We are now five seasons into Game of Thrones. The show, which has become HBO’s flagship program, has proven that it can be some of the best television when it wants to be (such as the brilliance of season three or the back half of season one or individual episodes such as “Blackwater” and “The Mountain and the Viper”). However, recent seasons have revealed that this show has finally settled. Game of Thrones may offer visual spectacle on a scale that television has never seen before (and continues to break new ground in this territory), but from a storytelling perspective it is just fine with giving us subpar plot and character decisions while waiting between the major set pieces that this show is so great at producing. Overall, the show is still one of the best currently on television, but at the creative level it has decided to be content with during season five it will never be one of the greatest of all time.
Season five of Game of Thrones adapts George R.R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons, which follows Cersei’s (Lena Headey) rise in power in King’s Landing, numerous characters trying to track down Daenerys (Emila Clarke) and gain her favor before she makes her move to take back the Iron Throne, Jon’s (Kit Harington) attempts to lead the Night’s Watch from his new role as Lord Commander, and the fights in the North that result from the power vacuum that has emerged in the absence of the Starks. These are just a few of the main storylines these books cover so as you can tell the series is only getting denser. The problem is that Showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss decided to simplify everything in order to add even more plotlines into the show. That works for such things as Jorah Mormont’s (Iain Glen) storyline, which puts more emphasis on a character that the show seemed to be on the verge of losing a hold of, but doesn’t work so much in the case of the Martell storyline. Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) was such a great addition to last season so to see the remnants of his storyline result in such a boring plotline was rather disappointing.
As the show has gotten closer and closer to catching up to Martin’s books, Benioff and Weiss have toyed further and further with finishing certain storylines without the guidance of Martin’s works. This season only proved that Benioff and Weiss like the idea of surpassing Martin than actually going ahead and surpassing Martin. This entire season had characters make major decisions that only resulted in cliffhangers that made it seem like the showrunning duo didn’t have the bravery to go into uncharted territory on their own.
All this being said it is still hard not to love a show as visually ambitious this. It is also hard to deny that this show knows how to do major set pieces like no other show in history. The eponymous sequence of “Hardhorne” is some of the best television you will see this year. Visually striking and filled with great character development (which can be a weakness at times for the show especially in terms of new characters), the work on this episode by the entire cast and crew was just impeccable.
It seems Game of Thrones has finally settled for being just great instead of being a masterpiece.