Analysis of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”

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Rather than inflict my extremely book-based ranting on, I decided to write up some thoughts over here. This is going to be a bit rougher than my usual, but bear with me.

Let’s start with what I actually liked about the episode. Jon sending Sam to Oldtown was (before the location and casting news for Season 6) a pleasant surprise. While I found the actual murder of Meryn Trant to be lacking in comparison to “Mercy” in terms of artistic parallels – and I note the stills of Arya retrieving Needle seem to have been cut entirely – I thought the face sequence was really quite bone-chilling, and at least Arya’s blindness is following the books.

The sequence in King’s Landing was an excellent adaptation of Cersei’s walk from the books – in a rare turn for the show, it wasn’t done in an exploitative fashion, Lena Headey turned in an amazing performance, and we got Frankengregor! I’m a little disappointed that we didn’t see Cersei begin to hallucinate – if you’ve already got Maggy the Frog for the season, why not use her? – but that’s a minor quibble. At the same time, however, I’m really disappointed that Kevan and Pycelle remain alive and that we don’t get Varys’ Bond villain speech. Seems like Benioff and Weiss are determined to miss some of the best parts of ADWD (looking at you, Wyman Manderly).

The sequence in Meereen and the Dothraki sea was pretty good, and I could see Tyrion spending some time setting the city to rights after the Battle of Fire while Dany is busy “going back to go forwards” at Vaes Dothrak. I thought Emelia Clarke did good work as someone brought much more down to earth, literally wrestling with her draconic nature. Jon’s sequence was nicely executed – the headfake with Benjen, the genuinely surprising inclusion of Alliser Thorne among the assassins, etc. I am much more worried that Kit Harrington isn’t coming back for Season 6  – leaving aside whether they’re going to do Jon Snow’s resurrection at all, it’s not good storytelling to have an entire season go by before it happens, because it makes everyone else involved in that story (Melisandre, Dolorous Edd, Alliser Thorne, and the rest of the crew at the Wall) spin their wheels for an entire season.

Speaking of which, the Dorne sequence. Well, something finally happened in Dorne, but it’s not very well handled at all. Looking at the entire plot from beginning to end, and it’s astonishing how comprehensively the AFFC plot was butchered – in addition to completely losing the exploration of the costs of vengeance or the father/daughter conflict or the power of nationalism, the ending puts things in a very strange light. Ellaria blatantly poisons Myrcella after having sworn fealty to Doran – which not only renders Doran a complete idiot in comparison to his book counterpart but also means that Trysane’s got no purpose going forward, so there goes any hope of Arianne’s TWOW plotline being continued in any way. Moreover, they completely missed out on their opportunity for the major reveal – that Doran is a secret partisan of the Targaryens and has a master plan for revenge against the Lannisters.

So let’s talk about the North. I’ll get into Stannis (and indeed, Brienne) in some detail in a second, but Theon and Sansa’s storyline was really truncated and didn’t come off that well. To begin with, there really isn’t any escalation that helps to explain why Theon makes a break from his Reek persona to kill Myranda and try to escape with Sansa. Secondly, having Sansa’s daring escape and signalling come to precisely nothing doesn’t exactly answer any critiques that the conflation of Sansa and Jeyne Poole’s storylines has robbed Sansa of much of her developing agency. Thirdly, given that you’ve established that Melisandre’s magic has melted the snows, how exactly do Theon and Sansa walk away from jumping off an eighty-foot wall into a non-existent snowbank? How do they avoid recapture by a Bolton army that’s a few yards away at best?

Which brings us to Stannis, who finds that the blood magic has worked, clearing the snows, that most of his army has deserted, that his wife has committed suicide, that he’s easily defeated by the Boltons, and then gets murdered by Brienne. Needless to say, I think this badly misreads Stannis’ character arc – to begin with, I entirely agree with BryndenBFish that I don’t think Stannis loses the Battle of Ice with the Boltons. Indeed, I would go further and say that, if Stannis is indeed going to sacrifice Shireen in the books (a subject I’m addressing in another essay), it’s pretty much impossible for him to have done so and for the Pink Letter to be true, given that Shireen is 700 miles away at the Wall while Stannis is three day’s march away from Winterfell.

Now, as I have said and I will argue further in the essay I’ve just mentioned, I think it’s possible that Stannis sacrifices Shireen, but only after winning the Battle of Ice. (If for no other reason than it’s going to take time for Shireen and Melisandre to get to Winterfell…) Stannis has repeatedly refused to use human sacrifice to beat the Boltons and those were mere soldiers; he’s not going to sacrifice Shireen for that. But when the Wall falls, and the army of the dead marches on Winterfell, and Melisandre comes to him and says that the salvation of the realm and all of humanity depends on him following in Azor Ahai’s footsteps and sacrificing the person he loves “best of all that is in this world,” to wake the dragon from stone that we know is under Winterfell (that we know Dany has to defeat at some point), that is the precise scenario in which he would actually do that. And to find out afterward that he’s not Azor Ahai, that all his sacrifices were in vain, that’s the tragic realization.

But an important point regarding Stannis as a tragic figure: in tragedies, the tragic hero usually accomplishes something in the process of their downfall. Agamemnon killing his daughter leads to his wife killing him, but before that happens the Achaean fleet sails for Troy and sacks the city; Oedipus solves the mystery and ends the plague; Hamlet kills his uncle for murdering his father; Macbeth actually becomes king. But to have Stannis do what he does and then lose so ignominiously is as if Agamemnon and his fleet sank in the harbor at Aulis, or Oedipus’ investigation failed to end the plague, or if Claudius is alive at the end of Hamlet.

Moreover, I think this does real damage to Brienne’s story arc as well. In AFFC, Brienne comes face to face with Lady Stoneheart, the supernatural embodiment of revenge, and is put in an impossible situation where she’s being made to choose between her knightly ideals – protecting innocents like Pod – and the solely destructive path of vengeance (killing Jaime). Lady Stoneheart’s mission of murder is ultimately a distraction from the better path – i.e, finding Sansa and Arya. And yet in the show, Brienne literally turns away from her mission to rescue Sansa in order to execute Stannis. Yay vengeance?

Ok, rant over.


98 thoughts on “Analysis of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 10, “Mother’s Mercy”

  1. Brett says:

    I suppose it’s possible that Brienne didn’t actually kill Stannis, although I doubt it. That felt more like they were trying to eliminate a cast member and give the audience some “retribution” for Stannis burning Shireen in the previous episode. Either way, blah. What, are they just going to kill Ramsay next season when the chaos at the Wall in the wake of Jon’s assassination causes the wildlings to head south?

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who was annoyed at how the Sansa and Theon storylines ended. Aside from the concerns about agency, Stannis dead and his army defeated means there’s nothing for Theon and Sansa to flee to, nowhere for their story to go. Christ, this probably means we’ll get some dragging sequences at the Wall with Davos, Theon, and Sansa before they finally resurrect Jon.

    The Dornish Arc ended as it lived – disappointing. They couldn’t even be arsed to have the ship out of sight of land before Myrcella died, and the poisoning was ridiculously foreshadowed. Ugh. You know, if they hadn’t wasted so much time on the remnants of the Dornish Arc after eliminating 90% of its reason for existence, they could have done a Vale storyline with Sansa instead.

    • Brett says:

      I’ve changed my mind on this, and I think it’s extremely likely that Stannis is still alive if they’re keeping Kit Harrington out of nearly all of Season 6. He’d make it back to the Wall with Brienne, Pod, Sansa, and Theon, recuperate, help re-organize the Watch after the chaos of Jon’s assassination, and become the 999th Lord Commander before he dies.

  2. Paul says:

    Do you think that Stannis is dead? I don’t think he’s actually kicked the bucket. Part of me wonders if Benioff and Wiess moved Stannis’s fall from The Winds of Winter into season 5 territory so that they have room to work with him in season 6. I still think he has a part to play. Why cut away from Brienne and tease it out if he’s just going to die anyway?

    If he is dead then what a complete waste of a character and story arc, as you said Stannis hasn’t accomplished any great dead to balance out his tragedy.

    • CoffeeHound14 says:

      My girlfriend and I were wondering about this as well. It seems remarkable that in an episode chock full of character deaths, Stannis’s was pretty much the only one we didn’t really see. It’s entirely possible that the cut away was an editing choice made for some other reason, but it seems odd in the context. That being said, D & D have made their dislike of Stannis very clear, so I find it difficult to believe that they will keep him around.

      I must say, I almost laughed out loud when Brienne, with a straight face, called Renly the rightful king.

      • WPA says:

        Yeah, it would have been in character for show-Stannis to blurt out, “He can’t be the “Rightful King if he’s the younger brother. Just call him “King”. ” while Brienne is mid-exposition.

        I also agree, I find it odd that they cut away- it could be a ham-handed “he’s not really dead” or it could not.

      • winnie says:

        I think at that point Stannis actually *wanted* death so he wasn’t going to quibble with Brienne.

        • SpaceSquid says:

          The best hope I have for Stannis still being alive is him saying “Do your duty” reminded Brienne her duty is saving Sansa, and Stannis might possibly be of some use there.

  3. David Hunt says:

    I was curious why Qyburn didn’t even mention the name of “Ser Robert Strong” aka Frankengregor. They did a good job faking me out with the “news” that Benjen was alive. I actually believed Olly. I was wondering if they were working in some sort of show variant of Jon marching out in response to the Pink Letter. I did correctly call that the last scene of the Season would be Jon being murdered by his own men.

  4. allenips says:

    After the finale, I have come to conclude that the episode was about revenge and the horrible consequences it has for the greater good. Arya murders Meryn Trant and Jaquen dies and she’s blinded. Brienne pursues her revenge and fails sansa. Olly, and the Watch, murder Jon Snow because of the grudge Olly holds against the Wildlings, along with the rest of the Watch(and potentially them finding out Jon backed the wrong horse when it came to Stannis).
    When it comes to the sacrifice, I’d like to think it was just D&D conflating the sacrifice of the four cannibals in his army with his daughter. By saying that they mess with viewers and troll book readers. The disgust of such sacrifices was prevalent in the books with Alysane Mormont being disgusted, and Stannis is stoic enough and knows his men that he wouldn’t go too far on the burning people alive gambit. The cannibals were justified as it was a sentence worthy of death and it would mullify the Queens Men that are saying burn, burn, burn.

  5. devakikhanna says:

    I don’t think the producers have understood the books AT ALL–they do the spectacular bits very well (the Battle of the Blackwater, the Red Wedding) but seem to fall down completely on characters and their motives. They do a good job with the battle at Hardhome, but…I think they would rather focus on the big battle scenes, the more typical tropes/fan favorites rather than the atypical characters… And even in the earlier seasons, (2, for instance) they just did not understand what Robb’s strategy was and inserted a completely anachronistic character, Talisa Maegyr, instead of the more believable Jeyne Westerling. And no, I don’t think Robb is unconventional enough to fall for Talisa–he’s more likely to fall for Jeyne…

    The whole Ramsay/Sansa storyline is amateurish, from LF leaving Sansa, accused of murdering Joffrey with poison in collusion with her first husband, with the Boltons (?) who not only killed her brother(s)(??) but are also Lannister allies in the North(!!!) to go tattle to Cersei and get her permission (WTF?) to raise an army in the Vale to take north and get himself yet another wardenship. Either LF in the TV series is a greedy fool, which is not the way he’s depicted in the books, or it’s very poor writing. Let’s not forget that the lords and knights of the Vale followed Jon Arryn when he refused to hand over his foster sons to the King and rebelled. Knowing that Sansa is Ned’s daughter would win her the swords of men who were clamoring to join her brother’s rebellion.

    And Dorne? What a complete bloody waste of material–what with Doran and his patient plot for vengeance; Arianne and her seething grief at being second-best to Quentyn; Quentyn’s quest to prove himself worthy to his father and family; the Sand Snakes, minor characters but each so well drawn; Ellaria, so amazing, even in her grief… What I find truly amazing about GRRM is his depiction of his minor characters–each rendered as clearly and distinctly as every person, animal and plant in the Unicorn Tapestries at the Cloisters! That’s what makes his work so special and a delight to read, re-read and relish.

    Last but not least–their complete butchery of the Stannis/Shireen storyline. No, he would not sacrifice his heir to win against Ramsay Bolton, who is merely a local bully and psychopath, not a general; no, he will not lose to the Boltons. If he sacrifices Shireen, he will only do so to save humanity from the White Walkers. He’s a very tough guy (iron, to Robert’s steel and Renly’s copper), so…

    It seems the producers are in a hurry to be done with the show, now that they’ve shown what they can do with scenes such as the Red Wedding. They’re in a tearing hurry to get rid of Barristan and have Dany meet Tyrion, which is all very well, but the Meereen plot has its own issues. Dany is persuaded to wed Hizdahr and declare the pits open to make peace with Yunk’ai–she does not initiate the proposal or burn her enemies with dragonfire. Bad writing, but excellent artwork and acting–but I’d rather read TWoW, when it appears!

    • Punning Pundit says:

      Yes. This! All of this!

      One more: in Dance of Dragons, Jon comes more and more over time to sympathize with the Stannis cause. He also has an audacious plan to bring the wildlings south of the wall, because they are people. The Night’s Watch grudgingly goes along with the later- he’s the Lord Commander and his argument has a certain amount of merit.

      But when Jon acts on the former- when he raises an army to take up the Game of Thrones- the Watch murders Jon. That’s the books.

      In the Show, Jon is murdered because… Bullies gotta bully, yo.

      In the books, killing Mormont is a sign of corruption in the Watch- a corruption which killing Snow helps to ameliorate. In the show. Killing Mormont is also a sign of corruption, and killing Snow just piles on.

      I wish the show runners had a coherent idea of the themes of the entire Song of Ice and Fire. Instead they just want to blow up huge events. *yawn*

      • devakikhanna says:

        According to one of the producers, themes are for eighth-grade literature students, not for great men like himself. Which is why they’ve made such a dog’s dinner of the fifth season. But you could see the rot coming, from their introduction of Talisa Maegyr, instead of Jeyne Westerling, in the second season. Talisa is a Claire Beauchamp-like character, better done by Diane Gabaldon. Jeyne is a typically sheltered female in a feudal culture who falls in love with Robb the boy, not Robb the King. And D&D did not like that–hence, Talisa, who’s totally anachronistic and OOC. GRRM said, when he was writing ASOIAF, that the typical peasant girl in feudal Europe would never sass the prince/feudal lord, because she knew she would have to pay for it. And yet, here are D&D, breaking the rules and following the BLOODY TROPES.

  6. jpmarchives says:

    God, what a steaming pile. Stannis’ combat experience was thrown out the window and led to a humiliating tactical defeat. I wish I could say I thought it was thematic, but really it was just because D and D dislike the character. Years from now, millions will believe that Stannis was a child murdering loser who got what he deserved. It really makes me feel sick.

    More hideous sexual assault from Meryn Trant (he’s a baddie don’t forget) more invincible Ramsay, more pointless Dorne shenanigans and more of Sansa’s rape not having any pay off being relevant to the story at all.

    We missed out on Brienne’s heroic last stand against Biter and Rorge for this? I think this is a deal breaker – no more GOT for me.

  7. Erin says:

    Very frustrating finale. With the Dorne plot, Stannis’ plot, and Sansa’s plot all coming to nothing, I really feel like the showrunners wasted a lot of time. Especially in Dorne. There were perfectly good plots to use there and we got what we got. Perhaps Trystane will be proposing to Dany once she arrives in Westeros – assuming Jaime doesn’t get the ship turned around well before then.

    At the other end of Westeros, if Stannis is dead, Jon is dead for real, and Sam’s gone south, what’s going to hold up the plot in the north next season, especially at the Wall? More unstoppable supervillainy from Ramsay? To be honest my greatest fear is that Sansa and Theon are going to end up with Littlefinger’s Vale army, which would truly turn Sansa’s plot this season into a detour for rape.

    I just don’t know and I can’t trust that basic narrative logic is going to hold up in-show anymore. I lost a lot of faith in the showrunners this season.

  8. winnie says:

    I’m pretty sure Kit’s coming back next season.

    As for Kevan and Pycelle, they may have felt the body count was high enough this season. Also I have a nutty theory that on the show Cersei will be the one who has them killed for putting themselves in power over her.

    Agree the season overall was unsatisfying. ..but so were the last two books. They didn’t have as good source material to work with and their attempts to improvise were mixed to put it mildly.

    • Kit’s said pretty explicitly he is not coming back next season.

      • haplo6 says:

        But if Jon Snow is dead all the mystery around his parentage was just a dumb smoke screen. Could Martin really have contrived such a smoke screen to throw everyone off another plot? Seems unlikely. So Steven, are you suggesting, based on available comments, that they’ll just skip the character for a full season?

        According to these images, they left out the whispered, “Ghost” line. So Snow might appear in Season 6.

      • David Hunt says:

        He did. I hope he’s lying to aid the surprise, but I doubt that he’d even try. You can’t hide the fact that you’re working on set for a production like GOT anymore.

        It’s the Information Age. Now I’m going to go look at the volcano. Bet no one here gets THAT reference.

        • Tim Wolfe says:

          As for hiding who is on set for production… there is another way nobody’s brought up yet here: shoot Jon’s scenes for next season at the same time as they shot this season. That is a slight stretch of course, logistically, but he might not be in too many scenes.

          For instance, his resurrection could be astartling reveal at the end of season 6, if it turns out Melisandre brought him back but was keeping him hidden (among the wildilings, say, with Tormund’s collusion). Heck, this could be why they straight-up killed Mance this season — to preserve her whole glamor trick to apply to Jon, instead of Mance.

          Then they just need to script and shoot his re-appearance scene, while someone else plays the glamored Jon Snow for the rest of the season — I think this could be a feasible way to preserve the surprise.

      • Nymeria says:

        I feel like that has to be a misdirect — what is he supposed to say? “Yes, I’ll be back, so obviously this ‘death’ is a huge fake-out. Suspense over!” (See also: Katee Sackhoff “leaving” Battlestar Galactica, except not.) Sure, it will probably leak out once he gets back to filming, but at least they’re giving it a good try to keep up the illusion.

      • Punning Pundit says:

        Kit may be gone, but I wonder of Snow will body hop? Or maybe Kit is an exceptionally good liar. Granted, cutting his hair is a bad sign for his return.

      • Winnief says:

        What gives with that?!? Either Jon was really supposed to die in the books, (unlikely,) or he’s scheduled to warg into Ghost for a time and also be ‘off screen’ for a while. Which frankly would be bad writing on Martin’s part, and dumb for D&D as well, (hey if they’re going to make so many other changes then there’s no need to follow *that* one.)

        Unless what Kit means is that he doesn’t come back as “Jon Snow”-but perhaps reborn as “Jon Targaryen.” I’m reaching but it’s the best I can do. And frankly if Jon *is* off screen in Season 6 and off page in Book 6, then how can we possibly fit in all the fallout from his transformation/Big Reveal, AND his rise as AA into Book Seven/Season Seven?!?

        And what in seven hells are we gonna be watching/reading about in the meantime?!? Dany wandering around endlessly with a new Khalassar, more Arya assassin training, the Iron Born, and Cersei using Frankengregor to get her enemies?!?

        FYI, Amanda Marcotte did another great round-up of the finale.

    • And (as I hope to show some day), AFFC and ADWD are underrated.

      • haplo6 says:

        Both AFFC and ADWD are terribly underrated, the show writers just cut out or altered the best stuff:

        Dorne being the only non-misogynistic place in Westeros attempts to use Myrcella to lay claim to the Iron Throne is dumped in favor of the Sand Snakes killing a young girl. (for tragic effect)

        The fact all the Northern lords hate the Boltons and Freys is brilliantly done in the fArya plot in ADWD, yet zero made it into the show. Instead, Sansa is ridiculously inserted instead. (for tragic effect)

        Jaime ending the war in the Riverlands is critical to his arc as a character, and to provide context for the rise of the Sparrows. It ties in with Brienne’s travels as well, emphasizing that yes, the smallfolk matter, and that Lannisters and Freys make awesome ornaments hanging from trees. (to high-five-ing effect)

        Those books a really good, the attempted adaptation of 1,600 pages into a single season… barf.

        • John says:

          The last two books are rated perfectly accurately. There’s plenty of very interesting world-building in them, and some of the storylines are well drawn, but they have more than earned their mediocre reputations, because Martin has completely lost control of the plot and pacing of his story. And as problematic as they are as books, the idea of trying to adapt them literally into a television season or two would be even worse, because the virtues of the books are largely in the kind of world-building a TV show can’t really afford to engage in.

          I’m not particularly enamored with this season of the show. I think some of the choices Benioff and Weiss made are really hard to justify, like the way they utterly removed all of the internal politics of the north (although this had already started back in Season 2), or the handling of Dorne. But the biggest problems really do stem from the fact that the source material for this season was almost unadapatable.

          • I look forward to proving you wrong.

          • Winnief says:

            Well that should prove interesting! Assuming we ever get to the final two books, Steve, hint, hint.

            I think they often had flashes of brilliance, and beautiful work with setting the mood and world building…but yeah, realistically, we weren’t advancing the narrative to try to wind the story down, while at the same time getting WAY too many new sub-plots which was beyond frustrating.

            Also ADWD spent a 1,000 pages building to a series of big climactic moments….that never actually happened.

            Say what you will about D&D, but they did at least give us closure of at least a few of those things.

          • John says:

            I’ll be interested to see if you can prove me wrong, but very doubtul. There’s tons and tons of interesting stuff going on in the last two books. I mostly enjoyed them, give or take Dany’s diarrhea and some interminable travelogue chapters.

            But I don’t see how it’s even disputable that these books don’t even vaguely hold together as novels of their own in the way the first book does, or even to the extent that Clash and Storm do. They’re messy, untidy shaggy dog stories that were so long that Martin had to remove the climaxes and save them for the next book. He’s introduced seven or eight totally extraneous plots which will extend the narrative without really adding anything.

            I still contend that it was an utter disaster to get rid of the five year gap. Martin’s response when he discovered that he was writing tons of flashbacks to things happening during the gap should have been to *stop writing stupid flashbacks*!

            I’m greatly looking forward to your analysis of future books, and am sure I’ll appreciate your insights, but highly skeptical that you’ll convince me that these are well-constructed books.

          • winnie says:

            Agree that he should have kept the five year gap or made the Stark children older to begin with. One thing the show has going for it is that we can actually see the kids growing up so it makes seem more convincing.

          • They couldn’t fit the climax into the book even after splitting it into two. There’s some great stuff in there but it seriously needed to be edited down. I think people have overcompensated and gone too far the other direction. They’re not the worst ever but they have major issues.

          • Come on people Stannis isn’t dead. It’s a basic rule of tv and these novels that if you don’t see them die on screen they aren’t dead.

            You’ve got a modified version of the book’s battle of ice set up for next season. You’ve got the southern forces posing an external threat to the Boltons(Littlefinger and the Vale), internal strife over the treatment of a “Stark”, and a thought to be dead team Stannis member free to interact with Stark loyalist elements and bring Rickon back into play(Stannis himself). I even have hope we may get Manderlay next season.

            As far as walking into a trap show Stannis is clearing running on fumes here. He has to believe the sacrifice was the important part or else he’d be up next to his wife. Even if scouts told him he was horrifically outnumbered what’s he going to do? Run back to the wall?

          • No idea why the last Stannis post was a reply.

          • draftzero says:

            Strongly disagree re: five-year gap.

            Jon’s story arc in ADWD–in my opinion Martin’s greatest achievement–would have been impossible with a timeskip.

            This is true for everyone else too, except the Stark kids.

            AFFC/ADWD are not perfect books, but Martin does not take shortcuts at the expense of the integrity of the story, as the show does, and that you seem to be advocating for him to do as well.

            GRRM explains his reasoning in detail here:

          • John says:

            Jon’s plot, and Cersei’s, would have been perfectly possible with the gap. Stannis’s story gets a bit dicey, as do the Iron Islands, and I’m not sure what you do with Brienne, but pretty much every other story would be fine with the five year gap. Jon can run the watch for a few years and *then* decide to try to integrate the Wildlings. Cersei can run things incompetently but not disastrously for a few years. We can pick up with Tyrion already with Dany in Meereen. We can not have Aegon and Quentyn at all.

            I’m sure you disagree with some of this, but I’ll still contend that whatever problems the five year gap opens up are nothing next to the mess that the plot has become in its absence.

          • John says:

            Also – looking at Martin’s explanation, it’s kind of an explanation for why he’s sort of incompetent at this. For one thing — he makes things takes way less time than they actually would! Armies actually take a long time to mobilize and then get to actually do things, but he makes things that would take weeks take days, and things that would take months take weeks.

            His explanation for why Cersei doesn’t work with the gap just shows how undisciplined he’s become. Who cares about Cersei’s six hands over five years? Who cares about the conspiracy four years ago? Cut that shit out. We don’t need to know the details of what happened over those five years.

            Martin was totally able to do this in the first book. Favorite example: Catelyn III – Catelyn leaves Winterfell. Catelyn IV – Catelyn is in King’s Landing. Catelyn V – Catelyn meets Tyrion at the Crossroads. Later, we skip from the Eyrie to Catelyn arriving at Moat Cailin. If Martin were writing this now, is there any doubt that we’d have a chapter in White Harbor, a chapter on the boat, a chapter traveling up the Kingsroad, a chapter leaving the Eyrie, a chapter at Gulltown, another chapter at White Harbor?

          • haplo6 says:

            Everyone loves ASOS because it is, essentially, a pay-off book for all the narrative threads built from the first two books. AFFC and ADWD have constructed new threads that will culminate in TWOW being an explosive book – battles, reveals, Cleganebowl, ect. But Ironborn and Dorne stuff had to be brought in, and the tension of the North in ADWD is awesome.

  9. somethinglikealawyer says:

    When I had received the skinny from the community, the first thing I thought about the apparent conclusion of the Stannis arc was: “Wait, that seemed utterly pointless.” The Baratheon cause dies ignobly, Stannis accomplishes absolutely nothing, and Brienne backtracks on duty for vengeance in defiance of her AFFC arc.

    Glad to hear the rant. I felt disqualified in speaking on my own about the season since I stopped watching.

  10. Keith B says:

    Remind me why Stannis was considered one of the best military commanders in Westeros?

    He doesn’t know how to fight cavalry with infantry. You don’t spread your men out; you get into a tight formation (British square, anyone?) with the pointy end out.

    He doesn’t know how to use sentries and pickets to guard his supplies. He didn’t enlist any of the Northern lords who would know the territory and be able to screen his forces. (In the books he does.)

    In the Battle of Blackwater, he knows the defenders are making a boom chain, and he doesn’t attack the southern tower while waiting for his fleet to appear. Since the boom chain is new, Tyrion should not have had time to fortify it as much as such towers normally are.

    He sends virtually his entire fleet into the Blackwater Rush without assessing the defenses.

    He suffers a humiliating defeat at Blackwater, losing almost his entire army and navy, then for no reason gets a second chance (if I were the Iron Bank, I wouldn’t lend him a penny). Then he loses his entire army again to the Boltons. Who were only the first of many that he would need to defeat in order to gain the throne.

    He’s a triple threat. He’s equally incompetent at tactics, strategy, and logistics. Jon Snow’s kid sister would make a better general.

  11. djinn says:

    Regarding Sansa’s storyline i think this sums up exactly what it was about:

    Here’s the real reasons why this happened.

    1. Cost.

    Since Hardhome quite clearly swallowed a huge amount of the budget this year, the showrunners were looking for places that could be cut. Arya is a fan favorite, her chapters have lots of violence, take place in relatively few locations and with a limited number of characters. So she was safe. bran’s plot is mostly mystical and crosses over in too much TWOW territory, so he is cut. Sansa’s OTL plot would require the Vale as a viable location, multiple castings for several prominent Vale figures, and props and sets galore. Removing her was a no brainer.

    2.Theon and narrative economy.

    Theon needs a female character to be imperiled so he can redeem himself. Sansa handily fits the bill, and having cut her Vale plot, is now looking for something to do. Additionally, this places the locus for Stannis, Brienne, the Boltons, Theon and Sansa at Winterfell; five characters dealt with in a single location.

    3. Sophie Turner.

    Unlike Isaac Hempstead-Wright, Sophie is quickly becoming a fully fledged film star. Since the Vale story was simply one location too many, they needed something for her to do – what better than a shocking a dramatic rape scene? Lots of exposure for one of the casts’ rising stars and a chance to once again show case her misery face.

    4.Constraints upon LF.

    A possibly unintended side effect of Sansa’s arc in season 4 was that she effectively held LF dead to rights. One word from Sansa to the Vale lords about Lysa’s death and LF is missing his head. No more manipulations, no more social climbing. At best he runs back to Cersei, at worst he is eaten by the crows. Since book LF has plenty more scheming to do, his show counterpart must also have freedom to manipulate. Therefore Sansa cannot be kept in the Vale in order for the plot (as the showrunners have written it) to continue unimpeded.

    5. Shock factor.

    GOT is the show where horrible things happen to good people. It is the general populace’s understanding of the series, and what it has become famous for. The rape of a main character is shocking, therefore that should be something that happens.

    You can try and rationalize LF’s bizarre plan or Sansa’s apparent idiocy all you want; none of it matters. It has nothing to do with historical accuracy, empowerment, characterization or context.

    Sansa was raped because the way the show has been made demanded it.

    by TheCasualObserver

    • draftzero says:

      That’s a really good analysis.

      Basically, TV logic. As opposed to the tapestry of deep character motivations which drives the book story.

    • Winnief says:

      I think you’re right on all counts. My guess is in the book timeline, LF does indeed end up marching the Knights of the Vale to Winterfell at some point, (maybe after marrying Sansa to HtH or as the result of some other scheme,) and of course Sansa comes along for the ride. That is when the girl with serpents in her hair, I’m thinking takes the head off the Titan…or if you prefer the Mockingbird.

      So yeah, whatever’s going to happen with LF, Sansa, the Vale Knights, and WF is still going to happen, sometime in Season 6 probably….but they didn’t have the resources for the Vale storyline, (nor ahem, the imagination to give Sansa a more intriguing, less exploitive role to play in the North like perhaps seeking shelter with Manderly or the like and plotting to overthrow the Boltons together,) so they came up with this as a way of setting it up, but they don’t know have to do any Vale. Instead they get LF in KL, interacting with Cersei and Olenna again. (Which was actually pretty good.) ANd they get Sansa, Brienne, and Podrick in the North. (Not so good.)

    • artihcus022 says:

      So basically Game of Thrones is not as innovative as people thought it was. Stylistically and narratively its the same old made-up-as-it-goes-along, padding-driven, uneconomical and conservative schema that has been dogging TV since its origin. That’s fair.

      Initially when I got into the show, I liked it because it wasn’t like other TV shows, it had changes between seasons, characters who shift dynamically and that thanks to the literary origin, it would be like the books. That’s what led to me the books to be honest. Now though, without that literary quality, its…any other TV show. Keeping characters because of how “prominent” they are, having to invent stuff for people to do and the boring filmed-theatre realism where there’s no flashbacks, no visions, no prophecies and the others. I mean the show is no longer about its content, its about its budget.

  12. draftzero says:

    Why does Stannis have to win the Battle of Winterfell in order to sacrifice Shireen? He could very well lose, retreat to Castle Black, and sacrifice Shireen there. Or Mel and Shireen could meet up with him midway after escaping the chaos of Castle Black.

    A lot rests on the Pink Letter. Either you believe the Pink Letter, or you don’t. Personally, I think the letter is basically true. The only claim which seems to be clearly false is that Stannis is dead (he isn’t; Ramsay has his magic sword but not his head). Everything else fits pretty well with what we know. Especially if you think that Stannis wins some initial victories around Crofter’s Village but still fails in the end while trying to take Winterfell.

    • The letter has some key problems:

      1. No medieval field battle in cold weather lasts seven days.
      2. If Stannis lost that completely, where is Theon and Jeyne?
      3. We know the Karstark treachery has been forestalled, and the two main opponents of Stannis are the Freys and the Manderlys, and we know the Manderlys are betraying the Boltons.
      4. Way too much setup about Stannis faking his death. Ramsay having the sword but not the body is a huge giveaway.

      The main reason why Stannis has to take Winterfell is the prophecy/vision of the Stone Dragon, and the fact that the Wall is not the center of gravity – characters are moving toward Winterfell, not to the Wall.

      • draftzero says:

        Well, I’ll defer to your expertise re: medieval battles and prophecies. Stannis could very well win the battle, I don’t think we know yet.

        I think Ramsay wrote the Pink Letter but he might be acting on some false information. Stannis is not dead, I agree, which indicates Ramsay’s victory is not as complete as he thinks it is. The letter seems like it’s written right after the battle and Ramsay is writing in haste.

        Jeyne is probably heading up to Castle Black with Justin Massey. As for Theon, he might be dead and Ramsay doesn’t know it yet, or Stannis has Theon with him (probably also heading up for Castle Black). Either way it seems that Ramsay holds Winterfell and is now trying to mop up whatever remnants of Stannis’s forces remain.

        Even if Stannis does clean out the traitors in his ranks and beats the Freys/Manderlys, he still has to take Winterfell itself. That is an uphill climb and by no means certain.

      • WPA says:

        1. Do you hold out any possibility that the cut-away implies Brienne did not go through with dispatching Stannis and that he’d have some role to play in the next season?

        2. What is Davos going to do at the Wall / how will he be sent on his book quest to recover one of Chekov’s Starks? I always wondered why they wouldn’t have Sam or Jon blurt out (as doesn’t show Jon know the boys are alive per season 4?) this to Stannis or Davos? ie “I will avenge your family and place you in Winterfell.” “I have my vows but there’s an even better option for you…”

        • 1. The Inside the Episode seemed to hint pretty damn strongly that Stannis is dead.
          2. No idea.

        • winnie says:

          It could be that Theon and Sansa now make their way to the Wall and link up with Davos.

          • Doug McMillan says:

            The interesting thing for me about the wall storyline is that there is npo way the Night Watch can fight 5000 Wildlings without the Wall to protect them, and they’ve forced a fight by killing Jon without anyone who wants to keep the alliance alive on the Night Watch side. So does Tormund hold the wall once the Night Watch have been wiped out except for Sam?

  13. rosshickman says:

    What do you think of the theory that the stone dragon is not an egg in Winterfell, but is John Snow?

    I feel that this is a pretty common theory, but I will briefly elaborate to avoid confusion:

    (Theory/Spoilers follows)

    The prophecy says that “Azor Ahai shall be born again amidst smoke and salt to wake dragons out of stone.”

    We know that only death can pay for life.

    Shireen has greyscale and is “stone”.

    R + L = J and Targaryens frequently appear as dragon’s in prophecy.

    The smoke is Shireen’s Pyre.

    The salt is Bowen Marsh’s tears.

    Melisandre frequently gets prophecy wrong.

    “to wake dragons out of stone is generally read as modifying the subject Azor Ahai, but could also be modifying the object of the prepisition “smoke and salt.” In other words, Azor Ahai isn’t waking the dragon out of stone, the smoke and salt is.

    • I’ve never liked that theory. Jon’s resurrection seems destined to happen at the Wall (hence the blue flower) whereas the stone dragon is much more associated with Winterfell.

      Also, I don’t buy the preposition thing. Doesn’t fit with Dany’s vision.

  14. Sean C. says:

    I like how this season opened with Littlefinger telling Sansa that she’s been a “bystander to tragedy” and needs to “stop running” and “avenge them”, which leads to: sulking at Winterfell doing nothing, then being raped and abused for a while, failing on two different occasions to run away, and then successfully running away after being rescued by somebody else. Why, it’s almost like this whole plot was nothing but a ridiculous fig leaf to have Sansa replace Jeyne Poole.

    Dorne: LOL. That’s really all there is to say.

    King’s Landing and Arya’s story were good (the latter finally got moving, after a very slow build), and the Meereen/Dany setup was fine.

    • Winnief says:

      As we discussed above, D&D were in a corner regarding Sansa. For various reasons, the Vale storyline wasn’t going to happen on screen, but unlike Isaac, they couldn’t put Sophie on the shelf for a whole season, (girl’s career is starting to take off and good for her,) ergo making her “Jeyne”. We get how it makes sense in the logic of the tv medium, but that doesn’t make it any more excusable in terms of the overall narrative and/or character arc.

      OT, but I think the showrunners kinda hit the lottery with Sophie who was cast at a *very* young age, but has grown not only into a truly great actress but a stone cold knockout as well. (Which isn’t just good for shallow eye candy but because if she *is* the YMBQ that frankly, helps sell it.) If only they could come up with better stuff for her to do, than constantly suffer. .

      I mean, Dorne was also a disaster too, but I at least understood that they’d inserted Jaime and Bronn into it, to TRY to make the Dornish sub-plot more interesting and relevant to the rest of the story, like having with Tyrion intersecting with Dany and Varys in Essos even though they failed with the former and succeeded admirably with the latter. It wasn’t a bad idea really so much as badly executed, but Sansa’s story arc this season was actually well executed-but based on a fundamentally bad concept. She and Alfie acted the hell out of their scenes together; but even they couldn’t over come the broader problems of the story line

      • Sean C. says:

        A corner entirely of their own making. Even if Sansa absolutely had to go to Winterfell, there were a million other ways it could have been written. They just didn’t care.

        • winnie says:

          No argument there. Plenty of other ways to handle her going up North. I think they just couldn’t resist the shock value of having a Stark girl violated by Ramsay.

  15. Sokket says:

    I will say one thing as a Sullied RE: Stannis. What happened to him is completely right if they are holding to the “kinslayers are cursed above all” theme in ASOIAF. If that was the point, though, then they missed a chance to build that up, and then shoot to Tyrion to remind us that he’s a kinslayer too.

    • Winnief says:

      Since Stannis killed Renley in Season 2, Tyrion might have a little time left, before he inevitably suffers in retribution for killing Tywin.

    • Jack says:

      The “kinslayers are cursed” thing always seemed more like superstition in a world where bloodlines mean everything more than an actual theme of the story. Martin going out of his way to punish kinslayers would be pretty lousy to me since in some cases its fairly justified. Does Tyrion really deserve cosmic justice for killing Tywin? As far as I can see the man had it coming. Thats even more explicit in the show in which there is no doubt that he was planning to have Tyrion executed for a crime he knew he wasn’t guilty of.

    • djinn says:

      Well, Robb got shafted soon after killing Karstark and Drogo with Viserys. Of course, Tyrion will be immune(echoes of mary sue).

      • Jack says:

        GRRM has confirmed that Karstark was stretching the concept in a desperate attempt to save his head. The Starks and Karstarks are only distant relatives.

  16. Grant says:

    Here are my thoughts on Dorne and what could have been done.

    Have the Sand Snakes and Ellaria be the rallying point for anti-Lannister sentiment, both among commoners and nobles, while Jaime (assuming we have to keep him in Dorne for the season) is trying to negotiate desperately with Doran (who also wants to avoid war.) The Snakes themselves are currently split over Myrcella, which Doran is using to forestall a palace coup.

    Things come to a head with Doran arresting the Snakes after Lannister soldiers turn up poisoned, he makes it clear that the only way out is a moderate Snake taking her father’s place at King’s Landing. Secretly he wins the loyalty of the Snakes by revealing that he’s been planning to back Dany, and admits that he left it mostly in the hands of Varys, who didn’t do nearly so well as could be hoped.

    I’m not totally satisfied with it, but it would show national sentiment, Jaime trying to act as a responsible leader and not a man who’s run from leadership, Doran’s political maneuvering from a shaky position and the Snakes as a threat not for some really bad fight scene but because they’re politically powerful.

    And for the love of God, none of the horrible, horrible lines from Tyene. Who wrote her stuff with Bronn, a kid who’s just started writing fanfics for the first time?

  17. rw970 says:

    It’s funny. I was really enjoying the first half of the season. I thought that the show had pushed past the narrative of the books and was revealing all new plot and information, and it was exciting to be along for the ride.

    But it’s become apparent that the show was actually just killing time, I guess to give GRRM more time to finish Book 6. It felt a lot like Jon Snow’s plan to bring justice to the mutineers of the Watch who killed Mormont – a cool little adventure to go on while we wait for the pieces to be put into place.

    1. The newfangled and invented Battle of Hardhome didn’t change any outcome at the Wall. I mean, it was cool, but changed nothing.
    2. The entire Dorne thing was completely circuitous and irrelevant. We don’t even know if Myrcella is dead.
    3. Yeah, Tyrion got to have two chats with Dany but she still flew off to meet up with the Dothraki. So we’re back to status quo there.
    4. Arya is actually further back than she is in the books.
    5. It turns out that we didn’t skip the Greyjoy plot – we just deferred it a year, so we still have all that story to go over.
    6. Brienne did nothing the entire season. She *may* have killed Stannis. We’ll only find out next season.

    Basically, the show gave us the illusion that we got to the fireworks factory, but we actually treaded water.

    • winnie says:

      Agreed. I think either Jon’s resurrection or the Big Reveal SHOULD have happened this season but that it didn’t to give Martin time time for TWOW. And there’s no reason to have Dany’s detour to the Dothraki sea. Have her start preparing to go to Westeros already. She can always make stops in Valyria or Braavos after all..

    • Sean C. says:

      Myrcella and Stannis are dead. The Viewer Guide and Gwendoline Christie (in the case of Stannis) say as much.

  18. Will Rogers says:

    If Stannis was the greatest military commander in the world, I don’t think his half-sized army of infantry with no horses could deal with getting overwhelmed by the outnumbering Boltons on horseback.

    • WPA says:

      Considering the large number of dead Dreadfort men littering the field and the fact the organized fight must have ranged back into the forest- they at least made them work for it.

  19. djinn says:

    As for the Stannis storyline, i thinks it’s pretty difficult to rationally deny the theories that B & W have a dislike for him and it reflected in to writing. They purposefully striped the character of the most agreeable traits(caustic humor, meritocratic beliefs, military competence, thoughtful considerations), ramped up the disagreeable ones(stubbornness, pride, poor social skills) and added religious zealotry and weak will.

    In retrospect, it’s clear that to B & W, Stannis serves as:

    -Antagonist for Tyrion in the Battle of the Blackwater Rush

    -Rescuer for Jon at the battle of the Wall

    -Diversion that allows Theon’s escape attempt

    Once these tasks were achieved, he was the disposable character that they disliked, so he had to be removed. But because they were ”forced” to endure writing him for so long, it’s only fair that they get to humiliate it before killing him. I mean, Joffrey, Tywin, Kraznys, Gregor, Renly, Robert, Ned, Viserys, Drogo, Catelyn or Sandor don’t get this mishandled before dieing. Only Lysa really gets close. Even common accepted beliefs(by Varys, LF, Roose and Davos) like his military skills are disproven with a bellow Stafford/Rodrik level of incompetence.
    Brienne diatribe was basically B & W saying they liked Renly better and they were right, dawn you! Childish, immature and unprofessional IMHO. I guess being proven right in the complains about this treatment during the last four years is some form of satisfaction(not really).

    • Keith B says:

      I agree with most of this, but the relationship between Stannis, Davos and Shireen, with Selyse and Melisandre as secondary characters, was one of the best parts of the show while it lasted. So I don’t think the authors disliked him, I think they just thought his story wasn’t central and needed to be truncated so that the last two seasons could be spent on other things.

      Although, without Stannis or Jon, it’s hard to see where Sansa and Theon could go. Even if they join up with Brienne and Podrick, they’re fugitives in the North in winter, with a very angry Ramsay looking for them. Do they get together with Davos and do a variant of the Wyman Manderly plot?

      • new djinn says:

        But what exactly did you like about their relationship? Stannis and Shireen get two scenes together, there’s no debate about the nature of feudal lords or the price of sacrifice or the value of life, the duties of kingship, 2 is not 3, the role of religion in life and politics, cart before the horse, none of it. Mel clearly dominates him(despite the fact that a stubborn person should struggle against it), Selyse is subservient to everybody, it really isn’t the same characters at all.
        So his story isn’t central, sure, but neither is Jaime’s, Brienne, Sansa or Arya(it certainly doesn’t seem so), and apparently Bran also. And yet, why the humiliation of the ending? Why not have him die in a pitched battle against Roose? What is the purpose?

        I think you are making the mistake of thinking Sansa & Theon situation from a book perspective. They will either join Jon(wolf?undead?Jesus?) or LF because that the most useful way of condensing the TV storylines, consistent character development or logic aren’t important(just look at the plot distortions in this season). There’s no Wyman, sorry.

  20. Jim B says:

    Overall I still enjoy the show, but I am disappointed at how much of the nuance and moral ambiguity has been stripped away this season.

    Most critics have pointed out how heavy-handed the “Meryn Trant is a perverted pedophile” stuff was, and how it was clearly highlighted so as to get the audience to cheer for a ten-year-old to commit murder.

    Upthread, Punning Pundit noted how simplistic the Night’s Watch stabbing becomes: Jon remains unquestionably a Good Guy, who is done in by jerks like Ser Aliser (who has to throw in a couple of insults and threats of Sam at Aemon’s funeral, just so we remember his status as official Asshole of the Watch). The worst you can accuse Show Jon of is tactical cluelessness for not seeing the revolt coming, whereas Book Jon arguably does betray his vows in important ways, undermining the neutrality of the Watch by playing politics in the North and ultimately trying to lead an army south.

    In Meereen, there’s no real room for debate as to where Dany went wrong — we’re pretty clearly supposed to appreciate that she didn’t kick enough ass and murder enough people.

    The books offer some interesting musings on revenge: is it ok for us to cheer for Manderly’s cannibalism and violation of guest right because it’s against the Freys? Should we cheer for Lady Stoneheart’s campaign of retribution, or be appalled at what she’s turned into? The show cuts these storylines out, perhaps for understandable reasons, but gives us lots more Ramsay the Rapist, just to make sure viewers stay tuned to see him “get it” like Joffrey did.

    • John says:

      I’ll just note that at least one of the big reasons for “Meryn Trant is a perverted pedophile” was in order to give Arya an opportunity to be alone with him, and was also taken straight out of the Mercy chapter. Additionally, Arya in the show is very clearly not ten years old, either explicitly or implicitly. She was like 11 when the show started (and Maisie Williams was 13 when they were filming), and she’s presumably like 15 now. Maisie Williams is 18. Nobody perceived this as a ten year old committing murder.

      • Jim B says:

        Correction noted on the age thing — I was exaggerating for effect.

        But that just makes it even less necessary, on both counts. It’s less shocking for a teenager to commit murder, and it’s less necessary to emphasize Trant’s pedophilia and all-around creepiness as an excuse for how Arya gets close enough to kill him. Arya already got fairly close to him just in her oyster girl persona, she’s got access to a warehouse full of faces (and I’m guessing the Faceless Men have a padded bra or two around).

        In any event, there was no plot rationale for having Trant also like to beat his underaged prostitutes, was there?

        As to how much of this comes from the Mercy chapter, I don’t have access to a copy at the moment so I’m going on memory, but considering it’s a different character entirely (Raff) and a lot of other details are changed (she’s working with the acting company, she actively seduces Raff in a “grown up” way that many criticized GRRM for), I’m not sure how relevant that is. And in any event, the books have lots of details that the showrunners choose to gloss over — this detail, to the extent you can say it’s present in the text, is drawn out over multiple episodes.

        I’m certainly not the only one who thought the show laid it on a little thick here. I can direct you to multiple reviewers, bookreaders and non, who noted this, too.

  21. Petyr Patter says:

    So, at some point in the season, I decided watching the show was no longer fun. Specifically, one rape scene to many, though that was the only factor. So, I stopped watching. Cold Turkey, stopped watching.

    Best (entertainment) decision ever!

    I still know what the major events are based almost entirely from online article headers. Which I think gets to the point of what GoT has become, an attention grab. Instead of working to create the best television (true to the books or not), the show runners are simply going for big impact events. Which, while giving people something to talk about, does not give them an actual incentive to watch.

  22. I think one big issue in this season’s failure is the show’s utterly superficial treatment of religion.

    Other than one context-free speech from the High Sparrow, there is no dramatization of how the Faith of the Seven allows the smallfolk to express their resistance, their demand for order after the ravages of war. The High Sparrow is just another game-player, an individual rather than a spokesman for a peasant movement. The Faith of the Seven is deeply misogynist, but it is also much more than that. But all we get is the misogyny stripped of its context, all the better for the “everyone is equally awful” misery porn perspective.

    The Faith of R’hllor is a new and growing faith that offers a hope of salvation from a broken and dangerous world, and one which offers a new kind of power in the work of fire priests and priestesses. The priests are more or less confident in their new powers, struggling to adjust to their newfound status while adhering to their faith. Stannis is a reluctant, doubtful man of faith, willing to go along with this movement only so far. In the show, the Faith of R’hllor is just more child-murdering fanaticism, and Stannis gets the rightful comeuppance of fanatics.

    This is an entirely modern way of seeing religion, as nothing other than empty moralizing, hatred of women and fanaticism. (It’s also just wrong on a basic level.) And they’ve ported it in to this medieval world where it makes no sense and inevitably twists story and character into unrecognizable and unpleasant knots.

    • Grant says:

      They also horribly failed to show any real power from the Faith Militant. We don’t see armies being raised and commoners and knights* alike flocking to the Sparrows’ call. All I can remember seeing were mobs and guys with clubs. The Tyrells could cut through that with ease, and that’s assuming that any commoners in Highgarden would actually listen to some fanatic in King’s Landing calling for them to rebel.

      *Lancel is one guy, and frankly he just gave the impression of being average as a knight.

      • John says:

        As someone who’s watched a lot of 70s BBC shit, I guess my attitude is that I’m okay if sometimes we have to take the spectacle on faith and accept the shorthand they give us. Certainly this is not a new thing for the show – already in Season 1 we more or less have to imagine the Hand’s Tourney and the Khalasar. If anything, the show’s gotten much better about this.

        • Grant says:

          We know they’ve got armor costumes, they’ve obviously got the Sparrow actors. Give them some armor and face concealing helmets for a scene and show them praying fervently as the High Sparrow speaks.

  23. haplo6 says:

    1. The Dorne plot was so bad this season it’s almost not even worth commenting on. I guess you have to conclude that Ellaria and the snakes want war so much they are willing to sacrifice Trystanne, who on the show appears to be the sole heir to House Martell. The show does a terrible job explaining why this is the case. The show basically says they want vengeance, but vengeance for what? Oberyn volunteered to fight the Mountain of his own free will and lost fair and square. They can be pissed at the Lannisters for all kinds of other reasons related to Elia etc, but as violent and common as death is in Westeros the Sand Snakes are going to kill their prince and launch a war over a lost trial by combat? It’s kind of a stretch. Plus it makes Doran look dumb, and he’s not supposed to be dumb. Maybe they have a big plot / plan reveal for Doran later (Aegon?), but I can’t imagine what it would be.

    2. No idea where the writers think this Sansa thing is going, it’s such a mess. She didn’t grow at all this season the way people thought. It was assumed she would start to be like an anti-Littlefinger in ways because of last season and the way this season began, but in the end she’s just an abused fugitive… again. Stannis’ disorganized, mopey mob was so utterly crushed, it doesn’t seem like the Boltons were all that weakened, so Littlefinger’s ridiculous idea that the knights of the Vale would sweep in and crush the winner doesn’t look that great right now. The biggest weakness with Winterfell this season was almost no development of “the North remembers” story (donde Manderly, Umber, Glover?). It was said once like five episodes ago and the chick that said it was kilt almost instantly. It was a token acknowledgement to the book story but that was it.

    3. Overall clearly the worst season so far. They could have developed a cool Dorne, North Remembers, and maybe even some of the Greyjoy arc and extend the series two more seasons easily and had much better stories. They could have given Stannis just one final bone so he didn’t look like a complete quitter. It’s pretty obvious to me the producers are trying to wrap this shit up quick. I don’t know if HBO is telling them it’s too expensive to produce or if they are just getting much better offers from Hollywood, but it’s clear that financial considerations have trumped story telling at this point. That kind of blows, but at least it gives us book readers something to look forward to.

    • Jim B says:

      I mostly agree with your points.

      1. It’s not inconceivable to me that the Sand Snakes — who, for all their reputation and tough talk, are fairly privileged and spoiled — would take a “heads we win, tails we flip again” attitude towards revenge against the Lannisters. But that just makes it more important to have other characters push back harder on this point. I think maybe Doran mentioned it once, but mostly his argument was about the downsides of war, so the net effect is that he comes across as a “peace at any price” guy. (This is where the excision of the Quentyn/Arianne storyline hurts, though I agreed with it. Doran never gets his moment to show that he’s playing a game of his own.) Hell, you could have had Bronn — who knows a thing or two about volunteering for trial by combat — call them out on it during the prison cell scenes, instead of filling the HBO breast quota.

      2. Sending Sansa to Winterfell and consolidating those plot lines made a lot of sense, but yes, it turned into a mess. We’ve already seen Sansa as a mostly helpless prisoner dealing with a cruel fiance, so the only thing new here was that this time she was actually raped. As to “the North remembers” — I’m hopeful that some of this will get covered next season. Since apparently House Bolton survives the battle with Stannis in good shape, at least on the show, there will be time to get into it next season. And it may be that for time and budget/casting considerations it wasn’t practical to introduce the Manderlys and other northerners this season. I would be very disappointed if this plotline was cut entirely, because I think GRRM was making important points about leadership styles and political tactics and the consequences they bring.

      3. Worst season ever? Maybe. I remember season 2 as being a little disjointed, but it’s been a while now. They had worse material to work from here, for what that’s worth. But I don’t see any signs that they’re “trying to wrap this shit up quick.” If anything, the producers bent over backwards not to advance the story beyond ADWD. As I understand it, the show is a huge moneymaker and prestige generator for HBO, and the network would do twenty more seasons if they thought they could. (Well, not really. But they’ll happily move on to a Dunk and Egg series.) But to the extent the show is “rushing” to get to the end, it’s only due to the length of the actors’ contracts. I think the problem is that the producers had to distill two huge books full of new subplots into a single season of television. And while our gracious host may be right that those two books are not as bad as fan consensus holds, I think many of their redeeming qualities make for poor television.

  24. John says:

    I’ll attempt a defense of what they’ve done, with Stannis’s story in the show. This is all working on the assumption that Stannis is dead, which may indeed prove not to be the case.

    I will note, in the first place, that numerous tragic heroes don’t really accomplish anything. Othello has accomplished some stuff before the story begins, but in the course of the play all he manages to do is become intensely jealous and murder his wife. Lear doesn’t really accomplish anything, either. So I’m dubious of the basic frame you’re using here to say the storyline doesn’t work.

    I will say, secondarily, that Dillane has been amazingly good as Stannis, possibly the best actor on the show, and that I’m basically willing to buy whatever he’s selling.

    As to Stannis’s specific story, I suppose it’s really Macbeth on fast forward. Yes, Macbeth does become king, but I don’t think we can view that as an accomplishment the way Agamemnon’s conquest of Troy is an accomplishment. The real Macbeth may have sat the throne for 17 years, but the one in the play basically secures the throne and then immediately finds that his monstrosity is coming back to haunt him, and is utterly destroyed. That’s more or less what happened to Stannis this season.

    But I think the failure to become king for a season, or whatever, is a valid choice that really sets off the horror of what Stannis has done. The whole of the last episode, Stannis is a broken man. He has done this horrible thing that he thought would win him what he wants, and he very quickly realizes that he has essentially sold his soul for nothing. He grimly goes through the motions, but he already realizes, before he learns that half his army is gone and his wife has killed himself, that he is lost. Again, Dillane’s performance really sold the whole thing to me, probably more than the writing, but that’s what dramatic performance is for – for actors to fill in the gaps like that.

    And it seems to me that there’s a very basic premise here, which is not at odds with Martin’s larger themes for the series. We’re used to the idea that, essentially, selling your soul is effective. That if you do a terrible thing, you will be rewarded for it, at least in the short run. Stannis’s story this season more or less says, “No. If you sell your soul, if you do something utterly evil and unforgivable, it won’t give you magical powers. It’ll just destroy you. No matter how much you think that offering up your beloved child to a god you aren’t quite sure you believe in will give you what you want, it won’t. It’ll just mean having to watch your daughter burn to death while screaming for help.” That feels powerful to me, at least.

    I’m not going to say the story may not have been muddled a bit. I’ve seen lots of nitpicking about how they didn’t do enough to show how desperate Stannis’s situation was. I don’t really care about that — I thought Dillane’s performance showed how desperate Stannis’s situation was, and I don’t really care if we don’t get a bunch of wide shots of his army starving, or if the CGI battle was unimpressive, or whatever. And, absolutely, Dillane carried this storyline on his back. but I thought that, ultimately, it worked, and was haunting.

    If we’re going to go with storylines that don’t work very well, I thought that the decision to a) explicitly show Thorne letting Jon and the Wildlings through the Wall; and then b) have them assassinate Jon immediately afterwards, without him doing anything else to offend them, was really poor, and kind of made a hash of things.

    • jpmarchives says:

      A real complaint for me is that the whilst presenting Stannis’ story as a tragedy does work, it really wasn’t what we got. The inciting incident for Shireen’s burning simply wasn’t severe enough to warrant it – as Stannis’ general points out, half his army abandons him and takes the horses with them. When there are still horses to be butchered and salted for meat, how can the army possibly be in such dire straits? The brisk walk required to reach Winterfell didn’t help anything either.

      And to enable this tragedy the show effectively gave Stannis a lobotomy. Last week everyone was pointing out how burning an innocent girl would have your army up in arms. And when the show followed through on that the obvious question is “did Stannis not see that coming?” If his own men are willing to starve rather than see a little girl burn, one might think he could have pressed on without his little pyre. I will agree that there was a sense of “let’s get it over with” permeating this storyline, but to me it came from the writers, not Stannis.

      They made him a monster last episode so that no one would mind when Brienne killed him off. You say it’s a tragedy, but that’s not how show only critics and audiences have perceived it, and seemingly not how the show runners saw it either.

      I agree with you on Thorne though, If there was ever a time to turn your back on Jon it’s when he’s on the wrong side of the wall, not when you’ve already let five thousand wildlings through on Jon’s word.

      • John says:

        I don’t really care what the showrunners think, although I’ve never seen any particular evidence for their supposed hatred of Stannis. They think he’s an asshole, obviously, because Stannis is an asshole. But their intent is irrelevant – for me, whatever faults there have been in the presentation of Stannis’s story have been more than made up for by the humanity Dillane’s performance has injected into the character. And while I’m sure you could find show only internet commenters who believe any stupid thing you like, you can find plenty of critics who described Stannis’s story the latter part of this season as being “tragic”.

  25. Bail o' Lies says:

    The problem with Dorne is that in my opinion in the up coming book they only are going to effect the main plot/larger world in two ways killing Myrcella (which they did), and aiding and facilitating Aegon’s rise to power.

    I’ll explain. Doran wanted to ally with the Targaryens by marrying one of his children so he could one get revenge for the death or his siblings and two to put Martell and dorne as a major power in court. He originally wanted Quentyn to marry Dany and get her dragons. But after Aegon appeared without Dany or his son he sends he daughter to treat with this “aegon” to see if he the real deal. Also he doesn’t put he eggs in one basket who hasn’t shown up yet. An ambitious Arianne desiring power doesn’t care if he is the real deal or not immediately set out to seduce Aegon. Aegon who was raised on a pole boat all his life and doesn’t seem to have talked to many girls during that time falls for the seduction and marries her. Dorne supports Aegon and they conquer the Stormlands. Then help drive off the Ironborn gain the support of a good portion of the Reach. Before going up to King’s Landing conquering it and then being crowned King Aegon and Queen Arianne by the High Septon. Also at some point Myrcella is killed of in dorne. After Aegon is crown king Jon Con’s greyscales plague has far enough through the ranks as well as a the kingdom that it become an epidemic. Then Dany convince by both prophecy and Tyrion that Aegon is a Blakcfyre usurper kills him. Ending most of Dorne involvement in the rest of the plot.

    You can argue about certain points but doesn’t this more or less seem where the story is heading?

    Now without Quentyn, Arianne, and Aegon most of dorne importance to the plot is removed other than the killing Myrcella. But was the plot point really important enough for Jaime and Bronn to join up and play as Lawrence of Arabia in Dorne for ten god damn episode only for the girl they were rescuing to be killed of at the last minute?

    • Gyre says:

      They could have just merged the Aegon and Daenarys stories together by having her take his place, with Doran’s son being secretly engaged to her. No need to even send the kid over to the Mereen plot (though that could be done).

  26. Benjamin Holm says:

    I agree with a number of the criticisms, however I think that if you look at the episode just purely as an episode in a television show and not as far as how it stacks up with the books, it was actually pretty good. The cersei sequence really carried it imo. Dorne was questionable (Area Hotah had like 3 lines maybe?), sansa/theon was iffy, etc. I also thought the Jon thing didn’t make a ton of sense; why did they decide to do it at that point in time? In the book there was a sort of last straw type situation, not sure what it was in the show, unless it was something from that letter or they all knew about it.

    I thought the Stannis stuff was pretty good and i’m not convinced that he’s actually dead.

    • John says:

      I agree that Dorne was terrible, but do not think the silence of Areo Hotah had much to do with it. How many spoken lines does he have in the books?

    • Ser Squirt says:

      I wish they had done Dorne in separate webisodes that had a fully realized plot.

  27. Dr. Toboggan says:

    “…Jon sending Sam to Oldtown was (before the location and casting news for Season 6) a pleasant surprise…”

    Can I ask what you mean by that?

    Looking at the details here: I suppose there isn’t any Pate, Marwyn, Alleras/Sarella and so on, so perhaps Sam is skipping Oldtown entirely and ending up back at Horn Hill for some reason. But I think he’s probably going back there at some point anyway, so that doesn’t bother me.

    (To clarify: Sam going home won’t bother me, but the excision of the rest of the Oldtown plot will. But I’m getting used to “sub”-plots being excised at this point.)

    As for the rest of your points, you’re bang on the money. Stannis and Dorne in particular are two threads that the producers seem to have completely misunderstood.

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