Friday, August 5, 2016

The Major Players Get Stuck In Game Of Thrones Season Five!

The Good: Special effects, A handful of plot and characters moments
The Bad: Largely dull plot, No amazing performances, Very few significant character moments
The Basics: Pretty much a "necessary evil" season of Game Of Thrones Season Five introduces yet more complications while cutting out some of the enduring factions in Westeros.

When it comes to serialized television, there is a tough balance writers and executive producers face between creating a project that is complicated enough to justify its scale and having a work that comes across as bloated. Arguably the most complicated book-turned-television series is Game Of Thrones and after having a very lukewarm reaction to the first four seasons, my wife and I have gone back to rewatch the entire series. This has led me to two inescapable conclusions: 1. Game Of Thrones is vastly better when binge watched (as opposed to watching it weekly, months and years apart) and 2. Game Of Thrones, by its fifth season, had become unfortunately overfilled with characters, plot conceits and its own sense of importance that it had to stop and regroup.

In the fifth season of Game Of Thrones, remarkably few character arcs get resolved and some of the biggest characters get locked into their place, creating a surprisingly limited sense of movement in the season. The irony is that while characters like Margaery Tyrell, Stanis, Sansa and Daenerys get absolutely stuck, Tyrion moves move in the fifth season than he has since the first! Game Of Thrones Season Five is a season where many of the biggest players attempt to consolidate and retain their power wherever they were at the climax of the fourth season (reviewed here!).

Following the murder of Tywin Lannister, Cersei Lannister becomes furious with Jaime and she becomes intensely protective of her family (save Tyrion, who she wants dead). As Margaery begins to exert more influence over her husband, King Tommen, Cersei turns to religious fanatics to keep control over King's Landing. In Meereen, Daenery Targaryen, finds herself beset by enemies on almost all sides. The Sons Of The Harpy, gold-masked former Masters, start slaying her army of Unsullied, while her forces work to retain control over the three cities she previously liberated. Roose Bolton, now the Warden Of The North, gets into an uneasy alliance with Petyr Baelish, while further north - at The Wall - Stanis regroups with the surviving members of the Knight's Watch. Having fled the capital, Varys tries to bring Tyrion to Daenerys. Baelish maneuvers Sansa Stark and Arya arrives in Bravos.

When John Snow becomes the Lord Commander of the Knight's Watch in an unlikely turn of events, he decides to try to make peace with the Wildlings, much to the ire of the members of the Knight's Watch. While Cersei's use of the religious police initially works to her benefit, it does not take long before the Faith Elite seize the opportunity to imprison her for her sins. Lacking guidance of people she trusts, Daenerys re-opens the horrid fighting pits in Meereen, allowing free men to fight and preserve the cultural heritage of the ancient city. Sadly, the Sons Of The Harpy leap on the games as an opportunity to attempt to depose the Mother Of Dragons. While Arya learns how to be a faceless assassin in Bravos, Sansa is married off to Ramsay Bolton and discovers how horrible he is. When Tyrion is captured by Jorah Mormont, his life is endangered by both the disgraced knight and the grayscale sickness. And when Jaime and Bronn make it to Dorn, they find Myrcella surprisingly happy, but Oberon's lover engaged in a power struggle based on her desire for revenge for his death!

Most of the fifth season of Game Of Thrones is stuck on reacting to the consequences of actions of events of prior seasons. People who attempt to casually watch Game Of Thrones are unlikely to appreciate just how significantly some of the most minor characters become in the fifth season. Lancel Lannister was essentially a throwaway character in the first season and while other characters were focused on in the foreground, Roose Bolton was relegated to the background . . . but now, Bolton is one of the biggest powers in Westeros! Similarly, Daenerys was incredibly important in the first four seasons . . . and in the fifth season of Game Of Thrones she is basically a bureaucrat stuck on a throne, reacting to people trying to execute her will.

Despite a few key moments - most of them centering around Tyrion and the cheap thrill of seeing Alexander Siddig in something new! - most of Game Of Thrones Season 5 is just boring. For sure, the battle at Hardhome is very cool and integral to the larger plot, but most of the battles in the fifth season of Game Of Thrones are surprisingly dull. And yeah, there are an obscene amount of throat-slittings. The fifth season of Game Of Thrones also features the uptick in peasants who are flayed alive and there's a character who is burned alive pretty horrifically.

In the fifth season of Game Of Thrones, the characters who are still standing are:

Tyrion Lannister - Having been smuggled out of King's Landing by Varys, he gets (and stays) incredibly drunk. He accompanies Varys to Meereen to meet Daenerys, but is captured by Jorah Mormont en route. He is thrilled to finally see a dragon, but is horrified when he encounters Stone Men - who are infected with the highly-contagious grayscale. Attempting to get to Meereen, he is captured by slavers and has to talk his way into their good graces and then the Queen's,

Varys - He saves Tyrion after Tyrion kills Tywin and he tries to connect Tyrion with Daenerys for the good of the realm. Sadly, when he reluctantly allows Tyrion out of his caravan, Tyrion is captured by Jorah and he has to figure out where his friend has gone,

Jaime Lannister - Desperate to save his daughter from the Sand Snakes in Dorn, he takes Bronn and leaves King's Landing. After sneaking into Dorn, he discovers Myrcella is thrilled with the prince she is supposed to marry, but he finds that Ellaria Sand is attempting to convince Doran Martell to go to war with his family over Oberon's death,

Cersei Lannister - Furious with Jaime for his releasing Tyrion, and the resulting death of their father, she becomes determined to save Myrcella's life. Following Tywin's murder, King's Landing is beset by religious fundamentalists, some of whom are Lannisters. She allies with the religious fundamentalists and empowers them to police the citizens of King's Landing using the Faith Elite. When Margaery and her brother are arrested, she thinks she is effectively in control, until the High Sparrow turns on her,

Margaery Tyrell - More determined than ever to become Queen, she continues to woo Tommen and marries him, much to the chagrin of Cersei. But when she begins to square off with the Queen, she finds the Faith Elite are an impossible adversary to beat and she is imprisoned by them,

Daenerys Targaryen - She discovers that ruling is more difficult than conquoring, when she stays in Meereen and tries to consolidate her control over the three cities she has taken over. Having imprisoned two of her three dragons and lost Jorah as an advisor, she does not have access to her full powerbase. She begins to take advice from a former slaver and loses much of her popular support when she has a former slave executed (as punishment for him killing a prisoner before she can publicly try him!). After losing her last Westerosian advisor, she opens the fighting pits in Meereen and engages herself to her lousy former Master advisor, while still having sex with her sellsword,

Jon Snow - He avoids temptation from Stannis (who wants to make him a Lord and give him effective control over the north after giving him a proper name) and tries hard to get the King Beyond The Wall to join Stannis's forces. Failing that, he shows mercy to Mance Raider and is voted to be Lord Commander of the Knight's Watch. To retain control of the Knight's Watch, he publicly beheads one of his enemies and then to try to save Westeros, he allies himself with Tormund and the Wildlings to save them from the White Walkers,

Sansa Stark - Having lied for Baelish, she rejects Brienne's offer of protection. She comes to regret it almost instantly when Baelish marries her off to Ramsay Bolton. Ramsay treats her terribly and that compels her to soften to Reek (Theon Greyjoy), despite his crimes against her family. She slowly grows a backbone, but finds Winterfell even colder than she remembered it,

Lord Petyr Baelish - While Rob Aaron trains, he arranges a marriage between Sansa and Ramsay, effectively consolidating his power over the Erie. He enters into an alliance with Reese Bolton. When he is called back to the capital, he discovers Cersei and the Faith Elite have destroyed his brothels and his businesses there. He uses the matriarch of the Tyrell family to maneuver the religious fanatics into imprisoning Cersei,

Brienne Of Tarth - She fails to save Sansa after losing Arya in the prior season. Still bruised from her battle with The Hound, she continues to reluctantly take Pod as her squire as she hunts Sansa. She finally starts to treat him well and guards Sansa at Winterfell from a distance until she gets an unexpected opportunity,

Stannis Baratheon - Having thwarted Mance Raider, he attempts to enlist the Wildlings to fight for him so he can retake the north. When that attempt fails, he pushes south toward Winterfell to overthrow the Boltons. He continues to rely upon the Red Woman, who gets him mired in the snow and demands the most horrific sacrifice from him yet,

Melisandre - The Red Woman continues to exert her influence over Stannis. She attempts to seduce Jon Snow, but fails. She convinces Stannis not to stay at Castle Black and risk everything to try to take Winterfell,

and Arya Stark - Arriving in Bravos, she reconnects with Jaqen H'ghar at the House Of Black And White. There, she begins to learn how to become a facechanging assassin. She discovers her new education is dangerous and when an opportunity to remove another person from her personal hit list presents itself, she risks everything to kill Meryn Trant.

While many of the other seasons of Game Of Thrones feature amazing performances, the fifth season is light on great moments on the acting front. Stephen Dillane is unfortunately stiff as Stannis in ways even more extreme than he was before. Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke are not given great moments to play; Lena Headey excels only in the season's climax when Cersei is finally given a performance that allows her to emote. In a similar way, Kit Harrington is given a little bit to do, but John Bradley as Samwell Tarly shows him up in virtually every shared scene.

Only Maisie Williams is consistently given moments to play that stretch her ability. Williams makes Arya Stark alternately fierce and cold and she plays Arya's period of transition as riveting to watch.

Ultimately, though, the fifth season of Game Of Thrones is a great example of one of the weaknesses in massively serialized television. Those who attempt to watch just the fifth season of Game Of Thrones will neither appreciate its events, nor will they fall in love with the show based on this season's content. While Game Of Thrones Season Five is absolutely necessary to the larger story and character arcs of the show, it is a building season that continues to expand the already massive world of Westeros, with only minimal winnowing of its less empathetic elements.

For other works from the 2014 – 2015 television season, please check out my reviews of:
The Big Bang Theory - Season 8
Modern Family - Season 6
Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D. - Season 2
The Flash - Season 1
Orange Is The New Black - Season 3
Sense8 - Season 1
Grace And Frankie - Season 1
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt - Season 1
Agent Carter - Season 1
Daredevil - Season 1
The Newsroom - Season 3
House Of Cards - Season 3
Doctor Who - Season 8
True Blood - Season 7
The Walking Dead - Season 5


For other television season reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2016 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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