Viral Video Recap: House of Thrones, Louis CK Hosts ‘SNL’

House of Thrones. The best thing about this parody mashup of Game of Thrones and House of Cards? The guy playing Frank Underwood does a better Kevin Spacey than Spacey. Close your eyes when he says, “Why have one little old presidency when you can have seven entire kingdoms?” and you’ll fear for Westeros. (Brought to you by Toasty TV, the entertainment/video arm of…Quiznos. Because toasted sandwiches and comedy go hand in hand.)

Louis CK Hosts Saturday Night Live. Even a nine-minute monologue by the nation’s biggest comedian couldn’t save SNL from its new-cast growing pains. And Louis CK didn’t leave anything out of that opening set: God, female empowerment, the history of the “wife beater” tank top.

Lost in 30 Seconds. At Payley Fest, Entertainment Weekly asked Lost cast members to try to explain the meaning of the TV show in 30 seconds. It involved yelling. And Walt’s all grown up! Watch it here.

Lit Links: China’s Dan Brown, ‘The Road’ as a Children’s Book

The Chinese Novel Everyone Should Read
The Economist reviews Decoded by Mai Jia, who has been referred to as China’s Dan Brown, just way more literary.

 Life’s Too Short to Read a Bad Book
The Millions gets Little, Brown editor Allie Sommers to talk about what, exactly, editors do, and why it’s okay to put down a book before you finish it.

Dark Novels Reimagined as Children’s Books
Why not tuck your kids in with a bedtime reading of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road?

Go Midwest, Young Writer
Flavorwire posits that the Midwest is the new Brooklyn and that we should all pay attention to Rust Belt fiction.

Famous Writers Who Hated Writing
Quote James Joyce: “Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives.” See what nine other famous scribes have to say in this roundup on the Huffington Post.

Check back each Friday for new Lit Links, a roundup of some of the best literature news from across the interweb.

Is HIMYM’s Mother Dead? Do We Care?

After nine seasons and countless bro tips, the final episode of the hit CBS sitcom How I Met Your Mother airs March 31 — and I cannot wait for it to end. 

For so long, I loved how the show explored the relationships of five twentysomethings — Ted, his best friend Marshall, Marshall’s wife Lily, Ted’s ex-girlfriend Robin, and the legend-wait for it-dary Barney — working, living and loving in New York City. Even the structure of the show was interesting: each episode told in flashback by Ted (and narrated by Bob Saget – way to stay in the game, Bob!), as he regaled his teenage children with the story of how he met their mother.

The promise of meeting the titular Mother kept viewers coming back…for eight long years. She was finally introduced at the end of season 8, after multiple yellow umbrellas as red herrings. Sure, it wasn’t a character we’d ever seen before, but we still felt catharsis the moment actress Cristin Milioti appeared onscreen. Now that the Mother was out of the bag, what would the show runners do with her storyline?

So far, remarkably little. The entire final season takes place in the two days prior to Barney and Robin’s wedding — the longest wedding weekend ever — with only a hint of Mother and her backstory until a few weeks ago. What started as a low-level fanboy rumble morphed into a full-fledged earthquake after a cryptic scene in Episode 19, set in 2024 between Ted and the Mother, made it seem as though the Mother was dying. DOES THAT MEAN SHE’S BEEN DEAD THIS WHOLE TIME? I’d never even considered the possibility, and who would want to? Hapless Ted finally meets the woman of his dreams, and she doesn’t stick around for the long haul? But there he is in Episode 19, crying at the dinner table when the Mother foreshadows, casually, that no mom should miss her daughter’s wedding.

When I bombarded my friends with this theory, there was collective shock, anger, and disappointment. “I’ve been watching this g-d show all season only to find out the Mother is dead?!” To confirm my suspicions, I took to the Internet.

The evidence:
1. The Mother is never referred to in the present tense. In any episode. Ever.
2. Savvy viewers also speculated that this scene from season eight points to the fact that the Mother has kicked the bucket.
3. Jason Segel, who plays Marshall, speculated back in 2010 that the Mother was dead. He plays a lawyer on the show, so he obviously knows what he’s talking about.

Here’s the thing: If a title character dies on a TV show, and we barely know her, does anyone care? I know the whole conceit of HIMYM is for Ted to actually meet the Mother, but to be honest, it’s never been  part of the show that I enjoyed. Ted is my least favorite character. I’ve watched and loved the show for the friendships. The alcohol-glazed photos of the opening credits sum it up: five friends, in a bar, having a blast together. Over the years, there’s been a goat fight, the discovery of Robin’s prior life as a teen Canadian pop singer, and the greatest running joke on any sitcom (I said it): the Slap bet. Bring on the sob story, HIMYM, I don’t care. I’ll be watching for that last slap.

The penultimate episode of How I Met Your Mother airs tonight at 8pm on CBS. The series finale airs March 31.

On-Location Vacation: ‘Game of Thrones’ in Northern Ireland

Ever since HBO’s Game of Thrones started filming in 2010, Northern Ireland has been cast as the site of bloody power plays and betrayal, of Iron Islands with impossibly craggy coastlines and caves that conceal shadowy births. Annie Leibovitz’s recent Vanity Fair cover shoot — those beautiful and austere portraits of the show’s cast in Ballintoy — reinforced the notion that when you play the game of thrones, you win…or you die.

It’s all pretty bleak until you drive down the Causeway Coastal Road, Northern Ireland’s answer to California’s Highway 1 or Australia’s Great Ocean Road, and take in the view beyond the viewfinder. To the left of the winding, narrow highway are high plateaus marked by hedges in orderly rows, and sloping hills dotted with stone cottages and sheep in varying shades of white, gray, and tan. Destinations roll by called Ballygally and Ballycastle and Larrybane, all sounding like teasing nicknames for stomachaches and herbs for overcoming ordinariness. The cows are as big as horses and all happily grass-fed — and to say that grass is greener on the other side would be accurate.

Northern Ireland’s natural beauty and charm are reason enough to visit, but if you’re reading this, you’re probably a fan of Game of Thrones. Maybe you’d even consider taking an on-location vacation; there are more than a few tours through the Seven Kingdoms nowadays. We crafted our own day trip along the coast and into County Antrim, looking for UNESCO and HBO sites alike, and nearly made it onto a set. Note: If a security guard asks you if you’re “with the unit,” just say yes. Always say yes.

Check out the gallery above for a tour of the Game of Thrones universe in Northern Ireland. (All photos by Laura Dannen Redman, October 2013)

If you go…

DO
Cross the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, 30 meters above the sea.
Visit the Giant’s Causeway, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and stand tall atop the basalt columns.
Drive through the centuries-old avenue of Dark Hedges (but beware the Grey Lady, who’s said to appear at dusk).
Take the Game of Thrones road trip.

STAY
Clare House B&B (Ballycastle, from £30, clarehouseballycastle.com)
The Londonderry Arms Hotel (Carnlough, from £35, glensofantrim.com)
Ballygally Castle (Ballygally, from £230, hastingshotels.com/ballygally-castle)

EAT
The Red Door Tea Room
(Ballycastle, 14a Harbour Rd)
Roark’s Kitchen (Ballintoy Harbour, 56 Harbour Rd)

It’s Westeros Madness!

Since I missed the entry for the Billion Dollar Bracket Challenge, I’m going to play Westeros Madness instead. Thanks to westerosmadness.tumblr.com, we can pit Tyrion Lannister (no. 1 seed, naturally) against his father, Tywin (no. 8, though no underdog here) in a true Game of Thrones. And I bet no. 5-seed Samwell Tarly won’t be able to talk his way past the bracket’s scrappiest grandma, no. 4-seed Olenna Tyrell. What about the battle of the would-be queens, Margaery Tyrell (no. 4) v. Sansa Stark (no. 5)?  Margaery’s devious, but Sansa has enough suppressed angst to take down a dragon.

Speaking of dragons: Why is Drogon only a no. 5 seed?! Let’s discuss.

The new season of Game of Thrones premieres April 6 on HBO. March Madness is going on now, I guess.

Is ‘Divergent’ the Next ‘Hunger Games’?

Given the year-long lull between Hunger Games films, YA addicts have been scrambling for a fix. It comes this weekend with the release of Divergent (March 21), the first film in a trilogy inspired by Veronica Roth’s dystopian-romance novels. (If you’re bringing a guy along, tell him there’s knife throwing and street fighting.)

But can the new series live up to the serious hype of The Hunger Games? We pit them against each other in our own Culture Binge Arena.

My Dystopia Is Worse Than Yours
Divergent
The former city of Chicago, now centuries in the future, has been divided into five factions to keep the peace. People are  either members of Erudite (the intellegencia, also the city’s teachers and scientists), Amity (peaceful farmers), Candor (overly honest, loud-mouthed lawyers), Abnegation (the selfless, who form the city’s government), or Dauntless (the bold and brave, security forces).
Hunger Games Panem, a post-apocalyptic nation formed in the western reaches of the former United States, is divided into 12 Districts, each with its own function (agriculture, mining, fishing, textiles, making weapons, etc). A totalitarian ruler, President Snow, quashes any spark of rebellion by forcing two children from each district to fight to the death in the annual Hunger Games.
Advantage Hunger Games. That whole “kids fight to the death” thing is pretty bleak.

Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley)
Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley)

Fierce Heroines
Divergent Beatrice “Tris” Prior is a meek-and-mild member of Abnegation taps into her inner Xena Warrior Princess when she turns 16 and joins Dauntless. Played onscreen by 22-year-old Shailene Woodley, she of long, flowing hair and The Secret Life of the American Teenager.
Hunger Games Katniss Everdeen is a cool, no-nonsense hardass who supports her mother and younger sister by hunting game in the forest outside District 12. Played onscreen by Jennifer Lawrence, a 23-year-old Oscar winner and everyone’s wannabe best friend/spirit animal.
Advantage Are you kidding? Hunger Games.

Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)
Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence)

Girls with Skills
Hunger Games Katniss can shoot a bow like she’s an Olympic archer, build a fire, skin a squirrel, sing on key, and make boys cry.
Divergent Tris can toss knives, shoot a gun, fight dudes, withstand a tattoo needle, climb great heights, and resist mind-altering drugs.
Advantage Divergent.

Made-for-Movie Action Sequences
Divergent
Climbing a Ferris wheel, ziplining from the top of Chicago’s Hancock building, jumping on and off trains, and navigating a fear landscape that’s basically a hallucinogen-induced obstacle course through your worst nightmares.
Hunger Games The Arena.
Advantage Draw.

Love Story
Hunger Games A love triangle that 1) is a strategic play to stay alive in the Arena, 2) keeps President Snow off their backs, and 3) is kinda sorta something special.
Divergent Relationships born of lusty teenage hormones and a full-back tattoo. Every. Touch. Is. MAGICAL!!!
Advantage Hunger Games.

Sidekicks
Divergent Tris’s BFFs — Christina, Will, Al, Four — are all Dauntless warriors in their own right, each with an extra skill (Will is bright, Al is a gentle giant, Christina can sniff out the truth and run quickly, Four is a reluctant leader and a hunk).
Hunger Games Peeta bakes delicious pastries, Haymitch appreciates a fine whiskey, Rue is good at hiding, Cinna makes gorgeous dresses….oh, forget it. Katniss is on her own.
Advantage Divergent.

Villain
Divergent Jeanine Matthews (played by Kate Winslet), leader of the Erudite, has the biggest brain in the land and a utilitarian approach to the greater good. She’ll take drastic measures to rid the city of its factionless/homeless and its outliers, or Divergent.
Hunger Games President Snow (played by Donald Sutherland) gets a sick kick out of orchestrating the Hunger Games and squashing hope across Panem. His beard can’t be trusted either.
Advantage Hunger Games.

The Trilogy
Divergent Starts off strong. Second novel Insurgent is forgettable (and I just read it). Allegiant creates a clever world “outside the fence” but has an insanely disappointing ending.
Hunger Games Starts off strong. Second novel Catching Fire is a snooze fest until the Arena. Mockingjay is a mixed bag of high-stakes rebellion and long, long walks down alleyways.
Advantage Hunger Games.

Final tally: Hungers Games – 5. Divergent – 2. One draw.

The real winner: Lionsgate, for producing both film series and laughing all the way to the bank.

No, Courtney Love Didn’t Find Malaysia Flight 370 — But Tomnod Might

It’s been over a week since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared en route to Beijing, an unfathomable amount of time to completely lose a 100-ton Boeing 777 and 239 people.

Despite 26 countries helping with the search (and, perhaps, rescue), not much is known for certain, other than the flight’s last transmission was an hour after takeoff. And so, the conspiracy theories run rampant: Did the plane disintegrate mid-air? Was it hijacked by terrorists? Did it sneak past radar and land somewhere? Is this Lost come to life?!

Radar suggests that the airplane could have left its flight plan, banked west over Malaysia, and traveled as far north as the Kazakh–Turkmen border or as far south as the southern Indian Ocean. Flight 370 could be anywhere within 2 million square nautical miles, according to CNN. In other words, they need help looking.

Yesterday’s trending story was that Hole lead singer Courtney Love, a reliably loose cannon, thought she might have found Flight 370 while examining satellite imagery. She posted her findings on Facebook, with some handy arrows to illustrate:Screen Shot 2014-03-17 at 10.22.26 PM
We’re all so desperate for news about Flight 370 — good or bad — that this finding exploded across the Twittersphere, with snarky asides cloaking an overwhelming desire for Courtney Love to be right.

Sadly, she wasn’t. Tomnod, the crowdsourcing site Love used to examine satellite imagery in Southeast Asia, looked into her claim and discounted it on Facebook:

Screen Shot 2014-03-18 at 1.43.49 PM
What’s more interesting than Love’s detective work is that millions of people are also using Tomnod to search for oil slicks, wreckage, rafts, or any other clues that will reveal the location of Flight 370. You can help. Colorado-based DigitalGlobe, a satellite imagery firm that has supplied Google Maps and Google Earth, bought Tomnod in 2013 and now uses it as its crowdsourcing arm, notably during an international crisis. (Read more about DigitalGlobe in this excellent Fast Company brief.)

With 2 million+ people searching 2 million square nautical miles, the wreckage territory seems slightly more manageable. Think you can handle 1 square mile? Visit Tomnod.com now.