Warning: If being elbows deep in an Orange is the New Black marathon prevented you from watching the finale, you may want to click away for now. This review contains spoilers for all episodes of the Game of Thrones television show.
Disclaimer: I have not read the books…yet.
The fifth season of Game of Thrones had its final episode Sunday night and, if you were hoping for an action-packed finale, I’m willing to bet you weren’t disappointed. ‘Mother’s Mercy’ flitted from character to character, spending only a few minutes with each as dangling plot points were wrapped up and new storylines were set in motion.
Considering the number of plots David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D for short) were juggling this season, the change of pace is no surprise, but it is a departure from the show’s structure to date, which packed its most shocking moments in the 9th episode of each season. (See: Ned’s betrayal, the Red Wedding, the Purple Wedding, Oberyn v The Mountain – episode 9 has historically been no joke!)
Apart from some exposition in Meereen, every scene in the finale contained a substantial turn of events, which encapsulates what I believe was both the greatest strength of this season and it’s biggest weakness. Season 5 featured a few of the most shocking scenes to-date, but at the expense of the things that make the story a stand-out in the fantasy genre: dialogue and character-building.
One of my favorite parts of this season was that finally, after a whole lotta talk, winter came. The characters were constantly talking about the White Walkers for the first four seasons, but aside from Sam and Jon’s run-ins, the wintry zombies hadn’t done much of anything. And then episode 8 gave us one of the best ‘come at me bro’ moments of television history.
But…what happened before that?
Not a lot. Most of the season’s issues were resolved within a few episodes, albeit with violence and death as is the Game of Thrones way. The moment between Stannis and Shyreen in episode 4 feels like a cheap set up for her horrific death in episode 9, and the third infamous rape scene of the show didn’t really move anything forward at all. Dany’s marriage lasts all of a few weeks and D&D even introduce an instant fan favorite just to kill her in the same episode.
Subplots like the Sand Snakes and the Faceless Men drag until the final episode, and even then Myrcella’s death by poison feels somehow less impactful than Joffrey’s, while what happened to Arya isn’t clear. Of course, with so many characters in one story, it’s impossible to showcase everyone’s faves in each episode, much less be exciting and meaningful 100% of the time. But really, was Brienne just staring at that tower window for an entire season?
The thing Game of Thrones does best is skillful, unexpected character pairings: Arya and The Hound, Sansa and Tyrion, Olenna and Littlefinger. Once an odd couple is established, their adventures together allow both characters to grow and give the audience further insight into their personalities. Yet despite Tyrion teaming up with Jorah or Sansa marrying Ramsay, this season felt particularly bereft of a Jaime and Brienne in the bathhouse type of scene.
Of course, D&D did set up some great pairings for the coming season. One of the highlights of the finale was Theon and Sansa jumping from the wall of Winterfell, and whether/how they escape Ramsay will be interesting to say the least.
I’m also looking forward to Tyrion and Grey Worm working together to run Meereen, and think Lady Melissandre must have returned to the Wall for a reason. I can only hope our beautiful cinnamon roll Jon Snow will be subject to some Lord of Light action a la Beric in Season 3.
As the show has caught up with and branched off from the books, new possibilities have opened up for Game of Thrones that have both readers and show viewers eager to see what happens next.
While this season never quite found its legs, the finale still packed an emotional punch and I’m excited to see whether D&D can continue to hold their own as they tell their story in tandem with George R. R. Martin’s. I hope they’ll recapture some of what made the first few seasons great.
What did you think of this season? Who is really dead? Share your thoughts in the comments, but please tag book spoilers and leaks from future seasons.