A mere week had passed between the last episode of Game of Thrones and this one, and so much can happen in a week. But every so often, something so momentous occurs that you can’t get your mind off of it, and seven days can give you the time to ruminate enough that the occurrence takes root in your brain and blooms into a wonderful memory. For me, the image of Cersei being thrown onto the dirt ground of the prison cell had hardly left my mind’s eye all week.
How long it had been coming?! How many people had to suffer at the hands of the cruelest bitch in Westeros? Her arrest felt like the kind of sweet redemption that one has when they witness Mordor crumbling to pieces. (Okay, well, at least I do, being the Tolkienphile that I am.) That image was so satisfying that I almost forgot… Cersei is still in there!
And so we return to the blonde queen, cowering the dark corner of her cell; her luscious locks flattened and dull from lack of care, her attitude surly from lack of wine. Oh yeah, that and she’s about to be on trial for fornication, treason, incest, and the murder of Robert Baratheon. (More on that last one later.) There’s no word on Jaime in Dorne, her recently arrived Uncle Kevan hates her, and Tommen won’t leave his room. Cersei’s only friend in the world is Qyburn, who visits her and explains the only way out is to confess. Ever the supplicant, Cersei’s reaction to that is: “I will not kneel to some barefooted commoner.” That’s the spirit.
And so Qyburn leaves with, “The work continues.” Does he mean that the work to get Cersei out continues, or that the work he’s doing on the Mountain’s dead body continues? (Because I think that line was code for the latter.) But Cersei’s charge for the death of Robert is a fun addition to the rest of the charges that we knew about with varying levels of certainty. Definitely hinted at but never officially stated, anyone could have guessed back in season one that Cersei made Lancel stuff Robert full of a wine that made him drunker than usual and even more susceptible to a boar’s tusk. And considering Lancel cleansed his soul to join the Sparrows, that tidbit was likely in the mix.
Until next time, Cersei! This week I shall dream of you lapping up water off of a dirt floor because your pride prevents you from seeing you’re totally and completely screwed. Delicious!
Anya’s also up to something delicious in Braavos. Or rather, selling something delicious. When we last saw her, Jaqen told “a girl” she was ready to be someone else, and someone else she has become. In what I have to believe is playing the Game of Faces (also known as the most intense acting lesson ever), Arya excels in manipulating herself to become Lanna, a seafood merchant trolling the streets with a cart of clams and oysters for the people. She performs so well at gaining the trust of a street gambler, Jaqen gives her a “gift” to give that gambler: a vile containing some liquid that I can’t imagine is anything other than poison.
So pleased at her progress is Arya that she grins as she exits the room, when suddenly the Waif appears (nobutreally where the hell did you come from?!) and expresses reluctance in Arya’s ability. “It’s all the same to the Many Faced God,” says Jaqen. This line must have some kind of greater significance that I don’t get yet. Because what I heard was, “Eh. The Many Faced God really doesn’t give a shit. So why the hell not let this girl go out and kill some guy?”
Preoccupation with death was the topic of conversation for the bulk of this episode. Sansa waits in her room for Reek to bring her food, with what must be her only candle melted down to nothing on the table next to her. (If that was her savior candle, that’s quite the symbolism!) She is seething with anger towards Reek, for telling Ramsay about the candle and for killing her brothers. “If I could do what Ramsay did to you right here, right now, I would,” she says, because if it weren’t for him she’d still have a family.
But as far as Reek was concerned, snitching on her was actually helping to keep her safe. He knows from experience that trying to escape “the master” is not going to achieve anything except torture and result in missing appendages. In what is likely the most introspective moment of the season, Reek admits, “I deserved everything… I did terrible things. Turned on Robb. Captured Winterfell. Killed those boys.” And behaved like an all around prick? Yeah, you really were terrible. For as much as that’s true and as much as he may have deserved to be knocked down a few pegs (and as much as I really hated him once upon a time) it’s difficult not to feel sorry for Reek after he acknowledges his past behavior. He may have deserved a small portion of what he got, but no one should have to go through the torment and humiliation that Theon went through to become Reek.
Needless to say, referring to her brothers as “those boys” did not go over well with Sansa, and in a moment of weakness, Reek confesses, “They weren’t Bran and Rickon!” If Sansa had little hope before this conversation, she must have a lot now. The Stark children have been apart for so long, doing their own things, that one forgets that Robb is the only dead one. Sansa now knows that Jon is alive and well in Castle Black and Bran and Rickon could be alive somewhere. If she survives the ordeal of being married to Ramsay, I’m willing to bet her next move will be to find her little brothers. A Stark reunion would be the most uplifting moment on this bleak, morose show.
Oh, who am I kidding? This is Game of Thrones. Those moments don’t happen. And even we don’t know where Rickon is! (Seriously, where is Rickon?!)
And up there in Castle Blake, Sam is basking in the afterglow and making it weird. “How are you?” he asks Gilly, like she’s never done this before. Come on, Sam. She has a child. His usual optimism is magnified after his deflowering and helps young Olly get through an existential crisis involving the small matter of the Wildlings (particularly Tormund) killing his parents and the rest of his village. What seems like a throw-away scene hammering home the incessant trope that Winter is coming, Sam’s speech actually makes it sound like Winter will be the great equalizer. The White Walkers don’t care who you are or where you come from or who you hate. They just want to kill you. Sooner or later, the Wildlings and the Crows can’t afford to be each other’s enemies; they’re both going to be the first victims of the White Walkers.
Exactly how soon that was going to be brought home was something I was unprepared for. This episode had some of the best pacing of any episode this season. It was quick to address certain things out of necessity, but switched between plots efficiently so that by the time the last half of the episode came, you had no idea what you were in for.
Jon Snow and Tormund arrived at Wildling village of Hardhome, with what looks like Stannis’ naval fleet behind them. It doesn’t take long for these once-enemies to become real allies. Tormund asks Jon if he trusts him, and without answering yes, Jon asks if that makes him a fool. “We’re fools together now,” Tormund responds. Kind of adorable.
On they go, presenting an unwavering united front against several hundred Wildlings who all think Tormund’s gone soft. That is until he bludgeons the Lord of Bones to death with his own scepter. (The man just wanted to talk!) Once through the gatekeeper of Hardhome, Jon speaks to the Wildling elders with Tormund at his side, admitting that the Free Folk and the Night’s Watch will never be friends, but urging them to join together to fight against the White Walkers. He presents them with dragonglass daggers and reminds them that Mance Rayder never wanted a war between them.
Where is Mance Rayder, you ask? “I put an arrow through his heart,” says Jon, to the dismay of the room full of people who already hate him. (Someone seriously needs to take a public speaking class. Maybe some context would be beneficial, Lord Commander?) In swoops Jon’s new BFF Tormund to set the record straight, explaining the arrow was mercy and Jon defied Stannis’ orders in doing so, displaying a kind of courage that the Wildlings need. Not courage to defend themselves against White Walkers, but the kind of courage it will take to join with people they’ve been fighting for hundreds of years. “He didn’t have to come to Hardhome,” Tormund says. “He came because he needs us. And we need him.”
After some opposition from the lady elder (who was also the German chick from Pitch Perfect 2 that confused Anna Kendrick’s sexuality), some foreboding shots of the lone giant in the corner of the room, and the second reference to Jon Snow as the prettiest man alive (no one’s disagreeing), most of the Wildlings agreed to join with Tormund. All, in fact, except for the tall dude with very symmetrical scars. “That’s our enemy,” he says. “That has always been our enemy.” Well, we know what happens to stubborn people in this world, don’t we? (Hint: they die.)
The next shots of Wildlings getting into row boats reminded me of the early scenes in Titanic where the women and children were being taken off the ship first. The ship’s already sinking, but you know by their faces that something else is about to go down.
And boy, does it. Dogs bark. There’s some gusts of wind and rumbles of thunder. What looks like an avalanche of snow pours over the mountains and I think it’s actually happened: Winter has come. But this just any shift in weather patterns; the White Walkers have brought Winter to Hardhome.
What happens next can’t really be described. You just have to experience it. But the implications of impending Winter and White Walkers and war and joining with ones enemies are made clear: there comes a time when the talking is done and all you have left to do is act.
As the White Walkers descend on Hardhome, one can’t help but think of The Walking Dead and how SO MUCH INSANELY WORSE it is to have the dead attack you on Game of Thrones. They’re equally as terrifying to look at (though eerily beautiful, depending on which one you’ve got staring you down), but they’re also fast moving and know how to use weapons. They’re not just after you to eat your flesh, they’re after you for your very life.
Jon doesn’t hesitate and joins in the defense against the White Walkers, however pointless it is. It seems that the dead can only be slowed down by arrows to the head and slices of a sword. The only way to take them down is with dragonglass. Oh yeah, and also with Valyrian steel, turns out! Jon’s battle with the Big Bad White Walker (proper name currently unknown) was looking dire until he found his sword amongst rubble, and it turned Big Bad White Walker’s body to glass with one swift swing. That’s super good to know, even if a sword made of Valyrian steel is pretty hard to come by these days. Well, at least we know Jon and Brienne will be fine. Yay!
The episode concludes with a cascade of dead bodies, a mostly annoyed giant trudging through the water, and the most meme-able moment since ‘The Mountain and the Viper.’ I wouldn’t say Jon and the Wildlings won this battle, but they made it out alive, which is more than can be said for most people in Hardhome. I think we’ll soon see thousands of White Walkers scaling the Wall, but let’s all take a moment and thank the Old Gods and the New for not granting the dead with the ability to swim.
Note: This episode was very much about what happens with Jon and crew at Hardhome and it’s impossible not to stress the importance of what it means and gloriousness of how amazing it was. However, a just as significant, though definitely overshadowed, portion of this episode is the conversation between Tyrion and Daenerys. In the efforts of giving every moment its due credit, I’m going to write a separate recap addressing just that scene. What a great freaking episode!