Television Review – Suits kicks off its final season with a bang, in 9.01 “Everything’s Changed”

Well, this week finally sees the start of the ninth and sadly final season of Suits (any chance we can rethink that final season bit?) and I’m both excited it’s back, while also feeling sad that the end is not that far away. After the emotional end to season 8, it’s no exaggeration that this might be my most anticipated season of television yet and the good news is, that this final season opener didn’t disappoint!

As always, let’s dive in to the detail.

I usually leave all things #Darvey until last, but let’s face it, this is the biggest part of 9.01 and so there was only one place to begin!

The start of the next phase of Darvey and it was even better than I’d hoped for!

Well, blimey, has everyone recovered from this episode?! I’d had certain hopes for the season and when it came to Donna and Harvey’s new romantic relationship, my biggest wish was that we’d get the chance to see them navigating all the different aspects of this new phase of their lives. What I hadn’t been prepared for however, was seeing so much of that in episode one! Across the 45 minutes, we were treated to seeing Harvey & Donna’s intimacy, love, shyness, honesty, flirty and suggestive banter, mature conversations about tough topics, comic moments AND a fiery exchange – all in the first episode! Unbelievable!

I’ve never hid the fact I’ve wanted this couple together and after 9.01, this their narrative has already become the most satisfying of all television relationships I’ve ever invested in and that’s certainly exciting as we move forward!

I loved almost all of it, so I suppose it would be more appropriate to first say what I particularly enjoyed from this abundance of Darvey riches! Top of that list is this new side to Harvey. Arguably, the title of the episode relates more to Harvey Specter and his view on life than anything else. Gone was the emotionally guarded man of the past and in his place was a man not afraid to tell people about their relationship when Louis shows up and ready and who is more than willing to discuss his emotions. It was quite something to watch – as he tells Donna that he’s glad he came over, that he wants to come back the next night (i.e. this is not a one night thing), that he loves her reading his mind and in their gorgeous last scene, as he makes clear how ready he is for them to be together and that he loves her. Plus, her still technically being with Thomas? He didn’t let it be an obstacle, or a reason to feel guilty and mistrusting of their relationship, which is a huge change for this character (although the edit of that phone call was odd; it’d been nice to see Harvey’s face when he reacted to her still being with Kessler when he came over).

The use of Mike and Rachel’s apartment could have felt a bit odd, but the reason for its inclusion was rather lovely, showing how much Harvey had been hoping the pair would come back (how loaded is he, to be able to afford rent on top of everything else?!) and the call-back to his line to Donna in the pilot episode (well for international viewers anyway – it was a deleted scene in the US) that he loves her because she gets him was just perfect. No doubt this is the first of many nostalgic call backs to the earlier years as we inch closer to the end of the show and it also ensured Mike and Rachel had a presence in the episode, despite not being on screen. One thing though Harvey, with Mike’s memory, I bet he remembers Rick Sorkin too and has worked out your fake tenant scheme!

If I had to gripe, I’m not entirely sure why Donna had to still be with, and therefore break up with, Kessler. It was clear from 8.16 that it was over (and indeed the deleted break up scene had him end it). Whether they’d been together, or not, Harvey didn’t know either way, so I’d have preferred her to have already made the split official from Thomas, rather than her inviting Harvey in knowing that that hadn’t already happened. And my other gripe, there was a fair amount of reference to Harvey being blind for 12 years and coming to his senses, as though Donna had been consciously sitting there waiting for him all that time. I’ve never seen it that way. I think for a large amount of time she was as blind as him, so this irritated me a little bit, but focussing on the positives – we can now look forward to seeing their relationship develop for a whole nine episodes! Perfect!

Louis Litt being Louis Litt!

We’d all assumed Louis would turn up at Donna’s apartment the morning after and discover the big change between his two friends. Yet, in true Louis style, he was oblivious to what was so completely obvious! Although, to be fair to him, were this any other earlier Suits season, his assumption would very likely have been correct – they’d have been doing anything other than “banging it out all night!”

The humour in Suits has always been a highlight for me and this scene was the show at its best on this front – the double entendres flying all around Donna’s living room were brilliant! Darvey aside, I also enjoyed seeing Louis acting relatively level-headed this week. Yes, he was frustrated and angry at the idea of dishonouring Robert’s name, but he didn’t lash out emotionally the way he would have in the past. Just like Harvey, he’s grown up and is moving in to a new phase in his life.

Samantha Wheeler continues to kick ass (in and out of the boxing ring)!

I already loved Samantha’s character, finding her a fun and fiery addition to the series last season and this week I thought she (and Katherine Heigl) was fantastic, taking no prisoners in her fight for her mentor’s reputation.

Seeing her get up in the face of her old partner, when he dares call her sweetpea (what an arrogant idiot he is) impressed not just us, but Harvey too! Then there was her reaction to the knowledge of where Harvey really spent his night – the way she leans back in her chair, the expression on her face, almost predatory in the knowledge that she now has leverage over him, mixed with her anger at the unfairness of it all. Let’s face it, her verbal fight with Harvey was perfectly valid and just like Harvey, she’s loyal to those she cares for and no one more than Robert Zane. Oh and watching her and Harvey take each other on in the boxing ring was great fun! Now that she’s on better terms with Harvey and seemed to make peace with Donna, I’m hoping they’ll be all on the same team going forward. They’ll clearly need to be!

Katrina & Alex – the calming influences of the firm

If I take a step back and look at the firm rationally, then I could see Alex and Katrina making a pretty good team running a firm. It’d be by the book and run with precision. But where’s the fun in that?!

This week saw these two being the calming influences amongst the high emotions flying around. Crucially, it’s fantastic to see Katrina with more strength and confidence in her position, meaning she is the one to present the hard truths to Alex, knowing he’d be sensible enough to take it forward. We also saw her meet Sheila (I honestly hadn’t realised this hadn’t already happened) and overall this was an entertaining scene, in which two rather blunt women were absolutely transparent with each other. Having said that, Sheila didn’t improve in my opinion following her last comment about Katrina’s appearance, which came across as just bitchy to me. Then we had Alex being offered Managing Partner. You never know, that could happen by the end.

Enter Faye Richardson to shake things up!

I suspected the last scene would be this one, dropping the bombshell on Louis that he was no longer in charge of the firm, as we saw the arrival of Faye Richardson, appointed by the New York Bar Association to effectively take control of a firm that is tarnished in the eyes of the wider legal world. She wasted no time in making her position clear and it’ll be fun to see how everyone else reacts. Things are clearly about to get very interesting!

Looking ahead……..

So, next week will see the fallout from the arrival of Faye Richardson, Special Master, who will be laying some ground rules for the firm. I’m excited to see where the writers take this plot line, as it will impact on all of our characters – Harvey and Samantha will no doubt feel attacked, Donna will likely feel judged in a similar vein to Malik in season seven, Louis will likely feel torn between his love of the law (and therefore going by the book) and loyalty to his work family. In the series promo (see below), it sounds as though someone is getting fired down the line. Will it be Harvey? Donna? Louis? Whoever it is, there are going to be ramifications that will no doubt impact on where we leave these characters at the end.

As for what else might be coming our way, 9.01 referred again to Samantha’s military service and so hopefully we’ll learn more about that. We had Harvey acknowledge his change in attitude to cheating (he didn’t even consider Thomas), which I hope opens the door to an appearance of his mother, who he may understand a little more now. There was the return of Professor Gerrard (hi to Gabriel’s dad!), so perhaps this will lead to a new career path for Louis? Oh and Sheila seems to have advanced a few months overnight in her pregnancy, so fingers crossed we’ll see the arrival of Baby Litt! I’m also trying to ignore the return of Brian in the promo – don’t do it Katrina!

Clearly season 9 has the potential to be one of the best of the series!

Any chance we can reconsider this being the end? Please………….

Suits season 9 continues next week with 9.02 “Special Master” on Wednesday night on USA Network in the US. As for the UK, it’s arrival and airing on Netflix is unclear. It might be weekly from this Saturday, or 9.01 on Saturday and then the rest weekly on Thursdays. At this point, it’s not clear, so watch this space. You can watch the promo for next week / the season here: https://youtu.be/qmGkMGBffnw

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My Suits Season 9 Wishlist!

So, we are now hours away from the premiere of the ninth and final season of Suits. I’ve been intending to post this wishlist for some time now, but every time I went to finish it, something else was announced, rendering it already out of date! So, I decided to wait until now and treat this post as my warm up for the show.

It’s a strange time to be a Suits fan, especially if you’re also a #Darvey fan. It’s a mix of excitement at having the show and these fantastic characters back on our screens, anticipation at seeing how they will tackle Donna and Harvey’s new relationship and sadness that we only have ten weeks left of new episodes, before we have to say goodbye. I don’t know about you, but I’m certainly not ready yet.

So, as we wait to see what happens in 9.01 (aptly named “Everything’s Changed”), I thought I’d set out my wishlist for this season, despite the fact that I already know some of my biggest hopes are already happening.

Here goes!

The return of Mike and the Mike / Harvey bromance!

This was, without a doubt, at the top of my list and has been ever since Patrick J. Adams left at the end of season seven. The series simply couldn’t end without us seeing Mike again. At the moment, all we know for sure is that Mike is back in 9.05, in which he’ll go up against both Harvey and Samantha on a case. As this is just one episode though, I can’t imagine it’s all angst and look forward to some of the Batman & Robin dynamic that I first loved about Suits. Plus, we need him to find out about Donna and Harvey getting together! He’ll burst with excitement! Do I hope he’ll also pop back for the series finale? Of course, but at least we’ll see Mike at least once before the end arrives.

Getting to see Donna and Harvey navigate all aspects of a new romantic relationship.

Let’s face it, none of us are over THAT last scene! I mean, was that real?! I can barely believe the above released image is real! I never imagined we’d have a whole season to enjoy Donna and Harvey as a couple, but now that we do, I want to see as much of them navigating that as possible. That doesn’t just mean the fluffy, coupley moments either (although I’ll take as many of those as they give us, such as maybe dancing to one of his dad’s records, saying they love each other, planning a future). I also want the first fight, the struggle to learn how to communicate on this new level, the honest conversations and the working out where their lives are going to lead them. If done well, this could be the most satisfying on screen relationship I’ll have ever invested in!

Harvey’s mother Lily meeting Donna

There are many people from the last eight years that I’d love to see return (see a few below), but the only one I have to have, otherwise I will feel somewhat disappointed, is Harvey’s mother. We’ve seen how much of a shadow his relationship with her cast over his emotional life and Donna was the reason he was able to forgive her. We’ve seen him tell his mother it was thanks to someone special and we’ve seen his mother mistakenly think that someone was Paula. Surely the series can’t end without Lily finally meeting the woman who has always been so important to her son. It feels like a missing piece in the puzzle. All my fingers are crossed.

Happiness for Louis Litt

Louis has been on such a rollercoaster over the seasons. We’ve despised him, felt sorry for him, cheered him on, laughed with him (and at him) and cried for him. I certainly don’t think his relationship with Sheila is perfect by any means, but they do seem to work together and now with a baby on the way (one which I really hope we see born during this season), the future could be a very happy one for Louis Litt. All I hope now is that wherever he ends the series, whether still at the firm, taking a teaching position at Harvard (could Professor Gerrard by stepping down and looking for a replacement?), becoming a stay at home dad, I want him to be happy. He deserves that.

More of the fun and humour from the early years coming back

From all the recent interviews that have been released, this seems to be another wish that looks to be coming true. I’ve enjoyed the more angst-filled phases of Suits, but I admit, the fun and humour of earlier seasons is something I’m looking forward to seeing again this year and it sounds like the Darvey flirty banter is back, which makes sense now they don’t have to pretend they don’t have feelings for one another. Plus, with Louis around and everyone needing to find out about the new firm couple, there’s bound to be fun coming our way!

More about Samantha’s history, especially her military service

We’ve already learnt quite a bit about Samantha in just one season, but I’m certainly interested to know more. We know her early family life was a bad one and that she also joined the service and I’d love to find out more about that. She’s been a great addition to the cast and it’d be fascinating to see more before the series ends.

More family time!

We’ve seen glimpses of the families of all of the gang over the years and in this last run I’d love to see more of that. We’ve already been promised that there’ll be one episode for each character this season, in which we’ll focus more on them, which is very promising, but I’m most keen to see more of Donna’s parents and Harvey’s brother and in an ideal world a flashback with Harvey’s father. Oh and Gretchen dating Alex’s father-in-law could be brilliant to watch!

Some familiar faces appearing one last time!

There have been so many wonderful guest actors in the show over the years, so narrowing it down for this last season is tough, but if I had a say, then top of my list would be: Stu (I love Stu – maybe he can take Katrina out on a date); Dr. Lipschitz (because he’s simply superb); Travis Tanner (because he pushes all of Harvey’s buttons); Robert Zane (although Wendell Pierce himself told me at the stage door of his London play that he’d be “slipping back” to Suits before it ends, so that’s probably a given); Benjamin (because why wouldn’t you want to see him back again?!) and Sean Cahill (because I always liked his dynamics with the characters on the show). Oh……and the cactus! Bring back the cactus!

The events I can live without (but will happily take)!

There are a few things I know some fans are desperate to see, particularly Donna and Harvey getting engaged and/or married and/or getting pregnant, and Harvey getting his duck painting back! If any of these happen, then that’s great, but equally, if the series ends without these events, I won’t feel disappointed.

So………….that’s my list. Honestly, the fact that I already know I’m getting quite a few of these is so exciting. Yes, it’s bittersweet, but I’m determined to focus on the positives – Suits is back!

Suits season 9 starts tonight in the USA on USA Network. It’s arrival on Netflix is, as yet, to be confirmed.

A Suits Locations Adventure (in Toronto & NYC)!

I know I’m not the only one out there who enjoys tracking down locations used in their favourite television shows and films and over the last two years I’ve incorporated this hobby in to my trips to two cities used for filming of my current favourite show, Suits, which are of course Toronto (where the series has been based since season one) and New York (where the pilot was filmed and also home of Darvey’s restaurants)!

Using existing resources (see the links at the bottom) for some of the locations from seasons 1-6 and my own detective skills for a few from seasons 7 and 8, I wanted to write this post as a record of my holidays, but also to help other Suits (and Darvey fans) making similar trips in the future! Special thanks to @darvey247 for her help with most of the screenshots (which are of course the property of Suits USA)!

So, let’s get started!

Everyone’s favourite office building!!

There have technically been two locations used for the Suits office lobby and exterior, but I’ll start with the one that has served as the location throughout the series in Toronto and that’s the Bay Adelaide Centre! With the white marble-effect floors, wooden-effect detailing on the walls, the light panels along the side and those revolving doors, it’s a location that has seen so many fantastic scenes and walking around it is such a thrill!

Although the Bay Adelaide Centre has become the location over the years, the location used for the pilot episode was 601 Lexington Avenue, New York. During my 2018 trip to NYC, there was a lot of construction going on around this building, but it’s recognisable stilt-like structure and lobby could still be seen.

Tips – Head down the escalators in the Bay Adelaide Centre office building to reach the food outlets, other shops and public toilets. It also has free wifi, which means you can sit in the little seating area outside the building and still access the internet!

Toronto – Bay Adelaide Centre – 333 Bay Street; NYC – 601 Lexington Avenue.

All those iconic #Darvey locations are a must for any fan headed to Toronto & NYC!

THE Diner (season 3, ep 7 “The Other Time”)

What better place to start than one of the most iconic Darvey moments in Suits and that’s the diner in which we see Harvey ask Donna to work for him again, where they agree to forget The Other Time, where the can opener idea is born and where, years later, Harvey admits Donna’s relationship with Stephen bothers him (shocker!). The location is The Lakeview Diner and as you’ll see from the photos, it hasn’t changed (other than the artwork) and for those wanting the right booth, it’s the last one on the row along the wall as you enter, with the bar stools across the aisle. It’s certainly smaller in real-life than it is on screen, so I imagine it was a tight squeeze with the cameras in there!

Tip – They do a great chocolate milkshake! Also, if heading there from Downtown, I recommend the 505 bus. You need coins to pay on the bus, but it’ll be quicker than walking! Get off at the Ossington Avenue stop.

The Lakeview Diner, 1132 Dundas Street Westhttp://www.thelakeviewrestaurant.ca

Harvey & Donna first meet (season 4, ep. 16 “Not Just A Pretty Face”)

The bar where it all began! This is the place where Donna walked boldly up to Harvey at the bar and the rest has been history. Here was also where Forstman made Harvey his offer of employment, from across the room after Donna turns down Harvey’s advances! These scenes were filmed at Citizen, one of my favourite bars of my trips. It is predominantly the same as it was when Suits filmed there; the bar area is the same, as is the area where Forstman was sitting.

There has been some changes though to the area where Donna and Harvey took their discussion to the corner, which initially confused me. It’s directly behind where they stood at the bar, but the leather seating has changed colour, as has the paintwork of the walls. Also, interestingly, where Harvey was sitting there isn’t actually a seat now, but it’s definitely the right spot. You’ll see the wooden beam in the corner and the light match, as does the wooden shelving behind the waiter who serves Harvey.

Tip – French Detox & Le Grand Fizz summer cocktails are both lovely!

Citizen, 522 King Street West (entrance on Brant Street) – http://thecitizento.com

Donna’s apartment exterior no.1 (season 2 ep.7 “Sucker Punch”)

Up to now Suits has used three exterior locations for Donna’s apartment and the first, at 176 John Street, was during season 2, including the scene where Harvey is waiting outside to ask her to do the mock trial. I visited this location in 2018 and found it had changed quite a lot since filming. This year I didn’t go back, but there appeared to be construction of the street, but hopefully it can still be recognised by die-hard fans, if those metal awnings jutting out next to it are still there.

Donna’s apartment exterior no.2 (season 3 ep.9 “Bad Faith”)

By the next big Darvey moment outside Donna’s apartment, the filming location had moved to 11 Duncan Street and has remained there until season 8. It was here where Harvey was waiting for Donna to take her for breakfast at Nougatine in season 3, and where he was waiting to confront her after he discovered her actions in the Liberty Rail case at the start of Intent in season 4. Nothing has really changed here (heck, there was even a black car outside when I went!), so I wonder why they changed for season 8.

Because She Earned It! (Season 8, episode 7 “Sour Grapes”)

No Darvey fan will forget this intense moment from season 8, when Donna let rip at Harvey’s comment that he put her in her job! I still can’t stand that he said that, but it’s a great scene (and I’m only a tiny bit bitter that I missed seeing the filming of this by minutes)! It was shot next door to the firm’s lobby location, in the lobby of the Deloitte office building at Bay Adelaide East, 8 Adelaide Street West.

Harvey tells Donna that he needs her (season 2, ep.9 “Asterisk”)

Another great Darvey moment was when Harvey, determined to get Donna back, stops her on the street and tells her he needs her. It’s such a lovely scene and was filmed on King Street West, near Portland Street. It’s harder to recognise now, but the orange signage behind Harvey is still visible and the trees remain!

Del Posto – The #Darvey restaurant!

Any fan of Darvey knows about Del Posto. It’s the restaurant that they go to every year to celebrate the anniversary of Donna working for Harvey. As the series is filmed in Toronto, the scenes from season 5 are not shot in the actual restaurant, but it does exist in NYC and is well worth a visit. Yes, it’s a bit pricey, so I’d recommend going for lunch, which is a little cheaper, or perfect for a special occasion (I went for my birthday with a friend)! The food was superb, the drinks were fantastic and it’s the only restaurant I’ve been to where they provide a small cushioned footstool for your handbag! Oh and if you’re lucky like me, the pianist might even start playing The Scientist while you are there!

Del Posto, 85 Tenth Avenue, New York City, NY 10011- https://delposto.com

Breakfast at Nougatine! (season 3, episode 9 “Bad Faith”)

The other Darvey location on my NYC list was of course breakfast at Nougatine! The restaurant is located on the ground floor of Trump International Hotel (no comment), but you don’t need to be a hotel guest to eat there and I simply made a reservation. It’s just by Central Park, so nicely situated for a day where you’re planning to explore that part of the city.

Nougatine, 1 Central Park West, New York City, NY 10023 – https://www.jean-georges.com/restaurants/united-states/new-york/nougatine-at-jean-georges

Harvey & Mike – the best bromance on TV!

Season 9 will see our favourite bromance reunited for at least one episode. It’s a friendship that has seen so many special moments and some of those have been on location.

Mike asks Harvey if Donna’s “The One” (season 7 ep.14 “Pulling The Goalie”)

It was the question we all wanted to ask Harvey following his split from Paula Agard, when he chose having Donna in his life over her (thank god!) – did he realise Paula wasn’t The One because Donna was? I always love this scene and tracked it down purely by chance and this was my favourite bar of my Toronto trips, called Weslodge. It hasn’t changed since the filming, so take a seat at the end of the bar just like Harvey & Mike! Don’t worry if you’re on your own either, as the bar staff are lovely.

Tip – Say hello to the lovely Irish bar manager for me! He’ll take great care of you. As for drinks, their cocktails are fantastic, especially the Summer 75, Diablo & their Old Cuban!

Weslodge, 480 King St West – https://weslodge.com

Harvey takes Mike for whiskey on his release from prison (season 6 ep. 10 “P.S.L”)

Besides Rachel, no one was happier to see Mike released from prison than Harvey, who welcomed him back by taking him for celebratory drinks and presenting him with a job offer (albeit one he didn’t take). The location for this is the fabulous Drake One Fifty. Unless you’re a large group, you’ll be unlikely to be seated in their booth, but as the bar hasn’t changed since filming, you’ll be able to recognise it (it’s the one closest to the camera in my photo above).

Tip – La Belle Vie cocktail is perfect for summer!

Drake One Fifty, 150 York Street – https://www.thedrake.ca/drakeonefifty/

All the other homes of our favourite characters

As you’ll already have seen with Donna’s apartment, the crew have not always used the same location for the apartment exteriors of the Suits gang. I haven’t been able to find them all (yet!), with Harvey’s first apartment exterior and Louis’s current home being the ones still a mystery, but if you want to see the others, then they are below!

Harvey’s current apartment (including season 4, ep.16 “Not Just A Pretty Face”; and season 7 ep. 10 “Donna”)

Full credit for solving this mystery goes to my friend @ireneirm when the brilliant Torontoist articles (see links below) couldn’t help (and whose photo is the one above). This location, at 80 John Street, remains Harvey’s current residence on screen, recognisable from his arrival home in the season 4 finale, after dropping the “You Know I Love You” bomb on Donna, as well as the scene of his confrontation with Malik in the season 7 mid-season finale. It almost looks the same, but the blue rock-like circles on the wall you can see behind the lobby desk have been recently removed.

Mike & Rachel’s apartment (seen most in season 6)

We saw this location, at 3 Church Street, mostly during season six, including 6.01 when Harvey is waiting for Rachel to return after dropping Mike off at Danbury and when Harvey gets Mike out of prison for a few hours in the hope seeing Rachel will make him see sense and take the deal on the table. It’s also literally around the corner from the legal clinic location.

Donna’s current apartment exterior (season 8, episode 12 “Whale Hunt”)

Season has seen a third exterior used for Donna’s apartment, this one located at 88 Scott, just below the corner of Yonge Street & Colborne Street and seen during the scene where she returns home from her date with Thomas Kessler. The road was under construction during my trip this year, but from the photos you can (just about) see it’s the right place, especially the crests on the wall either side of the door. However, this does make me think that if they need an exterior scene outside Donna’s in season 9, then perhaps they’ll return to the last one!

Jessica’s apartment (including season 6, episode 2 “Accounts Payable”)

The rather grand exterior to Jessica Pearson’s apartment was seen in season six when Harvey picked her up to take her to the office and when Jack Soloff later came looking for his buy-in money. The stone arch is instantly recognisable from the scenes and is located at Prince Arthur Condos, 38 Avenue Road.

Alex Williams’s apartment exterior (season 8, ep. “Right-Hand Man”)

One of the newer additions to the Suits gang, but we’ve already seen Harvey pay a visit to Alex’s home, greeting him on his return from his morning run. I instantly recognised it on screen from my trip last year and went back to take this photo this summer. can be found at 37 Front Street East which is not far from a few other locations on this list!

There are also a few other key locations that are well worth a visit!

Mike’s church (season 5, episode 16 “25th Hour”)

We’d seen Mike visit his church before, both in the present and in flashback, but it’s probably best known for being the scene of the almost wedding of Mike and Rachel in the season five finale, before Mike went off to prison. The location is St Paul’s Basilica, located at the corner of Power Street & Queen Street East. It was closed when I visited, so I couldn’t take any interior photos.

“Teeth, Nose, Teeth” – where Harvey & Louis have a heart to heart (season 6, episode 13 “Teeth, Nose, Teeth”)

I loved this scene from the show and so a visit was a must for me. The location for this funny scene, in which Louis asks Harvey for relationship advice, is Batch, a fantastic place for craft beer and food. It was also used for the scene in which Samantha Wheeler tricks her opponent with the help of Alex’s teenage daughter in season 8.

Tip – The Batch Burger is very good (as are the chunky chips). I’d also recommend one of the beers brewed on site, which included Maibock when I was there this summer.

Batch, 75, Victoria Street – https://batchtoronto.com

Marcus’s restaurant (season 8, episode 5 “Good Mudding”)

Before my trip this year, I’d been hoping to find the location used for Marcus’s restaurant, but it seems that two different places have already been used and therefore this one, Cibo Wine Bar, which I managed to locate using my best detective skills, is the one seen most recently in season 8, when Harvey travels to help Marcus with his divorce. It definitely isn’t the same one used for the fabulous scene between Harvey and his mother in season 7, which is somewhere I’d still love to find, but it was satisfying to tick this off the list!

Tip – The food was great here. I can recommend the carpaccio, fettuccine with shrimp, tiramisu & the peach sangria cocktail!

Cibo Wine Bar, 522 King St. West – http://www.cibowinebar.com/cibo_ks/index_ks.html

Marcus asks Harvey for money to start a restaurant (season 4, ep. 16 “Not Just A Pretty Face”)

Before Marcus had made a success of his restaurant, he needed money to open it and of course, the first person he asked for help was his brother, who was still a young district attorney at the time. The scene was filmed at The Gabardine, which is a small, but fantastic place to eat, which is literally around the corner from the office lobby!

Tip – the place gets busy at lunch time with office workers, so either book, or get there early and perch at the bar.

The Gabardine, 372 Bay Street – http://thegabardine.ca

Harvey visits the cemetery to share a drink with his father (season 2, episode 8 “Rewind”)

In the largely flashback episode of season 2, we saw Harvey take a trip out of town, only to discover later that his destination was the cemetery to visit his father’s grave. This was filmed at the Toronto Necropolis, with the white archway at its entrance very recognisable.

Toronto Necropolis, 200 Winchester Street

The 100th & Donna and Louis each head for a hotel rendezvous (season 7, episode 8 “100”)

I’ve chosen the 100th to refer to this location, but on a rewatch you notice just how often the Fairmont Royal York hotel has been used in Suits, mainly when meeting clients, but as we saw here, it was where both Donna and Louis arrived to meet dates they shouldn’t. As well as the entrance, you’ll likely have noticed the hotel’s old-fashioned clock at the centre of a spiral staircase. Sadly this clock and staircase have been removed in the recent refurbishment and replaced by a new bar in the centre of the lobby, complete with a new clock.

Tip – if you do have time for a cocktail, the Reign bar (at the side of the lobby) had some fantastic cocktails, including a lovely White Russian!

Fairmont Royal York, 100 Front Street West – Fairmont Royal York

Mike’s legal clinic (seen during the back half of season 6 and season 7)

Following his release from prison, Mike took a job at a legal clinic, which introduced us to new characters and new conflicts with PSL. Filmed at 74, The Esplanade, this location is also literally around the corner from where Mike and Rachel’s apartment exterior was filmed!

Mike & Trevor at university (season 3, ep. 6 “The Other Time”)

It was in flashback where we got to see the story Mike described to Harvey in the pilot, the story of how he’d been kicked out of college. Typically it was all Trevor’s fault (he was so awful, wasn’t he?!). The scene in which Trevor is apprehended by campus security/police for selling the maths test was filmed on location at the Quad at University College, which is open for public access, as well as students.

The Quad at University College, 15 King’s College Circle

Harvey’s encounter with Anita Gibbs, where he asks about Mike getting in to the Bar (season 6, episode 11 “She’s Gone”)

Following Mike’s release from prison, a legal career seemed unlikely, but Harvey attempted to try and get Anita Gibbs on side, something that didn’t really work out the way he’d hoped! This scene was filmed at Market Street Balzac’s, a really lovely coffee shop, which is also around the corner from the legal clinic location!

Market Street Balzac’s, 10, Market Street – http://www.balzacs.com/locations/market-street/

Jessica and Harvey’s heated discussion about the possible merger with Darby International (season 2, episode 16 “War”)

Oh, poor Harvey. This was the moment when he gambled on the merger with Darby failing, only for Jessica to get the better of him. It’s here where he agreed to extend his non-compete and suck it up if things didn’t go his way and it was filmed outside Commerce Court, 199 Bay Street.

Person Hardman’s last big party (season 2, episode 16 “War”)

The outside may have been at Commerce Court, but the inside location for the firm’s party was filmed at the Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, which included the deleted scene of Donna in the stunning black outfit talking to Scottie. This was also the location for the scene in which Harvey asks Scottie whether she told the authorities about Mike in season 5, episode 11. It’s always worth seeing if they have any shows on during your stay in the city.

Four Seasons Centre for the Performing Arts, 145 Queen Street West – https://www.coc.ca/plan-your-visit/fourseasonscentre

The first appearance of Scottie (season 1, episode 7 “Play The Man”)

The first time we met Scottie was way back in season 1, when she was Harvey’s opposing counsel. It was clear that there was history there and that things were about to get interesting. The scene was filmed in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel, 181 Welington Street West. Although some decor has changed, the chandelier & staircase remain.

Rachel really thought Harvey was giving her his lunch?! (Season 2 ep. 13 “Zane vs. Zane”)

This was a lovely scene between these two characters, who’d had little contact until this episode. Seeing Rachel genuinely think he’s offering her his lunch is always fun to watch! The scene, like so many others over the years, was filmed at the back of the Bay Adelaide Centre, on Temperence Street! This was also where the Cloud Gardens location was situated (used for scenes such as Donna talking to Stu in season 8). Sadly the gardens area is gone until 2020, while construction takes place.

Mike guilt trips Donna in to doing the mock trial (season 2 ep. 7 “Sucker Punch”)

An unemployed Donna can’t even go to a yoga class in peace without Mike appearing to convince her to take part in Harvey’s mock trial. Despite her protests, you know she’s going to turn up. The scene was shot just around the corner from Donna’s first apartment exterior, just outside the Black Market on Queen Street West.

Locations you’ll see in season 9!

Sadly, unlike last summer, I didn’t get to see any outdoor filming this year. However, my friend and I were still able to visit a few locations that will be seen on the show in season 9; we just don’t know what the scene will be yet! So, if you’re looking for somewhere to visit and be ahead of the game, then these suggestions are for you!

STK, 153 Yorkville Avenue (coming in 9.05)!

This high-end steak restaurant was used for filming for season 9, episode 5, for what appeared to be a night scene (there were blackout curtains over the windows). We didn’t see any principal cast, just a lot of extras in business formal attire leaving, so who knows what was filmed. Was is Mike and Harvey out for dinner? Darvey? I’ve no idea, but what I do know is that the food is very good (although a bit pricey) and the cocktails are superb!

Tip – The Cucumber Stiletto cocktail is out of this world, as was the Strawberry Cobbler!

STK, 153 Yorkville Avenue – https://stksteakhouse.com/venues/toronto/

Buca (Yorkville), 53 Scollard Street

This location was one my friend (the lovely @ireneirm whose photo I’ve borrowed above) tracked down after we saw a scene had been filmed there for season 9, episode 4, involving Louis, Harvey and Donna. It looked like a stylish place, so we made a trip to it for lunch!

Buca (Yorkville), 53 Scollard Street, entrance via Yorkville Avenue, through the Four Seasons courtyard – http://buca.ca/phone/yorkville.html

Planning your trip yet?!

If, like I did, you’re making plans to go to see the Suits sights, it’s well worth plotting them out on your map. What became very clear to me on doing this, was that the Suits team tend to keep locations close to each other. As an example, Weslodge, Cibo Wine Bar & Citizen are within 5 minutes (the last two are literally next door to each other)! So, with some planning you can easily see lots in a short space of time!

Also, the Citymapper app is invaluable for plotting quickest routes anywhere in the city and the Uber drivers in Toronto were the nicest I’ve ever experienced.

If that’s not enough for you, there are wonderful archived articles from The Torontoist’s Reel Toronto series, highlighting so many locations from the first six seasons of the show & it was from these that I started planning my own trip (those from 7 & 8 I’ve tracked down)! The links to these useful locations guides are all below!

No doubt the final season will include some other notable locations, which hopefully I’ll be able to visit some time in the future! Oh and if you find any others, then I’d love to know!

Season 1

Season 2 Part One

Season 2 Part Two

Season 3 Part One

Season 3 Part Two

Season 4 Part One

Season 4 Part Two

Season 5 Part One

Season 5 Part Two

Season 6 Part One

Season 6 Part Two

Suits season 9 returns in USA Network on 17th July!

Television Review – It’s time to say goodbye to Game of Thrones – 8.06 “The Iron Throne”

And now their watch has ended……

After eight seasons, sadly the words of The Night’s Watch now apply to the millions of Game of Thrones fans (including me) across the globe, following the airing of the series finale, aptly entitled The Iron Throne (although I admit, I was hoping for A Dream of Spring). As I’ve said at the start of my other season 8 reviews, I’ve taken a few days to let the episode sink in; I’ve watched it a number of times now and finally think I can put my thoughts in order on the page.

I know I’m going to be in the minority with this opinion, but I enjoyed the finale and found it to be a satisfying way to leave the world we’ve been exploring since episode one. In fact the more times I watch it, the better I think it is and I say this as someone whose first television love “blessed” me with not one, but two, dreadful series finales.

Anyone still reading?!

Before I dive in to all the levels of this episode, I’ll say again the point I raised last week in my review of The Bells. Do I think the series would have been stronger as a whole had there been eight 10 episode seasons? Without a doubt. There are scenes between characters that I’m sorry we didn’t get to see (Littlefinger & Varys; the Stark sisters hearing about Jon), stories that I’d have loved to have been stretched a bit longer (The Hound & Arya travelling South, Varys’ plotting, lots more Cersei!) and internal emotional struggles of characters that would have been richer had they had more time to be explored (Dany’s disintegration; Jaime’s conflicted struggles both before and in the weeks after he arrived and chose to stay at Winterfell following the battle (no that wasn’t all one night as many keep saying); and Jon dealing fully with who he is). That’s only a few examples and I agree it’s frustrating. Very frustrating, especially when HBO were offering the time and the money! It would, without question, have made the journey to the end fuller and crucially, removed my biggest problem with this season – the sense of rushing through it.

Yet, I’m setting that aside when writing about the finale, instead judging The Iron Throne on its own merits as an episode and for me, it did far more right than it did wrong, meaning it did thankfully leave me feeling satisfied.

……..that said, let’s take a closer look at my reasons for saying that…….

After weeks of rushing ahead, finally the pace slowed down and the story was better for it

Despite all I’ve said about the pace this year, The Iron Throne seemed to take its time and the emotional storylines benefited. Having the opening ten minutes contain very little dialogue and instead focus of the tragedy and reality of Dany’s actions, was unexpected and very welcome, as was the long emotionally-powered character scenes that weren’t rushed at all, but given all the time they needed (Tyrion and Jon’s frank conversation, Jon and Dany’s final moments, Tyrion’s grief, and Brienne’s gesture all being examples). Should all season have been this way? Yes, but I’m relieved the finale managed to find this balance.

A finale that was both dark and yet also hopeful

The Iron Throne was clearly structured to be an episode of two emotional halves; the first one of darkness and the second being one of hope and that choice worked very well. As difficult as it was to see Dany embrace her darker tendencies, I found the myself gripped by how dark the show had become. The tension, as she makes clear the war has only just begun, the devastation everywhere you looked on screen, the painful struggles of grief of Tryion and Jon and the end of one of the show’s most iconic characters. It was powerful television. Yet, somewhat of a surprise to me, the story ended in a place of hope, as we see those still standing start to build a new Westeros. The tone becomes lighter, with time for humour (Tyrion straightening the chairs to no avail, the new Small Council dynamic – I’d watch a season of that show!), before leaving us hopeful for the lives ahead of characters we’ve spent years investing in. It would have been easy to get this balance wrong, but, in my opinion, that didn’t happen.

Tyrion Lannister takes his place back at the heart of the story & breaks my heart along the way

Tyrion is on almost everyone’s list of favourite characters and season eight has seen him have a larger role in the story once again, culminating in a truly superb performance by Peter Dinklage in the finale. Finally slowing the pace of this year down, it’s Tyrion who takes us in to the horror of King’s Landing in the aftermath of Dany’s actions. We seen his pain, his guilt and his horror, as he walks through those streets in near silence, before wandering through rooms that have witnessed so many huge moments in his life, including when his father told him he wanted to drown him at birth, where he and Cersei fought so often and where Small Councils ridiculed him. You feel the weight of history with him as he walks.

And when I didn’t think it could get any worse, instead of looking for Dany, I realised he was searching out the fate of his brother. Sure, there should have been rubble all over that floor, piled high even, but that gripe aside, watching Tyrion understand the fate of his last remaining family, before removing the rubble from their dead bodies as he wept, is one of the most emotional scenes I’ve seen on television or film. I care about Tyrion and I cared about Jaime and therefore I felt his raw, visceral grief and anger and seeing him in such pain, as he knelt beside his lost family was heartbreaking. All in the first ten minutes! I see another Emmy nomination in Dinklage’s future!

From there, we saw Tyrion defy his Queen (I did think he was going to try and kill her for a moment), speak hard truths to Jon Snow (there have been too few long character-driven scenes such as the one between Dinklage and Kit Harington this season) and then go on to shape the structure of the new world. Through his portrayal Dinklage brought humour, sadness and depth out of Tyrion this week and to see him end back in King’s Landing, in the role he excelled at in season 2 was the perfect ending for him. Long live The Imp!

Emilia Clarke ends with perhaps her strongest performance of the whole series

Seeing Dany burn down King’s Landing wasn’t something anyone wanted to see (well, maybe some of you did, who knows), but I’d always suspected this would be where her story would take us. Yes, it would have been for the benefit of the story had we had longer to really see her disintegration (although if I’d lost all the things she lost in a few weeks, I may well have snapped too), as well as more scenes in the aftermath of last week’s actions to try and see her true emotional state and have her justify why she attacked innocent people after they’d surrendered (the fact this was glossed over is one of my big grumbles with 8.06), but she clearly didn’t take pleasure in mass murder. She simply seemed indifferent to it, so perhaps she had truly become so lost in her vision of the future that she was blind to the casualties she was ready to sacrifice along the way. I also found it interesting to hear Tyrion and Jon have the same passionate debate about her, that fans have been engaging in all week!

What is clear though, is the tremendous acting of Emilia Clarke. She’s helped create an iconic, unforgettable, screen character and her performance in 8.06 was arguably her best of the whole series. She was frightening in those opening scenes and yet I saw glimpses of the young woman from earlier seasons in the moments before she died, which made her end all the more heartbreaking. Would I have wanted this to end differently, to see her break the wheel in more the way it is actually broken by the end? Of course, but despite how her story ended, Daenerys Targaryen will always be one of the most pivotal characters in the story and Clarke has simply been superb from start to finish.

An unlikely King, but when you think about it, it makes surprising sense

So, I wasn’t one of the people who predicted Bran being chosen as King and I admit that my initial reaction was surprise and amusement. Bran? He’s done nothing all season and now he gets to he King?! Really?! and that name? Bran the Broken? You couldn’t think of something a bit nicer, Tyrion?! Yet, when I took time to think about it, the choice does make sense. After centuries of war and power-mad rulers sitting on The Iron Throne, who better to lead Westeros in to the future, than someone who has no interest in power, or titles and who has the knowledge of all the past mistakes. Hell, even Tywin acknowledged that a good King should be wise and Bran has more wisdom than anyone else. I also appreciated the little costume detail for King Bran The Broken (still hate the name though) – he’s the first recognised ruler in Westeros we’ve seen who doesn’t appear to wear a crown, emphasising the fact he’s not doing it for the status.

It seems he’s also settled more in to his dual existence as both Bran and The Three-Eyed Raven by the end, even managing slight bemusement at his Small Council’s salute. Plus, could he have a better Small Council to help him? Sam, Davos, Brienne, Bronn and Tyrion – heck, that’s a good portion of my favourite characters. Go off looking for Drogon, Bran Stark, the realm is in safe hands!

A Song of Ice & Fire – at its heart, was always the story of the Starks

We all started this journey with the Starks. They were the family we cared about, invested in and mourned with, through every loss and defeat. There were times when it seemed House Stark would be crushed. Yet, this finale reminded us that this story has really always had this pack at its heart and at the end, they were thriving – each exactly where they were meant to be (blimey Bran’s rubbing off on me!) and that final montage, following Arya, Jon and Sansa as they each start along their new paths was incredibly moving and beautifully edited.

Seeing Arya embrace her identity again, sailing off in to unknown adventures, with a direwolf sigil flying proud on her sails made me smile. Hearing the hall of Northmen rally to the cries of “Queen in the North” for Sansa (notably the last words spoken on the series too), finally in control of her own fate after years being controlled and abused by others, made me proud of how far she’d come from that annoying brat in early season one, which leaves Jon…….

Jon Snow, having always done the right thing, no matter the personal cost, finally finds his place

I know many wanted Jon to be King at the end of the show and I admit, I thought it might happen (if he didn’t die along the way). It would have been bittersweet (and we knew to expect such an ending), as he certainly didn’t want the crown. He’d never really wanted to lead anyone. Instead, like the other Starks, Jon Snow, the character who didn’t let any House words define him, found his place. The seeds were sown early in the year when Tormund said Jon had the real north in him and he admitted that he wished he was going with him, when Tormund took the Wildlings back home beyond The Wall. After years being the reluctant leader, first of the Night’s Watch, then of the North, fighting endless battles along the way, Jon seemed exhausted by this episode, weighed down by everything he’s experienced and killing Dany clearly broke him (he seemed ready and willing for Drogon to end his life in the Throne Room and still seemed hollow on his arrival back at Castle Black) and Kit Harington was fantastic throughout this last chapter of Jon’s story. I never felt the emotional connection between Jon and Dany (another casualty of the rushing), but the actors nailed that final scene.

As Jaime Lannister could have told him, killing your King, or Queen, even if done for the greater good, will leave an indelible mark on your name. Had Jon been applauded for saving the kingdom, I’d have felt it unrealistic. Was anyone expecting him to stay at The Wall? Who knows, but that last look back to the gate, as it closed behind him, seemed to me to be Jon Snow’s way of saying goodbye to his past and seeing him ride off with Tormund, Ghost (the reunion we’d all been hoping for) and the Wildlings, in to woods no longer filled with the danger of the Army of the Dead thanks to him, seemed the most fitting end to his story.

Ser Brienne of Tarth, Lord Commander of the Kingsguard – a beloved character who deserved to achieve her greatest dream

Brienne is one of the few characters in Game of Thrones who has always been truly honourable and since her introduction I’ve grown to love her and root for her to show the world how incredible a woman she is. Therefore, one of the highlights of this finale for me was seeing Brienne taking her place first as one of those representatives tasked with choosing the next ruler, and then on the Small Council, where she can help build a better future for the citizens of The Six Kingdoms (that still sounds odd to me). Who better to be Commander of Bran’s Kingsguard?

Having been knighted in 8.02 (one of the best scenes in the series for me) as a knight of the realm, once Sansa split the north away from the other kingdoms, it made sense to me that Brienne would step up in this way. Sansa has the support of the entire North again. She’s home and safe, so Brienne can move on to serve and protect another of Catelyn’s children. She wanted to be a knight, she wanted to serve the realm and she’s always wanted to do good. If any character deserved to see their dreams come true in a world were we are used to that rarely happening, it was Brienne. The fact it is Brienne, who gets to take over from Jaime Lannister in her new role, is the final piece of the puzzle (I don’t count The Mountain).

Speaking of Jaime, the scene I’d said for years that I wanted to see if he really had to die, was Brienne filling his pages in the Kingsguard book with his good deeds. Ever since vile Joffrey mocked him for his empty pages and Brienne read the words, I’ve wondered if this would be part of the ending. Personally, I loved it and it was the scene that made me the most emotional this week. I know many have grumbled about Brienne doing this after Jaime left her in 8.04, seeing it as a woman serving the story of a man, but that’s not how I see this plot line at all. Yes, it completed Jaime’s story and yes, she perhaps described the events in the most favourable way, but bear in mind for his entire adult life, he was viewed in a negative light for an action which, like Jon’s, was for the greater good. Seeing the devastation Dany caused only reinforced just how significant his choice was when he killed the Mad King. Yes, he broke Brienne’s heart and I hated it (putting them together in 8.04 both gave me what I wanted, while also giving me what I didn’t – thanks again to the rushing), but I also loved that be giving us this scene, they also brought to the forefront again, how special Brienne is.

She has always done what was just and honourable and has always believed in the good in people and it was because of her that many of the deeds she added to the book even happened! Jaime may have hurt her, but we saw she wasn’t bitter and wanted the good he did to be recorded. She didn’t let his last action cancel out all the others. I also loved that it was clear in that scene that she still cared deeply for him and had forgiven him for being unable to leave his past behind. Why do I say that? She still carried Oathkeeper; in such a sparse room there was a lion statue prominent on the table behind her; and the music playing over the scene was (I think) a blend of “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” (played when she was knighted) and “I Am Hers, She Is Mine” (which has accompanied scenes with both Robb/Tulisa and Tyrion/Shae), reinforcing the special connection they shared. Add to that, the beautiful performance by Gwendoline Christie (she better be nominated for awards); you see the emotion Brienne is holding back in her eyes as she writes, as she takes her time to complete her task, all before she runs her hand over the page gently before closing it. Yes, it gives Jaime closure and honour again, but it also is a testament to who she is as a person. If we were all a little more like Brienne, we’d all be better for it.

Few characters so richly deserved to end their story with all the respect and status they’d always dreamed of. I’m only sad we won’t get to see all the good deeds that she will do, that will fill her own pages.

A final musical chapter for television’s most ambitious soundtrack

I’m a big fan of film and television scores and few are ever as impressive as this one and a consistent comment about season eight from me and many others, has been just how incredible Ramin Djawadi’s score has been. Over the years, he has created beautiful themes for characters, Houses, while setting the mood for every political manoeuvre and shredding our nerves while watching every battle.

Season eight has seen him play with themes to great emotional effect and The Iron Throne was no different. His slower rendition of The Rains of Castamere, associated so heavily with the violence of The Red Wedding, heightened Tyrion’s grief and I’ve already spoken above about his delicate way of bringing the history of Jaime and Brienne’s relationship in to the story’s end. Dany’s tragic end contained callbacks to her and Jon’s theme and we also had the rousing farewell to the Starks, blending the theme most associated with their House, with the series’s theme, while also throwing in echoes of their past (Arya sailed away to echoes of the same theme she had at the end of season 4 for example). Few shows have scores that are so ingrained in the emotions of the scenes, that you can see them as you listen to the music on its own, but season 8’s music in particular certainly achieves this. Ramin, please hurry up and announce international dates for the next Game of Thrones music tour! Until then, I’ll have the albums on my constant playlist!

A visual masterpiece, setting a new bar for television & film!

Even those less happy with this season have agreed that visually, nothing compares to Game of Thrones, in terms of the quality of the cinematography, visual effects and overall production values. In a way, I think we’ve become complacent about how each episode has a visual quality that surpasses not just other television shows, but most films too and the finale certainly didn’t drop the ball in this area.

We had the terrifying images of Dany addressing her armies, the breathtaking image of her literally being a dragon, as Drogon’s wings unfolded behind her, the haunting echoes of her vision of coming face to face with the throne and the incredible framing of her death in Jon’s arms. Drogon has now become so realistic, that you simply accept that there’s a huge dragon on screen, screaming at the loss of its mother, nudging her lifeless body and then unleashing fire, finally removing the damn throne from the world! Plus, that Stark montage? Gorgeous. I only hope this series has set the bar for other shows to try and surpass in the future.

Then there were all the little nods / call backs to the last eight years…..

Okay, I admit, I didn’t pick up on all of these on the first viewing and I assume I’ve not even noticed them all yet, but the series finale was full of nods to the show’s past, some obvious and some wonderfully subtle. There were the breathtaking costume choices (look at Sansa’s coronation dress – weirwood leaves, dire wolves and fish scales, to represent every aspect of her heritage), the old jokes (Tyrion is clearly never meant to finish that brothel joke, while Stannis’ influence on Davos’ grammar remains strong). Lord Varys was also annoyingly correct that the history books won’t mention Tyrion (boo!), although giving the book the obvious title was a bit cheesy, while Tyrion has gone from the rebel in the Small Council dragging the chairs around, to the man leading a group of his own choosing.

We had Greyworm keeping his promise to Missandei and heading to the beaches of Naath, while Arya, the girl who was once no one, sailed away proudly declaring she was a Stark. We also saw a nod to how The Iron Throne is described in George R.R. Martin’s books when Dany recalls what she’d heard about it, a possible appearance by Hoyland Reed at the Dragonpit gathering, as well as a nod to Martin’s as-yet unwritten seventh book, A Dream of Spring, with the green shoot visible through the snow, as Jon leaves The Wall, as well as a mirror of how episode one began, as the gates of Castle Black rose to let him pass through. Each one of these made the conclusion to the series more satisfying for me. Feel free to point out all the ones I’ve missed!

Looking forward, by looking backwards

It’s sad to end this post without being able to speculate on what will happen in the next episode. Instead, we have a number of prequels in various stages of development to look forward to. They are all being made with HBO, so the production quality should remain and George R.R Martin is involved too, in some more than others. We don’t know much yet, other than the rumours that the first of these prequels to go in to production is going to look at the first Long Night. The casting for this series also has me hopeful, as it contains some of my favourite stage actors (especially Denise Gough, John Heffernan). Nothing can replace Game of Thrones for me in this world; the characters are just too special, but I’ll certainly be tuning in.

………………………

I might write a few posts reflecting on various aspects of the series, now that the story and the characters’ journeys can be viewed as a whole, but for now, I’ll end by saying, that despite my sadness that season eight was so short, when there was enough rich material to give us so much more, I’m satisfied with how the story ended. Overall, it made sense to me, even the elements that I’d loved to have turned out differently (I’m looking at you Jaime and Dany). Few shows grab my attention the way this one has (it was after season two that I read the books) and few stories have offered me so many incredibly complex and compelling characters to invest in emotionally. It’ll be a series I return to many times in the future and it will undoubtably remain one of my favourites and for that I’m grateful to everyone who has had a hand in its creation.

…….Is it too soon for a rewatch…………?

Game of Thrones may have ended, but don’t forget that the two hour documentary, charting the making of this final season airs next Sunday on HBO in the USA and next Monday on Sky Atlantic in the UK. Watch the trailer for it here: https://youtu.be/9K7c0jXkaGc

(All screenshots owned by HBO/Game of Thrones)

Television Review – Harrowing & emotional – Game of Thrones 8.05 “The Bells”

I know everyone else’s review went up days ago, but I need time to process these last few episodes of Game of Thrones; they are, like the story we’ve been invested in for the last 9 years (or longer for some book readers), complex and so packed with story beats that I knew setting my thoughts down too quickly would lead to knee-jerk responses. So, here we are. I’ve been able to rewatch it a few times and finally have a better sense of my feelings on this penultimate episode of the series.

Let’s start with the point that hangs over season 8 for me

I’ve previously started these pieces off with everything I liked and then looked at the aspects that I didn’t, but for The Bells I think it makes sense to change things, as my main issue with the episode has been the one I’ve had all season and that’s how much story is crammed in to it, as was the case with every episode this season, apart from the superb 8.02.

I’ve no idea why the creators of the series turned down HBO’s offer for more money and a longer season. It honestly doesn’t make sense to me to try and pack so much crucial plot in to only six episodes. Yes, they’ve all been at least an hour, but it’s still far less screen time than previously and no matter how much I still love this series, the sense of hurtling at 100 miles an hour to the conclusion is a constant presence, resulting in storylines feeling rushed and not properly bedded in. Perhaps that’s why I love The Knight of the Seven Kingdoms so much; it took time to let the storylines of these characters breathe. Regardless of how this series ends next week, I’ll always feel frustrated that more time wasn’t taken to bring it to a conclusion.

8.02 – An example of how great the series is when in doesn’t rush!

That said, with time to reflect, I don’t feel particularly disappointed about many of the actual plot points in 8.05 and have a feeling that, had we reached this same set of events, following a few more episodes, if not a whole season extra, far less people would be reacting the way that they are. Did I like all the story decisions? Did I want some things to turn out differently? Yes, of course, but I’ve never been under any illusion that Game of Thrones was a fairytale, or a moral tale, or inspiring story of good over evil (whether that’s people, or our own character traits). The reason I was pulled in to this show in a way few others have enticed me, was because it is complex; few characters are good, or bad, with most firmly in the grey, with the books making that even more apparent through the point of view chapters. This has always meant that they make decisions that are sometimes hard to accept, but which have always been fascinating to watch (or read).

It’s for this reason that, with time to reflect, my review will be different now from the one I may have written had I put pen to paper on Monday, when I fully admit, I was emotionally exhausted from watching it. I know opinion is divided, but these are my thoughts.

A visual television masterpiece

It’s easy to become complacent with this series about just how high the production quality is. That’s almost taken for granted now, but shouldn’t be overlooked in thinking about each episode and The Bells is a visual television masterpiece. Most films would struggle to achieve this level of quality and for an episode such as this one, it had to look (and therefore feel) real. The production team have exceeded expectations with the sets here. That’s all a massive set in a Belfast car park, yet I’d have believed it was Croatia! The level of detail of the vast, twisting streets is the series at the height of its production achievements. Combine that with the incredible visual effects work, cinematography and Miguel Sapochnik’s direction and it’s one the most impressive 75 minutes I’ve ever watched in any medium and I applaud everyone involved in its creation.

The soundtrack album can’t come quickly enough!

One of the stand out components of season eight has been the work of composer Ramin Djawadi and this episode was no exception. The haunting pre-battle build up was just as anxiety-inducing as 8.03, yet was totally different. Then there’s the clever ways existing themes were altered, sometimes creating an entirely different mood to their original one. The biggest example of this for me was the delicate use of The Light of the Seven in the final scene between Cersei and Jaime (more on that later). Those opening piano notes that signalled creepiness in the season six finale, here set instead a quiet, tragically sad and hopeless mood, to then be blended in with The Rains of Castamere, the Lannister song of victory blended in to the House’s fall. The album is out after the finale and I’ll certainly be adding it to my collection and booking tickets for the next arena tour.

Daenerys Targaryen – Sadly, I saw this coming……

I’ll start with the biggest source of debate at the moment – the character of Daenerys and her actions in The Bells. Personally, I wasn’t surprised. I hoped it wouldn’t happen that we’d see her descend in to what is defined as Targaryen madness in this world, but I’d been expecting it deep down for quite a while. It’s perhaps why she was never one of very my favourite characters. Yes, we’ve watched her liberate slaves in Essos, but to some extent I always saw this as just another stepping stone for her on the way to her ultimate goal – to take back her family’s throne, using whatever means necessary.

No question the young woman we met in season one drove you to root for her because she was trapped in a world forced on her by those around her, being sold off, raped and having to survive in a terrifying, unfamiliar world, before things began to work out with Drogo. You wanted her to find strength and the stronger she became, especially as her dragons grew, the more satisfying it seemed. Yet, she did do some terrifying things during that rise, but already invested in her, perhaps we tried to overlook them – locking Xaro Xhoan Daxos in that vault with her former handmaiden in Quarth? Crucifying people? Choosing to BBQ people rather than show mercy? Sure the people who felt her wrath were dreadful people, but seeing how little emotion she felt when taking these decisions, always made me a little uncomfortable. And after her recent losses of dragons and then the two people who most loved her and brought out the kindness in her, Jorah and Missandei, it seemed inevitable that someone with that much grief and anger, who also had Westeros’ equivalent of nuclear power at her disposal, would do something terrible.

My biggest complaints? The far too heavy-handed link to Jon Snow not wanting to be with her and her choosing to “burn them all” after the city surrendered, both problems which have been the result of the rushed pace of the final chapter of the story. Had her and Jon’s relationship had longer to grow and form (I never found their romance believable) and had we been able to spend more time seeing her gradual disintegration with each loss, then her unleashing hell on King’s Landing might have felt earned. It didn’t surprise me, but it didn’t satisfy me the way it could have done from a story perspective.

Farewell to my favourite character, Jaime Lannister

I’ve made no secret of the fact Jaime is my favourite character, only enhanced by the incredible performance that Nikolaj Coster-Waldau has given since season one and it was with a heavy heart that I watched him die this week. I knew it was coming, I knew he wasn’t destined for a happy ending, but it didn’t make it hurt any less. This is another big point of debate among fans of the show and I admit, my initial reaction to his end was not a good one, but even though I wanted something slightly different, I don’t see his end falling short in terms of his character arc.

I could spend a whole post on Jaime (maybe I will do that next!), but in short, he was for me, the most fascinating and complex character in the series; someone who you couldn’t stand early on for his arrogance and seeming disdain for everyone other than his family, who slowly became a three dimensional man. This is someone who struggled to reconcile the conflicting parts of his character for perhaps his entire adult life; someone who has been lectured by his father that nothing matters more than loyalty to family, to the Lannister name, not even your honour and someone defined by his skill in war. Yes, I’d hoped he’d die in a blaze of honour, leaving Brienne to write up his good deeds in the Kingsguard book (that’s clearly a pile of ashes now anyway), but his final choice doesn’t cancel out his transformation for me.

Made to reassess who he was without his sword hand, he became someone better, mainly thanks to Brienne, perhaps the only person outside his family who loved him and accepted him for who he was (hell, not even Tywin did that!). He became someone who felt compelled to care about others again, something he seemed not to have done since his heroic act years ago branded him the dishonourable Kingslayer. It was wonderful to watch unfold and made me invest in him more than anyone else. He didn’t need to ride North to fight the Night King’s army and the old Jaime wouldn’t have and for me, him making the choice to screw family loyalty and do what was right; to keep a promise made to enemies, was him finding redemption.

It’s also true, I think, to say that he did struggle to decide on who he was going to be at the end. His time in the North gave him a glimpse at a different life, that in a different story he may have taken. I think that’s why he was drawn to Brienne. He did care for her and her belief in his honour made that connection more powerful. He initially chose to stay at Winterfell, so perhaps he was thinking he could move on, having been rejected by Cersei in the finale and were he to do so, it would of course have been with Brienne.

Yet, in the end, his downfall was one of his most endearing characteristics – his unwavering love for his family. Despite knowing who Cersei was, he couldn’t stop loving the person who’s been the closest to him his entire life. In the end, he was willing to die trying to save those he loved and that only makes his end more tragic. It’s also the reason why I never understood how people could think he’d kill her (prophecies not included on the show aside). She’d have had to execute Tyrion in front of him to be able to do that, especially when she was pregnant! The only aspect of this end that I truly didn’t like was that the dreadful Euron managed to so seriously wound him. Was that really necessary? He may not have died in a blaze of honour, but for me, he still died as a man of honour, who was also flawed and very human.

………and I can’t talk about Jaime’s end without turning to his twin…….

The end of Cersei Lannister, one of the greatest characters in any story

First things first, there’s no denying Cersei Lannister is a horrid person. She’s manipulative, deceitful, cruel, but she remains a fantastic character and another truly exciting one to follow on a series, played flawlessly by Lena Headey (how she’s not won an award for this role is madness). Despite the terrible aspects of her character, like Sansa, I couldn’t help but admire her in some twisted way, seeing her rise from under the grip of men who’d always viewed her as nothing (her father, her husband, the old crones in power in the Small Council and even her vile son). Plus, seeing her go from naked and powerless to sipping wine as all those who posed a threat to her went up in flames, was quite something. When you think about it, her and Dany have quite a lot in common (heck, Dany has now technically killed more innocent people)!

It was clear she’d never survive this episode. It was simply a case of how she’d meet her end. I assumed the “Little Brother” prophecy wasn’t part of the series (they deliberately left out the bit in the flashback) and as I’ve already mentioned, I couldn’t see Jaime killing her unless it was truly the only option. I’d considered Tyrion, or Arya, perhaps part of some confrontation in front of the Iron Throne and I’d been looking forward to seeing it!

So, perhaps the most shocking element of The Bells for me was how emotional it was watching her and Jaime die. Setting aside the incest element (we’ve known about that since day one after all), the most genuine aspect of their personalities seemed to be their bond and love of one another. I certainly found their love (as weird as it is to our modern world) more real and believable than say Jon and Dany, or Tyrion and Shae (this isn’t really a couple show!) and the moment they reunited in the exact spot where she’d cast him aside last season (clearly out of hurt and anger in my view) was quite moving. It brought home to me that they truly did belong together, as did their final moments.

Yes, I thought I wanted a big, spectacle death for Cersei, but actually, the quiet, understated end to her life worked very well; stripped of power and position, she was simply someone who was frightened to die and watching the man who’d always loved her unconditionally and who was the only person she’d ever let see her truly vulnerable, do all he could to save her and then simply provide comfort at the end, made me surprisingly upset. I didn’t see the dreadful woman. I just saw someone afraid and as she died I felt compassion for her. I’d never expected that and that’s what’s so damn good about Game of Thrones. It plays with your emotions in ways you don’t ever expect. In fact, my biggest sadness about the loss of Cersei is that she didn’t have enough scenes this season (see, it all comes back to the rushing again).

Arya Stark brings the horror of a warzone to life before our eyes

Maisie Williams has only grown better and better each year and we’ve been treated to a lot of development for Arya this year (more impressive when everything else feels so rushed). She’s gone from the emotionless slitter of Frey throats, to remembering who Arya Stark used to be. It seemed she was determined to kill Cersei and yet, her walking away from that thanks to The Hound seemed fitting. The final scene between those two characters was perfect. Once someone who perhaps scared her, he became her protector and teacher in how to survive. She’d likely be dead without him and she was clearly the only person he truly cared for. Seeing them standing in the space in the Red Keep reminded me of her in the open space of the King’s Landing home in which Syrio Forel, her first teacher and protector, gave her that wooden sword. You saw her change in that moment, looking like a little girl again, as she chose to live, rather than die seeking revenge and having her call The Hound by his first name as she said goodbye was a lovely touch.

That would have been content enough for her in 8.05, but the decision to make Arya so central to the unfolding hell in King’s Landing was a brilliant one. With so much horror raining down, we needed someone who we cared about to take us inside that environment and Arya is one the characters most cared about by audiences (she’s always been one of my favourites on the page and screen). Seeing her fight to survive again and desperately try and save others around her, was incredibly emotional, but hugely satisfying.

The gradual breaking of Tyrion Lannister’s spirit

Oh, poor Tyrion. My heart went out to him this week, as by the end of 8.05 he’d lost so much, yet he’d also started to grow in prominence in the story again. The last few seasons I’ve missed the Tyrion of early years, the one who ran King’s Landing with wits and wit and was so central to events. As characters have come together, he’s become more of a supporting role in the Dany world and it had started to feel like a waste. Yet, season eight has seen him stepping up again and The Bells saw Peter Dinklage reminding us how much we love Tyrion.

As someone who lost his place in the world after killing his father and fleeing Westeros, aligning with Dany had been his only real option for safety and another chance and he grew to believe in her, or so he thought. This week saw him having to question that choice. Perhaps his belief in her had been clouded by his awe of the idea of dragons from his childhood, awe which has started to be replaced by fear and finally, as he watched him firebomb the innocent after The Bells rang out, by horror. You saw something in him break in that moment and it leaves him in a precarious position next week.

His belief in Dany wasn’t his only loss this week either. He also lost his close friend Varys (one of the few he’s ever had), a loss which was of his own making, due to his then belief that Varys was wrong about their queen. The guilt on his face at Varys’s execution was evident and I admired the fact he confessed to him before he died.

Yet, on top of that and probably the hardest loss of them all, he lost the only member of his family that he’d ever loved and who loved him, Jaime. It was poetic to have him free him, just as Jaime had in season four and watching them say farewell to each other made me cry. Whether they survived the looming attack or not, they both knew they’d never see each other again and that came through in such an emotional scene. Their moments together have been some of the loveliest in the series and it really brought home to me that this show is coming to an end. I just hope we don’t experience Tyrion checking that cove next week and finding the boat still there, the passage blocked and realising his brother is dead. This week was hard enough! Don’t put me through that!

Is anyone else irritated by Jon Snow? Is it just me?

Oh Jon. It’s time to step up I’m afraid. Having played a surprisingly small role in the Battle of Winterfell, this week saw Jon Snow placed in his most conflicted position. He says he loves Dany (although again, it hasn’t had the time to really feel real for me), but intimacy with his auntie is not on the agenda, leaving his role this week to be yet again leading men in to battle, when he’d probably rather be up in the north with the wildlings.

We all know he’s a man of honour and seeing his changing emotions as the fight went from a relatively bloodless victory to total carnage was ideal for setting the scene for the finale. I particularly liked the sequence in which he watched his own men murdering innocent people around him, as the Lannister soldier tries to shepherd the citizens of King’s Landing to safety; yet again forcing us to see it’s not always simple who is good and who isn’t. I was also surprised he simply stood by and watched her BBQ Varys with no comment, but surely he can’t stand beside Dany’s choices this week? Time to make some tough decisions Jon Snow.

Cleganebowl…….I found it all a bit OTT……

I know this has been high on many fans’ wish lists, but it’s never been on mine and perhaps that’s partly why I didn’t really like it that much. The fight choreography was excellent and the build-up of tension, as it seemed The Hound’s thirst for revenge may not be satisfied, worked very well too, but it was all a bit over the top for me. Had this been the season four pre-Frankenstein Mountain vs. his brother in a space similar to the one in which he fought the Viper, then I’d have found it much more exciting. The very fact the Mountain was now almost unstoppable made it all a bit ridiculous. It didn’t feel like Game of Throne to me, more like an Arnie movie. That being said, I did like The Hound overcoming his fear of fire enough to willingly launch himself in to it, in order to get his long sought revenge!

The Spider has spun his last web

As has been the case with Tyrion in recent years, we’ve seen less and less of a role for Lord Varys, whose conversations in earlier seasons (especially with Littlefinger and Tyrion) were some of the show’s highlights. I’d therefore been hoping for more of him this year and his turning away from Dany laid the foundations for some final plotting.

Yet, this was again another victim of the short season and the rushing through of storylines. What in earlier seasons would have likely played out over a few episodes, with juicy dialogue, was condensed in to a couple of scenes in 8.04 and the very early part of 8.05. In fact, it was so rushed, that I totally missed the hints in the opening scene that he was perhaps hoping to poison Dany to stop the battle even happening. When it’s pointed out to you and you rewatch, it’s clear that he isn’t just worried for the Queen’s diet! The little girl from the kitchen has come to report that Dany still isn’t eating, to which he says they’ll try again at supper, after letting out a sigh.

It’s the type of subtle plotting that this series did so well early on and which has been given no time in the last two years. It was sad to see Varys go. Again, he’s a character who’s done dreadful things, but who has also done good too and who does seem to care about the best interests of the people over power. Shame he didn’t wait to have that chat with Jon after the incineration of the city. He may have received a different response!

……….

So, all in all, despite my initial frustrations, which are largely fuelled by the lack of screen time this final season has had to make story choices, such as Dany’s, feel earned, I don’t think The Bells deserves the hate it’s getting. Sometimes characters you like do things you don’t like, but does that invalidate everything great about the series as a whole? Not in my view and I still admire the fact that, with only one episode left, I have no idea how they’ll close this story.

……which brings me to….

A final look ahead

It’s hard to believe we’ve reached the end of Game of Thrones. With one episode remaining there are still a number of possibilities for its conclusion and I can’t decide which is the most predictable! Will Jon be forced to kill Dany for the good of the kingdom, becoming the “Queenslayer”? I assume he will be viewed very differently for that choice than Jaime was for making the same one.

Or will it be Arya who adds a queen to her kill list, just not the one she expected? She saw the horror of Dany’s actions up close and if Dany makes a move to harm Jon (I saw how Greyworm was looking at him during the battle this week), or Sansa, to protect her throne, I can’t see Arya not taking action. Or will Dany stay in power, putting us back to the beginning, with a “Mad” Targaryen on the throne, waiting to be overthrown? Heck, there’s even a Stark in the North and a Baratheon around to start yet another rebellion. That would certainly bring the story full circle in a bittersweet way. Honestly, all I really want is for Tyrion, Arya and Brienne (and maybe Sansa depending on my mood) to make it out of this in one piece! All my fingers are crossed!

See you next week!

The finale of Game of Thrones is on Sunday night on HBO in the USA and on Monday from 2 a.m. in the UK via Sky Atlantic. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/qyBPzUe3hNI; the short inside this week’s episode here: https://youtu.be/5W8j6wOvxuo; and the longer behind the scenes of this week’s episode here: https://youtu.be/RQ9QQMXTftY.

(All screenshots are the property of HBO/Game of Thrones)

Television Review – Game of Thrones 8.04 “The Last of the Starks”

How have we reached episode four of this final season already? It’s going so fast, especially with only two episodes remaining in this unnecessarily short season. I was looking forward to this week, as the fallout from the battle promised to open up some interesting character moments, from shifting loyalties, to conflicted feelings, not to mention the looming threat of Cersei and what she’d been getting up to. Kit Harington described it as Shakespearean and I totally understand what he meant, especially having now watched it a few times to take it all in.

Did I enjoy The Last of the Starks? I’m struggling with my own conflicted emotions when it comes to this question. My immediate reaction on initial viewing was that I very much enjoyed it. Character-driven episodes have always interested me more than the mystery of The Night King and it makes sense to me that the biggest threat to the realm is the evil of man (or, in this case, woman).

I’ll delve in to what I did enjoy this week in a moment, but unlike 8.02, which I thought was superb, on further watches I notice more and more the aspects of 8.04 that I didn’t like, or which didn’t make sense, or were not properly explained. The reason for that? I can’t help but feel that they are rushing this season now. We had two episodes to enjoy the preparation for battle, but we don’t have the luxury of time to build to the final climax. I’ll never understand why this season is only six episodes. I don’t imagine HBO had a problem with a 7-10 episode run, so it comes down to the creators. After seven seasons of plot and character building, often including such wonderful minutiae, they are rushing ahead now and it’s starting to make me worry that it’s impossible for this epic to be wrapped up in a satisfying way. I really do hope I’m proven wrong.

Anyway, let’s dig in to this episode more; one that covered a great deal of ground in just 75 minutes.

Strong direction by David Nutter continues to deliver the performances

I’ve missed David Nutter directing this show. He seems to always have a way of bringing something extra out in the performances of this already excellent acting ensemble and it’s been fantastic to see him back for half this season. As with 8.01 and especially 8.02, this week he brings some stunningly powerful character moments to the screen, from the mourning of the opening scenes, through the revelry and in to the devastating blows that started to pile up as we moved through the episode. I’ve read that the actors feel at ease with him and that he encourages them to let their characters breathe and it always comes across. I’ll touch on so many of these performances in this review, but a stand out was Nathalie Emmanuel, capturing Missandei’s fear, sadness, but ultimately defiance before she was so horrifically executed in front of her lover and best friend and the choice for Greyworm to turn away in agony, while Dany didn’t, as if needing to see it, to fuel her burning rage.

Honouring the dead, with a speech fit for a King……

The opening minutes of this episode were some of my favourites of the season so far, as they took time to slow it down and give us time with these characters who we’ve grown so fond of. Not as many died as I thought would be the case in the Battle of Winterfell, but those who did deserved to be acknowledged and the combination of the music, a slowed down, sadder version of the Night King’s theme from last week and some beautiful performances made this truly stand out. Seeing Dany, saying a last farewell to the man who has always believed in her, was very sad (although you did use him as a human shield in that battle Dany), but the most emotional part of this scene for me had to be Sansa mourning Theon, who she made sure died just as much a Stark as a Greyjoy. Jon’s passionate speech that followed only seemed to highlight just how inspiring a leader he is and that, arguably, he’s the better fit for the throne over Daenerys. Seeing how the episode unfolds, this moment was very well played to start the viewer thinking this at exactly the same time as others start to think about it too.

A time for merriment before it all went downhill

David Nutter directed the infamous Red Wedding, so seeing him helming a happier feast was quite a relief, as we were able to enjoy some time at Winterfell seeing everyone celebrating for a change. Tormund challenging Jon to down his drink was good fun, as was Podrick’s cheeky smile earning him the attention of the ladies. Arise Lord Gendry Baratheon too!

We also finally saw Sansa talk to The Hound again, something that hasn’t happened since season two and it was fascinating to see just how they’ve both changed so much in the years that have passed. Plus, it was also lovely to see Tyrion, Jaime, Pod and Brienne having fun together; well…until Tyrion ruined it by crossing so far over the line you couldn’t see it anymore. Not cool Tyrion. I like you. Don’t be a dick! I thought he was going to say she loved Jaime, which would have been awkward, but not as wrong as the angle he chose to take. Alcohol is no excuse. You lose points in my good books for that!

Jon Snow’s departure from the North, an eerily sad echo of Ned Stark’s farewell back in 1.02

In my deadpool I predicted that Jon would die, sacrificing himself for the greater good, or Dany. Yet, the more we move through this season, the more I start to wonder if the bittersweet end to this story will include a reluctant Jon taking the throne; something he clearly doesn’t want. His goodbyes before he departed Winterfell were incredibly sad, not just because we were seeing the likely end of the time we’ll spend with Sam, Tormund, Ghost and Jon together, but because Jon was seeming to give up everything that makes him who he is, travelling south to a place he has no interest in being, all because he’s loyal to another. Sound familiar Jon? Watching him do exactly what Ned Stark did in 1.02 was quite tragic and continues to make me wonder which way his story will go. Ultimately Tormund is right, he belongs in the North, but we’ll have to see whether his fate is to die helping another take control, or to bear the burden of bringing the realm together, even if he’d rather not.

Finally Tyrion and Varys have a role again!

This week saw a return to the whispered conversations and political plotting and I’ve very much missed it. Heck, having Littlefinger around for such scenes always added something, even though I couldn’t wait to see him dead! Varys has become very much a background character in recent years and so it was fantastic to see the Spider spinning more webs again. A lot of what he was saying this week made sense. He wants the best person for the job on the throne and looking at it objectively, I tend to agree that it’s Jon; people just seem to want to follow him and believe in him to do what’s right. Yet, the moment he suggested Dany needed removing from the picture, gave me chills. We already know he’s destined to die in Westeros, so maybe he will end up as BBQ for Dragon for betraying his queen, even if he is trying to do what he believes is for the best.

As for Tryion, he’s one of my favourite characters, but as the seasons have moved on, he’s become less and less interesting. As the characters came together, he fell in to a supporting role to Dany and with that, seemed to be given a much lesser story of his own. I’ve missed the Tyrion of old and this week we were able to enjoy all the facets of his character, from the playful, naughty Imp (I loved his passion for his game…well until that last bit..), to affectionate, bantering brother, through to the clever man who is able to negotiate his way out of a crossbow bolt (good decision Bronn) and sombre royal councillor. It made him feel important again and by the time he was face to face with Cersei, trying to stop the bloodbath to come, I’d truly realised just how much I’ve missed him and I dearly hope he survives!

The show’s best pairing is back on the road! 

Sorry Gendry, but Arya Stark was never going to be anyone’s lady, no matter how much she cares for you. She’s sadly become a loner, as was clear at the feast, when she was out in the back training and feels she needs very few people in her life. It was therefore perfect that she headed off to King’s Landing with the only person she could – The Hound. Equally a loner, she’s also the only person he’d willingly allow to go along with him. I’ve missed these two together. It’s just a pity that this unnecessarily short season will rob us of more scenes with them on their journey. He’s clearly destined to meet his brother for a showdown, someone also on Arya’s list, as well as Cersei. It’ll be interesting to see what role they have to play next week, but the fact neither of them expect to return north made me more sure that they’ll both meet their end in the capital.

The heartbreaking story of Jaime and Brienne. It still hurts. A lot.

As two of my favourite characters, this was the most painful aspect of 8.04 for me (sorry Missandei) and although it was upsetting on so many levels, the acting of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendeline Christie took these scenes to a higher emotional level. I know not everyone wanted these two together and to be honest, I’d have been happy if they hadn’t, as the knighting scene felt like the only way these two people would show their feelings, without saying the words.

I may be blinded by how much I have rooted for Jaime for years, both on the page and the screen, but I genuinely believe he loves Brienne and that he wanted to stay with her, away from King’s Landing. He just couldn’t, because he still loves Cersei too, while also hating her and what he’s become because of her; the pregnancy just making the situation worse. I also believe he wants to be the better man Brienne sees, but he simply doesn’t feel he is worthy of such love because of all the terrible actions he’s taken for House Lannister.

Is he leaving to go back to Cersei, or to try and stop her? I honestly don’t think he knows himself, but he told Bran he wasn’t the person he used to be and he’s already proven that he’ll protect the people from their ruler if he can. The emotional conflict he would suffer after surviving 8.03 was something I was most looking forward to and personally, I thought they handled it very well. He cares for Brienne and despite his reputation, when it comes to sex, he’s not that much more experienced than she is, having only ever slept with Cersei, so his awkward, cringe-worthy way of trying to simultaneously convey and understand his emotions, with Brienne in her room, felt very true to his character. I also liked that, although he came to her, Brienne took the lead in the end. As Arya did in 8.02, she chose to be vulnerable with someone she cared for. She took a risk and it was on her terms.

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His turmoil was woven throughout the episode though, right from the start and superbly played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. As Jon talks about people dying so that others may live, the camera focused on Jaime and his expression. He then continues to struggle with his emotions, first when lying next to Brienne, then when Bronn says he thinks Cersei is screwed and finally when Sansa suggested King’s Landing was about to be lit up in flames with everyone in it. It was inevitable he’d leave. He said himself that he hates the North. Just as Jon doesn’t belong in the South, Jaime couldn’t have stayed at Winterfell. He still has a role to play in all of this. As for that last scene between the two of them? It hurt. A lot. Brienne is such a wonderful character and one of the few pure, honourable, people in this world and you want her to be happy. Until I am proven wrong, I will continue to believe that Jaime was that cruel to her for the same reason Tyrion was cruel to Shae; to protect her, to try and ensure she didn’t follow him to where she’d almost certainly die one way or another.

Of course, my view on Jaime and this relationship with Brienne may change depending on where this story goes. If Jaime does turn out to have reverted to who he used to be, or the last time I see Brienne in this series, is her alone and sobbing, I’ll be very very angry. The two were clearly never going to live happily ever after, so I can now only hope that Jaime will die having made things right, realising he’s not the hateful person he still sees and ideally I’d like Brienne to be there, so there’s no doubt in her mind that he cared for her. Plus, he always said he wanted to die in the arms of the woman he loves and I refuse to accept that’ll be his evil twin!

….and talking of Cersei……

You thought The Night King was evil……he has serious competition!

Wow, Cersei is truly awful isn’t she?! She actually makes The Night King look like a fluffy bear by comparison. I can’t say I’m surprised. This was the main reason why I wasn’t disappointed that Arya defeated the supposed big bad last week; because the bigger danger was in the South. Yes, she is indeed hateful, but damn, she’s a magnificent villain and Lena Headey is long overdue an award for this role.

We were well in to the episode before her presence was felt by Euron’s ambush of Dany’s fleet just outside Dragonstone, but it was clear who was behind it all, gleefully filling the Red Keep with human shields for the inevitable battle ahead. Cersei has clearly been busy preparing too, with all those scorpions. She’s also secured Euron’s loyalty by pulling the same trick she did for years with her husband. Will that deception last though? Tyrion talking about the baby when he’d only just heard about it must surely be a red flag for Euron?

Full credit goes to Headey this week. She conveyed so much through her eyes and expression, some of it so very subtle you’d be forgiven for missing it or taking it for granted, such as the look of disgust and possibly sadness she has, after she passes Jaime’s baby off as Euron’s. She clearly still wishes it was her brother by her side deep down. Then there was the superb moments when Tyrion begs for her to surrender and release Missandei. You see her think about it, about her child and her love for it, before her eyes darken and the cruel demeanour returns; all in just a few seconds. I may not like Cersei as a person, but she is undoubtably one of the best characters in this series.

…..Despite the positives, this wasn’t an episode without problems……..

Rushing over important stories simply because you’ve chosen to make a shorter season is unfair to the series as a whole

I said at the beginning I was conflicted about 8.04. Overall, there was a lot I enjoyed and perhaps by the end I’ll continue to think that. The biggest concern, as I’ve already discussed, is that there’s so little time left and I feel the plot lines are being rushed as a result and this episode was a strong example.

Story beats that would have been given time in previous years were glossed over in The Last of the Starks. Take Jon’s parentage. We don’t get to see him tell his family who he really is?! Seriously?! That was not a scene to miss out and I’m certain had there been six more episodes rather than two, it wouldn’t have been. Then there’s the poor goodbye between Jon and Ghost. Sure, the dire wolves don’t have the same role as they do in the books, but it felt cheap to just dash past that. There’s also Jon and Dany’s relationship, which just hasn’t had the time needed to really help it take root and as a result, it all feels rather superficial and forced in order to advance the plot at this fast pace.

Sansa and Dany – two characters whose personalities are being forced too quickly to change

I like both of these women, who’ve been through so much. Yet, what we saw in 8.04 and earlier in this season has been a shifting of the personalities on to another course and in my view, there hasn’t been the time to truly make these changes feel authentic to their characters.

Sansa has grown in to one of the most interesting characters now, but her hostility to Dany has felt a little over the top. Yes, she’d feel cautious, but there’s been no real attempt to have them see if they could get along, which just doesn’t feel right to me. Then, although I agreed more with her than Dany this week (you should have let the troops and dragons rest!), betraying Jon’s trust was just disappointing and really made me frustrated. Again, had they had time to build in the nuances of these relationships it may have made more sense.

Instead it’s come across as two women being bitchy because they feel threatened by each other. Actually…..maybe that is realistic….Also, is Sansa suddenly so cruel that she’d take pleasure in telling Jaime how she was looking forward to seeing his sister executed? Honestly?! That felt more like Cersei to me, or perhaps that’s the point. Are the writers trying to make her more like the people who influenced her, namely Littlefinger (telling Tyrion the secret was classic Petyr Baelish) and Cersei? I suppose we’ll see.

As for Dany, I’ll be able to make a better assessment once we see the finale, but I’m finding the sowing of the Mad Queen seeds a bit too obvious. Even more than Sansa, her character has really started to change dramatically. Would her hunger for power truly take hold this strongly so soon after getting to Westeros. Sure, she’s displayed it before, but the way she reacted to Jon’s news, then focussed more on the throne than the battle in 8.02 and then demanded Jon lie about who he is this week, all didn’t seem to be actions the Dany of earlier years would have done. Plus trying to suggest she’s about to go nuclear because she’s going mad? She’s lost some of the closest people to her recently and just watched her best friend be executed! I think she’s justified in feeling some rage! Again, the lack of time means if this series really does end with her being as dangerous as her father, I’ll be mad.

Couldn’t Dany have burnt Euron’s ships from behind?! 

Sure, sure, there’s going to be a battle next week, but still, it seemed rather mad that after having just lost her dragon and knowing her fleet were in grave danger, Dany and Drogon just……sod off! Surely she’d have circled around and unleashed fire from behind those ships? We saw the carnage Drogon can cause in 7.04. Was this an impressive / exciting scene? Yes, but it still didn’t quite make sense. Plus, why didn’t Euron’s fleet try and capture all those half-drowned survivors on the beach, including Tyrion? They just happened to pluck Missandei out of the water and sail away? And what was the message to Dany to let her know? Again, these were all story beats which were rushed through because the creators limited themselves to a shorter run.

Looking ahead?

It’s still a testament to the series that, with only two episodes left, I have no clear idea about how this will end! Will Dany become just as much a threat to the people as Cersei, that Jon has to do the unthinkable? Will he die for her, or will be have to take up the ultimate leadership role, all the while wishing he was lost in the northern wilderness with Ghost? Is there going to any purpose for Bran?! Surely there has to be, right? Maybe he should be with the army to fill them in on what he knows is happening. His role in all of this is now a mystery to me.

Will The Hound die killing The Mountain? Will Arya help, or simply put him out of his misery if he’s mortally wounded in the fight? There’d be no greater sign of affection between these two! Will Arya wear any more faces? Qyburn’s perhaps, to slip inside the Red Keep? Will Brienne stay with Sansa, or ride south to say a final farewell to Jaime, whose arc better go the way it’s been written all these years (I assume that’s him in the hood in the above shot from the trailer)! Is Bronn going to claim a castle from the victor? That’s only a fraction of my questions and all we know for sure from the trailer for 8.05 (directed again by Miguel Sapochnik) is that the battle is going to kick off! I’m already anxious!

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So, overall, I did enjoy this week and it certainly moved the story along, from a battle weary Winterfell, to the gates of King’s Landing, taking all the characters on an emotional rollercoaster in just 75 minutes. I simply hope that in these next two weeks there’s enough time to give all the strands, that have been so strongly woven over all these years, a satisfying ending. At the moment, I’m not as confident of that as I’d like to be.

Game of Thrones continues on Sunday in the USA at 9 p.m. on HBO  and on Monday in the UK on Sky Atlantic from 2 a.m. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/F1fqet9V494; the shorter behind the scenes of 8.04 here: https://youtu.be/u8K9XuPrXko; and the longer behind the scenes of 8.04 here:  https://youtu.be/qwQV89TE8DQ.

(All screenshots are the property of HBO/Game of Thrones)

Game of Thrones – My top 10 questions with just three episodes to go!

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After last week’s mid-season episode, in which we saw the Army of the Dead and the Night King defeated by Arya Stark, I’ve spent this week thinking about all the possibilities now that there are only three episodes left in the sweeping saga that is Game of Thrones. The exciting realisation is that I have no idea the direction the story will take and how it will end. It still seems as if anything is possible.

What is certain? Well, in 8.04, there’s bound to be a mourning of the dead and regrouping in the North, while preparations for war are made in the South. Episode 8.05 is directed by Miguel Sapochnik, so I’m assuming that will involve some form of battle at King’s Landing, leaving the finale to settle the ground for the future of the Seven Kingdoms. After all, the final book in this series, if it ever appears (we’re all still waiting for book 6 to be published first), is called The Promise of Spring, suggesting the story needs to have time left to look to what comes after the perils of winter and war.

Other than that, I’ve been thinking about my biggest questions. I don’t think I’m any nearer to knowing what will happen, but it’s fun to reflect on what we might see. Therefore, this post sets out the big questions I still have and how they may come in to play in the last few episodes of the show.

1. There has to be a twist and maybe it comes in 8.04……

Why do I say this? Well, George R.R Martin’s story has always managed to startle us when we least expected it, whether poor old Ned, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Tywin’s death being only a few examples. We haven’t had anything truly shock us in a while and it feels as if something needs to shift, to knock the characters off balance going in to the final battle. Plus, the creators have spoken about learning of three twists from the author about the future and only two have taken place so far, leaving one left…… There’s also the fact that Kit Harington has commented that he likes 8.04 because it’s quite Shakespearean, so a bit of betrayal and backstabbing is possible, leading in to 8.05’s fight in the South.

2. Will a betrayal / shifting of sides be such a twist? 

Loyalties have shifted over the course of the series and perhaps another one is on the horizon. The most obvious possibility to me is Tyrion, who although surely unlikely to team up again with Cersei, may well side with Jon’s claim over Dany’s, something I’m betting he now knows after his fireside chat with Bran before the battle, especially as we’ve seen his continued affection towards Sansa, who herself isn’t a fan of the Dragon Queen. That talk he had with “Bran” fascinates me too, as I wonder what else he has learnt. There’s also the fact Bran/The Three-Eyed Raven has been turning his vacant, creepy stare on Tyrion quite a lot, during 8.01 from the courtyard and as he passed by him on his way to the Godswood last week. What does he sense about Tyrion’s role in events? I’m still not sure, but as Tyrion has always been one of my favourite characters, it’d certainly be a shock if he shifted loyalties at this stage.

Other possibilities are Varys, who’s been relatively inactive in the story in recent episodes. Melisandre suggested he’ll also die in Westeros, so will that be helping the Targaryens as has been his goal since season one, or could he face the wrath of Drogon for betraying Dany? As I’ve already mentioned, Sansa isn’t yet a fan of Dany and although I could see her standing firm for the rights of the North, I can’t see her siding with Cersei. Mind you, she did always admire her on some level, but this really would be a shock.

3. How do we know The Three-Eyed Raven is not really the villain?

I’ve been wondering this for some time. It seems the only reason we have to think this strange being is one of the good guys (as far as there are any in this show), is because he is now partly Bran Stark. Yet, I can’t help wondering if the biggest surprise would be if it turned out he was in fact more dangerous than anyone realised. Who knows, maybe the Night King has been trying to rid the Seven Kingdoms of this threat all this time! What was he up to during the battle in 8.03 when he disappeared? Maybe he has his own plan to put in place? We also know that George R.R Martin has said the ending (well, his ending for the books anyway) will be bittersweet. So not everyone will have a happy, or just end. Imagine if this being did turn out to be a villain, leaving Jon Snow in the position of having to effectively kill Bran. Sure, he’d save the world, but he’d never be able to forgive himself for that action.

4. Can Arya Stark play a significant role in the battle ahead after she defeated the Night King?

I love Arya, both on screen and on the page and although she’s on my deadpool for this season, I felt sure she’d go out having done something significant. Arguably she’s served that role now. She killed the Night King after all! Her travelling to the capital seems certain, as the last two names on her list are there. Maybe she’ll help her “friend” The Hound kill his brother The Mountain, striking out one more name, but I don’t see her helping to kill Cersei now. I’d quite like her to kill Euron, if only so she could wear his face, but even that seems unlikely after seeing her steal the show last week. Surely, she can’t do it again?

5. Where now for Jaime Lannister?

People who’ve read my reviews will know that Jaime is my favourite character. He’s one of the most complex, on screen and in the books and the way your attitude towards him shifts so dramatically has always fascinated me. Throw in the fact the relationship between Jaime and Brienne is, in my view, the most interesting and powerful one, when in comes to possible romantic pairings (no doubt helped by the chemistry between Nikolaj Coster Waldau and Gwendoline Christie) and it makes me truly care about his fate.

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I still think he’s not likely to survive (no matter how much I’d like him to sail away to Tarth to start a new life with Brienne away from his past), but will he really be ready to march down to King’s Landing on Team Targaryen to take on Cersei?! He didn’t go to the North to fight for Dany, but to keep a promise. Arguably now, he’d want to go back. Unless of course, his final confrontation at last opened his eyes to who she really is and he chooses to stand beside Brienne. Having said that Brienne herself is Team Sansa. Will she even feel any duty to go to King’s Landing? I’m assuming the Lannister brothers are destined for a showdown with their sister, but I still struggle to see Jaime being able to kill someone he loved for so long. It would take something serious happening for that…….which leads me to……..

6. How cruel is Cersei going to get?

Let’s face it, Cersei Lannister is a superb character. She’s horrid, but like Sansa, you can’t help but admire her ruthless determination to come out on top, no matter what it takes. We’ve already seen her blow up a good section of the capital to rid herself of her enemies, have no issue with chaining a mother up to watch her daughter die (not that I liked the Sandsnakes), not to mention the chilling way she dealt with Sept Unella.

So we know she’s capable of anything. She has the Scorpions (which have been highlighted in the opening credits too), so I’m assuming those will be used to try and bring down dragons, but what other cruelty awaits her enemies? Will she take some hostages with Euron’s help? Harm Brienne to finally push Jaime over the edge to kill her (I could see Brienne taking a crossbow bolt for him if it came to it, being just one example, although Jaime’s wish is to die in the arms of the woman he loves, so surely he has to die before Brienne?). Tell Jon it was Jaime that pushed Bran from that window to sow some anger? She’s always been great at creating conflicts between people, so combine that with her cruelty and I dread to think what awaits us………which leads on to my next big question…..

7. Who will kill Cersei?

I really would be shocked if she survived this series (heck, maybe that’s the twist!), but assuming Cersei’s days are numbered, the big question is, who will kill her? There are plenty of people keen to do the job: Arya, Dany, Tyrion to a lesser extent, but I’m still intrigued where the show will choose to go. Book readers have long focussed on the prophecy in the books that the Valonqar (little brother) will kill her. However, the series has yet to bring up that part of the witch’s prophecy. We’ve only seen in flashback her telling Cersei about her having three children who will die and that she’ll be queen, before being replaced by one younger and more beautiful. They didn’t show the next part, which was that the Valonqar would choke the life out of her. The general theories have been that it’ll be Jaime, as Tyrion is too obvious, but as this has never been raised on screen, maybe the creators are thinking of something else. I still struggle to see Jaime doing this, especially as he thinks she’s pregnant with his child (I still don’t quite buy that either), but I could yet be surprised.

8. Can Jon and Dany both live?

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I still think the answer to this question is no. The story narrative just seems to suggest to me that only one of them will survive. As she seems more and more focussed on power and the throne, despite in early years speaking about breaking the wheel of power, will it be left to Jon to stop her doing something rash? He still seems to be the more logical leader, being someone who never sought out power, or wanted to lead and whose actions have mostly been for the good of others. Yet, this being Game of Thrones, the obvious choice is likely not going to be the person in charge at the end. I’ve always thought Jon would be the one to die, possibly protecting her, but as we move through season eight, I start to change my mind. I’ll be watching Dany’s attitude in 8.04, when they finally have to face Jon’s true lineage, very carefully, for signs of how their relationship and roles in the story could play out. Perhaps Meera Reed will reappear with her father, the only man alive who almost certainly knows the truth having been with Ned at the Tower of Joy.

9. Bronn wouldn’t use that crossbow……..would he…..???

Bronn has been such a fantastic character and much more interesting on screen than on the page. We saw in 8.01 that he’s been tasked with killing Tyrion and Jaime for Cersei, using the same weapon that was used to kill their father. Will he do it? I honestly can’t decide. He’s always been in it for the money. First serving Tyrion, then shifting away from him when he was no longer a reliable income stream. He also refused to be Tryion’s champion against the Mountain and seems to suggest he only continued to side with Jaime (and now Cersei) because there was money and status in it for him. Arguably, Cersei is the only Lannister left who can pay him what he feels he’s owed. So, all we’re relying on is his affection for the Lannister brothers. Maybe he’ll try and fail? Maybe he’ll kill someone else in the crossfire, or maybe he won’t, but I think something interesting is going to happen, with Joffrey’s favourite toy playing a key role.

10. The Hound has to defeat The Mountain right?!

Cleganebowl has become a huge item on many fan’s wishlist, but it’s never been guaranteed and just as we never had a battle between Jon and the Night King, maybe this won’t happen either. Having said that, 7.07, set up their showdown nicely and it seems certain The Hound will be making his way south. I’d love to see Arya help him take out his undead brother, but maybe it’s a fight that will see the end of both the Cleganes.

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So, those are the questions at the top of my long list when it comes to Game of Thrones and how this will all play out. It’s hard to believe there are only three episodes left, albeit long ones. Regardless of the answers to these questions, all I really hope for is that the ending is a satisfying one. We need it. After all, it’s going to be a long wait until we can read the end on the page.

See you tomorrow for my review of 8.04!

Game of Thrones continues tonight in the USA on HBO at 9pm and on Monday on Sky Atlantic / NowTV in the UK, from 2am.

(All screenshots and images are the property of HBO/Game of Thrones)