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Monday, 13 April 2015

Game of Thrones S5E1: The Wars To Come.

Game of Thrones 
S5E1: The Wars To Come.

(Contains spoilers for Game of Thrones S5E1.)

Hey, guys, new Game of Thrones series! It's been a while, and I'm pleased to still be blogging at this point because the last series of Game of Thrones was my first ongoing set of reviews, and some of the earliest reviews on this blog, so this is a significant milestone.

In light of that, let's celebrate with a game of bingo:

We'll be crossing off squares as we go through the series.

As the fifth series starts, we find Tyrion recently arrived in Essos, defeated and depressed, as Varys tries to convince him to meet and join with Daenerys Targaryen, who in Meereen must deal with attacks by a group called the Sons of the Harpy, an appeal from Yunkai to open the fighting pits, and her own disobedient dragons. Meanwhile, at the Wall, Stannis commands Mance Rayder to bend the knee in return for his Wildling army being given land in the North; in the Eyrie, Sansa and Littlefinger set out on a journey; and at King's Landing, preparations are made for Tywin's funeral. 

A lot of critics have accused this of being a slow episode, without any particular meat to it, falling into the plotline holding patterns that so irritated me last series and which are a genuinely problem with the series, and I just can't agree, much as I do love to rail on Game of Thrones' pace. 

While it's very much a 'this is the current state of affairs' episode, we do see significant movement on the plot: Tyrion being convinced to visit Daenerys, Mance's execution, and the murders committed by the Sons of the Harpy are all prime to have ramifications further down the line, and even in some of the slower plotlines, like Cersei's King's Landing plot, we get plenty of foreshadowing of things to come.

Melisandre does always look a little bit like she's complaining to a waiter about
her food.

That's not true of every plot thread in this episode. Much as I adore Gwendoline Christie, the Brienne and Pod scene was almost laughably useless, and their plotline in general seems aimless and lacklustre, and a waste of one very good character (and one character that nobody would miss). Similarly, Sansa and Littlefinger's scenes were fun enough, but didn't really advance the plot at all, and we could have easily just had them arriving at their destination instead, with a sentence of exposition about leaving without telling anyone at the Eyrie where they were going. 

They're not even holding pattern scenes, because they seem less about keeping characters in place until the plot is at the right spot for them to move on and more about reminding the audience that these characters still exist. I wouldn't say that those scenes ruin the episode, because in total they probably come to about five minutes, and that's being generous, but in an ideal world, they'd come to zero minutes, and we'd all live happy, faffing-about-on-grassy-hills-free lives.

Pictured: Missandei using the tragic
assassination of a soldier to find out whether Grey Worm is able to have sex.
I'm not kidding, that's pretty much what's going on here.

But if anything, I'd say that after a very lacklustre series last year, this episode is a promising return to form, promising a much more plot heavy series to come. Maybe I'll be proven wrong in that regard. Maybe not.

As is always the case, the episode is absolutely beautiful to look at, combining some of Northern Ireland's most distinctive places (and some very nice looking places from elsewhere) with some lovely CGI work. That kind of window dressing is always nice, especially on an episode which was already pretty good.

Pictured: An aforementioned non-NI place.

Bonus points also to the costume designers, who are having a bloody whale of a time this episode, putting Melisandre and Daenerys in some really nice dresses. 

Highlights of the episode definitely include the very first scene, a flashback in which a young Cersei asks a mysterious woman to foretell her future, which is atmospheric and tense, and makes some good use of dramatic irony by having the young Cersei not comprehend prophecies that we've already seen come true; and the last scene, in which Mance Rayder is burned at the stake - it's a quiet scene, with Ciaran Hinds putting in an understated but very distressing performance of an otherwise proud man slowly dying in excruciating fashion, but that just makes it all the more effective, and the final note - Jon shooting him in the chest with an arrow - raises interesting possibilities for the next episode. How will Stannis, who likes his authority being undermined about as much being stabbed in the eye with a nettle wielded by his elder brother's wight, react to this?

(Hinds is, in general, the standout performance of this episode, not just in his death scene but also in his conversations with Jon and Stannis prior.)

Overall, I think it's a strong start to the series, even if as a standalone episode it perhaps isn't as dramatic as we might hope: It establishes the starting positions of our characters for this ten episode run, sets up plot threads that I hope will be expanded upon a lot more very soon, and has a couple of very striking moments. Really, that's all I ask for, at least from the first episode of a series, where the writers are in the unenviable position of juggling complicated situations, a large cast of characters, and an audience who has had a year to forget the intricacies of the game.

So, let's finish up by looking at the updated bingo:

I - know this show too well, possibly. Gosh, this bingo card might not last the entire series.


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