‘Game of Thrones’ Delivers Stunning Season Finale (SPOILERS)

Game of Thrones” has a reputation for gigantic penultimate episodes, followed by lower-key season finales. Well, so much for that theory. In a head-spinning sequence of events, the fifth season’s closing chapter delivered an abundance of jaw-dropping moments, ending one quest to sit on the Iron Throne and leaving other key players suspended – at least until the next go-round – in considerable peril. Although the season was marred by controversy regarding its brutal treatment of female characters, the finish offered a reminder that there is simply nothing else on TV to rival the show’s immersion into a world of such epic storytelling.

The credit “directed by David Nutter” – the pilot maestro who brought his distinctive touch to the shocking “Red Wedding” episode – might have been the first clue that this would be an hour that would command undivided attention. That began (and SPOILER ALERT if you have yet to watch) with the inevitable assault by Stannis (Stephen Dillane) on Winterfell, after having engaged in an act of barbarous self-interest in the previous episode by literally sacrificing his daughter on the altar of his own ambitions.

That Stannis not only had his forces routed but was dispatched by the noble knight Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) brought a certain poetic closure to that thread, while doing little to ease anyone’s mind regarding the fate of Sansa (Sophie Turner), whose abuse at the hands of the sadistic Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) triggered criticism earlier in the season.

Before going further, a brief word about that interlude: While “Thrones” has clearly established that George R.R. Martin’s creation is a fictional land filled with acts of violence and cruelty, showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have done themselves no favors by refusing to address what constitutes legitimate criticism. Something along the lines of the boilerplate language that HBO drafted a year ago, and reissued in response to this plot line, would suffice: “The choices our creative teams make are based on the motivations and sensibilities that they believe define their characters. We fully support the vision and artistry of Dan and David’s exceptional work and we feel this work speaks for itself.”

There is a difference, it should be noted, between apologizing to one’s critics and simply acknowledging them. And if the producers think that’s beneath them, to paraphrase a popular saying in comic-book circles, with great popularity comes a certain responsibility.

At any rate, for those who thought that Stannis’ death would be the episode’s highlight, “Thrones” was just getting warmed up. Beyond Sansa’s uncertain fate, that included the brutal revenge exacted by Arya (Maisie Williams) against a sadistic pedophile; Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) failing her version of “How to Train Your Dragon” – and potentially being reunited with some old friends; and another jolting act of revenge against the Lannisters.

Even that, however, paled next to the final two sequences, each of which carried the impact of a punch to the gut: Queen Cersei (Lena Headey) being subjected to a stripped-bare ordeal that will forever alter college kids’ perceptions of the term “walk of shame,” and the Caesar-like betrayal of Jon Snow (Kit Harington) by fellow members of the Night’s Watch, leaving the haunting image of him bleeding out his last into the snow.

The Cersei scene, while expected, still dragged on long enough to create a profound sense of discomfort. And as the series so often does, it played with the audience’s emotional nerve endings, almost forcing them to feel empathy for a character that has consistently exhibited her own ruthlessness. As for Snow, “Thrones” has demonstrated yet again that nobility is no assurance of longevity, and that becoming too attached to anyone is not conducive to fans’ mental well-being.

“Game of Thrones” is so unflinching that it’s obviously not for everybody, but it has managed to become an enormous hit nevertheless, through a combination of extraordinary scope and brilliant writing and performances. Personally speaking, as a critic who watches more TV than most people (or is likely healthy), no other series creates a greater sense of anticipation – or deflation, for that matter, upon realizing another season is over.

With its major collisions involving key characters – from Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) being abducted by the knight Jorah (Iain Glen) to Stannis’ attempts to enlist Jon Snow to his cause – this season was as good as any in the show’s historic run, and the finale capped that off on an extraordinary high note. If that has been at all obscured by the earlier criticism, as with those vying to sit on the Iron Throne, producing a series that burns this brightly isn’t for the faint of heart.

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  1. Gail says:

    Game Of Thrones is no different to say, I Claudius, or The Borgias in the depictions of cruelty to women, children and in the operational statecraft in and behind the acquisition, and keeping of power. King Joffrey is a young Caligula, with Cersei, sourced from Lady Macbeth. Not the run of the mill Fantasy venture – what characterises the series is more the evident influences in the cinematic dramatisation of source material: all manner of historic references points can be seen from Ancient Britons and their dress to the machinations of tribal cultures, to medieval politics. It is a fine piece of work and the best ensemble cast of British talent on the screen. Tired cliches of British culture have loaned the frustrating view that the cockney gangster and aristocrat make up the fabric of British language: the visions of seven families competing for an Iron Throne with an impending Northern storm is the conduit here for true regionalism in language style and dialogue and greatly satisfying indeed is it to hear, and to know that audiences all over hear it. Just incredible, and the violence is no less violent than history, or modern urban reality. The ever predictable depictions of Henry VIII without putting over his coma inducing (and violent) jousting accident ten years before his death, or his nasty gout and ulcerated leg in need of amputation – shouldn’t really go on screen. Game of Thrones is consistently shocking and entertaining. It needed heed the critics.

  2. Dragonglass Hashpipe says:

    I thought the season was underwhelming in whole. The last two episodes were good but we first had to suffer through 8 mediocre eps. Also I think the producers should man up and do 12 eps a year. I don’t know who im gonna root for now all the good characters are dying off and Ive always thought Dany was kind of a cunt.

  3. Chaerul says:

    it’s so appropriately realistic when Cersei was portrayed as being hirsute, not like most of today’s women. I’m sure that was the preferred “style” of grooming of that time. LOL

  4. J Toe says:

    Have the people who complain about the treatment of women on this show ever seen another HBO hit series, called Oz? No barking about the constant rape, torture and murder of men there, eh?

  5. John Harrison says:

    Good lord there are some thin-skinned little flowers in the land of TV watchers. You’re not special. The show isn’t obligated to consider your precious little feelz. Nobody has a right to be spared bad feelings. Especially from a TV show. Of course the Cercei scene was uncomfortable. It was supposed to be! Of course Shireen’s death was horrifying! It was supposed to be! That’s what they were going for! These delicate snowflake-people need to quit whining and stick with the G-rated kids stuff. Clearly they lack the fortitude for anything heavier, instead expecting things to change just for them. Kinda pathetic.

  6. Walter White says:

    Wonderful episode.

  7. Candice says:

    Lena my goodness, you are one sexy woman.

  8. Candice says:

    Incredible! But I’m pissed they killed-off John Snow, one of the best actors on the show

  9. Crowbane says:

    The red witch will bring Jon back. Why else would they have her just up and leave Stannis for no particular reason other than plot contrivance?

  10. As a father of 2 small boys (3 years and 3 months) I literally could not watch the Shireen burning scene. I fast forwarded through that part. I thought the arena scene was pretty well done and overall I’d rate the episode 4/5. I am excited to see where D&D go with the season finale.

    • ugh!Enough says:

      I agree! I have 2 little ones and had to FF as well. Horrifying. But I don’t hold it against the show for including it. I just find it bewildering that with all the children who are harmed, tortured and killed (remember the King’s guard going through he streets of King’s Landing killing infants!!!) that a very ‘tame’ rape scene has everyone to angry. The thing with rape is that it is the manner in which it is done, not the act itself that is the issue. People can choose to have sex but should not be forced to, violently or otherwise. But when in real life is an infant being gutted or a darling child being burned alive? I almost think all this bellyaching over it is taking away from real rape in, you know, real life.

  11. Al Swearengen says:

    I honestly wasn’t that satisfied with the finale, the episode felt rushed and disjointed to me.

    • kwrig177 says:

      Disjointed is a good word for it. I found the finale disappointing and a let down, too.

    • yirmin snipe says:

      Very much rushed… The show is on HBO and doesn’t need to worry about fitting neatly into a 1 hour time slot… but still the producers seem hellbent to make sure they fit those time slots regardless of how it negatively impacts the story telling…. Just once I would like it if HBO told producers to give me X number of episodes and make each episode as long as it should be… I’m sure some would be less than an hour and other would be more, but the show would be better if it were done that way. You don’t tell authors to write a book where every chapter is the same length, but for some reason they think every episode should be the same length.

  12. Chizz McTooth says:

    So as a critic, you think the show’s producers owe you acknowledgment and an apology?

    This is what they owe you:

    Get over yourself.

  13. I have to say I’m becoming disillusioned with GOAT. It is a great show that can take you through a range of emotions, though at the moment I’m just stunned and angry. Angry because it seems no one is safe from Death’s hand but why the decent and noble more so than others. Angry because I’m running out of people to root for. Angry because I have to wait a year to see what comes out of all this bloodshed.

    • PG says:

      Arguably what people want from entertainment is for surprises and novelty – wed that to (some level of) REALISM, and “no-one being safe” is precisely what the show should deliver.

      And if the ‘noble and good’ seem more likely to die than others… is that not also adding to the immersion and realism? We might hope that good will triumph (and, in all probability, it ultimately will), but reality teaches us that ruthlessness, betrayal and viciousness tend to eclipse honor and restraint: sad to acknowledge, but if you think about it logically.. how could they not? “Decency” pulls punches and spares lives; the morally ambiguous have fewer qualms.

  14. shawn says:

    He’s not gone. Jon will end up brought back to life by the red woman.

  15. JimmEh says:

    The death of main characters is so expected now that it’s lost it’s meaning. If this was season one it’d have been crazy like when Edard was killed. now it’s just like…. “meh, been there, done that”

  16. tadtorque says:

    Oh fercrissakes there’s some amazing characters across the show. Jon is certainly one of mine but if he has to go so be it. He won’t tho. If you’ve really paid attention and are a fan you have to at least believe that Mel is there to resurrect him. The whiners will be back next season with the rest of us.

  17. Jon Snow is really dead says:

    Stannis is not dead until we see him dead. Cut away with Brienne swinging the sword really does not mean he is dead.

    • Jeri says:

      Exactly. The Bolton soldiers were around, killing survivors, so it’s very possible one of them came upon the scene and stopped Brienne. My bet is that Stannis lives. He hasn’t suffered nearly enough for burning Shyreen.

    • Arias says:

      Stannis is done dude. The producers have pretty much confirmed it by calling it “poetic justice” for Brienne to have killed him.

  18. Legitimate criticism?? Don’t be an ass.

    The liberal cultural warriors and PC Polizei would have us tug at our forelocks in silent obedience to their victimology and hair-trigger feelings. I applaud the series writers for their steadfastness in the face of weak sisters like Lowry

    – Krumhorn

  19. Mark says:

    “If you think this has a happy ending, you obviously haven’t been paying attention” -Ramsey Snow

  20. Wayen Rice says:

    Time to cancel HBO. Killing off each good guy in turn isn’t novelty any more. It is disdain for the fans. Best way to register my disdain is to cancel HBO. Won’t be signing up for it next season either. The producers have decided that only bad guys get to flourish. So done with that.

    • People’s ideas of “good” and “bad” are relative to their perspective. This show really blurs those lines and forces many of us to really think about that. For example, Cersei’s walk of shame probably brought much joy to some while on the other hand, it might have actually inspired empathy in people who may have once wished her the worse…

    • Mark says:

      Lol okay bye. No one will even notice you’re gone next year. Once upon a time is on ABC. Good always wins there!

    • Arias says:

      This is a show based on the books. These deaths happen in the books, it’s not the producers deciding to toy with the audience. They’re merely following the artistic vision of the author.

    • sefin says:

      So i was a big fan of this show. I really was, but….I have no one else to root for. After seeing Jon kill the walker and excited to see him live only to be killed by his own men. Im done. end of discussion.

      • shawn says:

        Only children see things in black and white. No character is truly evil, or truly good in these stories.

      • Jeri says:

        Jon Snow is not done for good. Harrington recently signed another two year contract with GoT.

      • Arias says:

        Then you’re simply lacking in imagination. Jon Snow will almost certainly be resurrected from the dead by Lady Melisandre. Remember, she’s a priestess of the Red God, and their high acolytes have the ability to resurrect people much like Beric was resurrected by Thoros after getting killed by the Hound in combat in an earlier season.

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