Category Archives: TV

Game of Thrones: Winterfell – Review and Q&A

Since the conclusion of Game of Thrones’ seventh season in the summer of 2017, I’ve experienced recurring dreams about how the show will end. I swear I’m not saying that to sound cute, but because it genuinely intrigues me on a scientific level. I can’t explain what the dreams mean or why I keep having them, but I think it’s telling that they are all unsatisfactory experiences. In each one I begin watching the final season of the show with this itching sense of desperate anticipation, and I say to myself “Is this really happening? Is it finally here?”

Again, I have to stress that I’m not trying to be funny. Each dream ends with me disappointed at how the show turns out. It never happens the way I expected it to, and maybe that’s because I’ve been speculating on all the possibilities so much. So when I watched the season eight premiere last night, I was in a strangely surreal mood. Now it was finally here for real this time. And yet I still had the irrational feeling that something completely preposterous would happen and I’d wake up in my bed screaming “THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOME!” while my balls leaked rivers of hot sweat over the sheets.

But let’s get to the episode itself, shall we?

Game of Thrones: Season Eight.

The Final Season.

“Winterfell”.

My overall impression of the episode is that it was good, but not electrifying. It didn’t feel as substantial as perhaps it should have, considering the important reunions and revelations. And I think this might be down to the way the pieces were put together, rather than the pieces themselves. I like every scene that happened, and I don’t think any time was wasted. But I did feel like these scenes were rushed and hastily put together. For instance, Jon’s reunion with Arya just felt a little underwhelming. The line about Valyrian steel seemed kind of odd to me, especially seeing as how Arya has her own Valyrian dagger, which she chose not to reveal. It didn’t seem to go anywhere, and Arya not mentioning it felt like the show saying “We ain’t got time for this”. I liked how it ended, with their discussion on loyalty, duty and family. However the whole scene felt rushed and slightly disjointed in comparison to some of the powerful dialogue scenes of previous seasons.

Another scene I thought a little clumsily written was the moment Samwell blurts out that he stole his father’s sword. This seemed like the show was trying to rush to the juicy revelation of his father’s and brother’s deaths instead of arriving at them organically. If it weren’t the final season, I think the writers would have handled that scene differently- perhaps with Jorah or someone saying “Nice sword” and then Samwell sheepishly confessing he stole it from his father, Lord Tarly. But, just as the Arya-Jon reunion was not without merit, so too this scene is saved at the end- in this case by John Bradley’s superb acting. So my criticisms are small ones, and each aspect of the episode I didn’t like seemed to be balanced out by something I did. At this point in the episode I began to feel a real momentum; we’re having to ask questions of our heroes. We see here that events have consequences, that deaths have meaning, and that no decision is easy. I think the next episode will focus on just how complex and fragile the allegiances of the north are, which will then create an effective tension leading into episode three’s Battle of Winterfell.

So that’s what I thought of the episode as a whole: kinda rushed and a little messy, but with a few excellent moments and some great promise for things going forward. But what are the key questions going forward? Here’s my episode Q & A:

 

Will Bronn assassinate Tyrion and/or Jaime?

This might just be a way to send Bronn north and have him join the rest of the characters considered heroes, since he is the last character on Cersei’s side that’s a fan favorite. Given that he risked his life to save Jaime getting incinerated by Drogon last season, I can’t see him murdering him so easily. As much as Bronn is motivated by material riches, the show has already established that he has a heart. I do think we will see a few popular characters do a few unpopular deeds this season though. And if Bronn is to be one of them, I don’t think it will be a straightforward affair. There will be some sort of twist that pushes him over the edge.

 

What’s next for Euron Greyjoy?

Euron is one of the characters I am most confident will die this season. Nothing about him suggests longevity. The fact that Yara has escaped and is heading back to the Iron Islands only makes me more certain that the Northern Armies will lose the Battle of Winterfell, since she mentions it as being a possible haven for Dany. I think the Night King will win, and Dany will take what remains of her army to the Iron Islands. I then think Euron will take his fleet there and get destroyed. The Night King will march on King’s Landing and almost destroy Cersei’s forces, but then Dany and Jon will come to the rescue. That’s my updated prediction for how the season goes down anyway. I can definitely see Euron dying at sea, and I can’t imagine that the Ironborn will be fighting as land units in defense of King’s Landing. That’s not what they are suited for. Euron’s fulfilled his wish of boning the Queen; I think the Iron Islands are more important to him.

 

What was my favorite scene?

In terms of pure spectacle, I loved the scene where the young Lord Umber is pinned to the wall and surrounded by a swirl of severed limbs. The moment he reanimated as a wight might be the biggest jump-scare in the show’s history. I liked it because it gives us a glimpse of the White Walkers’ culture. The Night King and his people aren’t mindless monsters like their undead thralls. The swirl is a recurring motif in the culture of the White Walkers. Having the little kid pinned to the wall, at the center of this design, not only shows that our threat is intelligent, but it also serves as a reminder of the way the White Walkers were created. A similar swirl can be seen surrounding the man that becomes the first White Walker in episode five of season six…

 

What will be the fallout from Jon learning his true heritage?

I think this conflict will dominate the next episode, but also be more or less resolved by the end of it. There might be some lingering tension that resurfaces at the end of the season, but I think the solution has already been foreshadowed. At first Dany will be very upset and neither she nor Jon will know what to do. But then I think that Tyrion and Varys will tell them their idea, and they will realize the solution is staring them right in the face. This whole situation is so obviously set up for them to get married. That way, they don’t have to worry about whose claim to the throne is more valid, and it solidifies the fragile alliances of the north.

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10 Predictions for Game of Thrones’ Final Season

It’s less than two weeks now until the final season of Game of Thrones and I can barely contain my excitement. As per usual, I’ll be doing my weekly episode reviews when the new season comes out. For now, here are some theories and predictions I have for how things will go down.

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  1. Jon Snow will ride Rhaegal in the battle with the Night King.
    This theory has been brewing for a while, and I think it’s easily the most likely one on my list. The ability of the Targaryans to ride and commune with dragons is shown to be somewhat intuitive. It’s in their blood. When Dany first rides Drogon in the fighting pits of Meereen, we can see that the whole process comes naturally to both her and the dragon. It’s instinctive, rather than trained. I expect that Jon’s true lineage will be revealed to him very early on in the season- my guess is the end of episode one. Since the battle with the Night King is all but confirmed to take place in episode 3, I think we’ll see him and Dany riding together for the first time in episode 2. This event was foreshadowed in the last season, when we see Jon petting Drogon. Dany seems a little shocked, and this indicates to us that she hasn’t seen anyone else interact with the dragons this way. It makes sense that Jon will ride Rhaegal, since the dragon is named for his father, Rhaegar.
    There’s also another theory that Bran will warg into a dragon. However I don’t think this will be necessary if the dragons already have riders. I can only see it happening if Jon disembarks Rhaegal to fight on the ground. It’s more likely, I think, that Bran will warg into Ghost or Nymeria during the battle.
  2. The Night King’s Target.
    We know almost nothing about the White Walkers and why they are moving south. It’s a mystery that’s simmered in the background of everything else since the show began. The only real clue we got regarding their motivations came in the season four episode “Oathbreaker” where we see Craster’s last son taken to The Land of Always Winter. The White Walkers perform a ritual that turns the baby into one of them. This hints to us that the White Walkers’ motivations may be related to survival. There are no female White Walkers, so they can’t reproduce on their own. They require human males, hence why Craster gave away all his sons in tribute. We also see in the season six episode “The Door” that the very first White Walker was created by The Children of the Forest for the purposes of fighting against the First Men. This also explains why there isn’t an army of White Walkers as such- the bulk of their forces are made up of undead humans and giants. The White Walkers themselves are fewer in number, since they don’t reproduce naturally, and each one has to be synthesized from a human baby each time.
    I expect that we’ll learn a little more about what motivates the Night King and his people in the coming season- but I don’t think there will be too much detail. I think that by and large, the White Walkers will remain somewhat mysterious, since it’s obvious now that the true antagonist of the show is Cersei. If the scenes shown in the recent trailer seemed a little samey to you, that’s because by and large they are taken from the first half of the upcoming season. Anything after episode 3 would hint at the outcome of the Battle of Winterfell. They’re saving the latter half of the season for the conclusion of the political conflict by the looks of things, perhaps because most people feel more invested in a human villain like Cersei than the Night King, whose machinations are treated more like an environmental threat.
    The Night King is extremely intelligent though- he’s not some Frankenstein-Monster. I don’t think we’ll hear him speak, even though we know that his people do possess a language of their own (Skroth). The biggest reason for this is that it’s best understood that you don’t want to still be giving exposition-dumps during the conclusion of your story. Since the White Walkers have remained mysterious and unknowable so far, I don’t see that changing much. However I hope we’re at least given some indication for the Night King’s motivations, because a mystery that’s never revealed is deeply unsatisfying. The actor who plays the Night King stated in a recent interview that his character has a specific target south of the wall. This is very interesting. To my mind, this target has to be Bran, given the latter’s unique prescient abilities. However this is a fairly obvious choice. I don’t see it being the Godswood, or anything else the show hasn’t already adapted from the books. It’s the end of the show, so there won’t be too much new exposition to confuse TV viewers.
  3. Cleganebowl.
    When I first heard this theory during season seven, I wasn’t sure. It sounded too much like fan-service to me, rather than nuanced writing. The concept seemed like a wish-fulfillment duel and the name “Cleganebowl” is nauseatingly memetic. However I now think a showdown between the Mountain and the Hound is actually quite likely. At the end of the last season, we see their respective storylines cross over for the first time since the show’s early days in a brief confrontation at the summit. The Hound seemed to pity the state of his zombified brother, and to me this scene foreshadows a kind of mercy-killing at the end of season eight.
  4. The Battle of Winterfell.
    I’m really interested to see how this one turns out. It’s no secret that in episode 3 we’re going to see the Night King’s forces lay siege to Winterfell. The cast have been pretty open about this, even going so far as to tease the sheer scale of the battle sequence. It’s meant to dwarf anything else on the show thus far, and is in no small part responsible for the show’s two-year hiatus. We know from trailer footage and cast interviews that the battle will take place at night, and will be somewhat akin to the Battle of Helm’s Deep in Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. In the trailer we can see Varys hiding in the crypts of Winterfell along with other people who can’t fight. I don’t think they’ll be safe though. Even though the meek characters are more likely to survive than the warrior-types, I think that the White Walkers will definitely breech the walls and enter the castle. In fact, I’m leaning towards the outcome of the battle being a White Walker victory. If our heroes do win, I think they will suffer heavy losses in doing so. But from a narrative standpoint, I can see the outcome of the battle being largely a negative one. The best we can hope for is a Pyrrhic Victory or a stalemate…unless of course you’re rooting for the Night King. A big victory halfway through the season might feel out of place, whereas a setback allows for greater tension leading into the finale. I predict that the Night King will overwhelm the alliance forces, and Rhaegal will perish while facilitating their retreat south.
  5. Arya will kill Cersei while wearing Jaime’s face.
    I like this theory a lot. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if Jaime dies during the Battle of Winterfell in episode 3. For a long time now, the show has had Jaime on a redemptive arc. When we first meet Jaime in season one, he’s smug, sarcastic, and cruel. A cocksure pretty-boy without honor. He’s set up as the opposite of Ned Stark. But as Jaime’s journey progresses, we learn that his asshole personality is actually a defense-mechanism that conceals his inner vulnerability. He resents his Kingslayer reputation, is tortured by his father’s disappointment in him, and is racked with guilt for throwing Bran out the tower window. He’s aware of everyone disrespecting him behind his back, so he’s reflexively cruel. His fighting skills at least ensure that people have to fake respect to his face. So the decision to take his only sense of agency from him- his sword-wielding hand- was an excellent decision, because it’s led to some really interesting character development. The peak of his catharsis came at the end of season seven, when he turned his back on the woman he loves in order to do what he thinks is right. Now, for the first time in his life, he’s following his principles instead of his orders.
    I think it’s highly likely that Jaime will die during the Battle of Winterfell. I think his whole journey has led him to this point, and that he will finally achieve his redemption by fighting for the living. Arya will then take his face and assassinate Cersei disguised as him, thereby fulfilling the Valonqar prophecy Cersei has been trying (and failing) to outrun since she was a child. For the longest time it was assumed Tyrion would be the one to kill Cersei. Not only does he have the biggest beef with her, but Valonqar translates to “little brother” in High Valyrian. However, Jaime could technically be the Valonqar since he was born holding on to Cersei’s foot- a curious and perhaps not insignificant detail from the books.
  6. Dany will have Jon’s baby.
    I don’t necessarily expect us to see this in the show, but I definitely think the season will end with Daenerys heavily pregnant. I feel like this one is pretty obvious, given all the foreshadowing in season seven. I don’t think they would have brought up the issue of her fertility if they weren’t planning on her and Jon having a kid. If we do see the child at all, I think it will be via some kind of dramatic C-Section where Dany dies and the baby is raised by Sansa.
  7. The Iron Throne will be destroyed.
    I don’t foresee an ending where Dany gets the throne she’s always wanted and restores Targaryan rule over the Seven Kingdoms. George R.R. Martin has already stated that the ending will be bittersweet. I think we’ll be left satisfied but in a very roundabout way. The Iron Throne represents lust for power. The melted swords are a reminder of the cost of both seeking and maintaining that power. I think it would be an effective piece of symbolic imagery to see the throne physically destroyed during a battle in the season finale. During her visit to the House of the Undying in season 2, Dany has a vision of the throne room in ruins, covered in ashes and snow. This could be the result of dragonfire or wildfire as Dany’s forces lay siege to the Red Keep.
  8. The Golden Company will betray Cersei.
    At first I wasn’t sure about this one. Even though the Golden Company are the descendants of Targaryans, they’re an off-shoot branch of rebels intent on laying claim to the Iron Throne. I don’t see any obvious reason for them siding with Dany, since they should be motivated more than anyone to kill her and install themselves as the true Targaryan dynasty. I think we will definitely see the Golden Company in battle with the forces of the North- but perhaps only briefly. If they do side with Dany, I think it will be in the form of some kind of political marriage that reunifies the two Targaryan branches. However that may not be that satisfying for a TV audience largely unfamiliar with all the history discussed in the books. But I do think the wider theory of the Golden Company somehow breaking their contract is a likely one.
    I expect that the themes of prophecy and fate will be prevalent this season. Maybe we will see most of the show’s prophecies and promises turned on their heads? For instance, Dany becoming pregnant and breaking the curse put upon her by that old bag in season one. The Iron Throne being destroyed- representing the “wheel” being broken. Perhaps Cersei’s baby will survive, and she will die happy knowing that the Valonqar prophecy didn’t fully come true? The Three Eyed Raven told Bran that “the ink is dry”. But is it? Maybe things aren’t set in stone. I can see why fans believe that a mercenary company whose motto is “Our word is gold” might be destined to break their contract. It could form part of a larger theme the show has about change and new beginnings.
  9. Who is most likely to die?
    In my opinion the most likely character to die is Beric Dondarrion. His fate is tied to his religious mission to stop the army of the dead. This will happen during the Battle of Winterfell.
    The only other characters I am 100% certain will die are Melisandre, Jon Snow, Euron Greyjoy, and Cersei Lannister.
  10. Who will survive?
    This is perhaps the toughest prediction to make. I think the most likely person to survive will be Samwell Tarly. I can see him recording the events of the entire series in his writings. I also think that Sansa will make it out alright. She’s pretty much survived everything, and I don’t see her being in too much direct danger. And even though Dany’s baby with Jon is just a theory at this point, I do think this baby will definitely survive.

 

What do y’all think? Let me know your predictions in the comments!

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.

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

The Sinner - Season 1

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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