Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "Kissed By Fire"

Non Spoiler Review:
Kissed By Fire begins with the battle to the death between the Hound and Beric Dondarrion. The severely exhausted Jaime is brought to Roose Bolton at Harrenhal. Jon is drawn further from his loyalty to the Night's Watch. Robb is faced with open insubordination among his bannermen. At Dragonstone, Stannis visits his estranged family. Cersei charges Baelish with uncovering the Tyrell conspiracy, leading Tywin to take some shocking actions.

Another fantastic chapter, Kissed By Fire ramped up the political intrigue and machinations of the various houses to new levels. There were plenty of themes of kingly and knightly duty and oath breaking, all played out amid fire and water imagery. Jaime Lannister has his best scene in the series to date. The writers appear to be giving all the Lannisters a focus this year, and it's helping to humanize them immensely. 

Kissed By Fire was chock full of bad and foreboding decisions that can't end well. With the series at its halfway mark (already!), each week the writers balance all the heavy plot points and still deliver memorable scenes of character development. I only have the vaguest inclinations of where this season is going, but I'm loving every minute of it.

Spoilers Now!
Thoros presides over the trial by combat of Sandor Clegane, praying to the lord of light to give them wisdom. Beric ignites his sword, which brings back bad memories for Sandor, and the two battle. The Hound's shield catches fire, and Arya screams to kill him, but Clegane manages to slay Beric. Thoros rushes  to his side to pray over him while Arya charges after to try to kill the Hound, but is stopped by Gendry. She tells him to burn in hell, but Beric says he will. But not today. Beric rises, healed. Though he won the battle, Thoros won't return the Hound's gold. They give him back his weapons and send him away in peace with Beric's warning the lord of light isn't done with him yet. 

North of the Wall, Tormund asks for information on the Night's Watch patrols. Jon gives him intelligence, but wants to know where they're headed. Only three castles are manned—Castle Black, East Watch and the Shadow Tower. Jon claims there are still a thousand men at Castle Black but is called a liar. Ygritte jumps to his defense. Tormund likes him, but warns he'll kill him if he's lying. Jon informs Ygritte he doesn't need her to protect him. She takes his sword and tells him to come steal it back, so he chases after inside a cave. She leads him to a hot spring, daring him to prove he's no longer a crow. She wants him to break his vows and disrobes in front of him. Jon succumbs to the temptation. 

Locke returns to Harrenhal with his captives and hands them over to Lord Bolton. Roose has Brienne cut free and informs her she's under his protection now. Jaime addresses Bolton, asking word from the capital. Roose explains Stannis Baratheon attacked King's Landing, and Tywin's forces prevailed. Jaime falls to his knees.

He's taken to the healer but learns his whole arm must be removed. Jaime notices the maester has been stripped of his chain for embarking on too bold experiments. After thinly veiled threats by Jaime, the maester suggests he can remove the rotting flesh and try to burn out the corruption in order to save the arm. Jaime refuses milk of the poppy. 

Cersei asks Baelish for a favor, believing the Tyrells don't have their best interests at heart. She wants him to look into it before he leaves the capital. 

Olenna dines with Tyrion at his request to discuss financial matters around the extravagant royal wedding. Tyrion reminds her they're at war, but she counters that the Tyrells have supplied 12,000 men as well as provisions for the capital to survive the winter. The people crave distraction, she adds, or they will provide their own. A royal wedding is much safer, and traditionally paid for by the royal family. She finally acquiesces to pay for half the expenses, which pleases him, and she takes her leave. 

Gendry decides to stay on with the brotherhood and smith for them. Arya is alarmed that he won't join with Robb. He tells her he served lords all his life, wondering if he would get tortured or killed. The men are brothers and he's never had a family. Arya offers to be his family. Gendry says she would only be his lady. 

The Lannister hostages are killed by Lord Karstark and his men in their cells. Robb has him and his conspirators brought to him. Karstark proclaims his right to vengeance. Robb is outraged, but Karstark accuses Catelyn for being just as responsible. Karstark reminds him it's war and they kill their enemies, then goes on to mock how Robb deals with treason, calling him the king who lost the north. Robb has Karstark taken to the dungeon and the rest hanged. 

Edmure warns his nephew word of this can't leave Riverrun and risk Tywin's vengeance. Robb insists on serving justice as a king should. Catelyn also cautions him that the Karstarks won't forgive the killing of their lord. Talisa agrees. He needs Karstark men to end the war, and suggests he keep the lord as a hostage to ensure his people's loyalty. 

Despite the advice, Karstark is led to the executioner's block. Karstark remains defiant and doesn't want to be saved, even though the Karstarks and the Starks are close kin. He wants Robb's failures to hound him until the end of his days. Robb sentences him to die and Karstark's last words declare he is no king of his. Robb cuts off his head and storms away while Catelyn looks on. 

Arya continues to recite the names of those she wishes dead as Thoros listens. He tells her they will ride for Riverrun, Robb will contribute to their cause, and she can go home. That sounds a lot like a hostage, she notes. Thoros explains they need the gold. Beric sits with him, and realizes Arya is angry with him for letting the Hound go. He reveals the lord of light has brought Beric back six times, the first against the Mountain. The Lannisters also executed him for treason. Every time he comes back he's a bit less. Arya asks if he could bring back a man without a head. Just once. Thoros doesn't think it works that way. Beric tells her Ned is at rest now. But Arya would prefer to have her father back.

Stannis returns to his estranged wife, Selyse, who is praying to the lord of light in her chambers. She tells him he must not despair. He will be victorious. Stannis confesses to sinning and shaming her. But Selyse already knows all that thanks to Melisandre. She believes it's all god's work. Nothing in service to the lord of light can ever be a sin.

Selyse has kept all her miscarried children in jars and has named them. She thanks god for bringing Melisandre to them, for giving him a son, while she gave him nothing. Stannis has also come to see his daughter, despite Selyse telling him he doesn't need distraction. 

Stannis continues up the stairs to hear his daughter singing. Shireen, whose face is half deformed, hugs her father. She asks about the Onion Knight, who hasn't come to visit her. Stannis answers her he won't be visiting. He explains Sir Davos is a traitor and is rotting in the dungeon, and she best forget him.

Shireen sneaks out to find Davos in the dungeon. He admits he's a traitor for disobeying the king. She brought him something to read, the stories of Aegon the Conqueror, reminding him they used to live at Dragonstone. He can't read, he confesses. Shireen offers to teach him, suggesting they can't do much more to punish either of them, given they're already locked in cells.

Brienne enjoys a bath as an exhausted Jaime arrives to join her, much to her discomfort. He reminds her she swore a solemn vow to get him to King's Landing in one piece and suggests she's failed him as she did Renly. Brienne is thoroughly enraged, so he apologies and offers a truce, but she doesn't trust him.

He knows they all despise him as the Kingslayer. He then begins his story about how the mad king loved burning people with wild fire. Aerys had them put wild fire throughout the city, from the sept of Baelor to Fleabottom. Finally, as Robert marched towards them, and the Lannister army promised to defend the city, Jaime urged Aerys to surrender peacefully, but he never listened to him or to Varys. Instead he chose to listen to Pycelle, who told him to trust the Lannisters who have always been true friends of the crown. So they opened the gates and Tywin betrayed him and sacked the city. Jaime begged Aerys again to surrender. The king ordered him to bring him his father's head and then instructed his pyromancer to burn the city. Jaime asks Brienne if her precious Renly commanded her to kill her father and burn children alive, would she have still kept her oath? 

Brienne listens in horror as Jaime reveals he first killed the pyromancer, and when the king turned to flee he drove his sword into his back. Aerys kept yelling burn them all, believing he would be resurrected as a dragon. That's when Ned Stark found him. Brienne asks why he never told anyone the truth. Jaime counters that the honorable Ned Stark would never want to hear his side. He judged him guilty the moment he set eyes on him. Jaime begins to faint and Brienne screams for help for the Kingslayer. My name's Jaime, he tells her.

In the east, Jorah and Selmy reminisce about old battles. Selmy admits he's worn away his years serving terrible kings. He wants to know what it's like to serve with pride. He asks if Jorah believes in Daenerys. With all his heart, he says. Jorah learns Selmy didn't sit on the small council given he had fought for the mad king and Robert only wanted loyal men to advise him. He then suggests Jorah's presence may not help their cause once at home. Jorah admits he lives with his days as a slave trader, but warns Selmy he's not lord commander here and he takes his orders from the queen.

Daenerys addresses the man whom the Unsullied have selected for their leader. His name is Grey Worm. Daenerys grants them the freedom to choose their own names. He says Grey Worm is a lucky name as it is the name he had when she set him free. 

Robb admits Talisa was right. The Karstarks have gone, along with half their forces. Tywin need only wait them out now. She suggests they ride north and take their land back from the Greyjoys. Winter could last years, he says. His men will never ride south again without a purpose. She tells him to give them a new purpose. Robb realizes he can't force Tywin to meet them in the field, but he can attack Casterly Rock. He'll take their home away from them, but needs men to replace the Karstarks, and there's only one man left with that kind of army—Walder Frey.

Sansa and Margaery watch Loras fight. She promises to plant the idea of marriage as soon as she's wed to Joffrey. Meanwhile Loras is distracted and soon beds his new squire, a spy enlisted by Baelish who learns Loras will soon be betrothed to Sansa.

Baelish finds her on shore watching his own ship approach. He asks if she wants to come with him to the north. She suggests it might be better to wait, given the danger to both of them. He hopes she knows he's a true friend. If she wishes to stay then of course she will stay. 

Tyrion meets with his father with Cersei present, revealing the adjusted wedding expenses. He gets no thanks for his efforts, as he's informed of Cersei's discovery of Loras' wedding plans. Tywin finds Sansa is the key to the north. The Karstarks have marched home. That makes Sansa the heir to Winterfell once Robb falls, and Tywin is not about to hand her over to the Tyrells. It's a plot, and they need to act first.

He's giving Sansa to Tyrion, who is flabbergasted given all the suffering the girl's been put through. Tywin coolly orders him to wed, bed and put a child in her, and it's past time he is married. Tyrion reminds him he was married once, but that only infuriates his father further. Cersei is amused and adds it's more than he deserves.

Tywin tells Tyrion he will do as he's told, and so will Cersei. She's then horrified to learn she will be wed to Loras and bear another child. Tywin snaps back she will do as he commands and it will put an end to the disgusting rumours about her and Jaime once and for all. He rises and reminds both of them they've disgraced the Lannister name for far too long, leaving the two to sit in silence.

The Verdict:
Kissed By Fire was another healthy dose of family drama, and what's become the usual trend—at least one or two stand out scenes each week. Ned Stark's ghost was very much present, with Beric and Arya's discussion of her father, Jaime's confessional of how he could never challenge the self-righteous Eddard Stark, and in Robb's actions with the Karstarks. Unfortunately, Robb has remembered the worst of Ned's lessons and blindly followed duty over the counsel of others, repeating the mistakes of his father. In fact the whole beheading scene was a blatant hearkening back to the very first episode. While an attack on Casterly Rock seems the most logical course at this point, enlisting the aid of Frey who is no doubt quite peeved at Robb's marriage, feels like a completely insane decision. What does Robb hope to offer to appease him, much less get his soldiers?

Lots and lots of fire imagery, and I'm still hoping for some clarity on the monotheistic religion, and what differentiates Thoros' seemingly benign interpretation from Melisandre's dark magic. If this god is real (and it's obvious something is happening if Beric can be revived from the dead six times) are the seven gods out there somewhere, or the older gods of the north?

While it looks like Arya is having to say good-bye to her friends, I somehow doubt a Stark family reunion is forthcoming. I get a sense Robb's army will march to Casterly Rock and the Brotherhood will find Harrenhal empty again, leaving Arya to remain with them. Or perhaps she can at least get north to rendezvous with Bran and Rickon.

With the introduction of the Tullys a couple of episodes back, we now get the Baratheons (who are a shade gloomier than the Greyjoys). It does give some insight into Stannis' brooding persona, and interesting that Selyse brought Melisandre into Dragonstone. Shireen is a great addition, too, and I really hope nothing nasty happens to her. But given it's Dragonstone, I shouldn't hold out much hope on that front. I'm still curious as to what direction Davos' simmering plotline will take.

So much talk of Robb's duty as a king carries on with Brienne and Jaime. It's more than a little bit ironic that both Lannister brothers have saved King's Landing, only to have their deeds go unrecognized. Jaime's scene with Brienne is easily one of my favorites. He was in much need of some redemption, and the last few weeks have fleshed him out from beneath his veil of bravado. I fear that means he's going to be dead soon, but at least we know what really happened and he and Brienne have shared a connection. While Brienne has become a favorite character, I feel she's also a tragic one, and can't see her ending well either.

The second event to occur in water is Jon Snow's deflowering. While more than a little contrived, I'm left wondering if he's still loyal to the Watch and if he's really in love with Ygritte. But I guess that's the point to keep us guessing until they reach the Wall.

Like Jaime, Jorah can't put his slave dealing past behind him either, and it looks like Selmy has plans to move in on his territory once they reach Westeros (so he can end his life serving a ruler he can be proud of). Can the two men tolerate one another for much longer? I'd forgotten that Jorah was Robert's informant about Daenerys, prompting the assassination attempt in season one. If Selmy knows this, then that could be a very dangerous reveal should Selmy want to get rid of him. I wonder how Daenerys would take that news.

More and more I'm getting the sense that Tywin's days are numbered. He's pushed Cersei into a corner, while Tyrion continues to endure new levels of insult. But really, given the circumstances, marriage to Sansa is actually one of the safer choices for her. Tyrion can continue to keep Shae and enter into an arrangement (at least a temporary one until Sansa's lack of a child begins to raise questions) that is mutually beneficial. As for Cersei, that union with Loras is bound to be interesting if it should even happen. It would have been nice to see what conversation, if any, happened once Tywin left the room.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Mad Men "The Flood"

Non Spoiler Review:
It's April 1968, which means Mad Men has caught up to another significant historical event. Megan is up for an Excellence in Advertising Award, and while both SCDP and CGC attend, larger matters overshadow the evening. Betty is dealing (miserably) with Bobby's odd behaviour. Peggy is looking to change her surroundings. Michael gets set up on a date by his father.

The Flood immediately draws comparisons to the Kennedy assassination episode. While the gravitas and foreboding of this one was still effective, I found the pacing to be extremely erratic. I doubt this was done to emphasize the confusion of the characters. It seemed like there were more rapid cuts than normal, and some some truly odd scenes that felt out of place.

Despite the crazy bits, Don had an interesting epiphany (during Planet of the Apes, no less) that rescued the episode. Mad Men usually leaves me pensive, and this one was no exception, ending suitably with Love is Blue as the credits song. Unfortunately The Flood came off as a hodge-podge of reaction scenes constructed around one event.

Spoilers Now!
It's April, and Megan and Don attend the Excellence in Advertising Awards after seeing Sylvia and Arnold off on a weekend to Washington DC (Arnold has been asked to be a keynote speaker). Both CGC and SCDP are seated near the back, meaning they likely won't win. Megan goes over and says hello to Peggy and she introduces him to Jim Cutler, the president of CGC. Peggy is excited about making an offer on a new apartment, close to where Megan and Don live. However, during guest speaker Paul Newman's speech, the evening is interrupted by Martin Luther King Jr's assassination.  Everyone panics that the city will fall into riots. Abe leaves to go and cover the story for the New York Times. Don offers to give Peggy a ride home after the awards finish.

Pete calls Trudy to check in, but despite his efforts to get invited back home, she says no. Don and Megan watch the events unfold on television. Don is concerned Sylvia and Arnold are in DC. Megan actually won her advertising award, but it's left sitting on the couch as they focus on more important matters.

Michael's father sets him up on a date with a friend's daughter, Beverly. They have dinner but that is interrupted by news of the shooting, as well. Michael returns home to tell his sleeping father what happened. 

As Betty listens to the radio, she remembers watching Lee Harvey Oswald get shot. Henry heads into the city to help out the mayor, fearing there will be riots. Meanwhile, Bobby has been peeling the wallpaper off beside his bed and Betty snaps at him for wanting to destroy the house.

One of Roger's LSD buddies, Randall Wash, wants to come in and pitch an idea for his insurance company. Harry is frustrated that all the special broadcasts are upsetting the clients and the ad revenue they booked. Pete snaps at him and accuses him of being a racist, prompting a heated argument that Bert tries to calm. Dawn arrives in at work late but Bert wants to close the office early. Don and Dawn opt to stay. Joan gives Dawn an awkward hug. Meanwhile, at CGC Peggy is surprised Phylis comes in to work and gives her a more genuine embrace and sends her home. Peggy begins to reconsider her offer, but her realtor suggests they come in lower given the riots are close by and will affect potential buyers.

Randall Walsh meets with Don, Roger, Stan and Michael. He's in the property insurance business and pitches an absolutely ridiculous concept to them while rambling on that he was visited by the spirit of Dr. King. Don tells him it's all in poor taste. Roger realizes Randall is a bit crazy and ends the meeting, apologizing to Don for wasting their time.

It's Don's turn to have the kids for the weekend, and he forgets, prompting an argument with Betty on the phone. Don heads out to pick them up and drives home through the city at night. The next day Megan takes Sally to a vigil in the park while Don stays home with Bobby who is not supposed to watch television for a week (according to Betty). So Don takes him to see Planet of the Apes and asks why he's being punished, only to learn the wall paper didn't line up. Bobby is impressed with the ending so they see it again. When he sees the black janitor cleaning the rows between showings, Bobby comments that people come to the movies when they're sad, which seems to impress Don.

Peggy learns they didn't get the apartment and is irritated Abe doesn't seem to care. Given it was all her money, he didn't feel he had a right to comment, but reveals he wants to live in the more culturally diverse and run down West 80s, which seems to inspire Peggy. 

As the riots die down, Henry tells Betty he's been offered a seat in the state senate. Betty is pleased. It's what she wanted for him. He's happy to be able to show her off. But later as she looks at the small dresses she used to wear, she realizes she hasn't been in the public eye for some time.

As everyone goes to bed, Megan is angry Don isn't paying attention to the children and is drinking instead. He admits his own difficult childhood has made it hard for him to feel anything, and he's only been acting like he loves his children. It makes him wonder if his own father had the same problem. He then explains that one day they get older and he sees them do something and feels that feeling he was only pretending to have. It made his heart feel like it would explode.

Don finds Bobby awake so lays with him. Bobby worried that someone could shoot Henry. Don assures him no one will do that. He's not that important. 

The Verdict:
I remain ambivalent about The Flood. It was unusually apocalyptic, with talk of Noah and Planet of the Apes. Despite the heady subject matter, I found it difficult to really get into this given the short and continually quick cuts. As I touched on above, it unfolded as a compilation of interesting moments rather than a strong narrative to keep me interested.

Randall Walsh, despite being one of Roger's LSD buddies, left me scratching my head. He was so over the top he took me out of the storyline whenever he appeared on screen. Mad Men has had some successful bizarre moments but this one fell flat.

What did work was the contrast between Dawn (enduring an awkward Joan hug) and Phylis (thoroughly appreciating Peggy's support). I was happy to see Peggy and Abe work out their housing issues, and this was the first time I actually liked Abe with her. But it seems Ted has an eye for her, as well. More surprising was Pete's reaction and his outrage at Harry, who continues to grow more annoying as Pete becomes more likable.

Finally, Don's confession that he's never really loved his children was a fantastic insight into his character. He and Bobby's afternoon at the movies was one of the more memorable Mad Men moments, especially since his son has been in Sally's shadow all these years. I kind of wondered if Bobby has OCD given the misalignment of the wall paper, but that's likely reading too much into it. I also wonder what Don thought of Bobby's concern for Henry. Does he look at Henry as his real father?

So a rather ho-hum entry this week. Considering Sylvia and Arnold were shuffled off to Washington pretty quickly, it started out promising. We should be getting the Bobby Kennedy assassination within a few episodes, so it will be interesting to compare it with this one.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Review: Vikings "All Change"

Non Spoiler Review:
All Change brings the first season of Vikings to a close on a solemn note. As Ragnar and his entourage travel to Gotaland to convey the king's message, ever-suffering Lagertha must deal with her tortured dreams of impending doom, and then face a plague outbreak at home. Ragnar finds Earl Borg unyielding to negotiation, but as he sends him off to visit a sacred ash tree, it's clear he has plans for Rollo. Bjorn desperately tries to keep his father focused on his family.

The finale was a more subdued story rather than the usual mix of battles, mythology and character development we've grown accustomed to. It really worked in this case, providing a nice book end to the entire first season. We've already had our share of viking raids so there was no need to make All Change into another big fight when so much drama was to be had with Ragnar's evolution from free spirited warrior to conflicted leader.

The growing sense of catastrophe comes to a head with the plague ravaging Kattegat, leaving Lagertha to oversee things at home (again) in her husband's absence. Only one thing felt off—considering the focus and events around Athelstan in Sacrifice, he had virtually nothing to do here and there wasn't any hint of fallout from that.

I'm quite thankful the series was renewed, as this would have been a terrible note to close Vikings on. It was a very effective and enjoyable finale, despite the dark course things have taken. This has fast become one of my favorite series, a formidable successor to The Tudors, and now it's clear we have our own Norse version of Henry VIII, as well.

Spoilers Now!
Ragnar, Rollo and Floki travel to Gotaland to the earldom of Jarl Borg, but do not receive a hospitable welcome. Borg declares the king has his land and he wants it returned. Ragnar conveys the king's desire for peace, though Horik would relish a fight if it comes to that. Ragnar's reputation has preceded him and once Borg learns who he is, he decides he will talk to him again the next day after they've had time to rest.

The king is prepared to pay Borg to renounce his claims, but the land is priceless to the earl, full of valuable minerals. Borg suggests an alternative—sharing the mineral rights or leasing it back to the king. Ragnar has not been given the authority to negotiate in that manner, so Borg asks he send Floki back to relay the offer to the king. In the meantime, Borg decides to show them a famous ash tree three days ride away, but wants one of his men to stay behind at his earldom for security. Ragnar volunteers his brother. 

After they leave, Borg provides ample food and women for Rollo, then asks Rollo how he gets along with his brother. Borg had a brother he loved once but competition for the earldom led to a falling out and his brother poisoned his entire family. Borg blinded him and burned him alive. That's what he knows of the love between brothers, he adds. Rollo believes Ragnar would never do such a thing. Ragnar is a great warrior, like himself, Borg muses, yet he's never heard of Rollo.

In Kattegat Lagertha has been unable to eat, and confesses she's had nightmares, dreading something terrible is about to happen. Siggy suggests she go to the seer. Lagertha tells him dark forms come to her at night. The seer believes they come to take something from her—her husband is in danger, but it's a danger from the magical world. He is unwilling to say any more and refuses her pleas for clarity. 

Floki arrives to convey the message to King Horik. The king isn't interested in deals and believes Ragnar will make the right decision. Floki realizes he doesn't care if the negotiations fail. 

Siggy asks Lagertha what the seer told her and learns Lagertha believes her husband is in danger from himself. Siggy has fallen ill. She visited her cousin a few days before who had just buried her son. The sickness strikes her quickly and she collapses, and soon a plague is spreading through Kattegat, striking Thyri, Athelstan and Gyda, too. Siggy, gravely ill, asks Lagertha to look after her daughter.

Lagertha oversees the funeral pyres for the mounting dead and offers a sacrifice to the gods. Siggy recovers, but finds her daughter has died. Gyda asks her mother to pray to the gods for Athelstan, who seems to be getting worse. However, it's Athelstan's fever that finally breaks, and he crawls over to Gyda to find her dead.

On their journey, Ragnar's men spy a woman bathing in the river until they're caught by her shield maidens. The woman suggests Earl Ragnar owes her an apology on their behalf. Back at camp, Ragnar is irritated he has to apologize for their behaviour, but he's intrigued, thinking the gods might have sent him a challenge and invites her to camp to join them. The woman arrives and accepts his apology. Her name is Aslaug, and he's obviously smitten with her beauty, suggesting she come along with them.

They arrive at the sacred ash and camp for the night. Bjorn thinks his father is making a fool of himself swooning over the woman. Aslaug confesses she is really Princess Aslaug. Both her parents are dead. Ragnar kisses her, and the two have sex. Bjorn wakes up and sees them.

In the morning Bjorn announces he hates his father. Ragnar explains he could not help himself and if he chooses he can tell Lagertha. Ragnar doesn't care what people think, but he still loves his mother just as he loves his son. Bjorn wants him to swear it won't happen again. Ragnar does so. Aslaug then visits Ragnar again in the night as Bjorn lies awake. Ragnar tells her no and sends her away, despite wanting her. Bjorn is pleased.

Ragnar remains torn by his word to his son and Aslaug speaks with him the next day to let him know she's carrying his child. Ragnar is grateful to the gods.

Floki returns to Earl Borg, as does Ragnar's party with Aslaug, and they learn Horik is unwilling to compromise. Borg must name his reasonable price for the land. Borg instructs Ragnar he and his men must leave there in the morning, unless Ragnar wishes to renounce his allegiance to the king. Ragnar remains silent. Floki muses that it's war. 

As Lagertha lights Gyda's funeral pyre and stares angrily out at the sea, Ragnar prays to Odin as he ponders his choices. Borg confides in Rollo the king has left him no choice but to attack, and asks if Rollo will support him. He tempts Rollo with the death of his brother and the start of his own fame. Rollo agrees.

Ragnar gets up and walks through the hall. Bjorn awakens to find him gone, so is about to go in search when he's stopped by the sight of a raven in the open window. Ragnar enters Aslaug's chamber and lays with her.

The Verdict:
Michael Hirst has done a great job taking Ragnar from the incredibly likable warrior we first met to this erratic and vulnerable, morally grey ruler unable to shake himself of his god(s) complex. This episode more than any other he looked tired and physically exhausted under the weight of his responsibilities.

The introduction of Aslaug (another historical addition) does not bode well for the Lothbrok family, and as uneasy as it all makes me feel about that situation, I'm excited to see it move forward and where Hirst will take it. Things can't remain the same, after all.

All Change sets up what is likely a civil war between Horik and Borg next season, and finally Rollo has made his choice to remove himself from his brother's shadow. Ragnar almost seems to be anticipating this given some of the looks that pass between them. Will Rollo remain close to undermine his brother back home, or will he elect to stay with Borg?

As I mentioned, Athelstan didn't get much to do here to give us any ramifications for his near sacrifice last week. I would think he would be just a tad resentful of Ragnar, but we don't see them together at all to have any sense of that. He's fine to just return to life as usual in the Lothbrok household? Perhaps he still held a flame for Thyri (for that matter, did anything else happen in Thyri's tent last episode?). His arc has become very vague in relation to the larger storylines.

Lagertha remains the more suitable ruler in her own right, presiding over the horrific plague and yet another loss of a child. I was concerned Siggy might be working against her, but this seems to have proved me wrong, thankfully. Now that both women have lost their daughters, I hope they become close allies. How will her relationship with Bjorn change now that he's the only child she has left? And that icy stare we're left with shows she's got a few issues to work out with her husband (and she doesn't even know what's transpired abroad).

Bjorn continues to excel in his role as eldest son, and his torture at being privy to his father's infidelity was well done. Could he be at all concerned with his own status in his father's life given Ragnar's drive to have more sons? He's likely to be a bit resentful of the child in Aslaug's belly. If Ragnar and Rollo are any indication, Bjorn has a right to be wary.

As for Aslaug, she's a tough sell to the audience given the enormous love out there for Lagertha, so it's not her fault. She's introduced quite effectively and seems likable enough, and certainly her goddess-like mystery appeals completely to Ragnar's sense of following Odin's plan.

It's been an eventful season, one that has successfully introduced a great cast of actors playing believable characters. Ragnar has risen to great heights and has a host of enemies at home and abroad to consider when next we find him. Vikings was a definite winner and I'm looking forward to joining it again.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Review: Game of Thrones "And Now His Watch Has Ended"

Non Spoiler Review:
And Now His Watch Has Ended brings a host of exciting developments as Mormont struggles to maintain order in his ranks north of the Wall. Tyrion gets a lesson in revenge from Varys, who is now focused on the fate of Sansa Stark and enlists the aid of Olenna. Cersei grows alarmed over Margaery's influence over her son. Daenerys prepares to seal her deal with the Kraznys.

Easily the best episode of the season so far, Game of Thrones returns to high political intrigue, plenty of twists and revelations, and some shocking developments. A new association is forming between Varys, Sansa, Tyrion, Olenna and Margaery, which is proving very promising. I'm pleased that Sansa has grown so much from the irritating character she's been in previous seasons and is now someone the audience can cheer on. 

If that wasn't enough it ended on a rather epic Daenerys moment, something that wasn't unexpected at all, but executed with considerable panache. The third season is beginning to hit its stride. I doubt there will be any slower paced episodes now as so many of these simmering plot lines look about to explode.

Spoilers Now!
Exhausted, Jaime falls from his horse despite Brienne's calls for help. Locke acquiesces to give him some water, but it's horse piss, and the men laugh at his suffering. Jaime still manages to rise and grab a sword (again!), facing off all the men before being brought down. Brienne jumps off her horse and goes to his aid despite being tied up. She watches Jaime beaten into the mud by Locke, who warns him he'll take his other hand if he tries that again. Later, Brienne encourages a disconsolate Jaime to go on living so he can take revenge, because people with far less than he has have to do that every day. She knows what he did for her to save her from being raped. Tarth has no sapphires. It's called the sapphire island because of the blue of its waters. She manages to convince him to eat some food.

Tyrion goes to speak with Varys in confidence. He wonders if he has any proof of Cersei's attempt on his life at Blackwater, as he wants to plot his revenge against his sister, but Varys has only heard whispers. Varys then asks if he still wants to hear how he got cut, and recounts his story. As a boy he travelled through the free cities with a troupe, and in Myr a man bought him from his master. He turned out to be a sorcerer, and he gave him a potion that paralyzed him but kept his senses intact, and with a blade he sliced him and burned his parts. Then he heard a voice answer the sorcerer's call. He still dreams of that night, wondering what the voice in the flames was.

He's hated magic ever since, and so was eager to aid in the war against Stannis and his dark priestess. Once he served the sorcerer's purpose, he was thrown out of his house to die. Varys resolved to live, became a thief and learned the value of information. He was patient and his influence grew, where he managed to find something very special. He shows Tyrion a crate he opens to reveal the very same sorcerer, his lips sewn shut. He advises Tyrion to be patient and revenge will be his in its own time.

Varys meets with Ros and gossips about Pod's legendary prowess that is the talk of the brothel. She advises him Baelish is leaving soon for the Eyrie. However, she doesn't think he's lost interest in Sansa. He's ordered two feathered beds for his cabin on his journey, which can only mean he expects to take her with him.

Olenna is paid a visit by Varys who welcomes her to King's Landing. After the two trade some playful barbs, he asks about her opinion of Sansa, and she confesses she finds her interesting. He advises her that when Littlefinger goes, Sansa goes with him, then implies Baelish may be one of the most dangerous men in Westeros. If Robb falls, Sansa will be heir and key to the north for him, and with that, their armies. But he has a solution.

Bran and Jojen share a dream as they follow the three-eyed raven through the woods. Bran climbs the tree after it, only to find his mother who fiercely chides him for climbing. He falls out of the tree and wakes up.

As Ramsay and Theon enter a keep, Ramsay explains he's been serving his sister, waiting for the right moment to free him. He was a boy when Theon was taken away. Once inside, Theon admits he was always iron born, but then confesses he never murdered the Stark children, but had the farmer kill the orphan boys and burn the bodies so he could keep Winterfell. He realizes he made a choice and chose wrong, and now everything is burned down. His real father died in King's Landing. Ramsay leads him through the darkness up to where he claims his sister is waiting. Ramsay lights a torch and Theon realizes he's back in his prison. Ramsay announces to his men he brought him back after Theon killed his pursuers. Theon is put back in his chains, screaming.

In the palace Cersei and Olenna plan the wedding while Joffrey shows Margaery the tombs in the keep and enjoys recounting the violent history of the Targaryens. Olenna comments to Cersei that they must protect their sons. Margaery encourages him to go out and speak to his people and receive their adoration for saving the city. Taking her lead, he opens the palace doors to Cersei's horror, who watches the two of them go outside. This time the people wave and cheer Lady Margaery. Joffrey is stunned but lavishes in the attention and waves back. Cersei is not pleased.

Margaery visits Sansa while she's praying and strikes up a rapport. Margaery insists that Sansa visit Highgarden, but the latter points out that the queen will not let her leave King's Landing. Margaery clarifies that Cersei is the queen regent, and she will be queen once she marries Joffrey. And if Sansa should marry Loras, her place would be at Highgarden, and they would be sisters. Sansa would like that.

Cersei visits her father but receives the same reception that Tyrion did. When questioning him about the search for Jaime he curtly tells her he started a war for Tyrion, so he'll do as much for his heir. She points out that he might consider she is the only one of his children who actually listens to his advice and tries to put it into practice. Tywin counters that she's not as smart as she thinks she is. She declares the Tyrells are a problem and Margaery is manipulating Joffrey. Tywin is pleased to hear it, wishing Cersei could manipulate her son given she allowed him to run roughshod over her and the city. Cersei suggests Tywin should try stopping him from doing what he likes.

Thoros takes Gendry and Arya to their hideout in a cave, and the Hound declares they are all deserters. Thoros explains they've been reborn in the light of the one true god and accuse Clegane of having a hand in the massacre of the Targaryen babies, something the Hound denies. Arya speaks up and accuses him of murdering the butcher's boy and recounts what he did when they were on the Kingsroad. Thoros sentences him to trial by combat against Beric Dondarrion, the man Ned had sent after Gregor Clegane.

In the north, Sam comes to see Gilly and her newborn, but she has not named him given he'll soon be sacrificed. She angrily gives him back the thimble and challenges him to save her baby's life. Meanwhile, the Night's Watch has lost some additional men to their wounds, and Mormont presides over their funeral pyre while his disgruntled men make comments about Craster's lack of hospitality and food hoarding.

Later inside Craster's hall, their host reminds Mormont he has one son, while he had 99 and more daughters than he can count. Mormont assures the man they will be gone when their wounded are strong enough. Craster suggests they should just cut the throats of the remaining wounded and be on their way, which prompts one of the men, Karl, to demand to know where he's keeping his food. Craster warns him if he doesn't like it he can eat the snow. Mormont orders his man outside as another, Rast, calls Craster a bastard. The old man rises to his challenge with his axe and says he'll kill the next man who calls him a bastard.

Mormont tries to diffuse the tense stand off, and just when it looks like calmer heads will prevail, Karl calls him a bastard. Craster lunges at him, but Karl kills him and demands his wives tell him where the food is kept. Mormont is horrified and goes after Karl, only to be stabbed in the back by Rast. Grenn attempts to disarm Karl but the room explodes into two camps, with those loyal to the Watch fighting those siding with Karl and Rast. Sam runs out to find Gilly while the battle spills outside. Mormont drops dead in the hall as the fight rages around him. Sam and Gilly flee into the woods.

In Astapos Daenerys and Missandei arrive to claim their soldiers. Kraznys suggests she test her soldiers on the nearby cities and will give a good price for the captives she returns for him. Daenerys reveals her largest dragon she has chained by its ankle, handing it to the delighted Kraznys. She asks if their business is done and they belong to her. She has her army, he replies.

Daenerys stares at the whip she's given him, then walks away as her dragon screams and struggles to fly with its chain. She addresses her Unsullied and directs them to march forward. They do. Then she has them halt. They obey. Kraznys grows angry her beast won't come to heel. Daenerys states her beast is not a slave, and she says this in old Valyrian, which comes as a shock to both Kraznys and Missandei, realizing she's understood him the whole time. Daenerys commands her army to kill everyone who is not a slave, but harm no children, then utters the familiar word dracarys, and her dragon burns Kraznys alive. Her army begins to rampage through the city.

Among the smokey ruins Jorah finds Daenerys as she stands before her waiting army. She announces they are all free, and any man who wishes to leave may do so. She asks they fight for her as free men. After a moment they begin to pound their spears in the sand in support of her. Jorah and Selmy share a smile. Together they march from Astapos and Daenerys tosses the whip to the ground.

The Verdict:
And Now His Watch Has Ended certainly ramped up its game after a more subdued Walk of Punishment. Revenge was the primary theme, with Brienne and Varys encouraging Jaime and Tyrion to be patient, and exemplified by Daenerys' patience in securing her army and delivering a harsh punishment to Astapos. The lesson—good things can come to those who bide their time in Game of Thrones.

This is another epic, game-changing moment for Daenerys (right down to the musical call back to when she birthed her dragons). I have no idea how accelerated her plotline is from this point on, but it would be exciting to see her actually reach Westeros by the end of the season. She's clearly the most just and strong ruler we've seen, and I'm glad the series has taken such time to show her slow evolution into a true queen. While the death of Kraznys wasn't a surprise at all, I really enjoyed how it all unfolded and a memorable parting shot of Daenerys leading her army out of the city.

The real surprise came in the Night's Watch mutiny. Last week I was musing if Mormont would ever meet his son again during the course of the season. I guess not. Aside from the loss of Mormont, I wonder what ramifications this will have at the Wall. Is there anyone to replace him and his best men lost at the Fist of the First Men? It seems likely Mance Rayder will be able to just walk through and take Castle Black. I wonder if the Night's Watch is finished as a force completely, or is Jon's destiny to eventually take control of it? I'm more inclined to believe that Jon will eventually find his way south again. At least Grenn didn't join the mutiny, and hopefully he, Sam, Gilly and Ghost can get back to some relative safety soon.

That leads me consider what Mance's goal is once he breaches the Wall. Winterfell seems ripe for the taking, but do they want to proceed further south in advance of winter? It will be interesting to see how long it takes for news of events in the north to reach King's Landings (and for that matter, rumours of the fall of Astapos from Daenerys' dragons).

Another very quick scene with Bran and Jojen doesn't really contribute much here. However, there were some subtle developments regarding the Starks—Ramsay has learned Bran and Rickon are alive, so that information could find its way back to Robb and Catelyn. Meanwhile, I'd not considered how important Sansa was, given Arya is presumed dead, as well, and if Robb dies she would be the heir to the north (what remains of it, at least). Does Baelish really have designs on the Iron Throne?

And Ramsay's game with Theon remains a mystery, aside from psychological torture. But what it did accomplish is maybe point the young Greyjoy towards some redemption. He at least now acknowledges his terrible mistake. I hope he can actually rise above this and survive, which is the first time I've felt something for this character since his betrayal of the Starks.

The conspiracy between Varys and Olenna was very enjoyable, with the potential of involving Sansa and Tyrion. The revelation of Vary's mutilation was chilling, and speaks to the dark forces at work in the world. I wasn't clear how long he's kept the sorcerer or if it was (coincidentally) just delivered to him in time for his pep-talk for Tyrion, but I wonder if he will play any role in the story in the future.

Speaking of dark magic, I would like to know how Melisandre's religion relates to Thoros and Beric's conversation, who seem far less sinister than the priestess. I presume this is the same god she worships. Are there different factions to this religion?

The Lannister children have all received some focus to humanize them in light of their very inhuman father, with Brienne and Jaime striking up some sort of relationship on the road. Cersei's conversation with her father was just as cold as Tyrion's, and we got a similar one with Jaime when he met his father in camp last season. I wonder if Tywin is going to be dispatched in the near future, either by underestimating Joffrey too much, or by his own children. I could see Cersei engineering something like that, but the question is if she can outsmart her father. He seems to have put all his eggs in one basket—namely Jaime. And if Jaime dies (which I suspect is going to happen soon), I wonder which direction his rage will take.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Review: Mad Men "To Have and To Hold"

Non Spoiler Review:
To Have and To Hold sends Don, Pete and Stan on a secret mission to pitch to Heinz Ketchup. Ken and Harry make a pitch to Dow Chemical. Joan receives a visit from her sister, while struggling to distinguish her position of partner from that of secretary at SCDP, and goes head to head with Harry over her authority. Dawn tries to keep her head down among all the drama at the agency. Megan learns her soap opera character is taking an interesting turn.

Infidelity was clearly the theme this week. As Don's affair hangs over the whole series, everyone else suffers from the affects of lies and deceit at SCDP. Don is certainly becoming unlikeable, which is quite a feat given all the stuff he's gotten away with over the course of the series and still managed to retain his charm.

Fortunately there's very little of Sylvia this week, allowing for an overdue spotlight on Joan as she struggles to legitimize her partnership in the agency. Dawn also gets a share of the screentime, and I'm hoping she grows into more of a regular.

Spoilers Now!
Pete and Don are entertaining Timmy from Heinz at a secret meeting in Pete's apartment. They advise him that the bean division has been good to them, so they don't want to upset Raymond. Timmy assures them that if he likes the work, Raymond will fall in line. If he doesn't like the work, Raymond doesn't have to know. Don suggests they only bring in Stan on this project.

Joan is elated to see her sister Kate, who is a sales director for Mary Kay. At dinner they discuss her possible move to Avon and Joan learns her mother is actually quite proud of Joan for being a partner at a Madison Avenue firm. Harry's secretary Scarlet asks Dawn to cover for her and punch her time card when she leaves, as she wants to go home early for a party. When Joan tries to find Scarlet, Dawn has to cover for her and when next she sees her, Joan informs her that Harry had some visitors and she wasn't to be found. She admits she left to tend to some company business and was unaware Dawn punched her time card. Joan thanks her for clearing that up. Joan goes straight to Dawn and claims Scarlet told her everything. Scarlet comes down the stairs and Joan fires her, informing Dawn she'll deal with her later.

Ken vents to Harry about how his father-in-law Ed is worried the world hates Dow Chemical given it's dropping napalm on children. Harry has an idea that the two then pitch to Dow—a one hour special hosted by Joe Namath saluting America's beloved musicals, including the likes of Julie Andrews and John Wayne. Dow would be the primary sponsor. They like it.

Returning to SCDP, Harry encounters Scarlet as she prepares to leave, so he goes to confront Joan and demands she apologize. He's tired of her petty dictatorship. Joan suggests she has something more important to do and advises Scarlett to do whatever she thinks is best. Joan leaves for the partners meeting and Harry tells her she can come back to work.

Harry sees Joan in the meeting, thinking she's talking about the incident, so barges in. Joan explains the situation with the time card to the rest and Harry declares it's either him or Scarlet. Everyone is confused, and Harry goes on to rant that he's not getting any rewards despite just making over $100,000 for the company with Dow. He expects to be sitting at that table, and charges out. Bert tells Joan that won't be happening. Pete does point out they need to keep Dawn, given the human rights investigation is ongoing.

Stan heads into a private office on his secret mission for Don and Pete, but is noticed by Michael, who suspects that the mysterious Project K is a military account. Don goes to see him and shares a joint as they work on Heinz.

Sylvia joins Don in the elevator and he stops it so they can share a kiss. She misses him and promises to leave a penny under the mat when Arnold is gone. Meanwhile, Megan finds out she has a love scene with her handsome lead. Her costar Arlene, who is married to the head writer suggests she tell Don and that they should all go out to dinner. When Don comes home she explains the upcoming series of love scenes, and he asks what it consists of. He doesn't know what he's supposed to say and needs to think about it.

Joan has dinner with her sister, who wants to have a fun night out in Manhattan. The two of them end up hooking up with a couple of guys, and come morning as their mother wakes them up in bed (and Joan has a suspicious tear on her dress), Kate realizes she can never be her older sister. Joan tells her her life is not what she thinks and her title at SCDP is just a title. They still treat her like a secretary. Kate disagrees, and reminds her that she's still there, and it's damned impressive.

Megan and Don have dinner with Arlene and her husband, but the dinner is actually a facade for their offer that the four of them become more than friends. Both Megan and Don decline and laugh about the episode on the way home. Come morning, Don wishes her luck on the set.

Harry apologies to Bert and Roger for his behaviour. Roger calls it a display of initiative and gives him a cheque for $23,000 as a full commission for the television spot. Harry maintains he wants a partnership. Roger tells him they need to grow the business before they grow the partners, and warns  him to leave Joan out of the subject. Harry takes the money but adds again he's earned a partnership and hopes another firm doesn't find him first.

At a hotel, Don and Stan make their pitch to Timmy and his colleagues. Timmy thinks it's bold but needs to mull it over. As they leave they run into Peggy and Ted and share an awkward hello. They didn't realize they were competing with other firms. Don listens by the door to Peggy's presentation, which includes the elements Timmy was asking for, and walks away.

Dawn goes to see Joan and apologizes for not being forthright. She suggests Joan dock her pay to compensate for Scarlet's absence. Joan wonders how that will punish Scarlet, so gives Dawn the key to the supply closet and the time cards and responsibility for monitoring both. Joan suggests it's a punishment and not to thank her. Dawn says she doesn't care if everyone there hates her, as long as Joan doesn't.

Ted and Peggy join Stan, Pete and Don in the bar to commiserate. It seems another larger agency got the campaign right. Ken arrives, annoyed that he was kept out of the loop and tells everyone that Raymond is the one who told him what was going on. Pete promises to work it out but Ken tells him not to bother, as Raymond has resigned.

Don comes to the set and watches Megan do her love scene. Megan comes over afterwards when she sees him there and asks why he would come and watch that particular scene when he knew it would bother him. He coldly suggests she enjoyed it and hopes she would brush her teeth before she came home. She gets paid to kiss men, he adds, and leaves her to cry.

Don finds the penny on the carpet by Sylvia's door, and as the two move to the bedroom, he wants her to take off her crucifix before they have sex. He asks if she prays for absolution. She tells him she prays for him to find peace.

The Verdict:
Another unsettling episode, To Have and To Hold brought out the worst of Don. I was reminded how happy Don was when Megan was still working at SCDP and he got such pleasure out of including her in the creative process. Of course, she was in no way his equal then and not a threat. This is a stark contrast, as he exploits her vulnerability to make sure she shares in his misery in failing to get Heinz Ketchup. How long will we wait before his infidelity with Sylvia blows up in the same way that the Heinz Beans account did? Perhaps he's feeling his age again, having witnessed Peggy step into his role with her firm (with a better idea for Heinz), and the odd proposition from Arlene and her husband. His hypocrisy has reached new levels if he can call Megan a whore and go straight to Sylvia.

I've never really liked Harry, and his attack against Joan didn't help. I was kind of waiting for Bert and Roger to just fire him, but sadly that didn't happen. I really hope he doesn't make partner, as that would certainly further diminish the value Joan sees in her own position.

Any Joan episode is a welcome one, and it served to highlight her valid insecurities over her new position, feeling she hasn't really earned it. There's really no difference between her, Don or Roger, who all had opportunities that they were able to exploit to take them where they are today. I was pleased to see more of a spotlight on Dawn, too. I wonder if Joan will take her under her wing and help elevate her as she did Peggy. Joan definitely needs to define her role, because her old habit of expressing her authority by firing people just doesn't work anymore for her. Fortunately for Joan she managed to repair some of her bad decisions with Scarlet and Dawn, while Don continues on the same path without learning a thing. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Review: Vikings "Sacrifice"

Non Spoiler Review:
Sacrifice is an intimate episode coming on the heals of Ragnar's battles overseas as he learns of the death of his unborn son. Everyone embarks on a pilgrimage to a mountain temple to give offerings to the gods and meet a special visitor. Athelstan finds himself a participant in the festival as he struggles to hold on to his religion.

This week was a considerable change of pace, jumping ahead an unknown amount of time (given Athelstan's jarring change of appearance) and a pensive Ragnar who is wondering what he's done to offend the gods. If A King's Ransom focused on the new foreign enemies he's made, Sacrifice showed the trouble brewing at home.

It was a dark but very interesting look at Norse culture and religion, far more focused than the tales and prayers we've seen so far this season. It was an episode steeped in mysticism and politics as Ragnar lays out the new direction for his ambition. But do we like Ragnar anymore? This week was the first time his actions felt overtly nasty in his treatment of Athelstan and Lagertha. But that could be the point Michael Hirst wants to make in his rise to power. Now that the second season is assured, I'm curious to see if the season ends on any sort of cliffhanger.

Spoilers Now!
Ragnar explains to Athelstan that every nine years they travel to their temple at Uppsalla to give thanks to the gods and offer them sacrifices. This year he was not going to go, but given his unborn son was taken from him he now wonders what he did to anger the gods. He asks Athelstan what Christians do to deal with such pain. Athelstan explains all sorrows will pass. Ragnar will take the children for the first time, and asks him to come along. Athelstan retrieves his Bible from beneath the floorboards, only to find it rotting and brittle.

As Lagertha and her children receive the offerings for the gods from their people, Ragnar sits and drinks. She asks her husband if he's happy they're going, but he is bitter that the gods made him earl and took his son. She reminds him they can have more sons, but he dismisses that they've tried in the past.

Ragnar and his entourage make their journey to Uppsalla as Lagertha tells her daughter she has been there once before, and the gods granted her her every desire. The temple is atop the mountain and they receive the blessings of the priest, including Athelstan. Lagertha prays to Frey to give her a son no matter what the cost to her, while Ragnar prays to Odin for understanding of his will, and if he will have more sons as the seer told him. He plans to offer him a sacrifice to learn who will bear him his son. Athelstan wanders the festival, and notices all the penned in animals. Ragnar explains nine of every kind they've gathered will be sacrificed. But there is also a pen for the humans that have been chosen.

Lagertha heard King Horik himself is attending, and Ragnar confirms it. As they eat, she sees he wants to go out and participate in the revelry, but she asks him to stay. He goes anyway. Lagertha lays awake listening to the commotion outside and Gyda comes to her and says she is bleeding. Lagertha explains she's a woman now, but admits it will be hard to let her go.

Rollo offers Athelstan mushrooms, and soon he's in the midst of a hallucination. He wanders through the festival in a fugue. Leif finds him and explains he is on a great journey that he must finish. He walks on to Thyri's tent, who says she's been waiting for him and kisses him. She takes him inside and bathes him. He asks why, but she replies she has to.

Come morning, two men arrive, one with a chicken he tosses among the sleeping revelers. The priests awaken and begin to beat him. The other man orders them to stop it at once, as the man is King Horik. Ragnar calls Athelstan to come with him, and he's taken into the tent of the king.

The king explains his reputation proceeds him, with tales of how he killed the earl, built a new kind of ship and defeated a king of England. Ragnar recounts how Horik gained the throne by killing his brothers who murdered his father, how he is a just ruler and lawmaker. Ragnar offers him his fealty and service. The king accepts and asks what he can do in return. Ragnar wants them to join forces, as he remains unsatisfied with his raids. He wants larger parties to plunder and explore further into new lands. He introduces Athelstan, who explains his history in England and life as a missionary. The king is familiar with his type and asks if he remains a Christian. Athelstan says no. Horik gladly joins forces with him as he is not in favor of individual enterprise, but is happy to have his name linked to Ragnar's.

The king is anxious to exploit Ragnar's skills by dealing with Earl Borg who is disputing Horik's claim to some lands. He needs him to travel there as his emissary to settle the issue and earn the king's gratitude. Ragnar agrees.

Siggy finds Rollo eating, asking why he bothered to come back to their tent, and how many women he has been with during the festivities. She thought they came there together, and Rollo explains to her they are together and to stop pestering. He won't change who he is for her. She suggests if he truly wants to be a great man, he should be meeting with King Horik like his brother is. Rollo wasn't invited because he was too stubborn and drunk, she chides, and Siggy could have told him. He needs her as much as she needs him, she says. 

Athelstan encounters the seer, who tells him to come with him into the temple. Ragnar has told the priest of his story and he asks if Athelstan remains in his heart a Christian, but Athelstan says no. He makes him renounce his god three times. The priest informs him he's been brought there as a sacrifice to the gods, which stuns Athelstan, and he loosens the grip of his hand. The priest finds he still holds his crucifix and Athelstan runs out.

The seer tells the gathering the sacrifice of Athelstan will not please the gods. He has not renounced his god and his heart remains corrupt. Ragnar mocks Athelstan by whispering his god finally came through for him. Instead, someone else must take his place or the gods will punish them all. There is silence as everyone considers it, but Leif rises and announces his desire to be sacrificed for the sake of all his friends. 

As the day arrives, the chosen are washed and prepared as the animals are killed first. Then the human victims lie down and the king cuts their throats Athelstan watches in horror and weeps for the dead. The sacrifices are then hung upside-down and bled, and Ragnar weeps for them, too.

The Verdict:
Sacrifice was unsettling and forebodes dark times ahead. The time jump brought a new look for Athelstan and we join Ragnar in the midst of his brooding and a strained relationship with Lagertha. Ragnar continues to grow ever more detached and ambitious, and his prayer to Odin to advise of him who might mother his son was alarming.

To add to Ragnar's dangerous turn is the way he kept Athelstan in the dark about his fate, especially since he's made him pretty much a part of his family over the last year. As his prayer to Odin suggests, he was ready to offer up Athelstan without hesitation, which means having more sons is going to trump everyone else in his life (as I'm sure Lagertha is soon to find out). It appears as though the people in his life have become tools for his ambition.

I guess if the notion of sacrifice is held in such high regard, then Ragnar would look upon it as a gift and an honor, but he also reacted very indifferent when Athelstan failed the test. But he does shed some tears at the end, so he's not beyond redemption yet.

I find it odd that no one, including Floki, brought up that the gods might be angry because Rollo converted to Christianity? With all his lamenting, Ragnar doesn't appear to have considered that aloud. Nor has he had much conversation with his brother since killing the earl either, even to comment on his relationship with Siggy.

I don't trust either Horik or Ragnar's motivations at all in their new friendship. The King looks to be keeping Ragnar close and use him to do his dirty work, and if Ragnar should die, then he'll be rid of a rival. Does Ragnar seek the throne now, or is he happy to plunder and explore new lands? I think it's the latter, as he certainly couldn't do both if he were to be ruler.

Finally, Sacrifice really made me like Athelstan's character now. I've been indifferent to him, but I certainly felt his pain and sense of betrayal at being manipulated by someone he looks to as a friend. His struggle to cling to his past, while being fascinated with the culture he's been immersed in feels very real. How will he engage with Ragnar now that he knows he could be so easily cast aside at his master's whim?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Review: The Walking Dead 109

Non Spoiler Review:
Following the meeting with Ezekiel and Negan's man, both Rick and Jesus return to their respective communities to bring those close to them into the plan. Both are faced with difficulties managing who to bring into their conspiracy. Maggie continues to settle in at the Hilltop and its local politics.

Lots of set up for the inevitable clash with Negan, but Kirkman is managing several interesting subplots and expanding his universe. He's also attempting to develop some new characters, which is a good thing, given Rick's group seems to be growing ever smaller with Glen's death and Abraham's before him, and no one has stepped up to fill the void. I've been hard-pressed to remember most of the townspeople's names.

Spoilers Now!
At the Hilltop Maggie is mourning daily over Glen's grave, but meets a new friend in Brianna, who makes the observation everyone currently alive can say they know how someone feels who has lost a loved one. Her choice to bury Glen (rather than cremate him) has given many pause for thought, as it allows them a place to come and spend time with their departed.

Next she heads to the doctor to check on her baby, which appears fine. Only they're interrupted by the unwelcome intrusion of Gregory who seems to want to flirt with her, though he doesn't even remember Sophia's name. Back at their apartment, Maggie is met with Sophia's resistance at their new accommodations and wishing to return to Alexandria.

Jesus abruptly appears, having snuck into town on a special mission to advise her of Rick's plan, as well as the promise that Glen will be avenged. He's going to bring Gregory into the loop, as he'll need a contingent of men to train for fighting, but he certainly doesn't trust him, and would like Maggie to be his eyes and ears inside while he's away. If anyone talks, he asks her to go to Kal who mans the wall.

In Alexandria, Andrea is happy to learn that a plan is afoot to unseat Negan. Carl overhears, but rather than warning his son off, Rick advises him he wants him by his side. Michonne is less accommodating. Not only is she offended that he kept her in the dark in order to keep her from acting alone, she's been longing to hang up her sword for good. Rick assures her that after this last mission she can. But she warns him about making promises he can't keep.

Negan is due for another tribute, and as he reviews the stores with Olivia, Rick determines they must make a large scale supply run in order to keep him appeased. Spencer walks in looking for a fight, commenting that Rick is hardly ever in town anymore and that he's scared of Negan. Spencer suggests his father putting Rick in charge wasn't a permanent solution and likely wouldn't have allowed it had he known it would lead to both his death and his wife's. Rick declares he knows what he's doing and stares him down.

Gregory is mortified to learn of the plot, and believes Ezekiel is arrogant and crazy. When pressed to have some men, Gregory admits he doesn't even know how many people live at the Hilltop. Jesus confides in Kal about their inside man with Negan, then brings Maggie to meet the blacksmith, Earl. He needs him to make Maggie a knife for security purposes, and the two seem to hit it off. When Jesus comments he has to meet with Kal before he leaves, Earl informs him he abruptly left to go on a perimeter check. Jesus can't believe he was so stupid.

The Verdict:
This was a decent set up issue, putting the wheels in motion for the plan to defeat Negan. I like all the multiple variables in play—Spencer, Kal, Gregory—factors that will almost certainly screw up Rick and Jesus' plan and lead to blood and destruction. I doubt any of those three will last for very long when the fight begins.

Kirkman continues to build his world, with further character introductions at the Hilltop, and it was good to catch up with Maggie and Sophia. Jesus seems to be the logical choice to succeed Gregory. It will be interesting to see if what we get out of this is a leadership triumvirate composed of Jesus, Ezekiel and Rick.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Review: Mad Men "Collaborators"

Non Spoiler Review:
Collaborators continues to play on the ongoing similarities and rivalry between Don and Pete, whose respective affairs grow ever more complex and dangerous. Client difficulties exacerbate the tension. Meanwhile, Peggy is drawn into a conflict of interest with her late night chats with Stan. Megan reveals a secret to Don.

This episode was directed by Jon Hamm and it wasnt' the most spectacular Mad Men. But it certainly carried on with the dark and messy themes of infidelity. I can't say I enjoyed this one, but it's more from the unsettling feeling it left me with, and no fault of the writing itself. Perhaps I'm lamenting the return to the old Don after what seemed to be so much progress the last few years.

Pete and Trudy's story was interesting, as was Peggy's ongoing arc that looks to be leading to trouble at her job. We got a brief but memorable moment with Joan, but otherwise the focus remains primarily on Don and Megan and their neighbours Arnold and Sylvia.

Spoilers Now!
It's the end of January, 1968. Pete and Trudy are hosting a party for their neighbours, and both flirting with their respective guests. Back in Manhattan at his apartment, Pete greets one of the women, Brenda, as he promised her tickets to Hair. After their tryst she is interested in carrying on their relationship.

Don heads down in the elevator but encounters Arnold and Sylvia having an argument. Arnold comments that Sylvia must be sending all his cash to her child and Don is lucky his wife works. After Arnold gets off, Don returns to Sylvia's floor. As she greets him at the door, Don flashbacks to his youth, when he and his mother were being taken in by her sister, who ran a brothel. Max, the sister's husband, informs Don he's the rooster around there. Don has dinner plans with the couple later in the week and Sylvia muses that Don doesn't mind sitting across the table from his wife and her husband. He replies that it's good company. And this didn't happen, just in his head, he explains dismissively, referring to their liaison in the maid's bedroom.

At work, Don and Ken meet with Raymond from their Heinz account—the bean division. He's brought another more youthful rep, Timmy, from their ketchup side to refer them some business. The pitch seems to be going well, and when Raymond sends him out he abruptly turns the table and tells them not to communicate with Timmy or his division at all. He's angry he's not gotten any respect from his company and he's not about to help Timmy out in any way. After he leaves, Ken realizes it was all a waste of time. Don disagrees, and suggests it was an opportunity to later exploit, but he refuses to step on Raymond's toes, even if it means giving up the lucrative Heinz Ketchup.

Sylvia encounters Megan in the laundry room in the midst of firing the housekeeper. Megan apologizes for the scene and breaks down. Megan admits she had a miscarriage two days before and Don doesn't know. She didn't want to be pregnant and now she feels guilty. Sylvia confides in her she had a miscarriage after her son, as well, but doesn't relate to how she's feeling about not wanting the child. Don returns home, unnerved to find Sylvia there. Megan explains she had to fire the maid and Sylvia leaves them alone.

Herb from Jaguar drops in at SCDP, but pays Joan a visit first, but she doesn't indulge in his flirting. Pete finds him and leads him out to the meeting. Joan walks in to Don's office, advising him he's here and pours herself a drink. Don leaves her to join Herb, Pete and Bob Bensen, who is now part of the team and taking notes. Herb is there because he wants foot traffic to get people in the door to his local Jaguar dealerships, so wants some additional radio spots. But he wants that to come at the cost of the national campaign, just redistribute the proportions. And he wants them to recommend the plan to his superiors. Pete seems agreeable, but afterwards Don is angry that he's gutted the national campaign. Pete points out he's no different from any of the other clients walking through the door, including Raymond.

Peggy's secretary suggests she should be as encouraging to her creative staff as she's been to her. So Peggy tries a new tact but ends up criticizing their artwork. Then she awkwardly adds she's happy with all of them, it's just their work that needs work. It doesn't help.

Stan and Peggy share their late night phone session and she confides in him that everyone hates her there. Stan tells her about the ketchup and bean controversy and how Ken was telling everyone he was getting Heinz Ketchup, only to have his hopes dashed. She's interrupted by Ted, who overhears her on the speaker phone, but assures her personal calls are fine after 5:00. She explains the funny story, but when his interest is piqued in making a play for Heinz, she assures him they aren't going anywhere. 

That doesn't stop Ted. In the morning he advises Peggy he's found out Heinz Ketchup has got their ears open for new campaigns so he's putting her on the creative. Feeling like she's betraying Stan's confidence, Ted reminds her he's the enemy, and maybe she needs a friend more than a job. Peggy points out it was a private conversation. Ted ignores her concerns and tells her to blow their minds with a campaign.

Megan tells Don she's not feeling well to go to dinner with Sylvia and Arnold. It's too late to cancel, but she wants him to go and have fun. Don joins the couple and they discuss the state of the war currently in the news. Arnold is drawn away to a call, and Sylvia goes to powder her nose. 

Arnold is called back in to work, and that leaves Don and Sylvia to finish the evening. Sylvia is unusually short with him until Don sarcastically remarks that he was foolish to think they could spend time together outside her maid's bedroom. Don points out she just wants to feel shitty up until the point he takes her dress off. Sylvia suggests it would be someone else's dress if she wasn't there. Don wants her, he explains, and if she wants something more than that then that's news to him. They go back to her apartment with Sylvia apologizing for being jealous, but she tells him they can't fall in love.

Don comes home to Megan who needs to talk to him. She confesses to the miscarriage and didn't know how he would feel. He tells her he wants what she wants. She wonders if it's time to have the conversation about children, and he assures her he's fine with whatever she wants. 

Pete and Trudy are alerted to screaming outside and find Brenda beaten up at their door, with her husband yelling that she's Pete Campbell's problem now. She doesn't want him to call the police, but has nowhere to go so Pete tries to find her a hotel. Trudy goes to get some ice and Pete asks what she said to him. Brenda wants him to take her to the city so she can be with him. Trudy offers to drive her to her hotel and Pete nervously waits for her to return home, but she doesn't return until he's in bed.

In the morning Pete finds her sitting in the kitchen, and she confronts him about his affair. All she wanted was for him to be discreet. That's why she allowed him the apartment in the city. But Brenda lives on her block. Trudy firmly declares it's over and doesn't care what he wants. He will be there only when she tells him he can be there, otherwise he's to stay away, and she'll destroy him if he doesn't do as she says. Pete storms out.

At the Jaguar meeting, Pete sells Herb's idea as his own to the Jaguar executives, just as Herb intended. They're curious if Don is in favor of the new direction. He agrees, but less enthusiastically, suggesting a mailer or circular in the paper. The others want the Jaguar to be something rare, not like a normal car advertising for business. So they firmly decide to stick to the original campaign, annoying Herb. After they leave Don gives Herb a handshake and departs, leaving Herb to berate Pete for letting Don talk.

Pete storms into Don's office wondering why he can't just follow the rules. Don warns them to stop appeasing clients like they appeased the Germans at Munich. Pete reminds him they won the war and storms out, leaving an amused Roger to point out Don chose dishonor this time but still might get a war.

Don has another flashback to the brothel, when he spied through the keyhole and watched Max have sex with his pregnant step-mother, but he's caught by one of the prostitutes who calls him a dirty little spy. Don returns home after mistakenly going to see Sylvia when her husband was home. She quietly sends him away. Rather than go inside, he sits on the floor outside his door.

The Verdict:
Pete has been trying to emulate Don since the beginning, and Collaborators shows how miserably he seems to fail at it, while Don goes on and on and never seems to suffer blowback. That may be about to change, given Roger's warning that his appeasement may backfire.

Pete's bit off more than he could chew with Brenda and it revealed that Trudy has known all along about his dalliances, but was fine with it as long as he wasn't throwing it her face. The moment she laid down the law did much to redeem what has been a shallow character, and I was happy to see that this multi-seasonal habit of Pete's is now blown wide open. In contrast, Don seems to play his affair very recklessly. I wonder if he wants to be discovered so his marriage to Megan will end. Her discussion with him about children was very apathetic, amounting to whatever you want.

Pete and Don's disagreements spilled over into their troublesome clients. Don has no issue taking Raymond's side in the Heinz dispute and costing them more business, yet is unable to let odious Herb direct the course of the campaign (though that was likely due more to wanting to punish him for damaging Joan).

Peggy's scenes with Ted had some underlying tension that made me uneasy about her future. Not only does she find it difficult to relate to her subordinates, but Ted appears to be treating her as less than an equal, as well.

Overall, Collaborators wasn't the most uplifting episode. I hope the affair plotline moves quickly rather than stretch out over the season. It does appear to be inevitable that Arnold or Megan will discover it.
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