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I’ll admit I wasn’t completely sold on season four of Game of Thrones. It was, by far, the most uneven season to date. A lot of that had to do with the amount of moving around central characters did throughout the season. And it certainly wasn’t easy following season three, which was a truly remarkable run of episodes (and which drew from George R.R. Martin’s strongest stretch of story). But here we are at the start of season five, and so far, so good. Sure, I would have liked a little less Jon Snow (Kit Harrington, while a tad improved in the acting department, is still the worst of the illustrious cast), but I’m intrigued with what is to come.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the elephant in the room: comparing the books to the show. I’ve actively avoided doing that the past two seasons, and I’ll keep that up. The show has hit a point where it is actively diverging from the novels, so that should be easier to do here than in the past. When there are huge divergences , I’ll point them out if it’s pertinent, but the show is a different animal than the books and now, more than ever before, we will have to appreciate it as such.
As is often the case with Game of Thrones premieres, the overall theme for the season is set within the episode. Judging from this episode, theme of season five is chaos. King’s Landing is about to be plunged into a power vacuum now that Tywin is dead. If Kevan Lannister thinks he can keep his brother’s legacy intact while out-scheming the Tyrells and Cersei, he has another thing coming. The reappearance of Lancel Lannister is particularly foreboding, both for the Lannister power structure and for Cersei herself. He’s the first we see of the Sparrows, a religious sect bent on removing the excesses from the realm, and he also knows Cersei’s dark secrets. Secrets that could ruin her, should they get out. Cersei is interesting when she is able to control things, but she is even more interesting when her back is against the wall. Cersei spent so much of season four reacting to others and being thwarted, which really limited the character. This looks to be the makings of a massive storyline for Cersei, and I look forward to watching Lena Headey tackle it.
The other storyline I am particularly fascinated with is Tyrion’s journey to Mereen. Granted, everything Tyrion (and, by extension, Peter Dinklage) does is gold. But the prospect of Varys joining him on the journey? Well, that is pretty much the best news ever. There are precious few characters (and actors) on the series who can hold their own in a scene with Tyrion. Conleth Hill’s Varys is one of them. Road tripping with Varys and Tyrion will be even more fun than life in King’s Landing with Tyrion and Bronn.
Now onto the biggest plot point in the episode. So, Mance is dead. And I, for one, am not all that torn up about it. Mance, and the wildlings, are interesting characters on the series. And without their leader, the place of the wildlings in the realm of the civilized men is at risk. It raises the stakes in a big way for their continued survival. I was particularly impressed with the work of Ciarán Hinds. He acted circles around poor Kit Harrington, and has been a really excellent grounding presence in the series to this point. That being said, removing Mance from the picture can certainly help Jon Snow to become the leader we all know he is destined to be.
From a story standpoint, the death of Mance should have rippling consequences throughout the season. First, it makes Jon interesting. Jon has now directly disobeyed Stannis. He’s finally turning into a character instead of a brooding dullard. He’s taking actions he sees as right, much like he did in the battle at the end of last season. Jon growing into a multifaceted character is key to the show continuing to grow and better itself. He must show he can be a leader – one that can make hard choices and own them. Angering Stannis could have dire consequence – consequences that the Watch cannot save him from (or, judging from his popularity with the Watch power structure ate the moment, might not want to save him from). And I want to see where this leads. For the first time in a long while, I’m invested in a Jon Snow story.
Our other major story in the episode is Dany and her rebellious city and dragons. This stretch of Dany’s story within the novels is dreadfully dull, so the series has some serious ground to cover to make it worth watching. That being said, kudos to Emilia Clarke’s work this week. So much of Dany in the past year has been her stubbornly refusing to do things because they go against her own moral code. And that certainly isn’t completely bad. However, watching Dany learn that governing isn’t as easy as she might have thought hasn’t exactly been compelling television. With “The Wars to Come,” Clarke is finally given something to play other than an angry girl. Dany finally comes to the realization that she’s in over her head. She can’t control Drogon, and the other two dragons have grown too big to control while trapped below. The touch of hope on Clarke’s face as Dany enters the dragon pit, replaced quickly by the all-encompasses terror as the dragons lashed out at her, shows a range that has been missing in Clarke’s portrayal of late. With Dany recognizing things are more dire than she once believed, there is finally a compelling storyline for the character. A leader in crisis is much more interesting than a leader who can sweep in and conquer with little or no cost.
All-in-all, “The Wars to Come” was a strong start to the season. Our characters are all primed for great change, which is something that hasn’t happened in a while on the show – and we didn’t even get to check in with Arya yet! I have great hopes for this season, and the episodes to come.
— So, it looks like Loras has found himself a new boy-toy this year. And Margery is less than happy to see her brother isn’t taking the family scheming seriously. It appears only the female Tyrells are truly gifted at the art of scheming.
— Aw, Brienne. So close to finding Sansa! But I really hope she doesn’t banish Pod, she needs a sidekick.
— I just want to reiterate how awesome the Varys-Tyrion scenes were.
— Finally, a few housekeeping notes: If you have read the books, please don’t post spoilers for what happens in the comments. And, if you have watched the first four episodes through the episode leak, please don’t spoil future episodes. It ruins things for everyone.