Sunday, December 25, 2011

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Monday, November 21, 2011

After so much Arkham City, feel like I should be hitting these with pulse guns and sliding underneath.

Mike Mine Muppet


Let me preface by saying that I like the Muppets, have a tremendous amount of respect for the artistry and creativity of Jim Henson and his team and already have tickets to the new "Muppets" film for later this week. Having said that...

You really have to give it up to Disney for marketing the shit out of this property over the last couple of years online. I'm old enough to recall nobody really giving a crap about Muppets any more and feeling like the loss of Henson killed the franchise. There is more excitement for this upcoming film than any Muppet property I can recall, and this includes Henson projects when he was still alive, like "Dark Crystal," "Storyteller" or "Labyrinth."

I also got a chance to revisit Season 1 of "The Muppet Show" not too long ago, and was surprised to see that it mainly consisted not of brilliant, savvy, highbrow comedy, but of a lot of puppets rhythmically swinging side-to-side, with the occasional one-liner thrown in for good measure. (They were very big on the "this Muppet/human guest star is stealing the spotlight but I want it for myself!" bit in those early days.) I know the show picked up in later seasons, but we also have a tendency to just remember the classic "Mahna Mahna" moments. Likewise, "Great Muppet Caper" is really the only film in the franchise to hold up the entire way through. "Muppet Movie" is good but kind of drags, and even the remembered-as-a-classic "Muppets Take Manhattan" is pretty flat and oddly-serious (almost creepy) in its final half hour.

Not sure what, if anything, has actually changed, aside from a brilliant YouTube campaign and some killer tongue-in-cheek TV spots. But it occurs to me that Jason Segal and the new filmmakers and cast have the challenge of not just updating the Muppets but also making it actually live up to the somewhat unreasonable expectations the marketing has created. I hope they get there.

[Photo is Kermit and Piggy with Avery Schreiber. How could kids NOT be into this?]

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Saturday, November 19, 2011

That's the Pixies!

Taken at The Music Box

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Friday, November 18, 2011

Ice skating in Downtown LA

Taken at Pershing Square

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

An Open Letter to the Film/TV Crew That's Shooting on Park View St. in Los Angeles

Hi Team -

You seem like a busy, industrious group of professionals, so I'll get right to the point.

You're taking too long. I have no idea what film you're shooting, but you have been camped out at this single location for weeks now. If this is a movie shoot, that movie is going to be seriously stagnant. (Was it based on a play? I still recommend breaking up the dialogue-heavy scenes with more interstitial action, at this point, or you're likely to only get attention if you have some mega-watt stars in there and it opens in late December.)

Unless Stan Kubrick has risen from the grave to make an "Eyes Wide Shut" follow-up, or the entire next season of "The Walking Dead" concerns the gang looking for Sophia on this one street (granted, this is a possibility), I can't imagine your project is really going to require this much coverage. We're talking about the entrance to one building and a side of MacArthur Park.

Normally, this wouldn't really bother me. (Or, it might, but I'd keep it to myself.) But the frankly ludicrous amount of trucks, equipment, parked period automobiles and people standing around that you have brought with you are clogging up the nearby streets, and thus unnecessarily extending my commute home each night. One evening, I was at a dead-stop for over 10 minutes while you filmed some kind of shootout (probably to prevent anachronistic cars from appearing in the background of the shot.) As a cinema-lover, I'm willing to indulge a passionate filmmaking collective and put up with a certain amount of inconvenience... but I have my limits.

Also, isn't this location kind of cliche and overused? I've seen MacArthur Park in a ton of other movies and TV shows lately. It figures prominently into this season of "American Horror Story." Didn't you see "Drive"? That's right where Ryan Gosling met Christina Hendricks for the first time. Is it just because there's that famous song about the cake in the rain set there? I gotta level with you - most people hate that song, and I'm betting the majority of you're audience doesn't even know what the hell I'm talking about right now.

The point is, there are any number of interesting LA parks that are not directly on my way home, and thus would be preferable for you to use as a setting for your latest opus. If you're interested, I'd be delighted to take on the role of "emergency last minute location scout" and provide some helpful suggestions for a small fee. Which you can clearly afford because you're shutting down whole city blocks in Los Angeles for weeks at a time.

In closing, let me just say that if this anything related to the next season of "Mad Men," the forthcoming "Batman" film or anything associated with David Fincher, Martin Scorsese, Terrence Malick, the Coen Brothers or any other filmmakers I respect and admire, I withdraw my argument. But I doubt it.

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Monday, November 14, 2011

Christmas in LA

Taken at Pershing Square

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Ladies of Lutefisk

Taken at Norrana lodge

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Talk about appointment TV...

Taken at Norrana lodge

Posted via email from Lon Harris


Taken at Pershing Square

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Sunday, October 30, 2011


Taken at Angels Flight Railway

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Game of Thrones Project CONCLUDES! Episodes 8, 9 and 10 reviewed!

Was thinking of splitting this all into two posts but... screw it, this has gone on long enough. Time to wrap up this epic retelling of the entire first season of "Game of Thrones" and move on to other things, like rewatching the entire series "The Larry Sanders Show" on Netflix Streaming. (Not going to copiously take notes on that one for fear of carpal tunnel... That show was on for 100 years.)

Forgive my Episode 9 round-up... I lost about half of my diligent notes made while watching the episode by stupidly forgetting to sync Evernote. (My own fault, not Evernote's. Still love and highly recommend that app.) But I have managed to reconstruct most of my thoughts from memory, and with a bit of help from Wikipedia's episode summary.

So here we go...


Episode 7 ended with Ned Stark refusing to recognize Joffrey Baratheon (but really Joffrey Lannister) as the new King, after being betrayed by Petyr Baelish. Now we find he's been accused of treason, and Lannister soldiers are coming after Arya Stark, who's still at King's Landing, under the watchful eye of her swordfighting maestro.

We learn a bit more about Syrio and his people - the Braavosi - in this episode, including that they never run away from a fight, no matter how hopeless. So, obviously, he's dead soon enough, and there's a great moment where one of the soldiers orders another to "Kill the braavosi, kill the girl" and you REALLY hope he finishes with "take the cannolis," but alas, it is not to be.

Arya manages to get away, and in doing so, accidentally kills a fat kid. This is never really referenced again, and I can't help but feel like it would have more impact if I knew who the kid was. (I'm pretty sure he's never been in the show before, and is just some stable boy.) But there you have it.

(QUESTION: Would have upset audiences more if the victim was a random skinny kid? Less? The same? Discuss.)

Meanwhile, we see that Ned is being kept alive in a dungeon, with Lord Varys as his only visitor. Varys brings him water and gives him vague updates of the news outside. Varys also implies that he's the only one in King's Landing who actually wants to do what's best for "the Realm," while all the others squabble over petty rivalries. It's absolutely an accurate characterization of this world and its politics... the question never arises of who would be the best monarch, and what would represent the best interests of the civilization as a whole. No one seems to care about much save the "honor" and reputation of their house. It's part of what makes "Game of Thrones" so hard to get into emotionally - nearly all the characters, save possibly the Starks (more on this in a bit) - have the same toxic worldview. Who do you root for when everyone's a sick perverted shit?

We cut to Sansa Stark, who is being blackmailed by Queen Cersei and her new bestie, Petyr Baelish, into selling out her family. She's being instructed to write to her mother and Robb Stark, telling them to swear fealty to Prince Joffrey. Otherwise, she won't become Queen and her father will be killed. Sansa agrees.

Robb, on the other hand, clearly seems to want a war with the new King, and is calling up an army. We get a scene where Catelyn Stark goes to her weird sister, Lysa, asking for her personal army's help in the coming war, but Lysa refuses. We're also quickly getting a lesson in the politics of the area Lysa presides over, known as "The Vale." Also, we're once again being reminded that her grown son likes to breastfeed. You know, just in case we momentarily forgot that everyone who lives in the Westeros has some bizarre kinky fetish.

SPEAKING OF PERVERTS (easily my most-used segue in this entire series of posts), Tyrion Lannister and his new "champion," Bronn, wander in The Vale (hey, that place from before!) after escaping Lysa Arryn's castle. They are set upon by a mountain tribe called the Stonecrows, who seem to want to rob and/or rape them, until Tyrion offers to bring them to his father and turn over the entire Vale to the "hill tribes." (See, lords like Lysa Arryn have long presided over The Vale and made things unpleasant for the hill folk. Possibly by referring to them as "hill folk," which no one really appreciates, even dirty guys with big stone hammers who live on hills.) The Stonecrows take the bait.

Jon Snow is still at the Wall in the Night's Watch when he gets the word about Lord Stark's arrest. He gets into a fight with a guy Wikipedia tells me is named Alliser Thorne, who calls him a "Traitor's Bastard." (Oooooh, that guy I had to look up! He's incorrigible, apparently!) Snow is confined to his quarters.


The Dothraki are getting ready to sail for the Westeros, and to finance the trip, they've started pillaging villages and raping the women. (I humbly suggest we start just referring to this behavior, in shorthand, as RR Martining. Just for the sake of ease, because it comes up so often. As in: "The Dothrakis enter the village and start RR Martining all over the place. Pretty much every house gets RR Martined.")

I'm also starting to see how George RR has done the Tolkein thing of having different parts of this world obviously represent different areas of Earth. Like how Braavos is home to crude Italian stereotypes who accept challenges from 8 guys with actual swords while armed only with 1 wooden sword. This area (unnamed in the show, near as I could tell, but Lhazar on the wiki) has a Middle Eastern flavor.

We also get insight into just how central Spirit Animals are to every culture in this world. The Dothraki are horse people, the Lhazari are sheep people, so the Dothraki feel superior. (They only rape Lhazari women, for example, and don't marry them, because a horse would never marry a sheep. A horse would probably not marry another horse either, because they don't do that sort of thing, but stop being such a stickler.)

It's interesting that the animal motif is important on Westeros as well - every house has its animal emblem, and some, like the Targaryans and their 'dragon blood,' take it more seriously than others - but in a slightly different, more overtly symbolic way. Anyway, subtext! Always good.

The Khaleesi sees all the RR Martining going on and feels like that's more a Showtime thing than HBO, so she tries to call it off. Mago, however, a Dothraki lieutenant (or whatever) feels strongly that the men should be allowed to rape as a reward for serving the Khal so nobly in battle. Also, I feel I should point out that Drogo specifically said, in front of his wife, that they were going to go do some RR Martining just last episode, so I fail to see how this is a huge surprise.

Anyway, even though Khal Drogo backs up Khaleesi, the decision doesn't sit right with Mago. He was REALLY looking forward to the rape. He's like that guy, when a group of dudes agree to go to a strip club, who is clearly TOO excited about the decision and sort of weirds all the other guys out.

Mago challenges Drogo and, um, loses, but not before wounding the Khal pretty badly. One of the non-raped sheep ladies - who may or may not be a witch - agrees to heal The Khal, and the Khaleesi agrees. She has no choice, because if the Khal dies, she doesn't actually have any power over the Dothraki and will most likely get RR Martined. Oh, you Dothraki and your constant excuses to rape. Let's make a show about you.

Back in Winterfell, Robb Stark gets into an animated argument with Greatjon Umber about who will lead the vanguard of his new army. The argument gets so animated that Robb's wolf leaps across the table and bites off two of Greatjon's fingers, after which they all have a good laugh. Maybe start, I don't know, keeping the wolves outside? These maulings seem to keep happening. We're up to like 3 an episode.

Bran and the weird forest lady from north of the Wall have become fast friends. So they're just letting her roam around the castle now? Anyway, she's upset that everyone's distracted by the fight over succession when the soldiers should really be heading North, to fight the mysterious White Walkers who turn you into some kind of creepy frost zombies. While they're talking, mentally disabled stableboy Hodor stumbles into the frame, nude, saying "Hodor" for no good reason. Subtext? Or just random wang? We'll see if this pays off later.


[Image from here]

Back at the Lannister camp, Tyrion introduces Dad to his new friends, the hill folk! Tywin, who has just been appointed the new Hand of the King, agrees to turn over The Vale to them if they fight by his side. The Hill People insist that Tyrion ride into battle with them, so they can hold him to his deal. They drive a hard bargain!

The, the episode ends on kind of a weird, muted note considering all that has come before. Sansa is begging for mercy for her Dad, arguing that he was being treated for his leg injury with "milk of the poppy" (the Game of Thrones version of being hopped up on goofballs.) Joffrey agrees to be merciful if Ned Stark confesses and confirms that he is the real king. And that's it.

This episode itself felt kind of off in general. It's an obvious bridge needed to set the stage for the really big, sweeping, dramatic final two episodes... but not nearly as compelling in general as the previous few. It was reminiscent of the show in its early stages, all foreboding speeches about how "Winter is Coming" and hints of the intrigue to come.


Once more, Varys has come to visit Ned Stark, and once again, he insists that he's the lone champion for peace in the entire kingdom. If that's true, it pretty much means he's doing a shitty shitty job. Maybe he should STOP promoting peace so much and see if that works better.

He also presents Ned with a fairly compelling argument for telling the Lannisters what they want to hear to save everyone's life. Is this the first time in the entire series anyone has suggested that anything is more important than your family's honor? Arguably so. Of course, Ned refuses such a ridiculous notion.

The Starks need to cross the River Trident, the crossing for which is controlled by the House of Frey and its... wait for it... PERVERTED Lord, Walder Frey. (He likes to feel up girls while presiding over court and says stuff like "A little flower... and her honey's all mine.")

He's also the janitor from the Harry Potter films. (No, really, not like I was saying Joffrey is "Draco Malfoy" just because there's a resemblance. Walder is actually played by David Bradley, the janitor from the Harry Potter films.)

At this point, it's like George is running a personal contest to determine which lord fo the realm is the biggest creep. Why would anyone want to be in charge of this place, and have to interact with all these whackadoos all day? (It's a good thing shaking hands never became a cultural practice in this culture or everyone would die of Hep C like immediately.)

Catelyn Stark goes to negotiate with Walder, so he will allow the army to cross, and he starts actually making a lot of sense. "Stark, Tully, Lannister, Baratheon… give me one good reason why I should waste a single thought on any of you." Sometimes, I gotta tell you... I feel the same way...

Catelyn eventually gets him to agree not just to allow the armies across the river, but to send along his own troops. And all she has to promise him as that Arya will marry his son and Robb will marry his daughter. They'll probably throw in sex with the Khaleesi as well, just because that seems to be part of most of these high-level Westeros coital negotiations.

Back at Castle Black, near the Wall, we find out that Jon Snow's commander is Jeor Mormont, the father of disgraced knight Jorah Mormont, who now serves the Khaleesi. Were we supposed to know that before this? Anyway, he gives Jon a sword that he was originally going to give to Jorah before the whole "slavery/disgrace the family name" thing.

In quite possibly the most dynamic scene featuring the Jon Snow character thus far, possibly because not much is required of Kit Harrington, Jon is confronted by the old blind member of the Night's Watch. This turns out to be Aemon Targaryen, the "Mad King's" brother. The two of them reflect on how difficult it is to be in the Night's Watch and no longer be allowed to fight on behalf of their families. (Aemon was hanging out at The Wall as his entire family was being purged.) Shouldn't he be a dragon or something?

Back at Camp Lannister (for Aryan kids who always pay their debts!), Tywin - just to be a dick - puts Tyrion and the Hill Folk in the vanguard, basically a death sentence. (Nice contrast here from Greatjon's angry insistence that he be put in the vanguard of Stark's army in the previous episode. We once again see how the modern Tyrion's attitudes contrast with nearly everyone else in his society.)

Tyrion spends what may be his last night of life playing drinking games with Bronn and a prostitute named Shae, played by Sibel Kekilli. (Side Note about Kekilli: She starred in the amazing 2004 German/Turkish co-production "Head-On," and if you haven't seen that film, you really really should. Also before that she was in porn. Just putting that out there.)

At Shae's insistence, Tyrion opens up about the fate of his wife. She was a prostitute Jamie Lannister had hired to play at being a rape victim, so Tyrion could swoop in and save her. After Tyrion married her, Tywin gave her to his troops to RR Martin, and made the kid watch. (OK, was starting to get worried we'd get an entire episode with just a child molestation and no rape. Go Tyrion with the last minute save.)

Back in Pentos, Drogo's wound from last episode is infected. He's dying. The rest of the Dothraki mutually agree it's pretty un-Khal-like. Khaleesi brings in the witch (or is she?) and begs her to save the Khal's life. She agrees, but it involves a forbidden blood ritual. The Dothraki try to put a stop to the use of dark magic but Jorah successfully fights them off. Then just as the Khal's horse is being slaughtered ritualistically, the Khaleesi goes into labor! Hijinks! Grab the suitcase! Get some hot water! Did you print out the directions?!?!?


You just know the baby's going to be healthy and strong because she was so careful with her diet while pregnant.

All the battles are disappointingly, but predictably, held off-screen. Robb outwitted Tywin Lannister, we hear, by allowing a scout to report back that the Starks had 20,000 men, only to divert 18,000 of them to go fight Jamie Lannister's army instead of Tywin's. So Tywin expends all of his force to rout 2,000 Stark soldiers (wonder if they heard about this plan in advance?), leaving Jamie's army exposed and easily overcome.

No worries about those 2,000 soldiers Robb just sacrificed, though, cause Theon says one day the bards will write songs about them. It'd be like telling Hurricane Carter not to worry about spending all those years in jail cause... hey... that Dylan song is aces.

Tyrion survived the battle, as did Bronn. Jamie Lannister has been captured by the Starks.

Finally, Ned is on the gallows, Sansa is standing by with the King, Arya is hiding out in the crowd, and he decides to listen to Lord Varys. Significantly, Ned casts aside his pride and the Stark family name, and pledges his loyalty to Joffrey, hoping to save his daughters by lowering himself. Joffrey has him executed anyway. The dastard!


So Episode 9 was clearly the best episode of "Game of Thrones" to date. Does it pay off all the build-up that came before? Um... a bit. I still can't shake the feeling that we've spent a lot of time setting up things that don't really matter all that much, while leaving things that it would be good to know more about to the side. (Greyjoy Family, I'm looking in your direction.)

But at the same time, it's obvious that there's just so much going on in this world, there'd be no adequate way to set everything up and still keep the show compelling as a show. I honestly do think some sort of primer or 30 minute "Introduction to the Westeros" would have been MASSIVELY helpful to air before the series premiere and then frequently thereafter.


Ned's dead, baby. Ned's dead.

We open the season finale with Lord Stark's head being held aloft above a cheering crowd, and Arya being rushed away by Yoren. (I didn't recognize him, but apparently he was introduced early in the season as the traveling recruiter for the Night's Watch.) Yoren cuts off Arya's hair and starts calling her "boy"; he's planning to disguise her and sneak her back to the North.

The Forest Woman at this point has basically adopted Bran. He's telling her about his creepy 3-eyed raven dream, and it turns out, Bran's younger brother has been having the same visions of their father in the family crypt. Cause he's dead, folks!

Catelyn and Robb Stark get the news as well, and react with seething anger and a desire for vengeance. Catelyn: "We have to get the girls back… then we'll kill them all." Oh, if only AC/DC had done the soundtrack... this would have been their time to shine.

Joffrey, meanwhile, is clearly going to be an awesome king. His first act is to torment a man who made up a funny song about him in a tavern, by having his tongue cut out. Then he tells Sansa: "As soon as you've had your blood, I'll put a son in you." Oh, I bet you say that to all the girls.

Oh, and then he takes her outside and shows her Ned's head on a spike. Pretty standard for Date #3.

Robb's generals, meanwhile, are debating who they should back as the next king in Joffrey's place. Stannis and Renly Baratheon - the dead King Robert's brothers - are discussed and dismissed. Greatjon then nominates Robb Stark for the title, starting a chant of "The King of the North!" Really? Greatjon? That guy who, just last episode, has his fingers bitten off by Robb's wolf? I guess that's politics for you. He disagrees with his "domesticated wolf" position but likes his take on the estate tax.

Catelyn and her new prisoner, Jamie Lannister, have a heart-to-heart. Jamie talks about being an atheist, and admits to pushing Bran out the window (though he won't say why, exactly.) Catelyn hits him with a rock.

Cersei, meanwhile, is with some random non-Jamie naked guy who is talking like her collaborator. "What's our next move?" and all that. Interesting that this is just being shown in passing now. Possibly Jamie is out of the picture next season and Cersei will need a new partner in crime?

The Lannisters are also debating THEIR next move after last week's humiliating defeat. It would REALLY be helpful to have a slightly better idea for the geography of the Westeros to actually follow the conversation. I have no clue where they are in relation to anyone else.

Tywin and Tyrion both agree that Joffrey having Ned killed was the wrong move, calling it "madness and stupidity." Tywin is observing that his son - who he's always dismissed as frail and useless - has a sharp, strategic mind. He decides to send Tyrion to King's Landing to serve as Hand of the King in his stead. Sadly, he's not invited to bring his new favorite prostitute, Shae, along, but he does anyway.

Khaleesi's son was stillborn, and also freakish, covered in scales and with "leather wings like a bat." (Or a DRAGON??!??!?!?!??!) Everyone's predictably blaming the blood ritual, including the witch, who now says this was the life that had to be swapped for Drogo. (What about the horse, then? He had a wife and 12 foals!) Oh, also, Drogo's technically alive of braindead, causing the Dothraki army to move on and desert them. The witch was not exactly aiming to please.

(She confesses that she ruined everything for Khaleesi on purpose, as punishment for destroying her temple. Plus the rape. But mostly the temple.)

Snow decides he's going to leave the Wall and help his family (after we in the audience see the first big battle is over, an odd dramatic choice), then turns back when confronted by his new Night's Watch friends. It's a largely uneventful plot strand for the season finale... it ends with a bunch of the Night's Watch members leaving to go venture north of the Wall, which has the promise of excitement to come in Season 2... but I'm not exactly on the edge of my seat. They couldn't have given us a bit more beyond the Wall to whet the appetite for Season 2?

More interesting is a little scene with Pycelle, the Grand Maester who's a constant presence at court, and who is bragging to a prostitute about all the various Kings he has served. We see that he's a lot more youthful and spry than he lets on, and the "doddering old man" bit is an act. Hmm...

Petyr and Varys also have a scene that's clearly meant to set up some of the events of Season 2, in which they basically compliment one another on being shadowy, duplicitous figures working behind the scenes to get what they want.  Fair enough, though it seems like a conversation that wouldn't actually happen.

Saying goodbye to Arya, we find her hiding out with a bunch of orphans heading for the Wall. So... she cut her hair slightly... and brought along her fancy sword. This is an excellent disguise.

Finally, Daenerys (no longer a Khaleesi) puts together a funeral pyre for Drogo. For good measure, she puts the dragon eggs in there, plus the shepherd witch lady. (She frees the rest of the Lhazari people.) Then, she walks into the fire herself.

In the dramatic final scene, we see her the next morning. Alive, naked and with 3 new baby dragon buddies.


What, you got a no-nudity clause for Season 2? I'm calling my agent.

This entire side of the plot - with Daenerys now feeling a real claim to the Iron Throne and possibly having the strength of will to make a play for it (plus help from dragons) - is probably the most eagerly anticipated Season 2 plotline, and arguably the only real "cliffhanger" moment in this entire finale.

The other stories are a bit more muddled. We know that the Night's Watch will proceed North of the Wall to have it out with... some kind of mortal, existential threat. But we basically knew that 5 minutes into the first episode, and that mystery hasn't really deepened since then. The enemy is such a vague menace, and has been such a background element of the show all along, it's hard to suddenly find it so threatening just because one character keeps insisting.

The war between Stark and Lannister, as well, ends on a muted note. The first major victory was the Stark's, but it has had little real-world impact. After all, Catelyn Stark has had a Lannister as a captive for most of the first season, Joffrey still has the throne, Tywin seems as intractable a foe as ever...

Also, because so much of the landscape, and the strategic victories that would have to be won to truly take control of the Seven Kingdoms, remain unknown, I have no concept of how this war will develop. Are there more rivers to cross and lords to negotiate with? Do the Tullys need to be involved? Other families? Other warlords and tribes? Who at King's Landing must be turned in order to win control of the government? I'm sure there are answers to these questions, but I'm not even sure which are the right questions.

I will say this: The show's willingness to kill anyone and everyone, seemingly at random, in order to keep viewers guessing is admirable. After watching this entire season, I legitimately feel like anyone could be killed in any episode, which is a much more realistic way to approach a scenario like this than in most TV shows, where you can be relatively certain the most likeable characters and main characters will be okay. (Imagine if Tony had died in the second-to-last episode of the first "Sopranos" season. Or if the first season of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" involved Richard Lewis being gored to death in a boar hunt. That would be a totally different show!)

But the final verdict on my revisiting of "Game of Thrones"? I have a clearer idea for why people liked it, and now that I've really done the hard work of watching this season attentively and following up on characters and plotlines that confused me... I'm duly sucked in and will have no choice but to watch Season 2. You win, Internet. You always win.

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Friday, October 21, 2011

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

I'm going to need closure on this...

Game of Thrones Season 1: Episodes 6-7 Review

Back again with a double header of "Game of Thrones" reviews as we now inch ever closer to the dramatic close of the first season. Am I finally being won over to Team Stark, embracing the sometimes overwhelming Westeros Universe and letting go of my petty "this is basically just softcore with more piping hot alloys being melted over main characters' faces" complaints? Let's find out...


As you'll recall from Episode 5 (or at the very least, my recap of Episode 5), Ned was stabbed in the leg by one of Jamie Lannister's personal soldiers. Now we cut to him convalescing in bed, only to find both the King and Queen staring him down. Cersei is still feeling vindictive over Lady Stark's arrest of her brother Tyrion, but King Robert feels more sympathetic towards Ned and, before all is said and done, he gives the Queen a good smack. (Hey, he apologizes later for being "not kingly"! That's about as good as you're likely to get from this guy, ladies.)

Anyway, there's some genuinely well-written dialogue here between Ned and the King. For the first time, we're starting to understand just how dependent Robert's entire reign is on his wife's family and their wealth. He's massively indebted to the Lannisters; he has no choice but to keep them happy or risk losing his throne. He's practically begging Ned to have Tyrion released, but disguises it with his usual bluster. ("I'm the king. I get what I want.") Anyway, Mark Addy plays it just right, and it works.

Switching over to Vaes Dothrak, the Khaleesi is again obsessing over her family's ancestral dragon eggs. This time, she's resting them on some hot coals. (I guess she really is tired of eating horse meat!) When she's able to pick up the flaming-hot dragon eggs without burning her hands, it becomes clear that... I'm not sure... she's somehow connected with the dragons? Like Harry Potter with snakes? I'm sure this is going somewhere, but it sure has been a long time developing this "the blonde lady really likes preserved fetal dragons" sub-plot with not much payoff so far. (OK, OK, it does get paid off later in this very episode, but I didn't know that while I was watching it, you guys.)


We're going to need an assload of Tapatio. And maybe some shredded cheese.

Back in Winterfell, Bran Stark yet again dreams of that creepy three-eyed crow. This time, in his dream, it's perched atop the head of a wolf statue. This seems like a bad omen, what with the dire wolf being the symbol of the Stark Family and all. I mean, sure, I'm making a leap here and assuming that a three-eyed crow is a BAD omen rather than a happy omen. (The whole "third eye vision" thing suggests that we're seeing an omen of SOME kind.) Maybe it's a happy crow - like one of those racist crows from "Dumbo" - and it's just coming around to cheer Bran up. This is high fantasy... George RR can do whatever the fuck he wants!

Anyway, Bran tries out the special saddle Tyrion suggested, and it works beautifully. But it does lead him into the forest where he's set upon by creepy forest people. His older brother Robb attempts a rescue but it doesn't come off so well, and it eventually falls to Theon Greyjoy (who secretly hates the Starks and has been pulling for a Stark/Lannister conflict) to save the day. He does, and wants to kill the last remaining woman from the Forest People group... but Robb stops him.

(As an aside, I didn't have to learn Robb Stark's name or anything about him until this episode. Up until now, I've been calling him Stark Jr. in my notes and I never had to actually look it up. It's Episode 6.)

Back at King's Landing, Arya has another swordfighting lesson with Father Guido... uh, her swordfighting instructor who is not at all a crude-a Italian stereotype-a. The Situation of Swashbuckling is full of little gems of wisdom like "There is only one God, and his name is Death." Which is all well and good, but Bill O'Reilly would argue that still doesn't explain the tides going in and out.

Back in Vaes Dothrak, the Khaleesi is performing some kind of weird pregnancy ritual that involves eating - and not throwing up - an entire horse's heart. Which is every bit at unpleasant as it sounds. Plus it comes with a site of bleu cheese fries, and those are so good that you can't eat just one, even if you also had an entire horse's heart. Khaleesi keeps it all down, once again proving that she is kind of a badass. She also decides during the ceremony that her baby will be named Rhaego, which is a shame, because Buster Khal really does have a nice ring to it.

Viserys, clearly growing concerned about his tenuous position with the Dothraki, makes the case to Mormont that the baby won't be "a real Targaryan." (It's totally not going to be invited to play on the softball team at the family reunion next month. )

Viserys is also trying to make a case for stealing the dragon eggs, and offers Mormont his sister's sexual favors in exchange for letting him escape with them. This is basically Viserys' only currency. He doesn't believe in paper money or coinage at all. Just offers of sex somewhere down the road with his sister. It makes going to the market a considerably more awkward task, especially on double coupon day. Mormont refuses the generous offer.

Back at the castle of Lady Stark's creepy sister, Lysa Arryn, Tyrion Lannister is being held in a "sky cell," of which he's not a huge fan. To get inside, he claims to want to confess, but ends up just telling disgusting stories instead and making a mockery of the proceedings. (That rogue!)

Next comes, honestly, one of the silliest scenes I can recall seeing in an otherwise dramatic series. Tyrion argues that he wants a Trial by Combat, which I guess means he gets to just fight someone and if he wins, he's innocent. But then, he argues that he should be allowed to pick someone else to fight on his behalf, to which Lysa agrees. Really? She agrees to letting him order some other guy to fight for him, and if that guy wins, he gets set free? If the goal was just to get a bunch of strangers to kill each other for no good reason, then yes, I'd say this is a perfect way to dispense with justice.

But if the goal is actually to figure out if someone is guilty of something, and maybe prevent them from doing the same thing over again with impunity... then this won't do at all. Why even hold a trial if you're willing to just replace the outcome with random strangers trying to kill each other?

Honestly, this whole bit just feels like the writers were in a corner and needed a way to get Tyrion Lannister out of this situation, so they invented a legal code that proceeds about as orderly and rational as a game of Calvinball. Anyway, Tyrion's champion wins the fight and thus, he walks, which is the sort of thing that probably happens all the time in this universe.

Next, we're back at King's Landing where a whole string of fairly confusing things happens all at once, and I had to look up what was going on just to be able to write a summary.

Basically, Ned fills in for the King at court, while the King is out on a hunt. Ned hears a grievance against Ser Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane (the big guy who fought with his brother at the tournament in Episode 5), who has apparently been attacking villages we've never seen before. Through research online, I was able to piece together that Ser Gregor is loyal to Tywin Lannister, the father of all these other Lannisters that have populated the show, and Gregor's attacking these places (called "The Riverlands") in retaliation for Tyrion's arrest by Lady Stark.

I'd argue there is no possible way anyone could have put this together just from the material as presented in this episode. It all is described too quickly and the references are all to obscure things never depicted previously on screen.


This guy is Ser Gregor! You might remember him from that ONE OTHER TIME we've seen him, in the whole show, when probably someone might say his name aloud I bet!

Anyway, Ned orders him stripped of all his titles and property and orders him brought in to face justice. This seems to be playing in to what everyone wants, which is for the Lannisters and Starks to fight it out, thus creating a vacuum on the throne that someone else can come in and fill. But who knows... maybe Ned has another plan in mind.

We get a scene where Prince Joffrey goes to Sansa Stark to apologize for his behavior up until now and give her some jewelry. This interaction would be almost sweet if they weren't already established as the two worst people in the world.

Speaking of horrible people, we cut back to Theon briefly, who's seeing his favorite prostitute leave him en route to King's Landing. He gives her a coin to see her vagina one last time. This is romantic by "Game of Thrones" standards.

Back in King's Landing, Ned studies the lineages of all the great houses of the Westeros, focusing his attention on the King's House, Baratheon. (This book seems handy. They should really give out a copy to everyone who subscribes to HBO.) He then notices that... wait for it... all the Baratheons have BLACK hair. And Prince Joffrey has BLONDE hair, which apparently he never noticed before. So this means Joffrey ISN'T ROBERT'S REAL SON!

This is, without a doubt, the dumbest scene in the show so far. It make the "I want that random guy to fight for my innocence" bit feel like "Inherit the Wind" in comparison. No one ever noticed before that Joffrey was the only one in the family with blonde hair? ROBERT, his supposed father, who obsessed over maintaining his family's hold on the throne, hadn't picked up on it? No one thought anything of it until Ned got this book out?

The episode ends with Khal Drogo holding a feast in honor of the Khaleesi, which Viserys interrupts, drunk. Worst of all, Viserys openly threatens young Rhaego. Drogo reacts the only way he possibly could, by coating Viserys with molten gold, killing him in the most ghastly manner imaginable. Khaleesi looks on, coldly... "He was no dragon."

See? Now it makes sense why she has the dragon eggs and can hold them and stuff. She... is a dragon? Hang on, I think I missed something...


We get our first look here at Papa Lannister, played by Charles Dance, whom acute film fans will remember from his roles in classics like "Alien 3," "Ali G In Da House," "Scoop" and "Last Action Hero." Yeah, he's really in all of those. When we first see him, he's gutting a stag. Is this symbolism, because the stag is the symbol of House Baratheon? Or is it just gross to be gross? You decide.

Tywin's giving what is, by now, such a recognizable "Game of Thrones" stump speech, they really don't even need to bother writing them any more. Just have a chime go off and we'll imagine someone talking about how individual lives don't matter, but it's the family name that lives on. We also gather from this discussion that, even before the grisly events of Episode 6, the Targaryans were seen as a "nothing house." The whole system is really starting to remind me of college fraternities. ("So, you guys pledging Tully House?")

Ned and the Queen have a real heart-to-heart following his blonde hair/black hair revelation. (Seriously... still not over what a stupid plot device this is. Does the entire kingdom have a learning disorder?)

The truth finally comes out... Jamie and Cersei Lannister are brother and sister, but they have sex to preserve the purity of the family bloodline (and, let's be honest, because they dig it.) Prince Joffrey is their child, not Robert's. Cersei also gets in some taunts at Ned, implying that, following the death of the Mad King, he had a chance to take the throne and passed on it. She explains: "When you play the Game of Thrones, you win or you die." Hey, that's the title of this show!


It honestly doesn't look all that comfortable. You think, if you sit down wrong, one of the points of those swords might poke you in the ass?

We cut to the brothel of Petyr Baelish, where he's giving seduction lessons to two naked prostitutes in a scene that clearly has a great deal of relevance to the main plot and isn't at all gratuitous. We do get a little backstory mixed in with all the candelit sideboob. Petyr was in love with Lady Stark, but she had put him firmly in the Friend Zone, opting instead for Ned Stark's brother. When Ned's brother died, she jumped beds and ended up with Ned himself. And now Petyr's the Medieval version of butthurt about it.

Next we get another terribly silly scene in which Theon Greyjoy hangs out with the mysterious woman who attacked Bran in the woods. She refers to the northern home of the Starks as "the south," and claims to be from north of the wall. She also fails to understand the traditional concept of "lordship" and together, they re-enact the "Constitutional Peasant" sketch from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail." But taking it all SUPER seriously.

"Ooh, Theon, there's some lovely filth down here!"

Also, big surprise, forest woman brings news from north of the wall that there is an evil there that was sleeping but has now awoken. No duh. They've been saying that since Episode 1, lady. Where you been?

Meanwhile, the King has been mortally wounded by a boar during the hunt. He appoints Stark as Lord Regent to rule in his stead until Joffrey's old enough to become king. Acting quickly, Stark puts "rightful heir" on the document instead of Joffrey's name, thinking that he can resolve the situation without having to tell Robert the boy isn't his. Poor dumb Robert signs without reading. He also tells Ned not to have the Khaleesi and her baby killed, and asks him to train Joffrey to be a better man. Then, dead.

Up at the Wall, Jon Snow was hoping to be named a Ranger, which is really what you want to be, but instead he's made a steward. This is basically dooming him to a life of servitude, where he will be a ranger's squire. He's clearly depressed and humiliated by this turn of events - it's the Night's Watch version of being put into Hufflepuff.

Back at King's Landing, now we're concerned with who will ascend to the throne in Robert's place. There's a lot of talk all of the sudden about a guy named Stannis Baratheon, who has not been shown yet, but who is apparently next in line for the throne. The King's other brother, Renly Baratheon, asks to be put in charge until Stannis can be located, but Ned doesn't go for it.

Petyr also makes his play for power, arguing that Ned should take the crown for himself, and kill Joffrey when the boy comes of age.

Back in Vaes Dothrak, we see an assassin posing as a wine merchant, trying to poison the Khaleesi but failing miserably. Drogo, incensed by this attempt on his beloved's life, now finally seems convinced and decides to make a play for the Iron Throne. He also promises to rape a bunch of women in front of his wife, which is certainly a big thing to just throw out there.

But before any of these other people can throw their hat in the ring, Joffrey jumps the gun and has himself declared king. He and his mother demand fealty from Stark, who refuses, thinking he has the palace guard on his side. But alas, it appears that Petyr has double-crossed him. And... SCENE!

Things are certainly heating up a bit here, as we're now starting to see how the actual power play for the throne might come together. Sure, it's a bit convenient that Robert just happened to get gored by a boar right at this moment when all the other situations with other potential monarchs was just coming to a head... but I'm willing to forgive that, if only because things are finally starting to HAPPEN. With 3 episodes left, there may be hope for this show yet... goofy missteps and all.

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Thoughts on the "Walking Dead" premiere

Tonight is the second season debut of the AMC zombie series "The Walking Dead." I got a chance to see the first two episodes of the season a few weeks back (yes, legally... a friend loaned me an advance screener...)

Some quick thoughts:

The show is exceedingly well-made. The art direction, make-up effects, music, cinematography... all top drawer, pretty much as good as anyone can reasonably expect from a TV series. You can't really tell this wasn't made for, say, HBO, except in the general reluctance to impressive sets or crowd scenes. But the show is deft enough in how it develops to distract from that.

Here's my issue, and it's less a problem with the show "The Walking Dead," I suppose, than with horror TV in general. The story doesn't ever go anywhere. The basic premise of "Walking Dead" - the episode-to-episode plot arcs - has remained completely unchanged since the first episode. Honestly, I don't even need to put a spoiler warning on this review (not that I'd summarize what actually happens specifically in this episode regardless.) It's still about a group of survivors of a zombie apocalypse who have banded together for the common defense even though there are lots of little personality clashes and conflicts along the way.

These people are essentially wandering around aimlessly, and the show has by now fallen into a rhythm that's considerably, noticeably repetitive. And it's starting to impact my enjoyment of the series. The group wanders around, thinks they come up with a good idea for a new location to settle, they head there, run into trouble along the way, stop and make friends with a new group, then get attacked and watch a few people - particularly their new friends - get picked off. These cycles take about 2 episodes or so, usually, to play out before we're on to the next destination.


The character development and interpersonal relationships on the show have utterly stagnated. We've got the same weak love triangle playing out as always, and then the sort of forgettable "we should hold up here vs. we should go take the fight to them" arguments you'd see in any zombie genre film. Over and over again.

I don't mean to sound churlish. I get that people just love seeing well-executed scenes of zombies attacking and killing people, and "Walking Dead" has at least 1 or 2 of those per episode. And that's enough. And yes, I do prefer it to a good many shows on television right now, and like the atmosphere and zombie effects enough to stick with it. But in terms of being compelling - "appointment TV," as they used to say - the show doesn't even remotely compare to the best dramatic series of TV, many of which surround it on AMC's schedule. (Can't be easy to draw immediate comparisons to "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," in my opinion the two best contemporary series on television.) It's good at being a zombie show. But so far, that's about it.

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 1: Episodes 3-5 Review: The Catchupening

After vowing I'd return to blogging regularly and catch up on all of Season 1 of HBO's epic fantasy smash hit "Game of Thrones"... I completely got distracted and dropped the ball.

Here's what I discovered. When watching a certain TV show entails writing copious notes along with it, and watching other TV shows entails staring ahead blankly and eating 8-12 cookies... I will usually watch that second show.

BUT I'M BACK! Sheer mental fortitude and gritty determination have urged me to push on and complete my task. I may even only eat 5 cookies while I'm writing. Because I'm in control here, people.

What I am going do to make things easier on myself is condense the project a bit. Rather than writing blog posts roughly the length and scale of a Dostoyevsky novel about each episode, I'll write a bit less and push through a few episodes at a time until we're all caught up.


The third episode opens with Ned Stark arriving in the capital to serve as the King's Hand, and meeting immediately with the king's inner circle. As is the show's custom, we get a BIG chunk of backstory all at once here, and considering how important all of these characters and their various positions of power will become in the rest of this episode and the next, it's weird that we speed through the introductions so quickly. If this first scene with them had been a bit more patient at revealing who these guys were, I think I'd have enjoyed a lot of subsequent encounters with them more.

A prime example is Aidan Gillen as Petyr Baelish, a guy who has a big role to play in Season 1 and who also really looks a lot like an older, Medieval version of Cameron from "Ferris Bueller."


Pardon my French, Prince Joffrey, but you're an asshole!

The gist of it is this: The King is an idiot and has bankrupted the kingdom through a series of needless, self-aggrandizing extravagances. This includes a tournament he wants to hold in honor of Ned Stark's appointment as his Hand. Like I said, kind of an idiot, this king.

Meanwhile, the Queen and her son, Prince Joffrey (who continues to look a lot like Draco Malfoy) have a heart-to-heart. He's feeling bad about being a big weenie and getting attacked by his girlfriend's pet wolf, you see. But the Queen assures him that he's got to focus on more long-term evil, like revenging his enemies once he becomes king, rather than petty short-term evil. It's sort of a super-villain pep talk, and it's all a bit much; the whole scene feels like it was written with a sledgehammer, or that it's made up of lines originally written for Sith to say in a "Clone Wars" episode. I know were contrasting the effete, elitist, entitled Lannisters with the noble, hardy Starks but this is over the top. They already killed the little girl's pet just last episode... They suck ass. We get it.

Jon (the "Lord Snow" of the episode's title) and Tyrion Lannister arrive at the great Northern Wall - with Jon staying on permanently as a member of the Night's Watch, and Tyrion basically stopping by out of curiosity. They get an earful from the First Ranger about the intense, spooky dangers on the other side and the importance of the enlisted men's commitment. The very first scene in the series, located on the other side of the wall, was definitely one of the most exciting thus far, so I get why they wanted to keep it where they did... but I can't shake the feeling that it kind of spoils scenes like these a bit. We in the audience already know the First Ranger is at least somewhat correct - there definitely do seem to be monsters in them thar forests. It's still an above-average scene just because (now Emmy-winner) Dinklage is so great as Tyrion and brings a bit of personality to a show that can sometimes be very dry. But there's not a lot of actual tension in this debate; we've already seen the White Walkers. They exist, unless the show was blatantly deceiving us. Which wouldn't be very nice.

We cut to the Dothraki Army marching along and find that the Khaleesi has become preggers, which seems pretty quick, but hey... they were making eye contact during sex... So what did you expect? We discover this information in the course of a long, drawn out conversation about how the Khaleesi shouldn't have to eat horse meat, as is the tribe's custom. Which sounds unpleasant, but some fresh tomato, maybe a couple avocado slices... not terrible. It helps to distract yourself by staring longingly at some dragon eggs while you eat it, though.

This episode also FINALLY gives us some insight into exactly how seasons work in the "Game of Thrones" universe. Up until now, we've heard vague discussions of how "winter is coming" (and believe me, there's yet more of that this time around), but now we actually get a sense for the unpredictable nature of this world's climate, as seasons can last a short while or extend to years, even decades. Kind of a... <sunglasses>... chilling notion.


Episode 4 is significant in these blog posts, because it is the last episode I watched the first time around. After this, we're in unexplored territory, people. Savor the moment.

The episode opens with young Bran Stark having a dream in which he sees a crow with 3 eyes. So... that happens. As with most HBO series, dream sequences seem to be a chance for the director to kind of show off and give us a weird, creepy moment that will look good in the commercials for the show's latest season. It's moderately effective here.

Next up, we get a lot of backstory all at once about a character I had previously assumed was, in fact, a member of the Stark family. Wikipedia tells me that this is Theon Greyjoy, whose family tried to rebel against the Starks and who is now a servant in their house.

This is a PRIME GRADE-A EXAMPLE of what's wrong with "Game of Thrones," people. We start the show getting occasional glimpses of this guy, but not even enough to get a sense for who he is, and certainly not enough to learn his name. Then we're expected to follow a conversation other characters are having about his FATHER, and to connect that to the original person, all without seeing him for more than a moment? Why should I care about his father when I don't even know who he is? I know there's a lot of characters but surely they can do better than this.


You're certain we've met before? Are you the kid who looks like Draco Malfoy, grown up and dying your hair brown now, maybe in an attempt to look less like Draco Malfoy? You're sure?

We cut to Jon Snow now in training at the Northern Wall. In a bit seemingly inspired by "Full Metal Jacket," he takes an overweight fuck-up under his wing and defends him from his abusive cohorts and commanders. Again, not sure if this is a failure of the writing or Kit Harrington's performance, but I feel like we get very little insight into who Jon Snow is or what his motivates are for acting this way. Does he take pity on this kid? And why? (The guy is so pathetic, it's near impossible for even the audience to root for him.) It certainly doesn't SEEM like Snow sympathizes, and yet we intuit that he must because he's behaving that way. But I want to see him care, not just go through the motions. It's like we're waiting to find out his REAL motivation but it never comes.

Now across the sea, where the Dothraki army returns to their capital city, Vaes Dothrak. The little snot Viserys, who apparently thought he was marrying his sister into a race of Beaux Arts-inspired architects, rather than barbaric horsemen, expresses his disappointment, reminding us again that he's a little snot.

We also get some backstory about Jorah Mormont, who has been advising Viserys and the Khaleesi and we know learn was a knight exiled by Ned Stark for selling slaves. (As one does...) He continues to worry, as we have heard before, that the Dothraki will refuse to cross the sea. Got to wonder if this is going to be an issue down the road... <reaches for sledgehammer>

Then Viserys has an almost human moment with the prostitute who also serves as the Khaleesi's lady in waiting, and who is apparently really turned on by dragons. The show is now at least 2/3rds of the way to making Viserys an almost mildly sympathetic character, but then has to go ruin it by being randomly cruel and evil. Ooohhhh, you guys were so close to three dimensions! It was RIGHT THERE!

Back at court, there's a lot of intrigue surrounding the death of the PREVIOUS guy who had Ned Stark's job, Jon Arryn. It's confirmed that King Robert has a bastard son who is now working as a blacksmith, and Arryn may have had to die because he discovered this secret potential heir.

OK, I'm calling it. This episode is officially a slog. The story is totally DOA, especially as it pertains to the Jon Arryn mystery, which is totally obscure and concerns a bunch of characters we haven't even seen before. Plus, the council is obsessed with a tournament that sounds awesome but that we see none of, and every conversation is pure backstory. (There's even more random chatter about Theon Greyjoy awkwardly shoehorned in in the episode's second half.) This is precisely why I tuned out. 6 month ago Lon, I take back everything bad I've said about you.

The episode ends with its best moment, Lady Stark having Tyrion arrested, believing that he hired the assassin who tried to take Bran's life. It's a good scene, an example of how women can wield power in this world. (A theme for the whole episode really, which is about how women can negotiate with and turn the world of knights and soldiers.)

We need more like this, giving us a shorthand understanding of this world in a way that's exciting as well as informative. I'm pressing forward this time, and really really hoping things pick up from here...


First observation here: We really get no sense for what the king actually does, and the method in which he actually governs his kingdom. The only thing we've yet actually seen him do is boss people around in his immediate circle. We get no real sense for his power. Seeing as the entire series revolves around everyone wanting to be King, you'd hope there was more to it than just a license to be a drunken, womanizing boor. Perhaps that really is the gist of it. Each kingdom only has the wealth to provide one man at a time with the drunken, womanizing boor lifestlye, and King is it, so everyone wants to be that. (No, wait, Tyrion also lives that lifestyle and he's just the Queen's brother. So never mind.)

We finally get an actual look at the tournament that we've heard discussed repeatedly by the council in full-on "Civilization" mode.


"Sire, a tournament would raise the citizen's happiness level, but we'd have to raise taxes to fill the treasury. What would you like to do?"

Two brothers fight after one of them slays one of the competitors' horses and goes after him, but the king puts an end to it. Can't have something exciting happen, after all. It might interrupt the backstory! (Oh, I'm kidding around with the "Game of Thrones"! Ha ha, we've having fun!)

We see Lady Stark on the road with her new prisoner, Tyrion Lannister, and it's basically made clear that everyone already thinks he's innocent. Later, Bran Stark - back in Winterfell - is getting a lesson in all the different Houses of the kingdom. Normally, I'd whine about this being YET MORE backstory, but this was actually quite helpful and fills in a lot of gaps that were troubling me up until this point. We also find out that Lady Stark was a Tully. Where have the Tullys been all this time? They're like the Hufflepuffs of Westeros.

Also we've got to catch up with Theon Greyjoy, who now appears to be a main character by a force of sheer will. He's bragging about his family to a prostitute and it's clear that this character is, yet again, an angry egomaniacal narcissist obsessed with his family's name and honor. Seemingly the only kind of character Mr. R. R. Martin cares to write, at least judging from this adaptation. It's all kind of tiresome. Tyrion is essentially the only male character who doesn't spew this hateful claptrap whenever the script gives him an opening. By embracing that character so whole-heartedly, aren't audiences basically saying they find the rest of the series' male characters to be charmless oafs?

Next we get a lot of intrigue at the King's Court, most of it having to do with Lord Varys (or the bald eunuch guy, as I have come to know him). Check out this guy's typical day:

- First, he tells Ned that the person who killed Jon Arryn also hopes to poison the king, and it could be Ser Hugh.

- Then Arya Stark also overhears Varys speaking with Illyrio Mopatis about a plot against the King, counting on an upcoming war for power between the Starks and Lannisters. Dun dun duuuuunnnnnn.

- WE ALSO learn that Varys knows about Petyr Baelish's illegal brothel in town.

- PLUS Varys then returns to the King's council to ensure that King Robert pushes for war against the Targaryans, whom he knows have a new baby and heir on the way uniting their family with the Dothrakis.

Basically, it's a busy afternoon. But he has no genitals! So there are few distractions.

Ned's so disgusted with the goings-on, he quits his position as Hand. King Robert is not pleased.

We then follow Lady Stark as she brings her prisoner, Tyrion, to her sister Lisa's castle. Lisa, it turns out, is crazy now, which we discover when she starts breastfeeding her grown son. (Say it with me now: "As one does...") Tyrion is locked in the high tower, which is realized in a very pretty, cinematic manner. (Maybe the most visually pleasing sequence in the show thus far, honestly.)

We then meet up with the Knight of the Flowers (whose exploits we followed at the tournament) to discover that he has a gay lover - whom he's in the process of shaving - with a reasonable claim to the throne. (He's 4th in line, apparently.) The scene ends with the Knight of the Flowers telling his beloved "you would be a wonderful king" before giving an implied (though off-screen) blowjob with realistic sound effects. I think we can all agree that all oral sex should really begin this way.

We get a nice scene with King Robert and Queen Cersei looking back and coldly summing up their miserable, failed marriage. It's well-written, and Eddy does a nice job, though Lena Headey plays the entire scene with one arched eyebrow, and it gets SUPER distracting. She's giving probably my second-least favorite performance thus far, after Kit Harrington as the laconic Jon Snow.

Finally, Jaime Lannister ambushes Ned Stark, killing all his men. One of Lannister's soldiers stabs Ned in the leg with a spear, injuring him but leaving him alive. Jaime then punches the guy out and we fade out.

Overall, this was an above-average episode with some really nice moments. (Everything at Lisa's castle with her creepy son was solid. Nice to see characters behaving in ways that are unpredictable, mixing up all the more heavy, droning "Winter is Coming" tone of the rest of the show. Still, we're halfway through the season by now... really feels like things should be picking up at a faster clip, certainly by Episodes 6 or 7.

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 1: Episode 2: "The Kingsroad" review

We're back for the second installment of my return to the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, watching all of Season 1 of "Game of Thrones" and seeing if I can figure out why it worked for so many people but not me. At least, not me the first time around. (If you missed the introduce and the review of the pilot, they're both right here.) Once again, I would be remiss if I did not include a spoiler warning:

WARNING: I fully intend to spoil each episode along the way as I go. This blog is designed for people who have (1) seen "Game of Thrones" Season 1 already or (2) intend to watch along with me as I go. So from now on, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

OK, on with Episode 2, "The Kingsroad," which on the whole, I found much more interesting and dramatically satisfying than the first episode. It's, naturally, still bogged down with exposition and backstory, and I noticed something else about the way the show handles all the odds and ends and details that fill in the corners of George R. R. Martin's world: It's clunky.

To put it another way, the show is obvious and sort of plodding about getting as much of the history and custom of this place in to each hour-long episode as possible. Worse yet, for all the copious detail that gets brought up and explained during the episodes, there's a ton of vital information that's simply left out. This is one of the first series I've seen that absolutely requires Wikipedia to follow everything, unless you have already read and digested the source material. (But don't read TOO MUCH Wikipedia, as there's spoilers-a-plenty.) Even the OPENING CREDIT SEQUENCE is complicated and requires some backstory.

I know this is high fantasy and the crazy worldbuilding detail is part of the charm... but the show sort of had to choose between just being dull for those unfamiliar with the world but faithful to the books, or disappointing hardcore Martin fans but keeping us n00bs in the loop. It's pretty obvious which decision was made.

The episode itself begins with the Dothraki horde on the move. I now know they're headed for their hometown of Vaes Dothrak, but it's not very well established where they're going at this point, and I only know their final destination because I'm a few episodes ahead of this by now. The new Queen (known as a Khaleesi) is still a bit sore - literally and figuratively - after the whole "being sold by her brother into sexual slavery and then repeatedly raped by a guy who looks like The Rock starring in 'Aladdin on Ice'" thing. What a Drama Khaleesi she is.

Beginning with this episode, it starts to become clear that the show is kind of getting off on watching this fair-haired, very pretty actress being repeatedly raped on camera. The plot excuse is that she begins to distance herself from the experience by fantasizing about dragons, leading to a conversation about dragons with her new lady-in-waiting, Doreah (Roxanne McKee), who just happens to be a former prostitute. Hence, Khaleesi learns to better please her new husband, thus encouraging him to treat her more tenderly, like a wife, rather than a slave. Symbolized by turning her around to look at her during sex, and also by buying Raisin Bran at the local Horde Mart, even though he personally prefers Frosted Flakes.


Some dragon eggs, a little butter, maybe a piece of rye toast or something... Not bad. Just because we're riding with a barbarian horde doesn't make us SAVAGES.

The subtext here is genuinely creepy, and not particularly sexy at all, though the scenario unfolds with the sort of dewy, overripe premium cable eroticism you'd expect from a title like "The Busty Cops Go Hawaiian Part 3." At least the sex scenes from this point on (at least, as far as this couple goes) can get away from the ickiness of Emilia Clarke being tormented and softly weeping, which was kind of killing my buzz.

But it's not all braids and dragon eggs and abrupt doggy style-to-missionary conversions in "The Kingsroad." This is also the episode where Peter Dinklage's Tyrion Lannister, the cynical, blunt dwarf brother of Queen Cersei, became everyone's favorite character, providing a sardonic and significantly more modern take on the events than the rest of the stuffy, defiantly Medieval-minded characters.

We find out early on that Bran, the youngest Stark who was shoved out an open window at the end of the previous episode, has lived, though he will most likely never walk again. The Queen - whose twin brother/lover was responsible for the crippling - shows up at the boy's bedside to offer her condolences, and actually seems to reveal a bit of genuine grief over her own lost child to Lady Stark. It's arguably the most interesting scene in the entire series to this point, because we know enough about the scenario and the characters to start asking questions and thinking more deeply about the subtext and the character's motives. Is the Queen genuinely opening up to Lady Stark, mother-to-mother, or is this all a fake show of sympathy to deflect any suspicions that she might be responsible? Is she just using it as a pretext to start a conversation, and get more information about what the boy remembers and what exactly he saw? Usually, I'm too busy trying to connect all the pieces and figure out who's who to even look for this kind of thing, so it's refreshing to get a scene that plays more straight-ahead as drama and less like a history lesson about a fake universe.

There's also an fun sequence in which Ned and King Robert first learn about the unification of the House of Targaryen with the Dothraki horsemen, and debate the severity of the threat to the throne. One peculiar bit of dialogue, though... Just as the two finish discussing the threat that may be growing across the Narrow Sea, the King says “There’s a war coming, Ned. I don’t know when, and I don’t know who we’ll be fighting, but it’s coming.” Which is odd because they've only really been discussing ONE threat this whole time. From the Targaryens, who still feel they have a justifiable claim to the throne and who now have the power of a massive army on horseback on their side. Why would The King feel the need to add in another bit about not knowing who he's going to be fighting?

Meanwhile, Jon Snow - the bastard son of Ned Stark - is preparing to head off to The Wall to dedicate the rest of his life to protecting the Seven Kingdoms from the monsters that live on the other side. Snow is arguably the series protagonist, and yet I find it hard to really take a strong interest in his fate. He's not really COMPELLING, and though it's not entirely the fault of actor Kit Harington, he's not really helping matters. The character, after two full episodes, remains almost entirely defined by his bastardy. He doesn't have much of an inner life. Other characters will occasionally challenge him about his decision-making, and he always demurs. I sense this was meant to express his mysterious, unknowable nature, but it comes off like he doesn't know why he's doing what he does, and just isn't particularly introspective. (In future episodes, this trend continues, and he basically seems to act heroic at times because it is required of him due to his role in the story, not because he's actually brave or heroic by nature.)


Needs no education nor thought control.

Finally, this episode makes the case both for and against the whole "give a wild dire wolf as a gift to each Stark child" scheme from Episode 1. When young Arya Stark and her commoner friend are play-fighting with wooden swords, the foppish Prince Joffrey decides to teach them a lesson and ends up getting mauled by one of the aforementioned wolves, only to see the beast escape and its brother executed for its crimes. Oooooh, that Prince Joffrey! So, anyway, one anti-wolf point. But then, an assassin attacks Lady Stark and tries to kill young Bran, before being thwarted (and gruesomely murdered) by another wolf. So, one point in favor. The jury's still out on this particular parenting maneuver.

So, all in all, a far superior effort to Episode 1, but I don't know... I remain unconvinced. There's far more incident and dramatic heft this time around, which makes the proceedings far more entertaining. But I'm still not really loving any of the characters, save possibly the witty Tyrion Lannister. Even the Arya Stark character - who's played in lively, spirited fashion by Maisie Williams and who clearly is one of the more likable characters in the novels - comes off as more of a "type" (the headstrong girl who wants to be a hero, not a wife) than a three-dimensional person.

I will naturally continue to press on, but I was really hoping this episode would sell me on the show this second time around, as I remember it being the highlight of my initial "Game of Thrones" experience. We shall soon find out...

Posted via email from Lon Harris

Monday, August 29, 2011

Game of Thrones Season 1: Intro and "Winter is Coming" review

HBO's "Game of Thrones" debuted to great acclaim and excitement from the critical and online nerd communities this past Spring. I was one of the few people I knew who gave it a try and didn't really enjoy it.

But let's back up...

I'm a casual fan of fantasy, as a genre, but had not read the George R. R. Martin novels upon which the show is based. It's not from a lack of familiarity. I spent many years working in book stores and would come across the "Song of Ice and Fire" novels from time to time. But like Robert Jordan's "Wheel of Time" series, I always kind of dismissed these books as sub-Tolkein rip-offs that weren't worth the serious commitment it would take to read a full cycle of 6+ lengthy novels. Of course, that was many years ago and I'm perfectly willing to admit that it was wrong to judge books by their covers (although it works more often than not.) Anyway, I awaited the TV adaptation with great anticipation.

[Quick backstory for young people: Once there were places called book stores that primarily existed to give homeless people a convenient place to use the restroom. They also provided coffee and terrible scones and occasionally would sell people physical, bound versions of e-books that they could lug around with them. Weird, right?]

ANYWAY, I got about 4 episodes in to "Game of Thrones" during its initial HBO run before tossing down the remote and declaring, aloud, "That's it! I'm out!" It was progressing, I felt, at an excruciatingly slow clip. I can be a very patient TV viewer when I feel like a show is earning my attention. Many of my favorite series take a "slow burn" approach, particularly in early episodes. But "Game of Thrones," to me, felt like the Tristram Shandy of episodic television. Obsessed with world-building and lineages and backstory, uninterested in moving any of its various plot strands forward.

At times, I'll also admit to feeling kind of embarrassed to be watching this with my girlfriend around. Every time she'd enter the room, there would be some glossy, lovingly-shot Aryan nudity. It was like I had just recorded 48 solid hours of some white supremacist offshoot of Cinemax and was purposefully watching it only in mixed company. I'm not prudish by nature, but the sex and nakedness in "Game of Thrones" felt prurient, and even a bit trashy. Like when Penn and Teller randomly invite naked women to the "Bullshit" set and then spend an entire 4 minute segment celebrating the fact that Showtime lets them get away with standing next to naked women. But less tasteful.

After I had already given up the show and missed a few weeks of episodes, I discovered that nearly everyone I knew whose televiewing tastes I respected was loving the show. "You should have stuck with it" was a common refrain. As was "I can't believe you didn't like this! What's wrong with you!" I would have suggested "How can you possibly defend making time for 'Jersey Shore' every week but not giving 'Game of Thrones' a chance?" But amazingly, no one called me out on my bullshit. Perhaps they were looking out for my feelings.

Which brings us to my little "Game of Thrones" project. I will watch each episode of the show's first season, starting over at the beginning, and blog my experiences with each episode.

WARNING: I fully intend to spoil each episode along the way as I go. This blog is designed for people who have (1) seen "Game of Thrones" Season 1 already or (2) intend to watch along with me as I go. So from now on, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS.

 Starting with the pilot.


The series opens with a group of soldiers from the Night's Watch, who have traveled to the mysterious lands north of the wall they are duty-bound to protect. One of them looks a lot like Matt Damon, and then he dies pretty much right away, leading me to question - when I first watched it - whether it really had been Matt Damon. It wasn't.


You have to admit, it's sort of uncanny...

They're all killed by the monstrous White Walkers, save one soldier who escapes back to the other side of the wall, and civilization. But it's not TOO civilized, because as soon as he gets back home, Lord Eddard "Ned" Stark (Sean Bean) declares that he's a deserter and orders his execution. Stark - the head of the Stark family, which rules the northern land of Winterfell - then requests that his youngest son watch as he personally beheads the guy. It's a pretty tough way to introduce the hero of your new TV series, showing him cut off a guy's head in front of his kid for the crime of almost getting eaten by monsters. But the fact that it's Sean Bean doing it pretty much makes up for the nastiness factor. The guy's just likable.

Next we see Stark and his sons happening upon a litter of orphaned baby dire wolves. The kids all split them up, one wolf per Stark. Ned's illegitimate son, Jon Snow (Kit Harington), gets the runt of the litter, which is treated like some sort of cruel insult, overlooking the fact that HE WAS JUST GIVEN THE GIFT OF A WILD, UNTAMED WOLF. You'd think a smaller one might be preferable, no?

Next, King Robert (Mark Addy) comes to Winterfell to ask Ned to become his "hand," or chief advisor. He brings along with him the conniving Lannister family. They include the king's wife, Queen Cersei (Lena Headey), her twin brother Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and their younger brother Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf known as "The Imp." Plus they bring the king and queen's children, including heir to the throne Prince Joffrey (played by Draco Malfoy.)

OK, it's a lot of names. Everybody keeping up so far? This is basically the experience of watching Season 1 of "Game of Thrones." It's like those parts of the Old Testament where you're just reading page after page of names that begat other names, and you start to actually wish they'd get back to obsessing about which meats are okay just to break up the monotony.

I will say, I didn't notice my first time through that the names of these two houses mirror those of the English War of the Roses. That war was fought between the Lancaster and York families. Lannister/Stark, Lancaster/York. I see what you did there, Martin...

OK, then we get a little MEANWHILE IN PENTOS! graphic and we're off across the Narrow Sea, to where the very very blonde and very very evil Viserys Targaryen (Harry Lloyd) is plotting to overthrow King Robert and return his house to the throne of whatever the hell country this is. In order to achieve this goal, he has arranged for his very very blonde and very very frequently nude sister Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) to marry the shirtless and muscular warlord Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), who will then in exchange provide Viserys with his army of Dothrakis.

Daenerys is afraid to have sex with Khal Drogo, and it's pretty understandable. He looks like he probably has a penis the size of a George R. R. Martin novel. (Yes, hardbound.) But Viserys doesn't seem too concerned, and explains matter-of-factly that his own ascension to the throne is more important than the sanctity of her lady parts.

The show, during the Winterfell segment, does a halfway decent job of presenting characters who seem at least somewhat nuanced. Ned Stark is obviously a hardened man in a lot of ways, but he loves his wife and children, and he seems rational and humane enough to root for in a pinch. Viserys is basically just a dueling scar or German WWI helmet away from cartoonish super-villainy.

Soon enough, Daenerys and her barbarian are married, and we get a look at a Dothraki wedding. It involves a live sex show, snakes, fights to the death and ample piles of rotting meat, which you've got to admit does sound more appealing than a beer-and-wine-only open bar, a dry overcooked chicken breast and The Electric Slide. (We also learn in this segment that "there is no word for 'thank you' in Dothraki," which sounds like a nice little bit of detail enhancing your understanding for this complex warrior culture... until you think about it for a moment and realize it's totally fucking stupid. "Hey, brother, I saved you a piece of rotting meat." "Um... I have no linguistic way to respond to this gesture. I suppose we should fight to the death.")

In case you didn't catch what was coming from the previous 15 minutes of the show basically repeating the idea on a non-stop loop, Khal Drogo then basically rapes Daenerys on screen. Cause pics or it didn't happen, I guess...

Finally, the youngest Stark is enjoying his favorite pastime, climbing. (This kid and I don't have a ton in common, I can tell right off the bat.) He accidentally spies the queen and her twin brother having sex, which apparently is kind of taboo even in the "anything goes" world of "Game of Thrones." So to protect their dirty, dirty little secret (which would have probably been even better protected by just not committing incest next to an open window in the home of a key political adversary), Jaime Lannister pushes the kid out the window, presumably to his demise.

Annnnnd scene!

OK, it's at least moderately entertaining as a show, and some of the performances - particularly Bean's and Dinklage's - are not without their charm. But I have to say, I'm still not LOVING this first episode. It certainly sets up a lot of different plotlines, and it's clear how these three dynasties are going to be pulled closer and closer into conflict over the course of the season. So it's getting the job done as a pilot, I suppose. But most of the characters are just kind of flat, and there's this tendency to paint a lot of these conflicts in black-and-white. Which works for, say, "Lord of the Rings," but that doesn't ask you to emotionally invest in Sauron's incestuous romance with his sister.

I have to believe that further episodes deepen these characterizations and add more nuance into the mix that I'm not seeing now. Because how else would everyone be getting so into it? Just going to have to give it more time...

Posted via email from Lon Harris