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Looking Back: ‘Game of Thrones’ Season Five, Episode 1: “The Wars to Come” Review

(The eighth and final season of Game of Thrones debuts on April 14th, marking the beginning of the end for HBO’s cultural touchstone. Over the years, we’ve covered all 67 episodes of the series, and are revisiting those original reviews in our new retrospective series titled, “Winter is Coming”. We’re pulling these straight from our vacuum sealed digital time capsules, so step into the virtual time machine with us and read our impressions from way back! With the benefit of hindsight, there is plenty of reasons these reviews will raise some eyebrows)

****

After four extraordinary seasons, we’ve come to expect great things from HBO’s flagship series – shocking betrayals, strategic realignments, reversals of fortune, impressive world-building, damsels in distress, femme fatales, epic battles, well choreographed action, blood, death, sex, black magic, dragons and lots of nudity in between the dirty politics. “The Wars to Come” (a line heard several times throughout the episode) was a solid, modest season opener, but as with every season premiere, there seems to be something lacking. The cast of Game of Thrones is comprised of some of the most talented actors on the small screen, and over the years we’ve been blessed with the likes of Charles Dance, Peter Dinklage, Diana Rigg, and Sean Bean, to name a few – and so with so many characters to catch up with, it’s no surprise, not everyone makes it in. While it’s part of the show’s form to constantly reduce the cast in unforgettable bouts of terror, we’ve reached a point where we seem to be running low on favourites. The show’s two biggest villains—Joffrey and Tywin—have fallen, as did some of the most beloved characters including Ned Stark, Rob Stark and of course Lady Stark. And now with Hodor and Bran out for all of season five (not to mention the fact that Arya is nowhere to be seen this week), I can’t help but think that season five can’t live up to its predecessors. The driving force of “The Wars to Come” is examining what life is like without Tywin Lannister. He is by far the character we will miss the most since he held so much power and influence over Kings Landing, even if he wasn’t sitting on the throne. He held the Lannister family together when they were at each other’s throats, and with him gone it seems his house will continue to crumble. As Jamie points out, the entire realm is now vulnerable, and everyone is sure to take advantage of the situation.

“Everyone wants to know their future until they know their future.”

The characters of Game of Thrones live in the shadows of the past, and for the first time in the show’s history, the episode opens with a flashback – an interesting choice for a TV show based on books that contain so much backstory. Game of Thrones cold opens do not usually turn out well, and this week is no exception. Much like Bran’s visit with the Three-Eyed Raven, a much younger Cersei Lannister (Nell Williams) ventures off into the woods with a friend in search of wisdom from a witch who urban legends describe as “terrifying, with cat’s teeth and three eyes”. In typical Cersei fashion she replies, “You’re not terrifying. You’re boring.” But Cersei’s confidence quickly fades when the witch begins to read her fortune: “You’ll never wed the prince. You’ll wed the king,” she tells the girl. “You’ll be queen, for a time. Then come another, younger, more beautiful, to cast you down and take all you hold dear. The king will have twenty children, and you’ll have three.” With time, her words have come true. In the world of Game of Thrones, the future is stone-like, not fluid.

“The Wars to Come” promises exciting new alliances

The highlight this week revolves around Mance Rayder played by the talented but underused Ciaran Hinds, who steals the spotlight from everything and everyone. Mance is being held as a prisoner at Castle Black, following his surrender to Stannis in last season’s finale. When Jon is tasked with getting Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis and convince the Wildling army to join forces, or face a gruesome death being burnt at the stake, Mance holds his ground and rejects the offer facing death he’s not ashamed he fears. And so it doesn’t take long before another major player bites the dust. Mance Rayder, the king beyond the wall dies in a surprisingly emotionally charged scene thanks to the tour-de-force performance of Hind and the direction of series vet Michael Slovis. What begins with the wake for Tywin Lannister is bookended with Mance taking an arrow to his chest courtesy of Jon Snow, relieving him of the pain and torture of being burnt alive. Tywin and Mance both exercised immense power and led large armies, and so it’s rather fitting they are both killed in a similar way. Their deaths are symbolic of the old guards, and a Westeros at the dawn of a new era.

As the power shifts across the continent of Westeros, the effects are felt on everyone, whether they realize it or not. Brienne of Tarth feels immense pressure by the weight of oaths she swore and discouraged by the misfortunes she’s encountered. At one point she declares her loss of faith in mankind, taking out her frustration on her squire, Podrick. “I’m not a leader,” she tells Pod. “All I ever wanted was to fight for a lord I believed in. All the good lords are dead, and the rest are monsters.” It isn’t surprising that Brienne has such a grim view of such a bleak world like Westeros, but the reason her character is so compelling is that she never gives up, even when all hope seems lost. I expect big things from her in throughout season five.

Over in Dany’s court, a rebellion is underway after a massive golden statue of a Harpy is pulled down from atop a pyramid by Daenerys’ Unsullied. A group calling themselves the Sons of the Harpy aren’t happy with this decision and are waging a war against her and her army. Meanwhile, Daenerys also entertains the idea of re-opening the fighting pits to entertain the civilians of Mereen with gladiatorial combat – but when a citizen tries to persuade her to accept these terms, she rejects his proposal, replying “I’m not a politician, I’m a Queen.” Daenerys may be the Mother of Dragons but she is still very young and has little experience in ruling a nation. Ever since Jorah’s exile, Dany’s been taking counsel from just about everyone especially Ser Barristan, and now Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) uses his own backstory as an argument to persuade her to change her mind:

“I had my first fight when I was 16… I’m only here because of those pits.”

Game of Thrones The Wars to Come Review

Though she controls the Unsullied, Daario makes an astute observation; she’s lost control of her dragons, and without her dragons, she won’t be feared, respected or seen as the leader she was born to be,” thus explaining the sudden rebellion from the people she rules.

Varys seems to be the only man in Westeros at the moment who carries a surprisingly idealistic vision for the Seven Kingdoms, calling it, a world worth fighting for. In Pentos, Varys attempts to shake Tyrion out of his depression. Tyrion is drunk and miserable—as you might be, too, if you travelled hundreds of miles while crammed in a barrel – but Varys is determined to help bring the right ruler to the Iron Throne and he needs Tyrion’s help. He quickly points out that Tyrion is now in a place where his role won’t be determined by his family or his stature. “I believe men of talent have a part to play in the war to come,” Varys argues – an important line of dialogue which promises we will see plenty of opportunities for those at the bottom of the ladder to rise to the top.

“Any fool with a bit of luck can find himself born into power. But to earn it for yourself, that takes work.”

One of the biggest frustrations when watching Game of Thrones is seeing how so many characters nearly cross paths, but as fate would have it, never actually meet (for example; Brienne and Sansa). One of the joys of watching this show is watching several characters finally cross paths – and more importantly, team up (Brienne/Jamie and Arya/Hound). And so this brings me to the most exciting moment of “The Wars to Come,” and it comes with a simple line delivery:

“The Seven Kingdoms need someone stronger than Tommen, but gentler than Stannis. A monarch who can intimidate the high lords and inspire the people. A ruler loved by millions with a powerful army and the right family name.”

“Good luck finding him,” Tyrion replies. “Who said anything about him?” Varys says…

Varys is, of course, talking about Daenerys over in Meereen, who as it stands, is in dire need of a strong advisor by her side, and there is nobody better suited for the job than Tyrion. I can see it now, Tyrion riding out to battle on a dragon!!! I can’t wait to see them finally meet.

The Wars to Come” is a slow burn, as expected with a season premiere, but it leaves plenty of things to get excited about, suggesting that this season will be one of the new alliances. As creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have explained, the fifth season will be deviating from Martin’s books, sending some characters on new plot trajectories and killing off others. As fans continue to express their disapproval, I’m here to remind you that the books and television shows exist as two distinct entities – two very different mediums – and change is always welcome when done well.

– Ricky D

 

Other thoughts:

Enter series newcomer Jonathan Pryce, who plays the High Sparrow, a newly-devout Lancel Lannister – the cousin Cersei was sleeping with back in the first two seasons. Asking Cersei for her forgiveness, he recites his reasons to join the Sparrows, a fundamentalist sect that worships the Seven.

While Lancel’s screen time is brief, it becomes clear his newfound religion may spell trouble for Cersei, given how he casually mentions Robert Baratheon’s drunken boar hunt.

The boy who has been pushed into training in swordsmanship is Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli).

Petyr Baelish: “Some boys develop more slowly. He’s still young,”

I wonder what was written in the letter that Petyr Baelish receives.

In their rather peaceful carriage ride, Baelish reveals to Sansa that he’s taking her far away, and Sansa is quick to note they are heading west. I wonder what lies to the west?

I love the choice of camera angles and compositions this week, especially Tyrion’s POV through a hole in a crate.

Game of Thrones, Season Five, Episode 1: “The Wars to Come”
Directed by Michael Slovis
Written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss
Featured music Ramin Djawadi
Cinematography by David Franco
Editing by Katie Weiland

Originally published June 8, 2014

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