Category Archives: TV

Fall 2018 Creativity Roundup – 3 TV Dramas You Need To Watch!

These are some of my favorite posts to do, and at this point in my blog’s history they’re at least semi-regular. I’m always consuming media, and doing a roundup of the latest things I find inspiring has proven to be a great way for me to engage with my readers. It’s my contention that over the past decade or so, TV drama has entered a golden age. I think the overall production value, quality of acting talent, and the complexity of the writing are as good now as they have ever been. The last point is the most important one, in my opinion, as our dramas now are afforded the creative freedom to explore darker, more nuanced themes.

Here are three of my favorite shows that I’ve watched recently:


3. The Affair

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It’s hard to pick one TV series that I can definitively call my favorite of all time. Game of Thrones and The Sopranos are both good candidates, but when asked the question, the answer I most often give is The Affair.

In short, the show details a passionate, illicit affair between a struggling New York novelist and a small town waitress with a traumatic past. The setting is Montauk- a cozy resort town situated on the far tip of Long Island. For me, the show is as close to a superlative rating as anything else out there, especially the peerless first three seasons.

It brushes up on my personal criterion for perfection because it’s intriguing in layers; dysfunctional families, dark secrets, sexual awakenings, and even a murder mystery to name a few. But perhaps the thing that makes this story so unique is the way it’s told. The narrative shifts between alternating points of view that not only overlap with, but sometimes contradict, one another. This style captures the way two people remember the same events differently, so that we’re given an incomplete truth. The actual truth, as is often the case in life, remains out of reach.

 

2. The Man in the High Castle

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For me, this is a show that’s criminally underrated. I’m putting it above The Affair on this list because I was left disappointed by the latter’s most recent season. The Man in the High Castle, conversely, is a show that’s very much in the ascendency. I just finished watching season 3 and I can’t stop thinking about it. This show gets better and better with every episode, and no one seems to be talking about it.

Based on the Philip K. Dick novel of the same name (from which it deviates significantly, I understand), The Man in the High Castle is an alternate history in which the Axis Powers won World War Two. It’s the 1960s and the North American continent is divided between the German Reich in the east and the Japanese Empire in the west. This new world is one of the most fascinating aspects of the show, and the subtle societal changes that each half of America undergoes are explored in multiple story threads. There are the rebels in conflict with their respective oppressive regimes, there are the two oppressive regimes in conflict with each other, and there are also conflicts within each regime. What I’m trying to say is, we experience this new world through various points of view, with heroes and villains in each faction. Just because the system is evil, that doesn’t mean that everyone living in it becomes evil too. It’s fascinating because it’s a reality in which systemic evil becomes the norm, and being twenty years after WW2, many have simply accepted it. This is something that’s addressed in the show itself, with many resistance characters stressing how weird and shocking this reality is. One of the things that make this show so compelling is the fact that it takes a morally-complex approach to the conflict while still being a nightmarish dystopia. The resistance fighters aren’t flawless or morally-pure, and the fascists aren’t “monsterized”. Instead, there are just people and their choices. There are idealists trying to fight for a better world, and there are those that accept the new world order so as to remain safe, which is what happens in real life.

This is a show unlike any other on TV at the moment. It’s also very much a science fiction drama, with the German-Japanese Cold War serving as a backdrop to a mystery that every faction is trying to solve- the repeated appearances of film reels depicting a parallel universe in which the Allies won the war.

 

1. Sharp Objects

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Now I enjoyed Gone Girl as much as the next guy- but this is on another level. Sharp Objects is based on Gillian Flynn’s somewhat lesser-known debut novel of the same name. It takes the top spot in my list of TV dramas I’ve found creatively inspiring in the latter half of 2018 because it’s simply the most interestingly and effectually put together.

This dark miniseries features an alcoholic, self-harming journalist who returns to her hometown in rural Missouri to try and solve the disappearance of two missing girls. I won’t say any more than that because you should just watch it. It’s fucking brutal but also understated- which might sound like a strange thing to say, but if you’ve seen it you understand. And this brings me back to what I said above about it being the series that for me puts its pieces together in the most compelling way.

Jean-Marc Vallée’s direction reminds me a lot of Lynne Ramsey’s subtle approach to storytelling (particularly in her recent movie You Were Never Really Here). It’s a show that punishes the lazy viewer. You can’t give it anything less than your full attention, because one look down at the peach and eggplant emojis your Tinder match is sending you will leave you wondering what the hell is going on when you try and reengage with the narrative later. Vallée gives you the pieces in fleeting images and unspoken inferences. Nothing is spelled out or summarized for you- it’s a lot like reading the fiction of Raymond Carver. The characters aren’t mouthpieces for exposition; the story is told in a very visual way that requires an enthusiastic, active viewer. The cinematography is beautiful, and so important to how this story is told. I want to read the novel, but I also want to give myself a few years to try and forget the plot details as best I can, because there are some shocking revelations to enjoy here.

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Spring 2018 Recap

Today I’d like to do a springtime recap! These posts are always super-fun to write, and they let y’all know what I’ve been up to when I’m not writing or scrapping metal. Don’t worry; there are no spoilers for anything I review here.

 


TV: Westworld & Evil Genius

 

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These are the two shows I’ve really been obsessed with this year so far. I’m actually enjoying Westworld’s second season more than its first. I won’t spoil anything for those of y’all still catching up, but I love the direction they’re taking the show in and the themes that come with that narrative avenue. The crux of Westworld is its exploration of the consequences of theme park robots remembering what happens to them before they’re destroyed, repaired, and reset, and I think that the concept of these “dreams” and “reveries” being the catalyst for self-awareness is such a fascinating, clever idea. It’s probably the most layered TV drama that I watch. It’s a show that I think about when I’m not watching it. I love going online after the episode finishes and watching video breakdowns of all the hidden meanings and revelations.

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Evil Genius, on the other hand, is a Netflix crime documentary, pitched to me by my kid brother as being to 2018 what Making a Murderer was to 2016 and The Keepers was to 2017, respectively. I loved both shows, and Evil Genius definitely scratches that particular, chillingly-macabre itch. It’s just as addictive, and like them, it’s a documentary that proved as engaging as a thriller flick. But where Making a Murderer raised questions about the U.S criminal justice system, and The Keepers was poignant and unsettling, Evil Genius is just plain weird. It’s a case of reality conjuring up something stranger than fiction. Marjorie Diehl-Armstrong is about as frightening as a Cormac McCarthy antagonist, and her associates tantamount to a Who’s Who of Erie’s most despicable white trash assholes.

 


Cinema: I, Tonya

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This might be my favorite movie of the year so far! When I think back on all the media I’ve consumed in the past few months, I, Tonya stands out as something that was both an enjoyable and a creative experience. Margot Robbie gave a career-defining performance as redneck figure skater Tonya Harding. A complete performance. One that utilized every aspect of her talent in order to create a Tonya that was in equal parts flawed and sympathetic. Given the nature of the film as being both comedic and heart-wrenching, it had to have demanded a lot of her, and she just kind of gets it right. It works, and the performance made the movie. I love how creative she is an actress and how invested she is in her recent roles; it seems like she is selecting parts that she’s really passionate about and working as both an auteur and a performer. She reminds me a lot of a young Robert De Niro.

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I was very impressed with the choreography and cinematography of the ice skating scenes, which are the most exciting moments in the film. Watching them was like watching the car chase in The French Connection or the bank heist in Heat. They’re treated like action scenes and the way the movie pulls them off is simply breathtaking. It honestly looked like Margot Robbie was executing that triple axel.

 


Theatre: A Streetcar Named Desire & A View from the Bridge

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The Tobacco Factory and the Old Vic in Bristol have had some awesome plays on this year. In my last “creative roundup” post I wrote about going to see Macbeth. And recently I’ve been to see two more tragedies: A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams and A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller. I was already very familiar with the former, having seen the Marlon Brando film version several times. But it’s a story that’s so damn good that it never gets old, and I jumped at the chance to see it on stage. Even though I write fiction and poetry, I’d say my two favorite storytellers of all time are Shakespeare and Williams. As far as narratives go, they’re my absolute idols. I love the themes that Williams works with, and the modern adaptations of his plays have the freedom to be more explicit and visceral. In the Brando film version, the darker elements of the plot are hinted at but never seen. So much has to be inferred when watching it (or indeed any other adaptation of Williams’ work from that period). But watch one of his plays nowadays and it is absolutely brutal. Everything Williams wanted to write about but had to dance around in the 1950s is unleashed in all its bleak and depressing glory. I thought that Kelly Gough in particular did a fantastic job as Blanche Dubois, in a performance that made me think about just what a tragic character she is.

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A View from the Bridge, on the other hand, was a play I knew literally nothing about. I’ve seen both The Crucible and Death of a Salesman on stage, and I know that Miller is an O.G. I went to see this one with my father and my nan, and it was only on the drive to the theatre that I learned the play was about Italian-Americans in the New York docks, which made me think: I’m gonna like this. The play turned out to be one of the best I’ve ever been to- not just this year, but ever. At the interval we all looked at each other, blown away by how good it was.

“This is absolutely brilliant,” my nan said, and the woman behind us was like “It’s amazing, isn’t it?”

There were a lot of young people in the audience, who were no doubt studying the play for their Lit exams, and when the play ended everyone was on their feet whistling and hooting. It was probably the loudest applause I’ve ever heard at the Tobacco Factory. If you ever get the chance to see this play then DO IT. It’s a classic tale of incest and revenge…

 

 

Why Ball in the Family is my Guilty Pleasure

Lately I’ve been tuning in every Sunday to watch the latest episode of the Facebook reality web series Ball in the Family. It provides a nice little break from the writing. I’ll open up Facebook Watch on my laptop, sit back, a tall glass of milk and a chocolate orange on standby, and start the episode, looking down every now and then to mess with Gardenscapes. It’s my guilty pleasure. But why is it a guilty one?

Maybe it’s because the term “reality television” conjures up a lot of the worst aspects of the entertainment industry; namely the celebration of materialism and vulgar behavior. Maybe it’s because a lot of these shows are deceptive, claiming to be a representation of real life when in fact a lot of the scenes are staged. Or maybe it’s because of a nagging fear that enjoying it makes me less of a “true” sports fan?

2017 has seen the Ball family rise from small-town eccentricity to nationwide- hell, global– fame. A lot of sports fans take issue with Lavar Ball’s loudmouth antics and the idea that he might be exploiting his children for fame and fortune. Scroll through any comment section on Bleacher Report or Sportscenter and you’ll see a high tally of Likes in support of calls for them to stop reporting on the Ball family and get back to covering “real sports”. I suppose it’s the rhetoric of such fans that made me hesitant to start watching the show; the idea that to do so would be to abandon my status as a hardcore sports fan, that I would be crossing over to the realm of “showbiz”.

Is it the case that the media outlets are trying to force us to jump aboard the Big Baller hype train, or are they merely catering toward our growing interest? The phrase “just stick to sports” sounds familiar, doesn’t it? You’ll find such angry comments under articles that cover athletes fighting against racial inequality, athletes getting married, or- off the top of my head- yesterday’s announcement that the Orlando Magic hired Becky Bonner as director of player development, thereby paving the way for the NBA’s first female GM. Truthfully, the world of sports has always been about more than just what happens on the court. It’s always been a reflection of society at large. And I’m not necessarily saying that the journey of the Ball brothers compares to such events as Muhammed Ali protesting social injustice, or Magic Johnson’s advocacy for HIV prevention. But the reality is that Lonzo Ball is interesting and relevant.

Before he even entered the NBA, Lonzo was more famous than most of the league’s active players. Who can recall a rookie under such a spotlight? Ball in the Family is interesting because it’s covering the day-to-day life of the Lakers point guard in his debut season. We don’t know yet what his legacy will be. The show documents events as they’re happening. It gives us an inside look at the life of Lonzo in between the games we watch on TV. And it has value because- whether intentionally or not- it does give us an intimate portrait of a family thrust into stardom. I can’t help but like the Ball family because they are going all-out; they’re reaching for the stars and not even entertaining the idea of failure. At the end of the day, can we fault them for chasing their dreams?

The show covers everything from Gelo’s arrest in China to Melo’s homeschooling. It also chronicles their mother Tina’s battle against the aftereffects of her stroke, and as we see Lavar helping her regain her speech, helping her walk again, we realize that the show is indeed more nuanced than we thought. There’s an emotional depth to it. I like it in the same way I like vlogs- I’m fascinated by the human experience, about family life, and the juxtaposition of the stardom with these more emotive, mundane moments is what elevates it above the trash we usually associate with the term “reality television”. I guess what I’m saying is: there is substance to it; it’s not just glitz and glamor. I’ve always been interested in what kind of lives basketball players live, and the seeing the more mundane aspects of their time is somehow comforting. It strips away all the crap we attach to celebrities and we see that underneath all the fast cars and swimming pools, these superstars have a lot of the same concerns and social dynamics that we do. And who are the Ball family? They’re a family just like any other.

I first discovered Lonzo Ball in 2016 when he was the subject of a video by popular basketball Youtuber Mike Korzemba. I’m not a Laker fan, but I enjoyed watching him play at UCLA and I’m rooting for him now in Los Angeles. Does he have what it takes to become the talisman for the storied franchise in the post-Kobe era? We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a helluva ambitious task- but that’s what makes it worth watching. At the end of the day, it’s the narratives we look for in sports that makes it so damn entertaining. Be it Lebron’s “The Kid From Akron” storyline as he chases the ghost that played in Chicago, or Jimmy Buckets’ rags-to-riches tale of grit and determination- sports has always been about entertainment. The Ball family is trying to create a dynasty- it’s a tale of three brothers from Chino Hills, all of whom possess an exciting and unconventional playing style. I, for one, can’t wait to see how it ends!

The Top 5 New Shows You Need To Watch!

2017 has been a great year for both new and returning TV shows. I don’t see the value in writing a post about how Stranger Things continues to be good- if you haven’t figured that one out yet then I can’t help ya. Instead I want to highlight five new TV shows that you need to check out to fill in that giant Game of Thrones-shaped hole in your lives.

 

#5 The Sinner

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Premise: A normal, suburban mom kills a stranger for no apparent reason while at the beach with her family. The event shocks the small, Upstate New York town and a local detective becomes obsessed with the case. It’s not so much a Whodunnit as it is a Why’dYaDoIt– and it’s absolutely addictive.

Biggest Strength: Jessica Biel is mesmerizing as troubled lead Cora Tannetti. It’s a super-challenging role because the character of Cora is so nuanced. Her journey is like no other character on TV and the combination of Biel’s intense, raw performance and the dark scriptwriting serve as the foundation for what makes this show so unique and so engrossing.

Where To Watch It: Netflix.

Trivia: This close-ended series is an adaptation of German novelist Petra Hammesfahr’s 1999 book of the same name. Apparently, in addition to moving the setting from Germany to Upstate New York, the show also toned down on the darkness of the source material- which naturally makes me curious to see just how disturbing and messed-up the novel is!

 

#4 The Vietnam War

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Premise: The best documentary-maker in the business brings us the most comprehensive and complete overview of the controversial and endlessly fascinating story of the USA’s involvement in Vietnam.

Biggest Strength: Ken Burns. The sympathetic and intellectually-curious style of the auteur that brought us The American Civil War (my favorite documentary of all time) makes this 17-hour series as engaging as any thriller or fictional drama out there. We hear directly from veterans from all sides of the conflict, all of whom provide such articulate and introspective insights into a bloody saga that changed so many lives from so many facets of society. Check any assumptions about documentaries you have at the door, because you will find this as engaging and addictive as anything else out there.

Where To Watch It: PBS.

Trivia: The 1035-minute documentary features interviews with 79 witnesses from the American military, the Viet Cong and the ARVN. Burns deliberately avoided interviewing “experts” and controversial, big-name figures such as Henry Kissinger, John McCain and Jane Fonda, preferring the perspective that best gave an impression of what things were like on the ground.

 

#3 Godless

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Premise: An outlaw on the run from his former gang finds his fate entwined with that of a mining town populated almost exclusively by women.

Biggest Strength: For me, what makes this close-ended drama stand out is the way in which it plays with the established tropes of a conventional Western. Women- too often relegated to the sidelines of what has been a historically macho genre- are at the forefront, but what really makes this show special is that it’s able to both subvert convention while retaining all of the essential elements of what makes the Wild West so intriguing. It’s a show that somehow feels both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. The story and its characters are excellent and it’s a show that will keep you thoroughly entertained from start to finish.

Where To Watch It: Netflix.

Trivia: The horse that Jeff Daniels rides is the same one that Jeff Bridges rode in the 2010 film True Grit.

 

#2 The Deuce

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Premise: A sprawling, multi-faceted story of interweaving narratives that explores the rise of the porn industry in 1970s in Times Square, New York.

Biggest Strength: I would argue that the biggest strength of this gritty drama is the writing. It’s created by David Simon, so if you are familiar with The Wire, it’s a lot like that. It’s a show that really illustrates the excellence of HBO, with a slow-burning narrative that manages to touch on every aspect of the time period in such a vivid and authentic way. It’s not fast-paced and it’s not a thriller- and yet it is still so damn engaging. The characters are sympathetic figures with many voices, and we see the world of Times Square through the eyes of hookers, Mafiosi, single mothers, college students, gamblers, pimps, bartenders, drug addicts, porn directors and cops alike.

Where To Watch It: HBO.

Trivia: The series is inspired by stories told to the creators from a man who served as a mob front for the Mafia at various bars and massage parlors in the 1970s.

 

#1 Mindhunter

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Premise: Two FBI agents in the 1970s- a young hotshot and grizzled cynic- team up to conduct a range of interviews with serial killers to learn how they think.

Biggest Strength: What makes this show earn the top spot on my list is how masterfully it presents the conflict of its central character- Holden Ford. His need to get inside the head of these deranged killers (all of them portrayals of real serial killers by the way) becomes an all-consuming obsession that threatens to completely destabilize his life. The idea of “thinking like a serial killer” for academic purposes sounds simple enough, but at what point does Holden stay inside their head for so long that he loses himself on the way?

Where To Watch It: Netflix.

Trivia: The series is based on a book of the same name, which is co-authored by former FBI agent John Douglas, who pioneered the concept of psychological profiling and who is the basis for the character of Holden Ford.

Game of Thrones Season Eight Q & A

I decided that in the wake of the Game of Thrones Season 7 finale I would do two posts- one being a review of the episode and the other a continuation of my Q & A format to cover the wider talking points. You can click here for the former and get my breakdown of the episode itself. In this post we will be discussing theories and predictions. Excited? Let’s get on with it then.

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  1. Will we have to wait until 2019 to see season eight?

The answer to this one is most likely. HBO hasn’t confirmed a delay, so nothing is official yet. What we do know is that they will start shooting season eight in October, about a month from now. Normally this would indicate that it is on schedule to be aired in the early summer. The problem, however, is that the final season will feature its most ambitious and complicated set pieces yet. Expect the scale to be massive in the way of special effects, extras, set design and the overall spectacle. We saw all the trouble they went through to create the Frozen Lake Battle in episode 6 this year. We know for certain that there will be two large battles that will surely dwarf anything the show has attempted before. With a long shooting schedule more than likely, the chances are that HBO will push back the show until Spring 2019 (probably around May). I don’t see them airing in the Fall where they will compete for viewership with The Walking Dead and football season. A lot is going into this final season to make it great, so they absolutely will want to get the maximum viewing figures possible.

  1. Why only 6 episodes?

The reason for season eight’s being 6 episodes long is simple. The story they have left is small but the scenes are much larger. Although only 6 episodes in length, it has been reported that the final season might have the longest run time of any season yet. In July, Paula Fairfield- who works as a sound designer for the show- confirmed that each episode will be “feature-length”. To my mind, this means that each episode will be at least 65-70 minutes long as opposed to the usual 50-55. And the final episode will more than likely be at least an hour and a half.

  1. What is Cersei’s plan?

We knew that Cersei would serve as the main antagonist until the end of the series and attempt to undercut Dany and Jon. Her plan now is to let the Dragonstone-Winterfell alliance weaken themselves against the White Walkers before facing off against the remaining forces with the Golden Company- an army of mercenaries from Essos.

  1. How is it likely to go down?

At the moment Cersei is weak and vastly outmatched. She knows this, which is why she is pretending to support Dany & Jon against the Night King. All she has at this point are the remnants of a battered Lannister army and the Iron Fleet. The Vale has already declared for the King in the North. What remains of the decimated Riverlands would be of no help to her, as they- like the Vale- have familial ties to the Starks. The Dornish hate the Lannisters and the Tyrells and the Baratheons have been destroyed. Therefore, the show will look to even the odds in the bloodiest way possible. We know from the Battle of the Blackwater, the Battle of Castle Black, and the Battle of the Bastards that they like to see an inferior army find a way to defeat a superior force. After all, if the odds are stacked so heavily in your favor then there is little tension to be had. And given that it is accepted now that Jon and Dany are the heroes of the show and Cersei the villain, I expect things to get shaken up early on in the season. Even with the Golden Company, Cersei is still outnumbered. So I think that either Team Dany will beat the Night King but suffer heavy losses, or they will in fact lose and escape with a skeleton force back south, bringing the war to Cersei’s doorstep. What remains to be seen is how aggressive Cersei will be in her strategy. She might want to fortify the south and wait, or she might strike at the Targaryens in the north whilst they are weak. Perhaps Team Dany will lose and we will see the Army of the Dead face off against the Golden Company in King’s Landing, only for Dany and a handful of main characters and soldiers to swoop in at the last minute?

  1. Who are the Golden Company?

The Golden Company are a private army of mercenaries who operate in Essos. They are the remnants of an offshoot from the Targaryens called House Blackfyre, founded by the bastard son of Aegon the Unworthy. The majority of the outfit is made up of Westerosi loyalists to House Blackfyre who fled with them to Essos with the intention of reconquering the Seven Kingdoms and ousting the Targaryens. In order to survive, they reinvented themselves as mercenaries for hire, often fighting the wars of the Free Cities. This allowed them to become wealthy and retain a fighting army, hoping to one day sail back to Westeros and claim the Iron Throne. The Golden Company participated in the Third, Fourth and Fifth Blackfyre Rebellions, being defeated in the last by a young Ser Barristan Selmy (below, left) and Brynden “Blackfish” Tully (below, right). Although the core of the Golden Company is composed of Westerosi Blackfyre exiles and their descendants, they have over the years incorporated other units into their ranks- such as Summer Islander archers and a number of war elephants. Their motto is “Our word is as good as gold” which I think is a nice touch by the Blackfyre marketing department, because it reinforces their reputation for having never broken a contract.

  1. What wildcard characters can we expect to pop up again?

We will definitely see Melisandre again and it will be interesting to see how her fate plays out. All we know is that she has traveled to Volantis (for reasons unknown) and that she intends to return to Westeros where she says she will meet her end. I definitely think she will meet up with Jon Snow and Dany somehow, as Melisandre’s interests are focused on the Prophecy of the Prince Who Was Promised. We could yet see some more Blood Magic before the show’s end.

Another character I expect to come back is Daario Naharis, who we last saw in season 6 after Dany left him behind. Even though he worked for the Second Sons, I have a sneaky feeling that he will return alongside the Golden Company. I definitely see him as a wildcard, either fighting against Dany for being left behind, or coming to her aid to help tip the balance.

  1. Is Bran the Night King?

This is an interesting theory that’s been gaining some traction on Reddit. We know that Bran’s powers as the Three-Eyed Raven are considerable and mysterious, and that to some extent he can affect the past. In season 6 we see him whisper to a young Hodor and thereby traumatize him with a vision of his own death. In the Tower of Joy scene we see Bran call out to his father, and the former Three-Eyed Raven’s worried expression. He warns Bran that if he spends too much time in the past, he will “drown” in it. There are a number of theories about Bran, and although they might seem ludicrous, they make for a fascinating discussion. It’s been suggested that Bran tries to alter history despite the Three-Eyed Raven telling him that the “ink is dry”, and that whatever action Bran takes will inadvertently lead to the same outcome. In short, the crux of the theory is that Bran tries to stop the creation of the White Walkers by warging into the body of the man who becomes the Night King (pictured below). It’s also been suggested in the show that the Night King was once a Stark of Winterfell, and so Bran could be inhabiting the body of his ancestor. However, the theory posits that Bran gets trapped inside the body of the Night King and that perhaps Jon will have to kill Bran to save Westeros. I’m not sure how much of this theory I believe, but it would fit George R. R. Martin’s statement that the end of the series will be “bittersweet”.

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One theory I do actually believe about Bran is that he tries to warn Aerys II about the White Walker threat, but the visions drive him mad, much as they did Hodor. He then misinterprets the words “burn them all” to mean that he should murder his own people, prompting Jaime to kill him. I don’t necessarily expect this to be revealed in the show but it’s a neat little idea.

  1. What is Jon Snow’s real name?

It was revealed in the last episode that Jon was born Aegon Targaryen and is therefore the legitimate son of Prince Rhaegar (Dany’s older brother). If that name sounds familiar, it’s because the name has been used frequently in the Targaryen dynasty. Aegon the Conqueror was the Targaryen that united six of the Seven Kingdoms way back when. Knowing that if anyone knew of his existence, he would be murdered, Ned promised his sister he would protect her son and sacrificed his reputation in doing so, claiming that the boy was his bastard son. I expect this to be revealed to Jon very early in season eight by Bran and Samwell, and that we will indeed see Jon ride the dragon that was named for his father.

  1. Can Dany have kids? Will she?

The fact that the show is bringing it up so much tells me that we will for sure see Dany enthusiastically seeded by her nephew. Perhaps we have already seen the babe’s conception with Dany and Jon’s vigorous sex scene at the end of the last episode. The issue is that Dany believes herself to be left barren by the witch’s curse in season one. However the same witch also said “only death can pay for life”. I think it’s entirely possible that the death of her dragon may allow her to become fertile again. I don’t necessarily think we will see the birth of this child on the show, but I want to go on record right now and say that I think she will become preggers by the end.

  1. Who will end up on the Iron Throne?

As I mentioned earlier, George R. R. Martin has said that the ending of the show will be bittersweet. This tells me that we can expect a satisfying ending mitigated by some heavy losses. I don’t think Cersei or the Night King will win, because a “satisfying” ending and a “surprising” ending are not the same thing. A plot twist that’s only shocking for the sake of shock is not good writing, and not what we mean by subverting the established workings of fiction. However I’d be surprised if Jon and Dany live happily ever after with a bunch of silver-haired rugrats playing tag in the courtyards of the Red Keep. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if the Iron Throne itself is destroyed, either in a battle that crumbles the Red Keep or by Dany’s commitment to “breaking the wheel”. I can’t help but feel that Dany won’t necessarily rule. Daario once told her that she was meant to be a conqueror and not a ruler. You might say, “Well who gives a shit what that knobhead Daario says?” and I would be inclined to agree with you. And yet, it seems apparent at this point that Dany’s purpose (and Jon’s) is to defeat the Night King and that is what the “Song of Ice and Fire” means. Perhaps she will abandon her quest for power for a chance at living quietly in peace with Jon? Perhaps they will both die and their son will be raised by Sansa, who will serve as Queen Regent? Perhaps each of the Seven Kingdoms will return to independence? Perhaps Bran will venture south to the Godswood, and call upon the ancient power of the Children of the Forest to sever the continent of Westeros in half at the Neck? How do you think it will end? Let me know in the comments!

 

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Game of Thrones: The Dragon and the Wolf

In “The Dragon and the Wolf” we got the longest episode of Game of Thrones to date, and to my mind, one of the most satisfying. It may not have had the great action sequences of Hardhome or the shocking twists of the Red Wedding- but what it lacked in the sensational it made up for in the emotional. We were treated to an episode of lengthy scenes with excellent dialogue, important revelations, and the conclusion of several nuanced character arcs. I’m drawn to the adjective “satisfying” for this episode, and I’ll explain what I mean. None of the events were too unexpected, but what made them so great is that they nonetheless made us feel tense and on edge. Did any of us really think that Cersei would cooperate? Or that Arya was out to murder her sister? No. I predicted Littlefinger’s demise in my episode 3 review, but I didn’t need the conclusion of his storyline to be a sensational twist in order to enjoy it. What’s important is how the show handled these arcs, and I think they were well crafted and satisfying in their emotional payoff.

The scene where Littlefinger is sentenced to death was made all the more powerful by the fact that Aiden Gillen is such a fantastic actor. The character of Petyr Baelish is one of my favorite characters on the show because he is so well-written and so well-portrayed, and I’m glad he met his end trying one of his schemes rather than gradually becoming less relevant and getting written out of the show- which could easily happen in a narrative as large and sprawling as this. Here we see a character whose very nature is forged out of lovesick passion. Everything that is important about Littlefinger comes from his deep-seated obsession for Catelyn Stark as a child- his ambition, his cunning, his every agency and advantage. It all stems from love. I know it’s a stretch to compare Littlefinger to Wuthering Heights’ Heathcliff- but here we similarly see a beaten down man who will seemingly move heaven and earth to get the acceptance and respect he wants. He can’t let his humiliation go and that’s what makes him such a tragic and sympathetic character. In season 1 he denies Ros’ offer of a threesome with a prostitute because he is trapped in the happy memories of his childhood, telling her “I’m saving myself for another”. And I find it so fitting that the same passion that drove him to become so powerful is the same thing which unmakes him; his obsession for Sansa blinds him to the fact that she’s playing him. One can imagine a story of the events entirely from Littlefinger’s point of view, and it would be a Greek Tragedy. I was very satisfied with the way they ended his storyline. He tried one last scheme and it failed. Seeing him cry made myself and a lot of other fans feel sorry for him, before remembering what he did to Ned in season one. Even though I like Ned more, I find Littlefinger so much more interesting. Ned did the standard, noble hero-thing by saying to Cersei “You think my life is some precious thing to me?” whereas Littlefinger crumpled to the floor, choking on the utterance of the name of the woman he loves, as he fights for breath. He’s a villain, but he’s a human villain, and the show was that much richer for having him in it.

Another character who fascinates me on this show is Jaime. He has all the instincts of an honorable man, and yet he has continued to adopt the persona of the cocky, backstabbing coward that the public has given him- until now. In the finale we got to see the breaking point which fans have long been looking forward to. I don’t think this event was particularly surprising, as we have been watching the erosion of that cocksure, amoral façade ever since Locke amputated his right hand. And of course Cersei was never going to honor any kind of deal. I feel like the series is shaping up into a more traditional good vs evil dynamic now, as Jaime follows the Hound and Tyrion in the abandonment of House Lannister. The scene where he walks away from Cersei was especially tense, and one of the many character-driven scenes in this episode. Earlier we see the Hound and Brienne burying the hatchet, which was such a great interaction because it showed just how far he’s come. In Sansa we see the culmination of everything she has been through and everything she has learned from Littlefinger about playing the Game of Thrones. And in perhaps my favorite scene this episode, we see just how far Theon has come and what a tragic character he is. It was easy to hate Theon when he sacked Winterfell, but now we see just what a toll his decisions and his guilt have taken on him. All Theon has ever wanted is to belong. He thought he was doing the right thing by siding with his father Balon in his invasion of the north, and he has been tortured by his decision ever since. Much like Jaime, he has undergone some horrific things that, while horrible, helped him gain perspective. The loss of Jaime’s hand was the best thing that could have happened to his character. They took away his primary mode of character agency- his swordsmanship- and by its removal allowed him to reevaluate himself as a person. He can no longer hide behind it, or allow it to define him. As for Theon, it’s a little different, but in a culture that values the machismo, the removal of his prick represents to him the peak of his failure. They didn’t chop it off just for a bit of meaningless torture-porn. His cock n’ bollocks have a greater, metaphorical meaning. At that point he can see nothing beyond what a disappointment he is. But that ended with this episode. Theon had one of his best ever moments when he refused to be weak and ineffectual any longer, and save the one person who has always believed in him.

In “The Dragon and the Wolf” we saw a return to the slower, more deliberate pace of seasons past as it looked to tie up loose ends and highlight all these character arcs, with its only rushed moment being the scene where Bran and Samwell discover the true extent of Jon’s heritage. However I liked how they intercut the flashback with Jon and Dany’s sex scene, because of the sense of history repeating itself. It was a revelation that we all knew, but so badly wanted to be discussed, and it sets it up nicely for next season. And finally we are left with the image of a reanimated Viserion melting the Wall with blue fire, which I think was pretty inevitable. But that didn’t detract from the spectacle of it, or the intended sense of dread with which we will be approaching the final season.

 

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What did you folks think about the episode? Let me know in the comments! If you enjoyed this piece and want to see more content like this, then please consider giving me a Like or Subscribe. Thanks for reading!

Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall Q&A

Overall I liked this week’s episode. I wouldn’t call it my favorite, or the unqualified peak of the series, but it is undoubtedly the best episode of the season because of its narrower, sharper focus, its excellent dialogue, and the scale and spectacle of its ambitious battle scene. Here are ten questions and answers concerning this episode and what it means for the future!

 

  1. Is Arya going to kill Sansa?

No. I don’t think this will happen at all. The exchanges between Sansa and Arya in the last episode were very well-shot and made me feel a lot more tense and uncomfortable than I expected. But I still think this the natural result of them coming together in the wake of their respective experiences. They never really got along, and I think this conflict needs to happen for Stark “Wolfpack” to emerge as a strong unit.

  1. What is Littlefinger up to?

This is just Littlefinger’s way of surviving. He depends on making those in power depend on him. I know some fans are upset that this character’s relevance and agency seem to be dwindling, as he has had the greatest single effect on world events of any character in the series. However I still believe that Littlefinger will meet his end in the season finale. His aim is sow the seeds of doubt among the Stark children in order for Sansa to depend on his counsel. I think all will be revealed and he will be added to Arya’s creepy satchel of faces. However I will admit this does sound a little too straightforward and simple for a show that routinely surprises us, so I will be interested to see how they handle it.

  1. How the hell did Gendry make it back all that way, having never traveled these lands before? And how did Dany get there so quickly and know where to find them?

Usually I’m always banging the realism drum, and nothing makes me more irate than those people that say “Oh so you accept dragons and giants but having characters move around too quick is suddenly unrealistic?” and I’d like nothing better than to slap them across the chops with a disembodied whale fin and tell them that dragons and giants make sense within the context of the show. Every world establishes physical laws, much like our own. However I’ve been feeling more charitable of late. Simply put, having Gendry cover all that ground so quickly was the most convenient thing for the writers to do. I don’t think we should dwell on it too long. I’m fine with the amount of time it takes the raven to reach Dany and for her to fly north, because the passage of time is shown by having the Magnificent Seven sleep through the night. For me the most unbelievable bit was Dany being able to find them, but whatever- we’ll let the writers off the hook I think because other than that it was a good episode. It reminds me a lot of the show 24, and how realistically it is unfeasible for Jack Bauer to be getting as much done as he does in a 24-hour time frame. It’s one of those things you’re not meant to think about.

  1. Which dragon died?

Viserion, the one named for Dany’s brother Viserys. All of the dragons have different colors so you can identify them that way. Viserion has gold and cream colors, with orange along the line of his wings. In the books Viserion is referred to as “the white dragon” and is described as being the clumsiest hunter of three, but also the friendliest and most obedient. It was always going to be Viserion that died, because there is every indication that in season 8 we will see Jon ride a dragon- and of course it makes sense that he ride Rhaegal (the green one) who was named for his father.

  1. How did Viserion die so easily?

I think we have to assume that the Night King’s javelin is imbued with magic. Obviously there is no way it could match the speed and weight of the missiles from Qyburn’s Scorpion, and it appeared that Viserion died instantly upon it piercing his flesh. We know that the Night King is a wielder of powerful magic, and in Game of Thrones magic is something subtle, imprecise and mysterious. So my bet is that the frost spear is a magic one.

  1. What is Viserion now? Is he a wight? A white walker? Or an ice dragon?

He’s a wight. This is something I’ve seen fans arguing over and I’ve seen arguments put forth for all three possibilities. I do think we will see him breathe ice or blue flame, and I know that’s the kind of tiny detail that drives nerds insane and ruins friendships but the real reason will be that it’s simply the show’s way of distinguishing him from the other dragons when they meet up again. He can’t be an ice dragon because they are their own species. He can’t be a white walker because a white walker is strictly a member of a race known in the books as the Others. They’re not zombies, but they were previously human- or so the show is suggesting. Viserion is a wight. Yes, he has blue eyes, but so do the reanimated snow bears and giants- it’s just a neat detail to show that he is under the spell of the Night King. And yeah, shout out to all the nostalgic late-20-something neckbeards who came up with the “Blue Eyes WIGHT Dragon” meme; that made me laugh.

  1. Did the show cop-out with the Frozen Lake Battle?

It was a great scene and the special effects crew and everyone else at HBO who built that set in the frigid wilderness of Iceland deserve all the credit in the world. I was watching the video of how they made the lake by building a quarry and flattening it with cement. The lengths these people go to in order to entertain us is amazing. However, some fans have taken issue with the scriptwriters for not killing more of the Magnificent Seven. I see their point, and I was expecting their expedition to lose at least half of its members. I’m glad it didn’t because I love Tormund and Jorah and the Hound as characters. It’s interesting that the show left them alive, killing off only some redshirt wildlings and the red priest who’s constantly pissed as a fart. They are clearly saving them for the large set pieces to come in season 8. What is interesting is that they left Beric Dondarrion alive. I figured his mission was for certain to die getting that wight, but clearly the showrunners have something in mind for him. But what, exactly? Overall I’m satisfied with the episode because in keeping alive those characters, it did not therefore detract from the impact of losing Viserion. I don’t know about you folks, but the dragons mean so much more to me than any mere human.

  1. Will Cleganebowl happen?

I have to admit I used to laugh at this theory. I thought it was pure fantasy, but now I’ve changed my mind. It’s highly significant that at the end of the episode the Hound leaves with Dany on the boat that’s headed south, watching over the captive wight. For certain we will see the Hound and the Mountain cross paths, but as to whether they will fight? My answer now is anything can happen.

  1. What is going on between Jon and Dany?

It’s difficult in a show to introduce a romance between such prominent characters after many seasons, and it’s made all the more difficult to swallow when that romance is as incestuous as this one. So far I like how they have paced it. What they want to avoid is what the Walking Dead did with Rick and Michonne, where they had two of the main characters with no established chemistry whatsoever start making out, leaving the audience with the uncomfortable feeling that we were watching a brother and sister going at it after an evening of too much moonshine. Game of Thrones promises a much more literal incest with Jon and Dany, and yet it feels much easier to accept- at least for me. The dialogue between the characters has been well-written and they’ve avoided anything corny, and the acting has been good on the part of Kit and Emilia. In a season where everything is being uncharacteristically fast-paced, they have managed to craft a romance between the two heroes of the show that feels slow-burning and organic. There is palpable sexual tension between them and I was definitely rooting for them in that scene at the end. The problem of Jon being her nephew isn’t going to go away though. I think it is certain that Bran will tell Jon of his Targaryan heritage, and I think it will happen next season (or potentially at the end of next week’s episode if he gets back to Winterfell). So either we will see them start screwing anyway, as is Targaryan tradition, or it’ll be the Star Wars thing where they make out only to find out later that the person they spent 7 Minutes in Heaven with in the frat house closet was their MILF aunt.

  1. Finale predictions?

I still think the plan of capturing a wight was dumb. But here we are, and next episode we’re going to have for the first time a scene where practically every storyline crosses over. They have to negotiate a peace treaty, but it’s going to be strange because Cersei and Dany want each other dead and that isn’t going to change. I don’t see either of them budging in their desire to sit on the Iron Throne, so an alliance is out of the question. We know that the finale episode will be of an extended length, but the word is that we’ve already had our share of battles for the season, so I’m expecting a return to what makes the show great and that’s intrigue. There will definitely be some twists and there is no way both sides are going to march hand in hand up the Kingsroad to fight the army of the dead side by side. One interesting fact to remember is that Cersei is (apparently) up the stick now, and if that’s true, that changes everything. It means she will be less likely to want to see the world burn and she will be much more concerned with securing a safe future for her offspring. The direction she goes in is going to be very interesting, so keep an eye on her every movement!

 

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What do you think will happen in the finale? Did you enjoy this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments! If you enjoyed this post and want to see more content like this, please consider giving me a Like or Subscribe. Thanks for reading!