Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Washington Capitals - 2015 NHL Draft and Preview of Free Agency

We're on the cusp of the opening of free agency on July 1st, and the Washington Capitals still seem like they'll be approaching it mostly from the sidelines...and I'm not sure that's necessary. But first...

The Draft

The NHL draft was fairly uneventful for the Caps. While the Bruins were shipping out top-end players and the Rangers were saying goodbye to Carl Hagelin and Cam Talbot, the Caps were drafting Ilya Samsanov, a Russian goalie who likely won't even be available to play in North America for another three years. Organizational goalie depth has been a strength for Washington for a while, from Varlamov to Neuvirth to Holtby to Grubauer and beyond, and with how expensive a high-caliber veteran goalie can be, making sure you have additional options is never a bad call.

After Samsanov, the Caps grabbed a trio of young defensemen, presumably planning for the eventual downfall of Brooks Orpik. It's not likely all three of them make the NHL (and it's possible none of them make the NHL), but again, depth is never bad.

There, that's it. Now that we're past the minimalist draft (the fewest pick the franchise has ever had in a draft), let's look at the other way you get new players.

Free Agency

The biggest salary that the Caps have to look at is Braden Holtby's. I'm on record (in a few conversations with friends) as saying that I think Holtby is probably a guy you just pay. He's been between very good and exceptional since he came into the league, and it seems like overall his game has improved during the playoffs, which is always a nice sign. I don't love the idea of the Caps paying two different backup goalies in Grubauer and Justin Peters, but they're both making less than a million per year, so you've still got plenty of room to pay Holtby and keep your overall goaltender bill at a reasonable rate. Expectations: The Caps definitely won't be acquiring any new goalies.

Nate Schmidt has already signed an extension and will likely slide into the bottom defensive pairing right away. If Dmitry Orlov can stay healthy, the Caps' six defensemen are all already on the roster, and it's a pretty strong six. But Orlov hasn't been able to stay on the ice, so at least one other defenseman is in order. I've mentioned that I wouldn't mind just bringing back Tim Gleason, who was a responsible if unexciting addition last season. Pairing him with Orlov or Schmidt gives either guy a security blanket to explore their offensive options. Expectations: They'll sign one modest veteran defenseman as a depth guy, probably spending no more than $2 million on the guy.

The Caps only have nine forwards still under contract from last season, although Riley Barber and Stanislav Galiev could slide into the NHL squad come the regular season. Joel Ward and Eric Fehr are unrestricted free agents, but the two really important guys to look at are restricted free agents Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Both have shown enough offensive potency to warrant salary increases, and Johansson especially is likely looking for a considerable contract, even if it's a short-term deal. Kuznetsov didn't have a great regular season, but his playoff performance has a lot of us excited about the future.

Obviously nobody's making lines just yet, but in general, I think this is how the lines shake out talent-wise at this point (only counting players under contract):

Line 1 - Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, ___________
Line 2 - Andre Burakovsky, ___________, Troy Brouwer
Line 3 - Jason Chimera, Brooks Laich, Tom Wilson
Line 4 - Michael Latta, Jay Beagle, ____________

If the Caps go ahead and re-sign Kuznetsov and Johansson, they'd slide in at 2C and 1RW, respectively. If they do that, I'd still like to see Washington pursue a skilled winger who can play on one of those top two lines.

I'm not 100% convinced that Burakovsky is ready for second-line minutes, and I'm not crazy about putting Brouwer on a line from which you're expecting goals. His hands are still pretty good, but he seems to have lost a step. We keep hearing that Tom Wilson has the potential to move into the top two lines, but he still seems to too sincerely relish the role of scrapper to be able to count on him as a scorer. MoJo doesn't figure to be much/any better than he was last year, when he set career highs in goals and points. Kuzy has tremendous upside, but it's still just potential.

What I'd like to see and what we will see are probably two different things. The Caps have $18 million to work with under the cap. After about $5 million for Holtby and $2 million for a depth defenseman, that still leaves $11 million to play with for forwards. That's not a small number. The numbers I've seen for the RFAs are $4.5 million for Johansson and $3 million for Kuznetsov. If those are roughly accurate, the Caps could take on about $3.5 million in additional salary. In this year's very weak free agent class, there's no top-two-line winger who'd cost less than that, so you'd either be looking at rolling the dice on a young unproven RFA (extremely unlikely), or an older player who might only have 1-2 more years in the tank and is willing to take a modest salary. The latter idea has some possibilities this season.

Guys who could fit into that category (assuming they don't retire and aren't looking for irrationally large contracts) would be Justin Williams, Erik Cole, Daniel Briere, Tomas Kopecky, Brenden Morrow, and...Joel Ward. Truthfully, working out a way to bring back Ward might be the best option the Caps have. Ward has been a workhorse, an effective playoff performer, and a popular player in the blackest city in America (not a huge factor, but not a non-factor either). We'll see how things shake out, and GM Brian McClellan keeps talking about the appeal of improving via trade this offseason, so there may be additional machinations at work that we don't know about.

I have to say, even though the Caps aren't likely to be very active in free agency, I'm still excited to see how the roster shapes up over the next few weeks.

Monday, June 22, 2015

2015 Washington Capitals Offseason - Who Should Stay and Who Should Go

Now that the hockey season is completely over, I can finally move on from the Caps' loss to the Rangers in the second round of this year's playoffs. It was a pretty epic series, lots of close games, and the Caps were so close to winning it so many times that the let-down was pretty severe. In Game 5, they were two minutes away from closing out the series before the Rangers sent the game into overtime, and after that, it all felt like fate.

That said, the team looked good at a lot of times throughout the playoffs (aside from all of the first periods). And hey, they were within a few minutes of getting into the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1998, which is about 75 minutes closer than they've ever been, so we're making progress.

If you know anything about the Washington area, you know that we end up resorting to "winning the offseason" all the time. Still, I think the Capitals have an opportunity to tweak their roster, be even better next year, and take another run at the Cup. Here's a look at the personnel decisions that stand before the Capitals this summer.

Outgoing Unrestricted Free Agents

Forwards
Jay Beagle (2015 salary - $1 million)
Eric Fehr ($1.6 million)
Curtis Glencross ($2.5 million)
Joel Ward ($3 million)

Defense
John Erskine ($2 million)
Tim Gleason ($1.2 million)
Mike Green ($6.25 million)

Restricted Free Agents

Forwards
Marcus Johansson ($2.175 million)
Evgeny Kuznetsov ($900,000)

Goalies
Braden Holtby ($2 million)

So what will the Caps do with all these free agents? Tough to say. Let's go one-by-one (because I've got nothing but time):

Jay Beagle
Beagle was a great faceoff guy all year and in the playoffs, and it was a lost faceoff where the Caps ended up losing Game 7 against the Rangers. Beagle's not a prolific scorer, and he'll never fit at a top six forward slot. He reminds me of Matt Hendricks, who showed some two-way ability and then made a solid payday heading elsewhere. I hope the Caps can find a way to hold on to him as a bottom six forward for another couple years without breaking the bank.

John Erskine
I've always liked the scallywag tone that Erskine brought to the ice when he played. He loved to mix it up, but always with a smile. I guess he's the hockey equivalent of Hines Ward...except, you know, not even remotely as good. He dealt with injury all year, and I don't know if he's actually able to play, but if he is, I'd be happy to bring him back as a 7th defenseman. Any higher than that (in role or cost), and I think you have to let him go.

Eric Fehr
Fehr was an nice surprise coming back from Winnipeg after a somewhat disastrous trip out West. He dealt with injury and a lack of production in his time away from Washington, but since he came back to town, he's been better than ever. He even worked on his faceoff game and became a viable center option. His injury created a scoring vacuum that the Caps weren't really able to fill during the Rangers series, and they looked lost at times. I think Fehr's trip north of the border may have cooled him on chasing big dreams, and I think he's likely to stay in town for a reasonable fee.

Tim Gleason 
Gleason is basically the opposite of Mike Green. He came to town via late-season trade; it cost us a pick and Jack Hillen, who I always thought was decent, but I'm not unhappy with how it turned out. Gleason was a nice depth addition for the bottom pairing, and he was a suitable partner for Green because of his dedication to stay-at-home, responsible defense. Gleason's contract expired, but he had lots of nice things to say about the Caps throughout his brief tenure, and I could see him coming back on a short-term, cap-friendly deal to try to get over the hump next year. Time will tell.

Curtis Glencross
While acquiring him may have been a nice idea, Glencross was basically a non-factor in the playoffs, except in the worst ways. He stuck at the bottom of the depth chart, and never really looked like the kind of player who could've made a difference. And then his painful turnover in overtime of game 5 created the sequence that cost them the game. He may have played alright, but he'll forever be Scott Hannan 2.0 in Capitals' fans minds.

Mike Green
There's no question that Mike Green has more than his share of detractors, but there's also no question that Mike Green was a very productive player in 2014-2015. His playing time was scaled back to where he was a 3rd-pairing defenseman who came in on most power players, and it seemed to put Green into his wheelhouse. His scoring was back up, his health was generally good, and he made fewer obvious, terrible, game-losing mistakes...right up until game 7 against the Rangers. I think Green will get paid very, very well by someone this offseason, and it won't be the Caps. I wish him well.

Braden Holtby
I'm a little bit torn on Holtby. I like him a lot; I think he's as talented as Varlamov was (who I loved), and he's shown himself to be far more durable. And I'd be perfectly happy to see the Caps sign him to a 7-year, $35 million contract. But where I get concerned is if Holtby starts wanting $6 million a year. Or $7 million. Goalie is the most volatile position in hockey, and plenty of unexceptional goalies have had flashes of brilliance that led them into the promised land. So is pushing 10% of your salary cap into a single player with that level of volatility is something I'm not totally sold on. I want Holtby back, and I'd like him to sign long-term. I just don't want to see the Caps forgo the opportunity to sign some other complementary pieces to get all the way home.

Marcus Johansson
From basically day one, I've been the guy who's been least impressed with Marcus Johansson. I don't specifically dislike him, and I see him make some good plays now and then, but I just think his upside is nowhere near what Caps fans (and Caps GMs) have been proclaiming for the past four or five years. I think he's fine, and I wouldn't want to let him go for nothing, but if another team threw some money at him in an RFA offer, I wouldn't be against taking some compensation picks and moving on. In the end, I expect MoJo to sign a one-year deal with Washington, and get one more shot at taking his game "to the next level." Which I don't expect him to do.

Evgeny Kuznetsov
Kuznetsov was a streaky and minimally impactful player during the regular season, but he definitely ratcheted up his game during the playoffs. His game-winner against the Islanders in Game 7 was a thing of beauty. But he slipped back into the background during the Rangers series, an unfortunate turn of events at a time when the Caps really could've used a scoring spark. Kuznetsov is a restricted free agent, which means a team would have to provide compensation in order to sign him away from the Caps. That's not likely, but it's not impossible. I think the Caps will keep him, probably with a solid but unspectacular 2-year contract. And when that contract is up, who knows what happens.

Joel Ward
The Caps' biggest problem is still a lack of potent scoring forwards outside of Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. Joel Ward contributed moderately well to that end last season, but he wasn't the kind of player that "you have to account for" as an opposing team. I'd be fine with the team reacquiring him at a modest price, but he seems like the kind of guy who would get a big raise in a terrible free agent class. His big playoff goals and his overall useful play might push some team to pay him $4-$5 million a year, possibly for as many as six years. If that's the price, I think the Caps have to let him go.


Thursday, June 18, 2015

Game of Thrones - Season Six Musings

Well, the Internet has spoken: Stannis Baratheon totally isn't dead. I mean, he definitely is dead, but a lot of the Internet is still fully in denial about it. Reddit even had a whole giant thread called, "STANNIS DENIAL THREAD" where they discuss what they think actually happened between Brienne and Stannis in the forest that day.

As I said, I'm pretty sure Stannis met his end in the forest that day, but it did get me thinking: what's coming up next season? I decided I'll write this up quickly, since I don't want it to be ruined by actual fact regarding what's coming up. These are just my musings, based on what's happened in the show, what I've read in the books, and my various discussions over time regarding these events. There will be some book-related spoilers in here, but come on, if you've been reading these posts you're already as far as I am, maybe even further since I refuse to read the sample chapters from The Winds of Winter that have already been posted. I'll read it when it's done.

So, here are the storylines I believe we'll follow in season six of Game of Thrones.

The Vengeance of Cersei
Right or wrong, Cersei believes that the Sparrows committed a great sin against her by holding her captive for her sins. And now she's got FrankenMountain (which I vastly prefer to Mountainstein) at her disposal, who I expect to be doling out pain and punishment at Cersei's demand. I think she's still hurt by Tommen's failure to help her, but that will only strengthen her belief that she needs to protect her baby boy.

Plus, don't forget that Jamie will be bringing her daughter's lifeless body back from Dorne. Cersei will lose her shit, and gods help the people of King's Landing when she does.

But what about Dorne? Clearly it would be Cersei's (and probably Jamie's) intent to burn Dorne to the ground, but would that be feasible? The reality is that Dorne wasn't involved in the War of the Five Kings, so whatever armies they have would be fresh, unharmed, and un-wintered. Who would help Cersei?
  • Tyrells are being imprisoned willy-nilly; there's no reason to think that they'd be motivated to go back to war.
  • The Boltons seem to be preparing for a Northern winter.
  • Walder Frey isn't sending his guys anywhere for free, and the Crown is already deeply in debt.
  • The other River Lords have no taste for Lannisters.
  • Nor do the former Stark bannermen.
  • Nor do the remaining Baratheon bannermen.
  • Nor do the knights of the Vale.
So with a city virtually under siege by a fanatic militia, the Lannisters would send their armies to fight in Dorne, and trust the city guard to keep the peace? Doubtful. That said, Doran Martell is clearly a man of thoughtful method. I could see him attempting to avoid a war by delivering Ellaria Sand to King's Landing for justice, and imprisoning the Sand Snakes (which hopefully would keep them out of the show; god they were terrible). The Dorne situation is fraught with trepidation; it could provide some of the best content of the season, or, if they follow this season's recipe, some of the worst.

Who Watches the Watchers?
If you know what that heading is in reference to, NERD! Me too.

The Night's Watch just killed their Lord Commander, and will presumably put Alliser Thorne in charge. I actually expect that there won't be a ton of content about this period of time at The Wall, but I think several interesting stories will find themselves passing through The Wall next season. First and foremost, I do believe that Jon Snow will return to us, fully human, possibly through a similar process as Beric Dondarrion's revival. I don't think it's a coincidence that Melisandre found herself at Castle Black just hours before Jon's fall.

We've also got Davos at Castle Black now, and he's suddenly kingless. I don't think he wants this freedom, but it's thrust upon him now. We also have Sansa and Theon leaping...to safety? It's not 100% certain that they survive their jump, but I'm betting they do. And to where would they go at this point? Boltons and Lannisters hold most of the Seven Kingdoms, and I don't think that Sansa would risk the open road to make her way back to Littlefinger in the Eyrie (or wherever he is; he seems to fly across the continent). That means her best choice, her only choice really, is to head north to Castle Black, where (as far as she knows) Jon Snow is still stationed.

So what happens? Well, I'm guessing that Jon's revival coincides with him having to hide said revival, or he'll probably just get killed again. So he runs off to do something, maybe hang with wildlings, maybe flee to Essos with Melisandre. Regardless, I don't think he and Sansa will cross paths. But I do think that Sansa will cross paths with Davos, and since Davos just lost his "princess," he'll be warm to the idea of protecting another. So maybe the Greatjon Umber (who may or may not be alive) gets forced by the Boltons to take the Black, and when he arrives, he meets Sansa Stark, who he tells about Rickon being hidden away somewhere in the North. Then Davos, Theon, and Sansa run off to find him. That could be fun...although it'd be snowing like whoa by then probably, so it could also be deadly freezing.

Speaking of Starks...

Bran and the Tree Guy
I'm sure the Tree Guy has a name, I just don't know it. But some time has passed here, and presumably Bran has spent this time learning about warging and timewalking, and he's learning about the history of the realm. So next season, we'll probably get a fair share of flashbacks, maybe with some guest appearances by Sean Bean and Mark Addy, which would be fun. I'm not sure what Bran is supposed to do with whatever information he finds out, but that will be for the story to relate.

Arya...Whatever
I'm sorry, I'm just not in on Arya's storyline. Presumably she'll get her sight back after getting better at being "no one," and then...I don't know, start killing other people? It was marginally cooler when she had a revenge list, but now she's just supposed to kill whoever she's told to kill? Doesn't that mean, at this point, she could be Flippy McTubernuts rather than a Stark of Winterfell? So it's fine, but I don't care.

What Is Dead May Never Die
The show definitely butchered the Iron Islanders last season with that little "rescue attempt" by Asha when they tried to rescue their "prince" (who, according to Iron Island code, they shouldn't give a shit about), and then got scared off by some dogs.

My desperate hope is that they recapture what makes the Ironborn interesting: they're basically orcs, attacking the weak and respecting only strength. But they look like everyone else, so we think they should think like everyone else. The show-runners might be able to bring those Ironborn back, and put them back on the high seas. I wasn't crazy about the Ironborn storylines we saw previously, but with what I've read in the books, there's potential for some sweet, sweet pirating. And also maybe super-important story stuff.

Missing: One Dragon
So, Daenerys flew off on the back of a dragon, and that was amazing to watch. But obviously she's going to need to come back to town at some point, if her pursuit of the Iron Throne is to resume. She's back in the hands of some Dothraki again, which turned out okay the first time, but I think Khal Drogo was unique among Dothraki Khals in his appetite for Western ladies. Regardless, Dany looks like she's going to be needing some saving, and I suppose Daario and Jorah are setting out to do just that.

Back in Meereen, I guess Drogon did enough damage to the Sons of the Harpy that they dipped out of the arena, but they're clearly still a factor. And I have to say, I'm a million percent excited to see Tyrion and Varys run the city. Varys might be a bit of an absentee father, though; I feel like he still has some moving parts he has to take care of on both sides of the Narrow Sea. Either way, as I mentioned before, Tyrion being added to the mix in Slaver's Bay has me edge-of-my-seat riveted to watch things play out.

So that's six storylines, four of which I'm very interested in, plus Bran's story could be informative. And then Arya's story has a lot of room for improvement. And now to spend the next eight months wondering what's going to happen.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Game of Thrones Season Finale Discussion - "Mother's Mercy"

The Prelude - Response


My point-by-point response to my own initial thoughts:

Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are still up to no good.



Well, I was right about this, but I sincerely had no idea it would play out how it did. Also, oh my god, Tyene's line about her "bad pussy" was maybe...no, it was definitely the worst line the show has ever had. Bar none. Terrible.

The Mountain is coming back. Like, now.

Definitely back. Definitely excited to see how his presence affects things. Cersei's pissed, and she now has a murderhobo Kingsguard the size of, well, the size of a Mountain.

Oh em gee, Syrio maybe still alive? Probably not, but a man can hope.


Well, Syrio was a lot to expect, and I feel like the way this played out, we can be pretty sure that he's dead. Although, Arya did put a rag in Meryn's mouth when she talked about Syrio...coincidence? Who's to say? I'll put a pin back in it.

Awful lot of Benjen in this. Looks like we'll get some kind of answer about him at least.
Well, so much for getting answers about him. Well played, Game of Thrones. I told you he was tricksy.

Dragons are still badass.
Slightly less badass when they're licking their wounds and being teen angsty with their mom, but still pretty badass.

I feel like a lot is going to happen in the North this episode. My prediction: there will be blood.
Prediction: confirmed. Though, the gore level wasn't all that high. The battle between the Boltons and Baratheons mostly happened at range or in the background, which I can appreciate from a production cost point of view. It does make me think that the show could've been made into like fifteen movies, but would it have been the sensation that it is? Maybe not.

Regardless, the body count was fierce, which transitions me to the second part of my post.

Feeding the God of Death

I had an inkling that this episode might be a bloody one, so I texted a couple friends to do a "deaths draft." We each predicted the demise of a few characters, and watched the murder unfold. There were several (though maybe fewer than it seemed?), so I'll go tombstone-by-tombstone.

#1 - Selyse Baratheon
This one should've been more predictable when you think about it. Stannis' demise was absolutely on the table, and no way would he die while Selyse still lived. Furthermore, we've seen her as being somewhat unstable since she showed up, and she was clearly distraught when Shireen was burned alive. Not a particularly saddening death, but it did kind of suck that mere moments after she finally seemed human, she took her own life.

#2 - Stannis Baratheon
Huge, huge death for the show. He was wildly popular on the Internet, with people referring to him as Stannis the Mannis. Yeah, not the Internet's most creative moment. Still, Stannis' storyline was a driving force since season 2, and his death frees up Melisandre and Davos to pursue their own paths. Davos specifically I've always enjoyed a lot; he's witty, sensible (other than his infatuation with Stannis), and understands the world better than most. He's who I want to see a lot of next season.

By the way, at this point in the show, Balon Greyjoy is the only remaining king from the War of the Five Kings. So, congratulations Balon.

#3 - Myranda
She was hot. Really, really hot. Also I think I'm into evil chicks, and she was definitely that as well. Her death was a redeeming moment for Reek/Theon. It was predictable in the scene, but a little bit against Theon's history with Ramsay. I mean, like three episodes ago he ratted on Sansa. I get that Sansa's worn him down over time, but still, a bit odd.

#4? - Reek
#5? - Sansa
I don't actually think Reek and Sansa are dead, but that was a long ass drop off of the battlements. It had the smack of a scene where we're supposed to think maybe they offed themselves, but then they landed in a wagon of hay, Assassin's Creed style. Not sure exactly where they'd go at this point, though. The Wall's got nothing for them anymore...spoiler alert. Although, maybe they meet up with Davos on his way to the Umbers to find Rickon and Osha? Boy, wouldn't that be a traveling party: a smuggler, a eunuch, and the Lady Sansa Stark.

#6 - Meryn fucking Trant
The easiest death to see coming, he was my first choice in one of my drafts, second in another. His death was utterly brutal too; maybe they used up their gore allotment in that scene, and that's why they couldn't show too much brutality in the other deaths. Probably not. Meryn Trant was a terrible guy; they've let us know that since season 1. A Kingsguard isn't what it used to be...although Barristan Selmy wasn't exactly Iron Man, either.

#7 - Myrcella Baratheon
This one was heartbreaking, and I don't know how I didn't see it coming. I mean you saw in my prelude, I knew Ellaria was still up to no good. But Myrcella always seemed like an absurd target for revenge. I guess we were supposed to buy into that, because clearly the Sand Snakes did. Moments after Jamie revealed himself to be her father, and she accepted it, and he had that first, brief moment of acceptance from his daughter about who he really was, she was torn from him. I have to say, while most of the other deaths are of longer-running characters whose personalities we've seen more of, this one rattled me the most.

#8 - Jon Snow
And now we come to the biggest death of the season, and one of the biggest deaths in the show. Jon Snow was someone we watched intently from episode one. He helped us learn about Tyrion's wisdom and wit. He showed us Sam's intelligence. Through him, we saw Grenn and Pyp grow into men of the Night's Watch, we saw Jeor Mormont command the rangers, we saw wights and White Walkers and wildlings. And through it all, we saw him as the next generation of Ned Stark. His heart was always looking at the big picture, doing "what must be done." But in doing so, he ignored what was going on around him, just as Ned did, and in the end it cost him his life.

Jon's death was foreshadowed all season with the decisions he was making, and the Brothers' reactions to them. All of his decisions made sense to us, but to the men at Castle Black who'd been fighting wildlings for years, or those like Olly who'd seen their families butchered by wildlings, his behavior was treasonous, hence the sign.

How will the story turn with Jon Snow's blood staining the ground at Castle Black? I don't rightly know. We do know that Melisandre is at Castle Black. And we do know that Melisandre met Thoros of Myr, who told her about how he asked the Lord of Light to send Beric Dondarrion back to him, and Beric had life breathed back into him, like freaking Gandalf the White. So, perhaps her presence at Castle Black is fortuitous for those who want Jon to endure, in one way or another. I don't know whether I want Jon's death to be permanent to see how the world responds, or if I want him to be reborn in some fashion.

I do know this: I liked episode 10 a lot better than episode 9. And that even accounts for the terrible "bad pussy" line.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Game of Thrones Season Finale Discussion - "Mother's Mercy" PRELUDE

I'm gonna go with a different style this time around. I'll still do my "discussion points," but I'm adding a prelude, right as I begin to watch the episode (I'm at work, so I'll be a bit behind the rest of you nine-to-fivers). This will be basically my immediate thoughts as I watch the, "previously on Game of Thrones." Here goes.

- Ellaria and the Sand Snakes are still up to no good.
- The Mountain is coming back. Like, now.
- Oh em gee, Syrio maybe still alive? Probably not, but a man can hope.
- Awful lot of Benjen in this. Looks like we'll get some kind of answer about him at least.
- Dragons are still badass.
- I feel like a lot is going to happen in the North this episode. My prediction: there will be blood.

Alright, I'm stoked, let's go.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 9, "The Dance of Dragons"

With the title, it was obviously looking like it was going to be a Daenerys-heavy episode, but now that Tyrion is in the mix, I wasn't dreading it like I had for the past 1-2 seasons.

Also, historically, episode 9 has been the "King Shit" episode of the Game of Thrones season. The first season it was Baelor, with the execution of Ned Stark. Season two, episode 9 was the battle of Blackwater, which gave us some of the best King's Landing scenes in the whole show. Season three yielded The Rains of Castamere and the Red Wedding. And last season's ninth episode was the longest episode in series history, and probably the most epic: the defense of The Wall against the wildling horde.

Would this season's ninth episode live up to its predecessors?

Ehh...not really.

Dorne was kind of fun this time.

I like Prince Doran Martell. He seems like how I would be if I were some form of royalty: methodical, thoughtful, not doing a whole lot of moving around. His "negotiation" with Jamie and Ellaria was entertaining if predictably boring. And Bronn's price for freedom made me laugh out loud.

And Tyene is still a babe. I wonder if her seduction of Bronn will have further implications, or if it was just for fun. I'm not upset either way.

I don't understand Ellaria though. She's like totally over her plot now? Or she's still playing coy and plans to yet exact her revenge? And are the three Sand Snakes over it? I just, I don't understand.

Good to know that the writers were comfortable making Meryn Trant an all-around terrible shit.

My guess is he's not long for this world, though. Also, am I wrong in thinking that Mace Tyrell coming to an accord with the Iron Bank was a relevant event that got kind of glazed over?

Aww, Shireen.

I haven't checked Reddit yet, but my guess is that Stannis lost every fan he had. Religious fanatics eventually act fanatical. Every ounce of goodwill he generated this season burned up with Shireen. I don't know what Davos is going to do; I have to think he'll be utterly crushed. I know that Book Davos has all sorts of fun stuff on the docket, and this event maybe releases him from Stannis to go do those things. If we hear anything about Wyman Manderly in episode 10, I'll be jazzed.

Jorah's not a great fighter.

He kept getting saved by luck or opportunity while he was in the fighting pit. I'm okay with it because Jorah's supposed to be like 60 years old and not terribly nimble, but it certainly makes for some frustrating TV. The one advantage to it is that, with Jorah's greyscale, his mortality is completely on the table. So there was always the possibility that he would actually be killed in the pits, adding drama and tension. Still, because the greyscale doesn't seem to have "served a purpose" yet, I felt like he was safe until we know why he has greyscale. Not like how he got it, but why the writers gave it to him.

Which leaves us with...

Guess who's back. Back again. Drogon's back. Tell your- OH GOD I'M ON FIRE!!!

Look, I knew it was coming. The books have something similar happen, except the circumstances are less heroic for Drogon. Him showing up to save the day as the Sons of the Harpy close in on Daenerys was great TV, and I mean, a dragon is a dragon. Skyrim nailed dragons, and Game of Thrones is doing a good job as well.

I liked how the scene built up, how the Unsullied were actually effective in combat against these assassins this time (cough cough Barristan and Grey Worm cough cough), and I actually, for the first time, liked Daario's comments and posture. But there's a weakness here that kind of gets ignored, maybe because so many show-watchers are also book-readers, or maybe because people just don't care that much about villains. But I have no idea who the Sons of the Harpy are.

Okay, that's not true. I know they're folks who don't like that Daenerys is ruling Meereen, and they have some level of preference for slavery. But like, are they from Meereen? Are they from the other cities in Slavers' Bay? Do they have demands? Are they "represented" by other people, people who serve in some official capacity? Do they have only a solitary goal of deposing Dany? Do they have leaders? There seem to be a lot of them, which means tons of these masks are getting made. Is anybody looking into them? It seems insane to think that a terrorist group with high-level kills on record would be treated like just some other gang. They found the one guy hiding in the wall, and that's the extent of their investigation?

That's the part of the story in Meereen that doesn't jive for me. I need my villains to have motivations, reasons, some kind of explanation for their behavior. Tywin had a reason. Roose Bolton had a reason. Walder Frey had a reason. At this point, we even have a rough idea of what the White Walkers want (the death of everyone and everything). But the Sons of the Harpy haven't been given depth at all. So to me, they're still basically just psychopathic killers, without any end in mind. And that doesn't work for me.

Looking forward to episode 10...

I'm hoping that, since this episode nine was a little lacking, episode ten will be strong. I'm expecting Arya to find a way to kill Meryn Trant, Cersei to receive punishment for her "crimes," Tyrion to start managing Meereen, something to happen at The Wall (no spoilers), and some sort of payoff between the Boltons and Stannis' army.

We'll see what actually happens.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Game of Thrones Quick Episode Discussion/Review - Season 5, Episode 8, "Hardhome"

A friend of mine posted this on Facebook around 10:00 PM:
Game of Thrones? More like, Game of "Holy Shit that was F'in Crazy!"

So I decided I'd make sure to get my reaction post done right away. Here we go.

I love that Tyrion is back into a position of consequence.

Tyrion is one of the most enjoyable characters to watch try to work out a problem, or solve a problem. He's a decent person who still has sense enough to know that he's in danger pretty much every hour of every day. As I predicted last week, Dany's storyline got way more interesting with his insertion into it.

I don't know if Qyburn is an interesting character, or if he just picks up all the exposition about the workings of the world, which is my favorite part of the show.

I love the politics of the story, the different players, the movements of pieces across the board. And Qyburn spent like five minutes basically relaying to Cersei all the happenings in the realm with regards to the various Lannisters, as well as the Sparrows (who are still all shits by the way). Qyburn himself is basically just a necromancer, which is interesting enough, but probably doesn't warrant the enjoyment I feel in watching him on screen. Nevertheless, someone has to fill that role so that we viewers know what's going on in the world, and he reaps the rewards in my eyes.

Speaking of...

It was interesting watching Cersei go through the stages of grief.

Anger, bargaining...whatever the other ones are. Obviously not so much acceptance just yet.

When Sam said, "He always comes back" about Jon, I honestly thought Jon was done for.

We're getting close to the point where I don't know what's going to happen at all anymore, because we're passing the book's content. But there's no question that Jon's life is very much in play, as are the rest of...well, basically everybody in the North. The Boltons, Sansa, Theon/Reek, Stannis, Davos, Melisandre, Shireen, Stannis' wife (who I would not miss at all), Sam, Gilly, Edd, Aliser Thorne, Olly, Tormund, and all those other wildlings up in Hardhome, every one of them was a potential casualty this episode, and remains a potential casualty for the rest of the season. Which leads into my final point...

This episode was a great example of a high-action, high-drama episode that didn't require the death of a major character.

In looking back to episode 9 of last season, the battle at The Wall, there's no arguing that the deaths of Grenn and Pyp brought a weight to the situation that might not have been matched if only big-name wildlings had died (Ygritte and Magnar of Thenn). It was definitely frustrating to see them die, and because they didn't die in the books, felt unnecessary, but that may have only been because I enjoyed the characters and didn't want to lose them.

This episode introduced the only characters who died: the other Thenn, that sassy mom wildling, and the white walker who Jon ate up with his Valyrian steel sword, which, by the way, was an awesome information addition. Anytime we learn any more about this world (see Qyburn up top) and how it works, that's a good thing.

I thought this was a really good episode. I'm hopeful that the last two are equal to it. I'm nervous for Stannis, who I haven't liked at all until the very end of last season and the beginning of this season. I'm expecting to finally get some payoff from Arya's story (perhaps in the form of a diced up Meryn fucking Trant, whose arrival with Mace Tyrell in Braavos is imminent). I'm hopeful that there'll be more conversations involving Tyrion and strategy, with whomever. I'm expecting Jorah to die. And I have no idea what to expect in Dorne.

See you next week!

EDIT: Oh shit, I almost forgot, that final scene with the Night King raising all of the wildlings into his army and smirking at Jon Snow? BADASS. Finally some supervillain flavor to these guys. Everything before was so slow and, well, "dead." I've always felt that there's no way that George R. R. Martin would've created the White Walkers and not given them some kind of motivation or backstory or reason for being what they are. That scene was probably the most important scene of the season so far, as far as establishing the White Walkers as the true villains.

Top 500 Songs - Dave Matthews Band

This was always going to be the hardest of my band lists, because I like so many of DMB's songs, and have liked them so differently over...