Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 8 Review
Remember the Craster's Keep subplot from last season? When Bran and Hodor and the Reeds were taken captive, and where Jon leads a squadron of Rangers to retake the keep and comes SO close to seeing his half-brother? It was, in my opinion, one of the best subplots of the season, if only because it kept everyone, book readers and non book readers alike, on their toes. Sure, we figured our main characters would come through it all okay (although in this show, that's usually not something to bank on) but everything else was fair game. It was a story arc that took some great inspiration from Martin's books (the mutiny, Bran North of the Wall, etc.) while at the same time forging its own path and keeping the audience on its toes. This latest episode of Game of Thrones is just like that, only hundreds of times better. It might honestly be the best Game of Thrones episode yet.
The show has been threatening to surpass the books for quite some time now, and better writers than me have traded words over whether or not this is a good thing. For my part, I think it's excellent. I would much rather have things move at the pace they've been moving than deal with hours and hours of Cersei's scheming, Dany's moral quandaries, and Jaime traveling in the Riverlands. The books excel in their own way and the TV series does too. Some distance between the two has--knock on wood--done wonders for this season so far (Jaime goes to Dorne! With Bronn!). This episode marks the first time that just about every major event shown has not taken place in the books yet. Sure, Martin's writing may be pointing in a certain direction, but nothing is certain (especially now, where he will probably throw in a few extra twists to tell a separate story from the show). One can only hope that The Winds of Winter will be half as exciting as "Hardhome" proved to be.
Let's start with the things that are more or less in the books so far...
Arya has taken up the guise of an oyster seller along the Braavos waterfront. This is apparently part of her training to become a Faceless Man, and by the end of her segment, she has already spotted her mark. However, and this is purely speculation, Merwyn Trant--one of the foremost names on her Kill List--is due in Braavos soon, escorting Lord Tyrell as he tangles with the Iron Bank. There is no way the showrunners are going to let a coincidence like that go to waste.
Cerise remains locked in her cell (and where is that, exactly? Does the Sept of Baelor have jail cells?) where her only visitor is a dour septa who brings daily ladles of water and a single piece of advice: "Confess." It is the same piece of advice that Qyburn seems about to offer her before she shuts him down. While it may be impossible to truly like Cersei, it is possible to understand her motivations here: she wants so badly to be seen as the true heir to Tywin's legacy that she believes any sort of compromise is a sign of weakness. She refuses to submit to the High Sparrow because she believes she made him what he is. In her mind, the original power should always come first, even when said power is currently imprisoned and entirely at the mercy of others. When her threats to the septa get her no further, she is eventually reduced to drinking water off the floor. It is a powerful, wrenching scene that represents the absolute bottom for Cersei Lannister. Lena Headey is fantastic in this scene; she manages to create sympathy for a character who previously had none.
Oh, and Qyburn's last words to Cersei? "The work continues."
Now, Into Uncharted Territory...
Just about everything else featured in this episode are things that are (at this point) unique to the show.
Sam and Olly (Jon's steward) have a talk about the necessity of letting the Wildlings relocate South of the Wall. It is a moment that nicely foreshadows Jon's problems at Hardhome (more on those in a moment) and also works alongside the show's emerging themes of common humanity, of banding together. Given that his episode is full of characters having unexpected and revealing moments with each other, it is very fitting. But I don't think Olly is convinced yet.
Sana and Theon/Reek have the heart-to-heart we've all been waiting for (the one where he admits that he didn't kill her two brothers). Sophie Turner is wonderful in this scene: for the first time this season, her wounded, innocent personality combines with her emerging dark side in a way that feels organic and believable. And Alfie Allen's performance can't be praised enough. He's always been great, and Reek is a tough character to play, but balancing the duality of Reek and Theon is even more of a challenge, one that he more than rises to. Just watch him turn that wide-eyed, thousand-yard stare on and off between moments of lucidity. Where's his Emmy?
Over in Essos, Dany and Tyrion finally meet. Kudos to the Mother of Dragons for actually giving The Imp time to speak his piece, instead of imprisoning or killing him in the name of past grudges, as the younger Dany might have done. This was, honestly, my biggest worry about what this scene would turn out to be: whether or not she would see the need to avenge her family as more of a priority than a valuable advisor. Whether or not Tyrion would need to help her make peace with her father's legacy. I needn't have worried, as she seems to have done this on her own. And she seems to realize that Tyrion is the best possible advisor she can have right now; It isn't just that Barristan is dead and Jorah is exiled. Neither of those men could offer what Tyrion can: a point of view free of prejudice, and unrivaled insight into the intrigues of Westeros. In turn, Tyrion gets a glimpse of a ruler who actually deserves to rule, one that recognizes the value of his council. This is definitely the start of a beautiful friendship.
And now to the Hardhome of the title--the refuge by the Shivering Sea where the remnants of Mance Rayder's army make their camp. To be fair, this is something that happened in the books, but entirely off page. The reader is only told that a disaster befell the rescue mission, and there are no main characters there at the time. It is also worth noting that the White Walkers and their army of the dead have not been glimpsed by any main character since the Watch's retreat back to the wall. This episode, continuing the theme of people coming together, showcases the possible new alliances between the Wildlings and the Men of the Watch, while at the same time showing us the common enemy that is coming for them.
Boy, do they show us.
It would be pointless to go into too much detail about the battle, since it's pretty hard to forget. We have giants swinging tree trunks, a mass of undead warriors tumbling over a cliff like lemmings, and the Night's King Himself, among countless other moments that had my friends and I on the edge of our seats. I don't use that phrase lightly, as we are all pretty jaded at this point. This battle, however, did a very good job at underscoring just how much danger these characters are in. From the chaos caused by hundreds of running extras, to the gritty, war-movie way in which it was shot, the Battle of Hardhome does an excellent job of raising the stakes. After five seasons of political maneuverings and human conflict, it finally feels as if all the cards are on the table.
- Based on the Bolton's discussion on what to do about Stannis's approaching army, it's looking like we might not get a Battle of Winterfell that's on the same scale as the Blackwater. The teaser for next week's episode does hint at some action in Stannis's camp, however.
- No Brienne or Pod this week. No Jaime or Bronn either. Unless the show runners are planning something big in their storylines for the last two episodes this season, both of those subplots have hit a serious stall.
- Jonah clearly means to die for Dany in the Great Pit of Mereen. The only question is whether he will be facing fellow slaves...or dragons?
- How does Dolorous Edd know how to speak giant??