Read on and you may encounter spoilers from the show, the books, Winds of Winter sample chapters, and fan theories. You have been warned.
Okay, for starters: We can all agree that Season Five was a big steaming mess, right? I mean, it had its high points, but mostly it reaffirmed that the more the writing departs from the source material, the more it falls into repetition and cliche and rape. Lots and lots of rape.
We’re all in agreement? Good. With that out of the way, the Season Finale was at least a solid effort, getting the show back on track and hitting the right notes with the last two major plot points book readers have been waiting for. It also left us with a number of cliffhangers (semi-literally) so that the readers and non-readers can, for the first time, fall into speculation together. The books and the show are pretty much caught up at this point, other than a few points here or there, and we’re all in the same boat, wondering what will come in Season Six–and whether The Winds of Winter might manage to reach bookstores first.
Just a thought: Maybe the words of House Martin should be “The Winds of Winter is coming.” I’m sure no one has ever made that joke before.
As usual, I’m departing from a formal structure and just tossing out thoughts in bullet-form. I’d love if you contribute your own random thoughts in the comment section.
- Sam asking to go to Oldtown was an odd change. With Jon having just confronted the Night King at Hardhome, and talking to Sam about that exact event, I fully expected him to say “We need to know everything we can about the White Walkers, go do research Sam.” Instead Sam asks to go primarily to protect Gilly and the baby, and him becoming a maester seems almost an afterthought. It’s a more human motivation for a TV character, sure, but it’s also a very strange motive for an order (of which Jon is Lord Commander) that’s sworn off sex. Then Jon figures out that Sam and Gilly did it, and he just smiles and pats Sam on the back. The show has come a long way from the reverence Sam and Jon showed before that Weirwood in Season One–now Jon’s all “Good job betraying your oath, Sam
- Has any scene on the show ever felt flatter than the throne room scene in Mereen? Even Dinklage couldn’t breathe life into that stinker–it was like watching a bad improv act. Maybe the other actors all conspired against Daario 2.0 and vowed not to bail out his boring ass in hopes they’ll get a 3.0.
- Also… is Jorah’s greyscale just not even a factor any more? I mean my guess is it’ll come back in Season Six and maybe stand in for the Pale Mare, but since the show has already moved past the Pale Mare plot-wise, maybe that’s not the plan. Should we take this as a hint that Jon Connington’s greyscale is eventually going to be important in the books, and TV Jorah is filling that role for him? Either way, it just seems like the show forgot about it. Weird.
- Oh, and by the way: Varys is the Harpy, right? I mean he’s supposed to be in King’s Landing putting a bolt in Kevan Lannister, and instead he turns up in Mereen to chat with Tyrion. With no stupid fake Aegon plotline, it seems pretty clear–Varys wants Dany out of Mereen and on her way to Westeros, so why wouldn’t he arrange an uprising to drive her out, just the way book Varys sabotages things in Westeros? Varys is the Harpy. You read it here first.
- The whole Dorne plotline is stupid, stupid, stupid. I’d love to disregard it entirely, but I think we should all take it as an object lesson in just how badly this whole series could have been adapted, and what a knife edge the show runners have walked all along. Every minute of Dorne was painful: cliched, stereotyped, unnecessarily naked, and obvious. As soon as Ellaria laid that kiss on Myrcella, who didn’t know exactly what was about to happen? Like everything in Dorne it happened in the most trite, predictable way imaginable. Basically all we have to take out of this is that Myrcella’s not going to make it, and hope the show never returns to Dorne.
- As for Stannis… well that was unexpected. For a character who’s been so elevated to reach such an ignominious end is so perfectly GRRM. I suppose we have to wait for the next book to learn just how closely the show adhered to Martin’s plans, but I’m betting this was pretty close. Of course, we didn’t actually see his head come off, which in the language of this show strongly suggests that Brienne didn’t do what we think. I wouldn’t be shocked to see Stannis still alive in Season Six, although the post-show comments from the show-runners do suggest otherwise.
- What about Sansa and Theon? How infuriating is all this? First of all, she stole that corkscrew to pick the fucking lock and not to stab Ramsey in his stupid eye? Then she struts through the castle quite openly, fortunate that no one stops her, only to wind up cowering–yet again–at the point of Myranda’s arrow. Sure, she gives what I guess was supposed to pass for a courageous speech, but then it’s up to a man–Theon–to save her. Dorne might have been stupid, but at least it didn’t completely betray a character the way this whole plotline did. Plus, after they have their Butch and Sundance moment (are TV viewers supposed to spend a year wondering whether they just committed suicide? That’s a really high wall, snowbank or no) how are we supposed to believe they won’t be caught? Stannis’s forces have already been wiped out, Myranda’s skull is splattered on the floor in the courtyard, and Ramsey has horses. Maybe they’ll pull the same miraculous escape Dany’s advisors did from that pit full of Sons of the Harpy, and just materialize in a throne room somewhere.
- I don’t have much to say about Arya. I don’t know where the hell her story is headed in the books, and the show has left me in pretty much the same place. I guess they’ve done a good enough job with her story–and hey, thanks to Arya’s intervention, I think this is the one episode all season where nobody got raped. Good job, Arya!
- I’ve seen a handful of people complain about the Cersei scene, crying gratuitous nudity, abuse of women, etc. I have to disagree. If anything, this ranks among the best, most justified nudity the show has made use of, and since it so rarely shies away from nudity that titillates, I’m very glad they didn’t shy away from nudity that disturbs. This is a scene I’ve been waiting to see adapted since the series began, and one that everyone–including Lena Headey–knew was coming. It is critical to Cersei’s fate and her character, and I think it was executed pretty well, taking its time to really convey the humiliation and degradation Cersei experienced. If I have any complaint it was that the scene felt a bit by-the-numbers, and didn’t bring any real magic to the experience–but that’s a nitpick, really.
- Notably, the show has confirmed yet another popular fan theory, specifically that Robert Strong is The Mountain reborn. This one seemed pretty obvious, moreso than “Valyrian steel kills White Walkers,” but it’s still worth noting that it’s passed from accepted fan theory into canon. Also notable that this Robert Strong has a head. I think the assumption based on the books has been that the his greathelm is empty, but now I do get to wondering–what if there is a head under that helm, and it’s just not Gregor Clegane’s? I mean if it’s Ned Stark’s decomposed head under there, that would be pretty hackneyed, but it could be the head of someone more recently deceased? Joffrey, perhaps?
- Did I mention that Varys is the Harpy? Because Varys is the Harpy.
- Finally, I’ve realized that what this show does best is clumsily strip away all the mystery that the books have carefully maintained. I doubt there are any readers who believe Jon Snow was really killed at the end of A Dance with Dragons, but in the four-ish years since that book was published there’s been ample speculation about how he might come back. Would he warg into Ghost, perhaps? Live on as a wight? Rise like a phoenix through the magic of Azor Ahai? Now thanks to the show, we all know Melissandre is going to bring him back. At least that explains why the show went to all the time and effort of showing us Berric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr if they weren’t going to bring in Stoneheart. So thanks for making that one super-obvious, HBO.
- One other note on that point: This is where the absence of prophecies really hurts the show. For you who haven’t read, Martin’s books are just chock full of various characters delivering and interpreting cryptic prophecies, which makes great fun for readers who try to decode and determine what they really mean. In the books, there is prophecy about the rebirth of the great hero who originally defeated the White Walkers, a figure known in Westeros as the Last Hero and in much of Essos as Azor Ahai. Lots of characters, including Stannis, are said to be Azor Ahai reborn, but there are many clues that suggest Jon’s stabbing death is actually his rebirth as the prophesied hero. On the show what we get instead is, “Oh, Melissandre is at the Wall, she’ll bring him back,” which just lacks the same gravitas.
I’ll be back soon to talk more about Season Five as a whole, and what we might expect from Season Six. Until then, feel free to post your own thoughts or theories in the comments section below!
Image: HBO, via Hollywood Reporter.