Even the best shows stumble occasionally, as Game Of Thrones proved this season with its fifth season. Having said goodbye to some fan-favourite characters (so long, Oberyn Martell and Tywin Lannister), and lacking the input of writer George RR Martin as he concentrated on finishing off sixth book The Winds Of Winter, the show inevitably suffered slightly.
Essentially, the focal point for a number of characters is the use – and subsequent misuse – of power. Cersei (Lena Headey) effectively rules Westeros now, but proves to be a less than efficient ruler, prey to the influence of religious fanatic the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce); Jon (Kit Harington), the newly anointed head of the Night’s Watch, has to balance placating king-in-residence Stannis (Stephen Dillane) with guarding the Wall, despite the fact that many of his own men want him dead, and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) continues to discover that ruling a city is harder than it looks.
Meanwhile, the likes of Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Arya (Maisie Williams) must decamp across the world as they start again from scratch, while Sansa (Sophie Turner) finds that she might have jumped out of one frying pan and into another.
In truth, we’ve barely scratched the surface of what goes on in Season 5. There are more characters and plot threads than ever – only now, you get the sense that there might be simply too much going on for the writers to devote enough time to everyone.
Even with the benching of Bran Stark this year, some characters go whole episodes without being mentioned, leaving the viewer with the occasionally thankless task of picking up where things left off, not helped by the fact that for at least the first half of the season, there’s nothing truly memorable in the vein of events like the Battle of the Blackwater or the Red and Purple Weddings.
And that’s before we’ve even touched on some of the more troubling aspects of the show, namely the poorly judged treatment of Sansa Stark at the hands of the sadistic Ramsay Snow (Iwan Rheon), all the while her emasculated former childhood friend Theon (Alfie Allen) is forced to watch.
For a character who’s already suffered enough, it seems a pointless way to pile on the misery, especially considering it’s not something that happens to her in the book. Coupled with the borderline redundant introduction of characters like the Sand Snakes (who seem to be there solely to look seductive and reveal flesh), and you get the sense that the narrative sleight of hand that graced previous seasons is sorely lacking.
Thankfully, things pick up by the second half of the season. Having been teased for a while now, Daenerys and Tyrion’s meeting in ‘Hardhome’ proves to be the coming together of minds that we’d been hoping for. In the same episode, the heroic but doomed attempt by the Night’s Watch to rescue the Wildlings at their base is a different – but just as epic – spectacle as previous skirmishes, stylistically unlike anything seen in the show before. If you were still disillusioned at this point then it’s moments like this that restore your faith.
Factor in a number of cliffhanger (is Jon alive? What will happen to Daenerys, Sansa and Theon?), and the show certainly fulfils its remit of making you want to watch the next series, even if the episodes before it are of varying quality. In truth though, even a middling Game Of Thrones series is better than much of what’s on TV, with Season 5 proving to be a case in point.