We are in the homestretch, with less than a week until the final season of Game of Thrones begins. I remain behind, but I will finish my rewatch in time.
Season Five is probably the weakest season of Game of Thrones. It suffers mightily from having to deal with the twin problems of two books full of wheelspinning and no books beyond (I understand George R.R. Martin has been hard at work on the next book for the past eight years—given that any number of writers can churn a book out every year, surely Martin will be done any day now). I remember this as the season that furiously dispenses with those of Martin’s storylines the writers don’t care for. Some of that actually happens in season six, but there is a lot of it, and it hurts season five far more because it lacks the catharsis of season six.
The writers keep the scenes in Dorne and Braavos shorter than I remember . . . but that is part of the problem. Every scene in Dorne or Braavos drags because—no matter how much we care about Jaime or Arya—the heart of the story is elsewhere. Even Dany’s story quickly ceases to be interesting once it loses any momentum toward Westeros. Among those three and Ramsay Snow, inexplicable main character, huge amounts of time burned on ancillary matters.
My other gripe is with the Sparrows and Faith Militant. Martin’s depiction of religion is one of the little things that add tremendous verisimilitude to the books. The show, on the other hand, depicts the Sparrows and Faith Militant as entirely Cersei’s creation, which, at least, explains why no one cares when Cersei later destroys the Great Sept of Baelor. In Game of Thrones, religion is something imposed from above. The people lack any agency in their faith. This presumably reflects the views of the writers—it certainly doesn’t remotely reflect reality, or the more nuanced presentation by Martin the books.
The biggest problem is the writers furiously dispensing with those of Martin’s storylines they don’t like. It was inevitable, I suppose, though they do it with great gusto. The main ones are Hizdahr zo Loraq and his supposed connection with the Sons of the Harpy, Mance’s execution (greatly simplifying the story in Winterfell, thereby giving the writers an excuse to give Ramsay even more screentime), and Tyrion’s journey down the Rhoyne River (dropping Young Griff by implication). But the biggest and most egregious example is Stannis.
On the other hand, the sequences with the Sons of the Harpy are some of the best in the series.
The dragons get locked up, but we do get the arena scene, which is pretty great even without Strong Belwas. More importantly, we get Hardhome. There is too much shaky cam and quick cuts early on, but then shit gets absolutely real. That long cut as John runs back to the hut, everything with the giant, the sheer horror of the wight children, the stunning visual of the wights pouring off the cliff, the fight between Jon and the White Walker . . . it’s probably the best set piece in the entire series. It is emphatically the best ice zombie scene and arguably exceeds any of the dragon-centric set pieces.