[Review] - Game Of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 1, "The Wars To Come"

Courtesy of HBO
Another year, another season of swords, sorcery, dungeons and dragons. Literally, dragons in dungeons. Hit the cliche on the head with that visual. But a return to Westeros is always a welcome one, and once again I am a conflicted reviewer. Because the show is too good for it's own good. Or at least mine. There is rarely a misstep so great that inspires me to write anything about it. Bitch as I might, at least I know I can fill a few hundred words each week about Agents of SHIELD; it's so horrendous it begs to be taken down a notch. Game of Thrones is at worst adequate. That is great for us viewers; it all but guarantees top quality entertainment from week to week. But it's usually around episode three of four that I begin experiencing a crisis of content, uncertain what about that week's episode of focus on so that every review isn't just lovie-style gushing about how damned good the frigger is. Well, let's see how it goes, shall we?

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that will never sit on the Iron Throne.

I'll be honest with you, Feast for Crows and Dance of Dragons was where George started to lose me. Not that they were fine books, and fine additions to the complex fabric of the narrative, but they also shimmer with the film of an author perhaps over extending himself. And nowhere is that better exemplified than in this episode's opening scene, the first flashback the series has ever done. This plot point is probably my least favourite of any that Martin has managed in his novels, for two reasons. First, I hate prophecies. They are lazy narrative devices meant to bend the story to the will of the writer, rather than allowing the story to tell itself. Most writers are not capable of using them efficiently or effectively, or interestingly. Martin acquits himself well, but he also had managed to go three books without having a prophecy be central to the plot (or, at least, when he did, he undercut it with the notion that it was bullshit).

But more than that, despite not being a point of view character in the first three novels, in book four we learn that this prophecy has been the guiding influence of Cersei's entire life. and she never mentioned it before. Not to Jamie, not to herself in a veiled and indecipherable reference throughout innocuous conversation. Not at all. It smacks of an author who didn't know where to take the character, so he just made something up. Now, quite rightly, that is his prerogative, as he is the author, and this is fiction. Making stuff up is literally his job description. But this is  a huge piece of the character that plops out of nowhere four books in. In a series where details are meticulous, if subtle, about pretty much everyone and everything else. Just look at the parentage of Jon Snow. There isn't an explicit word said about that in the entire first three books, and yet there is still enough information given to make some very reasonable assumptions. This is not the case with Cersei.

And now it's series canon. And it is all the more glaringly shunted into canon here, because for four seasons Cersei has been a point of view character. We have spent time alone with her. We know her better in the series than we do in the books. She is a complex character, racked with grief and pride and wrath. And, because the books are prewritten, the series has previously managed to incorporate events that occurred early in the chronology but weren't revealed until later in the books. Not so the case here. So, the Cersei that we've seen play the mother lion, fiercely protecting her children and manipulating characters so that she can remain in power, suddenly has this load of backstory dumped into her biography out of the blue. Does it, in retrospect, inform her actions? Certainly. But it also makes her less complex. Until now, she can be interpreted as a power-monger, seeking to prove herself in the face of her father's lack of respect and sexism. Now, what is she but little more than a frightened puppet of fate? Isn't that insulting to the power of the character before? Isn't that reductive?

As in previous years, Benioff and Weiss have this down to a fine science. Perhaps a little too fine? No, that would be looking for boogiemen where there are only shadows. The show remains, in this premiere episode at least, one of the best on television. And like past years, this episode sets up the paths that some of the characters will be heading down. The major focus was shared between Cersei, Tyrion and Dany; a hop, skip and jump across the geography of the World of Ice and Fire. And shorter stop overs were made to catch up with Sansa, Brienne and Jon Snow. As the title episode betrays though, the true focus on the episode was on the future. The Wars to Come, in all their many forms. With the War of Five Kings all but put to rest, the future concerns (not coincidentally) a war of fire, and a war of ice. Dany's power is firmly in consolidation mode. No longer is she the overwhelmed girl putting on a brave face. Chuckle as Barriston might, she's a leader now, forged in her own mistakes and hardened because of them. The books pretend that she isn't a concern in Westeros, but the series is wiser than that, and more and more it will be harder to ignore the promise of dragon fire in the east.

Meanwhile, winter beats upon the door, and Jon is at the centre of it. Of all the characters, and actors, that have made a journey over the course of this series, It is Jon and Kit that I feel have made the greatest. Scenes like that which we shared with CiarĂ¡n Hinds at the tale end of this episodes wouldn't have been possible even two seasons ago. And yet here we are, with it being the most powerful and poignant of the episode. The wonderful thing about this show is that, rarely is a character wrong. Take Mance. Mance's position, as he articulates here, is not the wrong one. He isn't mistaken just because he's taking the other option as offered by Jon and Stannis. He's equally right, and that is where Jon's discomfort sets in. He is not his brother's brother, and he is not his father's son. Jon has learned not to live in absolutes, and absolutes are pretty much where everyone south of the wall is most comfortable. So, if this season has a central theme, it will be that preconceptions and comfort zones are where men are most vulnerable. And even if they die, if they accept that life has facets instead of sides, they'll at least die informed and free.

Or maybe it'll just be about how badass dragons are.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.

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