(Beware, spoilers below – scroll down to the bottom to skip the recap!)
We’re back to Westeros as Season Five of Game of Thrones is finally upon us! Let’s get stuck in: we begin this season with a pair of girls trudging through the woods. A little dark haired girl is scared of the repercussions of their excursion but her blond companion – a young Cersei – tells her that she shouldn’t be afraid of her father. They enter a hut decorated with all sorts of grisly items and awaken the witch within. Young Cersei asks for the woman to tell her her future or she’ll have her eyes gouged out. The witch tastes her blood and asks Cersei to ask her three questions. Cersei gets told that she will be queen but replaced by a younger version and that she will have children; children with gold crowns and gold shrouds.
Cersei is at her father’s funeral. She orders all the mourners to wait as she has a private moment with her family. Jaime tells her that everyone will try to tell them apart but Cersei is insistent that Tyrion is the one that tore them apart. She accuses him of killing their father by accident before leaving.
Tyrion has been stored in a box. When he’s finally unloaded the first person he sees is Varys, looking down at him with mild interest. The eunuch apologises but Tyrion vents about being locked in the crate for such a long time. Turns out they’re in the house of Ilyrio Mopatis, a friend that he’s known for a terribly long time. He tells Tyrion that Westeros needs to be saved from itself and that things have only become worse. Tyrion insists that the future is as shit as the past was, and promptly throws up.
Dany is making headway in her new kingdom, bringing down old idols as overseen by her loyal Unsullied. One of them goes to visit a prostitute and he innocently lies by her side as she sings to him. Just then a knife reaches over and slits his throat. Dany gets told that the Sons of the Harpy are behind it and insists that the the soldier be buried with honor, even if this might seriously anger the Sons even more. Missandei goes to speak to Grey Worm about the fact that the Unsullied was found in a brothel and why they might visit. He tells her he does not know.
Up at the wall Jon is helping to train new recruits whilst Sam watches on. Gilly asks him if he should be training too and the duo overheard Ser Allister mumbling. She mentions that Ser Allister hates him and is afraid of being sent away if the knight should be made in charge of the Night’s Watch. Meanwhile, Jon gets summoned to see Stannis. The ‘King’ mentions to him Roose Bolton’s hold on Winterfell and asks if Jon wants to avenge him. Ser Davos comments on how some of the brothers are worried about Jon’s affection towards the wildings. Stannis says that he wants to take back the North and wants the wildings help to do it. In exchange he’ll offer them their freedom and land. He asks Jon to get Mance to agree to bend the knee, or he’ll burn.
Lord Arryn is training at swordfighting… badly as Sansa and Littlefinger watch in curiosity. Pod and Brienne are in the middle of nowhere and she tells him that she doesn’t care where he goes from here. She says she doesn’t want anyone to follow her as she’s not a leader and the lords are monsters. A noble cart passes by, which contains Littlefinger and Sansa. He tells her that they’re going to a land so far away that even Cersei won’t be able to get at her.
Speaking of Cersei, the former listens to Loras says kind words about Tywin whilst watching her youngest son – now king – being courted by Margaery. Her old lover cousin Lancel appears, now a member of the religious group known as the Sparrows. He asks for her forgiveness for all he’s done: the incest and Robert’s death. Margaery walks in on her brother with his lover. She asks him to be more discreet and says that she shouldn’t keep his ‘intended’ (Cersei) waiting. It’s clear she has a plan on her mind.
In Ilyrio’s house Tyrion asks Varys why he set him free. The latter tells him that he did it for The Seven Kingdoms, that men of talent will have a role to play in the war to come. Varys says that what he wants is a kingdom of peace but Tyrion scoffs at the idea. He asks Tyrion go with him to Mereen to meet Dany. In the very city Daario Naharis has returned and Hizadhr zo Loraq requests for the re-opening of the fighting pits. In a post coital chat with Daario he recommends that she reopen the pits and uses his life story as an example as to why it might not be a bad thing. He tells her that she needs to show her strength and having the Unsullied patrol the streets simply isn’t enough. She admits that she cannot control her dragons anymore but Daario tells her that a Dragon Queen with no dragons simply isn’t a queen.
Dany goes to find her dragons in the deep underground pit she left them in. In the darkness she calls out Viserion and Rhaegal’s names until they appear, but they’re utterly hostile to her presence. At Castle Black Jon speaks to Mance Rayder. The latter remarks on how their positions have completely shifted since they first met. He knows what Stannis wants but despite any respect Mance might have for him he won’t commit his people to bleed for Stannis’ war. Jon tries to convince him to bend the knee and save his people but Mance is not prepared to lose the respect of his people and betray what he believes in.
Jon is relentless in trying to convince him, but it’s a pointless conversation. He tells Mance that he thinks he’s making a mistake but the latter tells him that all he ever wanted was the freedom to so such. In front of a crowd at Castle Black the King Beyond the Wall is given one last chance to bend then knee but ultimately ends up being burnt at the stake. As the flames rise ever higher Jon walks out in order to shoot Mance in the heart as a final act of mercy…
With predictable no-holds barred gusto Game of Thrones wraps us back into its never ending web of intrigue. The show thrives on contradiction between idealism and reality and this episode plays heavy on these ideas. As Melisandre lectures about Mance being the King of Lies we’re reminded of how moments before the man himself insisted on pulling a Ned Stark because he wanted to stick to what he believed in. As Varys talks of a leader that needs to inspire millions and command respect whilst still being gentle we watch Dany struggle with keeping her little citadel kingdom under control. Heck, even her dragons don’t seem to like her.
This episode focused on the fates of the three most loved power players: Dany, Jon and Tyrion, whilst contrasting this with the stifling and depressing inaction of Tywin’s death and how it’s affecting Cersei. Her flashbacks and grim observations are indeed true to character but whilst our three protagonists run about trying to get things done Cersei is helplessly stuck waiting for things to happen. What’s worse is that she knows it, too. With Jaime no longer the ally he once was she’s no longer than girl that can run around in the woods asking for her future; she knows that’s pointless now.
Little hints were dropped here and there about what lies ahead for Margaery, Brienne and Sansa, whilst we saw utterly nothing by way of Arya at all: this does bode well for a more Arya heavy episode in future. Fans of the books will notice how Tyrion’s fate has changed somewhat and this jumped out at me the most this episode; however the writers have change that plotline well and I’m rather looking forward to seeing how it develops. Game of Thrones is back, and it is most certainly not a moment too soon.