Thrones. It’s been and it’s gone. And now winter is here. Well, it’s summer, but now we have the loooong wait for season 6. And in 10 weeks of Thrones I managed 1 review. It’s been a busy time for me, and geek has had to be a passive part of my life–other than OMG looks at my other half on the sofa at pivotal moments in the show. But, let’s face it, I think it would’ve been a 10 week love-in here, and despite my enjoyment there wasn’t always that much I could think to say about it… With this being the first season where Thrones didn’t have unconditional love from it’s audience I wonder if that’s part of the problem with the season–has Thrones lost some of it’s momentum? Is it really not as good as it has been?
To quote Lana Kane of Archer: ‘Noooooope.’
Needless to say that there are spoilers throughout this post…
For me, Thrones is a show that’s always engaging, even if an episode doesn’t further a plot or doesn’t twist something or introduce something new–and I think that’s partly because Thrones has proved numerous times that it is not conventional serial TV.
While many of the characters have the same motivation, we’re not following one character on a central path. Sure, we might root for one or two, but we take a risk in doing so. It did feel like a very different season this time around, mostly because of the change in locations which took us out of the familiar, but also because some of the storylines didn’t seem to go anywhere; Brienne and Pod were aimless (but that’s part of Brienne’s plot anyhow), Tyrion’s journey was just that as we’ve only had the promise of what he can do and not the impact, Sansa was stuck for a whole season, and the story for Stannis and the Baratheons would seem over now, we didn’t get a scene with Baelish to book end his plan of setting the three main houses against one another, Daenerys is becoming more and more mired in her decisions, and if what happened at the finale is the end of Jon we’ve lost that narrative now. Only that last plot was a detractor for me, as he was one of the few people that stood out as hero material. After all, he’s not driven by power but wanting to save Westeros from the White Walkers. If anything, Varys should be backing him for the throne.
That being said, I’ve struggled with the complaint that people have leveled against this series being ‘Dull’. Thrones was a grower for me anyway, it took me a while to get into the first season, and I remember feeling a bit nonplussed by it, but I think every season builds through character positioning and defining the stakes of the moment. And with the main plot being about who should and who will claim the Throne, we know the resolution might not come for some time. Along the way many plots and scenes might be considered forgettable or unrelated to the big climaxes and resolves that have had people talking for the last couple of years.
‘Cruel’ without narrative value has been another criticism, what with Sansa and Shireen. These people that question the narrative value of events really puzzle me when they are watching a show that has been celebrated as shocking and unpredictable. If Sansa’s rape had been the catalyst for Reek’s redemption it would’ve been satisfying, but in a way, I’m glad we didn’t get a Vader turn–it would’ve been predictable, a trope. Shireen’s death was a step too far–not for the series, but for Stannis. In another show her standing there would’ve been Stannis’ wake-up call and the end of the red witch. But no.
And with those difficult moments it brings me to the criticism that Thrones is ‘miserable’ and starting to become a ‘chore’. In any other show, Sam would’ve defended Gilly, Reek would’ve acted earlier, Sansa would’ve become empowered, Brienne would’ve seen the candle, Arya would’ve killed without consequence, Baristan would’ve saved the day and lived to see another, Stannis would’ve drawn a line or Davos would’ve taken revenge, and Olly would’ve been convinced. But then, for those expecting karmic balances, dramatic timing, cliffhanger perils, or other oft used dramatic tools then for the most part you’re going to be disappointed. And really, with Ned losing his head in season 1 and the Red Wedding we should all know better. When was Thrones ever a good laugh? This is Westeros. Life is brutal, and so the story has to be brutal.
I have come close to thinking the characters are hard to side with, as some people have been criticizing, but this isn’t a show with many morally distinct black and white heroes and villains. You can get behind a character in a moment, and then remember what they did two seasons ago that made them a very not nice person. Jaime is a pretty likable and sympathetic guy this season, but you can’t forget his child pushing, Stark treachery and sister raping. Take little Olly, he’s killed Ygritte and now Jon. There’s some Internet hate for that character now, yet think about it–this kid had his family killed by the Wildlings. He’s joined the Watch to stand against them, and then the alliance? How could you not feel betrayed? Reworking the story from Olly’s perspective he could easily him having the hero potential in this world as we consider Arya to have. This isn’t a show where the balance between good and evil rights itself either. And this is certainly not a show that’s protective of any one character. Granted, I think there may be some untouchable characters, but I wouldn’t put money on it.
I expect many of these critics have probably raved about the celebrated Tony Soprano of ‘The Sopranos’ or Don Draper of ‘Mad Men’ and Walter White of ‘Breaking Bad’ as the anti-heroes of their series. All of which contained senseless violence and character damaging moments which made them all throughly unlikable in my mind. At least Thrones doesn’t give us just one person as the centre of the show–although the characters have been thinned this season, others will undoubtedly rise in their place. In a way, you can view Thrones as a history show for a fictional fantasy world, and like any period of history, whether in turmoil or ‘peace’ there are flawed people and senseless cruelty surrounding the big events.
I brushed with these criticisms myself, but just remind myself that if I wanted this show to act against these traits then we wouldn’t have Thrones. We’d have generic drama following the rules in a fantasy setting without any of the jaw dropping rug pull twists. I’m not a complete apologist though, for me the lows for me this season were:
Sansa. I was a little worried that her stern transformation at the close of the last season and her involvement with Baelish might’ve been her start on a dark path. I wouldn’t have blamed her if it had been after what she’d been through, but I didn’t want that for her character. Neither did I want what happened to her this season. I wasn’t keen on Sansa being a willing pawn in Baelish’s games, but I would’ve preferred her having some knowing part in a scheme rather than what she had to go through.
Dorn. I haven’t read the books, but Oberon had been so bad ass I had really hoped for more from the action in Dorn. I actually didn’t think the fight between the sand snakes and Jaime and Bronn was that well choreographed either. The cuts in the action seemed a little clumsy, and Oberon’s fighting style–which I took to being a Dornish art–just wasn’t there. That’s more my expectation though. Dorn also lacked depth, it didn’t feel like a place, but an unpopulated location. Bit of beach, a garden and a dock. Other locations like Pentos and Slaver’s Bay have had some great establishing panoramic shots. Not Dorn, which was a shame. Also, that killer kiss. Rarely have I been able to predict anything on Thrones, but that kiss was so out of place everyone should’ve suspected the worst.
Mereen. Daenerys’ story has frustrated me throughout the whole of Thrones, but I’ve stuck with rooting for her because she has such potential to be someone deserving of the Iron Throne. Except this season… Eh. Not so impressed. I do like that she’s getting experience of what being a ruler is going to be like, and her balancing her own mythos power and approach, and I appreciate that Thrones is not simplifying what is involved in uniting, leading and ruling people, but it feels like another snarl up of a dead end for her character progression–especially how it was left. I say progression, as it actually feels like her character is slowly being picked apart, especially with her disconnection from her dragons. Before we get any sense of Daenerys getting a grip on herself, and the people, she is relocated somewhere else.
Dragons. Who doesn’t want a f***ing dragon?! After about three seasons of pr*ck teasing we finally had some full on dragony action… Aaaand Dragons aren’t all that tough. Ok, I mean yes there was flaming death from the sky, yes there was some Sons of the Harpy munching and tearing apart, which was all very satisfying–but Drogon took several spears which looked like they did him quite a bit of harm, and he kind of just took it. I expected a dragon to be able to take a bit more punishment, and to be a bit smarter than to land in the middle of its enemies and stick around in a pretty disadvantaged position.
But this was all balanced out by the highs:
Varys and Tyrion. Varys was sadly underused in a season which should’ve pushed him into the thick of things, but I love how all the cogs or political machinations and royal intrigue have been spun by Varys and Baelish. Baelish in his own selfish play for power, and Varys (seemingly) for an ideal. Tyrion has always been an intellectual and a philosopher, and Daenerys sorely needs some help. Yet, we didn’t really get to see much of that, all thanks to Jorah.
The people. For much of Thrones the focus has been on the houses of Westeros, the big power players. This season we got to see how, for all their castles, money, and apparent power the nobles stand upon pedestals of the suppressed and largely impoverished masses. From the terrifying Sparrows and the sinister Sons of the Harpy, and the glimpses of life on streets in Pentos and Bravos there is a real potential for a big game change in the series’ future if the people begin, as the high sparrow suggests, to rise up against the masters. It makes me wonder if Daenerys is successful in dealing with the internal struggles of her people as it will set her in good stead to woo the people of Westeros to take the throne. Although the Sparrows will have to go.
Cersei’s fall. Starting the series with the witch’s prophecy to a young Cersei that she will outlive her children, we’ve seen Cersei come close to realising what must’ve been a dream for her–to be her own woman. She loses her regent status, but with her father dead, neutering the Tyrells, and securing the small council, she is almost there–yet her brother and lover has let her down and she creates a monster that threatens to destroy her. There is zero sympathy for me there. Her walk of shame was immensely satisfying to watch.
Arya’s revenge. Arya’s travels have been just as frustrating to follow as Daenerys’. Especially as her kill list has been whittled down without her getting even close to a nice bit of stabby pay back. Her experiences in the black and white house with the Faceless Men was a curious one to follow, not quite understanding what was going on and what the Faceless Men actually are. Thankfully, Arya managed a bloody grab at revenge. Which was sooo satusfying. Especially as he had been the one who (possibly) killed Syrio. This could easily sit in my ‘low’ list though, as her punishment, just moments after the high of her character’s achievement was really frustrating. I can only hope that this isn’t the end for her and her quest and part of her growth.
Hardhome. I’ve not been overly invested in the Wildling and the Watch storyline. Neither bunch are particularly sympathetic IMO, but for Jon, Sam and Gilly, but it’s more their realisation that they stand between the White Walkers and the rest of Westeros–a land they all really want to be a part of. Seeing Jon push on in what seemed like a path to potential greatness by uniting the Wildlings behind the Watch was satisfying and gave a real sense that there could be hope in Westeros. Yeah. Right. Watching it all fall apart, in such a grand scale, and at such a pivotal moment was not only a great set piece, but frightening too. There’s some scary stuff up North. And on a very basic level–the fight between Jon and the White Walker was really tense, and there was a giant fighting zombies. Come on–a giant fighting zombies?! I mean how cool was that?!
The arena with Jorah fighting for Daenerys’ forgiveness and the rise of the Sons of the Harpy. It was just awesome. I had goosebumps on my geekbumps. Not only was it a great action set piece, but it gave us some nice interplay between Tyrion, Hizdahr, Daario and Daenerys, but we had Daenerys trying to balance politics with instinct in her distaste for the fighting pits, and Jorah fighting for his life and for respect–and this being Thrones I didn’t know how that was going to go–then the rug pull ‘It’s a trap’ moment with the Sons of the Harpy, which put characters I care for in peril. And then the awesomeness that is a dragon. This scene did so much, and while you could argue that it probably pushes a little too far on what can be achieved on its budget it was thrilling to watch. Best scene in the whole of the series so far–and it was uplifting. Which is a rare thing to savor in Thrones!
For me, Thrones is still as good as it once was, yet with so many plots suspended or ended it’s hard to know where the show is going to go. Yet, I never expected Ned to lose his head and all the other shockers, so I’m glad of Thrones and all its unpredictable shocks and story directions. Now the long wait continues…
What did you think?