UK VOD TV review: Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 10
Ivan Radford | On 15, Jun 2015Reading time: 11 mins
This review is spoiler-free. Already seen the Season 5 finale? Read on at the bottom for additional, spoiler-filled comments.
“I think we’re done here,” says Ramsay Bolton in the middle of Game of Thrones Season 5’s final episode.
It’s the kind of pronouncement you expect someone to make at the end of an epic TV series, but Game of Thrones has often shied away from such things in its season finales. Rather, the climax has traditionally arrived in the penultimate episode, when Bad Things Happen – fancy a wedding, anyone? – leaving Episode 10 to mop up the blood and brace everyone for the following year’s brutal run.
Season 5, though, has hacked its usual routines to bits like Ramsay given a stuffed toy of Theon to play with. Episode 9 arrived early in the form of a gigantic battle with the White Walkers at the end of Episode 8, a conflict that reminded us more than ever that the series only has so far left to go until the undead crap hits the fans. The penultimate chapter gave us the death of Shireen, sacrificed by Stannis under Melisandre’s orders to secure his victory – a smaller death, but one that was no less traumatic. What, then, to expect from Episode 10? The answer is as nasty as it is exciting.
This season has been criticised by many for dawdling or lacking in big moments, but the show has moved along at a deceptively fast speed, slicing through subplots and casting aside unnecessary characters to condense George RR Martin’s story into digestible TV. Game of Thrones has always thrived on its political weight, as the Seven Kingdoms’ various warring factions plot against each other. Here, we’ve had all the fun of that, but in double-time, with Baelish’s plans for Winterfell and Varys and Tyrion’s journey to Meereen both rushed past the camera without any lag. Now, as King’s Landing’s spider finally joins his diminutive counterpart, following the Harpy’s revolt, you realise just how far we’ve come. We’re not just neck-and-neck with the books, but tantalisingly loitering just ahead.
After nine hours of positioning dominoes, this hour marks the point where they fall. Why did “nothing happen” for so long in Season 5? Simple: because everything happens in Episode 10.
“He raised his hands and they all stood up at once. Tens of thousands. The biggest army in the world,” Jon Snow tells trusted companion Sam, as he sits back at the Night’s Watch, looking concerned. And well he might: not only are the White Walkers marching, but he’s all out of dragon glass and, after sacrificing men of the Watch for wildlings, he’s hardly Mr. Popular.
It’s one of the rare moments when a character stops to take stock – who wouldn’t like more time to enjoy the chemistry between Kit Harington and good old John Bradley? – perhaps because to do so is so depressing. Arya’s failing at her quest to leave her past behind. Stannis has lost his daughter. Sansa is stuck in Winterfell. Cersei’s rotting in prison. Even Dany’s far from her companions. Only one person gets a brief moment of happiness, thanks to an unexpectedly sweet conversation between parent and child. “I’m glad you’re my father,” they smile, seemingly oblivious to what’s going on elsewhere.
The rest is bleak, as creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ economical storytelling becomes immediately apparent: they deliver a climax not for one but every single plot strand on the go. Even the previously redundant Brienne becomes relevant once more. There is no time for exposition or speculation: these 60 minutes form a streamlined piece of writing that ties up loose threads with a ruthless efficiency. Even Bronn’s flirting with Tyene, which previously took up a whole poisonous interlude, is reduced to a quick word in his ear. After all, who cares about flirting when there are lives to be taken and swear words to be shouted at the screen?
The result is an hour of TV that thrills as much as it shocks, as the Red Wedding happens again and again in bite-sized chunks. Throw in the most openly cliff-hanging finale in the show’s history and, in terms of sheer impact per minute, Episode 10 of Season 5 might the best episode of Game of Thrones ever.
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Additional notes (contains spoilers)
– Well done, Cersei, for finally realising that she needs to confess to save her skin. “I have sinned. I see that now,” says Lena Headey…
– …before going on to lie anyway about sleeping with Jaime. Oh, Cersei. Silly, silly Cersei. And so Jonathan Pryce’s increasingly intimidating High Sparrow does the only logical thing: informs her that she’ll be put on trial to test her lies, then, um, makes her strip and stroll through the streets of King’s Landing in penitence.
– “Shame,” chants the woman who was once torturing Cersei in the cell by repeatedly saying “confess”. Never has an actress enjoyed one word of dialogue so much.
– The walk is humiliating – especially the sight of her with her hair chopped off. Here’s a question: Do you feel sorry for her? The fact that Qyburn has now managed to resurrect the Mountain as an unspoken soldier, who ‘will not rest until he kills all of Cersei’s enemies’ says all you need to know about this most cunning – and yet most dumb – of Lannisters. But at the same time, did we mention the abject humiliation of being reduced to a naked object in front of a crowd (of mostly men)? Harsh.
– “The way ahead is clear. On to Winterfell.” says Stannis, after Melisandre’s black magic burns away the snow. But, praise the Lord of Light, the One True King gets it anyway. You could see it coming, as soon as his wife hanged herself and his men deserted him; ever since he sacrificed his own daughter (we’re still angry with Stannis about that, since you asked), Mr. Baratheon was destined to go down.
– “In the name of Renly Baratheon,” declares Brienne, as she bumps off Stannis once and for all. Thank goodness she was the one who did it – if not, she would have become even more irrelevant to the show’s plot than she was already. Has there ever been a more satisfying death for a Game of Thrones character than seeing Brienne kill him? The only one we savour more is the eventual comeuppance of Ramsay Bolton.
– Speaking of which, what a shame that he’s still alive – a point emphasised by a striking parallel cut between Brienne’s sword and Bolton delivering the coup de grace to a nameless soldier.
– While we’re talking of Winterfell, Brienne’s not the only one who gets to finally snap into action after a load of waiting around: who else cheered as Reek remembered his identity and flung Myranda off the balcony to her bloody death, saving Sansa from a crossbow? Boom, baby. Greyjoy’s back.
– At least, you hope he is: Theon and Sansa’s escape plan – jump from the top of the tower and hopefully land safely – isn’t exactly worthy of Steve McQueen or Shawshank.
– But if it’s cliffhangers you want, the episode is full of them: after such a measured run, this hour-long avalanche of sudden peril is one huge rush of adrenaline.
– If you want proof of how lean Game of Thrones’ storytelling has been this season, look no further than Arya’s narrative, which jumps right into the middle of her murdering paedophile Meryn. 10 seconds into the scene, a knife to the eye. And lots of stabbing.
– “Do you know who I am? I can’t hear you!” Maisie Williams is really quite terrifying when she’s going full throttle – although her insistence on belting out her name while stabbing Meryn only underlines her inability to become one of the Faceless Men. Did we mention the stabbing?
– You might expect Arya’s story to end there for this season, but no, we get horrific justice for her too, as Jaqen H’ghar demonstrates just how freaky the whole concept of being able to swap faces is. Taking face after face off a dead corpse, until we end up with Arya herself, it’s a creepy sequence. Suddenly, Mission Impossible’s magic masks don’t seem so cool anymore. (Will Arya stay blind now for the rest of the series? Is this all part of her test? We hope she’s still ok for Season 6.)
– “I think, deep down, I always knew,” says Myrcella to Jaime, after they sail away from Dorne – a statement that raises all kinds of WTF questions. Wouldn’t she have said something before? Does that mean Tommen suspected it as well? On the plus side, we’ve never seen Jaime Lannister look more at peace.
– Oh well, at least Myrcella dies happily. You know, after Ellaria poisons her to death. Be honest: you didn’t see that coming. The question is: Does Prince Doran know about it? Or is he really as polite and kind as he seemed?
– “You want a good woman, but you need bad pussy,” Tyene says to Bronn. Her character, which is little more than “the sexy one”, is possibly the most poorly written female in the show. The amusing look on Jerome Flynn’s face distracts you enough to almost not notice.
– “If only I knew someone with a network of spies…” Tyrion gets all the best lines once again, as he and Varys (who magically appears in Meereen – no complaints from us, we missed him) are appointed to look after the city, while Jorah and Daario search for Dany and Drogon. After all, they have experience of being political puppeteers. Note: We would endorse either of them for Political Puppeteering on LinkedIn.
– “Apologies. My Valyrian is a little nostril.” We may just start quoting Tyrion’s dialogue. Thank goodness he’s around to lighten the mood in such a bleak, bleak episode.
– Also, can we have our Varys/Tyrion sitcom now please? We’ve even come up with the perfect name for it: Meereen Behaving Badly.
– We’d even settle for a remake of The West Wing or House of Cards. Just saying.
– So where is Dany now? We don’t really know. But it certainly looks like Dothraki soldiers have picked her up.
– Now, let’s talk the main traumatic event of the whole episode: Jon Snow.
– Melisandre rides back to the Wall after Stannis’ demise. Why? Is it because she has nowhere else to go? Because she is aware that he cannot win? Because she has her own plans at the Wall? Could she bring a certain someone back to life? (Cough this is our prediction for Season 6 cough.)
– Before we get to that certain someone, a brief word for Sam, who is no longer a virgin. Nice one, Sam! He’s also leaving to become Maester officially, which is lovely. “I’m glad the end of the world is working out well for someone,” jokes Jon Snow. Regardless of everything else that happens, we are too. You go, Sam. Fist bump.
– FOR THE WATCH. That’s what Ser Alliser Thorne says – not shouting, but solemnly almost-whispering it – as he stabs Jon in the stomach. Mental note: Next time someone claims to have found your long-lost Uncle Benjen in Game of Thrones, don’t follow them to a dark alcove in the middle of the night where there’s a cross with “Traitor” written on it.
– What follows is, quite simply, the most devastating scene in the history of the show: even more so than the Red Wedding. Here is a man who was good, who wanted to do the right thing, who darn well could have been a good ruler on the Iron Throne, who welcomed enemies and friends alike. Other good people have been crushed by the wheel in the past, but Snow – with Kit Harington’s innocent baby face – was someone who actually looked like he could break the wheel altogether.
– It’s Olly who really gets you, though, as the young’un sinks the final blade into him, following a round of Julius Caeser-style betrayal. “For the Watch.” The look on Harington’s face is heartbreaking.
– A brief recap vs the books:
– In the novels, Jaime hasn’t visited Dorne and Myrcella hasn’t died. But should that be “hasn’t died yet”?
– Ditto for Shireen and Stannis: she hasn’t died in the books, while Melisandre doesn’t leave the Wall when Stannis heads to Winterfell. Brienne, meanwhile, continues to hunt for Sansa (who isn’t married to Ramsay at Winterfell either). When we said the show is telling things concisely? We weren’t joking.
– In the books, Stannis hasn’t officially died either. Which, again, should probably be “hasn’t died yet”.
– Arya, meanwhile, is only blinded as part of her training before we even get to her first mission as a Faceless assassin.
– If that last one gives you some hope, though, what about Snow? If it’s left open-ended in the novels about whether he might still make it, the TV series shows us that little bit extra: the bloody seeping up past his chest on the ground beneath him certainly seems very final. Is he really gone? Say it ain’t so.
– Until now, the tantalising glimpses of what’s to come, as the TV show overtakes Martin’s novels, have been hugely exciting. In the case of Snow, it’s a brutal final shot. But there remains that other thrilling fact: that with the TV show neck and neck (and a little bit in front of) the story on the page, nobody really knows what’s going to happen next. Which is awesome. And also sucks. Big time.