Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Game of Thrones Review: ‘Beyond the Wall’

(Photo Credit: HBO)

Game of Thrones
Season 7, Episode 6
By Garrett Yoshitomi

For the past week, everybody’s had their fill coming up with “clever” nicknames for the “Beyond the Wall” group comprised of Jon Snow, Tormund, Jorah Mormont, The Hound, Beric Dondarrion, Thoros of Myr, and Gendry. They ranged from the simple, yet classic- Magnificent Seven and Suicide Squad- to the incredibly cheesy…“Snowcean’s 7,” anyone? (C’mon, The Ringer). But, regardless of what early 2000’s Clooney movie-Game of Thrones pun you like best, I think we can all safely agree that the team-up of these seven characters is likely one of the most badass hype moments this show has ever given us. And, thank God because the actual plot line that brought these characters together (trying to capture a wight to present to Cersei) is so contrived and illogical that only a collection of the most dynamic and entertaining warriors, in all of Westeros, could save it.

“Beyond the Wall” is a lot of fun. It’s probably my favorite episode of the season, even more so than “The Spoils of War.” The action is a little bit different- more character focused and intimate, rather than just a horde of Dothraki slaughtering Lannister’s (although, we do still get some comparable dragon action). And, there’s this strong sense of adventure that’s really been missing from Game of Thrones in recent seasons. The stakes are high for our ragtag group, and their fates are mostly, with the exception of Jon, unknown. The banter between the different character pairings, within the group, bring a juxtaposed sense of levity, while also increasing our investment in these characters that we already love so much. There are some amazing character moments, this week, but I think my favorites all belong to The Hound, who stole the show with his stone skipping and interactions with Tormund.

(Photo Credit: HBO)
Ultimately, all of these elements blend together to create an episode where it’s just so much fun to root for the good guys. This feeling of hard-earned triumph was largely absent from the earlier seasons of Thrones, when the protagonists were cut down faster than zombies in a Walking Dead episode. Sure, this sense of “no main character is safe” that early Thrones instilled, shaped the show into what it is today. And, there are certainly moments in "Beyond the Wall" where the plot armor runs a little too thick, and the deus ex machina fix things a little too easily. But, episodes where the good guys do what good guys do- kick some ass and make it out alive, are a lot of fun, and "Beyond the Wall” is certainly no exception. Plus, when it's all said and done, things don't end all that cleanly for our boys in fur. They do suffer losses, with one in particular that is sure to haunt them in the episodes to come.

So, Tyrion's been having a pretty rough season so far, as he's currently 0-2 on his recommendations to Daenerys. His Casterly Rock gambit failed in episode three, and he makes the wrong call this week, when he tells Dany to ignore Jon’s plea for help. Granted, all of his ideas seem reasonable at the time- Casterly Rock was the Lannister seat of power, and easily could have been a crushing blow to Cersei had Jaime not moved the bulk of his forces to Highgarden. And, Dany could have risked her and her dragons’ lives for nothing if Jon’s party had been wiped out before she got there, which by all accounts should have been the case. Hindsight has certainly been no friend to Tyrion, as this Hand seems to have lost his queen’s faith and ear, at least for the time being. If anything, I think this episode highlights the fundamental differences between these two characters. Dany has basically always established her rule through conquest, either by design, or out of necessity. While, Tyrion, lacking a warrior nature and a useful set of dragons, tends to rely more on diplomacy to make ends meet. Alas, no matter how well-thought out Tyrion’s plans had been, they were never going to be a match for the all-mighty power of red hot Targaryen love.

(Photo Credit: HBO)
Things are heating up pretty quickly for the aunt-nephew power couple of Daenerys and Jon. (Insert awkward family reunion joke here.) Despite never stepping foot in the same continent before this season, the two have already had their fair share of longing glances, and tender moments, sprinkled throughout the last few episodes. You could argue that these feelings have developed a little too fast, given their limited interactions; but for the most part, this isn’t a huge issue in my eyes. Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington have a pretty believable chemistry, and the idea that these two long lost Targaryen’s shate an innate bond seems to fit right in with the importance house ties carry in Game of Thrones. If anything, Jon and Dany’s quickly budding romance speaks to how fast this season feels.

Season seven’s shortened episode order leaves absolutely no wiggle room, and “Beyond the Wall” takes some hard to overlook liberties with the physical limitations of Game of Thrones’ fictional universe- namely, the vast distance characters are able to travel in way less time than they should realistically be able to do so, given the geography of Westeros. It’s disappointing because Thrones has always been a show that still feels very real, despite the dragons and magic. Events unfold, and characters develop, in a logical fashion, adhering to realistic outcomes, rather than typical fantasy tropes. If you look back, things clearly started to shift back in season five when original content started to creep in, as the show outpaced the books. Now, we’re at a point where everything is original content, and while the episode to episode quality is mostly still very high, there are still some head scratching storylines that manage to sneak their way in.

(Photo Credit: HBO)
I don’t even really want to get into the Arya-Sansa nonsense. (You can get a good idea of my thoughts from my review last week.) But, it’s hard to avoid, since it was the only other storyline in this episode that did not intersect with the main Eastwatch group plot. This recent development is so incredibly frustrating because it really is going nowhere. Is Arya going to kill Sansa? No. Is Sansa going to have Brienne, or one of her bannermen, kill Arya? No. Even if Arya were to show the letter to the northern lords, they’re not going to remove Sansa from power just to name…who? Arya, the little sociopath, as Lady of Winterfell? Arya’s endgame makes no sense, other than to torment her always favored older sister- a dynamic that could have been worth exploring earlier on, but now feels irrelevant when so many series molding events are taking, or are about to take, place.

This is it. Next week is the season seven finale, and after that there are just six episodes left of Game of Thrones. I think it will be hard for the finale to compete with how purely entertaining “Beyond the Wall” is. With so much left to wrap up in the final season, I feel like next week’s episode will need to serve as more of an expository table setter for season eight, rather than an action-packed, standalone thriller. But, table setting is important, especially with the literal end of Game of Thrones right around the corner.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

(The Big Disrupt) Netflix: Why Disney Are No Real Threat To Netflix

With the news of Disney's plans to remove all their film content from Netflix and launch two streaming services in the next two years, there has been a lot of talk that this could be a major threat to Netflix dominance of the SVOD market but, in truth, Disney planned entrance into the marketplace should not keep Netflix executives awake at night. 

However, that's not to say that they shouldn't take notice. Disney has arguably the strongest and most prized content library ever and should it's planned ESPN or Disney movies streaming services take off, Netflix could have a real problem on its hands. The last thing Netflix needs is to find itself competing with a company that's nearly twice its size with a larger content library and deeper pockets as it already has Amazon, a company four times its size by market cap with even deep pockets than Disney, breathing down its neck forcing them to spend even more money on licensing and creating original content at increasingly unsustainable levels.   

With Amazon and now Disney nipping at its heels, Netflix are increasingly looking like a company that's skilfully punching above its weight against opponents who simply have to stay in the fight long enough to pick them off in the later rounds. Yet despite being smaller than both these great companies, Netflix will likely see off the threat posed by Disney. Netflix is an incredibly well-run operation with a large content library, a growing stable of popular and critically acclaimed shows it produces itself not to mention 104 million subscribers globally but the reason why Disney are going to have a hard time knocking Netflix off top spot or even making a dent in its dominance is Netflix have a considerable head start it simply isn't going to give up. 

The reason why Netflix are so far ahead of everybody else in the SVOD marketplace is because they're better at retaining subscribers thanks to the data they collect about customer viewing preferences which allows them to create shows that reach large demographics inside and outside their platform (thus attracting new subscribers) and suggest other content on their platform subscribers may enjoy based on past viewing which has the effect of keeping customers on the platform to the point that Netflix is starting to compete with something we all love, sleep. 

Because of this, Disney will have a hard time taking customers from Netflix which won't be much of a problem for its ESPN streaming service as it will serve a different audience entirely but for its movie based streaming service, it's crucial that it takes customers off the Los Gatos based company or at least force customers to cough up a little extra from their pocketbook for their service. 

If Disney's movie streaming service can't pull this off, it will die a slow and expensive death. In truth, the real story however is Disney finally entering the sports streaming marketplace which puts it in direct competition with Amazon who acquired rights to stream Thursday night NFL games for prime subscribers which should give everybody at Disney and ESPN sleepless nights. While Disney can use ESPN's declining but still large Pay TV subscriber base promote the service, it will be going up against a company that has rights to stream NFL content to an extremely loyal customer base that's growing a year ahead of its launch. 

By that time, Amazon will have established a head start it won't give up with by far the most popular and lucrative sports content on the market. To make things worse, Facebook is expanding its live sports offering which means Disney and ESPN's already large sports programming costs are going to shoot up at a time where ESPN's large content spend is getting harder to justify. 

What all this means is that Disney is the last of Netflix's problems as Disney's move into the SVOD space smells of desperation.


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