It must be a difficult challenge to be the showrunners for Game of Thrones, and trying to adapt the very long novels of George R.R. Martin is no easy task. With a huge cast to juggle, expensive filming in many locations, huge stories to adapt, and immediately leaping into the next season as soon as the current one is over, it shouldn’t be a surprise that there was bound to be a drop in quality sooner or later. That happened with the fifth season, a bumpy volume consisting of a plodding story, characters behaving strangely, and a heavy enforcement of shock value at the cost of good writing.
It is said that the difficulties originate from the fourth and fifth A Song of Ice and Fire novels, sometimes considered to be a little long and have filler. However, having never read the books beyond the first, I can only assume they remain better than what Games of Thrones’ fifth season had to offer.
This article contains major spoilers for Game of Thrones, mostly its fifth season, but also the sixth and previous seasons too. Read at your own risk!
5. The Yawn That Was Dorne
The fourth season introduced us to Oberyn Martell, the prince of Dorne, an extremely popular character looking to avenge his sister, only to get his brains busted by Gregor “The Mountaiin” Clegane in Tyrion Lannister’s trial-by-combat. Dorne was the only part of Westeros yet explored in the series and what we had heard about it sounded fun. Too bad what we got was a borefest. The characters were about as interesting as the sand they are known for, when in the novels (so I’ve been told), they are a lot more developed and engaging.
For example, a major character introduced is Princess Arianne Martell, who essentially fills out the same role as revenge mad Ellaria Sand, and keeps the Sand Snakes together. What made Arianne interesting was that she is next in line to throne, when in the rest of Westeros, the male heirs take precedence. Arianne’s stature made her symbolic of Dorne’s more hospitable, reasonable sense of culture. However, with the character being cut from the story, Dorne feels a lot less dignified and interesting. Instead, Ellaria and the three interchangeable Sand Snakes want petty revenge against the Lannisters for Oberyn’s death, which was both technically legal since he died in a lawful fighting match, and he was silly enough to not finish the Mountain off when he had the chance.
How do they want to go about doing their revenge? By murdering Myrcella and sending her to itty bitty pieces to Cersei. So much for not hurting little girls in Dorne. In the novels, Arianne plots to make Myrcella the next ruler of Westeros via kidnapping, but is stopped by her father, Prince Doran, who reveals he already has a plan in motion to bring down the Lannisters. But, in the show, Doran, while showing signs of his competent novel counterpart, doesn’t really do anything of notability.
Then, Jaime Lannister and Bronn show up to rescue Myrcella from Ellaria and the Spice Girls—I mean Sand Snakes, and nothing really comes of it. The Sand Snakes are entirely dull, come off as cartoony, and what was with that pointless subplot with them poisoning Bronn only to give him the antidote, and then flashing their breasts at him? Absolute nonsense. The one good thing the Dorne subplot has is that Myrcella gets some minor character development, and even a heartwarming scene where she reveals she knows that Jaime is her father and is a-okay with it. But, after this charming moment comes to a close, Myrcella suddenly drops down dead from a kiss of death laid upon her by Ellaria. This culminates the entire failure of Dorne. The characters are boring and think idiotically. And Jaime, knowing that Ellaria wanted revenge, shouldn’t have let her anywhere near his daughter/niece.
And it only gets worse in season six where Ellaria and the Sand Snakes murder their own family and take over Dorne for some dumb reason. I’m sorry, but there is nothing that will make me root for these crazy, underdeveloped characters. Even if they are going to join forces with Team Targaryen, I doubt the show will give them anything to do, and they will likely be unceremoniously killed off in the seventh season.
What did Oberyn say? “I don’t believe that a child is responsible for the sins of his father, or his grandfather.”
4. Barristan Selmy Gets Nerfed
From season five onwards, the show writers began a nasty trend killing off characters for pointless reasons, and amongst the first to go was badass Barristan Selmy, former Lord Commander of the Kingsguard, and then joined Daenerys to serve as her advisor and general. Possessing the most legendary reputation in the Seven Kingdoms, Barristan was still kicking ass as an old man and intimidated just about every swordsman in the land. Too bad he had to die in the most uninspiring way possible.
Selmy, Grey Worm, and numerous members of the Unsullied take on a group of rampaging Sons of the Harpy. Or rather, the Unsullied, the most disciplined, unstoppable army in the world, trained from the age of four, get ambushed and easily dispatched by a bunch of faceless twats in Halloween masks. It baffles me that a knight as skilled, experienced, and strong as Barristan Selmy would get outdone by a bunch of masked minions with vague motives beyond nothing but stabbing people. The same thing applies to Grey Worm, who was trained to be the ultimate soldier. While the battle scene was cool, it is embarrassing seeing Selmy go down in such a vainglorious way.
It is ironic, that this character, who has been built up as the most respected and feared knight in Westeros gets taken out in his first on-screen fight. Perhaps it was because knights in Westeros are little more honourable, while the Sons of the Harpy were more about ambushing and hissing. On the other hand, perhaps Ser Barristan’s death was appropriate, since he wanted to die as a knight, took out fifteen opponents before going down, and saved Grey Worm’s life at the cost of his own. The main issue I have with his death is that it was pointless. Nothing came of it. It didn’t come as a blow to Daenerys, nor did it affect anyone else. You didn’t see Daario and Ser Jorah Mormont of House Friendzone reacting to it. Perhaps it was to make room for Tyrion, or the showrunners just ran out of things to do with Barristan. All in all, it was disappointing.
3. Ramsay F#%king Bolton
I’m going to remain brief with this one. Ramsay Bolton is an overpowered, underdeveloped character, lacks any real depth beyond being a psycho who likes torturing people, and feels like the personification of all of the worst parts of Game of Thrones all rolled into one. In the third season, he was a little fun on how sadistic and wacky he was, but over time, he quickly grew dull. Each despicable act he performs only made him more cartoony, and it seemed like the writers (yeah, I’m blaming them again), just wanted to up the ante on how evil they could make him. Everything he does miraculously works out for him, even if he has an entire army opposing him. Everyone fights, he wins without a scratch. Everyone he meets, he tortures and torments for no reason. For a series that wants to focus on the horrors of war and futility of it all, everything is coming up Milhouse for Ramsay. And unfortunately, this won’t be the last time this asshole will be on this list.
2. Stannis Gets Stitched Up
Perhaps the biggest misstep when it came to characterization was the tragic fall of Stannis Baratheon (aka Stannis the Mannis). I don’t know if David Benioff and D.B. Weiss were pressured for time, running out of ideas, or just wanted Stannis out of the way, but the way they wrote the One True King’s final acts felt, in my opinion, completely out of character for him. In my second-most-hated scene in the fifth season, Stannis and Lady Melisandre decide to burn Shireen Baratheon, Stannis’ lone child, in an attempt to get a favour from the mysterious Lord of Light.
While Melisandre had been hinting at it for two seasons, Stannis made sure that he would never sacrifice his daughter for any reason. But nope, Mr. Grammar Nazi suddenly decides to just randomly burn Shireen at the stake in desperation. Why did this happen? Probably both shock value and to speed up the end of Stannis’ story. As soon as Shireen is burnt alive, Stannis’ luck completely runs out. Half of his forces leg it, his wife hangs herself, and then Melisandre realises she made a blunder and abandons Stannis to his death. Charming.
And we can’t even get a decent halfway battle. Stannis looks like he is going to launch a campaign against the bloody Boltons, and we don’t even see the battle, just the outcome, with all of Stannis’ men killed off-screen by presumably the untouched Ramsay’s armpit sweat. Stannis then stumbles into the woods and gets killed offscreen by Brienne of Tarth. Admittedly that is a fitting way to die, but we don’t even Stannis die. It is never shown, and we only get a minor confirmation in the sixth season. What the actual hell? What a cheap, disrespectful, silly way to rid the show of one of its most compelling characters. It could be said that Stannis’ fall from grace was actually an intended suicide run after realising what a mistake he had made killing his daughter, but nothing can redeem the rubbish that is Stannis’ final character arc.
1. The Black Wedding
The Red Wedding was a gobsmacking act of brilliance and will go down in television history. The Purple Wedding saw the end of good king Joffrey. The Black Wedding…was a piece of elephant dung. No, I take that back. Elephant dung would be more appealing then this insulting piece of garbage. The one scene in all of Game of Thrones that nearly made me quit the series for good. Why? Primarily because it is appalling and just cruel for the sake of being cruel, but also extremely forced, unnecessary, and pushed in solely for the purpose of shock value. The writers incorporated it to include and adapt a subplot in the novels involving a character named Jeyne Poole, who was not introduced in the show, and instead placed it into Sansa’s journey.
In short, Ramsay marries Sansa Stark and then proceeds to rape her while Theon Greyjoy is forced to watch. I half expected Ramsay to turn to the audience like he is Deadpool and giggle about how evil he is. The show is no stranger to sexual assault, but the inclusion of the rape scene enraged a lot of critics and viewers, making the episode the lowest rated in the show’s history. The whole thing feels like it was included purely for shock value. While the sex, gore, and violence have been a major reason for the series’ popularity, it was the characters and world building that made it so appealing. This, along with the other four entries on this list only add to the impression that the showrunners didn’t really know what to do in this season and simply threw out dramatic shocks you would find in say EastEnders.
But worst of all is that the whole thing completely undermines Sansa’s character development. After spending three seasons acting as the personification of “what if a Disney Princess was in reality”, Sansa finally escaped and looked ready to grow and evolve into a new player in the titular Game of Thrones as Petyr Baelish’s partner in crime. The urgency to survive and development into a stronger character was in plain sight. Only for weasel-faced Baelish to drop Sansa off at the Bolton-controlled Winterfell to marry Ramsay as part of some ill-conceived plan to take back the North from within. He instructs Sansa to make Ramsay her plaything, but instead, it happens the other way around. Once again, Sansa gets victimised for the sake of melodrama, dismantling her characterization for another season.
There are brief glimpses where it looks like she and Theon are going to put Ramsay in his grave but nothing comes of it. There is a set up where Sansa will light a candle in a tower to alert Brienne, but when she does it, Brienne just happens to be looking the wrong way. I had assumed Sansa was eventually going to snap from the years of abuse she had taken and just massacre her tormentors, but in the end, her arc consists of her being beaten up, sexually assaulted, humiliated and then rescued by Theon of all people. And then they have the nerve to end Sansa and Theon’s season five storyline with a goddamn cliffhanger, keeping it a secret whether or not the two were dead or not. Absolute bollocks!
Thankfully, season six made amends, rocketing Sansa’s independence and ruthlessness up to eleven, and I hope she’ll continue on this path in the seventh season. The rest of the Stark kids were all evolving into amazing people, and Sansa became a total badass. And, yes, seeing Jon Snow beat the crap out of Ramsay and then him being eaten by his own dogs was extremely satisfying. Not just because the character died, but because the series cannot rely on him anymore to make excuses for its crappy writing.
On a good note, at least season seven looking promising.
What were your thoughts on Game of Thrones‘s fifth season? Was it good or bad? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.