Entries in HBO (8)


Six Ways 'Game of Thrones' Left Us Speechless  


Even King Joffrey is choked up over all those dear souls lost over four seasons. (Photo Credit: HBO)

BY CHRIS HEALY (REVIEWniverse Guest Contributor)

On April 12, Game of Thrones is set to debut its fifth season, which subsequently is the best present ever. That’s right, I shamelessly plugged my own birthday.  As anticipation ensues, we can only wonder who’s going to get the axe this year, and maybe we’ll get some actual redemption for others. I’m looking at you, Theon.

Whether it be a sprawling action scene or brutal depiction of a character's demise, Game of Thrones has proven itself to leave a lasting impression on the public’s psyche. The show has never shied away from leaving us speechless, whether it be killing a beloved character or allowing a despicable villain to endure.  George RR Martin may be the king of screenwriting serial killers, and he seems to relish in our pain and suffering.

Here’s a list of the top six ways Game Of Thrones left us contemplating the meaning of life:

6.  Khal Drogo Gives Viserys His Well-Deserved Crown

Watch out who you cross, Viserys. Just sayin'. (Photo Credit: HBO)

You might think when partying with a band of Dothraki, that you’d be in for a good time.  Alcohol, sex, more sex, and wedding brawls are all commonplace for these people. If that’s your cup of tea, that is.  However it would be in bad taste to not warn you of crossing any one of these blood-thirsty conquerors, even if they have in a roundabout way given you some vague promise of a crown. Apparently Viserys didn’t get the memo, and was swiftly dispatched as a result. After angrily disrupting Khal Drogo’s wedding party, Viserys sealed his own fate.  Word of advice, don’t anger your local Dothraki warlord, unless you want a smelted version of a luminous crown on your head instead of a girl in your lap.

5.  Jaime Lannister Pushes Bran Stark Out of the Tower in Winterfell.

No, don't worry. They don't harm kids on TV. (Photo Credit: HBO)

It's earned its spot on the list, because it was the first episode of the show to air, foreshadowing that there will be no punches withheld in the land of Westeros. Young Bran is caught watching Jaime and his sister Cersei having sex, all while nimbly traversing his way to the top of the tower, against his mother’s wishes.  What happens next seems to get diffused in other shows, but not Game of Thrones, and certainly not HBO.  Jaime launches the boy out of the window, in an attempt to keep his relationship with his sister a secret.  Don’t worry Bran, you’ve got big things coming to you.

4.  Ned Stark’s beheading

No, don't worry. They don't kill the lead, most beloved character in the first season. (Photo Credit: HBO)

Oh, he’s our main hero right?  We’ll follow him all the way to the end, right?  There’s no way they can kill him when he has so many wrongs to right. You wouldn’t be out of line to think any one of these things. 
Honest, brave, loyal, and honorable, Ned Stark was our beacon of hope in this dark, gritty world. But then you double-take, realizing that it's Sean Bean portraying this man.  Oh wait, doesn’t he die in EVERY single movie he’s in? I’ve got a strange feeling that his character’s death is written somewhere in his contract when he signs on for these roles. While many consider this moment the most shocking, it isn’t uncommon anymore for shows to kill off a main character (watch out, Z Nation's Sgt. Charles Garnett!!) at the end of the first season, to give it real weight, and consequence. Plus, how can you be so reverent and not die, this is the Game of Thrones!

3. King Joffrey’s Mandate, Kill All of Robert's Bastards!

Boo! Hiss! Wish you were gone, King Joffrey! (Photo Credit: HBO)

What a horrifying montage of death.  From teenage boys, to toddlers, yes, even a baby, Joffrey will stop at nothing to prevent his would-be father Robert Baratheon’s promiscuous activities from one day usurping his right to the crown. In one of the more painful moments in the show (and that’s saying a lot) the Kings Guard is seen slaughtering children of all ages, and by all fashions.  The moments seemed particularly catered to a certain cause of death. Oh, is that a lake? Perfect place to drown someone don’t you think? I think we can agree the baby being stabbed in the whorehouse was probably the worst.

2. The Purple Wedding

Oops, wrong wedding! But we take back our boos and hisses. We miss you, Joffs. (Photo Credit: WeddingDecorations.com)

Why isn’t this moment No. 1 you might ask? Well, as shocking as it was, many people saw this coming even if you hadn’t read the books, whether it be from unavoidable spoilers on Facebook to your own intuition. From a despicable attempt to humiliate his brother Tyrion with a show of dwarves playing different contenders to his divine right, to straight-up pouring wine all over him. The scene was laced with doom from the start, certainly foreshadowing some sort of terrible event. As Joffrey took one last gulp of wine from his chalice, he blissfully thought he was fine, and then he wasn’t. Turning purple at the gills, bleeding from his eyes, our wishes had finally come true. While his death was certainly comforting, it’s worth noting that the most sadistic acts seem to be reserved for our beloved heroes. Which brings me to number one.

1.  The Red Wedding

No, they'd never...and look how happy everyone is at the start. (Photo Credit: HBO)

Here’s our new hero! We’re going to follow him to the end of time. He’s going to right all of the wrongs, and take the Iron Throne…wait, when have we made that mistake before? How’s your head hanging, Ned? Must be breezy atop King’s Landing this time of year, especially when winter is coming.
Whether you were aware of the impending doom for our hero Robb Stark or not, this moment will go down in TV infamy. All seems well for our protagonist and his supporters, as they celebrate the union of House Frey and House Stark. Only problem is, this wasn’t quite the union that Walder Frey had in mind. Feeling betrayed by Robb, who married love over political power. Robb had been promised to one of Frey’s daughters, but made the decision we all might make, and that every hero in every film has ever made. Love conquers all right? Since Game of Thrones straddles the line between reality and fantasy, but mostly reality, this was certainly Robb’s downfall. Love doesn’t conquer all, armies do, and this is a lesson he learned the hard way, watching his family and followers brutally murdered. The show added an extra punch, especially for the book readers, in that Robb’s wife Talisa Stark was also present. She and Robb’s unborn son were the first to die in the betrayal, cementing a horrifying visual in our heads, making us want to crawl into a ball and contemplate the meaning of nihilism.

Take a look at the Season 5 trailer.

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'Dexter,' 'Homeland' Finales First Disappoint, Then Have Killer Endings

TV REVIEW: Both Dexter and Homeland had their season finales, and both faced similar problems… until the end.

By Robbie Woliver

Dexter's dark passenger (ugh) may no longer be riding solo. (Credit: Randy Tepper/Showtime) 

The two highly anticipated HBO Sunday night finales both encountered similar problems and triumphs in their season endings. The usually dynamic duo fell flat in their last offerings, and then pulled out killer final seconds that salvaged the entire episode. Was it worth the wait for those last moments? Yes, in both cases.

For Dexter, the dramatic ending salvaged a controversial season of critics and fans griping about the slow pace, the religious theme and the formulaic action. Complaints were well justified. Compared to other seasons' great nemeses like John Lithgow’s Arthur Mitchell (aka the Trinity Killer) and stunners like the murder of Sgt. James Doakes (Eric King), this season’s Doomsday Killer (Colin Hanks) was a relatively sleepy (if not wildly violent) storyline. Add the ridiculously annoying and extremely uncomfortable arc of Deb (the extraordinarily good Jennifer Carpenter) thinking, or being, in love with her faux-bro Dexter, which just about ruined the whole season. And then wouldn’t you know it? Dexter turns that gratingly disturbing, simplistic and uselessly sensational theme on its head in the final seconds and actually makes it sensible and complexly interesting.

Dexter’s main problem this year, and most likely for seasons to come, is that it is so predictable. Dexter finds a mark, he follows the mark, he almost/does get caught, he escapes, mark’s chopped up. You know Dexter will never be killed, so that tension is gone. This is not Oz (hello, LaGuerta), where main characters were killed off weekly, making it one of the most unpredictable and exciting shows on TV to this day.  And Harrison being kidnapped by the Doomsday Killer (sorry Colin, but your character didn’t resonate, and certainly didn’t make it into the pantheon of Dexter’s best killers), while incredibly uneasy viewing, was also predictable.

The problem was that we knew you just don’t kill off a beloved toddler in a beloved show like this. Killing a main character, like Rita, was brilliant and added a lot of life to Dexter’s canon, but you don’t go there with kids. What was frightening however was how the child who played Harrison (two of our favorite child actors on TV, Eric and Luke Kruntchev) looked awfully frightened and was crying during his violent scene.  You couldn’t help think, “Wow, this kid is going to turn out like Dexter because he was so traumatized on the set.”

The episode was also a bit sloppy. Talk about loose ends: The ice truck killer hand? That went nowhere. Although, thank goodness, there was no mention of the “dark passenger.”

It’s not good when viewers think to themselves, “Well, this is disappointing,” after a dramatic scene concludes, especially during a finale. The revelatory climax between Deb and her should-have-her-license taken away shrink was a groan inducer. First, we don’t want Deb to be in love with Dexter. Second, it was played too fast and too broad.

But then leave it to Dexter to switch all that up in the episode’s last moments (hurry up, episode, I’m missing the Survivor finale) when Deb catches Dexter in his kill. The possibilities for this are exciting for fans, and it enriches and actually saves the Deb-loves-Dexter scenario. And knowing that Jennifer Carpenter and Michael C. Hall were married and now divorced, it gives that arc another dimension, making the ending even more provocative. But I will promise you one thing. If this turns out to be easily explained away (like “Oops , Deb didn’t really see it," or, “Yikes, it’s a dream”), I will never watch this show again.

So, it all rests on you, Season 7 opener.


Homeland didn't exactly go out with a bang or a whiper. (Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime)


As for Homeland, arguably the best new show of the season, the finale was a disappointment for a completely different reason. There are no easy outs in this series. The emotions have been honest and raw, and the plots uncontrived and believable. The acting in this show is so far superior to most anything else on TV (except for some last-moment Claire Danes jaw quivering—my pet peeve—a la Tara on True Blood).

We were gearing up for something damn big on Homeland, knowing it was going to be a bit larger than the often quickly diffused crises on 24. The whole season was gearing up big-time, with one extraordinary twist after another (the scene when we first see Brody pray in Arabic was the No. 1 dramatic moment on an any show this season.)

We were expecting something big because not only has show has been so big in its debut year, but the extensive previews promised something big. And big we got. Sgt. Nicholas Brody (the fantastic Damien Lewis), armed with an explosive vest, bunker-hunkered, was about to blow up himself, the Vice President and half the government. It was pulse-pounding TV, thanks to Lewis’ first-rate acting and the fact that this highly decorated Marine’s reasons for turning into a suicide bomber were so very compelling. Not that we’re a bloodthirsty bunch, but Brody’ last minute decision not to pull the plug was a major letdown. It isn’t that we necessarily wanted to see all those people dead, or even punished for their awful deeds. We wanted clever as a fox/loon, Carrie (the supremely talented Danes) to be absolved. We wanted her to be proven right, and given her job back, and go onto her next case. We wanted closure, not a cliffhanger.

But leave it to the clever Homeland to win us over in its last seconds, as Carrie undergoes shock treatment to cure her bipolarity, and realizes moments before she is about to lose her short-term memory (maybe forever) the connection between Brody and Abu Nazir. She solves the case, and then…zap. Lost.

So, lazy us, who wanted this all to be resolved and tied up in a pretty, tidy Christmas bow, have learned the ultimate format of Homeland. It will not be like 24 with a different impending catastrophe each season. Homeland is a slow burn, and will follow the story of Carrie and Brody for at least another season, and that is just fine. Continuing a successful pairing like Lewis and Danes is what we actually watch TV for, what we want, even though we did hope to see that bunker go kaboom. Just like Carrie, Homeland operates on two levels: its manic, exciting twists and quiet, simmering character development, in addition to those slow, contemplative episodes that feel as strong as action-movie adrenaline scenes, which is quite a testament.

Premium-cable Sundays will still have our rapt attention when these shows return. While Deb and Dex will have to prove themselves worthy of their Season 6 finale, Carrie and Brody can carry on as usual.

And hey, that doesn't even take Boardwalk Empire into account. 


IN OTHER WORDS: To misquote the great Rebecca Black, "It’s Sunday, Sunday, Gotta get down on Sunday, Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend, weekend, Sunday, Sunday, Gettin’ down on Sunday, Everybody’s lookin’ forward to the weekend"











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R.I.P. 'Boardwalk Empire' Fallen Hero Jimmy Darmody

TV REVIEW: Last night, HBO's superlative drama took a huge leap forward, but left behind its most compelling soldier, who was also one of TV's best characters.

By Kenny Herzog

It actually hurts to look. (Credit: HBO) 


Nucky Thompson giveth, and Nucky taketh away. Last night's Boardwalk Empire finale, "To the Lost," was sad and stunning. But when Nucky (Steve Buscemi, who was incredible in "Lost") put two bullets in Jimmy Darmody's (Michael Pitt, playing an irreperably broken soul) head, it was both mercy and sacrifice. Free from the looming threat of jail and ready to clamp back down on Atlantic City, Nucky had to make a heavily witnessed statement to earn back trust and respect. After seeing Jimmy's condition, and knowing him better than anyone, he realized assasinating the man who he raised like a son was the difficult solution to everyone's problems—including Jimmy's.

I think we all felt a bit of that relief for Jimmy, and should have seen it coming sooner. Last week's "Under God's Power She Flourishes" all but spelled out his inescapable tormet. His death was brutal and pragmatic and staged in decidedly un-Hollywood fashion. No inspired speeches or crises of conscience were stopping the inevitable. But as a viewer, it lifted the angst of enduring his ordeal since Angela's death and grasping the enormity of his Shakespearian life tragedy. 



Jimmy Darmody was a great character, and Michael Pitt was iconic in the part. Jimmy was also one of the show's few lead roles not largely or entirely rooted in a historical doppleganger. So maybe he had to go. Maybe Season Three goes back to the slightly exaggerated fiction of how the East was won, and how New York's criminal underground grew with the rise of opiate abuse while Atlantic City conformed itself as a mainstream resort town once the fog of Prohibition was lifted.

It will surely be awesome and fascinating to watch, but Jimmy and Michael Pitt were the human heart of Seasons One and Two, and will be missed. And there will no doubt always be a share of the audience pining for a flashback or dream sequence of Jimmy, and anticipating how his death weighs on Nucky's consicence and decision-making. Or that, as Nucky did to Eli during the final stretch of "To the Lost," Jimmy could appear in front of Nucky, a la Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, and ask, "Et tu?"


IN OTHER WORDS: To the lost.






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Monday-Morning Review Card: 'Boardwalk' and 'Homeland' are the Real 'Hell on Wheels'

TV REVIEW: Sunday nights this season are more robust with quality cable TV than at any time in recent memory. Couldn't DVR it all? Well, neither could we. But we saw most of it, and here's a brief cheat sheet to what's worth your time in reruns.

By Kenny Herzog

Claire Danes: Making us re-think this whole acting thing. (Credit: Kent Smith/Showtime) 



It hasn't saturated the culture like Mad Men or The Sopranos, but in its second season, Boardwalk Empire has been historically good. "Under God's Power" should have been unbearable to watch in light of how things wrapped up the previous week. Instead, episode director Allen Coulter used flashbacks to help us experience Jimmy's grief over Angela and not merely witness it, while making vivid the snake-bitten couple's past and Jimmy's complex relationship with his mother. Jimmy is the heart and soul of Boardwalk, and in one sweeping hour, we get to see his heart get stolen and then shattered, and his soul wilted and warped. As usual, the show looks amazing, but the real magic trick has been how successfully they've humbled these figures and myths from our past.


Any fans of My So-Called Life will respond instantly when they spot the Angela Chase cry face. It's the chemical transformation that happens from Claire Danes' forehead to mouth when her character is overcome. Her eyelids flutter like a hummingbird, her lips tremble and her cheeks get tight. She doesn't exactly cry. It's more like her jawbones collapse and she dissolves like a pod person from Invasion of the Body Snatchers. And in "Representative Brody," after a particularly humiliating encounter with Brody, Carrie Matheson get a serious case of Angela Chase cry face. It hurts to watch, because she's so smart and yet there's so much she's missing, but it's only because she's human, which is what makes her and Homeland so interesting. Once again, an interrogation scene is the series' finest moment, and once again a cross-examination is staged in new environs with its own challenges and risks. The final scene was devastating, but hard not to see coming. Unless you're human and actually there, not just someone watching it on TV.

It's been fun to stick with Hung and think about how far it's come, so to speak. "Beefalo" was a very good, if not totally satisfying finale. (Last week's half-hour, as was the case for many series' penultimate eps this fall, was more well-rounded and dramatic.) And if it doesn't get renewed for Season 4, whatever the hell happened to Lenore will be a truly frustrating, unresolved cliffhanger. But it was great to see Jessica have her moment, and Ray and Tanya's exchange with Charlie on the farm play out without cliche hysterics. Every character on this show is just trying to make a living, a theme of so many HBO originals, and why they always feel like the timeliest network on TV.



Every week, Hell on Wheels starts a bit slow, and serves up that awful opening-credits sequence, and thus inevitably tests our patience. But somehow, it sucks us back in by second scene. "Bread and Circuses" took its time letting Cullen and Elam duke it out, even though their contest wasn't symbolic of much except for one rogue Irishman's greedy motivation to fix the outcome. Even if it were a fair fight, no one's attitudes or prejudices are going to change in the cut. That much is clear. Which means it's time for Bohannan to resume his pursuit of the men who killed his wife. Seeing a bit of our nation's pre-Wild West manifest come to life week after week for our troubles isn't such a bad thing either.



It boded well for Season Six when Dexter caught on to Travis' psychotic ways. To quote Frank in Hellraiser, so much for the cat and mouse shit. Colin Hanks' straight-up bananas zealot is crazier than we thought, and it is good. The true depth of his mania even helps make some of his crimes (particularly the murder of his own sister) oddly easier to swallow and move on from. After a season of spiritual deliberation, Dexter's quest is quite black and white: This dude's nuts, God is dead and it's time to lay Doomsday out on a table covered with plastic. "Ricochet Rabbit" (the inane boat nicknames on this show are always the best) was nearly classic Dexter. It was focused, he was focused and the stakes were both raised and laid bare. Quinn's irresponsibility and Bautista's subsequent fate were predictable and uncomfortable, and Deb's creepy issues with her brother have "go-nowhere thread" all over them. But the Louis stuff is very interesting, and we'll see if he's either Dexter's eventual next prey or perhaps his apprentice/heir apparent. 



IN OTHER WORDS: A pretty, pretty, pretty, pretty good Sunday on TV.





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Monday-Morning Review Card: 'Dexter' Lays a Dud, 'Walking Dead' Crawls and 'Boardwalk' Shines


TV REVIEW: Sunday nights this season are more robust with quality cable TV than at any time in recent memory. Couldn't DVR it all? Well, neither could we. But we saw most of it, except the new Hell on Wheels (sorry, AMC, you'll survive), and here's a brief cheat sheet to what's worth your time in reruns.

By Kenny Herzog

"Un-friggin'-believable. First, my dead brother bullies me into climbing up a muddy ravine, and now these galoots think I'm a zombie. What a day." (Credit: Gene Page/TWD/AMC)



Ever wonder what Carrie does on her days off? Besides sleep with suspected terrorists in a remote cabin and eventually blow her cover and informally interrogate him with nothing but a loaded pistol and rickety wooden table between them? Homeland is just so, so good, and keeps getting better after a couple spotty early season ebbs. It's hard to imagine any other show juggling this many balls in the air without drumming up numerous implausible contrivances or stretching its premise to shreds. Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin in particular are just awesome, and make you wonder if this whole acting thing isn't just an excuse to avoid a real job. And for the first time in weeks, Damian Lewis really holds his own and gives Brody new dimension. Riveting television, and a hugely revelatory and ballsy episode that finds the series playing with fire nearly as precariously as its troubled antiheroine. 




It's been a great season and a real coup for the show's character development, but for Christ's sake, let's get on with the zombies and the blood and whatnot. "Chupacabra" was OK enough, and had an incredibly enticing final minute. And Shane's gradual falling apart makes him a genuinely gripping and dangerous presence. But "Chupacabra" leaves you wondering if a 13-episode season was really the best idea for a show that thrives off adrenaline but can only realistically keep up its intensity for certain prolonged spans. And enough of Glenn and the farmer's daughter already. It's silly, teenager-y and out of place. Although if Hershel turns out to be a total Dr. Frankenstein weirdo, then all will be redeemed. 





It seems as if Boardwalk's second season continues to fly under the radar for its accomplishments. Yet, showrunners Terrence Winter and Tim Van Patten, and their actors of emply, keep collaborating on one terrific episode after the next. Is there any more unique and unpredictable character in TV than Van Alden? Any matriarch as duplicitous and sexy as Gillian Darmody? Any show that simply looks so amazing and rich in transporting period detail as this? And now, with Jimmy leading Meyer, Lucky and Capone in an insurgency against Nucky, Rothstein and Torrio, Boardwalk is starting to resemble Going in Style: Atlantic City. While Jimmy may have been reticent to supplant the old guard in episodes past, and still seems a bit ill-at-ease in his position as crowned underworld prince, his pole vault of Popeye Doyle over the balcony sent a message that Nucky, and us, are due for a bloody collision.




I've been covering this show all season long for The Onion's A.V. Club, and can't say enough about what an underappreciated, eminently watchable rough-hewn diamond HBO has on their hands. "The Friction" is HTMIIA at its best, offering little in the way of easy triumphs for Ben, Cam and friends (and oh, poor Kapo and snake-bitten Rene, and sianara to awful Tim), but also providing several great belly laughs, particularly via Rachel's psychedelic breakdown on the streets of Brooklyn. There's only eight eps total and one remaining, so there's plenty of time to catch up, so long as you have a single rainy day between now and Sunday. HTMIIA is not high art, but it's far superior to lowest-denominator guilty-pleasure fluff. 




Boy, did this season of Dexter lose its mojo when Brother Sam passed away. Dex's ascent toward the light was far more interesting than his abrupt, absurd, dreamlike spiral into dark excess that was out of character even for him. What a waste of the potentially interesting decision to bring Jonah and Brian back, and yet another week in which we learn veritably nothing new about our villains, and they remain mutually exclusive from Dexter's watchful eye. Dexter better tighten the screws quick, because last night was a new low for the series. And for all things holy, don't force-insert throwaway scenes with Quinn and La Guerta but deprive us nearly entirely of Masuka's comic relief and Bautista's oblivious charm. For that matter, we can dispense with the patronizing allusions to Lumen and simply terrible lines like, "You don't turn the other cheek, you slice it"? Oh, and can we just kidnap Travis' sister and get it over with already? Jeesh.



IN OTHER WORDS: I know, it's annoying that I don't watch The Good Wife.





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