Game of Thrones

Since I first started watching “Game of Thrones,” I have marveled at how completely it has captured my attention despite being filled with contemptible souls. Indeed, it may well be that no other TV series has ever had quite so many individual characters who routinely do things to make you hate them while simultaneously remaining a can’t-miss hour of programming. One thing that makes this show so compelling is its defiance of the fantasy/adventure formula. The hero does not always get the girl in the end, and in fact are lucky if they get to keep their heads. Indeed, the extent to which the bad guys win on this show is hardly the stuff of fairy tales. Viewers tuning in for the first time… unless they read George R.R. Martin’s “A Song of Ice and Fire” books… may not have been expecting that, but surely they have come to anticipate it since the ninth episode of Season 1. That episode, entitled “Baelor,” left an empty feeling in the pits of many stomachs when *SPOILER* (?) the supposed series lead Sean Bean added another on-screen death to his already long list. Since that time, the penultimate episode in a season of “Game of Thrones” has been looked upon with a certain sense of dread, because that’s when something uniquely earth-shattering always occurs. Whether it be an adrenaline rush on a scale of epic proportions or a severe punch to the gut, it would appear that the ninth out of ten episodes in a given season of “Game of Thrones” is always destined to deliver the hardest blow.

While most any other TV show would be grateful to have a string of ten episodes like the current year of “Game of Thrones,” it is a sign of just how exceptional the series has been when it can be said that Season 5 has been the weakest of the lot, especially when compared to the magical fourth season. However, the last couple of weeks have really stepped things up a notch. As I said, Episode 9 always reveals something either epic or tragic. Seasons 2 and 4 each saw their ninth episodes focused on a single storyline (the only two times the show has done so), each resulting in major conflicts which were like something out a “Lord of the Rings” movie: intense yet immensely satisfying. Since last week’s “Hardhome” raised the bar in terms of jaw-dropping extended battle sequences, it was clear that whatever hack/slice/stab action was going to take place in last night’s “Dance of Dragons” was destined to take a backseat to a single moment of profound horror.

We should have known we were in for something terrible as soon as the opening credits had revealed its director to be David Nutter. Two years ago, Nutter tore viewers apart with the dreaded Red Wedding massacre in “The Rains of Castamere,” the ninth episode of Season 3. As much as “Hardhome” did to distinguish itself on one end of the spectrum, nothing in the time since the Red Wedding have we witnessed anything so singularly depressing. Last night’s episode came close, and it didn’t need a huge body count to do it.

Innocence, a regular staple of the fantasy genre, has been in short supply on “Game of Thrones” since its very beginning. Five years in, it’s essentially non-existent, and anyone who has displayed the slimmest shred of honor has not remained entirely unscathed. We’ve still one more episode left in this season, and indications are that all will not end well. But, then, you could say that of most any single hour of this series. Still the question remains: What will be left of our favorite characters after Sunday, June 14th, and what will become of them once the ninth episode of Season 6 runs them all through the wringer in 2016?

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