‘Game of Thrones’ szn 5, ep 1: TV’s premier fantasy epic/greek tragedy/torture porn saga is back!

Game of Thrones is a cultural phenomenon. It’s hard to describe it any other way. Even in this “golden-age” of television, where the medium has perhaps become the decade’s greatest art form, GOT stands above everything else. Not that it’s necessarily the best drama currently on television -certain folks will champion Mad Men, True Detective, Better Call Saul, and others for the crown- but with GOT, its overall impact extends beyond its pure quality. This is HBO’s biggest hit since The Sopranos. It’s the most illegally-downloaded program of all time (The first four episodes of the new season hit torrents a few days ago, and have already been downloaded nearly a million times). GOT has united fantasy nerds with the bros, sparking new interest in the books along the way. Despite its at-times blatant sexism, it dominates most adult female demographics. It’s risky to fall behind on GOT because everyone is talking about it. Season 5 premiered last night with “The Wars to Come”, so let’s dive into the episode.

Note: I’m not in the business of spoiling but I will say if you have yet to see last nights episode, proceed with caution. Also, I gave up on the books, making it about to where the show is at. I don’t think it matters whether or not the show stays loyal to the books. Two completely different mediums, right?

4358f449GOT season premieres are always weird. It’s hard for them to push the story forward in terms of plot or character development because they have to play catch up, essentially functioning as a hour-long “Previously on Game of Thrones…” spot. It’s frustrating for those of us who re-watch the episodes/read the books and know exactly who’s who and where they are, but understandable given the popularity of the show. Remember, just because you’ve read the books and know the difference between Dorne and Pentos doesn’t mean that others do. So when looking at last nights episode, it needs to be considered in that context rather than the typical “holy shit!” factors by which we usually judge GOT episodes. For the most part, I think showrunners David Benioff & D.B. Weiss did a nice job pacing the episode and choosing who to include in the premiere. Though, I must admit, I could do without the hand-holding with which they present their themes and the stagnant nature of some of the subplots.

The episode started with a flashback to Cersei as a child, who meets a strange woman and has her future told. This woman basically recaps Cersei’s life and then hints that (ding! ding!) Margaery Tyrell will supplant her eventually. This scene, on top of Tyrion’s conversations with Varys, have already presented the “You want to know your future until you actually know it” dynamic as this seasons over-arching theme. That’s cool. I’m sure it will be well-explored once the season kicks into gear. But c’mon, we’ve all been watching this show for years now, we don’t need to be told things so bluntly.

There’s also something inherently discomforting to me about a show like GOT, which often has to skimp out on events in real time because there’s just soooo much happening, kicking off its season with a flashback; especially a flashback which serves no purpose beyond using the stale “the prophecy said” motif that exists in every damn fantasy story. This show hasn’t found time to explain the black monster that came out of Melisandre’s vagina and killed a guy, but it has time to show young Cersei getting her fortune told?

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However, the conversations between Tyrion and Varys, dealing with similar concepts, were a treat to watch. The banter of these two witty and relatively good-natured men has been responsible for many of the shows best scenes. Here, we get a drunk Tyrion (the depressed kind of drunk, not the “I like wine and whores” kind) questioning the reasoning for Varys’ potentially fatal risk of helping smuggle TV’s most layered midget out of King’s Landing. Peter Dinklage plays a fine drunk, never going completely over the top, and while his characters juiciest moments are likely behind him, his pure talent should keep him in the Emmy race again.

Now is probably a good time to point out that Michael Slovis, long-time cinematographer who’s most notable work is probably Breaking Bad, directed last nights episode (and next weeks as well). While he stays within the accepted visual style of GOT for the most part, he sneaks in a few more creative moments; such as the shots from Tyrion’s perspective through the holes in the crate, as well as some interesting work with the focus of his camera (a brilliant shot of a Tyrion in the forefront with the wine in the center of the frame, out-of-focus Varys in the background). I also found the scene with Cersei and Jaime talking over their fathers dead body to be an interesting one from a photographic perspective, and I appreciate that Jaime didn’t violently rape her like he did last season over Joffrey’s corpse. The filmmaking aesthetics on GOT look like they’ll continue to be on point, as acclaimed television directors Mark Mylod and Jeremy Podeswa helm later episodes.

The episode dropped a few hints but stayed away from introducing any prominent new characters. I believe that this narrative foreplay, if I may, is necessary and will only make the newbies this season more interesting. In Season 4, we met Oberyn Martell right away, became intrigued by him thanks to the strength of actor Pedro Pascal, but then watched him do nothing until the end of the season. The decision to omit Arya -one of the shows most popular characters- from the episode will likely be met with popular criticism, but it’s not problematic for me. I’d rather wait a week and see her story actually developed rather than a two minute check-in just for the hell of it (cough cough Sansa & Littlefinger/Brienne & Podrick).

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I’m getting sick of how this show continues to handle Daenerys, and even sicker of Emilia Clarke making the same damn facial expressions or using the same damn vocal infliction every time she gets mildly upset. She is one of the shows most-loved characters, and figures to be a major player moving forward, but since the end of season 1, her arc has only been good for some token CGI shots of the dragons; those “we have money now!” shots (yes, we get one in this episode). Her story has been stagnant and repetitive. How many more times is she going to make a decision, learn that she’s still young as a leader, and be mentored by an advisor? I will say, however, that the possibility of a masked resistance group making things tricky for her and (possibly) bodying a few of her trusted friends could make for an interesting subplot.

I will miss Mance Rayder, the former king beyond the wall, played brilliantly by Ciaran Hinds. He only made a few appearances, but he was an intriguing foil/mentor for Jon Snow and it always felt like Mance was smarter than all of these other kings and lords. I found he and Snow’s discussion of pride to be perhaps the hours most fully-realized moment, and Mance being burned at the stake only to be spared the suffering by Jon Snow’s arrow served as an important moment for both characters. Also, Stannis Baratheon continues to be a badass, and Melisandre continues to be to so overtly-sexual in everything she does to the point that it’s uncomfortable to watch (in a good way). If you didn’t know that Melisandre was going to say “good” right after Jon Snow told her he wasn’t a virgin, well, you haven’t been paying very good attention.

Ultimately, the happenings in “The Wars to Come”, much like its title and central idea, are all about the future. As Benioff and Weiss continue to veer further away from the source material, the show is only going to get more epic and surprising. When we look back on Season 5, it’s unlikely that any of the key moments will come in the first few episodes like they did in Season 4. Despite its imperfections, the premiere served as a nice introduction to the season and fans of the show have no reason to tamper their expectations moving forward.

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Final Verdict: “The Wars to Come”, despite falling victim to typical season premiere flaws and usual GOT stagnancy, serves as both a thematically intriguing and visually stunning introduction to what may very well be the shows most grandiose season yet….7.6/10.

5 quick tidbits:

  1. In case you haven’t heard, Bran and his crew won’t be in this season. This is great news because Bran sucks and is the most worthless character on the show. I don’t care what the Martin-nites say about him being more interesting and integral to the books…his plot-line has been responsible for many of the shows worst pacing decisions.
  2. I love this new Jaime Lannister. He’s still a backstabbing, murderous narcissist who bangs his sister…but at least know he sort of feels bad about being that backstabbing, murderous narcissist who bangs his sister.
  3. It’s lame that, for the foreseeable future, we aren’t going to get any Tyrion-Cersei interactions. Those moments brought the best out of both characters. With that said, ever since this show changed it’s style in season 2, those two have been the most interesting central characters on the show. I’m confident that their stories will still be compelling.
  4. On top the dragons, there was an additional “We have a big budget” CGI shot with the statue falling down the pyramid at Meereen. I thought it was pretty dope. But that whole storyline still pisses me off.
  5. GOT continues to pull that bullshit where it transitions from scene to scene by having a character mention another character across the kingdom somewhere. Hint, if a character not on screen is being talked about, they’re probably coming up next. Predictable.

Until next week.

 

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