(All images courtesy of Forbes)
The Game of Thrones Season 5 finale managed to wrangle all of this season’s far-flung storylines into a single, shocking hour. If it felt slightly less unified than the past two episodes, that’s because of all the extra fat thrown in. GOT’s creative team managed to work off the additional pounds, specifically, those added by Dorne this season, as even that location’s clumsier narrative shed some unnecessary weight. Ironically, the payoff in Dorne happens once Jaime leaves that forsaken place, but it’s a continuation of the thread of revenge and bloodshed felt throughout the finale. There’s a lot of pain and frustration to be had here, but it all plays out beautifully. The biggest success is the dance that the director, David Nutter, gracefully executes, combining this world’s many different tragedies into one satisfying and heartbreaking conclusion.
Sure, nobody is given a definitive resolution, yet it’s the small victories that resonate here. Brienne and Arya gain the vengeance they’ve been craving, one chivalrous and the other brutal. Theon finally gains the courage to help Sansa escape. In Daenerys’ absence, the men and woman she left behind take the steps needed to restore order to Meereen. To make this city-state into Daenerys’ template for a future Westeros, it’s appropriate that her High Council would start to look like one she’d have in King’s Landing. As our favorite people learned new lessons about the dark world they inhabit, sometimes fatally so, we picked up a few pieces of advice as well.
Here are seven lessons learned from the Game of Thrones finale:
Don’t be a good person.
Or at least, don’t be wholly selfless. It’s like those pre-flight messages where the flight attendants ask you to fasten the gas mask around your mouth first, before assisting those next to you. Jon placed the well-being of the Wildlings above the feelings of his men. Sure, the men of the Night’s Watch are acting selfish, but when you keep the company of former criminals, you should at least do some opinion polling before consoling with the enemy. Jon joins a growing list of dead Starks who meant well, but whose honorable intentions not only got them killed, but threw their respective regions into disarray. Also, his stabbing is hard to handle, but the “everyone gets a turn” mentality reminded of this moment from Airplane:
Certain members of the viewing audience have not been watching the same show.
Twitter has been ablaze with the largest fire the North has ever seen thanks to last night’s episode. But it should come as no surprise, as Game of Thrones has been offing fan favorite characters since the first season. The very first episode featured a young boy getting pushed out a window. Sure, this endless parade of murders and mayhem can get tiresome, but if you’ve stuck with Thrones this long, stay around a little longer. According to David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, the executive producers, there will probably only be two seasons left. So, if there isn’t a happy ending for us at the climax of this bloody journey, at least it will all be over soon.
Also, the showrunners have gone into great detail about how they meticulously edit the final shots of certain characters demises so that there is no room for loose fan interpretation. Ned’s beheading was a big debate for them in the editing room as they bartered over how many milliseconds were needed to convey the sword going through his neck and the amount of blood that followed. From this, we can assume that since we watched Jon Snow die, the guy is “dead.” But we didn’t see Brienne’s killing blow land on Stannis and we didn’t see Sansa and Theon land, so the jury’s still out on them.
CGI face mapping technology has come a long way.
When you compare Cersei’s “Walk of Punishment” to, say, the opening of X-Men: The Last Stand, the first thing you think is: why the hell are we comparing Game of Thrones to an X-Men mess-terpiece? Well, both feature some fancy CGI face effects that have come far over several years. To make X-Men’s Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen appear younger, the effects team digitally removed their wrinkles and the result was… cartoonish. The digitized faces of these human actors made Jar Jar Binks look like a genuine-felt muppet from Jim Henson’s secret stash. But in “Mother’s Mercy,” Cersei’s walk of shame was so intense, claustrophobic and personal that I had no idea the Queen Mother’s nude body was not her own. Through skillful edits and camera angles, there is no question that actress Lena Headey is enduring the walk, herself, and not a body double. Also, this moment brings Cersei so low, she almost becomes a sympathetic figure. I just about wanted Ser Robert Strong to storm the Sept of Baelor then and there. Of course, I’d expect a dragon to promptly blow up the High Council afterwards, but let’s give Cersei some small victory after this torture, eh?
Ladies – If you have a hair appointment at the Sept of Baelor – cancel it!
They will not be gentle, and they will make your scalp bleed. Then, they’ll follow you out to your car shouting “Shame” while clanging a dinner bell. Not worth it.
To be a Faceless Man is to be no one and everyone at once.
The Faceless Men love to play Alice in Wonderland style mind games on Arya. Once she breaks their code and kills for personal revenge, they get free reign to go crazy-town on Braavos’ “Littlest Assassin.” To repay the Many-Faced God for Ser Meryn’s life, which Arya “stole” from the holy one, Jaqen kills himself… only to reveal that he’s actually the Waif. When Arya starts pulling faces off the dead Jaqen, she lands on his final mask: herself. Which begs the question: if these Faceless Men aren’t who they seem to be, then can anybody really be trusted? Is Arya even herself? If the Faceless Men stress that you must be no one to be one of them, does that also mean that you could be everyone? Arya tears off faces faster than Hannibal Lecter in an all-you-can-eat buffet so this one is also open-ended. Expect a good version of Face/Off before this is all over.
When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die or you curse yourself for eternity.
Surrounded by dank and overcast settings, the only time Stannis experienced bright lighting was when Melisandre lit her flames, which were usually fueled by the burning of innocents. Her quest for the knowledge and power of the Red God was only quenched when sacrificing others and she reached too far with Shireen. As “Mother’s Mercy” proves, blood-magic can only get you to a certain point, and when you’ve given all of your humanity over to sacrilegious conjuring and shaky prophecies, you start to lose the support of the humans who still have some dignity left. Stannis, always a man of his word, understood the dire situation as he led the remains of his army to certain death at Winterfell. With Melisandre fled, Davos gone, and his family dead, he doesn’t seem resigned. Instead he marches to defeat as steadfastly as he would to victory. It’s tragically befitting this man with stony resolve and, while it’s not the ending he would have hoped for, it’s one that both he and the audience know he deserves.
The show knows that it owes you nothing.
I came into this episode expecting a big, balls to the wall battle at Winterfell. I was even naïve enough to think Melisandre’s magic might work. But, no, both the show and Melisandre were bluffing. Stannis’ biggest blunder was to follow the words of a foreign zealot over his own Westerosi instincts. It killed his chances for the Iron Throne and decimated his army. The rest of the characters are dispensed with rather quickly, in fast-paced vignettes that show us Arya’s revenge in Braavos, Dany’s capture in the Dothraki sea, Tyrion’s future as Meereen’s ruler, Jaime’s tragedy on the Dornish coast, and more gut-wrenching moments in King’s Landing and at the Wall. After the slow burn of episodes 1 through 7, the show exploded in “Hardhome” and “The Dance of Dragons” with two visceral, action-packed finales. This season finale, while still tense and exciting, served as the emotional climax of the show. It was very satisfying by Thrones standards, but not the happiest of endings. It left some of the angrier fans with a sour taste in their mouth, but it left me excited for next April. In a conclusion that played most of its shocking surprises by George R. R. Martin’s book, the true test comes when GOT proves just how well it manages these separate threads when it breaks away from George’s pages.
As for Jon Snow’s fate?
Lots of characters die. Main characters. People who you think will be around for a long time. Heroes who can’t be dead because the world can’t live without them. And with these deaths, the audience needs some closure. Ned never got to return the kingdom to peace and stability. Catelyn never got to reunite the surviving members of her family. Robb never got to bring justice back to House Stark. Jon never got to discover his true parentage. This show relishes in the same unpredictable tragedies you’d find in real life. People die before their time, evil can blossom and overtake good, and expectation does not always live up to reality. When characters are taken from us before they’re able to serve what we believe to be their dramatic purpose, it feels like a disappointment. We complain that GRRM and David and Dan are toying with our emotions like we’re trapped in some abusive relationship. But these deaths are not lost on other characters. If we didn’t have Ned’s death, Robb wouldn’t have been named King of the North, and the ensuing war wouldn’t have been as complex. If we didn’t have the Red Wedding, we wouldn’t have had the fallout amongst the Stark children and within King’s Landing. If we didn’t get Jon’s death, he would’ve been everyone’s presumptive hero. With his demise, we’re thrown into yet another turbulent time, and as the White Walkers move to invade Westeros, things are about to get more complicated and unpredictable. Since that’s what Game of Thrones aims for, I think we can chalk this season up as a success.