The Ramsay Theory

Hi this is a post about Game of Thrones. Yes, it has been 4 actual years since the last post. What? I need to get this down.

The world of A Song of Ice and Fire and Game of Thrones fandom teems with theories. I have done a small amount of googling this evening and I don’t think this one is out there. OK so it is almost certainly out there somewhere, but you know.

The theory: Ramsay Bolton (nee Snow) is a hero. I’d like to posit that the long-term narrative for Ramsay is that he will have a key role to play in tackling the invasion of the White Walkers. Moreover, the manner in which he does this may force us to reappraise his character, bringing him up from his current most-hated status to a new level where he’s either liked under certain circumstances or at least held in grudging respect.

The controversy: especially in Game of Thrones (the TV series), where he gets proportionally a lot more attention than he does in the books, Ramsay is one of the most reviled characters in the whole series. With good reason: we dislike him as a character because he does objectively bad things to other characters we tend to sympathise with; and we dislike him in a more abstract way because he seems like bad storytelling. He has none of the nuance that most of the other characters on the show have: he is just bad bad bad, no ambiguity, no real rationale for his behaviour. For the former reason it would be shocking and hard to believe were he to turn out to serve a good purpose. But for the latter reason, I think he has to.

The rationale: as noted above, just about every character in this world is painted in a shade of grey. Ned Stark was noble but stubborn and short-sighted. Robb was bold but foolish and impetuous. Daenerys is dazzlingly brilliant at seizing power but kind of directionless when holding it. More interesting, if you’ve been reading and/or watching since the beginning you might recall despising Jaime and Cersei Lannister early on, but kind of warming to them later. Sure, they are still pretty unsavoury what with the incest, but George RR Martin and the TV showrunners Benioff and Weiss (along with the cast etc) have done a tremendous amount of work to bring us round to sympathising with Jaime (especially) and Cersei. The same goes for other bad-seeming characters like the Hound. You might still argue that this softening doesn’t happen with everyone: there are some pretty unredeemed characters around the place. Joffrey, Gregor Clegane… But the former was a spoilt boy who never got a chance to grow up, while the latter was a soldier, a tool that others used to harm their enemies rather than a character in his own right. Both are dead, while Ramsay lives smirkily on. Broadly speaking, this series does not invest time and effort in one-note characters; hence, I can’t believe that evil is all there is to Ramsay.

Moreover, as the Warden of the North, Ramsay is actually the nobleman who currently has the greatest responsibility of any of them to pay attention to the White Walker threat. He holds Winterfell, a castle-town that will swiftly become the safest place in the North once the Wall comes down (come on, of course it will. Just hope the TV people have the effects budget for it).

The counter-rationale: so as noted a couple of characters – especially Joffrey – seem to have been allowed to be unambiguously bad. That could be true of Ramsay as well. But more worryingly in my view, in the TV world at least, the timing doesn’t look right. Jon and Sansa are off raising an army to attack the Boltons right now, and there are still 2 and a half seasons to go on the show. Considering that the Wall probably won’t come down until the end of the penultimate season, that’s a long time for such tension to be brewing in the North without anyone major getting killed, while a proper White Walker invasion seems to be the only thing that could possibly trigger Ramsay rethinking his dastardly ways. So I’m struggling to think of how this transformation will take place. But I end up thinking it must do, because it makes so little sense for the show to invest so much time in simply establishing a bad person’s evilness.

I reckon we have a lot more to see of Ramsay and it’s gonna (eventually) be surprising in a good way, not in a goddammit I wish I looked away way.


Economist covers

The Economist collected all the cover designs they’ve used for issues that focused on the euro crisis. Here’s one:

The Economist cover design, November 5th, 2011

You know, I like the Economist a lot because I think it’s well written and largely sensible and if I disagree with it then I can usually see why they have a different opinion to mine. A friend recently described it as sexist and racist and several other bad things.  I dunno. I mean, I find it irritating that they sometimes seem to spit out standard-issue “market-based” ideas reflexively, no matter the context, and insist on characterizing any increase in taxation on wealthy people as class warfare or bashing or soaking the rich. I would find it hard to point to an incident of actual racism on their part but have noticed that they occasionally use lazy cliches about some countries. The collection of covers also illustrates how their sense of humour can be kind of English public schoolboy, which does grate a little.

Macsen’s adventures

We’ll be chronicling our cross-country trip visually on a tumblr, The Scent of America. It will feature Macsen the dog in any notable location we come across, and include his anthropomorphised thoughts on its scent and other characteristics. We kicked it off today with a couple pics of him back in California: at the park where he had most of his walks, and on our camping trip to Big Sur. We will be as diligent as we goddamn well can in keeping it up to date.

Reno, Nevada

So we’re homeless. We moved out of our place in Berkeley today and are on the way back to the UK. We’re taking a kind of circuitous route, though, driving to New York via… a few places, selling our car there and flying the rest of the way. I am extremely excited about this trip! Although right now in a motel on the outskirts of Reno, Nevada it’s pretty far from glamorous. We covered 238 miles today and it should be significantly more tomorrow, when we’re aiming to end up somewhere south of Salt Lake City, Utah.

We set out from Berkeley amidst a chaotic blend of sunshine and showers. Naturally we made a stop in Sacramento to get one last California In-n-Out Burger, before carrying on east on I-80 up into the Sierra Nevada. An hour or so later it was like this:

But luckily for us that only lasted till we dipped below the cloud again on the other side. It was dark getting into Reno and the casinos were all aglow. We’re not gonna be hanging around to check them out though; got some rocks to see one state over.

A movie list; why not?

You’re familiar with Roger Ebert, right, the longstanding American film critic who has continued working through the most gritty battle with cancer over the past few years? Well, anyway, he is that guy, it’s quite the story.

Anyway, kottke pointed to this list he recently compiled as his contribution to Sight and Sound magazine’s decadely poll of critics to identify the greatest movies ever made. Not a small undertaking, although decidedly more possible than identifying the greatest books, I’d have thought.

Back in 2002, Ebert’s picks were (in alphabetical order):

Aguirre, Wrath of God (Herzog)
Apocalypse Now (Coppola)
Citizen Kane (Welles)
Dekalog (Kieslowski)
La Dolce Vita (Fellini)
The General (Keaton)
Raging Bull (Scorsese)
2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick)
Tokyo Story (Ozu)
Vertigo (Hitchcock)

This time around, he has to replace Kieslowski’s Dekalog, as Sight and Sound have clarified the rules so that it would count as ten films instead of one. Ebert considered two options for the replacement: Terrence Malick’s The Tree of  Life, and Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, New York.  He plumps for The Tree of Life.

OK so those were Ebert’s picks. He does a pretty good job of justifying them in the article, so you should read it. For my part, I really want to get around to watching something – anything – by Werner Herzog, so perhaps it should be Aguirre. I still haven’t seen Citizen Kane, so I guess I should, although part of my reluctance to see it is the worry that I won’t like it enough and end up in a stew of concern that I’m not astute enough/concern that I’m too concerned about appearing astute about movies. I mean, Apocalypse Now: sure. It was good I guess, but it had kind of been built up a bit too much. Should probably have seen it at the cinema. La Dolce Vita was incredibly long and confusing. Dekalog, I have no clue. 2001: A Space Odyssey, I should really watch again some time, probably on a big screen. Raging Bull, likewise. Tokyo Story, I keep reading about so should really watch it. Vertigo, yup, it was pretty good I guess.

What I’m saying is, I wanna do my own list, so here it is. I make no claim that these are the greatest movies of all time. They are just 10 that I can think of right now that I genuinely think are excellent. Here we go.

Grosse Pointe Blank. OK, a list of things in this film that are just too good: the script, the soundtrack, John Cusack, Dan Aykroyd.

Adaptation. Roger Ebert likes Synecdoche, New York. I liked it too, but it was only funny at the beginning and afterwards kind of sad. Adaptation was amazing though. The inside-outness of it gets you the first time – as in, the scenes where Nic Cage as Kaufman narrating himself writing himself and all that. Later viewings, there’s other stuff you pick up, like how the scene where Meryl Streep gets high is so beautifully done.

Spirited Away: I seriously had no idea animation could be this beautiful. Mesmeric. And just when you think it has piled on too much weirdness (that crazy scene with a baby!) you get the train ride scene. Amazing. From the other side of the Pacific, my favourite Pixar film is probably The Incredibles.

Aliens: Oh god I talked about this before. The perfect action movie.

Monty Python’s Life of Brian: I can entertain myself for a substantial period of time just thinking about the scene where Michael Palin’s Pontius Pilate tests his guards’ strength of will by stalking around them, speaking of his “friend in Rome called Biggus Dickus.” He has a wife, you know!

The Big Lebowski: Sure it’s got white Russians and nihilists and the Johns Goodman and Turturro doing their things. I just am always blown away by these little bits throughout the script where the Dude takes on the mode of speaking of whoever he was with in the previous scene. It’s so cunningly true-to-life, in that we all pick up bits of language from one another all the time, but telling about the Dude’s character, how he just gets swept along in things. Off the top of my head, “her life was in our hands, man!” “in the parlance of our times,” “and stay away from my lady friend!” “they’re gonna cut off my johnson,” but I’m sure there are tons more.

Pulp Fiction: Uma Thurman lying back with foam dribbling from her lips, shirt open and a bright red dot in magic marker on her chest, a syringe raised high like the killer’s knife in a slasher movie. My dad was quite literally on the edge of his seat, hands clasped over knees, leaning forward. I never woulda thought this was his kind of film.

The Shining: just beautiful in widescreen and horribly suspenseful even when you’ve seen it a few times.

OK you guys, that’s nine films. How am I supposed to get to ten? I’m not a critic. Seriously, it’s pretty hard to think of great films on the spot. Oh wait I was gonna say Dr Strangelove, but it would be wrong and way pretentious to have two Kubrick films. That was one good movie though. Oh OK, here’s my other option: Donnie Darko. That’ll do. Another great 80s soundtrack.

Oh, football numbers!

Hyper exciting chart

This article on Zonal Marking caused me unreasonable amounts of thrills this morning. Such a pure collision of the geek and football fan parts of my brain there never has been. The above graph shows average % possession on the horizontal axis, and shots per game on the vertical axis, for the top divisions in England, Italy, France, Spain and Germany.

Click through for more charts showing the breakdown by league and highlighting some of the outliers. Even without the country filter, you can immediately identify Barcelona and narrow Real Madrid down to a couple of options too. With the country filter on, Arsenal and Swansea pop right out, but I was quite surprised how similar Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City were. In one way, this makes the club’s style of play extremely clear, although there are obviously a lot of nuances.

Ah, football. NB: this is the weekend when a lot of stuff at the top of the Premier League will get sorted out. If City beat Newcastle you gotta think they’ll win it, while if that happens and Spurs also beat Villa, Spurs should be guaranteed top four. However Chelsea’s bid to win the Champions’ League complicates things because if they do, 4th spot no longer qualifies. That will leave Arsenal plus Spurs and/or Newcastle extremely nervous on the final day. Brrrr.

Opening lines

For the new year of… 03/04 I think it was, I celebrated with a bunch of lovely friends at a house belonging to one of their relatives in Cornwall. It was generally a very good time, there was darts, sandcastles, dancing and midnight swimming in the teeth-chattering sea. I will always remember it though for when we played that Shag/Marry/Kill game (where you nominate 3 people and the players have to decide which of them they would do each of the above to). So we had got beyond just nominating people and were doing various, uh, concepts I guess. And someone said “opening lines.” I at this point made a) a disastrous logical leap and b) the unwise decision to try to impress everyone with my knowledge. So I rattled out as quick as I could, “Last night I dreamt of Manderley; It was the best of times, it was the worst of times; and, It is an ancient Mariner and he stoppeth one of three.”* NATURALLY, I had assumed they meant opening lines of great works of literature, right, because one could have a lot of fun debating which opening line you would shag, etc. Of course, by “opening lines” they had actually meant chat-up lines, and the quizzical giggling around the room served to remind me once again of my glaring socio-sexual incompetence, which was of course something that happened a lot in those days (advice for all the easily embarrassed 21 year olds reading this: it’s not so bad once you’re married).

Which is by way of bringing us to this neat gallery over on the Guardian/Observer website, 10 great opening lines from literature illustrated with their authors. I challenge someone unattached to go and actually use one of these as a chat-up line this weekend.

The 10 best first lines in fiction | Books | The Observer.

*Those may not have been the specific opening lines I came out with, but you get the picture.