The rise and fall of Westeros
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!”