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Westworld Season 1 Episode 6 Recap: The Adversary

“The Adversary,” the 6th episode of Westworld’s first season, was the most tense episode yet for HBO’s new drama. But while the tension was thick, the answers (well most of them anyway) we so desperately want stayed elusive at the hour’s conclusion.

Yes, we got tantalizingly close to finding out who’s been whispering to the hosts in the park. And I wouldn’t expect the show to reveal the solution to its biggest mystery with so much of the season yet to play out.

But the longer the answer to that central question is delayed, the greater the expectation will be for that answer to blow our minds.

So here’s hoping “Westworld” can deliver when all this heightened tension reaches its conclusion.

Let’s start this week’s recap with Maeve, who decided it was time to make some “changes” in her life.

Maeve

Maeve’s journey of self-realization continued this week as her guide Felix pulled back the curtain on Westworld for the host. The first discovery Maeve makes is that she can say nothing that has not been programmed into her by a human. That bit of information was very important towards the end of the episode.

After getting the VIP tour of “upstairs,” from Felix, Maeve requests “changes” to her programming. She wants a little less loyalty (or a whole lot less actually) and pain, but a whole lot of wit and perception.

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Felix making changes to Maeve’s programming.

But Felix’s buddy (well not really much of a buddy) Sylvester walks in and is ready to spill the beans on Felix’s unauthorized work. That is, until Maeve holds a knife to his throat with a little side of blackmail. Turns out, Sylvester pimps out the hosts at headquarters for lonely guys (like the one Hughes blackmailed last week).

So Maeve gets the changes she wants. But she’s not the only host we saw make a bit of a transformation this week.

The Man In Black

I liked how “The Adversary” had a unifying theme for most of its major story arcs. The only exception to this was the MIB and his continued march to find the maze with Teddy.

Their next stop is to find Wyatt, the new villain whom Teddy holds a significant grudge against. But what we discovered is Teddy was not so innocent when it came to Wyatt’s many slaughters throughout the countryside. He was right there with his commanding officer taking out any who would get in their way. And to think, we used to feel sorry for Teddy early in the season when he was dying every single episode.

A group of soldiers Teddy and the MIB run into have just been attacked by Wyatt and his crew. But one of them recognizes Teddy and means to tie him up and brand him. But Teddy breaks free, takes hold of an old timey machine gun and blows all the troops away.

The MIB ends the scene speaking for all of us when he says, “You think you know someone.”

Bernard Lowe and Elsie Hughes

Bernard, whose spent weeks with his head stuck somewhere covering up his ears anytime anybody suggested things are anything but hunky dorey in the park, finally wised up and started looking into the questionable behavior of the hosts. And what his investigation produced was some of the best acting Jeffrey Wright has provided the series so far.

With the help of super sleuth Elsie Hughes, Lowe begins investigating whose been stealing data from the park.

First, he heads “downstairs” (just how many dark and mysterious rooms does this park have?) because the hosts being used had to be original models (I won’t go into how he figured that out or new he had to go down there to find his answers because I’m not really sure. Let’s just say it was something sciency).

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Bernard Lowe looking into unauthorized activity by hosts and its source.

But while down there, Lowe notices several hosts in the park that are not registered in the system. Lowe goes to check it out, only to find a family of hosts that only Dr. Ford can control. The little boy we’ve seen wondering around a couple of episodes is there with his family. And that little boy in none other than Ford as a child (anybody else out there besides me predict that earlier in the season?) The hosts representing Ford’s family were supposed to be a gift from Arnold. Lowe doesn’t like unmonitored hosts running around, but Ford insists they’re no danger.

Speaking of danger, Elsie Hughes took the information Lowe found earlier (once again, more sciensy stuff) and discovers a place in the park where someone’s been communicating with the hosts. She finds the computer in a dark room with lots of creepy props lying around. I’m sure there’s no danger here at all.

When super sleuth finds the computer, she discovers that two people have been using it to communicate with the hosts. The first is Theresa Cullen. She’s the one whose been sending data outside the park. She also happened to be spending this entire episode on her “Make Westworld Great Again” tour making preparations to remove Dr. Ford from his position. It also appears Lowe was blind to it because of the sexual relationship he shared with Cullen.

But Hughes found another set of communications on the computer. And those are the ones that have Elsie the most concerned.

Who in the Name of Arnold?

I loved the way three different groups in three different settings all came to the same conclusion at the same time in tonight’s episode.

First, there’s Elsie discovering that “Arnold” has been talking directly to the older hosts. The changes can cause these hosts to hurt guests and lie to humans.

And right on cue, we get our second realization coming from Dr. Ford after he finds little Ford’s dog is dead. The little Ford lies to Dr. Robert at first about the cause of death. Turns out, “Arnold” told the boy to kill the dog so it “couldn’t hurt anyone else.” Dr. Ford is very concerned about this, which means everyone else in the park should get out of there as fast as they can.

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Dr. Ford and Little Ford looking at a host dog that’s been killed.

The third realization comes from Sylvester and Felix. When they are changing Maeve’s programming, they notice someone else has already been doing it.

Now, did anybody else out there scream at their television for Elsie to get out of that room? Of course, super sleuth stuck around too long and got herself snatched in her last scene of the night.

Of Note

-While robot revolution has been the direction of season one from the start, tonight’s episode made very clear that only another human can truly direct the carnage. This means that no matter what actions the hosts take, they are always going to be acting at the behest of someone else.

-Dr. Robert Ford seemed to recognize the maze on the table in the little Mexican village he visited with construction people as a design in one of the books in his office.

-Tonight’s worst first impression award goes to Tom Sizemore, the head of creative whose idea was 100% rejected by Ford several episodes back. Apparently, he’s been taking sick leave since then, drinking all day by a pool at the Westworld resort for guests when they are not out in the park.

But not only does Sizemore hit on a very important executive at the pool, he pees all over the park map at headquarters in front of that same executive, Charlotte Hale.

-It was interesting to watch the MIB take a back seat as Teddy directed the action in their scenes together this week.

-Apparently, Maeve’s previous story (where she’s a mom raising daughter out on the plains) is “just a tweak” from being the madam at a brothel. Really, that change was just a tweak?

-This is also the third straight week where the last line of the episode was uttered by Maeve: “Now boys, we’re ready for some fun aren’t we?”

Questions

-Who is playing the part of “Arnold” and what is their purpose in whispering to all the hosts?

-Who snatched Elsie and what will their identity reveal about the larger thing going on with the hosts in the park?

-Who does Bernard Lowe trust now that he doesn’t think he can trust Dr. Ford or Theresa Cullen?

-What does Charlotte Hale have planned for her visit to Westworld and how will it affect the future of the park?

Just four episodes left in the first season. I’ll see you here again next week.

Westworld Season 1, Episode 5: Contrapasso

Last night’s episode, “Contrapasso,” the episode marking the midway point of Westworld’s first season, was marred by a first half that continued the series tendency to force its way through symbolism over and over again. We get it. Dolores hear’s voices. Logan is a disgusting douche who seeks out violence against robots and sex with gold painted prostitutes in roman themed brothels. And everyone continues to speak in code about all these mysteries the show’s first season is centered around.

And there’s nothing wrong with mystery, symbolism, and repetition, especially in a show like Westworld. But at some point, all of it needs to pay off, and shows don’t need to expect us to wait until the last episode of the season to make everything work out.

Then, at some point in the last half of “Contrapasso,” the payoff arrived. The episode turned things up to a new level. All the voices and visions finally moved Dolores to action as her and William bailed on Logan. And Logan finally got his comeuppance as he’s left to be beaten by a couple of angry hosts. It was as if the episode woke up from a major acid trip and figured out what all the visions in that drugged stupor meant.

Being able to experience realization just as these various hosts and guests do is one of the strengths of the show. And though I struggled staying with the first half of the episode, it was that struggle that made the realization that in the second half so powerful.

Let’s kick off this recap with Dolores and William, who both set a new path for themselves in the game.

William and Dolores

Logan takes our favorite guest/host flirt fest to the most dangerous adventure in the park. It’s a Mexican town that centers itself around a criminal named Elatzo (not sure if that’s how you spell it, but as we know now, it doesn’t matter). And Elatzo has a mission for them. He wants William, Logan, and Dolores to steal nitroglycerin from Union soldiers to sell to the Confederados (former confederate soldiers). It’s on this mission that Dolores makes the much advertised wardrobe change from damsel to Annie Oakley, trading her long skirt for tight pants and the chance to use that gun she found several episodes back.

But Dolores is not the only one making discoveries. William is starting to notice how Dolores picks up on some of the real world conversations William and Logan are having. Phrases like “real world” shouldn’t register with her programming. But they’ve been starting deep conversations between her and William the last two episodes.

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William and Dolores’s connection really blossomed this week, as the two shared a kiss before heading on an adventure of their own.

Of course, when William tries to explain this to Logan, he hears none of it. He’s too busy picking fights with hosts even after the nitroglycerin is secured.

One thing that is different about this part of the park is the threat the hosts pose to guests increases significantly. It’s like the expert level of Westworld and Logan was not ready for it. On two separate occasions, Logan was attacked by a host and unable to defend himself. The first time, William saved him by shooting the host as the host was choking Logan. No such help came the second time.

The long anticipated split between the two characters finally took place in Elatzo’s Roman themed brothel. The bizarre pagan imagery isn’t worth our time. But it was a great setting for William’s last straw with his “friend.” In an adventure where Logan as continued to push William in directions he does not want to go, William finally stood up and said no in the most vile place they’ve been so far. The two fight after William refuses to join a war with the Confederados while a weird glittery orgy takes place all around them.

While they fight, Dolores slips away and has the aha moment that’s been building all this season. First, she see’s a psychic who tells her to find the maze. The, she discovers Elatzo is a revolutionary (the ones fighting the Confederados) and means to betray them with the nitroglycerin he’s supposed to be selling to them.

Dolores runs to William and they make an immediate escape, leaving Logan behind as several hosts pummel him.

They hop on a train where Elatzo is waiting for them. Thankfully, we can call him Lawrence now (I thought I recognized him!!!) because I know how to spell that. A new, uneasy alliance surrounding a dead host filled with nitroglycerin is born.

Man in Black

Now, I’m not sure how Lawrence ended up dead in one location only to appear alive and well playing a totally different character in the next (or were they different?). All we know is the Man In Black bails on him tonight in favor of Teddy, who the MIB inspires with a story of Wyatt kidnapping Dolores.

A determined Teddy leads the MIB to a saloon, where none other than Westworld’s founder wants to have a conversation.

Dr. Robert Ford

Three highly informative conversations highlighted the evening for Westworld’s creator.

The first is with Wild Bill (the out of service host Ford wakes up when he needs to talk), and through the story of a greyhound Ford used to own, we infer that Ford is bored.

The second conversation is with Dolores. Now, once again, we don’t know if she’s been pulled from the park in the middle of her adventure with William or if this conversation has already happened.

We get our first hints that the voices Dolores hears are coming from the long deceased Arnold. Ford asks directly if Dolores has been speaking with Arnold. She says their last conversation was 34 years ago, the day Arnold died, and they discussed how Arnold wanted to use her to destroy the park. But after Ford leaves the room, Dolores tells someone, “He doesn’t know. I didn’t tell him anything.”

The third conversation was with the Man in Black. The chat these two have is a perfect example of what Westworld does so well: meaningful dialogue that moves things forward while keeping the deeper mysteries a secret.

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The Man in Black sitting across the table from Dr. Robert Ford.

We learn that Wyatt, the guy added to Teddy’s and to several hosts’ backstories, is a new creation of Ford’s. The MIB wonders if Ford finally created a worthy adversary for the MIB. The MIB also knows Ford and Arnold from when the park first opened. But while the MIB had to be prevented by Teddy from striking Ford, the Westworld creator does nothing to prevent the MIB from continuing his journey to the maze. If I’m the MIB, that would concern me.

Felix

Remember the two surgeons Maeve attacked a few weeks ago? Well, they’re still repairing the bodies of hosts. And central office unlikely saw a report on that incident. But one of them, Felix, wants a promotion. He wants to program, not just repair.

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Felix, the surgeon who Naeve attacked a few weeks ago and now intends to use to adjust her programming.

And he’s taken a bird from the park to practice when no one’s around. He gets the bird to fly only to find Maeve, whose body had been brought in earlier to work on, wakes up and catches the bird on her finger.

Maeve ends the episode for the second straight week, telling Felix, “It’s time you and I have a chat.”

Of Note

-Felix is the perfect human for Maeve to work with. He’s been learning how to program, so he’ll probably love the practice. And more importantly, he’s really spooked by Maeve, so he’ll likely do everything she asks.

-Logan mentioned that the company he works for could be looking to buy out Westworld because, has he described it, the park is “hemorrhaging money” right now.

-We also picked up the tidbit that William is an Executive Vice President at the company Logan works for. Now, Logan says that position is meaningless, but I don’t know if Logan is much of an authority on perception or reality.

-The Man in Black told Teddy he loved the hosts in their original form before all the human emotions were added to them. I wonder at what point we get to see a flashback detailing this original form the MIB is talking about.

-The same boy the MIB ran into was the one Ford spoke with in a previous episode. I’m wonder if Ford sent the boy to track the MIB’s movements.

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The boy host Ford talked with a few episodes ago ran into the MIB this week. My money is still on this boy representing Ford as a child.

-“No I wouldn’t say friends, Dolores. I wouldn’t say that at all.” That was the revealing quote from Ford when he describe his thoughts on Dolores, but I’m sure that’s not worth remembering or anything.

-Elise Hughes screen time was limited once again. But whether you give the girl five minutes or half an episode, she’s going to make a major discovery. This week’s discovery was the satellite in the stray that tried to attack her two weeks ago. So someone’s been secretly collecting data in the park and linking it to the outside.

Questions

-Will Dolores and William be able to get away from Lawrence to seek out the maze? Or will Lawrence be journeying with them? And what happens if Dolores and William get to the maze the same time as the MIB and Teddy? Awkward would not begin to describe that encounter.

-How does Maeve intend for Felix to program her?

-What is the MIB’s relationship to the park’s history and how much of it does he have a direct involvement with?

-Does Ford know about Lowe’s chats with Dolores? If so, is he cool with it or does he just tolerate it?

-Whose collecting data about the park from the outside?

-When does Logan’s company intend on making their move to purchase the adult theme park?

-And is sex with sleeping hosts by surgeons a common problem in the labs of Westworld?

We’re halfway done with this first season. I imagine things are about to turn up to another level starting next week. I’ll see you then.

Westworld Season 1, Episode 4 Recap: Dissonance Theory

“There’s either something wrong with this world, or their’s something wrong with me.”

That was the dilemma proposed by Dolores in the opening scene of tonight’s episode, yet another episode beginning with a conversation between her and Bernard Lowe. And what Dolores says here is in line with what I’ve been thinking through most of the four episodes.

There is something wrong when there’s a place where people can go on “vacation” and pretend to kill and rape. Yes, they are only killing robots. But there’s still something pretty demented about it.

But the question is where does the fault lie? Is it in the guests who seek out the adventure or the adult amusement park that provided them the opportunity to live their fantasies out?

And what of how this dilemma shapes itself for the hosts? Everything about a host, from the backstory, reactions, and emotion, is supposed to be programmed in them. Even they realize that, which is why so many are freaking out now that memories are appearing that they’re not familiar with. They know something’s wrong. And now that every host seems to be coming down with this “glitch,” they’re all going to have make that decision. Is there something wrong with me, or does the problem lie with Westworld?

Two hosts responded to this dilemma in “Disonance Theory.” We’ll start this recap with one of those, Dolores “I wanna be free” Abernathy, who found herself on an off script adventure.

Dolores

Dolores wakes up where we left her at the end of last episode. And now “White Hat William” wants to be the good guy and take her back to safety. But “Black Hat Logan” (nice use of obvious symbolism there WestWorld) refuses, insisting on finishing this man hunt William has dragged them on.

The host they are searching for is named Slim. And finding Slim takes them into the Mexican village where the Man In Black was two weeks ago. Dolores begins to see a vision of a church when she talks with Lawrence’s daughter. She also notices the maze on the ground drawn by the girl.

Dolores has a second vision of a surgeon working on her while staring at the moon. Both of these moments are interrupted by William, who is completely unaware of the amount of self-realization he’s helping Dolores experience.

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William and Dolores having one of their many encounters in “Dissonance Theory.”

William and Logan find Slim and take out his crew before apprehending the “wanted man” to get their “reward money.” But Logan has ulterior motives. He kills the guide whom took them out there because he wants Slim to lead them to “the most fun ride in the park:” Slim’s boss.

William and Logan argue over “the game,” once again furthering Dolores’s confusion about it all. Now, I guarantee you, when Dolores finally snaps, William and Logan are going to be all “What’s with her?” Typical men: driving a woman crazy, then acting like they had nothing to do with it.

Ford and Cullen

One man whose not clueless about the women in the park (or anybody in the park for that matter) in a rather creepy big brother like way is Dr. Robert Ford. And if you didn’t get chills listening to this man describe himself as a god as he moved a large number of hosts with his mind, then I never want to meet you.

Cullen has a meeting scheduled with Ford to discuss park business. The business involves this new addition to the park Ford is building. He’s using hosts to build it (talk about saving money on labor costs), but those hosts are being pulled from park story lines, disrupting business.

But Ford assures Cullen the addition will be ready on time and will be wonderful. Though he does say it will not be traditional western like the rest of the park.

The more concerning moment for Cullen is when Ford sits her down in the chair she sat in at this restaurant when she was a little girl and visited the park. It gets worse when he informs her he knows she’s sleeping with Lowe and that he knows everything about his guests and his employees. But neither one of those were as scary as when he tells Cullen, “Don’t get in my way.” That sounded more promise than threat from the man that seems to grow more in control in Westworld with each passing week.

The Man In Black

“Dissonance Theory” was the best and most informative episode so far in regards to the MIB’s story line. Two week’s ago, Lawrence’s (the host the MIB is holding hostage) daughter informed the MIB that “the maze” began “where the snake lays its eggs.” This week, we found out who the snake was.

Armistice!!! There’s been an unfortunate lack of the sharpshooting female host who runs around in Hector’s gang the last two episodes. And the snake is a tattoo that wraps around her whole body (more on its awesome backstory later!!!)

The MIB thinks the story of that tattoo is the key to finding the start of the maze. And Armistice will tell him if he does one thing: breaks Hector out of prison.

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The Man in Black with Lawrence in the background figuring out the next step in finding the maze.

Not a lot of intrigue here. Of course, the MIB is going to succeed getting Hector out, though Hector’s marksmanship is impressive.

After returning Hector, Armistice tells the story of the snake, and it’s spectacular!!!! Her mom was killed when Armistice was 7 years old. As she got revenge on the men responsible, she used their blood to paint her snake red (I know it’s just backstory programmed into the host, but it is still just awesome). The only part left unpainted is the head of the snake, which will be painted with the blood of the head of the party that killed Armistice’s mother: Wyatt (the go to backstory for all hosts will violent childhoods). And that’s the host the MIB is going to see next.

Maeve

The other host who had a revelation this week is Maeve, the brothel madam whose been dealing with flashbacks for the last two weeks. This week’s primary flashback involves a guest killing all the hosts in the brothel, including Maeve.

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Maeve looking at Clementine’s face, seeing blood in it as she recalls a massacre at the saloon.

The madam’s been feeling at her stomach for weeks now, and this week is her moment of realization.

Hector and his crew perform the usual scene where they make it to town and have their usual shootout. But this time, when Maeve puts the gun to Hector’s head, she takes him upstairs to ask Hector a question. She wants to know the meaning of a statue the natives carry around (more on that later) and wants the outlaw to stab her. Hector is hesitant at first, but eventually comes through and finds a bullet in that spot Maeve’s been feeling at all these weeks.

Finding that bullet is going to be a dangerous revelation for humans in the park. Now, Maeve and Hector realize they can’t die. Or, as Maeve puts it, “none of this matters.”

Of Note

-It can’t be coincidence that somebody built a statue for Natives to worship that looks exactly like the surgeons that work on the hosts.

-Two very juicy bits of info on the Man in Black this week:

  1. In his real life, the MIB runs some charitable foundation, as revealed by the guests who recognizes him and says “Thanks for helping my sister.”
  2. He knew Arnold (or at least knew of him) and suspects Arnold programmed a deeper adventure into the game.

-The MIB also found poor Teddy tonight, whom was left for dead by Wyatt’s crew last week.

-Also, we learned guests have to request pyrotechnic effects in order to use them in the park.

-Our favorite chicken little, Elsie Hughes, continues to have all her warnings ignored by Bernard Low. The only question is why.

-Anybody else not trust Dr. Robert Ford? I have a suspicion (and I’m sure I’m not alone), that Ford has a major (and not an accidental) hand in all these hosts dysfunctioning in the park.

– I really loved how the final scene had a group of law men sent by headquarters come to clear out the streets because a human family was approaching, but Maeve and Hector show zero concern knowing they will survive it no matter what.

-We also learned last night that Lowe is aware of the maze’s existence and even recommends it to Dolores. Does he desire for Dolores to be free?

-We also learned that Logan has some sort of “business interest” in the park.

-Dolores made clear tonight she is now aware of her father’s death, mentioning it to Lowe and saying it when she was arguing with the Sheriff headquarters sent to try and get her back to her storyline.

Questions

-How will Maeve’s behavior change now that she knows “none of this matters?”

-What programming gives Hector all his answers?

-At what point will the MIB receive a real challenge?

-Are we going to meet Wyatt next week, or are we going to have to wait until the end of the season for that?

-Are Logan, William, and Dolores going to meet with the MIB on their respective journeys?

-How does Dr. Ford get all the info he gets on his guests and his employees?

It looks like we’ve got a meeting next week between Dr. Ford and the MIB. Anthony Hopkins and Ed Harris in the same scene? Hell yes!!!! See you next week.

Westworld Season 1, Episode 2 Recap: Chestnut

There are two things I love about the first two episodes of Westworld. Not to say they’re the only two things, but they’re primary strengths that stand out to make HBO’s new hit drama such a high quality program so far.

The first is the seamless introduction of so many different characters. I’m not sure how, in just two hours of television, I know so much about the history of all these “hosts,” the motivations of their creators, and the driving force behind why their guests seek what they’re seeking in Westworld. There are at least 11 characters with whom we’ve been introduced to that we know better than any two hours of television should’ve been able to accomplish.

The second is the way the show has introduced us to its world through the three distinct perspectives (hosts, creators, guests) with which the park can be viewed. Though there is plenty we haven’t seen from this place, there’s already so much we know that two episodes should not be able to convey to us.

The strength of the foundation set by the creators of Westworld rivals any show in broadcast history. Now let’s hope they build off that foundation just as effectively as they’ve built it.

As for this week’s episode, let’s start the recap with that third perspective we didn’t get to see last week: a guest arriving in Westworld for the first time.

William and the New Guest Experience

William is a first timer who represents the way most normal people would be when approaching Westworld. His buddy Logan, the man bringing him to the park, is a veteran who’d be a serial animal rapist if he didn’t get his kicks in Westworld (thank you Westworld for the service you provide).

Through the eyes of William, we see the experience guests have arriving in Westworld. A bullet train delivers them to a hosts who walks you through wardrobe and offers herself to you sexually. From there, guests enter the old west train we saw last week bringing guests into the park.

William keeps that same bewildered look the whole time as Logan walks him through the sites of the park. Logan points out to William (and to us for that matter) that every host is trying to pull you into an adventure, including that old man who falls in the mud that William helps up. That old man wants to pull William into a treasure hunt, a proposal he makes will the two friends are having dinner.

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William (left) and Logan (right) walking through the streets of Westworld.

 

Now, when a host is stabbed violently in the hand by an unhinged guest, do you blame the host, the guest, or the people who put both the story in the host and the knife in the hand of the guest? Deep thoughts to ponder, people.

Logan stabs the host in the hand because Logan a horrible person. Instead, he opts for the orgy story line with two girls and a guy (wonder if that was written into any of the intended scripts), while William just can’t bring himself to sleep with Clementine. William has somebody at home. And he just doesn’t think having sex with a robot is staying faithful.

But while William may try to stay faithful, he did have quite an eye for Dolores when she dropped that can all the guys love to pick up. We’ll have to keep an eye on those two in the coming weeks.

The Man in Black

On the opposite side of the spectrum from William is the Man in Black. The man whose been coming to Westworld for 30 years continued his quest seeking the “deeper levels of the game” by finding a host named Lawrence. Lawrence was about to be hanged before the MIB came to “save” him. Now is it really saving a host to replace death with constant torture? I mean, the host dies most everyday anyway doesn’t he? But instead of death, he gets dragged behind the MIB’s horse back to the Mexican town where Lawrence is from.

The MIB needs information and he’s going to do whatever he needs to do to get it. He shoots his way through all of Lawrence’s cousins. He then kills Lawrence’s wife and is about to kill Lawrence’s daughter before the girl steps up and provides the information the MIB needs.

Now, I go back and forth on whether the MIB is a really slick bad guy, or just a bully taking advantage of hosts who can’t hurt him. I currently lean towards the latter.

Lawrence’s daughter tells the MIB where the maze is (some mumbo jumbo I didn’t understand at all), but also says “The maze isn’t meant for you.” To which, the MIB says, “Oh, I never thought of it that way, wise robot girl. I shall end my mission now.”

Of course the MIB marches on, thinking himself invincible as he drags Lawrence away to the entrance of this “maze.”

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The Man in Black and Lawrence on their way to the start of the maze.

Headquarters

Meanwhile, back at headquarters, everyone’s still concerned with the affects of the update and what happened with Dolores’s father last episode. Could it happen to other hosts? Is it something that is isolated to Abernathy, or could it be contagious? And is someone purposely sabotaging these robots?

Bernard Lowe, the man building these robots, tells anyone who will listen there’s nothing to be concerned with. Everyone, except Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins). There conversations are far more frank and philosophical compared to the “everything’s fine” message Lowe has for everyone else.

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Ford (Hopkins) and Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) discuss the difficulties with “playing god” at Westworld.

As various people work through the issues with the hosts, Narrative Director Lee Sizemore is yelling at the girl creating robots for the next new story line. Our initial impression of this creative masterpiece is that it involves a whole bunch of Indians.

Maeve

One of those hosts that gives credence to the concerns about these issues with the robots being contagious is Maeve, the madam who runs the brothel within Westworld. She’s been having issues getting guests to join her in the bedroom, and a madam the guests aren’t interested in isn’t much of a madam at all. So the techs back in headquarters increase her aggression by ten percent (that won’t end poorly, I’m sure).

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Maeve Malloy struggling with old memories in her brothel.

And she proves herself too aggressive with a female guest. But those careless techs who thought aggression was the problem missed the primary issue: a scene Maeve is recalling and struggling with. In the scene, she was a different character who had a daughter in a wooden house in the country. But there was some sort of horrible Indian attack involved that we only get glimpses of in each scene we have with Maeve.

The discussion with Maeve amongst the higher ups at Westworld is whether Maeve needs to join the other decommissioned robots in that creepy room. But while they’re trying to fix her, the full memory comes to mind. We see all the images of Indians trying to scalp her, but the one trying to is shot, allowing Maeve to take her daughter into the house. But it’s in there that the man in black shows up, appearing in another story line he has no business being in. He approaches Maeve, but we don’t see what he does to her. Rape, murder, scalping, all three? I imagine it’s something horrible and Maeve wakes up on the surgery table an absolute mess.

Something about that memory causes Maeve to grab her stomach each time. And she does it on the operating table before grabbing a scalpel. One surgeon is pissed at the other for not putting her in sleep mode. But the other guy insists that he did. Maeve gets away, but is horrified at the images of all the robots bodies in headquarters. They look like they’ve been massacred as she falls to her knees before being neutralized by the recovering surgeons.

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Maeve and her daughter from a previous story line in Westworld.

Now who started Maeve down this road to that horrible memory and consistent malfunctions? Look no further than the oldest and most loyal host in the park.

Dolores

The fallout from her conversation with her father continue for the park’s oldest host. She does her usual routine of heading into town and saddling up her horse. But she struggles with image of all these hosts laying dead in the streets from the shootout she witnessed last episode. She also runs into Maeve and repeats the words her father told her last week (“These violent delights have violent ends.”). Those words sent Maeve on her spiral and seem to be the “contagious” part of the issues the park is having with their hosts.

Dolores’s scenes were shorter this week. But her impact was felt with each moment. Not only did she send Maeve on her spiral, she also met William (who might have found the only thing he likes about the park in her). And then there’s the gun she found buried outside her house. Now, whose gun was that buried out there in front of Dolores house? And why was it buried there?

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Dolores finding the gun buried outside her house.

Robert Ford

Though the show did it subtly, we finally got a real insight into the mind of Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of Westworld this week. The first thing we see is the man (at least at the moment) has complete control over his world. He can control the snakes and people built for his world with simple hand motions. He also carries on a conversation with a robot boy whose dressed very similar to Dr. Ford himself. But he also sends the boy away with a simple command and the host obeys without question.

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Dr. Robert Ford conversing with a boy host.

The second is the high expectations he has for his world. Lee Sizemore, the man behind the narrative stories at Westworld, had only criticized Ford up to this point. Sizemore thought Ford barely pays attention to the stories anymore.

But not only does Ford pay attention to what’s in those stories, he flat out rejects Sizemore’s latest narrative, only taking the shoes from one of the hosts with him the next time he walks into Westworld with Bernard Lowe. That’s when we see a church steeple standing by itself as Ford proclaims he’s ready to work on his next big idea.

Of Note

-I have to agree with Dr. Ford rejecting Sizemore’s idea. I mean, what about it was any different than anything else going on in the park right now?

-One of the real stars of the episode was Elsie Hughes, an employee in programming who first noticed that the issues with the hosts seemed to be contagious. Then, she had the quote of the night when studying Maeve and her recalling of memories: “If they remember everything we’ve done to them, we’re fucked.”

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Elsie Hughes, played by Shannon Woodard, is the prophetic voice of Westworld.

-We have our first office romance as it was revealed that Lowe and Cullen have been shacking up for awhile now. But apparently, they usually don’t talk much afterwards.

-From his conversation with Maeve, it sounds like Teddy is not always the idealistic cowboy he presents himself to Dolores when they meet up in a story line. One of the guys who used Teddy as his host last week hinted as much.

-After Teddy was shot by the random guest at the brothel, I expected Maeve to shout “Oh My God, You Killed Teddy!!!!” Then bartender would throw in for good measure a “You bastards!!!” The death count for Kenn…I mean Teddy is currently three in two episodes.

-So the man in black has been going to the park for thirty years. And the last major incident with rebel robots was 30 years ago.Are those two incidents connected?

-I also wondered last week if anybody noticed the free reign the MIT takes while walking through Westworld. As it turns out, they do. But he’s a guest, so he’s allowed free reign.

Questions

-What is Dr.Ford’s new creation going to involve? And did anybody else think that little boy Ford was talking to a host version of Dr. Ford as a kid?

-What do Teddy’s sinful adventures out in the wild look like?

-Was that gun Dolores found a part of a previous host she played? Or will it push her to pursue a new, more violent Dolores? And how far will William go in pursuing the whole dropped can story line that, as we found out this week, isn’t just for Teddy?

-Will Maeve join the decommissioned robot army? Or do the higher ups at Westworld dare put her back into the park?

-Will Ford’s complete control of the park be in jeopardy as more hosts pick up the urge to rebel?

-Just where the hell is the man in black heading and how is it all going to tie up to everything going in Westworld?

-And finally, is anybody purposely sabotaging the hosts at Westworld? And if so, who? See you next week.

 

Westworld Premiere Recap: The Original

Have you ever questioned the nature of your reality?

That’s the first question Dolores Abernathy, the oldest host in the sadistic adult amusement park known as Westworld, is asked by Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright). As Lowe goes through a series of questions, we are introduced to the scenery of this fantasy world that is the setting for the new HBO drama that premiered last night.

As we learn later in the episode, that is a standard question all “hosts” (another name for the robots in this world) are asked when their behavior moves outside the programmed scripts. And I imagine many a hosts will be asked that question before the end of the debut season considering that the clear theme of the series premiere was all the various ways these hosts can possibly end up outside the script. But they aren’t able to kill “newcomers” (another name for humans), so everyone should be perfectly safe the rest of the season (wink wink).

So let’s try and sift through all the new characters and information thrown at us in the first ever hour of Westworld.

Take 1

While Dolores is being questioned by Lowe, we see her wake up, walk down the stairs, and greet her father in the morning. A man named Teddy is also on a train at the start of this day as guests talk about the various adventures they are looking to experience in the park. Teddy sees the local sheriff asking for help in apprehending Hector Escaton, a wanted criminal. He visits the local saloon and gets propositioned by a prostitute before eyeing Dolores, whose just rode into town.

Dolores and Teddy are hosts programmed to be together. Well, not exactly be together, but to always chase each other (kind of heartbreaking ain’t it). They throw every movie western and romantic movie cliche they can before approaching Dolores’s house, when thinks get dark and twisted.

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Teddy (James Marsden) and Dolores (Evan Rachel Wood), the star crossed loves of Westworld.

First, Dolores parents are killed by a man whom then dumps milk on their dead bodies (more on him later). Teddy rides up and takes out the man and his partner. Then, a man in black (Ed Harris) approaches Dolores. None of this made sense until the Man in Black explained to us what’s going on: he’s a guest. And he’s a frequent guest, recognizing Dolores and later Teddy when the male host tries to kill him. Here, we learn that hosts cannot kill guests. Their shots will fail every time. And the guests have free reign over the hosts, as the man in black shows by killing Teddy and dragging Dolores to a barn to rape her.

But as the sun rises, Dolores wakes up in her bed in the same position as the day before, and Teddy is on that same train riding into town.

Take 2

As it turns out, everyday for these hosts starts the same way. They’ve been programmed with a series of scripted story lines and can only respond to those story lines. The robots are constructed and the park is monitored in a single lab where Lowe builds the hosts, Lee Sizemore writes their stories, and Teresa Cullen steps in when there are issues with the hosts. And I suspect Cullen will be staying busy throughout the first season.

Though next day in the park starts the same way as the previous, it takes a different direction as Teddy is cutoff by a group of guys before he can reach Dolores. And she’s greeted by the Man in Black, who informs her he won’t be spending anytime with him this evening.

In fact, neither story for Teddy or Dolores is particularly exciting this day. But a”newcomer” does take the offer of the sheriff to go find Hector. Unfortunately for the guests, the robot sheriff malfunctions when a fly lands on his cheek.

As it turns out, a recent update of the hosts is causing a glitch. And Mrs. Cullen is very concerned. But repairing the problem requires pulling about 200 hosts from the park, threatening to lessen the experience for guests (and we wouldn’t want those sin seeking freaks to be disappointed, now would we?). Cullen and Sizemore later discuss their issues with Lowe and Dr. Robert Ford (the guy who owns the place, played by Anthony Hopkins). I won’t recall their entire conversation here. But bottom line, be watching for a power struggle to develop between these four throughout the season.

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Lee Sizemore (narrative control) and Theresa Cullen (Quality Assurance), discuss their issues with the power structure at Westworld.

The Photo

The end of the second day is when the fears of all the staff at Westworld begin to show signs of happening. First, Dolores’s father finds a photo of a girl in modern day New York City. He is so thrown off by it that the next morning, he starts fidgeting, unable to continue with the usual scene he has with Dolores every morning. Then, the man in black kidnaps a card dealer in the saloon. He tells the robot that he hopes to reach “a deeper level in the game” as he cuts off the robots scalp, finding a circular maze underneath.

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The man in black (Ed Harris) right before he chopped off the scalp of a host, to seek a “deeper level.”

And lastly, the milk man comes back and starts shooting people randomly in town that are not a part of his script (so he wasn’t supposed to be at the Abernathy’s house the previous night). Security and quality control are forced to step in and follow through with the plan mentioned by Cullen earlier: to pull all updated hosts out of Westworld for inspection.

Take Three

All the pulled hosts means that Sizemore must do a slight rewrite. He moves Hector Escanton’s arrival in town a week earlier. And the criminal doesn’t ride alone. His entire gang helps him steal the safe in the saloon. And a female sharpshooter named Armistice (I only know that because I looked that up) takes out every host trying to stop Hector in an amazing display of marksmanship.

But just as Hector is about to give the town the big speech Sizemore had written, the guest who went to find Hector earlier shows up and shoots him in the neck.

Dolores, who was in town seeking medical help for her father, got caught in the crossfire with Teddy, who was shot and “killed.” But as Dolores is mourning the loss, the crew of Westworld shut things down and take the remaining updated hosts back to headquarters, where we finally get to see an important scene from the actor with the highest pedigree in the show.

Dr. Robert Ford

The biggest surprise for me about the premiere was how little Anthony Hopkins (Dr. Robert Ford, the creator of Westworld) was featured. Before this last scene, Dr. Ford had two short conversations with Bernard Lowe, revealing little about the man. Most of what we know came from the dialogue of the other higher ups at Westworld. But the issues with Peter Abernathy (Dolores’s father) were enough to get him personally involved.

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Dr. Robert Ford (Anthony Hopkins) preparing to speak with host Peter Abernathy.

Ford handles the questioning of the only updated host having any major issues. What Ford discovers is that Dolores’s dad is trying to help his daughter, and he’s angry with all the violence she endures because of Ford and Lowe. Bernie (as Lowe is called by several of the staff at Westworld) informs us that “none of this is programmed”  as Peter Abernathy vows revenge (You mean you didn’t program the hosts with a desire to vow revenge against you for all the pain they must endure in Westworld? Thank you Captain Obvious).

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Bernard Lowe (Jeffrey Wright) pondering the various issues hosts are having dealing with the most recent update.

Dolores’s father and the milk killer are taken out of commission, which means putting them in a room with a large number of hosts who’ve needed to be pulled from Westworld previously. Now, I’m sure that potential army of robots is nothing any human should be concerned about.

Dolores, on the other hand, answers every question she’s given as she’s supposed to and doesn’t seem to suspect a thing about her creation or her creators. Stubbs (the security guy played by the third Hemsworth brother) tells one of the scientists that Dolores is the oldest host in the park and that she’s always stays faithful to her story. She does reveal that her father whispered “These violent delights have violent builds.” Nobody, including myself, knows what that means yet. So we’ll just leave it at that for the future.

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Dolores, while Stubbs gives her the usual questions.

Take 4

A new morning dawns and Teddy is alive, riding the same train he rides every morning. And Dolores wakes up in the same bed, walks down the same stairs, wears the same dress, and greets her father with the same greeting she says to him every day. Except, this time, it’s a different host playing the role. Dolores doesn’t notice as she looks off into the distance, killing a fly on her neck as the scene fades.

Of Note

-The show established in the premiere a very steady pattern for day to day operations. So at least in the early going, we’re going to know when something is wrong based on the changes in that routine.

-So hosts can be programmed to play different characters? This provided a really easy alibi for Ford and Lowe to dismiss Peter Abernathy’s ramblings despite all the alarm bells that should have been going off in their heads.

-I hope a reason is given for why insubordinate robots are not just destroyed. It may be the creator not wanting to destroy his creation, but it really seems like a BAD idea to have all these rebellious robots in one room.

-This week’s saloon playlist included “Black Hole Sun” and “Paint in Black.” I hope modern music played in the saloon style is a regular feature every week.

Questions

-Will Dolores stay in her ignorant slumber about her true existence?

-What is this “deeper level” the Man in Black is aiming for?

-Will Teddy and Dolores ever just get to be happy (Well that’s rhetorical. Of course they won’t)?

-Will frustration continue to grow amongst the creative team at Westworld with Dr. Ford? And are we going to learn any more about the park’s creation and its creator in the coming episodes?

-Can each show just include five minutes of Armistice shooting and hitting everything in sight?

I was really impressed with the premiere of Westworld and I’m really looking forward to following the rest of the season. Also, expect these recaps to evolve over the coming weeks as I am still working to establish a format for them. See you next week.

Westworld Recaps Coming to 4LN

HBO’s next big drama (at least, it will be if the reviews are right) premieres this Sunday night. Westworld, the new science fiction drama about a futuristic theme park where people go to live out their fantasies is looking to step in as HBO’s new signature drama after “Game of Thrones” finishes its run in two years.

And Westworld has the pedigree to fill that large void. There’s top notch people behind the camera (Jonathan Nolan, JJ Abrams, Bryan Burk), a “how the hell did you get all these people in one show” cast (Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris, Evan Rachel Wood, Jeffrey Wright, James Marsden), and a unique concept that gives it a chance to really standout.

Now, HBO’s not the only one on the lookout for new hit shows with GoT nearing its end. And I plan on providing weekly recaps of “Westworld” every Monday analyzing the key moments of each episode and what questions there are to ponder for the week that follows.

Here’s a trailer for the premiere season. And be on the lookout for my recaps every Monday afternoon/early evening.

Ranking the Emmy Dramas (Well, Most of Them)

Honoring the best of television for the 2015-2016 season, the Primetime Emmy Awards air next Sunday Night. And while I normally don’t watch the show (and I don’t intend to this year either), I was struck by the fact that I am a loyal viewer of five of the seven shows nominated for Best Drama this year.

Now, I’m not exactly sure what this says about me. Maybe I have great tastes when it comes to choosing the television shows I watch. Or maybe I just choose the shows that have done the best job marketing themselves to the Academy of Television of Arts & Sciences. It also appears I have too much time on my hands if I can keep up with this many dramas.

But whatever the case may be, having so many of my shows nominated puts me in a great position to piss people off with my subjective rankings of them.

Before I do that, I want to make it clear that these are not predictions of who will win (that has as much do with marketing by the networks as it does quality of the shows). I will also not be including the two shows in my rankings I don’t watch (“Mr Robot” and “The Americans.”) It wouldn’t be fair of me to judge shows I’ve yet to see. If you are a regular viewer of these shows, let me know in the comments where you think they belong in the rankings.

I’ll start the countdown with a beloved British import that just completed its sixth and final season.

5. Downton Abbey

Emmy Downton Abbey 2

I’m still not sure how “Downton Abbey” ever became so popular in today’s climate of American television. But the popular British historical drama received a well-deserved nomination (it’s 4th for Best Drama) for its final season. And though I have no inside sources on the subject, it wouldn’t surprise me if “Downton” takes the big prize this year to pay homage.

4. Homeland

Emmy Homeland

I go back and forth with my opinion on “Homeland.” Did I prefer seasons 1-3, which were all connected by similar plot lines? Or do I like each season since that plays out like its own individual miniseries with just a few connections to whats happened previously?

But as long as “Homeland” has Carrie Matheson (played brilliantly by Claire Danes) using her Jack Bauer like instincts to thwart terrorist attacks all over the globe, then Homeland will always be in the Emmy conversation.

3. House of Cards

Emmy House of Cards

 

After a subpar season 3, House of Cards came back into form with an eerily relevant narrative we Americans are experiencing right now with our own dysfunctional Presidential election.

Season 3 meandered on primarily because the Underwoods were in a horribly weakened state. And the drama suffered accordingly. But Season 4 not only put the claws back on Frank and Claire, it also gave them their strongest opposition to date (in the form of the rival candidate for President and members of the media closing in on the Underwood’s past).

2. Game of Thrones

Emmy GOT

Placing my favorite show at number 2 has more to do with the show in the top spot than it does with “Game of Thrones” sixth season, which might have been GoT’s best.

The show turned up the heat (literally if you’re talking about the woman sitting in the chair just above this write up) by setting up and landing some of its biggest game changing moments to date and bringing the show’s overall end game into view.

And with the audience growing to 25 million people (on all platforms) tuning in every week this season, the general public seems to agree with GoT’s nomination.

1. Better Call Saul

Jonathan Banks as Mike Ehrmantraut and Bob Odenkirk as Jimmy McGill - Better Call Saul _ Season 2, Gallery- Photo Credit: Ben Leuner/AMC

Putting Vince Gilligan’s understated drama ahead of the show that brought me to 4LN in the first place should tell you how good Season 2 was.

In truth, I put GoT’s and BCS’s most reason seasons on equal footing. But I don’t believe in creating lists just so I can declare ties. So I have to nitpick here and put BCS just ahead of GoT due to a few continuity errors with the latter.

Now as to why “Better Call Saul’s” second season takes the top spot? Because in a world filled with dramas pushing mulitple story lines and stellar effects, Gilligan and his crew take the simplest moments (like the delivery of ice cream or the stopping of a tape recording) and produce insane amounts of tension and drama out of them.

It also didn’t hurt to have Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Michael McKeon, and Rhea Seehorn giving performances that at least equaled (and mostly surpassed) their performances from Season One.

What was your favorite of the Emmy dramas from this year’s choices? And how many ways did I get this list wrong?

Fantasy Books to Read While Waiting for Game of Thrones Next Summer

The sad news, though it’s been expected for awhile now, is official: Game of Thrones will only run seven episodes next season. And thanks to the appearance of winter (finally!!) in the story line, producers will start shooting later than usual. That means our usual April start date for a new season is getting pushed back to sometime next summer.

So what do you do this extended offseason while waiting for Game of Thrones’ delayed return? How about sinking your teeth into a solidly written fantasy book series.

Here’s a couple of exceptional works to check out while enduring the long wait for Season Seven:

1. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss

Kingkiller Chronicles

Patrick Rothfuss, a modern day fantasy writer whose received much acclaim from George R.R. Martin himself, wrote the first “Kingkiller Chronicle” book, “The Name of the Wind” in 2007. The story follows a great adventurer named Kvothe as he recalls the story of his life over the course of three days (each book representing a different day).

Much like Tolkien, Rothfuss really focuses on detail, emphasizing the mundane parts of Kvothe’s journey as well as the landmark events. And though the world in “Kingkiller” has political complications similar to Westeros, Rothfuss exposes the reader to situations through the eyes of someone of “low birth” as oppossed to the members of noble families Martin uses to tell his story.

Now much like Martin, Rothfuss has been slow to get his third book finished (A Wise Man’s Fear was released in 2011). But at least “The Kingkiller Chronicle” is likely to be finished before Lionsgate makes a film/tv version of the series.

2. The Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

Stormlight Archives

“The Stormlight Archive” follows the Martin style of alternating third person perspectives as Brandon Sanderson presents a world coming to grips with both a looming threat and the reemergence of mystical powers lost thousands of years before.

But while Sanderson’s world has as similar scope to Martin’s, he centralizes it on a hand full of characters in one central location instead of bouncing around all over the map. This makes his story easy to follow, but (at least at this point) lack some of the “punch in the gut”moments that make Martin’s work so special. He also does a nice job anchoring his story with a flashback arc for one major character that provides insight into why they think and act as they do in the present.

Sanderson has currently released two of his books: “The Way of Kings” and “Words of Radiance.” The third book of five (with a possible ten if a second set of five books goes on as planned), “Oathbringer,” has a tentative release set for sometime next year.

3. Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson

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Yes, the artwork on the covers of these books is really cheesy. But the story absolutely is not. It also takes two books for the story to really establish itself. But once it does, “The Wheel of Time” is very hard to put down.

Robert Jordan focuses mostly on a group of central characters who begin the story together (much like Tolkien’s “Fellowship of the Ring”) only to take distinct paths as the story progresses. And like Martin, Jordan’s world is full of distinct political alliances and situations. But while Martin bounces back and forth between all these different areas, Jordan mostly uses the central characters to introduce and update us on the conditions of these diverse locations.

The downside to Jordan’s books is they are a long haul. The series is comprised of 14 books and 1 prequel book. In fact, Jordan died before the series was completed. So Brandon Sanderson (the author of the previously mentioned “Stormlight Archive”) stepped in to finish it.

But if 14 books is not too large a commitment for you, I strongly recommend Jordan/Sanderson’s masterpiece.

4. Read the Classics

Martin vs. Tolkien

Or you could just stick with GoT’s source material. If you haven’t read “A Song of Ice and Fire,” jump on Martin’s series first. Though Martin’s books can be just as long as the previously mentioned authors, they read much quicker. And the experience is a distinctly different one than the TV series, so don’t let the spoilers you already know from the show discourage you from reading the books.

The same goes for J.R.R. Tolkien, the father of modern fantasy. Yes, it is a chore to get through the first half of the first “Lord of the Rings” book, “Fellowship of the Ring.” But if you’re willing to see it through, Tolkien rewards you with, arguably, the best work of fantasy fiction of all time. And much like Martin’s work, the books are a much different experience than the movies.

And if you’ve been through all of Tolkien’s works (including “The Hobbit”), check out “The Silmarillion,” the Middle Earth origin story that is much darker than Tolkien’s previous works. 4LN’s Cam Clark wrote this piece about the Silmarillion. He also recently did a brief history of Middle Earth using “The Silmarillion” and other works by Tolkien.

I’m currently working my way through the Wheel of Time series. And I’m also hopeful “The Winds of Winter” will be available before Season Seven starts (though I’m not holding my breath on this). What are some other works you’ve been reading or plan to read while we wait on the next season of Game of Thrones?

A Song of Ice and Fire vs Game of Thrones: Which is Better?

For the last two seasons, “Game of Thrones” the TV Show has taken a fairly drastic departure from it’s source material, the “Song of Ice and Fire” novels by George R.R. Martin. Just how drastic is that departure? Well, until Martin (finally) gets the long awaited next installment of his series out, we won’t really know. But over sixty hours of television content and thousands of pages of Martin’s work do give us enough material to evaluate the clear distinctions between the two entities.

Books vs Show 2

(From left to right) DB Weiss and David Benoiff, producers of Game of Thrones, posing for a picture with “A Song of Ice and Fire” author, George R.R. Martin.

Now before I move forward, I’ll go ahead and make clear that I will not be directly answering that question I started the article with. I do not think one piece of creative material is necessarily better than the other. But I do think there are many things Martin did a much better job with than the HBO show based on his work. And (contrary to what some book purists will tell you) there are things the show did a much better job developing than Martin did. So first, here’s five things Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” did better than the show, followed by five things the show did better than the source material.

(Of Note: I will not be including any characters or arcs that were present in one, but not in the other. Though feel free to include those items in your comments)

What the Books Did Better


1. Jamie Lannister

Books vs Show Jamie

Martin’s transition of the Kingslayer from hated villain who pushed a young boy out a window to awesome anti-hero is one of the best I’ve seen represented in literal fiction. Using the loss of Jamie’s hand and his relationship with Brienne, Martin transforms the arrogant Lannister into someone we actually sympathize with. We see a man who’s been forced to choose between multiple oaths that left him no choice but to betray at least one of them. And by the last time we’ve seen Jamie in the text, he’s masterfully negotiated a siege at King’s Landing, channeling his father Tywin for the first time.

The television show tried to follow this arc. But a poorly directed scene where Jamie rapes Cersei in the Holy Sept, a worthless excursion to Dorne, and a lack of any real development from the character in Seasons 4 and 5 left something lacking when the Kingslayer negotiated a peaceful end (well, for everyone except the Blackfish) to the siege at Riverrun. I mean, it was still a great scene watching Jamie “influence” Edmure to take back Riverrun. But Martin did a much better job moving Jamie to the point where he was a shrewd negotiator, while the show seemed to bring Jamie’s sudden diplomatic capabilities out of left field.

2. The Wall Battle

Books vs Show Wall Battle

Season 4’s “Watchers on the Wall,” featuring the Night’s Watch defending Westeros from a Wildling invasion, is one of the best episodes the show has ever done. But while the production value of the episode is superb, the buildup and logistics of the actual battle leave much to be desired.

Martin splits the assault on the Wall up into three different attacks. The first was from the crew Jon was with that climbed the Wall and tried to take out the Night’s Watch from the Westerosi side of the Wall. After that attack was stymied, two more invasions at different times happened that the Night’s Watch was able to repel before Jon was sent out to negotiate with Mance Rayder.

The show, on the other hand, chose to save this battle for its showcase ninth episode. The problem was they did nothing over the course of season 4 to build up to this Wildling invasion. Instead, the Night’s Watch sat around the Wall waiting for the Wildlings to arrive. And the man leading the largest Wildling invasion of the North, Mance Rayder, did not appear until after the battle was over. How can you not at least show one scene of the Wildlings marching toward the Wall in Season 4 before that ninth episode? And by turning three separate invasions into one, the show confused non bookreaders as to why the Wildlings were split up into two separate forces.

So while I understand the decision to make the Wall Battle the ninth episode and the budgetary reasons for making it one battle instead of three, those decisions also made the show’s presentation of the events lack the cohesiveness Martin’s did.

3. Euron Greyjoy

Books vs Show Euron Greyjoy

Euron Greyjoy in the books: The brother of Balon Greyjoy is banned from the Iron Islands for sleeping with his brother’s (not Balon, Victarion, one of two Greyjoy brothers not included in the show) wife. Known as the Crows Eye, he goes pillaging and raping the coasts throughout the lands of Essos and beyond. He reappears after Balon’s death, is crowned King of the Iron Islands, and becomes a terror throughout the West Coast of Westeros. He sets his sites on the Iron Throne and sends his brother Victarion to secure a marriage alliance with Daenarys and her dragons.

Euron Greyjoy in the show: He shows up. He throws his brother of a rickety bridge. He wins the Kingsmoot, becoming King of the Iron Islands, and means to build a thousands ships (entirely from rocks) and ride them to make his alliance with the Mother of Dragons in hopes of ruling Westeros one day.

Which one of these characters seems a greater threat to the throne of Westeros? Benoiff and Weiss only used Euron to get Theon and Yara to Meereen. Martin appears to have a much larger plan for the character, and his development was way stronger in a “Song of Ice and Fire.”

4. Loras Tyrell

Books vs Show Loras Tyrell

In the books, Martin creates a multi-dimensional character who is a brave warrior with exceptional skills and a confidence/arrogance only rivaled by Jamie Lannister before he lost his hand. The part of him being gay is never directly confirmed, but is heavily implied.

In the show, Loras is Margaery’s brother who is gay. That’s pretty much it. Yes, characters talk about his abilities as a fighter. But the only combat we ever seen is Loras’s ability as a jouster in the first season. After seeing the one dimensional treatment the Tyrell heir (which he’s not in the books) receives on the show, I developed a much greater appreciation for the multi-faceted book character Martin created.

5. Doran Martell

Books vs Show Doran

Now, many would include the entire Dorne plot on their personal lists here. But I personally didn’t think Dorne was a strength of Martin’s books either. When his books should be moving towards an end, he opened up a whole new front in the southern part of Westeros that I believe is one of many reasons “The Winds of Winter” is taking so long to be released. Yes, he did Dorne better than the show did. But meerkats at a zoo could’ve accomplished that.

Books vs Show Meerkats

Adorable meerkats debating what went wrong with Dorne in Season Five.

But I did love Doran Martell’s character. In a world filled with people who act first and think later, Doran is a character who hides his manipulations behind his weak physical condition. Every move he makes is calculated and every one who tries to usurp his authority as Prince of Dorne is found out and dealt with immediately by forces loyal to Doran.

And while some of the plans he comes up with look a little too far in the future to be relied upon, he has prepared a plan b and moves quickly to it once his previous plan goes awry.

I believe the show was planning on moving Doran towards this character arc in season 6. But when reality set in of just how disastrous the Dorne storyline was in Season 5, the producers decided to cut their losses and the character Martin created was a victim of that.

What the Show Did Better

1. The Whitewalkers

Ranking the Seasons 5 Night's King

Martin established in the very first chapter of his series that the Whitewalkers were going to be the most significant threat to all those in Westeros. How many times in the books have they shown up since? Twice. Both times were with Sam in the third book, “A Storm of Swords.” But where were the Whitewalkers in books four and five? The gravest threat to all of Westeros did not appear in either Martin’s most recent works.

The show, on the other hand, has built-up this growing threat at least once a season. Not only did we have Martin’s opening scene and Sam’s run-ins with the Ice Zombies. We also have a pair of “Where Whitewalkers come from” scenes. And most importantly, we have Hardhomme: the most dominant showing of Whitewalker power to date.

So while Martin may be holding back his ultimate build up of the Ice Zombie army for “Winds of Winter,” it’s the show that to this point, has made a far more convincing case of just how bad ass the Whitewalkers are.

2. The Red Wedding

Books vs Show Red Wedding

This one is a little unfair to Martin. His portrayal of the Red Wedding in “A Storm of Swords” is just as much the gut punch the show’s version was. The problem for Martin is he’s restricted to his chosen medium, which forces him to simply list all the things that are happening at the Twins as the carnage ensues.

He can tell you the “Rains of Castemere” is playing in the background. But he can’t use the editing techniques of television to start the song as the doors are locked and show Catelyn Stark’s face as she suspects something is up. He can describe the brutality of everyone being slaughtered. But to truly appreciate just how awful an event the Red Wedding was, seeing and hearing the events is far more effective.

So while both portrayals of the Red Wedding were excellent in their perspective mediums, the show version packed a greater punch because of the multiple senses the medium of television can appeal to.

3. Margaery Tyrell

Books vs Show Margaery

Martin used the daughter of Mace Tyrell and the pride of Highgarden as a pawn in the “Great Game.” At least, that’s the impression we are given from the various characters we hear about her from. She’s never a Point-of-View character in any of Martin’s five books, so we only get to hear about her character and actions from others. And considering one of those POV characters is Cersei, you’re not always left with a favorable impression of Queen Margaery.

But the producers of the show saw a chance with Margaery to include a savvy game player who kept all the key figures in King’s Landing on their toes. I personally can’t imagine the last five seasons with a diminished role for Margaery Tyrell. It also helped that Natalie Dormer was the actress portraying Margaery. And the last place for someone of her quality is in the background.

4. Daenarys Meets Tyrion

Books vs Show Dany meets Tyrion

Everything was building in Martin’s last installment (“A Dance With Dragons”) to this encounter. Tyrion and Jorah were in Meereen, in reach of the Queen of the Dragons so this epic encounter could happen. But instead, Daenarys flies away on a dragon. Tyrion gets caught up in some politics involving the numerous sellsword companies in Slavers Bay, and the book ends.

To build up to that encounter only to have it taken away was a bit cruel to readers (yes, that is a Martin trademark, but still). The show recognized this and made this meeting happen before Daenarys flew away in Season Five. I’m sure this epic meeting is coming somewhere in “Winds of Winter” after Daenarys returns. But I loved how the show placed this first meeting where it did so these two characters can feel each other out. It really makes no sense for Tyrion to be named “Hand of the Queen” if they hadn’t met previously.

Now of course, Martin may be going in an entirely different direction with Tyrion’s role after he meets Daenarys. But I still like this meeting happening where the show placed it instead of making readers wait five more years (at least) before seeing this happen.

5. Winding Down the Story

One of the strengths of the first three books was the way Martin took his centralized story and expanded it, organically introducing new players and new stories to the larger narrative as he moved towards the exciting conclusion to the third book, “A Storm of Swords.”

But then, Martin followed his third book with “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance With Dragons,” two books that decentralized his story even further. The story has spread so far out that it took Martin five years to write “Dance” and we are at five years and counting waiting on “Winds of Winter.”

The television show made a clear decision with season six that they were going to move towards a conclusion. If that meant beloved characters and story lines were taken out, then so be it. And I know many disagree with some of the plots and characters who were not included at all or were taken out prematurely by the show’s producers.  But these decisions have all come with the central goal of moving the narrative to its conclusion, the fruits of which were clear after seeing the Season Six finale.

Episode 10 Dany on her way

Daenarys finally boarded the ship to Westeros in the season six finale. Will Martin have her doing the same in “Winds of Winter?”

Now, I hope Martin brings a similar effect to the book story with “Winds of Winter.” But while Martin has yet to prove he can move his story to its conclusion, producers David Benoiff and DB Weiss left no doubt after season six they can.

What are the things you think the show has done better than the books? What have the books done better than the show? Also, if you haven’t done so already, check out some of the other season wrap-up articles from the past week.

Monday, June 27th: Season Finale Recap

Wednesday June 29th: Obituaries Part 1 and Part 2

Thursday, June 30th: Why was Lyanna in the Tower of Joy?

Saturday, July 2nd: Ranking the Seasons

Today: Book vs Show: Which is Better?

 

Ranking the Seasons: What Season Has Been Game of Thrones’ Best?

A popular thing to do in this generation of the internet is to take a popular TV show and discuss which season of that show was the best (and which ones sucked horribly). And with few exceptions, most shows that go for five seasons or more have their fair share of truly brilliant and just awful seasons.

Game of Thrones is no exception to this rule (though I do think there’s been more good than bad). And with season six in the books, I felt inspired to take the plunge and rank all six seasons going from worst to first. I’m sure there will be disagreement over these, so feel free to state where I went wrong in the comments.

Worst Season: Season Five

Ranking the Seasons 5

I liked Season Five better than most. Sure, it was painfully slow for most of it and took a long time to really find it’s footing (though some will say it never really did). But in a lot of ways, Season Five was better than Season Four. Unlike Season Four (which I will discuss its flaws shortly), Season Five kept a consistent flow in the story lines of all its central players. It also produced one of the best episodes in the history of the series (“Hardhomme” in episode 8) and several great moments (Cersei’s walk of shame, Dany flying on a dragon for the first time, Jon’s “death” (wink wink), and the realization of just how awesome a threat those Whitewalkers were.

Ranking the Seasons 5 Night's King

The Night’s King in the episode Hardhomme, the high point of Season Five.

However, Season Five also produced some of the show’s most controversial moments with Shireen’s death(still makes me cringe thinking about it) and Sansa’s marriage to Ramsey. But what really makes Season Five the worst is Dorne.

No other season had a central plot line that was has poorly written, acted, or executed. The results on screen were so bad that producers David Benoiff and DB Weiss decided this past season to spend as little time as possible in Dorne, restricting the southernmost kingdom to two five minute segments. Dorne was poorly done and mostly pointless, taking season five down in a heap with it.

5. Season Four

Ranking the Seasons 4 revised

 

Yes, Season Four had some really major moments. Joffrey’s poisoning got the season off to a particularly memorable start. Tyrion gave his great courtroom speech (which would have won an emmy for Peter Dinklage if not for some guy  named Walter White in his final season). Arya and the Hound produced one the best arcs of any season, an arc that would end with the epic Brienne vs The Hound battle royale.

This was also Oberyn Martell’s season, portrayed brilliantly by Pedro Pascal. His trial by battle vs. the Mountain produced one of GoT’s most gruesome deaths. Tyrion finished Season Four with another defining moment; taking out his former lover (Shae) and his father while the latter was sitting on a toilet. And there was also “Watchers Against the Wall,” Season Four’s entry for “best episode of all time.”

But in Season Four, several locations raced ahead of others, forcing the producers to hit the pause button in places like Meereen (where Dany sat in a pyramid the whole season), Dragonstone (where Stannis did what he did for all of season 3: sit on a rock and stew over his loss at the Blackwater), and the Wall (where we were constantly reminded the Wildlings were coming while seeing little evidence this was actually happening).

So while season four had some massive moments we’ll always remember, the time wasting in between those moments really hurt the overall quality of the season.

Ranking the Seasons 4 Tyrion on Trial

Tyrion’s speech at his trial in King’s Landing was a highlight of Season Four.

4. Season Two

Ranking the Seasons 2

Most of Season 2 was a season to breath for the audience still coping with the reality that what we were watching was not a traditional heroes and villains drama. Ned Stark’s beheading loomed large over most of the season’s start, with the Stark children especially struggling to deal with it’s aftermath.

It was during this bleak early part of the season that the show did a nice job introducing new, vitally important players to the game (Stannis, Davos, Melisandre, Brienne, Margaery, Roose Bolton) before charging up the engines again for the climax at “Blackwater.”

But unlike Season Four’s Wall Battle, the battle at “Blackwater” was built up strongly throughout the season, with each arc brought to a mostly satisfying conclusion in Game of Thrones’s first epic battle episode.

Overall, season two proved to be a great bridge season between the morale shattering endings of seasons one and three.

Ranking the Seasons 2 blackwater

Our introduction to Wildfire was at Blackwater, Season Two’s climax and the show’s first major battle scene.

3. Season One

Ranking the Seasons 1

I often wonder if we won’t look back years from now and point to this season, the first season of Game of Thrones as a game changer in the history of television.

If it’s not considered the game changer, it will be included among many other shows that represented a change in what we expect from the episodic television format. Before Game of Thrones and shows similar to it in this modern era, TV shows had very clear heroes and villains. The actions of heroes were always rewarded, while the dastardly deeds of villains proved to be their undoing.

But in the first season of Game of Thrones, the honorable Ned Stark, who always did the right things, always kept his vows, and was the central character in the show, got his head chopped off for it. The first season made clear Game of Thrones was going to be different. The honorable way would get you killed in this world we were watching.

Season One was also notable for staying almost entirely true to the books. All seasons following would drift increasingly farther from the source material as the producers began plotting their own course for the TV edition of Martin’s world.

Also notable: Peter Dinklage won an Emmy for his portrayal of Tyrion, creating a certified fan favorite from the start.

Ranking the Seasons 1 Ned Stark's beheading

Ned Stark’s life came to a tragic end at “Baelor,” the ninth episode of Season One.

2. Season Three

Ranking the Seasons 3

No season is defined more by one single event than Game of Thrones third season. And my what an event it was!! Robb Stark’s fall at the Red Wedding was sudden and shocking. Though we all knew things would not go well when Robb and his family entered the home of Walder Frey (or when he shacked up with the foreign nurse in the first place, for that matter), no way did we think the carnage would be as sudden and effective as it was. The Red Wedding is still one of the defining (if not the defining) moments of this show. The term itself has become a synonym for shocking television moments.

Ranking the Seasons 3 Red Wedding

The Red Wedding, the climax moment of Season Three.

But Season Three didn’t just have the one shocking twist. Some of the best character moments happened in Season Three. Brienne and Jamie’s relationship developed and produced a real character change in the Kingslayer. Arya had some of her best moments hanging out with The Brotherhood without Banners and the seeds were sown for her Season Four arc with the Hound.

And the first signs of Daenarys Targaryen’s rise to power were felt when the Mother of Dragons put her beasts to use for the first time. “Dracarys” was the command that burned a slave master, allowing Dany to walk away with an Unsullied army as she began her march to conquering the rest of Slavers Bay and (one day) Westeros.

Overall, Season Three had the best balance of character moments, plot development, and shocking reveals of any of Game of Thrones six seasons. But that was not quite enough to make it the best season.

1. Season Six

Ranking the Seasons 6

The battle for the top spot went down the very end. But a lackluster 8th episode (“No One”) had me ready to declare Season Three the champ.

But then “The Battle of the Bastards” gave “Game of Thrones” its best battle scene (at least from a technical prospective) to date. To be considered the best season in the history of Game of Thrones, the ninth episode of the season must be up to par, and “Battle” certainly was. And while episode 9 got Season Six back into contention, episode 10 delivered the finishing blow.

It didn’t matter what followed those first 25 minutes of “Winds of Winter,” Cersei’s blowing up of King’s Landing clinched the title for Season Six. The technical brilliance of that scene and the bastard battle were enough to merit consideration. But midseason also had the loss of Hodor, a scene that amazingly comes in third for it’s technical presentation behind the Green Sept and the Battle of the Bastards. The increased pace kept the action moving as the show moved furiously towards an end game. And did I mention the confirmation of the long time fan theory, R + L = J?

Episode 10 The Holy Sept blown up

Cersei looks on after one of the signature moments of season six (and the series in general).

Now, Season Six was not without  flaws. Euron Greyjoy’s introduction to the narrative (though purposeful) lacked any real impact other than getting his niece and nephew to Daenarys. And there were a couple of plot holes (Arya standing on a bridge in the open in Braavos and Sansa not telling Jon she had more men for him) that had fans scratching their heads.

But I can look past those because of how overwhelmingly fantastic the great elements of Season Six were, better than any previous season in the show’s run.

How would you rank the seasons? Share your thoughts in the comments. And coming Monday, I’ll be finishing my Game of Thrones wrap-up week by comparing the Books to the Show and asking the question: Which is better? I’m sure that won’t get anybody fired up.

Monday, June 27th: The Season Finale Recap

Wednesday, June 29th: Obituaries Part 1 and Obituaries Part 2

oy?

Today: Ranking the Seasons

Monday: Book vs Show: Which one is better?