Russell Baillie reviews the first episode of Game of Thrones' fifth season, The Wars to Come.

*Warning: This article contains spoilers. Do not read any further if you haven't seen season five's first episode.

One of the first things noticeable about the season five beginning of Game of Thrones is the theme music seems to be slower and is now bowed deeper.

It's sounding like mournful cellos rather than the rampant full string section of past seasons. So let's get the pun out of the way: yes, after the brutality of last season's finale, the new season contains less violins.

The milder music fitted the tone of this measured, scene-setting first outing. It wasn't that exciting. It contained but one pivotal name-character fatality, much talk and not much action.

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Its main purpose was to remind what had gone before and plant some seeds of what's to come.

Religion - GoT author George RR Martin's confusing competing creeds - is seemingly going to loom large in the coming series, the zealot monks of the Sparrows in King's Landing already making their presence felt.

Meanwhile Lord of Light priestess Melisandre was up north back on burning-at-stake duties.

The episode ended with the fiery death of Wildling leader Mance Rayder at Castle Black, though he was put out of his misery by a merciful arrow from Jon Snow.

Rayder had refused to bow to Stannis Baratheon and join his campaign to take the Iron Throne.

As Rayder, Ciarán Hinds had elevated an intermittent character into something memorable.

But mostly the episode which ended with his demise was one which had other major characters still cleaning up from the deaths of last season.

Lord Tywin Lannister is lying in state while his offspring Cersei and Jamie at loggerheads over Jamie aiding little brother Tyrion - who crossbowed dear pater on the privy - to escape.

Cersei was seen in flashback (quite the nasty wee child prototype of her adult self) encountering a soothsaying witch whose prophecy about her rotten royal life seems to be coming true.

Tyrion, meanwhile, has escaped to somewhere else in the seven kingdoms and is reluctant to get back into the game at the behest of his shadowy saviour Varys.

Elsewhere, there's other major characters questioning their motivations - having rescued young Arya Stark then lost her, warrior woman Brienne of Tarth is wondering why she's bothering with her quest, not knowing that her other objective, Sansa Stark, was at that moment trotting past in a carriage with the scheming Littlefinger (the pair of them having just dropped off his idiot step-son, Lord Robin, at a local boarding school where he's likely to stay for quite some time).

And meanwhile in Meereen, Daenerys is finding being queen doesn't put her above politics. Especially with her "Unsullied" troops being murdered by insurgents in the conquered city.

She's being persuaded, by her gladiator lover Daario Naharis, that the only way to re-assert her authority is to unleash the dragons.

Well, the two of the three she still has locked up in the basement. Trouble is, those lizard kids of hers are growing up fast. They only managed a quick scorch in the opening episode.

But added to poor old Mance's log fire, it helped give this otherwise slow smoulder of a first outing some dark sparks.

* What did you think? Post your comments below.

- nzherald.co.nz