Arya returns as 'Thrones' leaders make lousy decisions.

By James Hibberd
April 20, 2015 at 06:08 PM EDT
Credit: HBO

How did hissing ever stop being a thing? You still hear the expression “boo and hiss,” but never really hear a crowd totally hiss in unison, just occasionally boo. As Daenerys just found out, a big audience hissing at you can be really creepy. Oh, and Arya returned, Brienne met Sansa, Jon Snow got a promotion—sort of—and much more in EW’s recap of the second episode of Game of Thrones season 5, “The House of Black and White.”

Braavos: I don’t know about you, but this man is ready for Arya to return. And there she is, sailing into the harbor in the free city of Braavos. It’s a place where all men must die, but all visitors must float between the spread legs of a giant warrior statue.

In the city, Arya initially likes what she sees—ordinary working folk; no soldiers. That helpful captain takes her to The House of Black and White. The building is imposing and mysterious, yet bland and unadorned. This is the home of the “Faceless Man” assassin, supposedly named Jaqen H’ghar, who helped Arya escape imprisonment in season 2. The door is answered by a creepy-looking hooded guy. He’s not impressed with Arya’s coin, says Jaqen H’ghar is not there, tells her the wizard is busy, go away, etc. “You have everywhere else to go,” he says.

So Arya sits and recites her kill-list of names. She says them over and over and over again. She might just want to write those names down at this point. Arya waits through the night and in the rain. I’m expecting Tyler Durden to pop out to try and dissuade her from joining their club (“You’re too young, get the f— off my porch”).

Arya gives up and goes back to her old street-survival ways of catching pigeons for food. Local bullies try to take her sword. Her confidence facing off with them shows how much she’s grown. “Nothing is worth anything to dead men,” she warns, though one could argue that Arya should take that exact same advice here.

Arya is rescued by that odd-looking hooded man. Just once I want him to say “ribbit.” He reveals himself to be Jaqen H’ghar in disguise. He claims he didn’t lie to her earlier by saying he was not there, because a Faceless Man’s true identity is “no one,” which is what she must become too. This sounds a lot like “I’m f—ing with you” semantics. And by the way, you would think if Jaqen H’ghar were going to be some super-sneaky blend-in-the-crowd assassin, he’d pick a more inconspicuous default guise than that of a redhead with Bride of Frankenstein highlights. But no matter: Arya has a new home.

Riverlands: Brienne and Pod stop at a tavern. “Must be good food if it’s crowded,” says Pod. I like Podrick, he seems like the type of friend who will always first check a restaurant’s Yelp reviews.

Inside, Pod also likes the waitress and seems generally pleased with this place. He really should just ditch Brienne and get a safe and secure job at the tavern. He could meet up with Hot Pie after work and they could chat about how they both managed to escape their insanely dangerous Game of Thrones story lines by going into the service industry.

Director Michael Slovis neatly uses Pod watching the waitress as a way of shifting our attention to Sansa and Littlefinger at a cozy table in the back. So that near miss between Brienne and Sansa in the premiere wasn’t such a tease after all! And now we have our first Major Characters Meeting Who Do Not Meet in the Books scene of season 5.

In a fun exchange, Brienne tells Pod: “Ready the horses.” Pod says they only have one horse. “Find more,” she shoots back.

Brienne marches up to Littlefinger’s table and loudly reveals Sansa Stark’s identity to the whole bar. She gives Sansa the “come with me if you want to live” speech she gave to Arya. Littlefinger starts craftily spinning reasonable doubt about Brienne’s trustworthiness. “Why would I want somebody with your history of failure guarding Sansa?” he says. Littlefinger would have made an amazing lawyer. But Brienne really needs to come up with a better defense than saying Lord Renly was “murdered by a shadow.”

Darth Sansa rejects Brienne: “You should leave.”

On the surface, this is yet another devastating defeat for Brienne. But Sansa almost certainly knows that she is saving Brienne’s life (we also have an interview with Gwendoline Christie about this scene linked at the end of the recap). If Sansa said, “Sure, let’s go,” then Littlefinger would have quickly ordered Brienne killed to stop her from taking Sansa out of the tavern, purportedly for her own good. Even Brienne can’t defeat 10 knights in a crowded room where there’s barely has enough room for her to draw her sword.

Also, even knowing Littlefinger and Brienne the way we do, there is an argument to be made that, at this point in the story, Lord Baelish is Sansa’s better option. Brienne is only one fighter with no resources and Sansa is a fugitive wanted for the murder of the king. Littlefinger may be a sleezy killer, but his affection for Sansa seems real enough. He’s skilled at survival and has the resources to protect her. So as much as we want to see Sansa run away with Brienne, it’s not 100 percent clear that’s the smartest move she could make—even if they could get away.

Still, I wish Brienne could have had a moment with Sansa alone to tell her Arya was still alive. In a way, that’s another near miss.

As it turns out, ever-cautious Littlefinger wants Brienne dead even if she doesn’t leave with Sansa. Lucky for her, Littlefinger would rather kill her later, out of sight, because that’s his style. His subtlety in trying to capture Brienne gives her enough of a window to bolt out of the room.

[Horse chase, horse chase, horse chase].

Brienne dispatches Littlefinger’s pursuers and decides to follow him and Sansa. She’s convinced the Stark heir still might want help. Honestly, given the way Arya and Sansa treated Brienne, Pod may be right to suggest she should just forget those unappreciative Stark sisters and find something else to do.

But Podrick, buddy … do you really not know how to ride a horse? You live in Westeros, worked in the Red Keep, and want to be a squire. I bet 20 percent of the people reading this know how to ride a horse despite having never lived in a medieval land where nearly everyone uses horses for basic transportation.

King’s Landing: Cersei gets a present from Dorne: a model of a red viper with her daughter Myrcella’s necklace in its fangs (last season’s doomed Prince Oberyn Martell was nicknamed “Red Viper”). Tyrion, you recall, shipped Myrcella off to Dorne in season 2 when Stannis’ fleet was coming to attack King’s Landing.

This threat goes straight to pierce Cersei’s two-sizes-too-small heart. Remember last week’s flashback prophecy predicting the death of her three children? Though I wonder if she ever realizes that none of this mess would have happened had she not poisoned her husband, King Robert. Or let’s turn that around and look at it another way: None of this would have happened if King Robert had given Cersei the love and attention she says she wanted. Let this be a lesson: You must keep your spouse happy or the result is death, war, chaos, and incest.

Jaime has a pretty lousy track record himself. He didn’t save Robert. He didn’t save Joffrey. He inadvertantly got Tywin killed. But he decides he can go and try to rescue Myrcella from Dorne.

Later: Bounty hunters bring Cersei a dwarf’s head to claim the reward for Tyrion, but they got the wrong guy. “Mistakes will be made,” she says. If you’re a man in King’s Landing with nice hair under 5′ tall, you should probably get out of town.

Cersei then goes to her ever-shrinking Small Council and demonstrates how governance by paranoia and grudge-holding works. She appoints Qyburn to Vary’s old CIA post of Master of Whispers. He’s not qualified, but she trusts him, and loyalty is the only qualification that matters to her.

She also wants her uncle Kevan to be Master of War. But Kevan rejects the post and her authority. He says what we’re thinking: Young King Tommen should be there, learning how to govern, and accuses her of stacking the council with sycophants. He only dares to say this because Cersei won’t kill her own uncle. So now Cersei has lost somebody who’s trustworthy, a war expert, and isn’t afraid to tell her she’s wrong. Maybe she’s been sleeping with the wrong family member.

Beach: Tyrion’s ladder-climbing sellsword Ser Bronn is chatting up his new bride-to-be, who he admires for her huge … tracts of land. He’s seemingly scheming to improve her inheritance odds by killing her older sister (“People like your sister they always get what’s coming to them”).

But here’s Jaime with a counter-proposal: Come with him to Dorne and he’ll make sure Ser Bronn gets “a much better girl and a much better castle.” We feel bad for the girl, but she’s much better off without Ser Bronn in her life.

Dorne!: We’re in Dorne, at last. It’s “as far south as south goes” (at least until you hit a bunch of water, which apparently doesn’t count). This is the House Martell’s Water Gardens. It looks very pretty and like it requires a lot of gardeners. Prince Doran is in charge here (yes, the prince is named Doran and the country is called Dorne, George R.R. Martin wants to make us work). Doran is Prince Oberyn’s older brother, and he suffers from gout. His wooden wheelchair looks really heavy to push around. Westeros has direwolves, white walkers and dragons, but apparently not much vitamin C.

Ellaria Sand is still fuming about seeing The Mountain treat her lover’s head like a bowling ball last season. She’s glaring at Cersei’s daughter like how Cersei glares at Margaery. She even resents Myracella using Dorne’s oxygen to breathe. She wants the prince to go to war with the Lannisters over Oberyn’s death and to send back Myracella to Cersei one piece at a time. Seeing how Cersei reacted to the necklace, one can only imagine how much she’d apocalyptically freak out if she got a finger in the mail. “We do not mutilate little girls for vengeance,” Doran sensibly tells her.

Road to Volantis: Tyrion and Varys ride in a carriage. Remember that Tyrion just took an entire sea voyage in a crate. Now he has to take a journey across land trapped in a somewhat larger box. Usually two characters who are spectacularly bored results in a scene that’s spectacularly borning, but Thrones manages to pull this one off. Their conversation contains my favorite exchange from this episode:

Castle Black: Thrones fans, the writers have heard your constant pleas to bring back Shireen giving reading lessons to other characters. School is back in session, with Stannis’ adorable-and-disfigured daughter now helping Gilly learn the letter “S.” We’re told her face was scarred by a deadly leprosy-like communicable disease that’s called Greyscale (great name, GRRM).

Shireen’s creepy brainwashed mom Lady Selyse wants her daughter to stay away from Gilly. She warns, “You have no idea what people will do.” I dunno Lady Selyse, I think Shireen’s probably seen her mom burn enough people alive to have a pretty good sense of that.

Elsewhere, Jon Snow is facing Stannis for last week’s act of treasonable mercy, firing an arrow that cut short Mance Rayder’s awful death. “Perhaps you should ask Ser Davos how much mercy I show to lawbreakers,” Stannis says. Davos displays his shortened-by-Stannis fingers, looking smug about it. I’ve decided Ser Davos is a little weird. I know book-readers love him. But he’s a little weird.

The Night’s Watch is about to elect a new Lord Commander and Ser Alliser Thorne—who has long played Snape to Jon’s Harry Potter—is expected to get the job. Which means Jon’s life is about to get even more miserable.

Stannis wants Jon’s help to win and control the North (as we have seen many times on this show, winning land and controlling it are two very different challenges). So Stannis makes this amazing offer: “Pledge me your service and you’ll rise again as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell.”

This is everything Jon has ever wanted. And it’s right here! All he needs to do is take it.

It’s hard to imagine Jon turning this down. But he’s been falsely accused of being dishonorable for so long that his honor is something he fiercely protects. Accepting the offer would prove men like Thorne right—that he’s an oath-breaker. Still, like Mance last week, it feels like Jon is partly being driven by his pride. Or you can say he’s like his father, Ned, putting honor above what’s practical. C’mon Jon take the offer! The best revenge is living well.

Later, it’s election time. The choices are Thorne or an old ranger who’s somehow survived 10 winters. Sam knows if Thorne wins he will probably evict Gily from the castle. He makes a case for Jon to be their new leader. Kit Harington’s wordless reactions during this whole scene are really engaging.

Thorne surprises us by admitting that he “can’t argue with any of” Sam’s points. I appreciate that Throne is always weaving back and forth across the jerk-line. Just when we think we totally hate him, he does something that makes us like him just a little (once again, Snape comes to mind).

The vote is a tie. Old blind maester Aemon casts the deciding token for Jon—who nearly looks genuinely happy. He’s the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Congrats, Jon. The frigid castle, life of celibacy, an army of men who resent you, and a giant ice wall are all yours!

Meereen: Daario and Grey Worm arrest a Sons of the Harpy insurgent. Dany’s council debates what to do with him. “Mercy, fair trial—these mean nothing to them, all they understand is blood,” argues …argues… hey, who the hell is this kid on Dany’s council? He just popped up around her table this season. It’s hard enough just to keep track of the characters who have been properly introduced on this show.

I looked him up: He’s Mossador, a former Merrenese slave, briefly seen last season as the first person to support Dany’s revolution when Grey Worm snuck weapons into the city. Dany must have wanted to put an average citizen on her council, like when President Lisa appointed Bart Simpson “Secretary of Keeping it Real.”

Ser Barristan tells Dany the truth about her batshit father—Westeros didn’t call him the “Mad King” for nothing, you know. So she decides to give her prisoner a fair trail. There is such a massive gulf between executing one murderous insurgent and the Mad King’s nutty torture campaign, that it feels like Dany is being overly sensitive here. But I haven’t acquried an army, a gaint pyramid and three dragons, so what do I know?

Next Mossador takes matters into his own hands. He has the prisoner killed and displayed in the city wearing that insurgent mask, with the revolutionary slogan “Kill the Masters” on the wall. Mossador is trying to fight their new problem using the language of the battle Dany already won.

Mossador begs for Dany’s forgiveness. It’s easy to forget hearing his lengthy plea that he’s speaking an entirely fake language. But Dany is resolute: “The law is the law.”

In the streets, Dany’s team readies an execution. The ex-slaves are all together in one group while the ex-masters are all in another group. Everybody is dressed similar to the rest of their group an an attempt to make it clear to the audience which group is which. This staging feels a bit too much like Divergent.

As Dany’s procession approaches the platform, the former slaves chant their term of endearment for her, “Mhysa” (“mother”).

Mossador begs for mercy. The former slaves likewise plea for his life. Dany is determined to set an example that even her closest advisers are not above the law—surely her people will respect that, right? We get the sense as this scene progresses that Dany is gradually realizing that she’s making a mistake even while she’s making it. She has Daario take Mossador’s head and the former slaves hiss at her. A riot begins.

So Dany had already made enemies of the Great Masters. Now she’s pissed off her supporters too. And all for trying to bring some freedom and justice to the city. Meereen, this is why you can’t have nice things.

That night, Dany goes out on her balcony and gets an unexpected visit from her long AWOL dragon. It’s interesting Drogon showed up after she was in such distress. She tries to pet his nose, but Drogon won’t put up with that. C’mon Dany, he’s not a corgi. And chaining Drogon’s brothers in a vault probably didn’t help with his trust issues.

After the credits rolled, I kept thinking about two things:

First, did every Thrones leader make a crappy decision this week? Dany clearly blundered. Cersei is wrecking her Small Council. And Jon … well, that one’s a tougher call. The only ruler who clearly seemed like they had great judgement was the bummed-out prince in Dorne.

Second: Dany visits the city streets, then goes back up to her pyramid penthouse. So like every time Dany steps out of her house, she has to hike back up an 800-foot pyramid. No wonder she doesn’t get out much. That’s like … 67 flights of stairs! She pretty much had to execute Mossador, otherwise her whole hike would have for nothing. Though what if her pyramid has an elevator? There’s one at The Wall, and that structure is likewise described as being more than 700 feet tall (I bet when Martin thinks “Hm, what’s really high?” that about 800 feet is what comes to mind). Perhaps there’s a diagonal elevator in the pyramid like at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas? But again checking in Martin’s books, the author notes that Meereen’s Great Pyramid indeed has staircases. So even leaving the pyramid must be a total hike for Dany, too.

Unless they built a slide. A slide would be rad.

Anyway: We have a two cast interviews! First is our interview with Gwendoline Christie talking about how her career exploded last year and how the Thrones cast reacted to her being cast in Star Wars, and she gives a little behind-the-scenes insight into Brienne’s encounter with Sansa. We also have a Q&A interview with Jaqen H’ghar himself, actor Tom Wlaschiha, who talks about returning to the show and provides a little helpful background about The House of Black and White, plus tells us how often fans say “Valar Morghulis” to him. Follow me on Twitter for ongoing Thrones and TV scoop.

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Game of Thrones

HBO's epic fantasy drama based on George R.R. Martin's novel series 'A Song of Ice and Fire.'

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