By Karthik Shankar:
Readers of the ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ series have been biting their nails in anticipation; because this is the season that Game of Thrones will finally go off page. After serving us four seasons that made a few cosmetic changes for the screen like discarding extraneous characters, but largely sticking to the books, what lies ahead in season 5 is a mystery for book readers as well.
George R.R Martin’s fourth and fifth books were largely criticised for their self-indulgent length, the introduction of even more characters and a lack of focus. Season 5 tries to do away with this bloat by focussing on the destination, something Martin’s books arguably lost track of. Book readers may be disappointed to know that the grungy Iron islands have been done away with and the sand snakes have been whittled down to three with Ellaria Sand (played by British-Indian beauty) Indira Varma, the paramour of the slain Red Viper taking on the role of Arianne Martell.
So in short, Game of Thrones has very much become its own beast. The season opener picks up where most of the plotlines left off last season. King’s Landing now has a power vacuum with Tywin Lannister dead. Cersei feels all the more threatened by Margaery, who is making the moves on the youngest Lannister while dealing with a new shadowy religious cult that has sprung in the capital. Meanwhile across the Narrow sea, our favourite imp, Tyrion Lannister has landed up at the home of the sly Magister Illyrio Mopatis (who housed the Targaryens in season 1) along with his Hardy, Varys who continues to spout the best one liners. Daenerys continues to unsuccessfully rule Meereen and has lost control of her dragons to boot. Sansa and Littlefinger continue to pose as the creepiest father-daughter pair and make their way to Winterfell. Jon Snow tries to convince Mance Rayder to bend the knee to Stannis, who has now propped himself at the Wall along with his fiery fire priestress Melisandre. Brienne polishes her sword while admonishing Podrick (that’s literally all she does!). No sign of Arya sadly, although I expect the second episode will change that.
It’s a whole lot to swallow and any person tuning in to see what all the hype is about would just switch off the television confused. But that’s always been one of the pleasures of Game of Thrones. Find the happenings on the wall boring, no problem. In a couple of minutes, there’ll be a new location and characters. The expansive feel is what makes the show unlike most others on television.
The show’s real world parallels are as interesting as its own plots. The brief fragments of a fanatical religious order rising up in the face of political chaos echoes a lot of what is taking place in countries like Syria and Iraq. The toppling of the statue on top of the pyramid brings to mind similar instances in Egypt after the Arab Spring. Similarly Jon Snow’s dialogue with Mance Rayder brings to mind the idea of people fighting not of their free will but by force from a colonial power. Gender is still prominent on the show. Daenerys is asked to reopen fighting pits, a barbaric cultural relic, in order to win the favour of Meereen’s people. Cersei finally has the man (her father) who slotted her into traditionally feminine roles – wife, mother, queen – dead but she has no idea how to wield it.
There are several promising indicators this season. Lena Headey continues to unpack the layers in her character and this season promises to have even meatier scenes for her. Tyrion and Varys continue to be hoot and give the show some of its most immensely quotable lines (“Any fool with a bit of luck can find himself born into power. But earning it for yourself, that takes work”). Their trek to Meereen should considerably lighten up the Daenerys plots which seem like a bit of slog right now. Kit Harrington also finally seems to have grown into Jon Snow’s shoes. Jon Snow’s principled beliefs always felt like something that was told, not shown, but in this episode he finally proves himself worthy of being called Ned Stark’s son. Ciaran Hinds however walks away as the episode’s MVP. His conversation with Jon where he speaks about dying rather than betraying his principles was a fantastic performance. The episode ends with him burning in Melisandre’s fires but being given the mercy of an early death by one of Jon’s arrows, a fitting ending.
Overall, this was a slow but very promising start. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds and have our first look at Dorne. I’m also holding out hope that someone with a heart of stone will make her appearance this season, even though the creators have repeatedly said it will not happen. We may be played however. If there’s one thing Game of Thrones has proved, it’s that it always has new tricks up its sleeve.