My latest piece for FanSided: How Episode 9 Drives the Game of Thrones. It’s weird how little my dear Brienne’s name appears in this, but it’s all about shifts in power throughout the series. She’s not really a player. I go through each season and tell you what happened in terms of various Houses getting more powerful or more defeated, using the 9th episode as the focal point.
You might see a little prediction near the end, mixed up with the filming leaks. Mostly, what I want to talk about is that in writing this piece, I noticed something about the fifth season.
It’s kind of tricky to describe how exactly the balance of power shifted in response to the events of Episode 9. Okay, stuff happened: Stannis burned his daughter, and Dany managed not to get killed by the Sons of the Harpy during the reopening of the fighting pit. She flew off on dragonback! Cool, huh?
And what were the results of those actions? Stannis was screwed, Melisandre seemed kind of upset at the events that followed Shireen’s burning. Dany stayed alive, and her flying off on Drogon’s back was very satisfying at the time, but what did she have to show for that?
The problem isn’t really that nothing happened in late S5, or that what happened didn’t make sense. The problem is more that nobody won. Everyone’s situation at the end of the season ranges from shitty to shittiest.
The outcome of Hardhome didn’t help, either. The episode was very impressive and powerful, and at the end, far too few of the wildlings were coming through the gate. They managed to save some lives, but mostly it’s just a question of how much worse it could’ve been.
And…that’s not the show writers’ fault. I can’t think of anything else in Books 4 and 5 that they could’ve used for better Ep9 events. Shireen’s burning hasn’t happened in the books; something close enough to it may happen in TWoW, but so far Shireen is still alive. The part where Dany rides out of the fighting pit on Drogon’s back? That happened, but actually the show makes it more of a conflict. In the books, there’s no fight before Drogon arrives; Dany climbs on Drogon’s back and rides him out of the pits to keep him from killing any more people. That dragon is the only danger. The outcome is pretty much the same in the books, only with Dany getting a vicious case of diarrhea.
Hardhome, also, is more an extrapolation of background information we got in Books 4 and 5, rather than an event GRRM showed us in the text. Jon didn’t go up to Hardhome to help the wildlings. We hear secondhand and maybe thirdhand about wildlings in that area suffering serious losses, but no POV characters are there to take part in defending against the White Walker attack. D&D made that stage of the story more exciting, more plot-driven, more substantial than what we got in the books.
Season 5 happened at a stage in the series where nobody is winning. I guess Jon and his peeps did a good thing at Hardhome, as the WW attack was inevitable, and they made it so that some of the Free Folk got out alive, so good for them. So many more got killed and turned into wights, though? Meanwhile Stannis was successfully convinced to set his only child on fire, and that achieved what, exactly? Dany got away from the Harpies in one piece, her advisors also survived, her numb-nuts new husband died quickly, and then what? Now she’s dealing with a huge horde of unfriendly Dothraki and she’s got Tyrion and Varys looking after her city. Yes, and? Where’s the victory?
(Brief digression: I am really quite amused at how much of my sense of humor made it past Editor Dan. See if you can spot the part where I mention Dany becoming single again.)
Whereas in the books, Tyrion hasn’t made contact with Dany yet; it’s mostly Barristan Selmy and his trusted allies keeping Meereen in one piece until they find Dany and bring her back. Yeah, Ser Barristan’s still alive. He’s nowhere near as good a statesman as Tyrion.
There were other difficulties, like that Sand Snakes biz being such a train wreck of questionable writing and scenery-chewing performance, but I think much of what made S5 seem so underwhelming compared with earlier seasons is that D&D had such squishy material to work with, and they didn’t know how to make it better. There was lots of material in 4 and 5 that was already swapped out, and what was still available to them wasn’t as affecting as events like the Blackwater battle, or the Red Wedding. They simply reached that stage of the story, where nobody has anything good to show for their efforts. It’s valid storytelling, but it doesn’t make for great TV.