So here we are. Again.
How does this happen? You wait all year for a Game of Thrones season to come, and then it’s gone in a flash. And we have another year to wait (And that’s just for the DVD release… -Ed).
Season five seems to have been one of the more controversial of the series. Barely an episode seems to have gone by without some new outrage gripping the internet. For me, though, I think it’s been the best yet. Dark, bleak, serious, and with an edge of storytelling with no regard for what anyone wants.
Beautiful, in a word.
At Winterfell, the Baratheon and Bolton armies finally meet, with consequences for Stannis, Brienne and Sansa. In Meereen, Daenerys’ advisers muse on what to do in her absence, whilst somewhere far north the Mother of Dragons finds herself marooned. In Dorne, Jaime thinks he has escaped unharmed. At King’s Landing, Cersei takes the only escape route open to her, at the cost of her dignity. And at the Wall, Jon Snow reaps what he has sewn.
Wow. So that was an awful lot of dead people. Remember that scene in the Godfather, where all across New York crime bosses are murdered while Michael is at a christening? That’s what this felt like.
After the horrors of last episode, when he burnt his own daughter at the stake, Stannis seems to have stumbled onto some luck. The weather has cleared, and the snows thawed enough to allow him through to Winterfell. Unfortunately, the sellsword half of his army has deserted, along with all of the remaining horses. Put off by his tendency towards infanticide, perhaps? Selyse, meanwhile, overcome with guilt at allowing (And, indeed, encouraging -Ed) her husband to burn Shireen, has hanged herself in the woods.
And then, to make matters worse, Melisandre flees the camp for Castle Black. Stannis presses on towards Winterfell, though, determined (Or already committed -Ed), where before he can set up a siege with his tattered forces, a Bolton army rides out to meet him.
Within the keep, Sansa uses the battle as cover for escaping her chamber. Making her way to the broken tower, she lights a candle in the window. Sadly, moments before she does Pod informs Brienne that Stannis has arrived, and she abandons her watchpost to take revenge on Renly’s killer — and never sees Sansa’s call for aid. She finds Stannis wounded, amongst the broken corpses of his enemies. She condemns him to die, and he confesses to killing his brother with “blood magic” (Well, his contribution was another bodily fluid really… -Ed), telling her to do her duty.
Back at Winterfell, Miranda corners Sansa with a bow, intending to force her back to her chamber in, more or less, one piece for Ramsay’s torture. And this, remarkably, is where Theon rediscovers a bit of backbone, tossing Miranda from the walkway. And just at that point, Ramsay rides back into the castle. Theon takes Sansa up onto the battlements, and rather than live under Ramsay and the Boltons, they jump. To their deaths, presumably. Though that was a lot of snow at the bottom of the walls…
Meanwhile in Braavos, Arya seizes her chance for revenge on Ser Meryn Trant. Taking a face from the House of Black and White, she masquerades as one of his young girls at the whorehouse, putting out his eyes and revealing her name to him before killing him.
Jaqen Hagar is not impressed. Arya, he says, is still someone, and the faces are for no one. She stole a life from the Many-Faced God, and only life can pay for death. Jaqen downs a vial of poison, and keels over dead in front of the distraught Arya. Only it’s not Jaqen. There is no Jaqen. Just nobodies with endless faces — a truth which she grasps, as her sight ebbs away into blindness.
In Dorne, Jamie and Bronn depart for King’s Landing with Myrcella and Trystane in tow. On the boat, Jaime takes the opportunity to confess to his daughter her true parentage. She tells him she already knew, and is glad he is her father. All season he has felt tremendous guilt at having failed as a father, and this moment of acceptance moves him to the core. Of course, this being Game of Thrones, it is only a moment. Blood pours from her nose, and she falls to the floor, poisoned by a goodbye kiss from Ellaria.
In Meereen, Dany’s advisors bicker in her absence. An expedition will be mounted to find the queen, but someone needs to stay and keep Meereen in order. It is decided that Tyrion will rule, aided by Grey Worm and Missandei, whilst Daario and Jorah go searching for the Mother of Dragons. As he watches the two men ride out from the city, Varys reappears, meaning for the first time that Meereen will be one of the more interesting locales next season.
Somewhere north of Meereen, Daenerys finds herself stranded when Drogon refuses to take her back to her city, feasted and sleepy. Dany wanders, eventually coming across a great Dolthraki Khalessar. She drops her ring to the ground, as the horses wheel around her.
In King’s Landing, Cersei finally cracks. She confesses to the High Sparrow that she slept with Lancel, at least, denying her trysts with Jaime and that her children are bastards. She is offered a measure of mercy, as she is allowed to return to the Red Keep, but only after a walk of atonement. This involves her being stripped, her hair shorn off, and forced to walk naked through the streets of the capital jeered and heckled by the common folk.
It’s one of the more harrowing scenes of this season, seeing her debased and demeaned. Despite everything she’s done, all her crimes, it is difficult to watch, and there is a sense of relief as she comes through the gates of the keep, feet bleeding. There will, certainly, be vengeance for this. And Cersei takes bloody vengeance.
And to the Wall, where Lord Commander Jon Snow is not the most popular person in the Night’s Watch. He tells Sam what he witnessed at Hardhome, with the Night’s King raising the dead, and they muse on the fact that they have not enough dragonglass or Valyrian steel to make the difference. Sam wants Jon’s permission to go to Oldtown, to become a Maester, and to take Gilly and the baby with him. Grudgingly, Jon agrees.
When Davos arrives, Jon refuses his request for men and supplies, arguing that the Night’s Watch do not have enough to spare, and it isn’t the Wildlings’ fight. At which point Melisandre arrives, and with her expression tells Jon all he needs to know about Stannis’ attack on Winterfell, and Davos about the fate of Shireen.
Finally, left alone and bereft of allies, Jon is called out by young Olly. Apparently one of the Wildlings knows of his long missing uncle Benjen. It is, of course, the long-awaited trap, Jon finding only a cross marked “traitor”, and a mob of his brothers who plunge their knives into him with cries of “For the Watch”. Jon Snow falls to the ground, his blood running out of over the snow, and now his watch is ended.
So the season is over. And what a note to end on. Honestly, given the evils that Olly spent the last half of the season giving Jon evils every change he got. Tragic, yes, but it was possible to see it coming.
And that was a whole lot of death. I‘m pretty sure Myrcella and Stannis are dead, though I’m less convinced about Theon and Sansa. I really don’t think we’ve seen the back of Jon Snow.
But actually, although in many ways this episode was all over the place, it worked fantastically well. It gave us a glimpse of all the major storylines, riled up the internet outrage brigade, and communicated the bleak sense of unfairness which characterises this point in the story. And we are now pretty much level — in some cases past — the books, so the two entities can now be properly regarded as separate and individual.
I do think that this has been the best series yet, and its brutal attitude to the story it is trying to tell deserves respect. And of those who have sworn off it at various points in this season, I wonder how many will be watching when season six rolls around.
Most, I suspect.
- I am disappointed, seriously disappointed, with the underuse this season of Alexander Siddig and Ian Gelder, as respectively Prince
Julian BashirDoran Martell and Ser Kevan Lannister.
- The next season better be ten episodes of Varys and Tyrion double act.
- Does anyone else remember how Thoros of Myr could bring people back from the dead? Well there’s one very disaffected Red Priestess now at Castle Black.
- That new member of the Kingsguard is very big. Familiarly big, you might say.
- It is rather nice to have the Dolthraki back, I must say.
- For the watch!