The dust has settled on the Game of Thrones finale and we’re all left contemplating how to fill the next 40 weeks before we get to find out what happens next. The end of every season is always a sad moment for any show, but when a series has such comparatively short seasons (just ten episodes for GOT) it’s always that bit harder, even though us Brits are used to shows with bafflingly short seasons. Alas, with season 5 over and done with, we can now look back at the 10-odd hours of it as a whole and see where it got things right and where it went wrong.
While there were many acclaimed and criticized elements per episode, there were two standout recurring criticisms leveled at the show this year, at least as far as I could see. The most prominent was of course the seasons predisposition to include scenes of actual, potential or implied sexual violence throughout, but there were also arguably lesser complaints of how the season compared to season 4 when it came to just how much actually happened. Both are, to at least some extent, valid points, yet both ultimately stem from what would be my main criticism of the season – poor or questionable plotting.
In terms of the former complaint, the main point argued was that the show was using rape and sexual assault as a vehicle to create tension, chiefly in the particular scene showing Sansa Stark being raped by Ramsey Bolton. Many viewers thought that the scene was gratuitous, unnecessary and a major deviation from the books. Now, while the use of such events as a mere plot device would be an awful move, I would argue that here that wasn’t the case, and rather the problems began slightly earlier, when Littlefinger announced that Sansa was to marry Ramsay. That development was an iffy one for a number of reasons, namely that I don’t believe Littlefinger, with all his connections and knowledge of happenings in the Seven Kingdoms, wouldn’t know of Ramsay’s horrific personality traits.
Once that was established, we were on a set path that did logically lead to Ramsay perpetuating his terrible ways. Any deviation from such a path would irrevocably change the characters involved – if Ramsay treated his new wife well, would she see a reason to escape, and would he still be the tyrannical psychopath we’ve come to know? That’s not to say that the writers couldn’t have easily worked in a get-out clause to avoid the scene taking place, but that would neither be true to the characters – the Boltons having been shown to be traitorous and cruel, and Sansa being trapped there, a lone protagonist in a sea of antagonists – nor the reality of the plight that does genuinely affect many women, both in the world of this show and in real life.
Meanwhile, the show suffered from a return to its more familiar format. Season 4 broke the mould by having build-up, big developments and fallout in just about every single episode. Season 5 wasn’t quite as restless, returning to a slightly slower overall pace. I actually liked the way it panned out in the end though, as the pay-off was a spectacular last three episodes, where an incredible amount happened everywhere. It was one of the most dynamic runs of episodes we’ve had in the entire series, including season 4. Despite that mad dash at the end though, this probably was the weakest season to date.
The portrayal of the Sand Snakes was surprisingly tame and disappointing, yet this only became apparent as we went into every new episode expecting this to be the week where they revealed their plan and kicked into action, making up for the weeks spent watching them be portrayed childishly in jail. I did genuinely expect the characterisation of the three to lead to a big development by the end – say with Tyene using Bronn’s infatuation with her to her own gain. Instead, the ‘honour’ of killing Myrcella fell to Ellaria. Perhaps with the young Lannister dead and Trystane bound for King’s Landing with Jaime, there will be more to come next year.
While the introduction of two traditionalist politico-religious movements in one season – the Sparrows and the Harpys – was an example of the coincidental poor plotting I was talking about, Jonathan Pryce and the High Sparrow were a great addition to the show. It’s the incorruptible nature of the High Sparrow that makes him so intriguing to watch. Seeing the various characters so used to getting their way – Cersei and Olenna especially – come up against this brick wall really did well to portray just how relative their power is, with that particular line, “We are the many, you are the few”, resonating throughout that arc, none more powerfully than with Cersei’s ‘Walk of Shame’ in the finale.
The biggest main characters also evolved well this year. Tyrion’s development into the calmest and most considered character in that part of the world is somewhat humourous, but it’s good to see the progression follow through on how he has transformed over the years; from his tentative command of King’s Landing and the City Watch at the Battle of the Blackwater in season 2, through to his speech at his trial last year, to now. Dany’s development has almost gone backwards, which, weirdly, is the best thing that could have happened to her. Her evolution from ‘bargaining-chip bride’ to dragon-commanding warrior Queen was epic, but seeing her come up against difficulties and having to adapt is imperative to the show’s continued success.
Stannis’ fall panned out well, as he rose to new heights, before his reliance on Melisandre and his sacrifice of Shireen destroyed him. And of course, it was fitting that he should meet his end by Brienne’s sword (a fact confirmed by the writers after the ambiguity with which the scene ended), years after she witnessed his shadow kill Renly. Meanwhile, Jon had the best of it all, showing the reality of the show. While I wasn’t sold on Olly betraying Jon due to their personal connection, the idea of the Watch mutineers did make sense. To those men, whose whole lives had been shaped by the Wildings being their adversaries, nothing could make up for Jon letting them get what they want, to get South beyond the Wall.
Overall, I’d say that this was a good season rather than a great one. Compared to other shows, that still makes it a stellar 10 episodes though. The question now is how serious each of the developments at the end of the season could be. From Dany’s Dothraki encounter, to Jon’s death, to Myrcella’s death and Cersei’s new-found catalyst for revenge, to whatever the hell happened to Arya, to Sansa and Theon on the run, and finally Tyrion’s control of Mereen…there are bound to be serious repercussions when season 6 rolls around.