Game of Thrones Revisited: 5.01 The Wars To Come
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros and the rest of the world, as we head into the fifth season of the show...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
Coming into season five, there is a real sense that the world has changed; not since the start of season two has the direction of the characters and their storylines seemed so in flux. The Wars To Come, as the title suggests, is a somewhat reflective affair, establishing the world again after the Wildling defeat at the Wall, the Bolton hold on Winterfell, Tywin Lannister's murder and Daenerys' conquering of the slave cities.
For the first time in the show's history, Game of Thrones employs flashbacks to tell the story of a younger but still wilful Cersei who took her friend to a witch as a child and learned the secrets of her future. With Tywin dead and the War of the Five Kings virtually over, her ruthless ambition will see her take a much darker path in the rest of the series, as she loses each child in turn - the monster Joffrey last season, poor Myrcella this season and Tommen through suicide the next.
Up to this point there has been humility in her love as a mother and even some hint of affection with her brothers. But with Tyion killing Tywin, that has all changed. She blames Jamie as much as 'the imp' for having the compassion to let Tyrion go. She is colder, distant too. It's a small but noticeable change in her persona this episode that will grow over the next two years until she sits on the Iron Throne.
After her triumphant rise to power over the last two seasons, Daenerys's rule of Mereen continues to fracture; the season opens with a member of her Unsullied, finding the comfort of a whore to hold him (presumably reflecting the loss of his mother as a child) before being brutally murdered by a good-masked member of the Sons of the Harpy. These figures are an ominous statement about the cost if power; even members of her own army cannot be safe from a secret group intent in restoring the old ways where slavers ruled with an iron grip.
A major convergence of storylines begins this episode as Tyrion crawls out of a box following his escape from King's Landing at the end of season four. For the first time we see Varys speak openly of his allegiance to the Targeryan line as he insists Tyrion join him in travelling to Mereen. It was exciting to see other characters interact in Daenerys' world, something that will happen more frequently moving forward, though it will take two more seasons before she sets foot on Westeros herself.
Tyrion's fall from grace is at his lowest point here, fleeing from the scene of the murder he committed, hunted by his family and literally crawling out of shit to seek his freedom. Still as grim as things are for the character, seeing him play off Varys is a joy to behold, both full of wit and charm, never fully trusting each other and yet still having enough respect to be willing to help. It also helps too that Peter Dinklage can steal any scene, even when he is crawling out of a box, downing a goblet of wine and vomiting in front of his 'friend'. Season five will continue to test him as his path to becoming Daenerys' Hand sees him forge a new destiny, one that is a far cry from the schemes and machinations of King's Landing.
Talking of convergence, we also have two surprising set of characters interacting for the first time in the show's history. It's somewhat odd to see the likes of Stannis, Davos and Melisandre hanging around Castle Black. After the battle of the Wall last season, the balance of power is truly tipped in the North, the great 'king' Mance Rayder now in chains and forced to bend the knee of allegiance to Stannis. Ciarán Hinds remains a formidable presence to the very end, refusing to bend despite Jon's desperate attempts to save him. And yet even his resolute nature seems to waver in the horrifying climax of the episode as Melisandre has him burned at the stake as a sacrifice to the God of Fire.
Given that all Mance was trying to do was save him people from the greater threat beyond the Wall, his death remains a tragic fallout in the continued, ultimately pointless power plays that have torn Westeros apart. Still, the plight of the Wildlings will continue to dominate the season, as Jon continues to find himself fighting for them even in the face of great adversity. Jon's act in saving Mance from a crueller death by firing an arrow into his chest will lead to greater events at Hardholme and his own 'death' in the season finale. And with Melisandre setting her sights on the bastard of Winterfell, the time of one man's plight to survive the trials of Night's Watch is almost over.
The Wars To Come is a solid season opener that resets all the pieces on the board after the huge events of last season. It is not the most exciting of episodes and the slight drop of momentum will hold season five in an impasse for most of its run. But with the high quality of the performances, the rich characterisation and convergence of storylines, even a slower-paced episode like this is still a high standard for television in general.