Valyrian steel FTW! Bet you didn’t know Valyrian steel can kill White Walkers, did you? Maybe crossbows and lemoncakes kill the undead too? You really never know until you try…
Tonight we saw the big battle episode of season 5—and you probably didn’t even know there was a big battle episode in season 5. Unlike the Battle of the Blackwater in season 2, or the Battle of Castle Black in season 4, tonight’s Hardhome fight was a surprise since nobody ever knows when those White Walkers are going to strike.
The structure of this episode was unusual too, with roughly half the hour a tasty Thrones-ian buffet of storylines—with Tyrion and Dany’s banter as one supremely delectable appetizer—then the second half suddenly giving us a big beefy entree of Jon Snow slaying the army of the dead for about 20 minutes. Overall, “Hardhome” managed to show the two very different styles of drama that Thrones does best: Intimate two-handers between great actors, and epic action unlike anything we’ve seen on TV before.
Meereen: What happens when Tyrion and Dany finally have a real chat? Two fascinatingly clever scenes of sharp, witty exchanges that are everything we’d hoped for. I love everything about these scenes. First there’s a beat in Dany’s throne room (her “audience chamber” if you want to be technical about it). Dany sits regally at the top of the stairs looking down at Tyrion, who is forced to address her at the bottom. Jeez Dany, the man’s already a dwarf, no need to be a jerk about it.
Dany says that Lannisters killed her family. Tyrion notes that he’s become pretty effective at killing Lannisters himself, and even tries a bit of reverse psychology—that he’s not sure if she deserves his advice. Dany decides to give Tyrion a test, and it’s a great one: What should she do with Ser Jorah, who betrayed her and was exiled?
At first, Tyrion defends Jorah, rather movingly, saying the knight is a changed man and Tyrion is “pretty sure he’s in love with you,” and noting “a ruler who kills those devoted to her does not inspire devotion.” That last line must hit Dany hard, because she executed her devoted follower earlier this season and caused a riot—clearly a bad move, and one that Tyrion would have apparently counseled against. BUT Tyrion also points out that Jorah’s betrayal must have a penalty, so he recommends banishing him yet again.
I’m torn on this last part. Dany needs all the help she can get. But I wonder if Tyrion is partly recommending this move because it also serves him—exiling Ser Jorah means Dany will need Tyrion more.
Later, they have a quiet drink, “two terrible children of two terrible fathers.” This was the first major scene Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke shot together, and we have a behind-the-scenes story about it in this week’s upcoming issue of Entertainment Weekly that you should check out (it was charmingly like an awkward first date).
NEXT: Comeuppance, it tastes like a dungeon floor [pagebreak]
Dany wants help winning the Iron Throne. “Perhaps you should try wanting something else,” Tyrion dryly comments, noting that she could just stay in Meereen for the rest of her rule (prompting every viewer to cry, “Noooo!“). Throughout their chat, Tyrion keeps being put in the position of having to defend folks like Varys and Jaime. It’s like he’s applying for a job and all his references have attempted to murder his would-be boss.
Dany explains her intention to “break the wheel” of tyrannical Westeros family rule (if successful, she could add another title to her list — The Breaker of Wheels). Needless to say, both are pretty impressed by the other. We often have characters cross paths on Thrones and its refreshing to have two that we both like who also like each other (rather than, say, all the Stark girls dissing poor Brienne). Dany decides to bring Tyrion onto her staff, and it feels like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Meanwhile, Ser Jorah the Doubly Banished sees his greyscale has progressed. He decides to sell himself to the fighting pits. He figures he’ll die in a blaze of gladiatorial glory at the opening ceremonies in Dany’s honor. Live by the friend zone, die by the friend zone!
Braavos: Arya gets her first assignment. She’s to become Lana the Oyster Girl, a crab and cockle merchant. She must memorize details of her new identity and gets smacked with the stick every time she gets something wrong. I like the simplicity of this school—there’s no report cards, no grades, everything you do just earns a Smack or No Smack.
She goes out into the docks with her oyster cart, looking a lot like that Westeros fugitive Arya Stark. If only there were some way for her to disguise herself so nobody could recognize her. But it’s not like the House of Black and White has a towering room full of magic masks she could use to to hide her identity that we just saw last week or anything. No, it’s far more important she knows which alley to turn on. At least Arya gets another costume change (two costumes changes in one year, she’s becoming a regular Lady Gaga).
Arya goes to the docks to gather intel on her target, this guy running an insurance scam on sea captains. We do not know if Arya got to eat some oysters, but we hope she did.
When Jaqen H’ghar tells her Arya she’s going to get to kill the gambler, a girl looks even more happy than when Sansa finds out later that her brothers are still alive. All the Stark sisters getting good news this week.
King’s Landing: Cersei is in a dungeon with only her anger to keep her warm. Her schemes have backfired spectacularly. She now looks as miserable as Margaery. I sort of wish, given the potential entertainment value, that the High Sparrow had put them in the same cell.
Her creepy Dr. Frankenstein arrives to give her an update. She’s going to be put on trial for “fornication, treason, incest, and the murder of King Robert,” which sounds about right. He advises her to confess. She’s most disturbed by the fact that Tommen has locked himself in his room, depressed, as he’s going through withdrawl of both boobs and mom. It’s pretty sad that sweet Tommen is actually even worse of a king than Joffrey, who would be using every ounce of his power to have the High Sparrow’s head on a spike.
“The work continues,” Qyburn adds cryptically as he exits. A reference to his Mountain-sized monster under the sheet perhaps?
Cersei is also visited by the cruel septa, who holds out a ladle full of water and demands a confession. Confess you get the water, don’t and you get smacked with the ladle. Another example of binary education. Cersei tries bribes and threats, but nothing works. Septa don’t care.
In Cersei’s lowest moment so far, she slurps the water off the dungeon floor.
Winterfell: Theon brings Sansa food and finds her waiting, very pissed off: “Why?” Theon explains he foiled her escape attempt and told Ramsay about her plans for her own good. From his perspective, this reasoning is sound—Theon’s never been able to fool Ramsay, never been able to escape, and he knows things can be worse.
She presses him and Theon gets all third-person-y, explaining there’s no Smeagol, only Gollum. He interestingly says he fully agrees that he deserved everything he got—but not for the reason Sansa thinks. Theon feels most guilty about killing the two farm boys as stand-ins for Bran (who’s learning some cool warg tricks up North) and Rickon (who’s, uh, partying with Gendry and Arya’s direwolf?).
Sansa realizes her younger brothers are alive. This is the first bit of good news she’s received since season 1. Watching Sansa realize this is a joy, and notice how the director gives her a literal glimmer of hope in her eyes. Sansa now has renewed purpose: Reunite with her brothers (once she’s freed from being Ramsay’s rape-slave, of course). Some might dislike Sansa’s storyline this year, but it’s giving Sophie Turner a chance to do her best work yet.
Theon freaks out that he mistakenly gave Sansa hope. He says he can’t talk to her anymore and storms out.
Elsewhere in the castle, Roose and Ramsay have a strategy meeting: What to do about the stag at their gate? Roose wants to wait and let the winter slowly kill Stannis’ army. Why fight if you don’t have to? Ramsay always chooses violence when he doesn’t have to, so he wants to take 20 men and presumably raid Stannis’ camp. That’s actually not a bad idea either. As miserable as Stannis’ army is, their focus is on fighting the elements. A sneak attack would probably cause even more desertion.
NEXT: The Wight Stuff [pagebreak]
Hardhome: Jon Snow arrives at the remote outpost and convinces some of the Wildlings to return with him, then they’re all attacked by an undead army. I’m not going to detail every sword swing, but here’s my highlight reel:
— Wildling chieftain named Karsi (Danish Pitch Perfect 2 actress Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is a Thrones rarity: A single-episode guest appearance of awesomeness (she even had one of the best lines: “I f–king hate Thenns”). But we knew she was doomed when she said that fatal line to her kids, “I’m right behind you, I promise.” She couldn’t bring herself to kill the zombie children, so she was horribly consumed. For awhile there, she was Imperator Furiosa to Jon Snow’s Mad Max, with the Lord of Bones as Immortan Joe. Who killed the world?
— When Jon declared, “at least we’ll give the f–kers a fight,” it made me realize how infrequently Jon Snow swears.
— Jon discovers that his Valyrian sword can kill White Walkers. So it’s not just dragonglass, after all. Sure they’re both rare metals, but it’s good intel that gives Westeros more ways to survive, and it seems to have a certain magic-y logic since both metals have Valyrian ties.
— I like that Game of Thrones has 28 Days Later-style speed zombies, while The Walking Dead has George Romero-style shambling zombies.
— A reference to the giant ice spiders! The last time we heard about them, I believe, was when Old Nan was telling Bran her pants-pooping terrifying bedtime stories in season 1. Are we going to get them, I wonder…
— The White Walkers on the hill. The four undead horseman of the apocalypse?
— Perhaps my favorite effect in an episode stuffed with impressive CGI was a real simple one: The White Walker general jumping down a level without bending his legs any any further. It was an idea I’ve seen before in films, but the execution of it here was so deft and inhuman.
— Giant stomp! But is “Wun Wun” the giant going to swim-swim back to Castle Black after wading out to sea? You had to think everybody escaping on a boat is thinking, “I hope the giant doesn’t want to ride on this boat.” Also: We learned “what the f–k you looking at” translates to sounding like “donkey kong” in giantspeak.
— The undead falling over the cliff, then coming to life. Here’s what’s crazy: That was more convincing-looking than the wall-attacking zombie hordes in the awful World War Z film adaptation.
— The last couple minutes of the episode…I mean, it was perfect, wasn’t it? Smartly, composer Ramin Djawadi went silent for this beat. The water-adverse Night’s King resurrecting the Wildling dead was staged wonderfully. Jon looked very cool on the boat; his expression was captivating. I’m trying to avoid the cliche description of “epic” here. Game of Thrones has had some difficulty unifying the White Walker storyline to the more grounded-feeling drama in the rest of the show, yet this sequence managed to retain the show’s usual dramatic sensibility along with the extreme fantasy elements.
Usually the big action setpiece is in the ninth episode of the season, but we still have two more to go. For those saying it’s been a sluggish season up until now, the last two episodes continue the high drama and pace we saw tonight. It’s no secret that there’s also one major action sequence still to come (the fighting pits). Until next week…
Here’s Kit Harington talking about making that Hardhome battle sequence, and George R.R. Martin revealing which five characters from the books he wishes were on the show (yup, Lady Stoneheart is one).