War Crimes on Westeros and Daenerys’ Missing Character Arc


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The general consensus is that a lot has gone wrong in this last season of Game of Thrones. To quote a friend of mine, “Jon can’t pet Ghost, but Drogon can set fire to Twitter all the way from Westeros.”

And, look, Game of Thrones has done a lot right. The ratings are chart-breaking. The cultural footprint is ginormous. The money trucks backing up to HBO HQ are heavily loaded. All that is great and wonderful for all those involved. As amazing as it is, though, Game of Thrones isn’t as good as it could be. Both things can be true.

So spoiler warning, folks.

I’ve been writing and talking a lot about the stunningly stupid military tactics on Game of Thrones this year. And, yeah, there’s a lot more of such foolishness at hand in the latest episode, “The Bells.” Some examples:

  • It should go ...

Checking the Math: The Big Event From Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 4 is Just as Impossible as You Think


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In the last episode of Game of Thrones, some things went down. This article will be about one of those things. So spoiler warnings, people.

Last chance to turn back.

Ready?

Okay. So, as you may recall, a ship-borne Euron Greyjoy surprises a dragon-borne Dany, shooting one of her dragons—Rhaegal, RIP—with a deck-mounted rapid-fire torsion weapon that the show calls a “scorpion.” Euron’s bolts cut through the beast, killing it, before a sequence of further shots from his ships blasts her fleet to splinters.

I have thoughts.

First, screw Three-eyed Raven “Nut” Bran Stark. Dude sees everything but speaks nothing.

Second, screw Dany for somehow managing to be surprised by a fleet of ships despite the fact that she has superior range of view from the back of a flying dragon. Seriously? She and Jon are just The Worst when it comes to using their ...

Breaking Down the Battle of Winterfell from a Military Perspective


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Aside from being great TV, Game of Thrones has been a wonderful way to bring academic expertise and public engagement together, and this most recent episode was no exception. So let’s talk about “The Long Night” and history. Put on your helmets, folks. (Should be plenty around, since most of the cast doesn’t use them…)

Warning: Spoilers to follow.

Also, let me preempt a whole line of comments by noting that, yes, I know this is fantasy. Real history doesn’t have dragons and undead and spells and all that jazz.

But you know what? Having all that fantasy stuff actually makes the real-world oddities of the Battle of Winterfell all the more glaring.

Again, spoilers to follow.

Seriously.

Let’s start with The Plan.

First, I love that we got a planning scene in the previous episode. As it was with the Battle of the Bastards, it’s good to have a ...

Kingdom of Heaven’s Disappointing Crusade Against History


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In both my scholarship and my fiction, my mind has been on war of late.

I think that’s why I’ve decided to take a breather from my workloads by queuing up Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut (2006).

First, I must tell you that I saw Kingdom of Heaven when it first came out in theaters in 2005. It was both disappointing and exhausting: the main arc of the protagonist made no sense, the pacing was odd, and the historical events were portrayed, well, super wrong. Also, and I must get this out of the way upfront, I’m not a fan of Orlando Bloom in this kind of role. I don’t know what Hollywood was thinking by casting him as a crusader knight. It’s especially odd when so much of the rest of the cast is perfection.

Anyway, I saw it in the theaters, was very much not ...

Outlaw King Is a Lot Smarter About History Than Braveheart


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So I more or less eviscerated Braveheart in my last column, and along the way more than one person asked about how Mel Gibson’s history hack compares to a new film dealing with the same period: Netflix’s Outlaw King (Dir. David Mackenzie), starring Chris Pine as Robert the Bruce—as the movie and popular tradition call him—the guy whose nickname really was Braveheart.

Well, let’s press Play on today’s column and find out!

OK. We start off with a pretty standard opening of Ye Olde Historical Note, intended to situate an unfamiliar audience with where we are at.

It’s 1304. William Wallace is on the run. The Scots are split between supporters of two families—that of John Comyn and that of Robert Bruce—but they’re unified in that their general rebellion against the English has failed. As we start the movie, King Edward I of England is laying siege to the last ...

Michael Bay Make Arthur Go Boom: Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)


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With summer vacation done and school back in session, we’re back for more medieval movies, gang. First film on the syllabus? Michael Bay’s Transformers: the Last Knight (2017).

I sorta can’t believe I just wrote that sentence. I mean, there’s only one reason to watch a Transformers movie, and that’s to hear Optimus Prime doing The Voice. It is not—I repeat, not—to learn about Medieval History.

That probably should go without saying, but the fact is that Transformers: The Last Knight exists.

It shouldn’t. I mean, seriously, who the hell was sitting around brainstorming Transformers ideas and came up with “needs more knights”?

Ugh. Transformers movies haven’t been good in … well, pretty much ever. That they exist at all is a sure sign of Hollywood’s lack of vision regarding movie ideas.

Anyway, this new Transformers movie exists. So I’m gonna do this thing. I’m gonna watch it. I’m ...

Bruckheimer Make Boom with the “Real” King Arthur (2004)


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I’ve said it before, in talking about the brilliance of Firelord, Parke Godwin’s novel of Arthur, that I can trace my choice of professional study, at some deep level, to a love of Arthur and his knights. Sure, Arthur is kind of a nebbish in a lot of the tales—which makes me all the more amazed at what Godwin did with him—but there’s just a lot of great stuff in the vast mythic complex that surrounds him.

King Arthur, as I tell my students, is like a little snowball rolled off the top of a tall, snowy peak. It gathers snow to it as it rolls, getting bigger and bigger until it’s really hard to find any trace of the original little clump of stuff that started it off.

Which is one way of explaining why anyone who tells you they know who the real King Arthur was… is ...

Assassin’s Creed Origins Makes Cleopatra’s Egypt Real


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I am not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination, so this won’t be your typical video game review.

I don’t think so, anyway. Because I don’t read video game reviews, either.

A couple years ago I bought an Xbox One for the family. I used it for the Blu-Ray player and Pandora. The kids used it for Minecraft.

The idea that I would use it for gaming wasn’t too much on my radar.

Not that I haven’t played games before. I’m not a n00b, kidz. (Please do picture your friend’s dad saying this, preferably whilst throwing ‘signs’, yo.)

It’s just that … well, I’m sorta old. And my own previous video game loves were largely of two varieties. Back in my NES days, I loved Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which in my PC days morphed into an abiding love of Civ-style games (full-add-on Civ4 is ...

Medieval Movie Cliché Bingo: Hayden Christensen and Nicolas Cage Go to China in Outcast


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Today I’ll be taking a look at Outcast, a 2014 movie that a medieval colleague suggested I watch. He was laughing as he said it. I’m not sure if he wishes me ill or not.

Let’s see what the plot is, according to my iPhone:

Students: “I don’t need to learn another language. I have Google Translate.”

I see. Well, that’s … painful on several different grammatical levels. Gonna have to start the movie up to see if I can sort out something better. Here goes…

Opening shots are of Hayden Christensen dressed up like a crusader (chortle). He’s doing a Hayden Christensen-y voiceover about wishing for forgiveness while exuding very Hayden Christensen-y angst…which reminds me how Hayden Christensen-y he was in the Prequels That Must Not Be Named.

So we aren’t really starting off on the right foot, here.

Not pictured: Mr. Christensen’s stylist.

Okay, we’re getting ...

The Medieval Origins of Easter Traditions


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Have you ever wondered just what a rabbit has to do with the resurrection of Jesus? Or what the word “Easter” really means? And, for that matter, what’s with all the eggs? Could it be, as Jon Stewart once wondered, that it’s because Jesus was allergic to eggs?

Alas, no. But how we got to all this egg and bunny business is nevertheless a cool and rather medieval story.

But before we get to the Middle Ages, there’s some earlier Christian history and theology to unpack to understand Easter’s importance and its resulting traditions. I’ll try to keep this as succinct (and objective) as I can.

Rome and Messiahs

From a cycle of icons depicting the life of Jesus, c.16-17th C. (Arkhangelsk Regional Museum of Fine Arts)

Aside from a fringe of folks who subscribe to the Christ Myth Theory, there’s near universal scholarly consensus ...

Lessons in Fantasy Languages from Harry Potter and The Hobbit


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Recently, I was honored to give a paper at the annual conference of the Philological Association of the Carolinas. I give a lot of lectures in a lot of venues on a lot of subjects—only one week before I was giving a keynote to a medical society on the battle head-wounds of David II of Scotland and Henry V of England—but this particular talk was one that I thought might interest y’all hereabouts: it was about using Harry Potter and The Hobbit to teach philology.

If you don’t know, philology is, broadly speaking, the study of language within (mostly) textual contexts. Philologists look at how languages form, how they relate to one another, how they impart meaning … and how we can know any of that at all. By its nature it brings together a diverse swath of academic interests from textual criticism, linguistics, and history and unites them into ...

Robin Hood Porn: The Virgins of Sherwood Forest


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Content warning: This is a review of a medieval film that is offensive to every notion of history.

Oh, also, it’s a porn.

Additional content warning: (Don’t worry, this article is safe-for-work.)

The year 2000 brought us a great many odd things. Y2K freak-outs, Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” and (drum-roll, please) the Robin Hood porn The Virgins of Sherwood Forest, which was no doubt trying to capitalize on whatever was left of the Prince of Mullets excitement by combining it with porn.

No, Mom. It’s not hard porn. It’s, um, soft porn. Skinemax porn.

That means it has a plot. A real, actual plot.

Here it is: a down-on-her-luck low-budget film-director bonks her noggin (PHRASING!) and dreams she’s living in Sherwood Forest. Adventure ensues as she learns that the men of Sherwood are hardly the virtuous heroes of old.

I’m not saying it’s a great plot, mind ...

Robin Hood Porn: The Virgins of Sherwood Forest


This post is by Michael Livingston from Tor.com Frontpage Partial - Blog and Story Content


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Content warning: This is a review of a medieval film that is offensive to every notion of history.

Oh, also, it’s a porn.

Additional content warning: (Don’t worry, this article is safe-for-work.)

The year 2000 brought us a great many odd things. Y2K freak-outs, Sisqó’s “Thong Song,” and (drum-roll, please) the Robin Hood porn The Virgins of Sherwood Forest, which was no doubt trying to capitalize on whatever was left of the Prince of Mullets excitement by combining it with porn.

No, Mom. It’s not hard porn. It’s, um, soft porn. Skinemax porn.

That means it has a plot. A real, actual plot.

Here it is: a down-on-her-luck low-budget film-director bonks her noggin (PHRASING!) and dreams she’s living in Sherwood Forest. Adventure ensues as she learns that the men of Sherwood are hardly the virtuous heroes of old.

I’m not saying it’s a great plot, mind ...

Dragon Blade: Jackie Chan and John Cusack Reinvent History on the Silk Road


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Oh my god.

Did you know that in 2015 John Cusack and Adrien Brody made a movie with Jackie friggin Chan about a missing Roman legion along the fabled Silk Road?

Hell yeah it exists. It’s called Dragon Blade (dir. Daniel Lee). It is, as the opening titles say, a story “inspired by true events.”

Which means, of course, it is going to be entirely bonkers.

I love that tag line.

The plot … well, I’ve paused the movie about 15 minutes in and I can tell you that it’s the year 50 BC (thanks, opening titles!). A Roman legion commanded by headband-wearing John Cusack has randomly showed up at the gates of a decaying walled city in the desert somewhere on the Silk Road that’s commanded by some guy whose name I didn’t catch … and Jackie Chan is there and he’s a prisoner but he’s also ...

Pathfinder: White Savior Nonsense, Viking Edition


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A few weeks ago I ranked my personal top-five Beowulf films, and among them was Outlander, a semi-obscure 2008 alien-meets-Beowulf film starring Jim Caviezel. It ranked #3 not because I think it’s a very good film but because Beowulf films (outside of the amazing 13th Warrior) generally suck for one reason or another.

Anyway, every time I try to think of Outlander I find myself confusing it with Pathfinder, a 2007 film directed by Marcus Nispel starring Karl Urban. Since I was thinking about the one, I started thinking about the other and, well, here we are.

Pathfinder: How to fill a movie poster with action and stuff.

Pathfinder is loosely (oh so very loosely) based upon a historical fact: around the year 1000, Vikings made their way from Greenland to the shores of North America. They established a settlement, explored a little, and ...

Thor: Ragnarok vs. the Real Ragnarök


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Ah-ah, ah!
Ah-ah, ah!

First, let me say that Thor: Ragnarok (2017; dir. Taika Waititi) is awesome. I’m delighted more each time I see it. Among Marvel films it’s no doubt top-5 for me. Yeah, I know that kind of statement is a fine way to pick a fight, but I really want to emphasize how I was blown away by the film from top to bottom.

This isn’t going to be a review of the film in any traditional sense, though. You’ve got one already.

I’m going to talk instead about the real Thor and the real Ragnarök. And to help me out, I’ve enlisted the help of my son, who is eleven years old and has read more than a few books on Norse mythology. (Like most of the huddled masses who watched Thor: Ragnarok, we’re gonna head straight from film to mythology and skip the comics ...

Beowulf on the Big Screen: Good, Bad, and Even Worse


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I don’t want to make you jealous or anything, but at least once a year I get to teach Beowulf.

I know, I know. You probably skimmed it once in some first-year literature survey class and you didn’t like it and … friends, you’re missing out. Beowulf is amazing. There’s a damn good reason that J.R.R. Tolkien was fascinated with it his whole life.

(True story: I spent days in the Tolkien Archives poring over his handwritten translations of the poem, annotations, and lecture notes. The recent Beowulf volume put out by the Tolkien Estate does not do the professor’s work justice.)

First page of Beowulf in the manuscript. Being able to read this is tremendously good at parties, I can assure you.

The thing is, though, that most people don’t really get how deeply and powerfully resonant Beowulf remains—over a thousand years since monks wrote our ...

My Favorite Medieval Film Is A Knight’s Tale


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If you’ve been following this column at all, you know that I enjoy teaching folks about the history of the real Middle Ages by pointing out the real issues with the reel Middle Ages.

This often leads to the misconceptions that I don’t “get” that many movies are meant to be “just fantasy” or that I hate most medieval movies. To such keen criticisms, I would reply that I totally get that fantasies aren’t meant to be historically accurate (though they clearly utilize that history and, fantasy or not, “teach” audiences about it), and oh my god I totally enjoy most medieval movies.

No. Scratch that. I adore most medieval movies — even the ones that cause me to roll my eyes at their historical inaccuracies.

When I’m asked what my favorite medieval movie is, though, my answer is always the same: A Knight’s Tale (dir. Brian Helgeland, 2001). Largely ...

The Medieval Origins of Christmas Traditions


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I’m smelling mulled cider on the stove, seeing mistletoe in the entryway, and hearing carols carried upon the wind. It’s Christmas time, so let’s talk about some of the origins behind my favorite holiday.

I know, I know. The holiday is about the birth of Jesus. And sure enough, “Cristes maesse” is first recorded in English in 1038 for “Christ’s Mass,” the mass held to honor of the birth of Jesus. “He’s the reason for the season,” as the church signs often say.

Except … maybe not this season. The Bible doesn’t give any actual date for the birth of Jesus. About the only biblical clue we have about the date is that, according to Luke 2:8, the shepherds were still residing in the field. Not much to go on, though our earliest recorded dates for the birth of Christ fall in line with more likely times for shepherds to ...

A 17th-century Ukrainian icon. I love the shepherd doffing his cap. Such a gent!
Antoine Callet, 'Saturnalia' (1783)
Chi-Rho page of the Lindisfarne Gospels.
I love this.

Pilgrims and Rocks and the Origins of Thanksgiving


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I intended to write an “origins of Thanksgiving” post last year, but the release of The Gates of Hell and day-job matters got in the way. I promised in a subsequent “Origins of Xmas” post that I’d do it next year, which a reader has reminded me is now this year … so here we go!

When we think of the historical origins of Thanksgiving, we tend to get an image like the one above.Praying Pilgrims and helpful Indians, amirite? By now we’ve distilled the images even further into simple symbolism that pre-school kids can craft in construction paper. For the pilgrims: black hats with buckles upon them. For the Indians: loincloths and feathered headbands. Turkey with gravy on the table, and nostalgia about peace amid a religiosity of thankfulness.

It’s all lovely, and I quite like Thanksgiving, but its important to distinguish our modern conceptions from ...