Monday, 19 March 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2: Price of Our Sins trailer analysis

HBO showed a new trailer for the second season on March 18 2012. It is called "Price of Our Sins" and is available via the HBO website and has been kindly uploaded to youtube in lovely high definition by WatchOut4HopOns:

I will break down the shots we see and the voiceover we hear. I posted a straight forward breakdown of the trailer without the commentary about the source material on the Game of Thrones Wiki (link). Spoilers for season 2 and the book it is based upon, A Clash of Kings, herein. TV only viewers should think twice before reading on. I use the British Kindle edition of the book for reference so any page numbers will be from that version. The spoilers below do not relate to anything not seen in the trailer or give away any of the endings to character arcs in the second book. They do give away a few surprises relating to introductions. The full breakdown and analysis is after the jump.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2: The More You Love trailer analysis

HBO showed a new trailer for the second season before the premiere of their new film Game Change on March 10 2012. It is called "The More You Love" and is available via the HBO website and their Making Game of Thrones website has been kindly uploaded to youtube by WeedPlanttMMA:

As usual I thought I'd break down the shots we see and the voiceover we hear. Spoilers for season 2 and the book it is based upon, A Clash of Kings, herein. I posted a straight forward breakdown of the trailer without the commentary about the source material on the Game of Thrones Wiki (link) so TV only viewers should think twice before reading on. The spoilers below do not relate to anything not seen in the trailer or give away any of the endings to character arcs in the second book. They do give away a few surprises relating to introductions. The full breakdown and analysis is after the jump.

Monday, 5 March 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2: Seven Devils trailer analysis

HBO released a new trailer for Season 2 of Game of Thrones entitled "Seven Devils" on 3 March 2012. It was initially given to Entertainment Weekly but is now up for everyone to see on Youtube.

I thought I'd break down the shots we see and the voiceover we hear. Spoilers for season 2 and the book it is based upon, A Clash of Kings, herein. I posted a straight forward breakdown of the trailer without the commentary about the source material on the Game of Thrones Wiki (link) so TV only viewers should think twice before reading on. That said the spoilers below do not relate to anything not seen in the trailer or give away any of the endings to character arcs in the second book. The full breakdown and analysis is after the jump.

Monday, 27 February 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2: Power and Grace trailer analysis

HBO released a new trailer for Season 2 of Game of Thrones entitled "Power and Grace" on 24 February 2012. It was initially only available via the HBO Go on demand service but is now up for everyone to see on Youtube.

I thought I'd break down the shots we see and the voiceover we hear. Spoilers for season 2 and the book it is based upon, A Clash of Kings, herein. I posted a straight forward breakdown of the trailer without the commentary about the source material on the Game of Thrones Wiki (link) so TV only viewers should think twice before reading on. That said the spoilers below do not relate to anything not seen in the trailer or give away any of the endings to character arcs in the second book. The full breakdown is after the jump.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2: Invitation to the Set

HBO released a new production video for Season 2 on February 20, 2011 entitled Invitation to the Set:

I've broken down the video and have some speculation about some of the content. I originally posted a breakdown over at the Game of Thrones wikia but am reposting it here with the speculation as that site is spoiler free. There are mild spoilers from the book A Clash of Kings below but no major characters arc endings are involved. More after the jump.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Luck Episode 1.2 review

First a note about the sad lack of episode titles. This has been a downward trend for Milch shows. NYPD Blue and Brooklyn South episode titles usually involved a pun. Deadwood episode titles were descriptive and functional but not exciting. John From Cincinnati had “His Visit Day X” for each episode. Luck isn’t even trying apparently and the episodes are just named “Episode X.Y” where X is the season number and Y is the episode number. I like to think of this one as being called “Claim Costs” as it is titled in Alan Sepinwall’s review. I think it is a shame to forego titling your episodes, as an amateur recapper and reviewer episode titles help me remember which episode is which and can be very memorable e.g. Lost’s “Live Together Die Alone”, The Wire’s “Sentencing” or Boardwalk’s “The Age of Reason”.

Now on to the actual content of the episode; I enjoyed this one more instantly than the pilot and felt I had a reasonable grasp of what was going on the first time through. At the time of writing I have seen it twice. There are some questions left hanging from the pilot that get clear answers in this episode. We now know precisely why Ace went to prison and who he blames for it. I’m still not clear how his plan for revenge will take shape but I understand that it initially involves baiting Mike (his former partner) into buying the Santa Anita race course. We get more on the back story of Walter Smith and his involvement with the dear departed Delphi; he was the horse’s trainer when its owners had it killed in an insurance scam and blames himself for not stopping them. I am really enjoying Nolte in this role. His conversation with Ronnie about “Kentucky Quality” was slightly baffling but the emotion there was very clear.

I enjoyed the poker scenes – I felt slightly more on board with what was going on there as opposed to the racetrack where I have zero experience. Jerry’s gambling at the casino is obviously not very skilful but felt true to the behaviour of an addict. I worry about the sharks there seeing him flashing so much cash – Lonnie might not be the only bruised and battered member of the winner’s club for long. Lonnie’s storyline with the insurance agents was a little crazy but made me laugh so not a complete waste.

Escalante’s failed scam with running Mon Gateau in the claiming race was the murkiest part of this one for me. Some research on claiming races helped. There was a fair amount of exposition from Renzo’s perspective as a first time claimant but I didn’t grasp how common claiming races were before doing some outside reading. It was great to see W. Earl Brown as the cowboy horse owen Chris Mulligan in this storyline too.

Overall the show remains an immersive and enjoyable experience. I’m figuring things out as I go and that is immensely rewarding as a viewer. The race sequences are fantastically shot and edited and continue to be exciting. I love the band of characters the show has assembled and look forward to following them through the season.

Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Game of Thrones Season 2 "Shadow" Teaser Trailer Analysis

HBO aired a new teaser for Season 2 entitled Shadow immediately before the premier of Luck yesterday:

I thought I'd break down the shots we see and the voiceover we hear. Spoilers for season 2 and the book it is based upon, A Clash of Kings, herein. I posted a straight forward breakdown of the trailer without the commentary about the source material on the Game of Thrones Wiki so TV only viewers should think twice before reading on. The straight breakdown is here. That said the spoiler below are really quite mild and do not relate to anything not seen in the trailer or give away any of the endings to character arcs in the second book.

The music in the trailer is Vengeance by Zack Hemsey. The video below is the full version of the song. Its a great bit of music and I highly recommend putting it on in the background as you read onwards.

We open on a black screen with Varys giving a speech about power being a trick played on the masses in voiceover. This speech is adapted from the riddle that Varys tells Tyrion in A Clash of Kings chapter 4, Tyrion I, page 49. In the book the riddle goes:

"In a room sit three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man with his gold. Between them stands a sellsword, a little man of common birth and no great mind. Each of the great ones bids him slay the other two. 'Do it', says the king, 'for I am your lawful ruler.' 'Do it', says the priest, 'for I command you in the names of the gods.' 'Do it', says the rich man, 'and all this gold shall be yours.' So tell me - who lives and who dies?"

They discuss the riddle again in A Clash of Kings chapter 9, Tyrion II, page 97. In the book Varys says that the riddle means that:

Varys: "Power resides where men believe it resides. No more and no less."
Tyrion: "So power is a mummer's trick?"
Varys: "A shadow on the wall, yet shadows can kill. And oftimes a very small man can cast a very large shadow."

In the trailer Varys' speech in its entirety is:

"Three great men, a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies? Power resides where men believe it resides; it's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow."

I think its a great bit of dialogue well distilled from the source material. The writers have done a grand job with Varys and his talent for obfuscation and wordplay so far. I look forward to seeing more of him in season 2.

The first shot is of a group of men around a fire, beneath a coastal castle. I suspect that this coastal castle is Dragonstone. This is the onetime seat of House Targaryen and now the seat of Stannis Baratheon. Stannis is a new character for the second season and was mentioned but not seen on screen in the first season. He is the younger brother of Robert Baratheon and the next in line after Robert's children. He is one of the claimants on the Iron Throne due to his belief (shared by me) that Robert and Cersei Lannister had no children and that Jaime Lannister is the father of Joffrey, Myrcella and Tommen. More on the reason for the fire on the beach when we see it again later.

In the second shot we see Stannis Baratheon walk past Melisandre as Varys mentions a king and a priest. It is night and they are lit by torch flames so it seems that this could be from the same scene as the opening shot. Stannis is the king here due to his claim on the throne. Melisandre is a priestess of R'hllor, an Eastern God. She had prophesied that Stannis is the second coming of a messianic figure of R'hllor prophecy called Azor Ahai. Stannis has warmed to this idea and allowed her to become a close advisor with influence over him.

In the third shot we see Tywin Lannister as Varys mentions a rich man in his voiceover. Tywin is the head of House Lannister and one of the richest men in the seven kingdoms. He is also growing ever more powerful with Robert's death and Joffrey's ascension to the Iron Throne. He is not a king himself but he is the power behind Joffrey's throne along with his children Cersei, Jaime and Tyrion. He replaces Ned as the Hand of the King following Robert's death but sends Tyrion to fulfill this role for him while he wages war on the army of the North.

The fourth shot is a close-up of Varys speaking establishing beyond a doubt that is him providing the opening voiceover.

The fifth shot is a pan past Sandor Clegane as Varys mentions the common sellsword. Clegane was featured throughout the first season and is a bodyguard to Joffrey. He is not a knight but has nevertheless been named a part of Joffrey's kingsguard.

The sixth shot is of Petyr Baelish, known as Littlefinger. He is one of those rich men Varys spoke of, as master of coin he controls the purse strings of the whole kingdom. In the foreground of this shot is a sleeved arm brandishing a knife.

A brief shot of Catelyn Stark threatening a man with the knife is seventh. Poor Cat is newly widowed and has two missing daughters; she is facing a difficult time. I can think of a few instances where she might wield a blade from the book and I'm not certain there is enough detail in this shot to know for sure who she is threatening. The edit and the fact that a knife is visible in the preceding shot certainly suggest that it could be Littlefinger. He and Cat do not meet in her chapters of the book and he is not a point of view character in the book so this suggests an added scene. We do know that Littlefinger leaves King's Landing to go to Bitterbridge to treat with House Tyrell on behalf of Joffrey. Likewise Cat goes East to treat with Renly Baratheon on behalf of Robb so they could meet while abroad in the Storm Lands. Both shots appear to be in a tent so perhaps their journeys have been moved so that they meet in Renly's camp.

Eighth is Jon Snow looking out over a snow covered landscape from behind. Ninth appears to be a reverse of the same set-up. He seems to be among the terrain rather than at the wall so I suppose this is during the great ranging. During A Clash of Kings Lord Commander of the Nights Watch Jeor Mormont decides to take a large party of men North of the wall to find out where his people (Benjen Stark, Waymar Royce etc.) have been disappearing to. Jon accompanies Mormont as his steward.

Tenth is Daenerys Targaryen looking out over barren ground. She is still in her Dothraki riding outfit so I guess this is before she makes her way further East. In A Clash of Kings Daenerys leads her people East into the desert and beyond to the city of Qarth, we know from behind the scenes videos that we will be seeing Qarth.

Eleventh is Joffrey Baratheon crowned, upon the iron throne. Twelfth is Joffrey stood in front of the throne, The Hound at the foot of the steps and Sansa kneeling facing the throne in the foreground. In the thirteenth shot Sansa Stark has her gown torn from her shoulders by a member of the kingsguard. Joffrey continues to shame, abuse and humiliate Sansa following the death of her father. Her growth as a character through trying times will be interesting to watch this year.

Fourteenth is a close-up of Cersei Lannister, seated, levelling a baleful stare at someone across from her. She appears to be behind a screen from them. Not sure where to place this one but probably somewhere in King's Landing given that she stays there for the entirety of the book.

Fifteenth is a wide shot of seven burning statues. Sixteenth is of onlookers carrying torches kneeling. Seventeenth is a wide shot of the onlookers before the burning effigies. I am fairly certain this trio of shots are all related to the burning of statues of the seven outside Dragonstone. The seven are the commonly worshiped Gods of Westeros and Stannis' growing allegiance with Melisandre and her red god leads to him allowing her to burn the statues. This offends some of his supporters but causes most to join him in adopting the new religion. They're indistinct but I think you catch a glimpse of Liam Cunningham as Davos and Oliver Ford Davies as Maester Cressen amongst the onlookers in the seventeenth image. Cressen is an adviser to Stannis who has known him since his childhood. Davos is a smuggler who helped Stannis when he was besieged during Robert's rebellion and was knighted as a reward. He is a loyal supporter of Stannis and the main new point of view character in the second book. This suggests some things have been moved around; Cressen is not present for the burning of the statues in the book.

Eighteenth is Arya Stark toying with needle. Arya's hair is cut short; she remains undercover as a boy with Yoren of the Night's Watch at this stage. Maisie Williams shone among the already strong group of young actors assembled for the first season. I'm expecting more good work from here as Arya travels North with the Night's Watch recruits. Also looking forward to seeing more of Joe Dempsey, as Gendry, her friend along the way.

Nineteenth is a long lense focus shift from a close-up of a horses eye, to a close-up of Robb Stark on the horse. It is night time and he is drenched in rain. Lovely camerawork but Robb does a fair amount of riding around so not easy to place. I fully expect to see more of Robb in the second series than we do in the book; he is not a point of view character in the book so his war against the Lannisters is usually described from afar by others. In the series we should see a few of the battles close up (budget limitations notwithstanding).

Twentieth is Jaime Lannister with his arms bound behind him, head bowed. Jaime ends the second series a captive of Robb Stark. He is likely still imprisoned by the army of the North here. The writers have spoken of their intention of bringing forward some of Jaime's story from A Sword of Storms, I'm interested to see how they handle that. The grassy ground here suggests that he is outside rather than in the dungeons of Riverrun as in the book.

Twenty first is Varys continuing his speech, drinking wine and twenty second is a close-up of Tyrion grinning, seemingly in response to Varys' line about little men and great shadows. Peter Dinklage is fantastic as Tyrion. Congratulations to him on his recent Golden Globe win for best actor in a television drama.

Next we get a title card "Based on the Best-Selling Novels". Indisputable, congratulations to George R. R. Martin on recently joining the million sellers club via kindle.

Twenty third is Robb walking through a battlefield, corpses strewn around him. There is a silent sister tending to one of the bodies; they are recognisable from their head dress and first appeared in the pilot around the body of Jon Arryn, the hand of the king before Ned Stark. I'm glad we'll be seeing the aftermath of one of his battles at least but I do hope they don't skip the action like they did with Tyrion at the Battle of the Green Fork in the first season.

Voiceover: "You're fighting to overthrow a king". I'm unsure who delivered this line. There are so many kings and so many fights in this part of the story that the suspects are numerous. Can anyone with a better ear enlighten me?

Twenty fourth is Joffrey aiming his crossbow at Sansa in the throne room. He says "killing you would send your brother a message". This is followed by a close-up of Sansa bowing her head. Next is a wide shot of Joffrey levelling the crossbow with Sandor in front of the steps and Sansa kneeling in the foreground facing Joffrey. This tells us little more than the earlier scene where Sansa's dress is torn but its source is later in the book. Joffrey points his crossbow at Sansa and talks of sending a message to Robb in Clash of Kings chapter 33 Sansa III page 356.

A title card "The Most Acclaimed Series of the Year". Now this one I take issue with. Which year? It is 2012 now but the series garnered most of its acclaim when it was last on the air in 2011. How do we measure the acclaim of a television series? This is the sort of unsupported (unsupportable?) hyperbole that does an advertising campaign no favours to my mind.

Twenty seventh is Tyrion eating as Cersei paces past him. He says "you might find it difficult to rule over millions who want you dead". Seeing Cersei and Tyrion's very different approaches to governing King's Landing was illuminating for both their characters in the book. I'm pleased to see they kept some of their clashes of ideology in the series. I found Tyrion saying millions slightly jarring; the armies are usually thousands or tens of thousands of men large which suggests populations in the hundreds of thousands; I suppose once all the warring factions are added together Westeros probably does have a population in the millions.

Twenty eighth is a shot of Cersei being harrassed in the streets of King's Landing and assisted by Lannister guardsmen. This seems to be from the riots at King's Landing where the populace rebel over the lack of food which takes place in A Clash of Kings chapter 42 Tyrion IX.

A title card reading "Returns".

Daenerys in voiceover: I am Daenerys Stormborn..." over a shot of spearmen with close cropped hair and golden shields walking before a group of bearded men in white robes. One black person at the back of the group who are otherwise all caucasian. Daenerys refers to herself as Stormborn only once in A Clash of Kings (chapter 49, Daenerys IV, page 514) when she is in the house of the undying in Qarth. Of course it is a title that she is known by (because she was born during a storm off Dragonstone) so it could be used elsewhere in the adaptation. I wonder if this party of dignitaries and armed men are those that greet her outside Qarth. The black man could be Nonso Anozie as Xaro Xhoan Daxos but he is too far back in the shot for me to be certain. The dignitaries are a mixed bunch. The majority are in white robes with their heads covered but three are not dressed the same. First is our mystery black man. Then there is the bald caucasian in muted red at the front of the group. Finally one bearded man to the left is also wearing a muted red jerkin.

Thirtieth is a close-up of Daenerys continuing her line "...and I will take what is mine..." She is wearing a costume we haven't seen before and the sun is shining brightly. I would guess that this is after she arrives in Qarth.

Daenerys in voiceover completing the line "with fire and blood" as we see the thirty first shot; a rider on barren ground, the sun low and bright in the sky above them. The terrain fits with the ground we saw Daenerys surveying in her riding gear earlier. I cannot identify the rider here given that we don't see their face. I'd guess at Rakharo.

A column of black clad men with weapons and horses walk along a trail in the snow. This struck me as being the men of the Nights Watch as they follow Mormont North of the wall.

Thirty third is Tywin bringing his horse to a stop. Good to see Charles Dance looking like a true general as Tywin.

Thirty fourth is a mother and babe being accosted by armoured men. I thought this was likely to be Allar Deem of the Goldcloaks being sent after Mhaegen and Barra. Barra is one of Robert's bastards and Mhaegen is her mother; we met both briefly when Ned was investigating Jon Arryn's death in the first season and uncovered several of Robert's bastards. Tyrion questions Deems' commander Janos Slynt about this in A Clash of Kings Chapter 9 Tyrion II page 91.

Thirty fifth is Arya in close-up saying "anyone can be killed". I can't find this quote in Arya's chapters of the books but it is certainly consistent with her painful experiences in the story.

Thirty sixth; the hound leads a charge of Lannister guardsmen against men with square shields next to a stone wall at night. This seemed likely to be the Battle of the Blackwater to me; a fight between Joffrey and Stannis for control of King's Landing. It would be odd for this to be in a trailer as the battle happens near the end of the book (chapter 59 Davos III page 599) and has been confirmed as being the focus of the ninth episode of the season entitled "Blackwater".

It is followed by a close-up as the hound strikes a foe's shield with a mace atop a castle wall and then a wide shot of the hound knocking an opponent from atop a castle wall. Both of these are in the day time and appear to be from the same scene. There appear to be a number of onlookers in the wide shot. I can't recall the hound being involved in fighting against armoured foes in the book before the Battle of the Blackwater; the rioters were civilians mostly and he does not participate in Joffrey's name day tourney. Perhaps this is a new scene or an addition to the tourney.

Thirty ninth is Renly Baratheon standing in his tent looking at a scantily clad woman. Renly is the youngest of the three Baratheon brothers and did appear in the first season. He is a closeted homosexual in the series and was shown having an intimate talk with Loras Tyrell in the first season about becoming king. In A Clash of Kings he is one of the claimants to the Iron Throne, much to Stannis' annoyance. He is engaged to Loras' sister Margaery Tyrell as she has married Renly by the time we see him in the book (A Clash of Kings chapter 23 Catelyn II page 250) so I would assume this is her. I wonder if we will meet the alliance between Renly and House Tyrell a little earlier in its formation in the series?

Fortieth; Theon Greyjoy kneels on rocky ground as a long haired man clad in a tattered robe pours water over his head. This seems likely to be his Uncle Aeron Damphair, a priest of the drowned god, greeting Theon as he returns to his home on Pyke to treat with his father Balon Greyjoy on Robb's behalf. The sea water baptism is straight from the book - A Clash of Kings chapter 12 Theon I page 129. However, no casting announcement has been made for Aeron to date.

Forty first: An unidenitfied person in armour backhands a helmeted foe in a tent. I would guess at this being Brienne of Tarth defending herself when she is accused of a crime she did not commit given that it is clearly in a tent (see A Clash of Kings chapter 34 Catelyn IV page 366). Brienne is a new character for the second season. She is a fierce warrior and loyal supporter of Renly who is often mocked for her masculinity.

Forty second: Melisandre tips her head back, mouth open. Given that her red choker is prominently featured I would guess that this is from the end of the prologue (A Clash of Kings chapter 1 Prologue page 20).

Forty third: Two armoured men fight in front of onlookers with ale tankards and green shields. I first guessed that this was one of the duels from Joffrey's name day tourney (A Clash of Kings chapter 3 Sansa I). I noticed the shields when going back to take the screenshot and they suggest that this could be one of the fights from Renly's grand melee at his camp.

Forty fouth: A black clad man swings a sword at a Lannister guardsman at night, another Lannister man and a torch are in the background. I think this could be Yoren defending his recruits against the Lannister forces under Ser Amory Lorch in A Clash of Kings chapter 15 Arya IV.

Title card: "Game of Thrones: Season 2" surrounded by a ring of flames

Fourty fifth: Close-up of Tyrion, hand against a door, "I understand the way...

Close-up of Varys, taken aback by Tyrion barring his way. Tyrion says "...this game is played."

Title card: "April 1" surrounded by a ring of flames.

Looking forward to that date. Please leave a comment if you disagree with any of my guesses.

Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Game of Thrones Season 1 rewatch: Episode 1 "Winter is Coming"

I’m rewatching Game of Thrones Season 1 in anticipation of the second season airing later this year. Season 2 was announced for a 1 April 2011 premiere last week  at the Television Critic’s Association press tour and HBO have started releasing some promotional images. Sky Atlantic followed this week announcing a 2 April 2011 start date for the UK. So Game of Thrones parties at mine are now on Mondays starting in April! 

Spoilers for the whole of season 1 and the book “A Game of Thrones” will follow so please don’t continue if you haven’t watched the whole first season. I will avoid spoilers from later in the book series though so if you are only watching the show have no fear that I will spoil events still to come in the adaptation.

I love the opening of the series. Keeping the dark and suspenseful prologue from the book was essential. The external threat of the Walkers overshadowing the power struggle is a fantasy trope but nevertheless an effective way of adding tension to all that follows. The frozen and dangerous lands North of the wall contrast well with the hearths of Winterfell and the sunshine of Pentos that we see throughout the episode. I think the trio of guest stars who play Will, Gared and Ser Waymar Royce did a good job of conveying the dynamic between the arrogant young lord and his more wary, seasoned brothers in the watch. Having set up the experience of the rangers the fear shown by the men later in the sequence is more effective. The grim tableau of corpses in the snow is a striking and disturbing image, great work by the props department here. Its sudden disappearance effectively conveys the supernatural without any need for further effects. The use of the childs body for a jumpy moment is nothing new but it sets up well another jump later when she returns as a wight. The prologue was neatly boiled down into seven minutes of suspense and action in this sequence. David Benioff and DB Weiss made a good first impression for their adaptation and successfully link this sequence to the rest of the episode by the capture and execution of Will (interesting that they switched Will for Gared but not bothersome and probably better given that the audience spends the most time with Will due to his solo scouting in their version). I thought the grim opening set the tone for what was to come later in the series very well.

The rest of the pilot has a harder job. Namely introducing the majority of the eighteen strong starring cast to the audience and making them distinguishable as characters. I would say the pilot is mixed in its successes here but does well enough to retain the interest of casual viewers. The running time restricts having a substantive scene for each character but the production compensates with attention to the film-makers show don’t tell adage. Starring characters suffering the most from “who were they” syndrome in this episode are Theon Greyjoy, Robb Stark and Sandor Clegane. Starring characters well served by the pilot include Ned, Jon, Bran, Tyrion and Dany.

While Theon is present for several scenes his relationship to the Stark family (as a ward not a blood relative) is not fully explained. Alfie Allen does fine work showing his contempt for Snow in the scene where the dire wolf pups are found but an expository line somewhere might have helped to let the casual viewer know that he is also not a Stark. The show has to come back and correct this with a new scene later; which was welcome but perhaps avoidable.

Robb can be reasonably assumed to be another Stark brother but I felt he was a little lost in the pilot between the good work done to establish Jon and Bran. The adaptation relies on him more than the books do later (he is one of the few non-point of view characters amongst) the Stark children so it seems odd that he was not established better here. I accept that doing so probably would have been at the expense of establishing Jon quite so well. The characters are of an age and relate to others in a similar way so it would have been natural to give some of Jon’s lines guiding Bran to Robb instead. Had they done this I would probably be complaining about it!  Brief moments like his taking Arya off to bed and clutching Bran’s cloak after the execution help to show his position as the eldest of the children and were appreciated.

The Hound is featured with a close-up as the procession arrives and his helm is well realised making him distinctive. His brief scene with Tyrion says little about the character. I wonder if securing Rory McCann to a multi-season contract required a starring role. The size of his role is that of a featured guest star over the season as a whole. I probably would have less to say if he wasn’t in the opening credits. McCann is good in the role; I just wonder if the brief exchange was too little to establish him properly now and too easily forgotten. I think that it might have been better to just show him in the pilot before firmly establishing him in the sequence at The Inn at the Crossroads in the later episode, staggering one more character introduction for later in the series. Holding back Littlefinger until the first longer sequence in King’s Landing worked well enough.

Having complained about starring characters who get short shrift I now want to herald some of the minor characters they managed to fit in. Some minor characters cast early and included well in the background of the pilot include Qotho (Dar Salim), Jory (Jamie Sives) and Hodor (Kristian Nairn). Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter), Rodrick Cassel (Ron Donachie) and Illyrio (Roger Allam) were well established as supporting players with personalities of their own. Condensing the minor cast is important for the adaptation; the engagement of an average viewer is somewhat below that of an average reader and viewers will spend less time with a story so should have less characters to recall. Attention to detail in background casting, production design and props is of great importance to establish a sense of place and to give nods to the minor characters for the book readers. I don’t expect to see all the characters mentioned in the books but the series showing that it cares about the minor characters too endeared it to me from the start.

I think the series has a strong sense of its world and the locations. The opening titles are both beautiful and very effective at giving a sense of the places we see and the way they relate to one another. I always appreciate a map at the front of a fantasy book and this fulfils that purpose and more for the series. HBO in general clearly invests in title sequences for their shows and have done well for Game of Thrones. I think titles are an important part of viewing a series; they prepare you for what is to follow, help to transport you and create a ritual element in viewing. This one is aided by the clever design of the map to appear like a real mechanical representation of the landscape and the fantastic score by Ramin Djawadi. I find the music evocative and original and it helps to make the project feel of feature quality. As well as the excellent title sequence and transporting score the series makes excellent use of varied filming locations to distinguish between its locales. Using Northern Ireland for Winterfell and Malta for Pentos makes it very easy to tell when the action has switched between the two. I will temper my praise of the sense of place by noting that the series sometimes does a poor job of conveying the passage of time. This is something the pilot episode does better than some of the later episodes with the line about the rapid growth of Summer (the Dire Wolf) and multiple lines establishing that the king’s party has travelled for a month.

I think Tim Van Patten did a fine job of directing the re-shot pilot episode. I am intrigued to know if there was a perceived problem with the work done by Thomas McCarthy or if it was simply the major changes to the cast that prompted the re-shoots. Nevertheless it came out well in the end. I think there is some lovely imagery in the episode. I particularly like the blocking of the devil and angel shot of Ned with Luwin and Catelyn behind him as he considers the news that Arryn may have been murdered. It is interesting that Catelyn’s position about this decision is reversed from the book; she is against going to King’s Landing in the show and for it in the book. I have to say I didn’t have the best handle on her arc and motivations in my first read through – I hope the show brings me more clarity there. Back to the visuals; I also love the realisation of the dire wolf that was killed while bringing down the stag. I thought the production design on the animal corpses was excellent and suitably grizzly. This sequence encapsulated the fine symbolism of the book well. Some of the CGI on the walls of Winterfell is not up to feature standards, which is understandable on a TV budget. Some good use was made of physical locations in this sequence; I wonder if it would have been better to eschew CGI and rely on the locations more.

There are some fine performances and excellent character dynamics in this episode alone. I think Peter Dinklage is the standout of the cast and his awards recognition reassures me that I’m not alone. His Tyrion Lannister balances well wit, intelligence and empathy and I think his scene with Jon outside the banquet is my favourite exchange of the episode. Other well presented dynamics include the relationship between Ned and his family, particularly Catelyn (highlighted in the Godswood) and the two scenes of Cersei and Jaime (first in the Great Sept and later when they are caught by Bran).

Ending the pilot with Bran’s fall is a smart move for a first episode; a cliffhanger is a welcome hook to retain viewers for a second episode. I was a little perturbed when some people I watched with assumed Bran was dead but I don’t think you could have kept this a cliffhanger and not had a proportion of the audience jump to that conclusion.

All in all a fine start to a strong first season. The pilot skilfully handles introducing a sprawling fantasy by focusing on two locations and relying on good performances. The size of the cast is its greatest obstacle and is approached cleverly with deft touches rounding out the characters, nevertheless the series quickly establishes that you need to pay attention to follow it (which is not a bad thing). I am surprised how much I enjoyed re-watching.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

January 2012 TV preview

Welcome to 2012. New year’s resolution – to write regularly. I’m going to focus on television but we might encompass some other things too. For starters how about a preview of some of the upcoming television I hope to watch in January.

According to my ever growing TV spreadsheet we have a fair amount to look forward to this month what with American mid-season premieres and British just plain old turnover. I’m already a little late with this one; it is the 12th as I’m typing. Things I’m looking forward to watching that have actually already started include: Sherlock Season 2 (prerequisite being that I catch up with season 1), Eternal Law Season 1, Stella Season 1, The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret Season 2, Above Suspicion: Silent Scream (Season 4) and Cloudstreet Season 1.

Sherlock is the widely acclaimed modernisation of the well known detective novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle written by Steven Moffatt, Mark Gatiss and Stephen Thompson. Moffatt is well known as a previous Doctor Who show runner and his work there has him overseeing scripts by both of the other writers. Gatiss is an affable presence in his own right and recognisable as an actor but has proven his writing skill on Crooked House and The First Men in the Moon. I’m less familiar with Thompson but cursory research suggests he is no slouch having won awards for his playwriting. I’m sure I won’t be informing anyone here but nevertheless I should note that the cast is also enticing; Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Watson. I’m shamed by my failure to have seen the first season and pledge to catch up by the end of the month; perhaps somewhat contributing to my avoidance is that I couldn’t finish the Hound of the Baskervilles when I was a teenager. Even worse is that I have seen the first Robert Downey Jr. film adaptation! Anyway I hope to rectify this situation soon. For other latecomers the second season will conclude with the third episode this Sunday (15 January) and the second part is still up on the BBC iPlayer.

Stella is an hour long comedy drama written by and starring Ruth Jones, widely recognised from her work in the same capacities on Gavin & Stacey. The pilot has already aired but should be available on sky’s anytime service for the remainder of this week. I enjoyed the first episode, it was well observed if broad. More importantly for a slice of life show it was funny, something that Sky’s similar commissioning formula for The Cafe sometimes did not achieve. Jones is an engaging and endearing actress and I have no doubt she can carry a series on her own. Stella is frequently repeated and the first episode is on again tonight but will premiere new episodes every Friday on Sky 1, with episode 2 airing on 13 January.

Eternal Law has also already aired its pilot, but this one is sat on my DVR waiting to be watched. Its a legal drama from the team behind Life on Mars; Ashley Pharoah and Matthew Graham. It slipped under my radar somewhat but the past record of these writers is enough to make me want to check it out. The six episode first season debuted on 5 January and the second episode airs tonight on ITV.

The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret is another comedy show that I checked out on the basis that it featured some cast members from Arrested Development in this case David Cross (in the title role) and Will Arnett. It doesn’t manage to put that show’s lightning back in a bottle but it is highly successful nonetheless and surprisingly British. Margaret plays an American temp who has the position of UK chief of marketing for an energy drink thrust upon him. Farcical hilarity follows. The first season was thoroughly enjoyable and I’d highly recommend catching up and then getting on board for the new one. The show airs on IFC in the states and the second season began on January 6 2012. It should be on Channel 4 later this year.

ITV’s Above Suspicion is something I’m more reluctant to recommend. The previous three entries have been fairly average cop drama but I like Ciaran Hinds and am not averse to cop drama no matter its quality so I expect to keep watching the fourth sometime after I have it all taped. The three part miniseries began on Monday 9 January and the first part will be available on demand through ITV until 16 Janaury.

Like Eternal Law I have been unaware of Cloudstreet until it popped up on the TV schedules. This is an Australian drama that has been picked up by Sky Atlantic. Of course Sky Atlantic have fooled me into watching rubbish by showing it alongside the output of HBO before (I’m looking at you Blue Bloods) but they generally have a high bar. I liked the look of the advert and have read a positive review in the Radio Times so I will probably check this out. Cloudstreet started in the UK on Wednesday 11 January but has already aired its first season in Australia. 

The American broadcasters seem less keen to capture the eyes of their audience over Christmas so the majority of this first part of the list is all airing on British television. Later on in the month a number of promising programmes are due to start across the pond.

Tonight (12th January) 30 Rock starts its sixth season on NBC. Comedy Central will presumably pick up the rights to these episodes later in the year. NBC is struggling manfully to produce anything worth watching on the drama side since losing aging warhorses like ER and Law and Order but remains a purveyor of some decent half hours of comedy including this, The Office and Parks and Rec. I tend to prioritise my dramas and am quite far behind on all three but will catch up eventually.

On 17th January FX begins the third season of the excellent crime drama Justified. The show is based on Raylan Givens, a character created by one of my favourite authors Elmore Leonard, and Leonard has a new book about Raylan out this month too. Justified started off as a good show by capturing Leonard’s atmosphere, great dialogue and strong characterisation on both sides of the law. It became a great show with its second season by devoting energy to serialised plots that gave us unforgettable season long antagonists. I cannot wait to see if they can sustain that quality for a third season. I’m currently introducing my dad to the show and am relishing the re-watch.

On the same night (in the same time slot in America) TNT begins the fourth season of Southland. This cop drama is well worth watching but has a chequered history and is lucky to still be in production. It has moved from NBC to TNT and had its budget cut worse than British libraries in the process. The show had to drop several recurring and some main cast members to accommodate the cuts and while their absence bothers me I’m glad the show is still around and hope it can settle into a new rhythm in its second run of original episodes on TNT. The show has found a home on Channel 4 in the UK and they finished off the third season just before Christmas – no date scheduled for the fourth so far.

JJ Abram’s brings us another new TV show in the form of Alcatraz. Lost fans should find plenty to appeal to them with this one: it has an overarching mythology with prisoners from the rock’s past appearing in the present day; it has an episodic structure revolving around flashbacks; it features Jorge Garcia (who played Hurley on Lost) and it also has much of Abram’s reliable television crew aboard. I’ve soured on science fiction mystery driven shows but I suppose Abram’s own Fringe is one of the better ones of the post-Lost era and will therefore happily try this one out with my wife (who is an even bigger Lost fan than I am). Apparently the show has been picked up by Watch in the UK and is set to air in March; can’t say I’m familiar with the channel but I’m guessing it is a free-view serial rebranding victim.

Back to Britain briefly for the fourth season of Being Human which also starts on the 23 January, this one on BBC Three. I’m way behind with the show but plan to catch up eventually. Also beginning on the 23 January is the sixth season of Skins. I’m probably getting a bit old for this one but I’ll stick with it as long as it remains an enjoyable watch and have invested enough in this year group (they change the cast every two seasons) to make it worth watching the second half of their story.

Back to the US for the cable channels; HBO is properly beginning David Milch’s new series Luck on 29 January. I really liked the pilot preview they showed at the end of Boardwalk Empire season 2. I’m going to be writing about this one for wikia at and hope to be posting weekly episode reviews. Milch is of course famous for Deadwood, which remains in my top five series of all time (at number three). The show features Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte, Dennis Farina, Jill Hennessy, Jason Gedrick, Kevin Dunn and Kerry Condon among others. It is focused on the Santa Anita Park horse racing track and the characters cross the worlds of horse training, organised crime and compulsive gambling. This is being advertised on Sky Atlantic already but I don't think the premiere date has been scheduled.

Starz returns with a third entry for its breakout hit Spartacus, this time the season is subtitled Vengeance. I have to catch up with the prequel miniseries that aired early last year. I fully expect over the top gore, frequent nudity and surprisingly good writing from Stephen S. DeKnight (Angel) and Daniel Knauf (Carnivale). Since I started watching the series lead Andy Whitfield sadly passed away (from Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in September last year), I hope the series provides him with a fitting legacy. He was excellent in the role and equally strong with action and dialogue. This one begins on the 27 January and should be shown on Sky 1 later this year. Starz itself is worth keeping an eye on as they will continue to produce new series and now have ex-HBO bigiwig Chris Albrecht on staff. I’m also looking forward to seeing Da Vinci’s Demons and Magic City later this year on the network.

Is anyone else going to be watching any of these shows? Is there anything I’ve missed that you would recommend?