Game of Thrones s7 ep 2

*SPOILERS*

“It won’t be long till the fighting starts,” says Lord Tarly, Father of Sam, Friend of Olenna, and, in a week where we are reminded prophecies are tricky things, something of a soothsayer himself. Before we get to the actual fisticuffs – and the stabbing! So MUCH stabbing – though, much of “Stormborn” is taken up with various factions trying to consolidate and organise their teams for the war to come.

In Kings Landing, Cersei tries to recruit the unimpressed Tyrell bannermen, but with Tarly’s glorious “We’re not oath breakers, we’re not schemers. We don’t stab our rivals in the back or cut their throats at weddings” speech suggesting they might not be too keen on being recruited, Jaime falls back on a “Brexit! Stop the foreigners!” type argument which looks suspiciously like it might work. In art, as in life, I suppose. Sigh.

Team Daenerys, or at least Tyrion, is alive to the sensibilities of the “Westeros for the Westerosi!” brigade, however, and comes up with a plan to send the Martell, Greyjoy and Tyrell forces to Kings Landing, while Grey Worm and the Unsullied are sent quietly off to Casterly Rock on the basis that since we haven’t seen it in 7 seasons, presumably nobody in the rest of Westeros is watching it that closely and/or will care.

Before Grey Worm heads off into the night, however, he and Missandei come off the subs bench and score a couple of goals of their own (yes, that is a euphemism). With only 11 episodes to go, ever, I wouldn’t have thought there’d be quite so much time for these two to fill and I would frankly rather there hadn’t been – separately, I find each of them dull, and as a couple, they’re soporific – but hey ho. This particular pairing has a lot of fans, and with its season one-esque display of breasts and backsides, this particular episode might have won them even more.

While the quietest couple in the cast seek solace in each other, meantime, Dany sulks a bit and threatens Varys (who is more than capable of holding his own – TEAM VARYS FTW) with fire, and I wonder why it is people on this show keep choosing to follow someone so teenage and vicious as their supreme ruler. I don’t suppose I’ll be getting to select my own monarch at any point but, just in case there is anyone out there with aspirations to the title, please note that the promise of doughnuts is far more likely to win my undying love and loyalty than the threat of immolation.

This show has no such qualms – at the moment, anyway – however, as this week we find out the “Prince that was promised” might actually be a Princess, which fills the feminist in me with pride and the GOT viewer in me with dread because, FFS, Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, already thinks she has a divine right to rule, and now you’re telling her she’s even more special? Never mind crowning her Queen – there won’t be a crown in the Seven Kingdoms big enough.

Since last season hinted that the Targaryen madness hasn’t skipped a generation, though, I’m hoping this is a feint, Daenerys is a fake, and the real Prince is a King, the King in the North being an entirely different type of ruler. When he’s summoned by Tyrion to “bend the knee” to the Dragon Queen, neither Sansa nor Davos are too keen on the idea, and when Sam’s Raven makes it a foregone conclusion that Jon will go anyway, everyone’s apoplectic. (Except Littlefinger whose smirk remains firmly in place.) Jon seeking Sansa’s counsel in private first shows he has learned some lessons from last week, bless him, but Jon announcing he’s changed his mind without warning her shows he needs to learn some more. Still, the look of understanding that passes, along with the reins of Winterfell, between them when he tells her he’s leaving the North in her hands is – since I love them and I don’t want them to fight – significant and reassuring. Although not quite as significant and reassuring as Jon Snow almost killing that reptile Littlefinger with his bare hands. Violence is a bad way to settle your differences, kids. Unless it’s Littlefinger, in which case, carry on.

Of course, talk of violence brings me to Westeros’s assassin du jour Arya who somehow passes the week without killing anyone, reconnects with Hot Pie and his, er, hot pies, has some sort of existential crisis when she bumps into the long-lost Nymeria, and finally heads off towards Winterfell – which Jon has just left, natch. Remember when the Starks in this show kept just missing each other? I’m hoping we’ve moved on from that and she’ll meet him on the way. Ideally in less violent fashion than the Greyjoy family reunion, which might prove Lord Tarly right but still comes as something of a jolt at the end of this otherwise quiet but compelling (apart from the Grey Worm sex and Sam and Jorah’s horrible adventures in scale-scraping, that is) episode. Since we’re not going to blow the whole budget on the Greyjoys, the battle isn’t as heartstopping as Blackwater or Hardhome, and it does have a very studio-based apocalyptic rock video look about it, but the fireballs, blades and blood spurting everywhere – so much blood spurting everywhere – are pretty impressive nonetheless, and if it does for the unspeakable Sand Snakes, I’m down with it. Even if the whole gory business proves too much for Theon, who is living proof that what doesn’t kill you (unimaginable torture at Ramsay’s hands, unimaginable danger at Euron’s) does not, contrary to popular belief, necessarily make you stronger. Never mind Theon, not long to go now – another gripping episode, another week closer to the end.

The Circle (2017)

Emma Watson plays herself Mae, a young woman who gets an entry-level job at sinister social media behemoth Facebook “The Circle,” thanks to her friend, and high-ranking Circle executive, Karen Gillan. At first, Mae treats it like any other job and y’ know, goes home and does stuff outside of work, that sort of thing, till it becomes clear that working for the Circle is meant to be a more immersive experience than that. Instead of running away at top-speed shouting “This is a cult! These people are insane! Save me!’ however, Mae ignores a parade of red flags, chugs down all the Kool-aid in one go, and becomes the poster girl for the transparency revolution instead. Or something. Anyway, it all goes very badly wrong because duh, and the scenes where that happens are genuinely powerful, making the point about privacy and mob mentality that the entire movie (currently available on Netflix UK) is desperate to make in horribly plausible, disturbing fashion.

Unfortunately, the rest of the film doesn’t fare quite as well. It’s reasonably entertaining and fine to pass the time on a quiet day, but Watson is miscast (and Mae is an idiot), Gillan’s story arc belongs in a different film, John Boyega just sort of hangs around, waiting for something to do, and the ending is abrupt and confusing. Circle leader Evil Tom Hanks (playing against type) though, is terrific – far and away the best thing about the whole shebang. It’s a real shame we don’t see more of him and fellow Circle chief Evil Patton Oswalt; since the “good” characters are much less interesting, more focus on the bad ones and their motives (which are so quickly glossed over in a few lines we’re pretty much left to guess at them) might have made for a better, darker drama and a clearer message than “Facebook bad! Except when it’s not!” There’s definitely a great film to be made about the dangers of the pervasive, insidious, soon-to-be-all-encompassing power and danger of social media but however much The Circle would like to be that film, it isn’t.

Poldark s3 ep 6

*SPOILERS (and toads)*

Oh dear. As soon as Drake and Morwenna melt back into each other’s arms, it’s󰀁 obvious that they’re doomed and it’s obvious how. Drake’s going to do something that puts him in George’s power, Morwenna’s going to have to sacrifice herself to save him, she’ll be distraught, he’ll be bereft… and so it proves. l’d have said the toads were going to be the culprits but Ross and Demelza aka Dempsey and Makepeace manage to extricate the younger Carne from that particular fix in impressively dashing fashion, so, alas and alack, it’s left to young Geoffrey Charles’s generosity to land Drake in toad-infested water, Morwenna in Slimeborne Whitworth’s clutches, and everybody (except George) in the suds. Sigh.

At least Cornish clifftop love isn’t totally hopeless, though. The survivor’s guilt/PTSD calamity which befalls the Enys-Penvenens may be just as predictable as the Drake/Morwenna disaster – so much so that we did actually predict it last week – but, after a bit of nobody telling Caroline what’s wrong and everybody making things worse, Ross (who is a terrific friend, and on the way to being a decent husband again) hits on the happy notion of Soldiers Anonymous: that nice Lt Armitage and Doctor Dwight talk out their troubles, Dwight stops “protecting” his wife and starts talking to her instead, and hey presto! Things at Killewarren end up looking significantly sunnier than they started out. Aw.

I don’t like toads or unjust imprisonment myself, but – apart from the impending doom and all – this is a fun episode till it, um, isn’t (poor Morwenna) and if George is evil, Elizabeth’s on her way to being as bad and Sam just needs to SHUT UP ALREADY, none of that’s new. Aunt Agatha’s awesome enough for everyone, there’s plenty of humour to offset the heartache and the horror – the toe-sucking, guys. Ewwwwww – and Drake and Morena will be together eventually, won’t they? Won’t they? Please.

Game of Thrones s7 ep 1

*SPOILERS*

“Shall we begin?”

Since we only have thirteen episodes of Game of Thrones left, it’s tempting to complain that much of this first one seems, at first blush at least, a little self-indulgent. Arya (who has somehow managed to make bloody, brutal revenge a little dull, she’s done it so often) obliterating the repugnant House Frey with such ease; Ed Sheeran popping in with a bland new ditty (Galwesteros Girl?); the Hound’s somewhat unpredictable conscience making one of its sporadic visits – come on guys, I thought. Move it along! You don’t think the Night King’s hanging around knocking out ballads or apologising to skeletons, do you?

But, thinking out loud (sorry), it turns out these moments are as important in their own way as any battle. Ok, the Ed Sheeran cameo is jarring because, like him or not, he’s there because he’s an international pop star not because he has anything to contribute to the story, but so soon after her mass Freyicide, his band of Westerosi buddies are essential to reminding increasingly amoral killing machine Arya (and the rest of us, hardened by years of this show’s ruthlessness) that there is still humanity and life and decency out there and, even in the Seven Kingdoms, people don’t always have to be enemies or victims; sometimes they can just be people too.

The Hound’s lesson is along similar lines. Faced with the all-too-vivid consequences of past misdeeds, he offers up an atonement of sorts, albeit too little too late for the unfortunate skeletons, and a reminder to the audience that Arya for her part has humanised him too. Which is just as well, since if there’s to be a Cleganebowl, we need to be able to root for one of them, eh?

Sam’s endless pee, poop and soup montage, however, may be a step too far for me; did finding the Dragonglass book or what became Jorah Mormont really require so many “comedy” bedpan shots? Still, these are minor quibbles over what is, on the whole, a cleverly-structured, gorgeously-shot, calmly measured but hugely significant start to the season as, while Arya, the Hound and Sam all learn lessons which might help their chosen sides and everyone else plans for War in earnest, the show demonstrates that it has learned a lot of lessons of its own.

In what’s left of Kings Landing, Cersei plots and flirts with the charmless Euron Greyjoy that they might “as rightful monarchs, murder (Team Dany) together.” Jaime’s disgust and incredulity are magnificent, the one thing he and Euron having in common being their (delightfully meta) contempt for the Iron born. After years of Theon and the Greyjoys getting on the audience’s nerves, it may be fan service for Jaime to acknowledge that they’re “angry, bitter” people “not good at anything” but it made me smile. (And simultaneously wonder if, with Daenerys and Tyrion’s help, they might prove him, and the rest of us, wrong.)

At Winterfell, meanwhile, Jon – still a Snow for now, but given Bran’s arrival at the Wall to creep Edd the eff out, possibly not for much longer – lays out his plans for the defence of the North, and never mind Sansa and Jon, Lyanna Mormont is the true queen as far as I’m concerned. I’ve written a lot about Game of Thrones’ terrible attitude to women over the years, but Lyanna – and Sansa, Brienne and Davos’s smiles as they watch her – is a reminder that a lesson’s been learned there too. As last season suggested, the show seems to have grown out of its casual misogyny; sisters, be they Northern, Southern or Dragonborn, are now most definitely doing it for themselves.

Although that’s not entirely without its challenges, at least as far as the Starks are concerned. Sansa and Jon arguing in front of the Northern lords isn’t a good look for anyone (except Petyr Baelish, for whom it’s tremendous) but their scene afterwards is quite sweet and even a little comforting for those of who are worried Lady Stark might mean the King in the North any harm. And for those of us worried about the influence of others who do, Sansa’s dismissal of the slimy, malevolent Littlefinger afterwards is a joy: “No need to seize the last word, Lord Baelish. I’ll assume it was something clever.” HEE.

With the few remaining Great Houses manoeuvring into position then, Daenerys’ arrival at the eerily silent, beautiful Dragonstone to resurrect House Targaryen is a terrific, apt way to finish up. I’ve no love for Miss Born to Rule, but her return home has been a long time coming, and its quiet power ends a great episode on a momentous, majestic note. Brilliant.

Public Service Announcement 28 of 2017: Game of Thrones

It’s been a long wait for what’s going to be a short season but Game of Thrones is finally back. Yes, it’s international simulcast time again as season 7 starts on Sky Atlantic at 2AM on Monday morning (UK time), after an evening of Thrones-themed programming including the South Bank Show special on George RR Martin, the last four episodes of season 6 and The Story So Far re-cap of, um, the story so far. Which, as far as I can remember, had Cersei killing off half of Kings Landing, Team Dany on a boat, Littlefinger still sniffing round Sansa, secret Targaryen Jon at very high risk of being killed again, and the ice zombies most definitely on their way. *punches air* Reviews as soon as I calm down enough to write’em, you guys. Winter. Is. Here.

Poldark s3 ep 5

*SPOILERS*

Intrigue at home and abroad this week, as Caroline pins her hopes for Doctor Dwight’s rescue on a French fleet she has somehow acquired (at least she seems to think so); Ross launches his own alternative rescue mission – a.k.a. Five Men and a Boat; and George takes the opportunity to indulge in a spot of anti-Poldark sabotage, because if Ross is doing something Ross-ish, the Warleggan Weasel just cannot leave it be.

If George is at his most George-like wafting around the ballrooms of the aristocracy with a sour face and an obsession with bouncy curls, though, he’s not the only one very much in tune with his inner self this week. Demelza is at her most steadfast and supportive. Ross is at his most brave, reckless and loyal. Caroline is at her most optimistic and naive. And Morwenna and Drake are at their most sweet and put-upon. All of which makes for a thoroughly entertaining episode, alternating between the excitement of Le Prison Break, the unshakeable (and entirely correct) feeling that somebody’s not going to make it back across the channel, and the irresistible urge to punch stupid, mean George in his stupid, mean face.

This latter pleasure is sadly not afforded to us but, unusually for once, it’s George’s scheme to climb another step up the social ladder which fails, while Ross’s completely demented plan works, to some extent, at least. On one view, Le Prison Break is a notable success, thanks to the broken-hearted Drake and the very pleasant Lt Armitage but, on another, it’s an awful tragedy, obvious as it is from the second poor, brave Captain Henshaw declares that “mining’s a risk, loving’s a risk, living’s a risk”, that he won’t be doing any of the three for much longer. Sob. Captain Henshaw is just the kind of steadfast, decent, down-to-earth character, a big, melodramatic romance like this show needs. And he was NICE, dammit. Why did he have to die? His funeral and all the singing is lovely, but it’s not like that makes up for it. Especially if Doctor Dwight is destroyed by whatever awful combination of survivor’s guilt and PTSD he’s about to put himself, Caroline and the audience through. Sigh. Still, at least we finally have Doctor Dwight back. And Lt Armitage by way of a bonus. And George looks like a total prat. Every cloud…..

Free Rein

The older, sadder and more worried about the state of humanity I get, the more open I become to the safest type of tv. I may be mesmerised by The Handmaid’s Tale and counting the days till the return of Game of Thrones (7 to go!) but, at the other end of the spectrum, I also have a mortifying weakness for Movies 24/Hallmark romances (Summer Villa, you guys. Just try it), an odd but irresistible love for The Good Witch and, as I’ve learned over the past few days, a mild but genuine interest in Netflix’s new kids tv show Free Rein.

A twee, well-meaning, super-cliched but perfectly pleasant tween drama about an American teenage girl who spends an idyllic summer in the English countryside discovering a natural talent for riding, making new friends at the stables, and bonding with a horse no one but her can control – this is the kind of thing I was too cool for when I was 12, but now I’m all: “Oh, another 25 minute-episode of low-stakes shenanigans about family secrets, mean girl riders, and outwitting horse thieves? Don’t mind if I do!” Which is not to say I’d be signing up for a second season – it’s very much the modern version of those pony stories that horse-minded little girls used to read decades ago, and I am actually a full-blown adult who has never had any interest in horses at all – but I just finished episode five of ten and, dammit, I want to know who the horse thieves are, and why Zoe’s mum won’t let her ride, and whether Zoe herself will follow tv tradition and pick angry, moody Pin over smiley, handsome Marcus. Adult or not, I guess some things never change.