the continuation of the ruling Berethnet family keeps the dragons at bay, while the people of the East worship the water-dragons that they believe keep them safe. Much of this epic story turns on the conflicting views of two women: potential dragonrider Tané, and Ead, tasked with protecting the Berethnet queen. The narrative is steered by several powerful women who, like Daenerys Targaryen, each has a powerful connection to dragons—even if Shannon’s take on fire-breathing dragons casts them in a more evil light.

Status: Standalone

The Poppy War, by R. F. Kuang
R.F. Kuang sets the acclaimed first novel in her trilogy in a world that’s reminiscent of the China’s economically and militarily advanced Song Dynasty, with a conflict that’s largely based on the Second Sino-Japanese War of the late 1930s and early 1940s, as well as on the earlier Opium Wars. It’s very much in the tradition of fantasy that lifts elements from history and illuminates them in new, fantastical light—just a bit further East than most. The series also matches Martin for sheer brutality; in telling the story of a poor orphan named Rin, who earns a slot at an elite military academy, discovers a talent for shamanism just as war is in the offing, and is forced to make a terrible choice to end the conflict, Kuang pulls zero punches.

Status: Ongoing trilogy

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, by Susanna Clarke
Though the tone is very different, Clarke’s novel of alternate Napoleonic War-era England mirrors GoT in one significant regard: the return of magic brings with it prizes for some, and chaos for others. GRRM’s warlocks of Qarth acknowledge that the rise of Daenerys Targaryen and her dragons has ushered in a return of more potent magic to Westeros, just as the fiddly, reclusive Mr. Norrell becomes a celebrity by revealing powers long thought extinguished—before being challenged by his own apprentice for control of the future of England’s magic.

Status: Standalone

The Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
As Westeros has been shaped by incredible and dramatic shifts in climate, so too has Sanderson’s Roshar: the rocky supercontinent is regularly subject to storms of incredible ferocity. As a result, civilization has shaped itself around these storms. In this world, wars are won and lost over control of ancient swords and suits of armor with the power to transform individuals into nearly invincible warriors. Fans of Martin’s expansive worldbuilding will find much to admire here—each volume of the planned 10-book Stormlight Archive includes the sort of sidebars and illustrated appendices that Martin fans went without until the release of The World of Ice & Fire

Status: Ongoing series

The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss
The death of King Robert Baratheon is the inciting event for much of the pain and upheaval that defines Game of Thrones. Though his series is titled the Kingkiller Chronicle, and thus certanly must deal with the death of a ruler, Patrick Rothfuss’s wildly popular epic is far more personal in scope. Here, told in a single incredible day, is the self-told story of Kvothe: magician, fighter, and musician who is rumored to be responsible for great feats, and terrible ones, and who has his own story of survival to tell. The books match Martin’s in another way—the wait between installments has been excruciating—but the journey is well worth starting, if only because you’ll undoubtedly want to read them more than once before the concluding volume is released.

Status: Ongoing series

Fool’s Assassin, by Robin Hobb
After faking his own death, former assassin Fitz Farseer has lived ten peaceful years before a crisis threatens the life of his daughter, evokes the haunting disappearance of a childhood friend, and calls him to use his magical skills. Fitz inherited those powers as the bastard son of a royal house and, if there’s anything we GoT fans love, it’s bastards and assassins. Like Martin, Hobb is an expert at diving into the minds of her protagnists and forcing you to really question the moral weight of their decisions.

Status: Completed trilogy, part of a larger overall series of linked trilogies

Magician: Apprentice, by Raymond E. Feist
In Feist’s Riftwar universe, magic creates rifts that connect planets in different solar systems. The first novel introduces orphan Pug, apprenticed to master magician Kulgan just in time for an invasion of alien creatures through a rift that draws in the budding magician. It’s just the start of a long-running overarching series that blends a touch of sci-fi into its fantasy, and it on the power of a young orphan to upset the plans and schemes of the great and powerful in a very GoT fashion.

Status: Completed trilogy, part of a larger cycle of more than 20 books

The Rage of Dragons, by Evan Winter
Among the Omehi people, you’re one of three things: one of the incredibly rare woman with the power to call down dragons; one of the men who can transform himself into a killing machine, or fodder in an endless and unwindable war. Powerless Tau plans to get injured and sit out the war, but chooses to change his fate when tragedy strikes. As in GoT—and with raged to the Targaryens who can (sometimes) command them—dragons are waiting on the sidelines to change the game entirely.

Status: Ongoing series

King’s Dragon, by Kate Elliott
King Henry ostensibly controls Wendar, but his sister Sabella has contested his reign for years and has drawn significant support to her banner in ways both fair and politically clever—reminiscent of the battles for the throne of Westeros that have shaped the entire GoT saga—and, as in GRRM’s series, an inhuman race from the north is massing and preparing to take advantage of the ensuing civil war. Elliott’s epic Crown of Stars series, which began publishing right around the same time but has been finished for more than a decade, follows young people drawn into the conflict, which only grows more complex as it builds.

Status: Completed seven-book series

A Conspiracy of Truths, by Alexandra Rowland
One of the chief villains of A Song of Ice and Fire has rarely been known to pick up a sword; Petyr Balish prefers to sow discord with words. If you prefer his sharp-tongued political strategems, you’ll probably fall for Chant, the sly protagonist of Alexandra Rowland’s debut novel. As the book opens, Chant sits behind bars, arrested on charges of witchcraft. Doomed to be executed, he uses the only weapon that remains to him—a tongue sharpened by decades of storytelling—to sow discord among the varying factions in the kingdom’s ongoing power struggle. If his words can turn the right people against one another, he just make walk out of prison, instead of being carried out a corpse. If you always wished Game of Thrones was funnier but no less cutting, it’s the book for you. A sequel arrives this fall.

Status: Ongoing series

What books will you turn to once Game of Thrones is over?

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