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Game of Thrones S7 E2: Stormborn

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Last week’s episode of Game of Thrones, “Dragonstone”, put all the pieces in place and today’s episode, “Stormborn”, is all about taking the first faltering steps on the march to war. So what happens? A shitload, so let’s recap.

We open with a storm lashing Dragonstone. There’s a war room meeting with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill). There’s little love lost between Dany and Varys, the former believing the latter to be disingenuous and disloyal. Varys delivers a typically eloquent rebuttal and an uneasy alliance is formed between the pair, on the condition that if Varys betrays Dany she’ll burn him alive. Classic Targaryen.

Nek minute Melisandre (Carice van Houten) pops in to hitch her wagon to Dany’s team. Her prophecy has been amended from “the prince who was promised will bring the dawn” to “the prince or princess who was promised will bring the dawn”. Tyrion observes that it’s something of a mouthful but Dany approves. Melisandre suggests Dany forge an alliance with Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and Tyrion chimes in, saying he likes and trusts Snowy and “I am an excellent judge of character”. Dany agrees, on one condition: Jon has to bend the knee. Tyrion gets an uncomfortable look on his face. Always with the knee-bending, these people.

Meanwhile, at King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) is laying on the anti-Daenerys propaganda from atop the Iron Throne. Afterwards, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) impresses upon Randyll Tarly (James Faulkner) the wisdom of choosing to side with the Lannisters and the queen. More specifically Jaime reckons it’d be pretty great if Olenna Tyrell (Diana Rigg) would meet with a messy end. Tarly is tempted by Jaime’s silver (or should that be golden?) tongue, so Olenna better watch her back.

Winner of ‘Westeros’ Most Creepy’ five years running, Qyburn (Anton Lesser) shows Cersei what he reckons is the perfect solution to their dragon problem. He unveils… a big, fuck-off crossbow and has Cersei fang a bolt into a massive dragon skull. Cersei approves.

Back in Dragonstone’s war room a plan is beginning to emerge. The Iron Fleet will take Ellaria Sand’s (Indira Varma) Dornish soldiers to King’s Landing to lay siege alongside Olenna Tyrell’s army. “Two great kingdoms united against Cersei” is how Tyrion pitches it. Olenna is salty and wants to know exactly what he and Dany bring to the table. Tyrion answers that they’re going to take out the Lannister’s seat of power: Casterly Rock. Everyone grudgingly admits that, yeah – that’s actually a pretty good plan – although Olenna doesn’t trust Tyrion or “clever men” in general.

Later Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) end their will they/won’t they arc by falling squarely on the former. Certainly Grey Worm may be lacking in the penis department (such is the price of being an Unsullied) but he can use his mouth quite well, judging from Missandei’s reaction, and we’re treated to an oddly tender sex scene that is consensual and no one dies. Which in GoT is a huge win.

Elsewhere Samwell (John Bradley-West) has decided he’s going to use a banned technique to cure Jorah Mormont’s (Iain Glen) greyscale. Archmaester and fantasy-version-of-a-climate-change-denier, Marwyn (Jim Broadbent) has specifically forbidden Sam from doing so but the big fella will not be stopped. Sam begins to pick Jorah’s scabs, politely asking him not to scream, and we’re treated to the grossest segue way in the show’s history as we juxtapose scab picking and pus to a close up of moist pie crust.

Speaking of pie, it’s Hot Pie (Ben Hawkey)! Remember him? Well Arya (Maisie Williams) does and the pair exchange pie-cooking tips in a tavern. Hot Pie express surprise at Arya’s destination being King’s Landing, after all Jon Snow is back at Winterfell. Arya is shocked and happy to hear this news and leaves the tavern, mounts her horse and has a moment of indecision. Does she head to King’s Landing to kill the queen, or see Jon? It’s a choice between revenge and family and – this time at least – Arya chooses family. It’s a sweet moment.

Speaking of Jon, Samwell’s message regarding the mountain of dragonglass at Dragonstone has arrived. This makes up Snowy’s mind, and despite the protestations of almost everyone at court, he’s off to see Dany. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is particularly adamant that Jon shouldn’t go, asking who the hell he’s going to leave in charge! “Until I return, the North is yours.” Jon replies, which does rather suit Sansa if we’re being completely honest.

Before Jon departs, Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) tries to ingratiate himself to Jon by mentioning Catelyn and Sansa. It doesn’t go well. Jon gives Littlefinger a big choke, and tells him to stay away from his sister unless he wants a savage beatdown out the back of Macca’s carpark.

Finally, aboard the Iron Fleet, Theon (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) share a cabin with Ellaria. Yara and Ellaria get along like a house on fire – a sexy house, mind you – and try to enlist Theon in a threeway. As we’ve already seen this episode, lacking a todger doesn’t need to end the boudoir activities, but before anything can happen the whole caper is savagely cockblocked by Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) who smashes fair into the fleet.

We’re treated to the first large scale battle scene of season seven and it’s as bloody and visceral as you could hope for. The casualties of the battle include two of the Sand Snakes – Obara (Keisha Castle-Hughes) and Nymeria (Jessica Henwick) – with Ellaria and Tyene (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers) captured by Euron’s men. Could this be his gift to Cersei? Euron also manages to best Yara in battle, holding her at knife point and goading Theon into action. This is Theon’s moment to prove his redemption arc is for real… but instead he turns craven and dives off the side of the boat.

Theon survives but the Iron Fleet is in tatters, proving that the best laid plans can go tits up when you’re up against a sexy pirate man.

All in all “Stormborn” is an effective and surprising hour of television. Everyone’s motivations feel faithful to the characters and the battle has genuinely changed the stakes, reminding us that everything is up for grabs and no one is safe in Westeros. Euron continues to feel like a fresh, vital character and his barnstorming battle scene is as exciting as it is dismaying.

Hopefully next week team Dany will have more luck with Casterly Rock, and we’ll be here to chat about it.

 
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Ronny Chieng: International Student

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Ronny Chieng, known for his work in local stand up and on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show in the United States, takes inspiration from his time at Uni to create the contemporary and funny collegiate comedy Ronny Chieng: International Student. The series follows the fictional Ronny and his friends, all but one of whom (Ronny’s Australian love interest Asher, played by Molly Daniels) are roommates in the International House, as they attend Law School in Australia.

Ronny Chieng: International Student lampoons students of all types and mocks the everyday quirks of a campus and its bureaucracy. For example, when Asher’s laptop gets a virus, it constantly repeats the phrase, “You have been impregnated by the sperm virus.” As Chieng runs across campus to fix Asher’s computer, he must deal with impossible administrative officials, unhelpful IT support, and a team of bullying computer nerds.

The development between characters is more present in the friendships that develop than between Ronny and Asher through their romantic storyline. Chieng spends much of the season in the “friend zone”; despite a few plot points revolving around Ronny trying to impress or help, these usually fall to the side as funnier and stronger moments arise.

This speaks to the strength of the ensemble, which bring it to virtually every scene. The entire supporting cast is funny and willing to take their performances to the next level, playing with stereotypes and then breaking them down. Even guest actors deliver exaggerated performances that make this collegiate world absurd, yet still grounded in reality.

In one particularly funny episode, Ronny joins an improv team to impress Asher. But, the main storyline of Ronny’s unrequited love ends up being a distraction to the insane performances from some of the actors (look out for a Shia LaBeouf impression) and the witty writing.

The ensemble has plenty of gifted comedians, including Hoa Xuande as Elvin and Patch May as Craig, two foils who produce some of the best scenes in the series when they are at odds and when they are working together.

If you are familiar with Ronny Chieng, he brings a similar comedic style to this show as he does The Daily Show, a passionate, narcissistic, and angrily quizzical viewpoint on the world. His voice is clear, but leveled out by the other characters with their own unique styles.

 
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Game of Thrones S7E1: Dragonstone

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[SPOILER WARNING: Please don’t read unless you’ve seen the episode. I mean, come on, you know how this works]

Season six of Game of Thrones was all about catharsis. After a slow start, a bunch of things that had been a long (loooong) time coming all occurred. Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) finally got his well-deserved comeuppance at the hands of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner), via the medium of fists and hungry hounds. Sansa’s sly smile as she walked away from a screaming, partially ingested Ramsay was a darkly triumphant season highlight. The alliance between Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) bore fruit in the form of a fleet of ships, delivered by dickless wonder, Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan). Oh and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) turned an entire oppressive religion into a pretty plume of green flame, which was rather wonderful in a ruthless, homicidal sort of way.

Put simply, Season seven has a lot to live up to – so how does the first episode shape up? Let’s have a look at what happens, first.

We open with one of the strongest cold opens imaginable. Walder Frey (David Bradley) is serving an opulent feast for all his dirtbag relatives, most of whom played an integral part in that fan-shocking massacre, The Red Wedding. “But wait,” you – the confused viewer – say, “didn’t that bloke die in the season six finale?” Indeed he did, and after Walder proposes a toast – and everyone drinks – it soon becomes clear that Walder is in fact Arya (Maisie Williams) in disguise and the wine they just quaffed is poison. All the guilty die choking and coughing blood, and Arya informs the blameless survivors that “the North never forgets,” and to tell them that “winter came for house Frey”.

Opening titles and high fives or fist bumps all around.

The next thing we see is the army of the dead, led by the Night King (Richard Brake), heading closer to the realm of man. And what’s that, skeletal-faced zombie giants? It’s like a snowy Slayer album cover and it’s amazing. We move from this vision to see Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) arriving at The Wall. He informs those present that the White Walkers are on their way. Bran’s cheery like that. Great fun at parties.

Elsewhere Jon is holding a big old staff meeting. He needs more dragonglass to take on the army of the dead, and starts delegating jobs and positions for the coming battles. Also feminism has hit the seven kingdoms, and man and woman alike will be drafted. Sansa speaks up one time too many and we can see the tension between the siblings. Afterwards Sansa affirms her love for her brother, but tells him he needs to be “smarter than Ned or Robb”. They were both good men, who made terrible decisions and were killed for it. Sansa’s not wrong, being righteous and honourable makes little sense unless tempered with pragmatism. Jon, you’d do well to listen to your sister. You certainly wouldn’t want her as your enemy…

Meanwhile at King’s Landing, Cersei and Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) stand atop a map of Westeros and lament their position. They’re surrounded by enemies on all sides and Cersei has plans to form a new alliance. Cut to: exterior and a fleet of Iron Island ships arrive. It’s Euron Greyjoy (Pilou Asbæk) who addresses Cersei as she sits on the Iron Throne. Euron is a cheeky bugger and manages to throw shade at Jaime, and flirt outrageously with Cersei. Cersei coldly turns down his marriage proposal, but Euron is undaunted. He will return, he claims, with a priceless gift, but what gift? Tyrion? A fleet of ships? A PS4 Pro? It remains to be seen. What we do know, however, is that Cersei is wasting no time grieving for her children. “We’re the only Lannisters left,” she tells Jaime, amending: “the only ones who count.”

Meanwhile Samwell Tarley (John Bradley-West) is finding life in Oldtown’s Citadel library is not quite as bookish as he’d like. In fact, between serving food, cleaning out bedpans and weighing internal organs, he’s rather disillusioned. He asks the Archmaester (wonderfully played by Jim Broadbent) when he can read the restricted texts and help save the world, but the Archmaester just smiles and tells him to calm his tits. Humanity has survived chaos before, the Archmaester opines, and it will do so again. The maesters must record everything and keep history alive, basically like a high fantasy Wikipedia. Sam agrees but sneaks some of the restricted books out, reading the GoT FAQ he finds out there is more dragonglass in Dragonstone, which – you know – he probably could have guessed. The clue’s in the name, Sam, have a word with yourself.

Meanwhile Arya runs across an Ed Sheeran in the wild (but doesn’t kill him, what the hell, GoT?!) and Sandor “The Hound” Clegane (Rory McCann) appears to be on a path to redemption. Both plot strands are fine, but really are just killing time for the episode’s final moments.

In a sequence that is evocative as it is free of dialogue, Daenerys arrives at Dragonstone. She smiles and her dragons fly around the severe-looking castle. Danys touches the ground, walks through the gates, enters the throne room and finally the room where another familiar-looking map sits, gathering dust. Tyrion stands by her side, her other followers outside the room, and finally she speaks, saying: “Shall we begin?”

Dragonstone is a strong episode and perfect for a season return, especially with the cold open and ending. It’s probably not an episode to revisit time and time again, but it economically and effectively reminds us of all the main players, reinforces the conflicts and the stakes, and sketches out an idea of this season’s arc.

It’s an exciting time to be a Game of Thrones fan, with the story reaching its conclusion next season, so we’re expecting big, game-changing, seismic events to occur and we’ll be here to talk about them. Welcome back, GoT! Please don’t kill Arya.

 
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Diablo III: Rise of the Necromancer

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A corridor full of slavering monsters greets me as I enter the dark crypt. They’re not much for formalities and charge forward, an ungainly horde of teeth, claws and homicidal intent. I sweep my hands over the ground, raising bloody spikes from the floor to impale my foes. They die badly, screaming and baying. Another wave of enemies approaches and this time I conjure the corpses of the first wave to rise, rise and attack their living compatriots…

Rise of the Necromancer is Diablo III’s first major content drop since 2014’s Reaper of Souls expansion. Gallingly, it doesn’t add any story content, but as the name suggests it does introduce a class new to Diablo III: the Necromancer.

The good news is the Necromancer is one of the best classes in the game, hewing closest to the Witch Doctor in terms of skills, but otherwise quite unique. Turning corpse piles into vengeful spiders or spears, summoning wraiths to do your bidding and literally raising the dead from the bloodied battlefield to fight alongside you feels wonderfully morbid and shockingly powerful. Fans of Diablo’s darker, gothic aesthetic will really dig on this class, and the many combinations of powers you can equip on your way to level 70 and beyond.

The bad news is that there’s no new story content in which to launch your brand spanking new necromancer, making the $21.95 price tag feel a little steep. Don’t get me wrong, if you have a regular Diablo III crew running Greater Rifts you’ve probably already purchased this bad boy and are enjoying it mightily. If, however, you’re looking for the next sizable chunk of content to make Diablo III feel brand new, you’ll likely be a little disappointed.

Ultimately Rise of the Necromancer is lots of fun, but a little slight. Still, this is a game released in 2012 that still manages to feel engaging and addictive, so maybe it’s time to jump back in and desecrate a few corpses.