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GAME OF THRONES: SEASON 5 | TV Review (/and the problem with spoilers)

25 Feb

RELEASED: April 12th 2015 – June 14th 2015
SHOWRUNNER: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
WRITTEN BY: David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Dave Hill & Bryan Cogman
DIRECTED BY: Michael Slovis, Mark Mylod, Jeremy Podeswa, Miguel Sapochnik & David Nutter
MUSIC BY:  Ramin Djawadi
STARRING:
Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke, Kit Harrington, Aiden Gillen, Natalie Dormer, Stephen Dillane, Liam Cunningham, Carice van Houten, John Bradley, Sophie Turner, Kristofer Hivju, Hannah Murray, Conleth Hill, Gwendoline Christie, Michiel Huisman, Nathalie Emmanuel, Dean-Charles Chapman, Indira Varma, Maisie Williams, Jerome Flynn, Tom Wlaschiha, Alfie Allen, Michael McElhatton, Iwan Rheon & Iain Glen

This show really loves to start and stop. You get seasons like season three where things rush ahead, and then others like season two, where things seem to slow to a crawl. I know that this is down to the books of George R. R. Martin, and the way he’s plotted out A Song of Ice and Fire, but it seems strange that after the monumental episodes at the end of season four, where we saw the Wildlings attack the wall en masse, and the heartbreaking defeat of Prince Oberyn (Pedro Pascal), that we can then move on to a season where Daenerys seemingly halts her plans to attack Westeros and the Lannister stop fighting walls to trade insults with a bunch of priests.

With the external conflicts seemingly halted, season four sees our various characters tested by internal threats. The Lannisters come into conflict with the religious zealots, the Sparrows, while Jaime Lannister enlists the sellsword Bronn to help him recover his daughter/niece from the exotic kingdom of Dorne.
To the North, Sansa Stark comes into conflict with the new lords of Winterfell, the Boltons, while Jon Snow is named the new Lord Commander of the Nights Watch and hopes to make peace with the Wildlings.

Across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen settles into her role as Queen of Meereen, but faces pushback from the former slaves and masters alike, while Arya Stark seeks answers amongst Jaqen H’ghar‘s society of assassins known as the ‘Faceless Men’. Meanwhile, Tyrion Lannister and Varys travel across Essoss in hopes of meeting the ‘Mother of Dragons’.

One thing this season does have going for it is the way it increases the pace in which characters from disparate stories start to come together. Stannis Baratheon and his ilk become tied to the story of Jon Snow and the Nights Watch, while Tyrion and Varys come into contact with the likes of Jorah Mormont and Daenerys. It’s this character-focused approach to storytelling that has helped Game of Thrones remain consistently strong (sure, I gave season two three stars but that was in part influenced by the quality of seasons one and three). As a bonus, for this season, the most boring plotline; that of Bran Stark and the Three-Eyed Raven seems to have been put to one side, as the problematic son of Ned Stark is nowhere to be found.

But in spite of all that, it once again feels a bit like everything’s more focused on setting things up for next season than it does getting things done in this one.

The end of season four had some monumental events and deaths, and while season five also has some, the time it takes to get to them seems a lot longer than prior seasons. The first few episodes, for one, feel like they could have got their stories across in a much shorter time frame. But this could also be down to the fact that, while some of the fat has been trimmed (Bran Stark), in its place grows more and more characters who aren’t at the same calibre as the likes of Eddard Stark, Oberyn Martell, Tyrion Lannister, Brienne of Tarth and all the other greats.

The High Sparrow and his faith militant, for one, are extremely bothersome. They are a capable threat in the context of the show, but beyond some interesting bits of dialogue from Jonathan Pryce’s character, they are mostly just those sorts of characters who you just want to see die so you can move on to something more interesting.

Plus, it’s through them and the other villains of this series that Game of Thrones seems to double down on the bleak storytelling. In fact, this may be the bleakest series as a whole yet. There is murder, rape, skinning and a ton of failures. Characters die, others are pushed into obscurity, and not all of it seems to serve any real purpose.

But there are strong points too, it’s just that, unfortunately, the bleaker and more boring parts tend to dominate the screentime. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jerome Flynn develop and enjoyable camaraderie as Jaime Lannister and Bronn, and their adventures in Dorne are more exciting than what waits for them back in King’s Landing. Stannis’ arc begins to take its toll on him, and while I know he’s not that popular a character, I admire his arc and the weariness portrayed by Stephen Dillane. Similarly, though his surroundings are quite dire, Iwan Rheon creates a truly despicable villain in Ramsay Bolton, who is a source of grief for many of our heroes and rivals the vile nature of the now deceased Joffrey himself.

There’s also the show of strength of the White Walkers in the episode ‘Hardhome’, which really shakes things up as the second half of the episode descends into zombie madness, and it’s awesome.

It’s because of what I see as these B-Plots that I will still give this season of Game of Thrones:

As while the A-Plots may be floundering a bit, the show is still kept relatively strong by the vast array of other stories to get invested in.

But I do realise my views on this season may not align with everyone elses, and that comes down to one major point: SPOILERS

(By which I mean I will be talking about spoilers – the concept – as well as actually spoiling things)

Game of Thrones is by all accounts a great show. I like it. My girlfriend likes it. My friends like it. Everyone I know who has watched it has spoken of it fondly. People I don’t know speak about it fondly too.

But along with the fondness comes a compulsion to talk about spoilers freely. You can’t talk to anyone or read anything even remotely related to Game of Thrones without people speaking about the major events as if they just assume that everyone in the world is up to date the minute a new episode airs. Half the time, the spoilers aren’t even relevant to the conversation, but people will throw them in anyway.

I’m partway through season six at the time of writing this review, and I already know what one of the major spoilers for the end of season seven is.

Up until this point, I already knew most things before they happened. I knew Eddard Stark was going to die. I knew Khal Drogo was going to die. I knew Joffrey was going to die. And the reason I talk about this now is because I also knew that Jon Snow was going to die (I also knew a lot of other things but they’re not necessarily relevant right now).

So far, the most shocking moments of the show, for me, have been the Red Wedding, the duel between the Mountain and Prince Oberyn and Jaime Lannister’s hand loss, because of the way things suddenly took a turn for the worse for the heroic characters on screen. They were dramatic, they were powerful. They made me think about the things I appreciated about them and the craft that had gone into making such impactful television.

So when season five ended with the death of Jon Snow, I felt like I had been cheated out of one of those moments. Those moments that unite the Game of Thrones fanbase and creates this intense passion for the property. A shared experience that everyone seems to have gone through together.

And although I am very much enjoying Game of Thrones, I don’t think I’m enjoying it as much as everyone else, because that passion and the shared experience was already ruined for me well before I tried to partake in it.

So when Jon Snow died, I was surprised, because it happened earlier than I thought it would. But I didn’t care that much. Because not only did I know he would die, but I also knew he would be coming back. So I couldn’t get all that invested in any of the fascinating moments in this part of his journey. One of the two main characters of the show was killed off, and I just had to sit there and wait for it to be over with. And frankly, it’s a bit annoying.

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