Americans have to make do with a series of cryptic trailers until “Game of Thrones'” fifth season premieres on HBO April 12, but a handful of lucky Brits got an advance look at the season-opening episode, “The Wars to Come” last night. The screening was held at The Tower of London, whose (somewhat exaggerated) reputation as a place of torture and death fits the series to a tee. Advance reviews are purposefully light on detail — barring the Telegraph’s, which gives away a major death at the end of the episode — but they agree on the fact that with the series past the halfway mark of its projected seven seasons, a sense of movement towards a still-distant ending is starting to emerge. There are still many years to go — even more if HBO has its druthers — but we’re heading downhill instead of up, and the momentum will only gather from here.
Luke Westaway, CNET
Episode one, titled “The Wars to Come,” plunges us straight back into the murky world of Westeros, following the template established in previous seasons of catching us up on where characters are, reminding us of their motives and bubbling new protagonists to the surface. These establishing vignettes feel very familiar, but are conducted here with a level of expertise that means you’re unlikely to notice how much scene-setting is going on. Indeed, this episode shows that the makers of “Game of Thrones” know exactly what’s worked so far and behaves accordingly.
On the technical side, this episode is a real treat for the eyes. Sets and backdrops are gorgeous, lusciously detailed and looking better than ever, with the notable exception of the top of The Wall, which still looks like a Fiberglas Santa’s grotto. There’s one entirely CGI set-piece in the desert city of Meereen that is among the most impressive in the show’s history. Rounding off the visual treats are a few ocean-view scenes set in the Mediterranean-inspired city of Pentos that had me physically yearning for a trip to sunnier climes.
Louisa Mellor, Den of Geek
After four exemplary and expensive seasons, we’ve come to expect great things from HBO’s flagship as a matter of course. Impressive world-building, seamless special effects, forensically choreographed action, scares, laughs, pathos… The season five opener has it all, exactly as anticipated. Now though, the show is telling us that it’s time to stop taking all that accomplishment for granted. “The Wars To Come” arrives to shake us out of viewer-complacency and remind us that “Game of Thrones” is finite and moving towards an endgame, whatever’s said in the press about ten-year plans, prequels and spin-offs.
Characters who’ve dwelt in the shadows and peripheries for years come blinking out into the sun and show their essential nature. One has – quite understandably – lost faith in mankind, declaring all the good men dead and all the rest monsters. Another reveals a surprisingly idealistic vision for the Seven Kingdoms, a world worth fighting for. If that last part doesn’t sound very “Game of Thrones,” don’t worry. The show hasn’t changed form, only shifted slightly in perspective. There are still murders and magic, cursing and drinking, and plenty of bedroom scene bum shots. Varys and Tyrion still get all the best lines.
Sarah Hughes, Guardian
A slow-burner of a first episode (in more ways than one) threw in flashbacks, prophesies foretold and sorrows drowned to suggest that this season will be one of new alliances and the settling of old scores with the show’s female characters very much to the fore. There were hints too that fanaticism and faith will provide a major theme throughout the season with big questions asked about loyalty and belief and an interesting refusal to shy away from uncomfortable answers. All the elements that have made Game of Thrones notorious, from copious nudity to moments of unexpected violence, were present but this was a notably confident series opener, one which mixed humor and pace to demonstrate how secure Benioff and Weiss now are in this world – and how happy they are to take risks.
Benji Wilson, Telegraph (contains spoilers)
Ellen E Jones, Independent
There weren’t many new introductions, but several old characters are revealing new sides. Sansa, in mourning for her much-hated aunt, has gone goth, Red Woman Melisandre has got a lascivious eye and wandering hand on Jon Snow and Snow himself has become a skilled diplomat, acting as a go-between for his two alternative father figures, Stannis Baratheon and Mance Rayder. HBO have recently hinted that they’d like “Game of Thrones” to go on for decades to come, but so far this season definitely feels like the beginning of the end(game). We know because characters and storylines that have been distinct for so long are unmistakably beginning to intertwine.
Gabriel Tate, Evening Standard
This was a measured scene-setter, with breasts and buttocks bared as per, but less of the blood or other bodily fluids that will surely be spilt later on. A palpable sense of weariness pervaded many of its characters without afflicting the show itself. There were executions both ad hoc and ceremonial, a funeral and a wake. The promised flashbacks kicked in early with a trip to a clairvoyant witch (Jodhi May) whose predictions brought bad tidings for one leading player. Others began moving into position for what is starting to resemble — brace yourselves — an endgame.
Neil Midgely, Forbes
With a young king on the Iron Throne, there’s plenty of scope for wondering whether he’s secure in his reign, and many of your favorite characters do just that. “Game of Thrones” is also a show that thrives on the forging of unlikely alliances between characters – and thrives even more when those alliances come to sudden and bloody ends. Both of those happen in this season opener.