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

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

Poor Easy Breezy.

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood (2019)
(SPOILERS) My initial reaction to Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood was mild disbelief that Tarantino managed to hoodwink studios into coming begging to make it, so wilfully perverse is it in disregarding any standard expectations of narrative or plotting. Then I remembered that studios, or studios that aren’t Disney, are desperate for product, and more especially, product that might guarantee them a hit. Quentin’s latest appears to be that, but whether it’s a sufficient one to justify the expense of his absurd vanity project remains to be seen.

They literally call themselves “Decepticons”. That doesn’t set off any red flags?

Bumblebee  (2018)
(SPOILERS) Bumblebee is by some distance the best Transformers movie, simply by dint of having a smattering of heart (one might argue the first Shia LaBeouf one also does, and it’s certainly significantly better than the others, but it’s still a soulless Michael Bay “machine”). Laika VP and director Travis Knight brings personality to a series that has traditionally consisted of shamelessly selling product, by way of a nostalgia piece that nods to the likes of Herbie (the original), The Iron Giant and even Robocop.

So you want me to be half-monk, half-hitman.

Casino Royale (2006)
(SPOILERS) Despite the doubts and trepidation from devotees (too blonde, uncouth etc.) that greeted Daniel Craig’s casting as Bond, and the highly cynical and low-inspiration route taken by Eon in looking to Jason Bourne's example to reboot a series that had reached a nadir with Die Another Day, Casino Royale ends up getting an enormous amount right. If anything, its failure is that it doesn’t push far enough, so successful is it in disarming itself of the overblown set pieces and perfunctory plotting that characterise the series (even at its best), elements that would resurge with unabated gusto in subsequent Craig excursions.

For the majority of its first two hours, Casino Royale is top-flight entertainment, with returning director Martin Campbell managing to exceed his excellent work reformatting Bond for the ‘90s. That the weakest sequence (still good, mind) prior to the finale is a traditional “big” (but not too big) action set piece involving an attempt to…

Welcome to the future. Life is good. But it can be better.

20 to See in 2020
Not all of these movies may find a release date in 2020, given Hollywood’s propensity for shunting around in the schedules along with the vagaries of post-production. Of my 21 to See in 2019, there’s still Fonzo, Benedetta, You Should Have Left, Boss Level and the scared-from-its-alloted-date The Hunt yet to see the light of day. I’ve re-included The French Dispatch here, however. I've yet to see Serenity and The Dead Don’t Die. Of the rest, none were wholly rewarding. Netflix gave us some disappointments, both low profile (Velvet Buzzsaw, In the Shadow of the Moon) and high (The Irishman), and a number of blockbusters underwhelmed to a greater or lesser extent (Captain Marvel, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Terminator: Dark Fate, Gemini Man, Star Wars: The Rise of the Skywalker). Others (Knives Out, Once Upon a Time in… Hollywood, John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum) were interesting but flawed. Even the more potentially out there (Joker, Us, Glass, Rocketman) couldn…

It’s like an angry white man’s basement in here.

Bad Boys for Life (2020)
(SPOILERS) The reviews for Bad Boys for Life have, perhaps surprisingly, skewed positive, given that it seemed exactly the kind of beleaguered sequel to get slaughtered by critics. Particularly so since, while it’s a pleasure to see Will Smith and Martin Lawrence back together as Mike and Marcus, the attempts to validate this third outing as a more mature, reflective take on their buddy cops is somewhat overstated. Indeed, those moments of reflection or taking stock arguably tend to make the movie as a whole that much glibber, swiftly succeeded as they are by lashings of gleeful ultra-violence or humorous shtick. Under Michael Bay, who didn’t know the definition of a lull, these pictures scorned any opportunity to pause long enough to assess the damage, and were healthier, so to speak, for that. Without him, Bad Boys for Life’s beats often skew closer to standard 90s action fare.

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

They seem to be attracted to your increasing nudeness.

Pokémon Detective Pikachu (2019)
(SPOILERS) I was put in mind of Shazam! watching Pokémon Detective Pikachu, another 2019 tentpole that somewhat underperformed based on expectations. Not particularly due to any plot resemblance, but because both movies fall apart under the weight of an overblown and underwhelming finale. In the case of Shazam! that may be more damaging to its prospective sequels (if they keep the team of super-adult kids), whereas Detective Pikachu will simply have to struggle with a whole heap of unnecessary expositional baggage attempting to imbue the proceedings with emotional resonance.

This is one act in a vast cosmic drama. That’s all.

Audrey Rose (1977)
(SPOILERS) Robert Wise was no stranger to high-minded horror fare when he came to Audrey Rose. He was no stranger to adding a distinctly classy flavour to any genre he tackled, in fact, particularly in the tricky terrain of the musical (West Side Story, The Sound of Music) and science fiction (The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Andromeda Strain). He hadn’t had much luck since the latter, however, with neither Two People nor The Hindenburg garnering good notices or box office. In addition to which, Audrey Rose saw him returning to a genre that had been fundamentally impacted by The Exorcist four years before. One might have expected the realist principals he observed with The Andromeda Strain to be applied to this tale of reincarnation, and to an extent they are, certainly in terms of the performances of the adults, but Wise can never quite get past a hacky screenplay that wants to impart all the educational content of a serious study of continued existence in tandem w…