The Most Important Character in Game of Thrones – Samwell Tarly

Sam
Before you have a nerdgasm, hear me out…

By now many of you are already preparing to rebuttal this post based solely on the title.  I get it.  Sam is not the kind of character you think of as important.  He’s got that sidekick vibe to him, like Robin to Batman-Jon-Snow.  I want to challenge that.  Sam is one of the most important characters on Game of Thrones.  In fact, if Sam wasn’t around, Westros would be hip deep in undead by now.

On top of this, we are in deadzone waiting for the new season.  We haven’t forgotten GoT, but we also haven’t had a lot to get us fired up.  It was time for a blog post on Game of Thrones.

I’m not a big fan of Sam’s character personally, but the writers have masterfully cast him in a role that has a lot of far-reaching impacts.  Moreover, we tend to not realize the importance of what Sam has done thus far.

Here’s the rundown of the things Sam did to save the world well all care about more than our own:

  • Sam prevented Jon from quitting the Night’s Watch.  When Jon wanted to run off and avenge headless-Ned, it was Sam that tracked him down and convinced him to remain in the Night’s Watch.  Otherwise Jon would have been a guest at the Red Wedding and, well, you get it.
  • Sam found the Dragonglass at the First of the First Men and learned it could kill Whitewalkers.  This is kind of a big deal because up to this point, only fire was used to kill the dead.  Sam killed a freaking Whitewalker! The first of the Night’s Watch in generations to do so.  Sure he almost wet himself doing it, but he did it.
  • He helped Bran get north of the Wall so that he could become the Three-Eyed Raven.  Bran would have just been some guy tripping out every now and then in a drug-like-stupor if Sam had not helped them through a secret tunnel to the North.  And let’s face it, if Bran hadn’t become the Three-Eyed Raven, we would still be dealing with Littlefinger, so we owe Sam a lot here.
  • Sam saves Gilly and her son, depriving the Whitewalkers of another wight in their command.
  • In the Battle for Castle Black, it is Sam that releases Ghost who helps Jon turn the tide of the battle.
  • He nominated Jon as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.  Sure, the Night’s Watch would eventually kill him, but if not for Sam he never would have been made Lord Commander, which would have doomed the Free Folk in the north.  Sam’s simple nomination set a great deal in motion from that point forward.
  • Sam warned the ArchMaesters of the threat of the Whitewalkers.  The maesters didn’t seem to know what was going on north of the wall until Sam clued them in.  While they didn’t do much about it – yet, Sam did make them aware of what was coming.
  • He cured Jorah Mormont.  Sure Jorah lives in Dany’s friendzone, but he is a kick-ass character that was going to die until Sam violated the rules and saved him.  This allowed Jorah to go with Jon’s expedition north, capture one of the undead, and laid the stage for the upcoming season of wacky shennanigans.  Without Sam, Jorah would be dying a horrible death.
  • It was Sam that discovered a mountain of Dragonglass was at Dragonstone.  Not only is this a weapon against the dead, it forced Jon and Dany to form an alliance that would be key in the wars to come. If Sam had not discovered this, it is hard to say that the two would be able to find some common ground.
  • It was Sam that discovered Jon’s true heritage (with Gilly’s help).  Bran gets the credit for this, but in reality, Bran was unaware of Jon’s true heritage until Sam told him about the marriage of Jon’s true mother to the Targaryen prince.  Without Sam, we never would have known that Jon is a legitimate heir to the Iron Throne.

So there you have it, Sam is critical to the plot up to this point.  More than Headless-Ned, that’s for sure.

#GoT

#GameofThrones

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Review of HBO’s Paterno

True crime stuff always pulls me in and I thought it was great that HBO was going to take a run at the Jerry Sandusky debacle at Penn State.  Having seen Al Pacino play Dr. Kevorkian in a HBO show, I was hopeful to get some real insights as to what actually happened during the turmoil of the case.  I thought with the passage of time, we might get some clarity around the events that rapidly unfolded.

I was disappointed.

The HBO film, Paterno, is a bizarre collage of bits and pieces that barely hang together as a movie.  I stuck with it to the end, because I was still in search of some resolution.  Don’t make the same mistake I did.

Paterno comes across as entirely unsympathetic from a character perspective.  He is detached to the point of senility.  The question remains through 99% of the movie as to what he knew and when he knew it.  Only in the last few minutes do we get a glimpse of how many decades he covered for Sandusky.

The reporter character who broke the case is about the only character you can latch onto as redeemable and her parts are a jumble of disjointed segments leaving you to wonder what she actually thinks and believes.   Her character could and should have been used to guide the viewer through the allegations of misconduct.  In reality, you get the feeling she is along for the ride with the rest of us.

We never see the critical scenes where Paterno is told of Sandusky’s terrible infractions or his action.  All we see is Pacino’s character struggle to remember the event and blow it off as not important.  There are parts of this movie that either were left on the cutting room floor or never filmed in the first place.

Pacino’s acting is great but there is nothing in the character he plays that viewers can or will identify with.  The victims of Jerry Sandusky are backgrounds to a choppy plot.  What was needed here was a treatment like All The President’s Men or The Post. What we get is dull and filmed with lots of strange moving camera angles and poorly written lines about characters none of us can identify with or care about.  It fails as true crime or even as fluff-entertainment.

I was disappointed in HBO this time around, a rarity.

Mid-Series Review of Waco

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Waco is everywhere on TV…there are at least three documentary-style mini-series out there interviewing the survivors of the disastrous raid.  The 25th anniversary generates that kind of true crime nostalgia.  Just to be clear, I am reviewing the Paramount (formerly Spike) network docudrama called Waco.

It might be hard to remember the events accurately.  In 1993 the ATF and FBI raided the Branch Davidian Compound in Waco, Texas.  The Davidians were led by David Koresh and were often characterized at the time as being a cult and that Koresh was a madman.  Of course, that is the government’s side of matters.  The raid turned into a gun battle that ultimately resulted in the deaths of 76 of the Davidians.  For those of us who remember the 51 day standoff, it was horrific on many levels, and seemed brutally unnecessary.

Ironically this mini-series comes out at a time when the integrity of the FBI is being drawn into question.  This series subtly provides a backdrop for current political events and takes us back to a time when the integrity of the FBI was at deepening low.  There’s no way the producers could have foreseen some of the parallels that could be drawn, which makes the series more genuine.

Normally I am not a fan of docudramas, but this one has the same polish and excellent writing/casting as FX’s The People vs. OJ Simpson.  Yes, it is scripted, but it does a great job of keeping to the facts.  As a history and true crime author, I had a benchmark coming into this series.  I told my wife, “You can’t tell the story of what happened in Waco if you don’t tell the story in some way, about what happened with the Weaver’s at Ruby Ridge.”  That standoff set the stage for Waco.

The first episode started with Ruby Ridge and immediately I was drawn in.  I knew that the producers were going to try and tell the whole story of the tragic events that unfolded.

Koresh is not a crazed cult-leader. There are a lot of layers to this man.  The series does an excellent job of drawing in the viewers to the life he was trying to establish for his church members.  This is not Jim Jones, but a man that finds himself the target of the ATF because that agency was trying to use the Davidians as a PR event to rebuild their reputation after Ruby Ridge.

David Koresh does not come across as a cult leader, but a victim of sorts.  His followers are not mindless drones in the series, but well-crafted characters and personalities all on their own.

Waco is captivating, compelling, and has outstanding performances.  It pulls you in and holds you tight to your seat.  It doesn’t stray from the truth, but attempts to put it into context…a rarity for Hollywood these days.  If you are not watching it, I recommend you do (Paramount Networks – Wednesday’s at 10pm).  We are just two episodes in and I am truly enjoying this series.

#truecrime

#Waco

Mid-Season Review – Killing Fields – Murder Isle

Killing field3
Isle of Wight’s Best

We’re through four episodes so far of the new season of the Killing Fields and so far Discovery has not failed to deliver.

This season was a big departure for the series.  The shift went from Iberville Parish, Louisiana to Isle of Wight County, Virginia.  Some of the same elements are there.  A frigid cold case.  A grizzled and seasoned investigator determined to see it solved.  The “young buck” detective that is partnered with them.  The seasoned officer sitting in his backyard with a drink at night is still there.  It has the same gritty look and feel to the past two seasons – lots of drone shots, and plenty of twists and turns. Discovery has done a good job of keeping the elements of the series in place as it transitions to a new locale.  Personally, I miss Rhodie talking about the “raggedy-ass” killers though.

The twists and turns are plentiful.  What starts out as the investigation into the brutal murder of Carrie Singer morphs into the two murders that may be connected.  We see some of the new technologies in DNA testing, such as M-Vac systems DNA collecting system, and DNA phenotyping (getting a facial reconstruction of a killer from their DNA), being brought into play.

I know some of this is scripted, but it certainly plays out as realistic.  Often times investigators start down one trail, only to be seductively lured onto new paths as a result of their efforts.  I haven’t bonded much with the key characters just yet – but we are only four episodes in…and frankly, it feels like a rollercoaster ride of twists and turns.

For me, this series is more personal.  Two of the victims of the Colonial Parkway Murders (David Knobling and Robin Edwards) were found at the Ragged Island Wildlife Refuge in Isle of Wight County. My daughter and I wrote a book on these serial killings, A Special Kind of Evil.  I have been there many times, taking that long, lonely, sometimes eerie, drive on the James River Bridge.  It was great for me to see the former Sheriff, Charlie Phelps, in one episode.  I interviewed him twice and it was great to associate a face to a voice.

Isle of Wight is a place of contradictions and contrasts.  It is isolated, yet very close to numerous cities.  Like any rural county, there is a mix of characters and backstories that are starting to emerge in the series. It has been a dumping ground for years for Newport News and other cities.  It has a bit of hometown appeal, a dash of redneckiness, and a twist of strangeness that makes it compelling to watch.

If you are not watching Killing Fields – start.  You can get caught up On-Demand.  It is worth your time if you are a true crime fan. Even if you are not, it is a great view into an active investigation – filmed “real time.”  Let’s hope that Discovery’s efforts brings about some convictions in the murders profiled.

#M-vac

#truecrime

#killingfields

Review of the HBO series Gunpowder

Gunpowder
Only HBO can make Guy Fawkes a medieval superhero

Remember, remember!

The fifth of November,

The Gunpowder treason and plot;

I know of no reason

Why the Gunpowder treason

Should ever be forgot!

Guy Fawkes and his companions

Did the scheme contrive,

To blow the King and Parliament

All up alive.

Threescore barrels, laid below,

To prove old England’s overthrow.

But, by God’s providence, him they catch,

With a dark lantern, lighting a match!

A stick and a stake

For King James’s sake!

I have to admit a fondness for Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators. Oppressed, they sought to change the course of history. There is a bit of a rebel in all of us and in some ways Fawkes and his fellow conspirator’s appeals to those feelings on their most base level.  Of course, in reality, the suppressed Catholics became even larger targets of oppressions as a result of the infamous Gunpowder plot’s horrific failure.

I would say that this review of spoiler-free, but I can assure you, it is not. Series based on history cannot be spoiler free.

When I saw HBO was doing a series on this, starring Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones, I was pretty excited.  Americans only know Guy Fawkes from the movie “V for Vendetta” so I thought that this was going to be a great docudrama that was both entertaining and educational.

It is a dark series, both story-wise and visually.  There are a number of characters introduced that we never really get to know and invest ourselves in.  As such, their fates do not mean much to us as viewers – which is a lost opportunity.  That isn’t to say that this is a bad series – in fact is very captivating and stimulating, with a bit of a let-down at the end.

The story of English Catholics during King James reign is played out in dramatic fashion in the opening episode.  The scenes of the crushing death of a Catholic resistor was disturbing and unfortunately historically accurate.

Guy Fawkes emerges in the second episode as a bit of a bad-ass. When push came to shove, the plan is hatched to blow up Parliament and the King. The second episode does a great job of building up for a confrontation and conflagration.

The third episode is a cascade on many levels.  One, the bombing plan unravels.  The explanation of the Spanish as the exposers of the assassination is far-fetched (and likely inaccurate) but adds to the intrigue of the story.  Guy Fawkes, who was such a larger-than-life figure in the second episode is quickly subdued and the explosives diffused.  Harrington’s character Robert Catesby, digs in for a fight to the finish, a battle he does not win.  (Sidebar:  I understand that Harrington is related to Catesby, which is incredibly cool.)

I had to research this period for my book on the cannibal clan of Sawney Bean, which certainly helped my personal enjoyment.  I will say that the end of the series was disappointing.  The characters you embrace are dead (not Game of Thrones style either) and you don’t know what happened after their demise.  Even the contemporary impact of the Gunpowder plot is ignored.  The viewer is left wanting more – even some closure.  I anticipated the poem above to be read, or images of Guy Fawkes Night in modern times.  We don’t get these.

Despite the depressing ending, which mirrored real life, the series has a grittiness and realistic feel about it that is entertaining and chilling.  It is well worth the three hours of your time to watch.

A Mid Season Review of The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer on the History Channel

Zodiac Series

I came into this with a lot of apprehension.  I mean, this IS the History Channel.  How they have covered true crime in the past has been fair to good, but they also back projects like Hunting for Hitler which was a bizarre waste of viewing time.  What compelled me to watch was that fellow true crime author Ken Mains was involved.  We write for the same publisher (Wild Blue Press) and I loved his book on cold cases, Unsolved No More.  His involvement meant there might be hope for this series.

I was not disappointed.

Mains and retired LAPD homicide detective, Sal LaBarbera host the show and have come at Zodiac from a completely different angle than I expected.  They are targeting those crimes that Zodiac claimed credit for beyond the ones he was confirmed to have been involved with.  This is proving an awesome approach.  It means we are getting perspectives and names of suspects not commonly tied to the Zodiac case.  Some of these are downright creepy persons of interest that might very well have ties to the more well-known Zodiac cases.

Added to this is the use of the CARMEL supercomputer which is being used to attempt to break Zodiac’s previously unbroken codes.  As an IT guy, I was intrigued by this new angle and approach.  Yes it is geeky, but it is cool.  When the computer began to write Zodiac inspired poetry – I have to admit, the creep factor went up to 9.6.

The combination of seasoned veteran investigators, a new perspective on Zodiac, and the use of a supercomputer has forged a new true crime show that is must-watch TV.  The investigators are engaging, the pace is good, and they are going where the evidence takes them.  I have to admit, I look forward to the new episode every week.

If you haven’t been following The Hunt for the Zodiac Killer, I suggest you drink in these first episodes and get up to speed.  New perspectives on cold cases are always welcome additions to what we think we know about these infamous crimes.

#truecrime

#Zodiac

Review of the Netflix Series – Mindhunter – Season One

Mindhunter1
It is all about getting into the minds of serial killers 

Being a true crime author, I’m ashamed that I haven’t gotten around to reading the book that this series is based on yet.  It is a matter of time and priority, juggling my own investigations on top of requests for reading.

I sat down to drink in Mindhunter on Netflix when I was recently sick, doing a rare binge-watch of the series.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  This is the story of how the FBI got into the behavioral science of researching the patterns of serial killers. While that topic sounds potentially slow, they find ways of telling this story that grip and captivate the viewer.

This is the story of three characters on their journey into the dark, twisted minds of the murderers.  One is an arrogant and defiant young agent who is willing to break to rules in a rather Machiavellian manner.  Another is a more seasoned agent, more “by-the-book.”  The other is a psychologist that is an outsider to the FBI, who understand the full potential of this kind of research.  It is a good dynamic of characters working towards the same goal, but coming at it from very different angles and perspectives.

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Opposing them is the FBI itself, the resistance of law enforcement agencies to this new way of thinking, and the serial killers they must confront and mentally dissect. It makes for good, solid, and entertaining TV.

Mindhunter-Ed-Kemper-700x300
Perhaps the most creepy portrayal in the series.  Just looking at him ooks me out.  

It was fun to see the origins of words and phrases that I take for granted as an author such as “organized,” and “disorganized,” in relation to serial killers.  The portrayal of the FBI as a big bureaucratic organization, fixed in its mindset and approach, seemed fairly accurate to my own limited experience.

Set in the 1970’s the sets and cars are spot on accurate.  I only found one real flaw.  In the first episode they show Agent Ford’s apartment as a tall building in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Sorry Netflix, you’d be hard pressed to find something over four stories tall there, even today.

Fair warning, the first episode was a tad slow for me, but after that it had moments that were pure mental terror to watch.  This is the kind of show you have to commit to…and it is a commitment worth making.

My only critique is the whole storyline of Holden Ford and his girlfriend.  It just feels forced to me.  The sex scenes (approximately one an episode) often feel like they are just tossed in.

I cannot speak as to whether it is accurate to the book – but it doesn’t matter – it stands on its own.

#truecrime

#mindhunter

#netflix