Thor (Pause) Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok is “the best Marvel movie of all time.”

That’s something you might have heard the past few weeks. And this ultimate claim of pre-eminence isn’t something I’m going to outright dispute, though I’m not sure if Thor: Ragnarok is that much better than Spider-Man: Homecoming. Even if you’re of this dominant sliver of the population that gobbles up superhero stuff like Chris Hemsworth does protein shakes, this “the best Marvel movie” claim may depend on your age–if you grew of movie-going age (13-17) in the age of Iron Man and Whedon’s Avengers or in the Captain America: Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy era. 

Enough quibbling, though, because in a lot ways, Thor: Ragnarok is different. It’s widely beloved across generations and demographics. It feints at the self-serious of previous Thor films with “Ragnarok”–a very real, canical event in Norse mythology (and Jack Kirby’s definitive take on the end of the gods.) But Thor: Ragnarok really ends up being different by being delightfully inessential. The film strains when it has to play “MCU” with Dr. Strange in New York and Banner’s realization that “I’ve been Hulk for two years!?” The film is more interested in Korg’s gladiator revolution–“but didn’t print enough pamphlets so hardly anyone turned up”–on a planet ruled by Jeff Goldblum. This here is the definitive–okay, time to kick back the recliner moment, this is gonna be fun.

“My name is Korg. I’m kind of like the leader in here. I’m made of rocks, as you can see, but don’t let that intimidate you. You don’t need to be afraid, unless you’re made of scissors! Just a little Rock, Paper, Scissors joke for you.”

Thor: Ragnarok is a rock-em, sock-em odyssey through this colorful, lucrative fictional universe. It’s got Chris Hemsworth, unleashed. And Tessa Thompson!

You’re having such a great time (it’s hard to tell if Thor: Ragnarok is 90 or 140 minutes), that in the end, you don’t see the end of Asgard coming. And you end of wondering, did we just watch the “Marvel formula” change before our eyes? Or did we just witness it work for Thor/Hemsworth for the first time?

Marvel’s vibe has been bright and fun vs. the dark, gritty Batman growling “I’m Batman” of DC. It’s actually less Marvel vs. DC, and more Marvel and DC are running a marathon and DC missed its alarm and showed up four hours late.

The MCU built itself on interconnectivity–like the Tree of Life Thor shows Jane (Natalie Portman) in the first Thor. You had to see Thor so that The Avengers would make sense. In those early days (Phase I), this connectivity from film to film, branch to branch was thrilling. In the opening scene from Captain America: First Avenger, Red Skull is searching for the tesseract (blue cube, very powerful) and struts over to the Tree of Life, where the infinity stone (Thanos wants em all for his special glove, it’s like, the whole point of the saga) is hidden. We know that tree. Thor told us about it!  

Ant-Man was kind of a proto-Ragnarok back in 2015, a film charming in that it relied more on Paul Rudd than Nick Fury or Thanos/Josh Brolin strutting in to connect us to the rest of Marvel continuity. With respect to Director Fury, he at least sits up in his chair once in awhile. Both Thor: Ragnarok and Ant-Man are thankfully tangential to the great web of Marvel stories we have to track and care about.

The Marvel formula is this mix of star-as-superhero persona, plain but clean visual palette (there are a few obvious exceptions), a self-awareness that’s half shrug, half wink, and whatever the heck (signature tone or pathos) the director can bringing to it. Marvel has the creative infrastructure to pluck someone like Taika Waititi or Jon Watts (Spider-Man: Homecoming) from mainstream obscurity and confidently set them up with some of the most important IP in the biz.

Waikiti’s sensibilities obviously worked with Hemsworth. The “other” Chris has proven an agile comedic actor in Ghostbusters and Vacation but had been forced to play Thor like a stiff. But Waikiti and Hemsworth shear off that persona and his locks with lines like “Because that’s what heroes do” and “We know each other. We’re friends from work!”

The visual palette takes a page from the Guardian’s guide to intergalactic space romps. But that’s more in step with Marvel creative infrastructure. Per a New York Times profile, “Waititi was surrounded, the Marvel executive producer Brad Winderbaum noted, with experienced, talented technicians.”

“He’s never going to feel out at sea, wondering how he’s going to achieve this,” Winderbaum said, and then with a shrug offered a fittingly superhuman claim of omnipotence: “We know how to achieve everything.”

Sure seems like a variation of Marvel’s tried and true formula. But you can joke that Marvel films like Spider-Man: Homecoming (teen romp! John Hughes!), Captain America: Winter Soldier (political thriller! All the President’s Men!), have genre-fare dressing. It’s thrown in there to spice things up. That’s not the case in Thor: Ragnarok, which revels in its “other-worldness” in this Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s an all together different bird. It’s a delight. 

Cruise Control

There’s nothing more magical in modern cinema–no all of man’s great works of art–than Tom Cruise propelling himself forward on those little legs. Cruise runs the way an eagle flies, a tiger hunts, a sloth sleeps. The way his arms pump, the way he shoots a look back at whatever is chasing after him every 4.39 seconds, the sheer pinched focus on his face is a kinetic wonder–an ideal of upright posture and karate chop hands.

In his time on set and then on screen, Tom has done a lot of running. He hasn’t run in all of his films. In three of his most famous–Top Gun, A Few Good Men, Magnolia–Cruise never shifts past first gear. And Cruise did a lot of running in his earlier work–some lolly gagging level stuff in Risky Businesss (1983) and Cocktail (1988). But when The Firm hit in 1993 (coincidentally (or is it?) the year I was born)), Tom hit Cruise Control. He ran straight from those embezzling, laundering, murdering bastards at Bendini, Lambert, and Locke and into then through the IMF of Mission Impossible (1996). By the time Cruise and Spielberg teamed up for Minority Report, Tom Cruise was in peak Cruise Control–sprinting his way through conspiracy like way Bo Jackson ran over linebackers.

Part of what makes it all so great–it’s probably the only time Tom Cruise has to run–or has run. I don’t know what he does with his free time–hang from the ceiling, play bass and rock leather in Spinal Tap cover band, drop some bars and dope beats at the local Scientology temple. I don’t know who Tom Cruise is. I don’t care. All I know, is that when he runs down the street, I follow. So, here are the five best cinematic runs in Tom Cruise’s career.

5. Risky Business (1983)

Starting with Risky Business, and putting it on this list in the first place, is might I say risky. But this is the movie that gave us (or those who were alive) that first glimpse into Cruise as magnetic leading man. He has a bit of innocense in this movie that we forget about I think. The whitey-tighties dance scene is still obviously the most famous thing from the movie. And it in itself is an impressive piece of kinetic work. But I’m drawn to the way Tom runs in Risky Business. YouTube, roll the clip.

There’s an unbent, free-form rhythm Cruise in this movie. You see for a glimpse, as he runs up the school stairs the type of pure ascetic form he’d adopt later. But did you catch the part where he’s pushing the wheel barrow? Look how free and ungainly he looks. Look how his arms flail at his sides. This is not a man on a mission. This is boy who doesn’t know where or how to run. And that’s a piece of Cruise’s movie star persona that’s been lost for a while. It’s a rewarding thing to remember ever once in a while, and a good place to start.

4. War of the Worlds (2005)

I think this is an example of just how compelling Cruise is as a runner. I want you to pay close attention from :30 to 1:24. There’s a lot much going on–giant crowd, exploding roads, aliens arriving from the sky, humans being incinerated left and right. And our eyes are for Tom Cruise only. Roll it YouTube.

Even when Cruise is looking back at the aliens, We’re still fixed on Cruise (and it helps that the camera basically keeps him in the center of the frame the entire time). The build-up to that textbook Cruise Control run at the end is so well measured. That’s when you know you’ve reached Cruise Control.

3. Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

We’ll return to aliens, and that Tom Cruise run of old for Edge of Tomorrow–a movie that I think is the perfect Tom Cruise vehicle. YouTube, roll the clip.

Not much going on? Crookedly charming Cruise tries to negotiate his way out of field combat and he stumbles his way out and door and through the office before getting tazed. But look at those arms, that posture. That’s not Cruise Control. That’s straight out of Risky Business and the other loose runs of his early career. And it gets at what will probably be Cruise’s most underrated role. In the span of over two hours, Cruise takes us through the span of his movie personas from innocent, cocky asshole–man among chaos–to battle hardened action hero. And it’s seamless. Director Doug Liman keeps you so busy through most of the movie that you just take it for granted, but what Cruise does in this movie is more impressive than what Bill Murray (gasp!) does in Groundhog Day. Cruise is seamlessly showing the effects of war, while calling back what has made him so interesting through the past 30 years.

2. Mission Impossible III (2006)

The only consistency in the Mission Impossible series, from movie to movie, is that at one point, Tom Cruise will run. It’s a billion-dollar franchise based on one simple thing one peculiar actor does.

J.J. Abrams took the MI reigns, and while Cruise did a lot of jumping and kicking in John Wu’s entry, Abrams gave Tommy  a real test of endourance. All he does in this movie is run. And there’s one scene–one tracking shot really–that really puts that endurance to test. He’s probably running like 15 mph, but it looks like it’s 90 mph. Once Tommy reaches Cruise Control, he can’t stop. He won’t stop. He doesn’t have to stop. He’s reached the danger zone without a freaking jet. Start the clip at 3:04 and behold. YouTube!

1. Mission Impossible (1996)

This is, with respect to all of the other great runs in Cruise’s filmography, this is mach Cruise. It’s his first great run. In MI IV, he runs away from the Kremlin, down the tallest building in the world, through a sandstorm in Dubai, but in 1996 all Cruise needed was a glass window in Prague and a mouthful of bitter conspiracy. Look at Mach Cruise in all of jerky slow-motion and all of its objective brilliance. Hit it YouTube.

In case you forgot MI1, this is the point when Ethan Hunt learns he’s been set up. The mission had been a ruse by the IMF to flush out a rat. Hunt and boss Kittredge are sitting at a restaurant in Prague. Kittredge smugly informs Hunt he’ll be taken in. Director Brian De Palma uses a great Dutch angle. It’s at this point when, in my opinion, Hunt becomes the Ethan Hunt we’ll remember–the agent willing to do anything–aka the impossible–to get out of a situation. He uses the old exploding gum trick and is off to the races. Ethan Hunt still running.

BONUS: Beach Volleyball in Jeans

In Top Gun, Maverick doesn’t have to run, because he can fly. But you can’t be in the air all the time. You’d pass out, I believe. When Maverick’s not flying, wooing dames with ‘that loving feeling,’ bedding said gals, he’s oiling up to play volleyball in jeans with the boys–his wingmen and tail riders. This is the most impressive thing you’ll see all day.

You’re gonna regret not playing that final game with Goose, Maverick, probably for the rest of your life. RIP Goose.


Can ‘Sleeping With Other People’ Save Rom-Coms (Probably Not)?

I was leaning over a tall table after a short but generous brewery tour. The novelty of ordering a ‘Ghost King’ was slowly wearing off. I was feeling less and less like a character in fantasy novel. So I asked my companions if they thought Alison Brie (CommunityMad MenSave the Date) would ever be a star.

It wasn’t a random question. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a couple days after the first trailer for Sleeping with Other People, a new rom-com staring Jason Sudeikis and Brie. Some comps were thrown out like Melisa McCarthy, which (no offense) doesn’t really work. One fella expressed some disbelief that she’ll ever be a star. Maybe she’s just a television star, not quite the ever dependable and versatile (yellow) American cheese but she’s not quite French brie. That’s the best Alison Brie-cheese metaphor you’ll read today. One guy offered up how he once saw her on a plane with Dave Franco and couldn’t stop looking at her. I threw out the comp of Rose Bynre, which people liked. If I had to say a best case scenario, I think Brie could be some mix of Byrne and Reese Witherspoon–Byrne’s rye comedic timing and Witherspoon’s sincerity. She’s played the sassy second fiddle in other rom-coms (The Five Year EngagementSave the Date) and integral part in cult sitcom Community and now, Annie has arrived! Now onto Sleeping with Other People.

Let’s go through a quick checklist. New York setting? Check. Shirts that explicitly say “New York” just to make sure it’s clear? Check. Adam Brody (in fine Seth Cohen form (and who hasn’t aged at all and I could write about 2,000 words about Brody (the third best part of Mr. and Mrs. Smith) but the general reader can only stomach so much.)))? Check. Adam Scott with a mustache? Check mate.

Sleeping with Other People supposedly follows the affairs of womanizer with a heart of gold Jake (Jason Sudeikis) and serial cheater Lainey (Alison Brie.) It’s written and directed by Leslye Headland (Bacholorette). I’m not going any further with this synopsis because I just handed you the trailer on a WordPress platter. And it’s a great trailer. I’m in on Sleeping with Other People. I think it could save the rom-com. I said that once about That Awkward Moment, and I don’t think I’ve fundamentally misjudged a movie that bad since Clash of the Titans.

If Brie lands a star making performance in Sleeping with Other People, I think it can be a huge movie (relative to its genre and release). Every move/look she makes in the trailer hits all the right notes for the female lead in a rom-com. You have to be desirable to men but not overtly threatening to women–like Julia Roberts or Meg Ryan.And vice versa for the male lead. The looks that Brie’s Lainey gives Sudeikis’s Jake of affronted flattery that says slow down but don’t stop (in a purely flirtatious way, don’t get excited) are money. And Sudeikis has been playing these fast talking, unemotional guys for years (Horrible BossesWe’re the Millers). He’s a combination of The Wedding Crashers duo (Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn). He’s got Vaughn’s fast talking bravado without the burning man underneath, and he’s got Wilson’s earthy charm without the physical ticks and crooked nose.

And I think the token rom-com friends of Lainey and Jake should provide plenty of laughs–OITNB‘s Natasha Lyonne and Jason Mantzoukas of Rafi (The League) fame. I think they’re playing it straight, but with a movie that is basically about two dysfunctional, awful people, you need people to play it straight.

Back to the genre question though, can it save the rom-com?

There’s a few problems with the question. First of all, no it probably won’t. Any rom-com distributed by IFC isn’t gonna significantly alter the fate of the screwball (whatever you want to call it) genre. The more vital point is that rom-coms don’t really need saving. They’ve just jumped ship from movies to television.

But for kicks, let’s do a quick rom-com rundown, starting with Apatow. For the mid to late 2000s, Judd Apatow was the showrunner (from 40 Year Old Virgin through Forgetting Sarah Marshall to Funny People). He either directed or produced those movies about boy-men, shenanigans, and cool girls. That run essentially ended with Funny People. Rom-coms moved on to find some edgier voices. What are the kids up to? What is this “friends with benefits” thing. Let’s make a movie about it, or two. So we got aptly titled Friends with Benefits and No Strings AttachedFriends with Benefits was the funnier movie. That was the summer we actually believed Justin Timberlake was Frank Sinatra. No Strings Attached wasn’t as funny (and suffered from Ashton Kutcher) but it was a good story, one that actually dealt with characters. Writer Liz Meriwether leveraged her writing credit into New Girl.

The second half of the second season of New Girl was the best rom-com of 2012. The best rom-com this summer is (from UK’s Channel Four) Catastrophe with Twitter’s Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan. But that could all change, if Apatow makes a comeback with Trainwreck on the shoulders of Amy Schumer’s rising relevancy, though Schumer hasn’t been doing herself any favors with the cloud of racial insensitivity. Hopefully, she figures out that “trust me, I’m not a racist” or “it’s not not my fault people laugh” has never been the best defense.

But for the finale, let’s take a three-pronged look at the trailer’s three central jokes.

1. Who’s better than my brother?

Rating: 5/5

Maybe you could call the first interaction with Jake and his old gal a “joke.” I just chock it up to Sudeikis bein’ Sudeikis. So, our first joke is a random line from Adam Brody. We don’t know his brother. We don’t know Brody’s character. But the line (and Brie’s reaction) is both equally distant from our understanding of the actual situation and intimate in the way that we’re all victims of sibling inferiority complexes. It’s a perfect trailer joke, because it doesn’t require any exposition

Are you guys high? Yeah, we’re actually rolling? That’s how Henry was conceived.

Rating: 1/5

The scene itself will probably be pretty funny–adults high at a kids party. Sure, I’m in. But here, they telling instead of showing. Adults high at a kids party is a visual joke, not a verbal one. You need to see the adults and kids in question. Also, I have no idea nor do I care who “Henry” is. “Brother” worked because it was general yet inclusive.

Naomi still has her anal virginity. That’s not true. A lot of guys have been up there just not you.

Rating: 4/5

I’m gonna throw a retro-active 18+ sensor on this post. This joke works on two fronts. They draw you in with “virginity.” Everyone’s ears perk up virginity. And the punchline is good. Andrea Savage (Naomi) barks it out right after the shot. I appreciate the realism. But the real punchline is Jason Mantzukous face in the seconds after his wife drops this particular bomb. He tries to laugh it off, glances towards her direction. His throat is still burning from the shot, and his heart is burning because of the cutting revelation. And he eyes fall to the floor. And for some reason, I found his shameful humiliation a fitting end.

Chris Pratt Puts On The Movie Star Hat

Chris Pratt is money.

He’s the biggest movie star on the planet. Pratt is the first star since Arnold Schwarzenegger (Total Recall (1990), Terminator 2 (1991) to front the biggest movie of the summer, back to back.  Pratt is as hot as Melisandre on the Wall, as Steph Curry, as The O.C. circa 2003-4. If I was writing a script about a guy with a secret who runs a wood-paneled bar in a small town. He falls in love with a gal played by Scarlet Johansson, and other stuff (aliens, apocalypse, ect.) happens. Chris Pratt would be that guy. He’s THE guy.

But good things don’t last, not even the moral and righteous state of the St. Louis Cardinals. How long will Pratt be THE guy?

Chris Pratt’s skill is relateability. Star Lord is a dick, but he’s our dick. Pratt made goofball Andy Dwyer’s stupidity eventually come off as innocence. When a Chris Pratt character tells a joke, it feels like I’ve told a joke. When he punches someone in the face, I’ve punched someone in the face. Even in smaller roles as fools and jerks on so-so movies like Take Me Home Tonight and The Five Year Engagement, Pratt was more engaging than the leads. But as the story now famously goes, Pratt cut the weight and magically became a movie star. That’s not exactly how it worked. Pratt cut the weight, so that on the surface he could look and move like a douchebag, but he retained that inherent sincere, affability that made everyone love Andy. Pratt in Guardians was a near perfect mass of sincere douchery.

Peter Quill is a total dick. His name is a dick joke. But as Corpsman Dey (John C. Reily) and the audience realizes late in the movie, yeah he’s an asshole, but not 100% an asshole. And there’s a difference there that I think writer-director James Gunn gets about both Peter Quill and the movie persona that would make Pratt the biggest movie star on the planet. Pratt can play a dick and get away with it, because he’s not an asshole. His douchery is sincere, that’s just who he is, until Peter figures out he can be a little bit more than that.

In Jurassic World, Pratt plays Owen, and he shares some general similarities with Star Lord. They look pretty much the same (Owen is tanner). They’re both kind of tools, but Owen is more of a hardass than an asshole.  He rides motorcycles through the jungle with a pack raptors at his back. Owen wears cool vests. He says things like “if we do this, we do this my way.” He takes over the Dr. Allen Grant (Sam Neil) and Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum)  voice of nature/chaos role. We share his fury and oddly his respect raptors. His relationship to the raptors is like our relationship to him and the movie–one of eventual, mutual respect. Jurassic World like its original is a fun movie. It’s a blockbuster. It’s big. It successfully gestures/alludes to big things like commercialism, militarism, gender war, divorce. And it has dinosaurs. It works, and it works mostly because of Pratt, whose glare and .60 caliber rifle drives the anti-establishment, maverick force of the movie.

Aside from pure performance, what separates Pratt from the crew of late 30s, early 40s white leading men (Bradley Cooper, McConaughey, Tom Hardy, Henry Cavill, Ben Afflect, Armie Hammer (I guess)) is that Pratt is playing the game of the movie star better than any of them. He seems like a generally affable, kind human being–to everyone. And that matters. Generally likability matters, because to front a movie you one to 1) shoot and carry the movie 2) do interviews with anyone with a website and a pen, play silly games on talk shows, sound thoughtful and insightful on podcasts (radio?), and not look like an idiot on social media. And through the promotional tour from Jurassic World, he’d done it pretty flawlessly. He apologized on Facebook for his impending press tour. He was generally affable and insightful on the Nerdist podcast. He ran with heels.

Being a movie star is about finding some essential substance of yourself that plays on screen and manipulating it in different ways. Tom Hanks and Julia Robert’s inherent goodness. Robert Downey Jr.’s quick twitch bravado. Jennifer Lawrence’s volcanic fire. The star Pratt should be emulating, career-wise, is Tom Cruise. He’s our most enduring movie star and his movie star persona is admittedly complicated by Tom-Cruise-the-unsettling-bizarre-human. In every movie, he basically plays ‘Tom Cruise.’ He’s whirlwind of neurotic confidence. But I think Cruise’s essential movie star tick, if you push through the melodramatic ticks of Top Gun and Jerry McGuire, through the calm in chaos of Mission Impossible’s Ethan, through the smug toothy grin, he’s I guy I inherently root for (I’m been trying to understand it for years). In Edge of Tomorrow, he played all of the Cruisian characters we know, which is one of the reasons that movie works.

Chris Pratt has something. He’s relatable, and he’s running with it. So far, he’s used it to star as a-holes, but he doesn’t have to be that in every movie. His persona isn’t the fact that he’s dick, it’s that he’s our dick. He can be our fool, our prince charming, whatever. He’s got the finger roll of Peter Quill and Owen’s fastball. Chris Pratt is a movie star, but to reach that next level, he needs to add a few more pitches before he’s stuck playing tightly coiled mavericks for the next 10 years. If he adds a few more speeds and continues to add layers to Peter Quill, he’ll be the biggest movie star on the planet for the next 10 years.

My (Fictional) Friend Died Sunday Night

I’ve known Jon Snow longer than all my friends at school (high school and college).

By now, you’ve scoured the world wide web. You want it to all be make believe. It was just a dream, you muttered this morning. You googled, “Is Jon Snow really dead?” Hundred–Hell thousands–of hit hungry posts led you–like Ollie led dear Jon to the stabbing post–to this Entertainment Weekly interview, where Kit Harrington and through him Benioff and Weiss explain that yes, Jon really seems dead, apparently. It wouldn’t be the first time someone lied to an Entertainment Weekly reporter. But if Jon Snow is really dead, so is the story.

As I often remind anyone within earshot, I’m a book reader! I know things! So I sort of knew Jon’s fate (since the summer of 2011) … but you never know. Benioff and Weiss had unchained themselves like our tired buddy Drogon once had from Martin’s plodding pace. In the first half of the season (the best half season of the show so far), the pair had killed characters still breathing in the holy source material and seemed bent on taking the story farther than even book readers could imagine. It was a liberating experience. It led and allowed me for the first time to see the show as something totally different than Martin’s original story. I began to see the show not as an interpretation of the books, but both as interpretations of one, very general outline in a world as ripe for stories as Marvel comics or Greek Mythology.

Ahh the good times never last do they? One minute, you’re delighted your daughter is accepting of incestual practices, the next she’s dead. Yeah, so I knew Jon was set for a midnight stabbing, but I thought … maybe the show will steer away … they wouldn’t kill him after spending half of an episode establishing him as the biggest action star on television? Like the most handsome knight on the planet Jorah ‘The Andal’ Mormont, I just keep coming back for more. Of course the little Ollie would sink a dagger into Jon’s heart, though next time little buddy, when you want to betray your Lord Commander, be a little more subtle about it. Don’t tell everyone wildings killed your parents.

I could have written this a week ago, but I waited. I hoped, and if Jon was really meant to face his end with daggers in the darkness, at least my gut would be raw and wriggling to flesh some of this out.

A few differences from Martin’s text. Book Jon goes farther than Head and Shoulders show Jon. In the book, Jon raises the wildings for a ranging south (a big black brother no-no). Stannis troops have aparently failed to take Winterfell, and Jon (still about 16) intends to march south with the wildings to take back Winterfell from the Boltons. I was heartbroken when I read the words of Jon’s death, but I knew where Dolorious Ed and the boys were coming from. And as you’ve probably found out, there are as many “Jon Death” theories as there are “Jon Parents.” I’ve read the end of Dance with Dragons at least fifty times. “He never felt the fourth knife…only the cold…” Which would seemingly indicate that after being resurrected by Mellisadre or warging into Ghost or (insert deus ex machina) Jon yanked those daggers out. Maybe he’s alive. Maybe we should buy the next book to find out.

Martin has given a lot of interviews. He loves it. One of the few interesting points he’s made has obviosly been about death. He’s talked about how shocked he was reading Gandalf’s death scene at twelve. Here’s mostly the full quote.

When I was a 12-year-old kid reading The Fellowship of the Ring and ‘Fly, you fools!’ and he goes into the chasm …  it was ‘Holy shit! [J.R.R. Tolkien] killed the wizard! That’s the guy who knew everything. How are they going to destroy the ring without him?’ And now the ‘kids’ have to grow up because their ‘daddy’ is dead. If Gandalf could die, anybody could die. And then just a few chapters later Boromir goes down. Those two deaths created in me the ‘anyone could die’ thing. At that point I was expecting [Tolkien] to pick off the whole Fellowship one by one. And then we also think in The Two Towers that Frodo is dead, since Shelob stung him and wrapped him up. I really bought it because he set me up with those other deaths. But then, of course, he brings Gandalf back. He’s a little strange at first, but then he’s basically the same old Gandalf. I liked the impact we got from him being gone.

Both Game of Thrones and Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire delight in cleaving fantasy tropes. There’s magic, but (thankfully) no real wizards. Our honorable hero and lord was beheaded in the first book/season. The most enduring and dramatic love story is between a brother and his sister. The hero boy king was brutally murdered in a violation of guest rights. But as dependent on this one move–a bloody reversal of what it thinks we expect–both interpretations are as reliant on history and other stories–especially Shakespeare. The political aspect–as Martin has explained–is based off the English War of the Roses (which I un-coincidentally did a research report on my sophomore year of high school). The Red Wedding was based on a real event. The Wall is based on Hadrian’s wall that the Romans built in northern England. Martin just buffed it all up with a few inverted fantasy tropes. And didn’t the deaths Sunday night seem erily familiar?. Death from a kiss? Romeo and Juliet. Jon betrayed by his brothers and buried under daggers. Julius Caesar. Stannis’ descent into madness (driven by a mad woman and prophecy) and (supposed) death at the hands of Brienne. Macbeth

What drew me into Westeros and Martin’s expansive, fictional world was that it seemed real. There were consequences for fucking up. You can’t just parade around King’s Landing like a fool and expect to make it alive. You can win every pitched battle but if you refuse to play politics, you may end up dead at your brother in laws wedding. If you go about reversing a thousand years of tradition without some allies, yeah you might end up with some once friendly daggers in your chest. But somewhere along the line, killing the heroes became the story’s go to move. And it’s worn out.

“Hardhome” worked so well because it bucked trends that Game of Thrones had painfully set up for four seasons. The episode ran along like all the others had before. Daenaerys and Tyrion trade some theatrical declarations on power. Arya passes out some seafood. It’s running along like the typical Game of Thrones episode, everyone getting their alotted scene. Then we go beyond the Wall. Jon’s boat hits the shore and he strides out like a young, curly haired George Washington. We’re thinking … it’s the eighth episode, not the ninth. We’re not gonna have a battle, especially one that happens off book. We’ll spend ten minutes with Jon and be whisked off to Dorne for any meaningful additions to what could have been a wonderful sandy adventure with my boy Bronn. But Jon kept talking … a storm of zombies arrived at the gates … the clock kept ticking … the undead kept killing … Jon killed a White Walker! … The Night’s King raised his arms … silence.

Benioff, Weiss, and the director exploited our expectations–like they always do–but with what we expect from the story, not from Lord of the Rings. No one (even book readers) expected us to spend the last half of the eight episode in a battle against the mystical undead. That’s the move that’s work best this season. That’s the move that the show (and books) needs to make more. It’s the move both should make with Jon. We expect them to kill our favorite character. If Game of Thrones wants to avoid becoming a trope, it has to bring back Jon.

There’s also the equally pressing issue of investment. We simply don’t have the time or energy anymore to build up heroes in this story. Winter Is Coming in two to three seasons. It’d just be wasteful storytelling to kill Jon. All the other deaths have ramped up our investment in Jon, so to kill Jon would kill the narrative point of all the other deaths.

So yeah, sorry Kit, we’ll see you in Belfast again one day.