“Everyone wants to know their future — until they know their future.”
Standing on the precipice overlooking the oncoming Game of Thrones season, embarking on my adventure as WEIO’s primary GoT correspondent, I feel a bit like Jon Snow at the beginning of his journey: a little too earnest, a little unclear on the backstory (I’ve never read the books), not entirely sure what it’s like where I’m going, and not particularly good at jokes.1
With just over three hundred days between the Game of Thrones season four finale and this week’s season five premiere, and with nearly that many simultaneous narrative threads to keep track of, it can be difficult to remember just what state Westeros was in when we last left it. Keeping tradition with previous seasons’ premieres, “The Wars to Come” was a mellow episode that primarily resolved the cliffhangers from last season while reacquainting us with the characters and their situations: Cersei and Jaime are in Kings Landing fighting over their recently murdered father’s corpse. Daenerys remains in Meereen maintaining rule over Slaver’s Bay, in which new problems continue cropping up. Stannis, having saved the day against the wildlings with his shiny new army, has returned order to the Wall and sent Jon Snow to negotiate with Mance Rayder. Varys and Tyrion (the latter in a small crate) have made it across the narrow sea safely and spend the entire episode discussing the future of the realm.
True to the form of a season premiere, this was an episode without much by way of surprises (Except that Varys supports a Targeryan return to the throne? Who knew?! Oh and Sansa’s hair is black now. Also a surprise.) or action-heavy sequences. In the spirit of the episode’s name it was a quiet prelude to coming storms, an apértif to the rest of the season. It’s not a mindblowing episode but it is solid and well-written and takes satisfying dips into almost every running storyline. Even still, a couple particular moments stood out.
The opening sequence, featuring a flashback to Cersei’s childhood, is a curiosity. We haven’t seen flashbacks like this one before, so it stands out. At this moment that particular scene doesn’t serve to deepen Cersei’s character or do more than tell us what we already knew of her relationship with Robert Baratheon. Still, I’m optimistic that this is a new mechanic that will add layers of complexity to characters in coming episodes.
The final sequence of Mance Rayder being burned at the stake is also a curiousity as a drawn out scene in a show that generally paces its violence very quickly. Viewers are given front row seats to the real time experience of Mance’s struggle as he is torn between expressing anguish at the pain of the flames crawling up his body and his need to remain resolute—a king till the end—in front of his people. The scene is depicted without gore, but with uncommonly visceral emotion. Jon Snow, pathologically incapable of keeping a low profile, finally rescues Mance with an arrow to the heart, retribution from Stannis be damned.
It’s interesting to note here how often Game of Thrones utilizes this device – of mercy killing being a favor and being allowed to live being a cruelty – and in particular to recall the brutal scene from last season in which Arya refuses to kill the Hound after his fight with Brienne but instead leaves him pinned against a mountainside to die from his wounds and dehydration. The result of the drawn out anguish in this new scene is that Jon Snow’s arrow to Mance’s chest is the first truly affecting moment of the season and a fitting note for the episode to end on.
Meanwhile, in the real world:
Game of Thrones, already one of the world’s most pirated shows, reached new levels of notoriety when the first four episodes of the season were leaked a day before the premier. Over at Polygon, Ben Kuchera makes a compelling argument for not watching the leaked copies. We here at WEIO are (mostly) law abiding citizens2 and we will not be watching the episodes in advance of their release, so you can rest assured that our spoiler policy remains intact w/r/t the official release schedule.
Clickhole got in on the Game of Thrones fun with this delightful article: If Only Once, It Would Be Nice If Hodor Said ‘Women’s Rights’
A number of folks produced parodies/adaptations of the title sequence recently, though this Legend of Zelda adaptation is my personal favorite.
Pondering the future:
There’s much to look forward to in the coming season. Throughout the series so far, watching Daenerys’s rise to power across the narrow sea has been like watching an almost entirely separate story with only small points of contact to the rest of the universe. The season five trailer and Tyrion and Varys beginning their journey to Mereen in this first episode hint that this season may be a turning point and that those two narratives are now rushing toward their inevitable thunderous collision.
Also dragons. If the advertising is any indication we’ll be seeing more of them.
There also remain unresolved questions from last season: Did Qyburn successfully save the Mountain? How will he be “changed”? Where is Bran and what is up with that tree surrounded by a skeleton army? Will Mark Gatiss (Tycho Nestoris) return this season?
God, I hope so.