Tyrion Lannister needs a drink.
After spending Gods know how many weeks at sea, trapped inside a small box with holes built in for breathing and defecating, you would be a bit parched on the other side of the journey, too. The enormous weight of having brutally murdered your former lover and your father only further fuels the drive to drink, so the Dink grabs a goblet, fills it up with red wine, chugs it, rinses, repeats, and purges, pantomiming a Purple Wedding of his own, puking all over a nice Pentoshi carpet.
Seconds before vomiting almost directly at the feet of the eunuch Varys, Tyrion says words that will reverberate throughout Game of Thrones, but especially this fifth season premiere: “The future is sh-t, just like the past.” Indeed, the future does not look bright for the Seven Kingdoms and its varying power players, for varying reasons … and yes, the past isn’t much better.
Cersei and the witch
Take the first scene of the episode, and season, for example. For the first time, Game of Thrones gives us a glimpse into the past of one of our main characters: Cersei Lannister. We watch as she and a friend frolic through the woods and harass an old witch in a hut; the woman is said to have the ability to see into the future, so Cersei demands a reading, unless the witch would like to have her eyes gouged out by Tywin Lannister. That’s not what she wants, so she bends to the request. Sipping blood from Cersei’s thumb, the witch proceeds to answer three of Cersei’s questions about what life has in store — though she won’t like the answers.
Among the highlights of the prophecy: Cersei will one day marry a king, but she will only be queen until a “younger, more beautiful” woman comes along and casts her down. What’s more, Cersei and the king will not have children together, but Cersei will still have three. “Gold will be their crowns,” predicts the witch, “and gold their shrouds.”
Aspects of this prophecy have already come true. Cersei did marry a king, Robert Baratheon, and they did not have kids together; she had Jaime’s, three babies born of incest, their hair as gold as the riches of Casterly Rock … and already, one of them is dead, covered in shrouds. Given that the same fate has been predicted for her two surviving children, and that a “younger, more beautiful” woman is actively seducing her son of a King, it’s understandable why Cersei sees her nightmarish childhood memory as a warning of her equally dire future.
And while some of Cersei’s panic is extreme jealousy at best and paranoid cruelty at worst, she’s not entirely off base; later in the episode, we see Margaery Tyrell alone with her brother Loras, and she only acknowledges that “perhaps” she’ll have to continue dealing with Cersei moving forward. “Perhaps,” the single most loaded word in the entire hour.
The restless mother of angry dragons
Far away from King’s Landing, another queen wrestles with her past and her future: Daenerys Targaryen, facing extreme backlash from certain civilians of Meereen, the city she conquered and reshaped in the image of her own moral code. Turns out, not everyone’s morals align with Dany’s, and they want some of their old ways back — fighting pits, for one, where people can make a pretty profit and divert themselves with gladiator games all the while. Dany has no interest in reopening these pits, even if it’s the right political move given her fragile peace with the surrounding cities of Slaver’s Bay.
The Targaryen backlash isn’t just a political debate, however; it’s a literal war in the shadows, as members of an agency called the Sons of the Harpy move against Dany’s forces. One of her Unsullied soldiers, a man called White Rat, dies in a brothel, his throat slit by a masked assassin. It’s an aggressive escalation of the tensions in Meereen, a sign that Dany’s rule is not welcomed by all, and will be met with fire and blood of its own.
But who would dare mess with Daenerys Targaryen, Mother of Dragons? Well, just because you’re the mother does not mean you are in control of your kin. Dany’s dragons are very much in the rebellious teenager phase, with Drogon having flown away from home, and the remaining Viserion and Rhaegal furious with their mother for locking them away in an underground cavern. Dany cannot keep the peace in her new city, just as she cannot keep the peace with her dragons — and as her lover Daario bluntly explains, “A dragon queen without dragons is not a queen.”
Stannis, the Wildlings, and Littlefinger
Back in Westeros, at the great Wall in the North, Stannis Baratheon sees a bright future as the rightful King of the Seven Kingdoms, but it’s a future he won’t see without hard work. Step 1: Win back the North from Lannister-loyal House Bolton, the traitors currently occupying Winterfell. In order to wage that war, however, Stannis needs more men — and to that end, he wants to enlist the wildlings he fought and captured at the end of last season; if they agree to fight for his side, he’ll pardon them and name them citizens of the realm. But first, he needs Jon Snow’s help in convincing their leader, Mance Rayder, to bend the knee to Stannis and advise his people to accept the king’s cause.
Unfortunately, there’s little place in reality for Stannis’ far-fetched optimism. Even though he is not excited at the prospect of burning alive, Mance makes it clear to Jon that even a horrific death is preferable to bending the knee to anyone, betraying everything he knows. And so, Mance refuses Stannis’ offer. Perhaps he’s second-guessing himself as fire nips at his feet, seconds away from consuming him in front of all his people, and in front of the gathered forces of Stannis Baratheon and the Night’s Watch. Perhaps. We’ll never know, because Jon Snow ends the suspense, plunging an arrow directly into Mance’s heart. What does Jon’s future on the Wall look like after such a public declaration of mercy for wildlings? Like just about everybody else, it can’t be good.
Okay, not everyone‘s future is so bleak. Littlefinger looks like he’s having a swell time. The Vale is completely under his thumb, he’s already the lord of Harrenhal, and he has mysterious designs for Sansa Stark, currently posing as his bastard daughter Alayne. As the two ride away from the Vale in a carriage, Littlefinger reveals very little about their future together; but the smirk on his face says it all, as he tells her that they’re about to visit “a land so far from here that not even Cersei Lannister can get her hands on you.”
Tyrion and the road to Meereen
The beautiful thing about the future is that it’s unknown, unless a witch in the woods has already called it for you. The past and present can be “sh-t,” as Tyrion says, but the future doesn’t have to follow suit — and this idea extends to Tyrion as well. Some time after his stomach-churning binge-drinking, Tyrion once again finds himself seeking comfort in the bottom of a bottle. Enter Varys, who does his best to bring Tyrion to his senses. The eunuch believes that “a man of talent has a part to play in the war to come.” He believes that Tyrion can make a difference in the Seven Kingdoms, even from afar, by helping to put a “ruler loved by millions with a powerful army and the right family name” on the Iron Throne.
“Good luck finding him,” Tyrion cracks, as he cracks open his bottle of wine. Varys returns with a smile of his own. “Who said anything about him?” Color Tyrion intrigued. Varys offers Tyrion an opportunity to make something of his future, rather than letting it become a sh-t show like his past and present. “Stay here and drink yourself to death,” he says, “or ride to Meereen, meet Daenerys, and decide if the world is worth fighting for.”
It’s a hard call for a low man stuck in the past, but leave it to someone as brilliant as Tyrion to find the middle ground between yesterday’s sins and tomorrow’s opportunities: “Can I drink myself to death on the road to Meereen?”