Throughout the show's 5 seasons, the writing has remained pretty consistent. There have been ups and downs, of course, but all of the screenplays seemed to proceed from the same perspective and a couple of the writers who weren't D&D admitted that the latter two often came in and altered things or moved scenes around between episodes so that said consistency remained (and likely altered the pace of some episodes for rhythm reasons; novel writers do this, too.) Consequently, most of the time it was easier to tell when there was a different director than when there was a different writer. Visual pace becomes far more obvious than writing pace in a visual medium (surprise!)
Bryan Cogman is the lone exception to that trend. Over the course of the show, it's become blatantly obvious when Cogman is the writer because more characters tend to voice relatively superfluous sentiments that don't advance their character so much as reinforce it. Did we need to know that Sansa still misses her family in the scene with Miranda? Did we need the old woman to come in and essentially restate "The North remembers" but in several more words? Or Stannis' goodbye to Jon? Or Dany's moment with Missandei? Or reminding us that Ramsay like to torture Reek with anticipation? No, no, no, no, and no (5 "no"s for 5 seasons.) It's not to say that those scenes were completely worthless, but in a series that's trying to condense what is likely to be a 7000+ page story into 10 episodes a season, you'd hope to not have to retread the same ground that often. They do give highlights of "what has gone before" pertinent to each episode, after all.
Admittedly, the job is not easy, but Cogman seems to like to revel in the existence of the characters as they are, rather than move them about and make them do something. That's the perspective of a fan, not a writer. In a show with a schedule this tight, you need writers.
The overall theme of the episode "Kill the boy and let the man be born.", cited by Maester Aemon, is right in theme with that criticism. How many of these characters needed to do that at this point? Jon and Dany have been making tough choices for the past couple seasons. Sansa did so last week. Sam grew up a long time ago when he stabbed a White Walker and took a Wildling girl into his care. The first of those he re-stated to Stannis this episode. Again, isn't this something that's been spread around Castle Black before? Do we really need to talk about Randyll Tarly to get this fact through to the ever-pragmatic Stannis who has doubtlessly been thinking about the coming war and the one he's fighting now?
The only useful scene in theme was Jon's confrontation with Tormund, which played out exactly what they're facing from both sides and how their maturation as persons and as representatives of their two peoples is shown in stark (ahem) relief. I have to say, I think that was one of Kit Harrington's best scenes in the series and the whole sequence, from the cell to the hall to his office with Ollie was excellent. He truly made the most of what were actual changes and moments of impact, as opposed to everyone else kind of dithering around, and I say this as someone who hasn't been overly impressed with Harrington's acting in comparison to the rest of the superlative cast.
I've seen other critics mention that they feel that this season is the best so far out of the five. Halfway through it, I have to say that so far it feels like the worst to me. I'm less excited for Sunday nights than I was 5 weeks ago because most of what I've seen to date has been fairly underwhelming. Now, admittedly, I'm a book reader so I have a more critical eye than many who've only seen the show. But I'm quite interested in some of the changes they're making, so it's not all about the fact that they're sharply abandoning canon, at this point. As I've said several times, they have little choice. But I'm not sure that all of their deviations are, in fact, the wisest of paths. There was pretty sharp outrage last week, including from GRRM's editor, about the death of Barristan Selmy, who plays a huge role in Dance with Dragons, because the death seemed pointless. The fact that Dany may make some decisions that Selmy would have argued against (like marrying Hizdahr zo Loraq) doesn't mean that the character had to be eliminated. By the same token, Jorah Mormont acquiring greyscale instead of another character in the books (who shall remains nameless to avoid book spoilers) doesn't serve the character. The character who has it in the book is racing to accomplish a larger goal before the disease kills him. The essence of Jorah's character is the personal tragedy. It's not about whether he can regain his queen's friendship and possible love before he dies. It's about the fact that he betrayed her and now has to live with himself and try hare-brained stunts like bringing her Tyrion Lannister in a vain hope to rescue himself. The audience knows it's futile, but he doesn't. That's his identity: an empowered individual laid low by his own mistakes and now possibly making more in order to try to make up for them. There's nothing that needs to be added there, but now he's going into this doomed situation with another layer of doom on top of him? What's the point?
I've long had an unusual opinion on Game of Thrones, in that as much as I've enjoyed it and found most of the performances to be brilliant and the show overall to be excellent, when people ask me what the best show I've ever seen is, the first things that spring to mind are series like The Wire and Breaking Bad. I have a hard time separating GoT, the show, from being just an adaptation of some excellent novels. It's not a show to me. It's an adaptation of books that I love. But prior to this season, I've been as geeked about it every week as anything else I've ever watched. Through the last five weeks, that excitement is fading quickly. Here's hoping the next five brings it back.
Bits and pieces:
It was encouraging to see Viserion and Rhaegal again, since so far the dragon effects have been few and far between. It's a little odd to see just how much smaller they're presenting them to be in comparison with Drogon. The latter is supposed to be the largest, but I thought the appearance of the other two seemed a little short. Perhaps it was just the perspective.
We also had the first scene this season with genuine sexposition during Ramsay and Miranda's argument by the window. Admittedly, that scene did present Ramsay with a slightly more vulnerable side that he later exacerbated in the discussion with Roose about being replaced by a trueblood heir. I can see them setting up possible points of exploitation by Sansa, but I'm wondering if that would be better served by shock value. Ramsay is more of a force of nature in the books, as opposed to a developed character, so I know there are different steps that have to be taken here to round him out. It's interesting, at least.
Back on the rant: The Sansa and Miranda scene, besides being superfluous (No, we really don't need to be reminded that Sansa misses her family), also seemed to be setting up another Margaery/Cersei relationship. We already have one of those and with a far more dynamic setting. I don't get it.
Clearly, the confrontation with the Stone Men was meant to be the action-based moment in an episode of conversation. Honestly, I'm fine with just conversation if it advances the story... Thus, in an episode of retreading the same ground, tossing in the "action scene" at the end was more than a little anti-climactic. It did have a solid moment of showing off the soaring Drogon while they were in Valyria, of all places, since no one approaches Valyria in the books, as it's a place of death. Jorah's assertion that the pirates are also afraid of it is certainly a solid point, however.
Lines of the week: Few of them, for obvious reasons.
"Don't want to overfeed them. Tomorrow, perhaps."
Hizdahr's face at hearing this line is priceless.
"We can learn to live with the Wildlings or we can add them to the army of the dead."
Pragmatism in a fantasy world isn't that different from ours.
"This isn't a strange place. It's my home. It's the people who are strange."
"You're right. Very strange."
Truth has many layers.
"I'm not scared."
"Well, I am. And when the battle comes, promise you'll protect me?"
Davos remains one of the wisest men in Westeros.
"Long, sullen silences and an occasional punch in the face. The Mormont way."
At least the former Lord Commander was a bit more eloquent.
And the winner:
"The day I ask my people to fight with the Crows is the day they cut my guts from my belly and make me eat them."
Unless they're Thenns. No sense in them missing out on the best(?) part of dinner.