The Wars to Come: A Fairy Tale Drawn Darkly (Recap E1, S5)

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Showing us a fairy tale drawn darkly — Cersei’s flashback to her childhood encounter with a witch in a dark wood — is a fitting way to begin season five. Nothing is going well for the nobility, except for Littlefinger who is the least noble of them.

As the season begins, the queen mourns for her father, whom her brother slayed. Meanwhile her brother — Casterly Rock’s heir — questions whether a father-killer is even still legally a lord.

The mother of dragons still struggles to rule, she leads with her heart and not with her head – and her compassion may be her downfall.  Meanwhile, another king’s cruel ways show he can administer justice, but would we even want him as a ruler?

While Brienne is disillusioned with her ability to find Sansa Stark, unbeknownst to the lady warrior, her quest rolls by her.  The only prince who is doing well isn’t really a prince at all; he’s the lowly-born grandson of a hedge knight, Petyr Baelish. And, he is the man whose desire to supplant is so strong he took the mockingbird as his sigil.

A Delicious Taste of Prophecy

Season 5 opens with another tantalizing tidbit of prophecy.

A young Cersei and a friend are deep in the forest visiting Maggy the Frog, who is likely a maegi. A maegi, incidentally, is a woman who practices blood magic.

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Little Cersei Lannister leads her terrified friend into the woods. “You don’t need to be afraid of my father,” an ironic line in so many ways. Image: Helen Sloan, (c) HBO.

Even though Maggy warns her against it, the young Cersei demands Maggy tell her fortune. Cersei asks Maggy when she will wed the prince. Maggy replies she never will; instead Cersei will marry a king: “The king will have twenty children and you will have three. Gold will be their crowns; gold their shrouds.” Quite ominously, Maggy warns Cersei that queenship will only last until somebody younger comes to “cast you down and take all you hold dear.”

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Maggy the Frog, the maegi Cersei visits in the forest. She cuts the girls’ fingers and tastes their blood to see the future. Image: Helen Sloan, © HBO.

The prophecy haunts Cersei, especially the part about her children, which is why she remembers it as she enters the Great Sept to see another person she loved lying in state.

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Mirri Maz Duur

As Jun Yan discusses in her HBGoT article “The Lure of Futile Prophecies,” prophecy is a common yet subtle theme in Game of Thrones. Back in Season 1, Mirri Maz Duur — the maegi Daenerys burned to hatch her dragons — foretold that Daenerys would never have children. Daenerys asks her when “When the sun rises in the west and sets in the east… When the seas go dry and mountains blow in the wind like leaves. When your womb quickens again, and you bear a living child. Then he will return, and not before.”

As we know from the myth of Cassandra and the other times over the centuries when prophecy has been used as a device, prophecies are problematic. Even if the prophecy is real, there is no guarantee the seer will understand what she sees in the flames or that people will believe her. Even when the prophecy is false, it still can shape the listener’s future.

A World Without Tywin: Tywin Lies in State

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Cersei (Lena Headey) emerges from her litter and walks up the steps to the Great Sept. Image: Helen Sloan, (c) HBO.

Cersei’s segment in this episode begins when she emerges from a litter and walks up the steps of the Great Sept.

Even grief stricken, Cersei’s high-handed arrogance doesn’t fail to appear.  When the High Septon urges Cersei to hurry since so many dignitaries have been waiting for hours, she tells him they can wait longer. She needs to spend time with her father as he lies in state.

Inside the Great Sept, Cersei encounters the guilt-stricken Jaime standing vigil by Tywin’s magnificently attired corpse. Cersei scolds Jaime and goads him. Jaime is stupid; Jaime killed their father through Jaime’s own stupidity when he freed Tyrion and failed to anticipate the consequences. Always sure to rub it in, Cersei also notes that Tywin loved Jaime more than anyone in this world.

Later at the wake, Cersei walks drunkenly through the gathering where she meets an inappropriately shabbily dressed Lancel and his father, Ser Kevan (Tywin’s younger brother). Lancel is now a sparrow, a fanatical religious movement within the Sept. Kevan has misgivings. Cersei, however, dismisses his radicalism as a phase.

Later, Lancel finds Cersei alone. He asks her to forgive him for leading her into the darkness by tempting her into a sexual relationship and for his role in Robert Baratheon’s death. Cersei merely scoffs at his contrition and his urging of her to embrace the Faith, who dole out peace and justice he says.

Varys’ Conspiracy

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Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) in Pentos. Image: Helen Sloan, (c) HBO.

We catch our first glimpse of our favorite refugee when Tyrion tumbles out of his shipping crate, half dead, to see Varys standing over him. They are in Pentos, at the palace of Illyrio Mopatis.

Illyrio is the lavishly wealthy merchant-prince who harbored Daenerys and Viserys in Season 1. Illyrio also brokered Daenerys’ marriage to Khal Drogo and gave her the dragon eggs as a wedding gift.

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Illyrio (portrayed by Roger Allam) is the man in the rust robe on the right . (c) HBO

Varys reveals to Tyrion not only that has he known Illyrio for years but also that the two men banded together to try to save Westeros from itself — and from Robert Baratheon’s ineptitude.

Varys tries to draw Tyrion into this newly revealed conspiracy. Varys wants a land where the powerful do not prey on the powerless. Tyrion, however, scoffs that this is fairytale. Varys wants Tyrion to help him put Daenerys on the throne instead of drinking himself to death. Varys argues that Tyrion is a truly talented man. He may never be king, but he might be able to advise a ruler.

Varys argues that Tyrion should focus on their country’s future, but Tyrion isn’t so sure. He thinks Westeros is doomed. Finally, it looks like Tyrion agrees to help, provided he can drink himself to death along the journey.

Does Daenerys Have the Stomach to Rule?

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The Golden Harpy topples from the Great Pyramid, Daenerys’ seat. Image: Helen Sloan, (c) HBO.

Last Season…

Thematically, Daenerys’ role is in Game of Thrones to illustrate the difficulties in ruling well. “Ruling is hard,” as George RR Martin has said. Daenerys has grown from a young girl with no knowledge of governing or strategy to a woman who has her own vast army. She can conquer; that’s been proven. Ruling, however, is not so simple.

George RR Martin has said that the real Middle Ages weren’t like a fairy tale; being a morally good person does not give you the ability to rule well. (Being kind might actually hinder your ability to balance competing factions or administer the justice needed to keep them in line.)

Daenerys’ character’s journey appears to be one in which she must learn to be a good ruler. And, as of the last episode in Season 4, she is failing.

First, towards the end of Season 4, Daenerys lost her most trusted – and probably smartest – advisor, Jorah Mormont. Although she chose to exile him for treason, this might not have been the wisest decision given how desperately she needs good advice.

In the last episode of Season 4, Daenerys was at the lowest point in her rule in Meereen. She reluctantly agrees to let an elderly man indenture himself to his former slave master for a year. (He misses his “family,” feels unneeded, and is preyed upon by the young at Daenerys’ slave shelters.) As Selmy warns her, her concession will set a bad precedent that the former slave masters will exploit.

The real message is that it is not as easy as simply freeing slaves – the morally good and simplistically compassionate choice. By doing so, Daenerys has made many of the slaves’ lives worse; she did not consider the social implications of the change.

Worse, all of Daenerys’ efforts to free the slaves are unraveling. A violent former slave (and butcher) Cleon has overthrown the council she appointed to rule Astapor, and he now rules as emperor. Astapor has reverted to being a slave city-state.

Finally, Daenerys learned her “child” Drogon — the black dragon — has incinerated a peasant girl and is nowhere to be found. In response, she imprisons her two remaining dragons. This means her “nuclear fire power from above” is not available to help her conquer Westeros – especially if she can’t control (and ride) the dragons. Perhaps this overly compassionate queen is not ready for conquest?

This season:

Daenerys still struggles to rule Meereen.

Our first glimpse of Meereen shows one of the Unsullied, White Rat, supervising the removal of the massive gold harpy that sits on top of the Great Pyramid (from which Daenerys rules).

This is probably not a great idea.

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The golden Harpy in Astapor. (c) HBO.

The gold harpy is not so much a religious symbol as a symbol of the former ruling class (and the Old Empire of Ghis).

After the harpy tumbles from Daenerys’ pyramid palace, White Rat goes to a brothel to relax. As he snuggles with a prostitute, a man in a gold mask appears and slits his throat.  As we learn later, this man is a member of the Sons of the Harpy. He leaves the gold mask on White Rat’s body to send a message to Daenerys.

White Rat’s murder sends shockwaves across Daenerys’ court. (Admittedly, Missandei –who appears to have a crush on Grey Worm — is more intrigued to hear an Unsullied was at a brothel.)

Outraged, Daenerys decrees they will bury White Rat with honor at the Temple of the Graces, an act that Daenerys’s advisors warn her will anger the Sons of the Harpy.

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The Golden Mask sits on the table Daenerys. Image: Helen Sloan, (c) HBO.

**

Later on, as Daenerys sits in her presence chamber, the nobleman Hizdahr zo Loraq requests she re-open the fighting pits, where slaves formerly fought to the death as free men placed bets on them. Daenerys somewhat arrogantly refuses. She scoffs when he implores her to think of the politics. Daenerys doesn’t need politics; she’s a queen. She rules.

You may remember Hizdahr zo Loraq from last season as the supplicant who requested Daenerys let him bury his father. Hizdahr zo Loraq comes from one of the ancient, powerful noble slavemaster families who ruled Meereen.

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Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry). Image: (c) HBO

That night as Daenerys and Daario Naharis relax in her bedchamber, he tries to persuade her to reopen the pits. As Daenerys rants about Hizdahr’s request, Daario notes that he agrees with Hizdahr. Daario claims his drunken-whore mother sold him to a fighting master as a boy and the pits gave him great opportunities that led him to Daenerys.

It seems Daenerys progress as a ruler is still on freeze frame. Daario urges her not to give up on her dragons: a dragon queen with no dragons is not a queen. Yet when she visits them later that night they  snap at her from the darkness and shoot flames to warn her away. The dragons have shown her their independence – and fury.

Jon Takes a Huge Risk

When last season ended, Stannis Baratheon had arrived to save Jon and the Night’s Watch from Mance Rayder’s highly successful attack against the Night’s Watch. Stannis then took the King Beyond the Wall prisoner, only sparing him because Jon suggested that is how Ned would have treated them.

In perhaps another example of HBO casting with intertextuality in mind, Rome’s former Julius Caesar  (Ciarán Hinds) plays Mance Rayder, who has to surrender to a conquering war leader much like Gallic rebel leader Vercingetorix’s humiliating surrender to Julius Caesar. Most satisfyingly, however, Mance gets to utter the line that Vercingetorix never could: “We do not kneel.” Mance refuses to bend the knee to Stannis, regardless of the cost to his followers.

Like Vercingetorix, Mance Rayder united clans to rebel against an oppressing force. Mance Rayder made it his life’s work to unite 90 clans.

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An ironic role reversal. Ciaran Hinds takes on the role of Game of Thrones’ Vercingetorix: Mance Rayder, the chieftain beyond the wall who united tribes against an oppressive force. Images: (c) HBO

Season 5 at the Wall truly begins when Stannis Baratheon summons Jon to him. Stannis attempts to manipulate Jon by asking if he wants revenge against Roose Bolton. (Roose holds Winterfell and he helped to kill Robb Stark.) He wants Jon to persuade Mance to give him Wildlings to attack Roose. If Mance doesn’t swear fealty to Stannis by nightfall, he will burn Mance alive.

Jon takes the offer to Mance, who predictably refuses it. He chooses being burned alive over betraying his people by enlisting them in a foreigner’s war. Mance’s only fear is that people will remember him dying screaming in agony, an undignified way to go.

That night, as his men lead Mance to the stake, Stannis repeats his offer. Mance refuses it again, but he heroically ends his life with dignity, wishing Stannis good fortune in the wars to come.

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Ironically, Caesar gave the signal to execute captured rebel leader Vercingetorix (left). On the right, Ciaran Hinds who portrayed Caesar in HBO’s Rome is now on the “hot seat” as the captive rebel leader Mance Rayder. (c) HBO.

As Mance begins to burn, Selyse smiles. Jon appears to leave in disgust. To save Mance’s dignity, and spare him the horrific pain of the flames, Jon ends Mance’s suffering with an arrow. Making this choice risks Stannis’ wrath. As we all know, Stannis has an iron will when it comes to justice. Will Jon have to face consequences from Mance?

Other minor events

Brienne and Podrick

In the wake of losing Arya, Brienne is angry , testy, and tries to get Podrick to leave. Brienne is thinking of giving up her search for Sansa and she doesn’t believe she can lead. As they bicker, unbeknownst to them, Littlefinger and Alayne’s convoy pass by.

Littlefinger and Alayne

Again we see Littlefinger counsel Sansa, now going by “Alayne,” on whom to trust.

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Yohn Royce (Rupert Vansittart), Petyr Baelish (Adian Gillen), and Alayne (Sophie Turner). Image: Helen Sloan, (c) HBO.

After depositing Robin in the care of Lord Yohn Royce, Littlefinger and Alayne head West. Littlefinger, however, told Yohn Royce they were heading to the Fingers. Royce may be trustworthy but nobody knows if his servants will keep secrets. Littlefinger is taking Alayne off to a land so far away that even Cersei can’t touch her.

Loras and Olyvar

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Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) and Olyvar (Will Tudor) strike a deal at Littlefinger’s brothel in Season 4. (c) HBO.

Loras continues his relationship with Olyvar, Littlefinger’s blond procurer. Olyvar is the one who betrayed Roz to Littlefinger and the one who made himself available to Oberyn Martell for a “wildly expensive” price. Margaery enters the couple’s bedchamber and asks him to hurry up since they are late for dinner with Tomen. Margaery suggests Loras be discreet and reminds him that he is supposed to be betrothed to Cersei.

 

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

12 Comments

  • Reply April 13, 2015

    Chas D.

    While that was a funny note to leave Robin on, I get the feeling that they did it mostly so that they have the excuse later on to recast Robin halfway through season 6 or for the season 7 “roundup” I expect to happen, an reveal that while with Lord Yohn, Robin “took a level in badass”. Otherwise I don’t see the reason they couldn’t have started the season with Littlefinger and Alayne in the carriage to begin with. So I feel we’re being set up for if/when Robin returns for him to have transformed from Sweet Robin to a character more akin to Harry the Heir.

    That’s what my gut tells me. It’s akin to how we sent Myrcella off to Dorne and now have her “back”, but he’s recast. So my gut tells me that whatever role Harry the Heir plays in the endgame, Sweet Robin is being “beefed up” for the part off screen a “Lord Royce’s School for Squires and Knights”. Similar to Bran’s learning to being a Greenseer occurring offstage this year.

    The only on stage apprenticeship they seem to be keeping is Arya–and that is because she’s a fan favorite I’d wager.

    • Reply April 13, 2015

      Chas D.

      Should be “she’s recast” after talking about Myrcella in Dorne.

    • Reply April 13, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      You might be right around Robin.

      TV SPOILERS MAYBE

      I was actually very confused by last night’s ending. I expected to see Rattleshirt on the pyre and not Mance. It took me a while to understand or process that Mance is dead. At least, Ciaran Hinds has given a lot of interviews saying he doesn’t expect to come back to the show.

      • Reply April 14, 2015

        Chas D.

        As much as I love Ciaran Hinds as an actor (the 1995 film version of Persuasion, where he plays Captain Wentworth is my absolute favorite role to see him in) and he did a very good job in this episode, I feel like he was miscast in the role overall.

        ===Kinda SPOILERY… maybe?===

        There’s a bit more of the trickster to Mance’s character in the books that isn’t at all present in Ciaran’s hard stoic portrayal, and what remains for Mance to do in the series relies on that trickster aspect that was never written into Ciaran’s portrayal of the character. Ciaran actually would have been a really good choice to play Stannis (had they kept the Baratheon black hair in casting), more than Mance.

        But then again, the show has a strong negative opinion of Stannis, and Ciaran would be good in the role if you had a more nuanced reading of the character–they cut most of his “I’m saving the kingdom” and other speeches which really flesh out his character–though I suppose they could always add that in later, but generally they’ve chosen to portray Stannis more as a villain and a zealot than nuanced.

        While some aspects I like about the show, more often they take away the nuances that made the characters intriguing in favor of painting them better or worse lights.

  • Reply April 14, 2015

    Grant

    Oddly enough this leaves out a major portion of the prophecy Cersei, specifically the parts that help explain her total hatred of Tyrion and why she would actually take the prophecy seriously.

    Now alright, they weren’t totally necessary. Cersei could be argued to believe after parts of it such as the children start coming true and she also hates Tyrion for her mother’s death, but considering that this would be three or four more lines at most it’s a baffling omission. If they need time they could have cut out part of Cersei being told that the nobles have been waiting and part of her confronting Jaime, both scenes would have still worked just as well with a bit taken out.

    • Reply April 17, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      I kind of wondered if it revealed anything that they held back parts of the prophecy. That is, are those parts spoilers in some way. Not sure if that makes any sense…

  • Reply April 15, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    The parallel between Ciaran Hinds as Julius Caesar giving the order to execute the Gaulish chief and Stephen Dillane as Stannis doing so for Mr Hinds’ character in the show version of “Game of Thrones” had gone way over Sincerely thine’s head. When the second series of “Rome” was about to be broadcast I remember James Purefoy (this was before he went to the States to make oodles of boodle playing baddies) giving a publicity interview. Apparently while Mr Hinds was in the first episode as Caesar’s corpse (a bit like Charles Dance in GotT this season as Tywin Lannister) he got so comfy lying down that he fell asleep….(unless Mr Purefoy was joking!!).

    Grant, I guess AFFC and ADWD were always going to be difficult books to adapt and condense. I must admit I have been puzzled

    POSSIBLE SPOILERS SERIES 4 AND 5

    by the decision not to cast Arianne Martell and the one to leave out the part where Jaime told Tyrion the truth about Tysha, though I did think when reading ADWD “if I have to read ‘Where do whores go?’ again I shall the screaming habdabs”. We haven’t of course seen very much of Series 5, though I do remember when reading the the two most recent published books I felt that too many fake deaths in the plot could pall on the reader; and that would be more true when watching a show. Grant, I guess you are thinking about the v_______l________r when you say the prophecy in the show does not tally 100% with that in the book? I was saddened that the showrunners had show Jaime kill his cousin too and by the decision to change Jeyne Westerling’s character so much.

    Episode 1 of the current season did draw me in though, even though it departed from book cannon in some aspects.

  • Reply April 15, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    Edit – above should read “have the screaming habdabs”.

  • Reply April 17, 2015

    Jamie Adair

    re: Dany and Ruling is Hard
    I found this in the EW/excerpt on Winter Is Coming:
    As for Dany, who has spent all her time on Essos so far

    Benioff: She’s been incredibly successful as a conquerer, and now she’s having difficulty ruling. Conquering is binary—you either lose or win. But ruling is making complicated decisions every day, where there often are no right answers. It’s just a matter of who you’re going to piss off over the course of the day. She’s struggling to maintain her sense of justice and to do the right thing, and learning that’s impossible when ruling a city as large as Meereen.

    http://winteriscoming.net/2015/03/18/benioff-and-weiss-dorne-was-nearly-cut-completely/

    • Reply April 18, 2015

      Watcher on the Couch

      WatchersontheWall is a good ASOIAF/GoT website – run by some of the original winteriscoming runners(and I don’t have anything to do with its maintenance – and yes I do have a life other than looking at GoT websites – I’d never earn any money if I didn’t have a life).

      Regarding the v____q___r omission from the prophecy

      POSSIBLE SPOILERS

      There is a theory among some ASOIAF fans that Cersei is barking up the wrong tree when she is worried that Tyrion will be involved in her doom but that is her other brother, who is technically younger than her.

  • Reply May 1, 2015

    Nick Mua

    how do we know Olyvar betrayed Ros ?

    • Reply May 3, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      To be honest, I didn’t catch it at first. I only noticed when I was rewatching some of Oberyn’s and Ros’s scenes. Before Olyvar became Littlefinger’s pimp/procurer at the brothel, Littlefinger hired Olyvar to seduce (and spy on) Loras Tyrell. In one very brief scene, Loras mentions something to do with Sansa – I’m sorry but I don’t remember what offhand. Olyvar tells Littlefinger and it is enough for him to figure out that somebody in his brothel betrayed him. Sorry I can’t remember more details off-hand. It is a **really** fast part of a scene – e.g., only a few sentences between Loras and Olyvar.

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