…And we’re off!
Season five has begun. As usual, the first scene of the season is a powerful one, flashing back to Cersei’s childhood and the prophecy she forces the local witch woman to give her. But what’s clear in the scene is her cruelty, even at that young age. While, certainly, her life has not been an easy one, this scene (and this story in the books, which she recalls piecemeal over many chapters) indicates that her willingness to throw around her social position for her own advantage and the pleasure she takes in making people squirm predates any of the truly bad things that have happened to her.
And really, what we saw in this episode was a number of characters learning to be cruel, finding that dark, power-hungry, paranoid part of themselves and letting it run wild. First, there’s Cersei turning on her brother and accusing him of complicity in their father’s death. Lancel Lannister levels not-so-veiled threats at the queen—the QUEEN—with whom he used to have incestuous relations with (they’re first cousins, so, he probably should have stayed out of her…let’s say room). Brienne tries to get rid of Podrick Payne, and it doesn’t seem like she was trying to protect him. Little Finger giving Sansa a lesson in paranoia and the utility of large amounts of money.
Setting aside all that cruelty, Varys is, apparently, a cock-eyed optimist about Daenerys’s ability to rule with justice and fairness. Tyrion has the more realistic—and, therefore, more depressing—point of view, “The future’s shit, just like the past.” Put that on a motivational poster. And, man, those two always get the best dialogue. Tyrion's path is laid before him: travel to Mereen and convince Daenerys to unleash her wrath on the Westerosi rulers. But, in both the books and the show, I find myself believing in her ability to do that less and less.
Speaking of Mereen, Daenerys is dealing with clandestine rebellion against her unsullied. I will say, at first, I thought for certain we were looking at Grey Worm, and I was worried they’d recast him or something. But no, he was just a nameless, ball-less warrior (Red Rat. Is he the Red-Shirted Ensign?). But, more importantly, two thirds of her dragons are still locked up. It’s kind of an obvious bit of symbolism there. She needs to release the dragons, and become comfortable doing cruel things, in order to win. She will. One of the themes of the novels and show is that winning wars is easy, but ruling is hard. It’s easy to channel your cruelty in slaughter, much more difficult to quiet your critics peacefully. She will become harder to root for, I think.
Side note: Anyone else notice the glaring double-standard of nudity in this particular episode? No fewer than four men were undressed or undressing for sex (or sexy cuddling), and we saw nothing but their bare bottoms. On the other hand, all the prostitutes in Mereen flashed their boobs as an advertisement. We even saw one prostitute’s nether region. But a sex scene happened between two gay men, and nary a scrotum was visible on camera. Come on, HBO. You’re better than that.
And then there’s Jon Snow. Jon Snow just stood up to Stannis and his Red Woman. This bodes not well for him. That action is, essentially, a giant middle finger to the Lord of Light. Speaking of that last scene, that was super long, and a lot of close-ups on characters staring forward and looking concerned. It was almost comical. It felt like a Key and Peele sketch, or, worse yet, a soap opera. There’s enough drama in burning a man alive and firing an arrow into his chest to save his dignity without staring at furrowed brows for thirty seconds. After all, Jon’s now fighting a god, in addition to the walkers, the wildings, and Roose Bolton’s northmen.
Should be a bloody season. Valar morghulis.