Just 2 weeks from Season 2, HBO has released more trailer goodness (3/18/12). This is one of the best yet, featuring all sorts of footage from the new season, and cut into a more comprehensible story arc.
And the 3/25/12 “Nowhere to Hide” preview:
Yet more Game of Thrones goodies. This one details the effort of capturing the look from the Belfast set (Northern Ireland for the geographically challenged).
The nerdgasm continues! HBO released another Game of Thrones Season 2 teaser.
NOTE: This is the one released on December 11, 2011, if you want the new January 29, 2012 trailer with more footage from the season, click here, an even newer February 24 version here, and the March 10 one here or the March 18 one here.
An Icelandic TV station aired this peek at the end of shooting in Iceland for Season 2 of Game of Thrones (the awesome HBO Fantasy series). It even includes a glimpse of Ygritte (one of my favorite characters from the series) around the 6:30 mark.
Interesting those volcanic and glacier landscapes. Pretty alien looking, and this is only Iceland, I think GreenLand might be even more foreboding. But certainly this makes a great looking “beyond the wall” — which is a major part of books 2 and 3. I don’t envy them shooting on an Icelandic glacier in December! There’s probably two hours of sunlight up there too.
And also today there is another making of video on HBO’s site, this one about one of my favorite topics, medieval hand to hand combat! Nothing like a good war hammer to the head. Shuts ‘em up quickly, does it right.
Title: Breaking Bad
Genre: Contemporary Dramedy
Watched: Season 1, November 1-9, 2011
Summary: Darkly engaging
Friends kept recommending this show and — even better — it’s “free” (included) in my Netflix streaming subscription. The pilot opens with a serious bang, starting with the episode’s chaotic conclusion then flipping back to the turn of events that brought us there.
It’s an interesting premise: what happens when a nebbishy High School science teacher, dying of cancer, tries to take care of his family by becoming a Meth producer. At some level the concept isn’t far off from Weeds (another dark and delicious snack — at least for 3-4 seasons) but Breaking Bad is considerably bleaker and more realistic. Things devolve rapidly into the grim reality of crime and murder. No sexy latino dealers here.
The characters are well drawn and feel fairly real, despite the somewhat over-the-top scenario. And as usual, that’s what really matters in drawing in the viewers. The first season kept me fully engaged. It’ll be interesting to see where this goes.
Breaking Bad is typical (and yet not) of recent well executed serial television in that it doesn’t follow a neat and clean three-act structure or episodic loop (like say Terra Nova, which is a bit of a throwback). In some ways these newer shows have more in common with long novel series or old school Dickens-type serial pulp writing — just without as much cheese. Really, we’re about 10+ years into a golden age of long form visual drama. And I’m loving it.
My post showing Game of Throne’s transparent CGI was wildly successful (over 25,000 views on my site alone). Apparently its been popular across the web at large because the SFX company released another video of even more.
Particularly interesting is how many of the weapon strike shots (getting stabbed, speared, shot etc) are all added in with CGI. Traditionally this was just done with quick cuts, trick weapons, and fake blood. Now, evidently, it’s cheaper (and better looking) to just have the actors pantomime the response and fill in the weapon and gore. All those latex horror effects guys must be out of jobs!
This is a very effective means of conveying what they’ve done, and also shows you how weird the rough cut of the show must look without the visual effects. And, also tells you why they need six months after wrapping filming to get the show out!
Title: A Dance With Dragons
Author: George R. R. Martin
Genre: Epic Fantasy
Length: 959 pages, circa 400,000 words
Read: July 12-23, 2011
Summary: Awesome, but not without issues.
My charge through book 5 of Martin’s epic fantasy series was a bit drawn out by my need to concentrate on the second draft of my new novel Untimed, but I finally finished. Before I launch in, it should be noted that this review is full of spoilers.
Dance is huge, weighing in at nearly 1,000 pages. This itself is actually a welcome and comforting fact because these books are something to savor. Overall, I would rate this volume as better than A Feast of Crows and slightly worse than the first three. Still, it’s a fantastic book. Prose-wise, Martin is still a master at both people, places, plotting and reversals. It’s just that this book suffers from a few pacing and structural issues.
Most of these stem from his controversial decision to pull out half the characters from the bloated manuscript of Feast and push them into Dance by themselves. So the first two thirds of the new book is everyone who didn’t get a turn in Feast. Now, for the most part, this saved the best for last. Dany, Jon, and Tyrion make up the bulk of the book, particularly this first two thirds, and they are some of my favorite characters. But overall this leaves both Feast and Dance feeling a little more threadbare than the first three books. Personally I think he would have been much better off winding out the story chronologically, trimming out some useless threads (Aeron Damphair, Victarion, and probably the Dornes), and rearranging the plot so as to have some kind of sub-climax at the end of each book.
As it is, Dance reads excellently for the first 2/3, feeling fairly focused on its three mains. But it’s weird to rewind in time and revisit certain happenings from Feast from the other side (for example Sam leaving the Wall). When we get to the cut off point, however, some of the characters from Feast start to weave back in. This mostly has the effect of slowing the narrative and making it more diffuse. At least until the set of cliffhangers and deaths that come in the final chapters.
I also think that Martin is letting his pacing slip a bit. It’s not that each chapter isn’t entertaining and well written — they are — but many threads there have multiple chapters where the happenings could’ve been collapsed without loss. If we hadn’t known a few of those details were there, we would never have missed them. Worse than the pacing issues, however, is a weirdly increasing fondness for skipping some of the big moments. Now Martin has always done that (the Red Wedding, the “death” of Bran & Rickon, etc) but it’s worse than ever. He has a real tendency to build slowly toward a big event, then skip the event itself, showing what happened to the characters obliquely through other eyes at a much later point.
I’m going to go through some of my opinions and analysis thread by thread.
I don’t really understand why fantasy authors are obsessed with these. It was kind of interesting, but didn’t advance anything.
His thread is fine (until the end), but it does feel a bit static. While he’s certainly grown into command, he mostly sits back at the wall and fields interference between factions (Stannis, his queen, the Red Priestess, the Wildlings) etc. Then at the end, he mysteriously decides to rush off to Winterfell. This is a move that makes no sense as he has refused to enter into family entanglements about six times before, and while he is goaded, there is really less at stake for him. Then out of nowhere comes a reaction to this decision that leaves us in a bad cliffhanger. Boo.
The Imp is funny as always and now I can hear Peter Dinklage cracking each and every droll line. Still his thread is also a little dragged out, although it does involve some great sightseeing and is certainly entertaining all along. In the first part of the book it feels like he (and everyone else) is heading toward Dany, but then he gets within inches and turns back. Using him to introduce us to Griff and “Young Griff” is however an excellent device and works much better than an extra POV would have. It is mostly through Tyrion and Dany that we get a sense of the complex and old slave societies of the mainland. Unlike Westeros which feels like late Medieval England, these realms feel more like the ancient east (perhaps an updated Babylon vibe).
Her chapters are mostly political. She does feel a bit passive. I don’t really understand why she doesn’t try to get a handle on her dragons earlier, this is obviously a key move which could trump all of her political problems. Instead she dicks around (literally and figuratively) with various factions. This is all fairly entertaining, but feels like treading water. Then “a big event occurs” (at least this one is on screen) and she rides off on Drogon. That’s all great, but her narrative disappears until the last chapter. When it returns nothing is resolved at all, but a new out of the blue cliffhanger is introduced. I do really like the world of Meereen and the slave cities, although it feels like we are lingering here a bit long.
The hero serves to replace Dany as the POV in Meereen. He’s actually a great POV character with all his lingering thoughts about events during and before Robert’s Rebellion. I really enjoyed his chapters. But they didn’t come to any resolution.
The hier to the seastone chair returns to us, a few bits worse for the wear. I hated Theon in books 2 & 3, but I enjoyed his chapters immensely here. His transformation into Reek and back again is very deftly handled, with a very proper (and sordid) period quality. It isn’t for no reason that Tarantino used the phrase “medieval on his ass” and that is exactly what the Bastard of Bolton has done to Theon. His pseudo redemption is good. Still, we have classic Martin avoidance of the action with the actual escape from Winterfell. In the cut between Theon jumping from the wall into the snows and his delivery to his sister is a big blank. Not that we needed the travel, but whatever battle happened at Winterfell needed some detailing.
I could have lived without her POV. It mostly serves to fill in some parts of Stannis’s story when he leaves the wall. The technique is sketchy and I ended up having no idea what really happened during his brutal snowy march and the seige of Winterfell. This I thought was the weakest part of the book structurally, as I’m basically confused.
Quentin and the Dornes
Cut! Dull for the most part, except for some info about the cultures they traveled through. I couldn’t have cared less for these characters. The attempt to steal a dragon was interesting, but was also vaguely described. I’m thinking that Martin, for all his brilliance as a character and world builder, isn’t actually the best at action scenes.
The Dorne chapter back in Dorne: It was okay, but we didn’t really need it.
This sucked. I like Jaime’s POVs, but this single chapter had a bunch of crap, followed by one of those annoying Martin reveals that just serve to highlight the gap in information. Brienne returns and they ride off. You don’t find out how she escaped her predicament, what she knows, anything. It just kinda sucked. The effect of her cliffhanger was entirely spoiled.
These were pretty good, and I enjoyed seeing her get hers. Martin certainly knows how to throw in the creepy little details so your mind fills in the rest.
Cut! I could have lived without these, and they basically just told you he was heading off to Dany with a horn and a Red Priest. Although he’s better than his brother — I’d take any chapter over Aeron Damphair.
These were great. I have no idea where they’re going, but that’s fine. Arya has always been one of my favorites. Give us more. To be honest it felt like these were the chapters that should have gone in Feast and this the conclusion that book should have had for Arya’s thread. Probably that was Martin’s original plan.
His chapters were good, but so little, and it all felt dropped as his last chapter is about midway in the book.
I’ve never been a fan. I think we could have just had these told by raven.
This was actually very good, really being a Kevan in King’s Landing chapter in disguise. I loved the return of Varys at the end — particularly his dialog.
Some observations: There is more magic of sorts in this volume. Martin has a real thing for nubile slave girls — but then again, what self respecting fantasist doesn’t? The scope of this book, with it’s gigantic foreign cities reminiscent of the ancient world is going to make for some hard adapting should the TV series get this far. As I noted in my series reviews the show already has problems with handling large scale people scenes. These slave cities and the like will make that even harder. Likewise with the slave sex and slave violence. I’m all over it (in fiction) but some of it will undoubtedly have to be cut/changed. Sigh. I like that Martin at least highlights some of the sad reality of actually being a nubile slave girl.
Overall, Martin’s books are among my all-time favorite novels. I enjoyed the book immensely, and eagerly await the the next volume (and I’m sure I’ll be waiting for a long time), but I can’t help but think it could have been SO much better if Martin had taken all the material in both Feast and Dragons and reedited them together into two chronological and slightly leaned down volumes.
Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 10 – July 1, 2011
Status: First Season now airing on HBO
Summary: Wrap up with a twist
Episode 10, “Fire and Blood” serves primarily as a transitional episode, moving the characters from our headless climax into position for season two. Still, it’s a great episode, doing a good job of managing our many story threads without seeming too rushed.
Arya is pulled out of her fathers execution and set on the way north with Yoren with a bunch of scumbags, Gendry, and some annoying boys. We could have gotten a better look at the men in the cage, but I guess we have episode 1 of season 2 for that.
In Winterfell, Bran has a good scene with Osha and Rickon in which the prophetic (or at least psychic) power of his dreams is hinted at nicely. We actually see Shaggydog too. I’m continuing to come around to Osha, but not sure about Rickon — not that he matters too much.
In King’s Landing we get two scenes showing the odious Joffrey at work. He’s amusing as always, but when he drags Sansa out to the battlements to see her father’s head we do get to see something impressive. Despite her being an annoying snit during most of the season, we can really feel for her predicament here, and the little seed of Stark strength that the situation is nurturing. A moment with the Hound hopefully foreshadows their peculiar relationship too.
Robb makes the transition from warleader to King, and they’ve done a pretty nice job with this. The moment of his proclamation was always one of my favorites, echoing the traditional elevation of sovereigns by the troops (Imperator Imperator!). It feels a tiny bit small, but good nonetheless. They should have picked him up on their shoulders or shields!
Catelyn has one final conversation with captive Jaime, which is as much to establish where we are leaving him at season’s end as anything. Still, this is a very nice scene, and Coster-Walkda continues to nail the character. His continued arrogance is pretty delectable, particularly “I’d hoped the fall might kill him” and the pause when she asks him WHY he pushed Bran out the window.
I suspect the Cersei sleeping with Lancel scene back in King’s Landing will come off as odd to new viewers (although it does satisfy the show’s never ending appetite for boy butt). But Tywin’s handing off of the job of Hand of the King to Tyrion is very well done. In the show it comes off more generous than in the book, less barbed. Sure it’s a reaction to Jaime’s capture, but it makes us think the bad man might actually care — just a little. Then we get just a touch more Shae.
At the wall, Jon is finally determined to run away and help his brother, but his new (black) brothers race after him and bind him metaphorically with a reiteration of their oath. This is surprisingly effective. Partly because of the strength of Sam’s performance, and partly because the oath itself almost brought a tear to my eye. He is then later pleasantly surprised when Morment knows, isn’t too pissed, and he learns they are about to march off north of the wall. And so we have him maneuvered into place with the northern offensive set to launch.
Then before we get to the real wrap up, we have a have a bizarre little bit with Maester Pycelle and Ros, the busiest whore in Westeros. In this we see the relativity of viewpoint as well as more of naked Ros. But what is most disturbing, and most amusing, is the moment at the end when a transparent top (only) wearing Pycelle does a little post sex octogenarian jig.
Now as to Dany, her final pivot of the season, and the culmination of her transformation from meek princess into Mother of Dragons. This is the seminal moment of the first season, the return of magic in Westeros. She smothers the lifeless Drogo, builds his funeral pyre, then loads the annoying Mirri Maz Duur on to burn (good riddance). Finally, walking in herself. But “no true dragon can be hurt by fire.” The acting was uniformly good — except for Duur — through both this scene and her morning awakening with the dragons, but I thought the pyre scene itself needed some more magical effect punch just like the tent scene did last episode. It seems weird and anti-climatic that Jorah and crew don’t notice anything weird and magical at the time, but come check the ashes out in the morning, only to find the hot, dirty, naked, bedraggoned Dany alive and well. This final scene, was however, very effective, despite the gratuitous use of a green dragon as a fig leaf! We just needed some more magic, and the time gap between the two actions possibly reduced. The dragons themselves looked good, although perhaps the camerawork could have been a little more dramatic.
Still it was a great end, and I weep with regard to waiting ten months for more.
As to my concluding thoughts on this very strong television adaption of a great book: Bang up job. I have only three real complaints — fairly mild considering — and all involve punching things up a little bit. 1) The score didn’t feel scored enough. A slightly more dramatic musical underscoring of events would have helped with the scale. 2) The supernatural needed better treatment. Not cheesy, but Lord of the Rings serves as an excellent model. 3) The large scale action and people scenes needed a bigger feeling of scope and more cinematic dynamism. The wide locations shots were great, but they needed this equivalent for crowds, and perhaps some more hectic and creative cutting (in occasional scenes) to imply larger action.
But they got so many things right. The writing, casting, and acting first and foremost. 90% of the roles were cast and performed to relative TV perfection. And given the time constraints of 10 episodes, they more or less wrote the heck out of it.
Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 9 – June 30, 2011
Status: First Season now airing on HBO
Summary: Best episode in the series!
Episode 9, “Baelor.” This is the episode where it all comes together, pretty much summed up by the text I got on first airing from a friend I convinced to watch (he hadn’t read the books — but is now): “OMG! They killed Ned Stark!”
Not only does it take a lot of guts to up and kill your most central character near the end of the first book of an epic series, but George R. R. Martin really grinds the emotions in by making the reasons it happens so damned personal and believable.
This is the episode where the frothing cauldron of the last two boils on over. For everyone. This emotional tone renders it less sensitive than the previous episode to the diminutive effects of TV. We open with Varys visiting Ned again in the dungeon, and this narrative is used to spell out Ned’s last choice: die honorably, or confess and hope for exile and to save his daughters.
Then we have Robb faced with the choice of making a disreputable deal with an even more disreputable lord in order to gain military advantage in his war. He knows he’s got no choice but to win, and so he’s forced to go all in. Frey is just as amusing as in the books, and while he doesn’t have quite so many children as I imagined, the scene is well done. Particularly amusing is when Catelyn tells Robb he has to marry a Frey daughter and he asks, “how did they look?” and she replies “one of them was well…”
At the wall, Jon ponders not only his father’s imprisonment but the fact that his brother is going to war. Mormont tries to bind him further to the brotherhood by giving him his family sword. This is nicely done and there is some tie-back to Jorah. I particularly like the “he dishonored himself, but he had the decency to leave the family sword behind” bit. In another scene he gets a lecture from Maester Aemon about the hard choices between duty and family. Jon finds out exactly who the Maester was and we have another great scene from the books nailed with top performances.
Tyrion learns that he and his violent new tribesmen friends will get the most dangerous position in the upcoming battle. He stomps back to his tent to find Bronn has brought him a whore named Shae. She’s not how I imagined her in the books (they made her foreign), but I like the way Sibel Kekili plays her. I noticed her last year in the heavy German film Head On, and she’s a gifted actress. Although, we do have to wonder where Bronn dug up such a smart and sexy whore on short notice! Later in the show when the three play medeval “truth or dare” is a really good scene. Shae is cocky and sexy, and Tyrion’s rendition of his boyhood innocence and treatment at the hands of his father is perfect.
However I had mixed feelings about the battle — or lack there of. Tyrion is great and there are some funny lines like Bronn’s advice to “stay low.” But, instead of actually managing to fight — albiet badly — he’s just knocked out. The visual effect of him being dragged along is kind of cool, and I know they were trying to save time and money. But… they could have given us a three minute little window on the fight. I can’t help but feel this is more “TV shrinking effect,” the show’s biggest problem (really it’s only significant problem at all). I can’t help but feel the producers could do something creative and get a little more scope of action without too much more money.
And the same goes for the (non) battle of the whispering wood, where we just see Robb race back to his mother and deposite a captive Jaime at her feet. Come on. It was a night battle, they could have shown some horses and soldiers clashing in front of Riverrun and Jaime’s last stand. The books actually also suffer from certain large scale action being off screen (which I always felt was odd), but I’d hoped the show would rectify rather than amplify this. It would be easy enough.
Now as chaotic as the action is in Westeros, Dany’s journey is just as important. Her world is crashing around her. Drogo’s little chest wound from the last episode is now infected and he’s dying. For some slightly mysterious reason she has trusted the witch lady she saved (Mirri Maz Duur) to treat it, and now is willing to do whatever it takes to save his life, even if that means black magic. I love this part of the story, and I think Emilia Clarke handles it extremely well, but I do have a couple problems. The Mirri Maz Duur actress feels a little silly to me, not too bad, but she doesn’t have enough gravitas. And more importantly, the handling of the magic is underplayed. I liked the weird wailing sounds coming from the tent, but they decided to forgo any kind of special effects for the ceremony. I think this is deliberate rather than purely budgetary (although that is surely a factor). They have consistently played down the supernatural. But they needed it here. They didn’t have to go all the way to swirling wisps of light (ala early 80s Conan), but I think they should have done some kind of creepy animated shadow-play. As it is, the whole dark ritual is left mostly up to the imagination, and it may be hard for the new viewer to know what is supposed to be happening. It almost felt psychological. But the horse death was pretty decent.
And the final scene isn’t half assed at all, which is typical with the show, managing big pivotal (big in the sense of important, not scope) scenes nicely. Arya living in the streets is great, and then her viewing of Ned’s tragic “confession.” Joffrey continues in deliciously despicable style and orders the execution anyway. The handling of this for all involved is well done. Arya perching by that statue. The hysterical Sansa. Even Cersei livid. I would have just liked a little nod to the fact that they use Ned’s own sword: Ice. Come on, everyone loves a sword with a name. Jon said it when he gave Arya Needle, “all the best swords have names.”
Still, by the standards of TV, this is a near perfect episode. The human drama is handled flawlessly, they just need to add a little more cinematic feel to the action and magic.
Or the next, Episode 10.
Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 7 – May 22, 2011
Status: First Season now airing on HBO
Summary: The pivot of action and consequence
Episode 7, “You Win or You Die.” In a lot of ways, this episode is the biggest pivot of events in the maelstrom of plot shifts. While Game of Thrones took it’s time setting up the characters in the first four episodes, 5-7 are a whirlwind of motion. Consequences are the theme.
Because this episode is only on hbogo (for a week) and their are less summaries on the web, I’ll cover the scenes in more detail than usual. So spoiler alert (for this episode).
We open with Jamie and his father Tywin in a military camp, Lord Lannister. The excellent casting continues. They have a lengthy discussion while Lord T butchers a stag. This show uses the repeated device of putting explanatory dialogue on top of certain background but intense actions, like sex in a brothel, or Renly’s shaving. Here the butcher’s work is displayed in considerable detail, adding a nasty factor to the whole scene. We also observe just a bit of what Jaime has to deal with in his home life, and why doing the right thing hardly comes naturally to a Lannister. Oh, and the irony of Lord Tywin skinning a stag… sigil of house Baratheon, is not lost.
Next, one of the most important scenes in the book (and the series). Ned confronts Cersei in the garden, letting her know that he knows about the illegitimacy of her children. He gives her a chance to flee. Of course, he underestimates her, one should never corner a lion. All along, Ned’s honor, his need to do the RIGHT thing by a strict definition of the rules, rather than a flexible political definition, proves to be his achilles heel. This act of honorable mercy, in tipping his hand, more than anything else sets the entire war (which Robert predicted was coming) in motion.
Then we cut to Littlefinger in his whorehouse, training a newly arrived Ros and some other vixen. This earns the episode its nudity in spades. It’s also the same basic mechanic as used with the stag. Still this dialogue, where he slightly unnaturally confesses some of his youthful lessons in life to the whores, reveals a bit more of his complex character. This scene is new to the show, as the information contained here is revealed in Cat’s memory in the book.
We have more Theon exposition back at Winterfell as he attempts to tease Osha and is instead mocked. They are going to very considerable lengths to detail Theon’s background in this season, whereas in the books he barely has a role until Book 2. Osha seems too pretty to me, not hard enough looking.
Then we have Sam and Jon on the wall, where they see an riderless horse returning. They go down to find it’s uncle Benjen’s. Uh oh.
Back to King’s Landing where Renly rushes in to tell Ned that Robert’s been hurt hunting. We then see the injured king and Joff (hiss), and Ned and crew enter. The king shows off his nasty wound, and drives everyone but Ned out. He then writes a letter up making Ned Lord Protector and Reagent, and regrets his decision to have Dany killed (another decision that will have consequences!). When Ned steps out, Lord Varys (his performance is delicious) throws the blame Lancel’s way. Barristen the Bold is here too, and his character has been built up decently — although he’s the only member of the Kingsguard that is, other than Jaime.
Then across the sea, Dany and Drogo are chatting in Dothraki. Boy has their relationship changed. She’s playful and comfortable with him. But he does indicate that he thinks thrones are for sissies. And this from a man wearing way too much eye liner?!? Then Dany goes shopping at the crazy pseudo-middle-eastern bazaar. Some talk with Jormont, and he goes off to pickup his spy message from Varys’ agent — proving what we already knew, that he’s a double agent. Dany meets up with a wine seller from Westeros, and he offers to give her a special gift. But Jormont really is a double agent because he’s suspicious, and saves Dany from being poisoned. This scene has a slightly cheesy feel, as this is a whacky way to assassinate someone, as it depended on the coincidence of Dany stopping by for a drink.
Back to castle Black, where Jon and crew get a speech from the Lord Commander — again, where’s his bird? I loved the bird, and it wouldn’t have added any screen time to keep him. Save with the wolves. This bugs me considerably as in the books each of the boys at least has a completely integral relationship with their wolf, and the beasts are barely shown. In any case, Jon get appointed a steward rather than a ranger. He’s pissed. But Sam sees it for what it is, as he is to assist the Lord Commander directly. Sam is very well cast, and he’s likable, funny, and believably lousy as a solider.
Then back to King’s Landing where Renly is the first to attempt to convince Ned that practicality is more important than honor. If Joff is out of the succession, then that makes Stannis, the older brother of Renly and Robert, but not shown, the king. No one likes him. He has, as Loras said in Episode 5, “the personality of a lobster.” But Ned and his honor are on a unstoppable train. Renly presents detour #1, favor him as king.
But Ned sends a message to Stannis. Then enter Littlefinger to present door #2, make peace with the Lannisters and rule the kingdom as Joff’s Reagent — and Littlefinger’s assistance. Really, this is a pretty attractive looking door, and Littlefinger sells it so well. But alas.
Jon and Sam swear before the old gods. But first we see Ghost for about two seconds, and he’s cute, but where’s he been? The tree itself, with its bleeding eyed face is cool. The words of the oath suitable bleak. Loved it. The man hugs at the end were a bit cheesy though.
Dany and Jormont talk about the failed assassin’s unpleasant fate and Drogo enters. He is another consequence, as Drogo swears before his gods and the stars to cross the narrow sea and give his bride her father’s throne back. Nicely done, and the Dothraki oath swearing was awesome. Lesson: if you attempt to kill your rival queen, don’t fail.
Then Ned is told of Robert’s death, and he plans with Littlefinger to get the guards anyway so that when he confronts the queen, he has some muscle. They then proceed into the throne room for a nice confrontation, which plays out very nicely. More consequences come back to haunt everyone as the straightforward and honorable Ned is out maneuvered again — caught in the snare of his own honor. Leaving us on a pretty serious cliffhanger. Joff is such a twat, I can’t wait for his wedding.
Absent this week: Tyrion, Cat, Bran, Arya, Sansa. The Lord Commander’s bird and all the direwolves except for two seconds of Ghost.
Overall the episode is great, packed with action and consequences again. We again have four out of the five threads (and really mostly the three: Dany, King’s Landing, and Jon). The note taking distracted me a little, I need to sit down and watch it again without all that.
Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 5 – May 15, 2011
Status: First Season now airing on HBO
Summary: Best episode yet for sure!
Episode 5, “The Wolf and the Lion.” This is where four episodes of character development pay off. This week the writers deliberately narrow the focus of the story into the core conflict, like waters passing through a canyon, to build the pressure into a torrent.
Almost all of the story takes place in King’s Landing. With two brief scenes back in Winterfell and a number with Cat and Tyrion playing bass to the boiling over of the Stark vs. Lannister feud Ned plays on guitar. The Jon and Dany threads are given a breather (Dany will be back next episode big time). We also have an episode full of action, punctuated by a number of brilliant scenes not in the novels that develop the character relationships in a way needed by television as it lacks the interior monologue the novel’s multiple view points allow.
And there are some really kick ass scenes. Pretty much all of them.
We begin with the every amusing Mark Addy as King Robert where he taunts his squire and fails to even squeeze into his armor. He’s just so deliciously boorish. Then we role into the tournament and a face off between the Mountain and the Knight of (the) Flowers. As if a joust isn’t cool enough, the shows off the character of that lovely pair of brothers Clegane. Sandor is a big man, towering over ser Loras, but the Mountain is something else all together and his enormous broadsword just awesome. What he does with it too. Sad but good. But I loved most when he storms off through the crowd, a full two feet taller than most.
The Cat/Tryrion scenes on the road might have been a little better, although I did enjoying seeing Tyrion’s “low blow” style of fighting, and his one liners are great. But when they get to the Eerie it’s a pretty amazing, if slightly Middle Earthy place. The sky cells are cool, although not as cramped as I imagined. They also skipped the mule and basket ascent, which is a part of the books I enjoyed. But Lysa and her son are every bit as creepy/crazy as they should be. The eight year-old nursing is tres HBO, but it tells all in very short order.
We have a lot of Littlefinger and Varys intrigue in this episode, and I suspect new readers will have no clue about the motivations of either — which are still fairly opaque to me even having read the books twice! But their conversation together is pure delight. I am very much enjoying both actors and their casting couldn’t have been better. Arya is cute as always too in her little scenes, and we do get to see the dragon skulls (very briefly) that were foreshadowed in Episode 4.
The plot pivots on the council scene when Ned opposes the plan to murder Dany and breaks with Robert — and it’s fine — but it’s merely good lost among great scenes. However, it — along with Cat’s actions — forces things in the perilous direction where they need to go.
Another of the “new” scenes (not in the book) is one between Loras and Renly. The hinted homosexuality between the two in the books is raised (hehe) to highly explicit. Although the lip smacking sounds were too much even for me. The scene is good character development too, setting Renly up for season 2, but it also has a subtle tension owing purely from the device of having Loras shave Renly (all over) during the entire conversation using a straight razor.
Then the show’s best scene to date, another new one, between Robert and Cersei. This is a fantastic stuff, making both characters more sympathetic, even though they’re brute and bitch alike. Their dysfunctional relationship has come so far that they are able to have this moment of truth like a calm before the storm.
Then, after being manipulated or stalled or helped by Littlefinger, Ned has his run in with Jaime. Leading to an awesome duel, some sad happenings, and the cliffhanger ending.
This is clearly the episode where the new viewers start to see to what drastic lengths George R. R. Martin is willing to go to make his characters miserable and his readers ecstatic. Next episode should double down — and as a special bonus next week as episode 6 airs, episode 7 is going to be available on hbogo.com simultaneously.
Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 4 – May 8, 2011
Status: First Season now airing on HBO
With Episode 4, “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things,” the enormous narrative of Game of Thrones begins to pick up speed. Still, it’s amazing how much time this show needs to spend on characterization, which is a tribute to the enormous depth of such in the source material. Even streamlined, there’s just such a ridiculous number of interesting characters, each with their own pathetic stories.
The episode introduces Sam (fan fave from the books), Gendry, the Mountain that Rides, the annoying Bard, Bronn, Janos Slynt, Hodor, and even briefly shows Ghost (where’s he been hiding?). But it’s also packed with bits enhancing existing characters, big and small. One of my favorites is Littlefinger’s grim tale of the Mountain and the Hound’s “boyish games.” Good stuff, although by moving it the story from the Hound himself to Littlefinger, I wonder if the former’s complex character won’t be diluted — not to mention his peculiar but important relationship with Sansa.
The four main threads of the story continue to advance: Jon at the Wall, Dany with the horselords, Tyrion making his way home, and the central focus of Ned and the girls at King’s Landing. The first and the last are dominant here, getting 80-90% of the time. Perhaps because of it’s more contained scope, Jon’s story is the most complete, setting up camaraderie and threat in the Realms bleakest and most northern castle.
In Ned’s world, the plotting and complexities are starting to heat up even further in, and Arya — as usual — steals her one major scene.
For other fans of N and V (something I this show has plenty of), we have a great scene with sexy slave girl in the bathtub and a bit of jousting lance to the jugular.
And after last weeks less dramatic, but atmospheric ending, Episode 4 is back to a serious pivot. Cat’s little speech in the Inn was something I loved in the books, and it’s well done here too. I can’t wait to see the Eerie, which I suspect will be episode 6.
Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 3 – May 1, 2011
Status: First Season now airing on HBO
Episode 3 is titled “Lord Snow,” in reference to Jon Snow‘s nickname at the wall. This episode continues, and I think essentially wraps up, the trio of scene setting episodes. This world is so complex, with so many characters, it needed a three hour pilot. Still, it’s a damn enjoyable setup.
We do find ourselves with a different feel than last week’s “The Kingsroad.” This episode is brighter and faster, better I think, but also lacks any real momentous events or a dramatic conclusion. Episode 2 started off slower, but ended with a bang. Episode 3 just fundamentally introduces the Wall and King’s Landing. But both are fun. Varys and Littlefinger are a delight. There are a lot of very strong scenes in here, mostly in the area of character development and exposition. The scene where Robert, Barristan, and Jaime discuss their first kills is terrific. Others will and have quote it, but I will again. “They don’t tell you that they all shit themselves. They never put that part in the ballads.” Just awesome.
Tyrion and Arya continue to rock, Jon is building momentum. There’s good work with Arya and her sister, even better work with her and her father, and the fan fave delicious introduction of her “dancing instructor,” Syrio. No one who’s read the books doesn’t love Syrio and the waterdance. You can see subtle little nods to the characters, like Arya listing off those she hates, as this will flare into the flame that keeps her warm in the dark cold nights.
There are also curious absences. What happened to Ghost? (Jon Snow’s albino wolf) And Commander Mormont’s raven? And time pressure makes a few of the scenes feel very very fast indeed for those viewers who haven’t read the books (particularly the Dany scenes this time around). If any of readers are in this camp (not having read the books), please comment below and offer your opinions of the show, I’m really curious. I love it, but some of this is propped up by my encyclopedic knowledge of the characters and their relationships.
I do also have to say that I don’t love the weird mixed race look of the Dothraki. The Khal is fine, but I would have just cast the rest as Mongols and made them straight up raw and tough. The blood rider is so young he looks soft, and middle eastern to boot. Who’s with me in thinking that Endo from Lethal Weapon would have made the perfect blood rider? — 25 years ago.
King’s Landing (aka Malta) has a different sunnier feel than I imagined it in the books, but I kinda like it, down to the interesting little detail of the floors always being dirty. And in a number of scenes the CG view out the windows is gorgeous, high up on the towers with the whole city laid out beneath like in Napoli. I also liked Maester Aemon, but he needs those white “blind guy” eyes because that’s how I imagine him.
Exposition or no, I enjoyed every minute of this episode, and we’re poised for some serious stuff in the hours to come ahead. Next week, jousts and dwarves in a pickle.
Title: Game of Thrones
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Watched: Episode 2 – April 24, 2011
Status: First Season now airing on HBO
After watching Episode 1 three and a quarter times, I was eagerly awaiting the continuation. This week’s installment, entitled “The Kingsroad” didn’t disappoint, although this is an extremely transitional episode.
In “Winter is Coming” (Ep 1) we were introduced to the major players in what amounts to two major settings and story lines, one at Winterfell with the Starks, King, and Lannisters, and the other across the sea with Daenerys. About midway in this second episode the main Westeros storyline splinters into three: Ned and the girls, Jon & Tyrion heading to the wall, and Cat, Robb, and Bran back at Winterfell. This fragmentation will continue a bit in further episodes, but for now everyone is moving into place. I suspect in the long run this will be one of the “duller” episodes of the series. But all is relative, and it still contains a number of very powerful scenes.
Peter Dinklage as Tyrion continues to delight with his ironic tongue and sharp delivery. The queen shows both her calculating side, and her cruelty. Joff is appropriately loathsome and Arya every bit as spunky as she should be. While new viewers might not be totally aware of it. This episode really starts to drive home the consistant notion in the books that all choices and actions have consequences, and that those are never what they might seem.
Jon chooses the wall, but even from the start, it isn’t the romantic knighthood he hopes. Tyrion chooses to side, even if by default, with his own, and that will play out with fiery results. Sansa choses to stay out of the fray, Arya to enter one, with drastic consequences. Dany chooses to try and make the best of her miserable situation. I do wonder a little how new viewers (those who have not read the books) will take all this, as even in this long (10 hour format) the incredible richness of the characters, their interactions, choices, and consequences.
For example, despite spending an entire hour on this transitional moment the writers still have to rush Dany’s realization that she can take control of her situation. Married off by her abusive (and more than slightly creepy) brother to a mongol-type warlord who takes her every night “Dothraki-style” (like a Stallion and a mare) she isn’t in the best place. Some reviewers have issue with this, but personally, as this has been the plight of millions (or billions) of women throughout time, nobel and pauper alike, I think it belongs here. Some wonder, why does she stay? Well, what is she supposed to do, married to a warlord, virtually alone in a camp he controls with 40,000 of his people in the middle of nowhere? She does the only strong thing possible, she starts to seize on some measure of control in her relationship. One must not interject the modern conception of mariage is mutable into it. For much of history a sort of grim fatalism pervaded most people’s being.
The final bit of the episode too, with the crucial play out of various childish personalities having dire consequences in both the youthful and adult worlds is very well handled. Joff’s cruelty and impotence, Arya’s headstrong nature, and Sansa’s passivity clash. Who suffers? A cute doggy and the peasant boy. But this will have long standing consequences for everyone involved, including the adults. We can see it in the seething looks exchanged between Ned Stark and the queen. The very end rises to a nice emotional tieback. Still, I would have enhanced the mystical a bit here (almost totally downplayed by the producers). Perhaps showing all five of the other wolves howling and/or linking with one of Bran’s dreams as in the books. I suspect that because of a fear of being labeled too fantasy the producers will continue to soften the fantastic elements, subtle as they are even in the original books.
Still. I can’t wait for Episode 3, which with the arrival at both Castle Black and King’s Landing should make for some good stuff. Littlefinger!
Title: Downton Abbey
Genre: Historical (England 1912-1914)
Watched: March 14-19, 2011
Status: First Season (second coming fall 2011)
Summary: Great Television!
My parents, as lifelong anglophiles and Masterpiece Theatre viewers, recommended this British TV series set in 1912-1914. It wasn’t a hard sell once I read the blurb, and I’m so glad we watched it. This is really fine television.
Downton Abbey is a fictional great English country estate, owned by the middle aged Earl of Grantham. He has a loving wife and three daughters, not to mention about 30 assorted housekeepers, maids, footmen, and the like. What he doesn’t have is an heir, as his cousin, the closest male relative went down with the Titanic. The major family drama here is the conflict between the complex English system of inheritance (and this earl’s specific case) and the circumstances. The playground is an anything but simple household that contains no less than 20 major cast members.
No show or movie I’ve ever seen before so intimately details complex organization of great estate like this. I’m always fascinated by the evolution of everyday living (for rich and poor alike) and anyone who thinks the rich keep on getting richer ought to see this. And then remember that a 100 years earlier a house like this would have had five times the servants. Also dominant are the politics and different roles of the various staff and family members. 1914 is the end of an era, as the double whammy of World War I/II will shatter the aging remains of Europe’s cast system like a crystal vase dropped off the Empire State Building (HERE for some of my thoughts on that). In any case, this series is to a large extent about this particular moment, so indicative of the long history of social change. We have employee rights, women’s franchise, choice in marriage and family, even the availability of healthcare and the installation of the telephone.
But that’s not what makes it good, merely interesting. What makes it good is the phenomenal writing and acting. Maggie Smith (younger viewers will know her better as Professor Minerva McGonagall) is a standout as the reigning Earl’s crotchety old mother, but the entire cast is great. For this many characters, they are each highly distinct and multidimensional. Some you love, some you love to hate, but they all make it entertaining. Downton Abbey is not a series about sudden murders or gratuitous brothel scenes like the great HBO dramas (and I love those too!), but instead a series of intertwined character studies that reveal their era as well as timeless facets of human nature.
So unless you thought Transformers 2 was high entertainment, go watch!
Author: Jeff Lindsay
Genre: Dark Comedic Horror Police Procedural
Read: Dec 25-31, 2010
Show: Summer 2010
Summary: Immediately watch the show unless you are a squeamish person or otherwise sensitive to gruesome fun.
First, the show. This is one of the best shows on Television, and lots of people know it. It’s incredibly well written and engaging, without resorting to quite the level of crazy plotting that HBO usually goes for. Still, there is plenty of shock, and lots of blood. Not much sex — maybe they thought it would be WAY too creepy to mix in — but lots of blood and death. The idea of a sort of vigilante serial killer protagonist is pretty brilliant, and I’m amazed they pulled it off so well. I mean, taken in any context Dexter himself is really one sick fuck. But you do like him. And the supporting cast is great too. All of them really.
My only problem with the first season is that the Ice Truck Killer is a little too psychic about what is going to happen and what will push Dexter’s buttons. Now granted, there’s a reason for this, but I didn’t totally buy this level of prediction. Still, I had a blast, watching the whole thing in like 2-3 nights.
The show is dark, and pretty grisly. Did I mention dark? I love it. It’s also very very funny, in a perfect way which doesn’t give up on any of the realism. This is great. The writers do this with Dexter’s inner monologue, and the way in which his observations are often so in opposition to the situation. But the really telling thing about the show, and what makes it really great fiction, is that sometimes (terrifyingly often actually) we agree with him. Everyone has a bit of the serial killer inside them. Don’t get me wrong. I escort spiders outside to avoid killing them, but a dark thought or two has been known to cross my mind — or issue out of my keyboard — as my own book is pretty dark. Not to mention that my title (The Darkening Dream) is oddly similar to Darkly Dreaming Dexter. But I want to put it on record that I’d never even heard of the novel when I came up with the title. I guess Jeff Lindsay and I both adore alliteration.
It’s hard for me to judge it objectively because I saw the show first. The voice is really great, and the opening killer — literally. The show stays pretty tight to the novel for a while, and a lot of interior monologue and signature elements are in both. When Dexter is being naughty, particularly at the beginning, it’s totally gripping. The novel isn’t very long, 300 pages, 72,800 words. I liked the book.
But I loved the show. It’s just better. There’s more to it (and I’m just talking the first season). The plot is pretty similar, but the characters have much much more depth in the show. In the novel only Dexter, LeGuerta, and Deb (to a lesser extent) are real characters. The others from the show are mostly there, but mostly just scaffolds. In the show they really pop. Angel, Doakes, Vince, Rita etc. They have more dimensionality.
The plot too is much better developed in the show. The back story with Harry is beefed up. There are more twists and turns, and rightfully, the Ice Truck Killer is brought into the story in an active (on screen fashion) much earlier. Dexter’s kills and habits are better defined and more ritualistic, and there is a strong element of the “Cop Show.” Novel Dexter is less likable than show Dexter. Even the voice of the novel — it’s strongest element — is actually better in the show. Michael C. Hall‘s performance is awesome, and he really sharpens the edge on it.
And all the plot changes are big improvements. I had my one little plot beef with the first season, but the novel has several gaping holes. Not that it isn’t still a fun book. But the end for example. Why doesn’t Deb have him locked up? He really didn’t act in a terribly human manner. Also the element of coincidence and near mind reading on the killer’s part is way more pronounced in the book. This always bugs me. Also, Lindsay didn’t do a great job pre-selling Dexter’s origin. He just pops it out of the woodwork at the end (having seen the show I knew it was coming). The show sets it up really nicely.
He did however do a brilliant job with the little bit about “Mommy hiding the rest of her body in the little hole.” Oh so dark and nasty!
Title: Miami Vice
Genre: 80s Cop Drama
Watched: pilot 1984 and Nov 13, 2010
Summary: Holds up great.
Dexter (one of my 2-3 favorite currently running shows) had me thinking about Miami so I found a copy of the Miami Vice complete series boxset on Amazon Marketplace for dirt cheap. I’d watched the show 26 years ago, but this is really just a review of the pilot which just I re-watched.
For early 80’s television, the show holds up amazingly well. Sure the picture quality of the DVD transfer is mediocre, and it would’ve benefited from wide screen shooting, but it’s still better than most TV today. Some of the acting, particularly reaction shots, still retains that 70s/80s cheese factor. Cut to cheesy Tubbs facial expression. But the 2 hour pilot plays more like a movie, a Michael Mann movie, in fact. The writing is great, and starting off the protagonists separately, with Tubbs a bit of a mystery, works well. The music is still fantastic, and the evocative much-touted MTV style shots of car hoods and wheels racing along night streets still work. When “In the Air Tonight” kicked in, I got goosebumps.
For me the real star of the show is 1984 Miami. This now forgotten world of no cel phones, no computers, teased hair, and leisure suits. Since it’s a 1984 show, this is real 80s, or at least how Hollywood wanted us to see it then. One tends to forget that styling black guys dressed like Michael Jackson (2 belts!), Don Johnson sported a cheesy mustache, or that sleeveless vests were ever in. And the close up shots of the seedy Colombian drug lord’s sleeve, gaudy bracelet, and rings were priceless. Maybe it’s just because my High School years were in the early/mid 80s, but there’s certainly a deep nostalgia factor.
I liked the pacing too. Nowadays, particularly on network TV, the editing is all rushed. Everything happens piled up on top of itself, and oftentimes there’s no setup or character development. The computer and the cel phone have also become crutches for easy writing solutions. Need to know something? Look it up on the computer. Someone needs to warn someone? phone call comes in. Before that, each of these information exchanges required an actual character.
In some ways Miami Vice might represent one of the first TV dramas that IS still watchable. Every time I’ve tried to watch some old late 70s or early 80s favorite the pre-cinematic / pre-Miami Vice TV cheese factor just punchs me in the face. We’ll see how I feel a couple more episodes in.
Title: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Creator: Joss Whedon
Genre: Comedic Teen Contemporary Fantasy
Watched: Winter 2004-05, Summer 2009, Winter 2010-11, Winter 2012-13
Summary: Best TV show of all time.
As a diehard vampire fan I saw the movie version of Buffy when it came out. I hated it so much I used to mock it as my pre Twilight example of lame vampires. I have this requirement that vampires need to be menacing, even if comic (Fright Night) or romantic (Interview with the Vampire). The Buffy movie undead were just flaccid.
When the TV show debuted, I was in the midst of the busiest year of my life, the year of Crash Bandicoot 2, when I was in the office every single day (7 days a week) between New Years and September 8th. Besides, the movie had been dumb. So the show even became a punching bag of mine (although I hadn’t seen it at the time) used to illustrate Hollywood’s creative drought: Hey, they’d made a show based on a terrible movie that hadn’t even made much money.
Oh, how wrong I was.
Finally, in November of 2004, after having “retired” from Naughty Dog, my wife having insisted for years that the show was good, I succumbed and ordered the first season on DVD. Thus began an obsessive binge where I watched all seven seasons, plus five of Angel, back to back over the next three months. Generally I consumed three or more a day, including watching 18 episodes of season 3 in one continuous sitting (home Sunday with a cold). My only breaks were the week back east for Thanksgiving and three weeks we spent in Sicily (yum!). Four and a half years later I re-watched all seven Buffy seasons during the summer of 2009. It was almost as good the second time, and I appreciated it more.
Despite a significant cheese factor, and a first season that suffers from being overly episodic, the show is absolutely brilliant. If you aren’t a fan you probably think, “Buffy has these weird obsessive fans, but that kind of thing isn’t for me.”
I’ve never met anyone who’s sat down and started watching from the beginning who doesn’t absolutely love the show. But that’s just it, you have to start from the beginning. Fundamentally the show blends fantastic writing, really funny dialog, off-beat but likable characters, zany and intricate mythology, a creativity with the TV medium, and quirky humor with a kind of hidden dark realism found in only the best dramas. By disguising drama with humor and the supernatural the writers are able to get at real human issues without freaking out the network, and because they’ve created characters we care about, it all works.
The casting too is inspired. Sarah Michelle Gellar is perfect as Buffy. She may be cute, blonde, and perky, but she isn’t a typical airhead. She combines practical cleverness, toughness, and hidden vulnerability, with a strong sense of duty. Fundamentally the show is about the weight that rests on her narrow shoulders, and what it takes to bear it. The rest of the core team is great too. Alyson Hannigan‘s Willow is every geek’s fantasy, the shy computer nerd who learns to kick ass, Nicholas Brendon‘s Xander provides the token maleness with more humor than testosterone, and Anthony Stewart Head‘s Giles is pitch perfect as the stuffy older advisor with a dark past.
But it’s not just the premise that makes this show rock, but what the writers do with it. I’ll explain when I CONTINUE IN PART 2…