Game of Thrones 3.01: Valar Dohaeris

SPOILER WARNING: Whether you’ve read all five books or only watch the series this post is for you. I have read the books (multiple times) but I will not go beyond the scope of the TV series (save a wink or a nod every now and then that only my fellow readers will catch on to). All events that have occurred in the TV show up to and including yesterday’s episode are fair game.  You’ve been warned.

Note: With the biggest cast in television it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight. Thus the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

Each of Game of Thrones‘ first two seasons followed a structural pattern, one which will be repeated in the newest season. Episode nine, of course, brings us the season’s “woah moment.” Whether it’s Ned Stark losing a head or the Battle of Blackwater Bay (not to mention the doozy they’ve got in store this year), episode nine leaves the story forever altered. The finales that follow are dedicated to picking up the pieces. Episode ten shows each character’s reaction to the “woah moment,” cramming in conclusions and cliffhangers—the beginnings of the plotlines to come. Each season’s premiere, then, is about picking up where we left off and setting the table for where we hope to go, building on the foundations laid in the previous season’s finale (yes, even season one was building on “a previous season,” the events that came before it just happen to be a hypothetical one we didn’t get to see firsthand). The call and response of the show’s finales and premieres echo the necessary warm-up phase in each subsequent installment of George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

It shouldn’t come as a tremendous surprise then that the titles of last season’s finale, “Valar Morghulis,” and yesterday’s premiere, “Valar Dohaeris,” are also a call and response. In many places on the continent of Essos, Valar Morghulis is a customary saying, traditionally answered by Valar Dohaeris. The former translates to all men must die in High Valyrian, the latter to all men must serve. With so many widespread and disparate storylines, it’s often difficult to find a single recurring theme in an episode of Game of Thrones. The closest you’ll come in the premiere can be found in the translation of its title: the all encompassing nature of service in the world of the show. Or, as Bob Dylan put it, everybody’s “Gotta Serve Somebody.”

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Beyond the Wall

Everyone remembers the exciting ending of the second season: Three horn blasts and Sam coming face-to-face with a White Walker on a dead horse leading a hoard of Walkers and Wights. It’s no surprise then that “Valar Dohaeris” picks up right where we left off in the series’ first cold open. Now as we all know, full-on battle scenes are expensive. Most of last season’s budget went towards “Blackwater.” Most. Towards one episode. It detracts from the episode’s potential for action, but as I’ve mentioned premieres are meant for table setting, and the producers have plenty of things to spend money on more important than this one battle. So as we’ve seen numerous times throughout the series, we get what amounts to a fade to black, the ringing of swords, and fade back in just in time for the plot to move forward. Immediately after rescuing Sam, Lord Commander Mormont asks if he sent the ravens, and berates him when he finds out he didn’t, saying, “That was your job, your only job.” Recall the theme of servitude, Sam is a man of the Watch, and in this at least he has failed in his duties. With only a fraction of the men of the Watch who left for the ranging still breathing, Mormont announces that they need to return to the Wall: “It’s a long march. We know what’s out there, but we have to make it, have to warn them, or before winter’s done, everyone you’ve ever known will be dead.” Such is the duty of the men of the Watch, they serve the kingdoms, they are “the shield that guards the realms of men.”

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Blu Tuesday: Iron Thrones, Fake Movies and More

For the second week in a row, Blu-rays fans have been treated to an impressive selection of new releases, including personal favorites like “Game of Thrones” and “Argo,” and other award-worthy fare to get you in the mood for the upcoming Oscars. We might not see another Blu Tuesday this good for awhile, so enjoy it while you can.

“Game of Thrones: The Complete Second Season”

Aaron Sorkin’s “The Newsroom” may have been my favorite freshman series of last year, but when it comes to HBO, “Game of Thrones” is (appropriately) still king. There’s nothing else quite like it on television, and though Season Two wasn’t as good as the first season on an episode-to-episode basis, the payoff was arguably even better, showing the full complexity and richness of the universe that George R.R. Martin created. As anyone who watches the series can attest, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of, and though several new faces were introduced in the second season, it’s the familiar ones that remain the best reason for tuning in, including Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister, Kit Harrington as Jon Snow, and Maisie Williams as the cute but headstrong Arya Stark. Emilia Clarke’s Daenerys Targaryen is regrettably saddled with a boring subplot this time around, but Season One background players Alfie Allen and Richard Madden are given much more to do, and the show is ultimately better for it. The scope of the series also seems to grow with every season, and as a fan of what David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing with Martin’s source material, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

Blu-ray Highlight: Much like last season, there’s a wealth of extras on the five-disc set, including a roundtable discussion with several cast members and a look at shooting the Battle of Blackwater Bay. The real highlight, however, is the 12 audio commentaries recorded by various cast and crew. There’s one track for every episode except “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” and Episodes 3, 9 and 10 each have two commentaries a piece.

“Argo”

Ben Affleck may have proved that he was more than just a one-hit wonder with “The Town,” but for his next project, the multihyphenate moved away from the comforts of Boston to a much larger stage, delivering his best film in the process. A politically charged thriller that felt eerily timely in the wake of the U.S. embassy attacks in Libya, “Argo” is unique in that it also juggles a lighter Hollywood insider subplot in addition to its main story. By all accounts, it shouldn’t work, but Affleck makes the blending of the contrasting tones seem effortless. The comedy provided by Alan Arkin’s veteran producer and John Goodman’s makeup artist never undercuts the seriousness of the action in Tehran, and yet the strategically placed laughs help break up the tension that mounts over the course of the film. It’s been a while since a movie literally had me on the edge of my seat, but “Argo” is extremely taut and suspenseful, topped off by a fantastic nail-biter ending and one of the year’s best ensembles. The fact that it’s also based on a true story is simply the icing on the cake.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s so much great material here that it’s hard to choose. The feature-length picture-in-picture track boasts interviews with the people involved in the event (like CIA operative Tony Mendes, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, former Canadian ambassador Ken Taylor and the “house guests”), while director Ben Affleck and writer Chris Terrio discuss the actual making of the movie on the disc’s audio commentary. Also worth checking out is the excellent retrospective “Rescued from Tehran: We Were There,” which uses additional interviews with the real-life subjects about their memories of the event, and the making-of featurette “Absolute Authenticity.”

“Anna Karenina”

If there’s one director whose films I’ll watch no matter what the subject matter, it’s Joe Wright. The British-born filmmaker has a knack for making stuffy love stories interesting (see: “Pride and Prejudice” and “Atonement”), but unfortunately, even he falls short with his big screen adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina.” Though the popular Russian novel has been adapted so many times that there really wasn’t a need for another interpretation, Wright at least brings something new to the material with his inspired theatrical setup. It’s like watching an acting troupe perform a play in your living room (complete with intricate, movable sets), and it’s an awe-inspiring piece of filmmaking… at least for the first act or so. By the midway point, Wright has pretty much given up on the theater gimmick in favor of a more traditional storytelling method, and it saps what little energy the movie had going for it. The main love story is insufferable and boring, and although there are some good performances from supporting players like Matthew Macfadyen and Domhnall Gleeson, it’s not enough to hold your interest. Still, it’s better than reading the book.

Blu-ray Highlight: There’s a good amount of bonus material on the making of the film – including a look at transforming a single theater space into the various sets and how it was accomplished during production – but listening to director Joe Wright explain the process and the reasoning behind it on the audio commentary is far more interesting.

  

The Drinks of Comic-Con 2012

We all know what Comic-Con is supposed to be: Cannes for Geeks. Still, aside from the fetishization of all things genre-related and the increasingly Hollywood-ized atmosphere, there’s something else it’s about: drinking! But one can grab a $12.00 martini or a $3.00 shot anytime in an upscale yet funky city like San Diego. It takes a Comic-Con for the dipsomanical masses to be able to slurp their way to oblivion with a Captain America, a Spicy Hulk, or drinks saluting the warring dynasties from George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones.”

Which is not to say that the search for the great themed cocktails to be found in Comic-Con’s backyard was an easy one. At times I and my photographing buddy, Rodney Reynaldo, feared we might not have enough drinks to really make this piece sing but, as we trudged through what seemed like every bar in San Diego’s downtown Gaslamp district, we found plenty. Admittedly, we sometimes found ourselves making the news as much as we reported on it; some of these drinks are on the spot creations from some of the area’s more spontaneous mixologists. Still, most of these were created with plenty of forethought, most of them tasted good, and some were downright terrific.

The Captain America

I have to admit that I pretty much knew somebody would come up with an extremely sweet red, white and blue themed salute to good ol’ Cap. I never imagined it would induce near terminal brain freeze while tasting far better than this cocktail snob would have ever expected.

The Captain America, as crafted by Andrea of the Hard Rock Cafe on 4th Avenue, is actually three drinks. The blue is a pina colada featuring Blue Curacao; the red is a raspberry pina colada featuring Bacardi rum; and the white, and possibly the best tasting of the three, was an exceedingly sweet frozen daiquiri made with Bacardi’s Dragon Berry Rum. A million miles away from a classic daiquiri like I’d make, but what would I expect from a red, white and blue cocktail?

The Dark Knight

The Tivoli, which proclaims itself the oldest bar in San Diego, sticks to its old school image by an affinity with a certain reactionary-leaning caped crusader. The Dark Knight, crafted by the bar’s redoubtable Rosie (pictured uptop), was as dark as any black knight but it’s flavor might have pleased a fruit bat with it’s surprisingly refreshing combination of vodka, blue curacao, raspberry liqueur, and a splash of Rumple Minze 100 proof peppermint schnapps.

The Spicy Hulk

There are any number of green drinks named in honor of Bruce Banner’s ill-tempered alter-ego. Yet, it’s hard to imagine any would ever be tastier than this concoction. Whipped up on the spot by the very skilled Oscar Avila of El Vitral, the Spicy Hulk reflected our location just a few miles from the Mexican border with healthy dashes of cucumber, cilantro, serrano peppers, tomatillo, lime juice, agave nectar and, of course, blanco tequila. Nothing puny about this one.

The Marble Room Trilogy

We came to the Gaslamp in search of themed cocktails. We found our first themed bartender in Harlo Stompro of the brothel-esque 5th Avenue watering hole and restaurant. The man might be a joker, but he certainly took the time to come up an assortment of con-friendly libations.

The Alien Secretion contains vodka, both Rose’s Lime Juice and fresh lime, and triple sec. The bright green Romulan Ale might please Trek fans with a yen for another slight twist on a Kamikaze with blue curacao, vodka and fresh lime.  The Darth Vader is an homage to a Long Island Ice Tea with vodka, gin, rum, sour mix, and Chambord sitting in for the traditional triple sec. Since I kind of hate Long Islands, I found the taste appropriately evil.

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Sunday Reading: Father’s Day, Tyrion Lannister and Génesis Rodríguez

Hopefully you’ve realized that this is Father’s Day and you’ve already picked up some cool gifts. If not, check out our guide for some last minute gift ideas, and you can always go with booze, though in some areas you can’t buy it on Sundays.

Looking back on the week, season two of “Game of Thrones” came to an end, and Nate Kreichman took at look back at the highlights of another excellent season. Tyrion Lannister (played by Emmy Award winning actor Peter Dinklage) is probably our favorite character on TV these days, as his approach to life in many ways mirrors that of our staff.

You might remember the lovely Génesis Rodríguez from her season 7 appearances on Entourage, and Bob Westal caught up with her in connection with her role opposite budding Latin American leading man Will Ferrell (pronounced “Wheel Fer-all”) in the over-the-top Spanish language Mexploitation/telenovela spoof, “Casa de mi Padre.” Check out our 5 questions interview with Génesis.

You can also check out our review of the Entourage Season 8 DVD. It wasn’t the best season for that show, so you might want to check out Season 8 of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” instead.

It’s hard to believe that “Dallas” has been revived with Bobby and J.R. Ewing coming back with a new crop of young soap-opera styled actors and actresses. This naturally inspired Will Harris to take a look back at some other famous and not-so-famous TV revivals.

Joe Gustafson has a great piece on the Triumph Bonneville and how it brings 60s cool to the new millennium. You can find stories on more bikes on our new motorcycle channel.

For our car review last week we had the BMW 335i Sedan, which naturally put a smile on our reviewers face. Also, publisher Gerardo Orlando flew out to Salt Lake City this past week to drive the 2013 Mustang Boss on a race track, so check back next week for that story.

Meanwhile, in theaters, “Rock of Ages” is a dud according to David Medsker.

  

Game of Thrones: Season 2 in Review

SPOILER WARNING: All events that have occurred in the TV show are fair game. I have read the books but I will not go any further beyond small hints that only fellow book-readers will catch on to. You’ve been warned.

Note: Because it can be hard to keep all the names and faces straight, the first mention of each character contains a link to a picture of them which will open in a new tab.

Things were different this season. There really was no “Ned,” a central character for the viewer to grab on to, and as such, there really wasn’t a central story arc for us to stash all our hopes and dreams in (only to have them crushed, or, you know, sliced off).

Sure, the beginning of last season was confusing. We all know that every time we recommend “Game of Thrones” to a friend, it’s with the caveat that they’re going to have to fight through the cacophony of misunderstanding that is the first few episodes. All these issues we’re amplified in Season Two, when not only do we have a bucket load of characters (the largest cast on television), but all in different places. Seriously, name a location other than King’s Landing where more than two major characters reside. It can’t be done. And as if that wasn’t enough, the show decided (well, needed) to throw even more characters and locations at us.

It certainly makes for a manageable format for blog posts, but in different hands, the second season of “Game of Thrones” could have been a catastrophic failure. So let’s get a round of applause for showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, and of course, the cast, namely Peter Dinklage and Alfie Allen, who are headed for Emmy nominations or my name’s Aloysius, and it’s not. I mean that sincerely; whether you’re in a cubicle or your living room wearing your polka dot boxers, I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, stick your head out and yell, “I’m mad as hell and I can’t go another year without ‘Game of Thrones‘!”

Think of how ballsy it is, when upwards of ten locations could be present in any given show, to have an entire episode devoted to just one (“Blackwater”), leaving the finale to somehow wrap up every other story line. Amazingly, “Game of Thrones” was able to do it, everything else it had to, and so much more. Now, back to that manageable blog post format, where I’ll discuss the three best (or my three favorite) character and thematic developments of the season.

Arya the Ruthless, Tywin the Old Softy

Out of necessity, Season Two diverged from the books a great deal more than the first season did. Some changes couldn’t be helped, and a slight few were questionable, but most breathed new life into the source material. Perhaps the best and brightest example of this is Arya serving as a cupbearer for Lord Tywin rather than Roose Bolton, one of her brother Robb’s bannermen.

I could get into the complicated scenario by which Arya comes to serve in a Bolton-occupied Harrenhal, but what you need to know is this: while the specifics were changed, the general theme and atmosphere of the arc remained the same, and condensing the scene meant interactions between the fantastic-despite-her-age Maisie Williams and old pro Charles Dance. But more important was the interaction between the two characters, which showed us two things: Arya’s continued growth into a cold killer fending for herself, and a softer side of the impossibly thick-skinned Tywin Lannister.

The line was altered for the show, but in “A Game of Thrones,” Ned tells Arya, “When the snows fall and the white winds blow, the lone wolf dies, but the pack survives.” Winter is coming, but Arya has been forced to watch as her pack has been taken from her one by one. She is the lone wolf, and if she hopes to survive she must grow up fast.

As of yet, that hasn’t been a problem. In episode five, “The Ghost of Harrenhal,” Tywin caught her in a lie. Arya claimed she was Maidenpool, but knowing she’s a Northerner, he asks where she’s really from, and Arya’s got the stones to follow it up with another lie. Then she looks him right in the eye and tells him she doesn’t believe Robb can’t be killed, as some in the North believe, because “anyone can be killed.” The subtext here is “even you.” She doesn’t even blink.

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