This week’s “Game of Thrones,” “Hardhome,” is a definitive turn from the last couple of episodes. As the pen-penultimate episode of Season 5, ‘GoT’ turns the action on hard with the help of Wildlings, White Walkers, and Night’s Watch in the North. But director Miguel Sapochnik and writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss keep the pots stirring in other lands, checking in on our main characters, who are forging new alliances, trapped in dungeons, and learning new trades. It’s a doozy of an episode, so let’s jump right in.
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen) are standing before Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) because they have got some serious ‘splainin to do. Tyrion makes his case to Dany, including in his bonafides that killed both of his parents, which in any other place wouldn’t be a plus, but then he also negs her, saying he’s not even sure he wants to work for her, anyway. She puts him on the spot, asking him to give advice about what to do with Jorah. Tyrion suggests not killing her most devoted number one fan of all time, but that she can’t bring him along. She sends him away and Jorah promptly walks out to sell himself back into fighting pit slavery so he can fight for the Queen.
Later, over a drinks meeting, Tyrion and Dany talk advising, strategy, Westerosi politics, and shitty dads (happy early Father’s Day, everyone). These two certainly have a complicated history, what with his brother killing her dad. When Tyrion suggests the Iron Throne is small potatoes, Dany informs him that she doesn’t just want to stop the wheel of power struggle between families, she wants to break the dang thing. Get it, gurl.
Cersei (Lena Headey) is learning to enjoy dungeon life, what with being tortured by this crazy nun who wants her to confess and withholds water if she doesn’t. Of course headstrong Cersei won’t do it, refusing to bow to the “barefooted commoner” she herself installed as High Sparrow. Maester Qyburn (Anton Lesser) comes to visit with some news—she’s going to trial for a bunch of really bad stuff including treason, incest and killing her husband, the king. Also, Tommen is shut up in his room and won’t eat, Jaime hasn’t called, and to make matters worse, Uncle Kevan has been summoned to be the Hand of the King and he won’t visit her. One bright spot: Qyburn mentions that “the work continues,” so maybe he can get zombie Mountain to bust her out of this joint?
Arya (Maisie Williams) has finally moved on to the task of “being someone else,” namely, Lana, an orphan who sells oysters in the markets of Braavos. Once she masters the lie, Jaqen (Tom Wlaschiwa) sends her to the harbor for a mysterious reason. The reason ends up being a bookie/gambler type who takes gambles on whether or not sea captains will die. When they come back home safe and sound, he hauls them off and takes all their money. He buys some oysters off of Lana/Arya and later Jaqen slips her some poison water to do what she needs to do. Though her House of Black and White buddy doesn’t think she’s ready, Jaqen says the Many Faced God doesn’t care either way.
Theon (Alfie Allen) brings Sansa (Sophie Turner) a meal up in her watchtower. Sansa is rightfully pissed at him and demands to know why he sold her out to Ramsay. While she accuses him of doing all sorts of terrible things to her family, he admits that he deserves the hate, in a monologue that is the most Theon has said in a few seasons. He also lets it slip that those two boys he burned were not Bran and Rickon. Sansa demands to know where they are, but Theon/Reek beats a hasty escape.
The Boltons talk war strategy, with Roose (Michael McElhatton) suggesting they tuck in for a long siege and let the Stannis Baratheons freeze and die outside the wall. But Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) wants to go on the offensive, claiming he only needs 20 men to make a dent. Damn dude, what’s up your psychopath sleeve?
Sam (John Bradley) and Gilly (Hannah Murray) have some super awkward post-coitus chat while she patches him up yet again. Olly (Brennock O’Connor) brings them some snacks and he’s still grinding his gears about the Wildling Peace Agreement. Sam gently schools him on “the right thing to do” and “tough choices,” while also assuring him that Jon “always comes back.”
Hardhome/North of the Wall
We will see about that, as we cut to Jon Snow (Kit Harington) pulling up to the Wildling stronghold, Hardhome. His faction meets up with the gnarly ass Wildlings, who aren’t so keen on this meeting. Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) proves how serious he is about the peace talks by bludgeoning a guy wearing a skull fragment as a face mask to death with his own animal skull cane (is that the most metal thing Tormund’s ever done?). So that’s the kind of meeting this is going to be.
They retire to a lodge for peace chats, where a young lady Wildling (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen)—who moonlights as the lead singer of Das Sound Machine in “Pitch Perfect 2”—leads the charge and is in favor of following Tormund, even if he is with King Crow (Jon’s jaunty new nickname). The Wildlings start to load up the boats, and Das Sound Machine sticks her kids aboard. Suddenly, the dogs start going nuts, and the sound of a roaring avalanche cuts through the chaos of the crowd. It can only mean one thing: the White Walkers and their “World War Z” army of zombie wights. Everyone stands around dumbly for way too long, until the Wildlings shut the gate on fully a third of their people, but the wights start busting through and it’s a full on zombie attack.
The smart ones go running for the boats while Jon shouts about “the line,” which is silly because there’s hella snow zombies outchyeah, fool. It’s total chaos and everyone is just murdering skeletors all over the place. Up on on the mountain, they can see the horse-bound White Walkers, and Jon knows he needs to get the dragon glass ASAP—he had a whole bag of it in the lodge and makes a break for it. Jon faces off with a White Walker there, and he just gets completely worked. (One question, why is it wearing clothes? Where did it get said clothes? They were not wearing clothes before!!) The White Walker can shatter weapons but NOT THE SWORD OF VALYRIAN STEEL! Jon destroys it in one fell swoop and the other White Walkers are NOT cool with this, especially King Frosted Tips!
Meanwhile, Das Sound Machine is ferociously murdering wights everywhere, she is really very good at it, but then she sees some little kid zombies and feels sad enough about it that they have time to eat her. The White Walkers send an avalanche of wights over the cliff, which is just very bad for the humans. They all run to the sea, with the giant sweeping them out of the way with a massive torch. They escape in the boat (well, Jon and Tormund and a few others do) PHEW. But they watch as King Frosted Tips raises the dead and they all come back to life as blue glowing eyed zombies, including ZOMBIE DAS SOUND MACHINE. DAMMIT ALL TO HELL. The boat slowly floats away from Frozen Zombie Hellhole Island. They need Dany’s dragons up in here right quick.
This episode featured some fantastic sound design and editing, particularly with the usage of silence and sound/score going in and out during the massive White Walker/wight battle that was truly artful. There’s also a bright and lively sense of editing in this episode that builds tension in the push/pull between fast and slow cuts. While “Hardhome” seemed more steady on its feet in terms of story, whereas the last two episodes felt shaky, with unearned beats, the the reliance on a huge action set piece to anchor the end, with much shorter scenes in each location didn’t allow for any weak story moments to show.
Since a huge battle usually occurs in episode 9, it will be interesting to see what happens next week, perhaps the Bolton-Baratheon showdown, which may be less bombastic than previously expected. It’s anyone’s game what could be coming up next. Leave your thoughts, reactions and theories below!