Monday, March 20, 2017

Game of Thrones Rewatch 5.1: "The Wars to Come"

Read the previous entry in this series here.
Read the next entry in this series here.
5.1 “The Wars to Come”
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by Michael Slovis
Commentary by Michael Slovis, David Franco (DP), and Ciaran Hinds (Mance Rayder)

So here we are in season five. The first season that doesn’t have a Martin-penned episode, which I’ve felt have sort of anchored the seasons—at least until season four, when half of his scenes ended up in “his” episode and half in a different episode, and “his” episode was full of Theon-torture that even Martin seemed super disturbed by. Season five overall was kind of a mess, as they move past the books or further away from the books, depending on the storyline.

We start with a flashback, which the show has never done before, though they might have been useful before now for a lot of backstory. It’s odd to me that, having avoided flashbacks in a series that rests so heavily on a massive history, they’d a) start now; and b) start with Cersei’s visit to Maggy the Frog. If we didn’t need Ned’s fever dream about the Tower of Joy, or Petyr’s duel with Brandon Stark, or the Battle of the Trident where Rhaegar died, we don’t need this. Cersei could very easily have just told this story, as she does later in the season. Also, it’s weird that they did it now, as the only reason we don’t see it until this point in the books is that Cersei isn’t a POV character until now. But the memory suddenly illuminates a lot of Cersei’s behavior, and maybe she could have been a touch more sympathetic in the show if we’d known about this from the start.

Not only is it unnecessary, it’s incomplete. They leave out a third of Maggy’s prophecy for Cersei, which in the books is: “Queen you shall be, until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear. [. . .] Six-and-ten [children] for [the king] and three for you. Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds, [. . .] and when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you” (A Feast for Crows, Chapter 12, Cersei III). The show only handles the part about the more beautiful queen and the children; it leaves out the valonqar, which has generally been translated as “little brother.” The trouble is, leaving out this piece ruins yet another reason Cersei has for hating Tyrion so much. She assumes Maggy meant Tyrion would kill her, though there’s lots of fan theories about this prophecy, as well as which “another” is meant—Margaery and Daenerys are the leading contenders, though Sansa is also a possibility. (Cersei clearly thinks it’s Margaery, and it could be a case of there being many possibilities and Cersei’s choice cements it, kind of like Voldemort picking Harry instead of Neville.)

Not only that, but it’s entirely possible that the valonqar is actually Jaime and this piece could have foreshadowed Jaime killing Cersei. Now, if they don’t plan to have Cersei killed (because seriously, Cersei’s going to die before the end of this series) by anyone who could possibly be considered her little brother (and it doesn’t say your little brother, just the little brother), then fine, leave it out. But it could still have been used as justification for her hatred of Tyrion beyond “you killed my mother,” which is, frankly, a terrible reason for hating a sibling for the amount of time and with the ferocity she does.

At the Sept of Baelor, where Tywin lays in state, Cersei and Jaime argue about Jaime’s part in Tywin’s death—releasing Tyrion from his cell—and Jaime tries to argue that they’re all they have left now, and they need to stick together. Jaime doesn’t seem to be overly guilty about it, and they’ve once again hacked a good chunk of introspection out of the story; rather than Jaime standing vigil over the body for three days and thinking about everything (especially what Tyrion told him about Cersei), they have a five-minute scene with Tywin’s body and move right along. I get the need to streamline, I really do, but when “streamlining” turns into “hacking huge chunks out of the personality and character development of some of the main characters,” I tend to get cranky. (This show makes me very cranky.)

At Tywin’s wake, Loras tries to connect with Cersei again and she’s having none of it. Tommen and Margaery have a sympathetic moment and Cersei glares. She brushes off Pycelle and is stopped by Lancel, who’s here to set up the Sparrows since Brienne’s off-mission and doesn’t get to interact much with the smallfolk. He tries to apologize for his sins—seducing Cersei, killing Robert—but Cersei denies any knowledge of what he’s talking about. He offers to pray for Tywin’s soul, and Cersei says Tywin’s soul doesn’t need his help. These scenes really help to cement how bad Cersei is at making friends and influencing people, which is why in the books she needs Qyburn to help her stay in power. Here she just needs plot convenience.

At the Wall, Jon’s training Olly, who’s not doing so well, while everyone else sits out in the courtyard doing some sort of work (except Sam, who’s just kind of hovering over Gilly). Gilly asks if Sam shouldn’t be training, as well, and he gives Jon a horrified look before boasting that anyone who killed a White Walker and a Thenn doesn’t need training. I wish I could tell you this was the last time Sam brags about this, but it’s really, really not. Gilly remarks that her situation here is tenuous, and that the new lord commander, whoever that is, might send her away, and she recognizes the position that would put Sam in, since he promised not to leave her, but if he goes with her, he becomes a deserter.

Melisandre pops up to bring Jon to see Stannis, and on the way there she gets right to the good stuff, asking him if he’s a virgin, because Melisandre has no boundaries. Stannis wants Jon to use his influence with Mance to get him to put together a Wildling army to help him retake Winterfell. Davos gets to play devil’s advocate by pushing Jon about his feelings regarding the Wildlings; apparently some of the men didn’t like it much that he took Ygritte’s body north to burn her. This, unfortunately, becomes the core of Jon’s storyline—he sees the Wildlings as people, everyone else in the Watch is racist, and thus they hate Jon. It’s part of his storyline in the books, too, but there’s so much more to it (isn’t there always), and this simplified version is really black-and-white for the “world full of greys” we’re supposed to be given.

Stannis gives Jon until nightfall to convince Mance to convince the Wildlings to join him, or he’ll kill Mance. Because, what? Why? What? The reason given in the books—that Mance is a Night’s Watch deserter (and, not incidentally, calls himself a king and thus Melisandre wants his blood)—at least makes sense. Here, Stannis wants Mance to convince his people (who, it has already been established, are really bad at unifying and following) to follow Stannis, or he’ll kill him, which will totally get the Wildlings to follow him. The logic here does not compute. It also doesn’t compute that Mance, whose entire rasion d’etre was to rescue his people from the White Walkers, refuses to take this opportunity to rescue his people because it means accepting a southern king. Which, what did he expect when he brought his people south? Did he think they could just settle on lands technically ruled by a king and not acknowledge the king? Because that’s, frankly, stupid. The smart thing to do at this point would be to start to assimilate (which, spoiler alert, they totally do in the books). Instead we get a whole bunch of pseudo-philosophy about freedom and Mance is hauled off to be burned to death. The Wildlings all have trouble watching; Selyse is disturbingly happy; Jon actually leaves (earning him a disapproving look from Olly because, remember, Olly Hates Wildlings and that is the extent of his characterization), then comes back and shoots Mance so he doesn’t actually burn to death.

Over in the Vale, we’re abandoning Sansa’s book-storyline entirely and shoving her into the storyline of a minor, non-POV character. This turns into a major problem, and I’ll try to talk about how each step is a problem rather than blasting you with my whole what-even-are-they-doing-with-Sansa rant all at once. Right now, Sansa (with her hair very brown) and Petyr leave Robin with Robar Royce to learn to fight (he can barely lift a sword right now, and frankly, the way he’s being trained isn’t likely to make that any better). Petyr tells him they’re taking Sansa to the Fingers and they head in the complete opposite direction, passing Brienne and Pod on the way.

Brienne’s still upset about Arya, and Pod tries to comfort her, but Brienne refuses to be comforted. She again tries to send Pod away, and he again refuses to leave her. She’s completely disaffected about the whole nobility thing at this point, declaring that all the good lords are dead and the ones who are left are monsters. This is more about her own self-doubt and failure than anything else—failure to protect Renly, failure to return Jaime to King’s Landing unscathed, failure to protect Catelyn, failure to protect Arya. But it’s still a massive change from book-Brienne, who still had a lot of idealistic attitudes and really believes in Jaime, at least (though she doesn’t follow him so much as work with him). She’s aware that some lords are awful—she had several run-ins with Randyll Tarly, after all—but overall she believes in duty, honor, and chivalry in much the same way Sansa does.

Across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion has arrived in Pentos, and Varys liberates him from his crate with a crowbar. Now, by rights, this should be Ilyrio Mopatis, because Varys is hiding in one of his alter egos back in King’s Landing, but I’m kind of willing to give them this one because a) Conleth Hill disappearing for a season would be awful; and b) Varys is just hiding, not doing anything important (until he kills Kevan), so there’s no reason why he can’t replace Ilyrio for this part of the plot (it’s later that his presence in this storyline becomes a major problem). Tyrion is piss drunk and sloppy, perfectly willing and ready to drink himself to death. Varys bullies him a bit, telling him self-pity isn’t a good look for him and he’s smart and savvy enough to make a real difference in Westeros, if he can just find the right person to back. Varys thinks that person is Daenerys. Tyrion agrees to go, but not to completely let go of his self-pity or the bottle.

Meanwhile, Daenerys has an uprising on her hands as the Sons of the Harpy make themselves known by murdering one of her Unsullied. First, though, we need the obligatory gratuitous nudity; despite having had White Rat (the Unsullied in question) as a client before, and knowing that all he wants is to cuddle, the Son-of-the-Harpy prostitute strips completely naked and then is like “oh, right” and puts her skirt back on. Once he’s all comfy and relaxed, she slits his throat.

Daenerys orders White Rat buried with full honor in the Temple of the Graces, which I think is the only time we hear anything about the Temple because they’ve ditched so much of the politics of Meereen, including the indomitable Galazza Galare, who I really miss. Instead of a full complement of advisors—Meereenese, sellsword captains, former slaves, the Green Grace, Barristan, etc.—who all have their own perspectives and needs and ideas about how the city should be run, Dany’s down to like five advisors: Mossador, a former Meereenese slave; Barristan; Grey Worm; Daario; and Hizdahr zo Loraq for some reason. This contributes to the overall simplifying of Dany’s storyline and continues to make her look way too easily led by her (all male) advisors.

Daario, for his part, pushes her toward violence, because that’s how he deals with things. He thinks she should grant Hizdahr’s request to open the fighting pits, which she’s already refused (emphatically), and he thinks she should release her dragons as a show of strength. As discussed earlier, the dragons are in many ways a symbol of the Targaryen madness as well as weapons of mass destruction, so he wants her to literally unleash her beast and essentially burn Meereen to the ground. She goes to visit the caged dragons soon after, and is clearly afraid of them, even running away when one snaps at her. This is the only semblance of the struggle for balance we see in Dany’s storyline; she understands that her power comes from the dragons, but the dragons are a really big and dangerous power that she doesn’t entirely trust herself to be able to wield, let alone be able to wield wisely. She wants to be a good queen, not just a conqueror, and the dragons are a conquering force that have nothing to do with being a good queen, despite Daario’s assertion that a dragon queen without a dragon isn’t a queen. I don’t feel that this came through clearly in the show; it feels more like they’re just slowly paring down her support system in preparation both for Tyrion showing up and becoming the shining star of her council and for the choice she has to make in the fighting pit at the end of the season.

White Rat
Mance Rayder

Next week: Arya reaches Braavos. Brienne is rejected again. The faux-Dorne plot thickens. Daenerys does whatever her councilors tell her to.

All images from


  1. Always good to read these.

    I wonder, though, if you can elaborate on something in the opening paragraph, the bit about the show moving "past the books or further away from the books." I think there's something there to unpack, and I'd love to read it.

    1. I could probably do an extra post at the end of season 5 that talks about the overall adaptational problems when they run out of books (or their changes move them so far away from the canon storylines that they're no longer recognizable).

    2. It'd be welcome.

      And I'll eventually have the time to look at stuff and post thoughts about it here...

      Thank you for carrying this forward!