“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
“It’s Where We’ve Always Been Going, And It’s Happening Now, Today. It’s Time To Stand With The Doctor…”
Three years after venturing into my local cinema in order to witness the first ever Peter Capaldi led Doctor Who episode in the form of “Deep Breath”, the brilliantly creepy yet somewhat divisive opening for the Twelfth Doctor, here we are reviewing the final ever regular series episode featuring perhaps my favourite incarnation of the travelling time lord since Jon Pertwee. How time flies. With the brilliance of last week’s episode setting the basis for the overall narrative of “The Doctor Falls”, what we have this week is a melancholic, fan-pleasing conclusion to a series which although lacked the consistency and sometimes perfection of Series Nine, was a solidly effective run, one which tapped into the classic sense of what a show such as Doctor Who truly offers and one which gave us some flashing moments of what we are set to miss after Capaldi’s tenure is ultimately over. Whereas last week’s episode was flawed somewhat by a ridiculous need from the BBC to over-publicise the high-profile events before the episode even aired, the twists and turns this week were more than effective, using a face from the past in the episode’s concluding moments to emphasise truly the wondrous nature of the greatest science fiction series ever.
Whilst the body-horror infliction of the Mondasian Cybermen from last week’s episode completely evaporates in favour of more daring set pieces and screen-filling explosions, their usage is still incredibly eerie, particularly within the scene in which the effects flick back and forth between the Mondasian Bill and the human Bill, building on a characterisation period throughout the series which has seen Pearl Mackie come forth as perhaps one of the standout companions of the modern era. With plot threads and series long arcs being put to bed, including the resolution of the Master/Missy timeline, the finale truly belongs to Peter Capaldi’s performance, one which mixes the inevitably of death from Peter Davison’s regeneration story “The Caves of Androzani” alongside the reluctance of passing from Tennant’s change-up during “The End of Time”, and boy does it pull on the heartstrings. Whereas many have seen Capaldi’s tenure as a mixed bag of ups and downs in terms of consistency, I believe the past few years have seen the first real classic interpretation of the Doctor since the Tom Baker years and with the Christmas special to come alongside a very, very special guest, one can and can’t wait for the Christmas special, an episode which although will see the end of a superb Doctor will also offer the opportunity to perhaps see Capaldi at his finest. See you in five months.
Overall Episode Score: 9/10
Overall Season Score: 7.4/10
“Just Promise Me One Thing. Just Promise You Won’t Get Me Killed…”
One of the most obvious and thrilling elements of this week’s episode of Doctor Who was the surreal and reckless sense of abandon which show-runner Steven Moffat clearly has come to terms with, with the talented, and sometimes controversial, scribe clearly at a stage in which he sure well knows his time, much like Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor, is coming to an explosive climax, and with “World Enough and Time”, Moffat has successfully created a finale first act which ticks all the boxes in regards to what I personally look for in all the classic Doctor Who stories. Suspense. Threat. Horror. Three key elements that usually end up in creating some damn fine science fiction, and whilst the rather annoying pre-release press storms have felt it necessary to show off a rafter of key details and spoilers before the episode even aired, “World Enough and Time” is still undeniably and far and away the best episode of Series 10 so far, and with twists and shifts which set the battleground for next week’s explosive finale, it too has the potential to become the definitive Moffat/Capaldi exploration of the famous Time Lord.
Within the episode’s many successes, the return of the Mondasian Cybermen is an absolute stroke of genius. Whilst the 21st century incarnations of the famous Who foe have never really managed to get the characterisation and fear factor bang on, the utterly insidious look of the classic era baddies results in “World Enough and Time” genuinely being one of the most terrifying episodes of Doctor Who in years, with the body-horror type sets in which they are painfully hooked up to an unknown liquid harking back to not only the gas-mask people in “The Doctor Dances” but looking too like something out of a classic horror movie convention. The threatening nature of the Mondasian Cybermen aside, the inevitable links between the fate of the First Doctor within “The Tenth Planet”, an episode which featured the very first appearance of the Cybermen on Mondas, and Capaldi’s current incarnation are inevitable, particularly when regeneration energy is so clearly seen to be seeping out of our beloved hero. Overall, “World Enough and Time” is an excellent episode of Doctor Who, and whilst the episode would have been better served to be left to its’ own devices in terms of unravelling its’ secrets itself, grab the popcorn and get ready for a concluding piece next week which so clearly needs to keep to the standards set so far. Oh, and John Simm though.
Overall Score: 9/10
“Time To Grow Up. Time To Fight Your Fight…”
Whilst the notion of centurions within Doctor Who automatically resorts to times gone by within the era of Matt Smith, this weeks’ episode featured a budding mystery regarding the fate of the Ninth Legion of the Imperial Roman Army amidst a narrative which featured too a time-splitting leading alien entity and an incredibly talkative creepy crow. Isn’t science fiction great? Penned by Rona Munro, a writer already well-versed in the ways of all things Time Lord, with her previous works including the Sylvester McCoy led episode “Survival”, the final Classic Who story to air on the BBC until its’ return all the way back in 2005, “The Eaters of Light” is a passably fun tale of adventure, one which comes across as a surreal amalgamation between the BBC-ran adventure series Raven and the portal-weaving adventures within Stargate, but too a tale which feels ever so slightly underwhelming at times to really be considered anything other than just a precursor to much more interesting developments which are set to unravel within next weeks penultimate episode, adding to a year of stories which have been solid enough, but lack in a certain amount of wonder in comparison to the critical acclaim of Series Nine.
With events taking place in the homeland of Capaldi, it comes as no surprise that the inclusion of an abundance of fellow Scots results in an array of Scottish-targeted quips. most of which are expertly managed by the straightforward tone of Capaldi’s take on the travelling Time Lord, and whilst the underlying true-to-life mystery at the heart of the story laid down a possible interesting narrative, “The Eaters of Light” is ironically the most straight-forward tale of good vs. evil so far this series. Aided by an array of slightly dull secondary characters, Munro’s script does ultimately come across as slightly pre-21st century Doctor Who at times, with the cliched plot one in which I struggled to really engage with and whilst the design of the titular monsters is interesting enough, the threat in which they pose is minimal to say the least. Throw into the mix some shady and rather cringe-laden CGI, “The Eaters of Light” is not means a terrible episode, it just lacks the invention and spark of many which have preceded it.
Overall Score: 5/10
“That’s Not Just Any Tomb. This Is The Tomb Of The Ice Queen…”
Ah, the Ice Warriors. Those awfully designed, avocado shaped, freezer magnets. Whilst many contemporary Who fans would have been made aware of their existence in the slightly better than average, Matt Smith-led “Cold War” back in Series Seven, their history through the Whoniverse begins all the way back within Patrick Troughton’s stint in the late 1960’s, with their second appearance within “The Seeds of Death” arguably being the biggest fan-favourite episode in which they are the primary antagonist of the piece. Returning this week and facing battle with Peter Capaldi’s Twelfth Doctor in “The Empress of Mars”, the Ice Warriors are moulded into submission by constant Moffat companion Mark Gatiss who returns as a guest scriptwriter, following on from Series 9’s fan dividing episode “Sleep No More” and whilst many are aware of Gatiss’s love for all things Doctor Who, the multi-talented sci-fi geek is behind a script which although is pleasing in many aspects, also suffers from a slight feel of anti-climax, particularly in regards to the trio of episodes most recently, and whilst Gatiss’s work on Doctor Who has never really been consistently excellent, “The Empress of Mars” is arguably the weakest episode of the series so far, if remaining to the motif of a more “classic Who” feel which has been more than rife throughout this year’s series.
Whilst Matt Lucas’s Nardole is once again cast out as side-companion, appearing only at the beginning and end of the story, Pearl Mackie is once again a real treat to be seen at Capaldi’s side, offering quick, infectious quips when necessary and holding a sense of ingrained humanity when comparing her outrageous situation to the likes of famous science fiction movies. At the heart of the narrative, the titular female leader of the Ice Warriors can only be regarded as somewhat of a major letdown, one whose one-dimensional characterisation lacks a complete sense of threat even when shooting funky lazer beams at endless cannon fodder who are transformed into anatomy defying squares of death. Whilst the endgame of the story is simple enough for even the youngest of minds, Gatiss does make up for a mediocre script with a concluding scene which links in the previous appearances of the Ice Warriors in the best fan-pleasing way possible when as soon as the high-pitched voice of Alpha Centauri was heard, my heart was won completely over and my mind was thrown back to the Pertwee years, a winning formula whenever when considering Pertwee remains my favourite Doctor to this very day. This week’s episode was good enough but still remains the weakest of the series so far. Maybe next time Gatiss.