It’s that time of year again. The snow melts, the grass and the leaves come back, and Sunday nights on HBO get a fresh splash of blood on them.
Yep, Game of Thrones is back.
Before I start this, I will clarify something – for a while I had intended to do most show reviews on an episode to episode basis. Then I started adding up the numbers and realizing that could flood this place alarmingly quick depending on the number of shows.
So, for a lot of titles I’ll be opting for seasonal wrap-up pieces (Archer season 6 will be coming soon), with select shows getting episodic reviews. Besides the ones I’ve already started, Game of Thrones was a no-brainer for this, since the last time I tried to do a seasonal overview got psychotically long.
That said, this is going to be an interesting season. We are coming to the end of what’s currently available in print. Though (we’re hoping) George R.R. Martin is still plugging away at The Winds of Winter, we’re still looking at the show taking us off the map, possibly as early as this season.
That said, I’m trying to keep an open mind about departures from the text, and I’ll keep spoilers to an appropriately marked area.
Okay, prelude over.
Season openers for Game of Thrones always come with a bit of a curve. As a rule, the show usually tries to find a united theme to keep everything tied together. In openers, this also comes with recapping where everyone is at compared to where we left them.
The Wars To Come breaks from that latter element a little. We still get a good amount of the recap shuffle, but it feels less compulsive in its need to catch up with EVERYONE – in particular Theon, Bran, and Arya are all conspicuously left out of this week’s episode.
Of course, that’s likely because they aren’t really as fitting with the ultimate theme this episode is going for: “What now?” Last season left a lot of characters at a crossroads or facing one in the immediate future: Tyrion’s a fugitive, Tywin is dead, Danaerys is starting to learn the hard way that ruling isn’t as simple as she’d believed, Jon’s left to navigate a Mexican standoff of loyalties between the Night’s Watch, the Wildlings, and Stannis, Brienne’s at a loss on her quest, and Sansa is continuing to ride sidecar on Littlefinger’s Machiavellian roadshow.
Suffice it to say, this leaves many of the cast with a lot on their minds. For as many issues as I had with The Children as a finale last season, I’m pretty happy with the follow up here. Yes, there is that start of the season jet lag as we rush through the numerous characters, but it doesn’t really feel like anyone is short-changed for it.
I won’t take you through everyone’s recaps since we could be at that a while on this one, but I do have to give credit where its due on certain points.
To start with, this season opening with a precedent-breaking flashback. While the book side of me was a little surprised at the fact they downplayed the prophecy that the flashback is really there for (though it handles it better than season 2’s Qarth slip-up), the show side of me is pretty happy with this. In particular, props to casting for finding Nell Williams to play young Cersei. Besides believably looking the part, she nails Headey’s haughty ‘do what I say or I’ll make you regret it’ approach to the character eerily well.
Likewise, while Tyrion’s storyline is taking some considerable leaps, I’m liking what I’m seeing so far. The perspective shots used in the start of his sequence are a nice creative touch, and Peter Dinklage’s verbal sparring with Conleth Hill continues to be one of the gifts that keeps on giving in this series.
The big winner this week may still go to House Lannister, however. Even with Tywin cold on the slab, they still manage a good number of developments here, and are definitely being shaped up to be the big players this season. Cersei also takes the prize for one of the best payoffs this episode when confronting the newly religious Lancel. It’s a short exchange, but her reaction at the end makes it all worth it.
All in all, I have to admit I’m feeling a bit more confident in this season than I was for a while there. There’s still some elements I’m feeling uncertain about – such as the attempts to make Daario into a bit more sympathetic a character and one particular development I’ll be discussing below – but this is off to a more solid start than some of the other season openers have been. I’m going to try and keep an open mind and see if I can enjoy this one as is, without letting the books bug me too much.
After all, this is going to be new territory soon for all of us.
Appropriately enough, that also applies to Arya coming back next week for The House of Black and White.
-Strong theme connecting the plots in light of the end of last season
-Casting continues to be a series strong point
-Prophecy plots are tricky enough as is, only going half-in could burn the showrunners down the line
-Between this week and next week’s preview, looks like the talk about Bran and Hodor being put on a bus to Mexico for this season may be right
THE BLACK CELLS (SPOILERS AHEAD – DASHED FOR YOUR PROTECTION. SKIP TO COMMENTS IF YOU WISH TO AVOID)
Well, you’ve stuck past the review and want to see the point I was going to discuss, so here we are. You’ve made your to the Black Cells. This is where I’ll discuss (briefly) certain spoiler points that, in the main review, would be an issue for people not familiar with the books. Hence the need to highlight to read this. Outside of being coy with the Cersei spoiler, there is one particular this week I remain on the fence with. While it could just be Benioff and Weiss playing things close to the chest, and if so, points for making me believe it, it’s looking like they may be doing away with the old Mance Rayder switch-off. While I suppose I can see the logic for this in the interests of streamlining narrative, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little disappointed if that’s the case. I like Mance as a character, and Hinds really didn’t feel like he got to do enough with him for the screentime he had. Plus, that deception does come back to bite Jon later, so this could call for some creativity to further fumble his credibility. Though the fact Jon’s still not Lord Commander does give the impression his story’s getting an overhaul. We’ll just have to wait and see at this point. Only 10% of the way through this season, after all.
…suffice it to say, please try to keep spoilage discussions out of/similarly concealed in comments as well. It’s a simple courtesy, but one I’d like to try and uphold.