This season is the season Game of Thrones became it’s own creature. It is no longer appropriate to compare George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series that gives the story basis. It won’t be conclusively until we have both the final season and the final novel within reach, but it’s safe to say, now, where the Martin zigged, the show will zag.
That’s an interesting position to be in, as the necessities of adaptation and, interestingly, the form of adaptation begin to inform the story itself. Case in point, the episode’s climatic uniting of the show’s two biggest, most famous characters: the dragon queen Daenerys Targaryen and the clever dwarf Tyrion Lannister.
Benioff told EW it didn’t make sense to keep them apart another season as some sort of tease, something Martin was content to do. Like Sansa’s storyline, this is a statement of intent: it is more likely to predict the show’s expanding endgame through what it will avoid in the storytelling than what it adapts. The show has become about the changes it makes as opposed to the iconic scenes to be realized.
It’s hard to blame them; but it’s fascinating to see the beginning of the series now reverse itself on the books and seeing how the show reflects the books. Way back when, Martin mentioned his enjoyment of Natalie Tena’s portrayal of wildling caretaker Osha would inform her page-time in The Winds of Winter (indicating we’ll likely be seeing Osha – and by extension, Rickon Stark, again in Season 6). With Tyrion and Daenerys united, Season 5’s endgame begins.
The Wall & Beyond: Jon & Tormund, Sam & Gilly
Against strong opposition within the Watch, Jon accompanies Tormund on the mission to Hardhome to rescue the remaining free folk and settle them on the Gift, a parcel of land given by the Starks long ago to the Night’s Watch.
He is traveling into next week’s episode, which gets its title from the Wildling enclave. The showrunners previously said the episode was the longest and most complicated shoot yet. Does this mean a battle rivaling Season 2’s Blackwater or Season 4’s The Watchers on the Wall? It’s telling Jon is going on the mission where in the book he did not. The only news from the Hardhome mission in the book? “Dead things in the water.”
Sam gives Jon a parting gift – a bag of dragonglass knives. Wait, all evidence points to – Oh, yes, we’re going to see some White Walkers next week, aren’t we?
We stay at Castle Black where Maester Aemon dies of – shock – old age. He touches Gilly’s child “Sam” and talks of Egg, his brother, the old king Aegon, father of the Mad King Aerys. He draws his last breath. “Aegon, I dreamed that I was old.” Sam delivers his eulogy of his funeral pyre.
“You’re losing all your friends, Tarly,” Thorne says. Is he being a dick or, is he trying to warn Sam, in his own dickish way? He’s proven right when Sam and Gilly are visited by two of his rapist brothers, who attempt to assault her. They mock Sam, who draws a sword with shaking hands. The two disarm him easily and beat him bloody. He still gets back up.
“I killed a White Walker. I killed a Thenn. I’ll take my chances with you,” he says defiantly At the right moment, Jon’s direwolf Ghost appears for backup. The two attempted rapists run off.
Later, Gilly takes Sam’s virginity. Two words: “Oh, my!”
The Road to Winterfell: Stannis & co.
Stannis’ army marches south, but the beginnings of winter has caught up to them. Horses are dying. Sellswords deserting. Davos tells Stannis it would be best to turn back to Castle Black but, c’mon Davos, you’d think you’d know Stannis’ stubbornness at this point.
“We march to victory or we march to defeat, but we go forward. Only forward.” Stannis says through gritted teeth and growing bear. Stannis doubts his red priestess. She reminds him of the fire vision, the great “battle in the snow.”
Melisandre says what’s been obvious for weeks: she (and his wife, no doubt) Stannis’ life have a hard-on for burning his little girl Shireen as a sacrifice. Stannis, naturally horrified, kicks her out at the suggestion.
Winterfell: Sansa, Theon (Reek), & the Boltons
Sansa lays miserable in her bed, covered in bruises. Her attempts to get through to Theon through his Reek shell fail miserably. She begs for help, but Theon is still utterly broken by his torment by Ramsay. “My name is Reek!” when Sansa explains to him Brienne’s candle plan.
“You are Theon Greyjoy, last heir to the Iron Islands. Theon, promise me.” Theon nods . . . and takes the candle directly to Ramsay. Brienne stares at the tower. Has she been doing that the entire time? When does she sleep? More importantly, what’s up with Podrick’s giant dick?
Later Ramsay takes Sansa on a wintery walk. The newlyweds talk about the “situation” i.e. Ramsay being a psycho lord and Stannis is coming to kill them all. Sansa, feeling unfortunately confident in her “Give Reek the candle” plan, is snippy, reminding him of his father’s coming son with Fat Walda and his bastard status. Ramsay’s eyes narrow. Never a good sign.
He goes on about Sansa’s own half-brother Jon and his recent appointment to Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. If there were ever two characters in Game of Thrones who need to meet, who were made to be each others Batman & Joker, it is Ramsay Snow and Jon Snow. Please Benioff & Weiss, Martin probably won’t do it for another ten years, give it to us!
He reveals to Sansa the flayed body of the servant woman, the secret Stark loyalist who had carried the message from Brienne’s contact on the outside. Ramsay, who can’t not be sadistic in every single action he takes, He kisses her cheek, as she cries, and smirks. “You should hold onto your candles. The nights are so long now.” He is worst hate sink since her last beloved, hate sink, Joffrey.
King’s Landing: Olenna & the High Sparrow, Cersei & Tommen
The Queen of Thorns meets with the High Sparrow. Diana Rigg is always-amazing, especially when given great sparring partners like Charles Dance and Jonathan Pryce. The High Septon proves intractable. Cersei created a political monster when she named him High Septon and allowed him to arm his followers. She repeats her threat to stop supplying the capital. The Sparrow calls her bluff. “You are the few and we are the many. And when the few stop fearing the many . . . ” Exiting, Olenna is contacted via letter with a mockingbird seal
After years of war and political intrigue, the smallfolk have had enough. It’s a very timely, We-are-the-99% sentiment in an organic way to the medieval times, echoing such real-world religious revivals as the Protestant Reformation. The greatest things about good fantasy is, like good science fiction, it transforms normalcy into something magical, something different, and then normalizes it to suit the world. Harry Potter did this as well.
The Queen of Thorns and Littlefinger meet in the ruins of his brothel, ransacked by the Sparrows. The two had previously teamed to orchestrate Joffrey’s death. She is at her wit’s end with Cersei’s sabotage and the Sparrow’s conservatism. “If my house should fall, I will have nothing to hide.” Littlefinger is typically nonplussed and, indeed, already has a way to help the Tyrell matriarch to his own benefit. “I have a gift, ” he says. “The same kind I gave Cersei – a handsome young man . . .”
Tommen is typically frustrated by his ineffectual rule and Cersei typically does nothing to help his son but feed him her narcissism in sugarcoated doses. The kind king is incensed enough to threaten war and death. She offers to visit the High Sparrow in his stead to spare him the “indignity” of dealing with the bare-footed everyman. She embodies smugness visiting the Great Sept, where Margaery is being held. A ragged Margaery is through with games. “I know you did this.”
After her gloat session, she gets to her real job – meeting with the High Sparrow. He says the seven Most Devout, including the High Sparrow himself, will sit as judges in the coming trial. “Thank you for bringing whatever justice they deserve in the eyes of the Seven.”
He nods . . . then starts pontificating about the history of the Sept. That alone should have been her cue. While the Tyrells’ lies will be laid bare, so will all, whether a person is high and low.
“What will we find when we strip away your finery?” He speaks of a young man who came broken only to be remade lighter than a bird in the eyes through the confession of his sins. Cersei, uncharactiscally perturbed, sees the young man: Lancel. Her exit is blocked by a Septa, who grabs her and imprisons her in a cell.
Dorne: Jaime & Bronn
Areo Hotah drops off Myrcella at Jaime’s cell. which, all around, is the best cell on the series really. Somebody should put it on Best Cells Quarterly stat. They talk. She’s perplexed. She’s frustrated her “uncle” came to disrupt her pleasant 90210-style beachfront life with her hot princely boyfriend. She was shipped off way back in Season 2. That was 2012. She was a different actress!
Jerome Flynn gets to show off his singing voice across from Sand Snakes in the cells. Tyene, Ellaria’s daughter, shows her boobs, vagina, and , , , tells Bronn she poisoned him when she cut him with a venomous blade last week. Conveniently, he gets delirious and bloody-nosed at that moment.
But, due apparently to his singing skills and the actual-smart notion of carrying antidote to deadly venom-blades you’re constantly swinging with reckless abandon, she offers to cure him with the antidote she carries around for the deadly venom-blades she’s constantly swinging around with reckless abandon. She gives it to him. Bronn drinks it. Well, that drama wrapped up quickly.
Meereen: Tyrion & Jorah, Daenerys
Mr. Eko, I mean, Malko does a great job selling Jorah at a slave auction, all things considered. Tyrion, always the expert negotiator, somehow talks his way into being bought with Jorah by beating his captor in front of the crowd. Goodbye, Malko, too bad about not finding that dwarf-cock merchant.
Daenerys and her lover/enforcer Daario have another post-coitus politics hour. Daario is not thrilled his love interest is love interesting Hizdahr a.k.a. marrying. He thinks they should marry. It’s ridiculous of course and he doesn’t help his cause when he pushes to execute every single slave master in Meereen the day she officially re-opens the fighting ptits. “I am a queen, not a butcher.”
In an intriguing echo of a quote from the OTHER most popular TV series on the planet, he tells Dany, “All rulers are either butchers or meat.” It reminded me of last fall’s The Walking Dead opener No Sanctuary, which had the arc words “You’re either the butcher or the cattle.” Tellingly, it was the madness mantra of the antagonists.
Daenerys journeys to the newly re-opened fighting pits with her betrothed Hizdahr, which just so happen to be the pits Jorah and Tyrion are at for their first tourney. Jorah sees her attendance and Iain Glen’s joy expressed is legendary. Jorah makes to get her attention by dressing up Gladiator-style and and non-mortally taking out the opponents in the rings. He takes off his helmet/mask in dramatic fashion.
For a moment, Daenerys looks warm before steeling herself against him. “I brought you a gift,” Jorah shouts. Tyrion announces himself as the gift “Tyrion Lannister.” And, in a moment people have been waiting for for over a decade comes together – on screen before it ever happens on the page. Let me tell you: you would be amazed, non-book readers, what kind of bullshit Gordian knot they just cut through.
MISSING THIS WEEK: Arya’s training under Jaqen H’ghar continues abreast. Varys remains missing. And the Greyjoys, well, nobody gives a fuck about the Greyjoys.
Till next Sunday!
Arya makes progress in her training. Sansa confronts an old friend. Cersei struggles. Jon travels
Airs Sunday May 31st, 9 p.m. EST
BONUS 500-WORD SPECULATION SECTION! SPOILERS BELOW!
The final three episodes are upon us. The series’ tradition is to load the largest seasonal event in Episode 9 and explore the ramifications of it in the finale. This previously worked with Ned’s execution (S1), the Battle of Blackwater (S2), the Red Wedding (S3), and the Battle of Castle Black (S4).But last season added an equally-climatic moment to episode 8, making the “endgame” a trilogy rather than a duology.
4.8: The Mountain and the Viper featured the brilliant trial-by-combat duel between Gregor Clegane and Oberyn Martell. Now, we are facing a battle not shown in the books for Jon’s storyline’s benefit which is huge leading into Episode 9 which – SPOILERS – I think will end with the “Ides of March” scene from the books and Jon’s assassination. Thus, making that the “event” of Episode 9, titled The Dance of Dragons. Here is the synopsis:
Jon returns to the Wall. Arya runs into someone from her past. Mace visits the Iron Bank. Stannis faces a difficult decision. Daenerys oversees a celebration of athleticism.
The next interesting question is: what will the show do after, as that will end Jon’s currently published story. Much speculation points to a resurrection of Jon by Melisandre, most likely using Stannis’ daughter Shireen as the royal-blood sacrifice consistently hinted at by the show for seasons now. In the books, the red priestess remains at Castle Black so that means she will have to depart Stannis’ army to return.
Nothing is known about the coming finale. Dany will reach her published end in the finale, it seems. Stannis too is coming to uncharted waters; book readers have not yet seen the Battle of Winterfell. There’s a suspicious letter purportedly written by Ramsay Bolton declaring victory, but it’s veracity is almost entirely doubted. The show won’t play with such fog-of-war tactics. The dominoes of the North are going to collapse in the finale, make no mistake. It makes the King’s Landing happenings in the south seem so secondary.
There’s still the dangling thread of Mace Tyrell’s mission to the Iron Bank to “negotiate” the crown’s debt payments. That’ll surely go well, as they are unaware Tycho Nestoris agreed to back Stannis as the king most likely to repay the massive debt. Cersei also sent her personal sword Meryn Trant, who just so happened to be mentioned by Arya as part of her death list. Trant, my friend, we will cheer your demise, you child-beating sociopath. The real question: will the ongoing Iron Bank drama in Braavos connect to the OTHER ongoing drama in Braavos, the Faceless Men and their mysterious service of the Many-Faced God in the House of Black and White? Book readers have speculated for years.
Last week’s scene of Sam explaining the Maseter’s headquarters of the Citadel in Oldtown – a destination where Sam currently is in the novels – could be seen as a way to plant the idea for to adapt his character’s journey there. This suggests it has been pushed to Season 6. In the books, a Faceless Man implied to be Jaqen is undercover as a novice recruit along with Sam, connecting that storyline as well. Is a grand conspiracy being spun? Is Qyburn’s FrankenMountain behind it all? Have I completely lost my mind? Anything is possible. In Game of Thrones, there is only one immutable truth: nobody gives a fuck about the Greyjoys.