It almost goes without saying: SPOILERS AHEAD.
During the coda to Chris DeBurgh’s ‘Lady in Red,’ the percussion gets a little strange, and just as it fades out he whispers “I love you.” The fact that it sounds just a little creepy makes you suddenly reconsider a song that could otherwise be mistaken for uneventful. Suddenly you find yourself reconsidering the implications of that titular lady: did he murder her with his eyebrows? Does the red imply menstruation? Or maybe it’s just a romantic song about a lady in a red dress.
Game of Thrones, Season 5 was a little bit like ‘Lady in Red.’ There were times when it felt like not much had happened yet, that it was just getting started. In part this may be because ten episodes always feels like so little, however thankful one is that the limitation most certainly aids quality control. But then the coda comes, George R.R Martin whispers ‘fuck you,’ and suddenly you remember a whole lot of stuff has gone down.
This was the season that Reek watched as Ramsay Bolton brutally made a woman out of Sansa Stark; where Stannis Baratheon watched on with an army while he burnt his daughter at the stake; Jon Snow watched the undead slaughter the tribes of Wilding northerners he had come to save; feuding eunuchs watched the Queen escape her civil mess via dragon-back; and Gilly made a man out of Sam Tarly while no one watched.
One thing Game of Thrones does so well is in making so many disparate story threads uniformly coherent. One of the other things it does well is creating unexpected moments of pathos, for sometimes otherwise reprehensible characters. In this way, what is sometimes criticised as gratuitous violence serves a purpose: all violence, towards good people and bad, becomes equal in its brutality, equal in its potential to become as moving as it is repugnant.
So in the season finale, the near-death of decimated Stannis, unacceptable as his actions are, nevertheless captures the humanistic poignancy of mortal man ready to breathe his last –no matter that most viewers would probably be glad to see him impaled. Cersei Lannister’s naked walk of shame is devastating in its humiliating crushing of spirit –as awful as you know she is. And when Reek pushes Miranda off the parapet, one cannot help but twinge with the fragility with which her limpid, wicked torso is crushed on the flagstones below.
(Caveat: no one will wax empathetic when Ramsay Bolton receives his comeuppance!)
That much of the fifth season concentrated on gone-awry aspects of religious fervour was further accentuated in the finale, as the Sparrows continued to morph into a brutal amalgam (whose veil is much often too thin) for medieval Christianity; magick reduced Stannis Baratheon’s army to ruin; Arya Stark was weirded out by the morphing tricks of the many faced god; and one of the series’ most popular characters was ruthlessly stabbed to death. One grants that the Knights Watch are a military operation, but that they are also a monkish order whose precipice is aged and sacred tradition: the same devotion that compels the Sparrows to ruin Cersei Lannister is not dissimilar to the jaded devotion that leads the men of the Knights Watch to kill Jon Snow, though be it without saying, the Watch is comprised primarily of brigands and murderers to begin with, who just didn’t like him all that much anyway.
(RIP Jon Snow. You were too emo for your own good. But we never wanted it to come to this. Actually, it is hard to imagine the show without you.)
As if to empathise that Jon Snow is a man worthy of a dozen death scenes, he is, regrettably, stabbed at least that many times, and his stature is such that it takes him at least that long to die, where fittingly he does in….the snow.
(A tasteless, punning title for this review might be ‘Snow in the Snow.’)
As season finales go, this one was fairly –if not expectedly- bleak; albeit, the positives are that Sansa and Reek have fled Winterfell; and things are on the up for Tyrion, now ruling surrogate for Daenerys Targaryen, stranded in a foreign land, but bound to free more slaves sooner or later.
On the downside, it needed more Reek. And the Knights of Castle Black never covered the ‘Camelot’ song from Monty Python and the Holy Grail that this reviewer keeps wishing they would.
Ten odd months until season six. Here’s to hoping it passes quick!