“Night gathers, and now my Watch begins,” are the words I shall be uttering when I tune in to the Season Six premiere of Game of Thrones this coming Sunday. The series that has always delivered a large-in-scope, medieval/fantasy drama is coming back. Fans are eager to see the show delve into uncharted waters now that it has passed the source material of Author George R. R. Martin. If the past five years have been any indication, fans are in for treats, surprises, and hopefully, more pay-off.
No show has launched more fan reaction videos and responsive social media trends than Game of Thrones with the surprise deaths of its main protagonists. I’m also pretty sure that no show has set-up a storyline in the very first scene of the first season and still has it developing in the background five years later. In celebration of these five years of Game of Thrones, I have put together a list of the five best and worst moments of Game of Thrones. These are the the moments that I believe speak to the show’s nature, for better or worse.
Let’s start with the five Worst moments first, because the plight is dark and full of errors:
White Savior Complex
The first half of Season Three focuses on Daenerys taking an army (the Unsullied) from their abusive masters because she believes slavery is bad (and because she gets a free army without having the moral conundrum of having ownership of them). Toward the end of the season, she and her companions liberate thousands of slaves from the city’s slave masters. The final shot of the season is Daenerys crowd surfing as the people chant “Mhysa” (or “mother”). That’s one way to move a character’s plot forward, but in the context of Game of Thrones, the whole thing felt uneasy from start to finish. This painted Daenerys as this white noblewoman from a different land (a Western land, specifically), who feels that it is her mission to free these people of a different race, with no thought given to existing systems, because it is the “righteous” thing to do. Game of Thrones subverted the idea of the honorable ruler sticking to his principles when Ned Stark was so infamously beheaded, so it was lousy and unfruitful to have Daenerys’ storyline revel in the white savior complex for a whole a season instead of subverting the idea. Thankfully, the show redeems itself with her storyline in Season Five.
Most of the Dorne storyline is one-dimensional and incompetently put together. After Oberyn Martell’s appearance in Season Four and the promise of a Jaime/Bronn team-up adventure, it becomes evident very quickly that the show’s version of Dorne isn’t a place worthy of an investment of our attention. The internal conflicts of the region fall flat, the set and costume design don’t particularly leave an impression, and the fight sequences (Oberyn proved Dornish fight sequences could and should be intense as well visually amazing) are terribly choreographed and edited. With a reputation like theirs, it’s a shame the series didn’t put the same effort on the technical aspects and narrative surrounding Dorne as they have with other storylines.
Stannis Sacrifices Shireen
At the end of the infamous ninth episode of Season Five, Melisandre tries to convince Stannis that they need to sacrifice one with King’s Blood to defeat Ramsay. Stannis, realizing they have no chance at winning the upcoming battle, decides to sacrifice his daughter by burning her at the stake. It’s a controversial scene for the series, it’s a gratuitously grim-dark moment that is pretty out-of-character for Stannis, and it unfittingly acts as the finale to the characters in his storyline. Stannis crosses the Rubicon, and it adds just about nothing meaningful to the story.
Theon Becomes Reek
A lot of terrible things happened to characters in Season Three. Theon Greyjoy probably suffered the most, being mentally and physically abused and also losing many body parts (including his favorite one). However, nothing as bad as having to sit through watching those dreadfully dull that just feel like the showrunners killing time. The time dedicated to the secluded storyline is not justified because the mystery of who his torturer is isn’t interesting and Theon’s transformation to Reek didn’t need to be told through multiple disturbing torture sequences. Theon/Reek hasn’t quite gotten past it yet, because it was definitely a very low point in his and the show’s life.
Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
In the final scene of the sixth episode of the fifth season, Ramsey Bolton takes his new bride Sansa Stark to their bedroom and rapes her, forcing Theon/Reek to watch. This turn of events fails for multiple reasons. Using the rape of a character to showcase edginess is an awful thing to do and should never be done, especially if the show has tried and failed at it before. The decision to have the character of Sansa raped narratively amounts to nothing. The character had been violated so many times before, and she was, at this point, pretty much on the path to redemption. Writing her to be raped completely works against her arc. However, it seems like the writers are more concerned with how Theon/Reek feels about Sansa’s rape than Sansa herself, as the rape is framed to have the camera focusing on Theon/Reek as he looks off-screen to the awful act, almost erasing her position as the central victim of the vicious crime. It fails at everything it’s going for and comes off as one of the most insensitive moments of the show.
For the show’s Best moments, we delve into the very foundation of the show and its underlying drive of the past five years:
The penultimate episode of Season Two was definitely a monumental one– not just for Game of Thrones, but for television in general. The episode focuses solely on the Battle of Blackwater Bay, where Tyrion Lannister leads the defense against the army of Stannis Baratheon, who wishes to conquer King’s Landing. There’s no particular scene that stands out, but the episode is too amazing to not be mentioned. The common character-driven focus drives this episode, except this one is temporarily centralized on the characters on both sides of the battle. It borrows some visuals from the Battle of Helm’s Deep from Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which helps bolster the idea that Game of Thrones is one of the closest shows on television to feel cinematic. The stakes are high, the individual character moments are fantastic, and it all culminates in a finale that literally and figuratively blew everyone away.
Chaos is a Ladder
Game of Thrones has the largest main cast in television history. Many characters operate in different parts of the world, all with different agendas and ambitions that drive every decision. The different storylines fit together and stay coherent, which leads to absolute chaos within the characters’ realm. No man understands this better than Petyr Baelish. In the sixth episode of Season Three, Baelish debates with Varys, who points out chaos is a pit for those wishing to serve the realm. Baelish replies that chaos is instead a ladder one must climb to get out of the pit (the pit, in his mind, being love, religion, and patriotism). Petyr is saying his goal is ultimate power via the acquisition of the Iron Throne, and is willing to manipulate other characters and the events surrounding them to achieve that goal. It’s a small moment but one that illustrates what the show’s all about. Sometimes you’ll have a character like Varys, who does what he does for the good of the realm, or characters who choose not to quest for the throne, but we mostly get characters who try to climb the ladder of chaos to reach the throne. Most of them fall, because they’re not equipped enough, reinforcing Cersei Lannister’s quote from Season One, “if you play the game of thrones, you win or you die.”
Speaking of death, perhaps Game of Thrones’ most surprising death(s) comes from the penultimate episode of Season Three. The episode which led you to believe Robb Stark was forging an alliance with Walder Frey through the marriage of Edmure Tully and Roslin Frey ended with the death of Catelyn Stark, Robb, his wife Talisa, and their unborn child. For the same reason the honorable Ned Stark was decapitated exactly two seasons prior, the good-intentioned leaders of the Stark family are wiped out in a ruse orchestrated by the Lannisters. It was surprising and quite disturbing, but masterfully executed and immediately and largely impactful to future seasons of the show. The Lannisters sent their regards, and audiences have never looked at Game of Thrones the same way since.
The Viper vs the Mountain
Truth be told, I was informed of what happens during the Red Wedding, so I knew what to expect. But Oberyn Martell’s fight against the Mountain? Not so much. Tyrion demanding a trial by combat and Oberyn later saying that he will be his champion are some great character scenes, but the titular fight between the Viper and the Mountain is one Game of Thrones scene that will never cease to be anything short of amazing to me. For one, Oberyn brings something refreshing to the series with his fighting/spear dance skills. The fight is expertly choreographed and staged. Intensity radiates from the personal motivation Oberyn brings to the fight, and because the fight seems to go either way, with each fighter exhibiting exclusive strengths and advantage. Oberyn’s gaining the gradual upper hand and audience members looking upon the fight with complete confidence that he will win sets up the shock at the end perfectly. In the end, Oberyn is defeated by his hubris and the look of utter dismay on Tyrion’s face is inversely proportional to the amazement offered from the scene.
After the Season One promise that Winter would indeed be coming, Winter finally came in the fifth episode of the fifth season, with one of the show’s best set pieces. The sequence starts off relatively small, with the wights breaching Hardhome as the Wildlings push them back to allow more time other Wildlings to escape. The same technical and visual mastery that was applied to the Battle of Blackwater Bay is applied here. The battle intensely escalates to the point where a White Walker attacks Jon Snow directly, but in a moment of true awe, he kills it with his sword made of Valyrian Steel, given to him by Jeor Mormont back in the first season! The battle is delivered with spectacle and payoff. Five season’s worth of payoff. However, the White Walker in the final shot is quick to point out that what we just witnessed is only a glimpse of what is to come. I now eagerly await the upcoming season.
I have pledged my time to this show “for this night and all the nights to come.”
Featured Image: HBO