With Game of Thrones Season 6 around the corner, let’s take a look back at Game of Thrones Season 5, a year that elicited a lot of strong opinions from fans. Have opinions changed since Jon Snow died in the season finale? If so, how? What kind of legacy did Season 5 leave Season 6? The Small Council is in session.
DAN: Season 5 was a turning point for the show—that much is clear. If word about the show lasting for eight years is true, it kicked off the second half of the series, and indeed, Season 5 found many characters navigating new plotlines. Tyrion and Arya both left Westeros while Cersei tried to make herself the big cheese in King’s Landing. Winterfell rose again under new management, Daenerys put down roots in Meereen, and beyond the Wall, the true threat to humanity came into focus. If people like Joffrey and Tywin were the villains to watch in Seasons 1-4, the White Walkers will surely take center stage as we go into the home stretch. Season 5 set them up well.
According to some fans, Season 5 also marked the point when the show began to dip in quality, or at least when it became more like a normal TV show. By and large, I agree with them—the amount of coincidences and inconsistencies mounted, and most of the problem areas don’t get better on re-watch. The show still rushes through Stannis’ downfall, too many details are fumbled (why were there no Northern lords at Sansa’s wedding, what was with the scene where Arya goes blind, etc), and the less said about the show’s excursion to Dorne, the better.
Then again, the show still excelled in many of the big, flashy moments. I think Game of Thrones struggled with details in Season 5, but there’s no way the producers can be accused of apathy when they produced sequences like Tyrion and Jorah’s trip through Valyria, the Massacre at Hardhome, and Cersei’s walk of atonement. These are not scenes put together by people who are phoning it in. I was impressed particularly by Cersei’s walk—that’s a sensitive scene that could have easily been bungled, but the production gave it the respect and gravitas it needed. Channeled in the right direction, there’s no reason that energy can’t produce a terrific Season 6.
Before I give up the floor, I do think that Sansa’s plotline improved on re-watch, at least so far as Sansa’s motivations are concerned. When I watched it knowing what was coming, it became a story about a woman who thought she was more ready to take on the world than she was, where before I was expecting a story about a woman prepared to take her place in “the great game,” as Tyrion calls it in the Season 6 trailer. We’ll see if Season 6 adds more texture to it.
RICHARD: I tend to agree with much of what Dan has said above. It is also worth noting that Game of Thrones Season 5 did set the record for winning the highest number of Emmy awards for a series in a single year (12 out of 24 nominations), although such accolades may not temper fans’ sense of an overall loss of cohesion and quality. I do think Season 5 was the weakest Game of Thrones season so far, but it also had some of the most incredible moments of the entire series. Hardhome may well go down as one of the best action sequences I’ve ever seen on television. The detail and character problems may well have to do with the pivot into the second half of the show, where the stories are breaking away from George R.R. Martin’s source material.
Since the basic negatives of the season have already been covered, I’d like to talk about what kind of dramatic gold Season 5’s bit of stumble and pause may be setting up for fans. Daenerys (once she comes out of the wilderness with a new Dothraki army?) will be part of a wily, experienced triumvirate with Tyrion and Varys. I love the relationship between Tyrion/Varys and Tyrion/Daenerys, and if the stories give time for Daenerys and Varys to get some decent interplay, this trio promises a lot of fun and a lot of new plots as they make their way towards the Iron Throne.
As for King’s Landing, well, we can surely expect Cersei to be on the rampage. Enraged by the death of Myrcella, she’ll surely loose her dogs of war (Jaime and Frankenstein’s monster-Gregor Clegane) upon the High Sparrow and make up for her lame apathy, which allowed him and his fanatics to seize power in Season 5. Blood will flow in the corridors of power, and we can surely expect many to fall, including poor innocent Tommen.
Bran’s return should be interesting, as well, returning as he is trained by the Three-Eyed Raven in greensight, and his storyline is going to be instrumental in some pretty awesome reveals.
I won’t wax poetic on every storyline, but we can expect the White Walkers pouring over/through/under the Wall while Jon Snow remains dead or transforms into something else, Ramsay Bolton getting what’s coming to him in spades, Sansa starting to win and Arya really starting to lose. I’m hoping for the show to bounce back big here, and, as Dan also mentions, I think it can. Season 5 spent some time rearranging chess pieces and rolling powder kegs under ammo dumps and it didn’t always flow well, but if Season 5 sets up a Season 6 of well-executed drama and wildfire-level explosions of action, it’ll prove worth it.
ANI: Season 5 was always going to be the toughest season. This isn’t really the show’s fault, either. Seasons 1-4 were cleanly mapped out in the books, especially after the producers chose to cut A Storm of Swords in twain. The problem was always going to be when the show hit A Feast for Crows. That problem was compounded when A Dance with Dragons was released in 2011, 3/4 of which overlapped with Feast, timeline wise. Unlike before, where the show was able to divide books in half in order not to have to rush, now it was faced with weaving two bloated and increasingly meandering novels together into a single clean narrative. This was never going to be pretty.
Some of the choices they made worked. The decision, for instance, to reroute Jon Snow to Hardhome was genius. Not only did it show us the true stakes behind the threat “Winter Is Coming,” but in doing so, it exponentially increased the impact of Jon’s death to the point that show-watchers are now in more denial that book-readers were back in 2011. Streamlining Dany and Tyrion together was absolutely the right move, not only for impact onscreen, but to set Tyrion up with a far more interesting position than he has on the page. And I agree with Dan—upon rewatch, Sansa’s storyline comes across better. This was a problem of managing the expectations of the audience—people thought she had entered the Great Game, not realizing that just because the piece now knows it is on the board does not mean it will be able to perform a blitzkrieg maneuver on the first outing.
And then…there’s Dorne. Sorry, Dorne. The show had a good concept—take a plot that is inert on the page and inject some action and sex appeal by upping the Sand Snake quotient and tossing Jamie and Bronn into the mix. In the end, the only person who didn’t seem like a bad comic book character who had accidentally wandered into Westeros was Prince Doran. Perhaps they should have just let Alexander Siddig sit and ponder after all.
KATIE: Generally, I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to entertainment I’m already invested in, and this remains true for Game of Thrones. There are a few things here and there that I don’t like, but in a series with this many characters and journeys, that’s to be expected.
Season 5 brought forth a few uninteresting (from my perspective) plotlines—namely, the Sons of the Harpy, the High Sparrow and his band of misfits, and Dorne. More disappointing than anything else, I still feel that the Dornish plot can and will be redeemed, but the others? I’m iffy. While they play their part in the story, the Faith Militant wasn’t well enough explained for us non-book readers, and the fact of the matter is, when you adapt one form of media to another, you have to treat the other like its own entity without expecting the audience to rely on the source material. As for the Sons of the Harpy…well, the aesthetics were cool, but I just didn’t care, and I still don’t understand how they bested the Unsullied.
Some of the season’s drawbacks are shed in a better light when examined by book-readers, who have a good sense of why this year was rockier than the ones before. And while I’ve already discussed Sansa’s trials as much as I possibly can, I also agree with everyone that her story is better in retrospect than it was the first go-round.
The other scene that stands out from Season 5 is Cersei’s walk of shame; it didn’t really jive with me from the beginning, but the more I think on it, the less I like it. Cersei has tried her hand at plenty of villainous deeds and should be punished accordingly, but her walk went above and beyond a fitting penance. For me, this is one of the most difficult scenes to watch. I know, I know, this show is filled with blood and guts and murder, but—with the exception of the Red Wedding—that doesn’t tend to be so emotional or drawn out. Of course, Cersei’s walk was necessary to move the plot forward, but did it have to last so long? No, I would say not. I felt no sense of satisfaction watching Cersei so humiliated, and I counted the seconds until it was over (which was, perhaps, the point of the whole thing).
Ultimately, I thoroughly enjoyed the season—there’s a lot of forward momentum, especially with all the White Walker talk and action, so we’re finally revving up for what will probably be the battle to end all battles. Since season’s end I’ve been intrigued to see what Daenerys’ next move will be, how Sansa will rise to the occasion, and what Cersei will do to fight back against the Faith Militant. Despite its shortcomings, Season 5 absolutely set me up for more excitement to come, so I say job well done.
RAZOR: I’ve gone back and re-watched Season 5. I took some notes, I watched with an open mind, I tried to approach it as an Unsullied. Season 5 still had its problems. It was rushed, the Faith Militant were not well-explained, and I still stand by my earliest Razor’s Rant: Loras Tyrell is the most poorly written and under-used character on the show. Season 5 only exploited him further.
However, there were storylines that I found myself enjoying more upon a second viewing. While most of the show’s time in Dorne was wretch, there were moments of brilliance, although it took a rewatch to find them. I am now of the mind that Prince Doran was fully aware, and in fact behind, the poisoning of Myrcella. To me, the subtle almost-nod he gave to Ellaria proves it.
I am still strongly opposed to the killing of Barristan Selmy. By having the Sons of the Harpy kill him in some back alley, we the fans were robbed of moments like him jumping into Daznak’s Pit and taunting Drogon. Barristan should be part of Season 6, fans should be allowed to see him train a whole new set of knights, and they should see him take on the pit fighter Khrazz, and utter the most badass phrase in the books, “Then come.”
Stannis’ demise was too fast. The supposed greatest military mind in all of Westeros was caught on a forced march, with no heavy horse to fortify his position, no trenches dug, and caught in an open field against an army of superior numbers. Stannis died too soon.
Of course, I loved “Hardhome.” I loved when Dany rode Drogon out of Daznak’s Pit. I loved seeing Robert Strong for the first time. I hated Shireen’s burning, and even though Lena Heady’s acting was amazing, her walk of atonement was too awkward, with her head on a model’s body, and it lasted way too long for me to be comfortable. I hated that Sansa was once again the weakling of the season, and that once again, crazy Ramsay got everything he wanted. Finally, I hated the whole “Let’s trick Lord Commander Jon Snow with his Uncle Benjen” moment.
How much disrespect do you have to have for your audience that you have to make up some convoluted story about a character that no one has seen since Season 1? Then, when Jon gets to the spot, HE’S NOT EVEN CARRYING HIS SWORD! This isn’t Disneyland or Sesame Street. Mr. Rogers isn’t going to pop out and wave hello. You gotta carry your sword everywhere, and Jon, who knows he has enemies everywhere—who just got through telling Sam that before sending him away—didn’t carry Longclaw or allow his personal guard, or Ghost, to follow him. I guess it’s true: in the end, Jon Snow really didn’t know a goddam thing.
Has your opinion of Game of Thrones Season 5 changed one year on?
- No. I still love it. (37%, 360 Votes)
- No. I still think it's okay. (26%, 252 Votes)
- Yes. I think better of it than I used to. (18%, 173 Votes)
- No. I still don't like it. (12%, 119 Votes)
- Yes. I think worse of it than I used to. (7%, 71 Votes)
Total Voters: 975