And we’re back with “The Wars to Come.” While this is a fairly tame episode, the writers have shaken things up by giving us our first flashback. Here, an impatient young Cersei leads her timid friend through the woods around Casterly Rock looking for Westeros’ version of the Long Island Medium. When they do find her, this soothsayer is not a saggy, creeping monster; she’s the Middle Ages equivalent of a female Nirvana fan. Cersei’s not impressed, and unfortunately she has to go ruin everything by calling the woman “boring.” It’s like she came looking for Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense and found actual, present-day Haley Joel Osment. Anyway, turns out this girl from the hut next door does have a gift – and like a vampire looking for a quick aperitif, she pulls out a knife, pricks young Cersei’s finger and licks up a bit of blood. It’s all in the name of fortune telling but, hey! It’s this season’s first sight of blood! Congratulations! Cersei’s given three questions and she asks them quickly – “will I marry the prince?” No. She’ll marry the king. That’s good news, too bad she doesn’t think to ask for the name of the king, any king! It could be King Al from King Al’s Low Price Chamber Pots. In just a couple years there will be 7 to 10 kings running around, for Seven’s sake!
Anyway, it all turns south faster than you can say “Camp Follower!” because before long, Ms. Nostradamus is spilling all sorts of terrible things – Cersei’s going to replaced by a younger and more beautiful queen, she’s going to have three children and watch them all die. I’d be pissed too – this lady just spoiled season’s 2 through 7! As a book reader, I wish we got a little more into the connection Cersei’s other family members play in the prophecy but it hit all the right notes. I also imagine that it took the non-readers out there a little while to figure out this was Cersei, which I’m sure was a nice surprise once this fortune teller starts giving out plot twists like throat slits at a Red Wedding. Or, the non-readers got confused at who all the kids were, thought this was a sequel to Willow and changed the channel. Either way, 10 points to Lannister House!
Cut to Meereen. For a second, I thought they recast Grey Worm, because he’s been our viewpoint character into the world of the unsullied. So it took me several more seconds before realizing that this soldier walking into a whore house was a doomed character – once the shot lingered a little too long on the courtesan cradling this soldier, I had a bad feeling. Only on Game of Thrones would a topless sex worker singing a lullaby to a castrated veteran be an altogether sweet moment. And it’s perfect for the showrunners to draw us in before a masked terrorist shows up and slits the guy’s throat. The scene effectively showed us the humanity of Daenerys’ steely liberated army before tossing a bucket of blood in our faces. These men are trained killing machines from an early age, but deep down there’s still a glimmer of innocence, something that’s been lost – and in this harsh world, it’s often too late to be reclaimed. Overall, it’s a display of how comfortable the writers are in this world, that they can rely on our background knowledge of the unsullied, let us question why the heck a castrati would go into a whore house, and be drawn in by a situation between two characters we’ve never met and will never see again. Especially when there is SO MUCH GOING ON ELSEWHERE! With each season displaying more confidence, the writers are able to riff on the world and still keep the side-stories intriguing.
Who knew it’d be good to be back in Meereen?! As much as I want Daenerys to reclaim her Iron Throne and my attention gravitates towards the action in Westeros – that shot of the Harpy being dragged off the top of the pyramid must’ve cost 1000 college tuitions. And even though it was easy to topple the Harpy, the shadow insurgency of the Sons of the Harpy will keep Daenerys on her toes. And the costume designers have crafted the perfect mask for these villains – a ghoulish golden face that’s both elegant and deadly. In Meereen, Daenerys is on edge and while Daario calms her down with some bedroom friskiness, it seems like this city-state may be more than she bargained for. Daario asks her to open the fighting pits back up, but that was a remnant of the slavers’ world. As he argues that it will give work to fighters in need of a job, she doesn’t want to go back a world of chains. Yet, we can see she’s got some self-doubt – she can’t make the people of Meereen love her, she can’t get her uncontrollable dragons to understand her, and Daario is not helping. As much as he’s protected her over the past season and change, he’s more of a distraction than a solution. It’s a shame this Daario is less of a showman than the old Daario. I’m glad the creative team opted to go in a totally different direction rather than mimic another actor’s performance, but when playing this role I wish they gave him more flash. He’s supposed to be the best fighter around, with enough charm to get Daenerys’ attention. Here, he just shows up, makes some wisecracks and tries to get into Dany’s toga. It works fine enough, but Daenerys can choose whatever/whoever she wants now. Here, it feels like she’s still on a rebound.
On the West Coast, Tyrion arrives, drunk and covered in his own shit with Varys at his side. I hope they keep this pairing around a bit longer; Varys is always good for a laugh and these two can actually get stuff done. Tyrion’s understandably in a rut, so it’s good Varys is present to lighten the mood (handling what is normally Tyrion’s job). Tyrion’s POV before he’s dumped out the side of his crate, puts us in his poop-filled shoes – we see what he sees through his air hole – being hoisted on a ship, jostled onto a dock, and catching fleeting glimpses of people. It’s enough to remind him of his surroundings but not enough to break the feeling of solitary confinement. When he’s finally busted out, we know why he feels more hopeless than we last left him.
So what would you do if you were mad at the world and had to shove your own excrement through the breathing holes in a dwarf-sized box? TOUCH EVERYTHING! Seriously, this guy must be pissed – he’s manhandling the wine bottle and feeling up the glasses. I’d hate to walk onto this veranda, starved, hoping to binge on a fancy palatial spread and not knowing whether the waste-covered fugitive went to town on the grapes or got handsy with the gouda. Either way, Tyrion’s mad as hell and he’s not going to take it anymore! So who better to turn to than the Dragon Queen herself? The only question is, what does Varys think he’ll get by bringing Tyrion to the Targaryen who hates Lannisters? Does he want a teamup for the ages? (I hope so.) Is it a trap for Tyrion? (I hope not.) Either way, the storylines are starting to converge and it’ll benefit both the kingdom and the series when Daenerys is allowed to mingle with King’s Landing’s finest.
Between these titans of palace intrigue and family drama, we get some quick personal moments with Brienne and Podrick. This is all to remind us: they’re here and they’re not taking any breaks until the finish their quest…they just want to set up camp first. Brienne’s still dedicated to the promise she made to Lady Stark and still wants to ditch the Pod, whether out of her own noble “I can take care of myself” attitude or just because he’s a dead weight dragging her down. She sees the battlefield isn’t the place for him but being a knight’s intern is all Podrick knows how to do and he latches onto her for another week. They’re the most fun team to watch on The Amazing Race: Westeros, where the object is “find a Stark girl, ANY STARK GIRL!” Too bad they’re losing every challenge. Way to go Brienne, you killed the Hound! But keep your eyes open! You just missed that other Stark girl blowing right by you! You know, with that entourage of knights from the Vale! You know the Vale?! It’s that place you were headed to for two seasons!!!
Passing by an oblivious Brienne (no wonder Stoneheart’s pissed!), Littlefinger and Sansa get back to work plotting their next moves. Having ditched milk-starved Robin Arryn with a lord of the Vale, Littlefinger continues to play master manipulator and we get the sense that Sansa may start to play him. She’s in a good position, Littlefinger will protect her and could put her into a place of power. If Brienne, on the other hand, was to find her and Sansa had to make a choice between the path she’s headed and the road with Brienne – I’m sure she’d do what Arya did last season. Sansa is learning to take care of herself. The whole situation with Brienne turns the classic setup on its head – here, the knight in shining armor searching for the damsel in distress is a worn out warrior woman chasing after a girl who doesn’t need to be saved.
Someone who does need some saving, however, is Mance Rayder. And Jon Snow offers him safety if he will bend the knee to Stannis Baratheon at the Wall. Jon knows what he’s up against, he’s a practical soldier stuck in between two proud men who won’t budge. Stannis promises that Mance and the Wildlings will be given northern land if they join his fight, and Jon has until nightfall to get Mance to pledge allegiance. Predictably, Mance doesn’t budge. This whole exchange goes as expected; what’s most interesting here is how the tables have turned since last season. Now the King Beyond the Wall is the prisoner while Jon does his best to appeal to Mance’s sense of reason. Mance sticks by his convictions but are his principles more important than the fate of the Wildlings? Ultimately, Mance decides to burn at Melisandre’s stake and maybe it was the right decision. If he had bowed, maybe some Wildlings would have followed suit, but it would have betrayed all that they’ve fought for. As he reaches his final moments, we finally see some uncharacteristic fear on his face. But before he can scream, Jon shoots a bolt through his heart. Will Jon’s show of mercy take him out of Stannis’ favor? I would say not – Stannis respects honorable men – come on, he keeps giving Davos second chances. Jon is in a tough position at this point, between his oath to the Night’s Watch, his compassion for the Wildlings, and his Baratheon guests – he seems safe now, but for how long?
This episode had the slow build of a season opener, but that’s to be expected. Of course it’s a table-setter of an episode – it’s not called “The War is NOW,” and different characters said some variation of “the wars to come” twice, by my count alone! Still, it moved the pieces where they needed to go and furthered relationships that needed some catchup time. I can wait a week to follow up with Arya, her new journey is just beginning in Braavos and there’s still some unfinished business at King’s Landing, the Wall, and Meereen. Lacking the game changing moments of the best Thrones episodes, “The Wars to Come” still has a part to play in the overall story and seizes a rating of 5.5 out of 7 kingdoms.
Game of Thrones' Season 5 premiere is a slowburner, but a good one. It features all the elements that make the show special - incredible effects, strong performances, and beautiful scenery. It might not be the most thrilling episode, but it feels great to be back in Westeros.