The Primordial Soup: The most interesting sci fi show you’ve probably never heard of

Here at Cambrian Comics we talk about many things from comics, to Game of Thrones, to tech, to Game of Thrones, to superheroes, and Game of Thrones (okay so mostly Game of Thrones but hey, there’s a lot to talk about with that show).  Today I’m going to talk about one of my favorite sci fi television shows out there and one of the most radically different and interesting ideas in science fiction: Farscape.

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While most of the sci fi television landscape is dominated by joint Canadian and American shows for tax reasons (and the same reason why almost every single planet in these shows looks like the same patch of British Colombian forest) Farscape was a joint American and Australian show that ran for four season from 1999-2003.  The show was written and run by the future creator of the current Sci Fi channel show DEFIANCE Rocke S. O’Bannon and has developed something of a cult following over the past decade.

The show begins with the series protagonist and audience surrogate John Crichton, played by science fiction television stalwart Ben Browder

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being flung into a distant part of the universe via wormhole.  After being dropped in the middle of a alien spaceship dogfight he finds himself aboard a living ship that was transporting a group of prisoners which include a Luxon warrior named Dargo.

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A renegade priestess, who is also a living plant, named Zhaan.

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A small, fat slug like creature named Rygel who needs a hover chair to get around and was once the ruler of over 600 billion people.

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And one of their former jailers.  A mysteriously humanoid soldier from a race of menacing soldiers called Peackeepers (because with a name like that what else could you be other than a militaristic warrior society dedicated to using violence in the name of order?) named Aeryn Sun.

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And the ship itself, a biological organism known as Moya who is controlled by her Pilot, a creature grafted into Moya’s systems in order to help her function and navigate the stars.

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And that’s the main cast.  There were several other characters that joined the crew as some of the original cast left but the show followed the ship and its crew as they wandered the galaxy and searched for a way home all while dodging Peacekeepers and trying to stay out of trouble.

This is my favorite show for two reasons.  First, you may notice that Pilot and Rygel look like they’re puppets.  That’s because they are.  Farscape was produced by Hallmark and Jim Henson Productions, the same guys who helped bring the Muppets to life.  As a result all of the prosthetic body work and puppetry was done by a company that knew what they were doing and really cared about their work.  This resulted in creatures like this.

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and this

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and this

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Sure some of the designs looked freaking and were occasionally clunky but in an age where real visual effects were becoming a rarity (this was the early 2000’s, CGI was king) this level of creativity and dedication deserves a lot of respect.

The second thing I love about this show is the sheer imagination it had.  Instead of having everyone speak the universal language of English and just have the audience accept it, Farscape said “no, we’re going to have each of the characters injected with translator microbes and give a plausible explanation as to why everyone speaks English”.  They were also the first show in my memory to not only treat the concept of a “living ship” as a gimmick but as a fully developed character as well.

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Over the course of the show Moya displays signs of love, loss, anger, and even depression and if she’s upset you can bet the crew will feel it.  They even wrote a plot line where Moya gives birth to a baby (it turns out to be a berserk hybrid warship baby but to go on would spoil a huge part of the story).

Oh, and for any fans of the new Battlestar Galactica series, you know how they replace the word “fuck” with “frack” in order to circumvent censors?  Guess who did that first?

Bear in mind I’m just scratching the surface of what Farscape did, I didn’t even get to the interdimentional vampires or the time Crichton got turned into a statue because he was a genetic match for an alien princess, but you get the idea.  That being said the show was not without its problems.  The show was so full of creative ideas and creatures that it tended to wander about, what was originally a group of fugitives trying to get home turned into an inter galactic manhunt for something in Crichton’s head that would help the Peacekeepers win a massive war and it just got silly after a while.  Also some of the dialogue is incredibly campy and weird but it was the early 2000’s where that sort of thing was understandable.

Still, the show’s faults and foibles were few in comparison to it’s many strengths.  Farscape is an awesome show that deserves a look if you have chance.  It’s on Netfilx instant if that’s your thing and there is talk of a movie coming in the not too distant future.  Whether you’re a fan or not we can all appreciate the genius and imagination the show brought to television.

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History and legends of Game of Thrones: The Iron Bank

WARNING SPOILERS!

Today we are going to talk about an organization more powerful than any lord, king, or army.  This organization has the power to make or break kingdoms and can mean the difference between prosperity or utter ruin.  I am of course talking about the Iron Bank of Braavos.

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The Iron Bank was an organization that was founded when the Valyrian Freehold still ruled Essos.  They were founded by a collection of tradesmen and merchants who decided it would be much more profitable to pool all their resources together and loan out money for others to risk on shops and ships rather than do it themselves.  The name of the Iron Bank comes from the disused iron mine that was used to store their combined wealth and even though they all agreed to work with each other they made sure that each member had at least two guards loyal to each of them guarding the vault at all times.

Out of all the organizations and locations we’ve talked about on this blog series the Iron Bank is probably the most influential.  They show this by forcing anyone who seeks money, whether it’s a king or a commoner, to sit on simple stools while they sit on massive gilded chairs lording over the fates of kingdoms.

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When the Lannisters assume power and the War of the Five Kings begins it is the Iron Bank that loans the money for the Lannisters to wage war.  When Tywin and Jeoffry kick the bucket, Cersei declared the Lannister’s debt null and void which pisses off the Bank to no avail (it turns out that while the Lannister’s unofficial motto is “a Lannister always pays his debts” the Bank’s motto is “The Iron Bank always gets its due”).  In response the Bank agrees to back the claim of Stannis Baratheon to the Iron Throne and grant him a considerable loan.

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The idea of powerful banks controlling the fate of nations is nothing new.  One of the most powerful banking families of the Renaissance and the historical equivalent of the Iron Bank was the rich and powerful Medici Family

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Like the Iron Bank the Medici had their paws in everything.  They were responsible for founding the Medici Bank in 1397 and made a fortune investing and trading in cloth. This made them fabulously rich and they used their new found wealth to gain political power.  The Medici’s produced several popes and two queens of France, all of them loyal members of the family and all of them bringing the gifts and gratitude of a grateful and powerful bank.  Their wealth was further displayed by the great works of art and architecture they commissioned such as Michelangelo’s David.

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and the Florence Cathedral.

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Although the Medici would eventually fall from grace they helped bring about an explosion of art and culture and for a while, controlled the fate of Europe through the money it lent and borrowed.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: the Faceless Men

WARNING: SPOILERS!

Today we’re going to talk about one of the most mysterious and deadly groups of cutthroats and killers in the entire world of Game of Thrones: The Faceless Men.

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Almost nothing is known about the Faceless Men due to their extreme secrecy.  What we do know through the show is that they are headquartered in Braavos at the House of Black and White

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They were founded during the height of the Valyrian Empire by slaves who worked in Valyrian mines.

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And they are very good at two things: killing people and disguising themselves to look like others.  It is made very clear in the books that their reputation is fearsome and with a big reputation comes a high price.  Also, they prefer to work from the shadows, coupling their ability to disguise themselves with a talent for making deaths look like “accidents”.  Nobody knows where this power comes from exactly but in might have something to do with the CAVERN OF FACES THEY HAVE HIDDEN IN THEIR HEADQUARTERS!

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One thing’s for sure.  Whether they get their power from some unknown magic or the presumed centuries of experience they have had killing people the Faceless Men are the deadliest weapons in the world and you do not one after you.

The Faceless Men are tricky to pin down as an actual historical group since it would make sense that any organization that depended on this level of secrecy would very much like to have their name removed from the history books.  That being said there is an actual group of deadly warriors that does share some similarities with the Faceless Men: the Hashashin or more commonly known as “The order of Assassins”.

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Unlike the Faceless Men the Hashashen were not mercenaries for hire.  Instead they were an Islamic religious sect known as the Nizari Isma’ili, a splinter group of predominately Shia muslims who preached a belief in reason, cooperation, and social justice.  The politics and logistics of Muslim religious orders and countless breakaways are far too complicated for this article but for now all that you need to know is that the Nizari were in a position that required a small number of followers to fight off a much larger enemy force, which resulted in the foundation of the Order of Assassins.  While not much is known about their exact foundation (see the need for secrecy above) it is widely believed that a man named Hassan i Sabbah founded the order in the 11th century.

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Sabbah was an extremely charismatic leader who ran his new order of warriors out of the captured mountain fortress of Alamut in northern Iran.

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Here Sabbah trained his followers to become some of the deadliest and secretive fighters in the known world.   His fighters were known to throw themselves into a battle with little to no regard for their own lives, appear from nowhere, and utilize tactics that had more in common with modern terrorist organizations such as Hamas or al-Qaeda.  Despite these brutal tactics they worked and the Nizari were left alone until they were finally beaten after the Mongols came in and laid the Middle East to waste.

A quick note on the word “assassin”.  The exact origin of the word is debated but it is believed that the Nizari’s enemies claimed that each soldier would consume a drug called hashish in order to get into a killing frenzy.  Members of the order were therefore called “hashashin” which would eventually become the modern westernized “assassin”.

No matter what their exact origin the Order of Assassins left a trail of bodies and blood that inspired tremendous fear, so much fear that they are still remembered in stories and books to this day.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The High Sparrow and the Bonfire of the Vanities

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM THE MOST RECENT EPISODES OF GAME OF THRONES AND INFORMATION ABOUT A VERY SPECIFIC CHARACTER!

Today we are going to take a break from the big ideas and grand scale events of the show and talk about one particular person: The High Sparrow.

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We’ve already discussed the High Sparrow’s position on things the Faith deems immoral and we’ve seen his minions of the Faith Militant perform an act so awful and so soul shattering I’m surprised it hasn’t caused an uproar yet.  I am, of course, talking about this.

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Yes, it seems the Faith Militant has left the people of King’s Landing with fate worse then death, a world without booze.  I’ve mentioned before that the Faith is dead set against all form of vice including gambling, sodomy, and most tragically drinking but at the same time it’s hard to completely hate the man since he has also preached that all men are equal in the eyes of the gods and that people should make it their duty to help those in need.  The High Sparrow has led the Faith Militant on a crusade against sin and while that isn’t all that special in itself what’s really interesting is that it has a direct historical parallel.

Just like the Faith Militant several of the real world Medieval Catholic holy orders would occasionally stage large coups in populated cities and wage a war on vice and sin.  One of the most famous of these coups was staged by this man.

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This is Girolamo Savonarola, a Catholic friar who dressed plainly and had several strong opinions on what was right and wrong.  Like the High Sparrow Savonarola preached for reform in the Church and against excess and immoral behavior.  Savonarola’s sermons were also quite apocalyptic and were very critical of what he deemed to be the immoral practices of the Church and of the people of Renaissance Florence.  While this did not make him many friends in high places (he was excommunicated from the Church in 1497 by Pope Alexander VI) he did prove to be incredibly popular with the common people.  This culminated in him leading bands of people through the streets of Florence and carrying out the infamous Bonfire of the Vanities in 1497.

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The Bonfire of the Vanities was Savonarola’s attempt to return the city of Florence to a more pious state.  He and his bands of children would wander around the city, knocking on the doors of the rich and powerful, and demanding any luxury items or secular works of literature and art.  As you can see above they were all gathered into a big pile and burned (no account on whether or not they destroyed barrels of wine but I’m sure they did).  Unfortunately Savonarola’s power and reputation would not last.  His views and ideals became too unpopular (nobody liked to live in Medieval Europe sober for too long) and all the powerful enemies he made were more than happy to see him burned as a heretic and traitor.

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Author’s Note: If I’ve wound up spoiling the future fate of the High Sparrow in this post I am truly sorry.

So there you have it, a direct historical counterpart to a specific event and person in the Game of Thrones world to a real life counterpart.  Thank goodness this is just a fantasy novel set in a time long ago.  It’s not like leaders and pundits today are going on about the corruption of society or anything.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Faith Militant

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE MOST RECENT EPISODES OF THE SHOW AND SOME OF THE BOOKS!

Today we are going to talk about the newest political player in the show and one who threatens to turn the entire balance of power upside down: the Faith Militant.

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Members of the Faith Militant are easily recognizable from their plain black robes, the seven pointed star of the Seven scarred into their head, and their rabid devotion to the fundamental teachings of the Faith and hatred of all vice and foreign influence.  Over the course of just a couple of episodes the Faith Militant has essentially taken over Kings Landing after being shrewdly backed and re armed by Cersei Lannister.  With their new power they patrol the streets forcefully removing activities such as gambling, prostitution, and worship of foreign idols.  They have also proven to be completely fearless and even the king himself must submit to their authority.

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Before the events of the show the Faith Militant had a long and often troubled history.  They were established during the early reign of the Targaryans when they perceived the Targaryen family as unfit to rule (they didn’t like the practice of each Targaryen marrying a family member, incest is a big no no in the Faith of the Seven) and rose up in revolt.  The early faith was divided into two groups.  The Poor Fellows, who were recruited from the lower classes and women, were light foot soldiers who looked exactly like the zealots running around in King’s Landing now.

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And the Warrior’s Sons, who haven’t shown up in the show but are mentioned in the books.

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The Warrior’s sons were different from the Poor Fellows in that they were nobles and knights who fought with full armor and better weapons while the Poor Fellows had nothing more than clubs and axes.

After the Faith rose up against the Targaryens they met serious opposition with the rise of King Maegor the Cruel.

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Maegor lived up to his name and brutally suppressed the revolts of the Faith, but any attempt at crushing them would be met with horrendous casualties and even more revolts to put down.

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The Faith Militant would eventually be disbanded with the death of Maegor and the rise of Prince Jaehaerys who agreed to pardon any member of the faith who had revolted in exchange for peace.  The revolt was over and the Faith remained peaceful until the War of the Five Kings and the new rise of the Faith Militant.

The role of the Faith Militant and the power that orders like the Warrior’s Sons and the Poor Fellows wielded follows a direct parallel to real world organizations such as the Knights Templar and the Knights Hospitaller.

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Like the Warrior’s Sons, military orders like the Templars recruited from the nobility and knightly class.  They were originally founded to help guard the routes to holy sites like Crusader occupied Jerusalem (a service which they charged fees for) and protect the well being of Christians everywhere.  While orders like the Templars are among the most well known they were certainly not the only ones and each order enjoyed the privilege of have to answer only to God, an authority that would help lead them to do terrible things in the name of their faith.

The Poor Fellows of Game of Thrones have a slightly different origin then their wealthier brothers.  During the Medieval Ages it was not uncommon for large groups of poor and downtrodden penitent sinners to gather into large groups and wander around the country performing penitence for their sins and others.  They would often beat and whip themselves in their shame and became what we call flagellants today.

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The flagellants became infamous in the mid 1300’s when the Black Death was sweeping Europe.

L0004057 The plague of Florence in 1348, as described in Boccaccio's Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://images.wellcome.ac.uk The plague of Florence in 1348, as described in Boccaccio's Decameron. Etching by L. Sabatelli after himself. Engraving By: Giovanni Boccaccioafter: Luigi Sabatelli and Pier Roberto CapponiPublished:  -  Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons by-nc 2.0 UK, see http://images.wellcome.ac.uk/indexplus/page/Prices.html

Since it was believed that the Death was divine punishment from God large bands of people gathered together to whip and beat themselves in an act of penitence.  This culminated in a large number of revolts such as the Peasant Revolt of 1381, when a large number of English peasants who were fed up with lousy pay and the fear of death, revolted against their former masters demanding substantial change.

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With rich knights and lords defending the Church with their lives and swords and the peasants using their faith to rally and punish those they saw fit the Church/Faith Militant was and continues to be a powerful political force that lords and nobles must pay heed to.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: Church and State in Westeros

WARNING!  THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FROM THE MOST RECENT EPISODES OF GAME OF THRONES.  IF YOU ARE NOT CAUGHT UP IMPORTANT PLOT POINTS WILL BE SPOILED.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

One of greatest things about Game of Thrones in my opinion is the book’s treatment of organized religion.  George R.R Martin doesn’t treat the Faith of the Seven and the worship of the Old Gods as some minor subplot but rather establishes it as a powerful force in Westeros, both as a form of identity and as a powerful political force in its own right.  In the show the Faith is represented and nominally led by the High Septon who resides in King’s Landing.  He is seen officiating over the marriages, funerals, and coronations of all the important nobles, a job that gives the Faith the ability to shape the future of Westeros by declaring marriages and the alliances that come with those marriages valid.

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He is also seen crowning the kings of Westeros, implying that the right to rule comes from the favor of the gods and as their chosen representative the High Septon has the power to validate the rule of kings.

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Unfortunately the high Septon is revealed to be a bit…lax in his duties as the leader of the Faith and in the show he is seen cavorting with prostitutes which the Faith generally frowns upon.

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As a result of these activities certain members of the Faith rise up against the High Septon while being led by another individual called the High Sparrow.  The High Sparrow has a more literal and by the book interpretation of the Faith’s teachings by shunning things like fancy clothing or even shoes.

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Feeding the poor and destitute of Kings Landing.

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And punishing anyone who disobeys the rules of the Faith.  Even the High Septon is not immune to the Sparrow’s discipline once the Lannisters give him the authority to do so.

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Due to his zealous adherence to the rules of the Faith and worship of the Seven the High Sparrow has shown himself to be absolutely fearless in his use of violence and punishment for those deemed wicked.  He even arrests the children of the Tyrell family, one of the most powerful families in Westeros, on charges of sodomy and purgery to the Faith.  He is able to do this because he believes that everyone is equally accountable to the gods no matter what their status.  With an army of zealots at his back and a righteous cause to lead them the Faith of the Seven is a political power that is to be feared and is only growing stronger.

I’ve mentioned before that the Faith of the Seven is similar to the established worship of Christianity in Medieval Europe and the Faith’s organization and power in Westeros is no different.

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During the Medieval Ages the Catholic Church was an incredibly powerful, wealthy, and important organization that had a huge impact on the livelihoods of everyone from the most powerful king to the lowliest peasant.  While the kings and monarchs of Europe lorded over people and territory the Church lorded over the souls of all Christians and if you crossed the Church you risked losing your soul to Hell and nobody wanted to be associated with someone like that.  Since the Church was responsible for overseeing the state of Christian souls they had the power to approve and annul the joining of souls, an event some like to call marriage.  Since the Church was responsible for overseeing marriages this allowed them to approve or condemn any royal alliance formed by marriage giving them incredible power over the royal families of Europe.

Like the High Sparrow’s mission the Church also played a major part in the social welfare of Medieval Europe.  The Church was incredibly wealthy controlling acres of land, building massive cathedrals, and receiving roughly 10% of every Christian’s income in the form of tithes.  You don’t build structures like this

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without some serious money.  Despite a considerable amount of corruption and greed one of the greatest missions of the Church was its charitable works and what it accomplished for the poor and destitute of Europe.

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Alms giving and humble living were important hallmarks of Medieval Christianity and many religious orders and other holy groups devoted themselves to teaching the poor and healing the sick, traditions that carry on to this day.

Finally there is was the Church’s firm belief that they answered only to a higher power and had authority above and beyond the laws of men.  Probably the greatest example of Church power was the battle of wills between Pope Gregory VII and King Henry IV of the Holy Roman Empire (what we now know of as Germany).  The Pope and the King began to quarrel over who should be allowed to appoint important church officials to certain lands in an event known as the Investiture Controversy.  Basically what happened was that The King argued that he should decide who got to hold and collect income from land he owned while the Pope argued that no religious official should be controlled by an earthly king.  The Pope wound up excommunicating the king, cutting him off from the moral support of the Church and effectively banning him to Hell.  It got so bad for Henry that he had to travel to Rome dressed in rags and prostrate himself in front of the Pope as a repentant sinner.

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The message was clear.  The Pope was the supreme authority over the souls of Christians and would not be bullied by kings and other earthly rulers.  Since the Church had a responsibility to safeguard these souls it should have a certain measure of authority over them on Earth allowing the Church to tie itself directly to the affairs of the state.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Dothraki

WARNING: THIS POST CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST SEASON OF GAME OF THRONES.

Today is an important day, the day we talk about one of the single greatest and most intimidating group of individuals to ever roam the known world of Game of Thrones, a people led by the kind of man that makes women swoon and men wish they had grown their hair out longer and practice scowling in the mirror: The Dothraki.

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The Dothraki are a group of nomadic horse warriors that occupy a massive stretch of grassland in central Essos known as the Dothraki Sea.

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Due to the vast steppes and the difficulty of finding any other resources other than grass anyone who expects to make a living here has to rely on horses for transportation and as a result horses factor heavily into Dothraki culture, so much so that any Dothraki who is incapable of riding is no longer fit to lead them or isn’t even fit to exist as a free man at all.  Most of the Dothraki diet consists of horse meat and fermented mare’s milk and by the time a Dothraki child is four years old he is expected to be able to ride and fight from horseback.  With such a brutal culture living in such a desolate place it’s no wonder that the Dothraki respect strength above all else and will only follow a leader, or khal in the their language, they deem worthy to follow.

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In regards to their weapons and fighting style the Dothraki prefer speed and agility over brute power and defensive tools such as armor.  As a result they tend to ride into battle with very little armor and prefer to use hit and run tactics while firing arrows from deadly recurve bows at tremendous range.  When they do charge in for close combat they use a wide variety of weapons like lassos and bolas to unhorse opposing riders and the infamous arakh, a curved sword with a single razor sharp edge, for scything through exposed riders and armor (note: the picture below is more in line with what is in the books rather than the show).

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The Dothraki have played an important role in the history of Essos, usually a role that involves a lot of burning and pillaging.  After the Doom of Valyria the Dothraki realized that their former neighbors to the east were substantially weaker and were just sitting on mountains of plunder and armies of slaves that were ripe for the taking.  Under the leadership of Khal Temmo (it is worth mentioning that Khal Temmo became the leader he was by cutting off the hands, feet, and genitals of a rival Khal and burning them in front of his eyes before killing him because that’s how Khal Temmo rolls) a massive hoard of over 10,000 horse riders attacked and burned their way through the former Valyrian Empire.  Determined to make the Century of Blood live up to its name the Dothraki were poised to sack the city of Qohor but were defeated by a small force of Unsullied eunuchs.

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After this defeat the Dothraki were content with remaining in the Dothraki Sea barring the occasional raid into Free City territory.  When this happens the Free Cities are usually content with buying them off with tribute of gold or slaves.  However, during the events of Game of Thrones the deposed Targaryens attempted to forge a treaty with the most powerful khal in several generations: Khal Drogo.

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Unfortunately, Drogo’s attempt at being the first Dothraki to cross from Essos and invade Westeros was thwarted with his untimely demise and while many of the Dothraki who followed him left to travel back to the Dothraki Sea, his wife is determined to continue where her husband left off, only this time she has dragons.

It is very difficult to find an exact historical parallel to the Dothraki because the concept of “steppe dwelling nomads who rely on horses for transportation and are very good at fighting from horseback” is a surprisingly broad category that can refer to dozens of ethnic groups.  What is clear is the location of the Dothraki Sea, which is very similar to the steppes of central Asia and southern Russia.

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Like the Dothraki Sea the steppes are oceans of grass and not much else.  Resources that are required for a more sedentary lifestyle like a constant supply of water or timber or mineral deposits required to build any sort of lasting shelter, are hard to come by and as a result anyone who wants to survive has to rely on horses for covering the vast distances of the steppes in search of pasture and other resources.  Despite the hardships many different people have adopted this nomadic lifestyle with great success such as the Scythians,

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their descendants the Alans,

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and the Cumans, a group of people who would eventually be better known as the Cossacks.

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You’ll notice a couple of similarities among all three of these photos.  First, they are all carrying bows and arrows since it turns out that if you depend on either hunting or keeping predators away from your flocks in order to survive you tend to get really good at shooting things and second, they all look like they’re either fighting or about to fight since it also turns out that having to defend your resources from other neighboring tribes makes you really good at fighting which you can then use to extract tribute from your more sedentary neighbors.  But if we really want to draw a direct comparison to the Dothraki of Game of Thrones we’re going to look at two more nomadic warrior races: the Huns and the Mongols.

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The Huns were a group of pastoral nomads from what is now known as the Ukraine and parts of Russia.  Around 434 A.D the Huns united around a single leader, Attila the Hun.  Although not much is known about his early life other than the fact that he was born into a family with royal blood or how he rose to power what isn’t debated is the effect he had on the ancient world.  By asserting his leadership over the Huns he was able to overrun the neighboring Alan tribes and force the Gothic tribes into Roman territory.  Once he realized that the Roman Empire was weak and ripe for the taking he promptly invaded and wound up carving out an empire larger than Rome.

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His effect on the fall of Rome coupled with his claims he was the scourge of God make him a parallel to Khal Temmo in the books.  For Khal Drogo we’re going to look a bit farther.

In the Game of Thrones universe Khal Drogo is one of the most powerful Dothraki warlords in existence.  Capable of mustering an army of over 40,000 rabidly loyal warriors Drogo has never been defeated in battle.  Also he has an interest in foreign women, seeking to marry someone exotic, in this case one of the last Targaryens.  In my opinion, Khal Drogo shares several similarities with the real world Genghis Khan of the massive Mongol Empire.

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Like Drogo Genghis was a great leader among his people (they even share a similar title: Khal and Khan) and built a massive empire on the back of his fiercely loyal armies of horse archers.

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Also like Drogo Genghis was a renowned lover and despite his image of a savage barbarian, treated his favorite wife Borte with considerable respect.

The Mongol Empire was legendary for its size and surprising tolerance towards other religions and people (provided you paid your tribute and didn’t revolt because if you didn’t God help you) but just like Khal Drogo it started to crumble after the death of its leader Genghis.  Granted the empire itself would last for more than a century after his death but interestingly enough it was the death of Genghis that saved Western Europe/Essos and Westeros/England from being pillaged.

The Primordial Soup: A look at the practical downsides of racism and sexism in our art and culture.

So this little movie just came out.

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My review of it is simple: it’s so awesome that I can’t put it into words and you should go see it as soon as possible.  Yet despite the fact that the movie has rave reviews there are still some people who are upset over it.

Apparently there is a “men’s rights activist group” (in all honesty I had no idea such a thing existed until now) who is upset at the film and are calling it “Feminist Propaganda” disguised as an action film and is calling for a boycott.  Despite the fact that the person writing the article admitted to not seeing the movie (I’d also like to point out he thought the visuals from the trailer were “astounding”) he claims that he can tell because one of the female characters “gives Max a lot of orders” in the trailer and he finds this offensive.

Now, after having seen the movie I can tell you (spoiler free) that the character in the trailer, a woman named Imperator Furiosa played by the amazing Charlize Theron, does do a lot of running, shooting, fighting, and order giving in the film and I’m sure that when if this blogger decides to see the film he will have his moronic opinions validated.  However, I as a white, Christian, heterosexual, American male was not offended by this at all and rather enjoyed the film.  But all this talk about boycotting a film just because a woman gave a man orders got me thinking about how there aren’t just moral and ethical problems with issues like sexism in our culture (and before anyone asks me, YES SEXISM, RACISM, AND OTHER FORMS OF OPPRESSION BASED ON SEX, RELIGION, AND LIFESTYLE ARE REAL AND SYSTEMIC TO OUR CULTURE AND THE FACT THAT I FEEL THE NEED TO SPELL IT OUT IN ALL CAPS SHOULD SAY SOMETHING ABOUT HOW WE TREAT SUCH SERIOUS ISSUES) but there are practical problems as well.

By ranting about how movies like Mad Max should not be seen because they are hiding a disguised feminist agenda what people are really saying is that they don’t want anything that challenges their pre-conceived notions of what art should be and that films like Mad Max should stay within the narrow boundaries of films and art that came before it.  And it is by no means an issue that is limited to Mad Max, sexism, or really anything new at all.  Just as another example, five years ago people were upset when the first Thor movie came out because the director had cast Idris Elba to play Heimdall.

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Bear in mind none of the complaints were about Stringer Bell playing a mythical gatekeeper who can hear a bug crawling on a leaf from space, the complaints were simply about the color of his skin.  A complaint that I would respond with “are you insane?  He was amazing in the film and he deserved the part.”.  I’m glad he was cast and I hope he continues to turn out more amazing work for Marvel.

So why am I bringing up these two unfortunate controversies?  Well, I firmly believe that things like racism and sexism are wrong, but I think most of us agree with that.  In fact, there are many, many, many blogs and articles out there that say the same thing.  But most of these articles approach the issue from a moral viewpoint, saying that we shouldn’t engage in this kind of behavior because it is morally wrong.  But there is a much simpler and more practical problem with these types of controversies as well: by denying parts to actors because of their race or by refusing to see a film because it might contain an alternative look at something so ingrained in our culture and minds we are denying art to grow and expand into new and different ideas.

It’s no small secret that Hollywood, one of the most dominant cultural force in America and a large portion of the world, is white and male…really white and male.  It is true that being white in America does come with certain economic and cultural advantages and those advantages  shape everything from views on history to how we process art (I would put a link up here but as a white male you can take my word that it’s true) and this is a problem that needs to change.  Would you not want to go see Mad Max because a woman gives a man orders?  The movie was really good and even managed to be heartfelt and thoughtful at moments amid an impressive amount of chaos and destruction.  Would you not want to see Idris Elba in Thor because he was black?  He was really, really good and a world where there is less Stringer Bell is poorer for it.

Art is supposed to broaden our horizons and give us a window into other cultures and points of view.  If we limit ourselves to certain types of art and deny other on the basis of things like sex and race we are only limiting ourselves.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Century of Blood

After the Doom, a huge cataclysmic event that destroyed the Valyrian peninsula and the seat of Valyrian power, everything started to go to hell in a hand basket.

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With the center of their empire destroyed all the little city states and lords with half a brain realized that they no longer had to fear a legion of dragons descending from on high to wipe them out if they stepped out of line and promptly revolted.  There were three major events during the Century of Blood that would shape the history of the Westeros and Essos for ever.

The first of these big events was the attempted reconquest of the Valyrian Empire by the city of Volantis.  Volantis was the single largest Valyrian city that survived the Doom and realized that it was in a position to reconquer and preserve the Valyrian Freehold.  As a result, they promptly invaded and re conquered the cities of Myr and Lys.  However, their attempts to conquer the remaining cities who had declared their independence: Pentos, Norvos, Quohor, Tyrosh, and Lorath met with failure and eventual military defeat partly due to the aid of the mysterious “secret city” of Braavos and the refusal of the last remaining Dragonlords to help Volantis re establish control: the Targaryens of Dragonstone.

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While all this was going on in the former empire the Targaryens were busy plotting their own moves on Dragonstone.  Aegon did not want to re establish the Valyrian Empire, instead he looked west and saw a massive land filled with rival kings and ruler ripe for the taking.  Westeros was currently undergoing two huge invasions: the Ironborn from the north and what would become the Dornish from the south.

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We’ve already talked about the Ironborn and their empire but it’s worth mentioning Dorne.  They currently live in the southern most part of Westeros and are not native to the island.  They were actually from Essos and came to Westeros as refugees from the rule of the Valyrians.  We’ll talk about them later but for now there is one more important event we need to talk about, one that shook the entire known world to its core and still makes the cities of Essos and Westeros shake in terror: the Dothraki.

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The Dothraki were nomadic horsemen from the large steppes of central Essos known as the Dothraki Sea.

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We’ll cover aspects of Dothraki culture and their historical counterparts next time because it really deserves a post of its own but for now all you need to understand is the impact they had on Essos.  The Dothraki came charging out of the steppes like wildfire and with no central power to keep them in check they ran rampant, killing and burning everything in their path.

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Only two cities were able to withstand their rampage.  Mureen was able to buy them off with gold while Qohor was able to finally halt the advances of the horde by beating them in a pitched battle thanks to a contingent of Unsullied warrior eunuchs.  Despite the Century of Blood living up to its name the cities and culture of Essos remained and even began to prosper.  While the Valyrians had fallen it was replaced by a patchwork of old tradition and new cultures, ready to welcome the rise of Westeros with everything from goods to soldiers.

As stated in the previous article the Doom of Valyria mirrors the fall of the Roman Empire in our history.  While there was no cataclysmic event that shattered the Romans all at once there were several smaller events that led to the collapse of half the Empire and the sack of Rome itself.

While theories about the fall of Rome abound from the the struggling economy to the decline of moral principles, one of the most popular and dramatic explanations was the hostile takeover of Rome by barbarian hordes. See, the Empire had been suffering almost constant civil war, plague, and barbarian raids starting in 235 A.D and ending around 285 A.D, a time known as the Crisis of the Third Century.  By its end the Empire was teetering on the brink of collapse when the emperor Diocletian decided to split the Empire into the East and West Roman Empires.

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It worked for a while with Rome continuing to exist and the new Eastern Roman Empire flourishing from its new capital of Constantinople.  However, while the East prospered the West faced a new set of challenges when a large number of Germanic tribes began to move into Roman territory and set of a new set of wars.

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These new tribes like Ostrogoths, Visigoths, and Vandals were fleeing a greater threat, one of the many historical equivalents to the Dothraki, the Huns.

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We’ll talk more about the Huns and their descendants later but for now all we need to know is that they fought from horseback, came from the steppes of Central Eurasia, and were reknown for their ferocity in battle.  Once the Germanic tribes were clear of the Huns by entering Roman territory they struck a deal with Rome.  In exchange for allowing to live on Roman land the Germanic tribes would help protect the empire from the Huns.  Sadly, it didn’t work out for long and in 476 A.D an Ostrogoth leader named Odoacer (who had adopted Roman customs and rules but was still culturally Germanic) sacked Rome in order to pay his soldiers and by default became King of Italy.  For all intensive purposes, Rome had fallen.

The reaction to the sacking of Rome mirrors the ending of the Century of Blood in the Game of Thrones universe both in the reactions it fostered and effect it would have on the former empire.  After the hostile takeover by the barbarian hordes Italy was no longer unified.  Instead it was carved into various small kingdoms ruled by different ethnic groups that would eventually looked like this.

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How each of those states sprung into existence is for another time but it mirrors the formation of the Free Cities in Essos.

As for the attempted re establishment of the Valaryian Freehold by Volantis that shares similarities with the Eastern Roman Empire.  Despite the fact that Rome had fallen in 476 the Eastern Roman Empire in Constantinople was thriving.  Under the rule of the emperor Justinian.

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The Byzantines invaded and retook most of Italy, and while he was initially successful his reconquest stretched Byzantine resources too far and left them vulnerable to revolt and even more foreign invasions.  The Roman Empire was done with for good this time and would never rise again.  Europe was fractured into hundreds of petty kingdoms all fighting with each other.  Now all the players and pieces are in place for the events of Game of Thrones and the Medieval Ages.

History and Legends of Game of Thrones: The Doom of Valyria

WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE BOOKS AND SHOW.  YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!

Today we are going to to talk about the decline and fall of empires.  As we mentioned before, Valyria was once the most powerful empire in the known world and would have continued to have existed if it wasn’t for the Doom.  We all know the source of Valyrian power came from its dragons, who the Valyrian shepherds discovered in a volcano range called the Fourteen Fires. Unfortunately the Valyrians failed to realize that it is usually not a good idea to build massive cities filled with highly flammable people near a large collection of molten death traps and inevitably every volcano in Valyria decided to throw a tantrum and erupt.

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Like all good legends the details are a bit hazy and nobody knows exactly what caused this to happen.  Some say it was the righteous fury of the Seven Headed God punishing the Valyrians for their wicked ways and worship of false idols.  Some say former slaves of Valyria who would go on to become the Faceless Men…

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…somehow sabotaged the volcanoes and caused them to erupt.  And some say that it was just rotten luck and Mother Nature was having a particularly bad day and decided to take it out on poor old Valyria.  No matter what the cause was the results were clear.  The age of the Valyrian Freehold was over and the empire was no more.  While some colonies and cities would attempt to re establish the empire their efforts were thwarted in what would become known as the Century of Blood.

Unlike its fantasy counterpart Rome did not end with one massive bang, more like a long string of implosions and invasions.  It is interesting to note that the Roman Empire (which is different from the Roman Republic and became an Empire after a long string of awful civil wars that are very well known and very well documented) also suffered from a cataclysmic volcanic disaster that is very well known: the eruption at Pompeii.

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Like the Valyrians the Romans thought it would be a good idea to build a city right next to an active volcano and in 79 A.D it erupted burying the town of Pompeii in a cloud of ash and the neighboring town of Herculaneum in a molten lava.  While it must have been truly terrifying to behold, it was not the end of the Roman Empire and today is more famous for it’s archaeological and cultural value since it provides an in depth look into the daily lives of everyday Romans.

Another thing the fall of the Roman Empire shares with their Valyrian counterparts are the many theories as to why it was destined to fall.  Some earlier books on the subject like Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire claim that Rome fell because they had become fat and lazy with the spoils of conquest (author’s note: this is a HUGE paraphrase and the link will take you to a copy of the book that can be found online.  It’s a fun read but it’s also incredibly long.)  More modern and practical explanations would point to economic, social, and political woes that slowly picked away at Rome until very little remained.  In this way the Roman Empire shares quite a bit with the Valyrain Century of Blood which will talk about next time.