“The Wheel Of Time” Casts Dain Bornhald, Sheriam, Bain & Chiad

The Wheel of Time turns, and Ages come and pass, leaving memories that become legend, but JordanCon continues and the cast and crew of Amazon’s The Wheel Of Time remains admirably committed to always showing up for the annual Atlanta-based convention celebrating the late author Robert Jordan and his monumental fourteen-book fantasy series. It’s a small event, hardly worth Amazon’s time in the grand scheme of things, but if nothing else, showrunner Rafe Judkins always has a video message for the fans containing a few tidbits of new information about the series, currently filming its third season in Prague. This year, while he was not at liberty to share the season two release date we’ve been craving for quite some time now, he did introduce four actors joining season two who will be playing important new characters.

Moiraine Damodred, viewed from above, standing in the middle of a ring of white light with her arms outstretched to either side, her neck tilted back, and her face uplifted to the sky, although her eyes are closed as if she is concentrating.
Moiraine | amazonadviser.com

All four were previously rumored to be among the series’ cast, so the names of Jay Duffy, Rima Te Wiata, Ragga Ragnars and Maja Simonsen may already be familiar to those who have been following production closely. Nor did it come as a surprise that Te Wiata would be playing Sheriam Bayanar of the Blue Ajah, something that was first reported several weeks ago by WoTSeries, a highly reputable investigative fan-site. But I was stunned and delighted to discover that Duffy will be playing Dain Bornhald and not Gawyn Trakand as everyone seemed to think, and that Ragnars and Simonsen will be portraying the dynamic duo of Bain & Chiad, two fairly minor but endearing characters I feared would be missing entirely from this adaptation.

A little about each of the characters, starting with Dain Bornhald because his is the casting I’m most excited about. Dain is a character we meet in the books earlier than in the show, in the town of Baerlon to be precise, although it’s not at all obvious from his introductory scene what a prominent role he’ll have in the story going forward, especially as a foil to Perrin, so I can easily understand why they saved him for season two. This way, he can have a proper introduction and audiences will hopefully get to know him first and foremost as a sympathetic character; a young man brought up from childhood in a cult and indoctrinated by everyone around him, including his father Geofram, to believe that the Aes Sedai and all those who can use the One Power are Darkfriends. Dain is a distinctly queer-coded character from my point of view (so is Perrin, making their antagonistic relationship even more compelling), and I have a feeling that might not just be subtext in the show.

Eamon Valda, a man dressed all in white, standing in front of a woman in a yellow dress tied to a stake with smoke and flames rising at her feet.
Eamon Valda interrogates an Aes Sedai | imdb.com

Sheriam Bayanar, an Aes Sedai and member of the Blue Ajah, is the White Tower’s Mistress of Novices when the story opens, instructing Nynaeve al’Meara, Egwene al’Vere, and Elayne Trakand upon their arrival at the Tower. She is particularly skilled at helping channelers overcome their self-imposed Blocks, and for this reason I suspect that most of her scenes in season two will be shared with Nynaeve, whose peculiar Block is an integral part of her character arc. In future seasons, however, Sheriam will get an unexpected promotion and take on a much larger and more pivotal role…and that’s all I’ll say on that subject.

As for Bain & Chiad, these inseparable Maidens of the Spear refer to themselves as “first-sisters”, which in their case means they have been Bonded by their Wise Ones in a ritual that – at least in the books – allows them to simulate the experience of being reborn from a single womb as close as two women can be. I do not believe for a moment that Robert Jordan was at all oblivious to the homoeroticism in his own writing, because the man was basically advertising his fetishes to the world every time a female character in his books found herself naked in Tel’aran’rhiod being chased around and spanked or flogged by other naked women, but I’ve said in the past and I’ll say it again that I don’t think he as a straight man ever seriously considered queer women as anything other than erotic. It’s very telling that most of the implied bisexual women in The Wheel Of Time, including Bain & Chiad by the way, are in polyamorous relationships centered around a single man, while the implied lesbians are mostly sexual predators. Queer men simply didn’t exist in the world of The Wheel Of Time until Brandon Sanderson generously added two to the books he completed after Jordan’s passing.

Ragga Ragnars (Bain), Ayoola Smart (Aviendha), and Maja Simonsen (Chiad) standing in a darkly-lit room, wearing nearly identical brown costumes with hoods, black veils around their necks, and spears on their backs. They all have red hair.
(left to right) Bain, Aviendha, and Chiad | reddit.com

I could go on about this particular subject for hours, but this really isn’t the time or place to be doing so, and I think I’ve rambled long enough anyway. In short, I’m very excited to see these four characters officially join The Wheel Of Time‘s ensemble cast when season two premieres (hopefully later this year), optimistic that we’ll learn who’s playing Lanfear, Elaida, Verin, Suroth, Egeanin, Gaul, Morgase, Galad, and Gawyn long before then, and curious to know whose introduction you’re most eagerly anticipating. Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

Everything We Learned From The Genshin Impact Version 3.6 Special Program!

HoYoverse, the game studio behind Genshin Impact, has been fighting (and losing) the battle with leakers since before the game even launched. In recent months they’ve gone to great lengths to try and deplatform particularly prolific leakers like the notorious Ubatcha, subpoenaing Discord and later Twitter to expose users’ information, and they’ve been partially successful at what they set out to do, forcing all but a few of the most high-profile leakers using both these platforms to deactivate and go into hiding…for a little while, at least. Not long enough, evidently, because the contents of yesterday morning’s Version 3.6 Special Program were already being distributed on social media weeks ago by leakers who have probably deliberately remained low-profile because they’re the very same people resuming operations under new identities.

Baizhu from Genshin Impact, standing in the doorway of Bubu Pharmacy. He is tall, with long green hair and spectacles, and a white snake wrapped around his throat. He wears a purple-and-black crop-top, trousers, and a white coat as a cape. A jade orb levitates over his  gloved left hand.
Baizhu | clutchpoints.com

Now, I have no personal problem with leaks, and I think they can be very helpful for players who want to be strategic about where and when they spend their money (even if it’s just in-game currency, because that stuff is hard to earn). But there’s leaking details about an upcoming character’s kit to give folks a slight head-start when pre-farming Ascension Materials and Artifacts, and then there’s spilling an entire version’s worth of information, right down to the minigames – and this is the latter. I mean, you’d think HoYoverse would have learned from the wildly positive reception to the completely unexpected announcement of the Genshin Impact anime during the Version 3.1 Special Program that they should always have something more to offer than what leakers have already spoiled, even if it’s just a tease of future content, but the bare minimum is too difficult for them most of the time, so…

Anyway, what did we learn from yesterday’s Special Program? Well, not much, but for the sake of my upstanding readers who don’t look at leaks and were genuinely surprised, I’ll feign shock wherever necessary, although I personally suspect that HoYoverse knows they were beaten to the punch this time, given how little energy was put into organizing this Special Program. Not convinced? The limited-time character banners and weapon banners were “announced” during an intermission, fighting for attention with redemption codes. And it’s not like Yoimiya’s on the banner or anything. Version 3.6 features the return of Nahida, one of Genshin Impact‘s most successful characters, alongside the extremely popular Nilou, followed by the release of fan-favorite Baizhu and his signature weapon (and a random Ganyu re-run). Two new Artifact sets were later revealed in the same fashion, including the Vourukasha’s Glow set supposedly designed to buff Dehya (it won’t, unfortunately, but it’s a nice gesture).

The release of a whole new area in the desert of Sumeru was almost as hastily glossed over during the actual program, remarkably given the sheer size of this map-expansion and the amount of content waiting to be discovered there, including a new weekly-boss – the leafy dragon Apep, unlocked after completing Nahida’s second Story Quest, which explores what happened to the dragoniform deities named Sovereigns who once ruled Teyvat – a new world-boss – the Iniquitous Baptist, whose ability to wield three Elements at once will make her a pain to fight in the Spiral Abyss – and a whimsical new gameplay mechanic that allows the player to maneuver through difficult terrain in the form of an adorable dragon. A limited-time Event in Version 3.6 will also make use of this mechanic, giving players the ability to drop bombs on enemies.

The male version of The Traveler from Genshin Impact, wearing a black-and-gold outfit with a long blond ponytail, facing off against Apep, a giant leafy green dragon under a dome of what looks like green stained glass.
The Traveler fighting Apep | theloadout.com

The centerpiece of Version 3.6 is the Akademiya Extravaganza being held on the grounds of the Sumeru Akademiya, during which representatives from all six Darshans (schools of thought) will be competing for a grand prize in what is described as a trial of wits as well as physical and martial prowess. Representing Amurta, the school of biology and environmentalist philosophy, Forest Ranger Tighnari is returning to Sumeru City all the way from Gandharva Ville. Faruzan, the four-star Anemo bow-user available as a reward for participating in the Event, represents her alma mater Haravatat, the school which studies semiotics. Kaveh, the so-called “Light of Kshahrewar”, is the obvious choice to represent that Darshan, the school of technological sciences and innovation. Rtawahist, the school of astronomy and astrology, has put forward the sleepwalking Layla as their champion. Spantamad, whose members specialize in studying the Elements that make up Teyvat, settled on Cyno, the Akademiya’s General Mahamatra. And Vahumana, the school of historical studies, has selected a mysterious new student at the Akademiya whose name will be different for each player.

Each Darshan will have their own booth set up at the Akademiya while the Extravaganza is ongoing, and players will find minigames here that represent the schools’ six highly individual ideologies. For instance, Kshahrewar challenges you to create the shortest possible path to a destination by assembling random objects in different ways, while Haravatat tests both your skills of deduction and your ability to read between the lines by presenting you with a puzzling story and letting you guess what really happened. Meanwhile, unrelated to the Extravaganza, Akademiya scholars wandering in the desert will enlist the player’s help defeating giant sandworms known as Wenut in the Fulminating Sandstorm Event, and a maverick student will hire you to test out a potion that provides your team with random buffs in the Brewing Developments Event. And finally, the Overflowing Mastery Event will make a comeback, boosting rewards in various Domains for a short while.

Besides Nahida’s second Story Quest, a Story Quest for Baizhu and a Hang-out Event centered around Layla will also be made available in Version 3.6, giving players the opportunity to get to know these two characters better at their leisure. No Hang-out Event for new playable character Kaveh, though, which is extremely disappointing given that he might just be one of Genshin Impact‘s most popular characters already, despite having appeared only two or three times in-game. Claymore-users are generally known for their brute force and aggressive animations, but Kaveh, the first Dendro claymore-user, refuses to get his hands dirty while fighting and lets his sentient toolbox Mehrak do all the heavy lifting for him, while he strikes a pose. He’s not only ridiculously endearing, however – Kaveh brings to the game an interesting new playstyle built around the Bloom reaction (as opposed to Hyperbloom or Burgeon, its offshoots), with an Elemental Burst that immediately detonates all Dendro Cores in its vicinity. Obviously, he’ll need to be paired with someone who does an insane amount of Hydro application, and with Nilou on the banner preceding his release, I’m guessing that would be her.

Kaveh from Genshin Impact, standing in Sumeru City in front of a fountain. He has light-blond hair, and wears a billowy white shirt with a red shawl, and carries a suitcase in his left hand.
Kaveh | genshinresource.tumblr.com

As for Baizhu, the five-star Dendro catalyst-user is a nice addition to our current line-up of healers and shielders, his ability to heal the whole party during open-world exploration just by picking up certain plants and flowers would be incredibly helpful, his voice is soothing, and his attack animations are graceful, so I see the appeal. I’m probably not gonna pull for him (though I might pull for Kaveh on his banner), but that’s fine: I spent most of my Primogems on Dehya’s banner anyway, and I want to start saving up for the new Hydro characters that will presumably release alongside the region of Fontaine in Version 4.0 or earlier. Unless a new Geo character comes out before then and throws a wrench in my plans.

What do you think of Genshin Impact Version 3.6 so far, and which characters are you planning to pull for? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!

“Shadow And Bone” Season 2 Makes Big, Bold Changes


Netflix’s Shadow And Bone has never been a straightforward adaptation of the book series by the same name, which has proven to be both a blessing and a curse. A blessing, because Leigh Bardugo’s Shadow And Bone trilogy by itself is not particularly compelling source material and fans are generally in agreement that the author’s later books are significantly stronger due in large part to their more complex, multi-faceted characters, and a curse, because removing these characters from the context of Bardugo’s later books and creating a space for them amidst the events of her original trilogy, showrunner Eric Heisserer’s galaxy-brained solution to the problem he created for himself by refusing to adapt both stories separately, ultimately did a disservice to everybody in the first season. I am happy to report the second season has a “fix” for that too; less so to admit that – while it worked for me – it has only further enraged book purists, and without their support the show may not get another chance at this.

Archie Renaux as Mal and Jessie Mei Li as Alina in Shadow And Bone. They are standing in the dimly-lit cabin of a ship, but Alina illuminates the small room with balls of golden light hovering above her hands.
Mal and Alina | polygon.com

Let me be more clear (and if the message in bold lettering at the top of the page wasn’t enough, let this be your final warning that spoilers will follow). There are a total of seven novels set in author Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse – comprising the Shadow And Bone trilogy, Six Of Crows duology, and King Of Scars duology, published and intended to be read in that order, though many fans will tell you they started with Six Of Crows, a great entry-point to the Grishaverse, and gradually worked their way backwards and forwards from there. Netflix’s Shadow And Bone only properly adapted the trilogy’s first book in season one, with the Six Of Crows duology’s characters having relatively inconsequential original storylines written for them – set prior to the events of the book in which they first appeared – so they could be present without upstaging Shadow And Bone‘s actual protagonists.

Understandably, fans were left wanting a little more from the Crows, and I think the writers took this to mean that adapting more of their story was essential in season two. One thing about Shadow And Bone‘s writers, they clearly take every criticism into consideration, which is admirable, but they have a tendency to…over-correct, in response to criticisms both great and small. One fairly innocuous example of this that stood out to me, just because I remember how viewers complained of being unable to keep track of characters’ movements throughout the first season, is that every other scene transition is now accompanied by a map. But entire subplots have, for better or worse, been discarded because they were poorly-received.

Don’t get me wrong, the first season’s surface-level depiction of anti-Asian racism as a relentless barrage of microaggressions was not something that needed to make a comeback, but Ravkan discrimination against the Shu played an unexpectedly significant role in shaping the show’s half-Ravkan, half-Shu, biracial heroine, Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li), and her barely-explored complex feelings towards her home-country made her a more interesting protagonist in my opinion. But with racism in the Grishaverse suddenly ended (along with homophobia!), Alina is no longer tormented by these feelings, which once stood in the way of her becoming Ravka’s Sun-Summoner while simultaneously giving her crucial insight into the plight of the oppressed Grisha – magic-users – and the Darkling (Ben Barnes).

Ben Barnes as The Darkling in Shadow And Bone, standing in a wasteland with a dark sky, wearing a black hooded kefta with faint gold embroidery. His hood is thrown back, and he is screaming.
The Darkling | netflix.com

Other characters in Bardugo’s Grishaverse are murderers and manipulators and former members of the fantasy Hitler Youth, but none are as divisive as the Darkling, the immortal Grisha tyrant responsible for creating the Shadow-Fold, a towering wall of darkness severing Ravka from its coastline and trapping it between hostile neighbors to the north and south. In both the books and the show, Alina falls in love with the Darkling because he’s the first person to see her as something more than a mapmaker, but only in the books do they continue to have genuine feelings for each other after it’s revealed that the Darkling planned to use Alina’s unique abilities to move the Shadow-Fold for his apparently nefarious purposes. Any hint of a real emotional connection between the two was scrubbed from the second season’s scripts, probably in response to accusations that Shadow And Bone romanticizes abusive relationships, but to the obvious detriment of the entire series. Alina’s refusal to even treat with the Darkling for eight whole episodes makes her satisfied expression after becoming a Shadow-Summoner in the final scene…confusing at best, while the Darkling comes across as a downright pitiable villain, practically groveling at Alina’s feet for attention he will never again receive and resorting to empty threats when she ignores him. Where once there was a mutual understanding that came with drawbacks and advantages for the both of them, now there is nothingness – nichevo’ya in Ravkan.

And yet, Shadow And Bone still places great emphasis on the singular nature of Alina’s very literal connection to the Darkling, a bonding in their bones (or rather, the bones of Morozova’s Stag now grafted onto their own) which allows the one to invade the other’s dreams, then their mind, the space behind their eyes, and at last even their physical location. The mechanics behind it are fairly simple, but the show takes its time explaining how the bond is supposed to work and how it can be weaponized, leading to some gripping sequences where the two characters train to do just that. Still, it’s weird that Shadow And Bone has time in its busy schedule to play around with the bond when nearly every other plot-beat in Alina’s story fails to register as she and her supporting characters speed-run through the events of Siege And Storm and Ruin And Rising.

Not for the first time, a big-budget fantasy show has cheated me out of a sea-monster battle I feel I was rightfully owed by reducing the epic confrontation with the fabled Sea-Whip to a mere five minutes of characters thrashing around in knee-high water, losing a fight to a monster the size of an iguana, and my disappointment is immeasurable, but I will begrudgingly acknowledge that the CGI budget was probably better spent elsewhere (not on Alina’s powers, though, that’s for sure). I can also, to a certain extent, understand why Siege And Storm was not adapted separately from its sequel, because the book badly wants to be a suspenseful political thriller when in actuality it’s just…slow-moving and bloated. But to try and adapt the chapters of intricate political intrigue, divorced from the context of the book, is a writing choice I can’t rationalize or forgive. Alina’s fake engagement to Prince Nikolai Lantsov (Patrick Gibson, miscast in a role that called for slightly more charisma than he could offer), the cause for Prince Vasily Lantsov (Edward Davis)’s consternation, is one particularly complex storyline the show has no need for, and is forced to heavily abridge anyway, yet insists on adapting as if it’s vital.

Jessie Mei Li as Alina Starkov in Shadow And Bone, standing in a dimly-lit tunnel with her arms outstretched to either side, staring down the camera. She wears a brown military uniform with gold stripes across the front and her dark hair is tied back.
Alina Starkov | discussingfilm.net

But it’s had to be crammed into the first half of the season, along with what was Siege And Storm‘s climactic battle (which took place at the Little Palace in the book, rather than the Spinning Wheel – perhaps Netflix couldn’t afford to shoot at the Festetics Palace in Hungary again, or it was unavailable, but the Budapest Stock Exchange Palace, a reused location from season one, instead stands in for the Spinning Wheel, which was actually where Nikolai escaped in the book after the Little Palace fell to the Darkling). Ruin And Rising, the trilogy’s final book, is briefly summarized in the last few episodes; Alina, instead of fleeing into the network of tunnels under Ravka and spending months in hiding, escapes with Baghra (Zoë Wanamaker), the Darkling’s mother, immediately after the attack on the Spinning-Wheel and chases after the third of Morozova’s Amplifiers until Baghra quite casually reveals that the Amplifier is Alina’s boyfriend, Malyen Oretsev (Archie Renaux), and that to harness his powers Alina will have to kill him, before she – Baghra, that is, not Alina – sacrifices herself to break the bond between Alina and the Darkling (the last remaining interesting aspect of their relationship). None of these developments are dragged out for the sake of angst, which I suppose I should be grateful for, but fast-forwarding through the story isn’t a great alternative.

Not ten minutes into the finale, the Shadow-Fold is no more, and both Mal and the Darkling are dead – for now, at least; a bumblebee landing on Zoya (Sujaya Dasgupta)’s shoulder while she stands by the Darkling’s body foreshadows the arrival of Sankta Lizabeta, a character from the King Of Scars duology who helps resurrect the Darkling – and everyone is standing around awkwardly in what used to be the Shadow-Fold, saying their goodbyes. Alina refuses to part with Mal forever, though, and forces his soul back into his body using hastily explained dark magic, with one tragic side-effect: he no longer feels anything for her. In the books, this doesn’t happen, and Alina and Mal get the happily-ever-after ending that Mal always dreamed of, where Alina loses her Grisha powers and they retire to a farm and raise lots of children.

Needless to say, many readers felt cheated by that conclusion to Alina’s character arc, so the show has done away with it completely (another correction, but one that I think almost everyone can get behind). Mal decides to become a privateer like Nikolai, traveling the high seas, while Alina becomes Queen of the Grisha, all while still “engaged” to Nikolai. I love that this is the route we’re going with, because I’ve always been a proponent of platonic “Malina”, but again, this is something the show needed to establish earlier, and it just never carved out the time to do so (and on a side-note, everyone’s “ships” are breaking down the middle as a result of this change: Alina is with Nikolai but now reminiscing about the Darkling; Nikolai seems genuinely infatuated with her, and still hasn’t even glanced in Zoya’s direction; Mal is single and apparently ready to mingle).

It’s abundantly clear that the writers’ interest lies with the Crows, on the other side of the Shadow-Fold. No surprise there. The morally ambiguous, eccentrically-dressed (and for the time being at least, predominantly queer) Crows have a certain panache that Shadow And Bone‘s archetypal protagonists lack. Even outside of Ketterdam (the Crows’ home-turf, a precarious stack of casinos, nightclubs, and brothels clamoring over each other for tourists’ money), or separated from their veritable rainbow of a rogues gallery, the Crows are not only the more eye-catching characters but by far the more three-dimensional and real. Some of that can be attributed to the actors and their obvious delight in the roles they were practically born to play – Freddy Carter and Amita Suman, standouts among the ensemble cast, deliver equally phenomenal performances as the criminal mastermind Kaz Brekker and assassin Inej Ghafa, doing Bardugo proud in every scene; those where they act the part of Crows, indecipherable and unfeeling, and those where surprisingly eloquent confessions slip from their lips unbidden in each other’s presence, before they shamefully begin bricking up the gaps in their armor. Even though Inej boldly pushes Kaz to open up in the final episode and he rather hesitantly admits that he wants her to stay in Ketterdam with him, Inej realizes then and there that they still have a long way to go before they’ll ever be comfortable expressing how they feel through physical gestures of affection, and that she doesn’t have all the time in the world – so she chooses to leave the Crows and search for her family, giving Kaz time to consider whether he’s willing to begin healing and become the person she needs him to be.

(left to right) Jack Wolfe as Wylan Van Eck, Danielle Galligan as Nina Zenik, Freddy Carter as Kaz Brekker, and Kit Young as Jesper Fahey in Shadow And Bone, seated around a table in a diner, all turning to look at the camera. Kaz wears a black bowler hat and overcoat, Jesper a maroon jacket, Nina a  dainty hat perched on the side of her head, and Wylan a waistcoat.
(left to right) Wylan Van Eck, Nina Zenik, Kaz Brekker and Jesper Fahey | elle.com

A less complicated love blossoms between Jesper Fahey (Kit Young) and Wylan Van Eck (Jack Wolfe), the Crows’ demolition man. In a change from the books that came as a shock to some, Jesper and Wylan are already…intimately acquainted in Shadow And Bone, which means they obviously don’t spend several episodes silently questioning whether the other is interested in them, and Jesper doesn’t ever deliver what is arguably his most iconic line, “Not just girls”, nor will there ever be a chance again. Instead, the conflict in their relationship comes from their inability to get on the same page about what they really want – they’re both looking for passion, but they have completely different definitions of the word. And this change actually worked for me, as did most of the changes to the Crows, because I can tell these changes were made by writers who really love the Crows and understand them, even if they don’t always have the time and means in what is still technically an adaptation of Shadow And Bone to prove it to cynical book purists.

The most controversial change, of course, is the decision to adapt large chunks of Crooked Kingdom – the second book in the Six Of Crows duology – prior to the events of Six Of Crows, and with Kaz’s arch-nemesis Pekka Rollins (Dean Lennox Kelly) taking the place of Jan Van Eck, a character we still haven’t seen in the show (which is fine by me, because that means it’s not too late to cast Richard E. Grant in that role). The raid on Van Eck’s lawyer’s office; the Crows dressing up as Komedie Brute characters to pull off one of their plans; the iconic scene in which Kaz usurps Per Haskell (Tim Plester) as head of the Dregs, and where he pretends to have buried Pekka’s son alive; Inej becoming a pirate…it’s all here. To do any of that again would be redundant. But Inej being kidnapped by Van Eck and fighting Dunyasha, Jesper’s father coming to Ketterdam, the smuggling of Grisha refugees onto the boats with help from Nikolai, the auction for Kuwei Yul-Bo and Kaz’s confrontation with the Council of Tides are all major sequences that have not yet been adapted, so it’s not like there’s nothing left. These scenes will just be very different when they happen onscreen.

I won’t say it’s not occasionally frustrating, because of course it is. I would have just as gladly accepted more original storylines for the Crows in place of a loose adaptation of Crooked Kingdom (and I enjoyed the one written to keep them occupied through the back-half of the season, during which they travel to Shu Han in search of a blade that can cut shadows to help Alina). But as a fan of the Crows, I look at what was done with their characters this season – and how they were set up for the future – and I can’t help but feel excited that the story could potentially veer off in so many different directions now. Because Pekka Rollins is already in Hellgate Prison by season’s end, he’s had the opportunity to befriend the sixth future member of the Crows, Matthias Helvar (Calahan Skogman), while the Fjerdan still hasn’t even had the chance to meet Kaz. Because Inej is off traveling the world with Mal now, she can join the Crows at a different point during the Ice-Court heist and Mal can fill the small but significant role that Nikolai plays in Crooked Kingdom. Because Wylan is already with Jesper, the truth about his identity, when it inevitably comes out, could drive a wedge between them. And of course, Alina still being involved in the story introduces even more variables.

Amita Suman as Inej Ghafa in Shadow And Bone, holding onto the rigging of a ship with one arm. Her hair is tied back in a ponytail, and she wears a blue-green vest and leather pants.
Inej Ghafa | looper.com

Of course, it all depends on whether Shadow And Bone gets renewed for a third season, and at Netflix that is never a guarantee (another reason I think the writers snuck in so many great scenes from later books this season, because they knew better than to assume that Netflix would let the show run long enough to get to those scenes organically). I remain cautiously optimistic that it will be picked up, or rather that the story will continue under the title Six Of Crows. Whether Bardugo book purists will give the writers another chance after so many controversial changes to the source material is a different matter. For the answer to that question, we shall have to wait and see.

Series Rating: 8/10

Remember Gollum? The Game’s 1st Trailer Is Finally Here

I had to dig through my site’s archives to find the first post I wrote about Gollum, but even so I was shocked to discover that it’s been over two years since the first footage from the game was revealed to the public. I can just barely remember feeling disappointed with the titular character’s unexpressive face and janky movements at the time, but it seems I wasn’t the only one who felt that way, because Daedalic Entertainment has spent the last two years reworking the game. I would have probably forgotten about it entirely, were it not for a new full-length trailer for the game released on Thursday that tentatively hints at a 2023 release date and urges gamers to add it to their wish-list now.

Gollum, from the game of the same name, a pale, bony, vaguely humanoid creature with big eyes, wearing tattered trousers. He is glaring over his shoulder at the viewer while etching the symbol of a ring into a rock.
Gollum | nintendoeverything.com

Gollum follows the character’s circuitous journey across Middle-earth in pursuit of Bilbo Baggins during the sixty-year interlude between The Hobbit and The Lord Of The Rings, a journey that takes him from the Misty Mountains to Mordor, where he is detained in the dungeons of Sauron and tortured until he reveals who took his precious Ring, and then to Mirkwood, where he is detained in the dungeons of Thranduil and tortured until he reveals what he revealed to Sauron, and then back to the Misty Mountains to continue his long-delayed original mission, only to unexpectedly run into the Fellowship of the Ring led by Bilbo’s nephew Frodo Baggins and begin hunting them. The game promises to flesh out these events with new material and original characters to keep Tolkienites and casual gamers alike on their toes, but Gollum’s goal, the player’s goal, is the same – survive, and find the Ring.

With everyone and everything in Middle-earth out to get you, this goal can only be achieved by being strategic about when to lean into the character’s violent tendencies as Gollum and when to unlock their deeply suppressed better qualities as Sméagol, something that is sure to be one of the game’s most interesting and unique features. Reinforcing the idea that Gollum stands in the middle of the rift between Middle-earth’s cosmic forces of light and darkness, the character’s potential allies come from both sides of the conflict, including an Elven woman named Mell who appears to hail from Mirkwood and Shelob, a monstrous demon in spider-form.

Even though many of the game’s characters are recognizable by name to even the most casual Tolkienite, including Shelob, Gandalf, Thranduil, and the Mouth of Sauron, their designs are remarkably…original, borrowing far more heavily from the bizarre, whimsical Rankin/Bass 1977 animated adaptation of The Hobbit and Ralph Bakshi’s borderline-psychedelic 1978 animated adaptation of The Lord Of The Rings than from either of Peter Jackson’s hyper-realistic film trilogies or Amazon’s The Rings Of Power. Gollum‘s Elves, for instance, are sinuous, reed-thin creatures with hooded eyes, drowning in layers upon layers of voluminous fabric and enormous, ornate headdresses. It’s the kind of game where a Tom Bombadil cameo wouldn’t seem entirely out of place, and that’s saying something.

Gandalf and Thranduil from the game Gollum. Gandalf, gray-bearded, wears a heavy fur shawl and pointed hat, and carries a staff. Thranduil, thin with gaunt features, is draped in heavy green robes and wears a crown of branches and dense foliage.
Gandalf and Thranduil | rockpapershotgun.com

Whether the gameplay matches the quality of the visuals remains to be seen, but I’ll leave that to professional gamers to determine: for me, as a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien’s works who simply enjoys analyzing new adaptations and debating the thematic consequences, great and small, of making changes to the source material, the main appeal of Gollum is the agency it gives to the player to make choices that will decide Gollum’s ultimate fate. I don’t know yet if the game allows you to go running off in any direction, with alternate endings depending on how you choose to play, or if it eventually forces you back on the path that leads Gollum to his canonical confrontation with the Fellowship of the Ring, but I’m excited to see how the developers at Daedalic have integrated the character’s internal struggles into every aspect of their game from the narrative to the actual gameplay.

Trailer Rating: 7/10