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 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.’”

Al-Majaridah Winter Festival draws 30,000 visitors

Updated 11 December 2023

Al-Majaridah Winter Festival draws 30,000 visitors

  • Festival’s recreational activities include theatrical shows and competitions for children, with folk groups presenting popular shows, such as the Ardah dance
  • A honey festival was held in the exhibition hall on Art Street, in which 41 exhibitors, including beekeepers and honey producers, took part

RIYADH: The Al-Majaridah Winter tourism festival has attracted more than 30,000 people since launching two weeks ago.

The organizers said diverse activities are being held near Art Street in the center of the Al-Majaridah Governorate in the Asir region, such as shopping and entertainment, providing dozens of seasonal jobs for young men and women.

Citizens and visitors are visiting the festival’s shopping hall where household items, clothes, perfumes, sweets and other products are displayed.

The festival’s recreational activities include theatrical shows and competitions for children, with folk groups presenting popular shows, such as the Ardah dance. The festival also incorporates an amusement city with a range of games.

A honey festival was held in the exhibition hall on Art Street, in which 41 exhibitors, including beekeepers and honey producers, took part.

Several government authorities also took part in the event, in addition to farmers and producing families.

The festival showcased some of the most popular types of honey, such as sidr, sumra, shouka, Al-Majarah and Al-Dhahyan, as well as honey products, and beekeeping tools and wax.

The Al-Majaridah Governorate is a prominent winter tourist destination, attracting people seeking a warm climate and breathtaking nature.

Netflix film ‘Naga’ is a universal tale, says award-winning star Adwa Bader

Updated 11 December 2023

Netflix film ‘Naga’ is a universal tale, says award-winning star Adwa Bader

JEDDAH: Netflix movie “Naga” blends tradition, bravery and vulnerability in a unique narrative — and its lead star, Saudi actress Adwa Bader, spoke to Arab News about why it is a “universal tale.” 

Directed by Meshal Aljaser, the film follows Sarah (Bader), who sneaks out on a date and hopes to return before her curfew. What begins as a quiet drive in the desert soon spirals into an adventure involving an underground party, a broken-down car and a vindictive camel. With nothing to rely on but her wits, she must escape a series of bizarre situations to meet her father before the clock strikes 10.

The Netflix Original production premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and screened at the recent Red Sea International Film Festival in Jeddah before it hit Netflix on Dec. 7. 

Bader shared insights on her preparation for the role, saying: “Meshal and I rehearsed a lot, going over the script and merging our perspectives on Sarah. It was a collaborative effort.” 

The actress added audience reaction so far had been gratifying. 

“What was so rewarding about Sarah was seeing how people relate to the story, because it’s such a universal tale. It’s just a day that turned really bad. I understand her, I have so much love for her. I wish her well. I feel we can all relate to the feminine rage to an extent,” she said. 

A poster for Netflix film 'Naga.' (Supplied)

The protagonist’s character arc is another element that drew the actress to the role, which landed her a spot in the TIFF 2023 Rising Stars program for outstanding lead performance. She also scored the TIFF Share Her Journey fellowship and award.

“I think what’s really interesting is that she’s a product of her environment. She was really passive in the beginning and her environment forced her to react and respond and really express herself. I think Meshal’s perspective is that Sarah is an independent, strong-willed and resilient character and I agree with that,” Bader said. 

Meanwhile, Aljaser told Arab News it was a conscious decision to create an off-kilter film. 

“You don’t have to see a reference of success and think that is the only way to succeed — you can succeed in so many different styles,” he said. 

Saudi Music Commission CEO sets sights on education sector at XP Music Futures

Updated 10 December 2023

Saudi Music Commission CEO sets sights on education sector at XP Music Futures

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Music Commission is aiming to see 1.3 million Saudi students enrolled in music classes at school, the CEO of the Music Commission Paul Pacifico said at an XP Music Futures panel in Riyadh tilted “Sound Governance: Crafting the Future of Music Policy.”

Pacifico said that 26,500 kindergarten teachers are being trained to teach music and “music is going into school as a compulsory subject” for kindergarten, elementary, and middle school students in the Kingdom. 

He added: “1.3 million Saudis will be doing music school for the first time. And we'll be developing that program up through middle school. It'll be elective in high school. We're working with the first four universities in the Kingdom to build lots of faculties and support music programs.” 

The panel discussion featured industry professionals Lutz Leichsenring, co-founder of Vibelab, and Mai Salama, founding partner of Creative Industry Summit. It was moderated by Jake Beaumont-Nesbitt, director of innovation and education at the International Music Managers Forum.

Pacifico says the Music Commission has three main objectives: Music policy, education, and the commercial sector.

“(Firstly) The development of copyrights, intellectual property, licensing, recreation, all the aspects you think of when you think of government. Secondary is education. So, we are responsible for taking the lead on the education strategy for the Kingdom … (for) the entire commercial sector. We're responsible for supporting the development of the live music sector, recording and publishing.” 

He told Arab News that the commission aims to support non-mainstream music genres through programs and festivals like the International Jazz Festival in Saudi Arabia.

“The thing is to not treat these genres in silos, to look at them as an intersecting creative community. How do we support the community and how do we let the grassroots tell us what music is needed? … it's about fostering creativity and enabling a young population,” he said.

Nicolas Cage shares career insights and teases ‘Dream Scenario’ at RSIFF

Updated 09 December 2023

Nicolas Cage shares career insights and teases ‘Dream Scenario’ at RSIFF

JEDDAH: During an “In Conversation” panel at Jeddah’s Red Sea International Film Festival, Oscar-winning actor Nicolas Cage captivated the audience in an hour-long discussion on his notable performances.

Moderated by Lebanese presenter Raya Abirached, the event saw Cage start off by sharing the story of his name change from Nicolas Coppola to Nicolas Cage at the beginning of his career.

He recounted instances of on-set bullying during the filming of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” where his talent was called into doubt due to his relation to renowned filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.



Cage disclosed: “They would quote lines from ‘Apocalypse Now’ and change them to ‘I love the smell of Nicolas in the mornings’ instead of ‘napalm in the morning.’”

He acknowledged how directors and filmmakers might not want the name Coppola associated with their work, which led him to change his name. Cage explained: “I didn’t think any filmmaker in their own right would want the name Coppola above the title of their movie. So, I changed my name predominantly for business reasons.”

Reflecting on his role in the 1987 comedy film “Moonstruck” alongside Cher, Cage shared an amusing conversation in which he asked the singer why she wanted him in the movie. Cage recalled her response: “‘I saw you in ‘Peggy Sue Got Married’ and thought it was like a two-hour car accident, and I had to have you.’”



Cage evaluated his past works with enthusiasm, naming “Vampire’s Kiss,” “Leaving Las Vegas,” “Raising Arizona,” “Adaptation,” and the highly anticipated A24 production “Dream Scenario” as the five scripts he considers to be the pinnacle of his 45-year journey in the industry.

Providing a glimpse into his future endeavors, Cage unveiled details about his upcoming film “Dream Scenario,” where he will portray an ordinary man who mysteriously starts appearing in the dreams of others.

Cage also expressed his interest in exploring television and said: “I’m thinking about television. My son turned me on to ‘Breaking Bad,’ and I saw Bryan Cranston stare at a suitcase for one hour. I never get time to stare at a suitcase for an hour. I said, ‘Let’s do some TV.’”

He revealed his intention to transition to television while maintaining a selective approach to film projects, citing his desire to spend more time with his 15-month-old daughter as a motivating factor.

Cage also discussed the impact of winning the Academy Award for Best Actor for his performance in Mike Figgis’ “Leaving Las Vegas” in 1995. He credited the award for providing him with creative freedom and the opportunity to pursue his artistic vision. Cage joked that the award gave him a “tenure” to make movies, allowing him to work with directors while still retaining creative control.

During the conversation, Cage revealed a fascinating tidbit about almost starring in a “Superman” film directed by Tim Burton.

However, this exciting project was ultimately shelved due to the apprehension of studio executives. Cage explained: “Tim was riding high after the success of ‘Mars Attacks!’ Initially, they considered Renny Harlin to direct, but I knew that playing such an iconic role required hitting the bull’s eye. We came incredibly close, but the studio made the decision to cancel the entire production. I believe they were concerned about the potential cost and whether they would recoup their investment.”

Egyptian actress Amira Adeeb nabs Hollywood breakout role in Jeffrey Elmont’s ‘No Nation’

Updated 09 December 2023

Egyptian actress Amira Adeeb nabs Hollywood breakout role in Jeffrey Elmont’s ‘No Nation’

DUBAI: Egyptian actress Amira Adeeb announced this week that she is set to star in the upcoming Hollywood film “No Nation,” directed by Jeffrey Elmont. 

The actress, who has starred in Egyptian TV hits such as “Naql Aam” and “Meet Gal?!,” took to Instagram to share the news with her followers. 



A post shared by Amira Adeeb (@amiraadeebb)


“I’ve been sitting on this for six months and not a single person had a clue, not even my parents. I think I’m more proud of my big mouth for keeping this a secret than anything,” she wrote to her 1 million Instagram followers. 

“So much to say and so many feelings to be felt but I’ll wait a bit and more details to come,” she teased.  



A post shared by Amira Adeeb (@amiraadeebb)


The actress also thanked Elmont for believing in her and for “casting an Arab girl in a non-Arab-cliché role.” She added: “Working with you has been a blessing.”