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Game of Thrones Season 5: Winter has Finally Come as The Series Catches Up to The Novels & Crushes Every Fan’s Soul [Review]

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Game of Thrones is an adaptation of the epic dark fantasy novel series A Song of Ice and Fire from writer George R.R. Martin. The series airs exclusively on HBO and stars Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke and Kit Harrington.

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We are officially caught up to the books as Game of Thrones season five has come to a close. I proclaimed season four to be the best of the bunch thus far last year, so how did season five compare to such a spectacular run? Not so great. That being said, by no means was this a weak year for Thrones, it just wasn’t what most fans were likely expecting. Think back to season two where the entire storyline was quite a bit slower in pace, finally coming to a head in the furious ninth episode ‘Blackwater’ and you’ll get the same kind of vibe here for the fifth.

Jaime Lannister unfortunately takes part in the season’s weakest storyline when he ventures to Dorne with Bronn in order to rescue his daughter from the clutches of the Martells. This is quite a departure from the novels but even more of a shock is the fact that it eventually ends in no way like anyone imagined – boring and uneventful. It’s a shame that the writers cut the Greyjoy plotline this year in favor of the Dornish one, only to completely waste any opportunity for something interesting. I felt mostly the same in regards to Sansa Stark’s betrothal to Ramsay Bolton (another major shake-up from the novels) as we spend way too much time doing nothing until we’re set free from the pain in an overloaded finale.

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If you were looking for some Bran Stark and Hodor action, be aware that this entire storyline was skipped for season five. After reaching the man in the tree last year, their plotline had officially caught up to the final book so instead of spoiling Martin’s work – they decided for a hard stop entirely. That wasn’t the case with some other characters however, especially in regards to the wall and Winterfel. Stannis marches his army to against the evil new wardens of the North in order to overthrow the Boltons while Jon Snow leads the Night’s Watch into battle against the white walkers, opting to save Wildlings in the process, pissing off most of his fellow brothers.

I was feeling really down on the fifth season until episode seven when it started to pick up, but it wasn’t until eight ‘Hardhome’ that I officially got back on board. A fleeting reference in the novel was ultimately adapted into what I think is the series’ greatest episode as Jon Snow and the wildlings fight for their lives against an army of the undead and a war party of white walkers. It was astounding television, rivaling most if not all feature films in 2015. I had no idea it was coming, but when the madness struck, my jaw was left on the floor. Kudos to the writers for including a giant that I assumed would have been cut, but man oh man did he ever kick some serious ass. You haven’t lived until you’ve watched a giant smash an army of warrior ghouls using a tree.

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The plot in Meereen was one of the few storylines adapted for television that actually improved in the process. Cutting out several annoying and unnecessary chunks, we’re left with a lean and mean battle between the queen of dragons and the frightening Sons of the Harpy, culminating in a spectacular showdown in episode nine where we finally get to see the most impressive dragon display on Game of Thrones yet.

Peter Dinklage with his superb beard winds up in the most unexpected places this year on the other side of the world and even though he doesn’t get as much time to shine as he did in season four, he makes the most of his scenes, especially with Emilia Clarke in the ninth episode. Remember how episode nine is usually the shocking or fight filled epic? Not the case this season – not even close. As awesome as the display of dragonfire was, it doesn’t hold a candle to past penultimate episodes.

Major Spoilers from the Season Finale Ahead:

The bottom line is seasons three and four wrapped up the best parts of the third novel in Martin’s series, ‘A Storm of Swords’, and I expected season five to be weaker because it was left to pick up the pieces of two fragmented books that came afterword and were not as beloved as the ones that came before. Much like the novel, the best bits came at the very end of ‘A Dance With Dragons’ and that holds true to the fifth season as the finale was a rollercoaster of death and abrupt conclusions to nearly every single plotline this year.

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Arya’s brutal vengeance was a frightening but awesome display of power as she officially becomes an assassin. Lena Headey pushes for that Emmy HARD as Cersei is punished for her sins in one of the most brutal moments of the series yet and if you were on the fence when it came to Stannis’ push for the throne, you ultimately had to accept that his quest was doomed from the start as he goes way too far and in the process falls super hard (sorry Stannis the Mannis fans – your guy got what he deserved and he got it hard).

The events in the North were left unresolved by the end of the last book but it looks like showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss opted to spoil the results this year by showing us that Stannis and his army were massacred by the Boltons. Stephane Dillane did a masterful job playing this hard man who would stop at nothing to take the throne and it cost him not only his life in the end (thanks Brienne for being awesome) but also the lives of his wife and daughter (fuck you TV Stannis by the way for that).

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Oh Jon Snow. Novel fans everywhere have been waiting for years now to see if he really is dead after being stabbed by his fellow Night’s Watch brethren. After his constant attempts to save the Wildlings, it became too much for his homies, who wound up stabbing him to death in the final moments of season five.

Kit Harrington and the showrunners have proclaimed that Jon Snow is in fact toast so even if he does wind up alive in the next unpublished book, it appears TV Snow is a goner which is quite a shame. After so much build-up to this inevitable clash between Westeros and an army of the undead it seems like a waste to kill one of the few remaining honorable characters, especially after that stare-down between Snow and the head White Walker in episode eight.

You should know by now that Benioff and Weiss aren’t keen on resurrecting characters that die in the world of Thrones, so I’d stop holding out hope for Snow. It’s weird though because there are so many unresolved theories when it came to that character, for example his actual mother and the importance of his bloodline etc. Oh well – fuck it, shock value trumps the long game right? You know it kinda works because it injects a sense of realism and consequence into a world wrought with unbelievable events but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come off as a hindrance to the overall story.

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As much as I’ve bickered, those final three episodes were astounding and truly redeemed what had been a very lackluster season until that point. As Ramsay Bolton once said “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.” Here’s hoping season six and seven don’t suffer because of that frenzied finale, but I don’t see how they couldn’t after the chaos settles — which may have just killed any chance of a streamlined final run of episodes to conclude our tale.

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