Game of Thrones Beer!

We’re huge fans of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and many of you have followed our weekly blog of the show, so we were very happy when HBO and Brewery Ommegang sent us some bottles of their new “Game of Thrones” beer to try out. We tried the second in the series, called the “Take the Black Stout,” which was inspired by the Night’s Watch, the military order dressed in black which holds and guards The Wall. The unique label features the sacred Weirwood tree where Jon Snow and other followers of the old gods take their oaths to the Night’s Watch.

Brewery Ommegang is located on a 136-acre farmstead in Cooperstown, New York and is part of the Belgian brewer Duvel Moortgat family. “With the second beer, we wanted a big, substantial brew, something that would stick to your ribs and sustain you through long nights at watch on The Wall,” said Phil Leinhart, brewmaster at Ommegang. “A 7 % ABV stout with Northern Brewer hops, Midnight wheat, roasted barley, and chocolate malt made a perfect foundation for the beer. We also used uncommon spicing, something Ommegang is well known for. For this beer we added licorice root and star anise.”

We tried it and loved it. It’s thick and malty and exactly the kind of beer you can imagine the characters drinking on the show.

The first beer in the series, “Iron Throne Blonde Ale,” was the largest volume limited-edition beer ever brewed by Ommegang. “Fire and Blood Red Ale,” inspired by House Targaryen, will come next in the Spring of 2014, and the label will feature the three Targaryen dragons: Drogon, Rhaegal, and Viserion.

Beer lovers should definitely try this specialty brew, and the beer can be a great gift for fans of the show. You can also spice up a holiday party by serving this or bring it along. The beer comes in large, 750 ML bottles with a cork, so it makes quite an impression. Check it out!

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Bullz-Eye’s 2013 TV Power Rankings

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When we published our first TV Power Rankings in 2005 listing the best shows on television, the revolution in TV viewing habits was well underway with cable shows like “The Sopranos” raising the bar for TV dramas. Meanwhile, DVDs and on-demand viewing started to change the way we watched our favorite programs and discovered new ones. Since then, the changes have only accelerated, and now many teenagers and people of all ages are addicted to streaming TV, watching everything by their own schedules. Many have even “cut the cord” and eliminated their cable TV subscriptions altogether. Water-cooler discussions about “must-see TV” have given way to shows aimed at niche audiences.

With these developments, the quality of the shows has improved dramatically. That may not be true for sitcoms and most of the stuff on network TV, but many have called this the new “golden era of television,” as the cable networks in particular have given talented writers and directors the freedom to create masterpieces like “The Wire” and “Breaking Bad.” Now with Netflix triumphantly entering the fray with the excellent “House of Cards,” the bar keeps getting raised even higher. I watch fewer movies these days as the quality rarely matches that of the best TV shows, which also have the advantage of developing characters over a much longer time period.

“Breaking Bad” has been one of our favorites for years, and it tops our list again as it completes its final season. When it’s all said and done, it will be part of every conversation of the best TV shows ever. Our list is dominated by cable TV dramas and we’ve left off reality shows. Some are entertaining, but none match the quality of the programs on our list.

We’ve kept spoilers to a minimum, but you might want to avoid some of the write-ups if you want to avoid learning about plot developments.

1. Breaking Bad

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Expectations for the fifth season of Vince Gilligan’s “Breaking Bad” would’ve been running high anyway, given that Season 4 concluded with Walter White (Bryan Cranston) bringing an explosive end to Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) while also revealing just how far he was willing to sink to get things his way. It doesn’t get much lower than poisoning a child to trick your former partner into working for you again, but the knowledge that it truly was the beginning of the end (i.e. the final season) really amped up the adrenaline. With posters for Season 5 showing Walt surrounded by stacks of cash and emblazoned with the tagline “Hail to the King,” the question at hand was whether or not Mr. White would be able to keep his ego in check successfully enough to take over Gus’s meth empire. The answer: not entirely. Although Mike (Jonathan Banks) agreed to join the operation more out of an attempt to help keep Jesse (Aaron Paul) safe, he quickly grew frustrated and tried to bail out, only to end up in a terminal tussle with Walt. Meanwhile, the domestic situation in the White house has reached all new levels of tension, thanks to a power struggle of sorts between Walt and Skyler (Anna Gunn). As the first half of Season 5 wrapped up, however, the biggest reveal of all took place, with Walt’s DEA-agent brother-in-law, Hank Schrader (Dean Norris), finally discovering that he’s the infamous Heisenberg. This show has yet to disappoint, and there’s no reason to think it’s going to start now. – Will Harris. Check out our “Breaking Bad” blog here and our Fan Hub page here.

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Game of Thrones 3.09: The Rains of Castamere

SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game.  You’ve been warned.

Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

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Starks and their Honor

Don’t worry folks, I’ll get to the scene you want to talk about in a moment. I’m starting with Arya and the Hound a) to avoid spoilers prior to the jump and b) because within their scenes is a small nugget which represents the episode’s overarching theme: the family Stark and their unending honor. The dog and the wolf girl come upon a man trying to fix a broken wagon. He’s got to get to the Twins to deliver a load of salt pork, you see. The Hound intends to rob him, knocking his lights out before drawing a knife. Arya pleads with him not to kill the man. It’s wrong of course, and it will be plenty easy to rob him without slitting his throat. The Hound tells Arya that she’s very kind, and that it’s going to get her killed one day.

This, in a nutshell, is who the Starks are. They’re a kind and loving family who gives everyone the benefit of the doubt. They run into situations like this one, in a which a person who should be allowed to live is staring death in the eye, and they save him, even when simply killing them and being done with it would be far safer in the long run. In the case of the man and his wagon, nothing comes of it. But in that of the wedding I’ll discuss in a moment, well, you know.

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Game of Thrones 3.08: Second Sons

SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game.  You’ve been warned.

Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

As I’ve often discussed in the past, I generally try to find unifying theme in each episode of Game of Thrones and base my blog around it.  Sometimes it’s hard, and takes a lot of pondering to find. Sometimes, as in “Dark Wings Dark Words,” there isn’t one to be found, as the episode is linked by graceful editing rather than a theme. Other times, as in “The Climb” or “Second Sons,” the writers are kind enough to put the theme right there in the title (although this week didn’t offer a Littlefinger soliloquy to put it in neon lights).

A lot of “Second Sons” is about, well, second sons. We’ve got the literal second-born male children, like Stannis and the Hound, as well as “second-class” sons like Gendry, due to being a bastard. Not to mention Tyrion, who fits into both categories. And how could we forget ol’ Samwell Tarly, a de-facto second son. Recall that Sam’s father stripped him of his birthright (in favor of his actual second son) and relegated him to the Night’s Watch despite his being the eldest.

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My Sword is Yours, My Life is Yours, My Heart is Yours

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Game of Thrones 3.07: The Bear and the Maiden Fair

SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game.  You’ve been warned.

Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

I just want to note that George R.R. Martin, author of the books that make up Game of Thrones’ source material, also wrote this week’s episode. Not much to say beyond that, but it’s always worth pointing out that the man most familiar with the characters writes the episode.

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But First We’ll Live

Perhaps the most straightforward theme in this week’s episode was that of love, the way it comes about and the way it ends, loves meant to be and those between the star-crossed. It remains to be seen which of those categories Jon and Ygritte fall into, and “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” spent a good amount of time essentially wondering the question aloud.

The episode opens with Jon and the Wildlings marching towards Castle Black. Ygritte takes pleasure in mocking the customs of Westerosi warfare: marching down roads while holding banners and banging drums to let the enemy know you’re coming. When she sarcastically asserts they won’t be banging any drums when they attack Castle Black, Jon retorts that instead, Mance will “light the biggest fire the North’s ever seen.” Ygritte counters in the same way she always does: “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” That’s when Orell wanders over to put some real bite behind her words. Giving Jon some sage romantic advice while spelling out the episode’s theme: “People work together when it suits them, they’re loyal when it suits them, they love each other when it suits them, and they kill each other when it suits them. She knows it, you don’t, which is why you’ll never hold onto her.”

Of course, later on we discover that Orell may not be as wise as his words indicated, he simply wants in Ygritte’s pants too. Orell steps up to tell her as much, and to warn her that Jon isn’t as loyal to their cause as he appears. But in doing so, he proves to be affording Ygritte way less credit than she deserves. As we learned last week, she’s more in touch with their position than anyone: She knows Jon is still loyal to the Night’s Watch, and it doesn’t factor into her decision to be with him because she’s realistic about the odds of their survival.

The tables of mockery are turned when they come upon a windmill and Ygritte asks Jon if it’s a palace. But as was the case in their earlier discussion of drums and marching, the talk turns serious. Jon mentions that he’d like to take Ygritte to see Winterfell, and she responds that maybe she’ll take him, once they’ve “taken their land back.” The conversation brings to the forefront a fact they’ve both been trying to forget, that they’re on different sides of the war, and their visions of what life will be like afterwards are highly disparate. That’s when Jon tells her that Kings beyond the Wall have tried to reclaim the North six times in the past thousand years, and six times they’ve been turned away. He insists that the seventh will be the same, pushing the point even after Ygritte claims that Mance is different than those that came before him, saying that “all of you will die.” Ygritte reminds him that it’s “all of us,” but like her talk of Mance she’s simply posturing. That’s when she lets us in on her true vision of the future: “You’re mine, and I’m yours. And if we die, we die. But first we’ll live.” Jon agrees.

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Love is the Death of Duty

In the first season, Maester Aemon told Jon that “love is the death of duty,” and while the idea is clearly written all over Jon’s storyline, his brother Robb’s may be an even better example. Love is the cause of all the King in the North’s problems, and the reason he’s losing the war despite having won every battle.

It’s not only Robb’s love that’s hurting the war effort. Catelyn’s love of her daughters led her to free Jaime Lannister, which in turn led to Lord Karstark’s betrayal and subsequent beheading. That’s why Robb and his army are on their way to the Twins to attend the marriage between his uncle, Edmure Tully, and one of Lord Walder Frey’s daughers. The match was necessitated, of course, by Robb’s double-crossing his own marriage pact with Lord Walder, but also by the fact that he needs the Frey armies more than ever with the Karstark’s gone.

Like most of the episode, Robb’s story wasn’t big on plot advancement. Much like Jon and Ygritte, it served to underline both the true love between the King and Queen in the North and the black cloud hanging over it as a result of the war effort, of duty. As such, the revelation of Talisa’s pregnancy seems a dire symbol. When has any good deed (or good news) gone unpunished in Game of Thrones?

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The Impchelor 

In our first glimpse into King’s Landing this week, we see Sansa talking to Margaery Tyrell of the woe that is her impending marriage to Tyrion. He’s a Lannister, she complains, and as if that wasn’t enough he’s the scarred, dwarf Lannister. Margaery attempts to cheer her up, pointing out that he’s been kind to her, the scar makes him more attractive, and that he’s experienced in the bedroom, which is a good thing because women are hard to please (her mother told her so). What’s unfortunate is that although Sansa explicitly bemoans the ignorance that led her to dram of the capital and her southern Prince Charming, she’s still not entirely able to recognize that she’s still being ignorant. Tyrion isn’t Loras, that’s for sure, but as Margaery points out he is good looking and he’s been more kind to her than anyone in King’s Landing. What’s more, she complains about all this to the woman betrothed to Joffrey. Come on, Sansa, get your head in the game.

But we know Sansa’s unhappy, nothing’s changed there. What’s more interesting is that Tyrion is just as miserable as she is. He’s had this marriage thrust upon him too, and he’s kind of already in love with Shae. As Margaery does for Sansa, Bronn points out how silly it is for him to be complaining: He’s a lord and she’s a lady, it’s what they’re supposed to do, and it’s not like he has no sexual attraction to Sansa, young as she may be. What’s more, he’s a man, as long as he does his duty in wedding Sansa and getting her pregnant, he can bed Shae on the side for as long as he cares to. Of course, that idea doesn’t go over too well with Shae, who asks him what it will be like. Tyrion responds that he’ll buy her a good home, with guards and clothes and servants, and that any hypothetical children will be well provided for. Shae rightfully snaps back that she has no interest in having children who will never see their father and would likely be killed if their grandfather found out about them. Like so many characters, love is getting in the way of Tyrion doing his duty, and as always, “it will all turn out alright” is never a good bet on this show.

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The Bear and the Maiden Fair

Then there’s Jaime and Brienne, a match no one and everyone saw coming. It’s hard to say whether their feelings for one another go beyond the platonic, but they certainly care deeply for, and perhaps even love each other, in their own way. Losing a hand has changed Jaime, sure, but no more than Brienne has. Would pre-Brienne Jaime have even bothered to go to her chambers and insist that even though there is nothing commanding him to return the Stark girls to their mother, save honor, he will. Brienne has reminded him that honor is enough, and Jaime’s travels with her have revealed to us that despite all he’s done and the opinion we may have held of him before, that’s something he knew well enough at one point. In his talk with Qyburn, Jaime condemns the immorality of killing people for research. But when Qyburn snaps back by asking how many lives Jaime has taken (“countless”) and how many he’s saved, he gets an unexpected answer: half a million, the population of King’s Landing. In much the way some people rediscover religion, Jaime is a reborn honorable man, and that’s what leads him to command that he and the part of Bolton men return to Harrenhal, where he leaps into a bear pit to save his maiden fair.

Check out the preview for next week’s episode below and follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.

  

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