Game Of Thrones Season 6: Episodes Five + SixBookmark and Share

Monday, 10 April 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Hodor Caught in A Temporal Paradox (Credit: http://www.mymbuzz.com/)

5 - The Door
(Written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss)

6 - Blood of My Blood
(Written by Bryan Cogman)


STARRING: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Natalie Dormer,
Carice Van Houten, Alfie Allen, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Aidan Gillen, Diana Rigg, Joseph Mawle, John Bradley, Dean-Charles Chapman, Hannah Murray, 
Jacob Anderson, Daniel Portman, 
Michiel Huisman,
Nathalie Emmanuel, Gemma Whelan,
 Gwendoline Christie,
Kristofer Hivju, Conleth Hill + Iain Glen

 
WITH: Jonathan Pryce, David Bradley,
 Richard E. Grant, 
Kristian Nairn, Vladimir Furdik, James Faulkner, Essie Davis, 
llie Kendrick, Meera Reed, Tobias Menzies, Pilou Asbæk,
Michael Feast, Tom Wlaschiha, Roger Ashton-Griffiths,
Ian Gelder, Hannah Waddingham, + Faye Marsay.

 

AND: Samantha Spiro, Eugene Simon, Freddie Stroma, 
Rebecca Benson, Tim Plester, Daniel Tuite, Ania Bukstein,
Sam Coleman, Kevin Eldon, Leigh Gill, Eline Powell,
Rob Callender, Ben Crompton, Gerald Lepkowski, 
Wayne Foskett, Sebastian Croft, David Rintoul, + Kae Alexander

 SPECIAL GUEST STAR: Max von Sydow


Directed By: Jack Bender
 

Showrunners + Producers: David Benioff + D.B. Weiss

Game of Thrones is now available on DVD, Blu Ray
and streaming services Worldwide

Myriad viewers are presented once again with the middle episodes of the part-fantasy/part 'War of the Roses' serial epic. This sixth run of adventures to feature some of the most iconic characters of recent times on television is mostly breaking new ground, although sometimes there is a return to the material George RR Martin so vividly produced. (And readers can certainly take their pick - there are paperbacks, hardbacks, eBooks, and even a fully illustrated edition of the very first volume).


The Kingsmoot was a riveting passage in the somewhat turtle-paced A Feast For Crows (that tome feeling somewhat flat, in that half the characters' were kept off-page until Book Five). This scene is played a little more 'bare bones' in the TV show, but still works in conveying suspense and plot progression. Having Theon bravely concede he is not a leader, due to both his mutilation and also his sister being constantly there for the Iron Islands, is one of the more poignant moments for this brilliantly-played character. Yet his 'rubber stamp' of Yara's stirring speech is quickly quashed by the self proclaimed murderer of King Balon.

Although their father was not a good man, or particularly accomplished, he still would have likely intended Yara to take his place. Instead Euron with his bluster, but also some credibility, is quick to seize upon the baser elements that form many of the Iron-born reavers' fundamental character traits.

The chase/christening scene is a dynamic form of direction from Jack Bender, and portrays the different factions that may play a notable role in the overall future of the kingdom. Stirring music from Ramin Djawadi is used throughout. Whilst it is heartening to see the Greyjoy siblings escape on the ‘best ships’, it is also ominous that their uncle is resolute in being able to eventually find and slay them. 

*

Whilst Episode Three saw Sam's story arc tread water, there is now proper progress here. For some time it had been clear just how unpleasant was the highborn Randyll Tarly, and in particular how poorly he regarded his son. Regardless of the character only being depicted through spoken dialogue, viewers truly felt for Sam. Finally Randyll has an onscreen guise, (and the casting of James Faulkner is once again spot on). That his other son Dickon is relatively meek, and both his wife and daughter are so placid, takes away nothing from his grim gravitas. With Tywin now conclusively out of the show, it is good to have a reminder of how special Charles Dance's contributions were in days of yesteryear. 

Sam is learned and intelligent, but under such a barrage of verbal abuse and contempt by his own father, he is powerless to prevent headstrong Gilly from revealing her true origins. The tension at the dinner table is as worrying a moment to long-term viewers as any 'blood and guts' swordplay. The key difference lies in the subtlety of spoken dialogue, as opposed to choreographed action. The stolen Heartsbane is a loss to Horn Hill, but a triumph for Sam. It shows how much he has grown as a (makeshift) warrior, and a dedicated partner and friend for those closest to him.

*

Jorah has been 'lost' in many respects, even before we first met him in Season One, due to the magnitude of his being a disgraced knight. He had however found a purpose in being so devoted to his Queen. Yet twice she banished him. This time he wishes to dismiss himself, and for the very last time, but instead is tasked with finding a cure for his greyscale infection. This is no mean task, but should he (somehow) succeed, then he is expected to return to Dany's side, upon her 'rightful' acquisition of the Iron Throne. Whether this will ever happen is a very open question, but the key to this scene having such resonance lies in the brilliant acting from Emilia Clarke and Iain Glen play their roles. It also is intriguing, in having Daario feel for Dany's clashing emotions, even if he still dislikes Jorah. 

A terrific tracking shot of Dany's Khalasar following her, as Jorah prepares to leave, highlights just how slick a show Thrones is, and how worthy it has been of its various cinema 'upscalings' in recent times. In the concluding scene of Blood Of My Blood it becomes clear how devoted Dany is to her Dothraki identity (without of course ever relinquishing her Targaryen origins). Her proclamation that her warriors will cross the Sea - which is unprecedented for these barbarians -  and overcome all enemies on the mainland, is a stirring moment.

Yet it remains to be seen if Tyrion's negotiations - in the absence of the established monarch - are going to pay off. There is not too much screen time for Dinklage's magnetic character, once again with this portion of episodes; with the latter seeing the grand-persuader/drunken-wit being kept wholly off-screen. As the 'Imp' is still under pressure to convince the people of Meereen that peace is secured, and that Dany was responsible, he resorts to hiring someone with the right look and way of speech.

The Most Dangerous Being in Westeros - The Night King (Credit: http://vanguardseattle.com/)

Yet another Red Woman is unveiled before both Tyrion and Varys, who represent the absent Queen. Yet the 'Eunuch' transitions from being supremely certain that he can control this visitor, to looking both surprised and frightened. Despite being a complete stranger, she manages to forcefully narrate the dreadful events that saw him castrated, and how they are part of the Lord of Light's designs. Varys had always believed he was in charge of his upward ascent in status, but the Priestess affirms how both of them were brought to this time and place, through higher powers (and designs). Ania Bukstein does great work in her limited screen time as this religious figure, which is indicative of how effective many 'minor' roles are in this ensemble TV series. Varys is always a strong presence in the show, but some earlier Season Six episodes did verge a bit too much into broad comedy. Regardless, he continues to be played with just the right amount of understatement by Conleth Hill. The show also does fine work in establishing just how much Tyrion and Varys had their comfort zone back in King's Landing. 

From hot dusty land, to wintry and forboding climes. The Door showcases a number of powerful demises, and the most moving of these applies to the gentle semi-giant that is Hodor. Whilst never the deepest character, he was kind and loyal, and Bran is almost ruthless in making a choice that results in Hodor's brutal and slow death. There also is a temporal-paradox 'echo' generated, which causes the previously articulate 'Wylis' to lose his established persona. Whilst Bran and Meera manage to make a frenzied escape, the show mainly conveys a deep impression of how time and causality may actually not always be linear. The flashbacks that have been such a strength of this latest season take on a new dimension, as the younger version of Hodor is forced to see his eventual death as Bran wargs through him.

The preceding scenes at the Weirwood, and the escape through the tunnel are again evidence of how strong the production values are for the show. Another of the Night’s King's lieutenants/underlings is destroyed by dragonglass and the effect is riveting, but nonetheless there is a sense of tension and hopelessness, as the great Tree is no longer a haven. As the few remaining Children of the Forest are extinguished, The Door has already made the viewer feel conflicted about their fate. Many centuries ago, these supernatural beings created the White Walker race, as a defensive act against the men that invaded and threatened their territories. Foresight of the dangers to the wider world, and indeed their own race, had not factored into the Children's minds.

To see yet another direwolf perish is regrettable, and also somewhat needless as he does not manage to do much damage to more than a wight or two. But by this point in the show, it also is more than expected. Whilst in some respects a mere animal, 'Summer' will be missed, as again part of the Stark legacy is lost. Now only Ghost and Nymeria remain amongst the living of this striking family of animals.

There is some scope for hope, at least. Benjen Stark, who seemed to have been killed off long ago in the show’s timeline, is back - albeit not fully alive. He had been saved by the Children at some earlier point in time. In a contrast to the creation of the Night King, his wound from a Walker was prevented from spreading, thanks to the application of dragonglass. The actor who originally played him is back as well, and this is welcome. 

Whilst the resolution of Bran and Meera's run from certain death come across as yet another fortuitous escape in this show, it still works well enough.  Plenty of fire, fury, and chaos is displayed in the woods/wilderness, and there is the extra edge of this following on from the bizarre back-and-forwards flashes of history that swirl around Bran’s consciousness as he is pulled on a sled. The transition from one old man ‘stuck in a tree’ (played by the incomparable Max von Sydow) to a still not fully adult man is set to be one of the major factors in the closing stanzas of Game Of Thrones. Benjen clearly asserts how his nephew is crucial to standing up to the Night’s King. But will his lack of being 'ready'  be too great an obstacle?

*

In perhaps a welcome change up from intensity and sadness, the theatre scenes in Braavos involve a brilliantly twisted telling of some of the major events in Seasons One to Four. Another variation of Ned is witnessed on-stage, and the Northerner’s most stupid characteristics are exaggerated, and made into his sole defining traits. This is painful for Arya to watch, but even worse is the way that the infamous beheading is rendered for entertaining the crowd; complete with an unconvincing am-dram fake head rolling onto the stage – and the crowd’s mirth at this reminds the refugee noble woman of just how tarnished the Starks’ reputation is amongst most of the populace.

The performances of most of the stage players are truly engaging - to fictional audience member and TV viewer alike. 'Sansa' is a bit part, and actress Bianca being encumbered with such limitations is truly bitter. 'Tyrion' is played as a straight-up villain, but the dwarf stage actor behind him, whilst equally confident in his prospects with women, is far less charming than the real deal. He seems to get on well enough with Lady Crane - who portrays 'Cersei' exquisitely.  Whilst Crane is clearly the best of the bunch, Bianca is determined to seize the ‘opportunities' she has been 'denied' - even if that means resorting to help from the Faceless Men. Richard E Grant does well as apparent ‘head of the company' Izembaro; a man clearly needy of a good crowd, and colleagues who do not complain of “small parts”.

Arya is still being advised by Jaqen to kill another mark, with the mysterious mentor clearly stating there is no 'chance' of evading this assignment just because Crane is a 'good' person. But the younger Stark lady sees someone who makes Cersei a lot more sympathetic than the real article (who of course is still firmly on her 'kill list), and is clearly hesitant. Eventually she defies her orders as an 'assassin in the making' and does not allow the alcohol she herself laced with poison to be drunk, going on to make it clear that Bianca had her own deadly designs in getting a 'better' role. The Waif is clearly delighted that Arya still has not committed to the different 'morals' of the House of Black and White, and finally she can cause more than just a little pain to her nemesis. However, 'Needle' had been safely in hiding, and now is set to be used as a weapon once again. 

*

Travelling briefly to Molestown from Castle Black, Sansa is contemplating how to turn the kidnap of Rickon and the Bolton control of Winterfell into a reversal of fortunes. It certainly will not be easy. A plan is currently in progress with Jon, Davos and others trying to rally forces together against Ramsey.

Having had Littlefinger re-introduced in a manner showing his supreme self-confidence, it is gratifying to see Aidan Gillen remind us of how human and weak this man can be. Memories are stirred of the excellent ‘Power is Power’ scene from back in Season Two. It is also a great moment for Brienne, who was dismissed in such an off-hand fashion as having a ‘record of failure’, when she first tried to serve Sansa. Since that embarrassing low point, Sansa has been through hell courtesy of her despicably sadistic husband. Still Baelish is no fool, and came to Molestown with both news of the Blackfish’s mustering of forces at Riverrun. Thus Sansa's Uncle could help both her and Jon. Furthermore - as seen already in Episode Four -  Baelish has secured the aid of the Knights of the Vale, and they are encamped back at Moat Caitlin. Whether Sansa trusts her long-term advisor and 'protector' to let her use these warriors to her advantage is kept somewhat unclear.

*

Some military advantage can sometimes mean nothing at all. And the High Sparrow has managed to render a (seemingly serviceable) scheme by the Tyrells and Lannisters  - to retake the City - as nothing but ineffectual. With the King taken into the fold, and the people of the capital convinced that the Crown and the Faith combined is the way forward, two noble houses are made to look clueless. Of course for viewers there had been enough build-up of Margery's seeming assimilation (but most likely this is just her being calculating), and Tommen had for some time now given Pryce's overseer zealot a lot of chances to pour propaganda into his regal ear.

Olenna, soon after making her slow-witted son Mace aware just how conclusively the High Sparrow had ‘beaten’ them, prepares to leave the Capital for a rather longer spell. Her firm verbal put down of Cersei as possibly ‘the worst’ person she knew in her long life is a great one-to-one scene for Diana Rigg and Lena Headey

The story does nice work in segueing from Jaime's humiliation as a dismissed member of Tommen's Kingsguard, to still being deeply in love with Cersei (and vice-versa), to some build-up with the situation over in Riverrun; where the Kingslayer is certain to feature in coming episodes. It is welcome to see Walder Frey and his sons again after a long break. Also, it still feels relatively easy to re-engage with the characterisations and portrayals of these shameless and cowardly opportunists. David Bradley is once again note-perfect, and his take on Walder is distinctly different from his contributions to both fictional and semi-biographical Doctor Who.


More than halfway through now the show continues to do well with its many components. This season has had a lot of material to cope with; such is both the source substance of the novels, and its own myriad threads. These two centre episodes have done fine work on exploring themes of respectively loss, fighting to regain one's 'rightful' land(s), supernatural power, as well as a nicely meta take on some of the more memorable political moments of the universally well-regarded earlier years of the show.





Game Of Thrones Season 6: Episodes Three + FourBookmark and Share

Thursday, 16 March 2017 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Dany and Khals (Credit: HBO (IGN.com))


















3) Oathbreaker

4) Book Of the Stranger

STARRING: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham,
Carice Van Houten, Natalie Dormer, Alfie Allen, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Iwan Rheon
Aidan Gillen, Diana Rigg + Iain Glen 

WITH: Conleth Hill, Gwendoline Christie,
Julian Glover, Jacob Anderson, Daniel Portman, John Bradley, Dean-Charles Chapman, Hannah Murray, Gemma Whelan,
Finn Jones, Jonathan Pryce, Michiel Huisman,
Nathalie Emmanuel, Kristofer Hivju + Tom Wlaschiha

AND: Paul Rattray,  Ben Crompton, Joseph Naufahu,
Souad Faress, Hannah John-Kamen, Owen Teale, Art Parkinson, Anton Lesser, Natalia Tena, Faye Marsay, Roger Ashton-Griffiths, Ian Gelder, Brenock O'Connor, Hannah Waddingham,
Lino Facioli + Dean S. Jagger  

SPECIAL GUEST STAR: Max von Sydow (The Three-eyed Raven)

Showrunners + Producers: David Benioff + D.B. Weiss


Game of Thrones is now available on DVD, Blu Ray
and streaming services worldwide

The latest series of one of the most successful genre adaptations ever continues to progress in fine style with this pair of episodes. A key theme of the show, which I will bring in to focus, concerns different types of power.


Influence, reputation, and status are one manifestation of power. Paramount to this working is the element of respect. Dany began the season in a rather precarious position, being bound and at the mercy of Khal Moro, who had seemingly taken pride of place in Dothraki society over her late husband Drogo.

Despite being the key character that signifies the ‘fire’ aspect of the ‘song’, the Targaryen heir is forced to reside with fellow widows of fallen Khals. But she promptly seizes on an opportunity to try and extricate herself from either a humdrum and subservient existence, or an undignified demise. Luckily for her, she has two strong and skilled fighters, both utterly in love with her, and both not far away.

The Mormont/Daario dynamic has developed in enjoyably tense fashion, ever since ‘The Rains Of Castamere’. Then, Jorah realised he would never be able to win his Queen’s heart, even with tenfold the military victories of his much younger rival. To see them have a brittle alliance, designed to enable the rescue of their monarch, is engaging and produces some nicely understated moments of humour. One example comes when Daario seizes on a spare weapon that he had concealed carefully, and without which Mormont may well have perished. It had gone against a previous agreement that should they be apprehended, they needed to have no weapons found on them. Further, they have to cover their tracks as they look to infiltrate Vaes Dothrak. Looking to ensure that there is no ‘spilt blood’, Daario uses a handy rock to mash a stabbed Dothraki to pulp; complete with evocative sound effects..

Dany’s charisma is enough to get at least one temporary ally out of the Dosh Khaleen - her fellow widows and prisoners - and perhaps her plan to switch the balance of power would have worked regardless. However it no doubt a massive help for her that her rescuers block the one means of escape for the Khals. This also makes her exit through the flames, at the close of Episode Four, truly a stand out. Emilia Clarke plays the confrontation with Moro beautifully. As he spits out one venomous threat after another, she calmly stares him down, before proceeding to demonstrate just why “none” of these savage men are fit to serve as leaders of their people.

Clarke has long since declined to appear nude in the show again. Consequently a similar effect to that used for Cersei’s 'Walk Of Atonement' is implemented. The vision of the flame-defiant Queen, walking out of the inferno she herself created, ensures she has every last able and willing Dothraki on her side. That only Mormont does not completely bow, but instead attempts to look Dany in the eye is a very interesting moment. Then the question is begged - what future does she envision for someone like him?

As the ‘Fire’ consolidates another part of her wider army and reinforces her status, up at The Wall, the ‘Ice’ also is exerting some gravitas. Thanks to being reborn, Jon Snow is able to make the Night’s Watch stand up and pay attention, and the same applies to the Wildlings who he had once fought against so bitterly. Melisandre declares that Jon was brought back by the Lord of Light, and therefore Stannis was not the ‘promised Prince’ that she had first thought. Despite this being such a huge event, the show manages to also bring some levity to bear. Tormund – who has always been a quotable supporting character – makes fun of Jon’s "pecker", in trying to play down any kind of godlike powers. Edd is rather more shocked, but his line of " Are you sure that is still you in there?" also entertains in deadpan fashion.

In Episode Two, one of the men to betray Jon met with a bloody end thanks to the giant Wildling known as Wun Wun. However, there are still three officers, plus Jon’s former steward Olly, needing a comeuppance. The direction is strong here as we are teased with the possibility that perhaps the Lord Commander will accept the boy was misguided, and offer him one last chance. Perhaps this really is the case, but without source material from author G.R.R Martin it is hard to be sure. In the event though, the one survivor from the village massacre in Season Four is still resolute; he feels he was justified to keep opposing the Wildlings, even if that meant stabbing his devoted mentor. He makes only a determined scowl in terms of a response to Jon’s offering of a final statement. This is notably different to the others who respectively show disbelief, a wish for his mother to hear a different story concerning his death, and a proud declaration that their actions were just and fair. The last of these three officers to speak up is Alliser Thorne, and his enmity with Jon had been very well developed from the very first season. Owen Teale did very well, in what could have been a simplistic role. Whilst the character is not likeable, it does feel a loss in a way to see him killed off. 

The moment when Jon actually carries out the joint death sentences is shockingly stark and brutal, and evokes the same cold dispatch applied to Janos Slynt in Season Five. The sudden cut to the faces of the lynched men is a very disturbing moment, despite this being a show full of death. The funereal feel to the end of Oathbreaker is compounded, as Jon relinquishes control of the Night's Watch to Edd; the last true brother in black he can count on, at this point. Whilst Jon has more status than ever before by surviving a lethal attack on him, part of him seems to have died that cold night at Castle Black.

There is also a more brutally obvious illustration of power and respect, as Arya continues to suffer at the hands of the mysterious 'Waif'. When she is asked about the Hound, it is confirmed just how conflicted she was, when she left the former bodyguard of Joffrey to die in the wilderness. However, Arya has suffered enough pain, and impairment to one of the five senses. To her relief, she is granted her normal eyesight again. Perhaps the show has been doing more with these confrontations with the Waif - and philosophical conversations with Jaqen H'ghar - than simply checking on a storyline so far away from most of the others. If that is so, then just how this will all play out remains to be seen.

The material back in Mereen itself moves quite slowly, as Tyrion and Varys continue their efforts to outwit The Sons of the Harpy, and perhaps also find out just who is in charge. Some elements of respect are at work, but mainly it is a chess game, where a number of key moves have yet to play out. There is no doubt some set-up going on, but the scenes never breath full life and seem to  be a waste of two great actors in Hill and Dinklage. Tyrion may have secured a tentative alliance with the main leaders of the absent Dany’s enemies, but he seems just far too confident by his normally calculating standards. It is almost as if the wine, and the altitude of the Great Pyramid, has really got to his head. Grey Worm and Missandei are sensible enough characters, but it just seems a bit contrived for them to be clearly onto something in pointing out Tyrion’s supreme over-confidence.


Bran and Three Eyed Raven Observe Past Events (Credit: HBO/ Sky Atlantic)Power, in the sense of magical force, is most obviously featured in the way that Bran is trying to see the past actions of his father Ned. Thanks to the help of the aeons-old Three-Eyed-Raven, the second youngest Stark is able to be ‘present’ in another time zone, and even ‘heard’ by his father. It is truly welcome to see a version of Ned who was rather more upbeat and sure of himself, if admittedly arrogant here. Whilst Sean Bean’s portrayal of this pivotal character remains a highlight of the entire show, the character of Ned is still strong enough in his own right. These flashback scenes truly feel from a different period in time, and in Episode Three convey the sense of a kingdom being turned upside down with the Baratheon/Targaryen power struggle.

Despite his having supernatural power, Bran perhaps witnesses more than he would have liked. It transpires a combination of luck, and help from the injured Howland Reed, allows Ned to vanquish the “far better” Arthur Dayne in a swordfight. That the scene ends on a deliberate cutaway, concerning a Tower and the cries of Ned’s sister, begs the question when the resolution will come. After all, this is a show that has dragged out story arcs past more than a mere week or two many times previously.

Then there is powerful magic, that is suddenly granted to someone who previously had gifts of 'foresight', and the ability to help with an assassin in the form of a “shadow”. It is remarkable just how jaded Melisandre is, so far in this season. She clearly is an old soul (and a very old human as seen at the end of Episode One), and her questioning of Jon on what he saw works on several levels. The viewer is clearly aware of her weariness with life, and her concern she may have crossed a line in actually bringing a person back from the beyond.


Power can also be displayed through the almost intangible form of family ties, and love for one's relatives. It is a truly heart-warming moment when Jon and Sansa embrace - given their respective journeys. Yes, they had very little interaction in the early episodes of the series to begin with, but at this point with most Starks dead, missing or captured this feels like a justified moment of hope. Episode Four is quick to establish what an excellent dynamic these half siblings have together, and clearly more is to come in later episodes. It also shows how both Kit Harington and Sophie Turner have grown as performers. Loyal viewers can reflect how each has grown resilient, and able to survive the cruel reality of Westeros, with each passing Season.

The show perhaps missed a trick by not having a brief scene or two showing the difficult journey for Pod, Brienne and Lady Stark. Yet their tired and dirty faces perhaps invite the viewer to envisage their own mini-story privately. However, there has been plenty of excellent set-up for several years, with making viewers hate Ramsay. Thus Sansa’s urging to retake Winterfell will clearly drive on the season arc, as regards these characters.

In terms of family ties concerning the Lannisters and Tyrells, both dynasties remain frustrated by the machinations of the High Sparrow. Tommen and Cersei still struggle to have a setup that works for both of them, e.g. a simple visit to the resting place of daughter Myrcella, is made into a major obstacle for the Queen Mother. But later on, Tommen is able to notify Cersei that Margaery is due to face her own Walk of Atonement.

This is not the most welcome of news for the ‘Queen of Thorns’ (Diana Rigg), who already has found it galling that both her grandchildren remain in rags and in captivity. Clearly there is a need to deal with the High Sparrow and his minions, but the price may be steep. Olenna still believes it is worth it, and pragmatically proposes that the Sparrows be the main party to perish: "Better them than us."

When looking at this material set in Kings Landing, whilst it admittedly still revolves around political intrigue and family rivalry, sometimes it feels somewhat sparse. Although this latest season is doing quite well without any concrete source material, cracks can occasionally show. One example I can cite is a scene with the Small Council, where the Mountain’s intimidation of Pycelle (and others) was played for low brow laughs. This really should have been edited down, and the so-called humour kept for a ‘deleted’ DVD extra. It simply comes off out-of-place, considering how late in the ‘Game’ events are now.

More positively, the reunion scene of Yara and Theon Greyjoy is done very well. Whilst a bit of glossing over Theon’s escape from the forces of Ramsey and his allies is contrived, this passage of the show still offers solid drama, and character work. Initially Theon's sister is venomous in reminding him how he refused rescue (back in the middle of Season Four). But he eventually affirms that Yara "should rule the Iron Islands". This has added resonance, as moments before he was fighting back tears, in recounting the physical and mental toll Ramsey’s cruelty took on him.Osha and Rickon in Danger (Credit: Game of Thrones, HBO, Sky Atlantic)

And the new 'Lord Bolton' continues to unleash horrors of both immediate violence, as well as tactical intimidation. With these two episodes he has gained another ally in 'Small John' (Dean S. Jagger). This ally is notably brutal and cold, as well as unwilling to bend the knee. Whilst a small scene, in terms of being just another conversation, it still is a shock to see that Shaggydog, Osha and Rickon did not find long-term sanctuary. The kindly Umber who had backed Robb Stark has passed away, and his heir is nothing more than an opportunistic turn coat - betraying the people he had been entrusted to protect.

Clearly Ramsey will use Rickon as his main chess piece on the board to try and control Jon, but by also having a large percentage of the factions once loyal to Ned (and briefly also Robb), he clearly is the favoured party in the battle to come. Whilst Rickon's direwolf was put down off-screen, there is a rather disturbing on-screen exit for Osha. Despite being a capable fighter and streetwise, she just cannot outwit Ramsey, and she pays for it with a stab to the neck. 

The viewer hopes Rickon somehow will remain safe, but by the precedent of the show, it certainly does not look too promising.


Some of the more minor subplots in these episodes perhaps do not directly fit the three power categories. The journey of Gilly and Sam feels a touch like padding. The potential face off, between high-born Sam and his cruel father, however promises to bring some more involving drama to the show.

Whilst I pointed out the notable impact of the High Sparrow on the familial ties in the Capital, there is some rather ropey material for the very skilful Jonathan Pryce. He seems to be given screen time that delves into pointless back story. We know how he is mainly a fraud and confidence trickster. Whilst perhaps making viewers wonder if Margaery is under this fanatic's spell, there is rather too much evidence to suggest that she is just as scheming (if not more so). 

However, just the right amount of time is used to reintroduce Littlefinger, who has always been both memorable and well-played in equal measure. His quick manipulation of Robin Arryn, so as to scare Royce with the potential fate of the 'Moon Door, is a relatively brief scene. However it is beautifully played by all featured, and really puts the labored religious fanatic material at King's Landing into perspective.

On a final note, the music so far for this season has been superb. Some of the stunning material includes: Dany’s ascension in the flames, Jon's resignation as Lord Commander, the tension at the Small Council, and the chilling impact of Ramsey slaying someone that stands in his way.

 





Game Of Thrones Season 6: Episodes One + TwoBookmark and Share

Monday, 22 August 2016 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
Image result for game of thrones season 6

EPISODE 1 - THE RED WOMAN

EPISODE 2 - HOME

STARRING: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harington, Liam Cunningham, Carice van Houten, Natalie Dormer Alfie Allen, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Iwan Rheon + Iain Glen 

WITH: Conleth Hill, Gwendoline Christie, Jonathan Pryce,
 Michiel Huisman,  Michael McElhatton, Nathalie Emmanuel, Kristofer Hivju, Alex Siddig, Tom Wlaschiha 

Guest Starring: Max von Sydow as 'The Three-eyed Raven'

Showrunners + Producers: David Benioff + D.B. Weiss

HBO/ Sky Atlantic 2016

*NB - Significant Spoilers feature for these episodes, and some of the preceding series. There also is comparison made with the original book series *

Game Of Thrones at this point in its history has become a true global phenomenon. Many millions of viewers, young and old, male and female, have been drawn into the political conspiracies and battle royales of the fictional lands of Westeros and Essos.

Come this new Sixth Season, much of the source material of 'A Song Of Fire And Ice' has been used up, or even bypassed. However such is the skill of 'D+D' - as the showrunners can be most succinctly referred to - and their close communication with George RR Martin as he writes his latest volume ('The Winds Of Winter') that there is the facility to still use up certain storylines by reworking the plot threads, with a bit of tender loving care.

 

Season FIve was at least to my eyes and ears, the weakest season of the bunch thus far. It had some great set pieces, but could at times drag, and the dialogue and character interplay was variable. Much of the new region of Dorne was host to borderline-amateurish efforts. A good number of the best characters are now written out including Tywin, Ygritte, Robb, Cat, Shae and Stannis. Even the more despicable ones could be missed every now and then such as Joffrey, Viserys, Pyat Pree, Craster and - despite his many fans who attest to his 'anti-hero' qualities - the Hound. Regretfully, there were not enough good replacements to cover the loss in dramatic potential

There was, however, a massive season cliffhanger involving Jon Snow. The most identifiable hero figure of the saga was last seen bleeding out from a number of deep stab wounds on the (appropriately enough) snow-covered ground of Castle Black. But, in our internet and social media age it was impossible to hide that Kit Harrington still was involved in the show in some way. Speculation was frenzied over just how delayed his resurrection would be, if such a miracle was indeed planned by the writers. And with no source material from Martin to confirm or deny Jon's fate, many millions again returned with bated breath. The hordes of fans now have access not just through conventional TV premiers on Sky Atlantic, HBO, and many foreign networks, but now additionally an online HBO streaming channel.

 

For this first review of the show to materialise onsite in 2016 I will divide the map by sections, and comment on both the progress in storyline, and how things are holding up in terms of program quality.

 

DANY/ DOTHRAKI:

Our favourite Mother of Dragons Dany was unceremoniously whisked away by her strongest 'son' Drogon, leading her to be left vulnerable in the Dothraki sea. Now she must endure a journey back to Vaes Dothrak escorted by a notably large khalasar. Indicative of Season Five's problems lingering, there is some rather cringe-worthy dialogue from the riders that escort her, accompanied by subtitles for the viewers that don't speak their language. All the same, after such a long spell without any Dothraki in her inner circle, this does make us reflect on just how far Dany has progressed in five quick seasons. It also is fun to be reminded that she can pretend to not understand a given language, even if her captors don't realise. But other problems arise in that there is a rather unimpressive 'replacement' for Khal Drogo. I do not mean any particular knock against new cast member Joe Naufahu, (who once played professional rugby before trying out acting), but he is neither that funny in unpleasant way or threatening as some of the best secondary antagonists in the show. Dany also more than holds own with him, even if rather dishevelled from the long march she had had.

Meanwhile Jorah and Daario are on their beloved Queen's trail, and rather predictably find the ring she left in a massive circle formed by the riders that accosted her. However Iain Glen and  Michiel Huisman do spark off one another well, and hopefully get a better script to work with soon.

 

MEEREEN:

In the first episode of the two to visit this massive former slaver city, Tyrion and Varys rather carelessly walk around, dressed as commoners. Their purpose is to inspect the state of a Meeereen which has a gap at the very summit of its power hierarchy. It seems rather odd that they are as relaxed and lacking in guards during the walk, despite plenty of the Sons of the Harpy knowing at least Tyrion - if not Varys as well(!) This is a rather rushed scene in a busy premiere, and feels tonally off due to its weak humour between these two fan favourites. In the past there were many serious and moving scenes that they share, but recently the focus is on broad comedy, which just doesn't quite work. Viewers requiring a bit of slapstick or loveable clumsiness are better served by the likes of Podrick or Samwell.

However, a better moment for the eunuch/dwarf duo comes during their reaction to Tyrion's 'testing the waters', by his risky sweet-talking of the dragons, as he loosens the restraints upon them. He manages to overcome any fears he had of a painful demise - not least relating to the trauma of 'Blackwater'' where he got scarred -  but still it is clear he does not enjoy being exposed to such high risks.

But problems remain in this second episode of Season Six, as the dialogue scene with Grey Worm, Missandei and Tyrion seems somewhat pointless. Whilst Peter Dinklage normally has automatic chemistry with each and every cast member, the alchemy fails to occur here. Certainly the words given to a good cast are not the most quotable, unlike the vast majority of dialogue stretches in Seasons One to Four. Plus, Meereen has been the slowest storyline in the show, barring the adrenaline-rush 'breaker of chains' introduction, and of course the colosseum set piece in 'The Dance Of Dragons'.

Yet most viewers would still be realistic in hoping that some major developments finally happen this season. Of course Tyrion arriving in Dany's court has overtaken the books, and more plot developments are continuing. Some of these by now will cause those who like the novels unspoilt to accept the inevitable.

 

DORNE: 

I made my feelings about this region of Westeros and the variable acting quality of its natives clear in my last batch of reviews on this site. Once again, there is minimal screen time for events, and plot developments happen in rather abrupt fashion. In this instance, there is little more than the seeming intent to shock outright. Prince Doran was a half-decent character in the books, despite his gout forcing him to be wheelchair bound. But in the show Alexander Siddig has been given little to work with, and so is one of the bigger wastes of a quality actor in the show. Various developments could have been made from the Sand Snakes and Ellaria betraying the trust of Doran, by their murder of Myrcella. The most efficient route for the showrunners, and least interesting for viewers is opted for, regretfully.

First Doran, and Areo Hotah are taken down with the barest of struggles. The death of Aero is itself galling as we never get to see his fighting skills, despite his considerable presence and intent persona. Many followers of Thrones will feel short-changed. Then soon after in a (possibly secondary) ship that arrived over in King's Landing, Prince Trystane is himself brutally killed, losing half his face in the process. With Ellaria declaring that 'weak men' will never rule in Dorne again, one does wonder where the season will go next in terms of the overall gender-balance of power. 

 

KINGS LANDING:

The season trailer built up some hopes for some enticing character moments in Westeros' capital. But thus far for these opening episodes, there is fairly slow progress made. This however may allow for suspense and then twists and pay-offs further down the line.

Margaery on the basic surface seems to kowtow to the 'pious' High Sparrow, but more almost certainly is going on, as she aims to resume her power play in court. Loras, whilst a great fighter, is not nearly as strong mentally as his sister, and continues to suffer grievously (off-screen).

Elsewhere, Cersei now is sporting a very different look thanks to the shearing of her atonement, and it seems to reflect her suffering as she only now has Tommen left of all her children. It could be seen that perhaps the Faith's punishment has changed her, and made her more humble. She is now seeing the prophecy from 'Maggy the Frog' continue to become cold hard reality. Yet her dismissal of Jaime in recent times is now forgotten, and the two are bonded closer than ever, if for the worst of reasons. And - similar to Charles Dance's cameo last season- there is the image of actor Nell Tiger Free lying commendably still, as the youngest female Lannister is mourned by her parents.

And as for Tommen, he is still involved in court, but otherwise is used as a crucial pawn by the likes of both the High Sparrow and his Uncle Kevan, now entrenched as the 'Hand' of the King. Whether Cersei can gain any access or real influence over her one surviving child will no doubt form a major hook for later episodes of this season.

 

THE WALL/CASTLE BLACK:

Jon's corpse somehow manages to look every bit as elegant as any self-respecting living character. Harrington is required to lie still and look very dead, as Jon's supporters (namely Davos, the Wildlings, and those brothers loyal to him such as Edd) try to protect his body.

The Red Witch's interest in him last season is built upon here, as she is enlisted to try and revive Jon. We get an insight into her insecurities which works nicely, given just how confident she had been in the show, right up until things went south in more ways than one for 'King' Stannis Baratheon. Her unfeasibly long life span, thanks to her magic, is revealed too. The withered face and body of an old woman replaces the presentable image that most associate with Carice Van Houten.

This is a haunting end to episode one, but easily trumped by the terrific misdirection as a seemingly failed attempt to revive Jon is of course a calm before the storm, and one of the great TV moments of 2016.

It is also deeply satisfying to see both Alliser Thorne and Olly, plus several more forgettable traitor, taken away to the cells of Castle Black after their wretched betrayal of Jon. One can only wonder if they will be forgiven, now their victim is very much alive and well again, but possibly very different in spirit given the precedent we had with Beric Dondarrion in Season Three.

 

NORTH OF THE WALL:

A lot of off-screen time has passed, since we last saw Bran's party make the relative safety of the weirwood tree, with of course Jojen Reed biting the dust in the eventful 'The Children'.  Isaac Hempstead-Wright has clearly aged some years, with a change in looks and voice that is rather remarkable.  But, as is rather common in Thrones, the Three Eyed Raven is now played by someone else completely, and looks distinctly different. Most discerning viewers would have no complaints surely though, as it is the redoubtable Max Von Sydow who now can flesh out a character, previously only seen in glimpses here and there.

The biggest draw for these scenes, which could seem too disconnected to mainland Westeros, is the sheer thrill of seeing young Eddard Stark along with other denizens of Winterfell, most notably a young Hodor who can actually speak properly. Bran's sheer interest in these visions is clearly significant too, and one senses it is not just the ability to see the past, but that something truly supernatural and significant is going on here altogether.

 

WINTERFELL - AND OUTSKIRTS 

The literal cliffhanger over the fates of Reek/Theon and Sansa is quickly resolved, in that the leap they took neither injured them nor slowed down their run away from the confines of Winterfell - a prison for them both for some time, when previously it was a beloved home. A little leap of faith is needed at times from the viewer though. Given the quantity of Roose's men, it seems a little easy that the duo get as far away into the woods/stream area as they do. Then the manner in which Theon tries to draw off the men and hounds is rather silly, and is compounded by the 'teleporter' quick entrance of Brienne and Podrick, as they save the escapees from a likely grim fate at Ramsey's hands.

On the plus side, it is great to see Theon can still handle himself in battle despite being so emasculated and physically broken. Podrick may have some competence at times, but is still very clumsy, and it feels right that Theon should save him, despite no former friendship. It is also a sign that the traitor to the late King in the North may still have some redemption left in him.

Then, having had some good build up, in the form of Brienne's failed attempts to bring home first Arya, and then Sansa, the greatest warrior of Tarth is finally able to convince her 'Lady' that she should be her sworn sword. In the following episode, a similarly moving scene occurs as Theon insists that Sansa is now suitably protected to make the risky journey north to Castle Black to seek help from Jon (who of course they all assume is still alive and unharmed). 

Back in Winterfell itself, a quick succession of events see Lord Bolton meet poetic justice. His joy as he has a 'true heir' is quickly extinguished. Ramsey had felt undermined already in the middle sections of Season Five, and now has taken proactive action to pierce his cold-hearted father in a vital organ. This act mirrors just how Roose gave Robb the Lannisters' 'regards'. Having an ally in the form of Harald Karstark was a smart move, and it looks like Ramsey will gather other houses in the North to support his hold on the region.

However the most memorable part of these episodes' visit to Winterfell is also the most harrowing. With Roose dead and deposed, Ramsey has little love and time to spare for his father's widow and for his newly born half-brother. Whilst their murder by Ramsey's hounds is off-screen, it is still one of the darkest moments of horror in a show that is well-known for its grim subject matter.  

 

IRON ISLANDS:

Compared to the books there is a by now long overdue death for Balon Greyjoy. The leeches-on-fire blood magic Melisandre used to doom both Joffrey Baratheon and Robb Stark had taken effect quite a while back now for those two, but the Lord of the Iron Islands remained a half-forgotten factor in the equation. It certainly is a dramatic end for Balon, even if he was probably not the most memorable character, and overshadowed for creepiness by the likes of Walder Frey.

There has been a long wait for Euron Greyjoy to be portrayed onscreen, given that other material in A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons was adapted last season. Thankfully, his entrance is played quite well. This man has no issue murdering his own brother to take the regal seat on the Iron Islands. Although weak, old Balon still at least attempts to kill Euron first, rather than just meekly succumb. However, such is their respective ages, and fighting prowess, there could only be one winner.

The question then arises: will Yara Greyjoy fight to become ruler, or will Theon, who decided to head 'home' be involved in some way, despite needing to travel countless miles away from Winterfell?

 

BRAAVOS:

These sections with Arya, the Waif and Jaqen H'ghar are really just laying the groundwork. It is fun to see Arya truly tested in having no sight, as she fights the malicious Waif. It is an arguably fair punishment for her vicious indulgence in using up one of the names on her kill list. I found much of the previous year's sections in this city somewhat ponderous, but am hopeful that there will be some pay-off, and perhaps some vivid new characters unique to the location.

 

**

And there we have it. A lot of new plot threads are knitting themselves together, as other sections of the massive jigsaw storyline are requiring a bit of urgency and development. But the early signs are this will be a solid season. The dialogue could do with some improving, but the production values and acting efforts are as strong as ever.


 





Game Of Thrones Season Five - Episodes Nine And TenBookmark and Share

Thursday, 15 October 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

9) The Dance Of Dragons
10) Mother's Mercy
HBO/ Sky Atlantic - 2015

Once again there are spoilers throughout the article for those yet to view the episodes, or who await their release on DVD and Blu-Ray.

 

And so we come to the last episodes on-screen to date, but they are far from the very last.

With plenty of speculation over what direction the next season will take, it will be a long wait but one that has more material to ruminate over than ever before. Also trying to pinpoint when creator George RR Martin will publish the sixth book in the saga will also be a somewhat tense process for some book readers, but recent news of foreign language translation deadlines would auger well.

These two concluding episodes certainly continue the momentum built up since 'Kill the boy'; a middle segment that overcame early episode weaknesses by planting various seeds, of which many have germinated with good effect.

I will begin my focus on the wonderfully well acted 'super-bitch' Cersei. She has finally got something of a comeuppance after basically being safe from direct threat much of her time in the show. Yes, she did lose Joffrey, and she may well experience the loss of her other two children - if the flashback she had in episode one is accurate - but her administration of the kingdom was always going to be shaky without a figure like Tywin or even Tyrion around. In the short term she put the new Queen and her brother Loras in a very bad place through imprisonment; it only hastened her own period of confinement and humiliation.

And what a further blow to her pride is displayed in Mother's Mercy: a long walk of shame, completely naked in front of a mostly aggressive and embittered crowd of commoners and other citizens of King's Landing, who all have no love for the late King Robert's widow. Lena Headey continues to prove her considerable skill in one of the best roles out of the many this epic show possesses. She did insist on never being naked in the show, and thus we have a brave body double who performed the actual walk in a real life and public setting. This results in small visual glitches if one has the spare time to look for them. It is still one of the great moments on the show, and it remains to be seen just how much Cersei takes away from this. Will she connect with the people and somehow put down the High Sparrow's ascension in status? Or will she just look for the quick and easy path?

Stannis would now appear to be definitively gone - destroyed both in terms of body and soul. Yes, the final shot of Brienne exacting revenge for the murder of his younger brother Renly does not show a beheading, but all the word from the makers and actors would indicate it is indeed the end for him. Whether he will follow a similar fate in the upcoming book The Winds of Winter is still far from certain.

We had at times been tantalising close to liking Stannis despite his lack of empathy and warmth. But the way he ultimately concedes his only heir Shireen - a truly decent person in a dark forbidding world - is horrifying in its intent as much as the manner of the 'sacrifice'. Once the burning alive of the girl apparently helps dispel the sub-zero conditions blocking progress to Winterfell, it is actually the beginning of the end. Stannis' remaining horses are gone, with many of his better fighters in the form of sellswords riding off for better monetary outcomes, and his own wife is a suicide victim; unable to forgive herself for her one surviving child's final moments of pain and fear.

Whilst the culmination of the arc pitting Baratheon against Bolton is done very well, I do have one minor complaint. We do not see Roose in either of these two final episodes, and that is a waste of a brilliant actor in Michael McElhatton. To be fair the character had already behaved knowing he was almost guaranteed the military win - and doubly so against an invasion force without cavalry as it ends up being - but some brief scene showing his reaction to his victory would be welcome. Furthermore the strong scenes with him and Ramsey earlier this season seemed to demand some kind of dramatic pay-off but all we see is more of Ramsey gloating. The despicable (second) husband of Sansa gets a rush of ecstasy killing defenceless men who know their leader is vanquished, and Iwan Rheon is magnetic as always.  Perhaps less character development proportionate to screen time was given to Ramsey though this year, apart from his reactions to being told he was the product of rape; when he himself uses sexual violence on women (and men like Theon).

I was thoroughly gripped by the Theon/Sansa sequences in the season finale. We get teased over whether Sansa will use the cork-screw device as a weapon; (she does not ultimately). Brienne notably prioritises chasing down Stannis over helping out the vulnerable Stark girl. A small excuse was the wintry conditions obscuring the candle lit at the top of the tower, but it would seem one oath just was more self-satisfying than another. The oldest surviving female Stark faces a horrible fate at both Myranda and Ramsey's hands, when confronted on the battlements, but she keeps her composure and her dignity. After viewers were misled as to how resentful 'Reek' really was in earlier episodes this year, and whether he would help his 'sibling' it is very gratifying to see him kill Myranda with a dismissive shove. Her death is as deserved as anyone who has met their maker in the entire show. The ensuing decision of Theon and Sansa to jump many feet down into the snow below is a thrilling 'cliffhanger' which will be resolved come spring 2016.

Rather less strong is the Dorne storyline, at least for now. Episode Nine has some half-decent scenes, but the plot thread involving Ellaria's penance never feels quite right. We have no real reason to believe she will let the Viper's gruesome death be forgotten, even if she can emphasise with Jaime about the stigma of loving someone they should not. 

The Bronn material is enjoyable enough filler. Jerome Flynn never has a bad moment, playing this loveable rogue and I am happy he has survived for now again. The farewell he receives from Tyene - "You need the bad pussy" - is criminally bad though, and one further instance of the show verging into self-parody.

Whatever the dialogue he is given Alexander Siddig is magnetic and authoritative as the hobbled Prince Doran. The now-cancelled Atlantis' loss is very much this far superior program's gain. I also enjoyed what Areo (DeObia Oparei) brought to the story. As under-developed as the character has been, he still had a real presence and makes us believe that the Dornish have many other formidable soldiers.

The brief bonding moment Jaime and biological daughter Myrcella have demonstrates solid acting somehow being enough to overcome a very weak script. Even if Westeros has its deviant customs, the manner in which this ordinary girl declares how she always knew her parents were siblings and that she is proud Jaime is her father just comes off as awkward. It matters little though, in that her sudden death is another blow to the gut. We know by now this show kills of likable characters with a snap of its fingers, but it still resonates. It also potentially will hopefully make this whole storyline come to life next year. Prince Doran will not accept his son's fiancée being assassinated, and the Small Council will be furious that their 'protected' potential heir has met this fate. It will surely lead to a heated argument, ineffective diplomatic efforts and then war. Whether the Sand Snakes will escape blame is also going to be intriguing.

Daenerys has had a very solid season in terms of character growth. True, actor Emilia Clarke really delivered the goods in her first and third seasons, but then the book source material was also at a peak. Khaleesi's ability to (barely) cope with the mammoth task of overseeing a city steeped in history, as Meereen is, has been a fine arc.

Episode Nine has by far the better material for Dany, her associates and her enemies. We get a shocking end for King Hizdahr, already having a brush with death in the middle of the season when just yards from Dany's dragons. Ultimately he is stabbed repeatedly by several Sons of the Harpy (who may or may not have been connected with him in earlier events). The death also is a fine pay-off to a brilliant scene where Hizdahr in put his place both in terms of wit, and also regarding the place where Dany's romantic feelings lay. 

The return of Jorah to Meereen as a slave trying to impress the Queen in mortal combat was very much telegraphed by previous episodes, even if the viewer had not seen any of the major pre-season trailers. Yet it plays out very well, even if we get a 'James Bond cliché' where a lethal opponent gloats and allows the (relative) good guy to turn the tables. The immediate moment after is terrific though. Jorah is not the most stable of people, and is dying slowly of greyscale. So his malicious throwing of a spear at the one person he loves almost would makes sense. As it turns out this action saves her from one Harpy assassin who was poised to strike her, from behind her prized seat in the arena.  

The ensuing 'banding together' of different people from various parts of the world, in the face of great danger is a fine moment in a quite solid episode. The Dance Of Dragons still pales in comparison to its equivalents in seasons one to three, and is ever marginally weaker than the all-action 'The Watchers On The Wall'. As well as the arrival of Drogon fits, after weeks of teasing us over his actions, there are some logic issues. Why do the Harpy assassins all stop to gawp at the incoming creature, when they have space and time to succeed in killing Khaleesi? Why does Drogon decide to be in a sitting position on arrival, and not fly around to attempt avoiding spears thrown at him? 

But such questions do not prevent an exciting final section of the episode turning into  the spectacular; Dany's flight away from Meereen on Drogon's back is both emotionally and thematically fitting. 

Once she is away from Meereen for some screen time in the finale, there is not much to really interest the viewer. She decides to stray from her wounded dragon, which probably would endanger them both, and is consequently captured by some Dothraki; possibly including those that deserted her when she lost her first husband. We are made to speculate that she drops her ring both to appear unmarried, and to help pursuers. Indeed she will have two devoted followers after her - Daario and Jorah. One loves the 'rightful queen' and has her love, the other chases intangibility. How they get on together and what they encounter should be a decent mini-arc of its own next season.

Unfortunately the scene that sets up this rescue mission, and decides who remains to try and bring order to the now-chaotic Meereen is pretty weak. We have to assume a lot. How did the others escape the Sons of the Harpy? What are the citizens' reactions, now a lot of them were slaughtered by the fanatics in the arena? Can anyone really see an exiled, disgraced dwarf being a credible ruler, even if he has some dynastic blood in him. There is too much that is vague, and the seasons having to be ten episodes do cause real problems. An episode in between to establish what the state of play was in Meereen may have worked better, but with so many storylines to juggle elsewhere with their own pressing timeframes, it would have been difficult. It must be emphasised that all the material with Jorah and Tyrion first meeting Dany in the fighting pits, up to the end of the season is original and progresses the Meereen arc substantially further than in the last published book. Arguably the showrunners were going to struggle somewhat with no 'solid' source material to fall back on.

Arya had some terrific arcs from the very beginning of Thrones, but arguably her material is mediocre this year. Certainly Maisie Williams is very capable (and I cannot wait for her imminent guest spot on Doctor Who's two parter this month), but what worked as internal brooding and loose chronology in the books has not quite been as impressive on-screen. The big exception though has been the Meryn Trant arc. We already hated him from the opening seasons, and most recently his blatant lies at Tyrion's trial were further insult to injury. So his final comeuppance at the hands of 'Lanna' is more than justified, as he indulges his appetite for abusing female minors one time too often. The violence is extreme even for this show and feels like it belongs to an Eighties 'video nasty'. We have seen Arya be cold-blooded before with a weapon in her hands, but this is more gruesome than what befell Walder Frey's minions or Polliver. The cutting of Trant's throat even recalls a similar fate for a dying Catelyn at the Red Wedding. 

Arya's ensuing punishment is not a bad twist to the somewhat tedious plot set in the House of Black and White, but Jaqen continues to be overly dull as a character and performance, given his excellence in Season 2. The exposition over the younger Stark girls' choice to defy the clear 'rules' only produces a striking concept, and the actual scene itself is curiously flat. Where Arya goes next year will hopefully be stronger material, and preferably she is involved with the major storylines again.

The Jon Snow arc will be my last point of focus for this review. For the most part this has been the major trump card of the pack Season Five possesses. Kit Harrington has been very strong, and may end up having an illustrious career for years to come His Commander of the Night's Watch alter-ego had many difficult choices to make, and the consequences of what he opted to do in spite of protest play out well in this final pair of episodes.

In Jon's absence during Hardhome, the remaining Night's Watch and their second-in-command Alliser Thorne have only grown more suspicious of the Lord Commander's intentions and methods. His arrival back at the Wall with the survivors of the massacre is almost stopped dead in its tracks. Things only get worse, once he agrees to send his clumsy but wise friend Sam Tarly away to train as a Maester. Jon has no trusted right-hand man left apart from Edd, and his Wildling allies may offer force of arms but only weaken his credibility given the battles between these enemy forces of yesteryear. Even as Jon makes provision to help Stannis - not knowing it is far too late to save the 'King' - he is letting his guard down about his own protection.

The 'Olly-evil-stare' subplot is the one blemish though as Jon's story reaches a bloody and chilling conclusion. If ever a betrayal was telegraphed in big neon glowing letters it was in this show. The boy actor playing Olly gets to look conflicted at giving Jon a stab to the gut, and that moment is in itself reasonable, but the end product is a weak and belaboured demonstration of how trusting someone can be a liability.

The final ignominious demise for Eddard's 'bastard' son may well not be the end, despite being a real downer to end a season of a long-running show (with long 'off-season' periods). We know that Melisandre is at the Wall, probably having used magic to get there faster than normal people would. And we know she is connected with the Brotherhood who brought Beric Dondarrion back to life multiple times. She has every reason to try and help Jon, given all her interactions with him, and now that Stannis is vanquished. Having Davos surviving is also likely to play a role in Jon getting back into the Game. (Even if it does not, having Liam Cunningham still around can only be a positive for the show).

So does this fifth season work overall? And is it worthy of all these Emmy statuettes and high viewing figures? Certainly the earlier visits to the world of Westeros were stronger overall and benefited from better source material. Yet it can be perceived that the show only gets its full dues now, much like The Return of the King's big sweep at the Oscars. Also by keeping the interest of so many people globally around the world, and sparking further debate, it continues to work as an 'event' series. 

But whereas Season Two was previously a relative low point, this season is further inferior. Consequently Hardhome feels like the one true success from beginning to end, with a brace of very watchable but flawed episodes, and one or two episodes that deliver a lot less than they promised. 

The original books had many structural weaknesses at this point, so I commend what has been edited out, altered or postponed (as in the case of the Greyjoys' arc). And sometimes the best shows cannot help having a let down, as is the case here after two very powerful seasons. There is still much to come, and I am far from alone in looking forward to the next development of this fantastic saga.





Game Of Thrones Season Five - Episodes Seven And EightBookmark and Share

Saturday, 18 July 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek

7) The Gift 8) Hardhome. HBO/ Sky Atlantic - 2015
Tyrion: He did what he had to do to survive. ... I suspect he’s the main reason you weren’t slaughtered in your crib.

Daenerys: Jorah sent my secrets to Varys. For 20 years the spider oversaw the campaign to find and kill me.

Daenerys: But you trust him?

Tyrion: Yes, oddly. He might be the only person in the world that I trust. Besides my brother.
                                                                                       

This season is the most radical yet in condensing and altering the storylines of the source novels by George RR Martin. But many decisions seem for the best. These latest episodes have much to do, and generally do those things with conviction. Pacing is no longer ponderous, and some wonderful production values are evident for all to see.

The Gift is a title with many different meanings; most obviously being Jorah's presenting Tyrion to his former Khaleesi, and Littlefinger assisting the Faith of the Seven's relentless pursuit of the 'truth' in getting Lancel to betray his own cousin Cersei.

Hardhome is rather clearer in its connotations; the heart of the episode involving a Battle Royale, but one rather one-sided towards the forces of darkness. The usual number of set up scenes and character development also feature, which ultimately make the episode a truly special one and rather difficult to top for the next pair. This is notable, as traditionally Episode Nine gets the most attention from Thrones' creative and production talents.

We now must bid goodbye to Maester Aemon, who has been a wonderfully acted by Peter Vaugn since the opening season of the show. It may be surprising but this is effectively the first character to die of nothing more than old age and related natural illness. The Night's Watch give him a suitable send off as Sam's speech emphasises Aemon's worth - particularly his decision to forsake his (limited) prospects of sitting on the Iron Throne.

However it also becomes clear that Alliser Thorne is still a difficult man to deal with; despite Jon's gracious decision to keep him as a second-in-command. Thorne threatens Sam, noting that his friends are diminishing. Worse ensues for the royally-appointed librarian as his girlfriend Gilly is almost raped by two of Thorne's sympathisers, which would be the first time since the dark days of her life with the now-deceased Craster.

Immediately after Ghost rescues both her and a depressingly outmatched Sam trying to scare off her assailants, Gilly is somehow able to not only tend to her beau medically but to proceed to deflower him. That makes one more Night's Watchman to forsake their vows, but given the innocence and decency of Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly very few viewers could blame them.

Sexual violence does unfortunately continue for fan favourite Sansa back in Winterfell, and it is soon established that her brave attempt to escape with help from a local supporter was doomed to fail. Ramsey's display of the old woman's partially flayed corpse and commentary on her degree of resistance to his handiwork is another fine bit of acting from Iwan Rheon. Here is one of the best villains on TV currently, especially with Joffrey now killed off.

I did find the lack of Roose in The Gift a touch unfortunate. It is all very well having his heir convey the information on Stannis' decreasing prospects, but the rich tones of Michael McElhatton would have been just perfect in drumming up interest for the impending battle of Winterfell. There are some misgivings with book purists over making the Jeyne Poole storyline into the present path for Sansa, but in all honesty this works brilliantly, and many will hope for a major climax in the near future. I also welcomed Sansa hearing of Jon's elevated fortune.

"Night Commander now, I've gone up in the world" would be a fun line to hear from her half brother, but this show is pretty grim at the best of times, and with Jon's plans to recruit Wildlings to the cause any meeting of these half-siblings is rather moot anyway.

The million dollar question however rests on whether Theon will help his childhood 'sibling' and enable an escape for her after all. That he has admitted that Bran and Rickon were not killed and thus may perhaps be safe is maybe an indicator. Yet one must remember the grievous mental and physical torture that he will never be able to exorcise from his soul. Alfie Allen is truly superb in this role, somehow avoiding hamming it up. He evokes true concern from many a cynical viewer.

There is not too much focus on Stannis in this pair of episodes, with just a brief scene in Episode Seven as his sum-total. Things have not got any more promising for the 'true king' since his departure from the Wall. He faces an increasingly hostile Winter, and now must resolve himself to either march onto battle or to retreat in abject fashion to the confines of the Night's Watch. Also he has lost some sell-swords, who would probably have been some of his best fighters in hand to hand combat. (As we know Bronn is certainly an accomplished warrior despite his lowly roots).

Most significant though is the Red Witch offering dark magic to gain an advantage. But this latest ritual would be something else. She point blank requests that Stannis' soul heir Shireen be burnt alive. Suddenly the touching moment seen in 'Sons of the Harpy' is looking shaky. Stannis' immediate reaction is to shout Melissandre out of the tent, but such is Stephan Dillane's skill of acting without dialogue that we know he is not discounting this most harrowing of chess piece sacrifices.

King's Landing does get a good amount of attention by contrast, with proper confirmation at last that Littlefinger did conspire with Olenna to take care of Joffrey once and for all. However the result yielded with Tommen, who is so passive as to be on the other end of the spectrum, has only allowed opportunist like the High Sparrow to turn the status quo on its head. Jonathan Pryce's latest work as the religious zealot is just as strong if not even better, especially when sharing the screen with the legendary Diana Rigg.

The High Sparrow for now is pulling quite a few strings, and not content with threatening Highgarden's influence in terms of food supply by mentioning the might of the 'many' who could take action to stop the crops being processed, he goes on to arrest another of the 'few'. None other than Cersei Lannister.

Yes, a proper comeuppance for the demented beauty, still believing she was the Queen proper has arrived. This works extremely well in both episodes. Her visit to Margaery where she displays mock sympathy is the effective pride before the fall. Cersei must listen to a well-articulated speech by the High Sparrow on the 'essence' that all people have beneath their appearance and status. She then is brutally given the same grim imprisonment that her daughter-in-law suffers.

Come episode eight we see Cersei struggle to survive both mentally and physically, and despite her arrogance she is having to seriously consider confessing to her alleged crimes. For the moment though we are not witness to a dramatic humbling of the most off-kilter of the Lannisters.

But what of the exiled 'Lion', who is now betraying his own family through and through by finally going through with his plan to ally with the enemy Daenerys?

Well he barely manages to make it into the open fighting pit which Dany and her new husband visit as spectators as part of their royal commitments. Just moments earlier Jorah had managed to defy the slave master's will and incapacitate other combatants that were left standing after one round of lethal gladiatorial action. However the 'Imp' timed his move well and helps Jorah's desperate attempt to win back Dany look credible by approaching the Royal Box and firmly stating 'I am the gift. It's a pleasure to meet you, Your Grace'.

Onto the next episode then for Tyrion and we see that Dany (despite increased impulsive action since conquering Meereen) has at least granted a formal audience to the two outcasts at her court. Mormont is however on a hiding to nothing, with Tyrion quickly stating that he is a liability to Dany even if his intentions are borne out of the purest love (and lust!) for her. Then Tyrion must justify why he should breathe any longer by provocatively entering Meereen in the first place. We all know that Tyrion is a fantastic wit and intellect, and not long after there is a tremendous two-handed scene with Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke. This is perhaps the best character moment of the entire season, and I quoted a small portion at the beginning of this review.

That these two even meet at this particular time is a definite change to the much more protected events of Book Five in the source material. Yet it is most welcome and a brand new dynamic where two of the best characters verbally spar with one another.

 As with Stannis and his followers, the set of character over in Dorne are only required for the first of these episodes. I  will admit that the three Sand Snakes are ever so slightly more engaging this time round, but perhaps the credit really  goes to Jerome Flynn's Bronn. He really gets the audience's full concern for his welfare. Being threatened with a  brutal  poison that can only be cured with rapid use of an antidote certainly makes Bronn look a bit less than his usual  unflappable self. Yes we get a display of bare breasts from Tyne which is really of main appeal to the adolescents      that follow the show. I can give a pass on this as it fits the characterization established and the precedent shown by  parents Oberyn and Ellaria in Season Four.

 A little weaker is a generic scene where Jaime scolds Myrcella. She almost impresses in her defiance over just how  much she loves Doran's dashing son, but such is the lack of groundwork for the young couple, the whole exchange    just ends up as mere bluster.  Doran is nowhere to be seen, which disappoints me as well.

Arya's allotment of screen time by contrast is confined to Hardhome and is a reasonably diverting update for the most amoral of the Starks. She has a new occupation of selling seafood goods on a cart, but of course this is just cover for her latest mission for the Faceless Men, i.e. assassinating one of the more ruthless denizens of Braavos.

Lana (as she is for the moment called) is clearly disturbed by the so-called Thin Man's scheme of profiting from desperate sea captains. The men only are rewarded with death in reaching their destination leaving their widows and children facing abject poverty. This would be one enforced kill that would feel satisfying to Lana. Arguably this is one of the clearer instances of set-up out of what an episode charged with bringing significant progress to plot threads.

Arya rarely follows the status quo however, and she may well find herself either cheating to ensure the outcome, or using her new identity to try and meet her own agenda. And nothing has happened to suggest Mace Tyrell and Meryn Trant are not going to make it over to this location very soon now.

As the song goes, I have decided to 'Save The Best For Last' and the Battle at Hardhome is worthy of gaining special praise. It is a major feather in the cap for a perhaps harshly judged season of a TV juggernaut. Everything building up to this set piece is essential viewing, beginning with Tormund's brutal close of negotiations with the Lord of Bones, and then proceeding into the well directed debating scene in a wildling hut. Jon almost shoots himself in the foot by referring to his shooting of Mance Rayder in the heart, but Tormund again ensures that the Lord Commander's desperate gambit remains on track.

The tense moments in the hut featuring a pensive Giant in one corner, combined with Wildling chieftess Karsi and Thenn leader Loboda - both out for as much crow blood as they can get - is a good suspenseful section. But the real  excitement soon arrives as the King and Lieutenants of the White Walkers, and their myriad minions, burst onto the  scene. The chilling sacrifice of those Wildling who couldn't get to safety in time is a reminder of just how cruel a world  George RR Martin created in the first place.

What follows is a massive battle set-piece and one of the most demanding but perfectly executed use of talent and resources by the production crew. We are privy to so much detail with various types of shots and focuses used. Yes, the rapid jumps from the various sword fights or arrow assaults on the wights can potentially be tiring but something just works despite all the chaos. Ultimately the passing of time becomes irrelevant. Mood is dominant.

The aftershock from this episode, which ends in eerie silence, will never be forgotten by me anytime soon. Jon may have demonstrated that his 'Longclaw' sword can kill a White Walker emphatically and swiftly. The problem is that such a weapon is rare and difficult to make in bulk. And with each ally cut down by the Others' forces, another soulless zombie foe arises. The moment of purest horror is when the Wildling Karsi stares like a rabbit in headlights at Wight 'children' before being eviscerated. She later becomes a Wight herself as part of the brutal final defeat for the humanoid forces.

Perhaps one-in-ten of the fledgling alliance leaves Hardhome intact. And the overriding impression is that this is a deliberate stay of execution, and Winter Is Coming faster and with more fury than ever before.

I truly salute Deneiof and Wiss for having the courage to carve their own path. This epic battle was barely covered properly in the books, even if it had some significance. Yet by galvanising it so as to probably forge the jewel in Season Five's crown, the showrunners have once again proved just how worthy they are to be in charge.

Thrones is as cinematic as TV gets, and yet can also offer all the subtleties of character dynamics that can be found in the mediums of theatre or radio. The traditionally pivotal episode nine, and the season finale, will need to be strong to do justice to the many adventures, intrigues and battles unfolding. On the evidence presented recently, that goal should indeed see a translation of intent into substance.




Game Of Thrones Season Five - Episodes Five And SixBookmark and Share

Tuesday, 16 June 2015 - Reviewed by Martin Hudecek
5- Kill the Boy, 6 - Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
HBO/ Sky Atlantic - 2015
The middle section of this season starts to make good on its promise; tantalising as to what fates and allegiances will concern the many characters involved.

Kill The Boy is a title with several references to actions and decision. Most obvious is Jon Snow's growth as the Lord Commander, telegraphed by Maester Aemon uttering the phrase. Tormund is now truly developing respect for Jon, after already having been through a period of investing trust in the youth, only to have it damaged by the eventual actions of one who meant his sworn loyalty to the Night's Watch. 

There is some build up to the Hardhome set piece, which was a major event in the books, albeit one that never took place in the present. Jon needs Stannis to lend him ships for this controversial and risky mission. Enough good-will means that his wish is granted.

A rather more ham-fisted development sees Olly continue to despise the Wildlings after he lost his village to their attack. I wish I could assert that he is anything more than a thinly characterised and blandly acted entity. The Jon Snow storyline overall though continues to be both compelling and enjoyable. Despite his resolution in executing Slynt, he still has much to prove to his Brothers in Black, as he is distinctly youthful, and happened to break a clutch of vows not that long ago.    

In the much warmer climes of Meereen, we quickly find out that Barristan Selmy is indeed deceased, following his one last show of fighting skill against the massive group of ne'er-do-wells.  

Grey Worm though has just managed to escape death's door and is nursed back to some semblance of health by Missandei. I find this work featuring new characters to be quite shallow and underwhelming. The acting is fine here, but there just is no real reason to care about two stereotypes' relations, when their past and deeper thoughts can only be guessed at.  

However, I do find an improvement in the one on one dynamic of the Khaleesi and Missandei. Dany struggles to make decisions with two major players now gone from her own 'Small Council' - one exiled by her and the other slain by the rebellious Sons of the Harpies. Thus she has need of another young woman's opionon. Some off-screen connection between the two actresses may be playing out in a positive way now on-screen.

But the most arresting scene of episode five concerning the Targaryen Queen is when she scares major nobles of Meereen, by feeding one of them alive to her entrapped dragons. It truly is a standout visual moment, as the hapless man is burnt and torn to bits. Perhaps this is due to her anger over losing Selmy, or just knowing she has some major trump cards in her fire-breathing 'kin'. Also powerful is the about-turn when the Queen allows Hizdahr zo Loraq to be her intended - not out of love, but political expediency. He certainly has endured a memorable few hours, but will he still have a chance to assert authority as he did before Meereen was overthrown?

Jorah may be exiled, but he proceeds ever closer back to the Queen - with Tyrion in tow. A wonderful bit of poetry plays out as both men muse on the rich history of the land they are passing through. Also striking is the surprise appearance of Drogon flying far above the river they are on; seemingly disinterested in these desperate men.And come the bridge between these two episodes, Mormont is suddenly exposed to his first real danger in a long time.

Firstly he makes the mistake of passing through old Valyria, and thus being exposed to attack by Stone Men. He manages to save Tyrion and himself, at the cost of getting infected with greyscale. The question now stands as to how long Jorah can keep this hidden.  Also will he will infect anyone else and to what extent?

Secondly in losing their boat, the two men are forced to eat humbly as they march on the long road towards the City of Pyramids. Tyrion reveals that Jorah's father, the-then-Commander of the Watch, was murdered some time ago by mutineers. Tyrion also establishes that he was driven to kill Tywin after the betrayal with Shae. Mormont's actual opinion of this crime is not touched upon - a fine example of less-is-more writing by Bryan Cogman.

Despite this plotline being strong, a slight hiccup occurs when the duo are overcome by stealthy pirates/slavers. One would expect them to be more careful than they end up being. Thankfully the Imp rescues the scene by using a bit of ingenious logic that he should be intact for verification. It also cleverly makes the glib remark about his 'dwarf manhood' in episode three now look a little careless. Jorah needs no such cunning. Season trailers have depicted Jorah in a fighting arena, so it would appear that he will have a chance to prove how able a warrior he is, despite his grizzled old exterior. 

Stannis, his court and army have plenty to do at the Wall in before marching away to deal with the Bolton 'obstacle' that blocks the capital, in episode five. It seems they will not return until a week or two's absence from our side. In the lead-up there is a well-performed scene where Samwell reverently greets the 'Baratheon King'.

He commandingly encourages Sam to carry on finding out as much as he can on dragon-glass and other methods of defence against the Others. Also Sam's relationship with Gilly has been portrayed very well once again throughout this latest season, the chemistry between John Bradley and Hannah Murrah being truly endearing.

These two instalments also perform a welcome character exploration of the twisted 'father and son' duo that is Roose and Ramsey. Just as with Tyrion and Jorah, the casting and acting is stellar, although they are instead meant as figures of contempt. Initially Ramsey seems to have command of those seated at the dinner table, and makes Sansa and Reek suffer equally by forcing a 'reconciliation'. But this is overshadowed by Roose's carefree revelation that he is expecting a child with Walda, clearly hoping for another male heir. The earlier excitement Ramsey demonstrated when holding his (nude) lover Myranda and reminding her he must marry someone of similar status is suddenly undercut. 

And there is more. Roose explains later to his 'now-legitimate' son the exact circumstances as to how he was conceived. Ramsey's mother was forced to see her lover killed, moments before being assaulted by Bolton; the end-product being this sadist of a man.  This theme of women being treated as objects is an uncomfortable one, but Thrones is based on such real life time zones as the War of the Roses where such barbarism was still common in real-life history. 

All the same, the final moments of Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken make that episode title seem a misnomer. Sansa, now-married, quickly suffers a terrible fate. She may have dreamed once long ago of giving her maidenhood to a virtuous man of good title. Such hopes have disappeared with the last of autumn though.The ultimate indignity of Ramsey taking her innocence in a derogatory and humiliating fashion is worsened, as eunuch Theon is ordered to watch the act throughout. Whether this is because Ramsey was not satisfied with 'Reek's apology at dinner or just another way of torturing his 'plaything' is left open to discussion. Of course the main thoughts evoked as the closing credits come on with sad music are those of sheer disbelief and horror. Sophie Turner warned viewers some time earlier of an upsetting scene, and she was not misleading anyone. 

This is all the indirect work of Littlefinger abandoning Sansa to the mercies of the Boltons. We only find out what is happening with this schemer in episode six, as King's Landing is given a rest for one week. Baelish does indeed meet with Cersei as expected. He quickly shows a new approach in giving away Sansa's location and 'her actions' in siding with the Boltons. Given Littlefinger's seemingly deep love for Catelyn this surprises, but how much he means it is anyone's guess. He does placate Cersei's dark thoughts of revenge on the 'last 'of the Starks, by promising Sansa's head on a spike. But could this be done by someone else first, given the impending battle at Winterfell?

In one of the few truly funny moments of late, we have fan-favourite Olenna Tyrell return to court intrigue, as she curses the stench of King's Landing on the road leading to the city. An enjoyable verbal clash soon ensues as she denounces the Queen Mother as a 'Tart', upon being referred to as the 'Tart-tongued Queen of Thorns'. But Cersei is playing her cards just right perhaps. 

Despite both Margaery and Olenna's calm when Loras is forced to answer questions in a small enquiry run by the High Sparrow, a sudden turn of events sees trouble loom. Olyvar, the man who helped run Baelish's brothels until recently, testifies against Loras and gives enough evidence to satisfy the religious order that a full trial is justified. The precise detail could only have been known by someone who lay with Loras, and as we know from earlier episodes this union has happened quite a few times. Margaery puts herself in a corner by indirectly conceding she was aware of these actions, and is arrested for trial as well. This is one of the strongest King's Landings moments all season. Tommen is confirmed further as a weak boy, letting Cersei orchestrate the whole thing from start to finish.  And at the risk of repeating myself, Jonathan Pryce is just magnetic, boosting whatever he can without seemingly trying too much.

There is some improvement in the Dorne sequences that come in episode six. However the Sand Snakes still fail to excite as they perhaps should. Jaime clumsily tries to 'rescue' daughter Myrcella from the Dornish capital. But viewers now know just how much she has fallen for Trystane Martell. The love shown between two attractive, seemingly normal people is rare for this show. Perhaps only Ned and Catelyn, or Robb and Talisa have truly virtuous relations. Just as the pointlessness of the mission becomes clear to Jaime, he and Bronn must try and survive a lethal attack by the Sand Snakes. The fight plays out well enough, if lacking in any real tension. Having Bronn receive a likely venomous wound is very effective though. 

The casting of Alexander Siddig as Prince Doran gets further validity in his fleeting appearance; being everything I imagined from the books. Hopefully he gets a scene lasting longer than a minute or two before long, as the potential for such a fine actor looks stronger than what he had to do in Atlantis.

Perhaps the real disappointment lies in the Braavos sections. Sometimes what works well on the page, i.e. a narrative related in rather loose chronology, can be hard to adapt for the small screen. We care about Arya thanks to Maisie Williams' screen presence, but her change of image and lifestyle is so solemn and slow, it almost seems like no-one carried out the editing work.Jaqen's influence over Arya is undeniable, as she proceeds to play her part in giving the gift of death. But the lack of audience investment in characters we meet fleetingly before their deaths take away a lot of the effect presumably intended.

'The Room of Faces' sequence is almost the exception to the rule, an eerie set piece with many hours of production work, which demands to be seen on the biggest and best TV sets one can find. There are other moments of interest, but still perhaps not quite for this medium. The sequence where Arya tells the truth and lies in equal measure, being hit moderately by Jaqen whenever a falsehood is uttered. The complex feelings over Sandor Clegane, who she undeniably bonded with, get some welcome attention. Other past events from long ago see acknowledgement as well. And Ned Stark's shadow hangs over the show yet again.

To some extent the further material with the Waif intrigues, as Arya has a potential glimpse at what she might become: a servant of the House and its Gods who may not entirely know their own identity any more and yet knows how to present any number of personas. The lack of connectedness to new events in the show is a definite problem though. Once Mace Tyrell and Meryn Trant arrive, the better this storyline will be I feel.  

Lastly I will touch upon the likable heroic duo of Brienne and Podrick. They have very little to do, after a promsing start for them earlier on. Presently Brienne is keeping an eye out for developments at Winterfell, but as yet she has no confirmation of the need to take drastic action. 

As the final episodes are awaited by viewers worldwide, some of the anticipation will centre on how the 'true' Theon may help Sansa, or whether someone like Brienne or a Northener may respond to a lit candle in the broken tower. Also notable is the potential danger Cersei may face as earlier episodes established that cousin and sworn-Sparrow Lancel knew exactly what she intended against King Robert (and indeed other schemes). 

Overall this long-running show is doing respectably enough. Hopefully it finds another gear or two with the concluding four episodes.







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