Recency bias…

Game of Thrones is kind of known for it’s big set piece battle scenes. The Battle of the Blackwater. The Battle of the Wall. The Battle of the Bastards. All are real standouts for their own reasons. Last night, in what I’m pretty sure was the shortest episode of the entire series to date, our friends over at HBO gave us another battle – and in a lot of ways it’s the one that most fans have been waiting a long, long time for.

There are a thousands sites where you can go for a recap of the actual episode, but I’ll just say that Spoils of War ranks well into my top five episodes at the moment. That’s not so much because of the battle itself but because it has finally brought cast members back together who had been separated for so long. In past seasons you could cheer for the Dragon Queen in Essos without worrying about your favorite characters in Westeros. Now, though, long time favorites find themselves head to head – and given that the story springs from the mind of George R.R. Martin, any of them could be fair game for a painful death.

It may just be the recency bias talking, but last night was the first episode of this shortened season that made the long wait for Season 7 really feel worth while… and now my heart is breaking that there are only three episodes left before the next long wait.

Thanks Hollywood or: The Most Important News of the Day…

I like movies. I don’t like going to the theater to watch them, of course, because people, but still I like the idea of losing yourself to a story for a couple of hours. As much as I like movies, I’ve always struggled a little bit with the “awards show” concept. It’s always struck me as a bit of inside baseball, when the market already does a pretty fair job of telling us what movies are “good” and which ones were “bad.”

Box office receipts aren’t everything, I know. Some movies are made because someone with deep pockets and enough horsepower to get it done want to follow their passion. If you’ve got tens of millions of dollars to spend and that’s what you’ve set your sights on, I say good on you and go with God.

Having a laundry list of insiders telling me what movie was “best,” though, doesn’t really work for me. I find movies, like every other kind of art, to largely be something that largely depends on the eye of the beholder. I like period drama and old masters. That someone else likes comedy and modernism doesn’t make either one of us more right or more wrong.

With all of that said, I’m utterly and completely perplexed by the cry that rose last night from social media and today across the news sites and morning talk programs. I “work live” all day every day and can say with certainly that mistakes happen. You correct them and move on as quickly as possible, which seems to be what they did last night. That it’s something that anyone cares about enough to make it The Most Important News of the Day leaves me with even less faith in humanity than usual. Thanks Hollywood.

The Crown…

I’m an unreconstructed anglophile. I like the Brits for their humor, their television, and their food. I like them for clinging to aristocratic pretense and the trappings of monarchy
long after it’s supposedly gone out of favor. I like them for their sense of history and place.
I like them for their stiff upper lip and determination in the face of crisis. I like them for
the-crown-season-2-770x433.jpgthe single fact that England is a place and that almost everything I hold dear here in its former colony can draw a line, whether direct or indirect, back to that small island in the North Atlantic. I like the fact that England is.

I watch a fair amount of British television and though I won’t claim to like it all, they have a better hit percentage for my viewing time than most of what’s made here in the states. Last weekend, I may have binge watched my way through the first season of The Crown, which is based on the life and times of Elizabeth II. Sure, they punched up the drama a bit and took a few liberties with the story, but I found it a perfectly enchanting period piece that drifts through 50’s era England and paints the House of Windsor in far more familial tones that we’re use to seeing. More important, maybe, is its attempt at presenting a case study in personal desire versus duty.

I commented to a friend who sometimes shares my affinity for the English that it’s sweet and it’s sad and it’s funny in that uniquely British way. I’m a fan. If you’ve got ten hours to kill and want to watch something other than reality TV or the continuing disintegration of the republic on the nightly news, you’d be hard pressed to find something better to watch. Truly Netflix has embiggened us all.

Who you want running the apocalypse…

I’ve taken a couple days to sleep on it and have concluded that the hard truth many Walking Dead fans need to face is that a year or two after civilization has collapsed, it’s guys like Negan who are most likely going to be running the show. Rick and his crew, our main protagonists, are nice enough folks, always thinking that their key to safety and survival is joining up with the next group of survivors, fortifying a prison, negotiating, and hoping for the best. Every time their hopes get dashed when someone proves to be dishonest, there’s a little bit of cannibalism, or their neighbor drives a tank through Negan.jpgtheir front door. Through it all, despite what they say, Rick’s crew seems desperate to want to believe the best about people. It’s constantly their undoing – and precisely why guys like Negan will triumph in the post-apocalypse.

Like any number of tribal chieftains of old, Negan maintains his rule and the stability of his followers through brutally enforced discipline. While this may seem abhorrent to us sitting comfortably in our homes tonight, it’s nothing new for most of human history. In fact, under the circumstances, it’s probably the group of survivors most likely to thrive in the face of the brave new world we’ve met yet in the Walking Dead universe.

Ponder for a moment if you will that Negan’s followers are highly organized and able to defend and expand their territory through better communications and tactics than those employed by Rick’s group. They’re well fed, clothed, and supplied, which indicates a relatively sophisticated economy based on the imperial model of commodity goods flowing towards the “mother country,” and finished goods and protection being furnished to the colonies. Unlike Rick, Negan doesn’t seem to shy away from his role as leader. As a result the command and control structure of his organization is very clear. He’s at the top, but he also indicated in this week’s premier that he has trusted lieutenants who he depends on. He may delight in dispensing rough justice, but his actions shouldn’t be a surprise – after all, he told our friends from Alexandria that bad behavior would be punished and then when they behaved badly he responded exactly as he said he would in order to establish a clear correlation between cause and effect.

I wouldn’t vote for Negan if he were running for president, but as a post-apocalyptic warlord, I think I’d quickly see the value of joining a group like his. This world they’ve created full of walking dead and the even more dangerous living is a violent place. The fact that violent men rise up to establish some kind of order shouldn’t surprise anyone. It was done like that in this world for a lot longer than we’ve been trying to master such societal niceties as peaceful transfers of power.

Political drama…

When I’m tinkering around on the computer in the evenings I’ve gotten into the habit of running long since cancelled television shows as background noise. Currently I’m playing my way through season four of The West Wing… which after watching the utter jackassery of a real presidential debate last night reminds me how much more I’d rather live under a Sorkin scripted presidency. Even with some of his more unpleasant left-leaning tendencies.

I wish I had something more insightful to say on the topic of the real candidates, the actual debate, or the current state of American politics. Unfortunately there isn’t, so I’m stuck with dreaming of a world that resembles a nearly 20-year old political drama far more than it resembles our reality.

Trek…

Since I was old enough to start making my own decisions about what television to watch, I’ve been a fan of Star Trek. There was a time in the late 80s and early 90s when I could have probably quoted every line of the 3 seasons of the original series, watched in syndication and taped to re-watch countless times on a score of clunky VHS tapes. Six movies and The Next Generation followed, adding to the franchise. I largely fell away during the era of Deep Space 9 and Voyager and Enterprise, though.

I wasn’t overly thrilled about the prospect of bringing the old girl out of mothballs with J.J. Abrams at the helm. I don’t generally like the current Hollywood approach of reanimating every old TV show and movie in an effort to pump more cash from an already tapped well – as if having an original idea or story to tell is some kind of crime against humanity.

With that being said, I’m pleased to report that Beyond manages to hit most of the right notes for this old Trek fan. As troubled as I was originally about these new movies breaking off onto a new timeline, I think this installment comes just about as close to the tone and feel of an original series episode as a fan could hope without putting everyone back on a low-budget set with a bunch of flashing lights and toggle switches. Although I’d never threaten to call this new incarnation of the Start Trek universe “campy,” it finds the proverbial sweet spot somewhere between keeping most of the old timers happy without alienating a new generation of fans. It was nicely done.

Citizen of the world…

Muhammad Ali was a world class boxer. That’s indisputable. He was also a draft dodger and embraced an organization known for their extremist ideology. Heroic figures deserve heroic flaws, I suppose. What’s struck me most, though, is that in the coverage of his death I’ve heard at least 647 times that he was a “citizen of the world.”

I’ve always been a bit bothered by that phrase. Some of my favorite places on the planet are far from our golden shores. Although I have an affinity for the close at Salisbury Cathedral or the spectacular blue waters of the Caribbean or Rome’s ancient Forum, I don’t think I could ever consider myself a citizen of England, or Barbados, or Italy – and certainly not all of them.

While it’s impolitic to say such things now, I’m an American first and always – a Citizen of the United States born of the blood and of the soil. As whackadoodle crazy as we can be nationally I can’t imagine a circumstance where I would want or seek any other… and if anyone has the audacity to challenge that once I’m dead and gone I will find a way back and haunt them to the end of their own days.

Being engaged is important. Knowing about the wide world is important. Having an educated interest in events beyond our own farms and cities is important. But I’ll never be ashamed to hold myself apart from those other places. I will never confuse my interest in the world with my true loyalties. If that makes me an anachronism in the modern age, well, I’m sure I can live with that.