Every ‘Game of Thrones’ episode, recapped, rated, and ranked: Season Five

I had to take a bit of a break to work on other stuff (both here and in the physical world), but now I’m back, and I’m ready to dig into Season 5. As always, SPOILERS abound! Beware! Be aware!

Season 5, Episode 1 (41), “The Wars to Come” (first aired 12 April 2015). It’s a bit axiomatic that the season premieres of shows, and definitely with Game of Thrones, are weaker episodes, because the showrunners are trying to set things up for future episodes. Usually, we get something that elevates it, but in “The Wars to Come,” we get little of that, making this one of the poorer episodes of the show so far. It’s frustrating, because unlike earlier episodes, we know the characters and are invested in them, so we want to know what’s going on, but there’s still not much happening, and even the conversations, which are often the show’s strength, go over some familiar ground. The best moments are between Cersei and Jaime, as whatever love they had has curdled into almost open hostility, mainly from Cersei’s side, as she blames Jaime – not unreasonably – for Tywin’s death. It’s always interesting on shows when they try to make family so important even if the family members dislike each other. Tywin’s death freed Cersei, essentially, yet she still hates Tyrion and now Jaime for bringing it about. The episode begins with its first flashback, as we see Cersei as a young girl getting a prophecy about her future, and it’s pretty useless, unfortunately. Present Cersei does, however, meet up with her cousin, Lancel, again. We last saw Lancel taking Jaime’s place in her bed and getting shoved around at the Battle of Blackwater, but now he’s cut his hair short, started wearing a long, drab robe, and has joined a religious group called the Sparrows, who don’t seem to take a kindly view to the decadence of King’s Landing. I’m sure that won’t be a problem moving forward! Meanwhile, across the sea, Varys and Tyrion have arrived in Pentos, where Tyrion seems set on drinking himself to death. Varys tries to convince him to head east to meet Daenerys, so that should be a fun voyage even though this part of it is a bit boring. Daenerys is dealing with a new threat, the Sons of the Harpy, who kill one of her Unsullied soldiers but, so far, don’t seem to have much of an agenda beyond that. At the Wall, Stannis wants Mance Rayder to bow to him and tell his Wildlings to fight for Stannis, but of course, Mance refuses to do that, even when Jon Snow tries to convince him. This leads to another Stannis’s well-publicized barbecues, but Jon kills Mance with an arrow before he can burn alive. Jon respects Mance, and he wants him to die like a man. The show never really did too much with Ciarán Hinds, which is too bad because he has that great glum expression that works perfectly on a show like this. Overall, it’s just a plodding episode, and while we can see potential in many of the plots, we don’t get a very interesting introduction to any of them.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Season 5, Episode 2 (42), “The House of Black and White” (first aired 19 April 2015). Hey, Arya’s back! She’s made it to Braavos and goes to the titular house to become an assassin, but an old dude at the door turns her away. She wanders around for a while, and then the old dude turns into Jaqen (he can change his face, remember?) and he lets her in. That’s all we get, but since Arya is probably the most interesting character on the show, we’ll take it! Brienne and Podrick, who showed up briefly in episode 1 when the carriage carrying Sansa and Littlefinger passed right by them (but neither saw the other), end up at an inn where they find … Sansa and Littlefinger! Baelish has gotten a marriage proposal from somewhere, and they’re heading that way, but Brienne tries to tell her that she’s not safe, which doesn’t really sit well with Littlefinger. He’s not wrong – Brienne is spectacularly bad at protecting people, although, to be fair, Renly was killed by magic and Catelyn sent her on a stupid errand instead of keeping her close, but Baelish’s protestations are enough for Sansa, who declines Brienne’s help (Sansa is becoming a very skilled political operator and believes she can handle herself … but can she????). In fact, Littlefinger’s soldiers try to kill Brienne and Pod, who get away thanks to Brienne’s nifty swordwork. She decides to follow Sansa, because, let’s face it – Petyr Baelish isn’t taking her anyplace nice. Cersei gets a threat from Dorne about the safety of Myrcella, her daughter (Nell Tiger Free, another recasting of a role in the show), whom Tyrion sent away to be married back when he was Hand (it was the right decision, too, but Cersei doesn’t care about that). Jaime decides to go to Dorne himself and rescue her, and he enlists good old Bronn, who seems to be a bit bored with his plain, not-as-rich-as-he-thought fiancée. Jaime promises him a better wife and better castle if he’ll go off on an adventure with him, and it doesn’t take much to convince Bronn. Cersei isn’t too paranoid – the ruler of Dorne, Ra’s al Ghul (sorry, I mean Doran, who’s played by Alexander Siddig), doesn’t want to do anything to Myrcella, but he’s in a wheelchair and Oberyn’s lover, Ellaria (Indira Varna), is pisssssssed off about Oberyn’s death (a death, I should reiterate, that she knows happened because he got too cocky). So that can’t be good for another Baratheon/Lannister child. Daenerys, meanwhile, manages to capture a Son of the Harpy, but one of her advisors kills him before she can give him a fair trial. So she has Daario execute the dude, which almost causes a riot. I get that Daenerys has to learn how to rule, but Meereen is becoming boring, so it seems like the showrunners are trying to spice things up a bit (her odd-numbered seasons have been better than the even ones, so fingers crossed!). Up north, Stannis wants Jon to come with him on his conquest of Winterfell, but Jon says he swore an oath and declines. He stays, and gets elected Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Good for you, Jon! I’m sure being in charge won’t go horribly wrong for you! This is a better episode, but it’s still slogging along a bit. At least Bronn and Arya show up!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Season 5, Episode 3 (43), “High Sparrow” (first aired 26 April 2015). So we finally have a wedding that goes off without a hitch, as Margaery marries Tommen, which is nice for them. Cersei, seeing her power erode, does something wildly stupid: she hitches her wagon to the religious revival sweeping the streets, signified a few episodes ago by Lancel Lannister’s reappearance as a fanatic. The showrunners have been inching toward Cersei being a full-fledged alcoholic for a while now, and Margaery implies it when she lords it over Cersei that she, not Cersei, is now ascendant in the kingdom. Of course, Margaery should have had Cersei killed a long time ago, but for now, she thinks Cersei is effectively neutered because Tommen likes sex more than he ever liked his mother’s advice. When the head priest of the kingdom, the High Septon, is found in Littlefinger’s brothel and paraded naked through the streets, Cersei chucks him in prison when he complains and goes to visit Jonathan Pryce, the “High Sparrow” of the revival. He plays it all very well, wearing no shoes and being very pious, and Cersei falls right in line, despite her extremely checkered past. I guess they don’t have tigers in Westeros, or she’d know about grabbing one by the tail. Religion has never been a big part of the show unless you’re Stannis Baratheon, but now the showrunners are bringing in a fundamentalist sect, and I can’t imagine it will end well. In other news, Littlefinger reveals that the marriage proposal he was talking about this season is not his, but Sansa’s – he’s arranged for her to wed Ramsay Bolton, which, yikes. She’s a bit peeved, but he convinces her it’s the right move. Man, Sansa always gets the shit end of the stick, doesn’t she? In Braavos, Arys is learning that being a Faceless Man is not all killing people but a lot of sweeping, which makes her grumpy. Jaqen tells her she has to get rid of her stuff, and she does, except for her sword, which means she’ll never really be one of them there faceless people. Sucks to be her. At the Wall, Jon gives Janos, the ex-King’s Watch commander who hid like a coward during the Wildlings’ attack, an assignment at another castle, meaning for him to fix it up and also get him the hell out of there, as he’s a shit-stirrer who hates Jon. Janos tells him to shove it, so Jon cuts his head off. Sucks to be him. Meanwhile, Tyrion and Varys reach Volantis, where Tyrion insists on getting the hell out of his sealed carriage and strolling around, even though Cersei put a price on his head. Varys warns against it, but Tyrion doesn’t know he’s on a television show, where the worst thing that can happen will, so he and Varys go to a brothel, and while taking a piss, Tyrion gets kidnapped. Who could it be? Why, it’s Jorah Mormont, recently exiled from the presence of his love, Daenerys, and hanging out in the same brothel! With a ball gag handy, apparently? What kind of stuff has Jorah been getting up to with the whores of Volantis? Anyway, I’m sure he and Tyrion will have lots of fun on the road! This is a better episode – beheadings always liven things up a bit – and things are beginning to move again. The most fascinating thing is Cersei, because allying herself with a fundamentalist sect is never smart, and she would know that if she hadn’t been drinking so much. She’s starting to make mistakes (understandable, given how many men whom she could control or who shielded her are now dead), and it’s fairly subtle how the showrunners are doing it. Let’s see what happens, because you don’t cast Jonathan Pryce unless you want someone soft-spoken who will cut your throat in an instant. He’s just that kind of actor!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Season 5, Episode 4 (44), “Sons of the Harpy” (first aired 3 May 2015). Cersei continues to tread down an uncertain path, as she gives the High Sparrow carte blanche to deal with “sinners,” and by this she means Loras Tyrell, Margaery’s gay brother, who is dragged away and thrown in prison. She conveniently sends Loras and Margaery’s father away to Braavos to negotiate with the Iron Bank, so Margaery is slightly isolated, as Tommen isn’t strong enough yet to stand up to his mother in important matters, so he can’t get Loras out of prison. The show hints again at Cersei’s alcoholism clouding her judgment, and if anyone in King’s Landing is a sinner, it’s she, but she doesn’t seem to think the High Sparrow will turn his baleful eye toward her, even though one relative that she seduced is part of his army! Anyway, out in the East, Tyrion figures out who Jorah is, but before he can charm him too much, Jorah punches him into unconsciousness. That’s probably for the best. At Winterfell, Sansa and Petyr Baelish talk about Sansa’s aunt, Lyanna, and how Rhaegar Targaryen dug her more than his Dornish wife and so caused so much crap to happen subsequently. It seems like this is an important conversation – all talk of the past on GoT is something we should pay attention to, because we don’t actually see it, so all we get is what people say about it. Littlefinger tells her he has to go to King’s Landing, leaving her to the tender mercies of the Boltons. That should go well. At the Wall, Jon Snow is still refusing to ride south with Stannis, so Melisandre tries to convince him, but even her taut naked body will not tempt him! She does get to tell him that he knows nothing, though, which freaks him the hell out. Stannis also shows that he has a heart, as he talks to his daughter about how he moved heaven and earth to stop the spread of greyscale on her body. It’s nice moment for Stannis, who never seems to have any kind of squishy feelings. Way down south, Jaime and Bronn have a freighted conversation on a ship before landing in Dorne, where they have to kill some soldiers they come across. We also meet the “Sand Snakes,” children of Oberyn who are apparently good at killing. Ellaria tells them it’s time for revenge, and they’re all in! Finally, in Meereen, the Sons of the Harpy kill some Unsullied and lead the ones who come after them into a trap. Barristan Selmy, who was just enjoying a fond memory with Daenerys (which should have told us bad things were ahead for him!) shows up, and while he and Grey Worm kill a bunch of masked men, they are also stabbed repeatedly. The episode ends with both of them lying in pools of their own blood. Oh dear. This is a good episode – more things happen, naturally, which is always good, but even without action, the actors get to do more than the first two episodes, it seems. The season is on an upward course, at least!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆

Season 5, Episode 5 (45), “Kill the Boy” (first aired 10 May 2015). We’ve reached the halfway point of the season, and things are finally shaping up. In Meereen, Barristan Selmy is dead, but Grey Worm lives! Daenerys, displaying her keen political mind, rounds up the heads of all the rich families of Meereen (including poor Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry), who’s been nothing but helpful to her) and takes them down to the dungeon where she has her dragons. The Sons of the Harpy are, presumably, rich folk angry at the end of slavery, so she figures if she threatens the heads of the families, they’ll tell the Sons to stop. One of the prisoners gets barbecued and eaten, and Daenerys tells them they’ll do it all again the next day. However, after a heart-to-heart with Missandei, she decides to re-open the fighting pits (which is something she resisted – because slaves were forced to fight there – even though most people told her it was a good idea) and tells Hizdahr that she’s going to marry him to forge an alliance with the people in the city. Poor Hizdahr. He seems like a nice guy, but man, you don’t want to get too close to Daenerys, and now he’s going to be married to her. We’ll see how that works out for him. At the Wall, Jon decides to release Tormund, presumably so he can go off and try to kill Vin Diesel. Tormund is the natural leader of the Wildlings, and Jon tells him to rally his people and get south of the Wall, and he’ll help him do it. Jon knows that the zombies are the real threat, but of course, the Night’s Watch, and specifically Jon’s steward, Olly (whose parents were killed by the Wildlings), don’t see it that way. I don’t think anything bad will happen from this decision! Stannis and Davos leave Castle Black on their way south. It was nice seeing Stannis and his crew hang out with Jon for a while – whenever the show brings two disparate groups of characters together, it’s fun. At Winterfell, Brienne gets a message to Sansa that if she needs help, she should light a candle in the ruined tower. While Sansa looks up at the place where her brother fell and kicked off this whole shitty mess, Myranda, one of Ramsay’s lovers (Charlotte Hope), shows up. She’s jelly of Sansa, and she decides to let Sansa know that Theon is at Winterfell, living in the dog cages. Later, at dinner, Ramsay brings Theon in and messes with him in front of Sansa, which makes everyone uncomfortable. To knock him down a peg, Roose lets him know that his wife, Walda (Elizabeth Webster) (she’s one of Walder Frey’s daughters, and Frey gave a dowry equal to her weight, so Roose chose the fattest one), is pregnant with a son (they don’t know that, but they suspect). Ramsay is still the apple of Roose’s eye, but even Roose doesn’t like how horrible he’s being, and when your torturing is making Roose Bolton angry, you know you’ve gone waaaaaaay too far. Finally, the latest traveling comedy duo, Jorah and Tyrion, float toward Valyria (where they see Drogon, the wayward dragon, flying overhead), because Jorah thinks it’s safer from pirates. Valyria is the ancient civilization that was destroyed centuries before, and people avoid it, with good reason, as it turns out. It seems that people with greyscale are sent there to live, as we learned last week from Stannis when he was talking to his daughter. If only Jorah had been in the room! Of course the “Stone Men,” as they’re called, attack, and of course they almost kill our heroes (Tyrion is dragged deep underwater, but Jorah rescues him), and of course Jorah gets infected with greyscale but doesn’t tell Tyrion. That certainly won’t be a problem going forward! I get that he doesn’t want to tell Tyrion because what is Tyrion going to do, but it’s still a dumb plan. Oh well. The episode is quite good – lots of stuff moving into place, and some good confrontations. The early part of the season faltered a bit, but we seem to be back on track!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Season 5, Episode 6 (46), “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (first aired 17 May 2015). We spend a lot of time with Arya and Jorah/Tyrion in this episode, but in the former, not too much actually happens. Arya, starring in a fun show by herself called Adventures of a Girl Janitor, finally finds out where the corpses that die in the House of Black and White go, and it’s kind of creepy, as the Faceless Men (way to be sexist there, Faceless Men!) store their faces so that they can change identities. It’s unclear how that works, but it’s a cool visual – giant columns supporting a distant roof, each with small chambers carved in them, each with a face in it. So that’s Arya. Meanwhile, Tyrion tells Jorah that his father was killed north of the Wall, and Iain Glen does a nice job processing the information. He and Tyrion begin to establish a rapport, despite Jorah’s reluctance, until they’re set upon by slavers led by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (or, as I like to call him, “Fake O.J.”). He’s going to sell Jorah and kill Tyrion and sell his penis – which has magical properties because it’s a dwarf’s, as everyone knows – but Tyrion keeps himself alive by saying that he can’t prove it’s from a dwarf unless he takes the dwarf to the seller, thereby proving it. This provides Malko (“Fake O.J.”) with the line of the night, and one of the top ten in GoT history: “The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant.” Tyrion uses this opportunity to point out that Jorah is a great fighter, and as Daenerys has re-opened the fighting pits in Meereen, Fake O.J. can make some coin making Jorah fight. And there’s probably a cock merchant in Meereen, so everybody wins! Back in King’s Landing, Petyr Baelish has returned, and after getting warned about his brothel business by Lancel Lannister, he goes to see Cersei, where he tells her that Ramsay Bolton is marrying Sansa, who is very much alive. Cersei can’t believe that Roose Bolton would turn on her like that, and Littlefinger helpfully leaves out the part where he arranged the marriage. He wants to “retake” the North for the Crown, with him as Warden. Of course. He certainly doesn’t mention that he’d probably marry Sansa after killing off the Boltons, but that might make the meeting awkward. Also at the capital, we get the return of MOTHERFUCKING EMMA PEEL, as Margaery calls her grandmother in to get Loras out of prison. Unfortunately, Motherfucking Emma Peel is stymied by Cersei, who plays totally dumb about the entire thing. Motherfucking Emma Peel doesn’t seem to want to play the incest card, but she has to at some point, doesn’t she? Later, at the inquest, Jonathan Pryce catches both Loras and Margaery in lies about Loras’s homosexuality, and he chucks them both in prison while Tommen looks helplessly on. Things don’t look well for the Tyrells! Down in Dorne, Jaime and Bronn find Myrcella, who’s perfectly happy mackin’ with her betrothed, thank you very much, and has no interest in returning to King’s Landing. While Jaime is trying to convince her, the Sand Snakes arrive, and there’s a fun fight until the Dornish soldiers show up and take them all away. Finally, at Winterfell, Ramsay marries Sansa … not before Myranda tells Sansa what a horrorshow Ramsay is. It’s a weird, creepy ceremony, because Theon gives her away, and then Ramsay makes Theon stay while he has sex with Sansa. Not pleasant sex, either. I know there was some controversy about this scene, but, I mean, technically it’s not rape, because Ramsay does ask her to take her clothes off and she does so, but I think it was more because Sansa has suffered enough and can’t the lady catch a damned break? But it’s important because while we know how awful Ramsay is, this is another step on Sansa’s journey to being someone who can act the way she does in later season (remember, as of this writing I haven’t seen the final season yet, but I’ve seen all the others), and without it, I’m not sure Sansa’s later personality makes sense. Maybe I’m wrong. The scene is not graphic at all, and the camera lingering on Alfie Allen’s face as he crumbles inside is wonderful. It’s a harrowing scene, and not a fun way to end an episode, but a very effective way.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆

Season 5, Episode 7 (47), “The Gift” (first aired 24 May 2015). The worm turns abruptly for Cersei at the end of this episode, as Jonathan Pryce does what fanatics do: turn against the people who put them in power, because usually those who give them power in the first place are corrupt but don’t think that fanatics will turn against them. Cersei knew that the High Sparrow was a fanatic, but she stupidly walked right into his trap, even though she’s known since the first episode that Lancel Lannister, a family member with whom she committed incest, is part of the Sparrows. She goes to the prison to mock Margaery, but doesn’t leave because she’s just as guilty as her nemesis. In some ways, it’s too bad that Joffrey isn’t still alive. He’d do something stupid, but that would probably involve slaughtering Jonathan Pryce and a lot of his allies, and it would be disastrous but also rid the capital of their fanatic problem. People underestimate Jonathan Pryce a lot on this show – Cersei is the last, but even Motherfucking Emma Peel does it, because she can’t believe that Jonathan Pryce is exactly what he says he is – a fanatic (he doesn’t use that term, but he knows that’s what he is). Having Diana Rigg and Jonathan Pryce trade barbs is almost as much fun as watching her spar with Charles Dance, and while Pryce gets the last, devastating word about the ignored masses and what power they have, it’s certainly true that the Tyrells could cut off the food to King’s Landing. She doesn’t have to be so rowdy about saying it – in life, it’s far better to take action and crow about it later than vice versa, as Adrian Veidt knows very well – but she still could do it. But that’s the ending of the episode, one clearly split into cold place and hot places. The first half takes place entirely in cold places – the Wall and Winterfell. At the Wall, the old scholar – Aemon Targaryen – dies, leaving Sam without another ally, as Jon leaves at the beginning of the episode to convince the Wildlings to come south. On the way to Winterfell, Stannis is snowed in, and he rejects Davos’s advice to return to Castle Black, because he can’t retreat again. It’s foolhardy, but he has a point – he can’t always be the guy known for retreating. Melisandre suggests that Stannis sacrifices his daughter, because why not? Oh, that can’t be a good thing for poor little Shireen. At Winterfell, Sansa tries to get Theon on her side, but he’s still Ramsay’s creature, so he betrays her attempts to get a message out. Man, Ramsay is a dick. Sansa does try to stick the knife in by reminding him that Roose might soon have a legitimate heir, but that’s about all she can do. Then, halfway through the episode, we shift to warm places, and we get caught up with Dorne, where Jaime is treated well while Bronn languishes in a cell (one of the Sand Snakes does strip for him, so he’s got that going for him). Myrcella tells Jaime that she doesn’t want or need to be rescued from Dorne, which upsets him a bit. Out East, Jorah and Tyrion are bought by a dude who wants to use Jorah in the fighting pits, and by a shocking coincidence, Daenerys happens to visit the one where he is. He manages to stand in front of her, but she still doesn’t want anything to do with him, until Tyrion comes forward and tells her Jorah has brought her a gift – him. That should be fun! This is a good episode – it’s setting things up, which most of the season has been doing, but things are still coming together nicely, and any GoT episode with Motherfucking Emma Peel, even when she’s being stymied, is a pretty decent one.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆

Season 5, Episode 8 (48), “Hardhome” (first aired 31 May 2015). This is a terrific episode of the series, because, much like so many other great episodes, it stays with a certain plot for longer than a few minutes. The actors and just the sheer mess of plot keep most episodes from being hopeless, and the writers (either Martin or the television writers) always make sure something is happening that holds our interest, but when they spend longer than a few minutes with a plot, things get really intense. So it is with “Hardhome,” although, like other excellent episodes of the show, this has much to recommend it beyond the final 20-30 minutes. When we left off, Tyrion and Jorah were before Daenerys, and she hauls them back to her pyramid to demand why she shouldn’t execute both of them. Tyrion manages to convince her that he could be a good adviser (Dinklage, as usual, is superb in this scene), and he advises that she exile Jorah (again, mind you) because it wouldn’t be smart to execute someone so devoted to her, but she can’t have him around, either. They also have a “we’re not so different, you and I” moment (let’s thank the writers for not having anyone say that), as they’ve both had daddy issues and are both estranged from their families, although in her case it’s because they’re all dead. She tells him she wants to tear down the society of Westeros, not simply rule it, so we’ll see how that goes. At Winterfell, Sansa is peeved at Theon, but she does find out that Bran and Rickon are alive, so that’s nice. Ramsay, meanwhile, wants to fight Stannis instead of waiting him out like his father wants, so he’s going to lead a small raid on Stannis’s camp. In King’s Landing, Cersei is still in a cell, and basically, the only way she’s getting out is by confessing. We’ll see how that goes. Finally, in Braavos, Arya is given an assignment to stake out a man who gambles on whether ships will make it to port or wreck. Apparently he hasn’t been as good at paying the families of those men who die, so one of them wants him dead, and that’s Arya’s job. So she’s staking him out.

The big set piece of the episode, after all that is dispensed with, is at Hardhome, where the Wildlings have gathered, presumably to hear word from Mance, whom they don’t know is dead yet (and they’re not terribly happy when they find out). Jon meets with the tribal leaders, and with Tormund’s help, he manages to convince some of them that they need to work together against the White Walkers. Some of them remain skeptical, but it becomes a moot point when the Walkers attack the camp, and that’s when the episode really kicks in. It’s not really a battle, because the living don’t have much chance against the undead, so it’s more of a riot to get to the rowboats that will take the Wildlings to Stannis’s ships. Many make it, but far more don’t, and the scenes of the rout are filmed really well, giving us a good sense of how terrifying it must be to face almost invincible enemies. Jon tries to reach the obsidian that he brought with him to show the Wildlings that there’s a weapon that can kill the zombies, but he can’t reach it, although he does manage to kill a Walker with his sword, which surprises him and the Night King, who’s watching from the cliff above. Jon’s sword is made from Valyrian steel, which is pretty strong, yo. He is almost dragged to the last boat, and as they pull away, the Night King strolls onto the pier, does his best “Come at me, bro” pose, and raises all the new dead to join his army. Dang, that sucks. It’s a really exciting piece of filmmaking, and the fact that ends so bleakly just drives home how stupid all the other wars of men are, because ain’t no one going to be sitting on the Ugly Throne if the Night King has his way.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

Season 5, Episode 9 (49), “The Dance of Dragons” (first aired 7 June 2015). It’s frustrating when television shows go out of their way to focus on a minor character or part of a major character’s personality that hasn’t been seen before, because it usually means something horrible is going to happen. Earlier this season, Barristan Selmy got more lines in a scene than in any other of his scenes, and later he was killed. A few episodes ago, Stannis finally showed some humanity toward his daughter, and it was a nice moment. From there, we could probably guess that something horrible was going to happen, and boy howdy, does it ever. Before that, however, we get some good cleaning-up and setting-up. Jon and the Wildlings make it to Castle Black, where the Night’s Watch are not happy to see them. They all suck, though. In Braavos, Arya is supposed to kill the gambler, but as she’s about to, she sees a boat arrive, carrying Mace Tyrell (Margaery’s father, played by the not-at-all British Roger Ashton-Griffiths), who is there to renegotiate with the Iron Bank. More importantly for Arya, he’s guarded by Meryn Trent (Ian Beattie), who’s on her death list because he “killed” Syrio Forel back in Season 1 (we never saw the body!!!!!). So she follows him to a brothel and doesn’t kill the gambler, telling Jaqen the dude wasn’t hungry that day (she was supposed to poison his oysters). Jaqen, we can tell, isn’t buying it. In Dorne, it’s agreed that Myrcella will return to King’s Landing, but that her betrothed, Trystane (Toby Sebastian), will go with her. Nothing bad can happen with that, right? The two big events, however, come outside Winterfell and in Meereen. Ramsay, as we heard about last episode, does lead a small group into Stannis’s camp and burns a lot and kills a lot of horses, so Stannis getting a bit desperate. He sends Davos away to Castle Black, because he knows Davos won’t allow him to do what he’s going to do. He takes his daughter and burns her, as the sacrifice of “king’s blood” is needed, according to Melisandre. Her mother, who’s as responsible for this horror as Stannis is, finally breaks and tries to stop it, but it’s too late, and Shireen burns for Stannis’s ego. It’s a horrifying scene, and it seems like it’s meant to push Stannis over the line as a candidate for the Iron Throne, as before this, he was a bastard (we first meet him burning people on the beach at Dragonstone, after all) but not a monster. His troops don’t seem to keen on him anymore, either. Then, we get the games at Meereen, where Daenerys really doesn’t want to be. Jorah, of course, is fighting in the pits, and when he wins, he takes his helmet off and stands in front of her. No one knows what would have happened, because he suddenly throws a spear at her, but it’s to kill a Son of the Harpy, who has come up behind her, trying to kill her. Her betrothed, Hizdahr, is stabbed several times, freeing her from that engagement. (Poor Hizdahr. He’s supposed to be kind of jerk, but he was always loyal to Danaerys and knew far more about ruling the city than she or Daario or Tyrion did. Yeah, he was a bit of a douchebag, but he didn’t deserve to go out like that.) All hell breaks loose, and Danaerys and her retinue end up in the middle of the field, surrounded by Sons of the Harpy. The Drogon shows up, and dang, it’s pretty cool. He lands next to them and starts barbecuing the bad guys, and they are predictably not equipped to deal with him. Danaerys, sick of all this shit, climbs on top of him and flies off. And … scene! It’s a good episode of the show – the two big events, of course, raise it a bit, but even the scenes at the Wall and in Dorne are fraught with tension. Season 5 has been a bit of a mess, but it’s concluding very well.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Season 5, Episode 10 (50), “Mother’s Mercy” (first aired 14 June 2015). Season 5 started messily, but it really ended well, with three episodes (including this one) that raised the stakes considerably for everyone while clearing out some old storylines, most notably that of Stannis Baratheon. At the beginning of this episode, the snow thaws, and all seems well from the point of view of Melisandre and Stannis, because now he can push on to Winterfell and everyone can forget that he burned his daughter to death. However, the soldiers see it differently – about half of them deserted after seeing what a monster Stannis is, and then the men take him into the forest, where his wife has hanged herself. Tara Fitzgerald never had enough to do as Selyse, so her death isn’t as impactful as Shireen’s, but it’s just another nail in Stannis’s coffin. Then, immediately, he learns that Melisandre has deserted him, too. There’s nothing left for him to do but push on toward his destiny. Before that, we head to the Wall, where Sam asks Jon to send him to Oldtown so he can study to be a maester, as he’s not fit to be a Night’s Watchmen and he knows that Gilly will get hurt if she stays much longer. So Sam and Gilly take off, leaving Jon even more isolated (he still has Edd (Ben Crompton), though, so that’s all right). Over in Braavos, Arya disguises herself as a young girl to get close to Meryn Trent, then kills him. She’s feeling pretty pleased with herself, but when she returns the face, Jaqen and his snooty little sidekick (Faye Marsey) confront her and tell her she killed someone against permission and that someone has to pay. It turns out to be Jaqen himself, who takes poison and drops dead. But o-ho! it’s not he, as he’s a Faceless Man. He’s standing behind Arya cursing her with blindness as she shrieks. That’ll teach ya, Arya! In Meereen, Jorah and Daario decide to track down Daenerys, who happens to be a field somewhere far to the north, where she gets surrounded by Dothraki and (presumably) hauled off somewhere, and Tyrion stays behind to govern the city. Who should appear than Varys, who made it to Meereen his own way. Good to see them back together! Down in Dorne, Jaime is leaving with Myrcella, and all seems well. Ha! Ellaria kisses Myrcella, but we soon find out that she had poison on her lips and Myrcella dies the moment after she tells Jaime she knows he’s her father. Such a nice moment, cut short by her death. But here’s the thing: the ship they’re on is barely out of the harbor, and Bronn, at least, knows about the slow-acting poison, having experienced it himself a few episodes ago. Why don’t they turn around immediately and accuse Ellaria of poisoning Myrcella? They have no proof, but Ellaria doesn’t seem like the type of person to deny it. But on they sail! Back in King’s Landing, Cersei gives up and confesses to Jonathan Pryce. She doesn’t confess everything, just banging Lancel Lannister, but Jonathan Pryce foolishly lets her atone and go home. I mean, does he not think she’ll take revenge? The only thing Cersei is good at is getting revenge! She has to walk through the city naked, and it’s a brutal scene, as the citizens spit on her, throw things at her, and expose themselves to her. It works to humble her, and I can’t say I feel much sympathy for her because she’s still horrible, but it’s very effective. When she gets back, Qyburn the disgraced master (Anton Lesser) is the only one who comforts her, and his new buddy – a reanimated Gregor Clegane, because of course he’s Dr. Frankenstein – carries Cersei away while she plots revenge against literally everyone. The two big events – bigger than even these! – occur outside Winterfell and at Castle Black. Stannis ends up at Winterfell, where he wants to besiege it, but the Boltons know he’s been weakened, so they attack before he can start the siege. His army is overrun (the battle is largely off-screen) and Stannis is wounded, ending up sitting under a tree. There Brienne finds him, after she left her post looking at Winterfell in hopes that Sansa would need help (which of course she does right after Brienne leaves), and she tells him who she is and passes judgment on him. She kills Stannis, ending the Baratheon line (#WheresGendry) and getting revenge for Renly. Sansa, meanwhile, lights the candle in the tower to signal Brienne, but when that doesn’t work, she heads back to her room. She’s stopped by Myranda, who has an arrow pointed at her and Theon standing next to her. Before she can wound Sansa (she doesn’t want to kill her, just hurt her), Theon has a “Anakin Skywalker and the Emperor” moment and chucks her off the walkway to her death a hundred feet below. Oh well – Charlotte Hope went on to star as Catherine of Aragon in The Spanish Princess, so she’s doing all right. Theon takes Sansa to a wall and they both decide that jumping into a hopefully large pile of snow is better than living with Ramsay, so they jump. What happens to them? You’ll have to come back in Season 6! Finally, at the Wall, Jon is lured out to an ambush, where he is stabbed several times by Ser Alliser and a bunch of knights, and lastly by Olly, who has never forgiven him for saving the Wildlings who killed his family. Jon bleeds out on the snow as the season ends. It’s a powerful ending, but even then, I couldn’t believe they would kill Jon, not because they wouldn’t do it, but because the White Walker story is important and without Jon there’s no one at the Wall who anyone cares about, so that would become a dead area for the show. Sometimes, the exigencies of serial storytelling take precedence over shock value, and this was one of those times. So what happens early in Season 6 isn’t a surprise, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t an excellent ending to a very good episode.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆

Time for the breakdown!

Ranking of Season 5 episodes:

1. “Hardhome” – A terrific “battle” and the Night King dropping the mic.
2. “The Dance of Dragons” – Yeah, Stannis is a douchebag, but it’s still extremely intense!
3. “Mother’s Mercy” – Cersei’s walk of shame, Stannis and Jon peace out.
4. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” – “The dwarf lives until we find a cock merchant.”
5. “Kill the Boy” – Jorah gets infected with greyscale.
6. “The Gift” – Cersei discovers that using religious fanatics to do her dirty work has its downside. Who knew?
7. “Sons of the Harpy” – Stannis bonds with Shireen before, you know, burning her alive.
8. “High Sparrow” – Jonathan Pryce!
9. “The House of Black and White” – There are, sadly, no black-and-white cookies for Arya in the house.
10. “The Wars to Come” – Despite Jon’s actions at the end, this is the worst episode of the show so far! Will it stay that way?!?!?!?

Average Rating: 6.95/10 stars
Median Rating: 7/10 stars

Here’s all the episodes so far, ranked:

1. “Blackwater” (S2E9)
2. “The Rains of Castamere” (S3E9)
3. “The Lion and the Rose” (S4E2)
4. “Hardhome” (S5E8)
5. “The Dance of Dragons” (S5E9)
6. “Mother’s Mercy” (S5E10)
7. “And Now His Watch Is Ended” (S3E4)
8. “Baelor” (S1E9)
9. “Kissed by Fire” (S3E5)
10. “The Laws of Gods and Men” (S4E6)
11. “The Mountain and the Viper” (S4E8)
12. “Fire and Blood” (S1E10)
13. “The Wolf and the Lion” (S1E5)
14. “A Golden Crown” (S1E6)
15. “Walk of Punishment” (S3E3)
16. “The Watchers on the Wall” (S4E9)
17. “The Children” (S4E10)
18. “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (S5E6)
19. “Dark Wings, Dark Words” (S3E2)
20. “A Man Without Honor” (S2E7)
21. “The Old Gods and the New” (S2E6)
22. “Lord Snow” (S1E3)
23. “You Win or You Die” (S1E7)
24. “The Bear and the Maiden Fair” (S3E7)
25. “Kill the Boy” (S5E5)
26. “The Gift” (S5E7)
27. “First of His Name” (S4E5)
28. “The Climb” (S3E6)
29. “Mockingbird” (S4E7)
30. “Second Sons” (S3E8)
31. “Valar Morghulis” (S2E10)
32. “What Is Dead May Never Die” (S2E3)
33. “The Kingsroad” (S1E2)
34. “Garden of Bones” (S2E4)
35. “The Ghost of Harrenhal” (S2E5)
36. “The Pointy End” (S1E8)
37. “Sons of the Harpy” (S5E4)
38. “Two Swords” (S4E1)
39. “Valar Dohaeris” (S3E1)
40. “Breaker of Chains” (S4E3)
41. “Cripples, Bastards, and Broken Things” (S1E4)
42. “The Prince of Winterfell” (S2E8)
43. “High Sparrow” (S5E3)
44. “Oathkeeper” (S4E4)
45. “Winter Is Coming” (S1E1)
46. “The Night Lands” (S2E2)
47. “Mhysa” (S3E10)
48. “The House of Black and White” (S5E2)
49. “The North Remembers” (S2E1)
50. “The Wars to Come” (S5E1)

Average Rating for Season 1: 7.1/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 2: 6.9/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 3. 7.35/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 4: 7.3/10 stars
Average Rating for Season 5: 6/95/10 stars

Median Rating for Season 1: 7.25/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 2: 7/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 3: 7.25/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 4: 7.25/10 stars
Median Rating for Season 5: 7/10 stars

Season 5 had some great episodes, but the first half, despite some nice moments, was a bit of a slog. It doesn’t surprise me all that much that’s the worst season so far, but it’s a matter of fractions, as no season has been bad, really. We’ll see if that changes moving forward!


  1. Jeff Nettleton

    Season 5 was where I thought they were starting to spin their wheels, delaying the story when they should be headed for a climax. Not all of it; but it feels like we should be moving towards it. As you say, the Mereen stuff was deadly boring and the Sons of the Harpy thing seemed to spring out of nowhere and there is no counter-intelligence going on, which seems rather odd. Then again, Varys just got there; but, Darios was a sneaky mo-fo; so, you’d think someone would get on that. Also, the attack at the arena seems a little too easily achieved. Danny does have bodyguards and what-not.

    The Jamie & Bronn Roadshow was almost as entertaining as the Tyrion & Bronn production. I guess the only family member bronn just couldn’t warm up to was Cersei. Funny, that.

    What a surprise that Arya started out sweeping up the place. I have to say, Jagen is no Master Po. Guess they didn’t have any grasshoppers on Braavos.

  2. Greg Burgas

    Jeff: Yeah, a little bit. I’m still not quite sure when they decided to wrap everything up and even if they needed to in the time they eventually took. But there was some wheel-spinning, and it was somewhat frustrating. Endings are definitely harder than beginnings, though, so maybe they just didn’t want to start ending things!

    Man, Dustin Hoffman should have done a cameo as one of Jaqen’s “faces.” That would have been fun.

  3. tomfitz1

    Not to belabor the point, but Season 5 is where the GOT reached the end of the books and went boldly into freefall.

    Season 6-8 was original stories based on what the WRITER and Showrunners chatted over time to see how and where characters were going to end up. (dead or alive).

    Assuming the WRITER lives long enough to finish the way overdue books, it may be interesting to see how much is different from the show.

    1. Greg Burgas

      Tom: That’s true, but isn’t there still a good amount from the books in later seasons, because they were shifting story arcs around in time a little?

      What annoys me about the negative reactions to the final seasons is that they went “off-book,” so to speak, a lot in the early seasons as well, and nobody said boo. Also, as I noted, endings are harder than beginnings, so we’ll see if Martin can finish it in a satisfying manner. Of course, that assumes he will finish, which I doubt.

      1. tomfitz1

        It’s been awhile since I’ve read the books, but you’re right about the shifting story arcs – if memory serves me right, Book 4 was more about the secondary characters and took place along with the events of Book 3.

        But the transitions between book and tv, there’s a lot of creative liberties taken. Sometimes, you have to focus more on the story than the character development, and vice versa.

        As for the endings, well, I wish the showrunners cleared up some more of the subplots – which they could have done on at least 2 of the episodes between the battle scenes.

        HBO has pretty much a crappy reputation of ending series badly.

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