Sunday, May 26, 2019

Sticking The Landing

Well, it's over. One of the most significant epic fantasies/ television shows/ pop culture phenomenons has ended. (Okay, look, I know there are prequels and spinoffs and all the stuff, but let's stay focused people!) Endings are hard. Really hard. And it did so in a way that many of its predecessors has done before: filled with controversy and disappointment. Think about how many shows haven't quite stuck the landing. (Aren't we still a little salty over THE SOPRANOS?) Before I discuss my opinions, which is why you came here, let me get something off my chest.

As someone else suggested, Sam should've looked at the camera like Jim Halpert.

You don't get to write the ending.

You can hate the ending. You can love the ending. Worst of all, you could "meh" the ending. But you aren't allowed to write it.

If you could, I'd be writing about it and we likely wouldn't know one another.

There's a fine line in this rant. We've reach the point in this society that you aren't allowed to love something, just defend it. Everyone feels they are the righteous one and their opinion should be the prevailing one. Don't believe me? Search THE LAST JEDI on YouTube. There are some people that have entirely too much time on their hands. (Says the guy writing a blog post about GOT that tweets almost incessantly.) There are a lot of manbabies still stewing about that. (There's a forthcoming blog from me about the idea of the "Mary Sue.") Anyway, I'm digressing. Back to my point. Just because you don't like something, doesn't mean I am wrong. And just because I love something doesn't mean you are wrong. That's something we're all getting wrong.

I'm not saying we shouldn't critique or criticize. I would encourage it in fact. But don't plant an implacable flag in a hill. It's rarely worth dying for, trust me. There's plenty of things I don't like and I try not to criticize. Don't get me started on THIS IS US. Or A MILLION LITTLE THINGS. Or anything that Rachel Hollis or Nicholas Sparks writes. Most "bro" country? TEEN MOM? My wife is glaring, I'm sure. But I try not to die on that hill anymore. It's a vicious cycle.

In preparation for writing this, I put up a Facebook post asking people what they didn't like about the finale. I'm not going to refute to the ones I disagreed. Almost all of it is legitimate criticism and it's the way they felt. I had some suspicions and some theories, some were proven correct, others not.

Let's address one thing first about the whole season. And last season too. The pacing was terrible. If anything ruined the ending, that would be it. D&D were done with this. I know this feeling as a writer. It's not an excuse, it's just reality. And it sucks for us. Everything felt rushed, causing a serious drop-off in quality. (I'm not going to go through a recap of previous seasons where the writing was atrocious!) It felt like these episodes were written hastily with very little story editing. It was almost like someone was doing an adaptation of an adaptation. But there were enough shiny moments for this season that I can sort of...sort of....forgive them.

So, I liked the episode. A lot. It did a lot of things I like to see in an ending. Things I think are important to endings. It tied off loose ends. It left us with a bittersweet sense of hope. That things, in general were going to be okay. Was it perfect? I don't know if that's the word I'd use but it worked really well. I predicted the time jump, though we get no sense of how long that time is. Enough for Jon Snow's hair to get all frizzy I guess. So, some comments:

  • I like clean endings and this was clean. It was fast and more than a little sloppy but in the end it did what it was supposed to do.
  • The noble's council was equal parts fun and frustrating. The exchanges between the characters is brilliant. I liked Tyrion's speech. It made sense that he got the speech. He's your best character, you give him that speech. The laughter at Sam's suggestion of democracy was appropriate and he sort of got his way as Westeros moved towards a Holy Roman Empire/Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth/Ventian/Dutch model of monarchy. (One I've used in my own writing.)
  • Sansa shutting down Edmure. Just a great moment that felt very "down with patriarchy" moment. A mediocre white dude being told to sit down by a strong woman was great. (Granted they undid that by letting Sansa's pot smoking brother take the throne.)
  • The entire Small Council meeting was great. It gave every character a chance to shine and, as Patton Oswald said, it was the most hopeful thing that this show has truly given us. Yah, Bronn wants more brothels, but he also wants to see the budget that Davos wants to spend. They all agree for the need for clean water and are ready to work to that goal. And every character is something that hasn't been before: most are from humble backgrounds. A sell sword. A smuggler. A female knight. The only (and disgraced) son of an ancient house is the Hand and has defied the odds. 
  •  There was a lot that didn't make sense at times and I think that there were things that got cast aside or honestly forgotten (there's a great series of memes about this very thing) but there was nothing monumentally out of character or inconsistent. Except for the one thing that mattered. 
  • Let address it since I haven't. Yes, Dany had to die. Again, pacing. If we'd seen the descent over a period of time, I think a lot of people wouldn't have felt strongly about this. Her idea of "freedom" had obviously become about her ruling the entire world and being the "mother of the world." We've heard this from tyrants before. 
  • Jon Snowgaryen's action was the just right thing for him to do. Yes, it's out of no where and somewhat out of character but I had no issue with it. It does some things that are noteworthy and important that goes back to that prickly Stark honor. Between him doing something a son of Ned Stark would never do to Drogon's reaction to Dany's death. Makes you wonder how intelligent is a dragon? Can he tell that Jon is the last Tarygaryen? Is that why he doesn't kill him and melt the Iron Throne down into slag? 
  • And yes, I know, Gray Worm vs. Jon Snow trail by combat would've been awesome, but neither character worshipped the Seven, so it wouldn't work-a small consistency that people miss. 
  • Jon going to the Wall was a cheap out. The Unsullied were going away and were there enough Dothraki in Westeros to make that a big deal about it? He could've served on the Small Council. Or was their a concern about him being Targaryen?
  • Why didn't Dorne or the Iron Islands declare independence too? One of the frustrating inconsistencies in the episode. 
These are one man's thoughts. I'd encourage you over to The Wertzone that did a great job of making a lot of really good point about this entire season. I thought this seasons was rushed and imperfect but it did a lot of the things I wanted the final season to do. 

Now here's where I'd encourage you to check out my epic fantasy series SEASONS OF DESTINY, which should be on the second even third book by now. But I can't. Because I made a bad decision. But that's a story for another time.

Monday, May 13, 2019

So, That Was...Something

As the resident "expert" Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire expert to some people in my life, the last 24 hours has been a little like the brilliant "Election of 1800" from Hamilton as people seem to be waiting for me to weigh in on "The Bells." It's likely me overestimating the importance of my opinions to the people that agreed to be my friend on Facebook. So, here's my Royal penny.

First, let's get this out of the's highly unlikely there is going to be any kind of universally satisfying ending to the show, even if the writing was a little sharper than it is. There are too many fan theories and wannabe fantasy writers out there trying to second guess that nothing is going to be as fulfilling as the ending we have in out own mind. I am one of these wannabes, but I've gone into the last two seasons with a complete open mind without trying to figure it out. I want to be surprised and then, maybe, think about how I'd try to do it.

Initially, I wasn't sure what to think about the episode last night. Both this week and last week's episodes made me feel this way. I wasn't sure how I felt, going back and forth on how I felt about the episodes. I know that I was stoked and it was some spectacle with some amazing moments in it and some real head scratching moments. For this post, I'm going to focus on "The Bells," which I think I liked more than a lot of people did, especially now with some distance from it.

I was critical last night of the writing , but there were some things, upon reflection that actually make a little more sense now and are pretty consistent with what has happened so far. (I'll openly admit that I read a few online reviews and discussions that helped me with this. io9's is pretty good.) There were some tweaks that could've been made in the writing that wouldn't have made Dany the monster she became, but it's pretty clear now that was the intent all along was to show that she was in fact a monster. At first, it felt like this was another example of the writers choosing to have a character do something incredibly out of character for the sake of plot. (I'm looking at you WALKING DEAD.) But looking at it a little more carefully, Dany's reaction is perfectly in character. This was her plan from day one. The throne isn't hers because she deserves it, it's hers because IT IS HERS. I think the issue is that for a long time now we've viewed this as Dany the "good guy" vs. Cersei the "bad guy" and this is the root of the problem. We assume her behavior is inconsistent because we've been rooting for her to succeed for a while. The problem arises in the pacing. The last two seasons have moved too quick and take away the impact of all the things that got Dany where she is now: driven completely mad.

Not to say all the writing was consistent. The opening of the battle was a prime example. That literally should've been done last week. It was too easy and almost an afterthought. Dany shredded the scorpions and the Iron Fleet in under five minutes.  All that rigmarole over the Golden Company and it all meant nothing, though Drogon blasting through the gates was incredible. Why did she wait? It undid everything that was done last week and not in a good way. There was no tension. No purpose to it other than to maybe show off something cool then "fridge" a significant character of color. That was really lazy writing. There was some decent writing too, and some of these opinions might not be well received but I stick by them.

Let's talk about Jon Snowgaryen, because I think there are some consistent things happening here. He's the best candidate for being king for one real reason: he's a pretty mediocre white dude and he has no ambition whatsoever, which is what seems to work best in Westeros. He's proven to be a good leader. He's got enough charisma for people to follow and he knows when he can and can't handle things beyond his scope. He is a shit general. But that's consistent too and that goes all the way back to the premier. Jaime tells Ned that he was raised to be the warrior, not the lord of Winterfell. When his brother dies, Ned has to fill that role but never seems comfortable with it, which is why the north kind of flourishes with him as its lord instead of the "lusty" Brandon Stark. Jon was raised as the bastard son of a lord. He was never going to be a lord but was always going to be a warrior, whether that was with the Night's Watch or standing by Robb's side. Mormont saw his charisma and ability to lead from the front as a warrior, so made him a steward, which helps him in the logistics of preparing for the Long Night. His being so overwhelmed in the city is completely consistent.

The razing of the city was a terrific callback and reminder from whence Dany came including the flashes of green wildfire that was Aerys's "nuclear" option during Robert's Rebellion.

Now comes the aftermath and how they are going to wrap this up. I have no guesses, but I'm imagining Sansa figures significantly.

One more thing before I do some random thoughts. If this entire season isn't an indictment of the "pantsing" school of writing, I'm not sure what is. A few days ago, someone posted a long Twitter thread about how this was all caused by GRRM's "gardener" approach of writing. The pantsers, many of whom go long times between writing projects, were up in arms over the accusation. I'm the first to admit there's more than one way to cook a goose, but if you're writing a massive, multi-volume epic fantasy, I think some kind of plan helps.

So, random thoughts:

  • I thought the Hound-Arya scenes were just right. Again, they were scenes I was a little peeved at about at first, but then thinking about them, it was the last bit of decency left in Sandor Clegane: he saw what could happen to this young woman, the person that she could become and decided that he was the one who had to stop her from doing it because he is what she would've become. And deep down inside, in the end, the Hound was a victim of abuse. It did nothing to diminish what Arya has managed to do, it just turned her from what would have been a life that was not meant for her. (I for one can't wait for the all female Westerosi senatorial guards, called the She-Wolves)
  • Good, God, if NOTHING else, the CLEGANE BOWL was totally worth it, from beginning to end it was just savagely beautiful. And I mean beautiful. 
  • Jaime Lannister really is the "stupidest Lannister." He's the rich jock that made good because of Daddy's connections. And his ending was just as fitting, buried under tons of rock. 
  • As much as I wanted Cersei to "get it," there was something appropriate about the way she got it. Almost like this wasn't her story to begin with.
  • Grey Worm: another example of decent writing, but not on the surface. He's a disciplined soldier that follows orders. He's also a character that found something he never thought possible: love. And lost it. Again, we go back to fridging as a story device. 
  • One major issue: funny how the Dothraki were almost all wiped out until they needed someone to show "savages" in the capital. Again, this show does people of color so wrong. 
Upon review, this was better than I thought. Agree? Disagree? 

As for me, I'm starting the bones of my Epic Fantasy I Wasn't Going To Write and let's see if I can plan something decent, learning lessons from this. 

One of those lessons? I don't think anyone really wins the game of thrones. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Where Was My Friend With The Selectric Typewriter?

A few months back I got on a podcast kick and listened to a lot of Jeff Pearlman's TWO WRITER'S SLINGING YANG and Marc Maron's WTF PODCAST, focusing on writers. I love listening to writers talking about writing. I don't care what kind of writing, it's just great listening to people talk about their process and insightful. But I also get bummed out. One of Maron's podcasts is still sticking with me: his interview with Aaron Sorkin.

Sorkin is a writer I admire a great deal. I've had some of my dialogue compared to his. The interview was riveting, yet I walked away with a vague melancholy that's been gumming up the works for weeks. (It's not the only reason this is happening but it's nothing I want to write about publicly right now.) Sorkin told a story how he was a struggling actor in New York City and a friend asked him to hold on to his IBM Selectric typewriter while he went out of town. In a moment of loneliness, Sorking started typing dialogue and never looked back. It's a great story, especially the way he tells it. But I'm still thinking one thing all these weeks later:


Success is heavily reliant on the support we get. Sorkin talked about his friendship with William Goldman, who became a mentor. I didn't have one of those. I listened to another WTF Podcast where Seth McFarlane talked about his career and how so much of it hinged on the support of his parents and the people around him.

I thought back to when I was younger and the support that I received. It didn't feel like it was much, but memory plays tricks on us, altering things, moving them around for new information while repressing other things only to have them bubble up on a random February car ride home from work. Yet I still don't remember a lot of support. I didn't have a mentor. I didn't know a lot of writers around me. (Much of this was during the pre-Internet days.) I knew that my closest friend fully supported me, yet he didn't have a Selectric kicking around. I had a few ex-girlfriends that saw my writing as a waste of time. (Hence the reason they are exes, I suppose.) Kim doesn't entirely understand this writing thing, but she supports it and that's all I need.

I've talked about things like this before. I've made my own decisions and I'm where I am because of me. And I like where I am. I look at the two men I wrote about and the lives they have. Financials aside, I'm not sure. Sorkin's divorced with one kid. McFarlane is a notorious bachelor. I love what I have. I think of the SIMPSONS episode where Homer gets our of debt and quits the nuclear plant to become a pin jockey at the bowling alley, complete with him burning a bridge. When things fall apart with the arrival of Maggie, Mr. Burns puts up a sign that Homer turns from "Don't forget, you're here forever" into "Do it for her." It's a touching moment and one that I live every day. I don't know if I'd trade all the days I've had with my family for a modicum of success that either of those gentlemen did. I'm lucky that I have the support that I have now and maybe this was the path I needed to take to get there.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

A Few Thoughts on AVENGERS: ENDGAME (Spoilers)

What a week for nerds, huh? "The Long Night" and AVENGERS: ENDGAME in one weekend. It's pretty amazing. I wrote about "The Long Night" already and that was important enough, especially for me, considering how important the novels GAME OF THRONES is based on are to me. Last night I went to see ENDGAME and it was phenomenal. Not perfect, but pretty darn close.

Let me preface what I'm going to say here with this, I didn't particularly care for INFINITY WAR. I know I'm in the minority and I didn't hate it, but I didn't think it was as good as other people thought it was. It was a terrific spectacle, but that was all it was. I mean there were moments, but for the most part it just didn't land the way I hoped that it would. ENDGAME more than made up for it, in the opening scenes alone.

I mean, who didn't want to climb into the screen and hug Hawkeye?

As a guy that loves epic, this was terrifically epic while staying personal on so many levels. Scott Lang wanting to do what was right. Tony Stark reluctant to change because he basically got everything he wanted but realizing that it wasn't going to be that simple. Natasha Romanov becoming the leader she always was. Steve Rogers being Steve Rogers. Bruce Banner coming to peace with the monster. And Thor properly mourning his mother while crumbling under the burden of failure. I thought they spent just the right amount of time with each character and finishing their arc.

There were hiccups, though I thought the seeming disregard of the standard time-travel movie tropes was brilliant. The references to every time travel movies were funny, well-times and completely deconstructed. "So Back To The Future is a buncha bullshit" is such a terrific line and only Paul Rudd could deliver it that well. And actually Rudd is a highlight of the first half of the film. Scott Lang is the heart of the film and Rudd's frenetic, over his head  performance adds a level we haven't seen in these movies. The Avengers are highly trained and/or talented people. Ant-man isn't. In many ways, he's us. And that's why his character works. He's clever enough to figure out how to fix what's going on, but knows he's in over his head. I only hope I'd be wise enough to do what he did.

Banner and Rocket nearly steal the movie, especially in the first half. (Really the two halves are two different movies and work so well.) Professor Hulk is outstanding and Ruffalo really has been and always will be the best Banner. Rocket it Rocket and there's a really weird (and good) chemistry between he and Nebula in the film as they basically become one half of the "galactic Avengers." And I loved the Nebula arc.

I really thought Nebula was betraying the group, but was thrilled to see that it was nothing but network problems. Nebula had a nice arc and Karen Gillian was terrific at playing the two aspects of the character.

The "Time Heist" section of the movie was just brilliant. It was everything that it was supposed to be, from Natasha's sacrifice (I'll get to that in a minute) to how awry things go for each of the characters. Seeing Professor Hulk "smash" was hilarious and the whole "America's ass" bit made me laugh out loud. (It was equally important to Cap's characterization...that's not something he would've said pre-snap.) DadThor was amazing and, as someone said out on the Internet, will be the hot adult male costume of the year. Again, I don't care about how fast and loose they played with the traditional time-travel "rules." There was enough hand-waving for my concerns to go away. (I'll get to that in a minute.)

As usual with the Avenger movies, the handling of female characters was an issue, though seeing Pepper Potts as "Rescue" was bad ass. Captain Marvel was criminally underused and I had wanted her to be a bigger part of the resolution.

The final battle was amazing. Just pitch perfect, frantically kinetic and thrilling from beginning to end, it was thrilling. If you didn't get chills when you heard Sam's voice in Cap's ear, I weep for you. If you didn't feel something when Cap picked up Mjolnir, I have no time for you. Thor's genuine thrill that Cap was "worthy" was moving. Then came the moment we've been waiting for since we first heard of the Avengers Initiative, Cap's announcement of "Avengers...(pregnant pause)Assemble" was climactic.

Running the Gauntlet through the gauntlet was incredible. From T'challa to Spider Man to Captain Marvel and her personal Amazon guard, the sequence killed it. Tony' sacrifice was foretold but it was pulled off perfectly. Steve, seeing the happiness that Tony got with his post-snap life defies it all and stays in the past with Peggy. He got his happy ending. (Knowing that Bucky had Falcon helped.) Really, just a classic that rivals JEDI for the best conclusion ever.

A few random notes:

  • Doesn't it feel like the movie could've been four hours longer? I mean I want to see Nebula and Rocket as the Galactic Avengers and Okoye basically running Africa would be amazing. Rhodey chasing down Clint? A buddy comedy with ThorDad, Korg and Miek as Valkyrie basically runs New Asgard (that'd be a great story...who'd they convince to allow that?). We could do three movies (and I hope that's what they do) of what Captain Marvel's doing. 
  • You can't help but feel like the folks at Marvel wasted Bradley Cooper, though he's amazing as Rocket. 
  • Let's talk a sec about Rocket...what a great character. The loss of his "family" shakes him to the core and he's all business while retaining some of his Rocket ways. Like I said, the chemistry between he and Nebula is great, though he has great rapport with Professor Hulk too. 
  • RDJ is amazing. He's broken in this movie and looks sickly. And I think that's a wise decision. He should be broken. And it's his family that redeems him. The funeral is heartbreaking and is loaded with some of the best callbacks in the movie.
  • They've set up about 20 alternate universes, haven't they. Okay, maybe not that many, but enough: Loki with the Tesseract and Cap's life with Peggy. Can you say X-Men? Miles Morales? Fantastic Four? (Denzel Washington as Reed Richards...please, please, please) Next Phase here we come. Or at least the animated WHAT IF? show (please use the animation style of the STAR WARS shorts!!!)
  • When OldCap gave Sam the shield, I literally squealed. Loud. I can't wait for the Winter Soldier and Falcon television show. It's going to be amazing! 
  • You can't help but wonder if the director of "The Long Night" could've learned something about a battle scene from this movie. 
Marvel has mastered the "shared universe" concept and this was the pinnacle. It's going to be hard for anything to top this movie in that regard. I almost feel bad for the rest of the "Summer blockbusters" at this point.