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The rise and fall of Wes­teros

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Jor­dan Far­ley

Splen­did small- screen stuff seen.

Af­ter four years of world­con­quer­ing, bat­tle- hard­ened telly, for the first time this year the chinks in Game Of Thrones’ ar­mour started to show. It’s all rel­a­tive, of course. Even a Game Of Thrones that isn’t at the height of its pow­ers re­mains exquisitely as­sem­bled, with awe- in­spir­ing pro­duc­tion de­sign, com­pelling per­for­mances and top- notch di­a­logue. But af­ter rac­ing through Ge­orge RR Martin’s mam­moth tomes with­out once feel­ing like in­fe­rior im­i­ta­tions, sea­son five suf­fered from some ill- judged al­ter­ations and slug­gish sto­ry­telling.

The source ma­te­rial is partly to blame; as GRRM’s books have be­come more un­wieldy his tales have suf­fered. As a re­sult sea­son five was where GoT’s abun­dance of char­ac­ters fi­nally be­came a prob­lem. With rarely more than a few min­utes to spend on one char­ac­ter be­fore jump­ing half way across the world GoT felt more dis­jointed than ever this year. It’s telling that the sea­son’s best mo­ments all came when the cam­era stayed put for more than five min­utes.

Dorne in par­tic­u­lar felt like a missed op­por­tu­nity. We could watch the Kingslayer and his sell- sword chew the fat all day, but as a piece of sto­ry­telling Jaime and Bronn’s ex­cur­sion went nowhere, build­ing to a char­ac­ter death that had zero emo­tional im­pact. Worse yet were the Sand Snakes. Af­ter Oberyn en­snared hearts in sec­onds it’s baf­fling how minis­cule an im­pres­sion his deadly daugh­ters made.

Yet again the show stirred up con­tro­versy for its de­pic­tion of rape. Game Of Thrones’ ca­sual ap­proach to sex­ual as­sault is prob­lem­atic for much big­ger rea­sons than mere en­ter­tain­ment, but it high­lighted the fact that GoT’s re­liance on wa­ter­cooler shock mo­ments has left us im­mune to what should have been some jaw- on- the- floor twists and turns.

It didn’t help that many of this sea­son’s big­gest de­vel­op­ments were tele­graphed with the sub­tlety of John Cleese’s Lancelot storm­ing a castle. Part of the rea­son why Ned’s death and the Red Wed­ding were so shock­ing was be­cause they were gen­uinely un­ex­pected. If you didn’t ex­pect the Night’s Watch and scowly- faced Olly to turn traitor on Jon you weren’t pay­ing at­ten­tion. By re­ly­ing on shock and mis­ery mo­ments to keep its au­di­ence hooked, para­dox­i­cally, GoT is al­most in­ca­pable of ac­tu­ally sur­pris­ing any­more.

Sea­son five wasn’t with­out its prob­lems then, ones I’ve ded­i­cated a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of time to here be­cause it goes with­out say­ing that, for the most part, Game Of Thrones was as grip­ping as ever this year. Cer­sei, Stannis, Dany, Jon and Arya all had fas­ci­nat­ing and emo­tion­ally en­gag­ing char­ac­ter arcs. Fi­nally see­ing Tyrion and Dany to­gether, for ex­am­ple, felt elec­tric. And the fi­nal tri­umvi­rate of episodes rank among the best Thrones have ever com­mit­ted to the screen. “Hard­home” was the sea­son high­light – an ut­terly as­ton­ish­ing and heart- rac­ing White Walker mas­sacre, al­most topped just a week later when Dro­gon fi­nally spread his wings. Noth­ing on TV does spec­ta­cle like Game Of Thrones.

Just last year it felt like Game Of Thrones was never go­ing to run out of steam. If this sea­son proved any­thing it’s that GoT faces an un­cer­tain fu­ture, par­tic­u­larly now that the show has reached the end of Martin’s source nov­els. And with just two sea­sons left ( or so we think) there’s an aw­ful lot of plot

( threads to tie up. Top of the list: is Gendry ever get­ting off that boat?

“But first, a show!”

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