Game of Thrones 5.1: “The Wars to Come” Review

NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Game of Thrones are present in this review


Game of Thrones finally returned after a pretty grim turnout in last season’s finale, for all sides. Forced to flee King’s Landing, Tyrion has been smuggled to Essos by Varys, complete with beard, while Cersei and Jaime mourn the death of their father at Tyrion’s hands. Meanwhile, Daenerys finds her rule of the slave nations challenged by threats both exterior and within, namely with the introduction of resistance group, Sons of the Harpy, who murder one of Daenerys’ Unsullied in a brothel.

The lead cast of the show has become pretty spread out at this point, so hopefully you got a refresher course on where everyone is at present, because the season premiere, as expected, gives a recap, but still leaves a lot of separate storylines for audiences to remember, particularly with Daenerys no longer being the only major presence on the other side of the Narrow Sea. Fans of the source novels will also find more deviations than ever, though the rest of A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons are now looking to be covered on the show, before we run out of George R.R. Martin texts.

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Taken on its own merits though, this was still a good premiere, albeit a bit of a slower season start than the series is used to. The show took its time setting up new elements for Season Five, presenting some interesting new hooks, namely in Daenerys and Tyrion’s latest struggles, but it seems like there was a whole lot of brooding, more so than anything else, even if Tyrion was given the promising opportunity by Varys to meet the mysterious new queen of Meereen.

Sansa, now sporting a black hairdo, was barely featured as well, with the other fan-favourite Stark children, Arya and Bran, not even appearing at all, which felt odd, given that both of them ended off Season Four with some pretty big developments. It’s easy to get the sense that the show is getting stretched a bit thin at present, which is why it’s small wonder that George R.R. Martin has claimed that the cast is going to be thinned out over the course of the season, without regard to whether fans will be happy about the deaths or not.

Surprisingly, it was Jon Snow that was given the most exciting portions of the premiere, over at The Wall. After the Night’s Watch are bailed out of certain defeat by Stannis Baratheon at the end of Season Four, the Wildlings are left to see their leader, Mance Rayder captured, after Jon decided to show him mercy. Jon’s leadership is being questioned due to his affiliation with the Wildlings, just as Sam fears for the appointment of Ser Alliser Thorne as The Wall’s new Lord Commander, as he hates Wildlings, which would likely mean the expulsion of Gilly and her baby. It’s surprising to see the tables turn so quickly on the so-called, “Free men”, even if it does mean the Night’s Watch are now within the reach of Melisandre, and her ambiguous new world religion.

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Still, so long as Mance Rayder swears fealty to Stannis, he and his people will be spared, and given the opportunity to become official citizens of the realm. It sounds like a pretty great deal, considering the bloodbath that occurred at The Wall towards the end of Season Four, but Mance Rayder holds fast on his stance that his people have bled enough, ultimately defying Stannis. This leads to the Wildling King getting to be burned alive for all to see, though the rite is interrupted by Jon firing an arrow into Mance Rayder, as a mercy killing. The episode then ends after that moment. Damn. It will be very interesting to see how the Night’s Watch and Stannis’s men alike respond to that, particularly with Jon’s loyalties already being questioned so extensively.

Daenerys also came close to some really exciting stuff, but like Cersei and Jaime, even she just ultimately ended up brooding a lot. Daenerys debates a controversial request to restore the fighting pits, where slaves are forced to fight each other to the death for the entertainment of a crowd, which she’s initially against. Daario convinces Daenerys to reconsider, after some sexy time, though Daenerys is nonetheless troubled by the presence of the Sons of the Harpy, as well as the fact that one of her three dragons remains M.I.A., with the other two attempting to attack her when she visits them in their confinement. Oh dear.

As awesome as Daenerys has been throughout this series, Season Five should deliver a very exciting arc when it comes to Daenerys’ rule being challenged like never before. She is losing control of her dragons and her city, slowly but surely, and we’ll have to see if she can bounce back enough to keep her army together for the march to Westeros. Either way, it should make for awesome television, despite the fact that the premiere felt like it was laying a foundation for future episodes with Daenerys’ arc, more so than seeing through an actual plotline.

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That seemed to be true of much of this premiere in general, which feels like it needs to take its time laying the groundwork for an especially ambitious fifth season. It was solid, but it will no doubt be out-performed by the episodes to come this season, since it was mainly a lot of setup, and little else. The idea of a Tyrion/Daenerys alliance should tickle fans though, and the developments at The Night’s Watch are starting to become more exciting than they’ve ever been.

If all of this promising potential is realized, it should be a very good season indeed for Game of Thrones!

Game of Thrones' fifth season premiere largely took its time with setup and character examination, resulting in a slightly slower season kick-off, but one that also brings tons of exciting possibilities to the table.
Daenerys' rule coming apart
The Wall's most exciting storyline yet
Tyrion/Daenerys alliance is an exciting thought
Slower-paced than former season premieres
Arya and Bran being absent felt odd