Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars to Come

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. Any views or opinions expressed are based solely on where the Game of Thrones TV series currently is and no other knowledge or information is presented in this article.

A NEW SEASON, A NEW WORLD

Finally…We can all breathe a sigh of relief, the wait is over and Thrones is back. Yet, after watching the Season 5 premiere, some of us may have been left feeling a bit underwhelmed, perhaps even a bit slighted. After all, we waited a full year for Thrones to return, shouldn’t the kickoff episode have been packed with a bit more action? No beheadings, no betrayals, no battles and no scandalous sex scenes at all — I mean come on — where were all the things that we’ve grown so accustomed to seeing out of Thrones on weekly basis?

And yet still, it would be foolish to not read between the lines and recognize the way that this premiere episode set the stage for the journey that we are about to embark upon. While there weren’t any major plot progressions or jaw-dropping reveals in this premiere episode, one very loud and unmistakable message was sent: viewers beware, we are in a bold new world. This is not the Thrones world you’ve come to know over the last four seasons and the whatever predictability of the world we grew to know is now gone. Tywin, the man responsible for directing so much of “the game” we’ve come to understand,  is dead; Tyrion, another Lannister who kept much of the game in motion, is now halfway across the world; House Bolton officially rules from the seat of Winterfell; while Stannis now calls the shots at the Wall. And these were just a few of the major changes we faced in the opening episode. In this new world, there are new games to be played, new rules to those games and new players to play them. In an episode entitled The Wars to Come, it is important to recognize that the landscape of Westeros has vastly changed in the aftermath of Season 4, and believe it or not, what comes next in this new world appears even more unpredictable than ever.

THE END OF A LANNISTER ERA

Hinting at the fact that things are more different than ever, Season 5 kicks off with something viewers have never before seen — a flashback. We not only see the bratty malevolence that Cercei possessed even as a youth, but we also learn that much of the ill fate Cercei is experiencing before our eyes today, she was actually made aware of 20+ years ago. As Cercei goes to visit a witch in the woods, she tells the witch that she’s been promised to be married to a prince but the witch tells her that she will in fact marry a king. As viewers, we now know that the prince young Cercei was referring to was Rhaegar Targaryen, but that they never married, as he was killed by Robert Baratheon during Robert’s Rebellion. And instead, Cercei ends up marrying King Robert, as the witch told that she would. The witch goes on to tell her that she will be queen, until she is replaced by one younger and more beautiful (Margaery). Most important, referring to Cercei’s three future children, the witch states “Gold will be their crowns, gold will be their shrouds,” referring to their funeral shrouds, implying that death surrounds Cercei’s children. Having lost one child already during his reign as king, having a second son reigning as current king, and her third child, Myrcella, halfway across the world in the hands of their enemies, House Martell, perhaps Cercei should have listened a bit closer to the prophetic words of the fortune teller she sought out as a child.

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The young Cercei

Flash forward, we see that Cercei’s problems extend beyond just her children, and that an enormous void is left by the death of Tywin Lannister. Though never actually king, as we look upon Lord Tywin laying dead in the Great Sept, we feel as though we have witnessed the death of a king, a testament to the immense power that Tywin commanded in his life. And as the morose notes of The Rains of Castamere play in the background, a song which once reminded of the strength of House Lannister, we now see a much different version of this once all-powerful house — one that appears to have been reduced to no more than the revenge-driven Cercei and one-handed Jaime. And as they discuss all that Lord Tywin built for their house, Jaime reminds his sister of all the schemers and plotters that will look to prey upon their weakness as he tells her, “they are going to try to take it away…all of it.” And while it appears that we’ve witnessed the end of the Lannister era as we once knew it, Jaime tells Cercei that they must stick together to defend what their father has built, while Cercei seems more intent upon focusing on the fact that Tyrion is still out there somewhere. To say the least, with Tywin dead and Tyrion across the Narrow Sea, there’s discord amongst the Lannister twins at a time when they can least afford it.

The death of Lord Tywin, marking the end of a Lannister era

The death of Lord Tywin, marking the end of a Lannister era

OUT OF THE BOX

After weeks of being confined to a crate on a ship, Tyrion is finally released to see the realities of his new world — one where he finds himself in Pentos, with Varys, at the palace of Illyrio Mopatis, a character we’ve not seen since the first season. And right away, Varys reveals something very major. He tells Tyrion that he and Illyrio belonged to a group of people who saw King Robert’s reign as a disaster and aimed to do what was best for the realm by restoring the Targaryen dynasty. In other words, the two of them had been working together behind the scenes to help Khaleesi retake the thrown. Looking back to season 1, we can connect many of the dots. For starters, it was Illyrio Mopatis who hosted Khaleesi and her brother, Viserys, at his palace in Pentos when season 1 started.

From Season 1: Illyrio, in Pentos, harboring Viserys and Daenerys Targaryen

Illyrio brokered the marriage to Khal Drogo in an effort to put an army at the back of the Targaryens. It was also Illyrio who gave Khaleesi her three dragon eggs as a wedding present, which would go on to hatch into three living dragons — the first in hundreds of years. It had been clear that Illyrio was aiding the Targaryens, but it was not until halfway through the first season that we learned that Varys was equally involved with this plot, though much more behind the scenes. As Illyrio visits King’s Landing and walks the dungeons with Varys, Arya overhears them talking about the Targaryen claim which they are backing, and as they discuss the impending war between the Starks and the Lannisters, Illyrio notes that Khal Drogo and the Targaryens are not yet ready to make their move on Westeros, and that they need to buy more time. In short, this scene (see video below) showed us that Illyrio and Varys were plotting for a long time to back the Targaryen restoration. And now, four seasons later, it all comes full circle as Tyrion and Varys end up in Pentos at the palace of Illyrio, and Varys for the first time explicitly tells Tyrion of his plot, one that went terribly wrong.

And as we so often ask ourselves what the true motives of certain characters are, especially ambiguous ones such as Varys, we once again hear what Varys professes to want to most: peace and prosperity for Westeros. Though his plan to get Khaleesi back on the Throne did not yet come to fruition, he seems more decided than ever that she is the one true ruler who could achieve this — one that could strike fear in the powerful Lords of Westeros while inspiring greatness and compassion amongst the weaker. She has the army, the dragons and the right last name. And he now turns to Tyrion to assist him in the pursuit of helping Khaleesi to ascend the Iron Throne.

Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see what comes next for Tyrion. To date, he has been a character utterly defined by his Lannister last name. In Season 4, when Shae would so often beg Tyrion to leave King’s Landing and start a life elsewhere with her, he would always reply that he is a Lannister — what purpose would he possibly have in Easteros, away from “the game” taking place at King’s Landing? After professed that he was good at the game and he enjoyed playing it. Ironically — away from King’s Landing, halfway across the world in Easteros is now precisely where he finds himself, only under an entirely new set of circumstances. So far from his familiar world of King’s Landing and almost entirely removed from his Lannister landscape, will Tyrion find new purpose? What man will he become? And will he ultimately make his way to Mereen, along with Varys, and meet the Mother of Dragons?

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TROUBLE IN KHALEESI’S NEW WORLD

Which brings us to the new world that Khaleesi is trying to create amongst the slave cities of Easteros. Symbolic of the old ways she is uprooting and the new world she is creating, Khaleesi’s Unsullied tear the giant harpy off the Great Pyramid of Mereen. And as we recall from the end of Season 4, Khaleesi offers that the slave masters of Yunkai could “live in my new world, or die in their old one.” We see that the more Khaleesi tries to cultivate this new world, one where slavery is absolutely forbidden and justice will always be recognized, we also see the obstacles she faces — ones that may deter her from her eventual goal of reclaiming the Iron Throne. First, we see one of her Unsullied murdered by a member of the Sons of the Harpy, a resistance group that has raised up in defiance of the new world she is trying to create. Khaleesi insists that he be buried publicly in the Temples of the Graces, despite her advisors warning that this will further anger the Sons of the Harpy.

In addition to these issues she faces in Mereen, as Daario Naharis returns from Yunkai, Khaleesi learns that the ex-slave masters have asked her to allow the continuance of the fighting pit, something which she refuses. As she later chats about this with Daario in bed, he reminds her that she is the Mother of Dragons and that if she wants to have success in her new world, her dragons must be a part of it. But, when she goes to check on her two dragons which have been locked up for some time, we see that they have not only grown extremely large, but that they also appear more uncontrollable than ever. Furthermore, it’s been weeks since anybody has spotted Drogon, the largest of the three dragons. As this season unfolds, it will be interesting to see how dedicated Khaleesi remains to establishing her new world versus shifting her sights towards the ultimate goal of claiming the Iron Throne.

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Khaleesi & her dragons

THE WALL

Elsewhere, we once again see that everything has changed with major unpredictably surrounding what comes next at the Wall. In the aftermath of the battle between the Night’s Watch and Mance Rayder’s army of Wildlings, we see a depleted Night’s Watch that is now somewhat backed by Stannis Baratheon’s army. As Jon Snow ascends the Wall, Melisandre asks him if he is a virgin. When he informs her that he is not, she responds, “good,” with a sinister grin. Atop the Wall, Stannis tells Jon Snow that he plans to retake Winterfell from House Bolton and wants the Wildlings to fight for him. All Mance has to do is bend the knee, to which he of course refuses. As Jon Snow tells Mance he is making a mistake, Mance responds “All I ever wanted was the freedom to make my own mistakes.” Even when faced with being burned alive, Mance would rather die a free man than acquiesce to the rules of the southern kingdoms and bend the knee. And as everybody looks on as he begins to burn, Jon Snow puts an arrow in his heart to prevent the horrible death Mance was about to experience.

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EVERYTHING ELSE

In a roundup of some of the smaller scenes of the premiere episode, we see the continued journey of Brienne and Pod, who in their new world, appear to lack any true purpose or destination. Sansa, appearing darker than ever, continues to journey on with Littlefinger, and on their new path together, leave Robin Arryn with Lord Royce for safekeeping. We also see Lord Baelish receive a message, which undisclosed, he stashes in his sleeve. Once in private, Baelish tells Sansa that they are going somewhere so far away that even Cercei cannot find Sansa. And back in King’s Landing, Lancel Lannister, Cercei’s cousin, reappears as a Sparrow, stating that he has found peace in the Light of the Seven. He apologizes to her for their unnatural relations, and also for the part he played in serving Robert Baratheon the very strong wine, which led to his hunting accident and eventual death. Though it had been implied previously, we receive explicit confirmation of the role that Cercei played in killing her husband and the King. And as the season premiere comes to a close, while we may not have witnessed any singularly gamechanging events, this new season presents a new world, one where the game appears to be changing and anything could be possible.

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Sansa, appearing darker than ever

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Episode 7 Recap: Mockingbird

TYRION & JAIME

Episode Seven begins with an emotional exchange between Tyrion and Jaime, Lannister brothers that had grown accustomed to their high-born lives of power and entitlement. It was not long ago that Tyrion was on top of the world — more or less running the show in King’s Landing as Hand to the king, with Shae, the woman he loved by his side, and all the gold and wine that a man could ever desire. Similarly, Jaime had everything he could ask for — namely the woman he loved, and the hand that swung his sword from which his power derived. Now, he has neither of these things. And as the two sit in Tyrion’s cell, the deterioration of their situations is more apparent than ever. Everything has changed — Tyrion is powerless to the false verdict of a murder he did not commit, while Jaime is utterly helpless to defend and protect his own brother. However, the two agree that one thing has not changed — Lord Tywin would have once again gotten exactly what he desired had Tyrion stuck to the plan of confessing to the murder. Killing two birds with one stone, Lord Tywin would have been able to get rid of Tyrion by sending him to the Wall, while at the same time securing Jaime as a proper heir to Casterly Rock and the Lannister dynasty. However, after hearing Shae’s heartbreaking testimony, Tyrion decided he had nothing to lose and deviated from the plan, leaving his fate up to the gods in a trial by combat, ruining Lord Tywin’s master plan. As the scene comes to a close and we see the despair in both their eyes, it is sad to consider the unbelievable toll that being a Lannister has taken on both their lives. Their roles and duties as Lannisters have been dictated by Lord Tywin from day one, leaving them little opportunity for any kind of true freedom or happiness. But, for the moment, that has all changed, as Tyrion has taken the power and control from Lord Tywin and placed their fate in the hands of the gods in the imminent trial by combat.

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After realizing the sad reality that Jaime is unable to defend him in trial by combat, Tyrion summons Bronn and requests that he step up as his champion. However, Cercei has successfully manipulated the situation and arranged a marriage between Bronn and the highborn Lollys Stokeworth. Bronn’s already achieved knighthood and has plenty of gold — this marriage will solidify his status and put him in line to receive the castle of House Stokeworth. There is no longer anything Tyrion can offer Bronn that he does not already have, and in a final plea, Tyrion notes their friendship as a reason to fight for him. In response, Bronn states “Ay, we are friends, but when have you ever risked your life for me?” There is nothing left to say and the two shake hands, remembering the good days they’ve had together, realizing that this may be the last time they see each other. It seems like just episodes ago that Tyrion was a free man, using his gold to achieve anything he wanted, while Bronn was just a lowly sell-sword, subject to the power of Tyrion’s gold. Now Tyrion is locked in a cell with the possibility of imminent death, while Bronn is a free man with gold, knighthood and highborn wife-to-be…How quickly things do change in the Thrones world.

“NOTHING IS JUST NOTHING”

As Arya and the Hound continue on their journey, they come across a dying man, whom the Hound kills to put him out of his misery, telling Arya, “That’s where the heart is. And that’s how you kill a man.” But, before this, Arya and the man share some final words, as the man tells her that nothing could be worse than the slow death he is experiencing. With apathy in her eyes, Arya responds “Nothing isn’t better or worse than anything…Nothing is just nothing.” These are powerful words that demonstrate not only Arya’s apathetic attitude towards death, but also her connection to nothingness. Each time Arya has killed somebody, she has appeared emotionless — almost indifferent. And now, as she looks on at a man taking his last dying breaths, it is more clear than ever that she developed a completely apathetic attitude towards the idea of death, a concept that evokes much emotion in the average person. After losing almost every person around her, she has cut herself off from feeling anything at all towards the idea of death. And as she shares these words with the dying man, we see her unique perspective on the nothingness she feels after having lost everything — it isn’t better or worse than anything — it’s just nothing.

A moment later, two men appear in hopes of capturing or killing the Hound to receive the large bounty that Lord Tywin has placed on his head. After the Hound snaps the neck of the first man, Arya recognizes the second as one of the prisoners she freed along with Jaqen H’ghar. With her razor-sharp memory, Arya recalls this man telling her that he would “Fuck her bloody with a stick.” And as soon as she learns his name, she adds him to her list, before crossing him off a moment later by putting her sword through his heart. Again appearing undisturbed and emotionless at the sight of death, even death at her own hands, Arya continues to cross names off her list as she grows her kill count.

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Later, Arya suggests that the Hound use fire to burn his wound and prevent infection. Of course, the Hound jumps back at the site of fire, before telling Arya of how he got the burns on his face from his own brother, the Mountain. As the beloved relationship between these two characters continues to evolve, we see more emotion and sensitivity from the Hound than ever before. It was not the burns that scarred him the most, but rather that it was his own brother who did this to him, only for his father to protect his brother rather than care for the Hound. We now see more clearly that perhaps these two characters are not so different after all; both have lost their families in one way or another and are now out on their own. But with a large bounty on his head as a result of the soldiers he killed to protect Arya, it is unclear how much longer the Hound is interested in keeping Arya’s company. “No reward is worth this much trouble,” he tells her. That said, Arya is likely the only person that the Hound has had any emotional connection with since childhood, and in the end, the Hound agrees to let her physically care for his wound, symbolic of the the ways that their connection has also tended to some of his emotional wounds.

BRIENNE & PODRICK

Another unlikely duo, Brienne and Podrick are on their journey to find Sansa when they encounter Hot Pie, an old friend of Arya’s. After Brienne inquires about Sansa, Hot Pie tells them that Arya is in fact alive and likely with the Hound. Not seen since Ned’s beheading, it has been presumed that Arya was dead for some time now, and it is significant that Brienne and Podrick are now aware that she may be alive. Podrick states that the Hound is likely taking her to the Eyrie where he could receive reward from Lysa Arryn. Before leaving, Hot Pie gives them a bread baked in the shape of a wolf for Arya, something he had given to her once before they parted ways many episodes ago.

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JON SNOW

Jon Snow and the others return to Castle Black from north of the Wall, only to find continued scorn from Alliser Thorne. Speaking before the brothers, Jon Snow tells that the Wildling attack on the Wall is imminent and that steel gates will not keep out their army, which includes giants. Jon proposes that they seal the tunnels which would block out the Wildlings, but also prevent the Nights Watch from going north of the Wall. Lord Commander Alliser Thorne mocks Jon Snow and rejects his proposal, while ordering he and Samwell Tarly to patrol duty on top of the Wall.

“THEY CAN LIVE IN MY NEW WORLD OR THEY CAN DIE IN THEIR OLD ONE”

Daario Naharis once again makes a play at Khaleesi, bringing her wild flowers and telling her that he only lives for two things: war and women. He begs her to let him pursue his love of war, rather than merely patrolling the streets of Meereen; when she denies his first love, she offers him a chance at his second one. She tells him to get naked and although we do not see it, it is presumed that they finally have sex. Beyond the dicey implications of how sex could affect the dynamic of this relationship moving forward, this action was significant for Khaleesi’s character evolution. Going back to the first season, before she was Khaleesi, Daenerys was just a young girl who was forced by her brother, Viserys, to marry Khal Drogo. Still coming of age, Daenerys was forced into sexual situations against her will. And later, once she warmed up to Khal Drogo, she then had to learn how to use her power of sex to truly win him over. Her sexuality was a very large part of her identity throughout — in many ways, she was powerless without it. And now, as she has become Khaleesi, the Mother of Dragons, commanding an army of 10,000 soldiers, she has more power than perhaps any person alive. And for this reason, the sexual experience with Daario, one that came from a place of power and strength, was significant to Khaleesi’s character.

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The next morning, Jorah crosses paths with Daario who is leaving Khaleesi’s chambers. Ser Jorah questions how much faith Khaleesi has put into Daario — after all, he is just a sell-sword. Khaleesi tells Jorah that she has sent Daario and the Second Sons back to Yunkai to slaughter all the masters that have retaken the city. Ser Jorah objects and tells her that this would be no better than the barbaric crimes of which the masters themselves are guilty. He also reminds Khaleesi that he himself is guilty of slave-trade, a crime for which he was shown mercy by Ned Stark. Jorah adds that he would not be standing where he is today had Ned executed Jorah for his crimes, much the way Khaleesi is planning to in Yunkai. Moved by his words, Khaleesi changes her mind and decides to offer the slave masters a choice, “They can live in my new world or they can die in their old one.”

THE RED PRIESTESS

At Dragonstone, Lady Melisandre converses with Lady Selyne about the magic potions that she has used to trick people into considering the Lord of Light. However, the Lord of Light is still very real and these potions are only a gateway to get people to see the truth of the Lord of Light. Lady Selyne then mentions that she does not think they should bring their daughter, Shireen, on their journey to the Wall. However, the Red Priestess tells her that the Lord needs her daughter — it has been seen in the flames.

“THAT’S NOT A MONSTER…THAT’S JUST A BABY”

In the middle of the night, Tyrion receives another visit, this time from Prince Oberyn. The Red Viper first tells Tyrion of Cercei’s attempt to manipulate him, but he sees through her Lannister tactics, and what he sees is an opportunity for revenge. But first, he tells Tyrion a story of the the time he traveled from Dorne to Casterly Rock to meet the monstrous baby that was Tyrion. After having been described as a terrible monster, Prince Oberyn was dissapointed to see that Tyrion was in fact not a monster, but just a baby. Tyrion’s eyes fill with tears as he realizes that even as a helpless and innocent baby, Cercei wanted him dead; so many years later and nothing has changed. As Prince Oberyn has learned that Cercei has named the Mountain to fight on her behalf, Oberyn is eager for the opportunity to avenge the murder of his sister and her two babies. The Red Viper has been waiting for this revenge for many years, and the opportunity has finally presented itself, giving Tyrion a champion to fight on his behalf. And so the combat is confirmed: the freakish size and strength of the Mountain versus the speed and agility of the Red Viper.

“GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY, WHAT DO WE DO TO THOSE WHO HURT THE ONES WE LOVE?”

In the courtyard of the Eyrie, Sansa reconstructs Winterfell, the place she once knew as home. However, it is not long before Robin demolishes Sansa’s castle, just as the actual Winterfell itself had been destroyed. Sansa slaps Robin and he runs off, just as Littlefinger appears to reassure Sansa that everything will be okay. Sensing that he has not been completely forthright, Sansa again asks him exactly why he killed Joffrey. Petyr makes it very clear that he murdered Joffrey out of revenge as he states, “Given the opportunity, what do we do to those who hurt the ones we love?” He goes on to tell Sansa that in a world where love prevails over war, she could have been his daughter, but unfortunately they do not live in that world. And then he kisses her, as Lysa Arryn looks on.

Later, Lysa Arryn confronts her niece and becomes hysterical as she threatens to throw Sansa through the moon door. Petyr calms his wife before telling her that he has only ever loved one woman — “your sister.” He then pushes Lysa through the moon door, raising many questions about what his next steps are and how Sansa fits into those plans.

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