Game of Thrones fangirl, comedian and self-professed ‘Mother of Kittens’, Natalie Bochenski, explores her Jon Snow obsession in her romp of ‘ice and fire’, Raven On, at FRINGE WORLD. The Brisbane-based writer and performer has penned more than 250,000 words about GoT in her cult recap series ‘Raven On’. Fans of the GoT series can expect to relive highlights and lowlights from the show, as well as hear stories of Natalie’s attempts to get close to the series including an encounter with Jason Mamoa (Khal Drogo). Catch Raven On from Monday, January 28 – Friday, February 1 at The Gold Digger at Fringe Central or Wednesday February 6 – Sunday, February 10 at The Windsor Hotel (buy online using the discount code JONSNOW and get $4 off every ticket, with $2 from every ticket donated to the Cat Haven locally). Bochenski spoke to HARVEY RAE about Raven On and her nine-year obsession with Westeros and Essos.
Hi Natalie, it’s clear from your resume and reading through your recaps that you’ve become something of a Game of Thrones expert – how did that come to be?
It’s bizarre, really – I’ve never been much of a fantasy person. I certainly hadn’t read the A Song of Ice and Fire books. But one weekend in autumn 2011 I binged watched the first series. I was hooked by episode three – these weren’t gallant knights and damsels in distress, they were real people who swore, acted in their own self-interest and were naked a lot. I loved the politics of the show, and of course, the fact that no characters were safe. It’s been an obsession ever since, but I wouldn’t claim to be a world expert. I still have only read the first three books, and as my recaps are very reactionary, I avoid a lot of deep dives online into the lore and conspiracy of the world. I try to take the show as it is. But I also learn a lot from my readers, who will offer up nuggets of info from the book or their own theories, which is fantastic. The recaps really are a two way dialogue; I know it’s rare to love comments on the internet but Raven On readers are universally brilliant and clever and kind.
How, in turn, did you come up with the idea for your show, Raven On?
By 2012, TV recaps were an increasingly popular form of writing online, and as the second season of GoT rolled around, I thought it might be a fun challenge. I was a radio journalist at the time, and writing long-form analyses of this sprawling series was a great change of pace. The name “Raven On” was a pun, but it was short and snappy and somewhat predicted the slightly deranged nature my recaps sometimes take – I write not as a critic evaluating the artistic merit of the show, but as a mega-fan who is deeply invested in the characters. I love them, I hate them, I root for them, I curse them, I change my opinion on them, I mourn them.
Before season 3 began, I had moved into a role with Brisbane Times, part of the then-Fairfax Media network. I was planning to continue recapping on my own blog, but as I noticed Fairfax were publishing more recaps online I thought I’d offer them the Raven On recaps. They said yes, and so series three went up online. That coincided with GoT really hitting the mainstream, with the Red Wedding arguably the most traumatic moment of the series at that point. I started getting readers emailing me saying how much they loved my recaps as a follow-up tonic to the show itself – they could sink into it and process everything that got their heart rate racing during the show. There’s no bigger compliment than somebody saying, “I love your recaps almost as much as the show”.
How much of Raven On is comedy and how much is just nerding out?
Raven On the show is a way of bringing together my long history of work in live comedy, improvisation and theatre, with my obsession with Game of Thrones. I’m not a straight stand-up comedian, so it’s a more a storytelling style, relating encounters I’ve had with GoT cast members and locations, and my own efforts to get ready for the end of the show. I don’t think it would be very entertaining for people to just watch me recount things that happened in the show for an hour – they could rewatch the show! But I also hopefully have a few surprises in store for people.
There’s a general sense it seems that the past couple of seasons of GoT haven’t been as strong – personally I think they peaked with season 4. What’s your thoughts on this, and how much can we expect from the final season given they’ve had to come up with their own storylines beyond George R.R. Martin’s books?
From what I understand, a lot of book readers didn’t like it when the show started to split off from the source material, changing storylines and character arcs. As a show watcher first and foremost, that didn’t bug me. As I mentioned, I’m just a tragic, so I love it all. I know some people had issues with its treatment of women; for example, Sansa’s rape in season 5 at the hands of the psychotic Ramsay Bolton. It wasn’t in the original story, but it made sense in the show. It made sense in that world; a world that is violent and deadly for women (hell, it’s still very true of OUR world). Not every female character can be ass-kicking assassins like Arya or strong warriors like Brienne. We love hardcore fighting chicks in our culture – hell, my heroes included She-Ra and Xena as a kid. But the reality is many women can’t assert their power in that way. As I get older, I am far more intrigued by female characters who overcome vicious personal attacks and find power in other ways. It’s interesting that going into the final season, it’s the women who are leading the charge – Daenarys, Cersei, Sansa, Arya – all amazing and complex and shaped by their experiences into true leaders, good and bad.
Mind you, I definitely had a lot of fun in my season 7 recaps with the huge time jumps – for example, Sam Tarly seemed to take a month to travel the length of Westeros, while others seem to be able to cross it in an afternoon. But again, it’s a fantasy show. Continuity sometimes has to be jettisoned for action and drama. I certainly can get pedantic about stuff, but with GoT I forgive a lot.
What are you more excited about – the fact that the final season is all made up of movie length episodes, or seeing Jon Snow on screen one last time?
The show deals a lot with my slightly concerning obsession with Jon Snow, and it’s true that I am looking forward to seeing him in action again. But I want to stress it’s with the character, not the actor Kit Harington. He’s lovely of course, but it’s Jon Snow’s honour, stubbornness, bravery and yes, occasional stupidity that I adore. Also sure he looks good with his shirt off, which they really should do more often. Wait, what was the question again?
How devoted a fangirl are you? Have you read all the books, bought all the board games and do you remember the names of all the outlying characters?
I actually own a bit of Game of Thrones stuff, but weirdly a lot of it was gifted to me by friends or stuff I’ve won in Game of Thrones trivia nights! I have GoT Monopoly and Cluedo, although no one really wants to play those with me, no idea why. I have a couple of cool GoT-themed mugs and goblets, and a sweet 3D puzzle of Westeros that I am too scared to actually do because I foster cats and they would WRECK any attempt I made to construct it. Also, I *may* be cosplaying in this show.
Finally, your recaps went from being published on Fairfax websites to Cheeseburger Gothic, the website of author John Birmingham, which is quite a jump. Which is more of an honour?
After three years at Brisbane Times, I left to take up a government adviser role. John Birmingham is a good mate of mine, and has been a great champion of my recaps from the beginning, which was so kind of him. When I left Fairfax, I asked him tentatively if he would be interested in the recaps, and he jumped at it. So they have had a happy home there since season 6, but I now have them all collated on my own website, www.nataliebochenski.com
I’ve been very thrilled to have a great deal of financial support through a Patreon I run for the recaps, encouraging people to pay a minimal amount for the articles, which regularly run to 3000-4000 words. In past years I have used the majority of those funds to support causes I believe in – whether it’s commissioning artists to create new work or supporting animal welfare causes that I really believe in. I foster cats for a rescue here in Brisbane, and years ago I dubbed myself ‘Mother of Kittens’, which stuck.
Actually – I’ve arranged a deal with Cat Haven in Perth – they’re a massive rescue. I’m going to be donating a portion of my box office to them to help them with their mammoth vet bills and other costs of rescuing cats and finding them loving homes. If you buy online using the discount code JONSNOW, you’ll get $4 off every ticket and I will donate $2 every ticket to Cat Haven.