Game of Thrones S5E8 “Hardhome”
As exciting as the politics in Game of Thrones can be, it’s supposed to be a secondary problem. While people gets caught up in the political game, the white walkers will come and destroy everyone when they should have been preparing for their arrival instead of worrying who sits on the iron throne. All we’ve gotten from the white walkers though is a small display in the very first episode, an off screen battle in between seasons two and three, and Sam killing one towards the end of the third season. “Hardhome” ends the mysterious absence of the white walkers and it does so in dramatic fashion. In the final half-hour act of “Hardhome”, the free folk settlement of Hardhome is massacred as the White Walkers and the army of the dead make their presence known and grow their army exponentially when the Night King raises the free folk they just killed into wights. It’s an absolutely gripping sequence that could be talked about for the entire review but there’s still other things to talk about such as Arya’s continued training, Sansa receiving some good news, and Dany taking Tyrion into her services as an advisor. We’ll talk about it all, starting now.
To King’s Landing we go, more specifically, the dungeons. Our only scene in the capital is a check in on Cersei and things aren’t going very well for her. Septa Unella offers Cersei water in exchange of a confession but Cersei doesn’t back in, first playing nice and offering her a spot in court if she releases her, and playing mean by threatening the Setpa’s death at her hands. Septa Unella is just as stubborn and throws the water onto the filthy ground when Cersei refuses to confess. Qyburn later pays her a visit and the news outside of Cersei’s cell is just as bad as the inside. Grand Maester Pycelle has taken control of the small council and brought Kevan Lannister back to the capital to serve as hand of the king. Qyburn also tells Cersei that her trial will begin soon and she is being charged with fornication, incest, treason, and regicide. She denies them all but nevertheless, Qyburn suggests that it may be in her best interest to confess. Cersei asks for Tommen to visit but Qyburn already begged him to come unsuccessfully as Tommen’s become a recluse following the arrests of his wife and mother. Rough times for Cersei indeed.
Things may not be going well for Queen Cersei, but Queen Daenerys was given a gift the last time we saw her if you recall. Jorah and Tyrion are brought before the throne room and Tyrion is given an interview of sorts. Dany questions why she shouldn’t just kill him but Tyrion uses that clever way with words that he has to turn a possible execution, into an adviser role for Dany. He concedes Dany has wealth and a large army, which is a very important part in conquering, but says she’ll need him to help her rule as she knows nothing about the country she wants to rule while he himself has plenty of knowledge and experience about Westeros given his tenure as hand of the king. Dany seems to be hesitantly leaning towards keeping Tyrion as an advisor and gives him a test of sorts when she asks him what she should do with Jorah. Tyrion convinces her to let Jorah live but also advises that he cannot continue to be on her side. Dany has Jorah exiled once again, guess the gift didn’t work.
Don’t count Jorah out yet though. The man is so committed to earning back Dany’s favor that he goes to a pretty large extreme after getting exiled for the second time. Jorah returns to his former owner and sells himself back to him for the chance to win at the great fighting pit and be given the honor of seeing Dany (again). He basically already worshipped Dany and the greyscale, along with the second exilement, have only added more fuel to the fire for Jorah to continue to beg forgiveness. You have to wonder how much time Jorah has with the greyscale though, so he is definitely on the clock here.
Back in the throne room, Dany and Tyrion converse and oddly enough, they do have some things in common such as poor fathers and siblings that treated them poorly in Cersei and Viserys. Tyrion compliments her on some of her more recent moves in Meereen such as marrying Hizdahr and reopening the fighting pits and contemplates if staying in Meereen and making her empire here might be Dany’s best move. Dany insists that they will return to Westeros someday though because Meereen isn’t home. Tyrion rightfully seems skeptical because she’ll have no support to her claim in Westeros. Tyrion concedes that Dany might get the support of the common folk in Westeros, but acknowledges she also needs the support of the great houses. He makes the good point that she has the support of the common folk in Meereen and not that of the highborns, and her tenure as queen has proven a bit shaky because of it. Tyrion says she’ll ultimately need the support of some of the great houses if she wants to rule in Westeros. Dany likens the great houses to being spokes on a wheel, the one with the most power constantly changing and even going to the bottom. After Tyrion assumes she means to stop the wheel, she corrects him and says she intends to break the wheel, no surprises there. If Dany decides to go that way, she’ll have Tyrion by her side because she formally takes him on as her advisor. Team Daenerys just got a whole lot stronger.
In Braavos, my assumption proved to be incorrect as Arya is making strides in her training, but she’s not using a face just yet. She has become Lanna though, a girl who sells oysters. After showing Jaqen she has a convincing backstory for Lanna, Jaqen instructs her to make a slight change in her oyster route and asks her to observe. Lanna complies and ends up selling oysters to a man that only gets referred to as the thin man. Jaqen later explains to Arya that the thin man is a life insurance salesman of sorts. He sells to sailors and only pays out to their families if the sailors die. The thing is, he doesn’t actually pay out when required. The thin man drew the ire of a family by not paying and they came to the faceless men as recourse. Jaqen then hands Arya a “gift”, saying she must learn more about the thin man before poisoning him. Seems simple enough.
In Winterfell, Sansa finds a silver lining to her nightmarish situation. Reek brings Sansa lunch and she confronts him before he can leave, asking why he told Ramsay of her plan instead of helping her. Reek defends himself, saying that there’s no escaping Ramsay. He recounts the time he tried to escape and all of the torture Ramsay inflicted on him afterward. Sansa doesn’t care though. In fact, Sansa says she would do everything Ramsay did to him as well, because he deserves it. This causes Reek to admit that he’s done terrible things and deserves everything that’s happened to him. Recounting his “terrible things”, he says he burned “those boys”. Sansa berates him for calling her brothers “those boys” and Reek finally breaks down and admits he didn’t burn Bran and Rickon, just two random boys. A now jubilant Sansa stops pressing Theon harshly and asks if he has any idea where her brothers may have went but that seems to be enough trauma for the day because Reek loudly announces his name is Reek and exits the room. This is obviously a game changer for Sansa though. She assumed that all of her siblings (aside from Jon) were dead. With the hope her brothers are out there somewhere, I expect Sansa to be motivated enough to stick things out in Winterfell.
In another part of the castle, Roose Bolton discusses the upcoming battle plans with Ramsay. With the fortunate snowstorm, Roose plans to just wait out Stannis’ forces from inside the castle. Stannis and his southern army aren’t used to the harsh winter weather (and it’s not even winter yet) and his army will likely mutiny at some point thanks to the weather. Ramsay doesn’t like the plan however, and would rather take things to Stannis. Roose seems skeptical, saying that meeting Stannis in the open field with their army when they have the castle is just foolish. Ramsay replies that he doesn’t need an army, just twenty good men. Can’t say Ramsay lacks confidence can we?
And now we turn our attention to the main act. Jon and crew arrive at the coastal town of Hardhome where they are greeted by a familiar face, the Lord of Bones. It’s far from a happy welcome as Bones seems disgusted that Tormund would align himself with a crow and insists that he’ll never be allies with a crow. Tormund quickly gets fed up with the Lord of Bones so he takes his staff and brutally beats him to death with it. Tormund asks for the elders to gather so they can talk peace terms. After that bloody display, no one else is quick to object.
In the town hall, all of the elders gather and Jon delivers his terms for peace. The conversation gets sidetracked though when they ask about Mance Rayder and Jon truthfully answers that he put an arrow through his heart. The scene is quick to become chaotic but before it can become violent, Tormund intervenes and provides the much needed context that shows Jon’s arrow was actually a gift of mercy. No one seems keen on the idea of trusting Jon, but leaders Karsi and Wun Wun (the latter is a giant) trust Tormund and are convinced when Tormund says this is what they have to do. Others like the Thenn leader Loboda are still unconvinced.
Five thousand free folk agree to come with Jon and Jon laments that five thousand is such a small percentage of them, while Tormund comforts Jon saying the remaining free folk are likely to change their minds soon. As they begin to load the boats, the town dogs all begin to bark and the sky turns an unsettling gray. Loboda recognizes the signs of the undead and orders the gates to the city be closed, much to the dismay of free folk that were running towards the city for safety. Loboda cautiously looks through the gate’s opening after the screams of the trapped free folk turn silent. And then the massacre begins. Wights very quickly start to break through and climb over the fence as Jon, Edd, and the rest of the brothers that made the trip fight alongside Tormund and the elders to hold off the wights as long as possible to get as many people as possible a chance to make it to the boats. They do put up a good fight but there’s so many wights that they’re hardly putting a dent in their numbers. When the chaos clears up for a short while, Jon looks up to a hill overlooking the city and sees a group of white walkers, standing menacingly and overlooking the battle. Jon quickly realizes they’re going to need the dragon glass that got left behind in the town hall and Loboda joins Jon as backup.
Much to their surprise, Jon and Loboda enter the hut only to meet a white walker. Loboda tells Jon to go look for the glass while he takes care of the walker. Loboda is a huge guy but all the strength in the world won’t do a damn thing when walkers can shatter your weapons into a thousand pieces. When the walker does just that to Loboda, Loboda doesn’t stand much of a chance and is killed in pretty quick time. The walker turns his attention to Jon and gets to him before he can retrieve the bag of dragon glass. Jon has no choice but to make a run for it but stumbles upon his exit of the hut. The two end up engaging in a fight and they are both shocked when Jon’s Valyrian steel sword Longclaw does not shatter on impact of colliding with the walker’s weapon. Jon uses this brief pause to get a swing in on the walker and he turns the tables and shatters the walker into a thousand pieces. Back on top of the hill, the Night King (leader of the walkers) looks intrigued at the fact that even a small resistance is being put up by the humans.
Small resistance may be an overstatement though because people are dying by the second here and things only get worse when an even larger second army of wights descends upon the city by falling off the cliff like lemmings, landing completely unharmed. Jon still wants to go back for the dragon glass but Edd tells him it’s too late and they have no choice but to leave now. Jon, Edd, Tormund, Wun Wun, and the rest of the survivors (which doesn’t include Karsi) sprint for their lives to make it to the boats. They just barely do and the Night King decides to walk onto the pier to say a goodbye of sorts. Jon watches as the Night King raises his arms and turns every single dead person into a wight. Not only did they make a miniscule dent in the Night King’s army, that dent becomes completely negated by the fact that every single one of the free folk casualties came back as wights. All of that effort put up by Jon and friends and the Night King’s army actually got significantly larger than the one he came to Hardhome with. The Night King stares down Jon as he leaves, Jon and the meager group of survivors look back in horror at the massacre they have just survived.
This was the first big action set piece to be a surprise for everyone. The massacre at Hardhome happened in the books but no point of view character was there so it happened “off page”. I don’t think you’ll find anyone complaining with the decision to send Jon there and make it on screen for the show. The massacre was masterful.
Jon’s portion of the episode description is “Jon travels”. That might be the biggest understatement I’ve ever seen in an episode description.
Sam’s scene with Olly back at Castle Black was a nice one. I don’t like how seemingly no one is able to put aside their differences and make peace with the wildlings/crows depending on your side, but Olly probably gets a pass for feeling the way he does. He’s just a kid and Tormund and his crew killed every single person Olly ever knew. That would be traumatizing for anyone and kids usually don’t have the ability to see the big picture so I see where he’s coming from. Sam is still 100% correct though. They don’t stand a chance without the free folk fighting with them. Hell, crows and free folk fought side by side in the episode and they still got massacred.
Add Jon to the list of people who’ve killed white walkers and add Valyrian steel to the list of things that can kill white walkers. Good thing there’s like three Valyrian steel swords in the world and the bag of dragon glass got left behind at Hardhome. Not looking good.
Karsi may have been a one episode and done character, but the show did an awesome job at humanizing her in her few scenes, it was genuinely sad when the wights killed her and she was brought back as a wight.
Varys came up as a topic of discussion between Dany and Tyrion. Last we saw Varys was in the season’s third episode. Hope this means he’ll show up again soon.
Tyrion said he would drink all the way to Meereen but he’s here now, and I like how Dany cut him off. What good would a drunk advisor be anyway?
Can’t help but think Sansa and Reek are going to help each other out now that Sansa knows her brothers are out there. Maybe during the battle of Winterfell, they could escape undetected. Or maybe I’m being too much of an optimist here, who knows.
Anyone else wondering what the hell Ramsay is going to do with his twenty good men? Looking forward to that.
Quote of the day comes from Wun Wun, when he catches Dolorous Edd staring at him. “The fuck you looking at?” Wun Wun probably gets lots of stares.
In the best episode of Game of Thrones to date, “Hardhome” delivers a meeting in Meereen that’s been years in the making, along with the perfectly executed massacre at Hardhome.