Imagine a crowded arena filled with fans of hip-hop music. They await the arrival of some illustrious artist such as the Fresh Prince, DJ Jazzy Jeff, or Queen Latifah; but then, a scrawny emo kid takes the stage—it’s Romeo of house Montague. The beat drops…
In Northeastern Italy born and raised
Pining over love interests is how I spend most of my days
Stressin’ out cryin’ (eventually) dyin’ all cool
Reading some poetry outside of the school
When a couple of families that were up to no good
Started making trouble in my neighborhood
I stirred up one little feud and my mom got scared
She said ‘You’re gonna end up dying with that Capulet girl by the end of this play’
No? Yeah, that was bad. What won’t be is the recently announced a hip hop musical adaptation of the William Shakespeare tragedy, Romeo and Juliet. Not taking place in West Philadelphia or Northeastern Italy in the 14th century, this new take will feature a different and more contemporary setting. It is being described as “a contemporary, musical take on Romeo and Juliet set against the urban rhythms of New York. The love story follows a young waitress from the streets of Brooklyn and an aspiring musician from a wealthy family whose unconventional romance forces them to confront their life choices.”
This news comes via Variety which also reports that the project will be directed and written by Solvan “Slick” Naim—a much better rapper than I will ever be. The Algerian-American writer, director, and rapper hails from Bushwick, Brooklyn; Naim already has a comedy series on Netflix entitled “It’s Bruno” which premiered today. He will pen the script for the untitled R&J project with Dave Broome for everyone’s favorite streaming powerhouse.
Producing the film will be the Fresh Prince himself, William Smith along with Queen Latifah, Shakim Compere (Flavor Unit Entertainment), James Lassiter, and Caleeb Pinkett (Overbrook Entertainment).
“The straw on the floor stank of urine. There was no window, no bed, not even a slop bucket…” those two lines are taken directly from the beginning of Eddard Stark’s last POV chapter in George R.R. Martin’s A Game Of Thrones. Before he lost his head, our protagonist found himself in a less-than-accommodating cell—jaded, disillusioned and dissatisfied. At first, he cursed all those he believed played a part in putting him there: Littlefinger, Janos Slynt, Cersei, Jaime, Varys and so on. The last name he ends up cursing is his own:
‘Fool,’ he cried to the darkness, ‘thrice-damned blind fool.’
The five stages of grief, in order, are listed as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. In his solitude, Ned Stark seems to experience these stages, all but one—bargaining. After an undefined amount of time, he is visited by Varys, who reaffirms his current circumstances. He’s fucked. Ned, in between the stages of denial and anger, wonders why the eunuch did not intervene when his men were being slaughtered. Varys, rationalizing their situation says:
I was unarmed, unarmored, and surrounded by Lannister swords…When I was a young boy, before I was cut, I traveled with a troupe of mummers through the Free Cities. They taught me that each man has a role to play.
Now, Lord Eddard Stark’s predicament may serve as a quasi-metaphor for the way one feels when their narrative expectations are not met, and it is indeed why I mention it; however, I also bring this particular moment to your attention because of one very important fact: the show did it better. The foundation of the scene in the show may be the same, the water, rock, and cement stirred similarly but solidified in a slightly different manner. The writers of HBO’s adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire, Game Of Thrones added a stellar addition to Ned’s series of retorts:
You think my life is some precious thing to me? That I would trade my honour for a few more years of…of what?! You grew up with actors; you learned their craft and you learnt it well. But I grew up with soldiers. I learned how to die a long time ago (addition in bold).
The showrunners built upon an already fantastic exchange with a fist-pump-worthy display of Eddard Stark’s Ned Starkness. As viewers, we all of a sudden became okay with our hero’s death; if Ned Stark were to die, at least he would die with honor. Dignity. The end would feel a little less discombobulating. He will not have died for nothing. We could make peace with the fact that his character would always be viewed as an honorable man, but then it happened—Ned Stark accepted the reality of his circumstances. He admits to the treason he did not commit in order to save his family. Ok. Fine. At least he’ll get to live now and redeem his honor in some other fashion down the road. Nope.
“Ser Iiyn, bring me his head!”
Ned Stark’s execution was made even more powerful due to a worthy bunch of words written by HBO’s finest. In the seasons that followed, GoT seemed to follow this formula; adding things to and subtracting things from George R.R. Martin’s hard work in ways that seemed reasonable. Cinematic. Writers gave Robb Stark more focus, made Catelyn Stark more sympathetic via prayer wheel weaving monologues, and had Arya bring Tywin Lannister cups. The show wisely even cut some of the novels more graphic scenes, because, well—chill, George.
For a while, the show was brilliant, trustworthy—we expected to be awed. It did not compromise. It was surprising to find a fantasy series so relatable and grounded while at the same time obviously immense. A boatload of prophecies and foreshadowing on top of layers upon layers of SEEMINGLY well-rounded character arcs. This all began with the death of Ned Stark, as did the most important thing we learned from Westeros: narrative decisions have consequences.
In K.M. Weiland’s book, Creating Character Arcs (an often referenced book by narrative nerds with too much time on their hands), she defines a character arc as revolving around the lie that a character believes. Over the course of the narrative the character will have to come face to face with this lie and either overcome it or succumb to it—positive and negative character arcs accordingly.
The lie that Ned Stark believes is that his honor is all that matters. What makes Ned’s death so tragic is the fact that he overcomes the lie he believes when he does what is best for his daughters but dies anyway. Although the audience could see this as a negative arc, I choose to see it as a positive character arc, albeit a less victorious one.
Given Joffrey’s character and subsequent reaction, Ned’s fate still makes sense. Seven seasons later, the show itself does not… and the internet is on fire. It is ablaze with the type of heat that can only come from incomprehensible madness or one very pissed off fan base—and the latter is an understatement. A lot of people hate the latest season of Game of Thrones. It feels rushed, contrived, inconclusive, and chaotic. Scorpions are being fired while Tyrion’s demonstrably gigantic brain suffers through a severe case of constipation simply to move the plot along.
Get off the privy!
The consequences of this unsatisfactory season: fans with a proclivity for overreacting. Reddit ninjas have bombed Google so that Dan Weiss and David Benioff (sorry guys) are the first faces one sees when they google “bad writing.” A petition has already been made begging HBO to fix this season (yesterday it had something like 16,000 signatures, now, 300,000+). Hell, I wrote an article about lowering my expectations for this season, and I’m still pissed off. All this hate stems from a handful of disjointed character arcs mixed in with broken promises.
When a story plants a seed of ominous information or foreshadows something, it essentially bargains with its audience. For all the “prince that was promised” prophecies and not-so-long-night allusions, winter came and went without so much as a single case of frostbite. And the character arcs. Oh, the arcs. Jon believes the same lie as Ned and apparently hasn’t learned shit from dying as his already questionable intelligence seems to fade. Jaime believes all that matters in the world is him and his sister—if the past few seasons were any indication, he grows to learn that this is not the case. So why the fuck would he regress? And of course, Dany’s lie is that she is the fateful ruler (no matter what). All that genocide might even make sense for her if we could have actually witnessed the decline of her sanity in an earned way.
And the clever-ish white to black wardrobe progression doesn’t make it any more convincing…
Am I writing this article to appeal to the vast army of dissatisfied customers? Absolutely. It’s a popular idea at the moment and the audience matters. Sure there’s been fan service—quirky love triangles, warm and fuzzy reunions. No one can deny that the series’ writing has gone downhill since its departure from George R.R. Martin’s source material; rock without water and cement is just rock. We were actually fine with the rock, but why the rush? The compromising gravel? If the true Warden of the North refused to compromise until right at the very end, then neither should any writer.
Put your heart and soul into that text—type until the keys break, write until the ink bleeds. The whole world is watching—a worthy cast and crew is at your disposal; a disappointing ending is forgivable, but a disappointing season? If writers don’t pay attention to their audience, then an honorable man who once sat in the dark pondering the future of his world really did die for nothing.
Woah, you’re going to ruin your sword, bro…
And now, the majority of us story-obsessed free folk are jaded, disillusioned and dissatisfied—cursing the showrunners and all those believed to have played a part in putting us in said position. Episodes one and two found us in a state of denial: ” they’re just setting up all the pieces.” Episode three brought the anger: “Why can’t I see anything? That’s it for the Night King?” After episodes four and five, we became depressed, on the verge of bargaining with the ways in which book adaptations should be accepted right before we lose our heads.
In the darkness of disappointment, we curse our own expectations.
“Fool, thrice-damned blind fool.”
At least there’s no straw on the floor stinking of urine.
I went into work this past Monday and one of my coworkers mentioned how all he saw on his phone when he awoke that morning was GoT backlash. “If people are this upset by a television show they shouldn’t be watching it,” he said.
Maybe he’s right… at the end of the day, Eddard lowered his head, said a prayer and made his peace with the end…
Each person we’re close with makes us feel a specific and inimitable way—every relationship is different. We are different with different people. Friends, coworkers, and acquaintances all make up the eternally-growing tapestry of our lives. We may grow apart from old friends and make new ones along the way, but the relationships we form will always be a part of who we were and are. In this way, the characters we spend time with are a direct reflection of ourselves. This is the notion that occurred to Bruce Feiler when he was tasked with facing his own mortality.
In 2008, doctors told writer Bruce Feiler there was a cancerous tumor in his femur. Almost immediately, Bruce’s thoughts turned to his children. His three-year-old twin daughters. If he wasn’t around, who would advise them paternally? Tell them to put away their phones at the dinner table and take it easy on the family Suburban? He wanted them to know him. So he made a list of all the qualities of himself he wanted his girls to know and associated them with men he had known throughout his life. He had known these men since the playground, college, and various business ventures—men he trusted but may have lost touch with. He wrote them all letters, six in total, asking them to be a father to his daughters if the worst were to happen.
The worst didn’t happen, and the council was never fully activated, but Feiler’s story became the foundation of his book, The Council of Dads: My Daughters, My Illness, and the Men Who Could Be Me. The memoir became a best-seller and has now, according to Deadline, inspired a television show which was just picked up by NBC. Council of Dads stars Sarah Wayne Callies, Clive Standen, Tom Everett Scott, and J. August Richards. The show tells the story of Scott (quasi Bruce played by Clive Standen) and his family after he receives a potentially terminal diagnosis. Facing this grim prognosis, Scott and his wife (Sarah Wayne Callies) assemble a group of their closest three friends to help guide Scott’s family through all of life’s challenges. Deadline goes on to give us a preview of who these three influential men are as people:
The trusted group of role models Scott has assembled to help his family include his oldest friend Anthony, his AA sponsor Alrry and his surgeon and wife’s best friend Oliver. The three men agree to devote themselves to supporting and guiding Scott’s family through “all the triumphs and challenges life has to offer — just in case he ever can’t be there to do so himself.
NBC is undoubtedly aiming for the type of drama associated with their uber-successful This Is Us in its Council of Dads pickup. Hopefully, the show will produce the same amount of tearfully smiling faces that the former has. Tony Phelan and Joan Rater will write and executive produce along with Jerry Bruckheimer, Jonathan Littman, and Kristie Anne Reed. The pilot was directed by James Strong.
A few days a week, my third-grade teacher would read us Harry Potter books. At recess, word would get out that we were on the brink of story time and everyone would feel a little less trapped (not a good word to use when talking about grade school, I know). I vividly remember being amongst thirty or so (deathly quiet) kids as we all listened to her read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. Most of my memories of elementary school involve a lot of headaches and staring at the clock, but I don’t remember those days ever really feeling long. Naturally, I convinced my mom to buy me more Harry Potter books.
The next year, I was told I was an inept reader and writer; my teachers wanted to put me in a special class. That never happened, mostly because my mother is a fucking rockstar, but also because I read the shit out of Harry Potter books. After Harry Potter I read pretty much every Gary Paulsen book known to man: Hatchet (and all the sequels), Mr. Tucket (and sequels), The Rifle, The Car, The Foxman, etc—very stereotypical “boy” reading list. That last part might not exactly be relevant other than to articulate the beginning trajectory of my literary career (if one can call it that)—a journey that began with a bespectacled boy who lived.
Kids are the heroes of their own stories, equipped with their imaginations. JK Rowling created the catalyst for many imaginations to thrive—the story of a wizarding world beneath our own has resonated with billions. The story always felt very personal to me, and I can only imagine many other people feel the same way. I can remember the sound of my dad’s bad country music in the background when I read Cedric Diggory’s death; I can remember the smell of pot roast when Snape killed Dumbledore.
When the movies came out, I was the exact same age as the characters onscreen. Watching each new movie per year literally felt like I was watching my classmates or something. The illusion of connectivity only grew more mesmerizing as the stories became darker and the characters grew along with their audience—an audience that had been hooked since childhood.
Everyone knows of JK Rowling’s humble beginnings: having very little wealth, even at one point being considered homeless. The manuscript for the first Harry Potter novel was rejected by all the major rivals of the publishing company that eventually bought it, Bloomsbury Publishing. Years ago, the company’s chairman, Nigel Newton, revealed the only reason he even took a chance on Rowling: his daughter Alice. The eight-year-old read a sample chapter and demanded more.
“She came down from her room an hour later glowing,” Newton recalls, “saying, ‘Dad, this is so much better than anything else.’ She nagged and nagged me in the following months, wanting to see what came next.”
I’m not sure that any series will ever be able to compete with the overwhelming power of the wizarding world. For fourteen years, the story was a cornerstone of everyone’s shelves and screens. Hagrid burst through the door on Harry’s eleventh birthday, and, the next thing we knew, we were exposed to giants, goblins, werewolves, mountain trolls, dementors and courageous elves—magic. Booger flavored jellybeans, cloaks of invisibility, spacially incomprehensible tents, flying cars, dangerous journals, and torturous quills. All of the iconically quirky things we’ve come to love and associate with the adolescence of three friends: Harry, Hermione, and Ron.
That’s really what Harry Potter is about right? Growing up. JK Rowling draws all these parallels with reality (although softly) and just surrounds it with magic. She attacks various (and obvious) social and political issues that deal with things like bigotry and discrimination, creating a modern-ish bureaucracy. Dysfunctional af. She clearly doesn’t trust certain characters (think Rita Skeeter) but still doesn’t condemn a society that is more or less indifferent throughout the narrative.
When you’re young, you don’t think about all the issues Rowling vaguely addresses—when Malfoy is a d*ck, it just feels wrong, and when Hermione punches him in the face, it just feels right. There’s nothing beguiling about what Rowling does; it always feels sincere. A good storyteller can teach you the difference between right and wrong without you even knowing it.
In the first book, we just wanted to make friends. In the books that followed, we learned the difference between right and wrong; we laughed, we cried, and we loved. We were swept away by the charm of it all—we learned to accept others and ourselves. To stand up for what we believe in. We made our peace with endings and, in turn, death. There’s a whole magical lifetime in those fricking books, and they will continue to entertain and teach for generations.
Happy Harry Potter day.
P.S I totally won Harry Potter trivia night at a local pub a few weeks back, so I have Rowling to thank for that as well.
You ever have this strange feeling like you miss someone you’ve never met? You look for them everywhere and in everyone, but nothing fills that void. Then maybe you realize that the person you miss might just be a part of yourself, a tiny fraction rooted in uninhibited truth. A fraction that is often felt and filled when you pick up a book or stumble upon a story that negates any emptiness. Because sometimes, a good story is exactly what you’ve been looking for—what you’ve missed.
George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire became the friend a lot of people never knew they missed. Stories like the ones that take place in Westeros operate as a distraction: a distraction from the things that might agitate us. A good story strips away our day to day worries and allows us to just be… well, us, even in the face of our own mortality. At this moment in time, the internet is flooded with GoT news, theories, and tidbits—impassioned discourse. People rally behind certain characters, resonate with certain themes, and complain about certain lighting issues.
What we see is a part of ourselves—a part that we choose to share with each other. Stories like these connect us. I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing. Countless miracles and monstrosities are happening around the world at this very moment; we choose to focus on fiction.
Today we can focus on both. I read an article on WCVB’s website—about an eighty-eight-year-old woman in hospice from Rhode Island. A woman who loves a good story. This woman’s name was Claire Walton, and, like the rest of the world, she was and is a fan of Game of Thrones. Last week, she found herself marinating in anticipation for Sunday’s episode of GoT‘s finale season—an episode that had been hyped as containing one of the biggest battles sequences ever put on film. Claire joked with her care providers that she wanted to meet the cast before she died, but would settle for watching “The Battle of Winterfell/The Long Night.”
It is reported that caretakers at HopeHealth in Providence reached out to the cast regarding her fandom, and magic ensued. Ten actors from the series sent Claire reverent messages—most notably Liam Cunningham, (Sir Davos Seaworth), Miltos Yerolemou (Syrio Forel), and Josef Altin (Pypar).
“I hope you’re fit enough to watch the battle,” Cunningham said. “I wish you the very best. I hope your days are not bad and I hope you can manage. Take care!”
You can watch some of the messages via video a hospice care provider posted on Facebook:
Claire watched the episode in its entirety Sunday before dying Monday afternoon. Her story reminds us of one thing: a good story can change lives—it can bring fame and joy to people as well as hope and understanding. A good story can teach us a little bit more about the human condition, bring people together, or just make someone’s day. Claire Walton’s motives were simple. In the end, she just wanted to watch her favorite show and fill herself with the type of joy that can only come from the company of a friend or a good story. Something about that feels more triumphant than the perfectly timed placement of a Valyrian steel dagger.
The HBO series set various viewership records Sunday night.