WWE Brand Split

imageWatching World Wresting Entertainment (WWE) can often lead to a sense of deja-vu. In many respects another brand extension is a good idea. The idea was first introduced in 2002 when the roster was bolstered by acquisitions from WCW and ECW. It successfully served as a way of better utilising the significant talent pool available but, as is frequently the case with the WWE, the execution has been less than perfect.

The influx of talent from NXT has certainly strengthened WWE with fresh and exciting  match ups with individuals such as Kevin Owens, Rusev, Neville, Charlotte and Becky Lynch mixing effortlessly onto the network shows and Pay-per-Views (PPVs). Even more NXT Stars have been brought through post-Wrestlemania with Apollo Crews and Enzo and Cass, for example. In that respect the timing was positive but in the context of the wider picture it could have been better.

imageThe main event of Battleground showcased a triple threat match with the three former members of the Shield battling for the WWE Championship. This was a match worthy of Summerslam but was instead delivered a month early. Circumstances dictated a messy buildup to the contest with Roman Reigns’ 30 day suspension and Seth Rollins’ position as a heel. The audience wanted to cheer for Rollins on his return but he immediately discarded his supporters. Equally the WWE universe has been desperate to boo Roman Reigns for, well, ever since it became obvious he was going to win the title at Wrestlemania. His suspension at least gave them a reason to boo. He violated the wellness policy and yet returned to a main event PPV slot.

imageThe importance of the match at Battleground was also diluted with it being clear that the winner would take the title to the show they had been drafted to. This telegraphed the fact that one of the programmes would be inventing a new title for their top guy. As a result of the WWE World Title becoming the sole property of Smackdown Live last night’s episode of Monday Night RAW introduced the concept of the WWE Universal Championship. In a typical example of oneupsmanship the best in WWE and the best in the world can now be declared the best in the entire universe. Kudos for attempting to create something original but it just sounds ridiculous.

On the plus side, the two combatants competing for the WWE Universal Championship at Summerslam will be Seth Rollins and Finn Bálor. The latters immediate elevation to such a prestigious spot demonstrates the new direction, inticing fans that the proclaimed new era is not just a neat tagline.

Speaking of Summerslam the writers now face the challenge of promoting the Brock Lesnar v Randy Orton match with both participants on different shows each week.

imageRAW did make a bold statement with acquiring the WWE Women’s Champion and in possibly the match of the night Sasha Banks took the gold. The new era had its first new champion. However, despite a new roster two superstar spots were inhabited by nobodies for squash matches to introduce Nia Jax and Braun Strowman. A classic case of one step forward, two back. It will be interesting to see how Smackdown Live responds given a solid episode from RAW, Brock Lesnar making an appearance next week and the cruiserweight also coming to Monday nights.

Looking forward there are still unanswered questions. Regarding PPVs, will there be RAW or Smackdown Live only monthly events as has been the case previously. What about inactive alumni, where might they turn up? Will Smackdown Live create a tag team title division? Has Heath Slater finally been fired? There will also no doubt come a time when the two major titles are unified once again and no doubt Michael Cole will declare the victor as the first ever undisputed champion, forgetting the two previous occasions that such a match has been presented. For now however, it is an exciting time for WWE watchers.

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REVIEW: Game of Thrones : Season 6 Finale

imageIn a season which had a pedestrian build-up, to say the least, slowly putting in place the pieces it needed to deliver an impressive finale and it didn’t disappoint. After setting it all up, the final two episodes roared to life with explosive scenes that redefined the phrase “must see television”. All the plot threads have had significant screen time dedicated to establishing events but the payoffs were more than worth the wait. If you’ve not caught up then do not hamper your enjoyment by reading further, there will be spoilers!

imageLast week saw the epic ‘Battle of the Bastards’ for Winterfell and certainly lived up to expectations. Fortunately good triumphed over evil as the Starks recaptured their home and Ramsey Bolton finally got his just desserts. More than that the episode saw a truly spectacular battle. It’s epic scale alone set new standards for what can be achieved with a supposed TV budget. There was a gritty, and at times suffocating, realism which heightened the brutality and the chaos of such a battle. From the very start there were moments where the viewer is left concerned that things were not going to go the way of the Starks, beginning with Rickon’s death. This was at the hands of an arrow from Ramsey Bolton, at his most manipulative and despicable that continued as he instructed his archers to shower down arrows on his own men, building a grotesque wall of corpses with soldiers from both sides. With the Wildling Warriors and Jon Snow surrounded all seems lost. imageBut then as the audience’s collective heart sinks, Sansa and Littlefinger come to the rescue with the Knights of the Vale. The overhead shot of the cavalry sweeping away the Bolton army was beautifully created, sending Ramsey into retreat behind the walls of Winterfell to little avail. Jon Snow gets his shots in as he pummels at Lord Bolton’s sickening face but it would be for Sansa to have the final triumph and the last shot of the show. Ramsey’s cruelty ultimately proves his undoing and Sansa walks away with a subtle smile knowing she has got her revenge.

‘The Winds of Winter’ picked up the mantle from ‘Battle of the Bastards’, an episode many have considered to have been one of the best the show has produced, and somehow delivered even more punch. From the very outset there is a beautiful melancholy tone, beginning before a musical note is even heard as a lone bell, watch out for it later, chimes impending doom. The incidental music then assists the drama so skilfully and has to be acknowledged.

imageAll the scenes in King’s Landing for effectively the last two seasons have been building to this moment, the Trial of Cersei Lannister before the Seven Gods. The rise of the Faith Militant had of course proved to be a catastrophic miscalculation by Cersei, having to endure the humiliating walk of shame at the end of Season 5. But you always knew she was going to have her revenge and boy did she, also wiping out the Tyrell’s at the same time. Loras admits his guilt and dedicates his life to the Seven Gods, meaning the graphic mutilation of his pretty forehead. His life didn’t have long left however as, in a plot stolen from Guy Fawkes, wildfire tore through the Great Sept of Baelor in another spectacularly delivered effect. Yet in a typically unexpected twist Cersei’s greatest victory resulted in her cruelest loss as King Tommen drops to his death in a shot similar to the humourous demise of Denholm Reynholm in ‘The IT Crowd’. You feel that with all her children gone, like Lady Olenna Tyrell, there will be no limits to her madness.

imageThe extended running time of ‘The Winds of Winter’ was fully utilised as a number of threads were tied together, such as Sam and Gilly arriving at Oldtown and Shireen’s brutal demise last year finally catching up with Melisandre. Arya Stark’s personal journey finally begins to be accelerating as she ticked another individual off her kill list in this episode. The time spent learning the ways of the House of Black and White finally come to fruition as she wreaks her revenge on Walder Frey on behalf of her mother, brother and all the viewers shaken by the events of the Red Wedding.

For the really hardcore followers Bran’s journey into the past would reveal the true identity of Jon Snow’s parents, Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen. The gut wrenching realisation that after all this time Ned Stark was not in fact his father but had kept up a lie to protect his sister’s son was another example of how incredible Game of Thrones is as a television series. As well as delivering the explosive sequences and epic battles already discussed it also provides deeply intelligent plotting which elevates it to the ranks of a television masterpiece.

imageJon Snow’s own journey during this season, which of course started with him being dead and in need of resurrection, also ends in triumph as he is declared ‘The King in the North’. Once again however it is young Bella Ramsey who steals the scene as Lyanna Mormont, shaming the other Lords of the North, turning the tide and triggering the acknowledgment of his place as ‘King in the North’. A particular thread still left outstanding is that of Sansa Stark and Littlefinger, the lecherous and goateed individual revealing his intentions for the Iron Throne in this episode. However you feel that Sansa will not ever forgive him for handing her over to the Boltons and his comeuppance may come in Season 7, when he will surely pay a heavy price.

imageAnother exciting prospect for Season 7 is of course the fact that finally, FINALLY, Daenerys is making her move for the Iron Throne and heading for Westeros. The building of her army has taken an eternity but now she stands with Dothraki and Unsullied warriors, the ships of Yara and Theon Greyjoy, an alliance with the Martels and Tyrells, the council of Tyrion and Varys plus three freaking dragons! As will probably be the case there might be an extended period of build up before a battle between the Lannister and Targaryen armies that will surely raise even higher standards for epic television storytelling than we have already enjoyed in Season 6. Beyond that I predict we will also be treated to a thrilling climax between fire and ice because lest we forget in all this excitement, “Winter is Here”.

REVIEW: New Top Gear

imageIn perhaps the most anticipated relaunch of a television programme since Doctor Who returned in 2005 another global BBC brand returned to our screens last night. The strategy was clear from the outset, replicate the format of the previous show but with new presenters. Unfortunately the team of seven was largely absent with Sabine Schmitz only making a cameo and the limelight being taken by Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc. Evans is clearly excited to be given the opportunity to present the show but burdened with the pressure and responsibility of the relaunch couldn’t find the balance between addressing the studio audience and the viewers at home, resulting in some very shouty delivery. Matt Le Blanc is the star although he should clearly have opened with a “how you doing?” The American was far more natural and even though known as an actor he appeared more than comfortable in the role of presenter. During his films, which as usual were gloriously shot, for this first episode Le Blanc is knowledgeable and engaging, managing to grasp the dry sense of humour familiar to a British audience.

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All the boxes were ticked to try and present the show as the same which had been so successful before. “All we know is he’s called the Stig”, a Top Gear road trip with unreliable vehicles and a series of challenges for the presenters. The only real change, besides the audience on the balcony, was to the ‘star in the reasonably priced car’ which now featured a rally cross section to the lap. The Ramsey and Eissenberg segment also suffered from pandering to the studio audience, alienating the viewers at home.

Whilst many I’m sure have been composing their derogatory reviews since Clarkson, Hammond and May departed, this new Top Gear has tried to stay faithful to the previous regime. Unsurprisingly it is not the same because the pieces of the jigsaw are now different and for people to criticise it because of that is unfair. Amazon will be providing the familiar format and the big test for the Top Gear brand will be it’s ability to attract and retain an audience. If the first episode is anything to go by Matt Le Blanc is certainly worth watching.

REVIEW: WWE Sumerslam 2015

Summerslam_TakerLesnar

WWE’s second biggest PPV offering, ‘the biggest party of the summer’ and now extended to a 4 hour show. The intention is clear, this is an event to match Wrestlemania. In the very near future I can see Summerslam being held in a stadium, which actually makes more sense, the summer weather and an outdoor venue. Anyway, onto the event, skipping the pre-show for the sake of time and the maintenance of sanity.

Sheamus def. Randy Orton

Two solid performers deliver a solid match. Both are in a difficult point of their careers, having achieved the big prize and not looking likely to challenge for it again any time soon.

New Day regain the Tag titles

First and foremost I cannot stand New Day. 3 guys with nothing in common, besides skin colour, are thrown together and credit to them they have made the most of it. Unfortunately, the tag team division has been dead in the water for a long time but perhaps the return of a classic favourite will reignite it once again so PPV matches are no longer time filler.

Dolph Ziggler Vs Rusez (Double count out)

Huge disappointment this one, purely because there is no resolution to the feud. A double count out is the classic way of prolonging a rivalry but this one didn’t need it. Lana is with Dolph, Russev has Summer Rae, let’s move on. But no. However, it’s not likely we will see a rematch at Night of Champions due to the self-imposed restraint of having to have every championship defended. Therefore it makes little sense to extend it further but sadly the double count out did just that and even worse it wouldn’t be the last occasion at this event where the outcome of a match is completely unsatisfying.

Some guy from a show I don’t watch in a match, yawn, I don’t care, skipped it.

Ryback retains the IC title

As pointed out by the commentary team this was classic triple threat material. I don’t really have much to add other than that. Pleased that Ryback retained the belt, it took him long enough to win his first championship so a decent run is just what he needs.

Roman Reigns and Dean Ambrose def. Bray Wyatt and Luke Harper

Almost a throw back match to a time now passed. Makes sense as the upper echelons know not what to do with any of the four so why not go back and revisit their former glory. It is ammusing however to see how the fans boo Roman Reigns, resenting his elevation at the start of the year but now he is in limbo, not popular enough to finish his push, not unliked enough to remove him from TV. As with all those who have gone before the mid-card beckons for Reigns.

Seth Rollins retains the WWE World Heavyweight Championship and wins the US title

What had been a really good match was completely ruined by the moronic conclusion. First and foremost this was a stupid match to book. Cena winning the US title was a great call, elevating the belt once again but really he should’ve dropped it to Kevin Owens in one of their tremendous PPV contests. As a result losing it to Rollins effectively negates the US title all together. Also, the fact that Cena was competing to equal the legendary Ric Flair’s record of (supposed) 16 world titles is insane. Cena has been the face of WWE and their biggest merchandise peddler for over 10 years now and the fact he is on 15 titles is an indicator of how frequent the title changes have been during that time. 15 wins means he has also lost them 15 times. Perhaps it is the age we live in but title changes are often an easy book.

Back to the match itself there were plenty of near falls for one of them to be the proper finale. Instead guest host Jon Stewart, who I know of but have no interest in seeing, having an influence on the outcome of such an important match. The commentators also pointed out on multiple occasions how big a match it was and yet the finish was urinated upon by a rubbish chair shot to the gut by some guy from American television in order to generate press coverage.

Seth Rollins could really have done with a clean win over Cena but he still remains a fluke champion. Despite this he put in another good performance proving that he certainly deserves his position, delivering at the top-level.

Team PCB def. Team Bella and Team Bad, which is a ridiculous sentence.

The Diva revolution has been a tremendous boost for a much derided female division. All the best women’s matches have all been on NXT and it made perfect sense to bring top performers like Charlotte, Becky Lynch and Sasha Banks over to the main shows. The main problem with the division is the dominance of the Bella Twins, they are not the best technical wrestlers, to put it mildly, but to associate their success to be based on their respective high-profile partners is unfair but probably still accurate. However, on the two biggest shows the Bella’s have lost to a team featuring Paige. Surely therefore Paige is the future and matches with other NXT graduates will reignite the division so they are no longer Divas but women once again. The Bellas can then go back to the egofest that is Total Divas.

Kevin Owens def. Cesaro

Two individuals deserving of proper title runs put on a tremendous match. In hindsight Owens had to win the match given he had lost his two previous PPV outings plus at ‘Beast in the East’ and NXT Takeover the previous night.

The Undertaker def. Brock Lesnar

A huge rematch 16 months in the making and it more than lived up to the physicality expected but once again was spoilt by the finish which I don’t imagine was very clear to those in attendance at the arena. When the bell rang first thoughts sprang of Montreal revisited but instead the reality was much more confusing. So instead of getting a clean win and revenge it appears the Undertaker had lost once again, submitting to the kimura lock. However, the beast didn’t submit but passed out, retaining his aura. Basically there is going to be a third match, probably at Wrestlemania 32. It would make sense for Taker to bow out having overcome Lesnar at Wrestlemania but I could also see match 3 at Survivor Series.

RAW highlights

Sting is back! Hurray! Hopefully he will go up against Rollins now for the WWE World Heavyweight Title but will he hold the strap? Probably not but it would final cement him as a legend to WWE fans who didn’t see him at his peak in the 90’s.

Also the Dudley Boys are back and that should be exactly the boost the Tag Team division needs.

The end of Top Gear

Top GearSo the familiar version of Top Gear is over. The combination of Clarkson, Hammond and May will no longer appear on BBC2 at 8pm on a Sunday evening and talk about cars, cause chaos and general hilarity with their antics. Over the years they have taken what started as a dull car review show and turned it into an award-winning programme full of entertainment centred on a love for cars. Often the show caused controversy from offending people such as lorry drivers and Mexicans, to accusations of drink driving whilst heading to the North Pole. In that respect it was only a matter of time before controversy would finally cause the programme to implode. This almost occurred when crew members were put in serious jeopardy by an ill-advised special in Patagonia but the final blow was dealt by Clarkson himself. The incident has been widely documented in the press and resulted in the conclusion to the show as seen on Sunday 28th June. That final episode, with links recorded by Hammond and May in an empty studio, save for an obvious ‘elephant in the room’, was sombre. The credits rolled with no theme tune but silently, akin to occasions in soap operas where a character has died during the episode. However, it is perfectly apt as sadly the show is now dead. BBC Worldwide will continue to flog the Top Gear brand for all the money that can be squeezed out of it and the show will return with Chris Evans as a presenter. But whatever form that relaunched Top Gear does take I can only predict total and utter failure. The camaraderie between Clarkson, Hammond and May was irreplaceable and brought audiences to the show that crucially were not petrol heads but enjoyed watching them and what they got up to each week. Sadly, replicating that chemistry is surely an impossible task and therefore it is rightly seen that this is indeed the end for Top Gear.

However, as we mark the end of one of the BBC’s most popular programmes it is only right that we look back at some of the highlights that the show brought viewers.

The Races

Top Gear almost became synonymous with extraordinary races, often pitting the car against public transport, racing to the North Pole, across London and through Tokyo to name only a few. The two races in particular which will stand out in my memory featured extraordinary pieces of machinery, the Bugatti Veyron and steam locomotive Tornado.

Top Gear 2A simple race from Italy to London featured perhaps the greatest piece of motorcar engineering we are ever likely to see, the Bugatti Veyron. This car was quite rightly the winner of this race, during which Jeremy dazzled the viewer with the incredible statistics associated with it, for instance, 1001 bhp, 4 turbochargers, 10 radiators and a top speed of 253 mph. Rightly so it was described on the show as motoring’s “Concorde moment”, the best road car there is ever likely to be in our lifetime. In retrospect, James and Richard never really stood a chance up against a machine of that ilk. But it made for memorable television and is re-watched with great fondness on repeat channel ‘Dave’.

top-gear-episode-1The second race which sticks in my mind is the race from London to Edinburgh, James drove a Jaguar XK120, Richard on a Vincent Black Shadow motorcycle and Jeremy on steam engine Tornado. All 3 vehicles were fantastic and looked great. I may be wrong but I have a feeling it was the first episode of Top Gear to be made in HD and shots of Tornado going up the east coast were gorgeous and it is those images that will stick in the mind for a long time.

The Guests

Something that Jeremy often highlighted during the show was that on this “pokey motoring show” they would regularly get incredibly high profile stars in the reasonably priced car. From Hollywood A-listers Tom Cruise and Cameron Diaz, to Formula 1 drivers such as Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel, every week the show would have a recognisable face appear. That alone is a perfect indication about the popularity of the programme. All of the guests provided great interviews; the informal nature of the questioning as opposed to a typical televised interview meant that the guest was relaxed and more forthcoming. Also, over the years it became a popular thought for viewers to wonder how fast they could go around the track. Fortunately, through the video game Gran Turismo 5 viewers could test themselves against famous corners such as Gambon and the hammerhead.

Top Gear 3Cheap car challenges

One of the best challenges, of the many, that the show came up with involved a budget to go and buy a specific car. One of my favourites was the challenge to buy a mid-engine Italian supercar for less than £10,000, most notably for James arriving at the meeting point on the back of an AA truck and all the cars failing to reach their final destination. Another was finding the perfect car for 17 year olds for £2,500; I don’t think I have laughed as much as I did watching that challenge.

Top Gear 4Amphibious cars

Another challenge involved creating amphibious vehicles and so successful was it the challenge was revisited but taken to a new level. In the first challenge Jeremy sank hilariously, so very close to the finish, James struggled with his Triumph Herald sailing boat on the land before even getting to water and Richard’s ‘damper-van’ fared little better. So it was even more surprising when the challenge was elevated to push the trio to attempt an English Channel crossing. Amazingly, Jeremy’s Nissan pick-up truck made it to French soil, one of few occasions where one of the vehicles managed to complete the challenge.

Racing on the Monaco F1 track

As a part of a film about hot hatchbacks the three presenters got the chance to drive the legendary Circuit de Monaco. As well as the obvious visually impressive track, it was fascinating to see the corners you might have gone round on computer games done for real by drivers who are not professionally trained and in regular cars. Most viewers who have seen Formula 1 races will be have been very envious of that opportunity.

Chernobyl

This was an extraordinary film. Driving through Ukraine Clarkson, Hammond and May tried their utmost to run out of fuel so they didn’t have to enter the exclusion zone. Unfortunately, Jeremy and James still had petrol so the cars ventured into the radioactive nightmare. Chernobyl is one of the eeriest locations on Earth and for cameras to capture it was extremely rare. Abandoned housing and the creepy playground alone make it for one of the most spectacular sights but for all the wrong reasons. The unnerving ticks of the Geiger counters heightened the reality of what is perhaps one of the most dangerous journeys ever made by the Top Gear.

Richard HammondRichard’s accident and triumphant return

In September 2006, Richard Hammond was involved in an accident after a jet-powered car he was driving at over 280mph suffered a tire blow out, causing the car to spin off, flip upside down and jammed his head into the ground. As a result Richard suffered a significant brain injury but eventually made a full recovery. The episode where the footage of the accident was shown became the first of the new series that had been delayed to allow Richard to recover. During the episode Richard discussed what had happened and his recollections of the accident. The footage itself was shocking enough and really highlighted how serious the accident was. Fortunately, Richard did make a full recovery and quite rightly he had a spectacular reception but then once it was talked about his request to not mention it again was respected.

The incident really underlined the relationship between the three presenters and it is that chemistry which made the show a success. Almost certainly the trio will be back again on our screens for another broadcaster but it will not be on Top Gear and despite a dramatic end viewers will fondly look back on what the show did provide in terms of entertainment.

REVIEW: Game of Thrones: Season 5

Game-of-Thrones-logo-S5-Tyrion1-810x400Now I have to admit as much as I adore this show I have really struggled to get into this season. Over the 10 episodes the plotlines have meandered through with some notable conclusions. The previous 9 episodes led up to a season finale which certainly had its fair share of dramatic resolutions. Ultimately the majority of the season is pedestrian in the way it limped along, only to be accentuated with controversial and excessive scenes before the dramatic conclusions that rounded it all off.

Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch

This story arc provided the closing scene for the finale and for many came as quite a shock. I had thought that if he was to be murdered by his own men it would’ve happened before this point so I was not expecting it. When Jon Snow was elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch he became a marked man and he further antagonised his comrades with his determination to bring the Wildlings south of the Wall. Perhaps his biggest mistake was appointing Ser Alliser Thorne as First Ranger, never hiding his contempt for Snow and expressing his disagreement with his decisions. Ultimately all of these actions would see his undoing and trigger the shocking scenes that concluded the season.

Whilst many will be mourning over the departure of one of the shows main pieces of eye candy the reverberations on the story from here will be potentially even more catastrophic. Having faced the White Walkers Jon Snow appreciated the scale of the task that was facing the whole of Westeros. The White Walkers provide a very real threat to life south of the wall but without Jon Snow it seems that the odds of success for the Night’s Watch have taken a serious blow.

It was an interesting decision for the whole season to conclude with the death of Jon Snow but smart in terms of generating a reaction of viewers on social media and the additional press interest and comment. The final shot, looking down on a deceased Snow, with blood trickling, he must’ve been on an incline of some sort, will stick in the mind of the viewer and hopefully encourage them to watch the next season. However, by consistently killing off likeable characters such as Jon Snow, removing Samwell Tarly from the equation too, it makes it more difficult for viewers to reengage with the show the following year. One of the strengths of the show is the unpredictability but viewers ultimately want to see the good people thrive and the others getting their comeuppance. One individual who does indeed get his just deserts is Stannis Baratheon.

Stannis Baratheon messes everything up

It is hard to argue that anyone had a more catastrophic conclusion to the season than Stannis. His army arrived dramatically at the Wall in the conclusion of season 4 but it took the whole of season 5 for him to move onto Winterfell. This highlights the slow and plodding nature of the first 2/3rds of the season. What those episodes do achieve is by bringing Stannis and his daughter closer together, only for that to be completely thrown out of the window when the manipulative witch Melisandre exerts her influence. The scene of Shireen being burnt at the stake is disturbing but fortunately we are spared any shots of the young princess ablaze. Although this decision sees the snow melting for his army’s assault on Winterfell it also results in half of that army deserting and his wife Selyse taking her own life. There are many occasions in this show where individuals seem to act in a way which is not really consistent with how real people would act but Selyse is clearly so affected by the death of her daughter that she feels compelled to take her own life. Melisandre also shows her real cowardice, fleeing Stannis’ side and retreating to Castle Black. Stannis in his determination still attempts to attack Winterfell but that also proves unsuccessful. It appears that Stannis has met his end, slain by Brienne, but as we did not see the death it remains open to debate if he will return or not.

It would appear that Stannis has got what he deserved, putting his faith in the words of Melisandre and his decision to sacrifice his daughter. However, this will have an effect on the rest of Westeros. With the Baratheon army defeated it seems the Lannister hold on the Iron throne seems to have tightened. However, of more concern is perhaps the fact that the Bolton’s still hold Winterfell.

Sansa and Ramsay Bolton

One of the most disturbing scenes of the whole season follows the marriage of Sansa Stark to Ramsay Bolton. It caused plenty of reaction on social media and rightly so but was consistent with the grotesque character that Ramsay Bolton has become since his introduction into the series. However, this season sees no retribution for Ramsay. Fortunately, the season finale does see Sansa finally reach Theon Greyjoy as he kills Myranda and the two of them leap off the wall. But their fate remains unclear and this will be a plotline to continue further in the next season. Unfortunately, with the Bolton’s still holding Winterfell it is going to be difficult for Theon and Sansa to evade the repercussions.

Cersei’s plan works against her

Ah Cersei Lannister! She is perhaps one of the most realistic characters in the series, intrinsically protective of her family and her children in particular. Sometimes that maternal instinct gets the better of her and it certainly did in this season. Her initial plans to counter the growing influence of the Tyrell’s by re-establishing the Faith Militant works perfectly as both Loras and Margaery are arrested. However, it would backfire spectacularly as she too was arrested. In the season finale we are forced to endure a long and uncomfortable scene of Cersei doing a walk of shame through the streets of King’s Landing. Whilst many would feel that this is all of her birds coming home to roost finally it still makes for difficult viewing. As a character she rings true to reality, she is flawed. Her obsessive controlling instincts in order to protect her children balanced against her poor decision making in other aspects of her life make her a fully rounded character. Going forward into Season 6 Cersei is now back in the Red Keep and it is difficult to see anything else than spectacular and bloody retribution. King Tommen has been largely absent, appearing in only half of the episodes during Season 5, and as a result it is hard to consider him as anything other than a weak King, which probably means a most undignified end to his reign.

The boredom of Dorne and Meereen

One of the biggest problems with the pacing of Season 5 is that whenever there was an element of momentum it was immediately lost by moving to Dorne or Meereen. The Martell and Sand Snake’s plotline is frankly tedious and ultimately accomplishes absolutely nothing. The death of Myrcella is predictable given the ill-feeling of Ellaria Sand for the Lannisters following the death of Oberyn in Season 4. But for it to take 10 episodes is a journey akin to having your fingernails pulled out.

Similarly the political unrest in Meereen is completely uninteresting. Daenerys seems to have lost sight of her goal of being on the iron throne, which is what we as viewers want to see. As the ‘Mother of Dragons’ we want to see those dragons go to war against the Lannisters et al. Instead we have to endure the political instability of Slavers Bay with the Sons of the Harpy rebelling, the fighting pits and it simply doesn’t interest this member of the audience. What is interesting is the potential of a Daenerys and a Tyrion Lannister alliance which had been alluded to throughout the season only for them to be separated towards its conclusion. Instead, Tyrion is now in charge of the poisoned chalice of dullness that is Meereen but on the plus side we did see the return of Varys. The dynamic between these two characters is golden and hopefully we can look forward to more of that in the next season.

Arya’s learns to be no one

From boredom to utter confusion, Arya’s time in Bravos. Maisie Williams is fantastic in the role as Arya, a character who has been on a journey since seeing her father executed and you almost feel that it has been building to this point, her teaching in the House of Black and White. Of course this was punctuated by her killing of Meryn Trant. Now he was clearly portrayed as an individual deserving of a grisly demise but was it really necessary to show his preference for young girls by having him drag off a frightened youngster in ‘The Dance of Dragons’. This may have been an attempt to provide a reason why Arya would be in a position to kill Trant, or to have the audience cheer her on while she kills him, it still seemed unnecessary to show scared girls getting beaten by him. But he was actually a character who got his just deserts in the series; even if the death was a little brutal it was very well done on a production level. Arya would feel the repercussions of that action however as her story concludes with her losing her sight. Where her story goes from here now is open for debate. Perhaps it will make Arya more powerful, being able to see what others do not see. Overall the whole plotline for this season confused me greatly, removing multiple faces from Jaqen’s supposedly dead body until finally Arya herself is revealed. It is this unpredictability that makes this programme one of the best on television and keeps people watching, even if they don’t fully understand what’s going on.

Hardhome and the White Walkers

The undoubted highlight of the whole season was the White Walker attack on Hardhome. The whole sequence was realised brilliantly, truly epic and up to the high standards of ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ the previous year. Although an entire episode had been set aside for that battle, it seemed that somehow the attack of the White Walkers topped it in terms of scale. This brings us on to the threat of the White Walkers. When the ‘Night’s King’ raises his arms and all the fallen rose up as more undead soldiers, it was a real spine-tingling moment.

As a result the only conclusion I can reach is that ultimately all these plot threads will prove irrelevant because when the White Walkers do move the whole of Westeros is doomed. There’s an image going around social media of George RR Martin writing in a book with the text “and then they all died”. I can honestly see that happening at this point.

Top 5 Space Precinct episodes

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Warning: there will be plot spoilers and you are recommended to watch the episodes first before reading further so as not to hamper your enjoyment of the show. It’s not difficult, they are all on youtube!

Firstly, I cannot recommend this series highly enough. The brainchild of undisputed genius Gerry Anderson, the visionary behind Thunderbirds, Stingray and Captain Scarlet, it was at the time one of the most expensive television series ever made in the UK. It is a unique combination of cop show and science fiction. Lasting only the single series of 24 x 45 minute episodes, it was a troubled production, largely due to the difficulties of trying to create a show that would appeal to both American and UK markets. I remember watching it on BBC2 during the mid-1990’s and there wasn’t really anything quite like it. The most impressive aspect of the programme is the alien creatures that were produced, designed by Neill Gorton who would later become director of Millennium FX and provide many memorable monsters for the modern version of Doctor Who. The Creons and the Tarns all have variations, making each unique and having a character despite having a consistent design. There wasn’t only the Creons and the Tarns however. Many of the most memorable episodes feature alien creatures with an outstanding design that sticks in the mind of the viewer. Every aspect of the show however is brilliantly realised. Using superbly detailed model work, everything from the Police cruisers to space stations and spaceships are convincing, as is Slomo the RSA unit. The show also featured early acting appearances from now famous names such as, Idris Elba and Ray Winstone, plus Steven Berkoff, Burt Kwouk, Frances Barber and even former Bond girl Maryam d’Abo. Keeping with the James Bond theme, John Glen who took the helm for 6 episodes of the series (7 if you include the second part of The Fire Within) had previously directed 5 James Bond films in a row throughout the 1980’s. This indicates the calibre of people who worked on the production, which is reflected in what comes across on the screen. Despite being made in the 1990’s the programme has not dated. The high standard of the effects and model work, the realism of all the creatures and the fully rounded characters makes it not just a thoroughly underrated television series but one which would be equally at home on our television screens today.

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5. The Snake

This episode makes the list based largely on the villain. Snake is another brilliantly visualised character, an explosives expert with a flair for extortion and acidic blood. The costume, prosthetics and make up, plus the performance full of reptilian hissing, all come together to deliver an impressive creature. Where the episode does however fall into the trap of introducing a new character, with a short backstory designed to make the viewer less expectant of his not entirely unexpected betrayal. It is a pattern that does happen occasionally during the series, ‘The Witness’ springs to mind for instance. Despite this flaw however it is the tense conclusion to the episode of Brogan and co. deactivating the bombs coupled with the unique villain elevate the story, making it particularly memorable.

fire_within4. The Fire Within

Final warning, I will be mentioning crucial plot points so watch the story first!

This is one of only two 2-part episodes during the series, the other being the conclusion of the series and the extended runtime certainly benefits the story. The beginning of the episode is of the usual high quality seen throughout the series, supported by an excellent set for the Pyrist temple. Although it is not a massive set, the lava and flames coupled with the great robes created by the costume team, give it a definitive look and feel which is subsequently why all the key action takes place in that set. It is clear that something strange is going on, you suspect the people who ultimately are proved to be responsible but you don’t truly appreciate exactly what is going on until the exciting and dramatic conclusion. The revelation that the temple is actually a spaceship stands out in my memory as a shock which I never saw coming. There are plenty of disturbing crimes throughout the series as a whole but the fact that these criminals would stoop to the level of convincing their congregation to give up all their worldly possessions, only to be murdered is one of the worst.

The other standout aspect of the story is the transformation of Jack Haldane. As a viewer you are convinced that he has been converted by the Pyrists and that he has killed Captain Podly’s daughter Samina. This is a drastic transition given he enters the story in a comedic way, cracking wise whilst everyone else is immersed in the seriousness of the situation. To then see that character turn, resign from the police department and coldly murder Samina is genuinely shocking.

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3. Predator and Prey

One of the creepiest and disturbing episodes of the series, with an impressive villain, the appearance of which is simple, shrouded in black with a vampiric air. The method by which the first killing takes place is equally haunting, a stalking presence within the confines of a closed room. No real mystery about the murderer, we identify him immediately. The intrigue comes from Lt. Walker, who straight away antagonises Brogan and Haldane. There is then the curious autopsy report and when the assailant is named as Enil Kamada, we also learn that he is supposedly some form of boogie man who struck nearly a century previously, all of which adds further intrigue. All of these additional layers add to a more complex story than a simple serial killer preying on pretty ladies narrative. We are also treated to Simone Bendix dancing the night away in an attempt to trap the killer. Ultimately, the resolution to the story is very dramatic and effective.  Also memorable in the episode is the sub plot with Orrin and Romek which provides some humorous light comedy relief to an otherwise dark and disturbing tale.

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2. Double Duty

The big draw of this episode is not just the monster but the reveal of where the monster comes from. It is alluded to, all the evidence is put in front of you and the onion is slowly peeled until it ultimately dawns on the viewer and the characters under threat. The monster is used sparingly, which adds to the drama and makes it quite a scary episode for any youngsters watching. It is of the same high standard as all the other creatures used for the series, if a little influenced by Alien’s Xenomorphs. We also see the gruesome nature of the demises that people meet, some of this is supported by the reactions of those investigating, an important thing which is often overlooked in modern television and film in favour of actually showing the grotesque stuff instead. One of the most nauseating sights is actually the pizzas crawling with maggots; it will certainly put you off your lunch. It is also a very plausible way of delivering banned substances to customers if times get tough for Domino’s! Even in his small role Idris Elba is also quite memorable as a pizza delivery driver; I wonder what would become of him…

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1. Time to Kill

This episode is largely notable for the brilliantly realised Cyborg. Now admittedly the plot isn’t exactly original. However, James Cameron’s film ‘The Terminator’ also had similarities to an Outer Limits story ‘The Soldier’ from 20 years earlier. What does make this story so great however, is what happens to the key characters during the episode. This is the 6th episode of the series, so you have already established the main characters, Brogan and Haldane, Took and Castle and so it hits you when they meet their demises and the way that impacts on their colleagues feels all the more real. The episode starts with a bang, even if the acid bath is a bit near the knuckle. After that opening the story becomes more and more intriguing, unidentifiable metal and with more deaths the Cyborg appears indestructible. When the story finally is resolved the plot falls into place nicely. Admittedly when the mask is removed it is not obvious who the person is but you are quickly enlightened. Given the futuristic setting a time travel revelation actually is all the more believable. At its best Space Precinct works when there are twists and turns but by the end of the story they are resolved in a logical and plausible manner and this episode achieves it beautifully.