June 15, 2015

SHOWBUZZDAILY Season Finale Review: “Game of Thrones”


People take their GAME OF THRONES very seriously.  That’s not a new phenomenon, of course–the term “fanboy” was invented to describe audience members obsessed with their chosen (usually fantasy/sci-fi adventure) sagas, and that level of commitment predates the word and applies to all genders–but this season, the level of debate reached a new height.  Instead of merely arguing over whether one plot twist or another made sense, or was satisfying, series creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (and to a lesser extent, novelist George R.R. Martin) were themselves the center of attention, their narrative choices assailed for what was being said about pop culture, US society and the two men themselves, especially when it came to depictions of violence against women.  No less than a US Senator announced publicly after the rape of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) that she was finished with the show.  (Whether or not Missouri’s Senator McCaskill actually boycotted the series, hardly anyone else joined her, as the ratings remained monstrous, so HBO likely cares very little about the controversy.)

Tonight’s Season 5 finale, written by Benioff and Weiss and directed by David Nutter, provided more fodder for sociology-minded critics, as it included a brothel scene in which Merwyn Trant (Ian Beattie) beat young girls for his sexual pleasure, and a protracted, painful sequence in which Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) was forced to atone (for those limited sins she’d actually confessed) by walking what seemed to be the entire length of King’s Landing naked and with her head shorn, while the rabble assailed her.  But as is usually the case with Thrones, all of this was in the context of plenty of other horrors.

This being a season finale, the stakes were especially high.  Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) was killed by Brienne (Gwendolyn Christie) as punishment for his own spectral assassination of his brother Renly (and although that was technically the only motive, his actions last week in burning his own daughter at the stake in order to win the battle for Winterfell–a battle he lost anyway–was certainly in the karmic mix).  Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) got her revenge on said Merwyn Trant for killing her sword-master all the way back in Season 1–although her unpermitted use of a false face mask of the Many-Faced God resulted in her own (permanent?) blindness.  Young and innocent Myrcella Baratheon (Aimee Richardson) was poisoned by Elaria (Indira Varma).  Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), flown away from near-certain death last week by Drogon, found herself back very near the beginning of her story, surrounded by Dothraki, while Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) tried to run her city.  Sansa was rescued (unless they both died in their jump from the city’s wall) by Stark nemesis Theon Greyjoy (Alfie Allen) from the truly despicable, even by Thrones standards, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon).  And most shocking of all, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) was murdered, Julius Caesar style, by the members of his own Night’s Watch, their revenge for his allowing his men to be killed in order to save Wildlings.  (There is some speculation that Jon, and possibly even Stannis, could somehow be alive in Season 6, especially after an episode where The Mountain returned from seeming death after some Maester magic, but for now they certainly seem dead.)

As that very cursory summary suggests, Game of Thrones bites off a great deal in its storytelling, and despite 10 hours per season to work with and what may well be the highest episodic budget on TV, sometimes that’s more than it can chew.  The Dorne sequences this season felt sketchy and undeveloped, and something of the same was true of events at Winterfell and Daavos.  (Some of the objections people had to the violent events that occurred in those settings may have been due to the fact that there was little space for anything but the most melodramatic plot events.)  Important characters like Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Varys (Conleth Hill) disappeared for episodes at a time, although the latter showed up tonight for a lovely scene with Tyrion.  The story is so dense, and yet so disparate in its many characters and locations, that 10 hours sometimes feels like it’s only enough for a “Previously on” montage.

Nevertheless, the reason people get so wound up by Game of Thrones is that it’s a spectacularly effective piece of drama.  Martin, Weiss and Benioff (as well as the show’s other writer/producers) are brilliantly skilled at creating vital, captivating characters, and then putting them through the most awful plot developments, all the while balancing not just a multitude of people, settings and stories, but also between intimate and epic events.  The acting by the huge cast is uniformly superb, with Headey and Williams particularly excellent in the finale (interestingly, because Headey was pregnant in real life when the atonement sequence was shot, much of the time her performance was conveyed by her face digitally attached to another actress’s nude body).  The production values, from cinematography to design to music, are at a level that equals or betters those of feature films costing many times as much.

HBO would love Game of Thrones to continue for many years to come, but Benioff and Weiss have started their endgame, with such major events this season as the first huge battle with the White Walkers and the meeting of Tyrion and Daenerys (even if those two are now separated once again) setting the stage.  However, this is certainly a world that would lend itself to spin-offs, so no one would be surprised if Throne-related programming continued even after the Game officially ends.  Certainly the tale, and the passion of its viewers, are nowhere near exhausted.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."