Friday, January 22, 2021

"Raised by Wolves" Raises the Bar

The premiere episode of "Raised by Wolves," which was directed by Ridley Scott, is one of the best pieces of high concept science-fiction media I've seen in ages.  Most of the hour follows two androids, the white-skinned, strong-willed Mother (Amanda Collin), and the dark-skinned, more good-natured Father (Abubakar Salim) as they arrive on the planet of Kepler-22b with a group of precious human embryos who they have been programmed to protect and nurture.  The youngest of the children they raise is a boy named Campion (Winta McGrath), who is roughly aged eleven by the end of the episode.

It was a canny decision by creator Aaron Guzikowski to make the androids the main characters of "Raised by Wolves."  They speak and behave in a very detached, alien way, and are able to approach all kinds of moral and philosophical quandaries with a certain analytical distance.  They have emotions, and they're very sympathetic and even lovable at times, but there's a pronounced otherness to them that the show maintains all the way through to the end.  Though the production values are wonderful, most of the effectiveness of the show comes down to the excellent performances of Collin and Salim.  Mother in particular is an instantly iconic character, merciless and rigid when it comes to fulfilling her directives, but also warm and open-hearted when she's interacting with the children.  

Little by little, more and more is revealed about the group's circumstances.  We learn that the androids left a war-torn Earth where most of humanity was destroyed.  We learn that they were sent by one group, the Atheists, and reached Kepler-22b in advance of the religious Mithraics, who worship a god called Sol, and decided to send their survivors aboard a larger, slower-moving Ark.  We learn that Mother has certain hidden capabilities that are revealed upon the arrival of the Ark, and that Kepler-22b has its own mysteries to unravel.  A second major narrative emerges involving Caleb (Travis Fimmel) and Mary (Niamh Algar), a pair of Atheist soldiers who found a way to sneak aboard the Ark in disguise.  We also follow some of the children from the Ark, including the son of the ship's captain, Paul (Felix Jamieson), and a teenage girl named Tempest (Jordan Loughran), who secretly hates the Mithraics.

As the first season rolls on, the show falls into the more typical pattern of cat-and-mouse games as the androids and the Mithraics engage in hostilities, while the kids are caught in the middle trying to sort out complicated allegiances. Some of the conceits are very old hat, like a Mithraic prophecy of a chosen one that might refer to Campion, or Paul, or Caleb.  There's a lot of business with mysterious voices and visions in the second half of the season, when the pace slows down.  I appreciate that the show aims to be respectful of religious impulses, but few of the spiritual elements in the show work very well, aside from some of the broader symbolism.  None of the Mithraic true believers are given much depth, and the Caleb storyline drags considerably.

On the other hand, "Raised by Wolves" is willing to tackle some pretty wild material that no other science fiction program has ever gotten near, and I like how it handles difficult subjects.  There's a lot of violence in this show and some sex, but little of it is graphic.  Children are constantly put in danger and die, but we never see them harmed directly.  The body horror is constant, and very tactile, but when it's happening to the androids, that softens the impact just enough.  The show is very good about showing what it needs to show, and getting the wow factor from the great effects and environments.  However, it also knows when to pull back and let the viewer's imagination fill in the blanks.  

I'll add a warning that the series looks like hard science fiction, but it's not.  As it goes on, the show becomes more fantastical, nothing about the alien planet makes any sense, and the religious allegory becomes far more pronounced.  However, I can't help but love that the show goes so big, that it's about ideas and conflicts with some real weight behind them.  "Raised by Wolves" has plenty of faults, but its operating in the realm of the old school science-fiction stories I grew up with, and have been waiting far too long to see onscreen.  So, let's see where this goes.      



Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Exploring "Lovecraft Country"

I have never seen a show like "Lovecraft Country" before.  It's a genre program that is very aware of its status as a genre program, full of the occult, ghosts, magic, demons, and time travel.  However, it is also very deliberately a story about African-Americans inhabiting roles within those genre stories that are usually reserved for white protagonists.  There's a ton of pointed commentary about the history of African-American oppression, and the show often contrasts the supernatural monsters with the even more frightening monsters of real life racism and bigotry.   

Taking place in the 1950s, we follow Tic Freeman (Jonathan Majors), recently returned to Chicago from the Korean War, his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance), and Tic's childhood friend Leti (Jurnee Smollett) as they take a cross country road trip into hostile areas where Jim Crow laws are still in effect.  They discover that Tic has a mysterious heritage connected to a group of cultists, including the sinister Christina Braithwaite (Abbey Lee) and her minion William (Jordan Patrick Smith).  This sparks a series of adventures that affect all of Tic's family and friends.  Each episode highlights different characters, including George's wife Hippolyta (Aunjanue Ellis), and daughter Diana (Jada Harris), Leti's sister Ruby (Wunmi Mosaku), Tic's long estranged father Montrose (Michael K. Williams), and Ji-Ah (Jamie Chung), a Korean nurse Tic met during the war.

There's a season-long storyline about Tic and Leti trying to learn more about magic and the Braithwaites, culminating in a big final standoff.  However, that's probably the least interesting part of the show.  "Lovecraft Country" functions as an anthology of different kinds of genre stories.  One episode features a haunted house, another is a body horror romance, one is a cosmic adventure, and one involves time travel.  The creators prove to be wildly ambitious and never afraid of taking big swings.  Sometimes the show falls on its face.  Sometimes the results are only so-so  However, roughly half of the episodes are flat-out fantastic television, a potent combination of genre tropes, unblinking examination of the history of American prejudice, and some deep dives into the scarred psyche of Black America.  There is nothing subtle about this, with the repeated use of anachronistic music, civil rights speeches, or even snippets of interviews paired with the action.  We get loads of references to figures from Black history of the era, including cameos from Jackie Robinson, Emmett Till, and Josephine Baker.  A rousing version of "Sinnerman," sung by Alice Smith, plays over the closing credits.

The show was developed by Misha Green, based on a novel by Matt Ruff.  H.P. Lovecraft fans may be disappointed to find that Lovecraft's work has little to do with the series directly.  Instead, "Lovecraft Country" borrows elements from his works, including some of the famous monsters, to tell its own story, subverting some of Lovecraft's notoriously racist narratives in the process.  And thanks to the involvement of HBO, the series looks absolutely gorgeous, and can be as R-rated as it wants.  There's a lot of beautiful gore in this show, healthy amounts of sex, and very out-of-this world imagery. The cast is stellar, with Jurnee Smollett standing out as the fiery Leti.   It's so heartening to see major resources being committed to a show like this, which is vehemently about the Black experience on its own terms.  It's not afraid of being too angry or too aggressive in its views, and it's wonderful.      

The anthology format does make for a rather disjointed season, and occasionally the creators bite off far more than they can chew, cramming too many concepts and characters into too little time.  The show raises the issues of the black LGBT experience, and colorism, for instance, but doesn't really have the time to explore them in much depth.  I'm glad that Ji-Ah was part of the show, but outside of her spotlight episode she's an odd presence in the story.  Nonetheless, there is so much passion and so much wild creativity on the screen, and the themes are so potent, when the material does work, it's magic.   It's my sincere hope that "Lovecraft Country" doesn't end up being a fluke, and we get more media in this vein for years to come. 


Monday, January 18, 2021

My Top Ten Films of 1961

This is part of my continuing series looking back on films from the years before I began this blog. The ten films below are unranked and listed in no particular order. Enjoy.

Breakfast at Tiffany's - Audrey Hepburn was a star before this, but "Breakfast at Tiffany's" made her an icon.  Frankly, the story is wildly outdated and sometimes in very poor taste (ahem, Mr. Yunioshi), but Hepburn's Holly Golightly is one of the greatest cinematic characters who ever existed, the template for all future  winsome manic-pixie-dream creatures.  And writer Dalton Trumbo and director Blake Edwards ably manage the balancing act of turning a fairly dark story into an utterly effervescent romance.      

101 Dalmatians - One of the best of Disney's '60s features.  It looks simple and uncomplicated on the surface, but was responsible for a whole host of technical innovations behind the scenes.  However, it's the charm and well-observed performances provided by the animators that really make the picture.  Those who make jabs about absent Disney parents clearly never met Pongo and Perdita, and who could ever forget the funniest, most outrageous Disney villainess in the pantheon, Cruella DeVil?

Yojimbo - And so it begins.  This was the Akira Kurosawa film that was so memorable, it spawned multiple copies and imitators that went on to be classics themselves, including "A Fistful of Dollars" and "Django."  Toshiro Mifune shines in one of his signature roles, the ronin who plays both sides walks away from the carnage alone in the end.  As with many of Kurosawa's samurai films, the storytelling is so clear, and the filmmaking so strong, the film easily transcends culture, language, and history.

La Notte - The second of Michelangelo Antonioni's trilogy on "modernity and its discontents," is about a disintegration marriage between characters played by Jeanne Moreau and Marcello Mastroianni.  However, what the picture is really remarkable for is its alienating portrayal of the modern world mirroring his characters' emotional lives.  Antonioni creates all these environments full of absences and ambiguities.  Boredom, doubt, and distance have rarely been evoked so skillfully.

The Children's Hour - The filmmaking is fairly sedate, and the material doesn't have the nerve I wish it did, but I love the performances.  The adults, lead by Shirley McClaine, are very good, but it's the two girls played by Karen Balkin and Veronica Cartwright who I thought were really interesting.  Children on film were rarely portrayed with so much candidness and complexity.  Balkin's Mary is especially upsetting, a bully and manipulator whose destructive behavior is uncomfortably true to life.   

Judgment at Nuremberg - A big screen dramatization of the military tribunals convened against the Nazi regime.  It was one of Stanley Kramer's big social justice pictures, full of big names, showstopping monologues, and grand ideals.  It's about as subtle as a hammer, but the scale of the filmmakers' ambitions and the willingness to tackle sensitive material is very admirable.  I find it also works better if you treat the players as allegorical representations of certain ideas, rather than specific individuals. 

Through a Glass Darkly - A small, intimate family drama about madness and faith, introspection and guilt, from Ingmar Bergman.  We spend a day with the characters on a remote, bleak island, where a schizophrenic woman sees visions and threatens to drag other family members into her delusions.  The film is minimalist and simple, but the symbolism is endlessly fascinating and evocative.  Even relayed secondhand, some of Bergman's most effective nightmares are found here, just offscreen.    

A Woman is a Woman - This has been described as Jean-Luc Godard's take on the Hollywood musical form, using many playful filmmaking tricks and conceits inspired by song and dance numbers.  It's his first film in color!  He uses widescreen!  However, in most ways it's still a French New Wave film, about a trio of young people being irreverent and playing love games with each other.  Fortunately Anna Karina, Belmondo, and Brialy are all terribly endearing here, and easy to love.  

Pocketful of Miracles - I'm a sucker for a good Cinderella story, and I found I couldn't resist the charms of Frank Capra's very last film, a remake of his 1933 picture "Lady for a Day."  The Cinderella in question is an elderly peddler, played by Bette Davis, who is  made up into a wealthy socialite by her street friends to impress her future in-laws.  Most critics and audiences of the time disliked it, but I was charmed by Peter Falk's exasperated hoodlum or Davis's heartwarming transformation.

The Absent Minded Professor - Disney has been making big effects spectaculars longer than you'd think, and one of their most delightful is this Fred MacMurray comedy.  It's full of funny ideas and set-pieces, using old school special effects for great visual gags.  My favorite scene is the flubber-ized basketball game, which sends the players into the rafters.  This and its sequel, "Son of Flubber" were childhood favorites, which I remember for their sweetness as much as their silliness.    


Saturday, January 16, 2021

"The Queen's Gambit" Pays Off


The first thing you need to know about "The Queen's Gambit" is that it's a miniseries about a fictional female chess prodigy during the 1960s, and it's currently being hailed by chess fans as one of the few pieces of media that is actually fairly accurate in its depiction of chess.  The second thing is that you don't need know anything about chess to enjoy the story, which uses the format and many of the storytelling tricks of a sports film, but is more of a character study of its central character, the brilliant and troubled Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy as a teen and adult, Isla Johnston as a child).

Beth's story is one of tragedy and constant setbacks.  At the age of eight, after the death of her mother (Chloe Pirrie), she's sent to an orphanage that liberally doses the children with tranquilizers to make them easier to manage.  She learns chess from the janitor, the stoic Mr. Shaibel (Bill Camp), and befriends an African-American girl named Jolene (Moses Ingram).  When she leaves the orphanage to join the household of Mrs. Alma Wheatley (Marielle Heller) as a teenager, Beth brings with her not only a fixation on chess, but lifelong substance abuse issues and plenty of emotional baggage.  As she enters the chess world, and begins to compete in earnest, her genius quickly propels her into the ranks of the top players, but her unstable home life and unhealthy coping mechanisms keep holding her back.

Written and directed by Scott Frank, and based on a novel by Walter Tevis, "The Queen's Gambit" takes place in an idealized version of the 1960s.  The series is an absolute pleasure to look at, from the period fashions to the decor to the glimpses of various international cities.  Initially I was expecting Beth to face more push back for being a very young woman competing in a world of men, but almost all her male rivals are friendly ones, and she forms friendships and relationships with several of them, including Harry Beltik (Harry Melling), Benny Watts (Thomas Brodie-Sangster), and the man she wants to be more than friends with, Townes (Jacob Fortune-Lloyd).  Even the Russians, lead by the intimidating Borgov (Marcin Dorociński) turn out to be perfectly sympathetic human beings.  

Instead, Beth's greatest challenge is charting her own way through life after years of neglect and loss.  Anya Taylor-Joy does a great job of portraying Beth from an awkward fourteen year-old to a nervy grown woman in her twenties, struggling to stay sober and avoid burnout.  She's very visually striking, and able to show so much of Beth's thinking without saying a word.  I appreciate that she isn't a nice person for much of the series, too wrapped up in her own self-preservation to respond to other people's vulnerability and kindness.  She's downright terrible at times to many of the people who care about her, often out of fear or ignorance.  And yet, Beth is very easy to root for as an underdog, both in chess and in finding happiness.

I haven't seen much of Scott Frank's directorial work, but what he does with the material here is very impressive.  I rarely binge series, but "The Queen's Gambit" is so engaging that I went through the entire miniseries in one day.  Beth's story is the stuff of very predictable melodrama, but there's such a specificity to the characters, and there's such a clear love of the subject matter, it was a real pleasure to follow along with all the familiar story beats as Beth grows up and takes on the world, step by step.  The ending may come off as too happy and unlikely for some, but the characters earn it.  And there are some strong, positive messages about feminism here, though conveyed more indirectly than we usually see in period dramas.  The contrast between Beth and her various mother figures is especially well done.  

From what I've read, "The Queen's Gambit" is also a treat for chess players, full of references and gameplay easter eggs that show a real care and consideration for the history of the game and its community of devotees.  I can't vouch for that, but I can say that its dramatic bona fides are considerable, and easy to enjoy.  And it's been a while since I've had a straightforward drama in any format surprise me the way that this one did.   


Thursday, January 14, 2021

Visiting "Bly Manor"

Minor spoilers ahead.

Created by Mike Flanagan and the same team that did "The Haunting of Hill House," "The Haunting of Bly Manor" offers a very different style of horror compared to its predecessor.  Where "Hill House" was a more typical supernatural program full of shocks and tension, "Bly Manor" is a sadder, more empathetic kind of ghost story about a group of people who are all being haunted by different things.  It may have several actors in common, and some of the same storytelling sensibilities, but I don't think it's aimed at quite the same audience either.

"Bly Manor" loosely follows the broad outlines of Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw."  An old woman in the present day (Carla Gugino) tells the story of an American au pair, Dani Clayton (Victoria Pedretti), who is hired by a London businessman, Henry Wingrave (Henry Thomas), to look after his orphaned niece and nephew, Flora (Amelie Bea Smith) and Miles (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth).  The children have not only lost their parents, but also their previous nanny, Rebecca Jessel (Tahirah Sharif), who died under mysterious circumstances.  The children live at the remote country estate of Bly Manor, staffed by the housekeeper, Hannah (T'Nia Miller), the cook, Owen (Rahul Kohli), and the groundskeeper, Jamie (Amelia Eve).  We soon learn that Bly is also haunted by various ghosts, including the faceless Lady in the Lake (Kate Siegel). 

"Bly Manor" mostly follows the same structure as "Hill House," in that each episode features a different POV character or set of characters, and many of the stories are told in different overlapping time frames.  Strange occurrences or behavior in one episode are often explained a few installments later from someone else's POV.  Some of these episodes are much better than others, but all together the pace of the series tends to be slower and more melancholy.  There are fewer jump scares and less action outside the last few episodes.  Instead, you can easily view the series as a collection of tragic character pieces.  The inhabitants of Bly Manor are put in supernatural situations that act as allegories for grief, terminal illness, trauma, guilt, and all manner of relationship issues.  There are maybe two characters who could be seen as truly malicious, while the rest are all terribly sympathetic people trying to process hefty emotional baggage.  

So, no doubt some fans of "Hill House" are going to be disappointed with "Bly Manor."  However, if you like moody Gothic chillers and can put up with some melodrama, "Bly Manor" is a very satisfying watch.  It's shamelessly manipulative, and little Flora is a walking pile of twee, but in a way that's part of the series' charm.  Of course the children have a dollhouse full of creepy little dolls representing all the characters in the show.  Of course Uncle Henry's sinister ex-valet Peter Quint (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) is lurking around the place.  No points for guessing the housekeeper's terrible secret, which is blatantly telegraphed from the very first episode.  However, I like how the show treats its characters with great empathy and care.  Several of the show's apparitions turn out to not have a supernatural origin at all, which might seem like a cheat, but is appropriate for the more character-focused stories.

Production values are about on par with "Hill House," and all the performances are strong, though I do appreciate the effort to have more diverse faces in the mix this time.  There's a fabulously creepy opening credits sequence, and some good use of special effects.  My major quibbles with "Bly Manor" mostly have to do with a few clumsy story choices.  For instance, there's a big, pivotal episode that goes into the past of Bly Manor near the end of the season, which works very well as a standalone story.  However, it doesn't have nearly the effect that it should because the prior episodes don't set up the POV character very well.  Other storylines and plot elements are mysteriously dropped after a few episodes, and there are several characters I wish had gotten more time and attention.    

It also doesn't help that there have been such a glut of ghost stories lately, that some of the concepts used in "Bly Manor" feel awfully derivative.  I think the series would have gotten a much better reception if it had been released a few years earlier.  Still, I continue to enjoy Mike Flanagan's work and have high hopes for his next project, "Midnight Mass."  Hopefully some time away from the ghosts will do him some good.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

"The Devil All the Time" and "Blow the Man Down"

You have to admire a film like "The Devil All the Time" for committing so hard to being a thoroughly uncomfortable piece of work, even though it's not always successful. Directed by Antonio Campos, who also co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Paulo Campos, it tells the story of a group of characters in the post-War American midwest, mostly from small rural communities in Ohio and West Virginia.  Terrible things happen to them, thanks to tribalism, religion, and poverty, and cycles of violence are shown to progress from one generation to the next. 

What's notable about "The Devil All the Time" is that it gives several up-and-coming actors a chance to sink their teeth into some high octane melodrama.  At first, our central character is Willard Russell (Bill Skarsgård), who returns from WWII and marries Charlotte (Haley Bennett).  We also meet two other couples, the evangelical preacher Roy (Harry Melling) and his wife Helen (Mia Wasikowska), and a photographer named Carl (Jason Clarke) who marries Sandy (Riley Keough), the sister of a police officer, Lee Bodecker (Sebastian Stan).  Eventually the story shifts to focus on Willard and Charlotte's son Arvin (Tom Holland) and Roy and Helen's daughter Lenora (Eliza Scanlen) when they're teenagers.  Finally, the most colorful and memorable performance of the lot belongs to Robert Pattinson, playing the scumbag Reverend Teagarden.

Based on a novel by Donald Ray Pollock, who also serves as the film's garrulous narrator, this is not a viewing experience that I would recommend to most people.  It's a lengthy family epic that has a lot of brutal violence against women, and forces the viewer to spend a lot of time with some really reprehensible people.  Campos is very good at making every frame feel suitably miserable and desperate, often soaking in the depressive atmosphere.  Some of the most upsetting material features no violence at all, such as Reverend Teagarden's antics with a plate of chicken livers.  On the other hand, I did enjoy many of the performances and I appreciated that the filmmakers followed every piece of this miserable history through to the end.  While the oppressive darkness of the film is relentless and sometimes over-the-top, neither does it feel implausible or out of place.  Clearly it's not a film for everyone, and I can't say I enjoyed it, but I respect everything it took to get it made.  

Now, for a story about violence in an insular community of a different stripe, I can heartily recommend "Blow the Man Down."  This is a film noir that takes place in a New England fishing village, and nearly all the major players are women.  Directed by Bridget Savage Cole and Danielle Krudy, the story follows the Connolly sisters Mary Beth (Morgan Saylor) and Priscilla (Sophie Lowe) who are dealing with the aftermath of their mother's death.  Mary Beth accidentally kills a man named Gorski (Ebon Moss-Bachrach), which gets them tangled up in a different murder, and the machinations of the town madam, Enid Devlin (Margo Martindale).  Other characters include a trio of local matrons (June Squibb, Annette O'Toole, and Marceline Hugot), the suspicious Officer Coletti (Skipp Sudduth), and one of Enid's employees, Alexis (Gayle Rankin)

I take so much joy from watching actresses who are usually playing moms and grandmas essentially in the mobster roles of your usual detective murder mystery.  Secret dealings are couched in very feminine terms, but are still deadly serious.  Tonally, we're often operating in the realm of the Coen brothers, or perhaps Martin McDonagh.  There's a Greek chorus of fisherman, who sing sea shanties during the act breaks, and one confrontation is sparked by a dress code violation.  During the second act, where Officer Coletti is going around conducting interviews, one of the matrons totally stonewalls him, and sends him off with a nice slice of pie.  However, the Connolly sisters are more grounded, realistic heroines who are easy to root for and empathize with.      

"Blow the Man Down" is low budget and takes a while to get going.  However, once all the pieces are on the board, the tension and thrills are executed beautifully.  I have a few quibbles with technical shortcomings, common to the efforts of first-time directors, but the film was really a great surprise and a significant mood-lifter after sitting through "The Devil All the Time."  I hope it finds a bigger audience.   


Sunday, January 10, 2021

The "Game of Thrones" Aftermath

So, eighteen months after the final episode of "Game of Thrones," there's been the expected dropoff in fandom activity.  HBO is still busy trying to put together a prequel series - the latest attempt, "House of the Dragon," will feature Paddy Considine as an early Targaryen warrior.  George R.R. Martin is still working on the sixth "Song of Ice and Fire" book, as he has been for nearly a decade now.  The actors have all been busy.  In fact, it's been a running joke that you can't have a British prestige project without at least one "Game of Thrones" or "Downton Abbey" alum in the cast.  Nonetheless, there's a very palpable feeling that the wider culture is done with "Game of Thrones." 

"Game of Thrones" was a huge piece of pop culture for most of the 2010s, one of the last few programs that everyone knew about and used as a point of reference.  This was remarkable given that it was R-rated, aired on premium cable, and featured complicated storylines juggling dozens of different players.  Characters like Daenerys Targaryen, Jon Snow, and Tyrion Lannister became iconic.  Hype for the final season reached new heights in 2019, but to say that expectations weren't met is an understatement.  There's no question that the finale was ambitious, featuring several feature length installments, but the final six episodes were marred by technical glitches, rushed storylines, and some downright bad writing.  It was a ratings winner, but a total disaster on every other level.  Many of the fans placed the blame on showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss for trying to rush the franchise to a premature conclusion.   The reaction to these episodes was so poisonous, Benioff and Weiss skipped Comic-Con that year, and it's widely believed that they lost their "Star Wars" project in part because of the fallout.        

In the wider culture, "Game of Thrones" disappeared.  Nobody references it anymore, except in mostly disparaging terms.  Knowing the lackluster fates of the major characters really seems to have killed all the enthusiasm for the franchise.  You can see its influence all over the pop culture landscape, but it's a challenge to find much true enthusiasm for the show anymore.  Suddenly, "A Game of Thrones" feels very much like a product of its era, the 2010s, which are behind us.  Now we're stuck in the 2020s, where everything turned out awful, and it's difficult to be optimistic about anything.  It's telling that over the summer when every remotely nostalgic piece of media was doing Zoom reunions, "Game of Thrones" was noticeably missing.    

This is the age of franchises, and several are experiencing a similar kind of ebb.  There's a third "Fantastic Beasts" movie in the works that nobody much cares about, and J.K. Rowling really needs to get off social media.  Amazon is trying to put together a "Lord of the Rings" series, though there are doubts about how successful they'll be without Peter Jackson and company involved.  After tons of hype and fuss, the "Star Wars" cinematic series is currently kaput, and the franchise's best hope lies with "The Mandalorian" and other Disney+ shows.  However, these are all series that have weathered decades of ups and downs already. 

What stands out about the "Game of Thrones" situation is that the franchise hit the skids so quickly, and nearly everyone was caught off guard.  The final season of the show was supposed to be a franchise high point, something that could fuel future spinoffs and ancillary projects.  HBO and all their various subsidiaries invested heavily in its success through advertising partnerships, merchandise, and related media coverage.  And it's telling that in spite of the disastrous finale,  HBO went ahead with the development of those spinoffs.  Frankly, the series was so huge, and the potential financial rewards are so great, it would be silly of them not to try and capitalize off any remaining goodwill that the fans might have.  

So, it's safe to say "Game of Thrones" will be back in some capacity, even if "House of the Dragon" doesn't get off the ground.  Eventually Martin will finish another book, or someone will finish it for him.  All those millions of fans will get nostalgic for the show in a decade or two, and maybe look back on it in a more forgiving light.  Someday, someone will try and reboot "Game of Thrones," and try to get the ending right next time.  As "Star Wars" has proven, once you've been a major success, it provides lots of  incentive to give a franchise no end of second chances.         

David Benioff and D.B. Weiss may be out of luck, but "Game of Thrones" is going to be around for a very long time.