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.

gameofthrones15_04.0

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.

Game-of-Thrones-Season-5-Maisie-Williams-as-Arya-Stark

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.

Nikolaj-Coster-Waldau-and-Lena-Headey-photo-Helen-Sloan-HBO1

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.

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.
Game-of-Thrones-season-4-Arya-and-The-Hound1
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.
game-thrones-tyrion-lannister-oberyn-martell
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…

X-Men: Days of Future Past review

X-Men-Days-of-Future-Past-Mystique-with-water-pistol-680x425So… How do you discuss the new X-Men film without giving too much away? Well that’s easy, throw in time travel. Always guaranteed to confuse all but the most hardened of moviegoers. And indeed confuse was the case in the cinema I went to; a full house with the audience all sitting quietly, leaning forward focusing.

The reason being is that this is one densely plotted film, by X-Men standards at least. Dense and tense. Most of this plotting is a good thing but requires you – in the words of Sister Mary Clarence a la Sister Act 2 – to sit up and pay attention. Those devilish trousers of time. If you go back you’ll affect the present, or create a new future, or something. Either way, it must have made for a right headache when planning the plot.

To recap: the events of this film happen around a decade after First Class but we’re brought up to speed with a serious voiceover in an apocalyptic future,xmen-dofp-review-02-600x399 one where sentinels were created which could adapt to any mutant talent, making them perfect killing machines. Facing extinction the last remaining mutants send Wolverine’s consciousness back in time (into his younger self) to the 1970s to stop the scientist behind the sentinels, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), from creating them in the first place.

So far so very Terminator right?

Except here we have Wolverine playing the confused ‘come with me if you want to live’ role, one where he needs to bring together James McAvoy’s Charles (wallowing in a pit of self loathing following events in First Class) and Michael Fassbender’s Erik (incarcerated in a maximum security prison having become a man who doesn’t compromise when it comes to safeguarding the mutant race).

This is clever writing. Instead of Wolverine in beserker animal mode he has to play peacekeeper, mediator between two men who, in future Magneto’s words, ‘couldn’t be further apart’.X_Men_Days_Future_Past_13838031567965 So Wolverine is scaled back and used sparingly – present in most scenes, but this is not quite his story.

So it’s not all introspective soul searching, we also have Jennifer Lawrence’s Raven/Mystique, also hellbent on stopping Trask, but having to choose which path to take to do it: Charles’s compassion on the one side or Magneto’s uncompromising nature on the other.

Bryan Singer, the man who kicked this franchise off in 2000 is back directing (following his departure after X2 in 2003) and it’s clear his love for the characters hasn’t diminished. If anything, absence makes the heart grow fonder and this is an impressive end (if that’s what it is) to this chapter of the franchise. And he’s savvy enough to give us what we need in terms of action, but also realise his vision by keeping the focus on the story and relationships above all else, particularly the triumvirate of Raven, Charles and Erik.???????????? It’s a brave move and – hopefully if the public respond and go see it – a clever one.

Despite the usual gargantuan line-up of characters, this is ultimately McAvoy and Lawrence’s movie in terms of performances: him all brooding and wounded, her confused and misguided anger. Throw in Fassbender’s intensity and you’ve got the perfect blockbuster pressure cooker.

Most (ok, a lot) of modern blockbusters have an engaging opening act, a compelling and thrilling middle, then sort of trail off in the final third or, more annoyingly sometimes, have a weak, infuriating and unsatisfying ending. Refreshingly Singer and screenwriter Simon Kinberg deliver a rather quite touching scene to bring the overall story full circle, leaving it in the best possible place for the future.

And, with almost a clean slate from here on out, where will they take these characters next? It’s an exciting prospect to ponder.