Vikings Season 5 Episode 3 Review: It’s a Trap

This week on Vikings, Ivar sets a trap, Ubbe makes a bad decision, Hvitserk chooses a side and the battle of York doesn’t quite go to plan for Æthelwulf and Heahmund. This was a fun and gruesome episode featuring more action than we’ve seen in premiere episodes. It was a nice change of pace. Vikings likes to have its character stare off introspectively or talk about their ambitious so when a large chunk of time is devoted a battle you know it’s a big deal. And the battle of York was very important as it was the Great Heathen Army’s first defence against a Saxon attack (previously the Vikings had been the aggressors) and an opportunity for numerous characters to prove themselves.

Pre-battle the Saxon forces are informed that the Vikings still haven’t rebuilt the old Roman walls around York, and decide to move forward on using this as a means of attack. The over-reliance on the walls as a weakness seemed sure to backfire though and it had been constantly mentioned over the past few episodes by Heahmund and not at all by Ivar or the others. That, along with the decision to wait rather than immediately take advantage, left viewers expecting that the Ivar knew about the walls and was planning a trap.

What wasn’t quite anticipated was just how brutal the trap would be. The expectation was that maybe the Vikings would lead the army into an enclosed space and then surround them, effectively both flanking and bottle-necking the Saxon army. Instead a series of well placed spike pits and oil drops led to the Saxons practically killing themselves and having to step over the dead to even retreat. This was a great tactic because not only did they physically reduce the size of the army they’re fighting with minimal effort but it also has a demoralising effect to have to step on their brothers-in-laws. These are people they’ve likely fought with and trusted to have their backs and now they have to make a choice of self-preservation over that loyalty and camaraderie. The effect is that when the Vikings finally meet the Saxons head on, they’re fighting a smaller, traumatised army.

Alex Høgh's Ivar taunts the Saxon army at the Battle of York in season 5 episode 3 of History's Vikings.

Ivar is the life of the party.

Of course, Ivar, bloodsoaked and laughing is also pretty demoralising to any army. It’s a testament to Alex Høgh’s acting that he can convincingly play sympathetic in one episode and utterly demented in another. And with this victory, Ivar wins over most of the Great Heathen Army, cementing himself as the de facto leader. It helps that Ubbe’s argument that he saved Ivar’s life is rather flimsy. In fact the army was going to run to Ivar’s side when Ubbe postponed them for…reasons? It doesn’t seem like Ubbe to genuinely consider leaving his brother to the mercy of the Saxons, especially not so publicly, but it appears that he must have been conflicted at least because there’s no other reason, least one I can see, for Ubbe to wait.

Of course, Ubbe is particularly sore because Ivar’s rise contradicts his own status as the eldest brother. They argue over their next move but Ubbe doesn’t trust Ivar and leaves to propose peace to the Saxons against Ivar’s suggestion. Given that Ivar is waiting for them when they return, this seems like another case of Ivar setting a trap. It’s likely that he could have stopped his brothers when they were leaving but choose to let them go because he knew that if they failed it would only serve to make his case look better.

And fail it does. Ubbe and Hvitserk get roughed up, their men killed and sent back to York with no peace and no land. Though its framed oddly within the show with the narrative jumping back and forth in time to reveal what actually happened at the Saxon camp while the brothers are being admonished by Ivar upon their return. It’s a strange deviation from linear storytelling and a pointless one since it adds nothing to the plot and is more confusing than attention grabbing.

Jordan Patrick Smith's Ubbe watches as his brother Hvitserk joins Ivar in season 5 episode 3 of History's Vikings.

Battered, humbled and alone.

Speaking of failure, the Saxons made a mistake of beating up Ubbe and Hvitserk and letting them go. I’m not suggesting that Æthelwulf should have accepted their demands, although he did seem to consider it (I did like Alfred suggesting that advocating giving them the land to farm given that the real life Alfred is famous for creating distinct boundaries between Wessex and the Danelaw.). Why wouldn’t they just capture Ubbe and/or Hvitserk and hold them for ransom? Ivar, for all his pomp, does care for his brothers and it would also have made Ivar look weak to his army if he didn’t want to leave York to save his brothers. As it is, Heahmund and Æthelwulf have only succeeded in further aggravating an enemy they just failed to beat in battle.

Ubbe poses the question that Ragnar would hate Ivar for breaking up his family, to which Ivar disagrees. Ragnar certainly had a remarkable love for his family (or at least his sons). But he didn’t always show it in traditional ways and it would certainly be like Ragnar to put results ahead of irritating his family. This is the same man who on more than one occasion fought his brother on the battle field. But it’s also the man who opted to choose non-aggression with Ecbert in favour of land that this people could farm. Ragnar was at many times both a farmer and a warrior and an adventurer, whereas his sons seem to represent different aspects of their father. So, Ubbe and Ivar are both right.

Let me know what you thought of Homeland in the comments below or hit me up through social media. To be notified and keep up to date with new content on this blog weekly, hit the follow button to subscribe. If you liked what you read and can’t wait  there are hundreds of reviews and editorials in the archives to keep you busy. And if that still isn’t enough for you, you can find my own novel, Carrion Youth, online to read at swoonreads.com. Until next week, thanks for reading.

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Vikings Season 5 premiere: Proving History Can be as Entertaining as Myth

The biggest question going into Vikings Season 5 was whether the show would be capable of standing on its own without Travis Fimmel’s Ragnar Lothbrok. To those who know their history, and their mythology, it was an inevitable question. Ragnar was always going to have to die and his sons, with the Great Heathen Army at their backs, would invade England for revenge. But the question wasn’t whether it would happen but rather could any of the existing characters step up to match the enigmatic charisma that Fimmel brought to the character of Ragnar.

Ragnar was a larger than life character, capable of amazing feats and driving others to exemplary deeds, which was fitting for the semi-mythical character of history. With his death the show has passed from legend to the historical, with characters such as Ivar the Boneless, Harald Finehair and Æthelwulf all having existed in real life. (That’s not to say by the way that the show is now historically accurate. Rather that the story is now grounded in traditional historical sources rather the mythical tales of Ragnar Lothbrok. For example, Ivar’s conquest of York historically took place prior the death King Ælla and it was actually Æthelwulf’s son Æthelred who reigned at the time of the Viking invasion of Northumbria.) So, the big headline over Viking’s season 5 was undoubtedly whether it could be as entertaining without it’s big name draw?

In this humble reviewer’s opinion, the answer is yes. Vikings season 5 premiered with two entertaining episodes, drawing on the inward struggles of the Ragnarsson brothers to unite against the Anglo-Saxons. Just as there is the meta-question of whether the show can survive without Ragnar, inward there is the question of who can lead the Great Heathen Army, with Ubbe and Ivar both vying for the spot. This is where the episodes are at their strongest. The underlying tension gives every conversation between the brothers a sense of competitiveness with life or death stakes. When Ivar suggests taking York rather than East Anglia, it’s a point to Ivar. When Ubbe remembers to attack on a Saint Day, it’s a point to Ubbe.

Gustaf Skarsgård's Floki consoles Ivar, played by Alex Høgh Andersen in the season 5 double bill premiere of History's Vikings.

“I know you’re sad but I gotta go see a volcano”

It’s also interesting to see Ivar showing genuine remorse over the death of Sigurd. Ivar has always been depicted as the darkest, most ruthless of the sons of Ragnar, seemingly having paired the violent instincts of his father with the coldness of his mother, peppered richly with pagan devotion instilled in him by Floki. This emotion is the first time we’ve seen the character upset about another person. He certainly seems grief stricken in a way that he wasn’t by the death of his parents, although it’s possible that’s because the only person to take revenge against is himself.

Scenes with Æthelwulf and Judith living as churls in the English countryside were also interesting. Having been reduced to poverty has made the pair surprisingly amicable, especially considering how tumultuous their relationship had been in previous seasons. Though it seems unlikely to remain that way, as Judith glanced a few times at Jonathan Rhys Meyer’s Bishop Heahmund and we all know that she has a thing for holy men. Speaking of holy men, Æthelstan appears to his son, Alfred, in a fever dream and directs the West Saxons to join Heahmund’s army outside of York, setting up a large battle to come.

Despite some strong character drama, Vikings felt weakest when it was focused on Harald Finehair, Bishop Heahmund and, dare I say it, Floki. Floki is easily the most whimsical character in the series and it’s a joy to watch Gustaf Skarsgård in the role but his singular adventure to Iceland just felt like an unnecessary distraction from the main plot, as if the writers have a checklist of historical events they want to tick off. Unnecessary is also a criticism I would levy towards Heahmund. The pious but lustful character who deals with their sin by self-flagellation is an over-used characterisation and Æthelstan was already a much more complex and interesting take on the holy man. That’s not to suggest that there can never be any more religious characters in Vikings, but there should be more depth to the character. Heahmund could easily have been replaced with Æthelwulf, a character who has already been shown to be pious and has also dealt with his sin with self-flagellation. This characterisation is so over-done that Vikings has already used it twice. Still, it’s early days for season five so there’s still time for Heahmund to turn out to be deeper and more interesting than he appears here.

Moe Dunford as Æthelwulf and Jennie Jacques as Judith arrive in the camp of Bishop Heahmund, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, in the season 5 double bill premiere of History's Vikings.

It’s bring your wife to war day.

As for Harald Finehair, the problem is just fatigue. This plot of his to become King of all Norway has been going on since the early episodes of season four and despite a time-skip in episode 10 he has made frustratingly little traction on his goal. At this point it doesn’t really seem to matter if he marries Astrid; there are much more interesting things going on in the world of Vikings, such as Björn’s excursion to the Mediterranean. It seems inevitable that the plotting will come down to a battle and that Harald will likely win some of the lands from Lagertha and possibly even kill her, but it’s just being so drawn out with not a lot really happening in the meantime.

Overall though this has been a good premiere and that’s exactly what it needed to be. Season five had to start strong to show that, yes, the series can survive without Ragnar and can produce the same quality drama and entertainment and it absolutely did that. Now that the series has made that clear, it can get on with the story and perhaps produce some truly great episodes to rival those from seasons past. If I were to give a prediction for the season ahead, I’d say we’ll see the death of Æthelwulf and possibly another time-skip to allow Alfred to age-up.

What were your thoughts and opinions of Vikings season five premiere? Got any predictions of your own? Fire them my way in the comments below or hit me up through social media which you can find to the right of this article. Also to the right you can find the follow button, which will allow you to be notified and kept up to date with new content on this blog weekly. If you liked what you read and can’t wait that long there are hundreds of reviews and editorials in the archives to keep you busy. And if that still isn’t enough for you, you can find my own novel, Carrion Youth, online to read at swoonreads.com. Until next week, thanks for reading.

The Punisher Review: Draws out the punishment to a poignant, visceral conclusion.

While everyone has been talking about Justice League, and not necessarily for the reasons that Warner Bros or DC wanted, Marvel’s The Punisher series arrived on Netflix largely unnoticed. I suppose WB and DC could chalk that up as a win, but on the other hand, I’m not sure The Punisher was ever going to garner much fanfare. This is a spin-off of a side character from Marvel’s Defenders’ lead in project, Daredevil, itself a b-project from the main Marvel Cinematic Universe. There are a lot of degrees of separation there so I’m not sure The Punisher was ever expected to be a huge release for Marvel.

That said, the character was very well liked in Daredevil. Frank Castle was interesting and largely faithful to the comic book character on which he is based, with actor Jon Bernthal bringing an honest, down-to-earth charisma to the character. Within the story, The Punisher was a worthy foil to Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. While Daredevil wanted to do good and help the people of Hell’s Kitchen, he struggled with the morality of how he himself should treat the criminals he fought. Elektra’s view point was that she enjoyed killing, and while she could use it for good she didn’t seem to care much one way or the other, so long as there was a good fight. Castle’s view was that criminals deserved to die. Within Daredevil season 2, these three perspectives created the consistent theme of morality and responsibility of superheroes in the modern world.

The Punisher Netflix series largely continues this theme with Frank Castle himself struggling with his identity and role in the world, especially now that his mission of revenge for his family has been fulfilled. The completion of that mission doesn’t seem to have soothed Castle’s loss any, but it doesn’t seem that he expected it to, which is interesting. Castle understands that he has to live with his grief and anger. Killing the men responsible wasn’t about elevating that; it was just what they deserved. And that’s a very understandable and relatable stance. Every day people experience loss and grief and want justice. Regularly families of victims appear in interviews decrying short sentences for murderers or rapists. It’s quite easy to see how one could go from that to taking things into their own hands.

Jon Bernthal's Frank Castle takes aim in Marvel-Netflix's The Punisher, reprising his role from the Daredevil series.

Given proper intel, this series would have been over by episode 2.

Of course, Frank Castle isn’t just any one. He’s an ex-soldier, specially trained and highly capable, so when he takes things into his own hands, not only can he get the job done, but he is targeted and efficient. For all that the theme of this show is thought-provoking and relevant, it’s action scenes also stand out as being well choreographed and visceral. Honestly, the last 3-4 episodes have some of the most brutal and engaging fight scenes that I’ve seen in a long time. Viewers knew that The Punisher was going to be violent so there was a danger that the action could have fallen flat of expectations but The Punisher more than delivered on that front.

The story follows Frank Castle after he has dealt with the criminals who killed his wife and kids. That is until he is approached by a hacker known as Micro who seeks to enlist Castle’s help to clear his name. Micro also reveals that the death of Castle’s wife and children may go deeper and might be connected to some illegal military operations that Castle was a part of during his time as a soldier. They hatch a plan to uncover the names of those in charge and bring them to justice, which initially means murder but evolves into having the perpetrators apprehended by Homeland. This doesn’t go to plan in a number of ways and most of the people wind up dead anyways.

Though it sounds somewhat complicated the narrative is rather straight-forward. The main hitch in the plan which takes up most of the first hand of the season is that Castle and Micro don’t know the real name of the man in charge, only knowing him as Agent Orange. There are some run-ins with the law and government, who obviously don’t agree with Castle taking it upon himself to dole out his particular violent flavour brand of justice, and some missions to procure weapons and ammunitions as well some family drama as Castle has to keep showing up at Micro’s home to help his wife and children. They’re interesting scenes and necessary (because The Punisher needs guns) but they do feel like they’re drawing out the central question because once Castle and Micro find out who Agent Orange is the plot kicks up a gear and begins moving rapidly towards the end. There’s the sense that this could easily have been an eight episode season rather than thirteen, without losing a lot of story or character development.

Lewis Wilson, played by Daniel Webber, is a veteran who crosses paths with Frank Castle after he feels betrayed and abandoned by his government when he returns home from war.

The Punisher highlights the very real tragedy of those traumatised by the wars they survived.

Sometimes a slow build can be effective in building anticipation for the viewer. The b-story in The Punisher does make good use of this build up, dealing with the character Lewis Wilson, another soldier attempting to reintegrate himself into society. Wilson becomes disillusioned with the government and how his experiences at war are unacknowledged. He struggles to find work or even sleep in a normal bed. This disillusionment becomes manifested in violence, with Wilson utilising terrorism to make a point to the government. It’s a heavy side story that draws The Punisher into the discussion of gun crime, gun control and the treatment of veterans, but where it becomes particularly interesting is in the comparison of Wilson and Castle.

In much the same way The Punisher was a foil to Daredevil, Wilson acts as foil to Castle. They are both soldiers, felt betrayed and angry who decide to use their skills to take the justice they were denied. Castle argues that he would never hurt innocents and not with bombs but is that any different that Daredevil admonishing Castle for using guns rather than allowing the system to obtain justice? At certain points they all become shades of grey with one simply being slightly darker than the other. Wilson also is depicted sympathetically rather than outright evil, so while the viewer may agree with Castle that Wilson is a coward, it’s hard not to feel bad for the kid who just couldn’t find a place for himself outside of war.

Following on from weak outing by Iron Fist and Defenders failing to meet expectations, The Punisher is a return to form for the Netflix-Marvel partnership. Part of The Punisher’s strength is its message and the fact that it has something to say for itself. But that can be subjective. So let me know in the comments below or on social media whether you found The Punisher to be challenging or if it was unpersuasive. As ever you can also follow this blog here or on social media profiles to keep up to date with new content that I publish regularly. If you enjoyed this review the archives are full of similar reviews, editorials and opinion pieces for you to catch up with. And lastly, if you enjoy reading fiction as much as reviews, you can find my novel, Carrion Youth, over on swoonreads.com.

Justice League Review: Using CGI to cover up that you don’t know who Batman is.

This weekend, DC’s biggest heroes came together in Justice League. By Saturday though, it was clear that Justice League had underperformed at the box office. And while I’d like to say that turn of events is surprising, I can’t. Justice League is not bad per say, it’s just fine. It’s enjoyable for what it is, especially if you’re capable of putting up with the CGI and strangely written characters. But for many, those issues won’t be easy to overlook.

First, though, let’s look at what Justice League did well. The characters of The Flash and Cyborg are both very entertaining and engaging. They undergo a small amount of development in Justice League but it left me far more fantasticated and hyped for their solo movies than I had been before this outing. I especially enjoyed the banter between the two when they were digging. It was also great to see the characters being proactive and actually trying to get a head of Steppenwolf, rather than being caught off guard and reacting, as superheroes have a tendency to do.

And that’s about it, honestly. The fight scenes were decent but the CGI was very distracting. Steppenwolf looked like he’d stepped out of a cut scene from Injustice or Dragon Age and as a result all of his fights ended up looking like a video game sequence. If the whole film was computerised in that way and was classified as an animation, that might be acceptable but as it is, with Steppenwolf looking so different from everyone else in the film, it’s just strange and disorientating.

Ciarán Hinds, known for his role in Game of Thrones as Mance Rayder, takes on the role of Steppenwolf in the DC superhero team up movie, Justice League.

From old gods to new gods.

Steppenwolf as a villain is fairly one note and there’s nothing particularly challenging about him. He’s strong, sure, and he’s got a big axe but the biggest obstacle for the Justice League is dealing with Steppenwolf without Superman. Following the events of Batman Vs. Superman, I don’t think anyone was fooled into believing that Superman would stay dead. Even in the comics, Superman was eventually resurrected from his death at the hands of Doomsday. But I don’t think anyone expected him to return in Justice League. Because, spoiler, he does.

Of course, Superman was resurrected. He’s the biggest name in DC. But he’s also a cop out. There was an opportunity here to have the team come together and utilise individual skills to beat a singular enemy who had confounded them separately. That’s sort of the point of these team up films, that there’s an enemy that the heroes can’t beat alone. Instead of figuring out a way to do it themselves, the Justice League’s go to plan is to bring back Superman. And it works, because Superman promptly curb-stomps Steppenwolf and makes the rest of the heroes look like chumps. Don’t get me wrong. This isn’t a complaint that Superman is too strong and therefore boring. This is a criticism that Zack Synder doesn’t know how to utilise the Justice League without Superman.

What’s particularly baffling is that Batman is the one who suggests using the ancient, alien technology to resurrect Superman. The guy with a moral code so strong he won’t carry a gun; who refuses to kill his evil clown nemesis despite the crippling of one side kick and the brutal murder of another. This suggestion is more likely to come from the lips of Mr. Freeze and the type of thing Batman would stop. And while I’m aware that in the comics that Batman did look into resurrection with the intention of perhaps bringing back Jason Todd I find it hard to believe, knowing what we know about Batman’s ethics, that he would go through with it.

Ezra Miller, Ben Affleck and Gal Gadot appear as The Flash, Batman and Wonder Woman in Warner Bros/DC superhero team up movie, Justice League.

“What if he’s at peace?” “He’ll get over it.” – An actual line from Batman in Justice League.

One might argue, however, that this Batman is somewhat jaded and willing to go to more extreme measures in his old age. But beyond the morality, the choice to resurrect Superman is the least interesting choice possible. I’d have much rather seen the team devise a plan to beat Steppenwolf without the Man of Steel. Batman is also known as being the most proactive of superheroes, devising plans and contingencies for almost all events and outcomes. As it is, Batman basically rolls over and says, “whelp, guess we need Superman”.

Finally, there’s the humour issue. The dark and gritty nature of Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman has hung over all of DC’s projects. Some have accused DC of lightening the tone to match Marvel but I would point the finger at Deadpool rather than the MCU. Following the release of the 18 rated Deadpool, Suicide Squad went through a number of edits and changes that it was reported were intended to lighten the tone of the film. The result was very choppy and not particularly entertaining. Following the inclusion of Joss Whedon to the Justice League writing squad, many expected the same fate for Justice League.

I’m happy to report that Justice League doesn’t seem to suffer from overediting or a lack of focus. So, I suppose you can count that among the good parts of the film. There’s also much more humour in this script than in any of Synder’s previous films, and it’s so predominant that it’s clear that it couldn’t have been added in the eleventh hour by Whedon. But it’s also a little awkward. Those previous films were so dark and now the characters are cracking wise while a god-like being smacks them around and threatens to destroy the Earth. It’s like, why weren’t they like this before? Ezra Miller has gone on record that Zack always intended for the ‘Justice League to rise out of the darkness’. And the collective response of the internet was ‘sure you did, Zack.’

I wish I could say Justice League was better. It’s okay, maybe good at a stretch, but nowhere near as good as it should or could have been. If you thought Justice League was a masterpiece hit me up with a comment, and then perhaps see a doctor for a MRI. You can also contact me through social media, where you might also want to follow me if you’ve enjoyed what you read here and want to keep up with new content on this blog. You can also keep up to date by subscribing to the site itself by hitting the button at the side. And, don’t forget to check out my own novel, Carrion Youth, over at Swoonreads.com. Until next time, thanks for reading.

Thor: Ragnarok; The End of the World as They Know It

While in Copenhagen recently, I had the pleasure of seeing Thor: Ragnarok at Empire Bio in Nørrebro. It was a lovely cinema, styled in a way that is immediately appealing to lovers of cinema and cinematography and you can find it in a very lively area of Copenhagen. It’s merely steps away from Assistens Kirkegaard and a brief walk over the bridge will find you at the Torvehallerne food market. Or do what I did; take in the riverside while dining on delicious smørrebrød at the popular basement restaurant, Café 22.

Capping off my afternoon in Copenhagen was Chris Hemsworth’s third outing as the god of thunder in Thor: Ragnarok. The film picks up after Avengers: Age of Ultron, Thor: The Dark World and Doctor Strange with Thor investigating the disturbing rumours in the nine realms, most concerning Ragnarok. After taking steps to prevent the end of the world, Thor returns to Asgard to find Loki masquerading as their father and that their father’s actual whereabouts are unknown. Their search takes them to Norway and to the revelation that Odin is dying and that upon his death their sister Hela will be released upon the nine realms.

Hela. portrayed here by Cate Blanchett, stops Mjölnir in its tracks in Marvel's superhero action adventure, Thor Ragnarok

When your sibling takes your things and won’t give them back.

If that all sounds like some deep and heavy material, then fear not because Taika Waititi takes a page out of Guardians of the Galaxy, delivering Thor’s struggles with lightness and comedy. Mending the supernatural with science fiction could have been a badly thumped together puzzle but Waititi manages to fit the pieces together in a way that not only makes for an enjoyable interplanetary romp but also ties it seamlessly with what has come before. That’s no easy feat considering that Thor: Ragnarok is a successor to no less than three previous Marvel films and also has to do a little bit of set management for the upcoming Infinity War.

In prior movies, much of the comedy derived from Thor’s ignorance and fish out of water naivety, such as walking into a pet store and asking for a horse or losing his hammer and needing to use the London underground. Thor: Ragnarok does a great job of switching that up, utilising Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson and Mark Ruffalo to bring the laughs. In fact, the comedy dynamic between Thor and the Hulk is a stand out of unlikely pairings that works. Though thankfully, Waititi also knows when not to labour a point, bringing back Bruce Banner just before The Hulk’s childish antics becoming tiring.

Thor: Ragnarok lives up to its name though. It’s more than a comedic affair, it’s a pivotal moment of change for the character. Without spoiling any major events, it’s no understatement to say that Cate Blanchett’s Hela’s affects Thor in a way that we haven’t really seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe so far. True to her title, the god of death, she reaps destruction wherever she goes, and it takes some severe action from Thor to combat his sister and not without personal loss and consequence. This goes much further than Tony Stark’s PTS from the first Avenger’s film or the destruction of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the Winter Soldier. The only change so far that even comes close if the division of the team in Civil War but the changes in here are one a much more personal level.

In the past, I’ve criticised the Thor series for not quite balancing the comedy and drama quite right. The aforementioned train ride in Thor: Dark World is one instance where I felt the comedy was mistimed and just didn’t fit the dire mood of the battle. In Thor: Ragnarok, Waititi does a better job of finding the balance between comedy and drama, although there are a couple of instances where I do think that it just toes the line, but Waititi always pulls back before going too far. In any other series, a third film with a third director would be cause for concern and possibly a sign of a franchise struggling to find its footing. However, Kenneth Branagh, Alan Taylor and Taika Waititi have all brought their own touch and flair, and dare I say that Waititi’s hand on the wheel has been the best so far.

This image released by Marvel Studios shows Chris Hemsworth, left, and the Hulk in a scene from, "Thor: Ragnarok." (Marvel Studios via AP)

The new dynamic duo

Acting skill on show here is equally strong. Jeff Goldblum is himself and even if you don’t like the actor, you’ll find the Grandmaster fun to ridicule. Most notable though are the strong female additions in Tessa Thompson and Cate Blanchett, who turn what could be one-note characters into interesting, capable women with conflicting ideals. It’s a pity that Blanchett isn’t given more to do but she uses her time on screen well. Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie is the stand out, acting as foil to both Thor and Hela and carrying a lot of trauma. And it’s nice to see Idris Elba’s Heimdall being given more to do that stand around with a sword in hand  and look threatening.

Did you enjoy Thor Ragnarok or was it a step in the wrong direction? If you’ve got an opinion you’d like to share, you can comment below or hit me up on twitter, tumblr or your preferred social media app. If you enjoyed this review you can check out other posts in the archive. If you want to keep up to date with more editorials and reviews then hit the follow button or follow this blog, again on your preferred social media profile. Finally, check out my own original fiction, Carrion Youth, over on Swoonreads.com. Until next week, thanks for reading.

 

Gunpowder Episode 1 Review: A Weighted Beginning

If you’re jonsing for a Kit Harington fix and you’ve already binge watched Game of Thrones, and you’ve even sunk so low as to watch Pompeii, well, the BBC has you covered. Last night saw the premiere of Gunpowder, a three-part series dramatizing the infamous gunpowder plot where papal loyalists sought to bring down parliament and end Catholic prosecution in England. Here, Kit Harington plays Robert Catesby, one of the principle instigators of the gunpowder plot.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that the gunpowder plot was all about Guy Fawkes. Readers from Britain will at least know of the plot if, at least, only because of Bonfire Night. Furthermore, the accompanying nursery rhyme (remember, remember the 5th of November) makes no mention of anyone other than Guy Fawkes. However, Guy Fawkes was only one of a number of people involved in the plot to blow up the House of Lords. It was Robert Catesby who devised the plan.

Catesby was described as ‘a good-looking man, about six feet tall, athletic and a good swordsman’, so Harington is a good fit, even if he is only 5’ 8”. And in fact, Catesby and John Wright, among others, had already used their good swordsmanship during the reign of Queen Elizabeth in Essex’s rebellion, though that had nothing to do with Catholic emancipation. It was just a group of disgruntled subjects and it was quickly quashed. For his part Catesby was fined and released.

Kit Harington plays Robert Catesby, the man who devised the infamous gunpowder plot, in BBC's historical drama about the scheme, Gunpowder.

Jon Snow trades Longclaw for a nice hat and a gun.

Gunpowder takes place after Catesby’s involvement in Essex’s rebellion, after Queen Elizabeth has died and the kingdom passed to James Stuart. Many had hoped that James would be more sympathetic towards Catholics than Elizabeth had been, and although Gunpowder does depict the King was being unwilling to be unnecessarily cruel in their pursuit of Catholics, Catholics were still being arrested and tried for treason for their faith during his reign. Disillusioned, Catesby begins to see violence as the best answer to their problems.

This first episode puts a personal spin on the story, showing Catesby and his relatives involved in a secret mass, at which point Sir William Wade, played by Shaun Dooley, descends upon the house. Some quick efforts are made to hide the priests and a long, intense scene brings the viewer to the edge of their seat waiting to know if they’ll be found. Eventually one priests is found and one of the women gives themselves up to protect the others.

What follows is a scene as gruesome as anything we might have seen in Game of Thrones. The woman is crushed under weights in a torture act known as ‘peine forte et dure’. The priest is hung, drawn and quartered. And as horrendous as these executions are, these were the penalties applied to criminals charged with treason in the 1600s. Even if some of the characters are fictitious (there’s nothing historically to suggest that any single execution prompted Catesby’s destructive rebellion), the series is being extremely accurate in its depiction of how Catholics were prosecuted.

After the fairly violent first half, the latter portion of the first episode involves more intrigue and family drama, most notably with Mark Gatiss’s Sir Robert Cecil manipulating and blackmailing others to a – convince the King to place harsher laws on Catholics, and b – to infiltrate a group of Catholics in Flanders. The first is successful but the second results in an alleyway stabbing by none other than Guy Fawkes. The second plot doesn’t really seem to have had any importance other than give us a dramatic introduction to the other character whose name people are likely to know.

Kit Harington, Liv Tayler and Sian Webber play Robert Catesby, Anne Vaux and Lady Dorothy Dibdale in BBC's historical drama about the gunpowder plot of 1605, Gunpowder.

Remember, remember, it’s not all about Guy Fawkes.

Given that the gunpowder plot took about a year between conception to execution, and that the show is likely to portray the literal executions afterwards, this first episode moved extremely slowly. I like court intrigue and bloody executions as much as the next guy (hung, drawn and quartered has nothing on the blood eagle) but by the end of this episode, which marks one third of this series, Catesby had only just shared the idea to blow up the House of Lords. If this were a ten episode series then sure, they could take their time with the nuance of the story and character motivations, but as it is, they’re packing a lot of the actual planning and recruitment into the next episode, as well as the execution and reveal into the finale. Not to mention that the intended date of destruction was changed because of a plague.

As it is, it’s an enjoyable, although for historical drama I’ll still stick with Victoria or Vikings. But the story is compelling, and it isn’t a part of history that gets a lot of attention outside of bonfires and fireworks. The acting is solid all around and I’m looking forward to Harington being more charismatic and inspiring when it comes to gather new members for the plot. But part of me just can’t be bothered getting invested when it’s only three episodes long. It feels like it’s just not substantial enough for me to sink my teeth into, though honestly it’s an issue I have with a lot of British, so it’s not unique to Gunpowder.

What did you think of Gunpowder? Did it satisfy that craving for Kit Harington? Or does it need more shirtless scenes? Fire me a comment and let me know your thoughts. The comment box or my social media profiles are all open, so send me your thoughts. Or if you are looking for more Kit Harington you can find my Game of Thrones reviews in the archives. If you like what you see you can follow this blog to keep up to date with new content, or follow me on the various media accounts. Or, if desperate for original fiction, check out my novel, Carrion Youth, over on Swoonreads.

ITV Liar Series Review: …And Justice for All.

Tomorrow night will see the conclusion of ITV’s six part rape drama, Liar. Since this blog will be looking at the series and specifically what it has to say about rape, if this is a sensitive subject or a trigger for you then you may want to skip this particular post. I have no intentions of upsetting or offending anyone but this is a series about rape victims and how they are portrayed within society and it is difficult to discuss the show without also addressing the show’s message, so please be prepared for discussion of rape culture ahead.

For those curious but too busy to watch, Liar concerns Laura, a high school teacher who goes on a date with doctor and parent, Andrew. Andrew seems like the perfect man; he’s kind, funny and intelligent and the date goes swimmingly. At the end of the date, Andrew’s phone dies and Laura allows him to come up to the flat in order to call for a taxi. A couple of glasses of wine later and Andrew and Laura end up spending the night together…except Laura wakes up feeling sick and unable to remember chunks of the night before. But one thing she does remember is that she said ‘no’.

What follows is Laura’s attempts to convince friends and family and the police that she is telling the truth. But Andrew’s upstanding character proves hard to crack and she becomes increasingly frustrated at the ability of the police and the law to provide the justice she seeks. Instead she turns to her own methods; posting about Andrew online, sneaking into his home to search for clues and even attempting to drug and frame him for a second attack. These actions wind up doing more harm than good, hurting Laura’s case against Andrew when no evidence turns up to incriminate him.

Joanna Froggart plays Laura Nelson, a teacher and rape victim in ITV's Monday night drama, Liar.

Season 2 will be Laura hunting down and tying up other rapists.

Worse yet, Laura’s own past makes the case against Andrew seem like the actions of, at best, a mentally ill woman, or at worst, an attention-seeking harlot. Truth of course is more complicated, but the mere fact that Laura had previously dropped a case of inappropriate sexual behaviour against a former headmaster is enough to have the case against Andrew thrown out completely. Laura continues her own investigation though, uncovering other women Andrew has raped though they are unwilling to speak out. With no evidence and no witnesses, Laura struggles to find a way to catch Andrew, while at the same time he files a lawsuit against her, claiming defamation of character.

This is all a case of dramatic irony, as we the audience are privy to the knowledge that Andrew did indeed drug Laura and that she is telling the truth. And we also witness him rape one of the detectives working his case. And it’s around here that I felt the show began to slip into the absurd. I don’t have a problem with Andrew being a rapist. In fact, I said to my wife after the first episode that he had to have committed the crime, otherwise the show would be painting Laura as a liar, which would only validate the opinion some people have that rape victims in some way misunderstood the situation or wanted it at the time and then came to regret it later. The show couldn’t support that viewpoint, so Andrew had to be a rapist.

My problem is mainly how Andrew’s character changes once the show reveals that he is a rapist. I don’t mean that Andrew is too nice in the beginning to be a rapist and that they should have painted him as an asshole from the start. Nice guys can harbour dark, hidden secrets. I mean how he suddenly becomes a lot more brazen. When he rapes Laura, there’s a lot of distraction and deception. They have a whole date and he acts the perfect gentleman and then he tricks her into allowing him to come up to her flat where he drugs her. There’s a lot of planning to make it seem like a good date and that she choose for him to come up to her home.

Conversely, the detective comes around to his house to tell him that the case has been dropped and he invites her in for a drink. Now we the audience know what that implies and the detective herself is understandably wary. But it also doesn’t seem to fit his pattern. Andrew’s methods are subtle and leave an opening for doubt, but how did he plan to swing this one? Raping the detective in his own, a member of the police force that was investigating him, is really on the nose and shows zero forethought.

For one, DI Vanessa Harmon is a lesbian, and her detective partner would be able to attest to her commitment to her spouse with whom she was having a child, and her unwillingness to likely sleep with a former suspect. And on that point, the rape of a member of the police force would cause his case to likely be reopened because two allegations within a short space of time would throw up serious red flags, especially, sorry to say, because one of those victims was a police officer herself. Her allegation would have a lot more weight behind it. Inviting her into his home is just really stupid and on the nose, especially for a rapist who had been shown to be more devious and smart than this already.

Ioan Gruffudd portrays Andrew Earlham, nice guy doctor and rapist, in ITV's Monday night drama, Liar.

Comic Book fans will already know Reed Richards to be a bad husband.

Of course, some of that does happen anyway, because Vanessa is raped later when Andrew sneaks into her house and drugs her juice. However, since there is no indication that Andrew was at her house it’s harder to tie him to rape at all. This seems much more like Andrew’s usual M.O. but it’s weird that it’s plan B. It’s also concerning what advice the show seems to be giving to rape victims. The events of the series suggest that law won’t help rape victims, unless they’re a police officer or a member of the law themselves. So the best course of action is to act outside the law.

This sort of vigilantism is dangerous and so far it hasn’t paid off for Laura but she’s been shown to be more satisfied with her own results than that of the law. While I agree that the law needs to do more to for rape victims and that public perception needs to change in regards to how we attribute blame, I would be cautious about leading women into taking justice into their own hands. Laura’s plan to frame Andrew almost works, had she just tied his ropes a little better, but it could also have went fatally wrong for her had the detective not shown up. The revenge fantasy may make for some exciting viewing but in real life we need to work on bettering the law surrounding this issue, not spurring women on to violence.

As I said, it was a difficult subject this week. If you stuck with me, thank you for reading. I’d love to hear your thoughts and views on the matter, and you can share them either by commenting below or though social media links to the right. Also to the right is the follow button to keep up with new blog posts, or you can hit up the archive to read previous posts. And if at the end of that you’re still found wanting, you can read my own fiction novel, Carrion Youth, over at swoonreads.com.

Trust Issues: The Gifted Review

Marvel’s Inhumans has been on my list to review for a while now but honestly cannot bring myself to sit through the first episode. Everything I’ve seen from this series has looked terrible, from the effects and production to acting and premise. Best case scenario Iwan Rheon is amazing and makes the show worth watching but I highly doubt even stellar performances from the actors can save this show.

I think in part I’ve been put off by the fickle development of Marvel’s Inhumans. Initially it was intended to be a phase three film in the MCU, then that was scrapped and after a while in limbo there was talk of a television show. Instead of a tv show proper, the Inhumans group was integrated into Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Since Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. had improved since its initial season and the Inhumans story seemed to help connect the show to the wider MCU , there seemed to be a renewed interest of Inhumans at Marvel. But what they’ve put together just looks so cheap and I can’t help but feel that if there had been a more focused and dedicated development I’d be more interested. If anyone has watched the series and thinks it’s better than it looks, let me know and maybe I can be convinced to give it a chance.

Instead I have watched The Gifted, another superhero television drama that premiered this September. The Gifted isn’t part of the MCU because it concerns the X-Men expanded universe which is owned by Fox rather than Marvel Entertainment. It also doesn’t concern the X-Men team itself, being set some interterminal time after the X-Men have all but disappeared. The government are actively tracking and arresting mutants. One member of the government involved in prosecuting said mutants is Stephen Moyer’s character, Reed Strucker.

The Strucker family get caught meeting with the mutant network in Fox's superhero tv drama, The Gifted.

What do you mean Wolverine isn’t coming?

One night, at a high school dance, during an instance of bulling, Reed’s son, Andy, played by Percy Hydes, lashes out and causes earth tremors and other destruction. The school hall begins to collapse and Andy only makes it out thanks to the mutant powers of his sister, Lauren, played by Natalie Alyn Lind. In order to protect his family from the government he works for, Reed makes contact with an underground mutant community that helps sneak mutants across the border to sanctuary, similar to the real life underground railroad that helped slaves in the 1800s.

My main concern going into The Gifted was that the focus would be on the parents and not the children, especially as Stephen Moyer is listed as a lead character. And it turns out to be a justified concern, although not perhaps as bad as it could have been. Reed Strucker is the one who interacts with mutants and makes deals with them, and the show is obviously playing on the conflict of this government guy now having to work against the laws he once upheld. But it’s a predictable conflict and there are much more interesting plots at play instead.

For instance, I think it would have been more interesting to delve into the family dynamic. We do see a couple of scenes of Lauren and Andy bonding over their mutant abilities, but it is also revealed that Lauren has known about her powers for three years and has kept secret about them because of her father and his work. This certainly suggests a level of distrust but yet after the incident she goes straight home and just gives herself up to her parents. The potentially more interesting conflict here would have been for the kids to seek out the underground on their own because of the distrust of their parents and then for their father to have to hunt them down like he normally would but with the intention of saving them.

Even the underground community itself and its inner workings are more interesting than the mundane struggle of the father being caught between duty to family and of that to country. Even a series focusing on an underground group smuggling mutant refugees over the border would be entertaining in and of itself. Instead, the show feels the needs to invest the underground group in helping the kids even more by having one of their own captured and needing Reed’s help to free her.

Andy Strucker, played by Percy Hyde snaps and unleashes his latent mutant powers in the premiere of Fox's superhero TV drama, The Gifted.

Andy Strucker goes full-Carrie

This is not to say that The Gifted is over complicating itself. The point is only that by focusing on the father the show has also chosen to focus on what is arguably the least interesting plot point. It also says something about the stakes of the series. It implies that a powerful, high-tech government seeking to erase an entire species or race isn’t serious enough. It suggests that audiences will need a personal reason to be able to relate to the danger that the characters face when really the idea of a government singling out a particular group of peoples for removal is more relatable now than it ever has been in recent times.

In truth, X-Men greatest strength has always been the social and political themes and if The Gifted can tap into even a fraction of those it will be able to capture the imaginations of its viewers, no problem. As it is, it’s a decent show that’s got some good actors attached and some real storyline potential.

But what were your thoughts on The Gifted? Like, dislike, love or hate? Feel free to let me know. You can contact me via the comments below or through any of the various social media profiles to the right. You can also keep up to date with new editorials and reviews by hitting the follow button or check out old posts in the archives. And finally, if you’d rather read some fiction, you can my second novel is available over on Swoonreads.com.

Pax Penguina: Fear and Loathing in Gotham

Fox’s pre-Batman crime drama Gotham has never exactly been stellar television. Occasionally, it has been outright bad but on the whole it is entertaining but it occupies a rather peculiar spot in regards to superhero media. On paper, the idea of Jim Gordon as a beat cop stamping out crime without Batman sounds dark and serious, but in execution the series seems completely self-aware of how bizarre the source content can be. On the sliding scale of Adam West to Nolanverse, Gotham leans slightly towards the campier, over the top antics of the earlier incarnations, fitting far more snugly with Batman Returns and Batman Forever than it does with anything DC is currently doing with Batman.

This week Gotham returned for a fourth season. Following last season’s finale, wherein Ra’s al Ghul (played by Alexander Siddig) brainwashes Bruce Wayne and released a weaponised virus into the streets of Gotham and descending the city into chaos. Although the virus has since been neutralised, Pax Penguina reveals that crime has been further brought into control by Penguin issuing licences to criminals. The idea of licenced crime, especially at the hands of Penguin doesn’t sit well with Benjamin McKenzie’s Jim Gordon, who sees it as destroying the relevancy of the Gotham City Police Department.

There are also some criminals who don’t like having to pay respect to Penguin in order to do their business, and one such group of people acquire the services of Jonathan Crane who they bully into creating fear gas. Crane does so, but quickly descends into his own personal madness, eventually becoming Scarecrow outright, setting up what is likely to be the main villain, at least for the first half of this season. This is a good move by the show; Scarecrow’s particular brand of psychological warfare will be a refreshing change after the political and social antagonists like Theo Galavan, Mayor Cobblepot and the Court of Owls. Some of the special effects are a bit laughable, but hey it’s a network TV show, you can’t expect dragons and direwolves.

Oswald Cobblepot, also known as Penguin, played by Robin Lord Taylor, showcases his iced Riddler centerpiece in Pax Penguina, the season 4 premiere of Fox's superhero crime drama, Gotham.

Ed. Still on ice.

Another new plot for the fourth season is Bruce Wayne wearing a mask and fighting crime. The mask is lacking pointy ears at the minute, but the young vigilante has taken to the streets to prepare himself for Ra’s Al Ghul’s eventual return. So far it has only been some light detective work and knocking out a few muggers, but right at the end of the episode Bruce lands himself in a more dangerous situation and potentially even risks revealing his identity.

I’m in two minds about the portrayal and progression of Bruce Wayne in Gotham. On the one hand, this feels a bit cheap. Like they don’t want to give us Batman just yet, but they’re also running out of ways to keep Bruce away from crime fighting. So they’re compromising and just having him fighting crime but not as Batman. It’s rather reminiscent of Smallville where Clark Kent started wearing a different outfit and fighting crime but he wasn’t Superman because he wasn’t wearing the costume and he couldn’t fly yet. He was superman in every part but name, and Bruce Wayne is now edging closer to being Batman but he likely won’t actually call himself that just yet.

My problem with this is that it undermines the basic premise of the show, which is Jim Gordon fighting crime in a pre-Batman Gotham. If Batman is introduced to the show, in any form, the show moves from being about Gordon’s war against crime and his desire to clear out corruption from the GCPD and other government organisations, and switches to Batman cleaning up Gotham City, as we watch from Gordon’s perspective. Batman has been done before, in many incarnations, in film, in television, in animation, but there are far less depictions of Gordon and how he brought order to the GCPD and became Commissioner. That’s a very interesting premise with a lot of potential by itself, and I do worry that introducing a Batman like figure is going to make Jim Gordon look rather ineffectual, only being capable of doing anything because of the masked vigilante cleaning things up first.

Alfred, played by Sean Pertwee, interrupts a conversation between David Mazouz's Bruce Wayne and Carmen Bicondova's Selena Kyle in Pa Penguina, the season 4 premiere of Fox's superhero crime drama, Gotham.

And thus began a life long obsession with ledges.

Yet, it is understandable because Bruno Heller also has to deal with the young actors David Mazouz and Camren Bicondova aging and they can’t slowburn the development of Batman too much because any season could really be their last. Though critical reception has been continually positive, ratings are dipping and all it would take is a strong slew of new shows to force Gotham onto the chopping block. So, to keep the series compelling and relevant, Heller has been forced really to begin introducing Batman. I’m simply apprehensive. It is such a delicate balance to strike between Bruce Wayne becoming Batman while still allowing Gordon’s character to appear capable and effectual.

As season premiere’s go though, Pax Penguina was enjoyable and did enough to set the ground for future episodes. Gordon and Harvey Bullock, played here by Donal Logue, continue to delight with their banter, with the two characters playing off each other well. David Mazouz continues to stand out as well, displaying why he was well cast. Two notable moments are his scenes with Penguin and the roof top scene with Selena Kyle. Both scenes are filled with nuance, especially the latter where Selena is teasing Bruce and he just rather steely, tells her she looks good in her dress. In earlier seasons, Bruce might have reached out for her, but it’s clear they’ve developed a level of trust and maturity in their relationship. Gotham often struggles tonally but where it excels is in these little character moments.

Gotham isn’t likely to topple Breaking Bad or The Wire in terms of excellent quality television any time soon but I still find it a lot of fun to watch. If you agree or if you have an argument for why Gotham is the best thing going today, I’d like to hear it. Or if you’ve got any other flawed but fun shows you watch, shoot me a comment or message and let me hear ‘em. As always you can keep up to date with these posts by hitting the follow button or through any of my social media pages. Or if fiction is more your thing, check out my very own original novel, Carrion Youth, over on swoonreads.com.

Pack Mentality: Fixing Winterfell

If there is part of Game of Thrones Season 7 that is universally hated, it’s the Winterfell story. Sansa fans hate it, Arya fans hate it and Littlefinger fans hate it. The narrative does nothing for the characters and doesn’t progress the story in Winterfell in any meaningful way. It’s basically an entire area of the map treading water while it waits for The North to be relevant in the escalating wars with Cersei and The Night King.

One thing I was taught when I studied creative writing was not to just say that something is bad. It’s not constructive, and it’s not constructive to simply say that the Winterfell story is stupid or that Sansa and Arya are acting out of character. Especially if you’re a writer or an artist yourself, because just dismissing something means you aren’t able to learn anything from it. So with that in mind, rather than simply saying that Benioff and Weiss don’t know what they’re doing, let’s look at what they were trying to do and how it might have been done better.

So why didn’t it work? One of the key issues is perspective. It seems as if Benoiff and Weiss were attempting to deceive the audience with a narrative sleight of hand. First, they set up Sansa and Arya arguing and suggest that one might kill the other, then at the last minute they flipped that on its head and revealed that they were actually both plotting against Littlefinger. But in order to pull that surprise off they had to have Arya and Sansa act in ways that didn’t sit logically with how they previously behaved. It was unbelievable that Sansa would want to hurt one of the few members of her family left, when she’d previously been very happy to be reunited with Jon, a half-brother that she regarded coldly in her youth. It was uncharacteristic of Arya to have ever wondered what it would have been like to wear dresses and be a lady of a castle.

Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams as the Stark sisters, Sansa and Arya, standing on the Winterfell battlements following their trial of Littlefinger for treason.

Surely there’s somewhere warmer to do all this reflecting.

This is a problem with the way that the story is shown to us. The audience only see Sansa and Arya arguing because Benoiff and Weiss didn’t want to show them discussing how to trick Littlefinger or talking to Bran about what he knows. To show that would spoil the reveal but actually they spoiled the reveal when the characters had to act outside of their normal behaviour to labour the tension between Arya and Sansa. Not only did it backfire because Sansa and Arya act out of character but it also raises serious questions about how Littlefinger didn’t also see the reveal coming given that he too should have been able to tell that Sansa was turning against her sister too quickly and that Arya has never desired what Sansa had.

So how should the Winterfell story have been written? The entire Winterfell story stems from the fact that there was really nothing more for Littlefinger to do. The story was being streamlined to fit within the shorter final seasons, and in that story there wasn’t really enough time to also deal with Littlefinger attempting to plot his own way to power. And while that’s understandable from a production and development standpoint, storywise it seems odd that Littlefinger has schemed and murdered his way to become acting Lord of the Vale just to use that authority to reseat the Starks. It doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t fit his power-hungry character.

Littlefinger is a character who has been constantly playing both sides against each other and never revealing his true allegiance. There are theories that he instigated the War of the Five Kings so that he use the ensuing chaos to gain more power in the Seven Kingdoms. It’s unbelievable that he would side with Sansa and then just remain in the North. It would be much more like Littlefinger to have aided Sansa while also keeping in contact with Cersei, telling both of them half truths and lies. Maybe this could be what led to him being tried for treason or could have just triggered Sansa’s suspicions. Either way, it would make Littlefinger into the much proactive character that he has been previously.

Petyr Baelish, portrayed by Aiden Gillen, better known as Littlefinger is shocked to find himself on trial and at ther mercy of the Stark siblings.

One battle he forgot to fight in his mind.

With Arya and Sansa, much of the problems with the Winterfell plot could be fixed by simply letting the audience in on the scheme. Allow the audience to see Arya and Sansa secretly discussing how to trick Littlefinger and asking Bran for information while publicly arguing and being cold with each other. The tension then moves from whether Sansa and Arya are going to attack each other, which no one wanted nor believed would happen and was never intended to have any pay off, and switches to a scenario where the audience is anticipating whether Littlefinger will be duped or not. It moves the perspective so that the audience are on the side of Sansa and Arya, where they should always have been.

With a few simple changes, the Winterfell story could have been so much more compelling and avoided making characters act abnormally. Narratively it would still have been relatively detached from the real of the events happening in the Seven Kingdoms but perhaps this could also have been explained by Littlefinger only telling Sansa what would most benefit him. But Game of Thrones has always had simultaneous plots that unaffected by each other so it’s not necessarily a problem. So, the lesson here is perspective. Don’t force a certain point of view on a story to force a reveal. It doesn’t work and your audience will see through it right away.

Thanks for reading. Got any ideas how the Winterfell story could have been improved? Get in touch. Or if you’d like to read my thoughts on Game of Thrones season 7 episodes, you can find the individual episode reviews in the archives. To keep up to date with new reviews and editorials, hit the follow button here or on social media. And if you’d like to read the fruits of my creative writing studies, you can find my second novel, Carrion Youth, over on Swoonreads.