Friday, September 8, 2017

Great war movies, part I

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!

The Telegraph has a list of the "30 best war movies". It might surprise you that I don't agree with a lot of it. To show you why, I'll list the Telegraph's list and comment on it. This is the first half. If you think I missed any movie or disagree with my list, please share in the comments! 

Monday, August 28, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 7 - The Wolf and the Dragon (Grudges)

Old grudges can carry you a long way. Sometimes, they fuel an inner fire that keeps you going, without which you would have long stopped caring and simply laid to rest or, you know, do something useful with your life. Other times, they’re roadblocks, things you have to carefully navigate around else you break your foot and stumble over them. Ask the Brackens and the Blackwoods if you don’t believe me. There’s the kind of grudges that take you down like millstones around your necks, yet you can’t let go. And finally, triumphantly, there’s the kind of grudges you overcome, to actually do something useful, like rescuing the world. This episode showcases something of everything.

Monday, August 21, 2017

A happy, sedated alternative

This post comes out of a new series of writing I do on ASOIAF meta and other topics of popular culture over at the Patreon of the Boiled Leather Audio Hour. If you like to read stuff like this, chime in just 1$ and you get access to everything I write. If you throw in 2$, you even get access to mini-podcasts I'm doing with Sean T. Collins answering questions by listeners of the podcast. Give the Patreon a look!

Rereading "A Storm of Swords" in preparation for our reread podcast, I couldn't help but ruminate on the alternate history if Sansa hadn't told Dontos about the Tyrell conspiracy of marrying her off to Willas. Imagine this had happened for a moment.

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 6 - Beyond the Wall (Death)

It doesn’t matter whether we understand the fight, Beric informs Jon while their walking through the desolate hellscape beyond the Wall that gives the episode its title, but rather if you’re ready to go into it like a good soldier. What would have sounded like a second-class villain dialogue had it come from any adherent to the Game of Thrones, Beric is way past that point. The enemy, “the first and the last”, is death. You can never win in the end, but you need to fight and help everyone along the way, because else, there’s no life. Jon finds common ground with the firesword-wielding maniac there, being reminded of his Night’s Watch vows seven seasons back. Somewhere, in a forgotten corner of the writer’s room, Areo Hotah recites “simple vows for simple men”. But it works, and the conflict between life and death is the narrative glue holding the episode together, at least in the not-Winterfell parts.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 5 – Eastwatch (Information)

A ruler needs to have information, that much is plain. Getting it can sometimes be difficult and involve a lot of nifty spywork. Sometimes, it can simply fall into your lap. Sometimes, information is a pure plus in your ledger, sometimes a double-edged sword, and sometimes it can stand in the way. There are a lot of examples for all of this in this episode.

For the first time since his arrival at Castle Black, Bran is using the superior means of information he has at hand. With a swarm of ravens, he scouts the army of the White Walkers that seems to be within striking distance of the Wall. He immediately tells the maester to share this information with the whole of the realm. It will need to be seen, however, what will be done with this information.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 4 - The Spoils of War (Payoffs)

Episodes in which Daenerys can say “Dracarys” and a few hundred thousands dollars go off in CGI smoke are kind of low hanging fruit for the show. Payoffs are always more exciting than buildups. But of course, it takes a lot to get a payoff right, so this should be viewed against the backdrop that we’re talking about one of the best-made series on TV right now. And boy, does this episode shine! I already hinted last week that the clumsy setup would be eclipsed by the payoff built on it, and it’s true. This episode is a rollercoaster of payoffs, and of withheld payoffs.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 3 - The Queen's Justice (Consequences)

I have to say, I’m dismayed. The episode was a stellar piece of television, full of big moments and masterfully crafted. The dialogue was strong throughout, at times even stellar. The actors delivered them with accustomed skill, and Lena Heady owned this episode with some of the best acting on the whole show. The technical aspects, as always, were superb. Individually, there was not one segment that didn’t provide a nice climax, that didn’t have a clear high. If only they’d combined into a coherent whole.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews: Episode 2: Stormborn (Meetings and Reunions)

The second episode of season 7 is an episode of meetings and reunions. Some of them are happier than others, as lies in the nature of things, and they are all fraught with tension, even when there is hope to be had.

On Dragonstone, the great war meeting is underway. Olenna Tyrell, now the Matriarch of her house officially and not just behind the scenes, is mobilizing her troops, but her bannermen prove restless. Ellaria Sand brought her daughters and the promise of the armies of Dorne to the island. Varys brings his own intellect, and the Greyjoys some sorely needed fleets.

However, the alliance is on edge. Daenerys doesn’t know if she can trust Varys, who has betrayed two kings for a shadowy agenda of his own, and is only won over when he takes a passionate plea for the people, and swears to Dany not to murder her without giving her a chance at reform, which is a big commitment coming from Varys. The Dragon Queen also visibly asserts her independence from her councilors, even of such distinguished ones as Tyrion.

This makes Olenna’s warning and advice a bit superfluous and cryptic: what exactly does she mean by “be a dragon”? It sounds an awful lot like something a Trump advisor would say, and not exactly like sane advice, an uncomfortable callback to Sansa’s adoration of Cersei in the first episode. In its usual way, the show sells it with great committed actors, great lighting and camerawork and stunning visuals, and yet, it leaves me queasy. What exactly is the lesson here that the show seems to give about politics? I sincerely hope this will become clearer as the season progresses.

The battle plan follows the usual logic the show has since deployed for military maneuvers, which is to mean none at all. At this point in its progression, one has to simply accept this. I have to say, the idea that the Dornish and the Ironborn are “the Westerosi” is funny, but apt considering the coalition Dany brought to Westeros.

There are still meetings to be had on Dragonstone, though, because the Lady Melisandre arrives, whipping the command of her native High Valyrian as an instant cudgel to convince Dany that she knows things, informing her that she is the “Prince Who Was Promised”, while being honest enough that she’s not exactly sure what this does mean other than she’s important. It’s a bit of a moot point to make given the dragon-y nature of Dany’s kingship, but her wartime coalition is now largely in place.

However, a meeting in King’s Landing is a bit out of the question, because Dany does not intend on bringing Fire and Blood to the people (taking a cue from Tyrion here, who borrows her old daddy’s line of being a “king of ashes” to great effect) and so needs to use more time-consuming manners of warfare. There, in turn, require more allies. And so Tyrion can meet with his old pal Jon Snow and his ex-wife Sansa, albeit it only as pen-pals at the moment, inviting Jon to Dragonstone and not making too big a fuzz of the whole “bending the knee”-thing that Dany demands. I’m sure that will be absolutely no point of contention going forward.

However, the strategy Tyrion pushed Dany into accepting may backfire spectacularly. While Yara and Theon set sail to ferry the Dornish troops over to King’s Landing, Euron rudely interrupts the sexy-time Yara enjoys with Ellaria and smashed the whole fleet, killing the Sand Snakes and taking Ellaria and Yara in the process. Theon, confronted by his uncle, is enveloped by another old acquittance of his: the PSD given to him by Ramsay comes back with a vengeance, leading him to abandon his sister instead of reciprocating on her rescue attempt, and joining the dead and the wreckage that Euron left behind. With one stroke, Dany’s alliance has lost two of its three members. It may be time for more drastic measures.

One of these might be waiting in the North, where Jon is urged to stay instead of go to Dragonstone, in turns by the memory of old Aerys’ treachery towards Rickard Stark and in turns by the desire to have the king here to take matters in hand. Jon is having none of it, leaving the North to Sansa and departing with his anthropomorphic good sense, Davos. Judging from Littlefinger’s smile, who took up his old hobby of needlessly antagonizing Starks by telling them that, yes, he really wants to fuck Catelyn and Sansa, this is not a stable situation.

The last reunions of the episode are reserved for Arya. She consciously seeks out her old buddy Hot Pie, who is baking the best bread in Westeros, who tells her that Jon is King in the North now. The spark of humanity that she gained by breaking bread (and hare) with the Lannister soldiers in the last episode grips her in this emotional, tear-jerking revelation, as she – equally consciously – either delays or entirely absconds her reunion with Cersei to instead seek the one that matters. Little does she know that Jon will not be there, but at least, Sansa will be.

In Oldtown, Samwell Tarly meets Ser Jorah Mormont, linking his story with Daenerys’ as well as Jorah’s with the Night’s Watch’s tale. The meeting leads Sam to instinctively take high risks to help out the son of his former Lord Commander. We will see if any good comes out of it.

Before Arya can reach the North, though, another rather unexpected reunion happens. Nymeria and her wolf-pack meet her, but they don’t join. It’s not clear why. But the wolves also don’t kill Arya, they simply leave. It is as if the two of them had recognized the change they went through. Is this a departure forever, or is it temporary, until they find each other again? It’s left ambiguous.

Game of Thrones Season 7 Reviews - Episode 1: Dragonstone (Reckonings)

Winter has come for house Frey, Arya informs the sole survivor of said house, Lord Walder’s last plaything and girl-wife, whom she spared. And indeed it has. Since the beginning of season 4, the Freys have been largely removed from the center of events, but they have never been far on anyone’s mind. A reckoning was long in coming, and since Lady Stoneheart never made it to the screen, merging her role with doe-eyed Arya was a logical step that is paying quick dividends. Unlike the Nemesis from the books, Arya is still capable of pulling back from the abyss of blind vengeance, as evidenced when she meets a group of Lannister soldiers that tries to adhere to the norms and ideals in their own way, “keeping the peace”, as it was, and sharing the little they have with a stranger. It takes a while until Arya accepts the hare-formed bread and salt of the soldiers, but when she does, a small existential battle is won.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Ranking the Marvel movies

Vox has ranked all the Marvel movies, and since I don't agree, I want to do my own ranking. This will be a quick one.

1. The Avengers
About as close to perfection as you can come with an ensemble action movie.
2. Captain America: The Winter Soldier
I just love this movie and I think it's crisp and brillant in what it does.
3. Captain America: Civil War
That one was a blast, too. Really, the top three spots could be arranged in any order and I'll sign on.
4. Iron Man
Really good first and second acts, but the third act struggles because the villain doesn't connect at all and the final fight is...meh.
5. Guardians of the Galaxy 2
Ok, now I'm cheating, haven't seen this one yet, so I'll take Vox at their word.
6. Avengers 2: Age of Ultron
Better than its reputation, this movie really wins out because of the relentless focus on the human cost and ethical issues.
7. Guardians of the Galaxy
This movie was a fun-fest from start to finish.
8. Iron Man 3
I like the Manadrin-reveal more than many people, and the middle part of the movie is exceptionally strong. The finale suffers, once again.
9. Captain America: First Avenger
Once again, strong first and second act, but villain and third act are real doozies and the supporting cast is dropped like a hot potato.
10. Thor
The scenes in Asgard are great, but the stuff in the little town in the desert is too corny for my tastes and and the giant robot thing is just yawn-inducing.

11. The Incredible Hulk
This movie also suffers from a bland end-game baddie. As long as the guy is a soldier, he's interesting enough, but the monster fight doesn't catch on at all, and the casting is off as well, with little chemistry between the main leads.
12. Iron Man 2
Yeah, well, that's one a structural mess. Marvel's first baby-steps at building the MCU, and it shows.
13. Thor 2
This is also all over the place, and they didn't seem to have known what to do with the characters other than "we need a second Thor with Loki in it".
14. Ant-Man
The first Marvel movie to really leave me cold. Not a bad movie, but I was bored.
15. Doctor Strange
The first Marvel movie I actually disliked. I found the writing atrocious, the story forced, and the tricks didn't sell me enough on the small screen to overlook all these issues.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Rebels Season 3 finale review

I suck at my job.
So, a few thoughts on the Star Wars Rebels Season 3 finale (spoilers, duh). In my mind, it was very splashy, but also a bit of a mess. The two biggest problems were Sabine and Thrawn. Both don't really work in this episode. Sabine first. Her arc, while consistent, saw her totally sidelined in the latter part of the season, which makes bringing her back a bit difficult, especially without any foreshadowing of this move. Thus, when with great sacrifices the Ghost made contact, I wasn't engaged.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

Boiled Leather Audio Hour #61

The Boiled Leather Children’s Hour

BLAH is for the children! In this episode, Sean and Stefan take a look at two issues uniquely relevant to the younger characters of A Song of Ice and Fire: bullying and education. Inspired by our recent re-reads of A Game of Thrones, our conversation touches on the pervasiveness of verbal and physical bullying, the degree to which it is or isn’t encouraged by adults, and how the ideas passed on to children by their parents and teachers through the official education system (for nobles, anyway) impact those receiving them. It’s a topic close to our hearts, and to our understanding of what the whole series is really about. Enjoy!


And remember, if you like what you hear, subscribe to our Patreon to hear more of it via our subscriber-exclusive Boiled Leather Audio Moment mini-podcast!
Additional links:

BLAH 09: Our episode on violence against children.
BLAH 11: Our episode on sexualized violence and violence against women (with Alyssa Rosenberg).
The latest BLAM mini-episode (click to subscribe).
Our Patreon page at
Our PayPal donation page (also accessible via
The Kickstarter for Sean’s new book, MIRROR MIRROR II.
Our iTunes page.
Previous episodes.
Podcast RSS feed.
Sean’s blog.
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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Review: The Geeknson Henry table

The table in all its glory in my room
You can buy things that are necessities. You can buy things that make your live comfortable. And you can buy absolute luxury items. This review is about the latter category. As you may know, I'm an avid boardgamer and also a sucker for cool consumer articles, so when I heard that there were tables made specifically for boardgaming, my interest was peaded. These things have a vault in which you play that you can over up with boards, so you can cover the game to eat, for example, or simply for storage until nex gaming season. They also have a ton of other extras. 

Table with the boards removed. You can see the rim.
They're also pretty expensive, so I started saving up, you know, just in case. Last year I started shopping around in earnest to find a manufacturer I wanted to trust with the job. While I first heard about these monsters from Geekchic, their location in the US basically ruled them out, so I was settled with the two European manufacturers (there are also some others producing simpler and cheaper versions, but only two getting you want I will talk about): Geeknson (UK) and Rathskellers (Greece). I finally settled for Geeknson, mainly for reasons of price and because I didn't get a good argument on why to spend 1000€ more on Rathskellers. So, on to it: what does this thing do? And does it work? 

The case against killing player characters

It's kind of a truism that practically every gamesession of roleplaying involves combat at one point or another. That combat has, via reduction of health points and the suffering of wounds, the general possibility of death for everyone involved. Usually, a lot of NPC are getting killed, but the rules do allow for the same fate to befall the player characters as well. 93,6% of roleplayers think this is a good idea, according to a study I totally didn't make up right now. 
And it makes kind of intuitive sense. The threat of dying infuses suspense into the combat, it sharpens the senses, it gives the exhilarating feeling of having escaped death in the last possible moment. For gamemasters as well as players, it also offers a kind of insurance against dumb player actions. You insist on summersaulting that Goblin? Congratulations. He stabs you. Critical Hit. And you had a botch trying to acrobatically land, suffering damage, ooooh, crit. You're dead. Drama! After all, doesn't combat derive its suspense from the danger of stuff like this happening? 

Not at all.