The Walking Dead and It’s Annoying Trend

Man, there are things I need to post about, but this one just can’t wait.

First, it should be said that I greatly enjoy the Walking Dead. One of my favorite shows, one that has so many flaws yet still delivers in a way that outpaces them. And I still think that, even though this post is going to be largely negative.

Am I upset Glenn’s dead? Sure. Am I upset Abe is dead? I mean, I guess, but he’s been living on borrowed time for at least two seasons so that just kinda fit. Overall, the scene was well done. It was brutal, gory, gave the characters a strong death, and was probably the best raw display of emotion any of these actors have displayed before. Something that, in watching the Talking Dead, really seems genuine. And once again, Jeffrey Dean Morgan is just fan-friggin’-tastic as Negan. I neither know nor care whether he is true to the comic iteration, this is a damn good villain.

So what’s my problem? Not sure if I commented on this last time, but their ending the finale where they did was, yet again, a trend of trying to nail its watchers with a cliff hanger. Off the top of my head, they also did this with the Governor and the assault on the prison (delaying the actual assault by three, needless episodes), they did it with the episode right before Carl got his eye shot out (when they walk right out the door with that kind whining to his mom), and they have done it with several episodes where they spend 40 minutes stretching out a conflict, the “suspense”, only to wait until next week to resolve it in 30 seconds.

This is a multilayered problem.

First, the Walking Dead stretches its content a lot. Sometimes it’s almost reminiscent of Dragon Ball Z (you know, like when it took Goku and Frieza like ten, thirty-minute-long episodes to have a five minute battle). I am all for a slow burn to build suspense, but the Walking Dead is filled with filler episodes or filler scenes, where you can watch half the episode and realize the plot has not progressed an inch, only for it to leap ahead in a minute or two.

Second, let’s be real folks, we’re all coming back. AMC can chill. The Walking Dead is one of the most popular shows on television, you don’t need to hit us with these cliffhangers every episode, every finale. You could make the argument that the reason the WD is so popular is because of these cliffhangers, but I would have to disagree. We return in spite of them, not because. The scenes I talked about above, including things like Glenn’s “death” under the dumpster and dozens of other scenes, are rightly criticized for being clumsy red herrings. Except for the end, last year’s finale was probably one of the single best episodes of the WD. It was terrifying and would have been perfect had it culminated in what transpired last night.

Lastly, and this is deeply connected with the second, it creates a disjointed experience. Instead of ending with a climax last season, we started with one this season. It disrupts the story rhythm, and with so, so much speculation and analysis occurring, I was literally surprised by nothing that occurred. Abe died, like many said. Then Glenn, like many other had said (with many even speculating that it would be a 1 + 1 because of Darryl’s involvement and Negan’s subsequent retaliation). Carl’s moment was a nice touch, but as soon as Negan started counting, I knew he wasn’t going to make him go through with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I had no problem with any of the content last night. It was pretty much everything I would have desired and feared. And the analysis that I am talking about, most of it actually occurred within that season itself, building up to that finale. More occurred afterward, sure, but it had its origins as the season built up toward Negan’s entrance. But that’s just it, it was a build up. I was ready. But for this, I came into it cold, having not watched the Walking Dead for a year. Had I gone into that juiced from the agonizingly suspenseful journey that got them there, I would have been floored.

As it was, I am just ready for the next season to start, having finally seen the finale from the last one.

Late Review – Boardwalk Empire

I have been in the midst of watching Boardwalk Empire. As is my normal custom, I didn’t start until well after everyone else has consumed it. Spoilers are obviously ahead and in full disclosuure, I must also say (and this probably gives you an idea of what I think ahead of time) I did not finish the series and have no intention of doing so. I got through season four but couldn’t make it any further.

I love history, always have. Gangster history is no exception. It’s such an odd and interesting era in America’s culture. It is possibly one of the best examples of how to build a black market, was a time of lawlessness rarely seen, as well as a moment when law was so blatantly disregarded that the line between common sense and corruption became blurred.

And the legends, oh the legends. Our country is so young, there are just certain events that seem to take on this mythical status. A lot of people point to the Wild West for our demigods and myths, but the Roaring Twenties was another time when certain figures rose to legendary status. Seeing figures like Meier Lansky, Lucky Luciaono, and Al Capone was quite a joy.

In fact, if I’m being honest, that’s what the show should have been about. I understand that Nucky Johnson (Thompson in the show) was a real life gangster and a big deal, even though he’s not as well known as many of the other figures. In fact, the only reason I know this is because I had to look it up. I didn’t actually realize the show was going to include such historical figures. Until Luciano showed up, I thought Nucky Thompson was completely fictional and the world that was being set up was a reflection of that. I do owe the show that and more, I am remiss to say that, while I knew many of the figures, I had no idea who Arnold Rothstein was or the foundational role he played in the American Mob.

But the execution in the show leaves much to be desired. I love Steve Buscemi as Nucky, and there are moments when a lot of his other surrounding characters are interesting, but the show always seemed to shine brightest when involving his foils, Lansky, Luciano, Rothstein, Capone, even Torrio. You really get a sense for what is coming, what is being built. You are watching as crime becomes organized, watching legends be born as men become godfathers and kingpins.

The issue the show continues to repeat is that, in this world of legends, those characters who are nonexistent in history find very little role to play. It often times seems to get bored with key characters and no long has anything for them to do. But because they are key, the show seeks to keep them in the loop. Margaret seems to be one of the bigger issues, but even Chalky, Eli, Gillian, Harrow, and Jimmy seem often time rudderless. Their arcs are uneven, sometimes repetitive, and often times uninteresting. Many time, they even seem to act against their own nature to drive the story in a certain direction. I did not care when Jimmy died, only disappointed that the show expected me to care. The show jumps around to such disconnected story arcs that it oftentimes fails to flesh people out, at least until they are about to die when they will almost always get a tender moment or episode at the last moment to try and make it feel impactful when their face gets removed.

For example, Nelson. Why in the hell is he even in this show? He bungles through everything, starting out as a ridiculously religious, flagellating Prohibition Officer who kills his corrupt partner, then to a man on the run who stumbles into organized crime, before becoming an enforcer for the Capones? Really? As far as I can tell, his ends his run by getting his face blown off while trying to kill Al Capone. Watching that clip sort of nailed down for me that I didn’t need to take this further.

One of the very last scenes in the fourth season (which I hated) was Harrow dying under the dock. He hallucinates approaching his sister’s farm, seeing his new wife, father in law, and adopted son. His face is complete and unscarred for the first time and he dies with a smile on it. That is heartbreaking, and fitting for Harrow’s story arc, but comes after one of the most horrible scenes in the entire show. Harrow is dying because he was shot in Chalky’s club, after accidentally killing Chalky’s daughter in an attempt to kill Narcisse. There are two, horrible things here. First, the last thing Harrow does in the entire show is kill an innocent person. I hated that as a sendoff. But also, why the fuck did we kill Mabel??? Don’t get me wrong, Chalky’s reaction was perhaps the one of the best pieces of acting he does in the show, but shit, Mabel? It just wreaked of HBO’s desire to shock the audience.

A few things I will call out as excellent. I have already said I love the big, major historical figures, but there are some fictional ones that are very well done. Valentin Narcisse was based upon Casper Holstein, who was a Harlem gangster and politician in the same era. I have only seen Jeffery Wright in a few things, but I loved his role here. Boardwalk made race a big focal point of its storytelling, so to have black man who was so condescending and hateful of anyone not black (or not black enough), while talking about the decay of his people (while also selling them heroin) was fascinating. And his writing, the use of words, and his voice, just all sum him up into a complex, lethal character.

But my favorite absolute character I think I have seen in this show, and many others, is Gyp Rosetti. I think Bobby Canavale is mostly a character actor, usually playing these types of tough guys, but man did he nail it in this. Part of what I hated to see throughout the series was how it lost a lot of its fun. Nucky gets more and more dour, and most of the other characters just plain start that way (Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy…). But Gyp is just the right combination of vicious insanity, sexual depravity, horrible insecurity, and humor that he is one of the singular reasons the third season is my favorite. Canavale owns the role and delivers the best Sicilian sociopath since Joe Pesci made it a thing. From his opening murder to colorfully insulting the most dangerous people in the world, either arguing with God or choking himself with a belt while…you know, this was a character that was vibrant and interesting in any and every scene he made an appearance and truly drove the storytelling that occurred in this arc.

I ended the fourth season exasperated. I wanted this to be good, and it has so many great moments that it always felt on the verge of becoming what I wanted. Yet, and this was what made me finally give up, it never dives deeply into the quality I would expect from such a show. It was ambitious, but fails to hit the mark often enough to enjoy thoroughly. Its greatest sin is in its inconsistency. With its writing, its characters, its conflict, just about everything. It’s possibly worth diving into, but only if you’ve already knocked out some of the heavy hitters like The American, House of Cards, or Justified.

 

Inside Out

One of the things I don’t usually get to do is go to the movies, so whenever I finally get around to watching one, it’s usually only after it’s been out for a while. My wife working tonight, so my son and I checked out Inside Out.

The last major Disney/Pixar thing I saw was either Frozen or Big Hero 6. Frozen, for all that everyone made about it, was kind of a letdown. Don’t get me wrong, the animation was fantastic, and I really enjoy most of the characters, but I’d kinda been expecting more due to the hype. I really like the twist, a lot, but the really big deal seemed to come from the way it flipped certain standard Disney conventions on its head. Great job, but, I think there were some other gaps. Also, lots and lots (and LOTS) of singing. Music is a big part of Disney movis, but usually something I more tolerate. If I recall, Frozen holds the record for the Disney movie with the most music. Doesn’t help that EVERYONE loved it and was pumping it through the radio (and my son had to hear Let It Go at least twice whenever we were in the car).

Big Hero 6 was just kinda blah. Some great Sci-Fi ideas, something was off with the pacing.

Inside Out though, man, firing on all cylinders. I’m seeing Pixar invest in more and more sequels, which kind of got me thinking they were running out of original material, but they went back to the well for this one and brought back a gem. Up took you on an emotional rollercoaster, basically laying waste to the watcher within the first five minutes, but this is a marathon. Few and far between the stories that can display emotion in such an eloquent way, have a fantastic message, and at the same time walk you through some of the basic, fundamental aspects of our understanding of the way the mind works.

It also helps that I took to the concepts they were illustrating. If you’ve read Sorcerer Rising, there are some familiarities. Virgil just has giant serpentine demons instead of, say, comical men in bowties.

Hm, I should put Al in a bowtie.

 

Dracula Untold and Vampires in Virgil’s World

I wanted, so very, very much, to hate this but it actually doesn’t look half bad. Did Dracula need an origin story? No, certainly not, and definitely not as the hero, but it looks like it’ll be better than Maleficent or I, Frankenstein. I have yet to see it, but if the trailer and reviews are any indication, it was horrible. At least Frankenstein’s Monster is a bit sympathetic, I don’t know how they screwed it up so badly.

Trailer for Dracula Untold on TrailerAddict.

I’ve been wanting to write a short story about Vampires for a while, and this just might have goaded me into action. I hate that Vampires have lost their monstrous quality, that the only dynamic anyone wants to tell anymore is that of the sympathetic, abused, misunderstood, glittery, romantic immortal. Even in stories like Underworld, where the vampires are the baddies, they’re really just guys that fangs and guns that are a bit tougher. They downplay the raw power, the awe, of a legend that has haunted mankind for millennia, crossing across nearly every culture. At least with this, they seem to have gotten the Sorcerer aspect of that right.

From a purely emotional level, I think my favorite portrayal was Salem’s Lot. King said he wanted to portray the vampire as a monster, a ravenous unthinking beast, barely contained and concealed behind the facade of an elegant and dignified noble. It wasn’t a curse, not to the vampire, but the true source of his power. He celebrated that but was intelligent and stylistic enough to know that each had its place and time. This is a complete opposite from, say, a werewolf which is usually victim to their other self. Vampires, Dracula in particular, were rarely the victim, always in charge, unstoppable, a force of nature.

That’s a true villain of the night.

So, I’m gonna try and crank out a short story. Who knows how long that’ll take, but I’ll send it out in my email but may put it on the site as well. Like everything else in Virgil’s world, it reflects my favorite aspects of fantasy and how I see things, and in this case I want everyone to know how I feel.

I think I’ve got a fun take on how Vampires should be.

The Game of Thrones is About to Jump the Rails

I don’t really watch GOT. I’ve seen the first season, which was very enjoyable, but I have neither HBO or the patience and talent to obtain the series in a more illicit manner, nor the finances to buy each season. Nevertheless, I have followed how the series progressed. I, like most readers, loved watching people’s reaction to the Red Wedding, along with the other major moments like the Red Viper’s death. The memes have been great and watching the world learn to love and appreciate the Imp has been something I never really thought I would get to see.

So, even though I don’t watch the show, I’ve kept up with it.

There have been a lot of articles about what GOT will do if it catches up with the books. This is a valid concern, one that is stressed by the way A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons is constructed. For the uneducated, it breaks up the POV characters into two novels. Basically, you have all of Westeros in Feast and the Wall, Dany, and Tyrion in Dance. For the books, this was a little hard to chew. A lot happens in Feast, but it lacks Jon Snow and Tyrion, my favorite parts. A lot happens in Dance too, but focuses very heavily on Dany, my least favorite part.

Let’s take a quick break for that, since everyone is always so surprised that I hate Dany. She is an idiot but that’s not really my problem with her. My problem is her dogged insistence that her family was betrayed, usurped by the “rebellious” lords of her father’s kingdom. I get that this is a world that has never seen democracy, so I’m kinda supposed to approach this with a certain amount of fealty, but the Targaryens that were overthrown in Robert’s Rebellion were monsters, descended from an inbred line of lunatics. Now, I can get behind much of that lunacy, but their actions have continuously ripped Westeros apart, and every single horror that has befallen their bloodlines was earned through years of faulty rule.

Oh, but Dany doesn’t know that?

She would if she would listen to anyone! All of her advisers come along and say, “you know, you’re dad wasn’t all that great” and she throws a hissy fit. Maybe, just maybe, she should remember her psychotic incestuous brother who her Sun and Stars crowned with a pot of molten gold? Maybe she should think about where her horrible sibling got some of those traits?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I understand she’s a child queen and barely into her teenage years. Who cares! This is a series that has many child characters (Bran, Sansa, Arya) and they get along just fine without being morons. Well, not Sansa but I don’t think anyone thinks that has anything to do with age.

Anyway, the books split up the POV characters. The series has to deal with that. It looks like they’re already incorporating elements from Feast, such as Bran finding the last Greenseer, but it’s still one hell of a task to tackle. Probably, the best way would be to take all the POVs from Feast and Dance and cut it in half, making that a season.

Here’s the problem with that, that’s a lot of content, more than a Storm of Swords. Some people have said it’s a couple seasons in that book and a half, I think it’s more like three or four, depending on how much they want to retain. Then you will have Winds of Winter and whatever comes after that, unless Mr. Martin decides to go ahead and do an eighth. That could be a good, solid decade down the road, if not fifteen years, and by then there could be a ninth and tenth!

Based on some of the changes they’ve been making in the show, and some of the talk from the cast, I’m willing to make a hypothesis. I could be wrong, and honestly the only reason I’m writing it down is so I can say “I knew it!”.

Game of Thrones is about to jump the rails.

What I mean by this is the show is going to diverge from what the books are doing. It might not scoop any of the elements from the series, but it’s about to become its own thing. The stories we know from Feast and Dance…

SPOILERS!!!

…with Tyrion going over to Essos, getting kidnapped by Jorah, Jon dealing with Stannis, Arya becoming an assassin, all that stuff, I think is going to get boiled down to some essential elements. From this point on, it will be a separate entity from the books. I know over the years, A Song of Ice and Fire has become more than what George R. R. Martin originally saw it as. That makes me think, based on my own ways of writing, that he had other ideas that he abandoned for this sprawling epic the books have become. This could be an opportunity to go with one of his earlier drafts, when it was still envisioned as four or five books.

But what about his plan, you might ask? He was on the cover of Vanity Fair talking about his plan to wrap things up, doing interviews on talk shows, blogging about how the show will still follow the books.

That, my friends, is a lie.

That’s what I’m really boiling this down to. Next season and for the rest of the series, I think the readers who watch the show are in for a few surprises. We’re going to hit a point where Martin looks at us through the screen and say, “What, you though you were safe?” We will see some surprises as the show begins to veer, much to his malicious enjoyment, I’m sure, and readers and watchers are united in their surprise as the Game of Thrones separates itself from the paper and ink that birthed it.