UK VOD TV review: Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 5
Ivan Radford | On 12, May 2015Reading time: 6 mins
Already seen Episode 5? Read on at the bottom for some spoiler-filled analysis.
Welcome back to Westeros, where the word of the week is: calcification.
The process by which soft tissue hardens has lingered in the background of the Seven Kingdoms to intriguing – and emotional – effect. On the one hand, there are “Stone Men”, who have been mentioned several times in passing in the past few weeks and sound downright terrifying. On the other, there’s Stannis and his daughter, Shireen, whose Greyscale face has become a source of genuine sympathy for both her and her silly-named dad.
But for all the stigma attached to the contagious disease (think leprosy through a fantasy lens), toughening up is something that a lot of George RR Martin’s characters need to do.
“Kill the boy,” Jon Snow is instructed by Maester Aemon (the inimitable Peter Vaughan, who manages to make his soft voice ring with the royal authority and dignity of the Targaryen house). “Let the man be born.”
Is it some kind of code, or just a cute way of telling him to man the heck up and get on with the job? That’s certainly what Kit Harington’s Night’s Watch chief is trying to do, despite his eternally childish appearance (even him saying “Lord Commander” sounds unconvincing). Here, the job in hand is convincing his men to head north and save the wildlings, so that they have an army ready to face the walkers. Unsurprisingly, no one agrees – except for, even more unsurprisingly, Samwell Tarly. (Oh, Sam.)
“Let them die,” says Ser Allister. “Less enemies for us.”
“Fewer,” mutters Stannis, as he watches on. Never has there been a better case for Stannis to be the one true king. Grammar policing in Westeros? That’s it. He gets our vote.
Besides, he’s never had a problem getting on with his job, whether that’s shacking up with the ever-freaky Melisandre or taking his daughter with him on dangerous journeys. When he says he wants to invade the north and defeat the Boltons, you jolly well believe him – especially because he, too, is aware of the threat of the walkers. (Seriously, other leaders after the Iron Throne, what gives? Zombies are way more important than incest or council debates.)
Dany, if anything, is undergoing a reverse of calcification: after Dracarys-ing her way to power, she’s now flustering around over those fighting pits in Meereen. One thrilling sequence suggests she’s starting to return to her former self, but the lack of Barristan the Bold by her side – Grey Worm, thankfully, is still with us (and still as romantic as ever) – is beginning to show. Emilia Clarke, it bears repeating, nails the perpetual balance between teen rebel and commanding queen: in her hands, Dany’s insecurity and fickleness are frustratingly convincing at every turn.
Not being tough enough, though, is certainly not something you could ever accuse the showrunners of, as they increasingly chop out chunks of the books to keep the pace of Season 5 up: considering that most of the season so far has just been setting up people ready for the next stage in the story, imagine how much slower this stretch could have been.
That concise writing doesn’t always extend to Brienne, who continues to lollop around on her never-ending quest to interfere with other people’s plot lines: after being rejected by Sansa and Arya, the patron-less knight could do with de-calcifying her morals a bit and having a break. (Given the show’s departure from the books, though, there’s a chance that Brienne’s frustrating stubbornness could pay off with a bloody shortcut to the series’ eventual endgame – a climax that, with Stannis moving into position, you sense is looming surprisingly close.)
The writers are certainly happy to take their time, though, and their knack for still finding tension even in the smallest moments is at its best here: a dining room confrontation in Winterfell, as Iwan Rheon’s smirking Ramsay looks on, is nailbiting stuff, as Sophie Turner’s stoic princess begins to realise that she’s shacked up with Joffrey Mk. II. She has the worst luck with men.
An equally thrilling moment arrives, as Jorah and Tyrion gently drift towards Meereen via the ruins of Valyria. The show’s production design has always been impressive, but the evocative statues and moving shadows are breathtaking here, as Boardwalk Empire director Jeremy Podeswa makes the rubble-strewn landscape instantly convincing. While the visuals glide past, Jorah and Tyrion exchange lines of a poem, a rare moment of camaraderie that reminds just how fun Peter Dinklage is to watch.
With Drogon on the horizon, though, Episode 5’s excellent climax leaves us with a hard truth: in a world where people are becoming harder than ever, Jorah may not have a choice.
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Reek recognising Sansa is a big step forward for the story. Firstly, it shows us that he remembers he used to be Theon. Secondly, it shows us that Sansa has forgiven him for his actions at Winterfell. Thirdly, though, it shows that Sansa is now well aware of how evil Ramsay can be – and that’s only the half of what he’s done.
– There’s nothing like hearing about how your father raped your mum for some touching family bonding. The Boltons really are a disgusting bunch. Sansa’s own smirk as she hears that Roose is about to have another son, though, suggests that she’ll be getting payback eventually. Whether that involves Brienne or not, it’ll be sweet to see Sophie Turner’s stoic exterior unleash some brutal justice.
– The kennel master’s daughter, eh? Iwan Rheon fans will no doubt enjoy seeing a bit more of him in this episode.
– “You will find little joy in your command, but with luck you will find the strength to do what needs to be done.” Jon Snow may not know much, but he probably already guess that much.
– Opening the fighting pits feels like a step back for Dany in Meereen, but it’s more than compensated for by her previous action: to round up all the family heads from the city and feed them, one by one, to her children.
– “A good mother never gives up on her children,” says Dany. Boom. She’s back. Even if she does suddenly decide to marry Hizdahr to keep the peace. Get on with it, Dany. Stop tying yourself to the city and go burn Westeros.
– The reveal of the stone men in the background of the poetry reading? What a masterfully executed sequence, from the silent movements to the loud splash of the water.
– Who else thought that Tyrion was going to get it when he went under? After four and a half seasons of unexpected killings, you wouldn’t put it post the show. That’s also possibly the longest black screen in the show to date – not to mention the first time we’ve had an overt POV shot from a character’s perspective. (If Tyrion’s worth giving a POV shot to, something that helps us engage with him on a more direct level, surely he’s too important to be bumped off in the future?)
– If Tyrion’s near-death was a shock, though, what about Jorah? Poor guy. Not only is his gift of the Lannister imp rather pointless, but he’ll never able to touch Dany again. Being Lord of the Friend Zone has never been more lonely.
– On the plus side, he does have a cool name. Does anyone else think that Mormont sounds like a cheese? “I’ll have a slice of crumbly Mormont on a cracker please.” Mmmm.
Photo: Helen Sloan/HBO