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Game of Thrones Season Five Premiere Recap: "The Wars to Come"

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A recap of the Season 5 premiere of Game of Thrones (spoilers).

Courtesy of HBO

Game of Thrones, Season 5 premiered on Sunday night, and we welcomed the series back to the airwaves and applications by matching Game of Thrones characters to MLB teams. You the readers made this an incredible success, thank you for reading. What follows is a recap of Episode 1: The Wars to Come.

Author's Note: I have read all the books in George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" series... many times. However, my interest in the show is solely as a TV show, and not as an adaptation. While some of my points may be informed by the text, there won't be any spoilers for the books, or events that have yet to be depicted by the show. If the need to discuss something does arise, it will be clearly marked and listed at the end of the post.

The appropriateness of the premiere episode's title - "The Wars to Come" - is exceeded only by how counterintuitive it may seem.

So far, on our 40-hour tour of Westeros and Essos, we've seen dragons born, cities sacked, and a list of dead players that would rival anything Arya Stark would recite before bedtime. The War of the Five Kings is essentially over, and most of its major players gone: Robert, Joffrey, Ned, Renly, Tywin, Robb, Catelyn - all dead (with another Westerosi king joining the ranks by episode's end).

Yet now, the story can now pivot to the two wars it has teased since Season 1: Daenerys Targaryen's conquest of Westeros, and the impending doom of the White Walkers descending from the far north.

Photo courtesy of HBO

Photo courtesy of HBO

The Wall is suddenly a crowded place, as Stannis Baratheon's host and the remnants of Mance Rayder's army are stationed (or imprisoned) alongside the men of the Night's Watch. Here, at least, our main players know of the threat that lies beyond.

Jon Snow, Mance, and Stannis are all preparing for the battle ahead: Mance Rayder is trying to get his free folk on the right side of the Wall, Jon is trying to make sure they don't get recruited into the army of the dead, and Stannis means to fortify the North to defend the Seven Kingdoms from this existential threat. To Stannis and Melisandre, that means adding the wildlings into their ranks and ousting Roose Bolton from his new seat at Winterfell (in the opening credits, Winterfell no longer burns and a flayed man sigil replaces that of the Stark Direwolf).

To achieve this, Stannis needs Mance Rayder to bend the knee and renounce his own kingship; otherwise his people will die. Stannis gives Jon Snow the charge of convincing the King-Beyond-the-Wall to kneel, but Mance is a man of principle and will not forsake the freedom he risked everything to obtain. The wildlings follow strength, not names, and dying uncompromised is the preferred fate of the former Night's Watch ranger. It's likely the wildlings wouldn't submit to Stannis regardless of Mance's actions, but Stannis showing steadfast resolve in his own beliefs, as foreign as they may be, has to resonate with Tormund and the rest. They may have lost their King to the flames, but the man who means to replace him at least shows his own version of strength.

Mance gives King Stannis his best wishes in the wars to come before being burned alive as a sacrifice to the Lord of Light. The way the camera lingers on Mance's face as the flames lick up his body is hard to watch; so hard, in fact, that Jon has to excuse himself... only to reappear to give Mance Rayder the mercy he deserves.

An arrow in the heart ends Mance Rayder's suffering, and surely brings Jon squarely into Stannis Baratheon's doghouse. The blocking of reaction shots as Mance burns is another outstanding piece of work, building more and more dread as the camera cuts to each character. Princess Shireen can't watch as her mother Selyse delights in the fiery offering. Tormund Giantsbane is horrified at watching his old friend burned alive, Gilly has to turn away, and Stannis remains as stern and steadfast as always.

From previews (and the appearance of Lancel Lannister, discussed below) we know that religion will play a big role in the events in King's Landing this season.

What may not be as evident is the butting religious heads at the Wall; Jon, the wildlings and many of the Night's Watch hold the old gods of the North sacred; a religion of many gods with ties to weirwoods, wargs, and ice. Stannis and Melisandre bring with them the antithesis to that: The Lord of Light and his opposite (the darkness who has no name) are embodied by fire and shadow, and consume all that is laid before them.

The Wall has always been a cold, icy setting, but the introduction of the fire priestess and her champion to the northern equation may mean we actually have NOT yet seen the biggest fire the North has ever seen.

Photo Courtesy of HBO

Photo Courtesy of HBO

The Wall isn't the only setting with a new reality this season; King's Landing now falls squarely on the shoulders of the Lannister twins. But before we can see the fall out of Tywin Lannister's death, the audience is treated to a young Cersei having her fortune told by Maggy the Frog. Her future seems fraught with confusion; why would she marry the king if she was promised to the prince? How could he have 20 kids and she only three? And who is this younger, fairer queen?

Cersei Lannister has always been a paranoid player, more concerned with maintaining power than ruling well. But now we know why she has been so cruel to Margaery, and even Sansa Stark before her; she fears a younger queen who means to take her place. But in reality, that future Queen may currently be holding court across the Narrow Sea...

King's Landing also welcomes back two satellite Lannisters: Tywin's younger brother Kevan, and his son Lancel Lannister (best known for aiding in the death of King Robert and then entering Cersei's bed). Lancel holds a lot of fateful information regarding Cersei's activities in the capital, and his new found religiosity likely does not bode well for her.

Applying real world dynamics to Westeros, we can safely assume that the cleansing of sin comes with confession and repentance. Has Lancel told the High Septon about his crimes? What will happen when Jaime finds out? Or the people of King's Landing? Cersei will have to walk a fine line as Lancel's father remains one of the last true allies to the Throne, even as his son may hold the keys to her demise.

Photo Courtesy of HBO

Photo Courtesy of HBO

Across the sea, our first look into Daenerys's Meereen is not an encouraging one; Unsullied soldiers are being killed in brothels, one of her dragons is lost and the other two furious with their mother, and those she conquered...errr, liberated, are angry at the her for trampling on Meereeneese custom (most literally and beautifully shown by the toppling of the giant Harpy adorning the Great Pyramid).

The Harpy was the symbol of the old Ghiscari Empire, which ruled Slaver's Bay long before the birth of the Valyrian Empire and its dragons, and has endured to this day, centuries after the Doom of Valyria. The Harpy stood not only for the power of the Ghiscari empire but the slavery that supported; often the harpy would be depicted holding whips, chains, or manacles to symbolize the power it held. Thus Daenerys seeks to remove this symbol from the top of her pyramid, so that only the dragon queen remains atop.

Ruling is a new game to the dragon queen, and she seems to have put aside any immediate desire to return to Westeros. Instead she gets to listen to Hizdar - the Meereenese noble begging for Dany to reopen the fighting pits -and Daario mansplain to her what she must do to rule. Both seem to favor the opening of fighting pits; throwing a bone to the people of Meereen may go a long way to settling the insurrection threat of the Sons of the Harpy.

Daenerys may have temporarily lost sight of Westeros, but the opposite is not true. Accused kingslayer and affirmed kinslayer Tyrion Lannister has begun his long journey east to meet the Last Scion of House Targaryen. His traveling partner Varys, former master of whisperers, lays out the situation:

The Seven Kingdoms needs a ruler who is both strong and gentle, feared and loved, and blessed with an army and a last name. Tyrion agrees to go on this sojourn, so long as he can drink himself stupid en route. "The future is shit," Tyrion tells his eunuch friend, "just like the past." Nothing in Game of Thrones seems to disprove that, but perhaps with Daenerys on the Iron Throne, peace for the realm could be within grasp.

Overall this was a strong debut for the fifth season of Game of Thrones.

While much of the time was spent re-establishing the game board, it felt as if most of the plots hit the ground running instead of recapping previous seasons. Our main characters have a roadmap laid out in front of them and for the first time in 5 years, King's Landing may be the least interesting place on the map.

Quick hits:

- Lord Petyr Baelish and Sansa Stark begin an adventure of their own, about which Littlefinger remains incredibly withholding. But don't think my ears didn't perk up at hearing the Stark theme blasting as their carriage rolled away towards the horizon.

- Speaking of Sansa, her hair remains in goth Mockingjay mode from the last time we saw her in Season 4. Aside from the Littlefinger and the Lords of the Vale, her identity remains a secret to those around her. Something tells me some level of subterfuge will be involved in whatever scheme Baelish and her have planned next.

- Which, speaking of, was only a stone's throw from Brienne and Podrick.  Brienne appears defeated by her series of failures and seems to have had enough of Podrick's presence for the nonce. Pod, on the other hand, seems reborn with purpose. In prior seasons, his main drive has been pleasing those who serves and being the best squire he can be (in fact, this is the compliment Tyrion gives him when they part company). Instead of just bumbling over Brienne's effects, he is more concerned with their next move, and seems deadset on finding Sansa (which may be due to a hope of clearing Tyrion's name, not knowing that is now also accused of killing his lord father and Hand of the King).

- While it strains credulity for the medieval society this story is set in, Loras's openness in King's Landing is refreshing. Screw the haters man.

- Speaking of the Tyrells - Margaery is clearly up to no good and Natalie Dormer remains fantastic in that role. When Loras tells her she will still be Cersei's daughter-in-law, Margaery replies with a coy "perhaps." With the Lannisters on the wane, the Tyrells suddenly become the most powerful house in the South. Not only do they have the most men and richest lands, but the young queen and the Knight of the Flowers remain popular with the smallfolk, which will make it hard for Cersei to turn the worm against them. Unfortunately, King Tommen appears most likely to suffer when the two queens wage their game of thrones.

Editor's Note: So what is this article doing on DRaysBay? Some of us here on the mast head are big fans of both Game of Thrones and Manu's writing, and SB Nation has given us a platform to feature both. We're going to use it, and we hope you enjoy.

All photos courtesy of HBO.