By Jack Ryan, For The Miami Student
This review may contain spoilers for "Game of Thrones." If you haven't seen the first four seasons, go find someone with HBO and read no further. You've been warned.
"Game of Thrones" is undoubtedly a show of spectacle. On almost any given Sunday, we tune in to watch dragons scorch the earth, fantastic creatures fight each other to the death, and enormous kingdoms fall to the ground. However, even the strongest competitors need a breather every once in a while, to help reload for another great run. The aptly titled season five premiere, "The Wars to Come," serves as both a transition and exposition for the upcoming season of the renowned fantasy series.
Nothing seems to be going right in Westeros. In the wake of his recent murders, Tyrion has sank into an alcohol-fueled depression. Cersei is dealing with the aftermath of her father's death and prophecies from her past. Daenerys is losing her hold on both her dragons and her people. Although she is free from Joffrey's reign, Sansa still appears lethargic and insomnia-ridden as she travels cross-continent with Littlefinger. Honestly, only a handful of characters so much as smile in this episode, creating an invariable sense of dread that helps connect the multitude of storylines.
Along with this contagious despair comes set-up upon set-up for all of our characters, reaffirming their stances as we realign ourselves with them. All of the active fighting we see here is in training, with dummy swords and no intention to kill. Several groups of characters are either preparing to travel, or starting their journeys elsewhere. This step is about getting us ready, or making us think that we're ready, for the imminent shocks ahead.
There are very few surprising moments here, with perhaps the biggest shock of the episode being the extremely low amount of violence, especially by "Game of Thrones" standards. By my count, only two men die on screen: an Unsullied, whose throat is slit by a masked rebel, and Mance Rayder, the "King-Beyond- The-Wall."
Mance, clearly the more important of the two, is sentenced to death at the stake by King Stannis, before being mercifully put down by Jon Snow, who is continuing to be the most honorable character whom no one seems to respect. These deaths are equally surprising in nature, and their overstated nature makes them feel much more personal than those of previous battle scenes.
While these exciting events are few and far between, even a slightly bland "Game of Thrones" episode cannot be dismissed as average. The acting is consistently strong, the stories are interesting separately and as a cohesive whole, and the pacing is so perfect that jumping from one end of Westeros to the other feels completely natural and rarely forced.
Similarly, the sheer production value of "Game of Thrones" can never been understated, creating the most realistic fantasy world since Middle Earth, if not ever. Idols tumble, beasts rage, and people die, all while maintaining an atmosphere so immersive that these unbelievable events seem realistic. And while not being an actual part of the show, HBO deserves some serious credit for making HBO Go and HBO Now stable enough to handle such a premiere.
If nothing else, "The Wars To Come" proves "Game of Thrones" is so naturally successful that even a universe-wide latency period can not prevent it from being compelling and gripping television. Soon enough, we'll be back to the shocking, violent and thrilling hit series we've come to know and love.