The Momentum Blog

Jessica Jones Episode 3 AKA It’s Called Whiskey

Posted December 10, 2015 by Sophie Overett

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If the last episode started to hint at Jessica’s desperate need for connection, this episode builds on the theme dramatically, exploring the way those connections are used with both the best of intentions and the worst. Almost no one leaves this episode unscathed (except perhaps Kilgrave and Hogarth, but more on that later).

Last episode ended with the reveal of Luke and Jessica’s powers to each other, and this episode picks up right where we left off. Confronted with the other’s abilities, they put each other to the test in the sexiest possible way. Afterwards, they have dinner and they talk about higher callings, simultaneously echoing and rejecting their brother-from-another-mother Spider Man – great power might come with great responsibility after all, but how you interpret that doesn’t necessarily mean donning a suit, something Jessica alludes to having tried once. Not that it worked out.

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Luke and Jessica are the emotional epicentre of this episode and cast a lot of the things happening in other scenes and with other characters into a harsher light. With Luke, Jessica’s often at her finest. Smart, sexy, loving, tender. We know her relationship with him is complicated, but for a lot of this episode it’s the easiest thing in her life. Krysten Ritter and Mike Colter have such a natural chemistry, and such a nuanced understanding of their characters, that the scenes where they’re together are a genuine pleasure to watch. So much so that we know it’s not going to last.

Jessica’s past is a mangled beast, and it seems to darken her present more with every scene. She’s haunted by the photograph of Luke’s dead wife in his bathroom cabinet, and by the shadow of Kilgrave, who she finally talks to Luke about, however elusively. The two storylines come together in a not unexpected, but still heartbreaking, way when, through flashback, we find out that Kilgrave had ordered Jessica to kill Luke’s wife. The act seems to have been a severing point for Kilgrave’s hold on her. The memory comes back stark for Jessica, and she breaks everything off with Luke at the end of the episode. The reprieve their connection made in the series was just that – a reprieve, and Jessica has other work to do.

Meanwhile, Jessica continues her search for Kilgrave and her defence of Hope, who continues to sit in prison while the media runs wild with her story. Jessica talks to Hogarth about stopping the latter, but Hogarth isn’t quite ready to step up. Turns out Hope told Hogarth everything, and by everything we mean everything. Now with the knowledge of Kilgrave’s control of Jessica, Hogarth’s surer of her case, but still, she’s not biting on the mind control defence. The case is still weak, and Hogarth risks looking as delusional as Hope sounds.

Jessica takes the conversation to Trish, asking her to talk about mind control on her radio show and telling her about the fact that surgical anaesthesia can knock Kilgrave out of the game. Trish has a reveal of her own – namely her new prowess with krav maga. (Trish is the best, right? We can all agree on that now?) The next day, Trish interviews Hope live on air, giving Hope the platform to plead her case, Hogarth by her side. Hogarth talks about delusion, and Trish takes the bait – talking about mind control and insults Kilgrave’s manhood. Jessica stops the interview, but not quickly enough. Kilgrave calls up the show, charming in his threats or threatening in his charms, depending on how you look at it, and Jessica and Trish flee the building.

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Interestingly, Kilgrave’s evil feels both very present and elusive on the show, his danger removed. It’s not like it is with Kingpin in Daredevil, where we see his violence and his power. Kilgrave is yet to bloody his own hands, but David Tennant plays a brilliant threat in his call to Trish here and in the loom his presence has, weighing on Jessica’s shoulders. Jessica’s desperation is clearest here, and she tries to keep Trish safe by confining her to her fortress apartment before heading home herself.

One of the other major threads of the episode is Jessica’s continued search for the surgical anaesthesia. She tries Hogarth’s soon-to-be-ex-wife, Luke, contemplates holding up a hospital. Her solution comes now in the form of a very high Malcolm, who stumbles into her path. Jessica takes him to the hospital and flings him into a nurse, giving her the opportunity to steal what she needs.

Back at Trish’s, a police officer shows up, breaks in, tries to kill her under Kilgrave’s instructions. Her krav maga can hold him off, but it’s not enough to save her life. Luckily, Jessica is. They fake Trish’s death and Jessica follows the cop back to Kilgrave, who’s looking lavish in a luxury, glasshouse apartment. He’s pleased with the news of Trish’s death and promptly orders the cop to kill himself too. Jessica saves him, and we get a charged look between Kilgrave and Jessica as they finally see each other. Kilgrave escapes, but not before throwing a few attackers Jessica’s way and leading her down into a room covered with photographs of herself, her every move observed and caught, and a note – see you later. The only question is when.

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 10 – Mother’s Mercy

Posted June 16, 2015 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Last season ended with the magnificent episode ‘The Children’, bringing many characters to a point where they had to commit to a way forward, giving up on the past and investing the show and the audience in the future. Think of Arya boarding the ship to Braavos, leaving her family behind.

This season finale is much more sombre, concerned instead with the inevitable consequences of those long ago decisions. And while there are flickers of hope in certain small corners of Westeros, the characters seem to continually encounter that which all men – and women – must face.

Emblematic of this theme is the opening sequence, which is the final covergence in the North of several characters that has threatened all season. Rather than disssecting them all in turn, it’s worth just following the line of action as it flows from one camp to the next.

Firstly, Melisandre notices the thawing ice, which is the logical conclusion to a fire. Nobody’s happy though, as Stannis rebuffs her for possibly the first time. Half his men have deserted, and though they have a clear march now to Winterfell, everyone has to question what the price of fanatacism is.

We don’t wait long for an answer. Selyse has hung herself, and Stannis – the Westerosi Macbeth – shows no emotion whatsoever. Once his devotion to Melisandre’s Lord of Light brought him a shadow demon that killed Renly, and we’d also witnessed the same magic bringing Beric Dondarrion back to life as well. So we know there’s real power there, one had to speculate what Shireen’s death would bring. But Stannis had long strayed from desiring the throne for the good of the realm, and his ambition has brought only death.

Melisandre leaves, but Stannis accepts he can only move forward. It’s too late now.

Winterfell, meanwhile, is preparing for the attack, allowing Sansa an opportunity to sneak her way out of her locked chamber.

Nearby, Pod sees the Baratheon army approaching, motivating Brienne to move, taking an opportunity to exact revenge for Renly. But as a result, she misses by minutes Sansa’s lighting of the candle in the tower, asking us to question whether Brienne is joining the list of characters who stray from their path to pursue personal interests.

But the seige isn’t going to be a seige, as the Bolton’s ride out for a headlong attack on Stannis. There’s some marvellous wideshots here showing not just the scope of the attack and the insurmountable odds facing Stannis’ army, but the best detail was in seeing those fleeing the Bolton army and heading back from where they came.

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We cut immediately to the aftermath, as Stannis stumbles injured through the woods. He’s spent, but still strong enough to cut down two Bolton men, but only until Brienne arrives.

She can only finish him off, but Stannis at least accepts her charge that he has lost his way, having killed his brother with ‘blood magic.’ Brienne assumes the duty of a knight, as she has done previously, and brings to an end the torturous path of Stannis Baratheon. She, though, is juxtaposed immediately with Ramsay doing just the same to a maimed Baratheon soldier, questioning whether Brienne is giviing in to the same base emotions that Ramsay too often does (and that Arya later does): killing because that’s all they know.

But I think there’s something in Stannis’ underscoring of Brienne’s action: it is her duty to kill him, she swore an oath. He sees this in her, and she takes no pleasure in it, despite it being a personal resolution for her. It is also evidence of Brienne holding fast on her loyalty toward some concept of what is good, and what is just. There are increasingly arbitrary ideals in Game of Thrones, as shown way back in Season 1 when Ned Stark as beheaded. Trivial notions of justice have long been simply that, and any character who thinks they will be shielded by the cloak of justice has so far met a bad end.

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So there’s nobility in Brienne’s continued pursuit of the right path, navigating her way through the eternal conflict of Westeros like some wandering samurai. It’s a very different final image for her character than what is presented in the books, and one of the most interesting aspects to the finale for everyone, whether they’ve read the books or not.

Sansa is found by Myranda on the walls of Winterfell, but then saved by the revived Theon, and the two take their leap of faith of the wall to the snow beyond. It’s an interesting conclusion for both of them, particularly as Sansa had been the one character where we started the season fully anticipating new material, but instead seeing her assuming the role of a minor character in the books. So for the readers in the audience, we’re none the wiser as to what’s going to happen next, except for speculating that Sansa in the show is a long way from Sansa in the books.

That extended sequence brings to an end the storyline of several main characters this season, some faring better than others in how they were presented, but showing once more Game of Thrones’ ability to unite disparate threads with growing confidence and skill.

So across to Braavos, where seeing Ser Meryn Trant brutalise young girls is literally the worst thing to see. But in keeping with the episode’s swift plotting, we’re suddenly headlong into Arya’s revenge, as she reveals herself from the guise of a faceless girl, stabbing out Ser Meryn’s eyes and torturing him through to his death. Horrific, and we have to wince throughout it, knowing that Arya has taken a backward step on her journey.

Like Ramsay, there is a direct contrast here with Brienne’s earlier actions: she took no pleasure but only served her duty, whereas Arya revels in Ser Meryn’s death, as she abandons her duty to the Many-Faced god.

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She took the wrong life, says Jaqen and the waif. It’s literally cloak and dagger stuff in the House of Black and White, as Jaqen pretends to poison himself but then appears in the waif’s place. He shows Arya just how little she has valued taking a life, and we’re completely in the cave on Dagobah as Arya confronts her own visage on a dead body. As punishment, Jaqen takes her eyes.

This is the one plot where they haven’t really managed to connect it to the overall narrative, similar to what we saw with Bran last season. Game of Thrones is clearly leading up to some intersection between the Stark children and the overarching narrative held between Daenerys and Jon Snow, it’s just we’re a long way from seeing how that’s going to happen.

640-49Then it’s off to Dorne, which has fast become the new Meereen of nonsense plotting. Jaime, Bronn and Myrcella are sailing back to King’s Landing, offering Jaime a moment of clarity with his daughter, who promptly dies. It’s pretty indicative of everything in the Dornish plot this season: too rushed, too heavy-handed, and in the end we haven’t really achieved much.

It’s really just renewed bitterness between the Lannisters and the Martells. One has to wonder if they were originally going to cut this sideplot, as they did with the Iron Islands, but were so swayed by the performance of Pedro Pascal as Oberyn last season they had to give him some legacy. Instead we’ve had some rubbish writing, silly accents, and inconsequential time-wasting.

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And so to the leftovers of Meereen: all who missed the Goodship Drogon are left licking their wounds and counting their losses. Grey Worm, Missandei, Jorah, Daario and Tyrion are debating what course of action to take in Daenerys’ absence.

Tyrion gets to take care of Meeereen while Jorah and Daario ride off to do masculine things, and search for Daenerys. And then Varys arrives, the two standing once more on a balcony regarding the view, as they did in the season openener. It’s a nice sign of progress: Tyrion then was in hiding and drunk. Here he wants to drink, but is instead charged with the opportunity to have an impact on Meereen, and plan his revenge on King’s Landing.

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Daenerys meanwhile has landed with Drogon in his nest. But the Mother of Dragons still has a lot to learn about riding them, or getting them to obey.

But then the Dothraki arrive, and again we have to ask about the progress of Daenerys: is she rejoining them from a position of strength, or weakness? Certainly it’s one of clarity for her character.

In King’s Landing, Cersei leaves her cell and confesses to High Sparrow: she was unfaithful with Lancel Justice Lannister. But only to that sin, she won’t admit anything else. Certainly High Sparrow thinks otherwise, and will put Cersei to a trial. For now, she must serve punishment for what she has admitted.

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So the walk of atonement. It’s ugly all round. Nobody comes out of this with any good on them, even those who had for so long wanted Cersei to have a comeuppance. The elegance and gravitas that Cersei approaches her attrition is in direct contrast to the farcical plotting that got Maegary and Loras imprisoned, starting this whole chain of outing sin in King’s Landing. It’s a shame, and an exemplar of this whole season: lazy early storytelling leading to dramatic and powerful conclusions.

Added to that, there’s a shock and power in seeing Cersei confront how ugly she and Tywin before her have made their world. There’s no going back to the old order anymore – how could King’s Landing stand for any royalty after this?

Qyburn is there to greet Cersei at the end of the walk, introducing her to Ser Mountainstein, who has emerged from Qyburn’s laboratory of unnatural horrors, silent and terrible.

This is one of the few parts left with still some material to exhaust (not much, but a few key points), but it will be interesting to see how they adapt this in light of the refinements they’ve brought to other parallel plots, like that of Jaime. Until next year.

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Okay. The Wall. Okay. I guess we can all talk about this now. The only last secret the book readers were holding on to, the final piece of GRRM’s fiction where we could watch with glee as the TV audience watches on with horror. But, as with any adaptation to screen, what is subtle on the page is rendered specific as a visual, and there’s enough of a difference between the two versions of Jon’s story to warrant a discussion.

Firstly, Sam has to leave as he should take Gilly with him to Old Town. On one hand he wants to keep her and the baby safe, but also he knows he should become a maester, and embrace his role in the story. So they leave, and Jon is truly alone.

Until Davos arrives, closely followed by the fast-travelling Melisandre, who looks oddly subdued. She won’t answer anyone about Stannis’ fate, or Shireen’s. We know, and Davos and Jon can see the truth in her face. Has she come to claim Jon as her new champion now that Stannis has been revealed as a false hope?

There’s a whole story in the next cut, I feel, in that we go immediately to Jon alone at his desk, called outside by Olly. What has happened between Melisandre arriving and this night-time interruption? This is where the ambiguity lies in the show, given the bluntness of what follows.

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Olly leads Jon outside, with the rumour of Benjen Stark as a lure. And Jon is confronted by his Night’s Watch brothers as a traitor, and stabbed. This brings to a conclusion his conflict with Ser Alliser Thorne, drawing out the stabbing far more than it is in the book, shorn of its ambiguity and swift shock, giving us instead a slow, brutal end for Jon. This is shown most in the final blow from Olly, bring to a head this wholly invented character’s arc that started last season when he saw his parents murdered by the Thenns.

Given that readers of the book will swear up and down that GRRM would never kill Jon Snow in a cliffhanger, and that there’s enough in the resurrections that have happened elsewhere in Westeros, and in Jon’s warging abilities to believe that there’s far more than an off-page death to come for Jon Snow. Consider as well how the show cut from the resurrected Mountain to Jon’s death.

This is not to mention the ongoing debate about his parentage, and how that ties in with the overall mythology of the show and its epic Song of Ice and Fire, which were threads very carefully dropped into the show at key moments this season. Despite Kit Harrington’s interview where he swears dead is dead, and how much he will miss the show, one has to smell a large rat and a big sense of misdirection.

We may not get Jon Snow right away, but he will return. The question will be how to return him uncorrupted, as all others have been. The wights of the White Walkers, the Mountain, Beric Dondarrion – Game of Thrones has shown us many times how characters can die and then return, but so far they’ve never done so in a positive way. This is the path for Jon’s character, and for the story. And this is where, if anywhere, Jon’s half-siblings in Arya and Bran can connect their stories with his.

So it’s been an up-and-down season, starting well then becoming rather terrible in the middle, only to be saved by three epic episodes back-to-back. Part of this is an unforunate byproduct of the endlessly spun-out source material, and the show was at its best this season when it cut and streamlined. Given how little of the books still remain unadapted, and how strong these last few episodes were, I think the show will come into its own when it fully embraces its role next season as an adaptation of a future, unwritten book.

  • Valar Morghulis: from the top: Selyse, Stannis, lots of soldiers, Myranda, Ser Meryn Trant, Myrcella, and, uh, Jon Snow? Nah. He’s totally alive.
  • Maybe Jaime shouldn’t come back to King’s Landing, especially since Myrcella is dead? Can’t say there’s much left for him there.
  • Best exchange between Daario and Tyrion: ‘So mainly you talk?’‘And drink. I’ve survived so far.’
  • And best comment from Sam, as he provides a summation of how his first time with Gilly went: ‘Very carefully.’
  • Has Jaqen been the waif all along? This scene actually raised far more questions than gave answers.
  • As this is the final episode and the final recap, a big thanks to the Momentum folks for allowing me to rant and rave and generally just waffle on each week. Tremendous fun.

 Previous episode: The Dance of Dragons

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 9 – The Dance of Dragons

Posted June 10, 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.

The title alone should inspire viewers to think this is going to be one epic episode – if it weren’t for the fact that the final half hour of last week’s Hardhome set an enormously high bar.

But in the end it was a dark, dark hour, not without surprises and revelations, and the show left us with plenty of room to speculate on what’s going to happen next week, and next season.

Let’s dispense with the most trivial first: Dorne. It was an oddly interesting couple of scenes there this week, showing up basically everything that’s come before this season, but also suggesting that there won’t be any more Dornish action for some time.

Firstly, Doran Martell doesn’t want any more bloodshed, at least not in a way that would bring about open war with the Lannisters and the Iron Throne. I’m assuming at this point that Cersei’s imprisonment is not common knowledge. So Jaime is free to go, and so too is Bronn, after a fashion.

Doran’s bargaining has allowed Myrcella to return to King’s Landing, but only if the marriage to Trystane goes ahead, and Trystane sits on the Small Council in the departed Oberyn’s place. Jaime agrees, because this all makes sense. It just seems strange that all the Dornish action this season has preceded this decision, rather than the decision coming first. It’s logical, and handled dipomatically. What were the showrunners thinking?

Ellaria must pledge her loyalty to Doran to avoid any more antagonism between her and Jaime, and she then admits that she had no real grief with Jaime after all. Again, this begs the question why Doran didn’t quash this insurrection earlier, given that Ellaria and the Sand Snakes have been all Keystone Kops in Dorne, fooling nobody with their pretense of loyalty.

So everything in Dorne has just been backstory to Trystane landing a spot on the Small Council, which just makes everything all the sillier. What’s the net result? Trystane Martell, Kevan Lannister, Qyburn, Mace Tyrell, Maester Pycelle and Jaime make up the council – all individuals with no sense of allegiance to each other, and very little toward Cersei or Tommen. That is promising, it’s just a shame we had to go through all this nonsense first.

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In Braavos, Arya’s training continues, now tasked with the mission of taking out the insurance man on the docks. But, as expected, she spies Mace Tyrell arriving with Ser Meryn Trant, who was once high on the old Arya’s hitlist, for crimes against the Braavosi, Syrio Forel.

So, the choice is, kill the insurance man and became a Faceless servant, or kill Ser Meryn and become a Stark once more. More storylines are colliding, as expected. Arya may be through with the past, but the past clearly has something it still needs from her. That, no doubt, will be resolved next week.

Jon Snow arrives leading the Wildings to the passage under The Wall, but has a tense moment where he waits just a little too long for Ser Alliser Thorne to let them through.

This is the tragedy that was seeded in last week’s episode: Jon and the others narrowly escape annihilation from the White Walkers, only to have his efforts completely rejected by the Night’s Watch. This is the summation of Jon’s leadership, where he is able to inspire everyone he meets except those he commands. The path toward the greater good is a lonely one.

Okay, now it gets dark.

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Firstly, we’re at Stannis’ camp outside Winterfell. Melisandre witnesses the work of Ramsay and his men, setting fire to the camp, and jeopardising their position even further. She and Stannis both know that it is desperate for them.

So Davos advises retreat to Castle Black, but instead is sent there by Stannis, as punishment for being a good man. But honestly, when did Stannis ever take any of Davos’ counsel? We have to wonder why Davos serves him given the constant rejection. But Stannis is sending him away because he can’t bear to look at the one person who wouldn’t stand for what happens next.

If it wasn’t clear already, Stannis and his army are the batshit crazy fundamentalists of Westeros. They might have helped Jon achieve a ceasefire with Mance Rayder, and he might’ve appeared to appeal to Jon’s sympathies since (and therefore ours), but he’s always been a bad guy – we’ve just been too close to him to be concerned about it. The guy has been burning people at the stake since he first turned up, has constantly betrayed his wife and all but neglected his daughter, and is really the main challenge between notable ‘good’ characters like Daenerys gaining the throne. And don’t forget it was Stannis that was attacking King’s Landing when Tyrion saved it.

So when he agrees with Melisandre to put his daughter to death, to magic some form of an attack against the Boltons, it should really come as no surprise. The difference in Game of Thrones is that we spend time with everyone, good and bad, and it clouds our judgement. Additionally, most stories about good and evil focus on the ending, the path of the good to conquering the evil. George R.R. Martin has just developed a really really long prequel-in-disguise, where we get to witness all the seeds of the conflict that eventually will be quashed by the ‘good’ characters.

This is why events like Shireen’s death and the Red Wedding confound everyone, because we’re witnessing plot details that normally happen in the past in traditional stories, as motivation for the good characters.

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Finally, to Meereen. The fighting pits are finally in full swing and the games begin, with expected Gladiator echoes in abundance. Daenerys is reluctant about the whole thing, and it’s all made worse by the pissing contest between Hizdahr and Daario, which even bores Tyrion, who normally loves verbal jousting.

But what hits home for us is that this episode has really focused on the sacrifices that people make: sacrifices for victory for Stannis, or sacrifices for popularity and stability for Daenerys. All leadership is a bloodsport in Game of Thrones, because that’s how it’s always been, as Hizdahr reminds us.

And on that theme, Jorah arrives in the stadium, ready to die for Daenerys’ lasting glory. There’s a parallel here, and not just about what Daenerys and Stannis are prepared to do for the Iron Throne.

Shireen is suffering from greyscale, and is put to death by fire. But we know that Melisandre’s fire is not true fire – it runs cold. In the song between ice and fire, hers is inert, and so Shireen’s death is all the more tragic. There will be no victory for Stannis.

Jorah, too, is suffering from greyscale, and he is prepared to die, only for the true fire to intervene. Firstly he saves Daeners from a would-be assassin, and then when trying to lead her to safety from the Sons of the Harpy as they launch a full-fledged uprising, Jorah is justly saved with Drogon’s arrival, putting the true enemies to the flame.

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The show is trying to focus us on the symbolism of these moments, and how they contribute to the as-yet unknown design of the story. In the novel, Drogon’s attack on the stadium is brought on by the noise and the bloodshed, and Daenerys’ flight is a measure she takes to save everyone from his attack. Here Drogon’s arrival and her subsequent departure are presented more as symbolic conclusions to this part of the narrative – the only answer to the constant irritations in Meereen, and Daenerys’ answer to Tyrion’s questions last week about what she truly wants.

Jon’s escape from Hardhome brought us face-to-face with the big bad of the series, in a way it had never done before. Daenerys’ escape here reminds us that there is a force greater than any throne or army, and allowing us to connect these two more strongly as the inevitable convergence of the show’s ongoing conflict.

The last two episodes have allowed us to see a much clearer view of the story than we had ever before, but in doing so they’ve stretched the epic spectacle across more episodes than ever before, rather than giving us little updates on what everyone was doing, as early episodes in a season sometimes feel. With the seige on Winterfell promised now for next week, and no doubt a few more surprises, these three episodes will together sequence some of the most dramatic storytelling Game of Thrones has screened to date.

What is most fascinating is that these episodes promise to be the most free from the books to date. It’s almost as if they needed to wade through the over-written drudgery of plots like Meereen and Dorne just to get all the characters to this position where they could tell truly captivating stories.

  • Valar Morghulis: look, a lot, really. Many Sons of the Harpy, many Meereenese, including Hizdahr, but it’s worth just spending time reflecting on Shireen.
  • Even Selyse realises how far Stannis and Melisandre have strayed from humanity at the last minute. It’s pretty damn tragic. Can’t imagine Davos coming back in support of any of this.
  • Daenerys is rendered useless during the attack. She is just standing still while blood is spilled around her, all because of her presence in Meereen. This brings her flight so much more power, as foreshadowed when Drogon visited her at the top of the pyramid several episodes back.
  • Shireen’s long cold march toward her doom is reflecting that of the show, anticipated in the terrifying climax of Hardhome. The dark of winter is setting in, making the actions of those few in service of the greater good stand out so much more.
  • Still no Brienne, who appears to be watching on Winterfell and Stannis’ army at the same time, without doing anything. More stalling.
  • So Melisandre was able to do a hell of a lot with a few leeches on Gendry, but now Shireen needs to die? The show is doing some weird thing with her, at times distancing us from Stannis while supporting her actions, but now holding her up as completely insane. Whatever happens to the Boltons as a result of Shireen’s death, it’s hard to see any method to her madness.
  • Next week: will Jon’s plan to save the Wildings work? will Sansa get free of Ramsay? will Stannis beat Roose? will Daenerys find some place to land? will Tyrion rule Meereen? will Cersei and Margaery find a way out of their dungeons?

Previous episode: Hardhome

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 8 – Hardhome

Posted June 2, 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.

Interestingly, most Game of Thrones seasons start slow in the ratings, and then slowly build. In some respects this isn’t surprising, especially given the structure of the seasons seems to be about building toward both climax and revelation.

However, this season has done the opposite. It started higher than ever before (on the strength of the mania surrounding illegal downloads and Best Show Ever hyperbole), but has dramatically dropped each episode since then, particularly in response to the utter awfulness of Episode 6.

Not that one wants to put much stock in ratings these days, but I do wonder if this episode will get things back on track in time for the final two episodes. It was certainly many things Game of Thrones has been in the past, plus a whole lot of things it has never been before.

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Firstly, business. In Meereen (sigh), Tyrion and Jorah have some explaining to do in front of Daenerys. Jorah is banished, but Tyrion is able to gain an audience with Daenerys on the strength of his boasting honesty (‘I am the greatest Lannister killer of our time’), and the two enter into an interesting byplay of testy understanding.

On one hand, Tyrion is her enemy, but on the other he is everything she has been needing since Khal Drogo went to that big stable in the sky: Tyrion is direct, and thus brings momentum to the storyline. Her plot has been inert for too long, stuck in a wheel that goes nowhere, endlessly discussing who to trust, who to kill, how to lead and whether her army is large enough yet. So Daenerys wants to break the wheel.

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Tyrion arrival challenges her: why does she want the Iron Throne so much? This is not power for power’s sake, and Tyrion remarks that there’s no real service for the greater good these days. Until the end of the episode, that is.

Jorah, suffering from the greyscale and continued banishment from Daenerys, signs up once more for the fighting pits. Death and glory, then.

In King’s Landing, Cersei is in the cells, refusing to confess. How quickly things have changed, after her mocking of Margaery in the same situation. There’s not much here, except a little bit of Chekovian Qyburn, reminding us that he’s still doing god-knows-what with the Mountain.

But Cersei’s imprisonment does raise a question: who is in charge? The Faith Militant are not really concerned with ruling, only cleansing. Tommen is an imprisoned puppet. Stannis is occupied with Winterfell and the North, and Daenerys with Meereen. Can Westeros handle a vacuum?

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Over at Braavos, Arya is training to become a Jedi like her father before her. She has a new name, Lana, but not a new face. Somehow I imagined more of a transformation here, particularly in how these scenes are described in the books. But still, she is learning to lie, and learning to see the truth in the lives of others. Her mission from Jaqen is to observe the harbour, and see.

It is fascinating to think how Arya’s storyline might one day intersect back with the others. For now, it’s just an excellent progression of her character, particularly when one considers everything she’s gone through since leaving Winterfell. But at the moment her place in the master plan is still but a mystery.

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At Winterfell, there’s continued fallout from Theon’s betrayal. He insists he is Reek, Theon was taken away from him piece by piece (‘I deserve to be Reek’). But Sansa gets the truth out of him: he didn’t kill Bran and Rickon, and she might not be alone as a Stark.

Roose and Ramsay are discussing Stannis’ arrival, but other than a nice title drop in the conversation (‘leave a feast for the crows’), this is really just about reminding the audience that the battle for Winterfell will kick off next week.

Similarly, events at The Wall aren’t great in everybody’s absence. Sam and Gilly are holding firm, but Olly’s questioning of Jon motives is a nice way of voicing the mutiny from an innocent. Olly saw his parents murdered by the Wildlings, and so is unable to see how Jon can treat with them.

This allows Sam to think he can convince Olly that it’s all for the greater good, but allow us to realise Olly is not convinced, and neither will other seasoned men of the Night’s Watch, whose hatred of the Wildlings is far more ingrained, and they are likely to be far more dissenting of Jon’s actions.

(Also, it’s worth saying that it’s nice to be writing about scenes with subtlety again. More on this later.)

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Jon has arrived at Hardhome to meet the Wildlings with Tormund. The Lord of Bones is having none of this, so Tormund dispenses with him in order to initiate more civil conversation with the other Wildling leaders.

Jon the leader emerges once more, rousing all but the Thenns to join him, promising that this isn’t about past differences, but about the future. Very political is Jon Snow.

So they start to pack up and head off on the boats, but before they all depart the enemy arrives. The true enemy: the one that has been looming over the series since the very first scene.

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The arrival of the White Walkers and their wights is a thing of terror, playing much like a classic monster movie. The wights are hidden behind a makeshift gate, within a veil of fog, and we catch only glimpses at first. The show is reintroducing the main antagonist, and its chilling and worthy of the magnitude that their role should have.

The world of Westeros is effectively one that is under threat by a force of destructive nature: winter has finally arrived, and the only thing they can anticipate now is death. What we’ve been witnessing in most of the characters is whether the humanity that still survives will kill itself off before winter sets in, or whether they can rally together to make a stand. We’ve known this for a while, really, but this was the first time it was ever truly witnessed.

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Daenerys, Stannis, Cersei, Littlefinger and Roose: all want the throne. The White Walkers only want death. The Starks and Tyrion are the difference: none of them want to rule, and they seem to be the only ones who know what to do now. Interestingly, Robb died as the only Stark child who made a claim for the throne.

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The battle is scrappy and bleak, and the show reaches new heights of fear when a White Walker lieutenant arrives, striding through fire and killing a Thenn. The old enemies are gone now, Jon’s choice is between survival or the long, cold sleep.

And then something strange happens. Without any dragonglass, Jon kills the White Walker. Valyrian steel raises itself as a forgotten symbol with new-found meaning. Jon and Tormund barely escape to the boats, and we all catch our breath.

That is until the White Walker king arrives, striding through the Wildling dead, along the pier to stare at Jon. He raises his arms, and the dead raise with him. This is all handled in gutwrenching silence, a masterpiece of restrained and subtle filmcraft. We look upon his works, as the army of the dead rises, and despair.

Holy heck it’s terrifying. And the rest is only silence, played out over the credits.

  • Valar Morghulis: Lord of Bones, that Thenn guy, a lot of Wildings and some of the Night’s Watch, a stack of wights, and Karsi.
  • On Karsi’s death: only introduced this episode, and only a handful of moments to make the character resonate, but gosh that was a terrifying death. Shows how much can be done with so little, if you just choose to show the right moments.
  • Jon answers Tyrion’s call: putting his own life at risk to treat with the Wildlings, gave them safe haven and then saved many lives, nearly lost his own, all for the greater good.
  • Dragonglass is all lost, but Valerian steel is back in vogue. Now who had the other swords? Pretty sure Brienne had one, from memory.
  • Also: how does one make dragonglass? Asking for a friend.
  • Probably time to recognise Edd Tollett as one of the great survivors.
  • Varys is mentioned, and Kevan Lannister is back as the Hand. Two characters referenced but not seen. Cluuuuuuuess.
  • Next week: Dorne (eh), Arya (ay!), Wildlings at the Wall, Winterfell, the fighting pits, and dragons. It’s all coming to a head.

Previous episode: The Gift

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 7 – The Gift

Posted May 26, 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.

So after last week’s disappointing episode we’ll begin this recap in the North, with a series of scenes that only reiterate just how close winter is. Just about every shot outside shows the falling snow, adding a chill to scenes south of the Wall that hasn’t been present since the early scenes in Winterfell in Season 1.

In a sign that the show is getting a bit messy with its sequencing, given that last time we were at The Wall, Jon was heading off to Hardhome at the same time that Stannis was marching on Winterfell. Somehow, Stannis has made a fair bit of distance and is worrying about the damange the weather is having on his troops, while Jon’s still saddling up with Tormund.

It’s evidence of this padding out of storylines that is beginning to frustrate me this season. It’s several episodes ago that the show seemed to be promising a mid-season climax of several storylines, and now we’re just left waiting for them to have their inevitable Episode 9 Big Spectacular. This rhythm has been well-established since Season 2, and it makes for tedious viewing when we’re just marking time as characters join the dots.

Anyhow, there’s a gift of Sam’s to Jon of some dragonglass daggers, you know, just in case. So to be clear, absolutely no White Walkers will appear at all between now and the end of the season.

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Maester Aemon passes away, the last but one of the Targaryens. Sam says some nice words, and it shows how well he is gradually shifting into the role of Maester-in-waiting, but Ser Alliser Thorne reminds him he is quickly running out of friends.

And then just great – another woman in jeopardy scene, because that’s what we all need after last week. And like last week, the problematic aspect here is that Gilly’s jeopardy seems manufactured to prop up Sam’s growth as a man. The tropes are coming thick and fast in Game of Thrones.

Like last week, I’m struggling to work out what the reason for this scene is. Are we meant to value Sam becoming a man? Is it meant to emphasise how alone he and Gilly are now with Jon, Aemon and Stannis departed? Didn’t we get that when Ser Alliser said ‘You’re losing all your friends’?

It’s a bit poor, really. The best I could come up with is they’re emphasising Sam’s movement away from his oaths to the Night’s Watch, and toward his oath to humanity (given the increasing depravity of the Watch). Which is a similar path that Jon has taken since he treated with Mance Rayder last season, but still, this has all been propagated on the back of threatening a woman.

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On the way to Winterfell, Stannis and Davos are getting colder, and Stannis’ men are dying. But they must march on, he says, telling Davos and Melisandre. Surely his haste for victory will be his downfall? Of all the suitors for the throne, Stannis is the oldest, and therefore the one less likely to compromise if that involves patience. I’d be surprised if he lasts the season, to be honest.

Melisandre wants to sacrifice Shireen, believing this will give him the strength to attack Winterfell and the Boltons. And despite recent events, I don’t think even this show would stoop to that, but it does again raise the spectre of greyscale being countered by some sort of fire (and we’ve already established that Melisandre’s artifical fire isn’t the same as dragonfire). Clues rather than threats are the key here, I feel.

In Winterfell proper, it’s all very bleak. Sansa can’t convince Reek to become Theon, and he gives her up to Ramsay all too easily. So we have basically entered a revenge plot, and the most frustrating kind. We’re essentially waiting (lot of waiting this season) for Sansa to decide when the right moment to kill Ramsay will be. It’s a sufferable type of tension, created by having a character desire vengeance, but unsure when to act (think Gangs of New York). Tedious plotting, and the suspense equivalent of a car chase: between the beginning and the end, the rest is irrelevant and only delaying the inevitable.

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Moving south, we finally get to see some sun when we join Jorah and Tyrion and Mr Eko, who is selling the odd couple as slaves for the fighting pits. So off to Meereen they go, and we finally get what we’ve waited all season for: Tyrion meeting Daenerys.

Jorah’s quest for redemption in Daenerys’ eyes is well handled, and the moment comes quickly and without any spectacle that might have been anticipated, but it’s Tyrion’s choice to not flee but instead march out without his manacles that shows the potential strength the show has in these two characters meeting. It’s just amazing they let it dawdle for so long.

In King’s Landing, High Sparrow and Olenna are haggling over the handling of her children. She doesn’t have much success reasoning with him for Loras and Margaery’s safety, especially when he counters with ‘you are the few, we are the many.’ These are strong words especially given the stakes of the entire show rest around a bunch of the few trying to claim ownership of the many. Perhaps there is some sort of revolution at hand for GRRM’s Westeros?

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Tommen at least would like to start some sort of uprising against the Faith Militant, but Cersei knows he won’t last five minutes. And plus, she started this bunfight.

Littlefinger and Olenna catch up, each realising that there’s strength in their uneasy alliance (are there any others?) rather than giving each other up to Cersei as the mastermind behind Joffrey’s poisoning.

After Cersei’s visit to Margaery, I’ve started to worry about how the show is painting Cersei as a character. It’s a difficult thing to get a villain right, something they did so well with Tywin previously. Instread, Cersei is becoming more like Joffrey and Ramsay – utterly hateful and only there to spur us to hate her more. Given that previously she was entirely motivated by keeping her family safe, and lately out of avoiding the prophecy of her life, it is disappointing to see her reduced to a snarling villain, concerned only with power and self-interest.

The main problem is that when Cersei gets her comeuppance (which started in the final scene of this episode when she is thrown into a cell), the audience has been engineered to applaud her downfall. When shows make characters intentionally awful just to allow us to feel good when they perish is problematic – it’s the fallacy that underpins every terrible crime drama that thrives on good cops outmanoeuvring evil killers.

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Game of Thrones has been so much better than this in the past – particularly with how it has played with our sympathies over characters like Jaime, the Hound, and even Stannis to a degree – the last couple of episodes have felt like a lesser version of the show, reduced to caricature.

With Cersei, we knew her arrest was on the cards as soon as we saw Lancel was with the Sparrows – it’s just a shame they’ve taken the less complex route and given in to mining audience bloodlust. There’s an argument to be made here that they have become carried away with how much everyone loathed Joffrey, and since then they’ve been trying to fill his vacant seat with someone of equal loathing.

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Oh, and we might as well finish with a small note on Dorne, and whatever the hell is going on there. There’s an entirely forgettable scene with Jaime and Myrcella, that amounts to all of nothing, other than it feeling like Uncle Jaime won’t let Myrcella go to the prom.

And there’s a terrible scene with Bronn and the Sand Snakes, who are all imprisoned down in the cells (but not Jaime, apparently). But before we can wonder what four volatile sellswords might start cooking up when left alone, the scene transitions into a terrible play for Tyene’s power over Bronn, who suddenly begins to suffer the effects of some slow-release poison from her blade.

It’s basically Male Gaze 101, trying to show Tyene’s mastery of the situation while still giving in to lurid camera work, and in the end nobody comes out of that scene feeling good about themselves.

The show has a lot of course-correcting to fashion in the final three episodes, which seems to begin with Jon and Tormund’s arrival at Hardhome next week. Stannis’ attack on Winterfell will probably be saved for the episode after, and probably any resolution to Daenerys’ time in Meereen as well. And god I hope they wrap up the embarrassment that is Dorne soon.

  • Valar Morghulis: Maester Aemon, some slaves, and the old lady who was unfortunately still faithful to the Starks.
  • Daenerys and Daario were still talking about how to rule properly: justly or with tyranny. That old chestnut. That conversation hasn’t changed since Daenerys rode with the Dothraki.
  • With Tyrion seemingly on his way to some sort of understanding with Daenerys, might that promise a return for Varys?
  • Brienne still looms over Winterfell, if there’s any sort of silver lining.
  • Next week: was that Rattleshirt? will Hardhome fail or succeed? can Jon save Stannis, or take his place?

Previous episode: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 5 – Kill the Boy

Posted May 13, 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.

Winter is coming, and it’s a cold, cold episode this week.

Last week I spoke about how the show was becoming increasingly deft at weaving together characters and plots, by taking a cause-and-effect approach to certain scenes.

Well this week they basically stepped that up a level, with the entire episode operating very much as one long sequence from start to finish, tying together characters from the farthest reaches of the show’s geography, while also highlighting and connecting various symbols and plot points that might otherwise fade into the background.

It’s a strength of the show that I’m finding it has in spades over the books. Shearing the story from the weight of oppressive amounts of detail and backstory, we’re getting the refined version in the show. It’s almost as if George R.R. Martin’s books read like the first draft of a story that we’re now seeing in a much cleaner and efficient form.

And while most of this episode is centred around the North, we begin in Meereen, with Missandei watching over Grey Worm as he recovers from the ambush that nearly took his life, and did that of Barristan Selmy. It’s testament to the strength of the scenes between these two, in this and the later one, that we get so much out of their connection – a nice subplot to the drudgery in Mereen.

But Barristan Selmy is dead, and Daenerys uncertain how to proceed without one of her trusted advisors. He promoted peaceful measures, whereas Daario Naharis favours swift and clinical aggression. Daenerys has other plans for the city, as she seeks to squash the Sons of the Harpy.

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In her strongest scene since that chance encounter with Drogon, she rounds up the usual suspects – the heads of the important families – and takes them into the dragon pit. It’s a return to her maverick moves that won her an army and her reputation, and a welcome relief to the stagnation that’s followed. Viserion and Rhaegal have a barbecue with one of the patriarchs, but Daenerys imprisons the rest, as she doesn’t want to overfeed them.

After taking a suggestion from Missandei to embrace her own abilities to see ways forward that others can’t, Daenerys decides to betrothe herself to Hizadr zo Loraq, and potentially shoring up her wavering support in the city. The motivations behind this act plays out differently than it does in the books, but somehow it works. It places Daenerys in a position where she potentially knows what she is doing, rather than as someone struggling to react to the machinations of those around her.

This return to her reputation is noticed, and carried in the news to The Wall, as read by Sam. It’s a nice touch, and a clever segue, bringing these two extremes to a form of connection. Sam is talking to Maester Aemon, himself the only remaining Targaryen (or is he?) that might be able to offer Daenerys any assistance. It’s a good reminder about the Maester’s past, as well as nodding to the potential revelations of last week’s episode.

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Jon sits down with the Maester, to discuss a difficult decision he must make that will make half the Night’s Watch hate him. Later on, once he makes the decision, he realises it will make the wrong half hate him – those that would always support him. This episode is setting up future threats to Jon’s control of the Night’s Watch, but simultaneously strengthening the character as one who can only act for good even when it puts him at risk.

As Maester Aemon says to him, Jon has realised he must ‘kill the boy, let the man be born.’

So he talks to Tormund, and the two reach an agreement that they will head to Hardhome to recruit (and save) more Wildlings, to join the Night’s Watch and move to safety south of the Wall.

To do so, he needs Stannis’ ships, and he gets them. While it’s a nice exchange, and a further sign of Stannis actually becoming the Human Who Would Be King, it’s also at odds with how these two characters have interacted all season. Jon has done nothing Stannis wanted, including his mercy killing of Mance Rayder, yet somehow Stannis feels comfortable lending his ships to Jon.

Anyhow, Stannis chats with Sam, fact-finding about the White Walkers. Sam mentions dragonglass, and Stannis zeroes in on this. Like the greyscale, one can’t help but place significance on the highlighting of this fact. Again, it’s there in the books, but it lands so much better here. The threat of the White Walkers was also much articulated in this episode, reiterating that they are the big bad looming at season’s end (perhaps).

Stannis won’t wait though, and decides to march on Winterfell with his army, Davos, Shireen and Selyse, and Melisandre. A diverse group indeed. It’s a parting of the ways at the Wall, after the uneasy truce formed at the end of last season. Jon and Tormund head to Hardhome, Stannis to Winterfell, and Sam and Gilly may perhaps have a journey in front of them as well.

So to the outskirts of Winterfell, where Brienne and Podrick plan their potential rescue of Sansa. If I’m correct in my suspicions, these two could replace a slightly different rescue mission in the books. Which was to rescue fake Sansa, not real Sansa, so it’s all a bit interesting right now.

In Winterfell, Ramsay Bolton needs to put some clothes on. Everyone keeps saying winter is coming, and this psychopath likes to prance about a stone castle complete naked. I told you it was a cold episode.

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His scene with Myranda sets up her antagonism toward Sansa, who she finds looking at the tower where Bran fell back in the first episode of the show. It’s a nice visual moment, and helps bring home to the audience how Sansa is feeling with her return to Winterfell. Myranda sends Sansa into the kennels, where she finds a cowering Reek, still trying his hardest not to be Theon.

And continuing this chain of small moments affecting later moments, Reek then confesses to Ramsay that Sansa has seen him, prompting Ramsay to parade Reek in front of Sansa at dinner, as the killer of her two brothers. Roose Bolton is irritated, Sansa somehow holds it together (having clearly learned much from her proximity to Joffrey), but the scene raises an interesting question.

Ramsay knows the old Theon never killed Bran and Rickon. And Reek still somehow knows he didn’t. And revealing this to Sansa would bind the two together in a way that might allow them to escape the Boltons. So why would Ramsay bring this whole topic up?

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Regardless, Roose Bolton sees through all of Ramsay’s antics and still manages to manipulate him into devoting all his energies toward holding the North, particularly as Stannis is marching.

The trip to Valyria, to join up with Jorah and Tyrion, is potentially the one shift that feels out of joint with the rest. But bear with me, it works.

Firstly, they’re on a boat. There’s been a lot of boats this season. Tyrion sums it up the situation nicely as:

‘Long sullen silences and an occasional punch in the face- the Mormont way.’

Jorah is steering them into the ruins of Valyria, and they treat the audience to a bit of backstory about the cursed place where doom still rules. But not only doom. Realisation hits home for Tyrion the cynic when Drogon soars overhead. Dragons have returned from the past, and suddenly he’s a world away from the political brinkmanship of King’s Landing.

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This dovetailing of disparate characters and storylines is working a treat during this season, and this moment was promised by one of the promotional images released before the season began. It certainly lives up to it.

But not for long. The stone men arrive, and attack Jorah and Tyrion. Afflicted wholly by greyscale, it appears to affect their perceptions as well, rendering them into growling, hulking monsters. Tyrion jumps ship, but is dragged down by one of the stone men, only to come to on a beach, rescued by Jorah.

And then the kicker: Jorah reveals to us, but not Tyrion, that he’s been infected with greyscale. Its importance has been looming all season, and finally here we have it playing a central role in the future of a major character, if not a major storyline as Jorah brings Tyrion to Daenerys and her dragons.

The connection between greyscale, the dragons, dragonglass and the White Walkers is something this episode really tried to illustrate. And the good thing is, the exciting thing, is we know they’re going to be important in the future of the story, we just don’t exactly know how and why. And, if we’re really keeping an eye on the future, there’s still Bran’s discoveries with the Three-Eyed Crow to tie into the ongoing mythology of the show.

  • Valar Morghulis: a Meereenese family head, and a few stone men. After Barristan Selmy last week, it’s all a bit quiet on the brutality front.
  • Initially I thought next week would bring all the conflicts to a head, but now I think it’ll be the week after when we reach the battle for Winterfell, Jon gets to Hardhome and Tyrion gets to Daenerys.
  • Uncle Davos is the best.
  • Next week is all King’s Landing, Dorne and Arya, who all sat this week on the bench.

Previous episode: Sons of the Harpy

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