The fifth season of Game of Thrones premieres this Sunday night on HBO, though if you're reading this I'm sure you don't need me to remind you. You've already set your DVR, sent out the Evite for your watch party, ordered the case of Ommengang Three Eyed Raven, and have the wild boar marinating in the fridge for your pre-show feast. And I'm not here to judge you. Game of Thrones is the most fun show on television, and it absolutely merits whatever ancillary activities you need to optimize your viewing experience.
When people tell me they can't get into Game of Thrones because they're turned off by fantasy, I genuinely pity them. Game of Thrones isn't fantasy. It's a game. Every episode is an hourlong series of dunks, fouls, hail marys, and other things that happen in sports. I don't watch Game of Thrones in the same way I watch, say, Mad Men (whose seasons have run concurrently with Thrones for the past few years and which serves as a perfect, if unintentional Sunday night chaser to the over-the-top hijinks going down in Westeros). I'm not looking to it for any deep insight on the human condition. Thrones isn't about its themes — family, power, oppression — though it weaves them together deftly in service of entertainment. It's about who's getting their head lopped off next and who will get the best oh-no-he-didn't one-liner of the week.
Game of Thrones isn't fantasy, It's sports
Over the past four seasons it was possible to have a leg up on some of these plays via George R. R. Martin's novels: an of almanac of sorts literally stolen from 2015. But now that the show is beginning to lap the books (and reportedly diverge from them dramatically) GoT the show is officially unpredictable. And this is where the true Game of Game of Thrones begins.
I assembled nine of my fellow Vergers to draft teams of six (five characters and one Special Teams faction) to see who will win this season of Game of Thrones. But winning means more than sitting in the Iron Throne or icing a bunch of ice zombies. It means dominating the season; being the MVP through a combination of screen time, quotable lines, killer outfits, and yes, bloodshed. Think of it as the NFL as scored by an Olympic figure skating judging panel. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die, but when you play the Game of Game of Thrones, you can also get points for style.
I'll post my in-depth, highly subjective scoring analysis every Monday throughout the season, but in the meantime, let's check out our lineups!
Bryan Bishop, Senior Entertainment Reporter
|S/T||The Lord of Light|
With the power of being first to pick in the draft, Bryan has made the intriguing choice of placing his bets far outside the Red Keep. He's split his power between Dany's crew in Essos (Daenerys Targaryen, Barristan Selmy) and the still-ripe potential for Melisandre and her Lord of Light to do some serious damage up north. Plus, with Ellaria Sand's taste for revenge in the wake of her lover's murder, and Davos' newfound literacy, this is truly a team to be reckoned with.
"The way to win the Game of Game of Thrones is simple: lead with fear. I don’t know what’s going to be more fun — watching the show, or watching this team decimate the competition. Of course, I probably should have read the books before the draft..."
Liz Lopatto, Science Editor
|4||Gregor "The Mountain" Clegane|
Like Bryan, Liz has chosen to arm her team with some of the most high-profile female players in the game; but rather than fire magic and dragons, she's chosen to rely on good old-fashioned feminine wiles and sass. She also made the strategic move to round out her lineup with some stone-cold killers who are sure to rack up some points in the body count column this season. Winter isn't quite here yet, so it remains to be seen what kind of damage those White Walkers will do, but all in all this is a deceptively diverse group.
"Listen: you can slay ... and you can slay. Two queens — Cersei and Margaery — both possessed of wicked wit, great hair, and fabulous gowns; and Olenna, who came here to chew gum, kill kings, and deliver sick fucking burns — and is currently out of gum. To paraphrase the Bard Minaj: you could be the king, but watch the queens conquer."
Casey Newton, Silicon Valley Editor
First, let's just get this out of the way: Casey's the only one with an actual sitting king (Tommen Baratheon) on his team. That said, it's going to take more than a golden crown to make a team lethal, and between the emo yet skilled sword-swinging of Jon Snow up north and the bottomless fountain of whispers and cunning that the recently relocated Varys boasts, there's a lot of potential here to rack up serious points. Plus, he's got a Bolton — the Bolton. They're always doing gross, mean shit, and just one flaying could be all it takes to secure victory this season.
"When you play the Game of Game of Thrones, it helps to have an ally on every side. My team is poised to dominate this season almost no matter who pulls ahead, whether it's King Tommen, Jon Snow and his Wildling friends, Daenerys (I picked her gal pal Missandei), or evil wedding planner Roose Bolton."
Adi Robertson, Senior Reporter
|2||Petyr "Littlefinger" Baelish|
|S/T||Random magic stuff|
Arya Stark was expected to be a hot first-round commodity this season, but the fact that she was only fourth pick this season has me already wondering if it will still be another year or so before she rises to her full potential. Luckily, Littlefinger is sure to be making some serious power moves up at the Eyrie after shoving his blushing bride Lysa Arryn out the moon door. The rest of this team is a little too stacked with wild cards for my complete ease of mind (fingers crossed we get more Yara this season), but with the admittedly poorly defined "Random magic stuff" in her special teams slot, Adi could be stacking up a lot of stray points this year, depending on how many unexplained animated skeletons we encounter.
"I'm not proud of it, but I'm the Sansa Stark of this game — naive and a little aimless, plus, I'm pretty sure she's never played a fantasy bracket before either. But I've got the master schemer Petyr Baelish on my side, along with slightly-less-master schemer Doran Martell. I'll be scooping up any free-floating magic, whatever that ends up meaning. Oh, and Arya Stark? The preteen murder machine who's faced off against some of Westeros' most dangerous players with only her wits, a sword, and a mysterious shapeshifting assassin? She's on there too. Incidentally."
Dieter Bohn, Executive Editor
Dieter has read all of the books and was one of the most aggressive players in our drafting process, and I'm frankly a little shaken by his picks. When he picked up Daario Naharis without hesitation in the first round, I didn't know if I was being low-key spoiled. Regardless, this is what a devout book-reader's lineup looks like going into season five. I feel like a helpless council member in King's Landing getting ravens from Essos about the steady build of Daenerys Targaryen's empire. I have no idea what's going on, but there are dragons, and that's enough to have me on my guard.
"In the Game of Game of Thrones, what team do you think you want to be on? I'll tell you what team. Team Dragons. That's how you win a war, friendo. That's how you secure a throne. But it also helps to have the three killingest killers in Westeros: Daario, Stannis, and Mance. I could say more about my team and how it's custom-designed to kill both White Walkers and Southron hordes, but instead I'll just remind you: I have dragons. Scepter Drop."
Chris Plante, Senior Editor
|S/T||The Faceless Men|
This is a team full of straight-up killers. If this was just about body count and ounces of stage blood being pumped out by the effects department, I'd say Chris had this season as locked as Tyrion in that box he just spent two months in crossing the Narrow Sea. But when it comes to wit, Bronn and Tyrion are the only real assets here, and again, the latter just spent a lot of time in a box. Might have dampened his spirits a bit. Still, those Sand Snakes have been looking pretty fierce in the style department, and there's very little that's more fun than a couple characters who can murder a bunch of dudes and do it with Dornish panache.
"You know that song 'Hey, Soul Sister' by Train? Well, my song is "Hey, Sand Sisters," and the only train I know is the Payne train — the Podrick Payne train. And have you heard of this Tyrion Lannister fellow? Oh, he's on the poster? With a dragon? Huh, interesting. Now sure, Bronn may not get as much screen time, and Podrick may not be a cold-blooded killer, but both strapping men should net me plenty points in the 'this scene may contain explicit nudity and depictions of sexual acts' department."
Ross Miller, Senior Editor
Any team that boasts the Kingslayer will undoubtedly see a lot of dastardly action, but Ross also happened to scoop up A) arguably the most sadistic individual in Westeros (Ramsay Bolton) and B) the most lovelorn (Jorah Mormont). I have no idea what Trystane Martell will be up to this season, but it seems like it's just a good idea in general to have a Martell on your roster this year. Plus, you can't go wrong with a direwolf for surprise bonus kills and/or adorability points.
"Violence speaks louder than words. How do you kill? Let me count the ways... With honor? That's Jaime Lannister. With cruelty and bloodlust? Ramsay Bolton. With the pain of unrequited love? Jorah Mormont. With no concern over sexy stuff because you lack the anatomy to do so? I've got an army of The Unsullied for ya. But even with all that, I still have a ghost dog. GHOST. DOG. Jon Snow's ferocious friend is so cool Jim Jarmusch made a movie about him in 1999 starring Forest Whitaker (very loosely based on the events of the novel). So no, I don't have charm, and in many ways my group lacks dignity. But I do have Ghost Dog."
Kwame Opam, News Editor
|1||Brienne of Tarth|
|S/T||The Sons of the Harpy|
I secretly really love this team. It's a dark horse assembly through and through, to be sure, but goddammit, it's got heart. I don't think the trust in Brienne as a first round pick is misplaced at all, and I may or may not have already seen the first two episodes of this season. Plus, perennial punchline and consummate mama's boy Robin Arryn just lost said mama — this may be his moment to come into his own. There are a few unknown entities here, including the mysterious Sons of the Harpy, who make their debut in the premiere. But the question marks are what make this team fun.
"You don't win the Game of Game of Thrones by brute force. You need strength, a mind for strategy, and patience to see some devious plans through. As far as strength is concerned, I have known KILLERS in Brienne of Tarth and Jaqen H'ghar. Sam "The Slayer" Tarley can take down White Walkers when he's not reading up on how to steal your Wildling wife. And Robin? You may not think much of him now, but the boy's an Arryn and has Littlefinger as an adoptive father. Watch him."
Arielle Duhaime-Ross, Reporter
|S/T||The Old Gods|
The bottom of the barrel are where dreams are made, and all respect to Arielle for cobbling together a truly awe-inspiring lineup that boasts not one, but two Nymerias. (Who knows where Nymeria the direwolf is, but I promise you, Arielle, if and when she makes her return, that's an automatic 100 point move.) And don't sleep on Sansa Stark, who's got a brand new look and a bad new attitude and surely has some surprises up her extra-long goth sleeves. I also haven't officially decided if there will be points awarded for teaching someone to read, but if so, poor little Shireen is going to kill it out there.
"I mostly picked randoms and characters that people aren’t sure they like — and I feel pretty good about that. I like to mix it up, and I want to be surprised. For example, I think Gilly could rule this season. She’s as resilient as they come. That said, I couldn’t bring myself to pick Theon / Reek. Dude has no game. None."