Photo: HBO and Sky

Game of Thrones: Kill the Boy/Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he two latest episodes, ‘Kill the Boy’ and ‘Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken’, mark the middle of this season of Game of Thrones. They therefore give us the perfect opportunity to pause and reflect on what has happened so far, and what might be coming in the remaining four weeks.

Certainly, this year has been an important one for the show. While some things about it are the same as ever (surprise deaths, monologues about power, problematic sexual violence), we’ve also seen some changes that are setting the stage for the endgame, whenever that may be.

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys with her trademark dragon. Photo: HBO

Emilia Clarke as Daenerys with her trademark dragon. Photo: HBO and Sky

One such change that has been noticeable in these two episodes is a shift towards fantasy. Thrones has always had a very interesting relationship with the genre, which defines much of its image but very little of its story. While we’ve all grown accustomed to dragons, direwolves and the occasional shadowy vagina monster, the meat of the show has so far dealt with human stakes and political intrigue. Those things aren’t going away any time soon, but it feels like we’ve seen more fantastical elements recently.

The dragons are now fully grown and capable of roasting and ripping apart men. We’ve seen a lost and smoking city populated by feral men with their skin turned to scales. Arya’s sojourn at the House of Black and White has revealed that the faceless men in fact have an abundance of faces, visages cut from dead bodies and stored in a huge warehouse. And, of course, there’s the ever-present threat of ice zombies massing beyond the walls.

Whether or not we see more of these features this year, the show’s slow shift towards the mystical signals an interesting change of tone that could prove divisive

We’ve fallen in love with Thrones for its recognisable features introduced into a unique world. Will audiences take kindly towards a move away from that?

Iain Glen as Jorah Mormont. Photo: HBO

Iain Glen as Jorah Mormont. Photo: HBO and Sky

Less contentious, and more immediately exciting, is the increasing overlap between different stories. Only after seeing them transplanted to different locations have I realised how long many of the big players have been static for.

After a slow start, Tyrion and Jorah are proving an entertaining partnership, likewise Jaime and Bronn, even if the story in Dorne has felt a little stifled so far.

However, the really big crossroads looks to be Winterfell, which is currently drawing a large number of storylines together into a (literal?) royal rumble. Brienne and Pod, Sansa, Theon, Stannis, Littlefinger, and the Boltons will soon all be crossing paths, and numerous armies along with them. There are too many hostilities in that mix to be mentioned here: it’s a tinderbox five seasons in the making, and I wouldn’t be surprised if its ignition gives us this year’s biggest moments.

Without dwelling on it too much, it is worth noting that a great deal of this season’s material bears no relationship to George R. R. Martin’s books. This is good news for spoiler-phobes, since the content of the next four episodes is now anyone’s guess. As far as I’m concerned, the majority of the changes have been for the better.

This season has served up some rich drama and kept up a good pace, where the books faltered slightly

Season 5 will hold up well on repeated viewing in the long sessions afforded by box sets. Watching it week by week, this first run of episodes hasn’t proved as exhilarating as I had anticipated, but this can be attributed to inflated expectations.

The hype machine in the run-up to a new season is always at odds with the sedentary pace of its beginning. A quick glance at synopses of old episodes reveals that previous years have followed similar trajectories. In the next four weeks we’ll see whether Season 5 makes good on its promise, or lets us down.


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