The Momentum Blog

5 Pitches for the Next Gritty Hollywood Remake

Posted August 7, 2015 by Emily Stamm

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These days, Hollywood can’t seem to get enough of rebooting our favorite books into gritty dystopian movies and television shows. The latest beloved classic to suffer this fate is Little Women. The loving sisters are going to be uncovering conspiracies and trying not to kill each other in Philadelphia, while we watch and wonder how on Earth someone thought this was a good idea.

Let’s take a look at how we could remake five other childhood favorites into ridiculous television drama or made for t.v. movies.

 

The Secret Garden

 

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Is it so hard to imagine this + opium smuggling?

 

After her parents are murdered, sixteen-year old Mary Lennox is sent to live with her reclusive uncle. She’s miserable until she discovers a mysterious locked garden…with an attractive boy inside! Mary breaks into the garden and is shocked to discover that eighteen year old Dickon is running her uncle’s opium smuggling operation out of…The Secret Garden. We’ll kill cousin Colin off early, throw in a dash of star-crossed lovers from different socioeconomic backgrounds, and BAM! You’ve got a hit.

 

Charlotte’s Web

 

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A pig, a spider, a revolution.

 

Wilbur the pig is shunned by the other barnyard animals, until Charlotte the spider takes an interest in him. She is the leader behind a group of animals who want to revolt against humans and take their lives into their own hands. Charlotte comes with with a scheme to spell words in her webs, manipulating the humans to think that Wilbur is chosen by God and should not be slaughtered after the fair. She begins convincing them that he should be set free, along with all the other farm animals, but is tragically killed in childbirth before her plan can come to fruition. Almost all of her children flee as soon as they hatch, but three remain behind to carry on her fight to free the animals.

 

Anne of Green Gables

 

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That smile has never been innocent…

 

Anne’s parents are killed by rival wizards when she is a baby, leaving her to float from foster home to orphanage and back again. When she is in her early teens, she is accidentally sent to the Cuthberts on Prince Edward Island. Furious that she isn’t a boy, they threaten to send her back. Anne casts a spell that makes them, and the entire town, adore her. The wizards who killed her parents find Anne, and she must battle them while maintaining her spell on the town. Scenes of note include the wizards changing the raspberry cordial into currant wine in order to discredit Anne; Wizards trying to kill Anne, but instead killing Matthew; and Anne becoming a powerful enough witch to teach at the Prince Edward Island equivalent to Hogwarts.

 

A Little Princess

 

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Wouldn’t this just be 100x better if it was in space?

 

Young Sara Crewe is taken by her father to one of the best boarding schools on the moon in 2075. Knowing her father is a rich explorer who has been doubling his fortune every five years on Mars, they treat her like a little princess. A few years later, the school receives word that Captain Crewe’s whole team was lost on Mars during a dust storm, and he was most certainly dead. The school, especially the headmistress, begin treating Sara like a servant. She regularly has to go outside in a spacesuit to collect rocks and clean dust off the solar panels (because space). Meanwhile, a mysterious man moves in next door to the school. He slowly recovers his memory, and realizes that he was the lead scientist on Captain Crewe’s mission, and that’s why he has a research monkey living with him. The monkey escapes (in a tiny monkey spacesuit) and Sara finds him while cleaning solar panels. When returning the monkey to the mysterious stranger, they learn of their connection.

Bonus sequel: The mysterious stranger and Sara go back to Mars to try and recover Captain Crewe’s body. Once there, they find that the whole crew has become zombies. Space zombies.

 

Little House on the Prairie

 

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If there’s one thing the Little House books need, it’s more grit!

 

A few decades after most of the world was wiped out by nuclear bombs, the Ingalls family struggles to survive in the desolate wasteland that was once America. If we change the tone of the narrator from unending optimism to resignation, we can even keep most of the major plot points the same! Everyone gets malaria, sister Mary goes blind, locusts eat all the crops, nuclear winter strands the family in their log cabin, and there are so many chores to be done. Think of the possibilities for costumes! Special effects! Dramatic acting! There is no way this wouldn’t be a hit.

 

Whether you love them or hate them, we want to hear your thoughts on the gritty reboot trend. Do you have any hope at all for the new Little Women series?

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 2 – The House of Black and White

Posted April 21, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the latest in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

Out with the old and in with the new.

It’s a strange old episode this one, containing some much longed for moments, some unexpected delights, all capped off with a bit of been-here-done-that in Meereen.

Let’s start with the delightful. Somewhere near The Eyrie, Brienne and Pod stop for a drink at an inn. And, despite us thinking she’d come so close and yet still failed to find Sansa, there Sansa is with Littlefinger, propped up in a booth discussing the weather.

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She stakes her claim, but Sansa refuses to come with her, the second Stark to do so. Brienne it seems is all honour and servitude, a knight-errant following the old ways, the old codes. But after the refusal, she beats a hasty exit with Pod and the two escape into the woods, not without a bit of bloodshed along the way.

This is interesting on a couple of levels. Firstly, Pod tells Brienne her time honouring her pledge to Catelyn Stark has ended. Brienne is quickly confronting the fact that she is out of place and out of time – there is no role for her. She must reinvent herself or face becoming obsolete. But on top of this we have the idea that her character is literally being reinvented from her counterpart in the books – none of this happens at all, or at least has happened. While there is a vague echo with a corresponding scene in the books at an inn, it’s still markedly different.

Far away, we get Arya arriving in Braavos, sailing under the Westeros version of the Colossus of Rhodes and dropped off at the House of the Black and White. It’s here where she brings her Braavosi coin, but she receives no entry, she has ‘everywhere else to go.’ In the bay goes the coin, and Arya sets off to wander the streets and pick fights.

But eventually she does gain entry. Her coin is returned by the hooded old man, who then reveals himself to be Jaqen H’ghar, he of the many faces who hasn’t been sighted since Season 2 when helping Arya escape the horrors of Harrenhal. This again is a slight deviation from the books, but maintains a continuity for the viewers who are familiar with the character, and can therefore encounter a new location with a friendly face.

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To gain entry, it appears Arya has to learn to give up her name. She must, like others in this episode, learn to let go of being a Stark, and let go of all the other names she’s been dragging around like totems.

And it’s here we get the connection with Sansa’s story. Both have said no to Brienne, refused her service, and then gone elsewhere. Bran too has said no to his heritage, leaving Jon Snow alone north of the Wall, and heading out into the wilderness. The Stark children are clearly keen to find new beginnings, new stories, and have no set on the Iron Throne. Robb, their brother, was like the older generation, and he died for it. These three still thrive.

The invited contrast is with the Lannisters, who are still in King’s Landing attempting to cleave themselves more tightly to the throne. Cersei is increasingly worried about Myrcella, and sends Jaime off to Dorne to save her. Cersei herself is killing dwarves, or at least having them killed for her, in the hope that one is Tyrion. But also so that Qyburn can, uh, do something with the heads.

She is trying to take hold of things, all but assuming the role Tywin had. There’s an interesting angle here in that Tywin essentially commanded expectation that he was in charge, whereas Cersei has to grease the wheels a bit more just to get some recognition, not least because of her gender. Unlike the Starks, she can only look back, and worry that it might be lost.

Meanwhile, in another change, Jaime is taking Bronn – Ser Bronn – to Dorne with him, which no doubt looks to bring the Dornish plot into the fold as part of the major story, rather than being an extension of the fallout from Oberyn’s death-by-head-explosion. Screen-Shot-2015-04-14-at-09.08.14

So we get a little preview of Dorne, brought to us by the already familiar, and now grieving Ellaria Sand. She takes us to Doran, and tells him that she and the Sand Snakes – Oberyn’s bastard daughters – are bent on revenge and want to kill some Lannisters, starting with Myrcella. Seriously, does nobody learn that revenge leads to death in this show? Anyhow, Doran says no, though this may change once Jaime and Bronn arrive.

Up at The Wall, Sam and Gilly and Shireen are having a ready circle, or something, and there’s more talk of Shireen’s greyscale affliction. As mentioned last week, this fuels my suspicion that the illness has some part to play in the grand scheme of things, so we’ll have to watch with interest.

Stannis wants Jon to join him in taking the North, promising him legitimacy as a Stark, and Winterfell when they take it. But Jon – like the other Starks – turns his back on the past and settles on the future as part of the Night’s Watch, though really he’s been doing that since the pilot.

However, they hold an election for the new Lord Commander, and it’s left to Sam to make Jon into the leader that he’s struggled to become all this time. He was the one they turned to when the night was darkest, and so Jon wins the vote. It’s a nice moment, despite being a bit of a dog-and-pony show, because really, who else was it going to be?

Between Pentos and somewhere else, there’s a small scene with Tyrion and Varys, but it doesn’t reach too much new territory, except in the odd repetition that Tyrion was very good as the Hand. This is the second time Varys has mentioned it in two episodes, and we can only assume this is leading toward some future development.

So we finish with Meereen, despite the groans from the audience. There’s some more kerfuffle about the Sons of the Harpy killling Unsullied, but we know all this. Daenerys has the opportunity to execute a prisoner but doesn’t because politics, and so someone else kills the prisoner and she then executes them. Eh. We’ve seen all this before.

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This is the problem with Daenerys’ storylines. After the early flourish, it’s settled into a repetitive plodding of politics and power struggles. We’ve seen both aplenty, as well as leaders struggling with conflicting priorities, and so this plotline is suffering from a lack of the new, in contrast to the rest of the show. If there’s anything to be gained, it’s that for once Daenerys seems to agree, and rushes away from the upset that her execution causes with overwhelming disinterest.

That is, until Drogon arrives. And though he doesn’t stay long, we get a sense once more of the future, of the new, and of the freedom that these dragons promise her. Phew. There’s life yet in dusty old Meereen.

  • Valar Morghulis: a Son of the Harpy, and that guy who killed him. You know that guy. Him.
  • Where is Littlefinger taking Sansa?
  • Does anyone know where Gendry is? Still rowing a boat? Does anyone care?
  • Best exchange of the episode between Brienne and Pod:
  • ‘Ready the horses.’
  • ‘We only have one horse.’
  • ‘Find more.’
  • Next episode: more Arya and Jaqen, Cersei paranoid again, and I’m sure everyone is just delighted to get more adventures of Theon Greyjoy and the Boltons.

Previous episode: The Wars to Come

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 1 – The Wars to Come

Posted April 14, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the first in the weekly Game of Thrones recaps for Season 5, and if you haven’t seen this week’s episode, please don’t read on. Naturally, all the spoilers.

Isn’t it great to be back in Westeros? I guess that depends on who you are, as there’s a lot of unhappy characters in this opening episode of Season 5, one that comes at a really interesting time for the show.

As anticipated in last season’s finale, we’re fast running out of material from the books. In addition to that, audiences are faced with the increasingly important decision of George R.R. Martin handing over the reigns of the storytelling to Game of Thrones’ showrunners. What was merely suggested at the end of Season 4 is now entirely obvious in Season 5: only important characters and plot points will remain.

As the most recent two books were bloated beyond need, there seems to be a desire on the show to streamline and unify characters and storylines, bringing everything we’ve seen so far into the beginning stages of the endgame. Which is to say, all the major characters began the pilot episode in one location, and have since been increasingly scattered. Now we’re finally seeing them find their way back to each other, if somewhat tentatively.

After a previously on that ran through all the major players, as well as reminding us that Lancel Lannister is a person and Myrcella still exists, we begin the season in the first ever flashback for the show.

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Entirely unannounced, it’s a young Cersei heading into some woods with a nervy friend, spying out a fortune teller in her hut. Important to note that Cersei as a kid is still evil – why does anyone trust blonde-haired people in Westeros? This scene is a key source of motivation for Cersei in the books, and it wasn’t surprising to see this depicted, where Cersei is told that she will be queen for a time but ‘then comes another, younger, more beautiful, to cast you down and take all you hold dear.’ There’s also the little nugget from the fortune teller that all her children will have golden shrouds.

So, we can gather that an axe looms over Tommen and Myrcella’s heads, and Cersei fears this almost as much as she fears Margaery Tyrell, who is her choice for the ‘younger, more beautiful’ queen-to-be. The viewer may have other ideas, however.

The scenes with Cersei in King’s Landing position her as the centrepiece of yet another round of power-jostling. While everyone pretends to be in mourning for Twyin – he of the crossbow bolt through the heart on the toilet – it’s an occasion for everyone to take stock and realise how much has changed now that the Hand is dead.

Cersei needn’t marry Loras, who couldn’t care less. Margaery still wants in with Tommen, and thus the throne, but now has to contend with an angrier and far more present Cersei. Jaime finds himself without a brother, without a father, and far more distant from his sister than he’s ever been (including that fun time when he lost his hand). And as we’ve been reminded, Myrcella is in Dorne, where we’ll no doubt visit next week. The Lannisters are as scattered as the Starks, but without the family bonds.

There’s a nice little scene to reintrodue Lancel, newly pious and shorn, as he’s joined up with the Sparrows, a religious movement that’s popped up in response to the ongoing war for the Seven Kingdoms. This is more scene setting for future plots, but it is handled well, and reminds us all that Cersei started much of this when she had Lancel poison King Robert.

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The other Lannister, Tyrion, arrives in Pentos, which we’ve not seen since Season 1. There’s quite a nice touch of introducing his journey through the airholes (shit holes?) in the crate he’s occupied since fleeing King’s Landing last season. He’s here with Varys, who appears likely to thankfully replace Illyrio Mopatis (also not seen since Season 1), and maybe later play more of a part in this neck of the Seven Kingdoms. It’s a good move, as more Varys is good for everyone, the Realm especially.

Tyrion is a hard sell on this journey though, telling the eunuch that ‘the future is shit, just like the past’, before vomiting and drinking some more. But eventually Varys talks him round, convincing Tyrion to play a part in bringing peace to the lands, not as a future king, but as one who could bring someone else to the Iron Throne.

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And who is Varys talking about? Daenerys, of course, who is still in Meereen. Honestly though, they better do something far more exhilarating with this part of the plot, otherwise it’ll play much the same as it has since she first busted those dragons out of their eggs.

We get a nice introduction to the Sons of the Harpy, a secretive and masked opposition to Daenerys that is quietly slitting the throats of Unsullied in the brothels of Meereen, while she struggles to maintain the respect she earned when she first liberated the city. In addition, Drogon has gone, and she admits she is losing control over her two remaining dragons.

Her visit to Viserion and Rhaegal is wonderfully terrifying. It’s a great reintroduction to the dragons, and their grown stature, reminding the audience that they’re not just a bargaining chip for Daenerys’ power, but untamed and monstrous creatures in their own right.

There’s also a nice little moment between Missandei and Grey Worm, two minor characters that might otherwise sit in the background, but here seem to be adding much needed heart and morality to this part of the story.

Loras is meanwhile enjoying himself teaching the viewers the anatomy of Westeros, until he is visited by Margaery, who seems to have plans for Cersei, as she’s definitely not following Tywin’s plans of marrying Loras.

Up in the Eyrie, we only get a brief couple of scenes, but they’re thrilling enough. And why? Because we’re out of book for Sansa and Littlefinger (ignoring this preview chapter from GRRM), and so any scenes with these two are brand new material. But just in case you thought it might tip the show’s hand in terms of where we’re heading, Littlefinger leaves us guessing, saying only that they’re heading west.

However, literally across the field sits Brienne and Podrick, two characters I didn’t expect in this opening episode. Brienne is unhappy, because Arya didn’t come with her, and she has no mission now as ‘all the good lords are dead.’ Little does she know that Sansa is within sight.

Brienne is an interesting character for the show to stick with, because of their deviations from the books late last season. This means that while we’re not out of material for her from the books, that material is potentially irrelevant if they’re fast-tracking Brienne (and Pod) to a more relevant part of the story. Watch their space with interest.

Finally, the Wall. There’s a bit of discussion between Sam and Gilly about who the next Lord Commander will be – Ser Alliser Thorne, Janos Slynt or Jon – and a reminder that Gilly has a baby and that Sam will follow her. No surprises there for what they’ll do this season.

Jon is summoned by Melisandre to meet with Stannis, who tries to lure Jon into action to reclaim Winterfell from Roose Bolton, but then decides he’ll do it himself anyway. The catch is Stannis wants the Wildlings to beef up his army, and conscripts Jon to sell this deal to Mance Rayder, imprisoned in Castle Black.

As an aside: any scene on top of the Wall is great in my books. Visually wonderful stuff.

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Jon’s conversation with Mance is excellent, playing off the strengths of both characters and giving us an understanding of why Mance is the leader he is. Ciaran Hinds is fantastic, in what has so far been a limited role, and he engineers lots of sympathy in a brief amount of time, as he is shortly lead to a funeral pyre for declining to kneel to Stannis, and thus conscript the Wildlings to fight for someone else’s war.

The final moments with Mance on the pyre is excruciating, and played well, all between looks from the main characters. Mance to Jon, to Stannis, to Melisandre, and Shireen and Selyse on the balcony. And, if my eyes don’t decieve me, to Tormund. I think there’s something in this for the book readers, if you watch carefully. Much will hinge on this moment, I feel.

But the pyre doesn’t last, as Jon puts an arrow through Mance, ending his suffering. The scenes at the Wall in this episode have been some of the strongest for Jon Snow, the most defining for him, and that’s including the Wildling assault late last season.

This episode was a strange one, but unsurprisingly so. Much of it was about clarifying the stakes for the characters: Cersei and Margaery battling for the throne, Danaerys for her own legitimacy, and Tyrion for his place in the world. But most importantly, it established clearly that the big enemy is not within, but without – the White Walkers are coming, with the winter, and finally this is something that Jon Snow knows.

  • Valar Morghulis: an Unsullied has his throat slit, and Mance Rayder was shot by Jon Snow. Or was he?
  • Great to see Pod and Brienne again, as mentioned, because ultimately they are great characters played perfectly, and in adaptation, seemingly improve our understanding of how they fit into the main story.
  • Didn’t get to mention, but it was great to see Davos on the Wall with Stannis. Finally the guy gets in on the main storyline.
  • Interesting that Shireen and Selyse were there, as it’d be easy to jettison them from the story. This is the point about the show now: given that they are present, one can assume they have a significant part to play in this corner of the story. For my part, I think Shireen’s suffering from greyscale is more than just a character detail.
  • Next week: Arya! Alexander Siddig! More Podrick!
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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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We really need to stop arguing about books vs. television

Posted March 27, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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In a recent article published in the New York Times, authors Mohsin Hamid and Adam Kirsch were asked if the new ‘golden age’ of TV shows were becoming the new novels of the 21st century. Both answered in depth, providing clarifications on either form and how they see them working as mediums and as vehicles for narrative. Interestingly, neither actually answered the question with a yes.

Not to stop there, a follow up in the Houston Chronicle by Maggie Galehouse – reprinted by Fairfax in the weekend papers across Australia – decided to take this manufactured argument and run with it, as a means of laying a boot into TV shows and audiences. Clearly books are better than TV, to Galehouse, so let’s all sit around and pat ourselves on the back for our ability to read.

In her article ‘The Book Is Mightier Than The Box’, due credit is given to shows like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men and True Detective, mainly for their ‘complexity’, and their ability to maintain an audience over several years. Galehouse continues comparing what she watches against favourite books, and admits that while she’s happy to commit time to watching the odd TV show here and there, she’d much rather read, making special mention of Middlemarch and Russian classics. The reader is left with Galehouse’s claim that she has yet to be floored by a film or TV show as she has been by a book, and uses her experience of reading As I Lay Dying as a prime example of the superior experience of reading.

Let’s put a stop to this ridiculousness now.

As Kirsch says, ‘to liken TV shows to novels suggests an odd ambivalence to both genres.’ If we continue to compare TV shows with books, or suggest that – much like films were rumoured to do in the 20th century – television will kill off reading, is facile. To do so is to suggest that audiences, readers, people, can only take their stories in one particular way. And that a story is a universal thing that needs a perfect-fit vehicle to deliver it to the audience.

It is impossible to declare Breaking Bad will render Harry Potter obsolete, and I can’t think of anyone who would promote the argument. There is no debate here, except among the grumbling few, among the cantankerous receivers, who feel the need to rank and rate and decry that the book is dead, the pen is mightier than the sword, the idiot box reigns supreme and we are all slaves to the latest thing.

In pitting books against TV, Galehouse and others are doing a disservice to creativity. The commonality between the two – story – is irrelevant. It would be like suggesting that cakes will kill off omelettes because they both use eggs as an ingredient. Nobody’s competing here. TV executives are not plotting grand schemes to overthrow the bestseller list, just as authors aren’t crying over  lost readers due to boxset binging.

The parallel existence of The Walking Dead comics and TV series are evidence of our ability to maintain two distinct narratives in our heads in two distinct mediums. Increasingly, Game of Thrones is doing the same. Both the film and original book of The Shining is just as appropriate, both being classical forms of their genres and mediums, but wholly different stories and experiences. There is no competition.

We’re all in this together. Books, films, TV, everything creative. Everything that tells a story. These are aspects of humanity that we have all craved, we have all created, we have all experienced for as long as humanity has existed. I’m sure our Stone Age ancestors didn’t sit around and debate whether cave painting was better than the latest fireside singalong.

Currently, when we are busy trying to hold on to every bookstore, trying to save every arts prize from obsolescence, and trying to find enough relevance for local content on our TV screens, it makes no sense to pit the creatives against one another. Creativity needs to exist within our culture, our society, not fight for the scraps of attention it is afforded through meagre funding, political threats and cultural warfare.

The most galling thing about Galehouse’s article isn’t the manufactured argument, or the inanity of comparing Dostoyevsky to Mad Men, it’s that this is a shipped-in reprint. Could we not find a local writer to make up ridiculous things? Could we not, perhaps, find a local writer to comment on the hesitation and occasional reluctance of Australia to accept local stories when we are drowning in American, British and even Scandinavian imports?

Could we not find anything meaningful to say about the relevance and importance of all stories, all creativity in a country that regularly battles to see art as anything but a waste of time and money?

We need stories. We need books and films and TV shows. We need our creative expressions to be shared and enjoyed and argued and forgotten and then found again. We need them in all shapes and sizes, in all mediums and genres and styles and fashions. Creativity should be the ultimate democracy, a mirror that shows us how all voices can sound in their infinite ways, as an act of humanity talking to each other, and to itself.

 

 

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The most epic ways to die in space

Posted March 20, 2014 by Mark

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Ok, spoilers for several major films and TV series ahead. Space is dangerous, space is cold, space is cruel. So you have the opportunity to go out in a pretty spectacular blaze of glory if you’re a character in a science fiction story. Here are a few epic ways to kick the bucket in space.

Ok, and once more just in case….SPOILER WARNING

 

 

Heroic spacewalk sacrifice

The above clip is from the French dub of the terrible film Mission to Mars, but it’s the best scene in the entire movie. You’ve become detached from your fellow astronauts and your ship, you’re floating away and the only thing you can do is stop your friends from trying to come after you. Tim Robbins has a sure fire way to make sure that doesn’t happen.

 

Blasted out an airlock

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Poor Cally from Battlestar Galactica. She’d just uncovered the truth about the cylons hidden on the ship, but got blasted out into space before she could tell anyone. Once that airlock opens, there’s no way you can survive unless your name is Sigourney.

 

Vaporised by the Sun

This is what happens when you don’t put on the correct sunblock.

 

Give birth to an alien

John Hurt, it looks like that HURTS. See what I did there?

 

Evil computer takes you out

There were some things HAL 9000 famously couldn’t do. Opening pod bay doors for example. But there were many things he could do. Pilot a ship to Jupiter. Sing ‘Daisy’. And, of course, KILL.

 

Spaceship explosion!

Boom!

BOOM!

BOOM!!

 

 

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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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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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The greatest franchise 50th anniversary is still to come

Posted January 15, 2014 by Mark

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A few popular culture icons have turned or are turning fifty. In 2012 it was James Bond, who celebrated his anniversary with the excellent Skyfall, and constant 007 movie marathons on televisions and cinemas worldwide.

Last year it was Doctor Who, who celebrated his fiftieth with a TV special that brought a few Doctors together, a regeneration and much fanfare.

But for me, the really exciting one comes in 2016, when Star Trek turns 50. So, what should be done to celebrate?

A new Star Trek movie

Yes, this will happen. A new Star Trek movie set in the J.J. Abrams movie universe is set for release in 2016. No details are known yet, except that the script is currently being written and the hunt is on for a new director (I hear Jonathan Frakes is available). Personally, I’d love to see this film ditch the Klingon war concept that was teased in Into Darkness and instead focus on telling a great stand-alone Trek story, set in deep space with something new and original.

A new TV series

This is possible. Rumours have been swirling ever since Star Trek re-launched as a major franchise that a new series was in the works. But where and when should it be set? Should it take place in the J.J. universe? (NOOOOOO) Or should it take place in the traditional, proper universe (YES PATRICK STEWART CAMEO PLEASE). It would be great if we could see another non-starship show, it’s been a long time since Deep Space Nine proved that Star Trek does not need to be set on a spaceship to tell compelling stories.

Something involving William Shatner

Let’s face it, Shatner has probably already pitched a host of things to Paramount involving himself. True story – after Kirk was killed off in Generations, Shatner wrote a series of Star Trek novels in which Kirk is resurrected and saves everyone from the Borg, and winds up trapped in Picard’s time and becomes a starship captain again. I would assume that he’ll at least get a cameo in the new film. Just so long as they stop him from making another guest appearance at the Oscars.

Something for the fans

It’s a difficult balance for the producers of Star Trek to strike between creating something that’s in keeping with decades of franchise history, but is also commercially viable. Like James Bond and Doctor Who, Star Trek doesn’t depend on any one actor or director to remain fresh, and is capable of constant reinvention.

The recent films haven’t really been for the fans at all. The first film was briefly advertised with the tag line “this is not your father’s Star Trek“, while the decision to keep Khan’s identity secret in the leadup to Into Darkness was supposedly driven by a studio worried about alienating a broader audience.

However, real fans will always have the expanded universe of novels and comics to enjoy, and there are always the conventions. In these areas, I’m sure the fiftieth anniversary will be celebrated with a bang.

 

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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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Our Top Ten Posts of 2013

Posted December 20, 2013 by Mark

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Here are our most popular posts from this year:

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10: Boys Don’t Read

This post, one of the first delivered from our new blogger Craig Hildebrand-Burke, is about the assumption that boys don’t like to read, why that idea is wrong, and what we can do about it.

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9: Five Reasons You’ll Complain About Game of Thrones After Season Four

This was just me showing off that I finally finished reading the books.

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8: Love and Fuck (Off) Poems

An unforgettable poem from Koraly Dimitriadis, author of Love and Fuck Poems.

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7: The Geek Grammar of Pacific Rim

Guest blogger Glen Fuller compiled a list of handy texts you should see before watching Pacific Rim.

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6: The Ten Greatest X-Files Episodes

Craig celebrated 20 years since the airing of the first X-Files episode with this list.

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5: Ten Lessons Modern Science Fiction Films Can Learn From 2001: A Space Odyssey

Because 2001 is the best and my favourite movie of all time (in case you didn’t already know that).

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4: Which Starship Enterprise is the Best Starship Enterprise?

“Nobody will want to read that” – my boss, to me when I first told him I was putting this post together.

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3: Top 10 Thriller Writers of All Time

Chris Allen, author of Hunter and Defender, put together a list of the thriller writers he most admires.

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2: Great Opening Lines from Science Fiction Novels

The first in a series of posts we did about opening lines.

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1: Ten Better Crazy-Ass Facts About Space

This was our biggest post of the year by far. People love space.

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The Sopranos: life as a TV show

Posted by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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It was only a few months ago, in June, when the news broke that James Gandolfini had passed away while holiday in Italy with his family. The outpouring of grief and accolades directed at Gandolfini’s career were enormous, even though the eulogising of him as an actor seemed somewhat incongruous with the lack of stardom Gandolfini had held during his life.

Gandolini’s career was, after all, not one of a cinematic celebrity. His roles were largely confined to character-types, sitting on the edges of plots and protagonists; his leading man parts kept mostly to the stage where diversity among actors seems to be embraced more than on our screens. So, for most of us, when we really think about Gandolfini as an actor, and as a person who tragically passed away far too soon, we are really thinking about him as the actor behind one role: Tony Soprano.

Only two weeks before his passing, The Sopranos was voted by the Writers Guild of America as the best-written TV show ever screened in the US. And while that is a plaudit afforded primarily to David Chase and the writers he employed to deliver The Sopranos, it is through Gandolfini’s performance across six seasons that we are able to experience the work of the writers.

It’s not easy for me to articulate exactly why I regard The Sopranos not only as my favourite TV show, but also as the best television I’ve ever seen. It has much in common with many highly regarded shows that it’s not immediately discernible what’s so special about a show that, for some,  paid too much favourable attention to organised crime and morally culpable characters.

To many, a unifying idea or concept permeates through the fabric of a great TV show. For Six Feet Under, it was about death. True Blood is about excess. The X-Files was about belief. Twin Peaks and dreams. Breaking Bad and control. And there’s The Wire and its titular application to societal disfunction, Mad Men and societal alienation.

For The Sopranos, it was all about family.

This is integral to the way The Sopranos is viewed. To me, it deals with and acknowledges all the aforementioned major themes but through the prism of the family as the central tenet of life. The early seasons of the show were marketed on this basis, almost as a gimmick.

‘Meet Tony Soprano. If one family doesn’t kill him, the other family will.’ (Season 1)

‘Family. Redefined.’ (Season 2)

‘America’s most watched family.’ (Season 3)

While these tag lines largely played off the hook of having Gandolfini’s Tony Soprano trying to manage his own family in 21st century America, as he simultaneously tried to control and rule his other family within the New Jersey mafia, it does strike at the heart of the show. It was always about family, about how so much of our lives are ruled and dictated by this aspect, our responsibility to family, our servitude, our role within a family and our inability to escape it. Tony’s role as boss of New Jersey was predominantly an extended metaphor for his struggles with his own biological family.

I missed the show as it screened on Australian television. All of my viewing was retrospective of the seasons, ingesting each season as freeform storytelling about an extended group of characters. Very few episodes followed a set run time, very few followed any type of formula for episodic television. When I found the show, it was at the stage of life where I was out of home, unsure of any future direction, unsure of what I should be doing with the life I had. As Tony himself says in a brief moment of awakening during his coma in the sixth season:

‘Who am I? Where am I going?’

The show called for introspection. It came along at a time when I needed it. Tony’s regular psychotherapy meetings with Dr Melfi was an occasion for the audience to ask themselves these same questions: who are we? why do we do what we do? where do we come from? what are we going to do with our lives? This show wasn’t just about one aspect of life, it was about it all, about everything that could possibly happen to us, while acknowledging the one constant – wanted or not – of family.

The show explored fathers and son, wives and daughters, brothers and sisters – but all not as mutually exclusive roles but as ones that are fluid and multiplied for many of us. Tony was a father but also a son, and a husband, and a cousin, and – obviously – a godfather. Gandolfini showed us a person trying to improve his own life, as much or as little as he could. He was as sociopathic as Walter White, perhaps even more so, but we get the impression he didn’t want to be. He didn’t choose to be. Change the details around, and this is anybody. We can’t choose our family, but we can try to make the best of it.

This was initially going to be a list of my favourite episodes, but clearly I got derailed. James Gandolfini’s death was shocking and terrible for his family, but it really did clarify just how emphatic his performance as Tony Soprano was, and how enormous The Sopranos was. The show tried to show us life, in all its facets, and rarely strayed into conventional television. Episodes are difficult to isolate, as the plots and strands bleed across many – it’s an impossible challenge to try and watch an episode of The Sopranos on its own, three seems a good minimum to start with.

I won’t list or recommend episodes. My personal favourite is The Second Coming (but so are Funhouse, Pine Barrens, Pie-O-My, Join the Club and Kaisha) but one episode can’t be watched at all without having seen the other eighty-odd. The characters existed in their own reality, struggled to be bound by any type or role that was afforded them, and asked us to question and reflect on our own roles, and our own stories. I have never watched a TV show that has asked me to look at myself so much.

 

 

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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 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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