Winter is Here
A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Hardhome, named after the wildling settlement that lies north of the Wall, is an episode that draws back slightly from last week and once again focuses on a handful of storylines. The final twenty minutes alone make the episode worth the proverbial price of admission but the thematic unity of the complete irrelevance of the nobility’s plotting provides a strong backbone to the hour as a whole. Daenerys’s famed “break the wheel” speech from the trailers arrives as she announces to Tyrion her intention of breaking the wheel. When she says that all of the great houses, including her own, are spokes on a wheel that fight to be the spoke on top while all of the common people of Westeros get trampled, she’s not wrong. It’s a grand declaration of justice, fueled by the sense of righteousness that has pervaded Daenerys’s journey so far in her liberation of Slaver’s Bay. Yet the great houses of Westeros are all utterly falling apart by themselves while the Mother of Dragons is in Essos. In the grandest tradition of irony, they brought this fate upon themselves by warring amidst each other to sit upon a rather annoyingly spiky chair, completely ignoring a far more pressing problem no one believed to be of real consequence to begin with. The four horsemen of the Others appearing out of the midst above the cliffs of Hardhome is a clear symbolic callback to the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, a warning that the war over the Iron Throne is absolutely punitive in comparison to the true battle yet to come.
Tyrion and Daenerys, or the two terrible children of terrible fathers as the former would put it, are far more alike than just being two of the most beloved characters on the series. Their banter is absolutely everything I had always wanted it to be, with her affirming her general mistrust of Tyrion as expected and his swagger that makes a welcome return after he had vowed to drink himself to death on the road to Meereen. They’re exactly what the other needs. After the untimely death of Ser Barristan, Dany has no one left that truly knows Westeros and Tyrion is arguably an even better catch that the famed Westerosi knight. His service as the Hand of the King alone crafted him an opportunity to learn all about the inner workings of the great houses of Westeros intimately, something Daenerys has little knowledge of due to her being on an entirely different continent with a pretty bad wi-fi connection. For Tyrion, Daenerys represents something to hope for, a seemingly impossible confirmation of the hope and faith Varys had put into her. As a shout-out to the audience perhaps that wants to see Daenerys get to Westeros as quickly as humanly possible, Deanerys affirms that she wants to go home and continue building the world in her vision. Tyrion’s radical suggestion of wanting something besides the Iron Throne has its merits (especially considering the events at Hardhome), but for now at least he seems content in acing his job interview and acquiring a position to advise Daenerys on how exactly she can crash the wheel apart.
Cersei’s downfall at the end of last week led to more usage of the words “comeuppance” and “karma” than I would have thought possible, but her few scenes here are sure to further that euphoric glee everyone felt at her being thrown into the dungeons below King’s Landing. She is ironically the orchestrator of her own downfall, her own isolation. Her son, whom she taught virtually nothing about ruling, now isolates himself from the rest of the world, despondent over his mother and wife being locked by religious fanatics and unable to do absolutely anything about it. Her brother-lover is now off in Dorne (in a plot that needs to recover soon) and based on the preview, he’s not going to be leaving that kingdom anytime soon. As Qyburn arrives to inform her, Grand Maester Pycelle summoned back her uncle Kevan to rule as the Hand of the King, a despised reaction evident from Cersei’s face. To top it off, he notes that the High Sparrow has charged her with not one, but for separate charges that all of a sudden make Loras’s gay sex and Margaery’s perjury seem basically nothing: fornication, treason, incest, and regicide of King Robert. She could confess, but Cersei being Cersei would never grovel at the bare feet of a commoner she brought to power. Yet she is forced to grovel for something as it is. Septa Unella brings forth water as an incentive for Cersei to confess but Cersei’s stubbornness gets the water spilled all over the cold stone floor. The spoke doesn’t seem that high and mighty when she kisses the stones just to grasp some drops of water onto her parched lips. How the mighty have fallen.
Arya has become not Cat of the Canals, but Lanna the Orphan, in a name change that I can only attribute to the showrunners not wanting to tie her with a name used for her mother for simplicity’s sake (or the appearance of a certain character, but we’ll wait on that). As Jaqen had noted to her in the Hall of Faces, she is ready to become someone else and inadvertently she receives her first kill assignment. As an oyster businesswoman who could teach Warren Buffett a thing or two, Arya is sent out into Braavos to observe her surroundings and pick up on the small little details that perhaps others would simply ignore or not even notice. She encounters a captain at the harbor and a thin man who is a gambler/broker of sorts, the former who gambles his survival on his voyages for the safety of his family. As she is selling him the oysters that dare to be known as the best oysters in the entirety of the city, she keenly notices that the thin broker is cheating the ship’s captain out of his funds. Surely the captain’s wife and children wouldn’t be too happy with such a development and in such a case, who would they turn to for help? The Many-Faced God, it appears, is all too happy to provide Arya with a gift through Jaqen, a gift for the thin man who loved her oysters so much.
Winterfell continues to build, its eventual payoff coming soon enough with a more immediate one it seems next week. The Boltons can withstand a siege certainly, with fortified walls, a thickening blanket of snow, and a food supply of six months. Ramsay, eager to please his father after Sansa noting how precarious his position would become after the birth of his baby brother, instead asks for twenty men that he could lead for a sabotage mission against Stannis’s men. The Boltons, after all, were raised and trained to fight in the cold. Stannis and his mercenaries were not. As Ramsay prepares to leave, we find Sansa rightfully threatening Reek, all semblance of potential sympathy for her former brother gone into the frigid wind outside. It’s fantastic to see that Theon hasn’t become the hero after Ramsay’s rape of Sansa as the show has employed the reverse storyline into effect as Sansa finally breaks some real part of Theon out of Reek’s shell. Reek, pushed to the absolute brink, lets loose a vital piece of information to which only Roose and Ramsay have been privy to, a piece of information that has untold consequence for the entirety of the story and not just the north. Unable to bear Sansa’s rage, he lets slip that Bran and Rickon are still alice and that he had burnt two orphans instead because he couldn’t find them. Sansa’s expression of pure emotional shock conveyed perfectly just how shaken she is to discover that she’s not the lone Stark left in existence, a discovery that could galvanize her efforts to persevere even further.
The momentous battle at Hardhome is downright one of the most impressive sequences I’ve ever seen on television, period. Before the battle begins, however, there’s the matter of getting the wildlings on a single side, which is difficult enough to do. Outside of Loboda the Thenn, Karsi and the other elders manage to see something the great houses of Westeros cannot. Their survival trumps any enmity between the wildlings and the crows and if there is a chance to settle the Gift and avoid starvation, then they should take it. It all begins innocently enough, with Jon bemoaning why so many of the free folk weren’t agreeing to take the deal and Tormund reminding him that with winter there and nothing to hunt, they’ll come around soon enough. Then as Edd is taking his view of the mighty Wun Wun the Giant, the dogs begin barking. The folks on the beach stare towards a quietly billowing cloud of what appeared to be misty snow as silence reigns supreme. You know something is about to go horrible wrong but you’re just not sure of what it is exactly, but the free folk know exactly what that mist means and a thundering panic ensues. Then Loboda the Thenn gives the orders to shut the gate. Everyone waited with baited breath or they ran with baited breath, but the screams of absolute terror from behind the shut gate of those who weren’t able to make it out before the gates in time terrified all of them. As their screams slowly faded away, the terror grew likewise, as if a ticking time bomb.
Director Miguel Sapochnik outdid himself and scores of his peers here, building up the quiet tension with absolute perfection, slicing through it sharply with action at just the right moments. Even amidst the massive carnage, Sapochnik never forgets the small, human moments that truly make the show what it truly is. Loboda, who gets a bad reputation from the start with him being a Thenn and all, is surprisingly the one who is quickest to take up arms with Jon when he realizes there was no way out but to fight. Karsi’s quiet moment with her two daughters almost seemed to be a guarantee that she was going to be killed off, but the episode drew a surprising amount of power from her and Loboda’s deaths considering we just met them in this hour. Karsi’s death scene was haunting in and of itself, as she stared at the children that included the girl who was the first wight we had met way back in the pilot (a neat callback for the series). She’s absolutely terrified as anyone would be, but seeing children that remind her of her own turned into the monsters that the wights are gave her that heightened emotional paralysis right before the crowd of wight children charged forward, collapsing upon her and devouring her with insatiable hunger.
The true revelations of the night were two-fold. The first was Jon’s thrillingly choreographed fight with a White Walker that proved Valerian steel could kill walkers and the second was the terrifying appearance of the Night’s King. His previous appearance in Season 4’s Oathkeeper was a shocking appearance as we recognized how he created more walkers, but other than that we as an audience weren’t really quite sure what to think about him. That changed this evening, permanently. The Night’s king instantly became a personified terror as he quietly rose his hands upwards and raised the bodies of all who had died in that village into wights. In a matter of seconds, his army that will undoubtedly descend upon Westeros soon enough, grew by the tens of thousands, casualties of stubbornness. It’s a fate that awaits the entire land if unity against the White Walkers isn’t achieved and this was but one small fishing village. The stare he shares with Jon Snow is reminiscent of Melisandre staring at him through the fire and it surely signals an instant significance between the two of them. Edd’s “Oh, fuck” is a pretty close yet understated representation of the absolute thunder of chaos that was let loose upon Hardhome, closing one of the absolute best installments of this entire series amidst a long, darkened silence. Winter is here, but the Long Night is coming.
Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“How do I know you are who you say you are?”
+“I am the greatest Lannister killer of all time.”
+“You need someone who understands Westeros.”
+“Killing and politics aren’t always the same thing.”
+“Why should people trust a queen who can’t keep her promises?”
+“A ruler who kills those devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion.”
+Tyrion openly noting that Jorah is in love with Daenerys
+Jorah exiled again, only to return to the fighting pits next week with advancing greyscale. That poor man.
+The cut between Cersei’s screams to Arya’s face
+The small smile on Arya’s face
+“Belief is so often the death of reason.”
+“There is no escape.”
+“If I could do what Ramsay did to you right here, right now, I would.”
+Dany calling an intervention over Tyrion’s drinking habits: “While you can still speak in complete sentences.”
+Sam and Gilly continuing to bond. The specific callback to the attempted rape of Gilly was a small moment that nevertheless pointed towards Gilly’s strength meant that the show wasn’t simply going to glaze over it
+“Sometimes a man has to make hard choices.”
+“He always comes back.”
+Tormund beating the Lord of Bones to death
+“This isn’t about friendship. This is about survival.”
+“It’s a gift for those who join us.”
+“Ice spiders as big as hounds.”
+Wun Wun the Giant stamping the wights into the ground was just beautiful
+“His arrow was mercy.”
+“No clan can stop them. The free folk can’t stop them. And all the southern kings can’t stop them. Only together, all of us. And even then it may not be enough, but at least we’ll give the fuckers a fight.”
+“What the fuck you looking at?”
+Birgitte Hjort Sorenson did a lot with Karsi. Hats off to her incredible performance
+“Can you enforce those orders?”
+ The wights breaking through the door one piece at a time was a brilliant little creative choice that mislead the audience into placing their attention into a single area.
+Silence and Ramin Djawadi’s score were used in perfect balance here. What a triumph of sound mixing and design.
Written By: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed By: Miguel Sapochnik
Image Courtesy: HBO