Following the news that “Game of Thrones” showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss would begin adapting currently unpublished material in the series’s upcoming fifth season, fans were unsure whether this decision would be to the detriment of the show and ultimately of the final two unpublished volumes of its source material. But with the season five premiere, titled “The Wars to Come,” Benioff and Weiss deftly approach the arduous process of adapting author George R.R. Martin’s lengthy fourth and fifth volumes, “A Feast for Crows” and “A Dance with Dragons.” By eliminating redundant characters and peripheral storylines, Benioff and Weiss start the season with a strong episode that maintains the previous seasons’ momentum and tightens the overall plot, without compromising the intricacy and detail of the storyline that Martin painstakingly constructs in the books.
The episode opens with a young Cersei Lannister visiting a fortune teller named Maggy the Frog, a scene only alluded to in flashbacks in “Feast.” It’s a disturbing moment that foreshadows the paranoia and growing insanity that adult Cersei (Lena Headey) experiences after the deaths both of her son Joffrey (Jack Gleeson) and of her father Tywin (Charles Dance). As she mourns the murder of her father, Cersei also faces the emergence of the Sparrows, a fanatic religious cult that will threaten to undermine her authority in King’s Landing.
Meanwhile in Meereen, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) must confront a similar yet more insidious group, the Sons of the Harpy, who have begun to wage a guerilla war against her army of Unsullied in the streets of the city. It’s in these scenes that “Game of Thrones” begins to suffer from the same growing pains as “The Walking Dead”—both are shows that built a significant following from their surprising deaths of main characters. However, after five seasons, it is clear that certain characters are exempt from this fate. Coming from a show that has previously used the tagline “All men must die” (the Valyrian phrase “Valar morghulis” in the books), it is disappointing when serious dramatic tension is replaced by the gruesome murder of random redshirt characters who are not important to the plot.
Interestingly, the show does depart from the book in several significant ways or otherwise accelerates existing storylines. The premiere episode shows Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), having arrived in Pentos with the help of Varys (Conleth Hill), immediately traveling towards Meereen to support Daenerys—a plot that highly accelerates his storyline. Furthermore, Benioff and Weiss continue to explore the uneventful adventures of Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Pod (Daniel Portman), a storyline that is intricately entangled with Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood Without Banners—elements that have taken second fiddle or are nonexistent in the show.
Whether the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” will reveal important new plot revelations has yet to be seen. But until Martin finishes “The Winds of Winter,” this season, with all of its small divergences and modifications, shall suffice.
—Staff writer Alan R. Xie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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