Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Secret Circle, Season 1, Episode 17: Curse

So we begin with Cassie and Adam (Wet Lettuce) in bed being all twee. And John Blackwell (Cassie’s dad, Evil Parent#3) arrives to find many many many dead crows around the house. Yes the teen-sexing has killed the birds – well that’s one way to try and do away with teenaged sex.

Turns out the whole “written in the stars” thing Ethan liked to go on about is actually a curse should the two families ever actually get it on. And the dead birds are a sign that the curse has been activated – a curse that Amelia (Cassie’s mother) was very very afraid of. There’s only one person who could know more – Cassie’s grandmother, Jane (who we never ever see any more).

Going to see Jane in what looks like a residential home, it’s clear that the spell the Evil parents used to block her memory has taken a severe toll. Still while she thinks Cassie is her mother – the curse will cause a member of their Circle to die.

Now to tell the rest of their Circle that one of them is due to die because they knocked boots. That’s a fun conversation. Y’know they could just keep doing it until they get to Faye, I’m just saying. Faye does have some of the best lines though – abstinence education at work. Unfortunately, Faye does just dismiss the whole thing focusing more on her loved life.

Cassie goes to check Jake to see if he is dying –m and he is hearing eerie whispers. He has a fever and his veins are turning black. Cassie and Adam get to tell Jake the good good news. John Blackwell knows an elixir that can stop the curse that Amelia found  - but it needs rare ingredients. Time to talk to Calvin Wilson who runs the antiquities shop – except Jake, in his witch hunter loving days, killed him. Though you can be forgiven for forgetting since we’ve never had any ramifications for this murder.

At the shop they find Calvin’s niece telling them Calvin has been missing for months. Naturally she has all of the ingredients except on – a root that they need to go nature rambling to find. And Jake starts hallucinating Calvin in reflections – some consequences perhaps? Jake also decides to wander after them to search for the root (that’s great for the sick guy, really, it’s not like it’ll slow them down or anything). Of course the disease/curse catches up with Jake and he starts by taunting Adam about he and Cassie together before having more hallucinations.

He continues to hallucinate more about Calvin and ends up attacking Adam causing Cassie to go all black magic  - but Adam yells at her to focus on him and he uses magic to throw Jake clear. But the secrets out, they know Jake killed Calvin.

Back to the cabin, Diana, Melissa and John are making the elixir and we discover Melissa is good at growing the magic herbs. And John talks about Melissa’s mother (we finally have confirmation about which parent Melissa lost!) who was also a herbalist. The elixir is made but the only way to destroy the curse is for Adam and Cassie to drink it. And the Lefe root will make them forget the love they have for each other. More angst and crying! But, no, worse! Adam has forgotten his love for Cassie – but Cassie is too strong. She hasn’t forgotten her love and she still loves Adam – turn the angst dial to the max.

And John gets to give Jake a pep talk about how he matters and how that pesky murdering thing is all in the past. Because, y’know “it’s in the past” and “a man can change” is such an appropriate response to murder.

On other, side plot lines:  Faye goes to see Lee (who has been zombied by Eva) and runs into witchy Eva and thinks she threw something at her (but used magic by mistake). Diana, Faye and Melissa have a meet up for Faye to figure out what happened to Lee. Yes these 3 seem to have set up their own little team and storyline.

They gather together to go search Lee’s car and police turn up. Diana does the explaining and Melissa decides to unbutton Diana for the “sexy card” yeah doesn’t work. But Eva explains things and it’s all brushed under the rug. That was pointful.

Faye goers back later and confronts Eva – and discovers Eva has her powers. Eva needs help – to save Lee, to bring him back to life after what Eva did to him. Faye doesn’t think she can help raise him from the dead – but Eva starts to lose it, forcing Faye to try and help. There is much scuffling and magic before Faye breaks the totem, stops Eva’s magic and seems to bring her back to her senses. Lee is still dead, of course. Plot line done now? I do like the three of them actually as friends, I think they work much better together than the old good vs evil groups.

In more pointless plot lines, the Evil parents Dawn and Charles meet up so Dawn can tell about John Blackwell being back. The Evil parents aren’t exactly on friendly terms, but Dawn is determined to get John on side and not finging out about Jane and Henry (the two Grandparent Circle members they took out) and threatens to tell John about Charles killing Amelia (Cassie’s mother). They both decide to go and see Jane in the hospital and Charles uses the crystal to hypnotise Jane to tell them about John Blackwell.

But Charles has his own plotting and comes back later in the evening to help Jane so they can destroy John Blackwell

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 3: Lord Snow

I will begin by again linking to HBO’s most excellent guide to the 10,000 characters on this show, to help people keep up with who is who.

We start in Kings Landing where the whole party is arriving – and instantly Ned is summoned to a meeting of the Small Council. But first he gets to spar with Jaime Lannister who also gives some insight into the actions of the last king – how cruel and sadistic he was. Ned doesn’t approve – he hated the last king, but Jaime was a Kingsguard (personal bodyguard of the king). He gets to meet the rest of the council, Varys (who wishes for Prince Joffrey’s recovery – but Ned Stark is more concerned for the murdered butcher’s boy) and Renly Baratheon, King Robert’s younger brother and then lord Petyr Baelish who once loved Catelyn (Ned Stark’s wife) and grand Maester Pycelle. Yes more new characters, but they’re fairly easy to keep track of – with the guide anyway. And it does do an extremely good job of introducing and setting the world building without infodumping.

Quickly it becomes clear that things are not well. Not least of which because the king doesn’t bother to show up for the meeting – and rarely does. The King also wants a tournament to honour Ned’s arrival – an expensive one. And it turns out that crown is 3 million in debt to the Lannisters – and 6 million in debt overall.

We move to Cersei and her awful son Joffrey – and she’s teaching him well in the art of lying and using your rank to create a fantasy version of events. She also has lessons to teach about marriage and “fucking painted whores”. I swear the number one industry in the seven kingdoms is prostitution – dwarfing all the rest together. And Cersei shows just how far spoiling a child can go. But she also skewers his delusions when he dreams of conquering the north – showing that while Cersei has many flaws, being foolish is never one of them (though his idea about the standing army isn’t exactly wrong).  And she may encourage delusions but she has none of her own. And she encourages the manipulation of Sansa – and the idea that everyone who isn’t us (a Lannister) is an enemy.

Sansa and Arya are at dinner – Arya angry because the Prince had Micah killed and Sansa is a liar (both true) though Septa Mordane corrects her for her unladylike truth-telling. Sansa isn’t particularly happy either after the death of Lady and Ned doesn’t make things better by giving his teenaged daughter a doll to play with. Ned finds Arya’s sword Needle and Arya makes it clear, again, that she doesn’t want to be a lady. And Ned tells Arya the position Sansa’s in because she’s betrothed to Joffrey – and that the family has to stick together in Kings Landing since it’s dangerous.

In Winterfell Bran is bedridden and attended by his old nursemaid who uses stories to give us some good world building – the story of the years long winters (in this world, Summer and Winter each last several years) and the White Walkers beyond the Wall coming south to conquer and kill. Until Robb comes to visit (and dismisses their old nursemaid rather disrespectfully for a woman of her age – and a woman who raised them). He wants to know what Bran saw – because Bran never falls, but Bran remembers nothing. Bran is now paralysed from the waist down after his fall.

Meanwhile Catelyn has arrived in Kings Landing where she thinks she will be anonymous – but she is found and summoned in seconds by Petyr Baelish where he arranges to meet her in a brothel. Lady Stark is not pleased, bringing her to such a place – and lo, there is this episodes compliment of naked breasts. It wouldn’t be Game of Thrones without naked breasts and prostitutes. Lord Varys is a spy master and he already knows why Catelyn is there and when she was due to arrive. Petyr Baelish recognises the dagger that the assassin used – he says he lost it when he bet on Lord Jaime against the Knight of Flowers in a joust. And Tyrion won it.

Time to get Ned to meet Catelyn – and Ned isn’t best pleased with the location either. Petyr Baelish points out the dagger is no evidence since Tyrion can deny that he had the blade so they have no evidence against Tyrion. Catelyn knows it in her bones but they have no proof – Baelish will find proof for them, he promises, and Ned can take it to the King. Meanwhile, Catelyn can return to Winterfell.

Meanwhile to the real culprits – Jaime and Cersei. Cersei is panicking over Bran waking up, though he remembers nothing and the foolishness of sending and assassin.  Jaime doesn’t take, well, just about anything seriously.

Up with the Nights Watch, Jon Snow is training with the Night Watch and doing well – he’s been brought up with a sword and how to use it; most the rest of the Watch are peasants and criminals. He’s obviously much more skilled than them and easily beats them – but Tyrion is there to give some extreme lessons on class and advantages. Tyrion is, again, awesome.

Review of The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games is expected to be the biggest block buster of the year.The movie is based on the novel by the same name, written by Suzanne Collins.  It's directed by Gary Ross and stars, Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Liam Hemsworth. Other notables include, Amandla Stenberg, Lenny Kravitz, Donald Sutherland and Woody Harrelson.

The Hunger Games is set in a post apocalyptic North America, which has been divided into 13 sectors.  Each year, 24 tributes - 12 boys, and 12 girls are sent to fight to the death in the arena.  This is retribution for an uprising that occurred 74 years ago, and is supposedly meant to remind them of the horrors of war. When Katniss' sister Primrose is chosen, Katniss volunteers in her staid. Also chosen from district 12 is Peeta, the son of a baker.  Katniss and Peeta come from sector 12, which is a poor mining district.

They are provided with Haymitch, the only tribute ever to win from district 12 to train them.  Peeta understands immediately, that part of surviving is playing the game and being as likable as possible, while Katniss is only focused on the mechanics. Haymitch at first doesn't not seem very concerned with their well being and is only interested in getting drunk.

The capitol is very rich in comparison to the district. They have the latest in technology and the people seem to have time to groom themselves ridiculously. Katniss and Peeta prepare for the games, firm in the knowledge that only one of them will live, as there can only be one winner.  In the preparations, Katniss is stiff and it is only through the help of Cinna, the designer played by Lenny Kravitz that she manages to catch the crowds attention.

The novel is told entirely from Katniss' point of view, but the movie seems to tell the story without any introspection at all.  This gives the viewer no real reason to invest in Katniss or want her to win.  We know that she hunts for food, but we don't get any real sense of how hard her struggle is.  There is no background information on her relationship with Gale, and he could easily be her cousin, boyfriend or friend.  If I had not read the book, I would not have had any idea what their relationship was about.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Review: Industrial Magic by Kelley Armstrong, Book 4 of the Otherworld Series

Paige and Lucas are back, now having settled down in Portland after the chaos of Dime Store Magic that completely ruined Paige’s life

But Paige herself is feeling a little disconnected so far from her world – especially as Lucas’s life goal continues and often takes him away from her. It’s even more vexing that she feels pinned down by her duties as a parent for Savannah.

Then the in-laws get involved. Lucas’s father, Benicio Cortez CEO of the Cortez Cabal, is constantly trying to rope Lucas back into the family fold however he can – and Paige just became another way to reel him in. with a case that Paige and Lucas couldn’t possibly refuse, they’re recruited to find out who is killing the children of Cabal employees

Unfortunately, working for the Cabal is far from simple. Politics between the Cabals, the Cabals’ contempt for witches and the Cabals’ own, selfish way of dealing with things means they’re not nearly as driven to find the truth as Paige and Lucas –even as the body count starts mounting.

The story was a very good mystery – there were questions and clues that were followed, political problems to get round with Cabal infighting, to say nothing of the problem of working for the Cabals in the first place. The progression was logical, the discoveries entertaining and it never dragged or bogged down all the while the character interactions were fun and amusing. And the investigation was sensible – there were no radical leaps of logic or silliness, it just followed logical clue after logical clue, using magic but not relying on it to provide a woo-woo answer to all their problems.

I still love this world with the varying supernatural forces with their own powers, abilities and politics. The cabals, the Sorcerers, the vampires, the half-demons – they all work well together and ensure everything remains diverse and interesting and they all came together well.

I really like how the Cortez Cabal is presented and balanced here, in fact, I like how balance in general is shown. The Cabals aren’t great evil organisations, but nor are they even slightly altruistic. They are callous, unfeeling, greedy and very self-centred – but nor are they vast crime organisations grinding people beneath them either. And the Cortez Cabal is better than the others, but at the same time isn’t the “good” Cabal, with Benicio being just as ruthless and cruel as any of the other Cabals when required. The same goes for balance generally – the bad guy isn’t evil for the sake of evil, he has a legitimate reason to be furious at the Cabals, just as the Cabals had a legitimate reason to make him furious in the first place. Lucas’s brothers aren’t just selfish and awful, Benicio’s actions ensure they have a reason to be resentful and angry. The motives are human and reasonable rather than caricatures and overly dramatic.

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 2: The Kingsroad

I will begin by again linking to HBO’s most excellentguide to the 10,000 characters on this show, to help people keep up with who is who.

The second episode begins with Daenerys, new Khalisi of the Dorthraki. Daenerys, as per contract, is wearing a slip of virtually nothing – in full sunlight with that complexion? The Dorthraki better have SPF50 on hand. She is clearly troubled by the new life she’s living travelling on horseback, eating dried meat. I actually quite like this – too many stories have pampered princes and princesses put on their Hero Gear and venture forth to a life of sleeping rough, scavenged food and constant peril (yet surprisingly meticulous grooming) without it being a massive culture shock. Of course, less ideal is that her brother, Viserys, is adapting far better – though is still as petulant and whiney as ever. Daenerys is comforted and reassured by Ser Jorah Mormont who is quickly settling in as a pseudo-father figure.

We move on to the best character in the series, Tyrion, sleeping off a hangover in Winterfell’s stable. And laying down a literal slap down to his despicable nephew Joffrey demanding he meet his social graces and for Joffrey to present his condolences to Lord and Lady Stark for Brandon, who fell (well, unknowingly) was pushed from the tower last episode. While I can’t approve of the violence against children, Tyrion is still so very awesome in so many ways and, despite being a Lannister, shows grace and compassion at least. He goes to breakfast and tell his siblings Cersei (the Queen) and Jaime (her twin brother, the kingsguard and the Queen’s lover) that Bran may well live (which troubles the Cersei and Jaime, naturally, since they pitched him off the tower to keep their little secret). Surprisingly, it appears that Cersei’s other children, Joffrey’s younger siblings, are quite pleasant children. Jaime expresses how Bran wouldn’t have a life worth living since he’d be “crippled” by Tyrion counters that in his usual awesome fashion

Cersei goes to comfort Catelyn Stark who is sitting vigil over Bran’s bedside and reveals that she herself lost her first child – a boy with black hair. It’s a very powerful, touching scene (with a big clue in the middle of it).

Jaime goes to taunt Jon Snow before he goes to join the Night Watch – clearly Jaime knows more about the state of the Nights Watch than Jon does. And Jon gives Arya a sword – a light little needle. I can really believe these 2 as actual siblings- and the person who realises how stifling the enforced gender roles are on Arya. Similarly I can see the same excellent acting and emotion in Jon saying goodbye to bran – and in Catelyn’s rejection of her husband’s illegitimate son. And yet more great acting and great rapport between Rob and Jon – and the clear separation Jon maintains by saying “you Starks” always an outsider in his own household. And then nicely redeemed by Ned Stark making it clear he regards Jon as a Stark, despite his name.

We see further emotion with Catelyn and Ned Stark –  yes broken record, but some incredible acting. And Catelyn wonderfully dismisses the “no choice” excuse that, as she says, so many women have had to swallow over the years. Further by Ned saying “you can, you must” showing who it is who truly lacks a choice here.

So the two parties set off – the party north to the wall and the King’s party back to Kings Landing – where the King continues to not be the most refined man in the world, talking about the women he’s known – as well as the Jon’s mother. The King and Ned do have a great relationship as friends, but Robert has few topics of conversations. Except the message he receives about Daenery’s marriage (and more reductive language of her) and Robert’s desire to have her killed. We get a nice bit of history about how some people see him as a usurper still – and a nice assessment of the Dorthraki power being limited by their lack of navy. It’s a really nicely done infodump that fits the story.

Switch to said Daenerys, we see her having sex with Drogo, crying and clearly less than enjoying the experience (and it wouldn’t be Game of Thrones if we didn’t see some breasts) – but smiling at her dragon eggs (that be foreshadowing folks. With extra breasts).  And her discussing with her attendants – including one who was an ex-prostitute in a brothel. Who, at Daenerys’s urging, teaches her how to please Drogo. Here was a brief discussion about dragons before we got down to discussing sex. On with the pseudo-lesbian scene – where Daenerys will be empowered by seducing Khal Drogo with her sexual wiles which she then uses on Drogo when he comes to force her into sex again.

And on to the party moving north. Jon Snow is less than enamoured with the criminals who are also going up to join the Night Watch (a choice they’re given instead of castration for rape) and Tyrion is there (going to look at the wall) and being awesome (as always). We get some more info-dumping, again very well done (Jaime killed the last king, his father served the last king and his sister became the new queen) – and he is awesome about his own strength and power using his mind and intelligence. And he does a fair job of puncturing Jon’s illusions.

The Friday Discussion: Katniss Everdeen: The Good Kind of Poor Person

This is a guest post. Tom Houseman was born white, straight, male, cis, and rich. He has done a lot of work unpacking and understanding his many forms of privilege. He is far from perfect, and still says wildly ignorant and inappropriate things on occasion, but he is learning. Mostly he just sits down, shuts up, and listens. He writes film reviews and analysis for

The Hunger Games is a great book, and its exploration of the impact of class, wealth, and status on the world, both socially and politically, is remarkably complex and mature for a work that targets a young adult audience. The ways in which the government dominates and subjugates the districts while placating the citizens of the capitol is fairly spot on as a allegory for modern society, although in The Hunger Games the government is the sole perpetrator of these wrongs, as there are no corporations in this communist dictatorship.

Our protagonist is Katniss Everdeen, who lives squarely under the heel of the boot of the capitol. She is one of the poorest citizens in one of the poorest districts, and yet she is able to fight back against the oppressive government and help lead the rebellion. She is smart, clever, self-reliant and brave. She is, in fact, everything you could ask for in a poor person.

Several people have written about the idea of good poor people vs. bad poor people. Elizabitchez sums it up very well ( regarding the idea that we have about how a poor person is supposed to act to earn our sympathy and respect. This is an idea that is true of many marginalized communities, especially the overweight. One of Chris Rock's most famous standup bits perfectly articulates the idea of the good black person vs. the bad black person (Black People vs. N***as). Rich people and conservative politicians have so many ways of arguing that poor people deserve to be poor if they can't pull themselves out of poverty (without quality education or healthcare, of course), and if any poor person embodies any of these characteristics, they are written off. But Katniss manages to avoid all of these pitfalls, which is why we have no reason not to care about her and root for her. Here are some of the reasons why Katniss Everdeen is the perfect poor person.

1. She is Young and Pretty
Thereby obviously making her more worthy of our attention than a poor person who might not have been born with similar aesthetic qualities or who is too old to be worth caring about. In the movie they even make her whiter (her skin color is described as “olive” in the books) just to increase our sympathy for her.

2. She is Articulate and Well Mannered
Katniss is very well spoken, both in her dialogue and in her first-person narration in the book. I do not know if Suzanne Collins intended for Katniss to have an accent. It is never implied in the books that she does and she does not have one in either the audio recording of the book or in the movie, despite the fact that District 12 is located in the Appalachian Mountains. Certain kinds of accents (Southern, Cajun, Cockney) are often associated with people who are poor and uneducated, and these people tend to be mocked for their accents. Having a General American accent precludes Katniss from this kind of ridicule.

There is a scene in The Hunger Games when Katniss and Peeta are eating their first meal after being selected to compete in the Hunger Games. They are on the train with Effie Trinket, their chaperone, and Effie comments that she is thankful that both of them have table manners. She makes a derisive comment about previous tributes who ate with their hands. While this passage cements our impression of Effie as a snob, it is true that people are judged on their table manners. Katniss notes that she was taught table manners by her mother, but that when eating clover and scraps of meat her top concern was never making sure that she was using the correct fork. If we see a poor person eating sloppily or not using a napkin, we definitely judge them for such behavior, as if slurping soup is an indication that somebody deserves to be poor.

3. She Depends on Nobody but Herself
After her father died Katniss became the the primary source of livelihood for her family. Because of her skill with a bow and her knowledge of edible plants she is able to hunt and gather enough food to keep her family alive. Of course, she only has this knowledge and these skills because her father taught them to her. Had her father not imparted her with this information, she would not be able single-handedly support her family.

What would she have done then? And how would our impression of her change? What if, before Katniss was chosen to take part in the Hunger Games, she had been a beggar, relying on the charity of her community to keep her and her family alive? Would we still cheer for her, or would we call her lazy and pathetic. Instead of being called The Girl On Fire, Katniss would have a very different nickname: “Welfare Queen.” Our society respects poor people who are able to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, the Ragged Dicks and Katniss Everdeens, and we despise poor people who cannot accomplish the same thing. Characters like Katniss make it easy to imagine that all poor people should be able to survive without welfare or food stamps, and that people who do rely on social services are simply not trying hard enough.

On a similar note, how would our impression of Katniss change if the only way she had found to support her family was through prostitution? Would a sex worker make as sympathetic a protagonist? Almost certainly not.

4.                  She is Able Bodied and Mentally Stable
Of course, it is not just her father's lessons that allow Katniss to keep her family alive. If Katniss were physically handicapped, either at birth or through an accident, what would we think of her? If she needed a wheel chair or crutches (as one of her competitors from District 10 does) she would not be able to hunt, or even to slide under the fence that divides district 12 from the woods. If her body were not as completely functional as it is she would be forced to either beg or starve.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Review: Upon The Midnight Clear, by Sherrilyn Kenyon. Book 2 of the Dreamhunters Series

Aidan is a first rate actor, academy award winner and Hollywood A-list.  He has been betrayed by everyone he loved and cared about – leaving him with a very low view of humanity and a complete inability to trust people.

But his brother has decided to seek further revenge and summoned Dolor – the embodiment and deity of Pain who will be freed by human sacrifice – and by torturing and killing Aidan. Leta, the Oneroi a sleep goddess, has given herself the task to control Dolor, to prevent any more people falling to his cruelty. She never dreamed anyone would be inhuman enough to summon him, but he is free again.

Together, Leta and Aidan have to fight and defeat Dolor – and restore Aidan’s faith in humanity and his ability to love.

Ok so Aidan has been betrayed by most of his loved ones. His girlfriend left him and told lies about him to the tabloids, as did his best friend, brother and nephew. That’s got to hurt and be awful. He’s retreated to an isolated spot where he doesn’t have to see anyone, comforted by the $100,000,000 in his bank account but pestered by his agent who keeps ringing offering him multi-million dollar blockbuster movie deals. He hates all people, is going to die alone and trusts no-one and will drive them away with his rage!

Let us now call the waaahbulance for this man – but keep the siren off because he won’t be able to hear us playing sad songs on our teeny tiny violins for him.

Ok, perhaps unfair a little – and being betrayed by so many people you care about is harsh. But he’s still a very wealthy, talented actor with a great career – sulking in the mountains because all humans suck seems to be rather an extreme reaction. And it only looks worse because of the world it’s in. This is the Dark Hunters world. A world where we have followed:

Zarek, a man who was tortured and mutilated from childhood until death
Valerius, a man whose family brutalised and shunned him then spent the last 2,000 years being further shunned
Kyrian, a man betrayed by his wife that lead him to being brutally tortured to death
And, of course, the Oneroi, a race of dream gods cursed to feel nothing but pain because Zeus had a hissy fit. And let us not forget, Leta, the woman he is angsting to is not only an Oneroi, but also had her husband and child murdered by said hissy-fitting Zeus.

In short, this is a series where extreme – almost ridiculously so – tragic pasts are the norm for so many of the protagonists. And every single one of them dealt with their issues with more grace and endurance than Aidan. I am actually amazed that Leta, having endured what she has and living around so many people who have endured so much, didn’t just slap him and tell him to get over it already. It’s hard not to see Aidan as a petulant child. I was actually waiting for Acheron to show up and slap him about the head with the Reality Bat.

And whether Aidan’s angst was extreme or not, I didn’t need 35%+ of the book to dwell on his sulking. Which is another problem. This book is both very short and very padded – a combination I didn’t even think was possible. It’s 134 pages long and the majority of those are dedicated to the over-the-top emotional bawling of the people involved (varying between “oooo my poor tortured past! Snark!” to “oooh his poor tortured past! Woe!” to “oh his/her ultra hot body! RAWR!”) all of which was intensely repetitive (he doesn’t trust people because he was betrayed. We get it) and unnecessary. It would have been unnecessary and irritating in a book of twice its size, in a book this short it drowns what little pretence of plot there is.

Game of Thrones, Season 1, Episode 1: Winter is Coming

Game of Thrones Season 2 is coming up and we’ll both be watching it because we’re both fans. Since we don’t watch anything without our social justice goggles, we intend to include. Is it Urban Fantasy? No, but it’s one of Urban Fantasy’s Speculative Fiction Cousins, so we’re happy to give it a seat.

To that end we’re going to have a re-watch of Season 1 to bring us up to speed in time for the coming of Season 2

Several members of Night Watch are tracking a group of Wildlings (those who live North of the Wall that separates the Seven Kingdoms from the Wildlands of the North) and find them horribly butchered and their bodies arranged. Investigation leads to blue eyed undead who slice and dice the Night Watch

I have to snark the idea of the Night Watch’s dramatic black clothing given the snowy surroundings (which doesn’t change since this is summer in that area) especially watching said soldiers trying to be stealthy in the snow. I think that the Whitewatch may have been more practical, at least when scouting during the day.

This will all become very important in the future, oh yes.

Now the books this series is based on very sensibly kept nice guides at the back so you could quickly look up just who of the 10 squillion characters is who. HBO actually provides a most excellent guide. I’ll try and keep things clear as I can as the gazillion people are introduced.

Which is where we begin with the Stark Family, Lords of Winterfel (the northern Kingdom): Led by Ned, his with Catelyn (once Tully) and their children: Robb, son and heir, the ladylike Sansa, tomboy Arya, Bran, baby Rickon and Ned’s illegitimate son Jon Snow, joined by Theon Greyjoy, Ned’s Ward. All of whom are having a fun time until they receive news of a deserter – one of the survivors from the undead above the wall who is clearly disturbed by the “White Walkers” he saw. He is executed for desertion in the grim, cold land even though he is thought mad – and his warning of the White Walkers isn’t heeded. And so we see the Starks, honest, honourable, grim and hard – and closely linked to the old ways and old traditions. They also get themselves a Direwolf puppy for each of Ned’s children though Direwolves are not seen south of the Wall.

Next introductions! We move to Kings Landing, the capital of the Seven Kingdoms! Where Jon Arryn, the former Hand of the King is dead (and I really love the detail they’ve gone into for the funerary rites). Alas they will need a new Hand of the King to run the kingdom while the king fails to do so.

And here we meet the boorish King Robert Baratheon, his cunning and not very pleasant wife Cersei (once Lannister), her twin brother Jaime Lannister (a kingsguard) – who are all heading north to Winterfel to talk to Ned – and give him the heavy honour of being Hand of the King. This also gives us time to see Prince Joffrey, the spoiled brat and Tyrion Lannister, brother to Cersei and Jaime – a little person, intelligent and witty though often disparaged by those around him.

And we flip to the next set of introductions is across the see, outside the Seven Kingdoms, in the Free City of Pentos where we meet innocent, young Daenerys and her abusive brother Viserys Targaryen, the last survivors of the noble family that once ruled the Seven Kingdoms before Robert Baratheon’s rebellion. Daenerys has been promised to marry Drogo, a Dorthraki horse-lord to give them an army to take back their kingdoms. On with the “savage” wedding and introducing Ser Jorah Mormont, from the Seven Kingdoms who becomes a kind of aide/bodyguard to Daernerys. For her wedding gift, among other things, she is given dragon eggs (her house once conquered the Seven Kingdoms riding dragons). This ends with Drogo raping Daenerys, while she cries – while this is obviously awful, it’s even worse when we consider the version in the books (not that the books didn’t have their own failures). Daenerys married Drogo, but when she cried he comforted her and didn’t have sex with her until she said yes enthusiastically.

Cover Snark: Beware Vampires, we have cleavage!

So, let us consider the essential tools that a woman needs to face off the worst that the supernatural world has to throw at her. After all, she could end up facing werewolves, vampires, zombies, witches even the denizens of hell itself. Against such a force, she must pack devastating weaponry

And by devastating weaponry, I mean cleavage. Yes, going into battle, it’s time for the breaststststs to be front and centre!

Naturally, when in dangerous situations, it’s important that one’s main weapons (the boobies) are easily accessible. Behold this outfit that Mercy Thomas is (almost) wearing - why, one loose slip knot and she’s away, breasts deployed to maximum effectiveness. Of course, people who have read the books would question why Mercy would ever wear this kind of outfit - it’s a vast leap from the clothes she wears in the book.

Now, here we see the advantages of living in a supernatural world - because you can rely on magic to hold one’s breasts in place. Because, wearing that outfit, there’s no way that Jane Yellowrock up there is going to manage to keep her breasts from falling out when fighting for her life against vampires. In fact, I’d be impressed if she can keep the girls in place just walking down the street.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Review: Laughing Corpse by Laurell K Hamilton, Book 2 of the Anita Blake Series

There are a new series of gruesome murders in the city and Anita, on retainer with the Spook Squad, has been called out to investigate some of the most blood saturated, brutal, violent crimes she’s ever had the displeasure to see.

And she sees a flesh-eating zombie – whether out of control or wilfully set on people by an animator, voodoo priest or necromancer. Either way, people are dying and being eaten and Anita needs to get some answers before she sees more bodies. Except investigating requires crossing some of the most powerful and dangerous magical practitioners in the US – enemies who are happy to send a murderous zombie through your door at night.

Then there’s the added problem of Harold Gaynor. Extremely wealthy man and an extremely ruthless, dangerous man who wants a zombie raised – a zombie that’s so old that only Anita can reliably raise it. But it’s also so old that a human sacrifice will be required – a line Anita will not cross. Of course, Harold doesn’t take no for an answer and is more than willing to use any methods he can to persuade Anita

And then there’s Jean-Claude, Vampire Master of the City to whom Anita is bound with 2 marks. He wants her to play his human servant, her defiance is weakening his political power – but she wants nothing to do with the vampire.

We have another intriguing mystery here that, again, didn’t come together until the end of the book. The clues were there, repeatedly and variously throughout the book, but it was only at the end that you could see how they all fit and how they were all interconnected – even the seemingly two separate, parallel plot lines coming together to be part of the same mystery. I often forget reading the later books just how elegant and interesting these early books where and how well done the detection was. I was confused, but never bored, curious but never lost.

And I like the world, especially given the age of the book. The diversity of beings, the complete integration into the world and the fact that they have always been integrated – there has never been a hidden conspiracy of supernatural – is well done and interesting. It ensures there is always something more to learn and something more to see.

I like Anita’s voice. Yes she does over-describe things a lot and it can be repetitive. But it can also be funny, snarky and informative, her internal monologue being a way to expound upon the world around her. I think it’s very easy to bog a book down with this kind of writing – and we’ve certainly seen it as a problem in other books – but this flows. It’s not overdone, or not consistently so and if it does incline itself occasionally to being overly descriptive or unnecessarily purple, it’s not in a bad way.

Anita is, of course, a very powerful woman. Both physically and personally. She’s dangerous, skilled and at least as good as everyone around her – from martial arts bringing down men twice her size, to a deadly accurate trigger finger and a stubborn unwillingness to give up. But she’s also strong in how she lives her life. She lives as she chooses, she refuses to bow to other people’s demands, she will not be intimidated, not be bullied and will not police herself.

Being Human U.S. Season Two, Episode Ten: Dream Reaper

For the first time in a long time Sally, Josh and Aidan actually spent the episode together.  When we last left Sally she was circled in salt lying in the spot where she died.  Josh and Aidan realize that they can't do anything to help her and so they get Zoe but neglect to mention that Sally killed Zoe's boyfriend Nick, for fear that she won't help them.

Sally is living in an imaginary world with the ever so sexay reaper.  Sally believes that she is happily engaged to Scott (read the reaper).  He keeps her focus on the fantasy and even discusses them moving out of the house.  In her dream world, Sally actually wears different clothing.  It was so nice to see her outside of the grey clothing that she has been wearing for a season and a half.  It's amazing what a little colour can do for you.  I didn't actually realize that Meaghan Rath is such a beautiful woman.

Zoe tells them that she has never actually seen anything like this but encourages them to talk to Sally and reach out to her.  When Aidan begs Sally to come back to them, in her dream world it appears as though someone is IM'ing her.  She becomes upset and thinks that Aidan is just some creepy dude.  Scott comes along and takes he computer away from her, saying that it needs to be fixed.  Then Sally begins to hear voices and she clearly feels like she is losing her mind.  When she goes upstairs to follow the voices, she almost falls backward to land on the place where she died, but Scott catches her and takes her upstairs to bed.  Lying in bed with her, he convinces her that her subconscious is playing tricks on her because they are planning on moving out of the house.

Alcatraz: Episode 11: Webb Porter

In the past Dr. Sangupta is talking philosophy with Emmerson Hauser prison guard, much much younger. There seems to be an essence of romance developing there.  We even get them on a  date later in a jazz bar. So Dr. Sangupta hasn’t aged but Hauser has. Still, Dr. Sangupta has a job to do and Warden James wants her to check out genius inmate Webb Porter, a serial killer who killed his mother (who tried to drown him as a child) and several other women. He’s a permanent residence of the infirmary and apparently disturbed. Dr. Sangupta makes an instant diagnosis of tinnitus, because she’s that good.

Using music to drown his tinnitus, Dr. Sangupta talks to Webb about when his mother tried to drown him, pulling up his memories. That was a well acted scene, I have to say. Then they can take him to the music room to play the music in his head – and he is, as Dr. Sangupta puts it, a savant, able to play the violin extremely well extremely quickly.

With Dr. Sangupta’s therapy they manage to return Webb to the general population – though the inmates are worried about him screaming all night and keeping people awake as he used to. He doesn’t scream, he plays the violin instead which calms the population. Dr. Sangupta watches on in pride – but Dr. Beauregard says Dr. Sangupta is the Warden’s new toy – something that disturbs her (not least of which because Warden James is epicly creepy)

So we begin in the present with what may be the worst idea ever – Dr. Soto stealthily stalking Hauser. And Hauser in a strange, Asian-themed room taking pills and getting massage. Dr. Soto also checks out Lucy (modern Dr. Sangupta) and realises that Hauser has had her moved from the hospital she was in

And Webb Porter, the criminal of the week, is playing the violin, running a bath – and has kidnapped a woman who he then drowns in the bath.

Rebecca and Nikki are enjoying a night out but, alas, finding the body of the woman leads to them being called out (well Nikki being called out and Rebecca tagging along because, well, clearly this woman has no social life). The body shows she’s been tied up for several days, her hair has been cut off (and taken) and her broken nail shows she’s managed to hurt Webb at least. Now it’s to the Alcatraz Cave to decide whether this is a 63 or not (and be scolded by Hauser for following him). The blood under the nail has colloidal silver in it – which points to a ’63 involvement. And it’s a match for Dr. Sangupta/Lucy Banerjee

Webb moves on to his next victim, playing the violin on her porch, then complimenting her hair… then the kidnapping. It seems he’s using their hair in his bows for his violin (I don’t know if human hair would even work like that, but suspend disbelief). Unfortunately, Webb’s audition doesn’t go well – he plays extremely well but can only play the music in his head, not the music on paper. And he blames his failure on the woman he kidnapped whose hair he used in his bow.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Review: Dead Until Dark by Charlaine Harris, book 1 of the Sookie Stackhouse Series

Sookie Stackhouse is a simple waitress, with a special ability. She’s a telepath, she can read minds. It’s an ability with few advantages and has managed to isolate her from much of the town leaving her generally with few friends and less relationships haunted by irritations.

And then a vampire comes into her bar. A vampire whose mind doesn’t encroach into hers, with whom she can sink into the blessed silence of his mind. A man she can actually spend time with without having to hear things she doesn’t want to hear, a man with whom she can actually find peace. And a man she can have an actual relationship with.

But women are dying – women who are known to associate with vampires. The authorities are casting their eyes close to Bill Crompton – and then the murderer targets far too close to home, her own loved ones and at her herself. With her telepathy she is driven to try and find the killer to protect herself and Bill Crompton.

And, of course, there is the major cultural change of the vampires in the town.  The locals are hostile to encroaching vampires and the vampires themselves are split over whether to mainstream and fit in with the humans or not.

The first time I read the book, I didn’t guess who did it. Oh the clues were there but I didn’t follow them at all, didn’t come close to guessing who was actually responsible.  While Sookie tried to grasp exactly what was happening, you had a strong sense of the culture change with the revelation of vampires and how this small town can deal with such a massive change. I don’t actually think this was a story based on the actual investigation – though the need to investigate continues to pull her further into the world, perhaps out of her dept. This story is of Sookie’s life changing dramatically – growing from a very na├»ve and sheltered woman suddenly having to adapt to so many changes. Loss and mourning, her first real relationship as well as actual vampires, murders and someone hunting her. This is Sookie’s story as she tries to keep up with how much the world has changed.

And she does it well. She doesn’t leap in – she does have to back off, she does have to adapt, she does have to take a breath, take a break, just not be around this hectic world for a little while. She deals and learns and adapts – and even takes joy in the changes and revelations – but she also cries and worries and frets as she is taken so far outside of her comfort zone.

I get a very powerful sense of place form this book. You can feel the small town around Sookie, this place where everyone knows everyone else, the history, the family ties, the connections, the shared histories and experiences. From a thousand little gossips and a thousand mental notes from Sookie we can really feel this actual community. And not just community but culture – what people value, the fact everyone knows where everyone else goes to church, the fact everyone is interested in everyone else’s business and history, the rituals of politeness. You can feel a full culture and sense of reality behind this town that points to some very clever and evocative writing

Sookie getting involved in the plot is a trifle convoluted however. The idea that she can solve the crime with her lack of training and experience, that a vampire needs her to protect him is dubious to say the least and, perhaps, more than a little Spunky round the edges. Still, her telepathy doesn’t make it unreasonably so – being able to read minds makes for an excellent investigator

There is a huge amount of anti-sex tropes in this book. The murder victims are, predominantly women who are shamed relentlessly for being promiscuous (Adele Stackhouse being the only one that isn’t and she gets a saintly funeral to emphasise her much greater status) and there is a very strong sense of “they got what they deserved”. The survivor – Sookie – is, of course, not a promiscuous fang banger so she gets to live. Even Jason faces all his legal trouble to a background sense of he deserves it for his womanising ways. The vampires who are burned act badly but most of their crimes that are most shocking stem from their sex lives and public nudity.

Lost Girl Season Two, Episode 20: Lachlan's Gambit

The Lost Girl season is winding down, and there are now only two episodes left.  I hope that during the hiatus, Anna Silk will consider an acting class or two.  There was a lot of action and plot advancement in this episode, but the scenes Silk did with Zoie Palmer, clearly highlighted who was the real actress in the room.  I normally don't comment on the acting in a particular episode, but Palmer was so believable and heartbreaking, that I almost forgave the writers for killing off Nadia so quickly.

This episode begins when Trick informs Bo that the animals are acting up, because they can sense that the Garuda is close. When a strange mole creature tunnels through the ground and Bo grabs him instantly,  it turns out that he owes a debt to Trick.

Shortly afterwards Ciara returns, which is timely because a few of the Garuda's goons decide that they want to take Trick with them.  Ciara, Bo, and Hale fight them off, but not before Hale gets knocked out. Really? This man is a cop and yet Bo, who has had no real training, manages to stay on her feet and not him.  It reads like more of the marginalization of Hale, and this is made worse by the fact that he blames his injury on Dyson not having his back. 

Kenzi is forced to pull Dyson away from Hale, just as Lauren enters the room to tend to Hale's injuries.  She walks right by Bo without comment.  It looks as though every step she takes she is in pain.  

Before Hale is even on his feet again, more henchman show up, but it turns out that they are from the Ash.  Bo intervenes, but Trick tells her that Lachlin is the Ash, and has the right to command his presence.  Lachlan attempts to convince Trick to use his blood to stop the war.  His venom is the only thing that can stop the Garuda; however, he only has one head left, which means he is extremely vulnerable.  Trick refuses to use his blood because he fears that the cure might be worse than the disease, so to speak, and informs Lachlin that if he attempts to force him to do it, that nothing will happen, because he has to desire the change for it to occur. When Lachlin holds a knife to Trick's hand, Bo and Dyson show up to stop him from going further. 

It turns out that Dyson has had a vision from the wolf spirit.  He tells them that he is the champion and that he will bring the Garuda to heel.  Lachlin argues that this is not the case and that Bo is the real champion, but a look of relief quickly crosses Bo's face. Can I just pause for a moment to say that the so-called vision very narrowly escaped being appropriation.  It skidded the line between vision quest and fae quest.   

They decide that the next day they will go after the Garuda.  Predictably, Dyson and Ciara end up in bed together.  He is worried that she will read more into sex than what he has to offer, but she simply tells him that if this is her last night on earth, that she wants to spend it with him.  At Bo's, Lauren shows up.  She is mourning deeply for the loss of Nadia and tells Bo that she needs something to help take the edge off.  After sharing a drink, she asks Bo to comfort her saying that a desire for sex is natural in the face of grief.  She is talking analytically, but it is clear that this is simply an attempt to hold back the emotion that is threatening to overwhelm her.  Finally, she asks Bo if she can sleep with her, but when Bo gets that look in her eye, Lauren makes it clear that all she really wants is to be held and to feel safe.  In bed together, Lauren tells Bo that she just wants to leave, and put the fae world completely behind her. 

Once Upon a Time, Season 1, Episode 16: Heart of Darkness

We start in fairy tale land with a doublem load of epic – Prince James and Red Riding Hood running from the guards pursuing James while he runs to seek Snow. He needs a head start - and it’s full moon. Take it away, Red.

Snow, meanwhile, is being as twee as Disney could wish, well for 5 seconds, before she tries to kill the blue bird. Yes, since taking Rumplestiltskin’s potion, Snow Whit has changed and the Seven Dwarfs and Jiminy Cricket are actually holding an intervention for her. Yes, Snow White is getting interventioned – how classic is that?

Snow is very very angry – and is deciding to go for some vengeance against the Queen. Rather than taking her anger out on the dwarfs, she’s going to kill the Evil Queen. Something she pursues by… asking nice questions – torture, theft and plotting murder. Hey, this Snow is fun. Though Prince James disagrees when he finds the man Snow was nicely talking to and is perturbed that Snow White has become so bloodthirsty

Grumpy is also not a big fan of bloodthirsty Snow and wants her to go to Rumplestiltskin and change back – after all, Rumplestiltskin is the most powerful man in the world. An idea that intrigues Snow White. Rumplestiltskin says she changed because she removed her love and he can’t replace it –but Snow doesn’t want it anyway, she wants help to kill the Queen which he’s very happy to set up for her – with a magical bow and a perfect ambush spot. Prince James arrives but a little too late to meet Snow – and he confronts Rumplestiltskin. Of course the way to cure her is with True Love’s Kiss – and Rumplestiltskin is happy to tell him where she is for his cloak (yes, Rumplestiltskin is definitely playing his own game – from the cloak he extracts a strand of James’s hair to put with Snow White’s – and behold, he has bottled love). Though I consider it dubious that if Snow kills the Queen she becomes as evil as the Queen.

Of course, True Love’s kiss doesn’t work – Snow White can’t remember James so how can she love him? She knocks him out and leaves him tied up for Jiminy Cricket to rescue and then James to make a big big gesture to risk his life to save… the Evil Queen. But it’s really to save Snow White from being evil, proving his love by nearly dying for her – sort of – True Love’s kiss time! And the magic is broken. But King George’s army arrives to take James away.

This means we no longer have angry Snow White. We have angsty Snow White making amends to the dwarfs. And the dwarfs are rallied- watch it King George, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs are coming (I just love how this show lets me use lines like that, yes yes I do).

In the real world Mary Margaret is being arrested because of her finger prints on the box full of a human heart. Emma has to arrest her even though she knows Mary Margaret is innocent. Thankfully, Emma is talking a whole load of great sense about why Emma has to arrest Mary Margaret – though Mary can’t imagine it, how could she hurt anyone? (oh her fairy tale self begs to differ)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: Mercy Blade by Faith Hunter, Book 3 of the Jane Yellowrock series

Jane Yellowrock is still serving Leo Pellissier, vampire leader of New Orleans – and she’s needed more than ever as a whole new revelation sweeps the world – werecreatures exist. Not only do they exist, but New Orleans is going to be ground zero of a whole new series of diplomatic meetings between the werecats of Africa and the Vampires – and these are 2 groups that don’t get on very well.

One thing that does untie them is their hatred of the werewolves – werewolves that are also coming back to New Orleans after Leo drove them out many years before. They want their territory back, they’re harbouring a grudge against the vampires and they’re willing to use any tool – violence or human law or human media – to get their territory back and drive Leo out.

Then here’s the vampires themselves s-living for centuries means vampires and blood servants can develop so many grudges and feuds between them. Someone’s definitely plotting among the vampire clans – and targeting Leo and Bruiser, his chief blood servant – in an elegant legal frame.

On top of that there’s Girrard DiMercy, the Mercy Blade who has come back to town – an old friend and servants of Leo’s and now a bitter enemy. He’s coming back and hanging around with powers Jane doesn’t understand and an agenda no-one knows and he’s not leaving.

And Katie chooses now, of all times, to rise from her crypt irrational and lost from her long healing from Skinwalker

Into this mix – one of the were-leopards dies and Jane’s boyfriend, Rick, disappears. Now to find who dunnit in this maze.

The plot, I have to admit, confused me at times. I got a bit lost not so much on who is who but on how everything was connected. We seemed to have several clues at once and I’m not entirely sure how we got onto each one. I don’t think it was poorly written, but I do think it’s a book that needs reading carefully or maybe reading twice to keep a track of the twists and turns. I’m not sure about some of the links and leaps Jane made, but that could be because I was flailing a little in the many threads.

Despite that – or perhaps, because of that – it was a good mystery. It’s complex but the clues – the many many many clues – are there. There’s a lot of information to piece together and some red herrings and distractions – but not many. All the information forms a part of the puzzle but the puzzle is so bemusing until all those pieces are together and you can see it as a whole. Again, it’s a book that would be worth a re-read just to see how the pieces are laid and fit the clues into the puzzle now I know what the full puzzle looks like.

We also had a huge amount of world building with the weres, with Gee, with the Curse of Artemis and more on vampire history and politics and how they worked. And all of it was integrated into the story without the clumsy info dumps or convoluted explanations we’ve come to know and loathe. Each of them adds a new dimension to the world and the story and kept me curious throughout.

I do hope we see more development with the weres because I feel we’ve only touched the surface and focused far more on the werewolves than the werecats. I also can’t wait to see more of the legal and political situation as vampires and weres continue to hold themselves outside of human laws, like a foreign country almost.

Face Off: Supernatural Creatures!

Though urban fantasy involves various supernatural characters the ones we see most often are vampires, were creatures, fae, zombies.  Some would probably argue for the inclusion of ghosts but I believe that traditionally they belong in the horror genre.  Each supernatural creature has a long mythos, with some evolving as they become more popular.


What we recognise today as a vampire is far removed from the original vampire.  When they are not filled with emo, falling in love with teenage girls, and sparkling (note: I’ll never forgive Stephanie Meyer for this)  The original vampires were more like pale bloated leeches than the stunningly attractive blood drinker that they have morphed in. Today, no one would accept Bela Lugosi as a vampire, in fact I am pretty sure that Damon Salvatore would attempt to glare him out of existence, while Edward ran around throwing sparkles on him.

Vampires far outnumber any other supernatural in urban fantasy. Part of their allure has always been the prospect of eternity or at the very least longevity beyond the human lifespan.  Today, much of their violence is romanticized and vampires are often seen as tragic heroes.  The longevity that they are admired for, ironically is usually the cause of their suffering.  The world moves on, it changes and it involves, but the vampire does not.  Who they are when they died is who they remain.  


There are a myriad of sources for the various shapeshifter myths so it’s hard to say how far they have changed. From the cursed monster on the full moon, to the shifter that uses a token to change, to ancestral defenders - every land has a shapeshifter myth. It’s hard to say how far they have come from their origin - most of the genre started with werewolves but quickly branched out to the whole world’s myths (and more exotic creatures than boring old puppy dogs) - but unlike vampires, werecreatures have largely escaped the mustiness and don’t seem to spend their lives chasing teen-aged girls. This is a major asset in the werecreature’s corner as the Musty Vampire becomes an almost required element of vampire stories.

The Walking Dead, Season Two, Episode 13: Beside the Dying Fire

This episode opens with walkers leaving the city in what an only be described as a herd, to head towards Hershel's farm. They stop when they hear a gunshot and start moving towards Rick and Carl. Daryl returns to the farm and tells the rest of them that they found Randal and that he had become a walker.  Daryl tells them that Shane and Randal's footprints were right on top of each, and that means that they were together. Since Shane was most certainly not a tracker, this means that Shane killed Randal.

As Carl asks Rick how Shane died, Rick turns his head when he hears the walkers.  The two of them make a run for the barn.  Inside, Hershel demands that they cut the lights, as Daryl points out that a herd that size will take the house done.  Maggie and Hershel start loading weapons, and he says, "this is my farm, I'll die here." Daryl expresses surprise at the way that Maggie handles a gun, but she reminds him that she grew up on a farm.  It was brief moment, but it was still nice to see a woman behave in a competent manner.

Inside, Lori finally notices that Carl is missing.  You would think that living through a zombie apocalypse would be enough to make one keep a close eye on one's child.  Carl and Rick climb up into the rafters and then drop a lighter, setting the zombies on fire.  Outside, the others get into their vehicles and drive around killing as many walkers as they can.  Even on fire, the zombies continue to try and climb the steps.

The fire is working to distract the zombies, but when Jamie drives over to help Rick and Carl off the roof, he is bitten and eaten alive. Carl and Rick run into the woods, as Carol and Lori panic about not being able to find Carl.   Hershel is standing on the lawn empting his rifle and he ignores Lori as she tells him that it is time to go.  The  others jump into vehicles to escape, and it is only when Rick shoots a walker intent devouring Hershel, that he is finally convinced to give up his farm.  In the process, Andrea and Carol are left behind, but fortunately for Carol, Daryl waited on the sidelines until he could pick her up. To be honest, I was absolutely shocked to see Hershel live through this season.

Maggie and Glenn are driving away from the farm, and Maggie is clearly freaking out.  She keeps talking about wanting to return to the farm to look for survivors, but Glenn assures her that there is nothing to go back for.  Part of the reason this is so overwhelming for Maggie, is because this is the first time she has seen how bad this new world is.  Glenn tells her that he loves her, and that he should have said it a long time ago.