Past the Popcorn provides South King Media with exclusive reviews of Theatrical and Home Video entertainment. We aim to dig just a little deeper than the surface of what we watch.

The midpoint of the series, Season 5 of Thrones is the most philosophically interesting of them all as, for now, the larger power struggles have abated temporarily and each ruling party has consolidated power and rules with a fragile peace over their domains. By now Game of Thrones has covered the topics of Machiavellian politics, human sexuality, social hierarchies, crime and punishment, regime change, slavery, political corruption, civil war, the affirmation of women, and the afflictions of the ostracized. Now it introduces two more: religion in government, and insurgency.

In Westeros religion has always been a meaningful but secondary factor in the game of thrones. Now it rears its smirking head to charge fully for the seat of power. No longer queen, power-hungry Cersei eagerly seeks a way to regain her control over Kings Landing and unwittingly marries church and state together, unleashing fanatical zealots over the city who gleefully and violently impose their puritanical ways over everyone–banning one thing or the other and starting religious inquisitions. It’s a power move that mimics the real world, as with all the other themes that GoT covers.

It was inevitable that the power of religion would inevitably come into play. The religious zealots are thugs who impose their will on everyone like the horrible fanatics they are, and in her ignorance Cersei never thought her own sins would catch up to her. Her comeuppance comes hard. As atonement she’s forced to walked shaven and naked through the city streets in a confoundingly heartbreaking scene. She more than deserves it; but the show’s power is in making you feel for those in pain.

Across the Narrow Sea Queen Daenerys faces the terror killings of the Sons of the Harpy: an insurgency group of slavers working in the shadows determined to end her reign. It’s the test of a ruler who has won but faces an invisible enemy as she begrudgingly compromises to reopen the gladiator pits to sate the minds of those against her. This results in another astonishing set piece as the Sons of the Harpy hijack the gladiator arena she attends and surrounds her to kill her. In comes flying Drogon to fry his mother’s enemies, and we see Daenerys finally take flight on a dragon for the first time. It’s a breathtaking moment.

But perhaps the most iconic sequence of S5 happens on the other side of the world. Beyond the Wall at a bay of refuge called Hardhome, Lord Commander Jon Snow leads an expedition to rescue the Wildings who lost the battle at the Wall. In his wisdom he now sees that the true enemy is the army of the dead coming for the living. Though the Night’s Watch hates the Wildings he puts himself above their prejudice to give them another chance at life and offers the Wildings refuge on ships brought to take them South.

Suddenly all hell breaks loose as the army of the dead appears out of nowhere to massacre all of the civilians escaping the bay. For a show that offers so many jaw-dropping moments, this took the prize for many. We’ve seen the dead attack before but now they are out in full force as we’ve never seem them, and it’s a slaughter. Hordes of unstoppable dead zombies attack, and after the massacre is over one of the most amazing showdowns occurs as battered and beaten Jon Snow slowly drifts off shore locking eyes with the Night King, the leader of the army of the dead.

Grade A.

As if you didn’t know, Season Five of Game of Thrones is available with your HBO Go subscription. You can also stream it from your favorite service for a small fee.

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