Full Spoilers Ahead!
Last Sunday, Season 5 of HBO’s Game of Thrones came to a rousing end in what could only be called an absolute bloodbath. Every single scene seemed to end with a character dying, or being in a state of distress. It was an exciting way to end a season that started off slow, but concluded with some of the greatest episodes Game of Thrones has ever done. Now that the dust (or snow) has settled, I thought I would write a few words about the finale and season as a whole.
In many ways, Season 5 has felt like the most focused season so far. A lot of storylines joined together including Stannis staying at the Wall with the Night’s Watch, Sansa returning to her home of Winterfell to marry the sadistic Ramsay Bolton and Tyrion crossing the Narrow Sea to join up with Daenerys. Also helping the show to maintain a more consistent thread was the complete elimination of the Bran plotline, which was probably one of the most immediately boring parts of the last few seasons. Season 5 also marked a definite separation between the show and the books, written by George R. R. Martin, on which the show is based. In fact, many of the season’s most publicly maligned moments were those that either haven’t happened in the books yet, or were written specifically for the show. I know for a fact that the show’s use of Sansa to replace a minor character in the books caused many book readers to cry foul.
Perhaps the highest point of the season was the dazzling climax of episode 8, “Hardhome”, in which Jon Snow and the Wildlings defended against a White Walker attack, only to be forced to retreat once the casualty count became too high. It was quite possibly one of the greatest action set pieces ever made for a TV show, better then a lot of movie climaxes in fact. The hopelessness of seeing these nearly unkillable beings decimate an entire village of warriors like it was nothing showed us once and for all that these things are the biggest threat in the story, and that everyone’s desire to get the throne really means nothing. Also in that episode, we got the first scene of Daenerys interacting with someone from Westeros, none other than Tyrion Lannister himself. Seeing Emilia Clarke and Peter Dinklage (arguably the top two performers on the show) doing something as simple as having a conversation together was great, and provided a great payoff to all those concerned that Daenerys was too isolated from the rest of the characters. Although the battle in “Hardhome” was the most excited action scene, the battle in the arena in episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons”, would also be considered breathtaking on any other show. We got to see Daenerys’s dragong Drogon in action, setting people on fire and chewing them up like it was nothing. The CGI wasn’t perfect (especially for the shot of him flying away with Daenerys on his shoulders) but for a TV show, it was spectacular. Both the action scenes in “Hardhome” and “Dance With Dragons” also served the purposes of giving us a preview at the two supernatural forces (dragons and Walkers) that will most likely face off in the series’ end.
It seems that almost every episode, there’s been some kind of controversy causing angry people on twitter to announce that they are no longer watching Game of Thrones. Whether it’s Sansa’s rape at the hands of Ramsay Bolton, or Stannis Baratheon burning his own daughter alive, Season 5 has certainly had many disturbing moments. While I can understand that the show does often thread on territory most people wouldn’t feel comfortable watching, it surprises me that viewers who have watched the show for this long are still shocked by it. I mean, we are talking about a show where in the first episode a man pushes a child out a window for having witnessed him in the midst of incestuous sex with his sister. It’s not like the show suddenly became really dark this season for no reason, it just so happens that a lot of bad things happened to people we really liked, but that’s par for the course in Westeros. Every single sadistic and disturbing thing that happened was completely organic to the world and characters. As horrifying as it was to see Shireen burn, and to hear her screams of pain, it fit completely with Stannis’ character development. He has seen on multiple occasion that Melissandre was able to help him get what he wants, the throne, and therefore would do anything, including killing his own daughter, to appease the Lord of Light. It is rather conspicuous that most of these controversial scenes involved women in peril, and that scene in the finale of Meryn Trant whipping the young girls didn’t exactly help that fact.
The season certainly hasn’t been without its flaws. The whole trip to Dorn seemed like a wasted opportunity. it felt like nothing but an excuse to get Jaime away from King’s Landing while the Sparrows took control. I doubt they would have been so successful if Jaime were present. As a reader of the books (though at this point I’m only half way through the fourth) I am really disappointed they didn’t give Dorne the respect it deserved. I mean, Areoh Hotah (Doran Martell’s axe wielding bodyguard) barely spoke throughout the season, yet the books gave him a whole POV chapter and backstory. There have also been many complaints that this season felt slower than most, with a lot of characters traveling instead of actually doing anything. I don’t really agree with that as a complaint, because the characters do need to get to places in order for cool things to happen and the dialogue was good enough that I quite enjoyed seeing people just walk and talk.
Let’s talk about that finale a bit, because it was one hell of an episode. What was interesting to me was the fact that a lot of deaths are still questionable. We never actually did see Brienne separate Stannis’ head from his shoulders, we never saw Myrcella die from Ellaria’s poison and Jon Snow’s demise could be easily fixed by Melissandre’s magic. I highly doubt this is the last we have seen of Jon, especially considering how many mysteries still surround his parentage. There was one storyline that ended on somewhat of a happy note, that of Sansa and Theon. The scene where Sansa finally meets the husk of a human that Theon has become earlier in the season was absolutely terrific. It reminded us that, at one point in the show, Theon was amongst the most hated characters. Now, however, he’s one of the most sympathetic. I jumped out of my seat and cheered when he finally snapped out of his Reek trance and pushed Miranda off the balcony, saving Sansa from the clutches of the Boltons. And that really is the beauty of Game of Thrones, that characters are so constantly evolving and changing, that you will find yourself feeling completely different about someone after a couple of seasons, unless they die beforehand.
But perhaps the most talked about scene of the finale was Cersei’s long walk of shame from the Sept to the Red Keep, as a giant crowd took obvious glee in humiliating and shaming her. I will admit, Cersei is one of my least favorite characters, and I can’t deny having felt a certain contentment at finally seeing her pay for what she has done, but the length of her ordeal as well as that annoying woman with the bell chanting “Shame” every ten seconds actually made me feel just a little bit sorry for her by the end. Only just a little bit though. As for Arya’s killing of Meryn Trant, it was yet another example of a heroic character getting a short lived moment of victory, only to get punished for it later. So, Arya finally got to erase another name from her kill list, unfortunately in doing so the Many-Face God took away her sight. It should be interesting to see how that will change her character next season. Perhaps we will get Arya being a kind of Daredevil of Braavos?
So now here we are, at the end of Season 5, Jon Snow is (presumably) dead, Stannis is (also presumably) dead along with his army and the White Walkers are slowly making their way south, intent to destroy everything in their path. Winter is coming indeed and I have no doubt that the show will only continue to keep up its intensity in the seasons to come. I’m also intrigued to see how the story will progress now that the writers are going ahead of Martin’s books. Word is, the show is set to go on for only two more seasons, meaning things are about to come together for a long awaited and much anticipated climax. Will showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss be able to satisfy the fans? Only time will tell but they have done a hell of a job so far, and I have complete confidence in them.
Final Grade 9/10