The acting is as impressive as the violence in Game Of Thrones’ eventful season 5 finale.
5.10 Mother’s Mercy
Game Of Thrones doesn’t really have event season finales, but the fifth season is the one that’s apparently going to break the mould. Sure, there’s always some cool Daenerys-related tidbit (birthing dragons, freeing the slaves, and so on), but this season it seems like the annual Episode Nine bloodbath came in the episodes preceding and following after the typical “look out for craziness” moment in every season. I don’t remember a season finale packing quite this much punch historically, as everyone in Westeros seemed bound and determined to kill or be killed in some sort of mad rush to find a new job for the next television season. The body count is high this week, and while some of it was expected, some of it was a surprise.
Let’s just say there’s a reason Game Of Thrones is one of the most expensive shows on television, and it’s got everything to do with the way the show handles its violence. Even when they do cost-cutting measures like cutting to the aftermath of a battle rather than showing the battle, they show enough of the fight to rack up the cost. Ditto pretty much every scene which features extras; the show rarely cheaps out with digital extras, instead rounding up people in the hundreds to give the screen a chaotic feel and to occasionally flash their breasts and/or penises at folks being shamed by the High Sparrow and his minions.
I have to give credit to David Nutter and the show’s special effects team. This episode is phenomenal to look at. Even a simple scene of Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Missandei in Dany’s abandoned throne room looks awesome, and that’s not even considering all the impressive battle scenes we got this week. When Stannis and his disorganized foot soldiers march into the waiting Bolton, it’s incredible. It’s a helicopter shot, of course, and the Bolton march in orderly brigades, with cavalry movements and tight formations. Stannis’ troops are either charging forward, running away, or milling around side to side to try and figure out just what they’re supposed to do. All this is done from above, and it reinforces without showing the battle just how screwed the master tactician is by his sellswords abandoning him in his time of need. Still, Stannis faces his destiny like a stoic, having made his bed when he chose to sacrifice his daughter in public to thaw the snow and march to Winterfell.
All actions have consequences, and that’s doubly true on Game Of Thrones. Melisandre and the Lord of Light abandon Stannis after he murders his family. Jon Snow chooses to save the wildlings and try to keep the armies of the dead from being too overwhelming, and it looks like he’s going to pay the iron price for that good deed, though I think everyone expected him to get the shank from the way Olly and company were giving him the stink eye and attempting to pummel Sam during his absence. However Jon, like Stannis, is smart enough to send his closest friend and otherwise innocent sidekick away before trouble befalls him. Kind of like how Jorah and Daario choose to leave behind Tyrion and Grey Worm (and Missandei) to rule Meereen in the Queen’s absence while they’re off looking for Dany, her sick dragon, and her new Dothraki horde.
Dany’s action—riding off on a dragon—has consequences for those around her, and Cersei Lannister’s actions have consequences for those around her as well, least of all her unfortunate daughter. (Though really, that could be Tywin Lannister’s actions coming home to roost a generation later) but, in what has to be a first for the Queen, her actions also net her consequences, too, courtesy of the High Sparrow she unleashed on King’s Landing. Pitched battles are one thing, but parading naked through the streets of the city, head shorn, for the population to publicly shame you just so you can get back to your son? It was one of the most intense scenes in an intense episode, and a true credit to Lena Headey for absolutely killing it. Speaking of killing it, Arya Stark finally gets to scratch a name off her list, and it’s as brutal and as satisfying as I could have hoped for
Truthfully, it was an all-around great episode for the acting. Headey was masterful in her restrained performance; Cersei kept her mask of composure up, but her eyes were full of pain the entire walk, and when she was finally able to break down, it was stunning to watch that mask crumble. Stephen Dillane didn’t get much screen time, but when he was on screen, Stannis’ march to certain death was also impressive, as was the way he invited Brienne to do her duty and get her revenge for fallen Renly. The way Kit Harington handled Jon Snow’s betrayal was also really well done, even though I’m not sure why Jon likes Olly since he’s not a particularly likable kid (still, Brenock O’Connor did a fine job). Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill provided one of the few moments of levity in an otherwise serious episode. Maisie Williams continues to be awesome.
Say what you want to about their various missteps and things cut from the books, but David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are doing an astounding job pulling this show together. Meeting with Martin and knowing the ending as they do, it’s still impressive that they’re still working source material in with their own creations to craft brilliant television shot across Croatia, Spain, Iceland, and Ireland, with a reported 166 actors in speaking roles and 5000 or more around to serve as extras. Just making heads or tails out of that chaos is amazing in and of itself, even with $100 million HBO dollars to spend and some of the best actors in the UK lining up for the chance to get stabbed to fake death in front of its cameras.
This is a special thing and a stunning achievement in creativity for all involved in the production. Netflix spent a fortune on Marco Polo and couldn’t come close to this level of fan engagement and critical praise. Bloody, brutal, harrowing, emotional, touching, funny, thrilling… Game Of Thrones ticks all the boxes for great TV and then some, on a scale that even the most ballsy of Hollywood productions wouldn’t even attempt. Succeed or fail, that’s pretty special.
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