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Fall is over. We have had it beyond good this year. Game of Thrones knocked it out of the park. Hannibal blew our minds. Walking Dead was slightly less crap than last year. I might have reviewed the seasons overall, but the problem with that is that I never got the chance to talk about the episodes as individual elements. I thought for the end of year wrap-up I would take the five best episodes of the year and celebrate them. The thing with this list is that the episodes must be reviewed as an individual element. For example, a major twist does not make a winning entry. This is why a lot of shows like Arrow and Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D didn’t make the list. They were good, because of the bigger picture. However, the episodes that did impress me will get full approval in the list below. I must warn the reader that there is major spoilers below (Cinema Parrot Disco, you, in particular, might want to proceed with caution). Especially the last three, but the spoilers needs discussing, end of! Let’s jump straight into it.

5 – THE BLACKLIST – ANSLO GARRICK PART 1

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The Blacklist was very nearly a perfect show. In fact, it was always toying with the concept of becoming a five star review, but it always seemed held back by its own formula. Formula is important for a TV show, but it could also become its downfall. What I like about the first part of Anslo Garrick is that it was the one episode that totally broke away from the formula. Sure, the second part conformed to the usual layout, but this is why I am referring only to the first half of this two-parter; the first episode was like nothing we had seen before from the show.

Red’s deadliest enemy, Anslo Garrick, is the target this week, a man hired to take down the Post Office, who is causing too much of a stir in the criminal underworld. However, before they can even do a thing, Anslo Garrick is already upon them. He breaks into the Post Office and takes everyone hostage. No more slow investigating, while the weekly bad guy moralises on his horrible actions. This week it was just action, action, action! It turned into a miniature version of Die Hard, which was superb in my books. Elizabeth Keene totally owned the role of badass female action star that the show had been toying with. She was so totally cool in this episode. To make things interesting, Wexler got shot in the leg and Red locked the two of them in an impenetrable cell, so he could perform medical assistance. Anslo Garrick taunted him from the other side of the cell, giving the audience the excuse to watch James Spader act to his heart’s content. No matter what you came to this episode for, the writers gave it to you on a silver platter.

4 – ALMOST HUMAN – UNBOUND

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On the whole, I don’t care too much that this show was cancelled after its first season. Sure, I will always have a curiosity in the back of my head for what could have been, but seeing as the series ended a few months ago and I have already forgotten about it, maybe Fox were onto something when they cancelled it. However, Unbound was the kind of episode that showed off Almost Human’s true potential. It was exactly what you expected when a massive studio provided the budget for the small screen. The exciting thing is that this wasn’t even saved for the finale; this was just a middle episode where the producers decided to up the ante considerably.

It was essentially the two lead cops taking on the show’s personal Terminator. Someone convinced Gina Carano, an up and coming bad-ass female martial artist, to star as the killer robot in question and she was so bad-ass. She spent the episode tearing up the city, earning every hushed whisper from the cast who had faced off against her before. Karl Urban and Michael Ealy also showed their action chops. Urban is no stranger to fight scenes (especially if they involve him getting an ass-whooping), and Ealy stepped up to the plate very well to take on the action veterans. It was a great episodic adventure, featuring a good twist, foreshadowing for a second season that never happened and even having one moment where the steely composure of the cold-hearted robot cracked, showing us that maybe robots do have a soul. Fuck it! I changed my mind. Bring this show back!

3 – THE WALKING DEAD – THE GROVE

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The second half of the fourth Walking Dead series was good but it was missing a few elements that made it stand out. For one, the interaction between the cast members was limited, because they were all scattered. Secondly, I felt that there weren’t enough game-changing features. This season was more about developing characters rather than taking them to new places. However, one episode changed all of that in one brutal, bitter move. You all know what I mean: the psychologically damaged Lizzie cutting her little sister’s throat so that she could come back as a Walker, trying to prove that Walkers were people too. Distraught, Carol takes Lizzie into the garden and puts her down, like a rabid animal. It was a tough watch, but one of the things that makes the Walking Dead a serious contender for one of the most talked about shows out there.

The exciting thing was the debate. What would you have done in Carol’s shoes? Personally, I saw Carol as the weak one here. She went from the nervous wife figure to the ultimate zombie survivalist and now she has come right back around into a new kind of weak. She would rather get rid of the problem, rather than tackling it, even if that means killing a little girl. Sure, I understand that the apocalypse is hardly the ideal place to overcome someone’s psychological special needs and you wouldn’t be able to sleep at night without worrying that Lizzie would smother you in her sleep to prove turning into a Walker isn’t that bad a thing. However, I thought that was a brilliant microcosm for the execution debate in America. Is execution just a quick way to get rid of a problem rather than facing it? It is an interesting discussion and the Walking Dead kicked it off spectacularly with the Grove.

2 – HANNIBAL – MIZUMONO

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I actually had the top five episodes of the year nailed down, but then Hannibal went and dropped this finale on us and I had to squeeze it in somewhere. Hannibal might have been too slow a show for me to truly love as much as some people did, but the tone definitely served as a fantastic build up. None of us were quite sure who was winning this game of cat and mouse. Will Graham wasn’t being manipulated into becoming a killer at all. Hannibal was helpless. Or was he? As the ending closed around us, we had no idea what to expect from what was in front of us. But no one expected that.

Spoiler alert: Hannibal straight up murdered everyone. I know that this show liked to play around with the source material. At first, it was small things like making Freddie Lounds a woman, but then the writers killed off Dr. Chilton. We were all amused at this, but none of us expected Hannibal to go and do this. Will Graham, Jack Crawford, Alana Bloom – all dead. Fuck it, characters, we thought were already dead came back and died again. That is the level of mind-blowing butchery was going on here. Even George R. R Martin wanted to tell the writers to take a chill pill. I was squirming in my seat, unable to believe my own eyes. But the worst thing was the open-ended close. None of them actually die; the show leaves you watching them bleed out. Crawford’s throat is ripped open, Bloom is lying crushed on the floor, Graham’s last throes of life are hanging in there. None of them actually die in front of us, but their fate is inevitable. It leaves this horrible, yet beautiful chill hanging on your spine. Oh, and then we waited until after the credits for a small sequence that told us that Hannibal was in the know right from the start. I gave that show a round of applause the moment it ended.

1 – GAME OF THRONES – THE ROSE AND THE LION

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This will always be the episode where, immediately after it finished, me and my friends poured out a glass of wine each and toasted to the death of the malevolent fucking cunt, Joffrey.

However, as I said, this article isn’t about a twist that makes the entire season look good. No, the true charm of this episode was the fifteen or so minutes before it actually happened. The whole scene was dedicated to setting up the suspects and provided red herrings. Every time two characters were on screen, they were sniping at each other and lining up all of the conflicts in King’s Landing for everyone to see. Jack Gleeson provided the perfect Joffrey moment, flexing every last remaining evil muscle in his body to make his eventual demise count. The tension was dripping from every line, movement or frame, as we were unsure exactly how the Purple Wedding would unfold (my little brother was convinced that Tyrion was about to be killed off). Looking back on this episode and you will see just how incredibly directed it is. All of the chess pieces are there for everyone to see.

And when the death happens, it is devastating. Jack Gleeson does this terrific little thing that might go unseen by most, where he chokes slightly. For book-readers in the know, they are grinning, realising what is about to happen. However, it turns out that little expression was just him pausing and coming up with a new line of insults to throw at his uncle. A nice little red herring for the book fans. We could also argue that this is the poison kicking in before Joffrey has realised it yet. And when the poison does kick in: it is a difficult watch. Sure, we all hate Joffrey, but no one deserves to go out like that. His face is transformed into a purple, bloody mess, his eyes glazed over and his appearance almost unrecognisable. He claws for his throat, then his mother and then Tyrion, who he believes killed him, helpless. Cersei breaks down, unable to help the son, that despite everything she loves. That is how you write a death sequence for one of the most talked about characters on TV.

Goodbye, Joffrey. Believe it or not, you will be missed.

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6 thoughts on “The 5 Best Stand-Alone TV Episodes of 2014

  1. Yeah, that walking dead episode was fantastic. totally gut-wrenching, but fantastic! When Lizzy says she was going to turn Judith next… oo that creeps me right out.

  2. I love Hannibal… I really do. That episode was just glorious!

    “Sure, we all hate Joffrey, but no one deserves to go out like that.” – okay… maybe I am terribly cold, but I thought that MFC deserved what Theon is going through… Joffrey got off a little easy after all he had done, in my opinion, although the scene was shot really well.

    Great list Luke!

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