Skip to main content

He killed a guest beneath his roof. That’s something the gods cannot forgive.

Game of Thrones
Season Three

(SPOILERS) Coming late to the party for a series (or rather, season) that has become media-saturated means it’s fairly difficult to remain spoiler-free. Whether it’s Breaking Bador True Detective, the luxury of gorging oneself on a box set can become a minefield, especially if, as HBO does, they wait a whole bloody year before releasing the thing, So I’d heard about words “Red Wedding” in advance and that it was game changing, and the Starks had been mentioned, but that was about as much as I knew. I still haven’t got beyond the mid-point in the second book, and from what I’ve heard the novels become increasingly partial to loving descriptions of food and less enthusiastic about dramatic twists and turns. So I wasn’t really spoiled too much. Indeed, the fact that a Stark wedding occurs in the season made for an effective red herring. I thought maybe Sansa was going to get splattered. Or splatted. I doubt I will be able to keep myself pure until Season Four arrives. I’ve already discovered a significant development I wish I hadn’t, so maybe it’s best to keep up with the curve.


As for Three, well I’m not sure I’ve really formed a clear picture of how it ranks with its predecessors. Season One feels the most obviously complete in and of itself, with the cleanest narrative arc (I was going to say like the first Lord of the Rings film, but perhaps its best not to go there). Each season is instant five-star material for the breadth and scope of the storytelling as a whole, but in some respects I wasn’t all that taken with the warfare of the second run. Despite large budgets, they aren’t sufficient to really pack in the spectacle. And I certainly wasn’t impressed with Neil Marshall’s episode the way everyone else seemed to be. Also becoming evident in general is a deceptively skilled method of making relatively little incident go a long way. It feels like a lot is happening, and the talk in this show is gripping like no other. But, if you look back at Season Three and think about how much really significant occurred beyond the infamous Episode Nine? Well, not a whole lot. It doesn’t matter, it should actually be a badge of pride in some respects. It does tend to become clear that each season inevitably comprises a lot of travelling to get somewhere that takes ten episodes. Or not a lot of travelling that also that takes ten episodes.


The chief culprit is Daenerys, who has spent three years now building up her army while receiving sage advice from trusted dote Jorah and then ignoring it. Only for Jorah to be yet again impressed by his lady’s brilliant stratagems. The return of Barristan Selmy hasn’t really created interesting conflict, while the addition of a young buck for the Queen to get all hot about is another means of presumably stretching Jorah’s loyalty as her need for both his advice and company is diffused. It just isn’t all that involving.


Still that’s moderately more exciting than Theon spending the whole season being tortured before having his cock lopped off. Theon’s been such a complete prick (ahem), played without a shred of likability by Alfie Allen, that even after all this its difficult to muster much sympathy for him. In fairness to Iwan Rheon, he does his level best to make Ramsey Snow the sickest puppy you’ve seen in the GoT but this still can’t make Theon seem halfway decent.


On the other hand, seeing an all-round shit turn out to have a more than a shred of decency is what a series spreading this kind of canvas is all about. So learning that king slayer Jamie Lannister is actually a man of honour, who did what he did to prevent further slaughter and horror, is a revelation (edit: I may have spoken to soon, having now dipped into Four). Particularly after seeing him brought to his knees in and losing an appendage (to Noah Taylor of all people) when he shows a surprising flourish of loyalty to his captor Brienne after weeks of mocking her endlessly (the climax to Episode Three is a small scale shocker compared to the ninth, but in some ways it comes even more out of leftfield; the sheer disrespect!) I didn’t expect this certainly, and while their story is essentially just one long extended escort back to King’s Landing it feels especially meaty (Gwendoline Christie deserves particular praise for her performance as Brienne, and has quickly become one of the series’ best characters). The downside is I’m far less interested in seeing Jamie back amongst splendour than living by his wits (but maybe it won’t be so).


Elsewhere, one of the great pleasures is watching the older hands go at it. So to speak. Charles Dance and Diana Rigg are each called on to play families’ steely elders. Rigg’s Olenna Tyrell has an immensely winning line in caustic honesty (“Ah, here comes my cheese” she notes after Sansa has blurted out that Joffrey is a monster). There just wasn’t enough of Caesar himself, Ciarán Hinds. I hope Mance Ryder gets some really juicy material in seasons ahead. Other familiar faces it’s nice to see include Dennis Pennis, Clive Russell and Tobias Menzies (also ex of Rome).


Talking of Paul Kaye, the Brotherhood without Banners plotline is most intriguing, beginning as a Robin Hood-esque affair before transforming into a tantalising glimpse of the slowly encroaching realm of magic in the series. Thoros is revealed as a red priest to Melisandre’s red witch, surprised at his continuing ability to raise Lord Beric (Richard Dormer) from the grave. The dovetailing of these plot threads is either neat or very convenient, depending on your position. 


If Gendry continues to be something of a non-character, Arya goes from strength to strength. Pairing her with The Hound later in the season pays dividends. While you fully believe she’ll make good on her threat to kill him, his reluctant protector role doesn’t proffer him the opportunity for Jamie Lannister-esque reappraisal. But it’s clear he has a code, however belligerent.


The Stannis/Davos plotline lacks much mettle until the final episode; Liam Cunningham makes Davos one of the GoT’s most sympathetic characters (“Everything” he responds when asked what the life of one boy is against a kingdom). Likewise, the Bran story is full of whimsy and mystical meanderings, but only really attains focus toward the end of the season; when his crosses the similarly not all that arresting and rather wet Sam story. 


It’s left to Jon Snow to get the strongest action beats, and the most dynamic focus. His struggling allegiances are dramatic and engaging, as Hinds has made such a strong impression in his brief appearance. And, for all the bad-mouthing by Orell (Mackenzie Crook) to both Jon and Ygritte, you can see the skinchanger has a point. That Jon should end up back with The Night’s Watch is in some respects a disappointment; you want to see him encounter different territory. The problem is partly the glacial pace of the advancing White Walkers. They’re there in the first episode of the first season, and the warnings are still coming in the third season. This show is a master class in distraction and delay, but hopefully it knows when to pay things off when it comes to the crunch.


Even though he isn’t in nearly as confident a position this season, it’s still with Tyrion that the most involving plot lies. Imprisoned, forced into marriage, made Master of Coin. He’s on a back foot throughout; from his father; from Shae. When he snaps occasionally at Joffrey, imperilling himself, they’re among the season’s finest moments. For all his apparent carefree debauchery, he’s the series’ most thoughtful and empathic character, who sees no purpose in mindless cruelty and disdains his family’s ways. Cersei is relatively subdued too, ignored by Joffrey and unable to manipulate her father. There isn’t enough of Vastor, whose silky tongue and sly ways have tended to be key to the plots within King’s Landing. His conversations with Tyrion are those of (relatively) reasonable men attempting to find solutions that aren’t necessarily at the end of a sword.


So The Rains of Castamere. When that song starts, and the atmosphere is overladen with doom in a heartbeat, it’s a reminder of what a fine director David Nutter is. David Bradley’s performance as Walder Frey is fantastically assured and, even given the behind the scenes puppeteering by Tywin, what’s most striking and indelible about his action is how petty it is. It’s not about killing a king; it’s recompense for being snubbed. I have to admit Robb Stark was never sympathetic enough to really regret his departure, but Catelyn, wonderfully played by Michelle Fairley, will be sorely missed and its her end that resonates the most.


From advance reports, the fourth season will be one long tide of eventfulness, rather than relying on the all-important ninth episode. That’s a good thing as, now knowing David Benioff and D. B. Weiss’ major motivation in making the series was reaching the Red Wedding, there might be a danger of losing impetus or unconsciously putting feet on the brakes. They’ve already mentioned how the dilemma of tackling a series past its halfway mark that hasn’t yet been completed by its creator could cause headaches, but on the evidence so far they seem more than up to the challenge.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

Life is like a box of timelines. You feel me?

Russian Doll Season One
(SPOILERS) It feels like loading the dice to proclaim something necessarily better because it’s female-driven, but that’s the tack The Hollywood Reporter took with its effusive review of Russian Doll, suggesting “although Nadia goes on a similar journey of self-discovery to Bill Murray’s hackneyed reporter in Groundhog Day, the fact that the show was created, written by and stars women means that it offers up a different, less exploitative and far more thoughtful angle” (than the predominately male-centric entries in the sub-genre). Which rather sounds like Rosie Knight changing the facts to fit her argument. And ironic, given star Natasha Lyonne has gone out of her way to stress the show’s inclusive message. Russian Dollis good, but the suggestion that “unlike its predecessors (it) provides a thoughtfulness, authenticity and honesty which makes it inevitable end (sic) all the more powerful” is cobblers.

We’re not owners here, Karen. We’re just passing through.

Out of Africa (1985)
I did not warm to Out of Africa on my initial viewing, which would probably have been a few years after its theatrical release. It was exactly as the publicity warned, said my cynical side; a shallow-yet-bloated, awards-baiting epic romance. This was little more than a well-dressed period chick flick, the allure of which was easily explained by its lovingly photographed exotic vistas and Robert Redford rehearsing a soothing Timotei advert on Meryl Streep’s distressed locks. That it took Best Picture only seemed like confirmation of it as all-surface and no substance. So, on revisiting the film, I was curious to see if my tastes had “matured” or if it deserved that dismissal. 

Mountains are old, but they're still green.

Roma (2018)
(SPOILERS) Roma is a critics' darling and a shoe-in for Best Foreign Film Oscar, with the potential to take the big prize to boot, but it left me profoundly indifferent, its elusive majesty remaining determinedly out of reach. Perhaps that's down to generally spurning autobiographical nostalgia fests – complete with 65mm widescreen black and white, so it's quite clear to viewers that the director’s childhood reverie equates to the classics of old – or maybe the elliptical characterisation just didn't grab me, but Alfonso Cuarón's latest amounts to little more than a sliver of substance beneath all that style.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

We’re looking for a bug no one’s seen before. Some kind of smart bug.

Starship Troopers (1997)
(SPOILERS) Paul Verhoeven’s sci-fi trio of Robocop, Total Recall and Starship Troopers are frequently claimed to be unrivalled in their genre, but it’s really only the first of them that entirely attains that rarefied level. Discussion and praise of Starship Troopers is generally prefaced by noting that great swathes of people – including critics and cast members – were too stupid to realise it was a satire. This is a bit of a Fight Club one, certainly for anyone from the UK (Verhoeven commented “The English got it though. I remember coming out of Heathrow and seeing the posters, which were great. They were just stupid lines about war from the movie. I thought, ‘Finally someone knows how to promote this.’”) who needed no kind of steer to recognise what the director was doing. And what he does, he does splendidly, even if, at times, I’m not sure he entirely sustains a 129-minute movie, since, while both camp and OTT, Starship Troopers is simultaneously required t…

Even after a stake was driven through its heart, there’s still interest.

Prediction 2019 Oscars
Shockingly, as in I’m usually much further behind, I’ve missed out on only one of this year’s Best Picture nominees– Vice isn’t yet my vice, it seems – in what is being suggested, with some justification, as a difficult year to call. That might make for must-see appeal, if anyone actually cared about the movies jostling for pole position. If it were between Black Panther and Bohemian Rhapsody (if they were even sufficiently up to snuff to deserve a nod in the first place), there might be a strange fascination, but Joe Public don’t care about Roma, underlined by it being on Netflix and stillconspicuously avoided by subscribers (if it were otherwise, they’d be crowing about viewing figures; it’s no Bird Box, that’s for sure).

Now we're all wanted by the CIA. Awesome.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (2015)
(SPOILERS) There’s a groundswell of opinion that Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is the best in near 20-year movie franchise. I’m not sure I’d go quite that far, but only because this latest instalment and its two predecessors have maintained such a consistently high standard it’s difficult to pick between them. III featured a superior villain and an emotional through line with real stakes. Ghost Protocol dazzled with its giddily constructed set pieces and pacing. Christopher McQuarrie’s fifth entry has the virtue of a very solid script, one that expertly navigates the kind of twists and intrigue one expects from a spy franchise. It also shows off his talent as a director; McQuarrie’s not one for stylistic flourish, but he makes up for this with diligence and precision. Best of all, he may have delivered the series’ best character in Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust (admittedly, in a quintet that makes a virtue of pared down motivation and absen…

Can you float through the air when you smell a delicious pie?

Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)
(SPOILERS) Ironically, given the source material, think I probably fell into the category of many who weren't overly disposed to give this big screen Spider-Man a go on the grounds that it was an animation. After all, if it wasn’t "good enough" for live-action, why should I give it my time? Not even Phil Lord and Christopher Miller's pedigree wholly persuaded me; they'd had their stumble of late, although admittedly in that live-action arena. As such, it was only the near-unanimous critics' approval that swayed me, suggesting I'd have been missing out. They – not always the most reliable arbiters of such populist fare, which made the vote of confidence all the more notable – were right. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse is not only a first-rate Spider-Man movie, it's a fresh, playful and (perhaps) surprisingly heartfelt origins story.