(Depending on the show’s creators’ willingness to maintain any integrity regarding the source material.)

“Game of Thrones is finally back for its fifth season this weekend.”

Those words would have thrilled me just a few years ago. I remember the long waits between seasons 1 and 2 and seasons 2 and 3. It was like Christmas come early (or late) every March/April. Now, I’m filled with anxiety at the prospect that rampant social media attention will spoil key book plot points as the show prepares for its end game.

That end game, as has been revealed in recent weeks, involves the show spoiling the ending of the books. While George R.R. Martin admitted he revealed the ending to Game of Thrones creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. he has also acknowledged he still doesn’t know exactly what paths characters will take in the final two (or potentially more) novels in A Song of Ice and Fire.

For non-book readers, the prospect of three more seasons and a multitude of new adventures and revelations sounds like a dream (of spring). Book fans can only hope to avoid Twitter, Facebook, television review sites, general news outlets (because apparently discussing TV is now real journalism), the watercooler and your overexcited cousin George “who doesn’t usually like fantasy stories, but really likes Game of Thrones.”

It’s certainly a slap in the face of early adopters who have been with the series since A Game of Thrones was released in 1996. To them, the excitement of seeing the books visualized must’ve been intoxicating at first. Major events like the Ned Stark’s execution, the Red Wedding and Joffrey’s death were welcome olive branches for years of loyalty. Book fans were continually assured the show would never pass the novels. The 2011 release of A Dance with Dragons placed GRRM on a tight, yet plausible schedule to complete the series in time for the show’s finale. Fans were treated to a number of new characters and twists in the fifth volume, enough to satisfy their cravings for a few more years.

Then time passed. And more time. Year after year of no progress. GRRM worked on other projects. He wrote episodes for the show. He made media appearances. All while offering no concrete timeline on The Winds of Winter. I’m patient. I want  the books to be as well written as possible. If that takes another five years, I’ll wait. It’s the assumed cost of becoming invested.

Game of Thrones simultaneously trucked along, however. It followed the central direction of the books, but gradually chipped away the edges of ancillary storylines. Most often, these deviations were not only poorly written, but baffling in the way they changed character’s motivations.

Consolidating ponderous prose, combining characters, tightening stories to fit into ten one-hour episodes is understandable. Hell, the first season did it masterfully. But how does a viewer reconcile Jaime Lannister’s redemption over a two season arc with his rape of Cersei? Why set up Tyrion’s past marriage to a supposed whore as described in Season 1 if there’s no payoff when he confronts Tywin at the end of Season 4? Why is Asha “Yara” Greyjoy led on a completely meaningless task when she should be convening at the Iron Islands Kingsmoot?

The latter example is part of why I find Game of Thrones storytelling so bizarre. Stannis Baratheon is one of the major players in Westeros, despite his crippled status. Excluding Daenerys, he has the best legitimate claim to the Iron Throne. More importantly, he is still alive at the beginning of Book 6, no small feat in Westeros. His blood ritual with the leeches was a powerful moment at the end of Season 3. Whether you believe in its power or not, King Robb, King Joffrey and King Balon all perish in its wake, while Stannis remains. These deaths should’ve all occurred in relatively quick succession, and with Stannis’ ritual firmly in viewers’ minds. Instead, the show highlighted the first two deaths (in different seasons) and hasn’t even acknowledged the third. As a way of avoiding a slew of new casting for the Greyjoys’ storyline, Game of Thrones kicked the can down the road. I can only believe they’re forthcoming in Season 6, but the jury’s still out.

Both book fans and show fans who are friends with book fans will note the absence of Lady Stoneheart. Interviews suggest she’s omitted completely. Well I guess I now know her storyline is ultimately inconsequential to the books’ finale.

This same rationale can be applied to every character that dies in the show while their book counterpart lives. The mystery of underestimating potentially influential characters keeps the narrative engaging. What is Lady Stoneheart doing in the Riverlands? Might Jeyne Westerling carry Robb Stark’s heir? What will Westeros hold for Dany’s Dothraki companions? “Doesn’t matter, asshole,” the show has consistently reminded me, “can’t you just be satisfied with endless marketing based on dragons?”

Marketing Game of Thrones based on four or five shots of CGI dragons a season is appealing to the lowest common denominator in search of viewers.

I’m going to go right ahead and be a hipster snob, the show would be better if it had more modest success. The overwhelming number of fans turned what should be quality, intricately plotted High Fantasy into pandering garbage. Artistic integrity demanded any attempt to transfer the books to a visual medium wait until the full scope of the series was realized. In much the same way the early Harry Potter movies chopped major subplots, Game of Thrones jumped in with both feet before realizing the scale of the undertaking.

George R.R. Martin has repeatedly derided fan fiction. He respects authors like Tolkien, who carefully craft worlds better left untouched by anyone but their creators. How can he then sit idly and watch Game of Thrones turn his magnum opus into half-baked fan fiction worthy of a fourteen year old boy? Weiss and Benioff will be injecting more original ideas as the series winds down to its conclusion. It’s inevitable. GRRM is still working on details that they won’t know until the books are published. This is the worst kind of fan fiction.

HBO continues to stand firm on seven seasons. Period. And yet, at this very moment, the series is still salvageable. If GRRM scales up his production and releases The Winds of Winter in 2016, the show can slow the tide and use its seven seasons to tell six books. After the show’s finale in 2017, GRRM could then work fervently on completing Book 7. Assuming the final volume is ramping up to the epic battle we’ve been led to believe, a film version of the seventh book would be an ideal medium to portray these events.

This isn’t revolutionary. GRRM himself mentioned the possibility in a 2014 interview. Places like HBO are meant to be havens where artistic expression can flourish in contrast to canned network TV. Execs have dismissed this idea and stayed true to their vision, not the author’s.

As long as the show cuts significant characters, alters major plots and seeks to spoil the ending of an unfinished book series in which I’m still invested, I can’t continue to watch. There’s no thrill in encountering new twists, just disappointment. But for non-book readers, I’d also argue that your show just isn’t that good. When constrained by 10 hours per season, there is no room for filler, yet it’s evident on a weekly basis. Without firm backing by the source material, juggling so much makes every individual element hollow.

Stop ruining A Song of Ice and Fire, stop watching Game of Thrones.

Baseball. Long, boring games. Long, boring, 162 game seasons. It challenges a fan’s vitality and loyalty when September comes and your team is 30 games out of first place. That’s just about the time you switch to football and pay as much attention to the final month of the MLB season as you did to Spring training. Can you blame even the most ardent fans? Baseball fields the smallest playoff pool of the four major professional sports and requires half a calendar year just to get there. Those who stick it to the end deserve commendation.

I had all but given up on baseball before last season. Changes to the game’s drug policy have rendered in-game excitement to a shell of its Steroid Era glory. I’ve often wondered why people just accepted the argument that using performance enhancing drugs is cheating and has no place in America’s Pastime. Artificial enhancement is surely American. Steroids gave Major League Baseball a marketable product to stem the football tide from encompassing every sports fan in the country. There was actual palpable excitement every time Barry Bonds stepped up to home plate in 2001. In high school, I’d stay up with Baseball Tonight to check in on the fusillade of home run balls terrorizing pitchers nightly. The show would often cut into its analysis with its trademark jingle, indicating a major development in one of the west coast games that extended into the early mornings. In those days it was common for every Bonds at bat to be the subject of these interludes. He chased and broke Mark McGwire’s single season (steroid-fueled) home run record that year. 73 home runs. A couple seasons later, Hank Aaron’s All-Time home run record fell. I was riveted. Even as the New York Yankees dynasty of the late 20th century began to fall, baseball kept me engaged and satisfied.

There were twelve players with 40 or more home runs in 2001, including seven with 49+. Nelson Cruz alone led MLB with 40 home runs in 2014. Do more frequent home runs make the game more exciting? That’s arguable. Purists appreciate skillful managerial strategy over constant fireworks. Sort of the same way football purists love to dissect the finer points of defensive play. But you don’t win casual fans producing 1-0 pitching duels any more than you can with a 6-3 mud drenched gridiron battle. It’s no coincidence football’s rise has been accompanied by increased emphasis on quick striking pass offenses. At the same time, baseball’s offensive stats have sunk well below the status quo of the 90s and early 00s.

The NFL’s other, under-appreciated strength is its salary cap. Strict spending rules have allowed frequent turnover of top teams. Management skill and scouting savvy are still vital to producing effective end products. Look at the sustained success of the New England Patriots and the perennial failure of the Oakland Raiders. However, both the cap and a strong, collegiately developed talent pool help maintain more parity among the league’s teams. It’s why teams like Green Bay and Pittsburgh compete for titles as often as the New York Giants. Salary caps are essentially a form of socialism, whereby the largest market teams can’t spend substantially more than the smallest. Ironically, the game supported by the most stereotypically American fans is structurally the least stereotypically American.

Baseball, on the other hand, maintains its patriotism. In 2014, the top five team payrolls were:

  • Los Angeles Dodgers – $235 Million
  • New York Yankees – $203 Million
  • Philadelphia Phillies – $180 million
  • Boston Red Sox – $162 Million
  • Detroit Tigers – $162 Million

While the bottom five team payrolls were:

  • Houston Astros – $44 Million
  • Miami Marlins – $47 Million
  • Tampa Bay Rays – $77 Million
  • Pittsburgh Pirates – $78 Million
  • Cleveland Indians – $82 Million

Is it any wonder why the Astros are bottom feeders when the Dodgers can spend almost $200 million more on players’ contracts?

Since 2003, MLB has instituted a laughable luxury tax system on payrolls over a certain threshold. The assumption is that you can take money from higher spending teams and distribute it among the rest of the league. But the New York Yankees are frequently exceeded the cap and absorbed the tax as the cost of doing business. If it doesn’t act as a deterrent to overspending in free agency, you may as well throw it out. Power has been consolidated in the top tier programs, similarly to how wages have stagnated for the middle class and the wage gap has increased exponentially. The truth is that Major League Baseball banks on the revenue of its big market teams while the smaller ones are just props for the appearance of competitiveness. One breaks through to the upper echelon on occasion, using tricks like those described in Moneyball. Over the last two decades, though, New York, Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Chicago constitute a large majority of the titles won.

Baseball should be the blue collar, Everyman sport. When the new Yankee Stadium opened in 2009, the comically high ticket prices were criticized. The face value of the highest priced tickets landed somewhere in the range of a nice family vacation. Ticket prices to an NFL game can also get pricey, but each game is a weekly event. When you’ve been to a football game, you feel like you’ve experienced one of eight vitally important home games in a given season. You getting drunk and screaming yourself hoarse in support has significance. Over the course of 81 MLB home games, the odds you will be watching a meaningless display increase tenfold. Even the best pitchers have off days. Hitting is considered prolific at 30% success. If you’re paying $200 for a decent ticket to watch an overpaid, hungover pitcher yield eight runs in 3 innings while his impotent offense shrugs this one off as a loss before the seventh inning stretch, it’s hard to find the value. The exciting contest you’ve saved money for means little to players in the long slog of a hot summer. I resolved to never pay for a seat in Yankee Stadium before it even opened.

It was overwhelmingly refreshing to see the Baltimore Orioles and the Kansas City Royals compete in the 2014 ALCS. Both defied every aforementioned criticism of Major League Baseball. It was like a mini-rebirth of old baseball, when everyone still held the annual hope that this would be their year.

I also had a personal baseball rebirth last season. When I saw the Yankees play the Red Sox at Fenway last July, it filled a void I never realized had formed. The smell of wood, plastic, metal and grass under a sizzling hot sun returned me somewhere. The energy of 37,000 Red Sox fans united in hatred of these invading Yankees filled me with anticipation I hadn’t experienced for years. Major League Baseball, the institution, still retained all its faults, but I was no longer thinking as a removed observer. I was deep in the heart of the action. This was baseball as it was meant to be. There is something so compelling about the in-person experience. Baseball is as much a social affair as anything. It’s no wonder Don DeLillo set Underworld’s prologue at the Dodgers-Giants National League Pennant game of 1951. You aren’t just there watching a baseball game. You are sharing a series of moments with friends, family and strangers. Only an exalted few can lay claim to it. When that’s the case, you don’t need the home runs.

Perhaps baseball’s slow pace urges us to think more. For the better. Football is visceral. It’s constantly moving. It mirrors our own lives, ever combative, where we struggle to catch our breath. Baseball is what we want life to be. It’s deliberate. It gives us a chance to appreciate not only the main action, but the periphery. We discover things about ourselves in those moments.

The unpredictability of each baseball game can actually be a virtue. Football demands preparation above all. Talented, well prepared NFL teams ascend. Upsets happen, but the urgency of a short season requires constant vigilance. Baseball has leeway. If they played enough games, those lowly Astros will defeat the Dodgers at least once. What could be more positively American than the ever present hope of the underdog vanquishing the giant? Even if it’s one meaningless game in early July. It belongs to you.

America was dazzled by baseball’s Steroid Era. It was daily gratification. The barrage of home runs allowed us to remain entertained from afar. Remove that and it sure can be boring. I’ve stood firm against visiting Yankee Stadium. Never again, on principle. Timing and circumstances what they are, I’ve necessarily gravitated towards supporting the Red Sox. It wasn’t easy abandoning the team I was raised on for the one I despised. I still consider myself dedicated to the pre-2009 New York Yankees. But I’m starved for the experience. I don’t want to watch baseball, I want to live it. Fenway Park allowed me to reclaim some of that sentiment.

Now, it’s time for MLB to reform. Top heavy influence is detrimental to all fans. Those of the large market teams become too accustomed to winning. The expectation of an annual World Series title makes anything short seem like a waste of time. This entitlement forces teams to spend even more money, driving ticket prices up, accessibility down and diluting the value of the product. Small market teams contend with longer odds of ultimate victory. They often fail to fill stadium seats enough to support anything above a paltry operating budget. These teams become Washington Generals-esque opponents, doomed to a fate of elevating the enlightened few. Baseball will continue to lose as long as only the elite can win. Let’s institute a hard salary cap and finally socialize the game. As I’ve come to learn, it’s still worth saving.

Happy Opening Day to all. Every team’s still in it in April. Except the Mets.

Lilliput FlagIt’s a great time of the year to travel to Lilliput, a gorgeous island nation in the South Indian Ocean. Though there are some great tourist spots, foreigners have had some trouble on the island, and so it’s important to understand some of the local culture and customs before making the trip.

Getting There

There are no direct flights to Mildendo, the capital of Lilliput. The easiest way to visit the island is by flying to Tasmania and taking a boat the rest of the way. There are also periodic voyages out of Great Britain, but these take a bit longer and occasionally meet with some additional trouble.

On the Island

The climate is subtropical, similar to the other islands in the region. Comfortable attire would include short sleeved shirts and shorts or light pants for men and dresses or skirts for women. The entire circumference of the island is only 12 miles, so you’re never far from the beach. Go ahead and pack that swimsuit, too!

The residents of Lilliput are a bit smaller than the average person, so visitors may occasionally find local architecture ill-suited to their needs. Rest assured, though, there are regular-sized accommodations available.  As long as you’re friendly, courteous and amenable, Lilliputians are happy to welcome outsiders into their community.

Local Customs

For the most part, a trip to Lilliput is practically akin to a trip to Great Britain. However, there are a couple local customs visitors must understand.

Lilliputians follow the teachings of the prophet Lustrog, whose teachings are recorded in the Blundecral. One of the central tenets is that boiled eggs must be cracked on the little end. It is absolutely essential you crack the smaller end when in the company of Lilliputians. Recently there have been factions attempting to gain acceptance for the “big end,” but these are very minority views within the country are are not widely accepted.

“Making water” (urination) within the precincts of the palace is prohibited.


Lilliput uses the sprug, so plan accordingly.


Lilliput is a monarchy governed by Emperor Golbasto Momarem Evlame Gurdilo Shefin Mully Ully Gue. The island shares many traditions with neighboring Blefuscu, however each country takes opposing sides on the aforementioned interpretation of the Blundecral’s big end/little end debate.

The two countries have experienced conflict for some time. There are deep religious divides between the two parties that visitors can’t possibly understand. It is advisable for foreigners to avoid intervening, lest you get roped into the conflict.


Lilliput offers some stunning scenery, wonderful beaches, unique architecture and vibrant culture. The spring season is a perfect time to enjoy all it has to offer. As long as you learn and understand some of the local customs, you will have a great time. Be Swift, plan a vacation as soon as possible.

Bon Voyage!