SPOILER ALERT: Stop reading if you have not watched the season 5 opener of “Game of Thrones” which aired Sunday on HBO.
REVIEW WRITTEN BY @DutchGodshalk
Who wants to see someone slowly burn to death?
Nobody does! Especially not Jon Snow.
During the season 5 opener for HBO’s sprawling fantasy epic, the bastard of Winterfell seemed to sense the squirms of millions of TV viewers who, like him, were not so keen on watching The King Beyond the Wall roast for the Red God. Until this point in the series, the audience has caught quick glimpses of men and women burned at the stake, but not like this — dear gods, not like this — as the corners of the pyre were set ablaze and the flames crept toward Mance Rayder’s feet, soon lapping at his legs and torso. It’s the look on the king’s face that’s hardest to watch, as the terror overtakes him.
Thankfully, viewers have Jon Snow, our brooding hero of dubious birth, a mopey, scowling warrior with Ned Stark’s compassionate heart.
Snow, disgusted, slinks to the back of the crowd — seemingly just averting his eyes, as so many viewers with more delicate sensibilities probably did during this scene — but then comes the arrow, straight through Rayder’s chest, putting a quick end to the wildling’s slow and agonizing death.
This, like so many of Jon Snow’s noble acts, will probably not be met well. If nothing else, it will make Stannis Baratheon look even more constipated than he normally does. And, again showing sympathy for a wilding, the act might cause the other men of the Night’s Watch to question Snow’s loyalty. Or not. This might be a medieval society, with not much in the way of entertainment beyond a handful of grotesque
drinking songs, but who really wants to see — and hear — someone die in a fire?
Mance Rayder’s death is a big loss for Game of Thrones — and not just because it might mark the season’s first major departure from George R. R. Martin’s hugely popular, though slow coming, book series — it deprives the audience of the continued talents of veteran character actor Ciarán Hinds, whose rugged St. Bernard face has appeared on the margins of countless prestige films over the years, not least of which was “There Will Be Blood” (2007). Not to mention Mance was a pretty decent ruler, in a world brimming with lousy ones.
Incendiary deaths aside, “The Wars to Come” was a pretty glum episode, with pretty much everyone featured in it behaving glumly.
Tywin Lannister, having been slain on the toilet at the close of last season, is now laid out regally in the Throne Room, with Jaime and Cersei again quarreling over the body of a loved one (at least they didn’t have sex next to this family cadaver, though) and worrying over the fate of their house. Despite beating the absolute tar out of The Hound last season, Brienne of Tarth has given herself over to self-loathing hysteria, demanding her not-squire, Podrick Payne, leave her side, as she is not a proper knight. And Tyrion Lannister is battling his demons at the bottom of a bottle after spending untold days pushing his feces through a hole in a crate. Fortunately, The Imp is with The Spider, and it seems they’ll be trekking toward Daenerys Targaryen in Meereen — a mission that has the makings of a booze-fueled, road-trip comedy. Think “Fear and Loathing: Across the Narrow Sea.”
That leaves us with Dani, who seems just slightly in over her head in Meereen, doing her best to deal with masked assassins, while staunchly resisting the reinstatement of “human cock fighting” pits and facing the fact that she may have lost control of her dragons. And, if it’s true that she’s lost her children, everything Dani has built since walking out of the fire in season 1 stands on shaky ground. Not that her dragons don’t have the right to be sore at the Khaleesi: she’s been punishing Viserion and Rhaegal for the sins of Drogon, while the latter remains free to scorch the lands (and the goats, and the children). It seems the dragons need to be in chains — but, to maintain her strength, Dani needs dragons by her side. It’s a pickle.
Those big lizards are looking pretty great, though. Thanks, computers.
Here’s a glimpse of next week’s episode: