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Game of Thrones: Season 5 Episode 2 Review
Fans of the book (and those who looked up the meaning ahead of time) would have been able to tell just from the title that this episode features Arya in Braavos. That's right, after a long sea voyage, and months before that spent at the mercy of others, the youngest Stark daughter is finally her own master, in a place where she alone decides her fate. And what happens when she knocks on the door of the House of Black and White, the domain of the Faceless Men? She gets the door slammed in her face, that's what! She is left outside alone, in the rain, with nothing but her sword, her coin, and her now famous "Kill List." However, just when it appears that this is yet another story arc where a fan-favorite character doesn't get what they want, things take a turn. Alone in the city, accosted by a group of thugs, Arya is saved by the same mysterious monk who denied her entrance earlier. He--of course--turns into Jaquen H'Ghar, her assassin friend from Season 2. But that is not his name, of course. He has no name. He is, as he insists, no one. In order for Arya to follow in his footsteps, she will have to learn to become no one too.
Whether or not Arya being adopted into a society of secret, magical killers is a good thing (and let's be honest, it almost surely is not) it is certainly a surprise to see a character actually achieve their goal, or at least part of it. In fact, this new sense of freedom, of movement, seems to be a big thing this season. Already we have some characters getting the chance to do things they were never able to in the books, and the progression of the show is all the better for it.
Don't get me wrong, I love the books. Love them. George RR Martin has achieved something truly magical--engrossing, immersive world building on a scale not seen since Tolkien. The show will never be able to do more than scratch the surface of his world, with all it's history and lore. But that's okay. With this new season, as the writers move further away from Martin's books, they nevertheless manage to stay true to his characters and the spirit of his world. Rather than introduce hordes of new characters (as A Feast for Crows did) they make excellent use of the ones that are already favorites (Bronn) and send familiar characters to unexpected places.
Since I already mentioned Bronn, let's start with him. In the books, he is already out of the picture, mentioned here and there occasionally but never seen. By the end of this episode, he's off to Dorne with Jaime, poised for all sorts of adventures. Their mission is to save Princess Myrcella from the plots of those who want her dead, most notably Oberyn's lover, Ellaria Sand. It is, quite literally, a Save-the-Princess story, starring two of the best characters to have on screen together. I cannot wait to see where this goes from here.
And speaking of characters we love to see sharing the screen, Tyrion and Varys are back in a box. A box on wheels, but still a box. They are on the road to Volantis, where they will join the road to Mereen. For me, their moments this episode were notable not for what they contained, but what they did not. It is pretty clear now that there will be no Young Griff. No John Connington, no Golden Company, no long barge trip down the river Royne. Like Lady Stoneheart, they appear to have been cut to steamline the overall plot. Oh well. We get Tyrion and Varys arguing in a box, and to be honest, I could watch an hour of that alone.
In the North, Podrick and Brienne are eating at a tavern when Pod spots Littlefinger and Sansa. (Good eyes on Pod--he managed to spot her across a crowded room, with her hair dyed, and facing away from him). Brienne immediately approaches and pledges her loyalty, but Sansa rejects her. Perhaps this was to keep Brienne safe (no way Littlefinger would let a potentially positive influence come between him and his stand-in for Catelyn Stark) or perhaps she truly has gone over to the Dark Side. Like Littlefinger's cryptic reference to a marriage proposal, only time will tell. At least Brienne and Pod are still on their trail.
In King's Landing, Cersei stocks the Small Council with yes-men and idiots (looking at you, Mace Tyrell), mainly because they are the only ones left who recognize her authority. She manages to alienate her Uncle Kevan (unseen since the first season) and deprive King Tommen of another wise adviser. Not that Tommen will be listening to her much longer anyway, I suspect. Margery will likely see to that.
On the Wall, Stannis approaches John Snow with an offer he can't refuse. Or at least, is sorely tempted not to refuse. Bend the knee, swear fealty to Stannis, and rise as John Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North. It is a testament to Kit Harington's acting ability that you can clearly see how badly John wants to accept, although he remains outwardly stoic. It is something he has wanted literally all of his life. Being elected the newest Lord Commander of the Night's Watch no doubt adds another dimension to his decision. When it rains, it pours, I guess.
And now over to Dany. Poor Dany, who until now has seemed like she could do no wrong. Think about it. While Robb Stark was getting slaughtered at the Red Wedding, Dany was freeing whole cities of slaves. She is just about the only character on the show who is not only a good person, but who has yet to face the consequences of that essential goodness. Her hardships have always been ones brought upon her by larger forces, not things that she has brought upon herself.
A member of the Sons of the Harpy (read: Mereen's pro-slavery terrorist group) is captured in a raid. Many of Dany's supporters, including the man she has elected to speak for the former slaves, want him dead. Barristan insists on a trial, and eventually sways Dany with a story about her father (this is, I believe, the first time someone has told her what sort of man her father really was). Before a trial can take place, however, the former slave on Dany's council takes the Harpy from prison and kills him. Left with, as she sees it, no other choice, Dany has the man publicly executed.
While I'm not sure how she expected her new followers to react, it would seem she did not expect them to start hissing at her in unison, or for a riot to break out afterward. So was she wrong to do what she did? That is, like many decisions on this show, open for debate. It's definitely something Ned Stark would have done, for better or for worse.
Some Random Things:
- It's interesting that Littlefinger, one of the most cunning men in the Seven Kingdoms, didn't comment on Oathkeeper and its lion-adorned pommel. Especially since The Hound noticed it right away.
- We finally see Dorne! For five minutes, sure, but it's a beautiful five minutes. Fingers crossed for more scenes of the Water Gardens in the upcoming episodes. And Doran. Doran's cool.
- Podrick really needs to learn how to ride a horse.
- It's interesting that some of the most optimistic words this show has heard in a long time come from the mouth of an amoral former-sell sword. "Meanness comes around," Bronn says while he walks with his betrothed on the shores of the sea. Here's hoping.
- Drogon is back! Not permanently, it looks like, but it was good of him to drop in while his Mother was feeling down.
I saw this episode a week late, but I hope to post a review of Episode 3 shortly. In the meantime...