The first episode of Game of Thrones season five gives viewers a snapshot of how things have progressed since last season. Kings Landing is in mourning, Pentos see’s the arrival of a new guest, Slaver’s Bay has a murder mystery, the heir to The Vale finds a new home, and the Wall has quite a stirring bonfire. We even get our first flashback sequence of the series (Lost fans, rejoice)! What do we learn across the board? One’s enemies are just around the corner, so stand and fight or get a running start! Remember, there’s plenty of work to be done in service to the realm. Valar dohaeris – all men must serve. Beware, some spoilers after the jump!
The Wars to Come is about anxiety. It’s about the fear of what is to come. From the moment we see young Cersei Lannister tromping through the mud in her ballet flats on the way to see her local psychic Maggy the Frog, we come face-to-face with a fear of the future. This scene finds Cersei (played superbly by newcomer Nell Williams) grilling the Casterly Rock version of Miss Cleo about whether or not she’ll win big in the marriage lottery. It’s a gamble, she’s told – most people regret knowing the future. Young Cersei pushes, and is met with cryptic answers that obviously haunt her to the present day, especially the bit about a younger Queen who will one day cast her out of power. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the episode.
Any therapist will say we all deal with anxiety differently. Some people go into preparation mode, choosing to focus on the task at hand. Throughout the episode we catch glimpses of training sword play, whether it’s Jon Snow at the Wall with his young recruit (aka Ygrittesbane), or Robyn Arryn of the Vale with Alayne Stone and Petyr Baelish, swinging “… like a girl with palsy” (best quote of the episode). Everyone is preparing for a fight. Even Loras and Margaery Tyrell prepare for a brawl, most likely a political one, to take place in court for control and influence over King Tommen Baratheon and the iron throne. These stalwarts are meeting their fears face forward with swords in hand ready to throw down.
Some folks cope with anxiety by completely shutting down. We meet Tyrion Lannister as he arrives in Pentos after being FedEx’d by Varys across the Narrow Sea. He’s had to piss and shit himself for days on end, all while still in shock from murdering his ex-lover and his father. He doesn’t want to die, at least not immediately. He’s chosen instead to drink himself to death, even in the face of Varys sharing his plans to revive the Targaryen dynasty. His reaction? Throwing up, and then drinking some more booze (Peter Dinklage needs more awards, TPTB).
His siblings don’t have it that much easier – Jamie Lannister and Cersei attend to their father at his funeral, openly discussing the consequences of Jamie helping Tyrion to escape. They are now surrounded by enemies waiting to rip the Lannister influence into pieces, and at a time when the twins couldn’t be further apart from one another. Meanwhile Brienne of Tarth isn’t too motivated either. She’s failed to retrieve the Stark girls and she’s stuck with Podrick Payne who’s a constant reminder she’ll never be a Knight in service to a King she can believe in. Where do they go from here? Queue the Buffy musical already!
Then there are those who manage anxiety by completely overcompensating for the sheer horror of fear, and building a super structure of order and control. People who deconstruct all the possible outcomes swirling through your head into two simple categories – yes or no, right or wrong, light or dark. An AD&D nerd might call these folks lawful but in Game of Thrones it’s the difference between order and honor in the pursuit of justice. Stannis Baratheon, arguably the true king of Westeros see’s the world in black and white. His brother was king, left no trueborn heirs, so thus his cause is just in pursuit of the throne in the name of the Lord of Light. He conveniantly see’s nothing wrong with demanding that the free folk of the North fight in his name. Lancel Lannister (once again played by Eugene Simon, who captures the characters growth nicely) and the Sparrows, who are devout in service to The Seven, repent for their sins by throwing themselves fully into the faith, and abandoning all worldly possessions.
Across the world in Mereen, Daenerys Targaryen tries to hold onto the order she’s established in the former Slaver’s Bay city even when faced with the menace of the Son’s of the Harpy, who have begun killing her Unsullied warriors. Daenerys takes a risk and goes to her dragons Rhaegal and Viserion who are entombed beneath the city, but is greeted with hostility from her children. Clearly they don’t like being locked up, but Daenerys needed to maintain order in light of Drogon eating little children and just being an asshole dragon in general.
Everyone in The Wars To Come is waiting for the other shoe to drop, for someone to draw first blood and set things into motion. When Mance Rayder chooses not to bend the knee to Stannis, he is burned at the stake by Melisandre, but at the last minute offers a merciful death by Jon Snow who fires an arrow through his heart. Of course those of you who read the books are saying “oh wait, that’s not the end of Mance” but we’ve been warned that the TV show will diverge from the books a great deal this season. He was a great king beyond the wall, but something tells us he’s down for the count – queue the first blood.
Overall we’re quite impressed with how closely this episode stayed to the source material, especially given the concurrent storylines from the last two books by G.R.R. Martin, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons. The entire episode felt as though it gelled nicely, even at times overlapped where there weren’t previous connections. We’re excited for next week’s return of Arya Stark and her entrance into the House of Black and White. We’re also excited to see Dorne, the introduction of the Sand Vipers, and Alexander Siddig’s turn as Prince Doran Martell!
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on HBO.