When last we left Tyrion and Jorah, they were at the mercy of Queen Daenerys, and it’s where we find them at the opening of this week’s episode. For those fans out there who have criticized this season of Game of Thrones for moving too slowly or not having enough action, I offer you this: we’re finally seeing the major players, who have managed to survive playing the game, meet and interact with each other despite the long odds. This vast world packed with so many disparate characters, each with their own list of ambitions and causes for revenge, is finally starting to gel together, forming around a few dense focal points where the future of the Known World will be decided. One of these points occurs at this meeting of the minds in Mereen.
While Tyrion does what Tyrion does best, using his wit and reason to win Daenerys’ favor, poor Jorah is once again banished from the Queen’s side (though he’s still alive, at least until the fighting pits or the Greyscale claims him). Now employed as Daenerys’ adviser (even if he’s clearly not her most trusted one), Tyrion is able to bring his knowledge of Westerosian politics to bear in assisting the Targaryen’s return to the Iron Throne, even if her ultimate intention is to break the cyclical wheel of power that sees the common folk trampled under the boots of one rich family after another. Tyrion’s certainly made a bold choice allying himself with another usurper and aligning with the enemies of his family. Was it the right choice? Did he have any other option left to him? And will his abilities manage to help or hinder Daeny in her conquest?
Back at the seat of the Iron Throne itself, things are in disarray for the royal house. Cersei is still imprisoned by the Sparrows, who want her to confess, though she remains defiant. Her stubbornness and pride will ultimately be her undoing, a fact that Qyburn attempts to elucidate for Cersei, but to no avail, even as she resorts to lapping up spilled water on her prison floor. It’s an interesting scene, especially in light of everything we’ve seen of Cersei in previous seasons, and with respect to Daenerys’ “Plight of the Commoners” comments earlier in the episode. Is Cersei on the way out, or is there still hope of redemption (or revenge) for her?
We don’t get much from the House of Black and White, but it’s a fun scene that sees Arya climbing the ranks of power as a servant of the Many-Faced God. And, believe it or not, we actually get to see Arya smile for once, though it’s while she’s in the guise of a shellfish-seller named Lanna. Her ability to lie has apparently gotten better since Jaqen now sees fit to task her with the assassination of a particularly nasty and despicable merchant, a gambler who plays with people’s very lives and livelihoods.
I loved Arya’s storyline in the books and the show is doing a good job with it, but she’s so far removed from everything else this season that it’s hard to see where she’s going to fit in. What say you: do you want more of Arya or is it time to cut her loose?
There was a surprisingly intimate scene between Sansa and Reek in this episode, a moment that saw the surviving Stark sister learn that her brothers Bran and Rickon were not actually dead. This slip of the tongue may have cost Reek some more torture time with Lord Ramsay (a state of being that, unsurprisingly, did not bring about feelings of pity from Sansa), but it also reveals the faintest glimmer of hope for Theon Greyjoy’s return to form.
Meanwhile, Roose and his men prepare for the siege and plan to wait for Stannis’ forces to freeze, starve, and mutiny in the snows outside the re-fortified Winterfell. Ramsay boldly counsels riding out to meet them in true Northern fashion, saying that he only need 20 good men to do the job. Let’s hope the little prick gets the chance!
In a scene that serves as exposition reminding viewers of just what Lord Commander Jon Snow is up to, Sam has a heart to heart with Olly (after Gilly patches up Sam’s war wounds, that is). Olly, whose family was slaughtered by Wildlings under Tormund Giantsbane’s command, can’t seem to come to terms with Snow’s plan to bring the Free Folk south of the wall and grant them land. Can’t say as I blame him, but as Sam rightly puts it, the Wildlings are still people and they don’t deserve to die at the hands of the White Walkers; he also knows that the living need to ally against the dead if they’re to have any hope of surviving the coming winter. Perhaps Olly would think better of the Free Folk if he had accompanied Snow to Hardhome…
North of the Wall – Hardhome
While people likely won’t be talking about the diplomatic strategies employed by both Snow and Tormund during the meeting of the elders, it was still an important moment in the mythology of the series. These two forces – the Crows of the Night’s Watch and the Wildling Free Folk – have been fighting each other for as long as they can remember. Mance Rayder’s ability to unite the free people together under one banner was exceptional enough, and Jon attempts to use that fact to convince them all to side with the Night’s Watch against the coming war. The Free Folk are understandably suspicious of Jon’s offer to sail south of the wall and farm the land (especially when he admits to killing Mance Rayder…), but even the Thenns and giants are soon convinced that an alliance is in all their best interests.
And now comes the moment that people have been waiting for, not just since the season began, or even since the show began, but since the Army of the Dead were referred to in the books. This is the first time, if I’m not mistaken, that a massive battle between the forces of the living and the dead has taken place in either medium. It was worth the wait, and a fantastic teaser for future battles that are sure to come.
Recounting every blow of the fight here wouldn’t do it justice, and honestly I’d just like to watch it again; it easily ranks up there with the Battle of Blackwater Bay as one of my favorite sequences in the series so far. As the Night’s Watch are attempting to herd the Wildlings onto their small boats, an apparent series of avalanches cascade down the mountains to the north. It soon becomes clear that the undead forces of winter are approaching and the Wildlings attempt to seal the gates of Hardhome. All in vain.
I can’t quite pick a favorite moment, but feel free to battle out just which scene was the best in the comments section below. Was it the first appearance of the skeletal wights at the gates? The reveal of the Four Horsemen of Winter watching from the high peaks? Was it Tormund and Jon’s valiant charge against the army of the undead, or the Thenn’s defiant-yet-futile stand against a lone White Walker? Perhaps you loved seeing Jon Snow take on the mystical warrior one on one, with his Valyrian steel blade every bit as capable as a shard of dragonglass. Or maybe Wun Wun the Giant, brandishing a flaming tree as he smashed and bashed the undead, was more to your liking.
The action was fantastic, but then there were those moments of horror so visceral that they made The Walking Dead sneak a peek over their shoulder. Standing out in my memory are these: the hordes of the undead following their commanders’ orders to throw themselves over the cliff, only to spring back to (un)life and resume the attack; the arrival of the skeletal children and their bloodthirsty assault on the Free Folk; and the undead army’s leader staring down Jon Snow and raising his arms slowly as his newly undead recruits joined their frozen brothers. Powerful stuff, and but a taste of what’s to come.
Rating: ★★★★★ Excellent
Tyrion: “I am the greatest Lannister killer of all time.”
Daenerys: “I will have a very large army and very large dragons.” Tyrion: “Killing and politics aren’t the same thing.”
Tyrion: “A ruler who kills those devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion.”
Jaqen: “Lanna will be a good servant to the Many-Faced God.”
Qyburn: “Forgive me for saying it, but belief is so often the death of reason.” Cersei: “I wish you’d said it sooner.”
Qyburn: “The work continues.”
Daenerys: “I’m not going to stop the wheel, I’m going to break the wheel.”
Sam: “Don’t worry Olly. I’ve been worrying about Jon for years. He always comes back.”
Rattleshirt: “You fucking traitor!”
Wun Wun the Giant: “The fuck you looking at?”
Catch up on our other recent Game of Thrones coverage below:
- GAME OF THRONES Decoded: Valyrian Steel, White Walkers, and the Night’s King
- GAME OF THRONES Featurette Dives Deep Into the Hardhome Battle
- GAME OF THRONES: George R.R. Martin Won’t Write a Season 6 Episode Either
- GAME OF THRONES Season 5 Has a Dynamic Duo Problem
- Is GAME OF THRONES Season 6 Returning to Pyke?
- GAME OF THRONES Recap: “The Gift”