This season of Game of Thrones is the last one I’m going to watch.
[Spoilers for Season 5 of Game of Thrones. Vague spoilers for the books. Trigger warnings for rape and sexual assault]
It’s not (just) because of its problematic treatment of female characters, though I can’t say that’s something I’ll miss. It’s becoming grim to watch while wondering which female character is going to be threatened with assault this week. There were hints of how gross it was getting last season, first with Jaime and Cersei’s encounter, where the question of consent was left up to the viewer and the utterly disgusting and unnecessary side-plot with the Nights Watch (we get it, we’re not supposed to like the dude drinking from a human skull while he monologues. We didn’t need to see a woman being raped behind him to underline that). But the last, universally reviled scene in “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” was the first scene in the series that I actually had to skip. It’s gratuitous, it’s exploitative, it’s not in the books, and it’s unnecessary. It’s reached a point where my first thought on seeing a Dothraki horde encircling Dany was “how long will it be before someone tries to rape her?” I don’t know who the showrunners are writing this for: do they honestly believe that people want to watch beloved female characters risk—and endure—assault at every opportunity? There are other, better ways to create conflict.
(At some point, I’ll have to write about my “no rape” policy when it comes to writing fiction. Gosh, that’ll be cheery.)
But the main reason I’m going to skip the next season of Thrones is that we have now, to all intents and purposes, caught up with the books. Bran, Dany, Cersei and Jon (sighs) have reached the same place where their book equivalents now linger. Arya’s pretty much there. Sansa, Tyrion and Brienne have gone in completely different directions. Nobody cares about Sam. Dorne is a hot mess. Faegon, the Greyjoy Party Boat and Lady Stoneheart are AWOL. Stannis’s plot looks like it has been prematurely spoiled, or at least radically deviated from where it was due to go in the books. Jojen Reed; Mance Rayder; Barristan effing Selmy, characters I knew—knew, in my heart—were going to survive have been killed, bumped off like chumps.
Put simply, I don’t know what’s going to happen anymore.
This season, the Night’s King showed up in person. Shireen burned. Stannis Baratheon, The King Westeros Deserves, has apparently been knocked out the Game. Tyrion and Dany are bros. We’ve reached the point where those who’ve read the books and those who’ve seen the shows are in the same place.
Maybe it’s cowardice on my part, but I’m scared for what’s going to happen next. The knowledge of what was going to happen has always been my defence against the overwhelming tide of grimdark in the show. True, the trade-off was that I knew the Red Wedding was coming, and thinking about it as it approached tied my stomachs into knots. But at least I knew who was going to survive, and if, for example, Talisa died where Jeyne Westerling survived, well, that added a little spice, a frisson of surprise, but at least the broad strokes remained the same. I don’t have that anymore, and yeah, it scares me. It makes Thrones a very different show for me: it’s no longer an adaptation of my favourite books that I had to champion. It’s a media juggernaut, careening off the rails, in a direction I can’t predict.
That may be a good thing, or a bad thing. There’s no harm in being surprised, after all. And it may benefit the show now that it no longer has to pad out episodes or slam the breaks on plotlines for fear of overtaking the books. Nor is it that I’ve fallen out of love with the series: This adaptation is more than I could have asked for. It’s been amazing, from day one. True, some of the sheen has come of it this year, with the gross sexual politics, the derailing of favourite characters and the clusterfudge that was the Dorne plotline. But all that means is that the choice I have to make has become easier.
I’m choosing the books. The books I fell in love with nine years ago. The books I read through three times, all five, at 800 pages apiece.
I don’t know if I’m going to stay the course, though. Ideally, GRRM will at least complete The Winds of Winter by the time the next season rolls around. But since I have to live in the real world, where toast always falls face down and the next ASOIAF novel likely won’t be seen on this side of the next ice age, I may end up cracking and jumping in for season six along with everyone else. Spoilers for this season have been unavoidable, and I can only imagine they’ll get worse when every clickbait pop culture website starts running articles on how I won’t believe what happens at the wedding of Daenerys Targaryen and Hodor or something. So I’m reserving the right to change my mind, arbitrarily, without warning or reason.
We’ll have to see how this plays out. Because for the first time in four years, I really haven’t a clue.
I’ve got a theory about how Stannis is gonna win this thing, though…