Photo courtesy of HBO

Almost a full year after the bloody events of its fourth season finale, HBO’s epic fantasy phenomenon “Game of Thrones” returned to television this past week, and the death toll shows no sign of slowing. The fifth season premiere sees several story lines begin to collide, a rare occurrence on a show that boasts an ensemble cast spread out over seven fictional kingdoms and two continents. However, with these new characters and plot dynamics come new challenges for our heroes to face; “hero” being a lightly used word in this case, as the line between good and evil on the show has never been more blurred.

The episode begins with a flashback sequence set nearly three decades before the events of the show, something that “Thrones” has never done before and the contents of which certainly do not bode well for the future of a certain King’s Landing resident. Other events include the formation of a devout religious cult among the impoverished commoners of the capital, Tyrion fleeing across the sea after his double homicide of last season, Daenerys losing control of her dragon offspring while at the same time facing a terroristic threat within her own city and Jon trying to establish a peace between two violently stubborn kings.

As far as “Thrones” episodes go, this premiere is not the best hour of television in the show’s history. Essentially, it faces the same problem that many episodes before it have faced, in that it must juggle half a dozen separate story lines within the span of 50 minutes and as a result can only spend a sparse amount of time on each character, with a few action sequences thrown in for good measure. Not to mention the fact that, by the time the credits role, barely half the cast has been fully accounted for; such is the price that the show pays for having such a multi-faceted cast.

The content is as top-notch as ever, and the writing has only improved since the first season, but there is still the ever-present need for more. However, with the present convergence of several characters’ paths (or at least with their convergence in the very near future), this lack of sufficient screen time for certain fan favorites will hopefully be remedied.

As it stands, this first episode may not be so explosive in terms of action and Red Wedding-level plot twists, but it does succeed in moving characters into position for what is sure to be a game-changing season. If the show’s creators are to be believed, then “Thrones” is starting into its dénouement in terms of plot, and this sense of an ending approaching is certainly reflected in this latest season. Key characters have finally begun to show their true colors, while others have been obliterated from the show in the most violent ways possible, slowly forcing every story line into a bottleneck in the form of an ultimate battle between good, evil and the various forces in between that draws ever closer.

So it’s time to strap in fanboys and girls, because “Thrones” is preparing for its final sprint toward the finish, and author George R. R. Martin himself has stated that casualties along the way will be plentiful as well as surprising, both for those who have read the book series and those who have not. Amateur hour is over, and it’s time, as the proverbial saying goes, to nut up or shut up. The sex, violence and political intrigue that have molded the show have finally come to a head, and winter is just around the corner for the citizens of Westeros.