So once again, I loved this season’s Game of Thrones, even though this was undoubtedly the worst season we’ve had so far, it’s a great show. Still I’m nothing if not a picker of nits, so let me highlight why this season’s finale was lacking and should have run with the much better finale they already had.
The Battle of Winterfell Was Too Short (And Was Utterly Meaningless)
Now I understand that battle scenes are a huge drain on the budget, but the “battle” at Winterfell was utterly pointless. I understand that Stannis was never going to win and I’m not saying they needed to spend an entire episode showing him fighting a losing battle. Still, the entire battle took literally three minutes, and that’s being generous by including every scene until Ramsey’s return to Winterfell. If we just include the scenes with actual fighting it’s only about sixty seconds long. Worse than that though, it skips the actually interesting parts of the battle. Yes seeing the battle from Sansa’s point of view is visually interesting, but we also get no frame of reference as to why we should care. So far the battles in Game of Thrones have been exhilarating because they always had a tight focus on one of our beloved characters: Tyrion at the Black Water and Jon Snow at Castle Black. Showing us the characters we love dealing with the chaos of battle is what gives the battle meaning and emotional weight. Here have no real reference as to why anyone should care: remember Stannis just burned his daughter alive, asking us to care without actually seeing him fighting is a big fucking ask.
The battle begins with Stannis is the middle of a snow covered field, and ends with him in a forest. There was at least a quarter-mile between him and that forest. I want to know how Stannis fought his way there, or how that final desperate defense in the woods must have played out to leave Stannis wounded and alone. There were a lot of interesting ways to play out this battle is my point, cutting the entire thing down to sixty seconds of CGI toy soldiers and two minutes of follow up wasn’t one of them. And speaking of follow up, who here thinks Stannis is really dead? Because I sure as hell don’t.
Again, like the rape of Sansa earlier this season, this is an example of lazy storytelling that we don’t expect from Game of Thrones. Cutting away just as she swings the sword is just boring and lazy, it doesn’t build suspense at all because we all know that if he didn’t die on camera, he’s still alive. So what’s the point of leaving this as any kind of cliff hanger? The better cliff hanger would have been to see Brienne falter in her duty and then march Stannis off into the woods, because that actually has some interesting ramifications for next season. And if it turns out that Stannis really is dead next season then that makes this scene even worse because there were people out there (namely me) who were looking forward to finally seeing him die.
This was undoubtedly the dumbest scene this season and that’s quite an achievement considering that the earlier rape scene with Sansa destroyed the character arcs of four characters in twenty seconds. It was stupid for a variety of reasons, first because it makes King Julian Bashir look like a fucking idiot. He’s already foiled an assassination attempt by his sister-in-law, he knows his brother loved using poison, and the three daughters all used poison weapons. And yet this happens only feet away from him:
Which brings me to my second point: it makes everyone look like an idiot, including the show’s creators. Let’s assume for the moment that everyone on that dock is suffering heat stroke and ignore the fact that each and every one of them should have found that final kiss alarming. It’s the middle ages, people were stupid, fine. But we’re not.
Who staged this scene? I want to know and I want his resignation on my desk by end of business tomorrow because I really don’t know why this scene played out the way it did.
If they were hoping to surprise the audience with another shocking death, the possibility of surprise died when Ellaria latched onto Myrcella’s face like a fucking lamprey. If they had left it as Ellaria giving her a gentle peck on the lips and not played it up like Snow White getting that poisoned apple, there would have been some element of surprise.
Was it played out that way so the poisoning was obvious to the audience? If so, why? What possible purpose did that serve? It certainly didn’t make the melodramatic conversation between Jaime and Myrcella any more tolerable. Seriously, who came up with that scene?
This was just a lazy, terrible scene in every respect. The only thing that could have saved it was if we’d seen Jaime’s reaction and end the scene with him sailing right back to Dorne to avenge his daughter. As it is, apparently Jaime is going to wait until he gets back to King’s Landing to file a formal complaint with the Dornish king who is apparently as blind as he paraplegic.
Queen of the Andals and the Idiots
Now I loved Daenerys escape last week and watching Drogon burn a bunch of people alive was well worth the wait. But this follow up scene was awful, mainly because it made Daenerys, one of the strongest female characters in the story seem like a whiny little brat.
“We have to go home.” – Daenerys says, suddenly developing a British accent.
That’s the first thing we hear her say to Drogon, not thank you for saving me from an otherwise fatal ambush or how are you feeling after taking two dozen javelin wounds. She spends the whole time sulking like a child and even tries to climb onto Drogon backwards for some reason I still don’t understand.
Then she complains that Drogon is just sitting around instead of getting them supper. Oh, I’m sorry you’re hungry princess but were you not paying attention last week when Drogon took a dozen spear wounds to save your ass? Do you not see the holes torn through his wings?
Then she wanders off into the hills alone for some stupid reason and immediately gets captured. Seriously, is this the same team that gave us the past four seasons of greatness? I’m starting to suspect they’ve all been replaced by pod-people sent from NBC, ABC and FOX. If not for the amazing scene of Jon Snow’s reenactment of the Ides of March, I’d have called this finale a total disaster. Which is just infuriating considering they already had a much better finale.
The Finale That Already Was
Yes, the best episode this season is the one they should have ended on and not just because it was so well done, but because it would have given HBO and the writers more time to tell the stories. That was my main complaint this season, everything seemed to be moving too fast. Here’s everything that happened this season:
Tyrion goes from living in a box to being Ser Jorah’s captive to being a slaver’s captive to becoming the Queen’s adviser.
Jon Snow meets Stannis, becomes Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch and tries to save the Wildlings before pulling a Caesar and “dying”. (In quotations because you know damn well that he’s going to be coming back in some form or another.)
Daenerys struggles to maintain control over the old slaver kingdoms and fails miserably.
Jaime is sent to Dorne to retrieve Myrcella.
And worst of all, Little Finger goes from a meticulous plotter to some kind of insane gibbering idiot in the span of two episodes. He delivers Sansa, the only person who can give him a legitimate claim to the North to the crazy ass Bolton’s and then immediately returns to King’s Landing, plotting to attack the Bolton’s after literally giving them the most valuable hostage in the seven kingdoms.
You’ll notice that while some of the characters have a ton of things happen, others are left in a lurch of nothing happening at all. What this season needed was more time to tell the stories in a way that didn’t undercut the storylines of several important characters and allowed the events of the show to play out more naturally. By using Hardhome as the season finale Game of Thrones would have had more time to properly tell us the stories it needed to tell, to dedicate more time to the characters.
Jaime was perhaps the most underused character, almost criminally so because his was the one storyline from a Feast for Crows I wanted to see play out since it was the book where Jaime finally realizes what a bitch his sister is and burns the letter he receives from her.Of course instead of that happening this season, what we got instead was Jaime wandering around Dorne not really doing anything. Nothing happens in Dorne at all, it’s just a giant time sink. They could have used the time in Dorne to characterize Jaime and maybe lead up to his final abandoning of Cersei, but aside from him staring wistfully at Brienne’s homeland of Tarth, we get nothing.
And speaking of Tarth, the other problem with this season’s sprinting pace is the fact that it completely screws with our perception of time and space in Westeros. I already pointed this out in my earlier post on Sansa’s Wedding, but it goes beyond Little Finger’s teleporting himself to King’s Landing. Journeys that took other characters entire seasons to complete now have bullet trains apparently. The opening scene of Game of Thrones always gives you that little pop-up map thing, and the world seems pretty big, but everyone seems to get where they’re going a little too fast this season. Take Tyrion for example: despite being abducted by both Jorah and slavers, attacked by Stone Men, and becoming a gladiator he still makes it to Queen Daenerys’ side in time for the Harpies to ambush them. Or Jaime for that matter, whose journey to Dorne took less time than the average ferry ride here in Seattle.
Ending the season at Hardhome would have given the writers much more room to extend the storylines of various other characters and actually have them make sense. First of all Sansa’s storyline could have been given a lot more time and by extension maybe Little Finger’s plan wouldn’t look completely insane. The storyline in Dorne could have been given more time, allowing more time for Jaime to actually experience change in his character. And Tyrion and Daenerys’s storylines could have met without seeming like the laws of time and space were becoming warped. And perhaps most importantly, ending at Hardhome would have given the writers a more plausible reason for the Night’s Watch to kill Jon Snow.
Don’t get me wrong, the scene with Jon Snow was amazing, but there was a niggling little voice in the back of my mind the entire time saying “this doesn’t really make sense.” This scene worked in the book because Hardhome doesn’t actually happen in the book, so the White Walkers are kind of like the climate change of our world. Yes, everyone sort of admits it’s there and it’s a threat, but everyone is also more obsessed about their own personal ambitions to really do anything about it. So when they kill Jon Snow, it make a certain amount of sense because to the other members of the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings are the real threat.
After Hardhome though? This whole “traitor” business is a bit harder to swallow. Eyewitness testimony to the rising of tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of corpses isn’t enough to vindicate Jon Snow’s decision? The other members of the Night’s Watch didn’t point out that maybe he was right? I mean I know the hundreds of crew members on Stannis’s fleet didn’t say anything, because they keep landing on the north side of The Wall for some strange reason, but there were a ton of people with Jon Snow. No one spoke up in his defense among all those Crows who stabbed him?
I mean stabbing Jon Snow at this junction would be like people denying climate change after thousands of deaths from heat waves, huge unprecedented storms, and unending droughts…
Huh… Touché, Game of Thrones, well played…
I agree 100% on Dorne, total filler. They could have just had Doran be like “Hey son Oberyn is dead so we need an eye in the capital and a token of our loyalty so please go there and take the princess to appease Cersei.” and then Elliera could poison her on the way out without the Sand Snake nonsense (because having a princesses would-be assassins say goodbye to her AFTER trying to kill her makes a lot of sense HBO well done) and that could be it.
I think your being too hard on the time issue, I think its implied that each season spans many months, with Season 1 being at least 3 years ago in the show. It is possible that on his own, in the absence of war and bandits that Littlefinger could race to the capital unburdened by a caravan or anything, same with Tyrion.
I do disagree with you point on Stannis however. The showrunners know committing 50 minutes to Stannis vs Ramsey would be a waste of budget money because nobody would be invested in either’s victory and people would know from the beginning that it was a clear Bolten victory. I like to think he was surrounded, retreated into the woods in the vain hope of out flanking the Boltens but failed and lost. BTW Stannis is dead, the showrunners did confirm it, there is nothing left for his story I think (unlike Jon who is sooooo coming back), he tried to be just and fair but in his relentless pursuit of power he souled his soul to the devil and was conned. It’s a classic tragedy, ending in Brienne (the ideal of honor and duty) ending him for good. His last line, “Go on do your duty” are the perfect last words for Stannis and in my opinion wouldn’t have his death any other way.
I do agree with 75% of your review though, guess this season’s mediocrity was the inevitable consequence of the mediocrity of book 4 and hopefully they can turn it around next year with the Greyjoy plot (that I actually enjoyed) and Lady Stoneheart with any luck.
“Stannis is dead. “It would have been gratuitous,” Nutter told Variety about his reasons for cutting away before Brienne’s sword separated Stannis’s head from his body. “You really got a sense that Stannis had nothing else to live for. Brienne’s lifelong mission had come to an end. It’s a situation in which Stannis was ready to die and prepared to die.””
Oh well that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. Gratuitous? No, this is Game of Thrones, seeing his head separate from his shoulders was totally necessary. He directed The Rains of Castamere where a pregnant lady gets stabbed in the baby, gratuitous shouldn’t even be in that man’s vocabulary.
I am with John on the Nutter comment that killing Stanis on screen would have been gratuitous… Way too much of GoT is just that, intended to shock us rather then entertain us. Like that soooo obvious kiss of death. Really? Really??!! We couldn’t have asked for more transparency then if she’d announced she poisoned her lips beforehand.
I am glad to see y’all are so sure we will even get a glimpse of Lady Stoneheart, I have concluded it may well never happen.
As for the death of Jon Snow. It was poorly timed in the storyline – had it happened before Hardhome, then yeah, I could have bought it. But happening afterwards??? They were insane to kill the one guy who was able to slaughter an actual Whitewalker with his sword.
But hey, the one thing we, the audience, has learned by watching GoT – People in the story, for the most part, are pretty stupid. Winter is Coming and they turn a blind eye as they plot their superfluous revenge, never once realizing that every dead adds to the army of death about to flow over them like an unstoppable flood.
I look forward to watching the Walking Dead of Westros series. I am sure it will be a hoot and a half! I wonder who will be left for us to root for or if they will just introduce random characters each episode right before they whack ’em off?
I do think the ending of “Hardhome” is season finale material, but it might have hit the same note as the ending of Season 2: “Yeah, an undead army is on the move!”
And then we’d remember that was three years ago, so God knows when this army is going to make it past The Wall.
I think another problem is, one that shouldn’t be underestimated, that this is Season 5 and we are all used to what GoT is by now, which makes it much harder for the show to still impress anyone.
That with Stennis was disappointing for sure, there was so much buildup and then nothing really happened. But that might have been intended. After everything that happened (to Stennis), it was at least palpable why he was “done” at this point.
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