The Momentum Blog

Exclusive excerpt: The Bloody Quarrel episode 5

Posted January 4, 2016 by Michelle Cameron

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“This is an outrage and if this is the way you intend to run the city, you can forget about the support of the Guilds,” the new head of the Bankers Guild declared.

Fallon glowered at him but a sheaf of requests for money had arrived just that morning from the nobles of the neighboring counties. With money he could purchase, through them, food and goods from counties further away. The food situation was better but it seemed there were many other things the city needed for winter, from firewood to wool for clothing, while the animals stabled within the city to be slaughtered and eaten later needed fodder for the next moon or two. He might get enough gold if he raided the Bankers Guildhouse or he might not. And he could not take the risk.

“What are you talking about?” he asked innocently.

“Duchess Dina. Arrested in the square outside this castle! The Guilds are all happy to deal with her but if she is imprisoned or executed then we shall have to rethink our support,” the Banker said loftily.

“And what if I decided to come calling and look into your affairs, see whether you are secretly worshipping Zorva?” Fallon challenged.

The Banker sat up straighter. “We have all sworn loyalty to Aroaril,” he said. “And if you destroy the Guilds you will throw this city into chaos. No merchant will deal with you and none of the nobles sending food and goods in from the counties will trust you. Duchess Dina was someone we could all deal with. You, on the other hand, are the man who gutted the King in front of a cheering crowd. They are too afraid to work with you.”

Fallon leaned back in his chair, his mind racing. Was this part of Dina’s plans? Had she made the Guilds secret promises in exchange for their support if anything should happen to her? Do we even need the Guilds? Why not just march into every Guildhouse, arrest their leaders and take their money, share it out among the people? It was tempting but they were clever men. They would have planned for this possibility, while he had not. By the time he had men mustered and marching, the Guildsmen would be scattering like rats in torchlight. Unless he got their leaders and their money then he was creating more trouble. He had to get ready for a fight with the Kottermanis and make sure Bridgit got back safely. Fighting his own people in Berry, even if they were Guildsmen, was foolish.

“Well, I am afraid you are mistaken,” he said. “Duchess Dina was not arrested. She is merely resting in her townhouse. We have had a strenuous few days of fast marches and hard camps. Not something she was really used to. She will be available for meetings tomorrow, where she can tell you herself.”

He smiled at the Banker, thinking that he could take a page from Aidan’s schemes.

The Banker looked uncertainly at him. “She was not arrested? Not taken screaming and crying into the castle?”

Fallon made himself laugh lightly. “A foolish jest between friends. She will tell you herself when you see her tomorrow. Shall we say noon, so she does not have to rise early? Bring as many Guild leaders as you feel necessary.”

He could see the confusion on the Banker’s face and enjoyed it. If nothing else, this would buy him enough time to be ready to search every Guildhouse at a moment’s notice.

“We understand the Duchess might be tired after the success of your march through the counties. We shall make it brief.”

“Excellent,” Fallon said. “Well, if there is nothing else that concerns you?”

“No, that was my reason for visiting.”

“Good. Well, I am glad I could clear that up. And after you have met with the Duchess, we can perhaps discuss terms for a short-term loan to keep the city operating?”

He saw the man out to the door, where Gallagher was ready to take him back out of the castle.

“What are we going to do? That traitorous bitch is not going to help us,” Devlin said. “What in Aroaril’s name were you thinking of when you said that?”

“She will help us. She has spent a night in the cells. We offer her the chance to live in her townhouse and, if she behaves, the chance to go and live quietly in the country somewhere after all this is over.”

“Why not keep her here, right under our thumb, in her rooms?” Gallagher asked.

“Partly because we need to use them but mainly because I don’t want her hearing or knowing what is going on around here. Who knows what servants she has in her pay?”

Brendan thumped the table. “I will not see her get away with it!” he growled.

“And nor will she. We will lie to her, pure and simple. And at all times she will have two dozen guards around her. Men we trust. If she tries anything then she will suffer a tragic accident. And we shall be ready to raid the Guildhouses at a moment’s notice, if they kick up a fuss.”

Brendan grimaced. “I don’t trust her any further than I can throw her.”

“Well, that could be quite a way,” Padraig said with a wink. “She’s pretty small, you know.”

“This is not a laughing matter,” Devlin said.

“No, it’s not. But we need to use everything we can to get this city ready for the Kottermanis. If that means tricking and lying to Dina, then so be it. We have just forced the nobles around here to help us. If they smell weakness then they will all stop the food coming and then we will have even more trouble,” Fallon said forcefully. “And what about the Guild of Magic? With their help, we have blinded Swane. If they turn against us then we would have more problems than a lack of flour. I would not like Swane to see how weak we really are here.”

He looked around the table and they all nodded, even Brendan.

“We had better keep a close eye on her though,” he added. “We’ll pick at least a score of our best recruits and put Casey in charge.”

“Not one of us?” Brendan suggested.

Fallon shook his head. “We’re too well known. The Guilds will smell a rat if we are there. They don’t know Casey.”

“Aroaril, I hope you are right about this,” Devlin said. “It might be safer to keep her here.”

“Would you invite a snake into your house? I fear she will be up to mischief here. In her townhouse she will be all alone, watched by a score of our best men at all times and only those we allow can enter. I don’t like keeping her around any more than you do but you heard that bloody Guildsman. People are talking and we don’t have the time or the energy to waste on fighting inside Berry. We have to get ready for the Kottermanis. Besides, there is a kind of justice to it. She used us to help her plans. So we use her now.”

 

The Bloody Quarrel: episode 5 is released on the 7th of January.

Pre-order your copy now!

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Cover reveal – Limerence: Book Three of The Cure by Charlotte McConaghy

Posted December 11, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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No injection can cure love. Only life can do that.

Deep in the darkest tunnels hide the last of the resistance fighters. Hunted by the savage Furies and the ruthless Bloods, they live in constant peril. The only means of survival is to seek strength in family and find courage in love. So what happens when love is cured, scoured away, leaving death in its place?

In the final battle for freedom, there are no lines that won’t be crossed. And for Josi this means becoming the creature she fears most of all: the girl with a blood moon heart.

The gripping conclusion to the dystopian trilogy The Cure, Limerence is a love story for the monsters within.

Perfect for fans of Pierce Brown, Laini Taylor and Maggie Stiefvater.


Limerence: Book Three of The Cure (Omnibus Edition) is released on the 14th of April. Pre-order your copy now!

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Exclusive excerpt: The Bloody Quarrel: Episode 2

Posted December 9, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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Prince Kemal looked out over the water and sighed. Then he turned to look at his family, his wife Feray and sons Asil and Orhan, and smiled.

“What is it, my Lord?” his wife asked, her voice gentle and musical.

Kemal did not need to glance around to see if anyone was listening. His people knew better than to disturb his privacy. They were alone on the high stern deck, looking out over the endless ocean that divided Kotterman from Gaelland.

“I wonder whether we will like it there,” he said. Many men, in fact most men, would not confide in their wives, let alone discuss matters of great import with them. But Feray was not an ordinary woman. He had married her because it solidified his father’s grip on a vital part of the Empire, but he had swiftly fallen in love with her anyway. Their sons were eight and six summers of age and another source of joy to him, although they were less interested in what he was saying and more curious about a pair of dolphins that were swimming alongside the ship.

“How can we not? We will be representing your father and the great Empire of Kotterman, bringing a new province into its boundaries for the first time in one hundred years,” she said.

He chuckled. “I know what we are supposed to do. I question why.”

She cocked her head on one side. “Tell me, my Lord.”

Kemal smiled and enfolded her in his arms. “Do you know why I have taken no other woman?” he asked. “Although my brothers believe an oath to Aroaril is no oath at all?”

“Because you know I would remove your manhood with a rusty knife?” she suggested with a grin.

“Well, that also. But the real reason is I could never find anyone with half as much sense as you. This business with Gaelland concerns me deeply. When my forefathers began to expand our Empire, they could not stop once they had started, because there were always enemies across the border who wanted our riches, as well as allies who wanted our trade. But we have no border with Gaelland and it is a huge distance from my father. And their King is a strange man. We talk to him because we must but he reminds me of a shark. It looks like he is smiling all the time, he even appears foolish on occasion, but then you catch sight of his eyes and you realize there is something evil there.”

Feray shuddered a little. “But surely we have nothing to fear from him? There are too few of them and they are too poor to cause us concern.”

“That is what my father thinks. But all he has done is read the reports on this King Aidan. He has never met the man. Although that is one thing about Gaelland coming under the Kotterman Empire. If we remove Aidan from the throne, it will actually help the people.”

“Do you believe that?”

He smiled. “More than that, I know it to be true. Our agents have been meeting with people from the King’s eldest son, Prince Cavan. Many of the nobles would like to see the end of Aidan’s rule and the Crown Prince assures our agents they would welcome Kottermani rule if their positions are preserved and the lives of their people improved. Obviously I will need to meet with this Cavan myself, as well as the nobles he claims support him. It will influence my talks with King Aidan, although it is up to me to make my father’s dream come true.”

“What are you going to do, my love?”

Kemal kissed her on the head. “What I must. I can never forget that I have three brothers, all of whom would love to sit on the Elephant Throne one day. As you say, Gaelland is the first new province to be brought into the Empire since my great-great-grandfather’s time. My father lusts more for it than he has for any woman. He feels the touch of Aroaril on his shoulder and wants to leave his mark on the history scrolls. If I do not do this, then he will find another who will.”

Her arms tightened around him. “I do not care if you are the Emperor or just a man. I would still be with you,” she said against his chest.

He chuckled. “Let us never put that to the test!”

He might have said more, but his sons came running over then, the dolphins forgotten, wanting to show him how they had been learning the sword, brandishing their wooden practice blades.

“Come then, let us see how good you are!” Kemal challenged them, winking at his wife’s indulgent smile as he defended himself against the children.

Asil, the older of the two, was slim and fast, while Orhan was younger but already stocky and solid through the chest and shoulders, and his blows had the same power as his older brother’s, albeit without the speed.

Kemal fended the two of them off easily, his footing sure and quick, making them bump into each other and occasionally using his wooden sword to tap one of them, all the while telling them what to do better.

“Enough!” he cried finally, as Orhan abandoned his sword and grabbed him around the leg. “I am defeated by you!”

“Really, Baba?” Orhan asked, looking up at his father in delight.

“No!” Kemal laughed, grabbing them both in his arms.

Their laughter echoed across the ship as Feray called down to servants for refreshments to be brought up.

 

Grab your copy here!

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Gaelland – The World of The Last Quarrel, by Duncan Lay

Posted February 26, 2015 by Michelle Cameron

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The Irish being raided by pirates from the Ottoman Empire? It certainly sounds like fantasy but, while the lands of The Last Quarrel are indeed inspired by Ireland (Gaelland) and the Ottoman Empire (Kotterman Empire), there is also more truth in this relationship than you might think. One of the inspirations for the story was the real-life Sack Of Baltimore, where a small Irish fishing village was completely taken into slavery by raiders from North Africa. And yes, the Ottoman Empire never stretched that far but there is every chance some of the many “white slaves” taken from the UK and Ireland and Europe ended up there.

But how close are the two mythical countries to their real-life inspirations?

Well, not so much. Yes, they have a flavour of them and the character names and places are either directly taken or inspired by real names and places. The biggest difference is, of course, the magic.

Ireland has quite the tradition of magical creatures and legends but the magic in Gaelland takes that a step further. The land essentially has two different type of magic. The first is natural magic, which a few talented people can draw from the air around them and use to change the world. Its powers are limited to what occurs naturally and merely mimics actions that can be found in nature. Using this magic is through cause and effect – the magician needs to use their own energy to replace what they take. Then there is blood magic, which is granted only in exchange for human sacrifice. The only cost there is your soul – and, of course, the innocent you slaughter to gain power.

Natural magic is celebrated and those lucky enough to be able to wield it can command huge sums of money for their skills. Because of its power, it is heavily regulated, with its own Guild. This Guild also sets the fees and makes sure nobody is tempted to use their magic for the common good. It is the King and the nobles who have most command of the magicians, using them to display their wealth and power. Natural magic is respected, although regarded a little suspiciously by many people. Only the rich can have it used on their behalf, so it is rare indeed that ordinary people can feel its effects. It has also given rise to many strange tales, including the stories of selkies, mythical beasts that look like seals but can apparently take the form of men at will. And, if angered, they will take lives as well.

Blood magic, on the other hand, is truly feared. It is blamed on witches, with more power gained through the sacrifice of the young and innocent – preferably children. Tradition and superstition claims that witches cannot abide the touch of metal, so it is thought any type of iron can avert their evil.

Some of that is true … These two magic forms come to blows in The Last Quarrel, as Fallon, his wife Bridgit and Prince Cavan desperately try to unravel the mystery of what is happening to Gaelland. Magic will both help and hinder their search …

 

The first three episodes of The Last Quarrel are on sale now!

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Freaking Bad: Australian TV and why we can’t have nice things

Posted May 12, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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A few years ago while I was studying screenwriting, I had the opportunity to meet and listen to a talk from Australian television writer and producer Andrew Knight. At that stage Knight was well-known for his work on SeaChange, CrashBurn, and Fast Forward, and has since gone on to write After the Deluge, Rake and the Jack Irish telemovies. As far as Australian TV goes, good stuff.

At the talk, he discussed how lamentable it was that Australian television writers wasted away in mediocrity. Not through fault of trying, but in lack of proper development, and encouragement from the networks in delivering notably high-quality stories to the public.

He told a story about a guy who worked in pest-control, called to eradicate some possums from the roof of an affluent, suburban household. Which he did promptly. The next week, the same guy was called to a house down the street, with the same possum problem. A week later, elsewhere in the street. The gig was, the guy would chase them out of one house and into another, and keep getting paid for moving the possums around the same street.

Knight described this as a distinctly Australian narrative, with regard to the humour and portrait of suburban life. He told the story well, and it worked on the crowd. Knight said we needed more Australian stories, of quality and honesty, rather than trying to cynically dwindle ourselves away with mindless reality-based programs, which at the time were in their infancy on our screens.

Fair call, considering that the most significant Australian television awards were held recently, and the most prestigious award of the night – the Gold Logie – was awarded to a carpenter. Who hosts a show about idiots arguing inside poorly designed houses.

When critics far and wide – both armchair and officechair – are falling over themselves in beholding the Sublime Ordained Golden Era of Television, it’s staggering to think that Australian television is still stuck in the mire of talent shows, manufactured reality and over-composed sob stories.

When the Emmy Awards and Golden Globes are busy recognising Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, Homeland, Girls and 30 Rock, and the BAFTAS Broadchurch, The IT Crowd and Top of the Lake, our priorities seem a bit skewy. And this is without even mentioning the endless fawning over Game of Thrones, Doctor Who, Six Feet Under, Twin Peaks, 24, The X-Files, Oz, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, Brideshead Revisited and State of Play – are we mainlining Australian stories as much as we are others? Hardly.

And yes I know the Logies often boil down to a popularity contest run by a magazine with stakes in particular networks, but still. We deserve better. We should have better stories.

Very, very occasionally something does work. But often that’s just a red rag to ready-to-pounce criticism. After his work with We Can Be Heroes and Summer Heights High, Chris Lilley has found the reception to his later work impenetrably critical. Verging on the ridiculous, critics swing from ‘is it any good?’ to ‘is he over-hyped?’ to ‘is this just offensive?’, while still trying to promote the show. I have no opinion either way on Lilley’s later series, but at least he’s telling his stories.

Perhaps the reason why we end up inundated with inane reality shows is because we feel that’s all we deserve. Deep down, we are in awe of Breaking Bad because it is so foreign to us, a story of sustained quality, and we could never achieve such things on our screens. Any attempt at lifting the standards is tolerated briefly, before being ripped apart at the hint of a stumble, because our TV screens can’t have nice things.

Top of the Lake is an interesting prospect, as it was initially meant to be a co-production between the ABC and the Sundance Channel, but our wonderful national broadcaster pulled their funding when Elisabeth Moss – an American – was cast in the lead. Never mind that David Wenham – famously Australian, famously SeaChange – was in one of the other major roles, the parochial ego on display was abominable as the ABC yanked their funding, and the production ended up between Sundance and UKTV, as a subsidiary of the BBC. A show that we could rightfully call ours was instead looked on from afar, with all its lush cinematography, psychologically complex narrative and star-studded cast.

Lo and behold, when the series raked in the acclaim, it was all about how ‘we’ had so many great roles in the show, and ‘we’ were integral to its inception, and ‘we’ should be so proud to be associated with a show that was receiving award-recognition in the US. Hideous.

This is not unusual though, and it’s shameful for that reason. We do deserve better. But I think our obsession with telling distinctly ‘Australian’ stories, as Knight emphasised, gets in the way of just telling distinct stories.  I didn’t find any identification in his portrait of an ‘Australian’ tale, but I don’t have to. This speaks to the heart of so much in Australian culture, in that we are forever seeking to define and lock down what we perceive as an elusive identity – an identity so fragile that one show might throw it awry.

It’s all backwards. ABC’s regulations for the development of TV shows stipulates stories that speak to an Australian identity, much like the Miles Franklin does for books, yet this shoehorns the potential for ideas into a narrow, jingoistic agenda. The identity does not dictate the story, the story defines the identity.

Through accumulation and implication over years and decades of storytelling, maybe then we might be able to discover if there’s some key national idea contained within our stories. But there doesn’t have to be. Surely a greater thing would be that our nation, our culture, our storytelling selves are all comfortable with all stories, stories that don’t have to add up to a conforming ideal.

But enough with the lowest acceptable standards for television please. We’re selling ourselves short.

 

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 1: Two Swords

Posted April 8, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This weekly Game of Thrones recap is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t. While I won’t discuss any future spoiler in the series, I will acknowledge how the episodes tell the story of the books, where they’re similar and where they’re different. For those who have read the books, if you feel like commenting please keep any spoilers unsaid.

When Game of Thrones has worked brilliantly over the past three seasons, it’s because an individual episode will manage to rein in all the disparate characters and locations and find a unifying plot point or theme to unite them. Episodes like ‘Blackwater’ and ‘Rains of Castamere’ perfectly illustrated how all various playing pieces on the board in Westeros are singularly defined and connected by major moments of conflict, especially since the first season of the show was all about sundering what connection these characters had to each other.

In this opening episode, ‘Two Swords’, the connection is far more thematic, and works as a perfect illustration to the state of the disunion after the events at the end of Season Three. Strangely, much is given away before the episode even begins properly. The opening previously on covers much of the obvious – Joffrey’s a monster, Daenerys has an army, the Red Wedding – but also some less so, as we’re reminded of seemingly innocuous moments, like Ser Dontos being saved by Sansa’s goodwill in the opening episode to Season Two. Additionally, there’s the relationship with Shae and Tyrion, which audiences are more aware of, but given that he’s now (forcibly) married to Sansa and the relationship over, it seems odd that the show runners would want to remind us how much Shae means to Tyrion.

Then we’re treated to an interesting montage, that cross-cuts between the pilot and the penultimate episodes of Season One. Nedd Stark’s ceremonial broadsword Ice, first used to execute a deserter, then on Nedd’s own neck, the sword becomes our visual entry into Season Four. In a cold open, Tywin Lannister melts down the sword and burns the wolf-pelt sheath, and out of its molten steel he forges two new swords. It’s a moment heavy with symbolism, and the score echoes this with a refrain of the Rains of Castamere, establishing clearly that the Lannisters have managed to seize the world, and now control it. Tywin has brought destruction, to make the world his own way, and this episode is largely about the consequences of Tywin’s actions.

All this before the credits. And with the credits, in the now familiar trawling across the lands of Westeros, we’re treated to an odd departure from tradition. Usually, the opening credits would hover over the areas of the map that would be featured most in each episode. Each credit sequence then was unique. In this, however, we travel to King’s Landing, Dragonstone, the Dreadfort, Winterfell, the Wall, and Meereen. Only two of these locations are actually visited in the episode. There’s something in this, I think, in that the vast movements of armies and individuals in previous seasons is seemingly over, and this season will potentially be more stable, location-wise. If not, it’s odd that they would feature these places in the credits.

King’s Landing really is the major location of this episode. The vast majority of scenes occur there, with only brief trips to Daenerys in the Summer Isles, to the North, and the Riverlands. For the most part, we’re witnessing the growing discord between Jaime Lannister and his family. Tywin presents Jaime with one of the newly forged swords, as a retirement gift from the Kingsguard, but Jaime will have none of it. Through this scene, a later one with Cersei, and then with Joffrey, Jaime is positioned in opposition to his family, or at least those who he was tied to previously. It’s a part of his character that has been building since the pilot episode, but realised only now.

Tyrion, always the bastard, is also still pushed aside. He’s now Master of Coin, sent on an errand to welcome the incoming Dornish convoy, here for Joffrey’s wedding. Sansa wants nothing to do with him, Shae is causing him trouble, and while his marriage was seen as a way of making Sansa a Lannister, it’s actually aligned Tyrion more with the Starks than ever before. He and Jaime appear to be the only true familial connection in the Lannisters now, and Tywin’s reign is presented not as victorious, but shaky in this episode.

The Dornish, only on the edges of the story until now, have arrived, and we’re provided with one of the more entertaining moments of the episode. Prince Oberyn is introduced to us in true Game of Thrones fashion, in Littlefinger’s brothel. Except we can get a latch onto the character as someone unexpected, given how this ‘normal’ scene of debauchery is then turned on its head. Oberyn turns first from trying to bed women, to men, and then to challenging some Lannisters next door for daring to sing Rains of Castamere through the walls. Just as Oberyn puts a knife through a Lannister wrist, Tyrion arrives to interrupt, and let Oberyn provide the audience with some context.

He and his family, the Martells, have typically aligned themselves with the Lannisters, but Tywin’s actions, particularly in supporting Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane who raped Oberyn’s sister before butchering her. He’s a fascinating character, upon this introduction, and given to us with efficient wit and danger, threatening for someone so close to the royal family.

There’s some brief moments with Cersei who makes Jaime a golden hand, and Margaery and Brienne who are united in their loyal loathing of Joffrey and Stannis. Joffrey, meanwhile, is doing his best to look like he’s been dressed in Maria Von Trapp’s finest curtains, and irritate anyone within spitting distance.

Sansa runs into Ser Dontos (remember?), who drunkenly gives her a necklace as thanks for saving his life so long ago. It’s an odd moment, and jarring for both readers and non-readers, given the character’s long-ago introduction. Regardless, Sansa is thankful, though there is an air of convenience around the whole thing, given that Dontos waited until now.

Elsewhere, Daenerys is finding her dragons more dangerous, and uncontrollable. It’s a wonderfully visual moment, and sets up some conflict for her character, in what is probably the most tonally discordant strand of the plot. She’s still battling off her various male escorts, but just enough so that we can get a grip on Daario, who has been recast with a different actor.

In the North, Ygritte and Tormund are south of the Wall, awaiting Mance Rayder’s attack from the north. They meet up with the Thenns, who are another invention/extrapolation from the books. Hairless, pale and covered in keloid scarring, they’re also presented as cannibals, and fearsome even to the wildlings. I’m curious as to why they’ve been introduced, though it does give a greater threat to the looming attack on Castle Black, where Jon Snow is returned and being questioned over his time with the wildlings. It’s a token gesture, just long enough to reiterate the threat of on the wall, and reintroduce Ser Alliser Thorne and Janos Slynt, as well as drop some sort of hint that Maester Aemon used to live in King’s Landing. Brief, and to the point.

But the coup de grace belongs to Arya and The Hound, Sandor Clegane. In the longest sequence of the episode, the odd couple arrive at an inn in the Riverlands, currently occupied by five Lannister soldiers, including Polliver, who dragged Arya off to Harrenhal a while back. Arya is keen on revenge, and so too, it seems, is The Hound. Rory McCann has been nailing this character since Season One, and it’s great to see him get excellent scenes like this to work off.

It’s a brutal scene, and each death resonates, as The Hound takes the Lannister men on and takes them down, except for two, who Arya sees to. It’s designed to make us cheer in Arya’s vengeance, after so many episodes of her being bundled off by one group or another, she’s finally able to put actions behind her words. Her taking back of Needle, the sword that Jon Snow made for her, is a reclamation of the episode’s first image, the destruction of Ice. However, Arya’s growing sociopathy as a soldier on the field of war signifies the endless repercussions of Tywin’s actions. He may destroy a sword, or a family, but they come back.

There has been a growing trend in the series for the deaths to become less and less ritualistic and ceremonial, and the Red Wedding made murder commonplace and all too easy. This scene with The Hound and Arya is basically the net result of that. The overwhelming impression of the episode is that the Lannisters are now the family at the front, but that means they’ve vulnerable and under threat for once. The House Lannister saying, ‘a Lannister always pays his debts’, appears violently ironic now, with all of Westeros lining up to make the Lannisters pay what’s owed.

  • Valar Morghulis: five Lannister men, including Polliver, taken down by Arya and The Hound in the Riverlands. Nobody important died, thankfully.
  • Bran, Meera, Jojen and Hodor not sighted. Neither were Theon, the Boltons, Stannis, Davos and Melisandre. Given that the books now separate characters, we may well see more episodes that focus on a smaller group, rather than canvassing the whole.
  • Best line goes to The Hound: ‘What the fuck’s a Lommy?’ He’s responding to Arya, who is remembering how Lommy died because of Polliver’s cruelty. Remember Lommy? Nah. The Hound is right to voice what we’re all thinking, when asked to emotionally connect with a minor role a few seasons back.
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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 16: A

Posted April 2, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

This week the focus of the show is directed back on Rick in a major way. Rick has spent the last season or so trying to be someone else, and that’s shown to great effect in this episode.

The show begins with flashbacks to the beginning of the season, with Herschel trying to turn Rick into a farmer. They’re safe in the prison, and Herschel knows how crazy Rick’s life had become and is trying to save him from himself. It’s nice to see Herschel again, and his presence is a reminder of what the character brought to the show, and much his loss is still being felt.

These flashbacks then lead to a sequence in which Rick, Michonne and Carl are finally discovered by Joe’s group. It’s late at night, they’re isolated and defenceless and Joe is out for brutal vengeance. Daryl arrives on the scene and begs for Rick’s life, offering himself up as a sacrifice – if blood needs to be spilled, let it be his. By Joe’s twisted rules, Daryl’s defence of Rick is a lie. He gives the order for Daryl to be beaten to death, and then he tells Rick that he’s going to rape Michonne, and then Carl, and then kill them all.

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It’s a very confronting moment that the show pushes right to the edge – Carl is pulled out of a car and pinned on the ground by a member of Joe’s crew – before Rick snaps. He manages to struggle with Joe, and in the fight he bites into Joe’s jugular, tearing out flesh and spitting it away while Joe quickly bleeds out. Michonne takes the opportunity to disarm her captor and shoot the remaining members of Joe’s crew, saving Daryl as she does.

One man is left standing, the man who was attempting to rape Carl. Rick kills him with a knife, stabbing him over and over and over again while Carl watches on.

From this experience, Rick realises he was never meant to be a farmer. He embraces his inner psycho, because it’s his inner psycho that has kept them alive and Carl safe so far. Rick finally accepts that the old rules don’t apply anymore, and that their survival depends on his ability to channel his violent tendencies into action.

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The episode then follows Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Carl as they complete their journey to Terminus. They sneak around the back, rather than coming up the tracks, and surprise some of the residents. Gareth, the spokesperson for the Terminus residents welcomes them, and brings them to Mary, who is to ‘prepare a plate’ for them.

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And then Rick notices that one of the Terminus residents has Glen’s watch, and another is wearing his riot gear. Crazy Rick rises again, and what follows is a tense shoot-out, where Rick and the others are herded through terminus by sniper fire. As they run through they find many disturbing things that lead to the conclusion that the residents of Terminus are cannibals who eat those who arrive.

The episode and the season end with Rick, Daryl, Michonne and Carl being locked into a train carriage to await what comes next. But in there with them are Glen, Maggie, Bob, Sasha, Eugene, Abraham, Rosita and Tara. A grim reunion that sets up a great premise for season 5.

Deaths?

Joe and all his men, some random in a field, that guy Rick held hostage.

Best line? 

Rick: “They’re going to feel pretty stupid when they find out…”

Abraham: “Find out what?”

Rick: “They’re fucking with the wrong people.”

Best moment with a walker?

When Rick and Carl witness a random dude being killed by a walker herd.

What’s going to happen next season?

Obviously they’re going to have to face off against the cannibals. Tyreese and Carol are still on the way to Terminus, so maybe they’ll be helping them escape? Also the whole getting Eugene to Washington storyline will be addressed.

Season 4 reflections

Season 4 was uneven and suffered from massive pacing issues. In season 3, the Governor showed how well the show can function with a villain, and from this point on they really do need one. Battling walkers each week is only interesting for so long, and then it starts becoming mundane. But they didn’t want to introduce a new villain too quickly, so there needed to be some space. So the first half of the season was great – the return to power of the Governor and the slow-build of his plan to take the prison was intertwined with the horror of the disease that was spreading through the prison, and the fact that there seemed to be a murderer in the prison population.

Once that had all been resolved in the fantastic mid-season finale, the pace slowed. The characters were all split up and spent most of their time wandering around in the wilderness facing off against walkers and their own personal demons. Sometimes the episodes were strong, and sometimes they were terrible. But the lack of tension was noticeable and it was clear they were killing time before introducing a new storyline.

Despite that, this season was definitely worth it. The strengths outweighed the weaknesses and the set-up for season five promises another batch of strong episodes.

That’s it for now! We’ll be recapping The Walking Dead when it returns for season 5 in November. In the meantime, Craig will be writing weekly recaps of Game of Thrones.

 

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 15: Us

Posted March 28, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

The penultimate episode of season 4 finally starts drawing all the story threads together. For much of this half-season the show has spend entire episodes focussed on one or two groups of survivors after the prison assault scattered everyone. This has not always worked, as some episodes have tended to drag, in stark contrast to the beginning of the season which was relatively fast-paced and plot-heavy.

This week opens with Glen’s group finally discovering one of the messages that Maggie left painted by the side of the railroad leading to Terminus, which leads to Glen running towards the camera in a rather inadvertently goofy shot. But it’s nice to have some sense of hope after last week…

The focus of this episode is on Glen’s quest to finally catch up to Maggie, and Daryl’s life in the new group he seems to have been conscripted into. We also see Rick, Carl and Michonne, the only group left out is Carol and Tyreese.

First to Daryl: Daryl is having a hard time adjusting to his new group. The leader, Joe, has a few rules that everyone must live by. Some of the rules make sense (don’t steal) but others (shout out ‘claimed’ and whatever object you see is yours) prove tough for Daryl. He butts heads with another guy in the group, and it all comes to a head when Daryl is accused of stealing. But Joe knows that Daryl is innocent and has his accuser brutally beaten to death.

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But later there is a revelation. Daryl’s group are looking for someone. Turns out, they’re the group who invaded the house Rick was in a few episodes back, and they’re looking for Rick and have a thirst for revenge. As a reminder, Rick killed one of them and let him reanimate as a walker to provide a distraction that allowed him to escape. So Daryl is now headed to Terminus, too. Although Joe makes another claim – that Terminus is not the sanctuary everyone is expecting.

Glen and Tara are closing in on Maggie, Tara even volunteering to continue without rest despite a knee injury. They part ways with Eugene, Abraham and Rosita at the entrance to a dark tunnel – Abraham thinks it’s too dangerous to go in, but Glen is convinced Maggie went through.

Turns out, part of the tunnel has collapsed and trapped a bunch of walkers. Once he’s established that Maggie isn’t one of them, Glen tries to sneak around them, but Tara gets stuck in the rubble. It looks like they’re done for but suddenly a bunch of people appear from the other end of the tunnel with machine guns – Eugene drove around to the other end of the tunnel and came across Maggie, Sasha and Bob.

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Glen and Maggie reunite! And Maggie makes Glen burn that polaroid of her! Nice moment. And Tara is given the chance to begin again, Glen doesn’t tell anyone where she really came from, just that he met her on the road and she saved him.

So Glen, Maggie and friends go on and are the first to arrive at Terminus, which is strangely deserted. There’s evidence of life, with vegetable patches and gardens, but the only person they see is a mysterious woman named Mary (holy shit, was that TASHA YAR???) who bids them welcome. Something is not right, though. She just seems…off.

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Deaths?

I can’t remember the character’s name, but the dude who tried to frame Daryl for stealing.

Best line? 

“Hi. I’m Mary. Looks like you’ve been on the road a while. Let’s get you settled and we’ll make you a plate. Welcome to Terminus.”

Best moment with a walker?

The whole tunnel sequence.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Tara’s story arc (redeeming herself for the prison attack by helping Glen find Maggie) is now done. Carol was most likely going to die at Tyreese’s hands but now that’s not a thing. Glen and Maggie have had a happy reunion…maybe it was TOO happy. I’d say definitely Tara.

 

 

 

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The Walking Dead: season 4 episode 14: The Grove

Posted March 18, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

After a disappointing handful of episodes, The Walking Dead truly recovers its form this week. Two of the major story arcs from this season have been wrapped up, clearing the way for the season finale (part one of which airs next week).

The episode opens with one of the best shots you’ll find in the history of the show. A record is playing. A kettle is boiling in a rural house. Through the window a couple of girls are playing. As the camera focuses on the view outside the window, you realise that you’re not watching girls at play, you’re watching a girl playing with a walker. The strangeness of the moment, they way the viewer is given very little in terms of context and is just deposited in the middle of this moment that is almost normal, and then confronted with horror, represents what this show often strives for, and often doesn’t achieve. It’s a powerful moment that is made all the more powerful once you reach the episode’s grisly conclusion (which I will definitely be spoiling, so keep reading at your own risk).

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The Grove focusses on Carol, Tyreese, baby Judith and the two girls, Lizzie & Mikah. On the road to Terminus they take a brief break to find some water and stumble across an isolated house in a pecan grove. It’s abandoned, the occupant having died and reanimated some time ago, and after he’s put down, the group moves in.

The idea is to stay for a couple of days but that, and Terminus, are quickly forgotten as they begin to believe they could stay for a long time. None of them are ready to be around other people. Carol is still full of pain and guilt over Karen and David, Tyreese is having nightmares and cannot find it within himself to trust strangers (side note: Chad L. Coleman does a better job convincing us of Tyreese’s feelings for Karen in this episode than he did when she was alive). And the Samuels girls could benefit from the isolation, too. Lizzie is…well, there’s something not quite right about her. And Mikah is too nice, to soft, still a little girl at heart, and not able to cope with the horrific reality of the outside world.

Here they have food, water, and an easily defensible location. They could stay here. They could have a life, a dysfunctional, post-apocalyptic family.

BUT THEN…

…Lizzie stabs Mikah to death. Turns out that not only is Lizzie a weirdo who gives walkers names and feeds them rats, she’s also the psychopath who tortured the animals at the prison. She doesn’t see the walkers as a threat, just different, and is upset when they are killed. She kills Mikah to prove a point – she’ll reanimate and still be Mikah, just different than she was before. She would have killed Judith too, but Tyreese and Carol find the gruesome scene just in time.

Shocked, unsure what to do, Carol and Tyreese talk options. Lizzie clearly needs help, but where she can get it in this world? She can’t be near Judith, she can’t be left by herself. In the end, Carol takes her out to look at some flowers and shoots her.

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In the horrible aftermath, Carol finally confesses to Tyreese that she killed Karen and David in an attempt to protect the prison from the illness. She waits for Tyreese to kill her, but instead he forgives her. At the end of the episode they leave the house together, presumably to continue their journey towards Terminus.

This is another story that echoes a plotline that unfolded in the graphic novels. One of the kids in the comics turns out to be a psychopath, but it’s dealt with differently. I’m sure anyone familiar with the graphic novels was prepared for this story, but I wonder if people who only know The Walking Dead as a TV show will easily accept it. It’s a huge thing to swallow, and I’m not sure they did a good enough job establishing just how deranged Lizzie really was.

Deaths?

Lizzie and Mikah.

Best line? 

“Don’t worry, she’s going to come back. I didn’t hurt her brain.” – Lizzie when Carol and Tyreese find Mikah’s body.

Best moment with a walker?

Has to be the burnt walker attack. Through the episode there’s a strange column of smoke in the distance (presumably from the Moonshiner’s shack that Beth and Daryl set alight). And there comes a point in this episode where crispy walkers, still smoking and fresh from the flames approach the house.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Hm. Beth.

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The Walking Dead: season 4 episode 13: Alone

Posted March 12, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

Fortunately The Walking Dead bounces back a little bit this week, after last week’s nothing episode about Beth and Daryl.

The opening scene is a flashback to Bob and his first meeting with Daryl and Glen, after they find him wandering the wilderness by himself. It’s a nice way to set up this episode, as we’re finally going to see more from some of these minor characters after more than half a season of them just filling out the cast.

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“This situation is really fogged up. Geddit?”

Post-credits, another extremely effective scene in which Bob, Sasha and Maggie face off with a herd of walkers in the fog. It’s another very simple set up for an action sequence and it works really well. And while season 4 has had its fair share of disappointing moments, the action has become much more interesting.

This episode follows two groups of survivors. The first group are Maggie, Bob and Sasha. Sasha wants to stop moving, and find somewhere safe and secure to settle for a least a little while. Maggie still wants to find Glen. When they stumble across the train tracks leading to Terminus (the ‘safe place’ that everyone is slowly heading towards), Maggie decides to go there, despite how far it is, as she’s convinced it’s what Glen would do. Sasha doesn’t want to go, and that leads to Maggie striking off on her own.

Bob is then torn. Sasha definitely wants to stay in the first safe place they come across, and Bob has feelings for her. But he also knows how hard it is to be out in the world alone, so he wants to catch up to Maggie, to help her in her quest, and to not lose the sense of community he’s just found.

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“Beth, please stop. Your singing is literally killing me.”

The second storyline follows Daryl and Beth…again…but this time something actually happens. Discovering a funeral parlour that offers some safety, they decide to rest. There are some nice touches to this setting, the place has been well-kept, and is obviously someone’s sanctuary. Whoever it is has also been doing their best to embalm and care for the dead walkers they’ve encountered. Are there still good people alive?

Daryl starts to mellow a little more. He’s less annoyed with Beth than usual, and eventually proposes that they try staying there – when the person whose sanctuary it is returns, they’ll try to team up and make it work.

BUT then there’s a late night knock at the door. Daryl opens it expecting to see the dog who triggered their makeshift walker alert system earlier in the day. Nope, it’s a herd of walkers. Daryl tries to lure them away from Beth, telling her to meet him outside on the road. Once he finally loses the walkers, Daryl makes it out and finds Beth’s backpack, and a car rushing off, presumably with Beth inside.

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Youth assaults on the elderly skyrocketed after the apocalypse. Bloody Gen Y.

Meanwhile, Sasha, Bob and Maggie have split up. Maggie is heading to Terminus, killing walkers and writing messages in blood for Glen. Bob is trying to catch up to her, and Sasha has stopped at a secure building. She looks out the window and sees Maggie lying in the street, about to be taken out by a walker. She runs down to help, and the pair repel a walker attack. Maggie then tells Sasha that she can’t do it alone, and convinces her to help her make it to Terminus. They then catch up to Bob and it’s all nice and happy (won’t last).

And Daryl, desperately chasing after the car that took Beth, winds up confronted by a group of men. They seem like bad guys, but Daryl teams up with them. They want his bow skills, and if he refuses it looks like they’ll kill him.

The final shot of the episode is Glen discovering a sign pointing to Terminus. So if he has Tara, Abraham and the others in tow, it means that the only people not headed to Terminus are Beth and Daryl. I assume that the season will now end with everyone reuniting at Terminus (there are only 3 episodes left now). If the show vaguely follows the structure of the comics (which it has thus far), Terminus may be the next place where everyone finds sanctuary, and will become a huge part of the series going into season 5 and beyond.

 

Deaths?

None.

Best line? 

“I thought I couldn’t ask you to help me, but I can.” Maggie convinces Sasha that their journey is about more than just finding Glen.

Best moment with a walker?

Maggie using them as pens is pretty good, as is her decapitation of one with a road sign. Maggie, if you never find Glen, give me a call, ok?

Which regular cast members will die this season?

I’m changing my prediction that Maggie and/or Glen will die this season. It seems like they’re going for a happy ending there. Maybe the Bob/Sasha storyline is headed for tragedy instead?

 

 

 

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The Walking Dead: season 4 episode 12: Still

Posted March 7, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

Seriously, Walking Dead. What the hell?

In ‘Still’, Beth decides she’s tired of doing nothing with Daryl and goes off to find…something to drink. She’s never had alcohol before, so she’s going to go an find some, whether Daryl likes it or not.

She finds a golf club where she could get a drink but Daryl, finally feeling sorry for her, decides she needs a ‘proper’ first drink, and takes her to a little shack where there’s lots of moonshine. They get drunk, share their emotions, realise that they both do care about the people they’ve lost, and then burn down the shack.

That’s it.

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Deaths?

Nobody

Best line? 

Beth: “My dad always said bad moonshine could make you go blind.”

Daryl: “Well, there’s nothing out there to see anyway.”

Best moment with a walker?

Golf club to the face that splatter’s the new white cardigan Beth found with gore.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

I really hope it’s Beth.

 

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 11: Claimed

Posted February 28, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

This week was probably the best episode this half-season. It follows two threads, one featuring Michonne, Carl and Rick, with the other following Glen and Tara who are now with Eugene, Abraham and Rosita.

In the first thread, Michonne and Carl are having a rare light-hearted moment, discussing the pros and cons of soy milk. Carl starts to say that he’d rather drink Judith’s baby formula, and then reality crashes back in as they both realise how much they’ve lost. They decide to go on a supply run and leave Rick to rest.

But while Rick sleeps, the house is invaded by newcomers. A group of heavily armed men, presumably on the hunt for supplies, has found the house and decided to take up residence. Rick barely makes it under the bed before one of the men claims the bed and falls asleep on it.

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Meanwhile, Michonne agrees to tell Carl a few things about herself while they clear a house. Among a few other things she reveals her son was named Andre Anthony. However, this brief moment of friendship and opening up is disturbed when Michonne discovers that the family that lived in the house killed themselves in the daughter’s bedroom. It’s a surprisingly emotional moment that’s been earned as Michonne and Carl work through their grief.

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Rick is still stuck under the bed, and knows Carl and Michonne will be returning soon. When one of the new people comes upstairs and disturbs the one who was sleeping, there is a fight, resulting in one being strangled on the floor, seeing Rick under the bed, but being able to do nothing about it as he looses consciousness. It’s a nice, tense moment, and adds to several inventive set-ups The Walking Dead has carried off this season.

Rick manages to escape, and kills one of the men he finds in a bathroom, leaving him there to reanimate, which he does soon enough, giving Rick the opportunity to escape and stop Carl and Michonne from becoming victims. By the end of the episode, they find themselves walking the very same train track that Carol, Tyreese and the kids did…

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Meanwhile, Glen is stuck in the back of Abraham’s truck. Via this storyline, we find out a bit more about the newcomers. Abraham and Rosita have a thing going on. Abraham likes killing. Eugene is some sort of scientist, and knows what caused the outbreak, they’re on a mission to Washington to ‘save the world.’

Seriously, Abraham says ‘save the world’ about 1000 times this episode. It’s awkward.

One thing leads to another, there’s a fight, a zombie attack, and their truck gets disabled. Glen and Tara go back to find Maggie, and Abraham, Eugene and Rosita follow.

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I like your idea, I’m going to mullet over

The pace was picked up a bit this week, and the episode included some nice emotional and action beats. It looks like the Rick/Carl/Judith reunion is just around the corner, but Glen is now further away from Maggie than he’s ever been.

Deaths?

Random dude in a bathroom that Rick kills.

Best line? 

Abraham: “So tell me how in the hell you managed to kill this truck?”

Eugene: “A fully amped-up state and an ignorance of rapid-firing weapons.”

Also when Eugene is through telling Abraham why they should follow Glen and Tara: “Trust me, I’m smarter than you.”

Best moment with a walker?

Rick killing a dude so that he reanimates later, creating a diversion se he can escape.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Still saying Carol and Glen and/or Maggie. Oh, and Tara seems disposable.

 

 

 

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Catching the TV buzz wave

Posted February 26, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Lately, everyone seems to be in various stages of spontaneous combustion over True Detective, the latest showbag of televisual storytelling that causes just about everyone’s frontal lobes to contract Stendhal syndrome.

A few months back, it was the final season of Breaking Bad. Before that, season three of Game of Thrones. Then Homeland. But go back far enough and the thrall of the buzz, the state of captivity that we are held to when a new show captures the collective consciousness, disappears. There are shows, certainly, that held appeal and warranted a status as a water-cooler topic – Twin Peaks in its day, 24 for a brief period of time, among others – but one of the byproducts of how mass culture is communicated and shared these days is that we are all talking about the same thing at the same time.

Witness the incremental meltdown US Twitter users went into over The Rains of Castamere in the most recent Game of Thrones season – followed in the next twenty-four-hours by those sections of Australian audiences who abide by piracy laws. Witness the social media groups that followed and dissected every possible frame of the final seasons of Breaking Bad – in a way that the earlier seasons were never looked at – so as to form some prediction of how Walter White would conclude his antiheroic ways.

This is a form of television viewing wholly new to us. The idea that one doesn’t just watch a show to watch it, but to share in the watching with everyone else. The irony of social media – sociability without society – has transformed the relationship we have with TV.

Previously, the medium saw itself as wholly distinct to cinema. In a cinema, we are in an audience and yet presented with an image to experience, without distraction. We are in a crowd, but the film speaks to us individually, without pause or hesitation. It is visual storytelling at its purest. TV, on the other traditional hand, has generally been more conscious and less subconscious; we were prone to distractions – other channels, ads, dinner, the minutiae of household life – and so TV shows had to anticipate distraction by being big and obvious, in short punctuated bursts. Key moments would be repeated, recapped, and over-explained, just in case we were doing something else when Laura Palmer’s killer was revealed.

Now, though, everything has changed. House of Cards has illustrated best just how we watch TV. We praise and privilege the long form narrative, the back-to-back episodes, the complex narratives that are resolved over dozens of hours, rather than a cinematic two. But most importantly, we are sharing TV like we never have before. We are in the audience again, sitting with others, everybody’s couch and TV and bedroom and computer is now one giant cinema screen.

Cinema these days sees value in the opening weekend. Catch the audience while it’s still hot, or before bad word can get around. TV does allow more flexibility, and we are now championing the lack of scheduling, the lack of gatekeepers who decide what we watch and when. But, even when there’s all this freedom for us to watch what we want, we seem to be instilling a new law.

We must all catch the TV buzz wave, we must all watch at the same time, or else we will miss the conversation. The exponentially shorter timeframes that dialogue exists on social media means that if you wait but a month, nay, a week longer to watch the show, you’ll miss the talk, miss the excitement of sharing with everyone else.

So have we torn down one set of gatekeepers in order to create new ones? Are we policing our own viewing?

The interesting thing is how this affects the medium itself. Homeland fed off its buzz for the first season and a half. It lived for it, creating and manufacturing the type of plots that enabled the conversation to generate itself, and ensure we all kept watching just to see what would happen. And the shows creators knew what they were doing, always trying to stay one step ahead of audience expectations, giving us resolutions to plot points way before we’d anticipated, then throwing us headlong into the unknown. It’s what made it watchable, but it’s also what has made it unwatchable since. If you start with excitement, and then build quickly to hysteria, where do you go from there? Homeland and The Walking Dead both seem to be suffering from a midlife crisis. Where do TV shows go, once they’re not the conversation anymore?

Where shows once used to build audiences – a la Breaking Bad – it’s now almost necessary to take the audience fresh from one show concluding, and transplant them into a new one beginning. We’re all dying for the next something, and every show is dying to be the next something, rather than just being what it is.

I think we still need room to find shows – and films and books and anything else that wiles away the hours – on our own. While there is some kind of unalloyed joy in privately watching a show while it is being recognised publicly by the masses, we can’t watch everything. And also the masses can sometimes get in the way of just enjoying a story because you like the story.

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 10: Inmates

Posted February 19, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

After last week’s relatively slow mid-season premiere, we finally get to find out what happened to characters who aren’t Carl.

In this episode we catch up with four groups of prison survivors, Beth and Daryl, Maggie, Sasha and Bob, Glen and Tara, and Tyreese, who is with the kids Micah, Lizzie and Judith. That’s right, baby Judith is alive and well, although how long that lasts is an open question as her cries attract walkers, and Lizzie clearly wants to kill her.

And this episode is significant for another development, the return of Carol…

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Nothing much is happening with Beth and Daryl, they’re running through the countryside, going in the same vague direction as the others, and feeling generally depressed. This episode did a nice job of showing Beth and Daryl first, even though their story takes place after everyone else’s.

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Maggie is with Sasha and Bob, but is obsessed with finding Glen, who she assumed left on the bus. Once they track down the bus (only to discover that it’s full of zombies), Maggie kills every single zombie just to make sure none of them were Glen. Also all the zombies were the last of the Woodbury people who came to live at the prison at the end of season 3. They were ‘all good people’ or so Bob says.

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Meanwhile, Glen wasn’t actually on the bus, and wakes up in the prison by himself. Upon spying that photo of Maggie he snapped earlier in the season, he collects his gear and takes off to find her. Along the way, he finds that Tara is still alive and he enlists her help, even though she was a part of the prison attack that cost him so much.

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Tyreese is stuck with the kids, including Judith, who keeps crying and attracting walkers. It’s revealed in this episode that Lizzie is the one mutilating rodents, and there’s a moment where she almost suffocates Judith to keep her quiet, and seems to enjoy it. Lizzie is a psycho, better be careful. This is consistent with the comics, where there was a psychopath child (I won’t spoil what happens with that plot line, but it will be interesting to see how far the show pushes that storyline).

Tyreese and the kids also stumble across Carol, who has apparently been tracking them. Tyreese still has no idea about Carol’s involvement in Karen’s death, so that will make for an awkward conversation later on. They are then directed by a dying man to follow the train tracks to a ‘safe place’. It seems that there’s another town, but is it another Woodbury?

And finally, three new regular characters are added in the final moments as Glen and Tara are found by Eugene, Abraham and Rosita, who are major characters from the comics.

Deaths?

A couple of randoms who are bitten and tell Carol & Tyreese about the ‘safe place’ before they die.

Best line? 

“Faith? Faith ain’t done shit for us. Sure as hell didn’t do nothin’ for your father.” Daryl being all nice and sweet to Beth.

Best moment with a walker?

Probably a tie between Glen walking through a swamp of walkers in his riot gear, and Maggie killing every walker on the bus.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Carol. Tyreese is going to be pissed when he finds out what she did (or what she claims she did), also wouldn’t be surprised if Lizzie does some more killing.

 

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 9: After

Posted February 12, 2014 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

The prison is uninhabitable. The Governor is gone. The survivors are separated, lost, wandering in the outside world once again. So begins this rather quiet episode in which we follow Rick, Carl and Michonne as they make their way from the devastation they witnessed.

Rick is suffering from his injuries, sustained in the attack. They find a safe house to stay in, and Rick collapses on the couch, drifting into a deep unconsciousness. So that leaves Carl on his own.

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Carl. Jesus. He’s angry at the situation he’s in, having lost the relatively stable life he had in the prison, he’s angry because he’s lost Judith, and it’s manifesting in rage towards Rick. “I’d be fine if you died,” he says in an awkward monologue delivered to his comatose father. And then he almost gets eaten by three walkers.

It looks like we’ll be seeing more of the dark side of Carl this half-season, which will either be good or annoying. Most of the episode is dedicated to him, out in the world by himself, actually surviving. Although the moment where he tries to bust a door open and winds up flat on his back is pretty funny.

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After his misadventures he returns to Rick. During the night, Rick wakes up, but because of his injuries he can’t move well or talk properly. So all Carl sees coming at him in the dark is a grasping hand. It looks like Rick has died and turned. Carl prepares to shoot, but discovers he can’t. He loves his father, and doesn’t want to be out in the world without him. Part of that is also the knowledge that while he survived the day, he might not be as lucky tomorrow.

Meanwhile, Michonne has struck out on her own. After killing zombie Herschel with a sword-stab to the brain, she cuts the arms and jaws off another pair of walkers, ropes them up and starts walking. This apparently keeps her safe from other walkers. She discovers Rick and Carl’s tracks but decides not to follow them, heading off into the wilderness instead.

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The main part of Michonne’s story is about a dream she has, which is a semi-flashback to her life before. She has a partner, friends, and a small child. As the dream progresses it’s revealed that her lover and his friend were the original pet walkers she had at the start of season 3, and that her child is gone, presumably dead. It’s good to see a little more of Michonne’s backstory, but the dream sequence didn’t really fit well with the rest of the episode (or series, for that matter). It’s also made clear that her lover/partner did something bad, but we’re not let in on what it was.

Michonne struggles with the question of what she’s going to do next. She can walk around the world forever with her zombie pets protecting her, but what kind of existence is that? Finally, she snaps in the middle of a zombie herd (that includes a zombie-Michonne lookalike), and cuts all their heads off with her sword. She then goes back to where she found Rick and Carl’s tracks, and follows them to the house where they’re staying. She knocks at the door, and Rick sees her through the window, telling Carl “it’s for you.”

This was a nice way to end the episode. Michonne is happy to have found her friends again, finally coming to terms with the fact that she needs other people and Carl realises how much he needs his father.  An upbeat ending for a Walking Dead episode? I’m sure it won’t last.

Deaths?

None.

Best line? 

Carl: (trying to draw out walkers) “Hey asshole, hey shitface!”

Rick: “Watch your mouth!”

Carl: “Are you kidding me?”

Best moment with a walker?

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Michonne cutting the heads off a herd of walkers.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Carol. She’s still in the opening credits so she’s sure to come back, and probably to make a noble sacrifice.

Who is the psychopath? 

Don’t forget about the person who was dissecting rodents! Someone has gone over the deep end and is still out there. I’m sure there will be more on this in the coming episodes, but a few people have theorised that Carol was covering for someone else when she claimed she had killed Karen and that other guy. It has to be one of the kids, in that case.

 

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An introduction to The Dark Tower

Posted February 4, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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While we are still being fed tiny morsels to whet our appetites for an adaptation to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series (Aaron Paul! Javier Bardem! Netflix!), it still remains an extremely unlikely prospect that the hybrid TV-film series will ever get off the ground.

At least we have the books. And such books. Eight volumes spanning decades in publication history, thousands of pages, numerous revisions and revisitations, all depicting an epic quest in search of the elusive Dark Tower.

And yet it remains a series unlike many others, and quite (understandably) resistant to the bandwagoning that has seen other epic series like A Song of Ice and Fire hurtle into the stratosphere of public acclaim. It is a difficult series, strange and evolving, and defying genre classification. It isn’t even easy for regular Stephen King fans, many unsure how to place the series in his oeuvre, given how it seems to reference and influence many of his classics.

Here then, for those considering beginning their own journey, is a brief introduction to Stephen King’s Dark Tower series.

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The Books

Eight in all, published between 1982 to 2012.

The first, The Gunslinger, was actually started by King as a university student and took him over twelve years to write before it first saw daylight as serialised short stories in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, only bundled together as a complete novel a year later.

It is possibly the most difficult of the books – a dense, ambiguous genre-bender that introduces the main character, Roland, and his pursuit of The Man in Black; the first stage of the quest for The Dark Tower. King drew inspiration from the Robert Browning poem Childe Roland To The Dark Tower Came, and fashioned a story that was part-Western, part-Jodorowsky acid trip, part-knight’s tale of chivalry and exile, with doses of fantasy and horror thrown in for good measure.

From there, the story picks up with The Drawing of the Three, where King happily admits his style and narrative really takes hold. Roland draws forth supporting characters for his quest, pulling them through portals between his world and (supposedly) our world. This continues in the third book, The Waste Lands, which leads Roland and his group further into a decaying world, full of abandoned cities and malevolent technology, as it becomes apparent Roland need not just find the Dark Tower, but he must actually save it.

It was six years until King wrote the fourth book, Wizard and Glass, and at this stage the series had already been going for fifteen years. Easily the most divisive novel in the series, this is effectively one big flashback into Roland’s past, where much of his world is explored and established so as to give further urgency and agency to his quest. It’s also some of King’s strongest writing, in what is really an old-fashioned tragic romance.

In 1999, King was hit by a car and nearly died, with the series incomplete. Having this knowledge of the writer’s reality in mind when reading the rest of the series is necessary. The Wolves of the Calla was published in 2003, followed shortly by Song of Susannah in 2004, and The Dark Tower in 2005 – King evidently charging to the finish with a clear idea of the importance of this series in his career. As one reads these final books, it becomes frighteningly clear how important these books are to King, and how he views them in contrast to all his other writing.

In 2012, King published a short re-entry to the series, The Wind Through the Keyhole, a book that surprised some and added much to the journey of Roland – and is best seen as Book 4.5 in the series.

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The Characters

First and foremost, it is the story of Roland Deschain, the last gunslinger of Gilead, the last great city of his world. He is seen as a descendant of a King Arthur-like mythical figure, and yet for all these knightly qualities, his persona is borrowed liberally from Clint Eastwood’s Man Without a Name gunslinger in his spaghetti westerns. It is his quest for the Tower, his journey that binds the tale, and is for all intents and purposes, the defining hero for Stephen King’s imagination.

Roland brings with him Eddie Dean, a recovering heroin addict and small-time grifter, Odetta Holmes, missing both her legs due to an accident and suffering from schizophrenia, and Jake Chambers, an eleven-year-old figurative ‘son’ of Roland’s. All three are pulled out of New York and into Roland’s world, to take up the quest with him.

These three – and a few others here and there – form Roland’s ka-tet, a term King uses to signify the bond of a group unified by a single purpose and destiny. It is a concept King returns to in many of his novels, but it is in this series that he gives it particular significance.

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The World

Roland’s world is similar to our own yet not. He journeys from In-World to Mid-World to End-World, noting often how death, decay and ruin seem to befall everywhere he goes. The world’s moved on, is the repeated phrase, and it becomes clear that Roland’s world is merely one level of the Dark Tower, which is in danger of crumbling and thus bringing about the end of his world.

However, with the introduction of the New York characters, and others, it becomes clear that The Dark Tower connects many worlds, and that all are in danger. The Dark Tower is both literal and symbolic, an axis mundi to the universe, but also to Stephen King’s imagination.

It’s an epic series, a unique series, one that covers a scope quite beyond this short introduction. It’s difficult for me to think of a series that stands not just as a thrilling and imaginative journey, but also as a personal document, a story that attempts to explain a storyteller. If you’re at all interested,  I suggest opening The Gunslinger and just reading the first line. It won’t let you go.

 

 

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Let the right horror in

Posted January 31, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Alfred Hitchcock famously quipped that ‘television has brought murder back into the home – where it belongs.’ In fact, many view Psycho as a direct correlation of that thought, in that Hitchcock created a horror mystery that dared to suggest the evil that lurks in the heart of men is most often exercised at home; domestic horror being the hardest to endure.

The irony is the success and legacy of Psycho has translated best not through a raft of dismal sequels and remakes but through a TV show, dramatising and serialising the life of Hitchcock’s antagonist and his fated mother. Horror has once again come home.

When we add to this Hannbial – doing likewise with Thomas Harris’s Hannibal Lecter – as well as The Walking Dead and the continuing themed miniseries American Horror Story, there seems to be a growth in shifting the genre to the smaller screen. So why has horror come back into the home?

There are several reasons that I can see, and the first is really levelled  at what’s happened to the horror genre since the advent of television. Let’s take IGN’s list of the top horror films as fairly representative of most.

  1. The Exorcist
  2. Psycho
  3. Jaws
  4. Alien
  5. The Silence of the Lambs
  6. The Shining
  7. Bride of Frankenstein
  8. Rosemary’s Baby
  9. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre
  10. Night of the Living Dead

Not bad, nothing outrageously against conventional thinking there. But what do we have? Five monsters, four killers, and zombies. No vampires, thankfully, though I suspect Nosferatu isn’t far off the Top Ten. But we also have seven book adaptations. The three that aren’t – The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Night of the Living Dead and Alien – all borrow extensively from heavily established horror conventions and tropes, as well as factual accounts and cultural traditions.

They are all excellent films. A few are truly great exponents of the cinematic medium. But in the breakdown of what’s what, we have the origins of what’s gone wrong with cinema horror.

The most recent film on that list was made in 1990. The second was 1980. Too many horror films since are remakes or reworkings of original ideas. Even more, like many in the list above, are just needless sequels and spinoffs of, again, original ideas. We have the reliance on standard fallback horror cliches – serial killers, supernatural serial killers, vampires, werewolves, zombies – and very little when it comes to imagining new, original horrors.

Additionally, how many new horror films are looking to books for inspiration? If seven out of the ten are book adaptations, doesn’t that say something? Even when we do get one, like Let The Right One In, and it astounds us with its originality and clarity of vision in telling a horror story, it’s then bundled up and remade a couple of years later.

We need new ideas, people. Cinematic horror is not offering them. Except in one really awful way.

I make no secret I dislike the trend of excessive gore in horror. None of the above films trade in that currency. The only one close to it, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, is tame by today’s standards of gore, and unfortunately appears to be left with a legacy of kickstarting this more-is-better gorefest.

But okay, people still watch these films, it doesn’t necessarily spell the end of horror. Or does it?

Horror cinema made its name in the thrill of the experience, seeing something visceral and challenging in a shared environment. It was something people took others with them to see the horror, to make you feel okay, to commune in the adrenalin. This then lead to horror as the date movie and the drive-in experience, where couples could do much of the mentioned sharing but add an extra dose of anticipation to the mix.

That’s all gone with excessive gore. Now it’s just a Youtube sensory viewing. Ingest what you can, so that you can add your name to the list of those who have seen it. The films are aiming for vomit, not screams, and the genre loses its appeal of being a shared viewing. Aspiring couples are more likely to want to scream their way through Alien than they are wanting to spew through Hostel.

By returning horror to TV, it brings with it a level of censorship. Even in these HBO days, there are visual limits to which TV shows are allowed to go, and we have a restoring of old elements to the genre. Suspense, anticipation, fear of the unknown, rich and dense narrative: these are all part and parcel of the new wave of horror TV.

I’m not holding onto much hope that cinema will return to the cinematic heights of The Exorcist and The Shining, but perhaps this boost of the genre through a different medium might reignite some of that lost flame. Rosemary’s Baby is scheduled to be adapted into a new series and Hannibal and Bates Motel have both been renewed for more. Hannibal itself aims to not only tell the story before The Silence of the Lambs, but also retell the film’s plot, and move beyond it. TV is allowing the horror to be once again told in an original way.

With the publication of Doctor Sleep late last year, as a sequel to The Shining, we’re left with the possibility that someone might perhaps try to do a cinematic sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s film. And yet a better opportunity is afforded here – serialise the character of Danny Torrance, the now-adult survivor of the Overlook Hotel, as he tries to find a life to live among the horrors of the modern world.

There’ll be more horror on TV, I’ve no doubt, more horror brought into our homes, and perhaps that will give audiences an opportunity to rediscover the almost-lost magic of the genre.

 

 

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The 12 greatest Lost episodes

Posted January 28, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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It’s ten years this year since Lost first aired on NBC, crashing millions of viewers onto an island for six seasons of mysteries, smoke monsters, Others, hatches, flashbacks, flash forwards and flash sideways, numbers, time travel, Jack’s tattoos, polar bears, Dharma beer, Frogurt, and frozen donkey wheels. It’s fair to say that it was a unique show that defied categorising, and it’s unlikely we’ll see anything quite like this again.

Regardless of how you may feel about the show – particularly how it finished – there were episodes within the 121 that aired which were simply great television. At its heart, Lost was a character show, using the mystery of the island as a mechanism to explore the conscious and unconscious lives of the characters who ended up there.

Lost took a scattering of individuals and allowed them to explore their own lives. Some successfully, others not so. Some changed and grew, others regressed. But in the end it was a show that infuriated and frustrated some of the characters because it refused to explain itself fully, constantly denied them answers to their questions. And yet it was a show that also captivated other characters, compelled them forwards in their stories and their destinies, based on nothing but their preparedness to find meaning in their own lives.

So, to commemorate the ten years while also preparing myself for whatever may come in the comments, here are the best episodes in Lost, in order of airing.

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1. Pilot – season 1

Fairly difficult to not include this, as a hugely explosive, highly inventive opening to a TV series. In what has now become the norm with many pilots, Lost set the bar in establishing strong characters who had room to grow, in an environment ripe for exploration.

Rewatching the pilot now, it’s fascinating to see just how much of the finale season’s dynamic was established – from the surviving characters, to the Locke-Jack conflict, and that eternal question posed by Charlie in the final seconds of the episode: ‘Where are we?’

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2. Deus Ex Machina – season 1

Many cite Locke’s first flashback episode as his best (Walkabout), due to the reveal that Locke was in a wheelchair prior to landing on the island. And while that’s great shock TV, we don’t get much more than that – and much of what made Season 1 instantly compelling yet not so rewarding on repeat viewings, is that it relied on shock twists.

The reason why this episode is so good is it does have the twists on top, but at its core is a highly emotional exploration of Locke’s past betrayal by his father, contrasted with his manic reliance on the island to deliver him from misery. Just watch the sequence that cuts from Locke’s confrontation with his kidney-stealing father to him beating down the still-shut hatch door. Great TV.

It’s also the beginning of Locke’s turn toward self-reliance rather than living together with the other survivors, as he sacrifices Boone for his desire to open the hatch. And then the light from the hatch comes on…

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3. Exodus – season 1

In what set a trend for the series in having cracking season finales, Exodus set up so much of the direction Lost was to head for the duration of its run. Multi-character flashbacks, multiple on-island plots, all misdirecting the audience to thinking Claire’s baby was still in danger. And when Michael, Walt, Jin and Sawyer do the logical thing and build a raft to sail away from the island, nobody thought it was them the Others would come after. But it was, and they took the boy.

The reason why the Season 2 opening had record-viewers had a lot to do with how this finale concluded.

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4. Man of Science, Man of Faith – season 2

And then we came to the first episode of Season 2, and we finally got to see what was in the hatch, and Lost continued to defy expectations and change the texture and tapestry of the show once again. Having spent the good part of Season 1 wanting to get in the hatch, Season 2 opened with a whole sequence devoted to the inside of the hatch without anyone realising.

And to cap it all off there’s Jack’s flashback, where he battles his science and his faith, and meets Desmond, who just happens to be the person in the hatch. And Desmond’s line ‘See you in another life’ suddenly opens up a whole new level of interpretation for the show, and where they were going to take it.

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5. Two for the Road – season 2

Season 2 brought us a little bit closer to The Others, who had remained in the dark and behind fake bears and wigs until then, only emerging to steal a few children here and there. But we met Benjamin Linus, initially masquerading as a lost parachutist, until he graduated into one of the most manipulative, conflicted and compromising antagonists in TV.

Phenomenal performance by Michael Emerson, his scheming Linus gets himself out of imprisonment, ruins Michael entirely when he leverages returning Walt for his freedom, and Michael subsequently kills off Ana Lucia and Libby. Brutal, and shocking, and audiences never trusted Linus again.

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6. The Man from Tallahassee – season 3

Another Locke episode, and one where we find out why he was in a wheelchair. That in itself is horrible to witness, further entrenching Locke as a man abandoned by good fortune, but it’s his road to recovery that renders the episode its emotional pull.

This is contrasted with his continual ‘communion’ with the island, as he sabotages yet another plan to escape to freedom by blowing the submarine up (hello foreshadowing). The episode also introduces Richard Alpert, jettisons Locke further from the other survivors, and in full pay-off ends with Locke facing his father on the island – his conscious and his unconscious coming together in one moment.

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7. Through the Looking Glass – season 3

Season 3 was the worst in the series, due to ongoing negotiations with the network as to how long they would spin the narrative out. Once it was resolved, Lost hurtled towards its conclusion with frightening rapidity, none more so than in the finale, continually rated in the top episodes for the series’ run.

Epic, action-packed, as the survivors push for yet another opportunity to get off the island and find rescue, it all came to a crashing halt with Charlie’s exiting swan dive into an underwater station to stop a signal jam to the island, only to realise that the boat coming to save them is not friendly, in a parting message to Desmond before Charlie drowns.

And in the biggest change-up, Jack’s flashback was revealed to be a flashforward, and audiences suddenly readjusted their sets, knowing that at some point Jack gets off the island but now wants to go back.

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8. The Constant – season 4

A shortened season due to the writer’s strike led to some awfully face-paced storytelling. But they still had time for this episode, arguably the best of the series.

Latecomer Desmond quickly became an audience favourite, and this journey through time to connect with his one true love, Penny, is a masterpiece in time-bending story. In theory, Desmond’s mind is literally flashing back and forward through time, and he needs to find one thing in the present to connect to the past – his constant – in order to maintain sanity. And that comes in the form of a phone call to Penny to let her know he’s still alive and that she’s still looking for him. If you watch Lost for one episode, make it this one.

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9. The Shape of Things To Come – season 4

A Benjamin Linus episode, one that reveals to us that he leaves the island as well, and is hell-bent on a course-correcting plan to destroy Charles Widmore – who covered up the survivors’ disappearance, banished Desmond to the island and happens to also be Penny’s father, and a former leader of The Others.

On island, Widmore’s mercenaries attack the survivors, and all of a sudden our sympathies are challenged as we see the devotion Linus has not just to the island, but to his daughter as well.

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10. The Incident – season 5

We had been hearing about the ‘incident’ since Season 2, and had speculated what on earth had happened on the island to wipe out the Dharma Initiative, and confine any survivors to hazmat suits underground.

Now, we found out. After a complex season of time travel, where we discovered who made it off the island and who stayed, and who was transported back to 1977, the Lost universe expanded once again to cover and even larger timeframe than it had before. The journey of the survivors to reunite once again was enormous, culminating in the decision to detonate a nuclear warhead in order to reset the times and put everything back together again.

Oh, and we got to meet Jacob. And the smoke monster guy.

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11. Ab Aeterno – season 6

Ranks alongside The Constant for genre-defying TV, this is essentially an origin story for Richard Alpert – the ageless consiglieri to Benjamin Linus and to Jacob.

Told mostly in Spanish, and building to a moment where Alpert is finally able to reunite with his wife, whom he left over a hundred years before. It’s wonderful, deft storytelling, and a late entry in a series that had really made its name telling perfectly realised character stories.

The episode also ends with possibly the closest thing you’ll get to an explanation about the whole series. Just so you know.

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12. What They Died For – season 6

I could put The End on this list, just to annoy some people, but I won’t. Instead, this episode really says a lot about what made the series great when it was great.

While we do get further developments in what became known as the flash-sideways story lines, with Desmond on his mission to reunite the survivors, the episode is better for the on-island plot, where the final few survivors get to spend time with Jacob. Coming shortly after the death of Sayid, Jin and Sun, in the brutal The Candidate, we finally get to hear Jacob explain why they’re all there, and why he wanted them all there. And in a moment that shows how much the series was about finding meaning in everyday life, Jacob makes Jack drink from a cup of water and announces that Jack is now like him, a protector of the island. Simple as that.

Almost. Until The End.

Honourable mentions and ones I dearly wanted to include are: White Rabbit, House of the Rising Sun, 23rd Psalm, Live Together Die Alone, He’s Our You, Jughead, LaFleur, The Substitute, The Candidate, The End.

 

 

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Excerpt: Aurora: Darwin by Amanda Bridgeman

Posted January 21, 2014 by Mark

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AURORA: DARWIN by Amanda Bridgeman is a thrilling space opera that’s won legions of fans around the world. Today, it’s the Kindle Daily Deal for Australia, and you can grab a copy for only $0.99. Click here for more! 

Prologue

Easy money. Yeah, right! Lars had always been one for taking the easy road, but right now this didn’t seem so fuckin’ easy. Right now, his bitch of a mother’s words were ringing in his ears: “If it sounds too good to be true, Lars, then it is! There’s no such thing as an easy ride! You work long and hard, and then you die! That’s just the way it is in this stinking life!” Well, he’d taken the easy road, alright. Simple work on a cargo ship seemed honest enough. It looked good to his parole officer, and being stuck on a ship traveling around space for months on end was a good way of keeping you out of trouble. Except the gunrunning, that is.

His ship’s captain, Quint, had been up front about it and the extra cash to look the other way didn’t bother Lars at all. He wasn’t stupid. He knew that was why Quint hired him in the first place. Quint didn’t care about the long rap sheet against his name for burglary, assault, you name it. Quint, it turned out, was an ex-con too, although Lars guessed the “ex” part wasn’t quite true. But to the authorities Quint looked clean, running a simple cargo operation between the Moon, the outstations, and Mars. So yeah, Lars took the job, took the money and looked the other way. Easy money. That inescapable vice to a con like him. Like a bottle of booze to an alcoholic, or a hand job in a back alley to a sex addict. Easy fuckin’ money, alright! And it was about to get him killed.

He heard footsteps approaching and held his breath. He wasn’t sure whether he was the last one left alive. He hadn’t seen anyone since it went down, but what went down exactly, he didn’t know. One moment they were in the space station’s mess hall eating dinner with the crew, the next …? He remembered the lights in the room went out. He remembered commotion, fighting, screaming, the smell of blood … He didn’t stick around to notice anything else. Instead, instinct led him away, running back blindly toward the dock and their cargo ship. He had to get off that station and fast! Except the doors to the dock were locked; access overridden. He was trapped.

The screaming had ceased now. So quick? The lights were still out and panic shot through him like a spear. He clawed his way blindly to the cargo office, just inside the dock entrance, where he’d signed the paperwork when they’d first arrived. He scuttled underneath the desk, smacking his head as he did, hissing quietly and curling up as tightly as his body would allow. Just hide and ride it out! he told himself. Hide and ride it out! Just like you’ve done before from the cops, it’s no different … or was it? At least the cops were restrained by law. They couldn’t just kill you without justifiable cause …

Lars heard the footsteps stop at the doorway to the cargo office. He squeezed his eyes shut, hoping that somehow it would help make him more invisible. Heart racing, palms sweating, throat dry and coarse. The silence sat; he heard nothing. He slowly opened his eyes, wanting desperately to see what he could not hear. Then suddenly, he felt hot breath against his face.

He jumped a mile, smacking his head again, as the lights suddenly came on in the room, but he didn’t have long to eye his attacker. He merely saw frenzied amber eyes, flashes of ginger hair, and gridiron shoulders that yanked him out from under the desk, lifted him and threw him against the wall like a rag doll. The beast (it couldn’t possibly be human, surely?) then thrust itself upon him. His neck and throat were swiftly opened up in excruciating pain as whatever it was clawed viciously at him. He was sure he’d heard the flesh tearing. Then there was the blood, pouring down his neck, amidst the grunts and growls of some kind of wild animal. Tearing, shredding.

The pain. The blood. Pools of it. Drowning.

Easy money? Yeah, right!

 

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Game of Thrones season 4 trailer

Posted January 13, 2014 by Mark

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In a few short months Game of Thrones returns, and brings the usual surprises, plot twists and epic battles we’ve come to know and love. There was a 15 second teaser released recently, but here’s over a minute and half of Game of Thrones goodness!

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 8: Too Far Gone

Posted December 3, 2013 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

This season has slowly been building up to something and it delivered in spades in this, the mid-season finale. Just a note on mid-season finales, The Walking Dead seems to do these much better than its actual finales. Season 2 ended mid-season with the discovery that the missing Sophia had been a zombie in Herschel’s barn the whole time, season three ended mid-season with Daryl and Merle finally being reunited in a to-the-death zombie arena battle, and this…well, read on. And of course, MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THIS EPISODE AND SOME ISSUES OF THE COMICS.

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Tanks for agreeing to see me! Get it?

At the end of the previous episode Brian (“don’t call me the Governor”) had lined up Michonne in his gun sights. But instead of shooting her he kidnaps her and Herschel. He takes them back to his camp and outlines his plan to his people. He wants the prison. He’s going to drive the tank up to the fence and threaten to kill the hostages unless Rick’s group moves out. If they move, all well and good. If not, he kills the hostages and storms the prison. It’s a stupid plan, because he backs himself into a corner. If Rick refuses, Brian is forced to show his true nature to his people, even though he’s pretty much promised them that nobody has to die. He may act like a changed man, but beneath the surface this is all about one thing – revenge.

So the previous two-parter in which we see the Governor almost become a good man and then become an asshole again was kind of pointless? The entire arc just returned him to who he was before. The show has struggled with this character, on the one hand it wants to portray him as someone who is hugely evil, but it also wants to show him as a complicated character with hidden depths and motivation. Unfortunately they have often seemed like two different characters. They can deliver the evil, they can deliver the hidden depths, but never at the same time.

In my opinion he works much better as the evil baddie. Revenge is a pure and believable motivation for him and doesn’t need to be layered beneath his grief for his lost family and his desire to protect his new one.

At any rate, he convinces his new group to go for it with an “it’s either us or them” speech. Herschel attempts to persuade Brian that both groups can live together, start with a clean slate and let the past be the past. But Brian is convinced it won’t work. He still claims he doesn’t want violence, but Herschel sees through it.

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“Guys, seriously, I’m not evil anymore.”

When he rocks up to the prison, announcing his arrival with a blast from the tank, he calls Rick down for a chat. The discussion is tense, but does go in circles a little. With Herschel and Michonne on their knees, threatened with execution, Rick has no choice but to talk. Andrew Lincoln does a great job in this scene. He begins by begging for the lives of those within the prison, there are sick kids in there after all. He begs Brian to use his common sense, if violence starts then the prison will be ruined for everyone. He appeals to Brian’s followers, do they really want to face a war? And finally, Rick makes the offer that proves he’s a new man. He offers to open the gate and let everyone in, they can live in separate cell blocks until they’re ready to cooperate, but he’s prepared to leave the past behind and start fresh.

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“Well it looks like I’ll be heading off now.” Be heading? Beheading? Hello, is this thing on?

And then the shit goes down. Rick has outmanoeuvred Brian, offering a peaceful resolution where nobody has to die, and everyone gets to be forgiven for whatever sins they committed outside the prison walls. But Brian can’t accept that. His true colours shine through, all he wants, all he ever wanted, was revenge. He takes Michonne’s sword and cuts Herschel’s neck open. Then the gunfire begins.

The following sequence is probably the best in the history of the show. The gun/tank battle is perfectly staged and contains some unforgettable moments, including Brian chasing after the injured Herschel so he can hack off his head. There’s a real sense that everyone is in peril, including the untouchable Daryl, who is left looking like he’s going to get bitten by a walker until he reemerges, using said walker as a shield.

And halfway through the battle, Brian’s new “wife” comes to say hi. Only she’s carrying the corpse of Brian’s new “daughter”, Megan. He left them somewhere they were meant to be safe, but Megan wound up being bitten by a walker that had been buried under some clay she was playing in. And then Brian shows his transformation is complete by blowing the girl’s brains out before she can reanimate.

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“I believe you said something about us being perfectly safe?”

The tank continues to blow shit up until Daryl lobs a grenade down the main gun and blows it up. That’s right, Daryl kills a frikkin’ tank! And he then shoots the driver in the heart with an arrow.

Meanwhile, Brian and Rick are fighting to the death. Brian manages to beat the living shit out of Rick and then begins to strangle him, in a disturbingly realistic scene. And then the most FUCK YEAH moment in four seasons of this show, Michonne runs Brian through with her sword, rescues Rick, and leaves the fatally wounded Brian to become food for the walkers (he’s saved from that particular fate by his new wife, who blows his brains out as revenge for destroying her family).

To make a long story short, the prison is destroyed and overrun by walkers, Brian is dead along with many of his people, and Rick’s group are scattered. A bunch of the Woodbury people (and a still not-well Glen) escape on a bus, Tyreese escapes with some of Carol’s former students, and all the others make it out either by themselves or in small groups. Boom. Done.

Oh wait, what’s that? Baby Judith? Yeah, where is she? Is she on the bus? Oh, look, Rick has noticed her baby carrier. How could someone leave it there like that? Lucky Rick walked past-OH MY GOOD IT’S FULL OF BLOOD AND THERE’S NO BABY!

Deaths?

Megan. Herschel. The Governor. Lots of extras and people who have had four or five lines. And possibly baby Judith!

Best line? 

“That ain’t her!”, delivered by Daryl when Rick tells him that Carol killed Karen.

“Am I?” Brian’s “wife” when Brian tells her that the good people at the prison are with bad people.

Best moment with a walker?

The scene where the zombie wakes up from under the clay and bites poor Megan.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

I was right about my Herschel prediction! You all owe me a coke.

Who is the psychopath? 

So someone has been feeding rats to the walkers. Tyreese discovered a rat that had been cut open and pinned to a board. Is there a psychopath amongst the survivors? In the comics there were several unstable people who were in the group at various points. But I’m going to say at this stage I think it’s Carl. He was spiralling out of control last season. Has he become a better person, or just found a new way to channel his violent tendencies?

What will happen in the next half season?

Well, they’ll all be on the road again, and will have to meet up. I imagine there will be a bit of a Glen searching for Maggie storyline. Carol is still out there, so it’s inevitable that someone will run into her, but who will it be? Tyreese, who is still ignorant of her (alleged) role in Karen’s death? Or Daryl, who is hugely upset that she’s gone and that she’s admitted to being a killer.

The show has loosely modelled itself on the comics (although there are vast differences). If they follow that loose structure again then the next plot will be about the group meeting up with a couple of survivors who are heading to Washington, because one of their number thinks he knows how the virus began. Also they meet cannibals.

Is Judith actually dead? There was no body to be seen, and it’s not confirmed whether the blood was hers or someone else’s. She dies in the comics during the battle with the Governor, but the show hasn’t always stuck to the fates of the various characters. It’s possible she’s still alive, but it’s also possible that the bloodied baby carrier was the only way that AMC were comfortable showing her death. I’m going to predict that she’s still alive.

Well that’s it until February!

 

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 7: Dead Weight

Posted December 2, 2013 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

Another Governor-centric episode last week, which really served to underscore that the Governor is a Bad Guy. This is the second half of a two part storyline dedicated just to him, about his fall from power and his eventual return to leadership.

Last week we saw a different side to to Governor, a side where it seemed possible for him to start fresh, leave his sins behind and finally become the family man he so desperately wants to be. But this week we see just how impossible that is. Being invited back to the community lead by his former subordinate, Martinez, Brian (as he now calls himself) can’t seem to help himself when it comes to taking over.

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He firmly believes that he is the only person who has the necessary qualities to keep the community safe. He’ll kill without hesitation if he thinks it’s for the greater good, and that includes killing anyone in his way. But at the same time, he seems to hate having to do it. He realises that he has the potential for good within him, but that potential will always be subsumed by the things he has to do to protect everyone.

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The show has taken great pains to show the Governor as an extreme version of Rick. They’re both reluctant leaders who have had to deal with horrible things in order to keep their groups safe. They both began this season in a diminished capacity, Rick retiring from a leadership role, and the Governor being abandoned by the few who were still loyal to him. But while Rick’s eventual return to power was done slowly, with careful consideration, and with a reassessment of what he could and couldn’t live with, the Governor’s return to power was fast, violent and a return to the darkness he had almost left behind.

This episode begins with “Brian” and his family being brought into the community lead by Martinez. Everything seems to be going alright, until Martinez offers him a supporting role leading the community. Brian suddenly murders Martinez in cold blood, all the while shouting “I don’t want it!” When another from the group takes power, Brian kills him, too, and then starts making the necessary alliances to consolidate his hold on the group.

This is all leading up to an assault on the prison. The community as it is now is vulnerable, and the prison serves two purposes – safety and revenge. The final scene of the episode catches us up to where we last saw Rick being silently observed by the Governor. And then it goes a few moments on, he notices Michonne, takes out his gun and lines her up in his sights…

Deaths?

The best death this week was Martinez, being hit in the head with a golf club before being dropped head first into a pit filled with walkers.

Best line? 

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“I don’t want it!” The Governor’s repeated line as he murders Martinez.

Best moment with a walker?

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After killing Pete and dumping his body in the lake, the Governor returns to the scene of the crime and sees the reanimate Pete, weighed down under the water, attempting to reach up for him.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Next week is the mid-season finale and it looks like the Governor is gearing up for an assault on the prison. *SPOILERS FOR THE COMICS AHEAD* In the comics, the assault on the prison resulted in the deaths of Tyreese and Herschel (among several others) but was hugely significant because it also resulted in the deaths of Lori and baby Judith. Not sure if the series will go as far as killing a baby, but we’ll see. The assault also forced the survivors back on the road. Anyway, there haven’t been any major deaths this season so there has to be at least one in the next episode. My money’s on Herschel.

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 6: Live Bait

Posted November 25, 2013 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

Uh-oh. The Governor is back! Uh-oh. This whole episode is about him doing not much.

We’ve been waiting ages for the inevitable return of the Governor, the big bad from season three. The problem this show has with the Governor is that he never really lived up to his potential as a bad guy. While he did kill people and had a room full of zombie heads, he wasn’t the evil, sadistic mastermind that was presented in the comics. That guy was a psychopath. This guy? I dunno, there’s definitely something wrong with him but in this episode all he does is help a family, let go of his past, plus rescue and bond with a little girl.

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My feelings have manifested themselves in this beard.

So anyway, the Governor, fresh from killing the soldiers who fled his attempted attack on the prison, is abandoned by those who remained loyal to him. He wakes up alone one morning and begins walking, developing a Sad Guy Beard as he does.

Eventually he collapses in the gutter and prepares to die. But he notices a little girl in a window, and goes to investigate. He discovers a family that has been living there since the outbreak began, surviving off the food in the smallgoods truck their father used to drive.

The Governor spends much of the episode grunting and shrugging and being all quiet and moody. Going in to meet this family, his motivations are unclear. He’s just murdered his own people and been abandoned by those who survived. Is he going to lash out at this family? Is there a creeping dread in the potential of these characters to come undone by the evil they’ve unwittingly let in?

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“No, don’t tell me what happened to your previous daughter, I’d rather not know.”

But instead of giving the Governor some evil plan, his character is given something more complex. The young girl in the family obviously reminds him of being a father, so this is an exploration of the side of the character who loved his daughter so much, he kept her chained in a closet after she’d been zombified. And here we run into one of the biggest problems with the character.

In attempting to give the character more depth than the comics, the creators gave him a lot more emotional investment in Woodbury and in his daughter. But the character has had to remain a threat, so he’s given flashes of psychotic behaviour. But up to this point, he’s always had motivation. He’s wanted revenge, or to get information, or to protect his position and his town, or to get rid of Rick. In fact, he’s kind of been an uber-Rick. So when, at the end of the last season, he massacred his own people, it didn’t seem like something he would do. He was angry, but to kill like that?

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Stop saying that I look like a pirate!

Anyway, he winds up being taken in by this family, and going on the road with them once their father succumbs to the cancer that was killing him. The Governor makes sacrifices, takes risks, and forms a strong familial bond with them. It’s almost like this story is about him rediscovering the good person he allegedly was before the virus. But there’s more to come in the next episode, so I’m sure he’ll do something randomly evil then.

So after all that waiting it’s still hard to tell just what role the Governor will play in this season. The writers still seem determined to present him as someone who has the potential for both great good and great evil, but all they do is make it harder to connect with his ultimate motivations.

I’m sure this is all building up to an assault on the prison. If that does happen, expect a pretty epic mid season finale. In the comics, the Governor’s successful assault on the prison results in the deaths of about 6 major characters. So prepare for the worst.

Deaths?

Only one, the old guy in the apartment.

Best line? 

“I won’t let anything happen to you.” The Governor delivers this to the little girl after rescuing her from a pit full of walkers. Kind of setting yourself up for a fall there, dude.

Best moment with a walker?

The bit where the Governor falls into a pit full of zombies and kills them all with his bare hands, including one whose jaw he breaks with a bone.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Still not straying from my Herschel and Maggie or Glen prediction.

 

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The Walking Dead season 4 episode 5: Internment

Posted November 16, 2013 by Mark

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This is a regular column in which I recap this season’s episodes of The Walking Dead. It comes out later than everyone else’s recaps but it will be more sarcastic and contain more errors. 

The episode opened with Rick driving alone, with Carol’s departure behind him. When he gets back to the prison he tells Maggie about Carol, and she agrees that he did the right thing. But this episode isn’t Rick’s, it’s Herschel’s.

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I have had so much to do lately on this show. Shit, I’m sooooo dead.

Herschel is in the quarantined cell block of the prison, still healthy but on the brink on exhaustion. He’s the only healthy person looking after a block full of ill people. His only helpers, Sasha and Glen, are both very sick. The inevitability of Herschel’s situation hangs over his every action. He’s an old man, constantly exposed to a deadly virus, overworking himself for the good of others. It can only end in his death, right?

And he’s working tirelessly, keeping doomed people breathing, even though there is no doubt that they will die. His hope, that Daryl will return with the medicine, keeps him going – an hour of assisted breathing could result in a life saved, provided the timing is right.

With the virus killing plenty of people, there are plenty of corpses than need to be disposed of. Herschel doesn’t like stabbing the bodies in the head in front of everyone in the open cell block, she he’s been wheeling them out of sight on a gurney, before getting Glen to do the deed.

Herschel has really come into his own in these recent episodes. With Rick, Daryl and Carol all away from the prison, he’s the only left who has the potential to be a leader. Risking his life to make sure that the dying people are comfortable and last as long as possible shows how different he is to the others. His heart, despite everything, hasn’t hardened. The combination of his family, his faith, his age, and his life caring for animals will always mean he has hope.

But then things go pear-shaped in what becomes the most action-intense episode of The Walking Dead this season. A reanimated corpse gets loose in the cell block, chomping away at people, leading to an outbreak of walkers. All this while Glen has reached the point of the illness where he starts to drown in his own blood. And on top of all that, the fences finally fail.

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Do I have something in my teeth?

This is an awesome sequence. Herschel is the only one who can save the day in the cell block, and he sticks to his principles, leading the walkers out of sight of the others before shooting them. All the while, Glen is dying. And it actually seems like he’s not going to make it. But Maggie smashes her way in, and manages to help Herschel stop the outbreak, and to save Glen’s life by attaching him to a manual respirator.

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Say it, don’t spray it.

Maggie winds up with blood on her face, much as Herschel did a couple of episodes ago. Interesting. Are they about to share a similar fate?

The fences fail and Rick, realising that he actually can’t keep Carl sheltered from the world (and hasn’t been able to for four seasons now) gives him a machine gun and together they mow down the invading horde. For such a long set-up, the fence failing was a little anti-climactic. It was intense in the moment, and was a great moment between Rick and Carl, but it was dealt with too quickly, and didn’t cause any lasting damage.

Plus it posed an interesting question – if it was that easy to take care of the walkers, why didn’t they do it in the first place?

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“Son, I’m so glad we’re finally doing some activities together.”

Finally, Daryl, Michonne, Bob and Tyreese return with the medicine. Glen’s life is saved and the medicine is distributed among the infected. Plague over!

So with the plague and the fences pretty much dealt with, what happens next? Where will the new conflict come from? Wait, who is that watching the prison from the bushes? Oh, shit! It’s the Governor!

Given that they’ve strayed so far from what the Governor storyline was in the comics, his return may not herald what I think it does. BUT if it does, shit is about to get real.

Deaths?

Lots of Woodbury people get it this week as the walkers take hold in the cell block.

Best line? 

Daryl: “You’re a tough son of a bitch.”

Herschel: “I am.”

Best moment with a walker?

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The worst WWE cage fight in history

Lots to choose from, but the moment during the cell block sequence where Herschel tries to wrestle a respirator off a walker so he can save Glen was pretty great.

Which regular cast members will die this season?

Still not straying from my Herschel and Maggie or Glen prediction.

 

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