Sunday, July 30, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To “The Queen’s Justice”

This post contains spoilers for the Game of Throne’s episode “The Queen’s Justice”

Game of Thrones enacts revenge as well as any show on television, but the series is outdoing itself in Season Seven. The year began with Arya’s vengeance against House Frey and the second episode ended with Euron’s surprise victory over Yara Greyjoy. In “The Queen’s Justice,” Game of Thrones enacted some of its most poetic justice, even if it came at the expense of some important characters.

The one constant Lenna Headey has delivered throughout seven seasons of Game of Thrones is her ability to make Cersei’s Lannister an enjoyable villain. The coldest dispenser of power south of the Wall, Cersei unwittingly delivered payback to the murderers of two of her children. By killing her enemies with poisons like those that were used to kill her own children, the show carried out Cersei’s justice brilliantly. The double murder of the remaining Sand Snake and Lady Tyrell was some of the most well-done writing that the show has ever delivered. While the death of the acerbic Queen of Thrones is a loss to Game of Thrones, her character’s end was done in a manner that was befitting to Diana Rigg and Cersei.

Cersei went beyond sheer revenge in “The Queen’s” Justice.” Despite long odds, she thwarted Tyrion Lannister’s attack on her family’s castle and demolished two of the houses that were in open rebellion against her. This is also a major victory for Game of Thrones. The show managed to swiftly sidetrack the assumed easy victory over Cersei at King’s Landing and create a more interesting route for Daenerys Targaryen.

Jon Snow and Daenerys are now reluctant allies who need each other despite having separate goals. One episode after Jon would not judge the children of wayward Northern lords due to the crimes of their fathers, Daenerys was asking the same of him in light of her own father’s madness. Their dispositions are also different, creating a more interesting dynamic between the two monarchs. The austere introduction for Daenerys was merely countered with “This is Jon Snow. He’s king in the North.” By Jon not quickly bending his knee and pledging allegiance, the show provides room for a more uneasy alliance throughout the rest of this season.

“The Queen’s Justice” was the most fluid and best-written episode yet in Season Seven. The brilliant plot twists and the sweet revenge from Cersei are strong moments that allowed the Lannisters to get their groove back. Most of the truly shocking moments of Game of Thrones have typically happened in the last two episodes of each season. By not relegating big scenes to the last few episodes, Season Seven has been the least predictable and one of the most enjoyable in the series. 

What True Detective Has To Get Right In Season Three

There are few television series in recent memory that have represented both success and flop more than HBO’s True Detective. Launched as a crime drama anthology in 2014, the first run of the series was an excellent thriller that was powered by strong acting from Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The anthology’s 2015 follow-up failed despite a cast that included capable actors like Colin Farrell, Rachel McAdams, and Vince Vaughn. After a two-year lay-off the next edition of True Detective is in the works, but the series must learn from the mistakes of the second season to reclaim its status as one of television’s best dramas.

The best detective stories are often like the best westerns. Less is more. More often than not, the dedicated straight shooter is all an audience needs. McConaughey brought that aspect of noir into the 21st Century with his heavy performance as Rust Cohle. He was also joined by Woody Harrelson, who gave a brilliant turn as cop Marty Hart. Writer Nic Pizzolatto’s use of the Deep South as the backdrop for their investigation was also a stellar choice that helped create dark and powerful suspense. This blend allowed for some intense drama that was primarily comprised of psychological intrigue that made True Detective one of the truly great crime dramas to ever appear on television.

Every aspect of True Detective that was a success in season one went the other way in season two. The writing lacked a cohesive storyline and ultimately ended as a disappointment. Even though Farrell turned in a solid performance, neither he, McAdams, Vaughn, or co-star Taylor Kitsch really took over the season as well as McConaughey or complemented it as well as Harrelson. Even the show’s most dramatic moment, the urban shootout, was not as well-done as Cohle and Hart’s drug raid sequence. Both scenes were likely meant to be the high watermark of each season, but the drama of the second season’s shootout was based more in the violence of the moment than a uniquely-filmed emotional ride. Without succinct writing or a clear statement moment, it is hard to define the second season as anything but a step back.

McConaughey and Harrelson in True Detective
The first season of True Detective had several scenes that made the next episode a must-watch event. At no point did the second season of the show have an episode that contained a string of moments that demanded further attention. Another element that was missing from the second season was the lack of chemistry. While neither Hart nor Cohle’s characters had much love for each other throughout most of the series, the on-screen duo of McConaughey and Harrelson was tremendous. This quality was noticeably absent from the second iteration of the series. While a large cast of good actors was present in the second season, at no point did it feel like the actors were given the opportunity to develop a meaningful on-screen presence together.

The confusing nature of the second season’s plot also violated the most important factor in a detective drama’s success: strong writing. Certain genres may be able to escape subpar writing, but good scripts must be in place to deliver a successful detective series.

The third season of True Detective may already be off to a more positive start than its predecessor. On July 26, 2017 HBO announced that Mahershala Ali was the first actor cast for the upcoming True Detective. This casting choice is a perfect way to set the tone for the next version of the series.  Not only was Ali in two films that were nominated for Best Picture for the 2017 Academy Awards (Hidden Figures and eventual winner Moonlight), but he also received the Best Actor nod for his performance in Moonlight as well. He has already acted for HBO (Treme) and proved that he can deliver a complex performance (House of Cards) that a show like True Detective demands.

If HBO and Pizzolatto can return to a more simplified approach, True Detective can regain its potential as a semi-recurring anthology. The network must not emphasize a large cast and should partner Ali with a strong actor who he can develop good chemistry with instead of an ensemble approach. A compelling story with minimal change in the screen time for characters is the best formula for this genre. True Detective should not be like Game of Thrones and follow a host of characters with vaguely connected stories. Whether their mysteries are complex or simple, detective shows are at their best when fewer characters are in play and there is a stripped-down approach to writing.

The creative process for this upcoming season is crucial for the longevity of True Detective. A successful third season will probably result in an extended resurrection of the anthology. If the third season more closely resembles the second run than the first, True Detective will likely be dismissed from HBO’s future and the legacy of the series will be one very successful season that could not recapture its own magic.  

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Are The Killers Back?

From the minute “Mr. Brightside” was released as a single, The Killers were an “it” band. The Las Vegas group debuted with a roar in 2003 and achieved some serious arena rock glory. While The Killers never really went away, their run of hits waned after their two initial records. Their subsequent albums lacked the same burst of energy that made The Killers so great. Just one track into their new LP, Wonderful Wonderful, it appears that The Killers may have recaptured the magic that made them one of the world’s preeminent bands.

When The Killers first arrived, their music was something that a wide range of people could dance to. Big choruses and catchy riffs made “When You Were Young,” “Mr. Brightside,” and “Somebody Told Me” instant hits. Their first records Hot Fuss (2004) and Sam’s Town (2006) were popular for proms, FM radio, and Rock Band. The band racked up awards and platinum records and received a major nod from Robbie Williams at Live 8. The Killers seemed like a group that could do no wrong.

In their follow-up albums Day & Age (2008) and Battle Born (2012), the rockers crafted two solid records. Both LPs seemed to be more focused around ballads and lead singer Brandon Flowers. While the idea of changing your sound is never a bad concept for a band, the FM hits were not quite there anymore. It was hard to enjoy The Killers without the same bouncy guitar-synth blend that backed the emboldened vocals of front man Brandon Flowers. 

The first glimpse of their new record Wonderful Wonderful indicates that The Killers may have recaptured the excitement that made them one of the most celebrated bands in the world. The single “The Man” instantly grabs the listener’s attention with a burst of noise that is highlighted by some pretty funky guitar. With lyrics like “I know the score like the back of my hand/Them other boys, I don’t give a damn/They kiss the ring, I carry the crown,” the song gives the band a swagger that exceeds their most recent work. If enough of Wonderful Wonderful mirrors “The Man,” The Killers will be able to reclaim their “it” factor and sit alongside contemporary pop’s hitmakers again. 

The initial credits of Wonderful Wonderful indicate that The Killers have made some smart choices for their guests. By recruiting Brian Eno and Mark Knopfler, The Killers brought some heavyweight influences that also make sense as a complement to their sound. The album is set to be released on September 20. Along with The Killers, other rock bands like Foo Fighters and Queens of the Stone Age are also releasing albums as a part of a top-heavy third-quarter in 2017

The video for The Killers' "The Man" - 

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To Game of Throne's “Stormborn”

This post contains spoilers for the Game of Thrones episode “Stormborn.”

“Stormborn,” the second episode of Season Seven of Game of Thrones looked like it was on track to accelerate many of the ongoing storylines from the season’s first episode. And then Game of Thrones did what Game of Thrones does: derail predictable stories in swift and dramatic fashion.

After a powerful scene when Daenerys Targaryen confronts the Spider’s past, key characters came closer to uniting some long-awaited stories. Jon Snow is headed South to meet up with Daenerys in order to obtain quantities of  Dragonglass to fight the Night King. Of all the various factors involved in the quest for the Iron Throne and the battle north of the Wall, this potential union is likely the first big step toward the alliance that could define Game of Thrones.

One of the more positive scenes featured Arya Stark. In the first episode of the season she indicated her intent to the kill Cersei Lannister. After finding out that Jon is in control of Winterfell, Arya decided to head north and it now appears that we are finally getting closer to the largest Stark family reunion since season one. Another interesting moment was Jaime Lannister’s offer of a prominent position in the Lannister army to Randyll Tarly. If Tarly accepts Jaime’s offer, that will set him against his son Sam as they work for opposing factions.

All other scenes in the episode feel secondary to the essential destruction of House Martell’s power and Yara Grejoy’s fleet at the hands of Euron Greyjoy. Aspects of the battle felt too chaotic and at times as if they were pulled from deleted Pirates of the Caribbean video extras, but the end result was stunning. Without Yara Greyjoy, Daenerys Targaryen’s plan to conquer Westeros is now altered. The naval battle also left the future of Theon Greyjoy in doubt since he abandoned his sister after she was captured by Euron.

Euron Greyjoy has always been a little goofy, but this was too much. The legacy of “Stormborn” will be its closing scene and it is a shame that Game of Thrones did not execute this battle sequence as well as it has in the past. Episodes like “Battle of the Bastards” and “Hardhome” are examples of high quality production. This battle scene felt campy as a laughing Euron lands onto Yara’s ship aboard an ornate ladder. The sudden nature of the battle felt rushed and underdeveloped. As a result, “Stormborn” lacked the dramatic edge it could have enjoyed had these scenes been filmed differently.  

Season Two Of Stranger Things Looks Like A Thriller

Netflix released the trailer for Season Two of Stranger Things at the San Diego Comic-Con on July 22. The first glimpse of the returning retro-horror series was exciting and erased prior doubts that Netflix could manage to recreate the show’s outstanding first season with a similar level of success.

Season One of Stranger Things was such binge-watching perfection that I was leery about the prospects of a second season. The initial series was one of the great shows of 2016, but I was concerned that Stranger Things would not be able to replicate its adrenaline-rousing success. The opportunity for the perfect one-off horror series was there for Netflix, but this seemed like an instance where more did not necessarily mean better.

After viewing the new trailer, I have been converted from a skeptic to a believer because Season Two of Stranger Things looks as if it may be something extra special.  

The trailer is a masterpiece in itself. It returns the audience to Hawkins, Indiana and follows the children as they play in a video game arcade before the excitement goes into hyperdrive. After music slowly creeps into the video, Vincent Price’s famous spoken word monologue from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” enters the trailer and a remix of the famous song comes into play as the action reaches a crescendo. Whatever Netflix paid to the Jackson estate to use “Thriller” was worth every penny. 

One of the strongest attributes of the first run of Stranger Things was the detail throughout every aspect of the set. The production crew did a wonderful job of making the audience feel like they were in the '80s without going overboard. The well-placed minutia of Stranger Things appears to be intact. A Reagan-Bush ’84 sign is planted on a lawn, the kids are playing in a video game arcade, and the wonderful fashion and decor of the decade remains in place.

The added setting of Halloween may be the genius stroke of this edition of Stranger Things. Because the series returns on October 27, it may help immerse the audience into the show even more as trick-or-treaters knock on their own doors. The most entertaining addition to Stranger Things may be that the kids are wearing Ghostbusters costumes. Can you have a more perfect wardrobe choice for a retro horror series than the main characters wearing Ghostbusters gear as they chase a spooky paranormal phenomenon?

The trailer does more than just drop the audience into another decade. The look of fear on Winona Ryder’s face and the terror in the eyes of the children as they tangle with their new challenge promotes the same feelings of anxiety. The goosebumps and excitement of Stranger Things are back.  

Check out the Stranger Things trailer: 

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Dunkirk Is A Film Without Peer

The template for war films has been well-established for decades. The audience either follows a likeable group of Average Joe soldiers as they go about their business or admires generals as they plot out genius strategies.

Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk is not a conventional war film. The movie uses sparse dialogue and stunning visuals to convey the feelings of the people involved in the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940. There is no saving Private Ryan. No guns of Navarone. No Patton. It is a simplified version of The Longest Day that is brought to life with incredible technology and a directing style that is closely aligned with a psychological thriller.

There is no traditional narrative in place for Dunkirk. The film is centered around different groups of people that were involved with separate phases of the evacuation on land, air, and sea. The movie also condenses the timeline of Dunkirk by blending their actions together in a way that promotes a sense of urgency.

The primary focus of the film is on a small group of soldiers who undergo various trials as they try different measures of desperation to get from France to England under the duress of German troops, U-boats, and aircraft. Dunkirk also follows pilots of the Royal Air Force with limited fuel as they tangle with the Luftwaffe. The third group of the movie is a small boat crewed by English civilians as they try to help their fellow countrymen return home.

None of the characters are ever fleshed out with a backstory or secondary plot. Every actor on screen is either just trying to get home or demonstrating courage trying to help others across the English Channel. It is not an over-the-top action film either. At no point does the movie feel like Nolan is showing off what he can do with blood tubes or pyrotechnics. Most of the drama is psychological and emotional and there is little small talk between the characters.

Before its release, Nolan’s prolific use of IMAX cameras was a widely-discussed aspect of the film. Dunkirk is an undeniable visual masterpiece.

Jack Lowden as RAF pilot Collins 
The aerial photography of Dunkirk is a singular achievement. While it does not occur at the Mach speeds of a previous triumph in movie dogfighting, Top Gun, Christopher Nolan does succeed at putting the audience in the cockpit with fighter pilots of the Royal Air Force. There are several moments where the omniscience of the IMAX cameras capture breathtaking shots around the Spitfire aircraft as pilots fly above the English Channel or spar with German aircraft.

Nolan’s approach to these moments is the essence of Dunkirk. There are scenes when claustrophobia and terror consume the story. These feelings are also promoted by subtle and obvious reminders that time is the most crucial obstacle to survival. Any reaction to the moment is a byproduct of Nolan’s skill at pushing the visual and emotional envelope.

Dunkirk may not be for a wide audience, but that does not mean that the film is not accessible to everyone. It is the type of movie that requires suspension of traditional expectations. Audience members that require quippy scripts and an orderly structure for movies may not enjoy Dunkirk, but a change in approach to viewing the film may be a healthy break from the usual blockbuster.

There is no overall plot to be hashed out, although you do not have to invent a complex script when trying to bring an event like Dunkirk to the screen. You can appreciate the film by knowing that much of what happened is a depiction of the real struggles of 400,000 men and a nation desperate to survive. What Christopher Nolan and the cast do best is put the audience on the beaches, in the air, and on the sea with men who are just trying to get home. 

Dunkirk trailer: 

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Sawbones Explores The Mutter Museum During The Philadelphia Podcast Festival

The medical history podcast Sawbones: A Marital Tour of Misguided Medicine hit Philadelphia on July 16 as a part of the Philadelphia Podcast Festival. The popular podcast of Dr. Sydnee McElroy and her husband Justin McElroy gave an enjoyable presentation of Philadelphia’s Mutter Museum as they recorded an episode at the city’s Trocodero Theatre.

(L-R) Justin and Sydnee McElroy at the Trocodero Theatre
The Trocodero was packed with a mostly-millennial crowd who ate up every aspect of the approximately 40-minute show. The audience vocally adored the couple’s stories of their young daughter Charlie’s experience at the Mutter Museum and her weekend mishap in their Airbnb room. As the McElroys got to business, they described the Mutter Museum and its interesting place in medical history. The institution was established in 1858 as a part of an effort from Dr. Thomas Dent Mutter and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia to expand the quality of medical education. The building is located in the Center City section of Philadelphia and has been an important learning tool for both aspiring physicians and fans of the quirkier side of medicine.

The Mutter Museum was the perfect choice for the episode. Many in attendance appeared to have already visited the facility and expressed familiarity with some of the museum’s exhibits like the Soap Lady and the extensive skull collection. As she described some of the building’s features, Sydnee McElroy held up a stuffed replica of a giant megacolon from the museum’s gift shop as a visual aid.

The McElroys were in top form as they discussed the museum. Sydnee provided an amiable discussion of the facility and Justin contributed the dry observations of a medical outsider. Their different experiences captured the essence of visiting the Mutter Museum. She appreciated the institution for its importance to medical history. Justin spent the bulk of the time in the museum gift shop because the visit perturbed their toddler. It is a unique place, but it may not be for everybody. Appropriately, Sydnee mentioned the building’s three most popular fainting areas.

The recording was the first of a five-show bill with podcasts By The Book, Call Your Girlfriend, TV Guidance Counselor, and The Flop House that was a part of the Philadelphia Podcast Festival. The festival, which takes place from July 14 through July 23, features podcasts from different genres. Sawbones’ slot gave the festival a high-profile podcast and enhanced its diverse lineup. By adding more shows like Sawbones, the festival can continue its evolution as a special event that spotlights interesting shows in a rapidly-growing medium of entertainment. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

A Defense of Ed Sheeran’s Game of Thrones Cameo

Warning: This post contains spoilers regarding Game of Thrones

Sunday night’s Season Seven debut episode of Game of Thrones was loaded hour packed with several key scenes. The series depicted some long-awaited vengeance and established multiple stories for the season ahead. One of the most discussed performances from the episode “Dragonstone” came from an unlikely source: British pop star Ed Sheeran.

Sheeran and Maisie Williams In "Dragonstone"
The 26-year-old musician briefly appeared midway through the episode. The scene began as Arya Stark rode through a forest and encountered a group of soldiers from the Lannister army. Sheeran’s voice was heard through the trees as he ate with the Lannister men. Arya paused her trek to share their food by the campfire. As they chatted Arya mentioned her intention to kill the Queen, Cersei Lannister. Because the Lannister men had no concept of her skills as an assassin, they laughed at her comments and the scene faded away.

The likely point of the moment was to show off Ed Sheeran, but the scene also served a more important purpose: to allow Arya to throw down a pretty bold declaration in front of the Queen’s own men and allow the audience to know her next journey. The scene also humanized the Lannister men, who discussed the dismal people of King’s Landing and featured a rare man of Westoros to praise the virtues of having a daughter.  

But for a show that gives air time to rape, incest, child murder, and the most gratuitous sex and violence on television, Sheeran’s cameo became something of an online lightning rod. While the Internet thrives off making the trivial controversial, this was an example of making something out of nothing. Sheeran likely will not win an award for his dramatic acting, but his performance was ultimately harmless. The moment probably sped up the on-screen time of Arya’s journey to King’s Landing and showed that Arya meant serious business as she travels.

Arya has been through a lot during the seven seasons of Game of Thrones. She witnessed her father being executed, lost two brothers, her mother, and her pet dire wolf. The younger Stark daughter has also been blinded, stabbed, captured, and beaten. Sharing a rabbit by a campfire with Ed Sheeran was probably the nicest thing that anyone had done for Arya since Jon Snow gave her the custom-made sword, Needle.

Any arguments that Sheeran’s appearance was a too-ridiculous part of the episode have clearly forgotten that the show’s major plot points revolve around dragons, zombies, and giants. It was a fun and light-hearted moment for a show that is relatively devoid of those scenes. For the spoiler-inclined viewers, Sheeran’s song “Hands of Gold” also held a possible deeper meaning to the fans who had read George R.R. Martin’s Game of Thrones books. If Sheeran’s cameo does allude to the eventual outcome of the fate of a character, one could even rate this scene as a brilliant foreshadowing moment from the creators. The scene was also likely a thrill for Maisie Williams, the actress playing Arya.

Sheeran was not the only musician to appear on “Dragonstone.” Mastodon drummer Brann Dailor was observed as a White Walker. Musicians from Snow Patrol, Coldplay, and Sigur Rós have also acted on Game of Thrones. 

Ed Sheeran's Game of Thrones scene:

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Game Night: A First Reaction To Game of Throne’s “Dragonstone”

The Flat Circle will post a weekly series following each episode during Season Seven of Game of Thrones. This post contains spoilers from “Dragonstone.”

Game of Thrones returned on Sunday night after a yearlong hiatus. Show creators D.B. Weiss and David Benioff did not waste time in providing the initial thrills of the new season by adding several satisfying moments that made “Dragonstone” the best first episode of any Game of Thrones season since the debut episode, “Winter Is Coming.”

The typical formula of Game of Thrones has been to develop long stories and let the biggest events occur during the final two episodes. “Dragonstone” indicated that this structure may no long be in play. The season debut touched on a number of different storylines and provided some early excitement.  

The episode began with its second-ever cold open. One of the concluding moments of Season Six was Arya Stark’s assassination of Walder Frey. Season Seven began with Faceless Woman Arya appearing as Walder Frey. Stark poisons Frey’s men and continues to realize the satisfaction she can gain through revenge. After three seasons, the North remembered and Arya was able to strike another name from her list of enemies.

“Dragonstone” also featured Game of Throne’s biggest cameo yet: musician Ed Sheeran. The pop star appeared with a group of Lannister soldiers as they sat around a camp fire. His brief scene provided a light moment that humanized the Lannister men and allowed Arya to serve notice of her next mission: to kill Cersei Lannister. Sheeran may not have displayed the abilities of a hardened dramatic actor, but the cameo was not prolonged and ultimately allowed Arya to serve notice of an exciting plot of Season Seven.  

The title of the episode alluded to two important stories that intersected at the same place: the abandoned island fortress of Dragonstone. Daenerys Targaryen and her fleet arrived at the island on their way to King’s Land. Sam Tarly also realized that the island is a vital place to obtain the dragonglass needed to fight the Wights. Other key moments of “Dragonstone” included the Hound’s journey with the Brotherhood Without Banners and the revelation that Jorah Mormont is in Old Town as he tries to find a cure for his grayscale.

The star of the episode was clearly Arya. Not only did she wipe out the Fray clan that had killed her mother and brother, but she also boldly announced her intention to murder Cersei Lannister, and shared the screen with one of Britain’s most famous musicians.

The first episode of Season Seven was a success. “Dragonstone” did not immerse itself into one story, but introduced multiple plots into the season and provided some thrills. It presented several important characters with their challenges ahead in a fluid manner that has not always been an attribute of Game of Thrones. What will make this season entertaining is watching each character scheme to overcome their respective obstacles. Following six seasons of waiting, this episode verifies that Winter and Daenerys’ big push for control of Westeros are both finally here. 

Interview With David Donnella and Mike Marbach of Stark Raven Mad

The Flat Circle discussed the upcoming season of Game of Thrones with David Donnella and Mike Marbach of the Game of Thrones podcast Stark Raven Mad. David and Mike discussed their favorite moments and characters on the show so far and made some predictions for this season. Stark Raven Mad will record a live episode on July 18 at the Philadelphia Improv Theater on 2030 Sansom Street as a part of the Philadelphia Podcast Festival.

There are some spoilers that reference notable moments of the first six seasons of Game of Thrones. 

Game of Thrones has had some dark moments in the show. Stark Raven Mad takes a light, humorous approach to the podcast. Can it be challenging to poke fun at a show that can be so dramatic?

David Donnella: I don’t think so, which I attribute to the fact that this show is inherently ridiculous. I mean, for every serious piece, there’s something bonkers and silly. It’s a drama about the struggle for the throne of a kingdom. But there are dragons. And zombies. And there’s a pair of incestuous twins. And this kid can enter the mind of his pet wolf. With the sheer magnitude of everything that’s happening, it’s usually not hard to find the humorous angle.

Mike Marbach: Not really, I think we do a good job of honoring those moments and given them the weight they deserve. There's also usually circumstances surrounding those moments that allow us to have some fun either way.

You are recording a live episode of Stark Raven Mad as a part of the Philadelphia Podcast Festival on July 18 at the Philadelphia Improv Theater. How does the live dynamic impact how you put together a podcast?

DD: So, I usually come up with the format of our live shows, and my basic goal each time is do something that’s tight and focused. We have a tendency during our episode recaps to spend 20-30 minutes arguing about minutiae, so I try to spare the audience from those moments since there’s no fast-forward option live. In the past we’ve done live episodes where each panelist pitches a spin-off series for GoT. We’ve done awards shows. Basically, things with clear conceits that have a quicker pace.

MM: I usually ask / let David plan out our live shows.

Mike, in addition to Stark Raven Mad, you are involved with podcasts that cover The Leftovers and Better Call Saul. When you start watching a show, what makes you decide that you want to do a podcast on that series?

MM: It's happened a couple different ways. With SRM I was watching Game of Thrones from Day 1 and it wasn't until Season 3 that I thought to podcast about it. That was the first TV show we started covering. With The Leftovers and The Strain we started because of how cool the show looked. We were right about The Leftovers, but The Strain was a gamble that didn't pay off. It stinks... but Bloody Sunday is a very fun podcast as a result. Breaking Goodman, which covers Better Call Saul was decided after Episode 1 of the show. The Leftovers is done, The Strain will be over, and Game of Thrones is wrapping up, so we'll be looking for more to do for sure.

There have been a lot of different story lines over the last six seasons of Game of Thrones. What have been your favorite moments of the show so far?

DD: Not really a moment, but the broad highlight has been seeing actors give life to certain characters. Cersei as played by Lena Headey remains the highlight in that regard, but the guys playing Davos and Stannis are also excellent.

(L-R) Stannis Baratheon and Davos Seaworth

One of my favorite moments is the Red Wedding. Mostly because I didn't see it coming (though the signs were there) and I was watching it in a room full of people that had read the books. So seeing their reactions to my reactions and just the moment of the show itself is something that sticks with me.

So many important characters have died over the last six years. Is there a character that you have been really attached to that died and what was your reaction when they were killed off on the series?

DD: I read the books, so there weren’t quite as many surprises for me as others. When Ned died, I steeled myself for anything to be possible. All that said, I get this pit in my stomach when Oberyn Martell bites the dust. Awesome character and charismatic actor getting killed off in a totally avoidable circumstance—agonizing.

MM: Oberyn Martell for sure. Such a great character and portrayed amazingly by Pedro Pascal. In such a short amount of screen time he grew to be one of my favorites and is to this day. Going out the way he did annoy the shit out of me, but he dug his own grave there. I had such high hopes for the other Martells that showed up... but the everything Dorne related was just bad.

Are you rooting for one character to sit on the Iron Throne?

DD: It’s conflicting. I mean, it seems like being the ruler of Westeros genuinely sucks. I don’t know if I want any of the characters I like responsible for all that garbage. That said, Davos seems like he has the right temperament to be in charge.

MM: I think the favorite is Dany, right? I am not sure how I feel about that. I think I'd prefer Jon of the big names that have their name in the hat. However it ends, it's not going to be happy. Bittersweet for sure... probably mostly bitter. So that could mean the main contenders die and it somehow lands on Gendry.

The Iron Throne

Game of Thrones comes back on July 16. What are some of your predictions for Season Seven?

DD: We just did a two-part prediction podcast, but one of my predictions that didn’t make it is that the Mountain will kill the Sand Snakes.

MM: You gotta check out our Iron Bank of Braavos Presents the SRM Stone Cold Locks of 2017! It's all predictions with point values attached. I think my favorite prediction of my own (which I'm altering a bit here) is that Arya will kill Jamie and then use his face to get close to and kill Cersei. 

What kind of grade do you give the show so far and what direction do you think it needs to go over these final two seasons in order to be successful?

DD: I think the show is an A/A- so far. I think the success of the final two seasons hinges entirely on how well they close loops. There are a lot of characters running around and I want to know how everyone turns out, from Tyrion all the way down to Hot Pie.

MM: I'd give it an A overall. That could go up or down by the season (because 5 fell flat for me). They say they have everything mapped out and they have an end date and number of episodes... so I think they'll continue at that A level. There's a lot to wrap up and there's A LOT of people to please... but as long as they don't worry about that and continue telling a good story with GRRM's [series creator George R.R. Martin] blessing, I'll be happy.

Top Ten Game Of Thrones Episodes (So Far)

Over six seasons Game of Thrones has provided moments that have thrilled and stunned TV viewers. Here are the top ten Game of Thrones episodes of the first six seasons. 

Warning: This post contains spoilers for the first six seasons of Game of Thrones.

Jamie Lannister shoves Bran Stark from a tower window
10) “Winter Is Coming” Season One, Episode One – The episode that started it all. Several big moments that sent HBO’s current signature series into motion all occur in the first 61 minutes of Game of Thrones. The show opens with a precursor to Winter and the death of Jon Arryn. The premiere primarily brings in the Stark family and also helps develop the ruse that Ned Stark is the ultimate hero of the show. After Robert Baratheon and his oversized entourage arrive in Winterfell, Jamie Lannister memorably caps the debut by shoving Bran Stark from a window and sends an early signal that no one in the cast is safe. In a different spot of the world, Khal Drogo is introduced to the Targaryen siblings. Episode One successfully immersed the audience in Westeros and hooked them into George R.R. Martin's world.

9) “The Lion and the Rose” Season Four, Episode Two – Most major character deaths in Game of Thrones occur within the last two episodes of each season. In Season Four, the poisoning of Joffrey Baratheon happened early and unexpectedly at the Purple Wedding. Joffrey's death later launched a bit of a whodunnit that resulted in Tryion fleeing Westeros. Aside from the wedding, “The Lion and the Rose” also showcases the power of Melisandre’s influence over Stannis Baratheon and elevates Ramsay Bolton into a more powerful role.

Daenerys Targaryen emerges from the temple
8) “Book of the Stranger” Season Six, Episode Four This episode was a major testament to Emilia Clarke’s acting. The strength Daenerys Targaryen displays as she kills the Khals and exits the burning temple is her most powerful moment on the show. “Book of the Stranger” also features two high profile meetings: Jon Snow and Sansa Stark finally reunite and Loras and Margaery Tyrell have an emotional discussion in the prison cells of the Great Sept.

7) “The Children” Season Four, Episode Ten – As far as Game of Thrones episodes go, the fourth season finale was one of the most important mid-series shows. Daenerys Targaryen locks up two of her dragons after the third goes on a bit of a killing spree. The critical battle for the survival of the Night’s Watch ends after Stannis Baratheon swoops in with his army and Bran finally reaches the Heart Tree. In King’s Landing, FrankenGregor’s resurrection begins and Tyrion murders his former lover Shae and his powerful father Tywin. The episode was capped by a worthy duel between The Hound and Brienne that led to Arya’s escape to Braavos.

Lena Headey's scene-stealing performance as Cersei
6) “Blackwater” Season Two, Episode Nine – Tyrion Lannister has spent a lifetime waiting for the opportunity to prove himself. After successfully serving as Hand of the King he also demonstrates bravery on the battlefield as he leads the defense of King’s Landing. Lena Headey turns in one of her best performances as Cersei Lannister as she holds her wine goblet so distinctively while she converses with Sansa Stark. For a series that wields CGI so capably, one of the most impressive uses of the production tool comes during the wildfire explosion that devastates Stannis Baratheon's fleet. Of the episodes of Game of Thrones that are centered around a battle, "Blackwater" contains the most character-driven scenes. 

5) “The Winds of Winter” Season Six, Episode Ten – There was one distinctive theme of the Season Six finale: revenge. Cersei’s Mafiosa-style takeout of her King’s Landing enemies made for one of the boldest scenes on Game of Thrones. That move did have an important unintended consequence: it also led to the suicide of her son, King Tommen, and allowed her to sit upon the Iron Throne.

Even if revenge is best served cold, that dish has never been served as satisfactorily as Arya’s pie. Arya’s unexpected and cold-blooded assassination of Walder Frey finally gave her vagabond character some gratification. The Stark family also realized some happier moments as Jon Snow is crowned King in the North and the origin of his birth is finally confirmed to the audience. Daenerys Targaryen also begins her seaward journey to King’s Landing, a move that should set up a long-awaited clash for power.  

Ned Stark as he awaits execution
4) “Baelor” Season One, Episode Nine – After a brilliant marketing campaign from HBO, one of the most surprising moments of the Game of Thrones books was revealed through the death of Ned Stark. Ned’s execution is the first of many high-profile character deaths on the series, but remains the most shocking. The episode also depicted Robb Stark’s military brilliance, included an important conversation between Jon Snow and Aemon Targaryen, and witnessed Khal Drogo’s declining health.

3) “Battle of the Bastards” Season Six, Episode Nine – A showdown that had been in the making for quite some time, Season Six’s penultimate episode saw bastard children Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton square off to determine the fate of the Stark family home. The brilliant battle before the ramparts of Winterfell featured intense action sequences and really immersed the audience in the brutality and violence of medieval-style combat. The up-close nature of several combat scenes are reminiscent of Kenneth Branagh’s 1989 film Henry V. Certain shots, particularly the cavalry charge surrounding Jon Snow, were not just great scenes, but also an achievement in filmmaking and choreography. Appropriately, the battle’s fate is decided when the show’s biggest bastard, Littlefinger, brings in the Knights of the Vale to save the day. This episode is one of several examples of the greatness of the production quality of Game of Thrones.

Robb Stark at the Red Wedding
2) “The Rains of Castamere” Season Three, Episode Nine – If “Baelor” was unexpected, the Red Wedding doubled down on the Stark family’s tragedies and plot twists. The slaughter of Robb, Catelyn, and their northern army was a stunning end to the Stark's successful military campaign. By the end of this episode two beloved characters from the show’s very first scenes were no longer in the series. It was not only devastating to the North, but also destroyed so many developing stories. After three seasons, almost anything a viewer could have guessed how Game of Thrones would proceed was no longer in play. The Red Wedding is one of the biggest mid-series story resets in television history.

1) “Hardhome” Season Five, Episode Eight – Jon Snow has participated in several dynamic scenes on Game of Thrones, but Hardhome is the moment that cemented him as the star of the show. Hardhome followed Jon Snow and Wildlings as they fought for their survival against an army of Wights. Like the Battle of the Bastards, the episode is also defined by incredible action sequences. The backdrop of Winter and the quality of the battle that was filmed gave viewers something unique to television.

The signature moment of the episode, and perhaps the best scene in the series, is the Night King’s appearance at Hardhome. As Jon Snow and the surviving Wildlings are ferried from the shore, the Night King’s simple hand gesture to reanimate the dead reveals the magnitude of the threat beyond the Wall. The ease of the arm motion and the relative quiet allows the audience to feel like Jon and his compatriots as they drift away in stunned silence.

The Night King and his army of Wights at Hardhome