The First Rule of Being a Game of Thrones Fan is…

Warning: Spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 4 ahead. Although, being a Game of Thrones-related post means inherent spoilers… anyway, proceed with caution.

I recently started watching Game of Thrones – particularly out of intrigue and the pressure of wanting to find out what the hell it is that my friends are raving about each week – from their horrified recounts in the aftermath of that episode (“Rains of Castamere”, S3E09), to the constant skirting of certain book-reading watchers who are about to let slip an accidental spoiler.

So I began watching this show. And suddenly transformed into a Westerosi myself. I knew vaguely what to expect in some of the series’ key episodes – I wasn’t as surprised by the Red Wedding as most uninitiated non-book-readers were, for example. But I still experienced that sense of shock and horror at such a gruesome visual, visceral rendition, where everything from the acting to the mis-en-scéne to the music ensnared my attention.

And then Season 4 began. I was finally on-par with my Thronian friends. We were able to discuss our disgust at some favourite characters’ treatment, our glee at the deaths of other deeply-hated ones, and skirt the book-reading friends together. Which was fun. Season 4 was awesome, in true Game of Thrones quality-television style. Each episode carried the gravitas, beauty and action we’ve come to take for granted from this show. Until we got to Season Four, Episode Eight: The Mountain and the Viper.

This is where I learnt my lesson. You see, being a GoT fan requires a special skill-set. You can’t mindlessly rush into the franchise and start picking your favourite characters. In fact, the first rule of Game of Thrones Fandom is You Do Not Have Favourite Characters. Because Mr George R.R. Martin is a sick bastard. He kills characters ruthlessly.

This season, we were introduced to Oberyn Martell, the most badass character on television during those eleven-odd weeks that Season 4 was on-air. The entire Westerosi Fandom was rooting for him (well, us non-book-readers, at least). I was rooting for him. He was wronged by those horrible Lannisters. He was carrying a crimson vengeance. He was out to take names and kill some bad guys. This is the stuff epic stories are made of.

And then he has to go and die. And not just die, but get totally obliterated in the monist gruesome, gut-wrenchingly shocking manner possible. Seriously, are they even allowed to show stuff like that on television??

When “The Mountain and the Viper” ended with that sickening tracking show out of the fatal arena, and the credits began to roll, I could do nothing but just sit and stare at the screen in utter disbelief.

That’s the raw power of a cult show like Game of Thrones. It draws its audience in, makes them invest their attention and emotions for particular characters, and then wrenches them away from you. It’s brilliant storytelling, really. This show (and its enigmatic author, Co-Executive Producer and sometimes-writer-of-episodes George R.R. Martin) has the guts to do stuff that other series can’t even dream of doing.

And whilst we were made to feel bitter at the series’ creators and author, and take to social media to rage about what we witnessed, the season’s finale truly made up for it. Season 4 ended with a powerful set-up for the next ten episodes (a whole year of waiting! Say it isn’t so!), and an emphatically positive arc with some spectacularly beautiful moments (Stannis Baratheon aka “Stannis the Mannis” charging on the wildlings, and Daenerys’ and Arya’s story lines in particular).

I’ve learned to distance myself from the characters, yet in doing so the irony is that I’ve become even more invested in the series; Martin has created a richly textured world of political intrigue, fierce feuds and elements of fantasy that make for compelling consumption in both words and visuals. Whilst I’m hesitant to read the sprawling books for want of keeping the mysterious aura of the television series, I can’t help but delve into the wiki pages and fan-made social media streams to immerse myself in the Thronian culture.

So when Season Five comes a-knocking on my television time, I will indeed be better prepared, because, after all: the First Rule of Game of Thrones is You DO NOT Get Attached To Any Character or Being.


SpaceX: Boldly Going into the Future

Yesterday, South African-born billionaire entrepreneur, inventor and engineer, and founder of eBay, PayPal and SpaceX, Elon Musk, launched the first private attempt to dock with the International Space Station. This bold move goes down in history as the beginnings of a new frontier in space exploration – the age of private spaceflight.

I’ve been following the private sector’s developments in space technology for some time now. You may be wondering why the big cable news networks and blogs are making such a fuss over the Falcon 9 rocket’s launch. The gist is this: before President Obama came into power, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (known as NASA to non-space geeks) had this brilliant, yet exceptionally expensive plan for a programme that would take-over from the aging space shuttle fleet (the STS, or space transportation system programme that’s been a large part of NASA’s recent history). It was called the Constellation Programme, and the idea was to return to the moon by around 2017, and from there, move to a human landing on Mars or an asteroid. They’d even begun testing new rocket-engine technology and had developed three concept vehicles based on an engine called the Ares. Things were looking good for NASA, until Obama came into the White House, and, inheriting a poor-administered political landscape and having to begin a term of office in what was probably the worst economic climate since the Great Depression, he effectively cut all funding for the Constellation Programme. Just like that, the excitement at returning to our cosmological neighbor was brought to a standstill.

NASA thus decided to outsource its rocket building activities to the private sector, so that they could focus on astronomical research, and at the same time, give themselves more time to work on a new rocket system that could fulfill at least some of the objectives of the scrapped Constellation programme. SpaceX is one such private company that has shown significant potential in developing and successfully launching a vehicle that, it is expected, by 2014 will be able to allow the United States to launch their own astronauts to the ISS and not rely on their partners at ROSCOSMOS (the Russian Federal Space Agency).

SpaceX has proved that it is possible to engineer a space vehicle at a fraction of the cost of what governmental agencies spend on this type of design work. Yet it also opens up the skies to a myriad number of designers, engineers and future thinkers who are willing and ready to contribute to the advancement of our civilisation, a future that is certainly embedded firmly in the realm of the stars.