Roundtable: The Final Word on Season Five, Part II

Oh, why, hello, there. My name’s Marc N. Kleinhenz, and I’m something of a Song of Ice and Fire harlot (or is that zealot?): I’ve been published at Westeros.org and WinterIsComing.net, I’m a staff writer at Watchers on the Wall, I’ve been a guest on A Podcast of Ice and Fire, and I’m the features editor at Tower of the Hand (along with the editor and publisher of their anthology ebooks).

And now I have the distinct honor of having hoodwinked Jeff, Jim, Hamish, and Nina into temporarily allowing me to hijack their terrific little site in order to bring you our roundtable-to-end-all-roundtables on the quality (or lack thereof) of Game of Thrones‘s sfifth season.

Season 5 banner

We started over at Watchers on the Wall yesterday, but then had to cut things off just as they were starting to heat up and tempers started to fray (hey, this is what happens when you conduct a 17,000-word discussion – you have to slice it up into multiple parts). We continue today right where we left off, discussing the narrative merits and historical accuracy of GOT‘s vilifying of homosexuality before plunging on into Stannis Baratheon’s and Jon Snow’s (apparent) final moments on celluloid.

You can read the first part here, and be sure to catch the final installment over at Tower of the Hand tomorrow.


Stefan (Tower of the Hand):

I don’t get why it is poor writing to use homosexuality, which was far worse than adultery in medieval times, but not infidelity itself. That’s what I don’t get. If it’s in the execution, okay, I’m ready to hear the argument, but the idea itself isn’t far-fetched or over-modernized at all.

SomethingLikeALawyer (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire/Tower of the Hand):

Only when viewed through the lens of Christianity, Stefan. We can’t do that, however, because Westeros follows the Faith of the Seven, so we can’t bring outside religious knowledge into the setting.

Loras arrested

I could talk about the books and how they present homosexuality, but I’ll just stick with the show’s presentation and execution, since this is about the show. For four seasons, homosexuality hasn’t been a problem. Indeed, no one seemed to give much of a shit. The Reach and Dorne (especially Dorne) don’t seem to care at all about the sexual predilections of their people, and they are Faith-following regions. Dialogue between Olenna Tyrell and Tywin Lannister suggest that attitudes to homosexuality are either personal or regional, not religious. If it were really such an abomination, wouldn’t it have been an issue at some point during the show before season five? After all, the random westerlander guards at the Battle of Oxcross treat Renly and Loras’s sexuality as a joke, so clearly everyone and their mother knows about their relationship. If it was such an open secret that Renly and Loras were a gay couple, wouldn’t there be something made of it at some point? Did their status protect them? If so, what about Olyvar and the rest of Littlefinger’s male prostitutes? Littlefinger openly peddles male prostitutes to service other men, and they don’t have status to hide behind (even if some of Littlefinger’s clients do).

Now, when they need a way to get the Tyrells behind the Faith’s bars, it’s suddenly an abomination. It doesn’t add up the way other religious abominations do. As an example, we see Stannis’s letter and the subsequent rioting. Stannis establishes that his letter is the first general publication of the incest, and then later we see Tyrion observe the smallfolk talking about how the “fruit is rotten” because brother and sister lie together in the bed of kings. Whereas Renly’s sexuality was important to his character in seasons one and two, and Loras sleeps around and blows the Sansa marriage in season three, but it’s not until season five that we see that there’s a religious prohibition against that sort of thing. Sloppy.

It stinks of a hand-wave, an excuse made up to get the characters where they need to be. The books are guilty of this, too (sometimes appallingly so), but this one is all on the show.

Militant Penguin (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire):

Plus – and take this with a huge grain of salt, as I’m not quite sure how accurate this is, since I haven’t read about it in a while – homosexuality wasn’t as big a deal as you might suspect. As long as you had children and continued the family line, you were free to be sexual with men, although it was viewed as less than masculine, mind you.

It wasn’t until Christianity became a bigger and more powerful force that being homosexual became an issue.

ghostlovesinger (Tower of the Hand):

I’ve been pretty public about the fact that I’m not coming back next season, so obviously season five didn’t work for me. Despite the fact that we got one legitimately great episode (“Hardhome”), another that was almost as good (“Kill the Boy”), and some incredible standout performances from Lena Headey, Kit Harington, and Stephen Dillane, this is still by far the show’s worst season, in my opinion, and none of those merits are enough to overcome the season’s flaws. It’s the bad writing, it’s the rushed attempts at storytelling, it’s the sheer disregard for both internal logic and character development, and it’s the problematic portrayals of sexual violence and homosexual persecution, to which the showrunners seem completely tone-deaf.

Sue the Fury (Watchers on the Wall):

Well, what would’ve been non-problematic portrayals of sexual violence and homosexual persecution, in your opinion?

Marc N. Kleinhenz (Tower of the Hand/Watchers on the Wall):

I’ve actually really enjoyed this season, I have to say.

Although I am bummed out tremendously by Stannis. >: (

Stannis dying

BryndenBFish (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire):

I’m not bummed by Stannis dying in the show. Anyone who would burn his daughter out of a sense of ambition (according to the showrunners) to gain the Iron Throne is no true king. I may disagree with the direction that the writers took the character (Stannis sacrificing Shireen because he was starving? C’mon, writers. Dude starved for a year against a Tyrell siege), but the way they wrote the character ensured that I didn’t care whether he lived or died.

And that comes up to another issue – did season five lose nuance due to making the baddies really, really bad? Did Meryn Trant have to be a pedophile sadomasochist for us to really agree with Arya shivving him, or would a simple flashback to Syrio Forel do the trick? Did Stannis have to sacrifice Shireen to the flames for us to think that he deserved to lose Winterfell? The show seems to want us to say yes.

SomethingLikeALawyer (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire/Tower of the Hand):

Well, characterization hasn’t always been the show writers’ strong suit. They’ve gone through with the whit- and-black brush in a lot of the seasons, not just this one.

Sue the Fury (Watchers on the Wall):

Who defines what a true king is? There’s no such thing.

Everyone who has sat on thrones in A Song of Ice and Fire has done bad things – except, possibly, Tommen, and the show’s version is old enough that he is guilty of the crime of being willfully ignorant in letting other people handle everything for him, thereby letting bad things happen.

Characterization has to be simplified. Half the audience can barely keep track of people’s names, and some of you guys want incredibly complex backstories with hinted-at plot turns? I mean, honestly. No, I don’t love every plot or piece of writing, but treating the show as if it were a novel, or a TV show with only a handful of characters, is absurd. This is an epic, and epics can’t depict minutia. Otherwise, the show would need a five-day-a-week soap opera-style schedule in order to convey that much plot (which I would love, don’t get me wrong – I want as much ASOIAF as I can get).

And I do think sometimes book readers forget or gloss over things in a rush to condemn Benioff and Weiss and the show. Trant was depicted as he was because they were combining him with Raff the Sweetling in the “Mercy” sample chapter. Raff is a sadistic prick who was seduced by Arya, and Arya is how old at this point in the books? A lot younger than Maisie.

And Game of Thrones has shown Trant beating Sansa and having fun doing his job. This wasn’t just payback for Syrio; this was payback for Sansa, even though Arya didn’t know it. But the audience knew. It was a callback to what we have already established years ago about Trant.

BryndenBFish (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire):

Law defines who the true king is, of course.🙂 But pejoratively speaking, Show!Stannis lost my “support” for him as the true king when he failed to uphold his side of the social contract between ruler and governed by intentionally taking the life of a known innocent. It’s the same reason why Aerys II became illegitimate (different discussion)…

And while it’s true that Trant subsumed the role of Raff, the component of browbeating the audience towards Arya’s side in taking his life was present in the depiction of him as a pedophile practitioner of BSDM. And while you make an excellent argument that Trant enjoys his pleasure spiked with others’ pain, as demonstrated by him being a brutish dick to Sansa, I went back and rewatched the “previously ons” for episodes nine and ten; Sansa’s beating by Trant wasn’t used to set the audience’s expectation. So, I wonder whether this might be a case of either subtly on the show’s part or whether they weren’t thinking of that scene from season two when writing the script.

I’m not sure which complicated plot turns you’re referring to. Where season five fell down wasn’t in giving complicated backstory; it was in “this scene calls for X event and dialogue to happen” (e.g., Obara’s monologue, Drogon as vehicle of rescue, Littlefinger appearing in King’s Landing to impact the plot, Ramsay “Erwin Rommel” Bolton) instead of character arcs that flow more naturally. In season five, the show has continued the trend from a character-driven drama to spectacle and bang moments. And, in my opinion, that’s to the show’s detriment.

Obviously, my thoughts aren’t indicative of any widespread popular rejection of the show, as the finale brought in the greatest ratings that it’s ever seen. Golf clap the show for crushing nine million views. But popularity doesn’t equal quality for me. (No, I’m not a hipster. I swear).

SomethingLikeALawyer (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire/Tower of the Hand):

I’ve drank beer with you, Jeff. You’re a hipster.

Westerosi hipster

Stefan (Tower of the Hand):

Regarding the Faith, Loras’s sexuality was treated as a joke by everyone in the books, too, until the Poor Fellows come around. Who knows what their attitude was? I understand your points, but this seems such a non-issue to me. For some reason or another, the Faith decided that it wanted to make homosexuality a bigger issue than before. This happens all the time – in our real world, as well. Just look at what the lunatics of Boko Haram suddenly decide is an affront to God. The mere fact that they used homosexuality as the driving force doesn’t present me with any problems. If there isn’t something in the execution of it – and I don’t know what that would be – then we can discuss that.

Stannis didn’t burn Shireen because of a little food shortage; Show!Stannis wouldn’t have had a problem starving for a bit. The problem was the time frame and the winter. He wasn’t under siege – he needed to get to Winterfell ASAP, and he couldn’t wait out the snows because then his army would be dead. Storm’s End had little food, but his camp was down to practically none now. That’s why he made the decision, and that’s what doomed him. The arc is incredibly interesting in the show, albeit different from the books, and does pose several questions to ponder.

Finally, regarding Meryn Trant, yes, that was utterly unnecessary. I stated as much in my review. I really didn’t like it because it was so incredibly blunt.

Yeah, the whole pedophile thing was unnecessary.

Cian (Watchers on the Wall):

For the purposes of this final roundtable, I am focusing on the negative. That is not to say that I have a negative view of the season; rather, I have a mixed-to-disappointed opinion of it, but I acknowledge the many positives. I will home in on one plot area – the north – and focus on the inconsistencies of its plotting and pacing. While my specific points and arguments will reference this geographical area and the characters therein, my overall criticisms apply to the season in general.

Jon

Last season, Kit Harington really came into his own as Jon Snow, and that trend thankfully continued into this season. The plotting of his arc in the early episodes of the season (i.e., with Stannis present) was suitably robust, and those two actors worked well off of one another. As soon as Stannis and his supporting characters left, cracks began to appear. Our plethora of Wall characters was halved in one fell swoop and was supplemented along the way by the deaths of Aemon and Mance, with Tormund being strangely absent for most of the season.

Jon and Stannis

What I am ultimately aiming for here is that once Stannis left, as per the story’s demands, the climax of Jon’s arc was prematurely weakened. One of the most crushing aspects of “For the Watch” is that Jon is stabbed in an homage to Caesar by men he has previously interacted with and trusted. There are recognizable faces in the crowd of assassins. I had hoped that this would be amended somewhat with the casting of Bowen Marsh, but the character barely appeared and was never mentioned by name, so it’s a moot point. Having the entire climax hinging on Olly giving less-than-subtle murderous stares throughout the season is weak storytelling. It is ironic, in a sense, that the highlight of the season was the transpiring of events at Hardhome, only for everything to rapidly plummet downhill both in-story and in a more meta sense soon after.

Externally, the plotting of Jon’s arc makes sense. However, when you focus on the events leading to his death as isolated pieces of the whole, something doesn’t connect. The broken personality compass of Alliser Thorne lies at the centre of this. Ever since the first season, I have been a fan of Owen Teale’s portrayal. He took a one-note character from the novels and breathed life and believability into him. Unfortunately, Teale’s skill as an actor couldn’t save the nonsensical actions of his character.

During the Battle of Castle Black last season, Thorne expressed his begrudging acceptance of Jon as a man of efficiency and action. This made their dynamic more interesting going forward. It continued with his distaste at Jon being elected lord commander, only for him to heed Jon’s decisions to make him First Ranger and execute Janos Slynt. At this point, the two men still hate each other but are willing to put up with one another in order to do their respective duties. Flash forward to Thorne letting Jon and the wildlings through the Wall after the slaughter at Hardhome (never mind why they were even on the north side of the Wall in the first place). This is where it all falls apart.

Literally nothing happened between this event and the moment Thorne plunged a knife into Jon that would invoke more distaste in him for the lord commander. As far as we are concerned, they kept their respective distances in the interim. Then… Thorne stabs Jon. Are we to believe that what drove Thorne to do this was his innate refusal to accept the amnesty of the free folk? We haven’t been given any evidence to allow us to think otherwise. Why, then, did he let Jon and the wildlings through the Wall? Surely, if he hated them all so much, he wouldn’t make this massive blunder. Retrospectively, by the show’s logic and sequence of events, Thorne wanted to kill Jon as he looked down on him from atop the Wall. Yet he lets Jon and hundreds of wildlings arguably loyal to the lord commander through the Wall instead of leaving them to rot on the other side. He then engages in a furtive attempt to kill Jon, without a thought for the hundreds of men and women who will undoubtedly revolt now that their only tie to the Watch has been disposed of.

This brings me to the conclusion of my criticism of Jon’s arc. “For the Watch” was doomed from the start of the season, when the only recognisable faces of possible mutineers were Thorne’s and Olly’s. Othell Yarwyck? He has had a pittance of lines, and no one can be expected to remember him. Bowen Marsh – who? Olly, the boy who has been telegraphing he was going to kill Jon all season?

Brienne

Brienne’s “arc” this year existed solely as a vehicle – a vehicle whose engine broke down halfway through the season – to have her in place to take Stannis’s life. In simple terms, the script demanded that she stare at a tower for half a season for no reason other than to have her in the right place at the right time to kill Stannis. It’s one of the most blatant contrivances in a season full of them. No matter which way we look at this situation, it doesn’t make sense.

Waiting for Godot

If the candle remains unlit, will Brienne stay there forever? Will she assume that Sansa’s Bolton life is fine and dandy, rather than consider the possibility that Sansa is unable to reach the tower with a candle? How did she survive the weeks she was already there? She is not “of the north,” and she conveniently survived a snowstorm that was crippling others in the vicinity. If the candle was lit and Brienne saw it, what was she going to do? What feasible way could she infiltrate Winterfell and engage in a rescue mission? I suppose if she had Twenty Good Men, it would be possible (I’ll get to this in due course), but she doesn’t. Never mind the fact that when the plot finally catches up with her, she somehow wades through two armies, finds her way into a forest, and locates the one man she is looking for among hundreds, all without any opposition. This compiles into an obvious case of the writers bending everything around the major story beats, at the expense of the buildup between them.

Sansa/Roose

I will avoid criticising Sansa’s arc too much, but I will say that it was an arguably worse rehash of her season two arc, resting under the false illusion of her seeking vengeance of her own volition. It all hinges on Littlefinger either not caring about Sansa or being a complete idiot – which, judging by some of his previous actions, we have ample reason to believe.

From Roose’s perspective, the purpose behind marrying Sansa and Ramsay is to secure “the north.” However, what is the north in the show? It’s just… the Boltons. The viewer is apparently supposed to believe that the north is discontent under the Boltons’ rule, but is given next to no evidence to support that assumption. In a throwaway scene, Ramsay boasts of how he flayed a lord for not paying his taxes. We are shown a total of two peasants who, for some reason, don’t like the Boltons. “The north remembers,” you see. One of them meets her demise. Then what? Nothing.

The whole ordeal is quite baffling, really. Roose’s play is to marry Sansa to Ramsay in a false display of unity so he can more efficiently grasp the north. Yet, going by the information presented to us, there are no northern lords or ladies present at the wedding. Nor does Roose send word across the north via raven that the marriage (and consummation) has occurred. Jon is the lord commander of the Night’s Watch – a position which is privy to the goings-on in the north – and despite seeing him reading raven scrolls numerous times, he hears nothing of the wedding, either from Roose himself (which is understandable) or secondhand from anyone else. As far as the viewer is concerned, Roose is quite comfortable in his new position as Warden of the North.

(As an aside, Michael McElhatton was once again criminally underused this season. I hope to see a lot more of him next year.)

Stannis, Ramsay, and Twenty Good Men

I am not a fan of Ramsay’s depiction in the show. To get straight to the point: I do not dispute that a band of 20 could infiltrate a camp and cause havoc, especially given the dire circumstances. However, the preposterous way it was presented on screen raises multiple red flags. Ramsay and his band of Twenty Good Men infiltrated a camp of starving thousands, destroyed all of the siege weaponry, killed most of the horses, and burned the food stores, all without a single person loyal to Stannis seeing or hearing anything until the simultaneous combustion of random tents around the camp after Ramsay and company had already left. It’s as if those in charge knew that there was no believable way to show Ramsay and the Twenty Good Men doing this, so it all occurred off-screen with a magical hand wave. It aligns perfectly with Yara’s botched rescue of Theon last season – despite whatever intent was behind the writing, the information presented to us on-screen made it seem as if the “fifty best killers” from the Iron Islands were bested by a shirtless Ramsay and the mere threat of being attacked by hounds. In isolation, these scenes are iffy enough, but when they are played in sequence, Ramsay comes across as an invincible warrior who can accomplish anything and faces no consequences or repercussions.

This segues nicely into the end of Stannis’s arc, which simply did not work for me. His scenes in the first half of the season were consistently stellar, and the only addition I could have hoped for was his “cart before the horse” monologue from the books. But I digress – wonderful stuff, and a highlight of the season.

I have no problem with Stannis suffering a crippling defeat outside Winterfell. I don’t even expect him to last long into The Winds of Winter. With this in mind, the show sheds a distasteful and darkly comedic light on the ordeal.

Shireen burning

Firstly, we have the burning of Shireen. Most of us expected that Shireen was not long for the world, but the reasoning behind her sacrifice at that particular moment was not convincing. In fact, it retrospectively paints the earlier heartwarming and character-building scene between Stannis and Shireen as nothing more than a set-up for the shock value of her death. If Stannis had been portrayed as truly desperate before making the fatal decision, it would have been more effective and convincing. This is the same man who, in the show as well as the books, weathered a year-long siege by eating rats. Granted, he didn’t have Melisandre at his ear in Storm’s End, but showing a few Baratheon soldiers shivering and coughing doesn’t effectively convey the extreme desperation that would drive this man (who has been established as obsessed with the line of succession) to kill his only heir.

Robb Stark’s downfall was sufficiently paced, with the key events leading to the fatal outcome spaced over a number of episodes across two seasons. But Stannis’s own undoing happened within 20 minutes of screen time over two consecutive episodes. The rapid three-hit combo of his sellswords deserting, Selyse’s suicide, and Melisandre’s abandoning him is something that would have been paced more deftly in previous seasons, and the ultimate devastation would be felt as a result. This leads to him going on an all-or-nothing suicide march – fine, this is in character for him, considering he has lost everything else. What is not in character is one of Westeros’s greatest military minds marching his whole force into an open field in direct view of the castle he means to besiege, without scouts or outriders, and drawing siege lines despite having no supplies or siege weaponry.

Remember, all of this occurred by the consequential power of Twenty Good Men. Once more, the script is being bent at the outcome’s convenience.

I actually have no problem with Stannis’s death itself. It was fully in character. I loved that aspect and believe his last words were taken straight from Winds of Winter. The circumstances surrounding his death in the show, however, are questionable, at the very least.

Of course, I haven’t even got into the fact that Melisandre both left Stannis (who was apparently right outside Winterfell) and arrived at Castle Black in the same episode, while Stannis was defeated in the meantime. Time – and pacing, by extension – seems to mean nothing anymore.

For the record, I thought that (for the most part) the acting was above par. This show has set a high bar on the acting front, and despite relatively few missteps, it is refreshing to see so many performances of strong and consistent quality.

Ramin Djawadi scored the season admirably once again. I don’t think he has ever quite managed to replicate the raw, organic, powerful, unified suite that was the premiere season’s soundtrack, but in the years since, he has certainly put forward a number of memorable pieces. My favourite of this season’s offerings is “House of Black and White.” It was chilling, otherworldy, and, most importantly, unlike anything we had heard in the show before.

White walker

So, to answer the original question: did season five suck? No, it certainly didn’t, and I enjoyed a lot of the episodes immensely. Once again, the show looked, felt, and sounded great, and we should never take these things for granted (as easy as it is to fall into that habit). But some of the technical aspects which I’ve grown so fond of over the years took a noticeable nosedive. I’ve outlined my views on those in the north, and there are more examples from many other storylines.

That definitely sucked.

Here’s to a better season six – which I will, of course, be watching, because, despite my misgivings and rampant negativity, I adore the show and believe it’s one of the best currently on TV. It’s just very easy to be critical of something you love.

BryndenBFish (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire):

Per Shireen: knowing that the show was going to cut Stannis’s arc short from where it will probably end up in the books, it makes sense that Stannis has hard times on the road to Winterfell, Shireen burns, and Stannis falls. Bam-boom-pow. Where it fell short was in establishing desperation as the motivating factor. The make-up job on Stephen Dillane showing a weathered, exhausted man worked, but that’s only one facet.

The one that could have been better displayed was the desperation in the camps. Show us Stannis’s men exhausted, starving. Cut out that nonsense with Ramsay and his 20 good men. Instead, show men frozen to death, make the fire accidental – caused by men who light their tent on fire desperate to avoid freezing to death – give us some cannibalism after the accidental fire, which burns up the remaining food stores. And show us Stannis struggling forward, pushing against all hope. Blind his men with the blizzard. Make it physical and visceral to us. And for God’s sake, change the scenery up. Three tent scenes of Mel/Stannis and burning discussion, Davos/Shireen and the doll scene, and Stannis/Shireen discussion are fine. But do we need six tent scenes (I counted) explaining how desperate things are becoming, or do we need more show, not tell?

SomethingLikeALawyer (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire/Tower of the Hand):

If the show’s usage of homosexuality doesn’t seem like an issue to you, Stefan, there’s nothing more I can say. You admit that there’s really no reason and it comes out of nowhere, but it’s not a problem for you. That’s fine, but I can’t give it a pass – not with all of the other poor writing decisions that have been made both in this season and in seasons prior. I’m seeing it as part of the greater pattern of poor writing. What makes it worse is that I know the writers can do better. They’ve demonstrated it, even with some of their original dialogue, not just the authentically transcribed material. But it keeps getting worse and worse, and I don’t see any signs of it improving.

This season has been clunky, awkwardly moving from plot point to plot point as if they were checking off boxes without concern for how point one flowed to point two. It’s like driving: good driving is smooth; poor driving is full of starts, stops, and sudden lane changes. Apparently, in episode nine, Thorne stands to his duty and lets Jon pass, only to change his mind for no reason a couple days later because he needs to be a “bad guy” in the finale. The Sand Snakes were caricatures and B-movie villains. The Sons of the Harpy were… who knows? Their sole goal seemed to be acting super-scary and buying harpy masks in bulk. Were they disenfranchised lower classes forced to compete with former slaves for jobs? Slavery restorationists, like the one seemed to hint to Mossador? Mudsill theorists, as Dany theorized? Chaotic madmen? Opportunists looking to eliminate Daenerys and the ex-Masters and seize control of Meereen? There was no characterization because they didn’t matter, except as a super-powerful (read: lazily-written) villain. They could have been Moon Boy, for all we know.

Bad pussy

I’m torn whether to consider the “you need a good girl…” line the “fat, pink mast” or the “I am of the night” of the show.

Stefan (Tower of the Hand):

I agree about the Sand Snakes, as well as Alliser Thorne, and I have written as much. The same is true for the Sons of the Harpy – no question about it. My point is that the aggressive Faith comes out of nowhere in the books, too. In the books, many people are sleeping around, and there are jokes cracked about it all the time, but, suddenly, as per Feast for Crows, it is a huge issue.

I’m not saying that it is bad in the books – I’m saying it’s the same damn thing.

Nfriel (Wars and Politics of Ice and Fire):

Did the season work overall?

Not for me, no. The storylines were simply too uneven, and even where storylines were good, there were fundamental problems that disrupted my viewing experience. The best of this season were the Wall and King’s Landing arcs, and when those were good, they were truly good. Jonathan Pryce is far and away the best actor the show has ever had, in my opinion, and played the High Sparrow with a laudable mix of frankness and righteous cruelty. Lena Headey had some of her best work this season, especially in “Mother’s Mercy” (episode 510); for a chapter that relies largely on Cersei’s internal monologue for emotional impact – something that would never work onscreen – I thought she conveyed Cersei’s inner turmoil quite well. Likewise, Stephen Dillane deserves something for his work this season. He brought his A game in every scene, and he had the two best non-book scenes of this season – his discussion with Shireen about her getting greyscale and his “Keep reading, Samwell Tarly.” For as much as the show is quite open about not showing Stannis as a legitimate claimant, I thought Stephen Dillane did his absolute best to make him sympathetic and likeable (even with the Shireen burning).

Yet while I don’t think any one actor did a bad job on the show (apart from the Sand Snakes), the rest were just all over the place. For me, there was a real tunnel-vision problem this season. Scenes would be shot nicely and acted well, but then I would step back and say “All right – now, how does this work in the context of the show?” and I couldn’t answer. The Margaery and Loras arrest scene was one such example; not only do we have yet more “Loras is gay” material (has there ever been a scene where Loras is present or mentioned and someone does not bring up his sexuality?), which is such lazy writing, but when the High Sparrow brings in his surprise witness, the Tyrell faction immediately falls apart. These are some of the canniest political actors in Westeros, and they just accept defeat with no struggle? Ditto for the Kingsguard – they just stand there and watch literally the only job they had walk out the door, escorted by clear political enemies. (It’s the same with Littlefinger. I understand he’s an agent of chaos, but, at some point, I have to understand something of the reasoning of what he’s doing to enjoy the show at all).

Littlefingered

Essos was similarly uneven. Arya in Braavos was about what I expected, and for that I thought it was fine – nothing fantastic, nothing equal to last season’s end with the Hound dying, but nothing really to complain about (and I will say I did really like the non-Jaqen Faceless Man reveal. I thought it conveyed the idea of Arya being too tied to her past to be Faceless quite well, and while it seems a little odd that a Faceless would just commit suicide like that, I’ll allow it for Arya to learn that lesson). Tyrion, again, was about what I expected – nothing great, nothing terrible, just fine, although I really have no idea what he’s going to do next season. The actual Meereen stuff… well, I have a pretty low opinion of the show’s portrayal of Daenerys, and her A Dance with Dragons stuff would be hard for any TV show to do (since it relies heavily on political negotiations – the bane of the Star Wars prequels – and internal monologues). It wasn’t entertaining for me, and I felt like not only did I not really understand what was happening, I didn’t care to, either.

And then there’s Dorne. For a place that should have been the acme of this season – considering how wonderful the character of Oberyn was last season – Dorne was an unmitigated disaster. From completely and irrationally changing Ellaria’s character, to placing the focus on somehow-even-more-one-dimensional-than-their-book-incarnations Sand Snakes, to a Jaime-Bronn plot that would have sounded silly on a multi-camera sitcom, Dorne was just wrong, start to finish. I have no idea why the show basically ignored Doran – considering that the few times Siddig was on screen, he easily out-acted the Sand Snakes, Ellaria, and really everyone else in the room – and shoehorned in a romance between Trystane and Myrcella (neither of which demonstrated anything remotely close to a personality).

Overall, I think I agree with Militant Penguin that, this season, more than any other, I felt like I was aware I was watching a TV show. That’s not fatal, but it’s not a great sign, either. I was invested only because I literally had no idea where these stories were going and had to see how they would justify the choices they made, not because I really cared about these characters.

Were the characters strong independent of previous seasons and in relation to other seasons?

Again, my reaction is sort of mixed. Stannis, Cersei, Jaime, Bronn, Theon, and Sam all did quite well, and I felt like they not only evolved as characters, but managed (in some cases) to rise above pretty poor material and deliver good performances. Jon, Arya, Tyrion, and Daenerys were about neutral: not good, not bad – just doing what the scene required, and that’s it. Sansa was once again relegated to the role of victim, which I thought regressed her storyline (but, then, that arc was so problematic overall). I pretty much forgot Brienne was in the season, and apparently so did the writers, which again sort of regressed her character; she was relegated to a very unimportant position (although her last scene with Stannis was quite good on both actors’ parts). Jorah, I felt like, was trying hard, playing both himself and Connington, and for what he had, I thought he did about as well as he could.

What was weird about this season’s characterizations is how overdone some were. Ramsay and Meryn Trant weren’t just cruel, they had to be really evil. Ellaria wasn’t just vengeful for Oberyn, she had to be really open about it (so much so that she poisons the heiress to the Iron Throne literally seconds after Myrcella leaves Dorne, despite any sane person knowing those ships would turn right around and declare that an act of war). And, yet, places where the show could have benefited from more characterization – Doran, Trystane, and Myrcella, the High Sparrow and the other sparrows (Jonathan Pryce was good, but I felt like I never really understood, as a show watcher, what the sparrows were doing in the capital [of course, the show has not always been the clearest on how the Faith works, so that doesn’t help]), even Hizdahr – the show passed over for more “exciting” moments.

Were the big moments of the series packing excitement?

There is no denying that “Hardhome” was one of the most exciting episodes of the series (not the most – that’s probably still “Blackwater” – but right up there). That was legitimately exciting, and everything I’ve come to expect from the show. Cersei’s walk of shame was likewise extremely well done, so no complaints there.

The rest… eh. Daznak’s pit was a real problem for me. I found my questions getting in the way of my enjoyment. Why were the Sons of the Harpy attacking now? Why attack Hizdahr? How could Jorah see the man about to strike from down in the pit and throw a spear to perfectly stop him? Why were the Sons of the Harpy not rushing the queen’s party in the pit en masse, instead of attacking Daario and Jorah one at a time (when they clearly outnumbered Daenerys and company)? Why is Drogon always mostly tame for Daenerys (besides, I guess, you can’t have her whipping an animal, even a CGI one, on TV)? How did the queen’s party get out of the pit after she Falcor’d her way out of there?

Falcor

This happened so many times. Sansa’s rape, Shireen’s burning, the “Battle of Ice,” Ser Meryn’s death, Theon and Sansa’s escape – all got interrupted by my own questions of how this makes sense in the context of the show. Meryn’s death, in particular, I found gratuitous – I almost thought it was a dream sequence for Arya, for how overdone the violence was. (It also seems a little – no, a lot – strange for Theon and Sansa to do their Jeyne Poole jump in the same episode where Melisandre says, “Good news – the snow’s melting!” Once again, very lazy writing.)

Will you watch season six?

Probably. The end of season five is a pretty poor place to pick to stop watching the series; nothing was really resolved through the whole season, and, basically, every ending was a cliffhanger. That said, my expectations are, well, low. Increasingly this season, I felt the show was not adapting the books for the medium so much as picking a handful of scenes and saying, “We like this stuff. Write around that.” I don’t think that’ll be helped by the very little book material still available to use. Unless the show can learn to use its characters well – especially the new characters – I don’t have high hopes for season six surpassing season five.

Be sure to check out the third and final part of our epic roundtable tomorrow at Tower of the Hand.

20 Comments

Filed under ASOIAF Analysis, ASOIAF Meta

20 responses to “Roundtable: The Final Word on Season Five, Part II

  1. “Law defines who the true king is, of course. :)”

    The king makes the law, and the law makes the king. I see your (circular) reasoning.

    “Show!Stannis lost my ‘support’ for him as the true king when he failed to uphold his side of the social contract between ruler and governed by intentionally taking the life of a known innocent.”

    So you gave up on Book!Stannis fifteen years ago when he tried to sacrifice Edric Storm in A Storm of Swords?

  2. Cian pretty much spelled out the problems I had with the season. Even though I was scratching my head because of occasional logic leaps I still enjoyed the season immensely. Maybe I’m just happy person or something.

    • The Dragon Demands

      I agree, Cian really succinctly and logically spelled out the problems.

      Basically what really was bad this year were the “North” and “Dorne” storylines, but the “North” storyline was itself a condensation of not only the Bolton/Stannis arc, but the entirely separate Sansa arc, plus the Brienne arc (though that barely appeared)…..and then they rushed Stannis into an unsatisfactory conclusion — not that he dies, but that the manner of it seemed to push Ramsay Bolton into Villain Sue territory. And the worst part is, the writers don’t even listen to our complaints.

  3. Tormund's Woman

    I’m with Stefan on the homosexuality issue. If one is objecting to the use of it because it suddenly reduces Loras Tyrell completely to that and the young knight suddenly is a plot point in the Cersei/Margery power struggle, it may make sense, however to discard it because:

    “For four seasons, homosexuality hasn’t been a problem. Indeed, no one seemed to give much of a shit.” just doesn’t work. Loras Tyrell was always the laughingstock of the court because of his sexuality. Every Lannister in power for example has made some derogatory remark to homosexuality in the show. These are the same people who tolerated or closed their eyes to incest by the way and justified it with Targs’ history. To tolerate is not to embrace.

    And now you have the Faith Militant on the rise, that has been cut off a hundred years before (or whenever it was). When fanatics and religious zealots come to gain power again, then all bets are off. To put it plainly: none of the show characters that did not give a shit before that Loras was gay, really give a shit now either. The homosexuality hate is presented as a particular trait of a certain religious movement that suddenly is given full reign to rise to power. It makes perfect sense to me.

    Also, the show, like the books, still have the inspiration roots in the Medieval times, no? To suddenly say: no, we cannot bring up that argument any longer, when it was acceptable every time before when arguing the origin or inspiration of the Asoiaf verse, does a huge disfavor to the show writing in this particular case. You are suddenly having a double standard: book arguments can and will have the benefit of bringing up this up when convenient, while original show writing can’t for some reason.

    • Yes, that was my reaction to his argument as well. Not only is it completely believable that religious fanatics would be significantly harsher towards homosexuals than the rest of society, it was also pretty well-established that being gay was kind of a no-no in previous seasons. Renly and Loras kept their relationship a secret, Tywin referred to his homosexuality as an affliction, Cersei regularly mocks Loras for his “pillow biting”…It’s not like Westeros was some spring of tolerance and then the Sparrows contradicted all of that. Loras was a lord and had the extra protection that came with it, and even then he had to keep his sexual preference secret (or at least refrain from admitting to it publicly, because that would have been a problem). I have zero issues with the way the show treated this particular aspect of the show…

  4. The Dragon Demands

    Re: SomethingLIkeALawyer’s complaint that homosexuality was always presented as not a big problem on the show before — this is not incongruent. The Faith Militant are *fanatics*, what they’re doing isn’t *normal*. Even Olenna’s dialogue in his trial episode expresses shock that they’d have a trial for something like that – it’s like putting a lord on trial for having sex with prostitutes. But Cersei gave them the right to have ecclesiastical courts again after centuries.

    So yes there’s always been a “religious prohibition” against homosexuality in Westeros….finger-wagging on par with adultery, nothing serious. The Faith MIlitant are unusual, hyper-literal, hyper-strict zealots. I actually thought it would be a problem this year and I thought Olenna’s lampshading that the Faith Militant aren’t “normal” made this clear.

  5. Live in hopes D&D read some of the articles and round tables, even the unsullied comments. There are large numbers lamenting the lack of starch in the writing this season. Hope they put the train back on the rails next season.

  6. djinn

    Are the Son’s of the Harpy Masters or freedmen? Why does the Nights Watch get letters telling that Meereen is under siege? Why marry a Stark if the Northern Lords aren’t there to witness it? What happened to the ships that carried the wildings from Hardhome? If Stannis army was running out of food, Ramsay’s twenty good men destroy the rest, but there’s still enough horses(meat) for half of the army to defeat? Why did the defeating sellswords left their fastest horse behind for Melisandre? Is Stannis camp a days ride from Castle Black and a few hours march for Winterfell? If the snows melted, does this means that Theon and Sansa died? Why does Thorne stabs Jon after letting him pass the Wall? Whatt was Brienne plan to help Sansa? Why didn’t Ellaria poison Myrcella in the first place? Dornish are ok with incest? Why poison Bronn and latter cure him? Why kill Myrcella after Trystane is in Lannister custody? Didn’t Jaime and Bronn killed a patrol of Dornishmen? Why does Doran and Areo talk about axes? Why does everyone forgets that Balon is still alive and in rebellion? How does Cersei makes the HS into the High Septon? Why does the KG and the garrison of the Red Keep allow a bunch guys with clubs to enter the Red Keep and arrest the Queen’s brother, or even later the Queen herself? If the Faith Militant are against sexual ”sins” of the mighty, why ins’t Littlefinger arrested? What gift does LF offer Olenna? If the North cannot be held by outsiders(Cersei’s words in S1) and Stanni army is having such problems, why does LF and Cersei think that the knights of the Vale have better chances?

    This is starting to make me feel like Lost.

    • False dichotomy, the Sons were made up primarily middle-class non-slavers from before Dany’s conquest who were almost certainly being financially supported by rich Masters (discussed in 502). Aemon is a Maester who needs to stay informed, probably has asked for updates from those he gets info from, use some imagination. Sansa was (presumably) still going to be around if Northern lords wanted proof that it was indeed Sansa who Ramsay married, so proving she’s a Stark wouldn’t be a problem, and they avoided casting more characters that way. The ships were docked where they had been left, presumably at Eastwatch by the Sea. Obviously Stannis isn’t going to jump at eating the horses they need to win the battle that they’re dying to fight. so you wait on that for as long as possible. Melisandre probably had her own horse separate from the vast majority of the soldiers. Several hours, probably, but yeah, that were a lot closer to Winterfell than Castle Black by the time 510 came around. There was clearly still snow at Winterfell, and at Stannis’s camp for that matter; Shireen’s death got rid of the storm, not all snow in the general area. Stabbing Jon while he is trapped and alone, at night, surrounded by hand-selected co-conpirators, makes more sense than publicly antagonizing the Lord Commander while a decent number of Watchmen would have a problem leaving Jon out in the cold. Brienne characteristically didn’t have much of a plan, but sneaking in and fighting her way out is not the worst place to start. Ellaria probably wasn’t allowed anwhere near Myrcella while she was openly discussing the possibility of killing her, Doran was convinced that those plans were behind her when he let her say goodbye to her in 510. Poisoning Bronn didn’t serve a purpose after all of them had been captured, and Tyene was attracted to him so she didn’t want him to die. Ellaria wants Dorne to go to war at all costs, if anything Tyrstane being in custody will probably be more likely to get Doran invested in the conflict. Yeah, they did. Character establishment for Areo. Balon is irrelevant and mostly harmless, and they can always causally refer to campaigns against the Iron Islands in the past tense once the Ironborn become relevant to the story again. Cersei wanted a militarized church to arrest the Tyrells on her behalf, without being officially responsible, and she assumed (incorrectly but characteristically) that the HS would be a loyal pawn who would do that for her after she elevated him. The KG weren’t around when Loras was captured, and the show established clearly that Tommen was actively avoiding a violent conflict with the Sparrows, and he motioned for the KG not to attack when Margaery was arrested. Littlefinger is not a member of a great house like Cersei or the Tyrells, he’s pretty low on the totem pole and his brothel was already ransacked so whatever. Lancel Lannister was the gift, he probably told her about it and she got the information to the HS, who then asked Lancel about it (legitimate question though). Outsiders who will kill Sansa are better than Northerners who betray the Lannisters, in Cersei’s mind, and LF obviously has a larger plan yet to be revealed, but we already know that his alliance with the Boltons will give him a chance to backstab Roose.

      Most of these plotholes can be filled with just a little bit of thought. How LF figures into Lancel’s confession beats me but otherwise there aren’t that many other confusing plotholes, really. Kind of like Lost.

  7. Turncloak

    I enjoyed the season excluding Dorne but damn do I have trouble responding to Cian’s well structured complaints. The season had problems for sure although I do not agree that it was the worst season. That spot is held by season 2’a botched Quorin Halfhand arc, Craster beating up Jon Snow, and there was really no exciting moments save for Blackwater. Not to mention the production levels of season 5 are way better. To rank the seasons I would say S4>S3>S1>S5>S2

  8. Vlad

    So, I have only one question and it’s completely unrelated to the roundtable :)). Why is the background image from Trajan’s column?🙂

  9. Ryan

    Really, posters? The first complaint you have about the “sloppy writing” is that homosexuality “suddenly became a problem”? I guess you didn’t notice the fact that Cersei employed a new High Sparrow, who happened to be an actual religious fanatic who lives and preaches among the peasants. It didn’t “suddenly become a problem,” it was part of Cersei’s plan. She replaced the former high sparrow, who was basically just there for the political side of things and didn’t actual value or uphold the laws of the Gods or care about blasphemy and replaced him with someone who DID. Someone with a following of peasants who have nothing to lose and aren’t sitting pretty living the high life.

    The new High Sparrow then utilized his newly given position and power to more or less add to his cult of dangerous religious fanatics. Cersei planted the seed with the High Sparrow regarding Ser Loras and Margery’s “sins,” which of course ended up backfiring on her because as I more or less stated, these guys are basically a CULT of BLIND self-righteous religious fanatics.

    We see those people everywhere, and I’m sure that even in real life if someone with this much blind faith was given the green light to arrest whoever they wanted and put them on trial for “sins,” we’d see many gay politicians behind bars.

    All of this makes perfectly good sense to me. Ask yourselves: was this sloppy writing, or poor observational skills from the OPs?

    • Todd

      Just to expand on Ryan’s point a little further, Littlefinger’s brothel was also shut down (or torn up) by the faith militant because prostitution is an abomination to them. It wasn’t just homosexuality that “suddenly became a problem.” There were signs that things that had been previously allowed or tolerated were no longer going to be.

  10. jonsnizzle

    I don’t understand why Little Finger would leave Sansa in Winterfell knowing that Ramsey is a cruel psychopath?

    • Ashley

      Little Finger only cares about his own interests. Sansa is just another stepping stone to him so it doesn’t surprise me at all he left her semi content. Cian, your critiques were spot on!

      By the way, I’m drinking the kool-aid too JON SNOW WILL BE BACK FOR S6!🙂

  11. i am waiting for the winds of winter. The show was a big blow off. It has just made our wait worse. I expect the book will wash the stink off, left by the poor show.

  12. Pubsky

    I disagree with those taking issue over the homosexuality issues.

    I read the situation differently. The faith of the 7 has been corrupt for a long time, and pretty much every religious taboo is a joke, incest and homosexuality alike.

    The reason incest was such a big issue in the letter from Stannis, is because of its political implications, not the religious ones.

    The faith militant is both reforming the church and reclaiming the church’s political power. Taking the Tyrells is a powerplay, consistent with the motivation of the church to take back political power that has been lost. For Loras the crime is homosexuality, for Margery it is lying before the 7, but really, any offense would have served.

  13. John W

    @ghostlovesinger
    SO after four good seasons you’re quitting the show after one bad one?

    • Roger

      So the other four were good? That’s quite an opinion sir! In my opinion the only really good was first. Second was acceptable. The rest… better don’t talk about it.

  14. Roger

    I have lots of complaints with the season. Could write a book about it. BUt one of the minor ones is: Why Gilly is still there? She is useless, she has outilived her interest. He is at risk with a castle full of former criminals (real surprise is she still hasn’t been assaulted, especialy being a HBO series). Also Castle Black is no place for a woman. Only reason she is still there is to give Sam someone to talk to.

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