Thursday, August 10, 2017

Where Things Stand After “The Spoils of War”

The shortened season of Game of Thrones hit its midpoint last Sunday, giving us one of the more epic battles in the history of the show. But how much did the episode change the great game?


Who Is Winning Now?


This one seems easy after Daenerys barbequed the entire Lannister army and torched all the grain intended for King’s Landing. The Dothraki, who according to George R.R. Martin were inspired, in part, by the medieval Mongols, proved that you don’t want to meet them in an open field. And imagine what will happen when Dany unleashes two more dragons on the board? (Though maybe they weren’t there because she needs two more dragon-riders?)

The attack will go down as one of the all-time great scenes on Game of Thrones, and it puts Cersei in a terrible position. With the Lannisters decimated, the Unsullied should have no trouble meeting up with Dany’s Dothraki. And while Euron’s navy has proven formidable, it failed to stop Daenerys from landing ashore, and what good is it now that the battle is on land? The best Cersei has going for her is Dany’s conscience, which might prevent her from killing throngs of innocents by besieging King’s Landing with dragons. Though a curious clip from the trailer for next week’s episode makes me question how long this deterrent may last.


Is Daenerys Becoming the Mad Queen?


So far, we still have the Dany we know and love, but we also know a little about her gene pool. Her father was the Mad King, who enjoyed burning people alive. And this week, The Ringer wrote “Does Dany Enjoy Burning People Too Much?” Just Google “Daenerys Mad Queen” and you’ll find a host of articles speculating that Dany may become the show’s next major villain.

I want to believe that even though she has mad queen tendencies, there’s enough good in her to resist them. I also still believe she may be the “Prince Who Was Promised,” even though Jon Snow seems to have an equal claim to that role (maybe it applies to both of them). Also, why would the madness affect Dany, but not Jon? He is just one generation removed from his Mad King grandfather. But maybe sanity skips a generation.


What Will Happen to Littlefinger?


Aside from the White Walkers, I believe the most dangerous thing in the North is Littlefinger lurking around Winterfell. But never before has he been in so much danger. First, he’s around Bran, who has the power to know every sin Littlefinger has ever committed. The only thing Littlefinger has going for him is that Bran seems to have gone full Doctor Manhattan and lost his humanity, so maybe he’ll never tell his sisters the things Littlefinger has done.

That would be good for Petyr Baelish, because if Arya ever finds out Littlefinger betrayed her father, he may end up like Walder Frey. Or worse. And wish Petyr luck finding a place to hide in Winterfell that she doesn’t know about. Then there’s Jon, who someday will return home, and his patience for Littlefinger appears to have reached its end.

But where else could Littlefinger go? Cersei already knows what he is, and I can’t see Euron having any patience for him. And there’s no way Dany will trust him – especially with Varys and Tyrion whispering in her ear. She might even feed Littlefinger to Drogon. If I were Littlefinger, Bravos is looking wonderful right now.

In all seriousness, however, Littlefinger is the lord of the Vale, and Jon needs the Vale army to help him fight the White Walkers. This may be the only thing that saves Baelish.


Will Jaime Sleep with the Fishes?


The most startling development of last week’s episode was what happened to Jaime Lannister. After he realized his whole army was literally toast, he seemingly lost his mind and decided to charge Daenerys with a spear. She was distracted, trying to remove a giant crossbow bolt from Drogon’s side, but Drogan was fully alert and very pissed. But for a miracle save by Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, Jaime would have burned like a Beltane bonfire. Instead, Bronn succeed in knocking Jaime into the deepest river you could ever imagine flowing through a desert-like plain.

Unfortunately for Jaime, he’s wearing a full 60 pounds of plate mail, and if you’ve ever seen A Knight’s Tale, you know it takes forever to get that stuff on and off. Also, one of Jaime’s hands is made of metal, making it unhandy for unfastening buckles. All of this raises a question: How in the world does Jaime survive?


I cannot believe this is the last we’ll see of him, but I’m scratching my head over how he avoids drowning, unless: (a) Bronn is the strongest swimmer in the world and will be starring as Aquaman in the next Justice League movie; (b) they can turn the “scorpion” crossbow into a massive fishing pole and pull Jaime out of the drink; (c) Lannister armor comes off like an NBA sweat suit with Velcro; or (d) Tyrion convinces Dany to let Drogon swim down and save Jaime (assuming Drogon decides not to eat him while he’s down there). Either that, or Thoros of Myr or Melisandre will happen on by and perform another resurrection.

If Jaime somehow survives, it’s likely he would become Dany’s prisoner and reunite with Tyrion. The two brothers were always fond of one another, and Jaime knows now that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey. Maybe Jaime will even switch sides, making this the most unexpected game changer so far . . . Assuming Dany doesn’t go full “mad queen” and crispify him. After all, he earned his “Kingslayer” nickname by killing her daddy, and we’ve already established that people reap what they sow on Game of Thrones.

But those are just my thoughts. Where do you think things stand after the “Spoils of War”?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and HBO.

Friday, August 4, 2017

People Reap What They Sow on “Game of Thrones”

Season Seven of Game of Thrones is moving at a breakneck pace. Events that may have taken a season to develop in earlier years, are happening every episode this go around. It’s hard to process the implications of so many developments, but here’s one thing I realized after last week’s episode, titled “The Queen’s Justice.”


This season has brought just deserts to a number of characters and houses. For example, in the season’s opening scene, the members of House Frey, who carried out the Red Wedding, all died in a similarly spectacular celebration. (The “Red Toast” perhaps?) In short, House Frey reaped what they sowed.

Then in last week’s episode, two more characters got their comeuppance. Ellaria Sand, who murdered a truly innocent character in Cersei’s daughter Myrcella, received the titular “Queen’s Justice” from Cersei, who poisoned Ellaria’s daughter Tyene in the same manner that Ellaria killed Myrcella. Even more, Cersei imprisoned both Ellaria and Tyene in the same cell, forcing Ellaria to watch her daughter die and rot. In many ways, Ellaria reaped what she sowed.


So did Olenna Tyrell. She was the culprit who poisoned King Joffrey, causing him to endure a horrible death at the Purple Wedding. At the end of last episode, she was outsmarted and defeated by Joffrey’s parents, Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Then she was forced to drink poison, meeting a fate similar to Joffrey’s. The poison is faster acting, much to Olenna’s delight, who relished informing Jaime that she was the one who murdered his son. Yet in the end, Olenna reaped what she sowed, even if her murder of Joffrey may have been more justifiable than Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella.

The more I think about it, this type of Karmic justice has occurred throughout Game of Thrones. Walder Frey, an evil man if there ever was one, was killed by Arya, avenging the death of her family members at the Red Wedding. Joffrey, who murdered Ned Stark in a public spectacle, was murdered at his own wedding, also a public spectacle. Ramsey Bolton, who liked feeding people to his dogs, died the same way. And Tywin Lannister, who was willing to let his son Tyrion die for a crime he didn’t commit, met his end by Tyrion’s hand. Just deserts, in my view.


About the only people who don’t get what they deserve on Game of Thrones are the truly good characters, most of whom happen to be named Stark. Neither Robb nor Catelyn Stark deserved to die at the Red Wedding. Robb did spurn Walder Frey by breaking his vow to marry Frey’s daughter, but that hardly warranted a massacre. Likewise, Ned Stark committed no crime that warranted Joffrey having him beheaded. And can we say any less about poor Rickon?

Some non-Stark good guys got a bum rap too. Ser Jeor Mormont was betrayed by the men he capably led. And Mance Rayder did not deserve what Stannis and Melisandre had in store for him. Neither did Stannis’ poor daughter Shireen. Clearly, being good is a dangerous thing on Game of Thrones


But I wonder what this Karmic trend may mean for some of the remaining bad actors on the show? Jaime, despite his noble traits and a character arc that often has him seeming more a hero than a villain, did push a ten-year-old Bran Stark out a window. If this Karma trend continues, it may not bode well for Jaime.

Then there’s Cersei. Her crimes range from the murder of her husband Robert to the mass murder of everyone at the Great Sept of Baelor. Though I suspect we won’t learn Cersei’s fate anytime soon. While the ultimate adversary on Game of Thrones may be the Night King, he’s not a villain who stirs the audience’s passions. (In fact, it’s hard to blame him for what he does; after all, he was turned into an undead monster by the Children of the Forest.) Cersei, however, is like Joffrey, the villain the audience loves to hate. Good stories need a villain like that, and I suspect the writers realize the show will suffer if she exits too soon.

The big question is whether Cersei will get her just deserts? Or will Martin and the showrunners throw us curveball and let the most conniving character of them all win the Game of Thrones?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fortunes Change Fast on “Game of Thrones”

I’ll be the first admit that I did not see the end of last week’s episode of Game of Thrones coming. Just when we thought the chessboard was set, it was blown to pieces in one epic battle. So where does this leave things on the show after “Stormborn”? *SPOILERS* clearly follow.


All was going great with Daenerys’ plan to defeat Cersei. Until it wasn’t. In one swift and unexpected move by Euron Greyjoy and his hastily built fleet of very impressive ships, half of Dany’s allies were captured or killed, and suddenly the game board looks a whole lot better for Team Cersei.

Who Survived the Attack?


The show left this question with a murky answer. In the final shot, we see a woman hanging from a bowsprit, who I assumed was Yara Greyjoy. After further review, I believe it is Nymeria Sand hanging from her own whip, because higher up on the sternpost is Obara Sand impaled on her own spear. Though it looks like Tyene Sand, the third Sand Snake, may have been captured.


We know Theon escaped, by making what looked like the coward’s choice and jumping overboard as opposed to trying to fight to save his sister. I suspect that’s because there’s a lot of Reek left in him, and when he saw Euron’s men mutilating Yara’s crew, he panicked. Though maybe it was the right move, honor be damned. There was no way Theon was going defeat Uncle Euron. In the real world, Theon probably would have drowned, but at the end of the episode we see him clinging to some wreckage. (I suppose he’ll paddle several miles to shore like Brody and Hooper did at the end of Jaws.) Theon has become like Game of Thrones’ version of Gollum. We haven’t seen the last of him yet.

We don’t know if Yara’s alive. While I no longer think that was her hanging from the bowsprit, one would think killing Yara would be high on Euron’s agenda. He doesn’t strike me as the merciful type, though I suspect we’ll learn her fate later this season.

The one person we know survives is Ellaria Sand. She even begged Euron’s men to kill her, but they refused. I’m convinced she’s the special gift Euron promised Cersei, and who better to offer her than the woman who killed Cersei’s daughter Myrcella? After episode one, I had speculated that gift may be Dragonbinder, the massive Valyrian horn Euron used to win the kingsmoot in A Feast For Crows, which can supposedly control dragons. But now I have serious doubts about that. The horn, like Lady Stoneheart, might only be a thing of the books, which makes we wonder how differently this all might play out if George R.R. Martin ever finishes his novels.


What Does This Mean for Daenerys?


Dany may be more screwed than she knows. My guess is that Yara’s fleet not only was going to take the Dornish to King’s Landing for Tyrion’s planned siege, but also ferry the Unsullied and Dothraki to Casterly Rock. If so, the end of Yara’s fleet leaves a lot of soldiers stuck on Dragonstone. And even if the Ironborn can build new fleets in a miraculously short time, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of trees on Dragonstone. Or Ironborn for that matter.

As for Dorne, who knows what role it will play now in the great game. The show has never explained who would rule Dorne in Ellaria’s absence. The entire royal family appears dead, and Arianne Martell, the daughter of Prince Doran who is a viewpoint character in the novels, has never appeared on the show. In the world of Game of Thrones, I don’t think she exists. So there’s clearly a power vacuum in Dorne, and it’s anyone’s guess who might fill it.

Which leaves the North as Dany’s best potential ally, and this certainly looks to be where the show is going. I don’t know how many ships Jon Snow has access to, so I can’t say how he’d help get Dany and her army off Dragonstone. But his army should be more than enough to replace the Dornish. The problem is he wants to fight the white walkers, not Cersei. I have no idea how Daenerys will react to Jon’s priorities, but finding out should be fun.


What Will Happen in The North?


When Jon left for Dragonstone over the objection of many a Northern lord, he put Sansa in charge. Sansa, I believe, will be a perfectly capable ruler, and maybe even a master of dealing with Lannister-like politics. The problem is that her first major crisis may be an attack on The Wall by the Night King and his army. If Jon has been ignoring the danger to the South, Sana’s the one ignoring the danger to the North. She also has no bloody clue how to defend The Wall or kill an army of undead wights, yet that is where I predict the show may be heading. Hopefully Lyanna Mormont can help her out. She may be small, but I doubt she’s afraid of white walkers!

These, however, are just my thoughts. Where do you think the show is heading after the surprise ending of “Stormborn”?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Is a Lack of Source Material Affecting “Game of Thrones”?

I’m finally getting around to writing about “Dragonstone,” the premiere episode of Game of Thrones Season 7. As much as I enjoyed the episode, I’m beginning to wonder if the lack of source material is starting to affect the show. Here’s why. *SPOILERS* to follow.


Most of “Dragonstone” was basically set-up to remind the audience where the various characters were after the events of “The Winds of Winter.” There were some important, yet predictable, moments such as Daenerys finally reaching Westeros and Bran returning to the Wall. And a few unexpected developments, like Euron’s marriage proposal to Cersei, and perhaps the beginning of a rift between Sansa and Jon Snow. Oh yeah, and House Frey was wiped off the map thanks to Arya Stark, who disguised herself as Walder Frey and staged her own version of the Red Wedding!

While the opening scene at House Frey was fascinating – and included some of the episode’s best dialogue too – the show has never explained how Arya can transform into whoever she wishes. That is the only thing about “Dragonstone” that bothered me, and I think the reason may be because the show has gotten so far ahead of George R.R. Martin’s novels. 


Over the past few seasons, Game of Thrones has provided plenty of instances where the Faceless Men of the House of Black and White can change their appearance. In fact, Jaqen H’ghar did it all the time. The House of Black and White was full of masks (err faces), but the show never explained how this magic worked, nor did it reveal how Arya learned to master this power. We didn’t see her steal a few masks before she left Bravos, and if she can make masks on her own, the show certainly never told us how she does it. This is the one thing on the show that remains a complete, unexplained mystery, and I find it a bit annoying.

Martin used magic in the novels sparingly, but when he did he usually explained how it worked. As for the magic of the Faceless Men, here is what he told us near the end of A Dance With Dragons:
Mummers change their faces with artifice and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with.
But Arya’s storyline in A Dance With Dragons ended with that chapter. Martin never got to the point where Arya learned – let alone mastered – these arts. And neither did the show. To me, it feels like a link is missing in the chain. I assume Martin will reveal how Arya masters this power in the series’ sixth novel, The Winds of Winter. If that material had existed, the show’s writers might have been able to offer a more cogent explanation for how Arya turned into the spitting image of Walder Frey. Or at least readers watching the show would not be questioning how she does it. Yet I’m beginning to fear the entire TV series will be over before The Winds of Winter is ever published.

This makes me wonder if we aren’t losing something on the show because, at this point, the writers are working off an outline, instead of a novel. In a sense, this has made the show more fun because we, as both readers and viewers, have no idea what’s going to happen next. But I fear some subtle and significant details have been lost in the process.

That said, I still have high hopes for Season 7. Without a novel to spoil the plot, I’m sure the season will be full of surprises.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, July 10, 2017

Historical Fiction: “Liberty Boy” by David Gaughran

After a brief vacation and a near month-long hiatus from the blog, I’m back today with a review of Liberty Boy by Irish author David Gaughran. It’s the first book I’ve read about Dublin that didn’t involve Vikings (who founded the city way back when), and one I highly recommend.


Liberty Boy is a well-paced, beautifully written novel that puts the reader on the edge of a tension-filled uprising in early nineteenth century Dublin. After crushing a violent rebellion a few years before, the English soldiers are determined to keep order by any means necessary. And they’re making a habit of hanging rebel prisoners in Dublin’s public square.

Into this tension comes Jimmy O’Flaherty, a young Irishman and the son of a famous and martyred patriot. Jimmy, however, wants nothing to do with the rebellion or his father’s past. His only desire is to scrape up enough money to book passage to New York and get the hell out of Ireland. Everything looks to be going as planned until he meets a pretty girl named Kitty Doyle.

The execution of Irish Patriot Robert Emmet plays a role in the novel.
As much as I empathized with Jimmy, it was Kitty who stole the proverbial show. She’s a brave, strong-willed, and smart-mouthed heroine who is more than just a sympathizer for the Irish patriots. She’s also Jimmy’s inevitable love interest and the cause of much of the story’s conflict, dragging him into the brewing rebellion he hoped to run from. 

At only 261 pages, Liberty Boy is a quick, but satisfying read. Gaughran gives the reader a great feel for nineteenth century Dublin, with its many breweries and the smell of burnt hops filling the air. He also has a true knack when it comes to dialogue, and I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to use the phrase “for feck’s sake” after reading this book!

The novel is the first in a series, and ends with a cliffhanger of sorts. But fortunately, the sequel, Dieman’s Land, is coming out soon, so readers won’t have to wait too long to learn what happens next.

Thanks to Amazon, you can read a sample of Liberty Boy here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How a Dead Wife Has Given New Life to “American Gods”

I was a bit critical about the debut season of American Gods. The tone seemed off from the book, the soundtrack was too foreboding, and the barrage of “Coming to America” vignettes was jeopardizing the pacing. But all of that has changed since Laura Moon crawled from the grave.


To be fair, there were some high points to the series’ first three episodes. The characters seemed perfectly cast, and the Shadow and Wednesday scenes were humorous and witty at times. Though no one has stolen the show like Emily Browning’s Laura Moon. Ever since episode four (“Git Gone”), which told Laura’s backstory, American Gods has been so much more satisfying. And since she’s paired with Mad Sweeny, the unlikely duo has far out shinned the best that Shadow and Wednesday have to offer.

The most interesting part of this is that most of the Laura Moon scenes have gone beyond the novel. Neil Gaiman never delved deep into Laura’s past, and the Sweeny-Laura road trip never happened. The show’s writers are obviously using these “new” scenes to extend what easily could have been a two-season series into three seasons or more. The show is barely a third of the way into the novel, and this season has only one episode remaining. Yet far from being filler material, Laura’s new scenes have greatly improved the show.


For one, the scenes have a much lighter tone, and Laura’s dialog – especially when engaging Mad Sweeny – is the best we’ve heard since Elsie mysteriously disappeared on Westworld. Also, the overall storytelling seems to have improved. Last week’s episode, titled “A prayer for Mad Sweeny”, was classic. Emily Browning did double-duty as the Irishwoman who originally brought Mad Sweeny to America, with her story unfolding in parallel with Laura’s and Sweeny’s in the present day. It was probably the best episode yet, and Shadow and Wednesday weren’t in a single scene.

I suppose next week’s episode will have to return to Shadow’s and Wednesday’s tale (though I doubt it will go as far into the book as I originally expected). But I truly hope we get more Laura and Sweeny too. Given the title of the season finale, “Come to Jesus”, I think we will. After all, Sweeny knows a guy who specializes in resurrections.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and Starz

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My Thoughts on “The Leftovers” Series Finale

The series finale of The Leftovers was not what I expected, and the last 10 minutes blew me away. I’ve watched the episode, titled “The Book of Nora,” twice now. Here are my thoughts on the finale, but know that *SPOILERS* abound.


By the end of the first two scenes, Nora is inside the machine that supposedly can transport people to the place where 2% of the world’s population went in the Sudden Departure, including Nora’s husband and her two children. The machine is filling up with a metal-infused liquid that will solidify around her moments before a laser blasts her with radiation to effect the transfer. The physicists told Nora that if she swallows the liquid, she’ll die. Just as the liquid reaches her chin, Nora cries out, and the scene ends. Whether we ever learn the truth about what happens next, depends on how you view the final 10 minutes of the series.

After the somewhat nerve-wracking scene in the departure machine, the episode jumps to an older Nora (who calls herself Sarah), bicycling through rural Australia. When a much older Kevin does show up at Nora’s door, he claims to have only met her a few times back in Mableton. She’s so disturbed by this encounter, she stops at a payphone on the side of a wheat field and calls Laurie, who we all thought committed suicide in episode five. Needless to say, I was disoriented and I didn’t like where the show seemed to be going.


At this point, I had suspected we were once again in purgatory. Nora must have swallowed the liquid and gone to the same place Kevin had visited numerous times since Season 2. That would explain how she could talk to a dead Laurie. So, suddenly I’m thinking Damon Lindelof might be a one-trick pony. Isn’t this how LOST ended? With all the characters in purgatory waiting to meet up in the afterlife?

Fortunately, all this was just skilled misdirection by Lindelof and his team of writers. We come to learn that this is the same world most of the show took place in, just twenty years later. Kevin has spent his life looking for Nora, who everyone assumed was dead. Laurie is alive back in Jarden, having aborted whatever suicide she may have intended at the end of episode five. And in the series’ final scene, we learn where Nora has been.

She went through – to the place where the machine took her.

From here on, Nora tells us what happened to the departed. They were left in their own world, a type of parallel earth where, from their viewpoint, 98% of the world’s population vanished in the Sudden Departure. As Nora explains, the “leftovers” like she and Kevin were the lucky ones. “Over here, we lost some of them,” she says, “but over there, they lost all of us.” That was the mind-blowing part, when I realized how perfectly Lindelof had nailed this ending.


Nora goes on to explain how she found her children after a long journey from Melbourne to Mableton through this barely-populated world. They were living in a nearly deserted town with her husband and a beautiful woman, and Nora realized they were happy. “And I was a ghost,” she says. “A ghost who had no place there.” So she let them be and tracked down the physicist who invented the machine, who was the first one to use it. Eventually she found him and convinced him to make a new machine to take her home because she didn’t belong there.

By the end, Nora gave us a beautiful sci-fi explanation for what happened to the departed. What caused this split in reality remained a mystery, but the writers provided an answer to one of the show’s fundamental questions. Or did they? One internet theory is that Nora was telling Kevin an elaborate lie. A lie she might even believe to be true as part of her coping mechanism after she aborted her journey through the machine. Or a lie to explain why she hid from Kevin all these years. (You can read some examples of this here and here.)

Lindelof acknowledges that either possibility may be true, but he’s leaving it up to the viewer to decide. As for me, I want to believe: Nora went to this parallel world and we know what happened to the departed. For that would be the most fitting ending to a thought-provoking show like The Leftovers. And if true, “The Book of Nora” nailed it.

* Images courtesy of HBO.