[Charlotte Mullin | Contributing Writer]
It’s the most wonderful time of the year, where millions will perch in front of their screens for their weekly dose of sex, blood and betrayal. I am, of course, referring to the return of Game of Thrones, which lost a little bit of its lustre due to the fact that the first four episodes of season five were leaked roughly a week before its debut. But as a law-abiding citizen, I resisted the temptation of torrenting them and waited until Tuesday for the original air date.
Now, I am about to admit something which tends to make show-watchers groan in disgust at its sheer snobbery: I prefer the books. After the conclusion of season four, I was given the Song of Ice and Fire series as a birthday present, and I devoured them all in lieu of doing university work, and so this season will be my first experience of the show as a book-reader. Saying that, however, I am capable of being objective. Don’t worry, nowhere in this review will you find the phrase ‘in the books.’ Except for just then.
From an unbiased, objective mindset, The Wars to Come is a reasonably solid episode, with just the right amount of action to provoke hype for the season and amazing performances (as usual) from all involved. At the same time, however, it is not without its failings, and unfortunately these hinder the episode from being a monumental introduction to season five.
Unusually, the episode begins with something the show has not done before, which was a flashback featuring a young Cersei and her friend Melara wandering into the woods to get their futures read by a forest witch named Maggy. Somehow, the show-runners managed to find a child actress who must have been a young Lena Headey from an alternate dimension, because Nell Williams absolutely nails Cersei’s ruthlessness. Yet Maggy dispels Cersei’s notions of grandeur by telling her that, while she will one day marry a king, he will have a score of bastard kids while all of her own children will die; furthermore, her reign is destined to be short-lived, as a younger, more beautiful queen will take her place. Part of me wonders why the show hasn’t utilised the flashback format before, since this example serves two excellent purposes. First of all, it adds an incredible amount of character development to Cersei by partly explaining her malevolence towards Sansa and Margaery, who were potential candidates for being the queen to cast her aside. Secondly, it establishes the course of the rest of the season; as young Cersei has her hopes dashed, so will several other characters find themselves thrust into difficult situations which completely clash with their expectations and desires. Now that Tywin is dead, all of his best laid plans will become unravelled, and Westeros is surely about to descend further into chaos without his influence.
Speaking of Tywin, the return to the present kicks off with his funeral, and I’m sure I wasn’t alone in dreading another incesty rape scene by a corpse when Cersei and Jaime were alone in the Sept again. Those eye stones will never fail to make me laugh, though. While his brother and sister mourn the loss of their father, Tyrion emerges from a crate after what must’ve been a long journey judging by the scraggliness of his facial hair. It turns out he and Varys are kicking it up in Pentos, at the home of the latter’s friend Illyrio Mopatis, and after having some bants about shit Varys completely lays all of his cards on the table and confesses he’s going to Meereen to support Daenerys Targaryen. It takes Tyrion all of about, oh, four seconds of contemplation before he agrees to join Varys which, okay, is cool because Conleth Hill and Peter Dinklage are awesome and have great chemistry, but it makes the entire scene come across as rushed.
Daenerys’ scenes suffer from the same problem. As the self-appointed ruler of Meereen, she’s already facing obstacles; an Unsullied is murdered, and this is revealed to have been carried out by a member of a resistance group known as The Sons of the Harpy. As well as this, Hizdahr zo Loraq tells her that the Wise Masters of Yunkai will only renounce slavery on the condition that she reopens the fighting pits, something integral to their culture, which Dany vehemently refuses. But wait, a good shag from Daario changes her mind, and while I am all for more male nudity in this show, I struggle to understand why that’s all it takes to make Daenerys do a complete 180. Obviously, the writers are simply trying to build interest by introducing key plot points straight away (that there will be wars to come, ha ha ha) but without any momentum building up to them they don’t quite have a lasting impact. On the plus side, there’s a really great encounter between Missandei and Grey Worm, in which she asks why exactly an Unsullied would visit a brothel, and his shy response subtly hints at a potentially touching romantic subplot between the two.
Meanwhile, up in the North, Jon – for some reason – decides to train the kid who killed Ygritte like it’s no biggy. Kit Harington’s performance, however, makes it abundantly clear that Jon is still devastated over her death, retaining a sense of melancholy even when Melisandre randomly asks him if he’s a virgin. A+ dialogue there. Despite that ridiculous incident, however, the most chilling scene of the episode occurs at the Wall, when Mance Rayder is offered as a sacrifice to R’hllor for refusing to bend the knee to Stannis. Several other characters have been burnt to death over the course of the series, and they’re all horrifying, particularly due to an amalgamation of Melisandre’s solemn speeches and the show’s amazing musical score which never fails to invoke some sort of emotional response (see: The Rains of Castamere). But the focus on Mance’s face as the flames reach him, and the sudden shock of Jon shooting him with an arrow, was a perfectly haunting end to the episode.
Overall, this episode featured some really stellar performances, especially from Sophie Turner, who brilliantly portrays how hardened Sansa has become since the last season. At times, however, it totally failed to hit the mark; sometimes it gave off the impression that the script was patched together by a team of writers who didn’t confer with each other beforehand. Like I said at the beginning, the flashback scene presented a capable understanding of exposition, yet at other points it seemed as if they completely forgot the personalities of the characters. Margaery, for example, has suddenly shifted from being sharply conniving to petulantly whiney, sulkily eating fruit while complaining about Cersei.
Combined with several plot points hurriedly shoved in our faces, this episode fell a little short as an introduction; hopefully, the episodes to come will expand upon the themes introduced in The Wars to Come and pack the punch that Game of Thrones has delivered before.
Game of Thrones fan? Let us know what you thought in the comments or on Twitter @TridentMediaUK!
[All images courtesy of HBO]