“Eastwatch” Review

So my prediction didn’t quite come true, huh? Turns out Jaime is alive and well after last week’s battle, with Bronn miraculously rescuing the fully-armored knight from the river. I’m not upset that Jaime survived (since I still believe he will ultimately kill Cersei), but the show has to avoid getting too reckless with the consequences of war. Game of Thrones has never looked for convenient ways to save characters from danger, unlike the Hobbit films. They have long proven that anyone can die; they did kill off Randyll and Dickon Tarly in this episode, but those two were never going to play an integral part in the overall story. Perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but given the evidence, you can forgive me for thinking they were actually going to kill Jaime. I will never apologize for proposing an original opinion that doesn’t blindly line up with the general consensus (hence the creation of this blog). Anyway, let’s move on to the meat of the episode.

Perhaps we should start with Tyrion’s plan to bring evidence of the army of the dead before Cersei. While I agree that providing visible proof makes sense on a strategic level, it still sounds like an incredibly dangerous plan that may not even come to fruition. How in the world are Jon and his band of brothers planning to capture one soldier that is most likely surrounded by several thousand others (as one reviewer noted, it’s turned into a Saving Private Ryan situation)? Even if they do manage to bring it back to King’s Landing, there’s no guarantee Cersei would simply drop her schemes and join their fight. The conflict seems manufactured to move the story along quickly, but I’ll wait to see what happens with the “Magnificent Seven” first before passing further judgment.

But what I really enjoyed about this episode lies with two sources. First, I was absolutely thrilled about Gendry’s reintroduction (and Davos delivering the line “thought you might still be rowing”). He was always a great side characters whose story never received a proper conclusion, so it felt right to bring him back now and pair him with fellow “bastard” Jon Snow. You could tell he was itching to fight with his newly-crafted hammer (his father’s weapon of choice). In truth, the show needs more people like Gendry around: ones who understand the dire threat lurking and choose not to sit around waiting for it.

The second moment that prompted my use of the happy Chris Pratt face was the revelation that Jon is the trueborn son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, not born out of wedlock as most people believed. This is the most concrete evidence we’ve received to support the R + L = J theory (the only Game of Thrones theory I’m willing to entertain) and it was Gilly of all people who revealed the information! Hannah Murray is a treasure for playing innocent so perfectly. This gives Jon a more legitimate claim to the throne than Daenerys; whether we ever see that come to a head remains unclear, but it sure looks that way. Props to the writers for subtly dropping clues here and there so when they are finally paid off, we all feel like happy Chris Pratt.

The shortcomings mainly concern Cersei’s apparent pregnancy. I don’t believe for a second that she is actually with child and it might just be a ploy to keep Jaime confused, but surely that wasn’t the only method she could’ve used. I just fail to see how this sudden bombshell actually makes sense in context or whether the show will devote the necessary time to explore it. In addition, Sam’s rather quick decision to leave the Citadel doesn’t feel earned. Yes, the various maesters have repeatedly ignored his advice, but Sam always seemed to bounce back and prove himself useful in another fashion. It’s probably a casualty of faster pacing, but it had a jarring effect nonetheless.

Speaking of which, I wanted to end by lending my thoughts on the reviewers who complain that the characters are traveling around too quickly. These people clearly haven’t been paying enough attention to the structure of the show; Benioff and Weiss and have repeatedly stated that all storylines do not follow the same timeline. Jorah Mormont showing up at Dragonstone doesn’t mean he magically transported himself from Oldtown. The show just cuts out the unnecessary travel time so it can spend its time on more important matters. Do you really want to watch the boring journey that Jorah took to get back to Daenerys? No, I don’t think you do. I openly criticize several elements of the show, but this is one I have to defend from the naysayers.

“Eastwatch” is undoubtedly a setup episode, but it’s an effective one. The writers have been deftly moving the pieces around the board for several seasons now to prepare us for presumably an action-packed and epic finale. Just when I thought Littlefinger had ceased to be useful, he comes firing back with a plan to turn the Stark sisters against each other. Just when I thought they had forgotten about the Hound, he teams up with Jon Snow of all people. Game of Thrones keeps finding new ways to bring characters together while maintaining a clear endgame. There are many callbacks and references that require some additional studying, but when you’ve invested in a show for seven seasons and they pay those off, it’s worth every last minute.

“The Spoils of War” Review

Oh, what a time to be alive! We finally get the first A+ Game of Thrones episode (in my eyes) with hardly anything to complain about! Seriously, there’s only one line of dialogue that bothered me even a little, so there’s no need to play the weekly game of cutting tiny details. A lot of credit needs to go to first-time show director Matt Shakman (whose previous work includes It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Mad Men, and Fargo). Oftentimes, directors who come back to work on multiple seasons grow complacent and don’t take as many risks. But Shakman injected some much-needed energy that had been missing since Miguel Sapochnik burst onto the scene with “Hardhome” in Season 5.

Should I start anywhere else but the final battle (dubbed the Field of Fire by other reviewers as a nod to book readers)? Yeah, didn’t think so. As fans, we should consider ourselves lucky to witness such a magnificent spectacle at the halfway point of a season rather than in the traditional penultimate episode. What the show refers to as the Loot Train Attack works as both a technically impressive masterpiece and significant storytelling (check out the incredible behind-the-scenes footage if you’re interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pE2wcBeyNdk). Whatever semblance of compassion or sanity Daenerys had left might be completely gone now; after repeated warnings from Tyrion and others, she may have finally succumbed to the dark side. This just makes the endgame that much more interesting because now it’s not simply a good vs. evil showdown between her and Cersei.

Let’s talk about that ambiguous ending with Jaime falling into the water. Most people have immediately assumed that the show wouldn’t just kill a main character nonchalantly, but I wouldn’t be so quick to jump to conclusions. Think about it: he’s wearing a full suit of armor (after telling Bronn that the more you own, the more it weighs you down). Not to mention, he has something unique: an equally heavy golden hand. You don’t pull off a huge battle like that and not have someone important die; it’s too convenient and departs from the show’s usual philosophy. Unless Daenerys or Tyrion miraculously find him and decide to use him as a hostage, I think we might have seen the last of the Kingslayer (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau also said in an interview that the script called for a major character death in that scene). It’s a fitting farewell for Jaime if I’m proven right: morally conflicted, but goes out trying to do something noble.

I’m really digging the “homecoming” theme they have going this season with multiple characters reuniting for the first time in forever. I was highly anticipating Arya’s return to Winterfell and it didn’t disappoint. I admire how they didn’t try to make her conversation with Sansa too emotional because that wouldn’t fit the characters at all; they were never close as children and now they have each gone down completely different paths, so coming together may not be what people expected. Then, if the sister hug wasn’t enough, the Arya and Brienne sparring match held its own with the Loot Train Attack. Even mainstream movies don’t shoot fight scenes like this anymore where I don’t think any stunt doubles were used. And the look on Sansa’s face after witnessing the duel says it all: she may be glad to have her sister back, but she needs to keep her in check.

The only thing I’ll gripe about is the apparent lack of empathy from Daenerys in the cave with Jon Snow. After giving us hope and declaring that she’ll fight for the North, with the music swelling and everything, she bluntly commands him to bend the knee again. Sigh…so close. I’m not really surprised by the line given her personality, but it just provides further reason to not support Daenerys as a ruler who claims to be kindhearted.

In summary, “The Spoils of War” is hands down one of the best episodes of Season 7 if not the entire show and it just happens to also be one of the shortest. Everything is tightly constructed for a narrative that moves along at a brisk pace without having to show us unnecessary sex scenes. When I said a while back that the expectations had been set so high, this is what I was hoping to see on a consistent basis. And next week promises more of the same with an apparent White Walker battle at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Maybe there will be another character death with Tormund who’s guarding the castle? Everyone involved deserves a huge round of applause, from Matt Shakman to the visual effects artists to the stunt coordinators. Do you see now why I absolutely love this show?

P.S. Attached are some of the shots I said I wanted to frame in my house.

“The Queen’s Justice” Review

I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this episode. There’s a lot to love, but I can’t ignore the parts that stick out like a sore thumb. I’m clearly in the minority here (some people online have named “The Queen’s Justice” as one of their favorite episodes EVER), but Season 7 has gotten off to a slightly rocky start. As usual, I’ll run through the positives followed by the negatives.

Well, we finally witnessed the meeting of ice and fire. Just seeing Jon Snow and Daenerys clash over ideology was something fans wanted for a long time (and now that we know Jon’s true parentage, the anticipation never stops building). The writing, for the most part, makes excellent use of both characters as well as Tyrion and Davos. Hopefully, we will continue to see their chemistry develop in future episodes.

Strangely, I have not mentioned one of the most important players in Westeros through two posts: Queen Cersei. But she sure made her mark on Sunday, huh? For some reason, I still don’t think Lena Headey gets enough credit for her menacing performance; her tactical takedown of Ellaria and subsequent revenge was morbidly fascinating. As a villain, you definitely don’t want her to succeed, but after seeing Daenerys’ plans go south, maybe Cersei does deserve to be on the Iron Throne. That’s where Game of Thrones ensnares you; they make you root for the bad guys because they often act smarter or are more motivated to win than the good guys.

Lastly, I really want to focus on that ending with Jaime and Olenna Tyrell. From the moment we’re introduced to the Queen of Thorns way back in Season 3, we were all blown away by Diana Rigg’s biting dialogue and straightforward nature. While it’s sad to see a legend depart the show, she could not have left in a more heroic fashion. Just straight up revealing to Jaime the true circumstances behind Joffrey’s death (after she drank the poison, protecting herself from further torture) places the scene in the upper echelon of recent memory. Everything about it screams perfection from the writing to the performances to the score to the cinematography; can you tell I’m satisfied?

However, while the Jon and Daenerys storyline was well-deserved, I did think it ran a little long. I understand that it takes some time for these two rivals to get acquainted, but in their initial conversation, it didn’t seem like Daenerys cared about anything Jon had to say. For example, after Jon first brings up the White Walkers, Daenerys transitions to a speech about having faith in herself and no one else. What? Can you stop being self-righteous for one second and listen to people who have been in Westeros longer than you? Jon’s right, Daenerys would probably make a better ruler than Cersei, but if she continues going down this path…who knows?

We also get another Stark reunion and…it’s not as tear-jerking as the first. I know that Bran has seen some dark and disturbing things in a short amount of time, but could he have been any more dead-eyed in that scene? And did you have to bring up Sansa’s wedding night to prove you’re really the Three-Eyed Raven? You couldn’t have said anything else? She would’ve had the same reaction regardless, but maybe that will carry some significance down the road.

It seems like I play the same game every week, but it’s time for “What Tiny Details Should Be Cut?” I’ll work on the title, but the brief Theon scene can easily be cut because it doesn’t do anything except check in on the aftermath of Euron’s invasion. The Cersei/Jaime incest is completely unnecessary; do we need to be periodically reminded of their creepy relationship? Sure, it shows that Cersei doesn’t care one bit about anyone finding out, but couldn’t that be implied from, I don’t know, all of her other actions?

In the end, the good still outweighs the bad in “The Queen’s Justice.” The Casterly Rock battle was creatively executed with Tyrion’s voiceover acting as an unconventional framing device. The (implied) deaths of Ellaria and Olenna particularly stood out as superior examples of great writing. The ice and fire meeting could’ve been better, but it was paid off well enough. There are tiny nitpicks that hold it back, but they’re more forgivable than, say, the premiere. I’m more curious to see the next episode now that it clearly looks like Daenerys is fighting for the losing side. Again, I’m sorry if I’m not in the same boat as everyone else, but a wise man once said that “you should never believe a thing simply because you want to believe it.”

P.S. Seriously though, why haven’t we seen the Hound again? Or Gendry? Is he still rowing?

Starting this week, I’m going to make some minor changes to the writing schedule to allow for more time. So I will be posting every Tuesday and Friday now (instead of Thursday). Hope you continue reading!

“Stormborn” Review

Ah…much better. After some random guy on Facebook dared to question my love for Game of Thrones last week (true story), I was very satisfied with “Stormborn.” In case you were wondering from my last post what good setup looks like, this is it. There aren’t unnecessarily drawn out scenes with no dialogue that do nothing for the story; instead we are treated to compelling dialogue and the promise of bigger things to come. Nearly the entire episode was a win for me, though I will mention some drawbacks.

Where to begin? I think the storyline that made me the happiest this week was easily Arya (again). She finally finds out that Jon has retaken Winterfell, prompting her to travel back home, something we have all been waiting for since the first season. Speaking of which, she then briefly reunites with her direwolf Nymeria. In a bittersweet moment, Arya realizes that what was once her pet is now a completely different beast. She has to watch Nymeria leave with her pack, acknowledging that she has also changed quite a bit since the two were together. Maisie Williams absolutely crushes it with her facial expressions in this scene and the line “that’s not you” poignantly hearkens back to a conversation she had with her father about being a proper lady. While it may have been hard to let go, it was the necessary progression for her. Powerful moment for something I never thought would come to fruition on the show. Plus, how can you not love Hot Pie making an appearance? He’s one of the few genuinely good people still left in Westeros and his interaction with Arya really shined in this episode for me (I nearly died when he said, “friends don’t pay”).

What also stood out from “Stormborn” was the Sam and Jorah Mormont stuff. We’ve been holding our breath wondering what will happen with Dany’s closest adviser, and just when all hope seemed lost, Sam stepped up! Amidst the disgusting greyscale removal scene (props to the makeup department), we get a tender moment between the two unlikely companions. Sam realizes that one of his father figures, Lord Commander Mormont, is also the father of Ser Jorah. So he vows to do all he can (even though he has no experience whatsoever), if only because there’s still a chance for Jorah to reunite with his family? The subsequent transition from the greyscale to the pie was brilliant editing and worked better than last week’s vomit montage in my opinion.

You can probably guess that I liked most of the other storylines as well, so I’ll just give a quick rundown of it all. I totally called Melisandre coming to Dragonstone; I just wish that had happened in the last episode. It was refreshing to see so many powerful women planning for battle (while Tyrion offers his usual sage advice). The conversation between Lady Olenna and Daenerys was expertly written and may foreshadow the latter’s decision-making after what transpires at the end of the episode. The revelation that Qyburn has secretly built weapons to combat the dragons is a quietly important detail that substantially improves Cersei’s position in the oncoming war. Of course, the final battle at sea between Euron and Yara’s fleets was incredible. I found the aesthetic of the fire sparks surrounding the characters to be oddly pleasing. As if the episode didn’t contain enough jaw-dropping moments, Theon momentarily converting back to Reek after witnessing the carnage carries far bigger implications than most everything else. Can we just give Alfie Allen all the accolades?

However, let’s not celebrate just yet. I thought the Grey Worm and Missandei scene could’ve been drastically reduced to save time. While I admired the story he tells about having no weakness until meeting herm, I think that could easily end with them embracing in a kiss. We don’t need to see, ahem, what comes after. Listen, Nathalie Emmanuel is one of the most attractive women on Earth, but I was secretly hoping that HBO had learned to cut down on the nudity. Oh well.

In addition, the scene with Jon Snow and Littlefinger feels completely unnecessary. It seems like another retread of the showrunners telling us, “Hey, look at Littlefinger being creepy again, except with another character this time!” Now with Jon gone, he has even more motivation to meddle with Sansa, but I already got that from their scene last week. Finally, it seems like I will have a small gripe each week, but why did you recast Dickon Tarly? I might be wrong, but I don’t think he’s ever going to play a huge part on this show (maybe only if his dad dies), so you could’ve saved, I don’t know, ten seconds of Jaime messing up his name? I make jokes, but there are ways this episode could’ve been trimmed down to fix the slightly horrendous editing of the sea battle. I understand that in a show of this magnitude, it’s hard to shoot using longer takes, but it would help a little if we didn’t have several hundred images rapidly flashing past us on the screen.

Overall, I thought “Stormborn” was a massive improvement over the first episode and really showcased why we love Game of Thrones. Yes, the action will always be exciting, but it’s the small moments that ground the show in reality. When characters make decisions that feel earned because the writers have been setting them up for years, everyone goes home happy. I can’t wait for next week and the epic confrontation between Daenerys and Jon Snow as well as a host of other storylines that have now been properly set up.

“Dragonstone” Review

For the next seven Tuesdays, I will be reviewing every episode in the seventh season for Game of Thrones since, as most of you know, it’s my favorite show ever. Apologies to anyone who’s never seen an episode or hasn’t caught up, but there will potentially be spoilers. I’ve been eagerly anticipating the new season because the wait has lasted longer than usual (so they could accurately film winter) and there are only thirteen episodes before it all ends. The trailers seemingly promised a faster pace and a ton of converging storylines. However, I’m sad to admit that the first episode “Dragonstone” left a lot to be desired. I will always be glad whenever the show comes back, but I expect the premiere to contain more engaging material. Aside from the cold open, nothing particularly stood out, especially the Daenerys ending (again). I understand that we need to set up and reintroduce everyone in the world, but this episode clearly took that concept too far.

I’ll start with some positives though. How awesome was Arya and her mission of vengeance? When the episode first started, I was extremely confused because I thought we were witnessing a flashback of the Red Wedding or something. But the satisfying realization slowly sets in; you know who’s really wearing that face. Then when the entire room dies from poisoning, I nearly jumped up and cheered. Arya delivering the line “Tell them winter came for House Frey” was the cherry on top right before the equally awesome opening theme we all know and love.

The other character I thought was handled well in “Dragonstone” was Sandor Clegane (better known as the Hound). After his surprising return last season, I was interested to see where the show would take him. The change of heart after hanging out with Ian McShane was well-executed and deserved after only perceiving him as a despicable person all those years. It reminded me of Jaime’s arc in Season 3; while it’s tempting to just write off the bad guys as unworthy of redemption, Game of Thrones convinces you that there is still some decency left from unexpected sources. Although the scene was a bit heavy-handed (seriously, who would remember that one random farmer and his daughter from Season 4 if they didn’t bash you over the head with it in the recap?), I’m officially back on board with the Hound and the Brotherhood.

Finally, it was heartwarming to see some fan favorites back after the yearlong wait. Lyanna Mormont once again taking control of a room full of battle-tested soldiers is worthy of a fist pump (although I hope they don’t go back to that well every single episode). Tormund unsuccessfully trying to flirt with Brienne is everything I didn’t know I wanted but now desperately need. The introduction of Jim Broadbent as the Archmaester was equally solid. Like Jonathan Pryce before him, Game of Thrones has nailed the casting of a great character actor in a small but important role. I foresee some great dialogue-heavy scenes between him and Sam.

Sigh…I wish I didn’t have to talk about so many negatives. Again, I want to make it abundantly clear that I am a huge Game of Thrones fan; I don’t want any episode to fail. But I’m also not going to blindly praise something just from prior experience. I have to look at each episode separately and objectively. My first complaint is rather small, but still worth mentioning: in an episode lasting 59 minutes, how do Davos (Liam Cunningham) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) get no lines? Why are you wasting two amazing actors on simple reaction shots? Their input would’ve been greatly valued in respective scenes, but the writers somehow thought that silence would be golden. It makes absolutely no sense, but it’s a small gripe.

I also think the whole Sam storyline could be drastically cut down to make room for others. The rapidly edited sequence of him losing the ability to distinguish between poop and food was entirely unnecessary. Look, I get it; it’s not easy for Sam at the Citadel. You can get that point across with one cycle of toil, but then you should move on to more important things. Even the revelation of a dragonglass mine beneath Dragonstone is nothing new; Stannis said as much a few seasons ago. I will defend Sam more than most people because I recognize his value in the wars to come, but even I can’t justify this lackluster storytelling.

Next up…Ed Sheeran. Unlike some angry fans on the Internet, I knew he was planning to make a cameo, but I definitely didn’t expect it in the first episode. While it’s clearly distracting, at least they didn’t make him the focus of the scene (other than the easily recognizable singing), instead giving two other soldiers the bulk of the dialogue. While I understand that Maisie Williams is a huge fan of Mr. Sheeran, putting him in a crowded gathering rather than a small band of soldiers would probably have been a smarter move. He already looks like he belongs in the Game of Thrones world, but prominently showcasing him won’t go over well. The scene also abruptly ends with laughter after Arya says she’s going to kill Cersei; it’s so jarring that it only reinforces the oddity.

Finally, we arrive at my biggest complaint with “Dragonstone” and that’s the titular location itself. The final scene with Daenerys and company landing on the beach and walking through the deserted castle (don’t know why no one bothered to try and defend it) was painfully anticlimactic. I kept expecting something exciting to happen or another character (Melisandre maybe?) to be waiting for them. But all we get is a leisurely stroll and one throwaway line of “Shall we begin?” Even the absence of dialogue borders on the unbelievable; wouldn’t anyone speak up at some point while walking? I don’t want to believe that Emilia Clarke is a bad actress, but the writers keep putting her in the same scenarios and relying on her stoic facial expressions to convey strength. I sincerely hope that going forward, they realize that viewers actually want to see Daenerys, you know, do something. We waited six seasons for her to finally travel back to Westeros and this is all we get? We can all assume from the end of Season 6 that she safely lands on Dragonstone; let’s just skip to the political machinations, OK?

I can’t reiterate enough how much I love Game of Thrones. But after seeing the near-universal praise the first episode has received (currently 95% on Rotten Tomatoes), I honestly have to disagree with everyone else. It’s still an above-average hour of television, but it doesn’t hold a candle to past season premieres. Who can forget Jaime pushing Bran out the window, Arya and the Hound killing Lannister soldiers in a tavern, or Melisandre revealing her true form, all of which happened in the first episode of a season? The Arya cold open might come close, but it comes at the very beginning as opposed to the end where it rightfully belonged. We still get a bunch of scenes in the middle that don’t live up to the hype that had been building up. There was even a freaking countdown clock before it began! I probably wouldn’t be as frustrated if our expectations hadn’t been set so high prior to the season. From trailers and interviews, it seemed like the showrunners were going to cut out the unnecessary filler and give us exciting scene after exciting scene. But judging from “Dragonstone” alone, I don’t think they followed through on that promise. Maybe once the second episode is released, this will all be a moot point, but for now, I can’t declare that Season 7 started off on the right foot. Sad to say, but that’s why we have Differing Opinions.

Game of Thrones – Part 2

Here are the highlights of each season for me; there are obviously way too many to write about in full detail, but these are the ones that stood out.

Season 1

The very first scene with the white walkers slaughtering rangers of the Night’s Watch is a perfect introduction to the Game of Thrones world. You immediately recognize that the stakes are real without learning the names of any characters. It’s one of the best openings to any TV show I’ve seen.

Of course, the other worthy moment is (SPOILER) Ned Stark’s death. Even though I had read the books (and I knew Sean Bean was an inauspicious casting), it still proved to me that the show was not going to cut any corners. Sure, audiences might have gone into a rage-induced state after that, but the numbers show that they came back for more because of something so shocking. The first season was especially faithful to the source material and I was glad it turned out the way it did.

Season 2

Yeah, there isn’t much here to write home about, but I was very intrigued by Theon’s character arc as well as the introduction of several great characters (Davos, Brienne, Margaery). But the best moment has to be the Battle of the Blackwater; this was the first big action sequence on the show and it was glorious. The shot of the wildfire exploding was jaw-dropping and a great use of special effects that would continue in future seasons.

Season 3

This might be an unconventional pick, but I absolutely loved the Jaime confession scene in the fifth episode where he reveals what really happened when he killed the Mad King. It’s an emotionally raw moment from one of the most hated characters up to that point. For once, you sympathize with the guy who has sex with his sister and pushed Bran out of a window. Not an easy thing to do, but props to the writers for making us believe, albeit momentarily, that Jaime had some honor left in him.

The Red Wedding. Oh God, I got chills just typing that. I remember reading this moment in the books and needing a whole day to process it. When the time finally came in the show, I was on the edge of my seat dreading the exact outcome and it was perfectly executed. I was shaking the whole time even though I knew how it would end, a sign of excellence in any TV adaptation.

Season 4

To continue the pattern of picking one dialogue scene and one action scene, I’m going with Tyrion’s trial in the sixth episode. The rage slowly builds as each witness presents false evidence while Peter Dinklage does a magnificent job conveying everything with facial expressions. Finally, when Shae is brought forward, all hell breaks loose. Tyrion unleashes on the people of King’s Landing with one of the best monologues ever. As a bonus, because I loved the scene so much, I memorized the whole thing.

There were many great action scenes in Season 4, but how could I not choose the fight between Oberyn Martell and the Mountain? Similar to the Red Wedding, this was a moment I was both dreading and looking forward to before the season started. Oberyn was one of the best new characters on the show who I really didn’t want to see die. But this was not a scene that could be changed, so I watched with trepidation and when the final blow took place, I was amazed at the detail and horrified at the gruesomeness.

Season 5

Do you want to know the best battle so far on Game of Thrones? There’s no contest in my eyes; it’s the battle of Hardhome. This was not a scene from the books and at the outset, I had no idea something like this was possible. But as soon as Jon Snow started to look worried, I knew this couldn’t end well. The score, cinematography, and choreography were all taken to the next level that ended in the spectacular shot of the Night King raising everybody back from the dead. Words can’t do this scene justice, so just watch it.

I don’t usually cry in movies or TV shows, but Princess Shireen’s death was the most heart-wrenching thing I had seen on Game of Thrones and that’s saying something. There was a lot of criticism with people claiming that this was a total betrayal of Stannis’ character, but I couldn’t disagree more. This was a man willing to do anything to obtain the Iron Throne and that intention is bared out with the burning of his own daughter. You can tell from earlier scenes that he really doesn’t want to go through with it, but the thirst for power became too much for him to handle. I was devastated to see Shireen go, but it was also understandable for character development reasons. What a well-directed scene.

Season 6

I think you know where I’m going with this: hold the door. In a scene that is equal parts mind-blowing and heartbreaking, I was emotionally wrecked at the conclusion. I really don’t want to say much more because you need to watch this scene yourself without spoilers.

The final pick belongs to Cersei blowing up the sept. Accompanied by a beautiful piece of piano music, the whole scene plays out rather peacefully before the realization begins to set in. Then the tension ratchets up exponentially, ending in one glorious explosion that left me stunned. Lena Headey, without saying a word, plays the villainous role perfectly in this as well. One of the best sequences in television, bar none.

OK, now it’s time for some well-earned criticism of this beloved show. I’ll start with the lowest-hanging fruit: Dorne. God, how they messed up this storyline. Since Oberyn was such a cool character, I assume that the showrunners felt pressured to introduce the rest of his family as quickly as possible. What we got instead was a mediocre and rushed subplot that never lived up to the charisma of the Red Viper. At this point, I think the whole thing is unredeemable, which makes me sad. If you think about it, a group of strong independent women who can fight and want to take vengeance for Oberyn’s death is really intriguing, but not if the execution is flawed. It also led to one of the most cringe-worthy lines in the show’s history: “You want a good girl, but you need the bad (meow).”

There’s also a bit too much nudity in the show; most of it is supposedly for “exposition purposes,” but especially in the first few seasons, I find that hard to believe. They have improved recently with the apparent realization that you don’t need it as a story crutch, but it’s still shocking for those who don’t know it’s coming.

Finally, I’m going to express an unpopular opinion: I don’t really like Daenerys. There, I said it. To set things straight, I think she’s still a strong female character, but all of her “big” scenes lack any sort of substance. The best example happens in the sixth episode of Season 6; in her only scene, she rides out on a dragon out of nowhere and stirs up the Dothraki with a rousing speech. That would be cool if we hadn’t already seen it a thousand times before in every previous season (tell me I’m wrong). Emilia Clarke also doesn’t know how to use more than one facial expression, which really hurts her performance.

And that’s it: two incredibly long posts on the best TV show ever. If you can’t tell already, I highly suggest checking it out; who wouldn’t love a story with realistic characters that just happens to be set in a fantasy world with dragons?

Game of Thrones – Part 1

The time has finally come; I’m going to start reviewing TV shows. If you have a favorite show and want to write about it, please let me know; as a human being, I can only watch so much so you guys would probably have more insight than me on certain shows. It’s only appropriate, then, that I start off this topic with my absolute favorite show from HBO: Game of Thrones. Like the last Hunger Games movie, this post will be split into two parts because there’s no way I can fit everything into one (well, I could, but I don’t think you would want to read something that long, I know you all have better things to do). Hopefully I can convince those of you who haven’t seen Game of Thrones to check it out (as long as you’re over 18). Beware of spoilers though. OK, here we go.

It was the summer of 2012. I was participating in a Chinese school program held in Taiwan; since we got the weekends off, my aunt who lives nearby came to visit and take me on a day trip around the city. We stopped at a bookstore, one of my favorite places to visit anywhere; there’s just something about new books that gets me excited. We were about to leave when I spotted the first book in A Song of Ice and Fire series by George R.R. Martin. I vaguely recalled hearing about the books and subsequent TV series from a TIME magazine article, so my aunt bought it for me and I started reading on the subway back. Once I finished the first chapter, I knew this was going to be something special; for the next few weeks, whenever we took a break from learning Chinese, I would take out that book and continue reading. At the beginning of my freshman year in college soon after, I proceeded to buy the rest of the series as well as start watching the show. It might sound cliché, but that moment in the bookstore changed my life; Game of Thrones is the best TV show ever in my eyes and I can’t imagine anything coming close.

So why do I love this show so much? Let’s start with the fact that in this world, no one is safe; good or bad characters can die at any point. It paints a much more realistic picture than I think most TV shows do: the good guys can’t and don’t always prevail. Once you start getting attached to any character, you develop this sense of apprehension and think, “Oh no, are they going to die?” A show that can make you feel this way deserves all the praise because the emotional connections (to fictional characters, mind you) are made even stronger.

Taking it a step further, the “good guys” on Game of Thrones are not always portrayed in a positive light; when corruption hits, they are sometimes forced to make questionable decisions for the perceived benefit of themselves or their family. Same goes for the villains; despicable acts may define who they are, but there are still moments of pure humanity that examine their true intentions. Some of my favorite moments from the show fit the latter category, so I’ll come back to this.

Game of Thrones would be nothing though without its stellar cast that combines well-known actors from around the world with first-timers. Sure, it may not offer much in terms of diversity, but it’s hard to find any complaint with top-notch performances across the board. Granted, I had only really heard of Peter Dinklage when I first saw the show, but I’ve grown to love every cast member so much that I’m having trouble writing this now trying to think of a bad one.

Now here comes the hardest part for me: picking my favorite characters. WHY? There are so many! In order to keep this post from becoming a full-length essay, I will limit myself to four. My #1 choice, as with many fans, is Tyrion Lannister (Dinklage). There’s a reason the showrunners only considered him for the part and that’s because he took it and made it his own to the point where most people only remember him for this and not the mediocre film career. Tyrion brings a perfect blend of comedic timing and seriousness that other characters simply don’t possess. It’s almost undeniable that he’s one of the smartest characters on the show and by the time Season 6 ends, you get the feeling that he genuinely wants what’s best for Westeros (even if that means killing off his own father). He’s the most quotable and the most memorable, so that makes it an easy pick.

My second choice would have to be Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). First of all, this was her first acting role of any kind; to come in and hold her own against acting veterans is truly impressive. I also love the character arc for her; she spends most of her childhood being written off (even by her own family), but she aims to prove them wrong by training to become an assassin. For a child who witnessed her father’s death to come back with a vengeance is awesome and inspiring to young girls everywhere. I sincerely hope she reunites with the rest of the Stark siblings next season because they would just be unstoppable.

Next up is Samwell Tarly (John Bradley). I’ve received some criticism for liking this character, but I connect the most to Sam. From the moment he tells us his family backstory, you feel sympathy for him; how many of us have been told we couldn’t do great things for any reason? But that doesn’t stop Sam from killing a white walker and offering advice to Jon Snow. In addition, his relationship with Gilly is one of the sweetest on the show; in a world of violence and betrayal, it’s refreshing to see two people care for each other the way they do. Aside from Tyrion, he’s one of the funniest characters. Anyone who tells me Sam is useless…you just don’t understand.

Finally, I have to pick Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie). Again we have someone who was teased constantly (in real life and on the show) for not acting like a real “woman.” But she doesn’t care what other people think; all she’s ever wanted to do is serve as a knight for an honorable ruler. She perfectly embodies “tough but fair” and I love her all the more for it.

Tune in next time for my favorite moments of the show as well as some criticism (yes, even though I love the show to death, there are a few things that bother me).