The Unspoiled #03: A Long Winter’s March

Game of Thrones has always been a bleak and hostile show. It punishes its audience in a way no other show is willing to. But in the past seasons, there’s been a certain art and delicacy to its hopelessness. Nothing better summarizes the ethos of the show’s first four season than the duel between the Mountain and the Viper. Before his head gets dashed on the pavement, Oberyn has a chance at victory, and just as Ned and Robb before him, his failure is born from his hubris. A facade of hope preceeds the shock and horror of his fall.

The latter has been missing in season five. In many ways, we started the season firmly in the hands of the Mountain and we’ve spent seven episodes getting crushed. Sansa continues to resist the Bolton’s hold on her home, as far as her circumstances will permit, but at no point has she come close to a real win. Arya’s only chance at moving forward comes at the cost of abandoning her hopes for justice for her family and friends. Cercei’s fate has been written on the walls of the Grand Sept since she rearmed the Faith Militant (or perhaps even decades before that). Does anyone even care whether Jamie and Bronn rescued Mycella (and even if so, they certainly aren’t going to be calling that one a win).

Even when factoring in Jon and Tyrion’s stories, which seem to be heading in a direction other than “entirely hopeless,” a long march into despair has replaced the roller-coaster of the show’s early years. It has become oppressive, rather than thrilling, to watch. I still very much enjoy it, mostly because I maintain the vague hope that at the end of all the journey those left standing will find some sense of justice, or at least revenge.

My pining for the one true king of Westeros, to march straight into Winterfel and tear the Boltons to pieces has been tempered by the prospect of child sacrifice. Best case scenario, assuming Stannis tries to go through with it: Davos stops him and dies in the process. Worst case: Davos and Shireen both get burnt to a crisp. Benioff and Weiss have always given us some avatar of justice or morality to allign ourselves with before dispatching said avatar gloriously. If Stannis goes down this path, Dany instantly becomes the only person left in the game with even a shred of sympathy to her name.

The show needs to find some new tricks if it hopes to keep its edge, and maybe the trick it needs is to finally indulge our optimism.

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