The eighth episode of Game of Thrones makes up for every moment this show has fallen short in season five. Amazing – simply put. Tyrion reaches an endgame, Cersei gets her comeuppance, Arya learns the canals, and the lands north of the wall turn into a fraking death metal mosh pit. Winter finally came, and now it needs a cigarette. So so many tasty spoilers after the jump!
Game of Thrones has become a giant spoiler for anyone hoping to read A Song of Ice & Fire. This is exactly what the show needed to do in order to pull itself out of the mid-seasons slump it’s been in. Yes, things aren’t perfect (we’re looking at you, Dorne), but goddamn they are close. When you get the end of A Dance of Dragons, the stories are kind of grim. You don’t know what the deal is with the white walkers, Jon Snow has some trouble at the wall, Tyrion is doing a bunch of site seeing with a lady dwarf, and Danaerys is faced with a major decision. Really not the kind of neatly wrapped storytelling one might be used to from a TV show, but from a 7-part book series? Totally appropriate. All of that has been flipped on its side by HBO.
In tonight’s episode we saw Jon get a more in-depth journey to the north than he did in the books. Dany and Tyrion spend time together, giving the audience some of the best on-screen chemistry we’ve seen in the series to date, and of course there’s the whole effing ice-zombie warfare scene omg! Overall this show has, for better or worse, finally come to stand on it’s own two feet. Weiss and Benioff have taken a fragmented overarching story that often moves at a glacial pace, and sped things up a bit for a cable-TV audience. For that we thank you David and Daniel, from the bottom of our hearts.
Holy shit you guys can we talk about Hardhome for a minute (the episode’s title, but also the scene of total carnage)? Nobody knew where this was going when Jon, Edd and Tormund decided to take their paddleboats to Hardhome. Ostensibly they were headed that way to recruit freefolk into fighting the white walkers, but who knew how that was going to go I mean really. This whole nightswatch thing just sounds sorta pyramid-scammy so you can’t really blame the Lord of Bones for telling Tormund to go suck an egg. LoB gets his head bashed in because nobody puts baby in a corner, but regardless of his efforts Tormund is only able to convince about half the freefolk at Hardhome to come south and settle beyond the wall. The Thens are especially confrontational to Jon Snow’s offer, basically telling everyone to leave now if they know what’s good for them. Cue creepy winds. Cue foreboding silence, met with eerie music. The wights attack, and it is not pretty. “The Long night is coming,” says Jon Snow, and he’s not just whistling dixie.
Everyone in living rooms across America were confused as this is not episode nine, where all the big ass fights are supposed to happen on Game of Thrones. Talk about taking your audience off guard! These wildlings can’t get on their boats fast enough. Many of them die, along with a handful of nightswatchmen but not before Jon faces down with a mini-boss wight who he creams with Longclaw. We are so glad he didn’t decide to push his luck with the boss mob Night’s King, instead opting for the last boat to sea. As he floats away from the docks, we see the fallen freefolk rise as the undead, including the awesome Wilding Chieftaness (played by Pitch Perfect 2 alumni Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) who barely got her daughters safely onto rafts. We know Jon might be riding back to Castle Black for some quality time with a few knives in his back, but we didn’t want him to go out at the hands of the big bad.
Sprinkled throughout the episode were moments of Cersei imprisoned in church/jail (same diff). She looks like shit, her hair’s a mess and that burlap sack is barely holding in her potatoes. She has a pretty interesting scene with Qyburn, her Master of Secrets where she learns that her Uncle Kevan Lannister is back in town and serving as Hand of the King to an inconsolable Tommen. Talk about insult to injury! Q-Bert says this could all be over if she just confess and ask for the Mother’s mercy, that fanatics don’t listen to anything else. “Belief is the death of reason,” he says. One couldn’t help but wonder whether he and Cersei were communicating subtly about other stuff, especially when he mentioned their secret project that is probably-totally-almost-certainly The Mountain. Queen C has a plan B, and we’re not talking moon tea!
Arya also gets some spattered check-in scenes about her journey to become a Cat of the Canals type character in Bravos. Jaqen H’Ghar and the Faceless Men give her a new assignment, to become a young girl named Lanna who sells oysters along the docks. There she’s to learn everything there is to know about the insurance salesman who the Faceless Men have been paid to assassinate. Her transformation into a servant of the many-faced God has been a delight to watch, not only to learn more about the religion and Bravos, but also to see Arya flourish in a way that just wasn’t happening in Westeros. We can’t be sure how her story will ever fold back with the other plots, or that it ever will but it sure is fun to watch. Maybe we’ll get a spin-off show with her and the Waif in the style of Alias – Netflix can you hear us?
Her sister Sansa doesn’t get much screen time this episode, but she does learn during her confrontation with Reek that Theon didn’t kill her brothers Bran and Rickon. This is a major turning point for Sansa as she realizes she’s not alone anymore. It was just a moment, but Sophie Turner conveyed so many complex emotions in that scene it really was awe-inspiring. For a character that started out insufferable, she has become a powerhouse on Game of Thrones, especially in the absence of her mother Caitlin played by the Northern Irish national treasure that is Michelle Fairley. Turner will portray a young Jean Grey in next years X-Men: Apocalypse and we hope she’ll see major success, but we also hope she doesn’t only do cash-cow action films. We’ve seen her develop such a wide range as an actor on this show, here’s hoping she gets some dramatic love from Hollywood as her career progresses.
Speaking of cash-cow action films, Danaerys (played by the new Terminator’s Sarah Connor) trades quips with Tyrion Mother-Fudging Lannister in one of the best one-on-one scenes we’ve seen since Robert and Cersei talked frankly about their marriage back in season one. “We’re the terrible children of terrible people,” Tyrion says, explaining the difficulties of ruling to Dany. A ruler must be the ruler of both the rich and the poor, and as Tyrion points out she hasn’t done too much to cater to those in power. Honestly this has been one of the biggest criticisms about Dany as a ruler –she’s got a serious case of captain save-a-hoe disorder. Everyone has at least one friend like that who no matter how fucked up someone is that friend will date them awkwardly for like seven years until it’s too late. Or they have these really unhealthy, boundary-less friendships with total drama queens. That’s Dany. She has to save everyone, and Tyrion’s here to tell her to stop being so nearsighted and start looking at the bigger picture. She can’t win back Westeros without powerful allies, but true-to-form Dany just says she’ll fucking kill everyone who gets in her way. Like father like daughter? Maybe that was Tyrion’s point in the first place; “killing and politics aren’t always the same thing.” Total side-bar: did anyone else notice that when Dany was listing off noble houses in Westeros she left off the Martells? Perhaps there’s still time for a secret Dorne connection with Ms. Khaleesi! It’d be about the only thing that could save those sand snake snore plots at this point.
Taking liberties with the source material has been a mixed bag for Game of Thrones. On the one hand there’s been some amazing moments (last night’s zombie showdown), while others have been met with criticism (Sansa and Ramsay’s wedding night). Prior to season five there wasn’t that much outright change beyond omissions of characters to tighten the larger story. This season we’re seeing entirely different takes on source material characters, especially in the Sansa Stark, Jamie Lannister, Tyrion Lannister and Danaeyrs Targaryen in addition to a bunch of supporting characters like Ser Jorah Mormont, Brienne of Tarth and Stannis Baratheon (just to name a few). They aren’t going to hit the mark on every single adaptation, but by and large this show continues to kick ass. How are there only two episodes left?
Game of Thrones airs Sunday nights on your roommates HBO Now account.