‘Game of Thrones’: Season 5 premieres

The return of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is much like the return of barbecue season, or the re-opening of the public pool. You’ve gone long enough without it that it’s no longer at the forefront of your mind, but as soon as someone mentions that it’s coming back in less than a month, time can’t seem to go by any slower. The wait during the week leading up to the premiere feels like an eternity, and by the time 8 p.m. on Sunday rolls around, you are so full of anticipation that you can hardly think straight.

But then you remember that this is a season premiere, which in the world of “Game of Thrones” means a little taste of many different storylines, but not enough of any one to leave you feeling satisfied. This should go without saying, but if you have not yet seen season five, episode one, you should read no further. This review will contain spoilers for episode one only (so no worries to any of you worried about the next three, already-leaked episodes).

The season five premiere begins in unfamiliar territory with a flashback – “Game of Thrones’” first ever – to the adolescence of a girl later revealed to be Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey), now the Queen Regent of Westeros. In this flashback, Cersei travels deep into the woods near Casterly Rock, to the hut of an old witch, where she demands that the witch share with her answers about her future. The three answers the witch gives set a framework for Cersei’s storyline this season, as she deals with the recent deaths of her elder son and father, the new reign of her younger son and the unwilling betrothal of her only daughter to the prince of a region whose alliance with the capital of King’s Landing is shaky at best.

On the eastern continent of Essos, the patricidal Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill), the former Master of Whisperers, arrive in Pentos. Here, they hatch a plan to find Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) and bring her to power atop the Iron Throne, overthrowing the Lannisters in the process. Daenerys is having problems of her own, though, as a band of assassins have taken to killing off her hired soldiers in retaliation for her occupation of the city of Meereen.

Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie), Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman), Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen), Sansa Stark (Sophie Turner) and Margaery (Natalie Dormer) and Loras Tyrell (Finn Jones) all make brief appearances as well, though it seems that their roles will become more apparent in the coming weeks.

The largest chunk of time in the premiere went to Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) and the Night’s Watch, as Jon is faced with the difficult task of convincing “wildling” king Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) to bend the knee of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane), another challenger for the Iron Throne, and to have the “wildlings” fight for Stannis during his upcoming campaign through Winterfell and across Westeros.

Mance is one of those characters who had a much larger role in the book series from which “Game of Thrones” is adapted: “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R. R. Martin. Mance was a former Night’s Watch ranger who united the 90 “wildling” tribes for the first time in history. In the books, he becomes somewhat of a father figure to Jon, but in the show, he is a half-fleshed-out character whom one-third of the viewing audience had likely forgotten before his reappearance. This is unfortunate, but unsurprising. Mance in “Game of Thrones” just doesn’t have the same connection with the audience as his book counterpart does with readers, which makes his death at the end of the episode feel less significant.

Season five’s premiere is successful in giving away a little bit of the events to come, while not showing too much of its hand. Those who have read the books have an idea of what’s coming, and the episode does little to hint at anything major, but it does a fine job of setting the scene for key and secondary characters alike. As fans of the show are well aware, the real fun comes in the season’s second half.

Grade: B.

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