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Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 5 Review
Well, the good news is that Gray Worm is still alive. He wakes up in the episode's first scene, seemingly none the worse for wear. See Barristan, however, has fallen in battle against the Sons of the Harpy. Dany, in her rage, sics Vision and Rhaegal on the Great Masters of Mereen, barbecuing one of them alive and then threatening the same for the rest. Her justification is something along the lines of: "Maybe all of you are innocent. Maybe none of you are."
There will no doubt be a lot of future debate as to wether or not she is justified in this (the Sons are, of course, brutal terrorists) or if she is starting along the same path her Mad King father once walked. Her demeanor in this scene suggests a character on a precipice, who could turn one way or the other with only a slight nudge. It really is a perfect way to test a character like Dany. She is hands down the most overpowered character in the series. Think about it. Put in the same position as any of the other characters (except perhaps Arya), she could solve their problems in about three days. Her fearsome army, dedicated advisors, and three dragons would see to that. Her perfect foe, then, is internal rather than external. By putting her in an environment where all of the above variables actually work against her, it centers the true conflict within Dany herself. At the end of the episode she proposes (sort of) marriage to Hizdar and promises to open the fighting pits of the city. Fingers crossed for some epic dragon-based gladiator matches.
The episode's title comes from Maester Aemon of the Night's Watch, in a conversation with John Snow that begins with Dany's plight. The Maester, as the last living Targaryen in Westeros, laments that he is unable to go to the aid of his young relative on the other side of the world. But just when it looks like this will become yet another "family duty vs. Night's Watch duty" discussion, Aemon cuts right to the quick. "Kill the boy, John Snow" he says (and no, he is not talking about Ollie). "Kill the boy and let the man be born."
The time this episode spends at The Wall is all about this mindset. Winter is coming. Sacrifices must be made. Differences must be put aside. No doubt John will face some major blowback among his sworn brothers for his decision to let the Willings settle in the North, but that will be a matter for after he gets back from his new mission with Tormund (another divergence from the books, but a welcome one).
We also get a neat conversation between Stannis and Sam, discussing the army of the dead that is rapidly making its way towards The Wall. Well, maybe not so rapidly. We last saw them at the end of Season 2. But it's good to know that the otherworldly evil that lurks beyond The Wall is finally being treated as a top priority. As in the books, what started out as a series of conflicts between human characters in a fantasy world seems to be changing--slowly but surely--into a battle between light and darkness, human and inhuman. Don't forget--according to the credits from last season, one of the White Walkers even has a name: Night's King. Will the show be able to handle the tonal shift if he (it?) replaces all our favorite liars and murderers to become the main antagonist?
At Winterfell, we get some relationship drama between Ramsay Bolton and Miranda (charming) and a family dinner scene for the ages. Ramsay trots out Reek as a way to impress his father, torment Sansa, and humiliate the man who was once Theon Greyjoy one more time. But by the end of dinner, it is Ramsay who is knocked down a peg. Roose tells him that his wife, Fat Walda (really, that's her name) is pregnant. And it's a boy. From the look on Ramsay's face, I think Walda will have to be very lucky to survive the season.
Brienne and Podrick have also arrived in Winterfell (so much for my Howland Reed theory) but apart from managing to get a message to Sansa, they pretty much remain in the background this episode. Things certainly seem to be in motion, however. My only question is wether or not they will choose to stage their rescue before Stannis attacks the castle, or during the ensuing chaos.
And now on to the best moment of the episode. It's really quite simple, but that's what makes it so great: Tyrion and Jorah, seeking to avoid river pirates on their long journey, decide to brave the haunting ruins of Old Valyria. That is a name that the show has been using for quite some time now, but until this episode, people who haven't read the books were probably unsure as to what exactly Valyria was. It was a city/state/nation of enormous power, reaching its peak in ancient times before an unspecified cataclysm destroyed it. The fact that our own world has many stories like it (Atlantis springs to mind) makes it easier to tap into these characters sense of wonder as they stare out at the remains. They even recite a few lines of verse together. The best moment, however, arrives with the appearance of Drogon, who passes over the boat and disappears into the mist.
For Jorah, the sight is a painful reminder of what he lost, and what he hopes to regain. For Tyrion, the dragon is nothing less than the promise that there is still some mystery left in the world. We, as the audience, feel it too. Game of Thrones has always used its magic sparingly, choosing to focus its stories around the human element rather than the mystical. When we do find a scene like this, we are reminded why we like fantasy in the first place. Our sense of wonder may not be as powerful as Tyrion's, but it is there all the same.
And then, of course, the Stone Men attack, and it is all downhill from there...
- The title of next week's episode will be "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken" (House Martell's words). Yay for more Dorne!
- Part of me wonders what will happen when the army of frozen, shambling zombies actually reaches The Wall. The Wildlings couldn't make it over, even with giants and mammoths helping out. I'm not doubting the power of the White Walkers, but still...giants.
- Although this season seems to be illustrating how Sansa is turning darker and more cunning, Miranda still manages to play her like a violin during their scene together. And Theon/Reek will be walking her down the aisle. Pretty cruel, even for Ramsay.
- And speaking of Ramsay, even he looks a little unsettled when Roose reveals the story of his birth. Seven Hells, these Boltons. Can't Brienne drop kick them both out of a tower or something?
- The world of Game of Thrones has a very intricate history, and there is often a lot of exposition to get through. The various ways the show chooses to handle this have long been one of its greatest strengths. This episode alone, we have exposition delivered via conversation (Stannis & Sam), monologue (Roose) and verse (Tyrion & Jorah). And it never feels forced or overdone.
- According to the producers, this season will feature the show's biggest set-piece ever. Can it be anything but the Battle of Winterfell? The season keeps building it up, and since it hasn't taken place in the books yet, it really is anybody's game.