Game of Thrones: Is the end in sight?

Helen Sloan/HBO
Helen Sloan/HBO

It’s not an episode of Game of Thrones without a moment that shocks viewers and mystifies book readers. In the build-up to Sunday night’s season premiere, there had been much talk and speculation about which still-living book character would get the axe this season. In “The Wars to Come,” the time came for the King-Beyond-the-Wall himself, Mance Rayder.

After refusing to bend the knee to Stannis in last season’s finale, Mance was given one final choice: bend the knee and force the wildlings to join Stannis’ army or be burned alive. He refused, not out of pride, but out of respect for his people and his position. Truth be told, it’s a smart move on the writer’s part. The stakes in the North have been raised significantly now that the wildlings have lost their leader. Jon Snow’s defiance of Stannis by shooting an arrow through Mance’s heart to save him from the flames only raises it even more and leaves a lot of questions on how Stannis will act from here.

In King’s Landing the tensions couldn’t be higher following the death of Tywin Lannister at the hands of his son. The rift between Jaime and Cersei has only expanded in the wake of their father’s murder, with Jaime unable to deny his guilt over letting Tyrion escape. Cersei fears the vultures will soon come to peck away at their family legacy, but she should be far more worried about Sparrows. Their cousin Lancel, who was last seen nursing his wounds from the battle at Blackwater Bay, found a new calling as a member of the Sparrows, a religious group devoted to the Seven. He confronted Cersei about their “affair” and offered some subtle threats about their role in the death of Robert Baratheon, which was not as accidental as the realm thinks.

Based on the effectively creepy flashback of Cersei learning her future and the scenes between Loras and Margaery, the writers are clearly laying down the foundations of her imminent downfall. With Tyrion gone and her paranoia at its very height, Cersei is headed for a major downward spiral. Margaery has made it very clear she wants Cersei gone, which may be the more compelling side to the story. They’ve certainly sown the seeds for some excellent new plots this season.

Helen Sloan/HBO
Helen Sloan/HBO

We’re also finally seeing some stories finally weave together this season with the arrival of Tyrion and Varys at Pentos. Having fled King’s Landing after murdering his father, Tyrion was offered the chance to find a new purpose in life–to crown a new monarch in Westeros. Varys finally gave us a glimpse of his plans, telling Tyrion about his intentions to restore the Targaryen’s to power, which he has been working toward since before the death of King Robert. While Daenerys has become a true Targaryen leader, her lingering presence in Meereen has undoubtedly become a hiccup in his plans. Little do they know how trapped she is, paralyzed by the fear of what her dragons can do and determined to bring an end to a centuries-old culture of slavery.

In spite of the turmoil around her, this episode brought us a rare glimpse of a vulnerable, unguarded Dany during her scene with Daario. While it remains to be seen whether or not she can truly trust him, he gave her sound advice on what her real strength is–her dragons. Unfortunately, the two dragons she chained up in the catacombs have become surly, to say the least. Can you really blame them?

In another case of characters crossing paths, a grief-stricken Brienne was paces away from another Stark girl in the clutches of a shady older man, which felt slightly cruel after Brienne just lost Arya during her fight with the Hound. These are two characters who have mainly caught up with their stories on the page, so it’s interesting to see them so close at such an unknown juncture. Sansa has already left the Eyrie to go someplace unknown in the west, while Brienne seems to be at a standstill.

Besides its penchant for dramatic surprises, Game of Thrones‘ real strength has always been the small moments between its characters, enriched only by the talents of the show’s terrific cast. The conversation between Varys and Tyrion in this episode was a great example of that. Varys voiced what we’ve been thinking all along: Westeros is horrible, brutal place, where good never triumphs and only the ruthless survive … but what if it didn’t have to be? In a lot of ways the end of last season was like the end of the first act, with this episode setting us up for the finale. Up until this point we’ve been told, even explicitly, that this won’t have a happy ending, but Varys’ words gave me hope, if only for a moment. Of course, it was quickly contrasted by the drunk and traumatized Tyrion, who can’t see any good things coming in the future. This is still Game of Thrones, after all.

More thoughts from the realm:

  • I found the moment with the Unsullied soldier in the brothel utterly riveting. In a show full of sex and nudity, it really challenged the idea of intimacy. Of course, this only made the man’s death even more tragic and difficult to watch.
  • Melisandre wasted no time letting Jon Snow know exactly what she wants from him. That woman does not know the meaning of the world “subtle.”
  • With such an immense age gap between Tommen and Margaery, it’s going to be difficult to toe the line between endearing and creepy when the two interact. So far I’m leaning towards creepy.
  • Watching Jon Snow coach the boy who killed Ygritte was surprisingly touching, don’t you think?
  • A question for book readers: What do you think about the omission of the “Valonqar” in Cersei’s prophecy?

Were you satisfied with the Season 5 premiere? Leave your thoughts on the episode in the comments below. In next week’s “The House of Black and White” we’ll be getting our first peek at Dorne and finally catch up with Arya in Braavos.

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on HBO and HBO Canada.