Game Of Thrones season 5 episode 1 review: The Wars To Come

The big players of Westeros are scrambling for position in a vacuum of power. Here's our review of Game Of Thrones' season 5 opener...

This review contains spoilers. Read our spoiler-free review of the episode, here.

5.1 The Wars To Come

One of the things that is most interesting about Game Of Thrones is just how consistently the show has stuck to its time line. There’s never been a flashback or a flash-forward or any other flash, aside from flashes of genitals from time to time. However, with every show, things must change, and one of the big changes for Game Of Thrones is a break from that flashback-free status. Of course, it helps that the first flashback we get involves a very young Cersei Lannister, who is instantly recognizable as herself even when played by Nell Williams instead of Lena Headey. Little Cersei drags a friend to go see a witch and find out her future, and, of course, she’s not going to like what she finds out.

Westeros is very much a world in flux, and as we find out in this episode, everyone is trying to get adjusted to a new way of looking at things. Tyrion is on the wrong side of the Narrow Sea with his new friend/benefactor/shit-scooper Varys, and his eyes have been opened by a look at the conspiracy to save Westeros by putting a Targaryen back on the throne. That very same Targaryen, Daenerys, is struggling to adjust to being a ruler, not just a conqueror. Meanwhile, the King-Beyond-The-Wall finds himself a prisoner and Stannis Baratheon finds himself to be a king without an army, looking to recruit new bodies for his war for the throne. The Night’s Watch is without a Lord Commander, and while we don’t know what’s going on with a lot of the remaining Starks yet, what we do know about where Jon Snow and Sansa Stark are suggest that they’re in tenuous positions, at best.

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For the first time in a long time, there’s a power vacuum in Westeros, and as Varys tells Tyrion, Tommen isn’t the king needed to fill that position, and it shows. In-fighting is everywhere, and everyone seems to be squabbling with everyone else. Stannis, Mance, and Jon Snow try to make sense out of the power vacuum in the North; the Lannisters try to make sense of the loss of their father in the South, and Dany learns that just because you free a bunch of slaves like some sort of sexy, dragon-riding Abe Lincoln, that doesn’t mean everyone’s going to love you—including some of those very same slaves you freed.

There’s a disorganization to tonight’s episode that seems very reflective of the setting. Dany topples statues, but her dragons run her out of the room and nearly kill her in their anger. Tyrion and Varys continue to plot to find a good ruler for Westeros, but is their best hope able to do the job if she can’t control Meereen? Pod and Brienne are looking for a purpose. The way the episode is shot reflects that disorganization. We get little scenes here and there, with smooth transitions or jarring transitions between them, depending on the setting and the choices made by director Michael Slovis. He shoots things in a way that seems to emphasize the confusion of the situation. Mance Rayder looks broken in his cell, much smaller than remembered. Brienne looks like a giant at other times, because she’s the one with the power in the Pod scenes.

Again, in the first episode of a season, there’s a lot of table-setting and not as much feasting on pigeon pie and roast boar. However, that’s not to say that the episode is boring. By any definition, it was a very interesting instalment, with Dan Benioff and D.B. Weiss mixing in intrigue with refreshers in equal measure. Everything that happens at The Wall works very well, particularly Mance’s unwillingness to bend the knee and Jon Snow’s naive assumption that his people would continue to respect him if he did the thing that no Northerner would do. It’s a lesson for Jon, who wasn’t there to learn things the hard way like his half-brother Robb did, and a bit of a pleasant surprise, as the scenes in the area of The Wall weren’t one of the highlights of last season, sprawling crazy battle scenes excepted.

At this point, Game Of Thrones shouldn’t surprise anyone by being good, because it’s one of the most consistently good shows on television and has been since the very first episode. However, it’s always nice when an episode that’s mostly setting up the fifth season—and this is a big reboot because so many major characters died last year—turns out to be really entertaining on its own. Great performances from Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill, a great turn from young Nell Williams that makes her instantly recognizable as Cersei before she even says her name, and little glimpses of what’s been going on with some of our old favorites, particularly those squabbling, sexually-permissive Tyrells, while not spending too much time in any one setting.

All in all, it’s a very welcome, quality return for a piece of brilliant television. Even this, which might be the least interesting episode all season, contains enough discussion-worthy points to power a thousand water cooler conversations, and raises a host of questions I won’t bother to speculate on, because I’m pretty sure I’ll be wrong. Even now, at the very beginning of the season, there are wheels within wheels working, and the scheming begins in earnest as the big players of Westeros scramble for position in the vacuum of power.

I can’t wait to see how it plays out.

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Read Ron’s spoiler-filled review of the season four finale, The Children, here.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan is very pleased by the long-awaited return of Game of Thrones to television. It’s been entirely too long since we’ve murdered alongside our Westeros friends. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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