Game of Thrones Season 5, Deconstructed

by: Geoffrey Golia

Across the Margin enlists the efforts of a true GOT guru to help make sense of Season Five’s unhinged assault on the senses….

ATM: Jon Snow. Nooooooooo!!!!! Most of us knew it was coming, the writing being on the wall (pun intended) for weeks – but that didn’t minimize the impact at all. I have read that there was some controversy – or more of a disagreement amongst fans – of how this played out in the books. Did what happened in last night’s season finale, “Mother’s Mercy,” parallel the books?

G.G.: As always, I will suggest show watchers (known quasi-affectionately as “The Unsullied” by book readers) take the summer to read the books, or listen to the audiobooks, which are delightful. The scene in question, arguably as anticipated as The Red Wedding episode, was far more ambiguous in the books, especially with respect to how mortal the wounds Lord Commander Snow receives. But the traitorous crows do say “For the Watch” in the book, and the impetus for the mutiny is basically the same (except for one crucial difference….ahem, The Pink Letter, which I won’t get into), though completely, strategically backwards. I mean, think about it, in the show and in the books, members of the Watch have seen the armies of the dead and some have seen the White Walkers. It’s obvious to all (or it should be) that if the Free Folk are not allowed to enter The North, they will swell the ranks of a zombie army hellbent on murder and mayhem. The Lord Commander’s Wildling strategy is radical and progressive, but most members of the Watch seem too shortsighted/blinded by old prejudices to see it.

ATM: The Sparrow marching Cersei through the streets (Can we give Lena Headey her Emmy now?) seemed like more of a power-play than anything. What’s his endgame? And that was The Mountain, right? What has Qyburn done to him?

G.G.: Unlike many “religious” figures in the Song of Ice and Fire universe, the High Sparrow appears to be a genuine true-believer, unlike previous High Septons who, paralleling the lurid tales of many real world religious leaders, used their position for more earthly pleasures while ignoring more charitable and humanistic virtues. Now, to us, his piety only makes him more consistent, not any more likable. Like all textual literalists and extremists, he’s a sadist, a misogynist (why didn’t he make Lancel walk the street naked?), and an advocate of torture, among other nasty things.

As for Ser Robert Strong, Qyburn’s creation who we’re finally introduced to towards the end of the finale, it’s certainly indicated that this is some kind of reanimated, necromanced version of Ser Gregor Clegane, The Mountain That Rides. It’s stated in the books that he does not speak, eat, or use the privy, nor does he take off his helmet. My feeling is, in both the books and the show, the truth of the new Kingsguard’s identity will be rather disturbing.

ATM: Where was the Lord of Light, after receiving his offering last week, when Stannis needed him?!

G.G: It’s strange because we know something is going on with R’hllor, the Lord of Light, that there is something to this religion in the Song of Ice and Fire universe, given that, you know, Thoros of Myr resurrected Beric Dondarrion and so on, so my guess is this: it’s clear Stannis is not the true king, and the sacrifice of Shireen Baratheon (for her “king’s blood”) was a tragic and ineffective act of a desperate, horrible man. The fact that a thaw came (along, by the way, with a huge desertion of half of his forces and the suicide of his wife) was cruel coincidence.

ATM: Who has experience with the White Walkers and how was info on them gathered? Does it go back a few hundred years, or only a few decades? Anything you can tell us about their backstory and how it relates to what we saw in Episode 8, “Hardhome,” would be incredible. And now that we have seen that Valyrian steel can kill the Walkers, should we have hope (hope is a dangerous thing in Westeros, I know) that they can be defeated?

G.G.: From what we can tell, The Others are human-like, but with supernatural powers to raise the dead and walk around topless in the frigid climate north of The Wall. They have glowing blue eyes and seem to only be interested in killing humans and non-human animals and then animating their corpses into a walking army of the dead, or undead, or whatever. These are, of course, the wights – the terrifying zombies we’ve been seeing, though I don’t think they have the power to turn their victims into wights. Aside from that, we really have no idea where they came from or what, if any, goals they have (besides terror and havoc and creating decent skiing conditions).

The story goes that around 8,000 years prior to Aegon’s conquest of the continent, a winter fell on Westeros that was so long, so cold, and so dark, it was etched into the collective memory of the Westerosi as “The Long Night.” With this long night came The Others, also known as White Walkers. Of course, it may be that The Others brought this winter, or perhaps the winter brought The Others (my guess is the former), but either way, it was basically a horrible time to be a human. Legend has it that The Night’s Watch battled The Others in the aptly named “Battle for the Dawn” and defeated them. In response to the horrors of the invasion, the Watch, along with Bran “The Builder” Stark, erected The Wall, which may be imbued with magical powers, we’re not quite certain about that. After this, The Others disappeared, ostensibly defeated for good.

Now how do we know all this? A combination of folklore and some ancient documents that discuss The Others and The Long Night. Sam finds out first hand that obsidian, also known as dragonglass, can kill an Other (It had been widely suspected by book readers that Valyrian steel weapons, forged in the dragon fires of Old Valyria, could kill Others; the show confirmed this in Season 5, Episode 8.) Most Maesters, intellectuals, and Southron smart-alecks think stories of The Others are completely legendary; the Watch and the Free Folk know better.

There’s a war coming perhaps larger than the War of the Five Kings. The question is not only whether the feuding Houses of Westeros can unite to face this challenge, but also whether The Night’s Watch will recognize the threat as well.


ATM: In the books, do story-lines just fall off the map for periods of time. It’s almost easy to forget – after all the action this season – that last season’s finale “The Children” found Brandon being led to the three-eyed raven by some sort of child of the forest. What’s going on there? I miss Hodor. When we see Brandon again, will he be fully trained? Show runner David Benioff once made the analogy that when he returns it will be like when Luke walks into Jabba’s palace after not having seen him since The Empire Strikes Back.

G.G.: Believe it or not, yes. Love Daenerys and Jon Snow? Well, when A Feast for Crows came out in 2005, you would have been pretty disappointed because they’re not in the book at all….and also because it was years overdue. Granted, the book is so good that you wouldn’t stay disappointed for too long, but it’s pretty extraordinary that arguably two of the most important characters in the series would be completely absent from an entire book. I miss Hodor too, so hopefully we’ll find our way back to that creepy underground lair to hang out with him and all his weird friends early next season.

ATM: Are Giants going extinct or something? They always just show Wun Wun. Maybe he is just the one that was willing to join Mance Rayder’s Crew? Do they talk much about giant communities in the books?

G.G.: Giants, like Wun Wun – who is one of the smaller Giants – are what we would call endangered, like other “mythical creatures” featured on the show (Dire Wolves, Dragons). A bunch of Giants died during Mance’s Siege of the Wall, and Wun Wun represents a “last of his kind” in a lot of ways, though there may be a few more out there. In the books, zombie Giants do make up some of the Army of the Dead, which is terrifying to consider. Fun fact: Giants are vegetarians.

As an aside, the Wall creates a metaphorical boundary between the world of myth and the “real world,” a boundary which is being threatened by the invasion of the dead, and also Jon’s Wildling policy. I imagine the culmination of the narrative will be a new paradigm based on this conflict, though I’m unsure what it will look like.

ATM: Where is Walder Frey right now (so scared to ask), and what have Reek’s dad and sister been up to?

G.G: Walder Frey, that sonofabitch, is still at The Twins being terrible. I know the whereabouts of both book-Balon Greyjoy and book- “Yara” Greyjoy (whose real name is actually Asha). I assume Balon is still on Pyke, on the Iron Isles, but after her ill-fated attempt at rescuing Theon from the Dreadfort, I can’t really say where “Yara” is. My feeling is, she’ll be back on the Isles next season.

ATM: It was all too obvious that Ellaria’s lips would be coated with poison (well to the viewer, not Myrcella), but can we believe that this will light a fuse that ignites the beef between Kings Landing and Dorne?

G.G.: Yes, clearly. I’m interested, in the show mind you, of what role Jaime will play in that war. One question I had, watching the show last night is, they’re barely a kilometer from shore; if I was Jaime I’d head right back there with Bronn and finish that fight from a few weeks back. I mean, it’s Dorne, so it’s obviously poison, even Moon Boy would know that!

ATM: On that note, but a little off topic, I must know – does having sex with a Dornish woman give you the clap?

G.G.: All VD in the ATOIAF/GOT Universe is called “the pox.” Though seemingly more promiscuous and permissive, there is no textual evidence that the Dornish have a higher incidence of VD than any other kingdom. As an aside, the Dornish are out-sexed only by the inhabitants of The Summer Isles –  both peoples, it is worth noting, are great archers.

ATM: What was going to happen to Arya? Looks like her revenge list is mucking things up with the House of Black and White.

G.G: I know what’s going to happen to Arya, but I’m not going to tell you guys because I think it may be the only thing book readers now have over you Unsullied. I’ll say this, like any good martial arts/samurai film, it’s all part of her training, just without a cool montage.

ATM: With Sam off to Oldtown – do you think we will get a look at the place?

For sure, a lot of story lines will converge there, and it’s also where you can find some fearsomely strong cider.

ATM: “Mother’s Mercy” featured a nice moment for Theon. But did Sansa really have to hold his fucking hand?

G.G: I know we’re working on a redemption arc for Theon, but I felt this was a moment for Sansa to lean in and assert herself, with or without Theon. Notwithstanding that Sansa isn’t anywhere near Winterfell when this sequence occurs in the books. Also, I’m no expert on jumping off castle walls into giant snow banks, but I can’t help but wonder if holding hands wouldn’t be an unnecessary risk.

ATM: It feels as if we are entering a brave new world. As GOT goes ahead and wipes another fan favorite off the earth, and a few of our most hated, we are venturing into uncharted territory as Tyrion (with Varys! – Love those two together,), Greyworm, and Missandei prepare to lead together and Daario and Jorah venture off to find the Queen. Any thoughts on where we could be going? And as the television world of GOT begins to increasingly offer us new story lines not in the books, how does it feel to an ardent book reader to enter these uncharted territories?

G.G.: Book readers, I think, have a choice on whether to even enter this territory or not. I’ve encountered many book readers who don’t watch anymore, either because of moral and ethical qualms related to violence against women on the show, or because of deviations from the text. When it comes to my position on watching the show, I have go into it with the expectation that it will deviate significantly from the text, and accept the reality that a television show just can’t do what a book can do, which is why story-lines are condensed and/or fused. One thing the show does well is set up what I think the real conflict is, which almost seems silly when I write it out: humans and possibly quasi-mythical creatures vs. ice-wizards and their army of the dead. When you really think about it, if whomever takes the Iron Throne doesn’t have a strategy to fight the White Walkers, there won’t be a Westeros (or Planetos, maybe) to rule.

Of course, this doesn’t answer the question of where will these characters story-lines go, so to sum up: Tyrion will be an effective and shrewd administrator for Mereen (he was put in charge of all the drains and sewers in Castery Rock, with fantastic results), Varys will assist in this effort; Greyworm and Missandei will remain frustratingly in love; Daario and Jorah will most likely have some kind of pissing contest (real or figurative), but obviously Jorah’s adult-onset Greyscale will harsh what would otherwise be a great buddy comedy; Dany will have a new army very soon; Sam will meet some pirates, perhaps make more forbidden love with Gilly; Melisandre will probably be doing some hugging and kissing; and, frankly, there will be a lot of retribution in store for some much hated characters (ahem, Walder Frey).


Geoffrey Golia is the host of A Trivia of Ice and Fire: Presented by the Upjumped Sellswords. Find more information and the schedule of events here.

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