Game of Thrones

I want to get the clichés out the way first. Yes, it’s hard to compare a book to the TV show or film. Yes, any adaptation of an original work must of course by its very nature be adapted. Yes, there are compromises, creative and commercial, to be made when taking any rich literary work, especially one as realised and meticulously fleshed out as A Song of Ice and Fire, and converting it to the screen.

Yes, I know. I’m fed up of having to preface any discussion or review of this nature with a disclaimer like the above. But everyone does, because you can be sure that if you don’t say it, the very first thing you’ll hear in reply when you point out where the TV show or film isn’t that great, is that you shouldn’t compare it to the book(s). I want to acknowledge that objection from the start. Yes I know books and films of the same story will be different (thank you for that insight), and whilst one should never criticise works simply for deviating from source, it seems unobjectionable to me that they can be compared as one would any two artistic creations; judged by what they are, and what they could be.

As a child I read Lord of the Rings and loved it. Reading and writing has always been in me, from as early as I can remember, but so infectious is Tolkien’s prose and parlance I found it impossible not to emulate his style, tropes and even plotlines in my early fictional writing (something that even certain adult established writers do…) The very fact that so many, young and old, still love and enjoy Tolkien seems to dispel the idea that one grows out of the Father of Modern Fantasy — but I would suggest that Tolkien is loved most by those of a certain mind-set or those with particularly naïve politics who hold quixotic simplistic utopian worldviews. To put it another way: Tolkien might have made it all possible, and set the standard for which epic fantasy could and should reach, and written really good stories — but others have overtaken him. George RR Martin is one such person.

What makes A Song of Ice and Fire such an addictive, fascinating and enjoyable read is not the goal of this article, and indeed would require far more words than I’ve written here. What can I say that hasn’t already been said many times by those more qualified than me? ASOIAF, as us Westerosians say, is a story that grabs you, sucks you in, and makes you really feel part of an exciting, dirty, dangerous, terrifying and sexual world. We are right there, alongside our characters – the evil ones and the less evil ones – as they play their part, play with others, or simply try to survive. I’m not convinced that “life-affirming” is the intended psycho-emotional response to Martin’s story-telling, as such there are no real heroes in the true sense – just people who, for the most part – love or hate them – are doing either what they think is right, or what is necessary, for themselves, their family or their cause. What it is, in any event, is very human. Oftentimes we see the very worst of humanity, but we shouldn’t kid ourselves that the very worst characters of Westeros or Essos (for me, Gregor Clegane is the worst) are just caricatures of bad guys, the sort that we wouldn’t really find in the real world. Oh, we do. They have existed, they do exist, and they will exist.

Religion and sex are also perennial and important aspects of humanity. I would insist that one is profoundly more essential and natural than the other, and one has historically waged war on the other throughout the ages – but I digress. Martin himself has noted how these two features of life which frequently feature in his work, are notoriously absent from Tolkien’s. This isn’t to imply that Martin’s work is better than Tolkien’s for this reason, but I think it does make it more adult. If not more realistic (its characters certainly are) then at least more relatable. Much more so is Lord of the Rings a book for teenagers – not because of the lack of sexuality, but because of its overly simplistic politics, lack of intrigue, two-dimensional characters, unsophisticated prose (at times), and perfunctory supplications made to the reader’s attention and concentration. At the risk of sounding magniloquent, LOTR is easy reading and ASOIAF is not. That is certainly not a criticism of easy reading. The point is that there are many story-telling styles and what makes ASOIAF such a success is its many rich and complicated stories and how they are told.

ASOIAF is often praised for its “adult” nature – which many seem to think is a euphemism for body parts on display. But as I said above, what I think makes it “adult” is everything else. Perhaps this is why the sexual content of ASOIAF and HBO’s Game of Thrones is, if not the first thing mentioned by one viewer introducing a newcomer to it, probably in the top three things to talk about. Sex happens in ASOIAF because human beings have sex: sex with members of the opposite sex, or the same sex, with older partners or underage ones. Rape occurs and is frequently threatened or boasted about, but rape has been a shameful feature of human conflict throughout the ages – and not at all solely in ancient times. Allied soldiers pillaged cities and raped the defenceless women and girls of fallen German cities after the Second World War. We can agree that WW2 was just and necessary and we were the good guys, but perhaps Lena Headley’s Cersei puts it best: “when a man’s blood is up, anything with tits looks good.”

The foul and unflattering manner of death is also a constant feature of ASOIAF. War, whatever the motivation or necessity, exacts an atrocious price in human suffering and misery. I don’t need to enumerate the abominations which people have inflicted on others. One cursory inspection of, to name just one example, the experiments which Nazi “scientists” performed on prisoners of war is enough to guarantee insomnia for many nights. Martin’s great novels are not cynical or anti-human – but they are good stories, and appreciable parts of the story consist of war and violence. Whilst the human form can be beautiful – in the shape of a striking underage girl, it can be grotesque – such as the crushing of a skull or a lance through the back of the throat. The story is not allegorical and certainly not didactic. In this sense, and I am by no means appealing to moral relativism, it’s not whether these things are good or bad, but rather that they simply happen. Martin has no choice but to tell us the story as it unfolds, (he’s said it has taken on a life of its own): we are reading a history of the world told through the eyes of its contemporaries. For me it is as though Martin were saying: ‘I didn’t want to put child murder, rape, incest, violence, torture, betrayal, heartbreak and pain in my story – but I had to! I’m just telling you what happened!’

Child sexuality is not exactly inconspicuous either. It is not present to furnish the plot with shock-factor, or superfluous intrigue, but because modern attitudes to this sensitive matter are after all modern – and sexuality (especially of the female kind) was historically not treated with respect or deference until some agreed-upon age of consent was reached (and in some parts of the world today, especially religiose ones, there is nothing resembling respect for women). I paraphrase Martin: ‘once a girl menstruates, she’s a woman.’ The number of consecutive years elapsed since her birth is irrelevant. At least, that’s how pre-modern cultures viewed the matter. Again, Martin is telling a story set in a certain time. The contentious and controversial feature of underage sex (consensual and otherwise) is necessary and natural for the setting.

Each turn in the story is a seamless corollary of what came before. Seamless, and by that I mean natural, but not necessary. You never feel that anything in ASOIAF is necessary, in that the characters, so simultaneously powerful and impotent, try to make the right choices, or make bad choices, or make no choices. But one thing that these stories do not feel is this: contrived.

Now, bearing in mind everything I have said above (surely no didactic segue is required), I turn to HBO’s TV adaption of the Martin masterpiece: Game of Thrones. A show that has made fantasy “cool” and brought the genre to such heights of fame and notoriety that it’s no exaggeration to suggest it might have changed television forever. Will we see a whole slew of low or high-fantasy epics brought to the screen? Has GoT paved the way? Has HBO shown that, given the budget, there is a huge audience for television drama that has dragons instead of doctors, knights instead of lawyers, decapitations and exploding skulls instead of court-room set pieces and crime scene investigations? Did anything Jack Bauer go through match Ned Stark on the steps of Bailor’s Sept? When was the last time anything on screen evoked the sense of betrayal, loss, despair and jaw-dropping silence which the Red Wedding did?

The modern TV audience are drama junkies. If that sounds pejorative, I’m ok with it. But if you want drama, drama, drama, you’ll find an endless supply in A Song of Ice and Fire — and it’s why, when Game of Thrones sticks to its source material, it almost always succeeds. One, because it’s hard to go wrong when the material is that good, and two, because the show is so well acted, well directly, well scored and well shot. Technically, the show is almost flawless. Aesthetically, the show is beautiful. But dramatically, the show is oddballish, bordering on bipolar.

Game of Thrones is quite literally two shows in one. There is the mature, adult drama which takes its witches, wizards, dragons, monsters and knights seriously. A show that has an actual story to tell and means to progress that story logically and sensibly through use of character development and exciting action. In other words: the story to be found in the books themselves. The second Game of Thrones, almost invisible in season one but obtruding more and more as the seasons progress, is the show we see now. This show is the one which appeals to what I imagine television executives think is their primary demographic: flesh-craving licentious drama addicts, easily titillated by penile or vaginal endeavours, shocked by guts and gore like a caveman seeing fire for the first time, and one too stupid to keep track of more than five characters or plotlines at a time.

Which isn’t to say that it’s easy to keep track of so many story arcs and people (try reading the books!), but that brings me to another point: if so much time wasn’t spent on gratuitous and egregious insertions of patronising audience titillation, I suspect there would be more than enough to show the numerous plotlines and characters memorably – no, unforgettably! I’m not surprised so many people who watch the show can’t remember who’s who and who is doing what. Why? Because most of the time they aren’t doing anything! We can afford ten minutes here and there to witness so much gay sex (because sexual egalitarianism keeps the rowdy feminists quiet) or embarrassing attempts to justify full frontal nudity, but Daenerys’s prophetic dreams in the House of the Undying? Noooo. Why drop hints or foreshadow the truth of Jon Snow’s parentage when we can have Petyr Baelish expound his inner motivations and ambitions over lesbian soft-core porn? Who is the Knight of the Laughing Tree? What about the kind of man Rhaegar Targaryen really was? What did Ned promise Lyanna before she died? Who killed Pate? Who is the third head of the dragon? What are the as-yet unrealised betrayals Daenerys will experience? What of Quaithe’s other thrilling prophecies? Who is the Prince that was promised? Who is Azor Ahai? The glass candles are burning – don’t tell me we don’t have time for any of this when so much precious time is wasted by lewd bilge.

And the sex misses the point anyway. To take one example: in one of Catelyn’s earliest chapters, we join the story as she and Ned have finished love-making. In Cat’s head we hear her describe how her loins ache, sorely but sweetly, from Ned’s eager and rapid thrusts into her. She can feel his seed still present and hopes it will give them another baby, before they both get too old. We discover that, although their marriage wasn’t born of love, they did fall in love. This is what a love scene should be about!; an intimate look into the private lives of our characters. We learn something about them, and if we can experience their sexuality vicariously as audience members, so much the better. This is the sort of love scene that could be shown respectfully and erotically on screen, that would appeal to an understanding and adult audience, but come from the story, advance the story, enliven the characters.

But no, we are obviously too dumb to appreciate the emotional nuances of consensual caring copulation, and besides, how would we know the characters actually had sex unless we all-but-saw the act of penetration itself?

The only exception to this I can think of is Robb’s love scene with a forbidden young girl, through which he violates a marriage oath and causes his own downfall. This scene was handled well, precisely because it encapsulated the passion of two young frustrated lovers. I daresay we did feel something for these two characters as a result. (Ironically, this love story was substantially different from the books.)

And that’s just on the matter on how condescending and intellectually insulting the show’s use of pornography is. That aside, the complete abandonment of crucial and exciting stories and character developments is completely baffling. Even when you know what’s coming, Game of Thrones can deliver emotion and impact when it tries. But even more flabbergasting is waiting for a momentous and shocking reveal, and it not coming because entire plot-points have apparently been removed. I won’t spoil anything by elucidating this point, but one might suggest only a heart of stone is required to neglect certain rather pivotal story elements.

As I alluded to earlier, prophecy and portents are a huge aspect of the written story. I know it is much harder to get away with the sort of foreshadowing on TV (for example, for the Red Wedding) as was done in the books – but the psychological and dramatic reaction of seeing the eventuality of so many clues pay off, is a priceless joy. It is one of the great pleasures in ASOIAF. It is rewarding and stupefying, and leaves you kicking yourself, when you finally realise that you should have realised it all along! Such is the art of great plot twists – of great pay-offs to long running arcs; it was obvious all along, in hindsight. Not only that, the anticipation of unresolved mysteries and prophecies leads to so much fan speculation which in itself is an inestimable component of the fun. Most of this is absent from HBO’s Game of Thrones. Don’t kid yourself that so much time has been spent with so many characters, they are doing their best to get through such a colossal adaptation. That notion would have more substance if it weren’t for the omission of so much good, the inclusion of so much padding, and (in my opinion) so much unnecessary deviation from source. For just one example, I have to ask why the incredibly minor characters of Grey Worm and Missendei are shoe-horned into a boring and distracting side-plot? Don’t the writers have enough material to be getting on with, without making up plotlines of their own which cannot be anything other than irrelevancies in the grand scheme of things? Why should we care about this? Instead of confecting a flimsy pretext to see Missendei naked (which I am by no means opposed to under the right circumstances), might there not be other things that time could be better spent on? Say, for example, the other fifty characters and their stories?!

I find myself in the odd situation of seeing a show that is simultaneously dragging out affected scenes and inconsequential characters, yet rushing through the source material and skipping the sight-seeing. I’ve no doubt the destination of the ASOIAF saga will be stupendous, but the journey must be every bit enjoyable and jaw-dropping. The creators of GoT have all the time in the world – why don’t they use it?

I’m not saying that Game of Thrones must stick religiously to its source material. As someone who considers Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings not only great adaptations, film masterpieces, and significant improvements on the books, I know that changing key story elements is not only necessary, but actually desirable for the transition from script to screen. What I cannot understand is how a story as complex, clever, interwoven, interrelated, intricate and delicate as A Song of Ice and Fire can possibly be improved by the removal of so much of what made the books great. I simply cannot see how mammoth changes to certain characters’ deaths and destinations, which must necessitate the most unlikeliest contrivance of story-telling or their complete abandonment, make the story better, or at the very least, something remarkable and different. And I think that is what makes me so angry and disappointed with Game of Thrones: the fact that I do have expectations of it — I wanted to see this wonderful and exciting story on screen. But after a magnificent first few seasons, that doesn’t look like it’s what I’m going to get. It would have been better to have read the books or watched the show, but not both. If it seems that one has failed the other, I know which one I’d point the finger at.

For all that I can pretend I’m watching a stand-alone TV show, I can try to see Game of Thrones as exciting, dramatic and addictive. Yes, we want to tune in every week to see what happens next, but when the shock and awe die down, what will we really be left with? Is this a show that people will re-watch time and again? I’m nowhere near as sure of that as I was after its first season. I thought Game of Thrones would change the television landscape, not just because of the story content, but in its approach and style. It has changed television. It has so much of the world talking. It could be the most famous TV show in the world right now — it’s almost certainly the most expensive. But what price has it paid for such roaring success? How much has it abandoned its understated, clever, and often patience-testing literary sires, in exchange for appealing to the masses? In decades to come, A Song of Ice and Fire will still be read and loved by millions – and perhaps it will have had as big an impact of written high fantasy as Tolkien did so many years ago. What will Game of Thrones’s cultural impact be after so many years? What will its legacy be? A ground-breaking drama renowned for its acting, storytelling, emotional realism and capturing the hearts and minds of a generation? Or that show that was like Spartacus, only with dragons? When I first saw Game of Thrones I felt sure I knew what type of show it would be. Now, I just don’t know.

It’s not even that Game of Thrones is bad. It’s not bad. It’s good. It’s very good. But I don’t think it’s special. And it could have been. It should have been.

And the saddest irony, or perhaps l have too much faith in my fellow primates, is that I don’t think the mainstream TV audience is as titillated with tits, awed by asses, bloodthirsty or cynical as studio executives think they are. Maybe TV consumers can appreciate good stories, and can understand political intrigue, prophecies and portent, character struggle, internal conflicts and huge armies of supernatural power – without having them wrapped in the obligatory sexposition scene every episode? Seven hells – maybe a show with dragons can be taken seriously for its own sake?


The rich owe you nothing

One of the most common assumptions made today, by those on various rungs of the economic ladder, is that the rich get rich at the expense of the poor. For example, a man whose childcare benefits have been cut might look at the businessman driving his brand new Mercedes and wonder why his taxes haven’t gone up to compensate for a welfare shortfall. A woman working as a cleaner on a low wage in a huge office might resent the CEO whose toilets she cleans, figuring that one week’s salary for him is six months’ for her.

This perception of being used or exploited by those richer is totally wrong. It’s wrong because of the false assumption that some of us somehow have a claim on the wealth of others. But it’s also obviously false from an evidential or practical point of view:

Consider an office building, the headquarters for a large company. The company is owned by a businessman, the CEO. The company manufacturers a product and sells it. It does this to make money, because money is the means by which we sustain our lives. Necessary to this process is an import division (to acquire raw materials), a construction division (to make the product), and a distribution division (to ship the product out). But a business needs more than just this. It needs a Sales department to acquire and keep customers. It needs a Procurement department, to seek out good suppliers and acquire materials at competitive prices. Is that enough? No. Computers are an irreplaceable part of any modern business, from warehouse to office – so the company must create an IT department to setup and maintain the technology throughout the site. Is that enough? No. With so many employees, the company needs to establish codes of conduct, a forum to liaise with its staff, an independent body to hear disputes and define punishment protocols and many other tasks relating to worker welfare and management: it creates a Human Resources department.

But it doesn’t stop there. The desks, the chairs, the halls, the walls and the floors need to be cleaned, so the company creates cleaning jobs. It wants the area surrounding its offices to be presentable, tidy and safe – so it employs one or more groundsmen to maintain the site. But even this isn’t enough – the company wants to protect its assets and employees, so it creates a Security department and hires guards.

Imagine how many careers and livelihoods are supported by such a company, and by extension the lives of families and friends. Consider the other businesses and jobs kept alive by an employee who can afford to purchase that extra pint, that new TV, a mobile phone, or treat his family to a nice meal in a restaurant, or day-out at the zoo, or holiday. If that jobs wasn’t yours, it would be someone else’s – or wouldn’t exist at all. Businessmen don’t create jobs to be nice or because we need them, and to pretend that they do or should is naivety and begging of the highest order.

The important fact to remember is that wealth isn’t a game of Monopoly with finite notes, houses and hotels to be fought over – wealth is created. How? By production, which is essentially the primary activity of business qua business. If a CEO’s wages were cut (by say, having to pay more in tax to the government), that money wouldn’t magically find its way into your bank account. If footballers’ wages were capped, the average salary of a nurse or doctor would not magically increase. The income of high-earners does not come out of your savings account; it is not taken from the pot you’ve set aside for your child’s upbringing and they do not base their salary on what you bring home. In other words, the wealth of the rich is that which you couldn’t have any claim to in the first place. (Actually, the only way to get someone else’s wealth is by force; if you have to use force to get money, you could have had no legitimate right to it anyway.)

In fact, it is the businessmen that create jobs in the first place. Would the average man have invented the telephone, the light bulb, fast-food, the mobile phone, the internet, the cancer-fighting drug, the aeroplane, the sky-scraper, the electron-microscope? No. But it doesn’t matter. You don’t need to be a genius or work the wondrous every day of your life. But what you can do is take advantage of someone else’s creativity and effort by working for them and getting paid.

Consider a man who invents the ball-point pen. He creates a pen and sells the idea. He is 100% responsible for the innovation and effort and receives no more than what he can sell his creation for. The person who uses a ball-point pen however has committed precisely nothing in any form to the existence of the pen yet reaps all the benefits. As you move further away from the origin of production, the ratio of effort to benefit increases exponentially. For example, the janitor of a hospital has contributed nothing to the invention of X-Ray or MRI machines, nor did he have to attend medical school; he saves no lives and diagnoses nothing. But because the hospital exists, he has a job. The mere act of production by one man opens up opportunities for many other men who can trade as a result without any of the original effort required. And yet some think that the rich still owe them something? What more? What else? Isn’t this enough?

In reality, the rich owe the poor nothing. So should we be grateful that we have jobs? Yes, but not sycophantically. It is true that the hospital founder owes the janitor nothing – nothing more than paying him for a day’s work – and if he thinks about it, the janitor should be grateful he has a job. But at the top and the bottom or the corporate ladder the principle of interaction is the same: trade; a job was offered and accepted. You are paid for your service, and receive no more or less than this. The sooner some people stop asking for the unearned and claiming that the property and genius of others was somehow obtained at their expense, the sooner they’d be open to real and practical ways of increasing their worth to others, and thereby be paid more. Hell, they might even start their own business…

My Top 10 Fictional Characters

As always, my opinion is limited to what I have experienced, but then how could it be anything else? Ranking my “best” fictional characters isn’t easy – because admittedly I can’t explicitly state the criteria used. But this is just for fun anyway!

Now, oftentimes the protagonist of a story becomes an everyman which all of us can relate to, and through whom we see the other characters and the events unfold. The problem with this sort of character (e.g. Harry Potter) is that there isn’t anything particularly remarkable or interesting about them in-and-of themselves; what is interesting is what they go through and what happens to them – apart from some general sense of courage and honesty. Sometimes the most interesting, frustrating, or funny characters in a story are not at all the hero. Of course the flipside of this is that everyone else apart from the protagonist can become two-dimensional and simply there to give our character someone to interact with. It takes a special kind of character to pull off protagonist/antagonist/ancillary and also capture our imaginations and have us glued to TV screen or book. Not every character listed here is a protagonist but they are some of the most diverse/complex/outrageous/compelling ones you’ll ever encounter.

10. God (Yahweh, Allah,  Christ, take your pick)

Being the most famous fictional character of all time, this guy has to get a mention, albeit rather facetiously. The way his fans so love to revel over competing interpretations of him is fascinating at best and pathetic at worst. You have to be fascinated by his supposed actions though, love or hate him. My personal favourite is the Christian story about him and Noah’s ark. In it, God creates man knowing they’ll fail a test, even though the knowledge required to pass the test wasn’t available to them until after they failed it (!). He then regrets making man, even knowing what would happen in the first place, so promises to destroy them because we’re so evil. He wipes the whole earth out with a flood that takes a varying number of days according to the story, somehow cramming in millions of species and billions of lifeforms into a boat 450 foot long (!!). Afterwards, he doesn’t promise never to destroy the earth again, oh no – he just promises not to use a flood. Oh, well that’s reassuring… Why does he promise not to destroy the earth again? Because he accepts that man is simply evil by nature, even though he knew we’d turn out this way, even though that was his original motive for wiping us out in the first place (!!!). Storytelling at its best!

God is probably the most emotional violent egotistical psychopath ever invented. It takes a special kind of self-hatred, racism and sexism to invent a character with this many conflicting traits. And you’ve got to give him points for that. It’s so bad you have to say “you can’t make this stuff up!” But of course, that’s exactly what happened.

9. Dr. Perry Cox (SCRUBS)

The classic badass with a heart of gold, Cox is hilarious. Sarcastic and condescending, his constant demeaning diatribes actually inspire students to aim ever harder to win his eternally-escapable praise. No doubt he has the best lines of the entire show, and I daresay the whole thing couldn’t have worked without him. His speech, his mannerisms, his banter and his flaws are superbly put together to make him one of the most fascinating and enjoyable characters to watch.

8. Tyrion Lannister (A Song of Fire and Ice)

A complex assortment of traits, physical and mental, coupled with quick words and an even quicker mind make Tyrion Lannister a joy to read (or watch). It’s precisely because he has zero physical presence that makes his dialogue so vital to get right, because anything complimentary or threatening from him must be done through subtext or clever words. He knows his weaknesses so excels at his strengths, and shows great bravery under circumstances where even the strongest man might fail. As he himself says, his sword is his mind – and such a fascinating character is he that whether it be consorting with whores, held hostage by enemies, passing subtle threats to quasi-allies, or interacting with royalty – we love what he has to say and every word has us mesmerised!


7. Jack Bauer (24)

Strong, tough, deadly, ruthless, passionate, flawed yet incorruptible – Jack Bauer is all these things. He toughened up so much that there was nothing he couldn’t do – whether it’s expose an entire government conspiracy or take on an immense fortress of bad guys single-handedly.

Jack’s a man who always does what he believes is right. You can take issue whether he *is* right or not, but he doesn’t compromise, doesn’t cheat and doesn’t shy away from doing what needs to be done. He is a patriot, and defending his country is the number one value in his life – a fact his actions consistently demonstrate.

Volunteering himself for a nuclear suicide mission or taking point on the battlefield – Jack won’t ask anyone to do something he isn’t prepared to do himself, which makes him an inspirational leader.

6. Buffy (Buffy, the Vampire Slayer)

Whilst not the first female hero, it’s fair to say Buffy turned the superhero gender idea on its head. She manages to save the boy in distress but also still be feminine. This statement itself has become a cliché: “strong yet feminine” yada-yada, but it’s become so overused because it appears so incredibly hard to get right. (It’s actually not).  Many movie-makers and writers think a woman who acts like a bloke, fires guns, fraks everything that moves, and acts like she doesn’t give a shit, can be redeemed back into femininity by wearing a skin-tight catsuit or holding suggestive poses. What they don’t realise is: She. Just. Looks. Stupid. Femininity isn’t a matter of how much you swear (or don’t) or kick ass (or don’t), the length of your hair, sex appeal or how much you cry (or don’t). Buffy manages to pull off being a sexy attractive badass lady because she doesn’t try too hard to be, because she doesn’t need to try. Sure, she cares about her girlie stuff and has the angst one would expect of a teenager/young woman – but she is a young woman. She doesn’t need to ram her double-Xs down our throats. She can be dirty, ragged, and unkempt, save the world and kick ass – and also be a girl. (And of course, I’m not implying that there should be any natural conflict at all between gender and strength, but since most writers and producers actually do make this assumption and then over-compensate for it, it makes it all the better when a female character comes along who gets it right for all the right reasons.)

Perhaps an easy to overlook feature of Buffy’s is her humour – she is really quite funny, obviously and subtly – and when contrasted against who and what she actually is, makes it all the better.

We like her because we know she’d make a superb friend and ally, and she genuinely cares about the world and doing right. Like I said at the start, it’s hard to make your protagonist a champion for everyone watching, whom we can all relate to, be a vehicle for the story, and also have many distinctive character traits of their own (instead of being “the funny one” or “the sarcastic one”.) For example, whilst we love watching Jack Bauer, I’d argue that we don’t really relate to him or his situations, certainly not like we can with Buffy.

5. Londo Mollari (Babylon 5)

Undoubtedly, a character with a lot of blood on his hands, Londo undeniably always acts in what he perceives is in the best interest of his people, his race, his planet. But how often does “Greater Good” thinking lead to misery and death? (Answer: always).

His decisions and actions lead to the deaths of tens of thousands of innocent lives, but he makes the choices knowingly and willingly, because nothing will get in the way of the Manifest Destiny he sees for the Centuari Republic. And despite all this, we understand him, and why he did the things he did. We feel sorry for him, despite the mistakes, the lies, the murders. He is a tragic character, made so by the curious irony that he actually gets everything he ever wished for, but when his wishes become reality they are never what he thought they’d be, and the result is always misery (and often destruction.) He slowly sinks from jovial and silly to dark and allied to evil itself. He finds his way out again after realising what price his terrible decisions almost cost him and his world. But the road to redemption is never fully completed, after being forced to accept a horrible burden that he must shoulder in silence and which his friends can never know.

In Londo’s own words: “When we first met I had no power and all the choices I could ever want. And now I have all the power I could ever want and no choices at all. No choice at all.”

4. Gaius Baltar (Battlestar Galactica Reimagined Series)

Another character on this list who qualifies as genius, Baltar is brilliant, treacherous and cowardly. He is unfuriating and pathetic yet understandable and pitiful. Sometimes I think ‘well that’s exactly what I’d do in that situation’ and other times I’m shaking my head in disbelief.

There’s no denying that on the rare occasions BSG does comedy, Baltar is the best example of it. Some of his lines are laugh-out-loud funny, as are so many of the awkward unspoken positions he’s placed in.

Gaius has a continuing nack of saving his own neck (or perhaps it’s just God’s Will™), but despite the reproach he often deserves, what is tragic about him is how often he is vilified for the wrong reasons. We feel aggrieved for him, feel vindicated at times when he is, then wish he’d just shut his mouth. Just a few tiny decisions here and there and how different things might have gone. He’s enough to make you shout at the TV “you frakking idiot! Just tell the truth for once!” Despite his intellect, even he doesn’t realise how better things might’ve been if he was just honest all along.

Tagged as an unchosen antagonist for most of the show, the truth is that despite being painted as “villain”, Baltar’s genuinely reprehensible acts pale in comparison to the deliberate and remorseless crimes of the supposed heroes of the story. As the saga progresses, so often I find myself siding with him against our alleged protagonists.

He richly enhances the whole show and is as much a living breathing complex character as anything seen on TV.

3. Captain James T. Kirk (Star Trek TOS)

A more-womanising, futuristic, less hysterical version of Jack Bauer, without the gun – Captain Kirk is an all-round proper good guy. He leads confidently and passionately, is clever but also emotional, and is uncommonly brave to fight for his ship and his crew. He’s the perfect leader to the outside world, but has doubts and vulnerabilities which only his closest friends get to see. The expression “The Man” was invented for James Kirk.

He is, in a great many ways, what a man and a hero should be. But not through super powers or even technology – just by his wits and his courage. He is a regular guy, but an achievable hero; he simply exemplifies the best qualities of heroism and command.


2. Dr. Gregory House (House MD)

A character of many shades and levels, nearly always sarcastic and sniping, he says all the things most of us keep in our heads, regardless of who he offends. His honesty and disregard for pretention is refreshing but also cringe-inducing at times. Self-destructive physically and emotionally, he almost goes out of his way to make the wrong choices at times, despite being in all other ways an absolute genius of the highest order. If you needed diagnosing he’d be your first choice at the job, on the condition you never met him – which in itself is an interesting contrast.

He’s fast (not walking), witty, and guaranteed to keep you laughing time and again. He might make you hate him, but you’ll also feel sorry for him. A deeply intriguing character – the perfect blend of humour and tragedy.


1. Eric Cartman (South Park)

The perfect comedic characterisation of psychopathic evil. Cartman is truly despicable in every sense of the word. He is irrationally self-concerned, self-destructive, manipulative, racist, sexist and whose ultimate dream is dominating all others with his will. He is also ludicrously clever, but so often short-sighted. And all this is tempered by him still being very much a big child with all the insecurities and weaknesses that brings.

Cartman is the perfect plot device through which our likes and dislikes, loves, passions, hates and fears are seen or reflected. He is a foil to the story itself which allows a fantastically rich web of allegories and contrasts to be displayed. Like much of South Park, he is nothing wrong of writing genius. In real life, such a character would be universally despised and unloved – yet in this form, he is just brilliant and hilarious to watch. We can’t get enough of him! No doubt South Park is at its best when Eric Cartman is at his worst.

The Best TV Finales I’ve Seen

In between having several books on the go, over the last year I’ve managed to finish watching and re-watching some TV shows that are favourites of mine. Most of these appear in my two “My Best TV shows of all time” pieces I’ve written. Since I like to judge and rank things, I thought I’d evaluate the endings of these shows and which are the “best” to me; that being the ones I found the most emotional, either depressing, upsetting, uplifting, inspiring, or all of the above. Also factors are how the episode actually did bring the story to a conclusion, and the methods used.

Of course, there are thousands of TV shows out there with possibly greater endings than I’ve ever seen. I know there are all-time classics that I’ve been told about, such as Black Adder etc. But I can only write about what I know and what has meaning for me. No doubt I’ll do an updated version of this list in the future. As can be expected most of these shows also appear on my “favourite shows of all time” list, for obvious reasons.

* SPOILER ALERT – I’ve tried to keep my comments as ambiguous as possible, but if you’re watching or planning to watch any of these shows, best to not read this. *


First time I saw the end of Prison Break, I was really moved. I thought it was touching, even if I knew what was coming well before Sarah said “let’s go and see Michael” to their son. Yeah, I knew what was coming, and it still moved me.  I’m not saying that Prison Break was brilliant in its last two seasons. It had its faults. I think there are only so many realistic twists and turns and last minute surprises you can spring on the audience and still maintain credibility.

The fact the show really struggled to keep its own contrived and arguably daft plot-twists going is the reason is ranked below all the others. But it’s a sad ending; quite depressing actually and possibly uncalled for. But moving? No doubt.


I could’ve chosen other Star Treks, (the Original never had a proper series finale) but Voyager’s was rushed and unsatisfying, and DS9’s felt hollow somehow. The ridiculous Vic Fontaine program (inexplicably introduced) was hit on our heads repeatedly throughout season 7 and I can’t help but feel it was someone’s hobbie smuggled lamely into the story. I chose TNG because its ending is the best of all the Treks. Makes you wonder why more of the last two seasons couldn’t have been written this way.

It was a fun ending to a TV show that, taken overall, was above average. You can’t deny it was a solid consistent series with some fantastic episodes. But you can’t deny the crap ones either, and there were quite a lot of them. If we’re taking a show at its best then we should discard the 1st, 2nd, 6th and 7th seasons, but then we’d have to throw away Scrubs seasons 5-8, Prison Break’s 3rd and 4th, Friends’ 5th to 10th, and so on. But this isn’t about TV shows it’s about finales.

The TNG finale was a great episode to wrap it up; in typical Star Trek fashion we bounce around from time to time, bringing our heroes together for a grand cause. And the lesson from Q is something the Exec Producers and writers of Trek didn’t actually take home: life isn’t about charting stars and mapping nebula (or treknobabble and warp core breaches), but discovering the unknown possibilities of existence. And that, my friends, is what Star Trek was originally all about. But like All Good Things…


I can look back with hindsight and spot the many flaws with this show, but it’s hard to deny that for my generation, FRIENDS was a hugely popular show, and its humour, in-jokes and story have become pop culture icons in their own right. Could I be any more over the top? That is so not what I meant. You know what I mean: “we were on a break!!”

Hard to grow up with a show like that, with characters you get to know that well, to care for – and not feel something when it ended. It was a good wrap to a comedy that went on longer than it should have. (A lot longer). But it’s hard to keep quality of earlier seasons up; look at Scrubs. But it ended well; everyone got paired off; they went their own ways. In a sense, they (finally) grew up.


Totally different to the Buffy ending. Totally different to almost any TV ending you’ll ever see in fact! No smiles, no wrap-ups, no happy conclusions, in fact – no conclusions? Angel and his (surviving) allies stand alone in a dark alley pouring with rain, having knowingly set in motion a series of events that will strike a massive blow to the forces of evil – and almost certainly spell their own death. After five seasons of a show with many ups and downs, with some great stories and some weaker moments, the hoards of Wolfram and Hart descend on our heroes and we’re left with a dramatic and spine-tingling cut to black after Angel simply declares “I want the dragon!”

What a way to end a series!

(No good video clip available. (God damn fan art.))


Yup, gonna moan about this one too. From seasons 1 – 4, the best sitcom I’ve seen, and I’d still give it that accolade. Pretentious and obvious with its “moral of the episode”? Perhaps, but what is good storytelling unless you take yourself seriously? Scrubs was so incredibly well-written in its early days that it deserved a quality ending. It got one: a beautiful montage of flashforwards to stunning music; our characters happy and living the lives they’ve deserved. The end of the show nicely brings everything together, ties up the loose ends, and gives a satisfying happy-sad sense of closure. It’s happy, but we’re sad it’s over.


Now, I had my gripes with this show too, partly because I totally loved it and think it lost its way somewhat. The return and then switch, double-switch, and switch-back from Tony was…urm…slightly forced in my opinion. And seriously, is anyone else amazed that at least three people that knew Jack were still alive by the end?? Writing tip: when you keep killing off people the audience cares about, the audience stops caring, thereby rendering the story device useless.

But hey, Jack in full body armour – taking out the bad guys and exposing another nasty secret, getting the US President to stop menstruating for one minute and realise she’d made a boo-boo: epic stuff. Grand and sweeping, and in typical Jack fashion he disappears once last time. This ending might have had more emotional resonance if Jack hadn’t already played scapegoat and run off into hiding no fewer than 421 times previously in the series. But maybe I’m being harsh and that was simply “foreshadowing”, as Jack can never seem to find happiness.

He thanks Chloe one last time, the clock for the only occasion in the entire show counts us up from three to zero, and that was that.


What would an ending to the best show of all time be without the best ending of all times? Well, I wouldn’t go that far. It’s a bit rushed; there’s too much to get through and a lot to cram in. I would’ve liked to savour more of the victory but that’s TV.

But after seven grand and epic seasons, after battling friends and foes – to face off against the power of the Biggest Baddest Bad of them all, and to win in such heroic manner and stand victorious – with everything wrapped up and all stories concluded in a meaningful and satisfying matter, the smile – the starting of a smile – of “what now?” is just class. An epic battle with fantastic music; the elevation of Willow to goddesshood; the elevation of Potentials everywhere to Actuals; the courage and gift of the newly-ensouled Spike; the end of Sunnydale.

Yeah, we lost a lot of people along the way. It was difficult and often painful – but you can’t help feeling that it all meant something. And hey, the good guys won the day – which is the entire point of Buffy. A great way to go out.


Oh, Battlestar. What a sweet show you starting out as, and indeed finished as. Shame about all that Balter-Six crap in between. We get it, God exists and has a purpose! Where is Kirk when you need him…

Urm, I just like to ask a question? What does God need with a starship? And incidentally, why does God care so much about saving 50,000 humans to restart a new race, instead of…urm, I don’t know… preventing the frakking nuclear annihilation of them in the first place??

And then Kirk realises we’re talking about the god of the bible, and it all makes sense.

A great show, if taxing in some places – but a bittersweet ending. Slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of perfection – a perfect face, perfect lace. Find the perfect world for the end of Kara Thrace. End of line.

A courageous and suicidal assault on Cylon HQ itself gives us superb battles in space and on the ground. A last ditch breathless escape gives us our second (and our characters’ first) shot of the beautiful world we call home. Galactica sails off into the sun…literally. The human race begins, again. An Angel ascends, the President leaves us, Adama starts a lonely new existence, the war is over. The writers gave themselves a hell of a big job bringing all this together but you have to say they pulled it off, eventually. But all of this has happened before, and will happen again. Cracking stuff.

Counterpoint: read this for a superb deconstruction of BSG and why the ending was poor. And this.


No doubt in my mind before I started writing this which was gonna be number 1. B5 is a grand story of our heroes, and on either side lies a million years of history. We witness a small slice of the temporal cosmic pie, and in the last episode jump forward 20 years to see how it ends. In a way, I think this episode is moving not because we don’t know what’s coming, but because we do. We knew what was going to happen, just like you might know that a loved one is destined to die soon from an illness, but that doesn’t make it any easier when it comes – and of course that analogy wasn’t chosen lightly.

It ends with a love story. I always find goodbyes hard, and Sleeping in Light is full of them. Our characters say goodbye to others and we say goodbye to the station. The hardest of all is Sheridan’s and Delenn’s – you can see the pain in their faces, almost horror – as the emotion finally pours out.

J. Michael Straczynski said that the episode “put him away” for a good hour, and kept doing so every time he watched it. I have to confess to the same thing: no matter how many times I watch it, and it’s not often, I find it really hard to get through. It’s a raw and primal feeling: seeing these characters older, the story over, their age past, and time to go; it does feel like coming in when the last battle really is over and many have died and been lost, and it’s quiet and still and there isn’t much left to say; a cloud hangs over the episode, very much like a funeral. Perhaps its tough because there are a lot of unnaturally early goodbyes, which are the worst kind. (Let’s also remember that Andreas Katsulas and the much younger Richard Biggs are no longer alive – the latter dying so shortly after JMS recorded his commentary for this very episode.)

Is it Christopher Franke’s heart-breaking music, majestic and harrowing – yet inspiring? It is Ivanova’s voice-over at the end, “even for people like us”? Is it the sight of the station slowly dying? Is it the sense of emptiness, of leaving things behind? Is it two lovers ripped apart before their time? Is it the sense of hope that somehow we’re left with? It must be all of this.

If the purpose of drama and story is to move the audience – then B5 must get the “best ever ending” accolade from me.  Such a sense of finality and dramatic conclusion. It’s the hardest last episode I’ve had to sit through. And I think that says it all.

New A-Z Page

I decided to create a new page to catalogue useful links and quotes I come across for handy and future reference. This isn’t intended as a lexicon, and is a constant work in progress.