Warning: The first four episodes of season 5 will be discussed in this post, although most events will be spoken of in generalities. Major spoilers have been omitted completely, but if you want to go in completely fresh stop reading now.
The fifth season of Game of Thrones begins with what feels like a long breath in.
Tommen is the king, with Cersei and Margaery stuck in a sort of cold war over who gets to pull the strings. Tyrion is locked in a box, sailing to safety after the murder of Tywin. Daenerys continues to find out that taking power is much easier than effectively ruling.
It's also a bit of a bad look when the "mother of dragons" has to keep them chained in isolation for everyone's safety.
There are a few action scenes here and there in the first four episodes, but they're relatively small in scale. The first four hours of the season are more concerned with taking stock of the changed politics of this world while everyone looks at the board and plans their next move. One of the best scenes concerns a young Tommen trying to use his power as King ... and failing completely.
Game of Thrones has always been a show about power, both real and perceived
The tone of these episodes is one of slow, creeping dread. There are two major scenes that deal with executions, and the reactions to each. Two individuals have to make hard decisions about who lives and who dies, and what that means for their positions of power.
While Daenerys is struggling with her rule, Jon Snow is finding that power suits him very well, and people are beginning to notice. This is a man who was raised at Winterfell, quickly rose up the ranks after taking the black, and then lived among the wildlings for an extended period of time. He's worldly, knows what it is to fight and gain respect and isn't afraid of picking up his own sword to get things done.
His newly-minted relationship with Stannis could also lead to great things; if you want to impress a man of power you need to do little more than turn down that power when it's offered to you.
This focus on learning more about the characters who are left alive after the first four seasons may have some fans and reviewers calling foul — these aren't exactly quick-moving episodes — but it adds to our understanding of this world and the people in it.
In some cases it may lead some to believe there is no place for them anymore, as Tyrion seems content slowly drink himself to death. There is a small, quiet scene in a brothel however, that proves this is a man changed. We'll have to wait and see if that's for better or worse.
Another shotgun is placed above the figurative mantle of Winterfell, as a Stark returns to a place that now hoists flayed men and women on the walls as warnings. Ramsay is doing his best to appear the respectable Bolton he has finally become in name, but it's unlikely that facade will hold up for long.
It's a bad look when the "mother of dragons" has to keep them chained in isolation
There are more wrinkles to add to the story, but let's leave those to our weekly discussions as the episodes air. Game of Thrones has always been a show about power, both real and perceived, and the first four hours of season five check in with the world and the people in it to see how they're handling that power, or the newly found lack of it.
Another fan-favorite goes on what could be perceived as a suicide mission with an amusing sidekick, and Stannis gives a monologue in the fourth episode that does more to humanize the character than the entirety of the series up to this point.
There may be few "holy shit" moments in the first half of the fifth season of the show, but the show's writers prove the depth of these characters and the world in which they live with a measured, tense beginning to the season.
This is the show reminding us who is powerful, who is to be feared and who may not have the pull they had assumed. Now it's just a matter of waiting for circumstances to throw these individuals together to see what happens.