Are Long-Awaited Sequels Really a Good Idea?

Blade Runner 2049 comes out today. It’s been 35 years since the original Ridley Scott film, so I thought I would take a look at other sequels that made us wait a long time (at least 10 years) for better or worse. We’ll start with the positive examples and examine why they were successful before doing the same for the terrible ones.

The Good

Toy Story 3 (11 years): We start with one of my favorite animated films of all time. To be completely honest, back in 2010, I was nervous about a third Toy Story film. But I was proven wrong and then some. The characters remain just as lovable, the story is updated to reflect a grown-up audience, and the prison escape scene is the best thing ever. There will be another huge gap between this film and the planned fourth installment, so let’s hope Pixar can work its magic again.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (32 years): True, there are more recent Star Wars films than Return of the Jedi, but this is its direct sequel. And what a sequel it was; J.J. Abrams set out to bring the fun back to a galaxy far, far away and he surpassed even our wildest expectations. For those of you who complain that the movie blatantly rips off A New Hope, there’s a clear reason for the familiarity. After the disastrous prequels, we need some sort of reassurance and comfort, so why not incorporate elements that made the original a classic? I have full confidence that, with The Last Jedi and Episode IX, the franchise will move away from those shortcomings and tell a more original story. But that wouldn’t be possible without Abrams reinvigorating the world of Star Wars after a long hiatus.

The Incredibles 2 (14 years) and Mary Poppins Returns (54 years): Yes, I’m including two long-awaited sequels that don’t even come out until 2018 because I’m so excited for both. What makes a movie worth revisiting are oftentimes the characters and these two properties excel in that regard. Whether it’s the same actors returning or a new one recast in an iconic role, the essence of who they portray are forever endearing. I’ve heard that The Incredibles 2 will focus primarily on Elastigirl (voiced by the amazing Holly Hunter) and takes place immediately after the first film, as it should. As for Mary Poppins Returns, could you ask for anyone better to take up the mantle from Julia Andrews than Emily Blunt? There is proven talent behind both projects and a respect for the original that far surpasses other attempts at a sequel. Could they both fall flat? Absolutely, but I have too much faith in them to believe such nonsense.

The Bad

Jurassic World (14 years): I’m sure you’ve already heard me and various other people criticize this movie, so I don’t need to go too much into detail here. Directed by a guy who got an insanely lucky break (Colin Trevorrow), nostalgic to a fault, and horribly acted by a certain someone (*cough* Bryce Dallas Howard *cough*), Jurassic World feels more like a cash grab than an actual film. I have no doubt that Trevorrow loved and admired the original Jurassic Park, but he let his fandom cloud the ability to avoid clich├ęs or create interesting characters. He almost made me believe there was something magical about this film, but there’s nothing that compares to the Spielberg masterpiece. With the announced sequel title “Fallen Kingdom,” it doesn’t look like they learned their lesson either.

Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (19 years): I finally watched Last Crusade a few months ago and loved every second of it. The father/son dynamic between Harrison Ford and Sean Connery is an exemplary model of that particular relationship. I’m sure most people who grew up with the original series were more excited to see another one, but how did that turn out? From casting “actor” Shia LaBeouf to spawning the phrase “nuke the fridge” to including aliens for some strange reason, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was doomed to fail.

The Ugly

Zoolander 2 (15 years): I also railed against this movie a long time ago; I would even go so far as to call it the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen (and that’s saying something since I usually stay away from the stupid genre). Any attempt at humor from Ben Stiller and company only succeeds in making the audience dumber. There was no reason for a sequel, but the power of Stiller and Owen Wilson was too much for Hollywood to resist. If anything, Zoolander 2 served as a glorified list of cameos (go to the Wikipedia page and see for yourself). A stupid movie doesn’t deserve to stay in the public consciousness let alone warrant another one, so do yourself a favor and avoid both movies if you can.

As you can see, the list of long-awaited sequels is rather up and down. There are some incredible highs, but also some ugly eyesores. What’s the secret to staying in the former category? First of all, I think you need a director who’s passionate about the original and knows where to take a sequel. With Blade Runner 2049, Denis Villeneuve (one of the best working today) has often spoken of his love for the first Blade Runner as well as his desire to tell the story himself. Usually, when a creative team assembles to revisit a previously successful movie, they just resort to adding more of the same (I’ve heard that’s the problem with Kingsman 2). But the best sequels know how to toe the line between nostalgia and freshness. Toy Story 3 and The Force Awakens updated their formula to accommodate a new audience (story progression for the former, casting diversity for the latter). Furthermore, the rules for sequels often align with the ones for remakes (check out my last rant for more), so it would be wise in the future for directors to look at the original and see if there’s anywhere to go that’s worth building a whole movie around. I’m excited to see Blade Runner 2049, even though I wasn’t a huge fan of the first one, for those very reasons.

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The Walking Dead

I haven’t made it all the way through The Walking Dead (six episodes left in the seventh season), but I’m confident I’ve seen enough of it to offer an accurate assessment. With the release of the eighth season exactly a month away, why not spend some time talking about everyone’s favorite zombie apocalypse show? (Note: I have no affiliation to the comic series, so my opinions will not take those into account. A TV show should be able to stand on its own regardless of the source material.)

Most people seem to have this love-hate relationship with the show and I absolutely agree with them. Starting with the love, the prosthetic makeup work is outstanding. The artists working on The Walking Dead never tip their hand when it comes to distinguishing between extras and actual undead humans. It’s definitely gross, but it also makes you appreciate the time and effort put into a basic cable TV show.

The Walking Dead can also claim to be one of the shining examples of diversity on television. In a zombie apocalypse, it would make sense for individuals of all backgrounds to band together and the casting department wisely follows through on this logic. From strong female characters like Michonne and Rosita to a non-stereotypical Asian in Glenn, almost any viewer can find someone relatable. It’s still predominantly a white cast, but the lesser-represented characters play significant roles in the action.

However, I can totally see where the hate for this show originates. For one, they frequently sacrifice pace for hypothetical “character development” by devoting an entire episode to just one or two main characters. In the TV world, this is known as a “bottle episode,” often used when a show operates on a lower budget or needs a script on short notice. A great example is Breaking Bad and the episode “Fly” in the third season. Walter and Jesse spend the entire episode in the meth lab, exploring their past actions and regrets. This technique is only used once over the course of the entire show; The Walking Dead clearly doesn’t follow suit and decides to include bottle episodes seemingly every season. The worst one might be “Still” in the fourth season, which only features Daryl and Beth; only the former even comes close to a compelling character. By the end, you’re left wondering, “What’s the point?” Sure, we saw two characters grow closer together, but it didn’t progress the story in any way.

In my opinion, The Walking Dead is more effective when it juggles multiple plotlines in one episode (similar to Game of Thrones). You would never see my favorite show attempt to spend an entire hour with Arya and the Hound because everyone would get bored before long. Yet this show commits the crime over and over; other bottle episodes focus on Morgan, Tara, and The Governor to name a few. All they do is make me wait anxiously for the end so we can hopefully get to some interesting content. What makes this problem worse is never knowing when the bottle episodes are coming because every main cast member is always listed in the opening credits. There are moments of brilliance, but too many low points for this show to be considered one of the best.

Some of these issues could be solved if the show didn’t feel the need to constantly bring in new characters. I understand why the writers feel the urge to spend time with them individually, but if you want to keep the ship from sinking, why not take a step back and just focus on a select few? Combine that with getting rid of the endless walking scenes and the story can proceed in a brisk yet focused manner. I’m guessing the only reason people have continued to watch The Walking Dead even as it nears 100 episodes is because they’re holding out hope for something exciting: a shocking death, a surprise reveal, anything. When Carol’s daughter Sophia was revealed to be locked up in Hershel’s barn the whole time (after the group had spent several episodes searching for her), that was a well-earned and emotional moment. But those come few and far between, leaving most viewers angry and upset that a single show has wasted so much of their time. While I wholeheartedly sympathize with them, I would still recommend watching the show if only for the small number of excellent characters (like the diverse cast listed above) and the engaging antagonists (Shane, Merle, Negan). Just be prepared for long stretches of go-nowhere dialogue and painfully slow camera movements that only drag out the runtime. It feels like Game of Thrones with its tendency to kill off main characters at a high rate, but with less emotional attachment, so…take that however you like.

Casting the Bible Vol. 1

I have Bible study with my mom every night and it got me thinking, “What would an epic movie version of the Bible look like?” Then I started imagining who I could see playing all the major characters; I love dream casting as you could probably tell when I did one for the Disney Princess Avengers. As the first of hopefully many, I present to you who I would want to see if they ever made a live-action movie of the Bible in its entirety (edit: or better yet, an anthology series in the style of Black Mirror, with each episode covering a singular story and a different cast).

Side note: I know some of these casting decisions might be “controversial,” but it’s all in good fun. I’m more concerned with finding quality actors working today than the color of their skin. If I choose an African-American actor to play Moses, that’s not me proclaiming that Moses was black in the actual Bible. The central question is: can this actor/actress accurately capture the essence of these characters as they were described in the Bible? Treat my picks as a thought experiment rather than absolute truth. With that out of the way, let’s get started.

Morgan Freeman as God
Yeah, Bruce Almighty was a comedy, but I can think of no one better to voice our Heavenly Father than the man with the golden voice. A simple sentence from him conveys authority and kindness seemingly in tandem. He brings a certain gravitas to any role he plays that most actors can never match. Don’t take this the wrong way, but Freeman may just be the best representation of God on film EVER. If he was able to convince us with a comedic performance, just imagine what he could do in a more dramatic setting? No further comment needed.

Ryan Gosling as Adam
Before you leave or furiously start typing, follow my logic for a second. In Genesis, it says that “God created man in his own image.” Since God is perfect and any creation of his would therefore look perfect, who could realistically make that claim (and be good at acting in the process)? The more Gosling does, the more I’m convinced there’s no genre he can’t tackle. Drama (Blue Valentine), comedy (The Nice Guys), musicals (La La Land), romance (The Notebook), sci-fi (upcoming Blade Runner 2049), thriller (Drive)…you name it, the admittedly pretty boy has enjoyed success. His ability to play both sides of good and bad would translate nicely to Adam’s eventual fall from grace.

Emma Stone as Eve
Of course, if I’m going to cast Gosling as Adam, I also need to pick someone who has demonstrated remarkable chemistry with him to play Eve. You can accuse me of bias all you want, but Emma Stone is the right choice. I can’t really pinpoint what it is, but something about their relationship across three movies just clicks. Maybe it’s good writing or their ability to recognize each other’s tendencies, but if you’re going to put a Biblical movie together (and convince people to watch it), you need star power in the form of proven actors. I also want to quickly address the elephant in the room: yes, this would require both Gosling and Stone to be…unclothed. Trust me, I’m not trying to be creepy, but if I was in charge (a scary thought), I would shoot those scenes in a family-friendly manner (like from the shoulders up, implying one thing, but not needing to show the full picture). I guarantee someone would’ve brought it up no matter who I cast, so there you go.

Ben Affleck as Cain
Casey Affleck as Abel
For the next generation, I wanted to go with actual brothers and the Afflecks are two of the best siblings working today. Who else could I have picked, Mark and Donnie Wahlberg? Here’s my response to that. I know it was early in their careers, but you can see a hint of their rivalry in Good Will Hunting. If a director brought that out a little more and explored the intense hatred that Cain had for Abel, resulting in the latter’s murder, you could end up with some interesting material. Both Ben and Casey have, for all intents and purposes, transitioned full-time to becoming dramatic actors, making this dream scenario a lot more appealing than it would’ve been 20 years ago.

Feel free to send me your own casting suggestions for the above characters. It’s hard to keep up with all the Hollywood celebrities, so I’m sure there were some people I should’ve considered but simply forgot. Stay tuned for Vol. 2!

Ranking X-Men Movies

Here’s the last big franchise with a ton of movies that I haven’t ranked. I want to try James Bond next, but that might take a while and I’ve only seen…three out of the 24. A guy can dream, but in the meantime, enjoy my take on the X-Men!

  1. Logan: Not many superhero movies can make me cry (Groot’s sacrifice comes close), but Hugh Jackman’s last ride as Wolverine came real close. I still can’t stop thinking about that scene where X-23 is crying over Logan’s body and calling him “daddy.” Then she turns the cross on his grave to an X? Holy crap, what a masterpiece.
  2. Deadpool: If Logan excels at the dramatic elements of the superhero genre, Deadpool relishes in the comedic. A hilarious but wildly inappropriate experience that is enhanced by other bad movies in this franchise, Ryan Reynolds and company prove that inventive ways to combat the endless supply of comic book movies still exist.
  3. X-Men: First Class: I was genuinely surprised by how much I enjoyed watching this prequel (which, as you know from Star Wars, carries a negative connotation for most people). The new cast manages to capture the essence of the characters they portray from the original X-Men yet still stand out on their own, especially McAvoy and Fassbender. Didn’t think it was possible to successfully cast “younger” versions of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen, but they pulled it off.
  4. X-Men: Might be a slightly unpopular opinion, but I don’t think the first modern superhero film ages that well. It earns points nonetheless for reviving the genre after bombs like Batman and Robin and proving that admittedly ridiculous characters can struggle with real issues like acceptance. The movie also nailed three of the best castings in the history of cinema (let alone superheroes): Jackman as Wolverine, Stewart as Professor X, and McKellen as Magneto.
  5. X-Men: Days of Future Past: This prequel/sequel is…fine? Introducing time travel into the universe sounds cool, but all it gave us was a slightly more jumbled story and a convenient escape route to atone for The Last Stand. Everyone loves to praise the Quicksilver scene, but Over the Hedge did the exact same thing eight years earlier (an underrated animated movie you should see). Peter Dinklage is always a welcome sight, but Days of Future Past couldn’t keep up the momentum from First Class in my eyes.
  6. X2: My Batman Begins of the X-Men franchise. In other words, the one I don’t remember at all and haven’t seen in a long time. A lot of people have named X2 one of their favorites, but if it was really that memorable, I would’ve definitely gone back and watched it again. I understand that it adopted a decidedly darker tone, but that wasn’t considered new even back then. I will make sure to watch both X2 and Batman Begins again though to see if my preconceived notions hold any weight.
  7. X-Men: Apocalypse: I saw this one last; not blown away at all, but definitely not the most disappointing X-Men movie ever made. It just feels redundant, like “did we really need more younger versions of previous characters or another Quicksilver saving the day scene?” Casting Oscar Isaac as your main villain should’ve been a homerun, but he’s not intimidating in the slightest even though he’s literally God. Jennifer Lawrence looks bored the entire time, the “Four Horsemen” are mostly worthless, and Wolverine is shoved into this movie as pure fan service. Only absolute garbage like the last three on this list save Apocalypse from a lower ranking.
  8. The Wolverine: Wait, you’re saying that a film with a 69% on Rotten Tomatoes is worse than one with a 48%? Oh hell yes when the former shows us everything boring about Wolverine. We don’t need/want to see him fall in love with some random Japanese girl, experience Jean Grey flashbacks, or fight some generic silver villain at the end. Hugh Jackman can’t save everything, it turns out.
  9. X-Men: The Last Stand: Someone please keep Brett Ratner far away from a director’s chair. The Last Stand takes everything you loved about the first two movies and proceeds to undo all the progress. Emotional stakes are substituted for cheap jokes (“grow those back”) and an overabundance of CGI. I couldn’t care less about Jean Grey turning into the Phoenix nor Wolverine’s conflicted feelings for her. An utter disaster that wasted a whopping $210 million and only adds to the list of terrible third entries in a trilogy.
  10. X-Men Origins: Wolverine: Completely messing up Deadpool. Casting “serious actors” will.i.am and Taylor Kitsch. Blatantly ripping off Saving Private Ryan in the opening war montage. Horrible effects that digitally recreate Patrick Stewart’s face to creepy effect. And that’s not even mentioning the complete demystification for one of the coolest comic book characters on film. Do we really care how Wolverine got his name? Or how his skeleton was reinforced with adamantium? It made me even sadder when I found out that David Benioff, one of the minds behind Game of Thrones, wrote this generic script. I guess Liev Schreiber played a good counterpart to Logan, but that’s honestly the only positive thing I can say. X-Men Origins: Wolverine represents everything wrong with the X-Men movies and the people responsible should feel bad they let it happen.

“The Dragon and the Wolf ” Review

It’s been a crazy seven weeks, which accurately describes both Game of Thrones and my analysis of it. I hope that my passion for this subject has at least convinced you to give the show a chance if you haven’t already. Season 7 has showcased both the subtle and pronounced reasons why this show is worth watching and the finale follows suit. For the first 45 minutes, there is a deliberate slower pace that documents the great meeting of the minds. Then everything furiously ramps up with shocking deaths and revelations. A tale of two completely different halves, but I still loved every minute. Here’s my final thoughts on it all.

Before we start: remember my Disney Princess Avengers script? If I learned anything from that exercise, it’s really difficult to write compelling dialogue. But the beginning 40-minute scene between all your favorite characters puts most TV writers to shame. There are brief interactions that may feel like fan service (Tyrion and Podrick, Brienne and the Hound) to the untrained eye, but wouldn’t you do the same with a friend you hadn’t seen in a long time? The whole affair also serves as a welcome respite from the accelerated storyline in the first six episodes; we can finally take a breather and just enjoy the political maneuvering.

What stands out from this exchange are the conflicting philosophies of each character. On one hand, you have Cersei refusing to back down even after seeing proof of the dead. On the other, Jon Snow feels compelled by honor to reject Cersei’s terms of armistice. Keep in mind that these two have never even met, so it further heightens the tension. When Tyrion comes back from facing Cersei alone with an agreement apparently in place, I didn’t trust her for a second. Then the realization that she had carefully mapped out every possible outcome (and secretly sent Euron to recruit the Golden Company) amazingly wrapped up one of the greatest “talking” scenes in the show’s history.

I would be remiss not to mention the fact that Cersei was given the opportunity to kill both of her brothers in this episode and chose not to in either case. I absolutely see this familial vulnerability playing a crucial role next season (although I thought for sure Jaime was going to die). I believed from the start that we would bid farewell to Cersei this season, but she lives to fight another day despite her shortcomings.

However, one of my predictions from last week did come true: Littlefinger’s death! I still don’t know whether Arya and Sansa (with help from Bran) were playing him the whole time or if Sansa figured it out in her final exchange with him, but nonetheless, I’m sure it was satisfying for most fans to see the former Master of Coin bite the dust. While I’m sad to see a transcendent actor like Aidan Gillen go (every “creepy man” role in Hollywood should belong to him if he wants it), his death was necessary to demonstrate that Sansa has become a fully independent and powerful force in this game. Thank goodness this forced storyline ended without any lasting repercussions.

So that’s all, right? Nothing left to cover. Wait, hold on…did Bran just reveal Jon Snow’s real name as AEGON TARGARYEN? There’s been a conscious attempt this season to pull back the layers on Jon’s lineage, but now all the cards are on the table. I’m very interested to see the reactions from Jon and Daenerys (who got it on in this episode) once they find out. I predict that Daenerys, who hails from a family of incest, might brush it off as just your average aunt-nephew romance. But Jon, who’s proven time and again that he places honor above all, can’t be too comfortable with it. I hope they continue to explore this burgeoning power dynamic that was set up so brilliantly by Benioff and Weiss.

There were several instances where I thought the episode would end (Aegon Targaryen, Arya and Sansa on the battlements), but I totally overlooked the fact that the only sensible ending is a shot of the zombie dragon bringing down the Wall. I mean, duh. A glorious yet frightening moment that only leaves me with one question: are we sure Tormund and Beric survived? True, the camera didn’t cut to them falling to their death, but Viserion tore down a huge section in one swift motion. Hopefully, it’s just deus ex machina again, but I have to wonder for the sake of argument. Even if they didn’t die, how in God’s name are they going to sneak past the Night King’s army and make it to Winterfell? So many questions that may not be answered for an entire year.

Since it’s the finale, it only makes sense to include one last rendition of “What Tiny Details Should Be Cut?” The Jon and Theon moment gave us a nice redemption moment for the latter, but it dragged on way too long for me and basically ended with a repeat of a Season 3 moment. Remember Yara vowing to rescue her brother after learning that he was Ramsay’s prisoner? Yeah, how did that turn out? This role reversal with Theon now saving his sister just screams of copycat syndrome that probably won’t amount to much.

Perhaps the jarring effect of a longer drawn-out scene knocks the finale down a peg, but “The Dragon and the Wolf” solidly wraps up the latest season of Game of Thrones. There’s no loud action scenes needed here; what has kept the show popular are intriguing conversations and earned character moments, which this episode provides in spades. Due to a weak premiere and the reckless juggling of logic/time, there are certainly better seasons. It sounds weird to say, but I’m also a little upset that we didn’t see more main characters die, seeing as how we’re speeding towards the finish line here. The only people of real consequence that bowed out were Olenna Tyrell and Littlefinger; power players in their own right, but nothing compared to Cersei or Jaime. An online reviewer did calm my skepticism a bit by comparing Season 7 to the first part of a two-part finale. A lot that we saw happen will have greater impact once everything in Season 8 unfolds, so if they can sustain the momentum, I am confident I will be singing its praises once again.

The Defenders

Five seasons of superhero shows have led to one glorious team-up with The Discount Avengers…sorry, The Defenders. That’s not a critique; I’m just acknowledging what we all thought when we heard the news. I loved both seasons of Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and the first half of Luke Cage, but ever since they killed off Mahershala Ali, things haven’t quite been the same for the once-untouchable Netflix Marvel universe. I was still hopeful for the latest installment because I felt like some of the solo characters (Iron Fist) would work better as part of a group. They also cast freaking Sigourney Weaver! Thankfully, I can say that The Defenders gets us back on the right track, albeit with a few bumps in the road, by excelling with the team dynamic and fight choreography aspects.

For all its greatness, The Defenders does start with a choppy and dimly lit Iron Fist fight sequence. Yeah, some people have already tuned out, but stay with me. I silently uttered an “oh no” when I realized how the show ultimately decided to reintroduce us to the world. The rest of the first episode painfully drags as various pieces are shuffled around (that “coffee” scene between Claire and Luke Cage: totally unnecessary) that don’t give you anything rewarding to hold onto. Not until the third episode with Netflix’s classic hallway fight scene does this show really begin to pick up.

In his own review of the show, Chris Stuckmann perfectly summed up why The Defenders works. Rather than try to come up with something better, I’ll just paraphrase what he said. The four heroes don’t just decide to come together and fight bad guys on a whim. They’re established as completely different and damaged people whose responsibilities happen to converge on the same location. It’s not going to be jokes and quips every minute like the Avengers either; each Defender wants to approach fighting the Hand differently and it leads to some interesting conversations between them (as well as some disagreement and infighting).

Part of that rift is caused by Sigourney Weaver’s character Alexandra, who’s revealed to be the leader of the Hand. Her villainous turn is one of the better entries in all of Marvel due to her composed and well-spoken manner. She doesn’t seem evil at first (in her first scene, the doctors inform her that she’s dying) and her motivations for using the Hand to search for immortality don’t seem so terrifying. I especially appreciated her reasoning of a war only working if both sides think they’re the good guys. The best antagonists don’t try to be outlandish or openly evil; Alexandra’s ability to work behind the scenes to manipulate the Defenders shined in every episode. I’m just a little sad they didn’t use a legend like Weaver more.

Aside from the horrendous editing in the first fight, The Defenders (with the same creative minds behind Daredevil) corrects course and gives us not only the hallway fight scene, but also a glorious 360-degree shot in the finale. Finn Jones finally looks competent enough to not require 5-6 cuts for a single punch. There’s probably less overall action than a show like this would preferably have, but considering that some of these characters would rather choose not to fight, it’ll do.

However, even with the Ant-Man syndrome confirmed, Iron Fist is still the weakest link in The Defenders. His back-and-forth with Luke Cage is promising, but he retains the brooding and annoying persona that sunk his standalone show. It doesn’t help that most of the conflict solely revolves around his character with the Hand searching for him to complete their mission. This leads to A LOT of screen time for Danny Rand, so if you already hated him, you might lose patience very quickly. It does lead to more interactions with Colleen, the actual best character from Iron Fist, so that’s a plus. Speaking of side characters, many of them are largely pointless; the only ones that matter are probably the aforementioned Colleen, Claire, and Misty Knight. The rest are just there for familiarity purposes; remember Karen and Foggy? Yeah, they’re still…alive. The show would’ve benefited from spending less time with them and more with the main four.

In summary, The Defenders successfully washes the bad taste of recent misfires out of our mouths. All the characters you love are back, with Jessica Jones and her deadpan humor standing out to me. It excels at a realistic portrayal of teamwork and its struggles. The fight scenes could’ve used better lighting, but I enjoyed most of them. Expectations should be lowered somewhat, but it was fun hanging out with these characters again (think Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 quality).

“Beyond the Wall” Review

We had been patiently waiting for Season 7 when the news broke that its release would be delayed so Game of Thrones could accurately capture the new “winter is here” theme. At the time, I wasn’t overly fond of the decision since it meant waiting longer for a show that had already been effectively filmed in cold environments. But after the brutality of “Beyond the Wall,” it looks like I’ve been proven wrong again. The latest glorious episode provides stunning visuals, edge-of-your-seat tension, and some good old deus ex machina.

Let’s start with the cinematography, which gave us more frame-worthy shots (if someone compiles a book, I’ll buy it immediately). Although some scenes contain green screen, Iceland still looks incredible from a distance. Filming in actual winter conditions paid off tremendously for the crew, who I’m sure were heavily inspired by Emmanuel Lubezki and The Revenant during the process, complete with their own bear attack. But even with an unbelievable backdrop, the focus never completely shifts away from the characters; there was plenty of great back-and-forth dialogue between different Magnificent Seven members (Tormund and the Hound in particular).

But criticism doesn’t lie far behind, or nitpicking in this case. How lucky were they to find the only wight in the group that didn’t collapse? Is Gendry the Flash? Why did Daenerys take all three dragons and how come one of them didn’t try to kill the White Walkers? How did Benjen know where to find Jon? I saw many more issues raised by people online, but I didn’t have a problem with most of them. Sure, the deus ex machina trope has gone through every possible iteration already, but I was so engrossed in the action that the timeline took a backseat (as it has this entire season). The showrunners legitimately made me believe that Tormund was going to die, in addition to Jon a few minutes later. When you’re as invested in Game of Thrones as I am, you’re not thinking about possible avenues of escape; instead you’re anxiously watching every move with no knowledge of forthcoming events. Sometimes convenience serves a necessary purpose since it leaves the viewer immensely satisfied when they see their favorite character rescued from certain danger.

The rushed storytelling doesn’t so much have a profound effect on the action as it does on the Arya and Sansa storyline for me. While it would be plausible for two sisters who have never been close to question the other’s motives, Littlefinger’s plan has come together a little too quickly. From planting the scroll to sending Brienne away, these moments would carry more weight if we saw the deliberate machinations play out a bit longer. Yeah, Littlefinger is probably smarter than all of Westeros, but when I see Arya threaten to cut off Sansa’s face after only one episode, I hesitate to think he’s THAT devious. Another explanation could be that the two of them have secretly figured out his plan and are simply playing along to throw him off track. If that’s true, I hope it ends with Littlefinger’s death; unlikely, but it would redeem this mess of an arc.

It does feel good though to finally congratulate Emilia Clarke for showing some genuine emotion during her final scene with Kit Harington in this episode. I give her a hard time, but the reading of “I hope I deserve it” nearly made me stand and applaud. The beginning of a beautiful friendship (and possibly more) would’ve made an equally effective ending if it hadn’t been for the freaking Night King.

But in the end, none of this really matters compared to…ZOMBIE DRAGON! That gut punch of an ending turned the tides once more just when we thought we could cheer for the good guys again. I love how there’s never a safe moment to take a breath with Game of Thrones; even with only seven total episodes left in the entire show, Benioff and Weiss keep finding new ways to surprise us. Kudos.

“Beyond the Wall” was excellent, but it’s probably nothing compared to the finale. From the preview, it looks like most of the major players (Jon, Tyrion, Cersei, Jaime, likely more) are going to meet in King’s Landing to discuss a truce. Throw in the fact that I believe they sent the Hound down with the successfully captured wight…guess who else is in the capital? The Mountain! Cersei may very well propose a trial by combat to decide matters, so we could get brother vs. (undead) brother! With the runtime of a feature film, I’m anticipating a magnificent and shocking end to an epic season.