Friday, October 13, 2017

Medieval Mysteries: “The Red Hill” by David Penny

Recently, I started reading more medieval mysteries, and I’m truly enjoying them. These are pure mystery tales like the stories of Sherlock Holmes or Hercule Poirot, except set during the Middle Ages. And this week’s mystery, The Red Hill by David Penny, is among the best I’ve read so far. 

Set in the fifteenth century, the mystery involves a series of murders within the harem of the Alhambra, the massive medieval palace of the sultan of Granada. The few witnesses to the attacks believe the killer to a djinn, a spirit of the air who appears out of nowhere wielding a deadly blade. With the sultan’s wives a potential target, the sultan enlists his private surgeon, Thomas Berrington, to solve the mystery and expose the killer.

Thomas, the Sherlock Holmes of this tale, is an Englishman with a mysterious past who has served the sultan for years. Driven by logic and science instead of superstition, Thomas is reluctant to take on this role, but a sultan’s request cannot be refused. 

The Hill of the Alhambra in Granada
Like most good stories, the novel gives us a host of memorable characters, including Jorge, the strapping eunuch who serves as Watson to Thomas’ Holmes; Olaf Torvaldsson, the sultan’s Scandinavian general; and the sultan’s many sons, all of whom may eventually lay a claim to the throne. Then there’s Olaf’s two daughters, one who is Thomas’ lover, and the other who wishes to become his apprentice. They all aid Thomas in one way or another, but he’s often left guessing whether they are truly friends, or foes. 

Nearly everyone Thomas meets has a motive to commit the crime, and the author does a fine job of disguising the truth, while offering enough subtle clues to make the ending believable. And like all great mystery tales, the puzzle kept me guessing until the novel’s final twist. The book is the first in a series, and you can bet book two, titled Breaker of Bones, is already on my to-read list!

You can read a sample of The Red Hill here.

* Painting courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, October 5, 2017

“The Flame Bearer”: Uhtred of Bebbanburg Finally Goes Home

It look longer than I had hoped, but I finished reading The Flame Bearer, the latest installment in Bernard Conwell’s excellent Saxon Tales series about the founding of the kingdom of England in the early tenth century. Here’s my review.

For ten novels – that’s right, ten – we’ve been waiting for Uhtred to reclaim his ancestral home of Bebbanburg, and in The Flame Bearer we finally learn how that story ends. Fans of the series will recall that Uhtred’s last attempt to capture the impregnable Northumbrian fortress took place in The Pagan Lord, where we were introduced to his son Uhtred as a young warrior. By The Flame Bearer, Uhtred the father is an old man, and with most of his enemies gone after the events in Warriors of the Storm, reclaiming Bebbanburg seems to be all that is left for Uhtred’s tale.

Uhtred is a man possessed in this book, hell-bent on achieving the one thing he’s longed for ever since his wicked uncle stole Bebbanburg from him in Cornwall’s The Last Kingdom. Fortunately, before Uhtred gets too far along on his quest, Cornwell presents him (and us) with another mystery of the kind featured throughout the series. This time, the West Saxons are threatening Northumbria, in apparent breach of the truce reached at the end of Warriors of the Storm. And like most of the mysteries in this series, there’s more to this move than meets the eye.

Uhtred's adventures also continue in Season 2 of The Last Kingdom on Netflix
Eventually, however, the tale turns back to Bebbanburg, and how Uhtred is going to pull off this improbable siege. Uhtred may be old, but he’s still the greatest warrior in England, and the last third of this novel offers one of the longest battle sequences in the series. Cornwell is a master of writing battles, with all of its violence, carnage, and shield walls, so fans of the series won’t be disappointed. By the end, every open storyline from the prior two novels appears to reach its conclusion. That is, every storyline but one. So, in what looked to be the final book in the series, Cornwell drops a hint there may be more to come. 

Even if Cornwell never goes beyond book ten, The Saxon Tales have been one of the great works of medieval fiction. Set in an important era in English history, its stories are engaging, its characters are memorable, and its hero is unforgettable. Someday, we’re going to miss the narrations of Uhtred of Bebbanburg. But until then, enjoy the ride.

You can read an excerpt of the book here.

* Image courtesy of Netflix

Friday, September 29, 2017

"The White Princess" and the True Game of Thrones

As I edit away on my next novel, I have a suggestion for anyone suffering withdrawals since the season end of Game of Thrones: Watch a show about the War of the Roses, history’s real life game of thrones.

It’s been well publicized that the historical War of the Roses helped inspire George R.R. Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, which HBO turned into Game of Thrones. Fortunately, earlier this year, Starz ran The White Princess, a sequel to its 2013 mini-series The White Queen, both about the War of the Roses. If you haven’t seen them, there’s no better time than now to start binge watching.

I wrote about The White Queen back in 2013 (here) and the novel by Phillippa Gregory on which it was based (you can read my review here). But I also posted an excerpt from an article in Vulture titled 7 Ways Starz’s The White Queen is Like Game of Thrones.” Here’s it is again:
Character Correlations: It’s not always direct in Game of Thrones, as one of George R.R. Martin’s characters might share personality traits with a certain historical figure or group, yet a situation or position in common with another. But some people see Cersei from Game of Thrones in The White Queen’s Elizabeth Woodville, the commoner Edward IV married; others see her in Margaret of Anjou, the wife of Henry VI (the king Edward IV helped depose) because she's a commanding woman fiercely devoted to putting her sociopathic son on the throne. Yes, there is a Joffrey predecessor, and his name is Edward of Lancaster, a.k.a. the Prince of Ice. Although these aren’t precise match-ups, The White Queen also has a mad king (King Henry VI of Lancaster), as well as an exiled heir to the throne (Henry Tudor). Edward IV, like Robert, also has two brothers vying for the throne. (His brother George, like Renly, doesn't even want to wait for his death, telling him, “I was hoping for your crown.”) Bran and Rickon, meanwhile, are probably the Princes in the Tower.
If this whets your appetite, my guess is you’ll enjoy both The White Queen and The White Princess, but I suggest you watch them in order. The White Queen covers the heart of the War of the Roses, which ended up putting Henry Tudor (Henry VII) on England’s throne. It also tells the story of Richard III (he of Shakespearean fame), the Princes in the Tower, and all the drama surrounding that still mysterious event. All in all, it’s very well done.

As much as I liked The White Queen, I enjoyed The White Princess even more. Unfortunately, Starz premiered the series around the same time as it aired American Gods and HBO aired the final season of The Leftovers, so I ended up missing the show during its run. I did, however, have a chance to binge-watch it before the premiere of Season 7 of Game of Thrones

What I enjoyed the most about the series was the transformation of its protagonist Lizzie (Elizabeth) of York. She’s the daughter of Elizabeth Woodville (the protagonist of The White Queen) and, historically, the mother of Henry VIII and grandmother of Elizabeth I. She begins the show as a fierce York loyalist, determined to secretly undermine her unwanted husband, Henry Tudor, in the hope of restoring a York to the throne. But when she finds that she and Henry have more in common than they realized, and later have two sons, she begins to change. By the end, she’s making serious moves in the game of thrones, displaying a ruthlessness one would not expect of the character in the beginning of the show.

You can catch The White Princess on demand on Starz. It’s not the perfect remedy to Game of Thrones withdrawal, but it may be the best one can do in the Long Winter that lies ahead.

* Images courtesy of Starz.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Blogging Whereabouts . . .

It's been a few weeks since my last post because I needed a short break from the blog after the seaon's end of Game of Thrones. Fortunately, I spent what little time I had working on other things.

It looks a bit more dogeared now, but I'm nearing the end of my edit to the sequel to Enoch's Device. It's taken far longer than I had hoped, but I've trimmed it down by 32 pages (and counting), scrapped a few chapters, and written a few new ones. I'm working in the final act now, so the editing has slowed a bit to get it right.

After this, I'll do a quick polish edit and draft my historical note. Then it's off to the Beta readers. My actual editor will be next, and after whatever edits result from that, the novel should be ready to roll. When that will be, I can't quite predict, though I'm hoping for early next year. But enough of that.

In case you missed it, Season 3 of Outlander premiered two Sunday's ago on Starz. For anyone missing Game of Thrones, I've found that Outlander helps ease the pain. I hope to be back with actual content on the blog soon, so check back next week or follow my Facebook page, where I've started posting additional content that wouldn't work for a full blog post.

Thanks for your patience. I'll be back soon!

* Lower image courtesy of Starz

Friday, September 1, 2017

What Remains For “Game Of Thrones”?

Last Sunday’s finale of Game of Thrones provided a satisfying conclusion to the show’s penultimate season. But now that it’s over, what’s left? Only six more episodes.

The Board is Set for the Series Finale

Every storyline from Season 7 was wrapped up in “The Dragon and the Wolf,” and the game board is set for the final six episodes. This made for a fulfilling 80 minutes of television, even though much of it was predictable. Littlefinger’s dangerous game finally came to an end. And even though many sites voted him the most likely character to die in the finale, I liked the clever way Sansa, Arya, and Bran pulled off their endgame.

In one stunning scene, The Wall came crashing down, though it came as no surprise now that the Night King has an undead Viserion. Jon and Daenerys finally did what everyone had been assuming they would do, but the lead into the scene with Bran and Sam confirming Jon’s origins certainly cast it in an awkward light. Although you knew Bran and Sam would put two and two together at some point.

Meanwhile, to no one’s surprise, Cersei betrayed everyone. Though I did not anticipate Jaime leaving her. That was the one development that offered the most promise for next season. Jaime, who began the series as a villain, may end it as a hero. He’s also now brought a third Valyrian sword to the battle against the White Walkers, joining Jon’s and Brienne’s (and don’t forget, Jaime’s and Brienne’s blades were forged from Ned Stark’s great sword, Ice). I’m looking forward to Jaime reuniting with Brienne, if that’s what happens.

But Will the Series End Well?

Overall, the sentiment on the web is that “The Dragon and the Wolf” saved what many viewed as a rocky season of Game of Thrones. You can read examples here and here. But some still dread the final season, fearing that much of the human drama and intrigue will be lost now that the show seems to have boiled down to a fantasy battle between good and evil. (Examples are here and here). However, I’m not too concerned.

For one, the machinations of Queen Cersei will continue to provide plenty human drama and intrigue. She’s hired the Golden Company from Essos, and I can’t imagine they’re simply coming to retake Dragonstone from whatever token force Daenerys leaves there, or to settle the score with a leaderless Dorne. Rather, Cersei’s plans are going to somehow impact (or derail) the fight in the North. And, with six extended episodes to go, we might even see the White Walkers reach King’s Landing. At this point, anything could happen.

Also, Cersei’s story will reach its conclusion, and I think a Shakespearian fate may be what the writers have in store. After all, when Cersei was a girl, Maggy the Frog told her a prophecy that foresaw Cersei would be queen until a younger and more beautiful queen arrived to cast her down. (Hello, Daenerys!) And worse, the “valonqar” (“little brother” in High Valyrian) will choke the life from her pale white throat. Somehow, Tyrion or Jaime has a role to play in Cersei’s fate, but who knows how it will all go down.

Meanwhile, Jon and Daenerys will have to deal with the revelation of Jon’s true origins. The news that Jon Snow is actually Aegon Targaryen, heir to the Iron Throne, will turn Jon’s world upside down. Also, I doubt the man raised by Ned Stark will be okay with ongoing incest. And who knows how Daenerys will react to Jon’s superior claim to the throne? Since her brother Viserys died, she’s always believed she was the one to rule Westeros, so her world will be shattered too. I don’t think this will end well, but it should provide a heaping of human drama.

I also believe we’re in for at least one more big surprise before the show’s end. One totally insane theory blazing through the internet is that Bran is actually the Night King. I’m not going to try to explain it, but you can read about it here and here. And the fact remains that George R.R. Martin has said publicly that the end of Game of Thrones will be bittersweet, much like the ending to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Return of the King. In other words, there will be no happily ever after in the final episode of Game of Thrones. But how it will end is anyone’s guess.

For me, that’s plenty to look forward while we wait until 2018 2019 for Season 8. But those are just my thoughts. How hopeful are you about the final season of Game of Thrones?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Last Sunday’s Episode of “Game of Thrones” Was One of The Most Polarizing Ever

If you’ve been reading the recaps and reviews on the net about last Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, it’s a seriously mixed bag. Even those who liked it had significant gripes. It wasn’t the perfect episode, but I’m surprised at the amount of ire it seems to have stirred. So, as a longtime lawyer, let me attempt to defend the show’s writers, one topic at a time.

Tyrion’s Big Plan

Many who write about the show have focused on the alleged stupidity of Tyrion’s plan to have Jon and Co. kidnap a wight and bring it to Cersei, all in an attempt to get her to join them in the war against the Night King. The gist of most of these criticisms is that everyone should know Cersei won’t be persuaded, so it was foolish to attempt such a dangerous mission in the first place. But I think folks are being too hard on the littlest Lannister.

For one, Tyrion is trying to solve a problem: to stop the War of the Queens so both queens and their armies can aid Jon Snow in his war against the white walkers. Second, while Tyrion claims to believe Jon, he hasn’t seen one of the undead either. So what is the obvious solution? Show everyone the proof that this is happening. Tyrion is just being practical.

To Cersei, the white walkers are just stories to frighten young children. They’re myths, the Westerosi version of Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. But I bet if someone dropped a Sasquatch off at your doorstep, you might suddenly become a believer. Also, Cersei is not Tyrion’s only audience. He has Jaime too, who seems to be much more likely to appreciate the danger of an undead army advancing on The Wall. If anyone can convince Cersei to do something, it’s Jaime. 

Lastly, what other choice did Tyrion have? He knows his sister won’t entertain the possibility of white walkers without proof, and according to Jon, Westeros needs everyone to band together if they hope to win the war. So it’s not like they can just cut Cersei out of the plan, or let her ride roughshod over the Seven Kingdoms while Daenerys is off fighting beyond The Wall.

All this said, I wonder if Tyrion’s plan was invented by the show’s writers, or if this is really how George R.R. Martin intended things to play out? The plan led to the biggest game changer in the show’s history by allowing the Night King to claim his own undead dragon. If that event was envisioned by Martin – and I hope something as enormous as an undead Viserion actually was – then something needed to go terribly wrong beyond The Wall to allow that to happen. Of course, if Martin would just finish The Winds of Winter, we wouldn’t need to speculate anymore. 


The Sansa-Arya Storyline

If there is one storyline the critics seem to hate most of all, it’s the feud between Arya and Sansa. Many think Arya is acting totally out of character, and that this is part of some ploy by the writers to manufacture conflict in Winterfell. The critics are certain Arya would never treat Sansa like she’s been doing, and they insist the two sisters should naturally rally together to defeat Littlefinger. Some even fear the writers are turning Arya into one of the show’s villains. My response to all of this: Relax. It’s not hard at all to believe Arya would react this way to Sansa. Here’s why.

In the books and in the show, Arya has always harbored huge resentment for her older sister. Here’s the first thoughts Arya shares with the reader about Sansa in A Game of Thrones:
It wasn’t fair, Sansa had everything. Sansa was two years older; maybe by the time Arya had been born, there had been nothing left. Often it felt that way. Sansa could sew and dance and sing. She wrote poetry. She knew how to dress. She played the high harp and the bells. Worse, she was beautiful. Sansa had gotten their mother’s fine high cheekbones and the thick auburn hair of the Tullys. Arya took after their lord father. Her hair was a lusterless brown, and her face was long and solemn. Jeyne used to call her Arya Horseface, and neigh whenever she came near. It hurt that the one thing Arya could do better than her sister was ride a horse. . . .
Arya also came to hate Sansa for lying about what happened in the incident on the road to King’s Landing where Nymeria bit Joffrey, which resulted in the death of Arya’s friend, the butcher’s boy. This what she tells her father:
“I hate them,” Arya confided, red-faced, sniffling. “The Hound and the queen and the king and Prince Joffrey. I hate all of them. Joffrey lied . . . I hate Sansa too. She did remember, she just lied so Joffrey would like her.”
The two sisters were separated not long after this scene, and six full seasons passed before they were reunited. Anyone who has experienced a bad sibling rivalry knows that, no matter how much people mature and change, those bad feeling linger under the surface and can erupt in ways that are completely irrational. 

Also, we need to view the situation from Arya’s perspective. She went back to Winterfell for Jon, not Sansa. If all Hotpie had told her was that Sansa’s back at Winterfell, I’m pretty sure Arya would have continued down to King’s Landing to kill Cersei, and then all this War of the Queens stuff and zombie hostage taking could have been avoided. Instead, Arya arrived at Winterfell to find Sansa, whom she still resents, but no Jon. That had to be disappointing. And then, after watching Sansa not defend Jon harder against the Northern lords, it’s no wonder Arya is a bit steamed.

And let’s not forget that since Arya left the House of Black and White, she’s killed two men and baked them into pies. She’s also poisoned nearly everyone in House Frey. She may be the biggest mass murder in the recent history of Westeros. Are we to believe that someone who’s accomplished such things can easily snap back into the role of sweet little sister?

I suppose if Arya whacks Sansa on Sunday, the critics may have a point. But at the end of last episode, Arya gave Sansa her Valyrian dagger. In doing so, she may have been saying, despite all this, I’m not going to hurt you. And if so, I suspect we may see the two sisters unite yet against their common foe. Littlefinger is playing a dangerous game, and I can’t help but think his days are numbered. (Though it would not surprise me a bit if he's killed by white walkers and joins the army of the dead. After all, winter is here.)

The Night King’s Decisions

Another groups of critics have wondered why the Night King didn’t just use his magic javelins to kill Jon, Jorah, and everyone else on that rock while they were waiting for Daenerys to save them? Or why he didn’t order his wights to create some World War Z-style zombie bridge to allow the rest of his forces to get to the rock? Is the Night King really that stupid? I think not.

The above criticisms assume all the Night King wanted to do was kill Jon and his merry men. But I don’t believe that was the case. He wanted a dragon (or two) and was waiting for Daenerys to arrive. Some may ask, how in the world did the Night King know she was coming? The answer, I suspect, is that he’s an undead version of the Three-eyed Raven. We already know he can sense Bran’s presence, and the Night King is far older and more powerful than the Greenseer who tutored Bran ever was. Why wouldn’t the Night King be able to see things similar to Bran?

This theory also explains why it’s taken the white walkers so bloody long to advance on The Wall. If the Night King believed he needed an ice dragon to destroy Westeros, he had to wait for Daenerys to get there. Now, if my theory is true, should the writers have done something to show the audience that the Night King can see the future or spy on Dany? Probably so. But that doesn’t take away from the possibility the Night King’s moves have been logical from the start. He needed a dragon – and he’s had several seasons to forge those giant chains.

The Issues with Travel and Time

The issues with time and travel have been my biggest gripe all season, so this criticism will be the hardest by far to defend. Yes, it seems as if ravens in Season 7 move faster than text messages, and whole armies teleport from one place to another like the Rebel Fleet moving through hyperspace in Star Wars. The only way to rationalize such rapid travel is to assume that days or months are passing between scenes on the show.

This assumption was tolerable until last Sunday’s episode. Erik Kain of Forbes wrote a wonderful piece explaining that, in a perfect world, it might be possible for a raven to reach Dragonstone, as well as for three dragons to fly to The Wall, in a matter of days. (You can read it here.) But this would mean Jon and Co. spent days on that rock. One has to assume they did, but the episode’s director could have done a much better job indicating the passage of time. Even a quip from one of the characters about how hungry he’s become after however many days would have helped.

Kain suggests the story would have been best served by having Daenerys, on her own, set off to The Wall after fretting about what might happen to Jon or Ser Jorah. I tend to agree. That would have been a much better way to handle it. But the fact remains that the boundaries of time and space were not necessarily broken last episode – so long as one assumes Jon and the others were trapped on that rock for a few days. (Okay, I’m pretty sure the judge rules against me on this one, but as they said in My Cousin Vinny: you win some, you lose some . . .)

Is The Show Now 100% Fantasy?

Alison Herman of The Ringer wrote a very good article concluding that Game of Thrones has now become a conventional fantasy show. (You can read it here.) Some have suggested this may be a bad thing. Where should I begin?

This argument acknowledges that much of what made Game of Thrones great was the human drama and the history, which seemed so much like real history. (After all, the show was premised on the medieval War of the Roses.) The critics then lament the fact that, with a shift to conventional fantasy, this realism may be slipping away. But anyone who thinks this is not what George R.R. Martin intended does not appreciate how much Dungeons & Dragons the man has played! There were always going to be dragons. There were always going to be white walkers and an army of the dead. And there probably were always going to be good dragons fighting bad dragons. This is the reason I was so excited that Game of Thrones was coming to TV in the first place. Also, I bet we have the success of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings films to thank for it.

And how about The Lord of the Rings? Did those stories help inspire George R.R. Martin? Hell yes. He’s even stated that the ending of this series will echo the ending of The Return of the King. This is not surprising. I dare say J.R.R. Tolkien in some way inspired every fantasy author worth his or her salt. The Lord of the Rings even inspired Steven King to write his epic Dark Tower series. 

In short, we were always getting a fantasy show, and I hope everyone is enjoying it. I also think we’ll still get plenty of human drama. But we’re near the end, and the stakes have been raised. We needed some white walker versus dragon rider-type action. It’s part of epic fantasy’s DNA. 

But The Cracks Are Beginning To Show

Rob Bricken of io9 writes a good article suggesting Season 7 has so many problems they’re getting hard to ignore. (You can read his article here.) This is the one point on which I won’t offer a defense. As I noted in my first post about this season, I think the show is suffering a bit from the lack of source material. The show seems to be moving from one huge scene to another because that’s all the show’s writers have to work with from the outline George R.R. Martin left them. Even Martin, I suspect, hasn’t worked out all the details, because he’s still writing the story (we hope). As result, so many of the things Martin wrote that made the show so great seem to be lacking in subtle ways this season. That’s because, for this season, Martin has not written them yet. And that’s not the show’s writers fault.

But those are just my thoughts? Have you been disappointed in Season 7 of Game of Thrones?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

In Other News: If you've enjoyed this post or like historical fantasy in general, you may also enjoy Enoch's Device. The Kindle version of the novel is on sale this week through the final episode of Season 7 of Game of Thrones. (You can buy it here.) And if you'e already read and enjoyed Enoch's Device, now is a great time to recommend it to a friend! You can even read a sample of the novel here

Monday, August 21, 2017

A Fan Theory Gets Dashed “Beyond the Wall”

The ending of last night’s episode of Game of Thrones contained a huge surprise that I suspect few people saw coming. And with it, a popular fan theory ended as well. *SPOILERS* to follow.

Last season, the show confirmed one longstanding theory of fans of George R.R. Martin’s novels, that Jon Snow was actually the son of Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. A corollary to that theory is that Jon was going to join Daenerys as one of three dragon riders who will fly out to defeat the white walkers. The theory stems from a vision Dany has in the House of the Undying at the end of A Clash of Kings (depicted in season two of Game of Thrones), where Rhaegar tells her, essentially, there has to be three heroes because “the dragon has three heads.”

As for the third rider, most of the speculation has surrounded Tyrion, who some believe is also secretly a Targaryen (due to an affair between Dany’s father and Tyrion’s mother). Well, last night this theory went up in smoke – or should I say ice – when the Night King killed one of her dragons. So there’s one less dragon to be ridden by Dany and her crew.

Instead, the Night King has created what promises to be the most destructive force ever to be unleashed since The Long Night. My guess is the first thing this “ice dragon” takes out is The Wall, and I would not be surprised if that happens next episode. Hopefully Bran saw this whole thing unfold, because Winterfell is about to be in some very serious danger!

* Image courtesy of HBO

Friday, August 18, 2017

“Game of Thrones”: 3 Subtle Reveals from “Eastwatch”

“Eastwatch,” much like the first episode this season, set the stage for the season’s final two episodes on Game of Thrones. A lot happened, with little fanfare, but there were 3 subtle developments that should have a big impact on the show.

Sansa’s Letter

Last week, I wrote that aside from the white walkers, the most dangerous thing in the North was Littlefinger lurking around Winterfell. And in “Eastwatch,” we begin to see why. Petyr Baelish is nothing if not cunning. He realizes his position is precarious, especially now that the Starks outnumber him at Winterfell.

The arrival of Brann was bad, in more ways that Baelish realizes. But I think Littlefinger thought the return of Arya was even worse – particularly after he saw her go toe to toe in a swordfight with Brienne of Tarth. That said, he also realized Arya and Sansa don’t like each other. Both sisters have changed dramatically since Ned Stark’s death, yet neither one realizes how different the other has become.

Enter Sansa’s letter. As many writers have observed over the past week, this was the letter Cersei forced a very young Sansa to write after Ned was captured, but before he was beheaded. (Vanity Fair has a great article about this, complete with a video clip of that scene from Season One; you can read it here). The letter’s purpose was to convince Robb Stark to swear fealty to Joffrey. In reality, it had the opposite effect. Robb suspected Sansa wrote the letter under duress, which helped spur him to oppose the Lannisters. Arya, however, doesn’t know any of this, and her opinion of Sansa is so low, she might not give her sister the benefit of the doubt.

Littlefinger made sure Arya knew of the letter, and then planted it in a place where Arya would find it. So what’s he up to? Presumably, he hopes the sibling rivalry gets so bad that Arya leaves (or is banished from) Winterfell, removing one huge obstacle to Littlefinger’s survival. I also suspect Littlefinger intends to take Sansa’s side in this feud, hoping to repair their broken relationship. His real problem, however, is Brann. The three-eyed raven could see through this whole charade in two blinks of his three eyes. The only question is whether Brann has retained enough of his humanity to intervene when his sisters are at each other’s throats. 


Gendry’s Return

One of the more delightful developments in “Eastwatch” was the return of Gendry, Robert Baratheon’s only surviving bastard, whom Ser Davos found at his old smithy in Fleabottom. We’ve waited three seasons to find out what happened to Gendry after Davos saved him from Melisandre (who was going to burn him alive because of his royal blood). Now we know he returned to his old life as a blacksmith, just like Hotpie returned to baking.

I believe, however, that Gendry’s return suggests he has a bigger role to play in this war, and others have suspected this too. First, he’s now met up with Jon, and who else needs a good smith to forge weapons from Dragonglass? Even more, as another good article from Vanity Fair points out (here), Gendry was the apprentice to the smith who turned Ned Stark’s massive Valyrian steel sword Ice into two blades. And other than Dragonglass, what else kills white walkers? Valyrian steel. In other words, Gendry’s skills could come in handy.

In the next two episodes, I bet we’ll know if this speculation proves true. Gendry has joined Jon, Ser Davos, and the unlikely band of heroes who ventured beyond The Wall at the end of “Eastwatch.” I’ll state right now that I’m 100% certain not everyone on that team – which also includes the Hound, Thoros of Myr, Berric Dondarrion, and Tormund Giantsbane – is going to make it back alive. In fact, two or three of them may be goners. So we’ll know soon if Gendry is merely making a cameo before becoming a casualty, or if he truly does have a bigger role to play on Game of Thrones.

Jon’s Bloodline

The most subtle reveal that many are talking about was Gilly’s discovery in the Citadel that Rhaegar Targaryen’s marriage to Elia Martell had been annulled, and that he was married to someone else in a secret ceremony that same day. The “someone else” is Lyanna Stark, whose alleged abduction by Rhaegar sparked the war that put Lyanna’s finance, Robert Baratheon, on the Iron Throne.

Last season, we received the big revelation (and confirmation of the longstanding fan theory, R + L = J), that Jon Snow is the son of Rhaegar and Lyanna, who incidentally was being protected by Rhaegar’s best knights – a clear hint she was more important than your typical hostage. Thanks to Gilly, however, we know that Jon is not even a bastard. Instead, he’s the rightful heir to the Iron Throne, and his claim is even superior to Dany’s.

The thing is, Jon has no idea about any of this. And even if he knew, I’m not sure it would change what he’s doing as long as the Night King is threatening Westeros. (Though I wonder how Dany may react, especially after having learned how much her dragons like him.) What I do believe is that this revelation is another piece in the puzzle that proves Jon Snow is the true hero of Game of Thrones. Riley McAtee of The Ringer made a great case for this theory earlier this week, declaring that “‘Game of Thrones’ Is Officially Jon Snow’s Story.” This is something I’ve written about and suspected for a long time. Two seasons ago, “Hardhome” gave us a huge clue with that staredown between Jon and the Night King, all but ensuring they’ll meet in some climactic battle. Yet long before then, we had the old paperback cover to George R.R. Martin’s first novel in the series, A Game of Thrones. Just look at this old-school fantasy artwork and tell me you can’t guess who the hero is in the Game of Thrones?

Look, it's Jon Snow and Ghost too!
But those are just my thoughts. What did you think about the revelations in “Eastwatch’?

** Photo images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Where Things Stand After “The Spoils of War”

The shortened season of Game of Thrones hit its midpoint last Sunday, giving us one of the more epic battles in the history of the show. But how much did the episode change the great game?

Who Is Winning Now?

This one seems easy after Daenerys barbequed the entire Lannister army and torched all the grain intended for King’s Landing. The Dothraki, who according to George R.R. Martin were inspired, in part, by the medieval Mongols, proved that you don’t want to meet them in an open field. And imagine what will happen when Dany unleashes two more dragons on the board? (Though maybe they weren’t there because she needs two more dragon-riders?)

The attack will go down as one of the all-time great scenes on Game of Thrones, and it puts Cersei in a terrible position. With the Lannisters decimated, the Unsullied should have no trouble meeting up with Dany’s Dothraki. And while Euron’s navy has proven formidable, it failed to stop Daenerys from landing ashore, and what good is it now that the battle is on land? The best Cersei has going for her is Dany’s conscience, which might prevent her from killing throngs of innocents by besieging King’s Landing with dragons. Though a curious clip from the trailer for next week’s episode makes me question how long this deterrent may last.

Is Daenerys Becoming the Mad Queen?

So far, we still have the Dany we know and love, but we also know a little about her gene pool. Her father was the Mad King, who enjoyed burning people alive. And this week, The Ringer wrote “Does Dany Enjoy Burning People Too Much?” Just Google “Daenerys Mad Queen” and you’ll find a host of articles speculating that Dany may become the show’s next major villain.

I want to believe that even though she has mad queen tendencies, there’s enough good in her to resist them. I also still believe she may be the “Prince Who Was Promised,” even though Jon Snow seems to have an equal claim to that role (maybe it applies to both of them). Also, why would the madness affect Dany, but not Jon? He is just one generation removed from his Mad King grandfather. But maybe sanity skips a generation.

What Will Happen to Littlefinger?

Aside from the White Walkers, I believe the most dangerous thing in the North is Littlefinger lurking around Winterfell. But never before has he been in so much danger. First, he’s around Bran, who has the power to know every sin Littlefinger has ever committed. The only thing Littlefinger has going for him is that Bran seems to have gone full Doctor Manhattan and lost his humanity, so maybe he’ll never tell his sisters the things Littlefinger has done.

That would be good for Petyr Baelish, because if Arya ever finds out Littlefinger betrayed her father, he may end up like Walder Frey. Or worse. And wish Petyr luck finding a place to hide in Winterfell that she doesn’t know about. Then there’s Jon, who someday will return home, and his patience for Littlefinger appears to have reached its end.

But where else could Littlefinger go? Cersei already knows what he is, and I can’t see Euron having any patience for him. And there’s no way Dany will trust him – especially with Varys and Tyrion whispering in her ear. She might even feed Littlefinger to Drogon. If I were Littlefinger, Bravos is looking wonderful right now.

In all seriousness, however, Littlefinger is the lord of the Vale, and Jon needs the Vale army to help him fight the White Walkers. This may be the only thing that saves Baelish.

Will Jaime Sleep with the Fishes?

The most startling development of last week’s episode was what happened to Jaime Lannister. After he realized his whole army was literally toast, he seemingly lost his mind and decided to charge Daenerys with a spear. She was distracted, trying to remove a giant crossbow bolt from Drogon’s side, but Drogan was fully alert and very pissed. But for a miracle save by Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, Jaime would have burned like a Beltane bonfire. Instead, Bronn succeed in knocking Jaime into the deepest river you could ever imagine flowing through a desert-like plain.

Unfortunately for Jaime, he’s wearing a full 60 pounds of plate mail, and if you’ve ever seen A Knight’s Tale, you know it takes forever to get that stuff on and off. Also, one of Jaime’s hands is made of metal, making it unhandy for unfastening buckles. All of this raises a question: How in the world does Jaime survive?

I cannot believe this is the last we’ll see of him, but I’m scratching my head over how he avoids drowning, unless: (a) Bronn is the strongest swimmer in the world and will be starring as Aquaman in the next Justice League movie; (b) they can turn the “scorpion” crossbow into a massive fishing pole and pull Jaime out of the drink; (c) Lannister armor comes off like an NBA sweat suit with Velcro; or (d) Tyrion convinces Dany to let Drogon swim down and save Jaime (assuming Drogon decides not to eat him while he’s down there). Either that, or Thoros of Myr or Melisandre will happen on by and perform another resurrection.

If Jaime somehow survives, it’s likely he would become Dany’s prisoner and reunite with Tyrion. The two brothers were always fond of one another, and Jaime knows now that Tyrion didn’t kill Joffrey. Maybe Jaime will even switch sides, making this the most unexpected game changer so far . . . Assuming Dany doesn’t go full “mad queen” and crispify him. After all, he earned his “Kingslayer” nickname by killing her daddy, and we’ve already established that people reap what they sow on Game of Thrones.

But those are just my thoughts. Where do you think things stand after the “Spoils of War”?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and HBO.

Friday, August 4, 2017

People Reap What They Sow on “Game of Thrones”

Season Seven of Game of Thrones is moving at a breakneck pace. Events that may have taken a season to develop in earlier years, are happening every episode this go around. It’s hard to process the implications of so many developments, but here’s one thing I realized after last week’s episode, titled “The Queen’s Justice.”

This season has brought just deserts to a number of characters and houses. For example, in the season’s opening scene, the members of House Frey, who carried out the Red Wedding, all died in a similarly spectacular celebration. (The “Red Toast” perhaps?) In short, House Frey reaped what they sowed.

Then in last week’s episode, two more characters got their comeuppance. Ellaria Sand, who murdered a truly innocent character in Cersei’s daughter Myrcella, received the titular “Queen’s Justice” from Cersei, who poisoned Ellaria’s daughter Tyene in the same manner that Ellaria killed Myrcella. Even more, Cersei imprisoned both Ellaria and Tyene in the same cell, forcing Ellaria to watch her daughter die and rot. In many ways, Ellaria reaped what she sowed.

So did Olenna Tyrell. She was the culprit who poisoned King Joffrey, causing him to endure a horrible death at the Purple Wedding. At the end of last episode, she was outsmarted and defeated by Joffrey’s parents, Cersei and Jaime Lannister. Then she was forced to drink poison, meeting a fate similar to Joffrey’s. The poison is faster acting, much to Olenna’s delight, who relished informing Jaime that she was the one who murdered his son. Yet in the end, Olenna reaped what she sowed, even if her murder of Joffrey may have been more justifiable than Ellaria’s murder of Myrcella.

The more I think about it, this type of Karmic justice has occurred throughout Game of Thrones. Walder Frey, an evil man if there ever was one, was killed by Arya, avenging the death of her family members at the Red Wedding. Joffrey, who murdered Ned Stark in a public spectacle, was murdered at his own wedding, also a public spectacle. Ramsey Bolton, who liked feeding people to his dogs, died the same way. And Tywin Lannister, who was willing to let his son Tyrion die for a crime he didn’t commit, met his end by Tyrion’s hand. Just deserts, in my view.

About the only people who don’t get what they deserve on Game of Thrones are the truly good characters, most of whom happen to be named Stark. Neither Robb nor Catelyn Stark deserved to die at the Red Wedding. Robb did spurn Walder Frey by breaking his vow to marry Frey’s daughter, but that hardly warranted a massacre. Likewise, Ned Stark committed no crime that warranted Joffrey having him beheaded. And can we say any less about poor Rickon?

Some non-Stark good guys got a bum rap too. Ser Jeor Mormont was betrayed by the men he capably led. And Mance Rayder did not deserve what Stannis and Melisandre had in store for him. Neither did Stannis’ poor daughter Shireen. Clearly, being good is a dangerous thing on Game of Thrones

But I wonder what this Karmic trend may mean for some of the remaining bad actors on the show? Jaime, despite his noble traits and a character arc that often has him seeming more a hero than a villain, did push a ten-year-old Bran Stark out a window. If this Karma trend continues, it may not bode well for Jaime.

Then there’s Cersei. Her crimes range from the murder of her husband Robert to the mass murder of everyone at the Great Sept of Baelor. Though I suspect we won’t learn Cersei’s fate anytime soon. While the ultimate adversary on Game of Thrones may be the Night King, he’s not a villain who stirs the audience’s passions. (In fact, it’s hard to blame him for what he does; after all, he was turned into an undead monster by the Children of the Forest.) Cersei, however, is like Joffrey, the villain the audience loves to hate. Good stories need a villain like that, and I suspect the writers realize the show will suffer if she exits too soon.

The big question is whether Cersei will get her just deserts? Or will Martin and the showrunners throw us curveball and let the most conniving character of them all win the Game of Thrones?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Fortunes Change Fast on “Game of Thrones”

I’ll be the first admit that I did not see the end of last week’s episode of Game of Thrones coming. Just when we thought the chessboard was set, it was blown to pieces in one epic battle. So where does this leave things on the show after “Stormborn”? *SPOILERS* clearly follow.

All was going great with Daenerys’ plan to defeat Cersei. Until it wasn’t. In one swift and unexpected move by Euron Greyjoy and his hastily built fleet of very impressive ships, half of Dany’s allies were captured or killed, and suddenly the game board looks a whole lot better for Team Cersei.

Who Survived the Attack?

The show left this question with a murky answer. In the final shot, we see a woman hanging from a bowsprit, who I assumed was Yara Greyjoy. After further review, I believe it is Nymeria Sand hanging from her own whip, because higher up on the sternpost is Obara Sand impaled on her own spear. Though it looks like Tyene Sand, the third Sand Snake, may have been captured.

We know Theon escaped, by making what looked like the coward’s choice and jumping overboard as opposed to trying to fight to save his sister. I suspect that’s because there’s a lot of Reek left in him, and when he saw Euron’s men mutilating Yara’s crew, he panicked. Though maybe it was the right move, honor be damned. There was no way Theon was going defeat Uncle Euron. In the real world, Theon probably would have drowned, but at the end of the episode we see him clinging to some wreckage. (I suppose he’ll paddle several miles to shore like Brody and Hooper did at the end of Jaws.) Theon has become like Game of Thrones’ version of Gollum. We haven’t seen the last of him yet.

We don’t know if Yara’s alive. While I no longer think that was her hanging from the bowsprit, one would think killing Yara would be high on Euron’s agenda. He doesn’t strike me as the merciful type, though I suspect we’ll learn her fate later this season.

The one person we know survives is Ellaria Sand. She even begged Euron’s men to kill her, but they refused. I’m convinced she’s the special gift Euron promised Cersei, and who better to offer her than the woman who killed Cersei’s daughter Myrcella? After episode one, I had speculated that gift may be Dragonbinder, the massive Valyrian horn Euron used to win the kingsmoot in A Feast For Crows, which can supposedly control dragons. But now I have serious doubts about that. The horn, like Lady Stoneheart, might only be a thing of the books, which makes we wonder how differently this all might play out if George R.R. Martin ever finishes his novels.

What Does This Mean for Daenerys?

Dany may be more screwed than she knows. My guess is that Yara’s fleet not only was going to take the Dornish to King’s Landing for Tyrion’s planned siege, but also ferry the Unsullied and Dothraki to Casterly Rock. If so, the end of Yara’s fleet leaves a lot of soldiers stuck on Dragonstone. And even if the Ironborn can build new fleets in a miraculously short time, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of trees on Dragonstone. Or Ironborn for that matter.

As for Dorne, who knows what role it will play now in the great game. The show has never explained who would rule Dorne in Ellaria’s absence. The entire royal family appears dead, and Arianne Martell, the daughter of Prince Doran who is a viewpoint character in the novels, has never appeared on the show. In the world of Game of Thrones, I don’t think she exists. So there’s clearly a power vacuum in Dorne, and it’s anyone’s guess who might fill it.

Which leaves the North as Dany’s best potential ally, and this certainly looks to be where the show is going. I don’t know how many ships Jon Snow has access to, so I can’t say how he’d help get Dany and her army off Dragonstone. But his army should be more than enough to replace the Dornish. The problem is he wants to fight the white walkers, not Cersei. I have no idea how Daenerys will react to Jon’s priorities, but finding out should be fun.

What Will Happen in The North?

When Jon left for Dragonstone over the objection of many a Northern lord, he put Sansa in charge. Sansa, I believe, will be a perfectly capable ruler, and maybe even a master of dealing with Lannister-like politics. The problem is that her first major crisis may be an attack on The Wall by the Night King and his army. If Jon has been ignoring the danger to the South, Sana’s the one ignoring the danger to the North. She also has no bloody clue how to defend The Wall or kill an army of undead wights, yet that is where I predict the show may be heading. Hopefully Lyanna Mormont can help her out. She may be small, but I doubt she’s afraid of white walkers!

These, however, are just my thoughts. Where do you think the show is heading after the surprise ending of “Stormborn”?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes.

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Is a Lack of Source Material Affecting “Game of Thrones”?

I’m finally getting around to writing about “Dragonstone,” the premiere episode of Game of Thrones Season 7. As much as I enjoyed the episode, I’m beginning to wonder if the lack of source material is starting to affect the show. Here’s why. *SPOILERS* to follow.

Most of “Dragonstone” was basically set-up to remind the audience where the various characters were after the events of “The Winds of Winter.” There were some important, yet predictable, moments such as Daenerys finally reaching Westeros and Bran returning to the Wall. And a few unexpected developments, like Euron’s marriage proposal to Cersei, and perhaps the beginning of a rift between Sansa and Jon Snow. Oh yeah, and House Frey was wiped off the map thanks to Arya Stark, who disguised herself as Walder Frey and staged her own version of the Red Wedding!

While the opening scene at House Frey was fascinating – and included some of the episode’s best dialogue too – the show has never explained how Arya can transform into whoever she wishes. That is the only thing about “Dragonstone” that bothered me, and I think the reason may be because the show has gotten so far ahead of George R.R. Martin’s novels. 

Over the past few seasons, Game of Thrones has provided plenty of instances where the Faceless Men of the House of Black and White can change their appearance. In fact, Jaqen H’ghar did it all the time. The House of Black and White was full of masks (err faces), but the show never explained how this magic worked, nor did it reveal how Arya learned to master this power. We didn’t see her steal a few masks before she left Bravos, and if she can make masks on her own, the show certainly never told us how she does it. This is the one thing on the show that remains a complete, unexplained mystery, and I find it a bit annoying.

Martin used magic in the novels sparingly, but when he did he usually explained how it worked. As for the magic of the Faceless Men, here is what he told us near the end of A Dance With Dragons:
Mummers change their faces with artifice and sorcerers use glamors, weaving light and shadow and desire to make illusions that trick the eye. These arts you shall learn, but what we do here goes deeper. Wise men can see through artifice, and glamors dissolve before sharp eyes, but the face you are about to don will be as true and solid as that face you were born with.
But Arya’s storyline in A Dance With Dragons ended with that chapter. Martin never got to the point where Arya learned – let alone mastered – these arts. And neither did the show. To me, it feels like a link is missing in the chain. I assume Martin will reveal how Arya masters this power in the series’ sixth novel, The Winds of Winter. If that material had existed, the show’s writers might have been able to offer a more cogent explanation for how Arya turned into the spitting image of Walder Frey. Or at least readers watching the show would not be questioning how she does it. Yet I’m beginning to fear the entire TV series will be over before The Winds of Winter is ever published.

This makes me wonder if we aren’t losing something on the show because, at this point, the writers are working off an outline, instead of a novel. In a sense, this has made the show more fun because we, as both readers and viewers, have no idea what’s going to happen next. But I fear some subtle and significant details have been lost in the process.

That said, I still have high hopes for Season 7. Without a novel to spoil the plot, I’m sure the season will be full of surprises.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Monday, July 10, 2017

Historical Fiction: “Liberty Boy” by David Gaughran

After a brief vacation and a near month-long hiatus from the blog, I’m back today with a review of Liberty Boy by Irish author David Gaughran. It’s the first book I’ve read about Dublin that didn’t involve Vikings (who founded the city way back when), and one I highly recommend.

Liberty Boy is a well-paced, beautifully written novel that puts the reader on the edge of a tension-filled uprising in early nineteenth century Dublin. After crushing a violent rebellion a few years before, the English soldiers are determined to keep order by any means necessary. And they’re making a habit of hanging rebel prisoners in Dublin’s public square.

Into this tension comes Jimmy O’Flaherty, a young Irishman and the son of a famous and martyred patriot. Jimmy, however, wants nothing to do with the rebellion or his father’s past. His only desire is to scrape up enough money to book passage to New York and get the hell out of Ireland. Everything looks to be going as planned until he meets a pretty girl named Kitty Doyle.

The execution of Irish Patriot Robert Emmet plays a role in the novel.
As much as I empathized with Jimmy, it was Kitty who stole the proverbial show. She’s a brave, strong-willed, and smart-mouthed heroine who is more than just a sympathizer for the Irish patriots. She’s also Jimmy’s inevitable love interest and the cause of much of the story’s conflict, dragging him into the brewing rebellion he hoped to run from. 

At only 261 pages, Liberty Boy is a quick, but satisfying read. Gaughran gives the reader a great feel for nineteenth century Dublin, with its many breweries and the smell of burnt hops filling the air. He also has a true knack when it comes to dialogue, and I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to use the phrase “for feck’s sake” after reading this book!

The novel is the first in a series, and ends with a cliffhanger of sorts. But fortunately, the sequel, Dieman’s Land, is coming out soon, so readers won’t have to wait too long to learn what happens next.

Thanks to Amazon, you can read a sample of Liberty Boy here.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

How a Dead Wife Has Given New Life to “American Gods”

I was a bit critical about the debut season of American Gods. The tone seemed off from the book, the soundtrack was too foreboding, and the barrage of “Coming to America” vignettes was jeopardizing the pacing. But all of that has changed since Laura Moon crawled from the grave.

To be fair, there were some high points to the series’ first three episodes. The characters seemed perfectly cast, and the Shadow and Wednesday scenes were humorous and witty at times. Though no one has stolen the show like Emily Browning’s Laura Moon. Ever since episode four (“Git Gone”), which told Laura’s backstory, American Gods has been so much more satisfying. And since she’s paired with Mad Sweeny, the unlikely duo has far out shinned the best that Shadow and Wednesday have to offer.

The most interesting part of this is that most of the Laura Moon scenes have gone beyond the novel. Neil Gaiman never delved deep into Laura’s past, and the Sweeny-Laura road trip never happened. The show’s writers are obviously using these “new” scenes to extend what easily could have been a two-season series into three seasons or more. The show is barely a third of the way into the novel, and this season has only one episode remaining. Yet far from being filler material, Laura’s new scenes have greatly improved the show.

For one, the scenes have a much lighter tone, and Laura’s dialog – especially when engaging Mad Sweeny – is the best we’ve heard since Elsie mysteriously disappeared on Westworld. Also, the overall storytelling seems to have improved. Last week’s episode, titled “A prayer for Mad Sweeny”, was classic. Emily Browning did double-duty as the Irishwoman who originally brought Mad Sweeny to America, with her story unfolding in parallel with Laura’s and Sweeny’s in the present day. It was probably the best episode yet, and Shadow and Wednesday weren’t in a single scene.

I suppose next week’s episode will have to return to Shadow’s and Wednesday’s tale (though I doubt it will go as far into the book as I originally expected). But I truly hope we get more Laura and Sweeny too. Given the title of the season finale, “Come to Jesus”, I think we will. After all, Sweeny knows a guy who specializes in resurrections.

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and Starz

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

My Thoughts on “The Leftovers” Series Finale

The series finale of The Leftovers was not what I expected, and the last 10 minutes blew me away. I’ve watched the episode, titled “The Book of Nora,” twice now. Here are my thoughts on the finale, but know that *SPOILERS* abound.

By the end of the first two scenes, Nora is inside the machine that supposedly can transport people to the place where 2% of the world’s population went in the Sudden Departure, including Nora’s husband and her two children. The machine is filling up with a metal-infused liquid that will solidify around her moments before a laser blasts her with radiation to effect the transfer. The physicists told Nora that if she swallows the liquid, she’ll die. Just as the liquid reaches her chin, Nora cries out, and the scene ends. Whether we ever learn the truth about what happens next, depends on how you view the final 10 minutes of the series.

After the somewhat nerve-wracking scene in the departure machine, the episode jumps to an older Nora (who calls herself Sarah), bicycling through rural Australia. When a much older Kevin does show up at Nora’s door, he claims to have only met her a few times back in Mableton. She’s so disturbed by this encounter, she stops at a payphone on the side of a wheat field and calls Laurie, who we all thought committed suicide in episode five. Needless to say, I was disoriented and I didn’t like where the show seemed to be going.

At this point, I had suspected we were once again in purgatory. Nora must have swallowed the liquid and gone to the same place Kevin had visited numerous times since Season 2. That would explain how she could talk to a dead Laurie. So, suddenly I’m thinking Damon Lindelof might be a one-trick pony. Isn’t this how LOST ended? With all the characters in purgatory waiting to meet up in the afterlife?

Fortunately, all this was just skilled misdirection by Lindelof and his team of writers. We come to learn that this is the same world most of the show took place in, just twenty years later. Kevin has spent his life looking for Nora, who everyone assumed was dead. Laurie is alive back in Jarden, having aborted whatever suicide she may have intended at the end of episode five. And in the series’ final scene, we learn where Nora has been.

She went through – to the place where the machine took her.

From here on, Nora tells us what happened to the departed. They were left in their own world, a type of parallel earth where, from their viewpoint, 98% of the world’s population vanished in the Sudden Departure. As Nora explains, the “leftovers” like she and Kevin were the lucky ones. “Over here, we lost some of them,” she says, “but over there, they lost all of us.” That was the mind-blowing part, when I realized how perfectly Lindelof had nailed this ending.

Nora goes on to explain how she found her children after a long journey from Melbourne to Mableton through this barely-populated world. They were living in a nearly deserted town with her husband and a beautiful woman, and Nora realized they were happy. “And I was a ghost,” she says. “A ghost who had no place there.” So she let them be and tracked down the physicist who invented the machine, who was the first one to use it. Eventually she found him and convinced him to make a new machine to take her home because she didn’t belong there.

By the end, Nora gave us a beautiful sci-fi explanation for what happened to the departed. What caused this split in reality remained a mystery, but the writers provided an answer to one of the show’s fundamental questions. Or did they? One internet theory is that Nora was telling Kevin an elaborate lie. A lie she might even believe to be true as part of her coping mechanism after she aborted her journey through the machine. Or a lie to explain why she hid from Kevin all these years. (You can read some examples of this here and here.)

Lindelof acknowledges that either possibility may be true, but he’s leaving it up to the viewer to decide. As for me, I want to believe: Nora went to this parallel world and we know what happened to the departed. For that would be the most fitting ending to a thought-provoking show like The Leftovers. And if true, “The Book of Nora” nailed it.

* Images courtesy of HBO.