Game of Thrones S1, Ep2 – “The Kingsroad”

This episode, more than the first, really managed to convey the books’ sense of impending doom. I really got the feeling that these characters are on a long, slow road to despair and we’re going to march with them every step of the way. This tone of futility may be a hard thing to endure episode after episode. I saw someone describe the series as cheerless, and while I think that may be denying the show some its wit and charm, there’s no escaping the fact that this is grim shit and it only gets grimmer. For every triumph (see Dani’s story), there are dozens of crushing blows to the spirit. And yet… and yet…herein lies the crux of the series. In a world that is so obviously mechanized towards grinding down the weak and the unlucky, these characters will struggle and plot and fight until the last breath, and they will cling to hope that somehow justice will ultimately find those who deserve it most. That’s the definition of nobility, right there, and make no mistake – this series is all about nobility in title versus nobility in action and in character. Episode two gets that across in spades.

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Game of Thrones, S1, Ep1 – “Winter is Coming”

I often catch myself falling into that trap of “worrying” how civilians might come at something like Game of Thrones, as if it’s important to consider the show without the prejudices or predispositions of having read the books beforehand. This is silly, of course. I can’t erase the knowledge and emotional baggage of having read the books first and, more importantly, there’s no reason on earth I should even try. Beyond its success in the ratings either providing me with more or fewer episodes to watch myself, what is the value in trying to anticipate how a casual HBO viewer might respond to Game of Thrones? The opinions of non-fans can be interesting and even insightful, but trying to taper my own enjoyment or approach to the show by seeing it through freshman eyes doesn’t grant me any better appreciation of its merits…or faults.

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The Walking Dead, S1, Ep6 – “TS-19”

Way back yonder, I compared the pilot for this series to a Frankenstein monster, and that analogy has held true for the entire first season. Each individual scene usually varies in consistency, tone, and strength from the one preceding it and the one to follow (Walking Dead Shuffle, indeed). Sometimes it works, but all too often even those successes have felt more fortuitous than intentional. Episode Five was the first time an episode didn’t feel like it was 44 minutes of scenes shot by three different directors from three different scripts.  On the plus side, the final episode of season one felt like it had a singular creative vision, both in the writing and the direction. Unfortunately, it was a vision by way of Mr. MaGoo. There wasn’t a single memorable shot or sequence in the whole damn thing. The lighting was flat, and the staging was so perfunctory it felt like any directions the actors got came straight out of an IKEA box. And the writing? I was able to overlook the hoary zombie film clichés last week because they were deftly executed, but last night’s episode felt like one of those bad parties where you arrive only to discover the only folks there are the insufferable bores you try to avoid running into at other parties.

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The Walking Dead, S1, Ep4 – “Vatos”

Opening scene: Uh, what is up with the Lifetime movie-of-the-week dialog? Oh, this episode was written by comics’ own Robert Kirkman. Of course, part of how badly that played for me was the fact that both women were so heavily made-up. Who wears lipstick and mascara to go fishing? That said, Kirkman nails how to turn these things around without relying on somebody saying “Isn’t it funny how the women have become the hunters in this new paradigm?”

They did a swell job of making Merle more a force to be reconned with then just a wacko with a snarl and a KKK membership card. The entire ‘hunt for Merle’ aspect of the first half was pretty great. By the time they find the van missing and suspect Merle of the crime, I felt that there was reason to fear this dude.

And, yes, I’m now joining the Merle Will Be The Governor camp, although how he’d amass an army like that in the time frame of the series is a big question-mark. But I’m sure they can tweak that whole scenerio.

“The only reason I got away was because the dead were too busy eatin’ my family.” – As far as dialog, that’s Kirkman at his best right there.

“They took Glenn!” – Funny how one line can add some colors to a character. They’re going out of their way here to make Daryl more reasonable than his brother. Wonder how that dynamic will play out.

Oops, wrong about Ed! Thank god.

Most upsetting part of the conclusion? Carl’s tears. That reaction was the right stuff; we don’t see nearly enough child actors in horror films being allowed to melt down like that.

A strong episode that made me wish Kirkman was writing the whole damn series. Yes, there were at least three of his patent “listen while I drop some nugget of wisdom on you” moments in the episode, but I don’t mind that so much.  It’s shorthand, and not entirely elegant, but it works just fine. Sure as hell beats what Darabont was giving us for characterization in episode two.

This still isn’t “must see” television for me, but it has evolved nicely over the second episode. The horror is still on the weak side (there were some good zombies in that final attack, but the blood letting itself didn’t hit me very hard), and there haven’t been any moments to rival the most haunting shots in the pilot. Still, they’ve got me until the season ends. Let’s see how it plays out.

Other takes:

Sean T Collins

Curt Purcell

The Walking Dead, S1, Ep2 – “Guts”

This episode really didn’t provoke much from me beyond the following:

1) What dramatic purpose does it serve for us to dislike Lori? Shane, I get – I don’t agree with it, but I get it. I simply don’t see the advantage to the story in portraying Lori the way they have for two episodes now.

2) If the Michael Rooker character, Winn Dixie or whatever his name was, is any indication, we’re in for a real treat when they get to the Governor. Given the writing and tone established here, I would go with Al Pacino myself, or maybe Paul F. Tompkins.

3) I think that slow motion dive for the key is pretty telling of how they’ll handle the most shocking death(s) in the comic – lots of tortured slo-mo reaction shots and, given the music selections to date, I’m guessing the sequence will likely be scored to Chris de Burgh’s “Lady in Red.”

4) “I’m going to tell them about Wayne.” Be sure to mention how Glenn wore Wayne’s intestines like a meat boa.

5) Agree with Curt here on two counts: the zombies weren’t very memorable/scary, and longform television is a perfect medium for nuanced characterization if the creators can be bothered to take the time and do it; there are examples a’plenty of shows where this is done, even in the horror/fantasy/sci-fi genres. Two episodes in, it’s looking like the Walking Dead is not going to be one of those shows. Maybe with the extra breathing room of a second season.

All smartassery aside, I have a decision to make: the pilot had some good character beats and some fine horror imagery. If this episode is more indicative of how the series will play, then I’m not sure I’ll keep on past Episode Three. I may tune in for the season with the Governor just to see how far they take it, but having zombies alone doesn’t scratch any particular itch for me; there are about nine dozen zombie movies on Netflix streaming alone were I so inclined. I started watching for some tense drama and effective horror, and there was neither in “Guts.” My backlog of unwatched programs is so large that I really won’t miss something that isn’t giving me anything I can’t miss, if you get my drift.