‘Game of Thrones’ ended yet another masterful season with the culmination of a number of storylines perfectly positioned and executed by all facets of this brilliant HBO show’s talented creative forces. This has been the program’s operating principle – introduce characters and plot threads held together by perfectly written and acted scenes, intersperse some of the most epic action / battles captured within the medium of television, and end with fans and critics (both academic and sociological) stewing over character arcs and controversy. ‘GoT’ is able to do so because of (or in spite of, depending on your opinion) its’ extremely high quality acting, staging, direction, and writing – viewers’ investment in the oft-complicated character connections and history is rewarded and punished equally.
MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD
Season Five, much like previous seasons, set up a multitude of through-lines for the remaining (stress remaining as ‘GoT’ thrives on shocking deaths of the good, evil, and in-between), now familiar, characters. Some of these stories work exceedingly well, captivating and leaving viewers hanging between scenes, while others drag until they inevitably pop, like some nasty, medieval-fantasy boil (as painful as that sounds). This season especially has fallen victim to this pattern, particularly in the drawn-out plights of the Stark sisters and Jamie Lannister’s journey to Dorne to retrieve his ‘niece’. These problems were completely overcome though in the final three episodes which were so full of jaw-dropping moments, that the build-up proved integral to feeling this impact.
Case in point, creating some modicum of empathy for Stannis, who in previous seasons was presented as a villainous, power-mad, religious zealot. His interactions with Jon Snow (building mutual respect), and the obvious affection for his daughter (the allusion to the great lengths he went in keeping the grey scale from overtaking her as a baby), built an additional layer, only to completely devastate when he shows his true colors by sacrificing this same daughter. ‘GoT’ has perfected this type of character layering – no actions nor decisions by any of its’ characters go exactly as they would like, punishing and glorifying them in unexpected ways, and always keeping the audience on its’ toes.
Religious fervor and iconography in particular were highlighted this season, from Stannis’ motivations, to the unified masks of the Sons in Mereen, to Arya’s prolonged trial with the many-faced god, and the overarching internal siege of King’s Landing by Johnathan Pryce’s High Sparrow. The capital of Westeros survived the Battle of Blackwater, but fell to the machinations of Lena Headley’s Cersei in her attempt to use the religious zealots to take down the Tyrells, backfiring terribly with her taking the brunt of their punishment (rue these lunatics in season six when they feel her unfettered wrath). Headley was a tour de force this season, conveying a mix of complex emotions, initially taking pleasure in the suffering of others, then truly suffering, but through it all, still able to withstand taking any responsibility herself – much like Stannis, a character now strangely admirable in her staunch selfishness.
Dany (Emilia Clarke) was truly tested this season, flipping her stance on opening the fighting pits in Mereen in an act of compromise. While leadership compromise can be a necessity for communal acceptance, this decision backfires on the Mother of Dragons when the arena presents the perfect opportunity for assassination. In one of the most epic, well-staged, and ultimately fist-pumping scenes of the series so far, she escapes on the back of black-sheep dragon, Drogon, a CGI rendering carefully imbued with dog-like personality.
The most polarizing bit of this season was saved for the very end of the finale, in a craftily staged coup of Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), branded traitor by his brothers in the Night’s Watch for teaming up with the reviled Wildlings north of the wall. In hindsight, the brutal slaying of Snow is not unexpected, but this scene pulls the rug out from under the audience for a variety of reasons beyond the likability of the character. This is coming off one of the greatest, but ultimately futile battle scenes (Hardhome – zombie hordes led by the White Walkers decimate the freefolk), where Jon (and the audience) are seemingly introduced to his nemesis. As they lock eyes, he raises his hands (and the dead to join the army), Jon (and the audience) feel the monumental power of this foe they all must face. This identification with Jon’s plight endears the character, and furthers the belief that he will be involved in the endgame – his murder is perhaps most devastating of all . . .
But this is Game of Thrones, and it’s like nothing else . . . Fans and critics alike cannot resist getting pulled in, even if it means losing those loved the most . . .