Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Third GAME OF THRONES teaser trailer with notes.


HBO have released the third teaser trailer for Game of Thrones. At a minute, this is the longest teaser yet and features a lot more material.

Theon hands Eddard his sword.

The trailer opens with material from the first Bran chapter in the book. Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) watches as his father Eddard Stark (Sean Bean), Lord of the North, executes Will (Bronson Webb), a 'deserter' from the Night's Watch. Eddard then tells Bran about his philosophy that if you sentence a man to die, you must swing the sword yourself rather than letting others do it for you (readers of the book know this sets up a future disagreement between Eddard and Robert). Notable in this scene is that Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) now his his proper black hair from the books, as compared to Alfie's natural blonde hair. He now looks a lot more like the character from the novels. We then have a voice-over from Old Nan (Margaret John):

"My sweet summer child, what do you know about fear? Fear is for the long night, when the snow falls a hundred feet deep. Fear is for the winter."

Jaime Lannister and two Lannister guardsmen, who are somewhat less samurai-looking here than previously feared.

As the voice-over continues we see Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) meeting her to-be husband, Khal Drogo of the Dothraki (Jason Momoa); Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) drawing his sword in a confrontation with Eddard in King's Landing; and Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) turning to Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage).

In a very nice juxtaposition, King Robert Baratheon (Mark Addy, with a gruff voice) then declares that there's a war coming (eagle-eyed viewers may spot Maester Luwin, Donald Sumpter, in the next shot of Eddard) before the scene shifts to the Crossroads Inn when Catelyn rouses a number of Riverlands soldiers to arrest Tyrion, which of course in the book triggers the outbreak of hostilities.

We then see Doreah (Roxanne McKee) 'tutoring' Daenerys in the bed arts so she may please her husband (something not in the books, although alluded to), followed by shots of armoured men with torches in the woods. This is probably either the Battle of the Whispering Woods or the search for Arya (Maisie Williams) triggered by her brief disappearance on the journey south.

Then we have an exchange between Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) and Eddard, with Cersei in her 'charming' mode telling Eddard that he was trained to follow, but Eddard robustly responds that he was trained to kill (cut to a shot of him cutting down a Lannister guardsman). This may be a reference to the fact that Eddard, as his father's second son, was never expected to lead, only to follow his brother Brandon's commands. Intriguingly, there's a brief shot of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) at this point. Either just a random choice, or a nod to the fact that Jon, as Eddard's bastard son, is not expected to lead or rule either, only to do honour in House Stark's name whilst not being allowed to use that name.

Tyrion gives his nephew some much-needed discipline.

We then cut to Winterfell and one of the more satisfying moments from the books, with Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) watching as Tyrion 'chastises' his nephew Prince Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) with a slap to the face. We then get a brief glimpse of the clash between Sandor Clegane and his brother Gregor (Conan Stevens) on the tourney field, Tyrion enjoying the attentions of a prostitute called Ros (Esme Bianco) and Jon engaging with some vigorous 'training' with his fellow Night's Watch members. This is followed by Eddard Stark's characteristic, "Winter is Coming," and a rather uncharacteristic laugh.

Bran Stark watching a man die.

Overall, pretty good. This trailer shows they are using different colour palettes for the different areas where the action is taking place. There are also some differences from the books highlighted: Will is being executed instead of Gared, the fight between Eddard and Jaime takes place in daylight and on foot rather than at night on horseback and Robert seems to be worrying about a new war, something he doesn't do in the book (unless it's Robert's paranoia over Dany's wedding to Drogo, which informs a lot of his actions in the novel). Drogo also has a beard rather than an elaborate mustache and it's clear that they're not giving the Targaryens purple eyes (although this may be down to screen-testing them and finding they didn't look good, apparently also why the Kingsguard armour is now gold with white trim rather than straight white).

You can find annotated screencaps here.

Stonewielder by Ian Cameron Esslemont

Thirty years ago the Malazan Empire launched a devastating invasion of the island continent of Korelri. With the north-western approaches denied by the ferocious sea-dwelling creatures known as the Stormriders, the Malazans swung wide to the east and invaded the island of Fist, at the furthest edge of the archipelago. There, under the command of Greymane, a grinding war of attrition was fought across decades to no end, for the islands of Korelri are protected by a goddess known as the Blessed Lady. Her very presence inhibits the operation of Warren magic, the cornerstone of Imperial tactics. Eventually Greymane abandoned his post and the war effort faltered.

Now things are changing. In the wake of a devastating civil war on Quon Tali, a new Emperor sits the throne of Malaz, and he has determined that the time has come to take Korelri once and for all, despite the power of the goddess. A new invasion force is assembled, its task formidable but its soldiers keen. As war erupts once more, the stoic soldiers of the Stormwall keep to their task, holding the alien Riders back from their shores. Amongst them is a new champion, a warrior beyond compare, a soldier who cannot die...but his comrades are coming for him.

Stonewielder is the third novel by Ian Cameron Esslemont, the co-creator (along with Steve Erikson) of the world of the Malazan Book of the Fallen. Stonewielder takes place on that world, slotting into the timeline a few months after the events of Return of the Crimson Guard, roughly around the same time as Toll the Hounds. Familiarity with the Malazan novels is a major asset in reading this book, but only really Return of the Crimson Guard is needed to fully understand what is going on: several character and storylines begun in Return continue directly here. I also strongly recommend reading this novel before tackling Erikson's The Crippled God in a few months, as the ending of Stonewielder appears to be a direct set-up for that novel.

The island-continent/subcontinent (as we learn in the book, different governments and geographers argue as much as fans do about which it is) of Korel/Korelri/Fist (and we get another explanation why the place has so many names as well) has been discussed in hushed terms ever since Gardens of the Moon was published more than a decade ago, but curiously Korelri natives have been thin on the ground in the published novels and every character seems to have heard something different about what was going on there. Stonewielder clears all of this up, exposing secrets the Malazan Empire has been keeping about the place and the original invasion for some time. The first surprise is how small the place is: based on the map at the front of the book, it appears to be less than half the size of Quon Tali, itself a small landmass. Why hasn't the Malazan Empire outflanked and conquered it? As the book continues we learn why, and the frustrations of the Malazan high command become easier to understand.

Esslemont continues to develop and grow as a writer although, pleasingly, not in terms of word-count. Stonewielder is actually shorter than Return of the Crimson Guard and, whilst you'd never call a 620-pages-in-hardcover novel 'short', it's the shortest novel in the entire combined series bar only Night of Knives. At the same time it's as epic and vast as any of Erikson's novels, packing in a huge amount of story, major events and characters and still finding time for moments of comedy (Manask may now be my favourite Malazan comic character) and high tragedy. There's even some amusing metacommentary about fan discussions about the series: at one point two Malazan soldiers get into a discussion not about high philosophy, but about if the Malazans could beat the Seguleh in a stand-up fight, a discussion that feels like it's come right off the Malazanempire discussion boards.

Esslemont's characterisation is strong, stronger than his previous books, with characters like Suth (our resident new 'ordinary soldier' POV) set-up and well-motivated economically and skillfully, whilst Hiam, commander of the Stormwall, is an interesting character whose arc is full of pathos. Kyle, the callow youth soldier POV from Return of the Crimson Guard, has matured into a more interesting protagonist as well, whilst the Crimson Guard are more fully-rounded individuals this time, with better-established motivations. The action is also well-depicted, with both major land battles and naval engagements (featuring the occasionally-mentioned Moranth Blue doing some impressive things against the storied armada of Mare) showing that the Malazan Empire is still capable of kicking ass, even after its recent catastrophes.

On the weaker side of things, there is a lengthy subplot involving Kiska and a sojourn into the Warren of Shadow which is basically just set-up for future events (both in Esslemont's novels and possibly in The Crippled God and Erikson's planned Toblakai Trilogy as well). This section is well-written and features and the unexpected return of a fan-favourite character, but it lacks a defining climax.

Still, Stonewielder (****½) is both a gripping, bloat-free military fantasy which further illuminates and explores this intriguing world, and one of the strongest books in the series since the mighty Memories of Ice. The novel is available now in the UK and will be published in May 2011 in the USA.

Monday, 29 November 2010

The Walking Dead: Days Gone Bye by Robert Kirkman

Police officer Rick Grimes is wounded in a stand-off with a criminal and ends up in a coma for a month. Waking up, he finds the hospital abandoned, no staff in sight and a bunch of flesh-eating zombies walking around. Learning that the undead have risen and destroyed much of civilisation, he resolves to head for Atlanta in the hope of finding his wife and son.

Over the past seven years, The Walking Dead has become one of the most popular comic series around, attracting critical acclaim, strong sales and a well-received television adaptation from Frank 'Shawshank' Darabont. Days Gone Bye collects the first six issues of the comic, forming an introduction to the series, the premise and the characters.

This is mostly scene-setting stuff, and features relatively little that will startle or surprise readers. Rick wakes up (in a virtually identical - but given the timing, coincidental - manner to the movie 28 Days Later, which in turn appears to have been inspired by Day of the Triffids), learns about the Zombie Apocalypse which, in fine tradition, goes completely unexplained, and sets out to find his missing family members, in the process learning more about the post-apocalypse world, how to fend off the zombies and so on and so forth. Once he finds shelter at a small camp of survivors outside of Atlanta, traditional leadership struggles emerge as the group tries to survive the zombies outside and intrigue within the camp.

There is little here which is really notable or transformative in the zombie genre, lacking say the different, documentary-style approach of Max Brooks's World War Z. What it does do is use the traditional zombie tropes to drive a familiar story and do it in an entertaining manner. The group of survivors is made up of various archetypes who are lacking in originality or notable depth, but there are some nice flourishes to the characters that makes them identifiable and interesting. Kirkman engages with cliche in many areas, but also backs off from it in others: his zombies can survive decapitation and Rick's hunt for his family could have been a long-running arc, but is in fact resolved very quickly.

Dialogue is often clunky and overburdened with exposition, but Tony Moore's artwork is effective. The black-and-white, sparse images intermittently get over a feeling of a dead or dying world, whilst his zombies are often more detailed and impressively-drawn than the living characters. This gives rise to the feeling that, rather than the zombies being the walking dead, it's actually the characters who are now devoid of life and purpose (backed up by the constant arguments through the second half over what the group should do next). This is an interesting idea and it'll be telling whether this is developed in future volumes.

Days Gone Bye (***) is a little too traditional and plays things too safe for a zombie epic, but clunkiness aside is an effective enough opener to make the reader try at least the second collection to see where the story goes next. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Two notable screen SF figures pass away

Sad news today, as two notable figures in the field of screen SF have passed away.

Irvin Kershner was a respected director with a string of successful films in the 1970s, most notably Return of a Man Called Horse and The Eyes of Laura Mars, but became famous when George Lucas hired him to direct the second Star Wars film. With its focus on character development as well as special effects sequences, The Empire Strikes Back became the most critically-acclaimed of the six Star Wars movies and is regularly cited as being the best movie sequel of all time (or one of two, alongside The Godfather Part II). His post-Empire career saw him direct the semi-unofficial James Bond movie Never Say Never Again before fizzling out with the weak RoboCop 2. He later appeared in numerous talking-heads documentaries about Star Wars.

Just remember not to call him...you know where that's going, right?

Leslie Nielsen is best-known for his comic roles, particularly in the Airplane! and Naked Gun movies, the latter spun-off from the critically-acclaimed but low-rated early 1980s TV series Police Squad! (in color! Guest-starring William Shatner!). However, Nielsen made his early name as a serious actor and had a prolific career, appearing in over 100 movies. As well as the captain of the titular vessel in The Poseidon Adventure, he also played the lead role in the classic 1956 SF movie Forbidden Planet, still well-regarded to this day. Nielsen's own take on the film is insightful:

"Supposedly a science fiction version of Shakespeare's The Tempest, it was all about the id, or something like that. Who knows? The Trekkies today regard it as the forerunner of Star Trek. I just had to wear a tight uniform and make eyes at Anne Francis. I was pretty thin back then." - Leslie Nielsen on Forbidden Planet.

Both will be sadly missed.

Sunday, 28 November 2010

A 100 Greatest Movie Spaceships List

To be honest, slightly lame. How many obscure 1950s B-movie flying saucers do you need? And that spaceship that looked like Eddie Murphy? Reaching, much?

The compiler commendably tries to avoid flooding the list with spaceships from the Star Wars and Star Trek movies (which between them could probably account for 1/5 of the list if they let rip), but their criteria elsewhere is vague. For example, they include Thunderbird 3 due to the two Thunderbirds spin-off movies from the 1960s, but then refuse to include anything from Battlestar Galactica, despite the 1970s show spawning two theatrical movies (with the three-part pilot, Saga of a Star World, being released as a film in both the UK and USA and the Pegasus story arc starring Lloyd Bridges as Commander Cain being released as Mission Galactica: The Cylon Attack in the UK). Doctor Who's TARDIS and Dalek battle saucers also don't get much love, despite appearing in the two 1960s theatrical movies starring Peter Cushing.

More annoying is an apparent anti-Japanimation bias. No Space Cruiser Yamato? No SDF-1 or Valkyries/Veritechs (from the Macross movies)? Hmm.


Next Sunday HBO are airing a 15-minute behind the scenes special on Game of Thrones and last night aired a brief promo for it. Notably, it contains the first exchange of actual dialogue we've seen (between Michelle Fairley as Catelyn and Sean Bean as Eddard Stark) and a look at some sets we haven't seen before, such as the Red Keep's throne room.

Inside Game of Thrones Preview

Apparently HBO are also airing a new 30-second teaser trailer for the series tonight, so keep an eye out for that.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Wertzone Classics: The Scar by China Mieville

Fleeing from New Crobuzon for reasons she prefers to keep to herself, Bellis Coldwine is heading for Nova Esperium, a colony located thousands of miles away across the Swollen Ocean, to lay low. Unfortunately, her ship is intercepted by the enigmatic pirates of the floating city of Armada and she is pressganged into Armada's service...as a librarian.

Armada is a city like no other, even on the baroque and weird world of Bas-Lag. Ruled over by the passion-fuelled Lovers, defended by Uther Doul and his unique sword, funded by piracy across half a dozen seas, Armada is a city of boats and decks and intrigue. But after centuries of wandering, Armada now has a mission and a purpose: to chain a creature of myth and to use it to find an ancient and great treasure. In the process Bellis will visit the island of the mosquito-women, will uncover a vast threat to New Crobuzon itself and be used and become an important chess-piece in the struggle for supremacy in the floating city.

China Mieville has written many good novels over the years, books which combine fine prose with wonderfully strange ideas, but often the elements of his books are out of balance. Perdido Street Station, for example, features wonderful worldbuilding and powerfully effective prose, but the actual story is somewhat mundane and the book overlong. The City and the City has a clever story and efficient, stripped-back writing but the premise doesn't convince (or at least the reactions of the outside world to it). Un Lun Dun is brilliant fun but lacks the darkness that lies at the heart of much of Mieville's work. And so forth.

The Scar, on the other hand, has all of Mieville's strengths working in tandem with one another. The world is vivid, the story engrossing, the writing intelligent but also compulsively page-turning, whilst the book has arguably Mieville's finest collection of characters.
Breaking free from the metropolis of New Crobuzon (which was fairly well-explored in Perdido Street Station), The Scar takes us across the oceans and islands of Bas-Lag, showing more locations and hinting at grander vistas lying beyond the horizon. It's a dizzying travelogue of invention and weirdness and works excellently.

The characters are an interesting bunch, from cold and remote Bellis Coldwine, our main protagonist, to Uther Doul, the city's resident badass warrior with a philosophical streak and a mighty sword (if The Scar had come out a bit later, I'd have suspected Anomander Rake as an inspiration). Even the secondary cast is superb, such as Tanner Sack, a Remade slave in New Crobuzon who becomes a respected and worthy citizen of Armada, and Shekel the cabin boy, a potential cliche who becomes a compelling character in his own right. Even barely-seen characters like the Brucolac, Hedrigall the lookout and the steamborg Angevine hint at tantalising depths. Mieville also continues his tradition of giving good monster, with the mosquito-women in particular being memorably horrific.

The Scar (*****) may be China Mieville's masterpiece, a rich and captivating weird novel of the fantastic. It is available now in the UK and USA.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Farewell to Speculative Horizons

Speculative Horizons, that most puissant of blogs, is sadly closing its doors, it was announced today. James Long has joined the mighty SF publishing behemoth that is Orbit and has decided to wind down the blog.

Sad news. Spec Horizons has done some great work over the last few years and it will be sad to see it go. On the other hand, great news for James and his career!

The ConJour Convention

Tor UK are sponsoring a new science fiction and fantasy convention being held in Leeds in the UK on 12 March 2011, named ConJour. A number of high-profile authors are attending and the event looks like being a lot of fun. So if you're in the UK and are looking to meet some of the best writers around at the moment it, might be worth a look.

The currently-confirmed guests are:

  • Richard Morgan
  • Suzanne MacLeod
  • John Meaney
  • Mark Charan Newton
  • Kate Griffin
  • Mike Carey
  • Adrian Tchaikovsky
  • Freda Warrington
  • Justina Robson

The event is being held at the Leeds Park Plaza Hotel. Up until 30 November tickets cost £25 and rise to £30 on 1 December. It looks like being a lot of fun, so check it out if you're interested!

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Final (hopefully) casting announcements for GAME OF THRONES

After the news of Charles Dance's casting back in July, I decided to hold fire on reiterating any further casting news, on the basis only a few roles were left and it would be more efficient to wait until the Season 1 cast was complete and announce the rest all together. However, some casting decisions appear to have been made very late (or at least the announcement of them) and there's been some surprises, such as several characters from A Clash of Kings being introduced in the first season instead whilst other characters from the Thrones (most notably the entire Tully family) have been delayed until Season 2.

David Bradley is an experienced British actor of stage and screen and a recipient of the Laurence Olivier Award (for a supporting role in King Lear). However, he will be best known to genre fans from playing Argus Filch in the Harry Potter movies. He has also recently appeared in The Sarah Jane Adventures, Ashes to Ashes and was the incomprehensible farmer who found a ludicrously vast stash of weapons in the excellent Hot Fuzz.

In Thrones Bradley is playing the role of the petty, small-minded and supremely punchable Lord Walder Frey, Lord of the Crossing, master of the Twins and the head of one of the largest families in the Seven Kingdoms. This is a fairly small role (literally one scene in the first book and a couple more in the third) but one of the most memorable characters in the entire book series and Bradley will do a great job with him (although I must admit I'd first thought of Bradley for the role of Craster in Season 2).

Clive Mantle is a well-known face on British television, appearing as surgeon Mike Barrett over nine years in both Casualty and its spin-off, Holby City. He also had brief roles in The Vicar of Dibley and on the move Alien 3. Genre fans will probably know him best from his memorable turn as Little John on the mid-1980s mystical take on the Robin Hood legend, Robin of Sherwood.

In Thrones Mantle is playing the fan-favourite role of Lord Greatjon Umber, a ferocious but loyal vassal of the Starks.

Mark Lewis Jones is a Welsh actor with roles in high-profile movies such as Troy, Robin Hood and Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, as well as roles in TV shows such as Waking the Dead, Merlin and Torchwood.

In Thrones he is playing the excellent role of Shagga, one of the wild mountain tribesmen who befriends Tyrion Lannister and becomes fiercely loyal to 'the Halfman'. Shagga's signature motto is, "I will tear off your manhood and feed it to the goats!"

In recasting news, Derek Halligan has withdrawn from the role of Ser Alliser Thorne for undisclosed reasons. The role was recast with Owen Teale, a very well-regarded and award-winning stage actor. He's had a number of roles on British television, such as Doctor Who (the original series), Torchwood and Ballykissangel.

Fans of 1970s British rock should need no introduction to Wilko Johnson, the extremely tall former guitarist with Dr. Feelgood and Ian Dury & the Blockheads. For the last thirty years he has toured with his own band and has enjoyed a recent renaissance, thanks to greater interest in 1970s and 1980s music and his appearance as a talking head on a number of musical shows about the period.

In Thrones Johnson is playing Ser Ilyn Payne, the King's Justice who had his tongue torn out by the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, and is now employed by King Robert as an executioner.

Ian Gelder is a familiar face on British television, with numerous credits and appearances, usually in supporting roles. He worked with controversial comedian Chris Morris on his TV shows The Day Today and Brass Eye. His most recent appearance was a Mr. Dekker in Torchwood: Children of Earth.

In Thrones Gelder is playing Ser Kevan Lannister, the younger brother, right-hand man and closest advisor to Lord Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance). Ser Kevan is solid, reliable and reasonably intelligent, but has chosen to stand in his brother's shadow rather than forge another path. Kevan is another role that is quite small at first but should rise in prominence later.

Elyes Gabel should be a familiar face to regular watchers of British drama. He started out on the children's TV show I Love Mummy! before moving into soaps, spending three years as a regular on medical drama Casualty. He was also a regular on the fourth season of school drama Waterloo Road and recently appeared alongside Aidan 'Littlefinger' Gillen on Identity.

In Thrones he plays the role of Rakharo, one of Daenerys's Dothraki bloodriders and bodyguards. Gabel was originally announced as playing Jhogo, but the production team decided to switch the name with another, somewhat less prominent Dothraki character to avoid potential confusion between 'Jhogo' and 'Drogo'. It is unclear if the characteristics of Jhogo (his youth compared to the other Dothraki warriors, his use of the whip in combat) are being maintained as well. This is a very small role in Season 1 but should become somewhat more prominent in later seasons, possibly explaining why HBO have opted for a more experienced actor.

Also amongst the Dothraki, Danish actor Dar Salim is playing Qotho, one of Khal Drogo's most loyal warriors, but also one sceptical of Daenerys and her foreign ways.

Australian actor David Michael Scott, resident in Ireland since 2004, has appeared in a number of theatrical productions and has had several appearances on The Tudors.

He is playing the role of Lord Beric Dondarrion, a young lord from the Dornish Marches who travels to King's Landing to take part in the Hand's Tourney, where he wins the respect of the crowd and Lord Eddard Stark for his skill in battle and his steadfastness. Fans of the books know that this is a minor role in the first novel but a considerably more important one later on. It does not sound like his compatriot, the fiery-sword-wielding priest Thoros of Myr, will be in the first season, which is a shame.

Mia Soteriou is a musician and actress, best-known for appearing in the movie role of Mama Mia!, on which she also worked as a vocal coach. She has also appeared in British TV series such as Holby City, The Bill and Absolutely Fabulous.

On Thrones she is playing the role of Mirri Maz Durr, a healer whom Daenerys meets in the east and employs in her service.

Joe Dempsie is a prominent young British actor, most famous for playing the role of Chris Miles on the hit show Skins. He has also appeared in Doctors, Doctor Who, Merlin and This is England '86.

He is playing Gendry, a blacksmith's apprentice in King's Landing. Fans of the books will know this is a bigger role than it first appears.

Gendry's boss, master smith Tobho Mott, is being played by Andrew Wilde, who has a number of credits from the 1980s and 1990s but does not appear to have acted recently.

Ian Beattie is an Irish actor who has appeared in the movies Alexander, Mo and Space Truckers, as well as on the TV series The Tudors.

He is playing Ser Meryn Trant of the Kingsguard. From the sound of it, Trant is the only other member of the Kingsguard (aside from Jaime and Barristan Selmy) with a speaking role in the series.

Brian Fortune is another Irish actor with a long list of credits on Irish television. He is playing 'Night's Watch Officer' in the series, a role that is apparently identical to that of Bowen Marsh, the First Steward of the Night's Watch. Apparently Fortune's character is not named as this allows him to fulfil some other acting and dialogue roles covered by other, small characters in the books.

Stephen Don is a Northern Irish actor with notable roles in the dramas Mo and Omagh, about different facets of the Northern Irish Troubles. In the series he is playing the role of Stiv, a former Night's Watch officer who has 'flown the Wall' and joined the wildlings, befriending a girl called Osha in the process.

Eight-year-old Art Parkinson has been cast in the small role of Rickon Stark, the youngest son of Lord Eddard Stark. In the books Rickon starts the first book aged only three, but he has been aged up to better cope with the rigours of filming. He has a small role in Season 1 but should have a much bigger role in Season 2.

Newcomer Mark Stanley, fresh out of drama school, is playing the role of Grenn, a fresh recruit for the Night's Watch who befriends Jon Snow and Samwell Tarly at Castle Black. He forms something of a double-act with Pyp (Josef Altin).

Ben Hawkey

Eros Vlahos

Two roles being brought forwards from A Clash of Kings are Lommy Greenhands and Hot Pie, two orphans in King's Landing. Lommy is being played by Eros Vlahos, best-known for his role as Cyril in Nanny MacPhee and the Big Bang, whilst Hot Pie is being played by newcomer Ben Hawkey.

Adult film star Sahara Knite is playing a newly-created role, that of Armeca, a prostitute in King's Landing working in the same establishment as Ros (Esme Bianco), who it has been confirmed is returning for the series after impressing the production team during her turn on the pilot episode. Both Armeca and Ros are working in a brothel owned by Lord Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish. It is unclear if this is Chataya's from the books, is playing the same role, or is part of a new storyline.

Newcomer Susie Kelley is playing the role of Masha Heddle. Heddle is the innkeeper of the famous 'Crossroads Inn' where a certain amount of action takes place in both the books and TV series. Given that events at Castle Darry have been moved to the Crossroads Inn as well, this is another role that will probably be slightly more prominent in the TV series than the books.

Simon Lowe

Lalor Roddy

Finally, Lalor Roddy is playing 'the catspaw assassin' and Simon Lowe is the 'wineseller' at the market in Vaes Dothrak, both of whom may be unnamed but have fairly major roles to play (if extremely briefly) in the story.

Who's left?

As mentioned previously, the Tullys - Hoster, Edmure and Brynden the Blackfish - are being held back for Season 2. The roles we haven't heard anything about at all are Jeyne Poole (Sansa's friend) and the other Northern lords, most notably Roose Bolton but also Rickard Karstark and Maege Mormont. My guess is that Jeyne is going to be little more than a glorified extra (although the character appears to have a larger role in the books) and the other Northern lords are being held back until Season 2, possibly arriving late with reinforcements. This will give HBO more time and, more importantly, more money to look for higher-profile actors for these roles (particularly Roose Bolton). Another question mark, as mentioned above, appears to be over Thoros of Myr, the bonkers warrior priest who runs around with a sword coated in oil and setting fire to it to scare off witless opponents. Whilst a memorable character, he does very little at this stage and can be introduced later on with no major problems. There's also Tyrion's squire, Podrick Payne, who again would appear to be a character who can be held back for Season 2 with ease.

Of course, characters who first appear in A Clash of Kings - Stannis, Melisandre, Davos, Craster, Dolorous Edd, Ygritte, Brienne, Jaqen H'Gar, Margaery Tyrell and so on - will, aside from the exceptions mentioned above, not be cast until next year.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

New GAME OF THRONES video on swords

HBO have issued a new behind-the-scenes video showing the swords being used on Game of Thrones. Of particular interest is the information that Gregor Clegane's sword is a mighty five-and-a-half feet in length.

The video also contains interesting glimpses of scenes being shot, including Jon Snow (Kit Harington) training with other members of the Night's Watch and Samwell Tarly (John Bradley-West) being beaten with a wooden training sword.

Pointless BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER reboot on the way

This possibility was first raised a few months ago but was dismissed by many for being too lame to work. Unfortunately, it is true: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is being rebooted for a new feature film without the involvement of the original creator, Joss Whedon, or any of the established cast.

"No, go on, a Buffy remake? You're kidding, right?"

Buffy started life as a moderately-successful movie in 1992, although Whedon was unhappy with his original script being massively rewritten. A few years later he got the chance to revisit the premise as an ongoing TV show. Buffy the Vampire Slayer ran for seven seasons between 1997 and 2003 and spawned a spin-off show, Angel, which ran for five seasons from 1999 to 2004. Many successful books and comics have followed and the two shows launched (or relaunched) the careers of many successful actors, such as Anthony Stewart Head (now playing Uther in Merlin), Amber Benson (now a successful urban fantasy author), James Marsters (who has had recurring roles on both Torchwood and Caprica) and David Boreanaz (now one of the biggest actors in American television due to his role on Bones).

The reasons for the reboot, especially only six years after the Buffyverse last appeared on-screen, appear to be limited to just the success of Twilight and True Blood, with the rights-holders wanting to get back in on the action now that vampires are huge again. The response from the fanbase, Joss Whedon and David Boreanaz has been predictably negative.

"I always hoped that Buffy would live on even after my death. But, you know, AFTER. I don't love the idea of my creation in other hands, but I'm also well aware that many more hands than mine went into making that show what it was. And there is no legal grounds for doing anything other than sighing audibly. I can't wish people who are passionate about my little myth ill. I can, however, take this time to announce that I'm making a Batman movie. Because there's a franchise that truly needs updating. So look for The Dark Knight Rises Way Earlier Than That Other One And Also More Cheaply And In Toronto, rebooting into a theater near you." - Joss Whedon

Look for this needless movie in 2012, although with no director attached yet this could be rather optimistic on the part of the producers.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

GAME OF THRONES leaves possibly damaging legacy on Malta

Game of Thrones has wrapped its shooting in Malta, but has left behind a potentially damaging legacy. One of the scenes filmed on the island (or, more accurately, at Dwerja on the smaller island of Gozo) was the wedding of Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to Khal Drogo (Jason Momoa), a warlord of the Dothraki. In the novel this scene takes place on open, grassy fields on the landwards side of the Free City of Pentos, but the producers of Thrones opted for the more spectacular backdrop of the Azure Window, a notable rock formation on the coast.

The Azure Window at Dwerja on the island of Gozo, Malta.

Because the beach was hard and rocky, the producers and HBO opted to cover the beach with artificial sand. They coordinated with the Malta Environment and Planning Agency (MEPA) to ensure the environment was protected and clean-up guidelines were followed. Filming proceeded without a hitch and passers-by and tourists were allowed to watch and even take photographs. Unfortunately, the sub-contractors HBO hired to undertake the clean-up did a shoddy job and left the beach in an unpleasant state, which triggered both a major condemnation from local authorities and an apology from HBO over the incident.

Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo, photo from David Crowe's blog.

However, the ante was raised when a local expert declared that the damage to the location was far more severe than first realised, possibly resulting in the 'total elimination of the ecosystem' on the site. The issue has also become a political hot potato, with MEPA itself criticised for allowing filming to take place in such a fragile area to start with. MEPA has also been accused of a conflict of interests, as the same organisation is responsible for both protecting the environment and also making money out of allowing the use of some protected sites for filming or other activities. MEPA in turn has blamed the production company for not informing them of the full extent of filming and the modifications they were making to the site. However, it has been revealed that government inspectors were on-site during the rest of filming on Malta, suggesting that they would have either been at Dwerja during the filming, or should have been.

The clean-up on the site is still ongoing more than two weeks after filming was completed, and a full assessment of the damage caused to the location will not be available until after that operation is complete. Whilst obviously neither HBO nor the production team meant to cause this amount of damage, it has cast some bad light on the production. Should the damage be found to be extreme, it may cause severe political ramifications on Malta (where, it should be remembered, the production team would like to return to film the King's Landing material for later seasons). This story could run and run.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

THE WITCHER II will be DRM-free

CD Projekt have revealed that The Witcher II will be totally DRM-free when it is released early next year. Furthermore, they are going to address the slightly barmy exchange rates that address between different territories with computer games, to the point where European gamers paying in Euros will receive $16 to spend on CD Projekt's brilliant Good Old Games website.

In addition to that, those who pre-order the game from Good Old Games will also get an additional free game (from a choice of Gothic 2 Gold, Realms of Arkania 1 + 2, Realms of Arkania 3, Divine Divinity or Beyond Divinity) and an absolute ton of bonus content for The Witcher II, including a soundtrack compilation and HD wallpapers for now and, when the game is released, a digital art book, a gamer's guide and papercraft figures you can print out. That's not even counting the boxed special edition, which will come with a free bust of Geralt of Rivia's head (insert, "This game gives you head," gag here).

All-in-all, very impressive given that I can't remember the last high-profile PC release that came out without some kind of idiotic DRM attached. Very welcome news from CD Projekt there.

First peek at the new Judge Dredd

2000AD artist Jock has published the first picture of Karl Urban playing Judge Dredd. The new movie has just entered production in South Africa:

Interesting, and possibly more faithful to the look of the comic book than the 1995 Stallone movie.

The Reapers Are the Angels by Alden Bell

Twenty-five years after civilisation collapsed due to the appearance of the 'meatskins', a young woman named Temple has found solace living on an island off the south coast of Florida. When she finds a meatskin on the beach, she realises that her sanctuary is no longer secure and she strikes back north to the mainland. As she journeys through the former southern states of America, she finds herself a charge and a mission, but she also makes a remorseless enemy of someone who could have been an ally.

Alden Bell's second novel (but his first genre piece) is an intriguing book. It's a post-apocalyptic novel with zombies, but zombies who are almost incidental to the plot. The undead are presented as more of a nuisance than a major menace, only really dangerous in large numbers in contained areas, otherwise they can be outrun or out-maneuvered easily. Humanity has adapted to their presence and life continues, albeit at a different, more isolated pace.

With the zombies more of a background menace than an actual threat, the narrative focuses on Temple, a teenage girl who's grown up knowing nothing other than the world as it is. She is one of the first of a new generation of dispossessed, to whom avoiding meatskin packs and executing bitten friends is a way of life. This way of life on the road, contrasted with a more comfortable life in the sealed-off enclaves, engenders a certain amount of camaraderie and mutual respect between the wanderers. At the same time, there is plenty of scope for conflict, for rivalries and murderous grudges. This also gives the book something of the feel of a Western, with zombies standing in for hostile native tribes and where towns again represent outposts of light in a hostile wilderness (there's even a dangerous train journey through zombie-infested territory at one point which could have come out of a Western, zombies excepted of course).

The focus of the story is the grudge between Temple and Moses Todd, another wanderer on the road with his own code of honour that he feels he must adhere to or lose himself. Temple is established through flashbacks and stories about her life that she tells others (some stories more reliable than others) and is a fully-rounded protagonist. Moses, whom we only meet in chapters from Temple's POV (which make almost all of the book), is well-established through dialogue and his actions as he pursues Temple relentlessly across the American South, and part of the tragedy of the novel is that these two characters could easily have been allies and comrades if events did not drive a wedge between them.

Bell's prose is rich, evocative and intelligent, a genuine pleasure to read, although an odd quirk is his decision not to use speech or quotation marks (or the use of a hyphen sometimes favoured by older writers). This results in bursts of confusion as it is sometimes unclear if we are reading Temple's thoughts, some description of passing scenery or actual dialogue between her and another character, and becomes mildly irritating at the book continues. Another issue is inconsistent levels of education in the characters: Temple knows how to drive and maintain a car and is aware of the principles of aerodynamic flight, but doesn't know how to read or write (a facet which adds nothing to her character but is purely a contrived situation to delay her decision on where to go next as she can't read the directions someone he written down).

The Reapers Are the Angels (****½) is a superior post-apocalyptic novel whose literary ambitions are intriguing and impressive, if not altogether successful. The novel is available now in the UK and USA.