Posted in Television

Beginning of the End

Shock and awe, particularly the former, have been the hallmark of “Game of Thrones” from the very beginning. Ned Stark’s execution, Tyrion’s regaining consciousness on the slanted perch of the Eyrie’s Sky Room, the Red Wedding, the sacrifice of Shareen…all these and so many more. And the warfare—with or without dragons. What bothered me about this season was the absence of a “Wow!” element of surprise, even with last week’s Battle With the Wights. Instead there’s been a pervasive feeling of fulfillment, as if the show runners were simply ticking items off a “To Do” list. That is, until this season’s final episode, “The Dragon and the Wolf.”

Few events have been as satisfying as Littlefinger’s demise, not even Ramsey Bolton’ s metamorphosis into doggie dinner. I literally applauded the confrontational sleight of hand Sansa managed to pull off. While I suspected Stark blood would prove thicker than water, I must admit the show runners had me second-guessing their intentions with their ambiguous build-up in the last couple of episodes. I thought Arya’s twirling the dagger and handing it off to Sansa last week was nothing short of “Kill me if you dare.” The tip-off in the final confrontation should have been the sight of Bran the Three-Eyed Raven at Sansa’s side, but Arya is such a commanding figure that all eyes were on her. Kudos to the show runners for such a delightful payoff.

It’s hard to pick Littlefinger’s worst crime: The attempt on Bran’s life? Lying about it to create eternal warfare between Starks and Lannisters? Betraying Ned Stark? Selling Sansa to the Boltons? For my money the most pathetic was dropping poor addled Lysa Arryn through the Moon Door. The one swift slash by Arya that ended his life was too good for him.

This episode also proved to be Old Home Week in the reunions leading up to the Big Confab: Tyrion and Bronn, Bronn and Podrick, Brienne and Jamie of course, but Brienne and the Hound was one for the ages. I half expected Brienne to sing that wonderful line from the Leonard Bernstein musical, “Candide”: “You were dead you know.” It was wonderful to see the Hound smile like a proud papa over Brienne’s testimony to Arya’s duelling prowess. I only hope his threatened fight to the death with Brother Mountain, sure to be a highlight of next season, finds him the victor.

If nothing else, “The Dragon and the Wolf” proved how many events in this saga were the result of lies and evasions. Littlefinger’s plotting put so much in motion, but on it goes: Jon needs to know that his real name is Aegon Targaeryan (normally I’d say “Too late, he’s already bedded his aunt,” but incest is coin of the realm on GoT), Sam needs to be told he’s really Lord Tarly and should be in a command position. By the way, it seems to me that Bran’s Three-Eyed Raven radar needs fine-tuning if he didn’t see that Rhaegar Targaryan and Lianna Stark were secretly married. Is it possible that the maester’s diary Sam read was just a fantastical allegory? Maester-time could get pretty dull, I would imagine, and spicing things up with tall tales could be great entertainment. And speaking of wrong-number prophecies, I fully expect the first big “Wow!” of next season to be the reveal that Danaerys is pregnant. The show runners love to bookend, and this twist would be the perfect companion to both Cersei/Jamie and Rhaegar/Lianna. Though I have to say the moral might be a little odd: “See, incest can be good”?

Two other developments did surprise me (no, not Jon and Danaerys—if you didn’t sense bedtime was on the horizon, you need a new show). I never expected Jamie to leave Cersei under any circumstances, particularly now that she’s pregnant. It’s true that he’s always tried to uphold honor, but still, given all he’s done on her behalf in the past, his riding North to presumably join up with his brother was a huge surprise.

As was the destruction of the Wall, which proved to be a fitting end to this season. How is it the dragon Viserion can still spew fire after he’s been frozen? And what’s the Night King’s secret command to get him to do so? It sure isn’t “Dracarys!” I only hope Tormund survived the debacle, just so we can see him with Brienne once more.

Another long lonely winter without “Game of Thrones” awaits. Only six more episodes to savor.

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Posted in Television

Gendry Redux

“By George, she’s got it!”

I’m surprised the “Game of Thrones” showrunners haven’t stuck it on a billboard by now.

In case you were busy, unconscious or otherwise occupied during GoT’s Episode 5, “Eastwatch,” Gilly’s perusal of a musty text at the Citadel revealed that Rhaegar Targaeryan was both divorced and immediately thereafter married on the same day in a secret ceremony in Dorne. And who do you think the (un)lucky lady he took to the altar was? Could it—no, it couldn’t be!—Lyanna Stark?!?! Well, duh. Those signals have been blaring for months, and this latest felt like being hit over the head by a 2 x 4. If true, Jon’s not really a Stark bastard, but the rightful and legitimate Targaeryan heir. And if any doubt at all remains, notice how he made friends with Drogon. Awwww, cute puppy! So, Danaerys—who has to bend the knee?

This penultimate season keeps chuddering along with relatively few surprises to date. Notice how quickly both news and people travel these days–this show seems to be on speed dial. It used to take Jorah Mormont half a season to travel from Point A to Point B, and here he is, from Citadel to Dragonstone in the blink of an eye. Fortunately things are kept lively by choice one-liners from our favorite quipsters. Tyrion to Jorah: “Nobody glowers quite like you–not even Grey Worm.” And Tormund remains in rare form. When he’s not lusting after Brienne, he’s getting straight to the heart of things, as witness his attempt to clarify Jon’s mission to north of the Wall: “How many queens are there now?…And you need to convince the one with the dragons, or the one who fucks her brother?”

Speaking of which, Cersei is once again with child, cooking up more Lannister devil-spawn. Jamie may be a proud papa, but I’m not so sure he’s looking forward to being paraded about in public as Cersei’s incestuous brother. He’s got the smarts to realize that even a queen may not be able to get away with this one.

Other developments that bear watching: As the result of yet another dragon barbeque, Sam, no longer an apprentice maester, is the new Lord Tarly though he doesn’t know it yet. I suspect the bookworm will eventually turn warrior. And with the return of Gendry, we now have a Baratheon in the mix who wields a hatchet like nobody’s business. If he keeps a list like Arya does, I would imagine Cersei and Melisandre are Items 1 and 1A on that document.

I have to confess I had my hands over my eyes during the Arya/Littlefinger mutual spying scenes. It’s my fervent hope that her time as “No One” will tip Arya off that he’s manufacturing the basis of a split between her and Sansa, leading not necessarily to Arya’s death but more likely, to her banishment from Winterfell. Trouble is already outpacing Littlefinger. Arya has always had Sansa’s number, even when the two were children. Arya rightly senses that Sansa wants that crown as Queen of the North—“You don’t want to, but you’re thinking it right now.” Despite their history, my money’s on the Stark girls to prove that blood is thicker than water, with Littlefinger as the loser (And if the girls don’t come through, I suspect Bran the Three-Eyed Raven will).

So we end with two major events pending: a confrontation between Jon’s ragtag army of Tormund, Ser Jorah, the Hound and the Dondarrian boys with the Army of the Dead, and a sit-down between Danaerys and Cersei. The suspense is building.

Posted in Baseball, Television

Home At Last

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun

What riches in this week’s “Game of Thrones” episode, “The Spoils of War:” Arya back in Winterfell! Theon washed up (in more ways than one) on Dragonstone! Bran knowing Arya’s list without even peeking! Historic cave hieroglyphics! Dragons incinerating an entire Lannister army! Jamie dunked!

Arya’s long-awaited return to Winterfell is one of the Top Ten highlights of the entire show. Her verbal sparring with the sentries was delicious, though her uncertainty as to who was currently wearing the title of “Lady Stark” underscored a bit of vulnerability (I suppose as a non-head of House she’s merely “Lady Arya”). Her sad gaze around the castle courtyard spoke volumes—see what happens when Greyjoys and Boltons don’t bother with upkeep? Her reunion with Sansa was chock full of treasures. When Sansa, referring to Jon, remarked, “When he sees you, his heart will probably stop,” did you yell at your screen “It already did”? However, there was a superb moment of ambiguity that followed Arya’s reference to her list. At first blush she’s a deadly serious adult thirsting to kill her remaining enemies. Sansa’s reaction is pure shock, then riotous laughter. Does she see this as a joke, or is she taken aback by the gravity of her sister’s intentions? Or both? At the sound of Sansa’s laughter, Arya suddenly smiles, a truly rare reaction from her, as we see her instantly revert from experienced killer to cute younger sister. Kudos to Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner for realizing the subtleties of this scene.

This could only be topped, and it was, by Arya’s training session with Brienne. Remember Catelyn’s smile when she first met Brienne back in Season Two? You knew exactly what she was thinking: “This is my daughter in ten years,” though she had no way of knowing it wouldn’t take quite that long. The Brienne/Arya sparring match was made even more impressive (and amusing) by the fact that Gwendoline Christie is about a foot and a half taller than Maisie Williams, though the latter can definitely twirl a sword like nobody’s business. A mutual appreciation society is born. And aside from their fighting prowess, the ladies obviously share the same view of Littlefinger. If looks could kill, their mutual glare at him would have made him an undertaker’s delight. By the way, that dagger Bran gave to Arya? He might as well have instructed her: “Go, sis, and plant it in Littlefinger’s chest.” I doubt Lord Baelish is long for this world.

One by one the loose ends are being tied up. When Theon came ashore at Dragonstone, I expected Jon to kill him in short order for selling out brother Robb. I would have thought Theon’s leaping rescue of Sansa did nothing more than square Greyjoy debt vis-a-vis House Stark, not created a Stark I.O.U. However, Jon evidently has his own bookkeeping system and thinks otherwise. And speaking of what is owed, Bran’s send-off of Meera Reed was awfully harsh. I’m glad she read him the roll call: the deaths of her brother Jojen, Hodor and his own direwolf Summer in his service, not to mention the numerous times she risked her own life to save his hide. I know the Three-Eyed Raven is taking over Bran’s consciousness, but that’s no excuse for treating her without a breath of empathy.

Catching up on Lannister business, they continued to pay their debts…with the money of other Houses. Given the extensive pillage at Highgarden of both gold and grain, it appears there wasn’t even a Tyrell second cousin once removed left to fight back—Lady Olenna was evidently the last of her House. While we’re on the subject of Lannisters, does anyone really think Cersei’s going to go through with a marriage to Euron Greyjoy, war trophies or no? They may make it to the Sept, but you can bet her apothecaries are already whipping up a wedding night special.

The end of the episode was worth waiting for. A full twelve minutes of screen time, from first rumble of dragon thunder to a sinking Jamie, Dany’s unleashing her dragons for a Lannister army stir-fry proved to be one of GoT’s epic battles. There was even a blink-and-you-missed-it guest appearance by GoT fan and Mets pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, who at 6’6″ made the perfect Lannister spearchucker (Celebrity has its perks). Nevertheless, it was slightly ridiculous to see everything surrounding Jamie go up in flames while he remained untouched. I was hoping to see Bronn incinerated—his constant kvetching about being awarded a castle has become tiresome—though upon repeat viewing this did not seem to happen. A pity.

Although the next episode seems to be North-centric, here’s hoping we learn Jamie’s fate in short order, not to mention that of poor Drogon (can he still fly?), the cured and presumably homeward bound Ser Jorah Mormont and the still missing in action Gendry (Remember him? Robert Baratheon’s bastard). And when oh when will Dany give up her obsession with knee-bending and rule the school as co-equals with Jon?

Only three more episodes in this season.

Ride ’em, Dragon Girl!
Posted in Television

Endgame

Don’t Fight, Kids–You’re Family!

 

There’s a scent of inevitability in the “Game of Thrones” air, isn’t there? The longed-for meeting of Daenerys Targaryen and Jon Snow. Yet another Stark family reunion. One more harbinger of the end: “Epigramish” seems to have displaced the Common Tongue as the main language on this show, not always for the better.

Cersei may have settled a ton of Lannister business in last night’s episode, “The Queen’s Justice,” but the GoT audience knows that such relief is usually transitory at best. Whipping up a batch of Dorne Killer Lip Balm, Cersei’s favorite apothecary provided the means for his boss’ squaring accounts with Ellaria Sand. In an excruciating scene, Cersei gets her revenge for the murder of daughter Myrcella by not only assuring a slow, painful death for Ellaria’s daughter, but forcing her mother to witness it and live with her rotting corpse, all the while chained to a dungeon wall. The Sand Snakes were not among my favorites, but that’s somewhat beyond the pale, even for Cersei. While GoT periodically tries to remind us that Cersei’s one redeeming feature is her love for her children, it’s hard to keep that in mind in the face of how she spends the rest of her waking hours.

On the bright side, the Targaryen/Snow confab was really a master class in the subtleties of diplomacy, as conducted by Tyrion and Ser Davos. How both strived to keep the dialogue going in the face of mutual refusals by their leaders to acknowledge the other’s sovereignty made for instructive viewing (Washington, take note). At least good intentions were displayed on both sides: Dany apologized for her mad father’s burning Jon’s grandfather and uncle to death, and he acknowledged Ned Stark’s breaking faith with the centuries-old alliance between the Houses Stark and Targaryan. Their interests are similar to the extent that both want Cersei’s head on a spike, but who gets to rule the schoolyard Seven Kingdoms?

At least both houses came away with something they wanted, unlike Varys, who received a very unwelcome prophesy from Melisandre. Evidently dying in Dragonstone is not what he envisioned—for the first time in ages, he looked afraid. On the other hand, Littlefinger not only remained in character, he somewhat upped the ante. The man loves to speak in riddles, but the advice (?) he gave to Sansa was so obscure, I still need a translation. Speaking of Sansa and riddles, I loved the expression on her face when she walked away from her conversation with Bran, the Three-Eyed Raven: It screamed “My brother is a weirdo!” Ah, siblings.

I’m going to miss Diana Rigg’s presence on this show. What a tough old bird Olenna Tyrell was, and how right she’ll be about Cersei’s eventually being the death of Jamie. Cersei may be queen, but it’s not a good idea to have your waiting woman catch you in the sack with your brother. That kind of behavior usually has a tendency to make you vulnerable to wannabes, no? (Hello, Euron Greyjoy!) Olenna’s pre-death conversation with Jamie was a refreshingly civilized bookend to Cersei’s dispatch of Ellaria Sand. One thing about Jamie—unlike his sister, honor means a great deal to him (See “Edmure Tully, Defeat of”). However, Olenna’s needling confession about Joffrey’s murder confused me. Didn’t she have a collaborator in Tywin Lannister? I’m surprised she didn’t skewer Cersei further by dropping that bit of information.

So…Will Dany’s dragons carry the day and destroy Euron Greyjoy’s fleet? Will the newly-cured Jorah Mormont arrive in time to help? Will Theon ever stop being a wimp?

Only five episodes left in the season.

I Hope Not!
Posted in Television

Onward

image

Now that was…satisfying.

I meant that as a compliment. “Winds of Winter,” the season finale of “Game of Thrones” brought at least two story arcs to an end, initiated several more, and continued to tease another like a veteran stripper twirling her tassels at an audience. Nicely done, show runners.

Courtesy of Cersei, the Sparrows and their followers, along with Ser Loras, Margaery and their father, were all blown to Kingdom Come. While I’m certain the faithful wanted to get there eventually, it’s a safe bet that wildfire, King’s Landing’s variety of napalm, would never have been their vehicle of choice. I have to confess I’m going to miss that little schemer Margaery who was such a great foil for Cersei. I can’t say the same for the High Sparrow or Tommen, whose suicide seemingly earned little sympathy from the mother he had condemned to the Sparrows. Thus is fulfilled the prophesy that Cersei would see the deaths of all her children.

She certainly wasted no time weeping. Having seized the Iron Throne after years of marginalization by the men in her life, she now rules a kingdom that’s about to come under siege. Is she up to the task? I have to say her own brother looked none too happy about Queen Cersei’s power grab. Falling out of love at long last, perhaps?

Contrast their situation with that of the third Lannister sibling. Tyrion has done quite well for himself. He’s a Hand once more, this time to Queen Danaerys, and on his own merit, not as a plant by his father. Bravo.

Even better was Arya’s avenging the Red Wedding. Before we get there though, I have to wonder what would have happened had Jamie bedded her in her serving wrench disguise. No doubt he would have met the same fate as Walder Frey, but without the benefit of special baked goods (Nice wink at Shakespeare’s “Titus Andronicus” there, show runners). Before this episode aired, the rumor on the interwebs was that Arya would do the deed in Lady Stoneheart disguise. Though the Lady is still MIA, the sight of Walder Frey’s slit throat and Arya’s smile made for lovely viewing.

In other Stark news, Jon Snow’s identity as Lyanna’s son was finally confirmed, though you had to know from Season 1 that Ned Stark was not his father (Ned would get all moody and distant when the subject of Jon’s mother came up, so it didn’t take much brainpower to put two and two together. Starks are not Lannisters, after all). However it seems we’re still being teased about his paternity. OK, Lyanna was abducted, but is this conclusive? What did she whisper in Ned’s ear before she died? Lip readers to the fore, please!

Bastard or no, Jon Snow is now King of the North, courtesy of Itty Bitty Lady Mormont’s calling out the slackers and Sister Sansa’s rebuff of Lord Baelish. Speaking of which, Sansa’s certainly got his number by now: “Anyone who trusts Littlefinger is a fool.” On the other hand, it may prove wiser in the long run for her to have observed the adage: “Keep your friends close, but your enemies closer.” I would think Littlefinger, always drawn to power, may shortly be hightailing it back to King’s Queen’s Landing to join forces with Cersei. And with Melisandre having been turned out of Winterfell and now freelancing, who knows what will happen?

[By the way, have you noticed how tall Sophie Turner has gotten? It’s somewhat amusing that she can now literally look down on both Aiden Gillen and Kit Harrington. Foreshadowing?]

So we end Season 6 with the Tyrells (Lady Olenna never misses a step), Martells, Iron Born and Targaeryan/Dothraki forces sailing to Westeros to install Dany as Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Varys succeeded in his mission, the dragons are flying and Dany is at the helm. But winter has arrived—will she still prevail? Other wildcards include Arya, now making her way to Winterfell, the Hound and the Brotherhood Without Banners, Brienne and Gendry (Remember him? Robert Baratheon’s bastard).

Plenty to go around in the future, though it seems only two shortened seasons remain. I’ll miss the show after it’s gone, but I have to say the projected end date seems right. We’ve been through the initial “Shock of the Week” phase during the show’s first few seasons; this season has been one of satisfaction, as many plot expectations have been fulfilled. Every show has a “use by” date; it would be horrible to see GoT become a “What? That again?” show in predictability.

Knowing when to leave is prime TV wisdom. Let’s hope “Game of Thrones” wraps up in style.

Posted in Television

Reckoning

Game-Of-Thrones-Jon-Snow-season-6-episode-9-Battle-Of-The-Bastards

If ever a television episode spoke for itself, “Battle of the Bastards,” last night’s “Game of Thrones” offering, certainly did. There’s very little I can add except to ask, “How many Emmys do you think it’ll win?”

I think the image of Rickon and Jon futilely racing toward each other across the battlefield will stay with me for a very long time. We instinctively knew Sansa’s prior assessment that Rickon was a dead man would hold true, yet the beauty of desperation and longing made us believe for just an instant until the arrow struck.  And Jon’s unsheathing his sword to face what seemed certain death was the gallant gesture of a king. He’s pure Stark, through and through.

[Before we leave the battlefield, though, I have to say that if you didn’t expect Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale to save the day, you haven’t been paying attention this season. In addition to her letter writing skills, our girl Sansa sure knows her way around ravens.]

I’m curious as to how successful this new Targaryan/Iron Islands alliance is going to be. Despite all the flirting, political and otherwise, between the two ladies, I can’t believe the followers of the Drowned God will so readily give up their nasty ways. They’re been pillagers and pirates for centuries. They’re not like the Dothraki who worship Daenerys as the Mother of Dragons, so I imagine our Ms. Stormborn and trusted advisor Tyrion are going to have their hands full before long.

Finally, at long last, Ramsay Bolton got his by becoming doggie dinner. It was tremendously thoughtful and brotherly of Jon to stop whaling on him so that Sansa could deliver the coup de grâce. But was it really enough as far as the Boltons are concerned? Instead of Ramsay dispatching his old man, I would have liked Arya to have stuck Roose Bolton with Needle and rummaged around his insides for a bit. I’m certain I’m not alone in thinking that Lady Sansa’s goodbye smirk to her erstwhile hubby, while satisfying, wasn’t truly commensurate with the torture Ramsay put her and Theon (not to mention the audience) through. At least his three seasons of sadism are over, though the GoT showrunners keep upping the ante in that department (See “Shireen, Death of”).

Nevertheless, we may finally have Red Wedding vengeance if the season’s finale promo is any hint. It looks like banquet time chez Frey, and here’s hoping they end up skewered. Also on tap are Cersei and Loras’ Trials by Sparrow—will House Tyrell rescue them? And what of Bran and Uncle Benjen? How’s Varys doing? The Hound? Did Brienne return to Tarth? Will Arya make it back to Winterfell for a Stark reunion?

Be there on Sunday to (hopefully) find out.

Posted in Television

A Stark At Last

game-of-thrones-season-6-episode-8

A girl came into her own last night.

Grey Worm smiled.

Khaleesi didn’t even bother to park her dragon.

All this and so much more in “No One,” Episode 8, Season 6 of “Game of Thrones.” Such a tasty dish. Which ingredient should we start with?

I never thought I’d feel sorry for Cersei, but wow, that’s gotta hurt (if not now, then definitely in the future). With Tommen’s abolition of trial by combat, we’ll be sadly deprived of any Mountain mayhem on Cersei’s behalf. And here we all thought Joffrey was the rotten kid in that family. Speculation: That verification of a rumor Cersei’s weasly advisor was whispering about? I suspect it’s that Sansa is alive, and the little bird that cheeped it was Petyr Baelish. Alliances do nothing but shift on this show, especially with Littlefinger being such a mercenary toad.

I’m really enjoying the saga of the returned Hound and his exploits. Unlike the Ironborn and Sam Tarly, he holds my interest and rates every minute of screen time he gets. His relationship with Arya made him human, and now that he’s joined the Brotherhood Without Banners, I see some intriguing twists ahead. With the continually resurrected Beric Dondarrion and especially Thoros of Myr back in the picture, can Lady Stoneheart be far behind?

Jamie Lannister has always reminded me of Angel of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fame. You never know which side of the character you’re going to see in any given week. Last night we were treated to both. He was wonderfully knight-to-knight with Brienne, though there’s obviously a lot more going on there—and it’s definitely not one-sided. Did anyone else want to yell during his rhapsodic discussion of Cersei, “Dummy, she ain’t all that. Check the woman standing right in front of you!” Their mutual angst at the prospect of fighting each other and their poignant farewell waves as Brienne made her getaway from Riverrun spoke volumes. Forget the Tormund ‘ship. I’d bet good money that GoT is going to end with the two of them duelling to the death and dying in each other’s arms.

On the other hand, a Lannister-Tarth politically arranged marriage before the show ends would be a nice alternative. After all, being dismissed from the King’s Guard makes Jamie the most eligible bachelor in town, and she’d bring money, territory and her old man’s army to the alliance. It’s a match made in heaven. Besides, that was one heavy anvil that dropped when Jamie said he’d never betray his house. As my mother was wont to say, “We’ll see.”

Bad Angel Jamie emerged in his conversation with Edmure Tully, with whom he was at his most condescending and tyrannical. Despite Edmure’s prisoner status, can you blame Jamie? Prior to the Red Wedding Edmure was petulant and a bit of a wuss; it was clear sister Caitlyn was somewhat exasperated with him. And now he’s betrayed his name and the men who were willing to die for him. A sad end to House Tully.

Fortunately Arya redeemed all that with the sweetest payoff GoT has seen in a long time. I’m sorry we lost Lady Crane along the way—it would have made for a better story arc to see Arya spend some time as an actress (I agree that she’d be good at it), instead of two seasons in the House of the Dead. On balance, though, it was worth it to have Arya finally dispatch the Waif and proclaim to Jaqu’an: “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. And I am going home.”

YES!!!!!

Next week: It’s the penultimate episode of the season, which means it’s time for The Big Battle. In this corner, Ramsay Bolton. In that corner, Jon Snow. It’s Bastard vs. Bastard, and the prize is Winterfell. Good times ahead.