Directed by: Michael Slovis
Written by: David Benioff, and D.B. Weiss
“You Win or You Die.”
These, the infamous words that former Queen Cersei once said to the late Ned Stark. Now, it seems as though the tide has turned against Cersei, and we all want to see those words come back to slap her in the face. There were winners and there were losers in the season premiere. It reminds you just how careful you ought to be in Westeros: you pick the wrong friend or ally and it could all be over in the blink of an eye.
Speaking of which, we start the episode with one flashback – and book readers know what goes down – a young, petulant Cersei and her friend Melara go trekking through the woods to visit Maggy the Frog, known witch of the woods. When Maggy doesn’t care for Cersei’s attitude, Cersei promptly reminds her who’s in charge – “If you don’t tell me my fortune, I’ll have my father gouge out your eyes.” From a young age, we see just how manipulative and power hungry she is. She has no qualms about reminding people who she is and who her father is. Her future is told to her and one that she doesn’t seem to like or understands. That’s when the flashback ends and we see Cersei in full mourning attire, being escorted by Ser Meryn Trant, to the great Sept of Baelor. Thousands of people have to come to pay their respects to the great lion. Cersei couldn’t be bothered by formality or respect; she takes the opportunity to go inside and be alone with Jaime. She berates him furiously. You can feel how wide the chasm has become between them. (The further apart the better, I say) We also know that with Tywin gone, the name Lannister does not command the respect, or the fear, that it once did. The buzzards are circling around. It’s only a matter of time before King’s Landing crumbles under Cersei’s political machinations.
A ghost from the past: cousin Lancel, who has filled out, shaved his head and completely changed his lifestyle, arrives to greet Cersei. He begs for forgiveness; while he’s at it, he says a few key things that Cersei pretends not to know what they’re in reference to. Loose ends are never a good idea, especially if they are incriminating. Kevan doesn’t like what his son has become but Cersei dismisses it, not caring about anyone or anything, except the fact that Tywin is gone and the power that the Lannister’s once had in Westeros is now declining fast.
Podrick and Brienne are still wandering around the countryside. Brienne has become bitter. She failed to rescue Arya. Podrick tries to be kind and sympathetic, but it feels like Brienne has thrown in the towel and has become a lost soul.
Petyr Baelish and Sansa Stark are observing the training session of Robyn Arryn and it’s going horribly, to say the least. Lord Yohn Royce is supervising the boy’s training and education but thinks that he is too soft to ever become a hardened warrior. From the looks of things, Robyn doesn’t look like he’s going to amount to much, except be a punching bag during his military training. Petyr receives a small scroll, being careful not to reveal its’ contents and not to discuss anything openly. Sansa sees and Sansa knows it’s some sort of secret missive, but Sansa remembers that courtesy is a lady’s armor and keeps her eyes forward, her face impassive and just listens. As they depart from Lord Royce’s holdfast, they venture West, instead of East. You’ve got to wonder what Littlefinger has up his sleeve, especially when it comes to Sansa’s future. Will she become his little plaything? His protégée? Someone’s bride to solidify a powerful alliance?
Our loveable but beleaguered imp, Tyrion, is on the road with Varys. I must admit, I quite enjoy the pairing of these two characters. They have arrived at their first destination: the beautiful palace of Illyrio Mopatis which is in Pentos, where they have temporary reprieve. Tyrion does what he does best and proceeds to drink himself into a stupor, upon being released out of his crate. After a few drinks, a moment of nausea and some food for thought, Varys plants a seed in Tyrion’s mind: stay here and drink yourself to death OR clear your head, use your wits and political savvy, seize some power for yourself and go to Meereen and team up with the Mother of Dragons. In a roundabout way, Tyrion has helped to create the chaos and downward spiral of House Lannister. Perhaps he was meant for greater things, somewhere else….and maybe he was destined to find Daenerys Targaryen and use some of the savvy political intellect that he shrewdly possesses.
The Mother of Dragons appears to have it all: she has “rid” Meereen of slavery; she’s freed hundreds of thousands of slaves; she’s crucified some of the Masters. She gave the Unsullied their freedom; she’s beloved by the people and has conquered a few cities in her wake: Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen. But that doesn’t make her invulnerable. In fact, she’s made so many enemies that she has to be really careful whom she places her trust in. The sting of Jorah’s betrayal is still fresh in her mind. Her largest dragon, Drogon, has disappeared and nobody knows where he has gone to. She has to deal with the fact that although she came to three of these cities and “liberated them,” she is still very much an outsider. She doesn’t tend to her other two dragons in the catacombs. As the last remaining member of House Targaryen, those dragons define a very large part of who she is and how came to be in the world. Without the strength of three dragons behind her, she really doesn’t inspire fear and awe into her subjects. Daario once told her she needed to learn the customs and traditions of the very people she meant to rule. That fell on deaf ears. She didn’t listen to a few of the Meereenese citizens (most notably the slave who sold himself back to his Master and Hizdahr zo Loraq) and that has caused some tension. Now, she has to deal with the Sons of the Harpy, a group that uses violence and intimidation to get their point across: they killed a member of the Unsullied who went to a brothel. They want slavery installed again; they don’t like Daenerys and want her out of Meereen.
She sharply cuts off Hizdahr zo Loraq during an update about his diplomatic meetings with the ex-slavers. He pointedly tells her that “the art of politics is compromise” and she doesn’t hesitate to remind him that she’s a Queen, not a politician. I can’t tell if Barristan Selmy is exasperated with her or if he thinks that’s she still too young and inexperienced to be a Queen in Meereen. When she’s not making eyes at Daario during her discussion with Hizdahr, she’s becoming more and more arrogant. As for Daario, he seems to be getting what he wants: he’s the Queen’s lover and is able to say things to her that nobody else would. He encourages her to reconsider opening the Fighting Pits to appease the ex-slavers. After all, he was once a part of, grew strong and famous for it. She would look like a gracious and politically diplomatic Queen by opening the pits. After all, wouldn’t it be nicer to rule subjects that were happy with you, as opposed to those that can’t stand you?
Speaking of dragons, Daenerys decides to go visit Viseryion and Rhaegal in the deep, dark catacombs. Guess what? They’re not happy with her. Surprise, surprise. I find that I have little patience with a character that is supposedly benevolent, yet lacks political acuity and military experience, while trying to rule over people that she doesn’t know, understand or take the time to actually immerse herself in their culture and traditions. I’m really hoping that she will heed the counsel of Ser Barristan Selmy in the future, as her current choices haven’t always been the best.
We finally come to see how Jon Snow is faring up in the cold North. It seems that King Stannis, Ser Davos and Melisandre are quite taken with Jon. Stannis and Davos are up at the Wall to make a point about who the one true King of Westeros is and to seek support. After all, Jon Snow is the bastard of Winterfell and now that Tywin is dead, Stannis knows the time is right to strike at Roose Bolton in the North. What an opportunity for Jon: he can see Winterfell returned back to the North; avenge his family and get justice by seeing House Bolton lose everything. Sounds tempting. If Stannis were to have the Wildlings fight for his cause, that would swell his ranks and they could easily take the Boltons down. (I’m with Team Stannis on seeing that happen) He respects and admires Jon Snow, as his father was the late Eddard Stark. Jon has the respect of most of the Night’s Watch and understands how the free folk think, live and fight. He also has the ear of Mance Raydar. Stannis wants Mance to bend the knee and follow him. His terms are generous, to say the least, but Mance will not bend his knee to anyone. He does not want his people to see that he submitted to a foreign king; if he does that, the Wildlings will lose respect for him. That is something Mance cannot abide. Stannis places Jon in charge of changing Mance’s mind. Mance goes to his death with some dignity, but let’s face it: who here would want to burn to death? As Melisandre lights the pyre and flames rise higher, you can see the pain and fear in Mance’s eyes. All the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings are watching; Jon can no longer take this unnecessary suffering and shoots an arrow straight into Mance’s chest. Well done, Jon. There’s nothing wrong with showing mercy, when the time calls for it.
This episode set the ground work for a lot of things. Alliances are now crumbling. Who you can trust in this world is becoming harder and harder to gauge. Money buys loyalty for a time. Eyes and ears are everywhere. Secrets don’t stay secret for long. Everyone vies for power. I’m sure there will be a lot of fighting. After all, this is Westeros. And as Mance Raydar said, “I wish you well in the wars to come.”
Check out the preview for episode two “The House of Black and White” which will air on April 19, 2015! Let us know what you thought about the premiere in the comments below.
Check out our review for Season 5, Episode 2 here.