After a battle in the new Game of Thrones season, Jaime Lannister gives a little advice on why it’s worth taking the trouble to bury the men you’ve just slaughtered: “Corpses raise questions. Questions raise armies.” Game of Thrones has never been short of corpses, questions or armies. Each season has gotten bigger and better, delivering more surprises per minute than anything else around. And like Queen Daenerys’ dragons, Game of Thrones has grown too massive to control, leaving the original novels behind. Creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss are catching up with George R.R. Martin’s books — fans have waited four years for the next one. So Game of Thrones is beyond the Wall now, out where the night is dark and full of impatient fans.
The beginning of Season Five doesn’t disappoint — a sprawl of political intrigue, family business, endlessly quotable dialogue, an abundance of airborne bosomry and gore galore. But the action has spread out: This is the road-trip season. Suddenly, King’s Landing is the least-interesting place in the Seven Kingdoms, as all the really fascinating antiheroes have fled elsewhere. Tyrion heads to Meereen for his long-awaited meeting with the Mother of Dragons. Jaime sails to Dorne to rescue his niece-daughter, and Arya gets smuggled to Braavos to study the art of stealth assassination from the Faceless Men. Back in King’s Landing, it’s just Joffrey’s naive brother Tommen who sits on the Iron Throne, while Margaery sits on Tommen.
The new season also has plenty of those beloved Game of Thrones staples like the soliloquy where a main character finally explains How They Got This Way — everyone seems to give at least one of those — or the tradecraft proverbs about How to Be a Better Tyrant. (“Angry snakes lash out — it makes chopping their heads off much easier.” That’s a Dragon Queen talking, but it’s straight from Mao.)
Daenerys finds that her dragons are growing up and getting strong enough to fly wild, which gives her a case of empty-dragon-nest syndrome. Meanwhile, up north, Jon Snow takes command of the Night’s Watch, in an uneasy alliance with the religious Stannis Baratheon. When Stannis advises him to transfer one of his rivals, Jon Snow asks, “I heard it was best to keep your enemies close?” Stannis replies, “Whoever said that didn’t have many enemies.” (Note Thrones‘ most explicit Don Corleone reference yet.)
When Game of Thrones started, it looked like it had surprising staying power for a genre piece. Thrones set out to woo viewers beyond the fantasy audience, with its production values, its acting, its blood-and-breast buffets. Countless fans got sucked in by thinking, “This is great — not my kind of thing, but great.” By now, it’s a genre piece without a genre — it’s the only TV show of its kind. The original premise might have been “The Sopranos in Middle-Earth,” but neither the Hobbits nor the mobsters ever reached this particular mountaintop. At this point, you can’t even define it in terms of the original novels. It’s truly the only beast of its species — the only dragon in the TV kingdom. Long may it roar.