Before we begin – Yes, there are TV spoilers ahead (not books, I will not spoil things that have happened “in the book but not the show”). I will not celebrate every twist and turn, but if we are going to talk about what we like, we have to discuss the great scenes. Stop reading if you do not like spoilers. You have been warned!
Walking Dead in the snow? That’s kind of what we were treated to during the final third of tonight’s Game of Thrones episode. A relatively quiet episode turned into a full on undead battle without warning. Tonight’s episode, Hardhome, was the first episode in a long time that seemed to have zero wasted scenes. Nothing felt like a throwaway, and nothing felt tacked on; it all either pushed forward or provided a great moment for the current season story lines. Obviously the battle at the eponymous Hardhome was the standout set piece, but this episode continued the red hot fire from last week towards a screaming finale in two weeks.
Oftentimes on Game of Thrones, episode eight of a season has suffered. Episode nine has usually been the climax of the season (Baelor, Blackwater, I’m looking at you), so episode eight has usually been moving the pieces into play for that climactic episode. Not so tonight. We may have had the most brutal ending to an episode ever, and a hopeless one at that. We will return to the battle for Hardhome, but let’s talk about the rest of the episode first.
Tyrion, Daenerys, and Jorah. Jorah is so screwed. He basically just wants to do as much good as he can before he becomes some terrible monster. He is going to sally forth as he has been: a good person in a terrible world. He may have a shot to make a difference still, but he kind of has an air of inevitability about him, doesn’t he? He will obviously win his way through the fighting pits, but things don’t usually turn out the way they should for the good and noble in Westeros. The developments between Dani and Tyrion are much more interesting.
Both of these characters need each other, and at least one of them does not realize just how much they need the other. Tyrion, sharp as ever, probably knows that “Hand of the Dragon” is the best he can hope for at this point. Dani, keeping with character, does not yet seem to understand just how important Tyrion Lannister is to her dream for the Iron Throne. It was great hearing (and watching; Tyrion made wonderful use of movement to make his points) Tyrion present his case to Daenerys. He made his case with authority and conviction, and Dani was forced to accept him. He essentially has become the new Hand, although Daenerys will surely put that back to the test in the coming weeks. After all, she does want to “break the wheel.” Shouldn’t she have said “burn?”
We did not get much screen time at the house of the High Sparrow, but actress Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister) sure made the most of it. She is obviously trying not to break, but the agents of the sparrow (spa-gents?) surely know she is eating the spilled food and water off the floor. It makes you wonder how Margaery and Loras are holding up in their cells. Cersei’s information from Qyburn, who is obviously the only person left that she trusts, was even more disheartening. Her son won’t eat. Her uncle refuses to come see her. And her brother/lover has not responded (considering he is held captive in the least interesting place in Westeros). However, we were reminded of Qyburn’s Frankenstein experiments, as he gave Cersei a very knowing look and ensured her that things were progressing. With the divergence from the books, it will be interesting to see whether this pays off this season or continues as a mystery to season six. It was extremely impressive to see Cersei give her everything to not break; even dying from thirst she continued to threaten the life of the woman offering her water. Something in me seriously doubts that Cersei will get the revenge she seeks against her caretaker.
Meanwhile, Arya hit the screen this week with a very brief scene that appears will lead to bigger developments. She saw her mark without even realizing it, and Jaqen told the waif (and us) that, essentially, it does not matter who dies. This could bode ill for Arya – she will most likely complete her task. However, if she doesn’t, it seems that the many faced god will gladly take anyone as a substitute. Here’s hoping the Stark numbers don’t continue to dwindle. Arya’s little smile as she walked away to work on her task seemed to indicate that she fits in very well at the House of Black and White.
Back in Winterfell… Poor Theon. He has had the most depressing character arc of all time. He messed up, yes. But man, is he paying for it. Ramsay abused him. Sansa told him: “You deserve this, and I would do it to you again in a second.” Even then, he shared a valuable secret with Sansa – your brothers are still alive. Sophie Turner again showed her acting chops this week as she reacted to this shocking news. Sansa continues to be one of the most compelling characters on the show, as her quest for vengeance forges on.
Ramsay also did some flexing this week, as he wanted to stand up to his father. Here’s hoping it is the end of him. Roose wanted to (smartly) sit at home and starve Stannis out when he arrives at Winterfell. Ramsay’s counter: “Give me twenty men.” On one hand, the guy has guts. On the other hand, we hope that Stannis spills his guts. Here’s hoping that Stannis sniffs out Ramsay’s little hunting party and uses it to ruin Roose’s night. Knowing Game of Thrones, Stannis will corner Ramsay, get killed by Brienne, and come back from the grave to kill the rest of the Starks. Then we can tune in to Silicon Valley!
The fantastic finale of the episode took place in the far far north. We checked in with Sam and Gilly this week, but the big story up north was obviously with Jon Snow, Tormund, and the rest of the wildlings at Hardhome. How many expected to see a winter zombie battle royale from 28 Days Later?
All of a sudden, this army of the dead became a much more dominant threat to life south of the wall. Not only did they completely win the battle, but the White Walker’s army showed that fighting them is a near impossibility. Jon Snow had not even won, and after taking brutal losses, he watched as the Night King raised the dead as new soldiers in his army. Dragonglass is all well and good, but unless an entire army can be equipped with obsidian and Valyrian steel, there is literally no chance of winning this fight. This was echoed by the silence that accompanied the credits; there was no “Bear and the Maiden Fair” this week. Westeros is in trouble, and only a few people recognize it. Even Stannis, who seems a friend of the Night’s Watch, is not aware of what is truly out there.
The battle of Hardhome easily took up at least a quarter of the episode, and it did not disappoint. From the moment our friend the Thenn uttered “Shut the gates,” it was clear that something big was happening. Jon running into the hut in an attempt to save the Dragonglass was impressive, but easily the best part of the big battle was when the army of the dead poured over the cliff, only to sit back up just seconds later. This is an army that cannot be stopped by conventional means, and the Night King further illustrated that point as he worked some freaky magic as Jon Snow fled the scene. In the classic zombie movie fashion, every person who died now has become part of the opposite army. And they have a grudge built up against Jon Snow, since he killed one of their lieutenants with his Valyrian steel blade.
All the Valyrian steel in Westeros is not going to matter when this army hits the wall. To fight back, the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings are going to need some sort of massive, fire-producing machine. Where would they ever be able to obtain that?
Overall, this was a great episode of Game of Thrones. Many characters moved into their final places for the season, and we got a huge set piece with the battle for Hardhome. It will be difficult for the next episode to top this one due to the sheer spectacle of the finale, but Game of Thrones has surprised us before. And at least the Lord of Bones is dead. Which means he’ll probably come back as some sort of zombie wearing skeleton armor. Just can’t get rid of that guy…
– Both conversations between Dani and Tyrion
– Cersei finally being broken down
– All the stuff at Winterfell (especially Sansa learning her brothers are still alive)
– Dani’s desire to break the wheel
– “Shut the gates!”
– The battle for Hardhome
– A few characters pushed out due to size of the final set piece
What did you think of Hardhome? Intense finale do it for you? Or did you miss the time it took away from other characters? Let us know in the comments below!