Wars_to_come_tyrion_varys_pentosThe night may in fact be dark and full of terrors – but I don’t know about them.

As an avid, although forgetful, book reader, I’ve mostly known where the series was going thus far. I’ve known when Kings were going to topple, when brats were gonna get murdered, when weddings were going to turn red. The real surprise, and joy, of watching the series has been seeing what Benioff and Weiss DO with the source material – the way they tease themes out of it that were latent in the book, or the way they effectively condense the plots that wove throughout George R R Martin’s many, many pages. But the joy was not in the discovery of new information.

Until now. Although much of Season six of Game of Thrones will finish tying up loose ends that the book has already knotted, the very fact that we are so close to running out of book means that the show needs to start trotting uncovered ground (I am really running amock on my metaphors today). So while a couple of big plot events remain in my sights, the long game, as it were, is muddied, uncertain, and exciting.

Which brings me to the first episode of GOT, The Wars to Come, which is appropriately future minded. As per usual in an opening episode of GOT, it has to work overtime to check in with most of our major players. But unlike in past seasons, there’s a real narrative momentum to The Wars To Come.

We start with a truly fantastic Varys and Tyrion scene. Book fans with a more encyclopedic knowledge of the show can correct me, but I don’t remember Varys’ intentions being quite so explicit in the book. He wants whats best for the realm, and he thinks Tyrion does to. It reinforces the idea that Tyrion, for all his lover-and-father murdering is a good guy trying desperately not to be so. And it’s brilliantly written – funny, biting, and underscored by seasons of history and banter. It’s a perfect example of what the television show does well. It’s a scene that is immediately iconic, true to the characters, chock full of exposition, and moves the plot along. And not a boob in sight!

The other area in which the show really excels, especially in contrast to the book, is in its representation of Cersei. In the books, I struggled through her chapters. I cursed her name. But as crafted by Benioff and Weiss, and brought to life by Lena Heady, she’s sympathetic and cruel and hateable but wonderful. The beginning scene, the show’s first use of flashback, feature pitch perfect casting for young Cersei. I normally have very little patience for the show’s use of dream and prophecy (since they’re mostly distractions). This scene, featuring a local witch providing young Cersie with a damning look at her future, is pure perfection.

The Dany storyline is picking up some real narrative momentum, although that could just be the lingering effect of partial male nudity and dragon sightings (both surprisingly rare in the world of televised GOT). Although I have some sense of where we are going to end up here, the show has really kick started a story that too often felt sleepy in the books.

In all, this was a confident first episode that serves as a mission statement for a series that has already proven it can form its own identity. It suffered only marginally from premier-itis, and provided a healthy heaping of what made the show so good to begin with.

AUTHOR’S NOTES: Expect future installments of the GOT recaps to be more focused on the excitement of the episode, and less on the macro-implications of the show moving forward.