The 5th season of Game of Thrones has come and gone, leaving a trail of destruction and misery in its wake. To say that this season tested the patience and limits of its audience would be an understatement, as it often felt like each subsequent episode was trying to one-up the last in terms of what terrible predicaments it could throw its characters into. Sexual violence, child murder, and seemingly invincible villains were the status quo for season 5, resulting in arguably the most depressing season to date. These are the moments that stood out as the worst of the worst.
10. Ser Barristan Falls In A Street Brawl
While Barristan Selmy’s death felt like a calculated move to simply have something significant happen during the season’s slow-paced early episodes, it was still sad to see the old knight meet an unceremonious end at the hands of the Sons of the Harpy. To be fair, Barristan had kind of run out of things to do for awhile and eliminating him from the picture made Daenerys more vulnerable, but considering how endangered old, wizened characters seem to be on this show, Ser Barristan’s exit felt like a significant, yet largely unnecessary loss.
9. Everything In Dorne
Wearing out its welcome almost as quickly as it was introduced were the events set in Dorne, the southern kingdom that frequently felt like the season’s unwanted stepchild. Things started out promising enough, as Jaime enlisted Bronn to help him rescue his niece (daughter) Myrcella, setting up what looked to be a riveting team-up plot featuring two of the show’s more likable characters. Then they actually got to Dorne and it turned out to be a low budget sunshine state where it took multiple episodes for anything to happen. Jaime wrote letters. Bronn flirted with a woman who poisoned him in prison. The characters sit back and drink wine. This should have been a plot filled with suspense and tension, given the animosity between the Lannisters and the Martells, but it felt more like a chore every time we had to check-in with these characters. Speaking of which…
8. Kiss of Death
The season finale, “Mother’s Mercy”, had a dizzying array of notable character deaths and while it wasn’t the most tragic, Myrcella’s poisoning and apparent death was the first notable plot development to come out of the Dorne storyline. Unfortunately, in keeping with the theme of the season, that development had to come at the cost of yet another child’s death. At least there’s the silver lining of getting to see Cersei put on her infamous rage-face when she hears the news.
7. Stannis’s Last March
The internet was calling for Stannis’s head after the tragic events of season 5’s penultimate episode “The Dance of Dragons”, but his grim march towards death was still depressing to watch in spite of how fitting it was. Tragedy begot tragedy, as the slaying of his only child technically performed the miracle Stannis was hoping for (saving his army from winter storms) but it doomed the wannabe king in ways he couldn’t predict. From finding his wife hanging from a tree after taking her own life to discovering that his army was vastly outnumbered by the Boltons’, Stannis’s final moments were a classic case of false hubris and failed potential.
6. Ramsay Just Wont Die
Ramsay Snow — sorry, Ramsay Bolton — is the type of villain that makes you long for the days when Joffrey was the worst thing to ever happen to Westeros. The main problem with Ramsay is that he just seemed to get more unstoppable and depraved with each new episode this season; if he wasn’t raping his new wife repeatedly, he was inexplicably leading a midnight raid on Stannis’s army encampment with just “20 good men”. Ramsay truly became a cartoon villain this season and the fact that no one seems capable of killing him became a frustrating reality(the fact that he makes it out of the season unscathed means we’ll have to be subjected to more of him next year). He’s a completely one dimensional monster who it feels like we’ll never be rid of.
5. Cersei’s Walk of Shame
It seems hard to believe that anything could make Cersei a sympathetic character, but watching her be forced to march naked through the streets of King’s Landing somehow fits the bill. It’s easy to jump on the offensive when it comes to Cersei and claim that she, “had it coming”, but the reality is that for all her vile machinations, Cersei is still a character worthy of pity (just look at her brother Jaime, a prime example of a character who’s transitioned from villain to all-around decent bloke). Cersei definitely needed to pay for what she’s done and yet, parading her naked through the streets as she’s called various derogatory names and covered with excrement felt like a step too far. In this moment, Cersei’s plight became that of all the other women on the show and it’s hard not to feel depressed about how this show seems to mistreat every single one of its female characters.
4. Jorah’s Greyscale Infection
Jorah Mormont just can’t catch a break. Not only is he forced to wander in exile after being sent away by his queen, he has the misfortune of becoming infected with greyscale, the leprosy-like disease that is practically a death sentence in the show’s universe. Jorah is one of the last remaining warriors of the older generation left on the show and his death sentence basically guarantees that he will go out tragically. It’s even worse because by the season’s end, Jorah has just started to reintegrate himself into Dany’s good graces; it’s hard to imagine his presence will continue to be tolerated after it’s revealed that he has a contagious, fatal disease.
3. Sansa’s Wedding Night
Season 5 was notable for deviating from the source material more than any previous season, especially when it came to Sansa’s storyline. At first, this seemed like it might be a change made for the better, as the early episodes established a new, bolder Sansa who looked poised to make some sort of powerplay in the north. Then, the writing staff’s true intentions were revealed, as Sansa reverted right back to being a victim after she was married off to the infamously sadistic Ramsay. Sansa’s wedding night rape and subsequent sexual abuse (which thankfully occurs off-screen) represented the elder Stark daughter at her lowest point. Even worse, this storyline was given no firm resolution that perhaps could have justified its inclusion, as Sansa’s fate is left ambiguous by the season’s end.
2. Jon Snow’s Ides of March
Book readers had been dreading this moment for almost 4 years, yet watching Jon Snow meet a bloody end at the hands of his sworn brothers of the Night’s Watch didn’t go down any easier in the season 5 finale. Game of Thrones has forced its fans to put up with a lot of depressing character deaths, particularly the three members of the Stark family — the ostensible primary protagonists of the entire series — that have met especially gruesome ends in prior seasons. Even leading into the finale, there were numerous hints relating to Jon Snow as being the central hero of the entire series. From his probable connections to both the Targaryen and Stark bloodlines to his resolve to help turn back the White Walker menace, Jon Snow was the one remaining character to place our hopes in. Whether or not he truly is dead (and most fans believe he will come back), being a corpse at the beginning of season 6 kind of contradicts everything the show has been telling us about the character for the last five seasons.
1. Burnt At The Stake
Looking back now, it almost feels as if season 5 was written as an extended series of shock tactics designed to see how far it could push viewers’ limits for controversial content. There were many scenes that pushed that limit, but it was arguably the burning at the stake of Shireen Baratheon that finally broke the resolve of many. Not only did this decision ruin all the character development work that had been done with Stannis throughout the season — particularly his father-daughter bonding scene with Shireen that represented a momentary bright spot in a season filled with darkness and despair — it felt entirely calculated. Stannis’s subsequent defeat would have been more effective if he hadn’t murdered his daughter, as he would have gone out as a tragic hero. Instead, the entire Baratheon line was destroyed just so the writers could make a point about how “realistic” their show is in its no-holds-barred approach to violence, as if the previous four seasons hadn’t already shown this repeatedly.