The debut episode for Game of Thrones Season 5, “The Wars to Come,” certainly lives up to its name. A solid hour of teasing about the conflicts to come, without advancing a lot of the plot. It’s a solid enough entry point back into the world of the series that now contains dozens of main characters, but does it make for an entertaining episode? Find out in our first Game of Thrones review.
Even the opening scene, which was a flashback story ripped straight form the books, serves as a hint at things to come in a way. It’s a tie-in to all the times that present-day Cersei has mentioned a prophecy told to her when she was younger, but we finally get to actually see what that prophecy was, and who told it to her. They curiously leave out the important prophecy, the one about Cersei’s children being killed by her younger brother, but I’m willing to chalk that up to the show assuming you already knew that. Instead, the witch tells Cersei about her fortune of having three children while the King she will eventually marry having twenty. Knowing all we do about Game of Thrones now this makes sense, but it leaves teenaged Cersei confused and angry – as she often is.
For what it’s worth, they nailed the casting of young Cersei with Nell Williams. As ho-hum as I feel about flashbacks in general, it’s a treat to see Williams handle all the mannerisms of the character that Lena Headey has established in the previous four seasons of the show. The scowl, the death glare, everything about Cersei Lannister comes across perfectly in Williams’ brief performance as the future Queen.
One of the better setups of the episode is between Tyrion and Varys. Another major divergence from the book series, these two look to be in for some interesting tales ahead. Tyrion, having been stuffed into a box for some time as the two of them fled King’s Landing, is dealing with his predicament in the most Tyrion Lannister way possible – by drinking. I’ve always enjoyed the Tyrion/Varys dynamic, and now that they are getting their own little side-story together, I’m thrilled to see where it goes. Even in their short time on screen in this episode they have a great back-and-forth going with some solid comedic moments, mainly revolving around the merits of going to the bathroom in a tiny box. The rest of their time together is mostly spent with Varys trying to convince Tyrion to join him on a trip to Meereen to see Daenerys and help her ascend to the Iron Throne.
As we learn quickly after this scene, things aren’t going well for Daenerys. To this point, she’s faced a surprising low level of adversity, considering her position of power and all that she has accomplished. All of that begins to crumble a bit in “Wars to Come” as she not only begins to lose control of her city, but her more prized possessions, her dragons. Drogon, the dragon that caused all this trouble killing a child, is considered long gone at this point but Daenerys still wants to tame the other two. This leads to a fantastically tense and tragic scene with her realizing that her ability to control them may be too far gone.
Even while knowing what was coming, even while seeing the outline of a dragon’s head in the shadow, I still jumped. It was a bit of a cheap jump scare, but it does such a great job building the tension, both with her lack of light that she brought with her, and the fact that she has previously traversed those caves without incident, that I’m fine with it. If Daenerys has truly lost control of her dragons, that will spell much more trouble for her than losing control of her city or Unsullied being killed in brothels. Yet again, another setup that could lead to some solid plot lines down the road.
And finally, on the Jon Snow side of things. Well, they aren’t going well. Mance Rayder has the chance to live if he bends the knee to Stannis Baratheon, but he chooses not to save his pride. The dialogue between Jon and Mance prior to Mance’s death is heartbreaking, as all of their past relationship comes to a head at that moment. All of the trust built up between them, the friendship, and the hardships can’t get through Mance’s stubbornness. In the end, he dies doing what he thinks is right, while potentially doing just the opposite. Setting up (are you sensing the theme?) some interesting things to come.
There is a general theme of “don’t trust anyone” running through the episode. It’s a theme that has always been at the heart of Game of Thrones, but it’s brought to the forefront more than ever in “Wars to Come.” Sansa and Littlefinger come right out and discuss it, while many others hint at the fact that no one can be trusted in the world of Game of Thrones. In particular, Jamie and Cersei note that they cannot trust anyone now that their father is dead, as everyone will be vying for the empire that he built. The series has always been about betrayal, but if this setup episode is any indication, the betrayals are going to be coming fast and furious as the season progresses.
While these type of episodes are not the best viewing experience ever, they are necessary with a show as expansive as Game of Thrones, especially now that the series is diverging from the book series. Even in this first episode we see a lot of difference from what happened in the A Song of Ice and Fire series such as Tyrion’s current position, wherever Littlefinger is taking Sansa, and maybe the death of Mance Rayder. It all promises to lead into something bigger, and as long as that big thing does come, the end will more than justify the means.