Oliver Davis reviews the first episode of Game of Thrones Season Five….The Wars to Come.Directed by Michael Slovis.Written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss.
Season five opens on a flashback, the first one ever in Game of Thrones. These opening prologues have prized place in George R. R. Martin’s books, either introducing new characters or telling self-contained stories that become significant later on. They help ease you back into his gory, kinky world.
The flashback is Cersei’s (Lena Headey), who will become an even more central character in season five (the fourth book, on which her storyline in this series is based, is the first one with chapters written from her perspective). It shows a witch telling a young Cersei her future, that “another queen, younger and more beautiful” would replace her. Which explains all the Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) hate.
In the present day, Cersei is dealing with her father’s funeral, suffering the many lords and ladies who have come from across the Seven Kingdoms to pay their respects (and to try to muscle their way into power). During all this, Cersei has a moment alone with Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to chat about the Lannisters’ future. Tywin and Joffrey are dead, Tyrion is fled; it’s only the twin brother, sister and their two children who remain. Showing a remarkable degree of restraint, the two siblings don’t have sex next to their father’s corpse in a church. Only Joffrey got that treatment.
Now about that fled Lannister…
Hearing the Game of Thrones theme tune, reentering its world – the first episode of season five reminds you how fantastically escapist the show is. But few elements are more pleasing than being in Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) company again. Even as a bearded, borderline alcoholic who poos in a crate and continues to drink after vomiting (a feat known as ‘Levelling Up’), he’s still a delight.
Those conditions were brought about by a long voyage across the Narrow Sea between seasons four and five…not a lock-in with Bronn. It must’ve been quite the soul-searching experience, isolated with nothing but your ‘I-killed-my-dad’ thoughts and a day’s worth of excrement. Consequently, Tyrion isn’t as perky as normal.
This is vastly different from the books, and arguably superior. In the text, Tyrion travels alone and befriends a lady dwarf. The voyage occupies about a third of his storyline and feels superfluous (introducing yet another character). Benioff and Weiss’ masterstroke is cutting it entirely, and pasting the threads back together with a Varys-shaped glue. Tyrion and the Spider’s (Conleth Hill) bromance is one of the series’ most engaging relationships, the two’s verbal spars being an aural feast.
Every line between them is a zinger. Of Tyrion’s escalated fondness for wine: Varys – “There are faster ways to kill yourself.” Tyrion – “Not for a coward.” If this were The Big Bang Theory, rapturous canned laughter and applause would follow every exchange.
The episode leaves them on a choice: Tyrion must decide whether to drink himself to death, or assist Varys’ hot new Westeros-ruling prospect (Daenerys – Emilia Clarke). Presumably it’s the latter. It won’t be much of a series otherwise.
The source material for ‘The Wars to Come’ is a mixed affair. Tyrion and Daenerys’ segments are taken from A Dance with Dragons (book 5), Cersei’s from A Feast for Crows (book 4) and Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) from A Storm of Swords (book 3). In consolidating the various strains, sub-plots have been sacrificed. Largely, like Tyrion’s voyage, this has helped focus and uncomplicate the narrative.
It also has another effect: increasing each storyline’s star power.
At The Wall with the Night’s Watch, Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) joins Melisandre (Carice van Houten), Stannis (Stephen Dillane) and Jon. In the books, he is sent off elsewhere in a frustratingly inconsequential subplot. Seeing these significant characters together reinvigorates their relationship dynamics. It makes for better drama, lending weight to the scenes.
Benoiff and Weiss’ strength has always been duologues. They can write anything from zinger-filled banter (see Tyrion and Varys above), political scheming (as with Cersei and Jaime) and momentous pre-execution chat. The latter morbidly shines between Jon and the Wildling ‘King’ Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds). So many different thematic conflicts arise as Jon asks Rayder to kneel before Stannis. Duty vs Compromise, Freedom vs Safety. They’re all futile. Rayder has made up his mind.
Through gritted teeth, Stannis asks/commands Rayder to kneel. Mance doesn’t answer properly. Instead, he utters the line from which this episode claims its name: “I wish you the best of luck in the wars to come.” Melisandre can’t get up there fast enough, presumably with The Crazy World of Arthur Brown playing on repeat in her head.
Mance’s burning is drawn out. The flames crackle and spread, his face turning from pensive to fright, beads of sweat cascading down his forehead. From some angles, he looks as though he’s melting. The camera frequently cuts to the crowd – to Samwise (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray), who buries her head in his substantial shoulder. To Tormund’s (Kristofer Hivju) eyes fiercely welling up as he watches his friend and former King burn. To Selyse Baratheon (Tara Fitzgerald), looking way more into it than she should be. It’s supremely uncomfortable, and you start to wonder…where’s this all going? Will there be another scene with a cliffhanger? Will the credits harshly roll with fire crackling in the background?
And then comes the episode’s great punchline. Snow, as bound by duty and compassion as his father, shoots an arrow into Mance’s chest. It’s a horrible decision to make, but the right one – a type of choice all to familiar to the Stark bastard.
SEXINESS TALLY (in lieu of the Hodor Count):
6 boobs, 1 vagina, 3 male buttocks, 1 homosexual snog.
Oliver Davis is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors, curator of its Super Newsletter and Lead Producer of Flickering Myth TV. You can follow him on Twitter @OliDavis. Check back here every Monday for his episode-by-episode reviews of Game of Thrones Season 5.