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.
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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.’”


Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik takes to social media with touching pet plea

Model Shanina Shaik took to Instagram with a touching plea for help. Getty Images
Updated 03 May 2021

Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik takes to social media with touching pet plea

DUBAI:  Part-Saudi model Shanina Shaik took to Instagram this week to ask fans to help reunite her with her pet dog Choppa. The Victoria’s Secret model recently moved back to the US from the UK, where she had spent the past year in quarantine with her beloved French bulldog. The 30-year-old disclosed that while she was able to make the trip across the Atlantic, her pet was unable to accompany her and now she is doing everything she can to bring her furry friend home.

“We’ve come to a few roadblocks,” she shared with her 2.2 million Instagram followers, adding it’s been “really difficult.”

She went on to ask if any of her friends or followers are traveling to the US from the UK and would be able to help her return her pet pooch home.

“I’m asking any of my friends who are flying private, or anyone who’s flying private from the UK and coming back to the USA if you could please contact me and DM me. I would be happy to pay for Choppa’s flight and seat on the plane,” Shaik said. “I’d be so appreciative if you did that for me,” she added.

It is unclear why Shaik cannot undertake the trip herself, but the model has had visa-related issues in recent history and only in February obtained a visa to enter America, thanks to US Immigration Attorney Carlos Rosas who helped her and made “the unimaginable happen,” according to an Instagram post.

In a past interview, Shaik revealed that she had left two dogs in Australia when she first moved to New York aged 17 to pursue her modeling career. After moving, she adopted Choppa.

The model, who is of Saudi, Pakistani, Australian and Lithuanian descent, regularly takes to social media to gush about her dog and even set up an Instagram account for her canine companion, which she has had for several years.

The dog is also ever-present on Shaik’s social media accounts and regularly travels with the jet-setting model, who has walked the Victoria’s Secret runway five times.

“My travel buddy,” she captioned an adorable snap of the canine during one of her trips last summer.

Indeed, Shaik’s beloved pet has been present for some of the most monumental milestones of the Melbourne-born model’s life.

Choppa accompanied Shaik at her legal marriage ceremony to her ex-husband DJ Ruckus (born Gregory Andrews) in the Bahamas in 2018.


What We Are Reading Today: Mom Genes by Abigail Tucker

Updated 30 April 2021

What We Are Reading Today: Mom Genes by Abigail Tucker

Mom Genes is an interesting mix of research and memoir with many fascinating facts for the reader.
“Part scientific odyssey, part memoir, Mom Genes weaves the latest research with Abigail Tucker’s personal experiences to create a delightful, surprising, and poignant portrait of motherhood,” said a review in Goodreads.com.
“It’s vital reading for anyone who has ever wondered what rocks the hand that rocks the cradle,” said the review.
It said the book “is amazing and interesting for Moms and anyone interested in genetics and motherhood.”
It added that the author “is herself a mother and uses the insight she has gained from motherhood to highlight and accent areas in this book.”
“The author does a wonderful job making the content relatable and interesting by using personal anecdote and humor,” said the review.
It said Tucker “explores countless studies that examine motherhood in the animal kingdom and the implications they have for our human parental experiences.
The research spans the globe and includes an intriguing variety of topics related to maternity.”


What We Are Eating Today: Grandma’s Jar

Updated 30 April 2021

What We Are Eating Today: Grandma’s Jar

Grandma’s Jar is a homemade Saudi brand that offers authentic jam recipes for sweet-toothed connoisseurs that will make you reminisce over your tasty childhood recipes.
The home business was inspired by a grandmother who used to offer freshly made jam for every family breakfast during Eid, which everyone was eager to enjoy.
The fresh fruits are the main components of the heavenly jars. The healthy, natural jars are filled with just three ingredients: Cane sugar, fruits and lemon, without any pectin or gelatin.
They are available in eight different flavors: Strawberry and rosemary, mixed berry, mango, apricot, orange, cherry, quince, and the brand’s signature fig jam mix with nuts, sesame and black seeds.
Fruits used in Grandma’s Jar jam are taken from the business owner’s backyard. Seasonally produced, their fresh and cold mango jam marks the arrival of summer.
Their jams can be used in plenty of dishes, such as desserts, sandwiches and cheesecakes.
If you were thinking of Eid Al-Fitr’s surprise or gifting to family and friends, the brand offers three choices of smartly packed boxes, ranging from two to six flavors of your choice.
They offer shipment around the Kingdom too. For more information visit their Instagram @grandmasjar or their website: https://salla.sa/grandmasjar


Why Nablus is known as Palestine's capital of sweet treats

Updated 29 April 2021

Why Nablus is known as Palestine's capital of sweet treats

  • “Qatayef is a dessert that we only prepare in the holy month, and customers travel from everywhere to buy it here at my shop,” said Al-Nimr
  • Halawa said: “Every household consumes these sweets during Ramadan. Nablus is known for its sweets, and their prices are reasonable”

NABLUS: Nablus, in the northern West Bank, is known as the capital of sweets in Palestine. The kunafa made in the city is popular in all Arab countries, as well as in the West.
During the month of fasting, kunafa is part of an authentic Palestinian Ramadan and becomes a special treat for the faithful, who have it for iftar.
From the early morning hours, Mohammed Al-Nimr is busy preparing qatayef dough for customers of his shop on Al-Nasr Street.
“Qatayef is a dessert that we only prepare in the holy month, and customers travel from everywhere to buy it here at my shop,” said Al-Nimr, while pouring the liquid dough onto a hot plate.
Mazen Halawa, 73, stands behind several large pots filled with Zainab’s fingers, cheese-stuffed pastries, and awama, or sweet doughnut balls, which he has been making for 50 years. During Ramadan, demand for these desserts increases greatly.
Halawa said: “Every household consumes these sweets during Ramadan. Nablus is known for its sweets, and their prices are reasonable.”
During the holy month, many restaurants also produce sweets to meet the huge demand. 
However, shop owners have had reason to complain of low sales due to the outbreak of the pandemic and the ensuing partial closures imposed in the West Bank.
Majdi Arafat, owner of a sweet shop in Nablus, said: “The number of buyers this year is much lower compared to previous years.”
Arafat attributes the decline in shoppers to the deteriorating economic situation caused by the pandemic and lockdowns.
The dessert culture of Nablus has spread to various other Palestinian cities and Arab and Islamic countries.
Taher Bakeer, a researcher specializing in the history of Nablus, said: “The Abaza sweet shop was the most famous in Nablus. A famous sweet maker in the Levant told me that Abaza was the one that taught us how to make kunafa. The Turks took it from the confectioners of the Levant after we brought it there from Nablus.” 
Historian and traveler Ibn Battuta wrote about Nablus in his book: “It is an industrial town, famous for making sweets and tahina, in addition to soap.”
In addition to the ones previously mentioned, the most popular sweet delicacies made in the city are cheese pies, cream pies, khudoud Al-sitt, kullaj, shafaef Al-sitt, aratis with milk, Al-burma, sira bint Al-malek, bin narayn, karakeesh, harisa, and qazza.

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What We Are Buying Today: Saudi Arabia’s natural healing soaps Taleed

Updated 23 April 2021

What We Are Buying Today: Saudi Arabia’s natural healing soaps Taleed

Taleed is a Saudi brand of natural healing soaps. Its products are free of chemicals and harmful additives.
Inspired by a love of nature, Taleed is an Arabic name that means “inherited from ancestors,” which reflects the concept of the brand.
The company produces 30 soaps made of natural and organic ingredients including herbs, oils, petals, seeds, and grains that are free of artificial coloring.
Body soaps by Taleed are suitable for all skin types, as they are vegan-friendly and an ideal option for people with sensitive skin. 
They also can be used for the face and hair, and are safe for children and pregnant women.
Each soap has a specific natural element, and customers can pick soaps that suit them best. 
One of the most interesting options is the black musk soap, it has a powdery, musky natural note that will make you feel fresh and clean, removing unwanted bacteria on your skin.
Unlike other soaps on the market, the brand makes sure to apply pure glycerin that is free of alcohol, fragrances, or other chemical ingredients that could irritate sensitive skin.
Taleed offers delivery services for all regions of Saudi Arabia. For more information visit Instagram @_taleed.