Lifestyle - July 15, 2017

‘Game of Thrones’ inspires deep devotion with Orlando fans

“Game of Thrones” is a dive into a tempestuous ocean, and fans are ready for another challenging swim when the seventh season starts Sunday.

“The story itself, the characters have so much depth,” said fan Rachel Wronowski of Orlando. “The history of the families — there’s a lot to it. It is imaginative but also intelligent. It makes me think. You have to keep doing research.”

She could turn to Rollins College in Winter Park, where Jana Mathews teaches a sophomore-level English course on the HBO drama based on George R.R. Martin’s book series. The sprawling medieval fantasy about royal families and the battle for the Iron Throne has delivered classic characters, epic special effects and 38 Emmy wins — the record for a scripted series. HBO’s biggest hit ever scores extremely well in Central Florida for a premium cable show.

Mathews explores Martin’s obsession with English history and offers a detailed, 10-page syllabus with the disclaimer “this course takes the idea of experiential learning very seriously.” She employs a dash of “Thrones” drama to prove it.

“At the beginning of the semester, students divide themselves into houses, and these groups compete against each other for glory — and the Iron Throne,” she said. “In addition to hosting tournaments and staging water balloon battles on the campus quad, each house is given a hard-boiled egg ‘baby’ that represents the designated heir to their house’s throne.”

They do their best to protect that “baby” from other groups — a real-world variation on the vivid conflicts in Westeros.

HBO has worked to keep the new, seven-episode season under wraps. But fans’ expectations are as high as Daenerys’ flying dragons for what Time magazine calls “the world’s most popular show.” TV Guide teases that there will be “major reunions, massive battles — and one unexpected tryst.”

“I most look forward to a reunion of the Stark siblings and the meeting between Daenerys and Jon Snow,” said Daniel Fandino, a doctoral student at Michigan State University who examines pop culture and fandom studies. “I also look forward to seeing the dragons and the White Walkers in the large-scale battles that are undoubtedly to come, which could be some of the best action scenes ever created for television.”

“Thrones” has ignited controversy for depictions of rape, incest and mistreated women, yet this season will be dominated by the female characters, a point repeated in the wave of publicity before the premiere.

“It seems that a large-scale battle is inevitable between the Targaryen and Lannister armies,” Mathews said. “What’s kind of awesome about this battle is that at the helm of both groups are women.”

They are Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) for the Targaryen team and Cersei (Lena Headey) for the Lannister one.

Mathews also applauds that Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) came into her own last season. “Shedding her socially prescribed identity as a passive noblewoman enabled her to ‘act like a man’ in the ‘Battle of the Bastards’ episode, where she enacted a bloody revenge on her husband,” she said.

Fan Tim Brock, a retired aerospace engineer from Oviedo, pronounces himself “very happy” with season six and describes “Battle of the Bastards” as “fantastic” for Jon Snow (Kit Harington) facing down a charging horde with just his sword.

“The destruction of the Sept was the most shocking,” he said, citing a scene in which Cersei managed to wipe out many characters. In the coming season, he’s “hoping to see Cersei get put down” and that her twin brother — and lover — Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) turns on her.

Fan Wronowski cites Daenarys as her favorite character and Cersei as her least favorite. “She’s just so evil — no redeeming qualities,” she said.

She likes that the most dynamic characters are women and notes that her boss, a man, has made that very point in show discussions. She and co-workers at a commercial flooring company mull over the plots.

“We all regroup on Monday and talk about it,” she said.

They used to do the same with “The Walking Dead,” AMC’s zombie drama, but those chats declined after last season’s violence.

“I said from the beginning I’d stop watching when Glenn died. He died, and it got so gruesome,” Wronowski said, adding that she and her co-workers have no such qualms about “Thrones.”

“The whole thing is fantasy. It’s also a period show,” she said. “It’s not like someone from 2017 bashing in someone’s head with a bat.”

Any discussion with fans goes to speculation about where the suspenseful series will end in its eighth and final season.

“The romantic in me is hoping for the fairy-tale ending where Jon Snow or Daenerys (or their combined forces) will destroy the White Walkers, win the civil war and ascend to the Iron Throne, but that’s not how Martin and the show runners roll,” Mathews said. “It’s way more likely that the popular internet meme is right: Namely, that in the end, ‘everybody dies.’ ”

Fandino sees Daenerys and Jon Snow jointly taking the Iron Throne. “An alliance between the two would unite the Stark and Targaryen houses and Jon’s Targaryen lineage gives him an equal claim to the throne,” he said. “Either that or everyone dies.”

Because in the world of “Game of Thrones,” anything can happen. and 407-420-5756

Game of Thrones

The seventh season of HBO’s biggest hit starts at 9 p.m. Sunday. The episode is called “Dragonstone.” HBO provided this preview: “Jon (Kit Harington) organizes the defense of the North. Cersei (Lena Headey) tries to even the odds. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) comes home.”

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