Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 5: If They're Wonderful, They're About To Die

A weekly conversation between an avid Game of Thrones fan, and someone who has actively avoided it until now.

A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and J...

A photo of the editor standing outside a house

Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt's editor-in-chief, and a senior editor at Strange Light and McClelland & Stewart. Books and pieces she's edited have won...

Scaachi: This episode was remarkably Jon Snow heavy so GUESS HOW I FEEL ABOUT THAT, HALEY.

Haley: This episode provided us with what I call, and expect to soon be asked to stop calling, a “classic Thronesing,” which is when an episode plods along at a boring pace, taking care of irritating plot details, and then rewards you at the end with either a dragon or a beheading or both.

Scaachi: I mean, that is partly true. I have many questions about the Stone Men and Handsome Pirate who is now becoming a Stone Man. Is all this an intricate metaphor or something?

Haley: Scaachi, DO NOT call Jorah Mormont handsome, he is THE WORST. In terms of a metaphor, Jorah Mormont has basically spent his entire life making bad decisions and feeling guilty about them, so I think it’s less a metaphor and more him finally learning that eventually you make a bad decision you can’t run away from or dwarf-bargain your way out of. (He used to be a slave trader.)

Scaachi: WHO IN THIS SHOW HASN’T BEEN TERRIBLE AT SOME POINT? It’s a really tall order to ask me to take into account the morality of every single character when they’re basically all murderers.

Haley: His comb-over looks like it has bedbugs.

Scaachi: I have many questions about Sansa. In what universe does it make sense to marry into the family that may have killed your mother/brother(s)/entire family?

Haley: Sansa has an unfortunate history of 1) doing what she’s told and 2) being betrothed to murderous maniacs. My hope is that, with this plotline, they’ll allow her to claim some power that she never did in her interactions with Joffrey, but right now, it still just looks like she’s making bad choices because someone told her to, which worries me.

I guess she thinks this is the way for her family to regain power in the North, and I get the instinct to go home, even if your home is occupied by crazy people. But I agree with you: even if there’s a long game here, she’s working on very incomplete information, and it’s hard to imagine this will end well.

Sansa is sort of the classic fairy tale character in Game of Thrones, and I keep hoping that the show will subvert that at some point, but right now, is she just counting on Petyr to rescue her? Seems like maybe, to me.

Scaachi: I also get the impression that she does not know the Whole Story of what may have happened to her family? Like what’s the deal with that guy who had to apologize for murdering everyone and is now supposed to go to her wedding???

Haley: So, this guy! Theon! Basically, his family (the “Ironborn” mentioned) was defeated by Sansa’s family, the Starks, a long time ago. As some sort of post-war peace-bargaining, it was agreed that Theon would be fostered at Winterfell with the Starks. He grew up with Sansa’s family, basically a brother to her, but also a prisoner. When he eventually returned home to the Iron Islands, his family was incredibly cruel to him because he was raised at Winterfell. To prove his worth as one of the Ironborn, he conquered Winterfell, burned it down, and pretended to murder Sansa’s brothers (but, actually, murdered nearby village children while Sansa’s brothers escaped). Then, the Boltons took the castle from him and tortured him until he became the man you see today. So. Baggage.

Scaachi: Yes, well, that does feel complicated. This show doesn’t let you like or dislike anyone, which is deeply frustrating. Maybe that’s why I like Sansa’s plotline so far: I feel like she is unambiguously Good and I want Good Things to happen to and for her.

Also I miss her Hot Stepdad, where’d he go?

Haley: By stepdad, do you mean her uncle with whom she had a Harry-and-Ginny-in-the-Harry-Potter-movies status unromantic kiss in the catacombs?

He has been summoned by Cersei, so he’s heading back to King’s Landing.

Warning: much like in Downton Abbey, any time someone in Game of Thrones seems just so wonderful, they’re usually about to die.

Scaachi: Why does anyone watch this show? It’s so complicated! SO MUCH JARGON. How can anyone keep track of what is happening without reading the books?

Haley: Reading the books just makes it MORE confusing, mostly, because things are happening differently now. But, I will say that having read the books, you’re invested in waiting for certain major plot points. A good example is something called the Red Wedding, which was a major plot twist. I think a lot of people who read the books kept watching the show just to see non-book-readers react to that moment. So, I suppose, having read the books gives you a level of investment, and honestly, I ask the same question you do. I often do not enjoy watching this show, but I feel that I MUST watch this show. I’m in too deep now. I’m committed. I will also finish all the books when/if they come out.

I wonder if maybe people who haven’t read the books enjoy it more, because of the surprise factor? I don’t know. My relationship with this show is complicated.

Scaachi: I mean, I imagine it’s hard to actually be surprised because so much of this show is “LET ME THROW SOME SHIT AT YOU AND SEE WHAT HAPPENS.” I gasped, for some reason, when Dragon Mom started talking about marrying, just because I am suuuuper excited for a Dragon Wedding. (Will people die at that wedding? Yes. Of course. What am I thinking.) But while a show like, say, Mad Men can offer some surprises like deaths or babies or abortions or whatever, this show doesn’t have that kind of plot. It’s staggering that anyone is alive anymore, with all the betraying and turning into stone and being eaten by fictional creatures.

Haley: That is true! The most surprising thing that Game of Thrones could do at this point is let Daenerys end up happily married, ruling over a peaceful sunny kingdom. (This will not happen.)

Your point is in line with something we talked about early in the season. I wonder if Game of Thrones has played all its chips too soon. The violence escalates, the sex escalates, the dragons get bigger, but how long is shock value sustainable? Or, perhaps more valid, once you train your viewer to expect a certain level of horrific surprise, do you lose the ability to ask them to sit through more procedural or contemplative moments?

Scaachi: What could they possibly accomplish at this point? I’ve only been watching for five episodes and already, I have some beheading/hanging/rape ennui with this show. Like, was there a scene where two vampires have sex in front of an open window in the middle of winter???

Haley: Vampires are basically the only thing Game of Thrones hasn’t tried yet. Maybe that’s where this is all going!

Scaachi: Before we go, I need you to explain one thing to me again. One last time.

What is the point of Jon Snow.

Like what is his deal.

And why do people like him?

He is a napkin with a mustard stain on it.

Haley: At the beginning of the series, GRRM led us to believe that Jon’s legitimate brother (remember, Jon is a bastard, that’s part of the reason he joined the Night’s Watch) was the hero we were all supposed to rally around. Then he got brutally murdered. Jon is one of the few characters left from the beginning of the series that still figures as a possible hero in all of this (Daenerys, Arya, and Tyrion seem to be the other major contenders). And Jon Snow is especially interesting because, though he is technically a bastard, it’s widely believed that when his true parentage is revealed, he will emerge as a contender for the Iron Throne. So, like Daenerys, he’s someone fans expect to eventually be tapped to potentially rule Westeros/save Westeros/make all of these hours of television-viewing and book-reading worth our while.

Plus he’s handsome. Although not, I guess, if you are into dudes with hair full of bedbugs.

Scaachi: Okay but if he’s supposed to be the interesting one or at least the one you’re rooting for, where does he get off being so booooooriiiiinnnnnnnngggggggguuuuuhhhhhhhh.

Haley: This is the contract we have made with this show, Scaachi. Things will be boring for a long time, but we are promised by a man with a beard that eventually they will be interesting.

Scaachi: You can’t trust men with beards, Haley. They’ll only break your heart.

A photograph of the writer.

SCAACHI KOUL was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. Her writing has appeared in The New Yorker, BuzzFeed NewsThe HairpinThe Globe and Mail and Jezebel. She is the author of One Day We’ll All Be Dead and None of This Will Matter.

A photo of the editor standing outside a house

Haley Cullingham is Hazlitt's editor-in-chief, and a senior editor at Strange Light and McClelland & Stewart. Books and pieces she's edited have won the Governor General's Literary Award, the Kobo Emerging Writer Award, and several National Magazine Awards. She is from Toronto.