Sunday, 21 June 2015

And now his watch has ended

May contain spoilers.
(Pic : HBO)

The fifth season of Game of Thrones came to a close in the last week. It's been a topsy turvy 10 episodes, with some consensus that - in light of the challenge show writers have as they overtake the Song of Ice & Fire series - it's been weaker and bleaker than previous seasons, failing to live up to the hype. I'm inclined to agree, but that's not to say that the standards have slipped too dramatically.

It's worth getting the bad out of the way first. Despite recruiting DS9's Dr Bashir (who was criminally underused), the Dorne plot has been wasted – though things have been set up nicely for next year following Myrcella's poisoning. What of the Sand Snakes? Well there's the the one who's constantly smelling a bad fart, the "bad pussy" one and....the other one. I don't think they've made the impact that was hoped.

Although the Winterfell plot has held my interest, it produced the most controversial moments to date - the marital rape of Sansa Stark (NSFW), which prompted a storm of criticism.

There's a term known as "jumping the shark" – the exact moment where a great show's standards decline. This wasn't that moment, but it's worth creating a new phrase – "humping the Stark" – the moment a great show exploits shock value (in this case rape) not because it adds anything to the plot, but to underline something the audience already knew; that thing being that Ramsay Bolton is a complete and utter bastard (in a literal and metaphorical sense).

Needless to say, when Ramsay called for Twenty Good Men™ to help defeat Stannis he was most certainly not amongst them. Not all people think that though :


The Arya storyline in Braavos has developed well over the season, despite getting little screen time. Giving up "Needle" was surprisingly emotional as the last linke to her family, while the scene in the final episode where Arya is rendered blind for murdering the paedophile rapist, Meryn Trant, was incredibly well done and one of the highlights. Arya's now of the few characters left for whom you hope their story ends happily (but that means many, many deaths along the way).

I've never been a fan of the Targaryan plot since Dany set up in Meereen, but as soon as the fighting pits reopened, and Tyrion made it there, things began to get interesting again.



The CGI of the "Neverending Story" moment (above) on the back of Drogon has been criticised, but in the context of a TV show that doesn't have access to a Hollywood budget, it really well done. It was unclear if the Dothraki army at the end of the season were friendly or not, which I suppose is one of the umpteen cliffhangers the writers have left viewers.

Now it's time to take a moment to remember those we've lost (sponsored by Sky Atlantic) :



In King's Landing, the spark-flying bitching between Margaery and Cersei was brilliantly done by both of them. My only complaint is that the High Sparow and Faith Militant appear to have come out of nowhere with no real build up. Fortunately, Jonathan Pryce has been excellent whenever on screen, and the "walk of shame" (NSFW) was really well done to the point you genuinely felt for Cersei....until Frankenmountain showed up. Olenna Tyrell is one of my favourite supporting characters, and stepped up to the plate yet again.

Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun
(Pic : thatloudmouth.wordpress.com)
The stand out moment has to be the eighth episode, Hardhome, which provided one of the most visually stunning sequences produced in the show, perhaps ever on television. We've been constantly told since episode 1 that "winter is coming", then "winter is just around the corner", then "winter is really coming, any minute now". Then winter came, and you've got to say it doesn't look good for the rest of Westeros. It's been said elsewhere, but part of me hopes the Night's King kills everyone in Westeros as some allegory about "mortal men playing their game of thrones while ignoring the real enemy".

Jon Snow proved his leadership credentials until things got stabby. He really should've paid attention to the advice to "kill the boy" : Olly – the potato-headed Hitler.

The one other person (other than the Night's Watch) who actually perceived that threat was Stannis, who's been the standout character of the season.


Without a doubt the most uncomfortable scene was Stannis sacrificing his daughter Shireen. In terms of behaviour that's consistent with what Stannis has previously done – he killed his brother with magic and is a bit of a pyromaniac when it comes to heretics. After the excellent character development in earlier episodes, the suddenness of this seemed like a character assassination – though you could interpret it as a father sacrificing his only child for the good of the realm, which is quite Biblical.

As for the greatest general in Westeros attacking a fortified town on foot with no cavalry, I'll leave you be the judge as to whether that's realistic. We didn't see Stannis die, and it looked as though Brienne missed him when delivering the final blow. Put me down for #StannisLives.

Then there's the most important question : Is Gendry still rowing? He must have arms like Popeye by now.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

2014-15 Post-Season Review

(Pic : Arsenal.com)

With Barcelona winning the Champions League last night, the domestic and European football season is finally over (unless you're Irish, Swedish, Finnish, Icelandic or Norwegian). Now it's time to take stock.

Arsenal

Season Verdict B+. Baby step progress. After a relatively poor start, the squad didn't really hit their stride until the end of December – both in the Premier League and Champions League. It was too late to catch up with Chelsea, though it was good that the effort was there, leading to an extended unbeaten run until the Swansea defeat; securing 3rd place (and avoiding CL qualifiers) is definite progress. Arsenal threw away a chance of making a real go at the Champions League final with the capitulation against Monaco at home, but it ends on a high with a professional performance to retain the FA Cup. Can't complain, though the problem of inconsistency during October-November remains.

Player of the Season – Alexis Sanchez. Who else? He's been a revelation. Aside from a brief barren spell and one or two injuries his performances have been close to flawless. His work rate is exceptional, and that's before taking into account his assists and goals. Though it tells you how strong Barcelona are to be able to sell him.

Most Improved Player – Nacho Monreal. It looked like he might lose his place to Kieran Gibbs, but with the latter enduring injury problems (again), Nacho has filled the role successfully and even provided some big performances, like that against Man United in the FA Cup. There's talk of him moving back to Spain over the summer, but you can argue he deserves a shot at first choice left back next season.

Breakthrough Player – Joint between Hector Bellerin and Francis Coquelin. Both of them looked to be on the way out after being shipped out on loan, but the former has made a good claim to be first-choice right-back, while Francis Coquelin has gone from an unsuccessful loan at Charlton to FA Cup final – proof positive that if you have the right attitude you can still make it at Arsenal.

Goal of the Season – Although Alexis Sanchez's cup final goal is a definite late contender, I'll go for Aaron Ramsey vs Galatasaray. Not just one of the best goals of the season, but easily one of the finest goals ever scored by an Arsenal player.


Best Moment(s) – Beating Man United in the FA Cup quarter final, with Danny Welbeck scoring the winner – trips to Old Trafford are usually a foregone conclusion, so it was about time it was put right. Beating Liverpool 4-1 at home just to smash them into the dirt after the Suarez stuff. Winning 2-0 at Manchester City. The FA Cup final, obviously – the best team performance in an FA Cup final I can remember.

Worst Moment(s) – Losing the first leg to Monaco in the Champions League 3-1, arguably the worst performance of the season. Conceding 3 goals in the first half away to Stoke. Losing away to Spurs. Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Jack Wilshere's long-term injuries which have undermined their progress again this season. Mathieu Debuchy's injury effectively means he has to start from scratch next season and will now have the proven Hector Bellerin to compete with.

Work for 2015-16 – The depth of the squad is arguably as strong as it's ever been, but Arsenal are still two to three players away from mounting a serious title challenge. I'm worried that the emergence of Francis Coquelin will make Arsene Wenger wary of spending money on central midfield (Arsenal have been linked with both Monaco's Geoffrey Kondogbia and Juventus's Arturo Vidal, who would be an excellent signing – let's face it, it ain't going to happen), while Theo Walcott's end of season form might similarly give Wenger and excuse not to sign an out-and-out world class striker. There's still a need sort out long-term injury problems too.

Overall

Team of the Season
(Click to enlarge)


Player of the Season – Eden Hazard (Chelsea). Very consistent and has got everything – an eye for goal, ability to dribble and ability to create chances.

Young Player of the Year – Harry Kane (Tottenham). A meteoric season for this naturally-gifted striker despite the shite he has to play alongside. It's almost inevitable that he'll move to one of Man United, Man City or Chelsea within the next season or two.

Ronald Koeman has performed a minor miracle at Southampton
Manager of the Season – Ronald Koeman (Southampton). He started the season with about 8 players at his disposal, having undergone a firesale. He finished the season qualifying for the Europa League having looked genuine top-four contenders until the spring. Gary Monk (Swansea) and Nigel Pearson (Leicester) are good shouts too.

Best Signings – Alexis Sanchez, enough said. "Woo-cash" Fabianski has been solid for Swansea and didn't cost them a penny. It's amazing that a player of Bojan Krkic's quality only cost Stoke £1.3million. You've got to say Cunt Fabrecunt counts as a good signing. Of course, Arsenal didn't need him....

Biggest Flops – Take your pick from the handiwork of the Liverpool's transfer committee. Dejan Lovren will be towards the top of the list alongside Lazar Markovic and Mario Balotelli – that's about £56million worth of "talent" there. Wilfried Bony hasn't had a chance to do anything at Man City since moving from Swansea. Radamel Falcao has to be up there, though it's worth pointing out he's only just coming back from a devastating cruciate ligament injury. That leaves Angel di Maria – the most expensive footballer in English football history – 4 goals in just over 30 games.

Goal of the Season – Has to be Ramsey's effort listed above, but if you're talking Premier League only, then I don't think it's Charlie Adam's effort against Chelsea. There's something a bit "playground" about lumping a ball over the keeper's head from beyond the halfway line. It looks spectacular, admittedly, but isn't technically impressive. I'll go for Jermaine Defoe's volley against Newcastle:



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