Here’s my ranking of the episodes in Game of Thrones: Season 5 (so far, of course). Feel free to comment with thoughts and/or criticisms! Would love to see what others think. Links to my full reviews of each episode are under each description. Enjoy!
10. Kill the Boy
Really strong material for Jon Snow, who must “kill the boy” and tries to maneuver around the Night’s Watch-wildling animosity and form a lasting peace between the two camps. Tyrion and Jorah’s exciting and just frickin’ beautiful trip through Valyria was a solid end to the episode.
However, I can’t get behind the important decisions Daenerys makes with such little buildup (burning the possibly innocent Maester and marrying Hizdahr). And while Winterfell had some strong moments, focusing on such a despicable character like Ramsay Bolton for so long weighed down the episode for me. We missed out on so many characters in this episode, and the material with the few characters we did get didn’t always hit it out of the park.
9. The Wars to Come
A very solid start to the season. Some of the storylines start off with a lot of promise, like those concerning Daenerys and Tyrion. In some areas, the storylines haven’t quite started as of yet – namely the King’s Landing intrigue, Brienne’s journey and whatever Littlefinger has planned for Sansa.
What elevates this episode above many previous premieres are the scenes at the Wall. The slower pace provided Jon Snow and Mance Rayder with a nice and long last meeting, a powerful and emotional moment. The death of Mance Rayder was perfectly executed and acted, and provided Jon Snow with a strong character moment when he defies Stannis by mercy-killing Mance. The scene provided a wonderful sendoff to a great character and gave the hour as a whole a level of satisfaction and resolution rarely found in early setup episodes.
8. High Sparrow
Although the plot is still stubbornly unwilling to move by the end of the third episode of the season, there were very strong emotional moments back-to-back-to-back in this hour. Arya struggles with departing from Needle, Jon’s gift to her; Brienne discusses why she served Renly in a rare moment of vulnerability; Reek actively avoids having to confront Sansa, who in turn struggles with Littlefinger’s plan to marry her into the hated Bolton family; and Tyrion realizes he can’t sleep with a prostitute, still carrying all the baggage from his relationship with Shae. We also get some interesting material in King’s Landing, as Margaery manipulates Tommen and Cersei meets a possible new ally in the High Sparrow. Overall, it’s a consistently strong episode that doesn’t move the plot forward much, at a time when I was hoping for a bit more momentum.
7. Mother’s Mercy
There are some truly great sequences in this episode – Cersei’s Walk of Shame, Stannis’s last stand, the Night’s Watch mutiny – but elsewhere, storylines ended in cliffhangers, saving the resolutions to Season 5 storylines to be explored later. Examples of some of the more annoying dangling threads include the trial for the Tyrells, the conflict with the Sons of the Harpy, and Arya Stark’s training at the House of Black and White. Even Jon Snow’s death doesn’t feel as impactful as it should, since his ultimate fate (despite clearly dying) is so uncertain. The lack of real resolutions to so many of the storylines makes this an overall unsatisfying finale, elevated by a handful of incredibly strong moments.
6. The Dance of Dragons
A somewhat controversial slot, since this was one of the “Epic 9’s” that Game of Thrones is so famous for. I might place it higher later, but for me, the only obvious strength of the episode was the incredibly depressing sequence with Shireen, which was acted and directed perfectly, and the buildup to it featured some of the more emotional scenes of the season. I also liked the climax at Mereen, but it was hard to enjoy after Shireen’s depressing death, and despite it being the climax of the episode I’m not clear (as of yet) what the larger impact of the sequence is on the plot of the show.
The other third of the episode heavily featured some pretty unexciting buildup to Arya’s climax, and such an easy resolution in Dorne that everything Jaime struggled for this past season seemed useless. Some powerful stuff in this episode, but it was pretty uneven, and I don’t think its truly impressive scenes quite push the hour above this spot.
5. The House of Black and White
A great early episode that not only pushed storylines past their starting points (like with Cersei and Arya), but featured great scenes that made a big impact. I’m speaking specifically of Jon Snow’s election as Lord Commander (a powerful moment and one of the few hard-earned victories for a major protagonist) and Daenerys struggling with what to do with a captured Son of the Harpy and, later, a disobedient advisor. The conflict was compelling, and provided some of the most emotionally rich moments Daenerys has had in the season so far.
4. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
That’s right, I’m putting the controversial Episode 6 as one of the best episodes of the season. It featured great material for Arya when she gives the gift to a sick girl; it had the best Tyrion-Jorah scenes of the season, by far; and it brought great moments in King’s Landing with the arrival of Olenna Tyrell and Loras’s inquest. I would also say that the carefully directed, incredibly well acted rape scene is one of those disturbing-but-great-sequences on the show. Once again, how dark the world of Westeros is (especially for women) was made clear, and it was done in a way that was tasteful and heartbreaking.
One major sour note: the lame fight scene between Jaime and the Sand Snakes. It was what the storyline was building up to, and it was a brief, badly edited sequence that made no impact on the plot.
3. Sons of the Harpy
A really fun and entertaining episode that really got the ball rolling in several different storylines. Cersei makes her first major move by having an armed Faith Militant arrest Loras; Jaime and Bronn make it to Dorne, engrossed in great dialogue when they aren’t engrossed in exciting fight sequences; and the Sons of the Harpy make a more emotional impact this episode, taking the life of Barristan Selmy in what was a nice sendoff to a great minor character. Throw in Stannis’s heart-to-heart with his daughter, and you’ve got a pretty darn good episode.
2. The Gift
And imperfect episode that is still very, very good. There are some nice, character-driven moments that hit you in the gut, like Aemon Targaryen’s death, Cersei displaying her love for Tommen, and Jaime’s inability to do so with Myrcella. Mereen features some uneven material that builds up to a great moment, the first meeting of Tyrion and Daenerys. King’s Landing is the major highlight, though, featuring what are by far the best scenes with Jonathon Pryce’s High Sparrow, and ending with the arrest of Queen Cersei.
Strong moments for Sansa and Cersei, one of the best scenes of the season when Tyrion and Daenerys actually interact (still can’t believe that actually happened), and closing it all off with the massacre at Hardhome. Said massacre was by far the most exciting sequence of the season. It packed an emotional punch and made the looming threat of the White Walkers more real and more compelling than it ever had before. No scene in this episode was bad, and almost every one featured some of the strongest material for its respective storylines – a great episode.