Monomyth: The Sitcom, or, Crashing

crashing

The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Crashing, the new HBO comedy from comedian Pete Holmes and executive produced Judd Apatow, is the closet you’re going to get to a sitcom written by Joseph Campbell.

Based on Holmes’ real life experience as a burgeoning stand-up in New York, Crashing follows the sort of mythological, archetypal story beats seen in galaxy-spanning epics, here applied to a story with a scope as small and as vast as one guy’s life.

At the start of Pete’s journey he leads a comfortable, suburban life with his wife outside of New York City. The twin suns of Pete’s humble beginnings are preconceived notions of adulthood and unimaginative sex. He isn’t leading a bad life, but it’s clear that he’s leading an unfulfilled one, defined by known quantities.

Enter the inciting incident: marital infidelity.

Pete’s wife cheating on him is the archetypal call to action, the pull to something bigger, and like so many calls to action before it, Pete’s initial reaction is to reject it. But, like Luke Skywalker rushing back to a burning farm, Pete finds there is nothing for him in his old life.

From there he is whisked from adventure to adventure, pairing up with various comedic Buddhas that form a wide swath of unconventional mentors for our intrepid hero from week to week.

In applying the narrative ebbs and flows of archetypal mythology to a smaller, more intimate story than we are used to seeing them in, Crashing shows the power of the story beats and characters we know so well. These are ideas that ring true for a Jedi and superheroes precisely because they ring true for far more terrestrial, pedestrian protagonists as well.

Three episodes in, Crashing promises to be something between a sitcom and a saga. Anyone with a penchant for waxing poetic on The Hero’s Journey will find something to chew on watching Holmes’ cross the threshold.

Rogue Time, or, Game of Thrones Season Six

GameofThronesseasonsix

Gross.

Did you know The Flash can time travel?

If the Flash lets things get way, way out of hand he can run so fast he goes backwards in time. Events unfold in one way with characters falling where they will like so many variables reaching the other end of the equal sign but then the Flash can go back, tweak a variable and watch the variables play out again with drastically different results.

Watching Game of Thrones’ most recent season, a majority of which takes place beyond the events depicted thus far in author George R. R. Martin’s source material, I felt like The Flash, barreling toward a conclusion that I know to be malleable.

Not having access to HBO during the first season of Game of Thrones I wound up just reading the books, and by the time season two had wrapped I’d finished Martin’s most recent entry in the series, A Dance with Dragons. As such, before season six began I had never seen an episode of Game of Thrones that I couldn’t at least vaguely predict the outcome of.

Prior to its premiere season six loomed large on my mind. I knew going in that the show would be entering into territory that the books hadn’t covered yet. I began to feel the littlest bit guilty. This is, after all, Martin’s story, one he’s been hard at work on for over twenty years, and here the spiffy, shiny TV adaptation that’s been around for less than a decade is going to swoop in and start resolving Martin’s plot threads for him, before he has the opportunity to do so himself.

Obviously I didn’t feel all that bad about it because I didn’t miss an episode of season six, and I’m glad for it, because season six not only begins the show’s brisk departure beyond the chronology of the Song of Ice and Fire books, it also sees a massive snowballing of all the little tweaks the show has made from the original novels into events that can never transpire in the books.

Season six of Game of Thrones is when the show started to feel less like an adaptation and more like an alternate timeline.

Characters in the show are in wildly different parts of the world then they are in the books, if they exist in the show at all. Substantial character arcs have been reassigned and swapped and deleted and added and mashed together.
Almost immediately season six made it clear to me that I had become like unto The Flash, watching the timeline of the TV Show unfold all the while stretching my legs for my sprint back to the past and an alternative unfolding of events when the sixth and seventh books eventually come out and Martin himself ends his sprawling epic.

I wasn’t big on Game of Thrones fifth season. Honestly, I assumed it had taken a dip in quality from which it would never recover, as plenty of shows do after reaching such dizzying peaks as Thrones’ fourth season. My distaste for season five coupled with my uncertainty about marching into new territory without the books in hand made me weary going into season six.

The show proved me wrong over and over again.

Game of Thrones season six is an utter triumph. Its finale shattered records that had shattered records that had shattered records. Its battles were above and beyond anything I’ve seen in the theater this year. Its twists and turns and connecting threads were consistently exciting and satisfying. But most of all, it’s smart, interesting and (I can only imagine) calculated deviations from George R. R. Martin’s original Song of Ice and Fire novels not only breathed new life into the show but to retain the mystery and uncertainty of Martin’s yet-to-be-released sixth and seventh books.

Watching season six of Game of Thrones required a sacrifice, albeit a small one. It required my forfeiture what, in another timeline, would have been my first interaction with Martin’s material after the events of a Dance with Dragons. When Martin’s sixth book, The Winds of Winter, finally does come out, the way I read it and interact with it will undeniably have been shaped by my already having seen season six of Game of Thrones. I’ve taken on suspicions, expectations and questions that wouldn’t otherwise have been there. I won’t be experiencing The Winds of Winter like I experiences its five predecessors. I’ll be experiencing it like the Flash, fresh from a sprint back in time, knowing how events did play out under one set of circumstances and waiting to see how they transpire under new ones. And Game of Thrones season six was so good that I’m okay with that.

The Leftovers, or, Answers are Dumb

Spooky.

Spooky.

Damon Lindelof is no stranger to answers.

The writer parsed them out on Lost and when fandom didn’t like the light and smoke that they got they crucified him for it.

Then Lindelof spackled in some backstory to the Alien mythos in the 2012 film Prometheus and once again, deeming the answers inadequate, genre fans everywhere took out their Mjölnir replicas and went to work.

Lindelof is no stranger to answers, but they certainly aren’t his friend. And quite frankly they aren’t really our friends either. Who doesn’t want to know how the hell a polar bear got on a tropical island, or who the the others are or what that god awful racket in the forest is? They’re mysteries. Of course we want them solved.

But, much like The Prestige, you don’t really want to know.

Do you really care why there are zombies in The Walking Dead? Is the cause the most important thing in the show, or is it the effect? The fact that because there are zombies, Rick gets to carry around a revolver and steadily cultivate survivalist facial hair.

Answers are a myth. How often in life is the whole truth laid bare before us? Exposition dumps don’t happen in real life and so when they happen in literature they feel cumbersome and unnatural, like a chemical taste in your mouth. Sure, answers are nice enough, but the precise machinations of fictional events are never as interesting as the reactions said events allow characters and fictional worlds to have.

I’m cautiously optimistic that Damon Lindelof is of the same mindset in his latest project, HBOs The Leftovers, an adaptation of the novel by Tom Perrotta.

The backbone of The Leftovers is the instantaneous disappearance of 2% of the world population. They didn’t run away or spontaneously combust. They just straight up disappeared.

It is such a bummer.

Wicked bummer.

Wicked bummer.

Where did they go? Why did they go? Are they alive?

Don’t tell me.

I don’t want to know.

There’s a hole in the heart of every instant of The Leftovers’ series premiere, as if every word spoken and action taken by every character is secondary to a dreadful, ceaseless wonder.

What the hell happened?

Do we get exposition regarding this sudden rapture? Sure. There are facts and figures regarding who was taken and from where, but by and large the background information coughed up in The Leftovers serves to further the understanding that there is absolutely no understanding of what happened. Which is all the better, because just like the characters within The Leftovers, there is no answer to the rapture that will make us happy. The characters desperately want answers and exposition, and who could blame them? But at the end of the day whether they know why a staggering 1 out of every 50 human beings on the face of the planet disappeared or not, it doesn’t make the event any less shocking, nor their losses any less lost.

The fallacy held by these characters and we viewers alike is that knowing will make it better. That exposition will not only fill in cracks that are nowhere near threatening The Leftovers’ narrative integrity, but will also reverse the rapid deterioration of the world of the show itself.

Working title: The Bummer

Working title: The Bummer

We don’t need to know why or how. All the exposition we need is written across Justin Theroux’s face.

Damon Lindelof has spent much of his career being alternatively badgered for answers or punished for them. It’s hard not to look at The Leftovers as a response to that.

It’s my sincere hope that Damon Lindelof and Tom Perrotta don’t keep their cards close to their chests. I want them to burn the entire deck and forget it ever existed.

Holy Crap, or, Game of Thrones and Hype

At ease, soldier. No spoilers here. Scout’s honor.

In the ten or so months since season three of Game of Thrones ended it’s been hard to remember that it’s just a television show. HBO’s adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels hasn’t just captured the zeitgeist, it’s locked it away in a Swiss safe deposit box and destroyed the key.

CAW! CAW!

CAW! CAW!

From June to March Game of Thrones was less a show than a full-fledged cultural phenomenon comprised of hashtags and logos flavored with the occasional offhanded mention of that ever-elusive sixth book. I love Game of Thrones. But I’d be lying if I said its cultural presence hadn’t gotten exhausting.

Then I sat down last night to watch the premiere of the show’s fourth season and all of that exhaustion dissipated by the end of the theme song. All of the speculation and casting news and early reviews and interviews and reaction videos disappeared to reveal Game of Thrones at its molten core: interesting people having interesting conversations while wearing interesting clothing in interesting places. Sometimes naked. Sometimes murder.

It’s great and exciting and I love watching the show so much that year after year it trumps the ever escalating heights of the hype surrounding it. For the majority of the year, when Game of Thrones isn’t actually on air, you probably wouldn’t even know it. The show has such a presence in pop culture that there’s no real break from it and at times it seems Game of Thrones, through no real fault of its own, oversaturates the market place. Despite that sensation I was ready to go from the first frame of the fourth season premiere. Game of Thrones is that rare entity that not only meets, but exceeds the hype, but last night’s premiere left me wondering what other shows or movies I’ve left behind because they were eclipsed by the hype surrounding them.

Via reddit

Via reddit

I’ve made no secret of my reservations regarding The Walking Dead, which I’ve now fallen far behind on. But is it really the show that I’m so adverse to, or is it the property’s complete saturation of pop culture? The fact that despite having no idea what “Terminus” is, I’m well aware of the fact that “Terminus” has something to do with The Walking Dead? Do the qualms I have with The Walking Dead really run rampant through the show or do I just have less tolerance for The Walking Dead’s fumbles because I’ve grown sick of hearing about it?

There’s clearly a hype to quality ratio and a threshold entertainment has to meet in regards to those two variables from person to person. It’s a threshold that, in my eyes, Game of Thrones consistently meets and The Walking Dead seems to miss more and more every year.

But how does that ratio work? Can it be quantified? If Game of Thrones took even a slight dip in quality would I no longer be able to tolerate it and its all-consuming media presence? If I heard just a little bit less about The Walking Dead in my day to day life would I be more willing to overlook my problems with it?

And then I got to thinking.

Have I ever generated hype for a show enough to turn someone else off from it altogether? Am I part of the problem? Is this blog post about Game of Thrones the blog post that finally trumps some poor readers’ tolerance for hype?

And, most horrifically: Have I ever, to the detriment of a potential viewer, overhyped Everybody Loves Raymond?

Every. Body.

Every. Body.

Sure, I probably don’t need to sing the Barone family’s praises. Sure, everybody probably knows Brad Garrett is a national treasure. Sure, everybody probably knows Peter Boyle was also in an excellent season three episode of The X-Files entitled “Clyde Buckman’s Final Response.” Sure, everybody probably knows ELR won 14 Emmys over the course of its nine year run. Sure, everybody probably knows how funny it was when Debra let Ray do the shopping and then Ray bought weird tissues and a hose that was too short and then he set the kitchen on fire.

Hahaha.

Hahaha.

Sure, everybody probably loves Raymond.

But what if they don’t?

That’s always been my thought process when shoving the gospel of ELR down the throat of everyone everywhere. After all, shouldn’t I, the fan, inform the masses if something makes me happy? Shouldn’t I share my happiness? And if something makes a lot of people happy, shouldn’t they all share it? And if something makes a lot of people really happy, can I really get that annoyed with it? Should I really let a resounding chorus of fanaticism pervert my opinion of a massive source of happiness and entertainment? Can I really ever even know if it’s hype or quality that influences my opinion of something?

Shit’s Kafkaesque, yo.

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

1. What is pop culture?

2. What are we doing here?

3. Do you think we’ll see Jaime’s dick this season?

 

For more on Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead:

Thrones vs. Dead

Game of Thrones – Season Three

Punishment, or, Television in 2013

Myself, The Walking Dead and a 24 oz bottle of Hatorade

Step Aside Nerds, or, True Detective is the Future

Guess what? No spoilers ahead! How do you like them apples? Feel free to have seen absolutely none of True Detective and have absolutely nothing about True Detective spoiled for you. Except the protagonists’ names. Sorry.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the films and shows that first really clicked with me as a young(er) adult. The movies I watched in high school that opened my mind to just how much a movie could achieve. I suspect everyone has a list of entertainment that meets that criteria, and I suspect a lot of our lists have a lot of the same things on them. Entertainment that raises the bar for entertainment, or morphs it entirely. Things that capture the zeitgeist in such a way as to constantly appear on a towering, sometimes pretentious, pedestal above the uninitiated.

When I was in high school many of my peers put the works of Quentin Tarantino and Darren Aronofsky on that pedestal. When I was in college it seemed perpetually occupied by The Wire. For me that first work that blew the lid off of what I knew movies to be was No Country for Old Men.

There isn’t a right answer, to be certain, but there are definitely movies and shows that seem to hold that place for people more than others, and I suspect there is a new member of that pantheon.

LOGO ATTACK

LOGO ATTACK

If I were in high school today I suspect the hushed discussions during geometry class would be exclusively about True Detective.

The eight-part HBO mini-series, which now seems poised to be the first season in an anthology series that changes stories and characters year to year, ended last night after stirring up no small amount of discussion and speculation for the past two months. And rightfully so.

True Detective perpetually presented new ideas or reframed old ones. It’s very much a study of tradition cinematic masculinity, yet it tilts the concept just enough to the left to allow for an honest examination of that masculinity’s associated tropes and pitfalls. Similarly it’s very much a cop drama and yet its ambitious storytelling sensibilities differentiate it entirely from the likes of Law & Order and other traditional procedurals.

For all the familiar ground it treads in terms of detectives and investigation the nuance in True Detective is unlike anything else. Whether it’s a gaze into space, a tracking shot or mumbled existentialism the show never remained complaisant in its titular genre.

Just a couple of bros, broing out bro style.

Just a couple of bros, broing out bro style.

And why would it have?

True Detective was set up as a mini-series. Eight episodes. In and out. A story to tell from beginning to end within a predetermined span of time. It could pace itself accordingly, dulling out questions and answers at its own pace rather than having to worry about retaining momentum for an inestimable number of future episodes in an unknown number of future seasons.

Part of what makes True Detective so fantastic is that it’s self-contained.

Season one of True Detective is over in every sense of the word. The characters are done. The story is done. It was all extremely finite and all the more precious for it.

Here’s hoping the entertainment industry takes notice.

Are you excited for Captain America: The Winter Soldier? Did you see the first Captain America? What about the seven other films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Did you read any of the graphic novels? Do you keep up with the comic?

What about The Walking Dead? Do you keep up with that comic? Are you caught up on Season Four? What about All-Out War? Have you played the video game yet? Are you read for the spin-off?

True Detective is eight hour-long episodes of television.

That’s it.

Two dreamboats coming up.

Two dreamboats coming up.

Sure it was influenced by various texts you could check out for your own curiosity, but when you have watched the first eight episodes of True Detective, you have watched True Detective. There are no tie-ins, there is no source material, there is just a single, stand-alone story about Rust Cohle and Marty Hart, two characters we’ve never seen before and will never see again.

True Detective is the antithesis of geek-culture’s mythology-heavy stronghold on entertainment. And I love it for that.

If True Detective is the piece of fiction that heightens my kids perception of what film and art are capable of I’ll be thrilled for them. And appalled that my kids are watching such wildly inappropriate television.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

Is there a television show or movie that changed the way you view entertainment?

Is it the 1999 romp Deep Blue Sea?

Why not?

Plots and Schemes and One Other Thing, or, Game of Thrones Season Three

Spoilers are coming (ahead for season three of Game of Thrones – bu-dum cha). Seriously though. Spoilers.

Man oh man do I love plotting. It is without a doubt one of my favorite hobbies, pursuits and/or interests. In fact, the only thing that I can think of that I might like better than plotting is scheming. And if anything could come close to my pure, unbridled passion for plots and schemes it would be gratuitous nudity. Enter the third season of Game of Thrones.

Shadow/dragon attack!

Shadow/dragon attack!

For those familiar with the books season three represents a massive adaptive undertaking. Last year the creative powers that be behind HBO’s Game of Thrones proved they could deliver when they really needed to with the Battle of Blackwater Bay, but the third book in the Song of Ice and Fire series, A Clash of Kings, which serves as the source material for season three and the upcoming season four of the show, represents something of a point of no return.

When discussing the Song of Ice and Fire story with someone who is familiar with the first book’s worth of material you can easily discuss upcoming events in very broad strokes without giving away too much. When discussing the story past A Clash of Kings with someone who has not made their way through the second book, however, it’s nearly impossible to get into any sort of discussion without giving away major moves on the chess board that is Westeros.

As such the proper execution of certain events in season three of Game of Thrones was paramount and, much as they’ve proven with Sept of Baelor and Blackwater Bay before, the show delivered on those major happenings in a big, terrible, gut-wrenching way.

But I don’t really give a shit about all that jazz. As previously stated, I give a shit about plotting and scheming jazz. And boy was there a lot of it. In fact, I would say that for every single massive, earth shaking event in season three of Game of Thrones there was easily nine to nine and a half hours of plotting, scheming and general conspiratorial mischief. And man was it awesome.

 

Look at the freaking CRAFTSMANSHIP.

Look at the freaking CRAFTSMANSHIP.

I mean, think of the tables. Nothing flares up my scheme heat more than a good scheme at a great table. I’m partial to Stannis Baratheon’s 3D Westeros-shaped Warhammer/sex-having table myself. Let me tell you I could watch him scheme and plot and have sex with witches on that table for easily ten episodes.Stannis had an extremely auxiliary role this season, serving as more of a figurehead for characters like Melisandre, Davos and Gendry to orbit around. Which of course lead to some of the biggest adaptive liberties the writers of the Game of Thrones series took this year with Gendry taking an unexpected road trip to Dragonstone. For something that wasn’t in the oh-so-lauded source material, Gendry’s time in Dragonstone proved not only incredibly interesting, but surprisingly natural. Gendry and Stannis are sort of kind of related after all. And Gendry’s conversation with Davos, who himself had a rough and compelling journey this season, was justification enough for the deviation.

But enough about that table! Dragonstone is great, but how can you not love the table of the small council? There’s an elegant grandeur to it that seems to say “I don’t need to be a fancy table, because the plots and schemes plotted and schemed on this table speak for themselves.” And boy did they!

GORGEOUS.

GORGEOUS.

Tywin and his BFF-penpal Roose “the Boss” Bolton may very well have rocketed past Joffrey in the love to hate roster of the series after the seminal events of the Red Wedding. The showrunners have long cited the brutal betrayal as their inspiration for adapting the show in the first place and their passion for the sequence shone through in blood and guts and dead baby blood and guts.

In the immediate aftermath of the Red Wedding many in the media asserted that it was the most awful single event in television history and, excluding King of Queens, it’s hard to argue against that claim.  Even knowing in advance what was about to unfold when the knives came out and the bodies started dropping it felt like a swift tap on the nuts with a hot sledgehammer.

Which brings me to the table I’ll miss the most – Robb Stark’s. Robb’s was a humble table with a humble map and badass chess pieces. It didn’t need a 3D bust of an entire continent, or fancy King’s Landing chairs. It was the table that plotted and schemed a revolution and plotted and schemed unchecked victory after unchecked victory and plotted and schemed plots and schemes that will now never come to fruition. Also, Robb’s table is the only table that won’t be around anymore, ergo, I de facto miss it the most.

RobStarktable

Easily my least favorite schemes this year came from across the sea with young Daenerys and her gang of fellows. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t terrible schemes, but they lacked a certain hutzpah, a certain je ne sias quoi, a certain table. Luckily what Daenerys lacked in tables she made up for in character development.

The Khaleesi has been praised by many as a feminist badass, but she’s proven to be literally anything but for literally her entire story. Literally. First she depended on her brother, then on her awesome husband and now on a trinity of diverse white men. But season three saw Daenerys gain an air of authority to her. Is she hugely dependent on three men still? Yup. But when she stands before them and demands suggestions and solutions she does so with full command over all of them. It’s an interesting dynamic that was fun to watch over the course of the season, particularly when compared to Daenerys’ arcs in seasons past.

Theon Greyjoy, on the other hand, experienced the exact opposite trend. Watching the former ward of Winterfell grapple between his blood and his upbringing last season was compelling and Theon’s sacking of Winterfell was one of the most epic moments the series has produced thus far. I wish I could say the same for Theon getting his dick cut off, but after seeing him experience literally every other form of torture it was hard to be surprised. In fact, I was more surprised when his captor didn’t eat his penis then I was when his captor cut it off.

Luckily, Theon-torture aside, season three was a good ride that saw awesome developments for a lot of returning characters; Jamie’s monologue regarding his murdering the Mad King was enthralling, the exchange between Jon and Ygritte in the season finale was phenomenally acted and heartbreaking, Arya’s sinister development into a brutal murderer is almost too badass and Joffrey.

Joffrey.

Boom.

Boom.

A handful of interesting new characters were introduced as well; the Brotherhood without Banners, Ramsay “dick-cutter-offer” Snow and Stannis’ sons just to name a few.

Season three has managed to maintain much of the first two seasons’ momentum due in no small part to emotional gut punches, great characterizations and the simply staggering amount of plotting and scheming. If the caliber of content produced this season on Game of Thrones is any indicator, fans of a Song of ice and Fire need not worry for the future of Westeros. I can only hope that the future of Westeros will find my favorite characters plotting and scheming to get together to plot and scheme.

Fingers crossed.

The Passion of the Christ, or, Oh my God Game of Thrones and Walking Dead are on at the Same Time

Spoilers ahead for The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones season three.

Easter is a special time because my family goes out to a fancy Italian restaurant and I eat fancy leftovers on Monday. But this Easter also saw a conflict of epic proportions played out on the small screen before our very eyes. In fact our very eyes were the very soldiers that fought in the very trenches of a bloody – and largely one-sided – conflict.

The season finale of AMC’s The Walking Dead and the season premiere of HBO’s Game of Thrones both aired on March 31st at 9 P.M. What did you watch? It’s a pretty divisive question and nerd culture will likely schism at the spine over the choices made in the battle for Easter Sunday.

Rest assured, whatever you decided to watch, by 10:01 Easter night a meme was making fun of you.

Did your choose horror or intrigue?

The apocalypse or war?

Did you choose a show with a handful of talented actors who do their best to breathe life into the stale words and scenarios clumsily cobbled together by writers sitting on the laurels that are millions of viewers across the country, or did they fight for a show with a vast ensemble of creative talent from writers to directors to actors that traverse the globe in order to film one of the most ambitious television undertakings of all time?

Do you have regular cable or an HBO subscription?

Or did you watch both of them simultaneously like some psychopath?

Well, as of ratings reports popping up on the web yesterday, a vast majority of people went for the horrific apocalypse fueled by the laurels of sitting writers that is The Walking Dead. Which I do actually like. Really.

What is happening!

What is happening!

The AMC show garnered an immense 12 million viewers for its season three finale, which racks up to a staggering half of the Earth. Probably. But even beyond that, the post-Walking Dead commentary program Talking Dead, hosted by Nerdist’s Christ Hardwick, gobbled up five million viewers – over a sixth of people alive on the planet.

Game of Thrones, on the other hand, debuted its third season to a piss poor reception of four million viewers, a.k.a. maybe one out of three people in my apartment building. Essentially the HBO hit brought home a straight-C report card to a drunken factory worker of a dad. I’m not even sure why that show is on the air anymore.

Oh and it set an HBO record or whatever.

Facts and figures and abusive parent metaphors aside – if you sided with Dead, you missed out my friend, because Game of Thrones enjoyed the more just, righteous victory. The “Rocky 1” victory, if you will.

Game of Thrones may have had only a third of the viewers The Walking Dead nabbed, but of the viewers who have since watched both the Dead finale and the Thrones premiere I would be shocked if more than an eighth were more impressed with AMC’s zombie fiesta.

I’ve ranted about this before and I’m sure I’ll rant about it again in October come season four, but man is coasting the name of the game for the creative powers that be behind what is legitimately the most successful television show on air today.

“Welcome to the Tombs,” the finale in question, was unusually loose for a season finale, where you would normally expect the storytelling to be as tight and paced as possible. It was also disappointing. Really, really disappointing. But more on that later.

On paper, the idea of Andrea being chained to a chair and locked in a room with Milton, who is bleeding out and will soon enough become a zombie and kill her all against his will, had a lot of potential. In practice it sucked. Ignoring the fact that the Governor’s decision to kill Andrea made pretty much zero sense – dude chased the lady for an entire episode and locked her in a room so that he could… leave her there to die while he’s off doing whatever? Why not just kill her when he caught her?

Because having the Governor lock her in a basement with a zombie was a potentially neat idea and narrative be damned The Walking Dead is all about being potentially neat, potentially “neat-o” even.

Even the logical gap could have been ignored, however, if the narrative thread wasn’t stretched out for miles. If I wanted to watch some lady pick up a pair of pliers for forty five minutes, I’d be an idiot. It’s this mix up between making things take forever and creating genuine tension that largely contributed to the finale’s “meh” reception.

But let’s not forget the disappointment.

Remember how there was this place called Woodbury with this crazy guy and this prison with a slightly nicer crazy guy and they were really mad at each other all godamn year and we were all waiting for them to go to war and it was the season godamn finale and they were totally going to go to war?

Turns out we’re still waiting!

Last time I checked wars have more casualties than two guard towers and some blown out tires – but hey, maybe I’m a pessimist. Who in the right mind though that twelve million viewers were tuning in to watch the Governor and his gang break into the prison, wonder around, run back out of the prison and leave, with a clip or two wasted in between, like a bunch of suburban teenagers daring each other to go into old dead Ms. McCreary’s abandoned house on the night she tripped and fell and died going into her own house?

It's clever because chess is also a game.

It’s clever because chess is also a game.

Spoiler alert: it wasn’t me.

With a show that squeezes every ounce of melodrama possible out of every single moment, such a quick and uneventful end to the hostilities was out of character for the worse and lame as shit.

I caught the repeat at eleven, which means I was up until midnight! On a Sunday! I was so tired on my drive into work that I could barely laugh at Car Talk. I had to drink an extra Red Bull! Midnight! On a Sunday!

Game of Thrones, ever the ugly stepchild with its pithy four million viewers, started its season off with a similarly uneventful episode that was miles ahead in quality. The difference lies in a simple understanding: tension and action and payoff are all byproducts of the sorcery that is characterization and nuance and narrative foundation.

Was I on the edge of my seat while Tyrion got made fun of by his dad for being a weirdo? Nope. Nor was I supposed to be. But you can bet I was paying full attention because if I were a betting man my money would be on that conversation making later conversations or character moments or sex scenes or whatever HBO does more impactful. Do I really give a shit about Margaery giving a bunch of orphans already opened action figures? I couldn’t pretend to if I wanted to. But its effective juxtaposition and it serves to elaborate on the relationships and contrasts between characters in a meaningful, believable way.

Subtlety is so often the name of the game in effective storytelling. Take Rick’s temporary decent into madness during this past season as an example. Imagine how much more effective it could have been had viewers simply not been privy to all the dumb crap he was seeing. Imagine for a moment that the exact, specific nature of his mental anguish wasn’t spelled out for us with a flashing neon sign being.

But hey, twelve million viewers is hardly subtle.