Game of Thrones finale review: a gutsy bloodbath

Major characters die (or seem to). In George RR Martin’s world you wouldn’t expect any less

Game Of Thrones featuring Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen. Photograph: HBO Enterprises publicity shot.

Game Of Thrones featuring Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen. Photograph: HBO Enterprises publicity shot.

 

It was a nerve-wracking day for a Game of Thrones watcher. I spent it wondering what plot twist the scriptwriters would deliver in the final episode of series five. Would an undersexed dwarf mate with a bored dragon? Would Aidan Gillen wear his Charlie Haughey wig? Or would they just kill off a Stark or two?

They went with option three. Jon Snow – stabbed four times in the chest – seems to have left Game of Thrones to spend more time with his family, several of whom have been dramatically decapitated, stabbed or had their throats cut in the latter episodes of previous series. His father Ned Stark, stepmother Catelyn and half-brother Robb have all met grim ends, and in this episode he was also apparently predeceased by his half-sister Sansa.

She made what looked like a double death leap from the wall of Winterfell castle with her childhood friend and latter-day family enemy Theon Greyjoy.

(Neither of their deaths nor that of Jon Snow is quite certain. In Game of Thrones, people have survived falls, and even been brought back to life through magic. Producers usually indicate finality by showing us a flayed body or a victim’s severed head. There were no such signifiers in these cases.)

The series structure is typically an arresting opening episode followed by lots of scenes of pairs of people journeying from village to village on various missions, while others jostle for favour in the several royal courts.

These low-action episodes are sustained, however, by excellent acting, barbed dialogue and more political intrigue than House of Cards and Yes Minister put together.

Game of Thrones also features more weddings than a Hello magazine Christmas special, though they tend to be a little more eventful, spiced up by some postprandial poisoning or a pre-DJ massacre.

High-octane

The final episodes of a Game of Thrones series are more high-octane, typically featuring such diversions as zombie battles and skull-crushing duels. The latter half of a series must be a nervous time for the big shots of Westeros, worse than being a Big Brother housemate towards the end of the week.

Big tough knight Ser Meryn Trant was murdered in a brothel by Arya Stark (Sansa’s sister, one of the more fortunate members of her family to date). Stannis Baratheon was summarily executed – again, apparently – by brawny knight-ess Brienne of Tarth.

But not all of the women characters were in the ascendancy in this episode.

“Mother of Dragons” Daenerys Targaryen, a sort of Lucinda Creighton of Westeros, was kidnapped to a remote place by one of her winged “children”, and must have felt almost as let down as Lucinda did by Terence Flanagan’s radio interview on the day Renua was launched.

Cersei Lanister got a haircut and was forced to walk the streets of her city naked, a display of nudity that has become comparatively rare in a series that was once infamous for its gratuitous full-frontals.

Unthinkable

In all, this was a fast-paced, gripping episode, with the killing off of so many well-wrought characters and fine actors that would be unthinkable in any Hollywood film or conventional TV series.

It wiped from a viewer’s mind all those mid-series chats in country inns, occasionally repetitive family quarrels, and frequent moments when a fan of the series wonders, “Where in the Seven Kingdoms is this series going?”

It would be gutsy scriptwriting if most of it was not based on a plot line predetermined by the fantasy novels of George RR Martin.

In his world, baddies live and goodies die. And baddies die too. As do the morally mixed up, the reformed, the fallen, the healthy and the ill. All kinds of people die. Regularly. And they don’t come back to life very often.

But tonight, there was such a wipeout of pretty much everybody I’d shared all five series with so far, that it was a relief to get to 10pm and find my wife was still alive on the sofa beside me.

This article was amended on June 16th 2015, at 14.58pm