Game of Thrones Season 5 Review: Reining In the Unruly

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After the third and fourth seasons, which, while still excellent, drove the characters apart to the point of being unwieldy, season five took steps to rein everyone in. It made for an exciting season that really felt like we were getting somewhere.

The season started with Stannis trying to convince Jon Snow to ride with him to Bolton-controlled Winterfell, where Sansa soon arrived with Brienne following. Meanwhile, across the world, Tyrion is on his way to meet Daenerys. For the most part, these were the aspects of the season that really worked. Characters clashed together like never before, which of course led to more talk of how it’s all going to end than ever before.

So let’s break down the season by character groupings then, shall we?

Starting at the Wall, Jon Snow’s arc as Lord Commander of the Nightswatch was probably the best material the character has ever gotten. Between having mercy on Mance Rayder and tasking himself with winning the wildlings’ trust, Jon bore the heavy burden of wisdom that they will need every last man to stop the White Walkers and their army of the dead. His brothers’ failure to understand was of course his ultimate undoing, as he lied there in the snow, dying in the final shot of the season.

We’ll see about that death though. Jon got to play the ultimate hero in the season’s best episode, “Hardhome,” where he faced the first true attack of winter. Yes, finally, winter has come, and the first day of it ended with Jon shattering the body of a White Walker. If he is in fact dead, at least he got that moment. But it would be a narrative rip-off to have him be dead now. But, as I said, we’ll see.

Stannis spent the first half of the season at the Wall as well. Emphasis was quickly put on his relationship with Shireen, his daughter. The reasoning became obvious by the end of the season, as she was sacrificed in one of Thrones‘ most horrific moments. This was (hopefully) the nail in Stannis’ coffin. An anti-hero became a villain, and then he got what he deserved (again, hopefully) at the hand of Brienne. It makes sense for this to be Stannis’ last season, so, unlike Jon’s, that’s one death I hope to see stick.

Then there were the controversial happenings at Winterfell. With Ramsay Snow/Bolton running the former Stark fortress, Sansa’s return became immediately dangerous, especially since they married. There’s no doubt that the final moments of “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” were the worst moments of the series, as the undermined the strong arc Sansa had gone through in season four. But at least it finally gave way for Theon to come to his senses and rescue Sansa before they escaped the city alive (again, hopefully, that stupid finale was so annoying).

Moving further south, Tommen is officially the new ruler of King’s Landing, taking Margaery as his queen. But Cersei isn’t done fighting for power, enlisting the help of religious extremists led by the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce) to take down the Tyrells. In a surprising twist, she gets taken down with them. Cersei reached a new level of exciting-to-watch this season. Then again, I’ve always felt a sliver of pity for her; she always loved her children fully, which she handled the only way her family and the world taught her how. So in the finale when she’s humiliated and rendered powerless in the city, it was actually very difficult to watch. This storyline was never the most exciting of season five, but it was consistently fascinating and definitely had the best ending (depending on a few of those pesky deaths) of any this season.

Even further south were Jaime and Bronn trying to bring Myrcella back to King’s Landing from Dorne. Many fans groaned at how little tension this plot had, but I have to admit I enjoyed the lightness of it as compared with the season’s heavier storylines. Between Jaime, Bronn, Ellaria, and the Sand Snakes, there were a lot of big personalities at play here, they just mostly didn’t actually do anything, at least until the finale when Ellaria murdered Myrcella. Still, it’s not like this was the main focus of the season, when it was boring it was relatively harmless.

Across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion slowly made his way to Daenerys, first with Varys, then with Jorah. She was meanwhile dealing with the politics of slavery and the fighting pits in Meereen, which spurred a group of assassins knows as the Sons of the Harpy. Their initial attack in the episode named after them was stirring. This storyline picked up again in “The Gift” when Tyrion and Dany finally met, leading to some outstanding conversations in the following episode. But then there was the outstanding climax to this plot in “The Dance of Dragons” that had Dany fly off on Drogon only to pan back to Tyrion’s look of amazement. Most likely he’s thinking about how strong of a ruler she can be. After season five, it’s even more difficult to find reasons not to see her sitting on the throne by the end.

Elsewhere in Essos, Arya finally caught up with Jaqen and trains to become a faceless man. In perhaps her most badass scene yet, she kills Meryn Trant, who killed her fight instructor in season one. But killing out of turn is not without its consequences, as she appears to be blind by the will of the Many-Faced God. It’s a dark storyline for such a young character, but it feels like the most true way for Arya’s story to advance.

So we end season five with some major character progressions and a better idea of where the series is eventually going to go. The White Walkers are a more imminent threat while Dany and Tyrion seem like the perfect queen and hand to take the throne. The showrunners have said there will likely only be two more seasons, so as things wrap up they will hopefully only move faster. But here’s to another stellar season in Westeros! Grade: A-

By Matt Dougherty

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