TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2: Stormborn

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Okay, lets talk about this weeks Game of Thrones episode Stormborn. I think last weeks review/recap was a bit too full of plot details and a bit light on my actual thoughts about the episode so I’m going to try to give more of my thoughts on the episode from here on out. Overall, I was pretty disappointed, Stormborn felt to me like it had a some good moments but there were definitely some I didn’t like especially the ending. I’ll sum up the episode pretty quickly and then move into my thoughts.

Stormborn begins with Daenerys and her crew beginning to formulate their plan to take control of Westeros without destroying it all and leaving Daenerys to be “Queen of the ashes”. Cersei attempts to rally some of the lords from the rebelling kingdoms, including Randyll Tarly, to her side by playing on their xenophobia of the Unsullied and Dothraki, and Maester Qyburn reveals that they are developing a weapon to combat dragons. Sam at the Citadel attempts to heal Jorah from his greyscale despite the Archmaesters objections. Arya, after meeting back up with Hotpie, learns that Jon is alive and the Starks control Winterfell. While traveling she comes across Nymeria and a pack of wolves that reveal themselves to her and then disappear.

In Winterfell Jon decides to accept an invitation to meet with Daenerys at Dragonstone in order to attempt to secure the dragon glass beneath the castle. When he leaves, over the objections of the lords of the north, he leaves Sansa in charge of the north. Back at Dragonstone Daenaerys and Tyrion reveal their plan to Elleria, Yara, and Olenna, a strike on Kings Landing by the Westerosi forces and an Unsullied attack on Casterly Rock at the same time. Grey Worm and Missandei reveal their feelings to each other before they are separated. Yara and Elleria are attacked by Euron on their way back to pick up the Martells army, and Yara’s fleet is destroyed while Theon flees and is left floating in the ocean on debris.

euron1.1500866247  Okay, so a lot happened in this hour and it did move the plot set up in the previous episode along. First the good stuff, the opening scene with Daenerys et al is great. After only having a few silent minutes of Varys and Tyrion in the previous episode we get a scene devoted to them, I love when Game of Thrones touches on political intrigue and Peter Dinklage as Tyrion is just such a joy to watch. Furthermore Varys explaining his shifting loyalty by saying his loyalty is to the people was such a great monologue and a great moment between Daenerys and him. I also really enjoyed the scene with Missandei and Grey Worm, which is perhaps the most touching sex scene this show has ever produced and really a nice breath of humanity in between what was a really exposition heavy episode.

As opposed to last week I enjoyed Sams storyline, Broadbent as the Archmaester is a joy as he plays the character in such an academic way, and the beginning of the surgery to remove Jorah’s scales was genuinely hard to watch. I loved the match cut from that scene to the man eating the meat pie, and like Arya in that scene as she come to resemble the Hound more and more including gulping down a flagon of ale. Finally I really enjoyed Euron once again as he shows up to destroy Yara’s fleet. Euron is just such an over the top character and he is a joy to watch on-screen, it’s so much fun to watch him just be crazy. It also helps that he rid of us of at least most of the Sand Snakes.

Cersei-Qyburn-StormbornOf course bringing up the Sand Snakes means we have to talk about what didn’t work. While the Winterfell scenes are crucial to the plot and well acted, they’re kind flat and predictable overall just sorta okay. But my true ire is reserved for the scene where Qyburn reveals what his weapon is to kill dragons. This is built up with Qyburn saying if they can be injured they can be killed, something we are all aware of having seen said injury to a dragon previously in the series. With a swell of ominous music he reveals his weapon and it isn’t some sort of magic or anything, it’s just a ballista, that’s it. It’s not even a particularly large ballista and with the level of military technology present in Westeros it boggles the mind that this is a new invention. It bothers me that we will invariably see this weapon take down a dragon at some point because to be honest the entire moment felt a bit silly.

There is also the sea battle that finishes the episode. I’ve never been a huge fan of Theon and Yara’s story and them getting attacked and destroyed by Euron was pretty predictable. It could be seen from a nautical mile away, especially after the previous episode where Euron promises to return to Cersei with a gift. It should have been treated as a big moment and yet to me felt very small.The direction was awkward and seemed to minimize the battle taking what was a big naval battle and shoving it into a small corner of one ship. It just really didn’t work for me tonally and outside of Euron the scene was utterly forgettable.

That describes a lot of the episode to me, forgettable. Some good moments in the episode and a lot of setup for storylines that feel like they’re going somewhere cool. However, there are only five episodes left in this season and so far the show has yet to reach the breakneck pace it should have to reach the ending.

Rating: 7.5/10

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2: Stormborn

Directed by Mark Mylod

Written by Bryan Cogman

 

TV Review: Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone

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“Shall we begin?”

Daenerys Targaryen utters these words at the end of the Season 7 opener of Game of Thrones, Dragonstone, marking the start of what is the shows final act. Dragonstone acts as stage setting episode, and after over a year away it’s pretty welcome. The episode begins with what at first appears to be a flashback to a feast held by Walder Frey at The Twins. But, quickly the mood of the scene shifts and it is revealed to be Arya Stark using faceless man magic to impersonate Walder and poison the Freys. In one fell swoop she eliminates their whole house, just another part of the culling of characters and plot lines Game of Thrones has been undertaking as it nears its climax. As Arya leaves she tells one of the survivors to let people know “Winter came for House Frey”. It’s an exciting way to start an episode and a season, and hearing the theme music right after was a great way to get sucked back into the world of Game of Thrones.

From there the story slows down a lot, a necessity when we have to catch up with TV’s largest ensemble. We check in with Jon Snow and Sansa Stark as they hold court in the newly reconquered Winterfell. The seeds of disagreement between the two begin as they differ on how to handle the lands controlled by houses that had betrayed them and fought against them. In the Jon decides to make them swear fealty and allow them to retain their land, over the protests of Sansa who wants to give their land to people who had been loyal to the Starks. After Sansa and Jon talk about how they face trouble from both the north in the form of the army of the dead, and from the south from Cersei. Sansa and Jon reveal their differing views on ruling, with Jon having seen the example of Lord Commander Mormont and trying to model his leadership after him.  On the other hand we have Sansa who has had her worldview shaped by living in Kings Landing and seeing Varys, Cersei, and Littlefinger work their plans. I’m excited to see these two philosophies play out through out the rest of the season.

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In Kings Landing Cersei begins to formulate her plan to take back the rebelling kingdoms now that she is queen. It’s a couple of very strong scenes, especially one where Jaime attempts to have a conversation with her about the suicide of Tommen and what her end game is. Cersei appears to be unraveling, declaring Tommen’s suicide to be a “betrayal” and telling Jaime she is attempting to create a long-lasting Lannister dynasty. That Jaime and her are the only Lannisters left, as Jaime reminds her, doesn’t really seem to cross her mind. In her quest to defeat her rivals she invites Euron Greyjoy to Kings Landing where he proposes marriage to her, she refuses but he promises to go and bring back a great treasure to prove his loyalty and importance. Euron is a lot of fun to watch in this scene, dressed like a pirate and completely bonkers. It’s nice when Game of Thrones leans into its occasional pseudo-soap opera atmosphere, and Euron as a megalomaniac over the top bad guy is perfect for what appears to be our last human antagonist of the show.

In the newly shown Oldtown we are treated to a montage of Sam going about his tasks in the Citadel as he learns to become a maester, this thing goes on way too long. The first time soup is match cut to a used bed pan it’s a little funny but by the third time its gotten a little tedious. In fact the entirety of Sams storyline seemed like a big journey to get to the knowledge that there is dragon glass under Dragonstone. Plus, it kinda wastes Jim Broadbent who shows up for one scene to deliver a great monologue about how the maesters are the institutional memory of Westeros and how they’ll still be here after everything. Hopefully he’ll continue to show up but this is the one part of the episode that really didn’t do much for me.

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We then come to the Hound, in what is probably the best scene of the episode. The Hound along with the rest of the Brotherhood without Banners arrives at the cottage of the family he had previously robbed in a previous season. There he finds the corpse of the daughter and her father, bloodied and with a knife, Beric Dondarrion deduces that the father murder-suicided them rather than freeze or starve to death in the winter. As Thoros builds a fire in the hearth he asks the Hound to look into the fire where the Hound has a vision of the army of the dead marching on the wall. That night the Hound buries the dead while the snow falls in one of the striking visual moments of the episode. Rory McCann continues to be one of the best actors on the show, imbuing his character with little moments of humanity and continuing to build a complex and deep character.

In the other standout scene we humanize the Lannister soldiers as Arya comes across a group of them cooking dinner. Here we get the oft-mentioned Ed Sheeran cameo that to be perfectly honest wasn’t much of a big deal. After singing a song and getting a few lines he moves to the background. Instead it is the other soldiers who tell Arya how they miss home, want to see their wives and children, it may be a bit clichéd, but it’s an important reminder that even though we mostly follow nobles and people of privilege the fighting is done by regular people. It’s quiet moment that doesn’t end in a speech or violence but is content to just be that, quiet. It’s a moment in an episode that has to cram in a lot of information where the show just takes a breather.

Finally the show finishes on a wordless sequence that features Daenerys arriving to and entering Dragonstone. All told visually, and with stunning visuals at that, the sequence is stunning. At the end Daenerys walks past the carved map of Westeros in Dragonstone, mirroring the painted map that Cersei and Jaime Lannister look at in their scenes. At the end of a strong, albeit not perfect, season premiere Daenerys turns to Tyrion and says her only lines of the episode, kicking off what promises to be a great season of TV.

“Shall we begin?”

Rating: 8.5/10

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1: Dragonstone

Directed by  Jeremy Podeswa

Written by  David Benioff and D. B. Weiss

TV Review: GLOW Season 1

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At one point during the penultimate episode of the first season of GLOW, Netflix’s new show from creators Carly Mensch and Liz Flahive, a character states about wrestling that they’ve “come close to getting what all the fuss is about”. That’s how I felt throughout the shows strong freshman effort. I don’t watch wrestling, I don’t know much about wrestling, and I don’t think I’ll ever be a wrestling fan. It’s not because I dislike wrestling, it’s just not something that holds much interest for me. But when the wrestling truly begins in earnest in GLOW it is genuinely captivating and exciting. Mensch and Flahive, along with executive producer Jenji Kohan create wrestling scenes that manage to be funny while also informing character and advancing the plot. It’s just a shame that it takes so long to get to them.

GLOW the TV show is loosely based on real-life Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, a women’s professional wrestling league begun in 1986 and lasting in some form or another until the present day. It begins with struggling actress Ruth Wilder (Allison Brie) receiving an invitation to audition in 1985 for an all women wrestling show. Directed by Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron), a sleazy former exploitation film director and produced by Sebastian “Bash” Howard (Chris Lowell), a trust fund kid paying for the league with his parents money, the fictional GLOW gathers together a bunch of misfits and follows them as they struggle to launch their wrestling league.

If a group of misfits try to do something unique and struggle to overcome outside barriers while also learning to accept the others in the group sounds like a bit of a sports film cliche, that’s because it is. However, GLOW uses this setup as a springboard to showcase a variety of captivating and compelling supporting characters. Characters such as Sheila “the She-Wolf” (Gayle Rankin) who always appears dressed as well, a she-wolf, or Carmen “Machu Picchu” Wade (Britney Young) who simply wants to follow in her wrestling family’s foot steps feel like they have real reasons to want to wrestle, to fit in somewhere. Maron hilariously steals every scene he’s in, and Lowell adds depth to a someone that could have been a stock rich kid character. It’s a real joy to watch these actors play off of each other and this interaction provides many of the shows plentiful laughs. When GLOW wants to be funny, it can be really funny.

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It is when GLOW wants to be more dramatic that it can grind to a halt. Chief among these is the shows most annoying subplot, the fallout between Ruth and her best friend Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin) after Ruth has a brief affair with Debbie’s husband Mark (Rich Sommer). Debbie, a former soap drama actress, eventually joins GLOW as it’s lead wrestler and main draw while also attempting to reconnect with her estranged husband. While Gilpin’s performance as Debbie is great, managing to be both funny and heartfelt, the scenes devoted to her attempting to save her marriage feel like something that has been done a million times before.

That is the one main problem with GLOW, that the dramatic beats of the story aren’t anything new. The league will need money, certain people will have a falling out, friendships will need to be mended, and at the last minute someone will bail them out and they will succeed against the odds, learning something about themselves through wrestling. It’s something that’s been done before. These characters are so good it does them a disservice to put them into cliched dramatic moments. It also takes time away from one of the shows real strengths, watching these characters behind the scenes of creating a wrestling show. We don’t see much them learning to wrestle until episode 5, and there isn’t a training montage until episode 7 which is also when the first real wrestling event occurs. The scenes of them learning to wrestle and wrestling in front of a crowd are such a joy that you wonder why it took them so long to get there.

That isn’t to say to that every dramatic moment the show has is bad. A late season abortion story line manages to be both funny and grounded, it feels in character and never become preachy. Another solid dramatic moment is when a character reveals that she is Sam’s daughter, a move which reveals new things about both of them and creates a new interesting character dynamic that can be interestingly explored in a future season. Even the more dramatic interactions between Ruth and Debbie can be good, with both Gilpin and Brie showcasing real dramatic skills that make you feel and empathize with both of them.

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But where GLOW really shines is when it devotes its talented actors and strong characters to wrestling and comedy. While never treating the act of wrestling itself as a joke it creates situations within the ring that manage to be very funny with one notable moment being a match involving KKK members and a welfare queen. This is also one of the moments that touches upon the ability of wrestling to perpetuate negative stereotypes by showcasing them, an interesting thread that is hopefully expanded upon in further seasons. GLOW also leans into it’s 1980’s setting, never becoming a parody of the 80’s, but mining it for some really funny jokes such as a house party a drug toting robot butler.

When GLOW is firing on all cylinders it is a genuinely great show that can bring a smile to your face and make you laugh while also making you wish you could spend more time with its characters. When it’s off it can feel like a prequel to a much better show that appears right around the corner, where it isn’t bogged down by cliched dramatic beats. Luckily for us, GLOW is firing on all cylinders far, far more often than not. GLOW season 1 may be uneven at times but it creates compelling characters, memorable scenes, big laughs, and ensures that you’ll want to get back in the ring for season 2.

Rating: 8/10

GLOW Season 1 (Netflix, 2017)

Starring:  Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Sydelle Noel, Britney Young and Marc Maron.

Rated TV-MA