Warning: Spoilers for season five of Game of Thrones ahead.
I just watched the finale of season five of Game of Thrones and I was struck by how wide the scope of the show has gotten. And not in a good way, I’m afraid. I had a similar issue with season four, in that there are so many characters and so much happening that there isn’t time to explore everything in detail.
At the same time, season five wasted a lot of the time in earlier episodes with setup. Normally there’s nothing wrong with setup, you want some context for things that are going to happen later. Only the payoff in episode ten was so pressed for time that we didn’t get to enjoy it.
To start with, we saw Stannis getting a lot of bad news. I was quite happy with how it went for him. However, I was a little troubled with how quickly it went. It felt a bit like Poochie’s death in the Simpsons:
I’d predicted his troops would abandon him and perhaps Melisandra wasn’t telling the whole truth in the last episode of the Pundit Podcast. However, it felt like the show just didn’t have time to explore his defeat fully. We get two minutes of bad news, a few minutes before the battle and two minutes afterwards.
The show had done an admirable job of making him a hateful individual, but then we couldn’t relish his defeat. I’m guessing they ran out of money and couldn’t film the battle, which I’d been looking forward to all season. However, they are constrained by their budget.
Which brings me to Cersei. Again, I really enjoyed the way that went. We got to see that the High Sparrow is a smart man looking for power, not just a noble saint. After all, he must have known that Cersei’s walk through the town would make the nobles look weak.
However, they used a body double for the walk. There’s no real problem with that, other than the fact that they CGI’d Lena Headey’s onto the double’s body, which I guess cost a lot of money. Instead, they could have shown the closeups and shown the body double from behind. Why did we have to see full frontal so often and for so long? Again, I’m no objections to the nudity, just to the waste of money.
Which is a strange thing for a TV fan to be worrying about, but in Game of Thrones it’s become a real issue. Every time I see CGI used, I think about the battle we’re missing out on. I’m not saying Cersei’s body double was the equivalent of a battle between Stannis and the Boltons, but it might have helped.
The Cersei scene, at least, had time to breathe. And I can’t wait to see what she does, now that she has Frankenstein’s monster at her disposal. However, her machinations are so petty compared to what we’ve seen before. People have been fighting for kingdoms and she’s just fighting for a city. It seems small-minded, even thought it’s quite a lot to fight for.
Another city being fought for on the other side of the world, Meereen, has a potential new ruler in Tyrion. I’m looking forward to seeing him rule, of course, but was I the only one that saw the two rivals for Danerys leave and thought they were going to kill one another.
I’m glad Tyrion is finally going to have some agency in the season. When he was being kidnapped and dragged around the whole season, the show was really missing something.
Danerys’s own short segment made little sense to me. The kahlasar found her somehow? I hope there’s a good explanation for that and not just coincidence.
Arya’s story has been kind of boring this season, with her sweeping floors and washing corpses. Her turning away from the many-faced god was a good sign of things to come. Of course, she’s blind now, but maybe that will pass.
Finally, we had Jon Snow. The moment Sam left, I knew Jon Snow was dead. George RR Martin has a serious soft spot for Sam and I knew if he was out of there, then it was to save him. I think out of all the characters, Sam and Tyrion are the ones least likely to die. Sam is constantly being saved by fluke and circumstance.
Jon Snow gets shanked, which anyone who’s watched Game of Thrones would have seen coming. They flagged it early and often that Olly was going to betray him. I really hope he’s dead. I’ve seen some speculation on the Internet that Melisandra will use her powers to resurrect him. That, to me, would be too much of a stretch.
So far in the show, we’ve seen shadow monsters, dragons, fireballs and zombies. Some of them have worked and some of them haven’t. I think the ones that have worked are when magic makes things worse for people we care about. However, removing perma-death from the show would be a terrible turn. It always has been in other shows.
No matter how good a show is, it never recovers fully from death becoming an optional thing. Misfits, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and countless other shows have suffered because without death there’s no threat. Then every time someone dies in the show, people will be expecting Melisandra to bring them back.
I really hope they don’t go down that path, because there’s no coming back from it. They had ressurrection earlier, but that was of some random guy. If they can’t predict how it works, it becomes a viable plot device again. If Jon Snow is immortal, it very much isn’t that.
A final point on Sam. How long does it take to become a maester? He’s expecting to qualify and come back in time to help with the white walkers. From what he described, it would take years.
Overall, this season felt like they were kicking their heels for seven episodes. Episodes eight and nine were awesome, but episode seven was the worst episode of Game of Thrones in the series so far. Episode ten had the same problems as in previous seasons. Too much plot crammed into too little space.
I know it’s never going to happen, but I wish this had been two episodes. I would love HBO to announce that there’s a two hour extended cut of this episode available. Something where each of the plotlines had time to breathe.
The only advantage, going into season six, is that we’re now past the books. The showrunners can cut down on the number of stories and plotlines, giving them time to explore each one more. The disadvantage, of course, is not having George RR Martin’s books to follow any longer.
It takes Martin years to write each book and it shows. He has come up with ways to shock and surprise time after time. The first three seasons of Game of Thrones were a revelation. I can measure the level sinking by how much I talk in an episode, though.
For the first three seasons, I would have told everyone to shut up while I watched. For season five, I was talking to my wife about it as we watched. It wasn’t holding all my attention any more. Instead, I was predicting what would happen. Something that wouldn’t have been possible in the first three seasons.
Make sure to check out the Pundit Podcast this Thursday, when I know we’ll be discussing the season in detail.
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