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Saturday, December 03, 2022

Fire and dragons permeate ‘Game of Thrones’ fifth season opener

We’re back, baby. Last Sunday night, the great television experiment known to us mere mortals as “Game of Thrones” continued its meteoric ascent into our hearts and minds. Viewers have all been waiting for it, and when the first four episodes leaked online yesterday, thousands of our weaker brethren downloaded it. It’s easily the biggest thing to happen on television this year. As such, it is only fitting that I use the space provided to sing its praises (as well as make some make some minor complaints). Warning—spoilers from Sunday’s episode, and some mild book-reader nit-picking follows. 

The first and most obvious thing to talk about is the flashback that started both episode and season. It’s also the first flashback the show has ever done, something of a surprise for a show with such a rich backstory. What we did get, however, was a young Cersei Lannister visiting a fortune teller and discovering what most of us already knew: Her adult life was going to be pretty horrible. While a masterclass in casting (young Cersei is spot on), it’s curious that the show’s writers would choose a scene that could easily have been explained with dialogue, rather than something from Westeros’ history that truly required a flashback, or some kind of cold open. 

From there, things pick up a little bit. Tyrion is safely in Essos, and after some bemoaning of his having to poop in a box all the way across the Narrow Sea, he and Varys get down to business. Varys wants Tyrion to advise our beloved Khaleesi, Daenerys Targaryen, on queendom and Westerosi politics. Considering our friend the imp was, until recently, a member of the most powerful family on the entire continent, this is probably a good idea. Tyrion initially resists, but is then convinced. And thank god he is, because if there’s one way to spice up Daenerys’ storyline, it’s our little lion. First, a little bit of whining about book stuff—Tyrion doesn’t end up with Daenerys in the book, instead working with Young Griff, who is actually Rhaegar Targaryen’s son Aegon and a possible rival for Daenerys. However, I’m actually kind of okay with the change, seeing as Daenerys and Tyrion are my two favorite characters. Long live creative differences!

Speaking of the one true queen, it looks like she’ll be staying in Meereen for quite a while. After a weirdly touching/disturbing murder in a brothel, her new nemeses revealed themselves as rich mask-wearing people who hate former slaves. Obvious KKK references aside, it looks as though these guys are going to give her some trouble. So, will she use her dragons? You know, her most powerful weapon? No. No she won’t, because she can’t control them. While this gives a flavor of intrigue to the story, because dragons are pretty much a trump card in any fantasy scenario, it would be really nice if Dany actually got to utilize her full ass-kicking potential for once. If she’s ever going to successfully defeat and subjugate the Lannisters, Tyrells, Starks, Boltons and a hundred other houses, she’s going to have figure some things out. Maybe this is the season where she finally does. 

Most of the episode’s heavy lifting happens at the Wall—it gets capitalized, ‘cause that’s how big the Wall is. Stannis Baratheon is still chilling, Ser Alliser is somehow alive and Jon Snow makes his entrance by beating the shit out of Olly, who you may remember as the kid that killed Ygritte last season. However, most of the story revolves around what to do with Mance Rayder, the erstwhile King Beyond the Wall. Stannis wants Mance to pledge himself to him so the wildlings will fight with Stannis as he strives to retake the North. Mance refuses, and is sentenced to burn alive, because that’s just how Stannis and Melisandre like to kill people. Jon eventually puts Mance out of his misery, presumably causing tension between Jon and Stannis. More book stuff: Mance isn’t supposed to be dead. Nobody’s really sure what he’s supposed to be doing, but any excuse to keep Ciarán Hinds in your show should be taken. So that’s a bit of a letdown. 

Oh. There was also some Lannister stuff. But, really, who cares.

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