Forget visiting the multiplexes because Game of Thrones just delivered the biggest blockbuster spectacle you’ll see all summer.
Let’s bitch it out…
Apparently David Benioff and D.B. Weiss like to keep us on our toes, because they totally pulled a bait and switch by delivering the big blockbuster spectacle one episode earlier than usual. Here’s how ‘Hardhome’ plays out on the power rankings:
1) Attack of the White Walkers
Nothing else could have taken the top spot but the epic 20 minute battle from which the episode takes its name. Jon Snow (Kit Harington), Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) and a few members of the Nightswatch travel by boat to Hardhome to speechify about their cause in an effort to recruit the Free Folk against the impending battle with the White Walkers. They encounter the usual resistance from some, acceptance by others and everything is more or less going according to plan…until a massive storm descends from the mountains.
Unlike previous seasons when director Neil Marshal was in the hot seat for the series’ greatest battle sequences, ‘Hardhome’s director is Miguel Sapochnik. The man who also helmed last week’s episode has a background that is almost exclusively TV, but he’s cut his teeth on some pretty memorable series (including Cinemax’s Banshee, which regularly has awesome fight sequences, and a personal favourite, the series finale of Awake). Sapochnik does well with the material, particular Jon’s battle with a White Walker within the giant’s hut, though at times the close-quarters hand to hand combat is a little indecipherable. Overall, however, the scope of the battle is on par with the battle of Blackwater and last season’s attack on The Wall; the battle of Hardhome pretty much instantly gets the blood pumping and the adrenaline going. The final few shots are highly memorable: the fallen are brought back to life in a grandiose taunt by a remaining White Walker followed by a cut to an extreme long shot demonstrating juuuuust how close Jon and Tormund came to joining their ranks. Overall this battle sets the tone for any future encounter with the icy Northern foes, who prove just how dangerous a threat they will be. In doing so, Game of Thrones also throws down the gauntlet against this summer’s biggest big screen blockbusters, daring them to try and top its action sequences. Very impressive.
2) Daeny (Emilia Clarke) and Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) speak
Last week’s most pleasant surprise was the unexpected meeting of Daeny and Tyrion (so much so that it immediately inspired dozens of lists and wishful think-pieces about which characters we hope will meet next). This week the two are forced to come to some kind of arrangement, given that neither fully trusts the other. The battle of wills between arguably two of the smartest-yet-most-likely-to-self-sabotage characters on the show begins by deciding the fate of poor Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), who is – alas – once again banished by Daeny. He’ll have his chance to prove himself in the fighting pits, but for now, Daeny is only prepared to suffer the audience of one man she doesn’t entirely trust.
Their conversation (over wine – natch) is remarkable for its truth-telling. Daeny loves to spar and Tyrion has found his travelling companions too docile of late (long-absent Varys was too conciliatory and Jorah too disinterested).As a result it’s a treat to see the pair discuss her grand plan for the future of Westeros, including a number of the issues that have plagued Daeny since her stopover in Meereen became a near-permanent stay. It’s clear from this brief snippet that if Tyrion and Daeny can learn to trust in each other’s word, this could be the start of the strongest allied force on the show.
3) Arya (Maisie Williams) gets her Sherlock Holmes on
After sitting off last week, Arya returns to take her tutelage to the next level. Under Jaqen’s (Tom Wlaschiha) quick-to-correct guidance, Arya adopts a false identity as an oyster cart salesgirl who frequents the docks in search of…something. Since this is all part of her training, it’s up to her to exercise her deductive reasoning, which lends the Braavos scenes a Sherlock Holmes vibe as she tries to suss out small details in order to infer what Jaqen wants her to do.
Turns out it’s a man to be murdered – a heartless gambler nicknamed the Thin Man who wages bets against ship Captains dying at sea. By going against poor men with families who depend on them, the Thin Man brings the vengeance of the many faced god of the House of Black and White down upon himself, although it all depends on whether Arya is, in fact, strong enough to carry out her mission to poison his oysters. It’s all very murder mystery intrigue!
- In King’s Landing, our sole point of contact is Cersei (Lena Headey) who remains locked in the Sparrow’s prison and prompted to confess her sins or face dehydration. Cersei tries to remain defiant, but it’s not long before she’s licking water from the stone floor (in an act that almost resembles supplication). Still, she refuses to admit to the charges, even after Qyburn (Anton Lesser) advises that it may be her best shot of getting out.
- I appreciated the visual similarities between Cersei and Sansa (Sophie Turner), both of whom are filmed seated in shadow from the right side. They’re both very much in their own prisons, though at the moment Sansa may hold more power than the Queen Regent. Despite all of our laments about her despicable treatment in the last few episodes, Sansa is making progress with Reek/Theon (Alfie Allen), even getting him to confess under duress that her brothers are still alive. It wouldn’t be George R.R. Martin or Game of Thrones if things work out for the best, but when it comes to Sansa, I’m confident that we’re all secretly hoping that she gets the revenge she deserves.
- In other news, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) aims to prove his mettle to his father by launching a sneak attack on Stannis (an unseen Stephen Dillane) using a stealth group of 20 men. With the battle beyond the Wall addressed this week, it’s logical that any further big action sequences will focus on the battle for Winterfell. However, Roose Bolton’s (Michael McElhatton) inclination is to stay put and freeze Stannis’ army out, so perhaps ‘Hardhome’ truly was it in terms of big action for S5.
- It’s always fun when you randomly recognize an actor from something else. Case in point: Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, who played Kommissar in Pitch Perfect 2, arbitrarily shows up tonight as the strong-willed Wilding Chieftainess. Alas despite her spunkiness, she doesn’t last nearly long enough. Honestly, though: felled by zombie children? That’s weak.
- Biggest surprise of the night: my emotional investment in the well-being of the giant. When it appeared that the foul-mouthed creature might be overwhelmed by skeletons or collapse into the icy waters, I was genuinely concerned. Kids – I don’t care about. Ugly giants – save the beast!
- Finally, ominous foreshadowing of the week: dumb Sam (John Bradley) tells Olly (Brenock O’Connor) that unpopular things you know to be right sometimes need to be done for the good of the people. Gee, how will Free-Folk-hating Olly interpret this pearl of wisdom? For someone who is so book-learned, Sam sure is a dunce.
- Daeny (after Tyrion declares himself the greatest Lannister killer): “So I should welcome you into my service because you murdered members of your own family?”
- Tyrion (to Daeny, explaining why she should not kill Jorah): “A ruler who kills those who are devoted to them does not inspire much devotion.”
- Tormund (defending Jon to the Free Folk): “He’s prettier than both my daughters…”
- Wildling Chieftainess (after some refuse to join Jon): “I fucking hate clans”
- Giant (when a member of the Nightwatch stops near him): “The fuck you looking at?”
Your turn: what did you think of the epic battle of Hardhome? Did you expect such a show of force from the White Walker camp? Do you think Sansa is making progress with Theon? Will Arya have the power to follow through on her training? Will Cersei confess? Did Tyrion and Daeny’s chat pay-off a week’s worth of anticipation? And is Sam the dumbest character on the show right now? Sound off below.
Game of Thrones airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO. Next week: we return to the North as Jon returns to the Wall (and Thorne) and Stannis must decide whether he will act on Melisandre’s advice. Here’s a look: