Game of Thrones: Fifth Inning

I actually really liked the fifth season. I was aware of some of the same old problems – the characters are dispersed across too many separate plot lines; the women never talk to each other; Essos feels weird – but I was interested in what was going on, and there were some things I really liked.

Sansa is the thing I really liked

Sohpie Turner has grown a lot as an actress since she was fifteen, and the writers have found interesting ways of developing her character over the seasons. In the fifth season, there’s this great moment where Sansa walks back into her home, Winterfell, after it’s been burned down and looted and taken over by the most evil family in the show – the Boltons. They were the ones who betrayed Sansa’s brother, and she’s just been told that she has to marry one of them as part of a long game to secure her hold on the North. When she walks in, you can see this look of total horror and revulsion pass across her face, and she holds it for just the right amount of time before it snaps away and she puts on falsely-cheerful face.

It’s good acting, but the character has also grown and changed in satisfying ways – season five is all about showing us how strong and resilient she is, even when it seems she has no power. You can see that she’s very different than she was in season one, but you can also see a strong connection to how her experiences have shaped her slowly, over time. This is a big pay off for people who’ve invested in watching this show for five years, and I appreciate it.

Game of faces is another thing I liked

Arya’s story line got interesting this season, and I know it was too weird for some people, but I liked watching her train to be a super l33t assassin, and I liked the unexpected twist that, in order to become one of the faceless men, she has to give up personal identity, including her quest for vengeance (which is why she wants to join them in the first place). There’s something mythic and poetic in the idea that you have to give up your self-serving reasons for seeking great power – that you can only ascend to this plane if you become part of the greater whole and leave yourself behind.

Also, I just really like that they call it “game of faces” and hit you with a stick until you learn how to lie.

Also Cersei and her stupid ouroboros quest to prevent her own fate by causing it

One of the biggest story arcs this season belonged to Cersei – we start with a flashback to the day a witch in the swamp told her her future, and we watch her scramble to hold onto political power, believing that that will help her save herself from doom. We end the season watching her stumble through the street while the religious fanatics she armed follow behind her yelling “Shame!” It’s an interesting journey to get there, and it makes sense the whole time, but we can also see the mistakes she’s making before she can. From a psychological perspective, this is probably the most interesting treatment of The Quest for Power that we’ve seen on the show so far, and I totally loved it.

You’ll notice that my top three likes are all about female characters and that’s because…

Game of Thrones held steady at being somewhat okay about women

They still don’t really talk to each other, and Brienne spent the whole season staring out a window, and some of them showed their boobs for no reason, but Game of Thrones at least offered us a lot of really interesting individual stories about women. There’s still room for improvement, and I still have to grade on a curve based on everything else that’s on TV, but this was mostly not offensive to me, so yay!

Where do I fall on the controversial episode, “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken,” where one of the women is raped by a dude we all hate and despise? I understand why people are upset and I respect their right to be – this didn’t personally bother me as much as other rapes on the show, because I felt like it was taken seriously.

What bothered me most about women this season was Dorne

We were promised three new female characters – the Sand Snakes – who were going to be totally bad-ass, and out to avenge their father, my awesome, dead TV boyfriend Oberyn Martell. RIP Oberyn Martell.

What we got were three women that a) rarely spoke to each other, b) we never got to know that well – I don’t even know their names! and c) were super lame and not awesome or interesting at all. They must take after their mother, because she was super lame and boring this season, too.

Holy wasted opportunity, Game of Thrones. Game of Usually-Kind-of-Weird-About-Women. It was enough that I seriously started to wonder what the problem was – like, why is it so hard to write a conversation where both of the people speaking are female? Why does it have to be about their periods, or the men in their lives, or literally nothing but silence and slapping somebody’s hand? There’s good dialogue on this show. Why does it die when there are only women on screen? And why does that one woman take off her shirt? Why are we even in Dorne at all, if that’s all they were going to do?

Oh my God.

And, in Essos, what happened to Hizdahr zo Loraq was a terrible story also

Hizdahr zo Loraq is a minor character who I’m given to understand is evil in the books – but he’s totally not evil at all in the show. He’s this hapless guy who lives in Meereen, the slave city Daenerys controversially freed at the end of season three. The first time we met him, in season four, he was explaining to her that his father, whom she murdered without trial, also believed that slavery was wrong but that he wasn’t powerful enough to end the practice on his own. He begged her to stop desecrating his father’s body by hanging it on a post and let him have a proper funeral.

This season, Hizdahr zo Loraq is one of Daenerys’ advisors, except she never listens to him, and then, when terrorists start cutting down her soldiers, she throws Hizdahr in prison because she suspects he’s one of them. Then she murders a completely random person in front of him, just to make a point (the point “I will fucking murder you, just like this random guy”). Then she forces him to marry her so that she can give the people the false impression that she totally understands their culture and respects their traditions – this is extra needle-y, I bet, because the whole thing he’s been trying to do is get her to understand his culture and traditions for real, and she’s made it clear she doesn’t care to, because she thinks they’re all barbarians. Then she and her boyfriend make fun of him while he’s sitting right there. Then he gets stabbed to death by terrorists and no one really cares.

It’s still not clear to me whether the show wants us to see Daenerys as a villain. She’s not as bad as some of the rulers we’ve seen, but she’s not all that good, either. If you’re Hizdahr zo Loraq – RIP Hizdahr zo Loraq – she’s basically the worst. Unfortunately, because she’s been the only person with a personality in Essos for so long, she’s still the only one we’ve really got to cheer for or empathize with, so I’m confused.

Which, by the way…

The only people with personalities in Essos are still people who originally came from Westeros

I’m not going to prove this each season – I just note that it’s still true. For a minute, it looked like Grey Worm and Missandei might get bigger parts, but then Tyrion showed up drunk and Jorah gave himself a disease, so it was over for Grey Worm and Missandei. Be more dysfunctional, guys – then you’ll get more screen time.

Other things I want to comment on

  • Kit Harrington confirmed in an interview that, as far as he knows, Jon Snow is really dead. Spoilers for the death of Jon Snow. He died as he lived – ignorant of his true parentage, alone, and in the cold.
    • Also LOL @ the part where he explained that Olly, the farm boy who murders him, was his steward just as he, Jon Snow, was steward to Jeor Mormont. I am terrible at remembering what happened on this show, but even I know Jon was a steward for about five minutes before he instead took on the duties of a ranger. “I was a steward” indeed.
      • Also, when the Night’s Watch makes Jon their leader, they specifically cite the stuff he did as a ranger. They don’t wax rhapsodic about what a great steward he was, and I have a hard time believing that a steward would ascend to that position.
        • So, basically, Olly was a steward in the exact opposite way that Jon was a steward, except for the part where he sucked at it.


But seriously, you guys, Jon Snow was like, “Hey, Olly, I made friends with the guy who ate your family because that’s the right thing to do!” and then he was like 🙁 when Olly wouldn’t smile at him.

Also, he lost all the dragon glass when he went to that place with the zombies. And then he was like, “Everyone got turned into a zombie. I’m a failure. :(“ and Sam was like, “No. You didn’t fail… that person. That person’s not a zombie.” And Jon was still like :(. And Sam was like, “My girlfriend and I don’t want to live here anymore.”

I’m gonna miss that mopey loser. RIP Jon Snow.

Image: Game of Thrones; HBO| June 19, 2015