Going into the season 6 finale, I assumed that any episode following the exhilaration and brilliance of “Battle of the Bastards” would suffer from at least some measure of anticlimax, regardless of the quality of the episode itself. I am happy to report that I was sorely mistaken in my assumption. I was mistaken to the extent that I must concede that while “The Winds of Winter” was as dissimilar from “Battle of the Bastards” as two episodes could be in such a stylistically consistent series as Game of Thrones, it was absolutely on par with that installment in every respect save for action, which it obviously need not be because that wasn’t the focus of this episode, that being central to the aforementioned difference. Indeed, several aspects of this episode were stylistically unique for the series, not just in relation to the previous installment.
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When Cersei answers Lancel’s threat of “order your man (the Mountain) to step aside or there will be violence” with “I choose violence,” she’s not merely delivering a steely retort to her cousin’s attempt at intimidation through the force of the the Faith Militant, she’s essentially delivering the thesis statement of the episode. In “No One,” Cersei and Arya both “choose violence” in the face of very credible threats to their safety, the Hound chooses violence over the pacifism Septon Ray preached in the previous episode, and the masters of Slaver’s Bay choose violence in defiance of the diplomatic arrangement brokered by Tyrion, Conversely, Jaime and Brienne choose diplomacy, which is undercut by the Blackfish choosing violence by making his last stand at Riverrun rather than traveling north to aid Sansa in her campaign for Winterfell. Continue reading →
There is a question at the heart of not only this episode of Game of Thrones in particular and the series in general, but at the heart of many aspects of human culture and society themselves, which is, what is the value of a human life? When I say “value,” I don’t exactly mean it in an abstract, esoteric, or philosophical way in terms of potential or theoretical value. I mean it here more in the the practical, tangible, or material sense; what is a human life worth? Furthermore, are some lives worth more than others? Part of what is so fascinating and heart-wrenching about A Song of Ice and Fire is that in this narrative universe and in the logic thereof, the functional answer to that question is a resounding “yes.” Continue reading →
While I harbor no sympathy for assertions of quality for one work over another across media (i.e. “the book was better…“) and have zero tolerance for people who complain that an adaptation isn’t sufficiently representative of their personal experience with or perception of the source material (“wah wah wah, they cut this, they changed that“), I will freely admit that as someone who has read and loved the Ice and Fire book series, there is something extremely disconcerting about watching what was once an exceedingly faithful adaptation begin to diverge from the source text to such an extent that it fundamentally changes the experience of viewing the series. I don’t mean this as a total negative; it is exhilarating as well as disconcerting to know that in any given sequence one of my favorite characters I haven’t prepared myself to say goodbye to because they’re alive in the books might be killed off. This must be what the non-readers feel when watching Game of Thrones. Continue reading →
Whenever there’s a wedding on Game of Thrones you know something terrible is going to happen, and the wedding of Sansa and Ramsay was certainly no exception. While I agreed with some of the criticism of last season’s scene featuring the rape of Cersei by Jaime, my criticism stemmed from the fact that it was a mostly unmotivated event that had no repercussions for the characters involved or their relationship. I completely agree with the sentiment that rape and sexual violence as a mere plot device is irresponsible, but I wholeheartedly disagree with the notion that any depiction of rape is inappropriate for the screen. To me, this line of thinking is akin to the argument that high school students shouldn’t read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because Mark Twain uses the word “nigger” in the text. Senator McCaskill is free to stop watching Game of Thrones, as is anyone else, but Game of Thrones is under no obligation to avoid depictions of certain behaviors and actions because they might possibly offend the sensibilities of certain audience members. Continue reading →
Reek-it rhymes with week, which is about how long it took me to finish this episode because my six-month old puppy Fredo reacted and responded in kind and unceasingly to the dogs barking in the Winterfell kennel scene where Sansa is “reintroduced” to Theon/Reek. But when I could actually hear the soundtrack over little Fredo’s incessant barking, I really enjoyed this episode, especially the Winterfell content. I think Iwan Rheon gets Ramsay just right in the way that he’s threatening, odd, off-putting, and totally unhinged without being over the top and cartoonish. He goes right up to the line and stops exactly where he needs to.
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Game of Thrones has been so good for so long now that I routinely forget how poorly made this series could have easily been or could be in the hands of lesser showrunners or in the face of greater network opposition to structuring the narrative of the series as closely to the style of the books as they do. The fearlessness with which Benioff, Weiss, and the other writers continually expand the universe on screen is really astounding. The narrative of the series moves constantly and consistently; they may stay in one place for a time, so to speak, as in “Blackwater” or “The Watchers On The Wall,” but it’s only because that’s where they need to stay at that point in time to move the narrative forward. The narrative always moves forward unceasingly, leaving the viewer no time to mourn the deceased but somehow just enough time to reflect on what’s happened. Continue reading →
There is a strange phenomenon that occurs in films where something can seem both drawn out and rushed at the same time. This usually happens when filmmakers try to do too much at once. For example: when one is attempting to tell a long, epic story in a normal cinematic run-time. Or when one is trying to have their cake and eat it too when it comes to the theistic, supernatural, or miraculous aspects of a particular story. Continue reading →
3. Michael Fassbender: 12 Years A Slave
A textbook performance. Best Supporting Actor was the only Oscar outcome I really had an issue with. Leto did fine work in Dallas Buyers Club, but I thought Fassbender was miles ahead of him. From the first moment he’s onscreen in that profile close shot the tension onscreen increases exponentially. From a narrative standpoint, supporting characters are meant to introduce a variable to the main storyline that wasn’t present prior to their entrance. Nobody did that more effectively or more importantly than Fassbender did. In the hands of a lessor actor, this role could have been something of a “mustache twirler,” but Fassbender absolutely nails the complexity of this character, a professional dehumanizer who clearly hates himself and attempts to hide behind religion and booze. His every move is threatening, unpredictable, but Fassbender’s brilliance here is in how he doesn’t ever fully boil over, even in the enthralling “whipping sequence.” I really feel that with all the praise heaped at this film, Fassbender’s performance was somehow overlooked and subsequently under-praised. McQueen himself appears to feel the same way, highlighting his performance specifically in so many of his award acceptance speeches. Actors and filmmakers will be studying this performance for a long time to come.
6. Chewitel Ejiofor: 12 Years A Slave
I find it incredible how this performance got lost in the shuffle of awards season. Were I a member of the AMPAS, he would have been my second choice for Best Actor after my #2 pick from this list, and I thought 2013 was the best Lead Actor pool in recent memory. I’m not quite sure the average viewer is aware of the physical toll this part must have taken on him, to say nothing of the mental aspects. I’ve been a fan of his for years, and this is his masterpiece. My favorite moments of his in this film are all dialogue-free: his reactions in big moments, his gracious smile, the singing of the spiritual at the funeral, and any moment in which he’s listening. He’s just got “that face” and he can communicate and do so much with it. He can do anything.