Well I don’t know about you folks, but series 5 of Game of Thrones will be remembered as the most depressing series in its entire history.
Just before I get into this review, this post will contain spoilers so if you’re not up to date with anything, I advise you to bookmark this post and come back later.
Series 5 represents the biggest change in the franchise. Series 1-4 made alterations here and there but series 5 takes the biggest deviation away from the books. In many ways it’s a positive step because the book readers can’t tease or spoil anything. It also keeps the audience on edge because as this series demonstrates – anything goes.
“I don’t want anyone following me. I’m not a leader. All I ever wanted was to fight for a lord I believed in. But the good lords are dead and the rest are monsters.” – Brienne of Tarth
If there’s an overall theme to the series then it would be the exploration of leaders. What does it take to be a good leader? What are you willing to give up or sacrifice for the greater good? Jon Snow, Stannis (Stephen Dillane), Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and Cersei Lannister all face these questions and some even pay the ultimate price.
Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) was told to “kill the boy” in order to become a man as he took charge as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Daenerys tries to play politics with the city of Meereen. However without her dragons and the rising threat from the Sons of the Harpy, her rule is under threat. You can’t be called “Mother of Dragons” if two are chained up and the other dragon is flying around doing what it feels like. Cersei is up to her old tricks in order to maintain her status and control and Stannis will do whatever it takes to get victory in the North.
Given how straightforward the concept is for series 5, this series is not without controversy.
Sansa’s rape in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” was hard to take. It’s not like rape or acts of violence are uncommon on the show. I think about scenarios involving Khal Drogo and Dany or Cersei and Jamie in the previous series. But on this occasion, this one was different.
It’s not like we didn’t see this coming. We all know what Ramsay Bolton is like – he’s sick and demented and his power and control comes through fear and torture. He’ll happily skin a person alive just to make a point! You will hate him more than Joffrey. Yet it still doesn’t excuse what happened to Sansa which I watched with a heavy heart. Sansa (Sophie Turner) is still a child, no matter how you want to view it.
I think my reasoning comes down to character development. Towards the end of series 4, Sansa looked like she had changed. She wore dark clothing and dyed her hair black in a moment where she was putting the dark past behind her which includes witnessing her father’s beheading and Joffrey’s mental torture and bullying. It was a moment where we thought she was growing up, removing her naivety and maybe even willing to play the game, like Lord Baelish (Aidan Gillen) does so effectively. All that is reduced to nothing in one moment and to compound the misery, Ramsay made Reek/Theon (Alfie Allen) watch. It’s a backwards step for the character and once again re-enforces how the Starks really are on the end of bad things happening in Westeros.
The only way this will be redeemable in the long run if Sansa eventually gets her revenge (or Arya uses her new-found Jedi like assassin powers to take out all the Boltons – although judging by the finale, that is going to be a little difficult).
“We all must choose, man or woman, young or old, lord or peasant, our choices are the same. We choose light or we choose darkness. We choose good or we choose evil. We choose the true god or the false.” – Melisandre
The second controversy revolves around Stannis’s daughter, Princess Shireen. We know how much Stannis is very much a determined, strong-willed leader but for the briefest of moments we saw a softer side to him in the series. He’s proud of his daughter. We heard his story how his daughter contracted greyscale and the lengths he went to make her better against all the odds. It was a touching moment, showing us he values family above everything else.
Then came the episode “The Dance of Dragons” and we watched Stannis allowing his daughter to be burnt at the stakes in order to fulfil Melisandre’s prophecy. Stannis needed re-assurance that he was going to win the battle at Winterfell to reclaim the North from the Boltons and giving up his daughter was the only way. I guess Stannis doesn’t have to take his daughter to parent’s evening anymore…
Joking aside, what a heartless move that was! It immediately betrays the protective words he said about his daughter and replaces it with a moment of true madness and most importantly, weakness. Yes he was desperate but to sacrifice your own child in the process? And in the end for what? In “Mother’s Mercy” it came to nothing. His greatest strength, his dominant army that was ever present in the series 4 finale, deserted him when he needed it. His wife hangs herself and Melisandre (Carice van Houten) takes off faster than Sam getting lucky with Gilly.
Cersei getting her comeuppance was definitely one of the strongest moments in this series. Cersei’s greatest asset is her games. Reason – because she wants power. She wants to be queen, even when the odds are stacked against her. But for once, it backfires spectacularly.
By unleashing a religious fanatic on King’s Landing was bound to get her in trouble, especially when the Faith Militant consider themselves higher than anyone else. Not even a naive King Tommen could do anything.
The first phase worked in Cersei’s favour with the Tyrell siblings locked up for Loras’s homosexuality and Margaery (Natalie Dormer) protecting her brother.
But there’s a certain level of arrogance and naivety with Cersei. She thinks she could control the Faith and that she’s untouchable. In “The Gift”, the Faith have no bounds and start to look into Cersei’s past. She paid the price. Locked in a cell, her high status, her power and fine clothing instantly gone, swapped out for rags and told to confess her sins.
I’m not the biggest Cersei fan but I couldn’t help but sympathise with her in “Mother’s Mercy”. Her long blonde hair was cut (ala Claire Underwood style from House of Cards), stripped naked and told to walk the streets of King’s Landing as part of her atonement. As the public berates her for her sin, she puts on a brave face, unwilling to break her composure. At first I started to laugh at the surreality of the scene but then it became torture, prolonging the agony the longer it went on. No one deserves that treatment. Absolute full credit to Lena Headey for that performance.
Series 5 does have a weakness and sadly the parts in Dorne lacked the impact needed to match the other events happening in Westeros. It got better towards the end but felt the Sand Snakes didn’t get a strong introduction, especially how Prince Oberyn made such an impression back in series 4. If the show does return to Dorne, hopefully it can build on that.
“The first Lord Commander in history to sacrifice the lives of sworn brothers to save the lives of wildlings. How’s it feel to be friends with the most hated man at Castle Black?” – Jon Snow
I’m saving the best moment for last. Episode 8, “Hardhome” is without a doubt, the greatest episode in Game of Thrones history. Why? Two words – White Walkers.
You know how they say “Winter is Coming” – well it came!
Let me put this in perspective. The White Walkers have been teased throughout the series but nothing compares to the absolute destruction witnessed in “Hardhome”. It was terrifying and unless someone puts in an Amazon order for some Valyrian steel, Westeros is completely screwed!
There’s not many instances where you can say a show outdoes The Walking Dead, but that happens in “Hardhome”. The army are relentless, sweeping across Hardhome like a vicious and murderous plague. Jon Snow (being a hero as always) tries to save as many free folk as possible but the efforts are in vain.
The thing about White Walkers and their army is that the dead outnumber the living. Their army can grow at an phenomenal rate, ready to wage war on anything in their way. Now you know why they burn the bodies!
If it hasn’t already, “Hardhome” puts the entire series in context. Daenerys, Stannis, Cersei or anyone who has a claim to the throne – their fight is small, self-centred and insignificant. Who cares about your claim when White Walkers can literally raise the dead for their army?
Jon Snow is a first hand witness to their power. The closing moments of the episode show how not even an alliance with the Wildlings is enough to stop them. The egotistical Night’s Watch are not looking at the bigger picture and only thinking about themselves. Any potential alliance with the Wildlings brings tension to the group. In the long run, by the time they realise the threat, it might be too late.
It’s a sickening thought because this is just the beginning of the White Walkers and their potential onslaught.
I mentioned that series 5 is the most depressing in Game of Thrones because for once in the series, we see our favourite or well established characters suffer. Not one character has it their own way. Every battle scene is a massacre rather than a show of victorious defiance. They become vulnerable and we watch them being robbed of hope. Their greatest strength diminishes in front of our eyes and there’s a consequence to every action.
Series 5 may have started slow but I never lost faith. The high standards we have come to expect still remain and the series delivered on its most shocking conclusion in the finale. You will BEG for series 6 immediately.
It’s been uncomfortable but I’ve enjoyed the shift in tone and the series as a whole. Judging by the internet reaction, while some book readers may be disappointed on how some story lines have changed, it’s very clear that there’s an end game for the show and it’s building towards it.
I can’t believe we have to wait another year for the new series, although that might be fine. It would give us enough time to visit our therapists just to recover from that ending 😥