Into the Darkness

By  · Published on April 10th, 2015

It’s that overwhelming sense of dread.

If you’ve been watching Game of Thrones through its first four seasons and you haven’t learned to carry that sense of dread around with you as you anticipate new episodes, you probably haven’t been paying attention. Whether you are one of those people who read George R.R. Martin’s books or you’ve picked up the HBO show during its rise to the TV mountain top, you’ve no doubt learned that in Westeros, the night is dark and full of terrors. It’s what makes a show like Game of Thrones special: it doesn’t conform to the rules of traditional fantasy stories. It might not have a hero, the righteous are sometimes brutally murdered and even our most beloved characters have the capacity for doing terrible things. It is upon this bedrock of unpredictability that Thrones has built one of the most towering productions in television history, watched by the keen eyes of one of the most attentive fan bases the medium has ever known.

And here’s the fun part: Game of Thrones still has plenty of new tricks to show us. When its fifth season begins airing this weekend, we will be entering into a new space for the show. As creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have explained, the show continues to move further away from Martin’s books, most notably because there aren’t any more books just yet and the show must go on. This behemoth waits for no man, even its own creator. For the audience, this scenario has created a lot of anxiety. We’re about to find out some things about the medieval world of Westeros that no one knows, not even your smug friend who read all the books and trolls all the message boards. For some, this means future books being spoiled and narrative diversions crowding a potentially disastrous future. For others, it’s an exciting venture into the unknown.

I’m here to tell you that season five will be the most exciting season of Game of Thrones yet, and it’s all because of what we don’t know.

What follows is what I know, having perused the first few episodes of the upcoming season. Don’t worry, this isn’t about ruining anything. So there will be no spoilers, not from the books or the upcoming season of the show. We are together at the edge of a dark forrest, about to venture out into the cold and brutal night. The details of what comes next in Game of Thrones aren’t quite as important at this point. What matters is tone and trust.

Season 4 of Game of Thrones was shot out of a cannon, with the season’s first major death and the introduction of the electric new character Oberyn Martell in the first two episodes. Season 5 is a little different. It’s a slow burn. Much like seasons 2 or 3, this year is going to need some time to move pieces into place and set up a few things before all the dominos begin to fall.

The slow burn is okay, as numerous characters still have a lot to learn. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and the Night’s Watch successfully defeated the Wildlings with the help of Stannis and his army. But how will the post-battle dynamic shake-out? Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) still sits on the throne in Meereen, but she’s locked away her dragons and the former slave masters are becoming restless. Other old faces are traveling to completely new places – Arya (Maisie Williams) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), to be specific – in search of new friends and new paths. And of course, there will be new faces. New games are afoot in Dorne, the homeland of the unfortunately deceased Prince Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), and a new group of religious fanatics has come to King’s Landing to make things interesting for the Lannister clan that remains.

Don’t worry, though. There’s still plenty of death and destruction, even in the setup. But the tone-setting is what remains most important early in season 5. This will be a season not just for the audience to learn new things. There are characters that will also need to take their next steps in their journeys. As the show is quick to remind us, we the audience are not the only ones traveling off into the unknown.

With all of this uncharted territory, the most important thing for show creators Benioff and Weiss will be trust. They’ve spent four seasons shepherding a show that is very faithful to the books. They’ve made adjustments here and there – mostly for the sake of efficiency – and they’ve pulled it off brilliantly. They took a risky venture with a modest budget and turned it into a juggernaut. The casting, the writing, the selection of directors who bring out the best in the story and deliver stunning visuals, it’s all been part of building up this reserve of audience trust. In season 5, that trust will be put to the test and from what I’ve seen so far, there’s no reason to worry.

So hold on tight and trust in the Lords Benioff and Weiss, as we take this journey together into great unknown.

Note: For those who want to talk spoilers, please enjoy our Exploring Game of Thrones Fan Theories article and our piece about What Book Readers Will Learn from Game of Thrones Season 5. Our resident Game of Thrones expert (yours truly) will be blogging every episode this season as Game of Thrones Explained (our version of an FAQ following every episode) and I will continue to appear on the A Storm of Spoilers podcast with Dave Gonzales and Joanna Robinson every week. If you’re into spoilers, be sure to subscribe.

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)