Game of Thrones season 5, episode 1: spoiler-free preview

Ben Dowell attended the glamorous season five curtain-raiser at the Tower of London last night as HBO showed us what's in store for the upcoming fifth series on Sky Atlantic next month

Last time we saw the denizens of Westeros, things were in flux, as they tend to be in this neck of the woods. Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) had finally shaken off The Hound and was sailing merrily to the Free City of Bravos, while Tyrion was sailing a little less merrily in a crate away from King’s Landing.

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The lionhearted little Lannister played by Peter Dinklage had escaped jail, killed his horrid father Tywin (Charles Dance) on the toilet (nice touch there, Tyrion) and appeared to be on his way to freedom courtesy of the scheming Varys (Conleth Hill). Sansa (Sophie Turner, main picture) had also fled King’s Landing under the protection of the wily Baelish (Aidan Gillen), under suspicion of having had a hand in killing King Joffrey.

Meanwhile Daenerys Targaryen, breaker of chains and mother of dragons, was having parenting problems. One of her three flying lizards had scarpered and was incinerating children, forcing her to incarcerate the other two. Does she have what it takes to bring her Unsullied army on a victorious march to the Iron Throne, we were left wondering?

She had certainly been billed to deliver. The trailer for series five had her talking a big game as the breaker of wheels, scorner of Houses Lannister, Stark and Tyrell. I certainly wouldn’t bet against her.

And what of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane)? You just can’t keep that man down, can you?

The brave warrior (and another claimant to the Iron Throne) had just seen off the Wildlings, and in the process saved the life of Jon Snow who had marched unarmed to the camp of his enemy Mance Rayder (Ciaran Hinds).

But how times can change.

This fifth series will be as bloody as any, we are assured. Speaking to Kit Harington on the way into the screening, the man behind Jon Snow told RadioTimes.com that it will be a “shocking season”, comparing it to a “horror film”.

“They tend to go story season then shocking season then story season then shocking season,” he said. “This is a shocking season.”

There was not a huge amount of evidence of this in the first episode, though, which was screened in a huge tent in the The Tower of London (“the Thronesiest location you could imagine,” according to co-showrunner David Benioff in a recorded address screened beforehand).

Instead it served as more of a catch-up instalment with few major developments. It dealt with the fallout from the death of Tywin (let’s just say that Lena Headey’s Cersei Lannister was not amused by her brother’s patricide) and saw Tyrion himself facing up to his new life. On the evidence of episode one, he plans to do a lot of drinking to help dull the pain and claims to be done with Westeros and all its lies and politicking, although I won’t spoil it and tell you where he ends up.

Early in the episode, there is one of the most stunning special effects sequences we have seen in the show so far – a truly breathtaking panorama of the Great Pyramid at Meereen. It will leave you gaping.

Things are a little calmer down at Castle Black since our last visit, with Jon Snow exerting more authority and seeking to shape the battle between the Wildlings and the White Walkers. It is time, he says, for men to stop killing each other, to unite and to focus on the real threat of the murderous hoards of the undead about to sweep down from the north. He has a point, does our Mr Snow.

We also meet Brienne of Tarth again, the mighty swordswoman who is also feeling a little down in the dumps. Will she find a good Lord to believe in once more, she wonders?

And there’s also a gaggle of newcomers to take in – an ascetic sect called The Sparrows (a religious order that arose within the ranks of the Faith of the Seven) fronted by Jonathan Pryce’s High Sparrow which seems likely to be centre stage this series. Arya Stark fans will have to wait until later this series to see their heroine (below), but as all you Thrones fans know, the show has a clever knack of keeping you in suspense…

But shocking? While there is one major death in the first episode, this first instalment of series five will have fans of the show gripped as we catch up with everyone and prepare to take things forward. And though it would probably feel entirely baffling and uneventful to first-timers, my appetite was well and truly whetted.

After all, Daenery’s three lizards aren’t growing any smaller, are they…?

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The fifth series of Game of Thrones begins on Sky Atlantic on 13th April at 9pm