A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones season 8 (spoilers!)

1200After four months of gasping, cheering, and yelling at the TV, my journey through Game of Thrones came to an end this past week. In some ways I’m glad I waited till the show was completely done to start watching it (I’ll delve into that thought more later), but I’m also a little sad I missed out on some of the episode-by-episode discussions that happened while the show was airing.

I was really curious to see what my thoughts on the final season would be, after I heard that it was controversial amongst fans. As I’ve mentioned before, I heard spoilers about how most of the major character arcs ended before I started watching this show, so I didn’t get caught up in guessing who would ultimately take the Iron Throne.

In the end, I’m pretty happy with where most of the character arcs ended up, though I will say that the conclusion felt a little rushed and needed more fleshing out.

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The North remembers

As a fan of House Stark, I was going to be happy with any member of the Stark family ending up on the Iron Throne, and I think Bran is an interesting choice. It has some nice narrative symmetry, bringing the show full circle (since Jaime Lannister basically started this whole mess by pushing Bran out a window). I also like that the new leader of Westeros didn’t win the throne through violence and hadn’t been seeking power for its own sake.

I will say that if “King Bran” was always going to be endgame, the showrunners needed to do a little better job of foreshadowing that and giving Bran a more active role throughout the series. Maybe part of that disjointed feeling has to do with the fact that the show outpaced George R.R. Martin’s books, and so the showrunners had to come up with their own conclusion to the story. But still, they could have started making Bran more of a major player back in season 5, when the show really started diverging from the books.

I also love, love, love that Sansa is crowned Queen in the North. She’s had to suffer through so much, and I’m so happy that she survived all the dangerous political games going on around her and outlasted everyone who tried to use her as a pawn. Again, similar to Bran, I wish the show had done more to set up the North declaring its independence, but it makes sense that they’d want to do that after all the bad stuff that’s happened to them. It’s also great to see Arya heading off on her own adventures (spin-off series, anyone?).

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The Dragon Queen

Now, one of the most controversial aspects of the series finale is Dany’s abrupt turn to the dark side. While I was okay with this plot twist, I totally understand those who were disappointed and wanted something different for her character.

The show should have started showing us Dany’s fall from the light much sooner, and with more nuance this could have been a truly fascinating and heartbreaking character arc. Instead, Dany simply snaps two episodes from the end of the series and starts burning literally everything in King’s Landing, even innocent children. It just didn’t make sense for her character at that time. The series needed to do more to show how (and why) she arrived at that point.

I do believe that it’s more difficult to show a hero’s fall from grace than a villain’s redemption, and off the top of my head, I can’t think of an example where the former has been done really well (although I’m sure there’s one that I’m simply forgetting). We did see hints of Dany’s darkness before the final season, as she sometimes responded too harshly to those who opposed her.

The show could have spent more time reflecting on Dany’s sense of justice and demonstrating how her desire for vengeance gradually drowns out her compassion. Dany believes it is her right to rule the Iron Throne; is that fair, just, and noble, or is there a darker sense of entitlement running underneath the surface? There are so many fascinating psychological and philosophical issues that the show just didn’t explore.

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The fall of the Lannisters

Another character arc that seemed a little too abrupt was Jaime Lannister’s. He actually leaves Cersei to go fight in the battle against the Night King, and it seems like maybe he’s finally on a better path. Although Jaime has never really been one of my favorite characters, even I was kinda rooting for him to have a redemption arc.

Then, after he demonstrates his love for Brienne, he just decides, “Never mind — I’m going back to King’s Landing to be with Cersei!” He and Cersei die in each others’ arms while rubble collapses on top of them.

Cersei is probably my favorite villain on this show, and I believe she deserved a more epic death scene than that. I would have preferred to have Jaime actually reject Cersei in the end. Maybe he lies to Brienne so that she won’t follow him to King’s Landing and place herself in harm’s way, and then he kills Cersei himself. Maybe he still dies in the destruction of King’s Landing, but Brienne finds out the truth and knows that Jaime died a hero.

As it stands, I’m really mad that Jaime broke my girl Brienne’s heart, and she deserved better. I know that in the final episode you see that scene where Brienne is writing about all of Jaime’s deeds in that fancy book, but in my personal head-canon she scratches all that out and writes lots of dirt about him in there instead. 😉

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The King in the North

I’m still trying to decide how I feel about Jon Snow’s character arc. He goes from being King in the North, to one of Dany’s greatest allies, and then he ends up killing her once he sees what she’s become. He still loves her, even though they’re related and she’s turned to the dark side. (It’s really, really complicated.)

If I hadn’t known the ending already, I probably would have been rooting for Jon to take the Iron Throne, and after all his moments of triumph, it is a little disappointing that he’s basically exiled and sentenced to return to the Night’s Watch.

Yet it does have a sense of Shakespearean tragedy to it; Jon gives up his destiny and a woman he deeply cares about in order to do what he believes is right for the future of Westeros. I think that if the series had gotten one more season, to really flesh out Dany’s fall and the final battle for the throne, the writers also would have had enough time to give us a really deep arc for Jon. Maybe it still ends in his exile, but they could have made that whole arc more meaningful.

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Final thoughts

While I’ve spent a lot of time in this blog talking about some of the drawbacks of the final season, I don’t want to end on a negative note because I really, really loved this show.

From season 1 up until the battle against the Night King and his army of the dead (season 8, episode 3), Game of Thrones is some of the best television I have ever watched, or probably ever will watch. While the final few episodes of the series were a little disappointing/rushed, that doesn’t take away from how amazing and narratively rich this series is as a whole.

Peter Dinklage leads a master class in acting every single episode. I never expected it, but Theon Greyjoy had an amazingly beautiful redemption arc, and I felt genuine sadness when he died. I loved Jorah Mormont’s unrequited love story, and it was fitting that he died protecting Dany. Overall the battle scenes and special effects in this series were amazing, and I got excited every single time the dragons showed up.

I’m so glad I finally decided to watch Game of Thrones, and I can definitely see myself returning to certain arcs and rewatching my favorite scenes (although I never, ever want to watch the Red Wedding again). In the end, I am glad that I heard some spoilers about the final season, because it helped me adjust my expectations regarding the final episodes. Even though I personally would have changed some things, I’m happy I went on this journey.

Game of Thrones is one of my all-time favorite TV shows now, and I’m looking forward to talking more about it with other fans now that I know the complete story.

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A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones season 7 (spoilers!)

1200The first six seasons of Game of Thrones were a slow-burn build-up, full of simmering tension, constantly shifting alliances, and a brutal battle for control of the Iron Throne.

In season 7, it feels like the showrunners really hit the gas pedal, and all these narrative pieces start coming together rapidly. Daenerys is finally ready to challenge Cersei for the Iron Throne, but standing in both of their ways is the growing threat of the Night King and his army of the dead.

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A tale of two queens

Cersei and Dany continue to be two of the most fascinating characters on this show, even though I’m not really rooting for either of them to take the Iron Throne in the end.

On the surface, Cersei is the show’s irredeemable villain and Dany is the hero, riding in to save Westeros from a seemingly endless cycle of violence and upheaval. But, this show has always been more of a Shakespearean tragedy than a feel-good fantasy tale, and there’s a lot of nuance to these characters, once you dig beneath the surface.

I’ve talked before in my Game of Thrones blog series that even though Cersei is a ruthless schemer, at certain moments I do feel sorry for her. She really does love her children, and watching them die one by one is genuinely heartbreaking for her. Her father and her husband both used her as a pawn in the game of thrones, and her codependent relationship with her brother Jaime is unhealthy for both of them. Plus, Lena Headey’s performance makes Cersei such a compelling character that even though you’re hoping for her downfall, she’s a vital part of what makes this show work so well.

As for Dany, in the first couple of seasons I was really cheering for her and I wanted to see her triumph. She’s a character who’s been beaten down and, like Cersei, has often been used as a pawn by the people around her. Yet there’s a darkness within Dany, hidden beneath the surface, that you don’t really see until later in the series.

Dany has a kind heart and compassion for the powerless and the suffering, but she can also be brutal to those who oppose her. One of the questions I’ve been pondering throughout my time watching this series is, “Does Dany go too far in her pursuit of justice? And should she do a better job of showing mercy?” Although her new adviser, Tyrion Lannister, fully supports her, you can see his growing concern with her determination to squelch her opposition.

On the one hand, I do understand that Dany is trying to consolidate her power and make a strong case for why she should sit on the Iron Throne. Yet sometimes her actions strike me as too harsh, and I worry that she may be tempted to cross too far over into the dark side. (Actually, I know she does this, since I’ve heard season 8 spoilers.)

One of the show’s primary themes is that a desire for power can become a consuming, corrupting force that can cause even good-hearted people like Dany to stumble. Is it possible to wield that much power and still remain pure of heart? So far, the Iron Throne hasn’t really brought anyone peace or fulfillment, and pretty much everyone who’s sat in it has become corrupted in some way and come to an unhappy end.

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The prince that was promised

A character who offers an interesting contrast to this desperate struggle for power is Jon Snow, who, despite being a natural leader, doesn’t really seem to crave power or influence. When he’s named King in the North, he accepts the honor with humility and is one of the few leaders in Westeros who really does care about helping his people. His interactions with Dany show that he’s willing to set aside his own pride to recruit allies for the coming war against the Night King.

Of course, if you’ve already watched this season, you know by now that there’s a REALLY BIG twist when it comes to Jon and Dany. As in, Jon was never actually Ned’s illegitimate son, and as the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, he actually has a claim to the Iron Throne himself. And this whole situation gets even weirder and more complicated because this reveal comes right as Jon and Dany have started a romantic relationship.

We’ve already got one incest subplot going on in Game of Thrones, so I’m really not a fan of adding ANOTHER one. I wish they would have either gone with “tragic romance between a queen and one of her advisers” OR “two allies whose friendship is compromised when they learn they could be rivals.”

Anyway, none of this is going to come to a happy ending, but I guess I’ll just have to wait until the next season to see how it all plays out.

Also, this is somewhat of a random side note, but I couldn’t end this blog without commenting on the downfall of one of my favorite characters, Olenna Tyrell. Even though she technically loses to House Lannister, she still gets the last laugh by telling Jaime that she was the one who assassinated Joffrey. Lady Tyrell is an icon, and I still maintain that she deserved to sit on the Iron Throne.

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The long night

Season 7 really starts to drive home just how dangerous the Night King and his army of the dead are. Like, this is a potentially world-ending event if they cannot be stopped. And to heighten this feeling of utter terror descending across Westeros, the season ends with an UNDEAD DRAGON blasting the seemingly impenetrable Wall with blue fire and then blowing a hole in it big enough to march an army through.

While I already know the final season is going to be nerve-wracking to watch, I am looking forward to seeing pretty much all the power players in Westeros setting aside their differences (at least for one battle) and teaming up to fight the undead.

Up till this point, I’ve been able to borrow copies of the previous seasons of Game of Thrones, but season 8 has not been released on home video yet. However, I discovered I can sign up for a free trial of the HBO streaming service, so I have exactly one week to binge watch the entire final season. So, see you on the other side!

A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones season 6 (spoilers!)

1200Jon Snow lives!

I feel like I don’t even need to put a spoiler tag on that particular revelation, because the news about this plot twist was hard to escape from back in 2016.

Even though I just started watching Game of Thrones for the first time this year, I was still aware of the feverish speculation amongst fans after season 5 ended. Was Jon Snow really dead? Had Game of Thrones killed off yet another major character, or would there be a happy ending to this cliffhanger?

I would have been really sad if Jon was actually gone, after I’ve already had to bid farewell to a number of my favorite characters on this show, and so thankfully I didn’t have to wait that long to see Jon Snow resurrected.

After the fall of Stannis Baratheon, Melisandre anoints Jon as the new “prince that was promised,” and he begins his quest to take back the Starks’ home of Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton.

Even though I already know quite a few spoilers regarding the final season of Game of Thrones and where Jon Snow is headed, I feel like I can’t really comment on his character arc until I see for myself how it’s executed. It’s interesting to ponder what my thoughts on season 6 would have been if I’d watched it in a vacuum, without already knowing how it would all end.

At this point in the series, I think I would have maybe started rooting for Jon to take the Iron Throne? He definitely has a “Chosen One” feel, and in some ways he reminds me of one of my favorite Star Wars characters, Rey.

Both Rey and Jon come from somewhat painful pasts and deal with feelings of loneliness: i.e., Rey’s parents abandoned her, and Jon is judged for being a bastard. Neither one is hungry for power or wishes to dominate others, and yet the events surrounding them position them to be power players in a large-scale conflict that will determine the fate of their galaxy or homeland.

When I get to the final season of Game of Thrones, will I be disappointed in Jon’s ending? Again, I want to wait to find out how it’s portrayed within the story, because at least right now, I’m also happy with Bran and Sansa coming out as the victors in the game of thrones (hey, it’s still a win for #TeamStark!).

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The cost of being a hero

One of the continuing themes with the Stark family is that they try to do what’s right and noble, and yet they aren’t always rewarded in the end. Honestly, Ned Stark is probably the best character to sit on the Iron Throne, yet his moral strength and honor are not enough to save him. Robb would have made another good candidate, yet he too is betrayed. Jon Snow, who I will always count as a member of House Stark, is murdered by his own brothers in the Night’s Watch.

I commented on this in one of my previous Game of Thrones blogs, but I think it’s really important to see characters in fiction who aren’t always rewarded for doing the right thing. I’ll explain what I mean by that. We should do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, not just to get a reward or to make ourselves look good.

History is full of many people who gave their lives fighting for a noble cause; though they didn’t get to see good triumph over evil before they died, they trusted that their actions still mattered in the course of history. Not everyone who opposed the Nazi regime during WWII lived to see the end of the conflict, but their sacrifices were not in vain. We have to oppose evil and injustice, even if it costs us.

Despite Game of Thrones’ sometimes more pessimistic outlook on the world, even in Westeros good does win out in the end. Case in point: in season 6, karma finally catches up to two of my most hated characters in this show.

Some of the villainous characters in Game of Thrones have little flashes of humanity that make you feel sorry for them. Ramsay Bolton is not one of those characters. He is cruel and nasty, with absolutely no redeeming qualities. And, in the end, his arrogant overconfidence is his downfall.

Despite the odds against him, Jon wins back Winterfell, and Ramsay finally has to face justice from one of the people he hurt the most: Sansa Stark. I couldn’t actually watch the scene where Sansa turns Ramsay’s dogs on him, because of the violence, but it’s definitely the ending Ramsay deserves after using the dogs to hurt others. He might have actually been an even worse person than Joffrey, which is really saying something.

Justice also comes calling for Walder Frey, and Arya puts her shape-shifting skills to good use. I feel like I’ve finally gotten closure now for the red wedding. #TheNorthAlwaysRemembers

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Dealing out redemption arcs

I’ve spent a lot of time in these Game of Thrones reaction blogs writing about all the major power players, but there are some side characters who get really meaningful arcs that I’d like to chat about.

I really did not like Theon Greyjoy at first, and I never would have guessed he’d get one of the series’ most meaningful redemption arcs. But I did feel genuine compassion for him after Ramsay Bolton utterly breaks him; it was awful to see how Ramsay hurt him physically and also twisted his mind, making Theon feel like he was a worthless servant trapped in a cycle of fear and hopelessness.

However, seeing Sansa’s suffering is enough to finally empower Theon to take action, and I love how they escape from Winterfell together. The “Theon Greyjoy” who then returns to the Iron Islands is a much humbler, wiser man, and it was great to see how he lent his support to his sister’s bid to become ruler of the Iron Islands. I’m grateful he got a second chance, and he’s actually become one of my favorite characters now.

Another character I’ve really enjoyed is Jorah Mormont. He’s fascinating in that even after Daenerys exiles him, he still keeps coming back and trying to protect her and serve her. He loves her, but he expects nothing from her in return.

In Game of Thrones, we see a lot of selfish characters who are trying to grasp at power and seek how they can satisfy their own desires, regardless of what collateral damage they cause. Jorah’s one of the genuine people who’s actually committed to a cause he believes in. I actually haven’t heard any spoilers about Jorah’s fate at the end of the series, so I’m really curious to see how he’s used in the final two seasons.

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Closing thoughts

By now I’ve completely fallen in love with this show, and I’m going to be really sad when I finally finish it and won’t know what to do with my free time anymore. The show just keeps upping the stakes, and I can’t wait to find out how it all plays out.

I haven’t even mentioned yet the shocking ending of season 6, and how Cersei literally blows up a building to get rid of all her rivals. Even though she started the game of thrones at a disadvantage, she’s now fought her way to the very top.

I believe blowing up the Great Sept was her “Anakin Skywalker turns into Darth Vader moment,” and she’s fully crossed over to the dark side now. I already know she won’t win the game of thrones, but she’s not going to make taking back the Iron Throne easy for her enemies.

A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones seasons 4 & 5

1200I’m still mad about the infamous “red wedding,” but nevertheless, my first-time viewing of Game of Thrones continues with seasons 4 and 5.

I’m really starting to pick up speed now — I watched the first season in about a month, but I finished season 4 in a week. It’s interesting because even though I heard what I thought were a lot of spoilers about this show, there’s still a lot of details I don’t know, and I’m dying to find out what happens to certain characters. (Also, they had better not let any harm come to poor Samwell Tarly — he has such a lovely, kind soul and at least ONE PERSON on this show deserves to find happiness, darn it!)

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Revenge and forgiveness

***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

The Stark family keeps running into worse and worse luck, but at least now it’s time for the Lannisters to have a little taste of their own medicine. Karma finally catches up with King Joffrey and he’s poisoned at his own wedding. Also, Tywin’s days of manipulating his family are over, as the patriarch also meets his end, at the hands of his son Tyrion.

While Joffrey’s death comes as a relief to viewers (and just about everyone in Westeros), his absence doesn’t really settle the political tensions in the realm. In fact, it kicks off a murder “trial” (I’m putting “trial” in quotation marks here because there’s nothing particularly just or impartial about it), which eventually leads to Tyrion first killing his father, as referenced earlier, and then officially joining #TeamTargaryen.

As viewers we’ve been waiting a long time to see Joffrey get his comeuppance. He’s both a terrible ruler and a terrible person, and he was bad news for the future of Westeros. And yet, it’s interesting how revenge is never really as satisfying as you think it’s going to be. Joffrey’s death doesn’t erase all the evil things he’s done; Ned Stark is still dead, and there’s still a war going on. The legacy he left continues to poison those around him.

Speaking of revenge, I’m curious to see how Arya Stark’s character continues to develop, and how her feelings regarding her quest for vengeance may or may not change. (Side note: Her time training with the shape-shifters is super interesting, and I’m excited to see more magic making its way into the show.)

Arya has experienced far too much trauma and tragedy for someone who’s still so very young, and I don’t blame her for wanting to avenge her family. Still, there’s a very fine line between justice and revenge, and a good person who’s consumed by a desire for vengeance can easily cross over to the dark side themselves.

The opposite of revenge is, of course, forgiveness, and I’m curious to see what Game of Thrones has to say in regards to this theme. We haven’t seen much forgiveness at work, which is a shame because redemption and forgiveness are two of my favorite themes in stories (it’s why I love Star Wars so much, and it’s also why “Return of the Jedi” is one of my top favorite Star Wars movies). I believe that forgiveness and healing are an important part of the human experience.

Game of Thrones is challenging, though, because there are some characters that I really, really hate, and who seem beyond redemption. Some of the villains on Game of Thrones display a level of evil and cruelty that force me to look away from the screen. How does a character like Arya reach a place of forgiveness and peace within herself, while also ensuring that justice is done and that corrupt leaders are prevented from harming others in the future?

Daenerys is also wrestling with these same questions, as she tries to cement her status as queen and end corruption in the realms she encounters. What kind of punishment should she dole out in the lands she conquers, to the people who have done genuinely bad things? How do you mix mercy with justice?

I don’t think the show has really revealed what it thinks the answers to these questions are yet, but I’m sure this will continue to be explored in coming seasons.

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A dangerous dynasty

Even though I’m very much #TeamStark (a fact I’ve probably mentioned too many times already in this series of blogs), a character who has really grown on me throughout this series is Tyrion, and it was hard to watch almost all his friends and family abandon him during the trial where he is falsely accused of murder.

Peter Dinklage puts so much emotion and depth into his performance, and you can’t help but empathize with him. And what an epic speech when he tells off the entire courtroom full of people from King’s Landing; it didn’t exactly go over well with his audience, but I was definitely cheering!

It’s interesting to watch how the Lannisters regularly serve as the architects of their own doom. Jaime Lannister started this whole mess all the way back in season 1 by pushing Bran out the window. Joffrey’s selfish cruelty paints a giant target on his back. Then, Tywin’s repeated mistreatment of his son Tyrion leads to his own death and the loss of one of King’s Landing’s best strategists.

Well, the capital’s loss is Dany’s gain, as Tyrion takes his clever wits and political prowess to the Mother of Dragons, lending his support to the Targaryen dynasty. I can’t wait to see how their partnership plays out.

Tyrion will also be extra glad that he got out of King’s Landing when he finds out about the dumpster fire that place has turned into. Cersei gambles on an alliance with the High Sparrow, only to have him turn on her and throw her into prison. Cersei really can be a nasty person, but in the end I do pity her, because her life, on the whole, has probably been a very unhappy experience.

Cersei is smart and capable, but in the male-dominated world of Westeros, she’s treated dismissively. She has to fight for whatever power she does wield. If both she and Tyrion had been treated with more respect, and were placed in a more welcoming environment that allowed them to truly flourish, it’s interesting to ponder what they may have accomplished.

There are way too many other character arcs to cover in one blog, but it’s also cool to see Jon Snow emerging as a leader and trying to combat the growing threat of the White Walkers. Brienne of Tarth continues to be one of my favorite characters, and I love that we get to learn more about her backstory. Plus, Podrick is a great sidekick for her, and I love seeing their adventures together.

Also, in the beginning I really hated Theon Greyjoy, and I’m surprised to admit that I now genuinely feel sorry for him. He’s done some bad things, but seeing the way Ramsay Bolton has broken him physically, mentally, and emotionally is just gut-wrenching.

Speaking of Ramsay Bolton, he now joins King Joffrey on my list of most hated fictional characters of all time. I flinch every time he’s onscreen, and I’m getting mad just writing about him. Ugh ⁠— it’s time for him to go!

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Responsibility in storytelling

This leads me to the final point I’d like to discuss, and it’s one I’ve heard other viewers talking about throughout the series. Does Game of Thrones sometimes go too far in its depiction of violence, particularly its focus on sexual violence against women?

There’s a scene in season 5 involving Ramsay Bolton and his new wife, Sansa Stark, that so deeply troubled me that I don’t even really want to write about it. I don’t cry a lot while watching movies/TV, but his horrible treatment of Sansa really got to me. We’ve seen many female characters who have been sexually mistreated throughout the series, including Cersei, Dany, and nearly Brienne.

Is this something that should be shown onscreen? I’m sure that events like this happened in the real-life medieval era; however, any time you portray a sensitive topic in fiction, you have to do it responsibly. Hopefully Ramsay will be called to account for all the awful things he’s done, but that won’t erase the trauma Sansa has experienced.

I love Game of Thrones, but I believe it is perfectly fair to call out the writers, and to wish that they’d handled these sensitive scenes with greater care. Also, the scene of Jaime forcing himself on his sister Cersei felt out of character and has made it tough for me to root for a redemption arc for him anymore. According to an article I read, that scene wasn’t even in the books, which makes its inclusion in the show all the more frustrating.

This issue is more complex than can be covered in one article, but I think it’s good to talk about it. Fiction can raise awareness about the realities of sexual violence throughout history, and motivate people to take action against it. But this topic should never be sensationalized or used for mere shock value, which is sometimes the case in Game of Thrones.

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Closing thoughts

I am now over halfway through this series, and pieces of the narrative continue to fall into place. Also, thank goodness I have heard some spoilers about season 6, because the ending of season 5 is definitely a shocker. The Night’s Watch turns on Jon Snow and leaves him bleeding out on the ground, presumably dead.

I definitely would have been raging at “red wedding” levels of angry, but thankfully I already know he comes back, so the scene wasn’t as traumatic as it otherwise would have been. Still, I’m definitely going to be in a hurry to get to the library after work today to pick up a copy of season 6!

Quick review: ‘Hobbs & Shaw’ offers summer popcorn movie fun

fast-furious-hobbs-shawI don’t know what it was about that first trailer for “Hobbs & Shaw,” the latest in the Fast and Furious movie franchise, but as soon as I saw it, I thought, “I have to see this movie.”

The funny thing is, I’m not even a Fast and Furious fan. I’ve only seen one and a half Fast and Furious movies, and don’t feel a particular need to watch the others. It’s just not my thing.

But something about the “frenemies” chemistry between Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham made me believe this was going to be a fun movie, and I wasn’t disappointed.

“Hobbs & Shaw” is loud, ridiculous, and everything I wanted it to be. I caught an afternoon matinee with a big bucket of popcorn and had a great time at the theater.

It’s tough to do a review for a movie like “Hobbs & Shaw,” because there’s not really anything to dive deeper into. And you know what? Sometimes that’s okay. If you saw the trailer, you know what you’re getting in this movie: Johnson and Statham’s banter, lots of explosions, and delightfully over-the-top action sequences.

Even as someone who’s not super familiar with this franchise or the characters, I had a pretty easy time following along. Vanessa Kirby is great as an MI6 agent and the sister of Statham’s character. There are some celebrity cameos I didn’t know were going to be in the film and were a fun surprise when they popped up on-screen. The villain character isn’t particularly deep, but I always love seeing Idris Elba in a movie.

In short, if you enjoyed the trailer for “Hobbs & Shaw,” you’ll probably enjoy this movie. Is it a bit silly at times? Yes. But sometimes a movie is just plain fun, and at least for me, “Hobbs & Shaw” delivered.

Movie review: ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’ returns to Tinseltown’s golden age

Film_Review___Once_Upon_a_Time_in_Hollywood.0Up until about five years ago, I’d never seen a Quentin Tarantino film. Other films fans would lovingly give me grief about this, and so I finally decided to sit down and watch one.

I popped his first movie — “Reservoir Dogs” — into my DVD player and then hit “play,” not really sure what to expect. As a film, it was often violent and disturbing, and after I finished, my first thought was that I kinda hated it.

However, I kept mulling it over, and the film slowly grew on me, and I ultimately decided it was a masterpiece. And I’ve been a fan of Quentin Tarantino ever since.

Tarantino is one of Hollywood’s most distinctive directors. If you’re watching a Tarantino film, you know it’s a Tarantino film. While his films cover wildly different settings — a heist, a revisionist Western, World War II, and so on — they all share a certain style that is unmistakably Tarantino’s.

My favorite Tarantino film is probably “Django Unchained” (though it definitely could have been edited down to a shorter runtime). I’m not sure where his latest — “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” — will ultimately rank, but like most Tarantino films, I need a little time to mull it over.

Set in late 1960s Hollywood, the film centers on two friends: actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), whose starpower is fading, and easygoing stuntman Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt). While Booth seems fairly content with whatever life sends his way, Dalton fears for the future of his career, which he knows is languishing. As he gets progressively less meaningful roles, he fears his legacy will come to nothing.

Simultaneously, the film shows us anecdotes from the life of Sharon Tate, Dalton’s neighbor. While Dalton is fictional, Tate is a real actress, who was cruelly murdered by members of the Manson family cult in 1969.

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Drenched in style and sun, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” is both a love letter to the golden age of Hollywood and a somewhat melancholic reflection on the fleeting nature of stardom. For every star that people remember fondly today — Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, etc. — there are plenty like Dalton whose names have been lost in time, captured only on unwatched reels of film now collecting dust.

One of my favorite parts of “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” were the “films” within the film; you get to see clips of fake movies and TV shows from Dalton’s career. For better or worse, you don’t see those types of movies being made anymore in Hollywood. While I don’t necessarily have much nostalgia for that period and the ones preceding it (I tend to prefer films from the 1970s and on), I do respect the history. And it’s hard not to feel sad as you watch Dalton’s relevancy slowly slipping away.

One thing I was a little worried about was how the film might handle the real-life history it touches on. I did not want to see the murder of Sharon Tate sensationalized or exploited, especially since Tarantino is known for his scenes of over-the-top violence.

Thankfully, Tarantino handles this real-life character respectfully, and the footage of Margot Robbie as Tate is shot with a surprising love and tenderness. I have seen some criticize the fact Tate has minimal dialogue in this movie, but even though she doesn’t have a large number of lines, her warmth and spirit fill the screen.

I’m still not sure what to think of the final act, and I can’t really comment on that without giving away spoilers. But I was touched by the very final scene and thought it was a good way to end the movie.

“Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” can, at times, come across as a little rambling and indulgent, but maybe that’s okay. It’s probably Tarantino’s most emotional film, and I walked away feeling bittersweet.

This film captures the ending of an era, and it’s possible we’re seeing the ending of another era right now in Hollywood.

I’m reading more articles about the so-called decline of “traditional film,” about how people are less willing to go to the theater, and even if they are, they’re less likely to spend money on an original work like “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.” Will theaters and films like Tarantino’s eventually become like Dalton himself, less relevant in a world of streaming services and blockbuster franchises?

I honestly don’t know, and as a longtime lover of the movie theater experience, that makes me sad. However, I like to think that, as it always has, the film industry will continue to evolve, and people will keep finding ways to tell meaningful stories that can stand the test of time.

For now, I’m content to sit in the darkness of my local theater, watching the magic happen on the big screen for as long as I can.

Superheroes at Christmastime: Christmas in July Blogathon 2019

Thanks to Drew’s Movie Reviews for letting me participate in the annual Christmas in July blogathon!

Drew's Movie Reviews

Hello, friends!

Winding down day two of the sixth annual Christmas in July Blogathon is the MCU and Star Wars mega fan known as Ashley from Box Office Buzz, If you are unfamiliar with her site, I highly recommend you go over and give it a look. She reviews all kinds of movies and writes a variety of other posts. As I said, she is a big MCU fan, and superhero film fan in general, and she brings that passion to this blogathon as she looks at two superhero Christmas films.


Superheroes at Christmastime: Taking a closer look at two of my favorite (unofficial) holiday films

Did you know that both the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the DC Extended Universe have technically included Christmas films in their respective franchises?

When people put together lists of favorite Christmas movies, “Iron Man 3” and “Shazam” probably aren’t the films that first…

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A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones seasons 2 & 3

1200“If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

If there’s one bit of dialogue you should keep in mind while watching Game of Thrones, it’s probably that one. While I’ve only just now finished season 3, multiple characters have already met untimely/unfair ends. There’s no telling who will actually make it to the end, and who will come out as a winner or a loser in the fight for the Iron Throne.

Earlier this year, I started watching Game of Thrones after years of hearing all the buzz about it. I purposely waited for the final episode to air before I began, so that I could experience the series as one complete arc. I also decided to blog my thoughts along the way. I’m not normally much of a binge-watcher, so I’ll probably be working on this project for a while, but it’s been a fascinating journey so far.

While I enjoyed the first season and meeting all the characters, the second season is where this show really started drawing me in. All the political maneuvering is captivating to watch, and even though I’ve already heard a decent amount of spoilers regarding the show’s ending, I quickly found out that, much like poor Jon Snow, there’s still a lot I don’t know.

(Fair warning, spoilers abound!)

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Pawns and players

Our heroes and villains have been scattered across Westeros (and beyond), every person working towards his or her own goal (some more altruistic than others). Robb continues to lead the war between the Starks and the Lannisters; Joffrey continues to be an utterly awful human being; Arya grows into a toughened survivor; Dany is nurturing her dragons and building an army; and Jon Snow is…well…doing whatever the heck he’s trying to do beyond the Wall. (I’m not totally sure what his ultimate plan is, but I don’t think he necessarily knows either. Jon is sometimes what I’d call “lovably clueless.” You know I still adore you, though, Jon!)

I just keep finding myself amazed at the scope of this show; the sets and costumes are even higher quality than some big-budget films I’ve seen. It’s also impressive the amount of depth the actors are able to add to their characters. There are some characters I didn’t really like when I first met them, but thanks to some subtle details added by the actors and/or the script, I actually pity them now. Many of these characters haven’t really led happy lives thus far, and they’re trying to survive in the only way they know how.

One of the main characters who really stands out to me after watching the first three seasons is Tyrion Lannister, played by Peter Dinklage. What an interesting character, and what a great performance. Tyrion can be both ruthless and compassionate, and he’s obviously one of the smartest players in the game of thrones going on around him. He cares more than he’s willing to let on, and he’s definitely the best of the Lannisters (though to be fair, that’s not really a high bar to clear).

Tyrion is treated cruelly by both his family and the people around him, simply because he is shorter than the average height. His father, Tywin, treats Tyrion and his other children as mere pawns to be used in building the family’s reputation. One of the hardest scenes to watch is the forced wedding between Tyrion and Ned Stark’s daughter, Sansa, because these are two people who are utterly miserable yet also utterly powerless. Tyrion is also one of the few people in King’s Landing who shows kindness to Sansa. I’m really hoping both of these two will be okay!

Another character whose arc really intrigues me is Tyrion’s brother, Jaime. I really hated Jaime at first, but the past several seasons have marked a rather intense period of personal growth for him. He loses his hand — and therefore, part of his identity as a warrior — and his interactions with Brienne of Tarth show that he does have a sense of nobility and decency buried deep within him. I also love how Brienne puts up with zero percent of his nonsense.

Speaking of Brienne, she has quickly become one of my favorite characters. Even in a society that’s prejudiced against her, she’s managed to become a female warrior and demands the respect of those who get to know her.

And I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention Olenna Tyrell. She is to Game of Thrones what the Dowager Countess is to Downton Abbey. Olenna has a sharp wit and an even sharper tongue, and she always has the best lines. She’s not intimidated by the Lannisters, and she is never afraid to speak her mind. If this was a democracy, she’d definitely have my vote to sit on the Iron Throne.

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Themes in the narrative

I love digging deeper into stories and pondering what they’re trying to say, both about the world they’re depicting and the real world beyond the fantasy. And Game of Thrones has plenty to dig into.

In my first Game of Thrones blog, I mentioned that I was frustrated by how the show portrayed some of the female characters, and I hoped that future seasons would give them more of a voice. Although the show still could use some improvement in this department (female characters are still objectified far more than their male co-stars), I really love some of the arcs that are developing. Female characters also are being allowed to voice some of their frustrations about the system that is inherently biased against them.

And even though the society depicted here is set up to give men more power, the show’s oppressive system of government really isn’t doing anyone any favors. The monarchy based on birthright has resulted in some truly terrible rulers (looking at you, Joffrey), and only a few people really have the power to make significant decisions. Everyone else has to scheme behind the scenes and simply hope they can survive.

I’ll be curious to see if, in later seasons, characters are able to succeed in their quest to break the cycle of violence and abuse, or if they simply become part of the system, unable to diverge from the traditions of past generations.

It’s easy to look at the harsh world of Game of Thrones and think, “Oh yeah, we’re better than that!” But are we really? For example, even now, in 2019, issues like racism and misogyny rear their ugly heads. You don’t even have to dive that deeply into social media to find examples of this. And even though politicians may not be literally stabbing each other in the back, as they are in Game of Thrones, we’ve seen too many examples of power’s corrupting influence.

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It’s time to talk about THAT scene

Finally, before I watched Game of Thrones, I’d heard about an infamous “red wedding” but I didn’t know what it was or when it was going to occur. Well, now I know what it is AND I HATE IT.

Apparently I was expressing my thoughts about this scene loudly enough that my husband (who was upstairs) could hear me complaining as I sat in front of the TV in the basement. I don’t know that I’ve ever been so mad about a fictional plot twist before, officially surpassing my feelings about “Mockingjay,” the final book in the Hunger Games series (and, to date, the only book I’ve ever thrown across the room after finishing it).

As I mentioned before, I’m definitely #TeamStark, and Robb and Catelyn were two of my favorite characters. I’m both mad that they died, and I’m mad about the way they died. I watched this episode Friday night and was haunted by it throughout the weekend. Game of Thrones, why????

All right — I could keep ranting for a while, but you get the idea. Even though I’m upset about saying goodbye to two of my favorite characters too soon (especially since Ned Stark already was on the show all-too-briefly), to be fair I did know going in that this show was going to kill off some major characters in upsetting ways.

This did get me to thinking about unexpected major character deaths in fiction as a narrative device, and how it’s not always my favorite type of plot twist.

Yes, it technically adds realism, because life doesn’t always follow a neatly plotted narrative. But personally, I’d rather sacrifice some realism to get more time with interesting characters. Ned, Catelyn, and Robb Stark, as well as Renly Baratheon (who died in season 2), are all characters I wanted to see more of.

This isn’t really a criticism of the show, because it’s not wrong to aim for more of a realistic style. It’s just a personal preference. Or maybe I’m just bitter because my favorite characters happen to be the ones targeted by these shocking plot twists. 😉

Anyway, despite my feelings about the red wedding, I now have season 4 of Game of Thrones on hold at the local library, and I’m planning to pick it up after work! Things are not looking good for the Starks, but I’m still rooting for them.

Cash-grab rehash or creative re-imagining? Thoughts on the Disney live action remakes

TheLionKing5cadf226d5164.0While not all of Disney’s live action remakes of their animated classics have been a hit with critics, they do appear (at least for the most part) to have found success at the box office.

The live action “Beauty and the Beast” earned a staggering $1.26 billion worldwide. “The Jungle Book” earned $966 million. “Aladdin” is at $961 million (and still counting), surprisingly turning into one of the summer’s leggiest movies.

This weekend, “The Lion King” hopes to join the trend of Disney live action successes with its star-studded voice cast and impressive CGI visuals, despite its somewhat so-so reviews.

I’ve heard a lot of mixed opinions from film fans on the Disney live action remakes. Some fans feel these remakes are shameless cash grabs, the result of Disney trying to make a quick buck by rehashing an already-told story. Others (myself included) feel they are harmless fun, refreshing a well-loved story for a new generation.

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I think it’s actually a bit tricky to determine when to label a film a “shameless cash grab,” because, at the end of the day, all blockbusters are designed to make money (preferably, a LOT of money). In the strictest sense, “Avengers: Endgame” was a cash grab. “The Force Awakens” was a cash grab. However, I dearly love both those movies, and I believe both have value as works of pop culture. Yes, they made a lot of cash at the box office, but they also tell a meaningful story and offer thoughtful themes.

The reason I’ve enjoyed most of the live action Disney remakes is that they do offer something new that wasn’t present in the original animated versions. “Maleficent” made us see a classic Disney villain in a new way. “Aladdin” gave us an authentically diverse cast of actors (while I love the animated original, it disappointingly did not have a very diverse voice cast). And judging by the trailer of the new “Mulan” remake, it will have some gorgeous action sequences and reportedly steer closer to the original legend from China.

There’s also a certain novelty in seeing your favorite Disney animated films in a new format. I grew up watching a lot of these films (“Aladdin” was the very first film I remember seeing in a theater), and seeing a new version just gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. It’s not always bad to play to the audience’s nostalgia (although sometimes, nostalgia is a double-edged sword, but that’s another topic for another time).

I think it also matters which animated classics Disney targets for re-release. “Dumbo” comparatively under-performed; perhaps because the animated original isn’t one people are talking about as much, and director Tim Burton seems to be struggling at the box office in general lately. I’m also a little worried about “The Lion King,” because unlike “Aladdin” — which is a true live action retelling of an animated film — “The Lion King” is basically also an animated film, just with photo-realistic CGI.

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Disney’s princess movies have always been popular, so it makes sense to target those for remakes, especially since some of the older ones do have some features that feel a little dated. Maybe it’s controversial to say that? But that’s possibly why “Cinderella” is my favorite live-action remake thus far; it captures the charm of the original story but gives it a fresh coat of paint that makes the film feel both timeless and modern.

In the end, if the Disney live action remakes bring you joy, that’s great! I personally really enjoy seeing them and I’m excited for the new ones coming up in the future. And if they’re not your thing? That’s okay too! Regardless, it has been fun to see kids connecting with these live action movies and (I hope!) discovering the animated classics as well.

A ‘Marvel-ous’ list: An updated ranking of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films (July 2019)

Iron-Man-Infinity-WarHere’s my final ranking of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films, adding the three new ones from this year. I’m actually going to be retiring this list, since it’s tough to maintain a 20+ movie ranking that’s constantly shifting. But this phase of the MCU has been really great, and I’ll probably start a new list for whatever comes after “Endgame” and “Far From Home”!

A ‘Marvel-ous’ list: An updated ranking of my favorite Marvel Cinematic Universe films (July 2019)