TIME Television

Game of Thrones Piracy Reaches Record High

HBO

The first episode was illegally downloaded 13 million times

Illegal downloading of Game of Thrones has reached a record high in season five, despite HBO’s new streaming service.

According to Entertainment Weekly, the season five premiere was illegally downloaded 13 million times, a new record for the series. Of those downloads, 10% were from the U.S., more than from any other country. One estimate found that piracy of the premiere episode cost $44 million in lost U.S. revenue, EW reports.

But the show’s legal viewership is also at an all-time high: the season five premiere had a record 8 million live viewers on HBO.

Read more at EW.com

TIME movies

Hannah Murray on Bridgend and Her Wish for Gilly on Game of Thrones

"Bridgend" Premiere - 2015 Tribeca Film Festival
Laura Cavanaugh—2015 Getty Images NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Actress Hannah Murray attends the premiere of "Bridgend" during the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival at Chelsea Bow Tie Cinemas on April 16, 2015 in New York City. (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images for the 2015 Tribeca Film Festival)

The actress's new movie is showing at the Tribeca Film Festival

Hannah Murray’s two latest projects are both dramas, but they couldn’t feel more different. As Gilly on Season 4 of Game of Thrones, she plays a young Wildling mother sheltering at Castle Black, protected by the bumbling Sam. Meanwhile, she stars in Bridgend as a teen who arrives in the Welsh town where about a hundred young people have committed suicide in the last decade, a tragic and unexplained phenomenon. Though the movie is a fictional take on the crisis, it gives a glimpse at the eerie goings-on in a town where the behavior of young people have baffled and agonized their parents.

TIME caught up with the actress at the Tribeca Film Festival.

TIME: How did you get interested in doing Bridgend?

Murray: It was this weird, weird script that I couldn’t really wrap my head around. I hadn’t heard about the suicides before I got sent the project, and it didn’t say, “This is based on real events.” And then I mentioned it to a friend—I said, “Oh, I’m auditioning for this film,” and he said, “That’s about Bridgend.” I was slightly apprehensive. This is a very sensitive subject matter and I wouldn’t want to get involved in anything that wasn’t treating it sensibly or was trying to exploit it or do something edgy for the sake of it.

What was the audition like?

[Director Jeppe Rønde] was so demanding in the auditions, really tough. I could tell from reading the script, this needs to be really naturalistic, it needs to be minimal, but I didn’t know how far we were going to take it in that direction. I felt like I couldn’t give Jeppe what he wanted. Everything, he was like, “No, no, that’s too big, stop it. It’s too big, it’s too big, it’s too much.” So when I got offered the project I was really surprised.

So you didn’t know about the town before you got the script, but did you do much research after?

I did, quite a lot. I had never worked on anything before that was based on true events, so I did feel a real responsibility to know what I was dealing with. The way I generally like to approach research is you need to do loads, because you owe it to the reality—but then I think it can be quite important to soak up those facts, think about them beforehand and then forget about them. The way that my character enters that world, you can tell she hasn’t read the newspaper stories and she’s not judging it in any way.

I read that a movie about suicide had been banned in Bridgend before. Do you think this movie would be good for people in the town to see, or is it too much?

I don’t know. I don’t imagine there’s a blanket answer for that, I’m sure it’s different for different people. I know that Jeppe has said that the kids that he became friends with while he was researching really want it to come out, they really want to see it. Personally, I don’t believe in censorship and I don’t believe in taboos. I think it is important, as humans, that we grapple with things. Having said that, I would never want to force anyone who has had a personal connection with this tragedy to confront it.

I did a dissertation on ‘90s dramas, like Sarah Kane’s, when I was at university. I compared it with a lot of the ‘90s art, like the Young British Artists, which is very shocking. I remember someone did a portrait of Myra Hindley [the serial killer] and a lot of the families of the victims were saying, “This is appalling, it needs to be taken down.” And then a really insensitive thing—they invited them to come see the painting. I thought, I don’t think the painting should be banned, but I also don’t think you should be inviting people to come look at a portrait of the woman who murdered their children.

You’re also appearing on Game of Thrones right now. As of the beginning of the season, your character is still at Castle Black. Have you preferred shooting there or beyond the wall?

I think I do prefer being at Castle Black actually, just because the set is amazing. It’s so complete. There are times where if you’re standing in the right place, you can’t see any of the crew or any of the cameras, and you just see this fantasy world created in such beautiful detail. Whereas when I was beyond the wall, often we were in a forest. It looked beautiful, but I didn’t feel so immersed.

Do you have the same baby every time Gilly is holding her baby in a scene?

No, I don’t even have the same baby in one scene, it can be multiple babies. I remember saying to [creator] Dan Weiss once, “The babies all look so different,” and he said, “People never notice continuity with babies or horses.” But there are really strict rules about working with babies—I think they can only be on set for 10 or 20 minutes and then they have to have a break, they can do maybe three hours in total. We only use the babies in certain shots. I also have a prosthetic baby, which has been the same all the way through.

Like American Sniper!

Yes! I look out for babies [in movies], and I remember that was one of the things I really thought was a flaw in that film, it’s so obviously a prosthetic baby. Our baby is so wrapped up that it’s easy to hide, but that baby was so on show as not-a-real-baby.

Are you and John Bradley, who plays Sam, good friends on set?

I’m really good friends with John, and I also have friends [on Thrones] who I was friends with before we started the show. I did Skins with Joe Dempsie [who plays Gendry]. My friend Jacob Anderson plays Grey Worm—we used to live together. We shared a flat with another actor. I think we were still living together when Jacob got the part, and I was so happy he was going to join.

Do you read the books or are you trying to avoid spoiling it for yourself?

I’ve had different policies on this. Originally I did read the books, and I read them as we did them. I thought I was going to keep with this policy, and then I realized that I love watching the show so much, so this year, I decided I wasn’t going to read the books anymore, and I also was going to try and not get people to tell me what happens.

My friend Nick Hoult really loves the show, and one time it was his birthday and I got drunk and told him a bunch of stuff. He was just like, “Why are you doing this to me on my birthday?” But because I was in the middle of shooting, I was so excited about things.

Are there people you most want to meet on the show who don’t come to Castle Black?

There’s so many incredible characters on the show that I may never get to [have a scene with]. Before season 4, they came up with that scene between Gilly and Ygritte, and Dan said, “You’re gonna have a scene with someone you never expected.” And I said, “You say that, but I know it’s not going to be Peter [Dinklage] or Emilia [Clarke], it’s gonna be someone Northern.” But getting to that scene was a great experience because I don’t get to work with other women very much. I think Emilia’s so fantastic. I think Lena is incredible. I thought Michelle Fairley’s performance was so incredible. I have a couple of scenes this year with another female character—but I think this show is so great for women and I would love to do more stuff. Gilly’s a character who knows so little, every person you put her with, it can be eye-opening to her. I think seeing her in context with other women would be very interesting.

TIME Television

Game of Thrones Watch: Making a List, Checking It Twice

HBO

Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but in Westeros it is a multicourse banquet.

This article contains spoilers. Click here to reveal them.

The following review discusses Game of Thrones, “The House of Black and White,” in detail:

“Cersei. Walder Frey. The Mountain. Meryn Trant…”

Arya Stark’s long list is getting shorter. (So long, Joffrey! Hasta la Vista, Tywin! See you in the Seven Hells, Hound?) But it is only a partial one, the opening bars to a long, long tune of vengeance awaited in Westeros. You want payback? Get in line, behind the slaves of Meereen, the Martells of Dorne, pretty much anyone who ever crossed a Lannister (especially other Lannisters). Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but in Westeros, it is a multicourse banquet.

Vengeance is a big theme in “The House of Black and White,” an ironic title since the moral question here is anything but. Westeros’ history, like most any other continent’s, is a chain of they-did-it-to-us-first stretching back to the mists of creation. Hardly a character on screen lacks just cause for revenge on someone. But while the quest may be thrilling, it’s never simple. Vengeance is sweet. But is it just? Is it right? Is it smart?

The episode starts its investigation with Arya, whom we’d follow to the ends of the Earth–and now we have, almost anyway, on a ship sailing underneath the dangly bits of the Titan of Braavos. Our first sight is her fixed, intent stare. Her anger and bitterness have honed her sharper than Needle, and she’s come in hopes of weaponizing herself, clutching her worried coin, seeking J’aqen Haghar. She’s rowed in, past the homey scenes of a beautiful harbor, hanging melons, frying fish, but the only tourist site she’s interested in is the massive building built entirely of cold rock and Manichean symbolism.

Her plan may be drawn from the Underpants Gnome school of retribution. (“1. House of Black and White. 2. ??? 3. Vengeance!”) But this is all she has left: a coin, a badass fighting stance and the name of a guy. Because there’s no good sensei story without a challenge, she’s met be a strange elderly man who turns her away. Later, he reveals himself as the face-shifting J’aqen, though he denies that name. He’s no one–he has many faces, but no identity–and if she enters the building that’s who she will have to become too.

Message: when you make a list of names for revenge, save a line at the bottom for your own.

If that’s some kind of cautionary parable, though, no one’s listening. Certainly not Cersei, who has issued a bounty that is reaping her dwarfheads by the bagful from opportunistic bounty hunters. Not Brienne, driven across the countryside by duty and unquenched fury of Renly’s murder. Not Stannis, of the inflexible code of justice, who tells Jon Snow that if you want to be followed, you need to be feared.

And it’s not long before we’re in our first new location, Dorne, which is beautiful and angry. Someone has FedExed Cersei a gorgeous hexagonal box with a snake–symbol of Dorne–and the necklace of her daughter Myrcella, living as a ward/hostage in the land whose prince, Oberyn, her champion the Mountain recently made into head-jelly.

It’s a threat, but not a certain one: back at the Water Gardens, Ellaria Sand is arguing with Prince Doran whether to punish Myrcella–an eye for Oberyn’s literal eyes. “We do not mutilate little girls for vengeance,” he answers. “Not here. Not while I rule.”

From the looks of things, the argument is not over. But he has powerful recent history on his side. The reason Oberyn came to King’s Landing at all, and accepted the battle with the Mountain so gladly, was vengeance for his own sister, brutally raped and murdered in the sack of King’s Landing. Does it do anyone any good to launch another round, paying it forward to another innocent and ensuring yet another reprisal, when the view of the gardens is so lovely?

It may be a moral question–turn the other cheek and all that–but because Game of Thrones is very much a political story too, it’s also a practical one. On the one hand, maybe you can reign more peacefully and prosperously if you’re willing to risk weakness and break the cycle. On the other hand, how do you do that without rewarding the very worst?

These are the irreconcilable questions facing Dany, in a conquered Meereen where everyone is keeping a list. The Sons of the Harpy are waging urban guerilla warfare in payback for the slave rebellion, and former slaves are paying back the payback. Ser Barristan counsels her that her father, the Mad King, acted out of a sense of cruel, deserved justice and it was his downfall. Her Meereen aides argue that the slave masters–the same ones who crucified children on the road–only understand cruelty. (Complicating everything is that the Harpy murderers aren’t the slavemasters themselves, but poor freedmen paid to do their dirty work. Vengeance, as so often in real life, really means taking the low-hanging fruit.)

They’re all right, and thus all wrong. And when Daenerys tries to balance the scales by using due process, that goes wrong too: the prisoner is murderered in custody, which finally pushes Dany to lose the moral high ground–and at least some of her subjects’ affection–by having him summarily executed.

So justice has been done. Payment has been exacted. The scales have been balanced. And everybody is better off–not least Dany, who alienated her “children” in Meereen, and ends the episode looking out on the landscape as her dragon-child Drogon flies off over the dusky horizon.

It’s as if she’s looking into the future, one in which all debts are paid, all grievances settled, a land where justice is so thorough and complete that there’s no one left to live in it.

Now for the hail of arrows:

* “But you forgot about…!” There’s a hell of a lot of story in Game of Thrones, and as in my reviews of past seasons, I can think of nothing more useless than trying to mention every last thing that happened in every episode. Each week, I’ll write about the stuff that interests me most. Feel free to take it from there in the comments!

* We got a whopping new diversion from the source books this week, which I’ll spoiler-blur for those of you who don’t want to know how things go down in the original:

Brienne finds Sansa! I didn’t have this one in my Game of Thrones betting pool, but not only does it make for the action sequence of the week–as Brienne is slyly rebuffed by Littlefinger, then goes berserker on his knights in her getaway–it also solves a couple of narrative problems from A Feast for Crows. First, we no longer need follow Brienne trudging, and trudging, and trudging, through the countryside before finally getting strung up by the (no longer on the scene) Lady Stoneheart. Second, we had just about exhausted the existing from-the-books Littlefinger and Sansa story by this point. Like other changes, this one is driven by efficiency: don’t keep people sidelined, don’t introduce new characters where existing ones will do. The result may be better or worse, but the storyline is riding fast into unknown woods, and I like it.

* So how cornball are the House of Black and White sequences? We’re treading perilously close to Yoda/Miyagi territory with the mystic Eastern music and a-girl-must-become-nothing-isms. (And though I’m being that guy, it’s a shame that when a show that’s created a very white Westeros casts an older black man, his face is literally wiped after two scenes.) On the other hand, I loved how Thrones physically represented J’aqen’s transformation, with the camera passing behind Arya’s head just in time to catch the barest glimpse of a skin being pulled to the side of J’aqen’s cowl. And who am I kidding? I’m a sucker for cornball sensei-learner sequences; there’s a good reason we see them so often.

* “We’ve already got a ruler. Everywhere has got a ruler. Every pile of shit by the side of every road has someone’s banner hanging from it.” I will happily take a full hour of the Varys and Drunk Tyrion show every week.

* I suppose I should mention that Jon got himself elected Lord Commander (albeit turned down becoming Lord of Winterfell), which I assume means that he just bought a bigger load of problems. Still the election was satisfying, if nothing else for Sam sending Janos Slynt straight to the burn unit for cowering in the larder during the battle with the Wildlings. And in scenes like this–the divided cliques, Maester Aemon slyly casting the deciding vote–The Wall reminds me of a really dark version of Hogwarts.

* “Jaime fookin’ Lannister!” Ah, I fookin’ missed you too, Bronn.

TIME

Five Fantasy Epics That Would Have Made for Better TV Than Game of Thrones

HBO A dragon from HBO's Game of Thrones

Not big on George R.R. Martin's mammoth creation? Here are five other series that deserve their own shot at television glory

When I bought A Game of Thrones in New York Penn Station about five years ago, I did not expect it to transport me on a journey of imagination spanning continents and dynasties. I did expect it to get me back to Washington.

Somewhere around Newark Liberty International Airport, I realized that I had started it before, more than a decade earlier. From the ages of about 13 to 15, I was rarely parted from the company of a paperback fantasy novel, usually one in a series of six or more volumes.

The ’80s and ’90s were a golden era for fantasy epics like A Game of Thrones, which was first published in 1996. I can still recall the aisle of the Barnes & Noble in Charlottesville, Va., appropriately placed directly between the rows of Fiction & Literature and the children’s section. One arrived there after the Narnia books (abandoned halfway through The Silver Chair) but before graduating to Bradbury and Vonnegut. Judging by the sheer volume of sex scenes, the audience was very clearly teenage boys.

The fact that I never got very far into Game of Thrones the first time around doesn’t say much for it, because my standards were not high in those days. But it was a late train, I was tired, and I thought I would give it another try.

By Philadelphia, there were three unrelated characters with grey eyes, but at least the plot was mildly engrossing. I got as far as this sentence:

The girl brushed her hair until it shone like molten silver, while the old woman anointed her with the spiceflower perfume of the Dothraki plains, a dab on each wrist, behind her ears, on the tips of her breasts, and one last one, cool on her lips, down there between her legs.

I read up on the rest of the plot on Wikipedia.

For a book categorized as fantasy, the book is surprising unoriginal. The dragons are generic, the magic is vague, and the politics are straight out of medieval Europe by way of Dungeons & Dragons. This is a charge one could levy against a good portion of the genre. But there were a few gems in that aisle that I still recall fondly. Here are five series that would have made for much better TV than Martin’s now very popular epic. (My memory is augmented in most places by Wikipedia.)

1. The Dragonlance Chronicles
Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. Debuted in 1984 with Dragons of Autumn Twilight

A reunion of seasoned adventurers goes awry when they are attacked by minions of the Dragon Highlords. The first three novels center on this memorable set of characters, from the priestess Goldmoon of the Que-Shu tribe to Raistlin Majere, the secretive wizard who is drawn to evil and power even as his twin brother Caramon struggles to save his soul. Their conflicting agendas play out amid a continent-wide battle that includes awakening dragons and warring gods. For producers worried that three books aren’t enough, there’s a second trilogy focusing on the Majere twins, two final novels devoted to the second generation of the original companions, and at least one other trilogy written after I outgrew the series.

2. The Dragon Prince Trilogy
Melanie Rawn. Debuted in 1988 with The Dragon Prince.

I confess that I was drawn to the first volume of this series largely because of the cover, but if I came for the partial nudity–I was 14–I stayed for the sunrunners, a species of wizard who draw their power from sunlight to manipulate fire and commune with dragons (who have temperaments and lifespans similar to German Shepherds). Fans of George R. R. Martin’s palace intrigue will find a more satisfying and legible plot in the jockeying viceroyalities that Rawn imagines. The first series spans two decades and three generations, and is followed by a second trilogy that expands on the world of sorcery and introduces a new threat of invasion from across the sea. Sound familiar?

3. The Immortals
Tamara Pierce. Debuted in 1992 with Wild Magic.

“The Immortals” is actually the second quartet of novels that Pierce set in the world of Tortall. The first, “The Song of the Lioness,” told the story of a girl named Alanna who goes uncover as a boy in order to train to become a knight. That series is aimed at a slightly younger audience, if I recall. The world of Wild Magic, in which and older Alanna plays a small role, centers on an orphan named Daine who can speak with animals and shape-shift into their form. There is a particularly original and horrifying lineup of monsters in this one, including metallic vultures with human heads that eat the dead. The Alanna material would make for a solid prequel, and there are a bunch of other books set in the universe that I never read.

4. The Tribe of One Trilogy
Simon Hawke. Debuted in 1993 with The Outcast

The Tribe of One takes place in the long-suffering desert planet of Athas, a richly imagined world that originally served as the setting for the Dungeons & Dragons imprint Dark Sun. A novel based on a tabletop game does not sound like a recipe for entertainment, but the entire genre essentially owes its origin to the role-playing game whether sanctioned or otherwise. (The Dragonlance Chronicles also has a D&D tie-in). The trilogy focuses on Sorak, who enjoys a sort of psychic multiple-personality disorder that gives him powerful ESP. His journeys take him to Tyr, home to a clandestine order known as the Veiled Alliance that opposes the parasitic Sorcerer-Kings who are sapping the planet’s life. There are traces of Dune mixed with Jedi-like powers and a healthy side of murderous human-sized praying mantises.

5. The Wheel of Time
Robert Jordan. Debuted in 1990 with The Eye of the World.

I never actually got into these books, but they are probably the most popular epic in the teen-fantasy catalogue. A pilot of a TV series aired as sponsored programming on FXX recently, though possibly only as a means of prolonging the rights to the story. A serious attempt would surely find a wide audience.

Runner-up: The Sword of Truth
Terry Goodkind. Debuted in 1994 with Wizard’s First Rule.

In retrospect, this series, which appears to have gone on for ten more books after I stopped reading them, has a lot of the same repugnant sadism and ritualized sex as Game of Thrones. The plot of the first book is also almost a comical knock-off of Star Wars, from the discovery that the protagonist Richard’s old mentor is actually a powerful wizard to the twist in the relationship between Richard and the villain, Darken Rahl. (Take a guess.) But I remember enjoying the first three or four of them. An attempt to adapt the series for television already ran two seasons from 2008 to 2010. One imagines HBO would have more success with the material.

TIME Television

HBO Tells Brooklyn Bar to Stop Showing Game of Thrones

HBO reportedly said its content can't be shown in a public setting

The most pirated television show online is no longer welcome to be screened at a Brooklyn bar.

Videology, a bar and screening room in the borough’s Williamsburg neighborhood, was told by HBO to stop screening the hit show on Sunday nights, which it has done for the past two years. It’s the first time the establishment, which also screens Mad Men, has been asked to stop showing a particular program, bar co-owner James Leet told the Village Voice. He said it was unfair that only his bar was targeted when many others the area show the same program.

HBO reportedly told Leet that its content can’t be shown in a public setting, a decision that came in the wake of the recent leak of this season’s first four episodes.

“We’re sorry that our fans will not be able to see it in the future here,” Leet added, noting that some bar-goers had even shown up in costume. “We know they really enjoyed it, and we’re sorry we can’t do that for them anymore.”

[Village Voice]

TIME Television

Arya Will Get New Training in Game of Thrones on Sunday

Macall B. Polay—HBO Maisie Williams as Arya Stark.

She ended season 4 on a ship bound for Braavos

Arya Stark is coming back in this week’s episode of Game of Thrones, and this time she’s far from Westeros.

In the season 4 finale, Arya had boarded a ship bound for Braavos, and actress Maisie Williams says it was time for a change of scenery for her character. “She knows it’s the right decision to make, and she had been putting it off,” Williams told Entertainment Weekly. “She’s on a ship to somewhere new, somewhere she’s completely unfamiliar with. She’s ultimately trying to find release of her former self.”

And this season, Williams also says Arya will embark on some new kind of training (EW and Williams kept the term vague to avoid spoilers).

“She’s not treated amazingly,” Williams said. “It’s a form of training she’s not familiar with, and she doesn’t know why she’s doing [it]. One thing that frustrates her is, she’s a very logical person and she can’t understand how her training relates to her ultimate goal. And her attitude frustrates a lot of people.”

Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT on HBO.

[Entertainment Weekly]

TIME Television

Here’s an Iron Throne Toilet for the Ultimate Game of Thrones Fan

One throne to rule them all

HBO’s online store has everything for the diehard Game of Thrones fan, from house sigil shot glasses to Lannister hoodies to a Dothraki language guide to figurines of Khal Drogo and Daenerys Targaryen. One thing it doesn’t have? A working toilet replica of the Iron Throne. Fans who wanted to swap their porcelain throne for an Iron one were out of luck. Until now.

Some ingenious Game of Thrones fans requested a working replica of the Iron Throne as a toilet and the creative minds at YouTube channel Awe Me delivered. The video and possible how-to-guide shows the industrious crafters, sculptors and prop masters behind Super Fan Builds creating the Iron Throne out of parts like wood, epoxy resin, urethane, neoprene foam and, naturally, a toilet.

If the Iron Throne sits in the only bathroom in the house, there’s no doubt the game of thrones will be quite intense.

TIME food and drink

Watch This Breakfast Master Make Game of Thrones Pancakes

Open up and eat your Westeros

Your love of Game of Thrones no longer needs to end on Sunday night when the episode is over. Now with a little pancake mix and a lot of skill, you can extend it to the breakfast table.

Using off-the-shelf baking mix, water and a nonstick pan, YouTube pancake-making sensation Nathan Shields whipped up a delicious-looking ode to the seven kingdoms of Westeros. Shields put his incredible pancake skills to work to create edible versions of the sigils that mark the fictional noble houses in Game of Thrones. There’s the wolves of Winterfell, a Lannister lion, the bird and moon that mark House Arryn’s stronghold The Eyrie, all recreated in batter just yearning for butter and syrup the way Arya Stark thirsts for vengeance.

Remember, if you do try to recreate these pancakes at home, don’t invite Jon Snow for breakfast.

TIME Television

Game of Thrones Watch: Dead Lords and Monsters

Helen Sloan—HBO Emilia Clarke as Daenerys Targaryen.

Tywin Lannister's death has left a power vacuum in Westeros, but few seem ready—or qualified—to fill the void

Spoilers for last night’s Game of Thrones follow:

“The good lords are dead, and the rest are monsters.”

If the opening episode of the fifth season of Game of Thrones is any indication, we’re likely to spend the next nine weeks finding out whether Brienne of Tarth is right. It’s certainly not difficult to appreciate her point of view. She’s seen Renly Baratheon killed by a rather literal demon spawn right in front of her eyes and heard tell of the atrocities visited upon her next liege, Catelyn Stark, and Catelyn’s son Robb at the Red Wedding. Brienne is also no doubt aware of the execution of the honorable Ned Stark, and may have even received word that the righteous Oberyn Martell had his head crushed, Gallagher-style, by Gregor Clegane. So yeah, you could probably forgive her if her opinion of the world is as bleak as the new True Detective teaser at the moment.

Unfortunately, the outlook elsewhere throughout Westeros and across the Narrow Sea isn’t much sunnier. Only a few days have passed since the conclusion of Season 4, but anyone expecting Tywin Lannister’s demise to bring newfound hope and optimism to the Game of Thrones universe will be as disappointed as those forced to watch Robin Arryn engage in swordplay.

Cersei is still in King’s Landing, having added a dead father to her ever-growing tally of deceased family members, which already included a son she loved and a husband she loathed. Though now freed (presumably) from her obligation to mary Loras Tyrell, Cersei remains committed to coping with her father’s death in the only way she knows how: trying to drink her way through the capital’s plentiful stock of Dornish wine, berating her brother Jaime and doing her level best to ignore everyone else while keeping a disapproving eye on the budding romance between her last remaining son, King Tommen, and unlucky-in-love Margaery Tyrell. Even the return of a chiseled and short-haired Lancel Lannister, who rededicated his life to a religious fundamentalist order known as the “Sparrows” in the wake of the Battle of Blackwater, does little to sway Cersei from her path toward total and utter spite-filled misery.

It’s a path that her younger brother and avowed arch-enemy Tyrion knows all too well. Whereas the journey of Arya Stark (absent from the premiere) to Essos at the end of Season 4 appeared to suggest a new beginning, Tyrion seems determined to make his own crossing the start of a bitter, wine-drenched end. (His is another bleak outlook difficult to find fault with, given that he traveled days in a tiny crate, pushing his own feces through the crate’s little holes after killing his father and the woman he loved in cold blood.) “The future is shit,” Tyrion declares, “just like the past.”

Tyrion’s travel companion, Varys, isn’t particularly inclined to agree with that assessment. In fact, if anyone (other than Littlefinger—currently in transit with Sansa Stark to somewhere that certainly isn’t The Fingers) has reason to celebrate the way things have turned out since the death of John Arryn, it’s the Master of Whispers. It’s possible to forget this far down the road, but Varys was more or less serving as a spy in Robert Baratheon’s small council, feeding information back to supporters of House Targaryen. Since then, much of the potpourri of power-players throughout Westeros have met their demise: Robert, Ned Stark, Robb Stark, Renly Baratheon, King Joffrey, Tywin Lannister—all dead. Stannis Baratheon is still trying to consolidate the power in the North and Tommen isn’t nearly the force he would have been with Tywin pulling his strings. Varys may have once decried chaos as a pit, but pits can be rather welcome when it’s your enemies who are falling into them.

Varys has never made any secret of his affection for Tyrion, but his decision to smuggle Tyrion away from King’s Landing was as much strategic as altruistic. During his brief reign as the King’s Hand, Tyrion proved himself a far more skilled political operator than his predecessor or his siblings. And, of course, it wouldn’t hurt Daenerys’ chances of claiming the Iron Throne if she had the support of a Lannister upon her return to Westeros.

At the moment, however, that doomed throne is the least of Daenerys’ concerns. There was something odd about watching a member of the Unsullied wind his way through the alleys of a brothel, seemingly enchanted by the women offering their services. Up to this point, we’ve seen Grey Worm’s troops care about nothing other than serving and killing, not necessarily in that order. And even though it turned out there was nothing particularly untoward about White Rat’s intentions—refusing the unrealistic offer of sex in favor of a comforting song—Game of Thrones followed its usual pattern of quickly replacing fulfillment with death, and White Rat got his throat slit all the same.

That it is far easier to conquer than rule is a lesson Daenyerys has been forced to learn since last season, and the murder of an Unsullied only reinforces it. Daeny’s words still sound good (“Angry snakes lash out. Makes chopping off their heads that much easier”), but her ability to back them up appears severely diminished. The power granted by her army of Unsullied is tossed off with the explanation that anyone with gold can buy them (though I was under the impression that Dany had basically cleaned out Astapor when she swept through the town back in Season 3). As Daario Naharis says in a moment of post-coital frankness, the Dragon Queen cannot be Queen without dragons. Rhetorical redundancy aside, Daario has a point: an inexperienced ruler in a foreign land—no matter how gifted—ain’t as intimidating without dragons at her side. Daenerys knows that, which is why she enters the dungeon where she had Rhaegal and Viserion chained up, but her excursion seemed as short-sighted as her refusal to even consider acquiescing to Yunkai’s sole request that it be allowed to keep its Fighting Pits. The dragons breathe their fire and Daeny scurries out of the cavernous room, looking much more like fearful girl of the show’s first season rather than the confident woman of its later years.

If you believe in the totally made-up law of conservation of confidence, you’ll find pretty much all of it concentrated at Castle Black. Stannis has renewed purpose after his relatively bloodless defeat of the Wildlings north of The Wall, Melisandre is showing off her impressive ability to maintain homeostasis in Boston-like conditions and Jon Snow is doing what he does best: parrying with inferior competition and delivering impassioned speeches to important people who have absolutely no interest in what he has to say. In this particular instance, the important person on the receiving end of Snow’s impassioned pleas is Mance Rayder. Rayder, captured by Stannis at the conclusion of Season 4, is being asked to bend the knee to the Baratheon would-be-king and to help Stannis lead the Wildlings into battle at Winterfell. The King Beyond the Wall doesn’t have to bend the knee, but the alternative is being burned alive, so Snow is predictably keen to convince Mance to throw his support behind Stannis rather than meet a crispy demise.

Their exchange is one of the episode’s best, with Snow proving him every bit Mance’s equal—something that was certainly not the case during their first meeting in Season 3. The respect Snow has for Mance is mutual, and the crow’s argument in favor of Mance joining forces with Stannis is sound (not dying, getting further away from the Whitewalkers, saving countless innocent women and children, maintaining the tenuous alliance between Wildling tribes). It doesn’t matter. Mance says it’s not pride that drives him, but it’s a difficult claim to fully believe. Perhaps Snow’s assessment that Mance is “afraid to be afraid” is more accurate, but the end result remains the same: Mance would rather die than take any action that could be seen as a betrayal of his Wildling brethren.

And so, for the first time since the first episode of Season 2, we watch Melisandre set a man ablaze while Stannis looks on approvingly. Jon Snow, having seen and heard quite enough by the time the flames reach Mance’s boots, ducks out of the crowd and fires an arrow into Mance’s heart, sparing him a slow and excruciating death. It’s a small triumph, but it does little change the reality of what Stannis has effected: another good lord killed by a monster. Brienne may have been right after all.

And now for the hail of arrows:

  • As mentioned above, no Arya in this episode, but it’s a safe bet that she’ll surface before long. Ditto Theon and the murderous father-son duo of Roose Bolton and Ramsey.
  • We’d been told there would be flashbacks in this season for the first time, but you’d be forgiven if you didn’t know that’s what you were seeing in the episode’s opening scene (even though the girl’s tone, sense of entitlement and threats of violence were pure Cersei).
  • Tough run of luck for Jaime Lannister, huh? He loses a hand, his sister breaks up with him when he finally makes it home, he’s compelled to send his best friend on a Quixotic journey to ensure the safety of the daughters of his dead rival, and he frees his brother from prison, only to see him turn around and murder his father.
  • No word yet on the Clegane clan. Last we saw them, the Mountain was in better shape than his little brother, if only slightly.
TIME Books

Why TIME Declared George R.R. Martin ‘An American Tolkien’

TIME 100 Gala, TIME'S 100 Most Influential People In The World - Arrivals
Stephen Lovekin—Getty Images for Time Warner George R.R. Martin attends the TIME 100 Gala on April 26, 2011 in New York City.

TIME wrote about the author in 2005

In 2005, when the fourth A Song of Ice and Fire installment, A Feast for Crows, was released, author George R.R. Martin was still mostly unknown except among serious fantasy readers.

When TIME’s Lev Grossman reviewed the book and explained to readers who Martin was, he could still frame things by saying that Martin wasn’t the best-known American fantasy writer. Eragon author Christopher Paolini, Wheel of Time author Robert Jordan and Ursula K. LeGuin were all more famous.These days, of course, the slightest hint that Martin may be typing anything is met with near universal glee from fans of the immensely popular HBO adaptation of his work.

But not everything has changed since 2005: though Grossman noted that Martin wasn’t as famous as some of his peers, he also proclaimed that “of those who work in the grand epic-fantasy tradition, Martin is by far the best.” He was good enough, in fact, for the story to be headlined “An American Tolkien.” Here’s why:

What really distinguishes Martin, and what marks him as a major force for evolution in fantasy, is his refusal to embrace a vision of the world as a Manichaean struggle between Good and Evil. Tolkien’s work has enormous imaginative force, but you have to go elsewhere for moral complexity. Martin’s wars are multifaceted and ambiguous, as are the men and women who wage them and the gods who watch them and chortle, and somehow that makes them mean more.

Martin’s series may remain unfinished, but his moral complexity returns to television on Sunday, April 12.

Read the full 2005 story, here in the TIME archives: The American Tolkien

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