Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Game of Thrones S05E08 - Hardhome (TV spoilers)

Co-operate or die


“...sometimes a man has to make hard choices, choices that look wrong to others”

In one of the season's best episodes so far, Danaerys & Tyrion discuss strategy, Jon Snow tries to unite the wildlings behind him and Cersei's situation deteriorates markedly. Yet another strong episode with excellent dialogue and action marks a gallop towards a decisive and high-stakes end to the season
Game of Thrones usually reserves its big budget for the penultimate episode of each season, but this appears to have been brought forward to episode 8 as it all kicks off at Hardhome in the far North. The main theme this week is co-operation, with Danaerys & Tyrion co-operating despite being from warring houses and the wildlings and Nights Watch co-operating against a common enemy, despite being distinctly different and pursuing different purposes. The Hardhome scenes were stylistically very different from the rest of the episode and provided a nice change of pace from the slower, deliberate build-up in Meereen and Braavos. The final scene as Jon and his posse float away from the coast is so still that it's artful and magnificently creepy.

Also, I realised this week why Benioff & Weiss changed Jaime Lannister's trajectory from the Song of Ice & Fire books, where Jaime mopes around Kings Landing rather than go to Dorne. However, B&W changed the script to have Jaime leave Kings Landing, which served to make Cersei's isolation even more piquant. The Sparrows would have faced a lot more resistance throwing Cersei in jail with the Kingslayer around. It all fits together, you see?

My favourite exchange this week was the one directly below - Tyrion & Danaerys. If you take the time to properly deconstruct this scene, it's quite a gem for A Song of Ice & Fire fans. It reminded me of all the grey areas in Game of Thrones - Tyrion, hoping to act as a trusted advisor, is a murderer, having killed his father and former lover. Danaerys, despite being a breaker of chains, has had a litany of people killed and is "the kind of terrible...that prevents your people from being more so". Varys, who spied on Danaerys for years may also have been the only thing keeping her alive. In the North, we have the Brothers of the Nights Watch acting as heroes, despite being an assortment of "rapers", "horse-thieves"  (that's "car thief" to you and me) and "ninth-born" sons [www.gameofthrones.wikia.com/wiki/Night's_Watch_man_(Breaker_of_Chains)].

Meereen / Tyrion & Danaerys

Tyrion and Ser Jorah are finally united with Danaerys, with Tyrion's first act as Danaerys's advisor being to have Ser Jorah banished from the city. Tyrion quite typically acts in a humane way but still manages to get revenge on Ser Jorah for "abducting" him.

I've been speculating for a while that Tyrion & Danaerys could team up for mutually beneficial reasons and finally, she has found herself a smart, savvy adviser who actually understands Westeros. As expected, Tyrion provided a ruthlessly clear assessment of the Jorah situation - "he worships you...he's in love with you...but he didn't trust that you'd be wise enough to forgive him". By the way, is it just me or did Danaerys look really uneasy during this scene?

Some very typically gnomic advice as well: “a ruler who kills those devoted to her does not inspire devotion”. No kidding. When asked to leave, Jorah doesn’t protest – he knows he got the best result he could get. In Game of Thrones, nobody really gets to win.

"Have you decided whether to to have me killed yet?"

In Tyrion we finally have somebody with the wit and courage to challenging Danaerys in a way Ser Barristan, Jorah, etc haven't. Tyrion ruthlessly deconstructs Danaerys's chaotic "plan" to take over Westeros, her motivations for ruling a land she's never known and the fact that no house except the wily Tyrells would support her ("what was it like, ruling without the rich?").

Incisive as always. His initial suggestion is "You should try wanting something else". Oh, if only. But this is Danaerys Stormborn Targaryen - “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel”. Does she mean some sort of Westerosian holocaust where every royal family is killed? Be afraid, be very afraid.

Kings Landing / Cersei

Every now and then grand, sweeping stories turn in on themselves and face up to an inherent irony - this is one of those storylines. In the same way that an angry and grieving Cersei decided to get rid of Tyrion once and for all by rigging his trial, the Sparrows will now railroad her for imagined crimes (fornication, incest, treason?). As Maester Qyburn says, "the Faith does not adhere to the same standards of proof as the Crown".  That may not be a bad thing.

Game of Thrones aphorisms:

Maester Aemon, Castle Black: "Love is the death of duty"
Maester Qyburn: "Belief is so often the death of reason"

It's worth noting at this point that the Lannister family doesn’t look too hot right now, with Jaime embarrassed in Dorne with his daughter/"niece" who has abandoned Kings Landing, Cersei in jail, a dead patriarch (Tywin) and Tyrion in the employ to a rival to the throne. And we thought the Starks had bad luck.

Cersei is completely alone - her son and king is (allegedly) too depressed to leave his bedroom, Jaime is elsewhere, her uncle despises her and her small council has no sympathisers. Tywin knew to keep the underlings happy, while Cersei barely disguises her contempt at everyone around her, leaving her with nobody to fight her corner.  and it's all come home to roost. Does this end in some sort of desperate conversion to religiosity for Cersei?

(That’s it Cersei, don’t let them see you cry. Or desperately lick water from the ground.)

Braavos / Arya
Game of Thrones has such a vendetta against the Starks that even the remaining Starks are forced to accept violence every night (Sansa) and Arya, although physically unharmed, has to sacrifice her identity. She is now "Lana", a young, sunny oyster-seller, one with a secret. Strangely, she gets to learn about life insurance from Jaqen H’ghar, and the stage is set for Arya to make a unique, Many-Faced God brand of justice for poor, marginalised people. Arya's storyline was rumbling along in the background and is now marginally more interesting but still feels tacked onto the main narrative.

Winterfell / Sansa & Theon/Reek

A very major penny drops as Sansa realises that Theon killed two random boys in order to make it look like they were Bran and Rickon. “It was two farm boys. I killed and burned them so nobody would know” Hard to know how to react to this - on the one hand, Theon tried to protect the Stark boys, which is good. On the other hand, he burned two other boys in order to do so, which is very bad. This world is unforgiving, but Theon has sacrificed too much to live in it and seems to deserve big vengeance. Nonetheless, this pathetic creature in front of us looks like he's suffered enough, so I await some exciting developments.

"I don't need an army...I need 20 good men" - Ramsay Bolton is hatching a plot to kill off Stannis's faltering army, rather than waiting for Stannis to attack Winterfell. Is this setting up Ramsay being captured by Stannis and used for bargaining in some way? I doubt Roose would bargain but anyway, an interesting thought.

Beyond the Wall
Pride of place in this episode went to the minor set piece held in Hardhome, the location that inspired the episode's name. Game of Thrones is littered with good intentions half-executed, and Jon Snow just took part in one. There he was, bringing some of the wildlings round to his way of thinking, when the threat of the White Walkers, hitherto treated as a plot device (or MacGuffin, if you will), lay waste to Hardhome and recruited new zombie soldiers in the process. For unknown (probably plot-related) reasons, White Walkers don't swim, which leaves our heroes free to fight another day. In essence, the White Walkers are still not being allowed to encroach upon the wider military/political game, with only glancing references made by Stannis, Cersei, etc.

Nonetheless, this is the second time Messrs. Benioff & Weiss have chosen to hold a set piece with the Nights Watch, so clearly they see some narrative value in it. Indeed, these scenes are emblematic of this season of Games of Thrones - frenetic action, risky alliances (Crows and Wildlings), the bastard who rises to high office (Jon Snow and Ramsay Bolton) and wasted effort (Jon travelling all the way to Hardhome to recruit fighters, only to see most of them die).

Not that it matters anymore, but Jon Snow’s proposition has some key weaknesses – wildlings are supposed to believe that after all this internecine warfare, wildlings and the Nights Watch will live and work side by side? That the Northerners will give the wildlings farms? Yeah, nope.

As for Jon Snow, as Tormund pointed out, what kind of reception will Snow get when he reaches the Wall? Is his word really strong enough to maintain a peace when he and his posse reach the Wall? We know that back at the Wall, Ser Alliser has been threatening Samwell Tarly and clearly has designs on power at Castle Black. Jon Snow, despite his valour, progressive ideas and breathtaking bravery, has an uncertain position.

By the way - Tormund's killing of the Man of Bones – now that's what I call true meritocracy! He who kills wins.

Anyway, all in all, a very good episode that continues the season's march towards a conflict in the North (Stannis v Boltons), Castle Black + remaining wildlings v White Walkers (with the wildcard Bran and his abilities?), Sansa discovering Theon's (sort of) innocence and Danaerys newly armed with Tyrion. Stay tuned!


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