June 2, 2015 by kbaldy15
Season 5, Episode 8 Review
Did we just see the best episode of Game of Thrones so far? It seems hard to even think about, considering just how good episodes like Baelor, Blackwater,The Rains of Castamere, and Watchers on the Wall were (among many others), but Hardhome may just be the best. The fact that the rest of the episodes I mentioned were all “Episode 9” in their respective seasons and Hardhome was episode 8 spells good things for the rest of this season as well. Hardhome also completely removed the bad taste still left in my mouth from the past couple episodes (although 7 was, admittedly, much better than 6). The midseason slump the show seemed to be mired in has been completely overcome, and even if episodes 9 and 10 are simply pretty good, I’ll consider season 5 entirely redeemed by Hardhome. As I’ve been saying in my past few reviews, a lot of the season has had the feeling that it would take the ending to make the middle worth it, and while Hardhome certainly helped season 5 in that regards, it also was a reminder that the same is true for the entire series. The ending is coming. Villains like Joffrey, Tywin, and Ramsey aren’t going to matter soon. The Night’s King and the rest of the White Walkers are as close to the rest of Westeros as ever, and they’ve got an army that gets bigger with every battle. Dany may want to get to Westeros to break the wheel, but all of the Houses and people that Dany consider spokes may all be dead by the time she gets there–which, strangely, doesn’t mean that she won’t have to deal with them when she does.
To focus solely on the impending White Walker invasion would be a disservice to this episode, despite how incredible the last half of the episode was. The entire episode, start to finish, was spectacular. Straight off, we were treated to the first conversation between Dany and Tyrion, something that book and show fans alike have been wanted for quite some time, and it was fantastic, even if it wasn’t even as good as their second interaction. Tyrion advising Dany on what to do with Jorah was strangely difficult to watch. I never really feared for Jorah’s life, but something about that scene made it how abundantly tragic Jorah is. There’s no one in Westeros or Essos more devoted to someone than he is to Dany, but Tyrion is right: Jorah cannot be close to Dany when she returns. Even if she was “wise enough to forgive him,” as Tyrion puts it, returning Jorah to her service would be politically unwise. Jorah still isn’t ready to give up, though. His Greyscale has given him a sense of urgency. Returning to the fighting pits gives him his quickest route back to Daenerys, so that’s where he goes*. Whether or not it’s enough to get him back by her side when she returns to Westeros remains to be seen. Tyrion, on the other hand, seems to be doing a stellar job of winning Dany’s approval. Their private conversation was spectacular. If there’s one aspect of writing that the writers consistently nail, it’s banter. Tyrion is more willing to give it to Dany straight than any other character we’ve seen, which is exactly what she needs. Dany can be a good ruler, when she’s got people around her who are willing to cut through her emotional responses and short-sighted reactions, which is why she’s struggled so much since she banished Jorah. They may be two terrible children of two terrible fathers*, but they definitely seem like a pairing who may actually succeed in breaking the wheel.
Arya’s training took a bit of a jump this week, after several weeks of very little progress. She has successfully crafted the persona of Lana, an oyster seller on the streets of Braavos. While this bit of training takes up some time in the books, I’m rather happy with how they handled it as part of the Game of Faces, in something of a small flashback. Ultimately, it led to Arya being given her first assassination assignment, although it doesn’t seem like Jaqen cares if the target dies or if Arya dies trying. Apparently all deaths are created equal to the Many-Faced God.
In the North (or is it the Northern South? Southern North? All this venturing north of the Wall makes geographical placement so tricky) things took an interesting turn for both the Boltons and for Sansa, even though each only got one scene. The Boltons are well aware of the Stannis threat lurking out in the snow, but their ideas on how to deal with the issue seem to be divided. Roose, who I have to agree with, feels that they’re more equipped to withstand a siege than they are to ride out and meet Stannis in open (snow)field combat. Ramsey disagrees, saying they’re missing an opportunity to show their strength. When Roose basically rejects that idea because they could hardly get their army through the snow, Ramsey suggests that it won’t take an army. Just him and twenty good men is all it takes to bring down Stannis and leave his army a feast for crows. I’ll be completely honest: I have no idea where they’re going with this one.
Our sole Sansa scene this week was a rather intense conversation between her and Theon, two people who probably wouldn’t mind if the Many-Faced God called their name. After Theon tells her that he was trying to protect her when he told Ramsey of her plan to escape, Sansa basically tells him that he can go die, and she doesn’t care at all about what Ramsey did to him, even after Theon says how much he regrets all of his past actions. So even though Sansa doesn’t really care about what she has to say, she does get him to reveal one piece of information that is an actual game changer for her: she’s not the only Stark left. Bran and Rickon are alive. While it doesn’t necessarily immediately change her circumstances, it’s hope. Hope for her, and hope for her family, and that’s something Sansa has gone a long time without.
Cersei appears to be without much hope these days, rotting away in a dungeon cell being beaten with spoons by the Westerosi equivalent of a female Russian bear. Despite her threats and snarky comments about thinking up creative ways for the Septa to die, Cersei is completely powerless for one of the first times in the series. She cannot see her son, her Uncle has come to take control of the Kingdom, her trial will probably not end well for her unless she confesses, and a lot of her water intake is coming from off the ground. Even Qyburn cannot offer her much help, even if he does cryptically offer her some hope by letting her know “the work is going well.” Sounds like Qyburn’s Frankenstein Monster may be ready for a jailbreak soon.
Sam and Gilly appear to be settling into their post-coital awkwardness quite nicely as well, with Gilly being pretty casual about it and Sam being pretty Sam about it. Really though, this scene wasn’t about Sam and Gilly really, but Olly. You have to feel for Olly–Tormund’s crew and the Thenns did some really horrible things to his village and his people, and Olly was forced to witness all of it. Olly has every right to resent the Wildlings, so seeing Jon, who was sliding himself into something of an older brother role, decide to ally the Watch with them, can’t be easy. That was the point of Sam’s little speech though*–sometimes you have to do the hard thing when you know it’s the right thing. An alliance between the Wildings and Night’s Watch won’t be easy, but its certainly necessary.
Just in case you need proof that the alliance is necessary, Benioff and Weiss gave us half an hour of it, and what a glorious half-hour it was. Literally every second of the Hardhome sequence was perfection, from Jon’s face as he sails up to the shore, all the way up to Jon’s face as he sails away. First off, the Wildling response was perfect. It wouldn’t make any sense for them to feel any better about the plan than the Night’s Watch does, even if they are more familiar with the White Walker threat. Their resistance allowed for two excellent moments: Tormund breaking the Lord of Bones, and Jon’s awesome speech to rally the Wildlings. Kit Harington has really come a long way from season one, and it’s oddly fitting considering the growth his character has undergone. I feel like I want to dub every new episode the best work he’s done, but it may be more a result of Jon Snow’s arc than it is Kit Harington becoming a better actor–it may just be that he’s been great all along and mopey Jon Snow was just the natural predecessor to badass leader Jon Snow. Anyways, the speech was fantastic; I definitely had some chills going. However, those chills may have just been from the impending White Walker doom. The build-up to the fight was almost as incredible as the fight itself, as Jon and the Wildling leaders get their people onto the boats, only to turn and see billowing clouds of snow slowly covering the sounds of distant screams. Here, I also have to give a shout-out to the audio team for this episode, because the sound was on point the entire time. The White Walkers approaching sounded like an avalanche. In a way it was, but instead of being engulfed in snow, Hardhome was about to be engulfed in zombies.
I’ve been saying to everyone I talked to about the episode that this fight scene did more to make me fear a zombie apocalypse than any zombie film I’ve ever seen. From the way they threw themselves at the gate to throwing themselves off a cliff (which was so cool), the dead simply had no other agenda than to destroy the living. No concern for themselves or anything else, just the extermination of life. Which, you know, is kind of terrifying.
As for specific moments within the fight, there were numerous exceptional ones, mostly centered around Jon (and a lot of cool stuff with Wun Wun, the giant). Being faced with the decision to stand and fight or retreat to the Wall was a really cool leadership moment for Jon, and I genuinely didn’t know which way he was going to go with it. Jon’s entire fight with the White Walker was possibly the high point of the entire episode. The effortlessness with which the White Walker fought was terrifying–you could tell it had never faced an enemy that even deserved a second thought. Which, in turn, was why it was so amazing with Jon raised Longclaw and blocked the strike from the Walker, leading to my favorite “pause, look at one another with confused faces” moment of all time. Seriously, it was hilarious, but I didn’t even have time to laugh about it before the sheer awesomeness of Jon shattering the White Walker took over. I literally cheered.
However, I was doing a little less cheering when it came to the White Walker. Jon may have taken out some lieutenant or another, but The Night’s King is a whole different matter. Literally everything we’ve seen with this guy has been the epitome of terrifying badass.
Here’s the real villain of the series. George R.R. Martin has said that the White Walkers aren’t just simplistic, purely evil creatures, but nothing about Hardhome seems to suggest they are anything but horrifying, evil villains.
I could sit and rave about this episode and the last thirty minutes for another 2000 words, but this review is already getting up there in terms of length, so I’ll restrain myself, and leave off on this point: This was my favorite episode of Game of Thrones. Everything about it was incredible, and the only knock I have against it is that it may have been too cool, so now episodes 9 and 10 may feel like a letdown. Still, I have every confidence that they won’t be, so I’ll just ride this post-Hardhome high right into next week’s traditionally epic Episode 9, “The Dance of Dragons.”
Spoilers & Speculation:
*Shane suggested Jorah’s current path is going to set him up to take Quentyn’s role in the books and release Dany’s dragons. I agree–it looks like Jorah’s last words will be “Oh.” A little weird though, because it kind of lessens the fact that he has Greyscale now. It gives him the motivation to do something drastic, but that feels like a smaller impact than the Greyscale could have had.
*The two terrible children of two terrible fathers quote may be really ironically hilarious if the popular “Tyrion is a bastard of Aerys” theory is true.
*Everything about Sam’s speech to Olly essentially confirms that Olly is going to “For the Watch” Jon.