So forty-some weeks of waiting have come to an end. Game of Thrones came back this week to near unprecedented hype for an HBO series. Maybe True Detective will top it but that’ll be hard to see. More so than carrying on with an epic fourth season, the fifth season premiere was tasked with living up to the hype. Fortunately, it more than lived up to what we hoped. In fact, you could call it a force to be reckoned with.
Spoiler Alert: I’m changing the spoiler rules for comments on the blog since we’re apparently starting to deviate quite heavily from the books. So from this point forward, there’s no book discussion. However, as always, this and any previous episode is open for discussion.
Let’s start the review with the start of the episode. Unlike the last four season premieres, this one didn’t have a cold open. It instead went straight to the intro and opened with a flashback of Cersei’s youth on the other side.
This little flashback could be a complete throwaway or an important tone setter for the rest of the episode depending on how you think about it. In the flashback, Cersei meets a witch who can see the future and tells her about her future in King’s Landing in pretty much the exact way we saw it play out without any of those pesky details.
You can take this scene one of two ways. It can either be a scene to establish that Cersei has always been a bit of a b*tch and that Tywin’s death is payback for all that she’s done over the last four seasons of the show to get us to where we are. The other way is that the message is that we have a choice to be bound by our pasts or define our own futures.
Maybe those interpretations are one and the same when you get down to it. Whether we look at recent events dictating the present or something of everyone being on a long predetermined path, maybe the message is that one can’t escape or change their fate. That would be fitting considering that no one has met a pleasant fate on this show yet.
Back to the episode, prior to The Wars to Come, the tenth episode of a season was the episode to deal with the fallout from the big events from the ninth episode and would set our course for the next year. The Wars to Come felt more like a traditional Game of Thrones season finale in some senses. It tied up the big plot points from The Children with Tywin and Mance Rayder while starting Tyrion, Varys, Sansa, Brienne and Pod on their new paths.
With a lot of major characters’ paths crossing in the fourth season finale, some were relegated to bit parts in bigger characters’ stories. For example, we spent a lot of time with Jon Snow but Stannis, Davos, Sam and Mance Rayder, who have previously had their own arcs, were just bit players in Jon’s story in this episode.
Jon might have started as one of the more dull characters on the show but there are a few different directions that he could go. He could end up leading the Night’s Watch but Stannis seems to think that Jon could be of more use allied to him given his connections with the Wildlings / Free Folk. Jon’s path seems destined to go from Ned Stark’s bastard to something greater but what greater is still to come.
The important thing to takeaway is that Jon is still trying to learn about the world. Thinking that Mance would be better off bending the knee to Stannis and pledging the Free Folk to help the Mannis take back the North in exchange for land was never going to fly. So Mance loses the Wildlings through death than a betrayal of his principles but can Jon keep them together for this purpose? Jon mercy killing Mance complicates an already intriguingly complex political situation in Castle Black for Stannis, the Wildlings and the Night’s Watch.
The political intrigue of the North comes on the heels of political intrigue in the South. With Tywin’s death, figurehead king Tommen Baratheon becomes vulnerable to anybody looking to make a claim on the realm. Going back to the flashback at the start of the episode, Cersei always wanted to be Queen but she never was the Queen. Robert ruled the roost when he was King. Joffrey had his moments in charge but under his and Tommen’s rule, it was the Tywin Lannister show. Then again, maybe she always was the Queen if the Queen’s role was to stay in the background and not rule.
To say that Cersei has always desired power might be a better way of putting it. The question is what she is willing to do to acquire and keep it. The next Hand of the King will be the most powerful person in Westeros. Can Cersei keep that post for herself or has the Tyrells’ change of events led them to Maggie’s end goal of being the Queen of Westeros in not just name but in authority too.
It’s hard to write about Cersei’s part in this episode because King’s Landing got the least time in this week’s episode. Coming in with the second least is was the new buddy comedy duo of Tyrion and Varys, complete with drinking, puking and toilet humour.
In a way, what Tyrion and Varys are up to isn’t any different from their time in Westeros. In the grand scheme of things, Tyrion and Varys were never out to rule Westeros but to save Westeros in their own ways. It just so happens that they’re now working together as powerful political consultants for hire to the next would-be King of the Andals and the First Men, Lord of the Seven Kingdoms and Protector of the Realm.
The dynamic between Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill has always bordered on magical but it seems as though it’s found a new level here. They just play off each other so well that you wouldn’t be too surprised if the pair spend their time off-camera drinking in bars in Croatia. Okay, I’m sure most of the cast does that but these two seem like those two guys who sit in the back of the bar, shooting the sh*t like Norm and Cliff.
Regardless of where in Essos the adventures of Tyrion and Varys take us, this is where the future of the Seven Kingdoms will be determined. If they can make Dany into a proper Lord of the Seven Kingdoms, they’ll find someone else to turn into the future of the realm.
And there’s Dany… Oh, Dany… At the end of last season, I wrote:
“The problem is that Dany does so many dumb things, you can’t help but not care about her problems. I wouldn’t be heartbroken if the dragons turned on her and we could see if being the Unburnt also included dragon fire.”
Wouldn’t you know it? I feel the exact same way after watching this episode. Dany looked easily persuaded in her dealings with Daario and weak when faced with her angry dragons. Say what you will about Jorah but even though he wanted to get her to bed too, his sound advice wasn’t a product of wanting to get her into bed as a quick fling. Dany keeps putting her trust in the wrong places and it’s making her look terrible,
Then it becomes a matter of whether this is a problem with the writing or whether this is intentional. With Varys manipulating matters behind the scenes since before the start of the show, one wonders if he and Tyrion eventually catch up with Dany and save her from herself. If that’s the long game, it makes sense to portray Dany this way. For now, she can neither keep the high-born in check nor gain the love of the small-folk.
Overall, this was a great start to the season. A lot of friends of mine who watch Game of Thrones were looking for something more from this episode but I thought it was a fantastic way to start a new season and a series of new adventures. Now, it wasn’t a blockbuster episode but we can’t get to Episode Nine of a season without going through the first eight.
Other random points of note:
- An acquaintance sends me a text mid-show: “Tyrion drinking and puking and drinking some more reminds me of Saturday nights with your cousin.” I’m the guy that wants to be a video games writer/blogger and I’m the sane one.
- “He swings a sword like a girl with palsy.” Will we get a better line this season? Also, does anyone actually feel sorry for Robin Arryn?
- While there wasn’t much of Sansa and Littlefinger this week, aren’t they just awesome? I get the feeling that we won’t get nearly enough time with them this year and that’ll be a shame. I wouldn’t have said that twelve months ago.
- Brienne and Pod #TrueDetectiveSeason3… Wait. Are we still doing that or is there some other gimmick people are doing?
Next week, things go from bad to worse for Cersei. Dorne gets into the thick of things with a message sent to Cersei and the first appearance of Dr. Julian Bashir (AKA Alexander Siddig). And Arya makes her first appearance of the season as she carries on her voyage from last season in The House of Black and White.