Features and Columns · TV

Game of Thrones Explained: Best of Luck in The Wars to Come

By  · Published on April 13th, 2015


Game of Thrones has returned and with it comes my weekly recap. This season, instead of just writing something for those of you who enjoy spoilers (I’ll be doing that on the Storm of Spoilers podcast), I’ll be writing a new series called “Game of Thrones Explained,” in which we will explore the in-between details of the show in a way that is friendly to both book readers and those who have only watched the show.

We begin with “The Wars to Come,” the season 5 premiere and opening salvo into what I’ve already called the most exciting season yet of Game of Thrones. In short, this season yields the most uncharted territory. It’s time for the show runners to stretch their legs and do things they have not yet done (like go way off book).

Note: This column is written for serious Game of Thrones nerds, and it will include spoilers from episode 1 of season 5, “The Wars to Come,” but it does not include any future spoilers from the show or books.

This Week’s Best Opening Credits Detail

Screengrab (HBO)

Before we get into all the episode stuff, let’s take a look at my favorite detail in the opening credits. These are the kinds of things that I try to point out to whomever is watching alongside me and no one ever seems to care. Surely one of you will care. You’ll notice that not only did we see several old locations – Pentos and The Eyrie, both of which probably won’t be around for long – we also saw Winterfell. But as we know from the end of last season, Winterfell and The North are under new management. Thus, we see the Flayed Man of House Bolton atop the rising (and no longer smoldering) keep of Winterfell. Will someone eventually have something to say about this new Bolton-ruled North? Time will tell.

This Week’s Best First Ever

Screengrab (HBO)

For the first time in the history of the show – and despite the show’s creators swearing them off – we’ve experienced a flashback. We didn’t get a look back at Robert’s Rebellion or the grand affair between Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark. Instead we got a peek at what Cersei was like as a teenager. Much like she is as an adult, Cersei wasn’t particularly friendly or patient. She also hasn’t changed her hair style much over the years.

Lil’ Cersei and her friend Jeyne go to meet a witch named Maggy the Frog, who foretells of Cersei’s fate and provides the week’s best meta commentary on the nature of watching Game of Thrones. “Everyone wants to know their future until they know their future,” explains the decidedly non-froggy woods-dweller. As in, do we really want to know all the answers that Thrones has to offer, or is it a good thing that the show will speed through and beat the books to the end? It’s something with which we’ll be wrestling throughout the season. Okay, throughout the next several seasons.

The big learn here is that Cersei has always known how her life would go. She knew that she would be Queen, she knew that she’d rear children that weren’t of the King and she knew that someone younger and prettier will come along and take it all away. This sets up one of the big chess matches of season 5: Cersei v. Margaery, who Cersei believes to be the new queen from the prophecy. Do we believe that it’s Margaery, or could it be another pretty queen? All that matters right now is that Cersei believes it to be the Tyrell girl, which is why she spends a lot of time in this episode spying on her youngest son and his bride-to-be.

This Week’s Least Rapey Funeral Scene

Screengrab (HBO)

Things between Cersei (Lena Headey) and Jaime (Nicolaj Coster-Waldau) have clearly deteriorated. She blames him for releasing Tyrion, indirectly killing their beloved father. It’s clear that both of them are nervous about what is to come. And they are right, Tywin Lannister (Charles Dance) was the only thing standing between them and the mobs of other nobles who would like to see the Lannister regime crumble. They are wise to be weary and defensive, as they no longer have daddy’s umbrella of gold and will to protect their incestuous dealings.

At the very least, let’s be thankful that this funeral scene (in the ever-gorgeous Sept of Baelor – damn, that production design is, as the kids would say, on fleek) didn’t end up like Joffrey’s. No poorly interpreted sexual encounter, just sibling animosity that could see a splitting of Westeros’ most handsome brother/sister romance. Finally.

This Week’s Best Tyrion Moment

Screengrab (HBO)

It’s Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) who gets all the best dialogue on this week’s edition of The Adventures of The Imp and The Spider, but Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) doesn’t disappoint. He’s a little worse for wear when he emerges from his escape box, talking of handling his own excrement. You’d think his first task would be to wash his hands, but now. Drink, vomit, immediately drink some more. We’ve missed you, Lord Tyrion.

This Week’s Best Creepy Melisandre Moment

Screengrab (HBO)

Seeing as many characters have left us over the past two seasons, we’re likely to get a lot more of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane). This is fine and dandy, as Stannis still does have a pretty good claim to the Iron Throne and he’s got the most formidable army that is actually in Westeros. It also means that we’re due for a lot more of Melisandre (Carice van Houten). There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this development, as Melisandre is a lot of fun. Take this elevator ride with Jon Snow, for example. It combines Jon’s social awkwardness around attractive redheads with Melisandre’s very direct nature. The fact that she’s not cold in that dress reminds us that she’s got a special relationship with the Lord of Light. The fact that she comes right out and asks Jon Snow about his virginity gives us insight into what she might have planned for the Bastard of Winterfell. We do know that she loves to extract various bodily fluids from highborn bastards and use them to give Stannis an advantage. Only the last one she used (Gendry back in season 3) had the blood of a King. What makes Jon Snow so special?

I’m sure that’s all to be revealed later. For now, just remember that no one expects the Stannis Inquisition:

Especially Mance Rayder. The King Beyond the Wall took his pride and his cynicism about the future with him onto that pyre. Now that it’s happened on screen, there’s no spoiler in saying that it’s a death that is a departure from the books. It’s an important moment, though, as it shows a few things: (a) Jon Snow is both merciful and not afraid to jump all up into Stannis’ business and (b) it puts the rest of the Wildlings in an interesting position going forward. They still need to get themselves south of The Wall and away from the White Walkers, but it clearly means bending the knee for Stannis. Who will emerge as their leader and will said leader kneel so that their people can live? Yet another good question that season 5 must answer.

This Week’s Best Return of an Old Second Tier Character

Screengrab (HBO)

This is a tie between two members of the Lannister clan. The first is Uncle Kevan Lannister (Ian Gelder), who has returned to King’s Landing to assist Cersei in the wake of Tywin’s death. We see him, pictured above, having words with the Queen Mother at the funeral. It doesn’t spoil anything to say that Kevan might be the only Lannister left who has any sort of sense. He’s Tywin’s brother and he’ll likely be the one looking out for the Lannister name while Cersei is overwhelmed by her ferocious quest to protect her remaining children.

Screengrab (HBO)

The second part of the tie is Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), Kevan’s son and Cersei’s former lover. Lancel is the long-haired cousin that Cersei took to bed in season 1 while Jaime was off getting captured by Robb Stark. He’s returned for the funeral of his uncle Tywin with a new haircut and a new lease on life thanks to a section of the Faith known as Sparrows. As we see in his conversation with Cersei, these Sparrows are the redeemed, humble servants of The Seven. They have come to King’s Landing to bring balance to the gaudy, debauched Lannister regime. What kind of thorn will Lancel and the Sparrows be in the side of Cersei’s attempt to keep control? More great questions.

For more on this week’s Who’s Who of Westeros, I’d refer you to this piece by my podcast co-host Joanna Robinson at Vanity Fair. She does a wonderful job breaking down all these familiar faces whose names we just can’t place…

This Week’s Surprisingly Interesting Trip to Meereen

Screengrab (HBO)

Everything about Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) and her rule in the slaver city of Meereen has been dreadfully boring? Since taking hold of the city with her impressive army of Unsullied, not much has happened to Dany and her crew. It’s so bad that the show had to manufacture a love story between Dany’s assistant Missandei (Nathalie Emmnuel) and a man with no working genitalia.

We do learn a few important things in our trip to Meereen:

  1. Unsullied just need a little cuddle time.
  2. Cuddle time in Game of Thrones is also murder time (it is known).
  3. Two thirds of Dany’s dragons are still chained up.
  4. Said dragons are becoming huge and terrifying.

The scene in which Dany visits Rhaegal and Viserion, her now teenage dragon children, may the most legitimately terrifying sequence that Game of Thrones has delivered to date. Kudos to director Michael Slovis, a series newcomer and Breaking Bad alum, for creating a real horror movie vibe with this short sequence. Those dragons are much bigger and more terrifying than the last time we saw them. If that’s the case with the two “nice ones,” what are we in for when their more aggressive brother Drogon returns? Questions!

This Week’s Final Thoughts

Screengrab (HBO)

As you can surmise if you’ve read this far, “The Wars to Come” didn’t help with the point of this column. That point being to ultimately explain what is happening on the show and answer the questions that may be plaguing the minds of viewers. Instead, episode 1 of season 5 raises more questions than it answers. It’s reminiscent of seasons two and three, in which early episodes were about getting characters into position to setup bigger events down the road. Even though this episode may be one of the more uneventful that we’ll see in season 5 (hopefully), it does serve a purpose. It brings up many solid questions:

  1. How will Cersei solve a problem like Margaery?
  2. How will Jaime redeem himself in the eyes of his sister/lover?
  3. Will Tyrion and Varys get close to Daenerys?
  4. What devious plans does Melisandre have for Jon Snow?
  5. Where are Sansa and Littlefinger headed?
  6. Is Kevan Lannister the most pedestrian name in all of Westeros?
  7. When will we see some dragon warfare?

Some of these questions are likely to be answered later in the Episodes to Come. Which means that we’ll need to keep watching if we want to find answers, as there is very little runway left in George R.R. Martin’s books to keep us in the know.

Until next week, our watch continues…

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Neil Miller is the persistently-bearded Publisher of Film School Rejects, Nonfics, and One Perfect Shot. He's also the Executive Producer of the One Perfect Shot TV show (currently streaming on HBO Max) and the co-host of Trial By Content on The Ringer Podcast Network. He can be found on Twitter here: @rejects (He/Him)