Take a seat

Firstly, please do click this link and visit the YouTube page, get the conversation going below the line. Thank you!

There will be spoilers, as this week on the slightly delayed Telly Addict #3 I’m daring to assess the two-episode finale of Season Six of Game Of Thrones. (I was once admonished below the line at the Guardian not for the content of a GoT-bearing Telly Addict, but for the use of a supplied publicity still for Season Three at the top of the page, which enraged one particularly tardy user still catching up with the box set of Season Two because the very act of illustrating my review with a photo that contained some characters from Season Three meant that those characters didn’t die in Season Two. Incidentally, those characters had been heavily featured on hoardings placed by Sky Atlantic advertising the new series.) Clearly, if you haven’t seen it yet, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES WATCH THIS EDITION OF TELLY ADDICT.

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For me, Season Six of Game Of Thrones scored in the 87th minute, and washed away the clogging, A-to-B frustration of what went before. Stuff happened in episodes 9 and 10, and I mean really happened. They won on penalties.

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As well as GoT, the new Telly Addict also reviews Billions (Showtime/Sky Atlantic), which you can also read in written form on this blog here. It’s halfway through its run on Sky, but it’s been available to subscribers as a series-dump box set since May. I am currently considering re-watching the whole thing for a second time. That’s how prime I feel it is. To mangle Paul Giamatti’s US attorney: the decisions it makes, the judgements it brings, have weight. Talking of serious, there’s a defence of Bettany Hughes’ Nietzsche programme from Genius Of The Modern World (BBC Four) – I say “defence” as I’ve read a couple of sniffy reviews from critics who want to make plain how much they already know about the subject (also, Freud, Marx). I was eager to learn.

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Throw in a couple of references to the Euros, Celebrity Masterchef and the ongoing delight that is Versailles, plus a weird HBO animation called Animals, and it looks like we’ve got ourselves an under-ten-minute YouTube show. Keep clicking and subscribing and liking and all that. It’s your visible support that will make Telly Addict V 2.0 a going concern at the garden of earthly delights that is UKTV, where there are pastries, and skills, and facilities. Tune in, turn on, turn in.

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Multimedia postscript: you can also hear me discussing Game of Thrones S6 on the brand new and tremendous Bigmouth podcast with regulars Andrew Harrison and Matt Hall (who, incidentally, produced the first Telly Addict in 2011 when he worked at the Guardian), and fellow “Thronehead” Sarah Bee, who knows GoT in a far more profound way than I, and was thus confident enough to be even more critical of the way it’s been going since they waved goodbye to the novels. Listen to it here. (We also discuss Glastonbury and Roisin Murphy’s splendid new album.)

It’s no game

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There’s a brief respite from all the crudity in the crude Tina Fey and Amy Poehler comedy Sisters where, to illustrate what a bad time three uninvited party guests are having, we see them “enjoying” a night in with Game Of Thrones (HBO, Sky Atlantic). The buttoned-up host, Maya Rudolph, tells one of her guests off for referring to Prince Joffrey actor Jack Gleason by the actor’s name (“did you know he was the little boy in Batman Begins?”), reminding her that by breaking the spell “you’re not allowing yourself to live inside the fantasy world that they’ve so lovingly crafted for us.” The other guest is reminded of the “no phone policy”, and it is also revealed that they’re drinking alcohol-free wine, they have to take off their shoes, and there are further “rules”. The message is: all the fun is happening somewhere else.

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To love GoT is to denounce “fun” in the traditional sense. It is by definition hard work. You can’t casually watch it. (I’ll never forget the moment on The Culture Show when Lauren Laverne challenged David Simon over the unfriendliness of The Wire to the casual viewer, to which he mischievously replied, “Fuck the casual viewer.”) Rattling on about the new, sixth season, which began in the middle of the night here, but which I watched in comfort the evening after, to Andrew Harrison, Matt Hall and Jude Rogers on the inaugural Bigmouth podcast, I was shocked to discover that Jude follows the saga’s progress by reading online episode guides so that she can empathise with her GoT-addict partner, but doesn’t actually watch it. Having sat on the Best International Programme Bafta jury a couple of years ago, I watched Game Of Thrones literally divide a room, almost down the middle. Jurors – the great and the good of British TV – either loved it, or hated it. It didn’t even make the shortlist that year. Which is an ignominious fate akin to something Ramsay Bolton might cook up for one of his best friends, considering it is regarded by many people as the greatest current show on television. This is how many.

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Correction: that’s how many people legally watch the show on HBO in the States. Beginning with 2.2 million (already a jackpot for cable), it has grown to around 8 million and holds steady. It’s illegally watched by millions, and even though I have nightmares about creative people not being recompensed for their labours, I do like the way certain executives on the production are sanguine about torrents and piracy – after all, it’s illegally seen by superfans, who may well invest at other stages in the product.

Sorry, did I call it a product? Game Of Thrones is a way of life. I’m wary of using words to describe it, as Clive James has done that, at length, in the New Yorker, and it’s free to read online. There’s rarely any point writing about something Clive James has written about. But what I will say is this pertinent thing: Episode One of Season Six, The Red Woman, was perfectly adequate. It did the job. It moved things along a bit. It was an episode of Game Of Thrones. What other show that you love to death would you let get away with just getting from A to B – and sometimes not even get to B? There was once an entire season that was just about getting from one place to another place, but that’s broadly the gist. The Red Woman picked up the ball moments after the end of Season Five, Mother’s Mercy, with a dead Jon Snow in the snow and panic on the ramparts of the Wall, Sansa and rebooted Greyjoy on the run from Bolton, Jamie sailing into King’s Landing with a shrouded Myrcella to reunite with his sister-bride the subdued but vengeful, Margaery in the clink with the “confess” woman (“Confess”), Jorah and Daario in search of Daenerys, and Arya on the streets with those cataract contacts in. Stuff happens: a spear through the back of the head, timely intervention by Brianne and Pod, and a terrifying revelation about Mellisandre being the most memorable. But still we fixate.

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Clashes of kings, queens, princes, princesses, high priests and priestesses, lords, ladies, knights, witches, white walkers, wildlings, bastards, eunechs, wolves, crows, dragons, at least one imp and at least one Queen of the Andals, the Rhoynar, and of the First Men, Queen of Meereen, Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea, Breaker of Chains and Mother of Dragons … a cast of thousands, a vast geography that literally requires a map, umpteen castles, keeps, longboats, dungeons and catacombs, and one iron throne that has borne many a bottom in its time. Clive James was put off by all this guff – and so, on past form, should I have been – but it wins you round with sheer commitment to a set of fat books that millions have read, but which no longer provide a handy guide, as the TV series has overshot author George RR Martin’s text. It’s on its own now. We’re fixating without a safety net, and the “readers”, as I think of them, may no longer lord it over the rest of us, whom I think of as “viewers”. It has been a grand struggle for succession, and the “viewers” are in the ascendant.

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If you want eye-popping detail, and witty insight, you simply must follow Sarah Hughes’s Guardian episodes recaps, and – if you can bear to look – the comments beneath. Sarah is the one true queen to those of us who take off our shoes, forswear our phones and live inside the fantasy world that they’ve so lovingly crafted for us.

Confess.

 

 

He’ll be back

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SPOILER ALERT

NO, REALLY, SPOILER ALERT!!!!

IF YOU HAVEN’T YET SEEN THE SEASON SIX FINALE OF THE WALKING DEAD AND DON’T WANT TO KNOW WHAT HAPPENS AT THE END OF IT, PLEASE STEP AWAY FROM THE BLOG.

Good. I’m among friends. The man with his back to us in the screengrab above is Negan. He is a bad man. One of the worst men. All through Season 6 of The Walking Dead (AMC; Fox), we’ve scented him. Negan, a name top-loaded with negativity and carefully chosen to rhyme with “Reagan”, has struck fear into us since Episode 8, when Daryl, Abraham and Sasha are held up by some organised bandits called the Saviours who explain, “Your property now belongs to Negan.” From hereon in, Negan took on mythic status, and when he finally stepped out of his trailer, inscousiant and grinning, like Jeffery Dean Morgan’s investigator Jason Crouse over on network TV in The Good Wife except with menaces and a sporting implement, it was almost a relief.

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If you’re reading the source comics (which I’m not, although I occasionally dip in to see what a character looks like on the page for comparison to the televisual incarnation), you’re ahead of the series. You know what Negan is capable of, and what he actually does (“KRAKK!”); more crucially, you’ll know which of our heroes gets beaten to probable death at the end of Episode 16, Last Day on Earth. We, the hapless viewer, can only guess. Then wait six months to find out. And there’s the rub.

I have read that “fans” are displeased by this cliffhanger. I don’t really know who these “fans” are, as I don’t frequent TWD forums, or search social media for consensus. I can’t think of anything worse than having my phone to hand while watching a TV show, all the better to scroll through Twitter and find out what people I’ve never met think of the TV show I’m in the process of watching. I find watching stimulus enough, with perhaps occasional real-time comment with a close family member. In this regard, perhaps I am not a “fan”, although having watching TWD from Episode 1, and only dipped out during Season 2, I feel like one. You have to mean it, man. It’s an arduous watch sometimes, and intended to be. It can be existentially dispiriting and doomy. It is, after all, a metaphor for the world we live in, always on the edge of collapse and feral survivalism. There but for the grace of God etc.

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Dread, recoil, tension, disgust, these are its tag words. Smiles are rare. Laughs rarer. Relief from the grinding, death-stalked misery and paranoia comes only fleetingly, a portent of further grinding, death-stalked misery and paranoia. Rick (Andrew Lincoln) and his ever-evolving band of bedraggled brothers and sisters have moved home a number of times, but it’s never a wise idea to put out too many framed photos on the bedside table. The Walking Dead is uniquely horrible, and that’s why I love it. We tend to tape it and watch it early in the evening, rather than last thing at night. Because who would want to submit to sleep with nightmares already sloshing around?

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Like any “fan”, I have my ups and downs with the show. But what “fans” seem pissed off about after Season 6 is the manipulative nature of the cliffhanger. Which of our assembled 11 goodies – Rick, Glenn, Daryl, Michonne, Maggie, Rosita, Aaron, Sasha, Abraham, Carl, Eugene – has been beaten to death by Lucille, Negan’s pet name for his barbed-wired-wrapped baseball bat? This is cable TV, after all, and Game of Thrones, another gory fantasy based on a literary property, has helped establish the unsettling lottery of principal-character mortality in the line of narrative duty. Nothing is sacred. No-one is immune. That said, it won’t be Rick. (Or Aaron – who would care if Aaron died?) Lest we forget, the mid-season cliffhanger showed Glenn (Steven Yeun), another seemingly “safe” character, having his guts pulled decisively out by a scrum of walkers. But he survived. (They weren’t his guts; he was trapped beneath Nicholas, whose viscera they were.) Was this a cheek? Cheap fanbait? Was it manipulative? (Of course it was, it’s fiction, it manipulates.)

Ever since Dallas left us hanging over the small matter of who shot J.R., long-running drama has used a big question mark to keep us on the hook. The “death” or otherwise of Jon Snow on GoT in the show’s Season 5 cliffhanger is another recent case in point. In an over-connected world of chatter, such trifles get talked about to death. Jon Snow may or may not be dead, but the discussion is. (The Walking Dead’s companion show is called The Talking Dead. I have never watched it. I don’t want to see the actors out of costume, mucking about in a chat show setting as it breaks the spell.) I will find a way to survive for the next six months in what is necessarily a break from the show. “Fans” can discuss it until they’re left with nothing but a husk. Me, I have wondered who might have had their skull caved in by Negan, but I’m not losing sleep over it. I’m fairly sure it’s not Maggie, a pregnant woman, although that would be the brave choice for Scott M. Gimple and his 100 producers.

One thing I have learned re: the Negan Cliffhanger is that there are two distinct kinds of Walking Dead SPOILER: the TV SPOILER, and the comic-book SPOILER. A moany Guardian blog (“Fans had to wait almost a month to find out if Glenn made it out alive”) warned at the top of a TV spoiler, but gaily gave away who Negan caved in by way of a comic-book SPOILER. (This, by the way, is a SPOILER I won’t repeat. This is Telly Addict, not Comics Addict.)

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As a GoT “fan” who tried to read the first page of George RR Martin’s first Ice and Fire novel (“Now a major TV series!”) and couldn’t get further than halfway down it, I am a very content TV-only consumer. If you can stomach fantasy literature, and millions can, then you’re going to be watching GoT in a totally different way: largely unshockable, and a bit superior, knowing that the Red Wedding is coming and all that. The comic-book early adopters of TWD will be the equivalent. How much sleep they must lose over the fact that Negan doesn’t look like Jeffrey Dean Morgan in the comics? (I understand he’s supposed to look like Henry Rollins.)

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It’s possible to be a “fan” and not continually rail against the makers of the show you’re a fan of when things don’t pan out precisely how you want them to. It’s a commercial product on a commercial television channel, designed to sell advertising space, merchandise and DVDs, not a charity. Call it “Negan-omics.” If Season 6 ended in the middle of an innocuous sentence about growing sorghum wheat, rather than the showstoppingly violent death of one of 11 beloved-ish regulars, complaints would still be lodged at the highest level (ie. on a forum or Twitter). I look forward to finding out who is dead when the time comes. And then we’ll move on to the next cliffhanger.

KRAKK!