Now I have to admit as much as I adore this show I have really struggled to get into this season. Over the 10 episodes the plotlines have meandered through with some notable conclusions. The previous 9 episodes led up to a season finale which certainly had its fair share of dramatic resolutions. Ultimately the majority of the season is pedestrian in the way it limped along, only to be accentuated with controversial and excessive scenes before the dramatic conclusions that rounded it all off.
Jon Snow and the Night’s Watch
This story arc provided the closing scene for the finale and for many came as quite a shock. I had thought that if he was to be murdered by his own men it would’ve happened before this point so I was not expecting it. When Jon Snow was elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch he became a marked man and he further antagonised his comrades with his determination to bring the Wildlings south of the Wall. Perhaps his biggest mistake was appointing Ser Alliser Thorne as First Ranger, never hiding his contempt for Snow and expressing his disagreement with his decisions. Ultimately all of these actions would see his undoing and trigger the shocking scenes that concluded the season.
Whilst many will be mourning over the departure of one of the shows main pieces of eye candy the reverberations on the story from here will be potentially even more catastrophic. Having faced the White Walkers Jon Snow appreciated the scale of the task that was facing the whole of Westeros. The White Walkers provide a very real threat to life south of the wall but without Jon Snow it seems that the odds of success for the Night’s Watch have taken a serious blow.
It was an interesting decision for the whole season to conclude with the death of Jon Snow but smart in terms of generating a reaction of viewers on social media and the additional press interest and comment. The final shot, looking down on a deceased Snow, with blood trickling, he must’ve been on an incline of some sort, will stick in the mind of the viewer and hopefully encourage them to watch the next season. However, by consistently killing off likeable characters such as Jon Snow, removing Samwell Tarly from the equation too, it makes it more difficult for viewers to reengage with the show the following year. One of the strengths of the show is the unpredictability but viewers ultimately want to see the good people thrive and the others getting their comeuppance. One individual who does indeed get his just deserts is Stannis Baratheon.
Stannis Baratheon messes everything up
It is hard to argue that anyone had a more catastrophic conclusion to the season than Stannis. His army arrived dramatically at the Wall in the conclusion of season 4 but it took the whole of season 5 for him to move onto Winterfell. This highlights the slow and plodding nature of the first 2/3rds of the season. What those episodes do achieve is by bringing Stannis and his daughter closer together, only for that to be completely thrown out of the window when the manipulative witch Melisandre exerts her influence. The scene of Shireen being burnt at the stake is disturbing but fortunately we are spared any shots of the young princess ablaze. Although this decision sees the snow melting for his army’s assault on Winterfell it also results in half of that army deserting and his wife Selyse taking her own life. There are many occasions in this show where individuals seem to act in a way which is not really consistent with how real people would act but Selyse is clearly so affected by the death of her daughter that she feels compelled to take her own life. Melisandre also shows her real cowardice, fleeing Stannis’ side and retreating to Castle Black. Stannis in his determination still attempts to attack Winterfell but that also proves unsuccessful. It appears that Stannis has met his end, slain by Brienne, but as we did not see the death it remains open to debate if he will return or not.
It would appear that Stannis has got what he deserved, putting his faith in the words of Melisandre and his decision to sacrifice his daughter. However, this will have an effect on the rest of Westeros. With the Baratheon army defeated it seems the Lannister hold on the Iron throne seems to have tightened. However, of more concern is perhaps the fact that the Bolton’s still hold Winterfell.
Sansa and Ramsay Bolton
One of the most disturbing scenes of the whole season follows the marriage of Sansa Stark to Ramsay Bolton. It caused plenty of reaction on social media and rightly so but was consistent with the grotesque character that Ramsay Bolton has become since his introduction into the series. However, this season sees no retribution for Ramsay. Fortunately, the season finale does see Sansa finally reach Theon Greyjoy as he kills Myranda and the two of them leap off the wall. But their fate remains unclear and this will be a plotline to continue further in the next season. Unfortunately, with the Bolton’s still holding Winterfell it is going to be difficult for Theon and Sansa to evade the repercussions.
Cersei’s plan works against her
Ah Cersei Lannister! She is perhaps one of the most realistic characters in the series, intrinsically protective of her family and her children in particular. Sometimes that maternal instinct gets the better of her and it certainly did in this season. Her initial plans to counter the growing influence of the Tyrell’s by re-establishing the Faith Militant works perfectly as both Loras and Margaery are arrested. However, it would backfire spectacularly as she too was arrested. In the season finale we are forced to endure a long and uncomfortable scene of Cersei doing a walk of shame through the streets of King’s Landing. Whilst many would feel that this is all of her birds coming home to roost finally it still makes for difficult viewing. As a character she rings true to reality, she is flawed. Her obsessive controlling instincts in order to protect her children balanced against her poor decision making in other aspects of her life make her a fully rounded character. Going forward into Season 6 Cersei is now back in the Red Keep and it is difficult to see anything else than spectacular and bloody retribution. King Tommen has been largely absent, appearing in only half of the episodes during Season 5, and as a result it is hard to consider him as anything other than a weak King, which probably means a most undignified end to his reign.
The boredom of Dorne and Meereen
One of the biggest problems with the pacing of Season 5 is that whenever there was an element of momentum it was immediately lost by moving to Dorne or Meereen. The Martell and Sand Snake’s plotline is frankly tedious and ultimately accomplishes absolutely nothing. The death of Myrcella is predictable given the ill-feeling of Ellaria Sand for the Lannisters following the death of Oberyn in Season 4. But for it to take 10 episodes is a journey akin to having your fingernails pulled out.
Similarly the political unrest in Meereen is completely uninteresting. Daenerys seems to have lost sight of her goal of being on the iron throne, which is what we as viewers want to see. As the ‘Mother of Dragons’ we want to see those dragons go to war against the Lannisters et al. Instead we have to endure the political instability of Slavers Bay with the Sons of the Harpy rebelling, the fighting pits and it simply doesn’t interest this member of the audience. What is interesting is the potential of a Daenerys and a Tyrion Lannister alliance which had been alluded to throughout the season only for them to be separated towards its conclusion. Instead, Tyrion is now in charge of the poisoned chalice of dullness that is Meereen but on the plus side we did see the return of Varys. The dynamic between these two characters is golden and hopefully we can look forward to more of that in the next season.
Arya’s learns to be no one
From boredom to utter confusion, Arya’s time in Bravos. Maisie Williams is fantastic in the role as Arya, a character who has been on a journey since seeing her father executed and you almost feel that it has been building to this point, her teaching in the House of Black and White. Of course this was punctuated by her killing of Meryn Trant. Now he was clearly portrayed as an individual deserving of a grisly demise but was it really necessary to show his preference for young girls by having him drag off a frightened youngster in ‘The Dance of Dragons’. This may have been an attempt to provide a reason why Arya would be in a position to kill Trant, or to have the audience cheer her on while she kills him, it still seemed unnecessary to show scared girls getting beaten by him. But he was actually a character who got his just deserts in the series; even if the death was a little brutal it was very well done on a production level. Arya would feel the repercussions of that action however as her story concludes with her losing her sight. Where her story goes from here now is open for debate. Perhaps it will make Arya more powerful, being able to see what others do not see. Overall the whole plotline for this season confused me greatly, removing multiple faces from Jaqen’s supposedly dead body until finally Arya herself is revealed. It is this unpredictability that makes this programme one of the best on television and keeps people watching, even if they don’t fully understand what’s going on.
Hardhome and the White Walkers
The undoubted highlight of the whole season was the White Walker attack on Hardhome. The whole sequence was realised brilliantly, truly epic and up to the high standards of ‘The Watchers on the Wall’ the previous year. Although an entire episode had been set aside for that battle, it seemed that somehow the attack of the White Walkers topped it in terms of scale. This brings us on to the threat of the White Walkers. When the ‘Night’s King’ raises his arms and all the fallen rose up as more undead soldiers, it was a real spine-tingling moment.
As a result the only conclusion I can reach is that ultimately all these plot threads will prove irrelevant because when the White Walkers do move the whole of Westeros is doomed. There’s an image going around social media of George RR Martin writing in a book with the text “and then they all died”. I can honestly see that happening at this point.