Skip to main content

Belief is often the death of reason.

Game of Thrones
Season Five

(SPOILERS) By this point, a sense reigns that Game of Thrones’ very unpredictability has in itself become predictable. It wouldn’t be the same show if horrible things didn’t happen to favourite characters, and there have to be at least a few significant scalps taken per season. Likewise, the biggest fireworks tend to bring up the rear, with all the stops pulled out for the eighth episode. Particularly this year, that has given rise to complaints of a slow pace (I watched the season over three nights, so this didn’t really affect me, but I can see how the issues arise). Yet while it becomes increasingly difficult to throw curveballs, Season Five’s biggest problem has been bedding in new plotlines.


The main culprits in this case are Arya’s tenure in Braavos and Jamie Lannister and Bronn travelling To Dorne at the behest of Cersei to secure the return of Myrcella. I’d looked forward to seeing Jaqen H'ghar again, but as it turns out Tom Wiaschiha is delivered a far juicier role in Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The Faceless Men plotline is all atmosphere and no substance; Jaqen intrigued as a mysterious, charismatic assassin in Season Two, but as the authoritarian Obi Wan he becomes a bit of a bore.


Arya spends most of the season scrubbing floors and moaning, before being cruelly/justly punished for her appetite for vengeance. But where would a season of Game of Thrones be without the Starks undergoing the nasty? This one particularly so. The slaying of Ser Meryn in the final episode is the first time the season truly engages with the Braavos plotline, and even this is required to remind us that Meryn is a really bad guy who really deserves his fate by making him a sadistic paedophile (I admit, I’d forgotten who he was, so maybe the OTT characterisation was warranted).


On paper Jamie and Bronn ought to have been a good double act. They don’t so much fizzle as fail to spark off each other. The Sand Snakes underwhelm (although I quite enjoyed the repartee between Bronn and Rosabell Laurenti Sellers’ Tyene), and Indiria Varma’s Ellaria seems to be there to hold a vindictive mirror to Cersei. The plotline isn’t quite a snooze, but it devotes a lot of time in aid of a character we have no investment in (Nell Tiger Free’s Myrcella).


On the plus side, the introduction of Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow proved to be the real highlight of the season. I was sceptical at first (I’ve got no further reading the books than midway through the second, and I haven’t investigated the various fates of characters other than as hints in reviews of the season), since it seemed to echo the kind of weak plotlines seen in SF shows that introduce religious sects with a whole lot of waffle. But that gradual way the High Sparrow, seemingly effortlessly, imposed himself on King’s Landing proved a rollercoaster of twists and turns.


First allying himself, tentatively, with Cersei and disposing of Margaery Tyrell in a dungeon, he then turns on the Queen Mother with consummate skill (his only failing is not detaining her in the dungeons permanently). We have seen Cersei build herself to new levels of Machiavellian cunning, bending her foolish and ineffectual son Tommen round her finger. Most remarkably, sympathies don’t exactly shift to Cersei following her confinement and body double-assisted walk of shame, but we’re certainly eager to see quite how she exacts her vengeance.


To be honest, I’m as interested in watching Diana Rigg’s Olenna Tyrell strike back at Cersei. You do not want to fuck with Olenna. Also in King’s Landing, much as I’ve enjoyed Anton Lesser as Baron von Qyburn-stein, the hotchpotch concoction of the Mountain feels like the kind of thing that works better on the page.


The plotline leading to the marriage of Sansa to Roose Bolton, and her subsequent rape, has been by far the most controversial of the season. I certainly get the outcry; after season after season of Sansa being a doormat, she found some mettle during Season Four, so to subjugate her and violate her in this way is particularly bloody-minded (especially so since the producers effectively go this route out of convenience, substituting her for a character in the books who marries Roose).


And we know very well Roose Bolton is the most loathsome of loathsome horrors in all of George R R Martin’s lands, so there’s nothing to prove there (there was a sense of “enough already” with Roose by midway through the last season; his hideousness needs to play out on a larger interactive canvas if he’s to be sustained, as he’s entirely one-dimensional).  I also can’t argue with the complaints about seeing Sansa’s rape through Theon’s eyes. At the same time, it feels like the long play needs to be understood before concluding Benioff and Weiss’ choice was wholly unwarranted. And this is a series whose lifeblood is abject cruelty, rape and murder; suggesting something might be too much is tantamount to an incitement for it to go one step further.


We pretty much get that in Episode Nine (The Dance of Dragons) when Stannis sacrifices his daughter Shireen to gain the upper hand against Winterfell. It’s another decision that has not appeared in the books (as is Stannis’ demise), but one that seems inevitable in terms of Stannis’ deal with the devil to get what he so desires.


The crumbling of Melisandre’s powers is particularly interesting when considered in context of the power of religion and faith emphasised this season. With the Faceless Men, the Sparrows and Melisandre's magic, and two of them (inadvertently or not) bringing down invested power structures. Given Melisandre’s magic is clearly seen to work in previous seasons, one presumes pushing Stannis to kill his own daughter angered the gods.


After all that, Brienne rocking up following the battle and executing Stannis is a bit of anti-climax. Brienne’s one character who has had little (interesting or worthwhile) to do in the season, and it undermines her somewhat that she could have been off saving Sansa rather than exacting vengeance.


And then there’s the demise of Jon Snow, who no one seems to believe is actually dead (it does seem like an odd one, even given the show’s penchant for sudden bloodshed, to excise his character so definitely after seeming to have told only half his story). Whether Melisandre is to bring him back to life, or he’s a Targaryen, or Skinchanger, or a White Walker, the writers’ “He wont be back in Season Six” at least gives Jon Snow fans reason to hope it doesn’t exclude him from Seven (then there’s the theory that having him rise from the dead is the main reason Lady Stoneheart wasn’t featured in the show; it could only be a surprise to resurrect an expired character the once).


Perhaps the season’s greatest achievement is to finally make the Daenerys plotline engaging.  It only took the arrival of Tryion to do that, but suddenly a really boring place with reallyboring characters has Tryion and Varys to liven things up. I quite enjoyed Jorah going all Maximus in the arena too, complete with Spartacus spear throw (X-Filesvet David Nutter did a fantastic job on the last two episodes, while Miguel Sapochnik’s battle in Episode Eight equalled if not surpassed last season’s wall scrap). Although, the bickering between him and Tyrion is a reminder that he can be a noble annoyance (I half expected Jorah to buy it, what with his greyscale, but it looks like he’s set to suffer on for a bit).


It seems bloody typical then, that no sooner have Benioff and Weiss pulled a trump card than they allowe Daenerys to be whisked off to Dothraki land for no doubt more scintillating developments in Season Six. Yawn…


I have to admit, I instantly assumed Sansa and Theon snuffed it when they leaped from the walls. Most seem to think they’ll be back, so I’m sure they’ll return nursing broken legs and crushed spines. I was disappointed to see the exit of some fine actors in this run; Ciaran Hinds and Peter Vaughn in particular. 


For Season Six, I look forward to seeing the vengeance Margaery and Olenna, can cook up, Sansa dealing with Littlefinger, the return of Theon’s sister, Brienne given something juicy to do. And, if Jon’s not about to resuscitate quite yet, what will Melisandre and Davos do at the Wall? I can’t believe the latter will be very pleased with the former when he finds out about Shireen’s fiery fate. And will Sam rise as a towering intellect with the key to defeating the White Walkers (I particularly loved the Walker’s “Oh, shit!” moment when Jon’s Valyrian blade doesn’t break)?


The theory that Jon and Tyrion will be revealed as dragon riders to accompany Daenerys feels like the wish fulfilment of those with favourite characters (like those who wanted Han Solo revealed as “the other” post Empire Strikes Back) rather than anything plausible, but I guess we’ll see.


I said the series unpredictability has become predictable, but it’s pretty clear a few characters will stay the course until the end; Tyrion could be killed off, but it would be like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs. Cersei and Daenerys will also hang around, and I’d hazard that Arya, blind or otherwise, will continue. Anyone else seems like fair game. But with Season Six sailing in mostly uncharted territory from the novels (unless they go back to previously untapped veins) it will be interesting to see if Beinof and Weiss are left trying to hold things together or are able to strike forward as confidently as their work in the last three or four episodes of this season suggests.


Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Nanobots aren’t just for Christmas.

No Time to Die (2021) (SPOILERS) You know a Bond movie is in trouble when it resorts to wholesale appropriation of lines and even the theme song from another in order to “boost” its emotional heft. That No Time to Die – which previewed its own title song a year and a half before its release to resoundingly underwhelmed response, Grammys aside – goes there is a damning indictment of its ability to eke out such audience investment in Daniel Craig’s final outing as James (less so as 007). As with Spectre , the first half of No Time to Die is, on the whole, more than decent Bond fare, before it once again gets bogged down in the quest for substance and depth from a character who, regardless of how dapper his gear is, resolutely resists such outfitting.

Maybe the dingo ate your baby.

Seinfeld 2.9: The Stranded The Premise George and Elaine are stranded at a party in Long Island, with a disgruntled hostess.

Big things have small beginnings.

Prometheus (2012) Post- Gladiator , Ridley Scott opted for an “All work and no pondering” approach to film making. The result has been the completion of as many movies since the turn of the Millennium as he directed in the previous twenty years. Now well into his seventies, he has experienced the most sustained period of success of his career.  For me, it’s also been easily the least-interesting period. All of them entirely competently made, but all displaying the machine-tooled approach that was previously more associated with his brother.

I’m giving you a choice. Either put on these glasses or start eating that trash can.

They Live * (1988) (SPOILERS) Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of They Live – I was a big fan of most things Carpenter at the time of its release – but the manner in which its reputation as a prophecy of (or insight into) “the way things are” has grown is a touch out of proportion with the picture’s relatively modest merits. Indeed, its feting rests almost entirely on the admittedly bravura sequence in which WWF-star-turned-movie-actor Roddy Piper, under the influence of a pair of sunglasses, first witnesses the pervasive influence of aliens among us who are sucking mankind dry. That, and the ludicrously genius sequence in which Roddy, full of transformative fervour, attempts to convince Keith David to don said sunglasses, for his own good. They Live should definitely be viewed by all, for their own good, but it’s only fair to point out that it doesn’t have the consistency of John Carpenter at his very, very best. Nada : I have come here to chew bubblegum and kick a

Ladies and gentlemen, this could be a cultural misunderstanding.

Mars Attacks! (1996) (SPOILERS) Ak. Akk-akk! Tim Burton’s gleefully ghoulish sci-fi was his first real taste of failure. Sure, there was Ed Wood , but that was cheap, critics loved it, and it won Oscars. Mars Attacks! was BIG, though, expected to do boffo business, and like more than a few other idiosyncratic spectaculars of the 1990s ( Last Action Hero , Hudson Hawk ) it bombed BIG. The effect on Burton was noticeable. He retreated into bankable propositions (the creative and critical nadir perhaps being Planet of the Apes , although I’d rate it much higher than the likes of Alice in Wonderland and Dumbo ) and put the brakes on his undisciplined goth energy. Something was lost. Mars Attacks! is far from entirely successful, but it finds the director let loose with his own playset and sensibility intact, apparently given the licence to do what he will.

He tasks me. He tasks me, and I shall have him.

Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982) (SPOILERS) I don’t love Star Trek , but I do love Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan . That probably isn’t just me, but a common refrain of many a non-devotee of the series. Although, it used to apply to The Voyage Home (the funny one, with the whales, the Star Trek even the target audience for Three Men and a Baby could enjoy). Unfortunately, its high regard has also become the desperate, self-destructive, song-and-verse, be-all-and-end-all of the overlords of the franchise itself, in whichever iteration, it seems. This is understandable to an extent, as Khan is that rare movie sequel made to transcendent effect on almost every level, and one that stands the test of time every bit as well (better, even) as when it was first unveiled.

Isn’t sugar better than vinegar?

Femme Fatale (2002) (SPOILERS) Some have attempted to rescue Femme Fatale from the dumpster of critical rejection and audience indifference with the claim that it’s De Palma’s last great movie. It isn’t that by a long shot, but it might rank as the last truly unfettered display of his obsessions and sensibilities, complete with a ludicrous twist – so ludicrous, it’s either a stroke of genius or mile-long pile up.

Beer is for breakfast around here. Drink or begone.

Cocktail (1988) (SPOILERS) When Tarantino claims the 1980s (and 1950s) as the worst movie decade, I’m inclined to invite him to shut his butt down. But should he then flourish Cocktail as Exhibit A, I’d be forced to admit he has a point. Cocktail is a horrifying, malignant piece of dreck, a testament to the efficacy of persuasive star power on a blithely rapt and undiscerning audience. Not only is it morally vacuous, it’s dramatically inert. And it relies on Tom’s toothy charms to a degree that would have any sensitive soul rushed to the A&E suffering from toxic shock (Tom’s most recently displayed toothy charms will likely have even his staunchest devotees less than sure of themselves, however, as he metamorphoses into your favourite grandma). And it was a huge box office hit.

It's something trying to get out.

The Owl Service (1969-70) I may have caught a glimpse of Channel 4’s repeat of  The Owl Service  in 1987, but not enough to stick in the mind. My formative experience was Alan Garner’s novel, which was read several years earlier during English lessons. Garner’s tapestry of magical-mythical storytelling had an impact, with its possession theme and blending of legend with the here and now. Garner depicts a Britain where past and present are mutable, and where there is no safety net of objective reality; life becomes a strange waking dream. His fantasy landscapes are both attractive and disturbing; the uncanny reaching out from the corners of the attic.  But I have to admit that the themes of class and discrimination went virtually unnoticed in the wake of such high weirdness. The other Garner books I read saw young protagonists transported to fantasy realms. The resonance of  The Owl Service  came from the fragmenting of the rural normal. When the author notes that he neve

These are not soda cans you asked me to get for you.

The Devil’s Own (1997) (SPOILERS) Naturally, a Hollywood movie taking the Troubles as a backdrop is sure to encounter difficulties. It’s the push-pull of wanting to make a big meaningful statement about something weighty, sobering and significant in the real world and bottling it when it comes to the messy intricacies of the same. So inevitably, the results invariably tend to the facile and trite. I’m entirely sure The Devil’s Own would have floundered even if Harrison Ford hadn’t come on board and demanded rewrites, but as it is, the finished movie packs a lot of talent to largely redundant end.