Hello fellow Throne Geeks! It’s been a blast recapping seasons one, two, three, and four of Game of Thrones for you! We are the Watchers on the Wall and, with the season six premiere airing tomorrow night, it’s finally time to talk about the most controversial season to date: season five.
There’s nothing quite like re-watching a show and praying for a different outcome, is there? We know what’s going to happen and we know we can’t prevent it, but there’s always a part of me that secretly wishes Ned Stark would choose not to trust Littlefinger, or that Rob kept his word to marry a Frey daughter. What if Oberyn had just killed The Mountain rather than toy with him in order to get a confession? How different would things be if Dany decided not to stay in Mereen and just make for Westeros already!?
And then there’s Jon Snow…why did you have to be so tone deaf to your fellow members of the Nights Watch, Jon? His journey has been one of the most dramatic in the series. He learned to lead and make questionable compromises (something Ned Stark could never do), yet still maintained his integrity. In many ways Jon was a revolutionary, but in the end, he pushed too hard and too fast trying to convince his men to put aside thousands of years of enmity toward the wildlings. As viewers, we often shake our fists at these characters, willing them to stop their petty squabbles and pay attention to what’s coming from the north, but, alas, they are all too human and short sighted. And so…Jon Snow is dead…but let’s recap season 5 and see how we get there.
As always, let’s first check in with the new locations and characters we meet this season:
- Dorne: Prince Doran Martell, Area Hotah, The Sand Snakes (Obara, Tyene, and Nymeria), Trystane Martell, Myrcella Baratheon *played by a new actress
- Hardhome: Karsi, The Lord of Bones (briefly seen in season two), Wun-wun
- Winterfell: Myranda (briefly seen in season three)
- Southwest Essos: The Stonemen, Malko, Yezzan
- Mereen: Mossador
- Braavos: The Waif
- King’s Landing: The High Sparrow, Lancel Lannister (last seen in season two), Olyvar (briefly seen in seasons three and four), Septa Unella, a re-animated Gregor Clegane (The Mountain)
The creators behind the series, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, once again introduced a couple of awesome new characters, The High Sparrow and Karsi the wildling, but this season also landed them their first serious misfire: The Sand Snakes. In theory (and in the books) these characters are a great addition: the bastard daughters of Oberyn Martell who want vengeance for his death. But in execution…they come across as extremely one note and, just…bad.
Ultimately, season five is, to put it simply, uneven. If it felt like a couple of storylines in season four dragged a bit, it gets worse during these ten episodes. Not that most of the scenes don’t add up to at least somewhat intriguing events…it’s more a feeling that the story is past due to start coming together…not continue to expand in new directions. With so many plotlines to follow, none of them move ahead very far (or fast) and the result is a slight (and sometimes not so slight) sense of frustration.
Now, this isn’t necessarily the fault of Benioff and Weiss (at least not completely), book readers have felt this way ever since the fourth and fifth novels were released. And it’s not to say that many of the new characters, plotlines, and ideas aren’t good, even great. In fact, season five markedly improves upon a re-watch (I felt the same way re-reading the last two books). If nothing else, it’s clear that every move on the chessboard is painstakingly made and will, eventually, lead to something pretty spectacular. It’s just hard not to wish that the moves were made a little bit faster (and, no, I wasn’t at all a fan of how they handled the Sansa Stark storyline, but that’s all I’ll say about that…).
So let’s take a look back at the most recent season of Game of Thrones!
There is civil unrest in Kings Landing (thanks to the war and the deaths of such prominent figures as Jon Arryn, King Robert, Ned Stark, King Joffrey, and Tywin Lannister). Young King Tommen marries Margaery Tyrell (no deaths at this wedding), who then tries to undermine Cersei’s influence over her son. Cersei fights back by joining forces with a new religious leader called the High Sparrow. His followers, including Cersei’s cousin and former lover, Lancel Lannister, are turned into a militant order that cracks down on the sinners in the city. These include thieves, drunks, prostitutes and…homosexuals. This allows the sparrows to arrest Queen Margaery’s brother, Ser Loras (part of Cersei’s plan, of course). Much to Margaery’s dismay, Tommen is too timid to do anything about it, and then she, herself, is caught in Cersei’s trap and imprisoned as well (for lying about her brother).
Cersei’s other worry is for her daughter, Myrcella, who is in Dorne and engaged to it’s prince, Trystane (the nephew of Oberyn Martell…last seen dying at the hands of The Mountain). Oberyn’s paramour, Ellaria, seeks revenge for her lover’s death and recruits his daughters, collectively known as the Sand Snakes (Obara, Tyene, and Nymeria) to her cause. Their plan is to kill Myrcella and spark a war with The Lannisters. Oberyn’s brother and leader of Dorne, Doran Martell, refuses to help Ellaria, however, since Myrcella is innocent of her family’s crimes (plus he knows she and Trystane are in love). Ellaria decides to go behind Doran’s back, but finds herself in a race against none other than Jaime Lannister, who has traveled to Dorne to rescue his niece (actually: daughter).
Ultimately, neither Jaime (with his sidekick Bronn) nor the Sand Snakes have a very good plan for kidnapping/rescuing Myrcella, and are all stopped by Areo Hotah and the rest of Doran’s guards. Everyone then sits in prison for awhile…before Doran agrees to let Jaime head back to Kings Landing with Myrcella AND Trystane (who will be given a seat on the small council). Bronn is released as well (after being tantalized by a topless Sand Snake in the dungeons…and then punched in the face…), but before they leave, a supposedly repentant Ellaria kisses Myrcella on the lips as a goodbye. As their ship departs, Myrcella and Jaime share a touching moment where she acknowledges him as her father…and then she dies from the poison Ellaria had on her lips (Ellaria takes an antidote back on the docks). Cersei is not going to be happy.
Off in another far corner of the world is Arya, who seeks to become a faceless man at The House of Black and White in Braavos. Though the temple is damn cool, it’s pretty slow going for our darkly impatient wolfgirl. Both Jaqen H’ghar and a young woman simply known as The Waif try to teach Arya that she has to learn to be “no-one” before she can officially train with them, but Arya is stubborn (no kidding). She eventually learns that the temple is a place where people go to die and that their faces are then preserved and literally used as masks (there seems to be something mystical going on with the faceless men as well).
Though she throws away most of her possessions, Arya merely hides her sword, Needle, and is distracted from her training when she sees a familiar face in the city: Meryn Trant, the Kingsguard who killed her sword master Syrio Forel in season one. She steals a mask and kills Meryn in a scene even more gruesome than the deaths at The Red Wedding or at Tyrion’s trial (so, that’s saying something!). Jaqen punishes Arya for misusing a mask and betraying his trust by blinding her.
Also in Essos are Tyrion and Varys (having fled there after Tyrion escaped his cell and murdered his father), who are traveling to Mereen to meet up with Dany (because she desperately needs help). On the road, however, they stop in Volantis, where Tyrion is kidnapped by Jorah Mormont (who was banished from Mereen for betraying Dany last season). Jorah believes that, if he brings Tyrion to Dany as a gift (since he’s a Lannister – one of the families that overthrew Dany’s father, the Mad King Aerys), Dany might forgive him.
And so begins the Jorah and Tyrion Hour, where they sail a ship through the ruins of Valyria (yay!), get attacked by Stonemen (who infect Jorah with the deadly disease, greyscale), debate the abilities of Dany as a ruler, are kidnapped by pirates, sold as slaves for the fighting pits, and eventually meet up with Dany. Now that was a journey worth watching!
Meanwhile, Mereen is under siege by an underground terrorist group known as The Sons of the Harpy. They manage to kill Barristan Selmy, who was Dany’s one link to her family (he told her stories of her brother Rhaegar) and wound Grey Worm, the leader of Dany’s Unsullied warriors. After making a few hasty decisions that leave her unpopular with just about everyone in the city, Dany agrees to reopen the fighting pits (for free men, not slaves) and marry a local nobleman named Hizdhar to try and compromise with the locals. She also cautiously accepts Tyrion as an advisor (though on his advice, she re-banishes Jorah) but the Harpies attack her group at the city’s giant arena. Jorah, who was fighting in the pit, saves Dany, but Hizdhar is stabbed several times. Then, just as Dany, Missandei, Tyrion, Jorah, and Daario are surrounded by Harpies, Drogon (Dany’s black dragon), comes to his “mother’s” rescue. After roasting many of the masked assassins, Drogon flies away with Dany on his back. While this is a very welcome development, it doesn’t last long as Dany can’t exercise enough control over Drogon to get him to fly her back to Mereen. Instead, she finds herself in the middle of the Dothraki Sea surrounded by a khalasar (like the one she traveled with in season one with Drogo). Back in Mereen, Tyrion agrees to watch over the city (with the unexpected help of Varys, who finally arrives) while Daario and Jorah try to find Dany.
From fire we go to ice, which means checking in up north. After defeating the wildlings at The Wall, Stannis, Davos and Melisandre burn Mance Rayder at the stake (though Jon shoots him with an arrow to end his suffering) and then turn their attention toward defeating the Boltons, who have taken up residence at Winterfell. They tempt Jon Snow to join them by offering to legitimize him as a Stark, something Jon had always dreamed of, but he turns them down because Sam has somehow managed to get him elected the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch (he also turns down a naked Melisandre…there’s only room for one redhead in Jon’s heart!). He struggles with how best to lead his brothers in black (though he doesn’t hesitate to chop off Janos Slynt’s head for disobeying his orders), until a clearly dying Maester Aemon advises him to “kill the boy” in order to do what needs to be done. So Jon does the unthinkable: he offers to ally with the wildlings, who now look to Tormund as a leader. Many of Jon’s brothers, including the young boy Olly (whose family was killed by wildlings) aren’t thrilled about this. Even so, a small group, including Tormund and Jon, heads to Hardhomme, where many of the wildlings have gathered, while Stannis leads his army toward Winterfell.
Meanwhile, Petyr Baelish and Sansa Stark are also heading for Winterfell, secretly followed by Brienne and Podrick, who were unable to convince Sansa to accept their offer of protection (she’s a full on protégé of Petyr’s now). At first disgusted by Petyr’s plan to marry her to Ramsay Bolton, Sansa agrees to it as a means to an end: Stannis is on his way and after he (hopefully) defeats The Boltons, Sansa will be able to proclaim herself Wardeness of the North. Once Petyr leaves (he’s been summoned to Kings Landing by Cersei), however, Sansa finds out the true nature of Ramsay and is subjected to being raped and beaten after their wedding ceremony. She also discovers that Theon Greyjoy is alive, but has been mutilated and broken by Ramsey.
At first refusing to help Sansa, Reek (as Theon is now known) rats her escape plan out to Ramsey, who has her serving woman flayed (not realizing that the architect of the plan is none other than Brienne, who waits in an inn across from the castle. Brienne sent a message to Sansa that if she lights a candle in the tower window, Brienne will break into the castle to rescue her…not the most well thought out plan…and one that Brienne abandons once she realizes Stannis is nearby). But Theon is more affected by Sansa than he lets on, and slowly starts coming back to himself, first by telling her that he didn’t actually kills Bran and Rickon (back in season two) and then by killing Myranda (Ramsay’s jealous lover) who threatened Sansa with a bow and arrow. He and Sansa then jump from the outer walls of Winterfell into the snow below.
Things go from bad to worse in several other storylines as well. First, Cersei’s alliance with the High Sparrow backfires as she finds herself arrested (for sleeping with Lancel and Jaime, and for murdering King Robert). She is only set free when she confesses to The High Sparrow about Lancel (she refuses to admit to adultery with her brother) and is allowed to walk back to the Red Keep (to await her trial for her other accused crimes). The catch: she must walk naked in front of the whole city, followed by Septa Unella chanting “shame”. It’s a hard scene to watch, but are things looking up for Cersei as she arrives at the castle to find her uncle Kevan there, as well as a new monster of a knight who will be her champion (Qyburn successfully re-animated The Mountain’s corpse…ew)?
Things continue to look bleak in the north as Stannis’s men and horses are dying by the hundreds due to the terrible weather (winter is here!) and guerilla attacks by Bolten’s men. At Melisandre’s urging, Stannis does a truly horrible thing to alleviate the situation: he burns his young daughter, Shireen (because she has “King’s blood” – something Melisandre considers very powerful). The act is too much for both Stannis and his wife Selyse (who kills herself the following day). Though the weather does break, Stannis appears to have grown old overnight and only half-heartedly attacks the Bolton army. He suffers a crushing defeat as Melisandre flees. Badly wounded, Stannis is then found by Brienne, who ran into the battle when Podrick recognized Stannis’ banner (remember: Brienne still holds Stannis responsible for Renly’s death). Stannis confesses his crime of fratricide and tells Brienne to do her duty. One sword slash later, we assume Stannis is dead.
North of the Wall, Jon and Tormund’s group reaches Hardhome, a wildling settlement on the coastline. Jon and Tormund manage to convince several of the leaders, including a fierce warrior and mother named Karsi, that the ships they’ve brought are meant to take them safely away. Jon wants the wildlings to settle south of The Wall and then join the Nights Watch (and whatever other armies the realms of men can muster) to fight the White Walkers, who are coming. In fact, they arrive in Hardhome before Jon can get everyone safely away.
What follows is a horrific battle between the living and a never-ending herd of ice zombies, who literally pour off the cliffs surrounding the village (they’re already dead, so they just pick themselves up and continue attacking). Their numbers overwhelm the village and kill hundreds of wildlings, including Karsi (we barely knew you, yet loved you anyway…). Jon fights alongside them and ultimately comes face to face with a white walker. Wielding the Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw (given to Jon by Jeor Mormont in season one), Jon kills the walker, much to the shock of The Night’s King, who is watching the battle from the cliff top (no one else’s sword or weapon was able to harm the walker). As Jon and the remaining survivors row away, he stares up at The Night’s King, who stares back, and then, using some immense and unknown power, brings all the dead bodies on the battlefield to life (or undead life, anyway). Jon and those with him (not to mention us viewers) finally see the full extent of what the world is ultimately up against (so will you other people just stop fighting over a damn iron chair, already?!).
Seeing is believing, however, and many of those back at Castle Black are not swayed by Jon’s warning about what he saw. They can only see that Jon is asking them to ally with their most ancient of enemies: the wildlings. Jon’s friends are few as Maester Aemon died while he was away, and Sam and Gilly have left for Oldtown (the two finally slept together, by the way…go Sam!) where Sam will learn to become a maester at The Citadel. And so, led by Alliser Thorne and Olly, the brothers of the Night’s Watch ambush Jon and stab him to death in the snow…
But he’s not really dead, right? Right?? I, for one, believe he will be brought back to life in some way (the series has set the precedent that a follower of the Lord of Light can bring someone back from the dead. Cough, Melisandre, cough…), but we will have to wait to find out!
“Hardhome,” for bringing the threat of the White Walkers front and center, giving us two incredible scenes between Dany and Tyrion, and showing Cersei at her absolute lowest (licking water off her prison cell floor). But who am I kidding, this would be the best episode no matter what other scenes were added on top of the Hardhome sequence. I get goosebumps just thinking about how eerie and incredible it was.
- “There’s no justice in the world. Not unless we make it. You loved your family, avenge them.” – Petyr Baelish to Sansa
- “Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy, and let the man be born.” – Maester Aemon
- “Go on, do your duty.” – Stannis to Brienne
- Tyrion and Jorah sail through the ruins of Valyria.
- The battle at Hardhome.
- Tyrion and Dany discuss how she will rule Westeros when she returns: by breaking the wheel.
- Cersei’s Walk of Shame (you know she’ll back for some serious revenge in season six!)
Well, my friends, we’ve reached the end of our re-watching/recapping journey through the first five seasons of one of the best television shows ever created: Game of Thrones. Though its not without its flaws, this series has thrown the rulebook out the window…and broken just about every premium cable channel record there is in the process. I simply can’t wait to see what they do next!
Be sure to tune in here every Monday morning for the next ten weeks as we recap and review each episode of season six!
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