Game of Thrones Recap S8:EP5 “The Bells” or “Let’s nuke the series from orbit; it’s the only way to be sure”

Ugh, Game of Thrones, for fuck’s sake…

WARNING: This is a spoiler-laden rant about Game of Thrones. If you have NOT watched the latest episode, DO NOT KEEP READING!!!

LAST CHANCE!

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS!! YARRR!!!

Now, granted, there are some pretty great visuals in this episode of Game of Thrones, which you may or may not appreciate depending on how much you’re yelling at the screen over the horrid writing that came along with those visuals.

The episode opens with Daenerys locked away in Dragonstone. She’s not eating and not sleeping and refuses to see anyone. Naturally, Tyrion decides that he can cheer her up by revealing that someone has betrayed her. Daenerys, though, feels like everyone has betrayed her, including Jon. Tyrion reveals that it’s Varys. Dany already suspected as much, and quickly puts together the pieces that Varys is now on “Team Jon”. She knows the reason this is all happening is because Jon decided (for reasons) to reveal his true parentage to his sisters. Sansa told Tyrion, who then told Varys, who is now trying to tell anyone he can, which is exactly what Dany warned Jon would happen.

Jon opts to drop by to see how things are going. He’s arrived in time to watch Varys get barbecued, and he has another “chat” with Dany. By chat, I mean make out a bit before Jon pushes Dany away.

Mind you. I’m like 99% sure that NOBODY in the show has said anything about Dany being Jon’s aunt, and certainly these two HAVE NOT! Yes, I know, many fans may understand this, but I’d argue that casual viewers would not, especially since this is THE CORE OF THE FUCKING CONFLICT between them. It’s frustrating because one conversation between these two characters could lay out this conflict (Jon’s weirded out about being in love with Dany and being related to her, which is probably a big no-no in the North, where Dany is okay with it because she was raised as a Targaryen and Targaryens were fine with incest. The crux is that Dany wants Jon to embrace the incest part of his family heritage, but not his claim on the Iron Throne — should they win). Since nobody appears to love her in this kingdom, Dany decides she’s going to rule with fear.

Tyrion once again tries to convince Dany to not kill everyone in King’s Landing, and says if the bell towers are ringing, it means that the city has surrendered and they can stop the siege (of course, this is the first time we’ve heard anything about bells meaning any such thing, but whatever). Dany reluctantly agrees.

Jamie has been captured by Dany’s ground forces trying to return to King’s Landing, so Tyrion goes with Jon to perform a little treason of his own. He frees Jamie, then tells Jamie to get to Cersei, convince her to ring the bells and surrender the city, then escape through the same secret cove Tyrion did previously and be free to live out their days together. There’s a great, touching goodbye between the two brothers.

Then comes the morning of the attack. Although they capture Jamie, the Hound and Arya cruise on through Dany’s army with no problem. Jamie also slips into the city.

Euron is out in the bay with dozens of ships armed with the spiffy scorpions. The Golden Company marches outside the gates, ready to go toe-to-toe with Jon’s ground forces of Unsullied, Dothraki and Northmen.

And here’s where things go horribly wrong. Among the scenes of Lannister and Greyjoy men prepping for the coming battle, we’re shown shots of the scorpions – specifically that the magic easy-loading, rapid-firing that can easily be armed and fired by one man are gone. Each machine takes a crew of men to painstakingly load and arm the scorpions, which matches what we saw with Bronn in Season 7, but NOT what we saw in the previous episode. (You know, where they could hit a moving dragon at long range with precision and fire at will) So, something is clearly amiss.

Dany decides to attack by diving at the ships with the sun at her back, making her hard to spot until it’s too late. For this battle, the scorpions also returned to having plot-convenient stormtrooper-like accuracy, so, combined with their now slow-reload times, Dany and Drogon make short work of the Iron Fleet and fly off unscathed. She quickly moves on to the walls of King’s Landing, where she easily decimates the scorpions on the walls.

Dany’s signal to the ground troops to attack? It’s when Drogon explodes through the gate behind the Golden Company, raining fire and debris on the sellswords. (See? Cool visual!) She and Drogon roast most of the Golden Company, leaving her ground troops with an easy march into the city.

And, at that point, the battle is basically over. There’s some fighting in the streets, but it’s not long before the Lannister troops realize they’re outmatched. There are cries in the streets to “ring the bells” – because apparently everyone in the city knows about this bell ringing thing. Dany lands Drogon on a parapet while they wait for the bells.

Jamie hasn’t been able to reach Cersei, though, and as he opts to try get to her through the cove, he runs into Euron, who has a) survived and b) arrived at the exact same spot at the exact same time as Jamie has because of course he does.

Jamie and Euron duel for Cersei? And, Jamie wins, but not without getting very fatal blows from Euron, yet he can still stumbles on into the castle.

Someone eventually rings the bells. Jon sighs, thinking the job is done. Everyone stands down.

Except…

Dany, who has won the day, glares angrily at the Red Keep. After a minute or so, she decides “fuck it” and takes off with Drogon. Then, she proceeds to lay waste to the entire city of King’s Landing and everyone in it. After watching Dany fly off, Grey Worm decides to “fuck it” as well and he and the ground troops begin killing everyone on the ground.

This is the moment that is already causing huge debates online. I’m on the side that even with the hints that Daenerys could be brutal, I think they’ve taken too many shortcuts in this season. Her “descent” into becoming the “Mad Queen” isn’t shown to us, especially after spending so much time trying to turn her into someone more heroic.

Because the show’s creators are entirely focused on hitting all of the plot beats they’ve planned for the last episodes, they’ve completely ignored the characters in the story. So, much like Dany, characters are making bonkers decisions that run completely against their typical behavior, and it ruins the overall effect. Daenerys’ fall is just the most egregious example (so far).

Jon, of course, mostly stands around doing nothing, as he gawks in shock as Dany and his own troops decide it’s a killing free-for-all. He eventually kills one of his own men trying to rape an innocent woman. Eventually, he realizes that Dany may have forgotten she has men in the city and is just as likely to kill all of them, so he orders everyone to fall back.

Instead of seeing a final conflict between the two queens, Jamie and Cersei wind up trapped underneath the Red Keep. They’re trying to escape, but find that the exits are sealed, and wind up dying together as the Red Keep falls on top of them.

Oh sure, there’s a Cleganebowl, which was fine, but there’s no final confrontation between the two Queens, which was really disappointing. Qyburn dies as well, and I imagine a lot of people cheered at that (I did).

And Arya… there’s a good, what, 15 minutes of watching Arya try to escape the city? After entering the keep, the Hound convinces Arya to turn back; don’t let her quest for revenge consume her as it has for him. Go and find a way to live (and maybe murder fewer people?)

So, Arya leaves, but now, she’s on the ground scrambling with everyone else trying to escape Dany’s wrath as she continues to rain fire and destruction down on King’s Landing. After so many close calls it almost becomes laughable, Arya conveniently finds a “pale horse” in the aftermath and rides out of the city.

And. That’s it. Daenerys wins! The Game of Thrones is over! Right?

ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?

No. Not really.

The most frustrating thing is that so many of the character missteps could have been fixed. The creators are so focused on just getting through their plot beats that not once did they take a step or two back and think: “Whoa, hold on. Why is character X doing Y?” A couple of scenes here, a few lines of dialog there; it might not fix everything, but it would have helped connect some of the dots.

One day, maybe, we’ll get a chance to finally read how George R. R. Martin would have ended the series, and it’ll (hopefully) be a more satisfactory conclusion. That’s assuming GRRM gets around to finishing the series.

But, so far, this season has been a pretty mixed bag. There have been some great moments, but overall, the story is simply flying through the plot beats to get to the finale.

There’s no right way to fix it either. Should HBO have stuck to their guns and kept the show running? Let Benioff and Weiss leave the show and hand it off to someone else? Pushed them into doing two full seasons? There’s no guarantee a new team would have finished the show any better, and more likely, things could have gone a lot worse. If the shows creators are burned out, forcing them to produce more episodes would have also likely created a few more “stinker” episodes just to meet the commitment.

It’s just a shame to see a really great show finish up this way.

Game of Thrones thoughts – S8-04 – Last of the Starks

This is a continuing series on the final season of Game of Thrones.

WARNING: THERE ARE SPOILERS!!!

YOU’VE BEEN WARNED! If you keep reading past this point, you either don’t care about GoT or about being spoilers because I will be talking about things that happen in the episode.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS…

Okay, so, let’s quickly recap the Long Night (episode 3) death total. Apparently, I was completely wrong about some of the characters surviving the fight. In fact, all of the major characters, and most of the minor ones, survived the night.

I did go into this week’s episode expecting things to be kind of slow after last week’s epic episode, but it was kind of “meh” instead.

The first, say, third of the episode was pretty good. The survivors of Winterfell are given a chance to mourn the dead and celebrate living.

The Gendy lordship scene was a bit odd. Danaerys starts off by acknowledging first who his father is, then goes on about how his father tried to murder her and her brother when they were young, and finally decides oh, you’re a hero of this battle, so I should make you a lord. So, she does. She recognizes him as a Baratheon, and names him lord of Storm’s End.

This prompts some cheers amongst the crowd and begins the celebration.

To me, the Gendry/Arya scene felt forced. Sure there’s an attraction there, but I always got the vibe that Gendry (until last week) thought of Arya as more of a sister than a potential lover. Sure, Gendry was drunk and excited that he’s a lord now and could marry a lady like Arya. Alas, no, Arya shoots him down, and I think a sober Gendry would have known better.

Yep, I’m totally fine with Jamie/Brienne hooking up. I’m not so thrilled with the final scene between those two. If, after Jamie tells Brienne that he will always pick Cersei, she knocks him on his ass, then storms away with tears in her eyes, I would have been fine with that. I’m not as thrilled with her just standing there crying though; it felt completely out of character.

Then there’s Jon/Dany. It’s an interesting conflict between the two. Jon is hung up on the idea that she’s his aunt, but Dany cares more about his claim to the Iron Throne. Jon feels obligated to tell his sisters, but Dany understands that if he does, it won’t stay secret for long. She also understands that it won’t matter what he wants, once people learn who he is, especially after seeing the people cheer for him earlier that night. She begs him to keep it a secret, but Jon refuses.

And – then – the show goes sideways –

Jon tells Sansa/Arya who he is, via Bran (who apparently is only still around to relay this info). He swears them both to secrecy, but the first chance she gets, Sansa tells Tyrion, who then tells Varys.

Instead of resting their men and trying to rebuild their forces, Dany pushes to go for King’s Landing. Everyone reluctantly agrees.

Jon decides to lead the forces on land, and so says goodbye to his friends. He does not, however, say goodbye to Ghost!!! For fucks sake, man, could you not have spared a minute for your dire wolf??? The shot of a sullen Ghost watching his master leave is just as sad as watching Brienne crying after Jamie leaving.

Strangely, this seems to be the last scene for Tormund and Sam/Gilly, so why not simply have let them die during the battle, other than to give them “happy” endings, which generally don’t happen in Game of Thrones.

Arya and the Hound decide to ride off to King’s Landing. They both say they have some killing to do. Presumably, the Hound wants his shot at the Mountain, and Arya will want Cersei.

My prediction there? Jamie will probably be the one to kill Cersei, adding Queenslayer to his list of titles.

Oh, and somehow, Bronn just strolls into Winterfell and finds Jamie and Tyrion drinking together. Bronn happily threatens to kill both Tyrion and Jamie if they don’t come up with a better counter-offer to what Cersei is offering to kill the two of them. Tyrion offers him Highgarden, and Bronn goes on his merry way.

Then…

There’s a “fast travel” moment – and Dany, her dragons, and what’s left of her fleet are arriving back at Dragonstone. Dany is flying casually on Drogon with Rhaegal next to her. Suddenly, Rhaegal is slammed with a giant crossbow bolt. As he struggles to stay in the air, another pierces his neck, and he tumbles into the sea. Dany turns to find some of Euron Greyjoy’s fleet coming around a bend of a cove –

In the time since their meeting and supposed cease-fire, Cersei and her team have a) redesigned the scorpions, b) mass produced them (as we learn later), including mounting them on Euron’s ships complete with custom squid-like appendages to keep with Euron’s motif, c) the new scorpions are also magically auto-loading (unlike the version Bronn had to use in season 7) d) Cersei/Euron figured out that Dany was heading back to Dragonstone, e) so Euron sat around waiting for days for them to reappear, and f) somehow managed to get the drop on a rider on a dragon who should have seen the ships long before they saw her.

Oh, it gets better. Dany opts to charge the ships. There’s a moment of tension as she charges at them and Euron lines up his shot, but Dany finally relents and turns back. At this point, after Euron and his men hit Rhaegal with deadly accuracy at long range, now plot-conveniently suddenly have Stormtrooper accuracy while Dany, at a much closer range, turns and flees the scene.

Also, never mind the fact that Dany could have veered left, then once out of range, quickly double-backed around the same island “concealing” Euron’s ships and blasted them to shreds before they could come about. I suspect she’ll think of that in next week’s episode.

Bummed he can’t kill the last dragon, Euron turns his scorpions on Dany’s fleet, and once again, he and his men are deadly accurate and quickly destroy the last of her fleet. Somehow, Euron manages to capture Missande while ignoring all of the other survivors from the destroyed ships.

After, there’s a new discussion at Dragonstone where everyone does what they can to prevent Dany from tearing off to King’s Landing and burning it to the ground. They’re aware that Cersei is bringing all of the locals into the city, creating a human shield. They convince Dany to give Cersei a chance to surrender before destroying the city, so the people will “know” that it’s Cersei’s fault that they’re being burnt to a crisp.

Later that evening, there’s a long discussion between Tyrion and Varys about whether Danaerys is really the right person to sit on the Iron Throne, especially now that they have another option (i.e. Jon). Tyrion sticks to Team Dany, but Varys seems to be leaning towards Team Jon.

Jamie, after deciding to stay with Brienne in Winterfell, learns from Sansa about Euron’s ambush at Dragonstone, and everyone figures Dany’s going to burn King’s Landing to cinders. That night, Jamie decides to go back to Cersei. This brings an annoying scene where Brienne begs him to stay, and says that Jamie is a good man. Jamie tells Brienne a brief list of things he’s done and would have done for Cersei, and leaves Brienne in tears.

Of course, for one final, tense scene, we have Dany, Drogon, Tyrion, Grey Worm and I guess the Queen’s personal guard of Unsullied rally outside the gates of King’s Landing. Oh, and look, now every parapet of the castle has one of those new auto-loading scorpions upon it. Cersei is feeling pretty smug at this point, and has Missande in cuffs with her (and others) above the gate.

The hands of the respective queens walk out to the middle. Tyrion offers Dany’s terms of surrender, and Qyburn counters with Cersei’s offer for Dany to surrender or they’ll kill Missande right now. Tyrion tries to convince Cersei, and she has the Mountain lop off Missande’s head. Dany simply storms off.

And, for whatever reason, Cersei just lets them walk away. She’s got Dany, Tyrion and her other leaders right there, in range of her archers, and Drogon is riiiiight over there, maybe in range of the scorpions. Why she doesn’t take her shot and finish “the whole lot” right then is beyond me.

So… yeah. The episode was a mixed bag. The first half was pretty good, and the second half was a mess. Cersei has been reduced to a one-dimensional Bond villain. The writers seem to be pushing Dany to becoming the “Mad Queen.” Jon will likely try to do something honorable and get himself killed.

We only have a couple of more episodes left, regardless. I would guess that next week will be the final battle for King’s Landing, and the last episode will wrap up all of the loose ends after the battle?

Maybe it’ll end up with: Hail Queen Arya, First of Her Name, Slayer of the Night King, and Ruler of the Seven Kingdoms?

Captain Marvel: Good, but Not Great

For the last ten years, Marvel Studios has done an amazing job creating a cinematic universe using “second-tier” heroes from their comic books. They’ve also done a pretty uncanny job of casting the right people as the heroes. Today, who could imagine someone besides Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man or Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America (and so on).

Although Captain Marvel is a good, decently paced, and entertaining latest entry in the MCU catalogue, it’s just misses the mark of being one of the great films. It’s like the Tony Romo of the MCU films: Good movie, great numbers ($900 million at the box office so far), but is just missing that extra something special to push it over the top.

The first part of the movie is a bit boring. Starforce member Vers (Danvers/Capt Marvel) suffers from amnesia and is haunted by nightmares. She has been a part of Starforce for the last six years and has no memories before that. She has issues maintaining control of her emotions, and is urged by her mentor and commander as well as the Kree leader she must learn to control them.

On a mission to recover a spy, Vers is captured by the Skrulls, an alien race of shapeshifters who the Kree have been at war with, and is subjected to a memory probe. Strangely, although Vers has amnesia, there’s nothing that prevents the Skrulls from scrolling through her memories with a high-tech TiVo. The Skrulls are looking for a specific Kree agent, and as luck would have it, Vers memories lead them to her. Vers escapes, but destroys the Skrulls ship, so both she and the Skrulls crash land on Earth in 1995.

Once on Earth, Vers runs into a young Nick Fury and SHIELD, and hilarity ensues as they try to track down the Kree agent on Earth before the Skrulls do.

The amnesia angle is a bit of a problem, because it seems like the writers have given little for Brie Larson to run with outside of being a stoic warrior. Once she has a chance to interact with her co-stars, she’s much better, and in some cases, her co-stars really outshine her. Larson does fine with what she’s given, though. She may be the right choice for Carol Danvers/Capt Marvel, but we’ll have to wait to see her in Avengers: Endgame to see if Larson has more to work with.

At just over two hours, the movie feels pretty well paced. As with any Marvel movie, you probably don’t want to overthink the plot too much (like a nit picky thing for me is: where is her Kree uniform? Danvers wears normal clothes during a large part of her time on Earth, but there’s no sign of her Kree outfit or some type of Kree fanny-pack that she’s wearing. Sure it’s something they could have explained in a few seconds, but they didn’t) . The 90’s references are fun, and ensures the film has a pretty great soundtrack. The movie does a decent job of introducing the Kree/Skrull conflict and throws in a few MCU connections.

The creators try to give Capt. Marvel a big “hero” moment late in the film. A lot of the elements are there, like flashbacks of Danvers struggling in moments in her past. But, there’s no real context around the flashbacks, and the stakes aren’t really established, so when she overcomes the challenge, it lacks the emotional connection they were shooting for. You can see what they were trying to do, and I think, with a few changes, they could have gotten pretty close.

Spider-Man: Homecoming borrows a scene like this directly from the comics, and they do a much better job of making the “hero” moment work.

The weakest part of the movie comes near the end. Once Capt. Marvel “unlocks” her powers, she masters complete control of her nearly apparently near-unlimited power within about 10 minutes of screen time. Up until that point, we’ve only ever seen Marvel shoot fusion blasts from her hands. The audience has no idea that she can do the other things or was even trained to do anything else with her powers.

I have no problem with Captain Marvel being ultra-powerful, but for me it’s a case of lazy writing. At least show the audience some glimpse of her doing something else with her powers beforehand.

Hopefully, by Endgame, Carol Danvers/Capt. Marvel will have her memories back and can bring more of a human element to her powers, so she doesn’t end up feeling like the Superman of the MCU. I really don’t want to see Capt. Marvel become this emotionless god-like character like DC has done with Superman in the DCCU/Snyder-verse.

The most touching moment of the film? For me, it was the opening credits. Normally, Marvel movies open with an animated logo sequence. As the 3D logo falls into place, we see animations of comic panels inside the logo related to the hero in the movie. For their 10th anniversary logo, the logo changed to splice in video clips of the heroes from the entire MCU. This year, in honor of Stan Lee (who passed away last November), the logo shows clips of all of Lee’s cameos from the MCU movies (I’m assuming only MCU, but I guess they could have clips from the older movies). At the end of the animation, the logo fades to black before displaying a single, simple message: “Thank you, Stan”.

I’ll be honest. I sorta had high hopes for this film. With this being the first major Marvel movie starring a female super hero, and Marvel knocking it out of the park in their most of their most recent films, I really hoped they would do something special with Captain Marvel.

Instead, it feels more like a standard MCU-paint-by-numbers origin story, and while the movie is good, it just misses that something extra to make it memorable.

It’ll be interesting to see if Captain Marvel becomes a part of one of the other teams (Avengers, Guardians), or if they’ll keep her solo and have a Captain Marvel sequel. Based on the box office numbers, a sequel seems like a pretty sure bet. But with the Disney/Marvel acquisition of 20th Century Fox (and the rights to Marvel’s top-tier heroes), it’s too early to guess if Marvel will re-think “phase four” of their plans for the MCU.