Game of Thrones Season 6 Recap & Review

Spoilers are to follow. 

The reversal was stunning, to say the least. From the rough start to the incredible ending, the sixth season of Game of Thrones was the reward the show’s faithful have long awaited.

In order to ease reminders for readers, I’ll mostly be using links to the Game of Thrones wikia. However, a few links go to A Wiki of Ice and Fire which covers the books. Although the show has passed the timeline of the novels, there may still be spoilers that have yet be introduced on the screen. I will specifically warn the reader about such links.

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Cultural Sabbatical for June

It’s been a while. Writing projects have kept me and the team remarkably busy. I’m happy to announce that we’ve finished the first round of edits for our novella series. More on this later, perhaps even as soon as next week. But for now, a little of what I’ve found time to enjoy.

TMitHKBooks

As the fictional adventures continue, I have a tendency to rarely return to the same author within a year. This happens for many reasons; to prevent burnout, to keep my head filled with new ideas, and to rotate the geek-with-the-chic. Sometimes you get books that can blend those two things together, but this doesn’t usually happen until the novel transitions to the the screen, big or small.

But on that point, the “no author more than once a year” guideline was violated twice this year by Philip K. Dick, with The Man in the High Castle and my current read, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which is rapidly disappearing in my hand. The story is a blitz that is hard to put down, interesting in its own right though vastly different from its film adaption, Blade Runner.

PKD was, and pretty much still is, the “idea man” that made science fiction what it is today. While many such authors tend to focus on the more academic sciences, the beauty in Dick’s concepts are their psychological inspirations. His themes ooze and seep, capable of invading any genre no matter how timeless. It wasn’t so much about androids, but what androids tell us about us. It wasn’t the facts and dates of Nazi occupation of America, but rather how we live in such times, how we felt and why we do. PKD used his head to tell it from the heart.

On the subject of fast reads, I’m also rather impressed with the vanishing act performed with The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, which I finished over last weekend. The book was the perfect mix of fantasy and fairy tale, tying its carefully woven mix of behind-the-scenes theological suggestions with the philosophies of its characters. It spoke with such depth that one’s life felt changed after reading.

American GodsThe final achievement on the literature front was Neil Gaiman’s American Gods which I purchased before even knowing about the upcoming television series. The novel was my first book by Gaiman (outside of the movie Coraline and the graphic novel The Dream Hunters with Yoshitaka Amano), and I truly appreciated the effort he put into researching and cultivating the world’s mythologies and not just the most common, such as Greek and Norse. The overall story is fairly satisfying on its own, although there is a sense that there should have been more to the story at times.

Perhaps that’s something that Starz will soon rectify.

While a part of me is looking forward to the book’s television rendition (considering it stars Ian McShane and Ricky Whittle), there’s reason to be cautious. Especially since HBO attempted the script with three writers and just couldn’t get it down, eventually giving up. Still, although HBO generally employs good writers, the somewhat prematurely finished show The Leftovers would suggest that the channels struggles to engage its audiences in matters of theological consideration. Well, since we’re on that topic…

Television

On the live action front… I have a horrible confession to make ladies and gentlemen. I have never seen Orange is The New Black

“What?!” Some readers might be screaming. “The show is amazing! How could you not see it?”

For me, Orange is The New Black is kind of suffering from a form of TV debt. Simply put, right now there is actually too much great television these days. HBO and Showtime used to have the corner to themselves, then AMC came along and proved that ordinary cable can deliver, followed swiftly by the lineups at Netflix. Now, it seems every channel has at least one hit show of some kind. USA has Mr. Robot (of which I’ve seen season one). PBS has Downton Abbey (currently I’m on the third season). The History Channel has Vikings (unseen but on the to-watch list).

With so much television out right now, it’s difficult to really catch up on golden oldies and prior seasons of current hits. OITNB is just one of those shows I put on the back burner to spend time on other projects. I may pick it up.

PrintHowever, disappointment abounds that the third season of Penny Dreadful is the final of the series. I didn’t see this coming at all, but my understanding is that this was premeditated long ago.  I’ve yet to begin watching it, although anyone who is familiar with my blog knows how much I’ve gushed over seasons one and two.

I intend to start Penny Dreadful shortly, but have been catching Game of Thrones first whenever possible. It’s not that I value the latter series any higher but simply because thoughtless fools on social media continue to ruin it, spoiling events if I don’t rush to see it. This has happened twice this year alone due primarily to memes. I am truly looking forward to the finale however, considering how awesome the last (ninth) episode turned out.

A couple of years ago, the last thing I expected was to be pulled back into anime ever again. But here I am, working my way through both the new and old; the third season of the classic Armored Trooper Votoms and Netflix’s latest, Voltron: Legendary Defender, of which I’ve seen the 69-minute initial episode (I will be watching the remaining, 23-minute episodes later). The short lengths of both series’ episodes, and the fact that they’re all immediately available, is a factor in my watching them.

I can’t really explain what it is that keeps me hooked on Votoms. At first glance, one would think it’s a show about mecha– large, combative robots often in a war-drama that justifies their usage. Mecha shows are often characterized by the “tech creep” of an arms race through improvements or new models, and a “boxing title bout” mentality between pilots. But Votoms bucks these trends hard.

After the signing of a cease-fire, war veteran Chirico Cuvie is tricked into a mission against his own side. Unable to trust anyone and now a fugitive, Chirico makes reluctant friends with a group of smugglers and lovable low-lives while trying to stay under the radar of a corrupt police force. But Chirico’s quest for survival transformers into a hunt for the truth, which threatens to reignite the fighting all over again.

AT VotomsGritty is the best way to describe the series. Jaded Chirico Cuvie barely forms attachments to anyone or anything, as he burns through ATs (Armored Troopers) like popcorn. They’re merely tools, to be used and discarded when no longer useful. They don’t upgrade as much as they adapt; swapping out weapons and parts to adjust for battles in space or underwater. Repairs and replacements are fairly grunt work and commonplace.

Voltron is the exact opposite in every way. While Votoms is gritty, cynical and hard science fiction, Netflix’s new series is more mythical, hopeful and exponentially more humorous. The disposable nature of the ATs gives way for the unique and important lions. The always-on-the-run survival exchanged for a defensive campaign. And yes, Votoms is for adults while Voltron makes itself appropriate for the whole family.

Cheekiness is Voltron’s best element, with plucky characters who can’t stop poking each other in the ribs. But peppered between the jibes comes a moderate amount of personal drama to punch up the plot lines; Pidge seeks his missing family while Shiro (a rechristened Sven from the original series) can’t remember his life while he was a prisoner of the Galran Empire. Elements like these are ideal for preventing the gladiator match episodes that the first series became known for.

But two weaknesses dog the new series. First, the humor can sometimes be ill-placed and over the top. And second, the pacing was fairly rapid in the rush to establish the universe, such as how everyone shares the same language or why the main characters could be trusted with a considerable amount of power.

Here’s hoping the Game of Thrones finale is one to remember this Sunday.

A Return to Form

So before I begin discussing some of the television shows of late, it is time for a confession. I’ve been seriously considering rescinding my policy regarding no book reviews.

The policy existed for a few reasons. There are concerns about conflicts of interest (promoting friends or nay-saying authors within my genre, etc) and also about the risk of creating enmity over honest critiques of works that fall below perfection. Although a heavy helping of tact and constructive criticism is essential to kaizen, there will always be those who are angered by the truth.

However there is a dearth of purposeful reviews. Product sites are host to star-ratings and plenty of unconnected praise, but they rarely go more than skin deep. What I’d like to see is true analysis; a discussion of themes, dissection of character motivations, breakdowns of any technical mistakes found by proofreading such as typos, misspelling or formatting concerns. 

Therefore I’ll be establishing three basic rules:

  1. The author or editor must request the review in the first place.
  2. Friends and colleagues can request, but I will mention a prior relationship with them alongside the release.
  3. The work must be available for purchase on at least one major outlet– This is to prevent trying to obtain “free” proofreading before release.

If anyone feels comfortable with these arrangements, feel free to contact me once the official page is available with my email. You can also simply comment here.

These reviews are spoiler free, but are lighter as a result.


Game of Thrones: Salt and Faith

Jon SnowI’ve finally cracked the seal on watching the latest season of Game of Thrones. Two episodes in and something was very amiss. There was the story line to Dorne which feels hampered by a missing faction elsewhere (which was present in the books).

Likewise, the situation at the wall involving Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) seems to have materialized from effectively nowhere, resulting in deal-making with someone he ought to hate. This proved frustrating personally as Davos is one of my favorite characters.

These incidents are justifying my concerns that deviations and omissions from the source material are starting to hamper the series. Thus the screenwriters have begun hot-wiring threads together, hoping to keep the engine running. Yet the 10-episode format limits available time to smooth the wrinkles of these transitions.

George R.R. Martin’s novels give the impression that he’s fairly good at avoiding pointless tales and subplots. Even the things that seem unconnected (and there are many, many such elements) often connect and trigger events down the road, although sometimes these have to be taken with a hint of salt and faith. Why the screenwriters didn’t respect this more, I cannot say. But their hastiness instills me with patience for Martin as he carefully crafts the final installments.

The book series is, after all, his Magnum Opus.

This is not to say that this season has all been bad. Watching a childhood dream come true for Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) on screen was rather amazing. And Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) complicated situation has my full attention. It simply maybe one of those moments when a few bad scenes must be overlooked to arrive at an otherwise good season. Time will tell.


The 100: Murder Made More 

The 100Going from fantasy “past” to science fiction “future,” I’ve finally cracked the code that is The 100.

There has been a trend where the first few episodes seem to have it rough, with character connections rampantly making or breaking. But as the story gets closer to mid-season, the alliances are finally sealed and the show tells the plot that it wants to tell… and quickly gets better for it.

This seems why the early episodes feel inorganic as the characters play musical chairs with pairings, the emotions they’re supposed to portray being jerked about. It could be that the producers have been trying to tweak and figure chemistry between its stars to best please its audience.

Another peculiarity has been the flip-floppery with regard to killing its darlings. In the prior seasons, killing characters was sometimes a painful, drawn out affair. This season saw sudden deaths claim two characters from the show’s dramatis personæ– one who resulted in a fair amount outrage. 

Be forewarned, there are spoilers within this news link if the reader is curious.

However, the death of this person was absolutely necessary to advance the plot in a vital direction. And curiously, it seems we’ve also learned more about this character post-death than anytime while they were alive. And, as usual, it’s the pow of each season’s finale that keeps its fans coming back to next season’s slow start. That’s one thing we’ve learned to count on.


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Dangling Storylaces

Kimmy SchmidtIt was unclear what exactly was missing from this season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

Only after being put side-by-side to the first season does the issue stick out. The first had an easier time weaving its most outlandish elements into the central plot. To this day, I still giggle over Titus Andromedon’s (Tituss Burgess) amazing Pinot Noir music video and the autotuned remix of his “Gonna Be Famous” (which is exactly what happened as a result). And Kimmy (Ellie Kemper) had her flashbacks to life in the bunker (occasionally revisited this season but not as often nor as rewarding). But this season, bizarre antics came more out of the blue, and were less memorable.

The plot-juggling was weirdly handled this time. Titus’ cliffhanger ending of last season was turned into an episode and then resolved with very little impact, although his follow up plots were simultaneously more interesting and entertaining. But less so for the rest of the cast. Jacqueline White’s (Jane Krakowski) hunt for spiritual meaning kept jabbing at a political cankersore. Lillian Kaushtupper (Carol Kane) labored against the gentrification effecting her neighborhood to no immediate effect for all thirteen episodes, although the ending suggested an intriguing thread for the third season.

Kimmy’s story lines were a Boggle board; first on her forbidden relationship with Dong before folding into deeply embedded psychological issues– resulting in animated scenes that were strange and out-of-place. Then there was the dynamic between her and Jacqueline that seemed little more than filler.

Her finale simply didn’t have that coveted “full circle” plot that Seinfeld and The League were renown for possessing. The first season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt accomplished this in a less karmic way then those other shows, returning to the origin of the problem. But the second season simply didn’t try, arriving at some catharsis that doesn’t feel as meaningful as one may hope.

That’s all for now. Keep an eye out for Penny Dreadful and Halt and Catch Fire reviews next time.

Mead, Vikings and Television

Mead

So last Tuesday, Dan came over and we bottled up the mead pitch that finished fermenting. It had been sitting a month and it’ll be another six at least until it’s ready for tasting. The smell was so powerful… the sheer alcoholic content dizzying. And it isn’t anything special either, just six pounds of Safeway brand honey and water with Kolsch yeast. Nothing else. We’re not even carbonating it, as I want to drink it in the traditional manner. It should be ready just in time for birthday-packed November.

As I set to work, my interest in viking culture flared again, enough that I decided to later sit down and watch a single, mid-stream episode of the History Channel’s Vikings. I managed to get fifteen minutes into it before turning it off, with the intention of watching it from the beginning later. I just wanted to take a measure of the series first, and the taste I took suggested a slower historic drama piece that mixes Game of Thrones with the characterization and story telling pace of Breaking Bad.

What’s interesting to me is that this is another example of cable television jumping on the historical drama bandwagon. They won’t jump into the violence and sex that HBO or Showtime can pull off, so they instead invest in story telling in the past, just as with Downton Abbey. (Another fine show I’ve fallen behind on…) And it’s not hard to imagine the value of it. While no one should expect a hard history lesson, these shows do convey a sense of cultures of antiquity.

Television, as a medium for story telling, has grown again in the last couple of years. Our last TV renaissance brought us great shows like The Wire, The Sopranos and Battlestar Galactica. A lot of that era was brought to us by HBO. These days, we’re seeing great shows come from very unlikely sources. AMC alone brought a handful of great shows out. PBS and the History Channel, of all people, each have one great show worth watching. I don’t watch Scandal regularly but I do respect that it’s a good show. And now Netflix is changing the game, bringing back shows thought dead like Arrested Development and The Killing, whenever they’re not blowing our minds with original series like House of Cards.

It’s not hard to wonder why. In the past, television actors have tended to be less skilled than their movie counterparts, with a few talented individuals who managed to find work in the multimillion dollar roles later. These days, the stigma of being a television actor are gone, as Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright play the Underwoods and Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson shock us with True Detective.

I suppose one reason for this is simply because television, at least as of late, tends to allow for internal promotions as an actor becomes central to a show.

If you take a look at opening credits in later episodes, it’s very common to see one of the main actors being listed as an executive producer, likely working to develop their own characters and some of the scripts. There is likely creative growth there, as power slowly shifts from the director to the actor. Directors frequently shift and share their positions on television, but the actors are seldom replaceable, recasting being a caution inducing move even between movie sequels. This credit can be very valuable as a means to pave the way into becoming a regular producer of future projects.

The downside I feel is that television, unlike a movie, can be really be difficult to keep up with as a pop culture topic. All you need to do is sit down for two hours and you’re caught up on the latest movie. Television frequently takes six to thirteen hours per season. If you choose the wrong television series to invest in, your friends might go on talking about season 3 of some series you haven’t even tried. As more great television comes out, it gets more and more difficult to keep up with it all. It’s even worse when you have someone you want to share television with and they’re not interested, or they’re behind.

I don’t think the good TV train is going to stop for a while, making it all the more easy to lost in it.

Culture Absorption

Books: My bread and butter. As of late, I’m half way through A Feast of Crows. I understand people’s dissatisfaction with the heavy novel, given that almost all the main characters from the previous three installments get no chapters of their own until the next book. Barely Jon Snow, no Tyrion Lannister and no Daenerys Targaryen.

Instead, we get an assortment of supporting characters with their own chapters. Samwell Tarly, Brienne of Tarth, and a handful of characters in Dorne to speak of events down there. Cersei gets her own chapters, finally gives some insight into her attitude. One has to be willing to accept some slow down of the story in order to enjoy a more robust tale I suppose. I keep trying to slow down since the sixth book is going to be a while, but I’ll probably crumble and just read A Dance with Dragons after this.

I’ve also been picking up and putting down Thus Spake Zarathustra. The reading itself is slow, but the resulting discussions with the book’s owner about Nietzche’s philosophy are stimulating and interesting.

Television: I’ve been slacking on my television. Between the ending of Breaking Bad and the wait for the new seasons of Mad Men and The Americans, I have a period of time to try and catch up on The Walking Dead or polish off Battlestar Galactica or The Wire. I should probably get on with that.

If there was ever a reason to be disappointed with reality television, it has to be the direction that Top Chef has gone. The winner of the New Orleans season was made to appear as a some what conniving, foul tempered fellow whom the show seemed ready to dump several times. And the fact that he was instead the winner was nothing less than aggravating. I feel the show has let something wrong guide it. Even if ‘reality’ television can’t convince you it isn’t fake, it should be entertaining. As of late, Top Chef has failed to do both.

I have however, gotten back into watching Golgo 13. The strange thing about this show is that it’s effectively nothing but episodic flash fiction starring a sniper protagonist. The plus side is that the show is easy to pick up and put down. You miss nothing, there is no ongoing story or events that change anything. Every episode is open and close, making it great for working out too. The downside is that the writers struggle to make the main character interesting. Thus, every two episodes are crap but the third one often has some great ideas in it.

Movies: I saw American Hustle a few weeks ago. I enjoyed it, but I get how people might not have liked it. Some felt the story was too predictable (it was based on true events). Others were probably ill at ease with the story’s themes of infidelity. But I was very entertained by it.

Aside from that, I saw Danny Boyle’s Trance and Prisoners with Jake Gyllenhaal. I was disappointed with the former. Boyle tried too hard to create Inception and while it wasn’t bad, it was filled with needless sexuality and a little over the top with the violence. Prisoners was an all around good movie but just didn’t ring my bells. I can’t complain about it- it was very well done, just not to my taste for some reason.

Looking forward to the new Robocop. Critics be damned.

Games: Still chugging through Red Dead Redemption. Getting lost in the side quests and challenges has slowed me up, so I end up doing one or two tasks, then doing regular story missions. So far, I’m sixty percent through the game. 

Big thing of note is that I finished The Banner Saga: Part 1 for the second time. I kept failing on the last battle, so I decided to go ahead and reduce the difficulty to Easy from Hard and just wrap up the game, collecting a couple of achievements but not everything I wanted. A play through takes about 12 hours, so I can try it a couple of times, then replay it when part 2 nearly comes out.

The thing about the game is that losing a battle isn’t game over. It just grinds on, though you do get thoroughly punished for it. You get less renown (a character building currency), some side characters may die, and then there are injuries. Injury is interesting, as it decreases your characters strength drastically. It doesn’t just happen when you lose, but whenever a character is harmed badly or knocked out. Thus there are Pyrrhic victories, and when you start losing, it becomes increasingly harder to stop. I’ll replay the game on hard later, but I do need to totally rethink my strategies to be more forward thinking.