Warning: Full spoilers for Game of Thrones: Season 5 follow...
Even before Game of Thrones\' fifth season began, many fans knew this would be the trickiest road, to date, to navigate. The last two Song of Ice and Fire books (of the five released thus far) were A: not considered the best of the pack, B: filled with quite a few
characters, and C: crippled by a weird, fold-over timeline that made it so that almost every big, shocking moment happened at the very end of the fifth book, A Dance with Dragons. Truth be told, these two tomes were
that Martin strangely separated into two by characters, not chronology.
So what were the solutions? Firstly, a lot of the new characters introduced in the books were eliminated (or delayed) and their stories were handed off to existing characters, many of whom had storylines and arcs that dwindled dramatically in the books at this point. And secondly, new off-page moments were created to keep the thrills going throughout the season, so that these 10 episodes didn\'t wind up being completely end-loaded (though that sort of happened anyhow). Because if you ask book fans what the biggest moments were from the two novels, most would say Daenerys\' arena dragon ride (and Dothraki drop-off), Cersei\'s walk of atonement, and the murder of Jon Snow by his Night\'s Watch brothers. Yes, still all huge moments from the final two episodes.
Why We Love the Show Moving Beyond the Books - Dragons on the Wall
Even when Martin\'s books were cooking and sizzling at their best (meaning, the first three), the show was still a massive challenge to adapt. And so now the time had finally come for the show to root itself as a TV series and drastically branch out from the source code. Which made for some truly superb moments (an argument can be made for "Hardhome" being the best episode of the whole series), some shocking ones (Shireen! NOOO!), some head-scratchers (Ser Barristan\'s death), and some off-putting wrong turns (Sansa\'s spousal rape).
And although Martin hopes to complete Book 6, The Winds of Winter, before Season 6 airs, that\'s neither here nor there as far as the show\'s concerned. The HBO series is on a 365 day production schedule. The Season 6 episode scripts are being broken and/or written right now so that casting can start and filming can begin in August. Whether or not there\'s a book to read before the next episodes actually air is irrelevant now. They won\'t "match" either way. So whatever your feelings are regarding Season 5, it stands as a primer for what\'s to come as the show truly leaves the books behind.
My major issue with Season 5 has nothing to do with how true it stayed to the books. I happen to think some of the show\'s best work has come from confidently straying from Martin\'s original text. My concern was with the overall balance and pacing. Which, yes, was also my main concern, when you cut right down to it, with Sansa\'s brutal arc. It didn\'t object to her rape happening per se, but I do hold many concerns about the aftermath. There were several stories that dominated the first half of the season and Littlefinger emboldening Sansa was one of them. Convincing her to enter into a dangerous situation so that she might take control of her own destiny. So we were led to believe that we\'d be getting a stronger, more cunning Sansa.
That never happened. As soon as Littlefinger left, Sansa once again found herself back within the confines of an extremely abusive situation. I didn\'t have a problem with "terrible things happening to good people" because, well,
I objected because the show was repeating itself and it\'s better than that. Back in my review for "High Sparrow," I was pretty sure the show wouldn\'t decide to trap and brutalize Sansa again. Not after she\'d been rescued by both Tyrion (who allowed her to keep her virtue) and Littlefinger.
So the set up here was great. But then Sansa\'s storyline stopped and it became Theon\'s arc. Her pain fed into his redemption tale and all of a sudden the big choices were
to make, not hers. So how much of this was avoidable? Well, I\'d say some, but not all. This "marriage to Ramsay" arc was not Sansa\'s journey in the books. So her marrying Ramsay while also
being able/allowed to kill Ramsay by the end of the season unfortunately placed her in a type of stasis. And she had to be in enough pain for Theon to break free from his "Reek" persona. I see how it all fits, but it was still a let down.
And although Sansa didn\'t vanish, her presence diminished. Which I guess is better than the likes of Margaery, Loras, Tommen, Brienne, Pod, and Littlefinger, who disappeared from the show completely after having dominated the first five episodes, with only Brienne and Pod popping back up by the end. That was just odd. And while I\'m listing off the things that rubbed against the grain this season, Dorne felt rushed and lacked proper stakes. In fact, Dorne didn\'t even get the proper map treatment as the Water Gardens -- the non-capital city that Prince Doran liked to "staycation" in -- was just labeled "Dorne." Which would be like listing Winterfell as "The North."
Dorne was one of the few new book elements to make it onto the show and it was a region that many fans were eager to visit. And I thought rejiggering Jaime and Bronn\'s respective stories so that they were the ones to act as our entryway into Dorne was a great shuffle. But the danger element was just never there. The Sand Snakes never stung with the same bloodlust as the did in the books and - quite frankly - not enough time was spent there, or with the characters, to warrant our attention. The kicker/tragedy came right at the end, but it happened to a character who we were never got to know outside of her puppy love so it didn\'t fully land.
Okay, enough kvetching. What did work this season? Well, a lot actually. Most of it, in fact. Even sub par Game of Thrones is still pretty freakin\' great. Ironically, given how it ended, this was one of Jon Snow\'s best outings. Stannis too, if you were willing to go through the roller coaster ride of his cruel choice in Episode 9, "The Dance of Dragons." These two made a formidable duo up at Castle Black where Jon Snow was not only elected the new Lord Commander of the Night\'s Watch, but offered a chance to become Jon
It all played out excellently and the Massacre at Hardhome was one of the most riveting, terrifying extended scenes on all of Game of Thrones. Not only did it give Jon a handful of awesome hero moments before his final fall at the end of the season finale, but it savagely brought the Night\'s King and the White Walkers back to the forefront of our concerns. Jon\'s fate may be up in the air (which is not a usual thing for this show), though the producers are saying he\'s
-dead. But no words were specifically spoken about post-mortem black magic or wargery, so fans are still hoping for the best. Jon wasn\'t at the Hardhome massacre in the books (it happened off-page, in fact), but his stare down with the Night\'s King seemed to suggest a future confrontation. Just from a TV standpoint, it\'d be a shame to not revisit that hero/villain tension somehow.
Is the Night\'s King the Final Boss? - Dragons on the Wall
return at some point, in some way, who\'s left on the show? He was such a huge part of the series (and particularly this season as the series\' herd ever-thins). Season 5 already felt a bit adrift without Tywin around, and he wasn\'t even a cornerstone character.
Cersei also had a tremendous arc this season. In fact, the premiere episode kicked things off with a flashback to her as a young girl hearing a prophecy about how all her kids would die and how she\'d be supplanted by another. Her refusal to run the small council properly and her arrogant toying with religion as a weapon backfired on her in big ways and the result was the torture of imprisonment and the humiliation of having to walk the span of King\'s Landing nude while suffering the jeers of the d***-wagging populous. It was an undertaking that even the mighty lioness couldn\'t emotionally endure, despite trying her best.
Daenerys and Tyrion also had great moments this year. The entire Essos side of things played out nicely as Dany dealt with a shadow rebellion (that made her Unsullied look like punks, unfortunately) while Tyrion crossed the continent to find her - first with Varys, then with Jorah. And when once the two met, it was magic. These two headliners finally pairing up was a huge moment for the series and although it was brief (Dany flew off within a couple episodes) it was both memorable and meaningful.
Arya too had a compelling storyline, though the show is slowly stripping her down and creating scenarios where she\'s more and more alone. Sure, she was once again paired with a grown man, but Jaqen was a cold servant of fate. There\'d be no banter. No conversations. No one was actively
Which lent itself to the slow-burn reveal that "Jaqen" was just an empty mask that any servant of the House of Black and White could wear. And so Arya, despite fitting a satisfyingly bloody revenge-kill into her schedule, left the season not only alone but sightless.
Is Game of Thrones Too Depressing to Watch? - Dragons on the Wall
I should probably also mention, in closing here, how Game of Thrones began to clash with online culture this season. No, I don\'t mean the predictable complaints from book readers about the changes made (this season certainly marks the end of
, right?), I mean how the burgeoning culture of cyber-outrage decided that Game of Thrones had become too harsh. Too cruel. Social media mindsets weren\'t like this two years ago during the Red Wedding. Or even last year during Oberyn\'s crushing demise. This was new game. And Game of Thrones, now five years in, had to deal with a very specific online audience, and media, who were actively searching for things that they could deem to be "out of line."
So were things too cruel this season? It\'s hard to say. I know Shireen\'s death at the hands of her own father stood out as immeasurably sad and traumatic, but once the news broke that the particular idea (while not in the books - at least so far) came from George R. R. Martin, fan anger began to backpedal a bit. As if harsh, violent acts get more of a pass if they\'d originated in the books, or in the original author\'s mind, and not created for the show by the storytellers actively bringing us the TV series.
Most Heartbreaking Episode Yet? - Dragons on the Wall
I\'m not picking a side here, necessarily, only to say that perhaps a part of this could be the fact that the show is five years old now and it\'s
demolishing our dreams. And people, from a TV show standpoint, need things to turn around. At some point. This many episodes in, things need to start paying off instead of dropping off. It\'s something the books need not necessarily concern themselves with. But as episodic television, other considerations might need to be made.
That being said, and despite many claiming to have given up the show, ratings (and piracy records) are at an all-time high. So despite the bluster, things are thriving in the realm.
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introducing all the new faces from the books, Game of Thrones still had a hard time paying service to all the characters and stories properly this year. Overall though, the positives outweighed the negatives, the big moments delivered, the set pieces sizzled, and misery showed us once again that it absolutely adores company.
Matt Fowler is a writer for IGN. Follow him on Twitter at @TheMattFowler and Facebook at Facebook.com/Showrenity.
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Game of Thrones both soared and stumbled while combining GRRM\'s two latest books for its fifth season. RT
+Great runs for Stannis, Cersei, Dany, Tyrion, and Arya