It’s something people will fight for, long for, or run away from.
With so many of the plotlines in Game of Thrones currently in flux, this episode entitled Hardhome reminds us what the various factions are motivated by and then brings the entire story of the series to its main conflict — a threat that could destroy the known world and everything in it.
Back in the presence of his Khaleesi, Jorah Mormont has returned to his home. Unfortunately, Danaerys Targaryen decreed her betrayer would be put to death the moment he returned to Meereen. Wondering whether she should also end Tyrion Lannister’s life for being a member of the family that killed hers, Tyrion spouts out one of the best lines of dialogue all season.
“You want revenge against the Lannisters? I killed my mother Joanna Lannister on the day I was born. I killed my father Tywin Lannister with a bolt to the heart. I am the greatest Lannister killer of our time.”
Peter Dinklage has been consistently stellar as Tyrion, and every scene he inhabits becomes hypnotic as he delivers his rhetoric with precision.
When Danaerys questions Tyrion’s parricide as a qualification worthy of service, Tyrion balks at the implication. “Into your service? Your Grace, we have only just met. It’s too soon to know if you deserve my service.”
Getting prickly, Danaerys threatens Tyrion with the fighting pits which prompts him to divulge all he knows about the Queen of Meereen — that she was once a baby born during a terrible storm. She had little but her name, and the handful of supporters she did have managed to keep her safe against assassins. When she came of age, she was married to a warlord. Somehow, a few years later, this girl had become powerful with supporters, wealth, land, and dragons.
Tyrion’s source believed this girl could become a great ruler, and so Tyrion was obliged to meet this young queen in the hope of becoming her advisor in order to steer her through the political and deadly game of thrones,
Danaerys puts Tyrion to the test by asking him what should be done with Jorah, her former bodyguard and advisor who betrayed her by spying on her.
Tyrion lays out the scenario and the obvious — while Jorah may have shared information about her, he is a man hopelessly devoted to her.
“A ruler who kills those who are devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion. And you’re going to need to inspire devotion, a lot of it, if you’re ever going to rule across the Narrow Sea.” Jorah receives mercy, though he is cast out, “But you cannot have him by your side if you do.”
It’s interesting to note that Danaerys banishes Jorah, holding back bitter tears. It’s clear the Queen has a heart for her former bodyguard, and the separation is filled with angst — on both sides. Outside, Jorah sees the grayscale on his arm getting worse, and he enlists himself back into the service of the pitmaster. Jorah wants his place in the Great Games so he can see Danaerys one more time.
In Bravos, Arya Stark under the tutelage of Jaqen H’ghar creates a new persona for herself as Lanna, a young girl who sells oysters. Jaqen tasks her with going to the harbor, and she meets an insurance salesman. Jaqen takes Arya’s information and describes a scenario in which the insurer refused to pay a claim to a family gone destitute. Jaqen nods towards a man praying in the temple, and Arya learns why the suffering come to the Many-Faced God.
Jaqen tells Lanna to return to the docks in order to learn more about the thin insurance salesman. Once she has learned all she can know, she will give the thin man a “gift,” a vial filled with what’s presumably poison. Arya leaves with a smile on her face, happy to be in the service of retribution, but the Waif wonders if the young Stark girl is ready.
At King’s Landing, in the Black Cells, Cersei is given several opportunities to confess her crimes of incest and treason. Qyburn visits Cersei who asks about Tommen. Qyburn tells her that the young king has locked himself away without any food or company. Qyburn gives Cersei one small glint of hope, an ultimate escape — confession — but Cersei will have none of it.
The scene shifts to Winterfell where Theon/Reek brings food to an infuriated Sansa who asks him why he betrayed her. Reek tells her it was for her own good — having tried to escape Ramsay before, Theon was broken and forced to become the man he is today. Sansa has no empathy for the one who betrayed her family, and Sansa wonders how a man could kill his own brothers. Reek makes a mental slip and eventually confesses that Bran and Rickon weren’t actually killed — two farm boys were burned in order to create the illusion that the remaining Stark boys were finished. Sansa wonders where they could be, and Reek runs away.
In the war room, Roose and Ramsay Bolton plan for war. Roose wants to bunker in the castle and wait Stannis’ forces out during the harsh winter. Ramsay, on the other hand, would rather go on the offensive and give the people of the North a good show of force. Roose is hesitant, but Ramsay says he only needs twenty good men.
While the Boltons strategize, Tyrion and Danaerys meet in closed quarters to discuss the possibility of working together. Tyrion offers to tell her his family history if and whenever Danaerys decides not to execute him, and she asks what Tywin would have had her do. Tyrion tells her his father had already tried to execute him, and when the conversation turns to Danaerys’ father, the Mad King, Tyrion points out, “So here we sit. Two terrible children of two terrible fathers.”
“I’m terrible?” Danaerys asks, stung by the words. It’s finally good to see the young queen confronted by someone who’s willing to challenge the status quo. Tyrion’s blunt but diplomatic manner and his proclivity to tell it like he sees it is already putting Danaerys on her toes and to great effect.
Tyrion believes a ruler should exhibit a certain amount of terror — enough to keep subjects under control. When Danaerys points out she’s opened the fighting pits again, Tyrion tells her it was a wise decision despite her feelings against it. Tyrion also lauds her plans to marry someone she loathes in order to increase her political clout. Noting his sister Cersei also agreed to do the same, he tells her that the marriage ended with an assassination.
“Perhaps it won’t come to that,” Danaerys says, ominously. Tyrion is even more impressed, and he tells her about Varys, the Spider who had spied on her for twenty years and enlisted Jorah for the cause. It was Vary that brought Tyrion here and gave him a reason to live — that reason being Danaerys. After Danarys tells Tyrion she won’t have him executed — she officially enlists him as her advisor. Tyrion goes to task wondering for what purpose he will advise her, and she tells him she wants to conquer the western world.
Tyrion suggests she might be better off ruling in Meereen, a place that’s all the better for her being queen, but Danaerys wants to brings peace to the entire world — especially back home in Westeros. Tyrion gives her the current state of the major families ruling Westeros, and sees very little help in terms of support.
They’re all spokes on a wheel, she observes, As the wheel turns, the spokes alternate being on top of the others. “I’m not going to stop the wheel,” she threatens, “I’m going to break the wheel.”
We get one more scene of Cersei being urged to confess. Cersei is adamant about keeping her secrets and for particular reasons. While Loras and Margaery are in a better position to admit their crimes — everyone knows Loras is into men, and Margaery’s lie was made in order to save her brother — Cersei’s truths could destroy what’s left of the House Lannister. By admitting to King Robert’s death, she would be guilty of treason in the utmost form. And confessing that she had children through incest basically removes Tommen from power because of his illegitimacy. Left to drink water spilled onto the floor, Cersei has been reduced to necessities.
The episode heads to Castle Black which will be the launching point for the second half of the episode. Olly brings Samwell Tarley his breakfast and asks for a word. Gilly leaves them, and Sam lends the young boy his ear. Olly still can’t wrap his head around Jon Snow bringing the Wildlings south of the Wall. Olly points out that Jon’s traveling partner, Tormund Giantsbane, was the one that led the slaughter on Olly’s village.
“I’ve seen the army of the dead,” Sam says, giving Olly a view of the bigger picture. “I’ve seen the white walkers. And they’re coming for us, for all the living. And when it’s time, we’ll need every last man we can find.”
Olly leaves, still struggling with the notion of his family’s killers being brought to a better place. Samwell tries to comfort him, telling the boy, “Try not to worry, Olly. I’ve been worrying about Jon for years. He always comes back.”
The scene jumps to Jon’s face carrying a fearful expression as his boat nears the shore of the Wildlings camp. With Stannis’ ships very far out, Jon and his handful of Crows will not last long against a few thousand wary Wildlings awaiting their landing. Tormund leads the Crows through a large group, but they’re stopped by the Lord of Bones who wonders why Tormund isn’t in chains.
“He’s not my prisoner,” Jon says. When the word “allies” is brought up, the Wildlings bristle. The Lord of Bones takes it a little too far, suggesting Tormund is Jon’s love-slave, and Tormund bashes him to death with his own staff.
In the main hall, Jon introduces himself to the Wilding leaders and states the obvious, “We’re not friends. We’ve never been friends. We won’t become friends today. This isn’t about friendship. This is about survival.”
As a sign of good will, Jon gives them a stash of Dragonglass, the only weapon effective in killing White Walkers. Jon gives out the invite — come south of the Wall and claim land. In return, the Wildlings will agree to fight to save all of humanity from the White Walkers.
When the leader of the Thenns, Loboda, asks where Mance Rayder is, Jon admits to killing him which frazzles the group. Tormund tells them the truth — that Stannis captured Mance and sentenced him to death by fire. Jon broke rank and shot Mance in the heart, giving the former leader of the Wildlings a merciful and honorable death.
Karsi declares she can never forgive the Crows for killing her family, and Jon counters her by mentioning both sides have lost friends and family. Jon himself lost 50 of his Night’s Watch brothers when Mance attacked Castle Black. The wounds run deep on both sides, but if they don’t come to an agreement to fight off the incoming invasion, the children will be the ones who will suffer for their parents’ inability to settle their differences.
Karsi agrees to Jon’s proposal, putting her trust in Tormund who vouches for Jon. The rest of the Wildlings follow her lead and agree to board Jon’s ships. Only Loboda dissents, refusing to let the Thenns join the Crows.
Stannis’ boats are loaded with as many as they can carry. Jon worries too many are being left behind, but Tormund tells him that Wildlings are a stubborn lot. It took Mance 20 years to band them all together, and once the remaining Wildlings realize there’s no food left, they will eventually come around.
Suddenly, dogs begin to bark, and clouds of frost form in the mountains as thunder peals. Loboda orders the gates closed, and the ones left clamoring outside are quickly silenced. Peering outside, Loboda sees a horde of zombies rushing to the gate. Panicked Wildlings storm the remaining boats, hoping to flee the attack. Archers hold while those in the main hall listen as armed zombies move on the roof.
For the next twenty minutes, the episode is one long suspenseful rush of action and chaos. Jon tells Karis to head to the boats so she can be with her daughters. She objects, telling him he should be the one leaving.
“They’re gonna let them pass the Wall even if you’re not there?” she asks.
“You have my word. I’ve given orders.”
“Don’t think you’re gonna be there to enforce those orders,” she reasons.
Tormund jumps in, pointing out how many casualties will be suffered if the zombies crash through the camp’s wall. Characteristically, Jon does what he does best — jump headfirst into a situation. Calling the Night’s Watch to him, Jon charges alongside Tormund to the wall as Wildlings run past them, jumping into the cold sea.
The zombies are numerous and vicious. These aren’t the slow moving zombies we’re used to — these are weapon-wielding undead warriors that can only be killed by fire. Humanity has every right to fear them, and Jon looks up to the mountaintop over the camp to see four horsemen surveying the slaughter.
Jon rushes to the main hall to get the Dragonglass where he takes on one of the White Walker lieutenants. Wielding a weapon — is it spear or sword, no, it’s spear-sword! — that instantly cuts through other weapons, the White Walker dispatches Loboda easily before tossing Jon around like a ragdoll. Rushing outside, Jon picks up his blade, Longclaw — the Valyrian steel sword given to him by the former Lord Commander, Jeor Mormont — and instinctively blocks the incoming swing. When the blade holds, the White Walker’s eyes go wide, and Jon strikes back and kills him.
The Night’s King, seeing one of his lieutenants crumble into ice, looks down on Jon with an interested gaze.
Meanwhile, the slaughter continues, and Karis singlehandedly dispatches a group of the undead. Looking for the next attacker, she comes face to face with a group of undead children. It’s a terrifying sight that rocks her to the core, and they overwhelm her in a sudden flash.
Atop the encampment, where the four horsemen watch, a sound is heard before thousands of the undead launch themselves like lemmings down onto the camp. The survivors run for their lives as the camp is completely overrun, and Wun Wun the giant takes a flaming tree trunk and sweeps the attackers away, giving Jon and his men time to reach the last boat. As they row away, the undead clear out the rest of the unfortunate living. The Night’s King walks out onto the pier and lifts his hands. Horrified, Jon can only watch as the dead are raised, bolstering the Night King’s army. The lone boat drifts away as thousands upon thousands of the undead stand watch.
Hardhome is the best episode this season and one of the best episodes in the entire series. Continuing off the momentum of last week’s episode, The Gift, the developments have begun to land one after the other. While this season has moved at a breakneck pace as scenes flash from one side of the world to another, most of the episodes have been spent building up to these last few episodes.
The payoff is happening, and the long battle sequence delivers enough punches to establish the Night’s King as the real big bad with a substantial amount of weight that will swing the story to an epic confrontation for the fate of the world. In the Watchmen, it took an alien threat to bring the people of the world together. In Game of Thrones, the world will have to fight off the undead, those who no longer have a home in this world, but will fight for the Night’s King to create a new one.
Game of Thrones
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, and Emilia Clarke
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