Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 1 “The Wars to Come” Review
*Full spoilers for the TV show and books follow. You’ve been warned.*
Choice and consequence.
Those two words probably sum up the entire “Game of Thrones” world, even if many people would probably pick sex and violence as the first two that would come to mind. But, in the novels that George R. R. Martin has created, and thus reflected in the show, it’s really a character’s choices that define who they are, and that dictate what ends up happening to them.
The characters in the show aren’t the only ones with choices ahead of them though. We are also reaching critical mass for the show’s creators: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have choices and consequences of their own. We’ve been told that the show will soon start weaving tales the book hasn’t, and even though the show won’t pass the books this season, it’s an inevitable future. This season, more so than the others, we’ll begin to see the major choice they are making in their version of Westeros, and the consequences that might have on the story as a whole.
There also lies a chance: the show has a unique opportunity to clean up the plodding tomes that were “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance With Dragons.” Sure, some stuff is going to get lost, but it’s a chance to really focus the story lines and bring a tighter story of the events into focus.
For the show, “Game of Thrones” tends to have two types of episodes that it has done pretty well; building and tearing down episodes. Seasons will build and build, episode by episode, until a giant moment, from the Ned in season 1, to the red wedding in season 3, tearing down episodes, and then characters reshuffle and rebuild until another big event.
Season four’s last few episodes were all tearing down episodes, which means that kicking off season five the show has a lot of building that it needs to do. A lot of building. It wasn’t exactly a explosive start to the season, but pieces are moving, if slowly, and each character was faced with interesting choices and consequences in the wake of last season.
Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) already made his choice. He chose to let Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) free, and saw the immediate consequence in the body of his dead father before him. Cersei (Lena Headey) was quick to blame Tyrion — and Jaime — and is filled with even more hate for her little brother, if that at all was possible. The scene also serves to highlight how alone Cersei and Jaime are; they have each other, but losing the head of the house is a massive blow to them, and their holds on power.
It’s an interesting role reversal: Cersei was was the near-ultimate power in the realm, and now she and Jaime are surrounded by people who want to tear them apart, and they no longer have Tywin’s (Charles Dance) protection. This is going to start to wear on Cersei, and he fear of losing power (as we saw in the flash back) is going to really play at her this season. She and Jaime once seemed untouchable, and now we are seeing their tides slowly turn in the other direction. The Lannister twins are going to be in for a rough season, there’s no doubt about that.
Another change: No longer does Cersei seem content to tell the world about their incest and let people judge as they will. Daddy isn’t around to protect his baby lion cubs anymore.
The other little cub, Tyion, had to face consequences. He’s now across the sea, in Pentos, where Daenerys (Emilia Clarke)’s story started. He’s in the house of Illyrio (Roger Allam), (who interestingly is never shown on-screen), being pitched the idea of going to Meereen by Varys (Conleth Hill).
This change from the books is going to complicate things, going forward. With Varys in Essos, he can’t be in King’s Landing for his big scene at the end of ADWD, though with us now knowing his true intentions that scene could just be not happening.
It also really felt like an under-delivered reveal for a character who has for so long been shrouded in mystery. He was working for Danny the whole fucking time! That’s a really big deal! Give it a few more sentences or at least have Tyrion notice that the reveal is important! Vary delivered it in the same way he may have told Tyrion what he was eating for breakfast. Not quite the major reveal that Varys’s master plan deserved. The show has struggled with big reveals like this in the past, and still can’t seem to really nail them.
It didn’t help that the writing for Varys just wasn’t that good. I feel like I rarely notice poor writing in the show, but while Tyrion was getting zingers, Varys’s dialogue just was not up to snuff. It relied to much on repetition, and just wasn’t the only scene this week that suffered from poor writing.
It also looks like the whole Young Griff plot is being totally skipped over, and instead Varys is throwing his support directly behind Danny. If there are actually any fans of Griff out there…sorry, I guess? It was a needless late-in-the-game hitch by Martin, and the only thing that sucks about thinning it out of the show is it essentially and accidentally confirms that Griff’s plot won’t go anywhere important in the books either.
The show is also going to have an interesting path ahead of itself with Tyion. There’s a good show-within-a-show buddy cop action adventure brewing with him and Varys, but, Tyrion is probably one of the front-runner fan favorite characters right now, and his path the next season (or seasons) isn’t going to be pretty. His path to Meereen in the books is a bloated and tiring affair, and the show is doing good by trimming that down, and also seems to be eliminating Penny, and hopefully it isn’t too early to celebrate on that one.
We got a lot of characters this week, but a few took somewhat of a back light in small scenes. Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) left little ol’ Robin (Lino Facioli) in the training of Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart), which either hasn’t happened yet in the books and the show is playing fore-teller, or is taking things on a much different path.
For the most part, this story has passed (or looks like it has) where the book still is. Right now I’m wondering if the show hasn’t flipped the story around a bit, and is now having Sansa and Littlefinger head off to his home and still do the little side trip to his family that the books did before the Eyrie.
(There seems to be mounting evidence that the pair is heading to Winterfell, which makes ZERO sense to me, but what can you do).
We also got a REALLY brief scene with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman), which, frankly, really didn’t serve any purpose other than to remind people that the two characters are still alive and still with each other and are still going to probably do something interesting at some point. Given the show never really using the Mummers, I’m not quite sure what that use is going to be this season, That was also a mean tease to bring Sansa so close to Brienne. The show has shown it can be just as cruel as Martin.
From the looks of it, Margaery (Natalie Dormer) has already made a choice, we just don’t know what it is. We don’t really get inside Margaery’s heads in the books, but her spry little smirk as she told her brother that maybe Cerise wouldn’t be sticking around much longer is probably the scene that resonated the most. What exactly is she up to? We must know!
If I were a betting man, I’d go out and say that instead of having Cerisie try to frame Margery, I think the show might be setting up a more proactive Tyrell plot. and that Margaery might have a hand in the soon-to-come religious shattering of Cersie. Or it could be something totally different. Like I said, there’s a reason this scene still stands out; it did a good job setting up something for the viewer to latch on to and follow a bit more directly. It had some motion, at least.
Danny, now atop her pyramid in Meereen (and I hope the show finds a way to make her stay there WAY more bearable than the book does), seems to be doubting her choices. After one of the Second Sons is murdered by the Sons of the Harpy (in a weird brothel where he is paying for cuddles, apparently), both Daario (Michiel Hulsman) and Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry) begged her to reopen the fighting pits.
Danny, the idealist as ever, is starting to show both her lack of diplomacy as well as her lack of preparedness for rule. She’s going to be in Meereen for a long time, and I’m quite excited to see how the show’s fandom reacts to her over the course of this season. She’s had a lot of really lucky – and flawless – victories almost since the start of the show. But shit hits the fan (literally, ugh) in Meereen.
Also, the show needs to start making more of Loraq, because I didn’t even know that’s who he was supposed to be until doing the research for this review.
Luckily, Danny has Daario. We finally got a scene of them in bed together (previously only hinted at), and this was a good scene for Danny; robed and on her throne she is somewhat one dimensional. Only with Daario are we given this weaker and more human side of her; a character that wasn’t born to rule and isn’t sure she knows how to do it. She admits to Daario that she can’t control her dragons anymore, and he tells her that a mother of dragons without her dragons isn’t a mother at all.
Yup. That’s true.
Then, Danny backtracks on her choice to lock away her babies and goes and checks on them. They aren’t happy. Understandably. It was a weird scene; not just because she *just* locked them away and it seems weird to have her back tracking already, but also because she did it in front of guards. She should be scared that her lack of control over her pets will spread over the city, and that’s not a good way to keep things on the quiet front.
If the choice and consequence balance wasn’t stark (ha!) enough this episode, it really comes to fruition within Mance’s (Ciaran Hinds) arc. Mance is a great character in the books – one I feel the show has vastly underused – and now he found himself at the other end of Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Melisandre (Carice van Houter) and their burning flames.
Just like with Varys and Tyrion earlier, this was another one of several places the writing just seemed off this week. Stannis all of a sudden has decided he wants the Wildings (something Jon (Kit Harington) needs to convince him of first in the books), and for some reason trusts Jon to try to convince Mance to kneel before him.
The show also doesn’t really do a good job of explaining why Mance won’t kneel, or why that is the choice he is sticking to. Jon’s argument is sound: Everything that Mance fought for dies if he dies. Explaining to Jon that “if he isn’t smart enough to understand there’s no reason in explaining” wasn’t just Mance talking down to Jon, it was Mance talking down to the audience. If the writers can’t find a way to explain why Mance feels the way that he does, that’s on them, and that ending line was just a cop-out.
There’s been a lot of rumor mongering if the show is taking a different path; if Mance is really dead and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), or Rattleshirt (recast as Ross O’Hennessy) will instead be taking over Mance’s roll. I’m not particularly sure why people feel this way, and I don’t really think that there was anything about Mance’s death that made it so the show couldn’t do the same bait-and-switch that the books did.
Either way, (for now) Mance made his choice, even if it wasn’t one the show felt necessary to explain. But, scene by scene, line by line, we are starting to see characters make choices about how they are going to live in this new world. Some of them (Like Jaime and Cersie) are now underdogs where they were once untouchable, and will have to make careful choices.
The even bigger question that the show faces now, though, is that the books it is adapting don’t really have a clear result or climax of any of the characters choices over the next two books. The show is going to have to find a way to make that interesting for viewers. This week isn’t a bad start, but the writing issues and lack of any huge moments made this not the strongest foot for the show to start out on. But, the choices and consequences will continue, and this is just the start of another 10-hour journey through Westeros. Strap in.
Notes and Quotes:
-Welcome to my first “Game of Thrones” review! I was going back and forth on even doing written reviews with the podcast and all, but I apparently have a lot about this show I want to say, so, thanks for joining in. Just don’t expect both the podcast and the written review to be up at the same time. Only one person!
-As I said at the start, yes, I’m sorry, but this will be spoilers-only reviews each week. So much of what I want to talk about dovetails the books (and the show as an adaptation of them).
-That being said it is a bit exciting not knowing where some parts of the story are going. I actually started with the show before reading the books, so it’s an interesting return to being in the dark.
-We didn’t see any Arya (XXX) this episode, but given the preview and next week’s title, we’ll be seeing a lot of her.
-We didn’t see ANY of Dorne either, and from what I’ve heard that could be a few episodes away still. Give me those sand snakes!!
-The show also seems to be removing Pyke this season, which I am SUPER not happy about, as it was one of my favorite parts of ‘Feast for Crows.”
-So, my actual notes got deleted from this episode, so I lost the quotes I had picked out, but I remember Tyion had a good one, and. That was lame. Will be better next week.