Pro Evolution Soccer 2018

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“Pro Evolution Soccer 2018” is a step backwards for the world’s second most popular console football game. It retains the realistic passing techniques of the last iteration and the quirky non-simulation nature of the series, but it doesn’t move the franchise forward in any discernible way.

Last year’s game was a fun and moreish experience which left you wanting to play another match every time you completed 90 minutes. It wasn’t the most accurate depiction of football as a sport but it was an enjoyable game to play which made up for its peculiar sensibilities.

Unfortunately, this year Konami have attempted to portray a more truthful version of the beautiful game and in doing so have undone much of what worked about “PES 2017”. This game isn’t as entertaining or as easy to play as its predecessor and it isn’t as fluid.

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The best thing about “PES 2017” was its contextual moments, in which players would choose the right technique for a particular pass or shot depending on the situation without requiring the player to insert another input. However, because the game is much slower this year these passes feel idiotic, especially given the fact that the AI react slowly and dwell maddeningly on the ball when in their own defensive area.

Previously I was able to ignore many of the issues that “PES” had – whether it be the AI passing the ball straight to the opposition from free-kicks or playing the ball across their own box – but in a game which feels as though it’s been stunted so that it can transition towards being a football simulator those problems aren’t as easy to swallow.

In many ways this game feels like just that – a transition. It doesn’t feel as though it actually works when you’re playing it and much of the time the experience is a bit of a chore. I can still have a good time when I’m playing on a team with my brother because he makes runs that the defence don’t track and when it gets too easy we can enjoy passing the ball laterally, but when I’m playing on my own there’s very little joy to be had.

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I don’t want to be too hard on this game because “PES” is one of my favourite franchises and I think it gets unfairly overlooked because of licensing issues and graphics which are restricted by a budget, but it’s hard to overlook a game’s flaws when they represent the dismantling of something you love.

For many years “Fifa” has felt the way that “PES” feels this year – a game that has taken a lot from the previous iteration and then tried to change the wrong things. This approach is infuriating for the player, not least because the changes being made aren’t tangible in any positive way.

I want to believe that Konami are taking the game in a new direction (one which feels more deliberate when playing) for the right reasons, but to me it feels as though they’re trying to make a game which is more like “Fifa”. This, in my opinion, is a lost cause.

I’m not “Fifa’s” biggest fan and I’ve made that clear in the past, but Konami can’t compete with EA when it comes to realism or presentation. They have to win on gameplay and offer an experience which feels substantially different to EA’s football behemoth – sadly they haven’t done this with “PES 2018”.

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Of course, there are positives mixed in with my mostly negative comments – the shooting is still satisfying with efforts flying past the keeper from distance, some of the player faces are great, and as previously mentioned most of the techniques are superb. The issue isn’t that “PES 2018” is completely awful or that Konami aren’t trying, it’s that this game’s positive features were all present in the previous game and thus the issues I’ve mentioned make “PES 2018” substantially worse than “PES 2017”.

I wish that I could endorse this game more confidently and delve into a list of positive features but the reality of the matter is that “PES 2018” represents a misstep for Konami and a fundamental misunderstanding of what made the last game great. I have a better time playing the free “Fifa 18” demo than I do playing this £40-£50 game so I can’t recommend it without being disingenuous.

5/10

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Game of Thrones: Season Seven Finale – “The Dragon and the Wolf”

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“The Dragon and the Wolf” started in King’s Landing with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) looking down on the Unsullied army. Tensions were high and for the first time in the series you really got the feeling that the Lannisters were the underdogs.

I enjoyed the dialogue in this opening scene because although I don’t think that comedy works particularly well on “Thrones” it’s more effective when it’s used to highlight the fact that characters are nervous and want to talk their worries away. Here you could feel what the characters were feeling and by starting in a subdued fashion the writers eased the audience into an episode which was designed to be incredibly tense.

After two throwaway scenes, (one with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jon (Kit Harington) and the other with The Hound (Rory McCann)), the episode continued in King’s Landing. Cersei (Lena Headey) spoke briefly to Qyburn (Anton Lesser) before giving The Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) instructions on who to kill if something went wrong. It was pretty transparent that this was intended to make the audience wonder whether or not there would be bloodshed at the meeting, but this was okay because it was a viable possibility.

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Next Daenerys’ (Emilia Clarke) entourage delivered exposition about the Dragonpit before bumping into Bronn and a group of Lannister soldiers. Seeing Pod (Daniel Portman) and Tyrion interact again was nice, as was the exchange between Tyrion and Bronn, but neither of these conversations lasted long enough to really excite me. The same can be said for the moment in which The Hound spoke to Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) about Arya (Maisie Williams), although in my opinion this worked better because it served to show how far The Hound has come since season four.

With the formalities out of the way the episode finally got going as the main characters found themselves together in the Dragonpit. The first thing to note here is that The Hound got a glimpse of The Mountain and all but confirmed Cleganebowl. I enjoyed this moment because it’s going to be important in the future, but the dialogue that Rory McCann was given was a little on the nose for me.

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Then, after a moment of tension, Cersei broke the silence by asking Tyrion if Daenerys had travelled with them. Tyrion told her that she hadn’t which obviously annoyed Cersei, but it wasn’t long before the real Queen of Westeros made her grand entrance. As usual Lena Headey’s facial expressions were perfect in this scene and throughout the episode, and I think every fan of the show would’ve been excited to carry on watching at this point.

Dany then arrived, bringing both her remaining dragons with her and looking like a woman with a purpose. This moment was cool but it annoyed me slightly because it would’ve been smarter on Daenerys’ part if she’d brought just one of her dragons so as to keep Viserion’s death a secret. Nevertheless, I liked the fact that Cersei was unmoved by the dragons because this made the reveal of the wight more impactful later in the episode, and I thought that Emilia Clarke was commanding when she appeared on screen.

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Euron (Pilou Asbæk) then spoke up and was typically irritating, telling Tyrion that his kind aren’t allowed on the Iron Islands. I’m not sure why Tyrion didn’t respond to this because he’s a quick witted character and I imagine that the writers could’ve got some clever dialogue out of this interaction, but at least Euron was featured in this episode because we haven’t seen him in a while.

Tyrion and Jon then tried to demonstrate the seriousness of the situation, but Cersei quickly put them down. Her logic made sense given that in the South the White Walkers are nothing but imaginary monsters used to scare naughty children before bed, but obviously her resistance was tiring because we know that she’s wrong.

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The wight reveal came next and was brilliantly effective, although it was silly that the wight was chained up just enough so that Cersei was out of its reach. Nobody had the opportunity to test the distance that the wight was able to run and this coincidence broke my immersion. Still, Lena Headey sold Cersei’s fear impeccably and this made her lie later in the episode more believable.

Part of me would’ve liked Cersei to simply accept the truce that Daenerys was offering and get on with fighting the White Walkers because this would’ve been a real surprise and changed the direction of the series, but I concede that this wouldn’t have been fully believable. The showrunners have spent the best part of seven seasons developing Cersei’s character and an act of nobility wouldn’t have made sense at this point given that development.

I’m not going to talk about Cersei’s ultimatum with regards to Jon’s allegiances in any great detail, because although this moment set up later scenes I didn’t think that it was very compelling. This request from Cersei was there purely to prolong the tension and from where I was sitting it felt somewhat forced. Jon was rightly berated for his stupidity and for making the same mistake that Ned (Sean Bean) made in season one, but he also displayed a strength of character which the world will need going forward if the right people end up on the Iron Throne.

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When the episode finally left the Dragonpit we were treated to one of my favourite scenes of season seven, in which Tyrion tried to convince Cersei to fight alongside Daenerys. For the first time in a long time Peter Dinklage was allowed to show off his considerable talents, delivering his dialogue with passion and believability, and as was so often the case in the early seasons he played off Lena Headey beautifully. Both Cersei and Tyrion brought up the past and their hopes for the future and at one point I really did think that Cersei might have him killed for the fun of it.

The presence of The Mountain made the scene almost unbearable to watch because at this point Tyrion’s death would be a real gut-punch, and I thought that the end result of Cersei pretending to side with Daenerys was interesting. When Cersei announced that she was going to fight with Daenerys I initially thought that the dialogue was clunky and too honourable coming from such a detestable villain, but on a re-watch it actually works really well because this type of wording fits with the fact that she was lying.

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At around the halfway point this episode turned its attention from King’s Landing to Winterfell and began to deteriorate in quality. I was enjoying the episode up until this point but once again I found Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) behaviour quite tedious. For someone who has been telling Sansa (Sophie Turner) to fight all of her battles in her mind before they happen he was so overconfident and idiotic in this episode. His strategy was to force Sansa to think the worst of Arya in order to take the latter out of the picture, but surely he must have realised that his advice extended to him as well.

This is an issue with the writing and the characterisation of Littlefinger but it’s pretty obvious that it’s the former which causes the latter. Up until this point Littlefinger has pulled all the strings and has been a master of manipulation so it baffles me that he’s become so lazy late in the game. It seems to me that the writers simply ran out of ideas for what to do with the character and wanted to give the Stark children a moment of triumph, but surely this could’ve been achieved in a more believable way?

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The most effective way to kill Littlefinger off would’ve been to have him survive The Great War and be left in a world that he couldn’t bend to his own liking. Imagine how much more impactful it would’ve been to see Littlefinger out of his comfort zone in a world run by honourable people like Dany, Jon and Tyrion. He could’ve still been executed just as he was in this episode but the difference would’ve been that it would’ve served his arc as much as it served his killer’s. That wasn’t the case here, and all this moment did was make a great character look foolish.

I get the basic idea behind the death because Littlefinger was in an unsalvageable situation. Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) knew everything about him so he couldn’t deceive Sansa in the way that he might’ve been able to if Bran wasn’t there, but if this was the plan all along then Littlefinger could’ve at least been portrayed as dismissive towards Bran’s powers. Earlier in the season Bran told Littlefinger that ‘chaos is a ladder’, revealing the fact that he knew more than he was supposed to. This should’ve raised a red flag for Littlefinger because as previously mentioned he fights every battle in his mind before it happens, but for some unknown reason he disregarded it.

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Back at Dragonstone Daenerys spoke to her advisers about how she planned to travel to the North, deciding to make her way there by ship rather than by dragon (mainly so that she could be closer to Jon Snow). Then Theon (Alfie Allen) had the chance to speak to Jon and essentially revealed the conflict at the heart of his character to the audience. This was a redemption scene for the character so it was a shame that it happened so quickly and out of the blue. The writers don’t have enough time to properly explore Theon’s attempted rescue of Yara (Gemma Whelan) at this point so in my opinion they shouldn’t bother. With six episodes left they can leave Theon aside because his arc has been good and although it might not be completely finished there’s no reason to ruin it in the same way that Littlefinger’s has been ruined.

After Littlefinger’s death scene which I’ve already explored “The Dragon and the Wolf” went back to King’s Landing. Jaime and Cersei finally had it out and Jaime’s arc progressed nicely. He wouldn’t break the promise that he made earlier in the episode to fight alongside Dany against the White Walkers and he finally disobeyed Cersei. His reasoning was sound, as was Cersei’s in its own deluded way, and both actors gave powerful performances. You could see the disgust on Jaime’s face and the realisation of what his sister really is, and Lena Headey was as awesome at playing an arrogant bully as she’s always been.

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When Cersei threatened to have Jaime killed I believed that it might happen and I was frightened by the possibility – I thought this might be the token shock moment in the finale and I was genuinely worried that one of my favourite characters was going to die. Jaime’s arc has been building to this point for a very long time and this was a suitably well-executed scene which was topped off by the fact that it began to snow in King’s Landing as he left. I’m excited to see what Jaime does next season – hopefully he’ll team up with Bronn to fight the White Walkers – and I thought that this was a superb scene.

Finally, the season closed with two contrasting sequences. The contrast that I’m talking about is a contrast in quality rather than a contrast of themes, as the Daenerys/Jon sex scene was silly but the destruction of The Wall was magnificent.

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Bran’s narration over the top of the sex scene cheapened it significantly and it felt like it was only there to make sure that less attentive audience members realised the importance of Jon’s ancestry. The fact that Jon and Dany are now an item is great and I’m sure that casual fans were excited by this, but I care about how the episodes are executed rather than whether or not the narrative goes in a direction which suits the protagonists. In this scenario the narrative was fitting but the execution was disappointing, so I didn’t like the scene.

It’s a good thing then that it was followed by a spectacular moment to end the episode and the season. Arya and Sansa had a quick chat before Bran warged into a raven to cast his eye on Eastwatch. There Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) looked out beyond the Wall to see the Army of the Dead marching in formation, followed by the harrowing sight of the Night King (Richard Brake) flying towards him on Viserion’s back.

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From there it was only a matter of time before The Wall came crashing down, and when it did I have to say that I was impressed. Viserion breathing blue fire was a nice touch because the fact that wights can be killed by fire would’ve made a conventional flame a little confusing, and I thought that the CGI in this scene was wonderful. I’m sure that this moment will be played many times on adverts building up to next season and I think it’s one of the best things the series has done to date, so it deserves a lot of praise even if the rest of the episode was fairly underwhelming.

Overall, “The Dragon and the Wolf” was a decent season finale but it certainly wasn’t the best that “Thrones” has had to offer. The final sequence was visually outstanding and season eight is well-poised, but the pacing of this episode wasn’t perfect. I enjoyed every scene in King’s Landing, particularly the interactions between Cersei and her brothers, but events at Winterfell were frustrating. “The Dragon and the Wolf” did nothing to hide the issues that have plagued season seven as a whole but it did leave me excited to see where the story will go next.

7.5/10

Logan Lucky

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“Logan Lucky” is an American crime comedy directed by Steven Soderbergh (“Ocean’s Eleven”); starring Channing Tatum (“Foxcatcher”), Adam Driver (“Frances Ha”), and Daniel Craig (“Layer Cake”). I would describe “Logan Lucky” as a heist movie with moments of comedy rather than a comedy which depicts a heist, because although it’s funny in places it doesn’t constantly throw jokes at the audience.

The heist itself is well thought out and you can tell that Soderbergh knows how to craft a film of this ilk, but the twists and turns in the movie aren’t particularly compelling because there’s no persuasive reason to care about the characters.

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In order to make Jimmy Logan – this film’s protagonist played by Channing Tatum – likeable Soderbergh does the typical Hollywood thing of giving him a child. Usually this is designed to artificially make the lead character relatable because almost everyone has/had a family and therefore can relate to the parent-child dynamic. Unfortunately this doesn’t work in “Logan Lucky” because the relationship between Jimmy and his child isn’t carefully explored and it doesn’t feel as though he’s doing the heist to make his daughter’s life better.

There’s a suggestion that Jimmy plans the heist because his ex-wife (played by Katie Holmes) wants to move across state lines with his daughter, but it isn’t clear whether or not this would be a bad thing for the child. Essentially Jimmy has a conversation with his ex-wife which ends in the revelation that she plans to leave town. Jimmy isn’t happy about this and so he threatens to get a lawyer, presumably to fight for custody. The implication is that he needs money to do this which leads to the heist, but because Bobbie Jo (Jimmy’s ex-wife) isn’t particularly dislikeable or antagonistic you don’t feel as though the child would be any worse off without her father; therefore the heist feels selfish rather than necessary.

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Of course, Jimmy doesn’t have to be likeable for this movie to work. “Logan Lucky” would’ve been fine if it had been a witty and action-packed heist movie but slow pacing and a lack of conflict means that it falls flat. There are moments of comedy such as when a group of prison inmates take hostages and demand a copy of George R. R. Martin’s unwritten “Winds of Winter” before agreeing to release them, but a couple of good jokes don’t make up for a largely uneventful film.

Almost all the performances in “Logan Lucky” are acceptable and the cast is excellent on the whole: Adam Driver and Daniel Craig are great, Channing Tatum and Riley Keough (“It Comes at Night”) are perfectly serviceable, and Brian Gleeson (“Snow White and the Huntsman”) and Jack Quaid (“The Hunger Games”) play likeable side characters. However, the actors’ efforts don’t translate to an entertaining movie because nothing brings individual elements such as the script and the cinematography together in an exciting way.

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It’s clear that Soderbergh cares about the presentation of “Logan Lucky” and by all accounts it’s a visually interesting film, but he doesn’t do enough to bring clarity to the narrative. The film has three clearly defined acts; the set-up, the heist, and the aftermath. The first two acts work well and although the pacing is slightly arduous my perception of the movie would’ve been positive if I’d left the cinema once the heist was complete, but sadly the third act lacks direction, is predictable, and bafflingly introduces new characters!

From the moment the heist finishes to the time the credits roll “Logan Lucky” is a pain to watch. Soderbergh comprehensively destroys the rest of the movie in the space of 30 minutes and makes you wish you hadn’t bothered buying a ticket in the first place, so it’s hard to say that the overall product is good.

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I feel that the best way to describe “Logan Lucky” is confused. The performances, dialogue, and cinematography are great but it doesn’t entertain and nothing about it is special. The third act is completely forgettable and audience members would be forgiven for falling asleep before the end which makes it a difficult movie to praise. “Logan Lucky” certainly isn’t awful and parts of it are done well, but nothing about it is exceptional so I would advise that you give it a miss.

5/10

Game of Thrones: Season Seven, Episode 6 – “Beyond the Wall”

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“Beyond the Wall” is the penultimate episode of the penultimate season of “Game of Thrones”. After a season of middling quality it was important to move the plot forward and make a step-up in quality prior to next week’s finale, so I’m pleased to say that this episode was my favourite of the season so far.

However, the fact that I preferred it to the rest of the episodes in season seven doesn’t mean that I think it was perfect, and in fact there are numerous issues with it that are only mollified by the episode’s climax.

“Beyond the Wall” began in the eponymous location, with our band of misfit heroes venturing into the snow on a mission to capture a wight. Several conversations took place between the likes of Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), Jon (Kit Harington) and The Hound (Rory McCann), and although most of them were used as exposition I still appreciated them for what they were. Tormund advised Jon to bend the knee to Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), using Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) as an example of where an over reliance on pride can leave you, and he also had an interaction with The Hound later on which I particularly enjoyed.

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The episode then turned its attention to Winterfell. Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Arya (Maisie Williams) continued to bicker despite the fact that not long ago they were laughing together in the crypts, and once again their presence brought the episode down in quality. Maisie Williams’ acting in this scene was atrocious – I don’t think I’ve ever singled her out for criticism before in a “Thrones” review because I think she’s good at her job and also quite likeable, but her delivery here was artificial and she wasn’t believable at all.

The thing that’s so jarring about the scenes between Arya and Sansa at this point is that in every conversation they have I come out on Sansa’s side, which is laughable because Arya is trying to protect Jon whereas Sansa is being influenced by Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen). We should find Arya entertaining and enjoy the fact that she’s being so ruthless, especially given that she’s doing things for the right reasons, but she’s always wrong and she doesn’t give Sansa a chance to explain herself! I couldn’t care less about this storyline at this point and the constant tease that Arya might kill Sansa makes it abundantly clear that by the time the season is over they’ll be friends again and Littlefinger will be dead.

With that scene out of the way the episode focused once again on its main attraction, with Tormund and The Hound having the conversation which I previously praised. Tormund expressed his infatuation with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), with The Hound picking up on who exactly he was talking about and thus looking mildly annoyed. I thought this was a funny moment and the dialogue worked because somehow Tormund has become one of the most endearing characters on the show.

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Next we were also treated to a conversation between Beric (Richard Dormer) and Jon in which they bonded over being brought back from the dead and explained that there is only one real enemy; death itself. Again I thought this was a decent interaction and I had a fun time watching it play out. I’m a fan of Richard Dormer in this role and I think that Beric is an interesting character who I’d like to see more of. For me the only issue here was that conversations continued to take place between pairs of characters rather than the whole group, because generally this is a cheap and easy way of developing characters in isolation. It’s something that “The Walking Dead” did a lot of in its early seasons and I was annoyed by it then so it would be inconsistent not to complain about it now.

Following this scene, Daenerys and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) appeared for the first time in the episode and spoke about what it means to be a hero. Dany said that the thing she liked about Tyrion was that he wasn’t one, but she also said that he wasn’t a coward because she wouldn’t have chosen a coward as her Hand. These two work well together on screen so this was another moment that I enjoyed, but I’m not sure whether or not I can fully buy into the idea of Jon and Dany being in love after such a short period of time.

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Nevertheless, Tyrion’s logic when it came to how Daenerys should empathise with her enemies in order to defeat them was sound and I thought it was interesting that he brought up succession in an episode so close to the series’ end. What exactly this means going forward is up for debate, but it seems to me that either the showrunners were teasing the idea that Dany will die before the series finishes or more likely that she will have a child with Jon Snow. Either way this conversation was well written and it generated interest from me about where Daenerys’ character is headed in season eight.

Back beyond the Wall things quickly became perilous as the weather took a turn for the worse. In the distance a bear could be seen wandering the winter wilderness when suddenly it turned to look at Jon and his men with bright blue eyes. Whether or not they would’ve actually been able to make out the colour of the bear’s eyes in the middle of a snow storm is certainly questionable, but the idea of starting the action off with this kind of mini boss battle was a good one and I thought it was a cool scene. I was slightly confused by the fact that people ended up getting killed randomly, because prior to this scene I didn’t realise that there were nameless characters within the group. When people started dying I thought that important characters were being discarded which was made worse by a lack of visibility.

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via watchersonthewall.com

My biggest complaint about this scene was that Thoros (Paul Kaye) survived the bear attack because it clearly took a major bite out of his chest. If the bear had swiped at Thoros with its claws rather than biting him then I could’ve accepted his survival, but given the nature of the attack I thought it was particularly stupid that he managed to live when the plan was to have him die later in the episode anyway.

When this was over the showrunners once again tried to fool gullible members of the audience into believing that the Arya/Sansa conflict might go somewhere. Littlefinger tried to turn Sansa against Arya and suggested that Brienne could intercede on Sansa’s behalf if Arya became volatile. This in itself was an intriguing idea, but for people paying attention it was quashed later in the episode when Sansa sent Brienne to King’s Landing in her stead.

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Cersei (Lena Headey) had requested that Sansa return to the capital, presumably to hear about the threat of the White Walkers from Jon and Dany, but being the suspicious person that she is Sansa decided to send someone else in her place. By sending Brienne the writers effectively told the audience that Sansa didn’t believe that she needed to be protected from Arya, and thus wasn’t listening to Littlefinger. This destroyed any tension that audience members may have been feeling after the earlier scenes at Winterfell and also made the last scene that took place there (which I’ll get onto later) feel incredibly contrived.

The episode continued to shine during scenes which took place beyond the Wall, as the group finally made their move to kidnap a soldier from the Army of the Dead. The cinematography leading up to this moment was quite nice and the music was also good, ramping up the tension when the time came for Jon and his men to attack a White Walker and his minions. The main takeaway from this scene was that when you kill a White Walker you also kill every wight that they’ve brought back from the dead. This was a major reveal and explained how it will be possible to defeat the Night King (Richard Brake) in the long run, but what wasn’t explained was why this didn’t happen back at Hardhome in season five.

The scene only got more exciting from this point as Jon and the others tried to tie a wight up and take it back to Eastwatch. The wight didn’t seem to appreciate being manhandled and thus proceeded to screech, alerting masses of his friends to charge on the group and leave them exposed in the middle of a frozen lake. This was a tense moment which got my blood pumping and left me ready for more from the episode, and I thought that the special effects were superb.

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My only issue with this scene was that by sending Gendry (Joe Dempsie) back to Eastwatch the writers made it too obvious that Daenerys was going to rescue the group. I understand why this choice was made because somebody had to alert her to the situation for the climax to make sense, but it would’ve been more impactful if we knew that Gendry was on his way back but didn’t see him make it there safely.

With the group surrounded they began to wonder how they could possibly survive, particularly given the extreme weather conditions and lack of food, and to press this point home the writers decided that now was the time for Thoros to die. I know why this decision was made and I thought that it was smart to kill Thoros in order to make the rest of the characters more vulnerable – given that Thoros could’ve brought them back from the dead – but for me it would’ve been better if he’d died when the bear attacked him rather than when his death wasn’t the focal point of the scene.

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After a brief visit to Winterfell, (which I’ve already touched upon), the action continued as The Hound threw rocks at the wights in frustration. The first rock that The Hound threw hit a wight on the jaw and shattered the bottom half of its face, but the second rock ended up doing more damage to our heroes than it did to the wights. The Hound’s throw fell short and as it hit the ice it bounced forward and came to a stop. This was followed by a moment of silence in which both the audience and the characters came to the same realisation, which was that the ice was sturdy enough to walk on and therefore the wights could start to attack.

The problem that I had with this scene, and indeed with the rest of the scenes beyond the Wall, was that the wights didn’t attack with any kind of cohesion. They attacked the heroes separately, as though they wanted the fight to be fair, when what they should’ve done was swarm on Jon and his men as a group and overrun them. There were hundreds of wights in frame at one point and yet when it came to the battle it felt like the heroes were always in control, which from my perspective was nonsensical and destroyed my immersion.

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via watchersonthewall.com

Eventually Daenerys made her grand entrance and began to even the odds, but by this point any sense of tension had evaporated because it was clear that the writers had no intention of killing off any of the human characters. Daenerys’ timing was incredibly convenient, and it seemed silly to me that she didn’t immediately fry the Night King because the blue man with the spear orchestrating the battle should’ve been her first target!

However, I will concede that the effects were amazing especially given that this is a television show and not a studio movie, and Dany’s outfit looked fantastic. Once my initial frustration at the convenience of Dany’s entrance dissipated I began to appreciate what I was watching again, and I was genuinely shocked when the Night King killed Viserion. For me this was easily the best moment of the season and the only moment so far that I believe has been truly exceptional. Emilia Clarke’s acting was awesome in this scene, as it has been all season, and I think that Daenerys is as likeable now as she was back in season one.

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via watchersonthewall.com

The episode then devolved slightly as the writers tried to trick the audience into believing that Jon was going to be left behind, because although this could’ve been a frightening moment it never felt as though it was actually going to happen. The fact that Benjen (Joseph Mawle) appeared out of nowhere to save the day was irritating and just didn’t seem plausible, and I was waiting for the episode to move on at this point. I also thought that it was ridiculous that Benjen stayed behind to fight the wights because he only killed about three of them before being murdered mercilessly. He could’ve easily fit on the horse beside Jon and this wouldn’t have harmed the moment in any way whatsoever!

Once Jon reappeared at Eastwatch the episode took its final trip to Winterfell for what was undoubtedly the worst scene of “Beyond the Wall” and one of the worst the show has ever produced. Sansa searched Arya’s bag and found the faces of some of Arya’s victims, which lead to Arya explaining where she’s been and what she’s become. The faces looked awful and the scene was completely devoid of tension because if Arya had actually killed Sansa at this point the reaction from the audience would’ve been disgust rather than shock. Nothing about this scene was good and I can’t wait for the season to end so that we can be done with this storyline.

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via winteriscoming.net

Finally, Daenerys walked in on Jon as he was being treated at Eastwatch, seeing his scars for the first time and realising what he’s been through. Once he awoke the pair had a brief conversation about their intentions going forward and Jon agreed to bend the knee. He said that the rest of the North would ultimately see Daenerys for what she really is, leading to a momentary embrace between the two and the clear indication that they will eventually become intimate. I enjoyed this scene and I thought that Emilia Clarke was excellent, but for me Kit Harington gave an underwhelming performance.

The episode then concluded with a significant moment in the narrative as the Night King placed his hand on Viserion’s head and brought him back to life. This moment has a number of connotations, with the main one being that the White Walkers now have a one way ticket to Westeros. Viserion is capable of bringing down The Wall with fire or even carrying the wights over himself, making their invasion inevitable next season or even at the end of this one.

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via hellogiggles.com

Overall I thought that “Beyond the Wall” was a fun episode of “Thrones” but it was also a problematic one. The narrative was riddled with plot holes and the scenes at Winterfell were miserably bad, with Arya and Sansa both coming across as naïve and idiotic. Fortunately the episode came into its own when it ventured further North and big moments such as Viserion’s death elevated it substantially. I had a good time watching it, but people who claim that this episode was the best of the series so far either don’t understand what made “Thrones” great or they aren’t really paying attention.

8/10

The Dark Tower

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“The Dark Tower” is a film adaptation of Stephen King’s series of novels by the same name. It stars respected actors such as Idris Elba (“Luther”) and Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”), as well as English child actor Tom Taylor (“Doctor Foster”), and was intended to launch a film and television franchise.

“The Dark Tower” is an awkward film to review because although it gets almost everything wrong its inadequacy isn’t offensive. I wasn’t upset or angered by the mistakes that director and co-writer Nikolaj Arcel (“A Royal Affair”) made; I was merely disinterested because his inability to tell an interesting story was clear from the outset.

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This film had potential, but to get the most out of it there was always going to have to be a degree of invention on the part of the director. Unfortunately, this movie is completely devoid of anything resembling an original thought, and any potential that the narrative had was monumentally squandered from the moment the movie began. From the outset the presentation was immensely uninspired, lacking any kind of imagination or personality, and I didn’t feel as though Arcel had any love for the material that he was adapting.

Characters and concepts were thrust at the audience without so much as an inkling as to why we should care about them, and every aspect of the movie felt like a rehash of elements taken from better films. The characters are just there, much like everything else in the film, and there’s nothing special or interesting about them to create a feeling of investment.

The protagonist is an eleven-year-old boy, Jake Chambers (Tom Taylor), who for some unknown reason has the ability to see into another world (Mid-World) through his dreams. Due to nothing other than narcissism Jake comes to the conclusion that his dreams have significance, believing that the events taking place in his visions are causing earthquakes in the real world, and we as an audience are expected to believe this.

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Jake is immediately dislikeable because the writers don’t give us a reason to sympathise with him when people dismiss his warnings. There’s nothing exceptional about him which dictates that we should believe what he’s saying – other than the fact that we’ve read the film’s synopsis – and his ramblings are consistent with those of a child with an overactive imagination! When reading a book this isn’t overly jarring because you’re constantly confined to one characters’ perspective and you can identify with their situation because you’re explicitly told how they’re feeling, but in a movie you have to make a character likeable before expecting people to care about what’s happening to them.

Jake’s mother, Laurie (Katheryn Winnick), is a much more relatable character than her son because she responds to his hyperactive imaginings in a logical way… by trying to put him in an asylum. Jake is being irrational and he needs help, so when Laurie tries to get him the help that he needs we don’t feel sorry for him or hope that he can somehow make an escape!

The reason that I’m making this point is that the first act ends with Jake running from monsters pretending to be workers from a psychiatric facility, in a scene which should’ve been triumphant for the character. However, because we don’t like or care about Jake we don’t want him to run away; we want him to get caught so that we can enjoy some action in a movie which lacks any kind of emotion.

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Herein lies the main problem of “The Dark Tower”, which is that the plot consistently takes the most boring avenue towards its conclusion. The most exciting direction that the plot could’ve taken at this point would’ve been to have Jake wheeled off to the asylum by the monsters because this would’ve created tension and allowed us to get a proper look at the villains of the film, thus giving us a reason to root for the protagonist. Instead, Jake ran from the supposedly threatening monsters and found a way to Mid-World on his own, rather than simply being taken there by the monsters and then escaping their grasps.

These kinds of issues are present throughout the first act, with the set-up of the film asking questions which are never answered. The start of the film could’ve been extended by another 30 minutes and it wouldn’t have suffered as a whole, and I have to ask myself what the writers thought they were achieving by skipping character development in the first act in order to focus on lacklustre action during the second and third acts.

Another issue which arises right at the start of the movie pertains to the titular tower. The tower is nothing more than a McGuffin and it doesn’t feel significant because we have no idea where it is geographically or why it requires a child to destroy it. Who made it? Why is it the key to the universe? Why should I care about it? If I don’t know anything about it and also have no reason to empathise with the film’s protagonist then how am I supposed to become even minimally invested in the narrative?

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The Man in Black (the film’s main villain, played by Matthew McConaughey) is also underdeveloped and never feels like a threat because he’s always outside the main story. McConaughey’s performance is fine for what it is, but calling a performance fine in this film isn’t a compliment. I was constantly aware of the fact that I was watching McConaughey play a character, and at no point did I look at him and feel intimidated or enthralled.

The sad thing about “The Dark Tower” is that none of the performances from the main cast are actually awful. They’re definitely bland, but none of the actors are afforded the opportunity to be anything more than that because they’re stunted by a woefully ordinary script!

At the end of the day there’s nothing exceptional or even passable about “The Dark Tower”. It takes liberties with its story, the cinematography is uninspired, and the characters are underdeveloped. The material lends itself to an entertaining film – there’s a road-movie, a fantasy epic, and even a young adult film within this awfully tedious science-fiction western – and any one of those movies would’ve been infinitely better than this one. The only positive thing that I can say about “The Dark Tower” is that it wasn’t compelling enough to frustrate me with its inadequacy, which isn’t exactly a glowing recommendation. Do yourself a favour and don’t bother paying to see this movie – if you’re interested in the material then there are eight books written by a brilliant author that you can read at home.

2/10

A Ghost Story

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“A Ghost Story” is a haunting supernatural drama film directed by David Lowery (director of 2016’s “Pete’s Dragon”). The film stars two exceptional actors in Rooney Mara (“The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”) and Casey Affleck (“Manchester by the Sea”), with the latter wearing a bedsheet for the majority of the movie.

It’s very easy to explain the basic premise of “A Ghost Story” – a man, played by Casey Affleck, dies at the start of the film and we watch him live the lonely life of a ghost. It’s a simple idea but David Lowery gets the most out of it by capturing the implicit horror of such an isolated existence. The conditions of the man’s existence after death are never fully explained – we don’t see his face because he’s covered by a sheet, we don’t know if time moves at the same speed for him as it does for us, and we don’t know if by the end of the movie he even remembers who he is or why he’s still here – and that’s part of the film’s charm.

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“A Ghost Story” doesn’t pretend to know any more about the afterlife than we do – it doesn’t present a viable possibility, it simply explores what life as a ghost would be like. The existence that this film portrays is a miserable one, and although Casey Affleck doesn’t have much opportunity to emote under his sheet you feel the man’s pain throughout. If anything the fact that the man is covered by the sheet actually adds emotion to the film, because it highlights his inability to interact meaningfully with the world around him and accentuates the hopelessness of his situation. Every time the man slumps down or is on his knees the sheet crumples with him and his movements are deliberate as it sways behind him when he moves. It’s astoundingly effective despite its simplicity and it gives the film more gravitas than it would’ve had if the man had existed in the same physical state as he did before he died.

This film is visually fantastic throughout and this together with the score makes the whole experience quite emotional. The start of the movie was exceedingly smart because the way that the relationship between the man and the woman was depicted was much more honest than the norm. Throughout the film scenes are allowed to drag on – we don’t cut away when the point of a scene is revealed; instead we act as voyeurs, invading the private moments of people who are struggling to exist. The two most powerful scenes of the movie for me would be completely disregarded in a less intelligent film, but in this one they’re allowed to linger on screen and in the audience’s memory.

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The first of these scenes occurs before the man loses his life and it goes a long way to creating a degree of investment in the relationship that the film revolves around. The woman (Rooney Mara) and the man (Casey Affleck) wake in the middle of the night after they hear something bang on their piano. They get up but there’s nothing there – no one has broken in and nothing seems to have fallen to cause the noise. We as the audience suspect that the noise was made by a ghost because we know what the film is called, but the couple isn’t in the know so they go back to bed and embrace. They’re tired and shaken so they take comfort in one another, and we’re afforded the chance to watch them kiss for what seems like minutes. When watching this scene you really do feel invasive, but once it’s done you know all that you need to know about the couple to be invested.

The second scene comes shortly after the man’s death and focuses on the woman as she tries to cope with her grief. It’s not an eventful scene but it’s incredibly poignant – the woman sits on the floor of her kitchen eating a pie which a friend has made for her, clearly loathing every bite. She manages to eat most of it as she sniffles and sighs, before putting it down and running to the toilet to be sick. I think the effective thing about this scene is not merely that it occupies the screen for a very long time but also that it accurately depicts what it’s like to go on living when you lose someone you love. The woman doesn’t want to eat but at the same time she doesn’t know what else to do; she’s absent from the moment, going through the motions, but at the same time she’s trying to feel something other than sadness which for me rings true when it comes to coping with loss.

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via collider.com

The power that these scenes have wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for two outstanding performances from Rooney Mara and Casey Affleck. Neither actor is actually present on screen for a great deal of time but their performances are sincere and without this the movie wouldn’t work. They bring emotion to a film which otherwise would’ve been pretentious and they become their characters almost immediately.

Before concluding this review I have to admit that one scene did disappoint me quite a bit, and although it didn’t ruin the experience it brought the film down in my estimation. This scene failed because it fell into the trap that the rest of the movie managed to avoid, which is that it turned to the audience and told them what they were supposed to feel. it was a hollow and unnecessary scene which felt completely out of place in such a thoughtful piece of cinema, and when watching it I couldn’t help but think that it was the director’s way of saying ‘look how clever I am’ to the audience.

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The scene that I’m talking about is the most dialogue heavy moment in the movie, as a nameless character essentially delivers exposition regarding the film’s message and sets up what’s to come in the third act. It frustrated me that this scene wasn’t cut during the editing process because it seemed so obviously superfluous, and the only way to explain its presence in the film is to say that the director didn’t trust all members of the audience to understand the point of the narrative. In telling the audience what they’re supposed to feel you devalue the experience because you’re expressing a lack of confidence in their intelligence and your ability to convey meaning, and in this case it’s impossible to disregard the purpose of the scene because it directly opposes everything that the movie did well up until that point.

This criticism may seem slightly excessive when talking about such a technically sound film but once the scene had finished I spent the next ten minutes questioning how it made it into the final product, and thus my immersion was broken. Thankfully the film quickly transitioned back to being brilliant again so I was able to continue enjoying it once I let my irritation dissipate, but if this scene had been omitted “A Ghost Story” would’ve been close to a perfect film.

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Nevertheless, one bad scene doesn’t extinguish everything that this movie does well. Of all the films that I’ve seen this year “A Ghost Story” is the most interesting and perhaps the most complex, not simply in concept but in how Lowery tackles that concept. The more I think about it the more infatuated I am with it, and I will definitely buy it on DVD when it’s released later this year/early next year.

8.5/10

The Big Sick

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“The Big Sick” is a romantic comedy produced by Judd Apatow (“The 40-Year-Old Virgin”) and co-written by Emily V. Gordon (writer for “The Carmichael Show”) and Kumail Nanjiani (“Silicon Valley”). The film loosely tells the real-life story of how Gordon and Nanjiani met and fell in love – with Nanjiani playing a version of himself – and the title refers to an illness which left Emily (played by Zoe Kazan) in a coma after a rocky spell in the pair’s relationship.

“The Big Sick” could’ve easily been another average comedy destined for the bargain bin but honest performances and a strong script elevate it to a level which is rarely achieved in the genre. The fact that the story was close to the hearts of both Nanjiani and Gordon undoubtedly helped on this front as there’s a sincerity to Nanjiani’s performance and also to the script. In the film none of the characters are perfect but they’re all decidedly human and their mistakes stem from intentions that we can all relate to and understand which in turn makes them extremely likeable.

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Kumail and Emily are a couple that you can invest in and you can understand their motivations enough to route for them. The performances of Nanjiani and Kazan go a long way to achieving this because they seem to have genuine chemistry on screen and their relationship doesn’t feel forced or contrived. The first half of the film belongs to Kazan and you’re always on Emily’s side from the moment that she’s introduced, but she’s in a coma for most of the second half which allows Nanjiani to come into his own.

Narratively this film doesn’t shock or surprise you but you’re always worried that it will. You want the stars to align for Kumail and Emily and you’re concerned by every moment of adversity that they face. The likeability of both characters creates tension without the need to take the story to a place that feels unrealistic or manufactured which in itself makes the film better than most romantic comedies.

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What I enjoyed most about this film was that it didn’t overdo anything, because there are plenty of opportunities to focus too heavily on Nanjiani’s Pakistani roots or his stand-up comedy. We do get a flavour of both of these things and they’re important to the film’s narrative, but they’re there to service Nanjiani as a character and they aren’t overwhelming.

The only issue that I had with “The Big Sick” was that the ending was slightly predictable. I completely understand and accept this because at the end of the day the reality of the story has to shine through, but part of me would’ve preferred a “La La Land” style ending rather than the traditional one that the writers went for. The ending still worked but I left the theatre wondering what could’ve been if the film wasn’t beholden to what happened in the real world.

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via tvovermind.com

It’s hard to talk excessively about “The Big Sick” because there’s nothing to focus on narratively that sets it apart from any other rom-com. However, the performances make the characters incredibly loveable and because of this you find yourself enjoying the experience and caring about what happens to them. The script is solid and the jokes hit most of the time which makes for an entertaining movie. I can’t fault any particular aspect of the film because for me there was nothing wrong with it that could’ve been fixed without ruining what made it great. I’ve mentioned that the story is predictable but it’s based on Nanjiani and Gordon’s real-life experiences and it’s the honesty that stems from this which makes the film exceptional, so to change it would be nonsensical. The fact that it’s a rom-com which doesn’t break the mould makes it difficult for me to give it a perfect score, and it isn’t my favourite film of the year, but it’s about as good as it possibly could’ve been.

9.5/10

Game of Thrones: Season Seven, Episode 5 – “Eastwatch”

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via highlighthollywood.com

“Eastwatch” picked up moments after the final scene of “The Spoils of War” as Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) emerged from the water that they dived into last week.

This was a fairly predictable way to open the episode but it was a well-acted scene, with Coster-Waldau and Flynn showcasing their chemistry and making it clear that their characters were processing what they had just witnessed. The pair were fully aware of the mess that they were in and as usual Jaime’s first thought was to warn Cersei (Lena Headey).

The only issue I had with this moment was that Drogon and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) had mysteriously wandered off so that they didn’t have to confront Jaime and Bronn. This didn’t make sense to me because Dany would likely have sought retribution against both men; the former because he killed her father and the latter because he shot Drogon with a ballista. Given what we know about Dany it wasn’t particularly believable that she immediately disregarded these indiscretions, and it was abundantly clear that the only reason she wasn’t around was so that the writers didn’t have to think of a way for her to civilly interact with Jaime.

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via highlighthollywood.com

The next scene was also problematic but similarly entertaining as Daenerys addressed the soldiers that were left on the battlefield after her attack and tried to convince them to fight by her side. Her way of doing this was pretty simple as she offered them two alternatives: 1) follow and live; 2) refuse and die. Most of the nameless men went with option one, as any sensible person would do, but two underdeveloped side characters decided that they’d rather die with honour than support a foreign invader.

These two characters were Randyll and Dickon Tarly, (played by James Faulkner and Tom Hopper), and although they didn’t have enough time to fully explain their reasoning the writing for this scene was pretty good. Daenerys showcased both sides of her character by talking to the men with respect but executing them mercilessly. Rather than a traditional beheading Dany used Drogon to perform the execution, brutally burning Sam’s (John Bradley) brother and father alive in front of the remaining Lannister forces. This was an interesting and visually exciting moment with great CGI and cinematography, and by piggybacking on the success of last week’s final sequence it capped off an entertaining start to “Eastwatch”.

My only issue with this sequence was that Daenerys said that she was ‘not here to murder’, yet moments later she executed two people when she could’ve easily spared their lives. I understand that in her mind she may not think that what she did was murder because she offered both men a choice which would’ve allowed them to live, but that logic isn’t particularly sound and the scene would’ve been much cleaner if Dany hadn’t said the line. It may well be that this contradiction in Dany’s speech was intentional and designed to show her villainous side, but I still feel that the dialogue was slightly clumsy and didn’t help the scene as a whole.

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via watchersonthewall.com

The episode then turned its attention from would-be queen to actual queen as Jaime abruptly returned to King’s Landing. Again I have to point out that the speed at which Jaime returned makes a mockery of the way that travel was depicted in earlier seasons of the show and breaks my immersion, but because I’ve made this criticism in every season seven review so far it would be excessive to go over it in detail again.

Jaime told Cersei what had happened and tried to make her realise that the Lannisters couldn’t win against the Dothraki and three fully grown dragons, and after doing this he explained that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) played no part in Joffrey’s (Jack Gleeson) death. Upon this reveal Lena Headey portrayed Cersei’s anger perfectly; you could sense the internal rage that the character was feeling and it made you wonder whether or not she would take it out on someone else like Ellaria (Indira Varma).

I thought this was a good scene and there wasn’t a lot that I would change about it at all; the only thing that bothered me was that it came about a little too quickly and should’ve probably been saved for the next episode to compensate for the fact that Jaime had to travel back to King’s Landing.

Presumably it takes a certain amount of time to get from A to B so if you aren’t going to show the journey as it happens it’s quite difficult to know how long it took or how it relates to other moments happening on the show. This was less of an issue in “Eastwatch” because most of the characters involved in the battle for the Iron Throne ended up travelling around in a similar way to Jaime, but generally I think that this kind of disregard for the show’s timeline is a serious problem especially when you consider how often “Thrones” flits around geographically.

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via hips.hearstapps.com

After this scene the episode cut to Dragonstone for a less problematic depiction of travel. Here we saw Jon Snow (Kit Harington) standing on a clifftop looking into the distance, presumably awaiting Daenerys’ return. I’m not sure what to make of this scene personally because to me it felt quite cheap and almost manipulative, which is a common theme for season seven at least when Jon and Dany are together on screen. I watch their scenes and I enjoy them because I care about the characters and I want them to be allies, but the showrunners haven’t given the pair enough time this year to make their relationship feel earned or genuine. It’s almost like fan-fiction in a way because the scenarios that they find themselves in are specifically designed to make them like one another, thus making their relationship feel contrived and insincere.

Still, the scene itself was reasonably well executed. I thought the special effects were believable and to see Jon actually touch a dragon was a cool moment for book readers and casual fans alike, but it didn’t make a lot of sense to me. Why would Jon put his hand out to a dragon? He had no way of knowing how it would react to him and the novelty of the gesture wasn’t worth the risk. If he’s so desperate to stop the Night King (Richard Brake) and save his people then why would he put himself in a situation that could’ve resulted in being burned alive?

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via showsnob.com

Nevertheless, I did appreciate some of the dialogue in this scene, particularly when Dany compared Jon’s situation with the Boltons to hers with the Lannisters. Daenerys’ point was a good one and it helped to remind the audience that executing two soldiers wasn’t exactly the worst thing in the world compared to what Cersei and Tywin (Charles Dance) have done in the past. Despite the complaints that I’ve made this scene wasn’t awful by any stretch of the imagination, it’s just that its flaws particularly annoyed me.

For many people the issues that I’m raising won’t seem very important at all and I don’t expect that many people would’ve consciously thought about them during the scene, but the reason that I’m bringing them up is that almost every problem in season seven so far has stemmed from the fact that the writers don’t have a lot of time left to tell their story. My complaints about travel on the show are the most obvious examples of this but I also feel that some of the season’s clumsy dialogue and more insulting plot devices have come from the same issue.

In trying to allow characters to explain their motivations the writers consistently have them saying one thing but doing another. Sometimes this is intentional because “Thrones” is as much a character study as it is an action drama, or at least it tries to be, but it’s clear that on other occasions the writers just get it wrong. Plot devices like the cave drawings and the dragon accepting Jon so that Daenerys sides with him are cheap and idiotic, and they’re most definitely the result of the fact that there aren’t enough episodes left for characters to naturally come to the conclusions that they have to reach for the plot to progress. I’m sure that in an ideal world the writers would’ve spent five or six episodes building towards Dany and Jon finally getting on the same page, but the fact that they only have seven episodes to play with this time around has really hampered them.

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via winteriscoming.net

Jorah’s (Iain Glen) late entry into this scene didn’t do anything to improve it, although I suppose that the writers had to get it out of the way for the sake of next week’s episode. Jorah returned to tell Dany that he had found a cure; Dany readily accepted this information without proof or corroborating evidence which some might think was noble and sweet, but personally I found it baffling. The moment would’ve had just as much impact if Jorah had shown Dany his arm when telling her that he had been cured, and this would’ve eliminated any suggestion of Dany being naïve or stupid. I’m all for characters getting along and trusting one another but, much like Jon treating a dragon like a domesticated cat with a wild streak, this level of disregard for personal safety doesn’t mesh with Daenerys’ intentions as a character.

Next we saw the Night King and his army moving towards Eastwatch as Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) used his powers to keep an eye on the enemy. This was an okay scene and was mainly a way of transitioning to Old Town, but personally I thought that this could’ve been more successfully achieved by Jorah if he’d mentioned that Sam cured his greyscale. If the writers had gone about the transition in this way and omitted Bran’s scene then they could’ve used the extra time to develop a relationship between Jon and Jorah which, given where the plot is going, might’ve been a more productive use of this episode’s runtime. Jon could’ve been happy for Sam because he’d have known that he was safe and this reveal would’ve also made Daenerys realise that her actions earlier in the episode were somewhat hasty.

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When Sam did appear on our screens he was his usual know-it-all self. I don’t mean to be too critical of Sam as a character but for someone lacking self-confidence he really does value his own opinion doesn’t he? In this scene Sam’s warnings about the White Walkers once again fell on deaf ears, leaving him frustrated and jaded at the arrogance of the Maesters. This set-up another scene later in the episode in which Sam snapped at Gilly (Hannah Murray) for reading a book which just so happened to tell the story of Rhaegar’s secret marriage to Lyanna Stark. He then decided that it was time to leave The Citadel so that he could be more useful in the fight against the Night King and his army, thus making his time in Old Town feel utterly pointless. I’m glad that he’s going to do something different because his scenes at The Citadel have done nothing but stunt the pacing of season seven, but personally I wasn’t overly enamoured by either of these scenes.

Back at Dragonstone Tyrion and Varys (Conleth Hill) had a brief conversation about Daenerys, specifically her decision to execute Randyll and Dickon Tarly earlier in the episode. Jon then received word that Arya (Maisie Williams) and Bran were still alive, to which his reaction was disappointingly understated. The scene itself was intriguing because it was decided that Dany would forgo the fight for the Iron Throne for the time being in order to help Jon defeat the White Walkers, but Jon really should’ve been written to be more emotional when he found out that two of his siblings were still alive.

In order to give the realms of men the best chance against the Night King, Tyrion proposed that they should involve Cersei by bringing the dead to her as a way of proving the existence of the White Walkers. I didn’t expect this at all which made the scene a lot more enjoyable for me than perhaps it deserved to be, and I found the concept of bringing a wight to King’s Landing quite exciting.

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Unfortunately the next scene was, in my opinion, the least compelling of the episode. At Winterfell Sansa (Sophie Turner) was speaking with the Lords of the Northern Houses who were clearly tired of Jon’s absence. Their frustration was understandable but it’s perplexing to me that the show is so near to its conclusion and yet we have to endure such melodramatic nonsense. It still feels as though the end result of all of this will be Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) demise, which will probably be very entertaining, but the build-up has been incredibly dull and frankly I’m just not interested in watching Arya and Sansa bicker.

A scene later in the episode at Winterfell was equally tedious as Arya followed Littlefinger to his chambers and found a note written by Sansa. Presumably this was the letter that Cersei forced Sansa to write in season one, with Littlefinger planting it in Arya’s path to cause a rift between the two Stark women. This might’ve been exciting if the storyline had been built over the course of a few episodes but at this point it feels rushed and I can’t take it seriously. If this storyline leads to anything other than Littlefinger’s death then I think that the build hasn’t been strong enough to justify the conclusion.

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Back in King’s Landing Tyrion’s plan to convince Cersei to focus on the fight against the White Walkers was put into practice. Davos (Liam Cunningham) smuggled him into the city, (again I had an issue with how quickly he was able to do this), and somehow Bronn had managed to arrange a secret meeting for him with Jaime. This was a good scene, albeit brief, and it was fun to see the two brothers speaking to one another again. I would’ve preferred the scene if Jaime had been slightly more outraged at his brother – patricide is still patricide regardless of your motivation – but I understand that Olenna’s (Diana Rigg) reveal in episode three was designed to make this conversation possible.

Whilst this was going on Davos was in Flea Bottom, and to my surprise he had his own meeting with Gendry (Joe Dempsie). I’m glad that the character is back on the show because it’s been a very long time and it would’ve been annoying on a re-watch of the series if he disappeared after season three. The fact that his weapon of choice was a war hammer was a nice touch given the fact that Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy) used the same weapon in battle, and it was cool that Gendry teamed up with Jon later in the episode because their fathers fought together. Obviously Ned (Sean Bean) isn’t actually Jon’s father, but Jon doesn’t know that so this connection still has significance for the time being.

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via watchersonthewall.com

I also enjoyed the next scene because it reminded us that Davos is more than just a lackey for Jon Snow. Davos used his knowhow to talk his way out of trouble with the Gold Cloaks, something which he likely had to do many times when he was a smuggler, and it was a good scene for the character. However, it wasn’t such a good scene for Tyrion who inexplicably walked right past the Gold Cloaks and inadvertently caused their deaths. The only way to explain this behaviour from Tyrion is to say that the writers wanted to showcase Gendry’s fighting ability, which I understand, but this didn’t feel like something that Tyrion would do and made him feel like a plot device in this scene.

Elsewhere in King’s Landing Cersei had a shock for Jaime and I suspect for the audience as well. She told Jaime that she was carrying his child, to his surprise and delight, and explained that she wasn’t going to hide the fact that he was the father. This was interesting as far as the plot goes but something felt off about Cersei’s reveal. I think it was intentional and I wonder whether or not Cersei is trying to use her pregnancy to manipulate Jaime, or if she’s even pregnant at all, but at this point the situation isn’t clear enough to speculate on.

Either way I don’t think that Cersei will live long enough to have the child because Maggy the Frog’s (Jodhi May) prophecy only mentioned three children and it has been right up until this point. I still expect Jaime to kill Cersei and become the Queenslayer before the series is finished so this pregnancy feels as though it could cause a shift in allegiance for one reason or another, particularly with Euron (Pilou Asbæk) lurking somewhere in the background.

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via highlighthollywood.com

When we visited Dragonstone for the final time in this episode we were treated to a series of interactions between characters such as Tyrion, Jorah, Jon, and Dany. I enjoyed seeing Tyrion and Jorah verbally joust again because I think that the actors play off one another quite well, and as I’ve mentioned on more than one occasion I think that Jon and Dany have a strong dynamic. My only issue with this scene was that the relationship between Jorah and Dany is now in a weird place to the extent that I don’t know what I’m supposed to take from their interactions. It seems like the narrative is progressing in such a way as to have Jon and Dany be involved romantically, so the intimacy of Jorah and Dany’s exchanges makes for uncomfortable viewing.

Finally, “Eastwatch” ended by setting up episode six as Jon, Jorah and Gendry left Dragonstone to head beyond the Wall. They ended up at Eastwatch, (as you’d expect given the title of this episode), where Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) was waiting for them and ready to fight by their side. He took them to see Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), Thoros of Myr (Paul Kaye) and the Hound (Rory McCann), all of whom had been locked in cells.

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This was an okay scene but for me there was too much exposition. Given that these characters have history with one another the writers felt the need to have them recap said history for the audience; Gendry expressed his disgust for the Brotherhood Without Banners for selling him to Melisandre (Carice van Houten), Tormund was unhappy at having to fight alongside a Mormont, and the Hound was just his usual surly self. I didn’t care for the dialogue in this scene at all because its purpose was too transparent, but at the same time it did make me interested to see what would happen next week so I can’t be too critical.

Overall, I thought this was a decent episode of “Thrones” but it was limited by the fact that there wasn’t a lot to get excited about. With the season already nearing its end this episode was less spectacular than its predecessors and was designed to set up the plot moving forward rather than be thrilling in its own right. This is fine by me and I was surprised by the direction of the narrative so I don’t feel the need to complain about a lack of action. I didn’t think that the dialogue was particularly inspired and because there was so much to get through some of the reveals lacked impact, but on the whole “Eastwatch” kept my attention and did its job by making me eager to tune in next week.

7/10

Atomic Blonde

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“Atomic Blonde” is set in November 1989, at a time when the Cold War was coming to an end and the fall of the Berlin Wall was imminent. This backdrop creates a tense atmosphere to complement the film’s espionage centric plot, but as the opening credits explain the political landscape isn’t essential to the narrative. The film is directed by David Leitch, co-director of “John Wick”, and is based on the 2012 graphic novel “The Coldest City”.

The McGuffin of the film is a microfilm containing the names of every active field agent in the Soviet Union; codenamed ‘the list’. This plot device is unfortunately generic and derivative, as you would expect given its insipid codename, and although the film is technically sound it is unquestionably held down by an uninspired premise. This is then compounded by the fact that the plot proceeds in a convoluted and unnecessarily obtuse fashion.

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With the plot framed as a battle between East and West you might expect there to be a strong Russian antagonist at the heart of the conflict, but curiously this isn’t the case. The film is, for the most part, devoid of a central villain; Lorraine (Charlize Theron), an MI6 spy and the film’s main character, gets into scuffles with a number of nameless henchmen working for KGB associate Comrade Bremovych (Roland Møller), but he’s nothing more than a background figure. The absence of a traditional antagonist could be forgiven if it felt as though there was a faceless threat behind the scenes, but this isn’t the case, and in fact the lack of a genuine villain does nothing but lessen the impact of an important twist late in the film.

Nevertheless, the narrative constraints of “Atomic Blonde” are not wholly damning. It’s not unheard of for a film in the action genre to lack substance and there are certainly ways to make a movie of this ilk entertaining despite an unconvincing story. Much like “John Wick” this film boasts a strong lead performance, good fight choreography and a distinct visual aesthetic, and these aspects go some way to compensating for a fairly dull story.

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Visually “Atomic Blonde” is engaging, flitting back-and-forth from a bleak colour palette of grey and black to flashes of neon, and this duplicity carries over to the movie’s tone which sways between pulpy action flick and serious spy drama. The fact that Leitch doesn’t commit to a singular approach admittedly creates a jarring experience, but this meshes adequately with the genre and doesn’t completely derail the experience.

The choice to use music frequently in the film gave it a playful feel and helped to create a cool factor which otherwise would’ve been lacking, but at the same time it didn’t feel as though enough effort had gone into choosing the tracks. The soundtrack was predominantly made up of songs from the 80’s which were either intact or covered. Some of these songs fit their scenes perfectly and complemented the tone of the movie, but others felt like they were present because they had to be rather than because they belonged. This made it difficult to overlook the fact that recent releases such as “Baby Driver” and “Guardians of the Galaxy” have used music in a similar but more successful way.

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via cnet4.cbsistatic.com

The best thing about “Atomic Blonde” was the acting of the two leads; Charlize Theron and James McAvoy. Theron plays leading lady Lorraine with confidence, showcasing vulnerability and physicality in equal measure. She holds the film together and delivers rudimentary dialogue with enthusiasm, elevating the material to a level that it has no right to reach. McAvoy is equally good as a detestable but charismatic British agent who has become jaded after serving 10 years in Berlin, and although his performance was slightly over-the-top he controlled the screen whenever he appeared.

All in all, “Atomic Blonde” was an entertaining but somewhat hollow action thriller. There’s a lot to be admired in the fight choreography, with one standout sequence on a staircase providing value for money in and of itself, but it’s impossible to ignore the limitations of the script. It’s a stylish and visually stimulating film with committed performances and competent direction, but the end product is undoubtedly style over substance.

6/10

Game of Thrones: Season Seven, Episode 4 – “The Spoils of War”

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“The Spoils of War” picked up where the previous episode left off; at Highgarden. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was packing gold into the back of a cart whilst contemplating what Olenna (Diana Rigg) told him at the end of “The Queen’s Justice”, and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) was trying to claim the vacated castle as his own. As mentioned in previous reviews, I like it when there’s continuity on television because it makes a series easier to binge-watch at a later date, so it’s hard for me to complain about this opening scene.

However, in a way starting this episode with Jaime continuing his duties as head of the Lannister army lessened the impact of last week’s conclusion. Neither the opening scene nor “The Spoils of War” as a whole answered the question that was on my mind after last week’s episode; how will Olenna’s reveal effect Jaime’s relationship with Cersei (Lena Headey)? Jaime’s geographical separation from Cersei means that any payoff on this front has to be limited, but the fact that Jaime continued to stand up for Cersei’s leadership disappointed me greatly. It’s not that I expected him to immediately hate her – that would be ridiculous – but portraying the character as though nothing substantial has changed is a mistake.

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via slashfilm.com

The episode then logically cut to King’s Landing where Cersei was discussing her victory with Tycho Nestoris (Mark Gatiss), the representative from the Iron Bank who also appeared in “The Queen’s Justice”. I’m not going to say too much about this scene because it felt like filler when I was watching it, but given the fact that Cersei’s conversation with Tycho last week proved to be very significant it may end up that this one was as well – for now we just don’t know. Still, I thought that the information that was conveyed to the audience in this scene could’ve been put across in a more natural way because it felt quite forced to me.

The next scene was much more interesting as we were treated to an interaction that I wasn’t expecting. Given Littlefinger’s (Aidan Gillen) past discretions I expected him to stay as far away from Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) as possible, even though he’s sure to be dubious about Bran’s supposed powers, so to see the two have a face-to-face conversation was a welcome surprise. It’s well-established now that unfortunately I don’t like Hempstead-Wright’s acting on the show, but the scene itself was actually pretty good.

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One of the best things about this season of “Thrones” so far is that characters that we never thought would come together are becoming connected through either circumstance or narrative necessity. I personally didn’t consider the possibility of these two characters ever having a conversation, so seeing it happen was genuinely exciting even if the scene itself wasn’t anything to write home about. Littlefinger tried to manipulate Bran into thinking that he was an ally by giving him the dagger that the assassin tried to kill him with in season one, before using the word ‘chaos’. This led to Bran repeating the phrase that Littlefinger once said when speaking to Varys (Conleth Hill) back in season three – ‘chaos is a ladder’.

The conversation that was being referenced is a little bit obscure given the time that has passed since it happened on the show, but personally it’s one of my favourite lines from a time when “Thrones” was offering up some of the best dialogue on television. There was a nice blend of tension and comedy in this scene because it was clear that neither person was genuinely concerned about the other, and Bran revealing that he knew what Littlefinger was up to in the way that he did was clever writing because it was simple yet impactful.

Still, I can’t stay positive for too long and I have to say that the next scene left a lot to be desired. Meera (Ellie Kendrick) isn’t a well-developed character on the show and in fact we don’t know a lot about her at all, but she was likeable and it was frustrating to see her treated poorly. It wasn’t exactly clear what she wanted from Bran after essentially dragging him to safety, and I suppose most people don’t care about her anyway, but personally I find it difficult to justify Bran treating people badly just because he’s omniscient.

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via wetpaint.com

This is a writing tool that you see a lot in comics, particularly within the superhero genre when characters like Brainiac and Doctor Manhattan treat emotion as secondary to logic and reason. It seems like there’s the same kind of implicit suggestion going on here which is that because Bran knows so much he deems it necessary to shut out all of his emotions and desires. This doesn’t really add up to me because although being omniscient might lead you to favour a more external perspective on your life and your future, it doesn’t logically follow that you should be numb to things which occur naturally and are caused by your physiology, unless you’re sociopathic.

Maybe Bran has come to the realisation that human emotion is meaningless and without useful application, but he’s still human and sometimes the chemicals in our body make us react to stimuli in surprising ways. Bran (as he’s written on the show) might think that emotions are destructive, corrosive, or perhaps just pointless, but I don’t see how this knowledge would stop him feeling or expressing said emotions at certain points. I’m probably thinking too deep into this because the real issue with the scene was that the writers didn’t respect their audiences’ intelligence, using Meera’s exit to force-feed us obvious information and to emphasise the fact that Bran isn’t the same as he was before, but I think it’s important to note that the characterisation of Bran is too simplistic and reductive.

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The episode continued at Winterfell as Arya (Maisie Williams) made her long awaited return to her family’s ancestral home. Once again I was frustrated by the speed at which she managed to reach her destination, but at least this time the character was absent for an episode whilst presumably travelling. The notes I made on this moment will not translate well to this review because they are very aggressive, but to put it mildly I hated this scene.

I’m as pleased as anyone to see Arya return to Winterfell and it gets the narrative moving in the right direction, but the execution was idiotic, offensive, and devalued the moment completely. Arya’s presence at Winterfell should’ve been greeted with optimism and cheers from the audience, yet before we got to see her meet Sansa and Bran we had to endure an interaction between her and two condescending guards. We just didn’t need this! It didn’t tell us anything that we didn’t already know about the character and it wasn’t fun to watch; it was just pointless! It was by far the worst scene of the episode; it wasn’t poignant, wasn’t clever, and grossly mishandled a major moment in the narrative.

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via ign.com

Nevertheless, when Arya did finally meet up with Sansa (Sophie Turner) it made for good television. Having the pair talk in front of a statue of Ned (Sean Bean) was a nice touch and both Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams did what they needed to do. I tried to enjoy watching the moment play out rather than overanalysing it which I think improved my perception of it, but it was a decent scene.

It’s a shame that Arya’s character arc has been botched ever since she left The Hound (Rory McCann) in season four because now it’s hard to know how to feel about her when she’s letting her guard down. The writing for the character hasn’t been strong enough to make it feel as though she’s fundamentally changed since the series began; she’s not the same as she was and she’s certainly more ruthless, but she’s wanted to be a warrior since the start of the show and all that’s changed is that now she is one. There was a time when she felt hardened and vicious, but since then the show hasn’t done enough to cement this; she basically does whatever the narrative demands and it’s very difficult to route for her as a result.

I’m conflicted about the next scene as well for the same reason because although it was fun to see Bran, Arya, and Sansa plotting together, the scene as a whole felt hollow. This wasn’t helped by the fact that Bran brought up Arya’s list, something which was brought up in the previous scene as well, because it felt as though the writers only chose this aspect of Arya’s story to reference because Sansa already knew about it. Bran could’ve talked about blindness, The Hound, or even something vague about the Faceless Men, and going with any one of these choices would’ve been more entertaining for the audience. It was intriguing that Bran gave Arya the Valyrian steel dagger because given what he knows this might be significant further down the line, but overall this was a safe, middle-of-the-road scene.

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via timeinc.net

A moment I did enjoy in the North was when Arya and Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) reunited, because although they’ve only been on screen together once there was a sense in which this marked the completion of Brienne’s story arc. Ever since Renly (Gethin Anthony) died it’s been Brienne’s mission to rescue the Stark girls for Catelyn (Michelle Fairley), so the fact that she’s now inadvertently achieved this could be of real consequence for her character. Whether or not this means that Brienne faces a heroic death later this season or in season eight is debateable – she could make it right to the end of the series – but just the fact that she’s done exactly what she set out to do is quite rewarding to watch on a show which oftentimes is devoid of happy endings.

The sparring between the pair was also entertaining as their styles collided, and although this scene was a bit over-the-top I liked how it was shot. It was simple but we could clearly see what was happening which is rare for fight scenes on television. Arya’s explanation that ‘no one’ taught her how to fight was also a fun nod to the last couple of seasons; it was a bit on the nose but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t appreciate it.

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via wikiofthrones.com

Elsewhere, Jon (Kit Harington) and Dany’s (Emilia Clarke) relationship seems to have become more positive as the pair are now speaking to one another with honesty and less hostility. Jon took Daenerys into the mines to see the dragonglass, with dramatic music played over the top of the scene just in case we didn’t realise that this substance was going to be significant in the future.

I liked this sequence but I don’t think it was executed brilliantly. Kit Harington and Emilia Clarke are likeable on screen together and they have chemistry, and as mentioned in my previous “Thrones” review their characters mesh well together because they’ve gone through similar experiences, but there was a glaring issue with what we were shown. The issue I’m referring to is that the cave drawings that Jon used to give weight to the existence of White Walkers were unbelievably convenient, to the point that it’s almost insulting to the audience to use this as a plot device.

It’s not just that they happen to be in the ideal location to keep the plot moving forward, it’s also the fact that Daenerys didn’t question them at all. Jon could be an expert stone carver for all she knows and he could’ve snuck into the cave overnight to etch the drawings himself; after all, the timeline has been completely abused so we have no idea how long Jon has been at Dragonstone at this point! I’m not going to drag this criticism out because it’s a problem which explains itself, but surely the showrunners need to take more care with how they present their narrative if they want the audience to take it seriously?

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via theverge.com

When the pair left the cave they were greeted by Tyrion and Varys who unfortunately brought some bad news about Highgarden. This scene was fine and I don’t have much to say about it in terms of positives or negatives; it was quick and it did what it needed to do in setting up the climax of the episode.

Later at Dragonstone Jon and Davos (Liam Cunningham) discussed the size of Daenerys’ heart… among other things. Again I have to be honest and say that I didn’t like the direction that this scene took because although having characters come together and build relationships can make for good television it doesn’t work when the motivation is so transparent. Jon and Davos bumped into Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) who was stood waiting for them; they talked about Missandei’s past and eventually came to the topic of Daenerys and her character, with Missandei giving her a glowing reference.

This scene was clearly designed to fast-track a stable relationship between Dany and Jon, which I understand, but I take issue with the fact that the writers pretended that the scene was about developing Missandei. I didn’t have a massive issue with it but it was cheap and didn’t actually achieve anything when it was over.

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via screenrant.com

Following this scene we were treated to another interaction that I didn’t expect to see again on “Thrones”, as Theon (Alfie Allen) washed up on the shores of Dragonstone to be greeted by his former rival, Jon Snow. The pair stood quietly for a moment before Theon broke the silence with a simple greeting and began to walk towards Jon. Jon then grabbed Theon and threatened him, explaining that the only reason that he wasn’t dead already was because of what he did to Sansa.

This was an incredibly weird turn of phrase because Jon was referencing the fact that Theon saved Sansa from Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), an act which was noble enough for Jon to spare Theon’s life. This was something that Theon did for Sansa rather than to her. The implication of doing something to someone is usually that you’ve wronged them in one way or another, so using this phrase confused the scene quite noticeably. I don’t know whether or not this was a mistake by Kit Harington that the director chose to overlook or whether this phrasing was actually in the script, but either way it was wrong.

Much like in the previous episode this scene with Theon was used to transition into a more important one, as Theon explained that he needed Dany’s help to rescue Yara (Gemma Whelan) before being told; ‘the queen is gone’.

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From here the episode sparked into life and skyrocketed in quality, culminating in a beautifully shot sequence in which Daenerys used the Dothraki and Drogon to decimate Jaime’s forces and destroy the supplies he’d taken from Highgarden. I loved this sequence from start to finish, with my only issue relating once again to the fact that travel on “Thrones” has become superfluous.

The scene started slowly before a rumbling in the background could be heard. The Lannister forces got in formation and awaited their enemy who then appeared on the horizon screaming and ready to kill. The Dothraki on their own are scary enough, but to top it off Jaime, Bronn, and the rest of the Lannister army saw a dragon flying straight for them. The score and the cinematography were sublime during this sequence and you really have to applaud “Thrones” for doing things on a scale that you normally don’t see on television.

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via ign.com

It was another visceral battle sequence in the vein of the Battle of the Bastards and the Battle of Blackwater, although admittedly it didn’t have a whole episode dedicated to it like those battles did. The tracking shot of Bronn making his way to the ballista was awesome and the fact that he actually managed to hit Drogon with one of the arrows was a genuine shock.

Whether or not somebody significant like Bronn should’ve died during the battle is a point worthy of discussion, but personally I was glad that everyone important ended up surviving the sequence.

Overall, “The Spoils of War” was an episode of varying levels of quality, but the extended 10-15 minutes sequence at the end was spectacular and left me more than satisfied. I can’t wait to see where the story goes next week as Daenerys addresses the Lannister army, and with things getting a little too close for comfort for Littlefinger in Winterfell the season is wonderfully poised.

7.5/10