‘The Wars To Come’
Usually the title of any given episode of Game of Thrones reflects every strand appearing that week. Last season’s finale, ‘The Children’, had a lot of focus on various past and present parental relationships – the Lannister children and Tywin, Brienne and her father, Dany and her dragons, even Arya and the Hound. And so ‘The Wars to Come’ was very much true to its name, perhaps too much, as it felt like a very transitional episode, one where a lot was processed, but not a whole lot happened.
In fairness, so much change hit the show at the end of last season that we needed an episode like this just to steady the ship. Season 4 saw Oberyn die – condemning Tyrion to death, the Night’s Watch saved by Stannis, Tyrion escaping after killing Tywin, Bran finding the Three-Eyed Raven, Arya going to Braavos and Dany’s dragon empire on the edge of the precipice. Even with Bran taking a back seat this year, there are still a lot of plotlines to follow and even more yet to be introduced.
With that in mind, it was bold to start season 5 with a flashback scene; we’ve never had one on the show before. We saw a young Cersei and her unnamed friend sneak into the woods (presumably around Casterly Rock) to talk to a witch. The witch’s hints at Cersei’s future weren’t so specific as to literally recount the plot of the show, but they were still in the realm of what we know has happened – “The King shall have 20 children, you shall have but 3”. The scene was intriguing but seemed slightly unnecessary; it’s odd to break precedent for something that at best hints at a change in the dynamic we’ve all grown accustomed to.
Elsewhere, there was a lot of scene setting, many picking up were we left off last year. In Mereen, Dany’s emancipation drive isn’t quite the universal success she might have hoped. While I enjoy seeing her character develop in the face of such adversity, I can’t help but be surprised that none of her council saw this coming. You can’t simply liberate a vast population of slaves and immediately expect it all to work out. At some point, she’ll have to decide between her ambitions for Westeros and her dynasty in Essos. Meanwhile, Rhaegal and Viserion aren’t the small ones anymore. Ignoring the magically expanding chains keeping them prisoner, it was great to see the effect that Dany’s imprisonment has had on the two dragons.
King’s Landing saw two potential storylines emerge. In the wake of Tywin’s death, the power vacuum won’t stay that way for long, and it certainly seems as if the ever-confident Margaery is first in line, while Cersei and Jamie are left fearing for their positions. Lancel Lannister’s reappearance in monk clothing was somewhat of a shock, indicative of the serious nature of the fanatic ‘Sparrows’.
The most significant action, however, came at the Wall. It was interesting to see Jon torn between so many fronts. There’s his urge to avenge his family, his vows to the Night’s Watch, and then there’s his realization that there is no justice in fighting off the Wildlings. It would have been simple to have Mance accept the terms and see the Wildlings become part of the Stannis arc (the Northern equivalent of Daario and the Second Sons perhaps), yet Mance’s decision to not bend the knee preserved his character’s integrity to the end. Mance was never one who would choose survival over dignity. Nor is Jon one to allow unnecessary suffering, as he allowed Mance a quick death with an arrow to the heart. This action also makes clear that Jon won’t simply bend the knee to Stannis either.
It might not have been the most significant of episodes overall, but I’m certain that the rest of the season will be a great deal stronger because of it.