“You Know, If You Hadn’t Stopped Coming To Church, You’d Have A Little More Understanding Of People’s Feelings…”
With the likes of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths on his curriculum vitae, Irish screenwrite Martin McDonagh has become renowned in the entertainment trade for snappy and subversive tales which blend the darker traits of the human spirit with rib-tickling comedic undertones, and his return this week with the hotly anticipated jet-black drama, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an interesting example of a movie which has both equal measures of excellence and fundamental, unforgivable sin. Primarily following Frances McDormand (Fargo, Hail, Caesar!) as the grieving, unpredictable and potty mouthed Mildred Hayes, who in her attempt to call out the workings of the local police force after her daughter’s violent death instinctively causes anguish within the community with the implementation of the titular billboards, McDonagh’s latest carries all the traits and features you would expect when glancing over the director’s previous endeavours on film, but with primary characters within the narrative which ease on the side of utmost vulgarity and gaping plot inconsistencies which become too jarring to ignore, Billboards is a movie which is the epitome of a picture where the whole is lesser than the sum of its’ parts. Whilst performances all around are seemingly note perfect, with obvious plaudits directed to McDormand’s fiery justice seeker and Sam Rockwell’s idiotic, racist and utterly despicable local law enforcer, Officer Dickson, the real heart and centre of the piece is undeniably Woody Harrelson’s Sheriff Bill Willoughby, whose key involvement in the direction of the narrative is the only true character where emotional investment and engagement is truly viable.
Whilst the character of Hayes has a self defined purpose due to the tragic loss of her daughter, her penchant for unwarranted violence and vulgar sensibility highlights the key flaw in a script which not only is tonally wild, but isn’t comedic or sharp enough to come across anything other than played with a straight face, and for a movie which tackles poorly a wide range of issues ranging from rape to institutionalised racism, McDonagh’s script is one of the most nihilistic portrayals of the human race presented on screen in recent memory. With the comedic elements completely absent therefore, the continued use of petulant swearing and offensive set pieces do ultimately lead to extensive nitpicking in terms of plot inconsistencies, with the most obvious being a complete lack of any realist sense of consequence for any of the major players within the piece, with people being violently attacked in front of gazing witnesses, children being assaulted and police stations being burnt to the ground, with the characters at fault then seemingly left without any sense of punishment, and for a movie whose primary basis is Hayes’ search for justice, the feel of the movie just seems terribly conflicted and contradicted. Finally, we get to the character of Rockwell’s Officer Dickson, whose revolting, old-fashioned sensibilities and racist, sexist and bigoted views are seemingly forgotten over the course of the movie’s runtime, with McDonagh handing the character over to the audience as a sort of redemptive figure of hope which I completely and utterly rejected, and whilst Rockwell’s performance is undeniably brilliant, his respective character isn’t and whilst Billboards is indeed brilliantly made and is helmed by a flashy pace which zips along nicely, the key message and feel of the movie ultimately left me with a nasty taste in my mouth, and for a film to successfully manage that, McDonagh’s latest is a film I can admire but ultimately cannot bring myself to like.
Overall Score: 6/10
“There Is Only One War That Matters. The Great War. And It Is Here…”
When attempting to combat the weight of expectation from a series finale, showrunners and writers have to understand completely the balance between payoff and the mouthwatering expectation of the audience in regards to wanting more as quickly as possible. In the case of “The Dragon and the Wolf”, a feature length episode which included everything you have come to expect from a standardised GoT entry, Series Seven managed to craft together effectively enough a crowd-pleasing conclusion to a series which has ultimately been short on explanation and high on spectacle, and whilst ironically “The Dragon and the Wolf” was arguably the most talky episode of the series, it also showcased how smoothly the show manages to push particular plot lines ahead without ever feeling as if the mediocrity of exposition comes across truly as an issue. With death, dragons, sex and the falling of both key characters and prestigious Westerosi landmarks, Series Seven’s concluding chapter was the kind of episode which made the entirety of its’ core audience flock to Twitter in order to discuss the radical changes and future ills which are set to occur within a final season which might not even brace our screens for at least another two years. I know, the feels.
Beginning with the positive, the concluding image of an undead dragon, one controlled by the megalomaniacal bringer of death which is the Night King, cutting through the wall like knife through butter, was impressive to say the least, and whilst the show has sometimes come under fire for particular elements which don’t completely work due to a limited budget, the falling of arguably the show’s most iconic landmark was both terrifying in terms of what such destruction ultimately means as it was remarkable to behold, particularly on a strictly technical sense. Aside from the wall, the death of Littlefinger was also both grimly and poetically handled, and whilst the disposal of one of the show’s key, plot-threading characters was always inevitable, it is sad to see the slimey figure of Aidan Gillen leave the show after a remarkably long tenure as the most infamously loved crafty sod on television. Where the episode ultimately doesn’t completely fit together however is the core reveal at the centre of the narrative regarding the heritage of Jon Snow, a reveal which was so obviously expected that the conjecture of both the realisation of such and the inevitable scene of Ice and Fire combining was somewhat flat in its’ handling. Picky, I know, and whilst Series Seven has swayed away heavily from the slow moving, chess-esque positioning of characters and set pieces which encompassed previous series, the blockbuster action and iconic fantastical battles have made the latest series of Game of Thrones arguably the most crowd-pleasing one yet. Until next time.
Episode Score: 9/10
Season Score: 8.7/10
“Smart People Don’t Come Up Here Looking For The Dead…”
With the penultimate episode of each Game of Thrones season renowned for being either filled with spectacle or rife with tear-inducing character deaths, “Beyond The Wall” was an hour of television which undoubtedly fit such a mould rather extravagantly, and whilst the long-awaited battle of fire and ice was finally presented on-screen after years and years of build-up, the epic fight sequence at the heart of the episode was only the beginning of the true fight which lies ahead for the battling forces within the realm of Westeros. Focusing primarily within both the North and the frozen grounds of death covered plains on the other side of the wall, our merry band of travellers led by the ever growing grisly figure of Jon Snow began the first half of the episode with the expletive laden banter the show’s audience has come to expect from characters such as The Hound and Tormund, yet within the midst of the sniggers and laughs, the touching sentiment between Jon’s conversation with Jorah was rather effectively done, with each living off the past sins of their own respective father’s but still forcing a way through to combat the even bigger threat which faces them together as a whole, with the snappy dialogue which GoT has been renowned for acting as the catalyst for the character development scenes to work efficiently enough to not seem just hammered in for the sake of it, even when the conversations switch from areas beyond the wall to Dragonstone and then back north again to Winterfell in lightning fashion.
With the concluding half of the episode fuelled with spectacle and mystical action, the crowd-pleasing set pieces which the show tends to get so damn right was once again on top form, with the shot of our brave heroes surrounded completely by an army of the dead staggeringly accomplished even when the audience is too savvy to think any of the truly key characters are set to meet their maker, with the murderous streak of previous important individuals inevitably halting for now with the show’s endgame in near sight. With undead beasts and the bone-crunching destruction of white walker after white walker in the spirit of The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad, the real kicker of the story is of course the death and resurrection of a particular flying creature, and whilst it was hard to imagine the trio of Dragons surviving throughout the entirety of the series unscathed, the sight of the Night King coldly deciding to dispatch one of Dany’s scaly children was a rather extraordinary and iconic moment to witness. With action a go-go throughout, “Beyond the Wall” was a crowd-pleasing blockbuster of an episode, one which featured enough mind-bending set pieces and destruction to please even the most cynical of audiences, but in an almost uncanny vein to many contemporary summer, big budget movies, is too an episode which suffers from particular narrative flaws which prevent it from being the second masterpiece of the series so far.
Overall Score: 9/10
“We Either Serve And Die Or Fight And Die. I’ve Made My Choice…”
Beginning with perhaps the most obvious rescue in Thrones history, “Eastwatch” was a curiously intriguing episode, one which swapped action set pieces for cleverly maneuvered interactions, resulting in a swiftly paced hour of television which saw the return of long lost characters, the reunion of old friends and enemies and a game-changing couple of narrative tweaks which had fans screaming at the television with frustration the one minute and then applauding with joy the next. With Bronn inevitably the saving grace behind the cliffhanger of last week’s episode, allegiances seem to be at some sort of an end between the two after the latter understandably quipped, “dragons is where our partnership ends”, and whilst Bronn may have lost a selection of fans for his attack on Drogon last week, the comedic chemistry between himself and Jamie is still rife and effective as ever, even after witnessing an abundance of soldiers being shot up in flames. Furthermore, the death of both Tarly father and son raised an interesting predicament for Daenerys’ characterisation, with her villainous streak seeping out once again and arguably becoming more jarring by the second, yet with the vessel of Jon Snow by her side, you would expect each to learn from each other and ultimately level each other out, particularly after Dany’s shocked reaction to Drogon’s response to Jon.
Fitting in as many storyline developments as humanly possible within the second half, “Eastwatch” managed to swing in a glossed over historical game-changer, the long-awaited return of Gendry and the forming of Thrones’ own magnificent seven who ventured out beyond the wall in an attempt to begin preparations for the battle with the dead. Whilst this week’s episode was indeed low on blockbuster action, the low-key smuggling attempts and shadowy meetings in the dark made the episode feel almost Season One-esque, particularly with Littlefinger having the screen time to return to his more dastardly means at Winterfell, and whilst the travelling times for particular characters in Westeros has somewhat been subsided, “Eastwatch” was a thoroughly enjoyable episode, one which crammed in as much information as possible with a sole purpose of setting the ground for the remaining two episodes which are guaranteed to be explosive entertainment. We are ready.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Catelyn Stark Would Be Proud. You Kept Your Vow…”
Holy of all moly’s. In an almost prophetic fashion, my outspoken quandry’s with last week’s episode in regards to the fast-paced dissecting of particularly important battle sequences were well and truly rectified this week by a fifty minute episode of Game of Thrones which featured undoubtedly a collection of the most fist-pumping, crowd-pleasing moments in the entire history of the show so far, with the standout concluding act having all the ingredients to emphasise what makes HBO’s television King so darn addictive. Beginning where the episode kicks off however, the ever-graceful fan-appointed ambassador of all things Doctor Who, Mark Gatiss, once again emphasised the ever-increasing debt to the Iron Bank from Queen Cersei, and whilst the raid of Highgarden seemed to put an end to such a predicament, the roundabout narrative of who seems to be winning the war for the Iron Throne ultimately made such a solution non-existent come the end of the episode, and whilst King’s Landing was undoubtedly not the star of the show this week, Season Seven so far has impressively handled the ever-shifting power struggle in such a way that you can never surely say where the overall narrative is heading.
Within the far reaches of the North, the return of all remaining Stark children to Winterfell was a real sight to behold, particularly when admiring how far each has come since their introduction in “Winter Is Coming”, a level of admiration which is effectively shown to be shared by the children themselves towards each other, with Arya particularly showcasing the skills and tricks she has developed during the battle with Brienne which emphasised the notion that size really doesn’t matter. The return of Arya to Winterfell will undoubtedly bring with it it’s own spate of surprises, and after the nervous infliction of Littlefinger’s stare into the eyes of the Stark youngling, you would be safe to assume Lord Baelish might have to start getting used to a timid disposition in the halls of Winterfell, with the Valyrian steel dagger used in Brann’s attempted murder somehow at the heart of such danger. After the concluding battles of last week’s episode, the Dragon Queen turned to Jon Snow for guidance in the art of war after being treated to a step back in time in the undergrounds of Dragonstone, and whilst the inevitable endgame is for both fire and ice to join hands in both battle and in marriage of some sort, it does seem we are quite a while off from the all-sparks chemistry of the show’s leading power couple to be.
Now, on to that concluding battle. As previously mentioned, the quickfire conclusion of both the battle for Casterly Rock and the overthrow of the Tyrell’s at Highgarden last week was disappointing to say the least, yet after watching arguably the most enjoyable, redemptive, action-packed battle sequence of the show to date this week, I can understand completely why the money and the effort was saved for a concluding ten minute sequence which featured everything from a long-awaited Dragon massacre, the Lannister army turning to Ash and a deep sense of conflicted allegiances when seeing both Jamie and Bronn at the heart of the action. With myself mirroring the thoughts of Tyrion when witnessing Jamie ride head-first up to Daenerys and the wounded Drogon, the sight of watching everyone’s favourite one-handed Lannister sink into the depths of the sea was interesting to say the least. On the one hand, (No pun intended) the weight of both his armour and the lack of effective co-ordination when it comes to a swimming ability should in theory result in certain death, but with a character as important as Jamie to be cast off so easily and so anti-climactic would be major false step, particularly when everyone is so eager to see Cersei’s reaction to finding out who the real instigator of Joffrey’s death truly was. “The Spoils of War” is the type of definitive Thrones episode which showcases everything brilliant about the show, and with a effects ridden spectacle to top it off, this season finally has found its’ first masterpiece.
Overall Score: 10/10
“Stark Men Don’t Fare Well When They Travel South…”
It’s almost as if Game of Thrones can’t win at this very moment in time, with my own personal complaint of perhaps the first two episodes taking a while to really get going being completely sucker punched this week with the release of an episode in which arguably too much happens in such a short space of time, and whilst I’m up for the narrative zooming forward when it can, particularly with the remaining episodes decreasing down in number to almost single digits, it was strange to see an episode in which not one, but two dreadfully important battle scenes were skipped over in a heartbeat when in previous seasons, it would have taken each an episode to tell the tale. Of the many positives of the episode however, the long-awaited meeting of Ice and Fire at Dragonstone was impressively handled, with both Daenerys and Jon Snow immediately hitting it off on the charisma scale, with conversations regarding sins of the father and the future of the war for the Seven Kingdoms adding a juicy level of suspense to the interactions between the guiding lights of one possible, optimistic future. As Dany correctly quips;”you better get to work Jon Snow”.
Elsewhere in Westeros, Euron finally manages to convince that he is indeed one of the most comedic villains in the GoT repertoire to date, with his woeful sweet talk managing to effectively offend and delight at the same time depending on whether you are indeed Jamie Lannister or every other human being who can’t help but laugh at the discussion of a particularly private query regarding Cersei’s favourite erm, pastime. Whilst murder and bloodshed has never been minimal in a show like GoT, the death, both rapid and slow, of particular major characters this week almost felt surprisingly second-hand, portraying a concoction of character cast-offs in a manner which felt as if the writers seemingly view murder as the only fitting conclusion for particular plot threads, and whilst the show is miles off from the shockingly awful final seasons of particular time-consuming shows (Dexter, I’m looking at you), the fear of closing every narrative line with the finality of death is really just a cop-out, particularly when considering the time spent absorbing yourself into the lives of particular individuals on-screen. Another effectively entertaining episode which once again suffers from middling issues, Season Seven ain’t half consistent so far.
Overall Score: 8/10
“We Must Stand Together, All Of Us, If We Hope To Stop Her…”
If last week’s opening episode of Game of Thrones Season Seven was efficiently catalogued as “much filler, little killer”, this week’s episode, “Stormborn”, is the first real sign of the current season that time is not exactly of the essence when it comes to the concluding strands of the show’s main interwinding narratives, with the episode cramming in character returns, gory medical examinations, a long-awaited romance scene and an epic sea battle all over the course of a swifty edited sixty minutes. Within the midst of an abundance of action, Daenerys and her merry band of Cersei-hating avengers seemed to take centre stage after their middling appearance in the season opener last week, and with treachery being forgiven, the return of Melisandre and the notion of the Dragon Queen finally meeting up with the King in the North, tasty doesn’t exactly cover the ground which was effectively covered within the cold halls of Dragonstone, cold halls which set the battleground alight with Tyrion’s masterplan on how to finally overthrow the rule of his much maligned estranged family.
In the case of John Snow, his out and out reluctance to act in accordance with tradition ultimately benefitted Sansa and the watchful eyes of Littlefinger, whilst Daenerys’ belief that Jon will simply bend the knee is an interesting development when surely the two are the leading lights in taking the Seven Kingdoms into a golden dynasty, particularly when remembering the true familial tree in which the King in the North derives from. The B-Movie, exploitation scene of the week belonged wholeheartedly in the hands of Samwell, whose amateur understandings of deep, deep medicine resulted in the slimy, oozy reduction of Jorah’s greyscale, a scene juxtaposed rather distastefully and suddenly with the image of food, putting the masses off hot, sloppy stews for the forthcoming weeks or so. Concluding with an action-packed, murderous slew which tips the balance in favour of King’s Landing rather too early to comment on its’ effectiveness, “Stormborn” does indeed push the plot threads forward more efficiently than its’ predecessor but with more battles and bloodshed coming next week, the masterpieces of the season still are awaiting to be admired.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Shall We Begin…?”
Welcome back ladies and gentlemen, the single greatest contemporary television show of our time finally returns to the small screen after an agonisingly stagnated wait after HBO decided it was best for the fans to hold out for over a year until we could return into the ways of all things Westeros and finally witness the beginning of the end, with the start of Season Seven counting down a tally of just 13 episodes until the resolution of who will ultimately get to sit on that awfully uncomfortable Iron Throne and rule the entirety of the Seven Kingdoms. Whilst previous season openers have tended to sway more on the recap of particular characters and story-lines instead of meaningfully furthering the overall plot, the seven episode structure of GoT’s latest season arguably offers less time for such meanderings but with the many wars ahead set to come, it comes at no surprise that “Dragonstone” does indeed conform to the usual series premiere standard, offering the chance to revisit the many lives of our leading characters whilst laying out the red carpet for the many stories which lie ahead for the next seven weeks.
With an opening sequence which is as joyous in its’ sense of redemption as it is ultimately violent in its’ devolution of an entire familial tree, Season Seven’s opening episode reminds us why the show is so damn watchable, with each of the many plot threads having the chance to push slowly forward, including the return of Daenerys to her homeland and Cersei’s acknowledgement that King’s Landing is the epicentre of danger from all sides of the Kingdom, with each having their own reasons for overthrowing the dastardly Lannister reign. Whilst Cersei has arguably now taken over the mantle for leading villain of the show, her superb characterisation over the history of the entire show results in a clash of conflicts regarding who will eventually end up on the Iron Throne, and with Jamie himself questioning why the battle continues after the dynasty of their rule has faltered with the death of their children, it is almost inevitable that the fall of the Lannister’s will be a conflicted mix of melancholia and long-awaited fate for a family who have caused so much bloodshed over the show’s entire run.
Whilst there are particular elements which don’t entirely work, including the cringe-inducing and grating inclusion of a particular famous songwriter and too many contemporary in-jokes which clash with the overall tone of the series, the premiere’s most effective scenes are still the secluded and dramatic conversations between characters who are destined to be at the centre of the overall narrative moving forward, with the conflict between John and Sansa at Winterfell being of particular interest considering the latter’s penchant for independence and authority even when the symbol of her half-brother (Or Not) is the leading figure of rule within the North. One of the more interesting developments too was the acknowledgement from Sansa of her subverted respect for Cersei, with those earlier season scenes of Cersei attempting to reason her villainous ways now catching up with the narrative, creating a sub-plot which will no doubt continue to be at the heart of the underlying conflict from the ruling command at the North. Suitably entertaining and fist-pumping in places, “Dragonstone” is a more than fulfilling opener for a series which is guaranteed to have an array of twist and turns in the coming weeks.
Overall Score: 8/10
“Winter Is Here…”
What. An. Episode. If last week propelled Game of Thrones into a cataclysmic state of amazingness with “The Battle of the Bastards”, then this week’s finale proved to be not only a continuation of the top-notch quality we have got to know and love but also a finale which put year-long plot points to rest amongst vengeance, lots of vengeance in which a wide range of key characters in the Seven Kingdoms got their comeuppance, no more so than Walder Frey, the architect of the Red Wedding, who after enjoying a nice slice of child-infested pie greeted the sharp edge of Arya Stark’s knife who finally managed to put a huge, bold cross through one of the names on her hit list. Talk about satisfaction, yet the real shock of the week came within the episodes’ brilliant first fifteen minutes in which Cersei went the way of the Mad King and coldly dispatched all her enemies in one swift wildfire-ridden act of cruelness. Goodbye High Sparrow. Goodbye Queen Marge. It’s been emotional. Seeing now that the prophecy has become reality, with each of her children now in the grave, the newly crowned Queen of the Seven Kingdoms is one cold bitch with a thirst for blood. With Jamie returning from his ordeal with the Blackfish just in time to witness his sisters’ coronation and thus losing yet another of his children, where will his allegiances lie now? With Cersei or elsewhere? How long until season seven?
Judging the season as a whole, season six no doubt began with a slump, a slump that although gave us an elderly Melisandre and the much anticipated return of Jon Snow, did not exactly reach the heights you would expect from a show of such magnitude when dealing with such an important story point such as the resurrection of Westeros’ favourite bastard. Yes, everyone expected Jon Snow to return but was the climax to the second episode as amazing as it possibly could have been? Perhaps not. Come episode five and we finally had the episode we had all been waited for in which we witnessed the death no-one had been waiting for. Oh Hodor, you gentle giant you. It’s been a fun ride and an emotional one too, a ride which ended with the real reason behind Hodor’s well, hodoring. Screw you Bran, screw you! With episode five being the cornerstone of the season riding into episode nine, a lot was riding on the much anticipated “Battle of the Bastards” and boy was it emotional. Still riding high with a perfect rating of 10 on IMDB, the penultimate episode was a masterclass in small-screen entertainment, one that will be remembered for seasons to come and one that allowed our favourite northerners to return to Winterfell. Season Six continued Game of Thrones’ excellence and popularity within the masses, and although not reaching the heights of quality seen in Season 3 and 4, was still a solid continuation of HBO’s flagship television show. Don’t worry guys, just another year until we return.
Episode Score: 10/10
Season Score: 8.8
“Let’s End This The Old Way. You Against Me…”
Remember last week when I queried why on earth the death of the Blackfish was captured off-screen, away from the viewer and whether such a decision was all down to the notion of a tight budget? Well, my query has been answered with this week’s venture into the land of Westeros with “The Battle of the Bastards” being a visceral, blockbuster of an episode in which satisfaction was the overriding feeling come the end after an hour of utter nail-biting tension and spectacle which ranks as the best Game of Thrones has had to offer this far. If notions of a depleted budget were high in my mind last week, the same cannot be said for the titular battle between the armies of Jon Snow and Ramsey Bolton, the bastards of the North, each with their own agendas and each with thriving hatred towards one another which culminated in the most extreme sense of justice the show has given us so far with Ramsey finally meeting his demise come the end of an episode in which we not only lost yet another Stark, (Goodbye Rickon) but an episode in which for the second time in the space of a year, we may have lost Jon Snow. Oh HBO, you do spoil us.
To speak only about the 30 minute thrill ride that encompassed the main bulk of the episode however completely dismisses goings-on in Meereen where finally Daenerys took back the power from the murderous masters and allowed all three of her dragons to rain down fiery chaos upon the seas of her enemies whilst the Dothraki hoard chopped down the remaining numbers of the Sons of the Harpy. Add into the mix the opportunity of two strong female characters holding the reigns of Westeros, with Yara and Theon finally being granted an opportunity to proclaim their allegiance to Daenerys, and “The Battle of the Bastards” may indeed be not only the most thrilling and action packed Game of Thrones episode to date, but the most optimistic and rewarding one also. Gone is the reign of Ramsey and here stands Lord Snow, the bastard of Winterfell who is now back where he belongs alongside his sister and the power of not only his own army but Littlefinger’s too alongside him. Pure cinematic brilliance upon the small screen, this weeks’ episode was one to remember and one that will send shock-waves across the seas of the Seven Kingdoms. Just one more left. ONE MORE.