Moulin Rouge (2001) – 76%

It’s like visiting an old friend…time for another Differing Opinion! I was curious to see this movie because it appeared on Dan Murrell’s (from the YouTube channel Screen Junkies) list of his top 40 movies of all time. You can check it out here:¬† I trust Dan’s taste in film like few other reviewers out there, so I was expecting another win when I finally sat down to watch Moulin Rouge. Sadly, I can’t see what he was talking about with this one; Baz Luhrmann’s Best Picture nominee fell completely flat due to misguided creative decisions, lack of narrative tension, and overall weirdness. To put it simply, there were several times where I openly questioned, “What the heck am I watching?”

The film opens on Christian (Ewan McGregor) reminiscing about his time spent in Paris a year prior. It’s a tried-and-true storytelling technique that works fine, but Moulin Rouge immediately undercuts that trope by having Christian reveal that the woman he loved is now dead. This isn’t a case like The Sixth Sense either where (SPOILER, but it’s been almost 20 years) the film hints at Bruce Willis’ death in the beginning without blatantly ruining the twist. The characters continue to beat you over the head with this information concerning Satine (Nicole Kidman), the aforementioned woman. Everyone from Harold Zidler to the doctors repeatedly remind Satine (and the audience) that she’s suffering from tuberculosis and could die at any moment. Since the unlikely love story between her and Christian constitutes the centerpiece of the whole movie, this is not something we should find out almost immediately. It eliminates any notion of suspense that could’ve bolstered the tragic ending of Satine dying in Christian’s arms. If the movie had simply started with Christian’s arrival in France, maybe this review wouldn’t exist.

I’m not one of those people who hate the concept of musicals outright (I’m sure you’ve heard about my tiny obsession with La La Land). Music in general holds a special place in my heart, so I’m always fascinated to see how it’s used in film. Unfortunately, I believe that Moulin Rouge hurts the genre by trying to juxtapose a period piece with modern pop songs. It takes place IN 19TH CENTURY FRANCE; why are there people singing Madonna’s “Like a Virgin”? Perhaps I’m completely missing the point of a jukebox musical where the whole point is to use previously popular songs, but the effect is so jarring that it spoils the experience for me. There’s only one original song in the film; I realize it’s hard to compose them, but watching a musical and only hearing familiar pop or rap songs screams of a cop-out more than anything else.

Finally, the film heavily emphasizes style over substance to its detriment. Obviously with Baz Luhrmann, the production value will always be top-notch; if nothing else, his version of The Great Gatsby excels in this category. But the visual smorgasbord is surrounded by neither a compelling narrative (due to the early reveal) nor any semblance of fluid editing. There are multiple sequences that rapidly flip through images or unnecessarily speed up/slow down time. Again, maybe it’s supposed to be this disorienting so the film can bask in its own chaos, but “chaos” doesn’t equate to a good movie (remember Big Trouble in Little China?) in my eyes. There is a time and place for a director to go way over the top, but not when any evidence of a coherent product begins to disappear.

I wish I could agree with Dan Murrell as usual, but I fail to understand how this belongs in the conversation of the best movies of all time. Moulin Rouge is certainly unique and stylistic, but it’s a mess when compared to other musicals. There are a ton of weird characters: Jim Broadbent’s Zidler, John Leguizamo playing a dwarf, and the Duke. It’s like Baz Luhrmann told everyone to “go for it” without considering how it would translate onscreen. Ewan McGregor and the stunningly beautiful Nicole Kidman do the best with what they’re given and their love story almost saves the movie, but it’s not enough. Moulin Rouge is weighed down by an overabundance of pop culture that also includes “Lady Marmalade,” “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and “I Will Always Love You.” Unlike other movies with twists, this one openly tells you how it’s going to end and proceeds to reiterate the point. After much thought, I finally figured out the perfect way to describe the movie: a combination of Shakespeare in Love (tonal inconsistency) and 2016’s Sing (compilation of cover songs). That might sound awesome to some, but since I hate both those things, I also hate Moulin Rouge.


“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.

Master of None

I’m probably coming into this review with a completely different mindset because I’m not familiar with Aziz Ansari’s work. I always just assumed he was funny from other people’s opinions and the fact that Parks and Rec was an incredibly popular show. Somehow, I managed to avoid everything he made (including that pizza delivery movie he made with Jesse Eisenberg or something). But after hearing about Master of None and its unanimous 100% rating for both seasons on Netflix, I decided to check it out one night with my roommate. Boy, was that an uncomfortable experience due to the opening sex scene. I wasn’t fully sure how I felt after watching the first episode (I mean, there were a few funny parts, but nothing really stood out), so I decided to put it aside for a while. It wasn’t until a few weeks later when I revisited the show that I began to discover the genuine human story behind Master of None.

The structure of the show is quite unique. It is comprised of episodic vignettes centered around Ansari’s character Dev and his friends hanging out in New York. For some, this might be a bit disorienting; most people like their TV shows to tell a complete linear story from beginning to end. I was similarly skeptical after watching an episode that had no ties to the previous one. But at the same time, I recognized it as an ingenious technique; for most Americans, this is how life operates on a day-to-day basis. We experience random events that don’t depend on prior knowledge but rather instantaneous feeling. Sure, Master of None carries through several storylines that you would expect from television like the romantic subplot, but it largely allows the audience to walk alongside Dev and discover new things with him. I don’t think we get enough of that in this day and age.

If the show had just focused on Dev, I doubt it would be as strong. Thankfully, our energetic protagonist is joined by some memorable sidekicks like his awkward white friend Arnold, the non-stereotypical Asian friend Brian, and the lesbian black friend Denise (who’s probably the funniest of them all). This is an excellent case study where I don’t think they’re stunt-casting diversity. It really seems like Ansari, who I’m sure borrowed a lot from personal experience, would actually have friends like them and you can tell by their onscreen chemistry that all the actors work well together. Also included are Dev’s parents (played wonderfully by Ansari’s real mom and dad) and what I consider a breakout role from Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi). It’s hard not to like any of the characters, making the show infinitely easier to watch.

But what makes Master of None truly worthy of that perfect Rotten Tomatoes score is its commentary on real-life issues. The obvious ones include relationships and racism, but others cover coming out to your parents, equal representation in media, family religion, and having kids. I may not necessarily agree or identify with everything this show decides to discuss, but it paints a realistic portrait of everyday Americans (and to a greater extent, human beings in general). Some of these are issues that people of a different skin color or sexual orientation have to struggle with and they often get pushed under the rug in favor of less controversial storylines. Master of None boldly explores those topics without forcing you to accept their worldview. Especially concerning shows with heightened versions of reality, honesty is an absolute necessity and it provides that in spades.

Still, I can find flaws with the show, particularly regarding some of the jokes. A surprising number of them just didn’t land with me for some reason, many of them from Arnold. While an endearing character, it seemed like the writers were desperately trying to make him look cool by delivering quirky lines that no one else would say. Sure, there may actually be people who act just like him, but it didn’t work all the time for me. Maybe the bar was set way too high (it’s pretty rare for anything mainstream to receive a perfect rating), subconsciously making me believe that every joke landed right on the money. Nevertheless, Master of None balances it out with exchanges like this one that perfectly line up with my experience:

Arnold: Dude, I’m hungry too. Let’s eat. I’m good with whatever.

Dev: Why do people always say that? That’s no help at all. “I’m good with whatever” basically means “I’m bad at helping decide things.”

I’m sure if you were a big Aziz Ansari fan before Master of None, you will absolutely love a show that perfectly fits his beaming personality and showcases his skills as a jack of all trades (actor, writer, director). But for me, this also served as a great introduction to his comedic genius. The guy just gets humor and delivers it well, elevating everyone around him. The production value is top-notch for a Netflix original series; I was impressed by the smooth camerawork and the use of music playing over dialogue-free scenes. The celebrity cameos are also nicely woven into the show without fanfare (my favorites are Claire Danes and Angela Bassett). You can jump in with any episode and have a good time. If this seems like too much praise, it’s well-deserved. Master of None may not be a 100% in my book, but it sure comes close. Now I should go back and watch Parks and Rec.

“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:¬† 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.

Ranking Christopher Nolan Movies

I’m two weeks late with this, but after going to see Dunkirk and catching up on a few more, I have now seen all of Christopher Nolan’s films. You know what that means…

  1. The Dark Knight: I mean, if you still think I need to openly praise this film, you haven’t been paying attention.
  2. Inception: I believe this film represents the pinnacle of Nolan translating one of his patented big ideas into a coherent story. Diving into the world of dreams and incorporating a heist element sounds ridiculous, but Nolan executes it to near-perfection and still explores the human emotion hidden within. Plus, it spawned the technically incorrect idea that anything with the word “ception” after it meant that there were layers upon layers of said thing (i.e. box-ception).
  3. Memento: I still remember the first time I saw Memento; I was absolutely blown away by the nonlinear storytelling that took what Tarantino started and elevated it to new heights. There’s no glamour or in-your-face style with the film either; small-name actors, a modest budget, and a “simple” story of a man trying to find his wife’s murderer combine to make one of the best films of the 21st century. It’s still on Netflix, so please go watch it if you haven’t already (even if you have, there is immense replay value).
  4. Dunkirk: If the general public thought Nolan had lost his edge after some recent missteps, he certainly came roaring back with a completely unconventional war film. Dunkirk immerses you in the chaos of the evacuation and places you right next to the other soldiers on the beach. It’s a visually stunning masterpiece that doesn’t glorify the subject matter in the slightest. Major props go to Nolan for venturing outside his wheelhouse and also coaxing a solid performance out of Harry Styles.
  5. The Prestige: My sister was the first one to highly recommend this film and I’ll admit I wasn’t a huge fan after the initial viewing. However, the second time around proved much more successful; I began to appreciate the layers that Nolan constructed into a story about two competing magicians. The obsessive nature within each one to perfect the other’s trick makes for strangely compelling material that translates to modern times quite well. Of course, with Nolan’s filmography, it’s a shame that a great film like The Prestige gets buried at #5, but I have only myself to blame for this impossible situation.
  6. Insomnia: This was the last Nolan film I had to watch on the list and it pleasantly surprised me. The thrilling murder mystery has been done well by other directors, particularly Fincher with Seven, Zodiac, and Gone Girl, so I was interested to see Nolan’s take on it. Insomnia is also the only film Nolan hasn’t officially been credited with writing and it was refreshing to see him interpret someone else’s work for a change (now if only he could team up with Sorkin). Incoming spoiler: I love how the film doesn’t wait until the end to reveal who the killer is; instead it plays with your expectations and raises questions about who’s really at fault. I had never seen Robin Williams pull off dramatic work like this and it may also be Pacino’s last decent film to the best of my knowledge. Well worth your time.
  7. Batman Begins: I should probably revisit this one because I barely remember anything about it, but for now, the best word I can think of is “fine.” It’s a fine origin story after years of wondering if Batman would ever recover from the late 90’s disaster. But it doesn’t hold a candle to The Dark Knight in the slightest (although people who just want to be different say otherwise). The one saving grace for Batman Begins is the fact that it essentially kicked off the darker and grittier tone that subsequent filmmakers used to retell age-old stories.
  8. Following: A genius is born. While I’m guessing most people haven’t seen Nolan’s feature debut, the genesis (or should I say inception) of his penchant for big ideas started right here. What initially seems to be a simple story about a man who follows strangers around slowly turns into a twisted crime drama complete with the now-classic Nolan twist. However, it’s quite clear that he has gone on to make infinitely better movies than Following, hence the low ranking.
  9. The Dark Knight Rises: For all his incoherence, Tom Hardy turns in a great performance as Bane. Sadly, almost everything else is crammed into a nearly three-hour movie that reeks of studio interference. I might be wrong about that last part, but after the career Nolan’s had, why would you insist on teasing Robin if this is definitely the end of the trilogy? Other misfires include Bruce Wayne miraculously escaping the cave and transporting back to Gotham, Marion Cotillard’s terrible death scene, and the ending shot of Wayne and Selina Kyle fulfilling Alfred’s vision from earlier. We all know Nolan’s better than this, but we see what can happen when he’s rushed or plays fast and loose with the pacing.
  10. Interstellar: Usually when Nolan aims high, he hits the target. But with Interstellar, he wildly missed the mark. Granted, the visuals are groundbreaking and there are one or two truly poignant scenes (I’ve previously referred to the gut-wrenching scene of McConaughey watching his kids grow up on tape). But the message of love as the overpowering force that transcends space and time is wildly jarring and overwhelmingly sappy. While Nolan certainly went for it, and you can applaud the attempt, it doesn’t compare to his more relevant stories about morality and identity. I feel like if the movie had ended with McConaughey desperately peering out of the bookshelf at his daughter, we wouldn’t have complained as much. But then it nearly undercuts that same message of love by having Murph tell her father to leave and go find Anne Hathaway. It’s a divisive movie for sure, but with most of Nolan’s previous work receiving near-universal critical acclaim, it deserves its place at the bottom.

“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.