Game of Thrones
The fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones concluded on Sunday night with a high body count and the closure of several long running story lines in the controversial final episode Mother’s Mercy.
If there was any particular pattern that had been established in previous seasons regarding the pacing of the show, it went out the window with Season Five. Season Five began with seven rather slow, low key episodes (by Game of Thrones standards) where several characters found themselves trapped in ever increasing turmoil. Jon Snow struggled to convince the Night’s Watch to ally with the Wildlings to defeat the White Walkers. Danaerys struggled to maintain order in the city she liberated. Anger and discontent boiled over in King’s Landing as the Sparrows seized power from the King.
After that, the series concluded with three eventful episodes where the writers threw the kitchen sink at the audience and seriously upped the ante in terms of actions and consequences. It started with Hardhome when winter finally descended on the North and the Dark King’s army massacred the Wildlings just as Jon Snow begged to form an allegiance with them. It was followed up with The Dance of Dragons which had one of the most gut wrenching deaths in the series to date when Stannis reluctantly agrees to burn his daughter Shireen alive at the stake as a sacrifice to the Gods. The episode ended with Danaerys barely surviving a full blown assault from the Sons of the Harpy when she is rescued at the last by her dragon companion Drogon.
Then the season ended with a final twist: a bloody, game-changing final episode which saw the deaths of several key characters. Stannis’ unwaivering faith in Melisandre finally brought him undone. His invasion of the North not even worthy of an onscreen battle. With half his men abandoning him and his will to live sapped by the deaths of his wife and daughter, it was left to Brienne of Tarth to finally put an end to him which he seemed to almost welcome.
Sansa Stark is someone who has not had fortune smile upon her for even a second since the first season of the series. She found herself at her lowest ebb when married off to Ramsay Snow who rapes her and inflicts upon her an unrelenting wave of emotional and physical abuse. When her desperate attempt to flee is foiled by Ramsay’s ex-lover Myranda, Sansa is saved by Theon Greyjoy who finally breaks free of Ramsay’s mental shackles. With nowhere left to run, they form a suicide pact and jump from the wall, finding solace in defying Ramsay Snow through death.
As for Arya, she completed her long awaited transformation into the ultimate assassin, only for her to stumble at the first hurdle, revealing her identity to the first person she kills. This results in her being blinded by the Many Faced God as punishment. Once framed as the unlikely underdog to kill Joffrey and avenge her father, Arya’s story ultimately ended up mirroring that of Stannis – a resourceful and single minded warrior who is undone by their own hubris.
Lastly, and most controversially, Jon Snow heroically survives a battle with the White Walkers but he is ultimately betrayed by the Night Watch when he brings the surviving Wildlings to the Wall. The Night Watch brotherhood conduct a mutiny, including the young and impressionable Olly, and Snow is stabbed to death.
So where to next for Game of Thrones? On face value, it appears that the Starks are practically all dead or incapacitated. Banjo-Kazooie Stark is the only able bodied survivor and he wasn’t seen all season long. Inexplicably, this leaves the tales of the North to focus on the White Walkers, the back stabbing Nights Watch and the Boltons. I feel that the audience is more likely to side with the Dark King if that battle eventually comes to pass.
Meanwhile Danaerys Targaryen is (re)captured by the Dothraki and a new odd-ball Scooby gang comprised of Tyrion, Grey Worm, Ser Jorah and Super Daario will go on an adventure to rescue her. I’m most hopeful of this alliance providing levity and banter next season. If it captures the spirit of the Brienne/Jamie Lannister or Arya/Hound buddy ups then I’m completely for it.
As for King’s Landing, all eyes will be on Cersei to enact a bloody retribution on the Sparrows who she helped bring to power only for them to imprison her and ultimately humiliate her by forcing her to march to the Red Keep naked and shorn of her hair. With her ally Qyburn and the monstrous reconstructed Franken-Mountain, her revenge on the High Sparrow and that wretched nun should be entertaining to watch.
I must say, I didn’t really expect this season to turn out the way it did but I’m largely okay with that. I would liked to have seen more of some old favourites like Maergery Tyrell and Hodor but hopefully they’ll have more to do next season. On another note, I wasn’t engaged with the storylines involving the Martells in Dorne at all.
Last season I was disappointed with the death of Prince Joffrey as I felt the abrupt nature of his demise didn’t really deliver a satisfying pay off to the direction I felt the story was headed. Since then, I’ve just come to appreciate the show for its wonderful characters and memorable moments, without being too invested in the overall narrative since it fails to deliver on a pretty consistent basis. Apparently most people didn’t really see it that way and for them, the death of Jon Snow was an aggravating and pointless conclusion to his five season long journey to save the North. In the non-book reading message board communities that I follow, people are convinced he will be resurrected. And not as a zombie aide to the Dark King but resurrected with his humanity intact. Frankly, I don’t see it happening. No one is a sacred cow in this show. Even the last remaining long term story arc – Danaerys’ reclaiming of King’s Landing – seems likely not to eventuate. I presume she will eventually be free of the Dothraki but the punch line that the writers seem to be setting up is that Kings Landing is turning into a rotting hell hole and a place that won’t even be the centrepiece of Westeros much longer.
I view next season as a clean slate of sorts. An opportunity for plenty of fresh story lines. With practically no surviving heroes in the North or in King’s Landing, there is an opportunity for some new blood to be introduced into the series and for old characters to return. Whatever happens, it’s sure to be a surprise. At this point, I’m told the narrative strands in the television series have either caught up with the books or have veered off into a different direction entirely. Where Game of Thrones goes next season is anyone’s guess.