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Josh Reviews Game of Thrones: Season Five!

August 14th, 2015
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I fell in love with Game of Thrones fairly early in its first season.  I keep waiting for the show to falter, but I am continually impressed and amazed by this spectacular show which seems to continue building and deepening the characters and the world.  No show in years has held me as spellbound from start-to-finish each week, and as desperate for the next episode the instant the one I am watching finishes.  Season five was a terrific ten hours of entertainment and, as usual, it also felt far too short and left me head-spinningly crazy with desperate anticipation for the next season, which is a long ten months away.  Sigh.

GameofThrones.Season5.Daenerys-and-Tyrion.cropped

For its first several years, Game of Thrones’ storytelling was all about taking the characters we liked, most of whom were together at Winterfell in the first episode (even Tyrion was there!), and scattering them to the winds.  Towards the end of season three I started to get a little weary of the show’s delaying of any gratification in giving us any reunions of these loved but terribly-tortured-by-the-events-of-the-show characters.  One of the chief delights in season five was in seeing some of these characters finally starting to get drawn back together.  The season was filled with wonderful character pairings, from Stannis and Davos at the Wall hanging with Jon Snow; to Jaime and Bronn, Varys and Tyrion and then Jorah and Tyrion, Sansa’s reunion Theon (now Reek), and, of course, to the absolutely delightful bringing together of Tyrion and Daenerys (pictured above).

The pairing of Tyrion and Daenerys was one of my very favorite aspects of the season.  It’s a brilliant move (particularly considering that, apparently, the characters have not yet met in George R.R. Martin’s books).  I was excited when, in the season premiere, it became clear that Varys was steering Tyrion towards Daenerys, and I was thrilled by how quickly Tyrion actually arrived at Mereen and met Dany.  I’d been expecting far more delays, and was impressed that this was one time when the show didn’t put a billion obstacles before a character, preventing him/her from getting to the place that we the viewers desperately wanted him/her to get.  Bringing Tyrion to Mereen was a genius move, as it uses the best character on the show (Tyrion) to suddenly up the interest factor of the show’s longest-running storyline (that of Daenerys Stormborn, Mother of Dragons) that has been almost totally disconnected from everything else happening since the very first episode of season one.  One of my main complaints with the season five finale is that, despite how right it feels to have Dany back with Dothraki, it felt like a pretty silly way to again separate Dany from Tyrion and her other allies in Mereen.  Dany just abandoning all her friends in the arena at the end of episode nine, “The Dance of Dragons,” seemed like a weird move, and the suggestion in the finale that she had no control over where her dragon was taking her was weak.  At this point in the show, I don’t have too much patience for what feel like obvious stalling tactics on the part of the writers.

The other clear highlight of season five was, of course, the insane zombie chaos of episode eight, “Hardhome.”  Game of Thrones fans have now been conditioned to expect the show’s biggest action spectacles and shocking twists to occur in the ninth episode of each season, so (like Jon Snow and all the other characters) I was completely unprepared for the sudden escalation of chaos as the White Walkers and their undead thralls attacked the Wildling gathering at Hardhome and totally demolished them.  This was a shocking development for the show’s over-all narrative, and it was one of the most exciting, action-packed, viscerally entertaining spectacles I have ever seen on a television show.  Absolutely incredible, game-changing stuff.

The entire season had an incredible sense of spectacle and scale, far beyond anything we’d ever seen before in the show.  I was regularly dazzled by the visual effects that fleshed out the world and environments of Westeros in a way we’d never before seen.  It’s been a few years since I’ve re-watched the first few seasons of the show.  I suspect that when I do so next, I will be surprised by how much smaller-in-scale the show was back in the beginning.  This last season really blew the barn doors off the show in terms of what they are now capable of accomplishing with the special effects.  George R.R. Martin’s world is being brought to life in hugely satisfying ways.

The evolution of Stannis Baratheon was certainly one of the more memorable plot developments this season.  In the early seasons, I think the show made some mis-steps with Stannis, not developing him enough for us to care about him or even really understand just who he was and whether we should be rooting for or against him.  This season the writers finally nailed the character, and in so doing they played a dreadful trick on the audience.  For much of the season, Stannis seemed like a new hero for the show.  He’d saved Jon Snow’s bacon at the end of season four, and then he was heading off to liberate Winterfell from the dreadful Boltons.  But, of course, that was all a set-up from his horrible decision to burn his daughter at the stake in a misguided effort to gain the blessing of the “Lord of Light” for his campaign against Winterfell.  Even on this brutal show, I never actually thought we’d see Stannis go through with this horrific act, and so my jaw was on the floor when this actually came to pass in the series’ penultimate episode, “The Dance of Dragons.”  This made it a delight to see Brienne kill Stannis in the season finale.

Speaking of Brienne, she was sadly somewhat wasted this season.  She had some fun stuff in the early-going when she ran afoul of Littlefinger (so great to see those characters reunited!), and of course her banter with Pod was always fun.  But then she spent the rest of the season waiting for Sansa to light a candle for her.  That was a bummer, and it was more than a little silly when said candle got lit seconds after Brienne abandoned her weeks-long vigil.  That was unsatisfying, to say the least.  I’d hoped that after a season of waiting, we’d get to see Brienne charge into Winterfell to kick some Bolton ass.  But on this show, the cavalry seldom arrives at the nick of time to save the day.

Equally as disturbing as wasthe burning alive of innocent little Shireen was the rape of Sansa at the hands of Ramsay Bolton (witnessed in episode six, “Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken”).  After seeing Sansa take control of her own destiny for the first time at the end of season four, I had hoped that, when she was left in Winterfell by Littlefinger, we would see her manage to outwit and outplay the Boltons.  Sadly that was not the case, and seeing her violated so horrifically was certainly one of the show’s most disturbing and unpleasant twists.  I’m not someone who gets all up in arms at the show-runners when we see something terrible happen to a character, as many on the internet seem to.  Still, it was certainly an unpleasant development, and that’s putting it mildly.  Getting back to the world of the show, I am surprised that Littlefinger — who seemed to lust after Sansa and who had basically manipulated events in season four to have Sansa completely under his thumb — would so casually leave her to the Boltons and to such abuse at the hands of Ramsay.  Was the smart Littlefinger outplayed?  Did he truly not know what a monster Ramsay was?  Or is the idea that as much as he might want Sansa, he wants power more, and marrying her off to the Boltons was an important step on his effort to consolidate power?  I am not sure.  I hope this is something clarified in a future season.  I am certainly interested to see how Littlefinger reacts when/if he ever learns what Sansa has suffered at the hands of Ramsay Bolton.  Ramsay is now the new Joffrey, in that he is the Game of Thrones character I am most eager see gain a terrible comeuppance.

Moving from Sansa to Arya, her story-line this season was interesting thought not hugely satisfying.  It was great seeing Jaqen H’ghar again, and I was intrigued by the peek into the mysticism and apparent super-powers of the assassins from the House of Black and White.  But I was conflicted all season long (which I guess was the point) as to whether it was a good thing or a bad thing for Arya to join this cult.  Yes, I want to see her gain the ability to destroy all those who have wronged her and her family.  But the idea of Arya’s abandoning her identity seems like a loss rather than a gain to me.  I was pleased, for example, that she hid her sword away rather than abandoning it.  It’ll be interesting to see where this story-line goes.  Is she really blind for good now?  I am happy to report that when we saw Meryn Trant leave Westeros for Bravos that I predicted that he might meet Arya at his destination, and it certainly was great to see that scoundrel finally suffer some payback.  (Though in typical Game of Thrones fashion, the show didn’t allow us to enjoy that very much, as Arya’s murder of Trant was so horrible and gruesome that it was very unpleasant to watch.)

The show’s largest swing-and-a-miss this season was Jaime’s trip to Dorne.  I was very excited by more Jaime-Bronn fun, and I was interested to see more of this area of the show’s universe (Dorne) that had been much-discussed but never seen.  My excitement grew even further when I read that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine’s Alexander Siddig had been cast as Doran Martell, the ruler of Dorne and brother of the murdered-by-the-Mountain Oberyn Martell.  But sadly, this story-line went pretty much nowhere.  Mr. Siddig was totally wasted, appearing in just a few scenes, and Jaime and Bronn’s secret mission to Dorne went down way too quickly.  The staging of the final betrayal in the season finale also totally didn’t work.  First, Ellaria’s kiss of Myrcella was so public and so weird, that it has to be hugely obvious to everyone that she poisoned her.  (Especially to Bronn, who was almost killed by a similar poison.)  Second, Jaime’s ship still seemed pretty close to Dorne when Myrcella died.  Why didn’t Jaime just turn that ship right around to go back and wreak some righteous vengeance??  This was a disappointing ending to a fairly disappointing story-line.  I hope this plot goes somewhere more interesting next season, which would help redeem what felt like wasted time this season.

On a more positive note, I loved all of the goings-on in Kings Landing in season five, with Cersei’s increasingly desperate attempts to hold onto the reins of power after her father’s death in the season four finale.  I loved the introduction of the religious fanatics of the Sparrows, and most especially Jonathan Pryce’s wonderfully smooth, oily work as the High Sparrow.  It was clear that this was a bad idea, and sure enough it goes wrong for Cersei in spectacular fashion. Viewers had waited quite a long-time for some of Cersei’s evil deeds to catch up to her, and that happened in spades this season.  But again, in typical Game of Thrones style, the show didn’t allow the audience to draw too much joy or satisfaction from seeing Cersei suffer.  The scenes of her brutal treatment in the Sparrows’ prison in the season’s final few episodes forced me to feel some sympathy for Cersei.  And the brutal nude march she was forced to endure in the finale was absolutely jaw-dropping.  That was such a visceral, ugly scene that it was impossible not to feel sympathy for Cersei, despite all the evil she had been responsible for.  Where will her story go next?  Can this character be redeemed?  Or, now that she is back in her own domain, will we get to see her wreak furious vengeance on the Sparrows?  (After all we saw them do this season, that would be fun to see!)

Other thoughts on season five:

Nice to see Jorah Mormont finally earn his way back into Daenerys’ favor in the season finale.  I am intrigued to see the comedy stylings of the Jorrah-Daario pairing next season, as they go off to search for Dany!

It was amazing to see Tyrion finally get to see a dragon.  There are still incredible things in this world about which most of the citizens of Westeros know very little.  And Tyrion is still blissfully ignorant of what Jon Snow has seen!!

Jon Snow — is he really dead?  I doubt it.  Let’s see where this goes next season.

I loved Theon/Reek’s revelation to Sansa that he didn’t actually kill her brothers.  Very cool for someone other than the audience to finally learn that key piece of information.

Will we be seeing more in future seasons of the slaver Malko, played by Lost’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje?  I have to assume so, since he had a tiny role this season.

I cannot wait to see Davos’ reaction when he learns what Stannis did to Shireen.  I hope that scene arrives early next season and gets the time it deserves.

You know, I earlier called Stannis’ actions misguided, and of course the cold-blooded murder of his daughter was staggeringly horrific.  But what’s interesting about this show is that, while Stannis’ actions seem crazy and unjustifiable, this is a show in which supernatural things do occur.  We have seen that Melisandre truly does have magical powers.  So when she tells Stannis that her god demands he take a certain action, I can sort of understand why that would seem plausible to him.  What I can’t quite put my finger on yet is Melisandre herself, and her “Lord of Light.”  Is Melisandre actually in touch with a higher power?  If that’s the case, why was she wrong in her predictions of Stannis’ victory?  Was it that she did see the future, of someone crushing the Boltons and retaking Winterfell, but that she was wrong in assuming the victor was Stannis?  I am very curious to see where the show takes those story-threads.

How great was it to see Sam stand up to those bullies at the end of the season and finally get together with his lady-friend, Gilly?  Great victory for the little guy!  But I don’t understand his plan at the end of the season to leave Castle Black to go study to become a Maester.  Wouldn’t that take years/decades?  Just how is that going to help against the coming White Walkers?  (Even though those White Walkers seem to be moving incredibly slow, seeing as Sam first saw them marching quite a few seasons ago…)

Tormund Giantsbane versus zombies equals awesome.

I have read some grumblings about season five on-line, but I think the show was at the top of its game all season long.  The spectacle was enormous, with the show’s improved visual effects creating a canvas far vaster than ever before.  And while some truly dark, horrific things went down this season, that is not a first for this show.  I found the story-telling to be just as edge-of-my-seat compelling as it has ever been.  Each episode passed by way too quickly, and when the credits rolled each week I was desperate for the next episode.  I loved this show back during season one, and I am so impressed and excited that, in my opinion, its quality has only improved year after year.  Here at the end of season five, the show is as good as it has ever been.  I know that we still have several seasons more to go (and two more as-yet-unpublished books from George R.R. Martin!!), but it’s starting to feel like the show is beginning to build to its crescendo.  I hope they can maintain this level of quality and bring this great show to a worthy conclusion in a few years.  So far I have no reason to doubt.  Nor am I in a rush, by the way, for this show to be over!!  I am loving Game of Thrones more than any other TV show I have watched for quite a few years.  Now the long wait begins for season six next Spring…

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