What Game of Thrones spin-offs would you watch?

On the way to work today I walked past a mother and a young boy and couldn’t help but notice that the level to which he quizzed her on her activities was startling. And it reminded me, in a way, of the refreshing introduction of Lady Mormont in the season six of Game of Thrones and how it’d be great to see her in a spin-off.

Then I thought, what other characters would be great in a show of their own. So here’s my list. (I should have been in TV production with genius ideas like these. Expecting the call any day now.)

Lady Mormont: the path to power
Now whilst the first cousin of scaly love fiend Ser Jorah Mormont only had a few episodes upon which to make her mark, she did so most emphatically, like a mini Cersei chastising various Lords of the North like they were little boys. Then declaring her allegiance to Jon Snow as King in the North and embarrassing everyone else to do the same. What kind of ruler would she be on Bear Island I wonder? It would be fascinating to watch her rise to power.

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Clegane: the wilderness years 
Ah, Sandor Clegane. A big and brutal beast of a man, but oddly sympathetic as each season went on. Let’s be honest, none of us wanted him to die after Brienne worked him over and when he turned up in a peaceful community led by Ian McShane’s Brother Ray we all rejoiced. I’d have liked to have seen those two team up to bring peace to the region in a buddy comedy. Brother Ray with a twinkle in his eye as Clegane grunts, grudgingly accepting the way his zen-like friend does things, perhaps uttering the line, ‘I’m getting too old for this shit.’

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Assassin’s Creed: the tutelage of Arya
The most fiesty Stark was one of the more fascinating characters to watch develop in seasons five and six. Mostly because we were slowly seeing her become a faceless assassin and taking her fate into her own hands. And I’m all for seeing her development under the watchful eye of Jaqen H’ghar. As she gets sent on missions we would get to see how she wrestles with her progression from sweet and fiesty to bad-ass killer. And each episode could be titled, ‘A girl…’. Like, ‘A girl angers the Many-Faced God’ for example.

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Olenna Tyrell: the evolution of the Queen of Thorns
Now let’s all agree, actress Dame Diana Rigg pretty much stole every scene she was in as Olenna Tryell. Not quite a Dame Maggie Smith performance, but comparisons will be made, and rightly so. And considering she came to the Game of Thrones late, it would be interesting to see what she got up to before she made her way to King’s Landing. Sharp, wily and speaks her mind. Who wouldn’t want to see her run rings around everyone?

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Daenerys Targaryn and Asha Greyjoy: a love story
Now whilst they’ve only shared a single scene in season six, there was enough interaction between the Mother of Dragons and Asha to suggest something of a hint of romance. A frisson you may say. And why not? Asha has already had a scene in which she basically ‘acted like a man’ nuzzling boobs and spanking wenches. And Daenerys seems one of the most progressive characters in terms of the relationships and sexuality. It’d be great to see them take to the seas around Slaver’s Bay and beyond, raining fire down upon their enemies and falling in love in the process. A Westeros power couple, if ever there was one.

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Game of Thrones: season 5 review

Are seasons of Game of Thrones getting shorter? Or are we just expecting more from them each time round? Or is it because the world is expanding and characters are all off on quests of their own that we barely get any time with each of them each episode?

What I do know is that, as George R. R. Martin’s world expanded in the books, showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were left faced with a gargantuan challenge of getting this all on screen in a satisfying way. Also, the show has now – with some characters – pretty much overtaken the books, so we’re in slightly uncharted waters.

This has left the show’s producers and writers open to an unprecedented level of abuse from fans. With less of the original material to hide behind as they go on they’re exposed. Not that the changes they’ve made thus far are misguided, but fans are getting ever more demanding and increasingly protective of their precious characters of Westeros.

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This season is the leanest yet in terms of screen time for all the characters you know and love. There’s literally no fat in any of the episodes. Bang! We’re into Arya’s story, on her quest to become a faceless assassin and take out everyone on her kill list. Then bang! We cut straight to Tyrion’s journey to meet up with – and advise – Deanerys as she tries to get to grips with ruling a city that’s tearing itself apart.

Then there’s Stannis running about fruitlessly trying to win the north, Jon Snow saving far too many wildlings for his own good, Jaimie Lannister off on a foolhardy trip to Dorne to possibly lose his other hand, Cersei scheming and scheming and scheming too far, Sansa growing up fast and learning to play the game of thrones (although perhaps not learning quick enough). And the list goes on.

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It’s so tough that some characters barely get a look-in all season (Bran anyone? Rickon?). And the whole Dorne section (so detailed in the books) almost felt like it was shoehorned in for the show. I mean, can anyone explain the point in the Sand Snakes?

They’re supposed to be deadly but spent most of the time in jail or flanking their vengeful mother Ellaria Sand (Indira Varma) like a group of sexy – but rather superfluous – backing singers. Perhaps they would have been better off in a spin-off mini series.

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Ranting to one side there was still a lot to love about the season as a whole. Standout character arcs (and actor performances) for me included Cersei (Lena Headey) facing off against the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Jon Snow (Kit Harington) taking on white walkers and wrestling with the lonely job of a leader, Stannis (Stephen Dillane) making very hard decisions come the season’s closing episodes and Arya (Maisie Williams) becoming more ruthless as she learns the ways of the Many-Faced God.

Each had thrills, spills and proper Game of Thrones shocks. An impressive feat, given the already stellar four seasons that have come before it. What more could you want or ask for?

Roll on season six I say.

My top TV shows of 2014

Golden age indeed. These days, TV is up there with film in terms of quality of story, well written and believable characters and – in some cases – almost cinematic production values. And this year was a mightily good year when it came to a night on the sofa with the latest ‘must watch’ show.

From crime and fantasy dramas and zombies everywhere, to Victorian witches and oversexed vampires, here are the shows that rocked my world and floated my boat this year.

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Penny Dreadful: season 1
With a cast including Timothy Dalton, Eva Green, Harry Treadaway and Josh Hartnett, this show surpassed expectations with a host of intriguing characters and powerhouse performances, particularly from Green. Every time she went into possessed demonic mode the show went up a few notches.

Fargo: season 1
Martin Freeman as a timid insurance salesman from Minnesota up against Billy Bob Thornton’s enigmatic mobster hitman. As an idea for a TV show this was perhaps an odd gamble, yet one that paid off. No doubt down to the superb writing and outstanding performances. Freeman again proving to people just how good he really is.

The Leftovers: season 1
There’s so much beauty in grief and suffering, yet it’s rarely shown in such a captivating manner. Here it was brought to life by Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta – with a fine lead performance from Justin Theroux – in a story that charted the lives of a group of people, following the disappearance of 2 per cent of the world’s population.

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Game of Thrones: season 4
As the Starks, Lannisters and all other families grow further apart, each on quests of their own, the story and world of Westeros and beyond expands. This makes it tougher and tougher for the show’s writers and creators, still they deliver, with possibly the most visually stunning and emotionally engaging season so far.

Walking Dead: season 5
As it stands, we’ve only had the first half before the show hit its mid season break. It’s been good though, watching Andrew Lincoln’s Rick Grimes slowly but surely lose his humanity, as he’s faced first with cannibals then just the general dregs of mankind that seem to now inhabit the earth and plague him at every turn.

The Strain: season 1
File this under ‘guilty pleasure’ TV. From the creepy and fantastical minds of Chuck Hogan and Guillermo del Toro, this show (which started life as a novel, then a graphic novel) has vampires portrayed as parasites, causing chaos in New York as a small band of average heroes try to stop them, with varying degrees of success.

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Homeland: season 4
With Brody (Damien Lewis) out of the picture Carrie Mathison (Clare Danes) took centre stage this season as Chief of Station in an increasingly volatile Pakistan, on the hunt for terrorists. With drones, torture, kidnap and diplomatic backstabbing, this latest outing proved to be a marked return to form.

Forever: season 1
More guilty pleasure TV, this time in the form of a sort of mashup of Highlander meets CSI with Ioan Gruffudd’s immortal medical examiner solving murder cases in New York. Given the morbid subject, it’s an upbeat and easy watch. Thanks in part to the breezy chemistry between Gruffudd and his detective partner, played by Alana de la Garza.

True Blood: season 7
The final hurrah for this show was something of an anticlimax – or a least more of a sombre tone than its predecessors. However you have to give it credit for the seasons that went before, yet it just didn’t have the same verve and bite (ha!) after the show’s creator, Alan Ball, left after the fifth season.

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True Detective: season 1
McConaughey at the height of his powers turned his attention to TV for this deeply intense, brooding miniseries. One where he played the maverick detective to Woody Harrelson’s more straight arrow (albeit, with problems of his own) cop, both tracking down a serial killer over a period of many years.

24: Live Another Day
Despite a concern knawing away at you that this show probably should have ended some time ago, it’s risen from the ashes… so we’ll have to live with it. For the latest season it halved the number of episodes for a leaner, tighter story, with Jack Bauer legging it around London looking for people to beat up.

Games of Thrones: Season 4 review

And so the three-eyed crow said unto Brandon of House Stark, ‘Let there be spoilers in this review’, and behold there were.

Having almost revealed something about the penultimate episode of the recent season to my housemate I thought I’d begin with a warning. If you’ve not watched this season yet – or indeed read the books – then this blog will spoil it all. You have been warned.
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So, season four eh? How was it for you? From the point of view of the show’s writers it looked tough. Reason being is that, if you think back to the first season, practically all the characters were in two or three locations. Excluding a handful of main players, most of the rest of them didn’t have a great deal to do. Fast forward four seasons and there’s hardly any character that isn’t off on a quest of their own. And each has grown massively, not only in terms of their status in the show, but as characters they’ve developed and changed, matured and hardened as the world around them has been thrown into chaos.

The Hound and Arya Stark have stood out this season as unlikely travelling companions. Their relationship far more complex if you look beneath the surface. Jon Snow has become more ‘Jon Snow’ like: brooding, intense, yet there’s a vulnerability and fear that flickers behind his eyes. He IS the wall, the North and the winter. His relationship with wildling Ygritte is incredibly touching, despite the fact that they only share a few scenes towards the season finale.sansa-stark
As usual the Lannisters tend to steal most of the headlines, but – yet again – you have to hand it to Peter Dinklage for his portrayal of Tyrion, a dwarf who finds himself going through the corrupt legal system of King’s Landing throughout most of the season. He gets two or three standout scenes, including an emotional standoff with his father Tywin – another finale treat.

Prince Oberyn Martell, the Red Viper of Dorne (played with panache by Chilean actor Pedro Pascal) was a great addition to the GoT world. A man who clearly knew how to play the game, seducing his way into King’s Landing with an agenda of his own which culminated in an impressive – and somehow still shocking, despite what fans are used to – one-on-one battle scene with The Mountain.
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Ultimately, as George R. R. Martin expands his Seven Kingdoms in print, so too does it expand on the small screen. Lovingly brought to life by the brilliant team behind the show. And in creating Martin’s world on screen they’ve drawn from a number of influences, both in terms of tone and visuals. The Lord Of The Rings and Star Wars both sprung to mind, particularly in the closing episodes of the season. It’s not just a nod or copycat tactics, they’ve taken these influences and forged them into their own design – as all good creative types do.

Rumour has it that the show’s creators have seven (or maybe eight) seasons planned, so we’ve got three (or four) left. The books will give us another season, then we’re in uncharted territory till Martin brings the world together in the last few books (something he has yet to do).Daenerys-Targaryen-Season-4-daenerys-targaryen-36909001-2100-1398
Infuriatingly for most, Daenerys and her dragons are dragging their heels and have yet to cross the Narrow Sea. With the white walkers soon to assault the North, hopefully it will all come together in an epic two-season finale. Or maybe Martin has let the whole thing get away from him and has no idea how to finish the story. Let’s hope he goes the way of Breaking Bad rather than Lost and ties it up in a satisfying fashion. Or he could just say to hell with it and have the dragons and white walkers kill off everyone. That would be just his style, darn him.

Roll on season five…