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Stranger Things Season 3 Review

First Half of Review is spoiler-free. Second Half has full spoilers after warning.

Stranger Things is easily Netflix’s most popular Sci-Fi show. Black Mirror may be better, but Stranger Things seems to grow in popularity year on year. This is in large part to its fabulous cast, including the established veterans such as Winona Ryder and David Harbour, but also the incredible young cast (no weak links among them). Millie Bobby Brown has shot to stardom because of this show, and rightly so. The cast are as good as ever here. The show plays around with some of the established pairings and focuses on new ones – seeing Eleven (Brown) and Max (Sadie Sink)’s friendship blossom is one of the most entertaining parts of the early episodes, as well as a key part of Eleven’s character development (first female friend she’s really had). Dustin and Steve’s comedy bromance also returns, and is only enhanced by their adventures with snarky newcomer Robin (Maya Hawke) and Erica, Lucas’ precocious younger sister. While I took to Robin immediately, I wasn’t sure about Erica’s inconclusion till about the halfway point, where I began to warm to her (pairing her and Dustin up as a team really worked). Lucas and Mike get their share of moments too, but Will has the standout ones amongst the boys with Noah Schnapp nailing Will’s PTSD and struggles to adapt to the fact his friends has changed since previous seasons. If any characters are poorly served, its arguably Nancy and Jonathan – their storyline at the Hawkins Post newspaper may have a political point to prove, but it isn’t that entertaining or even interesting. Fortunately, by episode 5 they’re back helping the youngsters and instantly get better material to deal with.

Visually, the show looks as good as ever (has Netflix ever hired a bad director? Yet to see it – BBC take note) and the special effects are great throughout. The new monster is far more imposing and memorable than the Demodogs in Season 2, but is somewhat undermined by the fact it doesn’t kill anywhere near as many as the less-powerful Demogorgon in Season 1 managed. Still, its horrific in its design and inventive in how it gets created, so I won’t criticise it too much. Arguably the season’s human villains are more memorable, particularly the grizzled, Schwarzenegger-esque thug who has several brutal fights with Hopper over the course of the season.

The humour can be hit and miss (Dustin’s group gets the best of it, Mike and Lucas less so) but mostly it works well and establishes a lighter tone. Arguably too light – while the writers were clearly deliberately drawing a line between the light-hearted, hormonal teen dramas and the horrific mind flayer plot, it ends up slightly jarring – seasons 1 and 2 were more consistently dark in tone, but with great lashings of charm and humour to lighten the mood. I have to say I preferred that approach – this season is entertaining, but it lacks the persistent tension of earlier sessions (at least for the first four episodes – the last four were definitely better balanced and to my mind, more effective). Ultimately though, the writers do a good job – the character arcs all make sense and feel realistic and earned, and while there are undoubtedly plot holes and conveniences, they tend to be minor blips rather than irritating missteps.

Overall, its an entertaining, visually splendid instalment of one of Netflix’s best shows. The writers keep the plot grounded for the most part, and showcase the talent of the wonderful actors involved. However, for all that, its probably my least favourite of the three – but given how good the first two were, that doesn’t mean all that much. Just don’t make us wait as long for season 4, okay Duffer Brothers?

For those of you wishing to avoid, spoilers, my season rating is below, so stop there.

Rating: 4 out of 5

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!! DON’T READ ON UNLESS YOU’VE SEEN THE FINALE!!

Kudos to Dacre Montgomery – he made Billy someone you could empathise with and even feel a bit sorry for – which isn’t easy when he was so unlikable in season 2 and helped the mind flayer (unwillingly or not) kill a lot of people in S3. Sadie Sink in particular helps us care about Billy’s fate – whatever the issues between them, its clear that Max wants to save her step-brother if she can, which only makes his heroic sacrifice to save Eleven all the more tragic. His death wasn’t exactly a surprise – I’d called well before the season started, but it hit hard nonetheless.

Somewhat surprisingly, so did Alexei’s. Given that he was working for the bad guys and seemed quite a dick in episode 6, the show did well to make us care about him. His banter with Murray and his obvious joy at experiencing an American Fair did much to humanise him – which made his callous execution all the more horrific.

But obviously, the big hit is Hopper. He wasn’t particularly likeable this season, but ultimately, he was there to do the right thing, and this time, his decision to risk all in the final episode cost him. At least, we think it did. The post-credits scene in Russia cast some doubt on his death, but Hopper isn’t the only possibility for the American prisoner. Who knows – maybe the Russians snatched Murray after their base was shut down. Or maybe, just maybe… Eleven’s Father from S1 isn’t dead. Hell, if they know about Eleven, it might even be her Mother they’ve kidnapped or maybe her ‘Sister’ 8 from Season 2. To be honest, any of those options is preferable to Hopper – its too obvious and too easy a way out. Besides – could you imagine the effect on Eleven if she believes its Hopper they’ve got and it turns out to be Father instead? That would really be a great twist for S4.

Next: Reviews of other Netflix titans, such as Jessica Jones, Black Mirror and Orange is the New Black will follow in the next few weeks – along with Spiderman: Far from Home.

 

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Avengers Endgame Review

Starring Paul Rudd, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Scarlet Johanson, Karen Gillian, Josh Brolin, Zoe Saldana and Robert Downey Jr. (i’m not listing the whole cast, it’ll take forever).

Warning: Major Spoilers for Infinity War and Endgame! But then again, you’ve all seen them by now.

Infinity War was my favourite of the three avengers films, primarily because Thanos was the first Marvel villain to seriously impress me, but also because of the sheer entertainment factor of seeing all these disparate characters and groups interacting with each other (in many cases for the first time). However, I couldn’t give it more than 4/5 because of a couple of big flaws in its third act – namely the mishandled ending and the pointless Wakanda battle. Up until that point the only minus had been Alan Silvestri’s lacklustre soundtrack, but a familiar grievance I have with Marvel then reared its unwelcome head once more: no believable stakes. The battle on Titan between the Guardians, Spiderman, Iron Man, Doctor Strange and Thanos was immense because there was real tension involved – Thanos was clearly more powerful than them, and it always felt like the heroes were at their limits fighting him – and predictably, they all lost after Star-lord’s stupid blunder. Wakanda on the other hand, was back to the worst of marvels previous efforts: too much quipping mid-battle, no main character deaths despite ridiculous odds and a CGI army of forgettable villains who don’t make any significant impact. Only when Thanos finally shows did it have any real tension.

He wins, and then the snap happened. This could (and should) have been one of the best cliffhangers in movie history. Two things utterly scuppered its effectiveness: first, the lack of music/shit music when it finally came in. Compare the snap, which should have been one of the most devastating events in any superhero movie, to Superman’s death in Dawn of Justice, or Wolverine’s in Logan. It doesn’t work anywhere near as well, because the music, which always adds to the emotion of such deaths, isn’t there or isn’t effective. If you cried at the snap I’d be a bit confused, whereas if you cried at deaths in DC films or X-Men films, I wouldn’t, because Hans Zimmer and John Ottman know what they’re bloody doing. They always consolidate big moments with heartwrenching soundtracks, and their films are always better for it. That said, you don’t necessarily need music to make character deaths impactful/emotional, there is one other way: shock value. Infinity War bungled that as well, because the lack of significant character deaths in Wakanda or Titan, along with the bad choices the heroes had made throughout the film, made it inevitable (and bloody obvious) that Thanos would win. Hence the snap is no surprise. The best cliffhangers are always the ones you don’t see coming, and if you didn’t see that coming, you weren’t paying enough attention. The fact that everyone who was snapped was guaranteed to be in a future movie also kinda undermined the whole thing. Only Vision’s death had meaning, because you suspected he couldn’t be resurrected as easily.

So we come to Avengers Endgame. I really hoped it would avoid the (few, but significant) mistakes that Infinity War made. And believe it or not… it did.

The humour is noticeably dialled down here – there’s far less of the annoying mid-battle quipping, and what humour there is far better than usual (fat-thor threatening an online troll in a video game has to be an unexpected highlight). There’s plenty of fan-service, but seeing as this is the culmination of 11 YEARS of build up, its entirely justified. You won’t get the full experience here unless you’ve seen every single MCU film before it (okay, except the Incredible Hulk). Seeing Thor talk with his dead mother or Stark have a heart to heart with his oblivious father tugged at the heartstrings for long term fans, and rightly so. The film also delivers on several things we’ve waited years to see (a final battle with every single surviving hero and Captain America lifting Thor’s Hammer!!!). It also doesn’t completely undo the events of its predecessor, which was my main concern. Heimdall and Vision stay dead, Gamora is resurrected but only the younger, harder, less likeable version of her. Loki is ‘probably’ still dead in this timeline, despite escaping with the Tesseract in 2012.

The direction and special effects, like in Infinity War, are flawless. The final battle is amazing in terms of scope and a feast for the eyes the whole way through. The segment on Vormir alone shows how far Marvel’s ability to create convincing alien worlds has come. The acting is again, top notch, particularly from Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth, Paul Rudd and Robert Downey Jr., who do much of the emotional heavy lifting here. Renner in particular gets better material than he’s had as Hawkeye in the entire series so far, while Hemsworth’s arc as Thor is becoming one of the best character development arcs I’ve seen in a superhero series on screen. Johanson also takes the lead for the first half of the film and excels at it, which leaves me very optimistic that she’ll ace the upcoming Black Widow movie. But ultimately, the movie belongs to Downey Jr., who has in many ways been the heart and soul of the main Avengers films since the first one, which makes his (inevitable) sacrifice here all the more hard hitting.

Endgame’s climatic battle packs a real punch and is full of tension. Even though the heroes have the edge this time round, Thanos still makes them really work for the victory. Seeing Thanos go toe-to-toe with Iron Man, Thor and Cap at once was epic, and him going one v. one with Captain Marvel was up there as well. Thanos was pushed to his limit this time, but fighting without a gauntlet or any stones, he still pushed everyone else beyond their limits. That cemented his place as Marvel’s all-time best villain. The CGI armies aren’t as annoying, because the Black Order and Thanos are there to pose an actual threat, and we don’t focus on the more one-sided larger battle. Plus, seeing the entire Marvelverse come together to fight Thanos… I don’t see how Marvel (or anyone else) can top that anytime soon.

Any minuses? Well I would’ve liked to see a bit more Thanos and a bit more Captain Marvel, but I understand why they were both sidelined in the middle of the film. Captain Marvel is like superman. She’s too OP – there’s no threat of the heroes losing fights with shield agents or past-timeline heroes with her around. As for Thanos, the film was already pushing 3 hours, so I can understand why he was kept in the background until the final showdown. I did feel he got better material in Infinity War though. However… I’m nitpicking. There’s no major flaws in this film and precious few minor ones. Even Silvestri’s soundtrack is an improvement on Infinity War (though someone like Zimmer would’ve still done a lot better).

Overall, Marvel delivers with a well-directed, fearsomely entertaining tour-de-force of a finale to their Phase Three. The actors are on top form, the action sequences are breathtaking, the plot accessible and the humour well-judged. I’d have preferred a bit more screentime for Thanos, but that’s a minor quibble, not a huge flaw. So now the question of what score to give it…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Endgame finally does the impossible: getting a Marvel movie a perfect score from me. It took a lot longer for the MCU than for DC or the X-Men films, but hey, I honestly wasn’t sure they were ever going to do it. I’m glad they proved me wrong.

It becomes only the fifth superhero film I’d give 5 stars to, after Batman Begins, The Dark Knight Rises, Man of Steel and Logan. That’s a pretty exclusive club right there.

X-Men Dark Phoenix Review

Starring Sophie Turner, James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Nicholas Hoult, Jessica Chastain and Jennifer Lawrence.

Spoiler-free review!

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

The worst film of the original X-Men trilogy (Last Stand) also centred on the Phoenix storyline, but infamously mangled it but having it be the B-Plot to a boring ‘mutant cure’ storyline. Last Stand was pretty much a failure in most ways, as I said when I reviewed it a few years ago: it falls flat constantly, and while the ambition is there for the set pieces, the execution is not. Brett Ratner (the director) takes most of the blame for that travesty.

Dark Phoenix is an attempt to write Last Stand’s wrongs and finish off the new X-men series before Marvel comes in and takes over from Fox. Like Last Stand it has had pretty terrible reviews. But how justified are they?

Dark Phoenix was always going to have a problem being the first superhero film released after Avengers: Endgame – the two aren’t comparable in scale, budget or importance. Avengers was cresting the high point of a wave, whereas the X-Men series has been steadily diminishing (aside from 2017’s wonderful Logan) since Days of Future Past. Apocalypse was fun but overblown and thinly written, Deadpool 2 was an excessive mess with a few stand out scenes. Dark Phoenix isn’t as badly written as either of them, but its back to basics approach means it is less memorable.

Had this film come out 15, 10 or even 5 years ago, I doubt it would have been savaged as badly by critics. The superhero market is so saturated at the moment, that any film that fails to spark is probably going to get savaged by comparisons with better ones. It has plenty of plus points – its darker tone and smaller scale make it a much tighter, more accessible film than Apocalypse. The score by Hans Zimmer is predictably good. The direction and CGI look superb, with the mutants’ various powers all stunning depicted (Nightcrawler, Storm and Cyclops get their share of really cool action scenes this time, though Quicksilver is side-lined for much of the film).

But there are also plenty of downsides that prevent this from being a great or even ‘good’ superhero film. The fact that its a rehash of Last Stand means the plot is overly familiar and thus not that exciting (it may be a lot more faithful to the comics, but that will only please a small fraction of the audience). The trailers also gave too much away (again) and there aren’t really any unrevealed surprises to shock you. The cast all do their best with what they are given, but in most cases it doesn’t match up to the material that Xavier, Magneto, Beast or Raven got in previous films. There’s some scenes and character beats that shine through, but not enough. The dialogue is often to blame for this – its workable, but there’s a few real clangers in here that should not have got past the editing stage. Jessica Chastain’s villain is also one of the blandest in X-men history (not the actress’ fault – its such a thin role there’s nothing she could do with it – its down there with Malekith from Thor: The Dark World).

What still makes this film worth watching, however, is the action scenes. The set pieces are great: well directed, minimal quips or cuts, good CGI, small scale but engaging, they are the definite highlights. Sophie Turner also does a good job throughout as Jean Grey. It is unfortunate that they didn’t build Jean up more in Apocalypse, as for this film to work you really need to care about her character, but Turner does her best to portray both the Jean and Phoenix sides and just about pulls it off. The Phoenix side is probably where she’s stronger, but again I’d blame the script for any shortfalls.

Overall, Dark Phoenix is engaging, refreshingly straightforward and packs a few excellent action scenes (which can get quite violent – no way should this have been a 12A). But it ultimately wastes its great cast on a distinctly middling script, and between the trailers and the fact we’ve seen a lot of this arc before, there’s nothing to cover up the fact that its villains aren’t that impressive.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Better than Last Stand, Origins: Wolverine and Deadpool 2, but that’s about it. It’s just not on the level of First Class, Logan or Days of Future Past. It’s worth a watch if your a big X-men fan, but everyone else is probably better off waiting a few months till its on Amazon or Netflix.

The Iron Throne Review

Warning: Spoilers. Obviously…

It’s finally over. Love or loathe the final season, the biggest TV show in the world right now has ended. We might never see its like again… but did it end with a bang or a whimper?

I won’t go into my take on the overall season here. I’ll leave that for a separate article. This is purely a review of the finale. There’s a tradition for Game of Thrones’ finales to be less impactful than the second-to-last episode of each season, but the finales have still packed their share of gut-punches and important events (Tyrion murdering Tywin, Stannis’ death, Jon getting stabbed, etc.) and given that this was the last ever episode, you’d have hoped it would be a memorable one, even if there wasn’t going to be any battle on the scale of ‘The Long Night’ or ‘The Bells’. It also needed to tie up several plotlines and characters arcs in a satisfying way.

On one count the finale succeeded. On the other it failed. The character arcs, for the most part, all came to a satisfactory conclusion. Arya doesn’t settle with Gendry, instead she heads off to explore the world. Sansa becomes Queen in the North. Jon reunites with Tormund and Ghost and heads to live with the Wildlings north of the wall. Tyrion forms a new small council with him as hand of the king. None of these felt like unsatisfactory endings for the characters, and all felt earned by 8 seasons of build up.

The character moments were definitely the strongest part of this episode. Tyrion throwing away his ‘hand of the Queen’ pin in disgust at Daenerys. The Starks bidding farewell to Jon. Tyrion grieving over his siblings deaths. Jon finally choosing duty over love and reluctantly killing Daenerys. Brienne finishing Jaime’s entry in the White Book of the Kingsguard. All were perfectly played. The humour was pretty good too, with Bronn on the Small Council and Sansa shutting down Edmure Tully being the absolute highlights.

I think whatever you thought of the finale and the last series in general, there are three things we can agree were perfect. The acting was top-notch throughout, and I think we’ll see a lot more of this cast in the years to come. Peter Dinklage and Kit Harington largely carry this finale, but most of the cast get one last opportunity to shine. The production values and special effects were the quality of a mid-budget movie, something unparalleled on modern television. Finally, Ramin Djawadi’s music was pitch-perfect and greatly added to the effectiveness and emotion of many of the key scenes throughout. I hope we hear a lot more from him as a composer over the next few years.

But ultimately, I doubt ‘The Iron Throne’ is going to top many peoples best episodes lists. While the first half suitably follows on from ‘The Bells’, the second half feels a bit too neat and tidy for my liking, like the showrunners were just trying to wrap up and get to the finish line as smoothly as possible. The unsullied just upping and leaving, and letting both Jon and Tyrion go, feels too convenient. You could argue Grey Worm just has no fight left in him, but this wasn’t really well demonstrated. Its also a notably low-key affair for a finale – Daenerys’ death is the only thing of real importance that occurs.

When I compare this to the finales of other similar shows I’ve watched, it does feel a bit lacking. Merlin’s final episode focused on the biggest reveal in the shows history (Merlin’s magic finally being revealed to Arthur). Robin Hood and Spartacus both ended with spectacular, bloody battles which featured numerous important character deaths. Rome finished with the deaths of Antony and Cleopatra but left things open-ended for many of its other characters, and in a far more bittersweet way than Thrones has here. By comparison to those shows (which were all good but not as good as Thrones overall), this finale wasn’t that important or memorable. In the end, Thrones reaches a finishing point which feels earned and appropriate (if perhaps a touch too upbeat for Westeros) but doesn’t get there in a particularly compelling way. It’s not a bad episode by any means, but its probably the weakest season finale in Thrones’ run – which is not what you want from the last ever episode.

Overall, Thrones’ ending proves as divisive as the rest of the season. Its a good episode of television which wraps things up in a fitting way, but as a finale, it leaves a bit to be desired. I won’t mark the episode down much for it, but ultimately I suspect it isn’t going to be one of the Thrones’ episode that lingers in anyone’s memory in a few years time.

Rating: 4 out of 5

And Now Our Watch Has Ended.

Coming Soon: My Season 8 Review and, finally, I get round to reviewing Avengers: Endgame.

 

 

Why Daenerys was always set to become the ‘Mad Queen’.

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!

The Bells is currently the worst reviewed episode in Thrones history. That doesn’t really mean anything – people were expressing disagreement with the direction the showrunners had taken rather than the quality of the episode itself (which was VERY high – there’s a reason I gave it a 5 in my review yesterday). Most people’s criticism seems to stem from Daenerys’ character arc. I deliberately skipped over this yesterday, because I didn’t want half my review to be spent on one point. So instead, here’s my breakdown of why the show was always building towards Daenerys turning to the dark side and becoming her father’s daughter – and why criticism of that choice is utter bollocks.

Daenerys going off the rails was always on the cards when you look at what she’s been through during the show. She was raped by Khal Drogo in the very first episode. She later fell in love with Drogo, but had to mercy kill him after he was reduced to a vegetative state by the witch Mirri Maz Daur. One of her own handmaidens betrayed her in Qarth, she saw dozens of slave-children be crucified as a warning to her on the road to Meereen and she later discovered that Jorah, her closest adviser, had been a traitor for a large part of their time together. She failed to manage Meereen, sparking an insurgency. She lost control of her dragons, forcing her to lock two of them up. Then things got worse – she’s lost so many advisers, dragons and allies since S5. Barristan Selmy, Hizdahr, the Sand Snakes, the Greyjoy Fleet, Olenna, Viserion, Jorah, Rhaegal and Missandei have all been destroyed or killed in her service. That’s enough to send anyone round the bend. All the betrayals and setbacks have resulted in Daenerys’ sense of deep paranoia, while her failures in Meereen and Westeros have clearly created some huge insecurities. She’s lost trust in Tyrion due to all the mistakes he’s made and Sam’s family, Sansa and the Northerners have all made it clear that they won’t accept Daenerys rule. Jon’s rejection after his discovery of their blood ties must have been the last straw.

Even after all that, some people are still arguing her actions in the Bells are out of character (rather like the reaction to Stannis sacrificing Shireen). But in both cases, the show has been building to them for a long time. Daenerys sat and watched her brother get horrifically executed by Khal Drogo without a hint of emotion. She effectively had two of her enemies in Qarth entombed alive. She crucified dozens of slave-masters in Meereen regardless of whether or not they were responsible for the atrocities that had angered her. She has burned many, many soldiers alive (and let’s face it, most of those soldiers’ would have only been following bad orders). She burnt Sam’s father and brother alive rather than spare them, imprison them or execute them cleanly. She has barely ever showed mercy, and has always executed her enemies (justified or otherwise) in horrible ways. She’s always had an arrogant belief in her right to rule and has rarely tolerated criticism or conflicting advice. When you look at her history, transforming from an arrogant warlord (anyone who would willingly lead brutes like Dothraki is a warlord) to a butchering despot isn’t a huge jump.

Compare this to Jon Snow. He’s always merciful. He isn’t arrogant, and doesn’t have the ego to belief in anything as arrogant as destiny. When he has killed, it has always been in kill or be killed scenarios, and when he has executed people, he always gave them quick deaths. Anyone who thought Daenerys was a hero after Season 7 was kidding themselves. The Lannister soldiers she burnt alive so callously were probably better people than the Dothraki she’s so happy to have at her back (remember that Dothraki are basically Thrones’ version of the Huns or the Mongols – two of the most blood-soaked civilizations in history).

Ultimately, there are reasons for getting annoyed with Season 8 of Thrones. But Daenerys’ character arc is not one of them. It may be slightly rushed, but this was always the point she was heading towards. As for anyone claiming it’s sexist… have you looked at Sansa or Arya – they are two of the strongest female characters I can think of on a TV show. Fans and characters alike have commented how good a leader Sansa has become. Jon and Tyrion aren’t more controlled/moral/better leaders than Dany because they are men – its because that’s who their characters have always been. Daenerys has always had a psychotic potential buried inside her – and after all her recent setbacks and losses, is it any wonder its finally come to the fore?

On a lesser note, Grey Worm’s role in The Bells is even easier to understand. Missandei was literally all he had. With her gone, his loyalty to Daenerys and a desire for vengeance is all he has left. So I don’t think anyone can doubt his motivations were well written. If Daenerys hadn’t gone berserk, I think he would have held back and reluctantly let the surrendering Lannisters live.

I could do another one of these about Jaime, but if you seriously thought he would chose Brienne over Cersei, you don’t understand his character properly, so I won’t waste time trying to convince anyone otherwise.

Hopefully the last episode of Thrones will generate a bit less controversy, but somehow I doubt that’s likely. Let’s hope it finishes on a high (and that Jon and Arya make it to the finishing line alive).

Game of Thrones: The Bells Review

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

I said in my review of episode 3 that I could live with the show prematurely dispatching the White Walkers if the final 3 episodes were suitably epic. Judging by episodes 4 and 5, I can safely say that the show has delivered a worthy spectacle and maintained my interest going into the last episode.

The Bells was a raw, tense affair, which did not hold back in showing the sheer brutality of war. While all of Thrones’ previous epic battles have had high casualties, only ‘Hardhome’ had civilians being caught on the front lines the way that happened here. It was shocking even by Thrones standards. Miguel Saponchik delivered yet again in the directors chair (and there were no lighting issues this time either!). Maisie Williams has probably been the standout cast member this season – her reactions to the chaos unfolding around her here were perfectly portrayed, and reminded us that for all her training and cold kills, she’s still human. And still a hero. Unlike some female characters I could mention…

I won’t go into Daenerys’ arc and whether it was a betrayal of her character or the culmination of a long set-up – that’s something I will do a whole article on later. Needless to say, turning one of the show’s main ‘heroic figures’ into a villain is a bold move to make in the final season (I’m struggling to think of another show which has done that) but was probably a necessary one. Watching a victory over Cersei in the final episode would not have been a suitable replacement for the ending people expected at the start of the season (defeating the White Walkers in a last stand). Taking on a Mad Daenerys, on the other hand, is a far more unpredictable final conflict and one better suited to a finale. While I don’t necessarily agree with everything the showrunners have done this series, I can understand the vision they have pursued.

All the fans getting angry are missing one key point – while the showrunners have largely invented the majority of the last two seasons, they are still using George R.R. Martin’s broad vision for how the series is supposed to end. He told them three big twists the final books would contain a while back: one was Shireen, one was Hodor, and now it seems likely (unless the final episode has an even bigger shock in store) that the last twist was Daenerys going full Mad Queen and laying waste to King’s Landing. Blaming the showrunners for rushing the last two seasons is a viable compliant, blaming then for where Daenerys story has ended is not. On the other hand, I can understand if you dislike some of the show’s inconsistent logic (there’s no way Ghost and that many Dothraki should have survived the doomed charge in episode 3, and the accuracy of the Scorpion weapons seems to change every episode to suit the needs of the plot). Let’s face it, Euron happening to wash up on the same beach Jaime was on is a bit lazy. In many ways this season has reminded me of ‘Beyond the Wall’ in season 7. Utterly gripping as a spectacle, but lacking the logic and tight plotting of the earlier seasons.

But as with ‘Beyond the Wall’ I’m enjoying it too much to really care about its flaws. Lord of the Rings is filled with stupid, non-sensical moments and easy fixes and plot armour, but people love it regardless. I can understand why people might be getting turned off by this season. But in my view, while I would never claim its the best season of Thrones, it’s still a very enjoyable one. Even if you hated the rest of it, the Hound vs. Mountain fight has to be one of the best scenes in Thrones’ history. It’s brutal, its unrelenting, and it packs a gut punch. The Hound realising he couldn’t win was the most realistic moment in this episode, and his final sacrifice to kill the monstrous Gregor was the perfect exit for the character. The Jaime/Euron fight was similarly engrossing, and I liked how neither could outright beat the other – both ended up mortally wounded when a lesser show would have had Jaime triumph after a prolonged struggle. Jaime ultimately sacrificing everything to be with Cersei at the end was heartbreaking, and I couldn’t give a fig that the ‘Valonqar’ theory wasn’t followed. Kudos to Lena Headey as well, for giving a hated character a genuinely tragic exit. For all her flaws, Cersei lost everything and couldn’t save the man she loved or her unborn baby – that is far more satisfying than seeing her die at Arya, Jaime or Daenerys’ hands would have been.

Overall, the Bells is a grim, shocking episode that is part war-film, part fantasy epic, and part horror story. Its one of Thrones’ best episodes – haters be damned. You can go and wither with Last Jedi haters on the pyre of insignificance for all I care – true fans don’t hate great shows or films for not playing out the way they expected or not living up to incredibly convoluted theories.

Final Thought: Pretty sure Daenerys just killed more people than Joffrey, Tywin, Walder Frey, the Boltons, Euron, Cersei and the FUCKING NIGHT KING managed combined. Just putting it out there.

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: Daenerys’ victory seems likely to be short lived, with Tyrion and Jon both horrified at her actions and Arya looking decidedly murderous…

The Last of the Starks Review

Now THAT was more like it!

Warning: Spoilers!!

The opening three episodes of thrones were pretty one-sided in terms of style. Two were entirely character driven, one was an all-action epic. Thrones tends to work best when it finds a balance between the two, and that’s exactly what episode 4 does. I know this season is getting some blowback from fans, but then again, fans not being able to cope when something subverts their expectations is rarely a reliable indicator that something is actually wrong. I’m not exactly happy with how the White Walker arc was resolved, but i’m still willing to give the last episodes a chance to justify that decision. Judging by episode 4, the show may still stick the landing.

Varys and Tyrion scheming was a highlight of Season 2, and it was nice to see them actually debating about the future of the realm again, rather than just throwing cheap jibes at each other. Both have been somewhat sidelined for the last 3 and a bit seasons, so getting them to have a hand in who finally sits on the Iron Throne would be more than welcome. The tension between the Starks and Daenerys is producing some of the most compelling stuff right now, and bringing in conflicted loyalties among Tyrion and Varys has really set up an interesting conflict for the last two episodes.

While the action is what this episode will be remembered for, it contains some key character beats as well. Bronn’s confrontation with the Lannister brothers felt long overdue, and Jerome Flynn reminds us that for all the good Bronn has done over the years, he is at the end, a mercenary – one who hasn’t been paid his dues. The realisation that Bronn probably would kill the pair of them if he thought Daenerys would lose helped make this a great scene. Arya and Brienne also had some key moments with their respective love interests, neither of which ultimately seem likely to end well – although should Arya and Jaime survive the last two episodes, who knows. Nikolas Coster-Waldau, Maisie Williams, Joe Dempsie and Gwendoline Christie all do great work here, and really capture the raw emotion of these rejections. Another standout moment was Jon’s funeral speech, which coupled with yet another haunting track from Ramin Djawadi, brought home the losses from the Long Night in arguably a more effective way than episode 3 itself managed.

MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW. LAST CHANCE TO TURN BACK!

I criticised the last episode for not being shocking enough. Not so this time. Rhaegal’s death came out of nowhere and was all the more devastating for it. The show has clearly been doing a bait-and-switch with the Missandei-Grey Worm romance. Everyone expected Grey Worm to die in the Battle of Winterfell, but I doubt anyone expected Missandei to get executed by Cersei instead! Those two deaths seem to be the final straw that makes a bloody final two episodes inevitable – as well as the moment that completely pushes Daenerys over the edge. She really has lost virtually everything now – most of her allies are gone, two of her dragons and most of her closest advisers are dead, and to top it all off it’s clear to her that her ‘destiny’ of taking the Iron Throne has a serious obstacle, willing or not, in Jon Snow and his supporters. Jon’s protestations were all well and good, but let’s face it, with now more than half the surviving cast loyal to Jon, Sansa or Arya rather than Dany, its clear her paranoia isn’t entirely unjustified.

The show has done a very good job setting Daenerys up as a potential last villain once Cersei and Euron are dealt with. Her horrific executions of nobles in Meereen (whether they deserved it or not), her arrogant belief in her own right to rule, her insistence on everyone bending the knee and burning the Tarly’s alive for refusing to do so… there’s always been shades of Cersei in her, as well as similarities to Stannis. Her statement that civilian casualties were a price she was willing to pay for taking King’s Landing was chilling. Her recent losses coupled with her increasing paranoia could easily turn her into someone as cold as Stannis, as arrogant as Joffrey and as ruthless as Cersei. She’s only a few steps away from being her father’s daughter. And I think Varys was right – it seems doubtful even Jon can bring her back from the brink now, especially after seeing Missandei coldly butchered right in front of her. With Varys plotting against her, Sansa hostile and Tyrion wavering, things are looking bleak for Dany right now.

Overall episode 4 is classic thrones. Humour, action, shocks and a hell of a final gut punch combine to ease some of the doubts people may have had about this final season. The stage is set for one more epic battle – and quite possibly a few final surprises…

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: The Mad Queen(s) face off in the Battle of King’s Landing as Jaime and Tyrion both must decide where their loyalties truly lie…