“The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted.”
With the eighth and final season beginning this month we’re looking at each season to see where we’ve been so far. You can read our Game of Thrones 101 here, our season five recap here. For now we’re going to look at season five as a whole, and whether the hype surrounding the show is merited.
Based on the popular book series by George R. R. Martin, A Song of Fire and Ice, Game of Thrones centers on the fictional land of Westeros. The land is ruled by whoever sits on the iron throne, and through the years the leaders of the seven main houses have fought for the right to rule the Seven Kingdoms of Westeros. The series became an immediate hit for HBO, and helped define the idea of peak TV.
Season five of Game of Thrones creates a feeling as if we’re holding our breath the entire time. It’s essentially ten hours of things getting just to the brink of what we’ve wanted or expected and stopping. By the end of the season every character is an inch away from becoming every single thing we know they can be, or achieving everything we hope for them. Sansa and Theon/Reek have finally escaped from Ramsay Bolton, as Reek finally reclaiming his role as Theon. Daenerys may have finally gotten rid of the threats in Meereen, and her relationship with Jorah can now grow honestly. Arya is on the brink of becoming the deadly force we know she can be, after finally crossing a name off her list. Stannis is finally tested in battle and loses before being killed by Brienne.
Then there’s Jon Snow. It’s been evident since the beginning that he’s meant for something great. He’s the only Stark that has continued to thrive and has followed the path of the true hero of the series against the largest threat, the White Walkers. Having watched the series thus far before, I know how this path continues. But the show does a good job at making you think this could be the end of Jon Snow, while also leaving clues that he’s exactly where he needs to be. Sam is gone, Aemon is gone, all his friends have been killed, and he’s saved the free people, aka the Wildlings. He was doomed to fail at Castle Black, but he’s also on a path beyond Castle Black.
Jon is the one person who has been warning of the threat of the White Walkers. He’s the one person who has successfully fought off White Walkers in a major way. It’s obvious that he’s the key to bringing them down. With the threat of the Night King and the White Walkers just on the horizon, you can’t kill him. But as a man of honor, Jon would never leave Castle Black or his duty as the Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The only way to free him and have his role expand beyond Castle Black is for the Night’s Watch to turn on him, and for him to come back. And who just so happens to arrive moments before Jon is killed? Melisandre. The one person that we know could easily bring Jon back.
Game of Thrones has done an excellent job of building towards setups and pairings that would be fun to see. Or situations where the good and the bad are on very clear sides. The fifth season leads up to this and essentially says: get ready for the end. There are a few stragglers along the way; Arya is still essentially training to become a master killer, Jaime is returning to King’s Landing with a dead daughter, and Cersei is set back big time thanks to her “atonement” walk. But things are on the brink of coming together in a way that’s been desired since Ned Stark was beheaded.
It’s hard to judge this season because it was this experience of holding our breath as things get to the brink of what we want. There never seems to be a point where the season really lulls. You want to keep watching to see how far things will get. How close we may get to Tyrion and Daenerys meeting and then truly working together. How long it takes for Jorah to return to Daenerys’ side. How much Sansa has to go through before finally taking her fate into her own hands. And we get some payoff as the season comes to a close. It would have been nice to get a little more this season. But that would be too easy, and nothing in Game of Thrones is ever easy.
Game of Thrones became the poster child for peak TV by being something that keeps you holding on even when the credits begin rolling. No season is more evident of that than the fifth season. In a sense the fifth season is the perfect example of what the show can be at its best and its worst. When it’s good, it’s a battle that’s a massacre among men and the undead that’s must see TV. When it’s bad, it’s Stannis constantly saying “I’m King and I deserve this,” without proving why, and it’s just tiresome. But thankfully, Stannis is gone and the White Walkers are on the horizon with an even larger army. And we’re a breath away from the true end.