Recurring Cast: Kit Harrington, Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Jerome Flynn, Stephen Dillane, Liam Cunningham, Carice Van Houten, Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, Iwan Rheon, Gwendoline Christie, Alfie Allen, John Bradley, Indira Varma, Aidan Gillian, Conleith Hill, Natalie Dormer with Iain Glen and Peter Dinklage
Things were just starting to look up in the Game of Thrones universe. Two of the nastiest Lannisters were killed off, Bran finally got to where he was going and the Night’s Watch managed to hold off the Wildlings with the help of Stannis Baratheon. On top of that, Tyrion and Sansa managed to escape the clutches of their captors, with Daenarys holding a healthy kingdom over in Meereen, albeit one where she is missing a dragon, with the other two misbehaving. On the whole, Season Four was willing to give the audience a light at the end of the tunnel. Season Five brings us back to earth with a sobering road of misery, marking the darkest season Game of Thrones has to date. Yes, the Red Wedding is going to be given a run for its money.
It makes it all the more surprising that, for a very long time, Season Five is also the slowest season we’ve had to date. It is hard not to be painfully aware that lot of the episodes consist of characters travelling to places, rather than interacting or taking part in action sequences. Whole episodes consist of characters travelling. Tyrion and Varys are on their way to see Daenarys, which while a pretty exciting prospect, cannot hide the fact that the first three episodes are spent with Tyrion and Varys together, talking. Jaime and Bronn head off to Dorne to save Myrcella from the vengeful Sand Snakes. Meanwhile Stannis is marching on the Boltons, in the most painfully slow assault in fictional history. Nearby, Brienne is waiting for a signal before she begins her heroic rescue. Game of Thrones cleverly tricks you into thinking lots is happening, when actually nothing much at all is really going on. That being said, it is also a credit to the writers that Game of Thrones is still must-see television. While Season Five won’t be remembered as the season with the fastest pace, it does allow the characters to breathe. We have come to love these figures and it is quite fun to just take a step back and enjoy the actors biting into some great dialogue. Peter Dinklage is never not great to watch. Stannis’ character development is jaw-dropping this season, his character going through so many highs and lows, we are clueless whether we like him or not by the time the season rocks to its gripping conclusion. Also, when the season gets depressing, the Sansa storyline in particular getting pretty grim and marking the one time where the show could be argued of crossing the line, we can always jump over to Dorne to see Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Jerome Flynn riffing off of each other, in a surprisingly successful comedy duo. The impatient among the audience might get fed up with Season Five, used to the non-stop excitement of Season Four, but for dedicated fans of the show, the wait serves as a deeper insight into each character.
And when the final three episodes hit, no longer do we complain that the show is holding back. Episode Eight could be argued to be our expected penultimate episode showdown a week early. Jon Snow finally meets up with the Wildlings he is trying to form an alliance with and the following twenty minutes is Game of Thrones at its best. Kit Harrington has been making a name for himself outside of the show, as an upcoming action hero, and he takes this talent to the show with a gripping fight scene that is nothing we have seen before on the show. Episode Nine opens with a heart-wrenching set-piece that marks one of the more depressing, yet beautifully written, parts of the season, but picks us up with an incredible showdown in Meereen. Two characters we have been dying to see reunited meet each other and are interrupted with yet another fight scene that just blesses the audience with the full extent of what Game of Thrones is capable of. Then Episode Ten comes around. It’s a mixed bag in my opinion. Quite a few important characters meet their demise (not a spoiler, we all knew someone was going to bite it!), but I question whether the right people met their ends. The first major death felt right, the character arc finding a fitting conclusion and the symbolism of the moment hitting all the right notes. That was a good death and even if it saw one of my favourite characters being written out of the show, I could appreciate the writing of the moment. But there were other deaths I just thought were shocking, for the sake of being shocking. It was almost as if the writers needed to give us a sucker-punch of an ending, so they slaughtered a principal character for the sake of it. Perhaps Season Six will embellish their decision more, but as the horror of the moment sank in, I couldn’t help feeling it was a little bit unnecessary, and a tad part showing off on the writer’s part. A rare dip in quality and better judgement for a great show.
Final Verdict: Slower and more depressing than Game of Thrones has been before, but the great writing and development is still there. We just need a win soon, guys! OK!