“I’m glad the end of the world’s working out well for someone.”
Has there ever been a more ruthless author than George RR Martin? Even he acknowledges his cruelty towards his fictional creations in a horrendous short story called Portraits of his Children. To think that an author spends a long, long time walking in imaginary worlds with his characters, it seems almost inconceivable that someone could create a character like Sansa Stark, and then systematically drag her through humiliation and degradation.
Series five of Game of Thrones is cruel. Executions pile up like the logs under the pyres as major character after character is stabbed, impaled and burnt to death.
The horror even puzzles the cast. Stephen Dillane, who is superb as Stannis Baratheon, has said (in an article which manages to be full of spoilers whilst still misspelling his name) “I understood neither the series nor its success … [I took the part] Among other things, for the money.'”
At least his role is relatively straightforward for an actor coming from the British Shakespearean tradition. Stannis Baratheon is a modern take on Macbeth, a king who is steadily bewitched as he falls under the spell of the malevolent witch Melisandre.
Other parts must be terrible to play. I feel for the actor Iwan Rheon who has ended up as the vile Ramsay Bolton. There is no more revolting character in modern fiction except perhaps the murderer Buffalo Bill in The Silence of the Lambs.
Game of Thrones has always been dark, and a huge part of the series’s success comes from the fact that nobody is safe. However as characters die off, it is important to bring in new faces who build on what has gone before. So far, the best seasons have had a standout figure who has dominated the action from their first appearance. This was Sean Bean’s Ned Stark in Season 1, then Stannis Baratheon’s debut was the highlight of Season 2, to be followed by the scene-stealing glory of Pedro Pascal as Oberyn Martell in Season 4.
Season 5, like Season 3, fails to introduce a new character of this calibre and it is the weaker for it. Just as Season 3 involved lots of aimless tramping around, Season 5 has characters repeatedly being locked up. There is only so much of watching people in solo confinement that a viewer can stand.
The action does pick up towards the end of the season with the explosive arrival of the White Walkers and their sinister kings, but overall, Season 5 feels like a missed opportunity, enlivened mainly by shots of those dragons wreaking havoc wherever they may. (Even they spend a lot of their time imprisoned in the dungeons).
Series five special mention: from the opening season, Peter Vaughan has faithfully portrayed the faded grandeur of blind Maester Aemon, a father figure to the Black Watch and one of the last of the Targaryens. What’s astonishing is that he is not an older actor playing someone of great age. In actual fact, Vaughan is himself 92 years old! What a trooper!