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GAME OF THRONES Season 5 Review & Episode Scores

April 2, 2019

Game of Thrones Season 5 Review and Episode Scores

We are building toward a ranked list of every Game Of Thrones episode by combing through the series one season at a time. The episodes are broken down to a granular level. Each storyline within each episode received score from 1-5 in each of the following areas: Story, Worldbuilding, and Entertainment. The component scores were then combined and used as the basis for the Episode Scores. The series will continue all the way through the Season 7 Review, which can be expected around the time of the Season 8 debut. As you rewatch the show in preparation for the final season and re-listen to Binge Mode, you can also follow along here.

Previous Entries:

Introduction & Rationale

Season 1 Review

Season 2 Review

Season 3 Review

Season 4 Review

Without further ado…

From start to finish, Season 5 is an extraordinarily dark season, and for this series, that is no small feat. Though it wallows in a few unpalatable story arcs — Sansa’s plight and Stannis’s folly come to mind — it’s still a genuinely thrilling ten episodes of television. For every story arc that lingers a few episodes too long, there is another that keeps the season humming along. The saga of the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings continues to develop under the influence of Jon Snow. Cersei seeks an extreme solution to what, for most people, would amount to mundane family drama. Arya grapples with what it truly means to become “no one.” Dany learns that Meereen can’t be tamed in a day. Season Five carries the scent of stagnation at times, and a fouler stench at others, but like King’s Landing itself, the grandeur is still there, even when obscured by distracting smells.

[5.01] The Wars To Come

The Wars To Come Episode

Episode Score: 76

The Wars To Come is an aptly titled episode, as it lays the track for a number of major conflicts that will materialize in the next few episodes. Ironically, the episode, and therefore all of season five, begins with a flashback, a first for the series. Cersei remembers back to when she received a prophecy from Maggy the Frog as a child. The prophecy lends major insight to her behavior as an adult and recasts her insecurities in a new light. Also in King’s Landing, the Sparrows, a fiercely independent religious organization, make their presence known in King’s Landing, with the iron will of Tywin Lannister no longer running the capitol. Meanwhile, Dany is hard at work in Meereen, removing the oppressive Harpy statue from the city’s Great Pyramid, while a guerrilla resistance group, the Sons of the Harpy begin targeting her Unsullied soldiers in the streets. Up at the Wall, Stannis attempts to enlist the wildlings in his bid to take the Seven Kingdoms. Jon cannot talk Mance into fighting for Stannis, but spares him a fiery death at the hands of Melisandre. This ominous premier is loaded with tension and foreshadowing, and serves as an excellent primer for the wars to come in Season Five and beyond.

[5.02] The House Of Black And White

The House of Black and White Episode

Episode Score: 77

While Arya’s arrival in Braavos is arguably the biggest piece to fall into place in this episode, the signature location of The House Of Black And White seems to be Castle Black. Stannis offers to legitimize Jon as a Stark in exchange for a little direct support in the war. Shireen tutors Gilly. Jon is elected as the next Lord Commander of Night’s Watch. In King’s Landing, Cersei sends Jaime to Dorne to collect their daughter Myrcella, but feels her grasp on the capitol slipping, and her allies becoming sparse. Brienne is thrown into a bit of an existential crisis when she locates Sansa only for the young Lady Stark to refuse her services. Dany faces a crucial early juncture of her time Meereen, when her decision to execute a criminal ignites open warfare between the city’s factions and turns some of her allies against her. As for Arya? She has crossed the Narrow Sea and located the House of Black and White, only to discover that Jaqen isn’t exactly who she thought he was, and that she must become “no one” if she is to join the Faceless Men. A strong episode in its own right, The House Of Black And White, proves, just two episodes in, that Season Five is filled to the brim with intriguing entanglements.

[5.03] High Sparrow

High Sparrow Episode

Episode Score: 80

High Sparrow is an eventful episode that sends ripples throughout the rest of season, if not the series. In one of his first acts as Lord Commander, Jon beheads a defiant Janos Slynt. Arya ditches her possessions (mostly), thereby committing to her training as a Faceless Man. Jorah captures Tyrion in Volantis in hopes of returning to Dany’s good graces. In a twist, one that shocked the book readers, Littlefinger and Sansa arrive at Winterfell, now a Bolton stronghold, with Sansa to be married off to Ramsay (more on that in a few episodes). Finally, Cersei has an extreme overreaction to a slight from Margaery the day after the latter’s wedding night with Tommen. Cersei decides to stir things up by enabling the High Sparrow and his fanatical following. This is not an action packed episode, but every story line present in this installment is part of a crucial sequence of events, and makes for one of Season Five’s finest installments.

[5.04] Sons Of The Harpy

Sons Of The Harpy Episode

Episode Score: 74

In Sons Of The Harpy, Cersei’s internecine war against the Tyrells heats up when Ser Loras is arrested by the High Sparrow’s Faith Militant leading Tommen and Margaery to realize they have little recourse. In what might be the best sequence from this season’s much-maligned Dorne plot, Jaime and Bronn arrive in Dorne, with Oberyn’s bastard daughters, the Sand Snakes, hot on their trail. At Winterfell, Littlefinger attempts to reassure Sansa that she should be able to control Ramsay until Stannis arrives and removes the Boltons from power. In Meereen, Barristan Selmy treats Dany (and viewers) to a few sentimental details about the life of her long-deceased elder brother, Rhaegar, a controversial figure who died when she was an infant. After this key contribution, Selmy, along with Grey Worm and a gaggle of Unsullied, are left for dead after an ambush from the Sons of the Harpy. Though Sons Of The Harpy, lands in the middle of the pack as an episode, it does get to flaunt an increasingly rich confluence of narratives, and continues the fifth season’s apparent emphasis of expanding the world of the show in new and exciting ways.

[5.05] Kill The Boy

Kill the Boy Episode

Episode Score: 70

In some ways, Kill The Boy is a refreshingly focused episode, following a mere four story threads. This episode is a touching showcase for Maester Aemon at Castle Black, including a scene in which he tells a waffling Jon to “kill the boy and let the man be born.” Jon, following Aemon’s advice, publicly allies with Tormund and agrees to travel north, bring back the remaining wildlings, and allow them to pass south of the Wall. It’s a pivotal moment that, in more ways than one, seems to seal Jon’s fate. The episode’s second standout is Tyrion and Jorah’s voyage that takes a shortcut through old Valyria. Not only do the mist-shrouded ruins of the once great city make for a beautiful backdrop, the two travelers recite a poem together, and witness Drogon flying overhead. Unfortunately, they are also attacked by stone men, rage beasts afflicted by late-stage greyscale, which Jorah then contracts in the melee. As for what’s left, some healthy dragon action doesn’t quite save an otherwise middling sequence in Meereen that provides some entertainment value but much else. And at Winterfell, a jealous Myranda toys with Sansa, and Roose threatens Ramsay with news of another potential Bolton heir. Not a terrible hour by any stretch, and even transcendent at times, but Kill The Boy still lands among the lesser episodes for failing to consistently deliver in all the ways the best episodes do.

[5.06] Unbent, Unbowed, Unbroken

Unbowed Unbent Unbroken Episode

Episode Score: 70

Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken is probably the single most controversial episode Game Of Thrones has produced, and it might mostly have been avoided had the episode not lingered a few seconds too long. The scene in question, comes after Sansa and Ramsay’s wedding at Winterfell. We all know how terrible Ramsay is, and we all know how he was going to treat Sansa (very, very badly). Because of what we knew going in, the rape scene feels unnecessary, and the ickiness is worsened by the camera focusing on Theon’s pain rather than Sansa’s. Even more so than the season four scene between Jaime and Cersei, this scene shows genuinely questionable judgment on part of the showrunners. The final scene alone is enough to plummet Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken down into the bottom tier of episodes, but as with all episodes of Thrones, there are a number strong moments earlier in the episode that make the first 95% of the episode perfectly watchable. In Braavos, Arya progresses in her training to become “no one,” and outside Valyria, Tyrion’s quick thinking keeps him and Jorah on the road to Meereen, despite being captured by slavers. A scene in the bowels of the Great Sept of Baelor is easily the highlight. What begins as a perfunctory Holy inquest for Ser Loras, ends with the arrest of Queen Margaery at the hands of the Faith Militant. In her chilling, wordless glare at Lady Olenna, Cersei relishes the incident with wildfire-grade malice. This scene is one of the best the fifth season has on offer, even if the episode as a whole is weighed down by its deeply conflicted finale in Winterfell.

[5.07] The Gift

The Gift Episode

Episode Score: 68

The Gift is yet another conflicted mid-fifth-season episode, torn between the compelling and the gratuitous. The touching treatment of Maester Aemon’s death is arguably a highlight, though Gilly and Sam being attacked by a few unruly brothers afterward certainly isn’t. Sansa is confronted with more cruelty from Ramsay in a decent Winterfell sequence that probably plays worse than it might have if it weren’t following the events of Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken. Finally, there’s a goofy scene in Dorne in which Tyene Sand seduces Bronn while they await their fates behind bars. On the positive side of the ledger, is a check-in with Stannis, now in dire straits as he marches on Winterfell; and Tyrion, the primary “gift” mentioned in this episode’s title, finally arrives before Danaerys. Once again, the juiciest scene takes place in King’s Landing. The escalating tension in the capitol over the Faith Militant’s actions arguably reaches its fever pitch when Cersei herself is arrested after freely walking into the High Sparrow’s grasp. As rewarding as it is to see Cersei’s actions come back to bite her, her reckoning doesn’t save an otherwise mediocre Thrones episode.

[5.08] Hardhome

Hardhome Episode

Episode Score: 85

Hardhome enjoys an outsize reputation, and for good reason, bringing a revelatory sequence to life in the series’ most cinematic battle yet. Jon and Tormund’s trip far north to the wildling fort known as Hardhome takes on new urgency when his proposal to shelter the wildlings south of the Wall is interrupted by the full force of the Night King and his undead wight army. The action is sparkling, and reveals thrilling new truths about the White Walkers with great economy of storytelling. The gravity of this sequence is almost incaclulable, as Jon sails away from Hardhome a changed man, and with unique perspective on just what a war against the White Walkers really means for humanity. The Hardhome scenes are as good as anything the series had produced at the time, including previous single-setting episodes like Blackwater and The Watchers On The Wall. One disadvantage for Hardhome is that the indelible finale is only responsible for about half the episode’s run time, with the first half amounting to little more than a collection of check-in scenes. With the exception of the Hardhome incident, and the long-awaited first conversation between Dany and Tyrion, Hardhome is a surprisingly uneven episode. Fortunately, the good so heavily outweighs the bad that, any way you slice it, this is still one of the series’ very best episodes.

[5.09] The Dance Of Dragons

The Dance of Dragons Episode

Episode Score: 84

The outstanding Hardhome is followed by the almost-as-great The Dance Of Dragons, the fifth season’s penultimate episode. A brief check-in at the Wall shows Jon shepherding the surviving wildlings through the gates, to the ire of some of his brothers of the Watch. In Dorne, Prince Doran brokers an uneasy peace between Ellaria and Jaime. Arya puts her training on hold when she spots Meryn Trant accompanying Mace Tyrell in Braavos. This leads us to the primary talking points of the episode. The first is a triumphant bit of improvisation in Meereen, when Drogon comes to Dany’s aid as she is surrounded by the Sons of the Harpy at a tournament in Daznak’s Pit. The emergence of the Sons of the Harpy is visually striking and deeply unsettling, making Drogon’s intervention all the more cathartic. Her emergence from the fighting pit, soaring high on Drogon’s back has become one of the series’ greatest moments. On the other end of the spectrum, and perhaps even more potent, is Shireen’s horrific death at the hands of those who were supposed to protect her. After his forces were decimated by a midnight raid by the Boltons, Stannis relents to Melisandre, authorizing the red priestess to sacrifice his daughter. Shireen’s immolation rivals the Red Wedding as far as brutal character deaths go, and it might be even harder to sit through on re-watch. That it’s an example of masterful filmmaking might be the only consolation, mostly freeing it from the baggage of episodes like Breaker Of Chains, and Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

[5.10] Mother’s Mercy

Mother's Mercy Episode

Episode Score: 80

Even though season five cratered a bit in the middle, its finds its form at the end, and that includes the finale, Mother’s Mercy. The centerpiece, another scene that has taken on a life of its own in pop culture, is Cersei’s excruciating walk of atonement, naked through the streets of King’s Landing from the Sept of Baelor all the way to the Red Keep. As fun as it is to chant, “Shame!” this is an extraordinary scene, featuring a powerful performance from Lena Headey. When she finally reaches the Red Keep, feet bloodied, covered in whatever the good people of the capitol felt inclined to dump on her, you can sense her brokenness. It’s rock bottom for Cersei, and the final act of a season full of short-sighted and self-serving decision making. Arya reaches what is arguably her darkest nadir as well when she savagely murders Meryn Trant, and then for her disobedience, has her eyesight stripped away upon her return to the House of Black and White. In the north, Theon finally relocates a piece of his humanity and helps Sansa escape the Boltons, while Ramsay is out crushing Stannis’s futile invasion attempt. Stannis, wounded and alone after the battle, dies at Brienne’s hands, who at long last fulfills her promise of vengeance; and over in Dorne, Ellaria gives Myrcella “the long farewell,” indicating that there will be no peace with the Lannisters after all. And finally, Jon Snow, murdered by mutineers including Alliser Thorne and stupid little Olly, is left for dead in Castle Black’s courtyard as season finale’s credits roll. Jon’s is yet another heartbreaking death scene for a main character, even though it almost immediately spurred wild speculation about his potential resurrection. Jon’s death plays as another extremely deflating way for a hero to go out, at least within the confines of Mother’s Mercy. Well done.


Though Season 5 registers the lowest overall season score to date, it is not for lack of transcendent moments. There is a three episode stretch (Kill the Boy; Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken; The Gift), leading up to the instant classic Hardhome, during which the highest score is an even 70. In terms of episode scores, this is easily the toughest stretch of the series to date. And yet, these episodes comprise several memorable and wonderful bits. Jorah and Tyrion’s shortcut through Old Valyria, Loras’s Holy inquest, Maester Aemon’s passing, and Cersei’s comeuppance are a few cherry-highlights. These are great moments, and yet they are mired in some of the dourest hours of the show’s history. This triple-header is the fifth season in microcosm. For every Hardhome that elevates the art of television, there’s a Stark-Bolton wedding to make us pull our hair out. As the first four seasons have borne out, a preponderance of middling-or-worse story arcs will weigh down an episode’s scores not matter how good the highlights are. Not surprisingly, this means that a few exemplary episodes — Hardhome and The Dance of Dragons, for instance — do not ensure an elite season score. The gravity of the Hardhome sequence was immediately recognized as an all-timer and a game-changer for the series. While those scenes still hold up nicely, the episode as a whole had a surprisingly low score, falling well short of other instant classics, namely Blackwater and The Rains of Castamere. Difficult to accept perhaps… though upon further review I do feel that its score fairly represents the full collection of story lines in that episode. On a list of personal favorites, Hardhome may well climb a few slots, but by our rubric, it’s not quite a top-five episode. That possible bone of contention aside, the rest of the scores seem to pass the “eye test” with the ninth episode notching the second-best score, and High Sparrow and Mother’s Mercy coming after that. This hierarchy, and the general low-scoring of the season as a whole seem to be more-or-less in line with the fandom at large.


Season 5 Episode Averages:

— Episode Score= 76.09

— Story= 74.3

— Worldbuilding= 74.7

—Entertainment= 80

Hardhome emerges with the highest episode score of the season, with an 85.

Mother’s Mercy shame-walks to the highest Story score, with an 87.

The Dance of Dragons spreads its wings with the season’s highest Worldbuilding score, 84.

Season 5 Episodes Ranked By Episode Score

  1. [5.08] Hardhome (84.17)
  2. [5.09] The Dance of Dragons (83.33)
  3. [5.10] Mother’s Mercy (80)
  4. [5.03] High Sparrow (80)
  5. [5.02] The House of Black and White (76.92)
  6. [5.01] The Wars To Come (76)
  7. [5.04] Sons of the Harpy (73.33)
  8. [5.05] Kill the Boy (70)
  9. [5.06] Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken (69.33)
  10. [5.07] The Gift (67.78)

Season Scores Ranked (1-5)

  1. Season 4 (79.30)
  2. Season 3 (78.56)
  3. Season 1 (78.29)
  4. Season 2 (76.11)
  5. Season 5 (76.09)

Stay tuned for our review of Season 6, more episode rankings, and more Game Of Thrones stuff in general as we wait out the long winter that must pass before Season 8.

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