A Murder of Crows: “The Wars to Come,” season five, and you

Just in case Game of Thrones’s big return wasn’t enough – or the fact that this season is set to stray away from the source material in some pretty substantial and elongated ways – we decided to conduct something of an experiment here at the Wall and keep an open journal of first impressions right after the premiere aired. Given that a number of predictions were made for the rest of the season, and given that we’re already(!) quickly approaching the halfway mark, we thought there’d now be enough distance to start to see how close (or how far) we were from the mark.

Need even more than just prognostications? Well, how about nit-picky observations (who, me?), snappy insights, and, even, blow-by-blow responses? They all paint a rather complete picture of what “The Wars to Come” managed to achieve, specifically, and what yet awaits in the remaining seven installments, generally.

Marc

Marc N. Kleinhenz:

How did “The Wars to Come” fare, both in regards to your expectations of it and in terms of its overall quality? How does it change — if at all — your thoughts, hopes, and fears going into season five? And how does it impact your expectations of the rest of the season?

Dame Pasty

Dame Pasty:

The premiere exceeded my expectations in some ways – mainly, the quality of the acting. Kit [Jon Snow] and Emilia [Daenerys Targaryen] were bringing it. And Ciarán Hinds [Mance Rayder] always brings it.

Mance Rayder

Overall, it was great: the scenery and cinematography in particular were spectacular. We are already seeing how the bigger budget helped, particularly with Ghost (who has become a large fuzzy pooch that I would love to cuddle with). The “setting up” of storylines worked. We know where almost everyone is, except for Arya and Bran. (Of course we “know” where they are, but the Unsullied and the non-obsessed like us probably don’t and are probably wondering.) I recognize, however, they only have an hour to shove as much as they can in. So, yeah – it worked, and it worked well.

I think, in retrospect, once we’ve seen the next few episodes, it will fare even better. My only critique is that it jumped around a bit, but they’re getting to where transitioning from one part of the world and one storyline to another will get easier, as they are physically getting closer to one another (i.e., Sansa and Littlefinger “driving” by Brienne and Pod) and we’re approaching the endgame where stuff has to come together. The momentum will pick up, and this first ep will then seem like the perfect starting point.

Brienne and Pod

I do have to admit that I wasn’t as keen for the season as I thought I would be, and part of that is my fault because I didn’t avoid spoilers enough. And the other thing that dampened my enthusiasm, I think, was that I had “waiting fatigue,” which is the only way I can explain it. This was probably due to my being very involved with the site during the off season – it was the first time I have done that. And that’s no one’s fault; I love being a part of the WotW crew.

As for my fears and future expectations, I really wasn’t all that fearful, except for one thing which is very spoilerish and which I can’t speak of here. I won’t know how this “thing” is handled until the end of the season, so that fear will have to go on a back burner. Besides, I try never to let fear get in the way of enjoying anything.

My expectations were always good. I have a lot of trust in Dan Weiss and David Benioff [the showrunners] to adapt the material sufficiently faithfully to get to the endpoint that George R.R. Martin [the author] intended. I never expected them to be exact, and I actually want them to make some changes (because there are things in the books that I did not like, anyway). I’m one of those “content with the books being the books and the show being the show” kind of people.

Two Swords

Overall, I would rate it as the second best premiere of the whole series, behind “Two Swords” from last season.

Marc

Marc N. Kleinhenz:

I have to be honest and admit that, while I greatly enjoyed the episode overall, I was very disappointed by one specific, obsessive-compulsive item: the lack of a teaser.

Benioff and Weiss committed to doing a teaser at the beginning of each season (to mirror the books’ prologues), to the extent that they even crafted one from scratch for last year’s opener. However, they’ve been rather spotty in their adherence to that structure (yes, I’m a structural kinda guy/writer – and it drives my wife up the wall to no end), missing it for both the second and, now, fifth seasons.

Flashback

I know, I know – I can already hear the showrunners commenting on how this year didn’t particularly lend itself well to that format, just as they did with season two. And, yes, I can see how the jump-cut from young to old(er) Cersei can serve as an anchor, to both drive the point forward that it was a flashback audiences were just watching and to leverage the narrative momentum that was just gathered (going from the flashback to the opening credits and then to the beginning of the ep proper definitely puts the brakes on things).

Still, a flashback – just in theory – lends itself so well to a traditional teaser… and it bothers my OCD to no end that Game of Thrones has been so ineffably inconsistent on this front. Argh!

(First-world [television] problems, right? ;))

Cian

Cian:

My hype levels fluctuated constantly in the lead-up to the premiere. After finding out and reporting on so much information about season five months before it would even air, a lot of my excitement was killed prematurely. What was there to be excited for anymore? The release of the first trailer only served to disappoint me more (although, in retrospect, the reason for this was because the trailer simply wasn’t very good – it had nothing to do with my personal whims).

That all changed with the release of the “Wheel” trailer.

I was once more genuinely excited for Thrones, and my hype went through the roof.

Even with my high expectations, I quite enjoyed the premiere. The main insight I took out of it was that it seemed to allow characters and plotlines to breathe a lot more than in seasons past. Beforehand, Thrones always seemed to be stuck somewhere between the laborious, breathing-heavy pacing of the likes of Deadwood and Boardwalk Empire and the breakneck speed of Vikings‘s and Black Sails‘s second seasons. Now, it seems to have finally found its place as we move into the endgame; a lot of time is devoted to one particular character or locale before transitioning on to the next, while still fulfilling the golden rule of TV by moving the plot along consistently with each scene.

For reference: from the opening of the episode, we stay with Cersei for roughly seven minutes, before naturally seguing to Tyrion for a short introduction, then over to Meereen for a good five minutes, then to the Wall for another five minutes, then to the Vale, then back to King’s Landing for another five-minute segment, then back to Tyrion with another segue to Meereen, and, finally, to the Wall for a whopping 10 uninterrupted minutes.

Jon at the Wall

All the scenes are lengthy and are able to breathe and find their place as part of the whole, and characters/storylines are excluded where necessary. There is no more rapidly skipping around, à la season two. This trend of scenes breathing is something that continues into the season, by all accounts and reports, and I couldn’t be more pleased with that fact.

To summarise, the above is what struck me most about “The Wars to Come.” The rest goes without saying: the acting, cinematography (great inaugural direction from Michael Slovis), sets, costumes, writing, scoring – all are top-class and easy to take for granted now that we’ve become so used to them.

Axe

Axechucker:

Having seen the screeners with my HappyCool cohorts, it was at first hard for me to disassociate myself from the other three episodes and to just concentrate on the first, but I was eventually able to.

I enjoyed this! In fact, I rate it as the second-best season opener thus far – and I have my doubts whether any other will ever best last year’s “Two Swords.”

Lancel

Standouts for me were Kit Harington’s Jon, still going strong from last season’s epicness, and Eugene Simon’s Lancel, who looks completely transformed – and for the better. His pious change of heart is canon (book readers will know), but I much prefer this seemingly stronger character to the weaker, white-haired creature in the books.

And Ciarán Hinds, so seemingly underutilized (and possibly miscast) in seasons past, played Mance Rayder’s final moments marvelously.

Regarding the opening “Young Cersei” flashback: some people will note the seeming discrepancy between the number of children Cersei is told she will have (“Three; gold will be their crowns, and gold their shrouds”) and the number she supposedly did have (three plus the black-haired child that died very young). I reached out to Bryan Cogman for comment, asking if there was, indeed, a continuity error, and he replied: “No. Maggy’s just speaking of the three official kids who lived and were known, etc. The black haired baby was kept quiet.”

Robert cat

Which… all right. (I guess I get what he’s saying, but, by that token, Robert probably wouldn’t have been projected for 20. [Unless he actually spawned dozens and dozens, and only 20 were “recognized” and given bastard names (Gendry Rivers, Mya Stone, etc.).] Yeah, guys, I don’t know.)

Anyway. All in all, I really liked it!

Nate

Nate:

I really enjoyed the majority of the premiere and the cinematography Michael Slovis brought to the episode.

The prophecy in the beginning and the casting of Young Cersei was spot-on, and I feel that isn’t the last we’ve seen of that (since we only got two or three questions answered).

The transition to present-day Cersei leads right into the events directly after Tywin’s death, which I thought worked pretty well, since the first chunk of the episode is so Lannister-esque.

Cersei and dad

Lena [Cersei] dominated through and through. The all-black dress to mourn her father and the line “They’ll wait,” as well as brutally handing Jamie his shit on a Lannister gold platter, was pretty satisfying to watch.

I loved the shot of her walking up to the sept, as well as Tyrion’s POV through the hole in the crate (very Breaking Bad, like Slovis said). I think Varys may become more prominent than he already has. I almost overlooked when he was talking to Tyrion about the secret society he’s involved with that supports the Targaryens. I wonder what/who that consists of, and when/if we’ll get to meet them. [Editor’s note: for more on this very point, be sure to check out our inaugural Anatomy of a Throne for the season.] As much of a spider as he may be, I do feel he does have the interest of the Realm in mind. I love their bantering and wit back and forth and hope they’re together longer than Arya and the Hound (who will be sorely fucking missed).

Tyrion and Varys

In Mereen, I did like the scene where they brought down the statue, but I wasn’t expecting it to start off Dany’s plotline outright. The scene where White Rat was killed confused a lot of folks on Twitter because he looked so much like Grey Worm and the whore, like Missandei (unless that was intentional and is alluding to something). The masks for the Sons of the Harpy are wicked, and I can’t wait to see what they stir up for Dany (hopefully something foul enough to make her release the dragons).

In my opinion, ice is what slows the story down, but off we are to the Wall (and, yes, Samwell, you should be training). I do think Melisandre has some plans for Jon, considering her affection for bastards.

At this point, it seems Stannis is willing to get anyone to fight for him, because he knows how disliked he is (especially after the Blackwater). Reaching for the Wildlings was a huge stretch on his part, and I’m not sure what he envisioned would happen when he killed Mance, besides eliminating competition, I suppose. (But there’s still Jon.)

The Robin scene was probably the lightest we’ll see all season, as it already seems pretty dark and hallowing.

Sansa and Littlefinger

Sansa – I mean, Alayne – and Littlefinger scheming, as well as Brienne and Podrick gallanting and patrolling, was great, and I can’t wait to see more.

Lancel’s transformation and the introduction of the Sparrows are going to be a great addition to the chaos of the game at King’s Landing.

Margery is going to be a huge player against Cersei this season, and I’m glad we got to see that right off. I think she may fulfill that prophecy the frog witch made. (Perhaps.)

More bantering between Varys and Tyrion is always refreshing, because it’s always – well, mostly – honest. (I never said you were perfect.) I do feel this is the second prophecy we’ve gotten this episode.

Dany is going places, and with Tyrion and Varys on her side, she’ll only go further.

I think Dany will open the fighting pits – she just needs some convincing. 😉 I remember seeing certain set photos a few months back and knew season five was going to be good.

More fantastic cinematography and dragon names! All with a rendition of “Breaker of Chains,” which really tugs on the heartstrings.

Jon and Mance

Back to the Wall, as Jon tries to tell the free man what to do. I would feel more of an attachment to Mance if he were featured more, rather than just talked about. I admire his recruitment and history and feel he’s done his part in setting Jon’s story up.

The writing in this episode was fantastic, with a lot of really good one-liners to take away (“The freedom to make my own mistakes was all I ever wanted”).

Ending on a high note: I hope Jon raises some hell for Stannis and the Red Woman.

All in all, I give it about a nine out of 10, but I have to agree with the consensus – “Two Swords” was a bit better. We’re off to a great start, though, and season five is going to be a definite game-changer!

(I’m Unsullied, by the way, so all my predictions are based on the show.)

Jess

Jess:

I think “The Wars to Come” was a solid premiere, and I really enjoyed it.

Young Cersei

Cersei’s flashback was my favorite scene, and I was very impressed with Nell Williams’s performance. I expect there to be a lot of excitement in King’s Landing, with the rivalry between Cersei and Margaery and the introduction of the Sparrows through Lancel.

I loved all of the scenes at Castle Black, and I’m particularly looking forward to seeing more interactions between Stannis and Jon. I was happy to see Ghost, too, even if he was only gnawing on a bone in the corner.

Rhaegal and Viserion have grown quite a bit, and they aren’t too happy about their mother chaining them up in the catacombs. Emilia did a fantastic job portraying Dany’s fear and heartbreak after they lashed out at her.

Dragons!

Ciarán Hinds’s final scenes as Mance were outstanding, and I only wish we had gotten to see more of him in the previous seasons.

Overall, I thought it was a great episode. I’m looking forward to the rest of the season and catching up with the characters we didn’t see this week.

Marko

Hear Marko Roar:

I found “The Wars to Come” to be a good opener – very solid – but not as strong as last season’s. In the first half, it felt like it jumped around a bit too much, though (a) that is understandable, as many things have been reset at the end of last season, so there is lots of setup to be done, and (b) at least the show is comfortable leaving out some of the subplots in the initial hour.

Since this was not the only season to lack a cold open, I don’t really mind it (though I expected one) – it’s better than having a single exception breaking the pattern. I fully expect any flashbacks to be restricted to season openings in the future, by the way.

The highlight of the episode was the Wall storyline, with some tremendous acting. The strong ending, with lengthy, meaty scenes, elevated the episode. As to the production quality and scope, we need not waste any words on them; the level of craftsmanship remains consistently high.

Nah

My expectations have not changed. If anything, seeing the first instalment made me realize how much I missed the show, and it whet my appetite for the intro to the Dorne and Braavos storylines.

It’s too early to talk about fears – we need to see more episodes first. Perhaps my only concern is Sansa’s story: I hope they don’t alter it in any strange way. Then again, we will never really know before The Winds of Winter gets published.

Either way, the new season is here, and with it ten weeks of madness following this beloved show of ours.

Geoff

Geoffery:

I found it to be a solid, if slightly talky, opener. For me, nothing will ever beat “Winter Is Coming” (episode 101) in terms of premieres, because nothing is better than unexpected incest and child defenestration, but “The Wars to Come” did pretty well. My only real criticism was that it jumped about a bit, but that’s always an issue in shows with lots of characters; trying to get them all in one episode is going to leave it feeling a bit skittish.

Maggy

I loved the opening flashback. Nell Williams as Young Cersei absolutely nailed it, and it was lovely to hear some dialogue that was taken almost word-for-word from the book. Although I did expect Maggy the Frog to be a little less – er – sexy, if I’m honest. It was lovely to see the ever-fabulous Charles Dance one last time, as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed all the Wall scenes, but oh, poor Mance – we hardly knew ye! Ciarán Hinds did such a fabulous job with so little screen time that his death felt like a real punch in the gut, even though I knew it was coming. I’ll miss you, King-beyond-the-Wall!

The Mereen storyline didn’t do a great deal for me this episode, to be honest. There was so little build-up to the Stalwart Shield – *cough* sorry, White Rat – plot that even when he got his throat cut, I kind of felt a bit “meh.” Plus, in a show full of gratuitous boobs, his prostitute’s boobs felt especially gratuitous. And I don’t really buy into the whole Missandei and Grey Worm love angle the show seems to be going for. The toppling of the statue, I felt, would have more impact after seeing it in the trailer, but all it seemed to amount to was a dull pillow-talking scene with Daario and Dany. Mind you, it was nice to have the bum count rival the boob one this week.

Speaking of bums, introducing the viewers to Dornish geography via a birthmark has got to be the weirdest use of sexposition in the show yet! But like the other scenes involving original plots – Sansa’s and Brienne’s included – it felt like it was treading water a little. If the show has decided to go its own way with certain characters, I can’t help wishing they’d be a bit bolder in what they have them do.

Illyrio

Varys and Tyrion’s scenes were probably my favourite. I like the direction their storyline seems to be heading in; Varys’s exposition was detailed-yet-snappy, and it was nice to get a mention of Illyrio. I mean, not as nice as actually seeing Illyrio, but a girl can’t have everything. If there’s such a thing as an Illyrio fangirl, I think I might be it. All hail the Cheesemonger!

Previous Murders

What if season five sucks?

The year in review

Casting the recastings in a new light

Westerosi immersion

The best – and worst – season of Game of Thrones

14 responses

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    1. Now that have see the other episodes of season 5
      In retrospect “The Wars to Come” was a much better episode than I had originally given it credit for. It was a slower episode but in fairness that was mainly because it had to do a lot of set up and reintroducing characters

      I would say that while I didn’t think it was as strong as season 1 or 4 premiere episodes

      I did like it more than the premiere episodes of season 2 and 3

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    2. for Axechucker:
      In book canon there never was a dark haired baby that died, the show added that in.
      I wonder if the showrunners just forgot that little tidbit.

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    3. In retrospect, I think episode one was pretty good now that I’ve seen episodes two and three. While none of them had that much action, at least episode one had a little. I liked the pacing, but as for the story, while Cersei’s, Jon’s and Dany’s are becoming much more interesting, Sansa’s I found confusing, Brienne and Pod’s annoying and I have a number of questions. What happened to the Tullys and the Freys? Where are the Ironborn? Where are the Wildlings and their huge army? What happened to Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion and the Brotherhood Without Banners? How about Osha and Rickon? And Bran, Hodor and Meera? Why have there been so many loose ends? This bothers me. While the show really is a huge spectacle, I feel the storylines are being cast aside for the sake of only a few. So why didn’t they just stick with Cersei, Tyrion, Sansa, Jon and Arya from the beginning? Why did they decide to add in all these other characters just to leave them hanging out to dry?

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    4. Yeah this seasons coming along well

      People are a bit funny about the changes but I’m starting to look at it more as an alternative universe rather than and adaption…

      Plus I am glad they are at least sticking to exploring themes and trying to keep it somewhat intelligent rather than just cater to shock value and nudity etc etc and they are exploring the nature of Stark and Targaryen power in E1 and then of course they were exploring religion in E2

      LC election was a tad rushed, I miss exploring the deep politics behind events but at the same time I could see how it plus the Lyanna Mormont letter tapped into a theme

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    5. In ‘Game of Owns’ they made the point I had forgotten about the actor who played Ser Denys Mallister passing away during filming – could this be why the LC election seemed a bit rushed? Maybe they planned a little more but the didn’t want to reshoot / recast, so they used what they had only in the can.

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    6. I’ve added the Cogman note about the black-haired baby to the wiki.

      Really, infant mortality is so high in Westeros even among the nobility that people tend to only count their children who survived the cradle. At other points in the series Cersei calls Joffrey her “eldest son”…meaning “eldest *surviving* son”.

      I’m not really *that* bothered by such loose use of language; people just tend not to count infant mortalities.

      I mean, we found out in the books that the Mad King had several children before Rhaegar, but they were all stillbirths or infant mortalities. Doran Martell had “a sister and a brother”, though he actually had two other siblings who died in the cradle so he doesn’t really put them in the official count of “the three of us”.

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    7. Just wanted to say thanks for using one of my favorite words, “defenestration”. It is not used nearly enough.

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    8. Nice to see everyone’s thoughts. I always love these Murder of Crows pieces! Thanks guys!

      Nate, it’s Margaery not Margery… I’ll forgive you because you’re unsullied and because actually that extra ‘a’ is kind of silly anyway 😉

      Lady Geoffery I agree with all your points!

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    9. Jaime’s girl,

      I always wonder if George spells his names with 1 letter different to normal because that’s how people used to say it or because he just wants to be cool and different. Did Jamie used to be Jaime? Did Margery used to be Margaery? Did Rob used to be Robb? Did John used to be Jon?
      It’s either very well researched or silly.

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    10. jennyofoldstones,

      I do not really understand the mindset that peopel can not exit/dissaper for a while from stories. None of the characters you mentioned are main characters and it certain we some of them like Osha and Rickon again. Are supporting characters only allowed to exit my dying? Should the main characters spent time around with only characters still on the show or ones that do not have names? Having characters off-screen living their lives makes the world more populated real.

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