See the original article and its discussion here: https://towerofthehand.com/blog/2019/03/22-boy-broken-s5e5/index.html

Kill the Boy
Season 5, Episode 5

We open on a candle next to Grey Worm on a bed and Missandei. Ugh. She’s crying. Then to the body of Ser Barristan. Dany is looking over him, with hundreds of candles. The little people and the queen. Barristan just died in the streets, as Dany tells us. We’re treated to a high shot, close up of her face. A tear is on her cheek. The shot makes her look like a child. Dany and Daario speak of what to do next, she decides to snatch up the leaders of the high families.

We’re taken to her dragon vault, where Dany offers these leaders to her dragons. While Daenerys intimidates them, she is in focus, despite how close the rest of them are to the screen. The Queen of Dragons is in power. And what power it is! Nameless nobody #81 is burned and devoured on the spot. The final shot is awesome: Daenerys is dead center, and Viserion and Rhaegal frame her as they chow down. They are in focus and as the camera pans down she comes into focus. The power centers on her. She is safe, protected by her guards.

But immediately after, at the Wall, Sam reads about the forces rising up against her. Daenerys’ grip on Meereen is tenuous at best. Sam and Maester Aemon speak of her briefly. Jon asks to speak to Maester Aemon. The shot is out of balance. Jon, in the middle, while Aemon sits straight on the left. Does he need something from the maester? Advice. Jon is worried about a decision because of how much the Watch hates him. Aemon tells him to “Kill the boy.” Jon can no longer try to be friends with his men.

In contrast to the intimacy between Jon and Aemon, he stands opposite Tormund at a table, at completely opposite ends of the screen. He offers to free Tormund so that Tormund can bring the wildlings south of the Wall. They both lean in, closer to meeting in the middle. Jon stands up and looms over Tormund to make his demands. Tormund tells him the wildlings will not bend the knee. Jon calls him a coward. They of course get heated, with Tormund rising to face him, but Jon frees him and agrees to travel with Tormund to Hardhome to ferry wildlings by ship. Those are Tormund’s terms.

Not that anyone else in the Watch wants to hear of it. Jon’s men bring up their last battle and the costs that the wildlings inflicted upon them. Jon maintains his cool and reasons that allowing the wildlings to die would only add them to the White Walkers’ army. Afterwards, in his solar, Jon is stressed and Olly brings him some refreshment. Jon asks that he voice his misgivings. Olly is angry at Jon’s decision. Though Jon tries to connect with him about their shared losses, Olly will not hear him. He puts on the soldier face and begs his leave. Jon doesn’t want soldiers right now, he wants diplomats.

And now you might want to skip the next scene because Brienne sits in a tower in Winter Town waiting for Sansa. Pod tries to reassure Brienne that Sansa is home and it’s probably for the best, but Brienne knows she’s in trouble. She trades words with a serving man, reaffirming her oaths. Her charge lies beyond the window, a beacon that casts her in an aura of light. She asks him to get Sansa a message. This is the best they could do for this character? This whole arc? I hear the chorus in the background already, chanting, “too many characters, too many characters.” I’ve said before: this isn’t a problem until it’s a problem. Replacing Jeyne Poole with Sansa has created many problems. Of course, there’s the misuse of her character for the benefit of Theon. There’s the loss of extra political intrigue. But now, Brienne has absolutely nothing to do but wait in a tower for what, five episodes? Yep, Brienne of Tarth sits in a tower for five episodes. Sometimes you can’t take shortcuts.

Afterwards, we travel into Winterfell, where Ramsay has a jealous girlfriend because of course the weird guy has an equally weird girl and Sansa needs a new female antagonist. Ramsay and Myranda have become a weird vampire couple and I’m left to wonder about the more awesome things that could’ve been shot instead of this lame side plot.

We move on to Sansa, where she receives her message from a serving woman. She has friends in the north. She travels to the tower where Bran fell, where she’s meant to light the candle. This could’ve been intentional. Candles symbolize revelation and this tower is the birthplace of the one who brings many of them. Nice touch. Myranda enters the scene to mess with her. She-Ramsay takes Sansa to the kennels to frighten her. Theon, no, Reek is huddled in his new rightful place. I feel like there could’ve been a more organic way to introduce the new. Alas, we’ve veered far away from the source material and it’s scenes like this where the writing falls apart. It’s not as bad as the Ramsay and Brienne scenes. It’s worse because what emotional resonance there should’ve been is lost: Sansa is scared of the dogs, not surprised at Theon. Sophie Turner acts surprised, but it comes across as “Oh, hi Theon. Bye Theon.” End scene.

Theon is then dressing Ramsay, who demeans and orders him around. We’re treated with another does of Ramsay abuse. It is… intimate, but we know from Ramsay’s smile that it is just part of his game.

In the dining hall, Sansa and the Bolton family have breakfast where Ramsay displays his charm, to lukewarm responses. They enjoy awkward conversation while Theon pours them wine, much to Ramsay’s delight. He insists on humiliating his bride to-be and his dog. Roose doesn’t appear amused and announces that his wife Walda is pregnant and hurls the notion that it’ll probably be a boy in Ramsay’s face. Ramsay’s torture is childish antics, Roose’s torture is art. When the camera returns to Sansa and Ramsay, she is in focus. Ramsay’s weakpoint has been exposed.

At night, Ramsay and Roose have a chat. The former is in denial about the pregnancy, the latter uses his words to poke the beast. Roose brings up his brother. He tells him the gruesome circumstances of his conception. Roose’s abuse upon his son is subtle. He gives him slivers of validation while continuing to remind him of his place.

Back at Castle Black, Gilly and Sam are in the library and talk about books. Sam talks about the Citadel (unbeknownst to them, their eventual destination). Stannis enters the room prompting Gilly to leave. Stannis knows Sam and brings up his father. Sam is no soldier, as Stannis points out, but he is interested about his slaying of a White Walker. Obsidian (dragonglass) is brought up again. Sam tells him about the army of the dead. Stannis does not doubt. Sam may seem useless to everyone else, but Stannis knows his true worth.

We see Davos chiseling a carving. Stannis tells him that it’s time to march, to summon his wife and daughter. Davos wants them to stay. As do I. I don’t know of Stannis’ actions after the fifth book, but if someone is to burn, I’d imagine it’d be far more interesting to do it at Castle Black, like the logistics in the books would suggest. Wasted opportunity, but we must appease the people and cull characters. Davos looks outside and sees Melisandre. He knows what’ll happen.

In the morning, Davos bids farewell to Shireen. This little girl is incredible, but as ever, her mom wants to hide her. Jon Snow speaks with Stannis about his ships. Was there a scene I missed? Anyways, Jon bids the king safe travels and catches the eye (and the smile) of the Red Woman. Ominous.

Back in Meereen, Grey Worm wakes up. Missandei is still at his side. He laments the death of his men and Ser Barristan. He professes his love for her in the most typical Hollywood fashion. Another shoehorned romance that siphons minutes from other plots.

In the queen’s chambers, Daenerys consults Missandei, who urges her to discard the counsel of her advisors and find the “better choice.” The queen visits Hizdahr in his cell. The shot doesn’t suggest much subtext, but emphasizes their positions of power. The bricks on the ceiling form lines that draw the eye to her. He kneels in cool light and empty space. She stands tall, framed in the doorway and bathed in warm light from the fire, the gatekeeper to his freedom. She tells him that she made a mistake. She’ll reopen the fighting pits and marry him. Notice how when she tells him this, she switches positions with him spatially while maintaining her height. She remains in power, but is willing to draw closer to Hizdahr and his culture. She is also giving him some power: when it cuts to a close up of his face, he is framed in the door.

Finally, we’re back with Tyrion and Jorah in the Smoking Sea. Tyrion tries to elicit conversation from him, to no success. We’re treated with a ghost from legend, Valyria shrouded in mist. Tyrion brings up some lore of their fall. The two bond a bit over reciting the lore and Tyrion glimpses a dragon for the first time. Drogon flies through the homeland of his ancestors. Then they’re attacked by Stone Men! The deranged men get some hits on Jorah before he can get his sword. Tyrion jumps overboard to escape them and is dragged under. Fade to black. Tyrion opens his eyes to see Jorah, who cuts them free. They ask each other if they’d been touched. Tyrion tells the truth, Jorah lies. The beach is golden in the sunset, a welcome respite to their troubles. But their troubles aren’t over, at least not for Jorah.

Bowed, Bent, Broken
Season 5, Episode 6

Oh how the fates have smiled upon me. You all at the Tower have voted this as the worst episode of the series. It is with great joy that I eviscerate the episode (and the season) that represents all that is broken with Game of Thrones.

We begin with Arya at the House of Black and White. We are treated with a reverent scene of her cleaning corpses. A ray of light from an open window lends a religious undertone to the scene. Men come to carry the last body and as they leave, Arya notices that they didn’t fully close the door. As she investigates, the waif teleports in to close it. We’re treated with character building between the two, and by character building, I mean the waif acts like an antagonist without any motivation. I guess Arya dealing with discarding her identity is too boring for television, so Game of Thrones falls back on one of the things it loves best: stabbing things. The show just can’t help it. Just when they start to bring a little bit of nuance and character building to make Arya’s story interesting, they need to take a character who could’ve helped her along and turn her into a villain because reasons (like Jaqen H’ghar fanservice). At the beginning of their confrontation, Arya is cast in light and the waif is in shadow. Subtle. They play the lying game, which Arya loses. Later, Jaqen wakes her up and plays the lying game. She tells her story, lying at the parts she wishes were true. He whips her for each lie, angering her. She tells him she’ll never play this “game” anymore; another lie, Jaqen says. Perhaps this is a meta statement. We all keep playing the game of thrones, Arya. It doesn’t matter that you crossed the narrow sea.

Also across the sea, Tyrion and Jorah resume their bickering until Tyrion reveals that he killed his father. They talk about Jorah’s father and Jorah learns of his death for the first time, murdered by his own men. The grizzly bear stomachs the news and we move along.

Back to Arya cleaning floors. A father carries his ailing daughter to the House of Black and White. Arya is confronted with a test. She plays the lying game with the girl and encourages her to drink. Jaqen watches from a distance. As Arya stands vigil over the girl’s body, Jaqen beckons her to follow him to the vaults. The sets in this place are amazing: from the cavernous stairway to the massive columns with… faces. So this is where the Faceless Men keep their skin. Jaqen tells the girl that she is not ready to become no one, but perhaps someone else. I felt this scene could’ve ended the episode. It’s so foreboding and represents a step to her next level. To have this scene happen so early in the episode doesn’t carry much emotional resonance. Especially since we jump back to Tyrion and Jorah again.

These back and forth jumps between two focuses are awful. Game of Thrones is at its best when the narrative spaces out the characters’ plots. Unless there’s a high stakes interplay between two viewpoints, it doesn’t make narrative sense to swap between Jorah/Tyrion and Arya, especially when you have other characters who’ll soak up attention later on. What connections lie between the two?

Jorah and Tyrion talk about Daenerys and how amazing she is. Tyrion pokes holes in Jorah’s perception of his queen. If Daenerys takes the Iron Throne, then what? A lot of fans don’t ask the question, but cynical Tyrion does. They are set upon by slavers, who beat up Jorah and plan to sell Tyrion’s cock because of course these are the jokes Game of Thrones falls on. Anyways, Tyrion convinces them that Ser Jorah would be a superstar in the fighting pits. The down-on-their-luck duo are on their way to Slaver’s Bay.

In King’s Landing, Lord Baelish is set upon by Lancel Lannister and his zealots. They exchange barbs and then Littlefinger’s on his way. What a waste of time. The conflict is deflated before it has a chance to build. At the Red Keep, Littlefinger and Cersei discuss Loras’ arrest. They bring up his homosexuality (because that’s all that his character was ever written to be). Cersei tests Littlefinger’s loyalty, now that he is the de facto ruler of the Vale. Then he drops a big stupid-bomb on Cersei: Sansa is alive and betrothed to Ramsay Bolton. Whose genius idea was it to have Littlefinger reveal this information? Cersei of course gets mad and roars about traitors and thieves. Baelish reveals that they should wait for Stannis and the Boltons to bloody each other. The Crown can kill whoever’s left standing, or rather Baelish, in return for being named Warden of the North. Clever plan, but I don’t think Littlefinger would overextend so much.

Now we’ve come to Dorne, and what has become one of the biggest jokes of the show. Trystane Martell and Myrcella Baratheon are talking about love and nonsense. Doran and Hotah look on, cryptically plotting. We move on to the Dornish countryside with Jaime and Bronn on their incredible rescue mission. The music ramps up as they infiltrate their way into the city. In some dark chamber, Ellaria Sand is (in stark contrast to the books) hellbent on revenge. The Sand Snakes (in stark contrast to the books) are her robotic lackey fighter archetypes. They suit up, ready to snatch Myrcella. Jaime finds Myrcella kissing Trystane, who notices the blood on Bronn’s garb. Bronn knocks him out and Jaime is ready to take his daughter when suddenly, a whip cracks and grabs him by his arm! What a coincidence that the two teams meet up like this. This seems ripe for a fight. Somehow Jaime, with his offhand, is able to hold Obara (a supposedly great warrior princess) at bay. Bronn is able to fight off Tyene and Nymeria. I don’t know who came up with this fight, but it is a snooze-fest. There is no dynamism: just Jaime fumbling about, Obara’s actress wishing she could just let loose, Bronn disarming one woman, then the other. Finally, Hotah stops it because he’s tired of it too. Sand Snakes and Braime are captured. Obara huffs and puffs, but — oh my god, is this writing weak. Dorne’s story is trash.

Thankfully, we move on to the Queen of Thorns, who seems to have enough when she says, “Oh, you can smell the shit from five miles away.” Yes, yes we can. Olenna and Margaery talk about how crazy it is to arrest Loras (for his gayness). Olenna sits with Cersei, where they poke at each other. Cersei tries her best Tywin impression, but Olenna is no fool. Olenna threatens an end to their alliance. She tells Cersei that Tywin understood that you must sometimes work with your rivals, a wisdom that Cersei has yet to learn.

We move on to Loras, who is interrogated by the High Sparrow in front of his family, Cersei, and Tommen. After Loras denies all the charges against him, the High Sparrow calls upon Margaery’s testimony. I have to admire the tight quarters in this room. This is the High Sparrow’s domain and no king or queen are too large for it. After Margaery leaves the stand, the Faith brings in Olyvar, who acknowledges their intimate relations. They take Loras and Margaery away. She calls for Tommen’s help, who’s too scared to do anything. Olenna’s eyes are blazing, Cersei has a smug smirk.

At Winterfell, Myranda gives Sansa a bath, while trying to intimidate her. She tells Sansa of the hunts Ramsay goes on when he grows bored of his women. Sansa turns the tables on her. Sansa Stark of Winterfell will not be intimidated by a kennelmaster’s daughter. I appreciate Sansa’s strength, but they give her some weak antagonist to overcome. Myranda is a nobody. There is little catharsis in her triumphs over her because this conflict is arbitrary and forced.

Sansa’s dress is beautiful, as is Theon’s handsome outfit. At least the costume designers bring their A-game every episode. The wedding is gorgeous, a lantern-strewn path through the snow to the heart tree. Sophie Turner is amazing in this scene. Her face seethes at the false words spoken. There is a long pause when asked if she would take Ramsay. If I were a writer, I’d have her refuse. Can the Boltons really harm Ned Stark’s girl now that his former bannermen know she’s alive? Could’ve thrown a nice wrench in the Bolton plans. It would’ve also given Sansa some agency. If she is to be caged, let it be of her choosing. But nope, we have to have a rape scene. This does nothing to build her character, it is purely for the sake of Theon.

If she were thrown in a dungeon, he’d take the same pity on her that he does as she’s assaulted. All the lessons she’d learned about politics and intrigue, went out the window because the creators feel the need to one-up themselves for sake of shock value. You don’t agree with me? Take a look at the last shot: Theon crying as he watches. Sansa is not a character; she is a prop.

This is my problem with Seasons 4, 5, and 6. The characters have stopped being people. They’re puppets and I can see their strings. Their only purpose is to reach a conclusion, whether it be rape, torture, objectification, or death. Ned, King Robert, Bran, Catelyn, Robb, Joffrey, Jaime, Oberyn, Hodor, Sansa (Seasons 1-4), Daenerys (Season 1), Viserys, Drogo, Mirri Maz Duur, Lysa, and many others had terrible things happen to them. But these trials built their character. But Theon, Sansa, the Martells, the direwolves, Loras, Ros, Shireen, Stannis, and Rickon have been wasted with shabby writing trying to outdo itself instead of telling a good story. We don’t need Ros to get murdered by Joffrey to convince us he’s an awful human being, just like we don’t need Sansa to get raped to convince us that Ramsay is an awful human. I’m glad the show found enough self-respect in Season 7 because the lightning in the bottle ran dry and I was about to leave with it.