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Game of Thrones Full Season 5 Review: The Dilemma

Game of Thrones fifth season was the most difficult for the series, with both the adapting of the script and the actual events that happened to the characters on the show. A show built on the gut wrenching plot twist entered this past season with source material that provided very few of the moments that helped the show build its audience over the years (well at least until those final episodes). I mean, sure, Dany flying on Drogon, Cersei’s walk of shame, and the stabbing of Jon Snow are very important moments. But compare that to season four, where these type of “what the hell just happened?” moments weren’t all saved for the final two episodes, but were spread out amongst the entire season.

So how does a show built on “shocking” continue to shock in its later seasons when the source material either saves all its shocking for the final chapters or for the books that have yet to be published? Very controversially, that’s how. The two most shocking moments this season (well, up until that finale!!!!) were the raping of Sansa and the burning of Shireen. Neither event happens in the books (well at least not yet with the latter), so book readers get angry, and show viewers get upset because these “went too far!!!!”

This is the dilemma Game of Thrones must wrestle with for the remainder of its run. A show built on shock can’t shock us anymore at this point without disturbing and offending us. And with there being little to no source material to work from (unless Martin gets his next book released before season six, and even then, shooting will start well before a potential release date), the producers have to create their own shocking moments or spoil moments that will be coming in future books. And that’s not to say the moments should only exist to shock us. It’s just that the world of Game of Thrones is a harsh, brutal world. And it can’t just be harsh and brutal to those we don’t like. It has to be to everyone.  So either present shocking moments to maintain that brutally that we are appalled by, or don’t present them, and we get bored.

And many viewers were bored with season 5, that is until episode 8. Until Hardhome, when Tryion and Dany had their first conversations and when the Whitewalker army made it’s strongest case for being the most significant threat to Westeros, Earth shattering plot twists were largely absent. That is, until those final three episodes. Then they came without ceasing!!!

And those moments were rewarding because the show invested time into every part of the story to get to those moments (with the exception of the horrible disaster that was Dorne). In that way, I thought season five was a much better season than last season. Most viewers look back at season four and remember all the epic moments. But in between these moments were characters sitting around wasting time while other parts of the story caught up. So while Joffrey was poisoned, the men at the Wall sat and talked about the impending Wildling threat (emphasis on “talked about”). Tyrion gives a great speech while Dany sits in a pyramid and compensates farmers for burned sheep. And episode nine’s epic Wall battle is up there with the best episodes the show has ever produced. But the whole story line suffered because the momentum of the Wildling attack was put on pause for almost all of the fourth season.

Compare that to this season, where, yes, I was ready for Tyrion to get out of his mopy drunken stupor and be the bad ass he was before. But when a man kills his father, former lover, and heads across the ocean to a land they are completely unfamiliar with, he tends not to be in the best of spirits. The man had to be rebuilt. Things changed drastically after season four for everyone, making some reshuffling necessary. And while not all of it was the most enthralling television, it all set up the great moments of the final three episodes in a way that season four’s epic moments were lacking.

And the show could have not have kept everybody moving the way they did if they stuck strictly to the source material. Though book purists have insisted that Martin’s fourth and fifth books would do just fine as is on the show, the way Martin takes his story and expands it with multiple new characters and locations meant streamlining was a must for the Television version.

And I don’t anticipate these dilemmas to get any easier to deal with for show creators and viewers alike. Decisions by the producers of whether to stick with (as of right now, unwritten) source material or plot their own course will be accompanied with significant amounts of scrutiny. And the decision to try and top what’s come before with more shocking moments will be criticized either because “they just don’t punch you in the gut like they used to” or “they’ve just gone too far this time.”

But overall (with the overwhelming exception of the disaster that was Dorne), I tip my cap to season five of Game of Thrones for not trying to appease these dilemmas by going straight from the text or making it easier to watch with less brutality. But instead, they tackle these dilemmas head on, not apologizing for the brutal world they’ve sucked us into and encouraging us to react with equal levels of adoration and scorn at it.

This is the second of a five part series putting a cap on the season five. Thursday will be this season’s obituaries.

Yesterday: Season Finale Recap:

Today: Full Season Review

Thursday: Season 5 Obituaries

Friday: Six Things For Season Six/An early look at next season

Monday: Comparing Game of Thrones to the Greats

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Jeff Merrick

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