Game of Thrones “The Wars To Come”

Game of Thrones S5E1 “The Wars To Come”

A large reason that season four of Game of Thrones was so great was the sheer amount of game changing moments that occurred, events that destroyed the status quo. When one does that, one finds themselves needing to establish a new status quo. Season premieres of Game of Thrones are rarely super exciting affairs and “The Wars To Come” has the added burden of trying to develop the new status quo after season four tore the old one to shreds. It’s hardly a one hour process but “The Wars To Come” gets us heading back to a new normal state of affairs. This is not the best episode we’ve seen on this show but it is an episode that is presented with the job of moving us forward and it does its job well. In “The Wars To Come”, Varys gives Tyrion a new purpose, Cersei has to acclimate to Tywin’s death, Dany plays the game of politics, and Jon plays the middle man between Mance Rayder and Stannis Baratheon. And away we go.

We start the review with Cersei, but not in King’s Landing. In a super rare usage of flashback, we start the season off with a scene of young Cersei, still living in Casterly Rock. She and a friend walk through the nearby woods to pay a visit to a known witch by the name of Maggy. The whole scene gives off an ominous vibe which is enough to want to make Cersei’s friend head on home but Cersei insists they see the witch, and even back then, Cersei gets her way. When they arrive at Maggy’s tent, Cersei demands that she has her fortune told. Maggy tells her people don’t end up liking their fortunes, but Cersei insists again that she have it read. Maggy tells Cersei that she will not marry the prince, but marry the king. She will be queen for a time but a younger and prettier one will take her place. The King will have twenty children while Cersei will have three and her children will have gold shrouds (meaning they’ll all die before she does). Upon revealing that last one, Maggy begins to crazily laugh and the flashback ends.

In the present, Cersei arrives at the Great Sept of Baelor for Tywin’s wake and tells the High Septon that she will privately pay her respects before opening the wake to the public. Inside, she finds Jaime already there and she berates him for his part in their father’s death. After she has made the wake open to the public, Cersei runs into her uncle Kevan and his son Lancel (the same Lancel she slept with in seasons one and two). Lancel has become part of a religious fanatic group called the sparrows and his newfound sense of religion has him apologizing to Cersei and asking forgiveness for his part in their incestuous relationship and his part in Robert’s murder. Cersei tells him there’s no need to apologize for either of those because neither happened, and then leaves Lancel alone.

Let’s go back to that flashback for a second. That younger queen, Margaery would be a safe bet for that wouldn’t she? Sometime after the wake, Margaery comes to fetch her brother Loras for their dinner with Cersei and Tommen and ends up walking in on Loras getting intimate with the prostitute Olyvar. She promptly kicks Olyvar out of the room and tells Loras that it’s best not to keep his betrothed waiting. Loras counters that Cersei won’t be his betrothed much longer because no one will force her to marry him now that Tywin is dead. He also points out that this is bad news for Margaery because instead of Cersei coming to Highgarden with him, Cersei will now stay in the capital and get to annoy Margaery. Margaery hints that she may have a solution for that, replying “perhaps”. Something tells me Cersei vs Margaery is going to be an ongoing battle this season.

Tyrion’s adventures at sea come to an end here when Varys opens his crate and he stumbles out. Tyrion quickly deduces that they’re in Pentos and Varys reveals they are in the home of his friend, Illyrio Mopatis.  A depressed and self-pitying Tyrion stumbles his way over to the closest jar of wine while Varys reveals that he has plans for Tyrion. He smuggled Tyrion out of King’s Landing because he feels that Tyrion’s political intelligence, along with his care for the common folk can help put the right person on the iron throne, a person wiser than Tommen but gentler than Stannis. Tyrion doesn’t buy he’s out there and tells Varys “good luck finding him”. “Who said anything about him” replies Varys. Varys then reveals that he supports a move for Targaryen restoration and wishes to bring Tyrion along with him to Meereen so he can meet Dany. Varys offers Tyrion the choice of doing just that, or drinking his life away here in Pentos. Tyrion agrees to go with him, asking if he can drink himself to death along the way to Meereen. Hey, it wouldn’t be Tyrion without wine would it?

In Meereen, Dany continues to oust away the old traditions of Meereen and she symbolizes this upheaval by having her Unsullied remove the giant harpy from the top of the great pyramid. Her upheaval of the Meereenese culture is not unopposed however. White Rat, an Unsullied, is murdered in a brothel by a member of the resistance movement called the Sons of the Harpy. When the news is brought to Dany, she decides to further provoke the resistance movement by crapping all over their traditions again. She orders that white rat be buried in the Temple of the Graces, the temple that holds the most elite of the deceased slave masters.

Dany is forced to take action again shortly thereafter when Daario and Hizdahr zo Loraq return from Yunkai. The mission is a success, the former slave masters have agreed to hand over power in Yunkai to a council comprised of both former slave masters and former slaves. In exchange, they wish for Dany to reopen the fighting pits, as she had them closed when she took the city. Hizdahr strongly advises Dany to grant the request but fighting pits are another cultural thing that she will not stand for. The motion is denied.

Later that night, Daario shares Dany’s bed and also shares his opinion to her. Daario tells her that she should open up the fighting pits as the pits provide a way to move up in life, he cites himself, saying he never would have met her if he didn’t spend his days in the pits. He doesn’t convince her to reopen the pits but he does get her to pay a visit to her locked up dragons. Dany may be their mother and they may have won her Slaver’s Bay, but the scene where she enters the catacombs might just prove that Dany isn’t in charge of the dragons anymore. Dany walks into the dark catacombs and calls out for her dragons, and they respond by violently breathing fire and lashing out at her. Dany has no choice but to leave the catacomb, for her own safety. She locked away those dragons because they were a danger to her people, what good can they do if they begin to become a danger to Dany herself as well?

Somewhere in The Vale, Littlefinger, Sansa, and Lord Royce watch as Robin Arryn struggles to spar with swords. Royce has agreed to take Robin on as his ward but he makes Littlefinger no promises about Robin becoming even a decent swordsman. As they watch, Littlefinger receives a letter and discreetly reads it before telling Sansa that they are leaving now. Sansa wants to know where they’re going because she quickly realized that Littlefinger lied to Royce about going to The Fingers. Littlefinger simply replies they’re going somewhere where Sansa will be safe from the Lannisters.

Somewhere very close (like really close) in the Vale, Brienne is still fuming at the fact she couldn’t get Arya Stark. Pod asks what they’re next move is, saying they should probably head north to Castle Black, but Brienne is still mad at Pod and tries to convince him to leave now. Pod won’t leave though and he says they should turn their attention to finding Sansa now, as the carriage that is transporting Littlefinger and Sansa literally passes right by them. In a show of tragically close near encounters, this one may have been the closest.

We wrap things up with a trip to Castle Black. Jon is training Olly and other recruits when he is interrupted by Melisandre, who tells him Stannis wants to see him. Jon rides the lift along with Melisandre who seems determined to make it an incredibly awkward trip. Once at the top, Stannis reveals his plans to Jon. Stannis intends to march on Winterfell and remove the Bolton’s for their role in the Red Wedding, but he would like more men in his army before he does so. Stannis noticed that Jon and Mance have respect for each other so Stannis asks Jon to convince Mance to bend the knee and enlist the free folk men to join his army. If they do, Stannis will free them, grant them citizenship, and give them lands in the north once the fighting is over. If Mance refuses, the penalty is death by fire.

Jon goes over to Castle Black’s meager dungeons and presents Mance with what Stannis presented to him. Mance says he’s got great respect for both Jon and Stannis, but he simply will not bend the knee. Jon tries over and over again to get Mance to reconsider but Mance tells him bending the knee is the ultimate sign of weakness in their culture and even if he does it, he’ll have lost the respect of his men and thus he wouldn’t be able to convince them to fight for Stannis anyway. Jon leaves, telling Mance one more time that he thinks he’s making the wrong decision.

Mance’s decision was due by nightfall so once the dark settles in, Mance is brought before Stannis and Stannis presents Mance with his choices one more time. Mance refuses to bend the knee and wishes Stannis good luck in the wars to come. Mance is lead onto the pyre and Melisandre gets her preachy speech out of the way before lighting the pyre. We’ve seen plenty of these scenes before but it’s usually just Davos standing in the corner looking upset that someone is being burned alive. The death by fire scene in “The Wars To Come” is quite easily the best one of the series. The camera rotates around the courtyard to show everyone’s reaction to this, including Mance. While just about everyone is horrified at what’s happening, they all show it in different ways and it really gives the scene more emotional power. As the fire draws closer to Mance and he begins to scream, Jon can no longer watch and decides to put Mance out of his misery. Jon shoots him with an arrow to the heart to give him mercy, Mance dies before the flames touch him. This is quite the statement from Jon. He just defied Stannis’ orders and Stannis is a king. Jon has a very high sense of honor and watching someone he respects die in this inhumane fashion was something he wasn’t going to allow. Stannis likely can’t punish him because brothers of the night’s watch are free from crimes of the Seven Kingdoms but this scene is less so about that, and more so about the principles. Jon follows a strict moral code and if you go against it, he won’t stand for it, not even if you’re a king.

Other Thoughts

Seems like the election for Lord Commander of the night’s watch is around the corner. Can’t imagine any other reason Sam would bring it up to Gilly in the episode.

The journey from King’s Landing to Pentos seems to be a long one. Tyrion started the journey clean shaven and arrives in Pentos fully bearded. Also, he looks pretty good with a beard.

Seeing Tyrion’s perspective from inside the crate was a new camera angle for the show. Granted most of the time there isn’t an important character stuck in a crate but first person angles in general are unheard of outside of the rare direwolf scene.

Loras struggling to find anything positive to say about Tywin was a funny bit. He kept coming back to “he was a force to be reckoned with”. Maybe Loras has never heard of the saying “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything”.

Let us acknowledge that the actress that portrayed young Cersei was great. She left little doubt that Cersei was a smug and condescending person her entire life.

Some roll call notes, Bran and friends are taking a bye season (yes the whole season off), returning in season six. A bit lame that Bran finally gets to do something cool and it’s mostly going to happen off screen. Arya didn’t show up in the episode which was disappointing considering her last scene in “The Children”, but I can’t imagine she doesn’t show up next episode.

Loras apparently has a birthmark that looks like Dorne. So, throwaway line or a subtle reminder to the viewer that Dorne exists and will be visited in season five? If you guessed the second option, you’re right. The actress that plays Oberyn’s lover, Ellaria, was added to the starring cast. Won’t be long until we travel to Dorne.

Quote of the day, there’s actually too many to choose from.  The way Varys said “that fucking crate” was hilarious. Varys and Tyrion then went back and forth on whether Tyrion pushing his shit through the air holes of the crate, or Varys taking that shit and throwing it overboard is more unpleasant. The winner may just be Lord Royce saying that Robin “swings a sword like a girl with palsy”. I’m with Royce, I wouldn’t make any promises about Robing getting better with a sword either.

“The Wars To Come” is a solid season premiere that begins the slow process of establishing a new status quo after season four destroyed the old one. 

Grade B

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