Note: There are minor spoilers in this review.
Game of Thrones opens its fifth season with an intriguing flashback. Two girls wander in a swampy wood – one is steely and determined, the other meek and terrified. The steely and determined girl wears her long, blonde locks in a familiar braid across the back of her head. After mild bickering, the girls come across a make-shift hut, surrounded by flies and mud. Upon entering, the young Cersei awakens a woman who is reputed to be a witch with the power of prophecy.
Naturally, Cersei demands to know her future. The witch obliges, telling her things we already know to be truths – she will be queen, and the king will father twenty children. She is to have three children, none by the king. The witch also warns her of a younger, more beautiful woman who will come along and basically usurp her power. Flash forward to present day and the funeral of Cersei’s father, Tywin Lannister. There, Cersei shares a brief moment with Margaery Tyrell, the woman who will reportedly become queen.
Is this the woman referenced in the prophecy? My magic eight ball says Cersei thinks so.
There are several other significant meetings and conversations within the season premiere of Game of Thrones, Season Five, but this exchange has, in my opinion, established one of the more fascinating aspects of the upcoming season. What will become of Cersei Lannister and Margaery Tyrell? There isn’t much else dedicated to the two characters over the remainder of the excellent episode, but that taste is enough to confirm my suspicions that Season Five will give Lena Headey the opportunity to dominate a season (and potentially, finally give her the Emmy she so incredibly deserves). Cersei’s bitterness toward her brother Jaime for releasing Tyrion Lannister, effectively freeing him to kill their father, is well executed by Headey who plays the moment quietly, dripping with contempt. Let’s not forget that it also takes place in the same chapel that once held the body of her dead son, King Joffrey, and the very location her brother seduced her (or raped her, entirely depending on your vantage point).
The bulk of the episode is distributed across as many characters as they could fit into an hour of television. We hit all the fan favorites save young Arya Stark. The father-murdering Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) has been shipped out of Westerns in a small crate by Varys, who finally reveals his true intentions to Tyrion in a much-publicized conversation. He wants Tyrion to meet Mother of Dragons Daenerys Targaryen and determine if she is indeed the right person to sit on the Iron Throne. It’s another significant moment that will establish the bulk of the action for Tyrion in Season Five and potentially beyond, and the actors play the moment like experts. Dinklage, in particular, now couples the already significant self-loathing in his performance with the guilt and self-loathing associated with killing his father. It’s amazing how deeply Dinklage has been able to dig into this rich character, eliciting great nuance from even the most throw-away lines.
Meanwhile, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) feels less queenlike every day. Her new kingdom continues to rebel against her with one of her unsullied army members brutally murdered in a brothel. In case you’re wondering, he was there for emotional comfort as he is physically incapable of sex. Daenerys continues to pull together the tattered pieces of her kingdom, receiving requests from the former slave owners for a reinstatement of their gladiator combats. Her advisors recommend obliging as long as people volunteer to fight, but she refuses, even as her lover, Daario Naharis, recommends honoring their request. He feels her grip on the country slipping as she no longer wields the mighty dragons that helped win her the position in the first place.
And about those dragons… One is missing, and two are chained up in a dungeon below. Daenerys does pay her “children” a visit in the episode, but, as any child would be, they are effectively pissed to be locked up in a dark dungeon. Daenerys is afraid of them, and it’s unlikely they will oblige her in any future military campaigns. After all, they are dragons…
The other major sequence of the episode involved Jon Snow (Kit Harington) who is asked by Stannis Baratheon – who has taken up residence at Castle Black after saving them from the Wildlings late last season – to convince Mance Rayder, the captured King Beyond the Wall, to kneel before him and assist with driving enemies out of the North. Snow may be a great fighter but politician he is not. I will not spoil the ending of the sequence, but it does conclude the episode on a fiery note. Also of interest here is continued interactions between Jon Snow and the Red Priestess Melisandre who needs not wear heavy clothing on the icy wall because she is warmed from within by her Lord of Light. I say it’s menopause, but still, their brief interaction illustrates how deft the Game of Thrones writers are at quickly planting seeds and giving them room to grow.
There are other, more minor, scenes with Sansa Stark, Petyr Baelish, and Brienne of Tarth, but they’re just there to remind you of the characters’ current state. The overall episode moves swiftly and assuredly, reminding us at how very good the creative team is at blending character interactions and plot lines without seeming to give too much attention to one or the other. And, as usual, the technical details of the episode continue to be some of the best work on television, particularly the brilliant cinematography employed in the temple where Tywin Lannister is laid to rest.
Game of Thrones continues its run as, in my view, the best show on television not only because it deftly blends political intrigue with admittedly gratuitous sex and violence but also because it continues to draw its female characters as equals (and often the greater) of the men. The balance of power and screen time between the sexes here is largely unparalleled on television, and it makes the series all the more richer in the end.
Welcome back, Game of Thrones. You have been sorely missed in these parts.