Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

Monthly Archive: April 2015

Wednesday

29

April 2015

4

COMMENTS

Universal Orlando Must Close Twister… Ride It Out

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I visited Universal Studios Orlando back in February for the first time. Like many, my main motive was to see the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, though I was mostly just tagging along with my sister, who had a water polo tournament (I had also just finished writing a manuscript and needed some time off before promotion for A Trip Down Reality Lane begun). Being a pop culture nut, I was able to appreciate almost all of the attractions.

There was one that I didn’t particularly appreciate and it wasn’t because I hadn’t seen the movie the ride was based off. I didn’t appreciate it because it was terrible. Given the irrelevance of the source film, I suspect many feel the same way.

I am of course, talking about Twister. The blockbuster starring Bill Paxton and Helen Hunt was the second highest grossing film of 1996. It’s not too surprising that an attraction would be based off something that successful. If there was ever a ride that looked like it shouldn’t have survived the 90s, it’s Twister… Ride It Out.

Using the word “ride” is somewhat ridiculous given the nature of the attraction. It’s hardly a ride at all. The attraction consists of a brief introductory video from Paxton and Hunt informing the audience that tornados are dangerous followed by a tornado simulation that looks like the set of a Sharknado movie. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with the laughs that Sharknado delivers.

I’m not sure what’s supposed to be thrilling about a few gushes of wind, some simulated rain, and a soaring cow with visible wires, but that’s Twister… Ride It Out for you. The only real value the introductory video has is to show children what picture quality looked like before HD as I suspect the video is still played on an old VHS tape. 90s hipsters might appreciate the ride’s retro feel, but I can’t imagine who else would.

The problem with Twister… Ride It Out is that the film carries next to no nostalgic value and Paxton and Hunt haven’t been A-List talent for about 10 years. Rides/Attractions based off of other 90s hits like T2 3-D: Battle Across Time, Revenge of the Mummy, The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man, The Incredible Hulk Roller Coaster (both the Spider-Man and Hulk rides are based off the 90s cartoons) have either nostalgic or entertainment value to keep them relevant in the year 2015. What does Twister have?

Twister… Ride It Out is easily the park’s worst attraction. The only thing it attracts is people looking for something to do. The list of better things to do than waste your time on this boring relic can be summed out with two words. Anything else.

Twister… Ride It Out is a dated embarrassment to an otherwise excellent park. The attraction offers nothing to anyone besides scientists and middle-aged men who once had crushes on Helen Hunt. It should be closed immediately, even if there’s nothing to take its place. Preventing park goers from wasting their time is far more important.

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Sunday

26

April 2015

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 3

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. Spoilers will largely be kept to comparisons between the show and the books within the episodes themselves, 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. 

Many of the changes from the books have been for one simple reason. Screen time. George R.R. Martin is perfectly content to have certain characters disappear for multiple books at a time, but that doesn’t really work in show business with actors who will find other work if their roles are greatly reduced for full seasons. From a creative standpoint, it also makes sense to give characters something to do. There’s quite a lot of sitting around doing nothing or wandering around doing nothing in A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons.

Sansa and Littlefinger do not go to Winterfell in the books. Not yet at least. They sit in the Vale and hang out with Sweetrobin. Littlefinger does a little bit of plotting, but Sansa remains Alayne and nothing really happens besides some plotting to marry Sansa off to Harrold Hardying, who’s the heir to the Vale behind Sweetrobin. Sample chapters from The Winds of Winter show that this stasis continues at least into the early parts of that book.

So the show decides to do something interesting. Hard to blame D&D for deciding that sitting around didn’t make for great television. Only this plotline doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense.

Littlefinger is taking too much of a risk on Roose and Ramsay. Putting aside the fact that Cersei is weaker than ever, it’s hard to imagine a single scenario where whoever is in control on King’s Landing isn’t furious that Littlefinger has been secretly hiding a girl wanted for regicide. The fact that he brings her to marry into the most dishonorable House in Westeros not named Frey is simply ridiculous.

Littlefinger is not an idiot, but his involvement with the Boltons complicates this. It would be completely out of character for him to do a background check on Ramsay and he wouldn’t have to do very much digging to find out what a monster he is. Even putting aside his weird infatuation with Sansa, it’s unfathomably foolish of him to put any amount of trust in Roose and Ramsay. While it makes sense from a storyline perspective to give them all something to do, it doesn’t really add up.

Book fans have often noted that much of Littlefinger’s scheming is perfectly in line with what Stannis needs to take the throne. With the Iron Bank of Braavos now backing the Mannis, it seems even more likely that the two should want to put aside their differences. If Stannis can’t have Jon Stark ruling Winterfell, Sansa is the next best thing (perhaps even more so given that she isn’t a bastard currently sworn to the Night’s Watch).

I criticized the handling of Jon’s election to Lord Commander in the last recap. Here I’ll criticize the execution of Janos Slynt. Lord Slynt will not be missed by many, whether it be characters or people watching. Problem is that you kind of feel bad for him as his head gets chopped off.

From the moment Slynt arrives at the Wall in the books, which is right after the Battle of Castle Black and not well before in the show, he plots to have Jon killed. Slynt had to die and in killing him, Jon earns the respect of both Stannis and Ser Alliser. That seems to be accomplished here as well, but Slynt was never really made to look like much of a threat. Maybe this is not a big deal, but I wasn’t a big fan of the way it was handled.

Davos’ speech to Jon was certainly interesting. It’s looking like the Night’s Watch might head south of the Wall, which would be a major deviation. While that would be odd, I am certainly not against it.

The Cersei/Margaery/Tommen feuding isn’t terribly interesting right now as it’s pretty predictable, but I’m looking forward to seeing how the High Sparrow gets involved. He isn’t in the books much, but casting Jonathan Pryce is all the reason you’d need to feature him more often.

Arya and Tyrion’s plotline stay mostly true to the books beyond deviations that already happened. I’ve been looking forward to seeing Tyrion and Ser Jorah together as Peter Dinklage and Iain Glen are two of the show’s best actors. Their interactions in ADWD are among the best aspects of the book.

Varys’ future is a complete mystery. I wonder if he’ll continue on his way to Dany or if he’ll head back to Westeros. With no Aegon in the show, the former seems likely, possibly before Tyrion and Ser Friendzone arrive.

No Dany, which is probably for the best as the show’s version of the Meereense Knot needs time to unravel. Could’ve used less Brienne this episode as her thoughts on Renly are old news and that was screen time that could’ve been used elsewhere. I think Podrick will die, if for any other reason than it will make Brienne sad.

No Jaime or Bronn either. I’d love to see what’s going to happen with this Dornish plot, which looks pretty weak compared to the Dornish Master Plan in the books. That doesn’t appear to be something that will be resolved this season.

All in all I think this was a solid episode. It looks like the show is building more for the future right now and that’s not necessarily a problem. The changes are interesting and it’s hard to judge them until we see how it all plays out.

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Saturday

25

April 2015

2

COMMENTS

Season 3 of Vikings Raises the Bar, Struggles With Its High Ambitions

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Ten episodes is not a particularly long length for a season, though it’s fairly common for costume/period dramas. Vikings handled this quite well with a relatively small cast and fairly linear plotlines over its first two seasons. Throwing that out the window, or perhaps over the side of the long ship, was a risk. One that paid off handsomely in season three.

This season of the History Channel’s flagship (no pun intended) drama featured two massive storylines. Starting in Wessex, Ragnar and co. had a bunch of exciting battles before returning home to Kattegat. After King Ecbert betrayed the Vikings, we naturally would expect Ragnar to sail back for vengeance. For a show that’s been fairly predictable, it was surprising to see that this was not what happened.

Taking on a Paris campaign with only four episodes left in the season was no easy task, especially when the show was rapidly shedding old characters and introducing new ones into the fray. It might not have been surprising to see this fail as badly as the first siege on Paris, especially when the show continued to feature the Wessex characters, who no longer seemed to factor in at all.

Maybe it did to some people. The season finale did leave a stronger feeling of “that’s it” than the previous two. Part of this is only natural as cliffhanger endings are an easy way to cap off a short season.

While it’s clear that the Paris and Wessex storylines are not complete, the brevity in which Paris was handled has made me question whether or not it should have been held off until season four. Doing so would have allowed for proper closure on the Wessex storyline and also would have given Ragnar enough time to deal with Floki for killing Athelstan. I originally suspected that Athelstan’s death was forced because of the actor’s commitments to other projects (George Blagden will play a main role in the upcoming series Versailles), though interviews with creator Michael Hirst suggest that it was in fact a creative decision.

The trouble with prolonging the Paris storyline is that it would have prevented the show’s most ambitious action sequence. “To The Gates!,” was the most impressive television battle since Game of Thrones’ “The Watchers on the Wall,” and even gave the HBO powerhouse a run for its money. It’s hard to reasonably advocate against such an achievement.

The simple solution to the abrupt ending would have been to increase the episode count by one or two episodes, which would have prevented this season from feeling rather incomplete. I wrote an article a couple weeks ago suggesting that The Walking Dead alter its episode count for this very reason. I cannot reasonably suggest that as viable when it comes to Vikings.

The difference between the two is that Vikings isn’t one of the most popular shows on television and the History Channel, even with the support of foreign networks, is likely spending all it can on Vikings. The production quality this season greatly improved. If more episodes were financially feasible, we’d likely get them. It’s not fair to criticize Vikings for circumstances that are out of its control.

Season three of Vikings ended with plenty of loose ends. While it’s annoying that we have to wait a year for resolution, that doesn’t change the fact that this was an outstanding season. Choosing to focus on the shortcomings ignores the fact that this show is doing amazing things with limited resources. It has a stellar cast, top-notch production quality, and arguably the best action sequences on TV. Few shows are perfect and that’s okay. Unless you’re Floki.

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Thursday

23

April 2015

0

COMMENTS

Should HBO Skip Screener Copies for Season Six of Game of Thrones?

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It took HBO about two weeks to respond to the pirates who leaked the screener copies of the first four episodes of season 5 of Game of Thrones. Given the ratings records set by the premiere, it’s hard to accurately assess the damage. The warnings sent out suggest that HBO isn’t particularly interested in a bunch of lawsuits which would likely lead to nowhere anyway. It’s hard to imagine that HBO is particularly pleased with the leak though, which makes me wonder how HBO will handle the release of season six.

Networks generally send out screener copies of the first four episodes of new seasons to publications as a way of generating buzz. Since most shows aren’t a worldwide phenomenon, piracy tends not to be too big of a problem. With a show like Game of Thrones, a leak was practically inevitable.

HBO has been pretty proactive in its efforts to combat piracy. The recently launched HBO NOW offers HBO without a cable subscription for a flat rate of 15 dollars a months (currently only available on Apple Devices). This was also likely done as an effort to try to get millennials and others who have gotten rid of cable, but use their parents’/friends’ HBO GO to pay. HBO NOW hasn’t been around long enough to determine whether or not the service has been a success, but the idea is fundamentally sound.

While the presence of HBO NOW might help cut down on piracy in general, it wouldn’t have prevented the leak. The screener copies had content that no one could see legally for weeks after the premiere. The only way to prevent the screener copies from leaking is to stop sending them out entirely.

The benefits to this are pretty easy to see, but the risks are a little more complicated. One might argue that a show like Game of Thrones doesn’t need to get a stamp of approval from The New York Times or Entertainment Weekly and there’s something to that. Problem is that buzz has value that’s hard to quantify. The mass exposure from hundreds of publications does play a part in the success of the show.

Many of those features would still exist without the screeners, but it’s not hard to imagine a reduction if they weren’t sent out ay all. It’s harder to write about something when you don’t know the specifics. Those publications might turn their attention, and cover stories, toward other shows instead. Game of Thrones’ massive popularity makes that harder to fathom, but it’s still a risk that HBO would need to take into consideration.

Which brings us back to the damage. If Game of Thrones sets ratings records, are the leaks really a problem? Would 10 million people have watched the premiere instead of 8? There’s no way of knowing, but it does stand to reason that the number would be higher. How much that matters is up to HBO.

The solution that I would consider if I were head of HBO would be to reduce the number of episodes included in the screener copies. Four might be the standard, but cable shows also generally have thirteen episodes a season. The screener copies account for 40% of the whole season. Cutting that down to two would reduce the potential damage while also appeasing the big publications.

One option I would not consider is a switch to a Netflix delivery style, mostly for reasons I covered in my recent article on House of Cards. For a show of Game of Thrones’ magnitude, dropping all the episodes in one fell swoop isn’t a great way to get proper bang for your buck. That would actually exacerbate the spoiler problem as people would know the ending right from day one.

Piracy will always be a problem for massively popular shows. HBO could reduce its subscription fees to a dollar a month and this would still be the case. There are some possible ways to cut back on the damage though which HBO should consider as the show goes on and the stakes are raised. When the final season rolls around and the death count starts to skyrocket, HBO isn’t going to want people knowing who lives and who dies weeks in advance.

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Sunday

19

April 2015

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 2

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

This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. Spoilers will largely be kept to comparisons between the show and the books within the episodes themselves, 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. 

While I’ve generally been completely fine with the deviations from the books, this episode featured two that I thought were mistakes. Since the beginning, Jon and Cersei have been two of the show’s favorite characters. This generally means that deviations will work to these characters’ benefit as much of what needs to be cut from the books will come at the expensive of a different character.

Which made the ten seconds the show gave to the election for Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch puzzling. This is a big deal in the books and it should be a big deal in the show as well. Yet for whatever reason, the show gave it just about as much time as Brienne’s dinner with Podrick.

Naturally the election is far more complex in the books. It’s worth noting that Lord Janos Slynt, not Ser Alliser Thorne, was the bad guy candidate in the books. It was also heavily implied that Jon would have been executed if Slynt were elected.

The show did allow Samwell to play a part in the election, though it stripped him of his elaborate plan inspired by Maester Aemon. In the books, Samwell convinces Denys Mallister, commander of the Shadow Tower, and Cottor Pyke, commander of Eastwatch-by-the-Sea, to drop out of the race and support Jon because neither alone would have the backings to beat Slynt. This House of Cards style manipulation was reduced to a simple heartfelt speech in the show.

Samwell has never been a favorite of mine and the scheme would’ve been too elaborate for the show to pull off. The only problem with the election itself was that I don’t really think a convincing argument was made for picking Jon over Ser Alliser. Janos Slynt probably should have still be the candidate as he’s not an experienced Brother who didn’t play a pivotal role in the defense of Castle Black.

The more important problem was the neglect of Stannis’ offer to legitimize Jon. This is also a big deal. Jon could avenge his father, brothers, sister(s), and fulfill a lifelong desire to truly become a Stark with one word. He doesn’t and ultimately, we know why, but the show decides to scoot right by this without giving it the proper attention it deserves.

Honor is a big theme in Game of Thrones. Characters like Ned and Robb pay heavy prices for choosing honorable decisions. Cersei and Littlefinger get ahead by ignoring it. It shouldn’t be surprising that Jon chose to stay true to his vows, but we missed out on the grappling that should have occurred. This would have been a great opportunity to have another heart to heart with Maester Aemon about duty and family.

The pacing of the Wall storyline kind of explains this. The election happened in A Storm of Swords and I don’t think lingering much longer would have been a good idea and other storylines even at the Wall are well into A Dance with Dragons. Problem was that it was really only mentioned in passing last episode. The seed for this could have been planted last episode, possibly instead of burning Mance, which didn’t need to happen this early.

The other deviation in this episode that really bugged me was with Cersei and Kevan. In the books, Cersei offers Kevan the position of Hand of the King, which he says he will only accept if Cersei also makes him Regent and goes back to Casterly Rock. This offer also happened in a private conversation rather than during a Small Council Session. There is no “Master of War” in the books and its presence in the show is strange, but not particularly important.

It goes against the Lannister commitment to family to have Kevan call out his niece in front of the Lord of a rival House, though the show has made no effort to make Mace Tyrell look like any threat at all. Kevan isn’t a character that the show, or the books for that matter, have paid much attention to, but he is a Lannister and Lannister’s don’t pull that kind of nonsense. As the person Tywin trusted most, he should have known better. The seeds for Cersei’s fall have been planted, but in a weird way.

The Daenerys stuff is pretty straight forward, though sort of boring. I like the Sons of the Harpy plotline as a war with Yunkai would be difficult to pull off in the show given Dany’s resources and allotted screen time. In the books, Dany has a relatively large force behind her, but the show has reduced this significantly to merely her Unsullied, the Second Sons, and Ser Grandfather.

I liked the rest of the episode. It’s pretty clear (and disturbing) what Littlefinger is planning to do with Sansa. Brienne is following her because she has nothing else to do. Roose and Ramsay are having fun in Winterfell with Reek being Reek.

At first, I disliked having Jaqen H’ghar take the place of the Kindly Man in the House of Black and White, but it makes sense. That storyline is weird and having a familiar face around makes it (sort of) less weird. He and Arya are great together too.

It was nice to see Bronn, who isn’t shown in the books after his departure prior to Tyrion’s trial (though we hear about plenty of amusing Bronn antics). Jaime’s plan seems farfetched, but he and Bronn have great chemistry. The Dorne stuff isn’t an interesting as I’d hoped, but that was true of them at this point in the books as well.

That’s it for this week. If you enjoyed this recap, I encourage you to check out my other GOT/ASOIAF related articles.

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Tuesday

14

April 2015

1

COMMENTS

Justified Goes Out With a Masterful Final Season

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Final seasons are tricky. Most shows avoid ending until ratings have slipped, major cast members have left, or until the quality has sharply declined. Justified doesn’t really fit into any of these categories, though season five was clearly not as good as previous seasons. Timothy Olyphant and the producers decided that six was enough and they’re probably not wrong.

I don’t think anyone could’ve predicted just how perfect season six would turn out to be. Many shows get a boost in their final seasons as they’re afforded the opportunity to wrap things up versus prolonging the status quo. Rarely do you get a show that has the chance to pay homage to the qualities that made it a success in the first place and completely raise the bar. Justified did just that.

Much of this credit belongs to Sam Elliott, who just might be the perfect person to cast in an Elmore Leonard adaptation. Elliott’s Avery Markham dominates every scene he’s in, which is rare for a new villain in a show that’s about to call it a day. This is even more surprising when you consider Justified’s crowded pool of bad guys for Raylan Givens and Co to deal with in just thirteen episodes.

You could certainly have made the case that Justified’s final season didn’t need a new arch villain with Boyd Crowder, Katherine Hale, and fan favorite Wynn Duffy in the mix, especially when you consider that the Raylan/Boyd/Ava relationship has been a defining element of the show for its whole run. A Raylan/Boyd feud could’ve likely carried the whole season, but that would have been the predictable move. If there’s one thing Justified has never been, it’s predictable.

This season has been a perfect mix of new drama that also manages to revisit almost every member of Justified’s deep roster of recurring characters. The returns of Ellstin Limehouse, Loretta McCready, Dickie Bennett, Arlo Givens, Winona Hawkins, and Constable Bob Sweeney could’ve worked fine as victory laps. For the most part, the show managed to involve them all directly into the main plot.

While Justified has always been a critically and commercially popular show, its often overlooked both at awards shows and even on its own network. Being on TV in the same era as Mad Men, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad and on the same network as Sons of Anarchy and American Horror Story certainly explains this. Justified did tie The Wire for number of Emmy noms for Outstanding Drama Series with zero apiece, which goes to show how pointless awards are.

You could make the case that Justified is currently the best show on TV. I can’t name a show that had a better year this season. Homeland came close, but suffers from not having Sam Eliott as a member of the cast and for having a truly horrible finale. Going out literally on top of the TV world would be nice, but it doesn’t really change Justified’s legacy at all.

For six seasons, Justified has consistently been one of the best shows on television. Get Shorty is its only true completion for most faithful adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s work (Jackie Brown is one of my favorite films, but it deviates significantly from Rum Punch). As far as legacies go, Justified couldn’t have done much better. I’ll miss Raylan and Co, but I’m thankful that they’re going out on top. I doubt a seventh season would have been terrible, but it’s hard to believe it would have been better.

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Sunday

12

April 2015

0

COMMENTS

Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 1

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This recap features analysis from a devoted book fan. Spoilers will largely be kept to comparisons between the show and the books within the episodes themselves, 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. 

For all the talk of how different this season would be from the books, the episode got off to a start that pretty much paid homage to A Feast for Crows. One of AFFC’s strongest attributes is the intimate look it gives the reader into Cersei’s thoughts/backstory, as it’s the first book to feature her as a POV character. The flashback with Maggy the Frog is certainly foretelling of things to come for the Queen Regent.

This episode largely played catch-up, setting up the plots for the season. GOT premieres and finales are tricky as they generally involve the entire cast, which makes screen time problematic. Balance wasn’t much of a problem as the episode allotted a fair amount of time to just about everyone.

I particularly enjoyed the Varys/Tyrion scenes. Varys disappears from the tail end of A Storm of Swords all the way until the epilogue of A Dance With Dragons and it would have been a waste for the show to abandon him for that length of time. My mouth did salivate a bit at the thought of future Varys/Daenerys scenes.

I haven’t written at all about my thoughts on scrapping (f)Aegon from the show, largely because I approve of it. The last thing this show needs is more characters and this season will already introduce Dorne and the rest of House Martell. Condensing Tyrion’s long and problematic voyage to Dany seems to be in the best interest of the show.

The Castle Black plotline also seems to be accelerating rather rapidly. Parts of it aren’t caught up to A Storm of Swords while others are well into A Dance With Dragons. By the time Mance was “burned alive” in the books, Jon had already been elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. That plot was hinted at, but played a backseat role to Stannis’ need for more troops. I did find it odd that the idea of legitimizing Jon Snow wasn’t brought up, though I imagine that’s coming fairly soon.

Like many, I’ve criticized the show’s handling of Stannis, who’s affectionately known as Stannis the Mannis to many. Stannis and Jon develop a mutual respect for each other in ADWD that makes the often quite boring Wall chapters far more enjoyable in the books. The potential bromance will undoubtedly be called in question after Jon mercy killed Mance, though it’s unclear whether the show will follow the books with what happens to The King Beyond the Wall.

The Littlefinger scheming is also very interesting and so different from the books that comparing the two almost seems silly. I sort of gathered that they could be heading to Essos, which makes me wonder if Littlefinger will head to the Braavos to consult with the Iron Bank or try to throw in with Dany. I really liked the way that Sansa has grown as a character, treating him like more of an equal than a protector.

Dany’s plotline was mostly like the books, though I detest the show’s love affair with Grey Worm, who isn’t really all that interesting in the books. A certain large eunuch by the name of Strong Belwas would have been useful when the fighting pits were brought up. I can’t be the only book fan who thought of nothing but him during those scenes.

The pacing of the King’s Landing plotline was pretty flawless. The show took its time setting up the inevitable Cersei/Jaime conflict and the reintroduction of Kevan and Lancel Lannister without biting off more than it could chew. I also like that it kept the Mountain/Qyburn stuff for another episode, though I’m sure viewers are wondering what is up with Frakenstrong.

It remains to be seen what Brienne is going to do with herself, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see her involved with Sansa in some way if for any other reason than she doesn’t appear to have anything else to do. This was a strong opening episode that did everything it needed to do to set up the season. The changes were welcomed as they all appear to work toward translating the often uneven plot progressions of AFFC/ADWD to television. As a fairly hardcore fan of the books, I didn’t have a problem with any of it, though I am concerned that the show will try to villainize Stannis, who will soon turn his full attention to the Bolton’s, who are the actual bad guys in the North. Well, them and the White Walkers.

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Saturday

11

April 2015

0

COMMENTS

Varys and the Importance of Hedging Your Bets

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This article contains spoilers for all five books. Though the upcoming season will deviate quite a bit from the books, there are some spoilers that could impact your enjoyment of the show if you hate spoilers. Proceed with caution. Also, I’ll be doing Game of Thrones recaps every Monday that focus on the relationship between the books and the shows so please subscribe if you are interested.

 While Varys is known as Game of Thrones’ most notorious schemer, both to the characters and the audience (Littlefinger is more trusted by the former than the latter), he loses a bit of his mystique by the epilogue of A Dance with Dragons, where he reveals his plans to a dying Kevan Lannister. I don’t mean to suggest that he’s not interesting anymore, but seeing his plan out in the open puts him a bit behind other manipulators such as Littlefinger, Olenna Redwyne, Marwyn, Doran Martell, and Mance Rayder in terms of intrigue. We know Varys’ plan. We don’t really know any of theirs.

With the knowledge that Varys wants to put (f)Aegon on the throne along with his decision to off Kevan and Pycelle in order to prevent them for cleaning Cersei’s mess, we can pretty much piece together why he disappeared after A Storm of Swords. Varys needed to create chaos in King’s Landing. Having accomplished that, sticking around only served to put him at unnecessary risk. Cersei would presumably rely on him or blame him for Tywin’s death/Tyrion’s escape, which put him in the position of either having to help Cersei at the cost of his own agenda or risk his life for not doing so.

There is one decision that doesn’t make much sense if Varys’ plan is to put Aegon and not Daenerys’ on the throne. Why send Ser Barristan to Dany if Aegon is the real objective? It seems to serve no purpose other than to make a potential enemy stronger.

Now the whole Barristan to Dany story isn’t 100% clear, but we know that Varys’ planted his dismissal in Cersei’s mind and then Illyrio Mopantis, Varys’ BFF, took care of getting Ser Grandfather, along with Strong Belwas, to Qarth to take Dany back to Pentos, which of course ended up not working at all. If Barristan knows that Varys has any involvement, he’s kept quiet. Chances are, he doesn’t know that Varys was behind all of this.

Why am I sure of that? In A Storm of Swords, Stannis tells Davos, “Ser Barristan once told me that King Aerys’ rot began with Varys” (Davos IV). Pretty damning right? There’s also the fact that Barristan knows that Ser Jorah is spying on Dany for Varys, adding another element of distrust. It’s hard to believe that Barristan, bold as he may be, would get involved in any plan spearheaded by the eunuch. That doesn’t mean that Varys doesn’t see value in having Barristan in the picture.

We know that Barristan came up with the idea to go to Dany on his own. It’s not really clear whether Illyrio found him in Pentos or if it was the other way around, but we do know that Barristan agreed to disguise himself as Arstan Whitebeard, a shady thing for a man of honor to do.

His logic for doing so is also kind of suspicious. Barristan claims that he adopted a pseudonym because Ser Jorah was spying on her for Varys and this sort of adds up. Though Jorah had stopped spying by A Storm of Swords, Ser Barristan wouldn’t have known this and probably would have been mistrustful of double agents, whether it be Varys or Jorah. Jorah was also pretty obnoxious to him for their entire boat ride. It seems as though the real reason could be that Illyrio and Varys viewed Jorah as expendable at that point and that they were better off without him and his weird lust for Dany, though Barristan could have been acting on his own accord. 

Which explains how they got Ser Barristan there, but it doesn’t really explain why. The answer to that is simple. I don’t think Barristan would’ve believed that Aegon was really Aegon, since there would have been no way of explaining that without involving Varys, who he doesn’t trust. The only way to get value out of the old knight was to help him get to a destination he was already determined to go to anyway.

The problem is that sending Barristan to Dany only strengthens her, which could become problematic for Varys when the time came to make moves with Aegon. It would be a shame for Aegon and the Golden Company to take the Iron Throne in the midst of all the chaos, only to have Dany, her dragons, and her Unsullied arrive to take it away. So why would Varys strengthen a potential enemy?

Varys, possibly more than anyone else, knows that plans go wrong all the time and there’s only so much he can do about it. There’s about a hundred different things that could go wrong with having two hotheaded Targaryen children running around Essos over the course of a few years. Angry Dothraki, angry stonemen, angry Qarth warlocks, slavers, and that’s only people problems. There’s ships sinking, pale mare, starvation, and plenty of other natural factors that Varys can’t do anything about.

What he can do is hedge his bets. In a perfect world, Varys has Aegon on the throne. Maybe he’s married to Dany, but one would think that a marriage to one of the great houses would a better idea, which doesn’t leave room for Dany at all. But that’s a perfect world and not one Varys lives in.

We’ve seen Varys forced to alter his plans before. He didn’t want the War of the Five Kings to happen at all and he would’ve had to clear out of King’s Landing completely if Stannis had taken the thrones. Varys has shown his prowess at gathering intelligence and long term planning, but he isn’t infallible.

Dany might be a problem for him eventually or she might be his only shot if something happens to Aegon, which at this point is a pretty realistic possibility. With that in mind, having a renowned knight like Ser Barristan protecting her makes perfect sense. The game of thrones is a gamble and problems will always arise. Having two Targaryens is better than one, for now at least.

 

 

 

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April 2015

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Character Study: Sir Richard Carlisle

Written by , Posted in Blog, Downton Abbey, Pop Culture

It’s not particularly hard to see why season two of Downton Abbey is often considered the best. The World War One plotline was perfectly executed and gave the show a feeling of being more than just a soap opera about rich people’s problems (not that there’s anything wrong with that). It wouldn’t be fair to solely credit the plotline for this delightfulness as the new characters played an important role in the success of the season.

At first glance, it’s easy to write off Sir Richard Carlisle as purely villainous. He certainly ended his season long arc as the bad guy. When you look at the newspaper mogul’s tenure as a whole, you see that there was more to him than just his perpetual rudeness.

Iain Glen was tasked with a difficult job in portraying Sir Richard. Julian Fellowes never tried very hard to convince the viewers that Sir Richard actually stood a shot at taking Mary away from Downton. His proposal to Lady Mary ranks among the least romantic courtships in the history of television and most of the characters expressed doubt that Mary would actually go through with marrying him.

Sir Richard was a necessary evil. It was important to prolong the inevitable marriage of Mary and Matthew. This is how television works. With that in mind, it could’ve been easy to not care about Sir Richard as it was always clear that he wasn’t going to be around for very long.

It seems kind of surprising that Sir Richard proposed in episode two, his first appearance, and managed to hang around for the whole season in a completely loveless engagement (though Sir Richard was absent for episodes three and four). Early on, he proved his use by tracking down Vera Bates and saving Mary from public embarrassment had the first Mrs. Bates revealed her transgressions with the Turkish gentleman.

The difficulty with Sir Richard was that he needed to not be sympathetic to prevent the audience side from siding with him over Mary or from too closely resembling Lavinia Swire, who was conveniently killed, off allowing Matthew to save face with the viewers. Mary herself isn’t particularly likable. Sir Richard needed to be more despicable than her, but not excessively tedious to the point that he wouldn’t be able to hang around for the duration of the season. This balance was no easy task.

When you think about it, Sir Richard’s crimes weren’t really all that bad. He had some shady business with the Swire’s early on and his attempt at spying on Lady Mary was foolish, but neither act should really condemn him as a character. It was pretty clear that Mary did not love him and we weren’t really given an alternative motive for his failed efforts to recruit Anna for some espionage other than a genuine desire to please his fiancé.

It was perfectly reasonable of Sir Richard to be concerned about Mary’s proximity to Matthew. She once loved Matthew but she never loved Sir Richard. If you were in Sir Richard’s shoes, wouldn’t you be a tad concerned about your fiancé hanging around her ex?

Carlisle’s big crimes were that he was rude and that nobody liked him. Other than that, he was perfectly respectable and a great fit for Lady Mary. Sir Richard’s status as a self-made man likely made him respectable to many viewers, which is a testament to Fellowes’ writing. It would have been easy to create a villainous character for Mary to fool around with for a season before finally giving in to her love of Matthew, but the more challenging route paid off.

Instead, Sir Richard was given depth. Iain Glen has a knack for playing sketchy knights (he also plays Ser Jorah on Game of Thrones, another man who lusts after a girl he can’t have) and with Sir Richard, he portrayed a character who had a clear and finite purpose, but was surprisingly entertaining to watch.

I suspect that Fellowes had Sir Richard in mind when he created the character of Miss Sarah Bunting. Like Sir Richard, Miss Bunting was an odious character who clearly wasn’t going to be around for very long, but that didn’t mean that she wasn’t given depth and a couple redeeming qualities. Perhaps they would’ve been perfect for each other.

Sir Richard came and played his part on a show he was never going to be part of for very long. To some, he might be a character that you love to hate or just plain hate without any love at all (like his relationship with Mary). As for me, I liked him. He was perfect for Mary, but that’s not what was best for the show.

Next on Character Study, we’ll look at Ally McBeal’s Ling Woo 

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April 2015

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Authenticity Sets Outlander Apart From Other Historical Dramas

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

Like many, I was skeptical of Outlander when Starz announced it was picking up the series. The comparisons to Game of Thrones were inevitable, though Diana Gabaldon’s time traveling historical romance series bears little in common with George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. Starz could’ve easily tried to make itself another Spartacus, which wouldn’t have been fair to the source material.

We’re in a pretty unique era for fantasy dramas and period pieces with Outlander having its feet in both genres. Probably the only valid comparison between Outlander and Game of Thrones is that they’re both fantasy shows where fantasy isn’t a predominant driving force in the narrative. Time travel sets the plot of Outlander in motion, but it’s hardly a show about time travel just as Game of Thrones is more of a political story than one about dragons, white walkers, and faceless men (also worth noting that Gabaldon and Martin have appeared in two anthologies together, one of which was edited by Martin).

In retrospect, it was foolish to have ever doubted Ronald D. Moore, who managed to take a cheesy Star Wars knock off and remake it into one of the greatest shows of the 21st century with Battlestar Galactica. Moore pays all due respect to Outlander’s source material as he did with BSG, all whilst creating a show that sets itself apart from a very crowded field.

Outlander is a beautiful show to watch. The scenery almost plays like an infomercial for Scotland’s tourism department, filming on locations that really make you feel like you’re in the 1700s. Though only about half of the principal cast are Scottish, the accents could fool just about anyone.

The other thing that really sets Outlander apart is the reservation with which it handles its freedom as a premium cable show. It could have all the sex, gore, and foul language it wants and yet it’s pretty tame by cable standards. Moore knows that while those can be used to draw attention to a show, you don’t have to have nudity in every episode to make a compelling drama.

We’re living in a great time for shows like Outlander. The fact that the show is drawing plenty of hype when Game of Thrones’ own return come just a week after is a testament to its quality. Many of the posters advertising the show have a picture of Jamie along with the phrase “some like it Scot.” Very rarely does an advertisement hit its mark with such accuracy.

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