Historically, Game of Thrones has never gone all out in their Season finales. Ned Stark's beheading, the battle of the Blackwater and the Red Wedding all occurred in episode 9 of their respective season. Episode 10 is usually reserved as a kind of wind down, with the series taking a measured approach to what comes next. Game of Thrones Season 5 has been breaking that tradition, smashing through plot points with glee, and if this promo for Sunday's season finale is anything to go by, we could be in for a climactic finish!
It seems this finale has much to follow through on, for Season 5 of Game of Thrones could turn out to be the most controversial and contentious yet. First there was egregious and indulgent scene involving Sansa Stark's wedding night, followed by last week's horrific and cruel burning of Shireen Baratheon that left many fans just downright upset rather than engaged. This preview seems to emphasize the apparent benefit of this act of cruelty, showing Stannis' siege of Winterfell going ahead, but I think there's a deeper reason for the general accosting of the audience that's been going on in Season 5.
Fans heralded the series as almost a new form of storytelling in and of itself upon the Red Wedding episode. The way it violated our expectations very nearly expanded the minds of TV audiences everywhere. Suddenly everything was possible, and Game of Thrones has been chasing that Red Wedding high ever since, for better or for worse.
What made the Red Wedding Work?
A quick look on Youtube at fans who were completely shocked (yet somehow knew ahead of time to film themselves) at the Red Wedding will suggest that it worked so well simply because people were upset to see characters like Robb and Catelyn Stark killed off so callously. That might not be the case, for the violence in the Red Wedding is directed more at narrative expectations than at the characters involved. Suddenly throwing away Robb, the story's hope for a traditional confrontation between good vs evil, shakes up what the viewer can be ready for, and leaves a giant gap in the narrative that we want to see filled.
Conversely, the burning of Shireen created no gap. Sure, it gets Stannis a little closer to taking Winterfell, though there were a hundred different ways that could have happened. The moment was a chunk of cruelty floating in a vacuum that the show runners knew would provoke the audience. If you boil it down to "we don't like seeing nice characters die", then sure, it's just like the Red Wedding, but Game of Thrones seems to be confusing the ideas of displeasure as a viewer with a displeasure as a human being. It's one thing to upset a person because their favorite show isn't going how they wanted it to. It's another to simply show them something that all people are conditioned to feel disgust towards.
I should imagine that book readers are most angered by the most recent episode, given that Stannis' character is malformed beyond recognition, and changes to Martin's original stories are seemingly being made for giggles. There are still a few choice moments from the books that the final episode of Season 5 could use to shock newcomers and please book readers just like in the good old days.
Cersei's walk of shame
I was unsure if this scene would make it into the show, as it all seems a little drawn out for an actress with the clout of Lena Heady, and some other trial could easily be put in it's place. Set photos from filming in Croatia seem to confirm that, as has increasingly been the case with Game of Thrones, the show is going full force in adapting the scene where Cersei is made to repent for her sins by walking naked through the streets of King's Landing while being accosted by peasants. It's an arduous point in Cersei's arc that's rich in self-loathing and regret.
Book fans will no doubt be pleased if this scene is used to cap off Season 5. Knowing the current trends in Game of Thrones, she'll also be made to pull out her own fingernails just to add that extra shock-factor.
So here's the big one. Last chance to back out if you don't want anything spoiled. One Mississippi... two Mississ- ah screw it. It says Jon Snow right there! So the finale to Game of Thrones Season 5 may or may not end with Jon Snow stabbed to death by his fellow brothers of the Night's Watch. It's left somewhat ambiguous in the books, because George RR Martin wanted to leave readers with a cliff hanger. I don't know where he got that idea. Perhaps he'd started watching HBO's hit show, Game of Thrones! There are a few possibilities to how this will turn out in the upcoming finale. Jon might be absolutely fine, and any possibility of betrayal will be- no who am I kidding? David Benioff and DB Weiss read possibilities to shock viewers and they start slavering. Of course they're going ahead with this!
What could happen with Jon Snow's maybe-not-really-but-probably death is that the show uses it as the first chance to overtake the books. Perhaps we will see conclusively what Jon's fate will be, likely cold unforgiving death in the snow, but not before he sees Rickon show up for some reason only to get gored by a mammoth. My best guess is that Game of Thrones will play this moment almost exactly like the books, having Jon's fate be almost final, but just ambiguous enough to keep fans around for another year.