Note Full spoilers for last nights Game of Thrones ahead, so if you haven’t seen it yet, buy some Braavosi oysters down at the docks and get on it.
At its best, Game of Thrones manages to combine violent escapist entertainment with sharp dialogue exchanges, perfectly melodramatic character moments, and phenomenal technical filmmaking on par with anything Hollywood is currently putting out. It manages to show off its record-setting budget in the flashiest ways, while also including stark minimalist sequences that often take multiple viewings to fully appreciate. “Hardhome” was certainly GOT at its best. It was an hour of television so filled with thematic climaxes and singularly perfect moments that it feels like the entire series had been building to this point. When the credits rolled and transitioned into Silicon Valley, the best comedy on television and a show I watch every week, I couldn’t even focus on the Pied Piper bros. “Hardhome” was an hour of television that brings the quality of all other television into question.
We’re talking pantheon level TV here, and I cannot overemphasize that. This is “Ozymandias” on Breaking Bad, Stringer & Avon on the balcony in The Wire, the college episode of The Sopranos, “not Penny’s boat” from Lost, The Mad Real World from Chappelle’s Show, entire first season of True Detective-level stuff we’re talking about. There’s so much to talk about this week, so I’ll get right into it.
Starting beyond the Wall at the wildling “stronghold” Hardhome seems to make sense, given that the White Walkers have finally played their hand. This was a spectacular moment even before the battle, showing masses of wildlings like we haven’t seen in a long time. In his finest moment yet as a leader, Jon Snow managed to convince (most of) the wildlings to flock South and fight the good fight. Just when everything appeared to be running smoothly, as the brothers loaded wildling women and children onto the boats, in an anti-Titanic sort of moment, the clouds began to change and a White Walker army so vast it could probably raze Helm’s Deep attacked.
The actual combat sequence was of course wildly entertaining, HBO certainly spared no expense, featuring arrows going into heads and giants stepping on dudes. I actually think I prefer this style of showing a battle, as a sweeping conclusion to an episode rather than an entire episode, to what we’ve seen on GOT in the past (not to say that the battle of Blackwater or the attack on The Wall weren’t great). My only complaint is that there didn’t seem to be a ton at stake, on a character level, seeing as we all know Jon wasn’t going to die and I doubt any tears were shed over the deaths of wildlings we just met 10 minutes prior. What we did learn is that Valyrian Steel, as well as dragonglass, is apparently capable of killing Walkers.
But the most brilliant part of this violent exchange was the stare-down between Jon and the Walker’s leader as the last boat pulled away. It was cut together so beautifully, flashing between close-ups of both faces in a Sergio Leone-esque fashion. The chief Walker then decided to troll Jon by raising his arms, turning all of the dead wildlings into Walkers. We knew they were capable of this, but witnessing it on such a large scale truly set it in our minds that all the Westorosi politicking and throne-chasing may very well be insignificant.
What was so great about “Hardhome” is that the first 2/3 of the episode was enjoyable as well and continued to push other characters to where they’re ultimately going to be to end season 5. Let’s start with Arya in Braavos.
In a great piece of editing, a Cersei scream quickly turns into a montage of Arya peddling mollusks in the streets. After meeting The Gambler, a not so nice man, and impressing him with the quality of her oysters, Arya finally got her first assignment from Jaqen. That assignment is to learn about The Gambler and then poison him. She’s a born hitta, yo, like one of those little kids in Chief Keef’s crew. The training of Arya has moved a little slowly, but really picked up over the last two weeks. It’s nice to see that she’s finally going to be an assassin. Kids these days…
Meanwhile, in King’s Landing, Cersei still doesn’t want to admit her guilt, even though everyone and their mother knows she’s an incestuous bitch who will be met with the swift hand of justice sooner or later. Actress Lena Headey is so great at capturing rage with just her eyes. When Qyburn informs her that Grand Maester Pycelle has assumed control of the small council, it’s the icing on the cake. It appears as if Cersei is going to have to confess her sins in order to not be killed and, hopefully, for her sake, regain her position.
At The Wall, Jon’s squire Olly questions Sam as to Jon’s decision to travel North and help the wildlings. Sam and Jon are besties, so of course he was able to justify the decision. It wasn’t a jaw-dropping moment by any means but showed just how deep the hate for the wildlings actually runs.
In Winterfell, it appears as if the Bolton’s will make the first move by having Ramsay lead a recon team to go damage Stannis’ army. This could be fun, but for Stannis’ sake, I hope Ramsay doesn’t capture him. People under Ramsay’s capture usually don’t enjoy it. What I really wanted to talk about here is the development of Sophie Turner (Sansa) as an actress. In the early seasons, she was, frankly, annoying. Part of that was due to her stagnant character, but Turner’s inability to convey an honest emotion was a factor as well. That is no longer the case. She has grown into a woman, and a talented one at that. When she raises her voice and screams at Theon (not Theon, Reek!), demanding to know why he killed her brothers, she all of a sudden comes off as powerful as a Cersei or Daenerys. Reek is eventually broken down by yet another person, and admits that the boys he butchered were just some random farmers boys. It felt like a very important moment for both Reek and Sansa. I still expect them to team up once the battle hits Winterfell.
But the best moments happened in Meereen. Tyrion and Dany are finally brought together, and she almost immediately recognizes his value as an advisor (perhaps it was the awesome “I’m the greatest Lannister killer of all-time” line, probably a top 10 Tyrion line, which is a post I should do). Tyrion is the greatest speaker on the show, managing to be sarcastic and both incredibly truthful at the same time. He is very knowledgable and practical. Dany, who still believes all she needs to rule is an army and some dragons, can benefit greatly from his knowledge (remember, she thinks she can “break the wheel”). I also love how she cut off his drinking. That was cute. This Tyrion-infusion is doing exactly what we thought it would do; adding life to a Dany storyline that has gone nowhere for multiple seasons now.
For what feels like the hundredth time, I’ll say, poor Jorah. At this point, I’d be surprised if he’s accepted back in Dany’s good graces even if he kicks ass in the giant fighting pit. Hell, I’d be pissed if he was. She accepted his “gift”. If she was going to take him back as well, she would’ve done so by now, right?
That’s all I got trying to recap a packed episode. I apologize, it’s impossible to do this justice.
Final Verdict: In perhaps the GOT’s finest hour yet, “Hardhome” combines what feels like the battle we’ve been waiting for with some other monumental moments to create a miraculous episode of television.
5 Quick Tidbits:
- The editing from Tim Porter and cinematography from Fabian Wagner deserve a good chunk of the credit for this episode.
- GOT, Entourage, and The X-Files veteran David Nutter directs the final two episodes of the season. His most notable moment is probably handling “The Red Wedding” back in season 3.
- We all agree that this new show Ballers with the Rock looks like shit, right? Might as well just call it Entourage season 9.
- Which White Walker leader is the leader??? I swear they’ve gone through like six different ones already.
- If you don’t like unnecessary nudity and the objectifying of women on GOT, you’re probably going to hate what happens with Cersei soon.
That is all. I’ve had a great time recapping what I feel has probably been GOT’s best season thus far (maybe season 2). The last two episodes, and last two seasons (assuming they go 7) should be quite fun.