Friday 18 August 2017

What were we expecting of the returning Game of Thrones?

Season Five, Episode One review

Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones
Ed Power

Ed Power

What were we expecting of the returning Game of Thrones?

If the answer was naked dude-on-dude action, a man burning alive at the stake and a warrior having his throat slit while a topless prostitute hummed a lullaby… well, let's just say the first episode of season five scored a bullseye.

Speaking of bullseyes, glowering Jon Snow (Kit Harington) had a rare opportunity to demonstrate his archery skills – and oh yes, that underplayed heroic side – when cutting short the suffering of King Beyond The Wall Mance Rayder – the unfortunate strapped to the aforementioned stake - via a humanely deployed arrow.

It felt an important moment for the character, who had spent much of the previous season glowering from beneath his furs – a hint that perhaps Snow is prepared at last to step up and embrace his heritage as a Stark (the closest things to heroes in this misbegotten land).

Deobia Opaeri as Areo Hotah in Game of Thrones
Deobia Opaeri as Areo Hotah in Game of Thrones
Indira Varma as Ellaria Sand in Game of Thrones
Kit Harington plays Jon Snow in the fifth series of Game Of Thrones

 Elsewhere, protagonists were at a cross-roads. We had an insight into why Cersei (Lena Headey) is so ruinously diabolical with an icky flashback to a teenage encounter with a scenery-munching witch straight out of Terry Pratchett.

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Threatening to have the crone's "stupid eyes gouged out" unless she coughed up a revelation, Cersei learned the meaning of 'too much information' as the seer outlined, in cackling detail, the funeral robes Cersei's (as yet entirely theoretical) children would wear. In other words, her kids would die before their time – and there was nothing Cersei could do about it (already one leg of this prophecy has come to pass in the form of Joffrey's poisoning).

In Essos, meanwhile, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) were having a frank exchange of views. Tyrion had killed his father, Tywin, and lover Shae and – if that wasn't traumatic enough – was required to flee King's Landing in a packing crate. Finally free, all he wanted to do was drink until his woes were forgotten (he and hated sister Cersei have in common a penchant for glugging red wine to excess).

However, Varys expected more from the only Lannister with a shred of decency. Someone needed to save Westeros from the spectre of endless internecine feuding. And here the two of them were, only a few days' travel from Daerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke), with her army and her dragons (Dany, as it happened, was occupied trying to keep her new subjects across Slaver's Bay in line).

Thus was set in motion what promises to be one of season five's most delicious arcs: the intersection of Tyrion and Daenerys,  arguably GoT's deepest characters – and surely the pair least likely to be unduly dispatched before the final reckoning.

Game of Thrones
Game of Thrones
Joe Dempsie and Liam Cunningham in Game of Thrones
Emilia Clarke plays Daenerys Targaryen in Game of Thrones

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 But in many ways, this first episode was remarkable for what it omitted as much as for what it included. Bran is to be exorcised altogether this year – a blow to those staying with his ever drearier storyline in the hope of something interesting happened.

It did, at the end, via a dust-up with wights and a first face-to-face encounter with the three-eyed raven. It will be an entire 12 months until we know what comes next. Also missing – though only for a week, thankfully – was Arya (Maisie Williams), who, like Tyrion, has crossed the Narrow Sea to Essos, away from Westeros and the vengeful Lannisters.

Absent Arya's flinty insouciance, the driving force dramatically was half-brother Snow. He certainly had a lot to consider. First icky priestess Melisandre (Carice van Houten) came onto him crazy-mystic style on the ride to the top of the wall, then Stannis (Stephen Dillane) announced that, unless Snow could convince Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds) to pledge his fealty to the Baratheons, the Wildling lord would become the centre-piece of a human barbecue that very evening.

As all involved surely expected, the King Beyond the Wall  declined to sign up to Club Stannis. Still, Snow at least ensured Rayder received a dignified death, loosing an arrow as his screams of pain had started to turn pathetic. Heroism mixed with tragedy, blood-lust juxtaposed with the feral beauty of the north – how quintessentially Game of Thrones it all was. More than that, it was surely just a taste of what is to come.

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