In the Iron Throne’s shadow: Arabs reflect on ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years on

‘Game of Thrones’ topped the lists of most illegally viewed shows online, as many fans couldn’t afford or gain access to HBO’s streaming services.
Short Url
Updated 17 April 2021

In the Iron Throne’s shadow: Arabs reflect on ‘Game of Thrones’ 10 years on

  • Middle Eastern fans look back on 10 years of a show that changed pop culture forever

RIYADH: Whether you loved it or hated it, followed it casually or watched every episode twice, chances are you’ve at least heard of the HBO smash hit series “Game of Thrones.” The eight-season fantasy epic, which began 10 years ago today, has secured its place in pop culture history as one of the most famous TV shows of all time.

The adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, the show began on April 17, 2011, to an audience of eager fans. Over the course of its run, the show has garnered 160 Emmy nominations, taking home 59 of them, making it one of the most successful shows in history.

Najla Hussam, an avid fantasy fan who cited Martin as one of her favorite authors, told Arab News that the show provided a way for her to bond with her father, who started reading A Song of Ice and Fire when the first volume was published in 1996.

“My dad tried for years to get me to read the novels, but I honestly just wasn’t that interested. When the TV series first came out, he asked me to watch the first season with him to see if he could get me to change my mind about it. I was hooked instantly, and once the season was over, I borrowed all the books from him so we could discuss our theories about how the future of the show might look,” she said.

The show has also gained notoriety for other reasons. Due to its exclusivity of being shown on the HBO network, the show is also famous for being the most pirated TV series of all time. Consistently throughout its run, Game of Thrones topped the lists of most illegally viewed shows online, as many fans couldn’t afford or gain access internationally to HBO’s viewing and streaming services.

In the MENA region, the show was broadcast on the Orbit Showtime Network (OSN), with previous seasons being made available via the network’s on-demand service, OSN Play. Leading up to the start of season 7, OSN launched a 24-hour binge-watching channel, with all of the previous seasons being made available.

However, in the Arab world, the show saw a lot of pirating activity for another, unusual reason; the OSN network broadcast the show in its full, uncensored version, which caused a lot of fans to hunt online for a version that removed or glossed over some of the more controversial themes.

Danya Assad, a 30-year old viewer from Riyadh, said that she only started watching the series around the start of the fourth season in 2013. She was only able to get into the fandom around the time censored episodes started to become available online.

“I heard about a Game of Thrones group online made up of fans who volunteered to censor some of the more unsavory content, and that was how I was able to start watching,” she said. “I loved the premise of the show, I’m a huge fan of fantasy television and I was definitely interested in watching, but the amount of sexual content and other disturbing themes really put me off.”

Assad said that while some fans might argue that she didn’t get the “authentic” experience of watching the show, she feels much more comfortable knowing that she was able to bypass the more controversial themes and still manage to enjoy the show.

“I loved Game of Thrones because of the political intrigue, for the richness and depth of the lore and the history, because of the unexpected plot twists like the Red Wedding, for things such as the fashion and the set dressing. By removing the gratuitous sexual content and some of the more violent scenes, I don’t think I missed out on much,” she said.




A man stands atop the ancient fortress of Ait-ben-Haddou, where scenes depicting the fictional city of Yunkai from ‘Game of Thrones’ were filmed. (Getty Images)

The show has seen its fair share of controversy over the past decade. Despite the accolades heaped on the show, the amount of violence portrayed in the series, including the deaths of many innocents and children, the sexual content, and heavy themes such as incest and rape, have drawn much ire from fans and critics alike.

“I couldn’t make it past the first few episodes, honestly,” Talal Ashour, another Saudi fantasy fan, said. “I can understand the appeal, but to me Game of Thrones just crossed way too many boundaries. It’s a beautifully crafted show, and I’m still amazed by certain aspects of it, like the CGI dragons or the fact that they created a whole new language for the Dothraki, but I couldn’t get passed the darker aspects of the show.”

But perhaps the biggest let-down for fans of the series was the ending, which many fans believe was a massive disappointment and a departure from the grandeur of the previous seasons.

“Game of Thrones ended for me after Season 7,” Hussam said. “The more they started to deviate from the books, the less I started to enjoy it. I think the writers did fine when they had more content from the original books to work with, but once they started doing their own thing, it all just went downhill.”

Martin, notorious among fans for being slow to produce new novels, published the latest book in A Song of Ice and Fire in 2011, the same year the show began. Martin told the press at the time that the novel had taken six years to write, and that a sixth novel out of a planned seven, “The Winds of Winter,” was still in the works.

“I think the writers thought they could go off what they had and that the sixth book would be out by the time the series caught up,” Assad said. “It’s such a shame that they couldn’t or wouldn’t delay the series until the book came out. A lot of fans were unhappy with the way the series ended. I feel like we deserved better.”

Assad is not alone in that. A change.org petition appealing to HBO with a request to remake the final season with “competent writers” began circulating online the day the final episode debuted, with almost 2 million people signing and the numbers still increasing two years later.

However, despite the controversies and the overall disappointment with the way the series ended, the show has retained a strong fanbase in the Middle East.

“I had a Game of Thrones-themed birthday party in 2019,” Hussam said. “I dressed up as Daenerys, all of my friends came in costume, and my cake was a replica of the box that held Dany’s dragon eggs in it, including three edible cake eggs. It’s the best birthday I’ve ever had.”

“I don’t think one bad season can ruin the whole series,” said Assad. “Even if the ending was disappointing, the other seasons are still incredible to behold. Maybe in time I’ll be able to go back and watch the show and enjoy it even more. And if the ending still disappoints me after the second time, I can always hold out hope for ‘The Winds of Winter.’”


What We Are Buying Today: Spanish designer Belen Mancha’s abayas, thobes combine modern style with vintage crochet

Updated 23 September 2022

What We Are Buying Today: Spanish designer Belen Mancha’s abayas, thobes combine modern style with vintage crochet

Thaa, a Saudi brand born in 2016 with an occidental influence, creates statement abayas and thobes. Using a mix of local and imported textiles, carefully crafted products are created by hand, using different techniques, one of the most distinguished being crochet.

Every season they release new styles as well as a classic linen crochet abaya that has become the brand’s signature. Every piece is made with love for the clients who appreciate and understand the work behind it.

Founder Belen Hernandez-Mancha, a Spanish designer who married a Saudi man, began to experiment with the abundant array of textiles, designs and patterns in the Kingdom. Being surrounded by art and talents within her family sparked the right moment for her to follow her dreams.

Since then her approach has been to cater to sophisticated customers who are trendy with refined taste. The re-emergence of crochet has been one of the best fashion trends this year.

Taking a modern look on a vintage classic crochet pattern, the Thaa abayas are designed to create unique, timeless pieces.

A hand-crocheted abaya features various organic shapes and a flowy design made of lightweight material.

“We will continue to create with passion and service our circle of clientele with a devoted attention to meet each client’s satisfaction, always paying attention to every detail from the design itself to the packaging and service offered,” said Hernandez-Mancha.

You can find Thaa apparel at Homegrown market in Jeddah, Mira Y Mano store in Riyadh and RAYA galleria in Alkhobar.

For more information, visit @thaa_ksa on Instagram.

Related


What We Are Eating Today: The vibes are to dine for at Riyadh’s lively Latin restaurant Hotel Cartagena

Updated 16 September 2022

What We Are Eating Today: The vibes are to dine for at Riyadh’s lively Latin restaurant Hotel Cartagena

RIYADH: Hotel Cartagena in Riyadh, despite its name, is a Latin American restaurant — but the impressive vibes will have you wishing they had a room for you to stay in.

Entering the restaurant venue is a rainforest experience, with its plants, flowers, funky wallpaper, bird decor and vibrant aesthetics of a rustic hotel in the Amazon. Featuring various performances throughout the week, including live DJ sets, singers and bands, Hotel Cartagena brings a taste of spicy Latin entertainment to Saudi Arabia.

The joint also hosts trivia nights and weekend brunches, and almost every hour, the staff breaks out in a dance sequence with music mixes blasting, encouraging guests to join along — and they often do.

There is truly no dull moment here, especially with staff bringing a fire and dance show to every customer’s table who orders their most popular dish, the Coffee Aged Tomahawk Steak. The downside to this level of showmanship, however, is that the food can sometimes take a back seat. The steak isn’t always cooked properly, and the coffee rub might not have broad appeal. The order can either be made with Wagyu beef or US prime, both of which are arguably overpriced for a single order.

Some of their popular Latin delicacies include their classic fish ceviche, crispy duck confit salad, chili prawn nachos, and ropa vieja empanadas. Must-try sides are their sweet potato fries and creamy congri, which is a version of classic Cuban rice and beans.

Diners can enjoy refreshing mocktails, most notably the sweet and spicy Flor de Jalisco and the sweet and sour Mai Gai.

We wouldn’t recommend this spot as a vegetarian-friendly joint, as they don’t offer vegan or vegetarian dishes aside from their selection of salads and bites.


Milan design school Istituto Marangoni arrives in Dubai

Updated 14 September 2022

Milan design school Istituto Marangoni arrives in Dubai

  • The landmark event at the Museum of the Future combined a traditional physical fashion show with a complementary digital version in the metaverse
  • ‘Istituto Marangoni’s Dubai branch is a valuable addition to the city’s rapidly developing creative and cultural landscape,’ said Sheikha Latifa

DUBAI: Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al-Maktoum, chairperson of Dubai Culture and Arts Authority and a member of the Dubai Council, was among the guests of honor at a landmark fashion show that marked the Middle East debut of Italian fashion and design school Istituto Marangoni, the Emirates News Agency reported.

The concept for the event combined a traditional physical fashion show at the Museum of the Future in Dubai with a complementary digital version in the metaverse. Models appeared on the real-world catwalk alongside their virtual avatars, creating a unique event that blended tradition with innovation in a world where reality and virtual reality coexist.

The event showcased the work of five top graduates of Istituto Marangoni’s fashion-design courses in Milan, Florence, Paris, London and Shanghai. The grand finale featured designs by Rahul Mishra, a well-known alum who was the first Indian designer to show his work at Paris Haute Couture Week.

In Dubai he paid tribute to his alma mater with creations that combine traditional Indian designs with modern luxury fashion trends in a sustainable, ethical, “slow fashion” approach.

Sheikha Latifa said: “Istituto Marangoni’s Dubai branch is a valuable addition to the city’s rapidly developing creative and cultural landscape. Its diverse offering will provide creatives in Dubai and the region with the right tools to launch their design careers.”

She added that Dubai has cemented its position as a global design hub, one of the primary goals of Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum’s Dubai Creative Economy Strategy, which was launched last year.

As part of that strategy, Dubai Culture is working to strengthen education in the creative arts and, as a result, support the emergence and development of creative talents while establishing an ecosystem of creators in the emirate.

“Bringing global institutions with decades of experience in the field of design to the region reinforces our commitment to the sector and to being a cultural and creative hub,” Sheikha Latifa said. “We look forward to the incredible talent that will graduate from (Istituto Marangoni Dubai) in the coming years.”

Noura Al-Kaabi, minister of culture and youth, said: “It gives me great joy to welcome a globally renowned fashion and design school to Dubai. I see a great partnership in the making, where the UAE and other MENA (Middle East and North Africa) countries will have the advantage of a world-class design school, while Istituto Marangoni will benefit from the untapped talent waiting to be harnessed.

“The UAE is making waves in the creative space and building an ecosystem for future generations to contribute effectively to the creative economy. We are focusing on developing our cultural and creative industries to make them a more significant part of the UAE’s economy.

“We believe nurturing talent is critical to developing the creative sector and Istituto Marangoni will play an important role in achieving that. Imparting world-class education and specialized skills to our youth will boost their creative energy and support emerging talent.”

Stefania Valenti, the managing director of Istituto Marangoni, said: “It’s an honor to celebrate the opening of Istituto Marangoni Dubai at the Museum of the Future with the warm endorsement of Her Highness Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum and Her Excellency Noura bint Mohammed Al-Kaabi, and in this museum where our immersive experience found its perfect space.”

Dubai is the latest addition to the ranks of global fashion capitals that host an Istituto Marangoni school, including Milan, Florence, Paris, London, Mumbai, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Miami.

Valenti said that with the help of qualified, professional staff from Italy and an innovative “learning by doing” approach, students at Istituto Marangoni Dubai will develop the skills they need to realize their potential and turn their passion and talent into a successful career.

“Today’s event showcases what Istituto Marangoni students can achieve,” she added. “With the opening of our school in Dubai, we are offering local aspiring fashion and interior designers the opportunity to acquire the skills and knowledge required to kick-start their careers.

“Istituto Marangoni is committed to playing an active role in the Middle East to encourage a new ecosystem of talent, institutions, stakeholders and industries. We hope to contribute to fostering a new generation of fashion designers in the region, with special attention to empowering women in their aspirational field of interest, be it fashion, design or arts.”


French cinema giant Jean-Luc Godard dies aged 91

Updated 13 September 2022

French cinema giant Jean-Luc Godard dies aged 91

  • The legendary maverick blew up the conventions of cinema in the 1960s
  • The secrecy -- and choosing to disappear in a puff of smoke -- is typical of Godard

ROLLE, Switzerland: Jean-Luc Godard, one of the most influential filmmakers of the 20th century and the father of the French New Wave, died “peacefully at home” on Tuesday aged 91, his family said.
The legendary maverick blew up the conventions of cinema in the 1960s, shooting his gangster romance “Breathless” on the streets of Paris with a hand-held camera, using a shopping trolley for panning shots.
He continued to thumb his nose at Hollywood and an older generation of French filmmakers by breaking all the rules again in “Contempt” (1963) with Brigitte Bardot and “Pierrot le Fou” in 1965.
“No official (funeral) ceremony will take place,” his family said. “He will be cremated... And it really must happen in private.”
The secrecy — and choosing to disappear in a puff of smoke — is typical of Godard, who loved to surprise the world from his lair in the Swiss village of Rolle where he lived as a virtual recluse for decades.
It was there that he died “peacefully at home,” his wife Anne-Marie Mieville at his side, his producers said.
Godard’s influence is hard to underestimate, with directors from Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson to Robert Altman, the maker of “M*A*S*H” and “The Player,” often speaking of their debt to him.
French President Emmanuel Macron hailed the director’s talent and mourned the loss of a “national treasure.”
“Jean-Luc Godard, the most iconoclastic filmmaker of the New Wave, invented a resolutely modern, intensely free art. We have lost a national treasure, a genius,” Macron tweeted.
Godard’s house, with green shutters and a green bench out front, looked empty on Tuesday, its shades drawn, with an abandoned ashtray and teapot on the windowsill, an AFP reporter said.
Despite the filmmaker’s often difficult relationship with critics, The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw heaped praise on Godard, saying, “The last great 20th-century modernist is dead.”
He compared him to other 1960s rebels like John Lennon and Che Guevara.
“Or maybe Godard was the medium’s Socrates, believing that an unexamined cinema was not worth having,” he added.
Guy Lodge, of the screen bible Variety, tweeted that it was “glib to say ‘he changed everything’, but he sure changed a hell of a lot of things.”
Indeed, Godard became a “god” to many 1960s political and artistic radicals who would hang on every word of his often contradictory — and tongue-in-cheek — declarations on the state of cinema and the world.
“All you need for a movie is a gun and a girl,” he once proclaimed, in a nod to US actress Jean Seberg, the star of “Breathless.”
The movie was a fashion as well as a film landmark, her pixie haircut copied by millions bowled over by her effortless Parisian cool.
“A story should have a beginning, a middle and an end — but not necessarily in that order,” Godard later famously declared, and “every edit is a lie.”
As he grew older, Godard would occasionally emerge from his Swiss bolthole to make low-budget films well into his 80s.
He never, however, regained the capacity to shock or move more mainstream audiences as he had in the 1960s, though a small band of disciples remained doggedly loyal to the master.
His periodic appearances at the Cannes film festival — often via FaceTime — still drew crowds, however, though he no longer held the sway he did when he had managed to shut down the festival entirely in 1968 in solidarity with the student protests in Paris.
Cannes also saw the premiere in 2017 of “Redoubtable,” a tragi-comic film about Godard’s doomed romance with the French actress Anne Wiazemsky, directed by the Oscar-winning director of “The Artist,” Michel Hazanavicius.


Julianne Moore leads red carpet protest for jailed Iranian filmmaker

Updated 09 September 2022

Julianne Moore leads red carpet protest for jailed Iranian filmmaker

  • Panahi was jailed in July along with two other filmmakers in the latest crackdown on Iranian civil society
  • Moore was joined for the protest by dozens of other artists, including British director Sally Potter and France's Audrey Diwan

VENICE, Italy: Julianne Moore led a flash-mob protest on the Venice red carpet on Friday in support of filmmakers detained around the world, as the festival premiered the new movie from imprisoned Iranian director Jafar Panahi.
Panahi, who won the top prize Golden Lion in Venice in 2000, was jailed in July along with two other filmmakers in the latest crackdown on Iranian civil society.
Moore, who is leading the jury at this year’s festival, was joined for the protest by dozens of other artists, including British director Sally Potter and last year’s Golden Lion winner, France’s Audrey Diwan.
They held posters that also highlighted the detention of Myanmar filmmaker Ma Aeint and Turkish producer Cigdem Mater.
Despite years of attempts to silence him, Panahi’s new film “No Bears” shows that he has lost none of his searing political critique and wry sense of humor.
The film is partly focused on Iranians in Turkey, trying desperately to emigrate to Europe.
But it also follows Panahi himself in a fictionalized version of his real life, as he struggles to make the film from across the border in Iran, which he was already banned from leaving.
One of the film’s stars, Mina Kavani, told reporters in Venice she was inspired by his focus, despite having to direct by phone and Internet.
“He was in such concentration, he had such perfectionism — as an actress, I couldn’t let myself get sentimental,” said Kavani, who lives in exile in France.
“All that counted for him was cinema. He just wanted to make his movie. I thought: ‘I know now why he’s Mr.Panahi.’“
In 2010, Panahi was sentenced to six years in prison for “propaganda against the system” following his support for anti-government protests.
As can often happen in Iran, the sentence was never carried out but hung over him — and was only enacted in July when he went to enquire about two other filmmakers, Mohammad Rasoulof and Mostafa Aleahmad, who had just been arrested.
Panahi and Rasoulof issued a defiant statement via the Venice organizers last week, vowing to continue making art.
“The history of Iranian cinema witnesses the constant and active presence of independent directors who have struggled to push back censorship and to ensure the survival of this art,” they wrote.
Panahi has won the top prizes in Venice (for 2000’s “The Circle“) and Berlin (2015’s “Taxi“), as well as best screenplay at Cannes (2018’s “Three Faces“) — but was unable to accept either of the last two prizes in person.
The crackdown on civil society has worsened even further under President Ebrahim Raisi, an ultra-conservative former judiciary chief who came to power last year.
Yet Iran’s independent filmmakers continue to punch above their weight, in spite of the pressure.
A second Iranian film is competing for the Golden Lion this week — “Beyond the Walls” by Vahid Jalivand — a grim look at Iran’s security state and those trapped within it.
Jalivand was cautious in his words at a press conference on Thursday, saying “a balance between the two sides” was needed in Iran today.
“In this movie the hero of the movie is a security official himself. We have unfortunately reached a perspective where it is totally bipolar,” he told reporters.
“If we can create the sense of brotherhood, dialogue will become much easier, there will be less violence. This is my true belief and I would still believe this even if I were living in Europe or the United States.”

Related