So…seems like we have a lot to talk about. Yes, Game of Thrones has given us big moments leading to bigger moments all season long, but if you haven’t read the books before, there’s no way you could be prepared for this. This is, arguably, the most brutal, most shocking episode in the history of the series, and it’s one of those episodes that explodes the internet. People will be talking about this for weeks, and it likely even broke a few hearts, so if you’re still not ready to talk about what just happened, I wouldn’t blame you for clicking away right about…now.
I’m going to be brutally honest, friends: There’s no quote at the beginning of this article because nothing really stuck in my head. So rather than read other sites’ reviews and steal whatever THEY used, I’ll just proceed with the review proper…
After the ecstasy that was Episode 8: “Fromage”, I knew the follow up would be at least a slight let-down. “Trou Normand” isn’t the best episode of the season, but I give it credit: Given the sloppiness of the storytelling here, it could have been significantly worse.
One of the things I’ve loved about Game of Thrones since way back when it was just an up-and-coming series of fantasy novels is its ability to highlight the strength in the broken people of its world, the disadvantaged, the less-thans. We’ve seen it before in episodes like “Cripples, Bastards and Broken Things” (season one) and the entire Arya/Tyrion storyline that began with “The Ghost of Harrenhal” in season two. Westeros is a world filled with outcasts and freaks and, well…second sons. This is yet another episode that takes the time to emphasize that, and the season is richer for it.
GRAHAM: I feel like I have dragged you into my world.
LECTER: No, I got here on my own, but I appreciate the company.
(NOTE: This review contains some particularly icky imagery….If that’s not your thing, get someone with a stronger stomach to read it to you. If you’re cool with blood and gore and viscera and all those fun things – then read on, sicko!)
There’s something you guys should know about me right away, before we even get in to talking about Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s gonna make some of you uncomfortable, and it might even make some of you distrust every single thing I say about this movie from here on, but it needs to be said, because you need to know the perspective from which I was approaching seeing this particular film. So brace yourselves, Trekkies. Take a deep breath. We’re all gonna get through this. Ready? OK: I loved J.J. Abrams’ first Star Trek movie. I mean, flat out, caveat-free, absolute love. I came out of that movie feeling refreshed and overjoyed and itching to see it again, and then of course I looked at the internet. I was sincerely baffled by all the hate some viewers threw at that flick. I thought they were nit-picking. I thought they were actively seeking reasons not to like it, instead of just sitting back and enjoying this new interpretation. “You don’t get to decide what ‘real’ Star Trek is,” I would argue. “It’s for everybody. It always has been. Just because the Kobayashi Maru scenes didn’t live up to your particular moral interpretation doesn’t mean it’s not a good movie,” I said. I embraced the popcorn exuberance of that film, and four years later I’m still unabashedly embracing it. I still love that movie. So, why am I telling you all of this? Because, Star Trek haters, after seeing Star Trek Into Darkness, I can finally feel your pain.
George R. R. Martin is back in town, and he’s got romance on his mind…well, kind of.
It’s well-known among fans of Game of Thrones that Martin – who created this world we all visit every Sunday night – is committed to writing one episode per season for Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. His season one episode, “The Pointy End,” kicked of The War of Five Kings as Robb Stark marched south to do battle with the Lannisters. His season two episode, “Blackwater,” brought that war to a thrilling climax, and may just be the most epic hour of television ever conceived (as well as, for me, this show’s best episode so far). For season three he chose the smaller-scale “The Bear and the Maiden Fair,” an episode packed with scenes about coupling throughout the realm, and about how what we love can doom us.
Warning: Spoilers ahead, particularly at the end
In the North, Jon (Kit Harington), Ygritte (Rose Leslie) and the rest of the Wildling party have crossed the Wall. As Jon educates Ygritte in the ways of the North, which she’s happy to mock, Orell (Mackenzie Crook) has strong words for both of them. Meanwhile Theon (Alfie Allen) gets two very unexpected visitors, and Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) and Jojen (Thomas Brodie Sangster) hear a terrifying story from Osha (Natalia Tena). At King’s Landing, Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) both struggle with their impending marriage, while Tywin (Charles Dance) struggles with his nephew, King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and Gendry (Joe Dempsie) learns who he really is. In the Riverlands, Robb (Richard Madden) prepares to mend a broken marriage alliance with the Freys, and gets good news from Talisa (Oona Chaplin), while Arya (Maisie Williams) grows more frustrated with the Brotherhood after Melisandre’s visit. Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) sets her sights on another city to conquer. And at Harrenhal, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) prepares to finally go home, while Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) must fight an entirely new battle.
Though there are some very interesting things for single characters to do in this episode (more on that in a moment), the episode really does take the time to lovingly focus on the various couples that have come front and center on the show this season (and last). The title is a reference to the final scene (as well as a song sung by the bannermen of House Bolton), but it’s also a reference to couples laced with dangerous elements. Talisa faces danger even as her marriage to Robb grows stronger. Sansa faces even more danger as she is forced to marry into the Lannister family. Ygritte and Jon each face their own dangers as they try to simultaneously be autonomous and part of the Wildling cause. And then we come to Jaime and Brienne. They aren’t a couple in the romantic sense, but this episode proved once and for all that there is a kind of love between them, even if they’re both a bit grudging about it at times. They owe each other, they survive through one another, and they’re even confidants at this point. Their relationship is also interesting because it’s one of the few couplings on the show (of the male/female persuasion, anyway) where you can’t actually tell who is more dangerous to the other. Will Brienne eventually fall victim to Lannister scheming, or will she someday overcome Jaime’s charm and wealth and power with the force of her own will. Or will it ever even come to that? Martin expertly probes the layers of this relationship with hardly any dialogue, and by the end of the episode they’re the most interesting duo on the show (until another steps up, that is).
Meanwhile, Dany has added a new moniker to her list of titles. Somewhere between “Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea,” “Queen of the Andals and the First Men” and “Mother of Dragons,” she added “Breaker of Chains.” We just saw her free an army of slaves and ask them to serve her of their own free will, so that’s not surprising, but it is vital to the character’s future. It signals that her efforts to loose the Unsullied and get them to act like humans and not property was not simply a shrewd play to win loyalty and command an army that she never had to actually pay for. This has become a quest for her, this breaking of chains, as we see very clearly in this episode. Jorah makes it clear to her that she doesn’t need to conquer this particular Eastern city in order to gain the strength to take Westeros, but when she hears there are 200,000 slaves in Yunkai, she declares that she has “200,000 reasons” to take the city. Over the first two seasons of this show we grew to love Dany because of her willpower and her determination and her strength in the face of absolute, desperate loss. She was someone whose power lay inside her. Now she has real, external, military power, and it’s very important that we get to see how she wields it. This could get boring if she just coasts through the show with a flawless record of freeing slaves and wielding dragons, but we all know that’s not what will happen. She will be tested again, and there we’ll see how she really wields the might of a queen.
And hey, what about Theon? I’ve resisted talking about him for most of the season because, well, for most of the season he’s done nothing but scream. He does a lot of screaming in this episode, too, but it’s what causes it that got me really fascinated. Last season we saw Theon become the second most-hated man in Westeros (behind Joffrey) through his conflicted but ultimately horrible acts at Winterfell. Now he’s getting his just desserts, but how long will that keep being interesting? How long before we start to feel sorry for poor Theon and his endless suffering? This episode draws that question out, as his torturers pay particular attention to his well-known and often foolhardy sexual prowess. Alfie Allen plays that scene perfectly. He starts with the absolute fear that’s permeated his character this season, and it’s only when a naked girl starts grinding on top of him that he finally feels comfortable to enjoy himself for a moment. Then it’s over, and he’s back to absolute horror. We get to see just a glimpse of the old Theon, the cocksure Theon, if you will. It’s enough to remind us of what he did and how he did it, but then he’s put through something that could end up worse than anything else he’s dealt with so far. How long can we keep enjoying his torture?
And lastly, I have to once again talk about the wonder that is Charles Dance. He’s added new dimensions and new life to Tywin, but this might end up being my favorite scene of his ever. In Martin’s hands the power and the calculating coolness of the character are once again front and center, and we get to see the Lord of Lannister stare down and shake down the King. Go back and watch that scene again, just that scene, if you get a chance (I just did). Everything about the performance is perfect. Tywin approaches the Iron Throne and, instead of bowing, barely nods his head in the direction of his nephew. Gleeson delivers his usual excellent theatricality as Joffrey, while Dance plays the impatience of a man who’s busy trying to save his idiot nephew’s neck. Then he walks up the stairs, right to the Throne, and just looms over Gleeson. If there was ever any doubt, even in Joffrey’s mind, as to who was really running this kingdom, it’s gone now. It’s a perfect, perfect scene, and it’s got Martin’s characteristic bite.
“The Bear and the Maiden Fair” is an episode that moves fast, jumps around a lot, and never gives us too much of one character. Yet it’s also one of the best-conceived and emotionally dense episodes of the season so far. George R. R. Martin swooped in and put all these characters in a very refined perspective for us, perfectly setting up the season endgame.
LECTER: I have an unconventional psychiatrist
GRAHAM: Well, we have that in common
Good evening, friends: Soup’s on!
(I’m betting I can keep the food metaphors going until at least the season finale. What do you folks think?)
Tonight’s bill of fare is….well, let’s call it an “acquired taste”.
This episode might start with a not-so-subtle metaphor in its title, but that metaphor pays off in compelling scenes for a whole host of supporting characters.
Yup, we’re doing two issues at once this time, because when Book Six came out I was out of the country and didn’t have the time or the energy to buy, read and review a comic. Turns out it was kind of a shame, because Book Six was the most important issue of the run so far.
It’s been a very improbable ride for Tony Stark.
I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves here. Think back five years to right before Iron Man hit theaters. Or better yet, think back six years, to when you first heard there would be an Iron Man movie, and that Robert Downey Jr. would be starring in it. How high were your hopes, honestly? Even if you thought it would be good, how many people thought it would be as good as it turned out to be? And even if you did think Iron Man would be badass, who among you really thought that Tony Stark – not Peter Parker, not Wolverine, not The Punisher – would be the coolest dude in all of Marvel-based cinema? Who among you thought he would be the heart and soul of Marvel Studios? If you predicted all of that, you are a much more prescient cinephile than I, and you should probably go out and buy a lottery ticket or something.
But regardless of what I or anyone else thought, all of that happened, and then – perhaps just as improbably - The Avengers happened. Some of us never thought that day would come, but it did, and Tony Stark’s charisma put him at the center of that incredibly ambitious movie universe too. He’s the rock star of Marvel cinema. We couldn’t take that away from him now if we wanted to. And what’s more, he’s earned it.
Unfortunately, this status also means that he’s the most scrutinized of the Marvel heroes (so far; believe me when I tell you I will be looking very closely for flaws when Thor: The Dark World hits theaters this fall). Remember Iron Man 2? As over-the-top action flicks go it’s a damn fun time, full of action and cool effects and lots of that patented RDJ charm. But in spite of that, it fell flat. It seemed stale and redundant next to its predecessor, and it almost felt like an absolute snore compared to the bombastic cleverness of The Avengers. So, with all that in mind, we come (at last) to Iron Man 3.
It’s the first Tony Stark solo adventure in three years, and there have been whispers that it will be the last. It’s also the first major Marvel Studios adventure since Joss Whedon set a new standard of superhero awesome. In other words, there’s a lot riding on this movie. It’s a new chapter for Marvel Studios, a chance for a new writer and director (Shane Black) to make waves in one of the most successful action movie families in recent memory, and a chance for Robert Downey Jr. to prove that his Tony Stark shtick hasn’t gotten stale in spite of Iron Man 2. So, let’s talk about this damn movie.
Tony Stark (Downey) hasn’t been sleeping well ever since he flew through a wormhole into another dimension and almost died at the end of The Avengers. He still doesn’t fully understand what the hell happened to him, how he went from battling terrorists and vengeance-seekers to trans-dimensional aliens and gods, or how he somehow got roped into fighting alongside a pair of secret agents, a man from the past, a thunderous blonde deity and a huge green rage monster. As a man who’s spent his life focusing on science and mechanics, where everything has a logical place, this really gets to him. He doesn’t feel right anymore, and things are getting worse.
But as anxiety begins to wrack Tony’s brain, the world begins to need him more. A new terroristic threat is looming in the form of Mandarin (Ben Kingsley), a mysterious criminal mastermind responsible for a series of almost untraceable bomb attacks and a set of freaky video messages. As things inevitably get personal and a showdown between Iron Man and Mandarin looms, Tony must fight to both save the world and protect his girlfriend and business partner, Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has concerns of her own as she deals with the intriguing but enigmatic scientist Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), who claims to have a new biological agent that could change the way humans heal. Add to this the re-appearance of an old flame of Tony’s in Dr. Maya Hansen (Rebecca Hall) and the transformation of Col. James “Rhodey” Rhodes (Don Cheadle) into the president’s favorite armored soldier Iron Patriot, and Tony’s set to face a set of challenges unlike anything he’s ever experienced before.
And yes, that’s as much plot as I’m going to give you, though you’ve probably figured a good deal more out just from watching the trailers and reading the news. I’m keeping it vague not because I’m trying to avoid spoilers (again, you probably already know a good deal more than what I’ve told you), but because this film – like most of the best superhero films – isn’t about what happens, but how it happens. Let’s face it, there’s a formula to these things. We’ve all seen Iron Man movies (and Spider-Man movies, and X-Men movies and Batman movies) before. We know where certain things in this movie are going before the movie even starts. Therefore the difference is made in the personality of the story, and it’s here that Iron Man 3 is an unquestionable triumph.
It starts with the dialogue, and right away it’s clear that Black and co-writer Drew Pearce know exactly where Downey’s strike zone is. Even in its most desperate and dark moments (and yeah, you know from the trailers that there are several), Iron Man 3 is packed with characteristic Tony Stark wit, and it’s all the more noteworthy because it’s wit that works no matter how dark the moment is. This is a film largely about taking Tony Stark out of his comfort zone, and yet he still keeps his sense of humor, his sharp tongue and a twinkle in his eye. This could come off as cheap audience-pleasing trickery, but Black and Downey somehow make this an essential part of Tony’s personality, just as Joss Whedon did. His unceasing smart-assery in the face of the absolute horror of the battle he’s fighting is both a sign of courage and a sign of outright panic, and it makes him both endearing and endlessly fascinating.
Black also serves the film well by making certain that this adventure takes us places no other Marvel movie has taken us before. We see Tony Stark down in the dirt, battered and scared and lost, we see him thinking on his feet without any armor to guard him, we see him digging deep into his most primal instincts. We step further away from the polish and showmanship of Iron Man than we ever have before, and in so doing we get to see a part of Stark that’s more vital than the armor ever was. Black hones in on Stark’s inherent identity as mechanic, as fixer, as tinkerer. It’s a thread that runs through all of the Iron Man films (The Avengers included), but Black and Pearce nail it better than anyone has before, and the result is not only an incredibly inventive action movie, but the best Tony Stark character study we could have hoped for.
As a result, Downey gets to take the character to depths of expression previously unseen. He gets to probe further into Tony’s inherent pain, his inner turmoil and the lengths to which he’ll go to preserve his outer cool, his sense of family, revenge and protectiveness, and his own struggles with identity. There’s much more to Tony Stark than quipping and well-manicured facial hair, and here we see that shine through in ways the other films never managed. That’s thanks in large part to Black and Pearce’s inventiveness, but we owe most of it to Downey’s genius. Don’t let the huge salaries and blockbuster cred fool you. He’s one of the greatest actors of his generation, and we’re lucky that he loves this part so much.
This film is also a chance for Paltrow to dig deeper into Pepper Potts, a character that – until now – was mostly noteworthy for her patience with the exasperating genius billionaire playboy philanthropist. She finds new fire in the character this time around. But the real scene-stealer is Kingsley, who does some wonderful and unexpected things with Mandarin (which I will not spoil here). He nails the mystery and the bombast of the character. And the voice. Much like Tom Hardy’s Bane, it’s an accent so unsettling, so unplaceable, that it knocks something loose in your brain. It doesn’t just make you fascinated with the character. It makes you crave more of him.
As I said before, the real success of this film isn’t what it does, but how it does it. Obviously I won’t spoil any of that for you now, but after the often stale Iron Man 2, this film is the biggest breath of fresh air we could hope for. The entire creative team seems to have a rock solid understanding of how a good Iron Man movie should work, but an even greater understanding of how to take everyone completely by surprise. This is an unpredictable, witty, earnest and utterly indulgent superhero film that delivers all the action movie goods (Iron Man army and all) along with a massive dose of heart and exuberance. It gets almost everything right, and it reminds us all why Tony Stark is the reigning King of Marvel Cinema.