The fifth season premiere of “Game of Thrones” featured several characters still reeling from the events of last year's finale in an episode appropriately titled ‘The Wars to Come’. It’s a slow start by “Thrones” standards, but promises big things on the horizon.
It begins with the show's first-ever flashback, in which a young Cersei taunts a psychic witch, demanding to hear her fortune. She is told that she will marry a king who will have twenty children, though she will only have three. Each of her children will have golden crowns and golden shrouds and that while she will be queen, it won’t last. Someone younger and more beautiful will take her place.
It’s not hard to see why this moment would be on Cersei’s mind. Tyrion has murdered her father, an act in which her twin brother Jaime unwittingly played a hand and something she won’t let him forget. While Tommen is the current king, the only man with real power is gone, and this makes Cersei more vulnerable than ever. Margaery has her sights set on Tommen and while it seems unlikely that her brother Loras will go through with his marriage to Cersei, the potential future queen doesn’t seem too worried.
Margaery isn’t the only one who could bring about Cersei’s undoing. Cousin Lancel, last seen at the Battle of Blackwater, has returned with a new look and a guilty conscience. Having found religion, he admits regret over his incestuous relationship with Cersei as well as his part in the murder of Robert Barratheon.
There are plenty of others vying for power, as well as the throne. Having successfully escaped Kings Landing and crossed the Narrow Sea, Varys and Tyrion are safe. Now Varys has to convince Tyrion to help Varys's plan to restore order to Westeros. He tells a sickly Tyrion that the throne needs to go to someone who is stronger than Tommen and gentler than Stannis, but also beloved and with a strong family name. Tyrion wishes Varys good luck finding “him” to which Varys responds, “who said anything about him?”
And with that suggestion, the seeds for the most exciting plot point of the season have been planted. While Tyrion is reluctant to get involved, it seems, just as the promotional material has suggested, that this will be the season Daenerys Targaryen and Tyrion Lannister meet.
To be honest, she could probably use his help. One of the unsullied has been murdered by rebels,still bitter that Daenerys set the slaves free. When a compromise that could restore peace is presented, she shuts it down, desperate to remain some semblance of control.
The Mother of Dragons is struggling, not just with power, but her own identity. Her dragon Drogon hasn’t been seen since he charred a villager’s daughter, while Rhaegal and Viserion remain locked away in a crypt. In the episode's best scene, Daenerys goes to visit her children, descending into the dark crypt cautiously. If you listen closely, you can hear her frightened breathing before the dragons lunge at her. Their chains rattle as they spit fire and and scream while Daenerys makes a run for it, closing the crypt on her children once again.
Meanwhile at the Wall, Stannis has put it upon Jon Snow to convince Mance Rayder and the Wildlings to join his army. Even when Jon explains that Mance must pledge his loyalty or face death by fire, Mance refuses to bend the knee. Stannis, a man of his word, offers Mance a final chance to change his mind, but he stays strong.
Melisandre, who shares a somewhat flirtatious interaction with Jon earlier in the episode, lights the fire so Mance will burn at the stake in front of his men and the rest of the men at the wall. Just as it is gearing up to go down as one of the most brutal scenes in ‘Thrones’ history, Mance takes an arrow to the heart. Jon Snow allows him to die with dignity, much to the surprise of those around him.
We briefly check in with dark power couple Sansa and Littlefinger, who have left orphan Robyn in the care of Lord Royce. Littlefinger tells Royce they’re headed to The Fingers, but Sansa wisely notices their carriage is headed west. When she inquires about their real destination, Littlefinger only says its somewhere Cersei won’t be able to find her.
Brienne and Podrick are only seen briefly, recovering from the season finale’s fight with The Hound and less inspired about their plan to find the Stark girls after Brienne's run in with Arya. The fan favorite was absent from the premiere, but will no doubt play a major role in the coming season.
"Game of Thrones" airs Sundays on HBO.