Game of Thrones Season Five: A Retrospective

game of thrones season five

Game of Thrones season five was far more exciting than season four, but still couldn’t shake off the problematic elements.

Unlike the previous season, everyone was in position for some actual development in season five.  It no longer felt like characters were being shuffled from place to place to set up something further down the line.  Things were actually happening.  Looking back, the season was generally one of the best, but there were a few notable bumps in the road that kept it from being perfect.

Let’s start with what I consider one of the best moments in the entire show, if not the best.  ‘Hardhome‘ holds up on repeat viewing.  I said the following about the episode in my review at the time:

The story up at The Wall hasn’t been holding my attention as much as the other stories happening in the rest of the world. It’s been sort of stuck in a rut for the past few episodes. Besides the sweetness between Sam and Gilly and the whole voting thing earlier this season, I can’t really remember much of what’s been happening. This week, however, made up for lost time. It’s hard for me to come up with words beyond ‘wow’ and ‘holy crap’ and ‘I have no idea what just happened but I’m excited.’

It’s been four years and I still feel “wow” and “holy crap” about that episode.  Though now I really understand what just happened and I’m floored.  It was a game changer for our characters.  The full weight of the threat beyond the wall was put front and center.  And the strangest part is that it wasn’t even in the books.  At least not in this way.  Hardhome is mentioned, but none of our protagonists are there, and the full impact of the Army of the Dead is still just speculation.  I know I’ve been fairly hard on D&D‘s decisions about what to change, but in this case I think it was a good call.

Meanwhile, across the Narrow Sea, we have Arya off on her own journey of self discovery.  At the time, this plot line felt like it was dragging both season five and season six down.  But when I’m marathoning the show, it doesn’t feel like quite as much of a drag.  Since I can see what’s on the other side of her journey now, these scenes feel necessary.

The slowness and repetitive nature of her training feel deliberately paced.  I grew tired of it around the beginning of season six, but this time I appreciate it a lot more.  The pacing works better when marathoning.  Two years was far too long to keep her separated from the main plot.  But a week?  Yeah.  That works nicely.

Overall I enjoyed both Hardhome and Arya’s plot on repeat viewing.  Sadly, not everything this season was great.  And sadly, like our warning for season four, this next bit comes with a Trigger Warning For Rape.  Skip four paragraphs to avoid this discussion.

Once again I’ll be deferring to Tara’s work on this topic, as she summarizes the issues quite nicely.  She reviewed the episode ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,’ where Sansa is brutally raped and, once again, the directing makes it way worse than it had to be.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s awful either way, but the directors are largely to blame for much of the offense.  Here’s what Tara had to say:

Everything I’ve just complained about is small potatoes compared to what’s going on with Sansa. Sure, she had that great moment with Myranda where she said, “I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell. This is my home, and you can’t frighten me.” But then she actually married Ramsay. And then we had to watch Theon suffer through his man pain to the sounds of Sansa being raped. I honestly don’t know if I’ve ever been so disgusted with any television show as I am with Game of Thrones right now.

Let me first say that I understand there’s a good chance the writers are setting things up for Sansa to take full-on revenge for what’s happened to her family. Let me also say that I don’t care. No amount of revenge-taking on her part could possibly make up for what they did in tonight’s episode. None. And on top of everything else, how could Winterfell not be ruined for her, now? And right after she made that statement to Myranda?

Tara followed up her episode review with the article Seven Faces of Sansa Rape Apologists.  If you are considering trying to argue against our opinion that the scene was one of the worst and most disgusting things to happen on TV, pulling some argument out about it being necessary for her story or whatever, go read that article first.  Honestly, I’m tired of arguing about it and that article covers it all.

This is the end of the trigger warning section of this retrospective.  Let’s continue talking about season five, shall we?

season fiveBarristan Selmy‘s death was another aspect of the season that felt off this season.  This series kills characters off in both the books and the show.  Sometimes these deaths come at unexpected moments, like the whole Red Wedding ordeal.  Sometimes they come at a moment when a character feels like there’s a lot more plot left for them to experience, like Ned Stark.  Both of these things can be said of Barristan Selmy’s death, but there was also an aspect to it that felt forced and rushed.

Unlike the books, Tyrion is getting fast-tracked to Daenerys and meeting her prior to her capture of the Dothraki.  Killing off Barristan in a back alley in Mereen felt like they needed to quickly reduce the number of advisers near Daenerys and make room for Tyrion.  It was not at all well done and lacked much of the impact that deaths written by GRRM often carry.  He was being pushed aside to make room, and his character deserved so much better than that.

I’m not unhappy with Tyrion being fast-tracked to Daenerys.  He’s introduced in ‘The Gift,‘ and I was extremely excited to see these incredible characters interact.  At that point, they were my two favorite characters (my list of top ten has shuffled a lot since then, but they are still near the top).  Tyrion’s slavery subplot in the books isn’t terribly interesting to me, so, like Hardhome, I may have been likely to praise D&D’s attempts at adjusting things for us.  But not when it comes to sacrificing a quality character just to make room for another.  We could have had both of them at her side.  They could have slowly pulled Barriston Selmy back and not offed him just to prevent overcrowding.  But that’s not what happened, sadly.  And we lost an incredible character for nothing.

Speaking of things I hate (and gosh, you guys, I swear I liked season five a lot), I was incredibly bummed to lose Shireen.  Still, her death didn’t feel quite as out of place as Barristan’s did.  I can see how hers had a narrative purpose, even though it was horrifying and disappointing.  The fact that Stannis only lived for another episode or so made the immediate pain from her death sting slightly less.  And the fact that Brienne was the one to execute him in the name of King Renly made it even more powerful.  Still, I loved her character and that stung.  A lot.  Killing children is always going to be a risky move.  Especially when they are children the audience has grown attached to.  She made Stannis a more likeable character and and without her I found myself rooting for him to fail.

This is the point in the show where many of our characters have surpassed the books.  This has affected things to varying degrees depending on the character.  As we jump into season six, it’s almost entirely new material for both book and show fans alike, meaning that from here on out we can be excited, surprised, and devastated together.  And there’s certainly a lot of that coming up in my next two retrospectives.

A lot happened in this season, and it’s hard to keep these retrospectives to a reasonable length, so I’m going to drop a link to our Game of Thrones season five masterpost here.  We had a lot of content that season, and I can’t possibly touch on every plot point.

Author: Angel Wilson

Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3.



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