Posted in Television

Onward

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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

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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

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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.

Posted in Television

No Surprises

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Never Get Between a Khaleesi and Her Dragon

“Game of Thrones” Episode 6, “Blood of My Blood,” certainly brought a bushel basket of new developments. In no particular order:

Benjen Stark, Ned’s brother, whom everyone thought dead, appeared out of the mist and snow to rescue Bran and Meera from one angry band of wights;

Sam Tarly’s father ridiculed his first- born for being fat, insulted Gilly for being a wildling and otherwise acted like a total jerk;

Edmure Tully, Caitlyn Stark’s brother and bridegroom at the Red Wedding, showed up alive, if most likely not entirely well, as a captive of Walder Frey;

Tommen drank the Sparrows’ Kool-Aid and declared politics and religion to be the twin stanchions of King’s Landing;

Drogon found Dany (see above); and (finally)

Arya reclaimed Needle and presumably her identity as a Stark.

However, with the exception of this last, which I’ll get to in a moment, none of these were really surprising. All were variously foreshadowed, hinted at, and had their seeds planted at various times over previous seasons of the show (Keep in mind this is coming from soneone who never gets the murderer right in mysteries). I don’t intend this as criticism—actually it’s a relief to be freed of mayhem for a week to focus on storytelling,

For a number of viewers I’m certain the reappearance of Benjen Stark was the most surprising, at least after they got over their initial “Who in the world is that?” Given that we last saw Benjen in Season 1, this reaction was predictable. If you recall, our last view of Benjen was his departure from Castle Black to scout north of the Wall, at which point he seemingly disappeared into oblivion. However, if you’ve read or even glanced at the George R.R.Martin novels, you’ll notice that Benjen, as listed in the Stark family tree, is described as (I’m paraphrasing here) “missing and presumed dead.” Based on this ambiguity alone I never bought his demise, and since a body never turned up, I expected a living Benjen to appear at some point. And so he did—at the most fortuitous moment.

Sam Tarly’s father isn’t worth discussing, so we won’t linger. Nevertheless, while foreshadowing is a major theme this week, I fully expect the sword Heartsbane to be put to use before this season ends, and by the budding maester himself.

Edmure Tully? The last we saw of him he was being hustled out of the Frey banquet hall as the slaughter began at the Red Wedding. Edmure was always more valuable to Walder Frey as a live captive as opposed to a dead Stark in-law, so again, no surprise there. But am I looking forward to the eventual hellish torture of Walder Frey? You better believe it.

While GoT has obviously been pointing toward Tommen’s getting religion, it feels like there’s a great deal more to come. I can’t help but think his conversion was Step One in a Margaery game plan, no matter how demure she appeared when Tommen announced the alliance of church and state. That girl is still Olenna Tyrell’s granddaughter, and has she ever learned her lessons well. With no love lost between the Lannisters and the Tyrells, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least that she sees a Tommen-High Sparrow partnership as the best way to permanently render the Lannisters politically as well as militarily impotent, what with Jamie ordered off to Riverrun for Lannisters vs. Starks, Round Two.

Despite all this, the most intriguing development—and for me the one real surprise of the episode—was Arya’s refusal to go through with the assigned murder of Lady Crane. One of the more distressing arcs of GoT has been Arya’s transformation from a lovable girl with a strong moral sense into a killer with a hit list. Not that she doesn’t have cause—betrayal and witnessing your father’s public beheading will do that, not to mention seeing your brother’s corpse paraded about topped by Grey Wolf’s head. A real turning point came when she abandoned a dying Hound. While she later voiced some ambivalence about it, the act was perhaps more shocking than her butchering of Merwyn Trent.

Why did Arya knock the cup of poisoned rum out of Lady Crane’s hand? Was she so awed by Lady Crane’s skills as an actress? More likely she was swayed by the actress’ interest and unexpected warmth. Arya hasn’t had any mothering in a very long time, and Lord knows, Jaquen and the Waif aren’t exactly nurturing types. Nor are they any fun, and it was wonderful to see Arya enjoying the troupe’s ribald performance. It would be fitting indeed for Arya to fulfill the Faceless’ mission by becoming an actress and wearing many faces.

So after two seasons in The House of Black and White she finally retrieves Needle and presumably reclaims her identity as a Stark. While she couldn’t beat the Waif as a Girl Who Has No Name, my money’s on her to do so as her father’s daughter.

One final note: I’m not spoiled, but there was a huge anvil dropped when Cersei, in her usual “I always win” manner, told Jamie not to worry about her upcoming trial by combat to be conducted by the Sparrows—the Mountain will be her champion. Guess what, honey? I think the Hound is alive and well and in the employ of the Sparrows. The Clegane Brothers still have a lot of issues to settle, for sure.

To be continued.

Posted in Television

Come Together

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Finally.

Two Starks in the same place–and at the same time.

Was there a dry eye in the house when Sansa Stark and Jon Snow were reunited at Castle Black? Their mutual astonishment was beautifully played–not a beat too short, nor a beat too long (Kudos to Sophie Turner and Kit Harrington, who are giving terrific performances this season). As they contemplate the present situation, their states of mind couldn’t be further apart. He’s grown weary of the fight; she, showing more and more of her mother’s grit, is determined to retake the North from Ramsay Bolton. Nevertheless by the end of the episode, with his family and Castle Black under threat, he’s back in the fray.

The tenor of this season of GoT has been unlike any other. Despite Melisandre’s magic and Bran’s warging, there’s a new sense of groundedness. Bran and Arya are no longer children; more essential perhaps is that Sansa is longer a pawn. There’s also a feeling of convergence, of an end in sight; in fact the show runners have indicated that there may only be two more truncated seasons of GoT. But more than that it seems having burned through the five “Fire and Ice” novels, the show’s spirit, not just its plot, has been freed in a fundamental way.

However not every storyline shares the blessing of creativity. The show runners may love Ramsey Bolton, his smirk and his weekly brutality show, but all have worn out their welcome. I realize “Less is more” is not exactly GoT’s motto, but as far as Ramsey’s concerned, its application would be most welcome.

On a more positive note this episode served as an excellent tutorial on how to negotiate common interests. Wonder of wonders, the Lannisters and the Tyrells agreed to join forces to break the High Sparrow’s hold on King’s Landing and free Margaery and Loras (Good luck with that). More ominous, though, is the deal Tyrion struck with the Masters of Yunkai, Astapor and Volaris. Sadly, I think Grey Worm and Missandei are right. I sense that our favorite Lannister has seriously misjudged the situation—the Masters’ “best interests” are likely more complicated than he thinks, and his support in Meeren seems to be wearing thin. Dragons to the rescue?

Speaking of deals, Littlefinger has returned, still playing both ends against the middle. His end game has seemingly not changed—claim Sansa and through her, rule the North. Although he’s promised Sansa to the rather simple Robin Arryn, the Lord of the Vale is only Littlefinger’s tool. It takes no effort to foresee that Lord Baelish will drop the kid (literally) once he’s no longer of use. I find it somewhat amusing that Petyr Baelish is a virtual personality clone of Tommy Carcetti, the insatiable politician Aidan Gillen played in another superb HBO series, “The Wire,” without the homicides, of course. Obviously the passage of centuries, albeit in reverse, has not withered his charms.

A few final random thoughts:

Brienne almost stole the show. Whether making her entrance into Castle Black to Thormund’s astonishment, stating that she’ll neither forgive nor forget Renley’s murder, or being revolted by the table fare of the Night’s Watch (or Edd’s manners–it was hard to tell), she just shone.

In the prison scene with Loras, Natalie Dormer as Margaery never looked more like the young Diana Rigg. Great casting for this grandmother/granddaughter team.

Dany does it again! Evidently you don’t need dragons’ eggs to survive a killing fire. Danaerys Stormborn had a definite plan from the start: the smirk she wore throughout that ripe Dothraki judgment scene just said it all.

Onward, “Game of Thrones”!

Posted in Television

In Stark We Trust

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Eyeing the Past: The Three-Eyed Raven and Bran Stark

We “Game of Thrones” fanatics never doubted it for a minute.

The build-up was tremendous. Try as she might, Melisandre seemingly could not bring Jon Snow back to life. Not really surprising, considering his chest was riddled with wounds. But the pay-off came in a bit of delayed action mojo when we finally saw Jon draw his first agonized breath, eyes wide open in shock. Let the games begin!

This last scene of Episode 2, “Home,” was a superb bookend to what we saw at the beginning of the show. In a surprise move, Bran Stark, missing since Season 4, made his reappearance. Although now in late adolescence, he’s still under the tutelage of the Three-Eyed Raven. Bran is a young man of many talents, not the least of which is his ability to warg, i.e., leave his crippled body and inhabit another, fully ambulatory. He’s since added time travel to his skill-set, and in a poignant sequence he watches his father and Uncle Benjen as young children learning sword play. Bran’s stroll down memory lane at Winterfell affords us a glimpse not only of Lyanna, whose rape and murder presaged the events of the GoT saga, but also the teen-aged stable boy Hodor, who not only can speak, but whose name is actually Wilys. I can’t wait for more Winterfell back story.

In a move that made me jump, Ramsey Bolton knifed his father to death upon learning of the birth of his half-brother. Apparently the assurance from Daddy Roose that “I’ll always consider you my firstborn” wasn’t good enough. In a way I was disappointed. Given Roose’s role in the Red Wedding, I was hoping the show runners would save him for a revenge killing by one of the Stark kids. Lady Stoneheart, where are you?

Ramsey’s dispatch of Walda Frey and her son via unleashed hounds underscored my growing Ramsey fatigue. I get it—he’s so villainous that the show runners are forced to up the grue ante every week. But they’ve made Ramsey so awful that he’s becoming a parody of himself. There’s always been an element of not-quite camp with Ramsey and pronouncements like “I always wanted to be an only child” following the murder of his half-brother undermine the tone of his actions, and not in a good way. I relish black comedy, but I much prefer the badinage of Varys and Tyrion. The wit displayed is far sharper.

Speaking of which, I was glad to see:

–Tyrion making new friends. Nothing like cultivating Daenerys’ left-behind dragons to create a reptilian air force.

–Arya finally getting off the schneid and evidently undertaking Step Two toward becoming No One.

–More scenes in the North with Sansa and Brienne. It’s always magical to see the snow falling in the mists of Winterfell.

–Theon Greyjoy, maimed as he is, heading home to vie for the kingship of the Iron Islands. A coming struggle between Theon and his sister should prove far more interesting than the doings of the Sand Snakes.

–The ongoing clash of the Lannisters and the High Sparrow (jonathan Pryce), a wonderfully passive-aggressive villain (Not a few will cheer when he finally gets his). A repentant Tommen’s reliance on the once again empowered Cersei makes a wonderful addition to the mix. Good times should shortly ensue.

“Game of Thrones” now seems fully under way once more. Sunday can’t come soon enough.

Posted in Television

Yup, It’s Back

Finally, After Four Seasons
Finally, After Four Seasons

“Game of Thrones” returned last night and the interwebs have been sizzling with commentary. Although I’ve stayed away from episodic reviews for the last few years since I prefer to discuss each season as a whole, a couple of thoughts have prompted me to take to the blog.

At long last the playing field is leveled between those who have read the books and those like myself who have not (While I own all five, I’ve only been able to make it through the first so far while skimming the others, post-episode, as supplemental material). Although no one knows what’s going to happen, it seems both the strengths and weaknesses of “Game of Thrones” will continue, though the span of George R.R. Martin’s novels ended with the finale of Season 5.

A major pitfall that “Game of Thrones” may not be able to avoid is one shared by every television series that’s been on the air past two or three seasons: the loss of an ability to surprise. I don’t mean the ability to shock—GoT will always have that if only by upping the grue factor, as witness what happened to that idiot Martell heir last night (shish kabob head, anyone?), or by depicting the grossest barbarity (Shireen burned at the stake). Surprise comes when a character shows an unsuspected side, or when an uncontrolled event occurs. While “Game of Thrones” seems to prefer the latter (the Red Wedding, Daenerys surviving the fire only to reveal three baby dragons perched on her shoulders), the former is certainly more rewarding: Jaime’s relationship with Brienne, Tyrion’s murdering his father (I didn’t suspect that he’d have it in him). The sight of what appears to be a mature Bran Stark in the promo for the next episode was in fact a wonderful surprise, and hopefully an indication of good storytelling to come.

Speaking of which, I was not happy to see the repetition of themes I thought GoT had done to death in prior seasons. Daenerys is once again faced with the dilemma of avoiding Khal widow exile (Don’t the Dothraki appreciate this girl’s an empress on the move?), and Arya’s struggles to prove worthy, only this time with Little Orphan Annie eyes, tediously continue (I liked it so much more when she and the Hound were roaming the country, killing bad guys). Although I usually find the Night’s Watch tiresome by this point, I thought last night’s scenes were intriguing. For the record I think Jon Snow is only momentarily dead, and that he’ll be revived next week by Melisandre’s drained life force (Poor thing had to take to her bed to regenerate her mojo).

For me the best developments were Sansa and Theon’s escape, their rescue by Brienne and Podrick (When is this kid going to be knighted already? He’s as adept as Brienne with a sword) and finally the payoff of Sansa and Brienne’s mutual pledges. I initially disliked Sansa—being boy-crazy over Joffrey showed a horrendous lack of judgment, and Arya was always the more interesting Stark sister anyway—but at long last she’s become her mother’s daughter. Very cute that Podrick had to prompt her with the correct words for her ritual acceptance of Brienne’s vow, but given what Sansa’s been through it’s no wonder she couldn’t remember.

I’ll leave you with a thought to ponder: Who would win in a death match? Cersei Lannister or Claire Underwood?

See you next week.