Looking at my blog stats, it appears that yesterday there was a peak as several people were looking at posts I previously did on Robot Wars. I imagine this is linked to the fact that a new series of Battlebots began on American television yesterday. Robot combat has still been continuing these past few years in the form of live events, but this is the first time it’s been on television for a while. Could we be seeing a proper comeback? Only time will tell.
Recently, two of my favourite TV shows – Series 2 of Agents of SHIELD, and Series 5 of Game of Thrones – both came to a close for another few months, leaving me a bit stuck for TV as we’re currently in-between football seasons too. But how did these latest seasons turn out? (Warning: spoilers.)
Agents of SHIELD
When the Doctor Who spinoff Torchwood was on, I thought the second series was a lot better than the first. In Series 1, the adventures were quite tepid, while the characters were rather one-note and not always that likeable. In Series 2, the stories came more compelling and a bit more daring, with the status quo being upset more than once, while the characters were more solidly established in their respective roles and able to show off their better qualities.
I think something similar has happened with Agents of SHIELD. Oh, the characters were already brilliant in the first series – probably the best thing about the show, in fact. But the stories and subplots in Series 2 were a definite improvement from what came previously. There were multiple subplots running in tandem throughout the season – Coulson’s visions, the Inhumans, the ongoing activities of HYDRA, the existence of a “real” SHIELD – yet it never became hard to keep up. Everything was so fast paced, and the overall situation changed so often, that there was hardly any status quo at all to hold onto: as soon as one subplot ended, another began. And these rapid progressions made the show more exciting and enjoyable. For instance, Fitz discovers that Skye has gained superpowers and decides that they should keep it a secret from the rest of the team. Another show would drag out this “I’ve got a secret” thing for about half a dozen episodes and it would become quite frustrating. Instead, the whole team discovers Skye’s secret in the very next episode. We even got payoffs for unresolved elements of Series 1, like what really happened to Agent May in Bahrain; again, another show might have made us wait till Series 5 or something.
All of this, of course, makes for excellent character development, and good acting to go with it. In Series 1, the main characters were put through their biggest upheaval with the revelation that Ward was a traitor; this series, they were pushed out of their comfort zones and forced to confront hard issues even more frequently. Again, we got rapid and satisfying payoffs regarding Skye’s unresolved issues from the previous series. She discovers her lost parents, and upon developing superpowers, is put through turmoil as she struggles to control them and determine where she now belongs in the world. These things isn’t handled in a cliche manner, either: Skye’s parents are not only deeply flawed people, but have understandable reasons for being so. By the end of it all, Skye has at least achieved some more inner peace, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she progresses in a commanding position in Series 3. We also had some new team members introduced, which I was unsure about at first – but by the second half of the series, Lance, Bobbi and Mack had slotted in well and were comfortably providing their own unforced contributions to the dynamic.
The show is definitely having a lot of fun playing around in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, bringing new facets to the table that the films can’t really cover without going out of their way. As a relatively low-level comic book nerd, I didn’t know anything about the Kree or the Inhumans until the show introduced them, so it’s becoming something of a learning experience. And the action and humour that made the first series worth watching hasn’t been changed a bit. It’s just too bad that the series ended on such a massive cliffhanger – but at least, unlike with Primeval back in the day, the next series has been confirmed. I’ll be waiting with baited breath, though in the meantime Agent Carter will be broadcast in the UK at last, so that will placate me a little.
Game of Thrones
I’ve already said that generally, I like the TV series of Game of Thrones better than the books. In the later seasons, the number of deviations from the books within the show has increased, and I’ve found most of them to be improvements. Unfortunately, Series 5 has broken the trend a bit.
I didn’t like A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons as much as the previous books, so I was quite heartened in the earlier episodes when it looked like there would be some quite significant deviations: Jamie was going to Dorne instead of the Riverlands, and taking Bronn with him; Tyrion and Varys were heading off to see Daenerys together; Sansa and Littlefinger left the Vale with Brienne following them, etc. I was looking forward to seeing how these plotlines would develop and how the show would continue to develop into its own entity, which it must do at this point, given that it’s run out of books to adapt.
However, the series seemed to lose its nerve and wasn’t quite as deviant as it originally suggested it might be; not a great deal of activity really happened in Dorne, for example. I was also disappointed by Sansa’s plotline. In Series 4, it looked like Sansa was taking steps towards proper maturation and learning to play the game; but in this season, she ends up taking the place of Jeyne Poole (from the books) and being married to Ramsay Bolton. While Sansa can hardly be blamed for being forced into a submissive role as the wife of such a man, it felt like a backwards step for her character. Other things were actually handled better in the books, such as how Cersei uses her power and tries to bring down Margery. And some character journeys didn’t go very far over ten episodes, such as Arya, who also has the misfortune of spending much of her time in a dark temple where it’s difficult to even see anything onscreen.
But this is still Game of Thrones we’re talking about, so there was still plenty to like. There was excellent drama throughout, and the acting was as good as ever. Probably the highlight for me was the battle with the White Walkers at the end of Episode 8; it came out of nowhere, was extremely hardcore, and provided a timely reminder of the scale of this threat. The ending where the Night’s King simply raises his hands, and summons all the wildlings he just killed to join his ranks, truly emphasised how apparently hopeless this particular situation is. Daenerys’s storyline was also well handled: we see her having to face the more difficult sides of being a queen and making unpopular decisions; she gets to meet Tyrion, which was wonderful; and she finally gets to fly on a dragon! And while the series wasn’t daring enough in some areas, it still managed to catch us off guard by killing some characters who are currently still alive in the books. I was particularly upset by the death of Shireen, partly because Kerry Ingram is the only cast member I’ve actually met (at Preston Comic Con).
So, probably the weakest series of Game of Thrones so far, but now we’re heading into properly unknown territory, so who knows what Series 6 will bring?