Posts Tagged ‘TV’

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episode Three: “Miscellaneous”

August 31, 2017

David Lynch, who as the co-creator, co-writer, and director of Twin Peaks is currently airing the best show in the history of television, says “Cinema is sound and picture, flowing together in time.” By that metric, the opening sequence for this week’s Halt and Catch Fire (“Miscellaneous”) is the definition of cinema. The sounds: the dripping of two faucets in two apartments, accompanied by a piece from Paul Haslinger’s score that’s as lovely an ambient composition as I’ve heard in years. The picture: the faucets (one of them flowing upside-down as we rotate into its spacetime location), the apartments, the woman inhabiting them—Cameron Howe—and, in one of them, the man—Tom Rendon (the always welcome Mark O’Brien)—whose heart she’s just broken. The time: the present, in which Cameron is wandering around her past and present lover Joe MacMillan’s apartment alone, investigating the life he built for himself, and the past, in which Cameron painfully explains to her then-husband Tom that despite having a one-night stand with Joe, she does not love him. “There’s no loving Joe,” she says, teary-eyed. “He’s impossible to love. He’s empty, and he just becomes whatever circumstances need him to be.” We hear these words even as this past flows together with the present, in which she’s reunited with Joe, and quite in love. “Who are you?” Tom replies. It’s an open question. Cinema is sound and picture, flowing together in time.

I reviewed last weekend’s luscious episode of Halt and Catch Fire for Decider. What a show.

“Game of Thrones”’ Isaac Hempstead Wright Debunks the Night King Theory

August 30, 2017

Congratulations on creeping everybody out this season.

[Laughs.] Yeah, sorry about that. There were some cool bits to get to play, less so that creepy moment with Sansa. That was weird. I don’t think Bran meant that in a weird way; I don’t think he’s trying to freak his sister out by going, “Yeah, I know everything. Don’t fuck with me.” It’s more like Bran is processing everything he’s seen, like, “I’ve seen you there. That happened to you. I’m sorry for what happened to you.” Bran has lost that emotional connection. He just states what he sees in an almost autistic way, not really connecting with things but just saying how they are.

Saying “chaos is a ladder” to Littlefinger was so cool, though. I felt so badass in that scene, like, “Chaos is a ladder … yeeaaaah. How do you like that, Littlefinger?”

I went deep on Bran’s powers and motives as the Three-Eyed Raven with Isaac Hempstead Wright for Vulture.

“Game of Thrones” Director Jeremy Podeswa on Shooting That Gigantic Season Finale

August 30, 2017

Beyond Sansa and Arya’s rapprochement, the episode ends with Dany and Jon’s love scene and the fall of the Wall.

Yeah. It’s what the whole show is talking about, really, and why there is a summit at the Dragonpit in the first place. The show is so much about people fighting for power and one-upmanship and control, but at the end of the day, it’s a metaphor for life. Whatever we try — to be rich, to be happy — death is unavoidable. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, it doesn’t matter how much love you have. At the end of the day, it’s all heading that way. It puts all this gamesmanship and fight for power in relief, and it’s a big part of what this show is about.

Coming so hot on the heels of the Jon and Dany scene, which was about life and love and all those powerful forces, I was really struck by the shot you did of the zombies just watching as the Night King and the dragon destroy the Wall. There was an awful sense of violation about that.

Something that Game of Thrones always does successfully is that action sequences are never just action sequences. There’s always a point of view, and you’re always identifying with one person or one group of people. I think in this case, it’s not that you identify with the White Walkers, but there is a strange consciousness among them. It’s not spectacle just for the sake of spectacle. There’s actually a human drama that’s being played out here, and in this case this is the implacable enemy. It’s the forces of death over the forces of life. You have to believe in them as a kind of real, living, breathing, sentient mass.

The way to create drama in a sequence like this is by making it about these figures, not just about a Wall coming down. It’s really about the forces of good versus evil, and evil has a face.

I got to ask director Jeremy Podeswa about one of my favorite shots in the finale, as well as all kinds of stuff about the Dragonpit summit, Lena Headey, Aidan Gillen, and more, for Vulture.

Game of Thrones’ Liam Cunningham on the Dragonpit Summit, Davos’s Sex Appeal, and Why He Hasn’t Read the Books

August 29, 2017

I’ll try to be circumspect here: Many of my female friends like you a lot. Is this something you’ve noticed?

You know what? As I like to say, the star of Game of Thrones is Game of Thrones. The show is the star. I love the whole ensemble aspect of it. The best work I’ve ever done has been ensemble work, not leading-man stuff. I love doing character roles.

I think there is a certain amount of … [pauses.] Because there are so many morally ambiguous characters in this, maybe some of your female friends have daddy issues or something like that, because Davos would certainly make a wonderful father. Listen, I’d love to be like Davos. I aspire to be that man. You know where you are with this guy. He has a sense of fun, and he’s not fearful of life. As he said to Stannis, he’s not fearful of his death, either. He’s a guy you’d love in your corner. He’s a quiet hero. He’s kind of what we all aspire to be. But if it’s anything other than that, you need to speak to your friends. [Laughs.]

I interviewed Liam Cunningham, Game of Thrones’ Ser Davos Seaworth and a thoroughly delightful man, for Vulture.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Sixteen

August 28, 2017

With only one week and two hours remaining, this season/series revival had spent nearly its entire running time chronicling the (mis)adventures of a Coop far from the one we knew and loved all those years ago – and that’s not even counting the evil doppelganger who escaped the Black Lodge into our world. Our beloved federal agent may have finally escaped that zig-zagged hellscape, but he wound up trapped in the life of a Las Vegas insurance agent named Dougie Jones. Episode after episode, “Dougie” was unable to remember not just his past but, like, how to speak in complete sentences. Somehow, this didn’t prevent our hapless hero from surviving multiple assassination attempts, winning both the local mob bosses’ favor and thousands of dollars at the slots (“Hell-oooooooo!”), making sweet love to Naomi Watts and consuming his fair share of damn good coffee and cherry pie. It was as if his innate Coop-ness was still shining through, guiding him through life’s dangers even if he was incapable of figuring out how a door works.

Then, last week, something changed. Hearing the name of his old mentor Gordon Cole in the movie Sunset Boulevard, “Dougie” was somehow triggered into jabbing a fork into an electrical outlet, sending him into a coma. What emerges on the other side in this episode is wonderful even beyond the imagining of people who’ve waited for this moment for two decades and counting.

“You are awake,” says the one-armed man Philip Gerard in a vision.

“One-hundred percent,” says Dale – the real Dale – in response.

Welcome back, Cooper — the do-gooder, go-getter and wrong-righter whose decency shone like a beacon through all of the darkness all those years ago. The music that accompanies his awakening is the Twin Peaks theme itself. He even still loves and cares for Janey-E and Sonny Jim, the family you might have expected him to simply abandon. By the time his insurance-agency boss Battlin’ Bud Bushnell warns him the FBI is looking for him and he turns to the camera and says, “I am the FBI,” it’s hard to believe there was a single Peaks freak on the planet who wasn’t either screaming for joy or a blubbering mess.

I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve been as moved by an episode of television I was by last night’s Twin Peaks. Just openly sobbing with joy. I reviewed it for Rolling Stone.

Every “Game of Thrones” Episode, Ranked from Worst to Best

August 28, 2017

14. “The Dragon and the Wolf” (Season 7, Episode 7)
The giant-size finale of what was simultaneously the series’ shortest and most epic season played like a Game of Thrones superfan’s winning bingo card. Jon and Daenerys finally hooked up, even as we learned for certain that they’re related. Jaime and Cersei finally split up, as the Kingslayer realized his sister is beyond even his concepts of morality. The Stark siblings put an end to Littlefinger’s reign of error. Winter comes to King’s Landing as snow falls on the capital. And the Night King unleashed his zombie dragon’s blue fire to send the ice of the Wall plummeting to earth, allowing his undead army to pass through. The end is nigh, folks.

I revisited, revised, and fully updated my ranking of all 67 episodes of Game of Thrones thus far in ascending order of quality for Vulture.

“Game of Thrones” Season 7: Who Lived, Who Died, What We Learned

August 28, 2017

Call us crazy, but for a definitive visual for Game of Thrones Season Seven, we’d rewind a few minutes back from the fall of the Wall to Jaime’s departure from his life in King’s Landing. As he rides away from the city, snow begins to fall, soon covering the familiar red roofs and imposing towers of the capital. The weather has proven his wisdom. Jon and Dany, Sansa and Arya, Tyrion and his big brother, even the freaking Hound, who spent most of the entire season bumping into people who once tried to kill him – everyone put aside their differences for the greater good.

There’s no riding out the storm that’s on its way. If you care about your family, your friends, your people and your world, you have to ride right into that storm and face whatever you find there. Only one season and six episodes remain before we discover what’s left when the snow melts and the smoke clears.

I wrote an overview of what happened during Game of Thrones Season Seven and what it means for the story for Rolling Stone.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Seven: “The Dragon and the Wolf”

August 28, 2017

Game of Thrones’ penultimate season has rocketed along from place to place, person to person, long-awaited meeting to long-dreaded conflagration for all seven of its episodes. That pace has thrown some viewers off balance. But in these final moments, the purpose becomes clear: This story, this world, has been hurtling toward a point of no return. We’ve now reached that point. The lies, betrayals, power plays, and murders we’ve witnessed for seven years, and which still continue in this episode – they are all a distraction. We’re all in this together, and we’d better realize it ASAP. Is there a more urgent message for all of us to hear at this moment?

I reviewed the finale of Game of Thrones Season Seven, which I enjoyed a great deal, for Vulture.

The Boiled Leather Audio Moment #9

August 24, 2017

Moment 09 | Escaping the Cycle of Violence

This month’s BLAM question comes to us from $10/month patreon subscriber Tim Westmyer, and it’s a great one. Using Brienne, Jaime, Tyrion, Sansa, and Arya as test cases and the Hound as (for now) a successful example, Tim asks which characters will escape the story’s cycle of violence and vengeance and find some peace after all is said and done. We go broad, we go specific, and we do it all in eight minutes and change — an ideal Boiled Leather Audio Moment. Click here and pledge at the $2/month level to listen! And remember, if you have a question for Sean & Stefan to answer in a future BLAM, subscribe at $5/month, or bump it up to $10 for the priority treatment!

“Game of Thrones” Director Alan Taylor on the One Battle Scene He Improvised

August 24, 2017

People like to nitpick on Twitter, obviously, and a lot of the focus of discussion about the episode was stuff like, “How did he throw the spear that far? Why didn’t he throw it before? How did Jon not die of hypothermia?” As a filmmaker, do you prepare for that kind of response?

Yes. We really do care about believability. There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into making the dragons as believable as possible. It’s funny: The most unbelievable things, like lizards as big as 747s that can throw flames, people don’t have any concerns about the reality of that. It’s the smaller things that people get hung up on. I don’t dismiss it, because it’s important for us to tell the story in a way that that doesn’t get in the way for too many people. I have no problem with the way the Night King throws his spear, and the fact that it does kill a dragon and knocks it out of the sky. I think that’s fine. I think haggling over that is ridiculous. I get people’s time-frame concerns — you know, “Gendry must be running really fast! The ravens must be flying really fast!” [Laughs.]

I think if the show was struggling, it would be a drag to have people getting distracted by this stuff, but obviously the show’s doing pretty well, and it’s working. So when things like this come along, they’re plausible impossibilities. You’re hoping that even if something doesn’t quite add up, if it works within the story for us, it can carry the day. So for me, I think we were aware of the time thing, and I was thinking, Okay, if you say that Gendry is really fast, which I’m willing to say, and if you say ravens are super good at what they do, which I think you can say, and if you say the time on the island is a bit hazy because it’s an eternal twilight up there north of the Wall, so we’re not really sure how much time has passed, that’s an episode where the calculation of minutes fades away and you just sort of enjoy the story. But I did read one review where the guy got his calculator out and he could not get over the raven-speed. [Laughs.]

I interviewed “Beyond the Wall” director Alan Taylor about returning to Game of Thrones, the Sansa and Arya scenes, the big battle, the logistical issues, and more for Vulture. I think I got a lot of good stuff out of him and I hope you enjoy it.

The 10 Best “Game of Thrones” Battles, Ranked

August 24, 2017

2. Battle of the Bastards, “Battle of the Bastards” (Season 6, Episode 9)

Ramsay Bolton got his comeuppance, Rickon Stark’s short life came to an end, Wun Wun the giant went out in a blaze of glory, Sansa Stark pulled Jon’s ass from the fire, House Stark recaptured Winterfell after years in the wilderness: You know all the details about season six’s climactic confrontation. But it’s the visual component of the Battle of the Bastards that makes it so memorable. At one point, the fighting between Jon and Ramsay’s forces was so horrific that the dead bodies piled up into a literal pile — a physical obstacle that the fighters had to climb above or drown beneath. Every speech Jon or Davos ever made about the folly of fighting each other was made real in this moment, which turned the mass murder of warfare into an actual geographical feature of the battle. It was a moment of macabre beauty, power, and tragedy.

I ranked ten of the biggest battles in Game of Thrones history for Vulture. The Number One choice may surprise you!

“Halt and Catch Fire” thoughts, Season Four, Episodes One and Two: “So It Goes” and “Signal to Noise”

August 21, 2017

Many viewers may be too young to remember, but I’ve never seen a show capture the almost literally intoxicating nature of an hours-long phone call with a person you’re falling for the way this does. A staple of the personal and romantic lives of pretty much everyone who came of age in the ‘80s or ‘90s, it’s now been supplanted by texts and DMs, but good god do those memories remain. (Does it help that Lee Pace and Mackenzie Davis, like Kerry Bishé, have never looked more beautiful? Frankly, yes!)

So many shows coast on cheap nostalgia — some clothes, some music cues, some funny fonts, boom, collect your paycheck. Halt is certainly not above peppering these episodes with Clinton-era pop-culture ephemera: Zima, Mario Kart, the Blue Man Group, AOL floppy-disk promos, James’s “Laid.” But it’s incredibly satisfying, even moving, to see one attempt and succeed in recreating something you can’t simply ape from watching an I Love the ‘90s special. I never knew how much I missed falling into that lovestruck telephone k-hole until Halt reminded me. That’s the power of a show rooted so deeply in the truth of human interaction. It can remind you how it feels to be human.

I reviewed the fourth and final season premiere of Halt and Catch Fire for Decider, where I’ll be covering this marvelous show all season.

“Twin Peaks” thoughts, Season Three, Episode Fifteen

August 21, 2017

SPOILER ALERT

But the beating, breaking heart of the episode is undoubtedly the death of Margaret Lanterman, the prophetic Log Lady. During one of her regular phone calls to Deputy Hawk, she tells him, repeatedly, “I’m dying.” She seems to have as positive an outlook on it as possible, saying death is “just a change, not an end.” But this is all coming from the mouth of actor Catherine E. Coulson, who was herself actually dying when the scene was shot. “Hawk, my log is turning gold,” she says, her voice wavering. “The wind is moaning. I’m dying. Goodnight, Hawk.” “Goodnight, Margaret,” he says as they hang up. Then, after she’s gone, he mournfully repeats the phrase: “Goodbye, Margaret.” If you could make it past that point without bawling, you’re made of stronger stuff than most of us.

The Log Lady, Big Ed and Norma, Audrey, Steven and Gersten, the screaming woman at the Roadhouse: They’re all connected not just by geography, but by states of spiritual extremis. They experience enormous, nearly crippling feelings – all of which leave them questioning their place in life. Lynch and Frost still bring the bizarre in this hour. But they also carefully, respectfully depict deep, vulnerable emotional states and trust us to take them seriously. That makes all the difference.

I reviewed last night’s amazing Twin Peaks and wrote about David Lynch and Mark Frost’s abiding respect for people at their most defenseless for Rolling Stone. God did I cry.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Six: “Beyond the Wall”

August 20, 2017

Yet for all the majestic melancholy of watching that graceful, terrifying behemoth fall to earth, there was something strangely antiseptic about the battle between the living and the dead around which this episode centers. No one in their right mind would deny the power of watching Dany’s dragons torch zombies by the thousands. Or the visceral thrill of seeing seasoned warriors like JonTormundJorah and the Hound go toe to toe with the undead. Or the romance of watching the King in the North swallow his pride and swear allegiance to his new Queen, the Khaleesi. Or even the simple pleasures of hearing this makeshift Winterfell Magnificent Seven swap war stories.

But compared to all of Game of Thrones‘ set-piece battles before now, something was missing. Unlike past episodes featuring show-stopping showdowns and stand-offs – think “Blackwater,” “The Watchers on the Wall,” “The Battle of the Bastards” – this was not a demonstration of the gruesome futility of man’s inhumanity to man. And unlike the still-shocking best-of-show chapter “Hardhome,” there was no sense that this was a completely unexpected cataclysm in which life itself was under threat. This was just seven main characters and a bunch of redshirts against an improbably patient and inefficient swarm of zombies, who let nearly every one of our protagonists (Thoros of Myr and the aforementioned dragon excepted) escape with their lives. Even Snow himself dodged certain death when his undead Uncle Benjen appeared, just long enough to hold off the onslaught until his nephew could flee.

But perhaps there’s more to this battle than meets the eye. Sure, Jon and company survived seemingly impossible odds (how many days were they out there on that rock in the middle of the lake, anyway?). But maybe that’s the point. The closer we draw to the endgame, the more openly epic the story is going to get. This doesn’t just mean that the human-on-human battles that have dominated the series’ warfare will now give way to dragon-vs.-demon conflicts. It means that the same magic that fuels those winged creatures’ fire, keeps the walking dead moving and brought Lord Snow back from the Great Beyond will drive the narrative as well. The wheels of fate and the power of prophecy are becoming prime movers. In some cases, they may even supplant the show’s message about the folly and cruelty of war.

In that light, how the King in the North survived his dip into those icy, zombie-filled waters is less important than the simple fact that he survived. As his fellow resurrected warrior Beric Dondarrion put it, the Lord of Light didn’t bring them back to life “to watch us freeze to death.” The regent has a date with destiny. That time has not yet come.

Similar forces are at work in the budding romance between Jon and Daenerys. The two rulers – and the actors who play them – certainly have chemistry to burn. But love and lust share equal billing with pure providence. These two are meant to be together and they know it, however confusing it may be.

I reviewed tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, where the drama rubber met the destiny road, for Rolling Stone. As you can see, I have mixed feelings about it, but I also think the Night King’s most sinister power is turning everyone who posts about this show online into TVTropes.

Dean Hurley – Anthology Resource Vol. 1 △△

August 19, 2017

You don’t have to pay attention to Anthology Resource Vol. 1 △△. In fact, I’d go so far as to make that an order: Do notpay attention to Anthology Resource. This album of ambient music and soundscapes from the astonishing third season of “Twin Peaks,” by the show’s music and sound supervisor Dean Hurley, will frustrate focused attempts at listening. Passages feel overlong and repetitive, despite 11 of the collection’s 18 compositions clocking in at two minutes or less. Moments of beauty and terror burst out of the murk, only to dissipate with aggravating speed. Hurley’s airy electronic tones conjure up a sense of space so distinct you can practically see it, as titles like “Weighted Room / Choral Swarm,” “Tube Wind Dream,” “Interior Home by the Sea,” and “Forest / Interior” make clear. Yet the effect of sitting and listening intently to song after song is like looking through a window at these strange new worlds, only for someone to abruptly close the blinds on you over and over.

Here’s the thing, though: So what?

I reviewed the first of this season’s Twin Peaks soundtrack/score albums, Dean Hurley’s Anthology Resource Vol. 1 △△, for Pitchfork. It’s a roundabout way for me to talk about Transcendental Meditation, too.

Game of Thrones’ Nikolaj Coster-Waldau on Jaime Lannister’s Next Move

August 19, 2017

If you look at what’s happening in King’s Landing, it seems like Jaime’s gotten everything he wants. They’re in charge, they can be open about their relationship, they can be open about their new child. But in the scene where Cersei tells him she’s pregnant, it’s so deeply unpleasant to watch them interact.

It was very unpleasant. You know this is not a good situation. I mean, I don’t think these people should have any more children!

Jaime knows that this is not necessarily great as well. But if this dream is the one thing you want more than anything your whole life, you can’t help yourself. He experienced it for a second with Myrcella — what it felt like to be a father and have his daughter tell him that she’s happy that he was her dad — but it was taken away from him the second after. Now, the idea that you don’t have to live a lie, you can have a son or daughter and this can be beautiful, he forgets the reality of their situation and he’s happy.

But only for a second. After that, Cersei has to go all Darth Vader and say, “Don’t ever betray me again.” Which is dark. It doesn’t make sense, because he didn’t betray her. He actually came to her and told her about it as soon as he got back. But maybe that’s just because she’s paranoid.

Jaime’s certainly aware of the dangers in both Daenerys and Cersei, and his formative experience as a young man was murdering a king to stop him from burning thousands of innocent people to death. Things haven’t quite gotten to that point, but he’s got to be reliving that, right?

I think there’s a difference between the Mad King and Cersei. What Cersei did was a lot more specific and calculated, and it was aimed at her enemies. The Mad King was just going to take out everyone, and he felt he was going to be able to rise from the ashes as Daenerys did. When Cersei killed the Tyrells and the High Sparrow, it was very gruesome, tough thing she did, but it was very Red Wedding–style. She took out the people who wanted her dead, and she took them out in one ball of flames, but she didn’t take out the whole city. So there is a difference. I’m not justifying it, but I’m saying there’s a difference.

I think that what Jaime just witnessed with Daenerys is more than frightening. He knows that if she goes to King’s Landing with three dragons, when he’s seen what she does with only one, that will be the end of it. He knows that there is no way that they can fight back, or at least they’d need a hundred scorpions. It would just be very difficult.

I was thrilled to speak with Nikolaj Coster-Waldau about Jaime Lannister for the first time in many years for Vulture. He and I also talked about his new prison movie, Shot Caller, which is worth a look.

Game of Thrones’ Jerome Flynn on Bronn’s Fate and That Terrifying Dragon Battle: ‘I Wasn’t Acting Too Much’

August 19, 2017

Bronn’s charm has completely won me over, but he still has a touch of that dark side in him. Like, after the battle where he took a shot at Dany’s dragon, my sister texted me and said, “Am I the only one who was rooting for Daenerys? Bronn’s an ass.”

[Laughs.] Well, I suppose it’s like any good writing, like with Shakespeare. I just try to keep him Bronn, which is a nice journey to roll with, and I give myself over to what he gives himself to. If I was trying to play him dark or anything, I’d just be playing what’s coming through.

When I auditioned for the part, I had no idea what sort of show it was going to be, or even what it was. I hadn’t read any of the books. But there was something in the writing that came through. I couldn’t ignore his sense of humor, these different sides to him, and how he does what he needs to do. The dragon annihilated thousands of soldiers — he had to do something, didn’t he? There was a lot on the line.

It’s amazing. I was just talking to George before this — people’s responses have been quite extreme. The thing about this season is that all these characters are coming together. It’s been easier to separate them before, but suddenly they’re in conflict. People who like Bronn also love Daenerys and the dragons. My postman doesn’t speak to me anymore because of that! [Laughs.] So it’s gonna happen, isn’t it? That’s Bronn. That’s true Bronn. That position he got himself in is a combination of courage, doing what he has to do, and looking after number one. And that’s what makes people love him: He’s so honest! It’s interesting when it comes to dragons and Daenerys, because that’s sacred territory.

I interviewed the marvelous Jerome Flynn about Bronn’s recent doings on Game of Thrones for Vulture.

The Satisfying Smallness of “Halt and Catch Fire”

August 19, 2017

It all comes down to the alternately competing and converging needs and desires of the characters — and because they’re so consistently depicted, season after season, we know these needs and desires like we know our own, and empathize with every decision, good or bad. Every episode feels like Bronn facing down Daenerys’s dragon with that gigantic crossbow: Against all odds, you want everyone to succeed, you want every decision to be the right one, though you know it can’t be. Of course, no one’s going to be burned alive or shot down from the sky in this show, but that does nothing to lessen the sense of enormous personal stakes. Halt and Catch Fire‘s smaller playing field makes each move matter. It’s why I’m so excited to press play on the new season, and why I’ll be so sad nine weeks from now, when it’s Game Over.

Halt and Catch Fire returns to AMC for its fourth and final season tonight. It’s a chest of wonders. I wrote about why you should watch it for Decider. My personal recommendation: Start with Season Two. You’ll get up to speed rapidly enough. Once you’ve finished the season you can backfill with Season One, then move on to Season Three. Just one man’s opinion, but I think it’ll do you right.

Sword-and-Sorcery Into Plowshares: Game of Thrones’ Anti-War Message

August 14, 2017

The sprawl, the spectacle, the sex, the swords, the sorcery—if you’re looking for reasons why Game of Thrones has become the most popular show on TV, they’re easy to find. But the epic fantasy might also be pop culture’s most prominent anti-war satire since Dr. Strangelove. It’s one long shaggy dog joke at the expense of military conflict. For the bulk of its six-plus seasons, Game of Thrones has chronicled the bloody power struggles of various aristocrats and their hapless followers—while, unbeknownst to most, an army of demons and zombies in the icy northern wastes masses to swoop down and slaughter them all. The wars making up most of the series’ action are not only pointless, but self-defeating: The only enemy these characters need to be fighting is a supernatural one.

Somehow this lesson is often missed, both by moralists who find the series’ violence exploitative and “bad fans” (as The New Yorker’s  Emily Nussbaum calls them) in it for the beheadings. Perhaps it’s the simplicity of the conceit that hides the anti-war message in plain sight. Or maybe it’s the show’s unflinching depiction of man’s inhumanity to man that enables viewers to confuse portraying violence with endorsing it.

Yet the show has been true to the approach of George R. R. Martin, author of the novels on which the show is based and a conscientious objector during America’s assault on Vietnam. As Martin said in a 2012 interview, he does not shy away from capturing the “emotional stirring we feel when we see the banner flying in the wind and we hear the bugles charge”—which, “those of us who are opposed to war … tend to forget.” However, he noted, “If you’re going to write about war and violence, show the cost. Show how ugly it is. Show both sides of it.”

I’m thrilled to make my debut at In These Times with an essay on the anti-war message of Game of Thrones.

“Game of Thrones” thoughts, Season Seven, Episode Five: “Eastwatch”

August 14, 2017

But for all the awe-inspiring imagery and white-knuckle tension, this is still a show that allows its actors to do the storytelling. There were almost too many intimate moments to list, but seven hells, we’ll try: There’s the way Lord Randyll Tarly reached out to hold his son Dickon’s arm, one last act of fatherly love before their fiery execution. There’s the tears in Jon Snow’s eyes as he touched Dany’s dragon, moved by its power. There’s the more or less open attraction these two rulers now have for another, visible to everyone from Tyrion to Jorah Mormont whenever the regents exchange so much as a glance. There’s the eerie, dead-eyed look Cersei shoots Jaime when he tells her he met with their little brother, and their embrace when the Queen tells the Kinglsayer she’s pregnant. There’s the villainous smirk of Littlefinger as he makes his moves, contrasted against the bright-eyed self-confidence of Arya Stark as she works to uncover them. And there’s the mix of regret and rage on Samwell Tarly’s face as he departs the Citadel, sacrificing his dreams for the greater good.

(By the way, Sam: When Gilly tells you that a maester annulled the marriage of Prince Rhaegar Targaryen so he could marry someone else in a secret ceremony in the same kingdom where Jon was born [cough, cough], you might want to listen!)

If there’s a bridge to be found between the massive political forces at work and these smaller, more personal connections, it’s in the episode’s closing sequence. The assembly of Jon Snow, Jorah Mormont, Tormund Giantsbane, Gendry, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr and Sandor Clegane – and their transformation into the anti-zombie Magnificent Seven – is simply a smaller version of what the Mother of Dragons and the King in the North hope to do on a larger scale. Seeing this dream team of Westerosi tough guys walk off into the frozen no man’s land beyond the Wall is epic fantasy at its most heroic.

But it’s also more than that. The crimes and betrayals these men have committed don’t matter at all compared to the menace that is the army of the dead.The mystically minded Beric has it right when he says that no matter their beliefs or their reason for fighting, they’re all on the same side, for the same reason: the common struggle of humanity against the forces that would destroy us all. Solidarity forever – their union makes them strong.

I reviewed last night’s lovely episode of Game of Thrones for Rolling Stone.