Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ season 5, episode 1 – “The Wars to Come”

by W. Andrew Powell
Kit Harington, Stephen Dillane, and Liam Cunningham

Game of Thrones Season 5 premiere: Episode 1 – “The Wars to Come”

One of the best shows on television returns to HBO and HBO Canada tonight. Yes, of course I’m talking about Game of Thrones‘ fifth season, and while the first episode is a slow burn, I can promise that it builds to some epic developments over the next three episodes.

For the first episode this season, “The Wars to Come”, the Game of Thrones is on catch-up mode, giving us a peek at what all the characters are doing after the Wildlings battled the Crows at Castle Black, and as the Lannisters regroup following the death of their patriarch, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance).

As Game of Thrones goes, this is not one of the best episodes in the catalogue to date, but it is a necessary return to Westeros and the world around it as the show sets a tone for what we can expect this season. If some of the names being mentioned surprise you, that is to be expected since this season not only offers a number of new faces, but also a number of new locations as Game of Thrones starts bringing characters together who have never met before.

Most of all, while we spend a fair amount of time catching up with the Lannisters, and the Mother of Dragons, a huge portion of the episode revolves around Castle Black, the aftermath of the battle there at the end of the fourth season, and where Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) will head next, and whether Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is going to help him with his vow to become the King of Westeros.

Emilia Clarke

Emilia Clarke

Compared to the last season, the fifth season starts off feeling very expansive, and maybe even a little too all over the map–literally, actually–but you can feel where elements are going even before they happen, and that’s a good thing, even as surprises pop up frequently.

My own personal favorite storyline for this season does not even appear in the first episode, but the second episode kicks off what I promise is a very fulfilling plotline for one of the show’s more intriguing characters.

For those of you who want some specifics on the episode, here’s my quick recap of what’s going on in “The Wars to Come”. [Please note, this is not spoiler-free, but I avoid specifics overall.]

Game of Thrones airs Sunday on HBO and HBO Canada at 9:00 PM (ET/MT) starting tonight, April 12.

“The Wars to Come” Episode Recap:
At King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) are getting ready for Tywin’s funeral, but Cersei is now most concerned with exacting revenge against Tyrion, and getting Jamie to act and save their daughter, Myrcella (Aimee Richardson), who is essentially a hostage in Dorne. As the Lannister power starts to crumble, they have to act to save the girl before something bad happens, and of course lots of bad things will have to happen regardless on Jamie’s mission to get her back.

Cersei also finds herself face-to-face with her dear cousin Lancel (Eugene Simon), who has gone through a transformation following his previous sins. He’s now a follower of a strange religious faction known as the Sparrows, and after apologizing to Cersei for what he helped do to the king and their “unnatural relations”, he says, “I found peace in the light of the seven… they watch over all of us. Ready to dole out mercy, or justice. Their world is at hand.”

With that ominous tone, he promises to pray for Tywin’s soul, which Cersei bitterly laughs off.

Meanwhile, the second main plot in “The Wars to Come” is all about Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) as he arrives in exile with Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) on their way to Pentos for a new objective that should be fairly obvious if you’ve seen the recent trailers.

Tyrion arrives in pretty rough shape in a crate, which Varys opens and then he apologizes. We learn that this is the first time Tyrion has been allowed out of the crate since they left King’s Landing, and Tyrion is none too happy, but Varys says that it was for their own good if they were to evade any chance of being spotted. Varys hints as well that their next goal is to save Westeros from a war that will tear it apart, and that will only happen if they help bring Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) to the Iron Throne so she can become Queen of the Seven Kingdoms.

Across the Narrow Sea in the former slave-city of Meereen, Daenerys is facing the wrath of a group known as the Sons of the Harpy, a faction trying to restore things to the way they were through brutal murders of her soldiers and the Unsullied.

The former Masters of the city want to have the Fighting Pits reopened, and it’s something even her lover Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) thinks would be wise, but she refuses to allow the brutal blood sport to return, where slaves once fought each other for glory. Daari suggests that there will be trouble if she doesn’t do something, and perhaps she needs to remind everyone that she is the Mother of Dragons.

Daenerys has trouble there, however, since none of her dragons are really that fond of her right now. Visiting the chamber where she sealed two of them away–Viserion and Rhaegal–her visit does not go very well. The two dragons greet her like caged animals, roaring and breathing fire as they pull on their massive chains, and she leaves breathless and scared.

Sophie Turner and Aiden Gillen

Sophie Turner and Aiden Gillen

Elsewhere, Little Finger (Aidan Gillen) and Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) are still together as he leads her off to her next role in life. As Little Finger points out, the whole point is to keep her out of Cersei’s reach, and he has a clever plan.

We also get a quick glimpse in with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and her companion Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), who are not far away from Sansa and Little Finger.

Finally, there’s the story from Castle Black where Jon Snow is dealing with the needs of Stannis, while the ever-watchful Melisandre (Carice van Houten) seems to be keeping an eye on Jon.

Stannis wants Jon, because of his influence with some Wildlings, to convince Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) to join Stannis and lead the Wildings south so they can take back Winterfell.

Jon meets with Mance, and like the good boy that he is, he tries to convince Mance to join Stannis in his fight for the throne. While Mance agrees that Stannis could be a good king, he says that he will never support him. Mance would rather die, however, saying that it’s “better than betraying everything you believe.”

That night, Mance is led outside to face the Night’s Watch, Stannis and his cohorts, and the captured Wildlings. “This was my home for many years,” Mance says. “I wish you good fortune in the wars to come.”

Giving us a long-overdue cue where things are headed, Melisandre steps up for one final speech. “We all must choose… our choices are the same. We choose light, or we choose darkness. We choose the true god, or the false. Free folk, there is only one true king and his name is Stannis…” and with that, there’s the not-too-surprising ending to the episode, with Jon playing one final part in Mance’s story.

Stay tuned for the review of “The House of Black and White”, episode two in Game of Thrones season five, next Sunday.

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