[dropcap]I[/dropcap]f you’ve spent the last few weeks living on the International Space Station, then you may have missed the news that Game of Thrones is returning to our screens. If that is the case, then it’s my pleasure to tell you that the jewel in HBO’s crown is back to eat up at least 80% of your conversations for the next nine weeks! This also means that you’ll be seeing hundreds of exciting new opinion pieces and series blogs like this one. (Oh, and congratulations on the International Space Station thing.)
As is Thrones protocol, the Season 5 opener, ‘The Wars to Come’, didn’t shake things up too much. There were no shocking betrayals or huge set-pieces. Instead we got a taste of the (pretty dramatic) changes since last year’s finale, as well as some reassurance that everything you expect from the show is still present and correct. We got some impressive visual effects, a couple of grisly deaths, and a healthy amount of men’s butts. A deft opener then, if not an outright ace.
We should start with the episode’s meatiest portion, which was served up by Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and his new Baratheon friends at Castle Black. It was a little underwhelming to see so little of Stannis (Stephen Dillane)’s army and the wildling hordes after their throw-down last year, but there was more than enough drama to make up for it. Jon’s talk with Mance (Ciarán Hinds) was the obvious high-point, but I’m particularly interested to see more of how he deals with Stannis and his demands, especially after that final scene.
As well as offering up the first major death of the season, this week’s ending was an affirmation of the good characterisation that makes Game of Thrones so compelling. Every individual’s reaction to Mance’s death revealed something about them: Stannis is smug and self-assured despite doing a pretty heinous thing; Davos (Liam Cunningham) goes along with said heinous thing, but only out of loyalty to his king; Melisandre (Carice van Houten) is zealous as ever and still has a brilliant theme, and Jon Snow honours the Stark legacy by doing the noble thing, probably with terrible results.
Events across the Narrow Sea weren’t quite as exciting. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) seems to be adjusting badly to his new life as a parricidal traitor and is now on a collision course with Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), a promising omen that the Targaryen invasion we’ve been waiting for might finally be near.
Dinklage delivered the goods as ever, but he didn’t get enough screen time here to really show off. That said, we did see some top class fake vomit
Hopefully Tyrion can make it to Meereen quickly because Daenerys’ segments are starting to drag a little. I like that after rising to be a conqueror she’s getting a lesson in the much more treacherous business of ruling, however I can’t shake the concern that this dichotomy is all we’ll be seeing from her this season, when previously her arc had so much momentum.
No such problems in King’s Landing, where plenty of new story threads are competing for our attention. Tywin (Charles Dance)’s death has injected fresh life into the court intrigue. The Lannisters are finally looking vulnerable and I’m excited to see more friction between them and the Tyrells. Likewise, the arrival of an unrecognisable Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), now a pious man with a much better haircut, heralds an interesting new plot and another reason for Cersei (Lena Headey) to drink too much wine.
Smaller highlights include Robin Arryn (Lino Facioli) taking a long-overdue beating and Varys (Conleth Hill) getting another chance to be one of the show’s most interesting characters. It’s impressive that the writers have managed to wring so many human moments from someone who could easily be played as ‘the funny bald eunuch’.
The season is only one episode in, and we’ve already been given a good idea of where most of the major players are and where they’re going from here. Doubtless we’ll pick up with everyone else next week.
Now in its fifth year, Game of Thrones seems more confident than ever, happy to take its time and deviate from its source material to tell the story that it wants to tell. I’m looking forward to seeing what the next nine episodes have in store. It’s a shame that Thronecast is still a bit rubbish though.