A battered and bruised FOTS team gets back together for a postmortem on Game of Thrones’s fifth season: highlights, lowlights, and the case for You-Know-Who’s Survival.
[What follows is the transcript of our chat. We couldn’t possibly cover everything, but we tried, even as unhappy as this season made some of us. We avoided any remaining book spoilers. It has been edited for clarity and grammar.]
David McGinnis: Hello, my lords and lady! So we’ve made it to the bitter end of Season 5 of Game of Thrones, and there’s much to process. How are we feeling?
Chase Branch: It was a rough go. I feel like someone shanked me in the snow.
Nathan James: I was thinking it was more like being burned alive.
Caleb Saenz: Not great, Bob. Yes, Jon is probably (read: definitely) going to be resurrected, but this was unquestionably the show’s worst season.
Rachel Shepherd: I’m still aboard the ship, though at this point, the ship is so full of blood, shame, and some substance that is certainly not PG-13 that I feel dirtier every Sunday I sit down to partake in GoT.
David: The show has gotten more and more popular every year. It’s still breaking HBO ratings and piracy records (shoutout to Salladhor Saan!) Yet every episode seems to launch a thousand thinkpieces, all coming back to the same idea: Uh, is this going to be worth it? So… is it?
Chase: I honestly think it is. I don’t think anyone is out there loudly proclaiming this was the best season, but I still think GoT is one of the best shows on TV. It just offers an experience (and a budget) unlike anything else. I really think most of the problems were the cuts made for adaptation — or, shall we say, for streamlining. You lose a lot when characters are forced to make rash decisions quickly because HBO just doesn’t have the budget or time to show Stannis succumbing to deep fanaticism over a long course of episodes.
Rachel: I’m beginning to fear we will all be disappointed in the end. Look, this is not Tolkien, it is never going to be. I am coming to the point where I think characters are just this side of interesting, and the production value of the show is unmatched, but Martin, Benioff, and Weiss just seem to be attempting to out-shame each other. I wonder if anyone watches for the story anymore.
Nathan: I’ll just say it: I can’t imagine any way this show is going to redeem itself after this season.
David: NO way? Even if Jon comes back from the dead, and he, Oberyn Martell, and The Hound cleave their way through Westeros while rescuing orphans and puppies?
Caleb: This season doesn’t inspire much confidence for the road ahead. I really do think the show will end with a bang, but my goodwill tank will be running on fumes if I have to go through another season like this one before we see Dragons vs. Zombies.
Chase: I guess I’m the lone person in the camp believing that these horrifying events represent the dying gasps of a world soon to be redeemed. This isn’t hell — it’s Ragnarok.
Rachel: With bouncing boobs, poop-throwing, and Zombie armies, Chase.
Caleb: What good is redemption if there are only like two people left to experience it (and we all end up kind of hating them)?
Chase: I’m not saying that there isn’t a problem here. The show has issues to be addressed. I completely agree with that. But is the narrative dead? I’m not so sure of that.
David: Kind of funny that this is the season that covered the most ground in adaptation — two books — yet felt the slowest overall. The last two only covered half a book. It’s really about narrative focus. We’re spread too thin.
Chase: That Meereenese Knot is a b*tch…
Nathan: The narrative crawled this season. Like a wight with no legs. The dense and quick-moving Season One is shaking its head in the background, chuckling condescendingly at this one. But the good guys have to win one sometime…
Rachel: For one thing, Jon Snow is not dead. There has never been a louder PR campaign. He’s totes still alive. Whether in spirit, Zombie-Crow form, or as Melisandre’s nipple-rings, he’s still alive in some form.
Caleb: ♪ I read the news today, oh boy
Jon Snow was stabbed at Castle Black, I fear
And though his killer was so small
Now we know there’s nothing left but a**holes to defend the Wall ♪
David: Speaking of Jon — the finale aside, I think he had the best overall season. The stuff at Hardhome rocked.
Caleb: I agree. And Jon probably had the best season because he also had the most to do.
Nathan: Well, yeah, “Hardhome” was boss. Best action sequence they’ve ever produced. But that doesn’t fix the rest of the season.
Chase: Jon was definitely boss this season. Not to parrot some other writers’ (excellent) work, but he’s the lone person thinking outside the normal and actually looking to make change and discard the past. Bringing the Wildlings inside the Wall is the right move.
Rachel: I did not really care for his “National Lampoon’s Escape North of the Wall” story with Ygritte. So I appreciated Jon coming into his Ned-like qualities, but obviously, that could only end poorly. He had his blinders on, and never really watched his back. As a leader, sometimes you have to make the hard decisions, and those are not always the right ones. It’s a lesson neither Ned nor Jon ever learned. (But Snow’s still alive.)
David: So does everyone here think Jon’s coming back?
Nathan: Of course he is. Melisandre didn’t use her portal gun to come back to the wall for nothing.
Caleb: I’ll say this: If he’s NOT back, I’m done with the show.
Rachel: I think the unofficial subtitle of the show is: “Jon Snow and the B*tch of the Dragons” so…you know…
Chase: I’m just curious. Is anyone actually planning to drop the show? Because for all the “I’m done with this” talk, the finale was the most watched episode ever.
Caleb: I don’t feel like I can drop it. Yet. I’m fifty hours deep. But here’s the thing – I want to. If all the other shows I love hadn’t ended this year or the year before, I probably would.
David: It’s an abusive relationship, like your local sports team. In nine months we’ll all come crawling back.
Nathan: I’m not big on sports, or being abused, so… I’m going to toss a coin after I see the trailers for the next season.
Caleb: Everything they’ve teased about Jon feels like the lines of a contract between the showrunners and the viewers. The dwarf and the dragonrider are not enough to draw me back on their own.
Chase: Dang. Rebellion in the FOTS ranks…
David: You’re all Sons of the Harpy. Or which one of you is Olly?
Chase: I swear I’ll stand with you until death, David….unless Drogon shows up. Then I’m out.
Caleb: By the way, Melisandre got back stupid quick. Was that a blood magic horse? Davos had just barely started asking Jon for horses. Did Davos make a pit stop? Is it harder to ride without fingers? How do you ride a horse without fingers?
Nathan: With the other hand.
Caleb: Feels like a two-hand deal to me. He’s not leaning back in a drop-top Caddy.
Nathan: Or maybe I should’ve said “horses don’t have fingers, lol!”
Chase: I mean, this is a show with dragons and ice zombies and your issue is that Melisandre traveled too quickly?
Caleb: It’s a small part, but I really do think it illustrates the biggest problem this season: the showrunners lost all sense of pace. I HATED the Shireen-burning scene, but even if you liked it, you have to admit it robbed that episode of its emotional climax.
Rachel: I’m sorry….there are dragons and ice zombies in this show? We’re calling that a thing, even though only about forty-five minutes of the fifty hours includes said things? The emotional climax of that episode was Davos sitting with Shireen and discussing the Dance of Dragons. It was quiet, subtle, and something rarely seen on a show so often focused on gratuitous everything.
Caleb: I agree with you, Rachel, though I don’t think the showrunners would. That episode was set to make the Drogon ride be this massive moment. And, for me anyway, it wasn’t.
David: It’s also asking a lot to introduce Lord Coldemort and the show’s ultimate endgame, and then go back to, say, Dorne like it’s business as usual.
Caleb: I’m of the opinion that the entire Dorne plotline would have been better served with the Benny Hill theme playing in the background on a loop.
Nathan: After bro-falling for Oberyn last season, I was pretty underwhelmed with Dorne.
Chase: Again, the problem is narrative streamlining. Not just the plot, but the characters. Dorne is infinitely more interesting with Arianne Martell.
David: Dorne is more interesting with more than eight people in it. I know it’s “the smallest kingdom,” but I didn’t realize it was the size of a Sandals resort.
Nathan: Now, Michael Scott in the Dorne Sandals resort — THAT’S a season worth watching. The Sand Snakes were the most-hyped, least interesting sh*t this show has ever pushed on us.
David: The worst part, Nathan, is that they didn’t need the snakes at all. Ellaria did literally all the work. They were just a misfire on every conceivable level. I’m so disappointed in my girl the Whale Rider. And Alexander Siddig was WASTED as Doran. It’s criminal.
Rachel: For all the build-up marketing-wise for the Sand Snakes, all we get is breast-baring and poison kisses. Kind of shows you who is in the driver’s seat regarding storytelling.
Caleb: I can’t define Dornography, but I know it when I see it.
Rachel: I cannot believe I am talking myself out of liking this show.
David: Okay, then let’s get back to the positive. For me the show had two huge successes this year: the Night’s King stuff, and getting Tyrion into Dany’s court. Those two on their own *almost,* for me anyway, made the rest of the nonsense worth it. And both of those things were invented by Benioff & Weiss.
Nathan: Okay, the Night’s King was awesome, but Dany has been dragging for two seasons now, and the Unsullied are just embarrassing this season.
David: Ah, the Unsullied. Essos’s finest fighting force, until they have to fight somebody.
Rachel: I would argue Jon’s struggles were a highlight for me. I could do without anything having to do with Dany. (There. I almost even used her proper name, Chase.) Her ridiculous “breaking the wheel” speech exactly pointed out why she is a terrible leader. She trusts only her sense of privilege and not her ability to rule. She refuses to stand up for her beliefs when times are tough, and serves only those who beat (or walk) with the largest stick. For me, she is by far the weakest of all characters in so many ways.
David: Which is why she and the show desperately needed Tyrion there.
Rachel: Which is exactly what is wrong with the idea of touting Dany as a feminist icon. Martin, Benioff, and Weiss refuse to cement her as an actual ruler with goals and strategies. She NEEDS Tyrion in order to rule.
Nathan: And can we just say it, to clear the air, Emilia Clarke is not exactly killing it. Her scenes with Tyrion were just her doing her single note and Dinklage leaving her in the dust.
David: I actually thought she raised her game when Dinklage arrived. Tough season for a lot of ladies. Cersei. Sansa. Brienne. (Who had ONE JOB!)
Nathan: ONE JOB! Which she stops doing, like, eight seconds before it would’ve mattered.
Rachel: I kept telling my husband, “She has ONE JOB!!” But truth is…she’s had several and failed at all of them: Renly’s protector, Lady Stark’s protector, the Kingslayer’s protector, Arya’s protector, Sansa’s…ugh.
Nathan: Then again, you know what they say: a watched candle never lights… or something.
David: Clearly that’s true.
Chase: Why are Jon’s struggles in learning to rule a highlight, but Dany’s are the lowlight? Please elaborate.
Rachel: Oh, thank you for your question: Jon failed by using his brain and trusting his instincts. Dany disagreed with all of the MEN in her court yet decided to agree with them anyway because she’s humping King of the Fighting Pits. What, did his eyes dazzle her? She’s always so much stronger when she stands up for herself.
Nathan: Well, Jon is doing his best to be a moral leader in a scenario where there are clear moral lines of black and white (check the costumes, even). Dany doesn’t have that luxury, or moral background — she just has birthright ambition and REALLY knows nothing.
Rachel: A sense of privilege is not birthright ambition. She is totally lead by a sense of entitlement. Honestly, Dany is a stronger character in the books, and I am much more apt to follow that version.
Chase: We haven’t seen anyone who just magically knows what they’re doing in a leadership role. Tommen, Rob, Dany, Jon, Joffrey. They’re all young. The great leaders have been older: Tywin, Tyrion, (sort of) Ned Stark. I just think it takes time.
Nathan: Dany is in a slightly more complicated situation than Jon. And I’m using “slightly” sarcastically.
David: We’re also talking about a character who has been in a position of power for several seasons vs one who recently gained it. Dany has been foundering in Meereen. When Jon became Lord Commander he acted fast, and it cost him his life (OR DID IT?)
Rachel: It didn’t, but at least he made a decision on his own. He thought he was doing what was right. Dany thought ideas sounded good over a bedside pillow. Did Jon Snow ever listen to Ygritte? I rest my f-ing case!
David: He kind of did. If it weren’t for Ygritte he wouldn’t have been as apt to see the Wildlings as human. Dany’s been a bit frozen by her high ideals, but Jon’s not as afraid to do the hard, unpopular thing.
Rachel: I have way more respect for Cersei and the Tyrells than I do for Dany. These are women of action, and whether those actions are justified or right, at least they trust in themselves.
Nathan: This is quickly becoming a Meereen-grade quagmire.
Caleb: /whispers I agree with Chase.
Chase: For all the grief we’ve given Dany and Jon over the years, they do seem to be two characters with a wider view of what’s possible in the world. Dany claims she DOES want to change the system — to “break the wheel,” as she says. If she can bring those ideas to Westeros with Tyrion’s skills for governance guiding her words and three dragons backing her army, then she has a real opportunity to achieve the change she’s always wanted. Jon’s already shown a willingness to make peace with the Wildlings for the greater good. Maybe they are the change Westeros needs; a new wave of youth maturing to lead a new world.
David: Both of them make a fascinating contrast with little Arya, who’s getting to do EXACTLY what she wants and finding out that it’s actually not all that fulfilling. Because it doesn’t require any actual sacrifice from her.
Chase: Basically, if we think the show has been saving it’s powder with resurrections for one big one ahead then why can’t we believe the same about positive change? We’re all expecting that they can’t do it, so imagine the triumph when they can!
David: Well said. Okay, let’s move on. So story aside, last year we gave out medals for acting, including to a couple that are no longer with us. Who stuck out this year?
Chase: Shockingly, Kit Harington. MAJOR improvements.
Caleb: Yeah, for sure.
David: He figured it out! I was hoping that “Watchers on the Wall” was a sign of things to come, and he was fantastic this year.
Nathan: I’m not sure if Sam was great this season, or if I just really, really liked that last moment with him and Jon.
Caleb: “Slamwell Tarly, amirite?” – Benioff to Weiss /high-fives
Rachel: I’m going to go with Conleth Hill [Varys], though we didn’t get enough of him, as usual.
Caleb: I also enjoyed Conleth Hill, but he’s always good. Lena Headey’s floating face, as well.
David: That was some exceptional face acting.
Caleb: Haha, I just realized. Lena HEADey. Heh.
Chase: I also think Stephen Dillane [Stannis] did a great job with what he was given. We hate his actions, but he sold them. It’s the writing that didn’t make a whole lot of sense there.
David: Dillane was great. He had a really hard job and did everything he was asked. The finale was his best hour, when he knows he’s doomed but just can’t stop the train.
Rachel: I agree, Chase. It’s a tough gig to have the world almost root for you based on bloodline right and a sense that you truly believe in your actions, then to have support ripped away by said actions. Dillane had to sell his beliefs, sense of purpose, and knowledge of what it cost him.
Caleb: You know what? Iain Glen was good, too. Give him a nod.
David: But not a high-five.
Nathan: I miss Tywin and Oberyn. Like, SO much…
David: Ramsey’s one-dimensional psychopathy just bores me. The Night’s King is the show’s best villain and he’s been on screen for about eight minutes.
Caleb: That’s not a coincidence, David. For a show that’s built on gratuitous everything, it’s often at its best when it teases things out.
Rachel: Really? I’m still in camp Cersei for best villain…or Frankenmountain.
Nathan: F**k the zombie-mountain. F**k that guy.
David: Is Cersei still a villain, though?
Chase: Ever heard of this guy Littlefinger?
David: Who’s that? Some guy who used to be really important but hasn’t been seen in months?
David: Okay — who was the toughest loss this season?
Chase: Narratively or emotionally? Jon and Shireen, respectively.
Rachel: Bran. Oh, wait…
Caleb: Please somebody say the young lady on the boat who had one line.
Caleb: Oh, she had a name?!
Rachel: Selmy. Hands down.
Nathan: I’d have to agree with you on Selmy. Maester Aemon was pretty great, too. They’re taking the old guard from us…
Chase: “Egg, I dreamed I was old…” Tears.
David: Aemon even died of natural causes, which I didn’t think was possible.
Rachel: Snow and Shireen were in (forgive me) the fire long before their deaths. Their demise was hinted at if not downright spoiled nearly every episode — Selmy went out fighting for his beliefs, protecting those he loved in battle. It was beautiful and bittersweet. Also, Jon’s not really gone. So…
Chase: Anyone have any concerns that other than Selyse, Myranda, and Trant, no one actually died on screen?
David: We all agree that Jon ain’t dead, or at least staying dead, but there are a few other mysteries…
Rachel: Is Stannis really dead? Brienne sucks at all of her jobs.
David: It makes narrative sense that Stannis is dead. I think that was just a flashy edit. Opposite with Sansa and Theon: dramatic cut, but NOT dead. (Perhaps unfortunately, in the latter’s case.)
Chase: I can kind of see it either way. If Stannis is dead is there really still a fight for the throne at all? But in my heart, I think he’s gone.
David: Assuming Stannis is gone, there is literally no one to succeed Tommen. Poor, poor Tommen.
Chase: And his wife is locked away in a cell somewhere.
Rachel: It would probably be Tywin’s brother’s throne at that point. Oddly enough.
Chase: That can’t be true. He’s only connected by marriage. It’s got to be some lower Baratheon.
Rachel: Lannister banners, Lannister leaders. There are no more Baratheons. Right?
David: (Cut to Gendry, still rowing somewhere)
Rachel: Like, real ones.
Chase: DRAGONS! OR a lady with a Dothraki army and three dragons!
David: If she can GET there. You’re probably right that Tommen’s going to stick around until then.
Rachel: I reiterate, if she can rally that army, she’s my girl. All is forgiven. As long as she doesn’t sleep with one of them.
David: Ok, last question: WHAT HAPPENS TO JON? Let me hear your wildest theories.
Rachel: He wargs into Ghost.
Chase: I don’t think the show has laid the groundwork for Ghost-warg.
David: Unfortunately not. It would have been a neat trick to show his eyes go white two frames before they cut to credits, though.
Nathan: Agreed. It’s gotta be the Red God — Melisandre is going to save our boy.
Rachel: There is all that noble blood just flowing onto that snow.
David: Which will hopefully be the boost Mel needs. But when he does come back, what then? He’s no longer bound to the Watch, because he DIED…
Rachel: King Jon Targaryen.
Nathan: Riding on a dragon with a Mormont sword that kills White Walkers. (And electric guitar is supposed to play after you read that last sentence.)
Chase: He’s gonna be hella pissed at Olly.
Rachel: Go into the corner, Olly!
Chase: “Olly, guess what?!?! Your parents are alive! Come see out back!” SHANK.
David: You guys have to admit, once it leaks out that Harington’s back on set, you’ll all be tuning in to see how it happens.
Nathan: …I hate you for knowing that.
Rachel: He got a SMALL haircut and the world freaked out. Hair grows.
Chase: Lena and Emilia have never had their real hair in the show. Wigs are a thing now. And what’s not to say that Jon comes back with shorter hair? “Changed” somehow, like Dondarrion?
David: Alright — anything major we missed?
Nathan: I forgot to mention my Lannister poster for sale. I’ve, seriously, been living here for almost two months and I just can’t bring myself to hang it.
Chase: I’ve still got a good feeling about next season. I’d love to see Oldtown, personally. We haven’t seen it much in the books, but you’d think the Citadel would be a place of higher learning — pretty much the exact opposite what the show has so often wallowed in. Theoretically, these are the brightest and tamest minds of Westeros. A council of Sams.
David: Yes! Thank you, Chase.
Chase: Also, Bran wasn’t the ONLY character to get the season off. At some point we have to check back in with the Greyjoys in the Iron Islands. What has King Balon Greyjoy been up to? After all, Melisandre did throw a third leech on the fire when she called for the deaths of Joffrey and Robb. Any book reader is craving a visit from baby brother Euron. And then there’s poor, poor Davos. Loyal to Stannis to a fault. If only there were some forgotten Stark who he could find, back, and rally the North around to avenge his King’s death at Bolton hands…
David: So we still have lots to look forward to, guys. Hang in there! And thanks!
Rachel: Hey, we made it through without even bringing up the Ramsey-Sansa controversy. High five!