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Game of Thrones Rewatch 1×01: Exposition is Coming

Hello and welcome to the Game of Thrones Rewatch: The Wars to Come. This week is the pilot, of course, aptly named “Winter is Coming.” Today is just Kylie and Julia, hoping they can gain a new perspective on their unabashed book snobbery. Kylie’s gone ahead and written out a summary of events for anyone who wasn’t able to rewatch (or watch along with us for the first time), so let’s get right into it!

Episode Recap

It’s the return of magical realism to Westeros! Dead corpses are moving camp and attacking Night’s Watch rangers. But it’s nothing the stoic Ned Stark, Warden of the North, is ready to hear just yet when one of the escaped rangers tries to tell him what happened.

Ned is preoccupied though; he just learned that the Hand of the King Jon Arryn, who had been like an adoptive father to him, has died, leaving his long-time best friend King Robert Baratheon without an advisor. Worse still, the King rides north, which can only mean that he intends for Ned himself to replace Jon. Ned’s wife, Catelyn Tully, is very reluctant about this, since they have a good thing going with their happy family unit: Robb’s the eldest one, Sansa’s the one who’s good at sewing, Arya is plucky, Bran is the scamp who climbs walls, and Rickon is the little one! Oh there’s also Jon Snow, Ned’s illegitimate child, but never fear Cat—he wants to join the Night’s Watch, where he’d give up any hope of having a family or claim to lands. Zombies never bothered him anyway.

Ned agrees with his wife about the Handship offer, but he feels it’s his duty to accept. It’s a king’s request, after all. Even more, Robert and Ned plan to wed Sansa to Robert’s eldest son, Prince Joffrey, permanently securing the ties between the Starks and the Baratheons.

Yet is there more to Jon Arryn’s death than meets the eye? Cat receives a letter from her sister Lysa, Jon Arryn’s widow, that the Lannisters were the ones who murdered him. We also learn from Queen Cersei Lannister herself, along with her brother Jaime, that they are indeed happy for his demise. You see, Jon apparently knew ~something~ and they don’t want word to get out. As it turns out, that something is the fact that they are secretly engaged in an incestuous relationship, possibly one that was procreative. Their clever brother Tyrion seems to know this as well, but he is too busy taking things not seriously up in Winterfell, spending his time with sex workers and picking on Jon Snow.

It’s hard to blame him, though. Things in Winterfell are a bit awkward, since it’s rather obvious that King Robert had been in love with Ned’s now-dead sister Lyanna (murdered by a member of the former ruling House, the Targaryens), and is severely disinterested in the company of his current wife. When Cersei and Jaime sneak off to a tower to have some quick sexytimes, they are unfortunately discovered by Bran. Desperate to keep their secret, Jaime shoves the boy out of a window where he falls a great distance to the ground below. We’re quite certain the Starks won’t like that!

Finaaallllllyyy, across the Narrow Sea we learn that there are still two surviving Targaryens, Prince Viserys and his younger sister, Princess Daenerys. Viserys wishes to make a claim to the Iron Throne of Westeros, which he considers currently usurped by King Robert. Aided by the affluent Illyrio, Viserys arranges a marriage between Dany and the leader of a group of Dothraki—a culture of nomadic horse-mounted warriors.

Khal Drogo is incredibly intimidating to Dany, who doesn’t want to marry him, but Viserys is very clear that he does not care about her safety or happiness…just his throne. After their wedding, where Dany is gifted three petrified dragon eggs and meets another Westerosi named Jorah Mormont, her new husband consummates the marriage despite her clear distress and protests.

Will Dany be able to claim agency? Is Bran dead? Does Joffrey think his arranged marriage is up to snuff? Find out next time, on the Game of Thrones rewatch!

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: I kind of went in with it in my head that this was a good episode, and like…it is. I think. But I also think that I’ve lost something along the way. I feel like Lindsay Ellis at the end of her fabulous The Hobbit documentary series. How do you pick up the threads of an old life? I didn’t feel nothing in the way I truly feel numb to most of Season 7, but I felt so much less than I expected, even though I could see the good performances, the nearly perfect casting, and gods, the dialogue that sounded *right*.

Help me, Julia. I’ve lost the ability to like things I think. (It’s times like these I remind myself of my reaction to The Last Jedi to feel assured that I’m not broken.)

Julia: I think maybe it’s like looking at old pictures of you and that family member who you don’t get along with anymore, back to when you were happy together. You can’t help but remember how the story ends, no matter how good it used to be. But it’s still nice. I squeed a lot. “Omg, it’s Maester Luwin! Tyrion was blond! Harry Lloyd!!1!!”

Tone is one of those wooly ideas that it’s sometimes hard to qualify, let alone quantify, but the tone of the show feels totally different than Season 7. It feels like there’s less of a need to convince me how cool and badass it is. It’s a more humble show. There’s less weight of expectations. I have no clue what that means, it’s just my feelings…

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I’m almost hesitant to pick Sean Bean as my highlight, because I suspect that it could easily be the case all season long. But this guy is really such a talented actor, and the perfect choice for this role. You can almost sense his inner monologue, and there’s a weight to every word. You instantly believe him to be a wonderful father, while understanding his Northern, stoic leadership approach. He’s just so likable, and I think also has this way of selling the setting and stakes.

Julia: All the casting is quite good. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau was actually a very good Jaime. I liked his shampoo commercial helmet removal.

Wow, the Others White Walkers were scary. They actually made the creepy ice-breaking sound and the camera never lets you get quite a good look at them. If we didn’t have the ability to freeze single frames we wouldn’t have at all, just vague dark thing with bright blue eyes. The entire sequence did a great job of establishing that something wrong is happening up there. And the terrifying dead child with one bare foot… I’m even willing to overlook how the way it’s filmed makes it seem like these wildlings were about 20 minutes from the Wall.

Kylie: It was well-done zombies! The building sense of horror when the non-Royce, non-Will guy picked up the intestines, showing that yeah, the dead men had been there, was perfect.

Alright, do I even need to say what my lowlight was? I mean, yes, it’s the rape. We can talk about it adaptationally, for sure, but there is just such a horribly uncomfortable aspect to everything Daenerys in this episode anyway. It’s like, what does this add? Why are we made to linger on it? I guess it’s context for when she turns it around? But more than anything, this is a scene where you really feel the difference seven years makes in media. I’m not saying it wouldn’t happen now, and I’m not even sure if it would have been a dealbreaker for me (Black Sails season 1 was even more recent than that, and I stuck with that), but I do think there’d be more of a wariness from out of the gate. It’s not good.

Julia: Okay, I’m going to have to push back here a little. I thought it worked quite well and was motivated. The amount of full frontal was a little laughable, but I feel like the discomfort with everything Daenerys is “good,” or at least purposeful. Viserys is selling her for his own selfish, and clearly rather stupid, ends and she’s obviously not okay with it, but has no options. I don’t think you really can really see the full consequences of that without this scene. They did this kind of stuff a hell of a lot worse later on.

I’m going to go for something they never seem to improve at: their portrayal of sex workers. Why are they always giggling, and perfectly bodied, and improbably groomed on this show? That scene with Tyrion was as stupid as something you would find now, including Jaime bursting in with group sex so it will end sooner. (what.) I never want to see Peter Dinklage’s o-face again.

Kylie: Group sex means faster orgasms? Except he was good to go literally 2 minutes later because the “gods did give him one gift.” Dude, I don’t know. Them trying to give Ros texture after this was not the dumbest idea. Them having Peter Dinklage quote Jurassic Park at her in the pilot, however…

Just…why?

Just another note on my lowlight, I think you could make that same case for the “necessity” of Max’s rape in Black Sails. But situated here, with the savage savages sequence (and yeah, the source material is to blame here), I think it would have been hard for me to give it goodwill. Then again, you know Dany’s sexual development in both mediums has never tracked for me. I’m honestly not sure how Drogo could have been adapted. But I’ll maintain that I enjoyed that part least, even if yes, what’s to come is far far far more egregious and unearned.

Julia: The set-up for Max being raped was way dumber, though. At least this served to put Dany into a situation where she can reject everything about her brother and his way of doing things.

I really hate how I’m “justifying” a rape scene here… and I’m not, really, and I’m certainly not arguing that it was perfectly framed, especially with the incidental savage savages. I’m just not willing to say that it “added nothing.” There’s definitely a point and a payoff here.

Kylie: Let’s be honest: my issue is that I’ve never liked the payoff. I don’t get it, Dany/Drogo shippers! I don’t get it!

Julia: Fuck the ship. I ship Dany/political agency and acumen, which is what she really gets out of that marriage.

Kylie: This is just gonna turn into me yelling at Martin for the lowlight. I don’t disagree with you about Dany’s arc, though. Just the execution, and that’s in both mediums.

Julia: But this brings me to another highlight—everything to do with Harry Lloyd as Viserys. It’s so wonderfully obvious how much Illyrio is playing him and how dumb he is. I don’t even mind the wig.

Kylie: Best moment hands down was when Illyrio told him that a Dothraki wedding without at least three murders is “considered a dull affair” and he just beamed. It characterized him so well, and he has this sort of effortlessness about his performance. Very much agree with you.

Quality of writing

Julia: D&D did write this episode, and it’s quite obviously superior to anything they’ve written lately, though I would be failing in my book-snob duty if I didn’t point out that the scene I enjoyed the least (the one with Ros and Tyrion) was the only total invention.

Kylie: No no, Julia, there was also the marvelous Jaime Lannister introduction scene. “As your brother…” It was masterful!

Julia: That was clunky, but far from unforgivable. And I would argue that establishing that these two have some kind of secret was not dumb. If all their original scenes were that level this would end up being a much better show. I liked the anecdote about how they can jump 100 feet into the ocean and live.

Kylie: Apparently it was necessary, since their unaired pilot had been a confusing mess. Honestly, I don’t begrudge the scene, and I think it did instantly characterize them pretty well. But I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that the clunkiest dialogue almost always aligns with invented scenes. That’s hyper-snobbiness at this point, I know. Though even as an Unsullied, I remember thinking how weird that dialogue sounded.

But you’re right; Ros and Tyrion? There’s no salvaging that one.

I remembered this episode mostly using book dialogue, but it really was kind of disorienting to hear it again. They barely tried to change a thing! And to their credit, they chose the first chapters well and blended them together, with the perfect endpoint for it. It was good writing, though in this case it’s almost like D&D were in a kind of…editor capacity, if that makes sense. It flowed, it worked, and my issues are definitely at quibble-levels for the most part.

Our 8th grade book report (the themes)

Kylie: Family? It sounds trite, but it’s difficult to see any other commonality. And there’s clever ways this comes up too, like Benjen telling Jon not to be hasty to give up the concept of a family. Look, it’s better than “boxes,” okay?

I guess duty would be there too. I mean, with Ned that one jumps out, but just also watching Cat and Cersei both at the feast, both so clearly unhappy with the current situation, and Cat trying to bond by talking about her fear the first time she came North thanks to her arranged marriage…this universe just sucks for its inhabitants.

Literally no one is enjoying themselves!

Julia: Duty, yes, but duty specifically as it relates to place, and where your place is supposed to be. Dany and Viserys are preoccupied with “their country” and it being their home. Lyanna’s place is in the tombs in Winterfell. Sansa will leave home to marry, just like Cat did. Ned belongs in Winterfell, so going south is wrong, even if it is his duty. Jon is out of place and doesn’t belong. The Lannisters don’t really fit into this, though you can make a case for Cersei’s ass being dragged all the way up north as a displacement.

Kylie: I’ll make a case for it with Cersei, just because I found her delightful in this episode. I think I just know the Carol that’s coming, but her face during the feast while her asshole husband gropes the servers was amazing. First time in the North, indeed. And Jaime and Tyrion both being so annoyed at getting left “alone with these people” sort of plays into this. You can tell they aren’t taking to the place, even if Tyrion seemed happy that “it is true what they say about Northern girls.”

Cracks in the plaster

Kylie: It’s tough to separate this from adaptational choices, which is our next topic for discussion. I understand there’s maybe a little more of a nefarious lens behind the decision to make Cat the one who wants Ned to stay in Winterfell, but is that a true crack?

I definitely wouldn’t try to hang a picture on the plaster where Jaime ushered in three sex workers for Tyrion though. Boy oh boy will that crack propagate. Also Emilia Clarke’s laughable “dress,” which was basically a single sheet of cellophane.

Julia: This is going to seem weird and nitpicking, but one of the things that bugged me the most was in the scene where Viserys and Illyrio and talking about their evil plan and Dany’s all “I don’t want to be his queen. I want to go home.” Well… in the books, she says this at a party in a different manse and she means, “I want out of this party and I want to go back to Illyrio’s manse, where I currently live,” and Viserys takes “home” to be Westeros, and this disconnect is, like, the point of the exchange. But in the show, it’s said in a context where it can only be Westeros she means when she says “home”.

It’s just the first of many, many times they’ll just take an important line from the source material and shove it in there despite the context giving it a radically different meaning.

I do think the Cat thing is a very important crack in what will happen to her characterization, though. She’s the political one in this marriage, and that really doesn’t show.

Kylie: I was watching this with Griffin, who read the first couple books years ago and never saw the show. Interestingly, he was saying that Michelle Fairley’s Cat stood out as being “out of place” with the setting. I still have no clue what he meant specifically (I like her for what the material is), but I wonder if part of it might be that this Cat doesn’t seem particularly…engaged with the setting? She’s just Worried Mom™ who wants her kids around, and oh that rascal Bran! I know more is coming down the pipeline for her, even in the show, but yeah, their choices in penning her are telling and far from engaging.

Remember adaptation?

Julia: The only major change I can think of is the dynamics of Ned and Cat’s discussion about if he should go south or not, as we discussed. And that is so, so very minor compared to what will come.

The White Walkers are a little altered too. Not just the obvious appearance thing, but I also don’t remember the Others ever cutting up bodies and arranging them into significant shapes.

Kylie: I’m asking myself whether that’s justified in a visual adaptation. It shows an intentionality there, and something beyond mindless slaughter, that sort of hints at mysticism surrounding the Others. I think it does quickly convey that, without getting into specific stories about them, so I don’t have an incredible problem with it. Knowing what’s coming and that there’s never much texture beyond that, however…

We kind of need to discuss Adaptational Decision Prime™—the character ages. I’m sure it’s not going to shock our readers that one of the results of it was a very desexualized Ned and Cat scene (would that have even translated in the first place?) because ewwww middle-aged people doing it! And yeah, that’s definitely a thing. But there’s obviously a big effect elsewhere. Like…Jon Snow asking Benjen to ask Ned to let him join the Night’s Watch when he looks 20.

He looks seven.

Julia: Aging up the characters was so understandable that I’ve never really taken issue with it. Like, how would you feel about Dany if she were actually 13? I’m not sure that issue with Cat and Ned would have been much better if they were in their mid thirties instead of their mid-forties, though. It would still be gross mom and dad sex?

I would agree that Jon and Robb are the two were the aging up will have the most consequence, since they’re both clearly grown men at this point. The others are still little kids, even if they are three years older.

What about the change that Robert has ruled for six years longer than he has in the books?

Kylie: I’ll agree with you about the female characters. I think it’s just that Ned and Cat are sooo fatherly and motherly they feel far older than say, Jaime, their peer.

But yes, the separation from Robert’s Rebellion is definitely the second biggest change. It also makes Viserys a whole lot less effective with his schemes, though I don’t necessarily see that as a problem since his character is not exactly supposed to be The Man with The Plan.

I actually don’t feel like much is lost with it. I mean, the two of us know that there’s some timeline wonkiness that results from this sometimes, but for the show itself, I don’t think there’s any point where the length of his reign feels jarring, or the tensions seem unrealistic for so long a time of peace. Maybe that will change once we get further into the season, but definitely in the case of the pilot, it’s perfectly plausible that this asshole has been on the throne not taking it seriously for a while, Ned’s been up in the North somewhat enjoying life, and things have been placid since the only claimants are currently exiled.

Also it means that Jaime and Cersei managed to hide their incest even longer. Go them! That’s not easy to do in King’s Landing.

Was the exposition satisfactory for a pilot episode?

Kylie: I’m cheating, because I watched with someone who never saw the show, though did have a vague memory of reading the first book. But I can confirm that Theon was just simply not introduced, and no one actually referred to Jon by his name (Robb at least got a, “You must be Robb” from Robert). I’m not sure if this was necessary, because there has to be a name saturation point, right? So maybe it’s smart to only introduce a few names at a time and let people learn from osmosis.

The opening map is never not clever. And Robert and Ned’s shared history together was instantly believable. But I do think a lot of the engagement of new show watchers banks on what’s there being intriguing enough to continue, rather than this episode really allowing anyone to wrap their arms around what’s going on. Griffin felt Dany and Viserys were barely explained, though I do think “displaced royalty with claim to the throne” doesn’t need all the specifics right away.

Julia: I think Theon call Jon “Snow” once. That kind of counts. I think I assumed Theon was Ned’s valet? He held his sword and brought him gloves.

I read the first book and watched the first season more or less at the same time, and I honestly have no recollection of confusion or lack thereof at all. One thing they do go to great lengths to explain is how Jon is a bastard. I guess that’s super important, but I can’t help feel it’s because they love how Kit Harington says the word.

Or this guy.

The political situations is basically: old main advisor dude dies, king asks his bff to replace him, queen benefited from old advisor’s death and has an adultery/incest secret, bff is given information that queen killed old advisor. That all seems both necessary and sufficient to me.

Kylie: Right. Mileage will vary if you want to watch that unfold in a quasi-Medieval magicalish place. For me, that was a no-brainer, since fantasy and politics are my jam. I was curious to find out more, too, and probably would have felt less that way if the pilot had been more an onslaught of name repetition, and Maester Luwin providing fun facts about House dynamics. But I think you’re correct in saying that it’s hard to get lost with this one.

How was the pacing?

Julia: Breakneck?

Actually, I’m often surprised at how fast pacing is when I rewatch things. It happened when I rewatched The Winter Soldier last week. I remember things being more slow the first time around. I think that’s actually a sign of very good pacing.

But yeah, there’s a noticeable lack of people sitting in silence looking annoyed.

Kylie: What’s fun is that there are scenes where people are allowed to take dramatic pauses, and there’s not exactly “action” to speak of here outside of the prologue and vaguely the Dothraki wedding (vaguely in that it’s less about the action itself, rather than what it means for the culture). So nothing felt rushed either. It’s just that we didn’t have to watch 5 minutes of Maester Luwin walking up the stairs on his way to give Ned and Cat the letter for no other reason than that D&D needed to burn 5 minutes of screentime.

I can’t call anything “padding,” I don’t think. You get the feeling each scene would be more in-depth if it could be, and even the stupid Tyrion/Ros scene was at least an attempt to characterize the guy. A misguided one, but an attempt. He’s “the clever one”!

And here’s Cersei!

Let’s talk about sex, baby

Julia: There’s a lot of sex here, some significant, and some that’s not. And some, I suppose that’s significant by its absence.

Significantly, there’s Dany being forced into a marriage that amounts to sexual servitude, and there’s the sex that Cersei and Jaime are having. Which is significant to their characters as well as to the political situation.

The lack of Ned and Cat sexy-times is significant, though to be honest, I’m not sure if I would find it so if I didn’t know that show-runners explicitly cut it because your parents having sex is gross. (Or something like that. Did I make that up? I remember it vividly.) Regardless, they’re into each other, but you know their sex is super tame. Cuddling might be more meaningful to show for them.

Then there is the sex that exists only to be decorative. That fucking brothel scene comes to mind again, as does the savage savage sex at the Dothraki wedding.

Kylie: I’m unsure about that D&D quote you’re remembering, but be it known that in an interview, Charles Dance referred to the twincest doggy-style as “rumpy pumpy.” It’s better when you hear him say it.

The Ned/Cat unsex I’m not sure was the worst call, though the ageist implications are there and loud. But you’ve talked about this before Julia, that television is an inherently voyeuristic medium. Would Cat’s apparently very remarkable breasts have enhanced the scene? I’m not so sure of that. And I don’t think anything regarding Ned and Cat’s fondness for one another was lost in translation. So yeah, I’ll second your “maybe cuddling is better” stance.

God, the Dothraki wedding sex is just ten kinds of uncomfortable, which I guess is the point? But it’s a shitty point, with shitty implications. It wasn’t exactly a liberty on D&D’s part, either. The brothel scene is worth an eyeroll or five. Welcome to HBO, I guess. Though I don’t hate the concept of a Tyrion scene prior to his triple salchow (good on them for ignoring that one, too).

I never really thought about Dany’s rape or the tower-sex in those terms, but yeah! Two scenes of sex to establish a woman’s political position and agencies. This is a very literal form of sexposition, I suppose. Like…with the actual exposition part there.

Julia: Charles Dance is a treasure.

I feel the need to note that in the book, when Tyrion hooks up with Shae towards the end of the middle of the first volume, he thinks about how he hasn’t had sex in a year or so. The character talks a big game in terms of all the whores he fucks, but they defo adapted him as more lecherous that he was in the source material.

One thing that is better in Season 7 is the fewer decorative perfect-body sex workers. Season 5 was the peak for that.

Also, what DO they say about Northern girls?

Is it holding up?

Kylie: I mean, it’s better than the current episodes, and those are normally still lauded. But in my eyes? I’ll say mostly. I truly don’t know how one adapts Dany/Drogo with a modicum of sensitivity, if I’m being perfectly honest. I do know we could have done with just a touch fewer shots of Emilia Clarke’s boobs, and their inclusion is as transparent as her dress.

I keep trying to think if I’d watch this show, having just come to it now. I’m kind of wary and burned out on shows ~exactly like this~ but that’s because of what this turns into. Quite the Catch-22 of thought exercises. I think I’m comfortable in saying that for what it is, this is still a decent pilot to a TV adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire in 2018. Right?

Julia: Yes? I mean, there must have been a reason this show was so successful. The strong things about it in Season 7 are all here and not totally overwhelmed by the smell of D&D farts. The acting is exceptional, the music (god I love the Baratheon theme) was a long term investment that’s still paying off; even then, when the budget was comparatively tiny, there’s a sense of effort about things. Notwithstanding that hilarious Lyanna statue they got at the local garden centre. All pilots are going to be a little awkward, especially in an SF setting where there is an ancient evil and a complex political situation, so apart from the obvious tip to not exploit sex workers and/or Emilia Clarke so much, I’m not sure how it could have been a better pilot.

I’d be willing to pay quite a bit to see the original hot mess pilot with Jennifer Ehle and Kathryn Howard from The Tudors though. With popcorn and beer.

Kylie: I wonder if Tamzin Merchant moved her face too much or something. Also, just throwing this out to the nether: Jennifer Ehle (who we’re sure is reading this), please come on our podcast. We have headcanons for which we need confirmation.

In memoriam: The 3 Rangers & Jon Arryn

Kylie: Even knowing High Grandpa’s eye stone explanation, it was a little hard to feel the gravitas of Jon Arryn’s corpse with those damn things on his face. But they did a decent job making us feel the impact he had on Robert and Ned, I suppose. I was sad for Ned. Also props to Michelle Fairley for how she delivered the news to him. They really felt married, you know?

The Night’s Watchmen deaths were effective too. Royce was an ass, but he served his purpose. Can’t say I mourn these deaths, but they definitely have a weight to them (maybe a meaning?) that becomes increasingly lacking in the deaths to come. But I think that’s mostly a while off. At least until Qarth.

Julia: You know, what really affected me was seeing characters who died later again. And I don’t even mean the big ones like Ned or Robb. Maester Luwin! I missed you!

I’m a big fan of the eye stones, this is known. In fact, I would go as far as to say that it’s D&D most interesting contribution.

It’s hard to be too emotionally devastated by any death in a pilot, but I liked how the ranging party was handled. It was in the tradition of Martin prologue deaths where you’re just there long enough to root for them getting out of there alive. But no.

Kylie: Keep in mind D&D also gave us Trystane Jonas painting eye stones. I’ll call their usage “mixed” in effectiveness.

The pilot episode deaths were MacGuffins, in the strictest sense and by necessity. That’s just how set-ups are, and I don’t begrudge it. I have a feeling this section of the rewatch will get more and more interesting as time passes here. Hell, even next week has more in that way.

Aaand that’s actually the perfect transition into our close here. Next week we will be joined by a couple other Fandomentals for “The Kingsroad.” We’re curious to hear how this [re]watch went for others, though. Was anything lost from your first viewing? Or if this is your first viewing, is this a show you want to watch now? Are we exaggerating how dumb the Tyrion scene was? Let us know below!

And of course, we wish you luck in the wars to come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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  • Julia

    Julia is a Managing Editor at The Fandomentals with far too many hobbies and complex emotions. She may or may not be an actual Martell.

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