Adventures in Cleaning Out The DVR: Ominous (dir by Peter Sullivan)


ominous

After I finished writing my review of Lavalantula, it was time to bitch about my sprained foot to anyone who would listen.  After that, it was time to have dinner and then it was time to lay on the couch and try to get some rest and finally, after all that, I got back to the task of cleaning out my DVR.  The film that I ended up watching was Ominous, a SyFy film which was originally broadcast on October 10th.

Ominous opens with recovering alcoholic Michael Young (played by Barry Watson) putting his car into reverse and promptly running over his six year-old son, Jacob (Gavin Lewis).  Michael and his wife, Rachel (Esme Bianco), rush Jacob to the hospital but it’s too late.  Jacob dies.  Later, as they’re driving back from the funeral, Rachel demands to know if Michael was drunk when he ran over Jacob.  Michael says that he wasn’t drinking and that it was just an accident and then, as if to prove that he really is the worst driver in the world, Michael promptly runs over a dog.

When they arrive home, a man is waiting for them.  Known only as The Stranger (and played, in properly sinister style, by Mark Lindsay Chapman), the man says that he can bring Jacob back to life.  All Michael and Rachel have to do is dig up their son and bring his body back to the house.  And then, to prove his point, the Stranger brings the dog back to life.

So, of course, Michael and Rachel go out to the cemetery and dig up Jacob.  They bring him back to the house.  The next morning, Jacob is suddenly alive.  Yay!  Of course, Jacob promptly re-kills the dog, which is our first clue that Jacob is not quite himself.

We then jump forward a few months.  The Youngs have moved to a new town and appear to be living as normal a life as you can when your six year-old son is demon-possessed hellspawn. (Actually, he’s the Antichrist and don’t even pretend like that was a spoiler.)  Michael fears his son, especially after Jacob has a seizure in church and causes a priest to burst into flames.  Rachel continues to make excuses for her son, even when he does stuff like summon a sudden dust storm that manages to kill everyone on a playground.

There’s a scene early on in the film in which Jacob asks his mother if they can get a cat.

“I don’t think so,” Rachel replies, “Daddy’s allergic.”

“What about when Daddy’s dead?” Jacob cheerfully  asks.

That scene pretty much tells you everything you need to know about Ominous.  This is an unapologetically over-the-top demon child film, one that doesn’t make much sense but which is never boring.  It’s easy to recognize which films are being ripped off — The Omen, The Visitor, The Birds — but the film is so shameless in its thievery that it’s easy to be forgiving.  Is Ominous a rip-off or an homage?  How about both?

Barry Watson actually does a pretty good job as a recovering alcoholic and his performance is reminiscent of some of Patrick Muldoon’s better work.  Mark Lindsay Chapman is properly intimidating as the Stranger.  Full of gore, melodrama, metaphysical posturing, and children with creepy demon eyes, Ominous is more entertaining than you might expect.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E10 “Valar Morghulis”


“We are the watchers on the Wall.” — Qhorin Halfhand

[spoilers within]

With last week’s explosive ninth episode, “Blackwater”, it was going to take much to make tonight’s season finale to really stand out. Just like the first season’s finale we get an episode that deals with the aftermath of the previous episode and also goes a long way into setting up events for the upcoming third season.

“Valar Morghulis” is the title of tonight’s episode and it’s spoken by Jaqen H’ghar to Arya as the two part ways. It’s a saying in Essos from ancient High Valyrian (a Roman Epire-like civilization which perished centuries before the series’ timeline) that translated means “All men must die”. Jaqen sees potential in Arya in becoming like him, a Faceless Man, assassins who follow the teaching of the so-called Many-Faced Gods. While Arya seems intrigued by the offer her need to re-connect with her family takes precedence over everything else. As the two part ways Jaqen imparts to Arya a coin that should she ever need passage to Braavos to start her journey into becoming a Faceless Man. In another instance that this series still has magic in it’s DNA we finally see why Jaqen is a Faceless Man as he walks away from Arya and her group wearing a new face.

Tonight’s episode lays the foundation that next season magic and sorcery may become more common place than the first two season of the series. We see Daenerys finally make her way into the House of the Undying to retrieve her dragonlings from the warlocks of Qarth. It’s a sequence that’s akin to spirit journey for the Targaryen Queen-to-be and Mother of Dragons as she walks the darkened halls and corridors of the House of Undying until an egress suddenly takes her North of the Wall to find a Dothraki tent where she discovers the two most precious things she has lost since coming to Essos. In what I could only see as a surprise that was kept by showrunners Benioff and Weiss from the press and bloggers (a feat nowadays) Daenerys sees her husband Khal Drogo and who could only be their son both alive and waiting for her.

Her reaction to this event was both poignant and tragic in that she finally has a chance to be with those she loves most but must give up the quest to retake Westeros with her dragons. Her decision to leave the tent and leave behind those she loves comes as her character finally realizing that sentimentality and the needs of her heart must take a back seat and wait. Daenerys comes out the other side a more confident ruler and one whose magic really is stronger than those warlocks who scheme to keep her and her dragons captive for themselves. It really sets up the Daenerys character on a much stronger footing for next season just like last season’s finale did. For all the moping around Daenerys did for most of season 2 the pay off in the end goes a long way into forgiving the show’s writers in their inability to write her character’s motivations consistently. Most likely the naive young girl being used by others for their own agendas and ends would be seen less and less next season while the Mother of Dragons reasserts her authority.

The same can’t be said for one of the five kings vying for control of Westeros. For those who have read the third novel the scenes with King Robb Stark were full of sentimentality but lacking in the cold-hearted logic that rulers must use in order to play the game of thrones successfully. Even his mother, Catelyn Stark, sees danger in Robb’s actions with the Volanti healer Talisa Maegyr. Catelyn knows well enough that Robb could destroy everything he has won and worked for since war begun because he has thought with his heart and not with his head. In what could almost be seen as more doom coming for the House of Stark, Robb cements his relationship with Talisa in secret even though we’ve come to learn through two season of this show that nothing ever remains secret for long.

Back in King’s Landing we see the balance of power shift once more as Tywin Lannister’s opportune arrival to take victory from the jaws of defeat at the end of last week’s episode sees him back as Hand of the King to Joffrey. Tyrion has lost all the advantages he had worked and gamed for all season as even Bronn has been removed as Commander of the Goldcloaks. We’ve not seen Tyrion laid so low as we have in this episode and the horrible scarring of his face looks to go deeper as he finally realizes that as much as he would enjoy running away with Shae and leave the politicla intrigues and backstabbing of the kingdom it’s something that he would miss terribly because it’s the one thing he’s best at. With Tywin now in charge of the kingdom and Petyr Baelish having earned himself the king’s good graces for manufacturing the alliance between the two most powerful houses in the kingdom with the Lannisters (Baratheon by name only) and the Tyrell’s of Highgarden. It’s going to be interesting to see how Tyrion readjusts to the new power dynamics in King’s Landing for season 3. If there’s one thing we’ve come to learn about Tyrion over two season’s worth of episodes it’s that he’s a survivor first and foremost.

Lastly, we come to Jon Snow and his dilemma North of the Wall. A captive of the wildlings and seen as someone very important for the still unseen Mance Rayder the so-called King-beyond-the-Wall, Jon must do the only logical thing (something Qhorin halfhand agrees as the only thing that could save Jon and maybe give him time to warn the Wall) and earn the trust of Ygritte, Rattleshirt and the rest of the wildlings even if it means killing one of his own to do so. In what would be one of several sweeping scenes that show the epic nature of this series lest we forget Ygritte shows Jon over the lip of a glacier the army of wildlings Mance Rayder has gathered.

Yet, it’s not that army that gives tonight’s episode that cliffhanger send-off that last season’s finale did with Daenerys coming out of the funeral pyre with her three dragonlings perched on her unharmed body. No, tonight’s episode gets a cliffhanger that is more ominous and reinforces the House Stark motto of “Winter Is Coming”. We see poor Samwell Tarly (having been abandoned by the two other Night’s Watch Brothers once they heard the three horn blasts in the distance) scared out of his wits as he realizes that the three horn blasts that hasn’t been heard for thousands of years could only mean one thing: the White Walkers are on the march towards the Wall. In a final acknowledgement that as realistically the show has tried to portray the series in terms of warfare and political intrigue there’s no getting away from the fact that magic is still alive in this world born out of George R.R. Martin’s fevered mind as a massive army of undead slouches south towards the Wall and the kingdoms beyond it.

This scene just ups the ante on what we could only imagine what would be season three of the show. Across the Narrow Sea we have Daenerys Stormborn gradually detaching sentimentality from how she operates and this could only mean more bad news for the warring kingdoms of Westeros. The power struggles against King Joffrey looks to be going the mad king’s way as Lannisters and Tyrells ally together to retake the rest of the rebelling kingdoms. Now we have two armies, one living and preparing to go south towards the Wall (most likely to get away from the gathering White Walker horde) and the other undead and also heading towards the only bastion (one that is ridiculously undermanned) protecting the southern kingdoms from a gathering darkness.

If there was a complaint about this season’s storytelling it was that so much of the novel this season was based on was condensed to make it fit in a ten-episode season. Despite lulls in character development with Jon Snow and Daenerys we get major pay-offs for these two with tonight’s season finale. It’s good news that showrunner Benioff and Weiss has decided to split book three, A Storm of Swords, into two with the first half comprising season three with the latter half set aside for season four. Even with missteps along the way tonight’s season finale goes a long way into proving that HBO’s Game of Thrones is currently the best genre show on tv and one of the best tv shows airing now.

Now we have ten months of waiting to see how Westeros and Essos will deal with the events that ended season two. One thing for sure is that we’ll see more people die before all questions get answered if ever.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E08 “The Prince of Winterfell”


“One game at a time my good friend.” — Tyrion Lannister

The second season of HBO’s Game of Thrones has been quite similar to the first season in that for every great episode we get one not so great, but still one that’s needed to help further the season’s narrative to it’s conclusion. This season it’s the effect that the War of the Five Kings has had one everyone from those vying for the Iron Throne to the lowly peasant who must endure the war that has engulfed Westeros. Even the lands of Essos across the Narrow Sea has felt the ripple effect of this war as we see Daenerys Targaryen struggle in her attempts to gain allies in a land content to see the kingdoms of Westeros fight each other into disunity.

Tonight’s eight episode of the season, “The Prince of Winterfell”, was not a great episode but it was crucial in further fleshing out some of the main characters who continues to have an effect on the war. The title itself as meaning one of the Stark sons, but in this episode this label could mean so many characters.

It could mean Theon Greyjoy who has made himself the new Lord of Winterfell as he and his score of Ironborn have forcibly taken the capital of the North a couple episodes back. We’ve seen him play the role of lord, or more like play-act the role, since taking Winterfell, but his decisions since then has made him even more petty than we’ve ever seen him through all of season 1. His behavior is a constant reminder that while he spent most of his life amongst the Starks — as part of his father’s punishment for rebelling against Robert Baratheon — he never picked up the concept of honor fom Ned Stark or through the actions of Ned’s boys. He’s like a spoiled young boy trying to please everyone and show them that he’s worthy of praise when what he’s done just makes him look more and more pathetic to those he’s trying to impress.

The scene between Theon and his sister Yara was quite illuminating in how the former went against his father’s orders and his people’s method of warfare because he envies the sort of respect and influence his sister has over the Ironborn men. Influence that goes against everything Theon thinks how a woman should be and that’s naked and subservient to him, or at least to men. Yara doesn’t resent her brother and actually cares for him in her own fashion. She even understands why he does what he does and how their shared experiences with their father, Balon Greyjoy, binds them closer than Theon would like to think.

Theon has been given chances and opportunities to think things more logically and with a keen mind, but he has squandered all these chances (one even coming from the sister he thinks doesn’t respect him) and just continues to dig the proverbial grave he might just find himself in. He may be the Lord and Prince of Winterfell now, but only he seems to believe that to be true.

On the other hand, we have Robb Stark down south, King of the North by his bannermen’s acclaim, but still just a Prince of Winterfell who would like nothing but to return to his birthplace and take up the duties now given onto him by the death of his father. He would rather return to guarding the North and supporting the Night’s Watch aat the Wall than continue to fight a war that he has lost much desire to fight. But he knows he must continue his campaign against King Joffrey and the Lannisters. Too much blood has been spilt by men under his banner and the honor and duty he learned from his father means he must set aside sentimental things (like running back North to retake Winterfell and free his younger brothers). The fact that he understands the damage Catelyn’s actions in regards to the Kingslayer and his orders to have her guarded like a prisoner means he has learned to set aside familial feelings for the greater good.

Robb Stark has learned much to be like his father and while much of it has been to his advantage in prosecuting the war and keeping his alliance of bannermen together he has also picked up his father’s flaw of allowing his heart to dictate an action that may just jeopardize everything he has gained since the war began. Even knowing that he’s arranged to marry one of the Frey daughters as price to move his army down south his feelings for Talisa (the camp chirurgeon and a lady of Volantis herself) finally overrides his reason and duty. For those who have read the book this scene was both touching and maddening. For those who have never read the book this scene will still be touching in that Robb followed his heart, but also maddening in that he puts in danger the alliances with the important House of Frey to satisfy his heart.

The rest of “The Prince of Winterfell” was more about moving the pieces on the board closer to that inevitable clash between the armies of Joffrey at King’s Landing and Stannis Baratheon with his fleet bearing down on the capital. All these build-up scenes added to subplots that has grown since the beginning of the season. If there was one sequence that seemed very out of place and felt like just spinning wheels in place it would be with Daenerys at Qarth as she once again agonizes about her kidnapped “babies” and how she must get them back. Now that she knows that the warocks of Qarth have the dragonlings sequestered in the Tower of the Undying one would think she would have tried to get them back, but instead we get more scenes of her and Jorah debating on the need to have the dragon’s back. While this part of the season doesn’t come close to being the “Sophia in the Barn” frustrating it’s getting close.

We now have two more episodes left in the season and it looks like the Battle of Blackwater Pass from the novels may just arrive with the next episode. Will Tyrion be able to beat back Stannis’ siege of King’s Landing? Will Theon survive the season as Lord of Winterfell? Will Robb’s actions with Talisa destroy everything he has built since the war began? There’s so much questions and with two episodes left it will be quite the juggling act for the show’s writers to answer them all without having them seemed rushed.

Review: Game of Thrones S2E04 “Garden of Bones”


“A naked man has few secrets. A flayed man has none.” — Lord Roose Bolton of Dreadfort

I will say that tonight’s latest episode of HBO’s medieval fantasy series, Game of Thrones, probably qualifies as a set-up episode. The episode was quite good, but it was also one that moved around the world of the series to help establish some upcoming storylines for characters in the show. What each of these set-ups had in common was how much they dealt with death both the past, present and future. Tonight’s episode lacked any sort of balance to it’s downbeat and doom-laden tone.

“Garden of Bones” was the title of tonight’s episode and it comes from the description the people of Qarth called the area outside their city-state’s walls. It’s an area full of death and the bones left behind by the enemies and unfortunate individuals who were barred from entering the city’s gates. The show has been very good with introducing those fans who have never read the book to the culture of the many peoples in Game of Thrones. While these many disparate cultures have differences that make them unique they also seem to have a common denominator and that’s with how they view the concept of death. This is a world where death has become the norm and almost a currency for those in power. It’s no wonder that death would be described in such interesting and flowery ways.

We see death on the battlefield as Robb Stark’s army opens up the episode with another major victory over forces of Tywin Lannister and his bannermen. While the battle itself wasn’t shown the aftermath is something we do see in very grim and detail. Bodies of the dead from both sides litter the battlefield and we get a mention about how the butcher’s bill for the battle itself was 5 Lannister men dead for every Stark men. It’s a grim reminder that the world Martin has created with his novels is one that doesn’t glorify or sugarcoat the nature of warfare, especially the medieval kind, and how it grinds away men both soldier and civilian alike. We get a sense of how even the very one king out of the five vying for control in this season has no clue as to the consequences of his actions. A nurse who is tending to the wounded and crippled of the battle’s aftermath pretty much calls bullshit on Robb Stark’s assertion that he’s the good guy in this war. A good guy the nurse calls out for not having a proper exit plan if and when Robb defeats Joffrey. Even Robb’s compassion towards his defeated enemies seem to ring hollow considering that it’s his reaction to his father’s death which has brought about all the death we see in this episode’s beginning.

It’s that exit plan that Tyrion seems to be working on whether his family wins the war or not. Once again it’s the one person everyone (well except Bronn) seems to not take seriously due to his appearance and undeserved reputation who sees clearly that if the war continues the only one who would have won would be the dead and that’s because they won’t have to deal with the post-war mess Joffrey and the other claimants to the Iron Throne (or carving out their own kingdoms from the ashes) have made with the execution of Ned Stark in season 1.

The theme of death continues to permeate even when it comes to the younger roles in the show. Across the Narrow Sea we see Daenerys and her khalasar on the brink of starvation and death until news comes from one of her outriders that the city-state of Qarth wants to meet with her. It’s a meeting that doesn’t go well for the young Targaryen queen as those in power in the city (a city of merchants) are not overly impressed by the so-called Mother of Dragons. It’s a misstep in her attempts to negotiate diplomatically that threatens to add her and her khalasar to the ever-growing Garden of Bones which encircles the walls of Qarth.

It’s from the youngest of the Stark daughters that we see the death and brutality of this war come into vivid view as Arya arrives with the rest of the prisoners into the cursed castle of Harrenhal. We see torture in full display as a prisoner is brought into questioning as Harrenhal’s current lord wants information on a band of warriors who call themselves “The Brotherhood” who continue to harry the Lannisters in the region. Arya’s journey from being the rambunctious and wild young daughter of Ned Stark in season 1 to the damaged and old-before-her-time survivor continues as she witnesses the torture of the prisoners and the utter disregard for human life some of the men of Harrenhal have towards the prisoners and villagers living nearby. It’s ironic that the very person who actually shows a semblance of compassion (though probably less compassion and more of a pragmatist who sees waste in killing of prisoners) would be the head of the house which killed her father and took her away from family and home. Yet, it’s her near-ritualistic repeating of the names of everyone who has wronged her from Joffrey and the Lannisters to Ser Amory Loch who killed Yoren in the previous episode.

Tonight’s episode doesn’t treat it’s young characters with kid gloves and with Arya we see how much she’s becoming accustomed to all the death around her and even uses it to keep herself focused on her personal quest of vengeance. For one of the youngest characters in the show she’s turning out to be the one who is learning to understand the power the concept of death has over everyone. It’ll be interesting to see if the show does the brave thing and really follows the novel in terms of Arya’s journey into what I can only call the dark side.

“Garden of Bones” wasn’t as streamlined as the previous two episodes this season, but it does set-up some major plot threads for the rest of the season. While it they all seem to be lines of story that look to not interconnect they all seem to agree on the fact that more death will be forthcoming as the season heads toward what I can only see as a bloody, fiery conclusion. Oh, plus it did have quite a major turning point in the show and another step towards making magic and the supernatural part of the show’s narrative fabric as Melisandre show’s Ser Davos Seaworth the true extent of her powers.

Notes

  • We get two new locations and clockwork cities in the show’s intro sequence: Harrenhal and Qarth.
  • Love the detail of the clockwork Harrenhal being made to look like the dead and cursed castle and land that it is with no clockwork motions given to it in the intro.
  • Another battle that is done off-screen. The Battle of Blackwater Pass better be epic.
  • Great to see Greywind actually being used as part of Robb Stark’s army.
  • We get another new character introduced that fans of the books should know very well: Lord Roose Bolton of Dreadfort
  • Joffrey takes another step into Emperor Nero-level of royal madness.
  • If anyone ever wonder just how crazy the Mad King Targaryen was then Joffrey may be giving glimpses of that very madness when it was still in it’s early stages.
  • Fans of the show may still not be enamored with Sansa Stark, but Tyrion is beginning to understand just how much a survivor she’s becoming in the dangerous world Joffrey has turned Westeros into.
  • Tyrion and Bronn continue to be one of the highlight’s of this new season with Tyrion once again having some of the best dialogue. You’d think the show’s writers were making sure Dinklage wins another Emmy for his work on this show.
  • Natalie Dormer in the role of Margaery Tyrell continues to own the role as she more than holds her own during a verbal joust with Littlefinger in the Renly war camp.
  • We hear the first mention of something called “The Brotherhood”. It will be interesting if the writers decide to make them a major part of the tv series considering it would add another half dozen or so characters to an already large cast for the season.
  • We see how much Daenerys has to go to be a political queen as she deals with the Thirteen of Qarth.
  • Some more great work from young Maisie Williams as Arya Stark in tonight’s episode. She continues to be the star of the cast of young actors on this show.
  • Stannis may be a rigid man in terms of whats right and wrong, but not when it comes to battle or war it seems.
  • Davos’ reaction to what Melisandre has planned all along in the secret mission Stannis has sent him on was classic. It had all sort of WTF written all over his face.
  • One of the most important scenes in Martin’s story was done quite well and disturbingly so.
  • Which ends the episode that was shorter by a few minutes than previous ones.

RANT BEGINS

Some major changes in tonight’s episode in regards to the books and in this season as a whole. I’ve seen many on Twitter complain about this. All I can say to these people: they had to be made and Martin has been involved in making sure they fit into the overall story he’s been telling. Either stop watching the show looking for the next book-to-tv change and bitch and moan about it when it happens or just treat the show as it’s own thing separate from the books they love so much. As a fan of the book series from the very beginning I understand the changes for tv and don’t see it as making the novels worse in the end.

What’s the point of watching something that’s suppose to entertain and bring about discussion when one already going into with a negative bias about the show. Get off the show’s jock and watch something else if you can’t get passed the changes. No point in spoiling things for those who have never read the book and must read and listen to the complaints.

RANT ENDS

Review: Game of Thrones S2E02 “The Night Lands”


“You shouldn’t insult people bigger than you.” — Gendry

Tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones saw some major power plays from old stalwarts fans have grown to love since season 1 and from newly introduced character from this season’s premiere episode. The show has continued to go on its own pace with some episode bereft of action and heavy on character interactions and exposition. Tonight’s episode was one of them.

“The Night Lands” was tonight’s episode and it comes from the Dothraki term for death. It’s interesting to note that the title itself didn’t lead to much death with tonight’s episode. What it did was set-up plans that would lead to the death of hundreds, if not thousands, and also reveal that all the power plays all the self-proclaimed kings and queens south of the wall will be for naught if the true danger posed by the gathering wildlings north of the Wall doesn’t get it’s due focus. Then there’s the problem of a long winter arriving and with it the prospect of the Others (renamed White Walkers for the show) posing the greatest danger to everyone on Westeros, if not, the world itself.

Tonight’s episode gave quality time, some of it brief, to several characters. We got to see the continuing hardship being felt by Daenerys and her khalasar as they travel the Red Waste. Their very privations would get compounded by the dangers posed by rival khals led by the very commanders who once called Daenerys’ husband, Khal Drogo, their liege. She had the briefest time during tonight’s episode but we got to see some growth to her becoming a true leader as she refuses to run from the very people hunting her for just being a leader in a land where men have always held power.

We also get an exercise in personal power from Littlefinger who was rudely disabused by Queen Regent Cersei that for all his talk about knowledge being the source of power in the end he held no more than what’s allowed him by those who are of higher station and of noble birth. Littlefinger gets back a semblance of his personal power by telling quite a horrific tale to his favorite whore in Ros. One who has earned his disfavor by not doing well what he has trained and paid her to do. The quiet way Littlefinger tells the story of another whore of his in the past who failed to do her job and thus forced him to have her used and abused was chilling and definitely gave Ros the hint that she better shape up or the same would befall her.

A power play of another sort involved the plans and machinations of Ser Davos Seaworth has he successfully gets the pirate captain Salladhor Saan to commit his fleet of 30 ships to fight for Stannis Baratheon when they make for King’s Landing. While his loyalty towards Stannis is borne out of gratitude and one well-earned his son looks to be more loyal towards the new religion sweeping Dragonstone and Stannis followers. Even Stannis has begun to tire of Melisandre’s talk of faith in the Lord of Light to grant him the victory he so wants, but knows he cannot achieve unless he pries the 100,000 or so men who have pledge loyalty to Renly into his own army. Melisandre’s own move to cementing her influence and power over the elder brother plays upon Stannis’ longing to have a son his sickly wife hasn’t been able to give him. For all his talk of black-and-white when it comes to the realities of the world Stannis is still more than willing to deal with cutthroats and pirates. He’s even willing to forgo his marriage vow if it means Melisandre will give him the son he wants.

But tonight’s episode was about two men whose attempts to tip the balance of power in the kingdom and in the war was met with success for one and abject humiliation and defeat for another.

We finally get to see the Iron Islands from whence Theon Greyjoy’s family holds power and where he is returning home to offer King Robb Stark’s terms for an alliance against the Lannisters. Theon (played by Alfie Allen) has always come off as the wanna-be hanger on who thinks the leftover crumbs left by the Stark boys meant he has power and influence. He’s disabused of this notion when he gets a less than ostentatious welcome when he arrives on his land of birth. His penchant for bragging about his self-importance has made him into a lecherous joke when his initial encounter with his younger sister Yara (who he doesn’t recognize as such and thus his lame attempt at seduction makes for a very funny and uncomfortable scene) shows him to be soft, no iron in his make-up and a fool as well. His father, Balon Greyjoy, further insults his western ways and attire and parades Yara as his new heir and one worthy to lead the Greyjoy fleets. A fleet Theon had hoped would fight with Robb against the Lannister, but instead strike at a much more inviting and less defended target (not said but implied that Winterfell will soon get a visit from the men of the Iron Isles).

Farther south, we see Tyrion further cementing his power in the role his father has appointed him. While Tyrion has always seemed the one person in the whole series who sees the joke kings, queens and lords have made of themselves and the kingdom, he seem to be perfect in the role of the new Hand of the King. As he proclaims to Varys during their brief weighing of each other at his room in the castle, Tyrion is not Ned Stark. He knows how to play the game of thrones and he’s not honorable to fall for whatever plans Varys and others may have for and against him. He even exercises his new found power by banishing the Lord Commander of the City Watch (the Goldcloaks) Janos Slynt for his role in the massacre of King Robert’s bastard sons. Tyrion may be an imp who no one takes seriously and, who himself, doesn’t take his role as seriously as he thinks he should, but he draws the line when it comes to the slaughter of innocent babes and children. The fact that he has correctly guessed the pulse of the people has made him Cersei’s biggest ally in the Royal Court in reining in the power-mad King Joffrey, but familial resentment between sister and younger brother means Tyrion will forever by trying to clean up after his family and it’s a job that he knows he cannot hope to win.

Tonight’s episode was once again helmed by Alan Taylor who also directed the season premiere. Like that episode, tonight had the show moving from different points on the map. We go from North of the Wall to King’s Landing then to the Iron Isles, the Red Waste and Dragonstone. Taylor seems able to juggle these different threads that could easily have made tonight’s episode hard to follow. It’s a testament to Benioff and Weiss as writers to have been able to cram all these scenes together and make them easy to follow.

Next week’s episode sees a new director at the help and a new writer. It’d be interesting to see if the show can continue such a high level of execution without Taylor, Weiss and Benioff manning the till.

Notes

  • Tonight’s opening title sequence gets a new location added to it’s clockwork mechanism with the inclusion of Pyke on the Iron Isles.
  • It was great to see Arya getting some screen time as she deals with hiding as a boy with the rest of the caravan being led by Yoren to the Wall.
  • We get our first introduction to someone who will have a major impact in Arya’s future with the mysterious prisoner Jaqen H’ghar play by Tom Wlaschiha.
  • The elder brother-little sister dynamic growing between Arya and Gendry was also good to see especially with Arya’s whole world being turned upside down and her not knowing if her own brothers still live.
  • Bronn appear briefly to take over as the new Lord Commander of the City Watch and his brief dialogue between himself and Tyrion was a welcome sight. If they ever made a spin-off series about the adventures of Tyrion and Bronn it would be well-watched.
  • North of the Wall, Jon’s direwolf Ghost makes an appearance that looks better executed than the CGI used to enlarge Robb’s Greywind.
  • The introduction of one of Caster’s young daughter-wives (a piece of detail that’s sure to make many viewers disturbed for even knowing) and Sam as her potential savior is another brick laid down for the show’s future.
  • Interesting to note that Salladhor Saan is played by a black man instead of the fair-skinned man of Lys as originally described by Martin in the novels. I’m all for the change, but I’m sure the less-educated fans of the books would find the change none to their liking. I call it the “Hunger Games Rant”.
  • Great turn by Gemma Whelan as Yara Greyjoy (Asha Greyjoy in the books). Her manipulation of Theon was pitch-perfect especially during their disturbingly inappropriate horse ride to Castle Pyke.

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 10 “Fire and Blood”


[spoilers within!]

“You should get some sleep. It’s going to be a long war.” – Jaime “Kingslayer” Lannister

We’ve finally reached the season finale of what’s been an excellent first season of Game of Thrones. When news that HBO was adapting George R.R. Martin’s epic medieval fantasy (it’s a fantasy of the historical medieval event known as “The War of the Roses”) there was much rejoicing from fans of the Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire Saga” then once the news had settled came the trepidation. How would showrunners Weiss and Benioff be able to adapt the first book (titled A Game of Thrones) faithfully without trimming away so much to fit almost 1000-pages of story into a 10-episode first season.

When the season premiere came and went most of the book’s fans trepidation were assuaged and with each new episode only the most nitpicky and intractable hardcore fans of the book even complained about changes from book to screen. HBO’s Game of Thrones has been one excellent piece of long form TV storytelling with characters people have grown to love, accept and mourn over (really go through the 5 Stages of Grief after Episode 9). We last left the show with the show’s face having sold out his honor in an attempt to save his daughters. Ned Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North, was a great soldier and a loyal friend to the departed King Robert Baratheon, but he was never fit to play “the game of thrones” as he wasn’t able to compromise his sense of duty and honor to win a game where such virtues were really more of detriments to winning. So, newly crowned Joffrey (Bieber) Baratheon decides to ignore his mother’s advice and goes to show he’s his own man and, a ruthless one at that, demands for Ned’s head and gets it. The scream of NOOOOO! and WTF?! from across the world once that final scene hit could be heard around the internet and beyond. I wouldn’t be surprised if alien races passing by the system picks up those tweets and blog posts reacting over Ned Stark’s death.

The season finale begins soon after that final scene of episode 9. Ned Stark’s head gets picked up by Ser Ilyn Payne (Joffrey’s executioner) as Arya gets taken away by Yoren of the Night’s Watch to try to save her from Joffrey and the Lannisters bound to continue searching for her. This scene showed just how much Arya seems to be one of the few Starks who has learned the need to survive when surrounded by enemies. Once again it’s been a joy to witness Maisie Williams in the role of Arya Stark. Child actors are usually hit or miss when given big roles in film or tv, but Maisie Williams seem to have taken to the role of the tomboy Arya with gusto which has made her a fan favorite of the show.

“Fire and Blood” explores through much of it’s running time the reaction by the show’s many players and factions to the death of Ned Stark by the command of King Joffrey. It doesn’t matter which faction the episode focused on the reaction seemed universal: Joffrey was stupid to have executed Ned Stark. From the grief and anger by Robb Stark and his mother Catelyn who promised her grieving son that once the Stark girls have been retaken and safe then “they will kill all of them”. It’s not strictly implied if she meant just the Lannisters or everyone who has had a hand in the Stark travails or failed to help. It helps lay a seed for a new storyline for the upcoming second season as war truly breaks out in Westeros. We now have Robb Stark anointed by Lord Greatjon Umber as King of the North with the rest of the Stark bannermen following suit. Then we hear news from the Lannister war council that Renly and Stannis Baratheon have amassed their own armies to force their own individual claims to the Iron Throne.

The time spent in the Lannister camp shows Tyrion (and Peter Dinklage always at his best) not just gaining the trust and respect of his father Tywin, the Lion of Lannister, but being given the title of Hand of the King. His dumbstruck expression at becoming the second most powerful man in the Seven Kingdoms (after Tywin) was priceless as was his decision to bring Shae the prostitute along as the Hand’s Lady even though it meant disobeying his father’s explicit orders that he not do so. It’s been great to see Tyrion always unsure of his footing when dealing with his father, but never letting that keep him from still trying to rebel against the person who had shunned and ridiculed him all his life. This is another seed that should bear very interesting fruit for season 2 especially now that war will soon come for the Lions of Casterly Rock and King’s Landing.

But the episode is all about Jon Snow at The Wall and Daenerys Targaryen at Vaes Dothrak across the Narrow Sea. While the Starks, Lannisters and Baratheon houses with their respective bannermens and allies make their plans to either carve out their own nation or seize the Iron Throne at King’s Landing, from The Wall and across the Narrow Sea two groups make gamechanging decisions that will affect the Seven Kingdoms for season two and beyond as it has in the books.

Jon Snow still decides to leave Castle Black and break his oath to the Night’s Watch in order to rejoin his brother Robb and his army on their march south against the Lannister’s. This decision doesn’t sit well with Sam Gamg…I mean Samwell Tarly who continues to remind Jon of his oath and the consequences of breaking it. The first season really highlights one thing which fans of the book really never got to see. Jon Snow, as dreamy as might be to some, is really quite an immature young man who thinks his decision to run back to his family as they go off to war is not just his duty but honorable. Then when everyone around him, from rivals, mentors and friends, disagrees with him Jon begins to stamp his feet and pout like a little boy who has been told he can’t have his dessert before supper. It’s why I’m glad that Sam has been written in the show to be less a sidekick to Jon, but the logic and common sense voice always making sure Jon understands where his try duty lies.

The scene in the woods were Sam and the rest of the Night’s Watch brothers who forms Jon Snow’s little entourage catches up to Jon and recite the Night’s Watch oath one at a time then together to re-forge the bond they will all need. They will need to rely on each other as Lord Commander Jeor Mormont has decided to take the Night’s Watch north of the wall to find not just Jon’s uncle, Benjen Stark, but to find out once and for all why the wildling tribes have been fleeing south and if the White Walkers are truly back and on the move. The use of a military-variant of the show’s main title theme music score’s the men of the Night’s Watch moving out of Castle Black and into the wilderness north of the wall. It was an inspired scene that promises not just action, but hopefully more signs and encounters with the boogeymen north of the Wall.

Once we leave the snow confines of The Wall and the North we switch to the sunny plains of Vaes Dothrak where Daenerys finally learns the consequence of showing mercy to the people she saw as helpless and in need of her protection from the ravages of Khal Drogo and his khalasar. Dany learns the hard way through the stillborn birth of her son, Rhaego, and the mindless state Drogo has come to under the ministrations of her witch-woman, Mirri Maz Duur. To say that this latest life lesson continues to add to Dany’s growing sense of becoming the warrior queen she was meant to be would be an understatement.

She shares a final tender night’s moment with her husband, Khal Drogo, knowing that his mind has left his body. She reminisces the times they both shared in their short time together before finally releasing Drogo from his state through a mercy killing. If the final moments of this episode will say anything about Dany it’s that she has learned her lesson about mercy and the consequences of when not to give it.

Emilia Clarke has been great in the show as Daenerys. We’ve seen her grow from the meek younger sister of the deluded Viserys to being the wife and growing equal of Khal Drogo to the final moments of “Fire and Blood” where we finally learn the true meaning of her having the blood of the dragon. This was a scene that fans of the books were very wary of. HBO is one of the premiere cable channels, but they still operate under budgets that doesn’t match those of epic fantasy films like Lord of the Rings. Would the producers and the channel be able to pull off the reveal in the end. We see Dany walk into the blazing funeral pyre made for Drogo and where she has sentenced Mirri Maz Suur to burn, but will the morning after be able to satisfy not just the fans of the books but also new fans who have stayed with the show even after Ned Stark’s surprising death. I am happy to say that seeing Dany rising up from the ashes of Drogo’s pyre unharmed with three new additions to her own khalasar should satisfy everyone.

It’s a great way to end the first season which really plays out more like a prologue to the true story that season 2 will tackle. We see the dragon eggs have hatched overnight and bear witness to the most powerful things in the world of the Game of Thrones. Dany doesn’t need the Dothraki who have abandoned her when she now has Rhaegal, Drogon and Viserion to be her firepower to conquer a new army to take back to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne of the Seven Kingdoms. I love how the last thing we hear as the episode fades to black is the loud, defiant screech of one of her newly hatched dragons signalling the return of the true Targaryen’s to the story the show has told, so far.

Season 1 has done all it could to stay true to George R.R. Martin’s writing and has done so well even when the show’s writers saw it fit to change some minor things in the narrative to fit the tv format and also add in a couple new characters. “Fire and Blood” wasn’t as shocking as episode 9’s “Baelor”, but what it lacked in surprise it more than made up with a cliffhanger that should leave fans of the books and the show wanting for season 2 to arrive now instead of the Spring of 2012.

Game of Thrones has whetted the appetite of new and old fans alike and, barring any sudden change of heart at HBO, the show should only get better from here on out. All the main characters have been introduced with just a few more to make their arrival known in season 2. The game of thrones itself has now fully engulfed the Seven Kingdoms with Dany in the east and winter coming from the north waiting to sweep down to take everyone at any time. This season also ended with the show finally embracing the long-forgotten magic which characters in the show has mentioned but we’ve never really seen. Here’s to hoping that Spring 2012 arrives as soon as space-time continuum as possible. A ten month wait for the next season will be torture with only the first season dvd/blu-ray set to assuage that long wait.

A few highlights from “Fire and Blood”

  • Sansa finally seeing Joffrey for the little douchebag monster that he was when forced by him to looked at her father’s head on a spike and threats of having her older brother’s head on another one for his rebellion. Sansa still seems the weakest of the Stark children, but the realization of not just the real Joffrey, her fantasy life as queen and how much of a fool she has been was a strong sequence. Seeing Sandor “The Hound” Clegane stopping her from tossing Joffrey off the bridge and showing a semblance of compassion toward’s her should make for very interesting scenes between Sansa and The Hound in seasons to come.
  • Catelyn Stark confronting Jamie Lannister at the Stark camp really showed some new layers of complexity to the character of the Kingslayer. At once we see his usual cavalier attitude towards his rivals and the situation he finds himself in, but we also see a hint of regret for what he and his sister have begun. There’s a reason why the Kingslayer in the novels have become such a favorite amongst fans. He’s a character who also has a certain sense of honor and duty like Ned Stark, but  sees love of family (not just figuratively but literally) as first and foremost before honor. It will be interesting to see how the writers continue to develop Jaime for season 2 and how they’ll figure out to give him more scenes since Jaime wasn’t in A Clash of Kings as much as the initial novel.
  • The relationship between Tyrion and Shae continues to grow in a much more interesting way in the series than it had in the books. Whoever decided to cast Sibel Kekilli as Shae should be commended. The show could’ve easily went with an actress who was ridiculously hot, but instead went for exotic and added fire and brains to the character to better match wits with Tyrion who is growing to see Shae not just as a bed companion, but one who may be his equal. Here’s to hoping the writers continue on this path for the Tyrion/Shae pairing.
  • We finally see the final Stark direwolf. Shaggydog, Rickon Stark’s (youngest of the Stark brood) direwolf, shows up and scares the living daylights and shit out of Tonks…I mean Osha and Bran as they tour the Stark crypts. Even though it’s only for a brief moment we start to see how even the youngest Stark has begun to change in personality as winter is definitely coming and war ravages Westeros.
  • We get another great scene with just Varys and Littlefinger testing each other out in the throne room. Despite knowing that both have their own agendas and probably don’t ever see each other becoming fast friends they do respect each other’s abilities to stick to the roles they’ve learned to play in the “game of thrones”. These two just highlight how they will never see themselves as heroes, but do see themselves as the smartest people in the room, thus the ones who have the best chance of surviving the games these wanna-be kings hope to play and win. Even seeing Grand Maester Pycelle really being more than he appears to the many further shows that the principals of the game really do not know just how much they’re being manipulated by those they see as being weaker and cowardly. Varys and Littlefinger is like the Seven Kingdom’s version of Mad Magazine‘s Spy vs Spy.
  • Seeing for the first time that Cersei’s more than sisterly love and affection toward’s her twin brother Jaime may not be an accident of those two’s close bond as twins. It looks like Cersei has found a temporary replacement for Jaime in the form of her younger cousin Lancel Lannister. While Jaime is the image of martial beauty and confidence who probably didn’t fall for Cersei’s manipulative wiles as much as she’d want it looks like Lancel is going to be much more pliant in the living arms of Cersei. This scene just continues to build on just how screwed up House Lannister really seems to be and how Tywin and Tyrion seem to be the only ones who has kept the intellect in the family.
  • Finally, the addition of two new musical pieces by the show’s composer Ramin Djawadi. First, the version of the main title theme but with a martial tone to it as the Night’s Watch marches north of The Wall to sees exactly what’s going on with the wildlings and if the White Walkers are really on the move. The second being the rousing, but ominous version which scores the arrival of Daenerys as the true heir of the Targaryen and the birth of her three children in Rhaegal, Viserion and Drogon.

Feel free to comment and discuss what you thought of this season finale episode and the season as whole below….

….Season 2 in ten months and Winter is still coming….

Review: Game of Thrones Ep. 05 “The Wolf and The Lion”


For those bemoaning the fact that the last couple episodes of Game of Thrones had been lacking in the action department and had veered into exposition territory should be sated by the events of the fifth episode simply titled, “The Wolf and The Lion”. This episode still retains much of the excellent writing and storytelling done by showrunner David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, but it also brings to the forefront the violent conflict that will soon engulf the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros.

George R.R. Martin’s books of which this show’s based on never lacked for brutality and medieval violence on a scale not seen often in fantasy. “The Wolf and The Lion” finally brings to this series the two lead houses which becomes the spark for the show’s upcoming conflict. The episode adds more intrigue to the proceedings even as it begins a hard boil into the climactic end that should make the second half of this series to finally and fully hooked it’s viewers.

We see Lady Catelyn and her entourage on the road as they travel to her sister’s realm at the Vale to conduct a trial of Tyrion Lannister who she has accused of conspiring to assassinate her young son Bran. It’s while on the road we see a hint at how violent this show can get as brigands from the hill tribes on the road to the Eyrie in the Vale ambushes her group. Blood flows and even Tyrion gets a chance to prove his martial prowess in defense of the very woman who has accused and planning to pass judgment on him. I must say that his scene with the kite shield and the head of a hill tribesman probably brought more than a golf-clap and courtesy cheer from fans of Peter Dinklage.

This episode also continues the show’s growing habit of inserting more backstory to supporting characters like Theon Greyjoy who we see visiting his favorite redhead Ros outside of Winterfell. This scene may seem out of left field for those who have never read the book, but for those who have it’s a nice touch seeing the seed of doubt enter Theon’s mind about his relationship with House Stark and his role as a noble son of House Greyjoy of the Iron Islands. Though I must say I think I became temporarily blinded when the camera failed to pan up and audiences were shown Greyjoy junk flapping in the breeze.

The rest of the episode really centers on the Wolf, the Lion and the Stag. The wolf would be Ned Stark who continues his investigation on the true reason why the former King’s Hand was killed. Each question answered brings up new ones and we begin to see Ned finally begin to notice that he is definitely out of his element. Intrigues, schemes and shadow-games surround him and for a man used to fighting enemies he knows and sees this revelation really knocks him back. The final nail in his growing fear that he made a mistake coming south is brought to bear by his friend and king.

A council meeting conducted by Robert himself brings the question of what to do with the newly pregnant Daenarys Targaryen. While Daenarys doesn’t appear in this episode her presence still looms large over the episode’s many subplots and threads. She’s deemed a danger to the Seven Kingdoms and Robert is willing to do the unthinkable (in the mind of Ned, at least) to make sure Daenarys never crosses the Narrow Sea with an army of 40,000 Dothraki horsemen and the might Khal Drogo to take back the Iron Throne. It’s this decision by Robert and his council to expedite Daenarys with extreme prejudice that finally convinces Ned that it’s time to go back North where the real danger to the Seven Kingdoms lie waiting for winter to arrive.

I won’t spoil the rest of the episode. Especially the last five minutes which really amps the action for this series. For fans of the books this sequence should be a delight. The show has been readily accepted by the book’s fans despite some changes in how certain characters have been introduced and allowed to grow. While these very fans understand the nature of adapting a novel of over 800 pages into a 10-episode series of an hour per they still worry that too much cutting and trimming will occur to fit the first novel into this season. I’m happy to say that the series and the book have met pretty much in the same place in terms of storytelling and further trepidations about how the showrunners ar ehandling the adaptation should really go away by now. If one is a fan of the book and has stayed with this series up to it’s halfway mark then complaining about changes and tweaks to characters and storylines is just nitpicking. For those who are new to the work of George R.R. Martin then this episode should whet their appetites even more for more action, intrigue and, of course, sex as the show moves inexoribly towards a boiling point and the explosion of war and violence when it finally occurs.

It will be interesting to see the second half of the first season of Game of Thrones play out as we finally begin to see battle lines being drawn. House Stark and it’s allies on one side and House Lannister and the lesser houses and bannerman loyal to them in the other. Then there’s the King Robert himself stuck in the middle trying to keep the Seven Kingdoms from imploding as the threat of a Targaryen with an army of Dothraki horsemen looms dangerously on Westeros across the Narrow Sea. This episode didn’t even mention anything about the problems at The Wall and what lies beyond it to the north. Not once did this episode mention anything about “winter is coming” yet that unspoken warning also looms like a shadow over everyone.

It’s going to be a very long wait til the next episode and, for those who have HBOGO, the next two episodes. Up next week will see the return of Daenarys and her idiot brother Viserys in the sixth episode titled, “A Golden Crown”.