Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 7 “The Gift”

3 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Wall: Jon prepares to leave north with Tormund to make his offer of safe passage south of The Wall, as snow begins to fall more heavily. Winter is definitely coming, apparently. Jon tells Ser Alliser that as First Ranger he is in charge of Castle Black until Jon returns. Alliser says it’s his duty to inform Jon that he thinks this mission is reckless, dangerous, and stupid. Jon thanks him for his “usual honesty”. Sam gives Jon a dragonglass blade, telling him that it’s what he used to kill a White Walker. Jon says thanks, but hopes he won’t need it. He and Tormund head off north. Alliser, the boy whose village was wiped out by wildlings, and a few other rangers give Jon dark looks as he leaves. You can tell there’s trouble fermenting here. Castle Black may not be the same, or as loyal to Jon, when he returns.

Sam and Gilly sit with Maester Aemon as he succumbs to illness and old age. Aemon babbles a story about his brother, who became the king, before slipping away. The next day, Sam gives a eulogy before they burn Aemon on a pyre. More dark looks from Alliser. He knows Aemon was the deciding vote that gave Jon the title of Lord Commander over him. With Aemon gone, he may start to question the validity of the ballot, and perhaps use this as justification for a mutiny of some sort.

Later, Gilly is doing some cleaning work when two members of the Watch walk in on her. She tries to leave, but they prevent her, and start to make rude comments and request a kiss from her. Then Sam walks in and tells them to leave her alone and get out. The two are primed for a fight, and think they can take Sam. They nearly do, pummelling his face and giving him a good kicking, when Jon’s wolf Ghost comes in and growls at them in no uncertain terms. The two flee, leaving Gilly to pick up Sam and tend his wounds. A bit later, Sam is resting in bed, with Gilly dabbing his bloody face. Then she stops and kisses him. Then she straddles him, and loosens their clothing… and Sam violates the Night’s Watch oath of chastity. Although as he pointed out to Jon, not technically, since the oath is to abstain from marriage, not sex.

Well, Castle Black is prime for a mutiny, and Sam and Gilly may end up caught in it if they’re not careful. And we’ve yet to see if Tormund can really be trusted in his bargain with Jon. It feels like he’s not one to make a deal with the enemy, so I’m suspecting a better than even chance that Tormund will betray Jon at some point.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 6 “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”

1 January, 2019

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Braavos: Arya washes more dead people in the House of Black and White, doing her best “wax on, wax off” routine in the hopes of actually getting some of the combat training she came here for. But she’s too much like Ralph Macchio and impatiently asks an older girl what happens to the bodies. The older girl says she’s not ready to know yet. Then she proceeds to tell Arya a story, of how she came to be here in the House, coming from a family torn apart by tragedy, a story with echoes of Arya’s own. Arya is sympathetic, but then the girl asks her, “Did you believe what I just told you?” and walks off.

Jaqen shows up and asks Arya who she is. Arya tells her story, but Jaqen interrupts several times, telling her she’s lying and hitting her with a thin stick. Arya looks like she’s just about to snap, but she keeps her seething bottled up inside. Jaqen says she’s not only lying to him, but to herself. Honestly, I don’t get this mystical Obi-Wan Kenobi crap or why Arya’s putting up with it. I feel like I want her to snap and throw Jaqen to the ground and start punching his face and start yelling, “Just get on with it already!!”

Later, A man comes in with a sick young daughter, telling Arya that this is his last hope – none of the other temples could heal his daughter. She lies in pain on the floor. Arya makes a decision, and goes to the girl, telling her everything will be okay, and to drink the water from the well in the floor – which is poison. She drinks. Next scene, we see Arya washing the dead girl’s body. Jaqen appears and leads Arya down some stairs into a huge chamber that looks a bit like the Hall of Dworin, except the pillars have hundreds of life size clay faces on them. Possibly the faces of all the people who have become Faceless Men? Do they actually rip the faces off? It all seems a bit weird, but suitably mystical and spooky. Jaqen tells Arya she’s not yet ready to become no one, but she is ready to become someone else.

Okay, more cryptic* rubbish. Seriously, I would have lost patience with Jaqen’s schtick long before this. I guess I’m not cut out to be a Faceless Man. I wish he’d just get on with it and tell Arya something straight for once.

* Ha ha!!

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Germany diary, day 7

31 December, 2018

Thursday, 4 October, 2018. 16:28

We are sitting in Bar Tripoli in Limburg an der Lahn, enjoying a glass of wine during a rest break. There are photos of Sophia Loren on the walls, including one of her serving spaghetti from a giant bowl. M. is having a Primitivo red from Puglia, while I tried the Grillo white wine. (I later discovered that Primitivo is an alias for Zinfandel.) Mine was something like a Pinot grigio, with tart fruitiness like kiwifruit or gooseberries and a hint of minerality. The owner is Italian, and I am trying to remember enough Italian to speak with him with less difficulty than in German, but it’s difficult switching languages when my head is full of German.

The day is bright and sunny and a bit warmer than we’ve had so far on the trip. We began early, waking up before the 07:00 alarm. I did some stretching exercises while M. had a shower, and then I got ready and packed bags for our trip. We left a bit before 08:00 and set out on the walk to Köln Messe/Deutz station, where our train would leave from at 09:36. We crossed the Severinsbrücke to the eastern side of the Rhine and walked through the Deutz neighbourhood north to the station.

Departing Köln
Cologne Cathedral in the morning, from the Deutz side of the Rhine

Along the way we found a street with shops and a nice looking cafe called Saint Louis Urban Deli. We stopped here for a morning coffee for M., and I got a hot chocolate and a chocolate croissant, which was warm and rich and buttery, really very good. We sat for a while, as we had some time in hand, but eventually left to walk the remaining few blocks to the station.

Read more: the train from Cologne to Limburg, fruit and vegetable market, wandering around the medieval old town of Limburg, exploring the cathedral, getting fresh baked bread rolls for lunch, sitting in an Italian wine bar, admiring the river Lahn, flammkuchen and gelato for dinner

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 5 “Kill the Boy”

29 December, 2018

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

Mereen: Grey Worm survived the attack at the end of last episode. Ser Barristan didn’t. Daenerys mourns Ser Barristan, while her translator Missandei tends to Grey Worm. He recovers consciousness after three days, and his first concern is for Barristan. He says he failed, and he is ashamed because when he was wounded he felt fear. Missandei says there is no shame in fearing death. He says he did not fear death, he feared that he would never see Missandei again. She bends over him and they kiss. This is a bit strange as Grey Worm, like all the Unsullied, is a eunuch, and previously Daenerys had expressed disbelief that any of them could have feelings for a woman. But Grey Worm is perhaps exceptional in more ways than one. I guess we’ll see.

Daenerys is angry about the attack, and orders that all the heads of the noble houses in Mereen be rounded up and brought to her. This includes the man who has been advising her and asking for her to restore the fighting pits, in order to placate the restless people, and he is shocked and terrified (I still don’t know this guy’s name). Daenerys takes the nobles down to the dungeon where she has two of her dragons chained up, and feeds one of them to the dragons. Then she says she will show mercy, and merely has the rest of them locked up.

Later, Daenerys asks Missandei for advice. Missandei humbly suggests that she is not worthy to offer advice to a queen. But that she has seen Daenerys take advice from many people, and that Daenerys’s best actions have always been ones where she chooses to do something herself, rather than following advice. And sudden;y Daenerys settles on a plan. She heads down to the dungeons, to the cell of the fighting pits guy, who grovels at her feet for mercy. She tells him that she has decided there is a better way to get the people of Mereen to accept her. She will reopen the fighting pits – although for free men only, no slaves – and she will marry one of the heads of the noble houses of Mereen. Oh, and fortunately a suitor is on his knees in front of her already. The guy is suitably stunned.

Okay, well, it’s good that Daenerys has finally decided to show some gumption of her own, rather than dither between various ineffectual bits of advice. Using her dragons is a good step. Hopefully her plan will start to get the people behind her, so she can raise a huge army and go on the rampage back to Westeros. It really feels like Daenerys’s story has stalled for the past few seasons, and I want to see her back in action.

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Game of Thrones, Season 5, Ep 4 “Sons of the Harpy”

27 December, 2018

Intro: I’m watching Game of Thrones for the first time. I don’t know anything about it more recent than this episode.

The Wall: As the new Lord Commander of the Watch, Jon gets to sign a bunch of requests to surrounding lords for more men to man the Wall. Sam hands them to him one by one and Jon works his way through them, until he gets to one requesting men from Roose Bolton. He objects, saying Bolton killed his brother Robb. But Sam points out that they need more men to defend the Wall, and Roose is now Warden of he North, and Jon’s oath is to defend the Wall, not seek vengeance. Having no counter-argument, Jon reluctantly signs.

Later, Melisandre seeks out Jon and tries to seduce him, but Jon manfully resists. He says he still loves Ygritte, even when Melisandre tells him that dead people can’t return love. She leaves, defeated, but gives Jon an ominous sounding parting message. I bet she has more tricks up her sleeve. Melisandre really is a mystery. I don’t know what her game is. She talks to Stannis later and warns him not to make the same mistake of leaving her behind like he did at the Battle of Blackwater, and he says no, he won’t.

Stannis is making plans to march on Winterfell. His daughter Shireen approaches and asks him if he’s ashamed of her, with her facial disfigurement. He tells her the story of how a passing merchant from some land (I think he said it was Dorne, but not sure if I remember correctly) suckered him into buying a wooden doll for her when she was younger. She held it close to her cheek, but it had been infected and gave her the greyscale disease. Stannis’s advisers told him to send her away before the infection spread to others, but instead he sought all the Maesters he could until he found one who could halt the disease. He is proud of her, as a Princess of Westeros. Shireen looks pleased.

So, this greyscale disease seems like a plague of some sort. I’m guessing it’s been introduced as a thing because maybe it will play a part in the story later. Although it’s hard to tell, because this series introduces so many different things. Maybe it’s just another bit of detailed worldbuilding. But presumably Shireen will end up playing some important role later on.

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Tanzania diary, days 12 and 13

25 December, 2018

Tuesday, 10 July, 2018. 06:53

We’re sitting at breakfast in the hotel restaurant, looking out at the activity in the beach and the boats in the ocean. Today there is a sort of aerobics class taking place on the beach, led by a women in Muslim headcloth, with five other women in coloured headcloths following her lead, plus three men. The men are standing in a group separated from the women by a few metres. Three of the women, including the leader, are wearing black robes, while the other three are in black shirts and tracks suit pants.

Morning exercise on the beach
Aerobics class on the beach

08:47

Now we’re at Zanzibar International Airport. After a breakfast of mostly cereal and bread or pastries, we returned to our room for final packing before check out. The reception desk was ready for us, with our paperwork already on the counter as we approached. The bill for the bar drinks and laundry was tallied in US dollars, but there was a conversion to shillings, and I paid in shilling notes, receiving full 1000 shilling notes as they rounded the cost down from some ridiculously uneven number.

Our driver was there already too, and we left a few minutes before the designated 08:00 pick up. This was a different driver to the other day, but he was just as talkative, telling us many of the same facts about Zanzibar. A few interesting new things were that school children all across Zanzibar wear the same uniforms: blue and yellow for primary and black and white for secondary school. And that the traffic light we passed through was one of just three traffic lights on Zanzibar. He seemed quite proud of the fact that they had traffic lights, and explained that they were solar powered, so that during the rainy season they stopped working. He also told us that although most of the population was Muslim, they don’t follow Sharia, and things like woman wearing head coverings is optional and largely determined by family custom, and that even many Christian women covered up as it was the tradition in their families. And they were a happy people on Zanzibar, because even though most people are poor, they are never hungry because of all the seafood and produce grown on the island, and that they have many holidays because everyone celebrates all the Muslim, Christian, and Hindu holidays together as a big community celebration.

Read more: three flights to get home, last views of Mount Kilimanjaro, and juggling awkward luggage packing

Tanzania diary, day 11

23 December, 2018

Monday, 9 July, 2018. 16:09

We are sitting in the Serena Inn bar having a break from the hot sun of the day and enjoying some cool drinks as the breeze blows through the open doors and windows. We’ve been here for a while already as I finished typing yesterday’s diary. I’ve had a gin and soda, and M. had an iced coffee, with milk, which was at first delivered without milk, and taken away again by the waiter who jokingly blamed it on the drink maker not hearing him properly. We’ve also just finished a plate of hot chips, as a snack to stave off hunger until dinner time, as we had a light lunch today.

Our day began as the sunlight began creeping into the sky, waking us up naturally without an alarm. We took our time getting ready for breakfast and then went down to the hotel restaurant, where the usual buffet style breakfast was in progress. For drinks, they had wide selection of juices in pitchers, including hibiscus, as well as fresh coconuts with a hole tapped in them and straws so you could drink the juice inside. They also had a cook doing eggs to order. But no muesli, so I started with a bowl of bran flakes, topped with peanuts, sultanas, and natural yoghurt. M. went for the varied pastry selection, trying four different things. She declared the pain au chocolat dry, but the croissant acceptable. For hot food, there was some sort of fish in a spicy sauce, as well as the usual staples. Seafood is clearly a local thing, Zanzibar being an island and all, so I tried the fish, which was very nice. I had it with some corn, mushrooms, a beef sausage, and grilled tomato. We both finished with some fresh fruit.

Serena Inn breakfast
Breakfast at the Serena Inn

As we ate, we could see interesting boats passing by on the ocean outside, including a dhow, and several boats with outboards full of fishermen, with nets and long poles. There was also a lone guy pushing a small boat with a couple of lobster traps on it, using a pole to push against the sand near the shore. It looked exhausting and slow. And a lot of people were out either walking or jogging along the beach. It seemed to be the thing to do. After a while I went back up to the room to grab my camera to take some photos of the interesting boats, but by the time I returned the boat traffic had virtually stopped. Presumably because it was now after 09:00 and rush hour was over, and everyone was at work now.

Read more: walking around Stone Town in the hot weather, checking out various markets, taking breaks in a coffee house and by the hotel pool, seeing the Fort again, and dinner at a fancy place by the beach

One does not simply walk into Mordor

22 December, 2018

One does not simply walk into Mordor: A literature survey and statistical analysis of how far Frodo and Sam travelled from Hobbiton to Mount Doom

So, how far is it to walk from The Shire to Mordor? The Lord of the Rings books don’t say exactly, but that never stopped fantasy geeks from trying to figure it out! In fact, several have tried and come up with the answer.

Or rather, several answers.

Each one that I found, using methods that they claim to be more or less accurate, ends up wth a different figure for the total number of miles that Frodo walked.

Rather than make my own estimate by rereading the books and poring over maps of Middle-earth, I’ve taken the scientific approach of averaging a bunch of independent estimates and taking the standard error of the mean, and arrived at the figure of 1636±76 miles.

Tanzania diary, day 10

16 December, 2018

Sunday, 8 July, 2018. 06:49

Monkey spent the whole night in the lounge next to the bar! Probably drinking Amarula.

We woke with the alarm at 06:00, dressed and party, packed our bags before breakfast. Most people from dinner last night had gone already, departing at 06:00 for various things. A few stragglers were there but left by the time we’d had a few bites. The morning was cold, but not as cold as yesterday, and the sky was more overcast. We had the muesli again and I had bacon and eggs while M. just had some toast.

We were packed and ready to go before 07:30, so hit the road a bit early. The drive was back along roads we’d travelled before, circling clockwise around the Ngorongoro crater rim until we hit the entrance road, then turning onto that and heading down towards Karatu. When we left the camp the sky was overcast, and as we circled the crater the cloud descended until we were driving in fog. This vanished soon after we turned onto the descending road.

Departing Ngorongoro
Driving through the fog on the crater rim

There was a brief stop at the Ngorongoro entrance gate for Timba to file exit papers, and then we were back on paved road for the first time in five days. From here it was a long drive back through Karatu and to Arusha. At Karatu we stopped so I could use an ATM to get some cash out, which we needed to make up our tip for Timba, having spent some of the money we’d set aside for that.

During the drive, as we passed Lake Manyara, I asked Timba if the animals in Lake Manyara National Park were isolated or if they could move to other areas. He said that they used to migrate to Tarangire National Park, but they can’t any more because the area in between is now populated with people. Further on down the road I asked Timba what wood the Maasai used to make the sticks that the men used to herd cattle. He said ebony was preferred, as it was heavy and hard, but they also used some types of acacia wood that was also hard. Ebony trees grew on the area we were driving through, but it was hard to see one as they are quickly cut down for wood as it’s so useful.

Read more: lunch at Arusha, saying goodbye to Timba, flying to Zanzibar, walking around Stone Town, watching the sun set over the Indian Ocean, a market, and dinner by the sea

Tanzania diary, day 9

13 December, 2018

Saturday, 7 July, 2018. 17:32

I slept poorly, tossing and turning for much of the night, for no apparent reason. With the lights off, the tent was pitch black – no difference whatsoever with eyes closed or open. I used my torch to navigate to the toilet a couple of times during the night. M. woke a bit before our alarm and we got up at 06:00. We were ready for breakfast about 06:20 and wandered over, with the morning rather cloudy and still quite dim. A staff member met us partway there to escort us.

Two of the fellow Aussies were there at one end of the table and the staff suggested we leave five spaces for their fellow party members, and take the next seats opposite one another. They had a small buffet with cereals, watermelon and pineapple, small pastries, and toast. We chose the muesli, which was similar to what we’d had in other places, and yoghurt. Then we could order hot breakfast, and I chose bacon and fried eggs, but M. decided to just have some toast with peanut butter, which was dark and roasty.

After we ate, we returned to our tent to prepare for our day out. We were ready earlier than 07:30 and surprised Timba by showing up at the car early for once. We loaded up and drove out, heading further north on the road around the rim. It veered downhill into the crater after a while, descending a slope to the floor of the caldera. The view was amazing, with a few spots of rain enough to create a full, bright rainbow over the crater, with patches of cloud and sunlight creating a gorgeous pattern on the landscape. The crater looked small from this distance, but Timba said it was 13 by 19 kilometres, so it’s actually very large, much larger than it looks.

Rainbow in Ngorongoro
Descending into Ngorongoro crater

We began driving around inside the crater, seeing large herds of zebra and wildebeest, more concentrated than we’d seen in Serengeti. The first new animal of the day was a pair of black-backed jackals. We saw a few more of them later in the day too. I’d expected that lions would be easy to see in the crater, but we only spotted one all day, and in fact I was the one who spotted it. I saw it in the distance as we were driving and yelled at Timba to stop the car, saying I thought I could see a lion. Before I could focus my camera on it to see at magnification, Timba said it was a male lion. It was several hundred metres away, but we could see it surveying the land, and I got a decent shot of its face as it turned to look at us.

Read more: Lots of birds, rare black rhinoceroses, a picnic lunch among the wildlife, and an African drink!