My take on the season finale and the season in general...
Jon/Mance: I liked this scene for the most part. I liked the dialogue back and forth with Jon and Mance, the slight jabs Mance has for Jon (All your vows?) and even his perception that Jon may have come to assassinate him were well done. I do like Ciaran as an actor and you can see how comfortable he appears when delivering his lines.
No real problems with this scene, although it seems to me that Mance's original spiel to Jon wasn't just getting the Free Folk south of the Wall. It might be my memory but it could also be a detail that was just thrust upon us. It just kind of bothers me that Mance has had these small groups take on very dangerous tasks (having Tormund and his group scale the Wall and conduct merciless attacks on the smallfolk in order to goad the NW into coming out to fight them), yet, he knows the NW doesn't have that many men. Let's just say for example, what if Tormund's group had succeeded? Now you've killed all the Crows when your true goal was to stop the bleeding so to speak of the Free Folk and get south of the Wall. It presents problems. Even as it stands, Mance is placing a lot of expectations on the NW to have attacked them and then expects them to turn around and treat with him? That seems a bit of a stretch on Mance's part, but it's a small detail, but it's not so small as to be completely innocuous.
Jon/Mance/Stannis/Davos: A good scene for all intents. I liked the visuals of Stannis' Army riding in, that gave a nice epic feel to the scene. The dialogue was pretty good and I liked the exchanges between Mance and Stannis. I think it was also a nice initial exchange between Jon and Stannis. Us book-readers know the Jon and Stannis relationship is significant to the Wall's plot and there are a lot of good exchanges the two share so I'm hoping that the show continues that dynamic from the book. I'm anxious to see further interaction between these two, I think Kit and Stephen could have some really good scenes together.
Cersei/Qyburn/Pycelle: I liked this scene too, I appreciated how the show is keeping the conflict between Pycelle and Qyburn as far as the differences in their medical opinions and showing the audience that even among the more knowledgeable seniors there's stark differences of opinion. Pycelle is saying there's nothing to be done but to ease Gregor's passing, but Qyburn's like; ahhh not just yet, I have a couple of tricks yet. I also like Cersei's continued disdain for Pycelle and that Pycelle's power/authority is being severely diminished. I'm wondering, does the show decide to flesh this dynamic out more? Could Pycelle turn to the Citadel for perhaps some guidance or just report back to the Citadel what the current regime is doing with respect to the Maester's order? Would be a nice way for the Citadel story to get off the ground even if Pycelle is ultimately dismissed or ignored by the other Grand Maesters.
Cersei/Tywin: A good scene and it was nice to see the show keeping up with the small arcs that are out there that book readers are well aware of but show-only viewers might need some backstory on. The threat on Cersei's part was a bit surprising but not something I 'never expected'. I like that the show at least touches on the notion that Tywin had to have known about Jaime/Cersei or have been seriously deluding himself, I think that's important for non-book readers. I did have a small quibble about Cersei referencing the past 20 years, when in reality, Jaime and Cersei have been incestuous since around puberty isn't it, when they're caught by the septa and taken before Joanna? I realize that even with that information it's not particularly a certainty that Tywin would've been informed about it but it does seem a little bit of a stretch to think that he didn't know or had no clue, I guess it's supposed to show us how deluded he actually was. I really liked that line with Cersei too, well done and good acting by Lena and Charles. I did think this was a great scene though especially since this was an added scene, well done on the show's part.
Cersei/Jaime: Not a lot to this scene but I think it does help to tie back to the 'rape' scene back in Baelor's Sept and show us that as far as Cersei was concerned it wasn't technically a rape. I thought they should've kept to the original material to show Jaime's hypocritical stance about having sex in the LC office but not in Baelor's Sept, it really would've made the sex scene in front of Joff's dead body a lot clearer.
Dany: I think this was a good scene both in the dialogue and delivery. I know it serves the purpose of showing us that Dany is seeing the grey areas within her decisions and I like that she is still actually struggling with them. I like that she is still sticking to her guns and feels so strongly about slavery but I think it also shows that she's also now seeing some situations that she didn't necessarily predict. It felt like a "Duh" moment but I like that she gave him the solution of contracting with the former slave-owner (why wouldn't contracts or something similar be a natural transition from the Slave/Master dynamic?). As far as the Dragons and chaining them up, yea I knew it had to happen so it was a sad scene to watch and again as Aziz said, kudo's to the sound dept. for having such realistic sounds of anguish on the part of the dragons, it felt powerful. However, the other side of this moral quandary for her is; if she refuses to use the dragons as a display of power or as a tool of power then I feel it weakens her in ways. Aegon didn't conquer with Armies alone... I think eventually you have to employ the dragons or the power they have is wasted. I mean it's one thing to win a battle or a war with men only, it certainly says something on its own, no doubt. However, all things being equal, eventually you may stand across from an Army who has your number on any particular day, having those dragons in reserve or as the Vanguard is an Ace not many have, I think it's a huge mistake not to keep that ace handy and READY! But that's probably an argument for a later time, just mark my words now, you heard it here!
Aemon/NW: The funeral scene was a nice scene and I appreciated that they kept to the funeral rites from the books as well. The imagery of Mel looking at Jon through the fire was nicely done, a nice setup for their future interactions, I kind of wanted just one line from her to him, something like, Jon Snow... I have seen you in the fires... but there's time for that to happen still.
Jon/Tormund: A good scene by and large. My small quibble with the scene is Tormund in one breath saying the Dead can't hear you and in the next, saying Ygritte deserves a true Northern burial. Otherwise it was a well done scene, it's just these li'l writing discrepancies that don't go so well with the overall tenor of the person or with the scene itself that bother me. It's like did no one on the writing team see this and think to themselves, uhh that sounds like it'd be contradictory?
Bran/Co: I liked this scene for the most part. I didn't mind the way they changed this from books, since we knew Coldhands wasn't part of this it had to be changed somewhat. I thought it was all good except for the 'capability' of the so-called wights, they appear too intelligent and too capable and a lot different from the wights we've been introduced to already. Leaf tossing out fireballs or whatever they were seemed a little over the top too. I mean all that the scene accomplished could've been done without the wights being so agile and seemingly intelligent, just make it a larger force of shambling wights, etc... I mean the scene works ok, but I just think the deviation is unnecessary. Sad moment in losing Jojen and a really good acting job by Meera's actress.
Bloodraven/Bran: A decent scene but I agree with most that there should've have been a little more in terms of Bloodraven's appearance. I think the one red eye was the LEAST of what they should've made sure he had. The scene delivers the necessary information so I have no real problem with it but it felt to me that his appearance should've reflected his book appearance just a wee-bit more, a branch through a limb, the aged look, or the red-eye, very distinct physical characteristics, the dude appears like an older fella with a beard, I half thought, is that Billy Gibbons of ZZ-Top or David Lo Pan or...?
Brienne/Pod/Sandor/Arya: I thought this scene was well done. It's completely made-up as a divergence from the books but I really appreciated this scene and the acting/choreography was good. I liked how the fight devolved into a more of a brawl than a swordfight but I thought it was interesting too that they sort of show us a berserking Brienne towards the end. I thought that was an interesting dynamic and this is a case where in my opinion I think the show has done well. I'm not sure why some of the other divergences aren't as well done or seem to have enough attention paid to them to make them well done to me, there are several but I think they deserve praise for this scene. With respect to the podcast's discussion on this scene, I think it was important for Brienne's character to adhere to her Vow and in that sense not so out of the realm of reasonableness for Brienne to draw first on Sandor. I think too that this will help her resolve going forward, she was within inches of getting ahold of Arya and she slipped through her grasp. I mean Sandor has the right of it for the most part, no one in Arya's direct family is around, even if Brienne is to find the girls, where is she going to take them, beyond the vow, what can Brienne offer?
Tyrion/Jaime/Shae/Tywin/Varys: I thought this was a good scene, I know the lack of a Tysha reveal makes the scene a bit different but I still think it works pretty well. There's still a possibility that the show can do a Tysha reveal but it's likely that has been scrapped which does leave the way Tyrion feels about Jaime a bit off from the books but that's probably not a big enough change or omission to cause any issues. As far as Shae/Tyrion, I think the scene makes it look more justifiable for Tyrion to murder Shae since she went for a knife but us book-readers know it wasn't self-defense, just a minor issue in my view. The part of the scene with Tywin was well done, I think they're the show's two best actors but I felt it was well done, acting, expressions, all of it. I totally agree that Tyrion didn't need any-more reason to want to kill Tywin, I know the lack of Tysha reveal makes the whole "whore" issue a little muddier, but even without the Tysha reveal Tyrion had plenty to be upset about. Tywin gave Tyrion shit in his War Council and put him in the Vanguard before naming Tyrion the Hand and sending him to King's Landing. Tywin told Tyrion he had no right to Casterly Rock, gave him no credit for the Battle of the Blackwater, aside from going to war for him when he was captive in the Vale and naming him acting Hand, he's done nothing but put him down. He's a Lannister... yet being a Lannister isn't good enough to keep him from being wrongfully accused of murdering the King, Tywin's hypocrisy was enough for Tyrion. I liked that Varys had thoughts of heading back to the Red Keep but after hearing the bells decides, nah I think I'm up for a boat-ride... It is interesting though, how does this affect (if at all) Varys in the next season with respect to his interactions with Pycelle and Kevan?
Arya/Captain: Pretty straightforward scene, good dialogue and acting. I liked the actor's facial expression at hearing Valar Morghulis and his response was equally as good. I do think I agree with Aziz in that there's still time for the crew to learn Arya's name...
It would've made for some good lines within the scene but I'm not sure how much setup it would've needed, would show-only viewers have gotten the meaning from the information they have about Faceless Men to this point? I think they need some setup for the impact to be delivered adequately.
Overall, I thought it was a great season. I may have to wait until the whole thing is done to see how certain story-arcs are carried forward or left, etc, but there were a lot of characters I was hoping to get some information on during this season but got none. If anything, my main criticisms of the show aren't so much about the changes they do it's how they're done or to what detail they're done. Most of the time I don't mind the changes but there are a lot of subtle changes too and some of those could be done better in my humble opinion, like Ashaya has pointed out, why change a character from Female to Male from book to show when that particular minor character doesn't even have a line!? Some changes that are made seem like busy-work for no particular reason at all and I think that does a disservice to the show and the original work which is what this adaptation is based on. Hopefully they review some of the things that worked as far as changes go and some of things that didn't work and do better going forward, I just hate seeing good shows make some of the same mistakes several times over.
Edd, fetch me a block.