Game of Thrones: 501 “The Wars to Come” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough
Series Four’s final episode almost forty-two weeks ago was aptly titled The Children, as the majority of the main characters were still children, in terms of age at least. The thing with children however is that they don’t stay children for long, they grow, they age, and mature. Going by the promotional material it would appear that the series was going that way too; especially if Arya’s new costume is anything to go by.
It’s clear from the opening scene that the Westeros we have returned to is very different to the one we left. But then were we really expecting anything else. The biggest change was the apparent scrapping of the showrunners no flashback policy. Not just that, but to do it with the first scene of a new series is a huge statement of intent and an indication to the audience that characters we thought we had seen the last of, could potentially return. (Note that Charles Dance was still listed in the opening credits as a main character).
Speaking of the late Tywin Lannister it was inevitable that his demise at the end of last season was going to prove a hugely significant event in this season. Surprisingly within the confines of this episode it was used only as a framing device to further explore the relationship between the remaining Lannisters. What’s also interesting is to see the difference in priorities between Jaime and Cersei, the former looking to unite against those who will try to take what is rightfully theirs, whilst the latter cannot get past her grief, blaming Jaime for trusting Tyrion. Her conflict with Margaery also comes to the fore again despite the two not exchanging a single line of dialogue throughout the narrative. Cersei’s story seems like it could make one of the highlights of this series as her own lust for power could see her isolate herself completely. If this episode is anything to go by, the early warning signs are surely there.
With Tywin out of the picture one would have expected the ensuing power vacuum to attract an attempt by someone at taking power. Granted it is early days yet, but it didn’t happen, and I struggle to see where an attempt at power could come from with Stannis at the wall and Daenerys not yet ready to make a move. It provides an interesting contrast to look at the impact of Tywin’s death compared with the people with a similar power to what he had. Perhaps it proves he wasn’t as important as he considered himself.
Last season saw two characters brought together, Stannis Baratheon and Jon Snow. This episode picked up where they left off with Stannis having imprisoned the Wildings and the Night’s Watch back at the wall. This storyline is one which gives the episode some moral questions which help beef out the episode. Stannis asks Jon to get the Wildling leader Mance Rayder to join Stannis army along with his men in exchange for their freedom. Whilst the narrative places a lot of emphasis on Rayder’s morals, Jon’s should not be overlooked. Kit Harrington does a wonderful job at conveying this through his non-verbal communications. You can’t help but feel for Jon and emphasise with him when he takes matters into his own hands in the episode’s denouement.
With most of our main characters at key locations, there were only two sets of characters moving around Westeros. The first is Sansa and Littlefinger. The episode features an interesting conversation between the two about who can be trusted. This is more than ironic as Littlefinger has proved himself as one of the least trustworthy (yet still one of my favourite) characters in Westeros, as Ned Stark can testify. Thankfully Sansa too has matured, highlighted in the episode by her awareness around Littlefinger. It should prove interesting later in the series to see who is playing who. The other pairing of characters is Brienne and Podrick who don’t actually receive that much attention other than to analyse the effects of coming so close yet ultimately failing with Arya.
Meanwhile across the Narrow Sea, Daenerys Targaryen’s problems continue to grow. The first we see of her regime is the toppling of the statue in Meereen which is a visually impressive scene. Next we are introduced to a new a threat, The Sons of the Harpy. Little is actually revealed about their identity, an idea reinforced by their use of Golden Masks. Obviously this is something which will develop over the course of the series, but for now it works really well. Daenerys mission is against the idea of slavery rather than any specific target, so to give her anonymous opposition complements this nicely. Her immaturity which has been an integral part of her character is brought to the fore again as she confronts her decision to lock her up dragons essential making them her slaves. I’m really looking forward to seeing how my favourite character progresses this series, but from what I’ve seen so far, I fear the seeds of her downfall are being sown.
Finally we have Tyrion and Varys who fled Westeros following Tyrion’s actions last time out. The Tyrion we are presented with is a much changed man, in fact I would go as far as saying he is showing signs of depression which in itself is not surprising given what he has been through. I can’t help but feel that was the point though, we see the character at his lowest. This is an effective contrast with Varys who talks of a bright future for Westeros. Even if the prospect of a meeting with Daenerys isn’t enough to get Tyrion excited for what’s to come, it is music to a lot of fans ears.
All in all the episode was an effective re-introduction to the Series. Despite not a lot happening (the scenes at The Wall were undoubtedly the most action packed) each of the characters was covered well and as a viewer it feels as if we have never been away. Given the decision to end on Arya leaving for Braavos, it did seem odd to omit her here, but I’m sure that will come early next week. A solid opening which proves that Game of Thrones deserves the acclaim it gets as a top series. That’s not to say however that I don’t think it can get better than this. I fully expect it to.