“Big Little Lies” Season 1 may have had a satisfying ending with the death of Perry (Alexander Skarsgard), but fans are wondering whether or not there’s hope for a second season for the hit HBO TV series. While speaking with TV Line, Skarsgard himself may have hinted that there won’t be a second season for “Big… Continue reading
Daenerys has had a brief but impactful storyline in Game of Thrones Season 6. We haven’t seen her all that much, but when we have, she’s done big things. She was captured by the Dothraki, and now she controls the united Dothraki horde—the most powerful military force in the world. She’s returning to Meereen, where Tyrion… Continue reading
Jonathan Ames, the novelist who created the short-lived but critically acclaimed HBO comedy Bored to Death, is trying his might on a new network with the help of Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane in the producer chair. Blunt Talk stars Patrick Stewart of Star Trek: The Next Generation and X-Men fame as Walter Blunt, a British newscaster whose recent migration to Los Angeles in the hops of climbing the American nightly cable news ladder leads to misguided decisions on and off the air, resulting in calamities and chaos that he must navigate through in order to save his career.
If it sounds cliche, think again.
The same story has been running for a little while under the moniker Episodes, but has failed to live up to the edgy potential that both the millennial and gen-X audience are looking for. Episodes stars a husband and wife team of writers from England who get a shot at writing an adaptation of a show for a U.S. television network only to find themselves drowning in the woes of TV executive back-office antics and the allure of the Hollywood lifestyle. By contrast, Blunt Talk is more about the self-destruction of a talking head hell-bent on becoming America’s biggest news anchor. By teaming MacFarlane and Stewart you have some wackiness that might just spell “entertainment” with a capital E. And let’s not forget the creativity of a writer like Ames. While Episodes proves its on-air right with its dry wit and quirky, saucy story-line, Blunt Talk goes beyond the pale, which can be seen in just the trailer alone.
To watch the trailer, click the video below.
Actor Emilia Clarke has hyped up the anticipation for the Game of Thrones season six, saying it will be “epic” and will have many “shocking” moments. “It’s really exciting. Next season, I’ve said this before, but there are a lot of seasons where you need to [rightly so] kind of need to set the scene. And… Continue reading
While the spoilers are all out, many fans refused to believe the painful ending of season 5. Viewers by now might expect their favorite characters to die at any minute, but there’s just something about Jon Snow that they’ve refused to let go. Some strongly believe he is ‘the chosen one’ therefore he will be brought… Continue reading
The climate has been a persistent theme of Game of Thrones ever since Ned Stark (remember him?) told us “winter is coming” back at the start of season one. The Warden of the North was referring, of course, to the anticipated shift in Westerosi weather from a long summer to a brutal winter that can last for many years.
An unusual or changing climate is a big deal. George R R Martin’s world bears many similarities to Medieval Europe, where changes to the climate influenced social and economic developments through impacts on water resources, crop development and the potential for famine.
We’re interested in whether Westeros’s climate science adds up, given what we’ve learned about how these things work here on Earth.
It’s not easy to understand the mechanisms driving the climate system given we can’t climb into the Game of Thrones universe and take measurements ourselves. It’s hard enough to get an accurate picture of what’s driving the world’s climate even with many thousands of thermometers, buoys and satellite readings all plugging data into modern supercomputers – a few old maesters communicating by raven are bound to struggle.
The fundamental difference between our world and that of Westeros is of course the presence of seasons. Here on Earth, seasons are caused by the planet orbiting around the sun, which constantly bombards us with sunlight. However the amount of sunlight received is not the same throughout the year.
If you imagine the Earth with a long pole through its centre (with the top and bottom of the pole essentially the North and South Pole) and then tilt that by 23.5 degrees, the amount of sunlight received in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres will change throughout the year as the Earth orbits the Sun.
Clearly the unnamed planet on which Game of Thrones is set is missing this axis tilt – or some other crucial part of Earth’s climate system.
How longer seasons might work
The simplest explanation could be linked to spatial fluctuations in solar radiation (sunlight) received at the surface. A reduction in incoming solar radiation would mean more snow and ice likely remaining on the ground during the summer in Westeros’s far north. Compared to the more absorbent soil or rock, snow reflects more of the Sun’s energy back out to space where in effect it cannot warm the Earth‘s surface. So more snow leads to a cooler planet, which means more snow cover on previously snow-free regions, and so on. This process is known as the snow albedo feedback.
The collapse of large ice sheets north of the Wall could also rapidly destabilise ocean circulation, reducing northward heat transport and leading to the encroachment of snow and ice southwards towards King’s Landing.
To descend into glacial conditions would require a large decrease in solar radiation received at certain locations on the Earth’s surface and likewise an increase would be needed to return to warmer conditions.
This is roughly what happened during the switches between “glacial” and “interglacial” (milder) conditions throughout the past million years on Earth. This is controlled primarily by different orbital configurations known as “Milankovitch cycles”, which affect the seasonality and location of sunlight received on Earth.
However, these cycles are on the order of 23,000 to 100,000 years, whereas Game of Thrones seemingly has much shorter cycles of a decade or less.
When winter came back
Around 12,900 years ago there was a much more abrupt climate shift, known as the Younger Dryas, when a spell of near-glacial conditions interrupted a period of gradual rewarming after the last ice age peaked 21,000 years ago. The sudden thawing at the end of this cold spell happened in a matter of decades – a blink of an eye in geological terms – and led to the warm, interglacial conditions we still have today.
Various different theories have tried to explain why this spike occurred, including the sudden injection of freshwater into the North Atlantic from the outburst of North American glacial lakes, in response to the deglaciation, which destabilised ocean circulation by freshening the water and reducing ocean heat transport to the North Atlantic Ocean, cooling the regional climate.
Less likely explanations include shifts in the jet stream, volcanic eruptions blocking out the sun, or even an asteroid impact.
The shift from the Medieval Warm Period to the Little Ice Age that began around 1300 AD represents a more recent, and more subtle, example of a “quick” climate change. Although the overall temperature change wasn’t too severe – a Northern Hemisphere decrease of around 1˚C compared with today – it was enough to cause much harsher winters in Northern Europe.
None of these events indicate the abrupt transitions from long summers to long winters as described in Game of Thrones – and they still all happen on a much longer timescale than a Westeros winter. However they do demonstrate how extreme climate shifts are possible even on geologically short timescales.
Regardless of the causes of the long and erratic seasons, winter in Westeros won’t be much fun. It may even make the struggle for the Iron Throne between the various factions seem irrelevant.
Indeed the House of Stark’s motto: “winter is coming” may have a lesson for us here on Earth. Anthropogenic climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing humankind today and if left unmitigated the potential environmental impact on society may be far greater than any global recession. Stop worrying about the Iron Throne, everyone, winter is coming.
In the neighborhood where I lived as a graduate student in the mid-1970s, there was a man whose face was remarkably disfigured. Half of it seemed melted, as if it had been fashioned of candle wax. You would spot him after dark on the streets near my university, holding one hand in front of the burned part of his face while he walked. Seeing him filled me with pity, but also horror. And then shame at my own horror.
I thought of my long-ago reactions to the burned man when I heard about Greyscale, the fearsome disease that afflicts some of the characters on Game of Thrones (and also in the series of books the TV shows is based on). Characters with Greyscale are sometimes sent into lifelong quarantine – or exile, depending on how you look at it – in a ruined city.
The world Game of Thrones takes place in is ostensibly based on the medieval and early modern eras. To readers and viewers of the series, Greyscale and its disruptive terror might be a reminder of the Black Death or those mysterious poxes and fluxes that chroniclers wrote about in the era before medical advances allowed physicians to make specific diagnoses. But I wonder if Greyscale’s allure for contemporary audiences has to do with disfigurement.
We have always been fascinated (and repulsed) by disfiguring diseases. And disfigurement has long been burdened with presumptions about permanent moral taint. The capacity of this fantasy disease to grab so many people’s attention is an extension of a long historical line: the tension between loathing of the unsightly and shame over our own repulsion. It goes back at least to medieval Europeans’ dealings with lepers.
A biblical mistranslation shaped how the medieval world understood leprosy
As with leprosy, Greyscale can leave survivors alive, but disfigured – bearing a permanent mark of the disease. In the books, one character describes a girl who survived Greyscale saying that “the child is not clean.” And like leprosy in the medieval era, Greyscale disfigures, but how it is transmitted is not well understood.
Hans von Gersdorff via Images from the History of Medicine (NLM)
A mistranslation in the Bible lead to leprosy’s infamy. Chapter 13 of Leviticus concerns people whose spiritual impurity is reflected in a set of skin afflictions known collectively as tzara’at. The thrust of Leviticus, at this point, concerns the dramatic tension between polluting forces in the natural world and humans’ marshaling of nature’s pure, or purifying, forces (cedar, hyssop, clean water and so forth) in opposition. Indeed, Leviticus makes clear that tzara’at could be seen on cloth and the walls of houses, too. The crucial passage on tzara’at of human skin orders the spiritually impure person to dwell “outside the camp” for eight days. Reflection, along with priestly ministration, will restore the sufferer’s wholeness and allow him to be return to society.
When the text of the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek in the Septuagint in the third century BC, tzara’at was ambiguously rendered as lepra, from the Greek leprei, already in use by Hippocrates to describe a collection of scaly patches. The word lepra carried over into the commonly used Latin translation of the bible, called the Vulgate.
Thus, while medieval Christians’ banishment of lepers was supposed to be based on the Bible, the disease medieval Europeans called leprosy (and that we now know as Hansen’s disease) is the result of infection with Mycobacterium leprae. Yet, that bacterium almost certainly had not existed in the Near East at the time the relevant biblical text was being handed down, in the 6th and 5th centuries BC. Biblical “leprosy” was not medieval leprosy.
Being a leper didn’t always mean you had leprosy
Leprosy came to denote not only those disfigured by Hansen’s disease – which was by then present in Europe – but people with all manner of skin conditions, or people who simply looked like they shouldn’t be allowed to circulate freely.
Rationalizing ostracism in biblical terms gave the shunning of lepers the force of moral imperative. And as time went on, the postulate in Leviticus that the leper, once cleansed, could return to normal society was lost. In its place came a sensibility about leprosy as fearsome. Although Hansen’s disease is not easily transmitted, the medieval Europeans sought ways to cleanse society of its disfigurement.
Richard Tennant Cooper via Wellcome Library, London
In the eighth century, for instance, Pope Gregory II said that lepers should not mix with healthy Christians at sacred events. By 1179, a papal council decreed that lepers be provided with their own churches, cemeteries and priests. On that basis, thousands of leprosaria were built in Europe to house the people deemed unfit.
Not only was leprosy itself disfiguring, but it carried moral taint through rumors that it was associated with sexual impropriety or resulted from a superabundance of melancholic (black) bile.
By this thinking, disfigurement of Hansen’s disease was inextricably linked with moral condemnation. Consider a statement by a 12th-century monk from the Abbey of St Victor, near Paris:
“fornicators, concubines, the incestuous, adulterers, the avaricious, userers, false witnesses, perjurers … all are judged to be leprous by the priests.”
We still associate disfigurement with moral failings
And perhaps disfigurement is even more terrifying today than in the Middle Ages. Certainly, when AIDS appeared in America in the early 1980s, the dark blotches of Kaposi’s sarcoma, the pallor, and the cachexia (wasting) that it often conferred made it both fascinating and repulsive.
Susan Sontag noted AIDS disfigurement’s “esthetic” aspects: that it made grotesque exactly those who were young and beautiful, in the prime of their erotic appeal, was one of the ways AIDS acquired cultural baggage. And indeed, the disfigurement AIDS produced was never far from the moral disapprobation heaped, in those days, on its sufferers, who were usually gay men or drug injectors.
As late as the 1990s, a survey showed that one in six Americans still admitted to feeling “disgust” at people with AIDS.
We are more tolerant of homosexuality today (and, to a lesser extent, drug injectors). And leprosy no longer bears the stigma it once did. But our culture is more than ever oriented to image. And there are more ways to do something about undesired aspects of physiognomy: orthodonture, cosmetics, smoothing and lifting, surgeries of all kinds, and so on.
Not surprisingly, we find other ways to layer moral disapproval on disfigurement. Isn’t this why obesity lends itself to narratives of gross (literally!) distortion of nature – eating too much, moving too little? We are so accustomed to looking at obesity as symptomic of a failure of sociability that a popular strain of research can claim that obesity “spreads” through social networks. The overlarge are the lepers of today.
I don’t know why so many people think that nature is always pretty, and that unpretty people must be, somehow, incontinent – why so many of us still make assumptions not too far from those about lepers in medieval Europe. But it’s not surprising that, in our culture, a disfiguring and incurable condition like Greyscale has an arch sort of allure.
In the first season of the HBO’s hit anthology series True Detective, the Gulf Coast setting was almost a character unto itself.
The locale was woven into the story, which took its characters deep into the Louisiana wetlands while exploring the depths of human depravity. Even the satanic ritualism in the first season had real-life roots in the region’s past.
When the second season premieres later this month, viewers will find themselves transported to California – not in sunny Los Angeles, not in vibrant San Francisco, but in the 400 miles between.
Little is known of the plot; it will star Rachel McAdams, Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell, who will play a couple of cops and a criminal roving throughout California’s “scorched landscapes.” As creator Nic Pizzolatto explained, it will take place in “the places that don’t get much press and where you wouldn’t normally set a television show.”
What should viewers expect of this “scorched” landscape? What’s the economic engine of the area? And what types of people might the main characters encounter? As someone who studies public health in the region, I can offer some relevant background for fans of the show.
Peeling back the dusty surface
There’s at least one instantly obvious reason that a TV show would think twice about plopping itself down in the Central Valley. Anyone who has driven up and down Interstate 5 or Highway 99 can tell you it is almost incessantly flat, brown and – where water can still be found – occasionally green. To be sure, it can be beautiful, but it can also grow tedious.
Yet while the Central Valley might be bereft of topographic undulations, it contains an astounding depth of humanity.
The region is among the most diverse areas in the country, and over 50% of the people are Mexican-origin Latino. Within that population, there’s considerable diversity: 25% are foreign-born, and many are indigenous Mexicans. The region also includes substantial numbers of Hmong (Southeast Asia), Sikh (India) and Filipino populations, whose colorful and vibrant cultures add richness to the Central Valley’s tapestry.
Some midsized cities – Bakersfield in the south, Fresno in the middle and Modesto up top – dot the landscape. But the area is largely rural and produces nearly two-thirds of the nation’s fruit, nuts and vegetables.
Yet the region’s fertility is also the source of its vulnerability: the agricultural sector, which is low-paying for everyone but the owners, dominates industry. Agricultural workers are among the lowest paid and easiest to exploit, since many have minimal education, literacy and English language ability.
The Appalachia of the West
Outside of agriculture, there are few job opportunities, and Central Valley counties have among the highest levels of unemployment in the country: currently hovering between 10%-13%, these are down from rates over 20% at the peak of the Great Recession. Still, it’s substantially higher than the rest of the state and country. In some Central Valley counties, close to one in three residents lives in poverty – a rate 50% higher than California’s already-high poverty levels.
For this reason, a federal report has dubbed California’s Central Valley the “Appalachia of the West,” a reference to the significant health, economic and occupational disparities felt by its residents.
The lack of well-paying job opportunities for the most vulnerable populations has led to high levels of crime. During the Great Recession, Breaking Bad’s Walter White would have fit right in: meth production was a top illicit industry.
As the housing bubble expanded, optimistic developers started building sparkling, 3,000+-square-foot houses in developments across the valley. When the bubble popped, building stopped, leaving agricultural land razed and zoned for dwellings, but empty save for pipes and wires snaking out of the ground. In the San Joaquin Valley, drug dealers used houses lost to foreclosure as labs to concoct drugs (the area had the highest rates of default as home values plunged over 50%).
Evidence of the bubble’s burst is only now starting to be erased, as new signs advertising homes for sale slowly go up in these half-built, planned communities.
Also important to understanding the valley is how the combination of topography and pollution interact to affect daily life.
The region suffers from bad topographical luck: pollution from the Bay Area and Los Angeles drifts in and remains trapped by the surrounding mountains. Combined with the region’s own contributions to pollution from agriculture – not to mention the truck traffic up and down the region’s two main arteries – Central Valley cities rank among the most polluted areas in the country.
dangerismycat/flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
The smog visibly masks the great mountain ranges on either side, but it’s also an invisible killer: residents, especially children, suffer from disproportionately high rates of asthma and other chronic respiratory diseases. The agricultural landscape – along with the drought that’s going on its fourth year – means there are even places in this region where clean, safe drinking water isn’t available.
Ultimately, the Central Valley might simply provide the gritty canvas for another Pizzolatto tale of murder and corruption. For thousands of middle-class families, the region is just that — a backdrop for otherwise normal lives, complete with the typical American joys and struggles.
But something clearly drew Pizzolatto to the Central Valley. Its vibrant cultures and genuine hardships provide a palate as diverse as the people who live here, and True Detective has the chance to illustrate this fascinating place for the world.
It would be a shame if all it showed was flatness.