Note: Spoilers ahead for the TV show, not the books
The most pirated show of all time is back! Game of Thrones even managed to beat The Sopranos for HBO viewings, and that’s not including the spikes in torrenting whenever an episode airs.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, in short, medieval England is transplanted into a fantasy universe called Westeros with dragons, nudity and a lot of bitter, self-assured patricians vying for a big chair constructed from the swords of vanquished enemies. The characters you know and love – they die.
Season 5 goes straight into action – there’s no time for reminding casual viewers which character is which or who’s out for who. Jaime and Cersei Lannister mourn their father Tywin, Varys and Tyrion plot the future of the kingdom in far-off Pentos, Brienne and Podrick continue their search for Sansa, Sansa wiles away her time with Petyr Baelish, Stannis plans for war, Daenerys seeks to make amends with her dragons and Jon Snow knows nothing.
Jumping between major characters and story arcs, the absence of one of the show’s most interesting and developed players was conspicuous. Arya’s transformation from tomboy to hardened warrior has been central to Game of Thrones, progressing from tense confrontations with men twice her size to mercilessly dispatching complete strangers. Theon Greyjoy and Ramsay Bolton were also absent from the premiere, as were Bran and Hodor, neither of whom will be appearing this season.
The premiere is notable for the death of one significant character, as well as introducing the Sparrows, a banished religious cult that will play a key role in the lives of many Westerosians. The show’s creators, famous for killing off central characters in a universe where no one is safe, have indicated that its game over this season for at least one major character who does not die in the books.
This is welcome news for the legions of readers (myself included) who up until now have relished a mostly loyal adaptation but are glad to see the show develop independently from the novels and surprise its loyal fan-base. Gone are the days when avid page-turners can watch Game of Thrones and sit smugly with the knowledge of what characters will be brutally slaughtered and by whom – we’re all in the dark now.
With hints of the creators’ increasing willingness to depart from George R. R. Martin’s source material, an understated, anti-climactic premiere [aptly titled The Wars to Come] alludes to new challenges for most of the characters, where for once, no one knows who gets to keep playing television’s most sadistic game of musical chairs.