Game of Thrones “Oathkeeper” Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images-HBO. The Game of Thrones site can be found here)

I made a lot of last week’s controversial Game of Thrones scene involving Jaime and Cersei in the sept. Not just in my review on this site, but all over the internet and to anyone who would listen to me babble about it in person. I was not a fan and I still hate it. It remains confusing to try to figure out what the intention of it was. I really think that what was depicted on-screen was a rape. Though after watching this week’s episode I’m inclined to think that rape isn’t what the people behind the show intended. Jaime seemed to bounce back to being the Jaime of the past season or so in all of his scenes. While Cersei certainly seemed angry with him in the one they share in this episode, it feels more because of other reasons. That he couldn’t prevent Joffrey’s death. That he took so long to come back to her. That he is siding with Tyrion. Sure there could be some underlying subtext to the scene, but given the lack of subtlety in other plots this week, I’m guessing there isn’t.

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“The Kingslayer brothers. You like it? I like it.” -Tyrion responding to Jaime’s inquiry about whether he murdered Joffrey.

If you look at the scene last week as rape most of Jaime’s scenes play a little strangely this episode. So I guess until I see otherwise, I will probably just view the whole thing as a botched up scene and try not to let it hang over any bits with Jaime going forward. And maybe that is partly because I don’t want anything to stop me from enjoying his time in the latest episode “Oathbreaker” which is wholly excellent otherwise. It starts with another training session with Bronn. Jaime is coming along with his left, but Bronn gives him a lesson in fighting dirty when he removes his golden hand and slaps him with it in what was a true laugh-out-loud moment for me. Then the discussion shifts to Tyrion. The way Bronn uses his knowledge of Tyrion’s trial by combat in the Eyrie where he initially named Jaime as his champion was clever and leads to Jaime visiting his little brother in his cell.

Circumstances have kept the Lannister brothers apart for much of the show’s run, but they really are quite the pair. Jaime has always had a fondness for Tyrion that the rest of his family has lacked, a likable trait of his even in the earlier seasons. Not a whole lot is accomplished here, but it is a lot of fun to see them play off one another and segues nicely into Jaime’s sequence with Brienne that follows.

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The shot of a grinning Pod that panned out to include Jaime got a chuckle out of me.

Jaime gives Brienne his Valyrian steel sword (which she appropriately names Oathkeeper), a new set of armor and a trusty new squire in Podrick Paine. Her mission is to find Sansa. Jaime clearly wants to keep his vow to Catelyn and the Pod/Sansa factor makes it tie nicely into his relationship with Tyrion. Jaime and Brienne’s bond is one I’ve loved seeing grow over the past couple seasons, so watching them say goodbye is a little bittersweet, but that is just a part of why it is such a strong scene.

Despite my constant droning on about him, the last two weeks have been about much more than Jaime Lannister. The episode actually opens up in Essos where last week’s episode left off. The first scene depicts Missandei teaching Grey Worm the common tongue. Daenerys has an interesting crew with her out there and it is nice when they can get a chance to shine on their own. The sequence that follows shows Grey Worm and some other Unsullied sneaking in through the sewers to help push the slaves of Meereen towards revolt after last week’s broken collar catapulting began to put the idea in their minds. Dany eventually takes the city and punishes the slave masters by crucifying them like they had done to the children she found on her march to the city.

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“I will answer injustice with justice.” -Daenerys as she turns down advice from Ser Barristan on how to handle the slave masters of Meereen.

The past couple of weeks I have been avoiding references to the murder mystery of “Who shot Mr. Burns?” err… make that “Who poisoned Joffrey?” People I have discussed it with who have not read the books seemed to all be on different levels as far as solving the case, but this week spells things out pretty clearly. Littlefinger conspired with Olenna Tyrell who used a jewel from Sansa’s necklace to poison the King who she mentioned she would never let marry her granddaughter. It was certainly neat watching the wedding episode having already known who was behind the plot. If you go back and take a peek, you can actually see the moment where Olenna takes a stone off of Sansa’s necklace as well as a shot of her framed against the glass of wine that eventually does Joffrey in. I appreciate the attention to detail by the writer and director in this case and is worth another look for those finding out the plan for the first time now. Their explanation of it this week was a bit heavy-handed (did Olenna really need to fondle Margaery’s necklace?), but it got the job done.

This sequence also has Olenna schooling Marg on the ways of seduction. Who hasn’t always wanted to have that conversation with grandma? I do love how Margaery ends up going to see Tommen afterwards. He is too young to use the same kind of moves her grammy did to lock down Luthor Tyrell, so the future Queen handles things in a slightly different way. Tommen’s reaction to this girl showing up in his bedroom is another hilarious moment in “Oathkeeper” which has quite a few situated among some much more disturbing imagery elsewhere throughout the hour. One of the great things about the show is the way it has given focus to characters that the book never could due to its point of view structure. The two Tyrell ladies have benefitted greatly from this in particular. It seems Olenna might be on her way out of King’s Landing which is too bad because Diana Rigg has really been wonderful in the role. I was hoping she might stick around a bit longer.

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Locke buddies up to Jon Snow after teleporting to Castle Black.

The rest of the episode plays out up North at The Wall and beyond. It is here that the show really makes some departures from the source material, but whereas the major deviation last week drove me crazy, I see a lot of potential with some of the changes here. I was surprised to see Locke at Castle Black already, but this series in either form has always been a little suspect with traveling times. He is seen buddying up with Jon and eventually volunteers to join him on his expedition to Craster’s Keep. While Thorne, the acting Commander of the Night’s Watch, seemed hesitant to let Jon go, he now sees it as an opportunity to rid himself of Jon for good. Jon is even more motivated than before to go to Craster’s after he hears his brother Bran is North of the Wall. And it just so happens Bran ends up there in what is a truly disturbing sequence of events.

Things are worse than ever with Karl and some of the deserters from the Night’s Watch running things there now. Week in week out, the show seems to want to one-up itself with just how sleazy it can make some of its characters. Karl is seen drinking out of Jeor Mormont’s skull while saying stuff like, “Fuck them ’til they’re dead” in reference to Craster’s daughters/wives. It is pretty disgusting and only gets worse when they capture Bran and company where Karl proceeds to get creepy on Meera Reed and they chain up poor Hodor and torture him outside. I have no idea how this ends up playing out, but I hope these shitheads get what is coming to them next week whether it be via Bran warging or Jon and company rolling in. I’m guessing there won’t be a Jon/Bran reunion here. This show loves to tease us with Starks coming together only to snatch hope away at the last second, but I am curious to see how all this turns out and how Locke will factor in.

The final scene gives us a rare look at the White Walkers who claim another of Craster’s kids. Where things get interesting is when he takes the boy up far to the North. The visuals here are quite beautiful as we see where the White Walkers like to chill out. Inside an “Ice Henge” of sorts, the baby is given over to another Walker who seems to have a different sort of look than we have seen previously. Likely some sort of White Walker higher-up. With a touch of his finger he turns the baby into one of his own. I’m not sure I have worked out the logistics of all of this, but it was cool to get some more insight into this mysterious group. It represents another case where the show can clear something up that some book-readers might have suspected, but did not know for sure due to the POV writing style of the novels. I also just enjoyed seeing what I assume were the fabled “Lands of Always Winter.”

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So this happened…

A few more things:

  • Scene of the Week: I will actually go with the White Walker scene at the end because it gave me the rare chance to speculate on something from the show which made discussions on the internet a little more fun for me and my fellow book-readers. In stark contrast to that one scene last week, it was also beautifully directed by the always excellent Michelle MacLaren. And a reveal from the HBO viewer’s guide of all places sent speculation into overdrive. That has since been edited, so I am not sure that was even supposed to come out.
  • All the action up North has made me realize there was a missed opportunity over the years as far as not including something from there in the intro sequence. Perhaps Craster’s Keep or more ideally The Fist of the First Men. Kind of a bummer since I am such a sucker for new locations in the intro.
  • How the fuck did they catch Ghost? The direwolves feel like they have been nerfed on the show.
  • I have been joking all week that since Tommen has been aged up, the show would be making the egregious error of cutting the series most famous member of the Kingsguard. I’m happy to say these fears were unfounded and we were treated with a sighting and several mentions of Ser Pounce!!!
  • I once again loved how Meereen looked, but that banner hung on the harpy atop the pyramid was a little cheesy I thought.
  • Missing in Action this Week: This was a fairly focused episode by Game of Thrones standards. I always appreciate when they can give each group more screen time instead of trying to squeeze every single person into the show. Unfortunately a lot of my faves were missing this week like Arya, Tywin, and Oberyn. Stannis, Theon and the Boltons I never miss all that much.

Unlike last week’s extremely problematic deviation from the source material, I liked the ways in which “Oathkeeper” strayed off the beaten path. Bran’s storyline has needed something to give it some oomph and this week’s developments could be just what the maester ordered. Reading people’s reactions to the final sequence made for a much more fun week discussing Game of Thrones than last week’s dissection of rape that seemed to get all the focus (from myself included). And while I couldn’t help but think about that issue while watching Jaime this episode (and still hate that scene), I loved his bits this week. Overall this was a great rebound episode in my opinion after the last one left me a little bummed out.

What did you think of the latest Game of Thrones episode “Oathkeeper”? Let me know in the comments below. Thank you very much for reading!

A Blog Update

by Matthew Thompson

Hey everyone. Things have been a little scattershot on here the past couple of weeks, so I just wanted to throw out an update on what has been happening and what is to come.

  • I still plan to do Game of Thrones reviews weekly, but getting them up every Monday can be a bit much some weeks. I always like to “sleep” on the episode so to speak before writing it, but some Mondays aren’t conducive to me finishing them and I don’t like putting them up late at night. This week’s will probably be up tomorrow.
  • I decided to push my latest TV Power Rankings back a week. But I may do them every two weeks going forward into June at which point I may give them a rest until the network season starts up in the Fall. I’m not sure I’ll be watching a large enough pool of shows that doing them in the Summer will make sense, but I will wait and see.
  • I know I have been dropping the ball on gaming blogs this month, but I will be fixing that soon. So for those of you that read for that kind of content, I will have some new stuff up this week including the next game in my Best of 7th Gen countdown.
  • The Triple Option is my third blog over the past few years. I was blogging on the gaming site 1up before it shuttered. And many of my WordPress friends and followers started reading my stuff on The Whiteboard. One thing that stinks about this is that a lot of my work is spread across all of those sites. Since this will be my home for the foreseeable future, I am going to start reposting some of my old blogs. This will give some of my new readers here a chance to see more of my work. It will help me fill some slow weeks. But I think most importantly I can start getting more of my work consolidated in one place.
  • What stuff will I be bringing over? Mostly some gaming features from The Whiteboard. A few individual pieces and some ongoing features I dropped along the way (like “Levels I Love”). I know I talked about doing  a piece here on how I’d fix the Tomb Raider reboot, but I ended up shelving it partly because I liked the one I did before on The Whiteboard much better. So I might bring that over. They might be slightly tweaked or I will just mention that I’m republishing them here. For those that have been nice enough to read my writing for many years now, I apologize if you see some repeats!
  • I have been making a point of trying to avoid starting stuff I wouldn’t finish. I know it has been a while, but I do plan doing reviews for Spartacus: Vengeance and Spartacus: War of the Damned. I have just been a little distracted with my Game of Thrones posts.

Anyway, I am about four months in on this site and I really appreciate everyone who has taken the time to read, like or comment any of my posts here. It is still a work in progress, but I am happy with a lot of the stuff I have done and where things are headed and I am hoping to continue to grow and evolve here as the year goes on.

That will do it for now. I may do these every now and then to give people an idea of how things are going and what is coming up. As always, thanks for reading!

By Matthew Thompson Posted in More

Game of Thrones “Breaker of Chains” Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images-HBO. The Game of Thrones site can be found here)

I should have spent these last few days dissecting the fallout from Joffrey’s death in last week’s episode of Game of Thrones (or doing something altogether more productive), but I found myself trying to sift through the rubble left in the wake of this latest episode’s odd Jaime/Cersei scene. Apparently I wasn’t the only one bothered by it or the way it could affect the characters’ relationship and arcs going forward.

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“Money buys a man’s silence for a time. A bolt in the heart buys it forever.” -Batman… errr… Littlefinger explaining to Sansa the best way to earn a man’s trust.

I usually don’t read any other reviews or too many opinions before writing my weekly reviews, but with this particular scene leaving me so vexed after Sunday night, I could not help myself. I have perused interviews with the showrunners and director. I have read arguments that it isn’t much different from the books. I’ve heard people say that Jaime did not rape her in the show. I’ve seen discussions centered on whether it will or will not set back Jaime’s recent growth as a character. They’ve been interesting to read even if I found some of them terribly misguided, but in the end I’m left feeling about the same way as I did when I first saw it. Jaime raped Cersei in the sept. That isn’t up for debate in my opinion regardless of what the people behind the show’s intentions were. And it doesn’t fit Jaime’s character and will ultimately have a negative effect on his progression and how he is seen by viewers.

The first argument I saw against this was, “But this guy threw a kid out a window and killed his cousin while he was in captivity. He’s always been a shithead, this makes sense.” The circumstances, timing and motivations for these events make those comparisons to this episode’s rape fall very flat to me. I do agree that the changes made to the show meant this scene was going to feel different from the book version. Jaime’s earlier arrival in King’s Landing and Cersei’s denials of his advances prior to the sept scene mean this couldn’t play out the same as before. It doesn’t mean this was the way to go though.

If this was a way to show that despite his actions in Season 3, Jaime isn’t a good guy, then I still think this was the wrong way to go about it. Because it seems like it would change the two characters’ relationship drastically going forward which in turn would change both of their arcs.

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Tywin gives Tommen lessons on former Kings and the birds and the bees. What can’t he do?

Of course, maybe this is the intent of the showrunners and writers of Game of Thrones. Maybe they are going in a new direction from the source material. That is their right. I don’t have to like it, but I am generally pretty open to changes from the books. I really love the show and while not every tweak they make sits well with me, I am understanding of both the kind of cuts that need making for the TV show to exist as well as changes that might just benefit the storyline overall. And for all that I’m willing to wait and see how things play out.

I still haven’t dove into GRRM’s take on the scene or the fact that this isn’t the first time the showrunners have changed a consensual sex scene to one depicting rape. This could certainly be a blog of its own, but I don’t want to do that, so I will stop here. I don’t like this scene or the repercussions it may have and I don’t think it fits the characters involved. But I will wait and see where they are taking this next.

Other than my objections to all of that, there was plenty to like in this week’s episode of Game of Thrones. It starts right where last week’s left off. Cersei is cradling her dead son and calling for the guards to haul Tyrion away. She is also looking for Tyrion’s wife Sansa who has been whisked away by Dontos to a boat that intends to help her flee the capital. And here we get our first appearance this year of the always creepy Littlefinger who explains his role in getting her there while giving good old Dontos a bolt in the head for his troubles.

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“There has never lived a more loyal squire.” -Tyrion to Pod as he says goodbye to him. *sniff sniff*

There is lots of other fallout due to King Joffrey’s death. Margaery discusses her bad luck with marriages with her grandmother Olenna. I love both of Tywin’s scenes this week. His discussion with the soon to be new king Tommen about what is needed to be a good ruler is classic Tywin Lannister. He manages to let the boy and his mother know who will be running things while also taking shots at his dead grandson lying right next to him. His discussion with Oberyn is even better. After claiming no part in Elia’s murder and Oberyn denying any involvement in Joffrey’s despite his knowledge of poisons, Tywin actually reaches out for help from the Prince of Dorne. He wants him to be a judge in Tyrion’s upcoming trial and a part of the small council. This scene also illuminates a bit of history which is something I love to see them work into the show. When the Targaryens conquered the Seven Kingdoms long ago, the Dornish unlike the rest of Westeros were able to hold out using certain tactics that proved successful against dragon warfare. Tywin is thinking ahead and wants the Dornish in the fold if Dany ever decides to stop screwing around out East and brings her dragons and army to Westeros.

There was a surprisingly small amount of Tyrion this week, but I suppose there is only so much they can do with him while he is locked up in a cell. He makes the most of his single scene, a fairly touching one with his loyal squire Podrick Paine. He learns about the judges for his trial. He learns his wife is nowhere to be found. He learns that Pod is refusing to speak against him and urges him to get out of King’s Landing since sticking up for him will just get him killed. And like this show has reiterated time and time again, Tyrion does not lose his wits or sense of humor even in the most hopeless of situations. I loved this line when Cersei came up as a suspect in Joffrey’s murder: “She is the only one I’m certain had nothing to do with this murder which makes it unique as King’s Landing murders go.”

Elsewhere the Hound and Arya continue their diner tour of the Riverlands. There is no significant plot progress here, but these two are so fun together it is impossible to complain. Posing as father and daughter, Arya slyly earns them a place to eat dinner. The resulting meal has some laughs and it all ends in The Hound stealing some silver while trying to impart some wisdom to young Arya and reminding everyone once again that Winter is Coming.

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“Are you bored of me?” -Gilly asks. I can’t speak for Sam, but I was bored watching this part.

Up North, the wilding group south of the wall attacks a small village. I feel like this scene may have been done to really play up the villainous side to the Wildings, but I’m not sure. The Thenns seem really over the top in their evil ways when their leader tells a kid he is going to eat his parents as he twirls his mustache. And Ygritte brains a man with an arrow while he talks to his son about how great his mother’s potatoes are. Maybe those still sympathizing with Ygritte over Jon abandoning her will have a more even view running up to the inevitable battle looming with the Night’s Watch. Meanwhile at The Wall, the return of some rangers who were present during the madness at Craster’s Keep last season has Jon worried that those left behind might reveal just how small the Night’s Watch is to Mance Rayder and his wildling army.

The whole episode wraps up with scene outside Meereen. The Meereenese have sent out a champion and Dany decides to pit Daario 2.0 against him in a bout of single combat. This is our second look at the new Daario and he gets a better showing here than in the premiere I’d say. A kiss of his dagger’s lady-shaped hilt and a wink at Dany and he is ready to go. A quickknife throw and a slash of his arakh and he has made quick work of the opposition. This scene also contains a few other staples of recent Daenerys scenes. You have your commanding speech in a foreign language (sorry if you are tired of these, I still love them). You have Dany swooning over Daario. She also tells Jorah they are the best of friends… just friends (she may not have said this but we all heard it). And finally Dany uses catapults to cleverly let the slaves of the city know what she is all about. Plus as a bonus: an almost literal pissing contest! I thought this scene worked well overall though I do wish the duel lasted a bit longer.

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Nu-Daario right before entertaining the crowd with his best Indiana Jones impression.

A few more things:

  • Scene of the Week: I’d probably give the nod to the Tywin pair, but they are unfortunately situated right next two awkward sex scenes (tune in next week to see who Oberyn talks to after his next orgy!). If not them perhaps the Daenerys scene or Tyrion’s. I guess nothing stands out too far from the pack this week. Lots of great stuff though.
  • I actually really liked the Stannis scenes this week. Or maybe I just liked the Davos/Shireen one. They have a cute relationship and it leading to a lightbulb going off in Davos’ head about the Iron Bank of Braavos was a nice touch.
  • In this episode, Sam ponders whether a child is better off growing up in Castle Black or a whore house.
  • “Just point out the next map shop you see and I’ll buy you one.” Arya and the Hound’s banter is hilarious.
  • I love the music that goes along with Daenerys closing scenes and the first shot of Meereen looked fantastic.
  • Sorry the review is so late this week. I was trying to sort the sept scene out in my head. I still haven’t.
  • Missing in Action this Week: Bran, Theon and the Boltons. These two storylines just aren’t a weekly necessity even at their best.

Obviously I didn’t care much for the way they handled the Jaime/Cersei scene in the sept. Other than that and a rather forgettable Sam/Gilly sequence, there was a lot to like. It certainly didn’t feel as eventful as the opening two episodes. No scene stole the show for me like last week’s wedding or the premiere’s showdown at the Inn and introduction of Oberyn. But that is okay. Not every episode of this show can be like that. This one helps continue to move pieces into place for the season to come after the events of the Royal Wedding. But because of my issues with that sept scene, I just didn’t enjoy “Breaker of Chains” as much as the first two eps of Season 4.

If you’ve watched “Breaker of Chains,” let me know your thoughts on it in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

Orphan Black “Nature Under Constraint and Vexed” Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images from BBC America. Orphan Black‘s site can be seen here)

The more I think about last night’s Orphan Black premiere, the more I love it. It seemed to do everything it needed to do and then some. It reestablished the characters, but without slowing the pace that made the back half of the first season in particular so thrilling. It continued to dole out its twisty narrative, but not without working in its trademark sense of humor. And then it finished with an ending that had fans screaming with joy Continue reading

Game of Thrones “The Lion and the Rose” Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images from HBO. The Game of Thrones site can be found here)

For three seasons now Game of Thrones has developed a pattern of unleashing the biggest events of the season in its ninth episode. Of course, plenty happens all season, but I do think it helped add to the shock value of last night’s episode since Joffrey’s death certainly feels like Episode 9 material. This also speaks to the kind of packed season this is going to be, the obvious result of focusing on the second half of one of the novels. There is less buildup this year and climaxes should be peppered throughout the whole season.

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“Fuck yeah!!!” -Game of Thrones fans around the world exclaimed as Joffrey drew his last breath.

It’s hard to not start with how things ended. Another wedding in Westeros and another death. This time it’s King Joffrey Baratheon. He goes in quite the gruesome manner too. I loved the makeup work they did on his face during his final moments going almost purple (like the fan-coined nickname for this Royal Wedding) with blood trickling from his orifices. As someone who read the books, it is hard to not compare big show events to the source material and I feel like they did this one justice. Before he went out, Joffrey was certainly in rare form. From the tasteless dwarf re-enactment of the War of the Five Kings to his constant badgering of his uncle throughout the day, George R.R. Martin (who penned this episode) made sure no one was going to feel bad for him on his way out even having him finger fan-favorite Tyrion for his death in his final moments. And it is enough for Cersei to have Tyrion taken away for the crime of Kingslaying.

This was certainly a more enjoyable death than last year’s gut-wrenching Red Wedding that saw many of the Stark family perish. But with it goes the wonderful performance of Jack Gleeson. He played the evil boy king with a touch of madness to a tee bringing the character to life on-screen exactly how one would hope. I still remember all his terrible deeds. One small moment that comes to mind is him gleefully hopping into the room to deliver the news of Robb Stark’s death to Tyrion in last year’s finale. And that was true of many of his worst moments. Joffrey enjoyed being an asshole and Gleeson is part of the reason we all hated him so much and can revel in his demise now.

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“Look the pie!” -Margaery says in one of multiple attempts to distract people from her awful new husband’s antics.

Of course, Joffrey’s death wasn’t all that happened at the wedding. Besides him being a world-class prick leading up to his final moments, the show took the opportunity to check in with the Royal gathering’s many guests. Cersei tears down Maester Pycelle and questions Brienne’s relationship with Jaime. Jaime warns Loras about marrying Cersei and Loras gets in a burn with the line, “And neither will you” (you know Jaime is out of sorts if Loras is getting some digs in on him). Last week I talked about what a big fan I was of Oberyn’s introduction and his short scene with Tywin this week was another winner. They exchange thinly-veiled words while at the same time shedding a bit more light on the difference between Dorne and the rest of Westeros (like their treatment of bastards and women). And as someone who knew Joffrey’s death was coming it was fun to see all the little machinations leading up to it, even those before this week. I could see the wheels turning and appreciated the attention to detail by the writers.

Two other key things happen in King’s Landing outside of the wedding. Knowing his family is onto Shae, Tyrion puts together his most asshole-ish speech so he can send her packing to Pentos where she can continue to live even if he can’t be with her. Tyrion also helps set up Jaime with a new sparring partner in Bronn, so that Jaime might be able to learn to fight with his left-hand. There is some great potential with this pairing. Two of the show’s funniest characters trading barbs between blade swings could be a ton of fun. It was also great to see Tyrion and Jaime share a scene. They have an interesting bond, but events have kept them apart for most of the show’s run.

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“If I still had my right hand.” -Jaime says as he is bested by Bronn. “Plan on growing it back?” -Bronn responds as the 100th person to stick it to Jaime in his return to King’s Landing.

Elsewhere, we check in with the three storylines that were absent in last week’s premiere to varying results. With Joffrey dead, I feel the Boltons, Ramsey in particular, will now wear the crown for most hateable characters on the show. In the opening scene of the episode, we see Ramsey Snow hunting down a girl fleeing for her life before sicking his dogs on her. This along with a later scene shows just how much he has broken Theon. The best part here is when he proves to his father just how loyal his new toy is, letting Theon shave him while breaking the news that Roose killed his almost-brother Robb. He also gets Theon to reveal that Bran and Rickon Stark are alive and headed North. From here Roose sends Locke to track them down and Ramsey to take Moat Caitlin which is held by the Ironborn and a key to taking over the North.

We also get a brief scene with Bran, the Reeds, Osha and Hodor north of The Wall. Jojen warns Bran of staying too long in Summer’s skin, but the big moment of this part of the show are Bran’s visions. A number of visions play out in Bran’s head as he touches a Weirwood tree. Visions and dreams are important in the world of Game of Thrones often revealing future events in one way or another. Bran sees scenes from the past like Ned sharpening his sword and him locked up in the cells below the Red Keep before his death. He sees the three-eyed raven and hears where he is supposed to head next. More interesting to me were a couple grander visions of the future. One saw a dragon’s shadow being cast on King’s Landing as it flew overhead. The other showed a destroyed, snowy throne room, a vision that Daenerys also saw in The House of the Undying back in the Season 2 finale. I love stuff like this and it makes me excited for what they might mean for the future of the series.

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“There’s a big-ass dragon flying over King’s Landing.” -A tree tells Bran and teases viewers.

The lowpoint of the episode for me was the bits surrounding Stannis, Davos and Melisandre at Dragonstone. Stannis is burning members of his wife’s family for their worship of the Seven (or perhaps disobeying orders I guess) and Mel is talking to Stannis’ daughter Shireen about The Lord of Light. Oh and there is an awkward dinner as well. It felt like a perfunctory check in on one of the series’ characters. The show’s portrayal of Stannis continues to fall flat for me and Davos didn’t even get any moments to shine this episode. I am hoping they can turn things around for Stannis’ character this season because I remain sort of baffled at what they are doing with him here.

A few more things:

  • Scene of the Week: It has to be the Joffrey death scene. Not only is it satisfying to see him bite it, it is incredibly well done. It looked brutal.
  • When I first read it, I was a little disappointed a Stark hadn’t cut him down. I think most people probably wanted to see Robb initially get revenge on Joff. My hopes then shifted to Arya in perhaps a sneakier kill down the line. But I guess this is kind of how things go in this world. Not the cliché way and I love it for that too. I do hope for some direct Stark on Lannister revenge at some point though.
  • I guess because Ilyn Paine’s actor is very sick, they subbed Bronn into the role of Jaime’s sparring partner. In the books, he chose Ilyn because he wouldn’t talk (since he can’t). Bronn will be much different obviously, but I see this as a good potential change if for very unfortunate reasons.
  • I found the wildfire part of the dwarf show to be pretty clever. Got to give them some credit there.
  • “Now go drink until it feels like you did the right thing.” Sounds about right Bronn.
  • “Not now Mace, Lord Tywin and I are speaking.” Olenna and Tywin share a bond in their joy of dumping on their children.
  • The Sigur Ros cover of “The Rains of Castamere” is pretty awesome though I feel like the song is losing some of its punch at this point.
  • Missing in Action this Week: No Dany, Arya, Jon or Ygritte. Not the best trade-off when compared to last week, but I appreciate them not trying to cram every character in every episode. And I did like the Bran scene for those visions at least.

I didn’t love all the scenes outside of King’s Landing. Theon’s storyline to this point in the show has been my least favorite (though this week’s did have some purpose) and the show still struggles with its portrayal of Stannis, but the “Purple Wedding” and all that surrounded it more than makes up for those less desirable storylines. It also throws the whole world of the show into upheaval. The death of Joffrey may have been enjoyable for those of us who have grown to loathe him over the years, but it will also shake things up in King’s Landing and have ripple effects throughout Westeros. This means that despite the big moment here, the rest of the season is sure to be full of excitement. And there is no arguing that it is off to one hell of a start.

What did you think of the Royal Wedding and the episode as a whole? Were you happy with the way Joff went out? Who do you think was behind his death (fellow book readers keep quiet on this)? Let me know in the comments. I’ll be back with a review of Episode 3 next Monday. Thanks for reading!

Best of 7th Gen: #22-God of War III

by Matthew Thompson (All images courtesy of the God of War III page found here)

(I am counting down my 25 favorite games of the last console generation. I explain a little about how I put the list together in this introduction. And you can see a collection of all my articles on the Best of 7th Gen compiled here.)

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The God of War series dominated my time spent gaming in early 2014 when I played through all six entries in about a month and a half. I fell hard for the series, so much so that I found myself sneaking the third entry into this list as a late addition. As such, it is the one I feel most wary about. Will it be a game that in time I look at less fondly or will I perhaps appreciate it more in the coming years? I can’t say for sure, but the fast fun combat, top-notch visuals and immense sense of scale have me feeling like it very much deserves this spot in my Best of 7th Gen list.

Before I start laying on the praise, let me get one thing out of the way. The ending from a story standpoint was a disappointment. Pandora and even worse HOPE(!) just left me shaking my head at how they decided to wrap up this trilogy. If someone said that was reason enough for this to be blackballed from their list of best games of last gen, I’d understand. While I recognize this blemish, the plot never really worked for me in the series to begin with. Kratos isn’t my kind of character and I find his “tragic” backstory (particularly the part laid out in the first game) to have giant holes in it. So ultimately this doesn’t hurt the game for me as much as it does for some.

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Okay onto the good stuff. God of War II really upped the scale from the original. Moving to PlayStation 3, one would expect God of War III to take things to a whole new level and it does not disappoint in this regard. The game kicks off with you climbing Mount Olympus on the back of the titan Gaia while fighting the Greek God of the Sea, Poseidon. It is a genuine “wow” moment. Not just the scale or the visuals which are almost unrivaled on the PS3, but thinking about it from a technical standpoint you can’t help but be impressed. The way Gaia moves and shifts as you fight even reminds me of Uncharted 2’s train sequence a bit.

In general the setpieces in God of War III are the best I’ve seen outside of Naughty Dog’s treasure hunting series. Along with the game’s jaw-dropping opening sequence, there was the fight against Cronos. Part setpiece, part boss fight it once again shows just how big Sony Santa Monica went with this sequel. You can’t forget ripping off the hulking titan’s fingernail or swinging around his massive body to try to get in position for the killing blow.

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And as awe-inspiring as those two battles were, neither is my favorite boss in the game. That would probably go to Hercules or Hades. Kratos’ half-brother represents a different kind of foe than many of the series more gargantuan fights, but one that is no less satisfying. The confrontation against Hades in Kratos’ umpteenth trip through the underworld is another stellar showdown. Throw in a battle with Zeus that plays out like a 2D fighting game, and you end up with not just the best sets of bosses in the God of War series, but one of my favorite in gaming period.

Of course what goes hand in hand with the boss fights is the combat which is also the series’ best. The only addition that might be considered substantial is the ability to take control of enemies and turn them against the rest of your opposition which can be pretty fun. Otherwise, it’s just small tweaks and further refinements of what had been established in the first two outings. Separating magic and items allows for easier use of ranged weapons without draining your magic meter giving you more options during encounters. And of course new versions of both are included. There is the addition of the air dodge gained my cutting down Hermes and the new grapple move (L1 + circle) which gives you a way to quickly close the gap between you and enemies as well as counter one of the God of War III’s baddies. I even appreciated the new style of quick time events that moved the giant button prompts to the periphery of the screen which goes a good ways towards solving my biggest gripe with this mechanic. When all this is added to the incredibly fun and fast existing combat formula with one of gaming’s premiere weapons in the Blades of Chaos, you really have a winning combination.

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Combat has always been the strongest aspect of God of War’s gameplay, but I feel the puzzles and platforming are good enough that they end up adding to the experience as opposed to being something you just want to be done with so you can get back to the hacking and slashing. Gone is the wretched balance beam walking that plagued the original game, back are the Icarus wings and grapple swings of the second and the series staple of wall climbing, and into the mix come a new wall-run move and the ability to hop between harpies. Prince of Persia this is not, but the platforming here is still an enjoyable component of God of War III. The same can be said of the puzzles. The one that stands out to me takes place in Hera’s Garden and reminded me of a work of M.C. Escher (I wrote my Senior Seminar paper in college on the mathematical concepts found in Escher’s work so this kind of thing is always a plus for me). It also had you use your step-mother’s corpse to weigh stuff down which helped give it that unique God of War feel.

And while I touched on it briefly before, I must reiterate that the graphics are amazing. The amount of detail packed into this game is astounding and the image quality is as good as anything last gen. I still can’t believe just how impressive Kratos looks up close. And with this greater visual fidelity comes even more intense violence. Things are brought to an almost disturbingly gruesome level here. Your jaw will drop the first time you gut a centaur and see his entrails pour out or stab a chimera with its own horn. While this might seem over the top in some other games, it fits perfectly in God of War and acts as a blood-drenched boon to the final product overall. And on the less realistic front, I like the stylized look that was given to make magic and some of the cutscenes standout. That kind of thing is always hit or miss, but it worked for me here.

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God of War III isn’t without its issues. The story’s ending is probably the biggest flaw of any game I’ve had on this list so far. There are other small things that bother me too, like tying each magic to a particular weapon. But it also has higher highs than the games I’ve talked about so far. And maybe just as importantly, it is my kind of game. As we climb up this list, we will see it shift more and more towards action/adventure games and platformers. And God of War III is a damn fine action/adventure game, one filled with the fun mash-y combat, enormous scale, memorable boss fights and beautiful visuals that make the series special to me.

A few more things:

  • This was the easy pick for God of War this gen though I still like God of War II better. You can see my full God of War series ranking here, if you missed it a couple of months back.
  • God of War has many versions of Hell throughout the series and this is clearly its best. There is a nice progression here. Getting the Bow of Apollo to help move forward. Taking out the God of the Underworld before journeying back up to Olympus. Great stuff.
  • Clue for #21: A spinoff whose initial reveal left me a bit disappointed, but whose final game won me over completely.

Yoshi’s New Island (3DS) Review

by Matthew Thompson

Young Mario and Luigi don’t seem to have the greatest of luck. It turns out after being rescued and delivered safely back home at the end of the original Yoshi’s Island, it is discovered that they were dropped off with the wrong parents. When the stork tries to right this wrong in swoops Kamek to steal away baby Luigi. It is once again up to a group of Yoshis to save the day. With baby Mario in tow, the Yoshi clan work to reclaim his brother from the clutches of the evil wizard. And that kicks off another adventure in the Yoshi’s Island series, this time on the Nintendo 3DS.

The gameplay is similar to its predecessors. It is a slow-paced, puzzle-y platformer which sets itself apart from other genre entries through its unique mechanics. Most notable of these is Yoshi’s egg-tossing ability which allows him to swallow enemies, turn them into eggs, and then launch them in various directions to solve puzzles, best enemies, uncover secrets, and collect various goodies strewn throughout each level. His flutter jump also helps to give the game a different feel than other 2D platformers. Yoshi’s New Island shines brightest when it leverages these abilities through clever level designs and its super-sized boss fights.

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This game does try to inject the series with some new ideas, but does so to mixed results. While the Mega Eggdozers, humongous eggs that Yoshi can create by eating equally huge enemies, aren’t exactly gamechangers, I enjoyed them. It can be fun to create a path of destruction with one and I liked how the metal variant was utilized for underwater puzzles. Yoshi can also transform into different vehicles like in the rest of the series. These are now controlled with the system’s gyroscope which makes for controls that range from fine (the mine cart) to terrible (the submarine). Overall I can’t help but look at these motion controls as being a net negative.

It takes a while for the game’s difficulty to ramp up, but there is a nice level of challenge in the final two worlds. In earlier areas, the difficulty comes from trying to get 100% completion. Admittedly this is no easy task, but I still prefer games that add challenge through more traditional jumping obstacles and hazards and then use 100%ing as an extra challenge on top of that. It does make for some quality exploration elements here, but I guess I just wish the overall difficulty would have ramped up a little sooner than it did.

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I was surprised how good the graphics looked when I finally sat down to play Yoshi’s New Island. Screenshots and videos don’t really do them justice. They have done a fine job of maintaining the original’s pastel-inspired art direction in the new 2.5D rendering style. But at the same time, it still can’t stack up with the original’s standout visuals. Music is okay, if not exactly as memorable as the first Yoshi’s Island.

And that is kind of par for the course for the entire game. It’s a fun little platformer, but it doesn’t quite compare to the SNES classic. The unique mechanics help deliver an experience that feels original next to much of its current-day platforming competition. And I still love the series’ approach to boss fights in this latest outing. So if you are looking for some more egg-tossing, dinosaur riding goodness, Yoshi’s New Island will deliver. Just don’t expect anything like the revelation that was the original Yoshi’s Island. This is merely a solid sequel in comparison.

Game of Thrones “Two Swords” Review

by Matthew Thompson (Images from HBO. The Game of Thrones site can be found here)

It’s back! Game of Thrones returned last night with an episode that will help set the table for what is sure to be an eventful and action-packed fourth season. But it wasn’t content to just reestablish where things left off and where they might go. Along with the introduction of new characters and storylines, the show ends its premiere episode with an exciting sequence that helped wrap up Season 4’s initial outing titled “Two Swords” with a bang.

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“A one-handed man with no family needs all the help he can get.” -Tywin Lannister remarks to Jaime when he asks if he can keep the new sword despite defying his father’s wishes.

After a couple of introductory scenes sandwiched around the show’s glorious intro sequence (more on those below), we are introduced to one of this season’s big new players. Tyrion accompanied by Bronn and his squire Pod is sent out to meet the Prince of Dorne, Doran Martell, who is coming to King’s Landing for the Royal Wedding. He soon learns that due to illness Doran will not make it and his brother Oberyn has come in his stead. As Tyrion heads off to find the Prince, he utters a few lines of dialog that help introduce the new character before he even shows up on screen. Oberyn is promiscuous and more importantly dangerous and has no love for the Lannisters, something the southern Prince’s first scenes help to reiterate.

Oberyn Martell aka “The Red Viper” is first shown perusing some of Littlefinger’s offerings with his paramour, Ellaria Sand. Before they can all get down to business, Oberyn becomes distracted by the sound of “The Rains of Castamere,” the song of the Lannisters, being sung in a nearby room. The Lannister men he confronts have no idea who they are messing with. It isn’t long before the Dornishman has one of their hands pinned to the table with his dagger and both of them regretting hurling insults at the deadly Prince. It is here that Tyrion interjects and the two have words outside the brothel.

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“Tell your father I’m here. And tell him the Lannisters aren’t the only ones who pay their debts.” -Oberyn Martell says to Tyrion Lannister at the end of their conversation.

The conversation that follows manages to do a good job of showing the kind of person Oberyn is. It establishes he is here for more than just witnessing the King’s looming nuptials and helps shed more light on the history of his family, something the show doesn’t always have the opportunity to do in too much depth. In particular, it further informs us about his sister Elia, who was married to Dany’s eldest brother Rhaegar Targaryen before the war that crowned Robert Baratheon King, and the Lannisters supposed role in her death. It didn’t take long for actor Pedro Pascal to sell me on his ability to play the dangerous Dornish Prince. These first scenes also do a great job of giving us our first look at the people of Dorne, Westeros’ southern-most kingdom, who haven’t featured in the show in any large part prior to this season.

There were plenty of other scenes around the capital in this episode. Other than Oberyn’s entry into the series, I enjoyed Jaime’s portions the most. The Kingslayer has a few different scenes with various family members here. First he faces off with the intimidating Lannister patriarch, Tywin. Like most scenes with his children, he ends up belittling his son, but Jaime doesn’t back down, letting his father know that he wants no parts of heading home and would prefer to stay a part of the Kingsguard. In “Two Swords,” Jaime also sees his advances towards his sister rejected, his legacy called into question by Joffrey, and some of his actions questioned by Brienne. Things have changed in King’s Landing since Jaime was last there, but so has he. So while he’s taking some lumps in his return to the city, he does so in stride and with his trademark sense of humor intact. I couldn’t help but smile as he stiffly waved goodbye to Qyburn with his new golden hand or said “I use my left hand now your grace. Makes for more of a contest” when Joff called him out on his ability to do his job down a sword hand.

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“Your mother on the other hand, I admired her. She wanted to have me executed, but I admired her.” -Tyrion injects a touch of humor into a serious conversation with Sansa.

Elsewhere in and around the Red Keep, we see Tyrion trying to comfort his wife Sansa while dealing with the increasingly jealous Shae. A little bird hears them arguing and seems to be delivering this info to Cersei during her and Jaime’s conversation. Sansa receives a necklace from Ser Dontos who she saved from Joffrey’s wrath way back in, I believe, the Season 2 premiere. Margaery and Olenna Tyrell discuss the upcoming wedding before Brienne asks for a moment of the soon-to-be-Queen’s time where she explains how she believed Renly actually died. None of these sequences have the punch of the ones I discusses above, but they let us get a look at where the different chess pieces are being set up for the events to come.

Of course, Game of Thrones isn’t just about the happenings in King’s Landing. Up north we check in with Jon Snow who has returned to the Night’s Watch. He is trying to warn acting Commander Alliser Thorne, former head of the Gold Cloaks Janos Slynt, and Maester Aemon Tagaryen about Mance’s growing army and plans to attack The Wall. Only Aemon seems to hear his pleas, the other two seem more concerned with how he broke his vows. We are also introduced to the Thenns. They have come to join Tormund, Ygritte and their band of wildings for their upcoming attack. This tribe from north of The Wall sports an interesting look, pale and bald with brandings around their heads, and they have interesting habits to match as shown by them sliding off some rabbit meat from the skewer to cook up a human arm instead.

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“The dragons, Khaleesi. They will never be tamed, not even by their mother.” -Ser Jorah to Daenerys as they watch her increasingly wild dragons.

Out east in Slaver’s Bay, Dany and her army continue to march towards Meereen. Not a whole lot happens out here. The dragons have gotten quite big and look as spectacular as ever. She finds a young girl crucified on the road into the city which seems to further fuel her fire for taking it. The biggest thing of note on this side of the world in “Two Swords” is probably our first look at the new Daario Naharis. Out is Ed Skrein, with Michael Huisman filling the role of the sellsword with a soft spot for Daenerys. The original actor seemed to get a mixed reception last year. I felt he had the look and mannerisms right. It takes a certain kind of guy to play someone who can be seen fondling the lady-shaped hilts of his swords and won’t give a second thought to lopping off his fellow sellsword captains’ heads to impress a beautiful woman. Huisman, on the other hand, looks like he could have been easily cast as a younger brother of Ned Stark or the late King Robert. But that isn’t nearly as important as having acting chops. I’ve heard good things about Huisman’s work in Treme, so while I didn’t find him memorable in Nashville (the only thing I recall seeing him in), I’m hoping he can do a good job in the role. He seemed to be off to a fine start in what little we saw of him in the premiere.

I have saved the best for last. My favorite scene of the show and one I was really looking forward to capped off this first episode. We get to see Westeros’ foremost odd couple, Arya Stark and Sandor Clegane, out on the road again after The Hound failed to deliver her to her family before their demise in last season’s most blood-drenched wedding ceremony. They have such a fun dynamic, so a scene of them bickering about ponies and The Hound’s odd value system provides a good dose of humor before things take a dark turn at the crossroads’ inn. Here The Hound gets into a fight with a bunch of his brother’s men. Game of Thrones’ penchant for violence is on full display as Clegane finishes off a few guys in particularly brutal fashion, but it is Arya’s actions in this sequence that really make it shine. She gets to take her own revenge on Polliver, the man who killed her friend Lommy back in Season 2. She does so with some flare, firing his own words back at him and  finishing him in a similar way to how he murdered Lommy, all the while reclaiming her sword, Needle, which he had stolen. Arya has always been destined to be a badass since we saw her learning to “dance” from Syrio Forel back in King’s Landing and it is great to see that arc continue to play out. And it is good to see Arya get a taste of revenge after having such rotten luck for the past couple seasons. I loved the final scenes of them riding out into the countryside as well where we get a nice look at the sort of destruction the war had on the Westeros landscape.

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“What the fuck’s a Lommy?” -Sandor Clegane inquires of Arya as they peer at the inn.

A few more things:

  • Scene of the Week: I will go with Arya’s, but Tyrion and Oberyn’s conversation outside the brothel is a close-second.
  • Game of Thrones couldn’t resist taking another shot at Ned Stark. It’s been seasons since they chopped off his head and repeatedly stabbing little baby Ned Stark while he was still in the womb was a whole two episodes ago. So in the rare Game of Thrones’ cold open, they make sure to show us Ned’s sword, Ice, being melted down and its wolf scabbard being thrown in the fire.
  • Those that know me, know I love to geek out over the opening credit sequence when it adds new locations. This week we see the Dreadfort for the first time (though it doesn’t figure into the episode in any way) as well as Meereen.
  • “A man’s got to have a code.” The Hound is clearly a fan of The Wire.
  • Ser Arthur Dayne and Ser Duncan the Tall references in the scene with the White Book!
  • Missing in Action this Week: We don’t check in on Bran, Stannis or Theon/Bolton storylines this week.

One of obstacles Game of Thrones will continue to face in Season 4 as it did last year is juggling the many storylines that are strewn about its expansive world. Even with the loss of Robb and Catylen and pushing some of the pieces back together in King’s Landing, there are a lot of characters to cover. I think this fourth season premiere did a good job touching base with many of them without each storyline feeling too sparse while also managing to introduce new characters and even finishing with a memorable sequence. “Two Swords” acted as a great way to kick off the fourth season of HBO’s epic fantasy drama and I’m already counting down the minutes until the second episode arrives.

What did you think of the lastest episode of Game of Thrones? What scenes and characters stood out to you from this first hour of Season 4? Let me know in the comments below. I will be back with reviews of each new episode this season the Monday after they air, so look out for them over the next few months (hopefully they will be a bit more succinct… this premiere just had a lot to cover!). And as always, thank you for reading!

My Most Anticipated Events of Game of Thrones Season 4

by Matthew Thompson

(This blog contains spoilers for the A Song of Ice and Fire book series and what is likely to come in Game of Thrones Season 4. If you have not read all the way through all five books including the most recent one, A Dance with Dragons, you really shouldn’t read this. Go read my Top Five GoT Characters blog instead which is safe for non-book readers or just get away from here.)

With Game of Thrones Season 4 premiering tonight, I thought I’d take a look at what I’m most excited to see from the show this season. I am using my knowledge of the books in conjunction with the trailers I’ve seen as well as the episode titles to speculate about what will be shown this season. So I guess these aren’t guarantees, but it is a good excuse for me to talk about some of my favorite events from the more recent books. Mainly A Storm of Swords, but also a bit of the following two since some of that material seems like it will be in the fourth season. Well here are nine big events I can’t wait to see adapted to the screen in the coming months Continue reading

My Top Five Favorite Game of Thrones Characters

by Matthew Thompson

Game of Thrones is my favorite TV show still on the air. With its fourth season about to debut this coming Sunday I thought I’d try and do a few quick blogs before the premiere. These will give any new readers an idea where my preferences lie as far as favorite characters, storylines and so on. Today, I thought I’d start by counting down my five favorite characters from the series. While I’d be lying to say the books had no impact on this list, I am basing it more on the stuff covered in the show so far. Well here they are Continue reading