Monday, 13 April 2015

GAME OF THRONES: SEASON 5, EPISODE 1 "The Wars to Come" Review

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             
Positives this week included... Tyrion and Varys back-and-forth, young Cersei's performance, Lena Headey, Queen Margery and Loras, the return of Lancel and Kevan, Snow and Rayder, the Mannis, Robin's fight scene, Stalwart Shield

Negatives this week included... Emilia Clarke, Brienne and Pod's scene lacking intention, Maggy the Frog overplayed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             

After the rather formal past 9 and a half months, I'm overtly happy to be back in the chair again as Game of Thrones wheels out its latest batch of death, betrayal, intrigue and plotting: lots of the latter. David Benioff and Dan Weiss return to continue what I can easily summarize as the greatest television show of our time, and they have successfully applied their best efforts for the first episode in this year's pivotal season. Whereas previous seasons have relied on the individual relationships for much of the drama and mystery, many characters have been taken out of their preliminary locations and delivered to new and exciting areas, from our depressive alcoholic midget Tyrion Lannister, to insanely underacted Daenerys Targaryen, to weirdly hot and surprisingly intelligent Sansa Stark, and they now are required to lean on their own character nuances. The show has moved out of its relatively comfortable seat and embarked upon the next major and crucial step in its sprawling development. We have also officially moved on from adapting A Storm of Swords; the series is now moving into, more generally, A Feast for Crows and A Dance With Dragons territory; a non-surprisingly sombre turn, considering the quality of those aforementioned novels in comparison to A Storm of Swords. But despite any qualms one may possess with the source material, it's hard to deny that hype builds prior to any new Thrones season, and such has occurred in this instance. And despite A Feast for Crows in particular proving to be an insanely disappointing venture from George RR Martin, I have whole faith in Benioff and Weiss to produce a season as saddening and powerful as the prior one in the series. To sum this up: get hype!

The Wars To Come is, in typical episode 1 fashion, a slow burn that doesn't necessarily explode with vehemence. For those not 100% dedicated to the concept, this will prove slightly irritating. For those who actually give a shit about the relationships and individual developments, this episode contains a great deal of tension and momentum that carries through until the final few harrowing moments. It's not perfect, but it's undeniably satisfying for those who have been begging for their Thrones fix for upwards of three quarters of a year. First and foremost: Benioff and Weiss finally did it! For four seasons, they have kept from us any flashback sequences, which whilst not truly hindering the quality of the show, is slightly disappointing. Would it not be awesome to take a look back and see Robert back in his hey-day? In season 1, planned flashbacks were even taken out, as a stylistic decision that hasn't necessarily been backed up. That said, I'm happy as a book reader to get a visual idea of Maggy the Frog's moment of sunshine (or darkness, considering her residence). Her scene with Cersei was partially underwhelming, namely due to the obvious tension points, designed solely to evoke a sense of alarm from the audience. That, and the actress who played Maggy was creepy, yet never resoundingly convincing in her role. But hey, we got young Cersei, and she looked as smug, bitchy and self-righteous as I had anticipated, so that's always a plus. Who is that young actress anyway? If she can emulate Lena Headey's Cersei this well, there's no telling how far she can go...

Returning to modern day Kings Landing, we are met by the wonderful face that belongs to the glorious Queen Cersei, as well as her dashing twin Jamie, standing vigil over their dead father. Whilst I don't consider myself that much of a book purist by any stretch of the imagination, I do find it slightly irritating that Benioff and Weiss have virtually squashed the idea of the Dornish master plan at this stage, simply by not having Tywin smell of shit at his funeral. For those who don't know what I'm talking about: within the books, Tywin's body is described as rapidly decaying at his funeral, and that no amount of ointments or treatments from Grand Maester Pycelle could make him smell or look all that flash for his send-off. Tack this alongside the knowledge that Tywin is described as looking somewhat frail or sickly right before he is killed by Tyrion at the end of A Storm of Swords, and one may draw conclusions relatively easily; our favourite deceased character, Oberyn Martell, poisoned Tywin, though Tyrion got to him first. It's a small detail, but I find it rather irritating that we shan't see the concept explored. All the same, discussion between Jamie and Cersei proves rather troublesome, seeing as Cersei has already figured out exactly how Tyrion escaped. Poor Jamie. Not as poor as Cersei though, as she is gifted the opportunity to endure the funereal of her dearly departed father, and subsequently, Loras Tyrell's embarrassingly hilarious messages of condolences. "He was a force to be reckoned with... He was a force to be reckoned with." As Reddit put it - Loras Tyrell: 2015's best person to be consoled by your father's death. Glorious stuff.

We also got to feast our eyes on the new and improved (?) Lancel Lannister. Yes, he is still full of naivety, and yes, that name is still fucking terrible. But he's back, boasting slightly more brawn and heaps more religious tenacity. I appreciate utilizing Lancel as an entrance for the Sparrows, the group that shall form the ensuing plot for Cersei this coming year. His bare feet and tattered robes are a wonderful contrast to the usual fashions of Kings Landing, and his message is quick to the point: embrace the religious entities who you supposedly worship (but don't really, because Cersei only worships herself). For the few moments he is in the episode, he leaves an impression, and so therefore deserves commendation. We pay witness to the glorious Margery Tyrell's reintroduction for this season, and her "I don't give a fuck" attitude in regards to her own brother's sexuality is utterly admirable. Natalie Dormer is still the most beautiful woman on the show, and also provides the best booty glance conceived in the recent past, directed toward's Loras' boyfriend (?) Olyvar; you know, the one that rated out Loras a couple of seasons ago and got a wristie from our glorious Dornish prince Oberyn last year? That one. The scene serves as little more than an opportunity to see where both our aspiring queen and her brother are in state of mind. Both seem the most sane people in all of Kings Landing, and no less hilarious. 

Tyrion is hanging out in nice old Illyrio Mopatis' home in Pentos with his friend Varys, who accompanied our self-destructive imp across the Narrow Sea in what one could easily consider the best diversion from the source material as of so far. Varys and Tyrion, trekking the vast deserts and mountains of Essos together, for what we can presently assume will be the season? If that is not a call for absolute hype, then I do not know what is. Tyrion vomits (what looks like a surprisingly convincing fake spew) after a couple of drinks, Varys illustrates our little protagonist's importance to the plot, and we get to embrace with earnest the awesomeness that is Tyrion's new stowaway beard. He's looking ready to assume the alcoholic phase of his character arc that is obligatory for any and all characters in such a large HBO drama; how exciting! Despite the lack of major substance in their conversations, apart from Varys revealing to Tyrion their hope of meeting up with Daenerys over at Meereen, we are presented a number of hilarious quotes from both men, and Conleth Hill and Peter Dinklage both supply delightfully enthralling performances. All we need now is a bear (fellow book readers should be hyped), and this year's Tyrion storyline can be considered a complete success. 

Emilia Clarke, in her usual Emilia Clarke fashion, continues to utilize restraint in her performance to its most effective strand: otherwise known as "not showing any emotion at all". Fortunately, she is surrounded by far superior performers and engaging material from the supporting characters. A character only mentioned and described in the novels, Unsullied member Stalwart Shield, provides what could easily be considered the most saddening moment the episode offered us, his desire for simple, intimate human connection interrupted by the knife of a member of the Sons of the Harpy. This group shall form Daenerys' primary struggle within season 5, and their introduction to the world could not have been any more provocative. Executing a longing eunuch whilst he is being spooned by a prostitute is a sickening act of brutality, and its impact is furthered by the quality costume design in regards to the Sons' member's mask. Michelle Clapton's work continues to astound, her efforts within this series virtually unparalleled by any and all. Also included within Daenerys' scenes are Daario, who describes his difficult upbringing (whilst naked with Dany, though we see more of our sellsword than we do the main attraction), some dragon action, showing off the growth in Viscerion and Rhaegal's size, as well as debates on the value of opening the Meereen fighting pits; a renowned battle arena that previously drew many to the city's walls. The short summary of these scenes is pretty much, "Anything with Emilia Clarke is not all that interesting, and anything without her is pretty cool." 

Up in the far North, Mr. Snow is having difficulties in regards to his prisoner Mance Rayder, as well as the new King whom he has to directly report to, Stannis the Goddamn Mannis. The Mannis is coming. Rayder refuses to kneel before the Mannis (one does not simply not kneel before a God), and is getting burned alive for his sins. Glorious fun. Ciaran Hinds provides his best performances for the series in his scenes alongside Kit Harrington's Jon Snow within this episode, their back-and-forth engaging and motivated. Also included is Melisandre inquiring on the state of Snow's virgin-ness (show watchers may now join the book readers in the task of shipping this couple) and other fun stuff like burning at the stakes. Fortunately, on the part of our Northern protagonist, we are spared from seeing Rayder endure the most painful of experiences, but it's nonetheless troubling. The death of Rayder in this instance has also unearthed a possibility at another diversion from canon, though I shan't mention its likelihood, etc, with the possibility of it actually occurring not wholly diminished. That said, book purists are probably wetting themselves with anger and sadness, and I can understand exactly why. 

In terms of smaller characters, we got a few moments with Brienne and Pod, though they offer us little, and Sansa and Littlefinger, who offer us equally little, but prove handsomely entertaining. The latter offered us the opportunity to see our little Robin Arryn getting his indulgent ass handed to him by fellow aspiring knights, as well as providing us the episode's best quote: "He swings a sword like a girl with palsy." This week provides no Bran, Arya or Dornish folk, but we have been promised the two latter most for next week, to my delight. More Braavos is never a bad thing! In terms of this week's episode's effectiveness, I can happily assert that whilst The Wars to Come did little in terms of majorly advancing any plot-lines, it succeeded in exactly what a season opener ought to do: impart tone. This season will be a quiet devil in comparison to season 4, which was from the onset to be a loud and boisterous ten episodes. Season 5 will be eventful, but from what I can presume, namely in the final few episodes. For now, hushed destruction, misery and pain shall produce much of the season's drama. There was tension, character introductions, sadness and humour to be found throughout, as well as a tonal consistency that evokes misery (which is what season 5 needs to be centred around). Whilst Daenerys stills proves a sore-point for the show, and a number of characters didn't add much to the episode except filling out the length, this was an undeniably applaudable hour of television. And until next week, I offer you a Stannis meme in traditional fashion and bid you farewell!

      

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             


Junkie Score: 8.0
Thanks for reading!