Ian Thomas Malone

A Connecticut Yogi in King Joffrey's Court

walking dead Archive

Thursday

26

April 2018

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Homeland and The Joys of Habitual Viewing

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

A couple weeks ago my partner was deciding when to head back to her place on a Sunday evening. I said she was welcome to stay as long as she liked (naturally), but that Homeland was coming on and I needed to watch it because my grandfather and I usually discuss the episode the next day. This notion was particularly important because in previous seasons my grandfather would e-mail or text his thoughts before checking if I’d seen it, which had revealed some spoilers (this has not happened this year), which is a reflection of the fact that until relatively recently, that was what people did.

Nowadays, it’s far less certain when people will get to their shows. DVRs have tons of space, and every premium channel has a streaming app for those who don’t have cable. The necessity to physically be in front of the TV when a show comes on just isn’t there anymore. The shows that carry a high risk of social media spoilers, like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Westworld tend to fall into this new category of “event viewing” which has essentially replaced the concept of the water cooler show in the American lexicon. Gone are the days where a program like ER could capture the attention of an entire office for twenty-two weeks out of the year.

Homeland is not a worldwide phenomenon watched by over a hundred million people. It has respectable ratings for a show in its seventh season and remains a perennial awards show presence even though it’s been years since it won a major trophy. It is past its prime, but still entertaining to watch, beyond the joys I get from discussing it with my grandfather.

As someone who writes about TV, I watch a fair amount of shows on a week-to-week basis, but there are very few I feel compelled to consume the same night they air. I almost never watch shows that air during the 10:00 pm hour live, though that’s reflective of the fact that I now live on the West Coast, where the premium channels air their content at the same time as the East Coast. Being able to watch Game of Thrones at six in the evening is the kind of luxury that doesn’t make you want to stay up late to watch it live, especially when you have a TV in your bedroom (though that only a Roku).

The streaming era has dulled the sense of urgency to watch a show when it’s on, just as binge-watching has normalized the concept of a backlogged DVR full of stuff to pick from. The sheer number of quality shows out there is pretty intimidating even for a pop culture fanatic, but I can certainly remember growing up having to pick between a Boy Meets World rerun, a Hey Arnold rerun, or a Johnny Bravo rerun if I wanted to watch something. Having full autonomy over one’s remote does represent an underrated achievement of the modern era. We’ve cured boredom.

There’s still a part of me that takes a simple pleasure in sitting down to watch a show at a certain time, romanticizing the notion of curation. Tony Kornheiser used to close out Pardon the Interruption by asking Michael Wilbon variations of “give the people something to watch tonight.” I almost never listened to his suggestions, but I always liked hearing what he looked forward to watching.

Goodnight Canada

It’s a stupid thing to care about, but as a devoted fan of SiriusXM (particularly 1st Wave), I like the idea of a human being showing me things that I might be interested in, something to look forward to at the end of the day. You get to feel as if you’re part of something bigger, even it’s an hour of dragons or CIA agents foiling terrorist plots. In a world full of seemingly endless options, it’s nice to have a few picked out for you.

 

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Monday

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June 2015

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Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap: Episode 8

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. 

The question I get asked more than an other by casual Game of Thrones fans is “who do you think will win the game of thrones,” a question undoubtedly aided by the show’s title as well as just about every mainstream media feature focused on the series. It’s not a question I tend to answer, not because I don’t know (though I don’t), but because that question is of secondary importance. What really matters is the song of ice and fire.

As soon as the white walkers made their entrance, I knew that they would lead off the recap. It was a fairly intriguing battle sequence, though one with some weird inconsistencies. The white walkers infested the wildings at a fairly rapid pace, perhaps too rapid, and I’m not really sure how that wall stopped them when they appeared to be capable of some sort of flight. Then there was the emphasis on dragonglass when arrows and swords seemed to work just fine. I don’t mind that the ice zombies couldn’t swim, but it seemed odd that people could jump in and out of that water, which must be close 0 Kelvin, without instantly dying (even the giant).

So while I thought the zombies resembled The Walking Dead perhaps a little too much, I liked that well enough. This season hasn’t had a ton of action, especially not from the Night’s Watch. There’s just one problem though, one that I posed on twitter right after the episode.

How are we supposed to care about anything else now that the white walkers are here?

I’ve been comparing the ice zombies to the smoke monster from Lost all morning. Like the smoke monster, the ice zombies have been around since the beginning of the show. They make sporadic appearances and we’re always aware of them, but they never played a predominant role in the show’s narrative. The smoke monster’s entrance into the main narrative as John Locke signaled the beginning of the end of the show. Where does the ice zombies introduction leave us? Perhaps I wasn’t wrong when I said that last week “felt like the premiere for the rest of the series.”

Tyrion meeting Daenerys is an event that some book fans have been anticipating for well over a decade (the true seeds for this were planted after A Storm of Swords, though I guess you could say longer for certain people). Considering how separated all of the many characters are for most of the series, this was huge and yet it trumped by Jon Snow of all people.

There was a fair amount of needless exposition in this episode. The Samwell scene was unnecessary. Dany talking to Tyrion about their fathers was fun, but it raised plenty of questions. Dany probably should have killed Tyrion, a man who killed his father whose brother killed her father, both in direct violation of Westerosi ethics (kinslaying and oathbreaking are just about the two biggest faux-pas). We know why she didn’t but the show didn’t do a great job of convincing us on its own.

Let’s jump back to the beginning (I actually intended for this recap to be linear, but the ice zombies screwed that up) where Tyrion introduces himself to Dany. This is easily the most authentic Tyrion scene since his speech at his trial last year (which was easily his weakest season). He approached the Jorah issue quite well and much more diplomatic than you’d expect from the show.

There was one problem with Tyrion’s speech to Dany about the difficulties she’ll face in rallying the great Houses to her side that bugged me. He said House Tyrell alone wouldn’t be enough. False. House Tyrell has pretty much more troops than everyone else combined. Maybe this it nitpicky, but I don’t understand why the show won’t take them seriously.

Time for the weekly “why does Jorah have greyscale” question. I still don’t know. Here’s a big difference between the way the show and books handle supporting characters. In the books, Jorah exists solely for purposes related to Dany (and much later, Tyrion), whether it’s plot progression or creepy filler. We aren’t expected to invest in Jorah himself apart from the POV characters. Iain Glen is talented and he’s been around since the beginning, so we get Jorah scenes without any of the major players. That’s not a problem, though his greyscale is stupid and I hate it.

Let’s briefly talk about Arya, whose plot is basically irrelevant since it doesn’t involve dragons or ice zombies. This is fairly close to the books, though we’re getting very close to the point where we’re all caught up with her. She’s learning to be a Faceless Man (woman?) and that’s something that will be more fun when we know where it’s going long term.

Sansa, Sansa, Sansa. I actually liked her scenes a lot, even though it seems odd that Reek would tell her that Bran and Rickon are alive. Since she can’t go to Dagobah to be with Bran and she can’t go to Skagos to rescue Rickon from the cannibals, what good is this information? The only thing I can think of is that it makes one of them Lord of Wnterfell and not Ramsey. Which could come in handy if Reek does help Sansa escape to Stannis’ camp.

As for the Battle of Ice, it’s not shaping up to be terribly epic. Ramsey will take his men and probably cause problems with the Mannis. I’m not entirely sure we’ll see resolution with this plotline before the end of the season, which is okay since I had serious doubts as to whether or not Stannis would survive at the beginning of the season. I still have doubts, but they’re not as bad.

Brienne? Where are you? She probably found Lady Stoneheart or she and Podrick went back to eat at Hot Pie’s restaurant, probably with Gendry.

The Cersei stuff is problematic. As I said last week, the charges against her are far more severe than the books. She’s being accused of regicide and yet the stakes don’t seem to reflect that. Well, Sansa is also wanted for regicide and the crown seems to be okay with letting her fool around in Winterfell so maybe killing the king isn’t such a big deal.

No Dorne. I’m perfectly fine with that, though we haven’t gotten to see enough of Doran Martell. Don’t people know that Dr. Bashir needs more screen time?

This was easily the best episode of the season, though it does feel like the beginning of the end. I don’t really see them being able to carry on for more than two seasons now that the ice zombies have officially entered the fray. I guess we will see!

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Sunday

30

November 2014

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Should The Walking Dead Revisit Its Seasonal Episode Count?

Written by , Posted in Blog, Pop Culture

The Walking Dead will air its “season finale” tonight. The quotation marks are there to highlight the somewhat grey area surrounding that phrase. While the show comes back in February, AMC is advertising this as a finale and past seasons have showed us that this show puts more stock in providing a noteworthy midseason break than many other shows that use the same practice.

The rationale behind splitting up a season into two parts is clear. It’s a common way for cable shows to expand their episode counts beyond the standard thirteen. In the case of The Walking Dead, it also allows the show to keep plotlines fresh. Season two was the only one to use a thirteen-episode model. The group’s elongated stay at Herschel’s farm provided plenty of reasons why this isn’t the greatest idea.

Problem is that the show has changed quite a bit since then beyond just the cast changes, though it’s worth noting that only seven of the characters from season two are still alive. This isn’t a show where the characters stay in one place for very long anymore. It’s also followed Lost’s later season model in keeping its ensemble cast separated into groups for large periods of time.

This makes splitting up the seasons into eight episode blocks problematic. There is a ton of stuff going on and its happening to tons of characters. Remember how little screen time T-Dog and Beth got back when everyone was just hanging out on the farm? The cast has grown exponentially since then while the death count has slowed down, leaving the show with the task of figuring out what to do with all its characters.

The simple answer? Expand the episode count to twenty.

This is neither unprecedented nor ridiculous in nature. The SyFy Channel’s old Sci-Fi Friday block of Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, and Battlestar Galactica used this model to great success. None of these shows were quite the phenomenon that The Walking Dead is either. This show is AMC’s cash cow, especially with Breaking Bad over and Mad Men on its way out. There’s nothing really standing in the way of more episodes.

You can make the argument that The Walking Dead is the most popular cable show of all time. Its ratings crush most of what’s on network TV and that doesn’t take in harder to quantify numbers like Twitter traffic and Netflix views. It may not be a contender in many awards shows, but it has what matters most, the interest of the people.

We can use the critical complaints to examine why a switch would be a good idea from a storyline perspective. Splitting up the season the way The Walking Dead does creates the need for an extra finale and primer, which also affects episode progression. The constant rise/fall dynamic makes for great suspense and anticipation, but it also takes precious screen time away from advancing the plot. This problem is exacerbated by extreme character centric episodes that leave out the bulk of the cast.

Which is probably the point. Urgency exists mostly in the eyes of the characters. For the show itself, it’s not really headed in a specific direction. Since the prison, the characters have been roaming, but so has the plot. That’s really all it can do.

If you look at the last three eight episode blocks, you see a pattern. The first episode wraps up the cliffhanger and there’s at least two episodes dedicated to very specific character studies that leave out the majority of the cast. Excluding the finale, that leaves four episodes to get the plot forward before it needs to blow things up again (sometimes literally). For a show with such a large cast, that’s not enough time at all.

Expanding the episode count would make Beth or Governor centric type episodes easier to stomach. Its easy to see why the show likes these types of episodes, but this isn’t the type of show that can afford to toss episodes away on non-essential characters. Adding more episodes lets the show have its cake and eat it too, with plenty of filler.

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