Daniel Schechter (Life of Crime) Talks David Benioff and D.B. Weiss’ Game of Thrones

A filmmaker travels to the Seven Kingdoms to assess the first half of Season 5 of HBO's epic series as it diverges from George R. R. Martin's books.

We’re halfway through the fifth season of my very favorite TV show, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and so it is time for my half-time report card.

It bums me to admit: this season’s been pretty disappointing so far. Especially after what may have been the best 10 episodes of any series I’ve ever seen last year, culminating with episode 410 (“The Children,” which the show’s creators, D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, felt was the best episode they’d ever made, and I’d have to agree). However, it seems the first five episodes so far this season have been all build-up… but to what purpose or payoffs, I do not yet know.

A possible explanation for this season’s slight drop-off may have something to do with the fact that the series has now essentially caught up with many of the characters’ storylines in George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire books and the creators are now going rogue. Though they are presumably doing this with guidance and inside information from Martin, major differences are nevertheless starting to appear.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, or perhaps my expectations of the show are impossibly high, but let’s check in and see who’s still alive and what they’ve got going on these days…. (And beware: spoilers ahead!)


Tyrion Lannister and Daenerys Targaryen
You need only look at this season’s poster to understand that after Tyrion Lannister’s epic patricide and escape from King’s Landing last season, he is now en route potentially to advise the possible future Queen of Westeros, Daenerys Targaryen, who currently resides across the Narrow Sea. Dany (as friends and lazy typists call her) meanwhile continues her struggle to rule over the frustrating, boring butthole city of Meereen, where she has freed all the former slaves and continues to learn the hard way that Queening is no picnic.

This is now the third season of watching Dany heed or ignore her wise council while reigning over the assholes of Slaver’s Bay. While, yeah, it’s extremely admirable that she doesn’t wish to see the people she’s freed slide back into slavery while she and her army of Unsullied and Second Sons conquer the Seven Kingdoms… it is also not that satisfying and doesn’t give one the sense that the story is moving forward. Her arc over the first two seasons alone brought her from submissive, abused sister to Khaleesi, to the Mother of Dragons and Queen of the Andals, and now to the Breaker of Chains… but while the politics of Meereen are interesting, Tyrion Lannister can’t get there soon enough for my liking.


Cersei and Jaime Lannister
This is clearly Cersei’s season. Episode 501, “The Wars to Come,” began with a flashback to Cersei’s youth (the first flashback in the series), in which she hears a prophecy that all three of her children shall wear golden shrouds and a young queen will take her power. With one son already in the ground, one daughter living in a deadly foreign country and another young son-king who really seems to enjoy getting it on with his smoking-hot, manipulative new queen, it seems this prophecy might prove pretty damn accurate. Cersei is not someone who easily concedes power or admits defeat, and now she has decided to send her one-handed brother/lover Jaime on a secret mission to the land of Dorne, to rescue their hostage-daughter from those who would have her ripped apart and sent back to King’s Landing piece by piece.

Aside from some much-needed action this season, this storyline brings back my beloved Bronn! A wisecracking, no-bullshit sellsword, he was last seen selling his sword for good to Cersei, being granted a Lordship in Blackwater Bay and going off to marry the homely Lollys. I for one couldn’t be happier to have this character and actor (Jerome Flynn) back on the show, traveling not-so-incognito with Jaime to rescue Princess Myrcella in Dorne. (I mean, how cool was it when Jaime stopped that sword with his gold hand??) Apparently, none of this happens in the books (or at least not yet) so all kinds of shit may yet go down. And to my fellow Bronn/Jerome Flynn fans, check this out — he used to be a pop star!

03_Brienne Pod

Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne
Is there a better pair on the show right now? Not for my money. Perhaps the most goose-bumpy moment so far this season came in episode 504, when Brienne beautifully explained her loyalty to the former would-be King Renly. Afterwards she finally asks Pod, “Do you want to be a knight?” and without hesitation, he determinedly replies, “Yes.” That’s the very heart of the relationship: Brienne sees herself in Pod, an unlikely knight in need of someone to guide him, train him and believe in him. Both have unquestionable honor, and Pod’s intelligence perfectly complements Brienne’s courage.

Admittedly, as Pod points out, both Stark girls have now declined Brienne’s protection (which she vowed to their mother Catelyn she would give them), potentially freeing Brienne of her oath. A lot of these encounters don’t happen in the books either, which is even more frustrating. But as of the last episode, Brienne and Pod were stationed just outside of Winterfell, and it seems that Sansa may be more in need of protection than even she realizes….


Sansa Stark and Lord Petyr Baelish (aka Littlefinger)
In perhaps the best reveal of the season so far, Littlefinger and Sansa’s road-trip destination (“a land so far that even Cersei Lannister can’t get her hands on [Sansa]”) turns out to be a more fascinating, logical and terrifying place than I was capable of guessing. Lord Baelish has decided to use all his well-earned good favor with Sansa Stark, the young woman he mentors and seems to love, and has betrothed her to perhaps the only person in Westeros more terrifying than her previous suitor, Joffrey: the ruthless and sadistic former-bastard Ramsay Bolton, who now resides in Sansa’s conquered childhood home of Winterfell.

At first, this was a bit of a tough pill to swallow. Even Sansa makes the point that she can barely stomach the idea of marrying into the family that, for all intents and purposes, betrayed and murdered her brother Robb and mother Catelyn at the infamous Red Wedding. It’s impossible to know Littlefinger’s motives yet (especially since this also hasn’t happened in the books), but he seduces both Sansa and us, the audience, with the two best words uttered on the show so far this year: “Avenge them.”


Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon
A real bromance is happening up on the Wall between these two fine fellows and I am diggin’ it. Stannis sees an honorable leader in Jon Snow, and apparently, so did the rest of the Night’s Watch as they elected him Lord Commander! But these two have pretty rough roads ahead.

Stannis is about to reclaim the North, starting with Winterfell and those piece-of-shit Boltons, who have it coming. This season is doing a lot to make the least likable would-be king a pretty decent dude to root for. He’s shown Jon Snow a lot of respect, he told his daughter he loves her despite her weird face and even gave Samwell Tarly some props. I never thought I’d end up rooting for #TeamStannis, but this show has a way of making you love those you once hated.

As for Jon, in one of the best moments of the season so far, he unknowingly avenged his father, Eddard Stark, by beheading the man who betrayed Ned at King’s Landing: Janos Slynt. Now, after rebuffing the powerful and tiny-nippled Melisandre’s sexual advances, he’s off to an ever colder and more dangerous shithole in the North Beyond the Wall, to convince the wildlings to make peace with the Night’s Watch and the South. It took me three seasons to “get” Jon Snow. Admittedly, I was late to the party, but now I love the guy. Some may say he knows nothing, but I’d say he makes pretty dope calls.

Stuff That’s a Lil’ Weak Sauce This Season
Despite all these positives, a lot of the season just isn’t working for me. The Sand Snakes of Dorne, the bastard daughters of my beloved Oberyn Martell, fell really flat in their awkward introduction in episode 504. The religious leader High Sparrow (played by the always fantastic Jonathan Pryce) had a promising first scene but then went on a character-contradicting murder-spree once he was given the position of High Septon (more coming up on that power-move blowing up in Cersei’s face, I presume). Ser Barristan Selmy, a character who never worked quite as well on the show as he did in the books, was killed off in a disappointing manner while fighting the pesky Sons of the Harpy in Meereen. Annoyingly, it’s taken five episodes to convince Dany to open the fucking fighting pits already, which I felt Daario 2.0 made a pretty strong case for in 501. So far I’m not particularly fascinated by Arya’s adventures in Braavos, as every line uttered to her is some rhetorical riddle. And it seems this season is going to be about getting Tyrion (the show’s strongest character) from point A to point B.

With five episodes to go of the best show on television, I hope to eat my words. Can’t wait for Sunday.

Daniel Schechter is an indie filmmaker living in New York City. His micro-budget feature Supporting Characters is now available on iTunes and Netflix and his latest film, Life of Crime starring Jennifer Aniston, will be released on August 29th, 2014.