This review presumes the viewer has not seen the further 3 episodes that leaked ahead of yesterday’s premiere. Now, I would never give in to temptation and illegally watch one of my favorite shows given the opportunity . . . but I’m a Millennial, I barely even know the concept of resisting temptation. But I do respect the creators intended weekly viewing as well as others who are stronger (or just more scrupulous) than me. To cater to both, I will tease some upcoming developments that surprised me in the storylines focused on in The Wars to Come.
For their part, HBO said, according to an official statement, it is “actively accessing how this breach occurred,” a phrase which here means “sending lawyers to burn others at the stake.” Apropos, because . . .
The Wall: Jon and Stannis
The biggest event/twist of the episode was the immolation-execution of Mance Rayder, the King-Beyond-the-Wall, by Stannis Baratheon and his red priestess Melisandre for refusing to bend the knee. This is interesting because, in the books, Melisandre conceals Mance’s identity and burns an impostor. He then undertakes an undercover rescue mission to Winterfell on Jon and Stannis’ behalf and, by all accounts, is still alive at the end of the last book, 2011’s A Dance with Dragons.
But Show Mance was never Book Mance. Remember, this is a character who, out of 41 episodes, appeared in 5. He didn’t show up at all last season until the finale, even though his Wildling invasion and assault on the Wall was the battle centerpiece. Ciaran Hinds was also not the unassuming charmer of the books; he was more serious and played more the unassuming old man than charmer. This episode was by far his showcase, with his scene with Jon deconstructing how like-minded men, despite their mutual respect and agreement, won’t compromise. It’s the Game of Thrones bread-and-butter: examining societal and political machinations, the trappings of society that Littlefinger would call a lie. Speaking of Overtly-Creepy Uncle Baelish . . .
On the Road: Sansa & Littlefinger, Brienne & Podrick
Here’s something book readers have been looking forward to: unexplored territory. Book Sansa is still in the Vale, caring for Robin Arryn and awaiting a betrothal arranged by Littlefinger to put her in power in the Vale and, later, the North. Brienne I will avoid spoilers from future episodes but Sansa’s journey this season is, roughly, the same – but, in an exciting paradigm shift, the similarities end there.
Brienne’s story is another that has reached the end of the book road. As it is, her storyline has been infinitely more exciting than in the novels, where the brutal hardship of trying to find anyone in a crapsack medieval fantasy world is covered in excruciating, shoot-the-dog detail. I mean, come on, THIS:
. . . is so much better (or at least more entertaining). Her story has also been increasingly different and where she is in the show is far away from where she is in the books. Brienne and Pod bicker while Littlefinger and Sansa’s caravan passes. Another cruel near-miss our sprawling story (small spoiler: it’s more of a tease than a miss).
The weak Lord Arryn is left to pathetically train with a knight while Littlefinger receives some Raven Express mail. Sansa, having cut her teeth in the viper pit that is the royal court of King’s Landing, knows he is positioning her for something but Littlefinger refuses to elaborate, only saying she will be going to a place where Cersei Lannister cannot get her.
King’s Landing: Cersei & Jaime, Margaery & Loras
In a first for the series, we jump back in time when Cersei remembers an encounter with improbably-attractive vagabond blood seer where she is told she will become queen, but will be cast down by a younger, more beautiful one and her children will all die. In present day, Cersei is attending to her father’s corpse in the Sept with fellow twincest enthusiast Jaime. She is a little incensed that, you know, both her brothers were directly and indirectly responsible for his murder.
Jaime points out the obvious: with the powerhouse that was Charles Dance’s Tywin Lannister legs up, those who he pissed off / kept at bay with fear will be ready to pounce on the vulnerable siblings. But Cersei, in typical fashion, only sees red: she wants Tyrion dead. In other creepy sibling news, Margaery walks in on Loras sharing some sexy time with prostitute Olyvar and, for a brief moment, appears interested and turned on by her brother’s sexcapades. Fortunately, even for this show, there’s an incest limit.
For the first time in a few seasons, we see the extended Lannister family, including Tywin’s brother Kevan and his son (and Cersei’s former lover) Lancel. Lancel has become a Sparrow, a pious religious fanatic to deal with his guilt from his affair and his assistance in killing Cersei’s husband, King Robert Baratheon. Religious fervor – and its consequences – are a big theme this season, especially when Cersei later allies with the leader High Sparrow, played by the indomitable British actor Jonathan Pryce (Tomorrow Never Dies, Pirates of the Caribbean).
Tyrion and Varys in Pentos
These two great sparring partners are on a journey as Varys explains to find something this series doesn’t have much of: hope, optimism, and good leadership, in the form of Daenerys Targaryen. Too bad democracy would make for a boring show.
Tyrion is drunker and more cynical than ever after murdering his former lover and father but he is also curious about the dragon queen that Varys speaks of, the hope he seeks. A union of the dramas two most iconic characters is tantalizing to say the least and Tyrion could do good in Meereen, because Daenerys is not having fun.
SIDENOTE: Tyrion’s puke and rally scene pretty much summed up my collegiate experience.
Daenerys in Meereen
Like Sansa, Cersei, and Margaery, Daenerys’ story excels at showcasing women in power and the methods, lengths, and barriers they have to gain and keep political power. Like last week’s Furious 7, it is becoming obvious there is a very big hunger not served by our egocentric white male overlords: a hunger for diversity, for representation, for connection. Game of Thrones is part of that trend. Like the books, the series has excellent female character around a large and varied world and I believe more than anything that it is part of the cross-appeal that made the show one of the most successful and viewed in the world.
Daenerys for instance is in an interesting place culturally, not dissimilar from the situation in our Middle-East. She finds imposing her values – the values she thinks are self-evident (like, maybe don’t have slaves, guys) – on a culture, far older than anyone, that has not ever operated that way. Suffice to say, this season is about growing pains and making hard, unavoidable choices. It’s also about how making those choices doesn’t even earn peace; sometimes even the hard choices only beget more violence.
In a way not seen in the books or the show up until this point, convergence is occurring. Another reason the world of Westeros and Essos is so fascinating is because it’s so hard to pin down: are we reading a bleak nihilistic tale about how humanity destroys itself? Are we reading an endless travelogue of vastness and violence? Will there be hope at the end? The story is ongoing and unfinished. Only a destination will provide the context for the show we are watching. And we will of course enjoy the journey for the years, or wars, to come.
MISSING AND UPCOMING:
We check in on Arya’s journey to Braavos next week. It won’t be until episode 3 we catch up with the Boltons (which is obviously now going to be the next Westerosi reality show) and how they’re settling in to the smoking ruin of Winterfell. Be prepared: the show is truly in uncharted territory in these first four and every step is a clue as to how the story is going to go. It’s an exciting time to be in Westeros. Till next Sunday!