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."
"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 fourth shot is a close-up of Varys speaking establishing beyond a doubt that is him providing the opening voiceover.
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.
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?
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.
A title card reading "Returns".
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.
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 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".
Title card: "Game of Thrones: Season 2" surrounded by a ring of flames
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.
Tuesday, 31 January 2012
Wednesday, 18 January 2012
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
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 luck.wikia.com 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?