It feels great to be back in the Seven Kingdoms, even when the realm is as splintered and unstable as it appears in the wake of Tywin Lannister’s death. “The Wars To Come” shows the calm before the storm, before the mad scramble to fill the power vacuum begins.
Stannis Baratheon intends to recruit the Wildling army to march under his banner to retake Winterfell, but Wildling king Mance Rayder refuses with his life, against the advice of Jon Snow; Tyrion and Varys arrive in Essos, having fled the scene of Tywin’s murder, where Varys reveals he’s been hoping all along for a Targaryen restoration, which means we’ll soon have scenes between Daenerys and Tyrion (I vote they give that meeting a full, uninterrupted episode); Margaery plans to solidify her influence over Tommen, the boy king; and Cersei and Jaime wonder how best to hold on to what their father built for them.
The A.V. Club’s Erik Adams surveys the field of potential leaders:
And so the season premiere sets about to ask a quintessential Game Of Thrones question: When a new leader rises, what type of leader will that person be? Varys gives season five a thesis statement in the second of his scenes with Tyrion. Following a wide shot that makes the pair look very small amid the sumptuous paradise of their new home across the Narrow Sea, Varys wishes for “peace, prosperity,” and “a land where the powerful do not prey on the powerless.” His flowery words make a nice match for the idyllic surroundings. “The Seven Kingdoms need someone stronger than Tommen, but gentler than Stannis. A monarch who can intimidate the high lords and inspire the people. A ruler loved by millions with a powerful army and the right family name.” The back-and-forth that follows demands more time spent with the comedy duo of Conleth Hill and Peter Dinklage. It also lands on one worthy candidate who fits all of Varys’ prerequisites: Daenerys Targaryen. But Emilia Clarke’s character isn’t the only one who fits that description. Jon Snow is hitting all of those intimidate/inspire notes at Castle Black, and his actions at the conclusion of “The Wars To Come” demonstrate his deep reserves of mercy. He still has two sisters out there, and the one who appears this week just removed her last major obstacle to controlling The Eyrie, leaving Robin to fend for himself at some sort of finishing school for young megalomaniacs.
Nina Shen Rastogi of Vulture picks up on the new religion taking hold in King’s Landing:
Tywin’s death has already opened the doors to one portentous shift, and it comes, surprisingly, in the form of Lancel Lannister, the cousin who once warmed Cersei’s bed even as he set her teeth on edge. Last seen in season two, in the Battle of Blackwater, bland Lancel is the last person you might think would herald a sea change in the capital. But in his rough-spun robe and bare feet, his luscious locks shorn to stubble, Lancel is the vanguard of the sparrows, a movement of “bloody fanatics” (his father’s words) that looks set to further complicate GoT’s already-byzantine religious canvas. If Lancel’s quivering face is anything to go by, the sparrows’ zeal may rival Melisandre’s. His newfound fervor may also spell trouble for Cersei, given the casual way he mentions Robert Baratheon’s drunken boar hunt.
Andy Greenwald shares my enthusiasm for a Khaleesi/Tyrion summit at Grantland:
As pleasant as all of this is, there’s more to Tyrion and Varys’s Excellent Vacation than small talk in Pentos. At long last, the two are set to join up with Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons, the Queen of the Andals and the First Men, and the Lord High Priestess of Narrative Digression. Look, I understand that the postbellum period of Slaver’s Bay, with its microscopic focus on disrupted rituals and street-level uprisings, is precisely the sort of thing that separates George R.R. Martin’s work from all other fantasy epics. But it’s a tough sell on the screen. While it’s plenty unsettling to see a snuggles-seeking Unsullied have his throat cut, it also can’t distract from the fact that Daenerys has basically been parked in netural for more than a year. (But keep the scenes of Dany trying to wrestle with her teenage dragons coming! I haven’t seen an adolescent tantrum like that since this season of Kroll Show!) Adding wit machines like Tyrion and Varys to her court of snoozers would be like squeezing lemon onto a nourishing if underseasoned horse heart. (Or, to put it in terms a Westerosi peasant might understand, it’d be like putting “anything” on “food.”)
HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall considers Daenerys' plight:
And Dany’s reign in Essos as the Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, and Painter of Landscapes has been one long lesson on the perils of having good intentions without the proper plan. She conquered these cities because she believed freeing the slaves was the right thing to do, but now she’s stuck in Slaver’s Bay because the current status quo only barely works with her in charge, and would fall apart altogether if she took the Unsullied and her remaining dragons across the water to take back King’s Landing. One of the episode’s most stunning images involves the toppling of the Harpy statue atop the pyramid in Meereen, which evokes many incidents from history both recent and ancient of conquerors taking down a symbol of the previous regime. But as we also know from both recent and ancient history, when you enter a region where you truly don’t understand the locals and their customs, and don’t have any idea of what to do after the fighting is done, trouble comes — here in the form of a fundamentalist insurgency that’s no longer intimidated now that Dany’s dragons are out of the picture. (The mess with the dragons — one of whom is missing, two of whom now despise their mother because she chained them up — also comes from Dany refusing to think through the consequences of her actions.)
And in a very interesting video analysis, Slate’s Amarda Marcotte and Marc Feletti share an interesting theory about Varys' partisanship toward the Targaryens.