Posted in Television

Game of Thrones: At a Crossroads

gotarenaAfter two days the ‘net is still buzzing over the final twist in this season’s finale to “Game of Thrones.” Theories are posited, interviews with the cast and the showrunners are endlessly re-posted, and George R.R. Martin seems to be denying it all.

If Season 5 were a baseball player, I’d say we had one streaky hitter on our hands. While there were some great moments (Daenerys flying away on Drogon’s back was something we had waited a couple of years to see), there were some questionable if not outright disappointing developments. And where we go from here is problematical because the showrunners have come to the end of the “Song of Ice and Fire” books published to date in their storytelling. While Martin has shared the plotlines of the two books to come in the series with the showrunners, it appears that the HBO series will be taking off in its own universe in the future.

My biggest concern was the extent to which the show has upped the ante in the “Horrific Events” Department. Each season has had its moment when I almost turned the set off (the beheading of Ned Stark, the Red Wedding, Oberyn Martell’s eyes popping out of his head, etc.), but it seemed the showrunners went out of their way with the sacrifice of Shireen. This has to be the most disturbing GoT scene aired to date, and while I understood the point, I suspect there may have been some chuckling in the Writers’ Room: “How can we gross the audience out even more?” Well, it worked in the story since Stannis’ sellswords bolted with the horses, half his army deserted and his wife killed herself. Result achieved. But this begs the question of how far is it possible to go? By the time Arya stabbed Meryn Trant in the eyes, I didn’t even flinch. Granted, he was a pedophile, a murderer and Number 5 on Arya’s Hit Parade, but this kind of desensitization is not a good thing.

Season 5 also reminded us of a recurring fault in GoT: stretching out a story beyond its interest (c.f., the torture porn featuring Ramsey Snow and Theon Greyjoy a couple of seasons back), in this case having Arya in the dark washing dead bodies for far too many episodes without hinting at the direction of the plot. It was really late in the game to be introducing that House of Faces. And what is she in training to become? If she becomes No One, that means she’s no longer a Stark, and we really need to remember the North.

The reality is there are too many storylines for a ten-episode season. Season 5 underscored this by having key people either disappear after a couple of episodes or go MIA altogether. At least Varys returned in the finale for some prime repartee with Tyrion, but what happened to Margaery? Loris Tyrell? Littlefinger? GoT really needs twelve episodes a season. True, it’s very expensive to shoot, what with so many locations in play, but this show is the biggest HBO hit to date. The money has to be there.

After the criticism comes the praise, and there were a number of extraordinary events. Heading the list is Tyrion’s meet-up with Daenerys. Having these two combine their resources (her army, his brain) was a particularly neat development. In fact I enjoyed every twist and turn of his story, from his escape from King’s Landing to his kidnapping by Jorah Marmont to their encounter with the Stone Men to Tyrion’s sit-down with Daenerys. My favorite sequence of this season in fact was the arena scene in Episode Nine. The sight of the audience standing up as one in their Harpy masks was a shocking visual, only to be capped by the arrival of Drogon.

And in no particular order:

Night Watch/Wildlings vs. Whitewalkers. You knew that wildling mother who put her kids on the boat was dead meat from the start.

Stannis’ facial expression as the Bolton army bore down on him and his men, reduced to facing battle on foot. There was resignation, but also “I’m their King. I must share their fate,” as he drew his sword.  Kudos to actor Stephen Dillane for a wonderful moment.

Daenerys’ reboot. Better brush up on that Dothraki, babe.

Ellaria Sand and the Sand Snakes. Enough said.

Several interesting cliffhangers: Can the Lannisters break the Sparrows’ power? Did Bronn manage to keep some antidote so he can save Myrcella? Will there be a Dorne/King’s Landing war if he didn’t? Did Sansa and Theon survive their leap to freedom? Did Brienne in fact execute Stannis?

And finally, is Jon Snow really dead? Actor Kit Harrington, who plays him, says so. But leaving him that way, without his revival by Melisandre, who’s now in the house at Castle Black, would be a shame. While GoT has a number of heroic figures, the show needs the type of Hero We Can All Love. Jamie Lannister, while he’s been wonderfully rehabilitated from the roles of Kingslayer and would-be child killer, can’t ever be that man. Even if we meet up with Gendry again, we really don’t know him. On the other hand, we knew Jon and all his faults, and even if he knew nothing, he had our sympathy and support. House Stark needed to live on in him (My theory: He was the son of Ned Stark’s sister, Lyanna, and Robert Baratheon). Bran, who conceivably could be that Hero, was a long way from filling the bill when last we saw him.

Best to sit back and relax, though. The next chapter is a year away.