Game of Thrones fan in Mumbai on edge as race for iron throne heats up
For fans of Game of Thrones, the final season is a prospect as terrible as an army of the dead. At quizzes, meetups and screening parties, they are reaching out to each other for support, the way House Stark reached out to House Targaryen
Like wolves in the robes of sheep, several characters on the HBO show, Game of Thrones, carry dual identities. Daenerys Targaryen is Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons; Jon Snow is the Bastard of Winterfell and King in the North; Cersei Lannister is Queen of the Andals and a few unprintable names. So does Mumbai-based fan, Satyajit OnionKnight Roy.
The 33-year-old owner of EGK Foods, one of the largest fried onion manufacturers in India, adopted a middle name because, "Season 4 had just ended. I wanted to represent Game of Thrones and I sell onions. Five years later, it seems to have worked because people in the food industry know me as OnionKnight."
Redwolf, an official vendor of the show's merchandise, has a range of 647 themed products. Pic/Ashish Raje
Roy borrowed the alias of Ser Davos Seaworth, a king's advisor on the show. Apart from his birth certificate, he uses it everywhere: his social media handles, email signature and LinkedIn account. Of course, his mother thought he'd become unhinged. "This was in 2014, and my friends were like, 'Kya ho gaya hai tumko?' One of my doctor friends called me and asked, 'Why don't you come in for a chat?'" But they should have known, as Roy does quite well, that a lion doesn't concern himself with the opinions
No commitment-phobe, Roy also wears the Hand of the King pin, worn by the king's right-hand man, at all times. "The pin is a physical representation of the fandom. It's a great conversation starter. I have made a lot of friends who loved the show, just because of the pin. I wear it because it lets other people come to you." It's a marker of a community, like a Freemason's signet ring.
Tanisha Fagwani. Pic/Atul Kamble
We are all one
Since it aired in 2011, Game of Thrones, the TL;DR (too long; didn't read) version of the books by George RR Martin, has united the world. Given its length and complexity, groupies can discuss and debate Easter eggs for hours on length. Online forums and offline conversations have been dominated with conspiracy theories, alternate endings, declarations of love and words of bereavement. As a way of connecting with the characters, fans connect with each other. As the final season airs on April 15 on Hotstar, devotees in Mumbai, too, are setting aside their enmities and banding together.
A dragon on the big screen
Among the earliest people to organise viewing parties were nerds Rishit Chauhan, Suneet Kumbhat, Poorva Pathre and Rutuj Mehta, who started the Game of Thrones Mumbai Fan Club on Facebook in 2016. "Its inception was at a party with my friends," says Chauhan.
"I asked, 'What if there's a 130-inch screen in front of you, a couple of beers in your hand and fellow Game of Thrones fans around? How would you like to watch a dragon on a 130-inch screen?'" The first episode of Season 6 was three days away. They booked a banquet hall, and four people showed up: the original members of the house. "We lost Rs 20,000 because we did it like amateurs. All we knew was that we were Game of Thrones fans and we wanted to do this. Then we shifted our strategy towards marketing." By the time the final episode rolled in, 40 fans did as well.
The experience inspired 29-year-old Kumbhat to start his own events company, Kasa Kai Mumbai, which continues to host meetups for fans. They have more than 2,000 registrations on the fan page, and a single raven brings the huddle together. "We see a few clips, we discuss what we felt should happen, there are several arguments," he says. "There are a lot of nitty-gritties, which generally go unnoticed in each episode. If you see fan theory videos on YouTube, there are many suggestions that people tend to miss. Then you connect the dots."
Anthony Stephen Mendes, a 22-year-old content writer, is also fairly active in groups on Facebook and WhatsApp. Mendes discovered the show only after the fifth season and binged on it "like The Hound eats his chicken." For the seventh season, he hosted nine meetups, and is organising four meetups for Season 8, over the next two weekends. "Our meetup plans have usually cropped up at house parties, where we watch episodes together," he says. "Most fans are very vocal about every scene. Some read the books ardently and wait to pounce on every new theory that comes out. The show gives them a sweet excuse to drink wine or ale, which helps them 'know' things."
Vivek Malhotra. Pic/Ashish Raje
The GK of GoT
Almost every fan is watching the seven seasons or reading the five books again. Revisions are usually followed by exams, so Star World has been hosting regular quiz nights in the run-up, with every question vetted by HBO. At Khar Social two weeks ago, 150 people showed up.
This correspondent attends another quiz at Mahalaxmi restobar Keiba, with 22-year-old Tanisha Fagwani, the owner of a pop culture start-up called Efgstore.in. Her hand goes up so often that the quizmaster, Pranav Nambiar, says, "I'm going to give the mic to the most enthusiastic. We'll keep a first bench for you next time." Fagwani says later, "I'm the Hermione of this group: the insufferable know-it-all."
A GoT quiz night in progress at Keiba, Mahalaxmi. The night was organised by Star World, whose team sends the questions to HBO (which has produced the show) for approval. Pic/Atul Kamble
The quiz is divided into three sections: an MCQ sheet with 20 questions, a family tree completion round, and bingo, "which has no numbers; it's an intellectual housie," says Nambiar. He punctuates the evening with inside jokes. "Which disease afflicted Jorah Friendzone Mormont? If you write rejection, I'll give you five points." Or, "That's food you're eating, and not one of your family members." In response to the question: who was the first to suggest Jon Snow is named King in the North, he adds, "Woh choti ladki [Lyanna Mormont] is exactly the kind of answer we don't want."
There are some genuine diehards in attendance. Nambiar asks for a volunteer to sing The Rains of Castamere from Season 4, and 25-year-old Aman Aswani, who is currently seeing the show for the third time, steps up. While discussing fan theories, Fagwani owns the floor. "The Night King, [a zombie from beyond the Wall], might actually win the throne. There's a stupid theory that since the throne is made of Valyrian steel, he will die as well. In the first scene of the trailer, Arya Stark is running away in the crypt. If the biggest assassin on Game of Thrones is running away from something, it could be because The Night King has raised the dead. You can expect Ned Stark [her dead father] to come back. The books are following the idea that Bran Stark is The Night King. Or, that it's all made up and Samwell Tarly is the narrator. He's George RR Martin." Her final theory gets a chorus of "whoas" from the audience: "Cersei's unborn child could sit on the Iron Throne."
Anthony Stephen Mendes. Pic/Sameer Markande
Fagwani tells us later, "Everything about this show - from the direction and cinematography to the costumes, characters and acting, even the dead - is so real. It's going to go down as the best series ever made for a long time. I've been watching the series for the third time and reading the books again as well. It's really important that people start reading the books, because there are so many parallel events in them." For all her prep, she wins one of the rounds and a Jon Snow figurine. Nambiar can't help himself: "Someone getting a Jon Snow figurine who knows everything."
With every round, winners get so excited that Nambiar says, "Guys, you are winning a goodie bag, not the World Cup." Vivek Malhotra, 31, owner of Redwolf, one of the official vendors of the show's merchandise, has made a killing thanks to the stark loyalty the show inspired. He sells 647 themed products, including T-shirts, mugs, tote bags and posters, and says, "House sigils and character quotes were a hit, so it made sense to convert them into designs. People were looking for merchandise to help represent the house they supported and the characters they were rooting for." His own loyalties are visible in his personal collectibles, a Longclaw umbrella, which "goes well with my King in the North tee."
Never forget what you are
With the final season on the anvil, fans are already consoling themselves. "It's one of the few shows that have kept me thinking about an episode all week long. It will be tough to find another show I love so much," says Malhotra. Fagwani says, "People are literally surviving the days till the next episode. They are going to be a bit distressed about what the show did to them, which generally happens after every episode." And, OnionKnight says, "There will be a big void in my life. It's going to be pretty tough once it's over."
At the quiz, Nambiar asks for a volunteer to take the oath of the Night's Watch. Surprisingly, no one remembers, so he reads out the words, which the rest of us repeat in one voice, "Night gathers, and now my watch begins." Even after the show ends, fans will have each other. For when the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.
In line for the throne
The eighth season of Game of Thrones arrives after a lot of blood and mayhem. Despite this, two Targaryens, three Lannisters and three Starks continue to stand. Their biggest enemy isn't alcoholism, but The Night King, a zombie, whose hangers-on include an army of the dead. Five have a genuine shot at the Iron Throne, and some are even whispering the name of Gendry, but let's table that for now.
Fans pick their Azor Ahai.
Daenerys Targaryen or Cersei Lannister
'I hope to see Jon Snow on the Iron Throne, but I don't think it'll be him. All men must die. If they're saying Valar Morghulis, it'll either be a woman or The Night King'
'I think it has to be Jon Snow, since Melisandre refers to him as The Prince That Was Promised. But, as it goes in Westeros, he might end up losing a few loved ones before he sits on the Iron Throne and be a sad, lonely king'
Anthony Stephen Mendes
'I'm really rooting for Sansa. Even though people are fans of Jon Snow and Daenerys, Sansa has had it toughest. Her character has really become something else, and I think she will have a big part to play'
The Night King
'George RR Martin has a sadistic way of showing things, and he has the habit of making people love even bad characters. I wouldn't be surprised if The Night King turns out to be a good guy in the end'
Test your GoT-Q
It's okay if you haven't read the books.
1. In which of the Free Cities was Robb Stark's wife, Talisa Maegyr, raised?
2. Who was burned alive on Khal Drogo's funeral pyre?
3. What is the official Lannister motto?
4. What was the name of Eddard Stark's sword?
5. Which indie band had a cameo at the Purple Wedding?
2. Mirri Maz Duur
3. Hear me roar
5. Sigur Ros
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