Dear Mr. Benioff and Mr. Weiss,
I know I’m writing to you in the ‘off season’ of Game of Thrones attention, but it has taken a while for me to truly sort out my feelings and thoughts on Season 5. Controversy follows your show. That’s nothing new, but this season seems like it caught a bit more negative attention in the media than in years previous.
To be sure, there are many things about Season 5 that I absolutely adored (which I’ll cover below), but… (and you had to know there’d be a ‘but’) this was countered by many puzzling creative decisions that have left me scratching my head.
So, I thought I would break it down here, plotline by plotline. Of course, the odds of you seeing this, and reading it, are very slim. But, you did see Larry Williams’ Season 1 fan rant over Ned’s beheading, and these open letters are quite cathartic for me, so full steam ahead, I say. (***OBLIGATORY SPOILER WARNING***):
The Night’s Watch:
Let’s start off on a high note. I loved everything about this story arc. Guys, this is you at your best. The acting, the pacing, the sudden yet inevitable betrayal, all of it is some of the best your show has ever put forward. Oh, and HARD HOME! You nailed the action and the emotion of this better than 95% of major motion pictures. And the look of utter defeat and hopeless on Jon’s face as he rowed away… wow, just wow. Regardless of my other issues with Season 5, the Night’s Watch was exactly as it should be, and then some.
Also super solid stuff. Cersei hoists her own petard and FINALLY, after five seasons of shenanigans, the Lioness has her actions come back to haunt her. You reap what you sow (unless you’re a Greyjoy, of course). The addition of Jonathan Pryce was inspired, and gave the situation exactly the kind of gravitas it deserved. The Walk of Shame was incredible, and Lena Headey really sold it. I hope she has her acceptance speech in order for the many awards she’s likely to win for that.
Sam and Gilly:
Some folks took offense to these two unlikely lovebirds, but I thought they were sweet onscreen together. I do think they took up a bit more screen time than they should have, but I understand you have only 10 hours per season. It’s a little odd that Sam would so openly admit to having sex with Gilly in front of the Lord Commander, but I guess Jon figured there are bigger problems to worry about. Oh, and Maester Aemon’s passing was touching. His final words created a lump in my throat the size of a small grapefruit. True story.
Brienne and Pod:
These two are way ‘off book’ in their travels, but I think you handled it pretty well. I like these characters, and they pair well. It felt like we sort of lost them in the middle episodes, and Brienne ultimately failed at her sworn duty by missing that candle in the window, but she had her reckoning with Stannis (or so I’m led to believe). I hope that she’ll go on to bigger and better things now. Oh and kudos on her explanation of why Renly meant so much to her. Nailed it.
Jaime, Dorne, and the Sand Snakes:
Okay, so I’ve been pretty congratulatory up until now. What happened here, guys? Seriously, why include Doran, the Sand Snakes, et al. if the amount of screen time they get is so small? The reasoning behind every plot point was a ‘huh’ moment, the fight scene with the Sand Snakes looked like it was out of the Power Rangers, and the resolution fell flat. Since Myrcella goes down about three-hundred yards from the dock, can we assume that Season 6 will open with Trystan Martell’s head being flung into the ocean? How would Jaime not just turn the ship around right then? I realize you guys have to make changes from the book, but come on. Extra points for including Bronn, though.
Tyrion and Varys (And Jorah):
Tyrion and Varys are two of my favorite characters in the whole series, so seeing them travel together was a delight. I’m a little sad that we’re not getting an Old Griff/Young Griff storyline, but I get it. The books are the books. The show is the show. And when the Tyrion hand-off happens, I like the dynamic you show between The Bear and the Lion. Both have been through hell. Both are giant disappointments to their respective fathers. The look on Jorah’s face when he finds out that his father was killed by the Night’s Watch is powerful stuff. Iain Glen and Peter Dinklage, together, in a scene. Thank you, D&D.
Arya, Er— I mean “No One”:
Maisie Williams is crafted of the finest awesome, and so is Arya. That said, it did feel like her admission into the House of Black and White didn’t require much except standing up to a few random Bravos (who speak the common language, funnily enough). And once she’s in with the Faceless Men, it feels like she spends a good part of the season sweeping floors and cleaning up dead bodies. The real hammer doesn’t fall until the very end, and it was admittedly a doozy, but it didn’t seem like there was much for to do this time around. A pity.
Sansa and the Boltons:
Let’s address the elephant in the room, shall we? This, like some elements of Season 5, left me utterly baffled, and in this case a bit sick to my stomach. The Boltons are horrible, yeah, we know. Little Finger pawns Sansa off to them ‘cause he’s a Machiavellian manipulator, fine. But you started to invest in Sansa as a character, making her more of a player and less of a piece on the cyvasse board. If you aren’t going to use the books as your foundation (and please don’t try to turn the issue on its head with the lame ‘isn’t it odd who gets our sympathy and who doesn’t?’ argument), how did you come up with this train wreck? Why did you build Sansa up only to break her down again? I thought we were done with her being a helpless victim at the hands of a sexually abusive, sadistic psycho, who can only be saved by a man? No? Another round you say? Oh, D&D…this is me walking behind you with a bell. SHAME! *clang* SHAME! *clang*
Stannis and Friends:
I really hope you have a trick up your sleeve for the would-be Azor Ahai. Otherwise, this entire part of the story ends with a whimper, not a bang. His defeat left me with a ‘that’s it?’ moment, and the burning of Shireen felt put in for shock value than anything else. It accomplished nothing other than to show us that Stannis is a horrible person who, despite his pretensions, will not hesitate to murder his way to the throne. I knew that already, thanks. (I’ve read the books.) Yes, I know the burning has a grounding in the books (to come), but you’ve certainly left the books behind when it has suited you, why not here? AND I would have been surprised by the act if it had not been telegraphed from a hundred miles away. I knew we were on the countdown, and so did Davos. He rescued Gendry, a boy he barely even knew. Why wouldn’t he have kidnapped Shireen or fought harder to keep her alive? Or even confronted Stannis in his typical cool fashion? Spares, the lot of them.
Dany and the Meereenese Gang:
Again, some folks really didn’t like this part, but I did. It’s Dany becoming a leader, and good is not the same as nice. If anything, I think she was perhaps too lenient on the Old Masters, but maybe that’s just me. While, Dany is perhaps the worst at ride-sharing with her friends in danger, I think things went pretty well here. We finally had Tyrion meet Dany face-to-face! Do you know how long I’ve waited for that? And it was great. My biggest complaint here is that the Unsullied did not account themselves very well. They are supposed be Eunuch Spartans for crying out loud! I understand a few of them getting surprised, but once more than three are able to rally and join shields, regular guys with silk robes and daggers (against spears and shields) should be D-E-A-D. And while Barristan the Bold did okay, that was a pretty poor send-off for the acknowledged greatest living knight. That said, thank you for not giving Dany the flux at the end there. I take that as a personal kindness, and I’m sure Emilia Clarke does as well.
So, there you have it – just one fanboy’s take on it all. Even though I think there were some gigantic misfires in Season 5, I want you to know that I’m not mad at you. You have given me some of the best programming I’ve ever seen on the small screen, and I think you are doing the material justice overall.
And now, you guys will likely spoil some secrets before the remaining books come out. The race is already on between The Winds of Winter and Season 6, and I’m pretty sure you guys will get there first. But even if GRRM gets TWoW out first, you’ll definitely beat him to the last book. That puts the two of you in a unique position that, as fans of the book, I’m sure you can appreciate. Every GoT fan that exists wishes they were in your place, to know the secrets of how it all ends.
Look, I’m not here to tell you how to do your job. I can’t know the hours and hours the two of you have put into this project, of just how personal a thing it is for you. This is your baby, and you’ve owned it, a project that even the author himself didn’t think was possible.
Just do me a favor as you go through the final seasons of this show: respect your audience. This show exists because of the fans, not despite them. Season 5 was a mixed bag, and the parts that didn’t work felt either half-hearted or gratuitous. Are those the words you really want associated with what is surely your magnum opus?
You guys have proven, time and again, that you know how to deliver an epic experience to us, and keep us glued to our TVs on Sunday nights. Do that. Show us the world GRRM imagined, in all its wonder, in all its flawed and savage beauty. Don’t insult our intelligence, or go for the obvious gimmick, or think that rape equals female character development.
You’re better than that.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
Sincerely (and with much love),
— Matt Carson
P.S. – The North Remembers.