Game of Thrones returns Sunday, April 12th, and as I’ll be reviewing the show here at Zone Six, I thought I would write some thoughts on previous seasons as well as offer some hopes for Season 5 of HBO’s massive hit.

Note: While I am a book-reader and the reviews when the season airs will contain thoughts on the show’s divergence from the books, this post will be spoiler-free of such information.

At this point in the story, our characters have been split from each other across the continents of Westeros and Essos for some time, all with their own motivations, goals, and struggles. However, three primary conflicts are contained within the show that run parallel with our characters and affect them at every turn. The struggle for the Iron Throne sits central to these, and at Season 4’s close, we have Tommen Baratheon sitting the throne, being pulled in two directions by his mother Cersei Lannister and his betrothed wife Margaery Tyrell. I expect season 5 will deal with the repercussions of Tywin Lannister’s death, certainly to be blamed on Tyrion as he conveniently disappears from the capital the same night with Lord Varys. But who will Cersei think released Tyrion? Will she suspect Jaime, who actually did it? Or might she blame the Tyrells from her own paranoia?

Through the previews and articles about Season 5, we also know that the show will be taking us to Dorne, which is the home of Oberyn Martell. As we know, Oberyn perished in “The Mountain and the Red Viper,” the climactic and brutal eighth episode of Season 4. The Martells already languished for revenge for Elia Martell’s death at the hand of The Mountain and at the orders of Tywin Lannister, and I expect this revenge to be fuelled when Ellaria Sand returns with the news of Oberyn’s death. How Oberyn’s daughters the Sand Snakes and his brother Doran, the Prince of Dorne, handle this news is yet to be seen, but with a name like “Sand Snakes,” I think we can safely assume they will be itching for Lannister blood. And in fact, they have a Lannister in their midst, Myrcella Baratheon, who was sent to Dorne in Season 2 by Tyrion to be betrothed to Trystane Martell, Doran’s son and heir. We know that Myrcella will be taking a more central role this season – last played by Aimee Richardson, the character was recast and will now be played by Nell Tiger Free, likely signifying more screen-time as happened when Dean Charles-Chapman took over the role of Tommen.

Meanwhile, the Stark daughters are off on their own quests, with Arya heading to Braavos with the help of the coin Jaqen H’ghar gave her in Season 2. As we know, Braavos is where the Faceless Men are trained in the arts of assassination, and I think this story-line promises a lot of great scenes for Arya. Her elder sister Sansa, meanwhile, continues to be intertwined with Peter “Littlefinger” Baelish and his schemes, though it seems she has learned how to pull some strings of her own. I’m especially looking forward to her character arc this season. While her scenes in the past were not boring or otherwise bad, it is always difficult to watch a character have bad thing after bad thing happen to them. Not that she was in a great position to do anything about it, but a meek, passive character turned to a darker, more cunning character always makes for enticing scenes, as I discussed in The Walking Dead finale review.

Further north are an array of scattered characters not central to the main plot, but certainly of key importance. Firstly, after their disastrous run-in with Arya and The Hound, I assume that Brienne and Podrick will be continuing their quest to find Sansa, and based on the previews released, it seems they are heading into snowy territory. Considering Sansa is currently at the Vale, I’m wondering if this hints that Sansa will be traveling north, as some fans have guessed. In the darker, more tortured storyline, we have Theon Greyjoy, now known as Reek, continuing his role as the plaything of Ramsay Snow, now known as Ramsay Bolton, true-born son of the current Warden of the North, Roose Bolton. Last seen heading back to Winterfell to rebuild, it seems from the previews that their story will be crossing with that of King Stannis Baratheon, who has taken up residency at The Wall.

This brings us to the second main conflict of the series, that of the White Walkers impending return, and the Night’s Watch goal of protecting the realm from those north of the Wall, free-folk included. In the trailer, Jon Snow says “We can learn to live with the Wildlings, or we can add them to the army of the dead.” It seems this will be of significance this season, as the bastard son of Ned Stark attempts to convince the Night’s Watch that they need to allow the free-folk through the Wall to join their side. Running alongside this conflict will be his dealings with King Stannis, Melisandre, and Davos Seaworth, and I expect each will find some significance in Jon, being a son of Winterfell. Stannis mentions that Roose and Ramsay Bolton have taken the North, which means he will likely be looking for ways to take it from them. I’m quite excited for this storyline, and if the show does it justice, I expect it will be one of the many highlights of Season 5.

Our final, major conflict of the series is that of Daenerys Targaryen, her dragons, and her desire to return to Westeros and claim the Iron Throne for herself. Last seen chaining up her dragons due to their unruly behaviour and exiling Jorah Mormont due to his betrayal, I don’t expect Daenerys to be quite yet ready to leave Meereen, and it doesn’t seem like good tidings ahead. The trailers tease that Varys and Tyrion may be heading in her direction, and it will certainly be interesting to see these characters cross paths, if at all, especially considering her hatred of the Lannisters. If they interact, will she trust Tyrion? I would assume that the fact that he murdered Tywin (and can even take the blame for Joffrey’s death) would play into her favour, but we’ll see if that happens. It also seems that Drogon, still loose and flying about Essos, will be a major factor in the storyline ahead.

Meanwhile, after an explosive final scene in Season 4, it seems that Bran, Hodor, Meera, and company will be sitting out this season. David Benioff and Dan Weiss explain that chronologically, Bran is way ahead of where the other characters are. They mention that it made sense to stop where they did as he’s now entering a training period with the Three-Eyed Raven, most of which “isn’t particularly cinematic.” While I will certainly miss Hodor saying “Hodor,” the cast of Game of Thrones is large enough as it is, so I think it’s a wise move to focus on the important, crucial plots of the season, especially if Dorne is to take a more central focus.

So, what do I hope for from the new season? Well, mostly, I hope that Game of Thrones is able to deliver what it has consistently delivered in the past: political intrigue, large-scale action battles, fantastic character development, betrayals, blood, sex, dragons, and magic. I don’t think I’m alone in saying that each season has been better than the last, and I hope this season is no different. Specifically, I’m looking forward to more revenge for the Starks, a sharp dose of reality for Cersei Lannister, a surprise death or two, and as mentioned, some intriguing scenes between Jon Snow and his new visitors at the Wall. What are you hoping for?

Yesterday, at the Apple Keynote “Spring Forward” event, a new trailer for Season 5 of Game of Thrones was launched. With it came the announcement that HBO Now would be available on Apple devices beginning this April in an exclusive partnership.The confirmed pricing for the streaming service will be $14.99 a month.

The new season of Game of Thrones premieres April 12th with an episode titled “The Wars to Come”, and features new characters played by Jonathan Pryce as the High Sparrow of King’s Landing, Alexander Siddig as Doran Martell, Keisha Castle-Hughes, and Jessica Henwick, Rosabell Laurenti Sellers, and DeObia Oparei as the Sand Snake sisters.

You can watch the trailer below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H6a3HfOxlsI

From HBO’s official press release:

Upon launch, customers can subscribe using the HBO NOW app on their iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, or directly on Apple TV for instant access. Users can purchase HBO NOW directly in-app for $14.99 a month. Upon registering, subscribers will also be able to watch at HBONOW.com. HBO will offer a 30 day introductory free trial period to new HBO NOW customers who sign up through Apple in April.

HBO continues to be in discussions with its existing network of distributors and new digital partners to offer HBO NOW. At launch, HBO NOW will be available on iOS devices and on PCs.

Highly-anticipated upcoming original programs like Westworld, the drama series starring Anthony Hopkins, Ed Harris and Evan Rachel Wood; The Brink, the dark comedy series starring Jack Black and Tim Robbins; the new season of the Emmy®-winning True Detective with Vince Vaughn, Colin Farrell and Rachel McAdams; and HBO Films’ Bessie, starring Queen Latifah, will become available on HBO NOW as they air on HBO.

In addition, HBO NOW will showcase Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, named “best of 2014” on many critics’ lists; VICE, the Emmy®-winning, cutting-edge news magazine series hosted by Shane Smith; HBO Sports documentaries, series and World Championship Boxing events; and groundbreaking documentary programming like Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief, The Jinx: The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst and the Oscar®-winning Citizenfour.

 

I first read this book in my early teens and it had a profound impact on me.  The character of Sparrowhawk and his trials and tribulations were both inspiring and at that age somewhat terrifying!  Not a large book or series of books, it was easy to read and finish these books in a couple of hours of concentrated reading and it was even easier to simply fall into the Earthsea universe and completely lose yourself!

A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in the Earthsea series and while there are other short stories and books in the sequence the primary novels are:

Le Guin’s Earthsea Cycle is an adventure tracing Ged Sparrowhawk’s ambitious years, youthful exploits, and confrontation with an undead menace released by his own reckless vanity.

Earthsea is an ocean littered with islands, some of which disappear with the tides.  The people are wary of travelers, and what they know of the world consists of their understanding of their land, and the few stories they may have heard about other islands over the years, but even those seem distant dreams.  With a distinct magical system at play in the Earthsea universe – the power of “real” names is paramount – Le Guin pulls you in from the first word.

In a Wizard of Earthsea, Ged Sparrowhawk begins his magical journey into power and wisdom.  Although just a child, Ged saves his island home (Gont) from rampaging raiders through the use of magic.  Realizing the power inherent in the young boy, Ged is apprenticed to the master (hermit) magician Ogion but Ged does not believe he is being properly trained by Ogion and disobeys his direct orders.

Ogion sends Ged to study on the Wizard island of Roke where he meets Vetch and Jasper.  Ged as an impoverished wizard is looked down upon by the wealthy wizards on Roke and Ged and Jasper particularly do not get along.  Conflict with Jasper escalates until Ged uses magic beyond his control and summons a gebbeth, a creature form beyond the wall of death. Realizing that this creature can kill him if he leaves Roke, Ged stays on the island for many years studying and learning – perhaps the most important lesson he learns is humility!

 

A fully functioning and extremely powerful Archmage, Ged is eventually sent to the Ninety Isles to serve the people there.  Unfortunately his use of magic attracts the gebbeth that he had previously inadvertently released and Ged flees from its arrival.  However Ged is no longer the same callow youth that had first arrived on Roke – even though he had to run, he was not going to leave his new charges defenseless.  Using his power and knowledge, Ged is able to subdue a nearby dragon that had previously been tormenting the people of the Ninety Isles.

Ged continues his travels from island to island always staying just one step ahead of the gebbeth and eventually arrives back on Gont.  Here he reconciles with Ogion and determines that instead of running from the gebbeth he should in fact be hunting it!  Turning around and now pursuing the gebbeth, Ged chases the monster from island to island and eventually beyond the known world itself to the wall of death.  Here Ged manages to defeat the gebbeth not by magic but by knowledge and acceptance.

My Thoughts

As previously mentioned, this is not a heavy read and is suitable for all age groups.  While written in the third person and perhaps a bit slower than more more modern epics, A Wizard of Earthsea definitely stands the test of time.  As a (1979) Lewis Carroll Shelf Award winner, Le Guin’s works can be ranked among the best in the genre.

Character Growth & Development –

Ged transforms himself from callow youth to all powerful wizard.  You can’t really ask for more in one tome in terms of growth and development and while its not all about the magic (he develops as a person too) his magical growth is astounding.

Story Growth & Development –

While the magic system is well defined – its not really new.  Ged’s creation of the gebbeth – creating his own villian – was cool, but it didn’t really do anything … it was more the fear of what it could do versus anything else.

Overall Rating –

While it started out a bit slow, A Wizard of Earthsea was a good book and one I’d definitely recommend.  It might not have all the umph and impact of a Jordon or Sanderson or for that matter the character death, dismemberment and overall angst of George R.R. Martin’s epic fantasy, but for a quick and easy read … its well worth picking up.