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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Which Mysteries Will Be Solved In “The Leftovers” Finale?

Season 3 of The Leftovers on HBO was a surprisingly short 8 episodes, and with only one episode left, I’m beginning to suspect some of the show’s biggest mysteries will never be solved.



How does Kevin keep rising from the dead?


In season 2 – which in my view was the show’s best season by far – Kevin dies not once, but twice. Both times he ends up in that bizarre hotel that represents Purgatory (or some other form of the afterlife), providing the series’ best two episodes: “International Assassin” and “I Live Here Now.” I always chalked up Kevin’s supernatural resilience to the “miracles” of Miracle, Texas. On the show, Miracle was the only place on earth where no one vanished in the Sudden Departure, and the whole place reminded me a bit of the island on LOST (also created by showrunner Damon Lindelof). And in Season 2, we saw a dead bird come back to life in the opening episode, so it appeared the land’s “magic” could ressurect the dead.

This notion was reinforced in episode one of Season 3, when Matt told Kevin he can’t die so long as he’s in Miracle. But last episode, it happened again, far far away from Miracle, Texas. The episode, which played like a sequel to “International Assassin,” was great, but only raised more questions about how Kevin keeps pulling this off. Is he truly some type of “savior,” like Matt believed? I doubt it, given where the show seems to be going. But somehow Kevin has become the most resurrected man in history. There’s only one episode remaining, and we have Nora’s entire storyline to wrap up, so my guess is we’ll never learn the secret to Kevin’s immortality.


What was the Sudden Departure?


This has been the biggest question on The Leftovers since the series premiered. Was the Sudden Departure, where 2% of the world’s population vanished into thin air, the biblical Rapture? Season 1 went out of its way to suggest that might not be the case. After all, many of the departed were not good people: Nora’s cheating husband; the woman who had sex with Kevin on the day of the departure knowing he was married; and Gary Busey. (In all seriousness, the show has had fun with this for three seasons, but who’s to say Bucey wouldn’t be the first to go in the biblical Rapture?)

Season 2 did nothing to solve the big mystery, but Season 3 has at least offered the possibility that we’ll get an answer. In episode 2 (titled “Don’t’ Be Ridiculous”), Nora is contacted by a secret group of physicists who discovered that Low-Amplitude Denzinger Radiation was detected at the site of each departure. Based on this discovery, they have created a machine that utilizes this radiation to transport people to wherever their loved ones departed. Either that, or the scientists are defrauding people into giving up their life savings only to be incinerated by the machine. In any event, Nora is so desperate to be with her departed children, she’s willing to risk her life in this mysterious device to be with them.

I suppose next episode she could be transported to heaven or wherever the departed may be, though I doubt it. This appears to be the fundamental mystery the show is determined to remain unsolved. So just like we never really learned what the island was on LOST, my bet is we’ll never learn what the Sudden Departure really was. In the words of the Iris DeMent song that opened every episode of Season 2 (and which I suspect will open the season finale), we’ll have to “let the mystery be.”


Will we learn what happens to Nora in the machine?


This is the one question I believe we might get the answer to. The mysterious departure machine has been one of the driving plot lines in Season 3, and Nora is desperate enough that I think she’ll find a way to get in it. Also, we have the strange scene at the end of episode one where a woman named “Sarah” – who looks and sounds a lot like an older Nora – is gathering up doves someplace near a church and denies ever knowing someone named Kevin. Were we glimpsing the future? It sure looked like it.

So, could the machine actually be transporting people forward in time? Or to some alternate reality? All that remains to be seen. But for a show that’s taken Kevin to a bizzaro Purgatory three times now, I truly hope it takes us to wherever Nora goes.

That said, even if these questions are never answered, The Leftovers has been a wonderful and thought-provoking show. But that’s just my take. How will you feel if mysteries remain unsolved after the series finale of The Leftovers?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes

Friday, May 19, 2017

“The Leftovers” vs. “American Gods”

This time of year, we’re usually nearing the midpoint of Game of Thrones. (In fact, it was around this time last year the showrunners gave us “The Door”). But not this year. So while we wait, HBO and Starz have pitted two of their top shows against one another – The Leftovers and American Gods – airing them both in the 9 PM timeslot on Sundays. 


This makes for long Sunday nights as I DVR one show and usually watch it immediately the first show ends. But it’s also led to an inevitable comparison between two shows about faith, religion, and what it means to believe.

The Leftovers


Right now, this is my favorite of the two. If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and start binge-watching now. 


The Leftovers takes place after a rapture-like event called the Departure where 2% of the world’s population simply vanished. The first season, which was well done, was based on a novel by Tom Perrotta. It also had a spectacular cast that included Justin Theroux as protagonist Kevin Garvey, as well as Liv Tyler and Carrie Coon (of Gone Girl), who plays Nora Durst, a woman who lost her entire family in the Departure. By the end, Season One left genuine questions about whether the Departure was ever the “biblical” Rapture (after all, a lot of bad people disappeared that day), and it dealt more with themes of loss and coping with that loss than it did with faith or religion.


If Season One was good, Season Two was great. From the beginning of that season, the series’ co-creator, Damon Lindelof, had the show in full LOST mode. (Like when LOST was the best show on television.) Season Two gave us our first glimpse of the afterlife (or purgatory at least), had a main character rise from the dead, and made it clear there’s a whole lot of supernatural stuff going on behind the scenes.

Now, we’re at the midpoint of the final season and the show is still in full-on LOST mode, careening toward the series’ finale. And this time, it seems all about religion (Episode One was titled “The Book of Kevin”; later this year we’ll get the “The Book of Nora”). Only a few days remain until the seventh anniversary of the Departure, when many (including Kevin’s father and Nora’s brother) believe some apocalyptic event will occur. This show has mysteries heaped on mysteries, much like LOST did in its prime. And with only 5 episodes left, I’m looking forward to every one of them. 


American Gods


We are only 3 episodes into the much-anticipated Starz series based on the fantasy epic by Neil Gaiman. This show seemed so well cast and received so much hype, my expectations may have been a bit overblown. Though I did predict it would have a hard time standing up to the novel, and on that point I’m beginning to think I was right. 


The show has stayed fairly true to the book, though they’ve moved some scenes around and included a lot of additional material. Most of the added stuff has come in the form of “Coming to America” scenes. In the book, these were short chapters that explained how, over time, immigrants have brought their old beliefs and folklores with them to America. These beliefs now manifest themselves as the old gods, whose conflict with the “new” gods such as the media and technology forms the fundamental plot of American Gods. The show, however, is giving us one or more of these vignettes every episode. Some have been very good, but they have had the effect at times of slowing the story down.

Another gripe, if you will, has been the soundtrack. A lot of the show uses grim and foreboding tones like an old horror movie. (It reminds me of that bad Jack Nicholson film Wolf for some reason.) But thankfully, this isn’t always the case. The scenes with Shadow and Mr. Wednesday continuing their buddy road trip through America often play old songs in the background, in a way that is upbeat or apropos to the scene. Not surprisingly, the Shadow and Mr. Wednesday scenes have been the best by far. They mirror the book’s less serious tone, and I wish the entire show would have embraced this feel. But we’re only 3 episodes in, and there’s still plenty of time for the show to grow on me. And trust me, I don’t plan on missing any episodes.

But those are just my thoughts. Are you experiencing this same dilemma? And if so, which show do you prefer: The Leftovers or American Gods?

* Images courtesy of Rotten Tomatoes and Starz

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Medieval Mysteries: “The Templar’s Cross” by J. R. Tomlin

I’ve been away from the blog for longer than normal because I’m spending most of my free time editing the sequel to Enoch’s Device. I always keep reading, however, and recently finished The Templar’s Cross: A Medieval Mystery by J. R. Tomlin. Here’s my review.


The Templar’s Cross is an intriguing whodunit set in fifteenth century Scotland. The novel’s Sherlock Holmes is a lordless knight named Sir Law Kintour. When his former liege, the Earl of Douglas, is slain in the Battle of Verneuil, Sir Law finds himself searching for a new lord in the Scottish city of Perth.

Sir Law’s only prospect, Lord Blinsele, wants the knight to find the lord’s missing wife and the lover she ran off with. But when the bodies start piling up and Sir Law becomes a suspect, he needs to find the killer and clear his name before he hangs from the gallows. 

The mystery is genuinely good, and eventually involves the titular Templar’s Cross, a relic from the Crusades. But my favorite part was the dialogue, which did a wonderful job portraying the dialect of a medieval Scotsman. (All the “ayes,” “willnae’s” and “dinnae’s” made me smile.) That, along with the author’s attention to historical detail, made me feel like I spent some quality time in fifteenth century Perth. Sir Law is an admirable character, and the protagonist of two more novels in the series. And I look forward to his next mystery.

You can read a preview of the book here.

Friday, April 28, 2017

American Gods

On Sunday, Starz will premiere American Gods, based on the fantasy bestseller by Neil Gaiman. From the trailers, the show looks amazing. But it will be pretty damn hard to exceed the novel. Here’s why.


By the time I finished American Gods, I felt the same way I did when I finished Stephen King’s The Stand. I had just read the magnum opus of one of a genre’s finest authors, and the story will stick with me for a lifetime.

The premise behind American Gods is so perfect it’s a wonder I waited so long to read this book. The idea is that when various people immigrated to America, they brought with them the gods and myths from their homelands. Those gods live on in the new world, but the problem is: America is a bad place for gods.

Shadow Moon - American Gods on Starz
The story takes place in modern times, where the old gods have faded into the shadows, carrying on as conmen, cabbies, and hookers, just trying to survive. Meanwhile, new gods have risen in America. Gods of technology and the media – the things people in the U.S. tend to actually “worship” today. One old god, Odin the Allfather, sees what’s happening and wants to put an end to it, even if it results in a war between the old gods and the new, Ragnarok style. 

Into this war, Odin – known as Mr. Wednesday in our world (“Wednesday” being derived from the word Wodin’s Day) – recruits Shadow Moon, the story’s main character. Shadow, a good-hearted man released from prison early after his wife dies in a car accident, follows Mr. Wednesday on a journey across the American heartland. Along the way, he encounters the old gods from a myriad of myths: Norse, Egyptian, Slavic, Native American, you name it. It’s as if Gaiman opened an old copy of Deities & Demigods and plucked out the most colorful immortals and monsters to create his cast of characters.

American Gods is epic in scope, wondrous in style, and tremendously fun. It’s also filled with engaging subplots that weave together seamlessly with the main story, including one involving Shadow’s wife Laura, who has come back from the dead, and a murder mystery in sleepy lakeside town. Even more, vignettes scattered throughout the novel show how people over the centuries came to America and brought their old gods with them. I hesitate to give away any more, but suffice it to say, American Gods is a classic. It’s an equal to The Stand – one of the great books by one of the great authors. And a must read, if there ever was one.

* Photo courtesy of Starz

Saturday, April 15, 2017

“The Ocean at The End of the Lane” – A Haunting Fairy Tale by Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman has been one of the most famous fantasy writers for a while now, though I’ll admit it’s taken me an overly long time to actually read one of his books. That ended recently, however, when I tore through The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Here’s my review.


This book has one of the most haunting covers, and I’ll confess it is the reason I was drawn to the novel. Nonetheless, it took me a good while to actually start reading it. I’m sorry I waited so long.

After a brief preface that hints of an old country that sank into the ocean, and an even older country that met a worse fate, we’re introduced to the narrator: an unnamed man who visits his hometown in England and begins to have vivid recollections of his childhood. He was seven years old then, with no friends except the books he’d read, a full set of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia novels being among his favorite. 

Neil Gaiman has written about how Lewis’ Narnia stories helped inspire his writing, and I think this novel may have been an homage to those books. For much like young Lucy in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, the young narrator soon finds himself in a magical – and dangerous – fairy tale.

Narnia helped inspire Gaiman's writing.
The story takes off when the boy encounters eleven-year-old Lettie Hempstock. She lives on a quaint farmstead at the end of the lane with her mother and grandmother, and behind the house is a duck pond that Lettie refers to as her “ocean.” From the moment he meets Lettie and her family, we realize there’s something different about them. For one, they’re able to perceive events before they happen, and there are hints all three of them may be very old. “How long have you been eleven for?” the boy asks. Lettie just smiles at him.

Bordering the farmland are woods that Lettie claims were brought back from the old country where she and her family came from, like the farm and the “ocean.” It turns out they also brought back something wicked in those woods, and when Lettie and the boy venture there to discover what it might be, they are forced to deal with the nightmare they may have unleashed. To explain any more would spoil the plot, but from the moment they enter the woods, Gaiman builds up suspense and maintains it to the very end. 

Like Graham Joyce’s Some Kind of Fairy Tale, Gaiman leaves the reader to wonder about how much of the story was actually real, and what Lettie and her family actually were. Though he provides ample evidence to keep us thinking about it long after the book is done. That’s a hallmark of a good story, and after Ocean, I look forward to reading a lot more of Gaiman’s tales.

You can preview the book here.

Monday, April 3, 2017

“Treasure Island” Never Happened on “Black Sails”

All the while we were led to believe Black Sails was a prequel to Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. Turns out, that wasn’t exactly true.


One of the more fascinating aspects of Black Sails is that the series wove together historical characters from the Pirates’ Republic of Nassau with the iconic, fictional characters of Stevenson’s Treasure Island. For a long time now, I suspected the series would end with Billy Bones limping up to the Admiral Benbow with the map to the Urca gold tucked away in his sea chest. That didn’t happen, and in the world of Black Sails it likely never will. 


The series ended in way I had not imagined, and few of the characters wound up as one would expect based on Treasure Island. And the reason, it turns out, due to the clever and brilliant writing on the show, is that Treasure Island was but a fable. One that cast its characters in a light that proved untrue. As proof, consider Jack Rackham’s speech near the end of the show:
“A story is true,” Jack said. “A story is untrue. As time extends, it matters less and less. The stories we want to believe, those are the ones that survive, despite upheaval and transition and progress. Those are the stories that shape history. And then, what does it matter if it was true when it was born. It’s found truth in its maturity …
“Long John Silver’s story, it’s a hard one to know. The men who believed most deeply in it were ultimately destroyed by it. And those who stood to benefit most from it, were the most eager to leave it all behind. Until all that remains of any of it are stories bearing only a passable resemblance to the world the rest of us lived in. A world we survived.”
In the world of Black Sails, the story of Treasure Island was never true. It merely became the story that lived on. In retrospect, I suppose, this is not surprising. After all, the Long John Silver of Black Sails was too intelligent, too articulate, and too heroic to become the villainous sea cook of Stevenson’s tale. And while the Flint of Treasure Island was a fearsome monster, the real Flint turned out to be somewhat of a tragic antihero. The finale did get him to Savannah, although I doubt the he will die there by drinking too much rum. (Which simply proves why odds-making is bad business.)

The Long John Silver of Treasure Island was nothing like the hero of Black Sails.
The only character that ended up as we would expect in Treasure Island is Billy Bones. He’s a broken man after betraying his shipmates, and I have no doubt he’ll lead a sad life. But I cannot imagine how he’ll ever come by the map to the Urca gold. Which means young Jim Hawkins will never venture to Skeleton Island with Dr. Livsey and Squire Trelawney. But maybe that story, like most fiction, was born untrue, and only became otherwise in its maturity, when Treasure Island became a classic.

* Photo courtesy of Starz.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Everyone’s Trying to Kill Flint on “Black Sails”

With only two episodes left, Black Sails has finally taken us to Skeleton Island. And as anyone who has read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island knows, some serious stuff is about to go down.


But what struck me most by the end of last week’s episode is that, except for his newfound partner, Flint is alone, and almost all the characters left on the show are trying to kill him. Flint is a goner by Treasure Island, so chances are someone is going to succeed. Here is how I see the odds.


Jack Rackham 1 in 50


I’m still not entirely clear why Eleanor’s grandmother wanted Jack to kill Flint, but that’s beside the point now. Jack has sent out to kill him, but I don’t see it happening. First, I question whether Jack even has it in him. He likes Flint and, think what you will about Calico Jack, I can’t see him tuning on one of his own in the end. Second, in a battle of Flint versus Jack, it’s no freaking contest. Flint could kill Jack with his bare hands.


No One: 1 in 20


All the accounts of Flint’s death in Treasure Island are hearsay, and none of the folks telling the tale are reliable. But in the book, Flint supposedly dies in Savannah from drinking too much run. This would be a Godfather III-like ending, and pretty anti-climactic if you ask me. 


Woodes Rogers: 1 in 10 


The historic Rogers is responsible for the death of a lot of pirates (though Blackbeard was not one of them), so it’s possible he’ll take out Flint. Throughout the series, Flint’s war has been against England, and Rogers is the living embodiment of the Crown on Nassau. Rogers also helped end the Pirate Republic, so I suppose him killing Flint would be symbolic.


Israel Hands: 1 in 5


Israel Hands is a bad, bad man, and Silver has already sent him out with five other pirates to hunt Flint down (unless Silver is playing a different game that has yet to be revealed). I’d say a fight between Flint and Hands is an even match. We know, however, that Hands appears in Treasure Island, so if they do get in a battle to the death, it’s not hard to guess which one will survive.


Long John Silver: 1 in 3


The conflict between Flint and Silver has been brewing for a long time, and a battle between the two was strongly alluded to in last season’s finale. Also, Israel Hands has been trying to convince Silver to kill Flint all season long. “The crown does not divide, it cannot be shared, you know this,” Hands told Silver last episode. “You want it done, you just don’t know how to ask it.” But like Jack, I’m not sure Silver has it in him to kill Flint – unless it’s literally to save Madi’s life.


Billy Bones: Even


Here’s what we know: Flint tried to kill Billy in Season One. Since then, Billy has hated Flint’s guts, and has tried to kill him twice already in Season Four. Even more, in Treasure Island, it’s Billy who ends up with the map to the Urca gold. At the Admiral Benbow, a dunk and old Billy tells young Jim Hawkins that Flint “gave it to me in Savannah, when he lay-a-dying.” Replace “Savannah” with “Skeleton Island,” and “he gave it to me” with “I pried it out of his cold, dead hands,” and my guess is that is how Flint will meet his end in the season finale of Black Sails.

But those are just my musings. Who do you think will end up killing Flint in the end?

* Images courtesy of Starz and Entertainment.