Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Game of Thrones: Blackwater

And welcome to the penultimate week of our Game of Thrones recaps. I’m joined this week, as always, by Christopher “Born Killer” Lockett, an English and pop culture prof at MUN who has read the books and discusses the show from that point of view. This week we discuss what is possibly the most astounding episode yet. (And check it out, Sharon: we got it up early!) I’ll let Chris start things.

Christopher: OK, so I am dying to hear what you thought of last night’s episode—mainly because my own mind is in a total whirl about it. I’m not sure where to begin, because it was utterly unlike everything we’ve come to expect from GoT narratively: the episode focused on a single place and sequence of action, ignoring for the moment the stories of Daenerys, Theon, Bran and Rickon, Jon Snow, Robb and Catelyn, and Arya. Often episodes will leave out one narrative thread or another, which usually means we can expect something big to happen next episode. But usually we’re always aware of just how many balls the series has in the air at one time, and are (usually) impressed by how deftly it’s done.

But this episode? This was different. It makes sense narratively and thematically, as much of this season’s action has been building to the inevitable war. There have been battles along the way, of course, but we usually haven’t seen more than their aftermaths. And last season, we didn’t see the big battle because Tyrion got knocked on the head. The large-scale battle á là The Lord of the Rings or Gladiator still seems something of a bridge too far for television—which is unsurprising, considering the cost involved. When you’re spending one hundred million dollars on a two or three hour feature film, it’s all well and good … not so much when you have an entire season (with more to come) to worry about. So as much as we would love to see a proper Kurosawa-esque clash of massive armies, it’s simply not feasible.

All of which makes “Blackwater” all the more impressive. It should be noted that George R. R. Martin wrote the episode, which as he had observed is sort of an ironic return for him as a TV writer. In his many interviews, he has talked of how he sat down to start writing A Song of Ice and Fire after almost fifteen years in Hollywood, most notably as a producer and writer on Beauty and the Beast  (he and Ron Perlman remain good friends). One of his frustrations with television, he has said many times, was how limited you are by budgets. His inclination was to expansive and epic storylines; many times he had pilots and proposals for new series rejected because he simply wanted to do too much. So he returned to his first love, prose fiction, in which he would never have to worry about someone else’s priorities when it came to depicting, say, a massive and complicated battle. Never once, he says, did he imagine Ice and Fire might be adapted to film or television … he’d simply made it too big and complicated.

So it was a bit of historical irony that landed him writing the climatic episode about the battle of the Blackwater … and having Benioff and Weiss keep sending back his drafts with notes that essentially said, “Uh, no … smaller, please.”

But however much they cramped his style, I have to tip my hat to GRRM for doing a very deft job of depicting battle on a massive scale while at the same time making it feel very focused and indeed almost claustrophobic at times. Changing the battle from day to night was a brilliant move in this respect—Stannis’ enormous fleet becomes a bunch of ominous and threatening shadows on the horizon, and we don’t need to see them (or be subjected to the sort crap-ass CGI we saw at the Battle of Philippi in Rome) to know they’re there. At the same time, everything becomes focused down on a small space and small group of soldiers—as I’m sure it must do in a real battle, when everything else disappears for the individuals fighting. And I would also argue it was very suggestive, in the same respect, of the fog of war …

And on top of all that, SO MUCH was going on in this episode. What do you want to talk about first, Nik?

Nikki: Let’s compare the St. Crispin’s Day motivational speeches of the week, shall we?

Cersei: Do you have any notion of what happens when a city is sacked? No, you wouldn’t. If the city falls, these fine women… shall be in for a bit of a rape. Half of them will have bastards in their bellies come morning; you’ll be glad of your red flower then.

Joffrey: Waaaaaah… sniffle, snort… soooobbb!! They’re coming ASHORE!!!

The Hound: Any man dies with a clean sword, I’ll rape his fucking corpse!

Joffrey: Are they gone yet? Ooh, I can’t look, I can’t look! I WANT MY MUMMY!!!

The Hound: Fuck the King’s Guard. Fuck the city. Fuck the king.

Joffrey: Sniffle, wimper… Stay with my uncle, and represent the king on the field of battle. [runs for cover, muppet arms flailing]

Tyrion: I’ll lead the attack! They said I’m half a man. But what does that make the lot of you? There’s another way out. I’m going to show you. Come up behind them and fuck them in their asses! Don’t fight for your king, and don’t fight for his kingdom. Don’t fight for honour, don’t fight for glory, don’t fight for riches because you won’t get any. This is your city Stannis means to sack, that is your gate he’s ravaging. If he gets in, it will be your houses he burns, your gold he steals, your women he will rape. Those are brave men knocking at our door. Let’s go kill them!

I know who I’d be following.

What an episode. As you say, they kept to one particular story, and I even found that when it skipped over to Cersei, I just wanted them to get back to the action. So they definitely knew better than to switch over to Daenerys (whose story has been lagging this season to begin with) or anyone else when the real action is here.

Tyrion is certainly the star of this piece, with Joffrey the simpering fool, Cersei the drunken lout, and Sansa the true queen. While she was falling back on hymns and prayers, things that in the end can’t actually do anything in this situation, at least she was trying to put these women’s fears to rest, which is more than what Cersei was doing. But while Cersei comes off as one cold bitch, the ones she is absolutely loyal to, and cares about more than herself, is her children. The scene near the end of her trying to feed the lethal nightshade to her son was devastating, and you could tell it was breaking her heart. Let’s just say her daddy has some impeccable timing.

But back to the battle. It reminded me of the battle of Helm’s Deep on screen in the second LOTR movie (I half expected to see an elf come sliding down the wall shooting arrows as he went) but the highlight of the battle is certainly the wildfire exploding. The way Davos stares at it as the ship slowly sails out to land amidst the enemy ships, and the horror on Davos’s face when he realizes what’s on it. It’s so quiet and ominous, and therefore terrifying. Tyrion makes his signal to Bronn, who makes the perfect shot out to the boat… and then if there were ever the perfect poster moment for the phrase “all hell broke loose,” this would be it. What is wonderful about this scene is the look of horror on Tyrion’s face. He needed to win the battle, but he can hear the screams of agony from these men, he can watch them catch on fire and their skin bubbling and trying to jump into the water just to stop the pain, only to land in more wildfire and be tortured even further. Contrast that with the look of absolute glee on Joffrey’s face. His only regret is that he can’t record this so he can watch it over and over and over again while eating popcorn.

What were your favourite moments in the episode?

Christopher:  Oh gods, where to start? One great moment of geek love, certainly, was hearing Bronn leading a rousing rendition of “The Rains of Castamere,” a song that appears several times in the novels. It’s sort of the unofficial Lannister national anthem, about an upstart lesser house—the Reynes—who challenge Lannister power and find themselves eradicated root and branch and their lands razed (really, it surprises anyone that this is what the Lannisters sing about to each other?). As I said, we “hear” snatches of it throughout the novels; but for the series it was put to music by the band The National. Theirs was the version playing over the credits, and the way they do it gives it a definitely funereal tone … but I think I liked it as Bronn’s drinking song better.

I also loved Varys in this episode … his little speech about hating bells was lovely, as was his revelation that he loathes sorcery.

Cersei, too. As I’ve said before, I’ve been tepid on Lena Headey as Cersei, but here she was brilliant—raging against the chromosomal lottery that put Jaime in armour and her in skirts, and getting slowly and magnificently drunk.

And of course, seeing Joffrey’s bravado from last episode melting into panic while Tyrion holds the wall and rallies the men. (I laughed at your St. Crispin’s Day reference above—in my notes under where Joffrey orders the Kingsguard to “represent the King,” I’ve written “not exactly the St. Crispin’s speech.” Ah, we few, we happy few, we band of buggered). Though I do have to say that the episode’s one false note was when all of the soldiers kind of muttered and shrugged and started to wander off after Joffrey left. “Oh, the king left? Huh. Well, then, I guess I don’t really feel like fighting these people outside the walls WHO WANT TO KILL ME.” Perhaps the fight goes out of them, and perhaps they won’t leave the safety of the walls to face the enemy, but they’re not about to sit on their hands.

Really, there’s too many great moments to geek out over—the wildfire explosion, Stannis kicking ass on top of the wall, Sansa telling Tyrion “I will pray for your safe return, my lord—just as I pray for the king’s” (ouch!), Davos answering the city’s bells with his drums …

But my favourite part of this episode? The Hound. He’s always been a disturbing, glowering, enigmatic character. But here we see what Rory McCann can do. The slow build of his panic in the face of fire throughout the battle was lovely, but his final fuck-you to Joffrey and his appearance in Sansa’s room were both beautiful moments. He’s singing the tune he sang before—“the world is built by killers”—but this time that fact has none of the harsh realism he was offering Sansa before and instead sounds elegiac. The world is built by killers and he is a consummate killer, and in this moment he has failed. When he cuts and runs, he becomes a poignant depiction of post-traumatic stress as we realize that the pain and fear he suffered at his brother’s hands has never gone away. And McCann conveys that with brutal elegance.

How about you, Nikki?

Nikki: You do realize you just gained major points on this blog by quoting Spike on Buffy, right? Of course you do. ;)

And you beat me to the National link. A couple of days ago Josh Winstead, who does the Walking Dead posts with me, sent me a link to the Rains of Castamere song. Problem was, I saw it at work, and decided to listen to it at home. And since I have a Leonard Shelby memory (you should see the tattoos on my arms…) I completely forgot. So when I heard it at the end of the episode, I said to my husband, “Is that… the National??” You can’t mistake that voice. Of course, I didn’t realize they were singing the Lannister song. Brilliant version of it. And considering the sadness of the end, the funereal way they sing it seemed perfect where it was placed.

Let us talk of the end. Now I’ve been trained that no one is too important to be killed off (see Stark, Ned), but at the same time, his death, in retrospect, was necessary to spark the rest of the events thus far. The way Bran and Rickon were displayed by Theon tipped me off that it wasn’t actually the boys; we would have seen him kill them, they still seem like they could play an important role (I mean, if you kill off all the Starks, you lose a lot of tension…), and the fact they were burned beyond recognition made me think Theon was just saving face.

But Tyrion? I don’t think he could be dead. He’s important, he’s KEY, and Tywin just showed up. Tyrion and Tywin could be a serious force to be reckoned with. Jaime’s been rotting in a cage, Cersei’s been moping about, she was just about to kill her own son rather than face the hordes (and perhaps herself, too), Joffrey runs crying from the battlefield, and Tyrion — the ironically nicknamed “Half Man” — has just proven himself to be the only worthy Lannister. Tywin should be pretty impressed, and I doubt they’d kill him off the show just when he’s finally about to prove himself once and for all to his father. Tyrion has always been the brains; Jaime’s the brawn. In this battle, Tyrion finally proved himself to be both. (I understand the response to my comment may be spoilery, so you can just jump to the next topic if you’d like.)

Christopher: I’ll avoid being spoilery by asking if it was clear to you who it was cut Tyrion. I know who it was, it being an important plot point in the novel, but wasn’t sure it came across in the scene. Did you catch who his assailant was?

Nikki: You know when you think you see something but then something else happens so quickly afterward that your brain just moves on to the next thing? And then when someone like, oh, I don’t know, YOU mentions something that your brain had tweaked to, it instantly comes flooding back?

When Tyrion turned around on the field, he sort of smiles at a guy wearing a full facial helmet with three ridges on it. It’s the same helmet of the guy that Joffrey turned to (did he call him Ser Boris? I couldn’t hear the name he was using) and he said, “Stay with my uncle and represent the king.” Now your question had made it clear to me that it must have been the same guy. So… does that mean Joffrey’s demand had a double-meaning? In other words, don’t let my uncle out of my sight, and should the men begin to follow him, represent the king and get rid of him on my behalf as a traitor?

Oh, Joffrey. I hate you so much more now.

Christopher: Heh. Not to be spoilery, but don’t assume it was Joffrey. And for the record yes: he called him Ser Boris. Ser Boris Blount, to be precise.

So to return to your original question: yes, one of the things GRRM does is remove all of our confidence in who lives and dies. Bran and Rickon? Alive, yes. Tyrion? Well, obviously I’m not saying. And as sound as your reasoning is for why they couldn’t kill him off, I’ll say: (1) Ned died in the penultimate episode last season; (2) wouldn’t it just be just SO painful if Tyrion died just as he was about to finally be recognized by his father as worthwhile?

And don’t forget our other beloved MIA: Davos was blown overboard by the wildfire explosion. Alive, or dead?

If I can bring us back from the ending, I’m curious to know what you thought of the near-fight between the Hound and Bronn. It is a scene, incidentally, that does not occur in the novels … I’d have to check, but I’m pretty sure those two never speak to each other. And in any other episode, I’d just chalk it up to the writers being inventive, but this was a GRRM-penned ep … meaning that this was a confrontation that came from his mind.

I thought it was such an interesting scene. The Hound, again, was singing his favourite tune re: the love of killing, to which Bronn cheerfully copped. (Extended aside: I have quite grown to love Bronn in this series. Some characters have not lived up to the novels; but some have exceeded them, and Bronn is Exhibit A. Jerome Flynn has played him with such dark humour that he’s really quite difficult not to like, a far cry from the hard-bitten version in the novels). The Hound is obviously spoiling for a fight, and Bronn is not one to back down, and has his hand on his knife when the bells toll (in my notes I’ve written “saved by the bell!” heh).

The point, obviously I think, is to provide a contrast between two incarnations of the Hound’s world-view—two born killers, one dour and dedicated, the other hale and well-met (the naked whore in his lap was somewhat overdone, we got the point), both of whom find themselves in the service of a possibly doomed master. Thoughts?

Nikki: Yes, I wonder if there are some people watching who were staring at the girl in his lap and afterwards said, “What? There was a discussion between Bronn and the Hound? I… didn’t notice.”

I liked that scene a lot. The Hound has always been a character I’ve liked. I mentioned this a couple of weeks ago, but last season when Baelish told Sansa the Hound’s backstory, and how his brother had pushed his face into the fire and seared it, the Hound instantly had my sympathies. Especially when Baelish made him out to be a monster, telling Sansa never to reveal this information to him or he’d kill her on the spot. The way the Hound glances in her direction in that moment made me think he could hear Baelish telling her, but it was unclear.

From that moment there’s been a link between the Hound and Sansa. On the one hand, he calls her the little bird and seems sympathetic to her. He knows how insipid Joffrey is (his distaste of the little shit every time Joffrey calls him “Dog” is written all over his disfigured face), and how awful the Lannisters are, and he sees Sansa as someone who is about to get wrapped up in this family because her father made a bad decision.

Bronn is an interesting character; I don’t like him as much as you do, because in a fight between him and the Hound I’d be rooting for the latter, but he’s the one person who seems to outwit Tyrion on a regular basis, and their “final” words to one another suggest he’s far more educated than he lets on. I’m very intrigued by him, and I hope we find out more in the upcoming seasons.

But the Hound is fantastic. The final scene was extraordinary. Sansa enters the room, and goes right for her doll. Until now she’s tried to keep it together, she mutters only to Shae her hatred for Joffrey (Shae’s constantly shushing her), she says exactly what she’s supposed to say, she watches Cersei’s drunken rantings with a wide-eyed fear, people tell her what to do and she rarely talks back, and after her outbursts in season 1 many of us had very little time for her. But you can’t forget she’s still a little girl. The actress playing her is much older than Sansa is supposed to be. She’s just getting her period for the first time, so that puts her at early high school age. She stands there and holds her dolly, reverting back to the little girl she was just a few short months ago, before her red rose was blooming (as Cersei put it), before her future husband was threatening her life on a regular basis, before she had a future husband, before her father was beheaded, before she was separated from her entire family, before she’d had to leave Winterfell.

And then the Hound speaks, and unnerves her. She does what she’s done all season: stares wide-eyed at him, doesn’t say a word, speaks only when spoken to, and then he tells her that everyone around her is a killer and she’d better get used to it. And watch how her eyes change. That wide-eyed little bird look disappears, she narrows her eyes and stares at him as if she’s trying to suss out the situation. And then she says, “You won’t hurt me.” She doesn’t ask it, she states it, as if knowing it’s true. He assures her he won’t, and heads for the door. She makes her own decision for the first time in her life, drops the doll, and leaves the room… finally a woman.

Christopher: What a great reading of that scene. Poor Sophie Turner … playing Sansa must be a mostly thankless role—for most of last season she was a whiny princess, and for most of this season she’s essentially cowered under the capricious threat of Joffrey’s violence. But then she gets these moments of extraordinary strength and grace, as she did last season when Joffrey makes her look at her father’s head, and pretty much all throughout this episode. She has spent all this time being terrified of the Hound, but in the final estimation she gets his measure. Having her pick up the doll as she comes into her room was incredibly poignant. That she has kept the doll as a keepsake of her father is unsurprising, but still powerful. It reminds us of Ned’s hamfisted attempt to cheer her up last season, only to be told that she wasn’t a little girl any more. Well, now she knows that she was … and as you point out, is no longer.

If growing up is in part about losing your illusions—putting aside childish things, as it were—Sansa has had to grow up pretty damn fast in King’s Landing. She’s something of a surrogate for that part of us that still wants to believe fairy tales and traditional stories of knights and kings, or for that matter that understanding of the fantasy genre coloured by the moral absolutism of C.S. Lewis or Tolkien. Kings can be venal and buffoonish like Robert, or cruel and sadistic like Joffrey; queens can be power-hungry and conniving like Cersei; knights can be cold killing machines like the Hound or Jaime Lannister; and men with unshakeable honour like her father don’t last long in their company, because they don’t understand how the game of thrones is played.

But Sansa is learning. All in the game, yo.

So … we have one more episode to go, which makes me very, very sad … any final thoughts on the penultimate episode?

Nikki: These seasons are far too short. But there was a lot in this episode that hinted at larger things, and created some tension and drama that will continue into season 3:
  • Varys talks about when he was cut, as if there’s some major meaning behind it. I don’t think anyone chooses to be a eunuch, but in his case, I’m thinking there was a particularly sinister reason for why he is one.
  • As mentioned earlier, the men showed their loyalty to Tyrion on the field, which may have led to him being sliced. I particularly loved Joffrey threatening Tyrion, and Tyrion’s blasé response: “Then I’ll be the quarter man. Doesn’t have the same ring to it.”
  • Joffrey arrogantly calls his sword “Hearteater”; I do hope that’s prescient, but that it will be turned on him. Then again, he doesn’t have a heart to remove, so…
  • Sansa brilliantly goads Joffrey into joining the vanguard on the field by telling him how brave her brother Robb is in battle. He’ll be looking to make her pay for that.
  • I was shocked when Davos blew off the boat in the wildfire attack. He’s a brilliant character, played wonderfully by Liam Cunningham. I feel like there’s a lot more backstory there to be explored, but how could he have survived that attack? If he does, he’s likely horribly mangled.
  • Shae. I wasn’t sure what I thought of her at first, but I REALLY like her now. She has an oldness about her, like she’s wise beyond her years, and I loved it when she lifted her skirt to reveal the knife and told Sansa in no uncertain terms that no one will be raping her.
  • In her drunkenness, Cersei reveals that her father told her there were no gods when she was only four years old and praying to them for her mother. No wonder she became so cold.
  • Stannis looks like he’s done for, but I’m thinking Melisandre is going to enter the story again to deal with this situation.
  • Y’all know what I think about shipping, but if I did that sort of thing, I’d be shipping the Hound and Sansa right now. I’m rooting for a beauty and the beast sort of thing to happen there.

Can’t wait for next week!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

RIP Jim Unger

Jim Unger, the creator of the Herman comics, has passed away. My dad was a huge fan of his comics when I was a kid, and bought all the big treasuries. He'd sit on the couch reading through them and be doubled over with laughter. At first, I didn't get them, but as I got older, I thought they ranked right up there with the Far Side for how they were able to contain sarcasm, ironic commentary, and laugh-out-loud hilarity in a single panel. When the publishing house I work at, ECW Press, began reissuing his best comics in colour several years ago, I was thrilled to be working with the same comics I'd grown up giggling over. Herman was men, women, cats, dogs... anyone you wanted Herman to be. 

Mr. Unger had been ill for some time, but I was still very sad to hear the news just now. Here is the statement from his family. RIP, Herman. 

Jim Unger has died. The creator of the enormously successful and original offbeat cartoon panel HERMAN passed away Monday morning at his home in Victoria, British Columbia. 
HERMAN, which is featured in hundreds of newspapers worldwide by Universal Uclick as well as in dozens of book collections, was inspirational to many creators from Gary Larsen to Scott Adams.

The ground-breaking British-born cartoonist was twice honored by the National Cartoonist Society as Best Syndicated Panel.

“Jim was genuinely funny on and off the comic page,” says David Waisglass, Creator of Farcus and long-time friend. “He loved to share a laugh more than anything.”

After 20 years of cartooning and thousands of original comics to his credit, Unger retired to the Bahamas in 1992. He returned to the comic pages in 1997 with the release of classic and new HERMAN material.

“Jim was a genius by any definition,” says Waisglass. “He will be greatly missed by everyone who knew him and his work.”

Waisglass, along with Canadian comic illustrator Roly Wood, assisted Unger in his later years.

“It’s been great working with Jim,” says Waisglass, who calls Unger his mentor. “He was not just a business partner, colleague, and friend. He was truly a hilarious man with a sweet caring soul.”

Unger died quietly in his home at 75 years of age.

Many HERMAN cartoons have been inspired by his beloved sister, Deborah, and her husband Danny Parker along with their three children and many grandchildren, who always lived nearby. His brother, Robert, lived with Unger and joined in writing of many HERMAN cartoons until his death in 2003. Unger is also survived by his sister, Shirley Unger, in Ontario, Canada, and his brother Steve Unger in the U.K.

In lieu of flowers and cards, the family asks that donations be made to the HEART & STROKE FOUNDATION

Monday, May 28, 2012

League of Lost-traordinary Gentlemen

Hello everyone! While we wait for my Game of Thrones post later this week, I have a fun Lost-related one to share with you this week. And it's written by a guest poster! I first met Justin Mohareb at a fan convention, when he approached me in line and asked if I had a quarter for coffee. He was wearing a little tinfoil hat and muttering to himself, and I handed him the quarter and then he wandered away, continuing to mutter about voices and aliens and something about magnets. But then he got better, was the first person I know of who figured out that Lost was all about magnets (because it was, wasn't it?), and he generally makes me laugh the entire time I'm with him. And not because of his funny tinfoil hat. And not only THAT, but as you can see from the picture, he travelled to Westeros and took the Iron Throne. AND... he took pictures. So now I present to you, Justin Mohareb!


In 1999 the world was introduced to the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.  The comic series created by comic book mastermind Allan Moore and artist Kevin O’Neil took Victorian characters and brought them together as a supergroup (in both senses of the word).  The conceit of the LoEG comics is that everything that has happened in fiction is real.  Dracula stalked the same London as Sherlock Holmes, Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man.

When the first comic starts, the League has been in existence for over 100 years, founded by Shakespeare’s Prospero at the behest of England’s Fairy Queen. In the first volume of the LoEG, Mina Murray, the heroine of Dracula, must assemble a team together to battle the mysterious Fu Manchu, while in the second they must help defeat an invasion from Mars.

The story of the LoEG has continued over the decade since its introduction, with two complete series (Vols.  1 & 2), a standalone graphic novel (the Black Dossier) and the current storyline, Century.

Century has been published as a series of standalone books that tell the story of the League and their attempts to foil the plan of Crowley-esque Satanist Oliver Haddo’s plan to create the Moon Child, a sort of anti-christ.

The third book of Century, Let It Come Down, is set in 2009 and scheduled for release this July. What’s of interest to the reader of this blog is this panel from the newest book. 

The hero is walking through a modern London, passing a Wellesian Martian tripod that is a memorial to the Martian invasion.  

At one point, he strolls by a poster for DriveShaft’s new album, Oh, Who Cares? (a reference to Nirvana’s Nevermind), and that sets gears moving.

The majority of the LoEG’s sources to date have been literary.  This doesn't’ surprise me.  I imagine that unlike Harlan Ellison, Moore doesn’t have a huge tv in his living room.  He is the type who declares a disinterest in pop culture and I expect he follows that up. The only TV character who’s been in the series to date was Emma Peel from The Avengers.  

But it’s great to think about how well the tale of the Island and the castaways fit into the larger world of the LoEG.  

The world of the League would nicely encompass the characters of Lost.  There are still musicians, con men, fugitives and surgeons.  Jack’s own drug problems mirror nicely those of Allan Quatermain, and Sawyer and Kate’s brushes with the law are practically jaywalking tickets compared to the invisible man’s violations.  The tensions created by having a former Republican Guardsman on the island pale in comparison to having a cornerstone of the team be a Sikh revolutionary, even if they’re both talented engineers in their own ways.

An island capable of movement, inhabited by a number of factions seeking to control its powers for their own goals?  That fits nicely.

A major divergence is in the morality of the two stories.  In the League, there’s often a great deal of pragmatism applied to the resolution of problems.  To defeat the martians, for example, humans must resort to biological warfare (did you really think it was just a common cold?).  Lost has a Manichean worldview. There is good and there is bad.  They are opposed, much like the dual sides of a backgammon piece or the opposing poles of two magnets.  

The island can be considered to be, as in the original Lost narrative, as a staging ground for the conflict between good and evil.  It has, in the League’s world as much as the original, sealed itself away to act as a battleground between the forces which serve the Alpha and the Omega, the forces of Jacob and Barry.

Of course, as part of the world of the League, it’s possible that many fictional explorers may have found their way onto the Island’s shores.  Imagine, for example, Lemuel Gulliver or Robinson Crusoe finding themselves shipwrecked on its shores.  Would they be candidates, or just hapless castaways?  Could Captain Nemo have found himself encountering the island, perhaps with his League companions or just with his storied crew?  

Professor Challenger might certainly have found his way onto the island in the past, and it would be amusing to see contemporary explorers Dirk Pitt or Lara Croft attempt to explore its mysteries.

The reference to Lost in the new League story is likely a throwaway one, but it’s still exciting to imagine how the stories of the island might fit into a larger fictional universe. 

Justin Mohareb has killed more magazines than most Hindus have had steak dinners.  He currently has a moribund blog a relatively quiet podcast and he also writes for Biff Bam Pop and does editing for TDot Comics 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Game of Thrones: The Prince of Winterfell

And…. welcome to yet another week of Game of Thrones, that show that seems to be zipping by so fast we barely have time to catch our breath and the season is over. :(  I’m joined, as always, by Christopher Lockett, a professor from Memorial University in Newfoundland (and a dear friend) who has read the books and is commenting on the episodes as adaptations, while I talk about them without knowing the context of the books. (He posts this same post over on his site, with different pictures, and you should go check his out for different comments under the post.) 

Nikki: Well, let’s get the big cliffhanger out of the way: the Stark boys are not dead. I didn’t think they were, as I said last week, but considering what happened to the MAIN CHARACTER last season, I’m not hanging my hat on, “but he seems important!” as a reason to keep anyone around. At the beginning of the episode when Theon was talking to Yara about their deaths, I started to get uncomfortable and actually said to my husband, “Do you think I was wrong? Were those really the boys hanging there?” Turns out it wasn’t, but the reality was just as horrid… Theon went to the farm where the boys had passed through, believed the farmer was hiding information from them, and burned the farmer’s boys… and paid him off to keep him quiet. Horrid.

Yara told Theon in this episode, “You were a terrible baby, do you know that?” and related to him a story of how he would scream and scream and one day she looked at him and wanted to kill him, and he looked at her and smiled. She never forgot that, and it seems to be the reason she has a tiny amount of sympathy for him now and wants him to get out of there while he still can. But it also suggests that Theon responds to people despising him. Even as an infant, it was someone staring at him with loathing that made him respond to her. Now it’s like he thrives on the hatred of others. I, for one, can’t stand him. At least Joffrey wears his evil on his sleeve. Theon is just despicable to try to impress people. Is that worse?

What did you think of the episode this week, Chris?

Christopher: Yep, the Stark boys live on … and as you say, it was hard to buy that they were actually dead, absent actually seeing Theon kill them, but then that’s the uncertainty GRRM inspires. You just never know! And also as you say, the relief we feel at knowing they’re alive is tempered by the knowledge that Theon did in fact kill a pair of other, utterly blameless, boys in the name of showing his “strength” to his men and Winterfell. Whatever else happens to the little git, it’s hard to feel any sympathy for him.

For the record, the reveal that Bran et al are alive takes place somewhat later in the novel … after ahem something else happens.

I enjoyed this episode, though I did find it a little more monologue-y than normal … which is odd, considering that this show has not lacked for lengthy speeches. And on the balance, I don’t know that there were more monologues than normal, but this time it felt more expository … such as with Bronn’s speech about life during a siege, and why it’s necessary to kill thieves in advance. As much as I thought the actor playing Bronn did a fantastic job of it (as he has of everything so far), it had the feel of a “and now, your moment of medieval socio-historical culture!” to it.

That being said, it did set us up for next week’s episode, where we finally see battle joined on a large scale as Stannis Baratheon assaults King’s Landing. The brief promo is here:

Squee? Squee. Incidentally, the episode—titled “Blackwater,” after the river that passes by King’s Landing and not the shady American mercenaries (though really, who knows?)—was written by the man GRRM himself.

But I’m getting ahead of myself … plenty of time to geek out about that next week.

Returning to this past Sunday’s episode, I suppose we should also deal with the inevitable—Robb and Talisa giving into their desires, in spite of his royal obligations. Which comes, I am certain, as a great galloping shock to no one, considering they’ve essentially been telegraphing that moment since we first saw the nurse with moxie. And as he explained to her earlier in the episode, he’s engaged to a daughter of the obstreperous Walder Frey, as part of the alliance between their houses.

Of course, there’s nothing to stop Robb from bedding Talisa and also marrying the Frey girl. But then … he did inherit his father’s overdeveloped sense of honour …

One way or another, he was upset and disturbed, probably because his mother SET JAIME LANNISTER FREE. Considering that I read the novel and knew that was coming, I probably didn’t need to put that all in caps. But I can well remember my shock on that being revealed back when I read the novel for the first time, and it was right up there with the decapitation of Ned Stark for “WTF?” moments. As in the show, she asks Brienne for her sword just after Jaime has been taunting her … and the assumption is that she’s going to hurt him, but of course she makes him swear on the sword to release Sansa and Arya.

What did you think of that, Nikki?

Nikki: I see your caps and raise you a boldface WHAT THE HELL WAS SHE THINKING?! I actually have it written and underlined in my notes: Ask Chris why Catelyn did that! For the life of me, it made no sense. But here’s the only thing I can come up with (which is absolutely along the lines of what you said) that what Jaime said to her just hit home in a way nothing else has til this point. She finally realized how awful everything is, and that he’s the only one who can change that.

What I loved about the scene between Catelyn and Robb (which was just fantastic) is that once again, we have the parallel between him and Joffrey. Both are self-proclaimed kings with followers and detractors, and both have mothers in the wings. Cersei has no power at all, and when she acted like a mother and slapped her son across his face, he quietly and bluntly threatened her life should she ever do that again. Catelyn doesn’t treat Robb like a child (mostly because he isn’t one) and in turn he treats her with respect, but in this moment she acted without consulting him, and forgot her place, so to speak. While he doesn’t threaten her life, he treats her as a prisoner and walks out on her, which you know is a painful thing for him to do, but her actions, done for personal reasons, has cost him a lot of ground. It was such a shock, and I was with him 100% — yet at the same time felt sympathy for her…  It’s a conundrum we never have with the Lannisters.

Speaking of the little shit, Joffrey tells Tyrion that he’s going to give Stannis what he has coming to him. “They say Stannis never smiles — I’ll give him a red smile, ear to ear.” To which Tyrion hilariously responds in mock awe, “Imagine Stannis’s terror!” In this episode, we’re set up to believe Tyrion is fallible, when he can’t decipher books and Bronn has to explain things to him, as you mention above (and I agree it was a little long-winded and mechanical). Later, Cersei sees him and tells him that she’d found out about his little whore. Tyrion looks dumbfounded, and you can see the colour drain from his face completely, imagining what they’ve done to Shae and what his sister (and her vicious offspring) are capable of, especially now that he’s sent Myrcella away. But when another whore, not Shae, walks in, you see Tyrion’s face change just as quickly, as he’s relieved but has to hide it. His emotions almost get the better of him (for a second I thought there was no way Cersei would fall for his bumbling, “Oh… wow, this is, um… wow, so AWFUL, and…” but she does, because she’s so confident she’s right. His desperation when he goes to see Shae shows us that she has become his one Achilles heel. He truly loves her, and can’t let anything happen to her. If it does, we may see an entirely new Tyrion.

Christopher: Yes, the Case of the Mistaken Whore (as I now think of it) was a nice little moment—especially considering how hatefully smug Cersei is about the whole thing. I’m still not entirely sold on Lena Headey’s Cersei—she lets herself be more vulnerable than the Cersei of the novels, while at the same time playing her, to my mind, as overly icy when GRRM’s Cersei, for all her arrogance, fairly oozes sex and sensuality—but where she totally nails the character is when she’s being hateful, and when she thinks she has the upper hand. Interestingly, all of my favourite Cersei moments in the show are the ones not present in the books (most notably, her frankly honest exchange with Robert last season, and her “power is power” exchange with Littlefinger); conversely, all my favourite Tyrion moments are pretty much taken verbatim from the text. I’m not yet sure what that implies about the actors and their characters.

I loved the little exchange between Joffrey and Tyrion on the walls. I hope that next episode we’ll have a moment of genuine fear for the young king—something to make him quail and whimper, like he did when Arya threatened him with his own sword last season. He doesn’t have much of a memory, does he? Heh. Little shit. Once again, props to Jack Gleeson for playing such a hateful character so well—after watching his promise to give Stannis a red smile, I was sorely tempted to fire up YouTube and watch my favourite mash-up from season one:

The best part is where Joffrey gets slapped.

Of course, some of the inchoate rage Joffrey inevitably inspires was tempered by Tyrion’s great quip. Some.

I think you’re spot on with Catelyn’s motivations in letting Jaime go … she is, at this point, so sick at heart from the war, from the death of Ned, fear for her children in King’s Landing and back at Winterfell (and she hasn’t ever heard the “news” about Bran and Rickon yet—which she has in the novel when she sets Jaime free), that she does the one thing in her power to try and rescue what remains of her family … even though it means essentially committing treason. Depending on where they take the story, there is a rapprochement between her and Robb; but for now she is a prisoner in her son’s army, reviled by all of his lords and commanders. And though they have been telegraphing Robb’s indiscretion with Talisa, the suggestion here is that he succumbs because he feels alone and beset, betrayed even by his own mother.

If you buy that sort of thing.

But we’re ignoring what I found one of the most compelling stories this week, which is Jon and Qhorin’s capture by the wildlings, and Ygritte’s payback—saving him from the Lord  o’ Bones blade (for the moment). AND Qhorin’s evolving scheme to have Jon pretend to turn his cloak and join the wildlings … going so far to shout angrily at him and send him tumbling down a hill. Ygritte’s little smile of triumph as he looks up at her suggests that she, at least, can see where things are going … even if she doesn’t entirely understand why.

What did you think, Nik?

Nikki: It was a really nice touch when Ygritte begged for Jon’s life, and I, too, liked the smirk on her face when he rolled down the hill. She heard what Qhorin had said to him – that Jon was fond of the ginger – and she’s definitely developed a bit of an attachment to him as well. I’m really looking forward to where this story goes.

And I just have to mention one moment in the episode that made me laugh out loud, and it had nothing to do with the dialogue of the show itself. When Talisa and Robb finally succumb to their passion, I loved how they were fumbling with the ties on their outfits and seemed to take forever to disrobe. I started giggling and said, “Well, THIS is more complicated than it should be,” and Talisa began struggling with the strings on Robb’s top. Then my husband said, “It’s like a neverending shoelace, your grace!” and we both laughed and laughed… probably not the audience reaction they were looking for. But we make our own fun.

We of course have to mention Jaqen H’ghar this week… and in previous episodes he’s pronounced his name “Jacken-higher” but Arya called him “Jacken Ha-garr,” like she was pronouncing the name the way it appears on the page.  Any sense of who is saying it correctly? I prefer his way.

Every week I mean to transcribe some of his dialogue, because I LOVE the way he talks, referring to himself as “the man” instead of “I” or “me.” To get his attention, Arya names him as the third man to kill, and the look on his face is priceless. He’s a man of honour, so he must do as she says, and rather than scoffing and saying, “OK, let’s be serious,” he looks at her, stricken, and asks her very politely to unname him. At first she refuses, and he becomes panicked, demanding that she unname him. Arya’s testing him here, making sure he’s really going to stick to his vow, and clearly he will, because he’s now imagining his own life rather than taking hers out of anger, and he will do as she says. So, she tells him to get her out of Harrenhal, and that gives us the beautifully spooky scene of her leaving with her two cohorts (why did they bring the annoying guy? Ugh, it’s like heading on a road trip with Cartman) as they pass all the murdered guards. He told her he’d kill three people, and now he’s killed five. I’m sad we’re leaving him behind, but hopeful that we’ll see him again.

I forgot to mention how much I loved Tyrion’s comeback at Cersei earlier in the episode when he tells her, “A day will come when all your joy will turn to ashes in your mouth, and you will know my debt is paid.” Oh YES.

Couple of questions for you as you wrap us up this week:
-How does news travel north of the Wall? The wildlings knew of Ned Stark’s death. How would they know about that? Do they have rangers that go south? Do they use ravens, too? Do they have smartphones?
-You mentioned a few episodes ago that Talisa is entirely fabricated for the show, and wasn’t in the books. So is everything happening with Robb new to you, or is it a different take on something else he did in the books?
-Am I the only person who just stares at Emilia Clarke’s hair the entire time Daenerys is on screen?

And lastly, what did you make of Tyrion’s discussion with Varys at the end of the episode?

Christopher: To address your questions in order …

  1. In the novels, it’s made clear that the Wall is not impermeable—wildlings frequently scale it or otherwise skirt it, though obviously not in large numbers, to raid and plunder the lands south. It is also made clear that there is more congress between the rangers and the wildlings than the Night’s Watch would ever acknowledge, so they have their sources, and news like the lord of Winterfell being executed is something that would spread north of the Wall like some sort of unruly flame.

  1. Talisa is entirely fabricated, but she is not unfamiliar … Robb does in fact have a romance with someone he shouldn’t, but she’s not a foreign woman who was once an aristo turned healer … Once more is revealed on the show, I will tell you whom his love in the books is, but for now I’ll stay mum for fear of spoilers. Rest assured, however, that Talisa is only a surprise in terms of who she is and how she shows up.

  1. Um, yes. Emilia Clarke’s hair. Definitely what I tend to stare at. [Says Nikki: snicker]

As for your last question … I loved it. With Littlefinger roving around Westeros, Varys turns to Tyrion for someone with wits, and finds a better partner … in part, because Tyrion doesn’t joust as much, and Varys makes it clear he actually likes Tyrion. I recently reread the fifth Ice and Fire novel, A Dance With Dragons, and have been interested in the number of times text from that book has appeared in season two episodes. I hope I’m not giving anything away when I say that Tyrion’s little speech about being made master of Casterly Rock’s drains was from that novel … or that Varys’ interest in Tyrion will resonate in future narratives, heh.

The last thing I should mention is the conversation between Stannis and Davos … which was at once both poignant and irritating. Poignant because we are given further insight into Stannis’ mind and the resentment that underwrites his iron discipline, and because we hear more of Davos’ backstory. (Once again: Liam Cunningham rocks the stage in this bit, and Stephen Dillane is no slouch). Irritating, however, because it was one of those moments of unwieldy exposition … necessary, perhaps, but a little heavy-handed. But then, as Davos is rapidly becoming one of my favourite televisual realizations of a GRRM character, I suppose I shouldn’t complain.

Also, because we know that next week things get blowed up real good. Onward!

Monday, May 21, 2012

The Avengers! Not just for smart people...

After watching people on Twitter and Facebook bragging that they’d seen The Avengers seven or eight times and being extremely jealous that I still hadn’t seen it ONCE, I FINALLY got to see it on the weekend. And while a friend of mine warned me that it may have been too overhyped, I’m happy to report that I loved it. I loved every scene The Hulk was in, I thought the casting was phenomenal, and while Tony Stark’s arrogance was a bit much in certain scenes, he was playing to character, exactly who he’s been in the Iron Man films.

Oh, and I am deeply, madly, passionately in love with Tom Hiddleston’s Loki.

But just as you may be thinking that statement makes me a total girl who’s not worthy of seeing a Marvel film, I can tell you I’m far more equipped to see it than some others. And the least qualified to see it was the girl sitting next to the guy to my right. They came in just as the movie was about to start, and somehow those two seats were free. They sat down, and he made some geeky remark and she giggled and I thought, “Ah… lovely. True fans.” As the previews ended and the Marvel insignia lit up the screen, he began jumping in his seat and said, “I am so crazy excited to see this!!!!” and she laughed. And then? They talked through the entire film. Mostly because she was SO thick he had to explain what was happening at every turn. At first, it was truly hilarious.

When Black Widow tries to recruit Bruce Banner to join The Avengers, he keeps referring to “the other guy” in an effort to avoid saying “The Hulk.” He tells her that every time he tries to do something, “the other guy” stops him, and he lives his life in fear that “the other guy” will control him again, and he needs to keep “the other guy” under wraps. Finally the girl beside me says, “OK, I’ll bite. Is he like schizophrenic or something?”

You know when people say their jaw dropped? My mouth literally dropped open. I would have thought she was joking if her boyfriend didn’t immediately start loudly explaining it to her. “No, see, he’s actually the Hulk.” “Oooh!! The Hulk is in this?”


“And, so, what… the Hulk is like, in him?”

I just wanted to turn my chair to the side and face them… I was loving The Avengers, but this was FAR more entertaining.

As the bad guys first descend from the sky, and come straight towards the Stark building, blowing out the S, she says, “Is that the Stark building?” REALLY?!

Later, in the midst of them blowing the shit out of Manhattan: “So… is this what you would call Gotham City?” “No, honey, that’s what Batman would call it.” I didn’t say that, but wish I had.

The funny disappeared when Loki’s men blew out the engines of the S.H.I.E.L.D. aircraft and Iron Man was outside fixing it, and the guy was LOUDLY talking through the entire scene, explaining to his dumbass girlfriend who Hawkeye was (that was already established), who Captain America was (we’re 90 minutes into this and you haven’t figured out who Captain America is yet??), why Loki was after S.H.I.E.L.D., and why the Hulk turned on Black Widow. If you’ve seen the movie, you know how bloody loud this scene is. I couldn’t hear it over him.

Dude. Next time you go see a Marvel movie? Leave her at home. Please. Rent the film when it comes out, and explain to her the wonders of the comic book world (no, honey, the guy from Cabin in the Woods didn’t grow his hair long and become a god… he’s playing a different role here) and we won’t have to suffer through her stupidity.

But beyond these two brain trusts, the movie was awesome. Joss infused it with some of his classic dialogue, the Hulk was fantastic (especially when whooping Loki’s ass), Loki was mesmerizing when he stood in the cage and taunted everyone who came by, and there’s a scene that was like geek porn: In a fight between Iron Man, Thor, and Captain America, who would win?

Guess you’ll have to go see the movie to find out. I know I’m heading back soon.

Oh, and I wish I’d spoiled myself just this once to find out who Alexis Denisof was playing. I scoured every scene searching for him, only to find out he’s the very first guy you see in the movie. ARGH. He was just covered in so much makeup there’s no way I would have known it was him. Since the ending of the movie was clearly setting up The Avengers 2, here’s hoping Loki continues to be the key villain. As long as they don’t hurt him too much. (OK, fine. I’m a girl.)