Game of Thrones Recap: Season 5, Episode 1 “The Wars to Come”

Wow.

So, anyone who read my posts on last year’s Game of Thrones probably knows that I didn’t love season four. By the time that shitshow was over, I wasn’t even certain I was going to watch season five at all. Of course, absence really does sometimes make the heart grow fonder, and there were a few things about season four that I liked, so by the time winter arrived (get it?!) and season five promo season began, I was ready to be interested again. And the season five promos were excellent! By the beginning of March, I was really excited about season five, although still skeptical, especially as I know the show is getting into some real uncharted waters this year.

And now, Game of Thrones is finally back, and “The Wars to Come” did not disappoint. I won’t say I was completely blown away by last night’s episode, but I am thoroughly pleased with it and I’m very much looking forward to the rest of the season if this first episode is any indicator of the quality we can expect. That said, probably my biggest complain about last season was that it was uneven–for every sequence I loved, there was another that I despised, and I felt like they really dropped the ball on a handful of storylines–so we’ll see what happens this year. I’m cautiously optimistic, however.

A full recap and analysis is under the cut. There will be spoilers for last night episode and some book-related stuff.


We open with the show’s first ever flashback scene, and this is probably my only sort-of-complaint about the episode. In the books, GRRM avoids flashbacks entirely, although we do get some characters remembering or talking about events that happened before the beginning of the series. The show, so far, has stuck to this rule, so this is new. The problem is, I don’t know what they are trying to communicate here.

Two girls, one of whom we find out at the end of the scene is young Cersei, are walking through the woods to visit a witch. Young Cersei wants to know her future, and the witch lets her ask three questions, although she warns that Cersei will not like the answers. The prophecy of Maggy the Frog (who is much younger than I envisioned her when I read the books) is pretty much what Cersei was told in the books, although the show omits the reference to the valonqar (”little brother” in High Valyrian). Maggy ends with “gold will be their crowns and gold will be their shrouds,” referring to Cerseis’ three children, and then we are taken to the present-day King’s Landing, where Cersei is on her way to Tywin’s funeral.

Here’s the thing: I don’t think this flashback, at this point in the show, gives us any new information or insight into Cersei or the story. We already know what Cersei is like as a grown woman, so seeing that she was kind of a nightmare as a girl doesn’t really expand our understanding of her character. We already know that she married King Robert Baratheon, and people who have not read the books will probably not know who “the prince” is that Cersei is promised to (Rhaegar Targaryen). Although the “younger, more beautiful” queen bit might help to explain Cersei’s jealousy and hatred of Margaery, it feels redundant since the relationship between these two women has already been shown really effectively in the show, and it fits into classic fantasy and fairy tale traditions where older women are threatened by younger ones (think Snow White et al.). “Gold will be their crowns and gold will be their shrouds” might help explain Cersei’s protectiveness over her children, but I feel if that’s the point of the scene it would have been better placed in an earlier season, probably before Margaery arrived in King’s Landing.

Basically, I think everything we learn in this scene has already been shown, and effectively, in previous seasons of the show. I don’t dislike the scene–Young Cersei is wonderfully awful, and I like witches any way I can get them in stories. I just don’t think it fits here, and I’m not sure it was a wise use of four minutes of show time when there’s so much other material that could have been included instead. The valonqar line from the books is a major part of several reader theories about the future of the series, so it seems like a missed opportunity to leave that out. We also didn’t get to see the death of Cersei’s friend, which was significant in the books because it “proved” Maggy’s prophecies. I just don’t know about this. At this point, I think the only way it works is if this flashback is going to be split up and spread out over several episodes, used as a sort of framing for Cersei’s story over the course of the season. And maybe that’s what will happen; I guess we’ll find out over the next few weeks. So, not really a complaint I guess, but just a thing I’m not completely sold on and am trying to reserve judgment on until I see how it plays out.

In King’s Landing, as I mentioned above, we’ve skipped over the finding of Tywin’s body and we’re going straight into Tywin’s funeral. Cersei arrives and has to walk past Margaery on her way to the Sept, and Margaery gives her a look and a half. Natalie Dormer has the most amazing smug face I’ve ever seen, and it’s pretty clear that Cersei and Margaery won’t be burying the hatchet anytime soon.

In the Sept, Jaime is standing vigil over his father’s body when Cersei walks in. He suggests to Cersei that their enemies are going to try and take away everything Tywin has left for them, but Cersei isn’t here to bond with Jaime. She points out that Jaime murdered Tywin as much as Tyrion did, and although we do get an inkling of her hatred for Tyrion, Cersei manages to come off as the more rational twin in this scene. In A Feast for Crows, GRRM wrote Cersei as increasingly bizarre and insane, but this scene gives me a little hope that maybe the show is going to dial that down a little. Here, she’s furious at Jaime, but her fear of Tyrion seems entirely justified rather than irrationally paranoid, and her rejection of Jaime made me want to cheer.

Apparently Varys shipped Tyrion all the way to Pentos in a [fucking] crate, and Tyrion is not happy about it at all. In fact, Tyrion isn’t very happy about anything right now. Varys wants give an impassioned speech about the value of patriotism and the future of their country, but Tyrion responds by gulping down some wine and promptly vomiting it back up. “The future is shit, just like the past.”

In Meereen, the Unsullied are overseeing the toppling of one of the enormous harpy statues that crown the city’s pyramids. Afterwards, one unfortunate young man named White Rat goes to a brothel for some cuddling, only to be murdered by a mysterious figure in a golden mask. We learn that this group of masked rebels calls themselves the Sons of the Harpy, and Daenerys orders that these men be found and brought to her. Next, Missandei goes to speak with Grey Worm to ask why an Unsullied would be in a brothel to begin with. She doesn’t get the answer she was perhaps hoping for, but it does look like we might be getting more Grey Worm/Missandei romance this year.

At Castle Black, Jon Snow is training the boy who killed Ygritte to fight. Gilly is worried about what might happen to her and her baby if Alliser Thorne is elected Lord Commander, and Sam tries to reassure her. I suspect this means that we’ll be getting to see Sam politicking to get Jon elected instead as in the books, but I’m still curious to see how they handle the other major part of that storyline, where Jon sends Sam, Gilly, and Maester Aemon away from the Wall.

Melisandre comes to fetch Jon to speak with Stannis, and she seems to be taking a creepy interest in Jon as they ride up to the top of the Wall in the lift. Stannis wants Jon to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee and bring the Wildlings to fight for Stannis’s cause. Jon isn’t confident that Mance will do it, but he agrees to give it a try. He has until nightfall, which isn’t very long at all.

Elsewhere, Sansa and Littlefinger are watching the young Lord Arryn trying to learn to fight. They leave Robin with Lord Royce, who promises only that the boy will be safe.

Nearby, Brienne is in a mood and just wants Podrick to leave her alone. This is a storyline that I’m really unsure about this season, as without Lady Stoneheart I’m not sure what this pair has to do now.

Sansa and Littlefinger, amusingly, drive past in a carriage, not a hundred yards from Brienne and Pod. They have a nice little chat about trust, in which it’s made obvious that Sansa has elevated herself (at least somewhat) from pawn of Littlefinger to partner in (probably) crime. I can’t wait to see where they’re going. Somewhere where “Cersei Lannister can’t even get her hands on [Sansa]” could honestly mean just about anywhere at this point. As long as it’s not Winterfell. I will absolutely lose my shit if Sansa ends up anywhere near Ramsay Bolton.

Still at Tywin’s funeral, Cersei looks ready to murder someone. Probably Loras, who is close at hand and struggles to find the words to express his condolences. This scene is the first one of the season that really surprised me. Lancel and Kevan Lannister are back! Lancel has joined the Sparrows cult, but I think it’s debatable how sincere his conversion is. Cersei treats Lancel with disdain, but his reminders to her of how much he knows about her sins seem like a warning that she would probably be wise to heed. This Lancel isn’t the feckless child we’ve met before. He’s very potentially dangerous, and this might be Cersei’s first huge mistake of the season.

Later, Loras is in bed with Littlefinger’s agent Olyvar when Margaery walks in. She’s not surprised; she’s just hungry and they’re late for dinner with the King. As Olyvar gets up to leave, Margaery watches appreciatively as he walks past her. (Me too, girl.) She suggests that Loras might be more discreet, but Loras rather naively points out that there are no secrets in King’s Landing, at least not about his sexual proclivities. She also reminds him of his engagement to Cersei, to which he responds that he doesn’t think there’s any way Cersei will marry him now that Tywin is dead, which is bad luck for Margaery since it means Cersei won’t be going away with Loras to Highgarden. To this, Margaery simply replies, “Perhaps.” I have a feeling that we’re going to see some changes to Margaery and Cersei’s AFFC storyline, with Margaery being more the aggressor than in the books. I can’t wait to see that “perhaps” play out over the next few weeks.

Back in Pentos, Tyrion is cleaned up but in no better a mood than he was earlier. Varys continues his pitch about patriotism and the responsibility of good men to participate in politics. It looks like these two are going together to Meereen and Daenerys.

Meanwhile, already in Meereen, Daario and Hizdahr have returned successful from their mission to Yunkai. However, Hizdahr brings the request for the reopening of the fighting pits of Meereen, which Daenerys rejects entirely. Later, in bed with Daario (who’s got a lovely ass), Dany gets a story about Daario’s youth as a fighter in the pits himself. He advises her to reopen the pits. He also reminds her of the importance of her dragons, but she admits that she can no longer control the dragons.

Daenerys goes down to the pit where Rhaegal and Viserion are kept, but they aren’t very happy about being imprisoned, and she leaves, frightened. This was a little bit of a sour note for me, to be honest. In the books, while she does struggle to control the dragons and doesn’t know exactly what to do with them, she’s never afraid of them like she is here and while they are angry about being locked away they never attack her. To be fair, they don’t exactly attack her here, either, but that almost makes her fear of them even more inexplicable. Really, though, I don’t like this scene, but I also don’t know a better way to convey the seriousness of the trouble she has with the dragons. It just rubbed me the wrong way to see her so scared by them.

Back at the Wall, a stake is being erected while Jon Snow goes to appeal to Mance Rayder. Mance refuses to kneel to Stannis, although he admits that Stannis seems like an admirable man. Jon tries to reason with Mance, but is unsuccessful. Even the threat of burning alive, while it obviously terrifies Mance, isn’t enough to make him sign his people over to what he considers a foreign war. Jon leaves, disappointed, and Mance is consigned to the fire at the end of the episode. Before Mance starts screaming, however, Jon grabs a bow and shoots him, giving him a more merciful death.

There was a lot of talk leading into the season about a “shocking” death of a character who is still alive in the books, and I suppose this might be it. There’s no evidence that Melisandre switched Mance for Rattleshirt like in the books, and Ciaran Hinds is only credited as a guest star for this episode. I don’t find this very shocking at all, however. It makes a lot of sense, since they didn’t include Dalla, Val, or Mance’s son. It makes sense to simplify something that ends up being a pretty convoluted plot later on. And it makes sense to let the character go this way. It feels like an honest end for the character, and I think it’s a fitting end to this episode.

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