Game of Thrones: The team of the season
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What a season of Game of Thrones it has been.
Full of highs and lows, mostly lows - in fact, a season almost exclusively made up of lows, just crushing disappointment after crushing disappointment until you just wish Flanders was dead - but one that was, at least, never short on drama or controversy. Or stupid shit like a Starbucks coffee cup in shot.
From Arya Stark's last-gasp winner to send Winterfell United past the White Walkers in the final minute of stoppage time, to Jon Snow's repeated disasterclasses in 'How not to play a disciplined central midfield role', it's been chock-full of surprising performances, good and bad, fantastic and awful.
This is, however, undeniably the team of the season. These are the 11 players (as well as a few notable omissions) that, over the controversially shortened campaign and congested fixture schedule, left it all out there, fighting to the bitter, underwhelming end for their respective teams.
GK - The Mountain
Love him or hate him, The Mountain has been the outstanding defensive presence throughout Game of Thrones, letting absolutely nothing get past him and protecting the goal - which in his case isn't a goal at all but just a scowling alcoholic woman with a bowl cut - with an assuredness and calm rarely seen in the age of the eccentric sweeper keeper (see, for instance: all those rampaging giants from beyond the wall who were immediately cut down after recklessly charging upfield during matches).
Even more remarkable is the fact that, just like Gianluigi Buffon a few years ago, there was a moment when you wondered if his best years were behind him. I mean, you were wondering it because he was literally dead for a bit, and yet he still came back (with the help of some very, very questionable injections - UEFA investigation into the King's Landing physio team pending) and proved that there were still a few more stellar performances in him yet.
RB - Ser Davos Seaworth
Not the flashiest or most high-profile player, Ser Davos is still everything you'd ever want in a modern fullback.
A beacon of consistency, The Onion Knight is one of the only few solid characters GoT had left by the end of the final season and earned match ratings that never, ever dropped below a 7 - Flea Bottom's very own Javier Zanetti.
He will get up and down that right flank like absolutely nobody else in Westeros, thanks to his seemingly endless stamina honed through rowing a tiny wooden boat across the sea between Dragonstone and King's Landing far more times than seemed necessary.
There's a reason they call him the best smuggler in the land, after all. And if you get him on a football pitch with a license to overlap, there's only one thing he is smuggling.
No, not fermented crab meat that somehow works like viagra, but dangerous low crosses drilled into the corridor of uncertainty between the keeper and defenders in the for easy tap-ins in the six-yard box. Obviously. Obviously not the crab meat.
Don't let his northern accent trick you into thinking he isn't clued up on the expected goals analytics phenomenon either. Because he is. He very much knows what xG rating those kinds of balls produce.
LB - Jaime Lannister
The Kingslayer has shown remarkable positional versatility in recent seasons after a shocking, would-be career-ending injury that forced him to adapt to a new role on the left flank.
It took him a while and it was never easy, particularly given the strict individual training regime he was put on by his then fitness coach Ser Bronn of the Blackwater, but he came back an entirely new player.
Less flair and slightly more measured going forward, sure, but he no longer played as an individual, he played for those around him and overall, his increased willingness to integrate into his new team's philosophy paid dividends.
Bar a late season slip-up, when an extremely questionable off-the-field decision - abruptly leaving his club so he could return home and see his sister like a sort of weird, incestuous version of Neymar - threatened to overshadow his considerable development both as a wing-back and as a person.
He had a very good season overall and must be rewarded as such, despite threatening to fall back into bad habits at the end.
CB - Ser Brienne of Tarth
Will slot in left of centre due to her, er, 'chemistry' with the Kingslayer beside her.
Brienne of Tarth is an astounding physical presence but one who has all the tools to adapt as a centre-back in a team that plays an extremely high line. She's comfortable on the ball, dominant in the air and always times her tackles to perfection, even if she does also possess a questionable Harry Kane slick-back.
Being named in the Team of the Season caps off quite a year of personal accolades for Tarth, as she was also granted a knighthood for her performances in international tournaments, one step better than her lid inspiration, who only has an MBE to his name. Pathetic.
Fair play to her, she always represents her country impeccably and continues to set a great example to the younger generation coming through, famously mentoring members of the u-21 squad, such as the Stark sisters and Podrick Payne, long before they earned their call-ups to the senior side.
CB - Tormund Giantsbane
Doubts remain over his concentration - particularly when paired with Brienne, who he seems to think is a bear and therefore wants to shag - and professionalism, as he often ignores easy square passes down the left to Lannister whenever he is open, typically opting instead to clear the ball in to touch and go down feigning an injury, just so a physio can run on the pitch with some giant's breastmilk in a Lucozade Sport bottle for him.
Despite this, Tormund is the kind of natural leader every backline needs and, in a way, is Westeros' version of Carles Puyol due to his shaggy mane and full-blooded approach to the art of defending.
Not because Carles Puyol is sexually attracted to bears, which I am almost certain he isn't. Like I'm 99% sure.
CDM - Ser Jorah Mormont
Questions were asked of Ser Jorah's mentality when he made a controversial switch to the Essos First Division - widely considered an inferior standard to its Westeros counterpart - midway through his career.
He has, however, repeatedly demonstrated his quality as a holding midfielder whilst also overcoming the rare tropical disease 'Greyscale', which completely limits a player's speed and movement before eventually rendering them totally statuesque. If you needed an example of just how serious it is, take into consideration the fact that Nemanja Matic is only in the early stages of the affliction and runs like somebody waddling across the landing in search of more toilet paper.
The 40-year-old's legs had gone by the time he came back to Westeros this year and many fans weren't sure if the Winterfell club should have even offered the player a contract due to his age.
Once again though, he completely surpassed expectations and showed just what a classy operator he is sitting at the base of the midfield and distributing to the younger, more adventurous players around him, even if the habit of whispering 'Forza Khaleesi' to himself every time he wins a header does get a bit annoying for his teammates.
CM - Grey Worm (C)
Once considered too small and weak to make it professionally, Grey Worm has since completed an astonishing turnaround to become the de facto midfield enforcer in the Seven Kingdoms.
When he was a youth player, as well as being quite scrawny, he became trapped in a Chelsea-style loan system that forced him to play for Astapor (the Essos version of Vitesse) entirely against his wishes.
Daenerys snapped him up for free upon the mutual termination of his contract as she began attempting to rebuild her squad with minimal resources and, well, the rest is history.
He has been completely integral to her side ever since and has kept his place at the heart of the midfield, as well as the armband, even as more high-profile signings have been made.
He has also developed physically and, particularly this season, has begun showing a ruthlessness and 'win at all costs' Roy Keane/Graeme Souness-style mentality, demonstrated by his throwing of an incredibly late, off-the-ball spear to the face of one of the King's Landing guards, even after the whistle had blown.
Like Vincent Kompany, he will be sorely missed as he now finally leaves the team he has brought so much success to and joins an ambitious new project in Naath, where he will serve as player-manager.
CM - The Night King
Deserves a place for stellar work early in the season even if he was eventually found wanting on the biggest stage of all.
The Night King remains something of an enigma to pundits, with many criticising his unerring commitment to a gung-ho, all-out attack style of football that, typically, he leads from the back like a zombie Franz Beckenbauer.
Both his qualities as a leader and all-round ability on the field - mazy runs up the pitch, long distance missiles, wide range of passing - are undeniable, and he would thrive in a better team given a more structured role as a centre midfielder rather than sweeper.
Simply put: he needs better quality around him to truly thrive and earn the silverware that has been missing from an otherwise glittering career.
CAM - Qyburn
Still a master of invention and trickery even despite his age. As with Ser Jorah, the legs have gone but there is still a place for players like Qyburn - a true, old school 10 capable of unpicking any defence through craft and improvisation rather than brute force.
He isn't, however, the most physical player, as demonstrated by a recent 50/50 challenge with The Mountain, who came out to claim a cross, 'accidentally' brutally murdered the playmaker via severe brain injuries and then made the 'got the ball' symbol with his hands to the referee.
But give him licence to roam around his workshop, which on a football pitch is the half-space between fullbacks and central defenders, rather than the very concerning mad-scientist dungeon he often fills with young children, and don't expect too much tracking back in return, and he will create chance after chance after chance.
ST - Arya Stark
A quicksilver forward who causes havoc whenever she runs at defences, she also demonstrated through her individual heroics at the Battle of Winterfell that her finishing has improved drastically. She is now deadly when given even half an opportunity and has something of an early years Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima about her.
Once upon a time, she was like a Football Manager regen with mediocre stats and you were never really sure just how good Arya was going to be, even if your scouts did give her a 5-star potential rating. It was during a loan spell in the Essos second tier that she truly came into her own though, returning to Winterfell with an eye-watering goal record for Braavos Oyster Merchants.
Has proved the real deal ever since and will be the biggest talent available on the transfer market when she returns from her gap year, where she plans on attempting 'to find herself' by way of a bellybutton piercing, regrettable tattoo and harem trousers, no matter what bullshit she spouts about not knowing what is west of Westeros.
(Hint: It's the MLS, Arya. Don't go there, it will be the end of your career).
ST - The Hound
The Emile Heskey to Arya's Michael Owen, The Hound has an underwhelming goals to games ratio in recent years (he was far more prolific as a youngster) but has adapted his game perfectly to compliment Stark's pace and finishing.
The younger Clegane brother is almost impossible to play against when he gets his back to goal and a defender on his hip. It's due to his imposing size and strength but even so, he is far from a one-dimensional battering ram of a forward.
He has a shockingly good first touch, the kind of 'big lad in Reebok Classics at astro who can take a ball down from the sky like prime Dennis Bergkamp, for some reason' vibe, and will create space for his teammate with his intelligent movement off the ball.
One can't help but imagine what The Hound could have achieved he had been part of Sam Allardyce's 04/05 Bolton Wanderers side during his prime, rather than instead spending it serving as a personal bodyguard to the Lidl-brand Draco Malfoy, Joffrey Baratheon.
Looked a real threat early in the season, when he was playing as a trequartista with complete freedom in Cersei Lannister's otherwise defensively-orientated side, but completely lost his way after a few standout performances.
You simply can't rely on a player like Greyjoy: divisive in the dressing room, often doesn't live up to his considerable wage packet and will fluctuate wildly from one game to the next, from the most dangerous player on the pitch to completely and utterly ineffectual.
He remains somewhere between Mesut Ozil and a rugby union social secretary who has polished off four litres of cider and gone to a fancy dress party as Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, despite having never seen Pirates of the Caribbean.
Or knowing what a pirate is.
Another player that has flattered to deceive, Bran is a midfield orchestrator with unparalleled vision that has long since failed to live up to his own rather lofty expectations.
A complete passenger more often than not, pretty much since he lost his midfield water-carrier Hodor who used to play alongside him, it is unsurprising that he will now retire at an early age to start his coaching badges and work his way up the managerial ladder.
As he is a privileged white man, he doesn't need to move to a less reputable league and will instead be immediately handed the single best job available, despite being dangerously under-qualified.
Years on we will look back at his career-defining injury at the hands of Jaime Lannister, an off the ball shove that sent the young Stark crashing into advertising hoardings and crippled him permanently, and wonder just what might have been.
Just imagine a goth Juan Roman Riquelme. I honestly can't believe we were robbed of that.
The flamboyant attacking midfielder went out on a high this season, finally leaving behind all the controversy that has plagued her career: from attempting to drain an opposition players' blood using leeches to having her original birth certificate discovered and the footballing world realising that she is several hundred years older than she had been making out.
Despite this, her ability to create a moment of magic out of nothing has always been appreciated by the purists amongst us.
Ser Bronn of the Blackwater
A player sitting out a season due to ongoing contract disputes and excessive wage demands is never a good look, and so it proved with Bronn, who would surely have been guaranteed a place in the Team of the Season had he actually played some games rather than throwing his toys out the pram because he wanted a castle.
A completely waste, both for the fans and the box-to-box midfielder himself. But still nothing compared to this next guy.
Perhaps the most frustrating player of them all.
We know he has the talent but time and time again he makes extremely poor decisions on the ball and often goes wandering out of position in cinematic slow-motion montages, leaving his team completely exposed.
It appears that management has finally lost faith in a player once tipped to be the next big thing and a bit like Freddy Adu, who found himself in the Finnish Veikkausliiga a few years' back, he has now been cast into the wilderness to find himself a new club all over again.
His performances this season leave his reputation in tatters and it will be a surprise if anyone is willing to take a punt on Snow at this stage, seemingly too old to be coached into the player we once hoped he would be.
At least we won't have to look at his stupid, mopey face whenever he gives the ball away ever again.
At least now Freddy Adu won't feel like such a singular disappointment.