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.’”


Government asks censor board to review Pakistani movie Joyland’s suitability for screening

Updated 16 November 2022

Government asks censor board to review Pakistani movie Joyland’s suitability for screening

  • Information minister says complaints received from parents, middle-class people
  • Special committee formed by PM suggests ‘full board review’ of Joyland

KARACHI: A government committee formed by Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif to consider complaints against the Pakistani film Joyland on Tuesday tasked the country’s censor board to review whether the movie is suitable for screening or not.

Last week, the information ministry declared Joyland “repugnant to the norms of decency and morality” and ruled that it was an “uncertified film” for release in cinemas. Joyland celebrates “transgender culture” in Pakistan, with the film’s plot revolving around a family torn between modernity and tradition in contemporary Lahore.

Transgender people are considered outcasts by many in Pakistan, despite some progress with a law that protects their rights and a landmark Supreme Court ruling designating them as a third gender.

It has won the Cannes “Queer Palm” prize for the best feminist-themed movie as well as the Jury Prize in the “Un Certain Regard” competition, a segment focusing on young, innovative cinema talent. Joyland is Pakistan’s entry for next year’s Academy Awards.

The committee, headed by federal minister Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, held a meeting to review complaints against the film on Tuesday.

“The committee was directed to consider the complaints against the said film being contrary to social norms,” the information ministry’s press release said.

“After thorough deliberations, it [the committee] concluded that the Central Board of Film Censors (CBFC) should conduct a FULL BOARD REVIEW immediately to take final decision of its suitability for screening.”

Speaking on a private news channel, Information Minister Marriyum Aurangzeb said the film had been “intensely censored” at first before it was certified by the censor board. She said once the movie was released at international festivals, the censor board received a flurry of complaints against it by people who had watched it abroad. 

“A surge of applications and petitions were received [against Joyland],” Aurangzeb said. “When petitions are received, it is binding to review them,” she added. 

“To my surprise, I was told by the censor board that they were [applications] received from middle-class people and parents,” the minister said. 

She said the censor board is an autonomous body as per Pakistani law, adding that the government had not interfered with the process. Aurangzeb said the decision by the censor board will be taken by Wednesday evening. 

Joyland writer and director, Saim Sadiq, also spoke on the channel, lamenting that Pakistan “is being made fun of” around the world. He said people were unable to comprehend why a movie that received critical acclaim was not being approved by the country’s own government. 

“If they [people who watched the film abroad] had an issue with the film that it shouldn’t be released in Pakistan, why did they watch it abroad,” Sadiq asked.

The information ministry’s decision to rule that the film was “uncertified” triggered outrage on social media, with many questioning the decision by the government.

“It is a story of our people told by our people for our people. Hoping for it to be made accessible to these very people #ReleaseJoyland,” Pakistani actor Humayun Saeed wrote on Twitter earlier this week.

“I personally do not believe in banning films that highlight issues faced by marginalized segments of our society,” Salman Sufi, the head of the prime minister’s strategic reforms unit, wrote on Twitter.

“People should be trusted to watch & make their own mind.”

Prominent Pakistani journalist, Aamna Isani, shared the definition of a transgender according to the constitution. “If you have a problem with that, appeal for an amendment to the constitution. Until then, #ReleaseJoyland,” she wrote on Twitter.


What We Are Reading Today: Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya

Updated 12 November 2022

What We Are Reading Today: Life Is Hard by Kieran Setiya

This was a beautifully written book that everyone should have on their shelf.

This book invites thought, compassion, reflection, and consideration, both for one’s own life and the lives of those around us.

In this profound and personal book, Kieran Setiya shows how philosophy can help us find our way.

Setiya skillfully gives readers the information and context they need as he goes so they do not have to have a background in philosophy to understand and enjoy this book.

The way he ties it all together is poetry and his humor adds levity to some deceptively deep and heavy topics. He shares his own experience with chronic pain and the consolation that comes from making sense of it.

Drawing on ancient and modern philosophy, as well as fiction, comedy, social science and personal essay, Life is Hard is a book for this moment — a work of solace and compassion.

“This book makes no attempt to sugar coat life,” said a review on Goodreads.com.

“Once we accept the fact that we and others will always have troubles life will become more bearable and enjoyable.”

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Where We Are Going Today: Cyan Waterpark 

Updated 10 November 2022

Where We Are Going Today: Cyan Waterpark 

If you’re looking to enjoy a pleasant time with family or friends, Cyan Waterpark is sure to impress. The spacious waterpark has attractions for all ages, and you can easily spend long hours there getting great value for your admission. The family-friendly environment is accessible to all visitors, including those with special needs.

Not too far from midtown Jeddah and right at the start of Obhur, Cyan Waterpark is located on King Saud Road.

Plunge down on a single, double or multiple-person raft for a high-adrenaline adventure or take a relaxing ride and float along the lazy river.

There is an array of interactive water games for children including spouts, colorful slides and dumping buckets.

Cyan waterpark also offers two wave pools, one for children and the other for adults, which will make you feel like you are in the middle of the sea.

The park’s friendly staff enhances the experience with their excellent service and attention to detail.

With the highest safety standards and professionally trained lifeguards, the park is an outstanding leisure destination for the whole family.

in the near future, Cyan Waterpark is set to open other attractions such as event halls, a petting zoo, an educational farm and an activity center for kids.

Today, guests can get their Cyan Waterpark soft opening tickets by booking at www. cyanwp.com, or as walk-in customers. Admission for adults is sR299 ($80) and sR199 for children. 

As the waterpark has some dress code guidelines, ensure you bring suitable swimwear.

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British director Guy Ritchie to be honored at Red Sea film festival

Updated 05 November 2022

British director Guy Ritchie to be honored at Red Sea film festival

RIYADH: British filmmaker Guy Ritchie will be honored for “his exceptional contribution to the film industry” at the Red Sea International Film festival, event organizers said.

Ritchie, known for hits such as “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels,” “Snatch” and “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.” will receive the award at the second festival in Jeddah. 

“British film director, producer and screenwriter Guy Ritchie is considered one of the most successful directors working today,” said organizers. “A gifted storyteller, Ritchie has a unique signature style and is renowned for a body of work.”

Saudi Arabia’s premier film festival runs from Dec. 1-10 and will feature more than 130 films and shorts from more than 60 countries in 41 languages. 

Mohammed Al-Turki, CEO of the Red Sea International Film Festival, said: “Guy Ritchie is a pioneering director and unique storyteller.” 

Over the past 20 years, he has created a huge variety of unforgettable characters featuring original and intricate plots on the big screen. We are delighted to honor his extraordinary talents at the festival and look forward to welcoming him to Jeddah this December.”
 

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What We Are Buying Today: KaafMeem

Updated 04 November 2022

What We Are Buying Today: KaafMeem

Saudi local brands are no strangers to creativity and originality, and to keep yourself afloat in such a sea of talent is a notable feat. KaafMeem is one such brand that has made a name for itself.

It caters to Saudi women by giving them unique abayas that match their style. The designs are unique, and the product is woven with class. The brand boasts variety for all women, with shorter abayas that fit the daily hustle, to the more sophisticated look.

The designs are colored in a way that makes pairing with other clothes an easy task.

The tarha is also available in different colors and these are easy to mix and match to produce fun outfits. KaafMeem even stocks a double-sided tarha that can take the place of two in your wardrobe.

The brand also offers accessories and masks so you can be safe and chic at the same time.

KaafMeem has also produced clothing to be worn under the abaya. These sets are ideal for someone looking to put together a modest outfit, and who wants the abaya to flow on top.

Dresses that fit the abaya like a glove come in presentation boxes to provide the ideal present for a loved one, or even yourself.

Customer service is friendly and accommodating. Once the product is delivered, a member of staff will get in touch with the buyer to make sure they are happy.