Sunday, 30 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 21-22

 What can go wrong?

A21: The Quality of Mercy
Airdates: 17 August 1994 (US), 26 September 1994 (UK)
Working Title: The Resurrectionist
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Lorraine Senna Ferrara
Cast: Dr. Laura Rosen (June Lockhart), Janice Rosen (Kate McNeil), Karl Mueller (Mark Rolston), Centauri Minister (Damian London), Ombuds Wellington (Jim Norton), Rose (Lynn Anderson), Lurker (Phillippe Bergeron), Guard 1 (Kevin McBride), Guard 2 (David Crowley), Young Woman (Constance Zimmer)

Plot:    A psychotic serial-killer, Karl Mueller, is arrested on Babylon 5 and sentenced to the 23rd Century’s equivalent of the death penalty, the death of personality. He will be mind-wiped and programmed with a new, productive personality. Talia Winters has to scan his mind prior to the mindwipe, but is horrified to see that he has killed far more than the few people he was arrested for murdering. Unfortunately, her evidence is inadmissible in court. Later, Mueller escapes and goes on the run in Downbelow.

Dr. Franklin opens a free clinic treating the "lurkers" in Downbelow who can't afford to attend Medlab and receives some assistance from Ivanova. Franklin is mystified by his lack of patients and discovers another doctor, Laura Rosen, and her daughter Janice are treating the sick and needy. Laura used to be a respected doctor on Earth, but left after being diagnosed with terminal Lake’s Syndrome. Laura is using an alien device to heal the sick on the station. After initial scepticism Franklin is amazed by the powers of the machine, but is concerned that it seems to be draining Laura’s lifeforce at the expense of replenishing others’. Mueller, wounded by a gunshot, takes Laura hostage and forces her to use the machine to heal him, but she reverses it and drains his lifeforce entirely, curing her Lake’s Syndrome.

Londo is feeling bored and offers to show Lennier the "real" Babylon 5. He learns that Lennier has an awesome gift for determining statistical possibilities and puts this to use by employing him as an assistant whilst playing at cards. When Londo gets a duff hand, he decides to cheat by using a previously unknown tentacle-like appendage to grab cards out of the deck. When his trickery is discovered a huge fight breaks out, but luckily Lennier is trained in advanced martial arts and holds off the assailants. Because they are both covered by diplomatic immunity, Sinclair cannot charge them with causing the fray in Downbelow, but does manage to get them to pay for the damage. Lennier takes the bulk of the blame for Londo and Londo is in his debt. Londo tells him what purpose the tentacle serves and Lennier decides never to mention this again to anyone, even taking a solemn oath not to do so.

Laura leaves Babylon 5 to return to Earth and resume her medical career, whilst the alien healing device is turned over to Franklin for study.


Batman: Arkham Knight

The Joker is dead and Gotham City has been enjoying a relative period of peace. Despite this, Batman is troubled. On Halloween these fears are confirmed when Scarecrow attacks the city with a deadly fear toxin. The city is evacuated, leaving behind predatory gangs, several of Batman's greatest enemies (including Penguin, Two-Face and Riddler) and a new threat, an army of soldiers backed up by drone tanks led by the enigmatic "Arkham Knight". Batman once again has to go into battle against his enemies...but this time has some help.

The Batman mythos have always been well-suited for a video game. Batman does not kill his enemies, meaning that more inventive solutions have to be found to defeat enemies, and he has a very large array of gadgets, locations and storylines to draw upon. It wasn't until the relatively unknown British studio Rocksteady released Arkham Asylum (2009) that a video game finally nailed the Batman character and mythos really successfully. The game featured a mixture of puzzle-solving, visceral combat and characterisation that worked very well. Arkham City (2011) and Arkham Origins (2013, developed by another team) expanded on these gameplay and plot elements and were even more successful, although they arguably lacked the focus of the original title.

Arkham Knight is Rocksteady's final game in the Arkham series. Whilst previous games were set in tighter, more constrained areas, Arkham Knight opens up most of Gotham City to explore. The game world is five times the size of Arkham City and Batman now has the use of the Batmobile to get around the city, in addition to his normal methods of running, flying (with his aerial cape) and grappling. As well as a central storyline exploring the state of Batman's psyche after the death of his nemesis and the war against both Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight, there are a lot of side-missions, some of them unfolding into elaborate storylines by themselves. There's also the regular array of Riddler mini-missions, lots of cuts scenes and an in-game codex explaining the backstory of the various characters that non-comics readers may not have met before.

Veterans of the series will not find much here that they haven't encountered before. Batman has an array of fighting moves and gadgets that he can upgrade as the game proceeds, and has to pummel a pretty ridiculous number of bad guys into the ground to achieve his objectives. He also investigates crimes with a battery of CSI-style gadgets and with a number of allies, including Alfred, Oracle, Nightwing and Robin, who provide him with backup, advice and support.

It's a much busier game than any of the preceding ones, more of a true open world game with lots of things going on at once (and Alfred on hand to chide you if you neglect pressing tasks for too long) and you have to choose what you want Batman to do next. There's certainly a lot to do, and it's both the biggest and longest game in the Arkham series (a thorough playthrough will likely top 30 hours), the best-looking and, unfortunately, the most rambling.

Arkham Knight has more endings than The Return of the King. Each time the game peaks and reaches a crescendo after a massive set-piece battle or boss fight, it suddenly dissipates and a new threat rises. This happens several times in a row, adding an anti-climactic element to the game. The mystery of the Arkham Knight never really kicks in (mainly because the bad guy focus remains on Scarecrow, voiced with palpable malice by Fringe and, er, The Return of the King's John Noble) and the story goes way beyond plausibility when you have to take the Batmobile into battle for the fiftieth time against an entire division of robot tanks. Whilst it's great that the game draws on most of Batman's rogue's gallery to present a real threat to the Caped Crusader, there's also the Spider-Man 3 problem that there's probably too many villains: Scarecrow, Arkham Knight, Riddler, Two-Face and Penguin have a lot of time spent on them, so throwing in lesser-tier fodder like Pyg, Firefly and Deathstroke (not to mention a complex relationship with Azrael) ends up just feeling like filler.

Much has been written about the Batmobile combat sequences and I have to agree they don't really work, at least not given the ridiculous amount of time you spend fighting unmanned tanks in the Batmobile. If the combat was better, faster-flowing and more natural (like melee combat), this would be bearable but instead it's clunky and superficial. A lot of the tank battles are optional and avoidable, fortunately, but for those completionists who want to 100% the game, they're not.

Melee combat is much better, improved over previous games and is more reactive, with a lot more moves and ways of using gadgets in battle (such as using an EMP disruptor to shut down gun turrets before jumping a group of guards). The familiar rhythm of blocks, counter-attacks and punches is something that Rocksteady has perfected by this point and is a lot of fun to play. The "predator challenges", where Batman has to take out a large number of enemies from the shadows, do feel a bit less accomplished this time around, however. They mostly take place on rooftops and it's harder to get stealth take-downs, which is more challenging but also more frustrating.

One area where the game does succeed is the psychological angle. By this time it feels like anyone could sit down and write a paper on Batman's mental state, but this game takes a fresh tack by having a mental representation of the Joker appear and comment on the action. Mark Hamill returns to give his trademark brilliant vocal performance and his observations on what's going on - sometimes lampshading some of the more ridiculous moments - are often quite cutting, and add an element of humour to a game that can be quite po-faced.

By the time I finished Arkham Knight (***½) I was more than ready for the game to end. For the most part, it's a fun game to play with some great combat, dialogue and set-piece moments (Batman's assault on a pair of dirigibles may be the set-piece highlight of the game). But it lacks the much tighter focus of the previous Arkham games, the Arkham Knight is simply too boring a villain and the over reliance on repetitive Batmobile/tank battles gets wearying after a while. The game is available now on PC, PlayStation 4 (UK, USA) and X-Box One (UK, USA).

Note: on release, the PC version of the game had considerable technical problems, to the extent where the game was withdrawn from sale for several months. Playing the game in July 2017 on an nVidia 1060 with 6 GB of Video RAM, I encountered no significant technical issues.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 19-20

A19: A Voice in the Wilderness, Part 2
Airdates: 3 August 1994 (US), 12 September 1994 (UK)
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Cast: Draal (Louis Turenne), Varn (Curt Lowens), Captain Ellis Pierce (Ron Canada), Lisa Hampton (Denise Gentile), Senator Hidoshi (Aki Aleong), Captain Takarn (Michelan Sisti), Rowdy (Chip Heller), ISN Reporter (Lenore Kasdorf), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Joshua Cox)

Plot:    The EAS Hyperion, an Earthforce heavy cruiser, arrives at Babylon 5. Earthforce has been monitoring events on Epsilon III and is keen to get its hands on the alien technology contained on the planet. Captain Ellis Pierce begins recovery operations, but the defensive fire is considerably stronger than that which greeted the original trip to the planet and Pierce is forced to back down.

The alien recovered from the planet, Varn, recovers in Medlab and tells Sinclair that he is the last guardian of the Great Machine, a device built 500 years ago for unknown purposes. The Machine is powerful and cannot fall into the hands of the unworthy, but Varn is dying and can no longer maintain it. Now he has been removed, the Machine has gone into self-destruct mode and will detonate in 48 hours, taking Epsilon III and Babylon 5 with it.

Draal, following a vision of Varn, meets with him and he and Delenn agree to take him back to the planet. Londo also volunteers to accompany them as a pilot. An alien ship comes through the jumpgate, commanded by Takarn, apparently of the same race as Varn. When Takarn’s demands that the Machine be turned over to him are refused, he opens fire on both Babylon 5 and the Hyperion. As a furious space battle rages Delenn, Draal, Varn and Londo reach the Machine and Draal volunteers to take custody of it. Varn agrees and hooks him up to the system. Draal forces Sinclair and Pierce to abandon all claims to the planet and blows up Takarn’s ship when the aliens refuse to heed his words. Pierce reluctantly returns to Earth space, whilst Delenn and Londo head back to the station (leaving Varn to die on the planet). Delenn later tells Garibaldi that they avoided telling Sinclair about their plan because she knew he would volunteer to take control of the Machine...and his destiny is greater.

Garibaldi makes contact with his ex, Lise, who is wounded but not badly. He starts to wonder about getting back together again, but Lise is now married and expecting a baby. They wish each other well and part company again. The Mars Rebellion has finally been quashed and once again Earth is in control of the planet.


A History of Middle-earth Part 3: Tears Unnumbered

Part 1 can be found here.

In the Elder Days of Middle-earth, the First Age of the World, the Dark Lord Morgoth stole the Silmarils, the greatest treasure of the Noldor elves. Morgoth took shelter in his fortress of Angband in the north of Beleriand, that long-vanished land west of the Blue Mountains, and there made war upon the elves and their allies, the dwarves and the late-arriving tribes of men.

The Noldor, defying the will of the Valar, arrived in Middle-earth and defeated Morgoth's forces, laying siege to Angband for over four centuries. In the Battle of Sudden Flame Morgoth breached the siege, but found the elven forces more resilient than expected, thanks to their new human allies, and was unable to destroy his enemies.

Glaurung and Turambar, by John Howe

The Tale of Beren and Lúthien and the Quest of the Silmaril
As told previously, during the Dagor Bragollach the mighty Finrod Felagund of Nargothrond would have been slain in battle in the Pass of Sirion had not Barahir and his warriors saved him from death. In debt, Finrod gave his ring as a token of faith to Barahir and bid him and his kin to come forth to Nargothrond and seek a boon of him should it prove necessary. But Barahir and his warriors instead chose to return to Dorthonion and fought a guerrilla war against Morgoth’s troops.
In 460 ED, five years after the Bragollach, Barahir’s refuge at Tarn Aeluin was destroyed and Barahir slain. The victorious Orcs took Barahir’s possessions as trophies and made their way back towards Angband, but were waylaid by Barahir’s son, Beren, who had survived the battle. Beren slew them by night at Rivil’s Well and took the ring of Finrod Felagund back from them. For four years Beren dwelt alone in Dorthonion, waging a one-man war against the Enemy, until he was wounded and driven from the highlands. Thence he passed south and came to the Forest of Neldoreth, which according to legend was enchanted and none could pass its borders. But the Girdle of Melian parted to allow Beren access to the guarded forests of Doriath, and there he recovered. He explored the woodlands and passing south drew near to the River Esgalduin which separated the Forest of Neldoreth from the Forest of Region, where the heart of Doriath lay at Menegroth, the Thousand Caves, and then in a summer glade first beheld Lúthien, daughter of Thingol the Greycloak and Melian, dancing. Beren’s heart was lost, and they long spoke together, and she came to love him also. 
Beren and Lúthien went before Thingol and begged his leave to wed, but Thingol was wrathful that a mere mortal should ask for the hand of the daughter of the Lord of Beleriand, but Melian stayed his anger out of love for their daughter. Then Thingol softened and declared that he would allow Beren to marry Lúthien, but on one condition: the recovery of a Silmaril from the Crown of Morgoth! Lúthien’s heart was filled with despair at this, but Beren merely accepted the challenge and resolved to complete it, hopeless as it seemed.
Beren knew that to win the Silmaril he would need valiant companions and, leaving Doriath, he passed above the Falls of Sirion to Nargothrond. There he presented the ring of Finrod and asked for Finrod’s aid as a way of repaying the debt to Beren’s father. Finrod agreed and, along with ten companions, he and Beren set out for Angband. However, in the Pass of Sirion they were waylaid by Orcs and taken captive to Tol-in-Guarloth, where they were imprisoned by Sauron, Morgoth’s chief lieutenant.
By various means Lúthien learned of Beren’s capture and resolved to aid him. She passed out of Doriath and crossed the Sirion before heading north, but was waylaid by Celegorm and Curufin. Distrusting Thingol and his heirs, the Sons of Fëanor imprisoned her in Nargothrond, but Huan, the Maia-hound of Celegorm, betrayed his master and aided her escape. They passed north to Sirion and there Huan did battle with Sauron in wolf form, defeating him and driving him from the island. Lúthien threw open the pits of Tol-in-Guarloth and found Beren alive, but Finrod had perished, and this was a bitter blow to all Beleriand, for he was among the most valiant of the Noldor. When these tidings returned to Nargothrond Orodreth took up his brother’s mantle as Lord of Nargothrond, but with a heavy heart.
Beren and Lúthien returned to Doriath to recover from their adventures. In the Forest of Brethil they were assailed by Celegorm and Curufin, but Huan drove his former master away. Back in Doriath they convalesced from battle, but the quest was not achieved, so Beren set forth once more, pursued by Lúthien and Huan. At length, they came before Angband and Lúthien enchanted all the guards, even the great wolf Carcharoth, so they might pass within unheeded. Then, far below the burning peaks of Thangorodrim, Lúthien stood before Morgoth on his throne of iron and enchanted him with a song of legendary beauty, so that the Dark Power himself eventually fell into a slumber. Then Beren cut a Silmaril from his crown, but after doing that grew greedy and tried to steal the others. At this Morgoth stirred and Beren and Lúthien were forced to flee. At the gate they were set upon by Carcharoth, who bit off Beren’s hand and the Silmaril held in it, but the purity of the Silmaril burned the wolf’s stomach and he fled, maddened by the jewel. Beren nearly died, but Thorondor, King of Eagles, arrived and rescued the heroes, returning them to Doriath. There Thingol, whose normal implacability had softened at Beren’s valour, ruled that although Beren had not recovered a Silmaril, he had denied it to Morgoth, and thus allowed him to marry Lúthien.
But then the wolf Carcharoth assaulted Doriath and the Girdle of Melian could not hold it at bay, for it was protected by the power of the Silmaril, and even Melian’s enchantment failed before the craft of Fëanor. Beren and Huan led a great hunt against the wolf, and at the end it was killed, but both Beren and Huan died in the battle ere the wolf’s great belly was slit open and the Silmaril recovered. Lúthien mourned greatly and in grief her spirit left her body and sought the way to Valinor. There she stood in the Halls of Mandos and bargained with the Vala Mandos himself, offering her immortality in return for Beren’s life. Mandos, for the first and only time in the history of the Earth, was moved by Lúthien’s words and returned both Lúthien and Beren to life. They lived as mortals and removed themselves to Tol Galen in the midst of the River Adurant in Ossiriand, where they bore a son, Dior. But the Silmaril passed to Thingol as promised by Beren, and the fate of those elves who would marry a mortal was set, for to live in peace the elves had to give up their immortality. Only twice more in history would this occur.
Beren and Lúthien, by Alan Lee.

The Battle of Unnumbered Tears
In 473 ED Maedhros, eldest son of Fëanor, summoned a council of war and spoke before the assembled leaders of men and elves and even the dwarves, who troubled themselves with the affairs of Beleriand only rarely. Maedhros had been inspired by the deeds of Beren and Lúthien, but was troubled by Thingol’s refusal to give up the Silmaril that had been won from the Crown of Morgoth. Thus, Maedhros decided that the elves must recover the other two jewels lest civil war erupt between the Noldor and their Sindarin cousins. Maedhros proposed a bold plan to drive the legions of the Enemy from Dorthonion, Tol-in-Guarloth, the slopes of Hithlum and the plains of Lothlann. This required the use of two armies, one in the east and one in the west, one to shatter the enemy’s forces and the other to catch any reinforcements by surprise. Maedhros’ plan was only possible because large numbers of men had crossed the Ered Luin in the eighteen years since the Bragollach and bolstered the armies of the elves. Neither the elves or the Edain wholly trusted these ‘Easterlings’, but had no choice but to use them.
The two armies took shape. In the east were the elves and men of Himring, under Maedhros; elves and men of Amon Ereb, under Caranthir and Uldor the Easterling; and the dwarves of Nogrod, Belegost and, some say, even some from distant Khazad-dûm, who gathered at Mount Dolmed on the edge of Ered Luin. In the west were elves and men of Hithlum, under Fingon, Húrin and Huor; elves of the Falas under Círdan and Gil-galad; men of Brethil; a small company of elves from Nargothrond, commanded by Gwindor; and a vast host from Gondolin, led by Turgon. The latter army of the west was many times larger than the east, at least twenty thousand strong, but since it was tasked with taking Angband, its vast size was necessary.
Unfortunately, Morgoth had already predicted the plan. Rather than challenge the smaller eastern host, he directly assaulted the western even as it drew up in the Ered Wethrin. Most of Fingon’s troops and some of Turgon’s broke ranks and pursued the enemy when it appeared they were defeated, but the enemy turned and surrounded them. This force, led by Gwindor, broke through to Angband, but was slain within the gates of the fortress (although Gwindor escaped back to the south). Then the rest of Morgoth’s host assaulted the western army, driving it in great disarray from Ang-fauglith (the choking wasteland where Ard-galen once lay). The men of Brethil fell holding the rear, but the rest of the army escaped thanks to reinforcements from Gondolin.
Upon hearing of the opening of hostilities Maedhros led his troops towards the enemy, but Uldor, commander of the Easterlings who made up part of the eastern host, proved false and attacked the main bulk of the army. Simultaneously, other Easterlings loyal to Morgoth attacked the host from the highlands of Dorthonion and the slopes of the Ered Luin, though most of these were in turn surprised and destroyed by the dwarves of Belegost. Maedhros extracted his army, slaughtering most of the traitors, but he had suffered heavy losses. When Glaurung and Gothmog led an army of balrogs and dragons on their position, Maedhros was forced to retreat past Himring into Thargelion. Even there the elves’ position was untenable and they were forced to retreat even further, back into Ossiriand.
Now the western host continued its slow retreat into West Beleriand. The host from Gondolin fell back to the Hidden City itself, whilst the few survivors from Nargothrond returned home as well, although Orodreth had wisely kept most of his strength back and thus had not endangered his fortress too much. But the remainder of the army had to fall back all the way to the Falas. The march was long, and along the way Gothmog descended with many balrogs. In pitched combat Fingon son of Fingolfin died and the High Kingship of the Noldor passed to his son Ereinion Gil-galad.
Thus ended the Nirnaeth Arnoediad, the Battle of Unnumbered Tears, in which the elves’ attempt to reverse the defeats of the preceding decades was lost and all of Dorthonion, Hithlum, Thargelion, Himring and Lothlann fell to the enemy. From here Morgoth’s troops could invade directly into West and East Beleriand. The position of all in Beleriand, it seemed, was hopeless.

The Children of Húrin, by Alan Lee

The Tale of Túrin and Nienor and the Fall of Nargothrond
During the Nirnaeth Arnoediad it came to pass that Húrin was captured and brought before Morgoth, who desired to know the location of Gondolin. Húrin refused to disclose it and was tortured greatly, but Húrin remained defiant. In a fury Morgoth cursed Húrin and all his family, and soon the curse was to come true.
Now, Húrin’s wife Morwen lived in peace with their son Túrin, but she feared for Túrin’s safety in Dor-lómin after all of Hithlum was occupied by Easterling warriors loyal to Morgoth. Thus, Túrin departed and went south and east to Doriath, where he was given shelter by Thingol. Morwen gave birth to her and Húrin’s daughter Nienor shortly afterwards, and faced a hard struggle in the lands occupied by the Enemy.
In Doriath Túrin grew into a mighty warrior, but twelve years after his arrival he accidentally killed the jealous elven lord, Saeros. Fearing punishment, Túrin fled Doriath and established a band of warriors waging a guerrila war against Morgoth’s troops, first in the woods above the River Teiaglin, then around Amon Rûdh near the Forest of Brethil. In 487 ED the outlaw band was destroyed and Túrin captured, but he escaped and met Gwindor, who had also long been a prisoner of Morgoth since the Nirnaeth Arnoediad. Gwindor agreed to lead Túrin back to Nargothrond, and there Orodreth made Túrin a captain of his realm. Túrin led the army of Nargothrond forth and in a great campaign freed West Beleriand from the Enemy. Reinforcements were summoned from Hithlum to deal with this new threat to Morgoth’s power, and in the confusion Morwen and Nienor were able to escape to Doriath. Learning that Túrin had passed on from the forest, they pursued all rumour of him.
Meanwhile, Glaurung the Golden was tasked by Morgoth with the destruction of Nargothrond. Glaurung used many means to track down Túrin and through him learned of Nargothrond’s location, sacking and destroying it in 496 ED. Túrin escaped into the Forest of Brethil and there made alliance with the race of men known as the Haladim, becoming a great leader among them.
Morwen and Nienor were separated on the road and Nienor came alone to Amon Ethir, overlooking the smouldering remnants of Nargothrond. There she was bewitched and cursed with forgetfulness by Glaurung. Then she wandered in a daze, but was found by men of Brethil and taken to Ephel Brandir, where she took the name Níniel. Túrin met her and they fell in love and married, but then Glaurung came forth again to lay waste to the area. Túrin met the dragon in combat and gave it a mortal wound, but was injured himself. Níniel came upon the scene and Glaurung maliciously revealed the truth of their parentage. Despairing, Nienor cast herself into the River Teiglin and Túrin, awakening from his injuries, fell upon his own sword upon learning the truth.
Well pleased, Morgoth released Húrin from bondage. The aged warrior, making his way through Beleriand, tried to find Gondolin, but could not (though he unknowingly led the spies of Morgoth to the conclusion that the Hidden City lay in the south-west of Dorthonion), but in time came to the cliffside where Túrin and Nienor had perished. There he met his wife of old, Morwen, once more and they were together briefly before she died of grief. Húrin built a great cairn for her and in years ever after that hillside endured no matter the fate of the rest of Beleriand.

Parts 4-7 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy and History of Middle-earth series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 17-18

A17: Legacies
Airdates: 20 July 1994 (US), 29 August 1994 (UK)
Written by D.C. Fontana
Directed by Bruce Seth Green
Cast: Alyt Neroon (John Vickey), Alisa Beldon (Grace Una), Security Man (Richard Henry), Cart Owner (Patrick O’Brien), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Joshua Cox)

Plot:    The Minbari warcruiser Ingata arrives at Babylon 5, but immediately opens its gunports. A tense stand-off ensues until Delenn arrives in Command & Control and points out that the cruiser’s targeting systems are not active. The Minbari warrior caste believe that displaying one’s weapons to a potential enemy or ally is a sign of openness and respect, and cannot comprehend why other species see it as a threatening gesture. The captain of the Ingata, the great warrior-general Branmer, has died and his body is being displayed at every Minbari colony en route back to Minbar where he will be interred with full military honours. The Minbari populace of Babylon 5 is the latest group to see the body. Delenn is annoyed by the tradition: Branmer was a great warrior, but only joined the warrior caste during the Earth-Minbari War. Before that he was a great healer and holy man, a member of the religious caste. His own wish was for a simple ceremony, but his executive officer, Alyt Neroon, is determined to see him honoured with a full military spectacle.

A young girl, Alisa Beldon, is thieving in the Zocalo when she suddenly passes out, generating a massive psychic blast as she does so. Talia Winters senses her pain and has her rushed to Medlab. Alisa is a latent telepath whose powers have just manifested. Talia is keen to have her shipped off to Earth to join Psi Corps as soon as possible, but Ivanova intervenes. It may be Earth law that human telepaths have to join Psi Corps, but there are loopholes in the law, mainly that if an alien government adopted her as one of their citizens, Psi Corps would have no hold over her. Talia is angry that Ivanova is trying to interfere in something that has nothing to do with her, but Ivanova is determined that Alisa will not suffer the same fate as her mother. The Narn make an impressive offer of money and luxuries in return for Alisa working for them and donating genetic material so the Narns might be able to breed their own telepaths, but Alisa scans Na’Toth’s mind and learns that, whilst she would be rich, Narn is no longer a welcoming world, having become a cold and harsh place following the Centauri occupation. Few non-Narn live on their homeworld and Alisa would be quite alone.

The viewing ceremony begins, but Neroon is enraged when Branmer’s body goes missing. He threatens war against Earth if this insult is not resolved quickly, but calms down again and works with Garibaldi in tracking down the corpse. The Pak’ma’ra, noted carrion eaters, haven’t seen it and every other avenue appears to be closed.

Delenn has a meeting with Alisa, telling her that on Minbar telepaths are honoured members of society. They aren’t paid money, but are provided for by the government, free of charge. Alisa scans Delenn’s mind and learns she is telling the truth, but also that Delenn knows something about the missing body. Thanks to her Grey Council training, Delenn is able to close her mind, but too late. Alisa tells Sinclair what she saw and Sinclair angrily confronts Delenn, who confirms she has taken Branmer’s corpse and disposed of it according to his wishes for a simple ceremony. She confesses to Neroon, but uses her authority as a member of the Grey Council to ensure he accepts the situation. Sinclair surprises Neroon by offering to make a public statement of respect for Branmer, who was a canny, but never cruel enemy during the Earth-Minbari War. Neroon leaves with somewhat greater respect for humans than when he arrived. Talia doesn’t agree with her decision, but accepts it and then offers the hand of friendship again to Ivanova by offering to buy her a drink. Ivanova tentatively accepts.

Alisa leaves for Minbar. Before departing, she tells Sinclair that when she was in Delenn’s mind, Delenn was thinking of a word she quickly covered up: “chrysalis”. She leaves Sinclair to mull the word over.


Saturday, 22 July 2017


After a very lengthy spell of silence on the subject, George R.R. Martin has finally provided an update (if a short one) on two A Song of Ice and Fire projects, including The One That Everyone Wants To Know About.

Artwork by Chase Stone, from The World of Ice and Fire.

No, The Winds of Winter is not done, and George confirms that completion is still months away, finally ruling out a 2017 release date. The good news is that George thinks that a 2018 release for the book is therefore more likely, but nothing is set in stone.

Interestingly, George also provides a update on Fire and Blood, the once-mooted "GRRMarillion" which was originally planned to come after the series was completed. This book draws on over 300,000 words of new material that GRRM wrote for The World of Ice and Fire, most of which was dramatically cut down in editing for the final book. With something like 80,000 words on the Dance of Dragons alone (from which the novellas The Princes and the Queen and The Rogue Prince have been drawn), this was always going to be a hefty project and, going through it, George and his publishers realised that it was going to have to be a two-volume project, with the first volume (containing well over 100,000 words, probably closer to 200,000) already effectively complete.

As a result, Fire and Blood: Volume I, being a history of the Targaryens from Aegon the Conqueror to Aegon III the Dragonbane, will be published in late 2018 or early 2019. Fire and Blood: Volume II, which will cover the period from Aegon III to Robert's Rebellion and the death of the Mad King, will follow several years later, presumably after A Dream of Spring is completed. This possibly means that the second half of the history will be a large larger and in more detail than originally envisaged, so for those who've been beginning for a prequel story about the Rebellion, this may be the closest you'll get (I also suspect this will have to follow Spring so George can give the full, "unedited" account of the war without having to worry about any more spoilers).

GRRM concludes his update by saying that we may therefore get two new Westeros books in 2018, if things go well (or maybe none at all, if they do not).

A History of Middle-earth Part 2: The Siege of Angband

Part 1 can be found here.

The First Age of the World began with the rise of the Sun and Moon for the first time, lighting up the skies over the lands of Aman and Middle-earth, making dark creatures fear the light and tremble at the wrath of the Valar. But that wrath was stayed: the Eldar had betrayed the order of the Valar and broken their oath, so for all that the Valar wished to drive Morgoth out of Arda they were bound to stand aside. The elves who had returned to Middle-earth to make war on Morgoth - the Exiles - were on their own.
These were the Elder Days of Middle-earth, when the Great War of the Jewels raged across the western-most part of Middle-earth, that lost land beyond the Blue Mountains known as Beleriand. The First Age is counted as lasting six hundred years from the rise of the Sun to the end of the wars of Beleriand, and in that time much of the scene was set for the following millennia.
A map of Beleriand, from Karen Wynn Fonstad's definitive Atlas of Middle-earth.

The Beginning of the War of the Jewels
After dimming the lights of the Trees, Morgoth and Ungoliant fled over Helcarax­ë, coming to the northern-most regions of Beleriand. There, whilst passing over the mist-shrouded land of Hithlum and drawing near to Angband, Ungoliant turned on Morgoth, demanding recompense for her efforts, but a host of balrogs arrived from Angband and drove her into hiding. Morgoth then entered Angband in triumph. He raised the Iron Mountains above Angband and created a terrible, triple-peaked volcano named Thangorodrim which belched fire high into the skies above the mountains. Thus the elves of Beleriand were alerted to Morgoth’s return.
In the long years since the Great Journey, the Teleri elves who had remained in Middle-earth had not been idle. Elwë, founder of the kingdom of Eglador, had been acclaimed as Lord Elú Thingol Greycloak of the elves of Beleriand, and the Maia Melian was his queen. The Falas became a fortified stretch of coast defended by Círdan from his strongholds of Brithombar and Eglarest, whilst Ossiriand in the east became ever more beautiful and home to increasing numbers of other elves late-come over the mountains from Eriador. The dwarves, meanwhile, had founded the mighty fortress-mine of Khazad-dûm in the Misty Mountains, many hundreds of miles to the east of the Blue Mountains, and some of their number came west, founding Belegost and Nogrod in the Blue Mountains and another, smaller hold under Mount Dolmed on the western face of the range, from where they traded with the elves. 
But the servants of Morgoth had also not been lazy. Sauron had bred orcs uncounted in the pits below Angband and gathered to him such strength of arms as had never been seen before in Middle-earth. When the light of the Trees failed, Sauron sensed that something had changed and that before long his master would return. So it proved. After Morgoth’s arrival he decided to quickly launch an assault against the elves of Beleriand. He knew that Fëanor could not let either the theft of the Silmarils or the murder of his father – the first death of one of the Eldar by violence – pass uncounted, and wished to destroy any potential allies the Noldor would find in Middle-earth.
He did not find the elves of Beleriand unprepared, for skirmishes with the numerous orc forces had already taken place in the foothills of Dorthonion – a raised highland area in the north of Beleriand, not far from Angband – and the mountains of mist-shrouded Hithlum. Thingol had already began gathering strength of arms and sent word to Círdan of the Falas and Denethor of Ossiriand to do the same. Morgoth’s armies then marched, dividing into two great hosts. One passed through the gap between Hithlum and Dorthonion formed by the passage of the mighty River Sirion, aiming itself at the Falas, whilst the eastern army marched on Ossiriand, whilst sending skirmishers to keep Thingol bottled up in Eglador. Morgoth had not expected boldness from Thingol, believing that he would only fight if his kingdom was directly threatened. Instead, Thingol waited until Morgoth’s host had passed and then attacked from the rear, whilst Denethor led a head-on assault from Ossiriand. The eastern host, caught between two armies, was destroyed for all its vast size, although Denethor of Ossiriand was slain in combat. The few survivors retreated northwards, but were intercepted by a dwarven force on the slopes of Mount Dolmed and destroyed almost to an orc.
In the west things went better for Morgoth. With Thingol and Denethor leading the fighting in the east, it fell to Círdan and the less-populous Falas cities to resist this force. A series of guerrilla strikes delayed the advance of the host, but eventually the Falathrim had to retreat to Eglarest and Brithombar and hold them against siege.
So ended the First Battle of the War of the Jewels. The armies of Morgoth had suffered a grievous defeat in the east and failed to win an overwhelming victory in the west. Then the fleet of the Noldor sailed into the Firth of Drengist under the shadow of the mountains of Hithlum, and Fëanor son of Finwë led his people onto the shores of Middle-earth.

Gothmog confronts Fëanor at the feet of Thangorodrim during the Battle-Under-Stars. Art by CK Goksoy.

The Battle-Under-Stars
Fëanor’s troops arrayed themselves in Hithlum and prepared for battle, but Morgoth, fearing that his enemy’s strength of arms was becoming overwhelming, immediately sent his reserves into battle, attacking Fëanor’s army with what forces he had left in Angband. Fëanor shattered the attack and led his forces towards Angband. The western host besieging the Falas cities immediately turned north and hastened to crush Fëanor’s army from behind, but Celegorm, third son of Fëanor, had kept a reserve behind in Hithlum. This force descended from the mountains and destroyed the orcs as they attempted to pass through the valley of Sirion between Dorthonion and Hithlum.
Fëanor’s forces drew nigh to Angband, but, his wrath unrestrained, Fëanor outraced his troops and raced to the gates of Angband. There he was attacked by a host of balrogs led by Gothmog and, despite a valiant stand, was slain. The balrogs would have despoiled his corpse, but the forces of his sons arrived and drove them away. The gates of Angband were sealed against them and they lacked the strength for an assault, so withdrew to Hithlum to plan anew.
So ended the Dagor-nuin-Giliath, the Battle-under-Stars, the Second Battle of the War of the Jewels. Fëanor was slain, but Maedhros, his eldest son, refused to claim the High Kingship of the Noldor, ashamed of his father’s betrayal of Fingolfin. When Fingolfin’s host stepped foot on the shores of Middle-earth after the devastating crossing of Helcaraxë, Maedhros surrendered the High Kingship to his uncle and repented the betrayal of his father. Fingolfin accepted the apology and added his strength to his nephews’, thus strengthening the Noldor’s forces further, and then went forth to meet the elves of Beleriand in parley.

 The Siege of Angband, by John Howe.

The Siege of Angband
King Thingol Greycloak did not welcome the Noldor with open arms, but saw their strength as a way of containing the renewed threat of Morgoth. After forcing them to accept him as overlord of Beleriand, Thingol surrendered control of Hithlum, Dorthonion and the northern foothills of the Blue Mountains to the Noldor, placing them on the front lines whilst keeping his own strength in reserve. To protect his homeland from attack, Thingol and Melian together weaved a magical field around the forests of Neldoreth and Region, known as the Girdle of Melian. Thus Eglador became Doriath, ‘The Land of the Fence’.
Fingolfin chose to take Hithlum as his base of operations, sending his elder son Fingon to fortify Dor-lómin in the south-west and his younger son Turgon to assume control of Nevrast, the stretch of cost south-west of Dor-lómin. Turgon here based himself at the fortress of Vinyamar in the shadow of Mount Taras.
The sons of Finarfin were given control of the weakest point in the forces besieging Angband, namely the Pass of Sirion between the mountains of Hithlum and the highlands of Dorthonion. Orodreth and Finrod fortified the Pass, building the fortress of Tol Sirion (noted for its tower of Minas Tirith, a name later used in history for another great fortress) upon the island of the same name. Angrod and Aegnor fortified the north-western and northern slopes of Dorthonion, from where the fires of Thangorodrim could be seen in the distant north.
The seven sons of Fëanor held the east. Maedhros built a mighty fortress atop the tall hill of Himring, whilst Maglor’s base lay atop Mount Rerir. Caranthir assumed control of Thargelion, the land north of Ossiriand, whilst Amrod and Amras, after gaining the permission of Thingol, fortified Amon Ereb and assembled their hosts in East Beleriand behind their brothers’ forces.
The Sindar held the centre of Beleriand at Doriath, whilst the Falathrim continued to hold the coasts under Círdan’s rule. The dwarves of Belegost and Nogrod agreed to come forward to aid the elves, but kept their strength in their fortresses, keeping only a small force on Mount Dolmed to respond rapidly to an enemy attack.
Morgoth chose to remain in Angband, but in the 54th year of the siege his forces emerged and launched a direct assault on Dorthonion. In the so-called Glorious Battle the elves shattered his forces and sent them reeling back in defeat.
After some additional years both Finrod and Turgon received dreams (actually visitations from Ulmo) telling them to leave their holdfasts and build hidden refuges. Thus Turgon abandoned Vinyamar, though leaving his armour and weapons in the fortress at the dream’s direction, and led his people to a vast collapsed volcano in south-western Dorthonion known as the Echoriath, and there built the immense city of Gondolin, greatest of all cities of the Noldor upon Middle-earth. Meanwhile, Finrod descended into western Beleriand and there built the subterranean fortress of Nargothrond. He won the respect of the dwarves for his hewing of the caverns of Nargothrond and was awarded the title "Felagund", "Hewer of Stone". By the 103rd year of the First Age, both realms were complete and the siege thus strengthened.

The Coming of Men
When three centuries and more had passed since the leaguer about Angband had been set, Finrod Felagund, Lord of Nargothrond, travelled eastwards into the lands of Thargelion and Ossiriand and journeyed awhile among the green-elves. Then he met a strange people, a host of beings like and unlike elves who had descended into East Beleriand from over the Ered Luin. These were the first of the race of men to reach the north-west of Middle-earth, followers of the great chieftain Bëor the Old. Although filled with despair when he learned of their short lifespans upon Arda before they must answer the call of Mandos, Finrod nevertheless saw in them a proud and valiant people, and taught them much of war and craft. The men were amazed, for the dark-elves they had met before in the wilds of Rhovanion and Eriador were unlike this fearless warrior, blessed as one who had seen the Light of the Trees, and grew to love and respect him and his kin. In the years that followed more and more men passed over the Blue Mountains from Eriador and settled in the lands of East Beleriand, and although some such as Curufin and Celegorm mistrusted them, others like Finrod and Turgon and Maedhros saw in them a new ally in the war against the Dark Power of the North. Unbeknown to all, men were the Second Children of Ilúvatar, the second chosen race of Eru.
Bëor’s people became the First House of the Edain (Elf-friends), for they came first to Beleriand and remained true to the cause against the Enemy. They settled in Estolad, the Encampment, between the rivers Celon and Gelion, and there grew numerous and prosperous. Bëor in time passed away in the service of Finrod and his son Bregor arose to leadership of the First House, and after him came his sons Barahir and Bregolas, and of Barahir and his son Beren more is told later.
The Second House of the Edain was the race known as the Haladin, led by Marach. These people came to Beleriand soon after Bëor, and dwelt for a time in Thargelion before removing themselves over Gelion to the wide, rolling countryside south of Estolad, and there was much peace and friendship between the First and Second Houses.
The elven lords took counsel, and the Noldor agreed to take into their services all who would swear loyalty to them. Thus many of the Edain removed to Hithlum and Mithrim to serve Fingolfin himself, whilst others went to Dorthonion to serve Angrod, Aegnor and Orodreth, but Turgon, although recognising the valour of the men, did not allow any to come to Gondolin, and kept the Hidden City secret even from them. But, Finrod aside, none of the Exiles sought counsel with Thingol, whose lands the Edain passed through, and Thingol angrily rejected those Edain who would serve him, and held the Exiles responsible for the Edain’s behaviour in Beleriand.
The Haladin in time migrated west after a great battle against an orc-raid sent from the north, and after many years adopted the Forest of Brethil as their new home. Thingol was again angered, since the Forest of Brethil lay nigh on the borders of Doriath, although it was not included in the Girdle of Melian, but Finrod came forth and after much discussion obtained the grace of Thingol for the Haladin to settle there.
In time there arose a great captain of men, Hador Lórindol, a stalwart warrior and a keen slayer of Orcs. Fingolfin himself embraced him as a brother, and gave to Hador a land to dwell in within Hithlum, the great plain of Dor-lómin. There Hador raised a great host to enforce the Siege, and elves and men mingled greatly, becoming friends and allies against the darkness. In time Hador passed on and the lordship fell to his oldest son Galdor, and Galdor’s sons were Húrin and Huor, of whom more is told later in this history.
Thus the race of men joined the Siege of Angband, and the Noldor recognised them as valiant allies, but the Sindar were less convinced and Thingol and the green-elves of Ossiriand long mistrusted them.

Fingolfin confronts Morgoth during the Battle of Sudden Flame.

The Battle of Sudden Flame
The Siege of Angband endured long over four centuries and the hosts of Morgoth were ever kept at bay by the vigilance of the elves, now greatly bolstered by the arrival of the Edain. Thus reinforced, Fingolfin summoned a great counsel of men, dwarves and elves and suggested that a new assault be launched upon Angband, since now they had the numbers needed to pull down Morgoth from his iron throne and take back the Silmarils he had stolen from the Noldor, and thus vengeance could be claimed for all of those that Morgoth and his servants had slain, man and elf and dwarf alike. But the other captains did not see the need for such an attack, and indeed many had grown used to the peacefulness of the Siege and saw not the necessity for blood to be spilled whilst it endured. Indeed, only the sons and grandsons of Hador, who were closest in alliance to Fingolfin, and Angrod and Aegnor, whose lands lay within sight of blighted Thangorodrim, supported Fingolfin’s proposal, not enough to ensure victory, and the meeting came to naught.
This Morgoth studied from afar, through spies and beasts in his service, and knew then that his foes were divided, softened by the long years of peace. In the mines below Thangorodrim he had forged weapons of war and in the surrounding lands he had bred Orcs innumerable, and the great Dragons and dark Balrogs stilled heeded Morgoth’s call. Now Morgoth knew that the time had come to breach the Siege. Some suggested that if he but waited for a few more years, until his hosts were larger still, then he could have destroyed all of his enemies at one swoop, but once Morgoth had decided upon something, it could not be undone.
In the 455th year of the First Age, Morgoth unleashed his forces at the besieging armies. Channels had been cut underneath Ard-galen, the green plain which encircled Thangorodrim, and these were now filled with fire. At one fell swoop almost all of the troops on Ard-galen were incinerated. Then the Gates of Angband opened and Glaurung, Gothmog and Sauron led forth the armies of Morgoth to battle. Rather than divide their forces as before, the dark host instead marched straight into Dorthonion, catching Angrod and Aegnor’s forces before they could rally. In a week of fire and slaughter the north slope of Dorthonion was put to the flame and the fortresses there cast down and destroyed. Thus perished Angrod and Aegnor and their allies. Then the hosts of Morgoth turned east, besieged Himring where Maedhros had his fortress and destroyed Maglor’s host on the plain of Lothlann, although Maglor survived to seek shelter in Himring. Then the Orcs passed on to the slopes of Mount Rerir and shores of Lake Helevorn, scattering all before them. The Pass of Aglon was taken and Celegorm and Curufin fled to Nargothrond, and Caranthir abandoned Thargelion and fell back on Amon Ereb, where he built new defences with Amrod and Amras.
The slaughter in the north was great, but Turgon refused to risk Gondolin by leading a host forwards. However, Finrod led a great army forwards from Nargothrond and, after being joined by Celegorm and Curufin, reinforced Orodreth’s fortress at Tol Sirion to hold the Pass of Sirion against the Enemy. The battle was won, but Finrod himself was encircled and would have been slain had not Barahir grandson of Bëor come with a great host of men and relieved him. Thus Finrod was indebted to the house of Barahir.
Morgoth’s forces also attacked Hithlum, but these attacks were designed purely to contain Fingolfin’s troops and prevent him from riding to the aid of the Sons of Fëanor, and in this they succeeded, but Fingolfin himself was filled with wrath for the fall of so many of the Noldor. Enraged, he passed alone through all the armies of Morgoth and came to the Gates of Angband itself. There he challenged Morgoth to single combat even as his brother had done, but this time Morgoth accepted the call, bolstered by the victory of his forces. In his confidence Morgoth nearly perished, for Fingolfin was mighty among the Noldor and his cunning blade wounded the Dark Lord in both body and spirit, and Morgoth was horrified for this showed his powers as a Vala were fading as a result of the disfavour of Eru. But still Morgoth had many times the strength of an Elf and in the end crushed Fingolfin under his weapon Grond, the Hammer of the Underworld. Thus fell the Lord of the Noldor, but his body was not taken by the Enemy, for Thorondor Lord of Eagles came hither and seized the body in his great claws and bore him south to Gondolin, where Turgon made a great cairn for his father.
Now Fingon, eldest son of Fingolfin, became Lord of the Noldor and hard-pressed was he to re-organise the forces of the Exiles, for they had been scattered and were barely holding the line against the enemy. To safeguard his bloodline, Fingon sent his son Ereinion to join Círdan at the Havens on the south-western coast of Beleriand, though Ereinion bitterly complained. Thus it was that Ereinion met and befriended Círdan, and after many years Ereinion gained the name of Gil-galad ("Spark of Brightlight"), a name famed in legend and in song.
But the ruin of the Siege was not yet complete. Two years after the Dagor Bragollach (Battle of Sudden Flame) Sauron’s forces put Tol Sirion to siege and then stormed it, driving Orodreth and his kin back to Nargothrond, and Sauron made Tol Sirion into Tol-in-Gaurhoth (Isle of Werewolves), his own stronghold to replace Angband which he had given up to his master. Five years after this the host of Morgoth assailed Hithlum and would have taken it, but Círdan sailed up the coast to the Firth of Drengist and put ashore great strength of arms, and thus halted the onslaught and turned it back. Fingon had held Hithlum, but at great cost.
Other matters of import came to pass also in the years after the Siege. Húrin and Huor were journeying with a great party near the upper Sirion when they were assailed and almost overcome by Orcs, save that a mist arose from Sirion and covered their retreat. Then Thorondor the Eagle and his servants gathered up the party and bore them to Gondolin to recover from their wounds. Under the King’s Law none who set foot on the Hidden Way to Gondolin could leave again, but Húrin and Huor pointed out that they had come by air and knew not where Gondolin was in relation to the rest of Dorthonion. Thus they were allowed to leave again and return to their own people, but their exploits soon became legendary and even the servants of Morgoth came to hear of it. Then Morgoth bent his efforts to locating the Secret City so he could plan against it.

Parts 3-6 of the History of Middle-earth Series are available to read now on my Patreon feed as follows:

Thank you for reading The Wertzone. To help me provide better content, please consider contributing to my Patreon page and other funding methods, which will also get you exclusive content weeks before it goes live on my blogs. The Cities of Fantasy and History of Middle-earth series are debuting on my Patreon feed and you can read them there one month before being published on the Wertzone.

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 15-16

A15: Grail
Airdates: 6 July 1994 (US), 15 August 1994 (UK)
Written by Christy Marx
Directed by Richard Compton
Cast: Aldous Gajic (David Warner), Deuce (William Sanderson), Jinxo (Tom Booker), Ombuds Wellington (Jim Norton), Mirriam Runningdear (Linda Lodge), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Mr. Flinn (John Flinn), Station One (Marianne Robertson)

Plot:    Whilst Garibaldi attempts to ensure a thug and criminal in Downbelow, Deuce, is incarcerated after committing acts of murder, extortion and blackmail, Sinclair is intrigued when a “true seeker” arrives on Babylon 5. Aldous Gajic is a human from Earth, the last of an order whose objective is to locate the Holy Grail. Since Earth has pretty much been investigated in detail, Gajic now turns his attention towards space. Sinclair thinks the idea is far-fetched, but Delenn berates him for his lack of faith. The Minbari revere true seekers, those who live by pure faith alone, unencumbered by the need to know whether an event is true or not.

Meanwhile, Gajic befriends a lurker named Jinxo, who is hiding from Deuce, to whom he owes money. Jinxo is scared to leave Babylon 5, since he worked as a construction worker on the first four Babylon stations. Each time, when he went on leave, the station collapsed or exploded. Working on Babylon 4, he stayed until the station was finished. However, as his shuttle left the station upon completion, it vanished in a strange blaze of light. He now thinks some calamity will befall Babylon 5 if he ever leaves, so stays and makes a living in Downbelow.

Gajic and Ombuds Wellington, who is prosecuting Deuce, are both taken prisoner by Deuce, who plans to feed them to a creature called a Na’ka’leen Feeder he has hiding in a replica of Kosh’s encounter suit. Jinxo, Garibaldi and Sinclair intervene and Deuce is arrested. The Feeder is killed, but so is Gajic. Shortly after, Jinxo returns home to Earth. Babylon 5 remains intact.


Thursday, 20 July 2017

First previews for PACIFIC RIM: UPRISING

The first promo material has been unveiled for Pacific Rim: Uprising, the sequel to the 2013 movie where giant robots punched giant monsters in the face and was way more fun than it should have been.

Uprising is set ten years after the first movie, with Earth facing a renewed Kaiju threat. A new generation of jaegars, more powerful and capable than those in the first movie, stand ready to meet them. John Boyega (Attack the Block, the new Star Wars movies) stars as Jake Pentecost, the son of Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) from the first movie, whilst Rinko Kikuchi reprises her role as Mako Maori. Charlie Hunnam, who starred in the first movie, is not returning due to a scheduling conflict.

This sequel will also feature a more international cast, with Chinese actors Jing Tian and Zhang Jin having a large role, a nod to the first movie's enormous success in China and the involvement of a Chinese production company in co-producing the movie.

Guillermo Del Toro is still on board as a writer and producer, but Steven S. DeKnight (Daredevil, Spartacus) is directing this second movie in the series.

Pacific Rim: Uprising will be released on 23 February 2018. You can see a snazzy website with some more info on the world and characters here.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

BABYLON 5 Rewatch: Season 1, Episodes 13-14


A13: Signs and Portents
Airdates: 18 May 1994 (US), 8 August 1994 (UK)
Working Title: Raiding Party
Written by J. Michael Straczynski
Directed by Janet Greek
Cast: Lord Kiro (Gerrit Graham), Lady Ladira (Fredi Olster), Morden (Ed Wasser), Reno (Robert Silver), Ambassador Kosh (Ardwight Chamberlain), Raider (Whip Hubley), Customs Guard (Lynn Red Williams), Freighter Pilot (Hector Mercado), Man (Garry Kluger), Pilot 1 (Lee Methis), Pilot 2 (Douglas E. McCoy), Station One (Marianne Robertson), Station Two (Joshua Cox), Station Three (Anita Brabec)

Date: Wednesday 3 August 2258. It is now closer to eleven years than ten since the Battle of the Line.

Plot:    Lord Kiro and his aunt, the Lady Ladira, arrive from Centauri Prime to see Ambassador Londo Mollari. Londo has recently brokered a deal with a dubious merchant, Reno, to recover the Eye, an ancient Centauri artefact possessed by the very first Emperor of the Republic. The Eye has been lost for a century. The Centauri have paid a huge amount of money to recover the Eye and Kiro and Ladira are to take it back home. Ladira is a seer who has prescient flashes of the future, once telling Kiro that he would be killed by “shadows”. She finds Babylon 5 unnerving and keeps seeing an image of the station under attack by strange forces in the future. Kiro tells Londo that he, and many other nobles, bitterly resent the loss of the Republic’s prestige and power in the Galaxy and wonder when the Centauri lost their will to rule.

A human arrives on the station. Going only by the name Morden, he arranges meetings with Ambassadors G’Kar, Delenn and Londo. He asks each of them a simple question: “What do you want?” G’Kar tells him he wants revenge on the Centauri, to blacken their skies and burn their cities, to kill their parents whilst the children watch and to utterly destroy them, as the Centauri broke the Narn a century and a half ago. However, G’Kar’s ambitions do not extend beyond that. He has no wish to see the Narn rule other races or conquer the Galaxy. Delenn ponders Morden’s question, but suddenly the sigil of the Grey Council appears on her forehead. As she watches, Morden becomes engulfed by darkness. She throws him out of her quarters, horrified at what she has seen: “They are here.” Londo tells Morden that he, like Kiro, despairs of what the Centauri have become and wants a renaissance of power, for the Centauri to be restored to their rightful position as rulers of a huge empire. Morden seems most pleased by this answer.

Sinclair tells Garibaldi about his recent experiences with flashbacks to the Battle of the Line (episode A8). He asks Garibaldi for help and he agrees. Garibaldi quickly comes up with something odd: the Minbari Federation co-funded Babylon 5 on the condition that they could veto the Earth Alliance choice for command. They vetoed everyone but Sinclair, who was way down the list. The reason is unknown.

The Raiders are mounting a major series of attacks on cargo ships headed for the station and Sinclair is determined to wipe them out once and for all, although he is puzzled at how the Raiders are getting in and out of hyperspace so fast when their attacks are taking place hours away from the nearest jump gates. The Achilles, a cargo ship from Earth, reports an attack and Ivanova takes out Delta Wing to investigate. Sinclair notes that the Achilles is two further sectors away than the other attacks and realises it is a diversion. He recalls Delta Wing and prepares Alpha Wing for launch under Garibaldi. A Raider operative on board makes his move, taking Kiro and the Eye hostage and commandeering the Centauri vessel. Sinclair shuts down the jump gate so they can’t escape, but a Raider command carrier – large enough to generate its own jump points – jumps in and launches a large number of fighters at the station. A full-scale battle erupts, but the Raider fighters are decimated when Alpha and Delta wings catch them in a crossfire with Babylon 5’s own defence grid. The Raider carrier jumps out with Kiro and the Eye on board. On the station Morden bumps into Ambassador Kosh, who tells him in no uncertain terms that he must leave at once. The time is not yet right and the lesser races are not ready as yet. Morden doesn’t answer and Kosh becomes more insistent and threatening.

The Raider ship re-emerges in open space and Kiro congratulates the Raider captain on a job well done. However, Kiro’s plans to use the Eye as a rallying symbol to topple the Emperor are ruined when the Raiders plan to just ransom the Eye and Kiro back to the Republic for an immense profit, enough to replace their lost fighters and buy two or three more command vessels. Suddenly an immense alien ship appears out of nowhere and destroys the carrier, precisely dismantling it with massive cutting beams. Kiro and his “friends” die. Ladira feels her nephew’s death back on Babylon 5 thanks to her prescient abilities.

Londo feels dejected, thinking he will be lucky if he isn’t stripped of all rank for this fiasco. Morden appears with the Eye, telling Londo that he has associates who sometimes do him favours. Morden leaves, promising to call back one day. Ladira also takes her leave of Sinclair, but before she goes she leaves Sinclair an image of her vision, showing Babylon 5 being destroyed by unknown forces. She tells him it is only a possible future.