TSR’s Analysis of the 60th Annual Grammy Award Nominations

I don’t care who or what wins a Grammy Award. You should not either, at least in my opinion.

Since its start in 1957, the Grammy Awards have ignored countless artists and records. Not to mention, there’s also a bunch of industry politics that go into why the Academy votes the way they do.

Personally, I don’t understand why people get so angry when their favorite artist or record does not win an award. The Academy has made ridiculous decisions year after year. Why should we expect anything different from them in 2018?

Of course, the most recent example of pointless Grammy outrage came last year when Beyoncé’s Lemonade lost to Adele’s 25 in the Album of the Year category. Everyone should have seen that coming, but really… who cares?

Tuxedo’s Tuxedo II, released back in April, is one of my favorite albums of all-time. It did not come anywhere close to getting nominated for a Grammy Award. Will that ruin my love for the album? HELL NO!

I would imagine last year’s “snub” has not sullied anyone’s admiration or love for Lemonade. If you think it’s a “classic” album and you know the Academy has a history of ridiculous decisions, then what’s the point of getting worked up?

Regardless, I still find it interesting what the Academy thinks of the music that has come out over the course of a year. Remember, this year’s Grammy calendar runs from October 1, 2016 to September 30, 2017, so that’s why you’ll see some albums and songs from 2016 in the field of nominees.

So I will go through the categories that interest me and offer some random thoughts on the records or tracks nominated. Again, I really don’t care who wins, but it’s still interesting to see what the Academy thinks is some of the best music of the past year. So let’s get started, shall we?

GENERAL FIELD

RECORD OF THE YEAR

Redbone – Childish Gambino
Despacito – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
The Story of O.J. – JAY-Z
HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar
24K Magic – Bruno Mars

The only track I was not a huge fan of was “Redbone,” and I’ll explain why in the next category. “Despacito” and “24K Magic” are the mainstream choices, so I would think those two are the front-runners. That being said, “HUMBLE.” and “The Story of O.J.” are fantastic songs as well.

ALBUM OF THE YEAR

Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino
4:44 – JAY–Z
DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Melodrama – Lorde
24K Magic – Bruno Mars

Again, the only album I was not a fan of was Awaken, My Love!, but some proper context to explain why this album has received so much acclaim:

Awaken, My Love! is straight mimicry of Parliament-Funkadelic (specifically Funkadelic), a funk/soul/rock collective from the 70s. As a fan of their music, I can’t help but think of them every time I hear “Redbone” or any other song off the album. Now, of course it’s unfair to compare Childish Gambino to Funkadelic, but that just goes to show how similar in sound Awaken, My Love! is to any one of Funkadelic’s records. On top of that, how many people under the age of 30 have even listened to a Funkadelic record? My guess is very few, which is why you’ll likely find so many people enamored with this album, even though it’s nothing really creative or original.

As for the other four albums, I thought 24K Magic was decent, though it lacks substance. 4:44 and DAMN. are great, but neither album is JAY-Z nor Kendrick’s best work. So that leaves Melodrama, which is… wait for it… my favorite album of the nominees.

I think Melodrama is dynamic and brilliantly written, especially considering that Lorde began writing this when she was 17-years-old! Having just turned 21 last month, the sky is the limit for the young New Zealand singer. And again… I don’t care who wins, but I also love pointless anger, and there will be lots of it if Lorde wins Album of the Year. Book it.

SONG OF THE YEAR

Despacito – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
4:44 – JAY–Z
Issues – Julia Michaels
1-800-273-8255 – Logic Featuring Alessia Cara & Khalid
That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Unlike Record of the Year, which recognizes performers and producers, Song of the Year only recognizes the composer(s) of a song. That same criteria applies for all the “Best (blank) Song” categories below.

I’ve never heard of “Issues” or Julia Michaels, so I’ll pass…

I was not a huge fan of “1-800-273-8255,” but I see the appeal of the song. Like Record of the Year, “Despacito” and Bruno Mars are the mainstream choices. “4:44” is a solid song as well.

BEST NEW ARTIST

Alessia Cara
Khalid
Lil Uzi Vert
Julia Michaels
SZA

Again, never heard of Julia Michaels…

The Alessia Cara nomination confused me for two reasons: 1) her biggest song, “Here,” and debut album, Know-It-All, were both released in 2015, so she’s not exactly “new” to the “public consciousness”; and 2) she was not active over the past year.

The only three songs she has done over the past year are “How Far I’ll Go” on the Moana Soundtrack, a feature on Logic’s “1-800-273-8255,” and a collaboration on Zedd’s “Stay.” According to the criteria for this award, I guess these three songs “notably impacted the musical landscape.” Whatever that means..

However, I can perfectly understand the other three nominations. Khalid, Lil Uzi Vert and SZA all not only had high-profile features and singles, but debut albums to go with their mainstream success. I did not listen to Khalid’s American Teen and did not enjoy Lil Uzi Vert’s Luv is Rage 2, but I really enjoyed SZA’s Ctrl. NJ represent!

POP

BEST POP SOLO PERFORMANCE

Love So Soft – Kelly Clarkson
Praying – Kesha
Million Reasons – Lady Gaga
What About Us – P!nk
Shape of You – Ed Sheeran

The only song that has had any replay value for me is “Shape of You.”

BEST POP DUO/GROUP PERFORMANCE

Something Just Like This – The Chainsmokers & Coldplay
Despacito – Luis Fonsi & Daddy Yankee Featuring Justin Bieber
Thunder – Imagine Dragons
Feel It Still – Portugal. The Man
Stay – Zedd & Alessia Cara

I do enjoy “Stay” as well as “Feel It Still,” though I’m still shocked that the song has done has well as it has.

I yawn at the thought of “The Chainsmokers & Coldplay” and Imagine Dragons…

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM

Kaleidoscope EP – Coldplay
Lust For Life – Lana Del Rey
Evolve – Imagine Dragons
Rainbow – Kesha
Joanne – Lady Gaga
Divide – Ed Sheeran

Yes, that’s right. One of the nominees here is a five-song EP. Great job, Recording Academy!

I did not listen to Evolve, so withdrawing from that conversation…

I never really got on board with Lust for Life, Rainbow or Joanne, though there were a few good tracks among the three records. Again, the only album I found myself re-visiting was Divide, which I believe is Ed Sheeran’s best album to date.

ALTERNATIVE

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM

Everything Now – Arcade Fire
Humanz – Gorillaz
American Dream – LCD Soundsystem
Pure Comedy – Father John Misty
Sleep Well Beast – The National

I was only able to listen to three of the five records nominated here – Everything Now, Humanz and American Dream. Much to my disappointment, all three albums were underwhelming. However, I have heard great reviews about Pure Comedy and Sleep Well Beast, so I will be adding those records to my list.

R&B

BEST R&B SONG

First Began – PJ Morton
Location – Khalid
Redbone – Childish Gambino
Supermodel – SZA
That’s What I Like – Bruno Mars

Your fun fact for the day? PJ Morton is a keyboardist for Maroon 5. The more you know…

“That’s What I Like” was one of my favorite songs off 24K Magic and, much to my surprise, became a bigger song than “24K Magic.” As for the other two tracks, “Supermodel” was not one of my favorites off Ctrl, but I really enjoyed “Location,” the lead single off American Teen.

BEST URBAN CONTEMPORARY ALBUM

Free 6LACK – 6LACK
Awaken, My Love! – Childish Gambino
American Teen – Khalid
Ctrl – SZA
Starboy – The Weeknd

Did not listen to Free 6LACK

The only album here I haven’t discussed yet is Starboy. Outside of the main singles and the one song featuring Kendrick Lamar, I was very underwhelmed by this project, as I often find myself feeling when I listen to an album by The Weeknd.

RAP

BEST RAP PERFORMANCE

Bounce Back – Big Sean
Bodak Yellow – Cardi B
4:44 – JAY-Z
HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar
Bad and Boujee – Migos Featuring Lil Uzi Vert

This is a loaded field, featuring three huge No. 1 singles (“Bodak Yellow”, “HUMBLE.”, “Bad and Boujee”). It did take me a while to come around on “Bad and Boujee,” mostly because I saw it as a “meme” song thanks to the “rain drop, drop top” intro. But honestly, I enjoy all five of these songs. How awesome would it be to see artists like Cardi B or Migos walk away with a Grammy Award?

BEST RAP/SUNG PERFORMANCE

PRBLMS – 6LACK
Crew – Goldlink Featuring Brent Faiyaz & Shy Glizzy
Family Feud – JAY-Z Featuring Beyoncé
LOYALTY. – Kendrick Lamar Featuring Rihanna
Love Galore – SZA Featuring Travis Scott

*skips 6LACK*

Interestingly enough, I did not enjoy the JAY-Z or Kendrick Lamar tracks as much as I did the Goldlink and SZA songs. I think “Crew” is the best radio-friendly rap song of 2017, and “Love Galore” is not only one of my favorite songs off Ctrl, but it’s one of Travis Scott’s best features.

BEST RAP SONG

Bodak Yellow – Cardi B
Chase Me – Danger Mouse Featuring Run the Jewels & Big Boi
HUMBLE. – Kendrick Lamar
Sassy – Rapsody
The Story of O.J. – JAY-Z

I was very happy that Run the Jewels, the best rap duo in the world at the moment, and Big Boi, one-half of the greatest rap duo of all-time, received Grammy nominations. Though I wasn’t a fan of “Sassy,” I’m also very happy that Rapsody received a nomination. Speaking of which…

BEST RAP ALBUM

4:44 – JAY-Z
DAMN. – Kendrick Lamar
Culture – Migos
Laila’s Wisdom – Rapsody
Flower Boy – Tyler, the Creator

…I think Rapsody has the second-best album of the five nominated. Seriously, I cannot recommend Laila’s Wisdom enough.

Like “Bad and Boujee,” it did take me a while to come around to Culture, but in no way does it measure up to its counterparts. As for the Tyler, the Creator, I’m happy to see him get some recognition, though it’s worth noting that Flower Boy is probably his most relatable and listener-friendly record.

THAT’S IT!

Again, even if you disagree with my opinions on some of these records and songs, it’s pointless to get worked up. After all, it is just my opinion.

Anyway, the 60th Annual Grammy Awards will be held on January 28 and broadcasted by CBS live from Madison Square Garden in New York City from 7:30 to 11:30 PM ET. So make sure to mark you calendars for the big event!

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The PERFECT Holiday Music Playlist

Creating the perfect holiday music playlist sounds a lot harder than you think.

One must find a way to entertain everyone at their family’s holiday gathering, from adults to children. In 2017, it isn’t as simple as dusting off an old holiday CD or turning on your local radio station or even making a mix CD of your favorite holiday classics.

Thank goodness for platforms for Spotify, which offers an enormous catalog of songs to choose from, but in a way, it kind of puts more pressure on one to create the “perfect holiday music playlist.”

Sure, Spotify and other platforms attempt to help us out by creating their own playlists based on different generations and genres. But relying solely on one of those playlists would be very tacky, and being that family knows you better than anyone, they’ll be able to tell that the playlist is pre-packaged.

So make your own playlist, and more importantly, make it from the heart.

But thankfully, I already did it for you! Think of it as my Christmas gift to all of you.

Using the magical platform of Spotify, I created “the prefect holiday playlist,” containing 126 DIFFERENT holiday tunes from wide range of artists, generations and genres. Below are some of the songs featured on the playlist, with YouTube links to go with them. Think of it as a little preview of what to expect on this playlist.

All I Want for Christmas Is You – Mariah Carey

Of course, what’s a holiday playlist without the biggest holiday song?

Last Christmas – Wham!

I miss George Michael.

Hallelujah – Pentatonix

The best rendition of “Hallelujah” in the history of music. Then again, that’s probably the “millennial” in me talking. Plenty more Pentatonix to come…

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo – Trans-Siberian Orchestra

The little girl in the video is me every time I listen to this song.

Mary, Did You Know? – Pentatonix

But DID YOU KNOW beatboxers can sing?

Christmas Canon – Trans-Siberian Orchestra

This is beautiful in every single way imaginable.

Underneath the Tree – Kelly Clarkson

Just to make you feel old… it’s been 15 years since Kelly Clarkson won American Idol.

Mistletoe – Justin Bieber

For the kiddies… and because we definitely say “shawty” before kissing someone under the mistletoe, right?

Baby It’s Cold Outside – Idina Menzel, Michael Bublé

Gods, I love this music video.

Santa’s Coming For Us – Sia

Whatever that means..

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays – *NSYNC

Yes, that’s Gary Coleman.

Step Into Christmas – Elton John

Young Elton John!

That’s Christmas to Me – Pentatonix

Superstars.

Amazing Grace – Peter Hollens, Home Free

A capella territory…

Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer – Home Free

Gods, I love this music video too.

Angels We Have Heard On High – Home Free

7.7 million views, if you were curious…

Every Day Will Be Like A Holiday – William Bell

One of many R&B/soul holiday songs on the playlist

Player’s Ball – OutKast

[WARNING: EXPLICIT LYRICS] Depending on your family gathering, you may want to skip over this song. Then again… why would you skip over OutKast?

A Saints Christmas – Kermit Ruffins

I’m sure the Superdome will be blasting this song on Christmas Eve when the Saints play the Falcons.

What Christmas Means To Me – Stevie Wonder

God bless Stevie Wonder.

Little Drummer Boy – Pentatonix

They’re back… and get used to them.

Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy – Pentatonix

Reminder: no musical instruments.

The First Noel – Pentatonix

Starting to run out of words…

O Come, All Ye Faithful – Pentatonix

… really, I am.

Coldest Winter – Kanye West

Whether intentional or not, Kanye West made a song for the holidays… I think?

How Great Thou Art – Pentatonix, Jennifer Hudson

Even Jennifer Hudson is on board…

Away In A Manger – Pentatonix

Once again… superstars.

Cold December Night – Michael Bublé

Our modern-day Frank Sinatra.

Below is the link to the full six-hour, fifty-six-minute playlist. If you’d like, you can find me on Spotify (dshin131) and check out my other playlists as well. Let me know if I left out/missed any songs or accidentally repeated any songs.

Oh, and most importantly: HIT SHUFFLE!

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays!

TSR’s 2017-2018 NHL Predictions

I never really followed hockey that closely until last season.

That being said, my “team” since 2007 has been the Chicago Blackhawks because of Patrick Kane. I cheered during those Stanley Cup victories in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but I never really had a close connection with the team for the simple reason that I never really connected with the sport of hockey.

Well, after spending a year on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia, I soon realized that in a town riddled with St. Louis Blues and fellow Blackhawks fans (Columbia, MO is about a six-hour drive to CHI), it would be wise to have some knowledge of my team as well as the rest of the league. So I started tracking the NHL last season, and through daily highlights, Twitter, and a bunch of written pieces, I can now say that I can talk about hockey with a lot more confidence.

So with that being said, I thought it would be a good idea to have a crack at predicting the upcoming 2017-2018 NHL season. I mean, why not? I’d like to think as a relatively new NHL “fan,” I offer a fresh perspective on some of these teams. Either that, or I’m just way off and should probably just stick to sports that are not hockey.

Anyway, let’s do it!

The Buffalo Sabres will be better than you think.

The Sabres intrigued me right away, though I’m willing to admit it was mostly because of the greatness of Rick Jeanneret.

It’s not like the Sabres lacked quality talent last season. In just 61 games, Jack Eichel led the team in points (57), Evander Kane upped his point total for a third straight season, Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo remained reliable, Rasmus Ristolainen took another step forward and was arguably the Sabres’ best player over the course of the entire season, and Robin Lehner was a top-five goaltender.

There were rumors and whispers that Eichel and former head Dan Bylsma did not see eye-to-eye on things. Eichel clarified the comments, but the Sabres still fired Bylsma and general manger Tim Murray. With former Nashville Predators assistant Phil Housley now behind the bench, I expect both Eichel and Ristolainen to take another step forward and possibly enter the upper level of players within their respective positions. Combine that with the addition of Nathan Beaulieu and the return of former captain Jason Pominville, and the Sabres should make a run at a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

If Steven Stamkos stays healthy, the Tampa Bay Lightning will make the playoffs.

The last time Stamkos played 82 games in a season was the 2014-2015 season. The Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Finals. He played 77 games the following season. The Lightning returned to the Eastern Conference Finals.

So one can probably guess what happened when Stamkos played in just 17 games last season due to a torn meniscus in his right knee. The Lightning missed the playoffs.

By just one point, though.

The injury history of Stamkos is well-documented, so of course there’s cause for concern going forward. But it’s worth noting that in the 17 games he did play in last season, he put up 20 points. If Stamkos continued that pace for the rest of the season, he would have put up 96 points, which would have been one point off his career-high.

Stamkos still possesses the talent. It’s all a matter of whether he can stay healthy over the course of an entire season. If so, the Lightning are a lock for the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will miss the playoffs…

If you haven’t done so already, now you’re certainly questioning my hockey knowledge, or lack thereof. As outrageous as that statement is to you, I ask you to please hear me out.

The Penguins are have won the Stanley Cup title the past two seasons. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz were fantastic last season. Ian Cole, Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel are great role players.

But beyond those six players, who else provides any sort of confidence? Jake Guentzel, Carl Hagelin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Greg McKegg, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary all missed time last season due to injury. Not to mention, goaltender Matt Murray is still young and has never been a clear-cut number one goaltender in his career.

Combine that with the losses of Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Ron Hainsey, Matt Cullen and Mark Streit, and the Penguins lack quality depth should some of those injured players from last season go down again. The pickups of Matt Hunwick and Ryan Reaves were decent, but I don’t think it was enough.

I am willing to admit that if everyone stay healthy, the Penguins are probably the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. However, I cannot place any sort of confidence in a team that not only has injury history, but a lack of proven depth and goaltending. Even if that team does have Crosby and Malkin.

…and so will the Ottawa Senators.

Hopefully, this one isn’t too outrageous.

As opposed to their opponents in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals (the Penguins), the Senators do not lack depth up front. However, they do lack a Crosby/Malkin-like player in addition to a consistent goaltender. To make matters worse, the Senators could start the season without star defenseman Erik Karlsson after the captain underwent foot surgery in the offseason.

First off, should the Senators even miss Karlsson for an extended amount of time during the season, they can kiss their playoff chances goodbye. But even assuming he does stay healthy, it’s worth asking if they have another player, particularly on offense, who can step up to Karlsson’s level and put up 70-80 points. In other words, can Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris take another step forward, or have they peaked? Also, if Karlsson does miss time, can a defenseman such as Dion Phaneuf step up and replace Karlsson’s production?

Despite those question marks, the biggest question mark for the Senators is in net, specifically with 36-year-old goaltender Craig Anderson. Does he have another quality season left in the tank? Remember, he got yanked from net multiple times last season before big performances in Games 6 and 7 of the Conference Finals. If those struggles with “Father Time” carry over into this season, the Senators can (again) kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

Overall, there’s just too many question marks in Ottawa and, as opposed to the Penguins, not enough top-of-the-line talent to shrug off those concerns. In other words, the Senators can’t say, “Despite our weaknesses in some areas, at least we have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin!”

The New York Islanders will make the playoffs…

Like the Lightning, the Islanders also missed the playoffs by just one point. What hampered this team last season was its slow start to the season, and in the Metropolitan division, that can prove very costly. They did go on a run in January and went undefeated in the month of April under interim head coach Doug Weight, but it was not enough.

The Islanders certainly have the offensive talent to compete for a playoff spot. Josh Bailey, new addition Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and star captain John Tavares all eclipsed the 50-point mark last season.

Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Tavares, as he enters the last year of his contract. One would think a team would have signed a player like Tavares to a long-term extension at this point, but to no avail. Again, we’ll see what happens.

Anyway, as for the defense, the Islanders will be fine with players like Johnny Boychuk, Calvin De Haan, Nick Leddy and Dennis Seidenberg manning the backline. As for the net, goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak struggled at times last season, so that could be the one big weakness of this team.

But I just think this team is too good offensively to miss out for a second straight season. I think Tavares will get his contract extension done early in the season, and the Islanders will grab one of the two Wild Card Spots in the East.

…and so will the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes now own the longest playoff drought in the NHL at eight seasons. However, they did finish with 87 points last season, which was within eight points of the last Wild Card spot. Watching this team last season, one could sense that they are close to ending that drought, so what they do in the offseason? Bring in a bunch of former champions.

I think the signing of three-time champion Justin Williams (Happy 36th Birthday TODAY!), a member of the 2006 Hurricanes team that won the Stanley Cup, was absolutely brilliant. He showed that he can still produce last season, putting up 48 points with the Washington Capitals. Williams will offer leadership for an attack that features young rising stars such as Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Jeff Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen.

Like the Islanders, Carolina’s biggest question mark will be in net, specifically with new goaltender Scott Darling. For the past three seasons, he was Corey Crawford’s backup with the Chicago Blackhawks, but after the Hurricanes traded for him in the offseason, they clearly think he has what it takes to become a starting goaltender. He certainly showed flashes of potential in Chicago, but we’ll see if he can become a consistent starter. If not, the Hurricanes have a more-than-serviceable backup in Cam Ward, who was the Hurricanes No. 1 netminder last season.

The Hurricanes will be fine on defense with Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin leading the way. With former champions and rising stars, the Hurricanes have everything in place to end their dreaded playoff drought.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Eastern Conference.

The Maple Leafs are so stacked that Nazem Kadri, who put up 61 points last season, may start on the third line. Not only that, but he will likely be playing with new signing Patrick Marleau, a veteran who tallied 46 points at age 37 for the San Jose Sharks last season. That speaks volumes to the talent and youth on the first two lines. I mean, where do I even begin?

Tyler Bozak, Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk set career-highs in points last season, but the heart of the Maple Leafs is the trio of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander. All three surpassed the 60-point mark last season and will only get better with time. If “MNM” stick together, the Maple Leafs will have multiple Stanley Cups within the next five years. Book it.

Now, the one weakness of this team is on defense, specifically in front of Frederik Anderson, who was one of the best goaltenders in the league last season. Except for Jake Gardiner and new signing Ron Hainsey, a member of last season’s Pittsburgh Penguins championship squad, the defensemen do not inspire much confidence. Young players such as Connor Barrick, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev will need to step up for the Maple Leafs to fulfill their sky-high expectations this season.

Those sky-high expectations are well-earned. That’s why Marleau’s presence will be so important to “MNM’s” development this season, especially come the playoffs. The Maple Leafs have what it takes to go all the way, and I believe they will.

The Colorado Avalanche are (still) the worst team in the NHL.

Gods, this team is awful.

On top of their lack of talent, there are still trade rumors surrounding Matt Duchene. A bunch of contending teams would love to add another player of that caliber, so we’ll see what happens.

Nathan MacKinnon may very well be a star in the making, but I don’t know if he can be the best player on an aspiring playoff team, let alone the Colorado Avalanche. Speaking of which…

The St. Louis Blues will throw away this season.

Being in Missouri for two years, I certainly have learned a lot about Blues hockey.

At full strength, the Blues are a Stanley Cup contender. The problem? They’re not at full strength.

Patrik Berglund is out until December after offseason shoulder surgery, Jay Bouwmeester is out for the first few weeks with a fractured ankle and Alexander Steen is out for the month of October due to a broken hand. Those three players are not just instrumental to the Blues’ success going forward, but they played huge roles in the Blues’ past playoff success. With those health questions up in the air combined with a lack of quality depth, #itsawrap for the Blues.

The Dallas Stars will rebound and make the playoffs.

The Stars had the best record in the Western Conference in 2015-2016, and were some experts’ pick to win the Stanley Cup before last season. Fast forward six months, and the Stars were sixth in the Central Division with just 79 points, a 30-point decrease from the previous season.

Sure, a lot of the players from that successful season took a step back, but I think most of the blame fell on the defense, specifically the disastrous goalie tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. The Stars let in the second-most goals in the NHL last season, so what they do to fix the defense?

Well, first they hired an experienced, defensive-minded head coach in Ken Hitchcock. Next, they went out and acquired a true No. 1 goaltender with Stanley Cup Finals experience in the 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop, as well as veteran defenseman Marc Methot from the Montreal Canadiens. Those three moves, along with John Klingberg, should improve a Stars backline that honestly can’t get any worse after last season.

Combine that with the front line of captain Jamie Benn, new addition Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin, and the Stars should return to their winning ways this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks could run into some trouble.

It pains me to say this as a fellow Blackhawks fan.

Chicago’s top line of Richard Panik, Brandon Saad, a former Stanley Cup champion who returns to Chicago after two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and captain Jonathan Toews will be as good as ever.

The questions come with Patrick Kane’s second line, specifically someone who can fill the shoes left by Artemi Panarin, who was part of the deal that sent Saad back to Chicago. Patrick Sharp, another former champion who returns after two seasons in Dallas, is 36-years-old and coming off a hip injury that cut his season short. In addition, Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat are still young and relatively unproven as second-line players. I think the Blackhawks will have trouble replacing Panarin’s 74 points last season.

As for the defense, Duncan Keith is still an elite defenseman and Brent Seabrook is still capable of a key role. Once again, it’s the second-line that raises some concerns. The newly acquired Connor Murphy showed some flashes during his time with the Arizona Coyotes, but is still just 24-years-old and lacks big-game experience. Outside of those three players, it’s up in the air as to who will step up into the top four.

The Blackhawks will still make the playoffs. I mean, come on now… let’s not get too crazy. That being said, I would not be surprised if it comes in the form of a wild card spot.

The Pacific Division will not change much.

I won’t spend much time on this one.

The top four teams in the Pacific last season, in order, were the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames. I still believe those are the four teams that will make the playoffs from this division. The order will differ, however. I think it will go Edmonton, Calgary, Anaheim and then San Jose.

In other words, don’t expect those Vegas Golden Knights to pull off the miracle and make the playoffs in their first NHL season.

So now that I’ve gone through the entire league, what team have I yet to touch on that could hoist the Stanley Cup?

Washington? Columbus? Nashville?

Nope.

The Minnesota Wild will win the Stanley Cup!

I actually feel pretty confident about this pick because I truly believe the Wild have the best roster, top to bottom, in the NHL. Let’s break it down:

OFFENSE

Charlie Coyle is 25 and coming off a 50-point season.
24-year-old Mikael Granlund emerged as a rising star last season, tallying 69 points.
Captain Mikko Koivu is also coming off a 50-point season.
Nino Niederreiter, another 24-year-old, is coming of his most productive season (57 points).
Eric Stall put up the second-most points (65) on the team in his first season in Minnesota.
25-year-old Jason Zucker took a huge step forward and is entering his prime.

DEFENSE

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was arguably the best goaltender in hockey last season.
23-year-old Mathew Dumba took another step forward last season.
Jared Spurgeon is coming off the best season of his career and looking to enter the upper level of NHL defenseman.
Ryan Suter, the best player on the Wild last season, is already an elite defenseman.
Jonas Brodin and Kyle Quincey are more-than-serviceable defenseman and had decent seasons last year.

Not including Zach Parise, who will miss the start of the season due to a back injury, right there are 12 players who figure to play a key role for the Wild this season. I think the Wild’s Stanley Cup chances will ultimately come down to whether Dubnyk can repeat his elite season last year. If so, #itsawrap in the Western Conference.

Obviously, there are others that will have key roles, but the point is that barring multiple injuries to key players, this team has the depth and talent to win the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup.

2017-2018 STANLEY CUP FINALS PREDICTION: Wild over Maple Leafs in seven games

The World Needs a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl

January 26, 1997. Superdome. New Orleans. Super Bowl XXXI.

Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21.

Most people remember Super Bowl XXXI as Brett Favre’s only Super Bowl win of his Hall-of-Fame career, but this was also the closest Drew Bledsoe would come to leading his team to a Super Bowl win.

Over the next twenty years, events occurred that led to the downfall of both quarterbacks. Bledsoe went down with a life-threatning injury in the second game of the 2001 season, and never started another game for the Patriots. As for Favre, he led the Packers to another Super Bowl appearance in 1998, but fell to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. He never made it back to the big stage over his last eight seasons as a member of the Packers.

But the downfall of two great quarterbacks led to the rise of two legendary quarterbacks.

Tom Brady, a 23-year-old sixth-round pick out of the University of Michigan, took over for the injured Bledsoe and just a few months later, led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Over the next fifteen years, Brady would go on to win four more Super Bowls, as well as three more Super Bowl MVPs and two League MVPs. Some have already dubbed him as the “greatest of all-time.”

Aaron Rodgers, a 21-year-old first-round pick out of the University of California-Berkley, had to wait three seasons before becoming the starting quarterback of the Packers. But like Brady, once Rodgers took over, he never looked back. In his third season as the starter, Rodgers led the Packers to their first Super Bowl title since Super Bowl XXXI. Like his predecessor, Rodgers was also named Super Bowl MVP. Since then Rodgers has won two League MVPs and a number of NFL records, including the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history. Today, at age 33, he is the best quarterback in the NFL.

Many forget that a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl could have happened in two of the last three seasons. Had it not been for the Seahawks in 2015 or Atlanta Falcons last season, we would have already seen this matchup on the biggest stage. So to teams like the Seahawks, the Falcons, the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and many other contending teams… please do not get in the way of football poetry.

The world needs a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl, and they need it now.

Brady is 40-years-old, and while he has said that he wants to play another three to five more seasons, father time ultimately catches up to everyone. Who knows, it may catch up to him this season. Not to mention, Rodgers will be 34 in December. The point is that the clock is ticking.

Rodgers is 1-1 against the Patriots in his career, but it’s worth noting that the one loss came in 2006, when he stepped in for an injured Favre. He went 4-of-12 passing for just 33 yards, and the Patriots won the game 35-0.

The first “real” matchup between Brady and Rodgers took place in 2014. Both quarterbacks had similar stats: Brady went 22-of-35 passing for 245 yards and two touchdowns, while Rodgers went 24-of-38 passing for 368 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers won the game, 26-21. So one can look at a potential Packers-Patriots Super Bowl matchup as a rubber match or “Brady’s revenge game.”

Either way, everybody wins.

The NFL wins. They get to market this Super Bowl around two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Not to mention, viewership records will surely shatter once again.

The media wins. Can you imagine the field day they will have with this matchup?

The players win, for obvious reasons.

But most important, the fans win. Any fan who would not want to see Brady vs. Rodgers in the Super Bowl is not a true football fan.

Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Two No. 12s. Two historic, successful franchises. Two deep-rooted, passionate fan bases.

So go ahead, and cheer on your respective teams this season. Just be aware that they will likely be interfering with poetry in the making.

2017/2018 English Premier League Preview

The 2017/2018 English Premier League season kicks off today! From the south coast, to Wales, to Merseyside, to the Northwest, to the Northeast, to the Midlands, to the capital of England, and even to Yorkshire, 20 clubs will compete for one of football’s greatest prizes.

Who will come out on top? Here is a breakdown of all twenty clubs.

ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB

Arsenal supporters believe that their team should contend for the Premier League title every season. However, the Gunners have not won the title since 2003/2004 and finished outside of the top four last season for the first time under manager Arsene Wenger. Provided he can get a strong enough squad to work with, Wenger can definitely get Arsenal back into the title race.

The potential title hopes would all but evaporate if the transfer rumors surrounding Alexis Sánchez are true. The Chilean forward has been, by far, the club’s best player since arriving in 2014/2015. The Gunners must do everything they can to keep Sánchez and avoid taking a tremendous step in the wrong direction.

They did bring in striker Alexandre Lacazette to become the main goal scorer. Every Premier League title contender needs a player who can put up 20 or more goals in a season, and Lacazette has the potential to do that right away.

But even if Arsenal were to keep Sánchez and get 20 goals from Lacazette, it will still be tough to contend for the title considering the improvements made by both Manchester clubs and Liverpool as well. If Arsenal miss out on the top four again, Wenger will likely be shown the door.

ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB BOURNEMOUTH

After a top-half finish in just their second Premier League season, Bournemouth have proved that they truly belong in the top flight.

Instead of quantity, manager Eddie Howe opted for quality in the transfer window. The Cherries made permanent moves for Chelsea’s Nathan Ake, who enjoyed a successful loan spell with the club last season, and Asmir Begovic. Bournemouth also brought back Jermaine Defoe, who led Sunderland in scoring in the last two seasons. The 34-year-old striker also scored 10 goals in 10 games for the Cherries back in 2000/2001. One of his teammates from that team? Eddie Howe.

Bournemouth forged a successful attack last season, but struggled at times on defense. With Manchester City and Arsenal looming in their first four matches, the Cherries will find out how much help they still need at the back.

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION FOOTBALL CLUB

Brighton are back in England’s top flight for the first time in 34 years after knocking on the door of the Premier League in four of the last five seasons, and what a journey it has been for the Seagulls.

In 1996/1997, Brighton needed one point against Hereford to stay in the Football League. They did get the draw, but unfortunately, the sale of the Goldstone Ground in Hove meant that the Seagulls would be forced to play their home matches 70 miles away at the grounds of Gillingham. After two seasons, Brighton returned home to play at Withdean Stadium, an old athletic complex with a 8,850-seat capacity. In October 2005, the supporters and board of directors received planning permission to build the now-30,750 seat Falmer Stadium, a.k.a the Amex, which opened in December 2011.

As for squad, manager Chris Hughton has done a fantastic job of building a team that plays together. However, they will likely be underdogs in almost every match simply because of the talent gap and lack of Premier League experience. While avoiding relegation is the goal, both players and supporters should take everything in and just enjoy this season.

The battle has just begun, but Brighton have already won the war.

BURNLEY FOOTBALL CLUB

Burnley, led by manager Sean Dyche, defied expectations and avoided relegation for the first time in club history. They picked up 33 of their 40 points at their home venue of Turf Moor, a foundation the Clarets will need to build on to stay in the Premier League.

With defender Michael Keane sold to Everton in the summer, Burnley have brought in Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, and Jack Cork as defensive reinforcements. Striker Jonathan Walters should also offer firepower to an attack that scored just 39 goals last season. But even with those additions, Dyche’s squad is only at 25 players, so more additions are likely.

CHELSEA FOOTBALL CLUB

After their 3-0 loss at Arsenal in late September, no one expected Chelsea to then rip off 13 straight wins. After that loss, the Blues did not drop points in consecutive matches for the rest of the season and clinched the Premier League title with two matches remaining.

The squad is still loaded with talent at every position and made some great signings in summer, such as striker Alvaro Morata. In 26 league appearances for Real Madrid, the 24-year-old scored 15 goals, the second-most of any player on the club. It will be interesting to see how he copes to the Premier League. The quicker he can adapt, the better it will be for the entire team.

With that being said, losing Diego Costa, who is spending time in Brazil at the moment, will be a huge blow for Chelsea. On top of Eden Hazard’s ankle injury that will keep him out for a few weeks, Chelsea have some big holes to fill in their starting XI right away. In the meantime, players like Michy Batshuayi, Pedro and Willian will need to step up.

Chelsea are the defending champions. The pressure will be on to show that they can do it again.

CRYSTAL PALACE FOOTBALL CLUB

Crystal Palace secured Premier League safety last season thanks to Sam Allardyce, but his resignation just two days after the season threw the club into turmoil. To replace him, chairman Steve Parish opted for Frank de Boer, who won the Dutch League title four years in a row at Ajax. However, his most recent spell at Inter Milan lasted just 85 days.

As just the second foreigner ever to manage Crystal Palace, de Boer has looked to bring a more international flair to the pitch. However, attempts to play a more attractive style last season ultimately ended in a relegation battle and Alan Pardew’s sacking in December. Expect de Boer to carry out a more pragmatic approach to gradual improvement, as opposed to constantly switching the styles of football and going from zero to one hundred in a short time span.

de Boer’s early transfer activity was especially revealing. Chelsea’s 21-year-old loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek and 20-year-old star Dutch defender Jairo Riedewald are both young players that de Boer can shape to fit his style of football.

EVERTON FOOTBALL CLUB

Everton’s seventh-place finished under manager Ronald Koeman suggests that the club on the rise. There is no denying that the loss of prolific striker Romelu Lukaku was a huge blow, but that void was filled by seven new signings, headlined by the return of Wayne Rooney.

Last season’s reliance on Lukaku was obvious. Behind his 25 goals, the next-highest scorer was Ross Barkley with just five goals. Koeman’s mission will be to build a squad which provides a threat from all angles.

The Toffees spent big money on goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, Dutch attacking midfielder Davy Klaasen, and defender Michael Keane. With spending already at unprecedented levels, Everton have made it clear that they want to crack the top six this season. If they can overtake Liverpool and prove themselves as the top dog on Merseyside, then it could be a huge first step towards a very bright future.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season, Huddersfield jumped up 14 spots in the Championship table to fifth place and went on to defeat Reading in the Playoff final to seal promotion to the top flight for the first time in 45 years.

Manager David Wagner deserves a ton of credit for transforming the Terriers from top to bottom. Expect a lot of passion on the sideline, similar to fellow German manager and good friend Jurgen Klopp. As the former manager of Borussia Dortmund II, Wagner worked with Klopp for four seasons before taking over Huddersfield in 2015/2016. In those two seasons, Wagner has emphasized a high-intensity, counterattacking style of football that should transition well into the Premier League.

The signings that Huddersfield have made show that they intend to stay in the Premier League. The Terriers signed Montpellier striker Steven Mounie, who scored one less goal in Ligue 1 than Monaco superstar Kylian Mpabbe last season, as well as FC Copenhagen captain Mathias Jorgensen. Add them to Aaron Mooy and Christopher Schindler, and Huddersfield may give some top teams a scare this season.

Of course, survival is the mission for Huddersfield this season.

LEICESTER CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Now freed from the pressure of being champions and no European football to drain their resources, Leicester City enter this season with optimism. Manager Craig Shakespeare saved the club from relegation, winning seven of their last 13 matches after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri. Shakespeare will aim to make his own mark on the squad, but he will likely have to do it without star midfielder Riyad Mahrez.

Shakespeare’s first signing as permanent manager was Hull City’s promising defender Harry Maguire. The 24-year-old will offer fresh blood for an aging backline, providing competition for the likes of Robert Huth and captain Wes Morgan. Up front, the arrival of striker Kelechi Iheanacho adds firepower to the first-team squad. Deprived of first-team starts last season, the 20-year-old should relish the prospect of regular football.

LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB

Compared to where Liverpool were 18 months ago, the club is way ahead of schedule. Last season, manager Jurgen Klopp got the Reds back in the Champions League for the first time since 2009.

Now, the focus will be on maintaining their top four status and solidifying the squad, especially at the back. Expect Liverpool to only bring in players that will improve the first team, as opposed to signing players in bulk for the sake of expanding the squad. For instance, new signing Mohamad Salah should go straight into the starting XI and compete with the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane every week.

Another concern with this Liverpool squad is their lack of a twenty-goal striker similar to the likes of Aguero, Kane, Lukaku, and Sánchez. It will be interesting to see if a player like Firmino can step up and have that type of impact for Liverpool.

The Reds played well in the preseason, winning the Asia Trophy and defeating Bayern Munich, 3-0, at the Allianz Arena. With the improvements of the other top clubs combined with the grind of Champions League football this season, keeping hold of their place in the top four will be a tough task for Liverpool.

MANCHESTER CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Expectations were high among Manchester City supporters when manager Pep Guardiola arrived last summer. However, problems with the fullbacks and goalkeepers ultimately led to a disappointing third-place finish.

This summer, the club has brought in players that will not only help their defense, but also play the style of football that Guardiola wants to play. Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy will stretch the field and offer speed down the flanks. If Vincent Kompany can stay healthy, City will be better defensively in terms of organization and experience.

One of the most exciting players to watch out for this season will be forward Gabriel Jesus. The 20-year-old Brazilian hit the ground running in limited action last season, scoring seven goals in ten league matches. Now entering his first full season, Jesus has the potential to become one of the best players in the Premier League.

Based on the money Guardiola has spent since his arrival, City should win the title. Not only is the squad extremely talented, but manager is arguably the best in the world. For Guardiola to keep that reputation, he must win the Premier League within the next two seasons.

MANCHESTER UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

Considering that he has coached Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, manager Jose Mourinho is running out of clubs to prove himself. Unlike last season, the Portuguese will have less excuses because he now has a side that better fits his style of play as opposed to the mish mash of players from last season.

Goal-scoring was a problem at times for United last season, but striker Romelu Lukaku could be the solution. Mourinho’s better teams often feature a big, powerful target man to lead the attack such as Didier Drogba. Lukaku can hold the ball up and occupy two to three opposing defenders. He’s young, hungry, and most importantly, a proven goal scorer in the Premier League.

But perhaps United’s most important signing this summer was midfielder Nemanja Matic. The 29-year-old Serbian midfielder has played under Mourinho at Chelsea and gives United strength, stature and protection in front of the backline. Over the last three to four seasons, there have been few defensive midfielders in the Premier League as good as Matic.

Mourinho will need to unleash his tactical genius this season and propel United back into the title hunt. If he does not win the Premier League or Champions League at United, his run will ultimately go down as a failure.

NEWCASTLE UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

The famous black and white of Newcastle is back in England’s top flight. The passion and pride of the club was restored last season under manager Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard brought a stringent level of professionalism into the dressing room and made sure to let the supporters know that both the manager and players care about playing for Newcastle United.

The relationship between Benitez and owner Mike Ashley seemed strong last season, but Benitez has not been shy about his frustration of not sealing players early in the transfer window. Ashley must give Benitez the control and the money he promised at the end of last season to prevent another trip back down to the Championship.

One of the main areas of concern for Newcastle is the attacking midfield. During Jonjo Shelvey’s five-game suspension last season, the Magpies struggled mightily, losing to the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers. The 25-year-old is so important to the squad that without him, the team have trouble creating scoring chances. Benitez could use another creative midfielder to create chances should Shelvey suffer an injury or suspension.

But when Newcastle did create chances, they had some trouble scoring goals. Dwight Gayle did score 23 goals in 32 appearances last season, but the Magpies struggled finishing in the box when he was out. Adding another striker, specifically a physical target man who can finish in the box, would go a long way to preventing another relegation fight this season.

Realistically, Newcastle should expect to finished around the 13-15 range for the next year or two, with an eye on the top ten. If last season was any indication, the top ten is not that difficult to break into as long as the club can be consistent. Looking at the big picture, if Benitez does stay on board and Ashley gives him the money he promised, Newcastle should return to their glory days within the next five years.

SWANSEA CITY ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB

It’s a shame that Swansea City will likely have to move on from star midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who appears likely to join Everton in the near future. While the sale could go upwards of 50 million pounds, it’s still a huge loss for the Swans.

Manager Paul Clement unloaded sixteen players over the summer, including Borja Baston and Jack Cork, possibly to keep Sigurdsson. Among the new additions are midfielder Roque Mesa and Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, who knows Clement from his time in the youth ranks at Stamford Bridge. The Swans would be wise to add some more attacking options if Sigurdsson does leave.

SOUTHAMPTON FOOTBALL CLUB

For months, the big story surrounding Southampton has been the situation surrounding Virgil Van Dijk. The defender wants out, but the club seem unwilling to sell him.

New manager Mauricio Pelligrino replaces Claude Puel, who led the Saints to an eighth-place finish and EFL Cup Final last season. The only notable signing for Southampton was Poland U-21 defender Jan Bednarek from Lech Poznan. Time will tell whether he will replace or play with Van Dijk.

The Saints scored just 41 goals in 38 league matches, so it will be nice to have Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabiaddini full healthy this season. Pelligrino has played both players together in preseason to carry out a more attack-minded style of football.

STOKE CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season was a disappointment for manager Mark Hughes and Stoke City. After three consecutive top half finishes, the Potters finished in 13th place last season, picking up just two wins in their last 11 matches.

Only the bottom five teams scored fewer goals than Stoke last season, so Hughes will need to address their goalscoring woes. In the meantime, Stoke added experience in the form of midfielder Darren Fletcher and defensive energy in Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma.

Stoke took eight games to record their first league win last season, so Stoke will look to hit the ground running this season.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FOOTBALL CLUB

Tottenham were the most exciting team to watch in the Premier League last season. After a sixteen-point improvement, which would have won them the title in 2015/2016, Spurs are more hungry than ever to achieve Premier League glory.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has done a fantastic job in his two years at the helm of bringing young players such as Harry Kane and Danny Rose through the system and turning them into valuable players. While Spurs have yet to make any signings, chairman Daniel Levy tends to wait until the last few weeks of the transfer window to conduct his business. They could certainly use a quality striker behind Harry Kane if he goes down with an injury.

Spurs also sold Kyle Walker, which is not that big of a loss compared to past Tottenham players such as Gareth Bale and Luca Modric. That’s no slight to Walker, but with Kieran Trippier ready to step in, Tottenham should not lose much at right back, if anything at all.

The biggest concern for Spurs will be adapting to playing their home matches at Wembley Stadium. Every player has dreamed about playing at Wembley, so visiting teams will definitely raise their level of play against Spurs over the next two seasons. It will be interesting to see whether Spurs can do the same.

If Tottenham do not start winning major trophies in the near future, the supporters will begin to question the club’s direction, similar to what fans are doing now at Arsenal.

WATFORD FOOTBALL CLUB

Another season, another new manager for Watford. Marco Silva is the eighth appointed manager since the Pozzo family bought the team in 2012. The Portuguese impressed last season at Hull City, but their heroic turnaround was not enough to save them from relegation. This year, Silva will have another challenging season ahead of him.

Striker Troy Deeney will miss the first one or two games due to a groin injury. so don’t be surprised if Brazilian wonderkid Richarlison sees time during Deeney’s absence. As for other signings, Kiko Femenia, Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah are all expected to get playing time this season.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season, West Brom finished in the top half for just the second time in club history, but that highlight was matches by lowlights. The Baggies ended last season on a nine-match winless streak, and to make matters worse, the club has brought in little reinforcements to make sure that the streak will not continue into this season. Outside of forward Jay Rodriguez and Egyptian international Ahmed Hegazi, West Brom have not spent the money to further improve the squad under manager Tony Pulis.

Despite the disappointing finish to last season, the Baggies proved that they are one of the more dogged, driven teams in the Premier League. They will have to operate under that state of mind once again they hope to finish in the top half.

WEST HAM UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

In their first season at the London Stadium, the bright future of West Ham seemed to have dissipated, with the team winning just seven home matches. Manager Slaven Bilic will hope new signings such as Marko Arnautovic, Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta will help the Hammers improve not just their home form, but last season’s tenth-place finish as well.

Last season, West Ham forwards scored just 15 goals between them, which means all eyes will be on striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to rectify that problem. The “Little Pea” averaged about one goal every three matches during his time at Manchester United from 2010 to 2014. If he can buck West Ham’s trend of underperforming strikers, West Ham have the talent to return to the top seven for the second time in three seasons.

Of course, as fate has it, Chicharito’s first game back in the Premier League will be at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

2017/2018 English Premier Table

1. Chelsea
2. Tottenham Hotspur
3. Manchester City
4. Manchester United
5. Liverpool
6. Arsenal
7. Everton
8. West Ham United
9. Bournemouth
10. West Bromwich Albion
11. Leicester City
12. Southampton
13. Crystal Palace
14. Swansea City
15. Newcastle United
16. Stoke City
17. Burnley
18. Brighton and Hove Albion
19. Watford
20. Huddersfield Town

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 4 Recap

*READ MY GOT SEASON 7 EPISODE 3 RECAP HERE*

*SPOILERS FROM THE SHOW AND THE A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE BOOKS WILL BE DISCUSSED IN THIS POST! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!*

Although this episode was the shortest of the season so far, there were so many big reveals. Of course, I will get to the battle, but before I begin, I must address…

…the leak. So if you didn’t hear, two separate groups hacked HBO over the past week. The first group attacked HBO in the United States and claimed to have acquired 1.5 terabytes of information, ranging from scripts to other Game of Thrones content. The second group hacked HBO’s India affiliate and released an episode that had been given to them before the premiere date. In other words, the big HBO hack in the U.S. had nothing to do with the real leak of episode 4. When it comes to leaks on the Internet, I always heed the words of Ser Bronn of the Blackwater…

…back away…and back away some more. Just don’t look at any articles or spoilers. Don’t ruin the show for yourself. Otherwise, one may feel tempted to harm an innocent squire. Speaking of which…

1. …Bronn is back! Queen of Thorns give you one last prick in the balls before saying goodbye? Jerome Flynn-Bronn is arguably the best actor-character match of the entire show. Anyway, Bronn wants a castle, but Jaime says he’ll have his choice when the war is over. After all…

2. the Lannisters always pay- Alright fine, I won’t say it. Tycho Nestoris, a.k.a. Rihanna, is very impressed that Cersei will be paying off her debt so quickly. It’s only fair that the Iron Bank then extend a helping hand in Cersei’s current ventures. However, the Queen is already one step ahead, as she had Qyburn contact…

3. …the Golden Company! A Song of Ice and Fire readers should be very familiar with this army of sellswords. It seems unlikely that the show will introduce some of the book’s main characters from the Golden Company, but that doesn’t mean the group won’t play a big role in at least one of the next three episodes. Rihanna does mention that the Golden Company has helped the Iron Bank “recover significant sums from parties who had fallen into deep arrears.” Cersei would love for them to…

4. recover some things that belong to me. As Cersei and Rihanna were talking, the camera did overlook the North, which makes me think Cersei could use the Golden Company to not only attack Winterfell, but to bring back “that murdering whore Sansa” as well. Meanwhile…

5. …Littlefinger stay bein’ Littlefinger. He presents Bran with the dagger used in the attempt to take his life back in Season 1. Why did he do this? I have no idea. Anyway, Littlefinger brings up the current chaos of the world, to which Bran says…

6. CHAOS IS A LADDER. One of the best lines of the episode. Unlike his father, Bran is not a Stark with a “quick temper and slow mind.” He knows what Littlefinger has done in the past, but before he can go any further…

7. …Meera walks in. Although she doesn’t want to leave Bran, she feels that she needs to return to her family. Bran agrees he no longer needs her, but all he can muster up is, “Thank you.” Meera becomes pissed because many died to protect him and she risked her life as well. She realizes that the old Bran died in the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave. In other words…

8. …he isn’t really Bran Stark anymore. He is the Three-Eyed Raven now. As a result, it’s difficult for him to express emotions and feel like his former self. It’s almost as if he’s a human computer or a robot, especially considering how he has talked this season. Meanwhile, outside of Winterfell…

9. …Arya is home! The scene with the two young guards was very similar to the scene back in Season 1 when Arya was trying to get back into King’s Landing. The whole point was to show how much her home has changed since she left. She eventually gets away from the guards, who report back to Sansa. Once she hears that she asked for Ser Rodrik and Maester Luwin, Sansa knows exactly where to look…

10. …the crypts! This Stark reunion was much happier than I thought it would be. Maybe I looked too much into the tension between the sisters back in Season 1. Anyway, Sansa tells Arya that Bran is also home, but also gives her look as if to say, “Something is wrong.” You know what’s wrong?

11. The pacing of this show. Once again, I recommend reading last week’s recap for my complete thoughts on this topic, but this Stark reunion seems so rushed. Isn’t it convenient that all three Stark children are back in Winterfell within an episode of each other? I believe that if the show was given more time, this reunion, as well as many other events, could have been so much better. Hopefully, this was not George R.R. Martin’s plan for a Stark reunion in the books, if there would be one at all. I get the feeling that this was all David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, though. Anyway, back to the episode…

12. Bran gives Arya the dagger. This would explain why Arya had the dagger in all the Season 7 preview pictures. This also raises two questions: a) does Bran know that Arya will use the dagger to kill someone, a.k.a. Littlefinger? and b) why didn’t Bran tell Arya and Sansa about Littlefinger betraying Ned? There is not a lot of clarity with this situation, so hopefully next week’s episode answers the questions about the dagger. Meanwhile…

13. …Dany and Missandei discuss “many things.” Notice how the camera cut to Jon right after Dany said that? *wink wink*

14. Jon shows them the dragonglass cave. Not only did the cave have mountains of dragonglass, but it also contained carvings and drawings of the Children of the Forest and the First Men uniting “against their common enemy.” Dany seems convinced, and agrees to fight for the North…

15. …if Jon bends the knee. If you read last week’s recap, you know that I was not a fan of Dany wanting Jon to bend the knee. However, I’m starting to come around to Dany’s way of thinking because this is an opportunity for Jon to learn from the mistakes of others. This is reminiscent of Jon trying to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis in Season 5, but the leader of the Wildlings refused and died as a result. Isn’t their survival more important than your pride? Not only was that the line Jon used on Mance, but that was the exact line Dany used on Jon in this episode.

16. Tyrion keeps screwing up. While Tyrion is very smart politically, history has shown that he is not good at military strategy. Dany rightfully snaps at her hand and tells him, “Perhaps you don’t want to hurt [your family] after all.” Dany once again considers flying her dragons straight to the Red Keep, but instead asks Jon’s advice. Like Tyrion, Jon believe that melting cities and burning castles would make her no different from those that came before. At the same time, Dany does need to unleash her dragons on something, which I’ll get to in a moment. Back in Winterfell…

17. …Arya and Brienne face off! This was so awesome to watch. I got flashbacks to one of my favorite characters, Syrio Forel, in Season 1. Remember, child, this is not the dance of the Westeros we are learning… The knight’s dance, hacking and hammering. This is the Braavo’s dance… the water dance. It is swift and sudden. Overhead on a balcony, Littlefinger and Sansa watch Arya and Brienne fight to a stalemate. Sansa seems a bit uneasy about Arya’s ability to fight, which makes me think she knows that the list Arya made was not a joke. As for Littlefinger, he always has that stupid look on his face, so I have no idea what he was thinking. Meanwhile…

18. …Jon thinks Dany has a “good heart.” According to David Benioff, they are “starting to be attracted to each other.” I would be shocked if those feelings did not continue to blossom for the rest of the season. Anyway, Jon and Ser Davos talk with Missandei about Jon’s parentage, until…

19. …Theon returns and comes face-to-face with Jon. He has tried to avoid this confrontation since Season 2. It’s why Theon chose to stay in Winterfell and fight against the Boltons as opposed to taking the Black for his crimes. Theon knew Jon would kill him, but he did save Sansa’s life. What you did for her is the only reason I’m not killing you. Theon wants Dany’s help saving Yara from his uncle Euron. However, the queen is away at the moment. We’re almost there, don’t worry.

20. Rickon! By far, the best moment of the episode. I have watched Bronn laugh at his name too many times. Bronn’s smile is quickly wiped off his face because…

21. …HERE COME THE DOTHRAKI! In Season 1, Robert Baratheon said, “Only a fool would meet the Dothraki in an open field.” Well, it seems that Jaime is a fool. The Lannisters were already going to get crushed, but just to seal the deal…

22. …HERE COMES DROGON! At that point, Jaime should have taken Bronn’s advice and booked it back to King’s Landing. But for some reason, he didn’t want to abandon his army. Jaime gets saved by Rickon(?) at the last second, while Bronn reaches Qyburn’s scorpion and shoots the first spear into the Dothraki opponent following him.

23. I’ll be honest… I was rooting for Bronn. I just could not help myself. Bronn is such an amazing character that I was cheering for him to take down not just a dragon, but Dany as well. He does indeed hit Drogon, but it doesn’t do much damage and Bronn barely avoids the dragon’s flames. I really thought Bronn was going to die in that moment. Speaking of which, the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

24. …Jaime charges at Dany and Drogon. It is worth noting that Jaime was trying to kill Dany, not Drogon. It does not make what he did any less stupid, but I think I understand what was going through his mind. Watching all of those men burn around him is the exact thing Jaime prevented by killing the Mad King. He wanted to save lives, which is what he thought he would do by charging at Dany, who was standing inches away from a dragon. I thought Jaime was dead meat, until…

25. BRONN WITH THE CHASEDOWN BLOCK! What a moment! Jaime is then shown floating towards the bottom of the river as the episode fades to black. I would expect someone to pull Jaime out, but I’m not sure who that person could be.

Here’s what to expect for next week’s episode, titled “Eastwatch”:

1. The Lannister army will bend the knee. This is how the “Field of Fire” ended back during Aegon’s Conquest. It will be interesting to see whether Jaime, Bronn, and the Tarlys are part of this surrender. If that is the case, I imagine Tyrion will want Bronn and Jaime spared…

2. …which could cause some tension between Dany and Tyrion. Varys says, “You need to find a way to make her listen.” Whatever they are talking about, Tyrion will have to convince Dany to do something that she does not want to do. Once again, I think Dany will question Tyrion’s loyalties.

3. Jon comes face-to-face with Drogon! I think Jon will get preferential treatment from the dragons. I’ll leave it at that.

4. Dany will decide her next move. I assume Jon must have received a raven about Bran’s return to Winterfell, because he is talking about Bran seeing the Night King marching towards Eastwatch. But will that same raven also include information about his true parentage? What about Arya’s return?

5. Where are… the Brotherhood Without Banners? Gendry? Ser Jorah? Grey Worm? Euron? With three episodes left in the season, we’re going to have to get updates about these characters at some point. Will the Brotherhood go straight to Eastwatch or stop at Winterfell? Is Gendry still rowing? Will Jorah make it back to Dany? Did Grey Worm make it out of Casterly Rock, or did Euron capture him?

Let me know what you think about the episode in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131! As always, thanks for reading!

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 3 Recap

*READ MY GOT SEASON 7 EPISODE 2 RECAP HERE*

*SPOILERS FROM THE SHOW AND THE “A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE” BOOKS WILL BE DISCUSSED IN THIS POST! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!*

While this episode was, once again, very exciting, it did expose the show’s biggest flaw. I’ll get to that later in the post, though.

Shall we begin?

1. Jon Snow and Ser Davos arrive at Dragonstone. Tyrion and Missandei greet them on the beach and walk them up to the castle. Tyrion mentions that Stark men don’t fare well when they travel south…

2. …but Jon is not a Stark. Notice how Rhaegal flew over Jon after he said that? *wink wink* Meanwhile…

3. …Melisandre is off to Volantis. Varys suggests that she is not safe in Westeros, but she says that she will return. I have to die in this strange country. Just like you. I still hope we find out more about the voice Varys heard in the flames, as that could have something to do with his eventual death. Anyway, back in the castle…

4. …Jon and Daenerys finally meet! I loved the introductions of both characters. Missandei ripped off 20 seconds of titles in a majestic, potent tone, while Ser Davos, in his Flea Bottom accent, simply says, “This is Jon Snow… he’s King in the North.” Dany and Jon debate the oath of loyalty sworn by Torrhen Stark, the last King in the North, during Aegon’s Conquest. Jon refuses to bend the knee and instead, asks for help in fighting the Army of the Dead. Not only is Dany a bit skeptical, but she remains focused on ruling the Seven Kingdoms. In other words…

5. …Dany remains focused on ruling a graveyard. Like I mentioned in last week’s recap, Jon is at a disadvantage because he has no proof of what he saw beyond-the-Wall. Ser Davos tries to convince Dany that she and Jon are not that different when it comes to destiny and people believing in them. He mentions that Jon took a knife in the heart for his people, but Jon stops him short of revealing his resurrection. Despite Tyrion’s efforts, Jon still refuses to bend the knee, which Dany views as an act of open rebellion. Before she can go any further, Varys interrupts with news of the sea battle from the last episode and dismisses Jon and Ser Davos. From there, the Spider assumes that Ellaria, the Sand Snakes and the Greyjoys are dead or captured. However…

6. …Theon is still alive. One of the Ironborn ships that escaped the battle hauls Theon on board. He tells them that he tried to save Yara, but they don’t believe him. As the last remaining Greyjoy, Theon is going to have to step up and become a leader if he has any hope of turning this around. Speaking of Greyjoys…

7. …Euron is basking in the glory, and I love it! Everything this guy says is hilarious! I have to be honest. This is making me hard. Did you see little Theon’s face before he jumped overboard? Oh no! What a twat. I love this guy! But as for Ellaria and Tyene…

8. …they got what they deserve. All that was missing on that walk to the Red Keep was Septa Unella and that “shame” bell. Ellaria spits towards Cersei, which she might as well do because she was going to die regardless. Might as well get it all out, right? After Cersei accepts the gift…

9. …Euron continues to taunt Jaime. A finger in the bum? We don’t deserve such a great villain. In all seriousness, Euron and Jaime will boil over at some point. Speaking of which…

10. …the Queen finally gets justice. To be fair, I did like my idea of a Rickard/Brandon Stark redux, but this works too. Cersei got to stunt on a helpless Ellaria and poison Tyene the same way she poisoned Myrcella. As I predicted, Tyene’s last words were “Mama!” Shout out to Indira Varma (Ellaria) and Rosabell Laurenti Sellers (Tyene), as both did a fantastic job on the close-up shots in this scene.

11. Tycho Nestoris is back! The Iron Bank had to come back into play because as Tyrion said in Season 3, “…they always get their gold back.” Unfortunately, they will not get back some of their gold due to the end of slavery in Slaver’s Bay a.k.a. the Bay of Dragons. Cersei was smart to point this out, and it seems that she managed to convince the Iron Bank to invest in her cause. This is another big loss for Dany, and speaking of losses…

12. …more Jon and Tyrion! These two are great together, especially in this moment because they are both “brooding” over their failures. Tyrion tells Jon that Dany “protects people from monsters,” just as Jon did when he let the wildlings south of the Wall. He also tells him to ask for something more reasonable…

13. …like dragonglass. Tyrion convinces Dany to let Jon mine the dragonglass, as it might help create a new alliance. However, they did stop short of talking about Jon “taking a knife in the heart for his people.” I would be shocked if that was not revisited at some point this season. It’s also unknown if Dany believes that Army of the Dead and the Night King are real. Nevertheless, she lets Jon mine the dragonglass anyway, which helps the north tremendously. Speaking of which…

14. …ugh… Sansa is in charge. I’ll admit, the leather on the armor was a good call. But still, this has bad idea written all over it for one reason, and one reason only…

15. …Littlefinger a.k.a. Phil Jackson. Don’t fight in the north, or the south. Fight every battle, everywhere, always, in your mind. Everyone is you enemy. Everyone is your friend. Every possible series of events is happening all at once. Live that way, and nothing will surprise you. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before. That sounded like a Phil Jackson/Zen Master-like pep talk from the 2000 NBA Finals. Earlier in the scene, Littlefinger also seemed intrigued at Maester Wolkan’s comment about Maester Luwin keeping copies of every raven scroll. I assume that will be very important in the next couple of episodes, as Littlefinger is bound to get his hands on information that he should not own. Maybe he’ll find out something about Jon’s birth? But as for the Phil Jackson speech, that last line is very important because…

16. …Bran is back in Winterfell! This was another fantastic reunion, but you can’t help but notice Bran’s stone-cold expression when Sansa embraces him. That continues in the godswood when he is trying to explain what being the “Three-Eyed Raven” means. On top of talking like a robot, Bran brings up Sansa’s wedding night in Season 5, which makes her uneasy and forces her to leave. Everything that happens will be something that you’ve seen before. I imagine she’ll have to talk to someone about this, and I really hope it isn’t Littlefinger. Meanwhile, at the Citadel…

17. …the greyscale is gone! Ser Jorah does still have some nasty-looking skin, but its way better than what it was before. Samwell and Jorah leave on, “Perhaps our paths will cross again,” which likely means that they will meet again. That evening…

18. …Archmaester Ebrose grills Samwell. It’s easy to forget that Samwell could have gotten infected with greyscale and endangered everyone at the Citadel. When Ebrose asked how he succeeded at such a meticulous procedure, Samwell basically goes to his signature, “I read it in a book,” line. His reward for saving a man’s life? Copying manuscripts and old scrolls. While it seems like a raw deal on the surface, I assume that Samwell will discover something important while doing this tedious task. Meanwhile…

19. …Dorne is descending into chaos. They didn’t show Varys saying this in the episode, but it is in the official synopsis on HBO’s website. With no important characters in that region, it’s unlikely that we’ll re-visit Dorne again. As for the attack on Casterly Rock…

20. Grey Worm and the Unsullied succeed! I loved the call backs during this scene. Remember when Tyrion told Varys about rebuilding the sewers in Season 2? Well, Grey Worm and his men used a secret passage to invade from the inside and take the Rock. I especially loved when Tyrion said, “…as a good friend of mine once said, ‘give me 10 good men… and I’ll impregnate the bitch.'” You may remember that friend from Season 1. Unfortunately for Grey Worm, though…

21. …Jaime was one step ahead. He knew that without the gold, Casterly Rock was worthless. So he let the Unsullied take the Rock and had Euron burn their ships so they would be forced to march all the way across Westeros. Jaime learned from his mistake in Season 1 against Robb at Whispering Wood and took most of his forces to take Highgarden…

22. …where Olenna awaited her fate. This was, easily, the best scene of the episode. As always, Diana Rigg’s performance was absolutely spot-on. Like the champion her character is, Olenna gets the last word and admits that she was the one who killed Joffrey. In the moment, it was really exciting, but now that I think about it, how does this information really change things? It won’t turn Jaime against Cersei, because he and his sister still hate Tyrion for killing their father. Could it change the way Cersei views Sansa? Granted, the show may not intend for this information to change events or characters in Season 7, but it was still awesome to see Olenna play her last card and go out like a champ. It also shows how revenge is dangerous to those who seek it. Ellaria and Olenna both wanted revenge for the deaths of their loved ones, and both paid the price in this episode.

23. Okay… now to GoT’s biggest flaw. The show is going way too fast at the moment. To be fair, with ten episodes remaining in the series, they have to go fast. But as a fan and reader of A Song of Ice and Fire, I can’t help but wonder how some of the events that occurred in this episode would look if the show had more time. Granted, this complaint of mine harkens back to Season 5 when the show passed the books in terms of the timeline. For instance, would the show have included characters like Arianne Martell, Jon Connington and Victarion Greyjoy if they were given more time? I would think so. As for this episode, Jon and Dany at Dragonstone could probably take up four to six episodes in a normal Game of Thrones season. However, it looks like it will only take two episodes. Does the show kill off Ellaria and Olenna in a different way? It seems like they kind of just sent them to the naughty corner to die. To me, it seems like they’re cutting corners and maybe with more time, they could have fleshed out both death scenes a bit more. After all, we didn’t see either of them actually die. As for Jaime, one minute he is in bed with Cersei, and the next he’s in the Reach about to invade Highgarden. One minute, Euron is in King’s Landing, and the next he’s sailed all the way around the bottom of Westeros in less than one episode to attack Dany’s fleet at Casterly Rock. The show is going too fast, but again, you can’t really blame them. I just can’t help but think about how much better the show would be if David Benioff and D.B. Weiss wanted to take more time. But of course, they have to go work on that stupid “Confederate” show, because that’s a good idea, right?

Anyway, enough of my ranting. Here’s what to expect for next week:

1. The Field of Fire Redux! I talked about this in my Season 7 preview. Here is the promo picture on HBO’s website for Episode 4, titled “The Spoils of War”:

(HBO)

Keep in mind that they didn’t show any scenes from the sea battle in the episode two promo. There’s nothing in this week’s promo that would suggest a huge battle, so if that is any indication, I think it’s safe to say that Dany will heed Olenna’s words and unleash her dragons.

2. Jon and Dany explore the dragonglass mountain. If they’re going to take the time to show us the dragonglass mountain, I would have to think that there is another important object that they will discover. Maybe the Targaryens already crafted dragonglass weapons? What about Valyrian steel? Who knows, but something other than dragonglass is down there.

3. Is Theon on the shores of Dragonstone? I would think that’s where his men would go. If that is the case, I would love to see what Jon does if he sees Theon. Will he kill him, or will Dany, who is in need of allies at the moment, protect him?

4. Arya is almost home! She can see, and maybe even smell, Winterfell. Just keep going, Arya!

5. Where is the Brotherhood Without Banners? What about Gendry and the Night’s Watch? We haven’t seen Beric, Thoros, the Hound, Edd or Tormund since Episode 1, and Gendry is still out there somewhere. I would think episode four or five is when we will receive an update on the status of these characters. After all, the Night King continues to march toward Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. It seems like that will be the last big action set piece of Season 7, and something that the show will continue to build towards. Again, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Let me know what you think about the episode in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131! As always, thanks for reading!

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 2 Recap

*READ MY GOT SEASON 7 EPISODE 1 RECAP HERE*

*SPOILERS FROM THE SHOW AND THE “A SONG OF ICE AND FIRE” BOOKS WILL BE DISCUSSED IN THIS POST! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!*

Gods, what an episode.

Shall we begin?

1. Daenerys Stormborn vs. Varys! I discussed this in my recap of episode one. This is a conversation that I have waited for since the first season. To be fair, Dany absolutely had to question the loyalty of Varys, since he did send the order to have her killed by the wine merchant in Season 1. On the other hand, Varys did what he had to do to stay alive and carry out his plans. Not to mention, him and Illyrio essentially funded the Targaryen restoration. I believe Varys will stay loyal to Dany because if he doesn’t…

2. …Dany will burn him alive. This has “Mad King” written all over it. Of course, that is not a road that one should travel down. Speaking of burning people alive…

3. Melisandre is back. As you may have read in my character predictions, I am not a fan of a person who burns innocent people alive, let alone a little girl. Nonetheless, Melisandre does tell Dany that the Long Night is coming and only the “prince who was promised” can save them. Obviously, Dany is not a “prince.” However, as many fans have speculated for years…

4. …”Azor Ahai” is genderless! Missandei informs Dany that “prince” is genderless in High Valyrian, and could refer to a prince or princess. This is huge information because Melisandre then states that she believes Dany has “a role to play, as does another.” Who could she possibly be talking about?

5. THE KING IN THE NORTH! This is the first time that Dany has ever heard of Jon Snow. Having befriended Jon way back in Season 1, Tyrion believes that the King in the North could make a valuable ally. So Dany invites Jon to Dragonstone to bend the knee.

6. Yeah… right. Jon is not worried about who will rule Westeros after this war. Not to mention, the idea of traveling to a place with the Unsullied, a Dothraki horde and three dragons seems a bit dangerous. Jon and Sansa are correct on that part, but Ser Davos does bring up a good point.

7. Fire kills wights. This is Game of Thrones planting the seed, maybe for future episodes? We shall see.

8. Meanwhile, Cersei has gone full #fakenews. No, Dany’s dragons did not burn and eat the masters of Slaver’s Bay. It’s clearly a fear tactic to unite the lords of Westeros against the Mad King’s daughter. One of the lords Cersei summoned to King’s Landing was Randyll Tarly, and knowing this…

9. …Jaime makes his move. Knowing that House Tarly has influence over the other houses of the Reach, Jaime wants Randyll to become his “ranking general in the wars to come.” It seems like Randyll is ready to decline, but Jaime then pulls out the “foreign invaders” card and hangs the “Warden of the South” title to sweeten the deal. Knowing how Randyll treated a foreigner last season, it makes sense that him and his son, Rickon(?), will accept Jaime’s offer to fight on his side. Speaking of Tarlys…

10. …Samwell might as well give up on Ser Friendzone. That greyscale looked awful. Archmaester Ebrose gives Jorah 10 to 20 years to live, but six months until his mind is overtaken. He kindly gives Jorah one day before shipping him off to Valyria to live with the Stone Men, which I do not think will happen. But speaking of Valyria…

11. Cersei now has the weapon to take down dragons. It was awesome to see some of the skulls of old Targaryen dragons, especially Aegon the Conqueror’s dragon, Balerion the Dread. Qyburn points out that dragons are vulnerable, as shown by Drogon’s wounds suffered at the Great Pit of Daznak. He then reveals a huge scorpion loaded with a steel-headed bolt, which then cracks the skull of Balerion the Dread. This could be a huge problem for Dany, moreso than…

12. …her Westerosi allies. Yara Greyjoy, Ellaria Sand and Olenna Tyrell all want revenge, so of course they believe that attacking King’s Landing is the right move. They are not looking at the big picture, which is what Dany and Tyrion are doing. Instead of foolishly attacking the capital and potentially killing innocents, Tyrion suggests surrounding King’s Landing by using the Dornish/Greyjoy fleet as well as the Tyrell forces. Meanwhile, Grey Worm and the Unsullied will assault Casterly Rock and take it. Everyone agrees to the plan, but Olenna gives Dany some advice.

13. You’re a dragon. Be a dragon. I imagine this is similar advice that Margaery received from Olenna around the time she married Renly Baratheon. You’re a rose. Be a rose. That would explain Margaery’s benevolent, cunning demeanor hidden underneath all of her innocent beauty. As Olenna explains, she has outlived all the “clever men” because she’s ignored them. She tells Daenerys to ignore Tyrion and unleash her inner dragon. I love Lady Olenna, but I don’t know if that is the wisest advice for an aspiring queen of Westeros.

14. I JUST WANT HAPPINESS FOR GREY WORM AND MISSANDEI! Grey Worm’s speech was absolutely beautiful and Missandei reciprocates those strong feelings with a kiss. Whatever happens after that is none of my concern. I just want happiness for them. That’s it.

15. Did you catch the “A Song of Ice and Fire” foreshadowing? Archmaester Ebrose says, I’m not writing a chronicle of the wars after the death of King Robert I so it can sit on a shelf unread. What? You don’t like the title? What would you call it? Samwell responds, Possibly something a bit more poetic? *wink wink* Anyway, Samwell asks Ebrose about a past procedure on advanced greyscale, but the Archmaester says it is too dangerous. So what does Samwell do?

16. He tries it on Jorah anyway. Samwell felt obligated to attempt the procedure, being that Jorah is his former lord commander’s son. Unfortunately, Samwell had to peel away Jorah’s infected skin, which looked so disgusting and painful. That transition into the pie was so cruel, and speaking of pies…

17. …HOT PIE IS BACK! He asks his old friend, Arry (a.k.a. Arya) if Brienne of Tarth ever found her and what eventually happened to her after that. Arya’s reaction is a repeat of what she did last week when the Lannister soldiers asked why she was going to King’s Landing. It’s almost as if she’s drinking to keep hold of her “faceless man” persona and stay focused on exacting revenge on all of her enemies. It doesn’t stay that way for long, as Hot Pie tells her that Jon Snow took Winterfell from the Boltons. After hearing that…

18. …Arya begins traveling north! A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home. Go Arya! Run and never look back!

19. Jon receives Samwell’s dragon glass raven. He uses that as leverage to tell his northern lords that he must accept Tyrion’s invitation to Dragonstone. Of course…

20. …Sansa is a whiny little girl. Once again, Sansa is not using her brain. You want to know why their grandfather, Rickard Stark, accepted the Mad King’s invitation to King’s Landing? Because his daughter was supposedly “taken” by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen and the Mad King imprisoned his son. What was he supposed to do, sit in Winterfell and do nothing about it?

21. Jon Snow is on an island. Of course, “Bronze” Yohn Royce, Robett Glover and Lyanna Mormont all agree with Sansa. You know why Robb marched south? Because the Lannisters killed his father and held his sister, the same sister who is against going south, as a hostage. Again, was Robb supposed to sit in Winterfell and do nothing? Sansa, Littlefinger, and the rest of the northern lords have never seen the army of the dead. They have never killed a White Walker. They have never seen the Night King. Only Jon knows what they are up against, so trying to convince the others to fight his war is tough when they don’t know what they’re up against. Thankfully, Jon ignores their pleas and decides to go to Dragonstone anyway, but he leaves…

22. …Sansa in charge of the north. This is one of the worst ideas in Game of Thrones history. This screams Littlefinger persuading Sansa to fight his war and marching South to take the Iron Throne. One way or another, Sansa will screw up all of Jon’s plans, likely by taking the knights of the Vale south to fight in a different war. This is not going to end well for anyone…

23. …especially Littlefinger. It was obvious that Littlefinger would say something to drive Jon into grabbing him by the throat. I did not think that it would be, I love Sansa, as I did her mother. It seems a bit bold of Littlefinger to tell Jon, off all people, his feelings for Sansa. Jon leaves Littlefinger with, Touch my sister and I’ll kill you myself. I have no doubt that he will, but will Littlefinger heed this warning? I highly doubt it. Anyway, Jon and Ser Davos leave Winterfell and ride off to White Harbor. Hopefully, they don’t run into…

24. …NYMERIA! In the books, there were many hints that Nymeria was “a she-wolf of monstrous size,” leading a pack of wolves in and around the Riverlands. Well, this moment between Arya and Nymeria basically confirms that theory. Arya asks her direwolf to return to Winterfell with her, but Nymeria steps back into the woods with her pack. Arya reacts by saying…

25. That’s not you. To be clear, that is Nymeria. According to D.B. Weiss, the quote is a direct reference to Season 1 when Arya’s father, Ned, was telling her about her future life of as a lady of a castle who marries a noble lord and wears pretty dresses. Arya’s response? “That’s not me.” Arya is not domesticated, so it makes sense that Nymeria wouldn’t be either. Arya would have done the same thing if she was in Nymeria’s shoes. Props to Maisie Williams as well. The change of expressions on her face after Nymeria walks away was absolutely brilliant.

25. Sea battle time! As soon as I saw the Greyjoy ships, I knew the sea battle was coming up. But before we get to that, I must say…

26. I hate the Sand Snakes. However, do take note of Obarra and Nym mocking Tyene when they say “Mama!” Okay, now that I got that out-of-the-way, let’s get to it!

27. GO EURON GO! This guy an absolute beast. The entrance he made when the kracken head came down on Yara’s ship was one of the greatest things I have ever seen. Right from the start, it’s clear that he has the numbers and the firepower to pull this off this attack. Euron instantly became one of the my favorite characters…

28. …WHEN HE KILLED TWO SAND SNAKES! WITH THEIR OWN WEAPONS! This calls for a celebratory song.

29. The Sand Snakes were the worst thing to ever happen to Game of Thrones. Should’ve casted Arianne Martell from the beginning, but I digress. From there, Euron’s men capture Ellaria and Tyene, confirming that they will be the “gift” given to Cersei in the next episode. I’ll get to that in a moment. Meanwhile…

30. Uncle Euron wants a kiss. Easily the funniest line of the entire episode. He eventually overpowers Yara and calls over Theon to save his sister. But in typical Theon Greyjoy fashion…

31. …he panics and jumps overboard. To be fair, you can’t blame Theon for running from the situation. For one, he was probably going to die if he tried to attack Euron. Granted, he did bail on his only sibling, which is not a good look, but keep in mind all that Theon has gone through. This was very similar to when Yara tried to rescue him from the Dreadfort in Season 3. Theon denied her, knowing that Ramsay would continue to torture him and potentially kill him if he decided to escape. Theon just can’t, suddenly, forget what happened to him when he was Reek. That will stay with him for the rest of his life. Seeing Euron’s sadistic face combined with all the carnage around him, it’s perfectly understandable that Theon would panic and run. Also, shout out to Pilou Asbæk for his incredible psychotic laugh after Theon jumped overboard.

Here’s what to expect for next week:

1. Euron brings the “gift” to Cersei. Again, the gift will be Ellaria and Tyene. Who knows what Euron will do to Yara, but let’s focus on the Sand Snakes.

2. Expect a repeat of Rickard and Brandon Stark. As I mentioned before, the Mad King summoned Rickard to King’s Landing to answer for the crimes of his son, Brandon. He then demanded a trial by combat, expecting to fight one of the Kingsguard. However, the Mad King chose “fire” as his champion. He had Rickard suspended in the throne room while two pyromancers lit a fire beneath him. Brandon, with a noose tied around his neck and a sword just out of his reach, watched his father burn to death. As he reached for the sword to save his dying father, Brandon strangled himself and died. I think something like this will happen to Ellaria and Tyene next week. How heartbreaking would it be for Tyene to watch her mother burn alive as she screams out for her, similar to how Obara and Nym were mocking her before the sea battle? It also sets up nicely because…

3. …it would advance Bronn’s storyline. Remember when Tyene told Bronn, “Maybe I’ll come visit you?” There is a big crowd in the throne room for Euron’s arrival, so I think Bronn will be there when Euron presents Ellaria and Tyene to Cersei. If things play out like a repeat of Rickard and Brandon Stark, I can’t imagine Bronn will take that very well. Granted, the trailers show that he will fight alongside Jaime later in the season, but watching someone like Tyene die in such a cruel way would have to place some doubts in Bronn’s mind as to whether is he fighting for the right side.

4. The Unsullied attack Casterly Rock! I actually think this will be a relatively easy victory for the Unsullied. Once this happens, I think Cersei will send Jaime to take back their home. Like Robb said in Season 2, “How can I call myself king if I can’t hold my own castle?” Roose Bolton’s response? “You are a king, and that means you don’t have to do everything yourself.”

5. Jaime and Randyll Tarly will capture Highgarden. If the Dornish fall, it only makes sense for Highgarden to fall as well. Not only would this provide food and livestock for the Lannisters, but this would also foil Tyrion’s plan of attacking King’s Landing with a Westerosi army. As a result, Dany will have to take the Iron Throne with her foreign army, which will play to the advantage of Cersei. After all, who wants to fight alongside a Dothraki horde?

6. The King in the North meets the Mother of Dragons. This is the meeting everybody wants to see. Read my Season 7 preview for my thoughts on this matter.

Let me know what you think about the episode in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131! As always, thanks for reading!

Game of Thrones Season 7: Weeks Ahead Comic Con Preview

*READ MY GOT SEASON 7 PREVIEW HERE*

*READ MY GOT SEASON 7 EPISODE 1 RECAP HERE*

God bless Comic Con. New Game of Thrones trailer. Let’s go.

(I already discussed some of the preview shots, like Jon strangling Littlefinger, in the two posts above, so check those out for my thoughts on those situations.)

(HBO)

1. House Tarly aligns with the Lannisters. Yup, that’s Samwell’s father, Randyll, and brother, Dickon, in the throne room with Cersei. I previously talked about Randyll in my character predictions, but silly me, I thought he would align with Daenerys since Horn Hill is a vassel house of the Tyrells. House Tarly is probably aligning with Cersei because the Targaryens failed Randyll during Robert’s Rebellion. It makes sense, but it’s worth noting that Randyll has a history of ending up on the losing side.

2. Jon wants Dany’s dragonfire. I assume Jon received Samwell’s raven from the Citadel about the dragon glass mountain below Dragonstone. Not to mention, Dany has three dragons that could prove very useful against the army of the dead. However, as “Bronze” Yohn Royce points out, “A Targaryen cannot be trusted.” He lived during Robert’s Rebellion, as did many of the northern lords, so it’s understandable why they would be wary of the Mad King’s daughter.

(HBO)

3. Melisandre and Varys! I can’t wait to see this conversation! Back in Season 3, Varys told the story of his castration by a sorcerer and how he heard a voice in the flames as his “parts” burned in the fire. But the sorcerer called and a voice answered, and ever since that day, I have hated magic and all those who practice it. But you can see why I was eager to aid in your fight against Stannis and his red priestess. A symbolic revenge of sorts. In addition, the red priestess from last season, Kinvara, also seemed to know more about what Varys heard in the flames. Maybe Melisandre knows more about that voice as well. Whatever they talk about, I’m sure it will make for a fascinating conversation.

(HBO)

4. Jon and Ser Davos go to Dragonstone. I know it was widely assumed, but this shot is just confirmation. That is clearly Jon and Ser Davos being escorted up to the castle by the Dothraki.

(HBO)

5. Melisandre believes Dany has a role to play. Melisandre knows Jon is the “prince that was promised” and she knows about the threat looming beyond-the-Wall. Now seeing Dany and her dragons, I think Melisandre is starting to connect the dots in terms of who will play an important role in defeating the Night King. Obviously, the big task for Melisandre, as well as Jon and Ser Davos, will be convincing Dany and her advisors that defeating the Night King is more important than claiming the Iron Throne. Considering Dany’s ambitions as well as the goals of her close allies, I imagine that it will be difficult.

Let me know what you think about the new preview in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131! As always, thanks for reading!

Game of Thrones Season 7 Episode 1 Recap

*CLICK HERE TO READ MY GAME OF THRONES SEASON 7 PREDICTIONS*

Coming off two of the most action-packed episodes in history of the show, this episode was a bit more laid back. For the most part, it just focused on the aftermath of “Winds of Winter.” I wouldn’t say it exceeded my expectations, but there were still some great moments.

Here we go…

1. Winter came for House Frey. I’ll be honest, I thought the cold open was a flashback of some sort, but once I saw the poison wine, I knew that Walder Frey was actually Arya. Props to David Bradley, the actor that portrayed Lord Frey, because as the speech went on, you could start to see those subtle changes in his character that eventually led to the unveiling of Arya. It was a wonderful cold open, but all of it was soon quickly overshadowed by…

2. …DEAD GIANT WIGHTS! The CG work on this scene was spectacular. The whole time, you could see a faint shadow of the Night King, which then quickly turns into a winter storm masking the movements of the army of the dead. #itsawrap for Westeros. The Night King is coming…

3. …and Bran knows it. They finally make it to the Wall and Bran showcases his newfound knowledge to Lord Commander Dolorous Edd by rattling of the history of his character. He then allow the strangers in and you know Meera had to have been like, “Thank the gods I don’t have to drag that damn sled anymore.” But yeah, it’s a matter of time before the Night’s Watch falls to the Night King. After all, the Wall and the Night’s Watch are the first line of defense against the dead…

4. …and Jon Snow knows that. As expected, Jon is all-in on fighting the Night King. He informs the lords about dragon glass and sends the free folk to man the abandoned Night’s Watch castles along the Wall, with Tormund at Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. Both were good moves on Jon’s part, but of course…

5. …Sansa has to try to ruin everything. Sansa is mad that Jon is letting the Umbers and Karstarks keep their lands despite aligning with Ramsay. She thinks that they should give their castles to new families who supported Jon from the beginning. Keep in mind… the Umbers have always had a deep hatred for wildlings, the people Jon had just let through the wall at the time. Not to mention, Sansa’s brother, Robb, the previous King in the North, executed Rickard Karstark. Of course both families were going to side with the Boltons. Jon listening to any advice from Sansa has “bad idea” written all over it. Besides…

6. …she admires Cersei. I learned a great deal from her. Yeah, about flowering and loving fewer people and using what’s between the legs as a weapon. Speaking of which…

7. …Cersei has gone off the deep end. It’s clear they’re trying to plant seeds of a rift between Cersei and Jaime, as shown by their discussion over dynasties and Tommen’s suicide. He can tell that she wants to grieve, but Cersei knows that will weaken her and start a downward spiral. Unfortunately, that spiral seems to have already begun. The Lannisters have no more allies after the death of the Freys and Jaime knows that they need help to win this war. So what does Cersei do?

8. SHE ALIGNS WITH EURON CROW’S EYE! Props to Pilou Asbæk, the actor who portrays Euron, because he not only came with the college jock outfit, but he came with the jokes! The thought of a Cersei/Euron alliance should scare the seven hells out of everyone in Westeros. After all, these are the two craziest, insane rulers in the Seven Kingdoms…

9. …and Jaime knows that. Obviously, he disapproves of Euron. The look on his face when Euron said, “So here I am, with a thousand ships and two hands,” was priceless! This dynamic could be a problem while also further expediting the rift between Cersei and Jaime this season. However, he could come around to this alliance…

10. …when Euron brings back that “gift.” My guess is that he brings back the Sand Snakes and Ellaria Sand, the same person who sent a “gift” to Cersei back in Season 5 and killed her daughter, Myrcella. Maybe Euron brings back a Greyjoy or two for his enjoyment as well. Either way, I sense some sort of repeat of the “Mad King/Rickard Stark” situation that started Robert’s Rebellion.

11. Poor Samwell Tarly. That montage was easily the funniest part of the episode. It all eventually set up Sam’s interest in the gated section of restricted books, which he thinks possesses valuable information on the White Walkers. Unfortunately, no maester believes Samwell…

12. …except for Archmaester Ebrose. It appears that Jim Broadbent is #TeamWall, which likely means that the Wall will not save everyone from the Night King and the army of the dead. So with no other option, Samwell takes a maester’s key and steals books from the restricted area. He had to do it.

13. I hate Littlefinger. You know what he wants, Brienne? The governor’s chair at the Maryland state house.

14. ED SHEERAN! I think when this is all over, Sheeran and Bronn need to put on a concert for all of Westeros. Of course, it will have to take place after…

15. …Arya kills the queen. It appears Arya is sticking to her list after all. I have absolutely no idea how she will kill Cersei, but speaking of that list…

16. …I love the Brotherhood Without Banners. In my opinion, there is no trio on the entire show more charismatic and funny than Sandor Clegane, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. The Brotherhood took shelter at the same farmhouse that the Hound and Arya stayed at before stealing the father’s silver. After seeing the skeletons of that man and his daughter, the Hound feels guilty, something he’s really never experience before. The only way he knows how to cope with this is to bury their bodies, which just shows how much his characters has changed. The Hound has always hated religion, as shown when he stumbles through the prayer for the father and his daughter, but he can’t deny the truth of what he has seen. He saw Thoros raise Beric from the dead and now…

17. …he saw the army of the dead in the flames! The Hound literally sees the Night King and company traveling to Eastwatch-by-the-Sea. He has a bigger role to play and I can’t wait for the show to explore his character more this season.

18. Samwell (finally) remembered Dragonstone. He knew dragon glass could kill White Walkers, but to my surprise, he forgot that Stannis told him that there was mountains of it at Dragonstone. Of course, he has to tell Jon right away. Too bad he can’t tell Jon about…

19. SER FRIENDZONE! Ser Jorah is at the Citadel, and boy, that greyscale looks awful. How did he get there? Did he go there willingly? Did someone else capture him and bring him there? I’m sure we’ll find out in future episodes. Anyway, Jorah, of course, wants an update on the whereabouts of Daenerys Stormborn. Unfortunately, Samwell doesn’t have one, but I’m sure he will soon because…

20. Daenerys is home! By far the best scene of the episode. The shots of Dragonstone, the dragons, the walk-up to the castle, the throne room, the map table… everything was spectacular. What made this scene great as well was eliminating dialogue. Even loquacious Tyrion Lannister did not say a word because he, along with Grey Worm, Missandei and Varys, wanted Dany to experience this for herself. She’s home! This is the moment we have waited for since the first episode. Also, that had to have been the easiest paycheck those actors have ever gotten.

21. “Shall we begin?” Yes. We. Shall.

Things to expect for next week:

1. Everyone will make plans. News of Dany landing at Dragonstone will spread quickly across the Seven Kingdoms. By the end of next week’s episode, I’m sure each group will have a rough plan of their next move. Jon Snow and Ser Davos will likely head to Dragonstone, while Dany and Cersei will have their battle plans ready.

2. I think I saw a quick shot of the Sand Snakes. Gods, I hate the Sand Snakes. Please kill them off next week. Thank you.

3. That’s not Nymeria… right? It seems so out of character for Game of Thrones to show a huge reunion in the preview for next week’s episode. That seems too easy.

3 Ladies and gentlemen… Yara Greyjoy and Ellaria Sand! Where else are you going to find Balon Greyjoy’s daughter getting it on with the Red Viper’s paramour?

4. Daenerys and Varys. This is a conversation that I have waited to see for a very long time. Varys and his pal, Illyrio, are the two people who have funded this whole Targaryen restoration. Yet, Varys has attempted to assassinate Dany in the past, and she knows this. However, Tyrion does say that Varys had to do it to stay alive and has done thing that he did not need to do to protect Daenerys. I can’t wait to see these two interact, as I’m sure we’ll gain even more insight on why Varys has done these things.

5. Jon strangling Littlefinger! I hope he chops off Littlefinger’s head and sends it to Baltimore City Hall.

Let me know what you think about the episode in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131! As always, thanks for reading!