Category Archives: TV Review

Black Lightning Review

Starring Cress Williams.

Minor Spoilers Follow.

With Black Panther making waves on the big screen, it felt like an appropriate time to try Black Lightning, the first DC TV show to have a Black Superhero as its main focus. It’s only the second Superhero show I can think of to have done this apart from Luke Cage. While the producers of Black Panther should be commended for what they’ve done, I can’t really credit the MCU much for boosting black representation in the superhero genre. Black Panther is the 18th MCU film – its taken them that long to have a film based around a Black Superhero, and they STILL haven’t released one with a female superhero taking the lead. Given the presence of War Machine, Falcon, Black Widow and Scarlet Witch in the MCU, this lack of representation is utterly pathetic. This is made especially evident by DC films, given that DC’s THIRD FILM featured Will Smith as lead character Deadshot and their FOURTH film gave us Wonder Woman. DC have done better (on representation, if not scripting) in 4 films than Marvel has in 17. Shame on you Marvel.

Marvel TV has admittedly done a better job of this, with Agent Carter and Jessica Jones catering for female Superheroes and Luke Cage giving us a show with a predominantly black cast. Unfortunately, Luke Cage was one of Marvel’s worse efforts (only outdone by Iron Fist) because of its poor writing, uneven tone and totally on the nose politics. Though Mike Colter has done a stand out job with the character on the Defenders and Jessica Jones, he still hasn’t got the material he deserves on his own show.

Fortunately, when it comes to both representation and TV shows in general, DC is far, far better than Marvel. John Diggle/Spartan has been a key fixture on Arrow since S1, and all four Arrowverse shows have had diverse casts (both in terms of ethnicity, gender and sexuality). Now we have a fifth DC show: Black Lightning. Not only is it DC’s answer to Luke Cage, but so far, its a damn sight better!

Cress Williams is a revelation as lead character Jefferson Pierce, a man who fought as a vigilante in his youth, but gave it up after his wife left him for the sake of his daughters and became the headmaster of a local school to try and combat the gangs a different way. Black Lightning sees him reluctantly forced back into action when his youngest daughter is targeted by a member of the local ‘100’ gang. While this kind of plotline veers close to cliché, its carried off with such panache and good scripting that you won’t really care. The rest of the (predominantly black) cast is equally good, with Jefferson’s daughters both likeable characters, and even his ex-wife is largely sympathetic (could this FINALLY be the show where DC doesn’t give us a crap love interest? Fingers crossed). The only two white characters of any note are the villainous Tobias, an old enemy of Black Lightning, and Jefferson’s old mentor Peter (who acts as a cross between Alfred and Lucius Fox). While it seems easy to predict the arcs some characters will head down during this first series, they’ve all got plenty of potential.

One area the show completely trumps Luke Cage is in its use of Superpowers. Black Lightning’s electrical attacks are awesome (anyone whose played the Infamous video games will appreciate them!) and give the action scenes plenty of spark and heft. Luke Cage was always held back by the fact that being bulletproof and strong don’t make for particularly exciting powers. Black Lightning doesn’t have this problem – he’s powerful but still vulnerable, which is always the best superhero combination.

I also liked how Lightning isn’t a ‘White Knight’ style hero (the DC shows have enough of those on the Flash and Supergirl) but is happy to get his hands dirty, and in one memorable sequence, blows up a police car to send a message to two racist cops. Police brutality/racism is one of several issues highlighted here, but its done so in a much more sensitive and less on-the-nose way than in Luke Cage and comes across as less heavy handed as a result.

There are one or two issues: the dialogue can be a bit clichéd and corny in some places, and its first few episodes follow familiar plotlines to most other superhero/vigilante dramas, but overall its a cut above the current load of superhero offerings. Hopefully the rest of the season lives up to this promising start.

Rating: 4 out of 5

My review of Black Panther will be out sometime next week. Can an MCU film finally get 5/5?

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Top 10 TV Episodes of 2017

Rather than my usual top TV shows, I decided to do a top 10 episodes. This was for several reasons: firstly, a lot of my favourite shows have underperformed this year (House of Cards, Doctor Who, The Americans, The Flash), and a top 4 shows would be about the best I could manage, and secondly because many of those shows still had terrific episodes even if the overall season was a bit of a let-down. So without further ado, here’s my TV picks from 2017.

I’ve made any spoilers as minor as possible, but pretty much everything referenced here was either in trailers or has been general knowledge for at least 6 months.

10. World Enough and Time (Doctor Who, Series 10) Series 10 may have been a weak run for Doctor Who, but Steven Moffat’s writing, Capaldi and Mackie’s acting and Rachel Talalay’s direction was flawless throughout. World Enough and Time is up their with Moffat’s best: a dark, creepy haunting tale set on a spaceship stuck orbiting a black hole, causing time to run faster at one end than the other. Throw Missy, a classic monster and another returning (disguised) villain into the mix and you have a classic in the making. If only so much of it hadn’t been spoiled beforehand, this episode might have been a lot further up my list.

9. Season Finale (Robot Wars UK) The last series of Robot Wars had 1 or 2 duff episodes, but the finale was so spectacular that it has to get a place in my top 10. The ten way Robot Rumble to decide who got the coveted sixth spot in the final was perhaps the best 5 minutes of television this series has ever produced, and the sheer chaos of it all was wonderful to behold. The final rounds themselves weren’t bad either – with several surprises as Defending Champions Carbide were placed under extreme pressure and a few no-hopers (Nuts 2) actually acquitted themselves rather well.

8. Beyond the Wall (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Game of Thrones seventh season may have thrown out the careful plotting a bit too much for some fans, but the sheer spectacle of the thing and the wonderful array of character interactions (some we’d waited years to see) still made it insanely compelling viewing. This episode, where Jon Snow and a band of followers including the Brotherhood without banners, The Hound, Tormund, Jorah and Gendry, all venture North of the Wall to search for proof of the White Walkers existence, is on a scale worthy of Lord of the Rings. To say any more would spoil what’s so great about it, but the soundtrack, direction and spectacle were all second to none, even if the resolution is somewhat ludicrous.

7. The Gentle Art of Making Enemies (Gotham, Season 3) Gotham’s not had a great year by all accounts. While we’ve had several great villains truly come to the fore (Riddler, Ra’s al Ghul, Professor Pyg) there’s been too much slow-burning about Gotham, and too many characters have got short-shift. But every so often, the show delivers a real gem, and that’s exactly what we got in this, the third part of a trilogy marking Jerome’s return in season 3. Seeing teenage Bruce Wayne face off with the man Gotham fans are 99% sure is the future Joker was stunning television, and the whole Riddler-Penguin civil war wasn’t a bad B-Plot either. It has a lot of great Bruce and Jerome moments that I won’t spoil, and one hell of a cliffhanger too.

6. The Dragon and the Wolf (Game of Thrones, Season 7) Remember what I said about character interactions? Well the finale had a truck full of them. Whether it was the Hound and Brienne coming face-to-face again, Jon Snow and Daenerys finally meeting Cersei or Jaime finally, FINALLY seeing Cersei’s true colours, it was epic. Littlefinger’s plotline was a punch the air moment for every fan watching, and the final scene with the White Walkers sets up season 8 perfectly. A great finale, if not quite the best episode of the season…

5. Doomworld (Legends of Tomorrow, Season 2) – I would never have expected Legends of Tomorrow, the most ridiculous Superhero Show on TV (featuring time-travel, aliens, mythology etc.) to also have been the best and most consistent one in 2017. But it was. Mainly because of its amazing season 2 plotline, which saw the superhero ensemble face-off with the Legion of Doom (featuring the Reverse-Flash, Dark Archer, Damien Darhk and Captain Cold – aka four of the Arrowverse’s best villains). Doomworld gave us a look at a future where the villains actually won, a rarity on any superhero show, and was a fabulous hour full of redemption stories, villainous one-liners and a kick-ass final battle scene. If season 3 lives up to this standard I won’t be complaining much.

4. Infantino Street (The Flash, Season 3) I’ll be honest, the Flash’s third season was terrible. The main plot didn’t work well and it largely squandered any goodwill left over from the excellent first one and a half seasons. Infantino Street was its sole knockout hit, the penultimate episode of the season, which featured the return of fan-favourite Leonard Snart and the villainous Savitar finally delivering on his potential. The ending scene is up their with the best Flash cliffhangers (and there are A LOT of good ones). Pity the producers ruined everything in the season finale, but in my view that doesn’t diminish this classic instalment. Let’s hope season 4 has more episodes like this.

3. Storm-y Weather (Orange is the New Black, Season 5) Orange is the New Black’s status as one of the all-time great Netflix shows remains untarnished (unlike House of Cards, for various reasons), and season five continuing the trend of a series that has actually got better year on year (how many shows can say that?!). Set over 3 days rather than several weeks a la previous series, season 5 gave us a gripping depiction of a prison riot and what happens when the inmates turn the tables on the awful prison officers. This episode (the finale) finally forced the prisoners (and bastard guardsman Piscatella) to face up to their actions and face the consequences. Filled with emotional performances, it confirms that this series really does have longeveity. The use of the ‘To Build a Home’ song over the last 5 mins really was something beautiful too.

2. Lian Yu (Arrow, Season 5) – Season Five finally broke the norm for Arrow finales (i.e. a yearly attack on Star City) and instead presented a much more personal, visceral conflict between Oliver Queen and Prometheus, leading to a monumental battle between both sides (including the whole of team Arrow, Black Siren and several recurring fan favourites). Even the flashbacks were great, as Oliver faced off with a brutal Russian terrorist (played menacingly by Dolph Lungren). Throw in a spectacle cliffhanger and this was by miles the best episode Arrow’s given us since Deathstroke unleashed his army in season 2. A truly terrific finale.

1. The Spoils of War (Game of Thrones, Season 7) – It had to be really. The Spoils of War is a contender for best Thrones episode of all time. It contains a lot of fan-favourite moments and a truly awesome battle scene. Arya training with Brienne is just the icing on the cake. The finale builds and builds to something truly special as we finally see just what those Dragons are really capable of… A masterpiece, and the best episode of TV I’ve seen in a long time.

And here’s my TV Awards for 2017

Best Actress: Melissa Benoist (Supergirl)
Best Actor: Nikolau Coster-Waldau (Jaime Lannister, Game of Thrones)
Best Supporting Actress: Michelle Gomez (Missy, Doctor Who)
Best Supporting Actor: Wentworth Miller (Snart, The Flash/Legends of Tomorrow)
Best TV Show: Game of Thrones/Orange is the New Black
Best Script: Steven Moffat (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Director: Rachel Talalay (World Enough and Time, Doctor Who)
Best Special Effects: USS Callister (Black Mirror)
Best Composer: Blake Neely (Arrow, Flash, Supergirl, Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Villain(s): The Legion of Doom (Legends of Tomorrow)
Best Hero: Jon Snow (Game of Thrones)
Worst Actress: Sonequa Martin-Green (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Actor: Doug Jones (Star Trek Discovery)
Worst Director: Charles Palmer (Oxygen, Doctor Who)
Worst TV Show: Star Trek Discovery
Worst Script: Aaron Helbing and Todd Helbing (Finish Line, The Flash)

The Capaldi Era Reviewed

Well that’s that. Peter Capaldi has bowed out as the 12th Doctor after 4 years in the role. Over his 3 series and 4 Xmas specials he’s had numerous very strong showings and has given us several diverse takes on his character, so here’s my tribute to Twelve’s era. First up, my take on his best (and worst) episodes!

Obviously, major spoilers for Series 8-10. If you haven’t watched them by now, that’s not my problem.

12’s Worst Episodes

5. Oxygen (Series 10) by Jamie Mathison – A missed opportunity. Oxygen got bogged down in its anti-capitalism message and forgot to have fun along the way. Zombies onboard a space station really should be scarier than this. The acting was decent, but the direction lacked any drive whatsoever and seriously undermined the tension.

Rating: 3/5

4. In The Forest of the Night (Series 8) by Frank Cottrell-Boyce – Boyce’s first contribution to the series isn’t bad, it just isn’t that interesting. The child actors aren’t terrible (like Angie and Artie in Series 7) but they don’t add much to proceedings, and while Capaldi, Coleman and Samuel Anderson (Danny – remember him?) are all on form, things never spark into life. The direction is good though, and the storyline is inventive enough (trees have reclaimed earth and brought the human race to a standstill). Like Oxygen, it’s environmental message just weighs the plot down a bit too much.

Rating: 3/5

3. The Girl Who Died (Series 9) by Jamie Mathison – ‘We’re Vikings!’. Not very convincing ones mate. Containing some of the worst extras ever to appear in modern Who, it’s a good thing The Girl Who Died also had the wonderful Maisie Williams guest starring, because it’s one of the weakest scripts in series Nine. Only the last 15 minutes (where I suspect Moffat took over from Mathison as lead writer) have any real oomph to them.

Rating: 3/5

2. The Lie of the Land (Series 10) by Toby Whitehouse – A really disappointing ending to the ‘Monk trilogy’. The performances carry it and help avoid it being a disaster, but the Monks are defeated far too easily and the whole ‘fake regeneration’ thing was just silly.

Rating: 3/5

1.  Sleep No More (Series 9) by Mark Gatiss. An episode that tried to do something different with its found footage storyline, but is let down by forgettable guest stars and some truly stupid sci-fi (I mean living dust from eyes coming alive? Seriously Gatiss?). It should have at least been scarier, but everytime there was a threat of tension, Reece Shearsmith (absolutely woeful – the worst guest star in Capaldi’s era) turns up with more dull narration to drag proceedings down again. The script itself isn’t actually that bad, but the execution lets it down.

Rating: 2.5/5

Fortunately these episodes were the exception to the rule in the Capaldi era. Most of his episodes received either a 3.5/5 or a 4/5 from me, with several getting higher than that. So next up, here’s my list of his five best outings as the Doctor.

12’s Best Episodes 

5. Listen (Series 8) by Steven Moffat The first episode that really showed Capaldi’s potential. From his opening monologue to the end credits, he holds you attention and never lets it go, while Moffat delivers his most inventive script since Blink. It isn’t flawless, but sheer clever scripting and acting prowess from the three leads ensure it was one of Series 8’s highlights.

Rating: 4.5/5

4. World Enough and Time (Series 10) by Steven Moffat. Series 10 may have been a bit disappointing, but if you didn’t get shivers/punch the air during the last five minutes of ‘World Enough and Time’, you aren’t a proper who fan. Seeing two Masters on screen together for the first time was immensely engaging, and Moffat’s script made the Cybermen creepier than they have been in decades. If only we’d had fewer spoilers going in…

Rating: 4.5/5

3. Face the Raven (Series 9) by Sarah Dollard. Well this one was truly heartbreaking as Clara finally oversteps the mark in her attempts to be like the Doctor. Capaldi, Coleman and Maisie Williams are on fire here, and Sarah Dollard makes one of the best debuts I can remember as the writer for arguably the most important story of series 9. The script is excellent, while the direction, acting and Murray Gold’s music combine to make the episode’s climax truly heartwrenching… I do wish Moffat hadn’t undone it in the finale.

Rating: 5/5

2. Dark Water (Series 8) by Steven Moffat. The first two-parter in 3 years got off to a flying start with Dark Water, which takes its time but builds and builds to a jaw-dropping final 15 minutes. Some seriously creepy ideas about the afterlife, the return of the Cybermen and the reveal of just who Missy really is combine to make this a truly great episode. Capaldi, Coleman, Anderson and Michelle Gomez really gave this their all.

Rating: 5/5

1.  Heaven Sent (Series 9) by Steven Moffat. The winning combination of Moffat’s writing, Capaldi’s acting, Talalay’s direction and Murray Gold’s music reached its apex here in Capaldi’s sublime one-man (well, almost) show. While personally I find Dark Water more entertaining, Heaven Sent is undoubtedly the better episode and is up there with the best of what Moffat’s ever written. But Capaldi is the unquestioned star of this show – I’ll repeat what I said it my main review – only Capaldi could have carried an episode like this so well. Even Eccleston, Tennant and Smith, all fine actors, wouldn’t have matched him here, and that’s about the highest compliment I can give.

Rating: 5/5

For anyone interested, here’s the average score each of Capaldi’s series has got from me:

Series 8: 3.96/5. Series 8 featured several great episodes and no failures, while the Missy arc was the most satisfying season long mystery we’d got since the cracks in time in Series 5. Capaldi’s darker, grouchier take on the Doctor is refreshing even if it doesn’t always hit the right notes, while Jenna Coleman really comes into her own here.

Series 9: 4.04/5. Series 9 is the best modern who has given us so far, and if Chibnall/Whittaker or anyone else bests it I’ll be pleasantly surprised. Two weak episodes and a disappointing season arc aside, everything works. Capaldi gives us the definitive version of his Doctor (edgy and not giving a damn, but somewhat mellowed compared to his first series) and gets some of his best material, while Jenna Coleman’s marvellous performance proves she deserves to be the longest serving companion in Modern Who, and her partnership with Capaldi was clearly something truly special.

Series 10: 3.75/5. A VERY average run despite its strong finale, series 10 was something of a disappointment. Moffat still delivered, but his support writers (with the exception of Rona Munro and Peter Harness) let him down, though Moffat has to accept some blame for the Vault Storyline going nowhere and John Simm’s return being too widely spoiled. Pearl Mackie was excellent as Bill, but rarely got material that let her show off her talents. Capaldi’s Doctor, unfortunately, mellows too much in this last season, into near-forgetability by the end. His performance is still there, but the promise of his darker take on the Doctor has vanished, which was a shame. Like Tennant and Russell T. Davies, I can’t help feeling Moffat and Capaldi stuck around one season too long…

To finish up, here’s my 10 favourite moments from the Capaldi era.

10. We Surrender (Mummy on the Orient Express, Series 8). One of the 12th Doctor’s first truly heroic moments is where he stands up to the Foretold, knowing he only has 66 seconds to make it stand down before it kills him. Great scene.

9. Hello Sweetie (The Husbands of River Song). While most of this Xmas special was focused on comedy, the moment where River finally realizes that Capaldi is the Doctor was very sweet, and Capaldi’s ‘Hello Sweetie’ knocks it out of the park.

8. Those Eyebrows (The Day of the Doctor). Okay, slight cheat, this isn’t in any Capaldi episodes, but come on. Capaldi’s Day of the Doctor cameo was amazing. What a way to introduce a Doctor.

7. Clara Leaves the Doctor (Kill the Moon, Series 8). 12’s patronising behaviour finally comes back to bite him as an upset Clara gives him both barrels and leaves the Tardis in tears. Coleman’s performance was simply marvellous.

6. The Pope Ruins Bill’s Date (Extremis, Series 10). Quite possibly the funniest scene in Who History as Bill gets a girl back to her flat only to find the Doctor has accidentally left the Pope in her bedroom. Talk about a passion killer.

5. Clara Dies (Face the Raven, Series 9). What more can I say. We all knew it was coming at some point in Series 9, but it still hit hard anyway. The fact that Clara is arguably my favourite companion didn’t make it any easier.

4. The Doctor’s Speech (The Zygon Inversion, Series 9) The Doctor’s anti-war speech was a powerhouse of a performance by Capaldi, and even if the Zygon two-parter wasn’t the most memorable bit of Series 9, his speech to convince both sides to stand down gives it a perfect denouement. Who’d have thought Capaldi would surpass this a mere 3 episodes later…

3. You Know Who I Am (Dark Water, Series 8). The Missy reveal was up there with the Daleks surprise appearance in Army of Ghosts and the Master’s initial return in Utopia. It’s one of the best cliffhangers in the Capaldi era, and Capaldi and Michelle Gomez absolutely nail the scene. Well she couldn’t keep calling herself ‘The Master’ now could she 😉

2. Hello Missy. I’m the Master (World Enough and Time, Series 10). Simm’s performance has never been better. The face pull just made it all the more perfect. We knew it was him, but the reveal was pulled off with such gusto that it was epic anyway. This scene alone made the disappointing Series 10 worthwhile.

1.  Breaking the Wall (Heaven Sent, Series 9). What else could it be. Not forgetting that Murray Gold delivers his best soundtrack in YEARS for this scene, the moment where Twelve finally escapes his prison after spending millions of lifetimes punching through a near-indestructible wall was both epic and insanely clever. Well done Capaldi and Moffat – we won’t forget this one in a while.

To sum up, while Capaldi’s final series prevents me from labelling his incarnation the best version of the Doctor (Tom Baker is probably never going to be surpassed), he proved beyond doubt that he was one of the finest actors to play the role, easily matching what Eccleston, Tennant and Smith had achieved before him. Good luck Jodie Whittaker, you’ve got one hell of an act to follow…

Marvel: The Defenders Review

Starring Charlie Cox, Krysten Ritter, Mike Colter, Finn Jones and Sigourney Weaver.

Contains Minor Spoilers.

I should say before starting that I’m not a massive Marvel TV fan. I liked Jessica Jones, despite its overlong runtime, but thought Luke Cage was a wasted opportunity. I didn’t watch Iron Fist because it got savaged in reviews, nor Daredevil because the character doesn’t interest me (thanks, but if I want Vigilante Justice I’ll stick to Batman or Green Arrow). Ultimately though this wasn’t a massive problem (I read a brief summary of Iron Fist first and that sufficed) as all the plot points from Daredevil and Iron Fist are brought up during Defenders dialogue anyway, so its pretty easy to get up to speed. Obviously you’ll get more out of this if you’ve seen all four of its predecessors, but as long as you’ve watched at least 2 of them I’d say its perfectly accessible.

The other Marvel shows on Netflix suffered because they were 13 episodes long, at least 3 more than needed in both Jessica Jones and Luke Cage’s case. The Defenders solves this problem by only being 8 episodes long, and although it’s initially a slow-burner (you don’t see the 4 heroes all interacting together until episode 3 and 4) it feels appropriate. The interaction between the four is definitely the highlight: Luke and Danny make a surprising good pairing, while Jessica holds her own and remains the most stand-out of the four. Luke is far better here than he was on his own show (as Jessica Jones proved, Luke works better as a co-star rather than a leading man) and from what I’ve heard about Iron Fist Danny is similarly improved by being one amongst equals rather the focus of everything. Charlie Cox gives a fine performance as Daredevil, but his reluctance to get back in the suit is something we’ve seen again and again in Superhero stories (Spider-Man 2, Superman 2, The Dark Knight Rises, Arrow etc.) and makes him the least engaging to watch.

Several supporting characters return from the individual shows, though most don’t do an awful lot, with four exceptions: Foggy, Misty, Claire and Colleen. While Claire and Colleen merit more screen time than they get here, Misty’s presence brings back a few of the issues that dragged Luke Cage’s show down. The Police vs. vigilantes conflict is downright tiresome at this point, and Misty’s interactions with Jessica are just frustrating. The final episode renders the whole going above the law issue pointless, something which is irritating when you could have easily cut an episode’s worth of padding out without this plotline.

The villains suffice but don’t really steal the show the way David Tennant’s Kilgrave did in Jessica Jones. Sigourney Weaver is obviously good, but  her character is ultimately too sidelined in the second half (another problem familiar to Luke Cage fans) and the rest of ‘The Hand’, while getting a handful of cool fight scenes, aren’t much better. Speaking of fight scenes, this is where the Defenders soars. Several of the heroes clash with each other in beautifully choreographed sequences, while the group fights against the villains are also a treat, even if you never really believe the heroes are in danger (this is Marvel after all…). The direction as a whole is superb, and the show is nicely complimented by the musical score. The acting is consistently good, as is the production, but ultimately, like EVERY Marvel TV series, the writing lets things down a few too many times. The Defenders is better than Luke Cage and about equal to Jessica Jones, but falls short of DC shows like Arrow, Gotham or Legends of Tomorrow.

Overall its entertaining but carries over a few problems from previous series, and the last few episodes are riddled with plot holes. Classic Marvel: high on spectacle, low on substance, despite its pleasingly adult tone and superb direction.

Rating: 3.5 of 5

Given how good Jessica and Luke were here, I’ll keep going with their shows. Danny and Colleen were engaging enough that I may give Iron Fist a shot, but The Defenders didn’t change my opinion on Daredevil. Still not interested.

Ultimately while the Defenders is cool, Marvel still has a long way to go before they match DC on TV. This was a step forward though.

Game of Thrones: The Spoils of War Review

The Spoils of War by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!

WHAT. AN. EPISODE.

That final sequence was simply mind-blowing. Even though it was one of the shortest episodes in Thrones history, it could very well be the best we’ve had so far. Between another long awaited reunion, a fantastic duel between two of the shows most badass characters, Jon and Daenerys growing closer and THAT final battle, it had everything i’d want from an episode and more!

Before I get to the climatic battle, the earlier scenes are worth commenting on because of their own extremely high quality.

First, Arya’s return to Winterfell! Now Sansa and Arya never liked each other in season 1 (the last time they saw each other) so it made sense that their reaction to seeing each other alive was mutual relief and respect rather than unrestrained joy. Arya sparring with Brienne was fucking epic as well, loved every moment of it (especially Sansa’s WTF expression and Podrick’s glee at seeing Brienne sweat for once). Great fight choreography. Sansa (and Littlefinger, more worryingly) now have more of an idea of what Arya’s capable of, particularly after Bran revealed he knows about her kill list.

Bran is a dick. Though seeing him creep out Littlefinger (I.E. the creepiest motherfucker on Game on Thrones) was hilarious, him being cold to Meera after all she’s done for him was very, very cold. Bran was always one of the least interesting Starks (after Rickon) but he’s borderline unlikeable now – though him giving Arya his Valyrian steel dagger was a nice touch at least (money on Arya killing a White Walker has to be high now). It was just great seeing the three Starks reunited for the first time since Thrones’ first ever episode (yes – THAT long ago!), but it was also a reminder of how broken they all are; Arya’s turned into a smiling assassin who loves killing, Bran’s a cold shell of himself who has visions and Sansa’s only just turned a corner from all her trauma in seasons 1-5. Can’t wait for Jon to come back and complete the circle (even if Bran might ruin it by telling Jon who he really is!). Now Arya’s in the North that reunion with the Hound might be on the cards soon too. Could have don’t without the two dickish guards on the gate at Winterfell, whose sole purpose seemed to be a reminder that not all the Stark soldiers are nice guys (the same way Ed Sheeran’s crew in the premiere reminded us that not all Lannisters are heartless bastards – more on this later).

Meanwhile on Dragonstone the groundwork was being laid for the perhaps inevitable union between Jon and Dany. Jon: ‘She’s got a good heart’. Davos ‘Yes, I’ve seen you staring at her heart’ might have been one of the funniest one-liners we’ve got this series, and one which makes it clear Jon likes Daenerys. The one-liners were certainly out in force this episode [Daenerys: ‘What Happened?’ Missandei: ‘Many things ;)’ and Brienne: ‘Who taught you?’ Arya: ‘No one’ were just perfect]. Back to Jon and Dany; their scene in the cave (what is it with Jon and women in caves?) was sweet, and the fact that Daenerys now seems convinced about the White Walkers is a definite plus point – and her opinion of Jon seems to be improving – though for now it seems to be mostly respect rather than anything else. Jon’s brief confrontation with Theon seems to have placed these characters in an uneasy truce for now (Jon hasn’t forgiven Theon for betraying Robb, but spares him for Sansa’s sake) but didn’t really add much to the episode (that said it only lasted like 1 minute).

Before I get into the battle scene, I should note that this is the FIRST ever episode of Thrones Matt Shakman has directed. What a brilliant debut. This battle scene not only rivals Blackwater, the Battle for the Wall, Hardhome and the Battle of the Bastards – it comes mighty close to beating them (I might JUST prefer the Wall and Hardhome but its a mighty close thing – who’d have thought back in 2017 that Blackwater would have been surpassed not one but FOUR times? This show is incredible). The whole battle of Dothraki and Dragon vs. Lannisters was amazing, but there were two simply stupendous scenes (I’m running out of adjectives strong enough to convey how fucking good this was). First: Bronn vs. Drogon. Bronn man’s Qyburn’s Scorpion (a type of Ballista) and actually manages to wound the Dragon (whose plummet almost had me thinking Drogon had it). He hadn’t, but fortunately Bronn survived anyway. Tense and nerve-wracking, this was the first time Daenerys and her dragons had been pitted against a character we really cared about. And in typical Thrones style, the next bit was even more tense.

Still recovering from that last scene. Jaime knows the Lannisters have lost the battle. The Dothraki have overwhelmed them and they have no weapons left capable of killing a dragon. He could run. But he doesn’t. He charges down Daenerys while she’s trying to wrench that bolt out of Drogon. As Tyrion watching on comments ‘You idiot. You fucking idiot’. The music swells (Ramin Dwajadi is the best bloody composer on TV right now). Then Jaime and Daenerys lock eyes. Shivers. For one moment as he charges you think she’s dead – then Drogon swivels into view and Jaime looks certain to die – then Bronn crashes into him and knocks them both into the river. This has to be my favourite scene in the show so far – both Nikolas Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage knock it out of the park – and its probably Jaime’s best scene since his bathtime confession with Brienne in Season 3.

I could go on and on about how great this battle was, but more importantly, it does something no battle on the show has done so far. It pits characters the audience all care about against each other and forces them to finally pick a side. In every other battle on Thrones 99% of the viewers were on the same side (i.e. Tyrion vs. Stannis, Night’s Watch vs. the Wildlings, Jon vs. the Walkers and the Starks vs. Ramsay). I doubt that was the case here. Jaime and Bronn are fan-favourites – and they’re on what is almost certainly going to be the losing side this season. Supporting Dany means hoping they die instead at this point and supporting Jaime the opposite (its Thrones – Euron and Cersei won’t be the only two who die in the next 3 episodes – that would be a massive cop-out). That considered, this battle finally made me realise whose side I’m really on (apart from the Starks, but that’s a given – I’ve never felt much for the Lannisters or Targaryens).

I’ve never been a massive fan of Dany (I love Emilia Clarke, but Daenerys has been so irritating for half of her screentime, even if she was badass for the rest of it, that I’ve never wanted her to sit on the Iron Throne). Her arrogant demand that Jon bends the knee didn’t help (whose pride is the issue here Dany? You hypocrite!). But because Tyrion, Varys, Missandei, Jorah and Grey Worm are all characters I like, I thought I wanted her to beat the Lannisters. I’ve realised I don’t – I actually want Jaime, Bronn and even Cersei to win (or at least lose but kill Daenerys in the process). I realised this when Bronn faced down Drogon and I actually punched the air in triumph when he shot the dragon. And then when it looked like it was a clear choice between Jaime and Dany and I was willing him to kill her. I really don’t want him or Bronn to die. Even Sam’s brother Dickon seems like a nice guy. Yes, their side is flawed, but Daenerys is the one burning men alive (and we all know how the last leader who did that fared…) and leading a horde of pyschopaths (the Lannister/Tarly soldiers are a mix of good and bad led fighting for an evil queen – the Dothraki are far, far worse overall when you look at their history – even Khal Drogo wasn’t really the nicest guy). And Daenerys’ right to be on the throne comes from what? That she’s the daughter of the worst king in Westerosi history? No wonder Jon doesn’t want to Bend the Knee. Sure a lot of you disagree with me, but I just thought I’d point out how much the show could polarize its fanbase from this point forward.

Overall everything came together: the writing, the direction, the music, the effect and the acting combined to deliver what was, in my view, the best episode of Game of Thrones to date. If I could give it 6 stars for the last sequence alone, I would, even without the wonderful scenes at Winterfell and Dragonstone.

Rating: 5 out of 5!!!!

Next Time: Who the fuck cares, if its half as good as this I can’t wait!!!

So if we’re talking reality here, Jaime really should be dead (armour that heavy in water will almost always drown the person wearing it), but he probably isn’t – which means Bronn probably survived to, so someone could save Jaime. At least I hope so. It’s gonna be a long wait till next time!

50 min episode = my longest Thrones review. This show is anything but predictable.

 

Game of Thrones: The Queen’s Justice Review

The Queen’s Justice by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

Ice has met Fire. Book and Show fans alike have been waiting for this for a very, very long time. The first 20 mins of the episode was devoted to tense conversations on Dragonstone, and while Varys and Melisandre sparring was entertaining and Tyrion and Jon reminiscing was amusing, there was only one thing the viewers wanted to see. Jon and Daenerys. Well they didn’t shag (yet). They didn’t kill each other (yet). But it could still go either way judging by their interaction here, as the two argued (both equally stubborn!) but later showed a mutual respect (which stopped short of attraction but give it time guys). It was pretty good, but I suspect the best is yet to come from this pairing, which seemed mostly to be setting things up for next season (when they will inevitably have to unite against the White Walkers). The dialogue was very slick, particularly between Tyrion and Jon, and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in this uneasy alliance/co-operation. The fact them meeting wasn’t the highlight of the episode shows how good the rest of it was!

We’re being spoilt for battle scenes atm. Grey Worm and the Unsullied attacking Casterly Rock (which finally made an appearance!) was a short scene but Tyrion’s narration coupled with a narrative twist meant that it was a memorable one. Tyrion and Dany are really being outplayed by Jaime, Cersei and Euron atm aren’t they? Euron’s making Daenery’s fleets look like a laughing stock, Jaime’s strategy lessons at the hands of Robb Stark seem to have made him into a formidable General who is completely undoing Tyrion’s plans, and Cersei is better at manipulating powerful people than ever, here winning the Iron Banker Tycho (a returning Mark Gatiss) back to her side for now and keeping Euron onside without giving him what he wants yet.

I said at the start of the season Daenerys needed to suffer some setbacks to keep things interesting, but the shows gone further than I expected after only three episodes. Dorne is gone. Her fleets are gone. The Tyrell forces are either dead or have joined the Lannisters. Grey Worm and the Unsullied are trapped in hostile territory with no food. If it wasn’t for her Dragons, Daenerys would be almost certain to lose. Now she’s lost all 3 of her allied Westerosi houses, she’ll be forced to bring out the Dragons and Unsullied, as well as maybe asking Jon for help (though given how far North Jon’s men are i doubt he can do much, unless he wants to leave Davos behind as another advisor for the Queen). Seeing the Lannister armies march on Highgarden was suitably cool, and Diana Rigg fitting got the last word as fan-favourite Olenna was finally killed off (surprised Jaime didn’t lose his cool and run her through after the cunning old goat ensured a painless death for herself).

Mark Mylod can definitely come back as a director for the final season. The last two episodes have looked superb and he’s made two short battle scenes feel quite special. Hope the remaining directors this season are up to his standard!

Lena Headey and Nikolai Coster-Waldau are killing it this season – Jaime’s facial expressions are consistently spot on (whether shock at Euron’s foul-mouthed jibes or stunned realisation as Olenna confesses to killing his son) while Cersei’s glee/triumph at paying back Ellaria in kind for murdering her daughter was a high point for the character (and Lena Headey). For the first time I feel like Cersei is now a villain you can root for – you still don’t want her to win, but she’s now fun to watch the way Joffrey and Ramsay were, which wasn’t the case for most of seasons 1-6. Speaking of villains you can root for, Euron’s hilariously over-the-top style of villainy is a nice wild card in the mix at the moment – the odds on Jaime killing him seem to be getting higher every episode, though I’d settle for Theon, Yara or a Dragon doing it. Euron’s development into a memorable villain is what should have happened with the Sand Snakes and Ellaria, who we thankfully saw the last of this week as Cersei brutally (but admittedly justifiably) exacted revenge for her daughter and cruelly left Ellaria to watch her own daughter die slowly from poisoning. It was a great scene, with the writing and acting (particularly from Headey and Indira Varma) superb throughout.

Bran and Sansa’s reunion was one of the least interesting bits of the episode, but then again, it is Bran, whose newfound coldness (and lack of tact) isn’t making him any more endearing. Sansa’s joy at seeing him alive was nicely played by Sophie Turner though, and it was nice to see that Sansa is actually good at ruling the North (a sign of things to come if anything happens to Jon?). Hopefully Arya will be in the mix next week – as a lot of people have been waiting for a stark sister reunion for a long time. Sam and Jorah’s scene was touching but didn’t add much, though I have to wonder if any of those old books Sam was ordered to copy contains info on the White Walkers? On another note, Dany really needs some good news soon, so hopefully Jorah will be back at her side shortly, now he appears to be cured.

Overall, it was another strong episode with a twist at the end, it kept the momentum going but wasn’t quite as strong as last week’s episode. Still better than anything else on TV atm though!

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Next Time: Arya returns to the North, Cersei presses her advantage and Daenerys tries to overcome her recent losses…

Game of Thrones: Stormborn Review

Stormborn by Bryan Cogman

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS!!!

Well that was more like it! After the (nevertheless good) hour of set-up in the premiere, Stormborn delivered some interactions and reunions fans have been waiting years for, as well as a kick-arse battle scene (more on that later…).

Daenerys’ arrival has really shaken things up (in a good way!) on the show, not just because its brought six seasons of disparate plotlines together but also provided some character combinations we’ve never have seen before. Melisandre, Tyrion, Varys and Daenerys verbally tussling with each other over the nature of Jon Snow was neatly mirrored by Cersei and Jaime trying to convince Randall Tarly (Sam’s dickhead Dad) to help them fight her and Jon squabbling with the Northern lords to convince them trusting Daenerys is a necessary risk if they are to have a chance of defeating the White Walkers. These scenes were a joy to watch, and it was nice to see Yara, Theon, Ellaria Sand and Olenna Tyrell joining in with Daenerys council of war. This led to loads of great payoffs and references for long-term viewer, such as; Tyrion squaring off with Ellaria for murdering his innocent niece, Sansa coolly reminding Jon that Daenerys’ father burnt their grandfather alive, and Daenerys testing Varys’ loyalty after reminding him of his history of changing sides and betraying both her family, the Lannisters and the Baratheons.

Another pairing we’ve never seen before was Sam and Jorah, with Sam risking his position at the citadel to try and save a damned Jorah, which was touchingly revealed to be because of the admiration Sam possessed for Jorah’s father, the deceased Lord Commander. The healing scene made for uncomfortable viewing (its a good job this show is on well after dinner time!). Equally tantalising was the tension between Jon and Littlefinger – with Jon making it abundantly clear that Littlefinger’s affection for (i.e. perving on) his sister is not welcome. Doubtlessly this threat will drive Littlefinger to scheme against Jon more actively as the season progresses.

Arya’s catch up with Hot Pie (his first appearance since Season 4 – I swear Hot Pie is gonna be the only character left alive when the show ends the rate they kill people off) served as a nice way to show how much Arya’s changed since the early seasons – as well as a way to provide information to take her North (to a reunion with Sansa? And Bran? And Jon? And maybe even the Hound?! we can but hope). Nymeria’s rejection of Arya was saddening, but given we saw this kind of behaviour from Drogon in season 5, I’d put money on Arya’s direwolf returning and saving her life before the end of the season.

I argued in my season predictions that Daenerys had to suffer some major losses if her vs. Cersei was to take a whole season. I said last week I expected the show to build Euron up as a villain. The groundwork for both was laid here, and in spectacular fashion. Not only did we get confirmation that, thanks to Qyburn, Cersei has weapons (i.e. high-powered ballista’s) capable of hurting/killing dragons, but Euron dealt Daenerys and her followers a severe blow in a thrilling naval battle. This finally established Euron as a force to be reckoned with as he cut a swathe through his opponents (killing not one but TWO of the irritating Sand Snakes single-handedly), before overpowering Yara and intimidating Theon into abandoning his sister and fleeing (damn, Alfie Allen’s performance as Theon was good! Sure, his escape was cowardly, but after everything Ramsay did to him, is it any surprise Theon is still broken? He really needs to have a chat with Varys or Grey Worm about moving past his… deficiency). The battle itself was great, even if the action was limited to two ships, mainly because it came out of nowhere (I was expecting this to happen, but not as early as the end of episode 2!!!)

It also has ramifications for what happens next. Without Dornish forces, the Tyrells can’t take King’s Landing by themselves, so Daenerys will have to unleash the Dothraki (and the Dragons) which will drive more allies into Cersei’s clutches. Dany had better hope nothing goes wrong with Grey Worm’s attack on Casterly Rock… (Given all the effort the show has expended to make us care about him and Missandei – their romance was pretty sweet – THAT sex scene included – I am starting to worry about him. Normally once we care this much about supporting characters on Thrones their lifespan gets prematurely cut short!)

Overall there was a lot of talk and character moments in the first 50 minutes, but these were all of such high quality and were so rewarding for long-term show (and book) fans that I was on course to give this a 5/5 even before it brought out a stonking great naval battle for the last 10 minutes! That battle proved the shows increased budget-per-episode is reaping dividends. Hat’s off to writer Bryan Cogman and director Mark Mylod, both knocked it out of the park this week. Bring on episode 3!

Rating: 5 out of 5!

Next Time: Grey Worm attacks Casterly Rock, Euron returns to King’s Landing in triumph and Jon Snow meets Daenerys!!!!

So Ellaria Sand is Euron’s gift to Cersei. Odds on Cersei killing her daughter Tyene (and then her) in some gruesome way must be pretty high, and I’m not sure Yara’s long for this world either… Also why did they recast the 1 of the 3 sandsnakes that the fanbase actually sort of liked?! (Yes, for her entirely gratuitous prison nudity/flirting with Bronn, but still. At least the others are dead and the Dorne storyline pretty much along with it).