Monday, June 1, 2015

Game of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 8

Game of Thrones
Episode Title: “Hardhome”
Channel: HBO
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Writers: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Genre: Action, Drama, Fantasy
Runtime: 55 min
Rated: TV-MA
Original Air Date: May 31, 2015

Let's get the smaller things out of the way first. Sansa confronted Theon over his loyalty to Ramsay. It wasn't the best scene of the episode, but it did allow Sansa to discover that Bran and Rickon are still alive. I'm not sure what the point of revealing this fact to Sansa was; it felt more like a reminder to the audience that Bran is still out there. I understand the motivation behind the reveal in that regard, since Bran has not appeared in this season. What is Sansa supposed to do with this information though? I suppose she can draw on it to find strength, or something some other nebulous thing, but it felt a little clumsily handled and transparent. Also in Winterfell, the Boltons were discussing how best to handle the impending threat of Stannis' army. The elder Bolton was content with staying behind their walls and waiting the assault out, Ramsay on the other hand advocated a raid of some sort on the advancing army. He claimed he'd need only twenty men to hurt Stannis, hopefully setting up the character's downfall in the upcoming episode; episode nine when all of the big stuff happens.

Ceresi is still locked away in a dungeon by the Faith. Apparently they're withholding water from her until she confesses her crimes. When she refused she was beaten. Qyburn showed up and gave her an update on recent events in King's Landing. Her uncle Kevan has returned from Casterly Rock and is serving as the Hand to King Tommen. Tommen has locked himself away in his chambers and refuses to eat or see anyone. Qyburn also revealed that the work he has been doing is progressing well, teasing the audience with whatever was under the sheet we saw in his laboratory. If nothing has changed in that regard from the books readers of the series will know what's in store. I feel like it's a reveal that could go either way. If it's not handled well it could come off as cheesy, otherwise it could serve as a chilling remind of what Ceresi will do to maintain her power. After Qyburn's visit the woman that has been interrogating Ceresi returned with another bucket of water and a ladle. Ceresi continued making threats to the woman, who proceeded to dump the water on the dirty floor of Ceresi's cell. The sight of Ceresi greedily slurping water from the dirty stone felt like she was finally reaping what shes sown, although it was pitiful enough that one could almost feel sorry for her.

Arya's journey to become a Faceless Man has progressed. She has come a long way since the days she couldn't sneak a single lie past Jaquen. She has been spending her time cultivating a character to play while she's out in the city, that of a peddler of mollusks. She changed the path she normally walked at Jaquen's request and met a man named only the Thin Man. When she reported back to Jaquen he explained to her that the Thin Man was to be her first assignment; someone who deserves to face judgment at the hands of the Many Faced God. After making only miniscule jumps forward in her story this season the last two episodes have made me care what's going on with her again.

There was a brief check in with Sam and Gilly at Castle Black. This was another segment of the episode that felt unnecessary. Sam and Gilly briefly discussed how safe they may be in Castle Black before Jon's steward walked in. Their conversation gave Sam a few minutes to assure the audience that Jon knows what he's doing, we just have to trust him. The quick scenes with characters who are doing next to nothing otherwise that have been so prevalent this season are interrupting the flow of the episodes they appear in. Nearly every one of them have been for the audience's benefit and not the story's.

Tyrion and Dany finally had their sit down moment. Tyrion successfully convinced her to spare Jorah's life, but didn't save him from banishment. Once Tyrion and Daenerys got into a one on one setting things really picked up. He tried to convince her of the futility of her return to Westeros, claiming that no one would side with her. She retorted by explaining that she didn't want the support of the ruling families in Westeros, she wants to completely break the system of governance and remake it in a way that's more fair to the common folk. It'll be interesting to see if Tyrion can convince her that her goals are unrealistic, or if he'll come around to her way of thinking. Tyrion seems too pragmatic a man to think that the leading families of his homeland would be so easily overthrown.

Nearly the entire last half of the episode deal with Jon's mission to Hardhome to convince has many of the free folk has possible to travel south and seek refuge on the southern side of the Wall. He and Tormund arrived to a chilly reception, but managed to convince some of the clan elders to come with them. They began loading noncombatants on to boats to take back to the waiting ships. Before the evacuation could be completed the earth began to shake and clouds of ice and snow began pouring down the surrounding mountainsides. I was sure that this was where we'd leave the story for this week, leaving the threat to make its actual appearance in next week's episode. You know, the episode that we've grown so accustomed to looking at for all of the action.

Alas, I was pleasantly surprised. What followed was an all out attack by the forces of the White Walkers, reanimated corpses that move much faster than the last time we saw them. I'm going to assume that their new found speed stems from the Walkers' power growing. Jon, the men of the Night's Watch that accompanied him on the journey, and the fighters of the wildlings fought desperately to allow as many people to flee as possible. After attempting to reacquire the pouch of dragonglass he'd brought to the meeting Jon met one of the Walkers in single combat. He won the fight and managed to escape on the last boat leaving Hardhome. He and the apparent leader of the White Walkers engaged in a staring battle, during which the Walker raised all of the dead that had been left behind. With the numbers of the dead army increased following the battle things look bleak for those south of the Wall.

Conclusion: The writers surprised us with an epic battle in the eighth episode of the season. The story lines that received the bulk of the time were all served well by “Hardhome.” Although they weren't as distracting as they have been, the one off scenes following characters doing very little at the time were still present, and still obviously there only to remind the audience of things they might've forgotten. I chuckled a bit when the animated skeletons of the dead army reminded me of the stop-motion skeletons in Army of Darkness.

Rating: 9/10

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