Culture News

Let George R. R. Martin Have a Castle, You Twerps

If this is the added stress that stops him from finishing The Winds of Winter, Santa Fe will have much worse to deal with than some curious fans.

In Santa Fe, New Mexico this week, the city's Historic Districts Review Board rejected Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin's request to build a library on his private compound.

The building—which would have been constructed in the style of a Medieval castle—had previously been rejected for exceeding local height restrictions, but the request for an exemption was met with considerable pushback.

More than 40 of the author's neighbors signed a letter to the board noting that the proposed building "WILL BE VISIBLE" and expressing fear that "our neighborhood will become the next treasure hunt ... his fans will be looking to find the castle that's in the middle of Santa Fe." Oh, the horror.

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TV Features

HBO Says "Westworld" Is Too Complex for Casual Fans, But It Might Just Be Bad

What makes a show "not for casual viewers," anyway?

HBO

HBO wants to be clear: Westworld Season 3 won't be your daddy's Westworld.

It won't be the Westworld you know, either. HBO's official trailer for the show's newest season, subtitled "The New World," promises a vastly different show than the one viewers originally tuned into during 2016.

Gone are the days of exploring the show's titular Wild West-themed amusement park with young and old William (Jimmi Simpson/Ed Harris), and watching android hosts Dolores, Maeve, and Bernard learn the truth of their existence. Season 3 will finally bring those characters outside the futuristic amusement park company Delos' control after the violent host uprising that dominated the show's first 20 episodes. At last, we'll enter the show's futuristic "real" world, but unless executive producers Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy have changed their tune, viewers are in for another confusing season of a series that HBO has branded as "not for casual viewers."

Westworld HBO

That identifier stems from criticism of Westworld's majorly complicated timeline, which unofficially spans nearly 40 years and is told far out of chronological order throughout its first two seasons. In April 2018, Variety wrote that the production "seems to have too much faith viewers will be willing to absorb storylines that can border on the incomprehensible," and doubted whether the show could ever reach Game of Thrones-levels of popularity. When company president Casey Bloys was pressed on this issue in July of that year, he disagreed that criticism of the show was "widespread" and declared that the series "requires your attention."

It's one thing to create a niche piece of media; it's another entirely for HBO to deflect criticism of a show that reportedly cost $100 million to produce and mark it as something a "casual viewer" may not want to engage with.

What makes a show or film "not for casual viewers," anyway? Is it non-linear storytelling? A large ensemble cast? Or is it defined by the culture that its fans create? These days, we have a whole genre of YouTube videos that "explain" entire seasons of shows just so audiences can remember what they already watched in the first place before diving back in. Spotify lists over a dozen Westworld-dedicated podcasts on its streaming platform. The show's fan community on Reddit boasts 675k subscribers ahead of the new season.

Westworld is not the first prestige television show to delve into multiple timelines or utilize a large ensemble cast, though. It's not even unique among recent HBO programming. Fans didn't balk at Thrones' initially deep barrier to entry. They indulged in Westeros' detailed fictional history, allowing HBO to create a cultural and ratings juggernaut out of George R.R. Martin's epic fantasy series. The network didn't simply wave off a show with over 50 main characters as too hard for "casual viewers" to understand—and those "casual viewers" attended watch parties and trivia nights across the country to celebrate the show's final season last spring.

Years before Thrones, ABC's Lost mired itself in multiple timelines and held perplexing mysteries over viewers' heads during its six-season run on basic cable to massive critical and popular success. It juggled more than two dozen characters and garnered an insatiable audience that precluded both Westworld and Thrones—all without any pre-existing source material. Lost raked in 16 million viewers on average in its first season and reached 14 million for its series finale six years later. For all the divisive opinions on its conclusion, nobody could claim the show was only for a "hardcore" television audience.

Perhaps better examples of media made "not for casual viewers" lies in film, wherein certain movies have made a strong case for adding extra homework on top of a simple viewing.

Poe Dameron Disney

2006's Southland Tales, written and directed by Richard Kelly (of Donnie Darko fame), was preceded by a three-part series of graphic novels that told the first half of the film's story. Yes, viewers needed to read three graphic novels just to begin the movie on even footing. It sounds like a crazy marketing strategy at first, but then just over a decade later, Disney and Lucasfilm started employing similar tactics concerning Star Wars. Novels, comic books, and television shows now create backstories for Disney-era characters like Poe Dameron and fill in major gaps between the sequel trilogy films.

Still, this kind of franchise expansion doesn't always necessitate that you consume all Star Wars-related media. You don't need to plow through Rebels just to understand the original trilogy, but doing so provides plot details that might be helpful to know before watching The Rise of Skywalker. Nobody at Lucasfilm would claim Star Wars "isn't for casual viewers," though, and Episode IX's 86 percent audience score on RottenTomatoes seems to indicate casual fans found no problem with it even without the extra information available in ancillary spin-offs.

It's easy to understand why HBO might say a show like

Westworld demands the viewer's full attention and interest. However, it's not the only franchise out there with a lengthy cast list, endless moving parts, and shocking twists and turns—and if Game of Thrones and Star Wars don't identify as too difficult for a "casual" audience to understand, what makes Westworld special? Is there really room for media dedicated specifically to audiences willing to pay that much attention, or is it okay to admit that a show or film might just not make enough sense to work as intended? Maybe it just depends on how many podcasts and episode breakdowns viewers are willing to wade through. Or perhaps Westworld just didn't make sense in the first place.
TV

What Franchise Will "Game of Thrones" Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss Ruin Next?

What's next for the geniuses behind the "lady-folks and jocks" model of human interest?

Getty Images

When I learned that Game of Thrones alum David Benioff co-wrote X-Men Origins: Wolverine–the movie that portrayed the 4th-wall-breaking antihero Deadpool as a skinhead with his mouth sewn shut–it made a lot of sense.

After all, Benioff and his GOT co-showrunner D.B. Weiss have a proven knack for treating beloved franchises like sh*t.

Finally breaking their silence after the overwhelmingly negative fan reception to the Game of Thrones series finale, Benioff & Weiss participated in a, quite frankly, baffling panel at Austin Film Festival. One Twitter user live-tweeted the discussion, wherein Benioff & Weiss almost seemed to brag about how inexperienced they were going into the project and how little respect they showed to the source material.

Highlights include Benioff & Weiss removing fantasy elements from the...you know...fantasy series in order to better appeal to "mothers" and "NFL players."


Then, right after revealing their ingenious "lady-folks and jocks" model of human interest, Benioff and Weiss abandoned the massive Star Wars project they were planning to helm in favor of their massive two million dollar deal at Netflix. But while this is certainly a boon for Star Wars fans, whose beloved franchise is now safe from the dull-blade hands of the two biggest hacks in Hollywood, it begs the question: What other franchises are now at risk of being destroyed by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss?

The Legend of Zelda

the legend of zelda Nintendo

There have long been rumors that beloved Nintendo franchise, The Legend of Zelda, will be adapted for Netflix by Castlevania producer Adi Shankar. And while not everyone loves the idea of Zelda getting turned into a TV show by anyone, Castlevania is an incredibly promising example of a great animated adaptation of a great video game franchise.

But the problem with rumors is that they're unconfirmed, so here's a worst case scenario that still exists within the distinct realm of possibility:

Netflix really is putting out a show based on The Legend of Zelda, but it's being run by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. Worst of all, Benioff and Weiss subscribe to a particularly venomous brand of awful whereby their work initially seems great and competent, only to sh*t all over itself halfway through once you're already invested. In other words, Benioff and Weiss aim to truly waste your time, getting you excited and then crushing all your hopes and dreams with terrible writing and ridiculous plotting.

Their Zelda adaptation would probably follow Link and Zelda as they wage battle against the evil Ganondorf in order to save Hyrule. We'd spend the first half of the story experiencing Link and Zelda's growth as characters, juxtaposed with Ganondorf's descent into madness as he's built up into an unstoppable foe. Then, halfway through, Ganondorf would get anticlimactically murdered by Tingle, who would then become the God-Emperor of Hyrule, much to everyone's chagrin. The next four seasons would follow Tingle as he romances Epona the horse and opens a pie shop. Benioff and Weiss would probably think this was a good idea, because there are too many Zelda games for them to properly draw themes from, and "a man in spandex having sex with a horse" would probably really speak to them on a visceral level.

Naruto

Naruto Shueisha


In a lot of ways, the beloved anime/manga series Naruto is right up Benioff and Weiss' alley: It's an epic saga spanning many years (and even generations), it has a rich lore full of deep characters and tactical battles, and best of all, Naruto is full of things that, if done incorrectly, could turn the story into an absolute trainwreck––the ol' Benioff and Weiss specialty.

In their version of Naruto, just like in the original, we would meet our plucky ninja hero as a young boy. The first season would follow him through Ninja school and his first few missions, his rivalry with Sasuke, his unrequited love for Sakura, and finally his confrontation with the mysterious killer assassin Zabuza and the real world of ninjas––a world full of violence and bloodshed.

Except in the Benioff and Weiss telling, subsequent seasons would shift perspective to a singing ninja (a bard, if you will) played by Ed Sheeran, who travels the ninja world showing his genitals to townsfolk and sometimes using ninjutsu to molest the women. That would be it. No more Naruto becoming a ninja; this isn't about Naruto. What, the fans wanted Naruto? Sorry, this is meant to appeal to a more general audience, namely "sexual predators." Benioff and Weiss won't be reading the Internet comments either, because what the fans want doesn't matter and they'd rather not have their feelings hurt.

Star Wars

Darth Vader 20th Century Fox

What if: PSYCHE! Benioff and Weiss really are coming back to Star Wars; they just made you think they weren't, so you wouldn't be mad.

Imagine it's time for the new Star Wars movie, and oh boy, you nerds better be prepared for some crazy lightsaber action. Benioff and Weiss' Star Wars introduces us to a brand new Sith Lord, Darth Phallus, who uses his evil force powers to forcibly have sex with Stormtroopers during every exposition scene. This is because Benioff and Weiss aren't very good writers, and they hope that watching Darth Phallus assault Stormtroopers will make their shoddy dialogue seem edgy or something. But it's not, and there are no battles. This is just three 2-hour movies dedicated to an unhinged man raping Stormtroppers. Eat your hearts out, Star Wars fans, Benioff and Weiss are back!

But for now, the pair have wisely stepped away to focus on their deal with Netflix. Beware.