Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 1: “The Wars to Come” (Spoilers, obviously)

Everyone wants to know their future, until they know their future

In Australia, showcase is airing Game of Thrones at the same time as the US, which is great for those of us who are able to watch it at 11am on a Monday. For the next few weeks I’ll be writing mini reviews of the show (Jane the Virgin is still my number one Monday commitment, and I need to get this done before Mad Men starts). The difficulty of adapting such a well known series of books into what is now one of the most popular shows on television is that the books aren’t finished yet. To further complicate things, some of the storylines (both Sansa and Bran’s) have reached the end of the books, so we’re going into new territory with Sansa, and Bran isn’t going to be in the fifth season of the show. All of the pre air reviews I’ve read (by Todd VanDerWerff, Alan Sepinwall and Joshua Alston, as well as the Firewall and Iceberg podcast) have stated that moving further away from the books can only be to the show’s advantage, especially given that books four and five take place simultaneously, because Martin’s world had expanded so much there were too many characters to fit into the one book, and I tend to agree. I am a smug book reader, but I’ve only read each of the books once, so my book knowledge isn’t that great. On with the review, so I can go and read reviews written by people who are much smarter than me!

In A Feast for Crows, many of Cersei’s point of view chapters flash back to her going to see a fortune teller. At this stage, viewers don’t know why she’s going to see the witch other than that she wants to know if she’s going to marry the prince (although people who don’t read the books and are up on their Westerosi history could figure it out), and finds out she’s going to marry the king. The most important question for this stretch of the show is Cersei finding out that there’s going to be a younger and prettier queen in Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer). After the third book, we don’t get as much time with Margaery, so I’m glad that we’re seeing a bit more of her here, flirting with Tommen and interrupting her brother’s sex. Cersei now has much more pressing matters to attend to than Margaery, what with her father’s death (he was Hand of the King), and her cousin Lancel having become a sparrow (basically a monk) and trying to get her to repent for her sins. That’s one of the reasons we have the two minute ‘previously on’ segment, as Lancel has not appeared since the second season. Cersei took him as a lover after Jaime had been captured, and he was also Robert’s squire in the first season – he was responsible for drugging Robert’s wine that led to him being killed by a boar. But for once the most interesting plot isn’t at King’s Landing. It’s at Castle Black of all places.

The Night’s Watch and Jon Snow have often been two of the show’s weak points, so as Alan Sepinwall said in his podcast, I was very happy to have Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon improve each other’s storylines up a bit. One of the biggest problems with Game of Thrones (both the books and the show) is that everyone except Dany started in the same place, and now those that are still alive are all scattered across Westeros and Essos. I became much more interested in the Castle Black storyline once Stannis saved the Night’s Watch, and I’m glad to see it’s improving here. Stannis meets with Jon and proposes to take back Winterfell from Roose Bolton, but he needs a bigger army. As Jon said, the Night’s Watch doesn’t take part in the wars of the Seven Kingdoms, but Stannis wants the help of the wildlings, and their pledge of fealty. If Mance doesn’t ‘bend the knee’ (I love how the wildlings call Southerners ‘kneelers’), he’ll be burned alive as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. Which is what happens. Because Westeros is a monarchy, no one really understands that while they call Mance Rayder the King of the Wildlings, he’s more like the leader of a movement. They just want to be free, and the only reason he’s called King of the Wildlings is because Westerosi people have no concept of any other kind of government or ruler. He’s not a false king because he’s not a king at all. And yet he’s saved from burning alive because Jon Snow shows mercy by shooting him in the heart with an arrow. That’s what mercy is in this show.

The other three characters we follow in the season five premiere are Sansa, Tyrion and Dany. Tyrion has made it to Essos with Varys, and they’re at the estate of Illario Mopatys (the spelling may be incorrect there, I’m doing this from memory), whose estate appeared all the way back in “Winter is Coming,” because that’s where Daenerys and Viserys were living in exile before Dany married Khal Drogo. Varys gives Tyrion the option of going to Meereen to meet Dany or drinking himself to death at the house. Tyrion decides to drink himself to death on the road to Meereen, the only reasonable option. Over in Meereen, Dany is still refusing to open the fighting pits, and she is still yet to learn the finer points of diplomacy; she’s not a politician, she’s a queen. Sounds a bit like the late Joffrey’s attitude, except she has morals; having been sold as a bride, she empathises with the plight of slaves, but she doesn’t seem to understand that societal changes don’t just happen because you free the slaves.

A quick note on Sansa before I finish up the review, which is ending up being longer than I intended. I wasn’t a huge fan of Sansa walking out in Lysa’s dress in the fourth season finale, because I assumed that they were hinting to some sort of Littlefinger/Sansa romance, which is just gross because Littlefinger is by far the creepiest man in Westeros, with the possible exception of Ramsay Bolton. What seems to be happening is that Sansa has become Littlefinger’s pupil in the Game of Thrones, as she notices that they’re not travelling in the direction that Petyr told one of the men of the Vale (I didn’t catch his name). Littlefinger asks her if she trusts all the people at the castle. She responds that she doesn’t, but does he trust the people he’s employed to take them West? Of course he doesn’t, but he pays them a lot of money, and they know what will happen if they betray him. Trust is a valuable thing in Westeros, and it’s dangerous when it’s misplaced.

Other thoughts:

  • The casting for young Cersei was brilliant; she was so much like Sansa in the first season, it’s interesting how both characters are now so shrewd from their time in King’s Landing, but Sansa made it out quickly enough so that she’s nowhere near as bitter as the Queen Regent.
  • Jaime was briefly in the episode; he talked about all the people wanting to tear down the Lannisters now that Tywin is dead, but Cersei just want’s Tyrion’s head, which is exactly Jaime’s point. It’s much easier to bring down a House that’s already divided.
  • I loved that ‘The Rains of Castamere’ was playing over that scene between Tyrion and Cersei, it was poignant because it was once used to celebrate Lannister victories. Blackwater, The Red Wedding, and as Tywin forged two swords from Ned’s old one. The once mightly House of Lannister is beginning to fall.
  • Speaking of the scene in the Sept, Cersei and Jaime have had a few scenes in there, because it seems to be a good place for illicit conversations. The first was the one in the series premiere over Jon Arryn’s body, then last season’s infamous scene with their son, and now talking about the future of the Lannisters over their father’s corpse. Maybe they should find a new meeting place.
  • Brienne and Pod were also in this episode. Unfortunately I don’t find these particular characters to be very interesting when they’re not interacting with Lannisters.
  • I forgot to mention until I was reading Myles McNutt’s review over at The A.V. Club that Michael Slovis, the main cinematographer and occasional director on Breaking Bad, directed this episode and it was beautifully done. There were shots that were stunning and then there was the sense of claustrophobia we all felt for Tyrion as he crossed the Narrow Sea in a crate.
  • Varys: “Westeros needs to be saved from itself”
  • Tyrion: “Are you still a Lord if you kill your father? I don’t suppose they revoke nobility for killing a whore. It happens all the time.”
  • Varys: “I believe men of talent have a part to play in the war to come”
  • Mance: “If you can’t understand why I won’t enlist my people in a foreigner’s war, there’s no point explaining.”
  • Mance: “The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted.”

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