In honesty, I have not been enjoying this season of Game of Thrones. I hesitate to call it bad, partially because the season is not complete yet. But I cannot call it good, either. As of this writing, the first four episodes have aired. What follows are my thoughts on them.
I know that I am not alone in my opinion on season five but not for the same reason as other people. The other book readers (the Sullied) seem to hate this season for its divergence from the books. I am all too aware of the divergence but I do not think that it is inherently bad. No, what makes this season bad is that the changes make little sense in the show’s established canon. I’ll go through each change one by one.
The basics of Tyrion’s plot are unchanged. Jorah kidnaps him to bring him to Daenarys. From casting clues, we know that a lot of characters have been cut from his storyline. Penny is out. I never liked her character so I am not torn up about that. The Griffs have also been cut, which I do have qualms about. I can speculate that the Griffs will have a huge impact in the future of the books but whatever that impact is, there will be one less plotline in the show. Whatever large tangled web of schemes and deceit George has cooked up, it will be thinned down for television.
The basics of Tyrion’s physical journey are unaltered, but considering the lack of a significant revelation in the last season, Tyrion’s personal character arc is greatly changed. He acts rather suicidal with his alcoholism just the same, but the reason for his depression is different. Show Tyrion is bummed about having to kill the woman he loved. Book Tyrion is bummed about the revelation that his first love was actually legitimate and not a paid whore and that his father lied to him about it. It makes him realize how much of his life he wasted by chasing after paid comfort instead of going after Tysha. We also lose the rhetorical, “Where do whores go?” that Tyrion frequently asks.
There is also the scene in the brothel that has the sullied fans pissed. Tyrion charms a prostitute into having sex with him instead of straight-up paying for it. Apparently, he has not lost his charm in his cups. I guess David and Dan don’t want a depressed Tyrion to be a rapist, but they’re okay with showing a redeeming Jaime forcing himself onto his sister. If David and Dan aren’t missing the significance of one scene, they’re too afraid to go through with another scene.
Daenarys’s storyline has been moving slowly, unsurprisingly. She is still stuck in Meereen with an unhappy population of people to govern. Trying to pacify the freed slaves and the former masters is not going well for her. I mentioned in a previous post that the Brazen Beasts have been abandoned in favor of having the Unsullied police the city, which I consider fair enough. But why the need to bump off Barristan? Yes, according to Entertainment Weekly, Barristan is indeed dead. What is the point of that? Now Daenarys has only Daario to advise her. Yeah, things do not look good for her. The unavailability of her dragons does not help matters. With a significant character of Dany’s story killed off, her arc is less richer.
One of the more divergent changes involves Sansa’s storyline. She is still at the Eyrie in the books and taking scheming-bastard notes from Littlefinger. Here, her lusty-eyed ward takes her to Winterfell, of all places. Littlefinger seems to want to ally with the Boltons (because why not?) but at the expense of betraying the Lannisters. Even in the books, Littlefinger’s endgame is unknown and I kind of doubt that he has a definite endgame. In the show, he plans to wed Sansa to Ramsey so that will solidify the Bolton’s hold on the North. So… what exactly does Baelish get out of this? We know he has eyes of Sansa and I doubt that he would put her in dangerous proximity to psycho Ramsey. It just does not seem to be his style.
We know that Brienne and Pod will likely meet up with Sansa again. Sadly, there is no Septon Meribald in their future, no Ser Hyle Hunt, and no Brotherhood without Banners, either. It seems that the Brotherhood has been discarded from the show entirely. One of my theories for the future of the books involves the Faith Militant coming into conflict with the R’hllor-fueled Brotherhood. If that is going to happen, it’ll have to be dropped from the show. I can only speculate how events in the North will unfold. Stannis and his army look prepared to march on Winterfell, like in A Dance with Dragons.
The plot up on the Wall has been sort of lame so far. The election for the new Lord Commander of the Watch should have taken much longer. The matter lasts only a single episode. If it is that short, I feel that it should have been part of season four. We see Sam give his promotion speech for Jon, but he fails to do the sneaky back-door deals with other brothers of the Watch to secure votes for his friend. That was one of Sam’s finest moments in the book but David and Dan see fit to do away with it. Instead, they feel the need to show things like Melisandre try and seduce Jon… for some reason. We know that she can use king’s blood to fuel spells but there is no hint that she suspects that Jon may have royal parentage.
Speaking of royal parentage, the writers see fit to bring up Lyanna and Rhaegar after forgetting that they exist for over three seasons. Sansa exposits the commonly held belief that Rhaegar kidnapped and raped Lyanna. That is what started Robert’s rebellion, after all.
The King’s Landing storyline has been sort of odd so far. I can totally buy Margery and Cersei’s subtle bickering at each other. The viewers can see the gears in Cersei’s head turn as she plot to ruin a queen that she thinks is prophesized to overthrow her. Margery and Tommen consummating their relationship came as a surprise, considering that he is significantly younger than she is. But it plays into how the younger queen has some control over her inexperienced king, so I can get behind it.
One of the biggest disappointments has been the depiction of the Sparrows. I do quite like Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow. He lacks some of the firmness of the character that I imagined from the book but it is smart casting nonetheless. However, there is no explanation for the Sparrows’ presence in the first place. In the books, the peasants throughout Westeros have been suffering from the War of the Five Kings. Having Gregor Clegane and vengeful northerners burning fields and raping peasants makes the small folk quite pissed off over the squabbles of their lords. The Sparrows were named after the most common bird and they are supposed to represent the regular people of the land. They turned to the Faith of the Seven in light of the terrible war and the Faith responded.
I can understand the sparrows parading the High Septon naked through the street. That makes sense to me. They do not want the leader of their faith spending on prostitutes frivolously. Septons are supposed to be pious. (And it also foreshadows someone else getting similar treatment later.) What I do not understand is why they chop up barrels of beer (or maybe it’s ale) in the street and kill homosexuals. Granted, the sparrows were rather prudish in the books, but their actions do not seem to have much effect on the common people. The reason that the High Septon wanted the faith militant was for the people’s protection. And the reason that Cersei allowed the faith to militarize was to forgive the crown’s debt to them and to get them to stop whining about the lords not protecting them.
The Sparrows in the show come across as zealous hardasses. In the book, they were just hardasses. I guess having them imprison Loras was for Cersei to have a way to get back at Margery. Cersei cannot accuse the new queen of being adulterous, what with the royal couple’s marriage being consummated.
Another disappointment is the depiction of Dorne. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes come across as thuggish mafiosos. They want war as revenge for Oberyn’s death and Ellaria is willing to send Myrcella piece by piece to the Lannisters. Doran is fortunately being chill about this.
I am not fond of how the Sand Snakes have been introduced. They all have distinct personalities in the books. Obara is the butch warrior. Nymeria is more of a classic femme fatale and dresses sexily with hidden weapons. Tyene is the more feminine of the snakes and is not a warrior, preferring to discreetly poison her enemies. In the show, there is little distinction between the three. Oh, and Ellaria is Tyene’s mother, I guess?
And yes, the elephant in the room (or the lack of the elephant) is the lack of Arianne, Doran’s eldest daughter. I suppose that David and Dan wanted Indira Varma to continue her role in the show so I do not object to Ellaria having a bigger part. And I suppose that I can understand eliminating Arianne when an established character will serve in her place. But can’t the plot be more interesting than what is happening on the show? Arianne wanted to install Myrcella and her younger brother Trystane on the Iron Throne itself by virtue of Dornish succession rights. And she invokes the help of Ser Arys Oakheart and Ser Gerrold Dayne (Darkstar), but both of them are non-existent in the show. Ellaria has no such schemes. She just wants to start some shit by threatening the princess.
And I would be remiss if I did not mention Arya’s plotline. It looks to be heading in the same general direction as in the books with Arya as an understudy for a cult of ninja assassins that can magically change their faces. But the way it happens does not feel natural. For one, Jaqen H’ghar is present at the House of Black and not infiltrating the Maester’s Citadel. So we probably won’t see the Citadel. Okay, but Arya’s storyline is hardly benefited by having Jaqen here. If he had pulled the skull-face trick like in the book, that would have been something different. I guess David and Dan are just cutting good stuff and replacing it with dull happenings for the hell of it, now.
The other girl in the House of B&W (sounds like a steakhouse) is also poorly realized in the show and is no match for the more subtle waif from the books. That slap-fest that looked like it was leading up to a catfight was poorly written. The girl walks up to Arya, asks who she is, and slaps her with no buildup and no explanation. I do like the part where they clean the dead body and I imagine that we’ll learn what they do with the cadavers.
David and Dan have said repeatedly that they have to cut things in the show that were in the books because of time and budget restraints. Fair enough, but as I’ve written, these cuts and changes are just sloppy. Did we really need to spend time of a character like Ros and her cleavage when we could have spent time focusing on the Hound or another character? Did we need to spend time on Jon going to Craster’s Keep to kill some traitors when we could have seen the election process extended?
Okay, so that’s enough to me griping about Thrones. It is not as if we still do not have the books to read. I used to fear the fact that the show would have spoiled future plotlines in the well-presented books. (The thing with the Others and the infant comes to mind.) But now, I am not bothered by it.