It’s strange, really, that we’re five seasons into Game of Thrones.
Five series of death, violence, a little bit of sex, and some of the best story on TV.
What’s interesting is that it has become it’s own entity. All adaptations either define themselves, or become shadows of their source, and it seems inarguable that Game of Thrones has not done the former. I can’t be bothered to look up the viewing figures, but the series has once again topped the most pirated list.
Each series adds more layers, more characters, more plotlines like a spider to a web. I didn’t altogether rate the third season, but on the whole it has been a remarkably consistent upwards curve. And season five looks already set to continue that trend.
In the capital, the marriage of Tommen and Margaery Tyrell threatens to push Cersei out of influence, but the emergence of the Sparrows as a religious force presents her with an opportunity. In the north, Littlefinger’s scheming aligns with House Bolton, whilst still pursued by Brienne and Pod. In Bravos, Arya must abandon herself in order to become a faceless man, whilst in Volantis Tyrion bumps into a familiar figure. And at the wall, Lord Commander Jon Snow makes his first difficult decisions.
Say what you like, this series has pitched us straight into the story.
I was a little surprised that we jumped to another royal wedding so quickly. I’d expected the politics of the marriage to drag out a little longer. But actually, merging it into the grander Cersei/Margaery politics is a good play. The particularly brilliant scene where the new Queen patronises her predecessor is a delight, filled with the younger’s condescension, and the elder’s blistering fury as she walks away under gales of laughter.
Though, Margaery is a bit foolish to think she’s won. Ned Stark thought he had, you may recall, and that ended poorly for him. When the High Septon is dragged from a brothel by the religious fundamentalists that Lancel Lannister has joined. Cersei is definitely playing with fire, especially with everything Lancel knows, but she has the High Septon imprisoned and elevates the High Sparrow — played by an excellent Jonathan Pryce — to the head of the faith, playing the pious Queen Mother.
In the north, the Boltons are rebuilding Winterfell after Ramsay sacked it several seasons back. They’re having a little trouble ruling over the northern lords, with Ramsay having to do some flaying to get taxes paid. Fortunately, Littlefinger has a solution: marrying off Sansa to Ramsay.
Sansa is, shall we say, less than enthusiastic about this. But Littlefinger manages to persuade her that it allows a chance for revenge. I’m not backing Sansa — even with dyed hair — against the rampant cruelty of the Bolton’s, but this is definitely an unexpected development. And as a maid at Winterfell tells Sansa, “The North remembers”.
Undeterred, Brienne and Pod continue to follow unseen. Pod shares his story of being assigned as Tyrion’s squire as a punishment for the both of them. Brienne shares the story of how Renly saved her from embarrassment in her youth, when the other young men mocked her. The two reconcile, and Brienne agrees to teach him how to fight.
Tyrion and Varys are still in a box travelling across Essos towards Meereen and Danaerys. Quite how Varys is putting up with the morose imp is a mystery, but eventually he snaps and insists on finding a brothel. Unfortunately, it’s the one brothel in the world where a miserable Jorah Mormont is drinking his sorrows away amidst whores dressed up as Dany. And showing the spectacular judgement he has always demonstrated, he kidnaps Tyrion. To take him to, err, the Queen.
In Braavos, Arya is inside the House of Black and White now, but seems relegated to sweeping floors, and watching pilgrims to the Many Faced God. Which, Jaqen all but says, is death. After she is taunted by another apprentice, Jaqen tells her that she must rid herself of Arya Stark’s possessions, which she does. Except for her sword, Needle, which she hides rather than lose. It was a gift from her brother, Jon, after all.
Up at the wall, the new Lord Commander is getting to grips with his new role. He has to refuse Stannis’ offer to legitimise him, which doesn’t exactly elate King Grumpy. Stannis says he will be marching on Winterfell imminently, and leaves the decision on the fate of the Wildlings to him. Davos tries to persuade Jon than his oath to “guard the realms of men” is best fulfilled by the Night’s Watch helping retake the north from the Bolton’s tyranny. It doesn’t seem to take, but Jon clearly feels for his countrymen.
Handing out roles, Jon decides to ignore Stannis’ advice to send Ser Alliser away, and instead salutes his bravery by making him First Ranger. Lord Janos Slynt, though, defies Jon’s order to take up a ruined castle along the wall. And Jon puts his mark on his leadership; following his father’s teaching that “the man who passes the sentence should swing the sword”, he swings indeed, and even when Lord Janos cowers Jon takes his head for the defiance. To Stannis’ grim approval.
The quality of the episodes seems to be improving with each one aired this season. The story is deep, complex and evolving, with the ample cast of characters all playing out their own motivations. I was particularly struck with the Sansa/Ramsay betrothal, which I didn’t see coming. This, clearly, is where the show and the books grow further apart, but I am very interested to see where it’s going.
In fact, all of the real action seems to be in the north at the moment. The intrigues are departing from the capital, as the realm fractures more. I‘m sure we’ll be in the South soon, and I am definitely looking forward to that.
- I know I’m probably the only one to notice this, but the music at the moment of the latest royal wedding was a tweaked version of Ramin Djawadi’s “The King’s Arrival” from the first season.
- Varys is really bad at keeping track of Tyrion.
- Has Jon won over Ser Alliser, then? Or is he just loyal to the Watch?
- The execution scene at Castle Black was really well shot. Acting, writing, cinematography and music all in harmony.
- I wonder if Margaery’s marriage will last longer this time?
- Whose is that mountain of a corpse juddering about on Qyburn’s worktop?