How the Middle East reacted to the Game of Thrones finale

Updated 21 May 2019
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How the Middle East reacted to the Game of Thrones finale

  • Arabs join fans around the world at marking the end of the HBO series
  • The show became engrained in popular culture over eight epic years

DUBAI: After eight epic years, 47 Emmys and two dead dragons, “Game of Thrones” has said goodbye to devotees worldwide after having redefined weekly “event TV.”

Having been shown in 170 countries, “Game of Thrones” was the most expensive show ever, with a budget of $15 million per episode. 

The blood-spattered tale of noble families vying for the Iron Throne wrapped up on Monday with the 73rd and final episode of one of the most popular shows in TV history.

The final episode had some emotional and surprising scenes, so it kept me hooked.

Mohammed Mansour, an Egyptian student in the UAE

“I watched it on my phone as it premiered. Honestly, the show had kind of written itself into a corner, so I didn’t really think we’d go any further than what we already expected,” Ali Tirkawi, a 22-year-old American who lives in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News after watching the final episode.

“The finale pretty much boiled down to a horribly depressing epilogue about what the main characters want to do next. I feel that the show kind of robbed us of what we had grown to expect from it,” he said. “The whole sense of danger and anxiety, who’d perish, all that really just disappeared. If I could sum up my feeling toward the final episode: Disappointment.”

Both the show’s name and its now-famous tagline, “Winter is Coming,” spawned a plethora of memes that made their way into the global political discourse. 

US President Donald Trump famously alluded to the show in a warning to Iran last year. He posted an image of himself on Twitter with the line “Sanctions are coming” above “November 5.”

The TV-watching habits of millennials have undergone a radical transformation since the first episode aired in 2011. 

Streaming services have appeared on the scene to rival cable services, and the number of shows available to watch has nearly doubled.

One of the darkest and most controversial primetime series ever made, “Game of Thrones” has been the target of criticism over the years for senseless violence as a dramatic device. The scriptwriters brutalized women and killed children, all in glorious close-up.

The adult themes deterred neither the show’s fans nor the industry awards circuit, which saw fit to make the HBO show the most decorated fictional series in history. Season 6 was the first to move beyond the source material, George R. R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” novels, and carve its own path. Critics said it marked a return to form, but the shortened final two seasons have been more of a mixed bag, with many fans furious over what they consider poor writing and a rushed conclusion of the plot strands.

“The show meant a lot to me, spanning eight years of my life. I can easily recall each and every time I watched an episode,” he added.

Elia Mssawir, a UAE-based entertainment company executive

The Season 7 finale set an all-time US record for premium cable TV, with 16.5 million people watching live or streaming on the day of transmission, and 15 million more tuning in later. The biggest question of all, who would be sitting on the Iron Throne, was answered — sort of — on Monday.

While thousands of viewers aired their gripes on social media, as they did all season, plenty of others thought it was a fitting end.

While millions watched at home, thousands celebrated or mourned the show’s denouement in public places and backyards from London to Dubai. Among them was Mira Kerbage, a 22-year-old Lebanese student of marketing communications in the UK. 

“I felt overwhelmed with everything. I don’t know if this was just because it was the end of one of my favorite shows, or because the story ended but didn’t really end,” she told Arab News.

 

 

“It was bittersweet, so I felt sad and disappointed. It was like the end of an era. You feel empty,” she said.

“I watched it at 4 a.m. in my room, went to sleep at 6 a.m. and woke up at 8 a.m. to go to university.”

Cries of joy, sobs and applause followed the peaks and troughs of what many regarded as a poignant but so-so finale. 

The episode proved to be as divisive as the rest of Season 8. Chief among the controversies was the rapid descent into the mass-murdering madness of Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen, arguably the lead character in an enormous ensemble that has called on the talents of such luminaries as Charles Dance, Sean Bean, Jim Broadbent and Diana Rigg.

OSN, which aired the show in the Middle East with English and Arabic subtitles, had marked the arrival of Season 8 with a social media competition calling on fans to unleash their creativity. 

“From fashion or design to baking, braiding or painting, use your talents to show your love for the Throne,” an OSN press release said in March.

Mohammed Mansour, an Egyptian student in the UAE, was surprised and happy, but also a bit disappointed after watching the finale. 

“Happy because it gave closure, disappointed in the way some characters met their fate. It doesn’t do them justice. But the final episode had some emotional and surprising scenes, so it kept me hooked,” he told Arab News.

“It was one of the best shows I’ve seen in my whole life, although the last two seasons weren’t as great.”

A petition calling for the final season to be remade has now passed 1.1 million signatures. 

In China, the show’s rights holder triggered outrage among legions of die-hard fans — some of whom took the morning off work to tune in — by mysteriously delaying its broadcast just before it was due to air. That did not stop fans from flocking online, with one dramatic twist provoking a discussion on the Twitter-like Weibo platform that was viewed more than 230 million times.

“It was even more intense than a football finale,” said Ewald Klautky, 52, one of about 200 fans who watched the final episode together in Los Angeles.

Elia Mssawir, a UAE-based entertainment company executive, watched the episode alone at home. “I really kind of enjoyed it, and it was mostly because of the unexpected turn of events. I loved the fact that they put every character in their place without wasting any time,” he told Arab News. “This was something many ‘Game of Thrones’ fans felt uncomfortable about, but I really enjoyed it. Not every series or movie has to have a happy ending,” he said. 

“The show meant a lot to me, spanning eight years of my life. I can easily recall each and every time I watched an episode,” he added. “I lived in three different countries during this time, and I took the show with me on the road. One time I was touring with an artist, and I made it my mission to get data to stream it on the bus while going to the next gig.”

The ending of “Game of Thrones” was all too much for its stars, including Sophie Turner, who first appeared as Sansa Stark as a young teenager. She wrote on Instagram of her character: “I fell in love with you at 13 and now 10 years on ... at 23 I leave you behind, but I will never leave behind what you’ve taught me.”


Mindfulness profits as meditation apps mature

Updated 17 June 2019
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Mindfulness profits as meditation apps mature

  • According to figures from Marketdata, the US mindfulness market as a whole including the dozens of apps on offer topped $1 billion in 2017, and should double that by 2022

PARIS: From the Zen capital of LA to the Champs Elysees comes the calming voice of a British Buddhist monk-turned entrepreneur, introducing American-style online mindfulness to the stressed-out French.

“Relax your muscles, breathe,” Andy Puddicombe, the bronzed co-founder of the app Headspace, intones by videoconference to a roomful of participants gathered on Paris’s chic shopping artery.

The Englishman and his French team are hoping to replicate the US success of Headspace with a French-language version, in a market where New Age philosophies from the “Anglo-Saxon” world are often viewed askance.

Its path has been helped by the success of French mindfulness app Petit Bambou, which launched in 2015 — five years after Headspace — and claims more than three million users in France for its free and paid platforms.

Both apps use guided meditations for an array of situations — from coping with bereavement to just getting through a difficult day at work — with support from online counsellors, funky animations and videos.

In France, as in the US, Britain and elsewhere, companies have been signing up to subscriptions for their employees.

“Meditation is not a miracle tool, rather a mental hygiene: what’s essential is regular practice.”

Benjamin Blasco, co-founder of Petit Bambou

Petit Bambou says it has secured “hundreds of licenses” from companies such as Deloitte and railways group SNCF, and that it has nothing to fear from Headspace, which along with rival Calm dominates the US market.

In a Paris studio, working on voice recordings for the app, Petit Bambou co-founder Benjamin Blasco said his company was in any case aiming for the long haul.

“We broke even three years ago. We will not sacrifice anything on the altar of marketing,” Blasco told AFP.

“We do not try at all costs to keep people in the app,” he said, but to solicit a two-way exchange and tailor therapy to the user’s needs.

“Meditation is not a miracle tool, rather a mental hygiene: what’s essential is regular practice,” Blasco said.

Investors are certainly buying in to the concept. Calm — which like Headspace was co-founded by a British emigre to California, Michael Acton Smith — raised $88 million from a fundraising round in February.

That gave it a valuation of $1bn, which Smith noted made Calm the first “mental health unicorn”.

“Unicorns” are start-up companies with a billion-plus valuation.

FASTFACT

 

The US mindfulness market is estimated to be worth $1 billion, and is expected to double that by 2022.

But like Headspace, Calm has its sights set further afield. In Britain it has enlisted actor and TV presenter Stephen Fry to record bedtime stories for use on a popular feature that helps users get to sleep.

“America is only 4.5 percent of the total global population, so there are a lot of other people that can enjoy the product and help the company grow,” Smith told CNBC after the investment round.

According to figures from Marketdata, the US mindfulness market as a whole including the dozens of apps on offer topped $1 billion in 2017, and should double that by 2022.

Helped by the growth in apps, a survey by the National Center for Health Statistics found 14 percent of Americans had meditated in 2017, a threefold increase in five years.

Headspace alone says it has 50 million users worldwide, and has raised $75 million from investors in total, despite marketing a product that preaches “digital detox”.

The paradox is not lost on Richard Pierson, the company’s other British co-founder.

“Although there is the irony that the phone is probably causing us a lot of our stress, our hope is that by using Headspace, you’ll be able to teach yourself the techniques that you need to learn in order to be able to use your phone in a more mindful way,” he said at the Paris launch.

Many of the techniques in mindfulness apps are rooted in Buddhism and have long been familiar to practitioners in Asia. But what, if any, science underpins the apps?

Boosters got new backing with a US scientific study released in late April that looked at the effects of an experimental mindfulness app aimed at smokers.

The app helped many participants cut their smoking or give up altogether, by helping to rewire impulses in the brain linked to addiction.

The world of mindfulness “has become a business, but there is an ethical dimension,” commented Dominique Steiler, a professor at the Grenoble Ecole de Management who specialises in the “well-being” economy.

Apps “are a good way to get started”, but users should be encouraged ultimately to sever the smartphone cord and meditate alone, he said.