“Game of Thrones” (2011-present) returned on April 12 with an episode which largely emphasized exposition over action. The fifth season premiere seemed to serve mainly as a prologue for upcoming activity; the episode was aptly titled “The Wars to Come,” and focused more on building drama than actually showing it. Despite its slower pace and limited action, the first episode of the fifth season engaged viewers once more in the tangled web of politics in Westeros.
“Game of Thrones” has always relied on its large scale. Each episode has a multi-million dollar budget, which allows for special effects including fire-breathing dragons and gorgeous digitally created backgrounds. Furthermore, the show is filmed in several locations, including Northern Ireland, Croatia, Morocco and Spain. In previous seasons, these grandiose elements enhanced the series, offering a highly detailed and visually engaging portrait of a fantasy world. But by the fifth season, the world of Westeros has become familiar to viewers, and the settings and effects — while stunning — sometimes fail to fully impress. Future episodes will introduce the region of Dorne, and perhaps the new location will offer a fresh perspective on a show that is beginning to grow tired.
Visual appeal aside, the dialogue and acting in the fifth season’s premiere was as sharp as ever, featuring especially engaging performances by Peter Dinklage and Lena Headey. Dinklage plays Tyrion Lannister, the scorned youngest son of a prideful family. Tyrion is first seen, literally, in a box, as he is smuggled out of the city of King’s Landing after killing his father Tywin in last season’s finale. Dinklage has always brought tenderness to the role of Tyrion, an emotional undercurrent that is now tinged with desperation as his character struggles with his slipping morality. Headey’s Cersei Lannister, Tyrion’s older sister, is far less concerned with the nature of good and evil — she seeks only to keep her children safe and retain power. Headey’s excellent performance in “The Wars to Come” is hopefully an indicator of Cersei’s prominent role in future episodes of the fifth season.
“Game of Thrones” has numerous skilled actors, but unfortunately there is never enough time to give each of them their due. “Game of Thrones” has similar issues with its cast of characters as it does with its locations; the story is simply becoming too vast, and the characters too varied and difficult to sympathize with all at once. There are so many separate plotlines occurring that not every character can be seen in every episode. The first episode was missing Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) and the new characters in Dorne. Some characters were even pushed out of the fifth season, notably Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead Wright). While the epic scale of “Game of Thrones” has long been a selling point for the series, it is now beginning to distract rather than enhance. As a myriad of characters with unpronounceable names make increasingly bad choices, the audience may begin to lose focus and interest.
This season will be further frustrating for readers of the book series written by George R. R. Martin, upon which the television show is based. The fifth season is inspired by the events of the fourth and fifth books in the saga, but executive producers David Benioff and D. B. Weiss have confirmed that the new episodes in the show will diverge from the novels. It may be interesting to see the alternate paths that the television series takes, but these differences will no doubt be a source of anxiety for book readers who like knowing the plot in advance.
If the premiere is any indicator, the fifth season of “Game of Thrones” may be unlike anything viewers have ever seen before, increasing in scale and in original content. Only time, and more episodes, will tell if these changes will be a boon for overall plot development.