Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Tuesday

29

November 2016

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COMMENTS

In Defense of No Man’s Sky

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As someone who grew up in the era where blowing into your cartridge was the only way to improve video game functionality, the idea that No Man’s Sky could receive such a massive structural overhaul months after its release day is still fairly remarkable. I did a live video defending the game back in August that quickly became the most watched on my page with 18,000 thousand views. There’s no denying the game is polarizing, rightfully so for many reasons. The problem is, many of the knocks against the game have never really been fair.

The two chief complaints I’ve heard since the games release tend to be concerned with its marketing and price point. No Man’s Sky promised big things in its trailer and failed to deliver vividly unique locations filled with interactive critters of all sizes. The game shattered sales expectations both in the U.S. and abroad, explaining the massive outrage that still manages to trend on social media months later.

One question that’s always stuck with me throughout this process is an age old quandary. How much of the blame belongs with the consumer?

No Man’s Sky may have skyrocketed in sales before taking a catastrophic nosedive, but the same can’t be said of the reviews. Those were always bad. Before falling off the grid, Sean Murray even hinted that the game might not be for everyone. The marketing may have been misleading, but this is hardly a groundbreaking revelation. The role of marketing isn’t to provide an objective opinion on a product, but rather to get you to buy it.

The other big issue focused on the game’s sixty-dollar price point. This is also a valid complaint, to a certain extant. It’s also one that’s easily explainable through a basic understanding of society’s relationship with entertainment.

Think about a movie trailer that looks moderately entertaining. You might want to watch said film, but do you want to see it in theatres or do you want to wait until it’s available to rent? Or better yet, do you want to wait until it’s on Netflix or another streaming service that doesn’t require you to shell out money just to watch that particular film? This line of thinking isn’t new.

It also isn’t fair to No Man’s Sky. Hello Games charged what they could get for it. A thirty-dollar price point would have alleviated some of the outrage (though there’s still the misleading trailer), but who’s responsibility is it to make that call? There isn’t a litmus test for what qualifies to be labeled full price. As we saw with the subsequent price drop, the idea that No Man’s Sky was in fact overpriced isn’t really contested.

Anyone who truly cared about that would have waited for the reviews, which never masked the game’s imperfections. The disappointment over No Man’s Sky was unavoidable. Choosing to wait to make a decision until all the facts were on the table wasn’t. Waiting a single day after the game’s release would have told you everything you needed to know.

No Man’s Sky is a deeply flawed game, but I never felt ripped off. I’ve played it for hours, mining crap and collecting Atlas Stones without really caring what the end goal is. As someone who doesn’t have a ton of time to really get invested in Fallout 4 or Skyrim (as majestic as they are), there’s something comforting about No Man’s Sky’s simplicity.

That reasoning isn’t going to fly for everyone, especially those who wanted another Skyrim or Fallout. Therein lies the age old debate of taking in something for what it is as opposed to what you want it to be. I don’t begrudge anyone who hates No Man’s Sky. It could have been better and it should have been better.

But we can’t pretend like there’s some concrete hours to dollars ratio for video games. The phrase “you get what you pay for” rings true here, but there’s also the idea that you have the ability to research that which you choose to pay for. I can’t help but feel like many of the people who hate No Man’s Sky are angry because they didn’t do that.

 

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Friday

25

November 2016

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COMMENTS

Why Does Gilmore Girls Have a Monopoly on WB Nostalgia?

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Netflix offered millions of people a sanctuary from the Black Friday madness with the return of Gilmore Girls. The four episode limited revival has captured the interest of the pop culture world, bringing back the nostalgia of late 90s/early 00s WB programming. In an age with endless televisions offerings, both past and present, available to the consumer, it can be easy to forget that there once was a time when channels themselves were relevant at all, let alone ones that catered to a younger demographic.

With remakes and reboots popping up all over TV, it shouldn’t be surprising that Netflix wanted to book a return ticket to Stars Hollow. Gilmore Girls’ arrival to Netflix, relatively late to the streaming game in October 2014, garnered the kind of media attention that most current shows would kill for. What is perhaps surprising, is that Gilmore Girls is the only WB program to receive a revival in a world where Dynasty, Magnum P.I., and Prison Break are all being brought back to life. For a brief four month period, NBC wanted to capture the nostalgia of Coach before realizing that no one else did. So why is Gilmore Girls the only one of Michigan J. Frog’s offerings to return to millennial laptops, cell phones, and Apple TVs?

Gilmore Girls began its run right at the heart of WB’s love affair with the American youth. The show premiered in 2000, when Dawson’s Creek, 7th Heaven, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Felicity were plastered all over the covers of teen magazines and the insides of high school lockers. As far as ratings success goes, Gilmore Girls maintained a comfortable viewership relative to the rest of the network, but consistently lagged behind 7th Heaven and Smallville with ratings comparable to Buffy and Everwood.

When you think about one sentence that fully encapsulates all the feels of The WB, is there any better the the opening lines, “I don’t want to wait, for our lives to be over,” bringing images of a quaint North Carolinian town to mind? I don’t think so. I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for a Dawson’s Creek revival either. Poor Grams.

While ratings are nearly irrelevant in the year 2016 and shouldn’t be used as a barometer for the quality of a show, they do remind us that Gilmore Girls wasn’t even close to being the flagship program on the WB. It ended unremarkably in 2006 after a one season run on The CW without creator and writer extraordinaire Amy Sherman-Palladino. The unsatisfying ending serves as a potential explanation for the desire to seek additional episodes, but no such treatment has been given to Charmed, which fell victim to massive budget cuts in its ninth and final season. Joss Whedon directed two of the highest grossing movies of all time, yet there’s been almost no talk of any Buffy or Angel continuation.

Gilmore Girls remains on an island, or perhaps in a diner of its own in WB lore. With podcasts like “Gilmore Guys” breathing new life into the fandom years after its demise, there’s no doubt that the show maintains a cult status with its viewers that most shows would kill for. There’s little question that the show’s writing was among the best on TV even if the Emmys refused to acknowledge it. The show’s fast paced dialogue, filled with pop culture references, practically forces repeat viewing. It could be that Gilmore Girls is the only WB show to get a revival because it was the best show on the network. Problem is that doesn’t really explain the legions of revivals while plenty of other popular and beloved programs remain dormant. Is anyone really angling for another season of The Wire?

Melissa McCarthy’s recent A-list success is obviously part of the equation, but I hesitate to give it too much credit. Sookie may have been Lorelai’s best friend, but was still a supporting character on a similar level as Lane or Paris. McCarthy’s cameo is important to recapturing the magic of the show, but hardly a driving force in A Year in the Life.

The varying success of other WB stars fail to shed any consistent light on the lack of appeal for other shows either. Michelle Williams, Katie Holmes, Jessica Biel, Keri Russell, David Boreanaz, Alyson Hannigan and Emily VanCamp have all either been in big budget movies or hit series, but James van der Beek has, so far, been the only former WB star to try to cash in on his old nostalgic value. Putting aside 7th Heaven’s soiled reputation in the wake of Stephen Collins’ transformation from beloved father to pedophile, it does seem odd that no network or streaming service hasn’t tried to tap into the former magic of the WB besides Gilmore Girls.

We’ve seen plenty of articles and studies on pop culture’s recent obsession with nostalgia. South Park captured it best with its “member berries” that use nostalgic references to give characters warm feelings of security. The past itself is less important than the idea of returning to a simpler time.

The world of Stars Hollow gave Gilmore Girls a unique leg up in this regard. Every episode takes you to a special place filled with all the warm feelings of community and beloved culture. The WB gave teens a sense that someone out there was on their side. Gilmore Girls possessed a degree of separation with its emphasis on family and the town itself.

An image of Joey Potter climbing through Dawson Leery’s bedroom window might look a little creepy in the year 2016. The idea of Felicity as a grad student or college professor seems a bit odd, regardless of hairstyle. What would the Camdens have to lecture their kids about in a world with legalized pot? Stars Hollow survives because the idea is timeless in a world where the doors opened by technology often lead to divisiveness and isolation. The best revivals are the ones that don’t just recapture the magic, but bring something new to the table as well. For much of The WB’s roster, nostalgia is probably best left in the past.

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Tuesday

4

October 2016

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Suicide Squad and the DCU’s Failed Opportunities

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It’s hard to separate the hype surrounding Jared Leto’s “method acting” stunts as well as the failure of Batman v. Superman to build hype for the still blossoming DCU from Suicide Squad as a movie. Such is the current state of big franchises, which concern themselves with their part in the bigger universe often to the detriment of the job at hand, to be entertaining. While it’s hard to figure out how much blame Suicide Squad deserves for not being the desired platform to launch the DCU or for barely including Leto, it almost doesn’t matter. The movie plays like it couldn’t care less what people think.

Director David Ayers keeps his audience at a distance with the endless music video like montages introducing the ensemble cast, most of whom end up being wasted, which is a shame since Margot Robbie, Will Smith, and Viola Davis particularly stand out as making the most of the worthless material they were given. The only true stinker of the cast is Leto, whose Joker plays like someone doing a Heath Ledger impersonation at 2 in the morning after a night consuming Four Loko. It’s truly astonishing to see a film as bad as Suicide Squad that contained its weakest link in a short, almost cameo like role.

The problem is the movie never gives its audience anything to latch onto. The “squad” never blossoms into anything more than a couple of superficially interesting people walking around reminding the audience that they’re the bad guys. This is especially astonishing given Deadpool’s rise as an oft kilter antihero earlier this year. While I don’t think Deadpool/Suicide Squad comparisons are entirely fair, I was surprised to see Deadpool’s only weak link, its unoriginal plot, amplified ten times worse in SS. I’m still not entirely sure what the plot even was.

Moving forward, this issue appears to be a significant problem with the DC Extended Universe as a whole. It goes even beyond the question of who cares, but rather who are we supposed to care about? Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad all made hundreds of millions at the box office, it’s hard to argue that the DCU isn’t exactly off to the kind of start that Warner Bros. would liked to have had. The billion dollar threshold, which both Avengers movies, Iron Man 3, and Captain America: Civil War passed, was looked to as a way to gauge the true success of Batman v. Superman, which missed by around $125 million. Calling it a failure is a bit extreme, but this movie was something that fans waited decades to see and should have been a powerful asset in launching the DCU rather than a liability.

The DCU finds itself in a terrible position with only one film to go before the release of the Justice League. Is it fair to put the whole weight of the franchise on Wonder Woman? Kind of.

Suicide Squad failed miserably in two regards. It was a terrible movie and it didn’t just fail to give people a single nice thing to say about the DCU, it made matters worse. It isn’t fair to expect Wonder Woman to clean up the damage, but it needs to at least start the process if people are supposed to care about this franchise. The MCU has shown us the benefits of a shared continuity. Movies like ­Guardians of the Galaxy and Ant-Man flourished in an environment that gave them the kind of exposure they likely wouldn’t have had a decade ago.

We haven’t really seen what a failure on this magnitude really looks like. The three DCU films have shown us that profitability isn’t tethered to quality, but if long running franchises have shown us anything, it’s that there does come a time where people just plain tune out. Suicide Squad wasted a chance to build hype for its broader canon and Warner Bros. should be very concerned about the direction of its franchise.

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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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COMMENTS

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

0

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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

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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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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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June 2016

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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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June 2016

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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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