Game of Thrones — Greatest Moments (Season 5)
A selection of wonderful moments from the fifth season of Game of Thrones.
5.1 The Wars to Come
Best moment: Lord Varys convinces Tyrion to come to Meereen
Why? Because it saves us from watching Tyrion travelling around Essos wondering “Where do whores go?” Okay, no, in all seriousness, this is a bold declaration from season 5’s opening episode that Game of Thrones is going to take itself beyond the A Song of Ice and Fire series. Although Tyrion’s storyline still has a way to go yet before he meets Daenerys Targaryen, it takes the space of a single scene to convince him to at least consider her proposals. After escorting him from King’s Landing in a crate, Varys dusts Tyrion down and stops him from drinking long enough to pitch Dany’s virtues to him. Of course, the pitch only turns out to be half true, as Tyrion’s journey from this point is one of unfortunate incompetence and heart-breaking failure as he struggles to adapt Dany’s vision of the world to his own, and is then powerless to stop her from committing genocide in King’s Landing. At this point, after being forced to murder Shae and his father, there’s little hope left in Tyrion’s heart. But his time with Dany — for all its end is tragic — rebuilds him. He doesn’t know if Varys is right, he doesn’t even know if he wants to go on, but he at least hopes enough to try. At this stage, it’s hope that saves Tyrion’s life.
Honourable mention: Jon Snow mercy kills Mance Rayder.
5.2 The House of Black and White
Best moment: Sansa Stark refuses to travel with Brienne and Podrick
Why? I love season 5, but it’s a slow burner whose pay-offs are far into the future at this point. During the first third of the season, you can feel it trying to find its feet as it begins to build up the nerve to go beyond George R. R. Martin’s source material. One of the changes made from the books was to merge Sansa Stark’s storyline with that of book character Jeyne Poole, taking Sansa back to Winterfell instead of sticking around the Eyrie. This move allows Brienne and Podrick’s search for either (or both) of the Stark sisters to be merged into this storyline. In a tavern in the North, Brienne encounters Sansa and pledges herself to her, only for Sansa to refuse and stick to Littlefinger’s side. At this point in the story, Sansa still trusts Littlefinger and isn’t quite sure of who Brienne is, let alone whether she’s noble and trustworthy. The dramatic irony is, of course, that Brienne is the ideal guardian for Sansa, who flees on horseback with Littlefinger once Brienne and Podrick are chased out of the inn. They will meet again in the season 6 premiere, but I imagine Sansa wishes she could take back her decision here.
Honourable mention: Jon is elected as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
5.3 High Sparrow
Best moment: Lady Brienne vows revenge on Stannis Baratheon
Why? With Brienne still fixated on saving Sansa from Littlefinger’s clutches as they head to Winterfell, she and Podrick stop in the hills to recharge. It’s during this pause that Brienne explains to Podrick the origins of her love for Renly — he danced with her and protected her from the taunts of “nasty little shits” when nobody else would. Ever since Renly was murdered by a shadow assassin in season 2, Brienne has been correctly convinced that the monster bore the face of Stannis Baratheon. “Nothing’s more hateful than failing to protect the ones you love.” Brienne is a character defined not by revenge exactly, but by duty. And her principal duty is to rescue the Stark girls and fulfil the oath given to her first by Catelyn Stark and then again by Jaime Lannister. This scene proves, however, that her duty to her own internal oath — to execute Stannis for crimes against her king — remains strong. “Stannis is a man, not a shadow. And a man can be killed.”
Honourable mention: Jon Snow beheads Janos Slynt.
5.4 Sons of the Harpy
Best moment: The death of Ser Barristan Selmy at the hands of the Sons of the Harpy
Why? Ser Barristan Selmy is a popular (and still living) book character, and his ability with a sword has long been eulogised about by other characters in Game of Thrones. It is expected, then, that the moment of his death in a swordfight proved to be a controversial one. As the Sons of the Harpy ambush Daenerys’ forces in the streets of Meereen, Ser Barristan leaves the security of the great pyramid to assist the Unsullied — he’s caught in a fight he can’t win. Surrounded by enemies, he’s greatly outnumbered and unable to defend himself for long. The greatest swordsman who ever walked, dead in an alley. How could they do that to our boy? Well, because Game of Thrones is not a story where legends win simply because we want them to. If an accomplished commander like Robb Stark can be slaughtered at a wedding, and if the king can be killed by a boar while hunting, then Ser Barristan Selmy can be chopped down and left to die in an alley. The idea that noble knights and kings were just ordinary sacks of meat is what exactly drew us to this show in the first place — we can’t just change our minds halfway through.
Honourable mention: The Faith Militant take over King’s Landing.
5.5 Kill the Boy
Best moment: “Kill the boy, Jon Snow. And let the man be born.”
Why? Confirmation, if it was needed, that season 5 was setting up Jon Snow (and Kit Harington) to lead this show. To be completely honest, ‘Kill the Boy’ has long been my least favourite episode of season 5 because its choice of character scenes, while necessary, aren’t particularly illuminating, except for this one. This exchange between Jon and Aemon Targaryen is truly beautiful and one of the tenderest scenes of the entire season. As much as Aemon’s famous “kill the boy” line defines the scene and goes on to define Jon’s character from here on out, it’s the sad irony that endures: Aemon is unaware that he’s staring his own family directly in the face. He was always so concerned that Targaryens who found themselves alone in the world were tragic stories, and here he was with someone who shared his blood. He dies believing that he’s truly the last Targaryen in Westeros. Oh, bless him.
Honourable mention: Tyrion and Jorah sail through the ruins of Valyria.
5.6 Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
Best moment: Olenna Tyrell and Cersei exchange a war of words.
Why? It’s unfortunately been forgotten in the controversy of Sansa’s tragic marriage to Ramsay (and in the criticism of Jaime and Bronn’s daylight trip to Dorne) that ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’ is an otherwise solid mid-season episode of Game of Thrones. Arriving back in the capital following the arrest of her grandson Loras, Olenna Tyrell exchanges a wonderful war of words with Cersei Lannister. “Put the pen down, dear, we both know you’re not writing anything” is followed by “The famous tart-tongued Queen of Thorns”, which is then followed by a “Ah yes, and the famous tart, Queen Cersei”. It’s ultimately a battle that Cersei wins by having Margaery arrested before she wipes out all of Olenna’s family in the season 6 finale by destroying the Sept of Baelor, and eventually erasing House Tyrell from the map in season 7. This scene is an early flashpoint, though, in a vicious war between two queens that ultimately ends in fiery, grisly deaths for all involved.
Honourable mention: The Faith Militant arrest and imprison Margaery Tyrell.
5.7 The Gift
Best moment: Tyrion Lannister introduces himself to Daenerys Targaryen.
Why? “I am the gift. It’s a pleasure to meet you, your grace. My name is Tyrion Lannister.” That’s right, Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen finally share a scene together in this momentous episode for the show. It’s not the moment we were all waiting for, exactly (which would come later as Jon and Daenerys finally greeted each other in season 7), but it is a decisive moment as the show moves forward, not only diverting from the source material but heading out beyond it. It’s a combination that defines the future of both Essos and Westeros for the better, but is sadly the first step on Tyrion’s road to watching his queen burn down the city he used to call home, wiping out the rest of his family in the process.
Honourable mention: The Faith Militant arrest Cersei Lannister.
Best moment: The White Walkers invade the wildling port of Hardhome
Why? The second-best sequence this wonderful show ever produced, and, of course, one of its very finest episodes. As Jon Snow and Tormund Giantsbane convince a number of wildlings to flee south of the Wall from the Army of the Dead, the strongest warning yet of the undead threat is fully realised in an intoxicating, horrifying, violent fifteen-minute sequence that completely switches the show’s primary focus and reminds us all that, while we might have been distracted by the War of the Five Kings over the previous four seasons, none of it really mattered. The Night King and his White Walkers attack the wildling port of Hardhome in a blistering wave of destruction that leaves every living thing either dead or fleeing at tremendous speeds. It’s a frightening sequence that’s punctured with decisive moments for the story, as Jon’s Valryian steel sword Longclaw blocks a Walker’s ice spear before killing said Walker, and emotional character beats, as we’re introduced to the feisty and determined wildling Karsi, only to have her taken from us by a group of undead children. It’s post-adaptation Thrones at its absolute peak.
Honourable mention: Daenerys Targaryen pledges to “break the wheel”.
5.9 The Dance of Dragons
Best moment: Shireen Baratheon is burned alive by Stannis
Why? During ‘The Dance of Dragons’, Game of Thrones produces what is arguably its darkest moment, as Shireen Baratheon — a child — is burned alive. With Stannis heading for Winterfell, the snow begins to swarm his army, waste his resources, and ultimately hamper his chances of taking the castle from the Boltons. After twenty good men ransack his camp, he’s faced with no other option except to fall on Melisandre’s horrible advice: to burn his daughter Shireen to death to please the Lord of Light. Her demise is harrowing to witness and almost impossible to endure. An innocent child burnt alive for a “greater cause” that ultimately betrays the person who makes this horrific sacrifice. And it’s all for nothing — the Baratheon forces lose anyway. It’s one of the most controversial scenes in the show’s entire run, and with good reason: her screams are difficult to hear to say the least, and it marks the beginning of the end for Stannis Baratheon.
Honourable mention: Daenerys Targaryen flees Meereen on Drogon’s back.
5.10 Mother’s Mercy
Best moment: Cersei Lannister’s walk of atonement through the streets of King’s Landing.
Why? In true Game of Thrones fashion, ‘Mother’s Mercy’ brings a bleak fifth season to a suitably bleak close. Cersei finally gets the dressing down (no pun intended) she has deserved for so long after her endless list of disgraceful acts in the first five seasons, but her walk of atonement is so protracted and merciless that relishing in her punishment is not an option. It’s an endless onslaught of mud, rotten food, and goodness knows what else as she atones for her sins in front of the people of King’s Landing. It turns to the audience and says “Well, this is what you wanted. Do you feel good about that?” If you want to drive a character to insanity, maybe to the point where she blows up a religious building and crowns herself queen in the aftermath, this is what you put them through to get there. It’s also the scene that spawned a meme or two, what with Setpa Unella incessantly ringing that bell all the while. Perhaps the most memorable scene from King’s Landing in the entire fifth season and one of the show’s most famous sequences.
Honourable mention: Jon Snow is murdered by his Night’s Watch brothers.