What’s Worth Watching: The Deadly Game (of Thrones) Resumes

Game of Thrones
Helen Sloan/HBO
Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones, “The Wars to Come,” Sunday, April 12, 9/8c, HBO

The fifth season of this majestic dark fantasy begins with the Seven Kingdoms in more upheaval than usual in the wake of fugitive Tyrion’s (Peter Dinklage) patricide. As his eunuch protector Varys (Conleth Hill) tells the Imp on their voyage to seek a new monarch to challenge the ruling Lannisters, “Perhaps we’ve grown so used to horror, we assume there’s no other way.”

This season will likely undergo an unusual amount of scrutiny, as the producers conflate the bloated yet engrossing fourth and fifth volumes of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels, tempering the thrill of the show’s return with a geographic and narrative sprawl so daunting that no single episode can service all of its fascinating people and locales. (Hell, Martin’s fourth book, A Feast for Crows, omitted several key characters entirely.) By speeding up and streamlining the action, HBO’s version of Thrones has begun to improve dramatically on its source material, clarifying the theme of power and its perilous responsibilities in a time when, as noble warrior Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) puts it, “The good lords are dead and the rest are monsters.” No one is immune from making tough, treacherous choices: scheming Cersei (Lena Headey) in Kings Landing, dragon-loving Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) in Meereen, or earnest Jon Snow (Kit Harington) contending with warring factions upon the icy Wall. It’s a lot to digest, but well worth the effort.