More Thoughts on Game of Thrones

[spoilers seasons 1-7]

I finished all seven seasons of Game of Thrones in the fall, catching up to and watching season 7 shortly after it aired. I am now slowly rewatching the series, presently on season 2. While I still find the series amazing, it also still gives me a feeling after viewing like I just ate a huge piece of chocolate cake. I hesitate to use the word pornography, but just as food porn can be, well, food porn, likewise is game of thrones cinematic porn (and no I don’t mean that in the sexual sense). The sets, scenery, costumes and effects are so visually luscious that I often feel blinded by prettiness.

Things that made no sense to me last time still make no sense this time. Why does the witch kill khal drogo’s horse to save his life, only to let daenerys’ baby die? Surely the khal would have given his life for his child. How do we know the baby is really dead? Daenerys has no memory of the birth and we never see a body. When daenerys ‘projects’ and sees her husband and child, the child is not deformed as the witch describes.

Why does daenerys kill the witch to hatch her baby dragons? Do they need a sacrificial victim or something?

If jon snow is targaryen, why does he burn his hand when throwing a lamp at the zombie? Or is his hand otherwise hurt?

Why does jon snow sharpen targaryen steel with a rock? Targaryen steel is strong enough to break zombie swords, but a rock is going to sharpen it?

Why isn’t samwell tarly executed for abandoning his post when he leaves the citadel?

Why does the sexy priestess lady randomly sacrifice people… or just need a drop of blood? What is the decision making process here?

If the sexy priestess lady has the ability to give birth to assassin demon babies, why hasn’t she simply taken over the seven kingdoms on her own?

The most annoying characters for me are Sansa, Littlefinger, sexy priestess lady, Stannis (although my 15 year old loves him, she calls him STANNIS THE MANNIS), Missandei, Varys, all the Sand sisters and their evil mom, Catelyn Stark, Meera and her brother (seriously she’s whining that the one eyed raven isn’t affectionate enough??), High Sparrow, and Mance Raydar.

My favorite characters are Daenerys, Jon Snow, Arya, Bronn (Bronn may in fact be my all time favorite!), Tyrion, Jaime, Brienne, Ygritte, Jorah, Tormund, Gilly and her cute baby, Bran, Samwell (LOVE Samwell!), and Olenna.

All the other characters I’m kind of neutral on, even the evil ones like Ramsey and Cersei. Yes Ramsey is a terrifying sadist, and Cersei is a bitch, but they are both intrinsically watchable and believable in terms of character development.

I always wonder which Game of Thrones characters fans identify with. I identify with all the mothers, whether they be Gilly or Cersei; they all want what they believe is best for their children. But I would say I most identify with Bran. While I can’t enter the minds of animals, I do have the ability to project outside my body and see what is beyond this world. Of course, unlike Bran, I cannot control it nor can I gather perfect information (though I have had a few solid validations). But people like me who can easily astral project are, in a sense, real life wargs.

What about you? Which characters do you identify with?

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I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E

Yesterday I was watching TV with my husband- or rather I was re-re-rewatching Game of Thrones while he was buried in his iPad, periodically giving gleeful play by plays of the latest sex scandals plaguing hollywood- when my 6 year old daughter trotted into the room.

Her: Mommy, I just fell in the lava.

Me: Can you talk to the angel? (running back to her body is, as of yet, too complicated)

Her: But I didn’t die.

Me: Oh… [pondering advice. Find the ramp to climb out? is there a ramp? I’ve never fallen in Ironforge lava. But Undercity has ramps and steps to climb out of sludge. Jump? Jump really, really high (slamming the space bar)?]

Uh… I finally said, Just click your hearthstone.

Okay! she said brightly, and trotted off.

My husband looked up from the iPad, blinking. That has to be the strangest conversation I’ve EVER heard.

I laughed because you know what? He’s right. Say what you will about the game, but once within the warm embrace of World of Warcraft, no matter how amateur or deep your involvement, you have migrated to a different dimension with its own lingo.

And don’t knock video games for little kids! My now 18 year old learned to read playing WoW. As a young child she struggled for years with reading. Despite our coaching she could barely sound out words, much less understand what she was struggling to pronounce.

Anyway… I think she was 8 or 9… World of Warcraft entered our house. She was transfixed!  Mesmerized! And absolutely desperate to read those darn quests.

It took a while but within 6 months she was, for the first time in her life, able to read with meaning. By age 10 she could read with complete fluency and tore through books as though they were going out of style. She read through the entire young adult section of one library branch (just as my son read through the entire adult history section) necessitating that we switch to a different library branch.

All my kids learned to read at different ages. My oldest son could read before he could speak, and could read fluently by age 5. We caught him reading Money Magazine over my husband’s shoulder at that tender age of 6.

My two next youngest daughters learned to read around age 5 with fluency. Then the next daughter- she struggled terribly and couldn’t read at all until age 9 or so (Minecraft, not WoW was her inspiration) but once up and running she too burned through books with alarming speed. The next daughter after that struggled, not quite as much as her older sister. She prefers graphic novels and draws her own snarky comics depicting the horrors of math class.

This 6 year old appears to be in the “struggle group.” She developed an aversion to books and refused to let us to read to her.

Recently I decided to renew my subscription to WoW. Not sure why- I mean I’m two expansions behind, don’t have much free time, and I occasionally find the game tedious. But the 6 year old took an instant liking to the game- as her sister before her, she was absolutely mesmerized and desperate to understand what exactly was going on.

She can now read and spell a number of emotes- you know, /sleep, /dance, /sit- meticulously typing them out at the keyboard. She listens intently as we read the quests, copies down server names (imagine I L L I D I A N and S T O R M R A G E penciled in cute little girl handwriting) and has learn to navigate the maps. She began asking about other words outside the game. How do you spell “look?” What does c-l-i-c-k spell? She no longer has that aversion to books, spelling, or even her homework. Yesterday she was pestering me midday to hit the books- usually homework with her is a last minute, teeth pulling enterprise.

So if your kids love video games, don’t panic. Look for games that are language heavy, require map navigation, and make sure to have a little faith. As far as my WoW subscription, can you say CLASSIC SERVERS??? I’ll gladly hand over my non-existent paycheck for that.

Manhunt: Unabomber

Manhunt: Unabomber is a Discovery Channel miniseries about the 1990s hunt for the Unabomber that culminated in a raid of his Montana cabin. This dramatized series was surprisingly good, with outstanding performances by Sam Worthington as FBI agent ‘Fitz’ and Paul Bettany as Unabomber Ted Kaczynski.

Bettany’s performance as Kaczynski is particularly poignant. Not appearing until a few episodes in, Bettany plays the role in heartbreaking duet of genius and inner chaos. The result is a highly sympathetic- but not forgivable- portrait of Kaczinski as a man psychologically ground down by his inability to meld with the world.

I had no idea that Kaczinski was subjected to MKUltra experimentation while an underaged math student at Harvard (he entered Harvard at age 16). In fact, I had no idea MKUltra experiments were run on Harvard students at all! It sounds like a wild conspiracy theory, but is in fact sad truth and assuredly part and parcel to Kaczinski’s bizarre reign of terror.

Bettany’s performance aside, the most fascinating element of the series is its emphasis on language and linguistics. I don’t know how closely this holds to the actual investigation, but it is only through Kaczinski’s idiosyncratic actes de plume that the case cracks open with an accurate profile; investigators are able to match his writing to an obscure style guide briefly followed by The Chicago Tribune, thus pinpointing him as having learned to read and write in the Chicago area.

All in all the series is well paced and highly watchable. I’m ashamed to admit I spent an entire saturday glued to the screen. Manhunt: Unabomber is available on netflix streaming as of this writing.

The Nice Guys

(spoiler free)

The Nice Guys is a 2016 film directed by Shane Black of Lethal Weapon fame. It stars Ryan Gosling (of The Believer fame) and Russel Crowe (of Gladiator fame). The plot- as far as I managed to follow, revolves around the death of a porn star who may or may not have been facet of larger intrigue. Gosling’s young movie daughter tags along on a thoroughly inappropriate adventure into the world of 1970s Los Angeles porndom.

The movie was so ridiculous I began to wonder if cast and crew partook of the ubiquitous booze and weed in the film. Plot holes and incredulity abound, sick humor sickens and the canned characters sprout botulism beneath the lid. This movie sucks! By the end I didn’t even care that the incoherent mystery was solved. The only real mystery is why did my husband recommend this film in the first place?

We Should Have Stayed in That Cave

[[very mild spoilers season 1 and season 4]]

After much procrastination I finally am watching Game of Thrones. I tried watching the first episode way back when. I thought it was stupid and boring. Too many plot lines, too many characters, the costumes silly. I couldn’t keep anyone straight. So many dark haired men in leather armor! So many women in bad wigs and sumptuous gowns! Borrring.

Then my husband announced we have a temporarily free subscription to HBO, and with it HBO GO via roku. HBO! They have a lot of good documentaries! And indeed I watched a few, including one about a veterans’ suicide prevention helpline. Did you know a US military veteran or active serviceman kills himself at the rate of roughly one man per hour, every day? That’s more fatalities than the recent wars put together. Anyway it was very well done, very sad, but too short. I hate short documentaries. They always make me feel cheated.

But there is no dearth of Game of Thrones. Since I never watched it before I theoretically had six seasons to plow through. It was so stupid last time you watched it (I said to myself)! But maybe you would like it this time around (I also said to myself). After much inner deliberation I pressed PLAY.

I still thought that first episode was stupid, however, Tyrion (the amazing Peter Dinklage) snagged me in his dialogue with Jon Snow. All dwarves are bastards in their father’s eyes. Such nuance, gravitas and wry humor in one man! Peter Dinklage, as they say in The Station Agent, is THE MAN! So I kept watching.

I still thought it was silly, perverted, way too violent. Could you please spare me yet another chopped off head? SO much sex. Gay sex, hooker sex, sadist sex, incest sex, underaged sex, interracial sex, rape after rape. I’m no feminist but I shudder to think how women would fare if George RR Martin ruled the world.

Yet… somewhere mid season one I was hooked. It wasn’t just about Dinklage anymore. I was asking my son (a rabid GOT fan) questions. How did Tyrion meet Ser Bronn? Why exactly did Daenyrus kill the black guy? I was in tears over the kidnapped baby dragons, and further along wept as Jon Snow cradled a dying Ygritte in his arms. We should have stayed in that cave Jon Snow

So would I recommend this series to my gentle readers? Uh, not sure. It ain’t exactly family programming, though apparently every family on the planet has watched it. It is a brilliant story, or rather a series of brilliant stories within other brilliant stories, the characters are beautifully villainous and multifaceted, but somehow I’m left with the same feeling as having eaten a sicky sweet, overly rich slice of cake when the credits roll. Gird yer stomachs men, and forward march!

Zootopia Looks Like Staten Island

After all the hype, after my mother raved about it, after my children raved about it– including my 19 year old nerd son with ice in the veins– after my daughter put the dvd on view for her psych ward– I watched Zootopia once it was on netflix. I’ll reserve my observations for a future post, but I could not help but notice that the city of Zootopia greatly resembles Staten Island.

zoo1

zoo2

staten-island

I’ll note this: if having a tiny bunny on the police force is novel, how does Zootopia police its rodent population? That doesn’t make sense.

The Terminator

Somehow I managed to reach the tender age of 42 never having viewed The Terminator. I’d seen one of the later iterations, and more recently my husband forced me so sit through Terminator Genisys (a painful experience). Since his company has put out some Terminator books, I decided to finally watch the original version to see what exactly has been paying the catholic school tuition.

  • There are a lot of car chases and gunfire. At least 80% of the movie contains either a car chase, or gunfire. It gave me a headache.
  • While Linda Hamilton is a decent actress, the Sarah Connor character utterly lacks gravitas. Her pet iguana has more depth. No way can I believe the savior of humanity issues from her loins.
  • Michael Beihn is very good as Kyle Reese, the hardened time-traveling soldier sent through time to rescue Sarah. The love story between them is kind of sweet, and in theory could occur in an infinite loop.
  • Arnold is brilliant as the terminator. What stage presence! And hardly any lines. I asked my husband how he was cast for the role, and he says James Cameron got the idea for a near-silent character from Conan the Barbarian, where Arnold likewise barely speaks.

conan-the-barbarian-arnold-schwarzenegger-movie-image
strong silent type

  • I find it impossible to believe a ragtag, starving army of humans would have any chance against robots and cyborgs. If the robot apocalypse ever does transpire, we’re toast.
  • On that note, the portrait of humanity portrayed in The Terminator is so grim (note how Sarah is mistreated as a waitress) one wonders why it’s worth saving.
  • Squishing the terminator works, but blowing him up multiple times with nitroglycerin doesn’t work. This doesn’t make sense.
  • Why does Sarah embark to Mexico to wait out the robot apocalypse? If anything life will be worse in post-apocalyptic Mexico than in the states, particularly for a single woman traveling alone. In fact, life is so dangerous for women along the border that female migrants go on birth control so they won’t get pregnant when (not if) they’re raped during the crossing.
  • Where did Sarah get the money for the new vehicle and german shepherd? My sister’s german shepherd cost nearly $2000.

So, would I recommend this film? I guess, if only because it has grown iconic to our society. For example, I never knew the precise context of “I’ll be back” until now. As my husband informed during the final credits: My dear, you’ve officially been inducted to geekdom.

Vikings Better than Vikings

When I wrote my review of BBC’s The Last Kingdom I had not yet finished the 8 episode season. Binge watching is difficult with so many kids nipping at my ankles, my four year old being the absolute worst in this regard. When she’s awake she asks for something or requests my audience at regular 1-3 minute intervals. Sometimes she just wants to stare at me like a creepy stalker, or press her face against my stomach. It may sound cute- and it is, for the first few hours- but after 14 straight hours of being followed, demanded upon, and clung to, I’m ready to lock myself in the bathroom with shaking hands. Then she crams her hands through the space under the door, like the clever velociraptors in Jurassic Park.

Anyway, while in the midst of trying to watch The Last Kingdom in three minute intervals I recommended it to my 14 year old daughter who is the one who clued me in to Vikings (which she watched while in Game of Thrones withdrawal). I warned her it wasn’t as good as Vikings and seemed much lower budget. However, like Vikings, it includes a wonderful bromance- between Uhtred and Leofric. She managed to burn through all 8 episodes in 24 hours and returned the next day with the pronouncement: Mom, it’s better than Vikings!

But what could be better than Vikings when it comes to vikings? Maybe I just wasn’t ready to be unfaithful to King Ragnar, but by the time I did finish The Last Kingdom I realized she was correct. The Last Kingdom is far more cerebral, nuanced, and sophisticated in terms of characterization than is Vikings. I’m going to assume this is because the book series it’s based on is well written- next time I place an order on amazon I’m going to buy it.

King Alfred (played by David Dawson) comes to the fore in brilliant manner as the season unfolds, both while in exile and in a decisive battle against the viking hordes. While my husband kept accusing me of watching yet another viking series to ogle the hunky danes, King Alfred is by far my favorite character in the series and is beautifully played by Dawson.

the-last-kingdom-alfred-david-dawson
world conquest in his eyes

A surprise close favorite to Alfred is his nephew Aetholwold. I won’t give anything away, but Aetholwold is faced with a moral crossroads that could have altered the course of human history. And the scene where Aethelwold deflects attention from Uhtred during their dual punishment is priceless and not to be missed.

The vikings are given less screen time in this series, though The Scariest Viking Award goes to Skorpa (played by Swedish actor Jonas Malmsjo). For some reason he always has blood on his mouth and a deranged look in his eyes.

skorpa
someone had a low carb breakfast

So, if I haven’t yet convinced you to watch Vikings, I better have convinced you to watch The Last Kingdom! On that note the four year old just woke up. Like Skorpa, I think she would eat me for breakfast if she could.

Uhtred Son of Uhtred

While in Vikings withdrawal I noticed a series on Netflix called The Last Kingdom. It had a lot of stars (viewer ratings, not actors) so I gave it a try.

It was quickly evident that The Last Kingdom is a BBC spinoff on Vikings, focusing on the same historical era but from the vantage point- more or less- of the Saxons. Uhtred of Bebbanburg is the true-to-history protagonist, a saxon lord by birth but adopted by vikings, raised as a firebrand, trinity denying warrior.

While The Last Kingdom is not as “sexy” as Vikings, we get lots of battle scenes, Saxon-Dane historicity, quasi rape scenes and sparknotes on King Alfred the Great, albeit all on a seemingly lower budget. I also got the sense, while watching this, that this was all based on a book (why I don’t know). And sure enough it is. The Saxon Stories, by Bernard Cornwell is the inspiration for the series.

Alexander Dreymon (a german actor who speaks english without accent) is good, but not necessarily great, as the oft beleaguered Uhtred son of Uhtred; some Christ innuendos are not unintended, but you have to watch it to see! David Dawson is simply phenomenal as the seething yet intellectual King Alfred the Great- he even looks like the ancient portraits of the true king! However the king is given less screen time than the sword wielding Uhtred, but to no ill effect.

I have to say the series plays delicately and notably with the visceral conflicts young Uhtred experiences between cultures. This is something I can identify with personally, as someone who was raised Christian but received tremendous “cultural” influence from Judaism. Just as Uhtred is caught between two worlds, I often feel caught between two religions. At times his fictitious plight brought me to tears; I neither believe in Jesus as Christians do, nor do I disbelieve in him as Jews do. Perhaps I should just settle for Hinduism.

Either way The Last Kingdom is highly recommended to any fans of Vikings!

Vikings

[spoiler free]

Years ago when I read of History Channel’s concept for a dramatized series about vikings I thought: lame. And didn’t give it another thought until a few months ago, when my 14 year old, in between marathon study sessions, binge watched it on amazon prime. She raved over the addictive plot, and the amazing bromance between Ragnar and Athelstan. Intrigued, and because there was a huge hole in my life since finishing The Sopranos, I hid downstairs to watch episode 1.

Still lame! The pacing was choppy, dialogue stilted, and former underwear model Travis Fimmel (Ragnar) obviously didn’t go to Julliard. At times he seemed to struggle to remember his lines. I tossed the remote aside and went back to life.

The next day my daughter cornered me in the kitchen. So what did I think? Isn’t Athelstan cute? Had I caught Viking fever?

“Uh… it was ok.”

She rolled her eyes.

“Did you at least watch episode 2 where they invade the monastery at Northumbria?”

Wait what? Monastery invasion? My ears perked up, as years ago I read a beautiful book featuring precisely that- Beorn the Proud, about a young viking boy who befriends an Irish girl taken captive. (In fact, I believe the book’s Beorn is based on Ragnar’s son (spelled Bjorn in the television series.)) It’s a beautifully written book that I still reflect upon often.

At soonest opportunity I was hiding downstairs again, this time for episode 2, and sure enough I caught viking fever. The scene where Ragnar’s group of warriors invades the monastery is one of the most amazing scenes I’ve ever witnessed on screen. And somehow Fimmel’s not-so-great acting begins to work for the gruff yet thoughtful Ragnar- kind of like Keanu Reeves’ golden retriever stare worked in The Matrix. The cinematography is outstanding, the writing by and large excellent, the music hauntingly beautiful. While it’s obvious most of the vikings are played by actors better at stunts than soliloquizing, it manages to dovetail into a mesmerizing blend of history and theater. And even for the squeamish, such as myself, it gets addictive watching the vikings kick everyone’s ass.

Of course, the real question for any woman watching this show is: ROLLO OR RAGNAR? Choices, choices. Rollo is a brute force kind of guy, while Ragnar tends to scheme quietly before launching into shock and awe.

rollo
Rollo: I like fast women and violating slave girls

ragnar
Ragnar: I like conquering the world and impregnating women

Of course, for those who prefer white collar guys, there’s always Athelstan. He looks cute in viking clothes.

athelstan
speak latin to me

Here I’ll have to plead the fifth.

As an important blogger, I did exhaustive research into the historicity of the show, and it turns out it’s surprisingly true to history, though some historical figures are swapped, and timelines tweaked, for the sake of the plot. You’ll also learn a great deal of Norse theology in watching this show; any pregnant women out there might want to start praying to Freya.

So it’s a must watch! The first three seasons are available on Amazon Prime.