I’ve seen more than a few people say that they’re no longer watching Game of Thrones, for more than a few different reasons.
Some I can understand. If you actually don’t enjoy it, then fair enough. One of the most common reasons is dislike of the violence, particularly towards women, that the show displays. I get the discomfort, really I do. But I also question what they thought they were watching, when they first set out. It isn’t a new facet, at any rate.
The other, even more perplexing, reason that I’ve heard is that it’s too bleak, it’s too hopeless. Which is, frankly, bizarre. We are coming to the end of the fifth season in what looks set to be a seven-season story arc. Of course things are bleak and hopeless now. We’re coming into the darkest moment before the dawn. That’s how basic conflict in storytelling works.
In Meereen, Jorah and Tyrion find themselves before Daenerys, with differing results. In King’s Landing, Cersei languishes in a cell, clinging to the vain hope of her impending release. In the north, the Boltons prepare for Stannis’ arrival. In Braavos, Arya learns what it means to serve the Many Faced God. At the Wall, there is disquiet at Jon’s decision to go and save the Wildlings. And at Hardhome, Jon discovers what he’s really up against.
So, given that he’s spent all of the season so far trying to get to the Mother of Dragons (Being kidnapped and helped along the way several times over -Ed), he’s taken a long time getting there. Now he faces the Queen. Dany wants to know why she shouldn’t kill him, which the Imp deflects first with the number of Lannisters he has killed — his mother and father — and then with his usefulness as an advisor.
She has him start by advising her on what to do with Jorah. She swore to kill him, but Tyrion pleads his devotion (“He is in love with you, I think” -Ed). Though, he says, she can’t have Ser Jorah by her side. She banishes him again, and after examining the growing patch of grayscale on his arm, Jorah heads straight back to the slaver/fighting master. Because Dany will surely look more favourably on him a third time…
So what should Dany do? Tyrion paints a bleak picture, with of the great houses only the Tyrells possibly supporting her claim. He seems to have forgotten the Martells and Dorne, but he does have a point. And whilst conquest is easy, ruling — as Dany has already found in Meereen — is not. She’ll need more than dragons and an army. She’ll need devotion.
In Braavos, Arya’s training continues. She’s gotten better at lying, taking on the persona of Lana, an oyster seller. In that guise, she witnesses a man who insures trading ships on voyages behaving unjustly. The poor people of Braavos have no recourse, except to the Many Faced God. Her snippet her advances Arya’s story a small step, but we’re still waiting for the clinch of what she’s actually doing in Braavos.
In Winterfell, Stannis is getting closer. Roose Bolton is all for sitting inside the walls and waiting for winter to deal with Stannis and his men. They have food for six months, and the Starks were right — winter is coming. Ramsay, though, prefers going on the offensive. He wants twenty good men, and stresses that they are of the North whereas Stannis is not. You can sort of see where this is going.
Sansa, meanwhile, confronts Theon after he betrayed her last time. Given his blind, fearful insistence that Theon is dead, and only Reek left, and that trusting him was literally the worst decision that Sansa has made, it feels a bit unfair. She harangues him about all of his crimes, eventually baiting out of him that her brothers Bran and Rickon are not dead.
In the capital, Cersei looks rather worse for wear in her cell. Time and again she is visited by a severe looking septa, offering her water in exchange for her confession. The Queen Mother tries to bribe her with promises of wealth and status. She threatens her with hideous deaths. But all of that depends on her escape.
A visit from Qyburn informs her that her uncle Kevan has arrived in the capital and taken up the mantle of the Hand of the King, whilst her son has sealed himself away and is refusing to eat. That’s the problem with putting a weak, subservient boy on the throne: you end up with a weak, subservient boy on the throne. She won’t countenance confession, but that still leaves her trapped in a cell.
At the wall, Sam’s wounds are being tended to by Gilly (No, not like that…again… -Ed), when young Olly comes to him. Olly is still upset that Jon Snow is helping the Wildlings. Sam lays out that the Wildlings are people too, and are needed to fight the army of the dead.
That’s the thing, though; Olly hasn’t seen that army. Neither have many of the Night’s Watch. The descriptions, therefore, lack a certain potency.
Meanwhile Jon Snow and Tormund arrived at Hardhome to a frosty (Heheh -Ed) reception from the Wildlings. Lord of Bones re-appears as their apparent leader, to goad Tormund as a traitor, who promptly beats him to death with his own stick.
The Wildlings are split on Jon’s offer. Many are interested in being able to get away from the White Walkers, but there is suspicion. Distrust. The Thenns refuse to come. A number of the rest agree. But as they’re loading up the boats mist starts to come over the mountains. Followed by the army of the dead.
What follows is probably the best battle scene that the series has boasted so far. Hundreds and thousands of wights descend on the Free Folk and the Watchmen, who Jon, Tormund and the Magnar of the Thenn lead in the defence. They get mullered, naturally, but not before many escape, and some interesting facts are revealed.
When the White Walkers join the fray, their weapons shatter all opposing blades, and their tremendous strength almost overwhelms Jon. He fails to retrieve the bag of dragon glass that Sam gave him, but to his and his opponents’ surprise his Valyrian steel sword blocks the ice-sword, and shatters the Walker into a thousand pieces.
As the last boats flee the shore, Jon looks back to see the Night’s King looking back at him. And with arms outstretched, he raises all of those who fell in the battle as wights — new meat for his army.
This is the best episode yet of what has already been a very good season. The battle surpasses the Blackwater and Castle Black, because it is both hopeless and significant. And the threat of the White Walkers, which has hung over the series since the very first scene, are now suddenly very real.
And the futility is palpable. Jon may have discovered that he can kill walkers with Longclaw, but Valyrian steel is rarer even than dragon glass. And it doesn’t do anything about the unstoppable army of the dead which is on its way.
All the politics going on, from Meereen to Winterfell, none of it matters if the Walkers get past the Wall. And given that so few actually believe in the threat, it’s a very tall order to expect the divided factions of humanity to be ready for it.
But that’s where the best of the heroes, flawed though they undoubtedly are, will have to come in.
- So, when the Night’s King raises the dead from the battle, does that include the wights that were killed? If so, the Walkers’ casualties are…zero.
- This is the first time that the series has gone truly balls-to-the-wall fantasy. And it’s brilliant. You’ve won your audience, let’s have a bit more of this, now, please.
- Tyrion gets that Varys has been working to protect Daenerys the whole time.
- The Night’s Watch rally without question around Jon Snow. It makes me wonder if he took his most loyal Watchmen with him. And if so, will Castle Black still be open to him when he returns?
- Ramsay is correct that Roose is of the North. The North isn’t too keen on him, though.
- So Mance is definitely dead, then.
- Melisandre has had a point, then. The night is dark, and full of shadows.