Television Review -Game of Thrones 8.02 “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” – a truly superb showcase of the strength of these special characters

“The things I do for love.”

That was the memorable line that ended episode one of the first series of Game of Thrones and it perfectly sums up so many motivations on display in this second episode of season 8. After last week’s opener provided most of the reunions and delivered the important information to Jon Snow about his parentage, the creators of the show chose to do something special and also rather brave in 8.02. We all know the battle is coming. The Army of the Dead are past Last Hearth, inching ever closer to the boundaries of Winterfell and yet the strength of Game of Thrones as a series means that taking 55 minutes out of the action to simply spend time with these incredible characters feels absolutely right.

As an audience, we’ve grown to love these people and their relationships and clearly not everyone will make it through next week alive. Therefore, this week provided our and their last chance to simply exist with one another; to be who they are, or who they’ve become and show us that ultimately for many of them at this point they are doing things for love and honour. As a theatre lover, it reminded me of an intimate play, split in to separate acts, focussing on the dialogue and connections forged over eight years and although I imagine some won’t have enjoyed it, I loved it. It also laid the emotional foundations by reminding you who you care about, who they care about and how awful it will be when the casualties of the battle start to mount up.

There’s a lot to unpack in this episode, so let’s dive in.

A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – the beauty of Jaime & Brienne’s story

Full disclosure, Jaime Lannister is my favourite character. He is in the books and he is in the series and it’s mainly because he is such a complex man, who feels very human and authentic. He changes in ways that few others on the series do and the biggest reason he does is the influence of Brienne of Tarth. Bran/The Three-Eyed Raven is right when he says had Jaime not pushed him from that window that he’d perhaps be the same person. It certainly started his journey of judging his own choices and actions, but it was his time with Brienne that allowed him to be the decent man he’s likely always wanted to be. Let’s not forget, he killed the Mad King to save the people of King’s Landing. Seeing Jaime turn away from Cersei (which seems to have taken longer on screen than on the page) was such a pivotal moment and watching him stand before so many people who wish him dead and say he wants to keep his word and fight with them emphasised how much he’d changed.

Yet, the episode’s title doesn’t just refer to one knight, but two; the other being the woman who means so much to Jaime Lannister and to whom he can gift the thing she’s wanted most in life – to be a knight of the realm! Honestly, all of Jaime and Brienne’s scenes were a treat this week, with such lovely touches (like when Jaime, on trial says its not about loyalty to houses, while slightly glancing her way, seeing as she said this to him at the Dragon Pit and which results in her stepping forward to defend his honour), but nothing could beat the scene in which Ser Jaime knighted Ser Brienne of Tarth. It was simply beautiful, from the way it was shot in the firelit room, to the acting from Gwendoline Christie and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, to the emotional power of the words Jaime speaks as he shows her this is what she deserves and yes, I shed a few tears.

The unexpected affection for Theon Greyjoy

Let’s take a moment to salute Alfie Allen, who I feel has been underrated for his performance as Theon in the series. He’s been superb throughout, taking Theon from cocky, unpleasant ward of the Starks, to traitor, to hostage, to a broken victim of abuse who finds his way back to himself and goes on to save his sister and then choose to come back to the only home he knew and yet betrayed, to defend it and try to make amends for the wrongs he caused the Starks. I never expected to like Theon and yet his reunion with Sansa this week was one of the most moving moments of the series and another that caused me to shed a tear. The have both endured such pain and helped each other survive. It’s another example of Game of Thrones doing what it does best, eliciting emotion from you where you least expect it.

Arya Stark – Warrior, assassin & woman in control of her own choices

It’s interesting that I’ve already seen quite a lot of mixed reaction online to Arya’s choices in this episode. Many people seem appalled by it, which I admit, I’m quite surprised about. Hardly any of the female characters in this story have been in control of their bodies. We’ve had Dany raped on her wedding night. Sure she fell in love with Drogo, but not at first. Then there was Cersei being traded by Tywin and as recently as last week giving up herself to Euron in order to keep him on side. Brienne was only spared thanks to Jaime and we all saw the brutal horrors Sansa endured throughout. Yet here, we had a young woman, choosing to have sex with someone she had a connection with and cared for and who cared for her. Perhaps most people’s discomfort stems from the fact we’ve watched Maisie Williams grow up from a 13-year old to the young 22 year-old woman she now is, but as characters go, Arya’s choice to sleep with Gendry was one of the most natural sexual moments we’ve seen on this show! That scene aside, I also loved her highlighting to him her skill and confidence in the woman she is. My one complaint – can she please announce to the world that she obliterated House Frey?!

And now our watch begins………one last moment for the Night’s Watch?

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Those early days at The Wall seem an age ago, don’t they? And yet, three of our favourite Crows have made it to this final season and this episode saw Sam, Jon and Edd reunited, to stand beside each other, keeping watch for the arrival of the enemy. And with Ghost by their side too! It was another lovely nod to the relationships that have been formed in the show and provided a moment for humour, with Edd mocking Sam, only for Sam to give as good as he got, as Jon smirked beside his friends. This episode was filled with quiet, yet emotionally loaded moments and this was another lovely one.

Daenerys Targaryen – showing more glimpses of the Targaryen madness within?

As the series has made me love Jaime after disliking him and caused me to cry for Theon when I’ve spent years wanting to give him a slap, it’s also causing the opposite reaction when it comes to Dany. Having loved her for years, I’m starting to grow more and more concerned about where this story is going for the Mother of Dragons. Yes, her whole life has been about the Iron Throne and getting justice for her family, but her hostility to Sansa last week and crucially, her reaction to Jon Snow’s admission that he’s the son of her brother are worrying me. Her first response was anger over the fact he was now a threat to her claim. You could see the surprise and hurt pass through Jon Snow’s eyes (wonderfully played by Kit Harrington). Hopefully this is just a blip, as the idea of her going full-on Mad Queen does not appeal to me. Plus, she did try and make peace with Sansa following Jorah’s counsel (although I like that the show hasn’t wrapped up that tension with a neat bow just yet).

A song before the battle & a reminder of so many wonderful characters

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Another beautiful moment of this episode was when Pod offered the group a song as they awaited the battle around the fireside. Not only was it a song full of emotion, reflecting on love and loss (and whose origins can be found in the books), but the montage of scenes over which it played was perfect to round out an episode that had been filled with reminders to the audience that this group of characters are special and we’ve grown to care more than we even realised. Yes, it reminded me of the moment in The Return of the King, when Pippin sang a sorrowful song as men went out to die in that final Lord of the Rings film, but that’s not a bad thing. The emotional impact was needed to make next week all the more upsetting.

And then there were the brief, but heartfelt moments that added to the mood

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The above were the bigger story beats this week for me, but there were so many other smaller moments, that added to the emotional heart of 8.02, which I can’t leave out:

  • Sir Davos seeing Shireen in the little, scarred girl who wants to fight. I mean, it was just such a small, but hugely significant moment for him and I loved it.
  • The Hound showing affection in his own way, when he reminds Arya that he fought for her.
  • Tyrion filling Pod’s cup until it was overflowing after Brienne said he should only have half!
  • Tyrion calling out his brother on how he loved Cersei despite knowing who she was, followed by Jaime finding Brienne in the crowd below. Honestly all of Tyrion’s and Jaime’s moments were a joy this week.
  • Tormund’s bonkers telling of his backstory, prompting some fun reactions from the crowd and driving Sir Davos to drink!
  • Sam giving his family sword to Ser Jorah, the son of the man who taught him to be a man.
  • Greyworm promising Missandei a new, happier life after the war is over.

Looking ahead – next week is going to be emotional. Stock up on tissues folks!

Some readers may have already read my dead pool predictions post for this series, in which I set out my hopes, fears and thoughts on who will not reach the end of the series alive, but when we know that next week is the big battle, it seems only right to try and think about who will fall in 8.03. What do we know? The episode is directed by Miguel Sapochnik, who is behind Hardhome and The Battle of the Bastards and who has directed an episode which is said to be the longest battle scene ever recorded for film or television, Running for 82 minutes and taking 55 nights to make! To put that in context, season six’s Battle of the Bastards took 25 days to film…….! This is going to be epic. In fact I think we’ll need a new word to describe this.

Will they defeat the Night King? I assume not. Surely that would be too easy and too early. So, who will fall in this first battle?

  • Sadly, I think Theon is a definite goner. He’s putting himself between the Night King and Bran and his story arc has reached a natural end. He’ll die protecting the Starks.
  • Sorry Missandei, but I think you’ll be alone on that beach in Narth, as I don’t see Greyworm surviving the week.
  • Edd – the last Crow we care about besides Jon and Sam is likely another casualty of the battle.
  • Beric Dondarrion – I just don’t see his story continuing much longer and honestly, I don’t really care.
  • Ser Jorah Mormont – I’m still 50/50 about this, but I could easily see him dying this week, if it means he saves Dany, or Jon, or heck, little Lyanna Mormont.
  • Tormund – he’s a character who belongs in the North. I don’t see him making his way down to King’s Landing.
  • Jaime….or Brienne……no, Jaime. This is the hardest for me, as I love these two, but one of them seems destined to die and it could be this week. Brienne has now been given everything she dreamt of, becoming a knight and earning the respect and in my view, love, of Jaime, the man she’d want to be with if this wasn’t Game of Thrones (sorry Tormund). Perhaps her story has reached the end, but Jaime has already told Bronn that he’d choose to die in the arms of the woman he loves. He may have meant Cersei then, but it’s more likely to be Brienne, who may well survive to complete the pages of the man she loved in the Kingsguard book.
  • Also – are the crypts really as safe as everyone kept saying this week?? We did see skeletons attack Bran and co before they found sanctuary in the tree…..and the crypt is full of buried Starks………

Blimey, just typing that makes me sad and there’s a week of anticipation to go (plus I’m still not totally certain about Arya’s fate either next week….). Good luck everyone and I’ll see you here next week to sift through the emotional wreckage…….

Game of Thrones continues next Sunday at 9 p.m. on HBO in the USA and on Sky Atlantic (or via NowTV) in the UK on Monday (live at 2 a.m. and 9 p.m. and available for streaming/download following the early morning airing). 

Watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/TdkS4Xazz7Q, the short behind the scenes featurette here: https://youtu.be/WoNRogjJn1Q  and the longer featurette here: https://youtu.be/dcqrNXKv628 

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

 

 

 

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Television Review – After nearly 2 years, Game of Thrones is back! – Season 8.01 “Winterfell”

Blimey it’s been a long wait hasn’t it?! For those of us who’ve been waiting since August 2017 to see the next chapter of this sweeping drama, this week’s return of Game of Thrones is the absolute definition of Event Television! Few shows have garnered as much critical and public praise and the anticipation for this final season is on a par with that for any huge blockbuster movie. Having had a day to digest the season opener, I’m ready to put my thoughts down on paper.

The finale saw the Army of the Dead reach The Wall, as it tumbled in to the sea in minutes thanks to the power of a newly undead dragon (RIP Viserion). The opening episode of season eight picks up not long afterwards and is appropriately named Winterfell, the focus for the upcoming battle and where most of the key characters are converging.

Overall, I found this to be an enjoyable episode, although certainly not the best this series can be, which is perhaps a testament to how good it is, I suppose.

Anyway, time to dig in to the detail!

Lots happened…….perhaps a bit too much?

For those who read my predictions post on this season, you’ll know I mentioned that I was particularly looking forward to all the reunions and although I suspected they’d happen fast, I didn’t expect so much to be crammed in to the season opener, which is also the shortest of the six episodes. Taken individually such significant moments were wonderful, whether Arya and Jon’s heartfelt reunion, her playful catch up with Genrdy, or her coming face to face with The Hound again. We also had Theon finally stepping up and rescuing Yara, among many other story points, which I’ll get to. For me, however, it started to feel a bit rushed.

Callbacks to the first episode had me rather nostalgic!

The choice to open the episode with the arrival of Dany and Jon’s army at Winterfell made perfect sense, but what made this even more special for fans of the show was the call-backs to the very first episode. Seeing the little boy running to try and get a good vantage point to watch the Royal procession immediately had you thinking of Arya and seeing her standing alongside, observing his excitement and perhaps also thinking back to so many years ago was quite special, particularly with the exact same music cue playing over it. It perfectly captured just what a journey these characters have been on since the story began.

Frosty receptions are always fun to see (and that’s before Jaime and Theon are thrown in)!

This is Game of Thrones so it’s never going to be fluffy unicorns and the cold of the North extended to more than the climate, with Sansa and Daenerys not exactly hitting it off and  the Northern houses, led by the always awesome Lady Mormont, less than impressed with Jon pledging himself to a foreign Queen. And I haven’t even covered Bran yet, whose whole demeanour these days is cold and detached, although I did love him greeting Jon and Dany with a “Hi, your dragon is on Team Night King and the Wall has come down.” Well played Bran! Sansa’s wariness of Daenerys is also understandable. She’s been through so much, that trusting anyone doesn’t come easily and Dany was rather aloof. I also loved Tyrion reuniting with Sansa. They had learnt to respect each other by season 4 and after all she’s been through, Sansa no doubt knows he’s a decent man. Yet, a highlight of the hour for me was Sansa being more astute than all the key players in the game, by knowing immediately that Cersei was lying!

We’ll have to see how the atmosphere thaws…….although with Theon and Jaime about to join the party, neither of whom are particularly welcome in Winterfell, the thaw may be some way away!

Bravo Theon! I’m proud of you!

It’s been an up and down journey for Theon Greyjoy and for the audience as we’ve watched him make so many poor decisions and suffer the consequences in such a brutal fashion. The inclusion of Theon’s rescue of his sister was perhaps the most surprising element of this episode for me, as I assumed that would crop up later. It was so satisfying to see and then for Theon to want to go and fight for the Starks. Bless him. I thought he’d die saving Yara, but now it seems he’s likely to meet the end of his story back where we first met him, defending the family and the lands he betrayed, which would do his storyline justice.

The Jon & Dany romance – it doesn’t do anything for me.

This is going to be controversial for some, but I have absolutely zero interest in the supposed blossoming romance between Jon and Daenerys. I think they are both fantastic characters and will clearly be a formidable team, but I just don’t buy them as a couple. Jon’s in love with her, according to Sansa. Really?! He’s known her five minutes and we already know that Dany may show outward affection and yet feel nothing, as she admitted to Tyrion on saying farewell to Daario Naharis. Having them share a moment in front of cave/waterfall, which immediately called back to Ygritte didn’t help matters either, nor does the fact that I just don’t think they have any romantic chemistry. Don’t all yell at me at once!

Dragon riding – too soon? 

We’ve all been waiting for Jon Snow to ride a dragon, but as it finally happened in this opening episode I couldn’t help thinking that perhaps it wasn’t the right time. I’m assuming the scene was partly included to provide those gorgeous aerial shots of the North, flagging that the Army of the Dead had some way yet to go before they arrive. Yet, while it was fun to see Jon trying to navigate this new experience, wouldn’t it have been much more powerful to see him climb on to Rhaegal after he discovered that he was in fact a Targaryen and son of the man for whom that very dragon was named? Oh and while we’re on the animals, where’s Ghost?!

Cersei on the rebound from Jaime and still as power-crazed as ever!

Having demonstrated how little she cares about standing together in the season finale, Cersei’s plan to assemble a stronger army, with the help of The Golden Company was achieved this week, with the return of Euron Greyjoy and his fleet. Left with no other choice to keep him on side and no doubt to try and rid Jaime from her mind, she gave Euron exactly what he wanted – herself and in a twisted way, they are probably the ideal match. If she is really pregnant (something I was never convinced about last season), it seems logical she’ll pretend it’s Euron’s now. Hard luck Jaime, although I think you’re better off out of her clutches…..which brings me to……

Don’t you dare use that crossbow Bronn!

I have always liked Bronn, who is a much more developed and entertaining character in the series than the books and he’s had fantastic relationships with both Tyrion and Jaime over the years. It was therefore incredibly unpleasant to see him seemingly accepting the job of killing the Lannister brothers with Tyrion’s “favourite” crossbow! In any other show I’d never believe he’d do it, but this is Game of Thrones, so who knows…….

The big secret is finally revealed!

We’ve all been wondering how Jon would be told the truth about his parentage. Would his friend Sam sit him down and break the news gently, rather than leaving the task to the rather emotionless Bran? Ummm…….not quite and I loved that decision. Having just learnt the tragic news about his brother (let’s face it, his father was no great loss), a heartbroken and understandably angry Sam broke the news rather more bluntly than expected. With his Queen seeming dangerous and unpredictable, Sam is fuelled by the need to have Jon know he’s the true ruler, rather than simply to tell him where he really comes from. It was the perfect way of raising the bigger question of whether Dany is the right choice to rule too, or if she is too close to her father’s dangerous tendencies. Personally, I think Jon would be the better ruler and he is always ready to sacrifice for what is right for others, rather than himself. As Sam says, would Dany do that? Probably not. I’m certainly intrigued to see how she takes the news when she finds out!

Creepy dead children…..lovely……

I remember watching episode one of the show all those years ago and seeing the dead little girl nailed to a tree come back to life freaked me the hell out! This week, we had an echo of that with poor little Lord Umber being used as the centrepiece for the Night Kings’s latest creative mural. you really shouldn’t have sent that kid away from Winterfell, Sansa! The moment he opened his eyes and screamed was so very disturbing and yet I couldn’t help focussing more on the pattern. It looked a little like the Targaryen sigil didn’t it?

Ending with a gut punch and I loved it! 

In the same way as the episode opened with echoes of episode one, it was perfectly book ended with another scene which took us straight back to the beginning, as Jaime arrived at Winterfell to come face to face with an “old friend.” As soon as Bran said he was waiting for such a person, I knew who he meant and the moment of revelation filling Jaime’s eyes was superbly played, making this perhaps the most powerful moment for me! It reminded us of just how dreadful Jaime was back then and how along the way we’ve grown to like him despite those actions. Having him see Bran again was therefore a brilliant moment for both the character and everyone watching. These two certainly have to have a chat! The big question though – did Bran stay in that same spot all night?!

So, all in all, it was an enjoyable hour of television and it’s fantastic to have the series back again, but there is room for improvement, which with five episodes to come is not necessarily a bad thing!

See you all next week!

Game of Thrones continues next Sunday night in the USA on HBO and in the UK on Sky Atlantic (at 2 am and 9 pm). You can watch two official behind the scenes look at 8.01 here: https://youtu.be/DkdbetJTZGA and here: https://youtu.be/ha8Qsx6_OBw and the trailer to 8.02 here: https://youtu.be/R6YCfVe4eR0

(All photos/screenshots belong to HBO/Game of Thrones)

Book Review – The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My second book review for this new blog is another debut novel that I have just read after it was recommended to me. First published in 2011 and longlisted for the Orange Prize For Fiction in 2012, The Night Circus is a fantastic novel, which mixes fantasy and reality to create an intriguing and imaginative novel that, like the magic in the story itself, puts a spell over its readers, making you believe you are really there!

It’s hard to talk about the plot without giving too much away. In summary, the novel tells the story of “Le Cirque de Rệves” (The Circus of Dreams) through the lives and experiences of the individuals, who create it, live and work in it or visit it.

The mysterious circus of black and white tents appears at locations throughout the world as if by magic and without warning. However this is no ordinary circus, as this one is only open at night – opening at nightfall and closing at dawn. It could remain in one place a month or a day. Nothing is certain and not everything is quite as it seems, even to those who are a part of the world of the circus.

Within this world, the story centres around two individuals who from childhood have been linked to each other through an age old rivalry between two illusionists, who have lived their lives testing which of them has the superior skills. To demonstrate this, a challenge is set, requiring an apprentice of each man to take part in a game that neither really understands and through this game their masters will decide on a winner. However this latest challenge involves another element – what happens when the two apprentices fall in love?

As a reader, you can’t fail to be enchanted by the magical world created by Erin Morgenstern in this novel, which I think is a remarkable debut. It reminded me of how I felt as a child reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Then I wanted to the factory to be real. Now, as an adult, I wished the Night Circus could be a reality. The atmosphere of the world comes to life so vividly that you could think you were dreaming, with all the wondrous smells, tastes and sounds staying with you. All this is down to the wonderful writing, which not only creates this world but also the variety of characters, who are so central to the story, whether they are the performers at the circus, those who help build it (I especially loved the clockmaker and would love one of his clocks to be possible!) or the group of people, known as reveurs, who make it part of their lives to follow the circus wherever it goes, identifying each other through the clothes they wear on their visits to the circus (black and white only with a dash of red).

A lot of novels these days remind me of something I have read before, whether it be the plot or a character. The Night Circus however was something new and imaginative and is the type of novel I’d love to write one day. It is definitely a novel I would recommend to anyone. The only downside is that the circus still isn’t real when you finish it!

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is available from all the usual book retailers.