A Game of Thrones season premiere is often an exercise in reestablishing the geographical positioning and physical state of the story’s enormous tableau of players, and season 5’s premiere last night was no different. We rarely spend too much time with any one character as the show scrambles to cover all its bases (and leaves some out entirely to be dealt with next week), but the beginnings of new plot threads that we do get provide some tantalizing possibilities for the show’s notoriously unpredictable plotting. Of course, if you haven’t had a chance to catch the premiere yet you better hurry and catch up via HBO Go or DirecTV before someone inevitably spoils it for you.
“The Wars to Come” opens with the first flashback in the series so far. Two young highborn girls, a blonde and a brunette, trek through a forest to find a small, ramshackle hut in the middle of the woods. They enter to find a witch, and after some barbed dialogue and references to her father, we know who the blonde is: a young Cersei Lannister, come to receive a fortune telling. The witch sucks blood from Cersei’s thumb and tells her another queen, younger and fairer, will come along to cast her down and destroy all she holds dear.
Cut to present-day Westeros, where Queen Regent Cersei (played by Lena Headey, fresh off her first Emmy nomination for her role) visits the funeral altar of her recently deceased father Tywin. On her way into the sept, Cersei exchanges a glance with Margery (Natalie Dormer), who is betrothed to Cersei’s son King Tommen Baratheon (Dean-Charles Chapman). Cersei, already a tightly wound ball of fierce hatred and paranoia, surely sees Margery as the younger queen in her prophecy.
There are other young, beautiful contenders for the throne in Westeros, however. Among them is Sansa Stark, who fled the capital last season under suspicion of involvement in King Joffrey’s death. Having made her way to The Vale and changed her name and appearance under the tutelage of the exceedingly clever and unscrupulous Petyr “Littlefinger” Baelish (Aidan Gillen), Sansa’s role in the story to come is unclear, but it seems certain the writers have something grand planned for her.
While in The Vale, we also catch up with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and her young traveling companion Podrick Payne (Daniel Portman). Brienne is still recovering from last season’s brutal bout with Sandor “The Hound” Clegane, and lamenting the fact that for all their efforts, they are no closer to fulfilling Brienne’s promise to Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) to bring the Stark girls back to King’s Landing. Book readers will note that the show has changed this plot line completely, starting in last seasons finale, so it’s anyone’s guess where Brienne will end up, but the show has a special performer in Christie, a 6’3″ former model capable of projecting both fierce determination and warm compassion. Brienne may be the show’s most relatable character.
The Game of Thrones gigantic cast list necessitates that kicking off all the story threads for a new season takes two full hour long episodes. Next week we’ll be seeing Arya Stark’s arrival in Braavos at the House of Black and White, as well as meeting a slew of new characters in the Kingdom of Dorne, including Prince Doran (played by Alexander Siddig), brother of the recently deceased Oberyn Martell. Dorne’s quest for vengeance should dovetail nicely with Cersei’s power grab in the capital, leading to some savvy political maneuvering, hair-raising tension, and of course major character deaths along the way. It’s nothing less than we expect from the most exciting, unpredictable show on television.