Review: Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 1: The Wars To Come (Let Battle Commence)



“Westeros needs to be saved from itself”

Ahhhh, the galaxy is at peace…Game of Thrones is back on our TV! A gap in my heart is filled! When it’s on TV, Thrones is consistently must-watch. Every episode leaves you wanting a little bit more. If there is still a thing as ‘water cooler’ TV in this modern world of TiVo/Sky Plus, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc, Thrones is the definition of it. And ‘The Wars to Come’ was no exception. A slow-paced episode that was more about setting things in motion than excitement, but an episode that nonetheless continued the quality of one of the best things on TV at the moment.

As always, my memory banks struggled to remember the huge range of characters! I should have had a catch-up…strangely, for Thrones, we started off with a flashback. We aren’t accustomed to flashbacks, and it took me by surprise. ‘Who are these two girls?’, I wondered. ‘What is the point?’ My questions were answered swiftly and succinctly. A young Cersei, arrogant and condescending as usual, was asking a witch to tell her the future. Her future, specifically. Of course, we know that most of the witch’s predictions came true. Young Cersei tells her ‘friend’ beforehand not to ‘be afraid of my father.’ And afterwards, we go to the ‘present,’ where Cersei is about to see her father’s corpse. Maybe I was taken aback by the flashback, but Thrones deals with the ‘past’ through riveting dialogue and steely glances. A rare misstep, perhaps? Cersei’s story continues later as her role in her husband’s death is raised…what did she have to do with it? Hmmm….

However, the episode soon got into its stride. All of our characters are struggling to adjust to the world around them. Tyrion, now on an island with Varys, just wants to drink himself to death. Varys wants to involve Tyrion in a scheme to put Daenerys Targaryen on the throne. Westeros needs saving from itself, according to Varys…is her right?

Daenerys, on the other side of the world, continues to endure the dilemmas of a new ruler. If she can’t handle the petty differences of Meereen, how can she possibly cope with the back-stabbing and the politics of Westeros? “I’m not a politician, I’m a queen,’ she says at one point, exasperated. But to be a Queen, one has to be a politician (Daario Naharis, her lover, also gave us his back story, that had more than a whiff of Gladiator about it)…

The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam.
The moral case against war has a moral answer: it is the moral case for removing Saddam.

“Kneel and live”

The Wall and Jon Snow bring about the highlight of the episode. Stannis Baratheon wants to claim the Iron Throne with the help of The Wildings. He asks Jon Snow to ask Mance to join with him in battle. If Mance refuses, he will be burned to death. In a poignant discussion, Mance refused to help Stannis. He doesn’t want his people in a foreigner’s war. Five years ago, the dialogue would have been topical. But it still resonated in the world of today. Mance united ninety clans to help them, not to send them to die in a war that has nothing to do with them. I wonder what Tony Blair would think if he watched this episode? Any regrets, Tony?!?!?

Mance is a man willing to die for his beliefs. It’s not something we are accustomed to in Game of Thrones. The majority of characters (well, those with royal blood) are almost wholly concerned with claiming the Iron Throne. Greed and selfishness are the ruling motives. Principles are just a means to an end for them.  This mere Wilding, from the wrong side of the Wall, keeps to his principles even in the face of death. It made his death by being burned alive (shortened by an arrow shot by Jon Snow), all the more touching. Rather than send his people to die, Mance chose death.

And thus ‘The Wars to Come’ end, with a death. How unlike Thrones…!!! The episode wasn’t about battles or action. It was about moving the pieces on a chessboard that was shook violently at the end of Season 4. No one knows quite what to do at this point in time. They are biding their time, waiting for others to move. From that point of view, it engaged our attention by raising plenty of questions. It will be an episode to look back on after Season 5 is over, to see how things progressed from this time of uncertainty.

VERDICT: 7/10. The flashback at the beginning of the episode unnerved me, but the rest of the episode was pure Thrones quality. A set-up episode, but an engaging episode. And a man died for his principles…

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