Saturday, 30 June 2012

Reading challenge book 10: Play to Kill by P.J. Tracy

P.J. Tracy is the pseudonym for a mother-daughter writing duo
Book 10 in my challenge to read one book (I haven't read before) a fortnight in 2012 is Play to Kill by P.J. Tracy.

Sometimes I love to curl up with a good murder mystery, and if you're looking for a focus on the crime solving with a lack of faffing around, then P.J. Tracy is the way to go. 

P.J. Tracy is the pseudonym for mother and daughter P.J. and Traci Lambrecht, who have produced a series of linked books.

The authors have a knack of stripping down all of the extraneous rubbish you find in many murder mysteries and crime tales, and just getting right to the point.

There are two heinous murders to open the book, before we even get to see the crime solving going on. And even then, we find out that the murders we viewed weren't the first.

While the personal lives of the characters involved in solving crimes are important and inform who they are as investigators, they're not the most important thing in Play to Kill. The crime is. And because that's the case, we somehow manage to find out more about our characters than if we'd spent entire chapters reading about their personal lives.

There are instances where we see interactions between the characters outside of the crime solving set - Magozzi and Rolseth's friendship is a great read, and Magozzi and Grace's interactions are always interesting, since he's in love with her and we don't know quite what she feels for him, but neither of them are sitting around crying endless tears over it all.

The other thing I really liked about Play to Kill was that there was none of the red herring type stuff you find in some murder mysteries, where the reader - and the characters - are constantly being led down the wrong path only to discover a red herring. It was good to read something where there wasn't too much of a wild goose chase, and it seemed more realistic.

In Play to Kill the two groups investigating the series of murders at the centre of the book don't interact much. Monkeewrench stay largely in their mansion running clever computer programmes, while Rolseth and Magozzi spend most of their time in the office with their fellow police detectives or in their car travelling between murder scenes and the police station or occasionally visiting the Monkeewrench offices.

My favourite character is Rolseth, who seems like your typical doughnut eating cop, but is actually fiercely intelligent and loyal, and makes a brilliant support character to Magozzi. Even then, you can't really say Magozzi is the main character here. Although he's been in previous books in this series by Tracy, the writing is such that it's really more like an emsemble than anything else.

There's a brilliant twist at the end, which I didn't see coming, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the murders I'd just spent 300 or so pages reading about.

For me, Play to Kill was the perfect murder mystery. It was to the point, devoid of meaningless interactions and all about the crime, yet still with brilliantly formed characters.

Monday, 25 June 2012

Review: Up at The O2

Looking towards Stratford from Up at The O2.
I'm sitting on a cold, hard bench in a dark room. On screen a video is about to start - it's shaky for a few seconds and then a man comes into focus.

He looks like he's just been caught in a gust of wind, and he starts talking dramatically about a journey he has just undertaken, and which I am about to go on.

Okay, I'm not scaling Everest, and neither is Rupert, the guy in the video. Instead, I'm climbing over the roof of The O2, as part of the entertainment venue's latest venture - Up at The O2.

The experience involves walking on a blue tensile fabric walkway - I would describe it as bouncy plastic - over the roof of The O2. In the centre is a viewing platform, where you can take in views across London in all directions.

But first, there's the safety video starring Rupert (I imagine this is now a bit boring for the instructors, who have probably seen it a hundred times), and an introduction by our guide for the climb, a fresh-faced guy called Adam.

After signing a waiver (eek) the group I'm in is led through to a corridor to pick up our kit. There's an attractive black and blue jumpsuit, hiking boots (it's been raining so Adam recommends we wear their boots instead of our own trainers), and a harness, as well as the equipment we'll be using to hook ourselves up to the walkway's rail.

Once we're all kitted up, it's time for another safety check before we climb the stairs up to the start of walkway, where we practice for a few minutes hooking ourselves up with a carabiner type thing to the rail.

And then we're off. Walking up is simple. You hook the metal thing onto a rail and pull it along with you as you climb, holding on to the handrail if you wish. We go up in stages, stopping every few sections so everyone can catch up.

The climb is pretty easy, although the walkway surface itself takes some getting used to, as it's not often you walk on bouncy surfaces.

It looks like we've reached the top a few times, but there's always more walkway ahead, until finally we're at the viewing platform. It's pretty big - there's a group of 15 already there, and there's still loads of room to move around and get the photographs we want.

The views are stunning, especially since we lucked out with the weather. You can see the Olympic Park - the ArcelorMittal Orbit and Aquatics Centre are clearly visible, with the Stadium tucked in between two skyscrapers in the distance.

A panorama of the view from the viewing platform of Up at The O2 (click to view bigger).
Maritime Greenwich is close by, and you can also see the ExCeL popping up, as well as the Shard (although you can see the Shard from a distance without climbing up the roof of a building), and further out in every direction.

Adam tells us that he spoke to someone who could even see the arch of Wembley on a good day, which is some distance.

Once we've all photographed the view to our heart's content, it's back down, this time on the other side.

The vast majority of the descent is pretty easy going, and at a good angle. But the final section is much steeper, and requires a sideways crab-style walk to get down. That's because the walkway goes right down to the ground, unlike at the start of the journey, where we began on a walkway suspended above the ground.

As we get to the bottom and look back up, there's no sign of the platform, indicating just how high up we climbed.

Up at The O2 is a great experience, although hardcore adventurers may be left wanting. For a novice climber though, it's enough excitement, and the main draw is the views, which will leave anyone impressed.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

Review: Prometheus Awakes at GDIF

The human net in Prometheus Awakes.
Where do I start with the spectacular that was Prometheus Awakes at the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival?

Here's what I want to say (in a high pitched voice really fast): Oh my goodness, it was amazing, I loved it!

But I realise that I'm writing a review, so I should probably be a little less teenage girl, and expand a little more on my views.

The production was put together by disabled-led theatre company Graeae and Spanish company La Fura dels Baus, famous for their outdoor work and puppetry.

Prometheus Awakes started with projections on the Queen's House.
Prometheus Awakes melded the three myths of Prometheus - he created man, he invented fire, his liver was eaten by an eagle and then it regrew every day as a punishment from Zeus - seamlessly into one.

Prometheus awakes.
The production in the grounds of the Royal Museums Greenwich started with a boom and projections on the Queen's House, with the final ones showing the puppet Promethus and spelling out his name in both letters and in sign language.

In the audience our gaze then moved to the right, as the 25ft tall puppet of Promethus was slowly lifted from a lying position into a crane and then lit up. Six volunteers (and the crane) then steered Prometheus through the crowd.

While we were still busy gasping over this stunning spectacle Prometheus came to a stop, and our attention was once again diverted, this time to a bag being hoisted by a crane right over our heads. First glitter came out of the bag onto the crowd and then a woman appeared - the first human.

A trio of dancers on the balcony of Queen's House took our attention, and the first human soon joined them. As Prometheus made his was towards her - going around the back of the crowd - it was time for the fire. Flames leapt up into air before volunteer performers carrying flares walked purposefully through the crowd.

The human censer.
This was all stunning enough, with more projections of the Queen's House of fire and eagles adding to the thrill thrumming through the crowd. Then it was time for another of Graeae's set pieces - the human censer, which rose high above the crowd with performers on it doing daring dancing moves.

Prometheus Awakes also featured a giant hamster wheel of sorts, which rolled back and forth between the crowd, with the performers inside wowing everyone, and then all bursting into a shrill type of shrieking as the tale of Prometheus reached its dark point - Prometheus, in love with the first human, thought he was being rejected by her (I think) and she left the stage.

Moments later she reappeared, climbing up the body of Prometheus to rest at his shoulder and watch the play's stunning finale - a net of humans raised into the air to swing over the crowd to thumping music.

The cheers and clapping as the performers that made up the net danced only grew louder and louder, and the looks of joy on their faces as they took in the reaction of the crowd only fueled more applause.

Prometheus Awakes was a stunning production. It was truly interactive outdoor theatre, with an audience made up of everyone from young children to teenage friends to couples and families and more.

There was no need for barriers and stewards, as the audience moved seamlessly with the performers, knowing instinctively when to move out of the way and where to look - and we almost became a part of the production ourselves.

Graeae and La Fura dels Baus should be applauded for the work they did, as should all the performers, disabled and non-disabled. When I spoke to the play's co-director Amit Sharma, he said he wanted people to leave Prometheus Awakes thinking it was a great production and not thinking about how good it was in relation to it being disabled-led. He has succeeded. I didn't give a thought to whether the performers in front of me were disabled or non-disabled, for me Prometheus Awakes was just a hugely successful, hugely thrilling piece of outdoor theatre which I'm still thinking about hours later.

Prometheus Awakes will be performed once more at the Stockton International Riverside Festival on Thursday, August 2 at 10pm. Click here for more information.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Review: Jack Savoretti at Bush Hall

"This is the weirdest gig I've ever been to."

We're at Bush Hall in Shepherd's Bush, standing in the midst of a crowd of Jack Savoretti fans while the man himself is on stage. My friend, let's call her V, has just turned to me and said the above. What prompted her?

Well, some random guy in the audience has, in the lull between songs, just yelled for everyone to hear: "I'm having a great time, Jack."

I'm having a surreal time, and so is V (and my other friend F). This isn't like any gig I've been to before either.

For a start there's the strange demographic of the crowd. Aside from the guy who's having a great time, there are a bunch of Jack Wills-wearing Oxbridge types, plenty of older couples, a load of "yummy mummies" and lots and lots of men who keep shouting about having a great time, or just making general yelling man noises showing they're having a great time.

V's theory is that Savoretti is the kind of guy inspires bromance among the fellow members of his sex, that he makes guys feel how Bruce Springsteen makes guys feel - that kind of guys hanging out, being cool together vibe. I can sort of see it (Savoretti wears a Springsteen-esque half unbuttoned shirt and he's got that confidence), but, and I really like Savoretti, I'm still reluctant to buy into that theory. Still, it goes some way to explaining the men clapping really, really loudly, yelling and sticking their arms in the air in that pop rock way while they sing along.

The other thing leading me to have a surreal time is the double bass player in Savoretti's band, Tom Benzon. He's really, really talented, but really, really distracting. There's no delicate way to put this - he makes come hither faces while he plays. And caresses his double bass like it's a woman (or a man). And there may have been hip movement.

Still, apart from the strange make up of the audience, the men shouting how much they love Savoretti (I expect to hear someone yell: "Come on, my son") and the distracting double bass player, it's a great gig (for me, V's not a fan).

Savoretti has a brilliant energy, which is perhaps why the crowd gets so whipped up - there's a moment when everyone goes nuts at the opening chords of Dreamers after Savoretti dedicates it to "all the old friends".

I don't have to wait too long before Savoretti plays Vagabond, which is my favourite song off the new album, Before the Storm. Yes, it wasn't among the two favourites I was debating about when I reviewed Before the Storm, but since then it's shot to the top of my playlist.

Savoretti does play those two previously favourite songs of mine - For the Last Time and The Proposal. He gives For the Last Time a sharp twist, infusing it with much more anger than on the album. 

Take Me Home features vocals from a girl called Rebecca (I think) who won a competition to try and find the best cover version of the song. She's sweet but looks terrified, and only relaxes when Savoretti throws smiles at her.

Savoretti's voice is, if possible, huskier in person than it is recorded, but that's no bad thing in my opinion, and judging by the opinions of the shouting masses around me.

This might be the most surreal gig I've been to, but it's also pretty fun - a great support act (Melodica, Melody and Me - I'm definitely going to find out more about them), a crowd that makes me laugh (if only for weird reasons) and a talented musician on stage.

Hey, Jack, I'm having a great time...

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

An interview with...Amit Sharma, co-director of Graeae's Prometheus Awakes

Prometheus Awakes is Graeae's latest production. Picture: Tia Lomas 
Graeae's offices are, to put it mildly, pretty flipping cool.

Located in Hoxton, next door to the Geffrye Museum, the building has large windows in archways along the front. In each of the windows sits one letter of the word Graeae in giant blocks of varying colours and textures.

Inside there is plenty of colour and light, and in the centre sits a glass walled conference room which has the word door spelt out in large braille letters on the doors.

Chairs of different styles surround the table, the light switches are edged in red, and all the rooms are on one level with no annoying lips to trip over in the doorways.

So why all the snazzy fixtures and fittings?

Graeae is one of the UK's leading disabled-led theatre companies, if not the leading, and its offices are built to be fully accessible.

I'm here to meet Amit Sharma, co-director of Prometheus Awakes, Graeae's latest production. It's just days before the performance, and we're supposed to talk over lunch, but the food goes ignored as we get carried away talking about the company, the work it does and how Graeae is working to change perceptions of people with disabilities.

Prometheus Awakes - a reinterpretation of the myth of Prometheus - will go a long way to ensuring people see no differences between performers with disabilities and those without. It will be performed on Friday night in the grounds of the Royal Museums Greenwich.

There are no words, instead all the action will be played out visually by actors and volunteers, with projections on the side of the Queen's House and soaring music playing during the show.

It's a huge production - literally. 

Working with Spanish company La Fura dels Baus (with whom Amit has had a lot of loud conference calls) Prometheus Awakes features a 24ft tall Prometheus, which is operated by six people and manoeuvred around by a crane.

The human net. Picture: Andreu Adrover
Other set pieces include a net of humans that is winched 25 metres up into the air; a human censer (think of the thing Catholic priests wave in front of them which lets out incense); and a massive wheel, which will contain actors and roll through the audience.

Unsurprisingly, it's the biggest outdoor production Graeae has ever done, and what makes it even more amazing is that the company will only get to do a few rehearsals in situ before the performance itself.

Amit says: "This is the first time in the UK this is being artistically led and done by disabled people.

"It is such an amazing undertaking. It's about the wow factor."

The human censer. Picture: Tia Lomas
Prometheus Awakes is first and foremost about putting on a good show, but being produced by Graeae does mean the fact that it is a disabled-led performance will be in people's minds.

Amit says: "I hope people go away from the production and say they have seen an amazing piece of outdoor theatre.

"You can look at all the politics about disabled people but we want to create a work where people go: 'That's fantastic.'

"Having said that the opportunity for disabled performers here is great. We want people to go away saying 'wasn't that person amazing?' or 'wasn't the music great?'"

The production gives Graeae the chance to bring disabled-led arts to the forefront, particularly in a year when the Paralympic Games are coming home. 

Graeae has been working on productions featuring disabled and non-disabled performers since 1980. 

In any other year the company's artistic director Jenny Sealey would probably be running around the offices, but this year she's hidden away in a secret location somewhere (I imagine) putting together the opening ceremony of the Paralympic Games in her role as co-artistic director (the other director is Bradley Hemmings, artistic director of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival).

It's an honour for Graeae that Jenny has been chosen to help lead the opening ceremony, and a mark of just how valued the company is amongst the theatre world.

And the hope is that the Games will leave a lasting legacy on disabled-led theatre. One of the ways that is being done is through Unlimited, the UK's largest programme celebrating arts, culture and sport by deaf and disabled people which has commissioned a number of works to celebrate the inspiration of the Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Amit says: "Unlimited has been so important because there has been some fantastic work created through programmes recently, which have got the profile to audiences that would never have experienced that type of art before.

"The key now is the legacy. It is a starting point for deaf and disability art. It's going to inspire people of all abilities."

And you'll be hard pressed not to leave Prometheus Awakes feeling inspired.

Prometheus Awakes is part of the Greenwich+Docklands International Festival. The show starts at 10pm on Friday, June 22 and is free. For more information click here.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Album review: Before the Storm by Jack Savoretti

Jack Savoretti's new album is Before the Storm. Picture: Claire Nathan
How is it that I'd never heard anything by Jack Savoretti before listening to his new album Before the Storm?

Savoretti plays exactly the kind of music I like best - plenty of heartbreak, lots of guitars and piano, and lyrics that are poetry.

Before the Storm is a mix of styles, with Savoretti segueing effortlessly between folk, country, classic pop and rock, sometimes using more than one genre in just one song.

The second track on the album, Take Me Home, has a great guitar riff and highlights Savoretti's husky voice, which has that quality you can't quite put your finger on but that just makes you believe every word he's singing.

Take Me Home is a song to make you melt, with its pleading chorus: "Take me home with you tonight/I'm not going to make it down this lonely street/Take me home with you tonight/I'm not going to make it on my own."

It's a toss up between the upbeat The Proposal and the mournful final track For the Last Time as to which is my favourite song on the album.

The Proposal is hopeful despite its metaphor of building a bridge and watching it burn, and it also contains my favourite lyrics on the album: "Living in your absence/I see memories when I cry/I hear songs in the key of silence/I'm not ready yet to die."

But then there's For the Last Time, a song which just makes me feel every emotion Savoretti is singing about - heartbreak and grief and resignation and determination. It's beautifully crafted and the perfect piece of grown up angst.

Knock Knock is a fun track, which with its lyrics and its rhythms conjures up images of old-style saloons from those westerns that tend to be on television on long Sunday afternoons.

It's not just Knock Knock which shows Savoretti is good at forming pictures with his lyrics. Vagabond, with its poetic chorus - "the life of a vagabond/searching for a fool's gold/with the eyes of a gypsy/and the life of a rebel soul..." - makes me think of the endless road Savoretti sings about.

Before the Storm is really one long love song with all its ups and downs, but despite tracks like the aforementioned Take Me Home and album opener Not Worthy ("I'm not worthy of your love/I'm barely keeping up), Savoretti sounds far from desperate on Before the Storm. Rather, he comes across as a brutally honest songwriter, unafraid to expose his deepest emotions. It's an attractive quality and the one which makes Before the Storm such a good album.

Thursday, 7 June 2012

Album review: Introduction by It Boys!

Hello boyband that should have been around in the 1990s, thy name is It Boys!

Yes, you read that right - It Boys! With the exclamation mark. This five-piece American boyband's debut album, Introduction, transports me back 15 years to a time when (mostly American) boybands ruled the land (okay, just the airwaves). Think Backstreet Boys. Think N Sync.

Let's just go through the boyband rule book and see if It Boys! meet the criteria:  
  • Five members? Check.
  • At least one blond? Check.
  • A song about a beautiful girl who just can't see how beautiful she is? Check.
  • A song called Crazy? Check.
Introduction is typical first-album-from-a-boyband fare from the beginning, with plenty of upbeat tunes, lots of that weird echo/singing in a cave effect that boybands like, and some guest vocals by people you've not yet heard of (and perhaps never will).

I may sound quite harsh up to now, but that's probably because I'm way past my boyband phase and this album is just too teenybopper for me. 

However, Introduction is fun to listen to, if only because it reminds me of when I was younger. If I was 13 right now, I'd probably think It Boys! were amazing.

As it is, most of the songs just make me laugh - Guys Don't Like Me, the band's debut UK single, features the lyrics:
Guys don't like me
These guys, they don't like me
These guys, don't like me
Cause their girlfriends do.

There are plenty of upbeat tunes, from the opener Start the Party, to Spring Break Up (I think this is a play on words about breaking up with someone during the American holiday spring break, but I'm not sure), to the final track Burning Up, featuring Jeffree Star and Lacey Schwimmer, the latter of whom was a professional dancer on Dancing With the Stars, America's version of Strictly Come Dancing.

What is missing is a good boyband ballad. And really, what kind of boyband are you without a mournful ballad where every member gets a turn to sound heartbroken on the vocals? Even the one that isn't usually allowed to sing.

Introduction may be slightly "rockier" than some of the earlier stuff released by popular American boybands in the 1990s, but it's about the same level of rocky as those same bands later work. If you travelled back to 1998 with this album, no one would bat an eyelid at how different it sounded from all the other boybands around then, because it doesn't sound different. 

Teen girls who love The Wanted and One Direction (two bands I am now too old to understand the attraction to) will love It Boys! but for those of us past the days of screaming over boys with floppy hair, passable vocal ability and a talent for looking moody, this isn't anything to get excited about. Now, Backstreet's Back, that was a great boyband album...

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Theatre review: Antigone at the National Theatre, starring Christopher Eccleston

Creon (Eccleston) and Antigone (Jodie Whittaker). Picture: Johan Persson

Be warned, this is Greek tragedy and there be death and blood ahead. Lots and lots of blood.

Welcome to Antigone, showing at the National Theatre. Sure, this is a modern retelling of sorts, but that doesn't mean any of the death and blood are lessened. 

Antigone tells the story of the titular character, who disobeys her uncle Creon's law and buries her brother. In return Creon sentences her to death, and although any number of people tell him to back down - including the blind prophet Teiresias - he refuses to do so. 

The play belongs to Christopher Eccleston as Creon, who we see turn from an honourable leader (of sorts) to a tyrant to a broken man (covered in blood) in the space of 90 minutes.

The play opens with a stunning reference to one of the most famous political photographs  of the last few years, as the characters recreate the image of President Obama and Hillary Clinton watching the capture and killing of Osama Bin Laden.

And the opening signifies the tune of the rest of the play. Yes, this is Sophocles' Antigone, but Don Taylor wants to make it clear in his version that all the things Sophocles wrote about thousands of years ago are still relevant today, and the play is used as a comment on modern society.

So there are plenty of references to terrorism, and a clear argument about who in the play is a terrorist. Is it Antigone, who disobeys the laws of the land? Or is it Creon, the leader who abuses his power and can't see the woods for the trees?

And there is also much made of the role of women in society. Creon underestimates Antigone, dismissing her as a woman who would not be brave enough to disobey his word, only believing she has committed a crime when the evidence becomes too much. Ismene, Antigone's sister, while not directly taking part in the act, stands up to her uncle, surprising him.

And after years of being useful only for bearing children, sending sandwiches for lunch and making sure Creon's tie is straight and his suit jacket unrumpled, Creon's wife Eurydice proves that her role as mother is perhaps more important than any other relationship in the play. It is only when she kills herself out of grief that Creon realises the women in his life should have been more valued, and he shouldn't have underestimated them.

The women actors are all strong, even as their characters sometimes wither under the command of the men.

Also good is Luke Newberry as Haemon, Creon and Eurydice's son, who commits suicide after finding Antigone has hanged herself in the cave where she was banished to die by Creon. Although Haemon initially comes across as a bit of a drip, he grows stronger in a scene where he tells his father how the people feel about Antigone's sentence.

In one of the few, if not only, comic interludes in the play, Haemon proceeds to disguise his own thoughts as those of others, providing an interesting back and forth between him and Creon. And while the exchange is humourous, it masks a very, very serious opinion - that everyone thinks Creon is wrong to sentence Antigone to death just for caring about her brother.

It's a play partially about power, and how it changes people. It clearly changes Creon, and it changes those around him, who are too afraid to stand up for what is right in the face of his power, at least not until it's too late.

Creon (Eccleston) with members of the company. Picture: Johan Persson
The set for Antigone - a revolving office suite - is used brilliantly. Three offices are marked out with glass, reflecting back the actions of those at the front of the stage, which is set out like an open plan office. The glass means it's possible to see all the action going on, even those seemingly innocuous moments, like Creon's portrait being put up when he becomes king (look for that portrait at the end).

Movement and music are used to great effect throughout. There are a number of scenes during which all the characters move at the same time, and then stop at the same moments. It's the little touches that are really noticeable - two characters lifting cups of coffee at the same time, the placing of chairs after each movement. This isn't just acting, it's also dance.

There were so many little things going on, at times I didn't know where I wanted to look the most. You could watch this play a dozen times, and still notice a dozen different things each time. Perhaps I should go and see it again...

To book tickets for Antigone at the National Theatre, click here.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Game of Thrones: Valar Morghulis recap/review

Blackwater recap/review

What. An. Episode. Last week's Blackwater was always going to take some beating, but this week Game of Thrones brought together a group of threads that have been building all season (and in some cases for two seasons) and blew our minds.

The Lannisters
Despite having almost been beaten to within an inch of their lives during the Battle of Blackwater, this week the Lannisters are back to their usual, arrogant selves, and it's all perfectly summed up by the image of Tywin Lannister's horse going to the toilet in the hallway outside the king's throne room. Although it's Tywin's horse, the image sums up Cersei and Joffrey best - crapping over everyone and everything, and leaving someone else to clean up the mess.

There's no mention of the Lannisters' transgressions from last week - Cersei is pretending as though she didn't almost commit suicide and kill her son, Joffrey is pretending to be a great king, and nearly everyone is pretending that Tyrion doesn't exist.

Thank goodness for Varys then, and who ever thought we'd be saying that? He's well aware that although Tywin might have come to the rescue at the last minute, it's Tyrion who saved everyone. Without his intelligence and good planning, King's Landing would have been lost long before Tywin ever got there. But Joffrey is too busy making Tywin hand of the king, awarding Harrenhal to Littlefinger, and deciding to marry Margaery Tyrell to even think about Tyrion.

The latter is lying in small, dark chambers learning from Varys that Cersei gave an order to have him killed during battle. It's not because he's not useful that Tyrion is being sidelined - it's because Cersei is all too aware that Tyrion would make a better king than 10 of Joffrey. Killing him on the battlefield didn't work, so she's choosing to shove him away into a corner in the hopes that everyone will forget about him until she gets another opportunity to have him offed.

Still, it takes more than Cersei to make Tyrion run away, although he comes close when Shae visits. Although Shae seemed a bit player when she first appeared, she's actually been part of some of the most interesting scenes with Tyrion, where we see him stripped bare and showing his true emotions. We see it again here, when Tyrion, after telling Shae he won't run away because he's good at and likes plotting, breaks down because Shae tells him she'll stick by him. While his blood family ignore him, it's the family he chooses that give Tyrion the fight he needs to carry on. He may be down, but Tyrion Lannister is far from out.

Cersei doesn't realise that though, and she's busy lording it up with her son, Joffrey. She seems to have forgotten that just days earlier she was a drunk mess, about to feed poison to her youngest son and herself, and teaching Sansa life lessons. Now Cersei is lifting Joffrey to dizzy heights, and stomping on Sansa by getting Joffrey to cast her aside and marry Margaery.

And while Joffrey may think he's got the best of both worlds - Sansa to treat like a whore and Margaery to make his queen - I'm guessing he won't have it easy. Sansa and Margaery are both far too clever for the Meanest Character on Television™.

While most of the Lannisters enjoy themselves in victory, Jaime Lannister is still on the road with Brienne, and let me tell you, these two deserve their own buddy comedy (much like Bronn and Tyrion). Jaime's still taunting Brienne, who can more than hold her own. It takes Brienne killing a group of Stark men in Jaime's defence ("I don't serve the Starks, I serve Lady Catelyn) to make him realise she's someone he can respect. As these two carry on their road trip, their relationship is bound to develop and become more interesting. 

The Starks
As things get better for the Lannisters, they seem to get worse for the Starks.

Sansa has a moment of pure happiness and relief at not having to marry Joffrey, but it doesn't last long when Littlefinger corners her, telling her Joffrey is now free to use her to his heart's content without worrying about damaging her. Basically, Joffrey can take out his vicious fantasies on Sansa, because she's his whore, not his wife.

Littlefinger offers to help Sansa, in a really creepy way. He's been fluttering around all season, and I still can't tell what he's up to. Does he really want to help Sansa? Is he doing it to get in Catelyn's good books? Or is it something else? Only time will tell.

While Sansa is definitely not getting married, her brother Robb is - against his mother's wishes. Robb has decided he can no longer uphold his promise to marry the daughter of Walder Frey, and that he must marry the woman he loves - Talisa.

Despite not being happy with his mother for freeing Jaime, Robb still goes to Catelyn to tell her of his plans, and to get her advice, even though he doesn't take it. Instead, he and Talisa get married in a quiet ceremony. It might be romantic, but now Robb is not only going to be fighting the Lannisters, he'll also have his former allies the Freys vying for his blood.

That Robb goes to Catelyn for advice is a sign of their strong relationship, although neither is backing down at the moment - Robb is still punishing his mother for betraying his trust, and Catelyn is still acting like a lord at battle instead of a mother. Sure, she freed Jaime so she could get Arya and Sansa back, and we've seen her get emotional over Bran and Rickon, but Catelyn seems to be taking the son who is in front of her for granted, and not showing him her motherly compassion.

Arya is wandering the road, having escaped from Harrenhal with Jaqen H'gar's help. He turns up in the middle of nowhere to speak to Arya, and tell her he can teach her how to disappear, but she says she needs to get to Robb and Catelyn. Instead, Jaqen H'gar gives her a coin and tells her if she ever needs him to hand it to someone from Bravos and say the words "Valar Morghulis". And then he proceeds to completely change his looks (like Tonks from Harry Potter) and head off to who knows where.

The final Starks - Bran and Rickon - also find themselves on the road after Winterfell is burnt to the ground. In an emotional scene complete with mournful violins on the soundtrack Bran and Rickon walk through Winterfell, and see their childhood home ruined.

Maester Luwin tells them they must head for the Wall and Jon Snow's protection. Everyone knows nothing can be done to save Maester Luwin and it's up to Osha - who has been a tremendous defender of Bran and Rickon so far - to kill him at his request instead of letting him suffer. 

The Baratheons
So Stannis managed to get out of King's Landing alive, but he's not happy about it.

This episode was the first time, in my opinion, we've seen the real Stannis. He showed remorse over the fact that hundreds of his men died (although there was no personal mention of Ser Davos), and anger that it was on his orders.

And for the first time he showed some regret over Renly's death, and we heard him admit that he murdered Renly.

Still, this side of Stannis didn't last long, as we then saw him almost strangle Melisandre to death. Despite almost being choked to death, Melisandre still managed to work her creepy voodoo over Stannis, and whatever he saw in the fire that she got him to stare into, it was enough to strengthen his resolve to get his throne back. 

The Targaryens
After weeks of childish threats, Daenerys finally showed us some proper leader behaviour when she went in to the House of the Undying after her dragons.

While there she was briefly reunited with a fantasy of Drogo and their child, both of whom are dead. In a touching scene Dany and Drogo declared their love for each other, and Dany vowed: "Until the sun rises in the west and sets in the east, until the rivers run dry and the mountains blow in the wind like the leaves." And the she walks away.

It's a mark of how far Dany has come that she realises she must sacrifice what her heart desires to get her throne back. It's that strength that stays with her, and when her and her dragons are chained up, she channels something which makes them blow fire at Pyat Pree and kill him, freeing Dany and the dragons.

She heads back to Xaro Xhaon Daxos, and finds him in bed with Doreah. Opening up the vault Xaro promised her was filled with gold, she finds it empty. Still, this doesn't upset the new Dany, who takes it as a lesson learnt, and orders Xaro and Doreah put inside and locked up.

Dany and Jorah Marmont seem to bond again this week, and they end as friends, with Jorah heading off to buy ships for Dany to sail across the sea back to Westeros. 

The Greyjoys
Theon Greyjoy is trapped inside Winterfell as a gang of men sent by Robb Stark surround the walls of the city and blow horns to torture Theon.

He's truly trapped, with no family rushing to his rescue. He does find a surprise ally in Maester Luwin, who tells him he should run to the Night's Watch, as no one will be able to touch him there once he takes the oath.

In the most honourable act we've seen from Theon so far, he refuses to run away, instead trying to whip his men up by giving them a pretty rousing battle speech. They let him talk, and even cheer him, only to bash him over the head and knock him out, and fatally wound Maester Luwin when he comes to Theon's rescue. It seems Theon's men have never learnt loyalty to him, and would rather go back home to the Iron Islands.

Although our last glimpse of Theon is of him being carted off with his head covered in a sackcloth, I can only guess he's being taken to see Robb, who's none too happy with him. 

Jon Snow
For one week, I've changed the order of this post round, putting Jon Snow after the Greyjoys, and that's because whatever else happened this episode, in the end it was all about beyond the Wall.

Jon was still being marched towards Mance Rayder, and Quorin Halfhand decided to sacrifice himself so Jon could infiltrate Rayder's army as a secret agent on behalf of the Night's Watch. Halfhand was going to die anyway, but watching Jon kill him hurt. But however bad we feel, we don't feel as bad as Jon, who looked like he was about to break. Still, he pulled himself together and headed down into the town to meet Rayder.

Meanwhile, Sam Tarwell and two of the other guys from the Night's Watch are out in the snow, digging for fuel when they hear Night Watchman's horn. One blast - rider returning. Two blasts - wildlings. Three blasts - White Walkers. As the third blast sounds the guys from the Night's Watch run, but clumsy Sam falls behind, and finally manages to find a rock to hide behind. It's not much cover for what appears though.

In a move that took Game of Thrones firmly into the realm of fantasy (more than the dragons) a gang of ghostly men, women and horses appear. They're dead, but not dead. Some are almost transparent, others, like the horse, have chunks ripped out of them and are dripping blood. And more importantly, there are hundreds of them, and they're heading for the Wall. 

When you play the Game of Thrones...
There has been a real concentration this season about the fight for King's Landing, and the battles between the Lannisters, Starks and Baratheons, and Dany's battle to get back to Westeros. But the most important foe has only just appeared - the White Walkers.

In the opening episode of the first season of Game of Thrones, we saw the White Walkers, or at least heard about them. And we caught a brief glimpse of one when it came back from the dead on the Wall and was defeated by Jon Snow.

But the sight of hundreds of them is what Game of Thrones has been building towards for the last two seasons, and it was a shocking sight. The White Walkers also personified what Theon said in his speech at Winterfell, and the name of an earlier episode - "What is dead may never die." Well, the white walkers are dead, but they don't look like they've died to me.

However big the battles for King's Landing have seemed so far, season three is going to take the fight to a whole new level with the white walkers. I don't know if I can wait that long, so I'm off to read A Storm of Swords... 


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