Game of Thrones season 5, episode 1 review: Arya is missing while Jon Snow has become a skilled diplomat
Spoiler alert: Characters and storylines that have been distinct for so long are unmistakably beginning to intertwine
Ah, that theme tune! After four seasons of HBO’s most-watched television programme, Ramin Djawadi’s score has us salivating like Pavlov’s bloodthirstiest dog, right from its very first note. That note echoed through a dungeon-cum-screening room at the Tower of London, an appropriately medieval setting for the world premiere of Game of Thrones season 5.
It promised another exciting round of high-stakes power-play and mortal combat, but now that we’ve come to expect the unexpected, can this show still shock like it used to? Three and a half weeks before the new series officially launches on Sky Atlantic (13 April), assembled TV critics and super-fans found out.
The flashback is a narrative technique Game of Thrones has never tried before and it opens up exciting new possibilities - especially for written-out actors who have been hoping for a comeback. This series opened with a scene of two, apparently new, characters trudging through the woods to find a fortune-teller’s lair. But one of those turned out to be the young Cersei Lannister.
It wasn’t a particularly revelatory scene, but it did give us insight into what motivates the most powerful woman in The Seven Kingdoms. With both Tywin Lannister and his grandson, King Justin Bieber now listed among the ever-expanding roll call of Westeros dead, there’s a power vacuum at the top of the Seven Kingdoms and Cersei is eager to fill it - via her son Tommen, of course.
Alongside that catchy theme tune, you may also find yourself humming Cliff’s classic ‘We’re All Going on A Summer Holiday’ because, despite the regular forecasts of winter, some key characters have managed to escape to sunnier climes. There were several hints at a trip to Dorne (the southern most part of Westeros), Arya is missing, presumed enroute to Braavos (to the east of Westeros on the continent Essos) and Tyrion and Varys are headed east to pledge allegiance to Daenyrys, Queen of Dragons, their new best hope of a saviour.
A meeting between these two very different characters is an intriguing prospect and Dany could certainly do with the help. Her scenes in Meereen began with a spectacular visual - the kind that HBO occasionally treats us to — a gigantic icon of the old gods toppled by her unsullied army. Was this a prophesy perhaps for her own unsteady hold on power? The people she freed seem to yearn to be enslaved again and her dragons are no longer under her control. At least no one told her she “swings a sword like a girl with palsy”. The episode’s most cutting insult was saved for weedy Robin Arryn.
There weren’t many new introductions, but several old characters are revealing new sides. Sansa, in mourning for her much-hated aunt, has gone goth, Red Woman Melisandre has got a lascivious eye and wandering hand on Jon Snow and Snow himself has become a skilled diplomat, acting as a go-between for his two alternative father figures, Stannis Baratheon and Mance Rayder.
HBO have recently hinted that they’d like Game of Thrones to go on for decades to come, but so far this season definitely feels like the beginning of the end(game). We know because characters and storylines that have been distinct for so long are unmistakably beginning to intertwine.
Season 5 in pictures: