Lena Headey Archive

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What is the #DayofDredd

If you found yourself on twitter today, the chances are good that you saw somebody using the #DayofDredd hashtag. Rest assured, this is neither a typo nor a lamentation of October 1st as a day of planetary ennui. Instead, it’s a call to action for a sequel to 2012’s cult-classic in the making, Dredd.

Anyone familiar with my website knows that Dredd instantly became one of my favourite movies when it was released. In doing everything it could to align itself with the Judge Joe Dredd comic strip from 2000 AD, Dredd gave fans of Mega City One’s top-cop the movie that they’ve been wanting ever since 1995’s Danny Cannon directed Judge Dredd took a steaming dump on the collective hopes of an entire fandom.

Despite the fact that Dredd garnered praise from both the critics, yours truly included, and the fans, also yours truly included, it didn’t do particularly well in the box office.

As of this blog post, Box Office Mojo reports Dredd’s lifetime grosses at ~$35 million. The Numbers (.com) pegs the figure at ~$40 million with DVD and Blu-Ray sales of ~$17 million.  With the movie costing in the neighbourhood of $50 million to produce, Dredd isn’t exactly what movie producers deem a financial success.

The rationales behind the movie’s underperformance are various and sundry. Some people blame a poor marketing campaign. Others are apt to blame the fact that Dredd had 3D foisted upon it for the lack of audience draw. The elephant in the room of the blame game is, of course, Captain Codpiece.

 

What a shame to think that people didn’t go see Dredd because they were burned on Judge Dredd. Imagine what would have happened if people invoked that logic and avoided The Avengers because of Ang Lee’s Hulk.

Perhaps hoping for a Dredd sequel (or a Judge Anderson movie) is nothing more than a pipe dream. Even if the Dredd-heads of the world got #DayofDredd trending for an entire day, worldwide, it probably wouldn’t be enough to make a second film worth the potential financial risk. Be that as it may, there’s no reason not to watch Dredd if you fancy yourself a person who would like to see a post-apocalyptic version of Die Hard.

Still on the fence?

How would you feel about watching a movie where the female lead is a fully realized character and not some tedious sort of sex kitten meant to be an object of male power fantasy?

Not good enough?

Multiply everything I just said times two because the film’s antagonist meets all of the above criteria.

More?

This script, sets, and directing create a world that is genuinely bleak but still engaging. Judge Joe Dredd laughs in the face of Panem and your other barely-feasible, milquetoast dystopias.

And if all that isn’t enough for you, then you’re probably dead inside.

#dayofdredd may not get us a sequel, but if nothing else it’s a great way to spread the world about one of the best sci-fi movies of the last few years.


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Trailer Breakdown: The Purge

A few nights back I saw my first TV spot for The Purge, a near-future semi-dystopian home invasion thriller from sophomore director James DeMonaco. For your viewing pleasure, here’s the feature trailer.

 

My initial reaction came along the lines of, “is this an adaptation of some Stephen King novel/short story?” For those who don’t know why I would ask such a thing, a few months ago I found out that apparently everybody in the world except for me knew that King wrote The Running Man. Since there is something of a lowbrow King-meets-Atwood vibe coming off the trailer, I thought it best to double check. A quick IMDB search proves that The Purge is both written and directed by DeMonaco.

With that settled I found myself having a hard time suppressing my rage at the creative bankruptcy which this movie would seem to employ in its ruthless appropriation of Star Trek TOS’ Return of the Archons. Therein Kirk et al beam down to an ideal human society freed from violence and crime, except for during a twelve hour “festival.” During the festival, assault, arson, (implied) rape, and murder are just some of the events a visitor to planet Beta 3 can look forward to enjoying. So congratu-fucking-lations, Hollywood. All this movie needs is a super computer running society and your journey to the dark side will be complete.

Okay, deep breaths, Adam. Deep breaths.

In tone, the trailer’s first twenty-five seconds seem intriguing. The world goes from our contemporary mess to some waspy-suburban paradise. Seriously, where are the black people?

We then flash to the big reveal; this American utopia is only possible through an annual night of no-rules. Ethan Hawke then spells it out for us, just in case we couldn’t figure out what was happening from the title cards and the surveillance camera footage. I think somebody needs to go back to first year creative writing class and learn why showing is better than telling. Also, the kid’s name is Johnny? My god these people are white.

Moving on, Lena Headey reminds her children, who are obviously going to screw things up, that the Purge is a good thing. Once again, we’re telling rather than showing. Save for the armour plating over the doors and windows, the Purge begins to look like any other Tuesday night until…a black guy shows up. You’ve got to be kidding me. This is where it’s going? I hope there’s some really good subtext to back this up.

Rather than ignoring his pleas for sanctuary, Johnny McWasperton lets the black guy into the suburban fortress. An angry mob of white folk then show up and demand the McWaspertons surrender their house guest. Conflict: established.

Cut to: creepy people in masks and Lena Headey asking the oh-so-pointless question of “They can’t get into our home?”

Well of course they are going to get in. Mark the time at 1:53 when my hope for a clever story on social engineering died. Out of the ashes of my shattered expectations rises a much more basic haunted house/survival horror story. This is a shame.

The trailer leaves me thinking that The Purge will probably end up a pretentious and self-serious affair, which constantly has Hawke and Headey wringing their hands over giving the black guy to the mob. One of them will be in favour of it, the other won’t trust the mob not to kill everybody – despite talking about the “target of the purge” –  and the kids will spend their screen time echoing the audience’s preconceived outrage at the inherent barbarism of the Purge. Remember, kids are innocent things incapable of visiting horrors upon anybody. Except then the daughter will do something horrible, like try to shoot the black guy, because that’s just how these things go in crappy horror movies.

I know Headey and Hawke will give their roles the old college try, but I doubt they will be able to do much to salvage this story. Since the trailer builds to a crescendo of slashing, stabbing, shooting, running, and shakey-cam I don’t think it is inappropriate to assume the focus will ultimately land on these and other tropes of a thirty-year-old cinematic/narrative gimmick.

There is certainly manoeuvring room for The Purge to be a smart, capital-H, Horror movie. Yet pulling off such a switch would necessitate the screenplay echoing the sentiments of my friend Matt Moore, who just happens to be a noted SF and Horror writer. On Horror, Matt has often said that it is an inherently moral genre. Some parts of this trailer make me think The Purge could very well be a story driven on morality. Delivering on those flashes would require abandoning the standard slasher go-to move of alternating tension with yelling “boogie boogie boogie” at the audience in lieu of a more cerebral conflict.

The Purge opens in theatres on June 7th. Expect a review, or maybe a podcast, from me shorty thereafter.


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Why is Dredd 3D not Making Money?

Dredd 3D, which henceforth shall simply be known as Dredd, is a good movie. I’ve said it, fellow writer and critic K.W. Ramsey has said it, and with an aggregated score of 77% on Rotten Tomatoes a lot of other critics have said it. As both a comic book adaptation and an action movie, Dredd gets the job done. Why then is it such a dismal box office failure?

Before I attempt to answer that question, let me put “failure” into context.

Dredd was produced with a 50 million dollar budget. Granted, 50 million is more than most of us will ever see in our lives, but it’s downright humble compared to something like The Expendables 2 and its 100 million dollar price tag. In its opening weekend, Dredd brought in 6.2 million dollars in North American box office returns, putting it in sixth place behind the likes of End of Watch, House at the End of the Street, and Trouble With the Curve. I guess Clint Eastwood really can get away with anything.

Since its debut, Dredd has continued to under perform; its three week total stands at approximately 12.7 million dollars. So what’s gone wrong?

Impossible Nomenclature

There is nothing good about naming a movie Dredd 3D.

Forgive me for generalizing, but until I’m told otherwise I’ll continue assuming most people cringe when they hear a movie is going to be in 3D. For my time the 3D gimmick takes a movie I want to see and holds a knife to its throat, demanding an increased ticket price in exchange for the movie’s release. I can not think of a single cinematic experience where I’ve said, “Holy shit, the 3D was worth wearing those immersion disrupting glasses and an after the fact headache.” No, not even Avatar.

Now pair a potential audience’s 3D wince with a character name which has yet to achieve pop culture ubiquity in North America. Among said audience I expect the word Dredd tracks to three possible meanings: a misspelling of dread, the name of a character in a bad 90s sci-fi movie, or a beloved 2000 AD comic strip character. And while those who associate Dredd with the latter definition constitute your “shut up and take my money” crowd, I somehow doubt they represent a significant percentage of the movie going audience.

For the non-Dredd fan, the only take away messages in the title are force fed 3D and a reference to some terrible movie from long ago.

Honesty to Canon Necessitating a Hard “R” Rating

Mega City One, Judge Joe Dredd’s stomping grounds, is a nightmare of urban sprawl set amid the ruins of a nuclear holocaust. MegOne is a study in entropy and decay where the Judges, the personification of law and order within the city, are tasked with the impossible mission of forestalling the end of civilization. In short, it’s an ugly world filled with terrible people. Sufficed to say portraying the day-to-day grind of MegOne on the big screen is problematic.

Watering down the violence, crime, corruption, and drug use of MegOne leads to a disingenuous and cartoony movie a la Judge Dredd. Keeping the setting and characters true to Canon means you’re making a movie that caters only to adult audiences. As a critic, I’ll take a movie that is honest to its vision over the contrivances of “universal appeal” any day. But if Hotel Transylvania’s 76 million in two weeks prove anything it’s that the “SSCCATAGAPP” crowd is not a huge box office draw.

From The Simpsons season 15 episode "Marge vs. Singles, Seniors, Childless Couples and Teens, and Gays"

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Lots of Talent but No Big Names

Karl Urban personifies “that guy” as an actor. Urban was “that guy” in Lord of the Rings. He was also “that guy” in Chronicles of Riddick and Doom. It wasn’t until 2009’s Star Trek that Urban transformed from “that guy” into himself. Granted he’s always done well as “that guy”, usually better than he had any business doing given some of the material he had to work with. But as box office draws go, there are more famous leading men than Karl Urban.

Then there’s Lena Headey. Lena Headey is a fantastic actress. Terminator: TSS may have lost its way as a series, but Headey gave Linda Hamilton a run for her money as Sarah Connor. In Game of Thrones, Headey is sublime as Cersei Lannister. In fact, I count it as an injustice that she has yet to receive an Emmy nod for her role. Those who know Headey’s work know that she writes the book on strong female characters, Dredd’s prostitute turned drug lord MaMa among them. Yet outside of certain genre circles Headey’s name recognition does not measure up to her acting chops.

Questionable Advertising

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What does the above billboard tell you about Dredd? While the accurate graffitti rendering of a Street Judge’s helmet is enough to get me and the rest of the “shut up and take my money” crowd into theatres, I don’t know about its appeal outside of that niche.

Consider now one of the more “conventional Dredd” billboards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Again, if I didn’t know what the eagle shield, helmet, and pistol symbolized, I don’t know what sort of message I would take from this piece of advertising. I expect I would find it confusing. Why does the tagline say “Judgement is Coming” when this guy looks like Mad Max? Is this an action movie? Is it a science fiction movie? Why is he wearing that silly hat? Who is in this movie?

This said, the feature trailer for Dredd answers most of the questions that the billboard/poster art might evoke.

 

Granted the future looks a little too contemporary in places, but at least a viewer walks away from the trailer with some level of insight into Dredd’s narrative. Unfortunately, the vast majority of people only see the two minute trailer if they go looking for it on the internet. Such an action suggests some level of pre-existing awareness or perhaps even interest in the film.  When we turn to the thirty second Dredd TV spot, the story of Dredd seems somewhat less impressive.

 

Remember earlier when I said Dredd’s name could evoke three likely reactions? Compare Dredd’s TV spot to one from 1995’s Judge Dredd.

 

Even though the final product of Dredd is so far from Judge Dredd that making a comparison between the two is laughable, both thirty second trailers appear to be cut from the same block of cheap one-liner infused schlock. If I had seen the 30 second Dredd trailer before watching the feature trailer, I too would have thought Dredd a monumental waste of time.

The Bottom Line

Dredd is the sort of movie that would make it very easy to get cynical about the future of movies not aimed at mewling babies and their sleep deprived parents. Though Judge Joe Dredd has a huge fan following, Dredd is no mere work of fan service. It is the kind of action movie that would have fit in twenty years ago with the likes of Total Recall and Robocop. Perhaps then the days of non-family friendly action movies are behind us, and Dredd is the genre’s death rattle. Sure there’s The Expendables, but isn’t that just the apotheosis of bad dialogue, recycled plots, and action stars whose bread and butter movies no longer fit into the current marketing model? Remember what happened to franchised horror movies after Scream? Now movie horror generally comes in one of two flavours, torture porn a la Saw or Blair Witch style found footage movies. Once a cinematic approach gets to the point of self satire, it either dies or evolves.

Yet I still hold out hope that Dredd is the evolution rather than the swan song. Why? Two words: Pitch Black. Even though The Chronicles of Riddick is by most accounts a terrible movie, Pitch Black’s rise to cult status, and subsequent DVD sales, made a sequel viable. Critical acclaim + time = vindication for a movie that under performed in theatres. If Dredd does well in DVD and digital sales, and Karl Urban and Lena Headey’s stars continue to rise, we may just get a return visit to Mega City One.

NB: All box office figures via Box Office Mojo


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Movie Review: Dredd 3D

I’m not sure what post-modern film neologism I should use in framing Dredd 3D – which for the rest of this review shall simply be known as Dredd. Discussing Dredd in terms of a reboot invites a comparison to 1995’s Judge Dredd, which may further imply some level of actual legitimacy to the aforementioned movie. The often used term “reimagining” doesn’t work either as the ’95 story was so utterly divorced from 2000AD’s comics as to make Stallone’s movie the reimagined version of Mega City One and Judge Joe Dredd. Instead I’m going to call Dredd a “Hulking” of Judge Dredd. Hulking, which I think I just made up, draws its name from the Ang Lee directed Hulk and the Louis Leterrier directed The Incredible Hulk. Therein two movies emerge from the same mythology, but the latter shows complete contempt for the former in completely ignoring all aspects of its story telling. This results in the Hulked film being much better than the predecessor.

Then again, what isn’t better than this?

 

How then does Dredd take us to a place where we can forget about Mr. I am the Law? Like so: Dredd is what would happen if Training Day had a one night stand with Die Hard. Only Die Hard ended up getting pregnant, so it gave the infant Dredd up for adoption. That’s when surrogate parents Total Recall (the good one) and Robocop came along and took Dredd as their own. The resulting movie is as much a study in urban entropy, as it is a glorious blood bath which breaks down would-be heroes and turns them into pragmatic anti-heroes.

As a street judge, the embodiment of police and judicial power, Dredd (Karl Urban) knows that he can’t make things better in Mega City One. Dredd goes so far as to explain this to rookie Judge Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) as he prepares to take her out on her training day. Despite the resources and near absolute power of the Judges, Dredd explains they can only respond to 6% of the reported crimes in MegOne. Between this well placed exposition and a few key scenes of poverty and privation Dredd builds a believable atmosphere of overcrowding and wide spread unemployment. In fairness, I think it misses the mark on the actual aesthetic of Mega City One. Shots of the city imply space between buildings and breathing room that simply isn’t there in the comics. Granted, this change is nothing a newcomer to the mythos would notice, nor is it so heretical to the source material as to put off established fans. Yet it is noticeable.

Through luck, or perhaps Judge Anderson’s psychic intuition, Dredd and Anderson end up at the Peach Trees block, a kilometer high apartment building that serves as the setting for most of the narrative. Unbeknown to the Judges, Peach Trees has become the distribution and manufacturing point for a new designer drug called “Slo-mo”, which does exactly what it the name suggests. Where I expected Slo-mo to turn its users into cranked up versions of Neo a la The Matrix, it instead lets junkies slip into the colour palette shifted beauty which exists between seconds. For the audience, the Slo-Mo effect is alternately beautiful and distracting.

When Dredd and Anderson break up a drug den, the juxtaposition of life at 1/100th the normal speed and the frantic pace of urban combat is nothing short of fantastic. It accentuates the violent nature of life in MegOne as well as the absolute power the Judges must apply to stave off the inevitable collapse of society. But when the perspective shifts to follow characters who are high for the sake of being high, the Slo-mo effect gets tiring. Things like post-production shimmer effects on Slo-mo’d shards of glass and viscera end up looking artificial and cheap, probably due to the waste of time and resources that is modern 3D.

As for the remainder of the story, it is very much in the tradition of Die Hard, except inverse. When the prostitute turned gangster Ma-Ma (Lena Headey) seizes control of Peach Trees and locks down the block with Dredd and Anderson inside, they have to fight their way to the top floor to restore order and judge Ma-Ma. And in that mission, all of the principle players nail their roles.

Though Karl Urban has the fewest lines of dialogue, he executes perfectly as the Law. Without the benefit of facial expressions north of his lips, Urban strikes the right balance of dead pan, matter of fact, and near indifference to the events unfolding around him. On that point, no small amount of credit is due to writer Alex Garland and director Pete Travis for giving Mr. Urban all the tools he needed to become Judge Joe Dredd.

Lena Headey’s portrayal of Ma-Ma makes Cersei Lannister look like a declawed domestic house cat by comparison. Ma-Ma is vicious, sadistic, and utterly without mercy. What’s fantastic is that so much of her cruelty comes through non-verbal cues.

Not to be out done by the others, Oliva Thirlby manages to hold her own in taking Judge Anderson from a C- cadet to a proficient street judge. Anderson is perhaps my favourite character in the film if only because it would have been so easy to take her rookie idealism and turn it into a farce of weakness. Instead, Anderson proves herself as strong as Dredd in her willingness to pull the trigger. If we stop to think about the broader implications of Anderson using her psychic abilities to torture information out of a perp, granted they had already found him guilty of attempted murder of a Judge, we can make case for Anderson being even more dedicated to the Law than Dredd. Dredd sentences and executes as the situation dictates, but Anderson violates the very essence of an individual as a matter of course.

I have only one significant point of contention with the script. As if to fill in a third act that would have been too short on its own, Dredd introduces a few corrupt Judges to the mix. And while Judges do go bad from time to time, the idea that four Judges would just sell themselves for money seemed a little implausible. Again, if I wasn’t somebody who enjoyed how MegOne could break a Judge in the comics, I likely wouldn’t have a problem with this appropriation of a time tested “cop movie” trope. Either way, it speaks to a bit of a troublesome plot slowdown in what is otherwise a well paced production.

In the final assessment, Dredd does a lot of things right, even if it stumbles a little along the way. From a distance, the aesthetic of Mega City One is a little too close to home. MegOne isn’t contemporary Toronto or New York with a bit more traffic. But what Dredd misses on the essential late 21st / early 22nd century hell hole look, it more than makes up for in tone. Dredd is a brutal story of an anti-hero in a decaying world. As such, Dredd ignores a lot of action movie gimmicks. The good guys shoot first. The bad guys shoot straight, well straighter than most. It is subtle political commentary paired with a blood bath in the finest tradition of Paul Verhoeven. For fans of the comic strip, and newcomers intent on discovering one of the bleakest visions of the future, Dredd is the movie we should have got fifteen years ago.

Dredd 3D

Directed by: Pete Travis

Starring: Karl Urban, Lena Headey, and Olivia Thirlby


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Dredd Trailer and Breakdown

The Theatrical Poster for Dredd

A bit of disclosure before I talk about the Dredd trailer. I saw Judge Dredd in theatres back in 1995. At the time I was fourteen years old, and I loved it. I could not understand why my father thought it was a giant turd of a movie. I suppose it had something to do with his having read a few 2000AD comic strips where I had not. Fast forward to the aftermath of my 26th birthday party wherein a drunken Shaftoe demanded to watch the Judge Dredd DVD he got as a joke present. On that day I came to understand the complete and utter contempt that Joe Dredd’s first screen appearance held for the source material.

Therein lay the challenge for director Pete Travis and his new Dredd movie. I can talk about disrespect for the source material and Stallone’s diva-ish demands not to be stuck under a helmet for ninety minutes until second coming of Bruce Campbell, but that’s going to do nothing to disassociate the name “Judge Joe Dredd” with this monstrosity. For eighteen years, this has been how popular culture and popular memory have crafted Judge Dredd. Bearing that in mind, the Dredd trailer had, in my mind, only one objective: to show me, and anybody else who might enjoy a science fiction movie, that Dredd is as far from Judge Dredd as can be. Let’s take a watch.

 

Initial impression: Training Day meets Die Hard set in Mega City One.

The first thing to note is the rating on the film: “R” instead of “PG-13”. That in of itself should be some indication that Lionsgate is going to treat this movie with the seriousness that the source material always offered its audience. Next is the vision of Mega City One. Instead of something that looks like a Warner Brothers farce of Blade Runner’s Los Angles, this city has a real dystopian feel about it. The block towers are surrounded by slums. Ramshackle ground vehicles, rather than the obligatory flying cars of the future, populate the trailer.

Then comes the hook. There are no megalomaniacs out to conquer the world. Nor do we see crooked judges tenting their fingers like Mr. Burns. Instead, we are presented with a drug war, the perfect compliment for a cop story. The foe: a drug queen called MaMa played by Lena Headey. Her product: Slo-Mo, a drug that makes the user perceive events at 1% of life’s normal speed. I’m going to give the story the benefit of the doubt and assume that the drug only slows perception not actions. Thus, every user stands to become Neo.

So we’re fifty-nine seconds into the Dredd trailer and it is already better than the first fifty-nine minutes of Judge Dredd.

Karl Urban’s narration also helps remind the audience that this is not Judge Dredd. In that film, Mega City One was a big-ish city of fifty million people. This Mega City One is clearly the one from the comics, stretching from the East Coast of Canada down to the Carolinas and as for West as the Mississippi. Pairing MC1’s population of eight hundred million with scenes of urban unrest establishes the lawless reality of this post-apocalyptic world. This world is grim and bleak, but not so over the top that it starts alienating potential viewers.

Meanwhile the trailer hints at a story that targets the action movie crowd as a whole, not just a handful of genre aficionados. Dredd is paired with rookie Judge Anderson on her training day when MaMa takes over her block tower. All of the Slo-Mo production is focused in that block, so if the judges can take it out, they remove the only source of the drug. Instead of fighting killer cyborgs, robots, and clones, Joe Dredd is going to become the inverse John McClane, working his way up a sky scraper to take out terrorists and drug dealers.

Sidebar: I didn’t think it possible to cook up a character for Lena Headey who would be more chill inducing than Cersei Lannister. Freudians around the world are going to have a field day with this one.

What are we left with at the end of this trailer? Judge Dredd is a motorcycle cop, not a runway model for fetish wear. Mega City One is a horrible place populated by terrible people where the street judge system is a necessity rather than some picayune attempt to be totalitarian. The antagonist is played by one of the most fantastic actresses of the last ten years, who looks to be in fine form for this picture. Assuming the trailer is honest to the final product, Dredd is going to be a gritty cop movie first and a science fiction story second. Karl Urban is clearly doing everything he can to dislodge the brick of Camembert that Stallone shoved up Dredd’s ass back in the 90s; he even manages to deliver Dredd’s iconic “I am the law” with all the seriousness that it deserves.

Am I going to go see this? Allow me to answer that in my best Judge Dredd voice, “What do you think, creep?” I won’t say that Dredd looks like the smartest movie out there. However, the trailer suggests something that has the chops to regenerate a much maligned character. Simultaneously, the environment of Mega City One could prove an equally impressive rendering of a now classic dystopian world.

Let’s just hope there is an option to watch it without the 3D gimmickry.


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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season Two Episode Ten – Valar Morghulis

Alas, another season of Game of Thrones has come to an end. We’ve seen squabbles with the brothers Baratheon. Tyrion and Cersei have waged their ongoing war of words, feints, and betrayal with Shakespearian efficiency. Jamie Lannister was all but forgotten before returning in the eleventh hour as one of the show’s most interesting villains(?). Jon Snow got beaten up a few times. And, of course, Dany Targaryen did a whole lot of pouting.

There’s nothing left to do now but recap the few loose ends, and offer some final thoughts on the season.

The Big Political Developments

Joffrey, the little twerp, named Tywin Lannister the saviour of King’s Landing and official Hand of the King. Indicating the low esteem in which he holds either his grandson or the new office, Twyin declined to get off his horse to receive the honour. Also his horse shat all over the floor of the Red Keep’s throne room. I don’t think I need to draw anybody a picture so that they might pick up the symbolism there. I may though, if somebody asks nicely.

It’s also revealed that Twyin’s last second victory against Stannis’ troops was not solely a Lannister affair. Little Finger was able to bring House Tyrell on side with the Lannisters against the “rebel” Baratheons. The Tyrell’s military aid also brought Margaery Tyrell to the royal court. With a little bit of prodding from Cersei, Joffrey dissolves his engagement with Sansa and agrees to make Margaery his queen.

Speaking of people getting married, Robb decides to marry that nurse girl, breaking his vow to marry a daughter of Walder Frey. The consequences of that course of action remain to be seen. Other unresolved things include the state of the Stark’s war against the Lannisters. In fact, that’s been one of the poorest covered story elements this season. Granted we know that Robb has been kicking ass and taking names, but where’s the update on what’s actually going on in the war? If Tywin’s men are in King’s Landing, who is Robb fighting? Is he marching on Casterly Rock? Is he marching on King’s Landing? Whatever happened to those surrender negotiations that people were going on about around episode seven?

As for Tyrion…well Tyrion got sacked. Despite mobilizing the city against Stannis’ attack, the now scarred former Hand of the King has been relegated to a small room, stripped of all previous retainers and position. As for the Lannister that carved up Tyrion’s face, that gentleman did so under Cersei’s express orders.Though Shae attempts to convince Tyrion to leave Westeros, he admits that playing the game is the only thing he’s good at doing in life. Phoenix + Ashes=Tyrion in season 3.

Little Political Developments

Theon gives a great speech to try and rally his men to a glorious death at the hands of the five hundred Stark banner men surrounding Winterfell. In a comedic turn of events, Theon’s first officer clubs him over the back of the head and presumably sells him out to the Starks in exchange for their freedom. Then, yet again, things get confusing. When Bran and Rickon emerge from their hiding place in the keep, they find the city a smoldering wreck. This invites the question, who burned Winterfell? Was it the 20 Iron Islanders? Was it the Stark’s own banner men? And where did these men go?

Perhaps I’m slow, but this year’s attempt at wrapping things up is really slipshod.

Arya has one last encounter with Jaqen H’ghar as she, Gendry, and that fat kid walk…somewhere. Despite his offer to take Arya to Bravos to learn the ways of an assassin, the youngest female Stark opts to remain in Westeros in search of her family. Before changing his face into that of another man, quite the party trick, Jaqen gives Arya an assassin’s calling card in the form of a coin. If Arya gives this coin to anybody from Bravos and says the words “Valar Morghulis” Jaquen will find her so that she can be trained as a “faceless one”.

The Pointless Political Developments

After magically teleporting into the House of the Undying, which allowed Jorah Mormont to re-enact Stanley’s most memorable scene in Streetcar, Dany found her dragons. This reunion allows the dragons to torch the warlock who was intent on keeping them captive.

Now armed with her house cat sized fire breathers, Dany and Jorah lay a little revenge on Xaro Xhoan Daxos. Dany locks Xaro and his bed wench in the big vault. Oh and here’s an interesting turn of events, Xaro’s big vault was empty. Relevance? None since this story arc has been filler material all season.

With the surviving members of her Khalisar in tow (am I the only one who thought they were all dead), Dany takes to looting Xaro’s opulent home so that they might buy a ship bound for Westeros.

Seriously? It took a whole bloody season to get to that uninteresting point? Talk about your monumental wastes of time. Mark my words, boys and girls, if the entirety of Dany’s role in season three is to sit on a boat and sail the Narrow Sea, I’m writing a letter to HBO and George R.R. Martin.

As for Jon Snow, well he killed the other ranger in a brawl to win the loyalty of the wildlings. Sexy yet conflicted times ahead for him next year? I think so.

The Best Thing EVER

Sam and a couple other Night’s Watch fellows are out scavenging things to burn. During their hunt, Sam is going on about how interesting Gilly is as a person. The discourse on interpreting the female form is interrupted by three horn blows. For those who forget, three horn blows means approaching White Walkers. The other Watchmen run for their lives, leaving the slow, fat, and clumsy Sam to his own devices. As the wind picks up, shambling figures come into frame. Before long there is an entire freaking ZOMBIE ARMY passing Sam by. That’s not even the best part. This army is lead by a frost monster thing riding a zombie horse. Now that is something that will make people care about Jon’s story again.

Final Thoughts

Notwithstanding the Battle of Blackwater Bay, it was a bit of a slow season. That said, if there’s any justice in the world, “Blackwater” should earn Game of Thrones no shortage of Emmy nominations in the technical categories. Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey are both likely to see Best Actor/Actress nominations coming their way for continued excellence this year. I expect that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau will also collect a nom for best supporting actor. On that note, I sincerely hope that A Storm of Swords is Jamie Lannister’s time to shine. Save for the last three episodes of the season, his character all but disappeared this year.

I’m also thoroughly convinced that anybody whose last name is Stark and is over the age of fourteen is a blithering idiot. Ned trusts people who tell him not to trust them. Robb marries a girl who should just be a wench on the side. Catelyn releases Jamie Lannister on some half baked notion that she will actually get her daughters back. Jon Snow, technically a Stark, can’t follow orders to save his life. The Lannisters might be scum bags, but at least they don’t seem to share a single brain between the lot of them.

Also, fire Emilia Clarke.

So that’s it. I’m not quite sure what will be replacing Game of Thrones Mondays. I was tempted to make it True Blood Mondays, but I fear such an action would cause my brain to melt. Perhaps Tron Uprising Mondays? A note of thanks to everybody who kept coming back each week to read these posts. I know they are long, but I try to make them worthwhile. And a special thanks to Christina Boulard, who has re-tweeted every Game of Thrones Mondays update that I have made over the last two and a half months. Everybody should follow her on twitter.


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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 9 – Blackwater

This might be the easiest review/recap I have ever done for Game of Thrones. The whole episode, written by George R. R. Martin himself, was set in King’s Landing, and damn if it wasn’t the epic pay off that viewers have been waiting for all season.

Let’s start with a quick run through of the salient events.

Varys meets with Tyrion as the men of King’s Landing enjoy their last night of peace before Stannis’ fleet arrives. As Tyrion gets armoured for battle, Varys offers a map of the city’s extensive underground as well as a confession that he thinks Tyrion to be the city’s only hope for survival. Heavy is the chest that wears the pin of the Hand.

The Battle of Blackwater Bay itself is a thing to behold. I can’t recall an episode of Game of Thrones that ever looked quite so expensive. The sea battles, land skirmishes, and eventual siege had all the elegant brutality of a high priced Hollywood feature.

Round one of the battle goes to the Lannisters. Tyrion blows up a significant portion of Stannis’ fleet with a single ship filled to the gunwales with Wildfire. But it’s a one trick pony that fails to turn Stannis’ attack. It’s also worth mentioning the look of sheer horror on Peter Dinklage’s face as Tyrion comes to understand that he, and he alone, is responsible for killing all those men. While Joffrey gets giddy, Tyrion learns something of war’s human cost.

Therein, the “legitimate” heir to the Iron Throne sends his surviving men ashore to begin breaching the walls. Clearly traumatized by the sight of an immolated Blackwater Bay, the Hound quits the battle, telling the Lannisters and King Joffrey to fuck themselves (I’m not being colourful, he actually says “Fuck the King”). Despite losing one of their champions, the Lannisters put up a good fight, yet Stannis has a clear numerical, if not a tactical, advantage. Fearing for his life, and encouraged to do so by his mother, who sends Lancel to tell Joffrey that playtime is over and he’s to come home, Joffrey quits the battle leaving the burden of leadership on Tyrion. With some difficulty, Tyrion manages to rally the men, leading them into the sewers so that they might flank the Baratheon force at the wall.

Once again, Peter Dinklage gets one liner of the night when he says, “Those are brave men knocking at our door; let’s go kill them.”

Tyrion’s counterpunch routs the vanguard of Stannis’ troops. There is the briefest moment of celebration before the main force of Stannis’ men charge into the battle. Something quite interesting happens here. During the battle Tyrion is fighting in the thick of it. He’s saved from a Baratheon sword by what looks like a man dressed in Lannister livery. But then that very same Lannister solider swings a sword at Tyrion. The only thing that saves Tyrion’s life is the quick intervention from his squire. Still, the Hand of the King catches a sword tip to the face and falls to the ground, probably not dead, most likely in shock, and arguably the bravest half-man in all of Westeros.

Meanwhile, Shae has commanded Sansa out of the tower containing the highborn women. She returns to her room only to find the Hound waiting for her. Newly retired from the Lannister army, he offers to take Sansa home to Winterfell as wants to go somewhere where there’s no fire.

With Stannis Baratheon rampaging atop the battlements, somehow he was he only guy to make it up a siege ladder without getting his head squashed by a rock, and an army battering down the mud gate, things seem their darkest. Enter deus ex machine Tywin Lannister to the rescue.

Here I thought he was riding out against Robb Stark. Does that mean that Robb is going to be able to walk into Casterly Rock in the finale? One doesn’t simply walk into Casterly Rock?

Amazing as the battle was, the real star of the episode has to be Lena Headey’s drunken/honest portrayal of Cersei in a powerless situation.

Unable to connive, seduce, or puppet master her way out of the siege, Cersei takes to drinking. In doing so, she gets very ugly, yet remains supremely vulnerable. Some of her statements echo those of other women who “should have been born men” within fantasy environs. For example, Cersei demonstrates her Machiavellian leadership style when she tells Sansa that that the only way to rule (unless you’re a Stark) is to make your own people fear you more than they fear the enemy. Eventually she takes on a more practical tone, especially when she tells Sansa to cut the bullshit and start learning that the world is full of killers up to and including her beloved father. Toward the end of the episode, she falls apart back on what she told Sansa a few weeks earlier: all a mother can do is protect her children.

Cersei orders Joffrey off the wall, morale of the troops be damned, and manically cradles her youngest son on the Iron Throne. As she prepares to give her non-awful child a dose of Nightshade poison, so that he might be spared the rapine and slaughter of Stannis’ men, we can see the mask that Cersei wears to fulfill her role as queen-regent shattering to the floor around her. Yet in the instant that Tywin opens the doors of the Red Keep and proclaims the battle won, her duty bound visage is restored to its previous glory. Such is the talent of Lena Headey that over the course of an episode she can gradually unravel her character, and then put her back together on command.

I imagine that next week will return to the “all over the world” style of storytelling, further subjecting us to Dany and Jon’s dull plot arcs. All we can do now is hope that the Lion’s share of the episode will be dedicated to Robb and wherever his army ends up. Also Arya, I’d like to get a proper end of season wrap-up/cliff-hanger for Arya.


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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 8 – The Prince of Winterfell Review/Recap

Here’s a funny story, halfway through the episode, around the time Cersei and Tyrion were having a faceoff to end all faceoffs, my laptop randomly decided to reboot for the purpose of applying updates. At the time, I was banging out notes in notepad, which, as you would expect, did not save upon this unceremonious restart. As such, I’m taking a bit of a different tack with this week’s review/recap.

Here is the shit that went down (in order of importance)

*Spoilers Ahead*

Rob Stark doesn’t know why he’s fighting.

Catelyn didn’t lop off Jamie Lannister’s head after last week’s episode faded to black. Instead she freed the Kingslayer, with the expectation she would get Sansa and Arya back, and sent him on his way with Brienne as a guardian. When word reached Robb, who was out having a walk with Florence Nightengale Talisa Maegyr, he was not impressed. Words like betrayal and treason are tossed about as Robb has his mother imprisoned.

All this time I thought Catelyn Stark was one of the smarter people in this show. But if we recall Cersei’s words from last week, the only thing a Queen, or in this case a Queen Mother, can do is love and protect her children. Meanwhile Robb, uncertain if he should march home to free Winterfell or press on to Casterly Rock, does what any good leader would do, shags the noblewoman masquerading as a sexy nurse.

Tyrion wants Joffrey to fight; Cersei punishes Tyrion, with sexy results.

Stannis Baratheon is two days from King’s Landing, and good King Joffrey wants to lead his men into battle (Is it just me, or is this extended countdown taking on the tone of a Dragon Ball Z plot arc). The twerp thinks that his uncle Stannis will soil himself and run home to the Stormlands at the mere sight of King’s Landing desperately undermanned garrison. Tyrion approves of his nephew’s plan, under the pretext of offering morale support to the men. It’s also a convenient way to let the little sadist die in battle. Cersei, however, seizes the opportunity to punish her brother for yet another power play against her children.

The Queen-Regent informs the Hand of the King that she’s found out about his whore. Tyrion’s attempts to play off the situation as an inconvenience, rather than a threat against the love of his life, appear transparent to Cersei. Yet the tide turns in Tyrion’s favour when Cersei has Ros, and not Shae, brought in as proof of her intent to visit every injury upon her brother’s love that befalls Joffrey in battle.

After promising a mighty vengeance upon his sister, Tyrion returns to his room to find Shae waiting for him. Though Shae is convinced she could cut the face from any who threaten her, Tyrion is not satisfied. With each telling the other that “You are mine” I think we come as close as possible to any two characters expressing genuine, non-twincest, love for each other. Though there might have been some love between Renly Baratheon and Loras Tyrell. If Lannister guards are to be believed, their relationship was nothing if not long standing.

Theon Greyjoy is an idiot and a fraud.

Yara Greyjoy arrives at Winterfell with a handful of cavalry (How the shit do pirates keep getting horses?) and proceeds to break Theon’s balls for his continued ineptitude: first in losing Bran and Rickon Stark, then in “burning” them to set an example for the Northerners, and finally in forgetting that their power base is in ships not armies ergo attacking inland Winterfell was pointless and stupid. Chuffed up on the fact that he took Winterfell with twenty men (His words. My declaration of Shenanigans on the writing is still in effect.) Theon ignores his father’s recall order. Alone and absent reinforcements, Theon Greyjoy is now the most hated man in the North.

Except, Theon didn’t actually kill Bran and Rickon. In the penultimate and final scenes of the episode, we learn that Theon torched the two orphans that were working on the farm Bran and Rickon passed during their initial flight from Winterfell. As for the Starks, Hodor, and the wildling girl, they’re hiding out in Winterfell. Maester Luwin sees the former captive, now protector of Bran and Rickon, stealing bread and follows her into a hidden chamber within Winterfell. As the truth comes out, Luwin makes clear that Bran must never find out about the death of the children, which the little ord sent to the farm, lest he blame himself for their painful demise. Too bad Bran was awake and heard everything.

Arya and friends walk out of Harrenhal.

After much consternation, Tywin decides that the time has come for him to ride out against Robb. Arya attempts to find the ghost so that she might name the Lannister patriarch as her final death, but to no avail. Later, Arya extorts the ghost into helping her, Gendry Baratheon, and a fat kid who I’m going to call Podgey, into escaping. She does so by naming him, Jaqen H’ghar, as her third death unless he helps the trio escape. Following H’ghar’s instructions, the group walks out of Harrenhal at midnight to see the guards butchered at their posts.

There’s lots of walking North of the Wall.

Only two things worth any note happen here. We learn that Jon’s jaunt with the wildling girl has led to the death of the other rangers save for one. The second is that the surviving ranger wants Jon to try and infiltrate the wildling army because “one brother on the inside is worth a thousand on the wall”

Stannis is on a boat.

Stannis complains about how Robert Baratheon was a jerk despite Stannis’ loyal service during the rebellion. Stannis and Davos Seaworth then about rank, title, and society before the would-be king names Seaworth as his Hand once the battle at King’s Landing is won.

Nothing happens in Qarth.

Seriously, nothing. Dany has a tantrum, Jorah is stoic, and the plot remains at a standstill.

And that’s the episode.

There was one odd recurring motif in the episode, food. Bronn, acting as captain of the city guard, has all the thieves in King’s Landing rounded up and killed. In his experience, thieves do very well in sieges as food becomes the most precious resource imaginable. Stannis Baratheon echoes these sentiments when he talks about eating horses, cats, and dogs to stay alive during a siege. Tyrion talks about the high quality of his Lamprey pie before Cersei makes her move against him. Even Podgey goes on about how things are cooked in the kitchens of Harrenhal during his escape with Arya and Gendry. What’s the connection?

For all the talk about winning or dying when playing the game of thrones, it’s still subject to the basic laws of humanity; therein society is only five meals away from barbarism. Food is also an easy device for reminding the audience that the characters we’ve come to love and hate are the 1% of Westeros. Shae said it best last week when she reminded Sansa that the people of King’s Landing hate the captive Stark and all the Lannisters for the simple fact that their horses eat better than the mob.

We could stretch the metaphor even farther if we focus on food as a consumptive thing. Survival for the principle characters is not simply a matter of eating and drinking as it is for everybody else in Westeros. They must consume others characters in order to survive. Consider Tyrion’s meal of Lamprey pie. Lampreys have long been a meal fit for kings in European culture. But there’s also the fact that the Lamprey, a relatively weak creature, must attach itself on to larger fish for survival vis-a-vis Tyrion with Bronn and those Viking folks from last season. On the opposite side of the spectrum there is someone like Stannis Baratheon, who has consumed his gods, perhaps his soul in taking up with Melisandre, and his own brother in order to forward his claim to the Iron Throne.

Next week, from what I’ve heard, all the shit finally hits the fan. Tywin has his final battle with Robb. Stannis lays siege to King’s Landing. Robb’s splinter force retakes Winterfell. Hopefully we get to see some of it, though. This series has a nasty habit of cutting to the aftermath as a means of keeping the budget under control. As the second to last episode of the season, I think we, the audience, have earned some bloodshed.


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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season Two Episode 7 – A Man Without Honour

This week on Game of Thrones, life is a prison and the choices that we make are its bars. How poetic.

*Spoilers Ahead*

Let’s go East, South and North for this episode. That way recapping is like eating a really expensive steak served in a cheap hamburger bun.

Qarth

I spent a good chuck of Saturday playing Game of Thrones: the board game. During which time I complained about how bored I am with Daenerys Targaryen’s story as well as Emilia Clarke’s substandard acting abilities. My friends assured me that by the fourth novel Daenerys’ character becomes interesting. At least we can all have something to look forward to in the Summer of 2014.

Long story made short, Daenerys whines about her missing dragons. She then complains to Jorah Mormont about how she can’t trust anybody, the irony of which becomes apparent when the face mask lady from a few episodes back reminds us that Mormont almost let her Daenerys die in exchange for a pardon from Robert Baratheon. Finally, Daenerys begs the city fathers of Qarth to help find her dragons. In a surprise turn of events Xaro Xhoan Daxos and the jaundiced fellow from the House of the Undying admit to stealing the dragons. The two men then proceed to have all of the thirteen killed so that Daxos might become king of Qarth. Once again Daenerys’ decisions have trapped her in an untenable situation.

King’s Landing

Poor Sansa Stark wakes up to find that she’s had her first period. Fearing that she will now be able to bear Joffrey’s children, Sansa and Shae attempt to destroy the evidence before anybody else in the palace notices her bloody sheets. Shae intercepts one of Cersei’s hand maidens but returns to find The Hound in her room.

Surprisingly enough, Cersei is rather understanding toward Sansa. In a moment of forthright honesty, Cersei warns Sansa that a queen should only love her children as loving anybody else, including her husband, would make her weak. Later, during a conversation with Tyrion, Cersei admits that Joffrey is a lost cause. And again, it’s a moment of gut wrenching honesty conveyed through Lena Headey. As a mother, Cersei Lannister wants to protect her son, but she knows that he’s a power mad tyrant. Cersei’s fear, a fear she voices to Tyrion and in doing so all but abandons the pretence that Robert Baratheon is Joffrey’s father, is that her eldest son’s madness is the result of her incest with Jamie. For his part, Tyrion seems almost sympathetic toward his sister, a woman who last episode was vowing revenge against him.

Also, Stannis Baratheon’s fleet is five days from King’s Landing. Shit is about to get real in King’s Landing.

Riverlands

Robb has another run in with the sexy nurse lady. In need of medical supplies, she accompanies Robb to some negotiations where the Lannisters are apparently surrendering to the Starks. When did that happen? Did I miss something?

Meanwhile Alton Lannister, who you’ve probably forgot about by now, returned to Robb bearing Cersei’s refusal to acknowledge the Stark’s peace terms. Alton then gets thrown in a pen with Jamie Lannister. Therein the two trade stories about being squires before Jamie beats Alton’s head to a bloody pulp as a means of facilitating his escape. It’s a futile gesture as he’s very quickly recaptured by the Starks, whose banner men are now howling for Lannister blood. Catelyn Stark manages to impose some order, but the peace is a dubious one at best. During a subsequent conversation with the Kingslayer, Lady Stark draws a sword on Jamie as he pokes Catelyn’s raw nerve concerning Jon Snow and Ned Stark’s extramarital affair.

Harrenhal

Tywin Lannister is treating the death of his man in the previous episode as an attempt on his own life. For want of information on the would-be assassin, he’s taken to torture, hanging, and village burning as a research tool. So much for the Tywin who put a stop to needless waste a few episodes back.

There’s a bit more banter between Tywin and Arya on the finer points of Westeros’ history and Tywin’s legacy to his children. This results in Tywin calling Arya out as a high born girl masquerading as a commoner. Arya parries with a story about how her mother was the handmaiden to a Lady, ergo she knows proper manners and etiquette. Line of the night goes to these two when Tywin asks, “Has anybody ever told you that you’re too smart for your own good?” and Arya answers, “Yes.”

So the big question, does Tywin know she’s actually Arya Stark? Or is he operating under the assumption that she’s the daughter of a minor noble from the North?

Winterfell

NB: I continue to call supreme shenanigans on what the writers are doing with this plot arc. More so after finding out that in the novel Theon Greyjoy took Winterfell through deception, rather than force of arms.

Theon’s big theme this week is that it’s better to be cruel than weak. So he beats the ever loving piss out of one of his men for letting Bran and Rickon escape with Hodor and the wildling woman. Then, Theon literally releases the hounds.

The motley crew, pun intended, take a bunch of horses and go riding after the fugitives. I guess they brought those horses with them on their one boat? Because anybody who knows anything about horses knows that a horse is rather particular about its rider.

As for securing Winterfell, it’s a race between Theon’s sister and Robb’s men. Invoking Ned Stark, Theon proclaims that 500 men can hold Winterfell against 10,000. Pay no attention to the fact that at said 20:1 ratio, 5 men should have been able to hold Winterfell against Theon’s 100 and their grappling hooks.

As for Bran, Rickon, and company, they come upon a farm but Bran insists that they not expose themselves to the people there, lest the hounds track their scent and Theon torture the farmers for information. In the episode’s final scene, there’s a hint that Bran and team have been captured. Returning to Winterfell, Theon, intent to set an example for the people in the city, hoists up two charred bodies before the city gates.

I know we’re supposed to think that’s Bran and Rickon, but I’m not buying it. My suspicion is that Theon did indeed lose Bran and Rickon’s trail and decided to BBQ some locals in keeping with his cruelty before weakness policy.

North of the Wall

Wake me up when something that isn’t predictable happens. The wildling captive spends most of her screen time pointing out the obvious flaws in the Night’s Watch prohibition on sex while simultaneously pointing out just how capital-F “Free” she and the other wildlings are North of the Wall.

The girl’s continuous attempts at seducing Jon, both sexually and ideologically, away from the restrictive life of the Night’s Watch eventually leads her to another run for freedom – big surprise there. Jon follows her into a boxed canyon where a dozen or so wildlings appear from nowhere with spears in hand.

Though predictable, the scenes with the wildling girl add a bit more depth to the wildlings’ back story. Despite living on the other side of the Wall, the wildlings share a common ancestry with the people of the Seven Kingdoms via the “First-Men”. I know a friend of mine who would have a lot of fun looking at this reveal through the lens of displaced indigenous peoples. Since the wildlings don’t live in cities and castles, they are not civilized. So why not build a wall to keep them isolated on the shitty land and away from the rest of Westeros’ proper folk.

I’m curious to know if the books lend themselves to any such discussion – somebody who’s read them can feel free to leave a comment and fill me in.

The Bottom Line

A step in the right direction compared to last week. This week also produced a bit of subtext worth parsing out here and there. With Stannis’ invasion less than a week away from King’s Landing, I think we have to view this as the calm before the storm.

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Television Review/Recap: Game of Thrones Season 2 Episode 6

I’m a wee bit conflicted on this episode. On the one hand, events in King’s Landing are fantastic. I’d be the happiest man in the world if an entire episode was set there. Such an action would also assuage my growing fears that Game of Thrones is going to turn into Heroes, a show which was crippled by its exponential character growth and plot lines that never really connected.

While things north of the Wall felt a bit more interesting this week, the story in Qarth is as tedious as ever. As for Winterfell, well things just don’t make sense there.

*Spoilers Ahead*

North of the Wall

The rangers tell Jon Snow that he can never expect loyalty from his dire wolf as wild things are beyond knowing. Shortly thereafter they take a wilding prisoner at the mouth of some wildling cave/encampment. Jon gets tasked with killing her, that’s right, it’s a woman, but he doesn’t have the stones to go through with it, you know because she’s a woman. After botching the execution she leads Jon on a merry chase, separating him from the other rangers. With the rangers out of sight, Jon and the wildling set up camp for the night. There’s some cuddling for mutual warmth and a knowing grin on the face of the wildling woman.

Winterfell

Let it be known right now that I’m calling shenanigans on this entire story arc. Theon Greyjoy, the new lord of Winterfell, announces before the assembled denizens of Winterfell keep that he took the castle using grappling hooks to climb the walls. So either Bran Stark is an idiot who sent every man he had, including the guards on the walls, to help the other city, or the Stark’s soldiers are so stupid that they didn’t hear iron hooks bouncing off stone walls.

I don’t know who is to blame for this terrible piece of writing but somebody ought to get flogged for it.

So now Theon and his one ship worth of men (laughable) are occupying the whole of Winterfell. To prove that he is serious about things, Theon lops off Ser Rodrik’s head. Nothing punctuates a scene like the death of a minor character.

Skip ahead and the Stark’s resident wildling gets naked for Theon, offering up savage pleasures to her new lord in exchange for freedom. After shagging Theon into a coma, she leaves his bed to free Hodor, Bran, and Rickon Stark.

A cripple, a child, and an idiot escape from a castle…it sounds like the setup to a Marx brothers joke.

The Riverlands

Not much of note happens here. Robb Stark has a chat with that nurse from a few weeks back. In the process he figures out that she is noble born, puppy love eyes soon follow.

Catelyn Stark returns to the camp just in time to cock block Robb. Ma Stark reminds Robb that he’s promised to one of the daughters of that guy from last season who controlled the bridge.

As if being married ever stopped Ned Stark or Robert Baratheon from doing as they pleased.

When a raven arrives with news of Theon Greyjoy’s attack on Winterfell, Robb begrudgingly delegates the counter attack to one of his banner men. The only thing that keeps him from going himself was a reminder that he has the Lannisters on the run.

I’m actually okay with things being a bit slow paced in Robb’s story. I know it’s going to lead up to a huge battle (or some sort of game changer) either at King’s Landing or in Castlerly Rock.

Qarth

It’s time to fire Emilia Clarke. No, I’m serious. Her outrage as Daenerys Targaryen borders on comical. This week she pitched a fit in the home of a Qarthian noble, demanding ships and men to retake Westeros. As she was yelling about her rightful claim to the Iron Throne, it almost looked as if the actress was trying to fight a smile while delivering her lines.

I know that some of the fault lay in the writing – Daenerys’ character is much younger than Emilia Clarke – but her inability to convey a proper range of emotions is only making a bad thing worse.

So what actually happened in Qarth? Daenerys pitched some tantrums, nobody would help her, and then her dragons were stolen.

King’s Landing

Everybody assembles at the beach to see Princess Myrcella Baratheon shipped off to Dorn. Cersei, who refuses to believe that her brother is acting in his niece’s, and the family’s, best interest swears an equal vengeance on Tyrion. Anybody want to place bets on how long it takes Cersei to find out about Shae?

En route to the keep, the Royal party is met with jeers and cat calls from the great unwashed. One person even lobs a pile of shit in Joffrey’s face. Enraged, Joffrey orders his men to kill the poop slinger. With that command, a full blown riot ensues.

This scene was amazing. Sheer unbridled populist outrage takes hold of the city. Lannister guards are torn limb from limb by the mob. Poor Sansa, who Joffrey left to her fate despite Tyrion’s objections, nearly gets gang raped just because she looks to be high born. The only thing that saves her is the Dog’s timely intervention.

Then, the coup de grace, the thing that we’ve all been waiting for: Tyrion slaps Joffrey. The slap came on the heels of the line of the night, also uttered by Tyrion, “We’ve had idiot kings and vicious kings, but you are the first vicious idiot that we have ever seen.”

At this rate, Stannis Baratheon isn’t going to have to attack King’s Landing. He’ll just need to show up and the people of the city will give him the Iron Throne.

Harrenhal

Once again, nothing here was particularly essential to the main plot.

During a strategy meeting we learn that Tywin Lannister’s councillors are idiots – probably why he is losing the war. We’re also treated to a bit of Tywin’s back story. Hearing about how he taught Jamie to read, despite his eldest son’s dyslexia, was enough to make me wonder why his children turned out as they did. In fact, he hardly seems like the same man who orchestrated Tyrion’s tactical heart break.

After that, Arya orders her second kill when one of the Lannister guards catches her with a stolen letter concerning Robb’s troop movements. So who will be the third to get it at the hands of the Ghost? Tywin himself, perhaps?

Later, Little Finger shows up for a planning session with Tywin. He suggests getting House Tyrell on side with the Lannisters, despite the fact that they were recently allied through marriage to Renly Baratheon. All the while, Arya attempts to keep her back turned on Lord Baelish lest he recognize her. I suspect we’re meant to think Arya was successful in remaining anonymous as to heighten the surprise next week if/when Little Finger confronts her.

The Bottom Line

After watching King’s Landing tear itself apart, I continue to lament the fact that the majority of the show’s focus has left that city. I know the source material does little to bring the divergent stories together, but television doesn’t lend itself to that sort of writing. The writers need to start taking liberties with the novels whereby they bring more of the cast together. Otherwise the plots, as well as the character interactions, risk going prematurely stale.