“The good lords are dead and the rest are monsters,” Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) bemoans in the season five premiere of “Game of Thrones,” “The Wars to Come,” and she’s not wrong. In Westeros, all good gets you is violently murdered or sent into hiding. But, we’ve got to give the lords that do remain a chance to either redeem themselves, or at least be very, very bad in a deliciously entertaining way. And with the season opener, it seems that ‘GOT’ is also looking to expand our understanding of these characters and their psychology in a deeper and more complex way, which is exactly where we kick off the season.
Nope, it isn’t a whole new trio of characters we see in the opening flashback, but young Cersei in childhood (the long blonde hair and withering sass are a dead giveaway). She and a friend barge in on a witch’s hut (Maggy the Frog — yeah, I do my research), where Cersei demands to know her future. Maggy obliges after a taste of blood, telling Cersei she won’t marry a prince, she’ll marry the king, be a queen, and have three kids, and the king will have twenty (we already know those two Venn diagrams don’t overlap). Oh, and watch out for younger, prettier queens in waiting. This throws young, proud Cersei for a loop….
It’s a memory she’s still pondering as grown Cersei (Lena Headey) arrives at the funeral for her father Tywin (or “Taiwan Lannisters,” if you will). Maggy’s predictions have come gloriously, and devastatingly true. She meets Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) in the funeral chamber, a bit of a call back to their last moment in a room such as this, for Joffrey’s funeral, which was pretty gross and rape-y. Thankfully, this is much different, but Cersei’s still on a tear about Tyrion, accusing Jaime of letting the “little monster” go, and poking at his possible feelings of guilt regarding his father’s death. (Aside: three cheers for our last glimpse of Charles Dance, bringing gravitas to lying there with creepy death stones on his eyes).
The funeral itself is a bore for Cersei, listening to Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) kiss her ass, and keeping an eye on flirty Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman). A dirty barefoot teen in a humble robe approaches her, and it turns out to be cousin Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), Robert Baratheon’s former squire, with whom she had a tryst (he calls it “unnatural relations”). After being injured in the Battle of Blackwater, he’s retreated from the knight life and has joined a bizarre religious sect, The Sparrows. Cersei and Lancel have a secret conversation where Lancel mentions Robert’s boar hunt, and the copious amount of wine he was drinking, which Lancel was pouring, making some insinuation to Cersei’s involvement in Robert’s death. He says that he will pray for her. She’s annoyed by his presence, and shockingly doesn’t defenestrate him right then and there.
Loras recovers quickly from his Cersei rebuff in bed with blonde gigolo, Oliver, where they are playing “what’s this birthmark look like?” (Dorne, apparently, and it seems that Dorne’s geography is going to prove relevant this season). Margaery barges in because she’s hungry and wants to go to dinner. Boundaries, people. She shoos Oliver and scolds Loras, who doesn’t give a what for if anyone knows he’s gay, especially now that Tywin’s gone, he knows he won’t have to marry Cersei. Which is his gain and Margaery’s loss, because that means Cersei will be in King’s Landing to micromanage her queenship. Margaery only replies with two cryptic “perhaps.” Either she has something up her sleeve for herself, or Cersei.
The third Lannister sibling, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), has made it off the boat and into the palace of an anti-Baratheon/pro-Targaryen conspirator bud of Varys’ (Conleth Hill), though he’s none too pleased about having to have made the journey entirely inside a crate. The first thing he does when he sees sunlight is to drink like a college kid after landing in Daytona Beach (say it with me: puke and rally). Tyrion is rightly torn up over killing his dad and girlfriend, and though Varys wants to inspire him to plan for the future, Tyrion’s in a decidedly nihilistic frame of mind. “The future is shit, and so was the past,” he mutters as he spews regurgitated wine on his shoes. Tyrion’s so punk.
Eventually, Varys gets through to him, pleading his case for a ruler “stronger than Tommen and gentler than Stannis” with a good name and an army. Tyrion scoffs at the thought of finding a dude like that in Westerors, and Varys shoots back, “who said anything about him?” (line of the season so far). Tyrion agrees to go to Mereen to meet Danaerys, with one caveat: he wants to bring a road soda. Whatever works, right?
A quick check-in with Sansa (Sophie Turner), who’s still in The Vale, watching Robin Arryn (Lucio Facioli) embarrass himself at a sword match; “he swings the sword like a girl with palsy” guffaws Lord Royce (Rupert Vansittart). Sansa is in full goth mode, with a head of black hair and totally Stockholm Syndrome’d to Lord Baelish (Aiden Gillen). After Littlefinger receives a secret message, they set off for the west via carriage, “to a land so far from here even Cersei Lannister can’t get her hands on you,” intones Littlefinger. Calling my travel agent now!
Though she’s just a mile or two away from Sansa, Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) is feeling defeated and dejected after her battle with the Hound and rejection by Arya. She’s lost her sense of purpose and is taking it out on poor, loyal, ever-optimistic squire, Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman). Fortunately, Pod’s got enough good cheer for two, though Brienne still feels rudderless and without direction with her mission unexpectedly eighty-sixed (psst, Sansa just passed her on the road).
Over in Meereen, Danaerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) is still struggling with leadership. Violent takeovers do require a lot of maintenance, don’t they? There’s the uprising of the Sons of the Harpies, an underground group with a penchant for gold masks who have taken to slitting the throats of the Unsullied while they cuddle with prostitutes. There’s also the Yunkai, who want her to reinstate their fighting pits for some godforsaken reason (“tradition”). In a post-coital nude fireside chat, Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) makes the case for the pits, as that’s how he rose up in the mercenary game. He also thinks that if she’s the Mother of Dragons, she best get some dragon action going on. Bad influence, that Daario.
Danaerys does go visit her $3 million in VFX, I mean dragons, in the catacombs and is instantly like WHOOPS NVM WORST IDEA EVER BYEEE. The dragons are mad. And enormous. And fiery. And hangry (Margaery feels ya). Back into the cave they go. Danaerys may have all the right goods on paper (in the eyes of Varys), but she still has a long, long way to go in the ruling many unruly people and magical creatures gig.
Speaking of unruly! Off to Castle Black we go, where Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is teaching his newest charge, Olly (Brenock O’Connor) (aka the boy who murdered his girlfriend), how to sword fight in the Castle Black courtyard. Somehow Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) is still alive (was almost certain he died in that battle), but Jon can’t be too concerned, because he is soon summoned by Melisandre (Carice van Houten) to meet with Stannis (Stephen Dillane), who, if you recall, took the entire North with a heap of soldiers in last season’s finale.
Melisandre takes the chance in the long elevator ride to creep on Jon Snow, clearly interested in having a sexy blood leech BBQ with him. She even asks him if he’s a virgin and replies “good” when he’s not. Hey, she is nothing if not straightforward — game recognize game. Stannis has chosen probably the worst place for a meeting, which is on top of the mountain, in a driving snowfall. He tells Jon that he can have Winterfell (and current ruler Roose Bolton’s head on a spike) if he gets Wildling general/erstwhile Night’s Watchman Mance Raydar (Ciaran Hinds) to “bend the knee” and give the Wildling army to Stannis so he can take Winterfell (AND ALL OF WESTEROS). Oh, and he has to do it by nightfall. Good luck with that.
Still, Jon makes a good faith effort and makes the case to Mance, visiting him in his cell. He appeals to him on the tenants of unity, and doing what’s right for the people beyond the wall, keeping them safe from the winter creepers, but Mance isn’t having it. Pride is too important to him, as well as his own “freedom to make mistakes.” Although when Jon tells him the other option is being burned at the stake, Mance is like, hmm would have preferred something else tbh. Not the cutest of ways to go.
But, with the Lord of Light, and Stannis’ absolutely unbending will, the show must go on. Mance refuses to bend the knee to Stannis, so it’s time for a bonfire. But first, Mance wishes Stannis good luck in “the wars to come.” Melisandre gives a speech about the Lord of Light and torches Mance. It seems to be quite awful for all involved, especially Mance, who doesn’t want to scream and cry in front of his homies. Jon, big ol’ softie rebel that he is, steals away in order to put an arrow in Mance and end his misery. Compassionate, yes, but it might not get him on the good side of hard-ass Stannis.
“The Wars to Come” is exemplary of the kind of slow burn build that ‘Thrones’ has established as its modus operandi in previous seasons — tending to take a few episodes to put the chess pieces in place before making big moves. Directed by Michael Slovis (“Breaking Bad”), the episode feels of a piece with the tone and style we’ve come to know and love from ‘Thrones.’ This season is not necessarily going to have the same directors that have turned in episodes in past seasons, so it will be interesting to see what a new group does with the material. “The Wars to Come” is not overly showy and packed with plot twists, but it does enough to position the characters to both move forward and let them have some room to develop as people. It’s everything we want from our favorite characters, but nothing shocking or over the top. With the groundwork laid, it will be fascinating to see where it goes from here, and especially, for book readers, how showrunners David Benioff and D.B Weiss will diverge from George R.R. Martin’s tale.
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