“I’m Thankful For…” (That Yearly Thanksgiving Post)

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Photo: My collection

So most every year around this time, I like to post about things I’m grateful for. It’s essential to say this isn’t a comprehensive list. It’s just a taste of all the good things in my life.

I’m Thankful For…

My vision. As many of you know, I now see mostly with my left eye. However, the right eye has a tiny tunnel of vision (thanks to my excellent surgeon Dr. David R.). Because the last two surgeries played havoc with my eye muscles, it’s taking awhile for my eyes to become “straight” again–to work in unison. But it’s happening, and every week I can do more on the computer without getting a blinding headache.

My readers. I cannot express how grateful I am to each and every one of you. I was a slow writer before all this health stuff started, and it’s been a little scary to find myself so far behind. Yet virtually every communication I’ve received from you has been positive, supportive, and kindhearted. Thank you so much for sticking with me. There will be a book and a short story from me soon, I promise.

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Photo: My collection

Cornwall. It was everything I dreamed of, and more. I can’t wait to return, hopefully in 2018. We’ll see how things go.

Game of Thrones. Yes, I know. Aren’t I silly? But my mom and I had so much fun watching the series together, one episode a week, all year long. There’s nothing like bonding over beheadings.

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Photo: HBO

My friends. You know who you are. I am so richly blessed in friendship. Some of you I’ve known since childhood. Some I made as an author, some I met on Facebook, and some are from my own neighborhood. If I need to talk, there’s always someone I can turn to, by phone, email, text, or in person. It doesn’t get any better than that.

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Photo: JacksonGalaxy.com

Jackson Galaxy and My Cat from Hell. I should have started watching this years ago. It’s a joy to see my three cats much happier and getting along.

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Photo: HBO

Westworld. Yeah, baby. Anthony Hopkins. Evan Rachel Wood. Ed Harris. Thandie Newton. I can’t think of anything else to say. That should be enough.

James McAvoy. Soon to be appearing in the movie Split. Can’t wait to see it.

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Photo: 😉

And once again, I‘m thankful for everyone who touches my author-life, from my readers to my editor to my expert readers to my cover artist to my formatter to (deep breath) anyone who plays any role at all!

I wish every one of you a happy and blessed Thanksgiving.

Westworld: Another Man in Black Theory

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Photo: HBO

Hello! For those readers who don’t follow me on Facebook, a quick update: The first half of Divorce Can Be Deadly has been edited and critiqued by my experts. I am working feverishly on the second half, so it can receive the same scrutiny. It won’t be much longer, and that’s why I declined to write a blog post about Westworld 1.4 (“Dissonance Theory”) or 1.5 (“Contrapasso”). But I have the bare bones of yet ANOTHER Man in Black (MiB) theory that I want to share. As usual, my speculation is loaded with spoilers, so please don’t continue if you haven’t caught up.

Now. We all remember this guy, right?

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Photo: MGM Home Entertainment

Yul Brenner’s performance in the original film Westworld (1973) is arguably the best part of a fondly remembered sci-fi romp. I tuned into HBO’s Westworld expecting a similar gunslinger, and I got him in Ed Harris. One look at Harris in costume, complete with black hat and black horse, and you just know you’re looking at a formidable villain.

Or are you?

Let’s review his appearance on the scene. He taunts Teddy (who we originally believed to be a human visitor) and shoots him. Then he grabs a screaming, pleading Dolores by the hair and drags her into the barn, presumably to have his way with her. He says something like, “You think I paid all this money because I want it easy? I want you to fight.” We never see what happens, but we assume Dolores is raped and killed (in the sense that hosts can be killed), and the MiB is a sadist who visits Westworld to exercise his cruelest instincts.

Later, we see a bit more of what happened inside the barn. The MiB takes out his enormous hunting knife (which I originally took as a bit of Freudian symbolism) and says something like, “We’re going all the way back to the beginning.”

Until now, I’ve assumed Dolores’s father triggered her growing self-awareness with the phrase (voice command?) “The violent delights have violent ends.” But what if the MiB did it? And could the knife somehow be involved?

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Photo: HBO

Recalling Maeve’s flashback to a prior incarnation, we see her cornered by the MiB. He pulls the knife as he advances. Again, the obvious assumption is, he’s going to rape and kill her. But does that fit into what we’ve learned about him?

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Photo: HBO

We’ve spent a lot of time with William. Many viewers, including me, think William’s story only seems to be running concurrently with, say, Elsie’s realization that the self-destroying host carried a secret transmitter. Due to various clues, we think William’s story is a flashback to thirty years ago, just before the mysterious “critical failure.” William clearly has a thing for Dolores, and he’s discovered a knack for excelling in Westworld. Perhaps when the MiB mentioned “All the way back to the beginning,” this is what he meant.

William is a kind, decent, fair-minded person. Of course, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t transformed himself into a reprehensible beast over the intervening thirty years. But another guest recognized him and tried to thank him because his foundation “literally saved” the guest’s sister. So in the real world, at least, the MiB does good things.

In Westworld 1.5, the MiB tells Teddy he once cut open an early host model and found a mechanical marvel within. He then says something like, “What would I find if I cut you open?” I can’t help but think the knife is more than a knife, but not the way Freud meant. Even Dr. Ford, who seems to harbor some antipathy for the MiB, examined it with some interest, as seen below.

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Photo: HBO

So if the MiB was once William, and he’s been coming to the park for thirty years, and now he doesn’t plan to leave (as he said in WW 1.1), what’s his endgame? In my previous blog post, I floated the idea of consciousness-transfer: he wants to put his essence into Westworld and live forever, either in one host body or many. Now I wonder, despite his all-black costume that hearkens to Yul Brenner’s… are his motives more aligned with his real-life role as a philanthropist? Perhaps he’s dying, and has no wish to live as Dr. Ford described in 1.1, clinging to life through technology. And perhaps he’s returned to Westworld with the hope of a grand selfless act: the freeing of its self-aware hosts?

I can’t wait for next Sunday night. And now… back to those rewrites.

Westworld 1.1 and 1.2

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Photo: HBO

I’m enjoying Westworld so far! Of course, you probably guessed that I would give anything starring Anthony Hopkins a look. But it didn’t take long for me to fall under Westworld’s spell. As I do with Game of Thrones, I want to discuss the specifics of BOTH episodes, so if you haven’t seen them, my standard admonition applies: beware. This post is loaded with spoilers and unfounded speculation.

Question 1: Where is the story set?

The future, clearly. Westworld appears to be an interactive hologram, a massive version of Star Trek’s holodeck, and it’s populated by AI embodied not in plastic and circuits, like Yul Brenner in the 1973 movie, but in artificial flesh and blood. Westworld’s creator, Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins), says, “We can cure any disease, keep even the weakest of us alive, and one fine day, perhaps we can even resurrect the dead, call forth Lazarus from his cave. Do you know what that means? That means we’re done. This is as good as we’re going to get.”

But beyond the artificial environs of Westworld itself, where are the principals? If it’s a building, well, sub-level B has at least 83 floors. If it overlooks a peaceful vista (as seen during a conversation between Theresa, the head of security, and Lee, the head writer), that vast landscape contains no cities or signs of human life.

My guess? Earth is no longer habitable. The main action takes place on a space station. Westworld may be generated inside the station, or it might be placed slightly out of phase, occupying the station yet separated.

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Photo: HBO

Question 2: What happened during that critical failure thirty years ago?

In episode two, newcomer William is greeted in a steely welcome center with numerous escalators and AI hosts. In episode one, way down on sub-level B, Dr. Bernard Lowe and his security escort pass through what looks like the remnants of a smaller welcome center. There is a ruined fountain with a globe that says Delos (the name of the company). So it appears that the critical failure went all the way to the welcome center.

We also know that Westworld’s mysterious Man in Black (a deliciously evil Ed Harris) has been coming to the park for thirty years. Which brings us to another question.

Question 3: Who is the Man in Black?

He’s a sadist. He seems to particularly enjoy harming women. He knows the world so well, he understands every character’s backstory and seems almost frustrated by their limited memories. When a park technician notes that he’s “killed” a lot of hosts, the reply is something like, “Give that gentleman whatever he wants.”

So the easy answer is, he’s Westworld’s best customer. But why does the show refer to him as the Man in Black? Why is he listed in the credits that way?

I suspect it’s because the Man in Black is someone very important. Theresa observes in 1.1 that Westworld is one thing to the guests, another to the shareholders, and another to the creative braintrust. I think the Man in Black might be someone high in the company, perhaps the chairman of the board.

In episode 2, he says he’s never going back to the real world. What’s his end game? That brings me to the final question.

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Photo: HBO

Question 4: What do the major players want?

Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood) is almost certainly heading toward revolution. But is it a coincidence that she is the oldest host, never decommissioned after thirty years of service, or that her name is quite similar to the company name, Delos? Probably not. We’ve seen that Dr. Ford still meets with his second oldest host, the decommissioned Wild Bill. Does Delores represent something for Dr. Ford—a recreation of a lost love, etc.?

Perhaps. I think Dr. Ford’s primary desire is to create life that possesses completely free will. His software update, the “reveries” that supposedly comprise a mistake, are perhaps a deliberate attempt to hasten this final progression.

What about Dr. Bernard Lowe? We know he’s been having secret conversations with Delores. We know he carries a photograph of a young boy, and that he lives alone. I think perhaps the child is dead, and Dr. Lowe’s desire is to resurrect him.

And the Man in Black? Can it really be that all he wants is a permanent vacation in Westworld?

I look forward to finding out. If you subscribe to HBO and want to watch episode 2 early, head to HBO GO. As for me, I’ll get back to writing. Happy weekend!

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Photo: HBO

Game of Thrones 6.5: “The Door”

Last night, #HoldtheDoor was trending worldwide on Twitter. If you don’t know why, don’t read this yet.

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Sansa and Littlefinger  Talk about an evolution. I was pleased to see Sansa not only castigate and threaten Littlefinger, but speak aloud about what happened to her and force him to acknowledge her words. I have the feeling she’ll never be politely silent again on an important topic again. As she said: “If you didn’t know, you’re an idiot. If you did know, you’re my enemy.” Bang. Around season 4, I had the idea Sansa might transform into a master of duplicity like Littlefinger. Now I believe her long apprenticeship with him has simply taught her how to see through liars. More on Sansa later.

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“Lady Stark” vs “No One” The pacing of the Arya-in-Braavos segments have been slow for me. I loved it when she was on the road with the Hound. Every time the story cut to those two, we got a dose of violence, humor, and/or character development. But the Faceless Men segments always seem to revolve around insults and getting whacked with a stick. Now it seems like Arya is looking down the barrel of her big choice: kill a total stranger because her organization was paid to do so, or defy the order and fail for the last time.

Until last night, I believed Arya would abandon her identity and live out her days as an assassin. Now I’m not so sure. Is it a coincidence that the actors caught her up on key developments like Sansa being forced to marry Tyrion? (And by the way, as much as I liked Ned, the play’s portrayal of him as an absolute buffoon was pretty funny.) Here’s another truly fearless prediction, since I am on a massive losing streak: Arya will take her skills and her sword back to Westeros to rejoin what’s left of her family.

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Bombshell: The Origin of the White Walkers I never really thought about where the Others came from. I assumed they were merely this grim world’s grimmest reality. Now we know the Children of the Forest created them in their desperation to defeat the First Men. If the Others can be created, they can be uncreated. Bran, you have your assignment.

The Kingsmoot Seems Less Moot In the books, I found the Kingsmoot sections fairly tedious, but the show condensed and simplified them beautifully. As an aside, when Euron called on his subjects to cut down every tree and build a thousand ships, I couldn’t help wondering if the Iron Islands have enough trees to construct a hundred dinghies. But never mind. Can’t get bogged down on supply-source details. That’s a slippery slope which can only lead to noticing Olly went from a boy to a young man in the space of approximately two days, or that none of these folks have access to modern dentistry, yet most have perfect teeth.

Ser Jorah, the Khaleesi, Tyrion, and Kinvara I adore Jorah’s character and the way Iain Glen plays him. I could happily listen to him read the back of a cereal box. So it was lovely to see Danaerys admit her (unromantic) love for Jorah, and command him to “heal himself.” I doubt he’ll find a cure, but if he ranges far and wide enough, he might discover something that advances the plot. Heh heh.

Meanwhile, Tyrion and Varys befriend/empower a religious fanatic, just as Cersei did in season 5. Let’s hope it works out better. Kinvara seems like trouble. Am I the only one who was disappointed when she didn’t tell Varys who spoke from the flames, or what was said?

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Sansa, Part 2 Ever since Sansa finally escaped from King’s Landing, I’ve dreamed up ways she can charm, lie, or marry her way into lasting safety. I never imagined her sitting in a council of war, deciding who is a potential ally and who “can hang.” Jon is looking more and more like Ned (the hair, the new cloak, the constipated expression) but Sansa is changing into something new: the Wardeness of the North, perhaps.

I also noticed some meaningful looks when Jon was referenced as her half-brother, and as a bastard named Snow. Will Sansa make him a Stark at last? And if she does, how will that fit into the long-expected revelation that he is… well, you know.

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Hold the Door  Bran does some unauthorized astral projection and ends up bringing the Others and an undead hoard right to his erstwhile safe house. (Safe tree?) Looks like his unpaid internship has wrapped and he’s become the CEO.

The death of the Three-Eyed Raven was expected (if early) but the demise of Summer hit me hard. Remember last week when I became fully delusional and spun a scenario in which Shaggydog was still alive? Well, scratch that. Summer was literally destroyed by the forces of eternal winter. I hate when that happens.

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As for the truth about Hodor, it proved as startling, genuinely satisfying and mind-trippy as the film Interstellar did not. To think, ever since Bran was crippled, he’s been served by a gentle giant who is a simpleton because of Bran. I remember in the books, when Old Nan said Hodor wasn’t actually his name, but just something he started saying, and I thought it was a nice throwaway detail that proves how deeply George R.R. Martin imagines his world. Now we understand at last. This is what an earned, perfectly executed twist-reveal looks and feels like. Well played, GRRM.

Bizarre and Probably Dead Wrong Theory These are NOT spoilers, but simply theories. The Tyrion theory comes from a friend. The rest are mine, but I’ve discovered that anything I devise on my own has already been floated online by hundreds of other fans. So I don’t claim to be unique. But now that Meera and Bran are alone in the frozen wastes pursued by enemies, it begs the question: how can they possibly survive? I suppose Cold Hands (a character from the books) or the long-missing Benjen Stark might turn up. Or suppose, just suppose, one of Dany’s recently-freed dragons flies by?

After all, Bran is the most accomplished Stark warg, and he’s lost Summer. Suppose he takes control of a dragon? He’s been told many times that he will fly. I assumed that meant flying in the metaphorical sense, but perhaps not.

And if Bran rides a dragon, he’ll need another special saddle. Luckily, the designer, Tyrion, is still alive. And if Tyrion is actually a Targaryen, he might just decide to ride a dragon, too, leaving Drogon for Danaerys. Hmm? Hmm?

I know. It’s nuts. Let me get back to writing my own novel, where at least I know what happens next.

Game of Thrones 6.2: “Home”

Jon Dead

This post is (obviously) loaded with spoilers and speculation. Please avert your eyes if you don’t want to know.

Back in Black  By the end of the episode, Jon is back among the living. I’ve been predicting this since he died at the end of George R. R. Martin’s A Dance of Dragonsfor a variety of reasons. Some believed this was just another colossal GRRM plot twist, like heroic Ned’s beheading or Oberyn Martell’s gruesome defeat. But I thought it was part of the classic hero’s journey as explained by Joseph Campbell and (for true story geeks) graphed below:

Hero's Journey

So Jon’s down there at 6 o’clock, with “transformation” soon to follow. Literally dying at his post has released him from that pesky Night’s Watch vow, so that’s a start. Can’t wait to see Ser Allister’s face when he beholds Jon back from the dead.

I did think Jon’s rebirth seemed a little low on shock and awe. It appeared that the Red Woman healed his wounds, but I don’t think she actually brought him back. I have a feeling Bran did it, and we’ll soon learn how. I think that’s why Ghost was asleep throughout–Jon’s soul, though still in the direwolf, was communing with Bran, who has gained tremendous power during his training. Already we see that Bran is gathering information on the Stark family and all the key details Ned left unsaid.

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Lyanna Stark  

This episode also gave us an intriguing glimpse of the young Starks, including the enigmatic Lyanna, who Robert claimed was stolen from him by Rhaegar Targaryen. And surprise, Hodor was once Wylis, able to fight and talk. I have a feeling his backstory will illuminate Lyanna’s character. In the books, Ned said his sister had the “blood of the wolf,” so I look forward to seeing her in action. It’s also nice to put a face to the name that doesn’t look like the meme below (which is truly one of my favorite GoT gags):

Ned as Lyanna

Meanwhile, in Mereen  Another scene was the thrilling dragon release by Tyrion. I noticed a few fans of the book series were worried that this would spell the end of our favorite hero who “drinks and knows things,” but I feel certain that if and when Tyrion dies, it won’t be in a foolish fashion, like a certain peripheral book character. He showed an amazing rapport with the dragons, and great courage, too–I intially thought he was going to ask Missandei to release them, which might have made more sense. But no, he did it himself, and the dragons seemed to know him for a friend.

One of my good friends devised a very intriguing theory as to why Tyrion was so readily accepted. If this notion, like L + R = J, is in wide circulation, I missed it somehow. Maybe she’ll comment on this post and share her thoughts.

Can’t wait for the next episode. Now back to novel-writing!

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Game of Thrones 6.1: “The Red Woman”

Red Woman Season 6

Warning: This post is packed with spoilers and a lot of pure speculation.

Anyone who knows me in real life knows I am a Game of Thrones superfan. So they won’t be surprised that as I recover from these various medical issues and get back in the habit of writing daily, I’ll spend five minutes tossing off a blog post about it. Especially since the HBO show’s storylines have at last moved beyond the books and into unmapped, Here Be Dragons territory. So I present my thoughts on the episode.

Jon Snow: Still Dead  I wasn’t expecting him to be resurrected in the first episode. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t make us wait until episode five or later. I did notice that although Ghost howled to be set free, we viewers were spared the usual do-si-do they apparently teach screenwriters in film school: animal companion rushes to dead human’s side. Tries to rouse him with increasingly pitiful sounds and actions. Whines to grieving human, who intones, “How can I make you understand? He’s gone.”

But Ghost didn’t sniff and paw uncomprehendingly at Jon’s body, because Jon “warged” at the last second and shifted his soul/consciousness into Ghost. (Making the direwolf’s name prophetic, we see what you did there, GRRM.) So fear not, I have no doubt Jon’s body will be resurrected and his soul will then be returned, so he won’t be a bleak revenant like Beric Dondarrion or an outright monster, like the blue-eyed wights.

Daenerys Meets Her Future Cavalry So, the Dothraki respect strength above all else. We know Drogon is on the loose and we saw in the preview that Tyrion says “Dragons don’t do well in captivity” before apparently setting the other two free. I predict that when Dany arrives at the Dothraki’s most sacred place, the Mother of Mountains, and three dragons turn up to humble the horse lords, the general Dothraki attitude toward Khal Drogo’s widow will be transformed. Giving her three dragons, an army of fine foot soldiers, and a cavalry. All she’ll need to complete her conquest of Westeros is a fleet.

Jaime Lannister: Back Under the Spell of that Wicked Woman All I can do is sigh. No. Brienne. Brienne is the right one for you, Jaime. I really hope he wakes up to this fact.

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Sansa Stark Bolton Has New Allies Thank goodness. Theon really stepped up and proved himself, in my opinion, worthy of trust. When he tried to divert the searchers, he risked the thing he fears most–being sent back to Ramsay for punishment. And Sansa finally allowed Brienne to swear fealty. Remember when Roose Bolton warned Ramsay about how hard it would be to overcome a Lannister Army? If a Lannister Army goes north, Jaime will be at its head. If Brienne can get him to fight for Sansa (to fulfill his part of the oath to Catelyn) then Sansa will regain Winterfell and the Bolton lands, too.

Sansa Season 6

In fact … and here’s where I’ll go off the rails a little. But Theon is still heir to the Iron Islands, and on a map of Westeros, you’ll see the proximity of those islands make them an ongoing threat to Winterfell. If Ramsay dies and Sansa is carrying his child, she can claim Stark and Bolton lands. If she then marries Theon, she will be the most powerful ruler the North has seen in a long time. Of course, with the Others mobilizing and the army of the dead walking, real estate values up north are plummeting.

The Red Woman Okay, so she’s old. Yet when she wears the ruby at her throat, she looks and seems young. Somebody steal that ruby and pass it under Jon’s nose like smelling salts!

That’s enough out of my re: GoT for one week. Back to work on my novel!

 

Game of Thrones Season 2 Finale

Warning: Loaded with SPOILERS

Tyrian Lannister (Peter Dinklage), unappreciated and somewhat worse for wear. (HBO)

Last night marked the season two finale of HBO’s epic fantasy series, Game of Thrones. Here are my thoughts:

Tyrian Lannister and Shae

Tyrian (Peter Dinklage) spent the entire season proving how tough, brave and smart he is. He almost single-handedly saved King’s Landing, not only by putting the secret wildfire stockpile to good use, but by leading the battle himself after the Hound and King Joffrey deserted. So what does Tyrian get in return? His sister Cersei sends a knight to kill him, marking him for all time. (Though less horribly than in the books, I might add.) His father arrives, takes all the credit, plus the title Hand of the King, plus the Hand’s sumptuous apartments. Even lets his big white horse take a big steaming dump while approaching the Iron Throne. Reversals of fortune are a big part of why I love Game of Thrones. Not so much for the fantasy elements, although they are well-imagined. For the characters and their often stunningly realistic interactions.

This season, we last see Tyrian in Shae’s arms, brought to tears by her devotion. Now in the books, Shae was loathsome and vile, and I often sighed that Tyrian, for all his brilliance, couldn’t recognize her for what she was. This character is clearly different — perhaps a combination of Shae and one of the Dornish “Sand Snakes”? Anyway, I loved the scene and it made we wish things could work out for them.

Theon (Alfie Allen) does his best Henry V, with a somewhat different result. (HBO)

Theon, Maester Luwin, Bran and Winterfell

Well, it’s been a crappy life for Theon Greyjoy. The show’s head writers seem to feel that rather keenly, since they’ve twice allowed Theon to speechify about his difficult path in ways he never did in the book. (Or if he did, they made no impression on me.) Theon was ransomed as a baby and brought up by kind frenemies that never quite adopted him. When he returned to his own family, he was mocked as weak and less of a man than his superstar sister. When he decided to betray Winterfell and the Starks, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. In the end, his own men mutinied and carried him off as a prisoner, no doubt to ransom back to King Robb, who has promised amnesty for all Ironborn except Theon.

It’s interesting how Theon’s pity party is allowed to go on and on, while Tyrian simply swallows insult after insult and Sam Tarly, whose own father threatened to murder him, bumbles around happily in the North. Perhaps that’s the point to Theon’s arc? Wallow in self-pity and end up deserted by all?

Not much of Bran, Rickon or Osha, but Maester Luwin gets a nice final scene. I enjoyed that, because in the books he suffers the usual pitiless GRRM end.

Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) shows a certain golden lion just what she’s made of. (HBO)

Brienne of Tarth and Jaime Lannister

Oh, I do enjoy seeing these two together. The staging of their all-too-brief sequence was brilliant. Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) emerges from the boat a few paces ahead of Brienne (Gwendoline Christie). The camera angle — him walking uphill a bit ahead of her — makes him seem her height, or even a shade taller, as he does what handsome jerks do to strange or unconventionally attractive females … tease her mercilessly. Is she a virgin? Did any man ever care enough to try? Doesn’t she wish he, often called the handsomest man in the kingdom, would try? (Well, that last bit is only implied.)

Then they come upon the corpses of three tavern girls, hanging in the trees. Stark men raped and killed them for serving the Lannisters as customers. Just as Brienne sees the bodies, the actress hits her mark beside Coster-Waldau, towering over him by at least half a head. (Broader, too, in full armor.) When apparent danger arrives on-scene, Jaime begs her for release so he can save them both. Then he gets to watch while Brienne easily dispatches three armed men like they were boys with sticks. The progression of reactions on Jaime’s face  — first shock, then respect, then shrewd appraisal — was perfect.

Can’t wait for season three.

Is this a grumpkin, or a snark? (HBO)

Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, White Walkers and — a Slight Anticlimax?

I wasn’t a fan of the “stolen dragons” plot because I thought the end was too obvious to be interesting. And sure enough, for me, it didn’t amount to much. I did find it interesting that the show’s version of Dany could lock away her betrayers so cruelly. Cutting their throats would have been far kinder. In the books, Dany is hard, as all would-be conquerors must be, but she isn’t cruel. Interesting choice.

As for Jon’s final bit,  maneuvered-into-killing-Qhorin-to-gain-the-Wildings-trust … eh. I didn’t feel any particular drama. That seemed rushed. Your mileage may vary, of course.

Finally, at last, the White Walkers and their undead army (Gray Staggerers?) were revealed. As far as the close-up of a White Walker’s face … I’m not sure about the effect, it seemed a little too unreal. Seeing poor Sam surrounded by CGI reminded me of that time a lot of special effects teamed up to drown George Clooney and Marky Mark. But these are my usual nitpicks, because I am a compulsive nitpicker.

Overall, the season was tremendous and I can’t wait for what comes next.

Movie Mention: Game Change

Game Change is HBO’s latest offering, a look at the 2008 election.  It features Ed Harris as John McCain, Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin and Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, a Republican strategist and kingmaker.  The movie details how McCain chose Palin, how his staff became disillusioned with the pick, and how Palin struggled to live up to her role as a game changer while not letting “John down,”  a fear she confides to Schmidt.

Julianne Moore as Gov. Sarah Palin

Generally, I try to steer clear of politics in my blog.  In modern US life, political allegiance is the great divider — disagree with a position and you virtually guarantee alienating 48% of the nation.  But this movie interested me not simply because it detailed the inner workings of a failed presidential campaign.  It also seeks to illuminate the human frailties that allowed such a failure to occur.

Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt

In Game Change‘s opening, Senator John McCain brings Republican strategist Steve Schmidt into the campaign.  No sooner has Schmidt arrived than the pollsters reveal the grim truth: unless McCain closes the “gender gap” between himself and female voters, he cannot hope to become President of the United States.

These early sequences are a crucial examination of John McCain.  We learn of his strong friendship with Joe Lieberman as the two men sit, giggling like schoolboys at a YouTube video chronicling John Edward’s boundless vanity.  Yet Lieberman is derided by McCain’s advisers as pro-life and a Jew.  (Not to mention Al Gore’s former running mate and rather goofy-looking.)  According to those advisers, if McCain wants to be president, he needs to choose a game changer as vice-president.  And McCain, like a dissolute gambler, proves unable to resist the dare.  In the moment that matters, he cares about nothing but proving his own label as a maverick.  So he vows he WILL choose a game changer — a female — if his team can vet such a woman in a very short time.

Ed Harris as Senator John McCain

Naturally, things go wrong.  Palin proves far out of her depth on the national stage.  As one character observes, “It’s not that she doesn’t know the answers.  It’s that she doesn’t understand the questions.”

I liked the movie’s struggle to document what happened without assigning meaning from on high, if you catch my drift.  Schmidt (Harrelson) seems justifiably incensed that a “real American hero” like John McCain is being ignored in favor of Obama, “a man with no accomplishments.”   At the same time, Schmidt quickly realizes how terribly the truncated vetting process failed McCain’s campaign.  Ed Harris is, as usual, quietly amazing in his ability to channel John McCain.  And Julianne Moore is perfectly balanced in her turn as Sarah Palin.  Palin isn’t presented as a complex character, full of nuances and deep water.  Quite the opposite.  In Game Change, Palin is simple enough to be a Holy Fool, or at least an unholy one.

Portrayed as a devoted mother and uncomplicated local politician, we see Palin defend her pregnant teen against adult comedians and heed her husband Todd’s surprisingly on-target advice.    We watch her bask in the praise of Fox News’s talking heads, only to be quietly shattered by Tina Fey’s impersonation .  (“I can see Russia from my house!”)  But Palin never weeps, never openly betrays her inner despair.  And that is Julianne Moore’s achievement, so reveal so much by often revealing nothing at all.