But sometimes before we can usher in the new, the old must be put to rest.
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Oh boy: have Game of Thrones' season finales been stepping it up lately. The finales to seasons four and five were easily the best season finales the show has had thus far, and now here comes "The Winds of Winter", a masterful follow-up to the equally masterful "Battle of the Bastards". D&D take this finale to clean house and set up all important surviving characters for the end game, in which all of the show's remaining story lines are set in Westeros, and the ultimate threat of winter and the White Walkers draws near. When I say "all remaining story lines are set in Westeros", that should be a giveaway that, yes, Daenerys Targaryen is FINALLY heading to Westeros after spending all of seasons one through six building her power and ruling in Essos. Unfortunately for Daario Naharis, he is forced to stay behind and keep the peace in Meereen, and whether or not this is the last time we will see Daario is still to be determined. I have a hard time believing that D&D are just going to do away with this character: one who has been so close to Daenerys for the better part of four full seasons. All the more anticipation for season eight....
So our Dragon Queen is on her way, but what she doesn't know is that she's going to be coming home to an incredibly messy Westeros, particularly a messy King's Landing, thanks to good ol' Cersei. Cersei has always been one of the show's main villains, but this story line involving the High Sparrow and the Faith Militant has turned her into something of an antihero. She's never tried to oppress these religious fanatics because she disagrees with their beliefs; she simply wants to avoid having her son and others close to her be brainwashed by these people, knowing it would knock her from her position of power. Unfortunately, she fails to prevent Tommen from falling under the High Sparrow's influence, but only a fool would assume that Cersei doesn't have another plan up her sleeve. In a maneuver that is like something Michael Corleone would do in The Godfather trilogy, Cersei and Qyburn dispatch of all their enemies at once: Qyburn has his "birds" (we finally learn that Varys' birds were children on the streets) kill Pycelle, while Cersei uses wildfire to blow up the Sept of Baelor and kill the High Sparrow, Margaery, and all the other poor souls that gathered for Cersei's trial. It's kind of amazing how the power can shift so quickly: one moment, Cersei looked like she was at her weakest and like everyone was against her, and the next, she is the Queen of the Seven Kingdoms. Her desire for power has grown stronger and stronger over the years, and no matter how much we hate her, I think we still have to give her props for being able to wipe out all of her King's Landing enemies just like that. If someone is to ever knock her from power, they're going to have to do it with the force of 1000 armies. It's still far from a perfect day for her though, as Tommen commits suicide open learning of Margaery's death, and Jaime comes home to see Cersei's coronation, giving her a concerned look from afar.
So Cersei has emerged triumphant over the High Sparrow and his followers. "The Winds of Winter" is also a triumphant episode for the Starks, who right now look to be making something of a comeback after experiencing nothing but death and heartache ever since the series began. D&D give fans a moment they've been waiting for ever since "The Rains of Castamere": the death of Walder Frey. Arya is back in Westeros, and she gives us our first taste of her new ability to wear the faces of others, taking on the face of one of Walder's female servants. This perplexes me a little: despite rejecting the title of "No One", how is Arya still able to wear the faces of others? The only time we ever saw her wear someone else's face was when she stole one from Jaqen, and that resulted in her going blind. I'm okay without a full-blown explanation; I would just be happier with a few more details on how she was able to leave Braavos with this skill in hand. Anyway, Arya slits Walder's throat and kills him in the exact same fashion her mother was killed. Taking the time to ensure ALL of your enemies are dead is something a lot of characters don't seem to do in Game of Thrones. Then again, did Walder Frey ever know that Catelyn Stark had a daughter who was on the run? Whatever, the important thing is that Walder is dead, and justice for The Red Wedding is finally done.
Arya's not the only Stark who has come back home: Bran is on his way home too, after his adventures beyond the Wall. D&D thankfully don't send us into the in-between seasons break without giving us a little more information about one of the biggest mysteries that they showed us briefly earlier in the season: what did the young Ned Stark go up and find in the Tower of Joy? We find out that Ned goes up to find his dying sister Lyanna (Aisling Franciosi), soaked in blood from childbirth. D&D give us the ultimate tease: Lyanna whispers into Ned's ear the name of her newly born son, except that her words are muted out after we hear her say, "His name is." It's actually better story telling that D&D hold off revealing what Lyanna says until the end of season seven, because the name of her son is arguably the greatest secret in all of Westeros, and its reveal would upset the entire power structure as we know it. The transition from the end of Bran's vision to a head shot of Jon in Winterfell should be all we need to deduce that Lyanna Stark's son is Jon Snow.
No, the name "Jon Snow" cannot upset the entire power structure of Westeros as we know it, but it's more than enough to help Jon earn the title of the new King in the North. It's quite fitting that Jon, after all his experiences with the Night's Watch, would one day find himself back home in Winterfell, taking on the title once held by Ned Stark. Jon has always tried to live out the ideals of honor and loyalty he had been taught his whole life by Ned, and despite all the struggles and setbacks, Jon has never given up on those ideals, and he will continue to honor Ned Stark's legacy and help that legacy live on by instilling these ideals into his reign in the North. The crowning of Jon Snow as King in the North should also speak volumes about how the other Houses in the North are willing to put aside the questionable nature of a bastard son ruling as King, knowing that another war much greater than anything they could ever imagine is drawing near. The last thing the North should care about right now is the fact that a bastard son is their new King; the living are all the same to the Night King and the Army of the Dead, so the last thing the living should do is be divided among themselves.
Funny I say that, because there is definitely some beef between some of the characters in the North right now, none greater than the hatred that Davos feels towards Melisandre upon learning that she was responsible for Shireen's death. It's as if Shireen's deafh and Stannis' defeat completely broke Melisandre, and now instead of the almighty red priestess that everyone feared, she is now a satanic witch that everyone wants dead. Just when it seemed like Jon's resurrection was going to help Melisandre bounce back (and it has, in some capacity), she gets exiled from the North by him. Pretty sad that no one ever gave her a hearty "you're welcome", because much of what has happened this season would not have been possible without Jon coming back from the dead. It's a heart-wrenching scene overall, all the more effective for not having any music playing and for taking place in a quiet chamber where everyone's voices are fairly echo-ey. Melisandre is finally confronted about one of the most crushing deaths to ever happen in Game of Thrones, and o course it would happen now, at the end of one of the most feel-good, triumphant two episode stretches that the show has had in a long time. It's not goodbye forever for Melisandre, but her exile does complicate matters further as the Long Night draws closer.
The very first episode of Game of Thrones was the first of many warnings about how winter is coming. Just about everyone has said "winter is coming" at some point from then up until now, and no matter how repetitive or annoying that it was to hear, nobody was lying. Winter was coming, and now, it's finally here. The warm days of summer have ended, and this winter season will bring more than just cold and snow: it will bring the greatest war the country of Westeros has ever seen. "The Winds of Winter" masterfully puts Game of Thrones into place for its final run, delivering all sorts of exciting and memorable moments that continue the recent trend of masterpiece season finales, after "The Children" and "Mother's Mercy" from seasons four and five, respectively. A whole host of characters like the High Sparrow, Margaery, and Walder Frey get the axe, and the various positions of power such as ruler of The Seven Kingdoms and King in the North are now in the hands of the likes of Cersei Lannister and Jon Snow, two characters that have been around since day uno. Combine all this with Daenerys Targaryen finally sailing for Westeros, and you've got yourself immense excitement for how the rest of the series will play out, now that all of our main characters are starting to come together. We are certainly entering a different phase of Game of Thrones unlike any we've experienced before. We've heard the hype. We've heard about winter coming. We've heard about characters proclaiming how they plan to rule. The time for talk is over. All that remains on the game board are the biggest, most powerful pieces, and when these pieces clash, the action will be more fiery and intense than anything we've ever seen before. Hold on to your hats: they don't call it The Great Game for nothing.
Who owns the north?
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
"Battle of the Bastards" is considered to be one of Game of Thrones' all-time greatest episodes, ranking right up there with the likes of "Baelor", Blackwater", "The Rains of Castamere", and "Hardhome". The episode deserves such high acclaim, featuring wall-to-wall action unlike anything you'll find in any standard action-adventure movie or television series, Even better: it's wall-to-wall action that season six has been building up to for quite some time now, and after several scenes of characters planning, contemplating, and arguing, the swords are raised, horses come running from both directions, and hundreds die in a blood-soaked battle. Seeing how successful the final sequence was in "Hardhome", only a fool would not bring Miguel Sapochnik back to direct these action scenes.
As the title indicates, the majority of the episode is dedicated to the battle for Winterfell between Jon and Ramsay. The funny thing is, Jon and Ramsay did not spend one moment of screen time together before this episode, so it's good that we are able to get at least one conversation between the two before the fighting actually gets underway. Jon and Ramsay are on polar opposites when it comes to how honorable and heroic their characters are, and yet, they occupy the exact same positions: they are bastard children who rose to power and are now leading their forces in a fight to the death. Jon and Ramsay have walked almost the exact same paths of life, the only difference being that Jon's path led him to righteousness and fighting for what's good, while Ramsay's path made him embrace evil and develop a morbid pleasure for causing others harm. You could say that Ramsay has always been something of Jon's evil twin, and that it was destined for the two to one day clash.
And boy, what a clash it is. The battle makes you almost forget that this episode starts off with Daenerys reuniting with her dragons, taking them to the skies to burn the slave masters' ships. Daenerys has always been hesitant to unleash her dragons' full power; she could burn an entire city to the ground in a few short hours if she were to command her dragons to attack and burn everything in sight. After six full seasons, we finally get a problem that can only be resolved by the dragons, and what a glorious spectacle it is to watch them make breakfast out of the hapless slave masters. The three dragons flying around and breathing fire is a visual I know everyone anticipated (and desired) ever since the dragons were born back in "Fire and Blood". Finally, after having to wait for the dragons to fully grow and mature, we finally get our first taste of what this almighty trio can do. As the hour of Daenerys' return trip to Westeros draws near, rest assured the dragons will be back in action again very soon.
So then, back to the battle for Winterfell. I actually took a strong liking to the conversation-turned-argument that Jon and Sansa have after Jon makes his final battle plans. Sansa desperately tries to convince Jon that Ramsay will pull some kind of trick, and that Jon can't straight up ignore how outnumbered they are. The dialogue between the two is miraculous, especially from Sansa, as she calls out Jon for not trying to consult her help while preparing for the battle. Jon counters with the fact that he traveled beyond the Wall and seen things much worse than Ramsay Bolton, and that they did the best they could with recruiting other Houses, and the army they have is what they're going to get. It's a strange mix of emotions for Jon going into the battle: confident, yet slightly hopeless.
Ramsay gets one last cruel act in before the fight begins: killing Rickon Stark with an arrow before he can reach Jon. I'm not going to get into that whole, "Why didn't Rickon run in a zig-zag??" nonsense. Thinking too much into stuff like that kind of ruins the experience, so let's just move on. The ensuing action is nothing short of fierce: bodies and horses fly everywhere as bodies pile up by the hundreds. Miguel Sapochnik is fully aware that a long stretch of nothing but hacking and slashing would grow tiresome, and that's why he keeps things spicy by frequently changing up the point of view, so that we don't have to always see the battle through Jon's eyes.
The early parts of the battle have a series of shots that are at an almost perfectly even 180 degrees, so as to make it clear that neither side has the advantage early on. Sapochnik then alternates to lengthy shots of Jon running through the battlefield, slaying several Bolton soldiers and nearly getting run over by a couple charging horses. I especially love the little bit of shakiness that these shots have, as if Jon went into some kind of psychedelic daze, watching men getting slaughtered left and right. He did say before that he was tired of all the fighting. The widespread fighting soon transitions into the surviving members of Jon's army getting encircled by Bolton men, resulting in Jon nearly getting crushed to death. Here we get what is considered to be Jon's "rebirthing" scene, which many have compared to the scene at the end of "Mhysa" when Daenerys if lifted up by all the newly freed slaves. I think "rebirthing" is a bit much, because all it is is Jon finding the strength to rise up out of the crowd of bodies around him and breath. He doesn't all of a sudden become a demigod and start slashing away at all the remaining Bolton men. No, in fact, Jon ends up not being the hero of the battle, which is part of what makes this episode all the better. It turns out Sansa is the hero of this battle: arriving with Petyr Baelish and the Knights of the Vale, who easily break through the remaining Bolton army, forcing Ramsay to retreat to Winterfell. The look on Ramsay's face when he sees Sansa and the charging Knights of the Vale is the first time that he's ever looked genuinely shocked, and it's all the more juicy because Ramsay knows he's in deep trouble.
In what is easily one of the most satisfying moments of television of the 21st century thus far, Jon and his army breach the Winterfell gates, and Jon punches the living daylights out of Ramsay. You have no idea how good it felt the very first time I saw this episode a few years back, finally getting to see Ramsay get what he deserves. After several seasons of watching him torture and kill innocent people, Ramsay is finally backed into a corner where he has no escape. While I think no one would have minded Jon beating Ramsay to death, it is a bit more satisfying to watch the beaten and bloodied Ramsay get killed by his own starving hounds, while the triumphant Sansa watches without so much as a grimace. The good guys almost never win in Game of Thrones, but for the first time in a long time, House Stark reigns in Winterfell.
Daenerys and her dragons burning the slave master's ships is a delicious appetizer before the main entree: the battle for Winterfell that makes "Battle of the Bastards" into the masterpiece of an episode that it is. Miguel Sapochnik's flawless direction and D&D's always sharp screenwriting are the engines that make the battle's incredible stunt work and impressive fight choreography flourish. The cherry on top is that Jon is not the invincible hero who leads his outnumbered army to victory. The hero is the Stark girl who has experienced more grief and abuse than anyone will ever know, and we couldn't be more proud of her. Ramsay Bolton finally gets his, and we are finally free of his twisted, maniacal ways (sad to see Iwan Rheon go. I think the man has done more than enough to prove himself to be a tremendous actor). The North will always remember this battle, just like us.
Shazam! is directed by David F. Sanberg and stars Zachary Levi, Mark Strong, Asher Angel, Jack Dylan Grazer, and Djimon Hounsou. It is the first live-action film o the Shazam/Captain Marvel character since the 1941 serial The Adventures of Captain Marvel.
DC learned the hard way that brooding, humorless superhero movies were not the way to go with their extended cinematic universe. Man of Steel didn't exactly blow everyone away, Batman v Superman was nowhere near the box office success that DC envisioned it would be, and Suicide Squad and Justice League were....well, problematic. As Aquaman showed us, DC had finally wised up and shifted gears, abandoning gloomy superheroes and replacing them with fun and energetic ones. This new attitude of fun and ebullience is on full display in Shazam!: a lightning storm of entertaining superhero action that never loses sight of its human-based heart.
My biggest gripe with many of the MCU films has been their over-reliance on humor: jokes get dragged out as far as they can go, and at times, the movie seems to stop altogether just so that a character can try to generate a few laughs. Unless I was missing something altogether with some of the earlier MCU films, I have found myself complaining less and less about this humor issue of mine, and the reason I bring it up is because I had just the slightest worry that Shazam! would suffer from a similar problem. Now, why in the world would I worry about how much humor was going be in Shazam!? The trailers made it pretty clear that this movie would have a light tone and be filled to the brim with jokes, one-liners, etc., so of course I should expect this movie to be extremely goofy and not-at-all self serious. I don't know; I think it's just that I didn't want a problem I felt was mostly done away with to come back and rear its ugly-looking head. That former MCU issue did not (thankfully) show up and diminish my experience of seeing Shazam!, and if you thought Aquaman was pure goofball fun, brother, you ain't seen nothing yet.
So Shazam! tells the story of 14-year-old orphan Billy Batson (Angel), who, after getting into some trouble with local Philadelphia police, is set up to move in with Vazquez foster family. The family consists of five other foster children, one of which is the disabled superhero fanboy Freddy Freeman (Glazer). Billy and Freddy quickly become friends, and Billy goes out of his way to save Freddy from the wrath of two school bullies. The bullies chase Billy into a subway station, and while riding the subway car, Billy is transported to a different realm known as The Rock of Eternity. Billy meets the ancient wizard known as Shazam, who explains to Billy that he has spent years searching for a champion that is pure of heart and capable of taking on the wizard's powers. The wizard transforms Billy into an adult superhero (Levi), with godlike powers such as flight, super strength, and the ability to shoot lightning from his fingers. Billy can transform into the adult superhero and back by saying the word Shazam.
After revealing his newly acquired adult form to Freddy, the two work together to uncover all of Billy's powers. It turns out though, that Billy is not the only one with superhero-like powers. The evil inventor, Dr. Thaddeus Sivana (Strong), uncovers the secret to accessing The Rock of Eternity, and he allies himself with a team of supernatural beings known as The Seven Deadly Sins. Sivana had met the Shazam wizard at a young age, but was not chosen as champion when he was tempted by the imprisoned Seven Deadly Sins. Now Sivana seeks to take Shazam's powers for himself, and when the adult Billy gets a taste of Sivana's power, Billy must learn that with this great power comes great responsibility.
- Zachary Levi was the perfect casting choice for the Shazam superhero, bringing a magnificent blend of lovable man-child antics and convincing action chops. Levi treats his performance as if the Shazam superhero was an adult who grew up from being a spoiled child and never learned how to act accountable. He gets angry and yells whenever Freddy calls him out for his obnoxious behavior, and he acts like a total coward when real world trouble (Sivana) comes chasing after him. The great thing is watching Billy/Shazam learn how to match an adult mentality with his adult body: a lot like the ideas of growing up that can be found in Big. What helps Shazam! not seem like a carbon copy of Big is that Billy doesn't ever long to return to the superhero-free life he once had; Billy comes to see his newfound abilities as a gift he can use to stop running and hiding and to start living and doing good. Whenever Shazam needs to act like a child, and whenever Shazam needs to act like an adult, Zachary Levi makes the best of both worlds.
- I suppose the better high point would be the casting, because Mark Strong looks as much the part of Thaddeus Sivana as any actor I've seen playing a recent supervillain. Strong looks scary with his glowing eye, he sounds scary, and it's actually pretty damn cool to watch him fly around and show off powers that are similar to that of Shazam's. Whoever showed Strong (and/or his stunt double) how to throw a punch did a fantastic job, because nearly every one of Sivana's hits on Shazam look like they really hurt. The movie also spends a decent amount of time on Sivana's backstory, fleshing out his obsession for wanting to find The Rock of Eternity and his motivation for aligning with The Seven Deadly Sins and trying to acquire Shazam's powers. There's nothing about Sivana that's like Jesse Eisenberg's cartoony Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman nor like the somewhat over-the-top Ares in Wonder Woman. Sivana is as intimidating and intriguing as they come for a PG-13 superhero movie villain, and Mark Strong deserves high praise for the way his looks and his acting are able to elevate the character.
- I can't pick out one specific thing about Shazam! that I can say I found to be weak or underwhelming, but I will say that the movie does suffer from one minor annoyance that likse to creep up and strike at the most inopportune of times. It turns out the ghost of Zack Snyder is still haunting the DCEU: several of Shazam!'s fight scenes insist on doing the whole slow-mo, speed up trick that should have remained dead and buried with 300. It gets old pretty damn quick and at times borders on unnecessary. Other than that, I'm hard-pressed to think up anything else about Shazam! that really irked me in any way.
After the lukewarm Man of Steel, the disappointing box office returns of Batman v Superman, and the less-than-satisfactory Suicide Squad, it wasn't looking too good for the DCEU. That's when Wonder Woman and Aquaman came to the rescue with critical and commercial success, bringing us hope that the future was looking bright for the DCEU. Now with the playful and wonderfully entertaining Shazam!, DC is looking like they're stirring up a lightning storm of endless possibilities: one of which includes challenging the MCU for the title of best extended superhero universe. Gone are the days of brooding and depressing superheroes with uninspired stories. The DCEU is finally allowing its heroes to be fun and energetic, and if Aquaman wasn't zany enough, then Shazam! will come at you with an extra truck load of wacky, superhero entertainment. Bolstered by Zachary Levi and Mark Strong's performances, Shazam! is what it's all about when it comes to superheroes that just want to be fun and have a good time. I'll be glad to see the day if and when Shazam meets Batman and Superman. Maybe some of that fun-loving charm of his can rub off on them.
Recommend? Yes. The movie is a blast and should be a great time if you see it in theaters.
A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell and I'm going home.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Game of Thrones' sixth season concludes with a three episode stretch in which all the action the earlier episodes hyped us up for finally comes to fruition. While we'll have to wait until episode nine to watch the battle for Winterfell and Daenerys finally put the slave masters in their place, "No One" gives us some closure on a few ongoing story lines, all the while keeping up the momentum for the resolutions still to come. It's not an out-of-this-world episode: there is this nagging feeling that D&D don't give us as much satisfaction as we hoped for, especially in the way it wraps up Arya's time with the Faceless Men. Nonetheless, there are plenty of memorable moments to speak of.
The Clegane brothers both get some action in this episode, as the Hound tracks down and kills some of the Brotherhood Without Banners men, and the Mountain literally rips off the head of one of the Faith Militant. How ironic that the Hound, once captured and nearly killed by Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood, now joins up to fight alongside them. Ever since he deserted the Kingsguard and the Crown back in season two, the Hound has been on the road with nowhere to call home and no one to ally himself with. You could take it a step farther and say the Hound has basically been wandering about without any clear idea of what he wants to do with the rest of his life. As Beric points out, the Hound is a born fighter, and the neat thing about the conversation between Beric and the Hound is that Beric is basically giving the Hound some semblance of direction: take his fighting prowess and use it to help in the battle against the White Walkers. Whereas before Beric was trying to kill the Hound, he's now trying to save him. Knowing he has pretty much nowhere else to go, it's no surprise that the Hound takes up Beric's offer. This scene is a lot more than just reintroducing Beric and the Brotherhood: this is also the Hound re-establishing a sense of purpose in his life.
Going to fight the White Walkers with the Brotherhood is not the only thing the Hound will have on his mind: he certainly still wants to get even with his brother, who is basically now a silent, zombified Hulk. I am very curious as to what D&D decide to with the Mountain the rest of the way. He's never been one of the series' main characters, but after the transformation that Qyburn gave him, he's pretty much the strongest living man in all the Seven Kingdoms, and that most likely means there will be some epic fight involving him sometime down the road. Too bad that Cersei won't get to use the Mountain again in a trial by combat, as Tommen outlaws the practice, meaning Cersei will have to find a different way to escape judgment from the High Sparrow. Lucky for her, Qyburn seems to have made a significant discovery with the "rumor" that he has been investigating. Someone's not getting out of this mess unscathed.
Actually, there is one mess that almost everyone gets out of unscathed: the Tully-Lannister struggle for the Riverrun castle. I'm actually glad that D&D decided not to resolve this conflict by just having Jaime yell for the Lannister army to siege the castle. If they did, then all that thinking and planning that Jaime was trying to accomplish before would be all for naught, as if D&D had decided to say, "Screw it. Let's just end it by having a big ol' battle. No one's going to be upset with that." The best thing this scene gives us is a touching reunion between Jaime and Brienne. Even though the two are technically on opposing sides, they know and respect each other well enough that they're willing to put their differences aside and always do what they know is right. In this case, it's to get the Blackfish and the Tully soldiers out of the Riverrun castle without any unnecessary bloodshed. It's not a completely flawless sequence of events: the conversation between Jaime and Edmure Tully is kind of dull, as Jaime goes on rambling a little too long about how he plans to get back to Cersei. I also kind of wished that Brienne and Podrick got something more out of this scene other than a reunion with Jaime. Brienne was supposed to come and get an army for Sansa, and she leaves empty-handed? What about all those Tully soldiers that surrendered? It's a slightly disappointing conclusion to this two-part conflict, especially since all that ends up happening is the Blackfish, a character we haven't seen since "The Rains of Castamere", gets killed. Jaime came, Brienne came, they did their business, and that was that.
Oh well. At least Daenerys can get down to business, as she finally makes her return to Meereen. Well, actually, that's all we get: her showing back up in the Meereen pyramid as the slave masters are launching their attack. Guess we'll see what she's up to next episode.
Since the episode name alludes to the title that Arya had been chasing for a while, it's no surprise that "No One" culminates with the final chapter of Arya's time in Braavos with the Faceless Men. I guess her stomach/ab injuries weren't as bad as they first looked, as she's able to run through the streets, being chased by the Waif, with little to no difficulty. It's a fun little chase scene: the Waif pursues Arya like an obsessed Terminator cyborg, and poor Arya can't find any means to get away. However, Arya leads the Waif into a cleverly designed trap: she hides out in an enclosed room and then cuts a candle, using her blind training to gain the upper hand and kill the Waif. Considering that the Waif has been one of the most despicable characters ever since she was introduced, the morbid side of me was begging for at least a second or two of her screaming in agony, but unfortunately, that's not what we get. All we end up getting is Jaqen looking up in the Hall of Faces to find the Waif's blood-soaked face. Jaqen offers the title of No One to Arya, but she has made up her mind: she is not no one. She was never meant to be no one. She is a member of House Stark, and after killing Meryn Trant and watching the play involving Lady Crane, she has finally realized that she still has something to chase: the people on her kill list and the surviving members of her family.
This is easily one of the most pivotal moments of Arya's character arc. After being on the road and being pretty much alone ever since the end of season one, Arya has come to embrace a love for fighting and killing. In the process, she had almost completely forgotten about the happy family she was once a part of, how lovely her home of Winterfell was, and how her father was helping her become the person she wanted to be, until he was executed. It would have been pretty crushing had Arya gone on to embrace a full loss of identity and truly become "No One". Nothing that happened to her family was ever her fault, and no matter how much she hated Sansa and doing all the "girly" things her family forced her to do, she still enjoyed a happy life where people took care of her and wanted what was best for her. What's meaningful about the way Arya comes to finally accept her real identity as a Stark is that she never paid full attention to all the good things she had in her life. Being reminded of all the cruel things that had happened to her family, and having Meryn Trant light a fire in her belly that had seemingly been put out for good was essentially Arya being reawakened. She's now done with running, being on the road, and being all alone. She's ready to reunite with whatever family she has left and get back to the kind of life she once had.
So Arya is finally heading back to Westeros, and she's coming back with the skills of a cold-blooded assassin. "No One" brings effective closure to Arya's long-running Braavos story line, as well as closure to the brief stint in Riverrun between the Tullys and the Lannisters. The execution is a bit rocky, but add to it some bloody action involving the Clegane brothers and the return of Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners, and you've got yourself a solid season six episode that puts everything into place for the final two episode stretch. It does leave you wanting a bit more, but wanting more is a typical mindset to have when watching Game of Thrones. More is certainly on the way.
As long as I'm standing, the war is not over.
Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Way back in season two, Game of Thrones made a crucial mistake in the episode "Blackwater", a mistake that gave away a massive spoiler: Charles Dance's name appears in the opening credits, letting it be known that Tywin Lannister would show up and affect the pivotal battle between Stannis Baratheon and the Lannister army. Now, I think HBO and Game of Thrones had some sort of contractual obligation that they had to uphold, meaning they could not just take one of the actors' names out of the opening credits. I doubt Charles Dance would agree to do the episode for free, even if he appears for all of a minute or two. I bring this up because such a mistake is not made again when, had it not been for a cold opening, the credits would have spoiled the return of a much beloved character: The Hound! He's as cynical and vulgar as he always was, and you know what that means: more hilarious insults! I think it was always reasonable to assume The Hound never died. Game of Thrones' has a recurring habit of making characters disappear for a long stretch, and then have them show up again in a surprising fashion. I guess that's what happens when you've got so many characters, it is impossible to juggle them all with two hands.
So yeah, it turns out The Hound was rescued by a warrior-turned-septon named Ray (Ian McShane), and now the two live together along with a small group of villagers. Of course, we know the drill: something will come along to disrupt the peace, and sure enough, some members of the Brotherhood Without Banners show up to try and extort the villagers. The Hound's cynicism ends up making him the only survivor when the Brotherhood returns and slaughters all the villagers. The Hound is not just a big brute who knows how to fight and kill; one reason he's been able to last as long as he's had is because he understands how unfair the world of Westeros is, that it is a dog eat dog world where only the strong will survive. He's not cruel for the simple sake of being cruel. The Hound likes to be selfish because he knows it's necessary to look out for oneself if he plans on living long-term. This was at the heart of several conversations he had before with Arya, and this is part of what he tries to tell Ray after the Brotherhood shows up. If the Hound is ever going to die, I imagine whoever or whatever kills him will have a hard time of doing it.
So The Hound's return is definitely the big takeaway from "The Broken Man", but there's a lot else happening, and like in "Blood of My Blood", hardly any of it comes off as set-up for season six's penultimate episode. The only part that is pure set-up is Jon, Sansa, and Davos Seaworth searching for more allies to help retake Winterfell. We do get an introduction to Lyanna Mormont (Bella Ramsey): the fierce young girl in charge of Bear Island. I think she instantly became everyone's new favorite character, as she talks with Jon, Sansa, and Davos like she could snap off somebody's head at a moment's notice. This is also another example of Davos proving himself to be one of Game of Thrones' greatest unsung heroes, explaining the threat of the White Walkers to Lyanna and convincing her to send her fighting men to help in the upcoming battle for Winterfell. Davos has always been one of the greatest talkers in all of Game of Thrones, and he would make for an extremely talented politician, because he seems to have a knack for convincing people to support a certain cause. If there was any sort of spinoff series in which Davos went on to live as a politician, I would be all for it.
Of course, Davos is not the only one who has proven capable of swaying someone to support a certain cause. The High Sparrow has essentially taken over King's Landing, now that he has put both Tommen and Margaery under his influence. Actually, Margaery seems to be putting on an act, as she slips a secret piece of paper to her grandmother with a drawing of House Tyrell's sigil. The nature of this scene is a bit perplexing. Knowing what is to come of Margaery in the season six finale, this scene is led us to believe that Margaery has some sort of secret agenda in mind that will help her and Loras break free of the High Sparrow's control. How could she do that though if Tommen is faithful to the High Sparrow and his teachings? I suppose the other way to think about is that Margaery is proving to Olenna that she has not completely lost herself to her newfound faith, and Olenna can leave King's Landing knowing a part of her granddaughter is still in her. I know Cersei would love to get a similar kind of message from Tommen.
So while tensions continue to rise in King's Landing, Jaime and the Lannister army enter into an already-tension filled situation, as the incompetent Freys try to convince Edmure Tully to surrender the Riverrun castle. Jaime steps in and is able to have a conversation with the Blackfish, but it ends up going nowhere. What I love the most about this scenario, which will continue into the next episode, is that it's a shining moment for Jaime, a moment for him to prove the fresh sense of honor and duty that he acquired after losing his right hand. If this was the Jaime Lannister from seasons one and two, he likely would have ordered a siege of the castle without hesitation. Despite the fact that Edmure Tully is a clear enemy of his, Jaime knows he can find a way to resolve the situation without calling for senseless violence or committing some kind of heinous act that would bring dishonor to his House. It likely means we won't get any of thrilling action sequence between the Tullys and the Lannisters, but hey, not everything needs to be decided by a large-scale battle.
Meanwhile, Arya survives a violent encounter with the Waif, and whatever sort of core/ab workouts that Arya has been doing, please sign me up for them. I am baffled about how to properly discuss this scene. How long can a person survive multiple stab wounds to the abdominal area, especially when the stabbing knife gets twisted? I am no expert in the kind of stab wounds a person can survive, and had Arya been been cut just once or twice, I don't think anyone would ever make too much of a fuss of this scene. But multiple stabs, plus a knife twist: this just reeks of plot armor. If Arya is going to survive such an attack from the Waif, could it be something a little more....plausible?
Overall though, "The Broken Man" transcends being just filler material until the action heats up big time in the final three episodes of season six. Jaime's arrival in Riverrun, the growing tension in King's Landing, and the return of Sandor "The Hound" Clegane make for a pretty well-rounded Game of Thrones hour, even when we know bigger and better things are right around the corner. It's amazing how the scene with Arya, which lasts all but a few minutes, can give us such a vivid display of plot armor and not feel the least bit guilty about it. I know it wouldn't do any good to just randomly kill her now, but we should never violate logic so much that it defies simple common sense. Seriously, what has Arya done to keep her core in such tip-top shape that it can survive multiple stab wounds? If only her brother and her parents followed the same routine.
I'm angry that horrible people can treat good people that way and get away with it.
Directed by: Jack Bender
Written by: Bryan Cogman
After a recently heavy dosage of action, heartbreak, and power play, Game of Thrones kicks off the second half of season six with the kind of episode we haven't seen in a while: a plot progression episode. It's pretty clear at this point what lies ahead in regards to future battles and other major conflicts: An imminent showdown between Jon's army and the Boltons,, while Cersei is soon to face her official trial at the hands of the High Sparrow. I suppose that means that "Blood of my Blood", as well as the next episode, "The Broken Man" can be reasonably categorized as filler episodes, but there's just way too damn much going on so as to seem like season six is just biding its time until it can get to that eventual battle for Winterfell and the trial in King's Landing. As for "Blood of my Blood", some old faces make a return, while some new ones join the game. Meanwhile, the power struggle in King's Landing takes a turn for the worst, and it all adds up to a pretty damn good hour of Game of Thrones.
There's not really any one story line that dwarfs the rest in "Blood of my Blood". Usually the story line that is shown last is meant to be the one D&D want us to remember the most, especially if the episode ends with some heartbreaking death or a moment in which a character experiences a great moment of triumph. The latter is what Bryan Cogman is going for in the final scene of "Blood of my Blood", as Daenerys, riding on Drogon, asks the Dothraki to cross the Narrow Sea and help her take back the Seven Kingdoms. It's a nice scene, sure, but it does feel a bit repetitive of the jubilant ending to "Book of the Stranger", in which it was made clear the Dothraki saw Daenerys as their new leader. I would think the Dothraki riders would follow Daenerys across the Narrow Sea anyway, but hey, at least we get to see a cool shot of Daenerys flying on Drogon's back. Nothing wins people over like someone yelling on the back of a giant fire-breathing dragon.
So in all honesty, nothing really happens with Daenerys' story line this time around, although quite the opposite for Arya over in Braavos: after witnessing more of the play, Arya finds herself unable to go ahead with killing Lady Crane, and this means the end of her time trying to serve Jaqen and the Many-Faced God. Early in season five when Arya first arrived in Braavos, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that Arya would give up her past life of Arya Stark and embrace a new life as "No One". She had been on the run for who knows how long, and she had basically nowhere to call home, ever since she first left Winterfell. Watching the play, however, reminded her of not only her family, but that there are still evil people out in the world that she still wants to do away with, and that is what will make her truly happy. Meryn Trant's arrival in Braavos planted the seed for Arya to finally realize she is not meant to take on the identity of "No One"; she is to finally accept that she is Arya Stark: the black sheep of the Stark family who enjoys sword-fighting, killing, and getting her hands dirty. This just about concludes the Arya-Faceless Men story line. All that remains is for Arya to do away with the Waif and Jaqen.
That leaves another violent encounter to get excited about, which we'll get to see in "No One". As for other violent encounters, Meera and Bran are rescued from wights by the long presumed-dead Benjen Stark, and you probably could have guessed that he would be the one to show up and play Mr. Hero. Much like Gendry's rowing, Benjen Stark has been one of Game of Thrones' forgotten mysteries, with Jon and others from the Night's Watch presuming him to be dead. Benjen's return is actually not what we should take away from this scene. As the wights are chasing Meera and Bran through the woods, Bran has visions of both the past and, presumably, the future. He sees past events like Jaime killing the Mad King Aerys Targaryen, his fall from the tower in Winterfell, the Night King at Hardhome, and the deaths of his father, mother, and brother. The sharp eye, however, may notice two visions that seem like D&D doing some incredibly sneaky foreshadowing: wildfire burning through a chamber, and the shadow of a dragon flying over King's Landing. The wildfire is a vision that season six will later confirm, but the dragon shadow still remains a bit of a mystery. Spoiler from season seven: Daenerys Targaryen does visit King's Landing in the season seven finale, but there's never a shot of her flying over the city on Drogon's back. All signs point to this dragon vision potentially being something that will happen in season eight. The excitement intensifies.
Meanwhile, someone who is not excited is Sam's father, Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner): dismayed to see that the Night's Watch was unable to change Sam from a fat and slow wimp into a fierce, sword-wielding warrior. Just when you think Game of Thrones can't get enough material out of all its inner family struggles, Bryan Cogman throws at us one of the harshest kind of treatments a father can have for one of his children. Never mind that Randyll basically disowned Sam before Sam left for the Night's Watch; upon learning that Gilly is a wildling, Randyll goes as far as to prevent Sam from stepping foot in Horn HIll ever again. James Faulkner nails it when it comes to giving us a bad first impression of Randyll: speaking his lines in a low, growly voice that greatly implies a man who's about to snap. I think the Tarly family got the names backwards: Randyll should have been Dickon, and Dickon should have been Randyll. This family reunion ends with Sam showing us that, even if his physical appearance hasn't changed, he has learned how to conjure up courage when the situation calls for it: he refuses to leave Gilly and Sam Jr. behind, and even goes so far as to spite his father by taking the family's Valyrian steel sword. Displays of courage have really become one of the key parts of Sam's character development. If killing a White Walker wasn't enough, then standing up for himself in the face of his disapproving father may be enough to show us this is not the same Sam we saw back in season one.
You know what else is not the same as it was in season one? King's Landing. The Lannister control on the capital has been slipping by the day, and now the brainwashing tactics of the High Sparrow have taken over Tommen and Margaery, leaving the likes of Cersei, Jaime, and Olenna Tyrell nearly powerless. This is one of the biggest swings of power that the series has had in quite some time, and it's all the more effective because it happened without any fighting or killing. Considering the time that Tommen took to speak with the High Sparrow, something like this was to be expected, so D&D nor Bryan Cogman would do much to really surprise us with this move. Hey though, it serves to further amp up the tension in King's Landing, especially knowing that Jaime is leaving to tend to a matter in Riverrun.
Speaking of Riverrun, Filch...I mean, Walder Frey is back, and he's just as grouchy as he was before. Some people never change.
This turned out to be a slightly longer review than I initially expected, but it's all good nonetheless. "Blood of my Blood" may be a very plot-heavy episode that is largely focused on further setting up the events to come, but it's not completely without its shining moments: Bran's visions of the past and future(?), the return of old faces such as Benjen Stark and Walder Frey, and some twisty maneuvering with some of the series' current positions of power. These kinds of moments all work well to substitute for the payoffs we'd get from a significant character death or an epic-scale action sequence. As the series has moved pretty much completely away from George R.R. Martin's source material, it's been more of a challenge for D&D and Bryan Cogman to keep the calmer episodes intriguing. We're now in the second half of season six, and they're still finding ways to avoid having any kind of utterly dull stretch. You can't say that about every television series.
Hold the door.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Jack Bender
The character of Hodor has been one of Game of Thrones' most famous unsolved mysteries, up until the midway point of season six. If Hodor was able to walk and talk like any other normal person, no one would give a second thought towards where Hodor got his name. I doubt anyone in the Game of Thrones fanbase ever lost sleep over knowing where the Stark and Lannister children acquired their names. Hodor has always been a humble servant to Bran Stark and the rest of his family, and we could never forget about him simply because 'Hodor' has all that he's ever been able to say. When Bran has a vision of a young Hodor a few episodes back and discovers that Hodor's real name is Wylis, it pretty much confirmed that something happened along the way to cause Wylis to become Hodor. The answer for this "transformation" is finally given to us in "The Door", and the details add up to one of the saddest, most crushing reveals/deaths in all of Game of Thrones.
"The Door" has been considered one of the best episodes of Game of Thrones' later seasons, and while there is absolutely nothing I can criticize about the Hodor reveal scene, the White Walker attack on the cave does not take up the whole episode, and I have some gripes about everything that comes beforehand. Much like "Book of the Stranger", there are just a few nagging things that keep this episode from being a full-blown masterpiece, but damn it, does it come very close to getting a perfect 5/5 from me.
Season six has, at times, flirted with what will be the main criticism of season seven: breakneck pacing that defies logic and has characters getting from here to there in the blink of an eye. Season five was not completely innocent from this issue, either, but the times when season five had things happen at lightning speed, they were few and far in between. "The Door" gives us two such examples of logic-defying events: Sansa meeting with Petyr Baelish in Moles Town and Arya going to watch a play. Maybe I'm overreaching a bit by griping about these scenes, but the editing is a bit jarring, as both of these scenes find Sansa and Arya talking about going somewhere, and then *BAM!*, they're there. "The Door" begins with Sansa receiving a letter to meet with Baelish in Moles Town. The very next moment, she is in Moles Town, talking with Baelish. Then with Arya, Jaqen talks with her about killing the actress known as Lady Crane (Essie Davis), and the very next moment, Arya is watching the play. To be fair, Sansa and Arya are not travelling thousands of miles to get to their respective destinations, but to have them immediately appear at their destinations as opposed to giving us a brief glimpse of their travels takes away any potential for build-up and makes the world of Westeros look much smaller than it actually is. It's as if we should assume there's absolutely nothing interesting on the path anymore from Destination A to Destination B. Didn't Jaime and Brienne, as well as Arya and the Hound run into trouble while on the road during their travels?
That's about all the flaws I have for this episode. There are actually two terrific scenes in this episode, one being the finale and the other being the Greyjoy Kingsmoot. Despite Game of Thrones' story becoming more and more action-driven in the later seasons, D&D still find a way to leave room for politically-charged scenes, and this is one of them. Yara appears to have won the Salt Throne, until Euron arrives to make his own claim. The terrific exchange of dialogue is like watching a presidential debate, one where both sides make completely valid points to defend their respective stances. Theon accuses Euron of being MIA for several years, and thus, is not fit to rule the current state of affairs on the Iron Islands. Euron counters with the fact that he has explored much of the world and thus, is capable of taking the Ironborn beyond their one patch of land. Alfie Allen's acting deserves high praise for this scene: the sound of his voice sounds a lot like the confident Theon from seasons one and two, but this time, it's coupled with subtle, nervous body movements that imply there is still some Reek in him. I think that Alfie Allen as Theon could serve as a great example of modern day method acting, because he nails it in both line delivery and body movements. When it comes to pure acting abilities, Allen has always been one of the best in all the Game of Thrones cast.
It shouldn't be all that surprising that Euron was able to snag the Salt Throne from his niece and nephew, despite not being back on the Iron Islands for very long. The Ironborn have always been a steely, unforgiving bunch, and Euron makes a good point, stating that they were going nowhere fast being ruled by a crusty old grouch in Balon Greyjoy who was too stubborn to know when to stop fighting. Now in comes a younger, tougher Euron who is capable of building a massive iron fleet and guiding the Ironborn to areas of the world they could never dream of exploring with Balon around. What do Yara and Theon have that could top that? A claim to the throne, purely based on their relationship to Balon? The Ironborn are impatient; they're sick and tired of being stuck on their island with nowhere to go and conquer. They see Euron as the one who will take them where they need to go, and now with an opportunity to sail on a massive fleet and get off their island, the last thing on their minds is the current ruler's ties to the previous ruler. Get ready to see a lot more Greyjoy action from here on out.
We get some gritty White Walker action to close out the episode, as The Night King and his army make their first major appearance of the season and their first since "Hardhome". It seems like we learn a little bit more about the White Walkers every time they appear. "Hardhome" showed us that Valyrian steel can also kill White Walkers and that the Night King is capable of adding hundreds of more soldiers to his army in a matter of seconds. "The Door" gives us a glimpse into how the White Walkers were created, although the exact details are a little sparse. The important thing is that Bran proves to be a royal f*ck-up, warging into a vision without the Three-Eyed Raven and allowing the Night King to touch him, thus, being able to find the cave he is in.
The Night King and the wights attacking the cave is a very claustrophobic scene that is downright terrifying. Imagine being in a dark cave with closed-in spaces, and then all of a sudden, a swarm of undead skeleton creatures starts coming after you. It especially hurts to watch poor Summer sacrifice himself and get mutilated by wights, in order to give Bran, Meera, and Hodor a few extra seconds to escape. The pain only keeps coming, as Hodor stays back to keep the cave door closed so that Bran and Meera can escape into the woods. In a vision, Bran wargs into the young Wylis/Hodor, who begins to yell Meera's words, "Hold the door" over and over, until....well, you know the rest.
The idea of Hodor's name coming from "Hold the door" was originally pitched to D&D from George R.R. Martin, so that is to say the origin of Hodor's name was something that Martin has known about ever since he started writing his A Song of Ice and Fire novels back in the 1990's. This is a level of heartbreak that is right up there with The Red Wedding and Ned Stark's death. Wylis was a young, innocent boy who had his whole life ahead of him, only to have it all taken away by Bran, as Bran creates a time loop that not only causes Wylis to turn into a simple-minded giant capable of speaking only one word, but also someone whose cause of death was set in stone years before it ever happened. Hodor would never go on to die peacefully in his bed at the age of eighty-five; the innocent Hodor was now predestined to die trying to hold back a thousand rampaging wights, all because Bran was unable to control his warging abilities. The look on Bran's face as he watches the young Hodor scream, "Hold the door!" is the ultimate, "What have I done?" look, and Bran can now see that Hodor would go on to live the rest of his life with everyone thinking of him as some wacky nutcase, never to realize that Hodor was not some strange new identity that Wylis decided to take up: it was a precursor to his eventual death.
It'd be one thing if Hodor's reveal was due to some kind of magic spell or a horrific accident that left him mentally worse for wear. No one could have imagined something like this, though. One of the most innocent characters in all of Game of Thrones is revealed to have had his whole life shattered by the time-travelling mistakes of his closest companion: Bran. Hodor would never be able to reveal his reasons for only saying "Hodor", nor would he ever know that it was Bran who was responsible. When we talk about watching Game of Thrones as being the equivalent of being in an abusive relationship, these are the sort of reasons that makes such an analogy true. "The Door" delivers the series' most heartbreaking death since The Red Wedding, and had it not been for some pacing issues involving Sansa and Arya, there would be no question that this would go down as one of the best episodes of the entire series. The final sequence in the Three-Eyed Raven's cave is a masterful mix of action, horror, and tragedy, while the Kingsmoot scene on the Iron Islands serves as an excellent display of politics. Just when "Book of the Stranger" took the title of Best Episode of Season Six, "The Door" walks up and snatches it away. It is truly extraordinary the kind of twists and reveals that this fantasy world is capable of.
They'll underestimate us every time and we will use that to our advantage
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Sackheim
The middle of a Game of Thrones season is always the strangest part: there's no longer the excitement of a season getting started, nor is there the anticipation of final events that will carry a huge effect into the next season. Sometimes though, D&D find a way to dish out an incredibly strong episode during the middle of a season, and "Book of the Stranger" is one such example of that. The episode doesn't have any surprises on the level of "Baelor" or "The Red Wedding", nor does it feature attention-grabbing set pieces that match the likes of "Blackwater" and Hardhome". What makes "Book of the Stranger" such a tip-notch episode is the importance of the events that unfold, and how well those events are executed.
Right off the bat, we get one of the most anticipated events of the entire series: a reunion between Stark siblings. The cloud of despair left by Jon at the end of "Oathbreaker" swiftly turns into an irresistibly heartwarming moment, as Sansa arrives at Castle Black with Brienne and Podrick, and gives Jon the biggest hug of his life. The hug only lasts a few seconds, but god damn it do we need to talk about it. The funny thing is that of all the Stark children that could have reunited first, it ended up being the two that had no kind of previous relationship, at least, not from what we saw during the early episodes of season one. Jon and Sansa never hated each other. They just never had any friendly conversations with one another. Years later though, after all the suffering that Sansa has been through, at the hands of Joffrey, the Lannisters, and Ramsay, she has finally reached a place where she can be safe, and she doesn't give a damn that she was never really close to Jon. Seeing a member of her family for the first time in years is only half of what makes this such a heartwarming moment, though. The other half is knowing Sansa has, at long last, found somewhere where no one can hurt her. We've been with her every step of the way, watching her get insulted, beaten, raped, any other cruel act that someone could commit to a young Stark girl. She hung tough the entire way, and her undying hope for a better tomorrow has finally paid off. The close-up on Sophie Turner's face right before the end of the hug is a phenomenal moment that likely will go unnoticed. It's as if all the fear and anger completely drains out of Sansa, and Sophie Turner delivers it beautifully.
One can only hope that a Game of Thrones episode is stacked with these kind of precious moments. Nothing else in "Book of the Stranger" is as heartwarming as Jon and Sansa reuniting, but there are certainly some other happy moments that feel like a triumph for certain characters. Theon is able to make his way back home to the Iron Islands, although Yara gives him anything but a warm welcome. I like the display of Theon's newfound humbleness here: despite having the strongest claim to the Salt Throne, he knows that he is not capable of ruling the Iron Islands, promising to support Yara's claim. Theon had spent much of the early seasons struggling to earn the respect he thought he deserved, but after his traumatic experience with Ramsay, he has come to better understand that his pride is not of the utmost concern. Theon is now walking down the path of redemption, and helping his sister become the new ruler of the Iron Islands seems like a great place to start.
Another happy moment, one that is meant to be awe-inspiring more than anything: Daenerys kills all the khals and shows the Dothraki people that she cannot be killed with fire. It never really struck me the first time that I was watching seasons one through six about two years ago that scenes like this one of Daenerys standing naked and unharmed among a burning temple are running the risk of offending people who are religious and/or spiritual. While I think it's a bit extreme to compare Daenerys to someone like Jesus Christ or Muhammad, there's no denying that moments like this one and the one at the end of "Fire and Blood" back in season one are attempting to evoke the idea that Daenerys has a mystical power within her that would make anyone who sees her want to follow her and serve her. The Dothraki, ruthless as they are, are unable to deny that this seemingly harmless woman is capable of doing extraordinary works. She has survived flames that would kill even the most vicious of men, and she gave birth to dragons: creatures that had not existed for centuries. Call these acts miracles if you want, but the matter of the fact is that Daenerys has always let her actions do the talking for her, and now they have earned her the servitude of people that seemed like they would never agree to serve. Khal Drogo is looking down on Daenerys and is smiling with approval.
I was coming very close to declaring "Book of the Stranger" a masterpiece episode based on the terrific moments I mentioned above, but there is one nagging scene that ends up being a lot more shaky than it has any right to be. Petyr Baelish makes his first appearance of the season, greeting Robin Arryn with a pet falcon and lying about Sansa ended up in Winterfell and not in Riverrun. The whole scene ends up being a rather bizarre attempt at building tension, as Baelish manipulates Robin into considering executing Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart), when Royce attempts to call out Baelish for his lies. The main thing that falls short in this scene is the blocking. Robin Arryn looks completely distracted and like he's not at all a part of the conversation, with his body turned away as if he was acting as a background character. The surrounding Vale knights don't even seem to move when Baelish asks Robin to make a decision about executing Royce, like there's no need to at least keep Royce at arm's length, just in case Royce attempts to escape. When Robin is making the decision to have Royce executed or not, he doesn't even so much as look in Royce's direction, like it's at the bottom of his current to-do list. The entire sequence never feels like it's building any kind of tension at all and borders on being entirely pointless. Of all the characters to flirt with having killed at the moment, why choose Yohn Royce?
That awkward scene with Petyr Baelish is only a tiny smear on what is the best episode of season six thus far. A heartwarming reunion between Jon and Sansa, Theon Greyoy's return home, and a fiery finale with Daenerys make "Book of the Stranger" one of the best middle of the season episodes in all of Game of Thrones. It's as well executed as Game of Thrones' penultimate and season finale episodes, despite not having any super game-changing stakes. Daenerys earning the service of the Dothraki is certainly something that will matter going forward, but for an episode that doesn't feature any wide-scale action or significant character deaths (sorry Osha, you were out of the picture for a long time), neither D&D nor Daniel Sackheim shirk on their A-game potential.
Gal in the Shell
Alita: Battle Angel is directed by Robert Rodriguez, co-written and produced by James Cameron, and stars Rosa Salazar, Christoph Waltz, Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Ed Skrein, Jackie Earle Haley, and Keean Johnson. It is based on the 1990's Japanese manga series Gunnm by Yukito Kishiro.
I usually hold any film attached to James Cameron in very high regard, mostly because I have found films with his direction to be "experiences" as opposed to just casual viewings. While Alita: Battle Angel does not have Cameron's handiness in the director's chair, Cameron makes contributions in the producing and screenwriting departments, so it's fair to say that Cameron has a meaningful attachment to this film. Sadly, Robert Rodriguez is not capable of delivering the same kind of "experience" that James Cameron has been so adept with when it comes to his most popular films, and the trailers for Alita did not make it out to be anything groundbreaking or something else that would have me wanting to see during its opening weekend. Of course, the claims that it was a movie that just had to be seen on the big screen and the fact that Alita was getting rave responses from audiences, I gave in to my curiosity and coincidentally found myself going to not one, but two female driven action movies (the other being Captain Marvel) in the same week.
Alita: Battle Angel is 2019's earliest example of a science fiction film that excels in the action and visual departments, but falls short in the story and writing areas. I'm tempted to compare Alita to 2017's live action Ghost in the Shell adaptation, because that film starring Scarlett Johansson dumbed down the material from the Ghost in the Shell manga series so much that all the visual effects that movie had to offer could only go so far. And while Alita isn't straight-up dumb by any means, I'm hard-pressed when it comes to thinking up any truly thought-provoking themes that the film might have buried somewhere in its story. It's disappointing, because James Cameron has been quite good over the years when it comes to putting meaningful ideas into the narrative of his action driven sci-fi films, although the glaring "save the environment" message in Avatar might be evidence that perhaps Cameron is not as good at screenwriting nowadays as he was back in his prime.
I know I should stop sounding like I'm putting all the blame on Cameron, because he was a co-screenwriter with Laeta Kalogridis and it's Robert Rodriguez who directed the film. Should I stop blaming Cameron though for Alita's shortcomings, though? Production for the film basically started when Guillermo del Toro introduced Cameron to the manga series, and Cameron fell in love with the manga's concept. For years, Cameron talked about how he was planning to direct an Alita: Battle Angel film and that he had a script in the works, only for the production to end up experiencing delay after delay after delay. When Cameron made it readily clear that his top priority was several more Avatar films and not Alita, in comes Robert Rodriguez: offered the directing job from Cameron after combining the rough draft script with all of Cameron's notes.
The final result is a story that takes place in the year 2563. 300 years prior, Earth was devastated in a cataclysmic event known as "The Fall", with specific details of this event not given to us right away. While out scavenging through a junkyard outside the metropolis Iron City, Dr. Dyson Ido (Waltz) uncovers the disembodied head of a female cyborg, but not just any female cyborg. Ido discovers that the cyborg head has a fully functional human brain. Ido attachs a cyborg body to the head and names his new creation "Alita". Alita (Salazar) has no memories of her past, but she later discovers that she is incredibly skilled in combat: something that helps trigger some of her past memories. As Alita struggles to uncover who she is and where she came from, she befriends a boy named Hugo (Keean Johnson) and finds herself up against other, powerful cyborgs that want her dead.
- There's definitely nothing I can do to knock Alita's lovely visuals and high-octane action sequences. What's really commendable about the action is that hardly any of it involves bright colors or gigantic weapons that would more likely fit something you'd see in a superhero film. It's the kind of action that is more focused on building adrenaline as opposed to spectacle. When Alita is engaging in a fight, there is hardly any use of extreme wide shots that would make the action become boring or any rapid-fire editing that would be an assault on the eyes. There's a clear sense of choreography to all the punches and kicks that are dealt, and even during the fast-paced racing sequences that happen later in the film, the action is still incredibly well-defined in regards to where characters are and how they are moving. As for the visuals, Robert Rodriguez doesn't settle for making this a gloomy, sun-deprived representation of the future, evident in a brighter, glossier color scheme that makes even the night-time scenes look somewhat cheery. Alita's anime-style eyes are definitely a good look, and they never prove distracting, mostly thanks to a committed Rosa Salazar performance in which she does things like eat a chocolate bar and talk to a dog with playful curiosity. If Robert Rodriguez had decided to make Alita a silent movie by chance, I'm positive he could have still found a way to make it work.
- The main issue with Alita's writing is how aimless the plot turns out to be, never making it clear exactly what the story is hoping to accomplish. After establishing its futuristic world and all the important characters, the plot becomes almost completely stagnant, as if it can't decide who should be the main villain or what kind of challenges it wants to throw Alita's way. When it comes to villains, we've got the shady entrepreneur Vector played by Mahershala Ali, as well as the narcissistic cyborg played by Ed Skrein. Good luck though trying to figure out their motivations and what their respective end goals are. By the time the plot does figure out something to do during its second hour, it's basically too late, and thus, the movie concludes by rushing through several important scenes that don't get any kind of proper build-up nor any sort of rewarding payoff. Then of course we have the very last scene that just screams 'sequel' right in your face, and it honestly diminished the whole movie a little for me. I have never read the manga series, so I can't confirm that there has always been a larger story at work, but if Alita is ever going to get a sequel, I don't get why the ending has to be so on the nose about it. But anyway, Alita's messy writing is another classic example of story and character not being able to back up the visuals and action. If a younger James Cameron could have written the screenplay, we probably would have had ourselves a pretty great sci-fi action film.
So overall, Alita: Battle Angel is not at all a bad film. I enjoyed it enough to say that I was happy to see it on a theater screen, and not wait until I could watch the Blu-Ray on my TV at home. Alita shines bright when it comes to action and visuals, but there are definitely some rusty parts when it comes to writing and plot. How different the movie would be had it been James Cameron directing, we'll never know. Given that the origins of this movie are rooted in James Cameron, I can't help but feel this should have been Cameron's next major film, assuming he would be willing to step aside from anything Avatar related for at least a little while. I like Robert Rodriguez enough and respect his style, but this movie is just begging for James Cameron's direction. Alita is making a big enough splash at the box office that I am confident at least one sequel will be in the works. Who knows? Maybe Cameron would be willing to take up one of those projects. I'd definitely go back to see more of Alita in the theater if that turned out to be a reality.
Recommend? Yes. The action and visuals are definitely worth seeing.
A wise man once said a true history of the world is a history of great conversations in elegant rooms.
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Daniel Sackheim
With Jon Snow's resurrection, all the pieces are now in place for season six to get its story lines moving and bring us a whole new batch of thrills, character moments, and worthwhile storytelling. After the load of surprises we got from "Home", "Oathbreaker" dials back on the shock value and aims for being one of the more plot-heavy episodes in recent memory. In the past, plotty episodes were more focused on setting up events to come, usually happening close to or right before a penultimate episode. We're still pretty early in season six, so to say that "Oathbreaker" is plotty is actually a good thing, as it's not yet clear where things are supposed to be going. Not to worry: by the time the end credits roll, we should have a more clear picture of what to expect the rest of the way.
There's a growing problem at this point for Game of Thrones: finding appropriate things to do for its supporting characters. As we come closer and closer to the end, the focus grows stronger and stronger on main characters like Jon and Daenerys, leaving the likes of Sam, Varys, and Missandei without a whole lot to accomplish. However, D&D and the other writers have done well when it comes to keeping these characters involved and having them face challenges that feel at least somewhat important to the narrative. This is especially true in Meereen, as Tyrion, Varys, Grey Worm, and Missandei are all working together to keep the Sons of the Harpy at bay, while Daenerys is absent. The reason I especially like these scenes is that it keeps up Game of Thrones' realistic political conflicts, especially when we're at a point where the action could take over at any second. Scenes of characters talking about political matters regarding finances, power, and other general policies have always been one of the main reasons as to why the world of Westeros is one of the more realistic fantasy worlds that exists in both book and audio-visual form. While it would be passable for D&D to show little to nothing of Meereen while Daenerys is away, it's way better that they are keeping us in the loop as to how Tyrion and company are holding down the fort. It's kind of refreshing actually that it currently stands as one of the ongoing story lines that we can watch and not expect any kind of crazy, eye-popping action.
Now, everything I just said doesn't mean that there aren't at least a few characters suffering from a lack of productivity. Sam sailing to Oldtown with Gilly and Sam Jr. is pretty much him being taken out of the main action, at least until the middle of season seven. At the same time, I think it's kind of a good thing that Sam is currently not a part of anything that's currently happening at Castle Black. Jon's time serving as a member of the Night's Watch is coming to an end, and with so many other significant characters coming together to unite with Jon, Sam would likely find himself getting lost in the crowd. This isn't going to be the last time we see Sam this season, but as the other story lines really start to heat up, it's highly unlikely that we'll be wondering whatever he's up to in Oldtown.
Speaking of Jon, he must be absolutely beaming that he was brought back from the dead, right? Well, actually, no. He's not happy. In fact, he looks like he wished that he stayed dead. Continuing from what I said in my review of "Home" about D&D not quite fleshing out exactly why Davos thought about bringing Jon back to life, they make it clear that they flat out refuse to go into detail about it, as Davos simply tells Jon he doesn't know why the Lord of Light brought him back, and that they'll probably never know. I have always found Jon's resurrection to be vital to his character arc, but I can't help but have this nagging feeling that it's never fully explained as to why Jon is the one that someone considers trying to bring back from the dead. I guess a part of it is that Jon was lucky his body wasn't mutilated in some grotesque fashion like Ned, Catelyn, and Robb. Having a Red Priestess capable of magic rituals nearby certainly helps as well. Anyway, Jon has Alliser Thorne, Ollie, and the other mutineers hanged, and decides to hit the road, informally resigning as Lord Commander. In a show where characters die left and right, you would think we would feel some sense of joy upon one of those characters being brought back, but D&D do quite the opposite: instead of having Jon be all happy that he gets a second chance, they have him come back as bitter, tired of all the fighting and killing. Jon has always tried to do the right thing because he felt it was his duty, but being killed by his own brothers seemingly broke him. Now he's not sure what he should feel, or if he should even bother to continue fighting, if he assumes he's going to end up just like he did before.
So while Jon is having a bad day, Arya is having a great one: she finally starts defending herself from the Waif's attack, and Jaqen gives her her eyesight back. Arya losing her eyes back in the season five finale was Jaqen forcing Arya to stop seeing as "a girl named Arya Stark", as Arya defying his orders and killing Meryn Trant was proof that she still clung to a piece of her old self. After some time on the streets to think about how she can better prepare herself to become "no one", Arya now appears ready to give up on her kill list, give up on being Arya Stark, and to, at long last, accept a new life as "no one". By giving her eyes back, Jaqen is now confident that Arya will see everything as "no one", and no longer as Arya Stark. Well then, it looks like the tomboy-ish girl from Winterfell that we came to know and love is no more, right?
I'll conclude on what's happening with Bran, as the Three-Eyed Raven continues to show him visions of the past. This time, we get a fairly lengthy one, as Bran watches a young Ned arrive with some soldiers at the Tower of Joy, where they take on the Targaryen fighter, Ser Arthur Dayne (Luke Roberts). Bran had heard many times from his father about how he defeated Ser Arthur, but as the vision unfolds, it turns out that Ned's story was a lie. This is the first of what will be a few times in which Bran finds out something he always believed to be true is actually a lie. Isn't it fascinating that Bran, pretty much in the middle of nowhere beyond the Wall, is starting to uncover some of the biggest secrets in all of Westeros? The power structure of Westeros has been built on lies and deceit ever since the start of the series, and while it would be tempting to think someone like Jon would discover all these hidden secrets, I go back to something I said before: some of the most significant events in Game of Thrones involve characters seen as weak, broken, and unworthy. The overweight and clumsy Sam discovered that dragonglass can kill White Walkers. The hated dwarf Tyrion killed the most powerful man in Westeros. Now the crippled Bran is learning facts that could upset the balance of power that currently stands in Westeros. The vision is cut off before Bran gets to see what is inside the Tower of Joy, but judging from what we already saw, you can bet that what the young Ned goes to find in the Tower is another secret that could have a huge impact on the present.
So to conclude, forward-moving story telling is what encompasses a lot of "Oathbreaker", and thanks to another sharp script from D&D, the direction of season six is now a lot more clear. While there are no shocking deaths or game-changing twists, "Oathbreaker" succeeds because of it's heavy plot, highlighted by Bran's vision of the Tower of Joy, Arya regaining her eye sight, and Jon Snow's loss of hope. There will definitely be some surprises down the road, but for now, it's good for Game of Thrones to take some time to prepare us for what's yet to come. Before, it was somewhat of a weakness that a Game of Thrones episode was plotty for the sake of setting up future events. Early here in season six, "Oathbreaker" thrives on being plotty for the sake of setting up future events.
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: