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Game of Thrones S7E4: The Spoils of War

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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]

 Ever since Game of Thrones’ first season finale, “Fire and Blood” – when Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) birthed her wee dragon babies – there has been an expectation that we would, at some point, see Dany use her scaly children to wreak fiery retribution against her enemies. Although that expectation has been met to a certain degree on smaller scales (hoho), it’s really tonight’s episode, “The Spoils of War” that delivers in full.

 The episode begins with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) in the aftermath of the battle for Highgarden, divvying up the literal spoils of war, as a wagon laden with gold is being sent to pay off the Iron Bank. Bronn is grousing about his share of the pay and informs Jaime he wants a castle. Jaime rolls his eyes and tells him to bloody well wait. It’s a small and seemingly inconsequential moment that becomes much more important before the ep’s conclusion.

Elsewhere, Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) gives an iconic dagger to Bran (Isaac Hempstead Wright). It’s the very one used by the assassin who tried kill him in season one, which seems an odd choice for a gift. Bran looks like he’d rather be elsewhere, probably listening to The Smiths, and tells Littlefinger, “chaos is a ladder”. Righto, Bran, give it a bone, mate. To further Bran’s douche tour, Meera (Ellie Kendrick) bids the lad a farewell to which Bran barely responds. He’s gone full Doctor Manhattan from Watchmen: he sees too much to properly connect with humanity anymore. Either that or he’s just a wanker. Jury’s still out to be honest.

Meanwhile, Arya (Maisie Williams) finally returns to Winterfell! She’s greeted by a couple of incompetent guards who don’t believe she is who she says she is, but rather than kill them she tricks them and slips past. That’s personal growth, lady! Sansa (Sophie Turner) knows just where Arya will be and the pair reunite at the statue of Ned Stark (Sean Bean). It’s not exactly the warmest of reunions – Arya and Sansa never got along all that well – but it’s nice to see them together even if they’re awkward. Arya looks at Ned’s statue, complaining that it doesn’t look like him.

“Everyone who knew his face is dead” says Sansa.

“We’re not” Arya replies.

The sisters visit Bran in the Godswood where he regifts the dagger to Arya who looks delighted. You can almost see her thinking up people in whom to shove it. Bran also manages to avoid talking about Sansa’s rape this time, so that’s positive.

Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman) observe the three Stark Children together. “Catelyn Stark would be proud,” opines Pod and Brienne allows herself a slight glimmer of happiness.

On Dragonstone, Dany gets a tour of the dragonglass mine via Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Jon really wants Khaleesi to pay extra attention to the cave paintings, daubed by the Children of the Forest so very long ago. The pictures show the children and the first men fighting together against their common enemy: the army of the dead.

“The enemy is real,” says Jon, “it’s always been real.”

“I will fight for you,” Dany replies, “I will fight for the North… if you bend the knee.”

Honestly at this moment the UST is so thick in the room you could carve it. Just get married, you guys. Perfect solution.

Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) pops in to deliver the bad news about their battle plans thus far and Dany starts to get the shits, seriously contemplating reducing King’s Landing to bubbling slag. Jon advises caution because of course he does.
At Winterfell, Brienne and Arya have a wonderful “training” session where the two appear well matched, fighting back and forth with skill and style.

“Who taught you how to do that?” Brienne asks, breathing hard.

“No one.” Arya cheekily replies.

Meanwhile Sansa watched with wide eyes, thinking what the fuck happened to her bratty little sister?!

At Dragonstone we have a sweet moment where Davos (Liam Cunningham) advises Jon to follow his heart (or boner) for Dany. Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) chats with the pair about how great Dany is, and then Theon (Alfie Allen) arrives on the beach. Jon angrily informs Theon the only reason he’s not dead is because he helped Sansa, but Theon wants to know where the queen is. Actually that’s a good question…

Back where we began, with Jaime and Bronn. Things appear normal for a few moments but then… what’s that sound? Horses. A shitload of horses. The exhausted Lannister troops try to rally as best they can but the sight of a bunch of Dothraki riders approaching isn’t great for morale. Also bad for morale? DANY RIDING A FUCKING DRAGON INTO BATTLE!

Yes, it’s the moment we’ve all been waiting for, Dany flies into battle, scorching her enemies with long plumes of dragonfire and reducing those who would oppose her to ashes. Not only is the sequence cathartic and well-directed, it’s also layered. From Dany’s perspective the battle is a glorious triumph, but when we’re at ground level with Jaime and Bronn, we’re watching people scream in agony as they burn to death. It’s sweeping and beautifully executed and one of the most memorable moments in GoT history.

The battle rages back and forth, with the Lannisters taking the brunt of the losses. Bronn attempts to use the big dragon-killing crossbow but while he lands one hit, the dragon rallies and destroys the contraption. Spying an opportunity, Jaime attempts to kill Dany but is almost charbroiled – and in fact would have been, had Bronn not knocked him out of the way. Are the sellsword’s efforts all for naught? The episode’s final moments have Jaime sinking into the water of a lake, weighed down by his armour.

Wow. Despite the fact none of our primary characters are killed in the big battle it’s an amazing sequence, showing Dany’s determination but also hinting at a possible madness that may manifest itself more acutely in the future. Bronn lives (yay!) and Jaime probably will too (kinda… yay?) but make no mistake, the game has been well and truly changed and Cersei (Lena Headey) is gonna be maaaaaaaaaaad.

Interesting side note: “The Spoils of War” is just 50 minutes long, GoT’s shortest ep to date, and in fact feels more like 20. It’s an effective, lean, focused episode and the highlight of season seven so far.

 
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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.

Next 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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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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Outcast Season 2

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While The Walking Dead takes a break until later in the year, comic book wunderkind Robert Kirkman’s other adapted property, Outcast is ready to unleash its second season. Outcast’s story is a smarter, more intimate portrait of a small, working class town infested by a plague of demons. Although the concept of what a demon actually is, and how organised religion may be wrong in its assessment of the same, is the meaty subtext that gives Outcast its provocative point of difference to other possession stories.

When we last saw Kyle (Patrick Fugit) he was leaving Rome, West Virginia, with his daughter, Amber (Madeleine McGraw) after encounters with the devilish Sidney (Brent Spiner). The road trip scenario doesn’t last long, however, as Kyle realises the demons are spread wider and further than first imagined. Kyle heads back home to get help from the increasingly unhinged, Reverend Anderson (John Glenister) who has problems of his own…

The first two episodes of Outcast season two drip with mood and atmosphere, with implications that Kyle’s ability to fight demons is part of a far reaching and layered narrative we’re thus far only getting tantalising hints of. What exactly are these demons and why are they here? Is their agenda evil or simply pragmatic? And if religion has misunderstood the nature of demons where does that leave a priest who is already struggling with his faith?

Outcast remains the best TV show you’re currently not watching, so if you like your horror stories gripping with a side order of subtext, you’d be doing yourself a profound disservice by missing this moody masterpiece.

Outcast season 2 starts airing Monday April 10 on FX.

 
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Shots Fired

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Shots Fired covers the investigation of a shooting of a young white man by a black cop, in a small southern US town. The state governor Patricia Eamons (Helen Hunt) is accommodating and welcomes the investigation, though local Sheriff Platt (Will Patton) and his Lt. Breeland (True Blood’s Stephen Moyer) are less than forthcoming, closing ranks. Department of Justice lawyer Preston Terry (Stephan James) and his investigator Ashe Akino (Sanaa Lathan) are soon asking questions of witnesses and the victim’s family but they become mired in a hotbed of local police politics and social activism as local Pastor, Janae James (Aisha Hinds) sees an opportunity to politicise the killing, using it as activist fodder within the community and inflaming tensions. As they dig deeper, Terry and Akino’s investigation is met with silence and a troubling undercurrent of fear amongst local black residents, impeding their case.

Created by Reggie Rock Bythewood and Gina Prince-Bythewood (who both got their start on Bill Cosby’s A Different World but have gone on to much more ‘respectable’ work such as the film Beyond the Lights), this crime ensemble drama has currency at the moment. The People vs OJ Simpson was a surprise hit and along with the set-and-forget reliability of the TV police procedural that refuses to die, it seems that cable TV has forced network TV to be a little smarter in how it delivers the cop drama staple.

The recent real-life spate of police killing black youths is the primary discussion here with the main story being an interesting inversion of that narrative. A mash-up of Law and Order and In The Heat of the Night that largely works, Shots Fired isn’t afraid to tackle some heavy social issues and do it with smarts and surprisingly, some nuance.