If last week’s “The Gift” represented a shift in the right direction for Game of Thrones, “Hardhome” is the fullest realization of its potential. From clever use of narrative symmetry to payoffs in nearly every major storyline, this week was the show at its very best. J and I parse out each thread before culminating in an in-depth breakdown of the climactic battle.
We begin in King’s Landing where a dejected Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey) continues to try resisting the oppressive captivity of the Faith Militant. We see a new side to her character and I echo J’s assertion from last week about the strength of Headey’s acting. Just as the scene draws to a close, we get a quick tease from Qyburn (Anton Lesser) — “The work continues.” — heavily foreshadowing the results of his work with The Mountain’s corpse.
In Braavos, Arya (Maisie Williams) continues to train with Jaqen H’Ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) to become one of the Faceless Men. It’s at this point that I ask J to clarify what exactly is going on with the House of Black and White, and we conclude that we haven’t quite seen enough to know what this will mean for Arya’s story. Still, speculation runs wild. Who will her first mark be after she deals with the insurance agent? How will the show handle her identity-shifting abilities moving forward?
We also spend some time at The Wall with Olly (Brenock O’Connor), who approaches Sam with many of the same concerns that the Wildlings voice at Hardhome. We react to the strange backlash the internet seems to have against Olly’s character while commiserating on how tired these anti-Crow/anti-Wildling arguments have gotten. Still, I commend the show for using narrative symmetry to help humanize and bolster the Wildling and Night’s Watch points of view.
Sansa has a major revelation at Winterfell when Theon/Reek (Alfie Allen) reveals that he did not in fact murder her brothers. What this means for their relationship is unclear but it’s nice to see that reveal following several weeks of teasing and allusions. Meanwhile the Boltons contemplate what to do about Stannis’s (Stephen Dillane) army. Ramsay Bolton (Iwan Rheon) decides to bring the fight to Stannis himself, propping up what is sure to be a momentous (and possibly fatal) incursion into enemy territory.
One of my favorite sequences this episode comes in Meereen. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) have finally had the chance to meet and everything about their encounter works wonderfully. Tyrion’s wit meets Dany’s will, and the result is a clear marriage of potential. J and I both agree that Daenerys hasn’t been this interesting in ages and that Dinklage/Tyrion’s presence has astronomically improved the time we’re spending in in Essos.
And finally, Hardhome. We spend most of our podcast deconstructing this sequence: audio, visual, narrative, character. The way director Miguel Sapochnik and cinematographer Fabian Wagner use a well-placed one-take (à la Children of Men and Daredevil), audio drops and visual creativity makes this leaps and bounds ahead any battle sequence in Game of Thrones so far. Despite a minor complaint I have about the fantastic – but short-lived – new character Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen), Hardhome tops off what is perhaps the greatest episode of the show since the finale of Season 1.
Feel free to let me have it about that “membership” line. I deserve it.
And, as always, be sure to tune in next week where we’ll discuss Episode 9 of Game of Thrones, “The Dance of Dragons.”