The GOT Countdown

On April 14, HBO will broadcast the first episode of Season 8, the final season of Game of Thrones.  All dedicated, borderline-obsessed GOT fans will then have the chance to savor six new episodes that will wrap up the TV version of the story of the Targaryens, Lannisters, and Starks.  (Don’t even get me started on when we might get the next installment of George R.R. Martin’s book series that launched the TV show, which has been the subject of almost as much speculation as the Mueller Report.)

jon_snow_and_daenerys_targaryen_got_png_by_nickelbackloverxoxox_dcrioxu-preI’m interested in seeing exactly how the story comes out, of course.  (Hey, I sure hope the living somehow defeat the Night King and his Army of the Dead!)  Mostly, though, I’m just curious about who is going to even survive until the story’s end.  There are so many characters on the show it’s hard to remember and list all of them, as we realized when we were talking about the show with friends over the weekend.  (Don’t forget Grey Worm, or Tormund Giantsbane, or Podrick Payne, or Eddison Tollett of the Night’s Watch!)  And one thing has been clear about Game of Thrones from the beginning, whether you’re talking about the books or the TV show — even leading characters get knocked off with Grim Reaper-like regularity.  And since it’s the last season, I’m guessing we can expect a real bloodbath, and maybe a colossal battle or two in which multiple characters that have gotten a lot of screen time get mowed down.

Because it’s clear that many characters are going to be stabbed, hacked, hung, immolated by dragons, poisoned, or have their throats deftly cut by Arya Stark, I find myself putting the characters into death-related categories.  There are the characters that need to get killed to satisfy the bloodlust of the viewing audience (Cersei Lannister, Euron Greyjoy, the Mountain, and Qyburn, Cersei’s evil wizard/chemist/mad scientist), characters that you know are going to bite it at some point, but at least are likely to die in heroic fashion (Beric Dondarrion, Brienne of Tarth, Ser Jorah Mormont, Varys, Theon Greyjoy, and probably Gendry, King Robert’s hammer-wielding bastard son), and characters that you would be really angry to see get killed but you know deep in your heart that it could happen because the show likes to throw shockers at you (Tyrion Lannister and Arya Stark).  There are characters that you don’t want to get killed but, if they must, you hope that they get some richly deserved revenge first (Asha Greyjoy and the Hound).  But what about the Khaleesi?  Jon Snow?  Sansa Stark?  Missandei?  Ser Davos Seaworth, my favorite?  Creepy white-eyed Bran?

One of the great things about Game of Thrones is its utter unpredictability, from the point Ned Stark got beheaded through the Red Wedding to the present.  And we’ve got less than three weeks to go before we start finding out.

Advertisements

Hard Knocks, Ho Hum

Russell and I have watched a few episodes of HBO’s Hard Knocks, which promises to be an insider’s look at pro football training camps, coaches, and players. Since this season is features the Cleveland Browns’ training camp, it’s a natural for us.

But after watching last night’s episode, I realized that the show is . . . well, boring. The fact that the exhibition game that was featured in the episode was a 5-0 snoozer didn’t help, but, really, watching a “reality” show about professional athletes isn’t any different from watching a reality show about real housewives or the Kardashians or ice-road truckers or any other group or occupation. After a while, you’ve seen everything, and it all seems pretty rote.

So assistant coaches in the NFL cuss a blue streak? Is anybody really surprised about that? Or about learning that pro athletes often act like adolescents or macho jerks? Or that head coaches are more like politicians than Xs and Os guys? And the “human interest” stories about guys who might not make the team and their families candidly just aren’t all that interesting.

Maybe the Browns are just intrinsically boring, as well as historically inept — or maybe the Hard Knocks concept has run it’s course. Whatever the reason, Hard Knocks is a big ho hum in my book.

When All Will Be Revealed

Tomorrow we’ll see the finale of HBO’s Westworld.  We’re being assured that all will be revealed, and after the episode the show will actually make sense.

Yeah, right!  I’ll believe it when I see it.  That’s like expecting triumphant Trump staffers  and bitter Clinton campaign operatives to reach friendly consensus on why Donald Trump won the election, or imagining that fair-minded Michigan fans will freely concede that the referees correctly spotted the ball on the 15-yard line after J.T. Barrett’s fourth-down keeper in the second overtime of this year’s classic version of The Game.

Westworld is right up there with The Leftovers as the most confusing show since Twin Peaks.  It’s so intentionally mystifying that I don’t even try to understand it, or piece together the disparate threads of the plot.  I just wince at the horribly bloody violence that is likely to occur at any tender moment, groan at the show’s troubling core assumption that any human who goes to a fantasy world will promptly turn into a blood-soaked, sex-crazed lunatic, and recognize that any character in the next instant could be revealed as a robot, a cold-blooded killer, a psychopath, or all three.  (I also cringe for the actors who have to routinely sit buck naked on chairs on a sterile set while other characters question them and tap iPads, but that’s another story.)

I’ve stopped trying to figure it all out.  Kish and I watch the show, and I just let it kind of wash over me, rather than struggling to make sense of why Dolores’ outfit changes from instant to instant or why Bernard’s interactions with his fake dead son are so significant.  I realized that the show had reached the point of ridiculousness this past week, when I was walking back from lunch with two friends, one of whom watches Westworld and one of whom doesn’t.  The watcher and I started talking about the show, and after a few minutes of discussion of “Billy” and the possibility that the show’s plot is running along different timelines and the importance of the photo of Billy’s bethrothed and whether the twitching beings at the church Dolores visited were troubled robots looking for some kind of salvation, the non-watcher asked, with a baffled laugh:  “What is this show?”  And I realized that it was all pretty silly.

So I’ll watch the finale, but I’m not expecting that I’ll get everything in this episode, because that sure hasn’t been the case in the past episodes.  I just make one request:  before we move on to “the new narrative,” can you at least let us know what the old narrative was all about?

Moving Too Far, Too Fast

We all knew that, this season, Game of Thrones the TV show would move past Game of Thrones, the books.  What I didn’t fully appreciate was how far, and how fast, the TV series would progress.

game-of-thrones-season-3-osha-630x355One of the most enjoyable things about the books in my view has been the deliberate pacing.  The stories have taken a long time to unfold, and in the meantime we got to revel in the sigils of the minor houses and what kind of elaborate food was being served at a banquet and the colors and cut of the doublet of some obscure lord who appeared briefly and then vanished from the storyline.  With the TV show, there’s none of that.  Major characters come and go and get knocked off at breakneck pace.

I hate it that characters I really liked are being killed right and left — like the wildling woman who watched after Bran and Rickon after Theon Greyjoy conquered Winterfell — but mostly I’m concerned that the story is just moving too darned fast.  In the George R.R. Martin world, it would have taken 300 succulent pages to get to the point of Daenerys torching the leaders of the Dothraki, and Sansa and Jon Snow resolving to march on Winterfell and try to kill the execrable Ramsay Bolton, but in the series it takes only an episode and a half.  How far are we going to get in the story line this year, anyway?

And that’s the big issue for me.  Much as I think the TV is great, I like the books even better.  What’s going to be left of the plot when this year’s episodes are over?  And if George R.R. Martin doesn’t bring out the next volume until next year’s episodes air, the disconnect is just going to be too much.

Slow down, HBO!

Bad News For A Song Of Ice And Fire Readers

If you are a fan of George R.R. Martin’s A Song Of Ice And Fire series of books, upon which the fine HBO series Game of Thrones is based, you’ve learned to be patient.

776466_510_promo_frames_16_00170187[1].jpgLike me, you’ve read the existing books in the series, reached their end with the epic tale still completely midstream and tantalizing plot threads dangling, did some reading about the pace of Martin’s writing, and realized that the next volume wouldn’t be coming out for years — but the books were so good that you were willing to wait, and wait, and wait, in hopes of seeing where the plot line goes and finding out, at some indeterminate date far, far, far into the future, how the story finally ends.

So when we all heard that the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, was planned to be released in conjunction with the airing of the next year of Game of Thrones, this coming April, we rejoiced — but many of us also maintained a healthy bit of skepticism and an “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude.

Now we learn that that skepticism is justified, as Martin has announced that the book isn’t done, it won’t be released by April, and he doesn’t know, in fact, when it will be finished because the writing is going slower than he anticipated — and this is from a writer who took six years to produce A Dance With Dragons, the last book in the series.  It’s disappointing, but I can’t say it’s really surprising.

So this leads to a quandary:  should the fans of the books and the TV series watch the next season of Game of Thrones, when the storyline moves past the end point of the last book?  I can’t speak for everyone, but I’m going to watch, because the TV show has diverged from the book plotting, anyway.  In my view, the world created by Martin’s fertile imagination is sufficiently rich that it can support two alternative approaches to a great story, and I just can’t wait much longer before I learn about what happens to Jon Snow — in the TV universe, at least.

In the meantime, I’ll wish George R.R. Martin a long, long, long (and productive) life.

A Song Of Fight And Ire

As a fan of the Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, I view the HBO series Game of Thrones as both a blessing and a curse.

The TV show is a blessing because it helps to fill the Westeros void as we wait . . . and wait . . . and wait for Martin to finish the next installment in the series of epic books.  It’s a curse because the course of the TV show is, increasingly, veering away from the established plot lines of the books.  The variances are both large and small.  Unless you have a complete recall of what happened in A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons — something I cannot claim — you can’t even identify all of them.

There is no way that a TV show could possibly present all of the plot lines in Martin’s vast landscape of characters.  I can understand the Game of Thrones producers taking shortcuts in the storytelling and lopping out characters — like, apparently, the tale of the Iron Islands and Greyjoy clan and the post-death Cat Stark.  Even so, this year the TV show is treading on increasingly thin ice (and fire).  Sansa Stark back at Winterfell and betrothed to the sadistic Ramsay Bolton?  What the hell?  Jamie Lannister off to Dorne on a half-assed mission to retrieve his daughter?  Sir Barristan the Bold killed, and maybe Grey Worm, too?  And where is Bran Stark, anyway?

I still enjoy the TV show, because it is well done and the Martin-inspired tapestry is so rich.  But increasingly I view it as an alternative history of Westeros, the Wall, and the rest of the world, a tantalizing kind of “what if” approach to the characters we’ve come to enjoy while we all bide our time waiting for the release of the next book — which will tell the true story.  And when will that be?  Only George R.R. Martin knows for sure.

Character Study

Sunday night was the series finale episode of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.  Kish and I have watched the show with pleasure since its inception, and we were very sorry to see it end.  (Spoiler alert:  if you haven’t seen the last episode, you may not want to read this.)

Part of the attraction of this terrific series was its lush recreation of bygone and forgotten places, whether it is Atlantic City in the late 1800s, America in the early days of Prohibition after World War I, or New York City during the grim days of the Depression.  The sense of period accuracy was total, down to the starched collars and spats.  Part of the attraction, too, was the many tremendous performances the show routinely delivered, from Michael Kenneth Williams’ simmering Chalky White, to Jack Huston’s partially masked, tortured Richard Harrow, to Kelly McDonald’s deeply conflicted Margaret Thompson, to Vincent Piazza’s Lucky Luciano, who probably changed more over the more than a decade covered by the show’s story arc than any other character.

It all revolved, however, around Nucky Thompson, as brilliantly portrayed by Steve Buscemi.  The last season, in particular, drilled down to the core of this fabulous character who is loosely based on a real Atlantic City politician.  Through the splices of scenes from his childhood as a straight-laced, polite boy trying to help his sick sister and protect his mother from his abusive father, to his early adulthood as a deputy sheriff trying to lift his family up and making choices that would set his future path, to the fully grown man who was a mixture of master political manipulator, far-sighted visionary, and ruthless criminal, we got to know Nucky as well as you can get to know any TV character.  When Nucky saw the early TV broadcast in the last episode, you just knew that he was looking at it with wonder — but also with an eye toward how he might profit from it in the days to come.

What a complex character Nucky Thompson was!  Consider his relationship with his faithful manservant, Eddie Kessler, who he risked his life to save.  Or his mentoring of Jimmy Darmody, only to turn and kill him in cold blood when Darmody became a rival.  Or his refusal to give up on the ne’er-do-well brother who betrayed him, even to the point of giving Eli a bag of cash (and shaving utensils) so he could clean himself up and reconcile with his wife.  Through it all, Nucky showed a deep understanding of the meaningful people in his life and their motivations, anticipating and defeating their moves against him.

And that’s why I don’t buy the last scene of the show.  I refuse to believe that the Nucky Thompson we came to know could so completely lose touch with the son of Jimmy Darmody and the grandson of Gillian Darmody that he wouldn’t even recognize him and therefore could be shot and killed by him.  Given the significance of the two Darmodys to his life, I think the Boardwalk Empire Nucky would have always kept an eye on the Darmody boy, recognizing him as a potential threat and dealing with it by helping him and co-opting him.  Nucky’s shocking death was a powerful way to end the show, but I just don’t think it was true to the character that I came to know.