Casting Characters

by A.M. Justice

We’re two weeks in to the new season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and I’m still feeling the love for this television adaptation of G.R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire. David Benioff and D.B. Weiss continue to take the best from the books and put it on screen, with enough new characters and plot streams to keep the avid readers on the edge of our seats. I wonder, will we get to see where Sansa is going? In my recollection, she disappears from the novel’s narrative after Petyr takes her from the Eyrie. And Jamie Lannister most certainly does not hook up with Bronn and ride off to rescue Myrcella from Dorne.

actors_game_of_thrones_tv_series_tyrion_lannister_peter_dinklage_house_lannister_wallpaperGOT works because the writing is so solid and the cast is packed with great actors playing great characters. The casting choices are spot on. Peter Dinklage is too handsome for Tyrion (in the book, Tyrion’s ugliness—a sign of his Targaryen blood—separates him from his exquisitely beautiful brother and sister even more than his dwarfism), but we can forgive Dinklage’s good looks because he so perfectly captures Tyrion’s empathy, intelligence, and pathos. And it’s not Gemma Whelan’s fault the GOT writers and producers robbed Asha Greyjoy of all her swashbuckling joie de vive when they changed her name to Yara and made her sober and dour for the television show. This is the single misstep taken by Benioff and Weiss: Asha is one of the few fun characters in the books; on the show Yara is just another pissed-off noble.

What about other casting choices when books became films? In the early Harry Potter movies, I was disappointed with Emma Watson as Hermione Granger. At first, Watson wasn’t at all convincing as the rule-bound teacher’s pet smart girl. It didn’t help that she was far too pretty for the role, when much is made of Hermione’s awkwardness and plainness in the early books. But as the films went on and the children playing Potter and friends grew up, Watson came to embody the character, and now I can’t imagine Hermione played by anyone else.

MV5BMTIzMTIxOTg1NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwOTM0OTcxMQ@@._V1_SY317_CR8,0,214,317_AL_It’s been a while since I’ve been really incensed about a casting choice; I generally give film producers the benefit of the doubt. Back in the last century, when Neil Jordan picked Tom Cruise (Tom Cruise, of all people!) to play Lestat in his adaptation of Interview with a Vampire, my friends and I held forth for hours about how Top Gun boy could not possibly capture the blond, sophisticated, French allure of Lestat. Then we saw the movie and Cruise blew our objections away.

One adaptation that did get my blood boiling was the SciFi miniseries Legends of Earthsea. Ursula LeGuin is my literary idol, and Ged, the central character of the Earthsea Cycle, was my first love. When I was young, Ged epitomized what a man ought to be—intelligent, courageous, and loaded with self-awareness. (Luckily I found a man with those qualities, and I married him.) Ged is also not white, a choice LeGuin made because she wanted to create fantasy and science fiction worlds populated by diverse peoples, to better reflect the world we live in. The fact that the majority of Earthsea’s population looks like they come from earth’s Southern Hemisphere was a deliberate and important choice she made. SciFi tossed that aside and picked blue-eyed Shawn Ashmore (better known as Iceman in the X-Men movies) to play Ged. Not only was Ged white in the TV miniseries, he was too young, at least for the episode based on Tombs of Atuan. In the book, Ged is twice Tenar’s age. He mentors and rescues her, but he does not become her lover until much later, when they’re both adults and social equals. By casting a young, white man as Ged and turning the story into a romance, the producers undermined the entire spirit of LeGuin’s masterwork. Or, in her words, they wrecked it.

FanFour2015The next big casting brouhaha surrounds the upcoming Fantastic Four reboot. I’ll say right off: the idea of Michael B. Jordan as Johnny Storm doesn’t bother me at all. Sure, he and blonde Sue Storm are siblings, but step-sibs or half-sibs or adoption are all perfectly plausible explanations for their phenotypic differences. It’s Kate Mara who worries me. After watching her smolder and brass her way through House of Cards, I can’t quite see her playing a Grace Kelly–type ice queen. But, note to Hollywood, when The Woern Chronicles are adapted for the screen, Mara would be the perfect actress to play Vic.

A.M. Justice amuses herself by playing casting director for her novels, when she’s not rewriting them. To keep abreast of her doings, sign up for her mailing list or follow her on Twitter.

Fantasy and Sci-Fi You Should Watch

Ok. I’ve spent the past couple of posts harping on about cheesy fantasy movies you should avoid…but what about some stuff you should watch?

Rather than movies, I’m going to switch to television here, and broaden the discussion to include science-fiction (because, let’s face it, there’s a hell of a lot more sci-fi than there is epic fantasy out there in TV land).

Here’s a brief list of some good stuff on TV that, in my opinion, every fan of sci-fi or fantasy should be checking out (not all of it current).



I’m not always a fan of urban fantasy/horror, but Supernatural does it right. For 10 Seasons now the Brothers Winchester have been chasing ghosts, ghouls, vampires, demons, and all sorts of other stuff that goes bump in the night, and the results are often scary, at times funny, and always entertaining. Some may argue the show has started to wear thin (as one could argue for any show entering its monstrous tenth season), but you could do worse than check out this series from the beginning and watch the low-key, creative, and engaging manner in which each week’s plot plays out.

Battlestar: Galactica


Arguments can be made for the original 1978 series, which I remember watching quite a bit when I was younger, but in this case I’m referring to the brilliant 2004 re-imagining. Dark, brooding, at times downright disturbing, Battlestar chronicles the voyage of the survivors of the Twelve Colonies as they struggle to escape the grasp of the robotic Cylons, an artificial race that seems hell-bent on replacing humankind and evolving to a near divine state. There’s no question the series gets a little strange the longer it goes, but for the first three seasons its brilliant military sci-fi entertainment.

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones

Not only an epic fantasy show, but the epic fantasy show. A brilliant re-telling of George R.R. Martin’s best-selling novels of the noble houses of Westeros and their struggle for power, Game of Thrones manages the extremely difficult task of telling a very multi-layered story with an immense cast of characters without losing track of any of the important events of the books or shortchanging any of the plot lines. The show is well cast, beautifully filmed and expertly paced. While Game of Thrones does suffer from a bit of excess (it often feels like they’re struggling to insert sex scenes when none are really called for), it’s still one of the best damn shows on TV.



You thought I’d say Dr. Who, didn’t you? Well, no offense to Whovians, but I’ve always preferred Torchwood, the Dr. Who spin-off which focuses on a U.K. based organization responsible for battling alien threats to Terra Firma, some of which can be quite horrifying. Torchwood isn’t quite as tightly written as Dr. Who, but the characters are engaging, the plots are original and the show is irreverent and sometimes quite dark. And I always enjoy watching Captain Jack Harkness, one of the more intriguing TV heroes in many years.

Deep Space 9

Deep Space 9

You could probably pick any of the Star Trek series – I actually prefer the characters in Enterprise, while my favorite overall Trek series is Voyager – but from a writer’s standpoint you have to appreciate what they did with this one. Deep Space Nine has an inevitable direction, and while the show isn’t consumed by the overriding plot of the war against the shadowy coalition known as the Dominion, the writers plant the seeds for that eventual conflict early and often, and the show does a wonderful job of conveying a subtle sense of dread as the countdown to the conflict grows shorter and shorter. Throw in the usual nicely layered social commentary and some truly remarkable stories and it’s easy to see why DS9 quickly became a favorite among the fans.

I’m only scratching the surface here: what fantasy/sci-fi shows do you recommend, and why?


It’s been well-established Steven Montano watches way too much TV. If only he spent as much time writing as…wait, his third book of 2014, The Black Tower, is coming out next month? OK, never mind.

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Game of Thrones Revisited

Hi Everyone, Bruce here. Thought I’d poke my head in for a second to introduce you to someone you’ve already met…A.M. Justice. She graced us with her presence awhile back as a guest, but I’m pleased to tell you that Amanda has agreed to join the Guild of Dreams as a regular contributor. Watch for her biography with all her links to go up soon. In  the meantime, say hello to A.M. Justice. (Beware…spoilers ahead)


Last time I appeared here on Guild of Dreams I wrote a humorous piece speculating where the showrunners for HBO’s Game of Thrones might take the series, if they wanted to veer away from the plot of The Song of Ice and Fire. Yet David Benioff and Dan Weiss have always reached the key narrative milestones of that series, even when they’ve taken a different route than George R.R. Martin to get there. This season picks up right after the infamous Red Wedding, when the Stark family’s quest for justice died. (Or did it? The Stark clan isn’t quite done for, with all Rob’s siblings still at large, and you can lay odds that one of the Red Wedding Party will return to haunt the Westeros countryside.) As for my silly forecasts last summer, I think I may have scored a bull’s-eye with Prediction #2. Didn’t Arya and Sandor make the cutest couple when they teamed up to slay an inn-full of ruffians?

Game of Thrones, George MartinBut let’s talk about why Martin’s series is so successful. What accounts for its broad appeal? My husband liked sword and sorcery pulp fiction as a boy (he loved the Conan books), but he never embraced high fantasy and his adult tastes run toward stories where the houses have indoor plumbing. Yet he’s a GOT fan. While the show’s relentless commitment to all men must die may leave him a bit shaken, he tunes in with the same fervor he felt for Breaking Bad. When I asked what draws him to the show, he said, “Well, it’s all about the characters.”

And those are great characters, aren’t they? Well developed, with complex motivations and emotions, those people know how to grab a reader by the collar and not let her go. The books are written in apostolic third person—with each chapter helmed by one of about a dozen different characters. Four or five of those names will make me say, “One more chapter,” when I turn the page to find that character’s point of view, no matter that it’s two o’clock in the morning. Those individuals’ story lines are too compelling to set aside. Plus, I can’t resist noshing on the delicious stew of bloodlines and family dynamics. (I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the mystery of Jon Snow’s parentage, and I’m certain Ned Stark isn’t his father.)

But what I like about Martin’s series is its realism. The world is as fantastical as any created by Tolkien or Jordan or LeGuin, and has some elements that defy explanation. (As a biology geek, I’m baffled by how a forest ecosystem survives north of the Wall, where there’s always snow. Tree seedlings need bare earth to take root.) But the characters are real—complex, three dimensional people with desires and skills and problems that we can relate to because we see them in every day life. While Westeros has its mages and witches, its wraiths and its dragons, there’s no mythic Dark Lord who must be vanquished in The Song of Ice and Fire; their war of power is for the political, not the magical kind.

I’m also fond of Martin’s work because he writes in the gray zone of human morals, and so do I. When I began work on my first novel Blade of Amber, none of the Westeros novels had been released and moral relativism was uncommon in fantasy. However, it’s the norm in everyday life, where few are wholly good or wholly evil. The complexity of the human spirit is what makes us interesting, and it’s our flaws that make us loveable (depending on the flaw, of course). We don’t root for Tyrion Lannister because he is erudite, clever, and suave; we love him because he’s a deeply empathetic man who always tries to do the right thing. Then there’s Tyrion’s brother Jamie, who began the series as a villain but who has evolved into one of my favorite heroes as his character arc has taken him away from his family’s power-seeking. I will always put off sleep for a Jamie chapter. Of course, in The Song of Ice and Fire, no good deed goes unpunished, and the harder Tyrion or Daenerys or Jon try to save those around them, the deeper they descend into hell. I’ve put those three together on purpose; don’t be surprised if they end up astride Daeny’s dragons before the series end (that’s not a spoiler—it’s pure speculation on my part).A Wizard's Lot, A.M. Justice

Reviewers have compared my work to Martin’s, and I’m happy to play in a corner of the same ball park. Knownearth—the planet where my characters live—is a simpler place than Westeros, with fewer cultures, fewer religions, and only one major feud. But my work is all about the characters too. Vic, the protagonist of The Woern Chronicles, is a complex woman with gifts and insecurities that fate hammers into an alloy as strong as Valerian steel. She’s far from invulnerable, though; underneath a badass façade, she’s an emotional wreck, and the power she gains at the end of Blade of Amber isn’t nearly as limitless as it may appear—something that quickly comes to light in A Wizard’s Lot, the second Woern Chronicles novel. Yet because realism is important to me, I’ve made all the residents of Knownearth as three dimensional as the people I meet on the street every day. My work is all about the characters, and a page-turning narrative that I hope makes readers say, “one more chapter,” even if it’s two o’clock in the morning.


eec1db10808be84e2901e46760195bdbA.M. Justice writes fiction from distant times and places and chronicles journeys in the here and now, when she’s not in the Dark Playground taking Zimbio quizzes (she’s Tyrion, according to the GOT quiz). As the newest member of the Guild of Dreams, she looks forward to sharing her waking dreams with all of you. To see more of what’s on her mind, drop by the KnownEarth Works website, follow her on Twitter, or hang out on her Facebook page.


Roads not Traveled on the Game of Thrones


Today we have a guest post from author A.M. Justice. She gives us a humorus glance on roads not traveled:  5 Narrative Paths Hinted at in the Season 3 Finale of Game of Thrones, Which Would Drive the Plot Wildly off Course (from the Books). Hmmm…I wonder if HBO will consider any of these? Welcome to the Guild of Dreams, Amanda, and thank you so much for the guest post!


Roads not Traveled:  5 Narrative Paths Hinted at in the Season 3 Finale of Game of Thrones, Which Would Drive the Plot Wildly off Course (from the Books)

by A.M. Justice

For readers of George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire books, the plot alterations and character conflations found in HBO’s Game of Thrones are a huge part of the fun of watching the TV series—bridging characters like Ros or revisionist ones like Talisa Maegyr freshen up the show and keep us guessing about where it’s going.

hbo-bringing-back-game-of-thrones-for-a-third-chapterDuring seasons 1 and 2, although the journey may have followed different paths, the finale brought us to more or less the same destination as the books. This is true of season 3 as well, although it ends at approximately the half-way point of A Storm of Swords, the third Song of Ice and Fire volume. However, several plot and/or character changes have me speculating on where the show could go, if showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss want to abscond with it and take it somewhere entirely different than creator Martin intends (which they don’t).

From that starting point, here are 5 anti-spoilers. None of these scenarios occur in the books, so if Benioff and Weiss want to run with any of these ideas, it would add a whole new level of suspense to the show:

1. Theon escapes from Ramsey Snow, crosses the Narrow Sea, and finds his way to Yunkai, where he joins the Unsullied and owns the name Reek. Now an ordinary soldier in Daenerys’s army, he embraces his shortcomings and rises to become Gray Worm’s second in command.

2. Arya and Sandor make their way across the battle-torn countryside, slowly but surely becoming friends, just like Walter Matthew and Tatum O’Neal in the Bad News Bears. Sure, we just saw the same thing happen between Jaime and Brienne, but it’s different this time, because it’s with a grouchy disfigured man and a cute moppet of a girl, both of whom would kill you as soon as look at you. The odd couple joins a traveling circus, where they pretend to be a father-daughter knife-throwing act.

3. Yara Greyjoy and her band of 50 Ironborn warriors land on Westeros to rescue poor Theon, but soon hear of her brother’s escape to the Free Cities and beyond (see #1, above). Since Osha has disappeared with Rickon, Yara assumes her real name (Asha, in the books), because now nobody will confuse an Ironborn princess with a wildling peasant. Yara/Asha also starts acting a little more like Asha—less dour, more lusty and fun-loving—and so wins the heart of Mance Rayder, whom she meets when her band’s wanderings take them north of the Wall.

4. Did I say Osha disappears with Rickon? Silly me. I meant Rickon and Osha (who changes her name to Sally, so there’s no confusion with Asha/Yara) arrive safely at White Harbor, where Sally/Osha institutes a weight loss program for the Manderly clan. This involves a low-calorie diet consisting of steamed fish and kale, along with an exercise program that consists largely of Shaggy Dog chasing the Lords of White Harbor around their keep.

5. Established as drinking buddies on the show, Tyrion and Cersei have spent quite a lot of time in seasons 2 and 3 drinking wine and commiserating over Joffrey’s psychopathic behavior and Tywin’s domineering fatherhood. Having found common cause, the siblings put aside their differences and with the aid of brother Jaime, engineer a coup that ousts both Joffrey as King and Tywin as Hand. Patterning themselves after Aegon the Conqueror and his two sisters, the three Lannister siblings rule Westeros together, while Joffrey and Tywin are sent to live out their days on Tarth under the watchful eye of Brienne.

A bit about A.M. Justice:

Me without mirrorI’ve been a professional writer and editor in the life sciences for over two decades but have been writing fiction even longer—the first story set in the fictional world of Knownearth was written while I was still in high school. As an avid SCUBA diver, I dream of a future when I have the time to hang out in a dive shop all day, and I fancy the idea that this dive shop might be in Buenos Aires, so I can dance the tango whenever I want. Until that time comes, I live and write in Brooklyn, NY, with a husband, a daughter, and two cats. Although I’m partial to fantasy and historical fiction, I love well-written books—and well-made movies and television—of all genres.

For more information and updates, you can find me on the Web at these locations: