4.5 / 5
The fifth season of HBO’s Game of Thrones offered no compassion or mercy in its ten episodes. Each episode was a slight culmination of anguish and torment from the last that led to the emotionally explosive season finale that still has fans of the show (and books) feeling shock and disbelief. This is because the world book series creator, George R.R. Martin, conceived is one that emphasizes good will and the best of intentions are signs of weakness and defeat, while deception and greed are the essential tools to build or maintain power. Show creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have kept this perception from Martin’s books alive and have actually elaborated upon the cruelty that exists in the Westeros world. Fans have long accepted this cruelty, but have clung to the hope that good would ultimately prevail. Season 5 of Game of Thrones further pulled the rug from under the feet of fans not just once, but repeatedly.
Yet why do Game of Thrones fans continually get up and endure more of this show? It is because Game of Thrones is one of the most compelling series ever brought to television. It’s the gloomy existence of Westeros that evokes the drama all characters from the show must endure. Fans love Game of Thrones because of its progression; Whether the plot focuses upon good or evil conquering over each other, it still entices fans to want to see more. Game of Thrones’ fifth season was the most unique of the series in that it focuses upon the show’s enemies finally turning on each other. With the majority of good on this show perished (or far away), fans were finally privy to seeing a denser look into the show’s villains and realizing their own internalized weaknesses. What happens as a result is one of the bloodiest (and controversial) seasons the show has ever presented to audiences.
Much of the credit to keeping the momentum of this show alive goes to its actors; Many of these actors strive to provide an evolution to their characters, veering them away from being predictable or otherwise dull. Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke are the clear scene-stealers from this season, all of whom provided new dimensions to their character’s evolution. Vulnerability was the new attribute placed within these characters, yet each of these actors conveyed its effect quite differently. Lena Headey should especially be commended for her work this season by offering a new complexity to her Cersei Lannister. Headey was able to convey how blinded Cersei had made herself to reality, being unaware of the ramifications of being a glutton for power, and failing to see beyond her scope of scheming. The same could be said of Emilia Clarke, whose typical performance of portraying confidence and justice was relegated to uncertainty and ineffective rule in this fifth season. The show finally gave viewers the knowledge that despite the convictions of Daenerys Targaryen, she is still too inexperienced to lead Westeros. Clarke was able to convey this realization tremendously in her performance, emphasizing that she can no longer rule based upon her reputation as “the mother of dragons” or relying upon the counsel of her advisers. If she wants to lead, she has to start making her own decisions. However, the show finally asks whether her decisions in Meereen were the right ones to make.
These performances wouldn’t be possible without the careful plot construction from the show’s writers. While many book fans are disappointed with the writers for scrapping particular plotlines from the novels and inventing new plotlines to benefit existing characters, the writers do use creative license (under the approval of George R.R. Martin) to keep the pace of the show and its characters relevant in its fifth season. The one weakness from the writers was the plotline focused upon the fictional lands of Dorne, which was a prevalent plot point in the novel series, but was reduced to a mere subplot to benefit Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s character, Jamie Lannister. The Dorne portions of the season hardly contributed to the show other than providing opportunities to interject scenes of sword fighting or providing a balance after a denser scene had preceded it. These scenes were undoubtedly lighter and its threat of violence were never truly felt, even going into the season finale. As a result, Dorne and Coster-Waldau were a lost opportunity in Game of Thrones‘ fifth season.
In contrast, the threat of defeat in the show’s other plotlines were indeed felt by audiences. A special acknowledgement is due to the scenes featuring the show’s ultimate nemesis, the “white walkers,” whose presence is the very representation of villainy and evil. The show has always been sure to insinuate that the white walkers are the true threat to humanity (as indicated with the series’ first scene in its first episode) within Westeros and viewers finally saw the war between the white walkers and humanity waged…only most don’t realize it has been waged. How this threat syncs to the ultimate tragedy of this season cannot and will not be forgotten by fans. What the events of the season finale proved to fans was that ignorance, and the unwillingness to sacrifice one’s pride, has allowed for white walkers to gain an advantage over humanity. The evil of the white walkers make the Roose Boltons, the Lannisters, Peter Baelish, or the Stannis Baratheons of Westeros seem immaterial in comparison. Such villainy will kill each each other for power, while the white walkers will exterminate them all without any qualms of who they are.
This fifth season of Game of Thrones largely ignored George R.R. Martin’s fourth novel and selectively chose what to use with his fifth novel. In all fairness, the show creators have veered in a direction of the show being fan fiction opposed to being loyal adaptations of the book series (however, this can be challenged since it has been confirmed that portions of book four will be used in the show’s sixth season). If this review were to be based upon on how faithful the adaptations are, this review would be highly critical of where the show has gone. However, the show works as its own entity and it is television excellence. Game of Thrones has revitalized and redefined television filmmaking and continues to do so with each passing season. With Game of Thrones now caught up with the book series, fans of both the show and books can now collectively lament of the loss of characters and the dread of what is to come. Martin has promised the next book in the series, The Winds of Winter, to be finished and released sometime in early 2016 (before the show’s 6th season). Regardless if fans are waiting for the next novel or show season, it is now a waiting game for all fans to find out what happens next.