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Given the vast scope and unequivocal ambition of Game of Thrones, it was destined to have an ‘off’ season or two, especially in the middle of the story. Sure enough, season five was an overall disappointment. I still believe that this unique television experiment isn’t going to work in the end and, despite complaints, I’m still pretty optimistic going forward. The good stuff, though outweighed by its mistakes, still charts an interesting course for the series. Below is my breakdown of season five’s many failures, as well as its its ultimately encouraging successes. I’d like to note that I still haven’t read the original novels and don’t really plan on doing so anytime soon, so my itemized list aren’t going to take any of the changes made to the source and show into account – though I will acknowledge that I have been told that the current seasons are adapting the weakest books in the series and I believe fans when they tell me changes needed to be made.

Oh, and spoiler warning for this entire section of the review.

 Game of Thrones: Season Five
The Worst of Season Five:
  • It takes forever for anything to happen. The issue is best illustrated by the fact that Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), arguably the franchise’s most beloved character, spends seven episodes slowly floating to meet Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) in Meereen. Every roadblock the writers stick in front of him is convoluted and anticlimactic. Even his pairing with Jorah (Iain Glen) is sadly uneventful, outside of some very pretty photography and a decent zombie attack (there are so many different kinds of zombies this season…) as they sail through Valyria. Speaking of sailing, an inordinate amount of time is spent with characters talking about the plot while sailing boats – Tyrion talks about Daenerys while on a boat with Varys (Conleth Hill), Arya (Maisie Williams) talks about Braavos and House of Black and White with an unnamed captain on two separate boats, Tyrion talks about Daenerys again on a different boat with Jorah, and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Bronn (Jerome Flynn) talk about girls on a boat to Dorn.
  • Meanwhile, while almost everyone else spends the season wandering around Westeros, Daenerys is stuck playing politics in Meereen. The complicated moral conundrums are absorbing at first, especially as she tries in vain to balance the power between the city’s upper and lower classes, but she’s quickly absorbed by Tyrion and Jorah’s boring story (one that recycles elements of Ridley Scott’s Gladiator and its forebearer, Stanley Kubrick’s Spartacus, which was already adapted for a different premium cable series). The scene in which Drogon rescues her is very cool, but I’m really unsure of the place she’s left at the end of the season – especially considering how long it took her and Tyrion to finally hook-up (not in the Biblical sense).
  • The vengeful bastard daughters of the now-dead Prince Oberyn Martell – dubbed the “Sand Snakes” and fronted by Obara Sand (Keisha Castle-Hughes), Tyene Sand (Rosabell Laurenti Sellers), and Nymeria Sand (Jessica Henwick) – are the most inexpiable missed opportunity of the season. Jaime and Bronn’s trip to Dorne should’ve broadened the scope of the series by finally introducing us to the area and its people. Instead, we’re treated to a tepid “action sequence,” a collection of hopelessly cheap-looking sets, and a pointless storyline that could’ve been summed up with a letter from a crow stating “Sorry gang, Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) was killed by Ellaria (Indira Varma) in retaliation for Oberyn’s (Pedro Pascal) death.”
  • The shock quality of Game of Thrones lies in the unexpected and elaborate quality of its brutality and, above this, the quality of its characters lie in consistency. Last season, Jaime’s rape of Cersei (Lena Headey) on their son’s funeral altar wasn’t merely conceptually offensive – it was an amateur, quick-fix attempt at adjusting the audience’s allegiances. That brief misstep is positively brilliant compared to the idiotic, off-screen rape of Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) by Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) in episode six, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. This time, the rape tells us nothing about any of the characters; rather, it reinforces facts from the most boring storyline from the previous season, that of Ramsay’s torture of Theon Greyjoy (now renamed Reek, portrayed by Alfie Allen). It also sticks perpetual victim Sansa in yet another abusive situation. It’s unneeded verification of her frail femininity, a backwards statement on women needing to be brutalized into taking action (recall that Daenerys was also raped into a leadership role during season one), and yet another lazy, wheel-spinning waste of the audience’s time. Let us also note that the only reason Gilly (Hannah Murray) finally agrees to sleep with Sam (John Bradley-West) is because he rescues her from an attempted rape. The scene further serves his character’s growth as a warrior and cements her place as the Wall’s housewife.
  • Given how underutilized they are, I would’ve preferred that Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman) sat out the season with Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright) and his company. Even Brienne’s ultimate revenge against Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is a wasted opportunity. His downfall and death are among the best moments (including the heartbreaking, stomach-churning sacrifices he makes), but Brienne’s convenient appearance highlights the fact that she is absent from the action for too many episodes.


 Game of Thrones: Season Five
The Best of Season Five:
  • As long as she is separated from Jaime’s boring rescue mission, Cersei’s arc is perhaps the most complex and satisfying of the season. Her paranoia and arrogance drive her to unnecessarily dabble in forces beyond her control or understanding. She makes her bed, is forced to lie in it, and comes out on the the other side ready for bloody revenge. The storyline builds her character beyond previous seasons and sets her on a path to be an even greater force in season six. The theme of religious persecution and hypocrisy that the Sparrows represent is strong and genuinely terrifying as well. However, the value of the Sparrows’ plotline also manages to underline the gratuitousness of the Sons of the Harpy’s plots back at Meereen. Do we really need two cult coups, complete with murder montages, in a single season?
  • Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) arc and basically everything that occurs around and beyond The Wall is riveting stuff. From the shaky truce with Stannis to his shaky truce with the Wildings and his ultimate fate at the hands of his ‘brothers’ (that thing that happens to him at the end of the last episode is what I’d refer to as the good kind of Game of Thrones-brand shock), this season was at its best when it was centered on Jon. This, of course, includes the spectacular – maybe the coolest thing that ever happened on this show – White Walker/zombie attack during episode eight, Hardhome.
  • I had initially intended to include Arya’s trials in Braavos and House of Black and White in the ‘best of’ section, but, upon rewatching the season, I’m thinking the story is still too open-ended to consider a complete success. The logistics of Jaqen’s (Tom Wlaschiha) existential tests are unique and interesting, but I fear that her failure marks it as another waste of time in the greater arc of the series. Hopefully season six will prove that the effort was worthwhile and Arya will continue to grow as a character.


 Game of Thrones: Season Five

Video


Game of Thrones is still shot using Arri Alexa digital HD cameras and season five (like season four) is spread over four BD50 discs. The 1080p, 1.78:1 transfers look generally the same as previous seasons, aside from the changes to the colour palette. Every season seems to get a little more excessively graded than the last. This makes sense for darker locations and The Wall, where the prevailing colour is white, but are bit extreme in daylight locations like Meereen and King’s Landing, where the landscape is dominated by only three or four hues. In addition, the cinematographers are still really pushing the darkness this season. When I watched the season on the 1080p HBO GO stream, I couldn’t tell what was happening during most of the House of Black and White sequences. Fortunately, the more steady Blu-ray image is sharp and complex enough to reveal the subtle highlights and delineate the various shades of black, grey, and blue. It’s still outrageously crushed, though, and attempting to fiddle with the television’s brightness settings will prove futile. There are some banding effects throughout the episodes and a little bit of blocking noise during those pitch black sequences, but no notable edge haloes or sharpening effects.

 Game of Thrones: Season Five

Audio


Game of Thrones has jumped onto the next-gen audio bandwagon (the first television show to do so) by including Dolby Atmos on re-releases of all previous seasons. Season five comes pre-loaded with an Atmos track, thus negating the need for audiophile fans to repurchase it again in the near future. Don’t worry, guys, I’m sure they’ll figure out a new way to snag your money soon enough. I don’t have an Atmos-ready system, so this review pertains to the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 core soundtrack. The effect is similar to previous seasons. There might be a slight widening of environmental and directional effects (galloping horses, rumbling castle gates, weather patterns, marching armies, et cetera), but that also might be my imagination. Of course, the White Walker attack at Hardhorne is the big showstopper in terms of pure aural fury. The soft, bassy rumble of the mountainside crumbling sets the stage for a terrifying onslaught of screaming hordes, crunching bones, clanging steel, and juicy, head-crushing splats. Composer Ramin Djawadi continues to outdo himself with the series’ music. He builds variations on the original title theme while also developing more unique and impactful action cues, like the suspense theme during the Stone Men attack on Jorah and Tyrion, which extends to the closing credits of episode five, Kill the Boy.

 Game of Thrones: Season Five

Extras


  • Audio Commentaries:
    • Disc 1:
      • Episode One  – with director Michael Slovis, DP David Franco, and actor Ciaran Hinds
      • Episode Two with actors Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Gwendoline Christie, and Daniel Portman
    • Disc 2:
      • Episode Three with production designer Deborah Riley, costume designer Michele Clapton, and DP Anette Haellmick
      • Episode Four with director Mark Mylod, writer Dave Hill, and actors Natalie Dormer and Dean-Charles Chapman
      • Episode five with director Jeremy Podeswa, DP Greg Middleton, and actors Iwan Rheon and Michael McElhatton
    • Disc 3:
      • Episode six with writer Brian Cogman and actors Maisie Williams and Tom Wlashiha
      • Episode eight: Commentary one with director Miguel Sapochnik, stunt coordinator Rowley Irlam, and actors Kit Harington and Kristofer Hivju. Commentary two with visual effects producer Steve Kullback, visual effects supervisor Joe Bauer, and producer Chris Newman. Commentary three with DP Fabian Wagner and camera operators Sean Savage and David Morgan.
    • Disc 4:
      • Episode nine with director David Nutter and actors Peter Dinklage and Iain Glen. Additional commentary with executive producer Bernadette Caulfield, DP Rob McLachlan, and camera operators Ben Wilson and David Worley.
      • Episode ten with executive producers/writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, director David Nutter, and actress Lena Headey
  • Anatomy of an Episode: Mother's Mercy (Disc 4, 29:30, HD) – A step-by-step breakdown of the making of the season finale, from the screenwriting to production design, set building, stunt choreography, cinematography, digital and practical effects,
  • The Real History Behind Game of Thrones (Disc 4, 18:10 [Part 1], 22:00 [Part 2], HD) – A two-part look at the historical events that inspired Game of Thrones, including “The War of Roses,” Richard II, Richard III, Edward I, Margaret of Anjou, The Knights Templar, Mongols, and more, hosted by professional historians and author George R.R. Martin.
  • A Day in the Life (Disc 4, 26:00, HD) – This fly-on-the-wall featurette looks at a single day of filming, which occurred simultaneously with three separate units on three continents – Croatia, Northern Ireland, and Spain. I was shocked to see that the Dorn sets were actual locations. The digital photography mars their natural beauty with ugly video game palettes.
  • New Characters/New Locations (Disc 4, 7:40, HD) – A quick rundown of the new societies, cultures, and locations from season five.
  • In-Episode Guides for each episode
  • Histories and Lore (Disc 4) – An interactive menu franchise’s back-stories not discussed in the context of the show. There are 14 animated clips narrated by either cast members or voice actors doing very good impressions.
  • The Dance of Dragons (Disc 4, 20:30, HD) – A more heavily-produced companion piece to Histories and Lore, this elongated animated short takes an in-depth look at the story behind the Targaryen civil war.
  • Four Deleted Scenes (Disc 4, 8:00, HD)


 Game of Thrones: Season Five

Overall


I’ve heard plenty of anecdotal evidence to convince me that a lot of folks enjoyed Game of Thrones’ fifth season. It’s possible that I’ve simply lost the patience for the kind of story this series is telling. Still, there’s at least four episodes of great content here – enough that I’m still excited for the impending premiere of season six. So, for the time being, I’m going to think of season five as a stop-gap and, upon an inevitable series rewatch some day, I’ll probably employ the ‘chapter skip’ option. Those of you that either didn’t think there was a quality dip or, like me, are still willing to keep collecting the series, should be very happy with this Blu-ray collection. The video quality is good enough to correct some of the darkness problems I had during HBO GO viewing, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack offers some future-proofing audio quality, and the extras are quite extensive.

 Game of Thrones: Season Five

 Game of Thrones: Season Five

 Game of Thrones: Season Five

 Game of Thrones: Season Five
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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