A blog of ice and fire: Thoughts on Game of Thrones seasons 4 & 5

1200I’m still mad about the infamous “red wedding,” but nevertheless, my first-time viewing of Game of Thrones continues with seasons 4 and 5.

I’m really starting to pick up speed now — I watched the first season in about a month, but I finished season 4 in a week. It’s interesting because even though I heard what I thought were a lot of spoilers about this show, there’s still a lot of details I don’t know, and I’m dying to find out what happens to certain characters. (Also, they had better not let any harm come to poor Samwell Tarly — he has such a lovely, kind soul and at least ONE PERSON on this show deserves to find happiness, darn it!)

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Revenge and forgiveness

***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

The Stark family keeps running into worse and worse luck, but at least now it’s time for the Lannisters to have a little taste of their own medicine. Karma finally catches up with King Joffrey and he’s poisoned at his own wedding. Also, Tywin’s days of manipulating his family are over, as the patriarch also meets his end, at the hands of his son Tyrion.

While Joffrey’s death comes as a relief to viewers (and just about everyone in Westeros), his absence doesn’t really settle the political tensions in the realm. In fact, it kicks off a murder “trial” (I’m putting “trial” in quotation marks here because there’s nothing particularly just or impartial about it), which eventually leads to Tyrion first killing his father, as referenced earlier, and then officially joining #TeamTargaryen.

As viewers we’ve been waiting a long time to see Joffrey get his comeuppance. He’s both a terrible ruler and a terrible person, and he was bad news for the future of Westeros. And yet, it’s interesting how revenge is never really as satisfying as you think it’s going to be. Joffrey’s death doesn’t erase all the evil things he’s done; Ned Stark is still dead, and there’s still a war going on. The legacy he left continues to poison those around him.

Speaking of revenge, I’m curious to see how Arya Stark’s character continues to develop, and how her feelings regarding her quest for vengeance may or may not change. (Side note: Her time training with the shape-shifters is super interesting, and I’m excited to see more magic making its way into the show.)

Arya has experienced far too much trauma and tragedy for someone who’s still so very young, and I don’t blame her for wanting to avenge her family. Still, there’s a very fine line between justice and revenge, and a good person who’s consumed by a desire for vengeance can easily cross over to the dark side themselves.

The opposite of revenge is, of course, forgiveness, and I’m curious to see what Game of Thrones has to say in regards to this theme. We haven’t seen much forgiveness at work, which is a shame because redemption and forgiveness are two of my favorite themes in stories (it’s why I love Star Wars so much, and it’s also why “Return of the Jedi” is one of my top favorite Star Wars movies). I believe that forgiveness and healing are an important part of the human experience.

Game of Thrones is challenging, though, because there are some characters that I really, really hate, and who seem beyond redemption. Some of the villains on Game of Thrones display a level of evil and cruelty that force me to look away from the screen. How does a character like Arya reach a place of forgiveness and peace within herself, while also ensuring that justice is done and that corrupt leaders are prevented from harming others in the future?

Daenerys is also wrestling with these same questions, as she tries to cement her status as queen and end corruption in the realms she encounters. What kind of punishment should she dole out in the lands she conquers, to the people who have done genuinely bad things? How do you mix mercy with justice?

I don’t think the show has really revealed what it thinks the answers to these questions are yet, but I’m sure this will continue to be explored in coming seasons.

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A dangerous dynasty

Even though I’m very much #TeamStark (a fact I’ve probably mentioned too many times already in this series of blogs), a character who has really grown on me throughout this series is Tyrion, and it was hard to watch almost all his friends and family abandon him during the trial where he is falsely accused of murder.

Peter Dinklage puts so much emotion and depth into his performance, and you can’t help but empathize with him. And what an epic speech when he tells off the entire courtroom full of people from King’s Landing; it didn’t exactly go over well with his audience, but I was definitely cheering!

It’s interesting to watch how the Lannisters regularly serve as the architects of their own doom. Jaime Lannister started this whole mess all the way back in season 1 by pushing Bran out the window. Joffrey’s selfish cruelty paints a giant target on his back. Then, Tywin’s repeated mistreatment of his son Tyrion leads to his own death and the loss of one of King’s Landing’s best strategists.

Well, the capital’s loss is Dany’s gain, as Tyrion takes his clever wits and political prowess to the Mother of Dragons, lending his support to the Targaryen dynasty. I can’t wait to see how their partnership plays out.

Tyrion will also be extra glad that he got out of King’s Landing when he finds out about the dumpster fire that place has turned into. Cersei gambles on an alliance with the High Sparrow, only to have him turn on her and throw her into prison. Cersei really can be a nasty person, but in the end I do pity her, because her life, on the whole, has probably been a very unhappy experience.

Cersei is smart and capable, but in the male-dominated world of Westeros, she’s treated dismissively. She has to fight for whatever power she does wield. If both she and Tyrion had been treated with more respect, and were placed in a more welcoming environment that allowed them to truly flourish, it’s interesting to ponder what they may have accomplished.

There are way too many other character arcs to cover in one blog, but it’s also cool to see Jon Snow emerging as a leader and trying to combat the growing threat of the White Walkers. Brienne of Tarth continues to be one of my favorite characters, and I love that we get to learn more about her backstory. Plus, Podrick is a great sidekick for her, and I love seeing their adventures together.

Also, in the beginning I really hated Theon Greyjoy, and I’m surprised to admit that I now genuinely feel sorry for him. He’s done some bad things, but seeing the way Ramsay Bolton has broken him physically, mentally, and emotionally is just gut-wrenching.

Speaking of Ramsay Bolton, he now joins King Joffrey on my list of most hated fictional characters of all time. I flinch every time he’s onscreen, and I’m getting mad just writing about him. Ugh ⁠— it’s time for him to go!

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Responsibility in storytelling

This leads me to the final point I’d like to discuss, and it’s one I’ve heard other viewers talking about throughout the series. Does Game of Thrones sometimes go too far in its depiction of violence, particularly its focus on sexual violence against women?

There’s a scene in season 5 involving Ramsay Bolton and his new wife, Sansa Stark, that so deeply troubled me that I don’t even really want to write about it. I don’t cry a lot while watching movies/TV, but his horrible treatment of Sansa really got to me. We’ve seen many female characters who have been sexually mistreated throughout the series, including Cersei, Dany, and nearly Brienne.

Is this something that should be shown onscreen? I’m sure that events like this happened in the real-life medieval era; however, any time you portray a sensitive topic in fiction, you have to do it responsibly. Hopefully Ramsay will be called to account for all the awful things he’s done, but that won’t erase the trauma Sansa has experienced.

I love Game of Thrones, but I believe it is perfectly fair to call out the writers, and to wish that they’d handled these sensitive scenes with greater care. Also, the scene of Jaime forcing himself on his sister Cersei felt out of character and has made it tough for me to root for a redemption arc for him anymore. According to an article I read, that scene wasn’t even in the books, which makes its inclusion in the show all the more frustrating.

This issue is more complex than can be covered in one article, but I think it’s good to talk about it. Fiction can raise awareness about the realities of sexual violence throughout history, and motivate people to take action against it. But this topic should never be sensationalized or used for mere shock value, which is sometimes the case in Game of Thrones.

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Closing thoughts

I am now over halfway through this series, and pieces of the narrative continue to fall into place. Also, thank goodness I have heard some spoilers about season 6, because the ending of season 5 is definitely a shocker. The Night’s Watch turns on Jon Snow and leaves him bleeding out on the ground, presumably dead.

I definitely would have been raging at “red wedding” levels of angry, but thankfully I already know he comes back, so the scene wasn’t as traumatic as it otherwise would have been. Still, I’m definitely going to be in a hurry to get to the library after work today to pick up a copy of season 6!

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TV review: ‘Arrow’ shines again with thrilling season finale

MjJlOTg1Yzg4ZiMvejJmOXZjTnBtRmpwU3AwaHVNU0FMTmFYWUVNPS8weDM1OjI5Mzh4MTU1Mi8xNjAweDkwMC9maWx0ZXJzOmZvcm1hdChqcGVnKTpxdWFsaXR5KDgwKS9odHRwczovL3MzLmFtYXpvbmF3cy5jb20vcG9saWN5bWljLWltYWdlcyThe CW’s flagship superhero show, “Arrow,” wasn’t in the best shape this time last year. The fourth season was widely regarded as the weakest in the series’ run, following a third season that received some mixed reviews as well. However, fans who persevered were rewarded for their patience with a thrilling, much-improved fifth season that ended with a high-stakes finale earlier this week.

I’ve been a fan of “Arrow” since the first season, when I stared watching it after reading a preview article in Entertainment Weekly. The show stars Stephen Amell as a Batman-esque vigilante archer named Oliver Queen who wears a green hood and tries to right his city’s wrongs after he’s rescued from the island where he was stranded for five years. I felt the show really hit its stride midway through the first season, and the second season — which had Oliver facing off against one-time ally Slade Wilson (Manu Bennett) — ranks among my top favorite TV shows.

But the third and fourth seasons couldn’t rise to quite those same heights, and fans have been especially critical of the fourth season. The show’s flashback segments — which were genuinely intriguing in the first two seasons — started wearing a little thin. While Neal McDonough turned in a strong performance as Damien Darhk, looking back I think the show pushed the supernatural element too far (it just doesn’t work as well in the more grounded “Arrow” than in some of the CW’s other superhero shows). And Oliver and Felicity’s on-again-off-again relationship grew frustrating and weighed the show down with unnecessary relationship drama.

Yet all was not lost! “Arrow” showrunners fixed some of the issues with past seasons, and there were definite improvements in terms of acting, fight choreography, character story arcs, and more. Overall I was extremely pleased with the fifth season and I can’t wait for season 6.

***Warning: Spoilers ahead!***

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Amell is a great fit for the lead role in “Arrow,” and I felt he stepped up his acting game even further in the fifth season. The writers explored some really dark and emotional moments for his character, and Amell was definitely up to the challenge. One of the season’s strongest episodes involved the main villain, Prometheus (more on him later), torturing Oliver to get him to reveal his darkest secret. Amell gave a really powerful, angry, and ultimately broken performance in this episode.

And speaking of Prometheus…he made for a fascinating villain this season and a worthy foil for Oliver. The twist revealing that Prometheus was actually Adrian Chase (Josh Segarra), the Star City district attorney, definitely caught me off guard. Adrian Chase had become one of my favorite new characters this season, and I was really looking forward to him working with Oliver and maybe joining the Arrow team, only to find he was the villain all along. Although Prometheus didn’t have actual superpowers, his psychological manipulation made him a terrifying adversary for Oliver and Team Arrow. Sometimes villains end up getting “nerfed” after a big build-up, so the hero can defeat them in the finale, but Prometheus rigged his final plan so that he’d win and achieve a psychological victory over Oliver, no matter what Oliver decided to do.

Although there were a few “filler” episodes and some side plots I wasn’t as much a fan of (and I still miss you, Ragman!), overall the story arc was strong and satisfying this season. I also thought they breathed new life into the flashback sequences by sending Oliver to Russia and having him team up with Anatoly and join the Bratva. They did a great job bringing the flashbacks full circle and wrapping up Oliver’s time on the island.

It will be interesting to see what happens in the sixth season. As much as I enjoyed the flashbacks in Russia this season, I think it’s time to reduce the flashbacks going forward and focus more on the present. I’m glad Wild Dog and the new Black Canary have been upped to series regulars. Wild Dog has really grown on me as a character (I love his interactions with Quentin Lance), and the new Black Canary has some cool powers. I know the show’s former Black Canary is a polarizing topic (should she have been killed off in season four?), but I actually like that the show is bringing actress Katie Cassidy back as the alternate universe, dark side version of the character, the Black Siren.

I’m not sure where the show will head going forward, but after a great fifth season, I’m looking forward to finding out!