A review of “Kill the Boy,” the fifth episode of the fifth season of “Game of Thrones”
by Miodrag Zarković
There might be a solid reason behind the surprisingly slow pace of “Game of Thrones” in the current season. Not that David Benioff and Dan Weiss, the two showrunners, would ever admit that there’s anything slow about it, let alone that they’re doing it on purpose, but one wouldn’t necessarily be wrong in concluding there’s a system in keeping the characters at a distance from possible resolutions of their respective arcs.
That is, if we assume Benioff and Weiss are honest when saying the endgame of the show will be the same as that of its source material, the “A Song of Ice and Fire” book series by George R. R. Martin.
Take Jaime Lannister, for example. At the moment, Martin’s Jaime is in the Riverlands. His last book chapter ended with a cliffhanger, so readers are in a dark about his condition and well-being, but it’s strongly hinted that whatever happens to him is crucial—not only for his storyline, but also for at least two more characters’ journeys. For the endgame Martin envisioned, Jaime simply has to be in the Riverlands.
Benioff and Weiss, however, sent their Jaime to Dorne. If anything, that positions him across the continent from his original arc’s resolution. He’s as far from his book endgame—both physically and logically—as ever.
TV Jon is a similar case with his pit stop at Hardhome: whatever happens there (and from the production news we know, there’s going to be a big battle at that location), Jon will almost certainly come back to Castle Black, where he’ll meet the same fate that fell upon his literary origin in the last published book. In other words, the Hardhome detour will bring him no closer to his original endgame. What’s more, in recent interviews, Carice van Houten, who plays Melisandre, indicated there are more scenes with her character and Jon before the season ends, which, again, probably means that the Wall part of the Season 5 story will end at exactly the same point as in the novels.
That would also mean that Melisandre will also return to Castle Black and won’t influence the clash between Stannis and the Boltons. But, there’s no real sign that we’re going to see that showdown at all. On the contrary, all the hype about Hardhome as The Battle of the year points to the opposite conclusion. Say what you want about HBO, but they’re never shy about the things they invest their money in. Had they filmed the battle between Stannis and the Boltons, we’d probably have heard of it by now or even watched some report from the set. All of which means that the resolution for the main storyline in the North is probably not going to happen this year, and that the season will leave Stannis and the Boltons as they were in “A Dance with Dragons.”
As for TV Sansa, her storyline this season is an unprecedented mess (more on that later), but as her screen time in Winterfell passes, it seems more and more evident she’ll get out of there in a similar way as Jeyne Poole did in the novel. It’s hard to imagine TV Sansa, say, murdering Ramsay or deposing the Boltons and taking Winterfell under her rule. Most likely, she will, possibly after tasting Ramsay’s sadism, save herself by escaping Winterfell, perhaps with someone’s help (Theon and Brienne are the strongest candidates). If that actually happens, it would essentially mean TV Sansa’s Winterfell departure had no effect on the bigger picture, and, pending on her wedding night with Ramsay, even her character’s arc may not be terribly influenced by it: although definitely much more traumatized than in the novels, where she’s still in the Vale waiting for a chance to turn the world upside down with her claim to Winterfell and there’s no reason to think she even knows who Ramsay Bolton is, at the end of this season TV Sansa will possibly be able to return to a path relatively similar to her book origin’s arc for the next two books. At least, that’s how incompetent writers that aren’t too concerned with characters’ consistency and in-story logic might look at things.
And so on. Basically, so far none of the show characters stepped on the territory of “The Winds of Winter,” the sixth yet unpublished installment of ASOIAF. Season Five just passed its midpoint, and yet, Benioff and Weiss still didn’t capitalize on their alleged insight into the material Martin will deliver in the coming novels. And not only that, but it also looks like they don’t even want to go there yet. All their deviations from the source material notwithstanding, none of the storylines is even near passing the point of the published books. As a matter of fact, the one storyline that was bound to enter the future books material—Bran’s—was entirely omitted from this season. Another plotline that was heading in the same direction—Davos sailing to find Rickon and Osha—was also delayed by having Davos at the Wall with Stannis instead of in White Harbor with Wyman Manderly (who wasn’t even cast so far).
Now, wouldn’t the alternative be more in accordance with the approach from the previous seasons? Remember, Benioff and Weiss were so impatient to reach Catelyn’s famous conversation with imprisoned Jaime that they moved part of it way forward, to the finale of Season 1 (and ruined it in the process, truth be told, but still). They also fast-forwarded Brienne & Jaime’s journey to King’s Landing, by both starting and ending it before its time. Jon and Ygritte? Boy, they couldn’t wait to start with that one, so much so that they mercilessly sacrificed poor Qhorin and his role. Or what about Arya’s material from the preview “Mercy” chapter? Once again, they wasted no time in putting parts of that one into their show way sooner than needed. Also, Theon’s torture porn from Season 3 could’ve been delayed a year or two, but no, Benioff and Weiss couldn’t resist speeding up that storyline too.
Indeed, in previous seasons the show looked as if running toward the point at which it will overpass the books. The speed with which they were going through the source material surprised even Martin himself, who, after the debut season, seemed confident enough that the show would not catch with his writing before “The Winds of Winter” were out.
Also, considering the lack of respect toward the novels that Benioff and Weiss displayed over the years (cutting out one iconic line after another, changing characters and plotlines at whim, inventing new and fairly ridiculous subplots and characters while simultaneously removing those existing in the source material), wouldn’t it be expected from the showrunners to jump at the opportunity to become the primary tellers of the story? Wouldn’t it be beneficial from financial and marketing points also? Not to mention that even some book fans would hail such a move: it is no secret that the last two novels divided the readership and that those who disliked them consider a lot of the stuff there to be “fat” or “filler,” so they’d probably welcome the show if it rushed through AFFC and ADWD material.
Actually, there’d seem to be no downside for Benioff and Weiss in that scenario, right? Especially with the fact that the show’s length is predicted at seven seasons, eight at most, which means that Benioff and Weiss are running out of time to tell everything Martin designed for the remaining books (at least two of them, but possibly more). And yet, five episodes in, we’re still firmly in books territory, with small chance to reach the other side before the season ends.
Just consider what the show has to cover in the remaining five episodes in order to simply catch up with the books without overpassing them: those five hours will be as packed as anything in GOT, so it’s really hard to imagine any TWOW stuff to find its way in there. That is true even for the Meereen plotline, which, on first glance, could look as destined to go beyond the novels. But don’t let Barristan’s death trick you. Since the show is, evidently, only interested in checking significant plot points, with little to no regard at all for aspects like natural character progression or thematic significance, Ser Barristan was more than expendable in that universe. Just like Benioff and Weiss didn’t know what to do with him ever since Season 1, they also saw no purpose for him anymore and they decided to kill him off, honoring their own sense of storytelling economy. That, however, doesn’t mean that the Meereen storyline is moved to a higher gear. On the contrary: Dany has to marry Hizdahr, welcome Tyrion (published production shots prove they will meet this season), spend some “quality time” with him (Tyrion is Benioff and Weiss’ favorite character after all, with Dany not so far behind), and fly off on Drogon. Oh, and we have to follow Grey Worm and Missandei’s romance, which quickly grows into one of the more consuming subplots time-wise. All in all, there’s hardly going to be any space for TWOW moments in Slaver’s Bay this season. If anything, the never-ending scene of Barristan’s death only slowed down the progress.
And really, take a look at the content of the five episodes so far. It’s crowded with true fillers of all kinds. The last episode, “Kill the Boy,” was no exception in that sense.
That dreadful dinner Sansa had with the usurpers from the Dreadfort? Filler, as pure as they come. It further solidified Sansa’s stay in Winterfell as probably the single stupidest idea Benioff and Weiss ever had, but it added very little to the plot or the characters: 1) it increased the number of idiots by one, when Walda said to Winterfell-born and raised Sansa: “It must be difficult for you, being in a strange place”; 2) it announced Walda’s pregnancy, which doesn’t seem to bear any significance whatsoever to anybody who isn’t Roose or Ramsay; and 3) Theon was picked, by Ramsay, to give away the bride at Ramsay’s future wedding to Sansa.
Now, that third point is not very logical, because, in opposition to the book where Theon is instrumental for the wedding since Ramsay is marrying a fake Stark, in the show Ramsay’s bride to be is a true Stark, so nobody, not even broken Theon, has to vouch for her identity. Even more, it’s strange that the idea for Theon as a bride-giver comes from the man who’s supposed to be committed to changing Theon’s identity (in the novel, Roose is the one who includes Theon in the wedding, which is infinitely more logical). But the most interesting thing is that the TV Boltons had a way better solution than Theon: Robin Arryn, the Lord of the Vale and actually the last known living kin to Sansa Stark. If the TV Boltons were to think and act logically, they’d ask for Robin to give away the bride at Ramsay’s wedding, which would only strengthen the alliance between the North and the Vale that is supposed to be the idea behind the marriage proposal Littlefinger initially sent to Roose. However, since TV Sansa has to be shoehorned into book Jeyne Poole’s role, Theon it is.
Therefore, what little was established in the dinner scene that lasted for ages, only made the entire Winterfell calamity more nonsensical. And the behavior of TV Sansa herself didn’t help either: with her eye-rolling, sighing and face expressions that emit nothing but scorn, she could trick only some morons. Luckily (for the lack of a better word), the TV Boltons look exactly like the morons needed for Littlefinger’s ridiculous plan to live an episode or three more, as evidenced in the scene in which they discuss the coming war against Stannis.
What about Myranda’s two scenes? Filler, all the way. Until proven otherwise, this author believes Myranda originally died last season, killed by Ramsay while the two were having sex at the moment of Yara’s attack on Dreadfort (which would explain those blood trails on shirtless Ramsay once he faces the Ironborn), but her death was edited out later on, so that she can appear again this season. If I’m right, it would confirm she’s a completely expendable character, revived only in order to prolong the Winterfell storyline this year. But even if I’m wrong, her contribution to the story is still non-existent, and her scenes in “Kill the Boy” reaffirm that notion. Really, how insane has one to be to come up with an idea about a love triangle centered on Ramsay Bolton? Was there ever a less appropriate character for that storytelling trope?
The only thing we learned from Myranda’s involvement in the episode is that Benioff and Weiss are scared to death of the possibility that their writing is boring: just like Cersei in that flashback that opened the season insults the witch by calling her boring, here it’s Ramsay who threatens Myranda never to bore him. In Benioff and Weiss’ universe, being boring looks like the cardinal sin. As if their subconscious is sending us some signals…
The library scene at the Wall with Gilly, Sam and Stannis? Filler, through and through. There is not a single point in that exchange. It was a complete waste of everyone’s time, especially given that Randyll Tarly, Sam’s father, doesn’t even appear in the show.
Brienne and Pod’s turn this week? Okay, that was possibly not filler, depending on their importance for Sansa’s escape from Winterfell. But, boy, was it a stupid scene! Even government contractors in old communist regimes had higher recruiting norms than TV Brienne.
Jon and Tormund? While not a filler on its own (though a dull scene nevertheless, and not a pale shadow of the corresponding negotiations in the book), it opened the door for Jon’s trip to Hardhome, which, again, may very well prove to be a giant filler of the season.
The Meereen scenes did move the plot in that part of the world, but not without sacrifice. See, when TV Dany has one Master devoured by her dragons, it renders the Mossador execution from Episode 2 completely meaningless. To remind you, Mossador was beheaded because he murdered an accused man without a trial—“The law is the law,” Dany explained to him—and the execution enraged the ex-slaves and shattered the honeymoon with their Mhysa. Now, even if Dany’s turbulent relation with the masses she freed is revisited in the future (chances of which are not big, knowing Benioff and Weiss), Mossador’s death was in vain, not only because in this episode Dany became The Law, but also for the fact that a little later she again went back to political mode and coerced Hizdahr into a marriage. With a central character switching personalities at such a rate, almost everything seen up to that point inevitably became as good as a filler, Mossador’s execution most of all.
(While on the subject of Meereen, the info on Dany that Sam read to Maester Aemon, who, by the way, seems to be channeling Yoda with his advice to Jon later on, is not to be overlooked. Here’s the entire note: “And though Daenerys maintains her grip on Slaver’s Bay, forces rise against her from within and without. She refuses to leave until the freedom of the former slaves is secure.” First, what forces from without? Aren’t those forces completely cut from the show? Even Aemon says that Dany is “under siege,” but in the show universe there is no siege to speak of. Is it too much to ask from the showrunners to keep track of their own deviations? It obviously is, if we remember the number of Cersei’s children as a similar case, and also Benioff’s comment about the finale of Season 3, when he said that Mhysa moment was the fulfillment of a prophecy for Dany, even though no prophecy of that kind was ever mentioned in the show. Second, how the hell would anyone in Westeros know that Dany plans to leave once slavery is defeated? Did she ever make her plans public? Did she send ravens to all the corners of the world announcing her invasion in the Seven Kingdoms is to start as soon as she’s done with Meereen?)
All in all, opposite to, say, Season 2 which was, per Benioff, a “season of romance,” this year is evidently a season of fillers. The majority of the scenes in these five episodes were totally unnecessary in the sense that nothing would be lost without them. The season is shaped as if Benioff and Weiss, for the first time, are trying to stall as much as possible.
It’s not without reaction. Among the fans of the show, the number of those who say they’re bored by the new season seems to be higher than ever, while the official ratings are in a small but steady decline for the first time. In other words, the current season doesn’t sit well with many viewers, and the slow pace—resulting from the yet unseen amount of fillers—is universally cited as the primary reason for this dissatisfaction.
As said earlier, there could be a solid reason for the snail progress of the current season. Behind all that cockiness and shallow self-confidence Benioff and Weiss often display when asked about overtaking the books, the two of them obviously realize the sad truth: they really aren’t up to the task of writing Martin’s story before him. Their high opinion of their own storytelling competence is obviously unrealistic, but they’re not completely delusional. Deep down, they seem to be aware of their limits after all. And they wouldn’t be comfortable at all if those limits were fully exposed, which would definitely be the case if they overpass the published books. They’d rather wait as long as they can for the two last huge installments of the series, and then butcher them down to two or three drastically rushed seasons, than to live up to the almost universal praise in the media and really boldly start approaching the endgame on their own.
Or, perhaps, their knowledge of the endgame is far less than usually assumed. Perhaps Martin, not unlike the most devious of his characters, didn’t reveal all of his cards as soon as Benioff and Weiss guessed who Jon Snow’s mother is.
Whichever the case, the two showrunners look like the biggest losers of this wait for the “The Winds of Winter.” Instead of an abundance of material, Benioff and Weiss apparently have to deal with the excess of screen time, resulting from the shortage of real time as they’re approaching the point at which they have to go on without any help from George R. R. Martin, the author whose magnum opus they disfigured beyond recognition. Now, when it’s far too late to go back and fix any of the numerous ingenious mistakes they’ve made in this “adaptation,” it looks like Benioff and Weiss finally realized how out of their depth they truly were from the very beginning of their rogue journey.