Category Archives: Game of Thrones

5 Years of Blogging: Top 5 Writers and Directors

After a few gaming related updates, I felt like doing a more film/tv focused one, so without further ado, here’s my favourite 5 writers and directors from TV and film.

Top 5 Writers:

5: The Duffer Brothers (Stranger Things): I have to give the Duffer Brothers credit. When new sci-fi shows are constantly failing to deliver (Star Trek: Discovery, Lost in Space, Chibnall’s version of Doctor Who) or failing to connect with audiences (Netflix’s Nightflyers and Another Life) Stranger Things has delivered 3 seasons running, and that’s largely due to their excellent writing producing great characters, engaging storylines and genuinely funny comedy. Stranger Things may not be all that original, but it is consistent in its quality and entertainment value, so the two of them have to make it onto this list, seeing as they have written the majority of episodes thus far.

4: Joel Fields and Joe Weisburg (The Americans): Given that the Americans is arguably the best and most consistently written show this decade, I had to put the two lead writers on this list. Between them Joel and Joe wrote all of the premieres, finales and a lot of other episodes in between, including some of the ones with the largest plot developments. If you’re yet to catch this remarkable (if very slow) TV spy thriller, then the writing is the main reason i’d recommend checking it out. Character development is consistent and nuanced, the plot doesn’t suddenly veer into left field for no reason, and of the 6 seasons, 5 are fantastic and the remaining 1 (season 5) is still good, if uneventful. Only the fact that these writers haven’t worked on much else yet prevents them going further up the list.

3: Robert Holmes (Classic Who, Blakes 7): I like sci-fi, even old sci-fi like Classic Who and Blakes 7 where the special effects are neither special nor that effective. Old sci-fi had to rely on writing and acting to keep people invested, and there was no better TV sci-fi writer in the 70’s and early than Robert Holmes. If you see classic Who episodes on Top 10 or Top 20 lists in Doctor Who Magazine or online websites, odds are there are Holmes’ ones. He didn’t write all the best episodes, but he wrote an awful lot of them. Who’s debt to him is enormous, and that doesn’t just stem from him being the scriptwriter during the shows most popular classic period (1974-1976, i.e. Tom Baker’s first three seasons). He created the Autons and the Sontarans, introduced the Third Doctor and the Master and wrote Peter Davison’s fantastic regeneration story: The Caves of Androzani. His work on other sci-fi shows like Blakes 7 (where his story Orbit ranks as one of the darkest and best) shows he wasn’t a one trick pony. Russell T. Davies has often highlighted Holmes as one of his favourite Who writers, and for once I must agree with RTD. The man was a legend in all things Who, and the show was all the poorer for it after Holmes tragically passed away in 1986.

2: Phoebe Waller-Bridge (Fleabag, Killing Eve): Anyone responsible for two of the best new shows in the past few years has to be a great writer. Waller-Bridge’s trademark dark humour and quirky yet believable characters has proved an award winning mix twice now, first with Fleabag and then with Killing Eve’s first season. The news that Waller-Bridge has been drafted into to work on the final Daniel Craig Bond film has got me far more interested in what the eventual film can deliver. Both as an actress and a writer, Waller-Bridge is a hit right now, and anything she writes is going to be something people take note of. Her status as a rising star wins her the second spot on this list, but who knows? If I rewrite this in 5 years, she may top it the rate she’s shooting to stardom.

1: Steven Moffat (Doctor Who, Coupling, Sherlock, Jekyll): It’s was always going to be Moffat. Being head writer for one of my favourite shows was one thing, being lead writer for four of them is another. Moffat’s ability to write complex, engaging stories with high quality comedy, horror, suspense and drama makes him easily my favourite writer for television. He has the odd weakness as a showrunner, but his writing is very hard to fault. Just look at the episodes he’s written for Doctor Who: The Empty Child, The Girl in the Fireplace, Blink, The Eleventh Hour, The Day of the Doctor, Listen, Heaven Sent, World Enough and Time… they are all masterpieces. His hit rate is astonishing (and all the more impressive given the clusterfuck the shows been since he left). Sherlock and Jekyll are great shows in genres I don’t normally follow, and Coupling still ranks as one of my favourite comedies. So Moffat has to take the top spot. Other writers like Waller-Bridge may eventually surpass him, but Moffat’s consistency and great run of hits mean he’ll be my favourite for a while yet.

Top 5 Directors:

5: Antony and Joe Russo: (The Winter Soldier, Civil War, Infinity War, Endgame) The Russo brothers are responsible for pretty much all of the best MCU films, and were a step up from Joss Whedon as the showrunners for the main avengers films. Direction in the MCU is very haphazard – especially during fight scenes – Black Panther looked downright terrible at points in its third act because of bad direction coupled with weak CGI (those stupid rhinos), while Spiderman Homecoming’s major flaw had to be its fight scenes. You don’t get those problems with the Russo brothers – The Winter Soldier is arguably the most grown-up and best put together film in the series, while Civil War, Infinity War and Endgame were all exceptional Blockbuster epics, and I can’t remember any scenes where I’d change one thing about the direction. A very safe pair of hands – and ones who consistently deliver.

4: Ron Howard (Rush, Angels and Demons, Apollo 13, Frost/Nixon) Howard’s not the best director in the world, but he’s up there. Just look at the types of films he’s been responsible for – historical biopics like Rush and Frost/Nixon, thrillers like Apollo 13 and The Da Vinci Code and big budget space heist movies (Solo: A Star Wars Story). He’s a versatile director who doesn’t just stick to one genre. He’s been responsible for some of my favourite movies and while he’s had the occasional misstep (his adaptation of Inferno for example) he knows how to make entertaining films and is very consistent at doing so. It helps that he seems to have Hans Zimmer on speed-dial – the two have collaborated a lot, and its a pairing that works – as is Howard and Tom Hanks, who’ve worked together frequently many times to great effect.

3: Rachel Talalay: (Doctor Who – Heaven Sent, Dark Water, Twice Upon a Time, World Enough and Time). Doctor Who’s directors have always been a mixed bag – particularly towards the end of the Moffat era and the transition to the garbage that is Chibnall’s current reign. One who always shined regardless of the material she was given was Rachel Talalay. Just look at the episodes she directed – there’s a reason Moffat kept trusting her with his series finales and Capaldi’s final episode. She excels at delivering the darker, weightier, scarier instalments of Who. So many great scenes (such as the Missy Reveal, Breaking the Wall and The Master’s return) owe a lot to her standard of direction. In a way its a pity she only came in at series 8 – the 50th anniversary in her hands might have been even better than it already was. That’s how good she is!

2: Miguel Saponchik: (Game of Thrones – Hardhome, Battle of the Bastards, The Winds of Winter, The Bells) Game of Thrones had some excellent directors during its run, whatever you think of the writing. But the most amount of credit has to go to Saponchik, who directed some of the shows most ambitious and memorable battle sequences. The White Walkers’ attack on Hardhome, Jon Snow’s battle with Ramsay, Cersei blowing up the Sept of Baelor, The Night King’s assault on Winterfell and Daenerys’ destruction of King’s Landing – all were brought from script to screen by this guy, who managed to produce battles worthy of cinema on a fraction of the budget a blockbuster film would have. Can’t wait to see what he works on next.

1: Christopher Nolan: (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Interstellar, Inception) It had to be really. Nolan is renowned as a director and filmmaker and there’s a reason fans are constantly badgering him to have a crack at a Bond Film. He’s one of the few director you can honestly say has never made a bad film, and might even be the only one who has ALWAYS made great or amazing ones. The Dark Knight trilogy is what he’s most known for, and rightly so, but his other films like Dunkirk, Inception and Interstellar have all got warm receptions from critics and audiences. If he has a weakness its shooting hand-to-hand fight scenes (this is the sole weak point in Batman Begins), but his grasp of action scenes in general is amazing. Ultimately, this is the man who made Batman cool again after Joel Schumacher nearly killed the character’s status off for good in 1995. Nolan’s amazing track record coupled with the fact he’s responsible for 3 of my favourite films means he was always going to come top of this category, and I doubt many people will disagree with that.

5 Years of Blogging: Top 5 Books and Authors

For the second part of my 5 year anniversary of this blog, I thought i’d give an overview of my top 5 books and authors. I don’t review novels that often on this blog, so I felt this was long overdue.

Contains no spoilers for the books mentioned other than brief plot or genre overviews.

Top 5 Authors:

5: Dan Brown: Dan Brown’s work can be divisive, but you can’t deny the success of his Robert Langdon novels (or his other works such as Digital Fortress or Deception Point). The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons and Inferno are great romps with satisfying plot twists and hunts through glamorous locations like Paris, Rome and Venice. While Origin and The Lost Symbol fail to match up, all were engrossing first-time reads and whenever one of Brown’s new books comes out, I take notice, so he gets the fifth spot on this list.

4: Rick Riordan: Riordan’s works are mainly geared towards teenagers, but as a classist I can’t help but love his fiction focusing on modern day adventures of Greek and Roman demigods. Awash with humour, pop-culture references and characters who are easy to root for, his Percy Jackson and Heroes of Olympus series are excellent ways to encourage younger readers to learn about Greek and Roman mythology, while his entertaining style makes them a joy for all ages. He takes a couple of books to really hit his stride, but once he does, he delivers really consistently.

3: George R.R. Martin: While I haven’t sampled his other series, Martin makes this list solely for his Game of Thrones related work – there’s very little that matches the sheer scope and scale of his world-building, gargantuan casts of characters or detail-rich prose. If the man wasn’t so damn slow at finishing his ‘magnum opus’, he might be a bit higher on this list. Nevertheless, there’s a reason his books inspired one of the most successful TV series of all-time – one that could never hope to match the complexity of the original novels.

2: Simon Scarrow: Scarrow is a master of military focused historical-fiction. Whether its his long running ‘Eagles of the Empire’ series focusing on two Roman soldiers or his 4-part series contrasting the careers of Wellington and Napoleon, his works are always engaging. Scarrow’s knowledge of military tactics and structures helps create believable narratives and conflicts, and has written stories with settings as varied as Ancient Britain, Imperial India and WW2 Greece. There’s no better writer of military fiction.

1: Robert Harris: Harris rarely fails to deliver. His Cicero trilogy is a sublime piece of historical fiction that eschews more famous Romans like Caesar and Pompey in favour of focusing on one of the greatest orators who ever lived and presenting a compelling tale of his strengths, failures, flaws and triumphs. The variety of his work is notable – novels have focused on Chamberlain’s dealings with Hitler prior to WW2, a fictional papal election, and most memorably a murder investigation in Germany in an alternate history where the Nazi’s won WW2. Harris is a prolific writer who can turn his hands to many a setting, and in my opinion is the best of the authors whose work I follow closely.

Top 5 Books:

5: A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin: Containing the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Daenerys’ conquest of Slaver’s Bay, Jon and Ygritte’s doomed romance and Jaime and Brienne’s journey to King’s Landing, this 3rd entry in the Song of Ice and Fire series is still the undisputed highlight, with compelling twists, great character development and a great overall story. Martin has yet to better this, but then again it would take one hell of a book to do so.

4: Heir to the Empire by Timothy Zahn: Zahn is one of the most established and beloved Star Wars novelists – his work in the 90’s helped sustain interest in the series while it was off-screen, mainly due to his ‘Thrawn Trilogy’, which Heir to the Empire is Book 1 of. The Thrawn trilogy is no longer canon after Disney brought the franchise, but to be honest the three novels (and the two-part Hand of Thrawn which follows it) make for a far better follow up to Return of the Jedi than Force Awakens and Last Jedi. Set 5 Years after the Emperor and Vader’s deaths, Heir to the Empire focuses on Luke, Leia and Han’s efforts to protect the fledging New Republic from a resurgent Imperial Remnant led by the tactical and strategic genius Grand Admiral Thrawn. Thrawn is arguably the most popular Star Wars character created in the novels, primarily because he’s a villain who isn’t a Sith Lord but presents a real threat to the heroes. This first entry is my favourite Star Wars novel, simply because it presents a believable follow to Return of the Jedi and presents the Empire in a more nuanced way that simply being evil for evil’s sake.

3: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling: The Harry Potter books are still a good read as an adult, and Half-Blood Prince was always my favourite of the 7. While the film wasn’t as good, the book shines with a lighter tone to balance out the increasingly dark plot, greater emphasis on Dumbledore than previous books and significant revelations that set up the final book perfectly. If I’m feeling Nostalgic, this is still one of the first books I’ll turn to.

2: The Generals by Simon Scarrow: Scarrow’s four-part tale of Napoleon and Wellington is at its apex in this second entry, which follows both men as they begin to forge their careers in earnest and win great successes in Italy, Egypt and India. Napoleon’s story is definitely a shade more compelling, but Wellington’s tougher journey to the top still has dramatic value. A great piece of military fiction – if you’re interested in the Napoleonic Era, this is a must read.

1: Inferno by Dan Brown: Inferno’s mix of hellish imagery, Dante’s Inferno influences and over-population fears combine to create Brown’s best novel, and the one I’ll probably return to most often. I won’t claim its the best book ever written (Langdon’s amnesia is a lazy plot device, even if it works wonders) but its arguably my favourite and one I will happily pick up again and again. A real page-turner, this isn’t a book you will find easy to turn down. Pity the film adaptation was so weak and disjointed by comparison. Please don’t get put off if you’ve seen the film but not read this – its got far more depth and its ending plays out completely differently.

Hope you’re enjoying this series, I’ll be back tomorrow with my Top 5 PC Games and Game Developers. See you all then.

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…

 

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!!