Opening scene of the first episode of the fifth season of Game of Thrones was full of promises. Promises that we are about to be immersed in what could possibly end up being the best season of Game of Thrones to date. Promises that Benioff and Weiss, the creators of the most popular show in the world, have decided to go back to the roots, to the original text, the show was based on. Promises that we are finally going to see the narrative shift through the newly introduced and extremely necessary flashbacks of the events that have brought us to this exact spot. However, for all of us who have read Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire saga, the promise is all we’ve got. What am I talking about you wonder? So, let’s begin.
THE NARRATIVE SHIFT
The episode begins with a scene in the woods that follows two girls on their quest to find the local witch. The attitude, arrogance and intrepidity of the blonde girl skillfully revealed her identity even before we learned that her name is none other than Cersei.
In desire to learn her future, young Cersei together with her nameless friend, ventures into a cave, the alleged habitat of the infamous witch. In there, Cersei gets the right to three questions and answers, which according to the witch won’t please her. No, she will not wed the Prince (Rhaegar Targaryen, the eldest brother of Daenerys Targaryen, who was, in the Battle of Trident, killed by Robert Baratheon) but the King (Robert) and therefor, through marriage she will become the Queen until another, younger and more beautiful, comes along to take it all away. Visibly upset Cersei wishes to know if she will have any children with the King, thus asking the third and last question. The Witch tells her King Robert will have twenty (bastard born) and she will have three (with her brother Jaime). Gold will be their crown, gold will be their shrouds, the witch says through frantic laughter. Here, the scene, to my disbelief, cuts to adult Cersei on her way to Tywin’s funeral. I say disbelief first and foremost because the whole point of this prophecy is what the witch tells her next, in the end. The end, which was cut here, and according to which she will outlive all her children and only then, as she is drowning in sorrow, her own life will be taken away from her at the hands of a younger brother (valonqar). The witch never reveals the identity of the younger brother (because both Tyrion and Jaime, her twin, are younger than her) or if he is in fact her brother or someone else’s (be it Stannis, Loras, Jon, Bran etc.). However, Cersei, convinced Tyrion is the brother witch spoke of, the little monster that killed her mother (during birth) and now her father (on the toilet), continues nurturing this hate from this very moment when she received the news, until today. This information, this prophecy, is responsible not just for the fact that through it the writer has successfully installed the sense of humanity upon this seemingly inhuman character, but also for understanding her character, no matter how complex or one-dimensional the character seemed or turned out to be. Upon learning this information her hatred towards Tyrion is finally becoming logical and to a certain degree understandable. This hatred is based on this event, on the prophecy and her perpetually false interpretation of it, which was now taken away from the TV audience. Why the introduction into the past via flashbacks as a new narrative device if they haven’t planned on using it in entirety?
Whatever the case might be, I will continue to believe that this prologue stands as a promise that the story will finally receive it’s necessary context, which is, in this particular case, the past. This past (starting from the creation of the House Stark, the Wall, Harenhall Tourney, Rhaegar Targaryen and Lyanna Stark, all the way to the birth of Jon Snow, who is, in my opinion, the central character of the saga) is of course indivisible part of the Game of Thrones and a key for the ending. Accordingly, we are not to be hasty with our premature conclusions; instead, we should leave room for possible fulfillment of aforesaid promise, which just might come true, as story progresses, sometime towards the end of the season. I am mainly addressing the book readers here, which are, due to many changes, furious. With good reason but…We have to keep in mind that we are still talking about two different mediums and as such we cannot treat them as equals capable of telling the same story word by word. From our part, this is unrealistic at best. Our quest for the inconsistencies between books and a tv show thus makes little to no sense especially now, when it is quite clear – the story depicted in the show no longer follows the story depicted in the books. However, this doesn’t mean that the ending will suffer for it because after all there is only one ending, and how will the writers come to it is completely relative and ultimately, of no importance whatsoever.
THE WARS TO COME
What matters is that Tywin Lannister is dead. And in the light of this event, which marks the beginning of tectonic shift not only in Westeros but on the far side of the world, Essos, as well, we venture into the familiar world we have missed and waited impatiently. The title of the episode The Wars to Come is an omen because the murder of Tywin Lannister, the most powerful man in Westeros, will become the catalyst of the aforesaid changes that will put everything in question, starting with Cersei’s rule, Varys’ position at the court, the faith of the North and the Night’s Watch, as well as Winterfell, which is in the hands of Roose Bolton, the most hated Northerner alive, all the way to the life of Tyrion Lannister, the principal instigator of this chain of events that begin during the last season. His journey across the Narrow Sea, in the compay of Varys, has ended in the house of Illyrio Mopatis, same place where the story of Daenerys Targaryen begun. This time around Mopatis is nowhere to found. What this means for the further story development is open for interpretation.
The importance of this scene lies not in Mopatis’ absence but in Varys’ decision to finally share his carefully concealed plan regarding the future of the Realm. According to this said plan Varys wants to support a candidate who, besides having the right family name, needs to be stronger than Tommen and gentler than Stannis, two main contenders in the race for the throne. According to him, this candidate is none other but Danerys Targaryen, the last remaining member of the Targaryen line. Of course, in the book Varys supports someone else completely (whose identity I wont reveal just yet), which is the main reason why he supported the murder of Daenerys Targaryen back in the day when Ned Stark was still the Hand of the King (in season one). But, apparently, we, the fans, unlike the North, do not remember. On the other hand, if we are to analyze Varys as an unreliable character that he is, we could argue that the words he spoke to Tyrion are in fact nothing but the bunch of lies and that he will cross paths with his contender sometime later towards the end of this season. Anyways, Tyrion, who always wanted to see a dragon with his own eyes, takes Varys upon his offer and leaves with him for Meeren to meet the Mother of Dragons.
QUEEN WITHOUT DRAGONS IS NO QUEEN
In Meeren, the things are exactly as we left them. Daenerys is still instituting law and order on the streets of the former slaver’s city. The slaves are free. The Masters are crucified. And the dragons are enslaved. Enslaved and angry with their mother who threw them in chains, making slaves out her own children, a cause she is still fighting against. True, the punishment is just for the murder of a child. However, this decision and turn of events poses a very important question – will the self proclaimed queen Daenerys Targaryen, first of her name, who earned the title with the newfound control of the dragons, still be a queen if the aforesaid control is lost? In other words, what is Daenerys Targaryen without her dragons?
YET ANOTHER DEATH
The North still provides us with the best stories. And dialogues. Unlike Meeren. Stannis Baratheon, the one true king, installs law and order on the Wall with the help of his loyal followers, Ser Davos and Melisandre, and now Jon Snow, the bastard of Winterfell. Mance is there too but as prisoner of war together with a group of Wildings who are being guarded by the brave men of the Night’s Watch. Stannis is planning an attack on Winterfell, the ancient seat of House Stark, but he needs more men to do it. Jon tells him that the Night’s Watch cant help him in his quest due to the vow that they wont take part in affairs, politics and wars of Westeros, which they all gave. Stannis, who knows the laws of Westeros, informs Jon that he is not after the Night’s Watch but Mance Rayder, and that he needs Jon’s help to pursued the King Beyond the Wall to bend the knee to one true king of Westeros, to swear the fealty to him and to follow him, together with his men, on the march for Winterfell, or else he’ll burn. Jon has until the nightfall. The next scene is the single best moment of this otherwise weak episode.
Jon tells Mance about Stannis’ proposal but Mance declines with the explanation that he spent half of his life in the attempt to unite the clans, men and creatures beyond the Wall and that he won’t take his life’s work for granted nor lightly. He will not do it, not because of his pride, but because, for the first man in history that was ever able to pull this off, bending the knee to another king, and southern at that, would mean the end of everything he worked for. Jon doesn’t understand this decision, not just because he respects Mance and wants to save his life but because winter is coming and with it the end of life in Westeros, as they know it, due to which nothing else will matter, let alone how many kings Westeros has or what types of songs will be sang upon their deaths because there will no longer be anyone left to sing them, which is why this decision is a mistake on Mance’s part. The freedom to make my own mistakes is all I ever wanted Mance responds.
Outside, in the yard, everything is ready and everyone is here: Jon, Edd, Sam and Gilly, Shireen, Selyse, Ser Alliser Thorne, Janos Slynt, Tormund together with the rest of the Free Folk, King Stannis, Ser Davos and Melisandre, who has the “honor” to set Mance on fire thus punishing him for desertion, conspiracy and deceit. Death by fire. Is there anything more horrifying and dishonorable than this? The pleasure in humiliating your enemies in such way, through screams caused by the unbearable pain, is just one of the reason why Melisandre’s Red God is not the God I would ever worship. Luckily for us, and Mance, Jon Snow is there to perform one of the most honorable and selfless act of courage, symptomatic of the House Stark. With one arrow, shot to the heart of Mance Rayder, the last living legend north of the Wall, Jon has put him out of the misery and gave him an honorable death in front of his people, who were spared the sound of their King’s final screams.
Rest in peace Mance. You will be missed, even tho we didn’t have the pleasure of seeing you that often on our television screens. Mentioning the fact that Mance still lives in the books and is one of the key players in the fight for the North, is perhaps both futile and unnecessary. What a waste of a perfect character. Let’s hope the next episode will bring us better plot development, more dynamic events with less of forced dialogues and unnecessary scenes of nudity and more focus on the North.
Best of the episode: focus shift from multiple characters onto one central character, Jon Snow
Worst of the episode: the new upcoming wedding, this time in Winterfell
Best quote: The freedom to make my own mistakes is all I ever wanted
Written by: Monika Ponjavic