‘Game of Thrones’ Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome

Every Monday, our resident Game of Thrones fanatic E. Spencer Kyte will recap the previous night’s episode. Here’s his take on Season 5, Episode 8 —Hardhome.

Warning: what follows is a review and analysis of what happened on Sunday night’s episode of Game of Thrones. If you haven’t watched it and don’t want to encounter spoilers, we suggest you go read something else on this site. Consider yourself warned.

This might have been the best episode of Game of Thrones to date. There have been great episodes – Blackwater, The Red Wedding, Tyrion’s Trial, The Watcher’s of the Wall – but this felt like the most eventful and compelling episode of the lot and that’s saying something.

Everyone had concerns about what would happen when the show started to stray from George R.R. Martin’s source material and how that would impact the storytelling going forward, but so far, the changes have all worked out fine (except for Sansa) and things look to be headed in a spectacular direction.

Here’s what happened Sunday night in The Realm.

The New Dream Team

The night started out with Tyrion and Jorah standing before Dany (and Missandei, of course) with “The Mother of Dragons” questioning first why she should believe Tyrion is who he claims to be and secondly, why she should take him on as an advisory. As a bit of a test, she basically allows him to decide Jorah’s fate, since she promised to kill him if he ever returned.

Tyrion talks it through for her, landing on “don’t kill him, it sends the wrong message to those you want to follow you,” so Dany once again banishes Jorah from the city. Free to go wherever he pleases, Jorah ends up back with the slave/fighter owner from earlier in the year, begging for a chance to fight for him in front of Queen Dany.

But the real high point of this arc was the back-and-forth between Dany and Tyrion as they each decide if they want to work with each other. It’s both informative and engaging, a quick repartee between two of the most popular and important characters in the series that ends in Dany’s “I’m going to break the wheel” speech that was teased in the trailer before the season began.

It was all kinds of awesome and should have everyone looking forward to The New Dream Team setting sail for King’s Landing.

The New Arya

Arya is now Lana, an orphan oyster merchant, selling her fruits of the sea in the streets of Braavos. Jaqen H’ghar likes her backstory and sends her on a new mission – turn right, head to the port and tell me what you see – where The Fugitive Formerly Known as Arya Stark encounters a gambler who bets on the lives of sea captains.

The wager is on whether the captains will return from their voyage – if they do, the gambler wins, but if they don’t, the gambler loses and is supposed to pay the captain’s family a handsome price. However, is the captain does not come home, who is there to force the gambler to pay his debt? This does not seem to sit well with Jaqen H’ghar, who directs Arya to study the gambler, learn him better than she knows herself, until the time is right to slip him a little potion of something special to make him pay for the payments he has not made.

Prisoner Cersei

Drapped in filthy rages and looking dirty, Prisoner Queen Cersei has a choice – confess and enjoy some water or keep sticking to her guns and go without? Petulant as ever, she continues to cling to the “My face will be the last you see before…” THWACK! Here’s a spoon in the face, inmate!

Her quack doctor Qyburn turns up to inform her of how things will play out, with the High Sparrow bringing various charges – “All Lies!” – against her, but it won’t be like a traditional court. He warns that the case against Cersei is strong, but ever defiant, she has no intention of confessing and trying to avoid whatever fate a guilty verdict might carry.

After another round of “Does Cersei want some water?” ends with her personal jailer dumping a spoonful on the floor in front of her before walking out, we see a broken, fading Cersei crying as she crumples to the floor, trying to drink the small puddle of water that has been spilled in her cell.

New Hope in Winterfell?

Sansa interrogates Theon/Reek about his motives for selling her out to Ramsey, which he says he did for her own good, citing the horrors Ramsey inflicted on him. In pressing him answers about how he could possibly turn his back on the Stark family and kill Bran and Rickon, Theon/Reek lets his deepest, darkest secret slip – it wasn’t Bran and Rickon; it was two farmer’s children whom he burned so they would be unrecognizable.

Sansa’s eyes light up; a glimmer of hope in an otherwise cold existence in her old home.

Elsewhere in the castle, Roose and Ramsey and a few others are talking strategy with the elder Bolton detailing how they are safe inside where they are and will simply wait for Stannis’ men to starve, freeze or mutiny. Ramsey wants to go in a different direction – he wants to show strength and action – and asks his father for 20 good men, presumably to lead a small attack in hopes of keeping the fight from ever getting to the gates of Winterfell.

The Battle at Hardhome

Jon Snow, Tormund and crew arrive in Hardhome to lobby the Wildlings to fight alongside the Night’s Watch in return for free pass beyond The Wall. After Tormund beats the life out of the Lord of Bones, a meeting of the elders takes place, where most see the value in Lord Commander Snow’s pitch. They trust Tormund, save for a Thenn leader who thinks Snow the Crow will slit everyone’s throats once they’re on the boats and out to sea.

As they start loading into boats and heading to Stannis’ ships out in the harbour, there is a rustling on the mountains overlooking the camp and a blizzard of white descends on the Wildling village. Everyone knows what is coming – they have been coming for a few seasons now – so they barracade the gates of the village, leaving those beyond the fence for dead… or at least an eternity of being undead.

The White Walkers are here and it’s time for a rumble!

Wildings and Crows vs. The Army of the Dead, Round 1!

It’s another great Game of Thrones battle sequence, highlighted by Jon going one-on-one with a White Walker general and the Four Horseman of the White Walker Apocalypse sitting atop their undead horses watching the carnage below. In the battle, Jon fells the White Walker general, revealing that like Dragon Glass, his Valyrian steel sword can stop them.

Knowing they’re outnumbered and destined to die if they continue to stand and fight, Jon, Tormund and a couple surviving Crows – plus One-One the Giant – retreat. As they do, the Night’s King, the head honcho of the White Walkers, who kind of looks like an ice zombie version of Greg Germann from Ally McBeal, resurrects all the dead Wildings, turning them into White Walkers. It’s a gripping, powerful scene that really puts the scope of the battle that will eventually take place, probably in the final season, into perspective.

Fade to black.

Roll credits.

# # # # #

The New Dream Team is awesome. They’re back-and-forth was the best run of dialogue between two pivotal characters in quite some time, perhaps ever, and the partnership should only continue to be even more outstanding as it deepens.

Still not sold on the whole “Arya in Braavos” storyline. It’s sure to lead to something important, but it’s moving kind of slow and there are a number of other far more interesting arcs that demand our attention.

Seeing Cersei broken down and dirty isn’t as fun as you would expect. It’s actually kind of sad. You kind of feel bad for her. It’s weird. Maybe it’s because we need her wickedness in order to keep everything moving along in the manner we’re used to. Shot in the dark guess at how this plays out: Qyburn’s work – the mangled Frankenstein version of The Mountain – assaults the religious militants and breaks her out of the clink.

Sansa having a new reason to live is important because man has life been grim for her later. Theon is cracking and will probably cave at some point, if not fully turning on Ramsey, at least helping Sansa in some manner. As for Ramsey’s little scout party, I hope it doesn’t end in him getting killed because Sansa still deserves to be the one that ends his life.

As for the battle at Hardhome, what more needs to be said? It was amazing and an unexpected payoff to story that has been teased out expertly for several seasons. The staredown between Jon and the Night’s King was amazing and knowing this was just an appetizer to an eventual entree-sized battle is great, even if we have to wait another two seasons for it to happen.

Tags: Game of Thrones, HBO

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