I Don’t Fancy Jon’s Chances in Game of Thrones Season 8

Folk are understandably concerned about who will make it through Game of Thrones’ next season. It’s the final series, for one thing; with six episodes to go and a White Walker invasion imminent, the action will come thick and fast. Equally, the actor who plays Jaime Lannister has suggested that a few main characters are bound to turn into blue-eyed zombies before we’re through.

However, I’m most worried about Jon.

Spoilers for Game of Thrones follow. Don’t look if you’re not caught up yet, you daftie!

Can anyone face this band of nasties and make it out alive? Concept art by Karakter Design Studio

Although that may seem odd considering the suit of story armour he’s been swaddled in for the last two seasons (even death couldn’t keep him down), I’m not sure we should assume his survival just yet. If anything, I’m worried that he’s got a bullseye stapled to his fur-clad back for precisely that reason. To begin with, his arc fits all too neatly into the ‘noble sacrifice’ mould. Jon was resurrected so he could complete some unknown purpose, and this is presumably battling the Night King. The pair have locked eyes on multiple occasions in a ‘we’re arch-nemeses now’ sort of way, so both going out in combat with one another would be a logical end for their arc. They’re too dangerous for either to survive a direct clash, especially if Jon is Azor Ahai (the prophesised saviour who’s destined to battle White Walkers) as many suspect.

Snow’s role as a reborn hero of myth would therefore suit the cliché well; dying in the process of saving the day is a classic trope. Countless genre-stories have mined this idea, and examples range from The Matrix to Mass Effect. Because of his Jon’s honourable, self-sacrificing personality, it’s hard not to see this happening to him as well. It’d be in keeping with Game of Thrones’ bittersweet air, too. The world is saved… but its greatest hero is gone.

I’d be happy if I was wrong, of course; it’d be nice to see someone we’re rooting for make it out alive. I just don’t see it being Jon.


The Defenders’ Biggest Problem? The Hand

I’d like to return the last 12 months, please; I think they’re faulty. Politics have been detonated in favour of unpredictable scandal, beloved stars were taken too soon, and – on a much less significant note – Netflix’s spotless Marvel run is blemished with misfires. Iron Fist wasn’t exactly flavour of the month, for instance. Although it’s a fun ride with many saving graces (including Jessica Henwick’s Colleen Wing), it didn’t live up to the standard Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and Luke Cage set. Similarly, pacing in The Defenders left many scratching their head. It found its feet before the finale, but there’s no escaping the fact that it took two or three episodes for the cast to even meet.

I’m not sure the Hand were the foes these heroes deserved – concept art by Joe Quesada

It also pivoted away from some of Daredevil’s more interesting ideas. Because of this, I hope we’ve not seen the last of the Hand; there’s so much more that can be done with them.

Spoilers for The Defenders follow, so don’t read any more if you haven’t seen it – you crazy person, you.

Back when the Devil of Hell’s Kitchen pranced around in a bandana, the Hand were an enigmatic force we barely understood. Horrific taskmasters who blinded their servants to ensure compliance, they dabbled in supernatural goings-on that were never explained. What on earth was that little boy in the shipping crate? The showrunners wisely kept this a secret.

As such, revealing their leaders to be embittered K’un-Lun students who just want to go home is underwhelming. The reveal makes perfect sense and creates synergy with Iron Fist, but it always felt as if there was something more than human about the creepy (yet strangely likeable) Madam Gao. Something demonic, perhaps; she can punch grown men across the room, disappear at will, and move things with her mind. Those aren’t tricks you learn from monks in a martial-arts dojo.

Accordingly, leaving Gao with such a pedestrian backstory reduces her mystique. She’s abruptly less scary.

Equally, we never saw a resolution for that carriage of sand Daredevil stumbled across in his second season. This sent goose-bumps up my arms; in the comics, the Hand’s soldiers are undead ninjas who collapse into ash when destroyed. How chilling would it be for our heroes to see dust coalescing into demon-kin around them? Except that element was promptly forgotten for The Defenders in favour of normal grunts who were bizarrely averse to guns, so I hope we see it again in his third outing.

Finally, can we please do something with the man Stick reported to after his first appearance (the scarred one who seemed to lead the Chaste)? He’s disappeared into a gaping plot-hole, much like any explanation as to what a Black Sky is. We’re still none the wiser on that latter point despite The Defenders showering us in bluster about how they’re prophesised to lead the Hand to victory. It initially seemed like they were powerful vessels for a supernatural presence, but then we learned that they were just great at kung-fu. Or something. Fingers crossed we get a solid and more satisfying answer before long.

You see, there’s still so much that can be done with the Hand; pushing them off the table after The Defenders finale would therefore be a waste. Seriously, ask anyone who’s read a comic featuring them. Here’s hoping we go back to their creepy, inexplicable air from the first season Daredevil.

Are the Sinister Six Out There in Spider-Man: Homecoming? Nah, Probs Not

Please excuse me – I’m still quietly screaming over Spider-Man: Homecoming. Funny, heartfelt, and true to the character in a way the other movies didn’t quite manage, it was both familiar and deeply novel. What a cracker of a film.

Naturally, the internet’s already getting over-excited about what its sequel might feature.

Watch out! Spoilers for Spider-Man: Homecoming follow. Duck and run for cover if you’ve not seen it yet.

Is Spidey’s rogue’s gallery about to get more… Sinister? Concept art by Ryan Meinerding

The most popular theory is based on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it quote from the mid-credits sting. After winding up in prison for his high-flying antics, the Vulture is approached by petty crook Mac Gargan (a small-timer that Spider-Man stopped in the ferry scene) and is pressured to reveal the webhead’s identity. According to Gargan, there are some ‘interested parties’ who’d like to get their revenge on the teen superhero. Cue an evil get-together for the next film.

Many have assumed that this refers to the Sinister Six, a classic team of villains who all want Spidey dead. It’d be an intimidating line-up for any cape-wearing do-gooder, never mind one who’s only 15; although their roster changes on a regular basis, the Sinister Six often count Doctor Octopus, Electro (last portrayed by Jamie Foxx), the Vulture, and Green Goblin amongst their number. The idea is clearly on rightsholder Sony’s mind, too. Prior to the current deal that allows Spider-Man to appear in MCU movies, it was a concept the Amazing Spider-Man series was setting up for a solo film. As such, some think that these baddies must have already crossed paths with the new version of Spidey.

I call bull on that one, however. Firstly, I’m not sure Marvel would want to repeat villains that have been handled before in other incarnations. We’ve seen three different Green Goblins in the last twelve years, for example.

It’s also implied in Captain America: Civil War that Peter’s never fought other superpowered people before – this is his first time. While that can be easily reversed, the period after his battle with Cap can’t; a big feature of Homecoming is Iron Man stopping him from fighting anything other than street muggings and theft. Because of this, the goons Mac Gargan is referring to are probably small-fry gang members or Spider-Man’s less powerful foes (Mysterio is just a bloke with clever gadgets, for instance). The theory is suddenly a bit less exciting. Look out, it’s the Big Wheel! Yes, they are exactly as stupid as they sound.

Not that this makes Gargan’s plan any less dangerous, of course; he’s well known in the comics as Scorpion, an insane killer with a suit designed specifically to take down the wallcrawler. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Vulture’s tech expert (the Tinkerer) has something to do with that.

What’s more, he could always recruit some extra muscle if needed. Kraven the Hunter is another villain who wants the ultimate kill – Spider-Man – and Hugh Jackman was tweeting something about being ‘partners’ with Disney recently… Just sayin’.

What the Hell Happened to Diana Between Wonder Woman and BvS?

Mystery doesn’t do us any harm. If anything, it’s the kind of trick that can catapult a story from ‘good’ to the heady heights of great. Audiences remain invested through speculation, and it’s a well-established Fact that things are cooler when you’re connecting the dots. Darth Vader lost some of his mystique after we heard him grumble about sand, for instance. However, Wonder Woman’s different.

WARNING – very mild spoilers for Wonder Woman and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice follow. Abandon ye all hope if you haven’t seen them, etc.

I’m not sure Wonder Woman is done with war just yet – concept art revealed by Entertainment Weekly

In spite of a painful coming-of-age and the loss of Steve Trevor, the movie ends on a fist-pumping high after Diana overcomes David Thewlis’ moustache. Inspired by what she’s learned, she resolves to protect humanity in the name of love. Then we fast-forward a few decades to Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and she’s decided it’s not worth the effort after all (soz, humanity). Having gone into hiding where she can lament our failings and listen to Evanescence or something, it’s the polar-opposite of her heartfelt determination post-WWI. What the hell happened? All we know is that she lived through a ‘century of horrors’, implying that she was involved in some capacity. It’s a weighty question neither film is willing to answer.

Although it’s fun to leave some backstory to the imagination, this arc in particular is worth exploring; not only is it a complete u-turn of Diana’s outlook, it feels as if we’re missing the central chapter of a trilogy (especially if it involves character development so central to the hero’s MO). I may be overcomplicating matters, of course – perhaps Wonder Woman’s resolve was shattered by the beginning of WWII mere decades later, not to mention other recent conflicts – but it seems like we’re missing something.

Hopefully we’ll be filled in during Wonder Woman 2, a movie rumoured to be set in the 1980s, but I’ve got my fingers crossed that it goes even further back in time. Specifically, I’d love for DC to tackle the Justice Society in one form or another. The premier superhero team pre-Justice League, it was comprised of early versions of characters we’ve come to know so well; for instance, a 1940s Flash and cape-wearing Green Lantern (whose weakness was wood, amusingly) were both on the roster. They’re a fascinating group. Formed by the President of the United States to combat the Nazi threat and protect the American home front, this band of ‘Mystery Men’ was involved in at least one undercover government op during WWII. As Wonder Woman later became a member of the Justice Society, perhaps her sequel could take inspiration from this and send the team on a secret mission against the Nazis that, naturally, goes wrong. This would explain why she hangs up the sword and lasso until BvS. It’s the kind of story that writes itself.

I’m not sure how likely this is considering the rumours about Wonder Woman 2’s setting, but a man can dream. It’s a gap in the tale well worth plugging, so I hope we get to see the missing piece of her story before long.

Nebula’s a Better Fit Than Gamora for Guardians of the Galaxy – Come At Me, Bro

As the torrent of superhero movies gushing from Hollywood can attest, comics are a treasure-trove of inspiration to draw from. With hundreds of characters and a half-century of storylines to choose between, this isn’t a well in danger of drying up soon (whether that’s a good thing or not is rather more complicated). However, they can also clip a film’s wings. Despite their whimsical brilliance – and I’ll hear nothing else, dammit – Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 and its predecessor suffer from this a little thanks to resident badass Gamora.

Sibling rivalry. Concept art by Andy Park

She often feels like a third wheel, for instance; there’s a whiff of her only being there to kick-start the adventure and/or because she’s a corner-stone of the comic iteration. Although Gamora’s vital in saving the day, she often seems to be facilitating the plot of others rather than following her own arc. She’s arguably the team’s least-developed member because of this; where Star-Lord learns to let others into his life, she doesn’t really change from beginning to end. While Drax and Rocket must move on from their past by accepting a new family, Gamora’s moment of growth – turning on her adoptive father and rediscovering morality after all she’s done – happens before the story gets started. As a result, I wonder whether her vicious sister Nebula wouldn’t have been a better fit for this team. There’s so much potential for growth with the latter.

Menacing, tragic, and unhinged, she’s arguably more compelling than her straight-laced counterpart. Gamora always earned daddy’s praise for a job well-murdered, so Nebula was ripped apart and replaced with robotic bits to make her the former’s ‘equal’. That’s a significant knock to your ego. Moreover, being kidnapped and turned into Thanos’s right-hand killer has left Nebula a broken husk who refuses to let herself feel lest it hurt her. In comparison, Gamora doesn’t seem too weighed down by the guilt of what she’s done. While she’s trying to make up for it by stopping the film’s villain, it leads to a predictable (if acerbic) stoicism. I’m not sure she has a huge amount of depth. Meanwhile, Nebula is emotionally volatile and ready to blow. She’s every bit the killer we’re told Gamora is… yet rarely get a sense of. That redemptive path Nebula’s following is ripe for narrative conflict. I’m not not sure Gamora’s is.

Simply put, it feels like Nebula would have made for a more nuanced Guardian than Gamora (all the same, Zoe Saldana’s great in the role and the part is well-written… even if it leaves me cold). She’s a damaged young woman desperately trying to prove her worth, and that’s a hotbed of stories waiting to happen.

As such, I’m glad she got plenty of screen-time in the sequel. More for Avengers: Infinity War, please!

Alien: Covenant is a Reminder that Space Might Be Pretty Damn HORRIBLE

Space is a damn scary place to be, at least according to movies like Alien: Covenant. If you’re not impregnated by facehuggers that vomit eggs down your throat, you’ll be eviscerated by xenomorphs who rip people apart for fun. It implies something dark, primal and aggressive lying in wait amongst the stars, and the idea of going to space is suddenly made 100% less appealing. It’s a horror film, naturally, but it does raise the possibility that our universe won’t be easily conquered.

If we find life out there among the stars, we might get more than we bargained for – concept art by Valentin Petrov

New planets hide unknown threats, and some might be microscopic; it stands to reason that an alien world would carry alien bacteria if there really is life out there, and this is a threat our bodies aren’t ready for. While that isn’t nearly so horrific as a monster crawling its way out of your chest, the result wouldn’t be all that different – you’ll still die in a lot of pain and indignity.

Our immune systems are unprepared for such viruses, and they’d be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before. Consider the death-toll when conquistadors marched into South America: local Aztecs were unfamiliar with the likes of European smallpox, and their immune systems crumbled beneath the strain. It’s easy to see how extra-terrestrial germs or pathogens could have a similar effect on us (if they existed, anyway).

Accordingly, spores like those unleashed in Covenant aren’t unrealistic… even if what follows isn’t. The image of someone falling desperately ill for reasons unknown hits close to home. Cheerful, right?

We may not have to fend off inhuman creatures when we start colonising the stars, but our problems aren’t over nonetheless. We’d probably be better off with the xenomorphs: at least you can see them coming.

Beauty and the Beast Shows That Reality is, Like, Overrated

By ‘eck, I wasn’t a fan of outlandish RPG settings when I were a young(er) lad. The likes of Morrowind – complete with crazy mushroom infestations and giant fleas – were all well and good, but I preferred more down-to-earth landscapes that didn’t stretch suspension of disbelief quite so much. Yes, I appreciate the hypocrisy of this when I’d spend most of the time spamming fireballs out of my hands.

Look at the sparkles. LOOK AT THEM (concept art for Beauty and the Beast by Karl Simon)

Anyway. It wasn’t until I heard a 15 year-old complaining about the same thing that I realised how much of a 180 I’d done. These days I’m less interested in realism: an immersive, enjoyable experience is far more important to me (not that the two are mutually exclusive, of course). There’s a lot to be said for sheer wonder, and a project that really epitomised that recently was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast remake.

Musical numbers aside, the screen burst with a colour and vitality that you rarely see in cinema now. Overrun with a blush of green and warm orange sunsets, the contrast was amped up until it popped in a loud, primary-coloured firework. The cottages in Belle’s village were also brilliantly wonky, leaning at awkward angles as if they’d been plucked directly from the fairy tales that inspired this story. It was a place bursting with magic and joy, and that’s exactly the kind of place I’d want to hang out in. As with The Lord of the Ring’s Hobbiton, you’d have to drag me away by my ear.

The same could be said of Themyscira, Wonder Woman’s Mediterranean paradise. A scattering of romantic Grecian architecture that blossomed up the side of wooded mountains, it was full of hidden corners and powerful artefacts atop thundering waterfalls. This contrasted fantastically with the dingy reality of WWI. It made Diana’s home a place I’d book flights to without thinking, too. That’s a notable departure from Batman v Superman’s landscapes: they were a hodgepodge of miserable urban jungles that can be best described as ‘damn grey’.

In short, it’s the kind of approach you can only get in fantasy. I’m glad I’ve broadened my horizons enough to see it. While realistic and dour settings are grand, we don’t always champion pure delight as much anymore.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 is the Best MCU Movie (Drops Mic)

I’ve recently been smacked around the head by an epiphany. After seeing Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 and squeeing like a squeezy dog-toy, I now understand what everyone’s banging on about when they say that superhero movies should be fun. Although I’ve got a lot of time for grittier versions (a la Man of Steel or Logan), a film that goes for your sense of humour is arguably more… enjoyable? Is that the word I’m looking for? Anyway, you leave the cinema content that all is well with the world and practically bouncing along the pavement. You also get many, many quotable memes out of it. As such, I’d peg it as the best movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe since the original. Fight me.

Something good, something bad… a bit of both? Concept art by Andy Park

This is thanks to its refusal to take things too seriously. Volume 2 is wonderfully irreverent, poking fun at itself while bringing back 80s nostalgia with a raised middle-finger. The film isn’t afraid to get weird either – and I mean properly weird. When it’s not using daft locations from the comics (including a living planet, of all things), it’s diving into well-worn tropes that are given a self-deprecating twist. There’s the obligatory ‘follow your heart’/realisation-of-great-power moment that’s shunted off kilter by a certain videogame character, and this is preceded by a ridiculous father-son game of catch mid-way through the story. Guardians knows that it’s silly, so everything’s very tongue-in-cheek. I suppose this is only fair when you’ve got a film starring sentient trees and a talking racoon.

Another bullseye is its strong character-development, of course. Karen Gillen’s Nebula benefits from this in particular, as does Michael Rooker’s brilliant Yondu (out-of-context quote of the day: ‘I’m Mary Poppins, y’all’). The main cast’s arcs aren’t quite so strong this time around, but they still get a thumbs-up as well. The only other MCU franchise that can match it in this regard is Captain America, or – and I know I’ll get stick for this – Iron Man.

Basically, Guardians of the Galaxy: Volume 2 hits all the right notes: it’d love nothing more than for you to just enjoy yourself. Seriously, go see it.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Yeah, This is Why the Jedi Need to End

I boot up the internet and Star Wars is everywhere. With Star Wars Celebration 2017 coming to an end last weekend, the aftereffects of the event are still reverberating through the web like an infamous cry of a million souls before they were extinguished by a dirty great space laser. More to the point, everyone’s still recovering from The Last Jedi teaser and Battlefront II’s trailer. Suffice to say, that kind of reveal leaves a lasting impression.

However, one of the biggest takeaways from the event was Luke Skywalker’s claim that the Jedi must end in The Force Awakens’ sequel. As a former beacon of hope for the Jedi order, his disillusionment has caused quite a stir. The obvious question is ‘why’, but a better one should probably be ‘why not?’.

Perhaps it IS time for the Jedi to end – they’ve caused enough trouble. Concept art by Ryan Church

If you stop and think about it, the Jedi have been nothing but trouble. Besides appointing themselves as galactic police who stick their noses where it may not be wanted, they seem to rely on violence more often than diplomacy. Moreover, they bulled their way through the Clone Wars as generals and warriors when that’s precisely the opposite of what they were built for: I thought a Jedi’s lightsaber training is meant to be used in defence of the innocent and as a last resort, not a first response. Aren’t they primarily diplomats and monks?

Then there are all the amusing gaffs they’ve made throughout the original/prequel trilogies. Most egregious of these would be Obi-Wan’s flagrant dickery in lying to Luke’s face about his father. ‘True from a certain point of view’? Shove off, that’s ridiculous. It’s a somewhat limp attempt to justify a retcon and makes Obi-Wan look negligent. Then there’s Qui-Gon Jinn’s hilariously bad attempt at babysitting, where he takes a young child into the heat of battle when he could have left him literally anywhere else. Finally, the books reveal that the prequels’ Jedi temple was built on a super-evil Sith shrine that apparently corrupted them over millennia (it was apparently capped, but would you take that chance?). I mean, come on. I adore these films, but the characters do make some bizarre decisions.

Then there’s an aspect that, in contrast, the prequels handled rather well. The Jedi are essentially a cult: you follow their strict rules or you hit the road. Additionally, these rules can seem needlessly cruel. Take their refusal for Jedi to form attachments, for instance. This has never ended well, as demonstrated by Anakin’s fall and the fact that those same attachments let Luke save the whole damn galaxy.

Most damning of all would be when you read between the lines. As explained by Tor, a reason for Obi-Wan lying to Luke about his father could be that they needed an assassin who’d take out the Emperor’s greatest asset without querying why. Knowing about his head-in-the-clouds demeanour and daydream to be a hero, Kenobi fed him a suitably clichéd story about his father that’d set him on a collision course with Vader, no questions asked. It’s a calculated, manipulative move.

Similarly, Luke was given the surname ‘Skywalker’ and left with his family – surely a giant red flag to Vader – because he could also serve as bait as an added bonus. If Vader found him, Obi-Wan would emerge and take him down.

It’s a fascinating way of looking at the old Jedi order, and it doesn’t paint them in a very good light. As such, I’m not surprised that Luke wants to shut things down now he’s older and wiser.

Mass Effect: Andromeda – Are We Still Hung Up On Mass Effect 3’s Ending?

Sometimes people are just ready to be furious. There were those gunning for Mass Effect: Andromeda ever since it was in early access, and that sense of outrage only increased upon the game’s release. Judging by livid comments and videos documenting myriad glitches, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was an unmitigated car-crash. The user score on aggregate sites like Metacritic peg it at a wince-inducing 4.8 out of 10, for instance.

Yet the critical reception casts doubt over this conclusion. Based on average review scores from numerous outlets, the same site gave Andromeda a respectable 73%. It’s the kind of factoid that makes me ask whether it’s another case of fans with an axe to grind. More specifically, I can’t help wondering if they ever got over the infamous (and polarising) Mass Effect 3 ending.

It’s a bold new world, but some of us aren’t along for the ride – concept art by Ben Lo

That game’s finale caused uproar. Although fans voiced their anger in a way that beggars belief, I do understand some of the frustration that led to such insanity. Mass Effect 3’s continuity was baffling: characters travelled large distances with no explanation as to how they managed it. Moreover, certain events contradicted lore that’d been established in prior instalments. This led to theories about the main character being ‘indoctrinated’, wherein the enemy essentially brainwashes you. It also featured a disappointing end to the culmination of five years’ worth of choices. Indeed, we were left with a one-size-fits-all conclusion that didn’t take your prior adventures into account.

This angst forced Bioware to patch Mass Effect 3 with an alternate ending. While I enjoyed their solution to many of the problems detailed above, I appreciate that the original left a bitter taste in the mouth of many. As such, I suppose their hesitancy over Andromeda is logical even if I don’t agree with their wish to see it crash and burn.

Another critical factor was the climax’s bittersweet nature. This was not a happy conclusion. It was miserable, if anything: our hero probably died, their friends were scattered to the wind and beloved locations went up in flames before the credits rolled. We may have claimed victory, but it was won at a terrible cost. After three games and hundreds of hours spent in their company, I think most would want a more cheerful ending. The fact that we didn’t get it presumably ruffled a lot of feathers, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this contributed to any lingering resentment. Indeed, I still can’t hear the soundtrack to that final cinematic without wanting to wail.

As such, I think this has more to do with Andromeda’s mixed treatment than you’d think. It’s a shame, because I’m a firm believer that it plays host to a great idea: colonising a new galaxy (as is the case in Andromeda) is exactly the clean break Mass Effect needs. Furthermore, it’s a good basis on which to build a fresh series. I just wish some weren’t bringing so much baggage along for the ride.

Check back every Friday for a new blog celebrating the characters, worlds and craft of geeky pop-culture.