Since we only get ten hours of the astonishing Game of Thrones every year, every second of it seems even more precious. The decision then to spend several minutes of this season-opener on a flashback which either told us little we didn’t know already or nothing we needed to know at all seems slightly baffling. Which is not to say the flashback scene wasn’t interesting (it was) or indeed a little bit chilling (shiver), but more that wasting time on flashbacks which don’t take the story anywhere seems as self-indulgent as the shots of the nameless topless prostitutes hanging around Meereen’s alleyways, purely there to ensue the nipple count is sufficiently high before we get to the violence.
But never mind. Maybe the introduction of the flashback device will lead to something significant (more Tywin?!) or maybe the showrunners just thought it was cool. Either way, I’ve probably wasted more time on it now than the ep actually does, so let’s move onto the rest of “The Wars to Come,” which is, for the most part, terrific.
Picking up not long after season 4 left off, it’s almost time for Tywin’s funeral, and each of the Lannister children is coping/not coping differently.
Cersei lashes out at Jaime over their father’s death at Tyrion’s hand. Jaime tries to remind her that the imminent threat to their family comes not from her brothers but from the lords and ladies who’ve come in their hordes to make sure Tywin is really dead. And Tyrion has drunk himself across the Narrow Sea to relative safety (for now), but would like nothing more than to drink himself even further.
His tragi-comic self-pity is interrupted in a marvellous scene by the brilliant Varys, who persuades him to go see what Daenerys has to say before he decides “whether the world is worth fighting for,” but I’m not sure this is such an advisable strategy. After all, Daenerys these days is still doing nothing more than her usual Daenerys thing of saying “No” to someone standing in front of her in the Throne Room. At this point, it doesn’t really matter what they’re asking her for, these scenes have become as interchangeable as they are dull and she’s about as convincing a queen as I am a multi-national conglomerate. Even Michiel Huisman’s glorious Daario can’t make this sub-plot worth watching on his own, so the sooner Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill do turn up to help him shake up the seemingly endless “Daenerys liberates/conquers somewhere which is delighted to see her at first but then not so much” side of things the better.
No such complaints from me about Jon Snow’s storyline, however, which has, over the past couple of seasons, gone from rivalling Bran’s for tedium to rivalling Sansa’s for unexpectedly coming into its own. (More Dark Sansa please, by the way, show – she is awesome.) Seems like Jon Snow knows a lot more than nothing now – his scenes with Stannis and with Mance are a perfect blend of persuasion, desperation and resignation, and his story this week culminates in an utterly humane act of compassion and courage that gives the lie to Brienne’s declaration that all ”The good lords are dead and the rest are monsters.” Not Jon Snow, Brienne. At least not yet.
Although Brienne does have a point about everyone else, especially the inexorably cruel Stannis, who, with demented paramour Melisandre – how fitting that one so ice-cold should be so in thrall to one so obsessed with fire – is responsible for perhaps the episode’s most horrible moment. If he’s Westeros’s best hope for King, then Varys is right – Westeros is doomed.
Thankfully, however, there is still plenty of humour to leaven the horror. From the Tyrion and Varys travelling roadshow to the Pod and sulky Brienne buddy movie bickering, there’s a lot to laugh at in an episode which manages to balance scene-setting, humour and an unflinching commitment to this nightmarish, brutal world of politics and power with aplomb. A quiet-ish way to start the season then – if you can call checking in with 3/4 of the cast and killing REDACTED quiet – but a bold and thoroughly compelling one.