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Which Game of Thrones podcasts should you listen to?

We're here for the bad puns and a lot of plot speculation (minor spoilers).

The problem with being able to watch television whenever you want is that there's no set time for discussing it afterwards. You might have arranged your life around the new series of Game of Thrones, staying up late to watch the first episode of series seven at 2am on Monday morning (the time in BST that it premiered simultaneously on HBO in the US and Sky Atlantic in the UK), but there's no guarantee that your colleagues and friends did the same. "I'll catch up on the weekend," they say as you try and engage them later that day on the subject of Ed Sheeran's weird cameo as a singing campfire chef. "Don't spoil me in the meantime!"

Conversations on social media are similarly fraught with spoiler-based angst. It isn't that surprising, therefore, that dedicated GoT fans are turning to podcasts as a way of accessing instant analysis. Listening to a Thrones-themed podcast has two benefits: it can satiate the desire for speculation and rumour that solitary watching doesn't deal with, and it provides access to a community of other people who want to have the same discussions. In addition, the content of a podcast isn't searchable online, so nobody can complain about being spoiled accidentally. You have to opt in to listen, searching for and downloading an episode, so the only people listening to the show are the ones who want to hear it. It's a safe space.

A brief glance at the Apple Podcasts chart for the TV & Film category confirms that lots of fans are taking this route - at the time of writing, 14 of the top 25 shows are about Game of Thrones.

As I've written about before, podcasts that analyse TV in depth have been around for a while, with popular shows like The West Wing Weekly, Gilmore Guys and Talking Dead gathering big fanbases. Yet there seem to be more Thrones-based shows, and they are collectively charging up the charts in a way I haven't observed around the launch of other series. What is it about this show that had inspired so many podcasts?

Of course, it's partly a matter of scale: Game of Thrones is a huge international hit, and the more people that watch a show, the more people there are who are going to feel inspired to podcast about it. Quite a few of the podcasts near the top of the charts are produced by media outlets, reflecting the interests of their readerships: baldmove.com, geeklyinc.com, The Ringer, the Guardian and Entertainment Weekly all have GoT shows. As a franchise, Game of Thrones is big enough that news outlets report on castings and character deaths like they're actual real-world news, which all provides extra content to be dissected on a podcast.

But there's more to it than that. The show itself is uniquely suited to the podcast form, with its distinct character arcs, sudden plot twists and vast sprawling universe. It is written with the aim of rationing how much information viewers have at any given moment, to fuel speculation and keep us hooked from episode to episode. The chatty, non time-limited format of a podcast is ideally suited to this - hosts can hop between each storyline without the time pressure or need to explain the basics to the lay audience that a conventional broadcast radio show would have. They know they are talking to listeners who already have a high level of GoT knowledge and an appetite for in-depth analysis.

Above all, though, the podcast form is enabling fans to find each other and solving that Monday morning "why won't anyone at work talk to me about Game of Thrones?" problem. Who needs friends when you have headphones?

The five best Game of Thrones podcasts

1. Game of Thrones: The Podcast

Despite the fact that hosts Jim and A.Ron identify themselves as "the Gods of Tits and Wine" on baldmove.com (I know it's a quote from the show, but still, really?), this was my personal favourite. Their "instant take" episode on S7E1 was the most fluent, laidback yet charming one I encountered, and I appreciate their doing a quick reaction episode (for the Thrones junkie who can't wait), followed a day later by a very detailed scene by scene analysis episode that includes lots of listener comments.

2. Nerdette Recaps Game of Thrones with Peter Sagal

Sagal is a beloved US public radio host (even though I've never listened to Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me) and he's a delightful presence on this show alongside hosts Greta Johnsen and Tricia Bobeda. I particularly enjoyed their takedown of Euron Greyjoy in their "Dragonstone" episode.

3. The Citadel from the Guardian / Daily Beast

This podcast hasn't updated for the new series and we're not certain it's coming back for series 7, but I still enjoyed going back and listening to Spencer Ackerman and Laura Hudson's season six predictions, plus their "powerful women and power grabs" episode from earlier in the show's run.

Update: The Citadel is back, with a new home at the Daily Beast. Hear their first series 7 episode here.

4. Game of Owns

This show is a veteran of the GoT podcast space, having been going since 2011. Their episode recaps are a little on the long side for my taste, but they augment their feed with interviews. Recent highlights have included Paula Fairfield, GoT sound designer, and Iwan Rheon, who played Ramsay Bolton.

5. Dragons on the Wall

A straight-forward recap show, but with a swift update schedule and great chemistry between the hosts. Who knows, maybe there will be actual dragons on The Wall before series 7 draws to a close?

Caroline Crampton is head of podcasts at the New Statesman.

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Smart and politically alert, Black Panther will inspire a generation of film students

Plus, Wakanda has a border control system to make Theresa May swoon. 

Before I went to see Black Panther, I had no idea whether or not it would be any good. That might sound strange, given the positive buzz around it, but I did have a nagging suspicion that “being nice about the first black-led Marvel film” might have got mixed up with “parading my anti-racist credentials on social media”.

Well, that suspicion was an unworthy one. Black Panther is not just smart and politically aware for a superhero film – it’s smart and politically aware, full stop. Its central conflict springs from its alternate-reality vision of Africa: specifically, a country called Wakanda, home of the world’s only reserves of “vibranium”. This has allowed Wakanda to become more technologically advanced than the West – “it’s as easy as riding a hoverbike”, the country’s chief scientist says to a bemused American at one point – and it has not only never been colonised, but never been mapped. It hides its lush plains and skyscrapers inside a holographic mountain.

A rare, mystical natural resource might be a staple of fantasy films (think of Avatar’s Ronsealishly named unobtainium), but putting it in the middle of Africa gives the film both a historical resonance – untold misery was caused by the 19th century efforts of European powers to secure the continent’s mineral wealth – and a contemporary one. It’s impossible to make a smartphone without rare earth metals, and some of the places where these are found, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, suffer from what economists call a “resource curse”. Without strong governments and infrastructure, the vast wealth obtainable by mining creates opportunities for corruption, and funds militias and civil wars.

Rare resources also attract vultures: which is exactly what Wakanda’s rulers fear. If they share the source of their power,  and give away their only advantage over the West, how will they be treated? A glance at their continental neighbours would be anything but reassuring.

That question – could you honestly advise Wakanda to share its vibranium with the world? – is interesting enough. But the film’s politics go even deeper, into uncomfortable questions about culture and immigration. All Wakandans have a tattoo on their inner lips, which grants them access to the kingdom: it’s a border control system that would make Theresa May swoon.

Early in the film, King T’Challa (whose alter ego is the superhero Black Panther) discusses with one of his closest advisers whether or not they have a duty to their fellow Africans, particularly refugees. W’Kabi (played by 28-year-old British actor Daniel Kaluuya) offers an argument we are more used to hearing from Trump voters in those worthy American newspaper profiles of flyover states: won’t mass migration mean the end of our unique culture? Putting that sentiment in the mouth of someone from an uncolonised African country is deeply provocative, helping audiences scale what the anthropologist Arlie Russell Hoschchild calls an “empathy wall”. The film ultimately rejects W’Kabi’s position, but it does give it space to be heard.

There’s another layer of sophistication to the political allegory here. The film’s true villain is not the white South African arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (although the parents who gave him that name really only have themselves to blame that he turned to crime and prosthetic augmentation). It’s the deeply conflicted figure of Killmonger, King T’Challa’s first cousin.

 Killmonger (Michael B Jordan) fights T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman). Photo: Marvel.

The king’s father killed his own brother back in 1992 after discovering that he had arranged the theft of a cache of vibranium. The plan was to distribute it to black people around the world, so they could rise up against their (white) oppressors. “I think the best villains are ones that have a point of view that’s relatable and that you can empathise with,” screenwriter Joe Robert Cole said in a recent interview. “Sometimes it’s how far you take things that makes you a villain, and not necessarily the perspective.”

Again, the film gives Killmonger’s argument space to breathe. Raised by a single mother in America, when his dead father asks him in a vision why he has no tears for him, he says that life is cheap here, meaning: black life. The Wakandans are not pacifists – Black Panther can, and will, kill people with his claws – but Killmonger experiences violence as chaotic, meaningless and random. He has been brutalised by the reality of life as a black man in America, and later as a soldier in America’s foreign wars. How radical is that: a $200m Hollywood film where the villain is a personification of America’s domestic and foreign policy?

There is so much more richness in the movie that (I hope) it will inspire a generation of film students. How should we react to a king and his subjects making monkey noises at someone in an ethnic minority, trying to intimidate him into silence? (In this case Martin Freeman’s white CIA agent.) How do black Africans feel about the film’s essentially American perspective, implying a commonality between black citizens in countries with such huge disparities in average income? How do the kind of internet writers who worry about “cultural appropriation” feel about a cast which includes black British, West Indian, Zimbabwean-American and German actors doing Xhosa accents? (“The implicit statement in both the film’s themes and its casting is that there is a connection, however vexed, tenuous, and complicated, among the continent’s scattered descendants,” noted Jelani Cobb in the New Yorker.)

As a white British viewer, the most uncomfortable moment for me was when Killmonger promises that the “sun will never set” on the new Wakandan empire. It reminded me of the developed world’s anxious hope for the future: that the rising nations of the world will treat us better in their pomp than we treated them in ours.

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She regularly appears on BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and the News Quiz, and BBC1’s Sunday Politics. 

This article first appeared in the 22 February 2018 issue of the New Statesman, Sunni vs Shia