This was the best episode of Game of Thrones this season. Eight episodes into the season and we’re finally getting to the good stuff. There’s the collision of worlds and characters we love in Meereen; Reek’s revelation to Sansa that Bran and Rickon are still alive; Arya’s first assignment as an assassin; Cersei Lannister licking muddy water off the floor of a cell; and the Army of the Dead that is coming for them all. This episode is a prime example of why we watch Game of Thrones. In the premiere episode of the series, the very first scene was of an attack by a little girl turned into a wight. This is the core conflict in the show, the epic battle everything is leading towards; Winter is Freaking Coming. We’ve been teased over several seasons, given only glimpses of the old evil that exists beyond The Wall, but “Hardhome” returned to the fantasy elements that make this show so groundbreaking in its mass appeal.

Dany and Tyrion

I have waited years for these two to be in the same room, to be on the same side. In all that is written so far in the books, the two narrowly miss meeting one another, and it was incredibly frustrating. The luxury of adaptation is streamlining story lines so they make your audience want to keep watching. Tyrion has been on his way to meet Daenerys for seven episodes. But he sets the foundation of their meeting very quickly. Tyrion isn’t convinced he wants to advise Daenerys and waste his powerful mind for politics on her cause, and Daenerys isn’t sure she wants to keep Tyrion alive. The scene in her throne room serves as an audition for not just Tyrion, but for Daenerys as well. The two engage in a dance of words and realities that existed, currently exist, and most importantly, could exist.

This was a great scene to watch, because you notice as Tyrion begins to speak to Daenerys and gain ground with her – he also physically gains ground. He starts at the bottom of the steps, telling the story he heard of her birth, her marriage to Khal Drogo, and the significance of all she has managed to attain and accomplish in a short span of time. Daenerys is satisfied with Tyrion’s introduction, and she decides to test him by asking his advice about what to do with Jorah Mormont. Tyrion steps forward a few paces. He moves ahead of Jorah, advancing in his position and favor, while stepping toward the Queen.

Tyrion vouches for Jorah, claiming he is a changed man, a devoted man who is in love with the Mother of Dragons. Yet, this does not erase the fact that Jorah betrayed her and had many opportunities to confess his betrayal, but he didn’t. Daenerys asks Tyrion if she should kill Jorah, and Tyrion advises her against killing those devoted to her as she will need to inspire devotion if she is to conquer Westeros, but she cannot keep Jorah by her side as she does so. As Tyrion gives this advice he climbs the steps toward Daenerys and the camera allows Tyrion and Jorah to appear at the same height. A very small man can cast a very large shadow. This is done to demonstrate just how low Jorah has fallen, and how quickly Tyrion is able to rise in power. It’s so smartly shot and staged.

The Right Kind of Terrible

Later, Daenerys and Tyrion meet alone, where they discuss politics and ruling over wine. Neither of them seems completely certain of the other, and for good reason. Daenerys is the daughter of the Mad King, she has no family and no allies in Westeros. Tyrion is the son of Tywin, a man he killed, and he is brother to the man who killed Daenerys’ father. Not to mention, Tyrion brings up his trust in Varys; the one who convinced him that Daenerys might be a ruler worth living for. This information was hard to swallow for Daenerys considering Varys was the one who Jorah reported to while he was spying on her. Tyrion labels them as the terrible children of terrible men, casting them in the same pool with one another, and Tyrion says that he came to see if Daenerys was the right kind of terrible for her people.

Again, I really liked this scene; it was good to get everything out in the open. Tyrion and Daenerys have a lot of reasons not to work with one another, but their partnership could prove powerful. Tyrion questions whether Westeros is even the place that Dany should be, insinuating that perhaps her brand of terrible could prove useful in a different part of the world (ahem, The Wall). He reminds her that she has no backing in the Seven Kingdoms beyond the commoners, and look how well that’s worked out in Meereen. The politics demand that she have the backing of one of the major Houses in Westeros.

I loved Dany’s speech about the Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark and Tyrell’s all just being spokes on a wheel; each of them rolling into place on top, crushing the common people beneath their squabbles for power. Tyrion humors her dream of stopping the wheel, but then Dany does that thing she does that gives me goose bumps. Maybe it’s the blood of the dragon, but like she told the merchant in Qarth, her dreams have a way of coming true, so when she says she doesn’t plan to stop the wheel, but to break it – I believe her. In my bones I believe her. I also remember that image from her experience in the House of the Undying where she faces the Iron Throne and the ceiling is torn away and the place is filled with winter snows. Perhaps her destiny isn’t to rule from the Iron Throne. Perhaps Daenerys Targaryen is meant for something outside of the traditional system of ruling.

She Had It Coming

I admittedly was not thrilled with last week’s episode, even though some reviewers online thought last week’s episode was the best this season. However, my experience of the episode was tainted by the enveloping bleakness of every storyline. Even Cersei’s arrest by the Faith Militant didn’t rouse me from my malaise. However, this week’s episode brought me a great sense of satisfaction in Cersei’s fallen position.

She had it coming. Cersei Lannister is basically evil, and there is no telling what she is capable of with blood of pure vindictiveness pulsing through her veins. However, now she is in soiled clothes in a dirty cell where she is deprived every luxury she once felt entitled too while suffering some abuse. I’m completely okay with this. In fact, it feels like justice. Qyburn visits Cersei with news of her impending trial for charges of fornication, treason, incest and the murder of King Robert. His outlook is bleak, telling Cersei that “belief is so often the death of reason.” This is something we see constantly in this show, and well, in our own reality.

Ser Kevan Lannister has been summoned to King’s Landing to serve as Hand of the King, and he refuses to visit Cersei. Tommen has grown despondent. Jaime hasn’t been able to be reached. Cersei’s only way out is to confess her sins to the High Sparrow. But she is Cersei Lannister, and she rose him up from a dirty commoner and gave the High Sparrow the power he now yields over her, and for that reason she refuses to give in and ask for forgiveness. Nothing has given me as much pleasure in watching this show as Cersei Lannister lick dirty water of the floor of her cell. She will have to make a choice eventually.

A Girl Named Lana

A girl’s training is still underway. We’re re-introduced to Arya’s story line as she tells Jaqen H’ghar about her assumed identity as Lana, a girl with an oyster cart who ventures down to the canals every day to sell her oysters and her image. (Hey book readers, did you see the cat dart in front of her oyster cart? I think that was a nod to one of the many names that Arya adopts in the novels: Cat of the Canals.) Lana has an established routine, a route and customers that know her.

Jaqen approves of Lana as a servant for the Many Faced God. Jaqen asks Lana to change her route. She is to turn right instead of left and see what she finds. What she finds is a skinny old man who gambles with Captain’s lives. This man assumes power, a god-like power that he works on these men’s fates and the lives of their families. There is no one to serve justice. Jaqen asks a girl named Lana to continue her new route, gathering information on the gambling man, and then, when the time is right, she will give him a gift. Arya takes the poison and leaves with a smile on her face. She is soon to make her first kill as a servant of the Many Faced God.

The question seems to be: is she ready? Hell yeah she’s ready! Arya’s impatience can be a hindrance, but if she is smart and she continues to watch the gambling man and delivers the gift of death at the right moment, then she will succeed. I want this for Arya, because I want to see more of what she will be able to do and when she will be able to change faces. This is the first big step on Arya’s path toward becoming a Faceless Man. I have to admit that when she took the new route I was expecting her to find Meryn Trant, who left King’s Landing for Braavos with Mace Tyrell, like…a really long time ago. I expect their paths will cross eventually.

Long Live the Starks

I really liked this scene between Sansa and Theon. Sansa is pissed, and rightfully so; Theon betrayed her family and then betrayed her. When he opens her door we don’t find Sansa curled in a corner sobbing. She is fully clothed, sitting up straight, anger pulsing through her veins and she wants to know “why.” Why, after everything Theon did to her family did he choose to betray her? Reek answers with his own story of what escape results in when Ramsay Bolton is the one who catches you. Sansa seems pleased at this information, admitting that if Ramsay hadn’t already tortured Theon, she would do it herself.

I was hoping for a scene like this in which Sansa finds power within herself to push through the misery of her married life, and by bullying Theon she is able to get a valuable piece of information out of him. Bran and Rickon are alive. She is not the last Stark. Her brothers are alive and her half-brother is the Commander of the Night’s Watch. Sansa’s shock is apparent, but this news will do something very important for Sansa – it will give her hope. Hope can be dangerous, but now she has information that even Littlefinger doesn’t have. I’m so glad she knows! I have no idea what will happen and I worry about her getting pregnant with a Bolton baby, but at least she is gaining intel, and information is power.

Siege is Coming

The Boltons pow-wow over their wooden blocks, discussing Stannis Baratheon’s coming siege. Stannis’ army is diminishing every day in the winter snows, and with the repairs to the Winterfell walls and supplies of the castle, Roose Bolton is sure they can outlast the siege. But Ramsay is impetuous and young; he wants to meet Stannis in battle (with only twenty men?) and smash them, leaving nothing but A Feast for Crows. And there it is ladies and gentlemen – the name of George R.R. Martin’s fourth book in the Song of Ice and Fire series. It was a nice nod to the source material and also a fitting line. Someone will certainly be a feast for the crows, but will it be Stannis? Ramsay thinks this will send a message to the Southern Lords that the North isn’t to be taken. Can’t wait to see how this plays out considering Melisandre told Stannis the only way to win was to sacrifice his daughter. Yikes.

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Hardhome

The last half hour of the episode is dedicated entirely to Jon’s journey to Hardhome with Tormund Giantsbane in an attempt to help save the free folk and enlist them in an army to defend The Wall against the army of the dead. There’s a lot of tension among the Wildlings about whether they can truly trust a Crow. Tormund’s faith in Jon’s offer of protection behind The Wall for the free folk is accepted by some. There are others, like the Thenns, that refuse to break bread with the Night’s Watch. Jon gives a good speech, similar to the one he made to his brothers at The Wall, about the need for unity in the face of the coming Winter and all that comes with it. Jon is able to convince quite a few of the free folk to follow him to The Wall; even the last remaining Giant is down for protection against the Long Night.

What happened next was completely unexpected and totally awesome. A storm blows in, and with it, the Army of the Dead. It was like The Walking Dead in the Arctic Circle and I loved every second of the battle. We got to see how massive the White Walker’s army is and how deadly they can be. The four horsemen on top of the mountain were a very obvious symbol of the apocalypse Jon is trying to avoid.

I thought the effects in this battle were well handled and I was on the edge of my seat. And then – Jon Snow gets in a fight with one of the White Walkers and ends up killing him with Longclaw, the Valyrian steel sword given to him by Commander Mormont. My boyfriend and I literally cheered out loud the moment Jon finally finds a weapon to withstand the wicked ice sword the White Walker carries, and then shatters the White Walker like glass with one blow. Amazing.

This kill does not go unnoticed; another White Walker sees what happens, and as Jon and the last of the people able to reach the boat make it just in time, the White Walker holds Jon Snow’s stare. The White Walker slowly lifts his arms, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but the result made for a chilling final scene. All of the Wildlings that were just butchered rise with blue eyes, now a part of the Army of the Dead. The camera gives a wide shot so the audience can see the expanse of the army that they will have to face at The Wall when the time comes.

Nothing about this bodes well for what comes next. Jon Snow was right in wanting to get these people behind The Wall. It’s not only the ethical decision; it’s also the best strategic move so as not to add more dead to the White Walker army. However, I don’t know what kind of reception Jon is going to get when he returns to The Wall. Alliser Thorne is a petty closed minded man, and I fear what will happen to Jon and all the Wildlings.

Other Things Worth Mentioning:

  • Jorah Mormont joins in for fighting in the pits on opening day. I guess he still has a lot to prove to Daenerys, though I don’t know how she will react when she sees him.
  • Jon’s squire Olly seems to be getting a lot of attention regarding his feelings of betrayal and mistrust about the Lord Commander’s decision making. Sam tries to talk some sense into him.
  • VALYRIAN STEEL! There are currently three swords we know of made of Valyrian steel: Oathkeeper, Widow’s Wail and Longclaw. The first two were melted down from Ned Stark’s sword Ice. Well, ain’t that something! The Warden of the North, a Stark, wielded one of the most powerful swords in the land, a sword that could kill White Walkers! The making of Valyrian Steel was an art lost in the Doom of Old Valyria.
  • So dragonglass, or obsidian, can be mined from Dragonstone, once the home base of the Targaryens, now ruled by Stannis Baratheon, and it is proven to kill a White Walker. And the Targaryens came from Old Valyria where Valyrian Steel was made, which also kills the White Walkers. These things may seem like little nothings dropped here and there along the way, but all of this is mounting to something much bigger. There is a connection between the Targaryens, the Starks and everything happening at and beyond The Wall.
  • Where the hell is Bran??????

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Amanda Lowery lives, writes and studies in Baltimore where she is held hostage by potholes, stray cats and rats that make her watch way too much TV and rhyme unnecessarily. You can find her book reviews and pop culture thoughts at amandasthinkingoutloud.blogspot.com.

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