Game of Thrones: Book of the Stranger Recap

Game of Thrones: Book of the Stranger Recap

Strangers and familiar faces meet in an episode that pours more gasoline onto the fire.

Last episode, Jon Snow told everyone he’s done with the watch, and just as he’s about to leave Castle Black, visitors appear that will definitely give him pause.

Finally! Jon and Sansa Stark are reunited, throwing another — and welcome — wrench into Jon’s plans. The former Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch was due for some good news — not counting the whole coming back to life thing. And where Dolorous Edd failed to convince him to reconsider leaving the Watch completely, Sansa’s presence and future plans for Winterfell will likely keep Jon, the Night’s Watch, and the many wildlings working together for the foreseeable future.

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Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker Review

Game of Thrones: Oathbreaker Review

With a title like Oathbreaker, you know things are about to go down.

And picking right up after last episode’s cliffhanger ending, I expect a lot of things to change in Game of Thrones as characters react to the new development.

Jon Snow is back, to the surprise of just about everyone, including Melisandre. Even Snow is surprised — his thoughts after coming out of death go right back to the traumatic moment he was betrayed by his own brothers of the Nights Watch.

But the best reaction goes to Ser Davos — the one who commissioned Melisandre to try and bring Snow back from the dead. Seeing the Lord Commander alive and as well as he can be, given the circumstances, is likely shaking up everyone’s notions of faith.

For Melisandre, it’s affirmation that the Lord of Light is on her side — likewise in part for the agnostic Ser Davos. For Snow, his faith has been broken having seen nothing of the afterlife while he was dead.

Snow’s faith in humanity has been damaged as well. For all the good he thought he was doing, for all the honor — it resulted in a Cesaerian death by his own soldiers with Olly playing the part of Brutus a little too well.

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After Ser Davos gives one of the best inspirational speeches in the history of Westeros, Snow walks outside and greets his men.

“They think you’re some kind of god,” Tormund Giantsbane says.

Castle Black has been one of the most humorless locations, but even Giantsbane can’t hold back from cracking a joke now that Jon’s returned. Even Jon tries his hand at being funny — he smiles more this episode than all of the other seasons combined.

Moving on from Castle Black, Samwell Tarly and Ginny travel to safety by boat. Samwell confesses he’s actually taking Gilly to his father, and I have a feeling this plotline will be crucial to the story later on. For now, it’s nice to finally see how they’ve fared since last season.

Zooming back to the past — yup, we’re going on another excellent adventure with Bran and the Three-Eyed Raven — young Ned Stark and a small rescue team fight their way to the Tower of Joy where his sister has been held captive. The Mad King and Rhaegar are dead, but some are still loyal to the former crown — among them Ser Arthur Dayne, the Sword of the Morning.

Ned had told Bran stories of Dayne, calling him the best swordsman he had ever seen. And while Ned claimed to have bested him in combat, we now know the truth. I wonder whether the Three-Eyed Raven intended this visit to dispel some of the legendary mythical stories he’s been told — in addition to treating audiences to one of the best action sequences in the show’s history. It’s immediately clear that Dayne was the better swordsman — and the culmination of the fight proves Ned a liar, concerning the outcome.

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When Ned rushes to the tower, Bran instinctively tries to follow and shouts his name. Inexplicably, Ned turns to see who had called him.

What. A. Trip.

It looks like Bran might have the power to affect the past, but before he can do anything else, Three-Eyed-Rufus pulls him away. Bran isn’t happy being denied by the Raven, and the old bird seems averse to admit Bran was able to reach out to his father — even if the boy knows that’s exactly what happened. The Raven also warns Bran about spending too much time in the past, but I think the Raven is hiding something.

Could it be that Bran’s penchant for time-hopping will be what causes him to bind to the tree?

In case you’re wondering what I’m talking about — in season three, Jojen appears in a dream and tells Bran he is the Raven. It seems that’s been bothering Bran a bit as they have an exchange which leads to some discourse about the Raven and Bran’s future. The Raven explains he has been watching the world for 1,000 years while he waited for Bran.

“I don’t want to be you,” Bran says.

“I don’t blame you,” the Raven replies, “You won’t be here forever. You won’t be an old man in a tree. But before you leave, you must learn.”

So Bran doesn’t become one with the tree? Perhaps Bran is a type of Raven, or maybe the future — or past — can be changed. I don’t know, and I’m too caffeinated — but I can’t wait for the rest of the episodes in order to find out what’s going on here.

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At Vaes Dothrak, Danaerys meets the Khal widows who’ve been sequestered away. And back in Meereen, Varys gives us a glimpse into how he uses those influential powers by convincing Vala to give up information about the Sons of the Harpy. Elsewhere in Meereen, Tyrion tries to make friends with Missandei and Grey Worm, only to find out they are worlds apart.

The last few scenes take us to King’s Landing, the House of White and Black in Braavos, and then back to the North. Each of these scenes is important to the story at large, and I think we’re going to see these ripples resonate into huge waves.

Cersei Lannister is obviously still upset at her shaming, and she’s ready to declare war on the High Sparrow and his followers. She storms a Small Council meeting with Jamie to propose a plan that will send House Tyrell’s army to disrupt the city before Margaery takes her walk of shame. This could be all-out war, and where the Lannisters scheme, lives end up being lost.

In Braavos, Arya Stark continues her training and then regains her eyesight when she rejects Jaqen’s temptation and drinks from the poisoned well. I didn’t think Arya would ever get her vision back, and I wonder whether it hurts the plotline a little because it undermines the sense of loss — but it’s only a minor gripe, considering everything else going on. Is it just me or do I sense a multitude of layers within Arya. I don’t think she’s made a heartfelt decision to follow Jaqen — I think she’s proven herself to be a very capable liar.

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Back to the North, Ramsay and the Karstarks have allied themselves with intent to take on Jon Snow and his Nights Watch. The Umbers have come now to also pledge their support, and they offer a gift: Rickon and the head of his dire wolf.

While many have offered up theories about the Grand Northern Conspiracy, I wonder whether this plot point is another cog or evidence to the contrary. Will the North remember, or will Jon Snow have an uphill climb as he — presumably — fights for home?

And if anything can be assumed after watching this episode — I think Snow will take on Snow for the fate of Winterfell now that Jon’s watch has ended. The last scene brings us full circle to the first season of Game of Thrones when Ned taught his sons a valuable lesson — a ruler should be the one to mete out punishment.

As Jon’s final act as Lord Commander, he hangs Alliser Thorne and the remaining betrayers. This also includes Ollie, who remains defiant in the face of judgment. Though he hesitates, Jon remembers what has been done and cuts the rope, staring into Olly’s face and looking upon the dead.

Once the deed is done, Jon hands over his coat and Castle Black to Dolorous Edd before telling everyone, “My watch is ended.”

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While some might say Jon is breaking his oath, I’m of the opinion he’s been released from it through death. If there’s any oath he’s breaking by leaving the Watch in Edd’s hands, it may be something much deeper. I’m thinking death has had a pronounced effect on him, and he may have broken from many of the values he’s kept — or he’s finally broken through the ceiling that has kept him from reaching his full potential. Perhaps now, he has finally killed the boy within and has become a man.

And looking back on the other plotlines, we see how untruth is threaded throughout the episode. From Samwell admitting he wasn’t truthful with Gilly to the Umbers breaking from tradition and swearing fealty to an outsider — Oathbreaker uncovers the lies while shining a spotlight on the truth. We may yet see what the Umbers and Karstarks have planned — I don’t doubt that many of the “truths” are actually red herrings. Arya may still have ulterior plans and may backslide once again, and Danaerys won’t be content to be placed in widow jail.

There’s a storm coming, and it’s only a matter of time before it hits Westeros. I’ve been expecting a lull to come — these episodes have been running at breakneck speed, and I don’t know whether the the entire season will be a race to the finish. Not that I mind, but the show might benefit with a momentary deep breath before the season finale, which is set up to be a doozy. We know a full-scale war will take over the continent, but it looks like several major battles will lead up to it — from Winterfell to King’s Landing.

I’d venture to say Game of Thrones may now be my favorite show of all time. If it can keep it up all the way to a finale that doesn’t disappoint, this one may go down in the history books.


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Game of Thrones: Home Review

Game of Thrones: Home Review

Well, that was fast.

Instead of going the route of some shows which spend an entire season building up to something, only to end with a brief scene and a disappointing cliffhanger, Game of Thrones isn’t wasting any time.

So let’s just get it out of the way — Jon Snow is alive! He’s alive!~!

Of course it was predictable. Of course it was expected. For the past several days, I’ve been reading reviews about the episode after having seen it twice, and while most have been ecstatic about the show’s current direction, it seems hip to be sour as some reviewers have taken to putting the episode down because they weren’t surprised enough.

I mean, come on. Are you serious?

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So, let’s get to it. The second episode, titled Home, brings us back to Bran Stark and the Three-Eyed Crow who have been hard at work learning how to save the world. Vision-walking through historic Winterfell where a young Eddard and Benjen Stark spar, Bran looks on with a smile on his face. He’s going to be the happiest person this entire episode, so it is literally all downhill from here. Take in the happy feels while you can, because this is one heavy episode.

The scene should give audiences a bright flash of deja vu. In case you missed it, rewind back to the very first scene in season one which opened with Bran learning how to shoot a bow as he’s flanked by his family.

The brothers’ sparring session is interrupted when Lyanna rides in masterfully on a horse. Lyanna has only made appearances in statue form, so it’s good to finally put a face to the legendary name. Her appearance is evidence enough that a huge amount of lore is about to be explored tracing back from Bran to his namesake — Brandon, the eldest of the Stark boys — who was executed with he and his father Rickard failed to rescue Lyanna from Rhaegar. The kidnapping was the spark that led to the war that would place Robert Baratheon on the Iron Throne and Eddard Stark as heir to Winterfell.

The rest is known history.

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We also get our first glimpse of Hodor as a young boy. Curiously, he’s named Wylis, and he can also talk. No reason has been given yet for why Wylis changes his name to Hodor or why he’s unable to say anything besides “hodor,” but it’s a compelling mystery that thickens the plot.

The three-eyed crow brings Bran out of the vision, and the ward laments it’s the first awesome thing he’s been able to experience so far. It’s proof he still has a long way to go in his training as further evidenced by the following exchange when the three-eyed crow tells Bran: “It’s beautiful beneath the sea, but if you stay too long, you drown.”

“I wasn’t drowning. I was home,” Bran says, missing the point entirely.

You were drowning Bran, and you were sucking in water like a fish. 

At Castle Black, Alliser Thorne and his men get ready to storm the room where Davos and Jon Snow’s friends wait for Dolorous Edd and his rescue force. As the door is breached, the main gate bursts open with wildlings flooding into the courtyard. Instead of killing off the traitors, Dolorous Edd sends them all — even the little jerk Ollie — into the cells. I’m curious as to how Jon will handle the traitors.

Will he forgive and forget? Or will he hold them accountable? The choice will determine the status of his return and set the tone for his ongoing character development.

In King’s Landing, the Lannisters continue dealing with the fallout from Cersei’s shaming. Franken-Mountain has been patrolling the streets, hulk-smashing people who dare throw shade at the Queen-Mother, while King Tommen the Overwhelmed summons the courage to ask his mother for help and forgiveness, leaving father-uncle Jaime to threaten the High Sparrow with violence during Myrcella’s funeral. The High Sparrow has the upperhand for now, and we have the makings of an epic showdown.

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But who will win?

Will Tommen cause his own downfall by putting his future in his mother’s hands? Is he another thread to be removed from the story the way Cersei fixes her dress at the beginning of this scene? I’m starting to wonder more about the endgame of the series — especially in challenging my own assumptions. It really shouldn’t be a given that the Lannisters will be around at the end of the show — or even after this season — because, surprise-surprise, anything can happen. The High Sparrow and his crudely-armed followers could wipe out all of King’s Landing in one brutal sweep, and that would be the end of that chapter.

Speaking of chapters, the political situation in Meereen continues without Danaerys anywhere close to coming home. Tyrion works at maintaining peace in the city, and the liquid courage has given him a crazy idea — free Danaerys’ chained-up dragons.

Tyrion knows enough about dragons — he’s wanted one ever since he was a child — to know that a captive dragon is a weak one. The Queen of Dragons will need all the help she can get with everything else burning down around her, so it would be wise to make sure her symbols of power don’t wither away like her clout.

The return of Jon Snow might get the bigger headlines, but Peter Dinklage’s performance is the real highlight of the episode. Tyrion braves the presence of two fire-breathing dragons by telling them a story — one about his childhood wish to have his own dragon. Tyrion finally gets to lay his hand on one, and it’s a beautiful moment that contains a bevy of emotions — fear, loneliness, and newfound hope. Considering that Dinklage was probably working this scene with props, I appreciate his ability to create a nuanced and expression-filled performance.

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Back home in the tumultuous North, Ramsay Snow gets news of a rival heir when the maester announces Roose Bolton’s baby boy. Assume the worst, then multiply the awful factor by ten.

The Karstarks are working with Snow now, but I have a feeling — based partly on the “Last week in Game of Thrones” intro — that there’s more to it than we’re seeing. The North remembers, and I think the Karstarks would rather have one of their own sitting as warden rather than some sociopath who’s basically cut down the roots, the trunk, and the branches of his own family tree.

I think Ramsay will find himself attracting a lot more subjects before getting the ending he’s due. That or he’ll win the Game. We shall sees.

Theon leaves Sansa for the Iron Islands which are also in a newfound state of flux after Balon Greyjoy’s murder at the hands of his brother Euron who’s returned from being missing at sea. Euron is no hero — it’s said he cut the tongues from sailors because he wanted quiet. Yara won’t automatically ascend to the Iron Islands throne due to her father’s death, and Euron’s presence could be an enormous obstacle.

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And that brings us to the big elephant in a Castle Black room — Jon Snow. Rising from the dead like I do when I forget to set my alarm, Jon has a bit of catching up to do now that Castle Black is in disarray.

But more important at the moment is Melisandre’s motivation. While she still has faith in the Lord of Light, she doubts whether her steps have fallen within his plans. It’s a tough place to be — we know what she did to Stannis and his family, but that could just be tip of the iceberg. How many other kings has she put her powers behind only to fail repeatedly?

With Snow alive, what will she do — and will Ser Davos let her off the hook when he finds out how poor little Shireen was sacrificed?

More awaits next week on Game of Thrones.


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Game of Thrones — The Red Woman Review

Game of Thrones — The Red Woman Review

After months of tense waiting, Game of Thrones has finally returned for its sixth season. We’re about three — counting this one — seasons away from the show finale, so every episode is going to count. Hopefully!

Last season for me was a bit of a letdown. Episodes seemed a bit flat as the show spent a considerable amount building up momentum. Sure, we had a major, major death at the end of season five, but Stannis’ failed invasion of the North, which came to a sudden halt with not so much as a squeal, felt more like an aside or bridge to the other plot points that took a backseat. The writing also seemed a little blunted — where past seasons felt like juggernauts firmly en route, season five felt listless and reaching.

But even when not at full strength, GoT is still one of the most captivating shows on any channel and still capable of winning a crazy amount of Emmys. As fans counted down the days until the season six premiere, articles about potential spoilers and speculation filled the Interwebs. With bated breath, we waited to see whether season six would be a return to form.

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The premiere began right where the last episode ended — Jon Snow’s corpse lies frozen in the snow at Castle Black next to the traitor sign his Nightwatch brothers made for him. When your kids ask you what the world was like before texting and emotes, show them this scene.

“And that is how we used to throw shade, son.”

Ghost’s howling calls Ser Davos outside, and Melisandre appears to view the lifeless body. News spreads quickly about the fallen commander. While Alliser Thorne holds a meeting to discuss the assassination and defend his actions, Davos and Snow’s closest friends barricade themselves in a room to plan their exit.

I was a little disappointed that Alliser’s speech won over the crowd — it was my impression that killing a brother of the Night’s Watch constituted a punishment in kind. But if Edd gets his way, we might get another battle between the wildlings and the less-than-honorable-Watch members. It’s worth noting that no matter who wins, someone is going to lose a considerable amount. Death to the Night’s Watch only opens the path for the White Walkers, and crushing Davos and Snow’s friends will remove the underdogs fighting for truth, justice, and the Westeros way.

Further south in the Westeros North, Sansa Stark and Theon Greyjoy run for their lives, having escaped from Ramsay’s fortress. Ramsay is not happy, having come home from a victory to find Myranda dead and his wife and plaything gone.  Without Sansa, the Boltons have no leverage to shore up forces against a Lannister army come to bring the North back in line after Roose’s treason.

The hounds eventually catch up to Sansa and Theon after a freezing trip across a river, but Brienne of Tarth along with her trusted squire Podrick come to the rescue. Theon performs the killing blow on the last of Ramsay Snow’s men, and it’s a bit of relief — we’ve spent season after season waiting for Theon’s redemption, and it looks like he’ll just about it reach it before getting brutally killed off. Don’t forget: Good guys finish last in the game of thrones.

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Vows are made, and Brienne becomes Sansa’s protector. I can’t help but feel each of these vows will be tested to a breaking point, and I can’t wait to see what happens. I desperately want a huge win for Sansa, but I also know the very thing that brings me back to the show is the unpredictable nature of it — and how it rarely gives us what we want.

Back in Westeros, Cersei Lannister rushes excitedly to the port to receive her daughter Myrcella. As the rowboat comes to shore, Cersei becomes distraught when she sees Jaime’s expression and a shrouded body. Lena Headey’s performance is amazing — the subtle facial changes relay a quick succession of emotions that don’t need words because they’d just get in the way. Headey moves from excited to crushed and then to anger before she ends the scene with a bitter scornful smile.

Vengeance is coming for you, Dorne. Best be ready.

You might be thinking — Prince Doran is a diplomat who’d rather talk it out than get into it with King’s Landing. He didn’t act when his sister was raped and killed, and Oberyn’s death wasn’t avenged in the slightest. He’ll probably try to explain how it was all the act of one angry and bitter woman who overstepped her bounds. Trust that she’ll be put to death as a traitor.

Fear not. Fans know good guys seem to consistently finish last in GoT, and Doran is no exception. If you’re not going to play the game, your game piece gets taken off the board. When news of Myrcella’s death reaches him, Ellaria Sand and her Sand Snakes move unimpeded to change the government. Doran dies as his guard stand watch, and his son is easily dispatched when he fails to understand the treacherous situation of the coup.

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Danaerys would know. She’s spent every season fighting for independence with the hopes of building up an army to storm Westeros and get her crown. Drogon left her in a field last season, and she’s been taken prisoner by a Dothraki horde who has no idea who the white-haired woman is. If only they knew they were in — you’d expect their language to show a little bit of tact, at least by Dothraki standards.

It’s up to Khal Moro to investigate, and we’re treated to a scene that’s basically High Fidelity in an ancient time within a different dimension.

“Top five favorite awesome things for Dothraki. Go!”

It’s a good bit of levity for an incredibly bleak premiere, and just in time. The episode takes an even darker turn as Daenarys finds out all Khal widows must live in seclusion with the other widows in the Dothraki capital. Just when the young queen’s about to make headway into conquering Westeros, she’s forced to fight her way back into the game.

To make matters even worse, the entire shipyard has been set ablaze back in Meereen.

The episode saves its last two scenes for its most compelling characters. We begin with Arya Stark who’s been left to beg in the streets.

Sent away and left destitute, Arya must feel helpless with no recourse. Fortunately — and I have to mention that’s it’s also, in a way, unfortunate — the Waif makes an appearance, but it’s no simple visit or charity. After throwing Arya a bo-staff, the Waif makes quick work of the young Stark girl before parting with the words, “See you tomorrow.” So begins the next chapter of Arya’s training, and it’s not going to be easy. Such is the price for vengeance.

The last scene gets us to the episode’s titular character. Alliser gives Davos and his men amnesty until nightfall and puts the fate of the Red Woman in his hands.

“What’s one redhead gonna do against 40 armed men?” one of Jon’s friends asks.

“You haven’t seen her do what I’ve seen her do,” Davos replies.

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As nightfall nears, Melisandre sits alone in her room, contemplating another failure. I say another because it’s obvious after the premiere’s final reveal that the Red Woman has been around for a very, very long time. Staring wistfully at her image in a dull mirror, Melisandre removes her clothing and jewelry to be replaced by an ancient crone with sad eyes who must endure another day, who must search for another champion.

Despite the episode’s title, we don’t see much of the Red Woman besides the last scene. But looking back at the one other time she’s mentioned, a line from Ser Alliser to Davos about taking the Red Woman or leaving her at Castle Black which rings ominously now, it’s possible the season or a huge plot point will hinge on her character. Whoever she chooses or is forced to follow may hold her as the key — or become embroiled in desperate tragedy.

I have to say the premiere is everything I wanted — The crisp writing has more than its fair share of quotable lines, and the scenes have been trimmed with precision. The premiere episode picks up right where it needs to and sets the stage for things to come with lots of crackling energy, and the way forward is filled with compelling plot points. Credit director Jeremy Podeswa for the episode’s strong start, middle, and finish. It’s a great jumping-off point for the rest of the episodes this season, and if it’s any indication of where things are headed, fans may be treated to the best season yet.


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[Recap] Mother’s Mercy — Game of Thrones S05E10

[Recap] Mother’s Mercy — Game of Thrones S05E10

We’ve come to another season finale, and by now, you’ve probably seen or heard about the reactions.

In case you missed it and haven’t been able to get in front of a computer or DVR, here’s the recap.

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[Recap] The Dance of Dragons — Game of Throne S05E09

[Recap] The Dance of Dragons — Game of Throne S05E09

The second to last episode of every Game of Thrones season has brought with it something massive.

Previous seasons gave us the death of Ned Stark, the Battle of Blackwater Bay, the Red Wedding, and the duel between the Red Viper and the Mountain.

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This year’s episode nine, The Dance of Dragons, kicks off with Ramsay Bolton’s special forces torching the tents and horses of Stannis Baratheon’s invading army. It’s a gigantic setback for Stannis — his men have endured starvation, freezing, and low morale — and casualties keep piling up before the fight has even begun. Seeing it as another reason to retreat to Castle Black, Ser Davos implores his King to change his mind, but Stannis — as always — is resolute in moving forward.

Meanwhile, Jon Snow escorts his new allies to the Wall where they wait in anticipation for the gate to lift. First Ranger Alliser Thorne watches them for an uncomfortable moment before sounding the order. Thousands of Wildlings pour into the camp, and Jon watches the reactions of his men, particularly Olly’s. Thorne, ever the curmudgeon, walks by and whispers into Jon’s ear, “You have a good heart, Jon Snow. It’ll get us all killed.”

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Jon sees the potential for a giant powder keg to go off now that the Wildlings are south of the wall and in their enemy’s base, no less. And with Stannis trying to compensate for last night’s losses, Jon will soon have to accommodate a request for supplies, food, and horses. Don’t forget it was Stannis that lent Jon the boats that brought the Wildlings south, and though Jon has decided to stay with his brothers at the Night’s Watch, he may find himself in the middle of everything here in Westeros if Stannis has his way.

Back at Stannis’ camp, Ser Davos is ordered to deliver the request for supplies. Davos tells Stannis he would rather stay or, at the least, take the royal family with him, but the stubborn Baratheon denies both requests. “My family stays with me.” Davos pays Princess Shireen a visit before leaving, and he brings her a gift — a wood sculpture of a stag. Shireen tells him of the book she’s reading, The Dance of Dragons: A True Telling. In one story, a knight polishes his shield until it becomes like a mirror. The knight uses the shield to fight a dragon, hoping the sheen would show the dragon its own reflection. The plan is a total failure — the dragon simply sees a man with a shiny shield and burns him to a crisp.

Davos gives Shireen the present and leaves, while in Dorne, Jaime Lannister enters Prince Doran Martell’s court where Princess Myrcella sits next to her intended, Prince Trystane Martell. Prince Doran questions why the Lannisters resorted to infiltration and kidnapping instead of diplomacy, and Jaime tells them the princess’ necklace was sent home with a threatening message. Doran eyes Ellaria suspiciously, and she becomes infuriated when Doran spares Jaime and invites him to share in the Prince’s hospitality.

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The scene is rife with political drama — Doran makes a show of his allegiance to King Tommen while Ellaria reacts with conspicious disgust and surprise at placating the Lannisters. Doran commands Myrcella to return to King’s Landing along with Trystane on the agreement that the engagement will stand. Jaime accepts the terms, and Doran also requests that Trystane take his uncle Oberyn’s place on the small council, to which Jaime gives his word. With all that’s happening back home, Jaime might find it very hard to keep his promises upon return.

Disgusted at what’s happening, Ellaria leaves the room with a few bitter words for Doran, “No wonder you can’t stand. You have no spine.”

In a rare occasion, the stoic Doran finally snaps and grabs her arm, threatening to take her life if she ever speaks that way to him again. Jaime turns the conversation to Bronn, and Doran gives Trystane the decision.

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In the prison, the Sand Snakes keep themselves occupied with a game, and Tyene Sand gets the better of her sister Nymeria. Guards come to take Bronn away, and Bronn once again declares Tyene the most beautiful woman in the world. Bronn is relieved to discover he’s been released, but there’s a condition — a brutal elbow to the face that catches him by surprise. With Trystane satisfied, Prince Doran offers Bronn soup instead of pie.

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For the thin man in Braavos, it’s oysters as Arya Stark moves to assassinate him. Fortunately for him, Arya comes across a target on her person to-do list — Meryn Trant, a knight of the Kingsguard who’s accompanying Mace Tyrell. Mace was sent to Braavos by Cersei in order to secure more funds from the Iron Bank, and Arya spends the entire day following Trant who ends his first night in Braavos with a trip to a brothel. Arya gains entry as a peddler, and she listens as Trant rejects each of the prostitues displayed before him.

“Too old,” he tells the madam after several girls are presented to him, each one younger than the last.

Getting impatient, he asks, “Do you have what I want or not?”

“Of course,” the madame tells him, leaving the room. One of Trant’s men finds Arya and brings her in to sell her food wares. Trant almost recognizes her, but the madame shoos Arya away and brings in a young girl that suits Trant’s desires.

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“Good,” Trant says, leaving with the young girl. “You’ll have a fresh one for me tomorrow?”

Back at the House of Black and White, Arya lies to Jaqen “H’ghar, telling him the thin man wasn’t hungry.

“Perhaps that is why a man is thin,” he replies.

It isn’t clear whether Jaqen’s been taken by Arya’s lie. There are a lot of mysteries here — perhaps Trent was Arya’s mission all along. Perhaps it’s a test. The full extent of Jaqen’s powers haven’t been revealed, and the scene is another set of breadcrumbs leading somewhere forward.

While Arya’s story is more open-ended at this point, Ellaria’s boils down to two choices — declare allegiance to Prince Doran or die. Tearfully, Ellaria kisses his ring as her Sand Snakes stand by in restraints. “I believe in second chances,” he warns, pulling his hand away from her, “I don’t believe in third chances.”

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Ellaria has to be careful now, and what does she do? She pays Jaime a visit and asks him about his love for Cersei. Ellaria knows about the incestuous relationship, and she surprises Jaime by asking him, “You think I disapprove?” She goes on with a discourse about loving people despite judgment. “The only thing that stays the same is that we want who we want,” she tells him before she acknowledges Myrcella had nothing to do with Oberyn’s death. “Perhaps even you are innocent of that,” she offers before leaving him.

Back in the North, Stannis pays his daughter a visit and asks her what she’s reading. When she tells him about the fight between Rhaenyra Targaryen and her half-brother Aegon, the story mirrors Stannis’ own battle with his brother Renly over the Iron Throne.

“Brothers fought brothers. Dragons fought dragons,” she tells him. “By the time it was over, thousands were dead. And it was a disaster for the Targaryens as well. They never recovered.”

After this episode, I wonder if Stannis will ever recover in the eyes of his fans. The entire scene — from Shireen playing with the stag in front of an open flame to the storyline parallels — moves to an inevitable finish.

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Father and daughter discuss the meaning of the title and the story, and Shireen shows a deep appreciation and understanding of it while the poetry is lost on Stannis. When Stannis asks her who she would have chosen, Rhaenyra or Aegon, she says neither.

“Sometimes a person has to choose,” he tells her, “Sometimes the world forces his hand.”

It’s obvious now that Stannis has been thinking of sacrificing his daughter despite his previous actions. All that talk about saving his daughter from grayscale and ordering Melisandre out of his tent when she first suggested the idea has given way to Stannis’ beliefs in his own destiny. For Stannis, the way forward is a fork in the road. He can’t have his cake and eat it too — if he is to become King of Westeros, he will have to sacrifice one for the many.

“He must fulfill his destiny and become who he is meant to be. However much he may hate it.”

Shireen, ever the faithful daughter, offers her help. “I’m the Princess Shireen of House Baratheon. And I’m your daughter.” If only she knew what she had to do.

Stannis embraces his daughter one last time and says, “Forgive me.”

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It’s a death unlike the others that have made the episode nines of Game of Thrones so famous in that Shireen herself is a minor character, however well-liked. But her death is no less impactful because the circumstances are unusual and bitter with ramifications for Stannis who is a major character. Some may feel the characterization contrary to his past developments, but it’s clear that Stannis is defining himself once and for all and cementing his position.

As Shireen is escorted by her father’s soldiers, she clutches the stag given to her by Ser Davos. Snow falls, and a crowd of soldiers part as she’s led to a stake where Melisandre tells her, “It will all be over soon, Princess.”

Shireen realizes what’s about to happen, and she screams for her father as she’s carried tied to the stake and tied up. Melisandre prays while Selyse tells Stannis, “It’s a good thing. A great thing. If we don’t act, we’ll all starve here. All of us.”

Selyse has always been distant to her daughter for as long as this story has been told, so it’s no surprise she’s accepted this path. Stannis, on the other hand, is painfully torn, grimacing as his daughter calls for him. When Shireen calls out for her mother as well, Selyse suddenly breaks.

“We can’t,” she tells Stannis, grabbing his arm.

“There’s no other way. She has king’s blood,” he argues, shaking her off.

Melisandre lights the pyre, and the flames begin to engulf Shireen as some of the soldiers watch woefully. Selyse runs to her daughter, but the soldiers keep her from getting close. Screams pierce the air as her parents turn their eyes away. When Selyse looks up to see her dead daughter, she lets out a regretful and guttural moan as a mother would. The scene is powerful and will be scrutinized long after this episode has run.

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Stannis turns away from his daughter to contemplate his decision as applause can be heard. The scene shifts to the tens of thousands who are in attendance at the Great Games. Two warriors enter the stadium and introduce themselves to Queen Danaerys Targaryen. A terse silence fills the stadium as the crowd waits for the action to begin.

“They’re waiting for you,” Hizdahr zo Loraq tells Danaerys, “Clap your hands.”

The crowd roars, and the fight begins. Daario argues the quicker fighter will win based on his own experience as a pit-fighter, and the argument turns personal as Loraq and Daario exchange words. Tyrion listens, looking uncomfortable with the games and the point of the discussion as Loraq’s words hit a little close to home, “And in my experience, large men do triumph over smaller men far more often than not.”

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The larger warrior chops off his foe’s head, and Daario walks away. Loraq and Tyrion begin to talk about the necessary conditions for greatness, and Tyrion tells Loraq, “My father would have liked you.” Danaerys hears a familiar voice speaking to her from within the ring, and she sees Jorah Mormont, appearing before his queen as a pit-fighter. Looking conflicted, Danaerys claps her hand, and the six warriors in the ring hack away.

Jorah dispatches his first foe, and he makes it a point to stare Danaerys down as if to say, Is this what you want? Another warrior battles with Jorah and moves in for the killing blow — Tyrion tells Danaerys to stop the fight, but Loraq rebuts him. Jorah’s saved by another pit-fighter, a spear-wielding warrior that ends up on Jorah’s sword. Jorah looks up at Danaerys while the crowd boos, and his expression changes to anger. He picks up the spear and launches it at the royal seats.

This is no betrayal — the spear hits a member of the Sons of the Harpy sneaking in to assassinate Danaerys.

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The stadium erupts in chaos as harpies begin to kill and surround the royal couple. Daario rallies the Unsullied, and Loraq tries to get Danaerys out before he’s killed. Jorah comes to the Queen’s aid and takes her to the stadium floor. The Sons of the Harpy block off the exits, and more come flooding into the stadium, outnumbering Danaerys’ entourage by a large margin. Tentative, several try to charge in and kill her, but her soldiers keep them at bay for a moment.

It’s only a matter of time before her troops will break. The Queen grasps Missandei’s hand and closes her eyes, accepting her fate.

And then a dragon roars.

The prodigal son Drogon appears in a cloud of fire and circles the stadium before he lands on a couple of harpies. Blowing fire and taking a few spears in the neck, the dragon goes to work barbecuing the attackers. Danaerys calls out to her adopted dragon and removes one of the spears in his neck. Drogon turns and gives her an earful, but after he recognizes her, they get a quick moment before another spear strikes.

Knowing she and her dragon have to get to safety, she climbs on Drogon’s back, and they make a dramatic getaway.

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It’s a crowning moment that solidifies Danaerys as a conquering Targaryen — her ancestors rode dragons into battle as they claimed dominion over the seven kingdoms. In one act, Danaerys leaves a lasting impression on her allies and foes by forcing them to recall past legends while they come to terms with what they’ve just seen. My gripe is that the camerawork left something to be desired — I would rather have seen the flight from the view on the ground rather than closeup where the bad special effects sucked the epicness away.

The Dance of Dragons overall seems a bit underwhelming when compared to the other second-to-last episodes of seasons past, but it’s an episode with a lot of development and some interesting thematic elements. Take away Jon Snow’s scenes and you’ll see that the various plots points this episode are centered on the women — the episode’s biggest movers and shakers. The various scenes also play up potential consequences for the decisions made — for Snow, it’s the possibility of a battle between the Wildlings and Night’s Watch. For Ellaria, the knowledge that vengeance and betrayal could destroy herself and her family. The attack on Danaerys could very well lead to a more ruthless Queen who puts her citizens in order through sword and flame.

I expect the last episode to be this season’s most important episode because the show is due for some payoffs. We’ve seen storylines gain momentum, and after next week, it will be months before we hit the sixth season followed by a potentially final seventh season. Speculation aside, the series has begun to forge a path not present in the books, and where we go from here will be a surprise to both readers and television viewers.


Game of Thrones
S05E09: The Dance of Dragons
[usr 4]
IMDB
Directed by: David Nutter
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Emilia Clarke

Previous Episode: The Dance of Dragons: Game of Thrones S05E08 Recap
Next Episode: Mother’s Mercy: Game of Thrones S05E10 Recap

[Recap] Hardhome — Game of Thrones S05E08

[Recap] Hardhome — Game of Thrones S05E08

Home.

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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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“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.

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“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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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
S05E08: Hardhome
[usr 5]
IMDB
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, and Emilia Clarke

Previous Episode: The Gift: Game of Thrones S05E07 Recap
Next Episode: The Dance of Dragons: Game of Thrones S05E09 Recap

[Recap] The Gift — Game of Thrones S05E07

[Recap] The Gift — Game of Thrones S05E07

Now that we’re one week removed from that controversial scene involving Sansa Stark and Ramsay Bolton, it’s time to continue the game of thrones.

We’ve come to the midpoint of the season with the seventh episode titled The Gift, and things are starting to get heavy as Stannis Baratheon marches on Winterfell, and the Faith Militant continue to hold Margaery and Loras Tyrell in the Black Prison under the Redkeep.

The episode begins as Jon Snow mounts his expedition to go north of the wall. Jon leaves Castle Black under the command of the humorless First Ranger Alliser Thorne who’s quick to voice his own displeasure over the mission. Jon thanks him for his honesty and heads to his horse when Sam Tarly says goodbye and hands him a bag of Dragonglass. “I hope you don’t need them,” he says. I doubt viewers will feel the same — we all want to see more White Walkers, don’t we?

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Tarly, Gilly, and her baby settle down for Maester Aemon’s death vigil, and the baby’s laughter reminds Aemon of his younger brother, King Aegon, who he fondly called Egg when they were children. The show hasn’t divulged much about the history of the Targaryens besides the most pertinent bits to continue the story. From the books, Aemon was next in line for the crown, but he passed and let his younger brother take the throne. Fearing he would be used in a plot against his own family, Aemon removed himself from any potential machinations by volunteering for the Night’s Watch. His last words to his brother before he left King’s Landing were the same he gave to Jon in S05E05: Kill the Boy, “Kill the boy, and let the man be born.”

Aemon mentions that Egg had a sweet disposition until he was crowned King of Westeros, and then things get serious when Aemon’s tone shifts, and he commands Gilly to head further south before it’s too late.

In Winterfell, Theon Greyjoy brings food to a beaten and abused Sansa. Reaching out to Theon, she makes him promise to put a candle in the window of the broken tower despite his protests. “Reek! My name is Reek,” he tells her.

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“Your name is Theon Greyjoy. Last surviving son of Balon Greyjoy, Lord of the Iron Islands,” she responds, giving him back his name. Theon resolutely marches up the tower and opens the door only to find Ramsay there eating breakfast. Outside the castle walls in the snow, Brienne patiently waits for the signal.

Back at Castle Black, Aemon passes, and Samwell gives a fine eulogy. I can’t help but wonder if the maester’s passing — in Sam’s words, no one was wiser, gentler, or kinder — signifies a change in the guard at the Night’s Watch headquarters. “You’re losing all your friends, Tarly,” Alliser  whispers as Aemon’s body burns. Foreboding symbology or a plot twist setup — we shall sees.

When the next scene opens with Sansa meeting up with a smug Ramsay on the ramparts, we sort of know what’s coming. Ramsay tells Sansa about Stannis’ incoming forces and confidently talks up his future prospects of becoming Warden of the North. Sansa sneakily takes a corkscrew and wonders aloud what will happen if Russ’ wife has a son, which could create complications due to the fact that Ramsay’s trueborn brother will have a stronger claim to the Bolton inheritance. “Bastards can rise high in the world,” Ramsay says before he tells Sansa about Jon’s new position at Castle Black to Sansa’s surprise.

Remembering why he called her out of her room, Ramsay then takes Sansa to see what’s been done to the woman that offered to help her. Flayed and put on display, the old woman died without saying a word, though Theon will have to live with another betrayal. Ramsay orders Theon to return Sansa to her room, and that’s the last we see of them this episode.

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At Stannis’ encampment, things look dire in the heavy snow. Forty horses have died overnight, and more will die according to Ser Davos who also suggests they should return to Castle Black. Stannis rejects the notion — there’s no way he’s going to become the King Who Ran. Stannis is all-in, and the master tactician has decided to march forward, whether to victory or defeat. Before taking leave, Davos gives the Red Woman a look, the kind you give when you’re at your last resort. Melisandre is the only one who can change Baratheon’s mind, but she’s not about to. Stannis wants to remove doubt, and Melisandre reminds him of her visions. To ensure victory, she’ll need king’s blood. (Un)Fortunately for Stannis, there’s a source available to him — his daughter.  Disgusted, Stannis orders Melisandre away.

Returning to Castle Black, Brother Derek and Brother Brant pursue Gilly aggressively, prompting Sam to come in and draw his sword. Sam takes them on, but he’s brutally beaten. When the brothers start to rape Gilly, Sam stands up again for another go, but Jon’s dire wolf Ghost enters and scares off the would-be rapists. Sam passes out, and Gilly takes him to his room for treatment. They spend the night together, and Sam loses his virginity.

If you’re worried that too much time is being spent this side of the world, you’ll be happy to see Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister, though the circumstances leave much to be desired. The slavers have put them up for bid at an auction, and Jorah’s pedigree as a warrior works in his favor and gets him sold. Not wanting to be left behind, Tyrion calls out the buyer, claiming to be Jorah’s fighting partner. The crowd laughs, and Tyrion makes his point by beating the handler who’s been oppressing him since capture.

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Nearby in Meereen — and later that day — Daenerys Targaryen and Daario Naharis talk about the Queen’s future nuptials. Daenerys wants to use her marriage to Hizdahr to get the city of Meereen on her side, but Daario would rather she wed him. Daenerys laughs it off and tells him she cannot marry him because it would be political suicide. “Then you are the only person in Meereen who’s not free,” he tells her. Daario notes he’s not in a capacity to advise the Queen, but he gives her one suggestion — on the day of the Great Games, she should round up all of the Masters and kill them all. Daenerys is taken aback, reminding him she’s a queen and not a butcher. Daario tells her all rulers are either butchers or meat.

Returning to Westeros, we get to one of my favorite characters — Olenna Tyrell who meets with the High Sparrow in the High Sept. I love seeing Olenna do battle with her weapon of choice — words. Known as the Queen of Thorns for her verbal barbs, Olenna lets loose on the High Sparrow, but it looks like she may have met her match. Hoping to secure Margaery and Loras’ freedom, she offers the Sparrow wealth, but it falls on deaf ears. Apparently, the High Sparrow has no interest in splendor and worldly goods. When he asks Olenna if she’s ever sowed, her response leads him to tell her, “You are the few, we are the many.” He leaves her with an ominous implication, “And when the many stop fearing the few …”

Meanwhile, Cersei listens to her son Tommen rant over being unable to exert his power over the Faith Militant. Tommen wants to start a war and kill the zealots, and when he tells his mother that he loves Margaery, Cersei offers to talk to the High Sparrow on his behalf. Cersei tells her son how much he means to her, and it’s one of her most humanizing scenes in any season. Lena Headey draws out a lot of emotion from her lines, and you can get a sense that — as insanely focused as she is in her poisoned mind — Cersei does have her reasons. All she wants is to protect her children, and then we’re brought to Dorne where Jaime Lannister tries and fails to convince his niece (and daughter) to return home.

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In the prison cells, Bronn impresses one of the Sand Snakes with his singing voice, though the conversation steers to who the better fighter is. Bronn claims it’s against his code to hurt a woman, and he considers the new wound on his arm an honorable scar. When Bronn says Dornish women are the most beautiful, Tyene Sand thanks him. “I said Dornish women. I didn’t say you,” he tells her. When she begins to seduce him, Bronn begins to lose his mind, and Tyene asks him about his arm. Suddenly, the effects of the poison from Tyene’s dagger trigger, and Bronn’s left reaching out for the antidote that Tyene offers. “Who’s the most beautiful woman in the world?” she asks, to which Bronn answers, “You.” She tosses the vial, and Bronn drinks up the cure and lives.

In King’s Landing, Pyter Baelish gets a verbal lashing from Olenna. It’s bad enough for Pyter that his beloved brothel has been destroyed, but Olenna reminds him how dangerous it will be for him if House Tyrell falls. Together, Olenna and Pyter conspired to murder King Joffrey, and she’s prepared counter measures if ever Lord Baelish betrayed her. Olenna wants confirmation that Baelish wasn’t a part of Loras and Margaery’s imprisonment, which prompts Littlefinger to offer a gift — something similar he gave to Cersei: “A handsome young man.”

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Near Meereen, Jorah and the fighters get ready for an exhibition where the winner receives the opportunity to fight in the Great Games which will be attended by the Queen herself. Much to everyone’s surprise, Danaerys has made a surprise visit to the lower pit, and when the first group of fighters hail the Queen, Jorah rushes to the gate to get a glimpse of his love. The fighters begin to duel to the death to Daenarys’ dismay. When she gets up to leave, Jorah puts on a helmet and steps onto the battlefield. He beats the competition without killing a single fighter, getting the Khaleesi’s attention, but when he reveals himself, Danaerys’ face is covered with disgust. “Get him out of my sight,” she orders. Jorah pleads and tells her he has brought her a gift, and Tyrion walks out to introduce himself. The look on Danaerys face — priceless.

And you know what else is priceless?

The episode’s final scenes involve Cersei who makes a trip to Margaery’s holding cell. The Queen of Westeros looks miserable and downtrodden in her prisoner garb and dirt-streaked face, but she’s holding out with bitter fury. Margaery knows Cersei is behind the plot, and she eagerly tells Cersei that Tommen was completely agreeable to Margaery’s plan to get rid of his mother. Cersei handles it with the aplomb we’d expect, and she leaves to visit the High Sparrow and bask in the success of her plans as he outlines what will come for Loras and Margaery. The High Sparrow also states there is mercy for confession, but Cersei would rather they get the full brunt of the High Sparrow’s justice.

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Speaking of justice, the High Sparrow starts in on something with Cersei. First, he gives her a lesson about the chapel they’re standing in, which gives her more insight on his faith. “Something simple and solid and true,” he says, touching the stone altar. He tells her how House Tyrell have been brought down — much to Cersei’s delight — and then he tells her about a broken man who came to Faith Militant. The man confessed his sins, “And he has much to say about you.” Enter cousin Lancel who knows a thing or three about Cersei’s incestuous relationships. When Cersei tries to leave in a huff, she’s captured by the Faith Militant and imprisoned for trial.

“Look at me. Look at my face. It’s the last thing you’ll see before you die,” Cersei threatens as the door is shut and bolted.

Thematically, the episode has a much more positive slant than the last one, though Sansa’s current situation seems to be getting worse. In each of the plotlines, someone receives a gift — for better or worse. Those gifts look to make a huge impact on the rest of the season, and it’s also important to note the relationships between the givers and receivers. With alliances being forged, strengthened, broken, and changed, the plot points this episode are a sort of gift from the writers, and this episode stands out as one of this season’s strongest.


Game of Thrones
S05E07: The Gift
[usr 4]
IMDB
Directed by: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Alfie Allen, and Roman Beguns

Previous Episode: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken: Game of Thrones S05E06 Recap
Next Episode: Hardhome: Game of Thrones S05E08 Recap

[Recap] Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken — Game of Thrones S05E06

[Recap] Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken — Game of Thrones S05E06

There’s been a lot of buildup for this season — and here we are almost at the midpoint with the wheels still turning as plotlines continue to gain relentless momentum.

Arya is still in try-outs at the House of Black and White while Jorah Mormont and Tyrion Lannister are still on their way to Meereen. Jaime Lannister and Bronn still haven’t saved Myrcella who is still alive despite Ellaria Sand’s efforts.

With a title like Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken, you shouldn’t be surprised at how much of a grind this episode is on its characters — the three words seem the appropriate response to all of the conflicts and tribulations coming down like sledgehammers on top of their heads.

At the House of Black and White, Arya continues washing and cleaning the dead for whatever curious purpose. Having waited weeks to play “the game,” her impatience leads to another heated exchange with the Waif, the only other familiar face besides Jaquen H’ghar.

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The Waif tells Arya her life story, a compelling bit that gets Arya’s attention and sympathy. But when the Waif finishes her story and asks whether it was a truth or a lie,  Arya’s left looking like she just had the floor open up under her.

Later that night, Jaquen appears in Arya’s bedroom and wakes her up for a game of truths and lies. Asking her the question that she posed on the Waif — “Who are you?” — Jaquen whips Arya with his stick every time she fibs while she recounts her history. Eventually, Arya gets to the part about Sandor Clegane’s death, and she tells Jaquen that she left him in the mountains to die because she hated him.

Whip. “I hated him!” Whip. “That’s not a lie!” Whip.

Arya screams, “I’m not playing this stupid game anymore!” but Jaquen tells her the game never stops.

On the other side of the world, Tyrion and Jorah can’t seem to get along, bickering over everything from food to the definition of traveling companions. Tyrion gives Jorah the lowdown on his escape from King’s Landing, and then Jorah learns about the fate of his father who was murdered by mutiny.

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Back at the House, Arya consoles a dying child by telling her that a drink from the well will heal her. It’s a lie, but the girl is none the wiser, and she dies with hope. Arya learns what it means to be “someone else,” the true lesson that Jaquen wanted to teach, and he allows her to accompany him deeper into the House where he shows her a room filled with the faces of the dead. The setting is mind-blowing — grotesquely beautiful and haunting, and it looks like Arya has now officially become Jaquen’s padawan.

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Tyrion and Jorah — back and forth, and here we go — are captured by slavers who are easily manipulated into taking the pair to Meereen to fight in the pits. There’s a bit about dwarf penises being worth a lot of gold, and Tyrion dispells the myth about their shape.

In King’s Landing, Peter Baelish makes his way to meet with Cersei. Their conversation is brusque despite Baelish’s attempt at diplomacy. He brings up the Faith Militant and the likely consequences of their taking Ser Loras into custody. Baelish predicts conflict, but the queen-mother has no intention of giving in.

Bringing up the purpose of his visit, Baelish drops the bombshell of Sansa Stark’s marriage to Roose Bolton’s heir, Ramsay. Baelish does what he does best — Littlefinger-ception — and he advises Cersei to let Bolton have his day until Stannis Baratheon invades the North. When the fight is finished, Baelish proposes he will march immediately on Winterfell with the Knights of the Veil.

What’s in it for Baelish, Cersei wonders.

All Baelish wants is to be named Warden of the North, something Cersei will grant if he also includes Sansa’s head on a pike. Baelish says his loyalty is to the crown, but we all know Baelish believes he’s the one who should be wearing it.

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In Dorne, Jaime and Bronn move to secure the princess, but Ellaria’s Sand Snakes muck things up with the worst sneak and grab ever. Ever. Before the season started, I read a little about the Sand Snakes being a group of deadly warriors, but so far, they’ve been less intimidating than the Powerpuff Girls. Walking around the garden in plain sight with weapons drawn, the three would-be kidnappers fail to overtake the sell-sword and his one-handed friend before Dornish guards appear and capture everyone, including Ellaria.

There’s more — and better — action in the next scene when Cersei goes toe to toe with the Queen of Thorns, Olenna Tyrell who’s traveled all the way from the Reach to secure the release of her grandson. The exchange is filled with political threats, name-calling, and some particularly sharpened barbs. The passive-aggressive chatter from Cersei and the blunt threats from Olenna create a nice contrast of back and forths. It all comes to a head when Olenna talks up Tywin’s ability to work with rivals. Cersei responds with a clap back, “House Lannister has no rival.”

Oh, snap!

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There’s to be a inquest into whether Loras should go to trial, but Cersei believes nothing will come of it, since she also (psh!) believes Loras is innocent. During the High Sparrow’s questioning, Loras categorically denies being a homosexual despite everyone in the kingdom knowing about his relationship with Renly Baratheon. When the High Sparrow calls Queen Margaery to the chair — much to Cersei’s delight — he asks her to swear in the presence of the gods that Loras is innocent. Margaery does, and she returns to her seat.

If only she knew that she just jumped out of the frying pan and into the fire. A surprise witness is called — Olyvar, Loras’ squire who was found in bed with Loras by Margaery herself. Testifying that he had in fact had relations with Loras and in Margaery’s sight, Olyvar puts forth the strongest piece of evidence — he describes a Dorne-shaped mole high on Loras’ thigh. Loras and Margaery are taken away into custody, and Tommen … well, he just … he just … sits there.

The last act of the episode centers on Sansa’s wedding to Ramsay. Sansa’s journey has been rough, but she’s made steps towards becoming a much stronger character. Gone is the girl who wanted to marry a king — she’s had a gothic makeover and conspires to exact revenge under the pretense of marriage.

Myranda appears and offers to draw Sansa a bath. It’s also a last-ditch effort to scare the Stark girl by recounting all of Ramsay’s dead lovers. The scene is thick with tension with repeated shots of Myranda pulling the water out of Sansa’s hair– shots similar to Arya’s scene when she’s washing the dead but with a totally different atmospheric context.

In a few sentences, Sansa puts an exclamation mark on all of the development she’s been going through since last season. “I’m Sansa Stark of Winterfell,” she tells Myranda, “This is my home, and you can’t frighten me.”

That sends Ramsay’s jilted lover storming away, leaving Sansa some time to reflect before the wedding. With her hair returned to its original red color, Sansa looks stunning in her white wedding dress. The moment’s spoiled — as much as an unwanted wedding could be — by Theon Greyjoy.

“I’m to take your arm,” he pleads, explaining he’ll be punished if Ramsay’s orders are not obeyed.

“You think I care what he does to you?” Sansa ask. They walk together to the Godswood, but there’s plenty of distance between them.

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Sansa and Ramsay are married, and the pair return to Winterfell where viewers will experience one of the most horrific scenes in recent history. Though you don’t see it happening at all, the final scene becomes one of the series’ most brutal because of what’s obviously happening, who it’s happening to, and the circumstances surrounding the rape.

“Good. I want you to be happy,” Ramsay says after Sansa approves of the bedroom decor. He changes the subject, calling into question Sansa’s relations with Tyrion during their marriage. He tells Sansa to disrobe, but when she nods to dismiss Theon, Ramsay orders him to stay and watch.

It’s a scene loaded with monstrosity and tragedy. It seems merciful that the camera shifts away from the bed to Theon’s face, but then we come face to face with a broken man forced to see the family he betrayed get crushed under another cruel heel.

As I tried to process the last few minutes of the episode, I thought for a moment about whether the scene, in some twisted way, was another heaping helping heapful of karmic punishment sent Theon’s way. For a show where the violent and wicked go on to greater heights in the game, Theon’s story as he devolved into Reek seemed like he was getting punished for all their sakes.

But this flipped everything on its head for me. If any part of me reveled in Theon’s destruction, my entire being felt disgusted at what was happening here — for Theon and more for Sansa. And it made me question certain things because the show has played with characters and plotlines in ways that go against type — that’s something about the show I really enjoy — and it presents common archetypes, schemas, stereotypes, and controversies in ways that make you think. In this episode we see one of the show’s villains helplessly witnessing an act so inhumane and cruel, and all we can do is sit there and watch. We can hope, but in our hoping — if it’s for more violence, more blood, more pain — where do we draw the line as to say, “That’s enough. We’ve had our fill.”


Game of Thrones
S05E06: Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken
[usr 4 text=false]
IMDB
Directed by: Jeremy Podeswa
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Starring: Peter Dinklage, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Lena Headey

Next episode: The Gift: Game of Thrones S05E07 Recap