Highs and lows from the Battle of Winterfell

Highs and Lows from the Battle for Winterfell:

Low: Dany
For someone who expects everyone to bend the knee the moment she walks into the room, Dany’s weakness at the Ballte of Winterfell was damning proof of why she shouldn’t sit on it.
When the battle began and she watched the dead snuff the flames a of her Dothraki army, she panicked. Deviating from whatever the plan was, she raced into action. Tactically she put her dragon out of position, which brought Jon’s along with it. Now the living’s two biggest weapons were flying blind, unable to provide any support to the Unsullied or the army of the North. It’s true that the best battle plans fall apart the moment they hit the battle field. But Dany never gave Winterfell a chance, and she’s damn lucky Arya Stark saved the day or else she’d be the mother of three dead dragons.

Dany’s second failure was tactical in the midst of battle. Trying to flame The Night King when she had the chance was the right move. Gotta take the clean shot. But when his retaliatory ice spear missed, she should have turned on a dime and burned the battle field. Instead she flew off to god knows where and have him enough time to raise the dead. Had Dany been there, she could have stopped them in their tracks, giving Jon—a Targaryen—an opportunity to go thru the flames and take out The Night King.

High: The beginning
Hype and anticipation for this episode was off the hook. Beginning the episode with a slow, almost silent tour through the battle preparations brought the fear of death alive.

High: The darkness in the distance
I loved the choice to begin the fight by sending out a Dothraki charge but showing the fight from a distance. The sight of flaming Dothraki swords being engulfed by darkness made everyone awaiting in Winterfell gulp for the terror headed their way. Starting the battle this way helped keep the later fight scenes fresh, too. Loved it.

Low: The battle plan
So…what was the goal with the Dothraki charge? Even with flaming swords they were charging toward certain death that made no dent in their opponents. Seems like a waste of a great fighting force.

High: Arya in the library
Sometimes TV shows make the good guy’s feet a little too quiet. Obviously Arya is well-trained, but is she that quiet? Who cares. This scene kicked ass. It reminded me of the kitchen scene from Jurassic Park and was a good prelude to how she would eventually sneak all the way to The Night King.

Low: Theon
Theron’s death was stupid and futile. A waste of his wasted life. He wasn’t going to defeat TNK, the story would never allow that, but he could have at least fought. Watching him mindlessly charge toward certain death, I felt bad for him in a way I never had. Theon was just plain overmatched in Westeros. He didn’t have the brains, guts or skills to be anything more than the loser he was. Bye.

Low: The crypts
This should have been more terrifying. The people in the crypts knew their fate would be determined by who next opened the door. A friendly face meant another sunrise, a dead face meant death. They never expected that dead face to come from within. Their fear should have overwhelmed the screen. It didn’t. More should have died. We should have come away mad at Jon, Sansa, et al for not realizing they sent their most vulnerable people into a literal death trap.

High: Arya
How cool was it that Arya could sneak up on The Night King from behind amongst all his friends but Jon couldn’t sneak up to him alone on the battlefield? I loved this moment as the culmination of all Arya’s training since season one. And I love that she always thought she was training to take down the names on her list, when in reality she put it to use on someone much more consequential.

But now I have to wonder: Is her story complete? If her role was to develop into a fighter capable of succeeding in that moment, then yes, it is. Can they realistically give her The Night King and Cersei Lannister? I doubt it, and that bodes ill for her future if she goes south.

High: The music.
Fantastic.

Low: Surviving
I agree with those who argued the show lost some credibility by not killing off anyone bigger than Jorah, but I can live with it. However, just one time I would like to see a major character die in a random, non-epic way. Why? Because that’s the way it probably happens some times!

Low: The Hound
From now on when someone cowers during battle we’ll call that pulling a Clegane. He Cleganed it. Come on, man.

Low: The previous episode
The episode before this was one of my favourites for how the main characters gathered and paused before the fight thinking death was certainly near for some, or all of them. With almost all of them surviving, that episode now means less. I am bummed.

It’s time for Jamie Lannister to die. But he probably won’t yet.

A few years ago, the New York Yankees used the phrase “Looking forward, looking back” for their marketing slogan. It’s the typical snottiness you’d expect from America’s most successful and reviled pro sports team.

It could also apply to the latest episode of Game of Thrones. “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” brought the past to the present with just about every main character:

        • Sam, Jon and Dolorous Edd stood atop the wall of Winterfell to reminisce about their early days on the Night’s Watch;
        • Jorah had to re-live his failures to Dany in asking her to forgive Tyrion for trusting Cersei;
        • Tyrion reflected to Jamie how much things have changed since their first trip to Winterfell;
        • Tyrion reminded everyone they’d all fought against the Starks at one point or another in their lives;
        • Jon re-wrote Dany’s family history right before her eyes.

And then there’s Jamie. His entire character arc played out in the opening scene: Dany held judgment on his fate for his sins against her family, Bran kept the secret of what he would do for his sister’s love and Brienne put her reputation behind his reformed character. That’s seven seasons of Jamie Lannister in a nutshell.

This led me to ponder when Jamie’s story is destined to end. Did his arc come full circle when he knighted Brienne? I feel like it should have. You can’t ask a character to change more than going from pushing a kid out a window to knighting the woman who saved his life. By all rights, his tale is done and he should die in the battle with the White Walkers. Right?

I can’t believe they’d get rid of him so quickly. And that doesn’t bode well for Brienne because as wonderful as the knighting scene was, there’s zero chance they both make it to episode four.

How do you know there is an afterwards?

This episode also posed a question that’s been rare in Game of Thrones: What happens after the war for the crown? Everyone in this saga is so focused on winning that no one’s thought much about actually governing. Except Sansa, who for my money has become the most electable candidate for the throne, if I may borrow a political term. She responded to Dany’s patronizing attempt at bonding over their mutual love for Jon by asking her point blank what would happen to the North under a Queen Daenerys. Dany didn’t much care for that, and the ice grew thicker between these two.

Others looked ahead, too. Greyworm asked Missandei if she really wants to grow old in Westeros, which surely means he ain’t gonna live to join her on the beaches of Naath. Jorah tried to convince Lyanna to wait in the crypts by telling her she’s the future of House Mormont. You can image how well that went. Even Tyrion got in on the fun, hoping he’d still get to die drunk and horny before admitting it might be as much fun to die and storm Kings Landing as a wight. (By the way, did you catch Jamie lamenting his fighting days are behind him in the same scene? I’m not sayin, I’m just sayin…)

That brings us to the most interesting forward-looking moment of the night. Sam and Jorah brought their relationship full circle when Sam, who was so influenced by Jorah’s father at Castle Black, gave Jorah the Tarly family sword and said, “I’ll see you when it’s through.” But as he was walking away, the last remaining Tarly heir turned to add, “I hope we win,” because he knows they may see each other again regardless.

Brienne, Greyworm, maybe (but not likely) Jamie, maybe (but more likely?) Jorah. Beloved characters are gonna start dying next week. Will we see any of them again as White Walkers?

And now some odd and end thoughts from season eight, episode two…

This will go down as one of my favourite episodes of the series. It had more great scenes than I can count (especially Bran and Jamie in the Godswood), and it was actually funny. Like I legit giggled.

How does a battle with the White Walkers even go? The dead aren’t going to retreat. You have to literally re-kill them all. I can’t fathom the Night King being stupid enough to go after Bran unguarded, so their plan to cut off the army’s head isn’t going to work. And where is ol’ icy eyes anyway???

Sansa’s reunion with Theon felt more emotional and authentic than her reunion with Arya or Jon. They shared some of the lowest moments of their lives together.  It’s wonderful to see them both in better places.

Speaking of Theon, I wonder what Bran knows about his role in the upcoming battle. The nod he gave when Theon asked to protect him was…knowing?

I was basically up off my couch cheering for Arya when she stormed Gendry’s pants. Good for her! A lot of folks on Twitter felt uncomfortable with it given that we met Arya as a child. That’s fair. It didn’t bother me. I guess watching soaps all these years has me used to child stars getting more adult material. But she’s an adult know and she takes what she wants and she wanted Gendry. It felt authentic given the circumstance. I like this loads better than if Brienne had frolicked with Tormund.

Lastly, did the pull-back shot of Tyrion looking through the gaps in the wall remind anyone else of John Locke staring down the hatch at the end of Exodus? There was even a hint of a horn in the soundtrack. Loved it.

That got me thinking then about the differences and similarities between Lost and Game of Thrones. A whole separate blog post. Except to say that here we know what the show is building toward and where it’s ending. We’ve really known it most of the way. At least since Robert was killed. But with Lost we had no idea really right up until The End.

 

Game of Thrones Season Opener Brings In The Set Up Man

Old fashioned baseball used to have a pitcher called The Set Up Man. The Set Up Man came on in the eighth inning to “set up” The Closer, who would come in one inning later to end the game. It was a thankless role because no one came to the park hoping to see The Set Up Man. They all wanted to see the flame-thrower at the end of the bullpen. If you saw The Closer, you saw the win.

Game of Thrones’ final season premiered with an episode—Winterfell, they called it—that ably played the role of The Set Up Man. It wasn’t exciting, and it was only for a brief moment in the crypt dramatic. But it did it’s job like an eighth inning reliever, and now the pieces are in place for the final season to really get underway.

Everyone to Winterfell

In a nice callback to season one, season eight began with a boy climbing the walls of Winterfell to watch a royal procession roll toward the gates. Instead of fat King Robert bringing a nest of Lannisters, this procession had Queen Daenerys bringing dragons, the Unsullied and the man who left as King in the North. Here they all are now, ready to fight the undead army. And quarrel a little internally. But mostly fight the undead army.

Golden Company to Kings Landing

Euron completed his quest for Cersei, delivering a flotilla of ships from the Golden Company to pay her bed’s fare. He may think he pulled the strings here, but we all know Cersei is the one in control. She knows exactly what she needs, and now she has it in 10,000 sellswords brought by a fool who thinks Cersei Lannister lets events dictate her and not the other way around.

Stashing the Greyjoys

Family reunions are complicated on Game of Thrones. Good for Yara Greyjoy for knocking over her neutered brother Theon for leaving her captive to evil uncle Euron. Now they’re headed to reclaim the Iron Islands, where no doubt the story will find them when it needs them most.

So there we have it. The final season is set up with Westeros split as it was when we first saw it: The honorable north and the scheming south with the Greyjoys off to the side. But The Closer is jogging in from his bullpen beyond the wall, and he’s got a dragon throwing ice-cold fire.

As Ned warned Cat in that very first episode, “Winter is coming.”

The secret is out

I don’t like when shows delay the inevitable, so I’m glad Thrones decided to clue in Jon to his real parentage right away. Having it linger over his relationship with Dany would have been artificial suspense. This show is better than that. And I like that they did it front of Lynna’s place in the crypt (the episode’s second callback to the series premiere). Now we’ll see how it complicates his position with Dany (pun…intended) , which is already being stressed by his sister’s need to keep the north together.

Snap reactions

No one could feasibly believe Dany’s claim to Sansa that the north is beautiful, but you have to compliment your hosts no matter how ugly you find their couch. The dynamic between these two will be crucial to the final season. The budding distrust was thick as Valyrian steel when Sansa asked what dragons eat and Dany responded smugly saying, “Whatever they want.” I can see Sansa coming to trust her, and Sansa’s trust won’t come easy. What will Dany have to pay for it?

Bran is the guy you knew freshman year who wouldn’t drink at parties. Is this what being the Three-Eyed Raven does to a man? Dany’s not even put up her feet in Winterfell and he’s already like, “Dead dragon comin’.” F*ckin’ shoot a beer and loosen up, man.

I mentioned last season how character reunions gave us a way to measure the way each changed since they parted. We saw two of them tonight. Tyrion and Sansa reuniting for the first time since Joffrey’s death in season three might be the best example. Tyrion is much more mellow and recognizes the virtue in power for more than buying whores and fine wine. Sansa has gone the opposite direction, having been burned by life at every turn since fleeing for her life from Kings Landing.

Jon and Arya’s reunion was one of warrior equals. Longclaw spilled far more blood than Needle, but both wielders respect each other for the paths they traveled. This was my favourite scene of the episode.

Speaking of the scene with Sansa and Tyrion, do you think he felt a twinge of doubt when Sansa questioned whether Cersei’s army was really coming? She doesn’t trust anyone. Trusting his sister might be something Tyrion comes to regret.

Why was Cersei so hung up on getting some elephants?

Bronn is going to have an interesting choice to make. Is he loyal to money or is he loyal to battle? My money is on battle.

There’s got to be some foreshadowing to Lord Varys reminding Tyrion and Ser Davos that “Nothing lasts” while standing on the walls of Winterfell.

Remember when people came to Minnesota for the Super Bowl and didn’t bring coats? That’s what I’m picturing with the Unsullied in the north.

How did Dany forget about dragon food? That’s like a parent forgetting to stop at McDonald’s on a road trip. MOMMMMM!

After waiting impatiently for a year and a half, Thrones fans deserved a little something and the show delivered with Jon’s first time captaining a dragon.

How will the dragons react when they see their undead brother?

I will be seriously annoyed if Jamie manages to hide more than a day or two in Winterfell. And even more annoyed if stupid Bran helps keep him secret.

Is Dany killing Sam’s family going to be a problem? It sure seemed like it. Maybe happy Sam won’t be happy after all as he tries to drive a wedge between Dany and Jon.

What’s that thing Arya wants built???

 

Manifest is not the next Lost. Manifest is terrible.

Millions of pixels have been lit theorizing what television show will be the next Lost. Nearly every word on this blog has been devoted to the subject. Some of the early contenders tried hard but didn’t last. Flash Forward and The Event come to mind. There have also been shows since September 21, 2004, that match or even exceed Lost’s brilliance. Breaking Bad, The Man in the High Castle and The Wire come to mind.

This fall season we had a new contender, and its parallels were obvious. Manifest (NBC) is about passengers of a flight that mysteriously went missing. After three episodes that seems to be where the similarities end. But three episodes of Lost barely scratched the island’s surface, so that’s something we’ll have to cover in a different post.

Now nearly a full season in, I’m comfortable declaring Manifest is not the next Lost but it is a pile of wreckage. It’s story—which should be interesting—is told with such little effort and depth that I had to quit watching after the fall finale.

Why the fall finale? Because it decided to make the cliffhanger for the entire fall season be the (not so) shocking reveal of a character introduced in this one episode to be a spy. Seriously? They had how many episodes to build a character whose shocking reveal would actually be shocking, but they chose to do it all in 42 minutes? Get out of here with that. An airplane survival story overflows with ways to sneak in a character who isn’t who we think it is (hello, Ethan Rom). Manifest tried to make it happen in one episode, which is lazy af and a privilege this show had not earned.

It most certainly isn’t something Lost would have done. Neither is the weak arc of Thomas, the stowaway being brought to America by a flight attendant. Instead of introducing him as a stowaway, why not establish the relationship he came here for and then put him in danger of being split from his boyfriend? Because that would have taken up valuable time when Ben was screwing up his marriage or Michaela was having a vision. Gotta have those visions!

This show sucks. It sucks and I’m mad just writing this blog about it.

Game of Thrones Final Season: Hopes and predictions

Game of Thrones the final season premiers April 14! That is going to be a busy Sunday with the final round of The Masters all day and the GoT season premiere basically right after the ceremony in Butler Cabin. Cannot wait!

I re-watched season seven over the past few weekends, and all I’ve got to say is zzzzzzzzz. The questionable pacing that marred the original experience is less noticeable when binged in isolation from the week-to-week anticipation. But it is apparent in the jarring way the arc jumps between story lines, making it feel like I must have missed something even though I know I haven’t.

Anyway, as the final episodes approach (again that premier date is April 14, for all you Google bots out there) here are my preseason predictions.

Dream of dreams prediction: The Night King wins the iron throne. I’m so disappointed when shows sewn with sadness and despair end their run with a happy ending (witness: Revenge). So I would be thrilled if Game of Thrones ends with Cersei, Jon and Dany all defeated and the Night King reigning over Westeros. If they want to tell a story that serves as a warning for what happens when we let our lusts for power overtake the need to do what’s right for humanity, this is how they will do it.

He’s hiding in plain sight prediction: Gendry is revealed as Robert and Cersei’s true born son and heir to the iron throne. I outlined this prediction before. TL;DR—The baby ripped from Cersei’s arms early in her marriage to Robert is actually Gendry.

Don’t mistake this to mean great things for the steamy blacksmith. I also predict he will die shortly after he learns he was entitled to the throne this whole time.

Think of the tragedy inherent in this prediction. With her son in waiting as prince, Cersei and Robert may never drift apart and the entire saga may never take root. There is no “game of thrones” if Cersei and Robert have an honest heir. And think of Gendry spending his life the hard way inside King’s Landing and getting sold to a witch outside it. What a tragedy for him to learn too late that he could have worn the silly crown this whole time.

Who would have conspired to take him and why? Would Cersei be a different person if never knowing the heartbreak of losing her first child? Sounds to me like exactly the kind of things fans would love to debate for all eternity. I really hope this one comes true.

Of siblings:
One Lannister sibling and one Stark sibling will not make the finale. I predict one will die midseason, the other in the penultimate episode. This is as much about story construction as it is true predictions. There won’t be enough room in the extended finale episode to kill off everyone who’s going to die, and they can’t credibly get to that episode without killing anyone. Removing characters early gives the writers a chance to make the survivors grieve and reinforce that even a happy ending in Westeros comes at a great, great cost.

One of the living dragons will survive. If his life comes at the cost of his brother’s last true measure of devotion then even better. I make this prediction because of how it will hurt Dany to lose a child for the second time. Being down to one dragon will also remind her how tenuous her hold on power truly is, another great unknown to leave with the audience for all eternity.

No One prediction number 1: If Cersei dies it will not be by Arya’s hand. Killing Cersei is the last purpose in Arya’s increasingly vengeful life. She won’t get the satisfaction. The wonderful little girl with an indomitable spirit will not get the one face she wants more than any other. She will have turned ruthless for nothing.

Maternity ward prediction: The only way Cersei’s baby survives is if she dies and Jamie has to raise their child alone. This would be the ultimate tragedy for their incestuous love affair. Jamie, after being forced to love his children in secret, left alone to raise a child without the love of his life. Perhaps again having to play the role of uncle and adopt his own son or daughter, only now with a secret he can share with no one. This would be a fantastically sad way to say goodbye to the Kingslayer.

That other incestuous affair prediction: Jon and Dany make the finale, but one does not survive. My money is on Jon to bite the dust, possibly in a heroic sacrifice. He’s always come into his positions reluctantly, whether as the bastard of Winterfell or the King of the North. Never quite comfortable with being brought back by the Red Priestess, he’ll go contently to his death knowing it’s where he should be already.

No One prediction number 2: Littlefinger is still alive. I admit to ripping this one off but I have to include it because Littlefinger is my favourite character. Wouldn’t it be sweet if we learned Petyr was the one who moved to rip Gendry from Cersei, playing the first card in this game of thrones long before anyone ever realized? And that he’s still alive, outsmarting the Stark sisters as he waits to take ultimate revenge on the pair who—no doubt in his mind—failed to live up to the legacy of their mother whom he loved so devotedly.

Something’s got to go right prediction: Sam survives. He’s the last man standing in House Tarly, with a wife and child he adores. Give us this, won’t you, gloomy writers?

The prediction prediction: We haven’t seen all we need to know to predict who wins. There are two main questions for Game of Thrones to resolve: First, does Westeros defeat the army of the dead? Second, who wins the iron throne if it does? I’m going to limit this prediction to the second question. I think are key details waiting to be told, some epic plot twists or revelations that we have to know before the pieces come together. It would be a pretty crappy show if we get that detail in episode one and resolve the winner five episodes later, so look for this to come at us all at once.

As to the first question, even though I gave the Night King’s victory my dream of dreams prediction, I do believe it will remain a dream. I think we’ll see Ol’ Blue Eyes get vanquished in the second-to-last episode, with the decisive round of the game happening in the series finale.

The WWE wouldn’t even dream of it prediction: The series ends in the throne room. It’s Cersei, finally safe in the seat she’s coveted for so long. Humming softly with her infant at her breast (remember how she insisted on nursing her children even though they wanted her to use the wet nurse?).

But wait, her eyes are closed.

We hear the hideous screech of Viserion roaring over King’s Landing as a smile forms on her lips.

*POP*

Her eyelids jump open, revealing the ice blue eyes of the undead queen reigning over Westeros.

The end.