I've really enjoyed Game of Thrones over the years. Dark, brooding, with a twisty-turny story and some incredible stars, it's premium TV at its best.
Or at least, it was.
Needless to say, spoilers follow.
I found the latest season, number five, to be completely underwhelming, with very little meaningful character development leading to long boring stretches punctuated by moments of violence that seem only there to wake us all up again. As the TV series starts to veer into territory not yet charted by George R. R. Martin's collection of books, it's setting a worrying precedent that seems to put shock value above considered storytelling.
Most worrying of all? It seems to be becoming gratuitously nasty, tasteless even – and I say this as someone who has previously defended the show at its most base. I won't discuss here Sansa Stark's demeaning treatment over series five – that's well documented elsewhere – other than to say it needlessly demoted another of the show's female characters from a growing position of power to one of violent male servitude.
What I will go into however was Cersei Lannister's "Walk of Shame", the snuff-like centrepiece to last night's finale. It was sickening to watch, and I don't think necessarily in the way the show's creators intended. Or at least I hope not – at this point I'm starting to think it may have been exactly how they wanted the scene to be received.
For a show that works in shades of grey, Cersei until now has been one of Game of Thrones' most clear-cut villains. Imprisoned during season five, last night's episode saw her season's story arc culminate in her punishment – a long, humiliating naked walk through a baying mob at King's Landing.
She's spat on, pelted with rotting vegetables and shit, swore at, flashed; the works. By the end of a scene that went on for a considerable length of time, she's left broken, her feet bleeding, covered in the literal and metaphorical bile of a people that despise her.
I'd go as far to say that the concept of the scene itself, within the context of the brutal Game of Thrones universe, is sound. Cersei is hated, punishments in Westeros are harsh – she probably would have been treated like that. But the way it was filmed fetishished the whole scenario – extended full-frontal nudity, shots that lingered on her breasts and rear. Gratuitous doesn't even cover it, a snuff scene for the masses.
It's hard to say what the intended response from the viewer was: to titillate? To inspire catharsis after Cersei's long list of horrible actions? Unlikely, thankfully, given how by the end of the scene we're encouraged to pity her.
If the brutal journey is one that is intended to end with the viewer feeling remorse, it's suggestive that we're expected to have found some sort of joy in the scene that preceded it, which just doesn't ring true either. Ultimately, it just felt like a mess of ill-advised direction.
The scene's ultimate goal is to show Cersei's pride destroyed, and so I propose a far simpler alternative shoot for her "Walk of Shame". Yes, disrobing her is appropriately humiliating for a fictional universe that thrives on brutality. Show it, briefly, to establish the punishment. But then focus on Cersei's face in one long, continuous head shot, showing her changing reactions as her pride turns to fear, to anger, sadness, and ultimately broken shame. Actress Lena Headey is incredible, and could have carried off such a challenging shot. You'd be left with a far more powerful and unambiguous scene, and one that wouldn't have left such a foul taste in my mouth, and I'm guessing many other Game of Thrones' lovers' mouths, too.
Series five of Game of Thrones has taken the show, for me, to a place I'm not sure I'm comfortable revisiting. I don't need a programme full of hope or levity. In fact, going by the films I watch and the books I read, I'm usually most fascinated by quite the opposite from fiction tonally. What I do require however is that a show considers thoroughly what it presents to its viewers before chasing a viral trending "#SoShockedGameOfThrones" hashtag spike.