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Why does anyone show up for royal weddings in Westeros? Episode 5 of House of the Dragon (“We Light the Way”) Reviewed.

Perhaps this was the original disastrous Westeros wedding, the one that inspired all those others. Perhaps all these guests arrived thinking they had a reasonable expectation of eating and drinking a lot, dancing, and maybe hearing some rude jokes.

Just when we thought that Daemon was an intriguingly conflicted character, someone you might actually want to have a drink with – he arrives at the beginning of this episode and does something straight up evil. He murders his wife and makes it look like an accident. He does so silently, as though this is a chore that can’t be assimilated to any arch self-fashioning. It’s a banterless obligation. He still wants to marry his niece, of course (gross for smallfolk like you or I but eminently reasonable if you’re a Targaryen.) I rather enjoy not knowing what I’m supposed to think about Daemon so this very shabby bit of villainy has a disappointingly over-determining effect.

Rhaenyra is to marry Laenor Velaryon who is in many ways the ideal husband insofar as he is gay. He and Laenor quickly forge and understanding and enjoy some rapport. They will satisfy dynastic obligations and find true love and enjoyable sex elsewhere.

The trouble is, Ser Criston has this crippling sense of honour. Not content to be a “bit on the side” he can only see redemption in terms of escape from Westeros, escape from monarchy, and freedom in Essos. Rhaenyra does not seriously entertain this romantic opportunity. It’s Iron Throne or bust for her. It is interesting to note the persistent desire of some people to prefer sovereignty to freedom…

So, Criston later confesses his horrible “impurity” to Queen Alicent, and this confession copper-fastens Alicent’s breach with Rhaenyra. At the wedding, there are some sly words between Criston and Laenor’s lover Joffrey which result in the strangest of barely explained violent scenes. Joffrey lies dead at the end of the fracas. Laenor and Rhaenyra are quietly married. Viserys, who seems to have been ill for years, collapses. Finally and completely? We’ll see.

This is an episode freighted with an uncomfortable amount of exposition. We are told a great many needful things but there’s no one scene, not even the wedding, which stands out appropriately enough.

The breakout star of this episode is Queen Alicent’s green dress. Green is the rallying colour for House Hightower. She’s signalling very clearly that in the inevitable civil wars to come she will stand behind her boys. The strategic Targaryen-Velaryon marriage has settled nothing. There’s a grandeur to this entrance which announces a fairly dramatic but long anticipated character shift. The passive wife and devoted breeder is now an actor in her own right. And she has reached this state of heightened consciousness just as her husband is losing consciousness.

The green dress has to compete with the strange fight scene though. Initially the viewer imagines that some sort of wolf might be loose in the throng. It takes a while for the rippling circles of violence to explain themselves. It looks like violence without a source or purpose – an eddy of destruction come from nowhere.

But the viewer is left yet again to ponder why anyone ever accepts a wedding invitation on Westeros. Why does anyone plan a fancy wedding? Why does anyone get married? No good ever comes of it.

Thoughts on self-defeating patriotism, and on my own..

Ignoring completely debates about Ian Austin’s political journey, I have to confess that feeling very troubled by this tweet got me thinking a lot about how I feel about Ireland, as well as about what any form of patriotism ought to mean.

But it would be wrong to leapfrog over the uneasy reality that the people who are most often told to “stop criticising or get out” in a British context are rarely people with white skin or Anglo-Saxon surnames.

Here in Ireland we rarely get told or tell ourselves that Ireland is “the greatest country in the world”. Politicians rarely say it here, which is revealing not because I trust politicians but because I trust politicians to tell people what they want to hear. And people here don’t especially want to be told that their nation is “the greatest”.

“Greatness” is a drab quality in any case. It is quantitative and not descriptive. Anyone who repeatedly shouts “we’re number one!” has committed themselves to living a dull life. Ireland is not, of course, the “greatest” country in the world in the sense of being the largest or the richest or the most powerful. It’s not even the happiest country in the world (although it’s near the top of most happiness rankings). Personally, even the supposedly benign idea of being told that your country is the happiest in the world recalls memories of being in school and being told by some stupid visiting bigwig that one’s schooldays are the happiest of one’s life (oblivious to the logically distraught reaction that this remark always provokes). I want to think that (sings) somewhere, somehow, there’s a place where greater happiness is possible – not because I want to live there but because I want to learn from it.

Ireland deserves and demands my love and loyalty. It deserves it because it’s the country that is prepared to put up with me. It’s where I’ve been placed. Perhaps most importantly, it’s where all my stuff is. And that’s enough. As a citizen and a patriot, I’ve a civic responsibility to consider Ireland’s short-comings and to point out examples of better practice around the world as part of an effort to demonstrate that those shortcomings are not inevitable. If things are being done better elsewhere then they can be done better here, not in the same way but in something of the same spirit.

I think I would hate to live in a country where a critical mass of people believed themselves to be living in the greatest country in the world. I do not want to live in an exceptionalist state. Exceptionalism is static when it isn’t actively backward-looking. Either everything in “the greatest country on earth” is tickety boo just the way it is, or else it is being threatened by jealous rivals abroad and fifth columnists at home. A sense of “great power entitlement” is currently devastating Ukraine.

Perhaps it is nations historically burdened a legacy of being global power brokers that necessarily tend towards exceptionalism whereas nations with no such history tend to prefer parallels and analogies. In the 19th century, Irish nationalism was, for example, obsessed with Hungary and Italy (inter alia) – concerned to demonstrate similarities between O’Connell, Bolivar, Garibaldi, and Kossuth. It’s not that Ireland didn’t have an obsessive sense of its own distinctiveness – rather that this distinctiveness forged a sense of kinship with insurgent movements around the world each asserting their own distinctiveness. One thing I do love about Ireland is a deep rooted tradition of cherishing such kinships.

A nation that insists on being regarded as “the greatest nation on earth” simultaneously loves and hates comparatives. It loves comparatives in the sense that any obsession with being “the greatest” betrays a sort of ego weakness. If one has to be “the greatest” rather than just “great” then it is clear that one has no core self, no essential being and one’s own worth is bound up entirely with the relative lack of worth of others. The greatest nation on earth lives in constant terror. One is either the greatest or one is nothing. But “the greatest nation on earth” also hates comparatives, insofar as it resists the exercise of actually looking at comparative data. And even if the confession that your country “isn’t perfect” or “there are problems to fix” is unwillingly extracted from you, the conviction of your own greatness will encourage you to believe that whatever superficial improvements your benighted neighbours may have made to their healthcare, infrastructure, pension provisions etc. is likely to be at the expense of some essential quality which your own greatest of nations has a monopoly on.

No nation can pretend to be a real nation if it does not attempt to play an honourable role within a community of nations. Nations exist not merely (or primarily) by unilateral fiat but by virtue of international recognition. Any patriot who doesn’t want their nation to contribute to a larger international community doesn’t want their nation to enjoy enough rational self respect to deserve to exist. And part of any willingness to “give” is a reciprocal willingness to receive. Knowing that one’s own nation finds its purpose in giving makes one empathise with the desire of other nations to feel similarly generous. Within this patriotism of generosity, the rhetoric of “greatest nation on earth” has no place – because it is corrosive of the reciprocities that make up that strange, mystical, yet essential quality called “honour”.

Ireland is not, cannot, and will not ever be “the greatest nation on earth”. But it can be a very honourable nation. That’s the highest expression of patriotism of which I think I am capable.

Crest of the Wave. Episode Five of “Rings of Power” reviewed.

I’ve belatedly figured out the nature of this series and the narrative difficulties embedded in the very nature of its project. The showrunners are trying to create a continuous epic adventure out of chronicle history.

In order to satisfy this ambition, Tolkien’s own timeline (you’ll find it of course among the appendices to LOTR) had to be defenestrated. This is no longer a chronicle of the Second Age but rather the concatenation of event from it so as to create a whopping great adventure at the very end of the Second Age comparable with the War of the Ring at the end of the Third Age. Someone unfamiliar with the timeline might well be forgiven thinking that nothing much happened in the Second Age until the very age when everything crowded together.

We have therefore lost “The Dark Years” since Sauron has yet to proclaim himself in this narrative at the same time that Pharazôn is waiting in the wings, just Prime Minister (Chancellor) for now, but clearly the most adept and charismatic politician on Numenor. The Great Wave is not many decades off, and it keeps appearing in visions. Tolkien imagined the Second Age as mostly thoroughly miserable for Middle Earth but what he have here is a version of the “Southlands” (not yet Mordor) that is fairly bucolic for most of this period.

What is lost in this dramatization really is something that is very difficult to retain in a film but might have been possible in a mini- series – a sense of the painful burden of historical depth. Relics and ruins lose their sense of awe when you stop trying to imagine how many generations of lived experience separate you from their construction. Imagine trying to marvel at Stonehenge believing it was constructed in the 1970s.

Who is the character of Adar meant to be? Is he Sauron himself or the future King of the Ringwraiths? Part of the problem is that the generation familiar with Jackson’s films has trouble imagining Sauron as a character or a personality. He’s a ring of fire – something apparently so existentially evil that he defies any kind of embodiment. Central to the story of the Second Age as Tolkien imagined it, however, is the idea of Sauron as an interesting and somewhat charismatic personality. He’s particularly good at penitence. He pals up with Celebrimbor (as I keep saying – surely the pivotal conflicted character of the entire Second Age) for a while, although we are not invited by Tolkien to think that Celebrimbor ever embraces Evil knowing it to be Evil. He seduces Pharazôn despite surrendering unconditionally.

Without Sauron as a seductive and eloquent personality, someone not ashamed to “stoop to conquer” – the destruction of Numenor is going to lose something of its horror. The sense of contamination will be lost. And establishing this knowable Sauron is going to take a while. It’s about time he announced himself – for the sake of the story.

Perhaps I’m reminded of James Macpherson, who wanted there to be a single coherent epic poem amid a wealth of Ossianic literature. He wanted a particular Homeric model of a poem to exist when it didn’t really, not in the way he thought it did. This series wants another Lord of the Rings, and wants it badly – but isn’t prepared to be properly selective about the material available. Essentially needs to condense the chronology if it wants to accommodate men and dwarves and “Harfoots” to its vision. The Silmarillion could be more readily dramatized, because it’s mostly elves involved and that means that many of the same characters can be preserved throughout the saga. But as soon as mortality becomes a factor you start to stuggle with the burden of ages and memories that are smudged and hazy.

And isn’t this sense of heavy “pastness” one of the very best things about reading Tolkien?

Tobias Smollett died OTD in 1771 and I’ve probably been unfair to him…

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Literature, said Roland Barthes, is what gets taught – which means that eighteenth century literature is radically different from what it was when I was an undergraduate.

When I was a student, Tobias Smollett was “literature” and Frances Burney wasn’t, especially. Now the opposite is the case and I can’t say I’m sorry. Burney feels to me like an incomparably warmer, more psychologically ambitious, and more emotionally involving novelist. If we have to choose (and we always have to choose something), then let Burney sit in Smollett’s place forever – if they’re forced to fight for the same chair, that is.

But I should probably go back and read Smollett. The early Roderick Random is strikingly autobiographical and demonstrates the kind of vicissitudes attendant on the life of an ambitious Scot determined to make it as a “Briton” in the mid eighteenth-century. It also contains one of the…

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Trains are very safe really… RIP William Huskisson, OTD 1830.

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The Walk: Under the shadow of death | Hereford Times

What’s the worst, the very worst thing that can happen at the official opening of a prestigious and significant infrastructural project?

I would have thought the grisly death of one of the chief attendant dignitaries would probably count.

On this day in 1830, at the opening of the Liverpool-Manchester railway (a game-changing technological moment by any historical measure), former cabinet minister and MP for Liverpool William Huskisson was killed. His own train had paused to take on water. Some of the gentlemen got out to stretch their legs. The Manchester bound Rocket came round the corner. Everybody else managed to either jump back onto the train or across to the opposite embankment in time. Huskisson delayed. The Duke of Wellington, then Prime Minister subsequently and rather brusquely concluded that not knowing which way and when to jump had characterised Huskisson’s entire political career. In fact, Huskisson had offered his resignation…

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My Dad and the Beatles

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Bing Crosby Hey jude hey bing (Vinyl Records, LP, CD) on CDandLP

My Dad, who died OTD back in 2011, was not an especially musical man. He knew what he liked though, and when he drove us about (in some perilous Austin variant) he would often put on a cassette which played “Hey Jude”.

But not the Beatles. He would play the Bing Crosby cover version. It was years before I knew that “Hejood” was actually two words.

We didn’t have that many LP records in the house as kids. My main memories are of Nancy Sinatra’s Greatest Hits (which gave us boys the excuse to walk all over each other), a comedy album about President Kennedy released in 1963, and Johnny Morris narrating Rev Awdry Railway Stories. And Revolver. Perhaps that’s all you really need.

He used to tell us that as a young man he would visit many of the clubs in Liverpool where the Beatles used to play…

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Plains of Abraham. OTD 1759. Painting and terrible Poetry.

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On this day in 1759, a British expeditionary force commanded by General James Wolfe scaled the Heights of Abraham and inflicted a surprise victory on a French army led by General Louis-Joseph Marquis de Montcalm. Both Wolfe and Montcalm died of their battle wounds (Wolfe at the very beginning of the battle and Montcalm a day later). Here is Benjamin West’s famous picture of the death of Wolfe. Many essays have been written about how its many inaccuracies informed a seductive political fantasy. It is even suggested that Nelson saw this painting and declared that it would be worth dying in battle to earn such a Benjamin West painting. Guess what?

Dying in battle was, in some ways, a good move for Wolfe – who was desperately unpopular with his fellow officers with whom he barely communicated and who bitterly resented him for his relative youth and inexperience. He needed…

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Taking your time. House of the Dragon, episode 4, Reviewed.

In GoT of course, all bets are off when it comes to how the ruling classes live and love. Breaking the rules is a performative necessity within aristocratic culture because the assertion that “the rules do not apply to us” needs to be backed up and reiterated in a variety of dramatic contexts. And besides, we always sensed that Rhaenyra had a thing for her Uncle Daemon…

There are no battles in this one and barely a dragon. There is also no gratuitous sex in this episode. There is no gratuitous sex because this installment is all about sex. Sex is the theme and the plot driver.

Daemon returns victorious and throws his strange wooden crown at the feet of his brother and king. Viserys quickly calculates that snubbing a war hero who can act so graciously would be impolitic and the two embrace and quite quickly Viserys gets drunk. I think it doesn’t take much to get Viserys drunk – he is always sort of desperate for oblivion, desperate to have a respite from sober deliberation.

Rhaenyra has rejected all the suitors presented for her, from the horribly old to the stupidly young. Back at King’s Landing, her uncle gives her a special present – a night on the town – a night of slumming. He then takes her to a pleasure palace to teach her that true toffs take what (and who) they want when they want and that a politic marriage need be no barrier to versatile pleasures. At this point, in very shabby circumstances, uncle and niece very very nearly have sex. It is Daemon who recoils at the last minute, perhaps because he realises that the strange flirty avuncular vibe he has long enjoyed with Rhaenyra isn’t really compatible with a full blown incestuous affair. Storming off, Rhaenyra returns to the Red Keep – but not before she’s been spotted.

At this point, “she’s gotta have it” as they say – and Ser Criston is ready and on guard. She’s always liked him, of course. So she tricks him inside and grabs his helmet, taunting him with it. A line is to be crossed.

Ser Criston Cole starts to get undressed. This takes quite a while. And it is because it takes a while that we’re suddenly in the world of authentic sexy – I mean stuff that quickens the pulse rather than turns the stomach. Rhaenyra is only wearing smallfolk rags so it wouldn’t take her long to strip off, but she waits for Criston, and Criston takes forever. You realise that the sexiness of slow divestiture prior to getting down to business lies in its prolongation of consensuality. With each gauntlet, each buckle, each awkward accoutrement, there is the possibility of saying “no – let’s not do this”. As Criston slowly removes one item at a time, eye contact is awkwardly broken and regained. It’s like an endless repetition of permissions… not just one “yes” – but many. What is sexier than that?

Brilliantly and chillingly, this authentically and delightfully exhibition of sexiness of compared with the joyless sex life of Queen Alicent, who just lies back and thinks of Westeros while Viserys ploughs away with grim determination. Given the imperatives of regal breeding, there can be no fully consensual sex within a royal marriage because there is no possibility of refusal. When the king says “yes”, there is no ultimate power of refusal and without this power, abusive enforcement poisons everything. Perhaps every King of Westeros is a rapist.

Of course, there is a price to be payed for a night’s thoroughly interesting fun. Daemon is dragged before the king and re-exiled. The father-in-law “Hand” is dismissed. Rhaenyra to be married pretty much by force and is given an abortifacient.

So it’s a story of good sex and bad sex and whether or not there aren’t moments of joy that aren’t worth a lifetime of repentence?

“Are you married?” “No, I play the harmonica.” “How I Won the War”, reviewed.

The beginning of Scorsese’s Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator, Hughes (Leonard di Caprio) finds himself frustrated by the fact that it’s impossible to appreciate the speed of his aircraft on camera (for Hell’s Angels) against a blue Californian sky. There’s no sense of relative motion. At great expense he hires a top notch meteorologist (Ian Holm) to tell him where clouds are likely to be on any given day so that his planes can fly past them.

How I Won the War (1967), directed by Richard Lester, has something of an analogous sanity problem. All of the characters in this movie are crazy, but without some relatively sane character as a reference point, the force of the insanity is largely lost.

Richard Lester is a much underrated director. Robert Altman has been praised for many things that Richard Lester has done. Above all, he has a Breughel-like concern for the bit players and the extras, for the people usually confined to the corner of the screen. How I Won the War might be a sort of folie de grandeur, undertaken at the height of his powers which for various very interesting reasons does not really come off.

There is a main character. Lieut. Earnest Goodbody – played by Michael Crawford who had already been employed by Lester in The Knack and A Funny Thing Happened on the way to the Forum. The rather satisfying word “nincompoop” is rarely used in spontaneous conversation nowadays but if ever a concerted campaign is made to promote its revival I would recommend compulsory screenings of How I Won the War. Goodbody is a nincompoop. There is nothing engaging about his idiocy because it gets people killed. Goodbody illustrates the staggeringly important fact that ignorance is closer to arrogance than innocence. At the beginning of the film, he is captured by the Germans while crossing the Rhine (his own troops having failed to follow him). He befriends a German officer (Karl Michael Vogler) and the main events of the film are depicted retrospectively as he enjoys a closer and more confessional relationship with his captor than with anyone else in the film. He ends up buying the last bridge across the Rhine from this German officer who is immediately mown down by Michael Hordern’s tank. Incidentally, at various points in Crawford’s Richard Lester directed 1960s film career, you can see his most famous 1970s characterisation budding – if that’s the word.

A few years earlier, Goodbody has been asked by the ubiquitous Robert Hardy to take his little platoon and establish a cricket pitch behind enemy lines in North Africa. It is impossible not to hear Peter Cook intoning “we need a futile gesture at this stage of the war” during this scene. The real strength of the film lies in the performances offered within this cricket pitch platoon. There is, of course, Roy Kinnear. Perhaps all of Lester’s films were really about Roy Kinnear. Kinnear’s character has to deal with constant correspondence regarding his wife’s infidelities. Ronald Lacey is there, on the edge of nervous breakdown. Lacey of course is better known as “Orrible ‘Arris” from Porridge, the baby-eating Bishop of Bath and Wells from Blackadder II and as the Gestapo torturer from Raiders of the Lost Ark. John Lennon is Gripweed, a kleptomaniac Mosleyite fascist who gets away with anything as a result of his winning smile. Also note James Cossins who plays a soldier goes on and on about how he’s going to die in North Africa and who subsequently dies in North Africa. Cossins would subsequently work with Crawford again in Some Mothers do ‘Ave ‘Em, and was one of the guests mistaken for a hotel inspector in Fawlty Towers. The magnificent interpreter of Samuel Beckett, Jack MacGowran, shines as a Corporal Klinger character. You will of course remember MacGowran as the drunken film director who is killed by Regan/Satan in The Exorcist.

In addition, Michael Hordern drives in and crashes out of the film on a regular basis. His dialogue consists of an endless series of non sequiturs, slogans, and military cliches. In good poststructuralist fashion, he does not speak language – language speaks him. Nobody ever represented “bluster” better than Hordern. Nobody embodied a fragile patriarchal order better, whether in comedy or tragedy. He was a consummate Plautian “senex” and also a very great Lear.

Perhaps best of all is Lee Montague as the Sgt. Major. His character is tortured by his own inability to shoot Goodbody, knowing just how many lives could be saved with just one bullet. There is, it seems to me, a more focused black comedy that is already hinted at in this movie and which is straining to achieve logical development. This would be a version of The Ladykillers in which Montague’s character is expanded and the film consists mainly of him persuading each member of the platoon in turn to kill Goodbody, something he himself is unable to do. The film almost is this, but this powerfully dark concept is just one joke among many here.

All of these performances are rewarding, but none of them gets enough extended screen time to compete with and counter-balance Goodbody. Lennon, by virtue of being by far the most famous person associated with the project, has his billing vastly inflated on the posters for this film. But if his character had been expanded to reflect the size of Lennon’s poster font, the film as a whole might have been rather more compelling. But the same can be said of almost any other character in the platoon.

The most moving scene is a slice of Brechtian fourth wall obliteration involving Ronald Lacey in extreme distress with Montague trying to wave the cameras away to give the poor lad a bit of dignity and privacy while Lennon shouts “No – let the bastards see!”

The film can be situated somewhere between Oh What a Lovely War! (which similarly portrayed war as a game for toffs in which plebs pay the price) and Catch 22. At times you wonder if Lester is implying that the British were no better than the Germans in WW2? Or is it, like M.A.S.H, a film set during one war that forms a relevant commentary on a different ongoing war? At one point at the end, one actor asks another what they’re doing next – “there’s this Vietnam thing but I don’t like the director”. However, since the British are not involved in Vietnam, the film does not really work as a satirical commentary on ‘Nam – particularly as it’s set mainly in a desert rather than a jungle. The film is certainly a satire on war movies, and on how a certain kind of British war movie is constructed for propaganda purposes. But it’s clearly more ambitious than a mere genre satire effort. In short, I’m not sure this film knows the scope of its own satirical ambitions at all. Satire’s a not-funny thing in that it’s a genre where ethical prevarication translates into aesthetic inelegance. For a work of satire to project a sense of structural integrity, you have to feel that it’s the product of some sustained moral reflection. Discuss?

This was the film that gave Lennon his signature “look”: Lennon in little round glasses – giving him his cartoon outline. Lennon himself probably did not have the patience for film acting. He had a short attention span and film acting involves a deal of waiting around then doing the same thing over and over again. There is nothing wrong with his performance in this film though. As the only actor in the film to subsequently die violently of his wounds there is an unintended poignancy to his death scene and his lines spoken straight to camera… “I knew this would happen… you knew this would happen” will shake you.

How I Won the War could be the worst film ever made (and it’s very far from being that), and it would still be the production that gave Lennon the time and the setting to write “Strawberry Fields Forever”. It is odd to think that Michael Crawford got to hear “Strawberry Fields Forever” before Paul McCartney did.

Where are we? “Adar” – Episode Three of “Rings of Power”, reviewed.

There are obvious advantages to taking on the Second Age of Middle Earth. Although we have a detailed year by year chronology of stuff happening – Tolkien did not write an extended novelistic narrative account of events. The closest thing we have is the Akallabêth – a thirty page description of the fall of Numenor. You would have thought that it would be possible to invent a bunch of Second Age stuff without actually contradicting anything that Tolkien did right. You would have thought…

Where we’re at now, however, is an open decision to chuck out Tolkien’s sequence of events, because the ruler of Numenor in this episode is Tar Miriel and Pharazôn is waiting in the wings. Daddy Palantir is in a tower somewhere. But according to Tolkien’s own account, the great rings have all been around for centuries at this point and great wars have already been fought in Middle Earth.

It is as though we’re at the end of the Second Age in Numenor but only about half way through it in Middle Earth. In Numenor, we meet Elendil and family (Amandil does not get a mention). Time’s nearly up for Numenor.

I wonder when the narrative will return to give Celebrimbor some time and character development. He surely must be one of the most fascinating individuals of the Second Age. He’s a grandson of Feanor. If his uncle Maedhros had not ceded headship of the Noldor then he, Celebrimbor, would be High King – not Gil Galad. No account says that he ever expressed resentment at this loss of primogeniture, only that he shared his grandfather’s fascination with making things, with craft, with the idea of investing unpromising dead matter with life and power. If this series continues to sideline Celebrimbor, then I will question the ability of the show-runners to know what’s exciting and what ain’t.

This episode is mainly set in Numenor at the height of its power. Numenor looks very pretty indeed and architecturally dwarfs (sorry) anything that elves in Middle Earth seem to have built. The performances remain strong. It’s just that the story seems to have veered off in unnecessarily uncanonical directions. The showrunners just don’t seem to rate Tolkien as a storyteller very much. They don’t like his ordering of events and they are convinced that they can do better.

The brutality of nomadic life among the Harfoots is quite chilling. Apparently being put at the back of the baggage train is practically a death sentence. Being “left behind” is death itself. Even a small injury that puts you at the back gets you pencilled into a book of the dead. Don’t twist your ankle.

The man from the sky is Gandalf, clearly. My wife got that before I did and wanted the fact that she got it before I did to go on record. Let this be duly recorded.