Now that everyone has mourned Jon Snow and digested the season finale of Game of Thrones, we thought it was a good time to convene another superfan roundtable. We assembled via conference call an MVP team of Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire bloggers and recappers: Linda Antonsson and Elio García from Westeros, Miles Schneiderman from Tower of the Hand, Amin Javadi from A Podcast of Ice and Fire, Stefan Sasse from the Nerdstream Era, and Jonathan Van Ness from Gay of Thrones. They shared with us what worked, what was missing, and why some of them are quitting the show.
Okay, guys, the season five finale: First impressions? Immediate reactions?
Everyone chimes in at once, a tumult of voices: No! Jon?! No.
Elio: Up until the finale, Linda and I were on the fence about continuing with the show — and various elements from this episode made us decide we will not be following the show going forward. Partly it was the spoiler situation from a previous Inside the Episode, when they actually said, "This is a spoiler from unpublished material." The story they want to tell is not the story we feel lives up to the material that they have to work with. They had some really amazing things set up, but they didn't stick the landing.
Miles: I definitely agree that they didn't stick the landing, though I might have different feelings about whether they even took flight to begin with this season. I was up and down during the first five episodes, kind of back and forth. And the back half of the season, with the exception of the Hardhome episode, didn't deliver in quality. Add to that the concerns about spoilers and sexual assault, and I'm not in any way regretting my own decision to quit the show after this season.
Jonathan: Are we all watching the same show? I thought the finale was amazing. For me, what has been so enthralling about Game of Thrones is the constant shock.
Stefan: I didn't have a big problem with the season as a whole. I don't think the finale was the best episode, but it wasn't a bad episode. I pretty much liked the season, if you cut out Dorne. I'll continue watching it despite not liking several aspects.
Amin: It was okay. It wasn't the best of finales. But I'm with Elio and Linda. Things might go downhill from here because they're out of book material and the training wheels are coming off. I don't know if they're ready for that. So this is a key point in deciding whether to keep watching onward or not.
Stefan said, "if you cut out Dorne." Was Dorne was the weak point this season?
Amin: The nadir, perhaps?
Linda: I struggle to imagine that even for people who dislike Dorne in A Feast for Crows that this was in any way better. I kept thinking, Maybe they'll pull something decent out of it, but it ends with the most clichéd possible death. After somebody confesses their strange relationship and a family secret, they croak?!
Elio: Jaime can't be around his kids! They had him in King's Landing, and Joffrey died. They had him here in Dorne, and Myrcella dies. I'm terrified that when they get to King's Landing Tommen is going to drop dead as well.
There have been a lot of deaths — some of which haven't happened yet, if they even will, in the books.
Stefan: I have no problem with the concept of people dying who haven't yet died in the books, or will later. And I have no problem with most of the deaths that happened in season five. But that's because I try to ignore the fact that they are based on the books.
Miles: At this point, they are only barely based on the books. They've deviated to such an extreme degree — and that's not necessarily a bad thing. You can't really say what is or isn't a spoiler. We wouldn't have known that the burning of Shireen was a spoiler if they hadn't come out and said it.
Stefan: I think it's actually a good thing, that we can't say if it's a spoiler or not. I count that as a plus.
Miles: It allows you to look at the death of a character in objective terms, instead of whether this happens in the books or not. If Stannis actually is dead — we didn't see his body, so I'm not prepared to believe that for a second — I don't understand the logic leading up to it, the plot that got us there. I thought that was poorly handled. But conceptually, I don't have a problem with them choosing to kill off a character who is not dead in the books.
Elio: To me, it's about the ambiguity. I'm not a Stannis the Mannis fan, but the level of humiliation turned it into kind of a farce. They see Stannis as kind of a villain, as primarily motivated by his ambition, and so they think it's a just punishment for a man who was so ambitious that he burned his own daughter. But that's a very different take on the character George R.R. Martin has written. And Ramsay, they see him more as a super villain — he fought without any armor and doesn't have a scratch on him?
Miles, you said you refuse to believe that Stannis is dead. A lot of people are refusing to believe that Jon Snow died. In the books, there's just enough there to give you hope. In the show, they made it more definitive. What does that tell us?
Miles: There are a number of plot devices and contrivances they can use at this point, despite what they've shown on screen. Melisandre is there. There's some kind of magic going on at the Wall. And of course there's the warging thing to consider, though the direwolves have been de-emphasized. I feel like they are reveling in kind of sticking it to fans of the books. Maybe that's just me being paranoid? After the "Previously On ..." when they talked about Benjen Stark, everybody went nuts, "Oh my God, they're going to bring Benjen back!" And yet they just mentioned him to set up the treason. It seemed so deliberate, like a poke in the eye almost! [Laughs.]
Jonathan: Jon Snow, I have chills talking about him dying. I just did not see it coming.
Amin: The problem is, they didn't really have a trigger to lead to that. They just killed him. If they wanted to betray him, they would have done it beforehand. In the show he didn't do what he does in the books that prompts them to kill him.
Linda: They were on the wrong side of the Wall so they could get that dramatic stare-down, and Thorne let them through. And now he decides to kill Jon after no additional provocation whatsoever?
Elio: Or maybe their argument is, now that Stannis is defeated and dead, they can do whatever they want to Jon? In the books, Jon does something personal that could be construed as breaking his vows. You could say he's made a mistake, and maybe what the Watch is doing is appropriate. But [showrunners] David [Benioff] and Dan [Weiss] don't have the luxury of the nuance found in the novels. The next two seasons are going to be a lot of hurry, hurry, hurry, shock, shock, shock.
Do you feel like some plot points were rushed? Was there anything where you wanted a few more beats? Or anything that took too long, which could have donated those extra seconds?
Miles: I feel like the central problem of the show this season was that this was when they had to start writing tightly. You're cutting out Bran because you don't have enough room. You're cutting out the Ironborn. You're cutting out Aegon. You're making all these concessions to give yourself more time, and yet everything still felt so rushed.
Jonathan: I was like, "Where's Margaery?" It was surprising she was not in the finale at all. I hope I don't offend anyone here, because I have different names to keep it all straight: Who's the guy I call Dr. Evil?
Everybody chimes in: Littlefinger? Qyburn? Varys?
Jonathan: Tyrion's adviser, who showed up in Meereen. I was like, "How did he miraculously appear? Okay, you're here now. Cool." They have so much to do in such a short amount of time, so there may be a couple plots where we may not get to know exactly why. But Jon Snow being killed, that was molasses.
Miles: Look at all the time we spent in Dorne. If they were just going to kill Myrcella anyway, why didn't Ellaria poison her in episode four?
Jonathan: That shot where she was wiping off her poisoned lipstick, I was like, "Oh, they're going to turn that boat around! She's going to be in trou-ble!"
Stefan: Don't they have the heir to Dorne on the same ship? They have Trystane!
Elio: I could see them saying on the first episode next season, "Bronn threw Trystane overboard." Because what are they going to do? The worst part about the whole situation is, if Cersei had just said, "Please send Myrcella home," Prince Doran of the show would have said, "All right." The irony.
Linda: If Cersei had done that, we wouldn't have gotten this scene at the departure, Tyene's lovely line.
Elio: "You want a good girl, but you need a bad pussy."
Linda: That is probably the worst line on the show. It was so incredibly jarring.
Miles: It's not quite "Have you ever danced with the devil in the pale moonlight?" But it's close.
Given the changes made this season, how do you see next season going? Is there any one thing that they need to include?
Amin: Balon Greyjoy's won the War of the Five Kings at this point, right? [Laughs.] If he's still alive!
Linda: They kind of forgot to kill him.
Stefan: They need to have the monologue of Septon Meribald. The one about broken men and war. That's one of the missteps with Sparrows in King's Landing. They come off as zealots, King's Landing's own ISIS. The consequences of war for the smallfolk need to be in there.
Jonathan: I want Lady Stoneheart. Why is she not back? I wish she was there.
Amin: It's too late for her.
We've talked about death, violence, and the horrors of war. What about how they approached sex and gender this season?
Jonathan: Cersei's walk of shame was really important, because you were watching someone go from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows. You needed every second of that to appreciate the gravity of what just happened. And in general, no one ever said Westeros was a feminist place to live.
Linda: I didn't have a problem with the Sansa situation. It's more when they feel like they need to have nudity because people expect nudity. Have nudity when it fits, not just, "Hey, we're HBO, see what we can do!"
Elio: I can see the idea of the sexy Sand Snakes ... but it seemed like the whole point of the story of Dorne was to get Bronn there so he could have that interaction with Tyene.
Miles: The Sand Snakes were total caricatures. Not that they were tremendously deep, rich characters in the books, but there was no effort made to humanize them.
Amin: They are more deep in the books. One is pretending to be a man. Another is working with the Faith.
Miles: I do have more of a problem with the treatment of sexual violence as a gratuitous plot point than I do with gratuitous nudity. Not to get into the whole Sansa conversation, but that's the kind of thing that turned me off this season, the tone-deafness towards real issues. You can say what you want about how it's a medieval setting and a patriarchal society; I understand all that. But in terms of simply not being aware and not understanding the audience, the showrunners seemed to have complete disregard for what viewers might feel about how that scene is portrayed. There still haven't been any women involved in the writing of the show ...
Actually, there have been two: Jane Espenson in season one and Vanessa Taylor through season three.
Stefan: One of the main problems they're encountering in their depictions of violence and sexual violence is that they're using it to show how villainous the villains are. If they managed to show that this is something inherent to the world, because Westeros isn't a place where you want to live, then it would work better. But it's also the constraints of the medium, because you can't just show casual rape and violence going on.
Linda: It seems like they're having a love affair with Ramsay, who in the books is one of the more shallow characters. There really isn't anything to Ramsay.
Stefan: He was great in season four. There was this whole counter-narrative of him being the hero of his own story and getting the approval of his father. In season five, he just became the Joker.
Miles: They realized they killed off their villains! Joffrey and Tywin are both dead. You need a bad guy. But that's just the most clichéd, boring way to make me hate someone: "Let's have him rape someone!"
What did you think about the public reaction this season, compared to past seasons?
Jonathan: It was a bit much. We watched a woman who was eight months pregnant be brutally stabbed at the Red Wedding; no one quit the show over that. There has been so much brutality this season, but there's a suspension of reality when you watch the show. There was nothing this season that would make me go, "I won't come back." I want to see what happens.
Linda: For us, it isn't a matter of violence or sexual violence. Nothing like that pushed us over the edge, though there should be more to a story than the shock of the week. For us, it's more about, if The Winds of Winter isn't out before the next season, there will be inadvertent spoilers. Even if it is out, seeing what they did with something like Dorne, when the showrunners had their own plot, it's not going to be enjoyable. The things I love in A Song of Ice and Fire are not present.
Elio: We are a news site, so we'll probably post the premiere date and that kind of thing. But I'm wrecked by the end of the season, trying to get content up in a timely fashion. I'll happily not be exhausted anymore. I'm not planning to watch the show any longer, until maybe when the books are done.
Was there anything that really moved you this season?
Linda: The appearance of Ser Robert Strong gave me a bit of a shiver.
Jonathan: Cersei getting wooden-spooned, "Confess! Confess!" I love that scene. And Shireen's death was the first time I actually full-on cried during Game of Thrones.
Elio: I got a little misty-eyed when Dany climbed on Drogon's back. I'll admit it.
Miles: The really poetic take on the afterlife, with Tyrion, Jorah, and Daario. They're all dead, and they're symbolically continuing their devotion to Dany in the afterlife. … That's what's happening, right?