Game of Thrones: The Wars to Come

Varys: "Any fool with a bit of luck can find himself born into power. But earning it for yourself, that takes work."

A lot happened in this episode, wrapping up some plot lines from last season and pushing things forward to a new place.

The Wall

Most of the scenes on the Wall dealt with the aftermath of the big battle in "The Watchers on the Wall" and the arrival of Stannis. Jon was central of course, but it was his interactions with Stannis, Melisandre, and Mance that stood out for me. Jon is already acting as the Lord Commander of the Night's Watch through action, even though the position isn't his yet. That throwaway line that elections for the new Commander are coming up, and that Jon is loved by half and hated by half of the men, is pretty much telling us what's to come.

Stannis is very full of himself lately, or maybe he's always been that way. But the future that he believes in seems kinda horrible. His insistence that he is the one true king is not only arrogant, it's foolish. He has the name, but not the temperament to rule. It's pretty clear to me that after a while, he would end up burning half of his men for mild slights on the crown, then he would find himself in the middle of another rebellion.

I'm not sure if Melisandre is evil, but she is creepy as all hell. Asking Jon if he's a virgin, yuck.  I hope her plans don't involve burning him alive. Her intense looks and slightly affectionate demeanor towards Jon were also really odd. For a moment I wondered if perhaps she was Jon's long lost mother, although I guess that depends on how old the character is supposed to be.

Mance and Jon had probably my favorite scene in the episode. Jon's compassion and respect for Mance was clear, and he desperately wanted to save Mance from himself. One thing is obvious though: Jon's actions at the end of the episode will be controversial. By firing that arrow to give Mance a merciful death, he will have angered Stannis and perhaps some of his brothers of the Watch. But he might have gained some favor from the Wildlings, or at least Tormund.

Kings Landing

Focused almost entirely on Cersei, this section of the story was almost all exposition. We did get to see our first flashback, of a young Cersei getting a mystic reading from a witch. I wonder how much of  that prophecy will come true? She did become queen, a younger woman is poised to take the throne from her. She didn't marry the Targaryen prince, and instead married Robert who was already king when they wed. Lastly, two of her children have worn a crown, and one of them is already dead.

The other scenes featuring Cersei were all based on her questionable actions, mourning Tywin (in her own way), and her hatred of Tyrion. I was wondering if she would put together that it was Jamie who set Tyrion free, so I'm glad that's resolved. It's unfortunate that her hatred of Tyrion now has a legitimate reason. Also, I wonder what the overreaching consequences of Tywin's death will be. He was the person holding the Lannisters together. So I bet Jamie is right. If Cersei doesn't work with him, everything could spiral apart.

Lastly, there was the strange little scene between Cersei and the much altered Lancel. I don't know what is going on with the Sparrows, but it is at least interesting to see what the truly devout worshipers of the Seven are like. He came across as pretty creepy and scary, much like Melisandre (although she's in a class to herself). The shorn hair, and simple rough clothing kind of has me worried about this sect of the church though, because it means he has cast off most of his connections to the world.

Across the Narrow Sea

Although most of the focus was on Tyrion and Varys, I did like the plots developing over in Meereen. Dany is getting paranoid, and she no longer has any control over her dragons (serves her right for locking away the two relatively obedient ones). I'm not sure what's going on with the Harpies, but they have neat masks. Still, that poor Unsullied, just wanting to cuddle. This show can be pretty merciless sometimes. Need some human interaction, get your throat cut.

The other big conflict was with Dany and her total unwillingness to play politics. I'm not sure how I feel about Daario yet, but he had a point. The fighting pits could serve as a transition to a more free society. It could even be a means for the poor to rise up into wealth. Of course that would depend on how she set it up. If she just deferred to the Masters, that arena would probably end up no better than the human cockfights she mentioned. Slaves killing slaves.

Now as for Tyrion, it is pretty sad that he doesn't see himself very well. He's gotten to the point where he's suicidal. Not surprising, considering he just committed patricide, but drinking himself to death is a very hard and awful way to go. I don't think Varys is going to let him just fade away, though. He's spent too much time and risked too much just to let Tyrion die. He knows how valuable Tyrion's mind is, and if he's right he could be an amazing ally for Daenarys.

Bits & Pieces:

Arya wasn't in the episode, which is unfortunate because her story was the one I really wanted to see.

Charles Dance's (Tywin Lannister) name was in the same place in the main credits. That's pretty nice considering he had no speaking part, and a stand-in could've been used for his corpse.

Sansa and Petyr had a couple of short scenes dealing with the politics of the Vale. Little Lord Arryn is about as bad at combat as I thought he would be. I'm glad that they have decided to leave the Vale for now, because Robin is a character I don't really want to see much more of.  But I wonder where Petyr is taking them that could be a long way away?

Brienne and Pod seem to be back at the beginning of their story again. She is so upset at loosing Arya that she is lashing out at him. Which sucks for Pod, but at least he isn't taking her vitriol to heart.

There was no hint of Bran and company, or the magic, wonder and death beyond the wall.


Varys: "You have a choice, my friend. You can stay here at Illyrio's palace and drink yourself to death or you can ride with me to Meereen, meet Daenerys Targaryen and decide if the world is worth fighting for."
Tyrion: "Can I drink myself to death on the road to Meereen?"

Tyrion: "The powerful have always preyed on the powerless. That's how they became powerful in the first place."

Cersei: (to Jamie) "Tyrion may be a monster, but at least he killed our father on purpose. You killed him by mistake with stupidity."

Varys: "You have your father's instincts for politics and you have compassion."
Tyrion: "Compassion. Yes. I killed my lover with my bare hands and I shot my own father with a crossbow."
Varys: "I never said you were perfect."

Not a stunning opening episode, but very few ever are. At least it the character interactions were solid, and the plot moved forward.

3 out of 4 Harpy masks

Reminder: The comments on these episode reviews are appropriate for newbies. If you haven't read the books, you're safe! If you have read the books and would like to talk about upcoming events, please do so here, in our Season Five book spoiler thread.

J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related. He reviews Arrow and Farscape and cool new movies that strike his fancy.


Juliette said...

Varys had actual motivation - and explained it! That was a surprise. I love TV Varys, and his friendship with Tyrion (he can be as cynical as he likes, and I'm sure he had an ulterior motive, but I think he also saved Tyrion because he likes him. Partly.).

Kelly said...

FYI, there was some news a while back that Bran and Co. would be skipping this season. (I don't think this really counts as a spoiler at this point. Spoiler alert, nothing will be happening with Bran? Nah.)

Bran's was never exactly the most captivating storyline, so I'm more than okay with that and other storylines getting more screentime. My guess is by the time they bring Bran back he'll be a) finally relevant to other events in Westoros, and b) changed from his time with the three-eyed crow. (Or maybe just look older hah.)

I loved the Tyrion and Varys scenes. Yes please, Varys, tell us what you've been sneakily planning all this time! And poor Tyrion. Sigh.

Korlis said...

I'd been a bit down on Thrones return because, as a book reader, I've felt the show hasn't always been what I wanted it to be. Knowing that S5 (and onwards) was going to diverge even further had me worried as they ran out of material to adapt, but if this first episode is any indication, that's actually pretty exciting. It feels like they've thrown caution to the wind and are just going to spin it in the direction they want to go, not necessarily how the books went (or will go).

For me, the one thing the show has always excelled at is the character pairings, whether they existed in the books or not. I can't wait to see a Varys and Tyrion road trip, or wherever the hell Littlefinger and Sansa are off to. And the more Pod and Brienne, the better.

Gavrielle said...

Korlis, I'm pretty much in the same place. I don't trust them yet with not basing everything strictly on the books - a certain horrifying and NOT canon scene last year between Cersei and Jaime made me wish GRRM was scripting *all* the episodes. On the other hand, it will be kinda fun to watch for once not knowing where everything is going.

Korlis said...

Gavrielle, I think I understand you mean that scene wasn't canon in relation to the source material, but the show itself seems to have largely avoided dealing with it (and the production have kind of danced around the issue and suggested it was misinterpreted, so it seems like it was just massively mishandled). Still, the root of that scene comes from the books, and while that wasn't an example of a change I was thinking of when I wrote my comment above, it is in a similar vein - minor (if you'll forgive the wording in this instance) changes in dialogue or tone that seem to be for the worse when being faithful to the material would have been just as easy (some changes that are actually much bigger on paper make more sense given the difficulty of having so many additional characters, battles or locations - it is, inevitably, the 'small' changes that bug me!).

GRRM often talks about the 'butterfly effect' of all these changes, and even episodes he has scripted aren't identical to the source, perhaps because of this. Season 5 doesn't feel like a result of this butterfly effect though; the first episode feels like a statement of purpose, that subsequent episodes WILL diverge from the books that are out or what is expected in the future. I don't know if GRRM is scripting an episode this year or being whipped into writing the dang book, but it would be interesting to see his take on the new feel.

PS. There's a great review on the AV Club for 'Experts' (i.e. book readers) that discusses this, and how it feels like going forward, we're all going to be newbies now.

Josie Kafka said...

I hope her plans don't involve burning him alive.

That's the sort of sentence you don't see often. Unless you're reading something about Game of Thrones, of course.