Perhaps we've grown so used to horror we assume there's no other way
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Michael Slovis
Welcome to the new Game of Thrones! It's the same as the old Game of Thrones, except now D&D no longer have George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire novels to serve as direct guides. Okay, that's not completely true: D&D grab and choose material to adapt from the later novels in Martin's series, but now we're introduced to some new material that isn't found anywhere in the novels. I've never taken a liking to comparing and contrasting book and film/TV adaptations*, and I'm not starting that now. All we know is that the story is not complete, and despite D&D running low on supplies, they still have a vision of where Game of Thrones is going to end up, and they're more than willing to stray from the familiar path some more to ensure we get to that final destination.
For a lot of folks, "The Children" was where the Game of Thrones we know and love came to a bittersweet end: accusations of characters starting to develop plot armor in season five slowly started to creep up, and with a waning tendency to kill off lead characters whenever it damn well feels like it, the belief has become that season five marks Game of Thrones beginning to represent a more traditional television series. It's not D&D's fault that George R.R. Martin is taking forever and a day to write the final two books in his A Song of Ice and Fire series, and HBO would certainly not accept putting one of its greatest ratings draws on the shelf until Martin got around to finishing the books. Thus, D&D have to push onward, now with just tiny scraps of already published book material, as well as material about the upcoming books that Martin was willing to reveal to them.
I don't like to think of myself as a Game of Thrones apologist, because I do try to call out the series when it does something very confusing or nonsensical. Five seasons in, however, we are starting to reach the point where violence and bloodshed are going to take over more and more of the politics, especially as various plot lines are now starting to converge. There's an army of ice zombies on the way, so when they finally invade Westeros, do you really think characters are going to spend time talking about who would make the best Hand of the King? We're still a ways away from everyone banding together to face the White Walkers, but for right now, it's a joy to watch characters that we've come to know for so many episodes finally meet and talk about things in the same room. In "The Wars to Come", this is none more true than at the Night's Watch, as Stannis and his army have made themselves at home alongside the Night's Watch. These are the best scenes of the whole episode, particularly the conversation between Jon and Mance Rayder, right before Mance is sent to be burned at the stake. It's such an intriguing clash of ideals that boill down to the difference between survival and freedom. Mance was able to rally all the wildling tribes together and make them feel like one complete whole. If he bends the knee to Stannis Baratheon, they are no longer the free folk they have always been. On the other hand, Jon knows the wildlings have no chance to survive the winter on their own, so to him, what does it matter if they swear loyalty to a new King if it means they get to live on? Despite their disagreements, Jon and Mance live their lives in very similar fashions: they choose to live and die with honor and respect. Mance, even as he is being burned alive, will not bend the knee and betray the people he came to lead. Jon knows this, and that's what contributes to him giving Mance a quick and painless death by shooting him with an arrow as opposed to watching him die a slow and horrible death.
None of the other scenes quite reach how good the Night's Watch scenes are in this episode, but we are introduced to interesting new power struggles in both King's Landing and Meereen. At her father's wake, Cersei learns that her cousin Lancel Lannister has now become a member of a religious group called the Sparrows. In Meereen, a group known as the Sons of the Harpy have started to revolt against Daenerys and her cause. It's quite appropriate actually that these two new story lines start at the same time: Game of Thrones is going in a direction where all of its remaining story lines involve characters fighting one another, and it won't take long for us to see that there will not only be more unrest in King's Landing, but also that Daenerys is going to have a very difficult time trying to contain this new threat that will test her and her army. This is planting the seeds for Game of Thrones giving us more chaotic fights and epic battles that you thought was only possible in cinema.
As we'll have plenty more opportunities to talk about these new story lines and what is happening next with the likes of the Night's Watch and Arya, I don't think it's necessary to dig too deep in this episode. "The Wars to Come" is a well-crafted season opener that is most robust during its Night's Watch scenes, and still works perfectly fine in other places like King's Landing and its scenes in Essos. Despite nearing a complete transition out of the novels, D&D do not falter one bit on the worthwhile character moments and setting the stage for what's yet to come. Some of the distinct plots are finally starting to weave together, and as more familiar faces join up, how can you not be excited for more wild thrills and demolishing heartbreak?
Here you'll find my reviews on just about any film you may have seen. I try to avoid major spoilers as much as possible. I structure my reviews in the following way: