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Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Tuesday

6

September 2016

0

COMMENTS

Halt and Catch Fire and the Art of Adaptation

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Halt and Catch Fire should have been, at least in theory, a Joe McMillan problem. He started off as the show’s unquestionable lead, and now finds himself often competing with John Bosworth for relevance in the main plotline, acting as little more than an occasional thorn in Mutiny’s side. This really shouldn’t work, especially with a talent like Lee Pace, who dominates every scene he’s in whether he’s trying to or not.

But it does.

Halt has mastered the art of the slow burn. It redefines what pacing means to a cable length season, delivering payoffs when they’re ready rather than when the viewer may normally expect them. I’d say it shouldn’t be too surprising that the show struggles to maintain acceptable ratings, except the popularity of Mr. Robot, another show that frequently challenges the viewer to keep up with its narrative, shows that the world might in fact be ready to embrace television that truly pushes the envelope.

Season two’s refocusing on Cameron and Donna could be seen as a way to keep the show fresh. Mackenzie Davis and Kerry Bishé have a natural chemistry, but who would expect the show to commit to it over keeping Pace at the forefront of the narrative? Who would expect the show to keep John Bosworth around as a character after his incarceration in season one? Television is littered with actors who make their marks and move on to other shows.

Halt has the special ability to actually comprehend its own strengths. No one would have been surprised if Toby Huss hadn’t returned. No one would have been surprised if season two hadn’t reunited the Joe, Gordon, and Cameron brain trust. People may have even wanted that. Halt knows that it doesn’t have a weak link in the cast and employs them in a manner that actually serves to benefit the plot.

We saw this immediately into season three, which chose not to put too much focus on its change in location. Instead, it got right down to the plot. I thought about holding off on doing a Halt article until the season ended, as I am with Mr. Robot. The difference between the two is that Mr. Robot’s chaotic approach is integral to the plot. Halt isn’t trying to play mind games with its viewers, but it still manages to redefine the way we think about how television is supposed to work. Most shows outside of CBS’ procedural lineup have three dimensional characters. Halt excels not only in utilizing its entire cast, but also in constantly redefining its characters’ relations to each other.

I don’t know how Zen MacMillian Utility Joe is going to compare to Cardiff Joe or Westgroup Joe. I don’t know how Mutiny is going to function outside of that decrepit frat house. Part of TV’s fundamental appeal is the familiarity it offers. We tune in week after week to see people we know and care about, even though they’re not real. Halt succeeds in its ability to constantly challenge the notion of familiarity. We, the viewer, have no idea what’s going to happen or even who it’s going to happen to. If the past two seasons have taught us anything, it’s that Halt knows how to pull off the payoff. I don’t need to see the rest of the season to say that with confidence.

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Wednesday

3

August 2016

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Star Trek Beyond Is As Entertaining As Skeptics Feared It Would Be

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The fans who raised concerns over Star Trek Beyond’s action packed, Beastie Boys fueled trailer had a point. The comparisons to the Fast and the Furious franchise were warranted even before considering that director Justin Lin helmed four installments, overseeing the series’ shift away from car racing into buddy action films. Vin Diesel would have look more appropriate in Beyond than Patrick Stewart or Kate Mulgrew. The problem for those critical of the trailer is that while they weren’t wrong to point out the franchise’s shift in direction, the result is the single best thing to happen to Trek since Seven of Nine’s introduction to Voyager back in 1997.

Funny thing is, I can’t really find a spot where the fast pacing, sharp writing, and overall strong performance from the cast would have been improved by longwinded technobabble exchanges or impassioned debates on the Prime Directive. Lin took Trek and made it his own, but it’s still Trek. Giving Simon Pegg control of the script proved genius as he brought his comic wit and fan’s perspective, giving Leonard Nimoy one of the most heartfelt tributes I’ve seen in fiction, giving me great optimism for how Anton Yelchin’s unfortunate death will be handled.

Beyond succeeds because it knows where to concentrate its phaser fire. The plot is about as forgettable as The Final Frontier or Insurrection, certainly no whales, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The film wastes none of its two hour run time, knowing when enough is enough. My only real complaint is that Idris Elba is largely wasted in the role of Krall. Having been highly underwhelmed by Benedict Cumberbatch’s go as Khan in Into Darkness, I’m not sure more Krall would have been a good thing, but it’s always at least a bit of a shame to see a talent like Elba underutilized.

It’s rare to see a blockbuster film, let alone one that’s part of a franchise, to not suffer under the weight of its perceived obligations to its universe. My main criticism of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Batman V. Superman, various films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is that they spend too much time worrying about the bigger picture of the franchise that they don’t put enough focus on being entertaining films. A cameo from an older cast member or from the upcoming Discovery series would have been fun, but I’d rather not have either than suffer an unnecessary subplot designed to “connect” individual works together. Beyond is a pleasant throwback to the days where movies dedicated themselves to satisfying the audience sitting right in front of them rather than those who complain in coffee shops, comic book stores, or the internet.

The film is fun. That’s about all there is that needs saying. Those who were bothered by the trailer probably won’t like the film, but the trailer was inaccurate in at least one regard. Beyond has a lot of heart for a movie that’s mostly focused on explosions.

The new Star Trek films have different obligations than the earlier films, which were continuations of television series featuring characters the audience had ample opportunity to get to know. We’ll never know Pine’s Kirk as well as Shatner’s. Every few years we get to have a couple hours of fun with these characters. For Trek fans who haven’t had the luxury of a Trek series on TV in over a decade (at least until January), resistance to Lin’s different style is, well, logical. As an ardent Deep Space Nine fanatic and a fan of the other series, I welcomed Trek’s decision to boldly go where no captain had gone before, even if it that involves going into the Fast and the Furious’ quadrant.

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Monday

4

July 2016

2

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Occasionally Casting Logic Aside, Season Six of Game of Thrones Succeeds at Being Good Television

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My thoughts on the events of the season finale line up pretty well with my feelings on season six as a whole, both good and bad. A lot of exciting stuff happened and quite a bit of it didn’t make sense. Characters died and others were crowned with very questionable claims to the thrones. Above everything else, season six had an obligation to set up the rest of the show, which only has two shortened seasons remaining. With that in mind, it carried out its duties quite well.

This season did often feel untethered by logic. The high body count seemed driven more by a desire to cut ties with unnecessary characters rather than what made sense for the story. With limited time left, it’s hard to argue against scrapping plotlines like Dorne, even if the execution made zero sense whatsoever. Avenge Oberyn Martell by killing off the rest of his house? As preposterous as it was to see the Sand Snakes seize control of one of the major regions in Westeros without any opposition from any of the legitimate houses, wasting more time on Dorne would have been worse.

It’s hard to believe how much hype was given to Jon Snow’s death prior to the start of the season considering the way the show handled it. His death only served as an out from The Night’s Watch, and even then, it’s hard to fathom why no one in the North besides Ramsey seemed concerned that he was a deserter. Also, I’ll say it again one last time. Jon’s decision to execute Ser Alliser, Olly, and the rest of the mutineers completely undercuts his “release” from his vows. If his death freed him from his duty, he shouldn’t have carried out one final order.

The decision to elect him King in the North is just as baffling as Sansa’s lack of explanation for why she kept the Vale army secret. Why does Jon need to be king? It doesn’t inherently change anything about R + L = J or even the Azor Ahai prophecy, which the show has played down.

By and large, the Northern plotline was pretty good, aided by latecomer Lyanna Mormont, who became this season’s breakout star. The Battle of the Bastards was one of the most visually impressive achievements of the series. My only problem was the unanswered questions. It’s frustrating because none of these gaffs are related to the bigger picture, unless the show wants to do a War of the Three Kings with what little time it has left. Just lazy writing.

Even after being snubbed, Sansa still had her best season. Her storyline was one of the most compelling and she helped guide the Northern plotline in the right direction after Jon spent a few episodes moping around Castle Black. Her final scene with Ramsey was perhaps her best of the show. While it was time for Ramsey to get what he deserved, he was easily the show’s best villain.

One element of the Northern plotline really bugged me as the season came to a close. The Brienne/Davos/Mel dynamic was pretty bizarre, but what was even weirder was the show’s decision to wait until the finale to discuss the burning of Shireen. The passing of time was an often discussed topic throughout the season, with characters traveling all over the map at unfathomable speeds. The idea that it took a full season and the chance discovery of a wooden stag left over in a snow covered old battlecamp for Davos to question what really happened to Shireen was a little preposterous.

That said, Davos was simply excellent this season. Best character on the show by far.

The audience’s knowledge of Dany’s impending arrival to Westeros presented a unique challenge for the King’s Landing plot, which needed to present itself as a high stakes storyline given all the key players involved. It all looked like it was headed somewhere… and then everybody died. No Mountain trial by combat. No Margaery planning. Just Cersei as Queen even though she blew up the most sacred religious building in the city, perhaps even in Westeros.

Could there have been more to King’s Landing? Of course. We didn’t need multiple High Sparrow lectures. We didn’t need all that buildup to a Tyrell/Faith Militant spat, only to have a stand down that didn’t go anywhere. Tommen could have had a personality. I really wanted to like the KL storyline, but there really wasn’t much to like here besides some quality acting from Lena Headley, Diana Rigg, Natalie Dormer, and Jonathan Pryce.

Meereen suffered from many of the same problems. Everyone sat around waiting for Dany to come back. Even the characters knew how boring their plotline was. The many Tyrion/Grey Worm/Missandei conversations weren’t aided by Tyrion’s admission that his companions were lame. Tyrion is perhaps the best character on the show, but had nothing to work with this year. I’ve said this in a few recaps and on my live show, but this season really highlighted the mistake of killing off Ser Barristan last year. He could have singlehandedly improved Meereen and it’s not as if his death really served some great purpose.

I was however, a big fan of Dany’s storyline this season. Outside of her two big moments in winning over the Dothraki and sailing to Westeros, she didn’t have much to do, but made the most of every scene she had. Furthermore, limiting her onscreen time allowed much of the other plotlines to breath. It can be hard to care about Westeros when you know that Dany is about to arrive with her massive army and three dragons. The ending of episode four was perhaps the best executed scene of the season and the fact that it came midseason just makes it even more impressive.

My only problem with Dany’s storyline was Ser Jorah. It’s baffling that he’s still alive after this season killed off nearly every expendable secondary character on the show. Telling him to go out and find a cure for his incurable and unnecessary disease was a little ridiculous. I love Iain Glen, but Ser Jorah is nothing but a deterrent at this point. The show handled Dany’s breakup with Daario as well as it could. I wish Ser Jorah had been mercifully allowed to become one with the many rocks in the Dothraki sea.

Arya’s story is a bit hard to judge without instantly thinking about the absurd Terminator 2 style chase through Braavos. Like Dany, Arya had to spend much of the season waiting for other events to unfold before she could return to Westeros. I mostly enjoyed this and don’t want to let the ridiculous fatal stabbing detract too much, but that image comes to mind just about every time I think of Arya. That said, her storyline for next season should be on the most interesting.

Oh Bran. I can’t really say I hated his story, aside from that horrible moment where Hodor valiantly dies saving him as a result of some weird time stuff that the show probably didn’t need to cover, but his absence from season five highlights how little I care about him in general. The three-eyed raven was a bit underwhelming, as were the revelations of Benjen as Showhands and the Tower of Joy. He wasn’t really in this season that much though and that’s probably for the best.

Perhaps it’s fitting since he had the worst storyline of last season by far, but Jaime likely had the best arc of season five, unless you want to count The Hound’s fun couple of scenes as a major storyline. The Riverlands were excellent on all accounts. Jaime’s scene with Edmure in the tent was one of my favorites. Jaime also had a great moment with Brienne which showed the depth of his character, with his deeply conflicted feelings. The show also provided some good moments for Bronn, who hasn’t had much to do since leaving Tyrion’s service.

The Ironborn could have been a great storyline. Book fans rejoiced at the prospect of a kingsmoot. It was all pretty lame, including Reek’s bizarre journey from the middle of the North to the Iron Islands, as a highly sought after captive with no money for a ship. Yara had some good moments, but Euron was a big fail. Hopefully he gets some good scenes with Dany next year.

Sam gets some points for not being in this season much. He loses points for everything else he did. Why did he take his father’s sword? Why didn’t he leave Gilly and baby Sam at Hornhill, the safest place possible? Why didn’t the Citadel know about Joer Mormont’s death?

While this season had its fair share of eye rolling moments, it was quite effective in setting up the rest of the show. Perhaps more important, it made for very entertaining television. Thank you all for reading. Also for another bit of self- promotion, I recently came out with a new book. If you’ve enjoyed my recaps, please consider ordering The Princess and the Clown or any of my other books. They’re pretty cheap on Amazon. Thank you for reading!

Finally, back by popular demand, it’s time for some letter grades for this season!

Jon Snow: B

Lyanna Mormont: A

Sansa: A-

Davos: A

Melisandre: B

Tormund: A-

Wun Wun: A

Ramsey: B-

Rickon: F

Littlefinger: B

Sweetrobin: A (King in the Vale?)

Dany: A-

Tyrion: C

Varys: B- (better time traveler than Bran)

Grey Worm/Missandei: F

Ser Jorah: F

Daario: B

Cersei: B

High Sparrow: F

Tommen: F

Olenna Tyrell: B

Margaery: C+

Pycelle: A (I’ll miss him)

Qyburn: B-

The Mountain: A-

Sand Snakes: F

Sam/Gilly: D

Randyll Tarly: B+

The Hound: A-

Beric/Thoros: B+

Jaime: A

Brienne: F (why didn’t Brienne/Tormund happen?)

Bronn: A-

The Blackfish: D

Edmure: A-

Bran: C-

Hodor: A (never forget)

Stannis: A (still haven’t seen a body)

Arya: B

Jaqen: B

The Waif: C+

The Braavos Theatre Company: A-

Season as a whole: B+

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Monday

27

June 2016

2

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 10

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading.

This episode fit in line perfectly with two of the big themes of this season. Expendable characters died while the show set itself up for the future. If the reports that we’re only getting seven episodes next season are to be believed, it makes sense that the unnecessary King’s Landing players see a quick and simplistic demise.

It’s hard for me to call it particularly satisfying, even with the music that played through much of the KL storyline. For weeks, I’ve been critical of the obvious low stakes of the entire plotline. We endured several unnecessary High Sparrow lectures with hopes of either an epic Margaery master plan or a big trial by combat fight.

Instead, everybody died. Well, almost everybody.

I’m not a fan of wrapping plotlines like that, but there’s also the notion that it’s good to be done with most of that nonsense. Of all the deaths, Pycelle’s was handled the best. I’ve predicted that Varys would be the one to do him in and got it wrong, though some of the lines were taken verbatim from his execution of Kevan Lannister at the end of A Dance with Dragons. Close enough! I’ll miss Pycelle probably more than any character who’s died this season besides Hodor.

Lancel’s death may have made sense, but the way he died reminded me of a James Bond scenario, where the villain tells Bond his plan and gives him just enough time to foil it. While Lancel didn’t stop the wildfire and we kind of needed him to be there to see what would happen, that entire scene made zero sense from a narrative standpoint.

In any other scenario, I’d be more critical of Cersei being made queen. It’s absurd. A Baratheon cousin/male relative would be in line for the throne, which isn’t something that anyone wants to see and more important, doesn’t matter since Dany is on the way. In some ways, it made sense to kill Tommen off now so Dany doesn’t look bad by killing a little boy king. I just don’t think Cersei’s coronation was anything to praise. Looked very foolish.

I feel the same way about Jon being made King in the North. From a storyline perspective, it looks great. It may even feel great. But the houses in the North and maybe the Vale just made a Night’s Watch deserting bastard their king while a trueborn heir sat beside him. I’d be willing to let that one go if the show bothered to offer a single explanation for why any character would be okay with any of that. Just one!

Sort of like how Sansa apologized for hiding Littlefinger’s army without explaining why she made that boneheaded decision, especially after she complained about not being asked for her opinion during the pre Battle of the Bastard’s war council. Jon’s coronation also undercut the Sansa/LF weirwood scene, which was a highlight of the episode. The power dynamic between those two makes for much better TV than just about anything else going on in the show right now.

The show clearly wanted to draw parallels to Robb’s coronation in season one, but it mostly fell flat aside from Lyanna Mormont’s brilliant scene. Robb being made king actually made some sense. Jon? Not so much, unless you want to step outside the realm of show logic and argue using facts that no one present at Winterfell could have possibly known. More on that at the end of the recap.

I wish I cared more about the Jon/Davos/Mel scene. It’s about ten episodes too late. Seriously. Are we expected to believe that Davos never received an explanation for Shireen’s death until now? What did they talk about while they were traveling around the North? I’d be more forgiving of the delay if Mel had a narrative purpose beyond bringing Jon back, but she’s done next to nothing since.

Does anyone care about Sam? At least he’s doing his duty, even though he doesn’t know that his buddy isn’t Lord Commander anymore. That shot of the library looked cool and all, but was pretty absurd for medieval architecture, even in a place like Westeros. I don’t really see the point in bringing Gilly/baby Sam or the Tarly ancestral sword along. Seems like she’d be much better off in Hornhill.

I like that Olenna Tyrell is still alive. Couldn’t care less about the Sand Snakes, but I hope she’ll have some good scenes with Dany next season. I suppose it’s sort of good that Dorne reappeared, but I doubt many people cared that they were gone, myself included.

The parallels between Walder Frey and Jaime made for an interesting scene. The old man was correct to note that there are plenty of similarities. Jaime was correct to be horrified by that. I certainly would have been. Walder’s thoughts on war made for one of the best scenes of the episode. I wonder if they’ll do anything with that with Jaime in the future, considering he can’t really “fight” in future battles, with his golden sword hand.

Loved Arya and the Frey Pies. In the books, it’s widely suspected that Wyman Manderly, who made his first appearance of the show in the North, killed three Freys and baked them into meat pies to bring to Winterfell before the battle of Ice. Obviously the show couldn’t have done that, but it was fun to see Arya get her revenge in a way that appeased the book fans.

Poor Daario. That scene accomplished two important tasks. Like many, I wondered if Dany was planning on straight up abandoning Meereen when she left for Westeros. Leaving the Second Sons in the city makes it look like she cares while also removing unnecessary characters from her entourage. Having Daario in Westeros really wasn’t needed, especially considering how few episodes are left in the series. He got a raw deal, but he wouldn’t be the first in the show.

The one thing that really bothered me was Tyrion bringing up the Mad King yet again. We get it. He was crazy. Imagine if you had a relative you loathed. Wouldn’t you get a little annoyed if someone unrelated to you constantly brought them up to criticize them? Seemed very unnecessary.

How did Varys get on the boat after being in Dorne? Can he teleport? Control time like Bran? Travel by map? Even if we accept a broader timeline, it doesn’t make much sense for him to personally travel back to Meereen, only to come right back to Westeros. Traveling is supposed to take forever in these kinds of stories.

Finally we end with the “big” reveal. R + L = J… sigh. What should have been a pivotal moment in the series came across as almost an afterthought considering everything else that happened. I wish that reveal had been made at the Tower of Joy. Diehard fans know already. I’m not sure how much casual fans cared that Jon is part Targaryen. Even then, without mentioning Rhaegar anywhere in the scene, it might have been a bit much to expect anyone who didn’t know already to put two and two together.

That said, I’m glad that’s out of the way. Bran looks like he’s headed south, which should actually make him the King in the North. That power struggle will be interesting.

That’s it for this week. No Brienne or the Hound. I was wrong about Lady Stoneheart…

Just as a programming note, like last year I’ll be doing a full season in review article with letter grades for each character. There will also be a season in review recap video! Also for a bit of self- promotion, I have a new book out tomorrow. If you’ve enjoyed my recaps, please consider ordering The Princess and the Clown or any of my other books. Thank you for reading!

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Monday

20

June 2016

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 9

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading.

Episode nine has become the most anticipated episode of the season for Game of Thrones fans.While it was clear that this episode was going to follow the Blackwater/Castle Black route more than the Ned’s beheading/Red Wedding, this is essentially the first major battle in the series where the outcome wasn’t revealed in the books.

I say that instead of “the first major battle where we didn’t know the outcome,” because it was pretty obvious. Littlefinger ex machina was always going to show up to save the day. That said, the battle was superb and easily the show’s most impressive action sequence.

Sansa’s role especially had an aura of inevitability to it. There isn’t really any logical way she’d be able to go find Littlefinger in time. I wasn’t particularly bothered by this lapse in plausibility, but I’d be remiss in my duties not to mention it.

Melisandre’s whereabouts was unclear for much of the season. I actually originally thought she’d headed south, only to see her hanging out by herself with the main forces. Her scene with Jon was important because it reintroduced the fact that Jon died and was brought back to life. The show doesn’t really do a lot with the Azor Ahai or The Prince that was Promised theories, but his revival shouldn’t be treated as an afterthought either.

Ramsey’s best line of the episode was when he mentioned that Jon was a Night’s Watch deserter. This is an elephant in the room that no one who wasn’t at Castle Black for his revival should ignore. I was disappointed that Lyanna Mormont didn’t bring it up two episodes ago.

Don’t love Rickon’s death. Many, myself included, figured he’d be Lord of Winterfell at the end of the series. The show doesn’t invalidate this, but he was still essentially just treated as a prop, which I don’t love. Clearly the show wants to position Sansa to have the clear claim, not a bad thing now that Ramsey is dead. I just didn’t love how a member of the Stark family was killed in such a nonchalant manner. We should care, but we also weren’t given any time to build a relationship with Rickon.

My only real complaint about the battle was the mountain of dead bodies. Who had time to stack all the dead people on top of each other? Wun Wun looked pretty busy being shot by arrows. Poor guy.

MVP of the battle: Wun Wun. Runner up: Davos, for doing his best. What are the odds that stag would still be in the snow? I thought winter was coming…

Where was Ghost? Did he desert Jon? Or did they not have the budget for a wolf scene?

Not that it really matters given the insignificance of House Arryn at this point in the show, but it’s interesting to note that House Arryn, one of the four main houses that lead Robert’s Rebellion, came to the aid of House Stark after sitting out the War of the Five Kings. Brings everything full circle.

I don’t really have a clue what’s next for the North. The Sansa/LF/Jon/Tormund dynamic is quite odd without considering what will happen if/when Brienne comes back. I suspect she’ll run into Lady Stoneheart next episode so this likely won’t happen. Odds are, the Winterfell gang will be limited to just a scene or two that sets up next season.

Unlike “Blackwater” and “The Watchers on the Wall,” this episode had other plots, albeit a single one, besides the battle itself. I liked that Dany got some screen time as she’s been sidelined for a few episodes now. Meereen is being wrapped up with the slaver’s defeated and Yara and Reek there to transport Dany to Westeros.

The mentioning of the Mad King was interesting. Yes, he was crazy and horrible. There are people in Westeros that miss him, considering Joffrey’s reign and all the war that followed. I don’t love Dany going around saying how awful her dad was. She hardly listened to Ser Barristan and Jorah’s criticism of him in the books. You can dislike your family, but mentioning it in public is a little declassee.

The final thing I’d note is that it’s hard to really get invested in what will happen in King’s Landing since it’ll be invalidated by Dany’s impending arrival anyway. This episode did an excellent job with the Northern plotline, which could have easily suffered the same sentiments, not only from Dany but also the White Walkers. Meereen suffered as a plotline as the culture of inevitability set in. Hopefully Dany arrives in Westeros quickly to set the stage for what’s to come. At this point, that’s really all we should care about.

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Monday

13

June 2016

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 8

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones, Pop Culture

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading.

I wonder how many people could receive multiple stab wounds to the vital organs region and still be able to run through a city in a Jason Bourne style chase? The morality surrounding Arya’s decision to leave the House of Black and White is essentially black and white. Jaqen took Arya in when she had nowhere else to go and trained her. In return, she broke the rules several times and abandoned him. As viewers and fans, we can be excited for Arya’s return to Westeros, but I think it’s important to acknowledge that she’s essentially defaulting on her student loans.

Many fans asked me about the potential “Jaqen as Arya” or “Waif is Arya” Fight Club twist this past week. Given Jaqen’s emotional ties to Arya, I didn’t want to rule it out. Their lackluster final scene certainly makes me wish that had actually happened.

Also, it was very rude of Arya to criticize Lady Crane’s soup. Being stabbed is no excuse to skirt one’s manners!

Could have done without the finger in butthole joke. Still hesitant to judge The Hound’s return until we see more. Under normal circumstances, I’d praise a potential alliance with the Brotherhood Without Banners given the need to give The Hound something to do. Problem is, the show didn’t need to give him anything to do. He could have just stayed dead.

The rapport between the Hound/Beric/Thoros (who rocked an awesome top knot) were pretty great. I wasn’t a big fan of the evil turn of the BWB last week and it seemed odd to see them completely reverse course an episode later, especially considering we haven’t seen them since season three. I also found it interesting that Beric knew about the White Walkers. As we saw with Lord Tarly, most of Westeros is either skeptical or unaware of the problems north of the Wall. Unless Thoros’ powers extend beyond reviving Beric and having great hair, I’m not sure who would have told them. Rumors of a Lady Stoneheart appearance have increased over the past few weeks. I’m not sure that would be a great thing for the show, but I also don’t think there’s a single book fan out there, myself included, who wouldn’t want to see it.

Once again Varys and Tyrion, the most famous dwarf in the world, are walking around without guards. I suspect Varys will be on his way to kill Kevan and Pycelle, something I naively suggested could happen last season, though Varys never made it to Meereen in the books as he was backing (f)Aegon.

Varys’ heartfelt goodbye with Tyrion was a good scene, but also helped remind us just how wasted Peter Dinklage has been this season. The show has tried to made light of how awkward the Tyrion/Missandei/Grey Worm dynamic is, but self-awareness isn’t really an excuse. Meereen as a whole has been very weak this season.

I received a few questions about the rumor that Cersei and Qyburn discussed in the throne room. My best bet is that it had to do with Margaery’s insincere piety. A more fun show answer would be whether or not Lancel confessed to his part in Robert’s death and Cersei’s incestuous infidelity, but I’m not holding out hope. Or maybe the Sand Snakes will reappear… I hope not.

Interesting that both The Hound and The Mountain had gratuitously violent scenes. I’ve always hated the idea of Cleganebowl, but that certainly looked like a plus for that theory. While The Mountain/Frankenstrong has been a more than adequate bodyguard, if I were Cersei, I’d definitely beef up security given the absence of trial by combat.

Jaime’s scenes were my favorite of the episode. It is important to note the change in power dynamic between Cersei and Jaime from the books to the show. In the books, Jaime, still a member of the Kingsguard, leaves King’s Landing because he won’t serve as Hand. At this point in A Feast for Crows, Cersei has near complete authority over KL.

This distinction is important as it sort of undercut the Brienne/Jaime relationship. Here in the show, Jaime is still completely in love with Cersei. The absence of Lady Stoneheart (for now) removes the need for Jaime to rescue Brienne, robbing fans of their much desired courtship, even if it would have created a weird Brienne/Tormund/Jaime/Cersei love square.

Pod and Bronn’s scene was also quite fun. A nice throwback to the days when the show didn’t take itself so seriously.

Poor Edmure. At least Jaime accurately laid out the situation. I would note that the idea of “good guys” and “bad guys” is much more ambiguous in the books. Stark loyalists might feel some loyalty to Edmure, but he’s always been portrayed as weak in the show and has been absent since I was in college (season three). The books make it easier to choose whom to root for, but the Jaime/Edmure dynamic was certainly fun to watch.

The Blackfish was completely butchered. His desire to defend Riverrun at all costs clashed with the book’s interpretation of the character as the Blackfish spent much of his life in the Vale with Lysa, though that wasn’t depicted in the show. The Blackfish also doesn’t really care about the Stark branch of the family, and has a particular distrust of Jon through Catelyn which also wasn’t depicted in the show.

It just seems odd that he’d pick a senseless death in the name of a good swordfight over fighting for his kin. Brienne’s escape also seems odd. She went there to recruit the Tully forces, something that wasn’t necessarily rendered void by Edmure’s surrendering of the castle. Couldn’t she have theoretically asked to have Edmure lead the Tully forces for Sansa? Oh well.

Where is Melisandre? Looking for Gendry?

Dany is back in Meereen. The pacing of her plotline has been pretty puzzling, though sensible I guess considering the bigger picture. I’ve said this before, but Meereen as a whole this season really made me wish they hadn’t killed off Ser Barristan, who is still alive in the books. Would have certainly given Tyrion some more characters to work with.

That’s it for this week. No Sansa, Jon, Reek, Yara, Bran, Showhands, or Hot Pie. See you next week!

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 7

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

Tonight’s episode was unusual in that it showed a scene before the credits. I’m glad that the reappearance of The Hound and the introduction of Ian McShane were given such special treatment. In the books, the Hound’s reappearance is never actually confirmed, though he is heavily implied to be the Gravedigger at the Quiet Isles, which Brienne and Podrick travel through.

The Hound’s storyline is one that I can’t really judge as of this episode. My biggest concern is that in the books, he’s one of the few characters to achieve the ever evasive peace that eludes just about everyone else. Sandor gets a second chance to live out his days free of the hate he carried with him his entire life. While the book series isn’t over, there isn’t much reason to believe we’ll see him again besides the much anticipated CleganeBowl, which I personally loathe and hope never happens.

The show appears to take a different approach. I doubt we’ve seen the last of the Hound. The problem with this is that his season and a half long quest with Arya softened the character significantly more than the books ever had, making a redemption narrative seem quite unnecessary. He doesn’t fight Brienne in the books, though since they’re both in the Riverlands, a reunion seems likely.

Ian McShane’s appearance as Brother Ray was good, but his death was not at all surprising. McShane made headlines for leaking information about his appearance a couple months ago, which basically gave away the fact that he wasn’t going to be around for very long. His overall impact is yet to be determined, but it was a good little mini-arc.

What’s with the Hound’s neck/upper chest beard? Gross.

The absence of Lady Stoneheart makes the villainous turn of the Brotherhood Without Banners fairly confusing. None of the members of the group, even Thoros of Myr, are particularly devout followers of the Red God, which the show seems to want to use in an effort to make them appear more evil than we’ve actually seen. It’ll be interesting to see if they capture Brienne and Podrick as they do in the books. Part of me thinks they won’t, but there isn’t exactly a clear direction for that storyline either.

King’s Landing got a little more interesting, even if we were treated to yet another High Sparrow lecture. Margaery has mostly been sidelined this season and it was nice to see her get something to do. With the Queen of Thorns out of the picture, I suspect a Margaery/Cersei alliance could be in the works, which would make up for the uneven nature of this plotline as a whole.

The scene between Cersei and Olenna was perhaps the strongest of the episode, though the Blackfish/Jaime parley gives it a run for its money. We as viewers know that Cersei has made a huge mess and has essentially zero allies and thousands of enemies. I’ve often criticized KL as a whole for looking too weak to command any kind of power. Olenna reminds us that this sentiment is shared by many in Westeros.

The Riverlands were spectacular. Loved seeing Bronn back. Loved seeing the Blackfish. The scene with the Freys threatening to kill Edmure was practically identical to the books. The scene between the Freys and Jaime highlighted the poor battle strategy/bad attitude of House Frey in general. The worst part about no Lady Stoneheart/evil BWB is that they likely won’t go around killing Freys. Bummer.

Jaime really hadn’t done anything interesting since season three, mostly acting as a supporting character/taking part in the show’s worst plotline. I didn’t necessarily care that the Riverlands plotline was cut from last season, but it has been very strong so far this year.

Very conflicted about the Northern campaigning. Stannis did much of that off book in A Dance with Dragons. Longtime readers of my recaps know how I feel about him. These scenes were mostly strong, especially Davos, but there was one big elephant in the room the show failed to address.

The show was smart to acknowledge the problem of Sansa’s marriages to Tyrion and Ramsey, but failed to really address the fact that Jon is an undead Night’s Watch deserter. Why should any house trust him? Davos could’ve included a defense of Jon into his beautiful speech…

Does Lady Mormont count amongst the sixty-two Mormont troops? I hope so.

The scene with House Glover was my favorite of the Northern campaign as it highlighted something I’ve been saying for years. Robb made a lot of mistakes as king. The North bled for him while he spent most of A Storm of Swords/season 3 ensuring they’d lose. Loyalty only goes so far. As sad as it sounds, House Glover is smart to stay out of it.

Worst line of the night was when Sansa was critical of Stannis’ military prowess. Has she not heard of the Siege of Storms End, the Assault on Dragonstone, and the Greyjoy Rebellion. Maester Luwin didn’t do a very good job teaching the Stark children about history.

Tough to really analyze Arya’s stabbing. Will the theatre performers save her? Will she become Coldhands 2? Will she get another seen with Jaqen? I’ve been pretty complimentary of Arya’s plotline throughout the season, but this development was pretty puzzling.

Yara telling Reek to toughen up made for good TV, but he’s still an odd character. Did saving Sansa make up for all the other crap he’d pulled? I guess so.

That’s all for this week. No Dany, Tyrion, Strong Belwas, Coldhands, or Dornishmen. As a special programming note, my live video recap this week featured my sister, Bibble of House Malone. Check it out if you haven’t already. Thank you for watching.

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30

May 2016

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 6

Written by , Posted in Blog, Game of Thrones

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

There was a brief moment during the Benjen is Coldhands reveal when I considered giving up on the show. That theory is one of my least favorite prevalent ones because it’s easily debunked in the books. I even wrote an article on it last year. Benjen can be “Showhands,” but it just doesn’t make sense in the books.

I felt a change of heart as I realized that this is actually a good thing. Benjen as Coldhands isn’t a book spoiler at all. It almost has the reverse effect as it reminds us that these are two separate entities. Benjen being Coldhands worked in the show because he revealed himself early on in the rescue (as opposed to leading Samwell and Gilly to the Wall and Bran and his friends to Bloodraven without a single mention of being a Stark) and the show also needed to give us an answer as to what the hell happened to him, something it doesn’t have all the time in the world to explain.

The one thing that needs to be criticized is the handling of Hodor’s death. For a show that dedicated several scenes last season to Brienne mourning Renly’s death that happened three seasons prior, it’s disgraceful that neither Bran nor Meera acknowledged the death of their fearless companion considering both ruined his whole life. Hodor’s death reminded us that a show with as much death as Game of Thrones can still use it as an emotional hook. Improperly handling the aftermath makes it harder to care.

This episode gave us two plotlines that the show had previously skipped over with Coldhands and the siege of Riverrun, which happened in A Dance with Dragons and A Feast for Crows. I doubt many people expected either Brienne or Jaime in the Riverlands at this point and now they both will be. The show has different obligations than the books, but I like that it still managed to work in good storylines that wouldn’t have worked in previous seasons.

The aftermath Red Wedding was never really addressed and didn’t necessarily need to be, but Walder Frey is too good of a villain not to feature again. Like many, I questioned Edmure Tully’s future on the show given Tobias Menzies’ obligations to Outlander. In the books, the Freys get to keep Riverrun after Jaime brokers a deal that sends Lord Tully to Casterly Rock to live a comfortable, yet imprisoned, life. I doubt this will happen this way given the presence of Brienne and Co., but it will be interesting to watch.

I’ve criticized the show in the past for making the figures in power in King’s Landing look ridiculously weak. Sending Jaime to help the Freys shows that the powers that be still have power. What this means long term, when Dany’s arrival appears to be in the not so distant future remains to be seen, but it’s important to show that KL isn’t just a setting for a soap opera.

The payoff for the High Sparrow stuff was rather underwhelming. It’s hard to care all that much with the White Walkers and Dany’s massive army, but the storyline moved perhaps a little too slow for its own good. We were treated to far too many High Sparrow lectures over the course of this season. I did think there was a good chance that Margaery could be killed, which would have likely pitted the Tyrells and the Lannisters against each other. That would have been far more interesting than what actually happened.

I’ve been pretty complimentary of Arya’s progress in Braavos for most of the season. I don’t love her decision to leave the House of Black and White, but it’s too early to condemn it entirely. It’s only natural that she feels a sense of loyalty to her family. Her driving force to leave Westeros, both in the books and the show, is that they’re all gone. There’s nothing left for her. We, the viewers, know this isn’t true. Bran and Rickon are alive and Sansa has escaped. She doesn’t. It seems almost unfair to Jaqen, who’s been fairly loyal to her.

Mixed feelings about the Sam/Horn Hill storyline. It was good TV. The presence of James Faulkner, who played a similarly sinister patriarch on Downton Abbey, enhanced the soapiness of the whole plotline. In the books, Lord Tarly is a highly respected battle commander, even recommended for Hand of the King by Kevan Lannister. Here, he’s quarreling with his son away from anything meaningful.

That goes for Sam as well. This season has really done a number on the credibility of the Night’s Watch. Jon is allowed to quit and Sam can go off gallivanting with Gilly. What do vows even mean anymore?

Dany didn’t do much. I talked about the fast pacing of her storyline two weeks ago. The Drogon appearance was very cool although as my sister noted, her horse seemed to have vanished.

It’s clear that Yara/Reek will supply at least some of Dany’s ships. I’m curious to see where she goes from there. The mainland of Westeros seems like the logical choice, but Euron/the Slaver’s could take her in a number of directions.

That’s it for this week. No Tyrion, Jon, Sansa, Ramsey, or Hodor… ever again. See you next week.

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23

May 2016

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 5

Written by , Posted in Game of Thrones

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

Last night’s episode was the first time that it really felt like the show was spoiling the books. There’s been minor stuff here and there, plus Jon’s revival which everyone knew was coming, but the show has deviated so far from the books in general that’s it’s hard to say any particular storyline has been spoiled. The Sand Snakes probably aren’t going to foolishly kill their relatives, Ser Alliser didn’t participate in the mutiny and won’t be hanged, and Jorah isn’t going to be needlessly infected with greyscale.

The Night’s King being head of the White Walkers though. That’s a big one. So is the death of a certain gentle giant, whose death revealed the mystery behind perhaps the most famous word to come out of A Song of Ice and Fire.

I don’t mean to suggest that this is a fault of the show. We, the book readers, knew the risks. I’ve never been one to let spoilers get to me anyway.

Hodor’s death hit me. I think it hit just about everyone with a heart. Tragedy has always been a predominant element of ASOIAF. I don’t think there was any greater example of that left for the show to give. The whole time traveling/destiny thing perhaps makes it sadder. I’ll hold off on full judgment until we see how Bran comes to terms with this responsibility, but a lot of why I was so sad about Hodor dying was that it had nothing to do with his own free will.

We haven’t really seen that in the series, at least with noteworthy characters. Ned died because he made poor political choices. Same goes for Robb and to a lesser extent, Catelyn. Others, like Drogo, Tywin, and Stannis were simply beat out by their opposition (keeping it simple here). We have reason behind nearly all the deaths over the course of the whole series. We sort of do with Hodor as well, but it’s a crappy reason.

The other thing I couldn’t really wrap my head around with the deaths of Hodor and Summer was the balance of story contrasted with the show’s recent obsession with trimming down the cast. It’s clear that Hodor’s death will be similar in the books, with the important “hold the door” line. Summer may die in that battle too. I’ve mentioned in earlier recaps that it’s clear Kristian Nairn, the actor who plays Hodor, can’t carry Issac Hempstead Wright anymore. The show may not want to pay for the CGI required to feature Summer, which is at least partially supported by the death of Shaggydog last week. Who knows which category these deaths fall under?

I used the phrase “half-baked” to refer to nearly all the other plotlines in the episode during my video recap last night. The idea that Jon, a resurrected bastard Night’s Watch deserter, can rally the North is half-baked. Brienne doing absolutely nothing about Davos/Melisandre is half-baked. Euron openly admitting he committed regicide is half-baked. Yara and Theon running away with the whole fleet while twenty Ironborn watch Euron is half-baked. Jorah and his stupid greyscale is half-baked.

Littlefinger has quietly become the show’s most interesting character. Book readers won’t find this surprising, but the character has been portrayed so inconsistently on screen that it’s hard to really care most of the time. Does he actually love Sansa? I’m not willing to say no to that and not just because of the books. He put himself at great risk being alone with her. He may wish to do right. Maybe not.

Sansa lying is weird. I’m sure it’ll serve some future plotline, but as with LF’s decision to marry her off to Ramsey, it doesn’t make much sense from a character perspective. Advancing the plot isn’t an excuse to defy character norms and we didn’t get anything that resembled an explanation.

I’m excited to see the Blackfish again. He’s a favorite in the books. It is a bit weird that the Frey’s have been essentially written out of the series. No troops were at Winterfell with the Boltons and they somehow lost Riverrun, an easily defendable castle for however long it would take to get reinforcements.

Arya continues to be an interesting storyline to follow. I liked how the play had errors with the storyline as people in Braavos wouldn’t necessarily have specific details and likely wouldn’t care either. It gave Arya a chance to question her loyalty to the House of Black & White.

I don’t love the introduction of another red priestess, as the show has been fairly inconsistent with the Lord of Light. It’s clear that they’re starting to lay down the framework for a Jon/Dany faceoff to see who’s the Prince(ss) who was Promised. I did take note of Varys’ hatred of the Red God and was pleased to see it mentioned here.

Poor Jorah. Infected with a stupid disease. Not sure where he’s going to go. Is he going to call Dr. House?

Boy the Kingsmoot was a bomb. I guess Yara’s going to go visit Dany first. I’ll say this again though because it merits repeating. How did she escape with the whole fleet?

I could talk about Bloodraven dying some more. I don’t want to. He was kind of a letdown. I’m excited to see how Bran explores the Children of the Forest creating the White Walkers, but I’m almost rooting for them at this point. Hodor.

That’s it for this week. Sorry for the brevity on non-Hodor plotlines. I’m happy to answer any questions you have, either here or on my Facebook page. See you next week.

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May 2016

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Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap: Episode 4

Written by , Posted in Blog, Celebrity Apprentice, Game of Thrones

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. As the show has largely deviated from the books I’m not sure how much this matters, but if you hate spoilers you should probably not read these articles. I encourage you to subscribe so you never miss a recap. Thank you for reading. 

I think it’s safe to say that this episode was the best of the season and perhaps the best since season 4’s “The Watchers on the Wall.”

The reunion of Jon and Sansa is significant for a number of reasons. None of the major Stark children (excluding Rickon) have seen each other since season one and most have no idea which of the others are even still alive. Jon and Sansa don’t really have much of a relationship in the books, something that was sort of hinted at in the episode. Given that Sansa isn’t in the North in the books, this plotline will be especially interesting to follow.

Brienne’s hypocrisy is borderline intolerable. I sort of forgot about the weird Brienne/Davos/Melisandre dynamic since the Red Woman is the only one at the Wall in the books, but it was about as awkward as could be expected. Brienne, who “executed” Stannis on the “authority” of a dead pretender king, shows next to no animosity toward Melisandre, the woman who conjured up the shadow demon that killed Renly.

It is by no means a stretch to suggest that Melisandre played a much, much bigger role in Renly’s death than Stannis, being both the person who executed the plan and presumably also the one who came up with it. Couple Brienne’s carefree attitude toward her with Davos’ casual mention of Shireen’s death, in episode 4 mind you, and we have ourselves a prime example of the show’s laziness in closing up plotlines it doesn’t like. Like Dorne, Stannis’ arc was quickly wrapped up with little logic. I know most regular readers of these recaps are hoping for the day when I stop mentioning Stannis, but that was important to acknowledge.

The pacing of Sansa’s arrival to the Wall was superb, but the fact that Jon continues to hang around Castle Black is kind of weird. I liked how he mentioned his death releasing him from his vows, but if that’s all true, he sort of needs to move on. The divorce between Jon and the Watch looks quite messier than it should. At least he showed remorse for killing Olly.

Why does Tormund only have 2,000 warriors? What happened to the 100,000 that attacked the Wall two seasons ago? They couldn’t have all died at Hardhome.

It was hard to be excited about Littlefinger’s return since he’s one of the most inconsistently portrayed characters on the show, but his scene was excellent. His seemingly indefensible decision to marry Sansa to Ramsey was handled quite well by casting doubt on Lord Royce. The only thing that kind of bugs me is that Littlefinger does show genuine affection toward Sansa in the books. I wouldn’t be surprised if that turns out to be the case later on in the show, but it’s not really believable. Who wasn’t thrilled to see Sweetrobin again?!?!

The Meereen plotline got a much needed infusion of life into it, despite having two of the most boring characters on the whole show. Grey Worm and Missandei’s deficiencies only further show what a mistake it was to kill Ser Barristan last year. Tyrion was on point as usual, but he needs a stronger character to spar with.

Jorah and his magical durable shirt are back! Which means I have to make an obligatory “why does Jorah have greyscale?” mention. Doesn’t look like I’ll be saying that much longer. More on Dany at the end of the recap.

King’s Landing also perked up. I’ve been mentioning the Tyrell’s powerful army for about a year now. It’s about time someone brought up using it. Giving the key KL players something to do was long overdue. It’ll be interesting to see if both Margaery and Loras make it out alive. I’m guessing no, but I’m willing to sacrifice both if it means we don’t have to endure another High Sparrow lecture. Jonathan Pryce is great and all. I just don’t care about listening to him ramble anymore.

How did Theon get a boat? Seriously. Anyone?

The Yara/Theon interaction was another highlight in a very strong episode. Yara is the obvious candidate to rule the Iron Islands, though A Feast for Crows had a different idea. Euron stands as a better challenger than Reek, but this will make the Kingsmoot dynamic all the more interesting. It’s hard to speculate as to what Theon’s role will be beyond a mere endorser of his sister.

Osha falls victim to the “let’s get rid of all the characters we don’t want anymore” cleanse. I’m kind of okay with it. She’s a fun character, but the show was right to acknowledge the fact that Ramsey would definitely know about her involvement in their escape. Another scene where she gets to speak would have been nice, but this episode had a lot going on.

Finally we go to Vaes Dothrak. I was rolling my eyes at the idea that Daario and Jorah would help by somehow retrieving Drogon, Dany’s scene with the Khals was excellent. As with the Sansa plotline, I was surprised with its fast pacing, but that’s a good thing. Meereen is bound to be a complete wash with everyone inevitably setting their eyes on Westeros in the not so distant future.

The parallels to the end of Dany’s season one arc were to be expected, though probably not in episode four. I assumed there would be some kind of trial, but am pretty happy that there wasn’t. Dany now commands the largest force of anyone besides the White Walkers. It’ll be interesting to see what kind of opposition the show puts against her, given the mess in KL.

It is worth noting that GRRM has said that Dany is not immune to fire in the books. This is obviously different in the show, which is a good thing. That was a great way to end the episode.

Side note: Aggo, one of the Dothraki mentioned, is one of Dany’s bloodriders in the books. I’ve often been critical of how the Dothraki just disappeared after the Unsullied were introduced, but it was nice to see a tiny throwback.

That’s it for this week. No Arya, Bran, Dorne (yay), or Sam & Gilly, but this was a very strong episode. See you next week!

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