Game of Thrones returned Sunday night on HBO, opening its fifth season by reintroducing some favorite characters and setting up what’s sure to be another exciting season of politics, sex and death. To put it another way, Sunday nights—usually the sad ending to the weekend—are once again the best night of the week.
The episode, “The Wars to Come,” opened with a flashback to Cersei Lannister’s childhood, on the night she visited a psychic to learn her future. The woman tells her that she will be queen someday—for a time. A younger queen will come to take everything she holds dear. Flash forward to Tywin Lannister’s funeral. Cersei sees Margaery Tyrell, the queen-to-be, flirting with her son Tommen, the newly declared king. The younger queen of the prophecy has arrived.
Indeed, Margaery seems to be plotting. Her brother Loras laments that Tywin Lannister is dead, as now there is no one to force his arranged marriage to Cersei. Were they to marry, he could take her away, allowing his sister rule over Kings Landing and, ultimately, the realm. If they do not marry, Cersei will stay in Kings Landing, breathing over Margaery’s shoulder. After hearing this, Margaery is suspiciously unfazed. Biting into an apple and turning away with an air of indifference not unlike Cersei’s, Margaery simple answers, “perhaps.”
Across the sea in the tropical city of Pentos, Tyrion tumbles out of the crate in which his friend Varys stowed him, helping him escape Kings Landing after his act of patricide. He tells Tyrion that, as cunning and talented as he is, he should play a part in making “peace, prosperity, a land where the powerful do not pray on the powerless.” Together, he says, they can secure and advise a leader who can unite and save the realm. “Good luck finding him,” Tyrion says, ever the cynic. Raising his eyebrows, Varys says, “Who said anything about him?” Varys has chosen a side in the game of thrones, and he wants Tyrion to help crown the young Daenerys Targaryen.
For her part, Daenerys, Breaker of Chains, has freed the slaves in Meereen, who dramatically pull down a winged slave statue. When one of Dany’s soldiers is killed by the Sons of the Harpy (a vigilante group that opposes her reign), she demands justice. An advisor notes that she may want to show a sign of concession to her new subjects, perhaps by reopening the Gladiator-style fighting pits to allow their dearly-held traditions to live on—however barbaric she may find them. She refuses. Her lover, Daario Naharis, suggests that she concede, and also that she show strength to those outside Meereen by freeing her dragons, whom she has been keeping chained in a dungeon, unable to control their violence any longer.
At the Wall, Jon Snow faces his own miniature game of thrones, between the declared king Stannis Baratheon and wildling leader Mance Rayder. Stannis, who came to the Nights Watch’s aid in the Battle of The Wall last season, wants the wildlings (those from north of The Wall) to help him take back the North from the Iron Throne’s Warden, Roose Bolton. Knowing Jon’s relationship with the wildlings, Stannis enlists his help to get Mance to swear loyalty. When Jon fails, Mance is sentenced to be burned alive. Not content to watch his friend suffer and be made a fool at anyone’s hands, Jon openly defies Stannis, shooting Mance through the heart before he can burn, putting him out of his misery.
Shakeups and challenges have always been the norm in Westeros, and no doubt the betrayals and contentions of the first episode are only the beginning. The speculation about what the fifth season will bring is already well underway.
Vulture‘s Nate Jones speculates that even though the series doesn’t have time to introduce ill-fated characters who, in the books, were met and murdered within a short period of time, their untimely deaths may still be great fodder for television, and their places may be taken by someone we already know. And indeed, anything goes this season when it comes to death. At the Writers Guild West Awards in February, author George R.R. Martin told Showbiz411 that “People are going to die who don’t die in the books, so even the book readers will be unhappy. So everybody better be on their toes.” Sophie Turner, who plays Sansa Stark, concurred, noting in an interview with the Huffington Post that there will be “some massive moments, perhaps even more shocking than the Red Wedding.”
To keep you from biting your nails off in blind anticipation, the Internet has filled itself—as it does each season—with distractions to help you bridge the anxiety-filled days between episodes. At Variety, you can find out which Game of Thrones character you are. Vulture lets you test your knowledge of who’s dead or alive. You can watch the Sesame Street crew play “Game of Chairs,” or watch the cast of SNL (plus Taraji P. Henson and Jaime Lannister himself, Nikolaj Coster-Waldaubring) bring the Game of Thrones to “South Centros.”
There are fun reads, like USA Today‘s Cathy Young’s comparison of Democratic primary candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton to the ladies of Westeros and Rolling Stone‘s sidesplitting “The Westeros Wing.” There are also serious, fascinating reads, like this beautiful inside look at season five from Entertainment Weekly.
Finally, though it’s not new, if all else fails and you just want to stare at a figurine of Peter Dinklage (as Tyrion Lannister) spinning endlessly to—hands down—the best rendition of the show’s theme song.
Until next time… Hajas!
Sarah Hope is a graduate student at Syracuse University, where she focuses on television, entertainment history and classical music. Find her on Twitter @sarahmusing.