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Game of Thrones: Season 5 in Review
Well, it's the end of another Game of Thrones season: you can tell by all the angry fans swearing over social media that they will never watch the show again. If you've watched the finale, then chances are you haven't felt as strongly about the fate of a single character since Ned Stark lost his head. But we'll get to that. First, lets's look at where the characters are, as of now.
**Spoilers Ahead! Books, Show, it's all fair game. Proceed with caution**
- Arya, the Faceless Girl, is newly blind, and still in training at the House of Black and White.
- Brienne and Podrick are still in the North, Brienne having recently fulfilled her first vow to avenge Renly's death. Podrick may still be the greatest lady killer (not literally) in Westeros, but this remains unconfirmed.
- Theon (yes, Theon, not Reek) is now on the run with Sansa, but their futures remain (couldn't resist) up in the air at the moment.
- Cersei, following her arrest by the Faith Militant, is now a free woman, but she is still awaiting trial, and she has likely lost all the fear and respect her people once had for her. Her uncle Kevan now serves as Hand of the King, and something tells me he won't be too keen on taking her advice.
- Jaime, who has now (possibly) lost two children, is en route from Dorne with Bronn. And while Prince Doran pardoned them both and humbled Ellaria Sand, there's no telling where his true loyalties lie.
- Tyrion, Jorah, and Daario are all back in the Queen of Mereen's inner circle. However...
- Daenerys, lost in the wilderness with Drogon, is now the captive of a Dothraki khalasar.
- Samwell, Gilly, and Sam Jr. are headed to Oldtown.
- Stannis, after losing the respect of both his own soldiers and the audience, is dead at the hands of Brienne. Another King down.
- And Jon Snow is...well, that's still pretty hard to say. Speculations to follow.
The Show vs. The Books
If you've read the Song of Ice and Fire book series, then no doubt you've been keeping track of all the ways that the show has diverted from the source material this season. And if you haven't, but have a friend that has, chances are they've told you anyway. While the show has always condensed certain characters and plot elements from the books (a good thing too, since each of those suckers is roughly 5,000 pages long, and trying to incorporate every single detail about politics, lineage, and world building from the books would be a complete failure) this has been the first season to feature well known characters striking out on completely different story-arcs than the ones presented in the books. This was, in my opinion, a fantastic decision, as it made good use of beloved side characters who were put out to pasture in the novels (Bronn), while at the same time drawing the threads of the series together and outlining an inevitable conclusion.
The Battle of Hardhome is the best instance of this. In the novels, the White Walkers and their Army of the Dead haven't been seen since the Fist of the First Men. With all the scheming and fighting from the human characters of the series, it is all too easy to forget the supernatural threat marching from the North, but Hardhome plants it firmly in our memories once again. The Night's King is also a great addition--there is no chief White Walker in the novels (so far), but the show's introduction of a Big Bad Guy does a nice job of reminding the audience of what the stakes are. it is also a testament to the show's creators that, in a pop culture landscape already saturated with zombies, they can craft a genuine sense of menace from these creatures.
The introduction of an evil that transcends all human power struggles indicates that the true endgame is about to begin. The main cast may be sprawling, and stretched across thousands of miles, but there needs to be something that puts them all on the same side in the end. Tyrion's new position in Dany's court, and the fact that Brienne and Pod will likely be on hand to rescue Sansa and Theon, means that the main protagonists are slowly but surely coming together. This sense of acceleration is something that is (so far) unique to the show, and I think the writers did a great job of expressing that this season.
However, many of our protagonists' stories end on the same sort of cliffhangers that they've reached in the show--Theon and Jon and Daenerys are the examples that come to mind. Unless The Winds of Winter is published within the next year, it will fall to the show to tell us what happens first.
The Last Two Episodes, and the Season as a Whole
The most common complaint I hear about Game of Thrones is that the violence is too gratuitous, and that the good characters suffer needlessly just to tug at the heartstrings and stir up controversy. I don't believe either of these to be true; and Season 5--which might appear to be the most gratuitous and needlessly violent out of all the seasons--perfectly illustrates my opinion.
I have no love for the violent acts that are displayed. Ramsay's Wedding Night and Shireen's burning were a bit much for even this jaded TV watcher. But, where some critics might label both scenes completely unnecessary, or at least easily avoidable, I believe that they both had to happen in order to further the themes of both the season and the series as a whole.
Where the early seasons were about a struggle for power, season 5 focused on the struggle to retain one's humanity. Given everything that has happened to them over 4 seasons, most of our favorite characters are now undeniably broken in some way. At what point do they stop being the people we root for, and give up the motivations that first attracted us to them? Season 5 showed us characters that ultimately fight to preserve what they consider to be the best parts of themselves. Whether or not they will all succeed is still unknown, but at least they are fighting.
Arya, who is told time and again to forsake her identity, chooses to remain herself for at least a little while longer. And, really, Ser Merwyn's had it coming for awhile.
Cersei, hitting the absolute lowest point of her life, chooses to forgo her own pride for the chance to see her beloved son again. Although who knows how long she will stay humble, now that she has Zombie Mountain on her side.
Daenerys--who spent the entire season mired in foreign intrigues and customs--reconnects with who she is truly meant to be when she flies away on Drogon's back. She may one day take Westeros, or she may rule in Mereen instead, but she will always be, first and foremost, the Mother of Dragons.
Theon, through the influence of Sansa, regains his sanity and sense of self. Time will tell if he will be able to truly redeem himself for his betrayal, but pushing the sadistic Myranda off a castle wall seems like a good start.
Sansa, also, discovers who she truly is. At the beginning of the season she was poised to become a cold and calculating player of The Game, under Littlefinger's guidance. She even seems to be trying to renounce her Stark heritage when she dyes her hair. However, her dark transformation does not come to pass. Instead, in the process of being beaten down by Ramsay, she discovers the strength within herself. Now, poised to escape (hopefully) into the arms of some genuinely good protectors, she is not only clever and calculating, but also compassionate: a trait that would likely have been lost had she remained with Littlefinger.
And then there's Stannis. The only one on this list who lost his humanity instead of regaining it, or holding onto it. No doubt he thought his reasons were good ones--the Lord of Light, so far, is the only deity we've seen whose miracles actually work. He truly believed he was the rightful King, and saw his sacrifice of his daughter as the last real test he would have to endure. His final, crushing defeat could be taken as a cautionary tale against putting too much stock in miracles, and also an illustration of all the qualities that made him unfit to rule (how, for example, could he think that his men would still follow him and die for him after they watch him burn his own daughter alive?) People like to say that the villains in Game of Thrones never get their comeuppance; Stannis' demise proves that, for some crimes, justice comes swiftly in Westeros.
It is something that I bet we will see a lot more of during the next season. Winter is coming. It is coming fast. Those who hold on to their better natures will stand together, while those who do not will be left to freeze.
A Few Last, Random Things
- The finale's title--"Mother's Mercy"--got all the Lady Stoneheart Believers up in arms again, but no dice.
- If the Mereen story arc truly turns into Tyrion, Varys, and Daenerys dominating Slaver's Bay, then as far as I'm concerned, they should get an extra hour solely devoted to their banter.
- Jorah...you've got the Grayscale...maybe take it easy with those friendly shoulder-pats.
- Howland Reed sightings: still Zero
And oh yeah! Regarding some characters who may or may not still be alive...
- Myrcella might live, provided they get her medical attention. I mean, it's unlikely, but maybe her Prince knows some obscure Dornish antidote or something.
- Stannis is dead for sure. We might not have actually seen Brienne's sword land, but there's no way she would have just left him lying there without making sure.
- And Jon. I refuse--seriously, refuse--to believe that his story ended there, at the hands of his First Ranger and his ungrateful Steward. It's not just denial either: there is seriously too much for him to do. He's one of the only ones who knows how to defeat the White Walkers. He may possibly be the rightful King of Westeros. He might be the Lord of Light reborn. Sure, we last saw him bleeding out in the snow, but this was shortly after we saw Melisandre arrive at Castle Black. You know...the disciple of the religion that can raise the dead? A woman who has probably just lost all her faith, and is in dire need of a sign from her God? Hmmmmm...