House of the Dragon – Halftime Report

This is my fantasy football.

We are halfway through House of the Dragon and on the eve of the show’s second half to begin. It’s as good a time as any for a huddle. So let’s do a rundown of the good, the bad, how we’re doing so far, and where we go from here.

SCOREBOARD: 

3 – 1

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I’m gonna treat this like a sports cast because in “the Dance of Dragons” – the Targaryen civil war that serves as the crux of Fire & Blood – two teams form up to do battle: the Greens and the Blacks. The Hightowers backing Prince Aegon II for the throne dub themselves the Greens, and the Blacks represent the party loyal to Princess Rhaenyra’s claim. It’s usurpers versus loyalists, towers against dragons, Packers vs. Raiders, what have you.

Now, I’m jumping ahead here because these party lines haven’t officially been formed yet. Certain houses and banners have yet to make the show; Alicent’s children are still in their youth, and Rhaenyra has yet to birth her own – all of whom play pivotal roles in the fabled dance. But there ARE players on the field, and the battle lines have been quietly drawn in these first 5 episodes.

Otto Hightower might’ve been ejected from the game (dude fouled out), but a bold player has arrived at the end of ep 5 and it’s a major loss for House Targaryen. Alicent was sympathetic to the dragon cause for a time, aligning with Rhaenyra’s claim to the throne. And then Rhaenyra made too risky a play by lying on her dead mother’s name. It’s the fatal breach that breaks a teetering friendship once and for all. At Rhaenyra’s wedding feast, Alicent makes her allegiances very clear with a Fuck-You Green dress – a beacon noted by Uncle Hobert: “House Hightower stands with you.”

The Green’s bench is starting to take shape. Larys Strong comes stumbling in as a confidant. I’d say he’s more sympathetic to Alicent than he is a supporter of Aegon, but lines are lines. He brings whispers of the “tea” that undoes Alicent’s remaining allegiance to Rhaenyra. It’s important to note that there is no master of whispers currently on the small council as Lord Varys was in Game of Thrones. (The names, man, they’re not subtle.) Perhaps we’re witnessing the creation of that very position. Larys is the son of Lyonel Strong, current Hand of the King, and brother to Harwin “Breakbones” whom we last saw crowd controlling fools on the dance floor and carting the princess to safety. (LOADED gestures and foreshadowing there 👀) Without spoiling anything, Larys’ allegiance will make things very interesting for House Strong ahead.

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Alicent, in the same ep, gains a noble knight. She saves Ser Criston Cole from his seppuku in the Godswood. Based on HotD’s look ahead, it appears aligning himself with Alicent was a pathway to restoring his honor. How the show will explain Criston’s crime at the wedding feast and still keep his spot on the Kingsguard will surely be interesting. (Then again, Knights of the Kingsguard have done some shit and still kept their post, so…) Nonetheless, Alicent’s got a dashing Stormlander at her guard.

Elsewhere in the Green’s ranks, it’s safe to say the Lannisters are on their side, if only by consequence. Jason Lannister, still bitter from the rejection, gets a jab at Rhaenyra at the feast in front of Viserys. Any other king might’ve had Jason beheaded, but since it’s Viserys, he’ll live to fight in the upcoming war.

This, of course, is a numbers game. Targaryen and Velaryon boast the most dragons, so they score an uneasy win here. I say uneasy because although Viserys supports Rhaenyra, they’ve got father-daughter issues. Daemon despises Otto Hightower (and anyone who’s not Targaryen) so he’s on Rhaenyra’s side, but everybody’s got issues with him. There’s strife, division within their own House, still they stand on the same side of the map. They’ve got Velaryons and one Aunt Rhaenys back in the game, currently have House Strong (for the most part), and have the Vale courtesy of the former Queen Aemma—Daemon’s crime against House Royce notwithstanding. Due to a technicality, he’s their landlord now.

The Greens might’ve had the Blacks goin’ in the first half when Otto was running things. They are now, bottom-line, outnumbered – 3 Targaryen bloods backing Rhaenyra to 1 Prince Aegon (half-Hightower). Them 3 lookin’ kinda shaky though as we head into the second half. Will the Greens even the scoreboard? Or will the Blacks blow a big lead?

MVP

FAVORITE CHARACTER – DAEMON

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There’s a version of Daemon that could’ve been the next notch in the Joffrey-Ramsay belt. So I think it’s an achievement that Daemon is as compelling as he is—as in the most compelling little shit GoT has produced thus far.

There’s characters we love to hate, and then there’s Daemon. He might antagonize people, but he doesn’t think of himself that way, in the sense that Joffrey and Ramsay did evil shit purely to stoke viewers’ contempt. When a character exists for brutality’s sake, there’s no shock factor anymore; just the next thing that makes you roll your eyes or groan. They start to seem less like characters and more like functions.

With Daemon, he feels madly unpredictable. He steals his dead nephew’s dragon egg to challenge big brother, oddly making him seem tragic as the little brother wanting attention. Then he’ll beat up a messenger, or murder his wife without saying anything – acts that are straight up villainous, yet feel ambiguous all the same. There’s SO MUCH room to interpret his motives and reasoning. It’s always complicated with this fuckin’ guy because he’s a Targaryen loyal to himself. There’s ego, there’s swagger, a tyrant brewing inside, and tragedy in a man who keeps knocking down the people closest to him. If chaos is a ladder, then Daemon reigns as its MVP. A great deal of this is in Matt Smith’s captivating performance, but I can’t give him the ultimate award here.

FAVORITE PERFORMANCE – MILLY ALCOCK

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That award goes to Milly Alcock. Innocence and naivete are hard to convey in a world as brutal as GoT without seeming bratty or childish. With Milly, Rhaenyra’s innocence is endearing to watch. There’s some early-days Sansa in her naivete, and some Daenerys Stormborn in her seat of entitlement. It helps that she’s got Arya markers everywhere (cup bearer, “he called me boy,” choosing the way of a fighter over a maiden, etc.) with the proper charm to spare. I may have singled out Matt Smith in scenes where he has no dialogue, but there are moments, too, where all Milly does is just stop and stare. IT’S ALL IN HER EYES, MAN. I don’t know who else can do a stare down with Matt Smith and still have the height advantage, or standoff against Paddy Considine and retain all the power and agency in the room.

Milly’s is a gathering storm of a performance – one that’s gonna make things exceptionally hard to let go of as we face a 10-year time jump and handoff with another performer. (Emma D’arcy will do great; I’m just sad to see Milly go.) An incredible foundation has been laid for Rhaenyra Targaryen, all thanks to Milly Alcock eating up the role.

MID-SEASON REVIEW

I was cautiously optimistic at the start. Now I’m all in at the half. The Thrones theme is back babyyyyy (cry about it) and the production scale of this show puts Disney’s output in the last year-and-a-half to shame. (Crazy how both Disney and Warner Bros. are employing technology like The Volume, but only one seems to differentiate when such technology should be used than the other.)

I have my complaints about HotD, namely with how dim the lighting has been, which sorely undercuts the work done by the set decorators and designers. Even the costumes at times; the stunning level of detail is hampered by this ongoing choice to wash out colors from all media. The difference in lighting between HotD season 1 and GoT season 1 is literal night and day. It’s part of a larger problem these last few years that’s probably here to stay.

On a stylistic level, I can kinda-sorta get behind it. If this is a look into the past, then there’s something unique about the aesthetic as a page scroll—like a painting done only by candle light. But on a personal level, I hate squinting when I have my glasses on. Too dim can make a viewer sleepy, so I guess it’s a good thing that there’s never a dull moment.

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There are some things I’ve forgiven, like the time-jumping. It was jarring before, but now it’s starting to pay off by focusing on key moments in time that tell us everything we need to know about these characters. Otto was always going to get the boot from Viserys, but it’s 1000x more impactful knowing his arrogance in the episode prior. Proposing that the princess marry a freakin’ baby was the too bold maneuver that sowed the seeds of doubt in Viserys, and Otto reaps the consequences an episode later. HotD feels more laser-focused in this regard; it knows what made GoT the separator from other medieval fantasy epics.

Soap Opera with dragons. That’s it. I don’t know what else you’d call a series that deals with back-stabbing plots every other scene, or a show that makes an axis-tilting moment out of one character’s choice of dress. Or a show where an adolescent gets called a cunt to his pimply face. I mean this in the best way: GoT is soap opera trash with a budget—plus dragons and nudity, times incest. (The fact that we’re talking about incest every week is truly one for the books.)

Yes, dragon battles are on the horizon, which wasn’t GoT’s strong suit. It remains to be seen how HotD will handle THE spectacle it’s promising. If these first 5 eps are any indication, I’m hopeful that the showrunners have finally learned what’s so damn addicting about this saga of ice and fire. As long as HotD doesn’t get caught up trying to be more than what it is (or more “Important” or timely than it is), I’d say it’s got a successful first season in the bag. Seven Hells, I don’t even care if HotD lines up with the books or its predecessor at this rate. Just keep bringing me trash.

House of the Dragon – My Big Fat Targaryen Wedding

WE ARE MIDWAY THROUGH HOUSE OF THE DRAGON Y’ALL.

Another (bigger) time jump looms, our dragon forecast is shady as hell; an old proverb about crowns becomes literal, and a marriage celebration goes about as well as one could go here in these Seven Kingdoms. Mind your banners accordingly.

CORLYS AND RHAENYS JOIN THE GAME

We sail to Driftmark for the first time ever in episode 5, “We Light the Way.” Lord Corlys is surprised to find the king’s hand (or what’s left of it) reaching across the aisle. Keeping her word, Rhaenyra will marry Corlys’ son, Laenor – an overdue union between two houses. Gotta use a handicap sigil for Viserys these days; it takes time for him to act, give or take 4 years.

Targaryen cousins meet again, and Rhaenys sees for herself that her nearest relative did all of the aging and then some. A swift gut check. Viserys and Corlys clarify that Rhaenyra and Laenor’s child WILL sit on the Iron Throne – bearing a Targaryen name – and that day is fast approaching. The Velaryons once sat on the small council, rebuked the crown an ep ago, and now have prospects of an heir ruling Westeros one day. Corlys’ own words come to mind: “To elude a storm, you can either sail into it, or around it. But you must never await its coming.”

Husband and wife must sail into the belly of the beast head-on, and it gives flashes of Harrenhal. Corlys’ flexes too much of his pride: “You were robbed of the crown… and I would remedy that small-minded error.” Bro, this about you, not your wife. “I myself have put the business behind me,” Rhaenys says, and it doesn’t feel true. She may be anchored at Driftmark, but she’s still a dragon.

Tyrion’s warning to Shae, “We have come to a dangerous place” hangs over them. This time it’s a husband and wife on equal footing, reminiscent of Eddard Stark and Lady Catelyn’s steel bond. Will this power couple withstand the hurricane coming their way?

I love that we’ve been getting Steve Toussaint’s gravitas here and there, but I’ve sorely missed Eve Best since her one-scene steal in ep 2. Welcome back, Queen Who Should Have Been 😤

RHAENYRA & LAENOR AGREE TO… KEEP THE GOOD TIMES ROLLING

I gotta single out this scene because wow, it is GORGEOUS to look at. On one hand, it almost looks too idyllic, like an overcompensated drug commercial that you half-expect Rhaenyra and Laenor to start listing side effects. On the other hand, I love a walk on the beach! That low-hanging sun and expansive shoreline straight out of a Terrence Malick movie. Well done.

“I prefer roast duck to goose.” Don’t you wish all marriage pacts were this honest? Of course, they’re not talking entrées here so much as palette. Neither Targaryen daughter or Velaryon son (each with their own appetites) didn’t have a choice in this union, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be free in their own ways to pursue their choice of poultry. Bangsgiving—that’s what they’re celebrating in the throne room.

SER CRISTON FOLDS LIKE A LAWN CHAIR

I gotta play poker with this fuckin’ guy. Rhaenyra’s pitch to Laenor went well, but it doesn’t for her, uh, entrée of the week. On the love voyage back to King’s Landing, Ser Criston Cole approaches his princess on deck – armor off, heart wide open – and makes his Disney ass proposal. Man went from Gawain in The Green Knight to Orlando Bloom in Pirates of the Caribbean.

Going back to their night at the Red Keep, you see the choice that Criston makes. He pauses at certain moments – after the first kiss, before they undress, and pausing just before he goes to her bed. He knows what he’s doing and what he’s breaking. A Cole becoming Kingsguard was the highest anyone in his family had ever risen, and he “soiled” that cloak. I believe that he’s conflicted here, but I don’t really buy that he’s in love with her. He’s just, as one character says later, “cunt-struck.” He believes that running away and “saving” Rhaenyra from the burden of the throne is his remaining shot at redemption. Criston might mean well, but he forgot he’s speaking to a dragon.

The heartbreak for Rhaenyra is realizing she misjudged him. She took what she wanted that night and thought he’d be okay with this arrangement, but Criston is a true chivalric knight—who wants a housewife to cook and gather for him in the end. “So you want me to be your whore?” he says, eyes welling up like a wuss. I’m sorry but WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT??? (Also, his pitch to her is much the same, so why’s he mad for?)

Rhaenyra’s sin is fucking around and finding out. Criston’s sin is thinking she was the love interest to his knight-in-shining-armor fairytale. The princess who was promised the throne doesn’t need saving by a man. It’s the other way around, going back to her choosing him as Kingsguard.

Criston, understandably, is compromised. So when Alicent calls him in for questioning, and just barely asks the question, he falls on his sword. Jaime Lannister had a much more flexible idea of what it means to be an honorable knight. Ser Criston believes in the black & white version, and finds himself at a moral low point. He’s desperate to restore his honor, and does something that the lords and ladies playing the game will never do: confess willingly.

A dragon loses an arm piece. But a queen gains a knight.

DAEMON RE-RETURNS

What a perfect little shit. Daemon has been banished two times now and has left that shit unread twice. In his defense, how’s he gonna miss his niece’s wedding? She’s also marrying a man he fought alongside the Stepstones via dragons. Surely, House Velaryon was stoked to see him. (Laena, in particular.) Everyone else in the room, especially House Royce, not so much.

Daemon has just returned from killing his wife in the Vale, leaving himself a mighty inheritance in her wake. Sitting at the dinner table, he denies an accusation here, stirs some shit up over there, etc. My guy is BACK and he didn’t even touch the appetizers. Matt Smith does this thing where he says little to no words and is still so dramatically compelling. (Best Supporting Eyebrows winner, right here.) But maybe the rogue prince is losing his touch. He’s not the one who ends the party early this time.

QUEEN ALICENT RISES

At the start of the ep, Alicent is barely holding on—played beautifully by Emily Carey. Her father’s been ousted as Hand, he blames her for his dismissal, and has but one friend in Rhaenyra in all of the Seven Kingdoms. Otto leaves with a warning to “prepare Aegon to rule” and Alicent might’ve wiped her ass in the privy with that. Until she hears word about some tea. And then meets with Ser Criston.

Maybe she suspected something was afoot with Criston that night. He had asked for Rhaenyra’s favor in the tournament; these are LOADED gestures in medieval settings. Or Alicent had no idea and was merely asking about Rhaenyra and Daemon, whether he saw anything—only for Criston to spew the piping hot tea. Nonetheless, it’s a moment – and a lie – that snaps everything into place.

Rhaenyra lied on her mother’s name. Alicent lost a mother too, and she’d never stoop so low by swearing on her deceased mom just to wriggle her way from the truth. And Rhaenyra did it as easily as riding a dragon. Alicent has been in freefall since becoming queen, only existing to carry out her father’s schemes, or being used as a womb for House Targaryen and push out heirs, etc. Alicent made it very clear that her relationship with Rhaenyra is the one thing tethering her in this lonely tower. And now she doesn’t have that. She is without friends in a place where people lie and deceive all the time, and here in her lap is a knight who tells her the truth. A man who begs to her as queen. In those few seconds when Criston pleads for mercy, you can see Alicent hardening, finally finding her posture. Her voice often quivered in any scene. But as she dismisses Ser Criston, she’s as steady as she’s ever been.

She cocoons herself in the middle of the ep, declining to meet Viserys at his request – something she’s never done. Then, like Sandra Bullock’s fabulous walk in Miss Congeniality, like Rachel Chu’s dress in Crazy Rich Asians, Alicent struts herself as Queen. In the middle of the king’s speech, no less. Throughout the season, Alicent wore neutral blue dresses, then appealed to Targaryen red fabrics for a time. Here, she’s wearing Fuck-It Green. The ep’s title “We Light the Way,” is the motto of House Hightower. The beacon has been lit.

“Congratulations, stepdaughter. What a blessing this is for you,” Alicent says coldly. What’s that they say about revenge dishes? This is the first time Alicent addresses Rhaenyra as stepdaughter—as in someone beneath her. People may speak in thinly-veiled insults or heavy-handed riddles in King’s Landing, but even our little Rhaenyra heard that statement loud and clear.

Making Rhaenyra and Alicent childhood friends was perhaps the biggest change the show has done so far. There was nothing of the sort in Fire & Blood. They really twisted the knife in these 5 eps, and have set the stage for something more heartbreaking and tragic to come. Bravo.

SHOTGUN WEDDING

We’ve had a Dothraki wedding, a Red and Purple wedding. Would this be a Wedding Faceoff?

There’s one final and crucial layer to this extravagant feast. Rhaenyra and Laenor are tearing up the dance floor, Viserys’ fingers are doing battle with a chicken, and everyone else is vibing while Ser Criston is WORKING. At his former paramour’s wedding celebration. Coupled with the rejection, and his soiled cloak and conscience, my man should’ve called in today of all days—or at least swapped columns facing the other way. Adding to insult, there’s Joffrey (always a Joffrey), Laenor’s current paramour, who thinks they’re allies. But Ser Criston Cole does not observe Pride Month, sadly.

So he does a little hate crime, smashing Joff’s face into oblivion. Kinda what happens when two people are having two different conversations; it often ends badly. Maybe Joffrey’s words sounded like blackmail to Ser Criston, maybe his mind was under siege wondering who else knows about him and Rhaenyra, or perhaps he was fed up being a bodyguard for all these coastal elites who can’t dance for shit. He puts the bloody finisher (and omen) on a Targaryen future that will only get bloodier from here.

And so Targaryen and Velaryon pull a shotgun wedding before more people start losing faces, before either can change their minds. Before King Viserys falls for the final time. Two houses of Old Valyria are joined in marriage, a crown weighs too heavily on a monarch, and a rat cleans up after everybody.

I count one casualty after all that commotion. A dull affair, by Dothraki standards.

Favorite Movies of 2022 (So Far)

I’ve never done this before. I usually put out end of the year movie lists. It’s how I built the foundation of this blog and the routine I’ve stuck to year in, year out. I’ve toyed with doing a halfway list before, but I’ve never had enough to fill a top ten by summer.

Lo and behold, 2022 has been a MIGHTY year for movies so far that I find myself still buzzing high. (The fact that most of these movies are available to stream now is insane.) Whether these will make my eventual year-end list remains to be seen. I’ve been having such a good time that I just wanna stop and stare for a sec. This may be the year where I finally budge on my usual slot of ten, who knows!

These are my favorite movies in the first half of 2022.

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Favorite Dad Movies

The thing about dad movies is that they’re simple. That’s why the sheer joy of them is universal. You don’t have to be a dad to love a dad movie, just like you don’t need to be a man to love a dad movie either. Dad movies bring everybody to the cookout.

Over the years, I’ve tried to curate the perfect list of dad movies, and I think I’ve finally nailed it thanks to a recent release. Of course, these are MY picks of what I define as a dad movie, which I’ll get into. (No Empire Strikes Back here; go someplace else for that.) These are my favorite dad movies guaranteed to get your dad kickin back in his La-Z-Boy on this here Father’s Day.

You can trust me on this. For I am dad 😉

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‘Spider-Man’ – When Sam Raimi Cracked the Modern Superhero Formula

I didn’t know who Sam Raimi was at 10-years-old, but I knew Spider-Man. The animated series was part of my Saturday morning ritual as a kid. And like every kid in 2002, I was stoked for the live-action Spider-Man.

I was a Batman fan my whole life. But after Spider-Man’s dazzling and high-flying cut to black – which gave my scrawny kid body such a weightless sensation that I thought was only possible on roller coasters – I was convinced I’d get a Spider-Man tattoo. I didn’t, sadly, but I’d become a fan of Raimi’s iteration of the web crawler forever.

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