The Momentum Blog

Give a TV lover a book!

Posted January 14, 2016 by Sophie Overett

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Do you have someone in your life who is difficult to buy gifts for? Is it your dad? Regardless, all you need to know is their favourite TV show, and we’ve got the rest covered. Here’s some book tips for the TV lover!

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Watching: The Walking Dead
Give them: A Town Called Dust by Justin Woolley

The Walking Dead is basically a cultural phenomenon at this point. The series about a man waking up from a coma to find himself in the throes of the zombie apocalypse captured imaginations around the world. Odds are someone in your life is a diehard fan of the series – whether it’s your teenage sister or straight laced hubby. This holiday season, grab them A Town Called Dust by Justin Woolley, a terrific dystopian series set in the outskirts of Alice Springs with a small community left to fight off hoards of the undead.

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Watching: Grey’s Anatomy
Give them: Life Support by Nicki Edwards

Medical dramas are a dime a dozen, but few have had the longevity of Shonda Rhimes’ Grey’s Anatomy, a series that really taps into the heart (pun!) of the genre. Stop wondering about the difference between McDreamy and McSteamy and instead settle your giftee with Nicki Edwards’ Life Support, a story about a small town nurse who finds herself balancing her career, the death of her husband and a mysterious new beau.

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Watching: Homeland
Give them: Standoff by David Rollins

The combination of crime, character study and national security proved the trifecta for multi-award-winning drama, Homeland. Standoff by David Rollins takes a different approach, but is similarly thrilling as the story of an OSI Special Agent investigating an airport massacre only to find a survivor left crawling out of the Texan desert.

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Watching: Reign
Give them: The Young Royals Series by S.A. Gordon

Who doesn’t like to see hot young royals caught between lovers and station? Reign might take you back to the days of Mary, Queen of Scots, but that doesn’t mean the monarch drama needs to stay in the 1500s. S.A. Gordon’s Young Royals Series takes an All-American girl and drops her into the life of luxury after she captures the eye of Prince David. Fraught relationships and torn commitments ensue!

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Watching: The Jinx: the life and deaths of Robert Durst
Give them: Chopper Unchopped

Thanks to the Serial Podcast, true crime seems to be a hot water-cooler topic these days. Everyone listened with eager ears as Sarah Koenig opened up the long closed case of Adnan Syed and scrambled to answer the question of whether he really did kill his ex-girlfriend, Hae Min Lee. With the podcast between seasons, a lot of listeners turned their attention to HBO’s The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst, a six-part miniseries exploring the strange connection between a string of unsolved crime and a real estate tycoon. Give your criminally-curious pal the insidelook at one of Australia’s most notorious criminals, Mark ‘Chopper’ Brandon, in Chopper Unchopped.

Is the show you have in mind not featured here? Tell us in the comments and we’ll let you know what to get!

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Jessica Jones Episode 1 – AKA Ladies’ Night

Posted November 25, 2015 by Sophie Overett

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Jessica Jones tells us who and what she is from the first line of dialogue. In the opening scene, her sardonic voice over sets her up as a freelancing private detective with an eye for ‘the worst in people’. The scene is straight out of a forties noir, from the eerie jazz score to the voyeuristic window shots, to the Hitchcockian sense of shadow.

It sets the scene, but more than that, it sets the tone of the entire series. Jessica Jones has more in common with the detective pulp fiction novels you find at second hand stores than with previous Marvel Studios properties, and it owns that every step of the way.

This first episode has two cases and the way Jessica comes into them is classic detective story tropes. The first case she gets after cajoling Jeri Hogarth, a lawyer Jessica’s worked for before. After a bit of banter revealing the pair’s spotty professional history, Hogarth asks Jessica to track down Gregory Spheeris, a strip club owner, and hand him a summons for a personal injury lawsuit.

The second case is even more typical and plays with the trope of many classic crime stories that balance pay cheque cases with more nuanced and intriguing ones. A couple walk into Jessica’s office trying to find their missing daughter, Hope. Hope has uncharacteristically dropped out of college, and her parents are worried. Jessica’s interest isn’t overwhelming, but it’s piqued enough to take the case.

In between receiving the two, one of Jessica’s stakeouts is disturbed when she finds herself watching a tall, dark and handsome stranger leaving a bar with a woman. She’s intrigued by him for reasons we don’t quite know yet – whether it’s simply attraction, which is well and truly acted on later in the episode, or if the man is in some way related to Jessica’s currently ambiguous history. We know they don’t know each other, they introduce themselves later in the episode, although when they have sex it’s both hot and angsty, almost brutal in the emotional intensity of the scene. Their chemistry is basically off the charts. Afterwards, Jessica ends up in the bathroom, rifling through his medicine cabinet only to find a photograph of a woman. Her reaction is so grief-stricken that perhaps this is the connection she has with the stranger, or if it’s not, the episode lingers enough on it that it must be important.

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Jessica heads out, vomits, and has a restless night of sleep on her couch. Her insomnia, drinking, panic attacks and powers are peppered throughout the episode and currently serve less narrative purpose than they do character setup. Her powers in particular are portrayed as just a fact of her – in the same way as having a natural aptitude for sport might be, or being able to pick a lock. Useful, sure, but not something that makes life all that much easier. She leaps up two flights of stairs, throws an alarm clock through a roof and lifts a car off the road to stop Spheeris escaping the court summons Jessica needs to hand him (and thus solving case #1).

Her panic attacks are a little different. They come up only a few times throughout the episode and are always coded the same way. With a shift into purple lighting and a faceless man leaning close, his coy, British voice asking her to do things. In these scenes Jessica either freezes or scrambles, and repeats street names like a mantra – Main Street, Birch Street, Higgins Drive, Cobalt Lane.

But back to the case.

Jessica speaks to Hope’s best friend, who’s still pissed at her for bailing out on rent. She reveals that Hope met a guy, and Jessica steals a credit card bill that reveals Hope’s been buying up in terms of sexy undies and expensive dinners. Jessica follows the latter to a restaurant she immediately recognises. Flashback to our purple mood lighting, Jessica all dolled up, sitting opposite the British man from her panic attacks. He tells her she’ll love it. Jessica loves it. He tells her to smile and she does.

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The same man was there with Hope, days before.

Jessica panics. Jessica repeats her mantra. Jessica finds Hope’s parents. The police didn’t recommend Jessica to them, but someone else at the station did. Someone with an English accent. Jessica tells them to pack, and then she does. She tries to book a ticket to Hong Kong, but her card doesn’t work. Hogarth hasn’t paid her yet for the Spheeris job, and won’t for another few days, so Jessica ends up at Trish’s.

We’ve seen ads for Trish’s radio show throughout the episode, and they’ve all been met with bite and regret. This conversation doesn’t go any differently. Jessica asks for money, and Trish gives it without hesitation, but not without anger.

He’s back is the only answer Jessica can give her. The lingerie, the restaurant, all the things this (now named) man, Kilgrave, is doing with Hope, he did with Jessica. Jessica needs the money to run, before he comes after her, but Trish doesn’t think she should leave Hope with him. ‘You’re still the one who tried to do something’ Trish tells her, but Jessica isn’t having it. ‘I was never the hero you wanted me to be.’

Jessica leaves with Trish’s wad of cash and Trish’s words, and suddenly Jessica makes a detour. She finds Hope at the same hotel the man took her to, sprawled on the bed. Kilgrave is not there but he’s told Hope to stay and she’s physically unable to move to the point where she’s wet the bed. Jessica knocks Hope out to get her back to her office, lugging her over her shoulder in one of the more useful examples of her superhuman strength. Hope’s parents meet them there, and there’s a tearful, sweet reunion as Jessica tells them to clear out back to Omaha, to get as far away as possible to let Kilgrave’s mind control powers wear off.

For a second, it feels resolved. That maybe today the good guys win, only Hope and her parents get in the elevator and Hope pulls out a gun. By the time Jessica gets to them, Hope’s parents are dead and Hope’s left pulling the trigger, again and again. ‘Smile’, she tells Jessica, who backs out of the apartment building, staggering to the cab. Jessica knows there are two options – keep denying it or do something about it.

Jessica walks back into the building.

One theme’s made very clear in this first episode, and it’s something that I’m sure will thread throughout the series – not of healing, but recovery. They’re two words that sound the same and are often used interchangeably, but Jessica Jones knows that their differences are stark for survivors of trauma. Jessica’s never going to heal, or be the person she was before all this, but she can recover. If the first half of this episode shows a woman in retreat, or in survival mode, the moment she makes the detour to the hotel shows a woman who’s, well, doing something about it, and I’m excited to see the way it shapes up in the next episodes.

Other Things
Interestingly, Jessica’s sardonic voiceover only falters twice – once when she sees the ad for Trish’s show on the side of a bus, and once when she’s reminiscing. It’s a simple and clever tool that’s rarely used in narration, but is used very effectively here.

Jessica’s neighbour, Malcolm, is a total doll. The line with him offering Jessica the TV he stole made me hearteyes forever.

So Jeri Hogarth’s cheating on her wife with the secretary! I highly doubt that’s going to be a standalone plot line and I’m interested to see how it threads with the Jessica and Kilgrave plots.

What did you think of the episode?

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Well-Read TV

Posted September 24, 2015 by Sophie Overett

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There’s this really great scene in Southland, a drama series about cops in Los Angeles, where one of the detectives fails. I know, I know, it’s not exactly an uplifting episode (then again, it’s not exactly an uplifting show), but a kid he knows off the streets – whip smart, an avid reader, cute as a button, finds himself in a gang before he hits adolescence.

The scene where our detective finds out, and when the kid finds out that the detective has found out, is probably one of the most harrowing scenes I’ve seen recently. After all, neither of them have really failed. Its society and a broken system that’s failed them both.

Most of the episode the kid has been making fun of our detective for his total obliviousness when it comes to books. He schools him on Lord of the Rings, Where the Wild Things Are and finally on Cormac McCarthy.

The episode ends with the detective at Borders (it’s a pretty old show) picking up a copy of McCarthy’s The Road. In a single act, the writers have surmised the episode, these characters, and the sheer hopelessness these cops meet when it comes to protecting the people they’re supposed to. Modern LA might not be a post-apocalyptic America as it is in The Road (although after four hours at LAX, I could certainly argue it is), but it is an impossible place for the paternalistic cop.

Books make for an interesting prop in TV. They play out, ultimately, as what they are. I can’t think of any other medium that can as effectively drop another narrative inside themselves. A story in a story told by a book cover and a nod to the viewers who’ve read it.

They come up time and time again.

Don Draper, Mad Men

Don Draper Reades

Mad Men goes beyond exploring the changing tides of 1960s America. It’s a meditation on the era’s pop culture, and how it informs not only the times but the characters. None more so than its leading man, Don Draper. Frank O’Hara’s Meditations in an Emergency to The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre, Don’s reading habits are always topical indicators for the month and year we’re in (important for a series that had large time jumps), often abstract and usually telling of Don’s emotional state. Perhaps none more so than Dante’s The Inferno which steals the first scene in the first episode of Season 6. For a character who has continually self-sabotaged, who has ignored a history which has constantly raised its head to meet him, who has destroyed relationships and career time and time again, reading a book on the nine circles of hell is a perfect allegory. Plus, you know, it spawned a hundred think pieces.

 Rory Gilmore, Gilmore Girls

Rory Gilmore Reads

What character reading list would be complete without Rory Gilmore? Throughout the seven seasons of the show, Rory reads a whopping 339 books. There are challenges set up in her honour! Rory reads some of the most formative books of modern (and ancient) history, feminist texts, children’s stories, literary fiction and science fiction. She’s a broad and generous reader, like we all should be. Rory’s reading habits rarely inform the episode, or her state of mind while she’s reading them, but the general fact of it rounds Rory’s character and serves as fundamental elements of some of the most important relationships on the show – Jess and Rory, Rory and Paris, and Rory and her grandfather. It serves a different sort of narrative connection to what books do in Mad Men. Just like in Southland, books are more than a reflection of the interior, they’re a basis for connection.

Lisa Simpson, The Simpsons

Lisa Simpson Reads

Lisa Simpson’s reading habit is probably one of the most well-known and documented in television history. I mean, there are tumblr’s devoted to this eight-year old’s reading habit. If anything, what Lisa’s reading is a plot device for episode hijinks or more an indication of the writer or animator’s preferences than anything else, but the simple fact of Lisa reading is integral to her character, to her differentiation to her family, to her wit, her intelligence and abundant capacity for empathy. I don’t know if people will be trying to read everything Lisa does like they will Rory Gilmore, but it’s hard to deny that Lisa’s habit is one of the most voracious on TV.

Taystee Jefferson, Orange is the New Black

Taystee Jefferson Reads

Books come up in Orange is the New Black all the time, and serve a purpose somewhere between Mad Men’s level of character commentary and The Simpsons in-jokes (after all, there’s nothing better than seeing a murdering, criminal mastermind reading John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars). But Taystee Jefferson, like the kid in Southland, represents something beyond pop culture. She’s a commentary on the prison system – bright and compassionate, a leader and a friend, on top of being an avid reader, yet when she is released from prison, she can’t survive outside of it.

It doesn’t help that Taystee was groomed from a young age by the aforementioned murderous-John-Green-reading-mastermind, Vee, who massages circumstances to keep Taystee in her control. Books are Taystee’s escape from a situation where there is none, and it’s not a surprise nor a coincidence that the books she references tend towards the fantastic – Harry Potter, Outlander, Stephen King. The only time she references a book not escapist is when she mentions The Help, and man, if that isn’t a whole other story.

Tony Soprano, The Sopranos

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This is kind of a cheat as we don’t actually see Tony read all that much in The Sopranos, but there are fair chunks of season’s devoted to Tony watching things. By the end of the show’s run, Tony must have worked his way through the gangster cinema canon, from 1931’s The Public Enemy to 1990s Goodfellas, Chinatown, The Godfather. The history of mafia cinema plays out as a wink and a nod to the viewer, but also to inform on what Tony is and ultimately, who he wants to be, because there’s nothing Tony would rather be than the kingpin.

Any well-read characters with a special space in your heart? Let us know in the comments!

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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 3 – High Sparrow

Posted April 28, 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.

Well, it’s finally happened. For those book readers in the audience, the series has finally launched headlong into the great unknown, and despite the subtle and incremental plot developments of this particular episode, there was at least one moment that was – for this book reader at least – as unexpectedly thrilling as either the Red or Purple Wedding, and no blood had to be spilled at all.

But we’ll get to that. Firstly, in Braavos, Arya is settling in to the House of Black and White by sweeping, as all men must serve. But the artist formerly known as Jaqen H’ghar tells her that faceless men must serve most of all. The question is, who do they serve? Just in case it was in any doubt, someone dies in the background, and is promptly taken away. There is only one god they serve, and everyone knows his name.

What is interesting is that in what is essentially a house of death, and as Arya cleans a cadaver, she suddenly becomes more human than she probably has been since Season 1. Arya had until now become increasingly sociopathic, and despite their banter, only became more so under tutelage from the Hound. It is good to see her finding some life.

She is, as in the books, made to give everything up, not just her name. But is unable to part with Needle, hiding the sword Jon made for her under a pile of rocks nearby. It’s up to us to wonder whether this is just symbolic of her inabiltiy to fully let go, or if it is necessary for a future plot development. Probably both.

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Jon, meanwhile, has assumed his new position as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The North is full of intrigue and manouevring in this episode, and events at the Wall live up to this. Stannis tries to lure Jon into becoming a Stark once more, and is refused again. But at least Davos gets some lines! He reminds Jon that the Night’s Watch is the shield that guards the realms of men, and therefore should feel compelled to aid the planned assault on Winterfell to reclaim the North.

Which basically means Jon will have to convince Tormund to lead the wildlings under Stannis’ banner. Still undecided on how much this part of the story is matching or deviating from the novel.

Jon manages to successfully (maybe) shore up some begrudging support from Ser Alliser Thorne, but has no luck with the coward Janos Slynt. It’s been a relatively brutal-free series so far, but the show hasn’t ever shied away from beheadings before, especially in the name of justice. Jon passes the sentence, and so swings the sword. It is notable that in refusing to become a Stark and then executing Janos, Jon resembles Ned Stark more than ever.

Stannis approves.

Littlefinger and Sansa are still travelling, but we’re done guessing now. They arrive promptly at Moat Cailin, but it’s only a pitstop as Sansa knows. They’re heading to Winterfell; Littlefinger is delivering her to be married to Ramsay Bolton. And if the suggestion of this wasn’t enough to make the book readers gasp at the changes, she promptly arrives at Winterfell in the very next scene, wasting no time at all. It’s been a long journey for her to return there, even if she is now being introduced to the current lord, Roose Bolton, who kiled her brother and mother. But New Sansa handles it deftly.

Also, Theon is around, and has seen Sansa.

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This was thrillingly wonderful, it has to be said. There’s been lots of enjoyment and appreciation for the storytelling so far, but it’s now that we’re heading into dangerously good territory. It’s become an almost irrelevant point now to tally the differences between the books and the show, as the show is now fully embracing of its different status. There is huge drama in having Sansa present among the enemy at Winterfell, and this doesn’t exist at all in the books. The directness of this approach can only be fruitful for future episodes.

Nearby, Pod and Brienne are closely following Sansa, and Brienne knows where they’re going. Brienne is going to start training Pod to be a knight, and she regales him (and us) to the tale of how she became to be Brienne the wandering knight, firstly in service to Renly and then now to avenge Catelyn Stark.

It’s mostly told as a monologue, in a lovely long moment for the character, speaking probably more than she has since her time with Jaime Lannister. In a different way to the developments with Sansa, I’m really enjoying their approach to Brienne, who disappears for long stretches of time in the books. It’s a worthwhile investment, and now we have a purpose: kill Stannis.

So, the Boltons are in Winterfell with Sansa and Theon. Pod and Brienne aren’t far behind, and Stannis will march soon with his army to try and reclaim the North. Some sort of very explosive intersection is about to happen, and hopefully sooner this season rather than later.

King’s Landing is much as it ever is. Tommen and Margaery are married and she finally lands a king for good, third time lucky. Certainly not afraid of weddings, despite their reputation in the show. She’s working well to isolate Cersei, and it’s interesting to see whether the show is trying to gain our sympathies for the new Queen Mother, and if they are, why? There must be a pay off coming.

Cersei is able to meet the High Sparrow, who claims the title of the episode despite not really appearing much at all. But maybe she is spying an opportunity to gain new allies in unexpected places, particularly as the High Septon has disgraced himself.

Qyburn meanwhile is playing Frankenstein, with the Mountain under a sheet on a slab, not totally dead but certainly not yet alive.

640-7And finally Varys and Tyrion arrive in Volantis, en route to Meereen. It’s shore leave for Tyrion, who goes out in search of drunkeness and iniquity, but finds the disgraced Jorah Mormont instead.

That cliffhanger aside, the episode was a clever look at the developments of the remaining (and present) Starks: Arya, Sansa and Jon. Each are trying to give up parts of their past, but finding it entirely difficult to do so. Arya can’t quite let go, Jon embodies his past in all but name, and having embraced her alter-ego, Sansa is now forced to be a Stark against her wishes.

There’s a mid-season conflict looming I feel, and the show is working double-time to get the characters into place for it to happen. If the books were spinning out endlessly in the world-building, the show has already found the edges of the map, and now its characters are finding their way back to each other, and to conflicts as yet unexplored in the books.

  • Valar Morghulis: all men must serve, and so did that random guy in the House of Black and White. Oh, and Janos Slynt, of course.
  • Some nice, if haunting touches of Theon confronting his past in more ways than one.
  • No Meereen! Unfortunately I feel this means lots of Meereen next week.
  • What is up with Sam and Maester Aemon?
  • Greyscale Watch: referenced again with Tyrion and Varys in Volantis, in some talk related to the Stone Men.
  • Roose Bolton and Littlefinger fancy themselves heirs to Tywin’s throne. Not the toilet throne, the other one.

Previous episode: The House of Black and White

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A stranger in a strange land: guest post by Louise Cusack

Posted November 14, 2014 by Michelle Cameron

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I’ve been watching the wildly popular new television series Outlander, adapted from Diana Gabaldon’s 1991 novel of the same name. It’s about WW2 army nurse Claire Randall who is visiting Scotland when she’s sent back in time 200 years, leaving her husband behind and needing to marry young and handsome highlander Jamie Fraser for protection. Outlander (the novel) is currently Goodreads #2 top romance of all-time, so this is a popular story that’s still selling strongly 23 years after its original release.

The television series features stunning Scottish landscapes and a regularly bare-chested male lead played by hunky Scot actor Sam Heughan, which might explain its popularity with non-readers as well. But according to blogs and reviews springing up across the Internet, the stranger in a strange land aspect of Claire coping with the primitive day-to-day life of eighteenth century Scotland is one of the most thrilling aspects of the story.

Unlike other historical dramas, this series looks at a time period through the fresh eyes of a twentieth century female character, allowing us to put ourselves in Claire’s shoes as she rebels against their patriarchy, is disgusted by their medical practices, and occasionally delights in the strangeness of it all – exactly as we might.

Of course, this isn’t the first stranger in a strange land story to enchant audiences.

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Alice’s adventures down the rabbit hole into Wonderland have thrilled generations of children, and Avatar, where cripple Jake Sully saves the beautiful planet of Pandora, is the highest grossing movie of all time. Not to mention Edgar Rice Burrough’s hero John Carter, transported to Barsoom/Mars – a particular favorite of mine that was made into a Disney movie a few years back. I used to devour Edgar Rice Burroughs novels as though they were Mills & Boon when I was a teen, thrilling to the adventure of a ‘clean limbed fighting man from Virginia’ saving the princess and falling in love. Beyond the romance, I was falling in love with a genre that lets audiences see a new world through the eyes of a stranger.

A Princess of Mars was soon followed on my shelf by Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness and Frank Herbert’s Dune as firm favorites (along with Outlander). Not to mention that my first big crush was on Captain James Kirk of the starship Enterprise whose mission was to boldly go where no man had gone before…

I couldn’t get enough of characters going from one world into another, so it was also no surprise that I’d settle on stranger in a strange land stories as the theme I wanted to explore as a writer. Across, fantasy, romance and erotica, that theme is a constant, but my absolute favorite is my Shadow Through Time trilogy that begins with twentieth century Catherine falling through a Sacred Pool into Ennae and discovering that in that world she is Princess Khatrene, with a hunky champion of her own and adventures and romance more thrilling than anything I’d ever read.

So in celebration of all things stranger in a strange land, Momentum is offering the first book of my trilogy, Destiny of the Light, for free so you have your own vicarious adventure in an otherworld. And as one book-blogger said, “If you love your fantasy to be slightly gritty but with plenty of swoony romance, Destiny of the Light is for you!

 Louise Cusack‘s Destiny of the Light is currently FREE!

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Podmentum: Thronementum

Posted July 11, 2014 by Mark

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We’ve done specials on Star Trek and Doctor Who, now we bring you a special episode all about Game of Thrones! We discuss the TV series and the books with special guests, including former Podmentum host Anne Treasure. This is also Mark Harding’s final episode as host. Oh, and massive spoiler warning for Game of Thrones.

 

Recommendations:

Anne 

Death, Sex & Money podcast

Patrick

Words of Radiance: The Stormlight Archive Book 2 by Brandon Sanderson

Joel

Brilliance by Marcus Sakey

Mark

Orphan Black

 

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The future of blockbuster films

Posted June 20, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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Let’s be honest, all the good screen stories have migrated to TV.

With blockbusters and franchises increasingly becoming tentpole echo chambers, most of the narrative invention and originality is happening in greener pastures like HBO and Netflix.

Additionally, films have hit this mire where opening weekends rake in the revenue, but there’s no lasting value to the word of mouth, and release windows are increasingly tiny. When this is coupled with audiences who are shunning inflated ticket prices, poor quality projection and sound and (gasp) other people, we’re left with a system that presents TV as almost the independent cinema of the film industry.

Actors, directors, writers, even cinematographers are finding rewarding and lasting work on the smaller screen, and audiences are buying into it in droves. Currently the most significant stories of traditionally ‘film’ genres are happening on TV: Game of Thrones for fantasy, Hannibal and The Walking Dead for horror and post-apocalyptic horror.

Is this a case of stories actually working better on TV? Or is there something they’re just not getting right in film at the moment?

The success of big Hollywood films has always waxed and waned. Like any creative form, there’s an organic ebb and flow to the styles, the popularity and success of cinema. The golden era of the 50s and 60s hollowed itself out into a production-line mentality, which subsequently created the first boom of quality TV as writers fled one studio system for a newer, smaller one.

On top of that, the capitulation of the studio system springboarded the signficant movement of American independent cinema in the 70s, which is, for me, one of the most fascinating periods of cinematic storytelling. If you’ve never seen it before, track down a copy of Ted Demme’s A Decade Under the Influence – perfectly documents the era.

But out of that there was the resurgent and superficial blockbusters of the 80s (superficial in focus, not in value), which gave rise to more independent filmmakers in the early 90s, who in turn were folded into the studios in the 2000s, and that about brings us up to speed.

Everything old in film is new again, and then old once more. The revolutionaries become the establishment, until somebody rises up in their place to challenge the status quo.

Where we’re at now, strangely enough, is what some people are coining the Age of Fanfiction, where it seems the fans and established fanbases are the ones dictating the more-of-the-same approach that blockbusters seem to have. And while listening to millions of fans is often a good thing, do it for long enough and no singular unique visions are offered up. Witness the unending resistance of studios to female superheroes. Witness the slavish adherence to the monomyth, to McKee, to concurrent trilogies. We’re in that bottom-end of the cycle unfortunately, where every success spawns endless imitations, until it becomes difficult to discern good from bad and we just settle for middling films that look nice. Mind of the mob, and all that.

So is it all bad for film?

The complicating factor here is the dominance of TV at the moment. And while this may seem to be a count against any possible hope of better blockbuster cinema happening soon, the dynamic of quality TV offers an interesting consideration.

Essentially, TV no longer relies on ratings. At least, not the old ratings. With programming and standard viewing seasons quickly disappearing, immediate braodcast ratings are no longer a surefire way to tell whether a show will be renewed or axed. Networks are realising that TV shows have a very different lifespan now, and can last far longer away from regular programming.

So what does this mean?

Better TV shows are being made. As with Breaking Bad, shows don’t need to be an immediate hit. What they do need to be is quality. And that takes time for the writing to develop, for the show to organically evolve and take root in the audience’s imagination. So networks are increasingly trusting singular visions, and quality writing, banking on the fact that the viewers will come given word of mouth and time. This is the entire reason behind Hannibal’s greenlighting for a third season despite a slackening of already paltry ratings from its regular programming schedule.

And so we turn to film, now up against uninspired studios and bare cupboards of creative minds and talent. Since word of mouth has long gone, and even opening weekends are slackening, and the rise of audiences who stay at home rather than venture to the cinema, studios and filmmakers need to think, well, creatively.

The natural ebb and flow will kick in, and soon they will hopefully see that audiences value – as in really value for a long, long time – well-crafted, original stories. These are the ones we come back to, the ones we buy and keep, and download and watch over and over again. That’s where the revenue is these days, and so that’s where they’ll go.

You can only shill for mediocrity for so long before everyone grows tired of it and finds something else. Quality will win out, because it’s the only true currency that lasts.

 

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 10 – The Children

Posted June 17, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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This is the last weekly Game of Thrones recap for this season, and once again it is for both those who have read the books and those that haven’t.

However, for once there will be some spoilers from the books discussed at the bottom of this post. So be warned, non-book readers, that way lies dragons.

And so our watch on Season 4 has ended.

I’ll say it outright: this was a strange finale. In a sense, it was more of a traditional finale than those in the previous three seasons, which typically left all the big moments for the penultimate episodes (‘Baelor’, ‘Blackwater’, ‘The Rains of Castmere’), and so given the anticipatory nature of last week’s episode, I was fully expecting the finale to be the one full to the brim with climactic moments.

In a sense there were lots of those, though. Most of the static characters this season have been static for a reason: they’re building up to a defining moment. Bran, Tyrion, Arya and even Stannis have all been doing pretty much the same thing for all season, until they are finally able to enact some major change in this episode.

But by the same token, there was more I was expecting and so a large part of me is frustrated at still having to wait for those moments. Book readers certainly will have been expecting other events to occur, but I will save that for the spoilers below.

The episode picks up where it left off, with Jon Snow walking out from under the Wall, off to negotiate terms with Mance Rayder. This was actually a really excellent sequence, I can’t help but wish they had pushed it to conclude episode 9, so as to leave more time for other things in the finale.

Ciaran Hinds as Mance finally returns, with his Mt Rushmore face and uneasy banter with Jon. They drink and break bread, and toast those who have gone from both sides as a result of the fighting. And to remind us all about the point for all of this, Mance declares: ‘We’re here to hide behind your Wall.’

They’re both afraid of the white walkers, but I’m still unsure as to why these negotiations couldn’t have taken place before all the killing. Still, there’s a moment of distrust where Jon seemingly might murder Mance in his tent, but the challenge is there: does Jon forgo tradition and custom like the Lannisters before him, or is he one of the few characters left with an ounce of moral credibility?

Jon relents, but only long enough for Stannis and Davos to storm in with their army. It’s a decisive moment, bringing these isolated characters into the fold and solving Jon’s problems at the same time, but it’s punctuated by two key points. Mance refuses to kneel to Stannis, and Jon stakes a claim on his Stark lineage. Tormund reminds Jon later that he spent too long with the wildlings, and now he understands that kings cannot demand fealty and respect, it must be earned.

Tormund also entreats Jon to carry Ygritte north of the Wall. He takes her to the weirwood, where he swore his oath to the Night’s Watch. Stick in the mud he may be, but Jon is one of the few characters still upholding what is seen as an outdated moral code, even if it has brought him nothing but misery and death.

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Elsewhere, further north, Bran and his gang of Hodor, Jojen and Meera finally reach the tree from Bran’s vision. It’s the first we’ve seen of them since Craster’s Keep, and they’re struggling to survive in the cold, Jojen especially.

It’s a weirwood, just to establish further their mystical presence in the world of Game of Thrones, but before the travellers can get any closer they’re set upon by skeletal wights that emerge out of the ice and snow. It’s a thrilling sequence, and a massive nod to Ray Harryhausen with some wonderful CGI work on the wights. But then a lot of strange things happen all at once.

Firstly, one of the titular Children arrives to save the day, shooting fireballs at the wights and saving Bran and Co. Simultaneously, the show leaps wholly into typical fantasy territory, as if it had been there all along. And then, out of nowhere, Jojen is stabbed repeatedly by a wight, and dies.

The shock of this is that it isn’t in the books. Game of Thrones is in bat country now. One can only assume the showrunners are acting upon their inside knowledge and saving themselves some logistical headaches with actor contracts by removing a still-living book character from the board.

The mysterious Children lead Bran, Hodor and bereft Meera under the weirwood into the root system, there to finally confront the three-eyed crow from Bran’s dreams. Only the crow isn’t a crow but a very old man encased in the roots. Again, book readers will know more about this character, but Bran is offered the tantalising insight that while he may not walk again, he will one day fly.

Look, you could think the old guy is talking about Bran warging into a bird, or you could think that there’ll be dragons in the North soon. I know which way I’m leaning.

In King’s Landing, where we’ve spent so much time this season, we get a scene that really isn’t about anything other than set up for later developments. Cersei, Pycelle and Qyburn are inspecting the dying Mountain, having been poisoned by Oberyn’s blade during their duel. Pycelle objects to Qyburn’s treatment, who is offering to keep the Mountain alive, but at a cost. Cersei cares not.

There’s a brief antagonistic scene between Cersei and Tywin, where it becomes apparent that Season 4 has really been about breaking apart House Lannister, and she declares openly the extent of her relationship with Jaime and the truth of her children. This then continues into a scene between Jaime and Cersei that confirms just how wrong Alex Graves handled the direction of episode 3 and Jaime’s rape of Cersei. Given that Graves also directed this episode, the logical and tonal inconsistency shows quite clearly that that whole section of the plot was handled poorly, if not reprehensibly.

Later, Tyrion is freed by Jaime from his cell, dissipating all the tension that has existed for Tyrion since he was arrested at the end of the second episode. Why has Jaime not done this sooner? Why is there still loyalty between Jaime and Cersei given how much she has driven Tyrion to near execution?

Tyrion doesn’t leave immediately, but instead detours to Tywin’s quarters, where he finds Shae in Tywin’s bed. For once there is restraint from the camera, and Shae’s murder is kept mostly out of frame, though the scene still underscores just how monstrous Tyrion has become, having been called such all his life.

Tyrion finds Tywin on the toilet, but no words will save him now. All his protestations about family and his paternal responsibility for Tyrion is entirely hollow, registering nothing with Tyrion nor us. In the end, he’s an old man on the toilet, and it’s his repeated use of the word ‘whore’ that brings Tyrion to fire a bolt through his father’s chest.

He escapes finally with Varys, bundled away in a box on a ship set for the east. But Varys halts, hearing the bells ringing from the castle, and knows Tywin’s death has been discovered. He chooses instead to stay on the ship, and travel with Tyrion. Again, this is very strange. This does not happen in the books. And not to be one to harp on about fidelity to source material, but the differences are stacking up, and demanding acknowledgement. Where is Varys going? Who will serve the realm now?

Daenerys is still being Daenerys in Meereen, and dealing with governance and all of that. Come on, why couldn’t they inject a bit of free-form adaptation to this part of the story? The impact of this scene comes when Daenerys must accept that her dragons are killing people. Freedom is easily fought for, and won, but difficult to maintain. She locks up two of her dragons, aware that the most dangerous one, Drogon, is yet to be found.

The challenge for Daenerys next season is twofold: how do you rule over freedom? And, when one is the Mother of Dragons, how do you control chaos?

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Back to the Riverlands, and more departures occur when out of nowhere, Brienne and Podrick run into Arya and the Hound. In many respects, this works and works well, even if it does have the air of fanfic about it. There’s a really nice moment where Arya briefly spies in Brienne the model of who she might have once become, in better days. Additionally, they exchange notes over their named swords, and Arya is completely unaware that the sword Brienne carries was forged from the Stark greatsword. From Ned to Joffrey to Tywin to Jaime to Brienne – and yet the significance of this is missed.

Arya consciously decides on her future, and chooses not to go with Brienne and Podrick. The fight between Brienne and the Hound is well staged, and leaves us in much the same situation as the Hound was last seen in the books, though we just got there very differently. But there’s more impact in having his wounds inflicted by Brienne, and having Arya actively flee safety, even if there’s a bit of coincidence about the whole thing.

Arya’s refusal of mercy to the Hound is one of the lasting moments of the episode, perfectly matching the scene from episode 7, when the Hound helped ease a wounded man into death. She takes his money and runs, receiving passage on a ship sailed for Braavos, paid for by the coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar so long ago.

And so it ends, for another year. And everyone seems even further apart than they were before. The Starks are effectively nonexistent, and none of them seem as concerned with returning to Winterfell as they once did. The Lannisters have spectacularly imploded, and a power vaccuum hovers over the Iron Throne once again. With Littelfinger, the Tyrells and now the Martells all gunning for revenge, succession and power, a vastly different Westeros is shaping up for Season 5.

Oh yeah, and winter is still coming, remember.

  • Valar Morghulis:  well, that was a bit unexpected. Jojen Reed died thrice over, having been stabbed by a wight, had his throat slit by his sister, and then vanquished in a ball of flame from one of the Children. A peasant girl is similarly destroyed by Drogon. Many wildlings are killed by Stannis’ men. Tywin shot twice by Tyrion, who also strangled Shae.
  • Brienne and Pod must be the worst searchers in the Wall if they can’t see Arya hanging around the Hound’s falling place. I mean, come on.
  • Credits have been updated to include Braavos, in a nod to next season.
  • Mance and Jon’s toast to both the giant and Grenn is great.

Okay, now, SPOILERS BELOW FOR THOSE WHO HAVE NOT READ THE BOOKS. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

 

 

 

 

Where the hell was Lady Stoneheart? Why was this not included in the finale? Even the actors seemed to acknowledge this was going to occur in the pre-episode buzz, and yet it wasn’t there.

Very strange, given how much of a shockingly natural conclusion it would be for the season, and the effect it would have on the audience in the months off before Season 5. This, coupled with Jojen’s death, Varys’ sudden departure, and Brienne and the Hound’s fight made the whole episode be exceptionally surprising and somewhat maddening for a book reader.

UPDATE: Alex Graves has commented on this, casting doubt on whether Lady Stoneheart will ever appear at all.

 

 

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

Posted May 12, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Episode 4 – Oathkeeper

Posted April 29, 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.

‘You want to fight pretty or you want to win?’

This question, posed by Bronn to Jaime during their sparring session, is one Game of Thrones offers many times, and a variation on a line spoken by Cersei to Ned in Season 1. In this particular episode, it is refined to an even simpler question: what is it to keep an oath?

In the series, keeping an oath is becoming a rare thing. So rare, they are rendered meaningless. Names, titles, significant deeds are all worth nothing, unless they’re everything.

In the season opener ‘Two Swords’, we were treated to Tywin Lannister forging two new swords. One was given to Jaime, who cared none for it, the other to the departed Joffrey, who proceeded to use the sword to demolish a book of kings and kings’ deeds that was a present to him. Joffrey cared none for those that came before, nor the lineage that he participated in, but finds more satisfaction in naming his new sword, even if it falsely prescribes significance to the acts he takes credit for. The fact that these two swords were forged out of the molten ruins of the Stark ceremonial sword is testament to how these characters interact with their past, and with honour. In short, they destroy it, and move on. They want the title, but not the meaning.

In direct contrast, Arya reclaims her sword – named Needle before she was even able to wield it – and is suitably chastened by The Hound, in his affable dismissal of the nature of those who name their swords.

The Freys abandoned oaths when they killed Robb, Catelyn and the rest last season. Joffrey did long ago when he beheaded Ned. Jaime did when he killed the Mad King, leaving Robert Baratheon to take the throne. Honour is gone, so too have oaths. Ned’s fate was a way of showing the lack of relevance and power in oaths – remember our first sighting of Ned was taking an oath before he executed a deserter? – and the series is quickly establishing that the characters either give in to this world without honour, or seek to restore it.

That search, and that hope of restoration, is increasingly in the hands of two characters, Daenerys and Jon Snow, with a little help from some others along the way.

In the opening scene in Meereen, we witness two minor characters – Missandei and Grey Worm – discuss how for the first time there may be hope that justice will be restored. They have known only dishonour and cruelty in their lifetimes, yet spy a way out of the darkness with Daenerys. The method for Grey Worm is simple: kill the masters. The masters have lost their way, so they must go. Every example of authority the series has offered us has been corrupt in some way. From Robert to Joffrey, Stannis to those that ruled Yunkai and Astapor – their way has led to ruin.

Daenerys’ victory in overthrowing Meereen is portrayed as a glorious one, bathed in sunlight as she climbs the steps to the city to the growing cheers and discarded chains, but it is a victory won through Grey Worm’s journey in the mud and muck of the sewers. Given that the show showrunners are now telling stories with an understanding of the endgame, we can start to anticipate how these threads are going to play out in the end. The hope here is that Daenerys’ journey to reclaiming the throne is one where she can hold fast and maintain her just cause, or whether she too will give in to the corruption that blackens authority.

The looming threat of the white walkers is the manifestation of this, the terror that recognises no crown concerns itself with the division of people. And again, we must ask ourselves, as we took glee in Joffrey’s demise, do we see justice in the crucifixion of the Meereenese nobility?

There’s a brief scene in the jail of King’s Landing, with Tyrion explaining how unlikely the truth is to hold sway in a court of justice. Truth doesn’t matter, nor do any of the old codes. Cersei wants him dead, and Tyrion knows he has no option but escape.

Later, Jaime meets with Cersei and she challenges him to find Sansa, while similarly trying to turn him against Tyrion. Given that this is the first moment the two are interacting since the scene in the sept last episode, it again raises questions over the handling of these characters. This particular moment is presented to show Cersei’s irrational grasp on the truth and desire for chaotic vengeance, while illustrating Jaime’s loyalty to his brother, and possibly to his oath to Catelyn back in Season 2. Had last week’s scene not occurred, this would make sense. But now these character notes are all awry, and I find it difficult to understand what they’re trying to present in both Jaime and Cersei.

This is further confounded in Jaime’s new desire to restore pride to his name by holding Brienne to her task in serving Catelyn Stark. He gives her his sword, and a new suit of armour to boot, and Brienne takes up Jaime’s noble cause. There’s no doubt this scene would hold more impact were we not clouded by his actions last week. Regardless, Jaime’s hollow cause is given meaning in Brienne’s code of honour, and she sets off with Podrick in search of Sansa, reminding the audience of how scarce oath-keeping characters like her are in Game of Thrones.

Sansa realises this as she questions Littlefinger and his motives in abandoning loyalty to the Lannisters by conspiring to poison Joffrey, in partnership with Lady Olenna. As they flit back and forth below deck, at times cast in light, other times in darkness, Littlefinger is suddenly revealed to the audience as the new major player in the game, someone who is prepared to ‘risk everything for what he wants’, which just happens to be everything. Joffrey with a brain, it would appear.

But what’s this? Locke has snuck into Castle Black. Cue terror. Here we have the show once again tracking differently to the book, and nobody has any idea what is happening. Locke, invented for the show so as to provide a smoother amputation for Jaime last season, isn’t supposed to be in the story, let alone in this part of the story. One can assume they’re mining the threat and malevolence of the character for benefit in another aspect of the story, to further strengthen the idea that while Jon Snow is the emerging leader of the Night’s Watch, he is also a remaining heir to Winterfell (and perhaps to something else as well), and therefore any risk to his life is a risk to a major part of the overall plot.

Ser Alliser Thorne subsequently gives Jon Snow a fool’s errand to head off and catch some mutineers, in a scene that works well to not only establish Jon’s leadership credentials, but also give further depth to the shaky ground his honour stands on in the Night’s Watch.

The mutineers haven’t been seen for a while, and while they’re well dug in at Craster’s Keep, the whole scene is quite awful, showing just how much Game of Thrones seems to relish in the hideous. It’s almost as if a Martin Scorcese film wandered onto the set of an Eli Roth film, such is the extent of the verbal and visual depravity. This is the opposite to Daenerys’ sun-filled glory, and the end of the spectrum for those who abandon their oaths, such are the mutineers of the Night’s Watch.

Based on this trajectory, one can assume Jon and Daenerys are fighting the same fight – provided here at polar opposites of the episode – and will one day connect in their struggles. One can assume.

But it is here that once again the show takes a significant departure from the books, a departure that already seems to be putting the cat among the pigeons. Firstly, Bran and his team are caught loitering near Craster’s Keep, and forced to give up their identities. This in itself isn’t a huge departure, and one can anticipate that an element of danger added to what is essentially a walking tour will bring some dynamism to Bran’s storyline. Also given that Jon is on his way to Craster’s Keep, there’s the possibility of a reunion, or (more likely) another near-miss of the Stark children.

Then it gets even weirder. A baby left as a sacrifice in the snow by one of the traitors is fetched by a white walker, taken to a group of standing stones, and rather ceremonially turned by what looks to be a white walker in a  position of authority. Given that we’ve already seen more of these creatures in the show than we have in the books – coined ‘Others’ on the page, a title already taken on TV screens – this is a huge invention of the show, but one that requires reflection. Again, these people know more than us, more than the books have covered, and clearly this is playing in to some later development. Or it’s just pure invention for the sake of threat and drama and padding out.

Either way, this episode largely affirmed what is at stake in Game of Thrones – what these few noble characters are fighting for – and what they’re up against, in a world fast set for death and destruction.

  • Valar Morghulis: a bunch of Meereenese nobility, crucified (for justice, remember), and a baby belong to one of Craster’s midwives.
  • Still nothing from the Dreadfort, despite Locke’s appearance.
  • Nothing as well from Dragonstone, so we are yet to see if Davos is able to actively participate in the story yet.
  • There was a rather creepy scene with Margaery and Tommen that I didn’t get time to cover, but in short there’s more manoeuvering to keep Margaery (and Lady Olenna) close to the throne.
  • As predicted, more and more scenes are popping up that are inventions of the show, and lacking any counterpart in the books. This will get interesting.
  • The attack on the wall still seems a couple of episodes off now, despite last week signalling it could happen anytime soon. Oh well, we’ll get back to the wildlings soon enough.
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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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Game of Thrones: Season 4 Preview

Posted March 24, 2014 by Craig Hildebrand-Burke

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It’s that time again. In just over two weeks, HBO kicks off the fourth season of Game of Thrones, and we can actually start talking about what’s happening on the show, rather than how we’re going to access it.

So let’s take stock, and remember where we left off last season and speculate where David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are going to lead us over the next ten episodes, under the careful guidance of George R.R. Martin. Various teasers and interviews have been supplied over the last few months, offering much for fans of the TV show, yet little for those more familiar with Martin’s books.

So, what can we expect?

More departure from the books

Since the third season adapted – roughly – the first half of A Storm of Swords (the third book in the series), this season will need to finish off that particular book. However, things may not be as simple as that

While Martin is fond of leaving audiences hanging on the fate of particular characters, for chapters on end – and sometimes entire books on end – TV audiences aren’t in the habit of hanging around for an entire season just to see what happens next to a particular character. Nor, I fear, are the actors portraying these characters.

Without revealing anything at all, this can be seen with Arya Stark, last seen fleeing the Red Wedding with the Hound and then pausing to kill some of Walder Frey’s men they come across. In the book, Arya actually has very little left to do with the plot, and is only seen a handful of times in the following book, A Feast For Crows. I doubt whether they’ll stick only to A Storm of Swords for Arya, among others, and are more likely to start pulling in aspects of her journey from later books, to flesh out the series.

An example of how this might work can be seen with the show’s treatment so far of Theon, who disappears at length in the books, only for readers later to discover what had happened to him. In the series, we’ve instead witnessed his story first hand, particularly the treatment at the hands of Rasmay Snow, last seen eating a sausage.

The producers of Game of Thrones know well that they have a wealth of plot to draw upon, and as Martin’s books became less chronological and far more parenthetical, the ability to follow their course point by point becomes less assured.

Also, I think we’ll see much more conflation and deviation, as we saw with Robb Stark’s wife Talisa. This was a complete invention of the shows, a wholly different character to the one presented in the books, Jeyne Westerling, and showed the producers’ willingness to jettison tangential story lines in favour of delivering a more focused narrative.

What this does is make it far more thrilling for those who have read the books, as we can no longer rely on foreknowledge of the books’ plots. We’re also heading dangerously close into unchartered Martin territory, with the author revealing recently he had been having talks with Benioff and Wise to discuss eventual directions of the major characters.

More pace

The third season meandered at times, introducing a new raft of characters who increasingly started to carry the narrative as others (dearly) departed. It was relevant and necessary to take this time to introduce Mance Rayder, Ramsay Snow and Roose Bolton, Jojen and Meera Reed, and Daenerys’s various male escorts.

But this slow pace was overrun in the final two episodes, and particularly with the events of the Red Wedding, the characters are now left in a position far more aware of each other’s motivations, and far less concerned with scruples of allegiance.

So, more decisiveness, more pace, and more action. And while this may not necessarily be reflected in Martin’s books, as mentioned I don’t think they’ll hold to them as much as they have previously.

More more more!

More of the relevant Starks, now that the others are gone. Arya, Bran and even the maligned Sansa will get to have more of a say on the plot now that they are the dominant remaining members of their house and of the North.

More Jon Snow being good at things, instead of acting like a wet blanket the whole time. He might even finally get to know something, now that he’s returned to the Night’s Watch after having shore leave with the wildlings.

More Tyrion, who really seems to have given up on his family and intent on acting like a (rather small) bull in a china shop, chaotically saying and doing exactly what he likes all over King’s Landing.

More Brienne, just generally kicking everybody’s arse and handing it back to them courteously.

More dragons, growing more and more, and wrecking more and more. Especially as Daenerys’s storyline threatens to descend into Xena: Warrior Princess territory, it’s helpful to have great big mythical scaly fire monsters to keep that part of Westeros lively and interesting.

And finally, just more of it all. By far the most unique show kicking around everybody’s imagination at the moment, not just in specifics of the plot – though its anti-heroic, The Wire-like dissection of moral corruption is compelling – but also in that here is a high fantasy epic holding court over popular opinion. This is the strangest and most fascinating of things with Game of Thrones: that this is not some show hoping to still have its budget and its small core of loyal fans at each season’s end.

Instead it just keeps on giving, and begetting more fans, and whether we only watch the show or if we’ve also read the books, none of us know how it’s going to end.

 

 

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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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These upcoming book-to-film adaptations should be TV series

Posted March 18, 2014 by Mark

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The Forever War

Optioned many years ago by Ridley Scott, this is one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Humans and aliens engage in a war that, due to the time dilation that occurs when travelling close to the speed of light, takes centuries to fight. The soldiers are increasingly removed from the society they’re fighting for as massive technological and social changes sweep away everything they know.

Why should it be a TV series? The story literally takes centuries to tell. It would be like a more realistic version of Battlestar Galactica or a better version of Space: Above and Beyond. There’s room to explore the complex relationships that develop between the soldiers and the pain of those bonds breaking when re-assignment means your friends will be centuries away.

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The Passage

Optioned by, of course, Ridley Scott, The Passage is a post-apocalyptic quest novel set in a world where a plague has turned most of the population of the United States into vampiric zombies. The original twelve infected patients hold a psychic influence over those who were infected via their actions, and a group of survivors decides to seek them out with the help of a seemingly immortal child.

Why should it be a TV series? It’s a massive novel that is just the first part of a trilogy that’s due to be completed at the end of this year, The Passage is a huge work, with many characters, sub-plots and backstory, with multiple narrative arcs that take place in different locations and different periods of time.

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Wool

Ridley Scott *also* bought the rights to Wool, another post-apocalyptic epic from self-publishing sensation Hugh Howey. After an environmental catastrophe, a handful of survivors live in underground silos, awaiting the day when the surface is safe once again. Wool takes place several generations after the catastrophe, where the inhabitants of the silo aren’t exactly sure what happened or what they’re waiting for, and are struggling against an oppressive regime that operates out of the silo’s IT department.

Why should it be a TV series? Wool is actually the middle story in a trilogy, with a prequel, Shift, and a sequel, Dust. There’s a lot of world-building that goes into making the silo societies seem believable and there are many supporting characters and groups that could stand to be explored in more depth in a series.

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The Girl Who Played With Fire/The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest

After the American version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo underperformed at the box office, the two sequels were put in limbo. The first one made enough that these films are still in development, but not enough to fast track them. The shame is that while the successful Swedish adaptations did a great job with the first film, the sequels left a lot to be desired.

Why should they be a TV series? The original Swedish films were intended for release as TV seasons, and after seeing True Detective, it’s clear that a 6-8 episode run for each of these stories could yield some spectacular results. With more and more film actors turning to TV, it’s not even that unrealistic to imagine Rooney Mara and Daniel Craig reprising their roles from the film.

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Ready Player One 

This is a brilliant novel that takes 80s nostalgia and creates a thrilling and riveting narrative. In the not-too distant future, most people spend their time in the OASIS, a virtual reality system developed by an enigmatic billionaire. When the billionaire dies, a contest begins. Whoever can decipher the clues and defeat the challenges hidden in the OASIS will win control of it. It’s a race against the clock for a loose fellowship of individual players to defeat a highly organised and ruthless corporation that wants to win control and remake the OASIS as they see fit.

Why should it be a TV series? Again, there’s a lot of world building that needs to be done, and the references to 1980s popular culture are so dense that they’d probably need a little more room to breathe in a filmed adaptation. The episodic nature of the events as they unfold would also lend it towards a longer adaptation.

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Robopocalypse

This novel about the survivors of a robot uprising is currently on Steven Spielberg’s to-do list. Robopocalypse is the World War Z of robot novels, a history of the individuals who made it, many of them from different parts of the world, facing very different threats. There are some spectacular set pieces, and some very cool stories.

Why should it be a TV series? The fact that the narrative is episodic, with each part about different characters in different locations, means that it would hang together better. And there’s room for even more stories to be told in this world,  as all the varieties of robot could be explored in-depth.

 

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The Walking Dead: season 4 episode 14: The Grove

Posted 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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