Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Idiot Boxing: Game of Thrones Season 5 (2015)

Lady Melissandre about to put yet another infidel (or six) to
the torch. This and other doings around the Wall get plenty of
screen time in season 5. This is a good thing. 
If you're curious about my reviews of the first 4 seasons, I posted them here.

Season 5 of this immensely popular series seems to have garnered mixed opinions. I found it to be nearly as strong as any previous season, though a bit different in the mix of tones.

As an avid reader of the novels from long ago, this was the first season which I was hesitant to watch. I had read and heard that there are things which take place in the TV series which delve into the as-yet-unpublished sixth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. All the same, I went ahead with it. For others who may be holding off for this reason, I can assure you not to worry. Though there may be a few little tidbits that may spoil events yet to be described in the books, I can tell you that a good 90%-95% of the material is from already-published books in the series.

The most obvious change from the book is how streamlined the tale is. The most recent novel, A Dance with Dragons, expanded the character perspectives to include a rather dizzying amount of new and somewhat marginal points of view. The show did excellent work keeping the focus on the most appealing characters from the books, rather than get hung up trying to tell the tales of characters like Asha Greyjoy and other tertiary types. While we may not get quite as much Danaerys or Tyrion as we might like, the scenes which we do get are entertaining, to be sure. Jon is the focus of several lengthy scenes and episodes, as well, which is always compelling.

I heard and read many gripes from viewers who found this season rather slow, especially through the middle episodes. While it's true that there was less action and more dialogue through these episodes, I found these scenes nearly always engaging. Due to plenty of strong writing and acting, there was plenty of tension and character exploration through many of the verbal exchanges involving Tyrion, Jon, Brienne, Arya, Cersei, and others. I particularly enjoyed many of the scenes involving Cersei and the zealots involved with the Faith Militant. We get to see Lena Headey's impressive range as an actress here, which only enhances the series further. This season also made it abundantly clear that when you give a capable writer the chance to write passages in which Tyrion is forced to travel with another character, his biting wit can carry scene after scene. Whether it was with Varys or Jorah, every exchange had at least one great line from "The Imp."

The introduction of the Sand Snakes. I found theirs to be easily
the most poorly-written and poorly-acted little gaggle of
characters in the entire series. It didn't help that their little
vendetta storyline was rather dull. 
I count only two personal weaknesses with this season. One is that I am, frankly, weary of Sansa being the punching bag of the show. I understood how she has always meant to represent the utter destruction of any romantic notion of Middle Aged chivalry. This is a commendable and engaging concept. Still, do we need to see her get married to and horrifically abused by one of the arch-sadists of the series? Enough already. I am beyond ready to see her truly toughen up or be given the mercy of death. The other glaring weakness is nearly everything about the plot line involving the "Sand Snakes" in Dorne. For whatever reason, their entire story of revenge comes off cheap, half-baked, poorly written, and badly acted. To both my wife and I, it almost seemed as if the writing duties for this particular plot thread was handed off to an aspiring intern. The result was something that paled in comparison to the rest of the season. The only redeeming aspect of the Sand Snakes thread was that my absolute favorite secondary character, Bronn, got to fire off an amazing amount of classic dialogue amidst what was otherwise a weak chapter in the story.

Of course, no season of Game of Thrones would be complete without a shocking event near its end which leaves viewers traumatized enough to swear off the series for all time. I won't ruin it for those yet to catch up, but suffice it to say that it is something which readers of the novels have known about for years. For me, this event sets up some curious possibilities, so I have no trouble accepting where things will head next season.

One could argue that this season may not be quite as strong as those previous. Even if you concede this point, I feel that nearly all would agree that the show has maintained its standard of excellence, and there is no reason to expect any less next year. My only hope now is that the next novel, The Winds of Winter, is released before the next season kicks off in spring of 2016.