Game of Thrones “The Long Night”

WARNING: This article will include spoilers for both the show and the novels. I’m just going to be straight forward, I think “The Long Night” is hands down the worst episode in the entire series. This is not a hyperbole or an exaggeration, and I’m genuinely surprised that this is an unpopular opinion. Even compared to the butchered Dorne and Iron Islands plotlines and the entirety of the rushed season 7, season 8 episode 3 has exhibited a gross misunderstanding of the source material. When I talked with friends and other fans of the series, I was shocked to hear that most people loved the episode and consider it to be one of their favorites. Did I watch a different version? Am I expecting too much? I just feel like this episode was a such a departure from what the series used to be and simultaneously kills off years and years of plotlines and lore for the sake of “flashy” moments. I usually don’t write about TV or movies or really anything outside of video games, but I would be remiss to not explain my viewpoint on one of my favorite pieces of media.

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Arya kills the Night King. And it was done in the most unceremonious and inexplicable way possible. She somehow leaps out of the sky to catch the Night King off guard while he is staring Bran down. She doesn’t do it while he’s distracted by Theon. She doesn’t use her face-swapping abilities. It’s just… disappointing. Not only was it done poorly, but why is Arya the one to do it in the first place? Arya did not even know of the Night Kings existence until an episode ago. Her entire story arc is about crossing off members of her list and getting revenge on those who murdered her family. The Night King and Arya really have no overlap in their plotlines, and this was done just to be surprising and unexpected. Meanwhile Jon has been building up to this moment for the entire series. Every decision he has made has been to prepare of the fight against the Night King. He doesn’t get a duel or any sort of resolution. I would’ve been ok with Arya delivering the finishing blow if Jon was fighting the Night King and Arya stabs him in the back. This would give closure to Jon’s story arc and simultaneously parallel how Howland Reed stabs Ser Arthur Dayne in the back while fighting Eddard Stark. What happened was nonsensical, it would be the equivalent of having Chewbacca kill Darth Vader halfway through Return of the Jedi.

Being unexpected for unexpectedness sake does not make for good writing. And it seems like the writers of the show think that Game of Thrones is all about being unexpected. Some of the show’s best moments are Ned’s execution, the red wedding, and Jon’s parentage reveal. All of these things were unexpected, but they had reasons behind them. They were logical and made sense in the context of the story. Arya killing the Night King was done just to be surprising and to give a fan favorite character a badass moment. Furthermore, the entire series has always had the looming threat of the white walkers, the others, and the Night King. The first scene in the whole show sets them up as the big bad villain. This has been building since the first book came out 20 years ago, and the threat was over so unbelievably quick. We don’t really even get an explanation of their goal or their backstory other than “the Children of the Forest made the Night King”. Building up a villain for literal decades and having them get killed in their first battle without getting into any combat at all just seems like unsatisfying storytelling. Also, the Azor Ahai prophecy now seems entirely pointless, so that’s cool.

Ok, so other than that, the episode was still really poorly written. Since when has every character in Game of Thrones been as dumb as bricks? The series used to have a bunch of clever characters that would outthink each other to victory, but everyone is apparently incompetent now. Let’s start with the Dothraki charge, the first thing in the battle. What exactly was the plan here? Cavalry are generally used to break enemy lines, cause fear/panic, or the flank the enemy. A suicide charge into an undead army achieves none of this. In fact, all it does it give the army of the dead more soldiers. Worse still, nobody knew Melisandre would come to Winterfell. She literally shows up last minute to light the Dothraki arakhs on fire. So how would they even kill any undead if she didn’t show up? Seems like a poorly thought out plan. Furthermore, the Dothraki have always feared witchcraft and they murder witches. This is apparent in both the novels and the books. Yet they are somehow unphased by a magical lady literally lighting all their weapons on fire via witchcraft. Did the rest of the series before this point just get completely thrown out the window? I don’t understand the blatant disregard for all the lore and previously extremely important plot points.

What was Bran doing the whole time? He can see the past and present and has visions of the future, but instead he flies ravens around to facilitate cool camera angles. I hope they will explain something regarding what he was doing during that whole battle. Additionally, Lyanna Mormont should not have killed the giant, it feels completely out of place that a 12-year-old girl with no combat experience slays one of the largest threats on the battlefield. I mean there is literally a character called Tormund Giantsbane, I feel like it would make sense for him to prove himself by fighting a giant. This episode is riddle with poorly conceived ideas that seem like they are meant to just create “cool” moments.

Another dumb idea was the crypts. They send all their defenseless people to the crypts, conveniently forgetting that the Night King can raise the dead. Yet somehow all the main and side characters that were in the crypts lived by hiding in a corner. None of them could fight and they had no weapons other than Sansa’s knife. How did all of them live? The show has gotten really bad about setting up characters to die and then not going through with it. It was particularly bad in this episode because numerous characters were shown being absolutely surrounded by the undead and then the camera cuts away. Then when the camera cuts back the character is fine and everything is great. I’m not saying you need to kill off every character, but it’s a cheap “suspense” moment when a character is clearly going to die then somehow makes it through. If you set somebody up to die, you have to go through with it. It would be like if in season 1 when Ned is going to be executed, he somehow escapes when the camera wasn’t looking with no explanation.

Another bad writing example is main characters constantly being saved by other main characters at the very last second. Sam being saved by Ed, Jon saved by Dany, Dany saved by Jorah, Bran saved by Arya, Arya saved by the Hound, etc. It’s gotten to the point that I don’t fear for characters anymore. You know that it’s likely that somebody is going to swoop in and save the day for the 10th time in one episode. The writers are obviously scared of killing off fan favorite characters, but it has gotten to the point where the show is nothing but a hollow imitation of what it used to be. Dolorous Ed, Beric, Theon, Jorah, Lyanna, and Melisandre were the only characters who died. Only Theon and Jorah could be argued to be main characters but even they don’t carry the same weight as any of the Starks, Dany, or Jaime. The Long Night was supposed to wipe out all of humanity, instead it killed a bunch of unnamed soldiers and a couple side characters. It was more of a mild inconvenience rather than the apocalypse.

Well what about the cinematography? It was way too dark. I’m no expert filmmaker but I feel like audiences should be able to see what is going on. I think it was meant to portray absolute chaos but that can be achieved without a billion jump-cuts and pitch-black lighting. The music was really well-done so that’s one redeeming quality from the episode, I guess. I think why a bunch of people did like this episode was that it had a bunch of “cool” moments. Granted these scenes are entertaining in the moment, but they really make no sense on further inspection. The Dothraki charge, Arya killing the Night King, Lyanna killing the giant, all the characters saving each other at the last moment, etc. The priority seems to have gone from clever writing to action and feel good moments. Game of Thrones has become this “turn your brain off” type of entertainment. Which is a valid sort of entertainment, but it is the antithesis of what Game of Thrones originally was.

If anything, this episode exposed the writers of the show to have no understanding of the source material in the slightest. Any point where the show deviates from the book is universally seen as the worst parts for good reason. Dorne, the Iron Islands, and seasons 7 and 8 have shown me that the writers just are not capable of writing the plot themselves. It feels like one of my favorite series has just been killed off in favor of brainless mass entertainment. Lore, theories, prophecies, foreshadowing, are all completely thrown in the garbage for cheap suspense and “feel good” moments. Maybe I’m completely wrong and the show will redeem itself in the final episodes, but at this point I expect the worst. I don’t want to be a negative Nancy but after years of being invested in the novels and show I am just extremely disappointed that it is ending this way.

Human Fall Flat (2016)

Great coop games are hard to come by, sure plenty of games have optional coop campaigns, but games that were designed around the cooperative experience are few and far between. One of those games is Human Fall Flat. This goofy puzzle-platformer utilizes simple puzzles combined with tricky controls to create a lighthearted and fun-to-play experience with friends. Simply watching your friends struggle to walk from point A to point B can incite some jokes and laughs.

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At the core of Human Fall Flat is its physics and controls. Most games attempt to make the controls as straightforward and fluid as possible to reduce frustration. Human Fall Flat, on the other hand, makes the controls a bit tricky and unwieldy. This works perfectly in the context of the game. The puzzles are simple, and you can often see the answer right off the bat, but the difficult part is how to actually execute the solution using the limited controls. This often leads to ingenuity or alternatively some silly moments as you and your friends flounder about trying to carry a crate up a hill.

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Aside from the necessities of walking and jumping, the player can also grab onto things with each individual hand. Usually this is used for climbing, carrying objects, pressing buttons, or manipulating things around you. It can be extremely unwieldy to move the arms and grab onto things, but that’s the point. Since climbing and using your arms are essential to progression, it can be incredibly funny to watch as you and your friends figure out how to overcome even the most trivial of obstacles. The final action you can perform is to fall down. I don’t know if this serves any purpose other than being goofy, but once in a while I like to fall down in a doorway to impede my friends.

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The levels in Human Fall Flat usually consist of a series of small puzzles and checkpoints, with the ultimate goal of reaching the exit where you can fall down to the next area. Each level has a basic theme such as a power plant, haunted house, or medieval castle. Its pretty obvious how to progress in each area, usually you use some object strewn about to forge a path forward. What I particularly enjoy about the puzzles is that they are fairly dynamic. While there is a clear “intended” solution, there are a variety of other ways to reach the goal. Through clever platforming or other “cheesy” methods like bringing objects from previous areas, you can often clear a section without the intended strategy.

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Human Fall Flat does not have any game-ruining flaws, but a there are a few minor things of note. The game can be a little repetitive towards the end, the formula of “pick up object, bring object to goal” can only be done in so many ways. It’s a not a big deal because the game is fairly short, but levels do start to blend together as they all essentially follow the same formula. This is likely because the developers could not include more difficult puzzles as they would be immensely more difficult when using the controls of Human Fall Flat. I appreciate the fact that the developers kept it simple to make sure nobody was frustrated while trying to get their character to do what they want. After all, the game is light-hearted fun.

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While Human Fall Flat is not a genuinely mind-blowing game, I don’t think it is meant to be one. It’s a cute, simple, and goofy game to play with your friends. Something you can play in groups and truly just mess around. Human Fall Flat is good, clean, stupid fun. It is for these reasons that I give Human Fall Flat a 7.5/10. It probably won’t be your favorite game of the year, but you will have plenty of fun with it anyway. Get some friends and start screwing around.

 

Axiom Verge (2015)

With the surging popularity of indie games, the genre of metroidvanias also is rapidly being filled with dozens of new games every year. As such, it can be difficult for a metroidvania to stand out amongst its peers. That being said, there are a few games that do manage to accomplish this. Games like Hollow Knight as well as Ori and the Blind Forest achieve this through strong level design, beautiful visuals, gratifying combat, and tight platforming. When I picked up Axiom Verge, I was hoping for a modernization of the game that birthed the genre: Metroid. While Axiom Verge did capture a lot of what Metroid was about, it does not manage to stand out amongst its peers.

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To me, the key of a successful metroidvania is first and foremost level design. The genre is ripe with backtracking and revisiting previous areas. Developers should work to minimize just straight backtracking, and should try to implement it in a more intriguing way. Looping paths that lead back to the beginning of an area, creative shortcuts to cut down on wasted time, or even implementing fast travel can cut down on unnecessary tedium. Axiom Verge does essentially none of this. Areas rarely loop into each other and are mostly linear paths from start to end, and there is no form of fast travel. There is one shortcut to take the player from one end of the map to the other, but it is not available until fairly late into the game. Traveling from area to area in Axiom Verge can be a giant waste of time. And this is compounded by the fact that there is also a heap of aimless wandering.

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As Axiom Verge is obviously inspired by the original Metroid from over 30 years ago, it carried over some archaic design concepts, but it also does not fall into the pitfalls of many modern-day games. Many modern games unfortunately do not trust their player’s abilities and often resort to handholding. This is patronizing and takes control away from the player. Axiom Verge has absolutely no handholding as essentially no direction is given. I usually like being given complete control of where I go, but this combined with the difficulty of traversing the map frequently frustrated me. Figuring out where to go next can be a daunting task, and when you have to tediously wander back and forth to find a passageway that you missed you can easily grow irritated. With better level design, or even fast travel, this issue could have been alleviated. Luckily, Axiom Verge does implement clever ways to prevent the player from going too far backward. Still, I was often wandering through large areas repeatedly to find what I had missed.

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Combat is another core component of any metroidvania, and most games for that matter. Axiom Verge is a shooter similar to Metroid. You can aim in a few different directions and use a variety of different weapons to blast through aliens. You can amass a collection of weapons, each with vastly different damage, firing-rates, and the like. Some weapons shoot a close-range burst of electricity, others spray a lot of low-damage projectiles in a wide pattern. While some weapons are strictly better than others, the player is given a lot of freedom to test and find a weapon that suits them. Unfortunately, it is hard to justify using a bunch of different guns when one or two heavily outclass the others.

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Battling the enemies in Axiom Verge is fairly static. Most of the time you can sit in one spot and shoot until the enemy is dead. It is not incredibly engaging or interesting, and the enemies respawn often enough that trudging back and forth through areas can be tedious. This issue is made worse because most of the environments look similar to one another. The one most interesting aspect of combat is the dashing ability, which is not unlocked until fairly late in the game. Worse still, the controls for executing the dash are ridiculously bad. Double tapping the control stick leads to plenty of accidental dashes, and it is difficult to execute in the moment when you actually want to dash. As far as I can tell, you cannot even rebind the dash to a button or key to make it more consistent.

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The singular aspect that I enjoyed most of Axiom Verge was the setting and theme of the game. You play as a scientist who gets transported into some sort of “glitch world”. A catastrophe happened here, and you must restore the inhabitants and escape. The story is filled with mystery as you uncover who unleashed a plague upon this world. The idea is also implemented into gameplay pretty well. One of the tools that is unlocked is a decoder that can clear glitches that are blocking your path. This decoder can also be used on enemies to scramble them and turn them into weaker variants of themselves.

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Overall, I feel like I enjoy the idea of Axiom Verge, but it just felt dated to me. It took almost too much inspiration from Metroid, and did not update or modernize many of the features. It is a decent metroidvania, but its hard to justify recommending it when there are dozens of more unique and tightly crafted games in the same genre. The dated combat, antiquated exploration, and low-bit graphics left me feeling like I was playing a game made in the early 1990s. If you want a retro metroidvania, Axiom Verge may be perfect for you. But if you want a fresh and unique take on the genre, then you would be better served to search elsewhere.

Sansa’s Lemon Cakes

I recently tried the Elizabethan Lemon Cake recipe out of A Feast of Ice and Fire and they came out extremely dry. So I made some modifications to the recipe and I figured I’d share what I did. This recipe is quick, easy, and delicious. These Lemon Cakes are modeled after the ones that Sansa loves so much in Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, albeit they are more like cookies than cakes. This recipe makes about 16 Lemon Cakes.

Ingredients:

Dough:

2 cups granulated sugar

6 tablespoons butter

1 egg

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup milk

1/2 lemon, juiced

2 lemons worth of zest

2 1/2 cups flour

Icing:

1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon milk

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Melt the butter and combine with the granulated sugar. Add in the egg, egg yolks, and milk and mix thoroughly. Grate the lemon zest into the batter and juice half of a lemon into the mixture as well. Stir until everything is completely combined. Add in the flour and mix until it becomes a consistent dough. Form balls of dough about 1 inch in diameter and spread them across the baking sheets. The dough might be a little sticky, but if it is too sticky to handle add in a little bit more flour. Bake in 350° F oven for about 16 minutes.

While they are baking, make the icing. Combine confectioner’s sugar and milk and mix until it becomes thick. After the cakes come out of the oven, let them cool for about 15 minutes. Brush on the icing after the cakes are cool, if you are bit more artistic than I am you could drizzle the icing on to make some pretty designs. Let the icing setup on the cakes for about 10 minutes and they will be ready to eat.

 

 

 

 

Review Scores

     There is an issue with most major video game reviewers in which even mediocre or bad games receive good scores and therefore deceive consumers. I am not sure if this is a result of a poor critiquing system, corruption, or if it is something else entirely, but it seems like for most major companies a score of 7/10 seems to be an “average game”. Whenever a new Call of Duty comes out you can bet that IGN will give it a 9/10 which is “amazing” on their scale, despite the games just being rehashes of the same stuff every year. When Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare and The Last of Us are only 1 point apart on the scale it is obvious that there is a massive issue. When every game is receiving these high scores, it devalues the scores and hurts games that are actually extremely good. For these reasons I will have my own guidelines for scoring a game.

     I think it is extremely unfair to rate a game after a couple of years have passed. The first main reason why I refuse to give a score to older games is the obvious nostalgia factor. I am prone ignoring the faults of games or brushing them off if I played it during my childhood. The other main issue with older games is that they are going to be underscored if there is no nostalgia involved. Things like hardware issues, technical limits, and just lack of knowledge of what works well in games makes it hard for older games to compete with newer games. This is not a knock on these older games, as they did the best they could with the resources they had. A good example of both nostalgia and underrating games because of their age is Super Mario 64. If you played Super Mario 64 today you would definitely underrate the game because you would have no idea of the impact it made on the gaming industry and how revolutionary it was. On the other hand people who did play the game during their childhood overrate the game and tend to ignore its faults like the wonky controls and strange camera angles. I think reviewing older games is fine but giving them objective scores is tough and difficult to strike a balance, so I am not going to give scores to older games.

The ratings themselves are as follows:

10. Masterpiece, no game is perfect but this is close.

9. Fantastic, the game some faults but they are small and infrequent.

8. Extremely good, it has some obvious issues but they do not detract from the game too much.

7. Very good, the problems are more glaring and do hurt the game a good amount.

6. Good, it is entertaining but has some major problems.

5. Okay, the game has merit but has big and frequent drawbacks.

4. Mediocre, there are some enjoyable parts but for the most part is not so fun.

3. Bad, the game just really has nothing interesting or fun about it.

2. Very bad, the game works but is just a disaster all around.

1. Unplayable, the game is just completely broken and has no redeeming qualities at all.