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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 1 Review
Spoilers Ahead! You Have Been Warned
There has been a lot of talk about this season of Game of Thrones, and its legions of fans are expecting big things (They’re ahead of the books! The biggest set-piece yet! Bearded Tyrion!). But as far as the premiere episode goes, the show is playing its big reveals pretty close to the chest. Apart from an opening scene unlike any other the show has done so far, the episode feels like an extended mopping up of the previous season. This is not a bad thing in itself, but it means that there isn’t much forward momentum.
First off, that opening scene. Game of Thrones has never been a show to feature flashbacks of its primary characters, but Season 5 opens with a young Cersei Lannister exploring the woods surrounding Casterly Rock. She is seeking a local witch to tell her future, and she succeeds; but, as the witch warns, “everyone wants to know their future, until they know their future. “ Cersei’s questions, and the witch’s answers, form a prophesy that haunts the Queen up to the present events of the show. In a season that will show Cersei in a larger role than ever before (it follows A Feast for Crows, where she was one of the dominant point of view characters) it’s good to finally see some of her past come to light.
In present-day Westeros, at Lord Tywin’s funeral, Jaime warms Cersei that their enemies will use their father’s death as an opportunity to tear them apart. Cersei dismisses these concerns the same way she dismissed the High Septon on the steps outside: brusquely and brashly, without considering their true importance. She lays the blame for Tywin’s death on Jaime, since he admits he set Tyrion free. And speaking of…
Tyrion and Varys arrive at Magister Illyrio’s house in Pentos, Tyrion having never left the same crate we saw him enter in last season’s finale. Wracked by grief and guilt over the murders of his father and Shae, he sets about the task of slowly drinking himself to death. He is saved by some choice words from Varys, and the possibility of another part to play in the coming fight for the throne. Hands down, this was the strongest scene in the episode, particularly since it is standing entirely on its own, without any help from the books. Tyrion does travel to Illyrio’s house in the books, sure, but Varys does not go with him, and he initially sets out along a different path entirely. If the show is going to truly veer far away from George RR Martin’s series, this scene is a good indication that the new story will be equally as good. Seeing these characters trade witty jabs with each other will be one of the highlights of the season.
Over in Mereen, we get a nice long shot of the Harpy statue falling from atop its great pyramid to smash at the feet of some Unsullied onlookers. Some will say this is a rather obvious parallel to the Iraq War, and it probably is. But that is fine. If the first few Danerys scenes are any indication, she will soon find herself surrounded on all sides by deceit, insurgency, and a people whose customs she has no understanding of. The parallel is an apt one, then. Only the best fantasy can hold up a mirror to our own reality.
The last big moment of the episode takes place at The Wall. Stannis Baratheon’s army may have saved the Night’s Watch from destruction last season, but the man who would be king desires something in return: Mance Rayder’s wilding warriors are needed for him to retake Winterfell from the insidious Boltons (see: the Red Wedding, Reek, etc.) Mance must command his men to join Stannis, and he must kneel. As he refuses to do either of those things, he is sentenced to death.
This is perhaps the largest departure from the book series so far. Bigger than Jojen’s death. It might even be bigger than than Varys in Pentos( although with someone as cunning as the Spider, who knows what he'll get up to). While Mance may not have much page time in the novels, it was clear that he was saved for a purpose, and he seemed like too interesting of a character to just throw away. Oh well, at least we still have Tormund.
A Few Random Things:
- Brienne’s story arc looks like it will also be venturing into uncharted territory pretty soon. I hope she at least has a change of heart and takes Pod with her. Poor Pod.
- I can’t get over Sansa with black hair. And Littlefinger’s cryptic hints about their destination officially have my curiosity. Dorne, perhaps?
- And speaking of, I was hoping we’d at least catch a glimpse of Dorne in the opening credits, but no such luck. All we got was Loras’s bruise.
- It’s good to see Lena Hedley back in Classic Catty Cersei mode. Every expression on her face during her talk with Lancel was priceless.
- Back to the opening credits again: seeing the Bolton sigil on the little clockwork Winterfell hurt my heart.
Was I the only one who thought Tywin looked ridiculous with those painted stones over his eyes?