Skip to main content

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones
Season Six

(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.


I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (there’ll only be four paragraphs in this review), which might have been the least dynamic of the run while still being wholly engaging. On the surface level, I’d say this might be the most charged, consistent season of the lot, and that’s even with Tyrion taking a most pronounced back seat. Perhaps it’s the sapping dullness of Meeren that does for everyone, and it wasn’t just Daenerys being dull.


I think the key is probably that everyone here is doing something, rather than dawdling (okay, Tyrion is dawdling) so it seems as if, no sooner have we cut away, that we’ve scarcely had time to notice how, two episodes from the end, Jon Snow has done bugger-all but come back to life. And hang out with his once, and still a wee bit, snooty sis, which is not to be under-estimated for reunion cachet. Sansa certainly needed to be there narratively, as no sooner is Jon back from the beyond than he’s being a right whinger, and rightly needs mentally slapping about a bit (“A monster has taken over our home and our brother”).


Gwendoline Christie has a series of great scenes, charging to the rescue of Sansa, restraining herself in the presence of the Red Woman, being hilariously nonplussed by the attentions of Tormund, meeting up once again with Jamie. The only slight reservation I have in respect of Brienne is bringing back the Hound. For all that it’s interesting to see him with a new mission and reconstituted resolve, it slightly detracts from what was a well-deserved victory on her part. In addition to which, how many characters are they going to (effectively) bring back from the dead? Part of the series’ appeal was its sudden finality in losing, if not loved, then impactful characters, and now we have two resurrections in one season.


The Hound: If the gods are real, why haven’t they punished me.
Brother Ray: They have.

If the Hound’s a “good” guy now (and how jolly to see Dennis Pennis again), there’s absolutely no rehabilitating evil Ramsay Bolton, slaying pappy in a manner that resoundingly puts Tyrion in his place and then feeding his baby brother to the dogs (“I prefer being an only child”). Whoever finishes him off, it’s really just a matter of how unsavoury it can be made (written before my comments below, obviously). For all that Ramsay is a one-note monster, we are nevertheless granted a complete picture of just how monstrous he is, in all its unedited-yet-malajustedly-motivated minutiae. Whereas, with Arya and the Waif, the latter exists only to be a venomous instrument of malice. Perhaps that’s why we don’t see her demise; it’s too easy.


There are occasions where it feels as if David Benioff and D B Weiss just dispose of a character to do something, anything. How else to explain the pointless exit of Blackfish, particularly as he’s thrown the most clichéd of reasonings (I did like his intransigence when faced with an ultimatum over Edmure Tully, however; “Go on then. Cut his throat”).


In contrast, what could be more pointed, and horrifically so, than the temporal loop of the mind suffered by poor Hodor? That fifth episode, The Door, purely for dramatic and emotional potency, has to be the standout of the season (okay, The Battle of the Bastards takes it, but I hadn’t got there yet), delivered by Lost stalwart Jack Bender to nerve-shredding effect (although, “He touched you. He knows you’re here” is very Eye of Sauron). It forms an interesting counterweight to Jon Snow’s dreams of a meaningless non-corporeal eternity (“Nothing. There was nothing at all”), that Bran can travel hither and thither across the Akashic record, or GOT’s equivalent.


We don’t see him visit the future, but since Hodor’s death is predicated on his younger self being profoundly afflicted by it, it stands to reason it’s feasible. Of course, this doesn’t testify to the universe believing in such things, particularly given the dubious success rate of the self-professed priestess of the Lord of Light (memorably revealed as an old crone in The Red Woman), since all we ever see are individuals acting rather than potent forces beyond (as is Martin’s design).


Just occasionally, the supernatural elements do strain credulity a touch; if it wasn’t Max von Sydow stuck in that tree, it would be a lot more difficult to suspend disbelief, and mirth. And, to be honest, the reveal of the genesis of the White Walkers felt like too much too soon. And, well, maybe a little anticlimactic too? They were created by some pixie wood elves and got a bit out of hand?


Permanently indisposed Theon and his sister, thoroughly denounced by the guy from Borgen (doing a pretty good accent, it must be said), another nasty fellow with a penchant inter-familial bloodshed, are mostly set up for what’s to come here, but even their functionality as pieces on a chess board has a sense of trail-blazing, rather than the kind of aimless wandering that might previously have continued for another two of three seasons.



Cersei: Please tell his holiness he’s always welcome to visit.

And back in King’s Landing. Well, the best way to make someone decidedly undeserving of sympathy sympathetic is to square them against someone even worse. Jonathan Pryce’s outwardly reasonable, or at least rational, puritan the High Sparrow is very much GOT doing the medieval Catholic Church’s sway over the crown – or at least the strictest and least permissive version thereof – washing over those who have had it up to here with the profligacy of the nobility. And, while you can spot Margaery’s long game a mile off (that one was unceremoniously truncated, wasn’t it?), the unleashing of the Mountain, winningly played across the reactions of Sparrow zealots, constitutes a rather impressive piece of cutting down to size. But it’s also a reminder that Cersei’s unceasingly impressionable son will bend any which way in the breeze (even if that is to be ultimately a downward trajectory).


It’s interesting to see the players in Braavos playing and replaying Cersei’s promise of vengeance on Tyrion, of all the things to choose, and that at least is a reminder of a reckoning to come. Jamie, another reasonable man, who may not be quite, the monster Edmyr wants to believe he is, but is neither a man who flinches unless the conundrum affects those closest, possesses a very immediate grasp of morality. So it’s surely likely that whatever transpires between the Lannisters will involve all three, and the loyalty of Jamie, caught betwixt his other siblings, will be tested. His Season Six has been a bit of a backburner, and even Bronn’s return hasn’t spiced things up, so he’s due a more galvanised role next year.


GOT has got so large that the unending array of Brit old dames now has the likes of Reg and
Lovejoy in minor league one-episode guest spots and out. In Grant’s case it was hardly worth it, but McShane at least made an impression (a man whose Grecian 2000 keeps his walnut complexion impossibly unsullied, even more so than the unsullied themselves).


The Hound: Lots of horrible shit gets done in this world for something larger than ourselves.

And so to the last two episodes of the season. Which flip-flopped from “Where have they got left to go after killing off the most ruthless bastard whoever did walk the seven kingdoms?” to “But of course; really, he’s no more than a hissable villain, and there’s actually a whole raft of potential opening up” in the tenth, The Winds of Winter. It may have been short-sighted, and it did occur to me that the series would be positioning shades of grey against each other to more morally ambiguous ends as a result, but I couldn’t help feeling some measure of agreement with The Guardian piece in the immediate aftermath of the Battle of the Bastids (as it should have been called).


As has been common this season, there was a heady dose of catharsis meted out, with expertly unpleasant staking out of crimes that must be punished. It wasn’t enough simply to recall the terrible things Ramsay has done, we had to see him top another Stark, in the form of the one no one cares about (well, I didn’t much care for Robb, but because he wasn’t especially sympathetic rather than being a non-entity).


Nine’s wasn’t just a superlative piece of battle direction from Miguel Sapochnik (has any movie in recent memory achieved the marvel of Jon Snow standing before the oncoming hoard, and then the almighty crash of his own forces sweeping past him into the enemy?), with masterful coordination of place and positon amid the confusion, it was narratively that best means of portraying action, through clear placement and motivation. We see Ramsay as the master strategist, knowing just how to manoeuvre his foe onto a losing foot in spite of Sansa warning Jon, but we also see the satisfaction of the compromised leader walking unstoppably into oncoming arrows, like some kind of superhero, the sort who could come back from the dead, and then restraining himself, giving his sister the final justice to wield.


Of whom, the whispering worm Littlefinger has ensured that seeds of discord will grow in Sansa’s mind, after a brief, placatory interlude with Jon. It’s an interesting set-up, and we might expect Jon, with his weakness for forgiveness and unrealistic amelioration (he even delivers restrained justice to the Melisandre), to come out the loser against a combination of Oirish’s weasely tongue and his sister’s newfound flintiness. But he has just come back from the dead, and we have just found – probably – that he’s a different kind of bastard altogether, one of Stark-Targaryen heritage, and fit to ride a dragon and lock horns with a forthright auntie if necessary.


Talking of whom, it’s interesting to set the moderation of Daenerys’ adviser against the renewed hauteur of his sister. As noted, Tyrion’s been less crucial to the season, to the extent that the writers need to qualify his docility by making him say he’s embarrassed to admit his devotion to his queen (either clever, or an apology for his becoming slightly toothless, depending on how you look at it). He advises against burning the slavers’ cities in the eighth, and instead Daenerys burns a few ships, in scenes that resemble a thousand wet dreams of fantasy novel cover devotees come to life.


Of course, Cersei has no such qualms, and her unleashing wildfire on the High Sparrow, killing two birds (ahem) with one stone when Margaery is sent up too, but unfortunately losing Little Lord Fauntleroy in the process (Tommen’s rather smooth stepping out the window is by far the most elegant act of his short reign), sets her up as a character even more merciless, vindictive, scorned, hateful and poisonous than ever for the final acts, if that were possible. And seeing as how there hadn’t been any rape for a few episodes, we now see Cersei unleash the Mountain on her former tormentor, Septa Unella. This is an episode full of unholy behaviour at her behest, including devil children getting all stabby on the one time Scaroth, last of the Jagaroth.


For a season that has been so pell-mell, it’s a refreshing reminder of how luxuriant (or slow, depending on your take) GOT could be at times that Samwise Gamgee has only now reached the library of Alexandria Citadel at Oldtown (but that said, he only lingers at his unwelcoming pater’s place for about 10 minutes, which is tantamount to decisive action). The return to Bran, and his three-eyed-ravening, makes for a hugely significant, revelatory cliffhanger, certainly a better one than the rather ungainly reintegration of Dorne into the proceedings (an alliance not to be trusted if there was one, but fun to see Diana Rigg’s Olenna Tyrell in utterly unchastened form, batting away the cubs in the lion’s den). Dorne smacks a bit of “Oh, we remembered”, even if it is strategically sensible (much as with The Greyjoys, it’s a case of pushing chess pieces into position).


Amidst all this there’s Arya Stark, reborn as a one-woman justice league, taking out Walder as almost an afterthought. In its own dramatic way this was as much a surprise as the closing reveal, since I’d half expected Jamie to have decided he’d had enough of the old sod.


A hugely satisfying season, then, and on first viewing I’d be hard-pressed to say it wasn’t the best, although that verdict can only truly come in retrospect. I’m aware of getting too invested in these shows on a cusp of conclusion, though, since I was never more so than with Lost in seasons 4 and 5, before the rug was pulled. But, with 14 or 15 episodes left of Game of Thrones, one senses Benioff and Weiss mostly probably have shrewdly mapped out what’s required. One thing I think is certain; Six will be seen as the high water mark for pay-offs and the potential of characters to root for. After this, things will get exceedingly messy.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

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…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…

I fear I’ve snapped his Gregory.

Twin Peaks 3.14: We are like the Dreamer.
(SPOILERS) In an episode as consistently dazzling as this, piling incident upon incident and joining the dots to the extent it does, you almost begin to wonder if Lynch is making too much sense. There’s a notable upping of the pace in We are like the Dreamer, such that Chad’s apprehension is almost incidental, and if the convergence at Jack Rabbit’s Tower didn’t bring the FBI in with it, their alignment with Dougie Coop can be only just around the corner.

Now you're here, you must certainly stay.

The Avengers 4.1:The Town of No Return
The Avengers as most of us know it (but not in colour) arrives fully-fledged in The Town of No Return: glossier, more eccentric, more heightened, camper, more knowing and more playful. It marks the beginning of slumming it film directors coming on board (Roy Ward Baker) and sees Brian Clemens marking out the future template. And the Steed and Mrs Peel relationship is fully established from the off (albeit, this both was and wasn’t the first episode filmed). If the Steed and Cathy Gale chemistry relied on him being impertinently suggestive, Steed and Emma is very much a mutual thing.

He’s a good kid, and a devil behind the wheel.

Baby Driver (2017)
(SPOILERS) Pure cinema. There are plenty of directors who engage in superficial flash and fizz (Danny Boyle or JJ Abrams, for example) but relatively few who actually come to the medium from a root, core level, visually. I’m slightly loathe to compare Edgar Wright with the illustrious likes of Sergio Leone and Brian De Palma, partly because they’re playing in largely different genre sandpits, partly because I don’t think Wright has yet made something that compares to their best work, but he operates from a similar sensibility: fashioning a movie foremost through image, supported by the soundtrack, and then, trailing a distant third, comes dialogue. Baby Driver is his most complete approximation of that impulse to date.

How dare you shush a shushing!

Home (2015)
(SPOILERS) Every so often, DreamWorks Animation offer a surprise, or they at least attempt to buck their usual formulaic approach. Mr. Peabody & Sherman surprised with how sharp and witty it was, fuelled by a plot that didn’t yield to dumbing down, and Rise of the Guardians, for all that its failings, at least tried something different. When such impulses lead to commercial disappointment, it only encourages the studio to play things ever safer, be that with more Madagascars or Croods. Somewhere in Home is the germ of a decent Douglas Adams knock-off, but it would rather settle on cheap morals, trite messages about friendship and acceptance and a succession of fluffy dance anthems: an exercise in thoroughly varnished vacuity.

Those dance anthems come (mostly) courtesy of songstress Rhianna, who also voices teenager Tip, and I’m sure Jeffrey Katzenberg fully appreciated what a box office boon it would be to have her on board. The effect is cumulatively nauseating though, l…

Cool. FaceTime without a phone.

Sense8 Season One
(SPOILERS) The Wachowskis do like their big ideas, but all too often their boldness and penchant for hyper-realism drowns out all subtlety. Their aspirations may rarely exceed their technical acumen, but regularly eclipse their narrative skills. And with J Michael Straczynski on board, whose Babylon 5 was marked out by ahead-of-its-time arc plotting but frequently abysmal dialogue, it’s no wonder Sense8 is as frequently clumsy in the telling as it is arresting in terms of spectacle.

I frequently had the feeling that Sense8 was playing into their less self-aware critical faculties, the ones that produced The Matrix Reloaded rave rather than the beautifully modulated Cloud Atlas. Sense8 looks more like the latter on paper: interconnecting lives and storylines meshing to imbue a greater meaning. The truth is, however, their series possesses the slenderest of central plotlines. It’s there for the siblings to hang a collection of cool ideas, set pieces, themes and fascina…

And you people, you’re all astronauts... on some kind of star trek.

Star Trek: First Contact (1996)
(SPOILERS) Star Trek: First Contact (also known as plain First Contact, back when “Star Trek” in the title wasn’t necessarily a selling point to the great unwashed. Or should that be great washed?) is probably about as good as a ST:TNG movie could be, in as much as it actively rejects much of what made the TV series what it is: starchy, placid, smug, platitudinous exchanges about how evolved humanity has become in the 25th century. Yeah, there’s a fair bit of that here too, but it mainly recognises that what made the series good, when it was good, was dense, time travel plotting and Borg. Mostly Borg. Until Borg became, like any golden egg, overcooked. Oh, and there’s that other hallowed element of the seven seasons, the goddam holodeck, but the less said about that the better. Well, maybe a paragraph. First Contact is a solid movie, though, overcoming its inherent limitations to make it, by some distance, the best of the four big screen outings with Pic…

Death to Bill and Ted!

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey (1991)
(SPOILERS) The game of how few sequels are actually better than the original is so well worn, it was old when Scream 2 made a major meta thing out of it (and it wasn’t). Bill & Ted Go to Hell, as Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey was originally called, is one such, not that Excellent Adventure is anything to be sneezed at, but this one’s more confident, even more playful, more assured and more smartly stupid. And in Peter Hewitt it has a director with a much more overt and fittingly cartoonish style than the amiably pedestrian Stephen Herrick.

Evil Bill: First, we totally kill Bill and Ted. Evil Ted: Then we take over their lives.
My recollection of the picture’s general consensus was that it surpassed the sleeper hit original, but Rotten Tomatoes’ review aggregator suggests a less universal response. And, while it didn’t rock any oceans at the box office, Bogus Journey and Point Break did quite nicely for Keanu Reeves in the summer of ’91 (inflatio…

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…