[Review] - Game Of Thrones, Season 5 Episodes 6 And 7, "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" And "The Gift"

Courtesy of HBO
Taking a week off always throws me through a bit of a loop, but I was especially stunned when watching these two episodes when I realized that we are only three weeks away form the finale. No week off for the long weekend this year (it usually falls on the week that episode nine is meant to air, which is also usually their big ass episode, but the late start pushed it back this year). Only three episodes left, and narrative wise it feels like we're only on episode three or four. That can't be a good sign, can it?

The answer is no. No, it isn't.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that will remain alive until they find a cock merchant.

I feel that I've spent most of this season eating my words. In the first review of this season, I applauded and championed the original storylines and heavy deviations that the show was embracing this year. However, as the season has wound on, it has become increasingly clear that without the clear path that the novels set them on, the writers are all the more out in the wilderness. This season lacks the discipline and laser guided focus that other seasons have made such wonderful use of. 10 hours is a constricted amount of time to carry so many storylines, but they never seemed to waver. They always moved forward with intent, towards a growing conclusion. Sometimes those conclusions were obvious (last season's attack on the Wall) and sometimes they were a surprise, though heavily foreshadowed (the Red Wedding). This season has lost that building urgency. I watch these episodes and I have no idea what they could be building towards. A battle at Winterfell? A larger conflict at Meereen?

Even with what I know happens in the novels, I still have no idea of what this season is meant to be saying. The theme has been the difficulties of rule, but themes are also meant to inform the plot, and the plot hasn't really been going anywhere. Machinations are great, and politics are laudable, but at a certain point you're just shifting pieces on a chess board without ever actually making an offensive move. So, Littlefinger setting up all the houses of Westeroes against one another is fine, but it isn't apparent what it is leading towards. Cersei seeing all her manipulations backfire on her is satisfying, but what will be the larger ramifications. Arya mopping floors and killing sick children is sort of character growth, but it is still essentially staying in one place. This season has felt like all the characters are aggressively standing still. There is little advancement in development or plot. Even Tyrion, who has physically traveled the furthest, hasn't advanced much beyond where he started the season.

The major events of these two episodes concerns Sansa, Cersei and Tyrion, and that has also been largely true of this entire season. The other characters put in appearances, but haven't really contributed. Even Jon, who had the greatest amount of development last year, has been pushed to the narrative borders. While I would argue that certain storylines, like Arya, deserve less screen time because they naturally lack immediate need for development, others have held the holding pattern for long enough that something needs to happen or they will atrophy entirely. Like Dany, who has been the wet blanket of the show's narrative since season two, but is apparently so integral to the end game that she cannot be sacrificed. So, other storylines are brought into her orbit, threatening to doom them to the same iniquity. They managed to, in the final moments of episode 7, to bring Tyrion and Dany together. To what end? Tyrion has been the master of manipulations for so long, advancing more of the various plots than any other character. Without him, the King's Landing story has withered on the vine. Will his presence bring a sense of urgency and deliberate action to the Mother of Dragons, or will the stubborn lack of advance bog him down too?

Cersei has spent this season attempting to play her father, with a scene in one of these episodes even featuring her sitting at a desk scribbling letters, as we saw Tywin doing extensively in season three. Cersei's motivations have been front and center this season, as she attempts to hold on to the vague notion of power that she craves. Here, her perfectly balanced Jenga tower topples down on her. Except, and I'm going to jump into book-reader mode for a moment, it feels more hollow than when it happened on the page. In the book, her arrest is one hundred percent earned. She had spent the preceding novel (and much of the previous) being overly manipulative, to an almost wild state, reveling in a power that she believed she had complete control over. Her arrest is a moment of clarity that she refuses to accept, that she over reached, and that she legitimately deserves punishment. Here, she has done a bare fraction of the genuine evil that her literary counterpart is guilty of. The evidence used for her arrest is a multiple season-old plot line. Her arrest here has more to do with the High Sparrow's development than Cersei's (and golly, is Jonathan Pryce doing a great job in the holy man role); more a reaction to his perception of manipulation than to her actual guilt. She's guilty, let's not disagree, but not to the extent that she could have been. In the books, Cersei is a monster. In the show, she's just shallow and petty.

The Dorne storyline really should have been the primary focus of this season. I get the need to continue to focus on at least one Stark, but Sansa's story likely could have been tempered down and still maintained it's power, if only to allow more time for Jamie and Bronn. We were spoiled last year, with the wonderful Oberyn, and the ways the writers chose to use him. The promise of his home land and his kin was too much a tease, I suppose, but the lack of attention give to the storyline begets the lack of interest. Seven episodes in, and there have been all but maybe four of five Dornish scenes. Jamie's quest is so segmented you'd think it was built out of Lego. And Alexander Siddig has put in little more than a cameo this season, when by all rights he should have been receiving comparable screen time to Dame Diana Rigg (who made her glorious return here, because the show can't resist the marvelous).

Maester Aemon's death, I feel, is indicative of the issues facing this season. there are still certain check boxes the writers feel the need to get to. And there is much of their own story they want to tell. But without specific focus, they are stuck either pacing in place, or suddenly jumping to a moment with little indication of why or how they got there. Aemon's death is a novel plot, that comes in the midst of a new storyline that the show has either abandoned or pushed back. His death in the show comes on rather suddenly and lacks the emotional impact that it could have had, on Sam or Aemon. They've managed to move some of that emotion over to Jon, which suggests that they'll be getting back to his development, but the act itself felt like the writers quickly getting another box checked, without any real value being attributed to the act.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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