Monday, June 27, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Recap: The Winds of Winter Season Six Finale

Well all in all this was a mostly satisfying season finale that wrapped up some storylines and opened other ones to ponder over the next year. Book readers will recognize how some events were altered for television. Other characters were folded into different ones. We open up in King's Landing at the Red Keep with Cersei looking out over the city. Everyone is getting dressed for the upcoming trials of Cersei and Loras. Pycelle being the dirty old man that he is, has just finished his business with a prostitute.  There may be snow on the mountain top but there's still fire down below. And Pycelle has apparently, ahem, stiffed the young lady on pay. Cersei is getting dressed in a severe tight gown that doesn't show any cleavage but is still quietly sexual and austere at the same time. At the Sept, Loras is brought in. The High Sparrow (THS) asks Loras if he is ready for his trial. Loras, who has had his hair cut for the trial and looks a particularly sorry sight, responds that actually there will be no trial. He confesses to his crimes of homosexuality and perjury. But this isn't enough for THS. To show that he's truly penitent Loras gets on his knees before THS (and maybe Loras isn't the only one with an alternate sexuality hmm) and says he wants to devote his life to the Seven. He will give up his claim to the Tyrell Lordship and Highgarden. He will live out his life in the "I'm not gay, really I'm not" brigade of the Faith Militant. Lovingly caressing Loras' head, THS announces that this is acceptable. But Lancel and team still need to carve a seven pointed star into Loras' forehead, an act which the watching Margaery and Mace find abhorrent. Margaery even tells THS that this wasn't part of the deal. A child tells Pycelle something as he comes out of his room. Pycelle follows this child until he winds up in a room with Qyburn. Qyburn has an almost pained facial expression. He tells Pycelle that Pycelle deserves better but business is business. He's sorry it had to come to this but you can't make an omelet without breaking some eggs and all that. Pycelle has just enough time to say "huh?" before he's stabbed to death by at least 10 kids armed with daggers. The Mountain prevents King Tommen from going to the Sept. People at the Sept are impatient waiting for Cersei to arrive. THS tells Lancel to go get her. Lancel also gets sidetracked by a strange little kid. Lancel follows this kid to the basement or sub-basement of the Sept. And let me just mention how beautiful the soundtrack cello music was here. I will have to watch this again just for that. It was quite suspenseful and haunting. Seriously this was good stuff.

In the basement Lancel follows the kid into a large chamber. The kid stabs Lancel. Everyone in the Sept is still waiting. Margaery doesn't like it. She knows something is wrong. She tells THS that things aren't right. Cersei knows the punishment for not showing up and yet still isn't there. What does THS think that means? THS can't make a decision. Dying, Lancel looks around the room. It's crammed full of barrels of wildfire. Wildfire has pooled all over the floor. In a time before timers and electric clocks someone has evidently done the calculus necessary to determine exactly when a candle will burn down to its end. And someone has placed two candles at one end of the room in a pool of wildfire. Lancel starts to crawl to try to extinguish the candles. Margaery starts yelling that everyone needs to leave the Sept right NOW! This is good enough for Mace who starts to panic and push to get out. But THS still won't give the word, so the Faith Militant goobers are preventing people from leaving. Well that is a mistake. Lancel reaches the candles just as the flame touches the wildfire. Everyone upstairs hears a rumble below. There's not even enough time for Margaery and her father Mace to say I told you so before BOO-YAH!. There's an explosion of green fire the likes of which hasn't been seen since the Battle of The Blackwater. Everyone in the Sept is immediately incinerated! This includes Kevan Lannister as well. The Sept itself is blown apart. The explosion is so fierce that the Sept bell is hurled miles away into the streets. The Sept and the surrounding area is nothing but a smoldering ruin. Cersei drinks wine and gives her typical twisted smirk. Later on, Cersei goes to see Septa Unella, whom she has captured and tied up. She runs her hands over the woman's body. She reminds the Septa of all the nasty things she did to Cersei. Well payback is a b**** isn't it. Cersei says the Septa did those things not from faith but because she likes hurting Cersei. Well Cersei liked murdering her husband and sleeping with her brother. And she is going to love hurting the Septa. The Septa, in a bit of bravado, says she's ready to die and go to the Gods. Cersei says you must really be dumb if you thought it was going to be that easy. The Mountain enters. Cersei ironically says "Shame, shame, shame", as she leaves the Septa to what I presume is the beginning of a long nightmare of rape and other torture.

Tommen is watching the aftermath looking out at the Sept. Seems like he's crying. Silently he takes off his crown and jumps to his death. Cersei orders Qyburn to burn his body and place the ashes at the ruins of the Sept. At The Twins, Walder Frey is celebrating his victory with Bronn and Jaime Lannister. Neither Bronn not Jaime is in a particularly good mood, though both notice various cleavage baring Frey women and serving wenches giving them the old once over. At Jaime's urgings, Bronn takes advantage of this. Walder Frey is speaking as if the Lannisters and Freys are old friends and equal partners, something which rubs Jaime the wrong way. Like a lot of old people in fiction and real life, Walder no longer bothers to pretend that he cares what people say. Walder sarcastically jokes that he can't kill the re-imprisoned Edmure Tully because to do so would give the Freys a bad name. Jaime points out that Walder Frey never had a good reputation as a warrior in his own right even as a young man. Jaime asks rhetorically if the Lannisters have to do all the heavy lifting then why do they need the Freys exactly? Sam and Gilly reach Oldtown. Sam has to deal with a snooty bureaucrat who is suspicious that there's been no report of change in leadership at the Night's Watch. Nonetheless it's not his call to make on Sam's bona fides. He takes Sam's letter of introduction and tells Sam that for now Sam can hang out in the library until an archmaester can make a decision. But the bureaucrat won't allow Gilly and Sam Jr. in the library. Sam enters the library and is in 7th heaven. The library alone seems to be larger than all of Castle Black.

At Winterfell Davos finally confronts Melisandre about her murder of Shireen. This is Davos' big scene and the actor doesn't disappoint. He's seething with rage and loss. Davos says that he considered Shireen his own kin. Melisandre looks guilty and doesn't claim otherwise. But she points out that Stannis and Selyse agreed with her actions. Anyway there wasn't any other choice. Jon Snow stands alive today at Winterfell because of the Lord of Light. Davos strongly disagrees, stating that any God who kills children is evil. Period. End of story. Anyway Stannis died so apparently Melisandre was wrong about that. Although Davos wants to kill her right here and now Jon exiles Melisandre south on pain of death. Davos emphasizes that he will personally kill her if she comes back. Jon says that he's making the master bedroom (the Lord's room, Mom and Dad's room) ready for Sansa as she should be the Lady of Winterfell. Sansa says it should be Jon as he is a Stark to her. She apologizes for not telling Jon about Littlefinger (LF) and says only a fool would trust LF. Jon says they need to trust each other because winter is here. They are all that's left of the Starks. They still have a lot of enemies. LF goes to see Sansa at the godswood. Physically this is a beautiful scene. Sansa asks him what does he want. He says she knows what he wants. LF says that everything he does is for a little piece of Sansa's  so he can can sit on the Iron Throne with Sansa at his side. Sansa points out that LF has "helped" other families before but that his help always seems to help himself first and most of all. LF says well yeah but don't hate the player, hate the game. He tries to go in for a kiss but Sansa turns away abruptly. Awkward, dude. Really awkward. Perhaps feeling the sting, LF calls Jon a motherless bastard and says Sansa should be the Queen in the North. Is someone watching LF thru the weirwood? Hmm.

In Dorne, Olenna Tyrell, the Queen of Thorns, meets with Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes. Like Walder Frey, The Queen of Thorns is very pragmatic, very old, very rude and sees no point to social niceties. She's unimpressed with the masculine Sand Snakes. She wants Dorne's help going to war against Cersei. Cersei killed her son and grandchildren. And that she doesn't forgive. Cersei has declared war against Dorne. For no reason other than television drama Ellaria makes The Queen of Thorns say she wants revenge before revealing that Varys is there. Varys says he can offer Fire and Blood (The Targaryen House Words). In Meereen Daario tells Daenerys that the ships are almost ready. Daenerys tells Daario that he's going to stay in Meereen and run it for her. Daario doesn't like it and blames Tyrion for this decision. Daenerys says that for reasons of perception and alliance building she needs to be single when she reaches Westeros. Daario pulls out the Temptations Ain't Too Proud to Beg routine. He drops to his knees and says he loves Daenerys. In fact he loves her so much that he wouldn't even say no to being the other man if Daenerys needs to marry or be with someone else. Daenerys says that's nice but this decision is final. Besides a player like Daario will have a new special rider before the day is out from what Daenerys can see. All things considered, Daario takes this well. Well at least he doesn't throw himself off a building. Later on Tyrion gives Daenerys a pep talk. Tyrion says dumping Daario was the smart move. Daenerys is a little concerned that she didn't feel anything while she was telling Daario to hit the road. Tyrion says that he was always a cynic but surprisingly at this point in his life he believes in Daenerys. Daenerys is touched by this. She officially makes Tyrion her Hand, giving him a clasp which she hopes looks right.

Walder Frey is eating and drinking all alone. A serving girl brings him more food. As soon as he confirms that he's not actually related to her he starts sexually harassing her. But Walder wants to know where his sons are, the ones who murdered Catelyn and Talisa Stark. The serving girl tells him that his sons are here. Walder scoffs and says no one is here stupid, where are my sons? The girl insists that his sons are here. Getting it, Walder looks a little more closely at the pie as the girl talks about the difficulty of getting human remains into a nice pie. And the girl moves her hands over her face. This girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. And she stabs Walder Frey. As she slits his throat and holds him down she tells him that she wants the last thing he sees to be a Stark smiling down at him. Benjen Stark drops off Meera Reed and Bran Stark near a weirwood tree. Benjen Stark can't cross the Wall in his half-alive/half-dead state. He will fight the White Walkers for as long as he can and wishes Meera and Bran good luck. Bran uses the weirwood to greensee/timetravel again. He goes back to the Tower of Joy. Ned Stark rushes inside to find his sister Lyanna on a bed of blood. She has hemorrhaged horribly. Ned can't accept that his baby sister is dying but Lyanna knows time is short. A newborn baby boy is brought to Ned. Lyanna whispers "His name is .. if Robert finds out he'll kill him" and demands that Ned "Promise me.. you have to protect him". Ned nods. As far as I am concerned this is confirmation of the long held fan theory discussed here. Just in case you still have any lingering doubts about this the director removes them by doing a long close up of the baby boy and fading out to a long close up of Jon Snow. Any questions? I didn't think so.

Jon and Sansa are leading a meeting of the surviving leadership of the North. This includes people who fought for the Starks at the last battle and some who didn't. The Vale men and LF are also there. Jon says that he knows everyone is tired but that the war isn't over. The White Walkers are coming. People start to look anywhere but at Jon and Sansa. Winter is here. People need to be back to their own lands and families. People aren't crazy about being on the same side as the wildlings. How much fighting can people be expected to do? Jon doesn't have too much to say to that. It looks like folks are going to slink away like people do in status meetings when a boss says he has a new project. But ten year old bada$$ little Lyanna Mormont isn't having it. Not today. She stands up and boasts that House Mormont has never broken faith with House Stark. She and her people were there at the last battle and they will be there at the next one. Because that is what it means to answer the call. She calls out other Houses who didn't answer the Starks in their time of need. She asks if that is really going to be their legacy. After all they lost people at the Red Wedding too. The leaders of House Glover and House Manderly, suitably shamed, admit their wrongdoing and beg forgiveness for their fears. Jon says there is nothing to forgive. And with that it's a "We're putting the band back together" moment as Wyman Manderly and Lord Glover draw their swords and re-pledge fealty to House Stark. They say that as Robb was the Young Wolf, Jon is the White Wolf. And all hail the White Wolf, King of the North! Everyone stands and chants The King of The North, even the Vale Knights and Davos. Everyone that is except LF, who is pretty clearly unhappy about this turn of events. He and Sansa lock eyes briefly. Sansa's smile at the acclaim for Jon goes away when she sees LF and his facial expression.

Jaime and Bronn arrive with the Lannister army back in King's Landing. They are of course shocked to see the burning pit where the Sept used to be. As the only Lannister left, Cersei, attired in a high neck tight dress, is proclaimed as Queen. She sits on the Iron Throne as her brother Jaime watches with an expression that is open to all sorts of different interpretations. Daenerys, The Unsullied, The Dothraki, Tyrion, Missandei, Grey Worm, Varys and of course Theon and Yara lead their invasion fleet back to Westeros as the dragons circle overhead.
And that's all folks!

What I liked

  • The Frey Pie served by Arya was done in a different context by a different character in Martin's books but that's not important. What is important is that the scene was lifted from Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus play. Shakespeare likely lifted it from the Greek legend of Atreus and who knows where the Greeks got it from. The point is that by its actions House Frey curses itself. It's a brutal thing. It's a reminder that there is retribution in this world and the next for certain evils.
  • THS made the same mistake Ned Stark did. He told Cersei his plans when he didn't actually have Cersei in custody. That scene at the Sept was well acted and timed. I wish the whole season had that element of suspense. Really well done.
  • The entire Sept sequence compares well with numerous other revenge instances in film. Cersei Lannister, do you renounce Satan and all his works?
  • Tommen was too sweet and too stupid to live with what was going on. 
  • If I get in a tight spot I am unworried as long as Lyanna Mormont is watching my back.
  • Daenerys is finally getting out of Meereen. Past time for that.

What I didn't like

  • I didn't care enough but again Dorne is not just Ellaria and her daughters/nieces. I disliked the entire Dorne storyline but other houses have nothing to say about the kinslaying?
  • There was too much travel that didn't line up with the distances involved. Arya and Varys make it back to Westeros in one episode? Varys goes back to Meereen in less than one episode? Come on now.
  • So Arya can change faces without having a face from the House of Black and White? How does this work again anyway? We spent how many episodes at the House of Black and White but it looks like the only rules that matter are those which the writers need at a given time.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Book Reviews: End of Watch, The Emperor's Armies

End of Watch
by Stephen King
End of Watch, as the title might indicate, is the concluding volume of the trilogy King started with Mr. Mercedes, reviewed earlier here. Depending on my mood it is alternately depressing and awe-inspiring that King has pumped out three hefty novels in a little over three years. He's one productive son-of-a-gun. An author who writes a little slower than that asked King how does he do it. There's no answer for that I guess. But whatever field you might work in, you ought to be able to appreciate King's work ethic and productivity. Very few writers can maintain his speed and quality. Anyway, that aside I enjoyed this story because I like King's voice. This wasn't King's best work but it was something that made me think a bit more about the big question which all of us will face.  As Boardwalk Empire's Nucky Thompson said " You tell yourself it’s quick, but you don’t know. You don’t know until it’s you, and then you’ll never tell anyone." King's more recent works have been suffused with that question. What happens after death? How do you alter your life patterns once your body starts to show the inevitable wear and tear of age?  Are you going to age gracefully? Or are you going to be a curmudgeon who moans and complains with every fresh indignity or limitation? What sort of legacy will you leave behind? Who will remember you and miss you? Why are there diseases that take our loved ones away years before when we thought their time would be? Are you going to be ready for your long white robe or are you going to be crying out for ice water because it's really hot where you're headed? And who's running this thing called existence anyway? In the hands of a different author these questions might be examined in a dry boring literary manner which would take almost forever to read. Well King is not James Joyce, and End of Watch is not Finnegans Wake. Thank God for small favors. I loved my high school English teachers but reading almost anything by James Joyce is an activity that should be strictly prohibited under the Geneva Conventions. Whatever deeper questions King examines in End of Watch are wrapped very tightly in a swift entertaining page turner. As we discussed elsewhere there are some writers who strongly believe that there are only a small number of stories. In this worldview, almost everyone (at least in the speculative fiction arena) is working off some riff of a pre-existing narrative. I don't know if I completely accept that argument but certainly when you read End of Watch you will have a deja vu feeling. You'll see a lot of cliches and tropes. Oodles and oodles of them are to be found. How you feel about that depends on your feelings about King and his particular talents. I thought that in the hands of a lesser writer these cliches would have annoyed me more. There's the One Last Job, Retired Cop, Ambitious Cold Woman,  Not as Dead as You Thought and many more. I have to list some spoilers from Mr. Mercedes below. 

Brady Hartsfield is the evil computer genius who ran down numerous people at a job fair in an unnamed lakeside city. Initially getting away with that crime, Brady, who had a twisted relationship with his mother, attempted to drive the (retired) investigating detective, Bill Hodges, to suicide. But Bill was made of sterner stuff. He taunted Brady and with the help of his friends Jerome and Holly, was able to track down Brady and prevent an even greater atrocity. Brady was left brain damaged in a semi-vegetative state when kind sweet Holly went upside his head with a sock crammed with ball bearings. End of Watch picks up both in the present day and the intervening years during which Brady was presumably brain-damaged. Bill now runs a investigative agency with Holly. Jerome has passed his geek stage and has either just graduated or is about to graduate from college. Holly, who is probably something of a female geek, (she's much older than Jerome but is likely a functioning autistic with severe OCD), is Bill's partner even though she still thinks of him as her boss. Bill, along with the the district attorney's people and a few media types, has continued over the years to visit Brady, convinced that Brady is either faking his injuries or hoping that Brady will recover so that he can be tried for his crimes. But it appears that Brady is gone for good. He's a gork, as the nurses say. People stop visiting Brady. Holly gets Bill to stop his visits because he gets so upset seeing Brady. Of course as any connoisseur of horror films knows, unless you stake the vampire through the heart, cut off the head and burn the body there's always still a chance that it could come back. When there are some strange suicides Bill's spidey sense starts to tingle. When he realizes that some of the people who are killing themselves are people who survived Brady's last planned attack, he gets the shivers. Bill's former partner, Pete, calls him in to consult on some suicide cases, informally of course. But Bill doesn't just have the suicides to worry about. Bill is pushing seventy years old. He has some recurrent pain on the left side of his body that doesn't feel like a heart attack. He's had those before, and this is different. Bill would just as soon not find out what it is. He ain't got time to bleed.

King mixes together prosaic human evil with something that is a little bit more than that. This second element wasn't present in the first book of the trilogy. There are a few references to other King books in End of Watch but the big one is to The Shining, as Brady's hospital room is Room 217. The people who are dying after they escaped something evil hearkens back to the ending of Christine. I was also reminded of stories such as Dan Simmons' Carrion Comfort and H.P. Lovecraft's The Thing On The Doorstep. The plot is pretty standard but King makes most of his characters, even the minor ones, feel very real. King deliberately doesn't explain everything in this story which added to the verisimilitude as far as I was concerned. Although it helps to have read the first book, King sketches out the broad backstory and moves on. Thankfully, King also toned down and mostly dropped Jerome's ridiculous Ebonics jive talk. This is a book which you can read very quickly. I haven't read the middle book yet but from what I understand it was an oblique step away from the Hartsfield storyline. End of Watch is an ultimately optimistic book though the reader may not see that for a while. King dedicated End of Watch to Thomas Harris, the writer who created Hannibal Lecter. It's an apt tribute.

The Emperor's Armies

By Chris Wraight
Warhammer is a boardgame, a fantasy role playing game and a shared story setting. The highest human technology in this fictional world is similar to 15th-16th century Europe. The dominant human nation is the Empire, which is broadly similar in culture to the Holy Roman Empire. One difference is that there are also a number of non-human races extant, some of whom are wholly inimical to humanity. Magic is real and so is the primary force of evil in the world, known simply as Chaos. Chaos actually controls land in this world and does its best to control, warp or destroy humanity. Chaos may work thru brute force, appeals to pride or lust, greed or any of the other ways to a man's or woman's heart. Chaos never ever stops. The fact that Chaos is evil doesn't necessarily mean that all of the forces opposing it are good. The Witch Hunters are trained and tasked to discover and root out those humans who serve Chaos but of course many of them just like the idea of being able to accuse and abuse people without much effective oversight. Some Witch Hunters are just as cruel and sadistic as any Chaos agent. For most people, contradicting or challenging a Witch Hunter is virtually signing their own death warrant. There are other forces who oppose the Witch Hunters and for that matter the Empire itself, who are not in league with Chaos. The Emperor's Armies is a 900 page collection of related stories set in the Old World of Warhammer. There are two novels  contained within, Sword of Justice and Sword of Vengeance, along with two short stories, Feast of Horrors, and Duty and Honour. Each novel is probably too long by about 200 pages. Feast of Horrors is a perfect example of a short story that gives you just enough to hook you in and then punches you in the gut with an ending that was in hindsight, predictable but nonetheless surprising and worthwhile. A Champion of the Emperor sits down to a strange dinner with nobles. Feast of Horrors was the best story here. Duty and Honour was probably the story I liked the least because it was all too predictable. A warrior fights for honor but a soldier does his duty. The two novels make up the meat of this omnibus. Sword of Vengeance is the sequel to Sword of Justice. I thought that each novel was a good example of a fine mix between the military action genre and the mystery genre. The supernatural links these two elements together but each novel jumps regularly back and forth between a "Whodunnit" motif and a "We're surrounded, outnumbered and far from home but we never surrender!" one. I actually enjoy both of these types of stories but some people may find the supernatural elements a bit much. It's also important to point out that in these novels at least cynical anti-heroes don't exist or if they do are certainly not the protagonists. In a world where people can literally see the workings of good and evil, there's not much room for snark, doubt or cynicism. For some readers this may mean they find the characters a little flat. Characterization isn't really the point of these novels. Plot is what carries both novels.

The Emperor, Karl Franz, has noticed that one of his cities, Averheim, has refused to seat a new elector. The top two candidates, Grosslich and Leitdorf, are almost equally matched, but keep finding reasons to put off the election. The Emperor can't have this. He sends one of his personal champions and military leaders, Schwarzhelm, to convince everyone to buckle down and have the election or failing that to pick someone himself. Schwarzhelm and his devious assistant Verstohlen find that something is subtly wrong in the city of Averheim though neither can put their finger on it. Meanwhile at the frontier the Emperor's soldiers are fighting against orcs who are more numerous and better armed than before. Some of the orcs inexplicably have human weapons and gold, which doesn't bode well for the Empire. When a series of unfortunate events occurs, Schwarzhelm is forced to deal with the Emperor's other top champion and war leader, Helborg. The two soldiers' intense dislike for one another is never far from the surface. It threatens to boil over into something that could not only destroy their fragile relationship but the Empire itself. Verstohlen is adding 2 and 2 and coming up with 5. He's trying to watch Schwarzhelm's back while digging into the mysterious events in the city. Meanwhile something or someone is watching Verstohlen from the shadows and pulling strings. As I said this is a fun read for genre fans: the Empire's equivalent of the Pope leads a grim do or die assault on the ancient enemy when all seems lost. We get a front row view of the dangers of infantry combat. Verstohlen's investigations and mistakes are appropriately suspenseful. But as mentioned the characters are not all that deep. Everyone has very simple motivations. And each novel ran on a bit long. But fun was definitely had in reading. And that's all you can ask for ultimately. I'm going to keep a look out for other work by this author, in and outside of the Warhammer franchise.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Games of Thrones Recap: Battle of the Bastards

George R.R. Martin has famously and consistently said that he expects the ending of his series A Song of Ice and Fire to be bittersweet. He has, at least in part, shared what he expects that ending to be with Weiss and Benioff, the creators of HBO's A Game of Thrones. There's no way of knowing if this was derived from something that Martin said (unless Weiss and Benioff confirm it) but I think tonight's episode had some of that aforementioned bittersweet feeling. There were crowd pleasing scenes that were long in coming but there were also some bitterly dashed hopes. More on that in a minute. As is typical with the penultimate episode of this series Sunday's night's episode was very tightly focused. Everything took place in two locations-The North/Winterfell and Meereen. This recap will be a little shorter than normal but that does not reflect the intensity nor the scope of what took place. In Meereen, Tyrion is playing the part of every bumbling middle manager trying to explain to the enraged CEO that things aren't really as bad as they seem and by the way it's not really his fault anyway. Have you ever had to do that at your job? It's not a fun thing to do. Imagine if the CEO has a penchant for feeding failures to dragons. That might tend to make her underlings stay focused. And like a typical big boss, Daenerys is unimpressed with Tyrion's excuses or explanations. She straightforwardly says she will destroy her enemies and burn them all. Tyrion thinks that this might be a good time to channel his inner Tom Hagen and tell her "You've won Mike!! Do you have to kill everybody?". Well it's not that exactly but Tyrion does remind his queen of her insane father and his predilection for burning things and people. The Mad King had hidden caches of wildfire all throughout King's Landing. Tyrion is worried that this love of fire is apparently a genetic tendency. He suggests an alternate plan. Apparently listening to her height challenged adviser, Daenerys meets with representatives of the slavers.

But the slavers are smelling themselves. They want Daenerys to leave without her army and without Grey Worm or Missandei, who will be sold back into slavery. And they will kill her dragons. Daenerys finds this amusing as evidently these mental midgets haven't been watching the previous episodes to see what happens to men who underestimate Daenerys or condescend to her. Daenerys thinks something went wrong in translation as the surrender which was supposed to be under discussion was that of the slavers, not hers. Oh well. These things happen. Perhaps it's time for another reminder of just what dragons can do. Daenerys summons and mounts Drogon. Then with the other two dragons she burns a good portion of the attacking fleet. Not all of it, because she intends to take the ships for her own. The Dothraki and the Second Sons attack the Sons of the Harpy and wipe them out. Grey Worm suggests that the slave soldiers serving the slavers run away, which they do. Grey Worm then kills the two slavers who offered up their comrade in sacrifice to Daenerys' command that someone had to die for the breaking of the treaty. The surviving slaver is urged to return home and let everyone know just how Daenerys gets down. Shortly after this the Greyjoy Siblings arrive in Meereen. Tyrion reminds Theon of all the height jokes Theon made when they saw each other at Winterfell. Tyrion didn't really appreciate those. He takes a short tone with Theon. Tyrion has had it up to here with snarky comments about his height. Tyrion is a little surprised to see Theon now, He's heard about Theon's presumed murder of Bran and Rickon but apparently not about Theon's torture and castration at the hands of Ramsay Bolton. Yara and Daenerys are each intrigued by the other's seizing and wielding of power in a world that normally restricts leadership roles to men. Daenerys also seems to appreciate that Yara speaks plainly and doesn't back down from her. And is Yara looking at Daenerys in that way? And does Daenerys like that look? Hmm. Yara and Theon point out that even though Euron can probably offer a bigger navy, he will demand marriage to Daenerys and likely kill her soon afterwards. After some squabbling and bonding over their fathers' misdeeds Daenerys agrees to support Yara as Queen of the Iron Islands. But independence is off the table and no more reaving in the Seven Kingdoms. A deal is made.

In the North there is the required pre-battle meeting between the good guys and the bad guys. You can't have a showdown without one of those. Everyone knows that. Ten year old bada$$ Lyanna Mormont is there with her trademark scowl along with Davos, Tormund, Sansa and Jon. Ramsay, Karstark and Smalljon are also there. Smalljon again gives proof in the form of Shaggydog's severed head that they have Rickon. Ramsay is in a charming mood and promises that if everyone kneels and acclaims him as Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North they will get to live. He knows he outnumbers them at least 3:1 so battle is a bad idea. Finally he brings up the uncomfortable fact that from the outside it looks like Jon deserted the Night's Watch. Jon and Sansa are unperturbed. Jon challenges Ramsay to single combat which Ramsay declines. Sansa tells Ramsay that he will die and rides off. Ramsay talks about what he's going to do to Sansa once he has her back. This ends the meeting. That night as Jon and his council discuss strategy and battle tactics Jon shows that he apparently has been reading ancient Carthaginian history during the long nights at Castle Black. Jon intends to fight a seemingly defensive battle, draw Ramsay's troops in and then surround them with a double envelopment move. It's the strategy which the Carthaginian general Hannibal used when he annihilated the Roman army at Cannae. To blunt the effectiveness of Ramsay's cavalry, which greatly worries Tormund, Jon has had his men dig trenches to prevent the horsemen from flanking them. It's a good plan, but Sansa is unimpressed. In fact she's downright hostile to her big brother, saying that he doesn't know Ramsay. Ramsay is not stupid whatever else he may be. And Sansa also thinks that Rickon is already as good as dead no matter what happens. As the last known living legitimate son of Ned Stark, Rickon has better claim to Winterfell than a bastard (Jon) or a woman(Sansa). Ramsay won't allow that claim to exist. 

Showing a flash of temper Jon points out that he wasn't exactly sitting on his behind during the past five seasons. He's been in situations that Sansa couldn't possibly imagine so perhaps she should take that bass out of her voice when she speaks to him. But Sansa won't back down. Likely choking back another smart comment Jon asks Sansa what her advice is. Sansa responds that she doesn't know war but she knows Ramsay. Jon should not do what Ramsay wants. Jon can't hide his displeasure at such an obvious statement. The siblings also start up again about their lack of manpower but Jon says it is what it is. Sansa says she's not going back to Ramsay alive no matter what. Jon is crestfallen and says he will protect her. Sansa snorts at that. Davos can't ever sleep before a battle. He and Tormund talk for a while about being wrong about the kings they followed. Davos walks throughout the night. At dawn he finds the burned stag toy which he gave to Shireen. Jon goes to see Melisandre to see what advice she has. She's in her normal low cut gown watching the fires. For a moment I thought she was going to suggest that she and Jon make a shadow baby but no dice. Melisandre's advice is not to lose which again is something that is so freaking obvious that it irritates Jon. He orders Melisandre not to bring him back if he should die but she refuses that order. This leads into a short discussion about army command, free will and God's plan which ends up with Melisandre saying that the Lord of Light is the god that we have, which is an echo of Jon's statement to Sansa that their small army is the army that they have. Melisandre seems a bit depressed.
The following morning it's time to ante up and kick in. Ramsay has burned men hanging on his x crosses. He also has Rickon Stark on a rope. After ostentatiously displaying a knife to Rickon's throat and making Jon gasp, Ramsay cuts Rickon's bonds and orders him to run to his brother Jon. Rickon starts to run but apparently Ramsay has been watching the Mel Gibson movie Apocalypto, which contained a similar scene. Ramsay shoots a few arrows at Rickon but misses. Jon starts to ride to his brother. Rickon tries to run a little faster. Ramsay misses again. You get the feeling that the first few times he wasn't trying. Jon gets closer. Rickon unfortunately has not seen the movie Apocalypto and is not zig zagging during his run. Also unlike fan favorites Arya Stark or Daenerys, Rickon Stark lacks plot armor. Just as Jon is about to sweep up baby brother and ride back to safety Ramsay shoots Rickon right through the heart. He's dead. Dead. Throwing aside caution and his plan Jon charges the Bolton lines. Battle is joined despite Davos cursing that this is not the plan. Jon is soon dismounted. Chaos ensues. The Stark forces are getting the worst of it. As Sansa said, they don't have the numbers. Ramsay stays out of the fighting , ordering regular archery barrages on everyone, under the theory that he can afford to lose a few men while the other side can't. This battle is one of the best choreographed battles I've seen on television. That said though it still irritated me that Jon wasn't wearing a helmet. Obviously it's tv but (Theon not withstanding) if there's one body part you want to protect in battle it's your head. Although it's dispensed with in this battle, good armor works. So people usually try to hit you where your armor is weaker or non-existent. They also try to hit you where serious damage is immediately fatal, like your head. A commander, or anyone with any resources or sense, would not be running around a battlefield without a helmet. The North in general and wildings in particular have fewer resources than the South so maybe that's the explanation. But I guess you have to have Jon without a helmet so we can see him kick all the a$$ he's kicking and look good doing it. Still.

OK all that aside Davos leads the reserve into battle when it looks like Jon and company are in some serious trouble. This helps for a minute but there's just too many enemies. Jon falls and spends some very harrowing moments on the ground trying not to get trampled. Everyone is packed so close now that it's hard to breathe. Jon nearly suffocates. Did I mention how good the camerawork was here. It's like you were there.The Bolton infantry has surrounded Jon's forces on three sides and is slowly advancing in a shieldwall formation, stabbing out with pikes and spears. This is devastating to the mostly unarmored wildlings. On the fourth side there's a pile of corpses over which the Umbers are attacking Jon's army. Wun-Wun the giant tries to break the shield wall but even a giant can only take so many stabs. Tormund and SmallJon Umber go head up. Tormund walks away. The Smalljon does not. Davos is handling his business. Jon has finally resurfaced. They might be able to cut their way out of the trap via the back way but it's unlikely. Wun-Wun has reached his limit. Mother of mercy is this the end of Jon? No it's not. There are horns heard. The Knights of the Vale have arrived in the nick of time. They cut apart the Bolton forces. Littlefinger sits smirking right next to Sansa of course. What better place to be if you're Littlefinger? Ramsay rides back to Winterfell, pursued by Jon, Tormund and some surviving wildlings and Wun-Wun. Ramsay thinks that he can hold Winterfell but Wun-Wun, dying on his feet, breaks down the gate. He's probably dead anyway but Ramsay being the precise sadist he is, shoots Wun-Wun in the eye killing him. Seeing that Jon is bloody and wounded Rasmay agrees that now would be a good time for single combat and tries to shoot Jon. Jon picks up a shield to protect himself and closes with Ramsay. Jon beats the s*** out of Ramsay with his bare hands. He only stops when he sees Sansa watching him. Later on the Stark forces throw out the Bolton banners. Melisandre is there. Jon gives orders that Rickon be buried in the crypts. Sansa asks Jon where Ramsay is. Apparently Sansa has some plans for Ramsay. Some time has passed. 

Ramsay wakes up tied and chained in the kennels. Sansa tells Ramsay that he has lost everything. His house and name will be forgotten. Ramsay tries to get in a parting shot by telling Sansa she can't kill him because he's part of her now. Sansa says does Ramsay remember that he boasted to everyone that he had starved his hounds to make them extra vicious against his enemies. Well look where you are now fool! The kennels! Finally discomfited, Ramsay notices his hounds skulking around. He tries the good boy bit but as Sansa has indicated, the dogs want meat. They are starving. They get closer and closer and rip Ramsay apart. He dies screaming. 

What I liked

  • Were Ramsay's final words confirmation that Sansa is pregnant? "I'm part of you now" certainly made me think that she was. It could explain a few other things as well.
  • Obviously that Ramsay is no more. Who let the dogs out? 
  • Excellent battle scenes.

What I didn't like

  • Rickon's death. It made sense that Ramsay would never let him go, however. We can get rid of all that speculation that Smalljon Umber was a double agent or that ShaggyDog was actually alive. I wonder if Rickon's death is going to happen in the books? Kid loses his mother, father, brother, has his house burned down, his wolf killed and then dies pointlessly. Seems unfair.
  • The squabbling between Jon and Sansa. I also don't like that with Rickon's death Jon and Sansa may have different ideas about who should be the Stark in Winterfell. And with Littlefinger in the mix that won't end well.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Music Reviews: O.V. Wright

O.V. Wright
I didn't hear or more likely didn't remember hearing O.V. Wright until relatively late in life. But once I heard him he became one of my favorite singers. Most of the top soul singers, and Wright was in that class, came out of the church. Wright was no different. Wright, who had a very expressive tenor voice, started out with gospel groups such as The Five Harmonaires,The Sunset Travelers, and The Spirit of Memphis Quarter. Wright's I don't want to sit down is a rewrite of gospel great Sister Rosetta Tharpe's Sit Down. Don't Let my Baby ride is an obvious reworking of the gospel classic Don't Let the Devil Ride. That O.V. Wright song may also be the inspiration for the humorous Albert King lyric "If you got a good woman you'd better pin her to your side/Because if she flag my train brother, I'm bound to let her ride!" In 1964-65, no doubt at least partially inspired by Sam Cooke, who had made a similar journey (and whom Wright occasionally sounded like early on, check out Gone for Good to hear the Cooke influence) Wright made the switch to non-gospel music. Even as he sang secular music Wright always kept that gospel tinge. In fact in some aspects Wright never left gospel behind. As mentioned in other posts, with many older singers born before a certain time it's simplistic to talk of them as a "blues" or "soul" or "R&B" singer. They did it all. Wright moved more or less seamlessly between various forms of traditional Black American music both secular and profane.  Wright had a voice and style that could make you feel the oozing pain from his soul in one song and the transcendent joy he was experiencing in another. Even singers as talented as Tyrone Davis, Little Milton and Johnnie Taylor hesitated to go on stage after O.V. Wright. There weren't too many singers who could take a song associated with Bobby Bland and make it their own but Wright did just that with "I'll take care of you". Wright and Bobby Bland often used the same studio band as each man famously recorded for the Duke/Peacock/Backbeat music group presided over by Houston based black entrepreneur/gangster Don Robey. Robey was not only a record label owner and promoter but also a songwriter and publisher. Or more precisely he was listed as the songwriter on many tunes recorded by performers who worked for him. Robey had a certain reputation. In some areas it wasn't considered smart to cross Robey or say no to him. If Robey said he had a contract with you it might have been wiser (and healthier) to agree regardless of the facts. Whatever the truth of these rumors around Robey may have been it's a fact that there are a number of classic and presumably lucrative blues, soul and R&B songs that have Robey listed as the songwriter under his preferred pseudonym of Deadric Malone, including several recorded by O.V. Wright.

8th grade Graduation Speech with Political Impersonations

You should never take things too seriously. That goes for 8th grade graduations and Presidential elections. I thought the impressions were pretty good, particularly of President Obama and Bernie Sanders.

Whoever wins this year’s presidential election might want to call this Chicago-area eighth-grader up as a speech writer. Jack Aiello is a young teen with big dreams ahead of him — and potentially a slot on "Saturday Night Live" or in the White House. The Arlington Heights middle schooler has quickly garnered Internet praise for his hilarious graduation speech, which included impersonations of the 2016 presidential candidates. Aiello’s entire roughly 350-student graduating class was tasked with writing a graduation speech as part of an English assignment. The speeches were then evaluated by teachers and staff before three finalists were selected. "He was hands down No. 1 because it was going to speak to the kids," principal Brian Kaye said."I’ve decided that since we’re in the middle of an election year, that I would do my graduation speech in the style of some of the 2016 presidential candidates[along with President Obama]," Jack begins in the video. But what unfolds after that is a series of spot-on impersonations that few in the audience could have anticipated from the soon-to-be-high-schooler described by many as "humble."

"He’s been doing them since he was very young — family members, teachers, he even makes up his own silly voices and he’s been doing that for a very long time," said his mother, Carla Aiello. "And then with the election, he watches the news clips and he just absorbs everything."

"If you were to ask him what he really wants to do, he really truly does want to be president someday. He feels a great desire to be a leader," said his father, John Aiello. "A politician or a comedian, which the lines do sometimes blur."

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Orlando Massacre

Over the weekend a U.S. citizen of Afghan heritage and Islamic religion, Omar Mateen, committed the worst single gunman mass shooting in US history, killing at least 49 people. That number may rise. I can't write much on this now because the Day Job requirements have become more pressing while my Day Job overseer has become more demanding. That's how it goes when you work for other people. The thing I did find intriguing and yet unsurprising is how quickly everyone framed this atrocity according to their favored narrative or tribe. Some people on the left, who would have otherwise pontificated at length about the evils of homophobic heteronormative patriarchal Christian Republicanism had the gunman been of European Christian heritage, ignored the gunman's personal demons or religious motivations to focus on the gunman's ability to purchase an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle. Some people on the right were downright gleeful that the Orlando gunman wasn't a man of European Christian heritage. They only wished to discuss the wisdom of bringing in numerous immigrants from countries whose cultures are not as advanced as ours in terms of women's rights, gay rights or tolerance of different religions and lifestyles. Some of these immigrants or their 2nd generation children have proven to be problematic to say the least. Some people, including one Presidential candidate, would say this shows that members of group A are dangerous and should all be prevented from entering this country. Other Americans think that a different group is dangerous and should be prevented from owning weapons. I don't have a lot to say about this not only because I have supervisors who've made it clear that my attention is better spent elsewhere during the day (LOL) but also because I think almost everything has already been said. 

There are some people who do not like the 2nd Amendment and/or do not like the current interpretation of same. They do not think anyone who is not a police officer or in the military needs a semi-automatic rifle. They are quite willing to nibble away at or throw out protections when it comes to private civilian ownership of weapons. Other people venerate the 2nd amendment but have deep hostility towards the 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments. They would love to have more government review and censorship of emails and social media, secret trials, incarceration without trial, preventive detention, stop-n-frisk and a general shift away from individual rights towards government control. The two sides really only differ in the details of which individual rights they find troublesome.  All I can say is have at it. There is a process for changing the Constitution. It's difficult for a reason. If you really want to get rid of private gun ownership, eliminate the 2nd Amendment. But you should bring a lot of friends because that's going to be a fight. There is simply no way that we can tell ahead of time who is going to be a responsible gun owner and who is not. There is no psychological test that will allow us to consistently say "Aha, this person will crack up." Short of outlawing semi-automatic weapons for everyone nothing could have prevented the gunman from legally purchasing his gun--at least nothing that I would find congruent with current civil liberties. But that's neither here nor there. Time is fleeting and back to the salt mines I must go. Bottom line is no matter how much you may dislike the fact that people can purchase an AR-15 or any other semi-automatic weapon, roughly a third to half of this country's population feels differently. And they vote too. This is going to happen again. Saying that people who think differently than you are nasty people with small private parts and warped sex drives or from the opposite POV are wimpy effeminate types who couldn't defend themselves against an aggressive fruit fly may make you feel better but it won't change a damn thing. Like it or not private gun ownership isn't going away. And neither is gun regulation.

Monday, June 13, 2016

HBO Game of Thrones Recap : No One

In Braavos after Lady Crane finishes playing Cersei during Joffrey's death scene she leaves the stage. In her dressing room Lady Crane discovers Arya wounded and just about out of it. She binds Arya's wounds. I guess we'll just ignore the serious nature of several deep stabs to the stomach, intestines, kidneys and liver areas for now and roll with the story. When Arya questions how an actress learned to be such a good medic Lady Crane tells Arya of previous domestic violence issues with her beloved bad boy paramours. But hold on to your feminist outrage. Lady Crane was the aggressor. She also got rid of the actress playing Sansa by scarring the girl's face. She likes Arya. She offers to bring along Arya when the troupe moves to Pentos.  Arya says she can't stay with Lady Crane because she'll put her in danger. The Hound, as befits his name, has tracked down some of the members of the Brotherhood without Banners and showed them 99 different ways he can turn them into origami with just one trusty axe. He hasn't found the leaders yet but he's looking. The Hound is not so much on the forgive and forget train any more. King Charmin Tommen gave the Faith Militant access to the Red Keep. Qyburn is too polite or too scared of Cersei to point out Tommen's weakness but Cersei knows it well enough. Smelling himself a bit, Cersei's cousin and former lover Lancel tells her that The High Sparrow wants to see her. Cersei is not really feeling this but Lancel makes it clear that it's not a request. So get moving. Now!  Cersei has had just about enough of this attitude and says she's not going. So Lancel and his Holy Rollers need to leave. When they try to seize her, FrankenGregor steps in. One of the Faith Militant is foolish enough to attack the undead Mountain. The Mountain knocks him down and rips him apart. Cersei sardonically lets Lancel know he and The High Sparrow are always welcome to visit. But maybe Cersei played this hand too soon. A little later there is a royal pronouncement in the throne room. Cersei is rather ostentatiously not invited to hear it. Typically she shows up anyway but her uncle Kevan, Tommen's Hand, won't let her anywhere near her son. He banishes her to the upstairs gallery, an obvious insult. King Stay-Soft announces trial dates for Loras and Cersei but in a move that probably comes from The High Sparrow Tommen also announces that effective immediately, trial by combat is banned. It's barbaric and doesn't really prove anything. Instead seven Septons will judge Loras and Cersei. And just like that Cersei is deprived of her most obvious weapon. But you never laugh at live lionesses. Qyburn tells Cersei that there's much more to the rumors she had him investigate. Interesting. Cersei has a plan. I'm sure this involves violence.

Brienne and Podrick reach Riverrun. They are surrounded by Lannister soldiers and escorted to see Jaime. Bronn shoots the breeze with Podrick. Bronn is not awed by Podrick squiring for Brienne or with Podrick's tales of training sessions under Brienne. Bronn says Podrick should be a knight by now. Bronn wants to know if Podrick has had Brienne and is disappointed to find out otherwise. Bronn is a pragmatic sort. He points out that Brienne and Jaime look at each other in a certain way. Bronn also shows Bronn a few combat moves that Brienne might not know about. Jaime claims to be impressed that Brienne found Sansa alive, but he's not going to lift the siege despite Brienne's appeals to his honor. The best Brienne can get from Jaime is an agreement to take Riverrun without bloodshed and let the Tully army go north to help Sansa. Of course this requires that the Blackfish surrender Riverrun based on Brienne's appeals and Sansa's letter. Jaime doubts that will happen. But for old time's sake he's willing to let Brienne try. Jaime says that the Blackfish is even more stubborn than Brienne. Brienne says that The Blackfish wants to stay and fight she will feel honor bound to take The Blackfish's side as she's sworn to Sansa. When Brienne reaches the Blackfish he proves Jaime's assertion to be correct. He questions why Brienne's friend Jaime would let her thru the lines. He points out that he's not seen Sansa since she was a child and wouldn't know her signature. He questions Brienne's gear (Lannister). When he reads Sansa's letter The Blackfish reluctantly recognizes his sister Catelyn's style in the writing. But even if he wanted to leave he just can't. Besides, he doesn't have the numbers. He's unmoved by Brienne saying that he has more men than Sansa. The Blackfish is sorry but he's also fighting for his home and must say no. He's tired of running. Brienne tells Podrick to get word north that she failed.

Jaime visits Edmure Tully. Jaime is affable enough initially, apologizing for the rough treatment of Edmure by the Freys. Edmure doesn't trust Jaime. Having your sister, nephew and various bannermen murdered at the behest of the Lannisters tends to reduce goodwill. Jaime is not bothered by this. War is war, after all. And what ever else is happening he's the one with freedom and an army. Edmure is the one who is imprisoned and living only because Jaime finds it currently useful. Slowly dropping his guise of affability and letting his true nature shine thru, Jaime tells Edmure that the incest rumors are true. He loves his sister very much. Jaime was inspired by the common traits that Cersei and the late Catelyn Stark had. They each possessed a ferocious love for their children. Jaime thinks Edmure is probably the same way. But in any event even if Edmure lacks that attribute, Jaime is anxious to return to Cersei. Jaime is so anxious to get back that if he has to murder Edmure's child with Roslin Frey he will do just that. He would slaughter the entire world for a slice of Cersei's well, you know. Edmure wants to know how Jaime lives with himself but Jaime doesn't care what Edmure thinks.That's the point he's trying to impress upon Edmure you see. Cleaned up and released, Edmure rides up to Riverrun and demands entry. The Blackfish objects because he knows it's a trick. Unfortunately the Tully hierarchy has apparently not previously discussed this eventuality. The Blackfish argues that an order given under duress is no order but the second in-command and apparently most of the Tully warriors are of the opinion that their lord is their lord, no matter what. And Edmure Tully is in their view the legal lord of Riverrun. The Blackfish is not. And they are willing to enforce this view with violence against The Blackfish if need be. Disgusted, The Blackfish backs down. Showing that he has the spine of a jellyfish, once he's inside Edmure Tully orders his men to lay down their weapons and open the gates to the Lannister-Frey armies. If I were in the Tully brigade I might have thrown Edmure over the walls myself. What a wuss. Brienne and Podrick flee. The Blackfish apparently dies fighting offscreen.
In Meereen another Red Priestess is singing the praises of Daenerys. Tyrion and Varys walk thru the streets. Varys is leaving on a secret mission. Is he returning to Westeros? It's unclear. It's a secret mission after all. Back at headquarters, Tyrion is incredibly satisfied with himself. He thinks all his plans and rationality have paid off. He's just so smart. He finally gets Grey Worm and Missandei to lighten up and have some wine with him. Nevertheless neither of his new drinking buddies seems to appreciate Tyrion's sense of humor. Missandei likes the wine though. She also likes Grey Worm, as if that weren't obvious. But this nascent joviality is aborted when alarms ring out. The slavers have gotten themselves a fleet and are attacking Meereen. Battle is joined. Showing that he still has an ego if not his manhood Grey Worm can't resist telling Tyrion that Tyrion was wrong. Tyrion admits he was wrong but still has some ideas about where and how to fight. Grey Worm doesn't want to hear it. It's a military situation. He's running things now. He intends to fight a defensive battle and make the invaders pay. But this is interrupted by Daenerys' return. The Hound has tracked down the last Brotherhood without Banners outlaws but finds that the three remaining men were renegades who are about to be executed by the true Brotherhood without Banners members, led by Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. The Hound insists that the men are his to kill but Beric disagrees. After some haggling Beric agrees to let The Hound kill two of them, but only by hanging. No axe work or mutilation. Afterwards The Hound sticks around for dinner and listens to Beric and Thoros talk of a great danger coming in the North. They need his help and say that the Hound can still redeem himself. Checking on Arya, Lady Crane sees a young man in her room. Arya wakes up to find The Waif in her room. Lady Crane is dead. This kicks off a chase scene that may have felt epic when it was written but which I found interminable. The Waif pursues Arya through about half of Braavos before she corners her in Arya's little cave. Only this time Arya has Needle. The Waif doesn't care. Arya closes her eyes and extinguishes the candle that lights the cave. Back at the House of Black and White Jaqen H'ghar notices blood on the floor. He follows the blood stains to find a new face on the wall. It's the Waif's face. Arya is behind Jaqen with Needle. She wants to know if Jaqen sent the Waif after her. Jaqen says yes. Jaqen says that finally a girl is no one. Arya disagrees. She says that she is Arya Stark of Winterfell. And she's going home.

What I liked

  • I liked the end of the Arya overseas storyline. I liked that the fighting blind training paid off.
  • I liked the fact that Edmure Tully was forced to choose between the memory of a dead sister and nephew and the hope/promise of a living son. Whereas The Blackfish could afford to be unfettered about making a last stand, having no children, Edmure couldn't. You could argue that he SHOULD have been especially since his in-laws are the ones who murdered his sister and nephew and are likely to murder him soon but parenthood is a responsibility that can change perspectives.
  • I liked the reminder that Jaime is not a nice man. At all.
  • Most people would prefer not to go out in a blaze of glory if they have a choice about it. Of course since it's the Freys outside the walls I would be hesitant about surrendering and trusting their word but it is what it is.
  • It's a little hamfisted but I think we're supposed to notice that Tommen is always framed listening to and responding to men. Certainly Kevan, Pycelle and The High Sparrow have marginalized The Queen of Thorns, Margaery and Cersei. 

What I didn't like

  • I thought that Brynden "The Blackfish" Tully deserved a final onscreen confrontation with either Jaime or Edmure. The actor oozes testosterone and gravitas. 
  • It's one thing for Tommen to fall under the influence of the The High Sparrow but little man was just apologizing to Mommy a few episodes ago about not standing up for her. I understand that Cersei has few friends but would Tommen really be so callous about his mother's fate? Mother is everything.
  • Sorry but people who get stabbed multiple times in the gut and side take a bit longer to heal, if they ever do. 
  • The Missandei-Tyrion-Grey Worm scenes just don't work for me. They don't really like and more importantly don't understand each other. Perhaps this was supposed to be a commentary on the foolishness/arrogance of the White Man's Burden, or White Woman's Burden, since it's part of Daenerys' storyline, but I found the scenes boring. I would like Daenerys to leave for Westeros. I want to see how she fares with people who are war weary and don't care for her claim. I also want to see exactly how a self-styled liberator leads an army of Dothraki and mercenaries that live for rape and slavery.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Movie Reviews: The Ones Below, Get The Gringo

The Ones Below
directed by David Farr
The Ones Below is a nifty little thriller movie which shows once again that you can make impressive disturbing films without over reliance on gore and guts. If I recall correctly there is virtually no violence in this movie although the filmmaker certainly makes you think there might be much more than there is. It's creepy as hell though. Visually the only sex appeal is fleeting off screen coitus and a few cleavage baring outfits, but there's nothing I would find gratuitous. Of course I almost never find cleavage gratuitous so take that with a grain of salt. No this is a game attempt at what might be called a thinking man's or woman's thriller. I didn't think The Ones Below needlessly insulted the viewer's intelligence even as some things became obvious. You'll see the twist coming a mile away but I think you still might be a little impressed with how the movie reaches the seemingly inevitable ending. This film slowly ratchets up the dread even as the outside world in which the characters live is cheerfully bright. One of the beautiful and horrible things about life is that we all inhabit our own little reality bubbles. One person is getting divorced by their spouse. Another one is welcoming their first child into the world. Someone else is dying a slow painful death from cancer. And the world just keeps on turning. The Ones Below does a great job in showing the contrast between our inner and outer worlds. Obviously there are some allusions to previous films here. It's very difficult to escape the shadow of Rosemary's Baby given the themes and subject matter. It is or should be a source of amazement that we can so easily and quickly create another human being provided we can find an interested someone with parts complementary to our own. But although the initial act of creation is very easy, relatively quick and usually joyous for both parties involved, the long process of bringing another human being into the world falls exclusively to the woman and is, from what I've heard, not necessarily a bowl of cherries.

Fox Sports Florida Reporter Emily Austen Fired

There are some people who routinely make ethnic or racial comments and earn a good living doing just that. These people are usually comedians, writers or politicians who represent districts where the overwhelming majority of people look like them and/or agree with their point of view. Other people are better off just reading whatever is on the teleprompter, smiling and raking in the big bucks. When some people go off script and let you know what they really think they run into problems. There's a very thin line between a comment that is crass or ignorant but not meanspirited and one that is deliberately malicious. Who knows what's really in Emily Austen's (former Fox Sports Florida sideline reporter for the Tampa Bay Rays and Orlando Magic) heart. All the public can go by is what Austen said. I'm betting that Austen is probably wishing that she hadn't made the comments that she made during an interview with Barstool Sports.

Emily Austen won't be the sideline reporter for future Tampa Bay Rays games on Fox Sports Florida. Nor will she do that job for the Orlando Magic next season either. After unleashing a variety of racial and religious jokes during a live Facebook chat with Barstool Sports, Austen has gotten the ax from Fox's regional sports station. During a 35-minute video with three men, Austen made several controversial comments, among them:
• That she "didn't even know that Mexicans were that smart.''
• How the "Chinese guy is always the smartest guy in math class.''
• About how she "used to talk to Jews in Boca'' when she was a server, saying one customer was "stingy'' because he complained about how she poured his beer and that "they would complain and b---- about everything.''
Austen, 27, also referred to Cleveland Cavaliers basketball player Kevin Love as a "little b - - - -.'' While this is the sort of anti-PC, bro-centric content that has made Barstool Sports a popular (and well-funded) Internet destination, Austen learned pretty quickly what flies on Barstool Sports doesn't necessarily fly at her workplace. 

I don't see this as political correctness run amok so much as I see someone who lost sight of who she was and how important she wasn't to her company. You have to be pretty stupid or pretty privileged to let something you're doing outside of your workplace interfere with your work. I listen to sports radio during my commute. It is a place where slightly different rules apply. Still there are standards. Questioning a player's masculinity in a crude fashion is inbounds I think. Being amazed that an entire ethnic group/nationality is not as dumb as you thought they were is out of bounds. You always need to have a clear understanding of your value to your employer. If your departure won't negatively change your company's revenue stream or stock price, you should probably be careful about what you say in public. The other lesson is something everyone should already know. Just because someone smiles at you doesn't mean they like you. You can hear the problematic comments starting at 24:31.


Do you think Austen deserved to be fired for her comments?