It’s April again, my favorite time of year. It means that once again winter is over here in the Midwest and winter is coming in Westeros, where we return to a significantly reduced cast facing drastically altered status quos at the Wall, King’s Landing, and across the Narrow Sea. And with this new state of affairs we get a stylistic first, as the show opens with the first and only flashback scene in 5 years. But it made me wonder, why was the opening flashback not a cold open, as the premieres of seasons 1, 3, and 4 sported? I guess because it built to a transition to the present that would not have survived the cut to the credits, but it seems like that could’ve been dealt with somehow.
This might seem like an arbitrary nitpick, and particularly unfair given that I’ve repeatedly praised the show for not succumbing to structural predictability, but this is one area where I’d actually appreciate consistency. As essentially a prologue, it can’t give away anything storywise to know the premiere will include this little structural flourish; less than knowing, for example, that the penultimate episode is likely to feature the season’s major murders/battles of (which is about the only reliable indicator when it comes to plotting). But what that little bit of predictability does provide is a subtle reminder that all the upcoming twists and turns are part of an intentional design, that it is all going somewhere deliberate. As someone who gave 6 years to LOST, I like to be reminded of that as I settle in to a new season. And then never again for the next 10 hours.
Anyway, about that flashback. It would seem that Cersei hasn’t changed much at all since she was 10, not even her dress. It’s almost to the point of doing that unimaginative flashback thing where 20 years earlier the character is just a smaller version of the one we know. But then, we already knew that she was bred to her particular role from the jump. Indeed, the innate sadness of her character comes from her wanting to be more than the wife of a powerful man, but knowing neither how or what exactly that would mean in this world.
What she wants is the power to make her own way, and her own mistakes, an ideal for which Mance Rayder is willing to die, horribly. Cirian Hinds is so great in the character’s final scenes (the little eye twitch when he hears about the manner of his execution is particularly wonderful) that it has the unfortunate effect of underlining just how underused he’s been in the role – a champagne problem that only a show with an abundance of compelling characters could have. But he, and Stephen Dillane, also bring out the best in Kit Harrington, who finally seems to have made Jon Snow’s scenes into the equal of those in the other corners of the story. He not only holds his own with Hinds, but is believable as the person willing to defy “King” Stannis by mercy-killing Mance as he is burnt at the stake. It’s a moment that recalls very specifically the climax of Michael Mann’s Last Of The Mohicans, a connection further underlined by the actress who played Alice in the film also appearing as the witch in the flashback. I don’t think that means anything particular, just something I noticed.
Mance dies with dignity, wishing Stannis well “in the wars to come,” echoing the phrasing Varys uses to convince Tyrion not to….well, to drink himself to death slower, anyway. The guys can’t get to Mereen fast enough for me, as Dany’s scenes bring spectacle with the dragons and toppling of the Harpy statue, but not much in the way of new information. The dragons are salty, the locals unruly, Dany’s likes = mercenary dick, and dislikes = questioning her decisions. Nothing we didn’t know already, but bringing two of the show’s best schemers into her orbit promises to at the very least give the inaction a bit more crackle from scene to scene.
We also get little new development in the Vale, where Brienne is still sulking about not having a proper lord to follow. No wildling, Brienne; she wants nothing more than her mistakes to be someone else’s. Sansa and Littlefinger, meanwhile, are heading to parts unknown (but probably Dorne), after dropping Robin off with a local lord for some much needed toughening up. Again, this amounts to little more than some specifics on plans that were hatched in last year’s finale, but it is important to keep up with Littlefinger now. With Tywin, Joffrey, and Lysa dead, the marauding wildlings subdued, no White Walkers in sight and Dany’s opponents faceless and let’s face it, not a very credible threat, the series is as light on pure villains as it’s ever been. It’s currently up to Littlefinger and the Boltons to carry that torch, at least until the FrankenMountain gets up and shambling.
True, many might include Cersei in that list, but I continue to find Lena Headey’s performance oddly sympathetic, to the point that I’m kind of torn between whether I want the Lannister or Tyrell siblings to take the upper hand in King’s Landing. Which makes little sense given their respective actions, but that’s the delicious tension this show creates when it’s humming.
Now I just want to feel the same when the shortest hour of next week comes around, and we can check in with Arya, or Bron, or Theon, or Jorah, or….shit, is it Sunday yet?