Atlanta Season 1 Review

Donald Glover spoke of how he wanted to make “Twin Peaks with rappers.” There is perhaps no better way to describe Atlanta, the bizarre, hilarious, relevant story of a broke twentysomething year old Earn (Glover) who becomes the manager of his cousin, underground rapper Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry). Glover has poured everything into this show, taking every risk possible, in the knowledge that it may only receive the single ten episode run (thankfully for us all it has now been renewed), and it really shows the potential of truly original shows not bound by the directions of a big studio.
Despite the seemingly basic premise Atlanta is perhaps unlike anything else seen on television this year. Glover manages to blend the utterly strange – an invisible car, a black Justin Bieber – with great moments of comedy, and of course a grounded realism too. It could have easily come across as farcical to jump from a moment of such weird levity to something as serious as police brutality and mental illness but Glover and his incredible cast make it a smooth transition.
Speaking of the cast, Zazie Beetz as Vanessa, the mother of Earn’s child and his on-off girlfriend, is perhaps the best of the bunch, stealing every scene she is in. The writing allows her the room and time to develop and so she moves above the one-dimensional girlfriend figure that you see in most other shows.
Glover switches the focus of the episodes up daringly and admirably, with some primarily concerned with Earn and his personal struggle, another about Earn and Van’s relationship, another about Paper Boi etc. etc. with each being as strong as the last. One particular episode stands out for its daring approach. “B.A.N” is as if you are watching this alternative world’s television channel Black American Network, where Paper Boi is a guest on a talk show. It is even complete with hilarious advertisements.
This unusual approach to television will no doubt split the audience but even if you are not a fan of that particular episode it is well worth sticking out to the end because it is some of the best television produced this year.

P.S Look out for the Childish Gambino vinyl hidden in Craig’s very weird “Black History” office in the episode “Juneteenth”.

Verdict: 9/10  

Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 5 – The Door REVIEW

A stunning episode.

Some have called it the most heartbreaking moment on Game of Thrones thus far. In all honesty, the deaths of Ned, Robb, Catelyn and Jon were all bigger blows for this particular reviewer, but the final scenes of The Door still no doubt packed a punch. Before we get into that though, there is much to discuss. After six seasons of wondering, we finally get an explanation for the White Walkers. In a vision, Bran sees one of the Children of the Tree creating the Night King by impaling a soldier with dragonglass. Confronting Leaf back in the cave, Bran learns that the White Walkers were created to fight against the First Men. It’s an old tale for a new story in many ways, as we’ve heard it all before. A weapon is created that can no longer be controlled and becomes a threat. Still it was quite the reveal, and finally filled a giant hole in the lore of GoT. Bran decided to go back into a vision without the Three Eyed Raven, and this time in the present. He saw the Night King and an army of wights beyond the Wall. Unfortunately for him, the Night King saw him too and grabbed his arm, leaving an icy scar. It was terrifying and undeniably thrilling. The power of the Night King being reemphasised for the first time since the finale of the masterpiece that was Hardhome. Because he was touched by the White Walker, the Night King could now enter the cave. Thus there was a race against time to transfer the knowledge of the Three-Eyed Raven to Bran. This resulted in the best end sequence of the season thus far.

The story of Bran and the Raven once more in the tranquil past of Winterfell, was juxtapositioned with the pure panic and havoc of the White Walkers attacking the cave. To go into detail of what happened next would take pages, but quite simply the Children of the Forest (and Summer) sacrificed themselves to save Bran. Meera screamed at Bran to wake up and control Hodor as the giant man sat in a corner afraid. Splitting his consciousness Bran remained in the past yet warged into Hodor in the present. They then made their escape running as the dead fell from above and scampered all around them. Inside the cave, The Night King killed the Raven. Hodor, Meera and Bran burst out of the door. Meera then screamed at Hodor to hold the door. The pressure of the situation got to Bran and he inadvertently warged into the young Wylis/Hodor of the past, who suffered a seizure. He could hear Meera’s screams to hold the door, and repeated the words, slurring them until all he could say was Hodor. Intense right? Game of Thrones has this ability to shock like no other show on television today. It’s not just in the writing, although that was superb, but in the actual execution. I think another crew would have butchered the intended impact of that final scene. The actors themselves deserve great credit. None of the members of that scene have been major characters over the past six seasons and yet it was the most gripping piece of television seen thus far this year. Just incredible.

Elsewhere, there was less riveting action, but still some brilliant story development. After a brief cameo last week, Littlefinger returned once more, meeting Sansa and Brienne in Molestown. It was good to see Sansa rejecting Littlefinger after what he has made her endure. She is no longer the scared girl of season one, but has developed into a fierce individual not unlike Catelyn once was. He did reveal that her great-uncle Brynden “Blackfish” Tully had retaken Riverrun. Sansa tells Jon this but lies when asked how she knows. We get a great little scene of Jon and Sansa planning their attack. First of course they must recruit, so I guess we’ll have to wait another few weeks before we see the war. The reunion of Sansa and Jon seemed like a type of destiny. They would work together to defeat the evil Ramsay. However, seeds have no doubt been sown to suggest that there is in fact going to be problems on the way, not least Brienne’s distrust of Davos and Melisandre, and Sansa lying to Jon. Perhaps it won’t be as straight-forward as first thought.

Equally across the sea in Braavos, complications arose too. Arya seemed finally set on fulfilling her destiny and becoming a faceless warrior. Jaqen H’ghar sent her out to kill an actress playing Cersei in a play of Robert Baratheon’s death and Ned Stark’s execution. This was nothing short of superb. It harkened back to that traumatic scene at the end of the first season when a young scared Arya had to watch her father being killed. She has come a long way since then, but she was clearly disturbed at reliving that day. How is her tale going to end? She has been learning the ways of the Faceless Men, but can she truly be one of them? The love of her family still has such a great hold on her, even if she does try and subdue it. Perhaps she will only be able to truly become a faceless warrior when she meets her family once more and makes that crucial decision. The only issue with the current arc is that it feels very similar to Arya’s story from last year. It is an almost a re-run but hopefully this time there is a more impressive ending.

Another of the tales that seemed, before this week, to be loosely tied to the overarching story is that of the Greyjoys. In The Door though, we got an intriguing development. Theon could not convince the people of the Iron Islands to vote for Yara as Queen and instead Euron was named King (dreadful crown though). Fearing death Yara and Theon fled. Euron promised to marry Daenerys Targaryen by offering her the Iron Fleet, and then take the Iron Throne. It appears that after dipping in and out, the Greyjoys are back in the game. The War of the Five Kings is over, all are dead, and the new breed is stepping up to replace them. Finally the Greyjoys are focusing on more than just the North. A bit of ambition never hurt did it?  A meeting between Euron and Daenerys is an interesting idea but surely Daeny would not be trusting of such a man? Or perhaps he will indeed be the catalyst for her return to Westeros. With the Unsullied, the Dothraki and the Iron Fleet she would certainly be a force to be reckoned with. Her advisors would no doubt push her to agree to such a deal.

Speaking of the Khaleesi, she only appeared briefly this week, after her magnificent display at the close of episode four. GoT has always been superb at making the audience feel for the minor characters in this great tale (see: Hodor), and Jorah Mormont is no different. He is a flawed man, but he is brave and heroic, and has an undying love for Daenerys. There was not a dry eye in the house when, after five and a half seasons, he admitted that love to her. Due to his greyscale his life had been cut short and so he vowed to leave. Daeny was having none of it though, ordering him to find a cure and return to her, so he can by her side when she takes Westeros. It was a heartfelt sentiment, and it would be an incredible sight to see the old warrior return in the future. He seems destined to give his life for his Khaleesi.

Finally, along with the emotion of this episode, there was some (much-needed?) politics. Tyrion has been at the forefront of the saga in Meereen this season, and thus far it has been superior to the tales we suffered through last time round. This week there was another shift. To preserve public support, Tyrion enlisted the help of a red priestess, Kinvara, who will spread the message that Daeny is the chosen one. Varys was clearly untrustworthy of their new ally. It’s interesting sure, but it’s not particularly earth-shattering. It’s been above-average thus far, and here’s hoping this injection of new-blood can lead to some major excitement in Meereen.

The team behind GoT is quite simply brilliant at tying things together. Ends may be loose for seasons on end, but they are always returned to and closed. We got some major events in this particular episode, with the White Walker revelation, and Hodor’s death being the most notable. Elsewhere the quality remained high too, with the cogs turning across the seven kingdoms and beyond. Just as things appear straight-forward a spanner is thrown in the works, and the audience is left to question everything all over again. The tension is building and building, and after a couple more weeks of this quality, the stories will no doubt burst into a type of mayhem we could never have imagined. The creators always have an ace up their sleeves, and know how to pull the rug out from underneath the audience. We eagerly await it.

Verdict: 9.5/10

 

 

Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 4 – Book of the Stranger REVIEW

Daenerys, Jorah and Daario. Daenerys once again proved why so many fans think she will end up on the Iron Throne when all is said and done. Jorah and Daario arrived at Vaes Dothrak, but Daeny knew there was no escaping. So instead she pulled one of her classic Daeny-badass tricks and burned the khals alive. She claimed their lack of ambition meant they were unfit to lead the Dothraki and so instead she would. It certainly seems like she has the Dothraki on her side, as she walked out of the burning temple unscathed by the fire, and all bowed at her feet. Of course this harkened back to the final scene of season one when she accomplished something similar. A more experienced leader now, let’s hope she can use the great armies at her disposal and finally make that trip across the Narrow Sea. First though, there is the question of issues  back in Meereen. It’ll be interesting to see how the Khaleesi feels about the diplomatic approach of Tyrion whilst she has been absent. Missandei, Grey Worm and a number of former slaves were less than impressed with the way he met with slaveowners to organise a deal. He presented a deal which allowed slavery to be abolished slowly over a seven year period. It was a very modern way of approaching the issue, but I can’t say Daeny will be very impressed. Again, these events are useful in building the qualities of and testing the reserve of Daenerys and Tyrion, in preparation for what’s to come, but it can drag. Thankfully this season so far, the wit and banter of Tyrion and Varys has made Meereen more than bearable, and Daeny provided such a spectacular finale this week.

Less explosive but certainly not less affecting was the Stark reunion. Finally it has happened! We’ve had a number of close calls over the years since the family was split up in season one, but we now thankfully get to see the Starks working together again. Of course though, it was immediately ruined by a message from the sadistic Ramsay. The letter was suitably graphic and horrific and prompted Jon to agree to help Sansa take back the North. In order to get the numbers needed they must now recruit. This was must-see television, and it promises to be for the remainder of the season. The thought of Jon and Sansa gaining revenge on Ramsay is a mouthwatering proposition. The writers must be praised for this, as this particular story has been built so well over the last few seasons, and is no doubt leading to a spectacular finale.

Along with Sansa, Brienne and Podrick also arrived at Castle Black. That gave us yet another incredible meeting, one that fans may have forgot about with the Stark reunion. Brienne, originally pledged to protect Renly Baratheon, watched her King be killed by a shadow with the face of Stannis. Here she met the woman responsible for that, and informed the Red Woman, along with Ser Davos (Stannis’ right hand man), that she had killed their pronounced King. Brienne warned the pair that she did not forgive nor forget. It was a small moment, but it packed quite an impact, as all three are more or less heroes of this story. It was another long-term payoff for fans too. Perhaps this small, perhaps easily forgotten moment, could have major repercussions down the line.

Whilst those in Castle Black plotted against Ramsay, he was back in Winterfell, pretty much dismantling a popular fan theory from the past week. The theory was that Umber turning over Rickon and Osha was nothing but a ploy. This however, seems invalid since Osha was murdered by Ramsay. It was an intense scene, but one in which we all knew the end result. Osha has been such a minor character, whilst Ramsay has developed into the big bad. She tried to be sneaky and take him down, but he was never going down so easy. Now Rickon is all alone with the sadistic Ramsay. The young Stark has never been a major player in the Game of Thrones but certainly means a lot to his siblings. The forthcoming battle is one to saviour, and in this world, what happens is anyone’ guess.

The Tyrells returned to our screens in a fit of misery and despair. Both Margaery and Loras remain imprisoned but they were at least reunited this week. It’s been a crushing defeat for the brother and sister duo who had plans to rule. She is of course still the Queen however, and Jaime and Cersei clearly aim to use that in the fight against the religious fanatics that have control of King’s Landing. Using this as a base, the Lannisters and the Tyrells (the incredible Olenna Tyrell) finally get on same page to plan a rescue mission. The Tyrell army will march on King’s Landing to rescue the Queen and the Lannister army will not stop them. The promise of such a battle is another thrilling idea, especially with the women of Dorne waiting in the wings to strike too. The wildcard in this situation is Tommen. He is a young king who certainly does not like the religious fanatics, but he remains afraid of them, the High Sparrow in particular. Cersei has manipulated Kevan Lannister and taken control of the King’s army, and clearly intends to use them to provoke the High Sparrow. This would enrage the young King but would he really turn against his own mother? Last week, he sat and listened to the High Sparrow, so perhaps he is slowly being indoctrinated. Only time will tell.

Littlefinger also appeared for the first time this season, arriving at Runestone to convince his stepson Arryn to command Lord of Runestone Yohn Royce to lead the knights of the Vale to aid Sansa Stark. Theon Greyjoy also returned home to the Iron Islands and pledged his loyalty to his sister Yara. These were smaller moments in the grand scale of the episode, but they sufficiently moved forward their respective stories. Littlefinger has just put the first piece in place for Sansa and Jon to take Winterfell, whilst Yara appears one step closer to becoming Queen of the Iron Islands. There is of course Euron, murderer of Balon, who will no doubt challenge. It’s a development that, perhaps even less than Meereen, appears related to the overall arc of this season. As always though the writers are crafty and throw in numerous curveballs every season. It wouldn’t be surprising to see the Greyjoys turn up unannounced at one of the forthcoming battles.

Another step in the right direction for Game of Thrones. After a shaky season last time round, it has refound its groove. The building is slow and precise, but perfectly timed, interspersed with great reveals and shocks. Perhaps more than ever, it is integral television viewing.

Verdict: 9/10

Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 3 – Oathbreaker REVIEW

Jon Snow is alive and well. However, after the events of Oathbreaker, he is no longer Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. With his death, his watch ended, but he didn’t give up the black before he took vengeance on those who killed him. Ser Allison, Olly, and the other traitors were hanged for their crimes in a brutal end sequence. It was slightly heartbreaking to see. Firstly because despite being a scumbag, Ser Allison was a great character. Secondly because of the Jon and Olly friendship. Whilst we are inclined to side with our hero, Jon Snow, the motives of the murderers were solid. This leaves Jon in a difficult situation. He knows what he thinks is right, but he certainly can’t please everyone. He’s learning vital lessons in becoming a true leader. Speaking of which the Red Woman is now more than ever convinced that Jon is the Prince that was promised. Would he really take a shot at the Iron Throne though? Jon ending up as Warden of the North based at Winterfell surely seems more likely.

Having been sidelined for season five, Bran has been thrust front and centre this time round, and it is already an inspired move. In the earlier seasons, despite promises of Bran being greatly important, his story seemed to drag. Now though, his travelling through time with the three-eyed raven, is providing some of the best scenes in every episode. Once more this week, Bran’s vision reinforced the theory that Jon is not in fact Ned’s son. Bran may have been cut short from entering the Tower of Joy, but that screaming woman he heard must be Lyanna, perhaps giving birth. It was great to see Ned again too. Bran had heard this tale of how his father had slain the great swordsman Ser Arthur Dayne before, and it is quite clear Ned had embellished the story to impress his young son. The choreography was really impressive, and it was a really fun, well-executed close-quarters battle sequence. More young Ned would not go amiss in future episodes.

Ramsay once again almost stole the whole show from Jon Snow. The creepy, disturbing aura that Iwan Rheon exuberates is magnetic, and Ramsay is now unquestionably the best villain we have seen thus far. This week Smalljon Umber met Lords Bolton and Karstark, explaining how he distrusts Jon Snow because he let wildlings through the Wall. Interestingly Umber did not simply pledge allegiance to Bolton and instead toyed with him for a while, and questioned his loyalty. He then Rickon Stark and Osha to Ramsay along with the head of the direwolf Shaggydog. This is the sort of development that GoT executes perfectly. It was a shocking turn of events, that now leaves an even younger, more vulnerable Stark in the cruel hands of Ramsay. The likelihood of Jon Snow and Ramsay going to battle at the end of the season seems every the more likely. A mini-family reunion featuring Jon, Sansa and Rickon would certainly be a moment to cherish in this depraved world. However, as we all know, it’s never that easy.

Well that was quick. Arya, having struggled for only two weeks with being a blind girl living on the streets, had her eyesight restored and truly became “no-one”. In fairness, it has been a transformation that all have seen coming for over a season now, and to drag it out further perhaps would’ve been a bore. Especially since last season was the weakest for Arya thus far. I’m sure J’aqen H’ghar is not finished with her yet, but it’s an interesting development, particularly in the current setting. She is in many ways a wildcard, and in the battles to come, whether that be in the North or in King’s Landing, she could sneak in and give the audience a huge shock, similar to the way Stannis did in the season four finale when he came to the aid of the Night’s Watch.

Daeny arrived at Vaes Dothrak and met the rest of the Dosh Khaleen. Given the power of Daenerys it seems unlikely that she will be contained for too long, as the issues back in Meereen and along Slaver’s Bay remain unsolved and there is still the long-term goal of getting across to Westeros which she needs to get back to. Perhaps gaining control of the Dothraki will help in these aims. J’orah and Daario are following quickly behind, so perhaps they will play a part in what is about to happen. It was a rather slow week on the Daeny front, and her story this season hasn’t captivated quite yet, but perhaps this tenure at Vaes Dothrak can spark something big.

Whilst Daeny was occupied, politics rolled on in Meereen. Finally, after what seems like an age of going round in circles, the combined wisdom of Varys and Tyrion appears to be beginning to pay dividends, and it seems change is finally afoot. The issues with Slaver’s Bay and the Sons of the Harpy have led to some great scenes over the seasons but often feels like a part of the story that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Equally, it has very much become a testing ground for first the Khaleesi herself, and now Tyrion, for when they inevitably attempt to take the Iron Throne. We all wait eagerly for that day, but for now, I guess we’ll have to savour every moment that isn’t “Meereen being freed then falling back to the slavers.” Finally it appears we are coming to the end of that.

The story of the Lannisters got little development this week too, but considering the big money scenes elsewhere it’s understandable. The unsettling Qyburn sent his “little birds” to spy across the Kingdoms, whilst Cersei and Jaime attempted to get the ear of the Small Council but ultimately failed. Elsewhere, Tommen marched into the Sept of the Faith Militant to confront the High Sparrow over his mother, but was talked down by the elderly man. The Lannisters are not having the best of times, facing an impending threat from Dorne, whilst also losing control within their own city to the religious fanatics. Their own Small Council are also not interested. This appears to be the struggle before the great rise. The Lannisters have played the pantomime villains for much of the show, but in recent seasons have taken more of a backseat. Both Cersei and Jaime have turned corners (for the most part) whilst Tommen is blameless. They are in a sense, the underdogs, and we all love a good underdog. I can’t see this story having a happy ending though unfortunately for this Family.

There was even a glimpse of Sam and Gilly this week. Sam is taking her to his home, Horn Hill, to stay with his family whilst he becomes a maester. Similar to Bronn, who rode off into the sunset, it appeared that Game of Thrones would not be missing a great deal if Sam did not show up again, for he has played his part. Clearly though his story isn’t over, and he may turn up at Jon Snow’s side once more in the battles to come.

Again the story was packed into this one, and again it delivered. It was a strong week for the Starks with Jon, Bran, Arya and especially Ned, standing out from the crowd. We got a bit of everything, from battles, to hangings, to kidnappings, to politics, to riddles. This is already an explosive season, and it’s only just began.

Verdict: 9/10

 

Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 2 – Home REVIEW

Jon Snow is finally back. After months of speculation regarding if it would happen, and who would do it, it appears everyone’s first guess was correct. Melisandre stood over Jon Snow’s two day old corpse, said some magical words, and abracadabra, Jon (eventually) awoke from his eternal slumber. Some fans have been disappointed with the execution of the event, but really it was the best possible solution. It’s always seemed like Jon had been too important in the grand scheme of things to merely kill off. He had not achieved whatever his great end goal is. Still, in the final moments of Home, as Melisandre desperately tried and tried again to revive Jon, and Ser Davos and the wildings looked on disappointed (why was Ser Davos so eager to revive Jon?), it appeared that perhaps GoT had done it again: they’d tricked us all. There would be no great revival, and the messageboards would no doubt explode. Then in the final seconds Jon’s eyes burst open, and fans gasped. It was a truly great moment. Somehow, after being convinced he was returning for months, fans were left with the uncomfortable feeling that they were wrong. Only to then have the rug pulled from under them once more. It was a well executed moment, and at the perfect time. The series premiere was a solid beginning to the season, with a major twist. Here, the creators have built expertly upon that foundation, answering the lingering Jon Snow question before it became overplayed, and overshadowed the rest of the season. What happens now is anyone’s guess, and that’s how we like it. A Night’s Watch oath is ended with a brother’s death, so where does that leave Jon?

In other news, Ramsay Bolton became the most despicable character in GoT history. Not only did he kill his father and step-mother but also his newborn brother who would’ve replaced him as heir. It was a truly horrific death, as Lady Walder and her son were ripped to shreds by the hounds. Ramsay is now head of the Bolton clan, which is both unsettling and incredibly exciting for viewers. He is the wildcard in this great battle for the Iron Throne, and has already dispatched of Stannis and his forces. In this episode he was advocating travelling to Castle Black, having deduced that Sansa would most likely be heading there to reunite with the seemingly unkillable Lord Commander Snow. If he follows through on this, it could be quite the story.

Sansa, Theon, Brienne and Podrick were indeed travelling North to reunite the Stark family. Theon, however, decided to return home to the Iron Islands instead, which led straight into a new narrative for the Greyjoy family. They’ve not always been the most entertaining to watch, but this glimpse was a positive start. The Greyjoys invasion (remember that?!) died with a whimper, and then Lord Greyjoy crossing perhaps the most dangerous bridge in all of history, was confronted by his younger, seemingly rather crazy, brother. Euron Greyjoy had been away for quite some time it seems, but returned to overthrow Balon, pushing him to his death. As Balon’s body was given back to the sea, his daughter Yara vowed revenge, but then was informed that the Salt Throne was not yet hers. It was out of her hands. This battle for supremacy in the Iron Islands is an intriguing addition to the tales of Westeros, particularly now Theon intends to return. This could be the beginning of a redemptive arc for Theon, after betraying Robb and generally making terrible life decisions.

Apart from the obvious Jon Snow twist, surely this week will be remembered as the one with all the crushed heads. First Edd returned to Castle Black with a gang of all our favourite wildings, including a giant who proceeded to completely decimate a member of the Night’s Watch by flinging his body against a wall. It was brutal and undeniably cool. Then, back in King’s Landing, one of the common folk laughed and joked about the Queen mother, and naturally the undead Mountain squashed his head with ease. Cersei herself was in the Red Keep, having been banned from her own daughter’s funeral by King Tommen. The King and his mother soon reunited, with Cersei agreeing to help her son be strong, and all seemed well in the Lannister camp. Except of course, for Jaime, who had a war of words with the High Sparrow, and ended up being trumped by the religious fanatic. The High Sparrow left after warning Jaime that together, the poor people could overthrow an empire. Last week’s vow to avenge what has been done to the Lannisters clearly didn’t begin well this week. The last two episodes however, have set up the two main enemies of the Lannisters for the near future, whilst everyone else seems preoccupied with the North: the Martells of Dorne, and the religious fanatics within King’s Landing.

Across the sea, Tyrion was still dealing with the issues in Meereen. Apparently Astapor and Yunkai have now both been lost once more to the slavers. Tyrion decided the best course of action was to release the two dragons from their captivity, which he did by himself. It was a daring move, and the special effects for the most part, impressed. It was nice to hear Tyrion talking of the decreasing sizes of the dragons over the generations due to captivity, as it harkened back to a similar scene deep in the crypts of King’s Landing a few seasons back. It seems like this will be quite a big development in the story of Tyrion/ Dany and co. even though the Khaleesi was absent this week. Meereen never seems to be the most exciting story, but hopefully some wild dragons, alongside the wit of Tyrion and Varys can make for some compelling viewing.

Instead of Targaryens, this week had a heavy focus on the (old) ladies and lords of Winterfell, the Starks. Bran was reintroduced, the first time we have seen him since the tail end of the fourth season. He is still where we left him, way past the wall, but the three eyed raven (played by Max Von Sydow) showed Bran a bit of Stark history back in Winterfell in a vision. He witnessed a young Ned and Benjen Stark sparring, and even a young Hodor, back when he could say more than his name and was called Willis. Interestingly, Ned echoed the words Jon Stark said to young Olly at the Wall last season: That he better keep his shield up or he’d get his head rang like a bell. It was a lovely call-back showing just how similar Ned and Jon really are. Most importantly Bran saw his aunt Lyanna, who of course was the love-interest of King Robert but was kidnapped by Rhaeger Targaryen and eventually died in mysterious circumstances. The mentions of Lyanna have increased over the last few seasons, and if fan theories are to be believed (which let’s be honest, they’re usually not), these little reminders could be so that the audience know who she is when she is revealed as Jon Snow’s mother. The parentage of Jon Snow has been in question since the very start, and that unanswered question was a major reason why most fans felt that he would return from the dead. Similar to Daenerys, his story simply hasn’t been told yet. Apart from this little tidbit, the little trip back to see Bran didn’t exactly establish much except that a war was coming, and Bran (however boring a character he may be) will play a vital role in what’s to come. The pieces are slowly being aligned for the great finale it seems.

Elsewhere, whilst Sansa learned from Brienne about her meeting with Arya (finally!), Arya herself was once more beaten up on the streets. Jaqen H’ghar asked her who she was, promising to let her sleep inside, then promising to feed her, and finally promising to restore her eyesight, if only she told him her name. Devout to the cause, Arya said she had no name. May be she is finally morphing into a faceless warrior, who will return to Westeros to reap revenge on her enemies. Or you know, maybe she’ll continue to be tortured and suffer. Probably the latter.

It was another jam-packed episode of Game of Thrones there’s no doubt about that. Similar to last week, the majority of tales got at least some screen time, which is great, but it can be a little overwhelming jumping from one land to the next, particularly when even more characters are being introduced. For now though the creators are doing an adequate job balancing stories, and these first two episodes have built arguably the most entertaining and intriguing beginning of any season since the first. The stories are scattered but slowly the chess pieces are being moved towards reunions, war and of course deaths.

Game of Thrones Season 6, Episode 1 – The Red Woman REVIEW

*FULL SPOILERS AHEAD*

Last time we were in Westeros we all looked on in horror as Lord Commander Snow was butchered by his own men at the Wall. Since then rumour has been rife whether Jon has indeed bit the dust, or whether he will be resurrected by the Red Woman or by some other method. The title of the first episode of this new season hinted that perhaps such a resurrection would take place. What we got was instead much stranger…

I’m sure nobody saw that coming. Firstly, Jon is very much dead (at least for now) and Ser Davos, along with some other men of the Night’s Watch, have barricaded themselves into a room with Jon’s body. Ser Alliser attempted to lure them out, presumably to murder them, but they are currently at a stalemate. Intriguingly, Melisandre is also hidden away with them, and in the final scene of this week we finally discovered why the episode was named The Red Woman. Having stripped, she then took off her necklace, and looking in the mirror, she became an extremely elderly lady. The transformation was the first big shock of the season, and has already led fans to speculate over its meaning. Perhaps the necklace allows her to give the illusion of youth? There was a shot of her in a bath in Season 4 without the necklace on looking not at all old and creepy, but maybe that was an error. That seems unlikely. In that scene it is only Melisandre and Stannis’ wife Selyse, and The Red Woman explains how she doesn’t need to use tricks for a true believer like Selyse, which could imply that Selyse sees her in her true form, but the viewers do not. It is a tantalising cliff hanger, which certainly takes some attention away from Jon Snow’s death, which can only be a good thing. For that death to overshadow the whole season would negatively impact upon other storylines.

Speaking of the other storylines, this episode jumped back and forth across the lands to check in on a multitude of characters. Sansa and Theon were on the run from Ramsay’s men. This provided a fun, naturally violent set piece, in which Brienne and Podrick (all trained up) rescued the pair. In a world in which torture and misery generally prevail, it was a brief moment of success for the good guys which was no doubt lapped up by fans. Brienne finally saved Sansa after being rejected by her last season, and its certainly interesting to see where the group now end up. There was talk of Sansa running to Castle Black, so perhaps that is their next destination. That would certainly be quite an event.

As for everyone’s other favourite Stark, Arya (sorry Bran), the news was not quite as good. Left blind and homeless after disobeying Jaqen H’ghar and being evicted from the House of Black and White, she was forced to fight his protege and was swiftly defeated. She promised to return the next day, and so it seems like this is Arya’s life for the foreseeable future. After a pretty lacklustre story in Season 4, here’s hoping she gets something more interesting to do this time round. A nice bit of happiness for her at some point wouldn’t go amiss either.

Speaking of a lacklustre story and an absence of joy, Jaime’s rather disappointing trip to Dorne last season to retrieve Princess Myrcella ultimately proved fruitless. He returned home to a miserable Cersei, who spoke of the prophecy that the witch told her in last season’s opener: her three golden haired children would die (somebody guard Tommen). After the misery that Cersei suffered at the end of last season, and since Jaime has completed his turn to the good side, it was difficult not to feel a twinge of sadness for the two of them at losing their only daughter. Then Jaime, embracing Cersei, exclaimed that they would take everything they once had back and more. The Lannisters are coming.

In Dorne, a revolution is underway, making this one episode more exciting that the whole season spent there last time round. Having murdered Myrcella, Nymeria and her Sand Snakes deposed of Doran and his son Trystane in quick succession, ridding Dorne of weak male leaders. Presumably, the Lannisters and the Martells will now go head to head, each having multiple reasons for a thirst for blood. Even if last season was a bit lacklustre, it’s allowed the story to reach this point, and the bad blood has been building up since pretty much the very beginning. If a battle between the two finally commences this season, it will be a long-run story well executed.

Jaime and Cersei may be plotting revenge from King’s Landing, but Tyrion is destined to spend the foreseeable future in Meereen, since a mysterious someone has burned all of the ships in the harbour. With Daenerys gone, Tyrion and Varys are in charge of quelling rebellions and bringing order to the city. We got little development in that area this week, with more questions that answers, but it appears someone is secretly leading the Sons of the Harpy. We also got a glimpse of some followers of the Lord of Light, as well as a frankly quite hilarious baby-eating joke. Yes you read that right. Not much to write home about, and honestly it is difficult at times to care about what happens so far away from the Iron Throne, but hopefully the brilliant buddy-movie quality of Varys and Tyrion will be enough to raise this story.

Finally, the Mother of Dragons, having been captured by the Dothraki and verbally insulted, was dragged before Khal Moro. After a bit of verbal sparring, in which Daenerys continued to prove herself as one of the most badass characters in the show, her life was spared, but only because, being a widow of a Khal (Drogo), she would be sent to the Temple of the Dosh Khaleen, in Vaes Dothrak, to live amongst the other widows. Jorah and Daario are hot on their heels, having found Dany’s ring in the grassland. Surely Jorah will know that if she’s not dead, she’ll have been sent to Vaes Dothrak? What about the dragons? As with everything else, it’s still too early to really tell where this particular thread is going. Still, though, we are into our sixth season, and Dany is nowhere nearer the Iron Throne which she craves. How much longer will we have to wait until she finally crosses the sea to Westeros?

There were hints of other stories such as Margaery still being in prison, and Roose Bolton threatening Ramsay with a different heir, which added up to a truly jam-packed opening episode. Bran has yet to be reintroduced having been absent last season, but you can be sure we’ll see him soon. It was a solid opening, providing fans with many new talking points instead of rehashing the Jon Snow question over and over. This time last year, I was personally disappointed with how the show opened, but I was pleasantly surprised at the enjoyment of this season’ premiere. The stories are more sparsely located than ever before, and it can be jarring at times jumping from one place to the next to visit certain characters, but with the show slowly drawing towards a true finale (two shorter seasons await after this one concludes), no doubt the stories will intertwine once more, battles will be won and lost, and maybe, just maybe, we’ll have something to cheer for. Here’s hoping this season builds upon this solid opening.

Verdict: 8.5

 

Master of None: Season 1 Review

Aziz Ansari’s new show exclusive to Netflix is a real gem which appears to have flown under the radar for many comedy fans. It is a heart-warming, funny and genuine show, a combination not often encountered these days. Ansari is Dev, a thirty year old actor in New York. He does commercials mainly, a regular joe with a pretty ordinary life. He has a group of friends as well as parents with whom he interacts constantly, and each character is fleshed out, and most importantly is very, very funny. The main regular though is Noel Wells’ Rachel, an offbeat friend whom we meet at the beginning of the pilot when Dev’s condom breaks in bed. She’s charming, and quirky but is never in danger of straying into Manic Dream Pixie Girl status.

We follow Dev through the trials and tribulations of everyday life, but Ansari makes sure this is not merely a one-note show about becoming a man. He hits on numerous important topics: racism, sexism, and the elderly; but in such a soft-handed approach that it never feels forced. Despite some of these issues receiving an episode to themselves, they often overlap. Just because the episode about parents has finished does not mean the relationships have. The same with racism, sexism and most integrally here: relationships. It flows, things appear at one point, disappear for a while, then re-emerge, but it never feels stilted or jarring. Ansari, particularly as the season draws to a close, takes a closer look at love and relationships, but once more it feels natural. We see the progression of a relationship, the same one we all experience, and unlike a sitcom, issues aren’t magically fixed in half an hour.

What Ansari achieves with this show seems to have been under-appreciated. It’s witty and completely endearing without ever being near sickening. It’s love and life represented brilliantly.

Verdict: 9/10

Bates Motel Season 2 Episode 3: Caleb

*Full Spoilers Ahead*

So after the conclusion of last week’s episode, Bradley is gone for the foreseeable future at least. Her arc certainly seemed rushed, but at least its ending has now opened up space for other stories to grow and develop in the upcoming weeks. Most notable is the emergence of Caleb, Norma’s brother, who proved to be a huge disruption to the Bates family this week.

All seemed fine when Dylan let Caleb into the house, but once Norma returned, all hell broke loose. The pure terror on her face was astonishing, and she screamed at him as she threw him out of the house. In typical Norma fashion she did not want to talk to anyone about it, and instead turned her focus elsewhere. In fact, she even managed to make a friend! Christine, a woman who was at last episode’s council meeting, took Norma under her wing in a sense, and introduced her to her friends. Norma seemed genuinely thrilled, as it was one of the only positive things to have happened to her in quite a while. It was a taste of the normal life, which unfortunately would not last. This was an interesting development as it added even more depth to Norma’s character, but time will tell whether Christine is an important addition to the story. Norma now has a love interest in George, Christine’s brother, and even organised a meeting with the late Blair Watson’s father, Nick Ford, regarding the new bypass. This links all of the characters together nicely, which of course only adds to the number of people at risk of getting caught in the collateral damage of the weed industry (and also Norman!).

Speaking of the weed industry that fuels the town, there was little development on that front this week, with the only important happening being the erratic Zane vowing to continue the gang warfare. This will clearly have some endgame in a later episode, so I think it was the right move to have the focus more on other things this week, but nevertheless show a little of the industry in order to keep it fresh in the viewer’s mind. This may just be the most important storyline in the long run of this season as it seems all major characters are involved in one way or another.

Dylan’s focus this week was therefore on Caleb. He took to him immediately, and without telling Norma, the two met up to talk. It appeared that Caleb was the father figure that Dylan had always wanted, even offering to take him fishing. The big reveal at the end of the episode was still a huge shock. It took the show in a disturbing direction which may possibly explain why Norma is such a strange, unstable woman. What the moment also reinforced subtly was Norman’s relentless, unhealthy obsession with ‘protecting’ his mother. Norma was the one who pushed Dylan, and yet Norman jumped on and began beating up Dylan. The fury he unleashed, despite his mother being in little to no danger (Dylan would not harm Norma), was unsettling.

Before the big finale, Norman’s story took a back seat but was still a rather entertaining addition. Cody, the girl from the shop checkout last week returned and befriended Norman. The two then bumped into each other at a memorial held for Bradley on the beach. This led to possibly the funniest moment of the season so far. Cody sat on and kissed her friend Philip whilst Norman sat next to them feeling extremely awkward, only for Philip to reach out and grab Norman’s leg. The look of confusion on Norman’s face was hilarious. He did walk Cody home however, who explained that Philip was just a friend who in fact probably liked Norman. Arriving at Cody’s home it was obvious that their are problems in her own life which have not been fully explained yet. She seems to be a bit of a wildchild, which is obviously the polar opposite of Norman. The relationship is therefore rather cliche but it worked this week. Let’s hope that this is more than Norman simply having his own version of a manic dream pixie girl, and instead can maybe shock the viewers and have a huge impact on the overarching storylines.

A third (fourth if you count Dylan/Caleb) friendship bloomed this week between Emma and the ‘cupcake boy’ who got her stoned in the first season. With Bradley’s disappearance there was finally time to give Emma a storyline, but if this week’s episode is anything to go by its nothing to get excited about. Emma, feeling guilty about never liking Bradley, organised a memorial on the beach. Everyone who arrived however, had little interest in mourning and instead drank alcohol and took drugs. Emma saw her ‘cupcake boy’ selling weed and went to confront him. She clearly decided to give up on the failed memorial and instead had a bit too much to drink with her new friend. It was rather funny to watch, and it was nice to see the guy being genuinely nice, but it feels as if the only reason for this new relationship is to keep Emma on the show.

I like how the show is giving others such as Norma and Dylan, characters who the fans are invested in, big storylines and even taking centre stage every now and again instead of Norman. They are as much a part of Norman’s descent into madness as Norman himself is in a way. The introduction of new characters was a mixed bag this week, with Caleb being a standout, but Cody, ‘cupcake boy’, and even Christine (who seems a strange addition in the long run), not really settling in very well. It was not a bad episode, and there are certainly many storylines to get excited about, but this did not feel up to the same standard as the first season.

 

 

Verdict:

The central story of Norma, Dylan and Caleb was great with the big reveal only increasing the intrigue, but everything else was hit and miss. 

7.25 out of 10.

 

Agree/Disagree? Please feel free to share your opinion in the comments section

Bates Motel Season 2 Episode 2: Shadow of a Doubt

*Full Spoilers Ahead*

Last week’s episode ended on a huge cliffhanger, as Bradley sought Norman’s help after she had murdered Gill. We find out this week that Norman has decided to hide Bradley in his basement until a few days time when she will catch the bus to Boston to begin a new life. Apart from the obligatory “almost caught” scene, where Norma wandered into the basement looking for Norman, Bradley’s story was halted until the final scenes. I have to say that this particular plot thread has moved rather fast, from upset child, to suicidal teenager to murderer in two episodes or so. Admittedly, four months have passed between seasons and so that could sort of explain it, but I just feel its been rushed. Anyway, that is a minor problem for me in a very good start to this second season.

Norma and Norman’s relationship, and whether Norman did actually kill Blair Watson remains at the forefront of the season and of this episode. We see Norma hilariously asking her doctor for help regarding her “sister’s” blackouts whilst the doctor was otherwise preoccupied, as well as discovering Miss Watson’s pearls and a newspaper clipping about her death under Norman’s bed (she puts them back). She seems convinced that her son is the murderer, but is fighting with it as she doesn’t want to believe it to be true. Instead it appeared in this episode that she was trying to take Norman’s (as well as her own) mind off the subject by signing them up to audition for a local musical production. This leads to a fun song on the piano with the two of them, but beneath the fun it serves to remind us just how strangely close their relationship is. They go to the auditions, and it is Norman himself who reinforces this point, storming out as the clock ticks closer to eight o’clock – the time he is supposed to be taking Bradley to the bus station to escape. He breaks down and screams at his mother, possibly realising for the first time that the grip his mother has on him is not normal.

“Mother we live together yeah, we work together, we eat every meal together, we sleep six inches away from each other with a thin wall between us, don’t you think that’s probably enough?” 

He is saying what we are all thinking, but as ever Norma turns it around and makes him feel guilty. It often seems that she only cares about herself, as when something happens with Norman it’s always about how dreadful it is for her not her son. She wants to control him, and for him to always be with her, because she doesn’t want to be alone. This shows especially when they are waiting to audition and he tells her he has a date with Emma at the movies (to cover for Bradley), but she quickly dismisses him, telling him to cancel. In the end he chooses Norma over Bradley, his mother over a girl who he’s attracted to, due to her jealousy. This will no doubt become a recurring theme. They go back into the theatre and Vera Farmiga produces a wonderful bit of acting. As she sings, you can feel the weight of what is happening building up on her, we can feel the stress she is under, and it all comes out in that awesome performance. Norman claps along but he doesn’t see the pain in his mother’s eyes that we do.

Norma was not the only one suffering though, as Dylan went on quite a journey this episode too. Sheriff Romero meets a man named Nick at Blair Watson’s grave, who turns out to be, not just her father, but the leader of the rival drug gang in the town. Dylan’s gang, now led by the erratic Zane, seem convinced Nick’s gang murdered Gill and so murder one of their men in retaliation. Dylan looks to be caught up in gang warfare which is destined to spiral out of control and result in casualties. Who will die is anyone’s guess, but my money is on at least Dylan’s partner, Remo, if not Dylan himself. As this affects the whole town, there is a possibility a wider array of characters may get caught in the crossfire.

In the end, Norman can not make it in time and so has to call his brother for help in taking Bradley. He obliges, and even though shocked she is in the basement he was smart enough to know Norman was up to something. Off they go in his truck, and upon arrival he tells her to write a suicide note. Dylan, despite his involvement in the drug business, is the show’s conscious. He represents us, as he cares for the people he meets, proven by the fact that he is willing to get involved in Norman and Bradley’s mess, and fake Bradley’s suicide, all so that they can get away scot free. He is a good man, who cares for his family and friends, and seems to be the one most fans connect too.

The third storyline tonight is Romero’s as he follows up a lead on the Blair Watson case. Samples lead them to Kyle, a junkie in the town who Romero had warned to stay away. We discover there were two samples, one unidentified, but still Romero decides to pin the murder on him. It doesn’t appear Kyle is the murderer and instead, if the show takes the predictable but probably smartest road, the other sample seems to hold the key to the death. I’m sure we will learn more in due time.

The final scene sees a man looking for Norma Bates and we discover that he is in fact her brother. This is intriguing, as he could be friend or foe. We had a similar introduction last year with Norma’s other son, Dylan, tracking her down, and he became a firm fan favourite, so we will see what happens to this man. Speaking of fan favourites (well a favourite of mine anyway!), Emma was once again limited to seconds of screen time. In fact, her only purpose seemed to be to inform the Bates’ that a man was arrested in relation to the Watson case. Here’s hoping that now Bradley is gone for the foreseeable future, Emma can take more of a lead role, like the one we saw her in during the first season.

Anyway, not quite as entertaining as the first episode, but still solid plot development, and new interesting characters in the gang warfare as well as Norma’s brother.

 

Verdict:

The story was forwarded well, with Norma and her son’s relationship as unsettling as ever. A very good start to this season.

8 out of 10.

 

Agree/Disagree? Please feel free to share your opinion in the comments section

Bates Motel Season 2 Episode 1: Gone But Not Forgotten

*Full spoilers for Season 1 and this episode of Season 2*

Even though Freddie Highmore’s teenage Norman Bates has not been off our screens for too long, his return is still more than welcome in this great season opener. The first season was a well received rollercoaster ride, focusing on the relationship between Norman and Vera Farmiga’s Norma, his loving, yet unstable mother. There was much more than meets the eye though, and the season ended on a huge cliffhanger. Did Norman murder his schoolteacher Miss Watson? With a great supporting cast including Nicola Peltz’s Bradley, Olivia Cooke’s Emma, and Max Thieriot’s Dylan, the first season wrapped numerous storylines together, creating an excellent opener for the modern day prequel to Psycho.

We return for the second season to the Twin Peaks-esque village, White Pine Bay, where Bates Motel, bought by Norma in the pilot, is attracting huge numbers of customers. It is four months since Miss Watson was murdered, yet still Norman remains hung up over her death, constantly visiting her grave. He doesn’t exactly remember what happened at Miss Watson’s house, due to his blackout, but he admits to feeling bad about her death. Highmore is excellent as always as Norman, as we feel hugely suspicious of him (it does seem likely he was the one who killed Miss Watson), yet we sympathise with him a great deal. His loud crying at the funeral is uncomfortable enough to make the Priest stop what he is saying, but we feel sorry for a teenage boy who has lost someone who meant a great deal to him. He’s greatly confused and is struggling to deal with what is happening, even going as far as photographing a man at Miss Watson’s grave to give to the police as he suspects he may be the killer. He is searching for the answer, possibly to clear his own conscious as much as to get justice for Miss Watson.

Glimpses of the other side of Norman are shown too, especially in a scene where he almost playfully moves what looks like Miss Watson’s pearl necklaces through his fingers. For a split second you get the feeling he knew what he was doing all along. This passes though, as his more emotional side returns. The problem is that he has nobody to speak to. His main confidant is Norma, but until the end of this episode she is caught up in a race to stop the new bypass being built. Farmiga continues her brilliant form as Norma here, who really just wants some good to happen in her and Norman’s lives. She’s had a lifetime of problems, some clearly caused by herself, and wants to be able to settle down in White Pine Bay. She knows the new bypass will mean her motel misses out on valuable customers and so goes to a council meeting to try to persuade the community to suspend the construction. Her good family-based intentions are evident but unfortunately she fails to prepare adequately and her views are twisted to sound selfish. A rather heartbreaking outburst is wonderfully performed by Farmiga, as the erratic Norma points out the flaws in the town that nobody seems to want to acknowledge. You can’t help but support Norma as she rants and raves, and it’s quite fantastic to watch.

As the episode nears the end though, a chance meeting with Sheriff Romero, brings Norma back to Norman, and what follows is the best scene of the episode. They discuss the night of Watson’s death, with Norman admitting he didn’t confess everything originally for fear of disappointing his mother. What was absolutely great was the curve-ball thrown in here, as Norman confesses he felt guilty, not because he possibly killed her, but rather because he left before the murder took place. He felt he should have stopped it! This sort of insight into the deranged mind of Norman makes for wonderful television.

The other main story-line is Bradley’s who, after a failed suicide attempt, goes out looking for whoever murdered her father. This is much darker territory for Bradley who was the popular, sweet girl at the start of season one, who you couldn’t help but enjoy, before the untimely, extremely suspicious death of her father. Despite this sudden, quite unbelievable turn of events, Peltz executes it rather well, particularly towards the end of the episode where her hard exterior finally melts to reveal the terrified, lonely child underneath.

There are a lot of moving parts with this show but it is held together well, with almost every story being addressed, from the Bradley/Dylan relationship, which seems to be on hold due to Norman’s feelings for Bradley, to the Dylan/Norma relationship. He is attempting to be civil and it seems to be working… sort of. Norman tried being a friend to Bradley but didn’t seem to make any headway, well not until the last scene anyway. That feels like less a move due to friendship though and instead more of a move out of desperation, where there was nowhere else to go. It’s unlikely that Norman will see it that way, and this could have some repercussions for Bradley if she admits they aren’t truly friends in the future. What felt missing from this episode though was Emma, who was a major part of the first season yet seemed to fade into the background here. We saw her very briefly, and it was only to establish her rocky relationship with Norman at this point (who quite frankly was oblivious to it or just didn’t care). Here’s hoping she gets more to do next week.

I like that everything is tying together, with Miss Blair Watson being the ‘B’ Bradley is searching for, as well as the girlfriend of Gil, Dylan’s work colleague. Everything that may have seen out of place in the first season now makes much sense. This was a good opener, and with the thrilling last moments, intrigue couldn’t be higher, as a new world of possibilities for this show has opened up.

 

Verdict: 

Thoroughly enjoyable season premiere which leaves the viewer wanting more. 

8.5 out of 10