I Am DB

April 6, 2014

Game On

Filed under: TV — DB @ 2:31 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, sprint away like a direwolf and don’t look back.

Sweet relief! Game of Thrones is about to return.

People seemed to appreciate my attempt last year to provide a reminder of where things stood at the end of the previous year, so let me try that again. Or you can watch this 25 minute HBO special recapping the season, which would be much cooler and only slightly less time-consuming.

Obviously the effects of the infamous Red Wedding will be felt as the season begins. Robb Stark, his wife Talisa and his mother Catelyn are all dead, killed in an ambush orchestrated by Walder Frey with the backing of Tywin Lannister and the assistance of Roose Bolton, a Stark bannerman who turned against the house to which he owed his allegiance. In addition to his hand in this slaughter of the Stark army, Tywin Lannister made other moves to assure his family’s continued stranglehold on the Seven Kingdoms. He orchestrated the marriage of Tyrion to Sansa Stark, and blackmailed Lady Olenna Tyrell into betrothing Loras to Cersei. Joffrey and Margaery’s wedding approaches, and the queen-to-be is proving a much more cunning political player than the naive Sansa. Tyrion is being as decent as he can to his reluctant bride, while trying to hold onto his secret relationship with Shae, who continues to pose as Sansa’s handmaiden.

Jaime finally made it back to King’s Landing after an arduous journey on the road that saw him first antagonize and then later bare his soul to Brienne of Tarth, sharing with her the true story behind his murder of the Mad King that long ago earned him the derisive label “Kingslayer.” His vulnerable confession came after his sword hand was chopped off by Locke, a solider of House Bolton who captured Jaime and Brienne after they had been sent to King’s Landing by Catelyn Stark. And speaking of House Bolton, the sociopath who took such pleasure in fucking with Theon Greyjoy, torturing him physically, emotionally and psychologically, and ultimately cutting off his manhood, turned out to be Bolton’s bastard Ramsay Snow. So…nice gene pool.

Jon Snow, a much more likable bastard of the north, who went undercover with Mance Rayder’s wildlings, scaled The Wall but was forced to reveal his true loyalties when his fellow travelers wanted to murder an innocent farmer. Jon killed the antagonistic Orell before nearly being killed himself by Ygritte, who shot him with three arrows before he managed to ride out of range. He barely made it back to Castle Black alive. He was found there by Pyp (unseen since Season One) and Sam, who made it back to The Wall not long before, having endured his own harrowing series of events. He escaped a revolt plotted by some unsavory brothers of the Night’s Watch, who killed their host Craster as well as Lord Commander Mormont. Sam fled with Craster’s daughter Gilly and her newborn son, leading her to Castle Black and discovering along the way that an arrow carved from obsidian could destroy the White Walkers.

Upon reaching The Wall, Sam and Gilly crossed paths with Bran Stark and his companions Hodor (“Hodor”) and siblings Meera and Jojen Reed. The Reeds, from a family loyal to the Starks, sought Bran out so that Jojen could help Bran understand and develop his newfound gift of “sight” — an ability to see future, past and present that the two young men share. Their talent also allows them to enter the minds of animals and control them, but Bran discovered he could take that gift even further when he entered the head of Hodor (“Hodor!”) and briefly controlled him too, an ability which Jojen has never heard of before. Bran and company are headed beyond the wall on a vision quest to find the three-eyed raven (get out of my dreams, get into my wheelbarrow). Bran sent his younger brother Rickon to seek safety with Stark bannermen the Umbers, under the protection of Osha, the wildling girl turned caretaker of the Stark boys. And then there’s the remaining Stark sibling Arya, who had been so close to reuniting with Robb and Catelyn before their murder, and who now remains in the company of The Hound. When last we saw her, she was handling the Braavossi coin given to her by Jaqen H’ghar, who had offered to help her follow in his footsteps and become a deadly assassin who can travel unseen and literally change his face. God, I hope she does it.

gendryOver on Dragonstone, Stannis Baratheon continues to plot his next move against Joffrey. Melisandre attempted to help by delivering Stannis’ nephew — Robert’s bastard son Gendry — who she intended as a sacrifice for the power of his king’s blood. But Stannis’ advisor Davos Seaworth helped Gendry escape, and then convinced Stannis and Melisandre not to execute him for treason by sharing news from The Night’s Watch: that an army of White Walkers is amassing north of the wall and moving south. Even Melisandre admitted that this threat was real, and more important than the ongoing struggle for the Iron Throne.

Finally, Daenerys’ quest to reach the Seven Kingdoms and reclaim the Iron Throne for the Targaryen family continues to be delayed, more recently because she insists on freeing the slaves of every city she comes across. She now has three growing dragons, the enormous, highly skilled army of Unsullied under her command, and the loyalty of Missandei (the C-3PO of the Seven Kingdoms and beyond…because she can speak, like, every language), Jorah Mormont, Barristan Selmy and now Daario Naharis, a warrior for an army called the Second Sons, who has pledged his loyalty — and his heart — to the former Khaleesi. What will she do with all these slaves she keeps freeing, and how many more cities will she liberate before crossing the Narrow Sea?

Did I say finally? Don’t forget about Littlefinger, who sailed away from King’s Landing en route to the Eyrie, where he is expected to marry Catelyn’s sister Lysa Arryn, last seen fuming when Tyrion managed to win his freedom from her with the help of Bronn’s skillful swordplay. Before leaving the capital, Littlefinger disposed of Ros, the prostitute who had become his business associate but was reporting to Varys behind his back. Varys, meanwhile, unsuccessfully tried to convince Shae to leave Westeros so that she would not continue to be a complication for Tyrion, who he believes is one of the few people in the kingdoms who could bring peace and stability. She seemed to think that Tyrion had asked Varys to make this proposal on his behalf, though I don’t think that’s true. Will we ever learn about Shae’s past? If you recall the drinking game she played with Tyrion and Bronn in Season One, she clearly doesn’t fit the profile of the typical Westerosian whore. What’s her story?

The show’s ability to juggle all of these characters and storylines is among its most impressive feats. And while more will surely die this year, others will arrive. The most notable new addition set to join the cast is a character named Oberyn Martell, from the kingdom of Dorne (where Tyrion sent Cersei’s daughter Myrcella for protection). Known by the badass nickname The Red Viper, Oberyn is expected to stir up some serious shit with the Lannisters.

As we enter the new season, many of my curiosities center around supporting characters and their fates. With such a vast and complex story, I worry for some reason that figures on the periphery might disappear. Catelyn’s uncle Brynden (The Blackfish) managed to escape the Red Wedding and will presumably be headed for the Eyrie, so perhaps he’ll be back in play when Littlefinger arrives. Catelyn’s brother Edmure, meanwhile — the guy whose marriage put the “wedding” in Red Wedding – is in the dungeons at the Twins, where he is newly tied to the worst in-laws e-v-e-r. Will he be forgotten, or does his story continue? Will we see Gendry again, or is his fate irrelevant now that Melisandre seems to see the battle north of the Wall as more pressing than the quest for the Iron Throne? What about Rickon and Osha? How important is the youngest and heretofore most narratively undeveloped Stark child? Will we see more from the Brotherhood Without Banners, that underground rabble led by seven-times killed, seven-times revived Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, the Red Priest with a fondness for alcohol, who has served as the Red God’s vessel for those seven resuscitations? And what happened to the rest of the Night’s Watch? In the chaos of the mêlée at Craster’s Keep, it wasn’t clear what happened to the ones who were not part of the rebellion. Did Grenn and Doleful Edd make it out alive? What’s in store for Rast, the surly brother who killed Commander Mormont and has it out for Sam? It looks like he appears briefly in the first trailer for the new season, laying a baby down in the snow.

I’m sure that all of these characters will be revisited eventually, even if not this season. I’m encouraged on that point by a glimpse of Alliser Thorne in the trailer above. Not seen since Season One, Thorne is the veteran Night’s Watchman who butted heads with Jon and was eventually sent to King’s Landing by Mormont in order to warn King Joffrey and his advisors of the White Walkers and wights — reanimated dead, impervious only to fire. (In a rare bit of failed continuity, Cersei and the Small Council learned of this news by other means; it was not delivered by Thorne.) He’s back now, just as Barristan Selmy returned last season as protector to Daenarys after being dismissed from Joffrey’s Kingsguard in Season One. So I’m optimistic that these other supporting characters’ storylines will continue.

What’s interesting about the series’ enormous roster of characters is that it came about almost by accident. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said in interviews, including this one last year from Deadline, that when they were putting together the first season, their inexperience with television led to most of the episodes being too short, sometimes by 10 to 12 minutes. So they had a brief period of time in which to write and shoot several new scenes that would be primarily dialogue driven, since there was no budget left for battles or other expensive setpieces. This led to great scenes that didn’t exist in the books, like the lengthy, almost warm conversation between King Robert and Cersei after Robert has dismissed Ned as Hand of the King for opposing his plan to have Daenarys murdered.

That six-minute scene of two people talking is still among the series’ best ever, and it was born as an afterthought of sorts. It provided depth to characters who weren’t much more than ciphers in George R.R. Martin’s books. That’s not meant to be a slight against the source material. Martin’s approach is to focus on a select group of characters, of which neither Cersei nor Robert were included. They and many others are developed only in the context of their relationship to and interactions with Martin’s chosen few. But Benioff and Weiss were forced to create such scenes, and therefore able to develop more characters more richly. I’ve assumed that many of the great scenes between Varys and Littlefinger came about for the same reason, since neither one is a “point of view” character in the books.

So what’s in store when the saga resumes? Plenty of questions are on my mind. How is Littlefinger going to feel about the death of his beloved Catelyn? Will he feel the need to exact his own revenge, or will he continue to play his role and serve Joffrey and the Lannisters in order to climb to power? (“The climb is all there is.”)

What consequences await Jon now that he’s back with the Night’s Watch at Castle Black? He killed his brother Qhorin Halfhand in order to gain the trust of the wildlings — though it was Qhorin’s idea, and he all but forced Jon to kill him — and then he broke his vow of celibacy by getting steamy in a hot springs cave with Ygritte. And he gave away a few Night’s Watch secrets along the way. Even if Maester Aemon absolves him, Ygritte and charismatic wildling Tormund Giantsbane are still out for his blood. Assuming Ygritte really does want him dead. Does she love him enough to spare him? She did shoot him full of arrows, but at least she seemed conflicted about it. In Westeros, that could pass for an expression of love most true.

What will happen to Theon now that he’s been castrated and psychologically broken? Ramsay Snow sent Theon’s father Balon his boy’s appendage, and Balon immediately wrote his son off. But Theon’s sister Yara took a crew of her best men and left to rescue her brother. To which I  say, that’s nice…but fuck you Yara. Instead of being an asshole to your brother from the moment he returned home to Pyke, humiliating him and treating him like shit, you could have stood in solidarity with him against your father’s cruelty. I’m glad you’re going to get him now, but your sudden loyalty is too little too late. I look forward to eventually watching you and father die.

Will Cersei’s marriage to Loras come to pass? She told Tyrion with confidence in the season finale that she would not be marrying him. Tywin certainly intends otherwise, so how might she avoid it? Does she have something dastardly in store for the Knight of Flowers? How will Jaime’s return affect the plans? And how will Tywin look at his eldest son now that he’s lost his hand and with it his greatest asset? I’m excited to see Jaime and Tyrion together again, as Jaime is the only Lannister who actually loves his brother.

What will Stannis be up to? Have the concerns about what’s happening north of The Wall completely eclipsed his desire to unseat Joffrey and take the Iron Throne, or is the threat of the White Walkers still too remote to deter him from another attack on King’s Landing? Are we to accept that Melisandre’s Red God really is the great power that she claims? We’ve now seen her birth the creature that killed Renly. We’ve seen Thoros revive Beric after The Hound sliced his body in half. We’ve seen Robb die after Stannis cast three leeches that had drawn blood from Gendry into the fire, naming Robb, Joffrey and Balon Greyjoy as each bloodsucking worm shriveled in the flames. Is Robb’s death really the work of the Red God? If so, Balon and Joffrey should follow. But how soon, and by what means?

What’s in store for Bran beyond The Wall? What will his abilities allow him to accomplish? And why is he seeking the three-eyed raven there? When they met in Bran’s dream early in season three, Jojen said of the bird, “You can’t kill it you know…the raven is you.” So if the raven is Bran, why is he going beyond the Wall to find the raven? There’s got to be a more hospitable location for some soul-searching. In the longer term, will Bran’s gift allow him to learn the truth of Jon Snow’s lineage? The identity of Jon’s mother might not seem important, but when Benioff and Weiss first approached Martin about adapting his books for television, the question he posed to them to test their grasp on the material was about Jon’s mother. They offered their thoughts, and Martin was obviously satisfied. I’m guessing that their theory is widely held among fans of the story, and if it’s true, I don’t see how anyone alive in Westeros or beyond could possibly know the truth. Which means if it is to eventually come out, it would take someone with Bran’s abilities to discover it. But I’m sure we’re talking Season Six or Seven material now, so I shouldn’t get ahead of myself.

Over the past two days, HBO has been running marathons of the series starting from the beginning, so I’ve been catching snippets here and there. Revisiting past episodes isn’t just a treat because the show has been so good from day one, but because the evolution of this stunningly rich story has been so carefully crafted. I re-watched the scene when Robb says goodbye to Bran before departing Winterfell with his army. Just after he leaves Bran’s room, Rickon enters, upset about everyone leaving. Bran assures him that Robb will return with their father, and that Catelyn will soon be back too. “No they won’t,” Rickon answers with eerie certainty. Early onset cynicism, or does Rickon have insights of his own into the future? When Bran dreamed of his father’s death, he discovered that Rickon had experienced the same dream. Moments later, Bran learned the news of Ned’s beheading. So what’s the deal with the youngest Stark?

Another of my favorite scenes from the series that I caught again is the one in which Renly tries to convince Ned to move swiftly against the Lannisters. It kills me. Everything he says is right, but Ned will have none of it because it conflicts with his code of honor…even though you can see in his eyes that he recognizes the truth in Renly’s argument. So much tragedy could be avoided if Ned does the smart thing instead of the honorable thing, but that’s not Ned…and so the die is cast.

Yes yes, I know things couldn’t have gone any other way. As I wrote at the conclusion of Season Three about the heartbreak of the Red Wedding and how it might have been avoided, “what if” scenarios are futile. Whatever we may want characters to do in order to avoid such painful ends, the story wouldn’t be as thrilling if it didn’t play out exactly as it does. Valar Morghulis, or All Men Must Die, as the new season’s slogan prominently declares. Rewatching Season Three in its entirety over the past several weeks, I was also reminded how beautifully the show has planted its seeds, which also came to mind over the last two days as I looked back even further into Seasons One and Two. In the same post-Season Three piece mentioned above, I pointed to how the song “The Rains of Castamere” was used earlier in the season to foreshadow the Red Wedding, and it turns out there were even more examples that I missed. Thoros was singing the song when he and his Brotherhood compatriots first encountered Arya and Gendry. And later in the season, an instrumental version played over the end credits of the episode “The Bear and the Maiden Fair.” There was also that wonderful scene before Tyrion and Sansa’s wedding when Cersei told Margaery the story of House Castamere’s fall. This kind of intricate storytelling makes looking back just as enjoyable as looking forward.

And so in these final hours —or at this rate, minutes — of looking forward, I once again use these posts as an opportunity to collect some of my favorite Game of Thrones material that the internets have offered since last June.

This chart came from a piece in Vulture that created infographics for several Pixar movies.

Anyone who has attempted to explain the series to the uninitiated in the hopes that they might jump on the bandwagon knows what a daunting task it is. From his Basic Instructions series, artist Scott Meyer offers some help.

I always say that the highest pop culture honor possible is not an Oscar or a Pulitzer, but an homage on The Simpsons. Game of Thrones achieved this a couple of years ago when its opening credits served as inspiration for a Simpsons couch gag, which I referenced at the time. This more recent recognition is unofficial, but still pretty cool.

Simpsonsized(Click here for larger version)

South Park got in on the action last November, skewering Game of Thrones, the madness of Black Friday, the Playstation vs. Xbox console wars and more in an epic three-episode arc that was a typically inspired affair from Trey Parker and Matt Stone. And Vulture had some fun cross-pollinating Thrones with a few other TV shows to create pictures like this reimagining of Arrested Development.

Arrested

The guys behind Parks and Recreation are huge Game of Thrones fans, and have bequeathed their love of the show to Adam Scott’s character Ben. This clip from a recent episode is their latest tribute.

There’s also an extended clip if you, like Ben, can’t get enough.

As cool as the Iron Throne is, George R.R. Martin said on his blog last year that he envisioned something even more grand and twisted, which just wouldn’t be possible on the show. But check out artist Marc Simonetti’s painting of the throne as imagined by Martin.

That is fucking badass.

Thrones continues to be a rich source of inspiration for artists. The pictures I use along the top and bottom of these posts are usually taken from the Cast a Large Shadow tumblr, which spotlights an ever-growing collection of art based on the show. Some of the work that has appeared there recently comes from a spinoff tumblr called Beautiful Death, for which artists have created incredibly cool, stylized posters representing every significant death the show has delivered since it began. Here are a few of my favorites, but these are all amazing and there’s more on the site, broken down by episode.

Banner-Death1
Banner-Death2

This rendering of The Wall on a London sidewalk is amazing for its illusion of depth, and check out the larger versions of these four posters, which have some nice details relating to four of the show’s strong women.

My favorite recontextualization of Game of Thrones to date has got be this series by Toyko-based artist Mike Wrobel, who placed the characters into 1980’s/1990’s wardrobe. See them all here. They’re mixed in with some other work, but this was the best venue I could find for seeing all 22 in one place. I love these.

Banner-80s-90s

For anyone interested in some audio appreciation of Thrones, here’s an entire album’s worth of rap songs inspired by the show. Common and Big Boi are among the contributors, and though I haven’t heard of the rest of these guys, there’s some good stuff here.

And finally, to provide a bit of light before the darkness arrives, here are some photos from the red carpet of the Season Four premiere, with the actors looking decidedly happier, chummier and cleaner than they do on the show. It’s really weird seeing Kristofer Hivju — aka Tormund Giantsbane — in a suit. And here are some videos taken during the photo shoot for the show’s current Vanity Fair cover story.


X

Two others are available as well — one in which the actors consider what advice they’d give their characters, and another about who they think should sit on the Iron Throne.

Okay, since I was unable to get this post done yesterday as I’d intended, you’re now left with about 10 minutes before the new season begins if you’re on the east coast. So that’s enough from me. See you in Westeros…hopefully not at a wedding.

July 19, 2013

Emmy Nominations 2012-13: Reaction Mishmash

Filed under: Emmys,TV — DB @ 5:00 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The Emmys do not occupy the same level of alarming obsession I have for the Oscars. For example, I didn’t wake up at the ass-crack of dawn yesterday to watch the live nominations announcement, as I do every year for the Oscar nominations. But that hardly makes me immune to Emmy fever. I’m as hopped up on TV as I am on movies, so the Emmys are firmly on my radar. You won’t find me engaging in the same series of prediction and reaction posts that I dive into during Oscar season (many of you are grateful for that, no doubt) but of course I have plenty of thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly of today’s nominations.

Now, once again, I have to make the point that the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences—and nearly every other body that hands out awards for television—faces an impossible challenge. There is a staggering amount of TV programming out there, and now that outlets like Netflix, Hulu and Amazon are producing content, the arena is even more packed. How can every show and all their components—acting, writing, directing, production design, etc.—be fairly evaluated? I’ve elaborated before, both in last year’s version of this post and in an earlier, more detailed overview, on the flawed process for Emmy voting at the nomination stage. And once again, you should read the latter, because I was right when I wrote it and I’m even more right now. (This is also a succinct summary of what’s wrong with the Emmys.)

So with that said, I offer a small selection of artists whose work this past year deserved to be recognized. I won’t get into which nominations did happen and shouldn’t have, nor will I argue that any of my choices that didn’t make it are more deserving than certain ones that did. For I am not immune to the problem I describe in my 2009 post; I don’t watch every TV show, so I can’t fairly judge what does and doesn’t deserve an Emmy nomination. I’m simply saying that the offerings below—whether at another’s expense or not—were worthy of the recognition.

But before we get to that, here are the nominations in what I consider the major categories, with some brief thoughts along the way. I’m not a fan of reality TV around these parts, so I’ve omitted those categories. BUT, a huge congratulations to my friend Carl Hansen, who earned his first Emmy nomination yesterday. He was an Executive Producer on Outstanding Reality Program nominee Shark Tank. Way to go, Carl!

OUTSTANDING COMEDY SERIES
The Big Bang Theory
Girls
Louie
Modern Family
30 Rock
Veep

Thoughts: A fine list, but the omission of Parks and Recreation is criminal. That show, along with its ensemble cast—which has to be the best on any current comedy series—continues to kill it every week, without fail. I also would have liked to see Arrested Development here. I know many people were disappointed in the new season, but I thought that while it had some problems, its density and ambition were staggeringly impressive. And even flawed, there was still more than enough hilarity.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Laura Dern – Enlightened
Lena Dunham – Girls
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey – 30 Rock
Julia Louis-Dreyfuss – Veep
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation

Thoughts: How great to see Laura Dern here. Enlightened was not renewed for a third season due to low viewership, but it was a beautiful show. This nomination for the always underrated Dern is a small but appreciated way to bid it a premature farewell.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Alec Baldwin – 30 Rock
Jason Bateman – Arrested Development
Louis C.K. – Louie
Don Cheadle – House of Lies
Matt LeBlanc – Episodes
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory
Julie Bowen – Modern Family
Anna Chlumsky – Veep
Jane Krakowski – 30 Rock
Jane Lynch – Glee
Sofia Vergara – Modern Family
Merritt Wever – Nurse Jackie

Thoughts: Seven nominees and they couldn’t find room for Arrested Development‘s Jessica Walter? Jane Lynch’s role on Glee is pretty much played out at this point. She’s great, but I would swap her for Walter in a heartbeat. Or how about some love for Parks and Rec‘s Rashida Jones and Aubrey Plaza?

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Ty Burrell – Modern Family
Adam Driver – Girls
Bill Hader – Saturday Night Live
Tony Hale – Veep
Ed O’Neill – Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Modern Family

Thoughts: Bit of a surprise to see Modern Family‘s Eric Stonestreet left off, though it does keep the category from becoming a Modern lovefest once again. Still, I’d always nominate Stonestreet before Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who I’ve always found to be a little too one-note. Great to see Bill Hader and Tony Hale here, but the real delight is Adam Driver’s nomination for Girls. I didn’t expect voters to come through for Driver, so I had included him among my write-ups below. Well, now I can delete that. Every moment of Driver’s performance feels authentic, electric and unscripted. Kudos to the Emmy voters for not overlooking his sensational work. As for disappointing oversights, how about every single male actor on Parks and Recreation? Seriously, line up Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott and Rob Lowe. Now put on a blindfold and throw a dart. Throw a few. Whoever you hit, they deserve to be here. If this category is going to be dominated by one show, Modern Family ain’t the one. And I say that as a big fan. But these Parks and Recreation guys…they crush it. And how stupendous were Will Arnett and David Cross on Arrested Development?

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Dot-Marie Jones – Glee
Melissa Leo – Louie
Melissa McCarthy – Saturday Night Live
Molly Shannon – Enlightened
Elaine Stritch – 30 Rock
Kristen Wiig – Saturday Night Live

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Louis C.K. – Saturday Night Live
Bobby Cannavale – Nurse Jackie
Will Forte – 30 Rock
Nathan Lane – Modern Family
Bob Newhart – The Big Bang Theory
Justin Timberlake – Saturday Night Live

Thoughts: As long as we’re giving it up for SNL guest hosts, where’s the love for Martin Short? His Christmas episode was among the season’s strongest. At least they included Louis C.K., whose Abraham Lincoln sketch was the best of the year.

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES
David Crane, Jeffrey Klarik – Episodes (Episode 209)
Louis C.K., Pamela Adlon – Louie (Daddy’s Girlfriend, Part 1)
Greg Daniels – The Office (Finale)
Jack Burditt, Robert Carlock – 30 Rock (Hogcock!)
Tina Fey, Tracey Wigfield – 30 Rock (Last Lunch)

Thoughts: The Office and 30 Rock each went out on a good note, but not good enough to exclude a single nomination for Arrested Development, whose writing was brilliantly ambitious on levels that I don’t think any other show ever has even aimed for.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A COMEDY SERIES
Lena Dunham – Girls (On All Fours)
Paris Barclay – Glee (Diva)
Louis C.K. – Louie (New Year’s Eve)
Gail Mancuso – Modern Family (Arrested)
Beth McCarthy-Miller – 30 Rock (Hogcock!/Last Lunch)

OUTSTANDING DRAMA SERIES
Breaking Bad
Downton Abbey
Game of Thrones
Homeland
House of Cards
Mad Men

Thoughts: Yeah, that looks about right. Downton could have been left off. I love it, but the past two seasons have been uneven. I don’t watch them, but based on their reputations, it would have been cool if Justified or Sons of Anarchy had snuck in. There seemed to be a lot of love for The Americans, too. And why can’t The Walking Dead catch a break?

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Connie Britton – Nashville
Claire Danes – Homeland
Michelle Dockery – Downton Abbey
Vera Farmiga – Bates Motel
Elisabeth Moss – Mad Men
Kerry Washington – Scandal
Robin Wright – House of Cards

Thoughts: Not that I watch the show, but I’m surprised not to see Julianna Margulies here for The Good Wife. I thought she was a perennial in this category. I also didn’t watch Orphan Black, but heard Tatiana Maslany was off-the-charts amazing. I thought she might find a place among the more recognizable names. On the other hand, I love that Robin Wright made it. I consider Wright, like Laura Dern, to be one of the most undervalued actresses around. Any and every bit of attention she receives is deserved. Great to see Vera Farmiga make the cut too. She did some impressive tightrope walking as the complex mother to Norman Bates. And even though I don’t watch Scandal, I kinda love Kerry Washington, so good for her making it as well.

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Hugh Bonneville – Downton Abbey
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
Jeff Daniels – The Newsroom
Jon Hamm – Mad Men
Damien Lewis – Homeland
Kevin Spacey – House of Cards

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Morena Baccarin – Homeland
Christine Baranski – The Good Wife
Emilia Clarke – Game of Thrones
Anna Gunn – Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks – Mad Men
Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey

Thoughts: Emilia Clarke breaks in for Game of Thrones! Nice. Her character had a kick-ass season. She only stands to kick more ass as the show progresses, so I might have gone with her castmate Michelle Fairley instead. But hey, any love for Thrones is fine with me. Good to see Homeland‘s Morena Baccarin recognized too.

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Jonathan Banks – Breaking Bad
Bobby Cannavale – Boardwalk Empire
Jim Carter – Downton Abbey
Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
Mandy Patinkin – Homeland
Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad

Thoughts: The Station Agent‘s Dinklage and Cannavale, together again! Though frankly, I would sacrifice Cannavale in favor of House of Cards‘ Corey Stoll, who had a terrific, heartbreaking arc as a troubled congressman. I also think Sam Waterston was a worthy contender for The Newsroom. And while I didn’t see The Americans, I heard Noah Emmerich was outstanding. I’m thrilled to see Mandy Patinkin here after he was overlooked last year. Perhaps one of these days, another member of the amazing Game of Thrones cast will join the always deserving Dinklage. A little love for Charles Dance, please?

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Linda Cardellini – Mad Men
Joan Cusack – Shameless
Jane Fonda – The Newsroom
Margo Martindale – The Americans
Carrie Preston – The Good Wife
Diana Rigg – Game of Thrones

Thoughts: Diana Rigg = Awesome. And Jane Fonda was a blast on The Newsroom.

OUTSTANDING GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Dan Bucatinsky – Scandal
Michael J. Fox – The Good Wife
Rupert Friend – Homeland
Harry Hamlin – Mad Men
Nathan Lane – The Good Wife
Robert Morse – Mad Men

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
George Mastras – Breaking Bad (Dead Freight)
Thomas Schnauz – Breaking Bad (Say My Name)
Julian Fellowes – Downton Abbey (Episode 4)
David Benioff, D.B. Weiss – Game of Thrones (The Rains of Castamere)
Henry Bromell – Homeland (Q&A)

Thoughts: I figured that Homeland would receive at least one writing nomination, but I wasn’t sure which episode it would go to. I’m glad to see it went where it belonged; that’s another write-up I did that I can now discard. “Q&A” was the stellar episode in which Carrie interrogates Brody after finally confronting him with evidence of his treachery and taking him into custody. Writer Henry Bromell used to write for NBC’s great police series Homicide: Life on the Streets, and penned many of that show’s most intense sequences: Det. Pembleton questioning suspects in an interrogation room known as The Box. He proved with “Q&A” that he still knows his way around that intimate setting. The session between Carrie and Brody is the episode’s lengthy centerpiece, and the writing—from the broad scope of Carrie’s approach to the carefully chosen words and brutal honesty with which she reaches him—is masterful (as are the performances by Claire Danes and Damien Lewis). On top of recognizing this excellent achievement, the nomination doubles as a tribute to Bromell, who died of a heart attack in March. Like James Gandolfini, he was a great contributor to dramatic television who left us too soon.

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A DRAMA SERIES
Tim Van Patten – Boardwalk Empire (Margate Sands)
Michelle MacLaren – Breaking Bad (Gliding Over All)
Jeremy Webb – Downton Abbey (Episode 4)
Lesli Linka Glatter – Homeland (Q&A)
David Fincher – House of Cards (Chapter 1)

Thoughts: Fincher!

OUTSTANDING MINISERIES OR MOVIE
American Horror Story: Asylum
Behind the Candelabra
The Bible
Phil Spector
Political Animals
Top of the Lake

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Asylum
Laura Linney – The Big C: Hereafter
Helen Mirren – Phil Spector
Elisabeth Moss – Top of the Lake
Sigourney Weaver – Political Animals

OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Benedict Cumberbatch – Parade’s End
Matt Damon – Behind the Candelabra
Michael Douglas – Behind the Candelabra
Toby Jones – The Girl
Al Pacino – Phil Spector

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Ellen Burstyn – Political Animals
Sarah Paulson – American Horror Story: Asylum
Charlotte Rampling – Restless
Imelda Staunton – The Girl
Alfre Woodard – Steel Magnolias

OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A MINISERIES OR MOVIE
Scott Bakula – Behind the Candelabra
James Cromwell – American Horror Story: Asylum
John Benjamin Hickey – The Big C: Hereafter
Peter Mullan – Top of the Lake
Zachary Quinto – American Horror Story: Asylum

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Richard LaGravenese – Behind the Candelabra
Abi Morgan – The Hour
Tom Stoppard – Parade’s End
David Mamet – Phil Spector
Jane Campion, Gerard Lee – Top of the Lake

OUTSTANDING DIRECTING FOR A MINISERIES, MOVIE OR DRAMATIC SPECIAL
Steven Soderbergh – Behind the Candelabra
Julian Jarrold – The Girl
David Mamet – Phil Spector
Allison Anders – Ring of Fire
Jane Campion, Garth Davis – Top of the Lake

Thoughts: Soderbergh!

OUTSTANDING VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Late Night with Jimmy Fallon
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live

OUTSTANDING WRITING FOR A VARIETY SERIES
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Jimmy Kimmel Live
Portlandia
Real Time with Bill Maher
Saturday Night Live

Thoughts: Wow, Saturday Night Live still hanging on here. I would have thought Conan or Late Night with Jimmy Fallon would earn a place.

OUTSTANDING ANIMATED PROGRAM
Bob’s Burgers (O.T.: The Outside Toilet)
Kung Fu Panda: Legends of Awesomeness (Enter the Dragon)
Regular Show (The Christmas Special)
The Simpsons (Treehouse of Horror XXIII)
South Park (Raising the Bar)

For what it’s worth, some stats: HBO was—to nobody’s surprise, I’m sure—once again the most nominated network, but I couldn’t believe how far ahead they were. With 108 nominations, they had just over twice as many as the second most honored network, CBS. (Really? CBS?) The most nominated program was American Horror Story: Asylum, with 17 nominations, followed by Game of Thrones with 16. And while I haven’t seen this factoid called out, I think Louis C.K. may have been the most nominated individual. Between his Saturday Night Live hosting gig and the multiple hats he wore on both his series and his HBO standup special, he received nine nominations. I would think that’s gotta be tops for the year.

Some people actually get paid to watch and write about TV, and are therefore likely to have seen all the eligible shows, so here’s a sampling of their reactions: Vulture‘s Matt Zoller Seitz, The Hollywood Reporter‘s Tim Goodman, and Entertainment Weekly‘s Jeff Jensen and James Hibberd. Goodman had a lot to say (he usually does), and actually wrote three different pieces reacting to (mostly railing against) the nominations. The initial two can be accessed through the one linked here. He talks about what I wrote of back in 2009: the impossible task of fairly evaluating all the choices out there. Then he goes on to damn the voters for too frequently eschewing bolder options in favor of the same old thing. He does have a point. I mean, I love 30 Rock, but it was past its prime. Did the final season really deserve an Outstanding Series nomination over Arrested Development or Parks and Recreation? He also suggests that it’s time for the Emmys to expand the major categories to ten nominees each, in order to better represent the overwhelming number of shows and performances vying for recognition. I think that’s a great idea; some of the categories already have seven nominees. But let’s face it: expanding the categories doesn’t mean that more critically favored but Emmy-retardant shows like Justified, Sons of Anarchy, The Americans or Hannibal would suddenly find a seat at the table. More likely, given Emmy voters’ tendencies, we’d just see more middle of the road choices. This year, the Outstanding Comedy category might have made room for Parks and Recreation, but it would probably have also included shows like Two and a Half Men, The Middle and Mike & Molly over Community, The Mindy Project or Arrested Development. Still, I agree with Goodman; it’s time for an expansion.

As usual many of the nominees released statements of gratitude. Best Reaction Statement: Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy) – “Given all the hilarious film work I’ve done, from Traffic to Crash to Flight, it’s nice to finally be recognized as the comic genius I am. Thank you, Academy members.” Second Best Reaction Statement goes to Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones (Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama) -“Yer chomoe anhaan. Jin ha Khalaan, shekh ma shieraki anni. For those not fluent in Dothraki, it translates to: You do honor to me. This is for the Khal — my sun and stars.”

Now then, for your belated consideration…

These write-ups make no attempt to avoid spoilers, so if you come across one for a show you haven’t seen yet but intend to watch someday, I advise you to skip it.

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Denis O’Hare – True Blood
Although it’s past its prime and I watch it more now out of habit, there was a time when True Blood was really killing it (the current season has actually been pretty strong). But the Emmys have never had much use for it. A shame; its terrific second season earned it a nomination for Best Drama Series, and it has garnered some below-the-line nominations over the years – sound editing, makeup, casting, that sort of thing. But probably because it’s an out-there, gothic fantasy soap opera, it has often been unfairly overlooked, especially in the acting department. In five seasons, only a single acting nomination has been bestowed: Alfre Woodard for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, from the third season. I like Woodard, but hers was hardly the most deserving or memorable performance True Blood has given us. Nelsan Ellis should have been cited in the first year or two for his great performance as Lafayette, and Michelle Forbes was robbed of recognition for her luscious turn as the second season’s antagonist, Maryann Forrester. And where was the Guest Star nomination after Season Three for James Frain as the sicko vampire Franklin Mott?

Also robbed after season three, was Denis O’Hare for his hilarious, whacked-out performance as extremist vampire king Russell Edgington. After being absent from season four, Edgington returned last year, colorful and crazy as ever, giving voters a chance to rectify their mistake. They failed to do so. O’Hare was nominated last year in the TV Movie or Miniseries group for his role on season one of American Horror Story. If he could get nominated for that, he surely deserves a nod for his far more memorable work as Edgington. (Come to think of it, why has American Horror Story been embraced so enthusiastically by Emmy voters while True Blood has been repeatedly stiffed? If anything, AHS is even more lurid and over-the-top.)

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Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: David Lynch – Louie
In a three episode arc last season, Louie was under consideration to replace a retiring David Letterman as host of CBS’ Late Show. In order to see if he has the right stuff, the chairman of CBS sends Louie to an old school TV producer named Jack Dall to help whip him into shape. As I watched the episode, I was stunned and delighted to discover filmmaker David Lynch playing Dall. Like his films, Lynch is a little…odd. He’s pleasant and mild-mannered, but always seems just slightly out of sync with the world around him. As C.K. explains in this story about how he got Lynch to do the show, he wasn’t looking for the director to show up and be someone else; he wanted Lynch to be Lynch. Layering his own unique, deadpan persona on top of the cryptic, impatient Dall, Lynch was bone-dry hilarious, fitting right at home with the often surreal tone of C.K.’s show. Lynch the director would be proud of Lynch the actor, and Emmy should have taken note.

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Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Chris Colfer – Glee
An Emmy darling after its first season, Glee has largely disappeared from the awards landscape after subsequent seasons have proven uneven. It picked up some nominations here and there yesterday, but it has mostly dropped off the radar when it comes to awards. I can’t really argue with that. But one aspect of the show that was great from the start and hasn’t faltered is Chris Colfer, who plays Kurt Hummel, a character destined to be remembered as one of the most important in television history. The series may have jumped a number of sharks by now, but it tends to be at its best when Kurt is around, because Colfer is too genuine to let it get away with its more absurd tendencies. He’s a performer who exudes authenticity, and so it seems that the writers—by the very nature of having to serve him—are forced to come up with stronger material. And he never lets us down. His vocal range continues to astound, and across the entire television landscape he’s probably second only to Maggie Smith on Downton Abbey in his ability to deliver a line (especially a cutting one) with brilliant timing and precision. Colfer’s work on Glee has already earned him two Emmy nominations, plus a Golden Globe win, but his fortunes have faded along with the show’s. Too bad; he still deserves the accolades.

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Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: David Nutter – Game of Thrones (The Rains of Castamere)
For the second year in a row, I’m bewildered by the absence of a single directing nomination for the impeccably produced and impossibly scaled epic series that deserves mention in this category for both its narrative accomplishments and its production quality. Seriously, how in the seven kingdoms does this series not get cited for Directing? While almost any episode of the season would actually be a worthy contender here, the obvious choice would be the now infamous ninth episode “The Rains of Castamere,” which climaxes with the shock and awe of the Red Wedding. (At least the episode scored a writing nomination.) The tension builds during the initial scenes at The Twins, and then when we get to those last ten minutes, in which the trauma is parsed out with thrilling dexterity. The closing of the hall door. The change in the music. The looks exchanged between Catelyn and Bolton. The stabbing of Talisa. The rain of arrows. Then we’re outside with Arya, her excitement disintegrating when she sees the Stark men being killed, followed by Grey Wind. Back in the hall, Catelyn’s desperate plea to Walder Frey. Bolton’s final betrayal and Robb’s death. And then Catelyn after she cuts her hostage’s throat, after she lets out a final wail for her murdered first-born, the camera slowly pushing in as she stands there utterly spent, her husband killed, her daughters captive and all her sons dead (as far as she knows). She stands there and we wonder, “Is it done?” And then just when maybe we think the worst is over, in steps one of Frey’s men to end her too. She falls out of frame. The camera holds for another moment before the credits roll in silence. C’mon, Emmy voters. This was a no-brainer.

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Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series: Mike White – Enlightened (The Ghost is Seen)
In just a single half hour of this little seen HBO gem, writer/actor Mike White delivers one of the most honest, heartwrenching, haunting portraits of loneliness I’ve ever encountered. He doesn’t just expose it from an objective, bird’s-eye view; he takes you inside it, right into its beating, yearning heart and shows what it feels like to live with it everyday, enveloped in it, trapped by it, resigned to it. The episode focuses on White’s own introverted character Tyler and the connection he makes with Eileen (nominated guest star Molly Shannon), the executive assistant to the head of the company, and therefore the unwitting foil in Amy’s mission to expose the illegal activities of the corporation and its CEO. The scenes between Tyler and Eileen are as awkward as they are sweet, and if this doesn’t sound like it belongs in a comedy category alongside shows like Modern Family or Parks and Recreation, well, Enlightened is indeed a different ilk, walking that fine line between comedy and drama, and probably leaning slightly toward the other side if we’re being honest. But whether it’s labeled a comedy or drama for awards purposes shouldn’t ultimately matter. The quality of the writing speaks for itself, and this exquisite episode should not have been passed over.

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Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Jack Huston – Boardwalk Empire
From the moment he was introduced about halfway through the first season, Huston’s Richard Harrow was one of television’s most interesting characters, and one of my favorites. A WWI veteran who wears a specially designed mask over half of his face to conceal a disfiguring battle wound, Harrow is soft-spoken and alone when he meets Jimmy Darmody in an army hospital. After joining up with Jimmy in the bootlegging business, the former sharpshooter discovered a sense of renewed purpose. Upon his promotion to series regular in the second season, Harrow’s role expanded and deepened. This past season, in the aftermath of Jimmy’s death, he became a caretaker to Jimmy’s little boy Tommy (a duty he shares with Jimmy’s mother, who provides him a room in her brothel). He also falls in love with a kind, pretty woman who loves him back, only to reach the conclusion that his hope for a normal life may not be in the cards.

Harrow is a man divided not just physically, but psychologically. He is gentle and sensitive with those he loves, but brutal with those who threaten him or the people he cares about. Both sides battled it out this season, and Huston’s consistent ability to underplay the character winds up making him one of the show’s strongest performers. It may be Harrow’s face that is damaged, but really his wound informs the way his whole body moves. Huston plays him with deliberate physicality – usually hesitant, but quick and determined when he becomes deadly. He still speaks softly—and nervously—but he also carries a big stick (in the shape of a shotgun). Huston—a member of the showbiz dynasty that includes aunt Anjelica and grandfather John—makes the dichotomy between Harrow’s halves into fascinating, essential, Emmy-worthy viewing.

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Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series: Scott A. Gimple – The Walking Dead (Clear)
This quiet, thoughtful episode, which provided a respite from the escalating tension between Team Prison and Team Woodbury, finds Rick, Carl and Michonne taking a drive to Rick’s old town in the hopes of securing weapons from the police station. What they find is the main street rigged with elaborate zombie traps, and the man responsible for it: Morgan, Rick’s former neighbor who saved his life after he woke up in the hospital and wandered home unaware of what had happened to the world. Morgan chose to remain behind when Rick went in search of his family, and this episode finally brought him back, as a broken, half-crazed shell so far gone that he initially doesn’t even recognize Rick, and tries to kill him. As Rick attempts to bring Morgan around, he sees him as a warning sign. He has been dangerously close to the same line that Morgan has crossed, and their encounter becomes an important step in his efforts to reclaim himself. Carl, meanwhile, reveals his own agenda for coming along: the recovery of a family photo that will offer the only picture of his mother that his baby sister will ever have. His determination to get it partners him with Micchone, still seen as an outsider by the group.

The episode offers a stark look at how the new world our characters populate can get the best of those who are incapable of retaining hope, and that survival—not just existence, but real survival—takes more than guns and ammo. Gimple provided an unexpected and creative way to bring Morgan back to the show that didn’t merely satisfy fans, but also furthered the overall story. He also did a nice job balancing Rick and Morgan’s reunion with the side journey that provided some badly needed development for an underserved Michonne.

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Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series: Patton Oswalt – Parks and Recreation
Having made memorable appearances on seven shows during the past year, Patton Oswalt was recently named TV’s Most Valuable Guest Star by Vulture. The most memorable of those appearances may have been on Parks and Recreation, as Pawnee history enthusiast Garth Blundin, whose opposition to Leslie’s planned repeal of numerous outdated town laws leads him to deliver the greatest filibuster in the history of filibustering. Star Wars and Marvel Comics fans should take note. (If Republicans filibustered like this in our actual Congress, we all might be less critical of them flagrantly overusing it.) Leslie and Garth eventually make a wager that finds them living in a Pawnee Historical Cabin with only 19th century tools and methods at their disposal. Oswalt is, of course, the perfect guy to play a part like this, lovably inhabiting a smug, know-it-all nerd and making sure we like him enough not to turn against him when he outdoes our beloved Leslie. Oswalt tapped into his own irrepressible enthusiasm for pop culture when he delivered the entirely improvised filibuster, which lasted for about eight minutes. Of course, only a short piece could be used on the show, but the full speech was released on YouTube and became a viral sensation. If nothing else, Oswalt deserved an Emmy nomination for going so imaginatively above and beyond the call of duty.

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Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Hugh Dancy – Hannibal
Not that I’ve been following reactions too closely, but the sense I’ve gotten is that the lion’s share of attention for Hannibal‘s acting has gone to Mads Mikkelsen for his quiet, controlled work as Hannibal Lecter. But it’s co-lead Hugh Dancy who delivers the show’s more gripping performance and who deserved recognition from Emmy voters. His Will Graham has such an acute, overdeveloped sense of empathy that he is able to imagine himself as the killers he hunts, executing their crimes himself and therefore gaining unique understanding into their methods and motivations. But this takes an increasingly dire toll on his state of mind, as he begins to identify so deeply with one serial killer in particular that he worries about crossing the line and becoming a killer himself. Hannibal takes us visually into Graham’s point of view to show us what he sees, but Dancy takes us much further and reveals things only an actor can. He wears the oppressive weight of Will’s visions in every fiber of his physical being. He cloaks himself in Will’s fatigue, isolation, and anxiety, drawing us so close that we can practically smell the fevered sweat that accompanies his sleepless nights and haunted dreams. There’s an obvious sadness and loneliness to Will, but while it is directly acknowledged, Dancy never plays it for sympathy. He earns the audience’s identification through the wholeness of his performance, not through cheap emotional manipulation. It’s a truly fascinating portrayal, understated and underrated. Dancy will likely be at the Emmys anyway, accompanying his nominated wife Claire Danes. But he should be there as a nominee himself.

This is off-topic, but I feel compelled to say that I have mixed feelings about Hannibal in general. On one hand, it may be the most gorgeously art directed and photographed TV show I’ve ever seen. The entire visual design is extraordinary. On the other hand, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything so relentlessly, overbearingly bleak. This show is daaaark. Not just its highly disturbing imagery (made all the more unsettling because the crime scenes, like everything on the show, are staged so artfully), but the entire sensibility. There is precious little humor or levity to break the tension. It’s not so much a suspenseful tone as it is a severe one. It’s all so Serious and Heavy. In a way, the show has a hypnotic feel that distinguishes it from anything else I watch. But rarely did an episode go by that didn’t have me thinking at least once, “Jesus, this is too much!” (At least they seem to be having fun on the set.) It doesn’t help that some of the violence really bothers me…and I’m not someone who usually has an aversion to on-screen violence. All told, I’m debating whether or not to stick with it when the next season begins. I admire and appreciate so many things about it, but I can’t exactly say that I enjoy it.

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Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series: Jeremy Webb – Downton Abbey (Episode 5)
Jeremy Webb did earn a nomination in the Directing category, but I would argue that it was for the wrong episode. The nomination should have come for the subsequent installment, which delivered the shocking death of Lady Sybil. News of actor Dan Stevens’ departure from the show was all over the internet a few months before Downton‘s third season had its U.S. premiere, so we had a pretty good idea of what was coming down the road for his Matthew Crawley. But the departure of actress Jessica Brown Findlay was preceded by no such commotion, allowing the excellent work done by Webb, writer Julian Fellowes and the cast to take us by complete surprise. Sybil’s demise, which comes in the middle of the night, hours after delivering a healthy baby girl, seemed more shocking than so many other TV deaths because it felt so random. Downton Abbey may be classy, but it’s still a soap opera, with all the melodramatic ups and downs that go with such territory. But Webb directed the scene with such plain, stark realism that it transcended the melodrama. The veil between the audience and the screen dropped, and we were brought into the room along with the family, experiencing the terror, confusion and helplessness as palpably as they did while Sybil writhed in her bed, struggled to breathe, turned ghostly pale and finally expired. We shared in the stunned silence when Dr. Clarkson pronounced her dead, and then shared the pang of heartbreak when her newborn daughter began crying offscreen.

I realize that, as with the Game of Thrones example above, I’m focusing on one scene from an hour-long show. But sometimes that’s all it takes to make an episode. And to be clear, many moments that follow were handled just as effectively by Webb: the servants learning the news in the middle of the night, the Dowager Countess’ arrival the following morning, and the final shot of Sybil’s widowed husband Tom, holding his baby as he stands alone at a window of the house in which he has never felt entirely welcome.

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So there’s that. Finally, a few other odds and ends from further down the list of nominations:

-The nominees for Outstanding Directing for a Variety Special included Don Mischer for The Oscars. Sorry, but no. At the risk of beating a dead horse (and one that nobody other than me cares about), Mischer’s direction of the Oscars was, as I said at the time, incompetent, and has been for the past few years.

-There are a couple of categories that I hadn’t heard of before, one called Outstanding Special Class – Short-Format Live-Action Entertainment Programs, the other called Outstanding Special Class – Short-Format Nonfiction Programs. I noticed them this time because they included some nominees from the internet that made me smile: Zach Galifianakis’ hilarious faux-interview show Between Two Ferns was cited in the former, along with the brilliant web series Burning Love, while Jerry Seinfeld’s excellent Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee was nominated in the latter. Great to see these three programs recognized.

-There’s an award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series, and this year’s nominees are Arrested Development, The Borgias, Downton Abbey, House of Cards, Last Resort and Mr. Selfridge. I find it hard to believe that all of those shows offered better dramatic scoring than Game of Thrones, on which composer Ramin Djawadi does better work on a weekly basis than most theatrical movies have done in the past few years. Since each show is cited for a specific episode, I’ll submit this past season’s fourth installment of Thrones. The music accompanying the climactic sequence (Daenarys taking ownership of the Unsullied) and end credits was worth a nomination on its own. Also missing here: composer Mark Mothersbaugh, the former Devo member whose scoring for Enlightened was the most original and effective I can recall for any show in a long while.

-The Emmys give awards for Art Direction, Cinematography, Lighting Design, and other such technical achievements. This year, an obvious nominee in all three of those categories would have been Hannibal, which as I mentioned above, is one of the most visually arresting shows I’ve ever seen. Amazingly, it was passed over in all of these categories. In fact, the show didn’t score a single nomination. If you’ve seen it, you’d agree: that’s unfathomable. (Anyone as geeky as me who might be interested in seeing the full list of nominations that includes these below-the-line categories like Art Direction, Makeup, Special Effects, Music, etc. can have at it here.)

Okay, that about does it. If you’re inclined to share any thoughts of your own, I’d love to hear them.

This year’s Emmy Awards will air Sunday, September 22 on CBS. Until then, I’ll close out with another favorite moment from Emmy past, as I did last year. This one doubles as a tribute to Glee‘s Cory Monteith, who died this week at age 31. The words “too soon” are too small. Here’s the clever, rousing opening to the 2010 ceremony, featuring host Jimmy Fallon, Monteith and some of his Glee comrades, and more.

June 21, 2013

The Great Gandolfini

Filed under: TV — DB @ 9:00 am
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My heart plunged Wednesday afternoon when I read that James Gandolfini had died. I can barely comprehend that he’s left us this soon. The details of his death are as sad as the loss itself. We invest an awful lot of time and energy into the TV shows and movies we love, and when the performers pass away, the feeling of loss can be as genuine as for those we knew in person. I have relatives who have died who were less familiar to me than James Gandolfini. The Sopranos is probably my favorite TV show of all time, and Gandolfini was without a doubt one of my favorite actors.

When the show burst onto the scene in 1999, immediately launching Gandolfini into a new stratosphere of national recognition, I took pride in being one of the people who knew him when. His work in films such as True Romance, Get Shorty and A Civil Action had already endeared him to me. And like many—though relatively few in the scheme of how many millions came to know him after The Sopranos hit—I didn’t just know him as “that guy.” He was an actor who had earned name recognition, and his involvement in The Sopranos was one of the first things that caught my interest when the commercials began running on HBO.

I remember in the show’s early days, when it was saturating the pop culture conversation, a friend of mine who hadn’t seen it but knew me to be a committed fan asked me what the big deal was. I asked her to name a movie that she loved. Not one that was simply fun or entertaining, but one that was so compelling, so well acted and so well written that it blew her away. When she answered, I said, “Now imagine seeing that movie for the first time, every week. That’s The Sopranos.” And while it took an uncompromising creator in David Chase, an amazing staff of writers and a brilliant ensemble of actors to make it all hum, in the end it boiled down to Gandolfini and his portrayal of Tony Soprano. Many will say it was the role that defined him, but Gandolfini was too good to be defined by any one part. He succeeded in other roles during and after The Sopranos because he had too much depth and charisma to be pigeonholed by the role that made him famous. It will surely be the one for which he is best remembered, but no conversation about his work will ever start and stop there. His presence elevated anything he was in. He could make an otherwise forgettable movie like The Mexican worth seeing. He could make an already good movie better, most recently demonstrated by his three or four brief scenes in Zero Dark Thirty. Without even appearing on camera, he could convey ferocity, anguish and loneliness enough to break your heart, as he did voicing the lead creature in Where the Wild Things Are.

It was exciting when great directors like the Coen Brothers or Spike Jonze enlisted his talents, and it was disappointing when planned projects didn’t come to pass. (He filmed a role for Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close that was cut, and he also came close to starring opposite Leonardo DiCaprio as the dogged FBI agent in Catch Me If You Can when that film was going to be directed by Lasse Hallstrom. By the time Steven Spielberg came on board to direct, production had been delayed and Gandolfini was no longer available. The part went to Tom Hanks). I always looked forward to more collaborations between Gandolfini and other top actors and directors. A few years ago, he earned a Tony nomination for the play God of Carnage, in which he starred with Marcia Gay Harden, Jeff Daniels and Hope Davis. Just the other day, I watched a commercial for the new season of Daniels’ HBO series The Newsroom and saw that both Harden and Davis were guest starring. I hoped maybe they would try to get Gandolfini to come on at some point and round out the reunion. He was supposed to return to HBO on a limited series called Criminal Justice, for which he’d already filmed a pilot, and in a movie with Steve Carell about rival paleontologists in the 19th century, called Bone Wars. I looked forward to those too. Clearly, I was looking forward to a lot more from Gandolfini. We all were. There are a couple of posthumous offerings that will serve as final showcases for his talents. He had completed shooting two movies that will likely be released next year: one called Animal Rescue, written by Dennis Lehane and starring Tom Hardy and Noomi Rapace, and one called Enough Said, written and directed by Nicole Holofcener and starring Julia Louis-Dreyfuss and Catherine Keener.

And that will be all. I occasionally wonder what John Lennon would be doing today, or what Phil Hartman would be up to. What would Heath Ledger’s latest project be? There might be others about whom you ask the same questions. I will be asking it about Gandolfini for years to come.

As the tributes, statements and appreciations from friends, colleagues and admirers poured in, many pointed out that Gandolfini was not just a great actor, but a great friend. A great person. It’s easy to believe. Every time I saw him accept an award on TV—he earned three Emmys, a Golden Globe and five SAG awards (three for individual achievement, two as part of an ensemble)—he seemed truly humbled and almost embarrassed by the attention. The same was true when he appeared on Inside the Actor’s Studio. He was generous with his thoughts on process and the work, but reticent to be in the spotlight. At all times, he was quick to praise his co-stars, his writers and his acting teachers. Two remembrances I read—one from Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter and one from Matt Zoller Seitz of Vulture—brought up a Television Critics Association event in the summer of 1999 where Gandolfini was honored with an award, and how uncomfortable he was when the press started to swarm; how he couldn’t wait to get out of there. As Seitz mentions near the beginning of his piece, Gandolfini didn’t understand why people were interested in what he had to say. Well, we were interested because our culture is always interested in what celebrities have to say. At least someone like Gandolfini was worth listening to. Once he realized that, he tried to use his voice to bring attention to things that mattered to him. He was an advocate for U.S. soldiers who returned from war with severe injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder. In addition to private work he did with these men and women, he actively produced two documentaries for HBO to raise attention to their experiences. By all accounts, this was a guy whose heart was as big as his talent. How tragic that it gave out on him.

Some of the writers who have eulogized Gandolfini online since his death Wednesday—including Entertainment Weekly‘s Mark Harris and Yahoo’s Richard Rushfield—talked about his refusal to apologize for Tony Soprano’s dark deeds, pointing out that he never sentimentalized the character, tried to soften him or ask for the audience’s sympathies. One of my favorite scenes in the show’s history—one that has always stayed with me among the series’ countless examples of excellence—exemplifies this. It’s the final scene of an overall fantastic episode titled “Cold Cuts,” from the remarkable fifth season. In the episode, Tony’s sister Janice is arrested at her stepdaughter’s soccer game for attacking another mother after an incident between the two girls. Much to his agitation, Tony’s name gets dragged into the local news coverage. He impresses upon Janice that such outbursts are bad for business and that she needs to control herself. She attempts to do so by taking anger management classes. Tony, meanwhile, can barely contain his own rage as frustrations on both his home and business fronts continue to mount. He sees Janice benefitting from her classes, and even though this is exactly what he wants, he resents her newfound ability to keep her cool. In the end, this is what happens.

When she explodes, he’s the happiest and most satisfied he’s been during the whole episode. That smirk he gives just before walking out of the dining room speaks volumes. The scene shows the kind of cruelty Tony is capable of even to the people he loves, and there are others like it throughout the series. As he walks away, with the aggressive strains of The Kinks’ “I’m Not Like Everybody Else” perfectly used on the soundtrack, we have to admit to ourselves—as we have many times before—that this character we love (or if not love, exactly, then feel for) is an unrepentant sociopath. And why did we feel so much for Tony? Because Gandolfini gave us no choice. You’ll notice in that clip that the closing credits begin to appear before the screen has gone to black, which is atypical for an episode of The Sopranos. It’s almost as if the director just couldn’t move on quite yet. Even with his back to us, walking away after that instance of emotional violence, James Gandolfini compelled us to watch him. And we watched in wonder.

I’m so sad he’s gone.

June 16, 2013

And Now My Watch Has Ended, And Now My Withdrawal Begins

Filed under: TV — DB @ 9:45 pm
Tags: , , , , , ,

This post is intended for those who are up-to-date on Game of Thrones. If you have yet to start watching the series or are not caught up, fly from here like a raven, fast as you can.

I’m not a doctor, but I might be able to diagnose that emptiness you’re feeling. It’s the absence of Game of Thrones from this weekend’s HBO schedule. In what seems the blink of an eye, another season of the best show currently on TV has come and gone. Maybe that’s not a fair thing to say, since I don’t watch every show on TV…and we are clearly living through a fantastic period for dramatic television. But at the moment, what’s better? Breaking Bad, maybe. Perhaps Mad Men. Beyond that, I doubt anything else can compete, because I’m not aware of anything else that breaks the rules and takes the dramatic chances that this show does. It’s the most ambitious production on television, yet the narrative remains nimble even under the weight of the show’s scale, with an ability to surprise that is second to none. In fact, as I see ads in magazines and online touting the return of shows like Falling Skies and True Blood, I feel a little sad for them. Cause it must kinda suck to be any show other than Game of Thrones right now and know that no matter what you do, it just won’t be as good.

Game of Thrones‘ latest run consisted of ten terrific hours of television, but it was about ten minutes during the ninth hour that defined the season. Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have been talking about this scene since season one, referring to it only by its initials, RW. The event looms so large in the Song of Ice and Fire universe that HBO.com, in addition to providing their usual weekly Inside the Episode featurette, created a special behind the scenes piece dedicated specifically to the Red Wedding.

In the episode’s aftermath, Game of Thrones was all over the web, as fans expressed their shock and sadness. It was a predictably hot topic on Twitter; io9 compiled their 100 favorite tweets about what went down. Other outlets collected online reactions as well. Many fans took to Facebook to share their devastation. My contribution:

When I logged back in the next day—after a notably poor night of sleep—the top several posts in my feed were about what had unspooled the previous evening. Many people who had read the books and knew what was coming had the foresight to film the reactions of their unsuspecting friends, resulting in a lot of hilarious and relatable YouTube posts, some of which were compiled here.

EW.com was at the ready, posting interviews with the key players involved, starting with George R.R. Martin on why he wrote such an unexpected plot twist in the first place. A few days after the episode aired, Martin was a guest on Conan, and I loved how he talked about meeting certain cast members at the premiere party for the third season, knowing that eventually their counterparts would be killed.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves by worrying which of our favorite characters will be offered up to the Red God next. We’re still in mourning, both for the recently departed characters and for another completed season that leaves us wanting until April 2014 rolls around. Even though I knew heading into this season that a large-scale tragedy was in store, and went into the fateful episode having deduced what was likely to happen, watching it unfold was no less upsetting or stunning. Sure, I wish I had gone into it totally unprepared, but still my reaction looked pretty much like the ones in that video above. It was heartbreaking, but also exhilarating. Not because it was violent, but because it was so against the rules of what we’ve been conditioned to expect from stories of good and evil, heroes and villains, right and wrong. Martin talks in those interviews about wanting to keep his audience in suspense, and with this event, he’s doubled down on that commitment. And that’s exciting. The boldness of the Red Wedding is something to be admired. Like many of the show’s diehard fans, I’m amused by the people who say they’re walking away from it permanently because of what happened, as if they’ve been personally betrayed. Maybe some of them really will, but if anything, the attention that Thrones garnered online as a result of the Red Wedding is likely to bring new viewers to the show. People said they were giving up on it after Ned Stark was beheaded (hell, some said they were giving up on it after the second episode concluded with Ned reluctantly killing Sansa’s direwolf, Lady). But the ratings have shown that Thrones is thriving, and the audience keeps growing. The show’s increasing popularity can be partly attributed to the kind of narrative boldness encapsulated by the Red Wedding. It’s thrilling storytelling, pure and simple. I both hate and love that it happened.

On a purely emotional level, I’m infuriated by the indignity of Joffrey continuing to draw breath while House Stark has just been decimated. (Yeah, the younger kids are still alive, but how long before any of them are able to take the reins in any meaningful way?) And Arya…God, poor Arya. SO close. Wallowing in my post-episode funk, my dream was for Arya to turn in her Braavosi coin (“Valar morghulis”), find Jaqen H’ghar and paraphrase Luke Skywalker: “I want to come with you to Braavos. There’s nothing for me here now. I want to learn the ways of the Faceless Men and become a badass assassin like you.” Then she disappears. She’s totally off the show for a season or two. Then she comes back, older, steeled, and just finds them one by one and brings the fucking pain. Joffrey, Cersei, Tywin, Walder Frey, Roose Bolton (if they’re still alive), even those deserting Karstark fuckers. If they hadn’t ditched, Robb never would have had to approach Walder Frey in the first place. (Based on what happened in the final episode, some version of this Arya fantasy may be just what happens.)

Of course, it’s pointless to play “what if” games. A reckoning with Walder Frey was inevitable, and in hindsight, the groundwork for the Red Wedding was being laid long before the knives were drawn and crossbows loaded. Before Robb beheaded him, Rickard Karstark told him that he’d lost the war the moment he married Talisa. And at Sansa and Tyrion’s wedding, Cersei recounted to Margaery the story behind the song “The Rains of Castamere,” foreshadowing the performance of the song that so unnerved Catelyn in Walder Frey’s hall. Observant fans recognized the song from season two’s battle episode Blackwater, when it was sung by Bronn and the Lannister soldiers, and then played again over the end credits (performed by The National). The most blatant (and chilling) foreshadowing of the Red Wedding never made it to the screen. As my friend Ryan reminded me earlier this week, it came in the second book, when Daenerys visits the House of the Undying to retrieve her dragons. On the show, Dany’s wanderings in the strange tower of the warlocks revealed the ruined throne room in the Red Keep, and a tent where Khal Drogo and her son await her. In the book, Dany’s experience in the House of the Undying is more elaborate, and includes this haunting image:

Farther on she came upon a feast of corpses. Savagely slaughtered, the feasters lay strewn across overturned chairs and hacked trestle tables, asprawl in pools of congealing blood. Some had lost limbs, even heads. Savaged limbs clutched bloody cups, wooden spoons, roast fowl, heels of bread. On a throne above them sat a dead man with the head of a wolf. He wore an iron crown and held a leg of lamb in one hand as a king might hold a sceptre, and his eyes followed Dany with mute appeal. (A Clash of Kings, Page 700)
A dead man with the head of a wolf. And indeed, the sting of the Red Wedding lingered as the final hour of the season began with the continuing slaughter of the Stark army and Arya bearing witness to Robb’s body being paraded around with Grey Wolf’s decapitated head in place of his own. Oh, and for what it’s worth, Dany’s trip through the House of the Undying in Martin’s original text includes other intriguing visions, suggesting battles, betrayals and other happenings that have not yet come to pass…and one that has, it seems:
Ten thousand slaves lifted bloodstained hands as she raced by on her silver, riding like the wind. “Mother!” they cried. “Mother, mother!” They were touching her, tugging at her cloak, the hem of her skirt, her foot her leg, her breast. They wanted her, needed her, the fire, the life, and Dany gasped and opened her arms to give herself to them… (A Clash of Kings, Page 707)

Did we not see a version of that in the final moment of the season?

While we’re talking about the books, it’s nice to know that readers who have been anticipating the Red Wedding ever since reading about it as far back as 13 years ago seem to be satisfied with how it was depicted on film. Vulture assembled a panel of Westerosi experts—a.k.a. the webmasters from four Ice and Fire fan sites—to discuss the sequence (beware of book spoilers – there are some differences in what happened), and the consensus seems to be that while the book more successfully captured the building sense of dread (something a friend also told me), the show’s depiction was not a disappointment to the readership that had so long been anticipating it. They even conceded that the scene held some shock value for readers too, given the changes made to the story around Robb’s wife. (Talisa is a creation of the show; in the books, Robb’s wife is another woman altogether, and she is not present at Edmure’s wedding.) Her particularly brutal and cruel death gave readers a jolt during an otherwise familiar event. Without having read book three or beyond, but knowing a little about who Robb’s wife is on the page, my guess is that changing her to the new character of Talisa was a way for Benioff and Weiss to streamline a story thread that would have taken on additional complications had they left it alone. With so many characters and stories to juggle, the need to abridge for the TV show is understandable. Had the show followed the books more closely regarding Robb’s wife, the character and story would probably have endured for a few seasons to come, at least. Now the showrunners can lay the Red Wedding to rest and move on more efficiently. But again, I’m just speculating.

As I said at the start, the Red Wedding may be the defining event of season three, but let’s not forget everything that preceded it. The shocking fall of the House of Stark should not render Jaime’s behanding or the Night’s Watch revolt at Craster’s—resulting in Lord Commander Mormont’s death—any less significant. How about the cowardly Samwell Tarly stepping up to successfully protect Gilly (so far) and do the seemingly impossible: take down a friggin’ White Walker!! There was Jon and the wildlings’ harrowing climb up the Wall.  Tyrion and Bronn learning that Tyrion’s squire Podrick is apparently the most impressive lover in King’s Landing, perhaps even the whole of the kingdoms. And of course, the ass-kicking finale of the fourth episode, in which Dany unleashed her mad tactical skills on the chump slavers of Astapor, was one of the series’ most brilliantly executed sequences to date. Some of the season’s highlights came in quieter scenes as well, most notably Jaime’s monologue to Brienne about the day he killed the Mad King Aerys. It was backstory I’d been craving from day one, without ever knowing if it would come.

The show had a lot of weight to carry this season, with dozens of characters and many splintered storylines. Moments of extremity like the Red Wedding would be meaningless if the show failed to engage us with the more mundane goings on. Game of Thrones consistently offers scenes of simple character interactions that are as charged, powerful and memorable as any action scene or unexpected plot twist. Think of Varys recounting the story of his castration to Tyrion, culminating with the reveal that the man who cut him is trapped in a crate in Varys’ chambers; Joffrey gleefully showing Margaery around the Sept of Baelor, telling stories of torture and death, while she in turn learns how to manipulate him; Stannis visiting Davos in the dungeons, playing out the struggle between his ambition and his conscience; or almost any scene with Arya, who continues to demonstrate strength in the face of adults who repeatedly let her down one action at a time as the world kills her innocence.

Another example: the season was bookended by two thrilling, loaded exchanges between Tywin and Tyrion, with the Lannister patriarch making it painfully clear what little regard he has for the “ill-made, spiteful little creature” he is forced to call his son. Like Peter Dinklage’s Tyrion, Charles Dance’s Tywin has become one of those characters who rocks it every time he appears onscreen. I can’t get enough of him. Ditto to new addition Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna Tyrell, who also anchored some of the season’s best dialogue-driven scenes, whether sizing up Sansa, trading barbs with Varys or bartering with Tywin. I hope there’s more of her next season. Other new characters to whom I took a shine were Thoros of Myr, the Brotherhood Without Banners’ kindly priest; badass wildling Tormund Giantsbane; and Jojen Reed, Bran’s eerily calm ally and guide in the mysterious art of warging. One of my few issues with the season was that Bran’s storyline was so scarcely visited. The Reed siblings showed up out of nowhere, and beyond learning that their father was fiercely loyal to Ned Stark, we didn’t learn much else about them. I suspect this bothers readers even more, since the Reed’s introduction into the show was delayed to begin with. They were initially introduced in the second novel, when they arrive at Winterfell to attend a feast and stay on afterwards, befriending Bran and sharing stories of Jojen’s prophetic visions in exchange for Bran talking about his own unusual dreams. I thought we could have spent a little less time on Theon this season, since his storyline is somewhat stagnant, in exchange for more time with Bran and company. (Interestingly, Theon’s post-Winterfell fate isn’t revealed until the fifth book, but Benioff and Weiss moved it into this season because they wanted to continue working with actor Alfie Allen, who did such great work during season two. I think it was the right decision to keep his story going, but since it’s kind of stuck in one place for the foreseeable future—both in terms of location and momentum—I would have preferred some of that time been devoted to Bran’s path. (Based on where things are after the season finale, I’d guess that both stories will be a big part of season four.)

And what does the next season hold in store? It will continue the adaptation of book three, A Storm of Swords (while likely drawing from other books as well, as it did with Theon), so I’m curious if we’ll have the usual influx of fresh characters that a new season of any show typically brings. Not that Thrones doesn’t have a full slate of characters to serve. Even with the departures of Robb, Catelyn, Talisa and Mormont, as well as supporting characters Craster, Orell the wildling and Ros—whose spying on Littlefinger for Varys earned her an unfortunate end at the hands of Joffrey and his crossbow (too bad — she was a great character, worthy of further development)—the show is still dealing with a huge number of people to serve. Considering that, I think the writers do a stellar job of moving between stories and serving the full roster. Some, like Bran and his entourage, may get the short end of the stick from one season to the next, but given the challenges of this adaptation, Benioff, Weiss and their writing team are performing admirably. It was nice to see expanded roles for Roose Bolton (even if he revealed himself to be a treacherous asshole) and Gendry, and I hope their parts will continue to grow in the season to come (I’d hate to think we’re done with Gendry now that he has escaped from Dragonstone). I also have to say that I was thrilled by the return of Ser Barristan Selmy, one of my favorite supporting characters from the first season.

So where will season four take us? For those interested in teases and possible directions, articles from Vulture and The Atlantic Wire offer some speculation (I haven’t read them, hoping to avoid spoilers). One thing I did hear is that we may soon be paying our first visit to Dorne, one of the southernmost regions in Westeros. The non-readers among us may recall that Dorne is where Tyrion sent Princess Myrcella last season, brokering a marriage with that kingdom’s prince and, in the process, incurring Cersei’s wrath for sending away her daughter.

This season’s end leaves me with plenty of questions. Will Arya indeed reconnect with Jaqen H’ghar for Stealthy Assassinations 101? Will Jon recover from the three arrow hits he took from Ygritte? Will we see more from the Brotherhood Without Banners? How will Littlefinger react to the death of his beloved Catelyn? Will Joffrey’s marriage to Margaery reveal the perversions or sexual hang-ups that have been strongly hinted at but not yet made clear? Will Dany get it on with her chiseled new warrior, Dario Naharis? And how in the seven hells is she ever going to get to Westeros if she keeps liberating the slave populations of huge cities along the way? How will a newly humbled Jaime be welcomed back to King’s Landing? He only shared a brief moment with Cersei in the season finale, and it was tough to read her reaction to seeing his stump. Will Tywin think less of him now? What will happen to Brienne? And what of Cersei’s marriage to Loras Tyrell? In the finale, during an excellent scene with Tyrion, she said with curious certainty that she would not be marrying Loras. What does she have up her sleeve that makes her so sure? How will Tyrion’s marriage to Sansa progress, and where will Shae fit it? Will Stannis put his quest for the Iron Throne completely on hold to deal with the looming threat of the White Walkers? Will the concern over that danger extend as far south as King’s Landing? Could Tywin and Stannis have to temporarily unite in the face of it? What about Mance Rayder’s army of wildlings, the other force amassing north of the Wall? Will we find out what happens to Rickon and Osha after they split from Bran, or is Rickon’s story irrelevant? Will someone please, please, pretty please slap Joffrey across the face again? (I’d love to see Tywin do it, but he’s probably too buttoned-down, even if there’s no way he’d be punished for it. Then again, I’m not sure how much longer Joffrey will submit to Tywin’s authority before he tries to assert himself…and I am dying for a moment where the tension between those two runneth over.

Answers to these questions and more are ten months away. I wonder if, in the meantime, the attention earned this year will translate into awards and accolades. If the series ever has a shot at winning the Emmy for Best Drama Series, this year might be the one. Plenty of shows have had major watercooler moments before; that doesn’t guarantee an award. But the show has been good enough to win from day one; if the violence, sex and general “fantasy” factor isn’t a put-off to voters, the sheer audacity of the Red Wedding and the way it permeated the cultural conversation could push it over the top. I would hope for some writing and directing nominations, and there are certainly actors worthy of attention. With Emmy nominations for acting being based on single episodes rather than entire seasons, a show like Thrones—lacking a lead character and doling out its story in small pieces—can be at a disadvantage. Peter Dinklage did earn a win after the first season, and a nomination for the second. Can he make the cut again? Others are deserving too. Charles Dance would be a welcome addition, and Jaime’s arc this season—bolstered by his aforementioned confessional monologue—could put Nikolaj Coster-Waldau in the conversation (he was recently nominated for a Critics Choice Award by the Broadcast Television Journalist’s Association, and the show itself tied with Breaking Bad for the Best Drama Series win. It’s also been nominated by the Television Critics Association). Diana Rigg could be among the Emmy nominees for Best Guest Actress in a Drama, and Michelle Fairley is a possible Supporting Actress nominee on the strength of her devastating moments during the Red Wedding (Catelyn’s role was small this season overall, but she did have some meaty moments throughout, from her story about Jon Snow to the scene with her uncle Brynden when she mourns her father’s death and breaks down over the presumed death of Bran and Rickon). I’m not betting it will happen, but a nomination for Fairley would be a nice, earned surprise. When the Screen Actor’s Guild awards come around next winter, it would be nice to see a Best Ensemble nomination as well. The show inexplicably missed out on that recognition after season two, which was kinda preposterous. The talent pool on Thrones runs deep. Large roles and small, I can’t think of a weak link in the chain. An exceptional ensemble of actors that demands to be recognized.

Okay, winding down….I’ve gotten used to including some random “Fun with Game of Thrones” links and embeds in these pre and post season write-ups, so here are a few more. This site displays the work of an artist who makes small, polymer clay caricatures based on Thrones. Cool stuff. And then there’s this fake demo for an old school Game of Thrones video game, courtesy of College Humor. I love this.

Here are some menus from a Brooklyn pizzeria that is obviously run by some serious Thrones fans, resulting in such offerings as the Lanni-Stir-Fry and the Cheddard Stark. For any music fans out there who are as impressed with the show’s score as I am, here’s an interview from The Hollywood Reporter with the composer, Ramin Djawadi. And as a known devotee of the Harry Potter series, I enjoyed this picture of Sansa Stark and Neville Longbottom (a.k.a. Sophie Turner and Matthew Lewis) that was making the rounds on Twitter recently.

I also liked these post-Red Wedding selections from Someecards, the latest additions to their line of Thrones-themed cards.

And finally, here’s the song that played in the first trailer for this season of the show. As I mentioned in my pre-season piece, it’s called “Bones” and is performed by MS MR. It has a haunting quality that really does capture this season for me. Dark twisted fantasy indeed…

See you next year, Westeros.

March 31, 2013

Game Day

Filed under: Books,TV — DB @ 10:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

The game is again afoot. After a 10 month gap gap—standard practice for a TV series these days, but torturous even though we’ve grown accustomed to it—Game of Thrones returns for its third season on HBO tonight. Game is my favorite current show, and as there has been a lot on my mind about what this season will bring, I thought I’d share a few of my curiosities with others who are also traveling the Kingsroad. Those who haven’t read the books may have some of the same questions I do, while those who have are most likely laughing at us because they know what’s about to happen. For those totally uninitiated into the books or the show, you should stop reading now, because things are about to get spoiled.

When we last left the Seven Kingdoms (and beyond), Stannis Baratheon’s invasion of King’s Landing had been thwarted by the well-timed arrival of reinforcements led by Tywin Lannister and Loras Tyrell. Stannis somehow (I’m not sure how) made it back to Dragonstone and the swirling red cape of Melisandre, who assured him that his victory was still destined. The alliance between the Lannisters and Tyrells, brokered by Littlefinger, was set to grow even stronger as Joffrey agreed to cast aside Sansa and marry Margaery Tyrell. Tyrion was left with a massive scar along his face after nearly being murdered during the battle by one of his own men, on instructions from Cersei. Shae urged him to run away with her, leaving the kingdoms and his god awful family behind, but he couldn’t bring himself to go. She remained with him, and is still serving as a maiden to Sansa. Bronn was removed as head of the Gold Cloaks, but we don’t know much more than that about his status. Varys reached out to Ros with a vague proposition that seems to involve informing on Littlefinger…but to what end?

Elsewhere in Westeros, Robb secretly married Talisa, while Arya, Gendry and Hot Pie escaped servitude at Harrenhal thanks to help from supercool mystery man Jaqen H’ghar. Winterfell was left burned and deserted after an ill-advised invasion by Theon, who betrayed Robb after being shamed by his asshole father and sister. He was knocked unconscious by his own men after the castle was surrounded by loyal northmen, but that was the last we saw of him. Bran, Rickon, Osha and Hodor left the ruined Winterfell to head north toward The Wall, on the instructions of the dying Maester Luwin. Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow and Qhorin Halfhand were taken prisoner by wildlings after Jon couldn’t bring himself to kill the captive redhead Ygritte. Quorin sacrificed himself by loudly accusing Jon of being a traitor and dueling with him until Jon killed him—a ploy to gain the trust of wildling leader Mance Rayder and infiltrate his camp. Samwell had the bad luck of coming across a massive army of White Walkers, though they seemed unconcerned with him as he hid in terror behind a rock. And across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys ventured into the House of the Undying and reclaimed her kidnapped dragons from the über-creepy warlock Pyat Pree.

Let’s see, what else…Catelyn released Jaime and entrusted Brienne with escorting him back to King’s Landing in the hopes of trading him for Sansa and Arya, after Littlefinger lied and told her that both girls were there. For going behind Robb’s back, Catelyn is being held under guard. Stannis’ advisor Davos Seaworth was blown off his ship and into the waters of Blackwater Bay when the wildfire attack was unleashed by Tyrion. Whether he lived or died, we don’t know. The Hound walked away from the battle and told Joffrey he could go fuck himself. He then suggested to Sansa that he was headed north, though she declined his offer to take her back to Winterfell.

That covers most of the main characters, I think. And since the second season ended last June, there had been little buzz or activity to whet our appetite for what’s next. Casting additions for the third season were announced last summer as they came in, and a video introduction with most of the new actors was presented in July at Comic-Con. It didn’t offer a lot, and meant less to people like me who haven’t read the books ahead of the show than it likely did to those who have, but hey, it was something.

Most of those actors are unfamiliar to me, but there are a few I recognize. Mackenzie Crook (Orell) appeared in the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, and of course starred as Gareth on the British version of The Office (Gareth = Dwight). Thomas Brodie-Sangster (Jojen Reed) was the lovesick little drummer boy from Love Actually who suggested that he and his stepdad (Liam Neeson) go “get the shit kicked out of us by love.” And there’s Dame Diana Rigg, best known to some as Emma Peel, heroine of 1960’s British spy series The Avengers, or perhaps as Tracy, the woman who wins James Bond’s love (as opposed to the normal Bond girl romp in the sack) in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. To me, though, Rigg will always be Lady Holiday from The Great Muppet Caper.

One character who had not yet been cast at the time of that video was Mance Rayder, but soon enough we learned the part would be played by the great Ciarán Hinds, who comes with the solid HBO experience of having played Julius Caesar on Rome. Another alumni of that underseen HBO series also joined the cast: Tobias Menzies, who played Brutus to Hinds’ Caesar, will be on hand as Catelyn’s brother Edmure Tully. Rigg and Hinds, in particular, are impressive additions to an ensemble of actors that’s as strong as it is large, and Benioff and Weiss shared their thoughts on landing the veteran performers with EW.com

Other than these casting announcements, we didn’t have much to quench our thirst during the hiatus. All’s been quiet on the Westeros front, save for a couple of brief behind the scenes glimpses and teaser spots on HBO with voiceover but no new footage. The first true teaser—with actual scenes!—didn’t premiere until last month on Jimmy Kimmel Live. (This is actually an extended version of the one that first appeared.)

The featured song got immediately stuck in my head, and I mistook it for another Florence + The Machine track, as their song “Seven Devils” was used for one of season two’s previews. Turns out it’s by a group called MS MR, and is called “Bones.”

Anyway, the late February premiere of that preview marked the end of an unusually long wait to see any new material. Usually HBO begins hyping new seasons of its shows with actual trailers a couple of months before they premiere, but this time they dragged their feet like Dany’s khalasar dragged that poor wine vendor behind her horse. Ever since then, however, the hype machine has gone into overdrive. It seemed there was a new spot every day. I was especially partial to this one…

Lions and dragons and bears, oh my…

As evidenced by those trailers, there’s been a lot of tantalizing footage. The word is that this season is going to be pretty amazing…and devastating. Apparently there are some particularly shocking events ahead. In their cover story, Entertainment Weekly described A Storm of Swords—the third book in George R.R. Martin’s series—as GoT‘s Empire Strikes Back…a promising comparison in that Empire is the best of the Star Wars movies, and a worrisome one in that the good guys kinda get their asses kicked in Empire. The series proved early on that it wasn’t afraid to eliminate major characters, dispatching Ned, Robert, Viserys and Drogo all in the first season. Last year’s run was lighter on major character deaths, with Renly and Maester Luwin being the only substantial characters to meet their maker. And some might say Ser Rodrik Cassel. I don’t think Davos is dead, so I’m not including him. But as season two began, I expected fewer major characters to survive. I thought that between Joffrey, Robb, Jaime and Cersei, at least one would die. I now feel like Cersei is safe for a while, but the other three remain vulnerable…along with nearly every other character. And if I’m correctly interpreting the pre-season vibe, this year’s run of episodes will claim a few more significant figures.

Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have said from the beginning that their goal was to reach season three. If the show lasted long enough that they could get to events that will occur this season, they would be happy. No problem there. The show’s huge ratings left little doubt that they would make it to this point, and over the next 10 weeks, we’ll see what they’ve been so excited about. They referred early on to an event which they called only the RW scene, saying that to use the actual words instead of just the initials would constitute a spoiler. I accidentally found out what RW stands for, but I’m not sure how much of a spoiler it is, since at this point I still have no idea what it means or suggests. In my naive eyes, the words could be interpreted in a variety of ways. But given how eager Benioff and Weiss have been to depict it on the show, it’s gotta be major. They’ve also hinted about at least one upcoming scene so hard to take that even the crew choked up during filming. Is it this RW scene they’re referring to? In the aforementioned Entertainment Weeky cover story, they won’t even use the initials anymore to describe it. (They must have forgotten that they already used them in past interviews…unless there’s another infamous scene coming up that can be abbreviated for non-spoiler conversations). Whatever this mystery event is, if everyone is being so protective of it and the crew is getting teary-eyed while filming, it probably forebodes death for at least one favorite character.

A Storm of Swords is so densely plotted that this season of the show will only cover roughly half of the book. Benioff and Weiss have said before that they see the show as an adaptation of Martin’s entire A Song of Ice and Fire series rather than a book-by-book take, so the seasons do not perfectly match the books. They do sync up pretty well, but for example, the scenes late in season two involving Brienne transporting Jaime to King’s Landing don’t occur in the second book. When we last see Jaime in the novel, he’s still in his cell, and Catelyn is standing over him and asking Brienne for a sword. Tackling the third book over the course of two seasons will not only allow Benioff and Weiss to take their time and give the rich plot the attention it deserves, but it increases the chances that the show won’t catch up to the books before Martin finishes them. He has two more entries in the series to deliver, and just this week he expressed confidence that he’ll finish the books before the show gets ahead of him. And he’s right that if the timing doesn’t quite pan out, the show can always take a longer-than-usual hiatus. The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad have all done it. Sure, fans will be pulling their hair out in anticipation, but we’ve survived such droughts before. Of course, Martin does have to buckle down and stay focused on finishing the series. When HBO announced in February that they had signed a deal with him to develop additional programming, I know I wasn’t the only fan who thought, “Well that’s nice and all….but George, you need to keep your priorities straight and finish these damn books.” One rumored possibility is that Martin and HBO will adapt a series of prequel novellas he’s written. We’ll see if anything comes of it. Deals like this are signed all the time, but they don’t necessarily yield anything, and HBO orders plenty of promising pilots that they then decide not to produce further.

I’m running a bit wild here, so let me bring it back around to the season at hand and what we can expect. I’m of course wondering what will become of Theon. He seems primed to be one of the first casualties, but how will it happen, if it does? The previews above show a quick glimpse of his sister Yara, but there’s been no sign of Theon in any of the commercials. Will he be brought back to Robb, and will Robb be able to go through with killing him?

What about Davos? Where and how will he resurface? I’m also excited to see what unfolds for The Hound. Walking out on Joffrey was an unexpected move, and I’ve noticed that for a minor-major character, he’s been a prominent part of season three’s marketing campaign. His appearance in this teaser, and the fact that he got his own character poster—the kind of privileged exposure usually reserved for the major characters—suggests to me that his story will be an important one this season.

What lies in store for Tyrion? When his father sent him to King’s Landing to fill in as Hand of the King, it seemed to mark a possible new appreciation for the dwarf’s intelligence and skill for strategy. Will that appreciation continue to blossom, or will Tywin resume treating him like the “lowest of the Lannisters”?  Halfman or not, Tyrion stood tall during the Battle of Blackwater, and he deserves credit for keeping the fight against Stannis going as long as it did. What are the chances Tywin will recognize that? And speaking of Tywin, why is he assuming his duties as Hand instead of continuing the fight against Robb? Who will be leading the Lannister forces now, with Jaime still captive and Tywin in King’s Landing?

The previews have shown that Daenerys finally gets hold of an army, and a ship. Will she actually get to Westeros this season and begin integrating into those storylines, or is that still a ways off? And here’s something I’ve been wondering about, though I doubt we’ll get an answer (and it probably isn’t even important): remember that masked woman in Qarth who knew Jorah by name and warned him to protect Daenerys from those who would want her dragons? Yeah…who was that chick, and what’s her story? She seems to correspond to a character from the book name Quaithe, but who is she? How does she know Jorah? Will she eventually play a more important role, or is she a minor character who, like others in Qarth, just seems to know shit?

And what of Robb’s vow to marry one of Walder Frey’s daughters? I can’t blame the guy for choosing Talisa over any of the Frey girls, but it’s been stressed that the promise is not to be thrown off lightly. The Stark/Frey marriage wasn’t supposed to take place until the war was over, but will the repercussions of Robb’s union with Talisa be seen this season?

There was also a scene last year in which Samwell, Grenn and Edd discovered a care package buried in the snow: rare arrowheads made of obsidian, wrapped in a Knight’s Watch cloak beneath a shield. There’s got to be something up with that, yeah?

Soon I’ll know the answers to most of these questions, and I’m sure that this season will fly by as fast as the previous two have. There are only 10 episodes per season, which Benioff and Weiss say is the most they can handle per year for a series that has such demanding scope, with its feature film-quality production design, costumes, visual effects and complicated shooting schedule that spans multiple countries and features such an enormous cast. The episodes will each run a few minutes longer this year than in the past, so by the end of the season we’ll have had almost an extra episode’s worth of material. It ain’t much, but I’ll take it.

In these final hours before the premiere, you can amuse yourself with this Game of Thrones death generator (completely random—it doesn’t require your middle name or the street you grew up on to determine your doom—but still worth a chuckle). Then there’s this video that dares to replace the show’s excellent opening credits sequence with the version that might have been used if it were on network TV in the mid 80’s. (The clip says 1995, but I think this is more 80’s than 90’s).

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And it was only a matter of time: a Game of Thrones/Princess Bride mash-up.

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Last but not least, there’s this. Because lightsabers make everything cooler.

With that, please join me in praying to the old gods and the new, and even to the Lord of Light, that Joffrey will soon die a slow, excruciatingly painful death, and that Tyrion will bitchslap him at least one more time before it happens.

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