FINALLY, I think we might be getting somewhere. Season Five hasn’t exactly been bad television, but it has had a consistency in conveying placeholder narratives, biding its time until the next big thing happens. There have been two big weddings but we’ve yet to have anything happen on near the scale of the Purple or Red ones. Frankly, I’m surprised by how low the death toll has been this series for named characters: To my memory, we’ve lost Barristan Selmy, Mance Rayder and many more we will never get to know.
It feels like we’ve had seven episodes of build-up and place-moving to prepare for something that’s coming but it’s still not here. Now, if we were on episode four, that might be fine. This is episode seven. There are three more this season and I don’t really know where all this is going. As an episode in itself, it’s fine; there are a lot of great scenes and a stronger sense of connection between the storylines than usual this season and many of them begin to converge, but I can’t shake a feeling that I want something bigger to happen. I want to see war start again; I want Dany to actually get across the sea sometime soon, preferably with her dragons in tow.
So let’s get the quick rundown of developments for this week: Jon Snow is heading off to help the wildlings; no one is happy about that. Maester Aemon has perished; no one is happy about that. Two crows try to have it on with Gilly and Ghost scares them off. Samwell’s happy with that because, as was bound to happen, he and Gilly succumb to their passion. Post having his face patched up, Jorah wins in the fighting pits and Dany is unsure about everything.
Stannis is bored and wants to do something, everything continues to get worse for Sansa (but at least Brienne waits to deal with that), Margaery is still in prison, as is Loris, now Cersei as well, and Jamie and Bron and… well you get the idea, Myrcella is happy in Dorne, Gendry is still rowing, Tommen continues to be annoyed by his lack of power as king and Pycell is probably off combing his flayed cat of a beard.
Talking of flaying: Ramsay Bolton. Sansa just can’t catch a break, can she? After the soul-crushing ending of last week, this week she discovers how little agency Reek truly has when he remains faithful to his master/torturer instead of placing the candle in the high tower like she asked him to. Ignoring last week’s efforts (as Rich has already covered that one in detail), Ramsay is still struggling to create a lasting image that is anything other than ‘comic-book villain Joffrey’.
He stalks around being generally evil, showing no signs of humanity and continuing to make me annoyed that he is still alive. Not to discredit Iwan Rheon whose performance works very well but also feels like the most obvious route in playing the character; he may as well just write ‘damaged’ on his forehead.
The strongest stuff this week occurs in good ol’ Kings Landing, as we get a proper confrontation between the Queen of Thorns and High Sparrow. Diana Rigg and Jonathan Pryce are both great actors and both play characters that feel like there are so many avenues to explore that we haven’t fully looked into yet. The most pivotal moment of this scene comes when Tyrell repeats her current threat of removing their crops from Kings Landing, and High Sparrow asks her if any of their family has actually done any of the farm work that they are so famous for.
It’s an interesting twist on sympathy as, until now I,’ve felt like GoT has portrayed religion as an entity of destruction and subjugation. In this moment, however, it acts as the representation of the masses, where in politics the rich remain all-powerful when it comes to religion, every person is in theory equal (as long as they don’t have any sex). I have a feeling, with all the talk of bastards and legitimates, that the Sparrows will soon be heading for Tommen. Hopefully Ramsey as well, that fucker needs to burn.
Beyond this, there are a couple of other strong scenes. Maester Aemon (the great Peter Vaughan)’s send-off was effective and affecting; Jorah Mormont’s slow slide into becoming a greyscale monster is nicely understated (benefiting from a wonderful greasy guest performance by Adewale Akkinoye Agbaye as a slaver), Sophier Turner continues to impress despite the difficult material that she has to work with as Sansa and the Samwell/Gilly scenes are starting to go somewhere (even if we still haven’t had a single direwolf mauling this season, we need more).
That said, Dorne continues to feel slightly irrelevant as this episode we have Jamie discover he’s come to rescue someone not in need of it, and Bron nearly dies, except he doesn’t. There aren’t many actively bad performers on the show, it’s beautifully shot and directed and even the dialogue is (for the most part) well-written, but Dorne has become emblematic of the problematic pacing of this series.
Save for the wonderful singing of Jerome Flynn, it doesn’t feel like it’s going anywhere or doing much to really justify itself. There are still three episodes to go this season, who knows? Maybe they can stick the landing and bring it home in the next three episodes; hell, maybe the final three hours will be the finest television in history. If anyone can do it, it’s certainly this cast, but right now I’m worried about the fact that it seems, much like Gendry, the oars are still turning and I’ve no idea where, if anywhere, this is all heading.