There’s been a lot of controversy over “Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken”, the 6th episode of the 5th season of Game of Thrones. Many viewers were upset because something horrible happened to one of the major characters that reminded them over previous instances when this horror occurred on the show. Can’t the writers think of something besides that, they demanded. The previous times, the horror unfolded pretty much as it had happened in the books. This time, since the series has started to differ from the books in a big way, the horror is a development cooked up by the showrunners. (Differing from the books is a good decision, because if you’ve read Book 5, it’s a slog. Too many minor characters who are not real characters but expository devices; too much of Daenerys moping over Daario. That book makes you wonder if GRRM made a mistake in killing off all the really interesting characters.)
Game of Thrones is a show that delights in upsetting its audience and throwing them for a loop. However, those unpleasant events served not just to upset the viewers, but to move the story along. In this case the story was going there anyway, did they have to throw in that horror?
Our problem with episode 5.6 is not just that horror, which is not a big surprise because the current season has been building up to it. Our problem is that the episode was strangely flat and badly-paced. Momentous things happened, but the way they occurred seemed too casual and throwaway. Example: Jorah Mormont learns that his father the Old Bear is dead, but then the moment is forgotten. Game of Thrones has been consistently first-rate, so it’s almost shocking to see lazy filmmaking.
Ramsay Snow-Bolton has been built up as a cut-rate Joffrey Baratheon, but he’s not nearly as compelling. If you just wanted another Joffrey, you should’ve kept the original Joffrey.
The encounter between Jaime Lannister and Bronn and the Sand Snakes, which had promised to be one of the (non-book-based) highlights of the season, was a particular non-event. They’re all supposed to be terrific fighters, even if one of them is missing a hand, but the action scenes were a snore. Someone in that fight may have gotten a lethal dose of poison, but the significance is lost on non-readers (So that person better not die of the poison).
The horror that transpires at the end of that episode had better be for a reason. (We mean storytelling-wise, not “But these things always happen in Westeros”-wise.) Theon Greyjoy had better wake up from his Reek stupor and flay Ramsay Bolton alive since that’s the Bolton sigil anyway. Sansa had better stab Roose Bolton in the heart, take Walda back to her father and kill all the Freys. The people of the North had better rise up and overthrow the Boltons. Stannis Baratheon’s army had better show up and name Sansa Queen in the North. And when Littlefinger returns with an army from King’s Landing and the Vale, Winterfell had better crush them and Sansa cut off Littlefinger’s head.
These things will probably not happen, but all storytelling decisions have consequences and this is the payment for the horror.