Dubrovnik: A Tour of King’s Landing (and other locations)

When I visited the medieval walled city of Dubrovnik, Croatia in November of 2011, I had no idea that one of my favorite television shows, Game of Thrones, had just recently finished filming its second season there. When the season premiere aired four months later, I realized that Dubrovnik had been used to depict King’s Landing (though I also recognized a few other parts of the city in other scenes, such as those in Qarth).

The strange sensation of seeing the city walls I had so recently walked and photographed being used to represent this fantasy world led to some occasional difficulty suspending disbelief, but I nevertheless thought it was quite cool to have actually stood in the same locations as the characters in the show.

I will write much more about my visit to the magnificent city of Dubrovnik in my travelogue, but for now I thought I would just share some of my photos that match up with locations from the television series (based on my foggy memory from seeing Season 2 nearly a year ago).  Very minor spoilers ahead for those who haven’t watched the second season . . .

A CGI-enhanced version of this city line stands in for King’s Landing in the show.
The island in the background was used for some of the scenes with Daenerys in Qarth.
Streets of Dubrovnik, err, I mean King’s Landing.
This area was used for some external King’s Landing scenes.
The tower to the right was used to depict the
outside of the House of the Undying in Qarth.
Daenerys walked along this area before entering.
You can see why Dubrovnik makes such a perfect shooting location for a fantasy show.
Many scenes were filmed along these walls that surround the entire city.
This angle is similar to one used in the show, with
a CGI-enhanced version of the fort in the background.
The fort itself was heavily used for King’s Landing exterior scenes.
These hobbit-like doors built into the hill underneath the fort were featured during
the montage in which Joffrey had all of King Robert’s bastard sons murdered.
The interior of the fort was used for several scenes in and around the castle.
Another interior fort shot. Cersei and Littlefinger had a conversation in this hall.
This fort courtyard was frequently used.
This upper level of the fort was one of the main exterior filming locations for King’s Landing.
The fact that the background is all water and sky probably made the fort the easiest
location to use in terms of not needing to hide a bunch of stuff or crop it out with CGI.
A closer look at the island that stood in for Qarth (i.e., the Daenerys scenes).
The area among the trees down by the water was also used for a few King’s Landing scenes.

I’m sure there were several other areas used for filming that I’m not recalling at the moment, but I don’t feel like re-watching the entire season right now to find them :-), so I’ll just leave you with one final long-exposure night shot that feels a bit like a fantasy photo with the smoothness of the water:

See more photos from Dubrovnik

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Oh No, Not Another Year-End Countdown…

It’s the time of year when entertainment writers around the country begin publishing their “best of” lists for the year, so I’ve decided to throw my hat into the ring with a list of my favorite new shows of 2010.  Notice that I say “favorite” rather than “best of.”  I cannot do a proper “best of” list without having seen every single new show that debuted in 2010, so if one of your favorite new shows is not on this list, chances are that I haven’t seen it.

There are a few interesting things to note about this list, not the least of which is that three of my top five shows (Caprica, Rubicon, Terriers) have already been canceled, while a fourth (The Event) probably won’t make it to a second season, a trend that does not bode well for quality programming on television.  Another thing that stands out about this list is that only two of the shows are on network television (and only one on a “big-three” network), a testament to the fact that most of the best TV can now be found on cable channels like AMC, FX, and USA.

A few other interesting tidbits: only half of these shows debuted in the fall, none of them are sitcoms (unless you count Ugly Americans), and none of them are reality shows (you will never find a reality show in any “best of” list of mine, but that’s a story for another article).
So, without further ado, here are my ten favorite new shows of the year.  In parentheses are the time of year they debuted and the channel where you can find them.

10.  Ugly Americans (Spring, Comedy Central)
This half-hour cartoon fits right in with Comedy Central’s late night lineup.  The premise of the show is an alternate New York where monsters are integrated into society.  The main character, Mark, works for the Department of Integration as a support group counselor for monsters, has a zombie roommate who often winds up losing parts of his body, and a half-demon girlfriend with a tendency to flip out, hell-style.  Though the gags can be hit or miss, the hits are often hysterical, and the Manbird episode was one of the funniest things I’ve seen this year.

9.  Covert Affairs (Summer, USA)
The first of two spy dramas on the list, this started out as one of those guilty pleasure shows that got better with each episode.  I almost didn’t watch it because early reviews tagged it as a pale imitation of Alias (one of my favorite shows).  This show is definitely not on an Alias level, but it is more grounded in reality (i.e. no Rambaldi mythology), so it has been able to carve its own niche.  The always watchable Piper Perabo is surrounded by a strong supporting cast, making this a good hour of escapist entertainment.

8.  Nikita (Fall, WB)
The other spy show on my list could have gone wrong in so many ways trying to build another series around the classic La Femme Nikita, but rather than retreading or rebooting the film, the creators chose to set the series after the events of the film with a little twist: Nikita’s lover was murdered by Division and she has made it her life’s work to bring them down.  To help her, she has placed a mole inside Division as a recruit, enabling her to stay a step ahead of the organization in a weekly game of cat and mouse.  This series is a little weightier than Covert Affairs (a significant death has already occurred), and a strong cast led by Maggie Q make this a solid hour of television.

7.  The Event (Fall, NBC)
The Event is one of those mythology shows that require you to pay attention on a weekly basis, ala Lost or Fringe.  While not in the same league as those two stellar shows, it nevertheless succeeds in pulling you into the story and making you wonder about the nature of the “guests.”  Are they aliens?  Time travelers?  Something else?  Who are the people behind the attempt to kill the president and why?  Unfortunately, NBC has done the show no favors by placing it on a long winter hiatus—this is normally a death sentence for a serialized drama (i.e. Jericho, Flash Forward) because many viewers never return.  I have a feeling that the run of episodes scheduled to air in late February will be the show’s last.

6.  Justified (Spring, FX)
This series was made for Timothy Olyphant.  If you were one of the many to lament the loss of his Seth Bullock character when Deadwood was canceled, this is the show for you.  Olyphant’s Raylan Givens is arguably the most bad-ass character on television.  The series is essentially a modern day western set in Kentucky.  Raylan is a U.S. Marshal reassigned from Miami to the district covering his hometown due to what his bosses believe is a tendency to be quick on the trigger.  Back in his hometown, Raylan must deal not only with criminals, but also with his estranged ex-con father, his ex-wife, and a witness with whom he begins an affair.  The best relationship, however, is between Raylan and Boyd Crowder (played by the excellent Walton Goggins), a childhood friend who grew up to be a criminal.  Their confrontation in the series premiere has consequences that last throughout the first season.  The second season begins in January; you should check it out.

5.  Caprica (Winter, Syfy)
This Battlestar Galactica (BSG) spinoff was a victim of Syfy’s seemingly decreasing tolerance for serialized science fiction (see Stargate Universe, the latest casualty of this unfortunate trend) in favor of lighter fare like Eureka and Warehouse 13.  Don’t get me wrong, both of the latter are very enjoyable shows, but I prefer some weight to my sci-fi, and Caprica delivered the goods.  Admittedly, the series started off slow and likely alienated many BSG fans expecting something more action-oriented, but, much like a Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams series, it got better as it progressed and rewarded viewers who stuck around.  Caprica explored weighty subjects like religious fanaticism, terrorism, racism, coping with tragic loss, and the dehumanization of a technologically advanced society, not to mention depicting the origin of cylons and laying the seeds for the eventual downfall of humanity.  One of the coolest scenes happened late in the series when a prototype cylon was used by a mobster to annihilate his enemies before uttering the familiar phrase, “By your command,” in the well-known cylon voice from the original series.  The show would likely have gotten even better from there as it moved closer to the rise of the cylons, but alas, we’ll never know.  Fortunately, Syfy will be burning off the remaining five unaired episodes in a marathon on January 4th.  I, for one, will be watching.  Even knowing that the series is not coming back, it will be worth it.

4.  Rubicon (Summer, AMC)
Rubicon was one of the more cerebral shows that I’ve seen on television, with a dense, labyrinthine plot—a thinking man’s drama about an analyst for a government think tank who uncovers a vast conspiracy during his investigation into a mentor’s death.  Unfortunately, in this age of instant gratification television, Rubicon may have been too smart for its own good.  It was the type of series that, had you missed an episode, it would have been very difficult to figure out what was going on.  It was also largely devoid of action, which turned off many viewers (the lack of promotion by AMC in comparison to its other shows didn’t help, either).  Rubicon may have been mostly dialogue-oriented, but that just served to make the few scenes of action more fierce and jarring than they otherwise would have been.  This show made many critics’ year-end top-ten lists, and rightly so.

3.  The Walking Dead (Fall, FX)
This has the potential to be the best show on television.  The main reason it didn’t rank higher for me was the small sample (only six episodes in the first season).  However, The Walking Dead provided more quality television in those six episodes than most shows accomplish in a year.  I was originally just moderately intrigued when I first heard about the series, but when I discovered that Frank Darabont (The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile) was heavily involved (writing and directing the first episode), I became very excited to see it—and it more than lived up to the hype.  If you haven’t watched it because you’re not a big zombie fan, I urge you to give it a shot.  It’s really more of a morality/survival drama that just happens to have zombies in it.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of gore in keeping with the zombie genre (the episode titled “Guts” is … well, it’s in the title), but overall the show is about the relationships and conflicts among a group of people who have survived an apocalypse, and the choices they must make to stay alive.  Television doesn’t get much better than this.

2.  Terriers (Fall, FX)
Terriers was the most pleasant surprise (and most disappointing cancellation) of the entire year.  This unheralded show quickly became must-see TV (for me and the other two people in the country who watched it).  Normally when a series this great fails, I’m quick to blame reality television and the short attention span of the average American TV viewer, but in this case the show’s failure can be attributed to poor marketing and an unfortunate title that didn’t give viewers any idea of what the show was about (hint: it was not about dogs).  I almost didn’t tune in myself because the ads made it appear to be just another throwaway buddy detective romp, but I decided to give it a shot because I like Donal Logue.  I’m glad I did because this show turned out to be so much more than its billing.  Far from the lightweight buddy comedy it was sold as, Terriers (with its gritty realism) was actually more akin to the great noir films of cinema. The entire season with its main story arc and numerous subplots played like a novel with well-drawn characters who you actually cared about.  A stellar cast and superb writing set this series above almost anything else on television.  Mystery, crime, romance, family drama, comic relief, heartbreak, shocking deaths—this show had it all, and it’s a tragedy that it never found an audience.  I saw several columns written by critics throughout the season singing the show’s praises and urging people to tune in—if only FX had been half as enthusiastic in its own promotion of the show, perhaps it would still be on the air. Like Rubicon, Terriers made many critics’ top-ten lists for the year (noticing a pattern here?), and I even saw one critic rank it as the best new show of the year.  I was tempted to put it in the top spot myself, that’s how much I loved this show.

1.  Boardwalk Empire (Fall, HBO)
With top-notch production values (including dazzling sets that faithfully recreate 1920’s Atlantic City), great writing, and a stellar cast, Boardwalk Empire is like watching a mini motion picture on a weekly basis, but I would expect nothing less from the legendary Martin Scorcese (who directed the opening episode and remains heavily involved in the production of the series).  Steve Buscemi is great as Nucky Thompson, the crime boss who runs Atlantic City, while a zealous treasury agent, played with brilliant creepiness by Michael Shannon, attempts to bring him down.  What’s great about the show is that it doesn’t just focus on Atlantic City; we also get to visit Chicago, where a young Al Capone interns under Johnny Torrio, and New York, where Arnold Rothstein (performed with great malevolence by Michale Stuhlbarg), runs things while mentoring the likes of Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky, two young gangsters who will one day run the most powerful organized crime organization in the country.  While not quite on the level of The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire is nevertheless the best new show on television, and a welcome return of the gangster genre to the small screen.

Honorable Mention: Futurama (Summer, Cartoon Network)
I know what you’re thinking: “This isn’t a new show!”  Technically that’s correct, but Futurama deserves special recognition since this was its first new season in seven years.  Not only did the writers not miss a beat, but I think the show is actually better than it was during its initial run.

Well, that’s it for 2010.  Here’s hoping that the best new shows in 2011 actually survive past a first season.  Until then, have fun ringing in the new year, which I’ll be spending the same way I always do: sitting on the couch and watching the Twilight Zone marathon (though I may check in on the Buffy and Honeymooners marathons as well).

Happy New Year!

My Review of the Lost Finale (spoiler alert)

Okay, first things first: they did not die on the plane. The island was real, the people were real, and everything that happened to them was real, as Jack’s father explained at the end. The sideways universe was a purgatory type of place where they needed to remember their lives and the people they cared about before they could move on to whatever awaited them on the other side, be it heaven, nirvana, or some other type of eternal paradise. Such an afterlife journey is a common theme in many religions. As for the island, its purpose was hinted at but never really explained–it was left open to interpretation, in much the same way as the monoliths were never explained in “2001.” I’m okay with this; I don’t need everything spelled out for me.

Was the ending perfect? No, but endings rarely are. Anyone who has ever created a story knows that the ending is the hardest part to write–ask Stephen King, a great writer whose endings often come under criticism. I think Lost pulled a bit of a fast one by implying that the sideways world was an alternate reality created by the bomb explosion, especially when Juliette told Sawyer that it had worked right before she died, and there were minor loose threads that weren’t tied up and certain characters who deserved better fates (i.e. Michael, who is doomed to spend eternity as a whispering spirit on the island, but whose crimes weren’t nearly as bad as Ben’s), but these are minor quibbles in a show of such epic scope.

Lost was about many things: science vs. faith, good vs. evil, time travel, redemption, etc., but ultimately, Lost was about the characters, their journeys, and their relationships with each other. In the end, all you really want is a conclusion that does justice to the characters with whom you invested six years of your life. In this regard, the ending was perfectly satisfying and poignant on a metaphysical level. These people, who only spent a few months of their lives together, found the experience and the relationships they cultivated so profound that they chose to spend eternity together. I can’t imagine anyone who watched the show from the beginning not to have been moved by this, as well as all of the little moments leading up to it as each character in turn remembered what they had forgotten, as long lost couples and old friends reunited, Ben’s moments with Locke and Hurley and his decision stay behind because he apparently felt unworthy to join them, Jack’s conversation with his father, the show coming full circle as Jack lay down to die in the same location in which we had first met him six years ago, the joy in his eyes as he watched his friends escape on the plane, Vincent the dog lying down beside him so he didn’t have to die alone, the final closeup of his eye closing–and most importantly the performances by the stellar cast in all of these moments.

Lost was one of the most popular and critically acclaimed shows in television history for a reason–it was that good, that unique. The writing was top-notch and the acting was superb. Kudos to the show’s creators for deciding midway through its run that it would have a definite end date, so as not to overstay its welcome. Most shows have that jump-the-shark moment, a sign that its best days are behind it, that the creative well has run dry. That never happened with this show. Sure, there may have been a few scattered weak episodes, but overall it remained compelling from beginning to end. If you missed it, you missed out. If you chose not to watch it because you’re one of those people who automatically hates anything that’s popular, well that’s your loss. But it’s not too late–thanks to DVDs, you can still experience one of the greatest shows of all time. The ending may not have been to everyone’s satisfaction, but the journey is often as important (or more important) than the destination, and I, for one, am glad to have taken the ride.