This article contains spoilers (obviously) for Game of Thrones Season 5. You can check out our rewatch of Season 4 by clicking these words.
I think if I were to rank all of the seasons of Game of Thrones then Season 5 would probably be at the bottom of the pile. I love the intricate character work and political wrangling of the first few seasons and I really like the action-centric spectacle of Seasons 6 and 7. I think the biggest issue is stuck in the middle of the transition from a low fantasy, political drama to a hight octane, high fantasy spectacular. Not to mention that this season also has the utterly deplorable Ramsay Snow at the height of his supervillain powers, encased in layers of plot armor simply to be a figure of hate. It’s the season where Game of Thrones has felt the most predictable and trope-y.
A lot goes on in King’s Landing in Game of Thrones Season 5, in fact so much happens in the space of 10 hours that it’s hard to keep up. In previous seasons the plot progression in King’s Landing alone would have spanned two or three seasons. Instead, the series begins to ramp up the pace to race towards the finish line.
Cersei tries desperately to fill the void left by her father’s death and she rather arrogantly assumes that she can manage things equally well. Sadly, that’s very far from the truth. She’s not really much playing the ‘Game of Thrones’, instead, she’s just playing at ******* things up. Cersei has had something of a questionable history when it comes to making good decisions but she makes perhaps her stupidest decision of all in Season 5. In an attempt to hold on to what little power she has left she enlists the help of the High Sparrow and the Church and rearms the Faith Militant. A move that is meant to consolidate power for the Lannister’s and weaken the Tyrell’s backfires in spectacular fashion and it’s all because of incest. Who knew that sleeping with family members could be so problematic?
I’d forgotten just how hammy Cersei becomes in the more recent seasons, it feels like there’s been a switch flipped that takes things from calculating to mwhaha villain. It could be that the showrunners wanted a ‘big bad’ in King’s Landing for the remainder of the series I suppose; it’s not like Tommen and Ser Pounce will trouble anyone.
Speaking of Tommen, isn’t he great? His scenes with Margery are wonderful, and I’m not sure she has ever had an easier person to win over. All it took was one kiss and the promise of second base and he was hooked, in a show that has such a casual attitude to sex and violence I always find Tommen’s innocent enthusiasm to be quite refreshing.
Over in Meereen things aren’t much more interesting really. Daenerys is struggling to keep control of the city because the Sons of the Harpy are being dicks. Again, this felt like a plot line that has been rushed through. The Sons of the Harpy are never fully developed, they’re just the old masters that are unhappy about the liberation of the slaves, and feel it necessary to fund a guerrilla war to depose the foreign invader with the audacity to end slavery. That being said there are some moments, not least the Jorah and Tyrion double act as the two of them get into all sorts of hilarious scrapes and adventures along the road back to Meereen.
Winterfell is an utter shitshow in Game of Thrones Season 5. We’ve got the Boltons firmly in charge of the North, Ramsay continues to be an utter arsehole, but at least Reek, aka Theon, finally snaps out of it. Game of Thrones is a series that has never been afraid to go to some dark places, but I’ve never got along with Ramsay Snow as a character because he just felt so pantomime-y. While it’s never mentioned anywhere in the series it appears he is not only one of the most skilled fighters in the Seven Kingdoms but he is also a master strategist and seems to have maxed out his stealth skill as he decimates Stannis’ army with a mere 20 men. Then, of course, there’s his wedding night with Sansa, which is repulsive. I think that this is one of the most distasteful and unpleasant scenes in Game of Thrones and that really is saying something. Thankfully there is an upside to the horrific goings on in Winterfell when Reek finally plucks up the courage to help Sansa and escape. It’s a long time coming but on this watch of the series, I’ve found that Theon is one of the most sympathetic characters. He’s someone who gets swept up in trying to be accepted and respected and it leads to his downfall. I hope that when the dust settles after the Great War he’s still standing.
Game of Thrones Season 5 seems to mean trouble for everyone I like in the North. After all, it sees the end of Stannis’ claim on the throne. After saving The Night’s Watch and taking up residence at Castle Black I actually thought Stannis could have a chance; sadly, it was never meant to be. I genuinely thought he would make a good King. Yes he’s a bit of a stickler for the rules and he takes everything more literally than Drax the Destroyer, but he definitely knows right from wrong. That is he did until he became a religious fanatic and started to believe he was a god reborn, that can have an effect on anyone’s perception of right and wrong. In yet another incredibly bleak moment, which is close to unwatchable for me now, Stannis decides that he needs to make a sacrifice to save his attack on Winterfell. Unfortunately, the only royal blood he has lying around is his daughter, Shireen – one of the most innocent, nicest characters in the entire series. Unsurprisingly, men are never too keen on following a man who will happily burn his daughter at the stake.
Jon Snow gets to have his first real taste of leadership and power; after saving Castle Black he gets elected to be the new Lord Commander. It’s just a shame that he makes the right decisions but still loses the support of everyone around him meaning that the taste of leadership is followed closely by the taste of blood. It was always going to be an impossible decision but I still can’t wrap my head around how the Night’s Watch can’t understand the basic maths of the more people that die the more wights they have to fight. Episode 8 and the battle of Hardhome is possibly one of the tensest and most stunning set pieces in the history of the show. It’s superbly executed and manages to make us really feel the impact of a character’s death when we’d only met them 20 minutes earlier. Utterly stunning work and our first real look at the power of the Night’s King, up close.
I’ve seen this season a few times now but every single time I hope that something will change and that Jon won’t get stabbed over and over again. Still, at least he takes out Janos Slynt before he goes so he gets some moments of glory.
Oh, I nearly forgot about Arya. After making her way to train with The Faceless Men Arya goes blind for a bit. I suppose that’s not strictly true; she does do a fair bit of training, albeit without enough montages for my tastes – I’m a child of the 80s and I know the only way to gain new skills is through a montage. She also gets to cross another name off her list when she happens to run into Meryn Trant in a brothel as he beats and rapes young girls. It’s an absolutely brutal death for an absolutely vile character. I’m not sure what it is about this season of Game of Thrones but it really did feel like everyone sat down and said ‘right then, let’s see if we can make this the bleakest, most unpleasant season we can… GOOOOOO TEAM!’ (they all put their hands in after this you see).
The Westeros Award for Spelling and Grammar: Some called Stannis Baratheon the Prince Who Was Promised, I call him the Prince of Grammar. It’s a line that echos through future episodes, but the original is still my favorite as Stannis instinctively corrects fewer/less at Castle Black. It’s funny, but it’s also Stannis’ character laid bare; he just can’t help himself. He is so concerned about what is right and following the rules that it’s just part of his nature. It’s only when he begins to defy his own nature and fully give himself over to Melisandre’s words that he gets into series trouble.
Most eagerly awaited meeting that finally happened: Tyrion and Daenerys, without a doubt. Tyrion is a brilliant character who did so much for Westeros and was still despised by everyone he helped. It moves the story forwards (and even though it takes some disappointing turns in the next season) and it brings together two characters who seem perfectly suited. He finally finds someone worth following and she finds the well-considered voice that she needs.
Saddest death: As I’ve mentioned this is a season of a great many deaths and while Shireen’s death is horrible there’s only one real contender for me. Maester Aemon’s death is the saddest death in the entirety of Game of Thrones (to date) for me. It feels almost too real as it strips away the grandeur of a heroic and noble death and makes you face a really hard trust – we’re all going to die and it’s going to be scary. The line ‘Egg, I dreamed I was old’ will haunt me for years to come.
The ‘I’m happiest they got laid’ award: Given that Game of Thrones is a mess of sexual assault and incest it’s always a pleasant surprise to see two people genuinely enjoying sex and seeming pretty happy about it. I’m afraid this one is a split decision between Sam and Gilly and Tommen and Margery. Everyone just seems so overjoyed with the situation that it’s hard to pick one or the other, although Sam might just edge it on sheer enthusiasm.
Best battle of wits: The scene where Lady Olenna and the High Sparrow finally meet, as she tries to secure the release of her grandchildren, is wonderful. We get to see two national treasures (Dianna Rigg and Jonathan Pryce) face off and it’s everything that you would want it to be, she is as sharp and cutting as he is resolute.
Oli has been writing for Ready Steady Cut since November 2017. He has a PhD in Computer Science and he writes articles about TV, film and, very occasionally, science.