You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

‘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.

More TV

  • Mr. Peanut to Appear in His

    Mr. Peanut to Appear in His First Super Bowl Commercial

    The monocle-wearing Mr. Peanut is about to offer snack fans an entirely new lens on Super Bowl advertising. Planters, which has featured the anthropomorphic legume for more than a century as its spokes-character, will place him in a 30-second ad slated to appear in the second quarter of CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl LIII on [...]

  • DRG Boards Sales on Scandi Sci-Fi

    DRG Boards Sales on Scandi Sci-Fi Mystery Series ‘The White Wall’

    Scandinavian sci-fi series “The White Wall” is coming to the international market, starting at NATPE, after DRG picked up international rights to the upcoming project. Finland’s Fire Monkey and Nice Drama, part of the Nordic Entertainment Group, are making “The White Wall” for Swedish pubcaster SVT and its Finnish counterpart, YLE. It will feature a [...]

  • L.A. Teachers' Strike: Hollywood Studios, Unions

    Hollywood Studios, Unions Support Parents and Educators as L.A. Teachers' Strike Rages

    Hollywood unions and entertainment companies have stepped up to support the 31,000 Los Angeles teachers in the second day of a massive strike that’s affected nearly half a million students. More than 50 SAG-AFTRA members picketed at a Tuesday afternoon rally in the driving rain next to the Hollywood & Highland Center with secretary-treasurer Jane [...]

  • R. KellyR. Kelly in concert at

    'Surviving R. Kelly' Producers on the Lifetime Doc's Ripple Effect

    The ripple effect of “Surviving R. Kelly” continues to widen more than a week after the documentary aired on Lifetime, renewing public interest — and outrage — over the litany of sexual abuse allegations against the R&B artist. Lady Gaga and Phoenix have apologized for working with him. Chance the Rapper and other artists are said to [...]

  • Yellowstone

    Viacom Lays Off Paramount Network Staffers Amid Reorganization (EXCLUSIVE)

    Viacom has laid off a number of staffers in its entertainment group, with the majority of the affected employees hailing from Paramount Network, Variety has learned exclusively. A Viacom spokesperson declined to comment. But a source with knowledge of the situation that the number of affected employees was fewer than 20, or less than 2% of [...]

  • The Last OG

    TV News Roundup: 'Last O.G.' Sets Season 2 Premiere Date on TBS

    In today’s TV News Roundup, “The Last O.G.” announces its Season 2 return date and Variety has the exclusive first look at Fox’s new legal drama “Proven Innocent.” FIRST LOOKS Netflix has announced its new limited series “Black Earth Rising” will launch on Jan. 25. The contemporary thriller series stars Michaela Coel as Kate Ashby, a Rwandan girl [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content