Monday, 13 April 2015

Game of Thrones: Season Five

1. The Wars to Come

So, the most talked about and highly awaited TV event of the year has graced our screens. After ten months of speculation and anticipation, Game of Thrones returned to the small screen last night with its season five premiere; The Wars to Come. Right off the bat it becomes clear that this season will be different. Returning from what turned out to be quite a shocking finale last year, this premiere only has fifty minutes to catch us up on the whereabouts of Tyrion and Varys, the emotional state of Cersei and Jaime Lannister following the murder of their father, Daenerys' position in Meereen and the events currently taking place at The Wall. And yet, that only occupies about 70% of The Wars to Come. In fact, there's so much to catch up on that last year's final sequence isn't even returned to until next week. But how does all of this affect the episode as a whole?

The Wars to Come is far from Game of Thrones at its most dramatic, and far from its best overall for that matter, and it would be very easy to label it the show's weakest premiere to date. But at the same time, this episode was composed with a level of beauty both in terms of narrative and visual style. The Wars to Come bounces back and forth between over six separate locations, yet no scene feels cut short or stretched out. Even when the show slows things down, it never struggles in terms of pacing itself. Locations that we see twice are structured in order for the second visit to be the more captivating one; Meereen's first appearances were solid, but when we returned to Daenerys later on, we were treated to one of the episode's most memorable sequences. Game of Thrones has always been superb in terms of storytelling on such a large scale, and this episode represents that at its very best.

However, this episode just felt different from any of the other forty we've seen before. Whilst the basic structure remains the same, and the characters are more or less where we left them, The Wars to Come feels tonally darker than season four. I'm not talking about the tone in terms of violence or shock deaths, I mean it in a way of motive and politics. From the episode's opening flashback (the show's first use of this narrative trick, too) we're granted a deeper insight into the way Cersei's mind works; we begin to understand why she is the way she is. Jon Snow trying to force his once enemy to give up all his beliefs to save his own life was a difficult scene to watch; Rayder was essentially one of the show's villains, and the writers here played this sequence to reinforce that. This episode was also stunning visually; the collapse of the Meereen tower was superbly animated, and Melisandre appearing through the flames around Mance's pyre was a beautifully effective frame.

So whilst it may be easy to dismiss The Wars to Come as a setup episode (there is, after all, an awful lot of dialogue for fifty minutes in which not much is progressed), it feels as if by the time we're another four or five episodes down the line, it will all be traced back to this. With the show's three principle villains (Joffrey, Tywin, Mance) all dead, Game of Thrones is forging a new path, with new stories to tell. It only seems fitting that this tonal shift flourishes as the show begins to shift away from the narrative path of the source novels, something that will prove interesting as season five develops. The Wars to Come may not be Game of Thrones at its most bone-shatteringly, heart-poundingly tense, but it represents a big change for one of TV's biggest shows, and if this episode is anything to go by, it's going to be a blast.

2. The House of Black and White

Episode two began by taking us to the titular location; the House of Black and White. As Arya arrives there, after sailing on a ship under the giant statue that guards Braavos, the camera pulls back to show the entire landscape in one frame. We pull back and back leaving the statue in the foreground, before cutting away to follow Arya through Braavos until she arrives at the House of Black and White. The first sequence of the episode is the most visually stunning, and it shows the detail the producers undertake when crafting a scene like this. But what makes the title for this episode so much more interesting is how much it reflects across the narratives of the other characters, besides Arya. Black and white form interesting parallels across episode two, a superb piece of television that expands on everything we saw last time around whilst offering more than enough to make the week long wait for episode three an agonising ordeal.

Much like last week's premiere, this episode's most captivating sequences belong in Meereen with Daenerys. After a fairly lackluster season for her last year, Emilia Clarke is finally being given some great material to work with again; she shines above and beyond anyone else in her scenes. And when her final moment involves Daenerys being face to face with the largest of her three dragons, commanding the screen is a difficult task. But Clarke steps up, as always, and delivers. After the riots in Meereen following the public execution she orchestrated, the heartbreak in her eyes as Drogon flies away is a devastating moment, and one that I'll struggle to forget for a long time. It's only fitting, though, that Daenerys should spend the entire episode dressed in white whilst Cersei dons black for her moments in the spotlight. It uses the title to play these characters against each other, and further implies that the upcoming Queen referenced by the witch in Cersei's flashback last week is in fact Dany and not Margaery, contrary to what Cersei seems to think.

This episode also does well in advancing and changing the formula of other stories that were beginning to feel tired. Brienne and Podrick are arguably the least interesting pairing the show offers at the moment, but after their encounter with Sansa Stark, Brienne's vow has been broken, leaving her with alternative motives. This is the sort of shaking up her story needed before it became too monotonous. Events at The Wall even took a turn this week, with Jon being appointed the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. Again, The Wall was slowly becoming a rather uninspired location; the only memorable sequence last season that took place at The Wall was the Wildings' attack. But Jon's promotion changes the game, here, and hopefully Jon Snow can become interesting again in the near future. The only real gripe I have with this episode is the shoehorning in of Tyrion's scene. It didn't fit in with the rest of the episode in any real way (besides their discussion of Tyrion's time as Hand of the King offering minor comparisons Cersei's later sequence), and feels more like he only made an appearance for the sake of it.

One of Game of Thrones' chief issues in its later seasons is its focus on the wrong people. Stannis may declare himself the King, but Davos and Shireen are more engaging screen presences than him. The same applies for Jon Snow; he has some solid moments and he always performs well, but I would much rather more time was focused on Sam and Gilly. Supporting characters are equally as important as the leads, and season five seems to be recognising this finally. Two of my favourite moments tonight were Shireen teaching Gilly to read, and Sam's pitch for Jon to become Lord Commander. The latter was a testament not only to how underused John Bradley is as an actor, but to how fleshed out the world of Game of Thrones really is. Season five is, thus far, doing a terrific job of changing the atmosphere and status quo of a vast number of characters, and I for one cannot wait to see where this journey takes us.

3. High Sparrow

If last week's Game of Thrones was focused on black against white and themed around contrast, then High Sparrow is an episode about family. Episode three saw Jon refuse Stannis' offer of earning the Stark family name, whilst Arya began the process of losing her name and becoming 'no one'. Meanwhile, Margaery joined the Lannister family by wedding Tommen, and Sansa ultimately returned to her family home under the promise of being sworn to marry a traitor's son. These various plot threads all tie into the same theme, showing that Game of Thrones has actually become a more consistently written and mapped out show since the producers departed their source material. Whilst season four focused heavily on big events and ultimately felt more like a violent show reel than a television season (yet still managing to be consistently superb), the show's fifth season is focused more on thematic ideas and character principles. This time around, the episodes are much much slower, but a hell of a lot richer.

The only plot threads that failed to meet the family theme in High Sparrow were Brienne & Podrick and Tyrion & Varys. It could be argued that Brienne discussing how she fell in love with the late Renly Baratheon acts as a minor connection to the theme, but it isn't strictly speaking family. Still, it was probably the most interesting sequence we've been given from them all season, and Brienne's promise to help train Podrick into a knight should allow their moments in the spotlight to keep developing them as characters while still advancing their story. Tyrion's sequence was ultimately more interesting than his in-it-for-the-sake-of-it moment last week, and the conclusion of this episode begs an interesting question. After kidnapping Tyrion, Jorah Mormont tells him he is taking him to the Queen; but does he mean Cersei or Daenerys?

Dany herself was noticeably absent this week (although next week's episode title suggests that she's making a big return soon), but Cersei ultimately had the most screen time of High Sparrow. The show is doing a terrific job of keeping Cersei's admiration and love for her two remaining children at the forefront of her character, but the writers are simultaneously deepening her hatred for Margaery Tyrell. Speaking of Margaery, Natalie Dormer was on fire tonight. She talks as Margaery with the biggest smile on her face, but her eyes are like clockwork; we know something is going on behind them, we just don't really know what. Her take down of Cersei by asking her how she should address her now that they are family and hinting at Cersei's age by declaring her a potential grandmother-to-be was terrific. Natalie Dormer and Lena Headey are two of the best actors the show has to offer; placing them in the same scene isn't even fair on the rest of the cast. Their brief conversation that only amounted to a mere number of minutes of screen time completely stole the episode.

The only real issue I have with High Sparrow is that we're now three episodes into the season and already nearing the half way mark, and we're yet to experience anything big. I respect the slowing down of the pace, and the emphasis on thematic ideas over bloodshed is proving to make the show more compelling, but this is starting to feel less and less like the Game of Thrones we once knew. That said, Jon's execution of Janos Slynt was an unexpectedly thrilling sequence, proving that there is in fact still life at the Wall. Arya's sequences may not have amounted to much, but Maisie Williams remains a great on screen presence, and her decision to keep Needle rather than leave everything from her past behind should prove interesting as her thread moves forward. It's also nice to have a Stark back in Winterfell, even if Sansa is only there under the promise of marrying the ever creepy Ramsay Bolton. Whilst Game of Thrones has been considerably calmer this year than the last (this time last season we'd had tavern fights, Joffrey's death, Tyrion's capture and Dany's dramatic arrival at Meereen), the show is ultimately thematically richer and more emotionally complex than it's ever been before.

4. The Sons of the Harpy

The Sons of the Harpy was my most anticipated episode for this season's first half. Luckily, it lived up to that. Game of Thrones' fifth season is still yet to offer a perfect episode, and this still felt like more setup than actual plot, but as the pieces slowly fall into place, everything that comes after is going to hit twice as hard. Much like the first two episodes of season five, this episode's crowning moment takes place in Meereen with Daenerys, who (despite mere minutes of screen time this week) seems to be building towards something huge. The previous forty-five minutes were standard Game of Thrones, loaded with smart writing and nice character touches, but the attack in Meereen at the episode's close is far and away the most exciting thing this show has offered us all year.

The Sons of the Harpy offers two attack sequences; the Faith Militant in King's Landing, and the Sons of the Harpy in Meereen. Yet again, Game of Thrones is contrasting Daenerys and Cersei, making their connection (or, more fittingly, the lack thereof) more compelling. But whilst the King's Landing attack felt somewhat underwhelming, Meereen was an utter triumph. The Faith Militant's outing lacked consequence or tension, it proved a point for the people of King's Landing, but it failed to create a sense of fear in the audience. What takes place in Meereen, however, does both. What begins as an entirely faceless fight (both the Sons of the Harpy and the Unsullied wear masks) becomes a near masterclass in tension when Grey Worm is revealed to be caught up in the fight. What follows is a superbly choreographed sequence that never relents until the episode cuts to black, leaving two valuable lives on hold until next week.

This episode also continued to prove that things at the Wall are interesting again, thanks to Stannis and his accomplices. It was nice to finally know how Shireen gained her disease, and seeing Stannis represented in a positive light in respect to his daughter made the episode's most touching moment. But the most interesting moment at the Wall this week belonged to Jon and Melisandre, who's brief sequence was both unusual and compelling. Carice van Houten performs Melisandre in quite an obscure way, but every time she is on screen, the scene belongs to her. Even if you placed her entirely out of context in a room with Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Margaery Tyrell and Tywin Lannister, Melisandre would still manage to be the most captivating presence on offer. I can only hope she grows in importance as the story develops.

Elsewhere this week, Tyrion deduced that his captor was Jorah Mormont, and we know now which Queen he meant last week. Tommen proved to be just about as useless as he always is; King's Landing residents must be suffering whiplash, being hurled from a vicious King like Joffrey to a small boy who only listens to his mother. We also got some brief mention of Lyanna Stark and Rhaegar Targaryen through Sansa and Baelish; did they just confirm the biggest fan theory of Jon Snow's true parents? It might not be as thematically rich and emotionally resonating as The House of Black and White (the season's best installment to date), but The Sons of the Harpy is the most exciting episode of this run so far. The longer Game of Thrones relies on build up this year, though, the higher the expectations for the aftermath will grow. If these expectations continue to build, then Game of Thrones needs to pull it out of the bag more than ever; the higher the show climbs, the further it has to fall. Only time will tell whether the show reaches astonishing new heights, or comes crashing down to the ground under the weight of its own narrative.

5. Kill the Boy

The opening four episodes of this season of Game of Thrones felt different to the first four years of the show. The writing was slower, opting for a rather lengthy build up feel. The character motives were more political, characters like Jon and Daenerys being given material a far cry from anything they'd had before. Coincidentally, these were the only episodes sent out to critics before they aired for initial reviews, ultimately leaking online soon after. This led to my speculation that Kill the Boy would be the episode where the show's fifth season halted the build up and went truly haywire. Much to my prediction, the build up did in fact stop here. But so did the narrative. It's difficult to come out of episode five with a sense of accomplishment; Kill the Boy may go down as the slowest and most conceptually bland episode the show has ever put out.

Thankfully, it's still compelling television. Game of Thrones would have to go seriously downhill for it to put out an actively weak episode; most 'dud' episodes tend to just be poorer in comparison to the show's extraordinary standard. Kill the Boy is still packed with the visual flare viewers love about the show; the scenic CGI as Stannis' army marched away from Winterfell was stunning, and our eventual insight into Valeria demonstrated the show's knack for breathtaking photography. There was also some nicely symbolic moments in episode five, namely Daenerys' plan to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq. Dany is a character who began the show being forced into a marriage against her will, so it's an interesting development that she is now willing to use the concept of marriage for her own political gain. I also particularly enjoyed Stannis and Sam's brief sequence for a number of reasons. On paper they make an interesting pairing, but when you add the fact that Sam himself killed a White Walker, Stannis feels less important in comparison. This kind of thoughtful character work is what just about saved this episode from falling flat on every level.

Those familiar with Game of Thrones understand its ability to cut between five or six, sometimes even seven or eight locations per episode. Kill the Boy is content with just three, which is a risky move. When the show resorts to just one location per episode, like in season two's Blackwater (my personal favourite episode of the show), the scale is increased in order to sustain it. Besides season four's Wall-focused battle episode, I think I'm correct in stating that Kill the Boy is the first episode to entirely remove King's Landing from the equation. And the episode suffers for it. There isn't enough variety to keep the show compelling; we lost the progress of Arya's efforts in Braavos, and we lacked the interesting political happenings of Cersei and Margaery. By resorting simply to the North, the Wall and the general surroundings of Meereen, episode five feels almost bland compared to the rest of this season.

The highlight of Kill the Boy is undoubtedly Iwan Rheon's performance as Ramsay Snow, I mean, Bolton, who makes for the most compelling dinner sequence the show's offered since Arya served for Tywin (aw, remember him?) back in season two. Rheon conducts this sequence with a horrifying glint in his eye that suggests Ramsay is well on his way to being one of the most interesting villains the show has right now. Unfortunately this was followed by a seemingly misplaced sequence between him and his father, in which the episode comes to a complete halt. It's the kind of narrative mistake one would expect from a small scale ITV drama, not from one of the most critically acclaimed fantasy shows the world has ever seen. Up until now, season five had been slow, but admirably so. Kill the Boy fails to both continue strengthening the build up or advance the story in interesting ways. We're midway through this season now, and time is running thin for the writers to craft a satisfying conclusion to the countless arcs they set up in the first four episodes.

6. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken

After a middling installment last week, Game of Thrones' fifth season is back on track and the momentum is moving again. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken is arguably the most eventful episode of the season yet: Ramsay and Sansa married; the Faith Militant arrested the Queen of Westeros; Arya finally made real progress in her training; Jaime briefly relocated his daughter in Dorne and the Sand Snakes attacked. But episode six also returned to the style of the first four episodes by having a solid theme run through each of the narrative arcs. Whereas last week's Kill the Boy failed to offer a strong thematic link between its uneventful narratives, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken displayed something quite simple: honesty.

This theme is most present in Arya's outing this week, in which she learns that there is a lot more to becoming no-one that she previously envisioned. "Did you believe a word I said?", the Waif asks Arya, "Was I telling the truth or was I lying?". This brief encounter visibly shakes Arya, leading to potentially her best scene of the season yet. As Jaqen H'Ghar quizzes her on her former life, striking her down every time she lies, we come to learn a lot more about Arya than we did before; despite everything she attempted to make him believe, she never hated the Hound. This theme also resonates clearly in Loras' trial, in which he and his sister, Queen Margaery, lie repeatedly, only to result in both of their arrests. It may not compare to the trial we saw in last season's episode six, in which Tyrion took down the entirety of the upper class of King's Landing, but it's a terrific sequence nonetheless; any moment involving Lena Headey, Natalie Dormer and Diana Rigg in the same scene is bound to steal the episode.

The episode's most resonating scene, though, comes at the very close. Game of Thrones has always been controversial in its depiction of sexual violence, and has (on more than one occasion) adapted a consensual sex scene from the source novels into a rape sequence for the show. Whilst Sansa's rape at the end of the episode isn't adapted from a consensual moment in the novel (it isn't in the novel at all, in fact) it still feels morbidly unnecessary. It's a tonally dark sequence, as Ramsay forces Reek to watch as "the girl [he] grew up with becomes a woman", and undoubtedly the most disturbing thing we've been given all season. But, for some reason, the whole scene fails to feel justified. Myranda essentially informs Sansa, and the audience, what will happen that night after their wedding, so the viewer is well aware of the ordeal Sansa will endure that night. I feel the outcome of this would hit harder if we hadn't seen it, and had rather caught up with Sansa at the beginning of next week's episode. Unless, perhaps, the show is prepared to delve into this deeper and uncover the more psychological motivations and impacts of the moment, but this seems unlikely. Otherwise, it feels like yet another mere exploitation for simple shock value.

Absent this week was Daenerys, as well as Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon, ultimately allowing more time to be fleshed out with the stories we were offered. Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken benefits from being the most eventful episode of the season thus far, and its thematic umbrellas of truth, deceit and honesty gives the episode a nice focus that was lacking last week. But it's bogged down by something I thought the show was long past by now and, regrettably, whilst the stories are finally advancing, nothing is looking anywhere close to a satisfying conclusion with just four episodes to go. We know the show will return next year, and every year until the story is finished, but season five is unfortunately looking set to be the show's weakest year thus far. It is rich thematically and remains fantastically written and superbly performed, but the narrative hold seems to be dropping, and I'm unsure how much longer the show can survive on setup.

7. The Gift

So Game of Thrones' fifth season has finally given us its first essentially perfect episode, almost three quarters of the way into this year's run. It's been very easy to label this season as the show's weakest year; after all, it did come off the back of what is arguably one of the most eventful seasons of any TV show, period. But the show's renewed emphasis on weighty thematic ideas and intricate character work has let us to this, and now season five has but three episodes left to take us back to the big, explosive Westeros we came to love in the first few seasons. The Gift is far and away the best episode of this season yet, in fact I think I'd have to go further back to season four's stellar The Laws of Gods and Men to find the last episode that topped this one. It may not represent Game of Thrones at its most shockingly dramatic, but The Gift is a surprisingly emotional episode, reinforced by concrete character development, some huge plot leaps and the best writing we've had all year. Welcome back, Westeros.

When I label this episode an "emotional" one, I don't mean it in the terms of making the viewer cry or eliciting an actual emotional response in the audience. Rather, The Gift felt content in allowing characters to put their own loved ones first, creating an episode in which even Cersei was almost likable. Even those who hate Cersei and everything she stands for would struggle to not feel something for her as she talks with Tommon about family values and what that means to her; if Cersei has one overall redeeming quality, it is that she loves her children more than anything in her world. Sam and Gilly were also treated to an emotional sequence this week, following the upsetting but unsurprising death of Maester Aemon. Sam and Gilly have been two of my favourite characters in this show for a long time now, so it was great to seem them given some truly serious stuff to play with, as both of them handled it with ease. Also shocking was Melisandre's (still Game of Thrones's most captivating on screen presence) request that Stannis sacrifice his own daughter in order to aid his advancement to Winterfell. Stannis shot this idea down instantly, further emphasising this episode's focus on family.

This episode really comes into form in it's final fifteen minutes, though, in which two of the show's most beloved characters finally come into contact for the first time, and it was seamless. Jorah's unveiling of himself in front of Daenerys was a superbly tense moment, leaving the audience unsure as to which way Dany would fall. She soon answers that question with a resounding "Get him out of my sight", before Tyrion makes his presence known in what I would happily label the season's most exciting sequence yet. Any other episode and this would take the final scene, but The Gift had more to tell. Last week we watched as both Loras and Margaery Tyrell were arrested by the Faith Militant for lying under oath, but I don't think anyone expected the following episode to result in Cersei herself succumbing to the same fate. Lancel's reveal was handled expertly, and Jonathon Pryce delivered arguably the best monologue of the season as the High Sparrow built to Cersei's arrest. The entire final act of episode seven was simply masterful stuff.

It may have taken a little longer to reach this standard than the show's other seasons, but this year's Game of Thrones is a very different show, as outlined in my review for episode one seven weeks back. Westeros is a different world to what it once was, and this is reflected in the show itself. Whilst it has been easy, and justifiable, to label this season disappointing, should the following three episodes sustain the narrative momentum we saw here, then season five could be able to claw its way back. I barely had time here to discuss Theon's betrayal of Sansa, or the fact that a Sand Snake was given solid screen time and actually performed well; there was just so much to talk about suddenly. The first six episodes were set up, and that phase did last far too long for a ten episode season (60% setup is difficult to justify), but if these upcoming episodes return to Game of Thrones' explosive roots, they could ultimately hit harder than ever because of this. If the show takes a step down again next week, then The Gift may end up feeling like a misplaced lightning fast episode dropped into a slow, set-up season. Either way, it's the best thing this show has done all year.

8. Hardhome

There's no other way I can think of starting this review, so I'll just have to come out and say it. Game of Thrones came out firing on all cylinders tonight with what is unquestionably one of the greatest episodes the show has ever aired. Five may have been an oddly shaped season thus far, but these past two episodes have been an excellent reminder of what makes Game of Thrones so great; its total lack of predictability. Hardhome is stellar throughout, and benefits greatly from some stunning imagery and superb dialogue, but the episode is owned entirely by the battle taking place at the titular location at the episode's close. It may not scale the heights of Blackwater (then again, will any other TV battle ever?), but Hardhome finally offers something that Game of Thrones has been lacking all season; well orchestrated, full blown action. And boy did it deliver.

The first half of the episode stretches across quite a few arcs, but proportions its weight seamlessly. Watching Tyrion and Daenerys (who prove to be a TV match made in heaven) send Jorah away, and conclude discussing the history of their families was Game of Thrones gold, and acted accordingly. Cersei's brief moments in the cell make strong use of the low key lighting and claustrophobic environment, keeping her scenes in tight close-up, going in closest as Cersei stoops to her lowest low; drinking water from a puddle on her cell floor. Arya also developed nicely tonight, making the most progress in her training yet whilst also offering a new plot direction. Did Jaqen give her poison? If so, Meryn Trant is soon to be in Braavos too, will Arya abandon all of her training to strike one name from her list? Theon also revealed the truth about Bran and Rickon to Sansa in the episode's nicest cinematographic touch; as Theon breaks away from being Reek to tell Sansa the truth, he is nameless. He is lost between identities, reinforced by his presence in the frame being just a silhouette. There and then, he has no face, no identity. I look forward to seeing where this goes.

But this episode ultimately belongs to Kit Harington, who gives his best performance yet during the episode's titular climax. After the viewer becomes accustomed to Game of Thrones' unpredictability, the narrative hold can start to slip. So it's a wonderful relief to know that the show can still shock us; the White Walkers' appearance at Hardhome was a breathtaking reveal, leading immediately into the most ambitious battle sequence the show has ever offered. By having Tormund kill the Lord of Bones just sixty seconds into their arrival, the viewer becomes aware that this scene could go in any direction; director Miguel Sapochnik presents us with three or four possible eventualities, none of which turn out to happen. Therefore the sudden attack of the White Walkers and the Wights is a tremendously well directed moment, achieving the one task it set out to do; shock the viewer. The fact that this is followed immediately by the biggest battle of the season serves as one hell of an aftershock.

But within the battle, we also learn new and important knowledge; Valerian Steel can kill the White Walkers. As Jon strikes down the Walker attacking him, it becomes clear that this is news to almost everybody, including the audience at home. As the battle comes to its close, Jon flees to the sea, staring the White Walker in the eye as it reanimates all who died in the fight. It's a terrifying sequence that only reminds both Jon and the viewer at home that death only strengthens the Wight's numbers. The final scene (ingeniously played with no soundtrack) cuts further and further away from the situation until we are almost looking down from above as hundreds of the dead stand back up again. The battle of Hardhome doesn't actually take place in the novels, but it has strengthened this televised season phenomenally. The build up of weeks one through six have reached their climax as the season takes its home stretch, and the narrative could go anywhere from here. As we head into the show's infamous ninth episode next week, one thing is clear. Game of Thrones is back, and it's just as wild, unpredictable and thrilling as it's always been.

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