Prophecy Riddles, Survival Horror, and the Brilliance of The Battle of Winterfell

“Whoso pulleth out this sword of this stone and anvil, is rightwise king born.”

“A child will be born from the Force and will bring balance to it.”

Prophecies. They’re at the heart of a plethora of classic stories. The genre makes no difference, be it science fiction,fantasy, horror or Biblical canon, a prophecy can be a great MacGuffin to propel a narrative. It’s typically focused on a “Chosen One,” a Christ figure ala Anakin Skywalker or King Arthur. But not always. Sometimes they spell doom. Take this literary prophecy, for example:

All hail, Macbeth! hail to thee, thane of Glamis!

All hail, Macbeth, hail to thee, thane of Cawdor!

All hail, Macbeth, thou shalt be king hereafter!”

As told to the aforementioned Scottish warlord by the Three Weird Sisters in Shakespeare’s epic tale of war, murder and betrayal. It’s these words that propel him and Lady Macbeth to make murder. It’s also not the only meeting the future King has with the Witches. That’s reserved for the fourth act’s pinnacle moment, telling all involved where the story is going. This meeting may very well be the play’s most iconic scene, after all, it’s quoted on Halloween by children and adults alike (“Double, double, toil and trouble. Fire burn and cauldron bubble.”). But it’s the prophecy they deliver which is most important.

Be bloody, bold, and resolute; laugh to scorn. The power of man, for none of woman born Shall harm Macbeth.

It’s laid out on the table, the end of the play is spoiled midway through. And yet, audiences still gasp when MacDuff runs Macbeth through and chops off his head at the battle of Dunsinane. The seed was laid for this early at the first meeting. Much like the classic riddle of Sphinx in the myth of Oedipus (“Which creature has one voice and yet becomes four-footed and two-footed and three-footed?” MAN, of course!). The prophecy was a true riddle, designed to swerve the antagonist and the reader alike.The prophecy didn’t lie to you, not once. MacDuff was a breech birth, taken from his mother’s belly. He wasn’t born of woman. He was taken from her.

Hold on to that thought. We’ll get back to it in a minute. I need to address something else before we movie on.

The last stand is another trope used in storytelling. The underdog is a the fan favorite protagonist.

The 300 Spartans. Zulu Dawn. The Siege of Bastogne. The rounding of the wagon train or the isolated fort surrounded by the enemy. These are the stories heroes are made from. I could give you examples all day. But placing the characters in a position where they may be overwhelmed and perish at any moment creates tension. Now, if you’ve established anything can happen in your narrative, you can increase the emotional response from your reader or viewer. How do you do this?

One way is to kill a child in your opening. This means all bets are off. Another way is to wantonly kill off characters the consumer of your product has built emotional attachment with. You do this without warning. Survival horror does this with the deftness of a skilled dancer. Night of the Living Dead is perhaps the best example here. The human survivors holed up in a house, fending off the horde of zombies.

Now, when you establish a last stand trope within a survival horror setting on an epic scale, what do you get?

The Battle of Winterfell.

Game of Thrones has entered its eighth and final televised season. Episode 3 brought us THE LONG NIGHT, the much anticipated showdown with the Night King and his undead army of wights (aka zombies). In spite of the production’s dark palette (we’ll talk about this in a minute), it was brilliant. In my opinion, the best zombie war movie ever made. But it’s getting hate from the part of Middle America who doesn’t watch or read this style of fiction on a regular basis. Some armchair, Monday Morning Generals are questioning the actions of the characters, and why some died yet others didn’t. And even more are calling the episode a failure, for trivializing the big bad. All because they don’t understand it.

Yes, everything has led to this point. Many character arcs, much of the story telling. But the story isn’t over.

The whole reason Game of Thrones has been a bloodbath, mercilessly killing off fan favorite characters throughout its history, was to prepare you for this. You were conditioned to think your favorite character could die at any time, so during the Battle of Winterfell you felt but all these characters were in jeopardy. And you got swerved. Aside from a handful of redshirts kicking the zombie bucket, only one major character, Jorah Mormont, died. The main players all survived. These characters did so because they are heroes and heroes overcome the odds stacked against them.

People need to remember this is a Game of Thrones, not a Game of The Night King, and though the prophecy of Winter Coming has long been the show’s mantra, last season winter arrived. I’ve got some news for you. Winter is more than the undead horde of the now disposed Night King. He only showed up in season 5, for the love of the Old Gods.

Let’s address the color palette.

I couldn’t see anything!

It was a battle against the embodiment of death, the Night King, during a snowstorm at night.  What did you expect it to look like? Game of thrones has long established telling the story from the POV of the person, and the battle continued this tradition, telling a battle from the POV of the people in it. We only saw the whole battlefield from aerial shots with the Dragons, for example – what Jon and Daeny saw.

What does this have to do with me not being able to see anything?

It was done by design. It made you uncomfortable, intentionally. It made it difficult for you to discern what was going on. You couldn’t tell who was dead or alive. It was a perfect survival horror effect, isolating the characters in this manner, and it did as it was intended – it brought the viewer into the story. You shared the emotions with the characters.

I would have used a different strategy! Jon Snow is a horrible general!

We can sit there all day long and question the tactics of the battle. Suffice it to say, in military terms, the winner of a battle expects 60% of his shit not to work (ie: go as planned) during the battle. This was set up right away with the elimination of the Dothraki horde. The disposal of the Dothraki, even after they were magically assisted by Millisandre, exposed the true terror and size of the enemy. It added to the suspense. You couldn’t believe the Dothraki got wiped out? Neither could the defenders at Winterfell. You felt their despair.

The Night King was taken out so easily!

Ok, now is this really hurts and it’s the biggest slight to one of the show’s greatest and most developed characters. In fact, you could say much of this story is about her.

Arya Stark.

Kids, I hate to say it, but this Night King kill was foreshadowed in the first season, prophesied in the third, developed through the others until reaching its pinnacle in this episode. Everything in Arya Stark’s story has led her to this moment. Hell, Bran even gave her the weapon she would kill the Night King with! She has trained to fight and defeat death. And who is, rather was, the embodiment of death?

The Night King.

The Red Witch told her in season 3:

Brown eyes, Blue eyes & Green eyes.

These would be her victims. Brown eyes, my friends are all the normal people on her list she faced down and killed during her travels. Blue Eyes is the Night King. And who has Green eyes?

Cersei Lannister.

It’s all about the prophecies in Game of Thrones, my friends. A prophecy brought us here with Arya, and now another prophecy sends Jon Snow to the Iron Throne. It’s been a long, violent trip through Westeros, and everything that came before has implications on what is to come. My personal prediction? Bronn assassinates Tyrion or Jamie. Arya makes a mask of the deceased and uses this disguise to gain access to Cersei, thus completing her story. I’m likely wrong, but part of loving this show is speculating. When you get mad because your speculation doesn’t come to fruition, it makes you look mighty silly. enjoy it. Don’t be critical of it because you didn’t get what you wanted. I can’t wait to see how the story ends.

I found The Long Night to be fantastic. I dare say it’s the best zombie movie ever made. I am firm in belief it’s raised the bar on survival horror for decades to come.

You Know Nothing, Fan Boy: Jon Snow and the Hero’s Journey

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Night gathers, and now my watch begins. It shall not end until my death. I shall take no wife, hold no lands, father no children. I shall wear no crowns and win no glory. I shall live and die at my post. I am the sword in the darkness. I am the watcher on the walls. I am the shield that guards the realms of men. I pledge my life and honor to the Night’s Watch, for this night and all the nights to come.”

Last night’s GAME OF THRONES fifth season finale shocked the shit out of fans of the show in the waning moments of the broadcast. If you didn’t see it, well, Jon Snow, the last of Edd Stark’s male heirs, was given a shank blanket party by his brothers in the Night’s Watch and left to bleed out in the snow. Men with hearts of stone cried last night. Now readers of the books knew this was coming, but it still had a cathartic effect on anyone who viewed it, whether or not they were aware of the twist in the plot. Even I sat there dumbfounded, like a lost child. My wife, concerned that something serious had happened, asked me, “What’s wrong?” I sat my beer down and solemnly replied, “Jon Snow died.”

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I sat there staring at the credits as they rolled, stoic, trying not to cry. But then I realized what George RR Martin and the show runners had done, and I smiled. You see, the writers and Martin sent Jon Snow to the place he needed to go, a place that heralds the upcoming climax of the popular series. They sent Jon Snow to the Underworld. You see, Jon Snow as we knew him, had to die. The story required it. But don’t worry, folks, the same creed that dictated he must die also insures he will return. Confused? You shouldn’t be. You’ve been conditioned to this since watching your first cartoon.

Season Five of GAME OF THRONES has been ripe with mythological Greek references, and this is no different. The sacrifice of Princess Shireen, the rape of Sansa Stark, all of these plot points have their origins in Hellenic mythology. The bottom line is GAME OF THRONES is classic Hellenic story telling at its gruesome best, and Hellenic stories follow a format. Most of you are very familiar with this type of story telling. It’s the most common way to tell a story in modern literature and cinema, you’ve seen it in everything from Winnie the Pooh to Rambo (yes, I’m talking about Stallone here!) and even STAR WARS. The latter example is perhaps the easiest to show, as STAR WARS creator, George Lucas, has made it clear on many occasions that STAR WARS came from Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey.

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The Hero’s Journey is the template for the classic adventure tale. It is simple. Your protagonist is young and naïve, an instance happens ripping him from the simple life he knows. He must undertake a quest to correct the wrongs, during this quest the hero will typically surround themselves with archetypical companions, which will include an elder mentor who is often doomed to be a sacrificial Red Shirt, ala Star Trek. They will often be provided special weapons from the gods to complete their quest. At one point the hero will enter the Underworld, wherein they will also die, yet unlike their mentor, they are reborn and enlightened as the hero they were meant to be.

Each character in GAME OF THRONES has their own story arcs, and Jon Snow’s has always been the Hero’s Journey. The catchphrase attached to him, “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” is an allegory to his naivety. Did the gods give him magic weapons? They certainly did, in the form of Valyrian steel and Dragon Glass. Mentor? Absolutely, in fact, Jon Snow actually has a trio of doomed mentors between his father, Jeor Mormonat and Maester Aemon. Is he surrounded by archetypical companions? Yes, Samwell and his loyal Nights Watch brethren complete that fellowship. And now, as the series nears it’s climax, it’s time for the hero to enter the Underworld and be reborn, setting up the events that will bring our story to a conclusion.

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Jon Snow is Luke Skywalker. He’s Frodo Baggins. He’s John Rambo. Luke entered the Underworld throughout THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, and emerged as a Jedi Knight. The Mines of Moria, wherein Gandalf the Grey finds an untimely demise? You guessed it: the Underworld. When Rambo cuts through the cave during his escape: the Underworld. In order for Jon to complete his quest, he needed to be removed from the Night’s Watch, whose oath tied him to the Wall. The only way to facilitate that through the narrative was to kill him, as an oath is binding unto one’s death.

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Oaths take the forefront in much Greek story telling, as well, and they were a common theme this season. Arya’s oath to kill those on her Death List, Brienne’s oath to protect Stansa and Arya, Jorah’s oath to defend Daenerys to his death and so forth. Throughout the season, time and time again, principal characters were tested and motivated by their oaths. But, in the end, Martin made it easy on us for the fate of Lord Snow, with one simple line in the Night’s Watch oath: “It shall not end until my death.” And now, the presence of the Red Woman, Melisandre, at Castle Black only verifies Snow’s resurrection will occur. I’m telling you right now, without a shadow of a doubt:

JON SNOW WILL RETURN!

He has to. The format upon which GAME OF THRONES is based requires him to come back. When he does, Snow will be back, bigger and badder, as a soldier of the Lord of Light, and he’ll be on a mission to defeat the Night’s King and to become the King of the North. He has a quest to complete, and that quest is to save the world from the White Walkers and the Night’s King. The latter is his Darth Vader (remember, the Night’s King was once a Lord Commander of the Wall!), his Sauron (Sauron was once benevolent!), his Chief Teasle. Jon Snow’s metamorphosis from being the bastard son of a Lord to becoming a Lord himself won’t be complete until he kills the Night’s King, and in order to do so he had to die, to be reborn.

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Now, whether he shares his final fate happily ever-after with Luke and Frodo, or breathes his last breath with John Rambo, I can’t predict. But dry your tears, stiffen that lip and sleep easy, friends. Now you’ve been educated on why you have nothing to worry about with Jon Snow. He’ll be back for at least Season Seven, I assure you. After all, the boy must die so the man can be born.

HANNIBAL “Antipasto”

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The third season of Bryan Fuller’s HANNIBAL premiered last night on NBC. It’s been a long wait for this season. Since its inception, HANNIBAL was a late winter, early spring offering. For some reason, NBC’s scheduling moved it to the summer death slot. Was this to bury HANNIBAL or to utilize HANNIBAL to build ratings? I ask this question, because HANNIBAL seems to be the TV show everyone is afraid of. Fans are afraid of it because of the genuine scares. Middle America fears it because titular star Mads Mikkelsen isn’t Anthony Hopkins. Censors fear it as a result of its frank depictions of violence. Critics and die hard horror fans, on the other hand, have embraced the show. Since I am both of those, it’s no wonder that in my TOP 10 FANTASY AND HORROR TV SHOWS OF 2014 I proclaimed HANNIBAL the best show on television. Period. I’m happy to inform you all that the third season has not faltered from this standard of excellence. 131

There’s no Will Graham this time around. The season 2 cliffhanger left our intrepid FBI agent and company in various stages of vivisection. We’ll have to wait until next week to see who survived. Instead, ANTIPASTO is all Hannibal, who we learn has relocated to Venice. Or is it? As the story unfolds, we come to realize Hannibal is actually the window dressing for the episode. The narrative bounces between the present with Venice, recent past with the torture of Eddie Izzard’s Gideon and the secrets of Hannibal’s relationship with his former shrink, Dr. Du Maurier. And that’s the catch, right there. ANTIPASTO is on much the same level as MAD MAX FURY ROAD. You see, for as much as MAD MAX FURY ROAD was a Mad Max movie, the story was about Furiosa. In turn, for as much as ANTIPASTO is an episode of HANNIBAL, the story is about Dr. Bedelia Du Maurier (Gillian Anderson) and her dark spiral from being an observer into a participator.

Hannibal - Season 3 ANTIPASTO is written by Bryan Fuller & Steve Lightfoot and directed by Vincenzo Natali, the man behind some of the most disturbing genre bending movies of recent times, namely the cult hit CUBE and Frankenstein-esque SPLICE. His pacing is perfect and he brings out a side of Gillian Anderson I’ve not seen before. Yet it is Fuller and Lightfoot that sneak in many prose puns throughout, dialogue that is more typical of the Hopkins Hannibal, which is most curious. Lines such as “We’d like to have you for dinner” and so forth. Until now, Hannibal hadn’t really displayed this verbiage, the snarky sense of humor that Hopkins showed in the movies inspired by the same source material. Is this showing a new personality trait as Hannibal’s insanity runs out of control? Perhaps this little character quirk will be enough to bring the rest of the public on board with Bryan Fuller’s reimagining? Regardless, it beckoned something that is not often a signature of HANNIBAL: Out loud laughing. It’s a welcome change and evolution for the show, balancing well against the scenes of extreme horror carefully placed throughout the episode. Call it a little bit of sugar to lessen the bitter, if you will? I like it and believe it adds some much needed middle America appeal without souring the main course that die hard fans are accustomed to. june4_Hannibal

Those of us that watch HANNIBAL are almost cult-like in our adoration of the hourly drama, eating up each offering with glee. Perhaps this is a reflection of the titular antagonist, whose culinary offerings are as gourmet as the show itself. Full of visual imagery, each episode of HANNIBAL is a finely crafted piece of art bouncing beautifully though its non-linear story with the grace of upper class cuisine. Each portion of the timeline represents a different dish on your plate, as you yourself would alternate between the various sides of your meal. HANNIBAL a special, fancy horror d’oeuvre, which I’ll gladly share with that select niche of other HANNIBAL enthusiasts as we sit on our band wagon, waiting for the rest of you to join.

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SALEM Season 2, Episode 8

Proving to us that horror has no boundaries, Naseema Perveen is here to tell you about Salem Season 2, episode 8 on her blog…

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It’s not a science fair, but a witch war! The war of the witches continues on another episode, “Dead Birds” on your favorite show which consumes you throughout the hour with its excellent story line, perfect plots and the rich cast.

With more magic, tricks and the twists Salem Season 2 Episode 8 engages you throughout the hour. Did you notice when Anne was dreaming of ‘him’. At once he appears in front of her, it was then she started trembling continuously. Anne was thinking that he was in her bed room in order to release her virginity, however he was not there to lose virginity of a pale and a diffident girl however he was there to take the book of his father which her mother gave back in the past. She asks him to leave the place and tells that gentle men do not enter into women’s bedrooms this way.

Meanwhile John’s love with his mother and compassion is heart touching. The magical journey of John is getting more noticeable. He feels lonelier than before, he cannot go outside and plays like the other children. It was really heart breaking to see tears in his eyes and to see the way he hugs his mother and begs her not to let him alone.

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As Mary steps back to John’s bed, she sees the killed birds in his bed and asks him what is that all. John answers that it was because they fly into his bed, his mother is quite astonished and wraps them in the sheet and comes down stairs where she meets the lady. She tells that John must be watched all the time but Mary answers that he is fine now because he is with his mother. She tells that John is unsettled and vulnerable therefore he needs special attention. Mary on the other hand tells that if she is so much concerned about her son she should clean the shit from the bed sheet which is perhaps the most suited job for people like her.

I don’t know what Cotton was actually noticing, he was peeing through the wall, at once Anne call him, it was then he gets nervous and answers her that he had a unsettling night last night, and he does not exactly remembers what he saw. He asks if she deigns to marry her, Anne is quite dubious and interrogates him if his love for her is not the dream. The romantic moment which the duo shares for that particular instant was quite touching, he tells that his heart is forever Anne’s and he is sure of it. I love the words he uttered meanwhile:

Cotton: “In love, I now understand Faith, and with my Faith I begin to understand Love.”

Anne: “How so?”

Cotton: “The leap, in love and in faith, the evidence will only take you so far.”

Salem Season 2 Episode 8 exclusively justifies its title, as we found the dead birds in the bed room of John. It has more than a basis for proving its title, the dead birds in the wood or the birds whose heads are always ripped by Anne.

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We realize the fact that Wainwright is a firm believer of the science therefore it results to let his guard down and thus he finds himself on the witches’ sides. Mary shares secret with Wainwright in quite tricky way. It quite laughable to know that a unique action of Mary with her due innocence, and it was also interesting to see Wainwright calling the witches and Mary “Martyrs of truth.”

One of the constant miseries of the show was watching Cotton’s feeling for his father, it was really heartbreaking to see him screaming continuously until simply his dad spoofs away. The screaming of Cotton reveals that how dark the life can be at times. Although it was the result of his own doing however really panic to see this all happening around. Tituba, the other interesting character of Salem Season 2 Episode 8, tries hard to coax John Alen in order to take Puritans and witches. Although she is a good witch however she is going through a big challenge of inferiority complex. She is finally united with John and tries to seduce him.

One of the draw backs of the week’s episode is that it does not deliver too much about the Countess, given the fact that she does not really show up. Salem Season 2 Episode 8 was solid for few of the new characters who appear on the show making it terrifically beautiful show even in the absence of Lucy Lawless.

“Dead Birds” is another extra ordinary episode of your favorite show, which brings more magic, war of witches and the twists. As long as the show maintains the same level of the quality it is going to attract substantial number of viewers. How did you find Salem Season 2 Episode 8? Let us know in comments.

You can read Naseema’s blog here:

http://seasonsreviews.blogspot.com/2015/05/salem-season-2-episode-8-review-dead.html