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Hard Truths: The Ghost of Harrenhal on Game of Thrones

"Hard truths cut both ways..." These words, uttered by Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), are brimming with power and potency and an absolute truth of their own: the hardest truths are the ones that cut us the deepest, that remind us that our perceptions are faulty or our world is off-kilter, that serve to wake us up to some reality heretofore unseen or unrealized. And, yes, the sharpness of the hardest truths--as fine-edged as a Valyrian dagger--can cut more than just the utterer to the quick. In the case of Stannis and his Onion Knight, Ser Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham), the reality of their situation injures them both. As Davos tries to demonstrate his loyalty to his king by sharing his concerns about Melisandre (Carice van Houten), it's Stannis who takes umbrage at his comments, refusing to discuss just what happened in the cave (see last week's review ), refusing the acknowledge the inherent truth of what Davos is saying. ("I've never known you

Shadows Dance: The Magic Lantern on Game of Thrones

In a series that's been full of mythical beings, prophetic dreams, wights, and dragons, this week's episode of Game of Thrones tipped the balance more firmly into the supernatural camp, giving us to date possibly the most visceral (and disturbing) reminder that magic is slowly creeping back into the Seven Kingdoms Westeros. Our reaction to that as viewers takes two directions: one is excitement, the other is dread. Some have convinced themselves that this isn't a fantasy series, and that's perhaps the wrong approach. While Game of Thrones is certainly populist fare, it's rooted in the fantasy genre and its slow integration of supernatural elements is to be applauded, though they were part and parcel of the series from the very first scene. The White Walkers have always posed a threat to the Seven Kingdoms and therefore to the realm of man. Whatever happened thousands of years earlier to drive the White Walkers beyond the Wall and also end the reign of the Childr

The Daily Beast: Armando Iannucci on "HBO's Superb New Veep"

HBO’s fabulous new political comedy Veep , starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus, premieres Sunday. At The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, "HBO's Superb New Veep ," in which I speak to creator Armando Iannucci about the vice presidency’s comic potential, U.S.-U.K. relations, why he didn't enter the civil service, and how Veep compares to The West Wing . With HBO’s acerbic and dazzling political comedy Veep —which depicts a power-hungry if buffoonish female U.S. vice president and her staffers—Scottish-born creator Armando Iannucci turns his attention to American politics, bringing his deadpan wit, rapid-fire dialogue, and comedy of the uncomfortable to the corridors of power in Washington. Veep , which premieres Sunday evening, stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus ( Seinfeld ) as Vice President Selina Meyer, a politician who, although a heartbeat away from becoming the POTUS, spends her days scheming about biodegradable utensils, filibuster reform, and getting the na

Summer Knights: What Is Dead May Never Die on Game of Thrones

"Power resides where men believe it resides. It's a trick, a shadow on the wall, and a very small man can cast a very large shadow. What is weakness in the end? The inability to let things go, the desires that make us who we are, the sense of sentiment and of familial bond? Should we all strive to be as unyielding as stone and sea? Or is that weakness is inherently part and parcel of who we are as human beings, defined as much by those frailties as we are by our innate strengths? In the end, can we help ourselves from giving into our true natures? On this week's episode of Game of Thrones ("What Is Dead May Never Die"), written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Alik Sakharov, the concept of weakness, both political and psychological, weighed heavily on the action, as Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) sought out ways of securing his hold on the small council, while unaware of his own potential soft spot, one that could easily be exploited by those looking to do him harm.

The Daily Beast: "HBO's Girls is the Best New Show of 2012"

HBO’s Girls , which launches Sunday, is provocative, original, and addictive. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, "HBO's Girls is the Best New Show of 2012," in which I (not surprisingly, given the headline), review HBO's Girls , from creator/writer/director/star/executive producer Lena Dunham ( Tiny Furniture ). With her 2010 Sundance-darling film Tiny Furniture, Lena Dunham captured the malaise and uncertainty of a generation of postcollege 20-somethings with grit, humor, and painful realism, transforming Manhattan into a depressing playground for overeducated, underqualified youths in an economy that had seemingly forgotten about their existence. Many of the same themes—and several of the same actors—are transported from Dunham’s accomplished indie film to HBO’s infectious and addictive Girls, the winking black comedy which begins Sunday evening, and which counts Dunham as creator, writer, director, and star (and one of the executive pr

The Daily Beast: "Game of Thrones' Emo Hero"

In Season Two of the HBO smash drama Game of Thrones , Jon Snow becomes a true warrior. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, entitled " Game of Thrones ' Emo Hero," in which I sit down with Kit Harington and talk about playing Jon Snow, fame, what’s to come in Season Two, Ygritte, Samwell, and why he refuses to wear a wig. Within the harsh world of HBO’s fantasy series Game of Thrones, based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, you either live by the sword or you die by it. In the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, court is a deadly pit of vipers, with each of the titular game’s players scheming and manipulating their way to higher realms of power and influence. Not everyone is engaged in these sordid power plays. Bastard-born Jon Snow is a child of the North, raised in the ice and cold of Winterfell before being packed off to the Night’s Watch, a brotherhood of men sworn to protect the 700-foot ancient Wall and the realm from the thr

The Vale of Death: The Night Lands on Game of Thrones

"Sometimes those with the most power have the least grace." What is the difference between a threat and a promise? Whether in this world or the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros, the only true promise in this life is death. It is, after all, the one destination that we're all inexorably headed, and while we can perhaps temporarily avoid that journey through a series of detours or byways, the night lands are the one place we all end up eventually. Of course, the danger is increasingly higher for those enmeshed in the war for control of the Iron Throne than, hopefully, the readers of this review. Extending one's lifespan, staving off the various threats that rise up to hurry you on your journey, requires a certain skill of bargaining. Or the ability to play the titular game. You can choose to be a player or a pawn, or you can have that choice made for you. The notion of threats lingers over this week's episode of HBO's Game of Thrones ("The Night Lands"

The Daily Beast: "Game of Thrones and Mad Men Characters Fight to the Death"

Don Draper vs. Tyrion Lannister? Betty vs. Cersei? Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, " Game of Thrones and Mad Men Characters Fight to the Death," in which I imagine 10 tongue-in-cheek battles between the characters of AMC’s Mad Men and their Game of Thrones counterparts on HBO. With the return of AMC’s Mad Men and HBO's Game of Thrones , Sunday evenings have become a tug of war, with the two critical darlings exerting an irresistible pull on the faithful. It’s hard to escape certain similarities between the two shows: both take place in distant times (OK, Game of Thrones , based on George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, is set in another world altogether), both delve into racial and religious issues this season, and both feature heavy drinking, illicit relationships, and completely inappropriate workplace behavior in worlds that celebrate ambition, cruelty, and Machiavellian power grabs. Which raises an imaginary questio

Bleeding Stars and Fiery Hearts: Thoughts on the Second Season Premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones

"For the night is dark and full of terror..." Where does power reside? Is it contained within the knowledge of a wise man? The sword of a warrior? The magnanimity of a king? The coin purse of a wealthy man? The foresight of a manipulator? When a sharp knife is drawn against your throat, who is the one who actually holds the true power? These are but a few of many questions pondered in the sensational opening chapter of Season Two of Game of Thrones (“The North Remembers”), written by David Benioff and Dan Weiss and directed by Alan Taylor, which returns with all the roar of a lion, the beating wings of a dragon, the pride of a stag, and the cunning of a wolf. Finishing its first season on such a pitch-perfect note of dread and chaos, Game of Thrones returned with a stellar episode that picked up the multitude of story strands from last season and gave them a meaty tug. (You can read my spoiler-free advance review of Season Two of Game of Thrones over at The Daily Bea

The Daily Beast: "Game of Thrones' Glorious Return"

Season Two of the Emmy-nominated fantasy series Game of Thrones begins on Sunday night. And it’s fantastic. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, " Game of Thrones ' Glorious Return," a review of the first four episodes of Season Two of HBO's superlative drama, based on the A Song of Ice and Fire novel series by George R.R. Martin. "Season Two of Game of Thrones is fantastic, overflowing with majesty and mystery," I write. "The night, we’re told, is dark and full of terror, and so is this provocative and enthralling show." After the ratings and critical heights scaled by the first season of HBO’s Game of Thrones , expectations are dangerously high for the launch of Season 2, which begins this Sunday. Based on the second volume ( A Clash of Kings ) in George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series, Game of Thrones has a lot to prove to fans of both the books and of the award-winning HBO drama. Can it top the addict

The Daily Beast: "Game of Thrones Season Two for Dummies"

HBO's fantasy series Game of Thrones returns Sunday for a second season with its jargon and (most of its) vast cast of characters intact. Who is the Red Woman? What's the significance of a white raven? What's the difference between the Lord of Light and the Drowned God? I've got you covered with a new glossary that breaks down the jargon of Season 2 of Game of Thrones , returning Sunday at 9 p.m. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, " Game of Thrones Season Two for Dummies," in which I break down who's who and what's what in the second season of HBO's sweeping fantasy drama. There are actually two features in one: an alphabetical glossary of terminology, places, and concepts within the second season and a gallery that breaks down the 15 new and newish characters (from Melisandre to Xaro Xhoan Daxos) that we meet this season. In its first season, Game of Thrones—based on George R.R. Martin’s behemoth A Song of Ice and

The Daily Beast: "HBO Axes Michael Mann/David Milch Drama Luck"

Nick Nolte in HBO's 'Luck', Gusmano Cesaretti / HBO After the death of a third horse on set, HBO has announced the end of Luck . Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my take on HBO's decision to cancel Luck , just weeks after a second-season renewal on the Michael Mann-David Milch horseracing drama. Luck has appeared to run out for HBO's Luck. Following a third horse death on the set of the racetrack drama, as first reported Tuesday by TMZ, premium cable network HBO today announced that it has decided to stop production on the low-rated show, citing animal-safety concerns. Luck, created by Michael Mann and David Milch, had already been renewed for a second season, despite meager ratings. “The two of us loved this series, loved the cast, crew and writers," Milch and Mann wrote in a joint statement. "This has been a tremendous collaboration and one that we plan to continue in the future.” The nine episodes comprising Season 1 of Luck were already

The Daily Beast: "Little People, Big Controversy: Game of Thrones and Life’s Too Short"

Game of Thrones ’ Peter Dinklage used the Golden Globes last month to draw attention to a dwarf-tossing attack in England. But with the launch of Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s Life’s Too Short on HBO, it’s hard to imagine a stranger time to be premiering a potentially exploitative comedy about a dwarf. At The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, entitled "Little People, Big Controversy: Game of Thrones and Life’s Too Short ," in which I look at Ricky Gervais' new HBO comedy Life's Too Short and ponder its exploitative potential. When Game of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage won the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor last month, he used the award show’s significant global viewing audience to name-check Martin Henderson, to whom he dedicated his award. While millions of viewers raced to Google Henderson at Dinklage’s suggestion, it quickly became clear that he was not speaking of the Australian actor (who costarred in The Ring), but rather a 37-year

The Daily Beast: "TV Breaks the Incest Taboo"

HBO's Boardwalk Empire , Game of Thrones , Bored to Death and other TV shows have recently featured incest storylines or themes. Over at The Daily Beast, you can read my latest feature, "TV Breaks the Incest Taboo," in which I examine this troubling trend in scripted programming. In 1990, Twin Peaks gave the world a nightmare vision into the seediness beneath the placid veneer of small-town America. But while one of the many puzzles embedded within Twin Peaks ’ narrative was the identity of the murderer of teen queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee), the true secret lurking at the heart of the mystery was the incest and abuse suffered by Laura at the hands of her father, Leland (Ray Wise) and the psychic damage this secret caused his wife, Sarah (Grace Zabriskie). It’s a reveal so horrific, so destructive, that the creators represented it in terms of the supernatural, having Leland possessed by a demonic entity in order to explain the cruelty and lack of humanity that suc