Yesterday evening we were invited along to the Tower of London to bear witness to the world premiere for Season Five of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
There was an awful lot of this sort of thing.
The fifth season of the show arrives with a huge, expectant audience and a promise to the book-readers who have been in on many of the show’s main plot points for years: Change is Coming.
Showrunners D. B. Weiss and Dan Benioff have acknowledged that some of the character’s storylines during the seasons so far have caught up to their counterparts in the books. With George R. R. Martin still writing the next book (The Winds of Winter, desperately expected this year) Season Five of the show gives Benioff and Weiss the chance to stray, and continue to cut down the vast world of Ice and Fire to accommodate a ten episode per book ratio.
All eyes are on the continuing adventures of the Starks, Boltons, Lannisters and Dany with her dragons. This is certainly the most unpredictable season of the show so far. When the trailers dropped, and we found more questions than answers.
There will be new characters, at least one new location and no doubt we see be feeling the fallout of Tyrion’s actions in King’s Landing for the entirety of the season. But there were other characters about to set out on their own journeys.
Speaking to us last year Sophie Turner mentioned a specific scene which she recalled as being particularly disturbing. Indications are that her journey with Littlefinger would lead her to old haunts, and with them the potential for the dovetailing of storylines incongruent with Martin’s books.
We also caught up Jamie Lannister himself, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau who told us that we can expect to see some major characters who’ve never met before meeting up in this season which is going to be rather exciting!
So, it was with excitement we joined the festivities at the Tower of London last night. The Tower was decked out in Westeros regalia complete with Iron Throne. The main event arrived and we had our first impression of Season Five of HBO’s Game of Thrones.
This will be a relatively spoiler-free review, but will assume you’re up to date on Game of Thrones and want to know who is in the first episode.
The Wars to Come is an ominous title, but a necessary one. At the close of last season there were a number of storylines which had reached the point of no return. From the giving in to a lifetime’s anger for Tyrion to the denial of one’s own instincts for the better good; one feels though that Dany’s dragons won’t stay shackled for long. The battle at The Wall has seen the arrival of one of the main players in the Game of Thrones but how will this affect the men who have taken the Black, who bow to no King?
The Stark sisters are as far apart as ever, one taking charge of her destiny and the other, we suspect, falling under the spell of a key figures in this new Westeros.
As with each season opener there are notable absences. We will need to wait until episode two to catch up with The House of Black and White and that House’s newest occupant. Likewise the awful stench of one of our principal character (it rhymes with Next Week) is kept away for the first episode.
Instead there is a sense of re-evaulation, and rebuilding on broken stone.
We begin with a scene long rumoured (indeed, the pre-season casting calls confirmed it) and a first for Game of Thrones: a flashback. The content and context of the remembrance has a particularly strong meaning for one of the Lannisters, and after last season saw a decimation of their power in King’s Landing there is a need to regroup.
For the first time however there is something of a desperation in the mix. Lena Headey continues to develop the character of Cersei in compelling fashion. Her spats with Natalie Dormer’s Margaery Tyrell are a calm rictus grin of propriety in amongst a storm of latent rage. We will continue to enjoy their relationship this season I’m sure.
Thankfully across the way Dany’s storyline seems to be on the move. A criticism of last season was the dull plod of her earnest liberation of the slave cities. It was worthy, and showed her developing as a leader but what’s the point if she was never looking westwards to the Iron Throne? Still atop her high horse in Meereen there appears a genuine threat to her in this first episode, and a simple decision she must make to appease her new people.
Always, however, she can hear the cries of her tethered dragons, a thoroughly unsubtle metaphor for her own situation. A question is asked: ‘What is a Dragon Queen without her Dragons?’ and in the episode’s best looking scene Dany stalks her anchored charge in the dank dark cells below the city. The flash of flame and emotional constriction make for a potent scene – perhaps this season we will see more of them?
‘You do not want to wake the dragon,’ warned hothead Viserys Targaryen in the first season. It’s been a long, hard slog since Astapor and we’re left hoping that she does.
Sansa and Littlefinger continue their bizarre fake father/daughter/maybe more… relationship wrapped up in whispered asides and as before there’s some great work from Sophie Turner who is clearly reveling in turning wet blanket Sansa Stark into something of a junior manipulator. For now however Littlefinger remains at the wheel, but there are decisions made in this first episode which point to a change in their small power struggle and a substantial deviation from the books, something the show (and Sansa) desperately need.
Littlefinger’s opposite number arrives himself on distant shores in the first episode, Varys away from his powerbase of King’s Landing is a little jarring at first. In the few short scenes with his travelling companion, a fully bearded Tyrion, we can see a very interesting new partnership born of necessity perhaps, but with a great potential. Conleth Hill and Peter Dinklage play beautifully off of each other, with the result of a much-needed injection of humour in these troubled times.
They too make a decision which sets them on a path for the rest of the season. The showrunners are taking great pains to pace each episode perfectly (and they achieve that here) and the season as a whole, there is the feeling here that the Game has reached a critical phase, and nothing here is without consequence.
The final scene is one such example of this. Weiss and Benioff promised deaths, and important deaths occur even within the first episode.
As a return to the world of Ice and Fire this season opener suffers from a dose of the recaps once too often, but when the scenes switch to forward motion the dialogue snaps into sharp focus, giving each narrative a pointed momentum. This may prove hard to maintain throughout the next nine episodes but there’s something exciting brewing in each corner of Westeros, and this season looks like being the show’s best yet.