Tuesday, April 14, 2015

[Review] Game of Thrones 5.1, "The Wars to Come"

Make way for the fifth season. Plz.
All right, Game of Thrones is back y’all (in case you hadn’t noticed). I have been going back and forth for the longest time on whether to watch the show or not (as a fan of the books). In the end, I could not resist the urge, and “The Wars to Come” has been watched, digested, and found…pretty okay for a first episode of the season, with a couple of strong scenes, and a whole lot of good scenes, and little that felt awkward or wrong.
Even some of the choices made that deviate from the books were solid. Naturally, spoilers abound.

Scene 1: A young Cersei and her friend (that would be Melara Heatherspoon, and I suppose Jeyne Farman was cut); I actually think they made young Cersei too similar to the old Cersei, as if she never throughout her life changed at all. Of course, for the viewer the girl is instantly recognizable as Cersei, personally I think it wouldn’t have to be so similar – the hair style could have been done different, if only to show that this is a young Cersei. The hair could have been shorter, for example. The scene itself is nice, a creepy start to the season,  and it doesn’t stand out for the flashback it is as much as I thought it would, but I still find it awkward that this backstory comes so late in the story. In the following sequence we see Cersei give Margaery a look meant for the authors to connect Marge to the “younger, more beautiful queen” in case it wasn’t obvious enough (though I suspect Marge isn’t the queen of the prophecy); now I have to rewatch season four to see if there are scenes where Cersei gives Margaery a similar look, in that case there is nice buildup to the flashback which would be good.
Rating: 7

Scene 2: Cersei arrives  by litter (just as in the book), ascends the steps of the Great Sept – I believe it’s the first time we see the steps – escorted by the always jovial Ser Meryn Trant. There’s the look at Margaery. The mourners are waiting to see the body of Tywin, but Cersei orders some random priest to wait. A short and to-the-point scene moving us from Scene 1 into Scene 3.
Rating: 8

Scene 3:
Inside, Jaime stands guard, protecting Tywin’s corpse on the bier. He has a chat with Cersei. A few excellent shots here, from different angles. Both Nikolai and Lena excel in this scene and sell the idea that they are, in fact, Jaime and Cersei. Their dialogue is solid, poignant, with the prize going to Cersei blaming Jaime for accidentally killing his father (by releasing Tyrion). Fantastic set piece with the candles and all the ornamentation, gloomy and mournful, but with that underlying seething anger of Cersei’s.
Rating: 9

Scene 4:
We see the world through a hole in a box, which of course is Tyrion’s point of view; he arrives in Pentos by crate, and we get a formidably acted scene with Peter Dinklage and Conleth Hill, with a lot of exposition in the dialogue – exposition that reveals that Varys is indeed supporting Daenerys Targaryen (at least in the TV show version – in the books it seems he rather supports Aegon; I take this scene as proof that Aegon, of fAegon, or Griff, or whatever you want to call him, is cut from the show). Varys admits there has been a chain of mistakes he has been unable to avert, and he tells Tyrion that he rescued Tyrion because he believes he can be a good advisor to Daenerys. The scene ends with Tyrion reluctantly agreeing to go to Meereen with Varys. While this scene – generally – is quite different from the books, I was still sold on it as an alternative version. Illyrio gets a shoutout, which is nice. Favorite line: “The future is shit…just like the past.”
Rating: 8.5

Scene 5:
An enormous harpy statue is torn down from a Meereenese pyramid; the CGI-effects aren’t very convincing. An Unsullied, looking a bit like Grey Worm (but revealed later to be White Rat) watches, then leaves.
Rating: 5

Scene 6:
White Rat wanders past a few titties before paying to enter a brothel. Here he visits a whore, who asks if he wants the same as always ,which is being held and stroked. It’s quite sweet in a way, or rather, melancholic, until the scene abruptly shifts when a knife slits the man’s throat and we see a masked character. The whore was in on it, as she rises to stand with the masked assassin. Awesome mask, and awesome sudden change of tone; I literally jumped in my chair, because the whore is humming this sweet lullaby and I totally wasn’t expecting it, even knowing what series I’m watching.
Rating: 7
Scene 7:
The scene opens with Daenerys saying, “The sons of the Harpy”, and the audience understands that the masked murderer in the previous scene is one such “son”; she wants White Rat buried with honor, so as to draw out the Sons of the Harpy. Ian McElhinney is great in this scene (as Barristan) even though he only speaks two words (“Your Grace”). He just looks so…Barristan Selmy.
Rating: 7

Scene 8:
Another scene between Missandei and Grey Worm. She’s wondering why Unsullied go to brothels. I would think that was obvious; especially for her, who has sort of a thing going on with Grey Worm. Stupid woman. Stupid little sequence.
Rating: 3

Scene 9:
Castle Black looks great as always, such a great set.  Jon’s training with Satin, Sam and Gilly watch and talk. All four of them are solid in this scene; Ser Allister and Slynt walk around, Ser Alliser is as gruff as ever, in some ways it feels as if nothing has changed, yet I feel the absence of Grenn and Pyp in particular. There’s some setup here for Jon eventually becoming Lord Commander, and Sam/Gilly leaving Castle Black as well. Best bit: Satin looks over Jon’s shoulder (great look on the actor’s face); Melisandre stands there, telling Jon to come along.
Rating: 8.6

Scene 10:
Jon and Melisandre in the elevator on their way to the top of the Wall – a good, short scene (another transition scene), feels true to the book. Melisandre wonders if Jon’s a virgin (and I’m not sure why).
Rating: 8.8

Scene 11:
Jon meets up with Stannis and Davos;  solid scene, I like the coloration in these scenes, and spot-on acting from everyone involved. Stannis offers to take the wildlings into his army if Mance bends the knee to him. Davos is good in this scene as well, wondering why Jon took Ygritte’s body out into the woods beyond the Wall. I love how uncompromising Stannis is in this scene, closer to book Stannis than he’s been in a while.
Rating: 9

Scene 12:
Littlefinger and Sansa watch Sweetrobin stumble his way through sword practice; Lord Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart) doesn’t strike me as a warrior-like lord (the way he is portrayed in the novels, as far as I recall), but he promises to take care of Robin, which means Littlefinger is going away. Littlefinger receives a note.  The scene lacks punch (Edit: pun was actually not intended).
Rating: 7

Scene 13:
Brienne is having her period and poor Pod suffers for it. Brienne seems to have given up on finding Sansa, even as Sansa (and Littlefinger) are riding past in their litter. Inside the litter they have a little chat, Sansa wonders where they are going, Littlefinger says they are going so far away Cersei won’t be able to get at them. Seems obvious to me they are going to Winterfell, especially since Stannis earlier gave us an update on who rules the north now (Roose Bolton) and how Tywin is dead , which makes Bolton free of any obligations to House Lannister. Solid acting, but the scene doesn’t really go anywhere. It feels out of place in the episode’s narrative.
Rating: 6

Scene 14:
Loras gives Cersei “kind words” (strong acting throughout this scene, Lena Headey is at her best); Cersei meets cousin Lancel, and he is not to be recognized; surprise! Uncle Kevan is back, that made me happy. He looks much older than he did way back when.  Again, fantastic set design and costumes help sell this scene. The faction of the Sparrows is mentioned, setting them up.
Rating: 9

Scene 15:
Lancel has seen the Light, and he looks so different with short, dark hair. Gone is the bumbling comedy relief squire – now he’s serious, serious about the Seven. The scene suggests that Cersei ordered Lancel to poison Robert’s wine, although it isn’t explicitly stated, which is nice. Perhaps because most viewers won’t have a clue what they are talking about? Or am I underestimating the average viewer and everybody remembers that episode five years ago?
Rating: 8.5

Scene 16:
Loras and Olyvar are naked in bed. Apparently Loras has a birthmark that looks like Dorne close to (or on?!) his penis. No idea what this scene is supposed to be other than a really strange way to remind people of this place called Dorne. Margaery interrupts and chases Olyvar off; they are late for dinner with the king (Tommen). A bit drawn out and feels unnecessary (there’s other stuff from this time in the novels that could have been expanded on, I think). I suppose the scene is meant to remind the audience that Loras is meant to marry Cersei,  and that when Tywin is dead, Loras doesn’t have to marry (= Sansa’s marriage with Tyrion doesn’t matter anymore).
Rating: 5

Scene 17:
Tyrion is still drinking at the Mopatis estates with the beautiful view, talking with Varys. He wonders why Varys risked everything, and Varys asks Tyrion to come with him to Meereen, because he thinks Tyrion has a place in the “war to come” (but is Varys talking about the Others versus everything or Daenerys versus Westeros?) Peter Dinklage continues to impress with his role. Best line: “I never said you were perfect.” Conleth Hill rules, too. The two together could make any talky-talky scene great. The scene pretty much goes out of its way to tell us Tyrion will never sit the Iron Throne (which could mean he will, of course), but that Daenerys just might, with Tyrion’s aid. So…where are Victarion, Euron, Marwyn, Quentyn..? All cut? That’s a pretty solid decision from the writers of the show, I have to say. It streamlines the story and removes a lot of bloat. Basically, they are showing George how you solve the Meereense knot, heheh. OR ARE THEY?!
Rating: 8

Scene 18:
Daario on his way to Daenerys’ throne room, together with Whatshisname.
Daenerys is back in her chair in her pyramid throne room; excellent lighting, excellent camera angles, somehow they make the chamber evoke power (in Daenerys), but also mystery. Whatshisname asks to get the fighting pits reopened. Daenerys won’t hear it.  Daario is looking sly.
Rating: 7

Scene 19:
Daario and Daenerys in the bed chamber. Daario is totally naked, while Emilia Clarke apparently has a better contract now as we don’t get to see anything. Sad. Daario gets a backstory, which helps propel Daenerys’ decision to eventually reopen the fighting pits anyway. It’s a nice scene, the actors look good, they act well, and the audience can believe why and how Daenerys will change her mind, so the writing’s good too. Still. The episode as a whole does feel more like a soap opera at this point. Daario suggests Daenerys get back to being the “Mother of Dragons” and not the “Mother of Unsullied”, which leads to the next scene.
Rating: 7

Scene 20:
Daenerys goes down to her remaining dragons, and they are finally given names, Viserion and Rhaegal of course. About time.  The scene is a bit scary, I suppose, with Daenerys’ breathing mixed loud, as are her footsteps; the camera lingers on chains clinking as they slowly move. We know the dragons are there, so this time I’m not jumping in my chair when the chamber suddenly lights up at dragon’s fire. The two have grown larger, but are pretty pissed at being locked up in the cellar. Daenerys leaves, afraid. Weird. In the novels, weren't the dragons weakening by being imprisoned? Good CGI here, though, as opposed to the tearing down of the Harpy statue.
Rating: 8.5

Scene 21:
Jon tries to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis. A great scene, with solid writing and pitch-perfect acting from Ciarán Hinds. He is not the Mance of the books, but to be honest I actually prefer TV-Mance. He is great. Such a solid scene. Even Kit Harrington is great in this scene, his voice edged with desperation. “Pride? Fuck my pride.”
Rating: 9.5

Scene 22:
Oh, come on Mancyboy, say "Cheese!"
Mance Rayder is led out into the Castle Black courtyard, where a pyre has been built for his execution. The scene is given enough room to breathe, with a lot of shots from different angles depicting those who attend (Tormund and the wildlings, Jon and the Night’s Watch, Stannis and Melisandre, Queen Selyse and Princess Shireen in what looks like a booth); again, Ciarán Hinds plays the role to perfection here, selling the illusion that he is soon going to go up in flames and you can see the determination in his eyes, in his movements. Melisandre gives a speech about choosing either light or darkness, good or evil (no middle ground there), then lits the pyre. She tells the wildlings there is only one true king, Stannis, and she calls Mance a “king of lies”. The music is dark and almost toneless, lingering behind it all, the theme we associate with Stannis/Melisandre emerging as the fires begin to eat at Mance. Jon can’t bear to watch it any longer and leaves…but then, an arrow bursts through Mance’s chest – and we see Jon holding a bow! A nice twist and surprise, and one I agree with. What the heck. Another change I actually like. Could this season end up being good after all? I was expecting a “light” episode, what with all the promo shots of the blue skies and bright sands of Dorne, and here we are, with a dark episode with a decidedly dark ending, and another main character gone – George R.R. Martin *did* hint that we’d lose some people who are still present in the books, and here we have one – Mance, we hardly knew ye. Solid choice to have Jon end his pain before it got too…hot. That actually made me do a fist-pump as I watched it. I GoT the feels here, people. 
Rating: 9.6

Final Verdict: 7.5 (give or take)


  1. On the subject of removing bloat, how about the prospect of Brienne wandering around Westeros with some semblance of an achievable goal? With Mance out of the picture, and Sansa likely headed North (I mean where else????), we get a much more compelling version of a similar story converging with more at stake for the reader/watcher. Maybe we'll lose the Vale as a major player in the show, which is too bad because I love the idea of a ragged band of survivors in a mountain fortress under seige with their options slowly disappearing.

  2. Tyrion certainly did not appear to buy Varys' description of his personal motivation for peace in the realm and order for the small folk as his reason for backing Dany. I don't buy it either, or in the book his personal history relayed in various moments. It seems obvious what the solution is, and I wonder if whatever D&D come up with is from George, or they go off canon. Surely Dany will require some other form of verification for Varys' to ultimately accept him as an advisor. Barriston Selmy witnessed Varys advising Robert to kill her and her brother.