Monday, June 27, 2016

Game of Thrones

It is difficult to review television without giving away something of the plot. Tread lightly if you haven't seen the series in its entirety.

Season 6 (2016)
Cersei plots revenge while sitting back helpless in humiliation as her son is taken in by the High Sparrow and the gods, Arya learns some harsh lessons in life and death, and Sansa, after being rescued by an unlikely source, reunites with an unsurprisingly resurrected and differently composed Jon as they gear up to retake Winterfell from the odious Ramsay Bolton. In this first season without George R.R. Martin as a writer and as the series eyes the finish line and moves all of its pawns into place, it is nice to see the pace finally pick up with so much finally happening in this multi-storied universe, with also some incredible set pieces to boot in the latter episodes. Still the quality of the dialogue seems the worst its ever been, some stories still seem stuck in limbo (i.e. Daenerys and Tyrion), while Arya's would be powerful tale comes off as insipid and disappointing.
*** out of ****

Season 4 (2014) and Season 5 (2015)
An act of treachery at the Royal Wedding sends Tyrion toward a new destiny and Sansa into greater peril. Daenerys learns how to rule over the recently liberated Meereen and Stannis provides relieve to the Night's Watch only to find more obstacles on his quest to the Iron Throne. The fourth season of Game of Thrones is a marked improvement over the previous one, with the intrigue at King's Landing exciting enough to cover for the dull wheel spinning that continues to go on elsewhere (i.e. The Wall, Meereen), only to return for a dreadful, monotonous fifth season that brings nothing closer to resolution except in killing off several major characters in the end, which surely will thrill many fans but seems a giant waste of their protracted storylines. Without having read the books, it almost seems as if George R.R. Martin crafted an excellent first entry, which was then adapted into a great first season, and then had absolutely no idea what he signed on for or where it was going after that. While watching the "previously on" segment for Sunday's finale I realized that I had never seen a show with so much going on where so little actually happens.
Season 4: *** out of ****
Season 5 ** out of ****

Season 3 (2013)
As the inhabitants of King’s Landing recover from the their costly victory at the Battle of Blackwater and Stannis and his few remaining followers lick their wounds on a remote island, war parties led by Rob Stark and Daenerys Targaryen continue their arduous march on the capital. I wanted to keep this short and sweet after feeling the ire from panning another highly popular show, but season three represents an even steeper decline for this beloved series and, even in the “Golden Age of Television” as many have dubbed it, provides further evidence of the difficulties of sustaining an extended serial, even one based on extensive source material. You can almost picture George R.R. Martin and the HBO execs sitting at their round table brainstorming their smoke and mirrors tactics saying, “You know, we could just go through with a long, boring, protracted season where things wind up basically where they started, so long as we kill off a few major players in the end, we’ll still have ‘em hooked.”
** out of ****

Season 2 (2012)
As three challengers to the throne march upon King's Landing, an unexpected foe lays siege on Winterfell, causing more turmoil and heartache to the already beset Stark family. Tyrion has his hands full as Hand of the King in dealing with his treacherous sister and malevolent nephew. Daenerys, her dragons, and dwindling tribesman remain stranded across the Narrow Sea and Jon Snow begins his tour beyond the Wall as the dreaded Winter finally arrives. Following the spectacular first season of Game of Thrones, the followup series, while still maintaining a high level of interest, meanders and goes in circles for many of its story lines, and ones which were the top draw in season one (ie Daenerys, Jon Snow and the Wall, Rob Stark and his army) now seem to have lost their way and are stuck in standstill for virtually this entire round. Also, following the exit of Sean Bean, the show does not have a lead actor to anchor itself around and while Peter Dinklage (who went from Best Supporting Actor Emmy Winner to first billed in the credits) is excellent, he is not a leading man. I was still engaged with this season. The court intrigue and Arya's storyline worked best for me but the show seemed only interested in its primary story, which was made evident in the climactic Battle of Blackwater episode. "Game of Thrones" is a vast drama, and about as in depth as anything you can expect from television that still nonetheless needs to iron out its storytelling kinks.
*** out of ****

Season 1 (2011)
A long and brutal winter is approaching the kingdom of Westeros and treachery is afoul as the Hand of the King has been murdered. Surrounded by the cunning and powerful family of his duplicitous wife, King Robert Baratheon sends for his old friend and battle mate Eddard Stark to take up the position of the deceased and be unwillingly hurled into the deadly title scheme. The HBO adaptation of the George R.R. Martin novels is an excellent entry in the fantasy genre, simultaneously telling an involving, intelligent, violent, but grounded other worldly tale. Filmed throughout Northern Ireland and Scotland, as well as in parts of Morocco, the series features the most stunning visuals to be found in any television series. Its epic cast of mostly British players is uniformly excellent and if forced to select a handful as my favorite I would chose Iain Glen as a courageous exiled knight, Emilia Clarke as his queen and charge, samely exiled, Peter Dinklage as a witty and underestimated dwarf, and Sean Bean as the noble, sullen Eddard Stark. "Game of Thrones" is wonderfully engaging entertainment that isn't afraid to break the "rules" of television and has characterization and intelligence to match its harsh tone and violence.
*** 1/2 out of ****