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Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here is the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

 

Let’s start this review of What Is Dead May Never Die by thinking about the amount of sex we’re being offered as viewers. A part of HBO’s reputation depends on its willingness to push the boundaries of taste. Content will not be denied a showing simply because it’s explicit. We need to see this in context. Anyone who wants material classified as pornography can find it easily, whether online or in other published media, but HBO is classified as a mainstream television network. For genuinely explicit content to appear on a prime-time show is therefore challenging established cultural norms. Of course, Americans at this point begin waving their copy of the Constitution and chanting about First Amendment rights as if laws somehow justify bad taste. This is the old, no-one forces you to watch an HBO show argument. When you switch to the channel, you know what to expect. Except what’s the actual benefit to the story? If A is notoriously a libertine, do we actually need to see him engaging in sexual intercourse to understand what that means?

Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) enjoy the ride home

 

To understand this point, we need a few examples. There’s been a repetition of a brothel scene from Season 1 where Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) is teaching one of his new whores the art of simulating sexual satisfaction to enhance the enjoyment of paying customers. Actual sex seems gratuitous. Since the training depends on the noises made, physical expressions and the body movements, this can be practised by everyone with their clothes on. It’s actually tiring the staff if they have to keep exerting themselves and tired staff make for unhappy customers. We’ve also had Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) demonstrating both the missionary position and penetration from behind. We’ve seen Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) so overcome with excitement he has sex with Melisandre (Carice Van Houten) standing up and over a table laid out with maps of battlefields. Surprisingly, we see brother Theon Greyjoy feeling up Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan), his sister (that’s also in the book and nothing to do with HBO trying to push the envelope — being faithful to the text always offers the television station a better defence against the charge of introducing gratuitous sex to sell the adverts). Although he was not aware of her identity, she was not averse to allowing him to continue at the heavy petting stage. Thematically, we’ve also been flirting with incest between the Lannister brother and sister, and between a father and his daughters. The Lannisters were shown together in Season 1 but, so far, the Crasters have kept all their clothes on. Presumably it’s too cold to expose the vulnerable bits for us to see. And then there’s the gay sex with Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) and Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones). Not bad for the first three episodes. When HBO runs out of sexual options to display, it will presumably be time for the gratuitous violence.

Arya (Maisie Williams) really coming into her own as a boy

 

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is finding it tough to reconcile his private code of morality with the circumstances surrounding him. As Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo) explains, the Watch needs men like Craster (Robert Pugh). For Rangers north of the Wall, it can be the difference between life and death. No matter what the Watch thinks about the religion, they are to look the other way when Craster offers all his baby boys as sacrifices to the old Gods. Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) do, however, make a real connection. Bram Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) tells Maester Luwin (Donald Sumpter) the old retainer about his dreams as a direwolf. The Maester tries to dismiss such stories as old wives’ tales. The dragons have gone, the giants are dead and the children of the forest are forgotten. Bram, however, is sure he can tell the difference between mere dreams and actual experiences.

Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) standing tall

 

Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) arrives at the home of Renly Baratheon in time to see the impressively tall and muscled Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) winning a tourney. Lady Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) makes her first appearance as Renly’s wife even though he actually prefers her brother, Ser Loras Tyrell, the most appropriately titled Knight of the Flowers (who was knocked to the ground by Brienne but didn’t enjoy the experience of being beaten by a woman). The Greyjoys are also planning their campaign knowing that Robb Stark (Richard Madden) has gone south and left the north unprotected. Now Theon must choose whether to make an essentially cowardly attack upon Stark lands or retain some vestiges of loyalty to the family that held him safely as a hostage for so many years. In the end, he chooses his own family. A pragmatic decision since, otherwise, he probably ends up with nothing.

 

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Shae (Sibel Kikilli) are also finding their relationship difficult when she may be taken hostage to persuade the Hand to act in ways he would usually deny, while Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) confronts the reality that, come the end of the campaign against Robb Stark, she will have to marry Joffrey (Jack Gleeson). Tyrion’s solution is to hide Shae as Sansa’s handmaiden. Perhaps they can give each other moral support. Tyrion tries to find out which members of the Council are trustworthy by looking as if he wants to forge alliances through by marrying off Myrcella Baratheon. Naturally, Cersei is outraged that her daughter should become a pawn and this reveals Pyclle (Julian Glover) as Cersei’s spy. When Pycelle is imprisoned, Varys (Conleth Hill) philosophises to Tyrion about the nature of power. It’s all illusion, residing temporarily where the majority people believes it to be found. Littlefinger is disappointed his own commission was a deception. Perhaps there are other ways he can help Tyrion.

Renly Baratheon (Gethin Anthony) and Lady Margaery (Natalie Dormer) holding court

 

Arya (Maisie Williams) is still having trouble sleeping, remembering the execution of Ned Stark. Yoren (Francis Magee) offers what comfort he can, sharing that he watched the murder of his brother. Years later, he killed the murderer and took the Black. All this comes minutes before the King’s men come back in numbers to kill Gendry (Joe Dempsie). Yoren falls and the soldiers start sacking the camp. Arya opens the cage to release Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) and the other two criminals. She survives as a captive and tries to convince the soldiers they have already killed Gendry. She points to the helmet he fashioned as a blacksmith lying beside a dead body. She’s not only brave but also loyal to those who may become her allies or friends.

 

Well, that’s What Is Dead May Never Die. I fear the structure that works well in the written form, is less successful on the small screen. Short episodes with different points of view, switching chapter-by-chapter in a continuous text, can maintain interest. The fact of reading through to the end of the book maintains the continuity. But television seems to separate out the narrative threads and encourage a certain lack of cohesion. Season 1 managed a better focus. Season 2 is more diffuse without a strong individual character to unite around. Ensemble pieces only work well when the characters actually interact. I wait with interest to see how the writers manage the transfer of the rest of the text to the screen.

 

For the reviews of other episodes, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers,
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here’s the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

 

One of the fascinating things about the way production companies cast and then directors direct is the way they deal with “foreign” accents. Now as one originating on the North East coast of England on the north bank of the Tyne, I can tell the difference between all the major northern accents and some of the Scottish ones. If you asked me about American accents, I could vaguely distinguish between the north and south, but it’s a vast country and it would be guesswork as to where anyone came from. So here’s the thing. This American production company wants to make a series about a fictional world, but it would be convenient to map accents on to our world. So, for example, since British actors come more cheaply than their American counterparts, we could cast all the Lannisters as southern English with received

Jaime Lannister emoting in Danish

pronunciation (apart from the Danish guy, that is — he looks so good, viewers will just eat up anything he manages to say in English). That would leave us with a convenient group of accents for the northern folk, Scottish for the wildlings and Irish for the Iron Islands (Danish for the good-looking). Except it hasn’t worked out with any degree of consistency. We’ve people in the same families speaking with different accents. Now, of course, we’re not striving for realism here. This is fantasy and it’s a miracle any of them can actually string two sentences together. More to the point, Game of Thrones is actually been made with the American market uppermost in HBO’s mind so the accuracy of accents is the last thing anyone’s worrying about. Who among the millions of American viewers will know or care whether a father and son should speak with the same accent? This is the real world of television production and I should just “get over it”. Except, since these Americans are hiring some of Britain’s best acting talent, they could have asked these Brits to sort it out among themselves. Leaving it to random chance is sloppy directing when it was so easy to fix.

Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) not looking quite as deadly as usual

 

As we start off The Night Lands, Arya (Maisie Williams) investigates the contents of the cage on the King’s Highway and so meets Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). She watches from the safety of the ditch as Yoren (Francis Magee) drives away the first two soldiers searching for Gendry (Joe Dempsie) one of the Baratheon bastards. They exchange brief family details but the two runaways fail to bond. Varys (Conleth Hill) comes to see Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Shae (Sibel Kikilli) so they can exchange ritual threats and then watch Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) meet with Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) and reject the terms for peace he brings from Robb Stark (Richard Madden). With no awareness of the dangers, she also refuses to send more men to the Wall demonstrating little sense of diplomacy or long-term interest in self-defence. Later Tyrion confronts Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) for his role in slaughtering the bastards. That leaves Bron (Jerome Flynn) in charge as the Commander of the City Watch. His morals are no better, but at least he’s a known quantity. The argument over Slynt’s fate then spreads to include Cersei who has never forgiven Tyrion — their mother died while giving birth to the “dwarf” — and finds it hard to take criticism from him on her style of government. He, on the other hand, feels obliged to point out that rulers depend on the passivity of their people. If the masses rise up, one or two rulers and their guards stand no chance. It’s therefore refreshing that Cersei was not the one to order the slaughter of the bastards. That was Joffrey (Jack Gleeson).

Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Melisandre (Carice van Houten)

 

Equally lacking in the sense department, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) finds himself under pressure from Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) to take Gilly (Hannah Murray), one of the Craster (Robert Pugh) “wives”, with the group when they leave. It seems Craster acts ruthlessly when the wives produce boys. The trouble is that Jon Snow has too much initiative and even more curiosity. He finds it difficult to follow orders.

 

There’s more sex in this episode as Balon Greyjoy (Patrick Malahide) and the fierce Yara Greyjoy (Gemma Whelan) welcome the randy and, to them, effete Theon Greyjoy to the Iron Islands. Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) offers a shoulder to one of those in his brothel whose bastard child was murdered (that’s a cold shoulder, of course). Salladhor Saan (Lucian Msamati) talks to Davos Seaworth (Lian Cunningham) as one pirate to another on whether Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) can succeed when he has the smallest army. As men of honour and atheists both, the old pirate comrades agree to combine their naval forces. This puts them slightly at odds with Matthos Seaworth (Kerr Logan) who’s rather devout in the new religion. Stannis is also having trouble with his conversion to the ways of his seer, so Melisandre (Carice van Houten) turns to seduction to complete the conversion. She’s the means to the end of making her own prophesies come true.

 

This episode is moving us along at a reasonable pace, showing just how dangerously incompetent the Cersei/Joffrey combination has become. While enjoying the company of the Stark family, Theon Greyjoy has also lost touch with the ways of his family. Politically, everything is falling into place for the different claimants to start fighting for the throne. The remaining Starks and Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) have less to do. In a way, The Night Lands is still all set-up but the slightly brooding atmosphere of the episode is easing.

 

For the reviews of other episodes, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

 

Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 1. The North Remembers

June 13, 2012 1 comment

 

Game of Thrones is based on A Song of Ice and Fire by George R R Martin. The content of Season 2 in this television adaptation by HBO is drawn from A Clash of Kings. As before, the production is helmed by David Benioff and D B Weis. Here’s the link to my retrospective overview of Game of Thrones Season 1. This is a spoiler-rich discussion of what happens in each episode, so do not read this if you want to watch without prior knowledge.

 

It’s always interesting to see how television shows deal with the nature of political power. Looking back for a moment, our own William Shakespeare was not immune from the need to change history to suit the sensibilities and expectations of his audience. Perhaps more importantly, he also needed money from patrons to survive, so could not afford to upset the nobility by critiquing their use of power. It’s the same today because, with the exception of home-grown talent like the BBC or the Public Broadcasting Service in America which are not for-profit and so less dependent on advertising revenue, the folk who write and produce television shows have to consider the tastes of their audience very carefully. If viewership numbers fall and corporate advertisers will not pay top rates for their puffs to air, the producers and the networks take a big hit. That means, even at an allegorical level, writers and producers must be very careful what they say and show.

Peter-Dinklage getting his seat at the table of power

 

I’m starting the review of The North Remembers in this way because of one scene between Petyr Baelish aka Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). He plays the line that, as one of the spymasters, knowledge is power. As a response, she has a guard ready to cut his throat because power is power. The whole point of Season 2 is the collapse of the Kingdom of Westeros. Although Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) carries the Baratheon name and may appear to be the legitimate heir, the news of his true parentage will soon be spread through the marketplaces. Despite the Lannisters’ best efforts to kill all the bastard children Robert Baratheon left around the kingdom, claimants to the Iron Throne will come rapidly into view and civil war is unavoidable. We already have Robb Stark (Richard Madden) proclaimed as King of the North. Elsewhere, Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) has accepted Ned Stark’s invitation and steps into the ring to duke it out for the Crown. In such circumstances, the person-to-person physical power that Cersei wields is worth little, but a spymaster’s practical understanding of the “big picture” has great value, particularly if he’s also pulling some of the strings. Indeed, Cersei’s attempts to run the kingdom are ineffectual, while Joffrey’s reign is one of random sadism. One interesting figure on the horizon is Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann). As Joffrey’s bodyguard, he’s currently amusing himself by killing unwilling victims in unequal combat. We expect better things from him.

Lena Headey who’s intermittently in control of the situation

 

Fortunately, Tyrion Lannster (Peter Dinklage) is sent by his father to be the Hand. Since he’s not only intelligent but has also seen the world, he’s the right man in the right place with the right perspective to get things done. Although he can’t ignore Joffrey and Cersei, he has his hands on the levers of power. It’s a shame the same can’t be said of Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau). He’s still being held as a hostage by Robb Stark and his embarrassingly fake CGI direwolf. Ah yes, the Starks. What a dour northern bunch they are. Young Bran (Isaac Hempstead-Wright), of course, is the most interesting and we now have a proper view of him with Hodor (Kristian Nairn). It’s going to be interesting to watch him come to terms with his warg abilities. Arya (Maisie Williams) is briefly glimpsed on the King’s Road going north with Yoren (Francis Magee). We look for great things from her. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is in full survival mode, although we do notice a minor act of rebellion supported covertly by Tyrion. Out on military manoevres with her son, Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) accepts the first commission to reach out to make alliances. Robb cannot win on his own. If he’s to realise his potential power, he must have allies.

Isaac Hempstead-Wright and Kristian Nairn moving around with more confidence

 

Although there were hints of magic in Season 1 through Bran Stark’s dreams, not counting the dragons, of course, this opening episode is the first opportunity to see the Red Princess “at work”. As Melisandre (Carice Van Houten), she demonstrates her power over poison administered by Maester Cressen (Oliver Ford Davies), a follower of the old religion. Stannis Baratheon seems suitably humourless and so is well equipped to succumb to Melisandre’s charms.

 

Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is making progress in the power game. He learns the vital lesson that to become an effective leader, he must first learn how to be a follower. Jeor Mormont (James Cosmo) commands a small force north of the Wall to gather intelligence. While visiting the home of Craster (Robert Pugh), a wildling patriarch who takes all his daughters as his wives as soon as they are old enough, they hear the name of Mance Rayder. He was a former Ranger who’s setting himself up as the King-Beyond-the -Wall. So far, there’s little sign of his power. Even further off the map is Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke). She may have the name, be the proud owner of three dragons and have the good-looking Ser Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) in tow, but this counts for little when you’re in a desert without any provisions. At this point, it’s as well to remember that knowledge is power.

Emilia Clarke with one dragon to go

 

Overall, The North Remembers is a dark and brooding episode focusing on themes of knowledge and power. Many may find the killing of Robert’s bastards hard to take. Political expediency is rarely pretty in action. We see power in transition in the Westeros and power left behind in the land of the Dothraki. We hear of new power rising north of the Wall. We see a priestess of R’hilor seeking to consolidate her God’s power in the Westeros by supporting Stannis. So despite ranging from icy wastes to desert sands, the episode just about hangs together and moves us forward at a reasonable pace. I’m not sure Shakespeare would have appreciated it, but the advertisers have spoken and HBO has commissioned the third series. I guess this means David Benioff, D B Weis and George R R Martin have won this particular power battle.

 

For review of Season 2, see:
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 2. The Night Lands
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 3. What Is Dead May Never Die
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 4. Garden of Bones
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 5. The Ghost of Harrenhal
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 6. The Old Gods and the New
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 7. A Man Without Honor
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 8. The Prince of Winterfell
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 9. Blackwater
Game of Thrones: Season 2, Episode 10. Valar Morghulis
Game of Thrones: Season 2 — the HBO series considered

 

 

Blitz (2011)

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment

I recently began the review of a film based on a novelette by criticising the scriptwriters and director for failing to ditch the poor-quality source material and put together a decent film for a modern audience. This film is the mirror image being a really good version of an even better short novel. Welcome to the world of the police procedural as seen through the eyes of Ken Bruen. He’s an Irish writer, more often in the old school style we call hardboiled. In some senses, he also throws in noirish elements. Yes, this combination usually refers to PI stories of an American ilk but, with the Jack Taylor series, we’re somewhat improbably transplanted to Galway where, it turns out, people are just as violent and dangerous as on the mean streets of a random US city.

Jason Statham as Brant attends the funeral of his "boss"

 

Another series considers the working partnership of DS Tom Brant and CI James Roberts in London. After the so-called While Trilogy — A White Arrest, Taming the Alien and The McDeadBlitz appeared in 2002. This is the second of Ken Bruen’s books to be turned into a film, the first being London Boulevard starring Colin Farrell and Keira Knightly. This is a free-standing novel, the film being in a similar spirit to, but rather better than, The Bodyguard starring Kevin Costner and Whitney Houston.

Aidan Gillen as Blitz getting into the mood before the second shooting

 

This version of Blitz stays more or less faithful to the novel in that the sociopathic Barry Weiss (Aidan Gillen) takes it into his head to start killing police officers, and our team of Brant and Roberts are given the task of tracking him down. It’s interesting to watch Jason Statham without the usual flamboyance. He’s as violent as in the majority of his other films, but this has a more naturalistic feel with the script giving him the chance to show how and why he has ended up as lethal as the man he’s chasing. In many ways, this is an impressive performance and it’s a nice counterpart to Paddy Considine who rather plays against type as the gay Chief Inspector. Thus, for different reasons, both officers are the subject of disapproval: Brant because his violent exploits get written up in the local newspapers and give the police a bad name, and Roberts because of his sexuality. There’s real on-screen chemistry between the pair and this helps lift the film above the merely average British police procedural level. The other impressive element is the subplot involving the young Elizabeth Falls played by Zawe Ashton. This character came out of the White Trilogy in something of a mess. Having worked undercover, she’s just out of rehab for a serious addiction problem, and is struggling to cope with life. I’m not wholly convinced by the behaviour of DI Craig Stokes (Luke Evans), but with the only help coming from Stokes and Brant, her isolation in the community is entirely realistic.

Paddy Considine as Roberts trying to keep Brant under control

 

Aidan Gillen, more recently seen in Game of Thrones as Petyr Baelish, is wonderfully narcissistic as the killer — he names himself Blitz, strutting and preening when given the chance, but also displaying a pleasing malevolence when called to violence. Without a strong performance, the film would have lacked balance. With him and the venal informer Radnor (Ned Dennehy) dancing attendance, even with his slightly damaged knee, we have a credible threat for our detectives to confront.

Zawe Ashton as Falls encourages her unsung hero

 

As to the plot, the first half of the film is nicely constructed and flows in a believable way. The second half, however, is riddled with unexplainable moments. Like once the detectives focus on Weiss as a suspect, why does it take so long for someone to read through his past criminal record? I suppose we can later guess who telephones Brant while he’s attending the funeral of CI James Robert (Mark Rylance), but everything that follows just becomes increasingly improbable. This is not to say the ending makes the film unsatisfactory. Once the police accept they have nothing more than circumstantial evidence and must let Weiss go, the ending is inevitable and emotionally satisfying. No-one would want a cold-blooded killer like Weiss left out on the streets. Yet, why is the evidence only circumstantial? There’s no proper attempt to search his flat for the bag that later turns up there, no voice print from the telephone recording they have of Blitz, no attempt to trace the money in his possession and whose fingerprints were on the envelope? Worse, the manner of the ending raises far more questions than the film chooses to answer. How could any police force cover this up? That said, this is a different ending from the novel and, on balance, I prefer the novel’s rather more understated but entirely understandable conclusion. Bruen’s ending certainly would be an unsolved crime.

 

Overall, the book is better because it deals with more of the politics of policing, describing the infighting between the officers in management and those at the sharp end who must go out and do the work. Nevertheless, this cuts down to the bare essentials of the plot and, with considerable verve from first-time director Elliott Lester, it carries through to the end, not allowing much time for thought (a good thing, in a way, given the film’s ending). There’s some verbal humour to leaven what would otherwise have been rather too grim — the knowing inclusion of several behavioural and action clichés also adds to the amusement. If you are offended by crude language and some explicit violence, then this is probably not for you. Otherwise, Blitz is a slightly obvious story told in a somewhat kinetic way. It’s worth seeing if you enjoy the British style of police procedurals/thrillers and can stop yourself analysing the film as you go along.

 

Here are reviews of the films featuring Jason Statham:
Blitz (2011)
Gnomeo and Juliet
Killer Elite (2011)
Safe (2012)

 

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