Game of Thrones “The Wars to Come” Review

by Matthew Thompson

Thinking back on the myriad of memorable moments Game of Thrones has delivered over the past five years, you won’t recall many of its best in the premieres. The pilot is an exception, partly because it introduced viewers to this wonderful world, but also because it was before its cast had expanded and been spread thin across two continents. Now seasons start with the burden of reconnecting fans with characters stretching from The Wall to Slaver’s Bay and all manner of places in between. It is a daunting task. The Season 5 premiere does a good job stepping up to this challenge, but does fail to make some of the week’s check-ins feel substantial.

Game of Thrones The Wars to Come 2

Mini-Cersei and her friend back in the 270s (AL).

The fifth season opens in the oddest of places, a flashback to a young Cersei seeking out a witch for a prediction of what her future holds. The girl certainly looks the part with a dress straight out of the junior Cersei collection and her elder self’s acid tongue to match (“Tell me my future or I’ll have your two boring eyes gouged out of your head” she tells the witch). The prophecy that she is given lines up with things we know about Cersei. She didn’t marry Prince Rhaegar, but King Robert instead. The bit about children matches both her and Robert’s bastards. If the prophecy were to hold true, the final line about golden crowns and shrouds might be good news for Myrcella (currently in Dorne) in the short-term, but bad news for both her and Tommen in the not-too-distant-future as well. There is also the bit about a younger more beautiful queen which most obviously points to Margaery, but these things are tricky and it could always be Daenerys or someone else.

I love to parse through prophecies like these especially in this series and this one is interesting enough, but I’m not sure I feel a great connection here with the scenes that follow that revolve around Tywin’s funeral (which feature a reformed Lancel, the welcome return of Kevan, and the scary prospect of Cersei and Jaime alone in a sept again complete with a dead relative nearby), but that could always change as the season continues. I think the biggest hurdle for me with this scene is that it is the one the showrunners decided to break their “No Flashbacks” policy for (not sure it was a policy per se, but you know what I mean). Of all the options available, this being the first is a little baffling, but that speaks to how many much more promising flashback concepts I see at their disposal from the source material more than anything else.

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“Do you know what it’s like to stuff your shit through one of those airholes?” asks Tyrion. “No. I only know what it’s like to pick up your shit and throw it overboard,” Varys replies.

If I had to pick the best part of the episode, it would go to the scenes featuring Tyrion and Varys in Pentos. These two are plenty entertaining on their own and the fun just gets amplified with them paired up. The premiere’s best lines can be found here. I particularly loved the bit posted in the caption above, but it was far from the only quality exchange between these two. Just as important as the funny quips and delectable dialogue is the progress made here. We get to hear more about Varys’ grand plans for the Seven Kingdoms and see the course set for these two characters’ arcs this season: meeting up with Dany in Meereen where Varys sees Tyrion as a good advisor to the potential future Queen of Westeros. Promise lies in this setup through throwing more of my favorite characters together including a big-time pairing we haven’t seen before and because consolidating storylines can be good for a show that sometimes struggles to juggle all the ones available at a given time.

The scenes at The Wall also paint a nice picture of where the characters up North might be headed this season. A conversation between Jon and Stannis atop the great icy structure is one of this week’s highlights. Here Stannis lets us know about his hopes to gain a Wildling army to aid in taking back Winterfell while speaking to Jon, someone who would be sympathetic to the cause of seeing his hometown in better hands than the Boltons. Jon is also asked to convince Mance to bend the knee to Stannis, something all of us watching know isn’t going to happen. Jon does put an arrow in Mance to keep him from suffering a painful and fiery death. And with that arrow we see Ciaran Hinds time on the show come to an end. Hinds certainly did a good job in the role, but I don’t feel the show ever gave him or the character the time they deserved. Having seen Rome within the last year, it is hard for it to not feel like an even bigger missed opportunity to me now. This is another one of the pitfalls of the sprawling nature of the show, but I did expect the role to get more time when I first heard the buzz surrounding his casting.

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Dany: “This mask looks like a turkey from certain angles.” Barristan: “Totes.”

We check in with a few more characters throughout this first hour. We see some of the problems facing my girl Dany over in the far East. A Son of the Harpy assassinates an Unsullied, her dragons are none too happy to see her, and she is against the idea of re-opening the fighting pits. There is also a bit more fuel for the Grey Worm/Missandei fire if shippers are looking to build one. Nothing really meaty in Meereen this week, but this season will likely explore more of Dany’s growing problems as Queen, but help is hopefully on the way in the form of Tyrion and Varys which makes this storyline’s prospects a bit more exciting.

I’m honestly unsure where Sansa and Littlefinger’s story is going (even as a book reader this seems headed into uncharted territory). My best guess is we’ll see more storylines brought together as they somehow get mixed up in the goings-on up North with the Boltons, but who knows. The bits with them this week weren’t particularly compelling either.

A few more things:

  • The most superfluous portions this week get relegated to the bullets. We see Brienne and Pod, an entertaining pair of which I have no clue what they are up to and whose scenes do little to fill us in. And Loras who the show wants to make sure we remember is gay (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but it is pretty much his only identifiable trait in the show.
  • Was ready for Dorne in the opening sequence and quickly realized we wouldn’t be headed there this week when it panned over to Essos. Bummer. Will have to wait until next ep for the beauty of Dorne! The intro did have a new look for Winterfell featuring the Bolton’s flayed man sigil. Sickening to see!
  • There was a notable piece of Cersei’s prophecy missing in the show from the book version that I think would have made it better. Maybe they will return to that scene, but I doubt it. Or maybe that part is totally unnecessary in the show. I am most certainly nitpicking here, but I like to do that sometimes.
  • No Arya this week. Her, the Boltons and Dorne seem like the major plots missing from this episode.

“The Wars to Come” is a solid if unspectacular start to Game of Thrones fifth season, but that was to be expected. Here we set the table for what is to come this year. We check back in with the characters we love and ones we love to hate. The premiere is stronger in some areas than others, but it is great to be back in this world regardless and this was a good first outing for the show in 2015. What did you think of the premiere? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!

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8 comments on “Game of Thrones “The Wars to Come” Review

  1. A good, strong start for the season, I thought. Signaling right from the beginning that all the crazy shit that ended last season has made things worse, especially for King’s Landing.

    Several reviews that I’ve seen so far have pointed out (as you did) of the “No Flashbacks” policy/rule/guideline/whatever but this is the first time I’ve heard of it. It didn’t bother me in the slightest. The quality and choices made with this series have been consistently strong from the pilot and I believe compromises (if this can be considered one) will be made if it makes dramatic/narrative sense. In this case, it does: the prophesy feeds into adult Cersei’s growing anger and paranoia. As both readers of the books, we know how this will transpire but I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out in the show. Lena Headey is going to have a LOT to chew on this season.

    While it feels like not enough time was spent with Cirian Hinds’ Mance Rayder, I think it was enough to get a good bead on his character through his interactions with Jon, which will be dearly missed. I haven’t seen everything that Hinds has been in but he’s an actor who can do so much with subtlety, facial expressions and body language. He just has that presence and while I didn’t see him while picturing the actor as I read the books, I think Hinds was a great choice.

    There were some who criticized/bemoaned the cast changing of Daario last season. I wasn’t broken up about it but over time I have to admit that with their scene (and in retrospect) I don’t feel any chemistry at all between Michiel Huisman and Emelia Clarke. Weird.

    As far as the characters/locations that didn’t make the cut for the premiere, I’m just used to it at this point. If we had it our way I’m sure there’d be more than 10 episodes per season and with double the running times. The wait is the only thing that hurts now.

    Good write-up! I’ll try to visit this site more often.

    • *This comment contains book spoilers*

      Yeah I think after we see the events of AFFC play out here the flashback will look like a great way to open the season and feel very appropriate. I also liked how it then shifted to her walking into the Sept with people lining the streets as it will act in nice contrast to the way the season will presumably end for her with the “Walk of Shame.”

      I try not to spoil anything in the body of my reviews (I have quite a few TV show only readers), but I was basically dancing around the fact that flashbacks to help hint at Jon’s true parentage would have been cool (like Ned’s fever dreams in AGoT). On the other hand, that might be tricky to pull off in a similar way to a book without giving things away. It sounded like the No Flashback thing was largely a casting decision (from what I remember). Like it would have made a huge cast even bigger if you start casting people for certain flashbacks (people like Lyanna for instance), it might open a can of worms. This Cersei one acts as a nice one-off and I think it was well-done (I love little Cersei, she was great). I’d kill for a Robert’s Rebellion miniseries (this was suggested to me by another WordPress blogger around here and I love the idea) or something like that down the line though post-GoT!

      I can’t say this Daario has done much for me either, but I’m not the biggest fan of any version of the character book or otherwise.

      Oh and to be clear, I wasn’t so much complaining about missing locations/characters. I generally prefer when episodes only focus on a few, but always note who was MIA in my reviews. I’m just dying to see Dorne!

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment avid!

  2. Great review. In early seasons, part of the fun is seeing how the show adapts certain storylines and scenes. What’s interesting is that we are at the point where the show might be spoiling the books. So far I’m interested in the change ups, like Tyrion on a quick collision course with Dany, though I guess we still have the books for what will happen with the young griffin storyline.

    With premiere starting off with Cersei’s flashback I feel this is going to be her season. She’s a character that I think is well written and acted. We’ve seen one dimensional “evil queens” in movies and other shows, Cersei is so much more complex than that which fascinates me. This is coming from a fan of the Starks haha.

    • Yeah, I started watching the show which motivated me to read the books. So I experienced some of it in the show first and then some of it in the books first and now things will be swinging back the other way. I think at this point I am looking forward to new content and progress in this story wherever I can get it! So seeing Tyrion and Dany together this season (I assume) should be fun.

      I really forgot how good of an arc Cersei had coming until I watched this episode. AFFC was my least favorite of the books, but there are some strong storylines in there like hers. I look forward to seeing it unfold. Thanks for commenting!

  3. I agree that they didn’t give Hinds enough time to shine in earlier episodes. I think Season 3, in particular, botched his introduction. He had presence, but he had very brief cameos in three episodes that were more concerned with exposition than character, and then he was gone the rest of the season. Loved his scenes in “The Children” and this episode though, went out like a pro.

    • Yeah, that sums it up well. It was really strange how they handled his character earlier in the show, but at least he went out with some great scenes these past couple episodes. Thanks for commenting!

  4. I really enjoyed the scenes with Tyrion and Varys as well. Will be interesting to see how Tyrion reacts to and interacts with Dany (and vice versa). I liked the Cersei flashback – gave insight to the fact she has been fighting not only the desire to be seen as someone who could rule but with a prophecy that is playing out to be true.
    I’ve only read the first two books so far. So looking forward to whatever is to come this season, especially Arya’s storyline.

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