LA LA LAND

Stylish, flawed and self-aware homage to the Golden Era ★★★★★

What can I say about La La Land that hasn’t already been said by now? After all, by the time it gets to Joe-Blogg’s-public it has already been skinned, sliced open, dissected, stuffed and sewn back together again less graciously than those poor creatures on Crap Taxidermy (please can we make “crapsidermy” a thing?)

I have little knowledge of musicals — they were devoid in my household. Perhaps it was their unabashedly melodramatic nature that made them so unbearable to my mother, who — despite not being a dragon — struggled with silliness and overt joy. Alas, I am my mother’s daughter, reserved and criminally afflicted with overthought and cynicism. I have never watched a Carry On… film (Americans, you’re probably better off) whilst Golden Age Hollywood pomp and ceremony has always felt false and overly articulated. Not once have I twirled in the rain and cried “Gotta dance!”

That aforementioned cynicism reared its head when I first saw La La Land on the cover of Sight and Sound; was this an old film regurgitated from a shallow grave (in some ways, yes — but we’ll get to that) or was it some grotesque, ill-informed adaptation akin to 2012’s Les Miserables? To discover it was a new tale starring two of my favourite actors was a surprise; if it had starred lessor artists than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling then I am loathe to say that I would have most definitely brushed it off in a heartbeat — but it didn’t — and ultimately it was that factor alone (alright, plus those 10,000 nominations) that convinced me to give it a shot.

For those blissfully uninitiated, La La Land is the tale of Mia — a budding actor who works as a barista — and Sebastian — a jazz pianist cursed with playing Christmas songs in overpriced restaurants. Both are more than accustomed to the unrewarding slog that comes with trying to turn a passionate dream into a reality, whether it be being ignored by a casting director eating a sandwich in an audition or slinging a keytar in an 80s cover band to pay the bills. Their mutual frustration is palpable and relatable; both have a sense that they have potential for something bigger and better yet neither know how to realistically claim their break.

Fate (though I prefer coincidence) entwines the two together — much to their disdain, as both display a mutual dislike for the other that is softened only by Mia’s ribbing of Sebastian’s uptight belief that he is a serious musician — and from then on we are privy to the ups, downs and compromises of their whirlwind relationship. And it is important to call it such, because part of what makes La La Land so compelling is that — despite it being so *nudge-nudge, wink-wink* self-aware — it never satisfies viewers in the way that they presume it will. Just when you think that the pair are home and dry to their happy-ever-after does it start to ungraciously unravel, and only when you think that they will please you by doing the right thing do they disappoint by doing the opposite. They are flawed and, despite the idealised unideal of their individual narratives, all the more human for it.

If it had starred lessor artists than Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling then I am loathe to say that I would have most definitely brushed it off in a heartbeat

This can be stretched to Stone and Gosling themselves, who deliver compelling and committed yet imperfect performances. Wheras classic Hollywood musicals prided themselves on their cut-glass vocals and en-pointe choreography, the charmingly clumsy footwork and occasionally stretched singing only adds to the sense that these characters are just like you. There are moments where a comparatively perfect vocal would have proved a disservice and nowhere near as stirring; take Stone’s aching and melonchy rendition of ‘Audition (The Fools Who Dream)’, her voice cracking as the camera slowly closes in on her tearful face, or Gosling’s down-toned ‘City Of Stars’ (though rest assured, he is no Pierce Brosnan).

It is unclear what is the real anchor of La La Land, whether it is the narrative or the songs. Quite impressively, both balance each other out in equal measure and neither are compromised for the sake of the other. Mia and Sebastian’s theme, which initially begins as a sweet dalliance to their blossoming romance becomes ominous and bittersweet as the tides begin to turn. As the story ticks on, you will come to dread its presence, though whether you like it or not you will be humming it for days.

This is style and substance, and between them collaborative duo, writer and director Damien Chazelle and composer Justin Hurwitz have crafted a score filled with soon-to-be-classic earworms that none could have predicted from their previous jazz-dense (though stunning) soundtrack for Whiplash. Visually, it is a treat, too, be it the single-take show and dance of the striking opening number ‘Another Day Of Sun’ or an intimate, pastel-hued serenade at Sebastian’s piano, time and again will you consciously marvel at the contemporary reimagining of classic filming.

So, is it worth all of the fuss? As a dragonous cynic who has merely viewed Moulin Rouge! and not Chicago — yes! If you, like myself, dread the mere notion of all that floundering and fuss, then you are set to be pleasantly surprised. If you are a vintage America die-hard then you may not get exactly what you were hoping for, but there is enough knowing references to the past to make it pleasingly digestible for the present. *Nudge-nudge, wink-wink*


Watch if:

  • You want to get ahead of awards season
  • You appreciate both style and substance
  • Quirky love stories are up your alley
  • You love a good musical and can sing your childhood Disney tunes word-for-word

Watch The Throne: Game Of Thrones – “The Winds Of Winter” (Season 6 Episode 10)

“Wow!” is the first this that sprang to mind after watching the final episode of season 6. The second was “It was perfect.” It was paid into fan speculation and theory, surprised us and even underwhelmed us. The narratives of all the main players in this series were rounded up neatly (in this super-long episode!) as we feel the chill of the winds of winter.

Ep 10 - Tyrells

We open at Kingslanding, and everyone is tense on the morning of the trials of Cersei and Loras Tyrell. Remember, previously, that King Tommen had abolished the right to a trial-by-combat under the instruction of the High Sparrow. This is a trial by the Gods, and we all know how fair that is. Loras (Finn Jones) goes first, overlooked by a court packed with people including Kevan Lannister, his father – Mace Tyrell – and his sister, Margaery (Natalie Dormer). He doesn’t hold out for long, confessing to sins such as homosexuality and laying with traitor Renly Baratheon. He swears to serve the Seven, denouncing his titles and right to sire children, a fact the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) is quick to solidify by having the Seven Pointed Star carved into his forehead.

One down, one to go, though it doesn’t take the High Sparrow long to deduce that Cersei (Lena Headey) and Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) will not be showing. Unbeknownst to them, Tommen is prevented from leaving his chambers by The Mountain, and Margaery states that – in defying the Seven and her trial – there must be a more sinister reason behind Cersei’s refusal to show, regardless of the consequences. She is of course, proven right, for whilst Grand Maester Pycelle is stabbed to death by children (really), Cousin Lancel happens upon Cersei’s hidden treasure: wildfire, and surely enough a spark sets the sept ablaze and takes half of the population of Kingslanding with it. Gone are the High Sparrow and his flock of devoted cronies (except Septa Ulenna, who is left to be tortured by The Mountain), alongside Kevan Lannister, Margaery and Loras as well as their father, Mace Tyrell. It appears Olenna had a lucky escape.

Privy to this cinematic spectacle is young King Tommen, who watches the entire thing unfold from his balcony. He does not flinch when he realises that his beloved wife is no more, but instead calmly steps up and launches himself off the ledge. The third of Cersei’s golden children, dead. It appears the prophecy delivered by witch Maggy the Frog (season 5 episode 1, if you need a reminder) has finally been fulfilled, and what is left to rein in the new Queen now she no longer has her children to protect? For how long shall Mad Queen Cersei sit on the Iron Throne? If the look that Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) throws her way (later in the episode) is any indicator, it may be a short reign..

Ep 10 - Tommen

In an episode that is so crammed with tying up its loose plot threads in time for the next series (by time travel half the time, it seems), it is incredibly easy to forget that which falls outside the big three stories. As such, you can be forgiven for forgetting, come the end of the show, that Arya (Maise Williams, in an appearance so brief that it may as well have been a cameo) hacked Walder Frey’s throat to pieces after shedding an unnamed face. It is a creepy and bile-inducing shadow of when her mother Catelyn had her own throat slit at the infamous Red Wedding. One more down on Arya’s kill list, and she is evidently getting a taste for blood. She took full relish in serving Walder Frey his own sons – in a pie – and  even took the opportunity to scout out Jamie and Bronn as they dined. She knows their faces now, though odds are they won’t see hers coming.

A brief flit to a more northern part of the North and Sam (John Bradley-West), Gilly (Hannah Murray) and Little Sam have finally made it to the Citadel, where maesters are trained. It is more comic relief than anything else, but we get a sneaky peak of the glorious library and its wonderful orary which – the eagle eyed amongst you will notice, I’m sure – is the one that has graced the opening credits for all of these years.

Whilst we are on brief flits and tying up loose ends, Bran’s (Isaac Hempstead Wright) inconvenient strolls through memory supply fans of both the show and the books with what they have been hungrily waiting for for some, say,  19 years now. He returns us to the Tower of Joy scene from earlier in the season, where we finally follow a young Ned up the steps to the screams of his younger sister, Lyanna – but these are not screams of her moment of murder; she is dying from childbirth. She whispers the child’s name (inaudible for us, boo) to her brother and says that Robert (Baratheon, her husband, he who was boar-ed to death) would kill the babe if he found out, and the only need to do so would be if it were a threat to Robert’s claim to the throne. The child would only be so if he were the son of Lyanna and Rhaegar Targaryan, therefore R+L=J: CANON. Cheers and tears everywhere, but where Rhaegar and Lyanna married? Is Jon legitimate with a real claim to the Iron throne? Or is he still a bastard, yet now with a blacker cloud following him than the one he was originally burdened with?

Ep 10 - King Jon

The most frustrating part of all this, of course, is that Bran is currently the only person privy to this information, and he’s stuck on the wrong side of the wall with only Meera to drag him back into the North (Coldhands/Uncle Benjen cannot pass thanks to the spells that prevent the dead from passing – sneaky season 7 plot point thrown in there, eh?). Who knows how long it will take him to find and tell Jon, if he ever does manage to? Not that his elder brother-of-a-fashion isn’t having some uncharacteristically good luck now that the Starks are back in Winterfell. Despite telling Sansa (Sophie Turner) that he believes she should be the Queen in the North, following the stead of young Lyanna Mormont (the excellent – Bella Ramsey, who appears to have survived the Battle of Winterfell) the leaders of the other northern houses declare Jon (Kit Harington) to be King. Is Sansa happy with this? It’s hard to tell, as despite stating her love for her brother her dalliances with Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) behind Jon’s back hold her in questionable stead, for better or for worse. Does she trust either of them? Either way, it seems that Littlefinger will be sticking around, and he does have a good nose for sniffing out an opportunity to manipulate someone, after all.  And one gained is another one lost, for Davos (Liam Cunningham) finally founds the ashes of the pyre where Princess Shireen – daughter of Stannis Baratheon – was burned to death at the end of last season. He puts 2+2 together, and 2+2= Melisandre. The Red Woman (Carice van Houten) has the grace to be ashamed once confronted by the Onion Knight in Jon’s presence, but states that the Lord of Light has kept her alive for a purpose which has not been fulfilled yet, so instead of sentencing her to death, Jon banishes her from the North for good, and states that should she ever return that she will not be leaving the North alive.

 

Ep 10 - SanBae

Whilst partnerships are severing up North, travel further South and alliances are being made. Olenna (Diana Rigg), perhaps the sole surviving Tyrell of note following Cersei’s explosive plot, is in Dorne and in discussion with Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma), who is now – for all intents and purposes – Queen. But why? Well, a time-travelling Varys (Conleth Hill) is about to spill all. He’s rounding up the scorned houses to join the plight of Danaerys Targaryan, as after six whole series (and far too long messing about in Slaver’s Bay) and she is finally ready to set sail for Westeros. You heard it, we’re talking Tyrell-Martell soldiers and Unsullied-Dothraki warriors shipped over via Greyjoy transportation. It’s finally getting real. The Mother of Dragons (Emilia Clarke) names Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) her new Hand of the Queen, and he will come in handy (oho!), after all, who has been on the wrong side of Cersei more times than he?

(Oh, and Daario gets dumped.)

Seen: No Response (D:D)

(Cold.)

I would say that I can’t wait for more extra-long episodes, but I won’t hold my breath; it’s already been reported that next season we are going from ten episodes to seven . Oh, and it won’t be on til even later next year, as shooting doesn’t begin until September. Got to make everything look all wintery of course.

Was this the best episode of Game Of Thrones so far? Many have already complained that there has been too much fan service now that the show has overtaken the books, but really, what is to be expected? The arcs of some characters have been foreseeable – or perhaps inevitable – for a long time. Dany was always going to set for Westeros (duh) and Jon was always going to exceed his bastard status. After Robb was murdered, who was the likely replacement as King in the North (albeit, by a highly detoured route)? The ascension of Cersei was not a given; there will be many more surprises yet.

So where do we go from here? No one knows. The only certainty now is that

Winter is here

Watch The Throne: Game Of Thrones – “Battle Of The Bastards” (Season 6 Episode 9)

BRR! BRR! You know the drill: spoiler time once again, and a couple of biggies this episode. Some bigger than Drogon.

Ep 9 - Drogon

Going against this season’s tradition of starting every episode up t’North, we find ourselves in Meereen which, at the end of the last episode, was being firebombed by the Master’s fleet of ships. Understandably, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) is not impressed; sure it’s been a while since she was spirited away, but it was barely any time in the grand scheme of things. It even served her well, as she acquired an army of Dothraki (read: every tribe) in the process. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) actually looks sheepish as he answers to his queen on the how’s and why’s of the city being bombarded. Together with Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), the pair state their claims: that the Masters broke their agreement with Tyrion and, in attacking Meereen, they are being treacherous. Daenerys frees Rhaegal and Viserion from their prison – the pair are noticeably smaller than Drogon – and together the three destroy the Master’s army (all, somehow, without burning their fleet of ships. Convenient, right?).

The three Masters are informed that one of them is to be a sacrifice, at which two of them push forward the third, who is apparently of lower class. What bastards. As the third knees and begs for forgiveness, Grey Worm steps forward and slits the throats of the other two with one stroke. It is simultaneously hilarious and badass, and Tyrion informs the last Master that he return to whence he came and inform his followers that Daenerys is their queen. Touché.

Finally, the Dothraki army storm into the citadel and trample the Sons of the Harpy under their hooves. It has been a long time coming, hasn’t it? Though it isn’t made clear whether each and every one is killed in the attack, it puts Daenerys in good stead for setting off for Westeros. She has an enormous army and she has ships, which are added to once again when Yara (Gemma Whelan) and Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) unexpectedly turn up on Dany’s doorstep. They detail the beef with their uncle Euron who – if you recall – murdered their father, contested Yara’s claim to the throne and is now after their heads. Oh, and he intends to marry Daenerys, which rankles her so much that she accepts Yara’s offer to support her claim to the throne (much to Tyrion’s distaste) on the condition that, should Daenerys be successful, the Iron Islands become an independent entity from the Seven Kingdoms. May this be the start of a long and fruitful… bromance? (What’s the female equivalent to “bromance” anyway?)

Ep 9 - DaeYara

This episode is all about female empowerment and – as I’m sure we can all agree – it’s high time we get some of that on Game Of Thrones. But it has to be earned of course.

The main event this episode is obviously the titular Battle of the Bastards. As is customary in Game Of Thrones, episode 9 must always culminate in a stupendous fight sequence. The previous ones have been some of the best TV ever broadcast: the execution of Ned Stark (season 1), the Battle of Blackwater Bay (2), the Red Wedding (3), the Battle of Castle Black (4) and Drogon spiriting Dany away from the Sons of the Harpy (5). Battle of the Bastards is no different. It is spectacularly choreographed and shot, the shoot for which took a reported 25 days, and included 500 extras, 600 crew members and 70 horses. Dare we ask the cost?

Ep 9 - SansaJon

But let’s start at the beginning. In discussion prior to the battle, Jon (Kit Harington) challenges Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) to one-on-one combat, as it should be, to spare their men. Ramsay declines, for he’s heard all about Jon; a full on assault it is. And then there’s Rickon (Art Parkinson): where exactly is he? Ramsay throws forth Shaggydog’s severed head as proof, and Sansa believes he is as good as dead. She and Jon argue over the matter: she knows Ramsay in ways Jon never will, she knows his cunning and love of making others suffer for enjoyment. But Jon is a war hero of course, he knows how to organise a battle in ways that Sansa doesn’t. He thinks it is worth trying to save Rickon. He also thinks that their army is big enough, though given Sansa’s raven to who-could-guess, we can bargain that we know exactly what she thinks of that.

anigif_original-grid-image-25988-1465591569-11

The armies assemble and Ramsay steps forward – with Rickon, dragged along by a rope. He cuts him free. He tells him to run.

And run the boy does. Jon sees him first and rides forward to meet his younger brother. Ramsay is evidently baiting them both, separating Jon from his army and shooting arrows at the youngest Stark as he desperately tries to reach safety. Ramsay has shown himself a skilled archer time and again; it is clear that he is pretending to miss.

Until he doesn’t.

Rickon is speared through the heart, and dies lying on the ground choking on his own blood. One more Stark gone, and just like his companion Osha, Rickon was ultimately only brought back to die.

(Why the boy didn’t veer to the right or the left, we’ll never know.)

Ep 9 - RamsayRickon

The Bolton army storms forward, the Northern-Wildling conglomerate does too and the fight is truly begun. Swords clash, limbs flail, spears tangle and horses collide is a fury and frenzy that is disorienting. Jon is luckier than the majority, for time and again an arrow hits an ally or a horse dispatches a foe. Tormund (Kritofer Hivju) and his wildlings run forth with gusto, yet after so long it is clear that the Bolton army is purely larger. They circle what is left of Jon’s army, trapping them against the (mostly) dead bodies of their own soldiers. Shields and spears barricade them in, and not even the lone giant can break through their wall.

Just as it looks as though all is lost, who is to appear upon the crest of the hill by Sansa and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). The Knights of the Vale storm down and break through the Bolton defences, reinvigorating the fight once again. Jon would do well to trust his sister it seems; she was right about the army, and she was right about what Ramsay would do to Rickon. Yet it is Littlefinger who we have to watch from hereon in. Somehow, in all of this mess that he helped to construct, he has emerged favourably and smelling of roses, having successfully absconded from the Lannisters in Kings Landing to a new Northern ruler. And let’s remember, Sansa will (or should be, for Jon is a bastard) queen of Winterfell, and presumably she will need a king. Let’s hope that is neither Littlefinger, or the whelp he is manipulating, Robin Arryn.

The Bolton army is decimated and Jon and the Northern-Wildlings storm into Winterfell, drop the Stark banners and take Ramsay, who Jon takes great relish in deploying his anger upon. He stops short of the mark when Sansa walks in. This is her revenge.

They tie Ramsay in the dungeons, bleeding and bruised but still intact and feed him to his starving dogs. The hounds  rip off his face, before setting into his gut.

Ep 9 - Jon

So where do we go from here? Chips are being set into place for season 7 (yipes). Let’s recap:

Daenerys has an army, a fleet, two Greyjoys, three (presumably) obedient dragons and no impending enemies. Will she finally set sail for Westeros? Ramsay Bolton is finally dead, and Sansa is (also presumably) Queen of Winterfell. Out of the Starks, only she, Jon, Arya and Bran survive. Will they encounter the other two in the next season? Also, Littlefinger is now in Sansa’s favour, but will Jon agree on the sentiment? What is Littlefinger set to gain? He clearly wants power, but what will he do next to get it?

Next week is a big one, too. Cersei finally has her trial, we have yet to hear of Bran, Meera and Benjen and Arya is set to leave Braavos. Episode 10 is on its way; who can believe it’s almost over for another year already?

(Also a sad goodbye to Iwan Rheon, who – in his portrayal of Ramsay Bolton – successfully became the most loathed bastard on TV.)

PS: I’m conducting a survey on Twitter on why we bond over TV violence (can apply to GoT, Peaky Blinders, American Horror Story etc). Would appreciate any takers: up until Sunday!

Watch The Throne: Game Of Thrones – “No One” (Season 6 Episode 8)

Spoiler-bound, but no fear! This was a (relatively) quiet episode.

This week is Arya’s week, which I’m rather glad about. Her entire story has been on the back burner since last season, when she arrived in Braavos and opted to spend her days being bashed with sticks. So far this season, she has learnt some valuable lessons, such as not victimising others for personal gain, humility and perseverance. She definitely missed the memo on obedience, but this is Arya Stark. We have always loved the rebel in her.

Last week, she escaped the Waif by throwing herself off a bridge after being stabbed. She scrambles out of the water and makes her way to the only “friend” she has left in Braavos; Lady Crane, who takes her in and patches her up. The Lady invites her once again to join the travelling troupe of actors, but Arya (Maisie Williams) refuses. She intends to go far away to Essos, or even west of Westeros. She needs to escape. She needs to feel safe. The question is will she ever be? Definitely not today, for her sanctuary is short-lived. The Waif sneaks into Lady Crane’s chambers, murders her, and chases Arya through the streets. (NOTE: This is so ridiculously implaughible – Arya throws herself off a balcony and runs hours – at most, days – after being stabbed!) It’s tense (have you seen the muderous zeal on the Waif’s face!?) and Arya starts to bleed again, but she keeps going, luring the Waif away from the crowds and to a secluded chamber. Arya pulls out Needle and snuffs the light. All of that blind sparring may have paid off after all.

No one is surprised to see that Arya is the one standing in the House of Black and White whilst the Waif’s face is smeared bloodily on the wall, least of all Jaqen. Apparently, a girl has succeeded: she is now no one. Whoop-de-do! But in her quest to be “no one” Arya has realised that she very much needs to be someone. She is going back to Winterfell, and one can only assume that her kill list is at the forefront of her mind.

Ep 8 - Arya

There is a lot of movement this week as the chess pieces are being shaken up. Varys (Conleth Hill) leaves Meereen for starters, though for where and for why is currently unclear. This leaves Tyrion (Perter Dinklage) with Greyworm (Jacob Anderson) and Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel), who are hardly the liveliest pair, though they do painfully try to share some jokez, for after all, in the new peace of Meereen, it would be uncouth to not indulge a little, right? Their lighthearted bonding session is soon interrupted however by loud noises and an enormous fleet of ships heading into the bay. It appears that The Masters have gone back on their word and are back to take what is theirs. There seems to be little that they can do, other than assemble the Unsullied and barricade themselves into the pyramid. But just as they are about to go down fighting, there is a crash on the roof. The doors to the balcony open and who is there but everyone’s favourite Mother Of Dragons? Daenerys (Emilia Clarke)  does not look best pleased – and who can blame her? She’s been gone for all of five minutes and both her city and authority is under siege. It will be interesting to see if The Masters reconsider now that they can see how large Drogon has gotten.

Ep 8 - Tyrion Varys

Talking of large things, man-mountain The Hound (Rory McCann) is on the hunt for those bandits that slaughtered the Septon and his camp and, in doing so, killed perhaps the only friends that he had ever had. It doesn’t take him long to find four of them, though he dispatches them quickly as they prove unhelpful. Soon afterwards, he happens upon the Brotherhood Without Banners and their continually resurrected leader, Beric Dondarrion. It appears that they have already captured those bandits, in fact they are so far along that they are about to hang them. The Hound wants to finish them off instead (Dondarrion gives him two) and the bandits flail as they swing whilst those around them make small talk. Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr – the red priest who resurrects him – intend to go north, where the “cold winds are blowing”. Apparantly, they are looking to recruit good men to accompany them. The Hound umms and ahhs yet doesn’t commit. Perhaps he intends to go south…

Ep 8 - Hanging

That’s what we all hope anyway, but we’ll get to that in a minute. In this episode, we finally get to see exactly what The Mountain – er, Ser Robert Strong – is capable of in his present un/dead state. Lacel Lannister, the cousin of Cersei and Jamie who you may recall from Cersei’s bed in Season 2 before he refashioned himself as a Sparrow, has come to collect the Mother of the King and deliver her to the High Sparrow, who wishes to speak with her. She states that if he wishes to do so, he will have to visit her in the Red Keep. Lancel warns that should she persist, that there will be violence. “I choose violence” states Cersei (Lena Headey) – and why not? She has the Mountain at her shoulder after all, and her confidence is justified. He proceeds to rip the head off an unfortunate Sparrow (with his bare hands) as a warning to the others, who back off. Naturally.

tumblr_inline_o3qrma1e5w1rowt4w_500

You almost begin to root for Cersei, but it is a short-lived victory, however. Later, she visits the throne room where King Tommen is about to make an announcement. As it transpires, it is not one she wishes to hear. Under the guidance of the High Sparrow, he proceeds to abolish trial by combat. There goes Cersei’s (and Loras Tyrell’s) chances of innocence it seems. (More importantly, there goes Cleganebowl.) As Cersei internally crumbles once again, Qyburn whispers into her ear. Apparently, his little birds have reported something that could be to both of their likings.

“Is it a rumour,” asks Cersei. “Or something more?”

“More,” says Qyburn. “Much more.”

Is Cersei about to fulfil her wish to burn Kingslanding to the ground? It’s the first thing that comes to mind, though we will have to wait and see.

Ep 8 - Cer Mountain

The last visit to be made this week is a return jaunt to Rivrrun, where Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is still holding it out with The Blackfish (Clive Russell). Both are still refusing to budge, it seems, when Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Pod arrive in the camp on behalf of Sansa to converse with her uncle. She tells Jamie that she intends to convince The Blackfish to go with her up north in order to aid his eldest niece in taking Winterfell from the Boltons. She also tries to return to him his sword as she has now completed her promise to Catelyn Stark to rescue her daughter (everyone believes that Arya is dead). Jamie refuses, and the Blackfish doesn’t bite. The honourable Brienne doesn’t take failure well.

Jamie has one trump card it seems: Edmure. He cajoles the Tully and convinces him to return to the castle and order his men to lay down their arms, in order to save his child whom he has never met. Both comply, and the Lannisters move in, but the Blackfish would rather go down fighting than surrender to the Lannisters. He ships Brienne and Pod upstream before meeting an honourable end, and as the pair row north in escape, Jamie spots them and waves. It is an odd relationship, that of Jamie and Brienne, one that is of mutual fondness and respect, yet seems doomed to end sombrely.

Ep 8 - Bronn Jamie

So yes, I slow week, but a vital one. Sometimes misguided – e.g. Arya’s epic healing skills, her total 180° and The Blackfish being snuffed (he’s still living in the books, hell, he wasn’t even at the Red Wedding!).

Where Arya go now that a girl is someone again? Will Daenerys end her conflict with the Masters once and for all? And where is the Hound headed?

Over and out for now!

 

Watch The Throne: Game Of Thrones – ‘The Broken Man’ (Season 6 Episode 7)

Spoiler spoiler everywhere, be wise or you’ll be in for a scare!

What’s that coming over the hill, chop-chop-chopping wood as he goes? It’s not… can it be… The Hound!? It’s a bold first shot for this week’s episode (can you believe that we’re on week seven already!? Where is the time going?), but depending on how much of a social media denizen you are, you may or may not have already seen some compromising theories pertaining to such over the peat week or two. I’ll link the Cleganebowl theory HERE should you be as much of a speculative and nosy and self-spoiling obsessive as I.

It transpires that The Hound (Rory McCann) has been living the simple life with septon Ian McShane and his travelling band of merry followers, who keep themselves to themselves and peacefully tend to the land. Having happened across a dying Sandor Clegane after Arya left him for dead back in season 4, McShane’s septon took him in and nursed him back to health, with the hope of enlightening the former knight along the way. How well that went down is left for us to guess, as the Hound is still far more suspicious and sceptical than the company he currently keeps, and who can blame him? He’s spent years of his life in Kingslanding, after all. So when three armoured horsemen of the Brotherhood Without Banners trot into their camp, he is more than a bit wary, especially when they declare that “The night is dark and full of terrors”.

The Hound’s penchant for chopping wood goes to fare him well however, as upon returning to the camp following their cries he finds every men, woman and child slaughtered and the septon hanged. He grabs a hatchet and marches hot on their trail; perhaps Clegane is not so reformed after all.

Ep 7 - The Hound

And talking of reformed individuals, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) is spreading her newfound enlightenment for all to share, her current victim of choice being her grandmother. Following a conversation with the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), he convinces the queen that the Queen of Thorns needs to repent. Margaery pays her a visit – along with the delightful Septa Unella – but as can be presumed, Olenna (Diana Rigg) is hardly amused by her show of religious devotion. Grabbing her by the hand, Margaery begs her grandmother reconsider… and slips her a note. It appears our slippery queen hasn’t completely lost her gall after all, and when Olenna opens it later, she finds a drawing of a rose, the symbol of House Tyrell. Hopefully, Margaery intends to play the High Sparrow at his own game.

Complying with her granddaughter’s wishes, Olenna packs for High Garden, but not before one last visit by the king’s mother. It seems Cersei (Lena Headey) is feeling the pinch; her allies are either being dispatched elsewhere or dropping like flies. It’s a good job that she has the Mountain to look after her. Olenna bluntly admonishes her by stating that the mess they all currently find themselves in is one solely of Cersei’s making and that the only satisfaction she gets from it is watching the Lannister suffer.

Ep 7 - Margaery

Following the brief return of Walder Frey in last week’s episode, we return to the Riverlands to find some of his many sons brandishing their hostage Edmure Tulley – aka: the groom of the Red Wedding – at the battlements of Riverrun where his uncle, The Blackfish (Clive Russell), has taken the longstanding Tulley castle from the sly Frey’s. Apparantly, Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) is the most suitable candidate to sort this mess out, alongside everyone’s favourite unallied knight Bronn (Jerome Flynn). The pair ride through the camp and take control of the Fray army before Jamie goes to parlay with the Blackfish. Not that it goes well, for for all Jamie’s talk, the Blackfish declares himself “disappointed” in finally meeting the Kingslayer, and who can really blame him. Jamie is hardly commanding the situation here. He seems to be perpetually cursed by being a trier, but ultimately leaving a lot to be desired when the pivotal moment comes.

Ep 7 - Jamie Blackfish

Up in the North and Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Jon (Kit Harington) have their own mess to sort, for whilst Jon and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) convince the Wildling army to support Jon and Sansa’s venture to take back Winterfell their army is quite a bit smaller than required – by a lot. They head to visit the Northern houses that have not pledged allegiance to the Boltons, starting with the Mormonts of Bear Island. After all, who can argue with a declaration as strong as “Bear Island knows no king but the King in the North, whose name is Stark”.

One would presume it be a home run, but upon being admitted to an audience with Lyanna Mormont (actress Bella Ramsey STEALS the show!),the trio – joined by Ser Davos – are a bit taken aback. The young leader – a mere ten years old – is frosty and tough; she doesn’t want to lose more men following an ill-advised Stark then the Mormonts did when they followed Robb south previously. She boldly questions whether Sansa can even claim to be Stark, having been married to both a Lannister and a Bolton. Ultimately, it is left to Davos to save the day, placating the situation and convincing young Lyanna to back their cause. Not that there are many men to spare; they are pledged a mere 62, and whilst Jon seems hasty to head to Winterfell with what they have, that is by no means enough for Sansa. She sneaks off and pens a letter to an unrevealed recipient and seals it with the Stark seal. One can only assume it is intended for Littlefinger and his Knights of the Vale…

Ep 7 - Stark Mormont

We only get a brief flit to Braavos this week, which is all very well following Arya’s (Maisie Williams) rediscovery that a girl is far better being someone in this world than being a no-one that answers subserviently to a god that also cannot decide who or what it wants to be. Her reclamation of Needle was a good start, but it hardly seems like she is on the down low, and definitely not when she struts about town throwing her pick-pocketed cash at merchants for board on their ship.

Perhaps Arya actually wants the attention. She knows Jaqen well enough that she is always being watched, so what if she wants to play them at their own game? As she is soaking in some sun on a bridge, she is approached by an old woman, and before we know it the Waif is plunging a dagger into her abdomen over and over and over again. Somehow, she escapes the wretched Waif’s clutches, throwing herself over the bridge and into the canal below. For a few moments you begin to question whether that is really the end of the bullheaded Stark, yet she reemerges downstream and somehow drags herself from the water, dripping blood as she goes on a quest for help.

Ep 7 - Arya

If the Waif thinks Arya is dead then will Jaqen? Will Sansa get the raven that she is hoping for, or will it be intercepted by Ramsay on the way to the Vale? What is Margaery’s game, and are the cogs of Cleganebowl in motion?

Meet you on the other side.

PS. I am so ready for Lyanna Mormont memes. Ready.

Watch The Throne: Game Of Thrones – “Blood Of My Blood” (Season 6 Episode 6)

Spoilers if you are lagging behind: beware. Or if you’ve given up on a spoiler-free existence, come right on through!

One week later and Meera (Ellie Kendrick) is still dragging Branflake (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) through the snow. Just in case you’d forgotten the trauma of last week, Bran lingered too long in a dream/memory that ultimately led the Night’s King and his entire army to the home of the Three Eyed Raven, resulting in carnage for literally everyone bar the girl dragging the lanky, disabled teen through the snow. Hodor held his door, not that you would know that anyone is bothered by his demise given the total lack of recognition in this week’s episode. You’d think that, having subject us all to that momental heartache, the characters would at least have the decency to partake in such too.

To make matters worse, Bran is still dreaming. Literally. He’s taking this lazy teen stereotype to new levels here. It’s one thing to sleep through your mother’s calls to get your ass down for breakfast, but another entirely to sleep through a slaughter. But just as Meera is coming to terms with their fates, he wakes up. They embrace and wait to be killed and…

Aren’t.

They are saved by a mysterious hooded figure swinging a ball of fire. He fights off the undead and drags the pair onto his horse, galloping them away to safety. But who is this hooded creature? Well, as was proved last week, nothing in Game Of Thrones is accidental and the same goes for characters. There is a reason Ned Stark has a brother, and it appears we are about to find out why (finally), for after 54 episodes Benjen Stark (Joseph Mawle) has made his return. Yes, we thought he was dead. They all thought he was dead. Actually, he was dead, yet not undead (this is becoming a theme), having been resurrected by the Children of the Forest to combat the White Walkers.

Ep 6 - GillySam

That’s all we’re given in the North this week (yes, a week minus Sansa or Jon). The closest in proximity that we get is Sam (John Bradley-West) delivering Gilly (Hannah Murray) and Little Sam to his family in the hope that they take them in for safekeeping. Except he’s failed to mention one little stickler: his father – Randyll Tarly – despises Wildlings, so despite the warm welcome from his mother and sister, it’s only a matter of time until things end badly. And they do, with Randyll screeching that Sam “dishonours” them and marvelling – furiously – that he still be alive. Despite Gilly sticking up to Randyll in Sam’s honour, he agrees to take the “Wildling Whore” in in the agreement that she work in the kitchens, to which Sam agrees. Yet when we have just given in all hope at Sam having cajones, he whisks Gilly and Little Sam away because they are a family, and families stay together. Not before he also whisks Randyll’s valyrian steel sword from the mantelpiece; it may come in handy soon after all.

 

Ep 6 - Atonement

Down in Kingslanding and it’s time for Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) to repent for her sins by following in Cersei’s footsteps, though if you recall, her grandmother Olenna (Diana Rigg) has a different idea. The Queen of Kingslanding will not be paraded through the streets like some common whore on her watch, and the Lannisters agree. When the Sparrows bring her out onto the steps of the Sept they find a shiny Lannister-Tyrell coalition waiting to greet them, headed by Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). Margaery’s face is a picture of bewilderment (though one that could be later construed as horror) when she sees the army sent to rescue her; she has reawakened in the light of the Seven and has seen the error of her ways – and so has King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman). The young king states the importance of the union of the faith and the crown, though we can hazard a guess it is more the importance of the retrieval of his wife for, er, less noble machinations. The smug look on the High Sparrow’s(Jonathan Pryce) face at this turn of events is a sight to behold, and one can only wonder that had quick witted Margaery been privy to her would-be saviours notions, this whole debacle could have taken a turn for the better instead of a whole lot worse.

Once again Jamie and Cersei (Lena Headey) reinstate their intention to make everyone pay for how they have suffered, which is apt, as Jamie has been stripped of his Kingsguard status by Tommen for his opposing the crown and it appears that Cersei is to be left all alone. He is being shipped to Riverrun to see the Blackfish (Catelyn Stark’s uncle – a Tully – if you recall); he has reclaimed The Twins from the sly Fray’s following their betrayal at the Red Wedding, so natually, as a Lannister and Fray ally it is Jamie’s job to sort out the mess (or try to). The prospect of Jamie leaving her on her own in Kingslanding’s pit of snakes softens Cersei for a brief moment and as he departs you can’t help but wonder what will be of her now the High Sparrow has Tommen in the palm of his hand.

Ep 6 - Twins

Over in Braavos and Arya (Maisie Williams) is back watching am-dram (extra kudos if you spot Richard E. Grant who returns in his cameo of last week – portraying Tywin Lannister’s death on the bog), except this time its a tad more sinister with Jaqen giving her the task to assassinate Lady Crane by poisoning her wine. With her wily ways, it looks like a girl is set to succeed, until she is rumbled by her would-be victim just as she is about to leave. The two bond in the space of a three minute conversation and Arya has a change of heart; she storms back into the changing room and knocks the glass from the actress’ hand just as she is set to take a sip. It seems a girl prefers being someone after all and it’s a good job that she retrieves Needle from the docks, for her spiteful sparring partner has just been given Jaqen’s blessing to off the young Stark. He requests that she does not make Arya suffer, though the look on the Waif’s face suggests otherwise.

Ep 6 - %22Watch Out For That One%22

Finally, we are treated to a brief visit to everyone’s favourite Mother Of Dragons. Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Daario (Michiel Huisman) are traversing the desert with their new, enormously large army of Dothraki. For all her spiel at Vaes Dothrak, she has yet to prove on her claims – other than walking through fire, of course. Cue the return of Drogon. Dany literally sniffs out the beast – who has grown, exponentially. Her favourite baby seems a tad more compliant than the last time we saw him, yet if he hadn’t dumped her in the middle of nowhere at the end of last season, Daenerys would be minus one very large army. It appears everything happens for a reason, and the Dothraki appear suitably impressed by the silver haired queen on the back of a giant flying lizard. As you would be.

Ep 6 - Drogon

It’s been a quiet one this week, hasn’t it? It will be interesting to see where the return of Benjen goes. It will be interesting to see if Arya makes it out of Braavos alive. And what of Sam and Gilly now? 

Onto the next!

 

Watch The Throne: Game Of Thrones – “The Door” (Season 6 Episode 5)

OK, so, you know when you usually get told that this review is ‘MAJOR SPOILER’? Well this one is M.A.J.O.R  S.P.O.I.L.E.R! Please take heed and watch episode 6 before reading this; any damage done here is irreparable.

As so above. If you were situated on the wrong side of the Atlantic come Monday morning, then the Internet was a dangerous place to be, especially social media, and especially Twitter. There’s only so many times you can see the hashtag #HoldTheDoor before you clutch your face, delete your apps and put your phone on aeroplane mode, but alas, this is what we are dealing with here. It’s one of those ones.

Ep 5 - Sansa Littlefinger

One of those ones starts, as appears as tradition in this series, at Castle Black; it appears that Peter Baelish, aka. Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen), the man of mystery and manipulation, is also capable of time travel, having somehow navigated his way from the Vale of Arryn all the way to the Mole’s Town in an unbelievably speedy manner. He has come, of course to offer his dear Sansa (Sophie Turner) his services but she’s having none of it, and who can blame her. She accuses him of knowing what she was heading to when he delivered her to Ramsay Bolton, and orders him to describe what he thinks Ramsay did to her on their wedding night. She says she ‘can still feel what he did inside of [her]’, and watching Littlefinger squirm uncomfortably makes for rather satisfactory viewing.

It is becoming more and more apparent that Sansa is maturing and taking her own fate out of the hands of men; her recount of her rape it done without a shred of self pity. It seems that she has come to terms with it, and it is one more thing to add fuel to her fire. Littlefinger informs Sansa that her uncle, the Blackfish, has retaken Riverrun and has formed an army, however – for whatever reason – he withholds that he has the Vale’s army in motion. What is his motive here? One can only (tentatively) assume that, in Sansa’s apparent rejection of him, he may use that army for other purposes. We later meet Sansa with Jon, Davos, Melisandre, Tormund, Brienne and Pod as they are planning where to go from here. Sansa lies to them as to her source of where she learned of the Blackfish army. Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) later asks her why, and she doesn’t answer, though she does send Brienne away to meet with her uncle. As they leave Mole’s Town to sway the Northern Houses into joining their cause, it seems that Sansa is intent in doing this on her own terms.

(PS. Tormund’s crush on Brienne is killing me.)

Ep 5 - Brienne Tormund

Over in the Iron Islands, we find the Kingsmoot. Despite Yara (Gemma Whelan) putting up a good case despite the Ironborn’s admonitions of her gender (and Theon’s two cents), she is drowned out by the bravado of their uncle Euron, who confesses to killing Balon and promises the Ironborn that if he is king, he will take their fleet East to Daenerys and marry her so that together they can take Westeros. They like the sound of that of course, and as they are busy inaugurating him (aka. Drowning, because ‘born and born again’ and all that). Yara, Theon (Alfie Allen) and some loyal supporters flee with the fleet of ships. The pesky pair.

Over on the warmer (and dryer) side of things, and Arya (Maisie Williams) is taking a beating again. In all fairness to her though, she is slowly, but surely, putting up a better fight. Jaqen tasks her with assassinating an actress, who just so happens to be in a comedy portraying the death of Robert Baratheon and the beheading of Ned Stark who, in creative liberty, is depicted as an idiot. It evidently touches a nerve.

Having escaped from Vaes Dothrak, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) finally gives in to Jorah’s (Iain Glen) pursuits and pardons him for being faithful. He responds by confessing love for her (cue squirming by Daario Naharis) as well as revealing his Grey Scale. Dany appears distraught and orders him to obey his queen and to find the cure for his disease. It is all rather touching, and you can’t help but feel for Jorah fulfilling his need to acquire his Queen’s forgiveness.

Ep 5 - Meereen

In Meereen, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) is assuming his deal with the Masters a success, as in the two weeks since there has been no deaths or action by rebel group Sons Of The Harpy. However, he needs to convince the people that Daenerys is responsible for their newfound peace, so it makes perfect sense for him to recruit the High Priestess of the Lord Of Light to share the word for him. She agrees because Daenerys is evidently the “Chosen One”, just like Stannis. Varys is far more dubious, actually even borderline hostile; he doesn’t trust those who use magic thanks to a sorcerer castrating him as a child. He brands her a “fanatic” yet is rankled to discover she knows his story. The High Priestess agrees to aid them and leaves, and you can’t help but feel that this is all going to go a bit Kingslanding…

Let’s return to the Three Eyed Raven’s tree, and Bran (Isaac Hemptead-Wright) is in a memory. A very, very old one, it turns out. We watch as the Children of the Forest impale a living human man whose body subsequently begins to chill with ice. Is this the birth of the Night’s King? It seems very likely, and with the Children of the Forest having created him to kill humans who were taking over their land, what does this mean for the motives of both they and the Wights? Can the Wights control their urge to purge humanity, or is it their curse to pursue it forever? It’s an unexpected turn of events, and will be interesting to see where this goes in the future.

ep 5 - Meera

And talking of unexpected things, it’s about to get emotional. It’s becoming a bit hard to not go full H.A.M at Bran as he becomes more and more impatient at the progress of his training under the Three Eyed Raven. He takes it upon himself to go back into a memory on his own. He finds himself before the Wierwood tree, facing an army of the dead. He walks through it, bewildered, before stopping to inspect the four Wights. Only they are also inspecting him. They can see him, and now so can the dead. The Night’s King grabs his arm and he wakes; according to the Three Eyed Raven, the Night’s King can now see where they are and will be coming for them. They can, and they do. Soon enough they are attacked from outside, but both the Raven and Bran are back in dreamland, this time it’s Winterfell again, and they are watching young Hodor. Bran is dragged from the fray as chaos ensues around them; both the Raven and the Children of the Forest perish (though not before Meera slays a Wight), and as they escape through a back door, Meera screams at Hodor to hold it shut. It appears Bran cannot wake, and instead of warging into Hodor outside of the dream, he wargs into young dream Hodor instead, controlling old Hodor through time via this memory. Young Hodor fits in a panic; he can hear Meera screeching “Hold the door!”, because as old Hodor is slowly being ripped apart by the dead. Young, dream Hodor’s fate is sealed, for “Hold the door” becomes “holdthedoor” becomes “Hodor”.

It’s such a sad yet heroic moment, and you can’t help but feel a sense of guilt for having misunderstood Hodor for all of these years. You hate Bran for being so selfish. You have a reinforced sense of admiration for George R.R Martin for having woven this twist into the plot from the beginning of this 20+ year journey. You can’t help but wonder how much of the current GoT world as we know it is really as it seems.

I’m too exhausted to ask questions this week, but let’s find solace in the fact that this is easily the best episode of this season (so far), and one of the best Game Of Thrones episodes in its history.

Ep 5 - Hodor 2