Season 5 Lightning Round; Journey to the Throne, S5E1-5

As Game of Thrones’ conclusion approaches, I have been publishing a series that breaks down the show episode-by-episode. For the previous post in this series, click here: Tribulations and Trials by Combat; Journey to the Throne, S4E6-10

This post contains spoilers up to the end of Game of Thrones S8E1.

Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 1: “The Wars to Come”

HBO Official synopsis: “Cersei and Jaime adjust to a world without Tywin. Varys reveals a conspiracy to Tyrion. Dany faces a new threat to her rule. Jon is caught between two kings.”

One of this episode’s earlier scenes gives us a funny look into how Robin’s training Littlefinger mentioned in the previous episode is going – not good. Littlefinger and Lord Royce both agreed that Robin needs to learn how to swing a sword and it’s just a funny scene. I really don’t have anything to say about that scene other than it’s funny to watch; it doesn’t do anything really to set up anything important or have anything particularly insightful, it’s just funny. The Littlefinger/Sansa scene after this shows just how much Sansa has changed during the course of Season 4, as she is now especially inquisitive and suspicious.

Last post, I don’t think I mentioned how sad the scene where Dany has to chain up her dragons is. I should have, it’s a very sad scene. But as she descends into the catacombs to visit her dragons, it makes me realize just how this sub-plot doesn’t really go anywhere. She locks up her dragons after Drogon is too wild and kills a child. Drogon will save her later this season, and Viserion and Rhaegal will bust out of the catacombs in “Battle of the Bastards” – but Daenerys doesn’t do anything to change them, they just change on their own. Obviously, this isn’t the fault of this particular episode but the season as a whole.

The episode’s real centerpiece is Jon trying to convince Mance to bow to Stannis.

To quote a common phrase – Stannis is an unstoppable force and Mance is an immovable object. Stannis needs Mance to kneel, but Mance will not kneel. It’s interesting to watch because you can really tell that Jon and Mance have two different ways of thinking, two entirely different cultures. It’s easy to forget that Mance was Westerosi by birth, he seems so stubborn and unfazed by Stannis.

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And I do love Jon’s defiance of Stannis in killing Mance. It shows something that Jon has learned from Mance; how to defy a southern king. Would Jon have been able to defy the command if Mance had not set such a good example? And Jon’s not just going against Stannis’ command, but he’s also going against the goodwill of his brothers, many of whom would rather that Mance be burned alive. It’s an insight into just how much Jon is willing to publicly admit how much he respects and admires Mance.

Favorite Line: Mance’s ominous sentiment to Mance Rayder “I wish you good fortune in the wars to come” (which gives the episode its title) is one line that sticks out above the rest.

Favorite Scene: Jon begging Mance to kneel is sad, but moving.

Season 5, Episode 2: “The House of Black and White”

HBO Official Synopsis: “Arya arrives in Braavos. Pod and Brienne run into trouble on the road. Cersei fears for her daughter’s safety in Dorne as Ellaria Sand seeks revenge for Oberyn’s death. Stannis tempts Jon. An adviser tempts Dany.”

In this episode, Jaime leaves to rescue Myrcella in Dorne. Say what you will about Dorne mission and the Dorne subplot, I do like the motivation behind sending Jaime on it. It’s an interesting crossroads for him where his father is dead (indirectly) by a choice that he made, his son he wasn’t allowed to publicly acknowledge is dead, his lover is mad at him, and now his daughter is being threatened. So, what’s a brother-lover to do? Well, step up and rescue your secret child from the grasp of the enemy, of course. I really think that the motivation for this story is there.

And then the follow-up scene where he goes to recruit Bronn, which is fun and amusing, but mostly is a plus because it results in more Bronn. Not to mention, it’s the source of the “That’s Jaime fuckin’ Lannister!” Meme.

In this episode, Daenerys makes the Starks proud by delivering justice and being honorable at the price of promoting a political agenda after a former slave – one of her advisors, no less – unjustly kills a former master. Dany needs to come to grips with killing someone who idolizes her, but needs to do this in order to maintain justice.

The execution sequence is made very exciting and dramatic as the world is loud as Daario performs the execution but almost silent after – until the former slaves hiss. It’s an eerie sound that transitions well into the riot that begins as the unrest bubbles to the surface. Dany needs to make a quick and exciting exit as people are throwing stones at her.

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This episode has what is a huge payoff as Jon is elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, which Jeor Mormont was training him for since day one. After refusing an offer from Stannis to retake Winterfell and be legitimized, he and Aliser Thorne are nominated for Lord Commander (as well as someone named Ser Dennys Mallister, because hey, background characters!)

Jon is offered to be made Lord of Winterfell by Stannis. Previously, I’ve written about how Jon is a Christ-Figure, and one thing that definitely adds to this is the way that Stannis tries to tempt him with a lordship. Obviously, being made Lord of Winterfell isn’t quite as high-stakes as Satan’s temptation of Christ, but I think the comparison is worth making.

And Jon’s decision to refuse Stannis makes his election as Lord Commander even more satisfying. He’s earned this. His series-long arc up to this point has revolved around him learning to become a leader of men, and at last, he finally is.

Also! This episode has the first mention of Fan-Favorite Lyanna Mormont who sends a sassy letter to Stannis. Gotta love her!

You might notice that I don’t have much of anything to say about Braavos in this episode despite the episode’s title being a reference to the place where Arya spends much of her time. By-and-large, I don’t love a lot of the Braavos plotline. Here especially. Not a whole lot happens in this plot line this episode.

Favorite Line: 

Lollys: “Who is that?”

Bronn: *Squinting* “That’s Jaime fookin’ Lannister!”

Favorite Scene: Lord Commander Jon Snow! The whole sequence is a real delight to watch. Sam coming to nominate Jon (Albeit the way he does it in A Storm of Swords is much more involved and interesting) and standing up to Janos Slynt, and Maester Aemon breaking the tie. Very cool!

Season 5, Episode 3: “High Sparrow”

HBO Official Synopsis: “In Braavos, Arya sees the Many-Faced God. In King’s Landing, Queen Margaery enjoys her new husband. Tyrion and Varys walk the Long Bridge of Volantis.”

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This is the High Sparrow’s first episode. I’ll mention my appreciation for actor Jonathan Pryce here just so I don’t forget about it later; but he always plays both humble and vengeful really well. It’s a funny contrast to see what his followers do to the other High Septon – flogging him in the streets and stripping him naked – and then to finally meet the High Sparrow and instead he’s just a humble, pious man. It’s a relationship that will eventually result in disaster for both of them, but the way it starts as friendship makes for some fine irony.

But the real high-point of this episode has got to be Jon’s first day as Lord Commander. He has an interesting talk with Stannis, as the king makes one last attempt to talk Jon into helping him but Jon refuses. Davos then gives the pep talk which is more foreshadowing than we might at first realize, where he talks about how in order to “guard the realms of men” Jon ought to leave Castle Black so he can be “wading into the muck, getting your boots dirty, and doing what needs to be done.” And in Season 6, this will happen, but for now it’s just a desperate plea.

Then when Jon holds his meeting, it’s an incredibly well-written and well-directed scene that shows us a lot about Jon. I like how he starts it light and fun, talking about how they need to build a new latrine pit; if you look, you can see Ser Aliser tense up at this, worrying that he’ll be picked to do it (because he and Jon are enemies). But then Jon gives it to some ginger someone else, much to Aliser’s relief. Jon then praises Aliser and makes him First Ranger – it’s a bold play in which Jon tries to keep one of his largest enemies appeased…

…but to send away another enemy, Lord Janos, whom he assigns to rebuild a ruined castle. And that’s a smart play on paper because Janos is one of Aliser’s primary supporters. It turns out to be an even smarter play in practice, because of the way Janos freaks out and refuses.

Some small notes on the first part of the Janos scene; I love the way Janos breathes after his insults, like he thinks he’s won a major victory. I love the way Jon says “Take Lord Janos outside,” cold and indifferent, ready to take charge. And, I love the way Aliser looks like he’s going to fight for Aliser, but ultimately steps aside, giving Aliser a look that says “you’re an idiot.”

As I’ve said about Thrones‘ villain-death-scenes, they have a tendency to remind you just how much you hate the villain just before they’re killed. And we get the whole gamut of reasons to hate Janos before he’s executed. He’s arrogant – “I was charged with the defense of King’s Landing while you were soiling your swaddling clothes. Keep your ruin!” He hates Jon specifically – “You can take your order and shove it up your bastard ass.” And he’s all talk and no walk – “I’m afraid, I’ve always been afraid!”

This rest of this episode isn’t uneventful, it’s just not particularly impactful. Tyrion gets taken hostage by Jorah Mormont at a brothel in Volantis, but the more interesting element there is the fact that he seems to suffer from a form of PTSD which reminds him of Shae. Meanwhile, in Braavos, Arya does nothing much the whole episode but throws away her stuff from Westeros except for her sword, which she hides. It’s a neat scene where she’s trying to be no one, but isn’t ready to give up being Arya Stark.

Favorite Line: I like this little one from the High Sparrow – “I tell them no one’s special, and they think I’m special for telling them so.”

Favorite Scene: Janos Slynt has been a minor antagonist for Ned, Tyrion, and Jon. He’s betrayed Ned, he’s looked down on Jon, he insulted Tyrion, and let’s not forget, he eagerly murdered a baby on Joffrey’s commands. To give him an end like this, where he is executed for disobeying a command from Jon – crying and announcing his fear all the while – it’s perfect.

Season 5, Episode 4: “Sons of the Harpy”

HBO Official Synopsis: “The Faith Militant grow increasingly aggressive. Jaime and Bronn head south. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes vow vengeance.”

At an eventful small council meeting, Cersei sends Mace to treat with the Iron Bank of Braavos, who we just saw Stannis and Davos meet with last season. And one tiny element from this episode I liked was the way Cersei sends away Mace Tyrell. Obviously, with Olenna out of the capital it gives Cersei a chance to blindside the Tyrells.

I think Cersei is a little too transparent – like it’s obviously that she’s sending him away with Ser Merryn as a means of starting some shit – maybe to the point of being obvious and predictable. But Mace is just stupid enough – and played that way particularly well – to make it believable that he wouldn’t realize he’s being played. I can think of no other fictional character who is more worthy of the term “oaf” than Mace Tyrell.

At Castle Black, we get an interesting scene where Melisandre tries to seduce Jon Snow. One thing I do really like about Melisandre is that up to this point, her powers are not clearly defined. Like outside of being able to give birth to shadow babies, it’s not entirely clear what she can do. She makes people look into the fires, and they seem to see things, but it’s hard to say how much of that we’re supposed to believe. Similarly, her trick with the leeches and bloodmagic is supposed to be proved when both Robb and Joffrey die a few episodes after she does that. Stannis takes it as a clear sign that she’s got a grasp on bloodmagic, but the audience just kind of thinks its a coincidence that these characters died after that.

So then to have this episode’s eerie moment where Melisandre says “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” the same way Ygritte did to him – it feels like a hefty confirmation that Melisandre has magic powers. Her conjuring of the shadow baby is odd, and a bit of a spectacle, but this is ominous in a completely different way.

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I suppose that for people who haven’t read the books, my constant referring to them must get tiring. But we have to talk about it here, with the last scenes of one Ser Barristan Selmy. Barristan dies in this episode, and it’s easy to see coming as soon as they give him a long scene with lots of emotional dialogue where he tells the story of how he thought that the Mad King was not a good king but how he thought that Dany’s brother Rhaegar was a genuinely excellent guy. It’s a beautiful story as he recounts how Rhaegar loved to sing. I’d prefer to have Barristan alive, but giving him this last scene is nice.

And the fight scene where he dies has decent enough fight choreography – but not decent enough for Ser Barristan, who we’ve heard so much about. Jaime Lannister was widely considered to be one of the best swordfighters in Westeros, and Jaime considered Barristan the best. So to have him killed unceremoniously in the streets by the Sons of the Harpy does feel a little unfaithful. Nevermind the fact that we’ll never get to see him as Hand of the Queen as we do in the books, but it’s more frustrating because many people suggest that the show just wanted to kill off a character in Meereen to keep things interesting with the Sons of the Harpy, and they picked Barristan over Daario or Grey Worm.

It’s a damn shame. Barristan was always one of my favorite characters. He’s great in Season 1, and he’s great when he rejoins Dany. To those who only watch the show, his death might not mean much, but to those who read the book, it’s a sad moment. He didn’t have to die here.

Favorite Line: I do like Melisandre’s use of “You know nothing, Jon Snow,” but I have to give it to Dany’s last words to her Lord Commander; “Go Ser Barristan; sing a song for me.”

Favorite Scene: Choose to remember Ser Barristan not as he died, but as he lived – as an excellent support character to Daenerys. The scene where he tells her of how the Mad King was evil and how Rhaegar was wholly good has some truly beautiful acting.

Season 5, Episode 5: “Kill the Boy”

HBO Official Synopsis: “Dany makes a difficult decision in Meereen. Jon recruits the help of an unexpected ally. Brienne searches for Sansa. Theon remains under Ramsay’s control.”

One interesting consequence of Barristan’s death is that it results in Dany doing something Mad King-esque; she gathers up the heads of the noble houses and feeds one to her dragons in the catacombs. I do like this scene because of how it is a direct result of her grief for Barristan and shows the dark half of the Targaryen dual-nature. Barristan encouraged her to be more like Rhaegar, but his death makes her act more like the Mad King.

At the Wall, we get Jon asking Maester Aemon for advice, and Aemon basically tells him to lead. This is where Aemon gives him his excellent “Kill the boy” speech, basically saying that you need to kill who you were before to truly rise as a leader.

I always like to think that every season has a main character, and in this season it could be argued that it’s Stannis, but I think it’s Jon. All of these little scenes, where he needs to learn how to be a leader, it makes for a nice season-long story arc that has a heartbreaking ending. And here we see a direct link between cause and effects in scenes. Maester Aemon tells him to do what he thinks is right. So he tries to organize a journey north with Tormund. So Jon needs to reconcile the journey north with his brothers. It’s interesting to see the difficulty of putting Aemon’s advice into practice, and the difficulties Jon encounters in ruling.

Also, the “Kill the Boy” scene is rife with foreshadowing. It makes allusions to the truth of R+L=J and foreshadows the way that Jon will come back. The boy is killed, and the man lives.

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The episode ends with Jorah and Tyrion sailing through the Ruins of Valyria. Finally seeing Valyria feels like a payoff; we’ve heard a lot about Valyria, how it’s where the Targaryens are from, how it was the peak of civilization, and how it’s where the stone men are.

The ruins are very visually striking, and probably one of the best sets in the series. It feels appropriate that we get Tyrion and Jorah discussing how it was the greatest civilization in the world and reciting a poem about it (that’s some nice worldbuilding). This is our first and likely only look at Valyria, and it seems fitting. Any more time, and we’d have too many answers and not enough questions.

The scene also has two very cool moments. First, Tyrion sees a dragon for the first time and we get to see absolute shock wash over his face, and second, the Stonemen attack. And I particularly like the Stonemen attack because they don’t fight with weapons, they just have to touch you. Throw in Jorah being a competent fighter, Tyrion being in chains and still trying to hold his own, and the whole thing taking place on a boat, and you’ve got a great action sequence.

Favorite Line: I like the poem that Jorah and Tyrion recite about Valyria. But Maester Aemon wins this one “You will find little joy in your command, but with luck, you will find the strength to do what needs to be done. Kill the boy, Jon Snow. Winter is almost upon us. Kill the boy, and let the man be born.”

Favorite Scene: The big balls on Jon as he unshackles Tormund.

Even Tormund looks absolutely astonished, like he didn’t realize that Jon would actually do it. And it’s awesome. This is a moment where Jon really earns Tormund’s respect. Before this episode, Tormund hates Jon. By the end of Season 5, they’re good friends. That starts here.

One thought on “Season 5 Lightning Round; Journey to the Throne, S5E1-5

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