After a long winter, Game Of Thrones returns to pick up the pieces after last season’s bloody climax.
Let’s bitch it out…
There’s a power vacuum in Westeros in the wake of Tywin Lannister’s death, but rather than solidify a candidate to fill it, ‘The Wars To Come’ spends most of its time weighing the options. As the AV Club points out we open and close with the deaths of powerful men: Tywin’s (Charles Dance) body lies in wake in King’s Landing in the post-flashback scene and Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) takes an arrow to the chest before he is burned alive in the closing moment. In between we bear witness to several conversations between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) about Tyrion’s potential: not to rule, but to help introduce someone new. Varys is, of course, talking about Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), but little does he know that she herself is struggling. The Sons of the Harpy are displeased with her leadership, especially her refusal to open the fighting pits, despite reassurances that only free men will volunteer to fight to the death. It sounds like a problem with a simple solution, but as we’ve seen in Meereen, nothing is simple about granting men freedom.
At the end of the day the creators of Game Of Thrones, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss (and by extension writer George R.R. Martin) love to explore how the power, prestige and dominance corrupts the people at the top of the food chain almost as much as they enjoy highlighting the capacity of all men (and women) to do terrible things in the service of their own interests. Daario (Michiel Huisman) is a classic example: he clarifies to Daeny how his ascent occurred with a history of his trials of force and perseverance. Unfortunately Daeny – like poor Robin Arryn – has more of a powerful name than a legitimate force these days. The Mother of Dragons doesn’t so much wield her fully-grown creatures so much as she confines them, as evidenced by her hasty retreat from their prison. And that’s with Drogos still on the loose!
Still at least Daeny has a legitimate claim. Contrast this with Baelish (Aidan Gillen), a prime example of the “pursuit of power by any means necessary” camp that Daario admires so much. He killed Cersei’s (Lena Headey) husband, Robert, to accelerate his own climb, but in Baelish’s mind he’s always acted out of (unrequited) love for Cat Stark. Now, despite the fact that he’s assumed full control over Cat’s daughter, Sansa (Sophie Turner), all he can do is run scared from Cersei’s wrath, paranoid that Lord Royce is secretly plotting their ruin. For all of his aspirations, Baelish continues to prove that he is unfit to lead. He would do well to follow Vary’s path and stick to consulting.
So who does that leave as our real contenders? Cersei would certainly love to take over in her father’s wake, but there’s no subtlety in the way that Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer) looks at her as Cersei climbs those steps to visit Tywin’s body. The future forecast provided by the witch in the flashback that opens the episode clearly lays out Cersei’s future; Margaery is undoubtedly the younger, hotter model destined to make a bid for the top spot, as evidenced by the scene where she and her brother, Loras (Finn Jones) discuss what Tywin’s death means for their political (and romantic) futures.
That leaves Stannis (Stephen Dillane), the self proclaimed “one true king” who engages in a battle of wills with Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) – the unofficial king of the north now that Mance has gone up in flames. The scenes of Jon teaching boys how to fight and his refusal to cow before Stannis or his henchwoman, Melisandre (Carice van Houten) – uncomfortably sexy/flirty as always – suggests that this season will document Jon’s different approaches to leadership compared to Stannis’. With so much of their attention focused on the other, however, it is unlikely that either will make a bid for a larger piece of the pie…at least not in the immediate future.
And so perhaps Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) is right when she laments to Podrick (Daniel Portman) that all of the good Lords are dead? Jon Snow remains a solid candidate, and if Daeny can team up with Tyrion and calm her dragons she’s got promise, as well. As this first episode reminds us, however, power doesn’t come easily in this world. And that’s without checking in on several absent and new characters who have yet to be seen…
- Lord Royce essentially speaks for us all when he critiques poor Robin’s sword-handling. Try as Baelish might, we are all in agreement with Royce when he inquires what the boy is good at. That kid better practice using his name to get what he wants.
- Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) asks Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) why the Unsullied are visiting brothels, which is a perfectly good question. Of course, he doesn’t know the answer, probably because he’s completely in love with her and therefore doesn’t participate in those reindeer games.
- During the wake for her dead father, Cersei encounters Cousin Lancel (Eugene Simon) with whom she had an incestuous affair when Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) was on the road. It turns out that Lancel has converted to a religious sect known as the Sparrows who have cropped up in King’s Landing since Tywin’s death. Cersei doesn’t seem perturbed, but she probably ought to be.
- Sam (John Bradley) doesn’t take Gilly’s (Hannah Murray) concerns about Stannis’ dislike of her seriously, but – like Cersei – he should. Stannis shows a clear distaste for the wildlings and his murder of Mance Raydar suggests that the two groups will come to blows. Gilly would do well to keep her head down.
- As it seemingly does each year, the FX has improved. The destruction of the figure atop the pyramid in Meereen is impressive, as is the depiction of the world at the Wall and Daeny’s fully grown dragons. Gotta think that HBO has come to the realization that the show is a cash cow and deserves the extra Braavos coins, right?
- Who gets the better lines: Varys or Tyrion? I love Tyrion, but I feel like Varys sardonic wit versus Tyrion’s sad drunken quips win the day.
- Miss Arya?
- Finally, in the Game of Nudity, the ladies and gays clearly win this round: in addition to Loras & Oliver’s sexy times, we’re treated to Huisman’s post-coital bare butt. No sexposition boobs for the straight men and lesbians this week!
- Varys (after Tyrion complains about pushing his shit through the air holes in the crate): “No. I only know what it’s like to pick up your shit and throw it overboard.”
- Brienne (to Podrick, when he suggests there are still good lords alive): “The good lords are dead and the rest are monsters.”
- Tyrion (when Varys suggests there’s a faster way to kill himself than drink): “Not for a coward.”
- Mance (when Jon tells him he’ll be burnt alive): “Bad way to go.”
Your turn: who is atop the power standings as we go into S5? Will Cersei fend off Margaery? Should Tilly watch her back? How swift/terrible will Stannis’ retribution be for Jon’s unsanctioned murder of Mance? Will Tyrion be able to help Daeny? What exactly is Baelish’s plan for Sansa at this point? And where should Brienne and Pod travel next? Sound off below.
Game Of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO. Next week: Arya and the arrival of threats from Dorne!