Monthly Archives: April 2019

The Long Night Review

MAJOR SPOILERS!! Well what did you expect?

How the f*ck do you review this one?

Ask one person: its a cinematic masterpiece of filmmaking and entertainment.

Ask another: its a disappointing end to Thrones’ longest running story arc that refuses to break any of its toys and wasn’t lit properly.

Both are valid opinions.

Let’s focus on the good first. The director Miguel Sapochik deserves all the plaudits and awards he gets for this episode – the set pieces were amazing, and he managed to cram them full of tension. Yet, the lighting was low (good job my tv display has a ‘cinema’ mode) but its a bloody Night Battle. It’s hard to light it more and keep any semblance of realism. They probably could have done better with the first half, but let’s move on.

The physical acting of the cast was very strong throughout – the way they epitomised the characters’ despair, fear and exhaustion was universally strong – particularly from Maisie Williams. Given the sheer scale, the focus wasn’t lost on individuals – most of the characters had a chance to shine at some point – which isn’t easy in an episode with little dialogue.

Analysing the whole battle will take ages, so I’ll just highlight what I thought were the standout scenes. The build up (with Ramin Djawadi’s expert tension-raising music) and the Dothraki’s doomed charge was great. Arya being hunted through Winterfell was a tense masterclass. Jorah and Theon’s last stands were brilliantly heroic. But there were two that really stood out for me. First was Jon taking on the Night’s King. The dragon fight was epic enough, but Daenerys failing to roast the Night King (and the Night King’s smirk) was absolutely awesome. Then the best bit: Jon charges the Night’s King. He turns round. You expect them to fight… and then the Night’s King raises his arms and resurrects a whole new army. That must has caused more ‘of fuck’s from the audience than any other moment. After the whole way the show has set these two up as rivals, the Night’s King simply outplays Jon and turns his back on him. Brilliant.

Then that last scene. Jon killing the Night’s King would have been too predictable. Daenerys’ dragons killing him would have been too boring. Someone like Bran or Beric doing it might have been a nice twist – but I doubt anything would have compared to Arya’s stupendous drop, grab and stab execution of the White Walker’s leader and the entire Undead army. Damn girl, you deserve a few more sessions with Gendry – or anyone else you damn want.

So in summary, an epic, record-breaking masterpiece of film-making, direction and action that rivals the best battle scenes from TV (Spartacus) or Film (Lord of the Rings).

Now the flip side of the argument – and the reason this episode hasn’t got perfect scores from critics or a moderate chunk of the fanbase.

The White Walkers are the main threat on the show – they’ve been slowly built up ever since episode 1. While this was an epic battle, it is slightly anticlimactic both that they were beaten in one episode and that they won’t be around for the final episode. You have to ask how on Earth the last 3 episodes can avoid an anti-climax. Sure, we all want to see Cersei and Euron die, and there’s scope for one more huge battle, but where’s the tension going to be? Fighting for the throne (in a battle the plot dictates the heroes pretty much have to win) is hardly a compelling substitute for a battle for the survival of the living. I severely doubt the books will deal with the walkers this early. How much better might it have been if Cersei had been destroyed (either by Daenerys or by the White Walkers) first, and the Battle of Winterfell represented a true last stand? There would have been a genuine doubt in viewers minds that the heroes would win then. There’s also a sense of it all being a bit rushed; the Walkers dying a mere 3 episodes after breaking through the wall feels a slight waste – I feel like either them winning an inconclusive victory at Winterfell and forcing the heroes to join forces with Cersei, or the Night King destroying King’s Landing first, might have been more dramatically satisfying.

Those concerns may all be unfounded. The last 3 episodes might be masterpieces and any sense of better endings will be forgotten. There is, however, a bigger problem here that will probably linger. It’s a problem the show has had since the ‘Battle of the Bastards’. It refuses to kill its core characters.

A huge factor in Thrones standing out from the crowd early on was its ability to shock its audience. Ned Stark’s beheading. The Red Wedding. Joffrey’s death. Shireen’s sacrifice. Hodor. We haven’t had anything equivalent since then – which is a problem. Take the marvellous ‘Spoils of War’ in S7. It probably remains the best battle in Thrones history. But if the show was being honest with itself, Bronn and Jaime should both have died in it. Especially Jaime – Bronn’s last minute rescue was one thing, but if a soldier as heavily armoured as Jaime goes into a river, they drown. No exceptions. Only one thing saved him: plot armour.

Plot armour is commonplace in stuff like Marvel movies: putting characters into impossible situations their survive for no other reason than the show/film/book doesn’t want to kill them yet. The first five seasons of Thrones had no issue with this – Jon, Daenerys etc. never was backed into a corner they couldn’t conceivably get out of. Season 6 started to have issues – Arya’s wounds and her plunge into a probably disease ridden canal rightly raised some eyebrows. The battle of the bastards was epic, but the deaths were all predictable. Had Davos or Tormund brought it, i’d have been truly shocked. But Ramsay, Wun Wun and Rickon? Called literally all of them 4 episodes prior. Beyond the Wall pissed some fans off last year for similar reasons – Daenerys’ rescue was epic but ludicrous, and of the 7 major characters in the episode, only Thoros and a bunch of nameless extras died. Sure, Viserion was a surprise, but really Tormund and Jon shouldn’t have made it out of there.

Battle of Winterfell. The Living vs. the Dead. Surely a load of the main cast had got to die right? Wrong. Sure, some survivors were inevitable – Jon and Daenerys needed to still be there for the final episode. But for most of the deaths to be predictable ones was disappointing. Lyanna, Edd and Beric are supporting characters. Theon and Jorah were always likely casualties protecting more important characters. Melisandre’s return was well done, but her death hardly counts as much of a shock. Too many characters were clearly in dire straights in that battle – for all of them to survive is, bluntly, lazy writing. Sam, Brienne, Jaime, Grey Worm, Tormund and Gendry were all on the front lines. None died. All were clearly overwhelmed in the Courtyard. None died. Sansa, Tyrion, Varys and Gilly were completely unarmed and caught off guard in the Crypt. None died. Both dragons and Grey Wind were losing the fights they got into – all are still alive next week. Honestly… this might not be an issue if the final 3 episodes put some major surprises – but if they don’t, than the shows’ refusal to break risks will be an immensely annoying one.

There you have it, both sides of the argument. I can’t mark an episode this impressive down. But my reservations won’t let me give it a perfect score either.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 (It’s Civil War all over again)

Overall, this episode was a landmark in TV history – as an individual episode it was hugely engaging and massively impressive. As the payoff for a long-running and once-shocking series… it leaves a bit to be desired. But whether its shortcomings are an issue is down to the last 3 episodes. Come on Benioff and Weiss. Down let us down.

And turn the lights back on!!

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Game of Thrones: A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms Review

Warning: Spoilers.

One area of Thrones I don’t talk about perhaps as much as I should is the writing. Given how successful the show has been, its surprising to think that the show only has ever had six writers work on it. Only three of those writers have written more than 4 episodes. While the Lion’s share have been done by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the two showrunners, a lot of significant episodes, such as Jon Snow and Ygritte’s romance in ‘Kissed by Fire’ or Tyrion’s trial in ‘The Laws of Gods and Men’, have been written by a third writer: Bryan Cogman. Cogman’s episodes tend to be character-driven ones rather than epics with tons of fight scenes, and that’s exactly the case here (surprisingly, this is one of the VERY rare Thrones episodes where no one dies – not even an extra!). ‘A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms’ is Cogman’s swansong (all 4 remaining episodes are written by Benioff and Weiss) and its fittingly one of his best entries for the series.

If the point of the first episode was to reintroduce the characters, reacquaint them with each other and get them in the right places for the season, this episode is designed solely to remind you why you should care about all of them. With the Battle of Winterfell looming in episode 3, its likely some, perhaps even many of these characters won’t make it. So episode 2 decides to focus all its energy on spending some time with them, to make the inevitable gut punches of the next episode hit all the harder. Almost every character, from main players like Daenerys and Davos to supporting characters like Beric Dondarrion and Gilly, get something here. The action being entirely focused on Winterfell helps immeasurably, as diversions to King’s Landing wouldn’t have added anything.

There’s a fair amount of humour here, both from scathing one-liners from Arya and Tormund’s latest, hilariously futile attempts to seduce Brienne. None of it falls flat, and the actors and actresses hit the right notes consistently. Maisie Williams owns this episode, particularly her sex scene with Gendry (it had to happen eventually) and her reconciliation with the Hound. Sansa and Daenerys’ conversation also made for a great scene, with Daenerys initially successful attempts to break the ice ultimately failing to sway a Sansa who clearly distrusts Dany’s intentions.

There’s a few more meaningful reunions too, mainly involving Jaime, with Nikolas Coster-Waldau being the other standout actor in this episode. His reminiscing with Tyrion, his sweet gestures to Brienne and his earnest apology to Bran were all perfectly played. It was also nice to see Jon and Sam reunited with Edd and Tormund.

This episode did seem to both set up potential endings and draw character arcs to a near close in case the ones involved are killed next week. Theon and Jaime’s redemption arcs are now complete, while Grey Worm and Missandei’s romance is set for either a dream ending or, more likely, a tragic outcome. Pod seems to have learnt most of the lessons he needs to from Brienne, who finally achieves her dream of becoming a knight in what may be the episode’s standout scene. Arya and Gendry’s romantic connection is finally brought to the fore, Daenerys’ mistrust of Tyrion’s abilities seems resolved and Jorah found some measure of peace after a conversation with his cousin Lyanna.

Speaking of Lyanna, Jon really has no sense of timing in terms of delivering truth bombs does he? The potential for a late season Jon-Daenerys conflict seems to be growing with every episode… assuming they both survive the coming battle of course. The White Walkers are finally at Winterfell – and while Bran’s plan of taking out the Night’s King seems viable – you can bet it won’t be that simple…

Overall, episode 2 is a heartfelt, character-based, very entertaining hour of television, which sets the stage perfectly for the upcoming battle. If you’re complaining about the lack of action, you’ve missed the point entirely. Bryan Cogman’s reminded us all why these characters are some of the most compelling on TV, and why we should miss them if they don’t survive next week…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

If I had to guess casualties of the upcoming battle, my money would be on Grey Worm, Theon, Beric, The Hound and Tormund. But as gut-wrenching as those would be, there is the possibility that it could be much, much worse. Let’s hope those crypts are as safe as the alliance thinks they are…

Next Week should be a hell of an episode. We’re all worried about character deaths, but I swear if there’s an undead Hodor in the White Walker’s army…. tears are coming.

Game of Thrones: Winterfell Review

Warning: Spoilers Follow (Obviously…)

It’s kind of tradition for Game of Thrones premieres to be the worst episode of every season. Not that they are bad episodes (the lowest I’ve ever given a Thrones episode is 3.5/5) but its just that they tend to be uneventful ones. There’s often a focus on humour, character moments or set-up for the more important episodes. The most memorable bit of a premiere episode I can remember is the Hound and Arya slaughtering several Lannister soldiers for some chicken in Season 4. The only important character who has ever died in a premiere is Mance Rayder, executed by Stannis back in S5 (No I’m not counting any of the Dornish characters as important – I know a load of them got killed in S6’s premiere, but honestly, who cared?). So any ‘fans’ claiming the premiere was terrible are talking out of their arse. Sure, it’s (hopefully) going to be the most non-eventful episode of the season, but what else did you expect? It was still entertaining and set up the season in just 51 minutes. I call that a good episode’s work, if not a great one.

The episode does a lot in terms of character reunions and moving things into place for the rest of the season. Looking at King’s Landing, Cersei now has her mercenary army, has reluctantly slept with Euron to maintain his loyalty going forward, and has dispatched Bronn to assassinate Jaime and Tyrion. I mean, we all know Bronn won’t, but this is Thrones, and Jaime has broken enough promises to Bronn that there is a ever so small possibility… Aside from all that, Theon rescued Yara (surprisingly easily) and headed off for Winterfell to help the Starks fight the dead, while Yara takes back the Iron Islands to serve as a refuge if things go wrong…

At Winterfell, there’s several joyous reunions and a LOT of awkwardness. Fans have waited years to see Arya reconnect with Jon and Gendry, and those interactions didn’t disappoint. Things were a bit frostier with the Hound, but its the Hound, what did you expect? Part of me wonders if he might end up dying to save Arya later this season, letting the two finally reconcile, but we will wait and see. Sansa’s reunion with Tyrion was well-played – there’s some mutual respect still there, but let’s face it, Sansa at this point has kind of eclipsed Tyrion both as a leader and a character (with Tyrion largely relegated to telling predictable jokes, which Varys calls him out for) and her slightly dismissive reaction to him is justified. It’s also VERY clear how Sansa feels about Daenerys – while there was tension with Jon last season, at least’s he’s family. Daenerys isn’t, and I don’t she’s going to win Sansa and the Northern Lords over anytime soon.

The episode sets up some interesting threads going forward. We all assumed the series would either deal with the White Walkers first, then see another round of the civil war for the iron throne, or would see the alliance fail at Winterfell and the Walkers march on King’s Landing. Now there’s another element in the mix: everyone vs. Daenerys. Let’s face it, nothing Dany has done in the past four seasons has demonstrated that she would actually be a good ruler – she made a mess of things in Meereen, burned the Tarlys alive for nothing (poor Sam) and has spent more time arguing with her advisers than listening to them. She’s an inspirational leader, sure, and a capable general/warrior, but a queen? Sansa, Jon, and Tyrion all have stronger moral compasses and would be better than her. Even Gendry might be able to do better. The show/Jon Snow could still redeem her, but at this point her becoming an Aerys-esque mad Queen is starting to look somewhat likely. At Sam point-blank asks Jon: would Daenerys give up her crown for her people? I doubt it. Her bend the knee obsession from last season showed she is utterly fixated on her ‘right to rule’, and that’s Joffrey territory right there. Once the dead are defeated, would Jon really ask the Northerners to fight for Daenerys? Would any of them actually do so? Assuming they are both still alive in the finale, things could get very interesting.

The acting is strong throughout ‘Winterfell’, but the episode belongs to Kit Harington, John Bradley and Maisie Williams (though Sophie Turner gets a few moments). Bradley is terrific as a heartbroken yet determined Sam, Kit has to portray a wider range of emotions than anyone else in the episode, and Maisie works wonders with a couple of well chosen facial expressions and sly quips. The White Walkers are conspicuous by their absence, with only the aftermath of their attack on Last Hearth seen. Quite what the Night King’s message is meant to signify is unclear, but it certainly left a sense of foreboding hanging over things – just in time for the episode to end with Jaime and Bran coming face to face. That should be an interesting conversation to open next week’s episode with…

Overall, a well-acted, funny premiere, if not one that will ever top anyone’s ‘best ever episodes lists’. But now most of the set up’s done, we can really get down to business – and find out if the grand alliance can dealing with the various rifts between them before the White Walkers turn up…

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Expect weekly reviews of this series, but for time reasons, they’ll always go up on a Tuesday evening.

P.S. Bronn’s clearly no Podrick if the prostitutes were getting that distracted. Just saying 😉

Captain Marvel Review

Starring Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Ben Mendelsohn, Lashana Lynch, Lee Pace, Djimon Hounsou, Clark Gregg and Jude Law

Warning: Minor Spoilers

Marvel has done a lot of origin stories by this point. Some have shone (Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor, Ant-Man) and some have been solid fun but very by-the-numbers (Doctor Strange, Captain America) while some have been unique but rather overrated by critics (Black Panther, Iron Man). There’s only so many times you can tell the same kind of story before it gets dull – the best origin stories have always had something a little different to hook audiences (Thor had a standout villain in Loki, Guardians had a team dynamic we hadn’t seen before, Ant-man had a unique heist movie feel and some very cool powers to wow people with). Black Panther got plaudits for its fresh tone and groundbreaking diversity (which helped distract from the terrible CGI and lacklustre plot). Spider-man ducked the issue entirely by skipping over the origin story which audiences have already seen twice. Captain Marvel had two things to draw audiences in: introducing the most powerful hero in the MCU, and more importantly, introducing Marvel’s first standalone movie about a female superhero.

Now there’s two ways to make a statement about gender equality. One is to shout about it in a nauseatingly patronising way and make incredibly on-the-nose statements that only particularly fanatical feminists will nod their heads at (rather like we saw in Doctor Who series 11…). The other way is to simply show a female character who’s every bit as competent and engaging as her male counterparts and let her successes speak for themselves in a way the audience will find inspiring rather than jarring (which is what Wonder Woman did to great effect). Ignore the online trolls bashing this film, it opts for the later approach, and thus makes its point in a subtle yet entertaining way. Carol struggles with sexism and corrupt male authority figures a few times in the film, but as she so powerfully tells one of them ‘I have nothing to prove to you’. She simply dismisses them as the idiots they are rather than resorting to histrionics or a Jodie Whittaker-esque tirade of male-bashing abuse. Ultimately, this film may not make its point as overtly as say, Black Panther, but that’s only because its being far smarter in the way it does so.

Moving past that, the film itself is a good one. The direction and special effects are solid (no dumb CGI rhinos here) and the de-aged Samuel L. Jackson is flawless. The soundtrack (both in song choice and OST) is the best Marvel’s had since the Guardians (if not quite as good as Guardians). The second half is very funny in places and the action scenes are generally engaging (with a welcome lack of quipping for the most part). Brie Larson is an assured lead as Carol Danvers/Vers, while Samuel L. Jackson has a riot playing a more cheeky, non-serious version of Nick Fury. Lashana Lynch is a standout as Carol’s best friend, while Ben Mendelsohn’s Talos is one of the most layered characters in any MCU film that I can remember.

There are a few drawbacks. Jude Law does a good job with what he’s given but the rest of the Kree are VERY 2D characters. There’s little character development for any of the main cast. The first segment of the film on alien worlds isn’t that engaging and its a relatively slow start. The dialogue isn’t always as funny as it thinks it is either – especially in the first hour. But overall, these issues won’t stop you having fun and are lesser problems that we’ve seen in other marvel films. And make sure you stay for the mid-credits scene.

There’s an obvious marker to compare this film to: Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is one of DC’s best films, and showed that a female superhero movie can be really, really good (which was a relief after several terrible efforts in the past such as Supergirl and Catwoman). Captain Marvel probably has a better plotline than Wonder Woman, and has more nuanced characters (particularly Talos), but lacks anything as epic as the No Man’s Land scene in Wonder Woman. The two have different strengths everywhere – Captain Marvel is funnier, Wonder Woman gives its lead actress far more character development to work with. Captain Marvel starts very slowly, but has a better final showdown. Ultimately, there’s not much to separate them, and both are undoubtedly good films. I’d say Wonder Woman is slightly better overall, but more crucially, both films demonstrate that more female superhero films can only be a good thing.

Overall Captain Marvel is a fun entry to the MCU, if not a game-changing one. But the special effects are good, the main cast gel nicely together and it has some genuinely laugh out loud moments. Its the perfect light starter before the heavier main course of Avengers Endgame.

Rating: 4 out of 5

My next film review will probably be Shazam! (aka the other Captain Marvel!) followed soon after by Avengers Endgame.

But before any of that, there’s the small matter of Game of Thrones to look forward to…

Game of Thrones Season 8 Predictions

One week to go. We’re nearly there. So here’s my predictions on who will live, who will die and who will end up on the Iron Throne.

Minor spoilers for Season 7.

Who Will Die:

1.  Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy and the Mountain: Thrones is unusual in that it kills off far more of its heroes than nearly any other show on television (well, except maybe Spartacus). But it is somewhat less predictable in the fate of the villains. They might endure far longer than you want them to and cause more misery and cruelty than the audience thinks it can take, but they always get what’s coming to them. Think about it: Joffrey, Tywin, the Freys and the Boltons all met particularly sticky ends. I’d be very surprised if the remaining villains did not join them.

2. Grey Worm or Jorah: While I doubt the show would kill both of them, it seems very likely that someone close to Daenerys will die in the battle of Winterfell. Given the trailer shows both having a significant role in events, I feel like one of them is doomed. Grey Worm may be more at risk, given he is technically only a supporting character and his romance with Missandei wouldn’t be the first one on the show to come to a tragic end…

3. Beric Dondarrion: He is the only show character left who is already dead in the books, but that isn’t the only reason I think Beric won’t make it. The show’s deliberately kept Beric around long after his character’s expiration date. He survived the whole ‘Beyond the Wall’ episode while every other Brotherhood without Banners member died. He survived the destruction of the Wall at Eastwatch. There has to be a reason he’s still alive – my guess is he’s going to have a key role in Season 8 – maybe the Lord of Light has been resurrecting him for a specific reason. Either way, I feel like he’s likely to die in some heroic or meaningful way at some point in the season.

4. Jaime Lannister: Jaime’s cheated death so many times that I can’t help but feel his luck has to finally run out this season. Chances are it will be in a very heroic way – either fighting the White Walkers or killing Cersei – but I’d still except his redemption to come at a heavy price. Rather like the next character…

5. Theon Greyjoy: Given that a happy ending for Theon seems somewhat unlikely, I can also see him dying whilst redeeming himself in some way (either saving Yara, killing Euron or both). Either way, he’s one of the main cast I’m not expecting to make it till the end of the season.

Who Will Live:

1. Hot Pie: I’ve got no clue even if he’s in the season, but even if the White Walkers Win, Hot Pie isn’t going to die. That’d be cruel even for Game of Thrones.

2. Lyanna Mormont: I don’t think even these showrunners want to deal with the fan backlash that would ensue if she was killed off. And I can’t see any plot reason for it to happen anyway.

3. Missandei: If Missandei dies, things must have gone VERY wrong in the war, given that she’s a non-combatant and will probably be well out of the way of the Walkers. Also, I doubt they’ll kill off all of Daenerys’ close allies, and Grey Worm and Jorah are far more likely to die.

4. Tyrion Lannister: Aside from the fact he’s George R. R. Martin’s favourite character, Tyrion is quite unlikely to die. If he did, I’d bet it would be in the final episode, but I can’t see it. Death isn’t a great way to end his story arc. Chances are he’ll end up being Hand of the King to whoever is left standing once the Wars are over.

5. Samwell Tarly: Aside from the fact that Sam isn’t likely to be a warrior on the front lines, fans have long had a theory that Sam is writing Game of Thrones in the show’s context – probably at the Citadel, given that the chandeliers there are the ones in the main title sequence. Even if that theory is wrong, I can’t really see them killing Sam.

Who will end up on the Iron Throne:

1.  Jon Snow: Jon technically has the best claim to the Throne after what Sam and Bran have discovered. Whether he actually sits their is down to two things: whether he actually wants to and whether he survives the season. Personally I couldn’t see him wanting to do it if there was another candidate – I think he’d opt to stay in charge of the North instead if he could. I think he’ll survive the season barring some kind of last minute heroic sacrifice. Mind you that would be a very Jon thing to do…

2. Daenerys Targaryen: Well, Daenerys is the most obvious candidate… which in Thrones means it probably won’t be her. I don’t rate her survival chances this season anyway. But if she survives, there isn’t a good reason for her not to be crowned, so she’s definitely still a possibility.

3. Sansa Stark: Sansa showed in season 6 and 7 that she’s actually pretty good at being in charge. After all her lessons from Cersei and Littlefinger, chances are her arc ends with her either being Queen in the North or maybe even ending up on the Iron Throne. She’s one of the few characters who might actually succeed in it (maybe with Tyrion as her hand?). My money would be on her, if I had to pick one.

4. Gendry: If something were to happen to Daenerys and Jon, Gendry is the ONLY character left with even a tenuous claim to the Throne. Sure, he’s a bastard, but as Jon proved, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. Gendry is technically Robert Baratheon’s last surviving heir, so he might be a dark horse option for the crown.

5. Littlefinger: Yes, he’s almost certainly dead. But if THAT theory I mentioned in my last article is accurate, all bets are off. If the theory is true and Littlefinger is alive and working with the faceless men, he may yet rule over the ashes of Westeros (okay, I don’t believe this for one second, but it would be one hell of a twist wouldn’t it?).

6. The Night’s King: This IS Game of Thrones. What if the last shot of the series is of the Night’s King walking through a shattered Red Keep before sitting on the Iron Throne? I doubt the White Walkers will win… but you never know with George R. R. Martin…

As you’ve guessed, some of these predictions are more tongue in cheek than others. But it’s going to be very fun seeing if any of the more likely ones pan out.

Or everything could be bollocks and we’ll end up with Hot Pie on the Iron Throne. F*ck knows. Whatever happens, I would like to be surprised…

Next up: My take on the best episodes, scenes and season Game of Thrones has given us so far.