Welcome to ‘Game of Thrones‘ Season 5! The season where the show finally catches up to the books (though to be truthful many storylines caught up to the books last season), and we begin to get hints of the final end game for the characters of Westeros that we’ve come to know and love.

Jumping in: the episode opens with a flashback to Cersei in her youth, walking with her friend to visit a local witch, who claims to have the ability to see the future. Cersei is not impressed by the supposedly terrifying woman, and her haughtiness seems to amuse the witch, who does offer to read her fortune. All she requires are a few drops of the young Lannister’s blood, and then she looks into the future and tells Cersei about her rise to Queenhood, subsequent loss of that title, and of how she would have 3 children crowned with gold, while her husband would have over 20 children (that horny old coot Robert Baratheon really got around, I often miss his boisterous character). Cut back to the future, where Cersei and the royal court are presiding over the funeral proceedings of Tywin Lannister. Cersei demands time alone in the sept, where she and Jaime discuss what happened, with Cersei all too aware that her brother freed Tyrion, and inadvertently caused their father’s death. She warns Jaime that everyone will be looking to tear them down now, and she is not wrong. Furthermore, it is clear she blames all of their problems on Tyrion, and will find a way to get revenge should the opportunity present itself. During the reception she is visited by her former lover Lancel Lannister, who has become a religious nut (one of the sparrows of the new septon), and he begs her forgiveness for his earlier transgressions with her. She dismisses him, but her words make her uncertain, especially, as Grand Maester Pycelle stated to her earlier, sparrows would not have been tolerated within King’s Landing if Tywin were still alive. Also happening in King’s Landing, we see Margaery walk in on her brother cavorting with his new lover Olivar, questioning his choice to be so open here in the capital. He responds (rightfully so) that it doesn’t matter as everyone knows each other’s business there anyway. They discuss how Tywin’s death has ended the engagement between Sir Loras and Cersei, though Margaery would still love to see the Queen exiled from the capital, if only to free her up to rule with Tommen.

At the wall, Jon Snow is busy training new recruits, and he is watched with some approval by most of the Night’s Watch, including Sam and Gilly, who discuss the upcoming vote for the new head of the Night’s Watch, and how they might throw her out if the wrong man is elected. Jon is summoned onto the wall itself by Melissandra, who joins him on the elevator ride, asking if he is still a virgin, to which he replies in the negative. Atop the wall, they meet Stannis and Davros, who inform Jon of their plan to use the wildlings to take the North and restore the land to its rightful owners. Only hitch is that they need Mance to support the plan, and Mance will not bow to any king. So Jon heads down to speak to Mance, who is all too aware of why Jon is visiting him. But he likes Jon, and tries to make him understand why he cannot bend the knee, how he would lose the support of all the wildlings. In the end, Mance cannot be persuaded, and as such they are forced to execute him, the manner being to burn him alive. Mance is unhappy at the prospect of the painful death, but would rather face that punishment than bend the knee. In a ceremony overseen by all, Melissandra makes a speech and lights the pyre, and we see the first stages of Mance being burned alive. Disgusted by the proceedings, Jon walks away, though everyone else is enthralled. Until we see an arrow go through Mance’s heart, giving him a quick death, and we turn to see Jon has given the man that death.

We briefly see Brienne and Pod post the epic fight with the Hound that ended last season, and while she is recovering from the battle, she seems to be done with her mission to save the Stark children. And she appears to be done with Pod as well, telling him she does not want to be responsible for him anymore, and does not want to try to find Sansa, especially as Ayra clearly did not want to be saved.

Speaking of Sansa, she looks much older and more mature (and brunette) this season, and I think they are deliberately doing her hair to be reminiscent of her mother, which is a nice touch considering how Littlefinger originally fell in love with her mom. They are first seen watching a training session where knights are attempting to teach young Robin how to fight, and failing dismally. The kid is terrible, and I honestly cannot wait until he finds his end. Following that, we see Littlefinger and Sansa on the road to the Fingers, where he assures Sansa he can keep her safe, and that Cersei Lannister will be unable to find her.

Across the sea, Daenerys continues to rule over Meereen, and learns about a new group called Sons of the Harpy who have begun to target her Unsullied. She orders the Unsullied to patrol the streets to keep the peace, just as Daario’s returns from his mission to Yunkai with news that things are settled, only the people want to re-open the fighting arenas, something she is completely against. Daarios and her speak in bed later, and he reveals that he worked his way up to where he is today through the arenas, and that reinstating them is not the worst decision in the world. He also speaks to her about how she needs to start showing her strength, and questions her decision to lock away the dragons. Despite her misgivings, Daenerys goes down to visit her two remaining dragons, to give them a chance perhaps, but is almost eaten and burned when they attack her, their chains the only thing saving her life. Seems like the mother of Dragons has a lot to answer for in the eyes of her pets.

Lastly, we have Tyrion, arriving in Pentos (remember Pentos from season 1?), with Varys looking over him. We learn of the hard voyage for the imp, where he was kept inside the crate the entire way, having his waste pushed out of his air holes and then disposed of by Varys. Immediately upon release Tyrion starts drinking, and we learn that is all he’s been doing since leaving King’s Landing. Later, we see a conversation between Varys and Tyrion that basically spells out an optimistic endgame for the show, telling us at last where it all might be going. Varys talks about a group of people who realized long ago that Robert Baratheon’s rule was a disaster, and set events in motion to get a Targaryen (Daenarys) back on the throne. He explains that he saved Tyrion because he recognized him as a man of talent and virtue, and in order to build a new Westeros where the poor are not trampled by those in power, they need good men like Tyrion to help Daenerys take power, and rule wisely. Tyrion does not seem entirely convinced, but he does agree to accompany Varys on a trip down to Meereen, where he will finally meet Daenerys, and the two fan favorite characters of the show might finally join forces.

Game of Theories:

– Jon Snow’s decision to give Mance an easy death potentially will be remembered by the Wildlings, earning him some favor from the group, and maybe allowing him to convince them to accompany Stannis on his quest to retake the north.

– Daenerys and Tyrion may not get along at first, but I think they both walk similar paths, especially in regards to their philosophies about ruling. He could be an asset to her, and help remind her that she needs to get moving toward Westeros sooner rather than later.

– The Sparrows introduction means something important, though the show has not fully revealed what just yet. But know that Cersei’s dismissal of Lancel, and not taking the threat seriously, is sure to have repercussions.

As always, the first episode back for ‘Game of Thrones’ always feels like a game of catch-up, reminding people what happened last season, and starting to put the pieces in motion for what is to come later. Granted, with so many character deaths, and other characters joining up (Stannis, Davros and Jon Snow all in the same place now for example), it is nice that the show is able to spend more time with characters instead of constantly having to jump around. Looking forward to next week and catching up with what’s going on with Arya Stark!