The Winds of Winter SPOILER WARNING

Daenerys finally got on a bloody ship! Winter has officially come! Notwithstanding the question as to what Starks say in winter, the finale to Game of Thrones Season 6 was as satisfying as the first fart to a Grizzly bear just out of hibernation. And oh no, we’re back in the ten month purgatory between seasons.

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These final two episodes were exciting enough to live on for a while though, and before I go on further I have to say SPOILER WARNING! Please don’t read this if you aren’t up to date on the episodes, even if you don’t watch Game of Thrones there is a chance that in the future your heartstrings will be plucked and torn by HBO’s epic saga. I will not carry ruining someone’s experience on my conscience. This might also be somewhat incomprehensible to anyone who isn’t a fan. Much of what follows assumes knowledge, and I am not bothering to explain plot points.

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For fan theorists it seemed to me that possible directions and developments had been whittled down to a few. Cercei utilising wildfire on her enemies in Kings Landing had been heavily foreshadowed, with reference to the Mad King’s death yelling “Burn them all!” in one of Brandon Starks flashbacks, and the monotonous dopiness with which Cercei shuffled about through the season drinking red wine and muttering that she would punish everyone and she only cared for Jaime.

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The immolation of the Sept of Baelor was done with cinematic pizazz, with the gathering trial intercut with clips of the various characters dressing and conspiratorial children hurrying about like Guy Fawkes in Westminster. The scene was scored with a dramatic piano/violin piece, which recalled the infamous Red Wedding scene when the Frey band changes tune abruptly and Catlin Stark realises something is very wrong. In the case of the immolation it is Margery Tyrell who recognises impending doom when she sees that the entire court is in the Sept with the High Sparrow and the rest of the faith militant, but Cercei and the King are not present. She tries to escape and causes a rush towards the exit, but once the wildfire ignites it is pretty clear that everyone perished. By the looks of the Kings Landing skyline the Sept was completely destroyed along with parts of the surrounding neighbourhood.

King Tommen looking from the window of his chamber in the Red Keep chooses an Ophelia-esque defenestration rather than facing the world without his nookie. He does take off his crown before jumping, which was really unnecessary, since Cercei makes the obvious move to the Iron Thrown – thus bringing to an end the quasi-Baratheon dynasty. The Lannister dynasty now properly begins, but it is left unresolved how Jaime is going to react. The last shot of him was in the gallery of the thrown room looking at Cercei as she is crowned. He arrived in Kings Landing after the immolation and suicide of the King (whom Cercei has burned without a funeral), and his slaying of the Mad King Aerys Targaryen at the end of Robert’s rebellion has been referred to a lot. It was the wanton destruction Aerys was planning that made Jaime put his sword through his ruler. That was the line for him. It remains to be seen whether Cercei has now crossed that line.

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Heading north there was the confrontation between Ser Davros and the Red Woman over the burning of Princess Shireen that was obviously coming. The result was unsurprising, Jon Snow banished the Red Woman from the North. Well, he wasn’t going to kill her, and I presume she will go to meet Daenerys wherever she comes ashore.

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Littlefinger tipped his hand, showing that he is relentlessly in pursuit of his goal to sit on the Iron Throne with Sansa Stark by his side (and in his bed definitely). Sansa is reasonably repelled by this, but I think that as she knows Littlefinger’s desire she can now manipulate him. After all that is how Petr Baelish, owner of brothels came to be where he is. He learns peoples desires and satisfies them if they meet his ends. A nice bit of symmetry if Sansa turns this trick against the trickster.

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Lady Mormont has another moment! Ah, this fierce and intelligent adolescent is adept at scene stealing, and she makes a pivotal speech amongst the lords of the North gathered in Winterfell that results in Jon Snow being proclaimed King in the North. “Hey may be a bastard, but he has Ned Stark’s blood in his veins!” We, no. As was finally confirmed when Brandon completes his flashback to young Ned entering the Tower of Joy to rescue his sister Liana Stark. The dying Liana makes Ned promise to protect her new-born son with Raegar Targaryen (who has just been killed in the battle of the Trident)and as the child opens his dark eyes the scene cuts to the eyes of Jon Snow now, soon to be the King in the North, the White Wolf, the Targaryen.

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How would the North react if they knew? Not terribly well I would imagine but it depends on how and if the information becomes widespread. All witnesses to Raegar and Liana’s relationship are dead, and they only one who knows the truth is Brandon Stark, who is near the Wall, but on the wrong side of it. Getting him to Castle Black and from there to Winterfell will be a central task of Season 7, and I doubt it would happen quickly. There is still much we have to learn about the White Walkers, their vulnerabilities if they have any, and it makes sense that this would be learned through Brandon. To have so much at stake on the shoulders of a paraplegic in the frozen territory of an Ice King and his army of zombies is a fairly good equation for drama.

And what about Daenerys’ marriage prospects in Westeros? She joked that she may never marry (perhaps become the Elizabeth I of the Seven Kingdoms), but she left Daario Naharis in Mereen because a lover would be a liability to her. I am surely not the only one to read a possible Jon Snow – Daenerys Stormborn wedding bell tolling at some point. She already has the allegiance of Dorne and Olenna Tyrell, so an alliance with the North would make victory against Queen Cercei and the House of Lannister a certainty. I am sorry Cersei, but wildfire has nothing on a dragon.

It is rumoured (meaning that it might be official but I haven’t verified it) that Game of Thrones has been renewed for two more seasons, Season 7 having seven episodes, and Season 8 having six. I think the struggle for the Iron Throne will climax next season and the final six instalments will be focussed completely on the War against the King of the White Walkers. Simple, and predictable, but sublimely entertaining. That is how I would summarise the end of Season 6 too.

With that I have shot my bolt as it were. There is more to talk about I am sure (like Arya’s brilliant appearance as the avenger of the Red Wedding in feeding Walder Frey his own children who are chopped up and baked into pie, then slitting the throat of the old buzzard). With ten months to go before the living room is once again filled with the joyous Bam-buh-didi Bam-buh-didi Bam-buh-didi we need not rush to form our opinions and predictions. So my friends wake me up in April 2017.

Decisions

I want to write about decisions; you know, those things that masquerade as badges of freedom and liberty, but sap your energy and leave you unsatisfied and coldly yearning for what might have been. We try to fend off that creeping impenetrable silence of frustrated being with baubles and shouty things that impress and promise so very much, and yet we know deep down that it is all a game of procrastination. It is all we can do to put off the dreaded silence for just long enough to enjoy the pleasure that only temporary life can bestow.

I don’t mean to sound hollow, but decisions are such bullshit! On Friday (NZ time) 66 percent of eligible voters in the UK decided by a margin of 52 percent to 48 percent to tear Britain out of the European Union. So about a quarter of British voters — with a median age of 73 — have set the future of Europe ablaze. This is not hyperbole. The economic fallout has already begun with the Pound dropping to a record low, and the UK credit rating being downgraded. These are immediate blows, and being as economically illiterate as I am I cannot predict what will happen next in that vein. Fortunately the volume of media analysis about the entire sorry mess is enough to drown a continent…

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Really Britain, was that a wise decision?  Scotland is now halfway out the door, there are rumblings in Northern Ireland, the British territory of Gibraltar is skittish (its population of 30k voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and Spanish claims of sovereignty over it might strike a louder tone now). When does the very name United Kingdom become a farce? When it is just England, Wales and the Falklands? If that was in the minds of voters when they crowded into booths that might be different, it would be an informed choice. But I think inaccurate portrayals of immigration were dancing around the lobes of the voters.

 

I looked forward to writing a political obituary for David Cameron, but not like this. Last year I predicted he would last two to three years at the most before Boris Johnson rolled him. I was being generous in my  forecast though I couldn’t know it at the time. It is small comfort now to note Boris’ keenness for Winston Churchill, who was first to manage Britain’s decline from global Empire to stodgy Commonwealth. Boris may well be managing the euthanization of the UK. Some legacy eh what?

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Boris Johnson is the real winner. Cameron’s days as PM are numbered.

Me Before You (spoilers)

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This is a controversial film featuring the Mother of Dragons herself Emelia Clarke, and er, the guy who was Fennick in the Hunger Games movies. Not a very uplifting story. A rich British white guy who has everything is struck by a motorcycle and becomes a quadriplegic. He can move his face and his thumb and is miserable. I totally feel him, that really sucks. But he is still extremely rich, with parents who love him and who are present, and who enlist the services of Emelia Clarke — who is a chatty, small town English girl with a garishly cute fashion sense*  and a sweetness that would be trite if it wasn’t so endearing — to cheer him up. No, not quite in a sleazy way, but in a friendly ‘this is a helper not a caregiver’ way.

She gets to know him after a while and eventually learns that he plans to go to Switzerland to be euthanized. Ah ha, now you see the connection between this and Brexit, a poor decision that means misery to all who have to live with it. Finnick  — I forget his name in Me Before You, but am too disgusted with him to take two seconds to look it up — decides that his life as a quadriplegic is too reduced from the life he lived as a rich young playboy that he doesn’t want to continue. I don’t quite fault the film for this, loss is not something everyone can deal with, but I do think the film insults quadriplegics. That is regrettable, because a spinal cord injury is not a terminal illness, and quality of life is not measured by being able to walk. I don’t think anyone can argue with me on that point.

The factor that struck with me again and again through the film concerned money. Disabilities are very expensive, and in the film the issue is avoided by making the guy extremely rich. But most people don’t have the resources to convince a loved one not to die by taking them on a private jet to a tropical paradise. Working in the disability sector as I do I have seen how expensive it is to bring down the barriers and obstacles and enable someone to live a rewarding life, and how worthwhile the effort and expense is. Perhaps the rich guy could afford to simply give up, while the rest of us strive and work as best we can.

That brings me to the final point I want to make on the topic of decisions, which concerns euthanasia. At the moment the Health Select Committee is preparing to review submissions on Marian Street’s Medically Assisted Dying petition, and to hear oral submissions later in the year. This will have implications for the Private Members bill that David Seymour has in the ballot, or perhaps an entirely new bill in the next few years. Like it or not the debate will not disappear. My own thoughts get more complicated with every day, and I don’t have a clear answer as to whether it should be legal or not. I do hope that the selfishness of Me Before You is not replicated by people with disabilities here in New Zealand. Certainly, if I was being kissed by Emelia Clarke on a beach in Hawaii, well, consider the ‘impenetrable silence of frustrated being’ well forgotten.

 

 

*I am not being sexist pointing that out, it is actually a very important part of her character.

Staring down the barrel

When taking photos in public of the public there is the occasional moment when a subject (or just somebody in the frame) subverts the camera’s eye and stares back into it. In such moments the curtain slips revealing the wizened voyeur, exposing the thief of this narrow slice of time.

Photos from Manhattan NY, Washington DC and Houston Texas  (May-June 2016).

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