Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones over the course of that week. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by culture writer Kelsey McKinney and politics writer Andrew Prokop.
Kelsey McKinney: I didn't love this episode, but I think this season will be one I could really enjoy.
By the end of last season, I had concluded that I could be incredibly happy never watching this show again. Many of the plots had grown tired and frustrating, and I spent longer during episodes wondering how much time was left than I did engaged in what was happening.
As someone who hasn't read the books, the fact that the showrunners were running out of material to adapt wasn't a good enough excuse. The characters on this series can stand on their own. With this premiere, the writers free several characters from their previous restrictions to become fuller versions of themselves.
I agree, Todd, that much of this is due to the focus on the Lannisters — about as good of a TV family as can be imagined. They do it all — they murder each other, they sleep with each other, they hate each other, and they love each other. They are complex and difficult, a joy to watch on the screen.
Tonight's episode also reminded me how strong the women of this cast are. Lena Headey turns Cersei into a quiet force. From the first episode of the series, Cersei has been in control, so it's interesting to watch her difficult descent from holding power to struggling to maintain her place in society.
Director Michael Slovis keeps Cersei off her game, too. Scenes that would have been shot with her as a triumphant and dominating force in previous seasons are now subtle reminders that she's far from those things at this point in her life.
Margaery (Natalie Dormer), Melisandre (Carice van Houten), and even Sansa (Sophie Turner) have stepped into Cersei's power vacuum. None of them have all that much actual power, but they've seized everything they can to become powerful presences.
What's striking to me about this episode is that the producers increasingly have come to terms with something that was evident to viewers early on — this show isn't about the Iron Throne anymore.
At this point, I don't much care about who gets to rule the Seven Kingdoms when this is all over. With the war over, it's no longer the dominant narrative of the show. Cersei's naive younger son Tommen Baratheon currently sits on the throne, and he only makes an appearance in this episode for half a second so that the show can better expand the characters of Margaery and Cersei.
It's good that these characters are stepping into the void, because Daenerys increasingly isn't. In the early seasons, Dany was the best. I spent entire episodes wondering when her dragons were going to set people on fire. But now I find my interest in her story collapsing. That's an unfortunate offshoot of the show's narrative shift: now that the Iron Throne isn't as important, outsider contenders to sit on it also seem much more superfluous to the story.
As a viewer, however, this shift is welcome. The Cersei flashback shows where the series is headed — away from the overarching battle for the throne and toward smaller stories about the individuals who populate this world.
That's a show I'm more interested in watching. It will be easier to engage viewers in the battle for the Iron Throne in the future if the struggle over it is more complicated than some fancy swordsmanship.