Published on April 20th, 2015 | by Bean0
Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 2 “The House of Black and White”
After the portentous content of the premiere last week, in Game Of Thrones Season 5 episode 2 we start to see characters attempt to make some real headway, though the way ahead is hard. Or ‘the night is dark and full of terrors’, about which the Red Woman loves to bang on. Nearly all threads involve debates as to which action is wisest, with some choosing the right course, and others stumbling on their power.
We open on Arya’s wary gaze as she approaches the giant stone warrior that guards Braavos’ port, following her progress to the titular House of Black and White. Rather than the welcome she perhaps anticipated, she is greeted with a blank look and a quick dismissal from it’s robed inhabitant. She spends a rainy night upon it’s doorstep, compulsively counting off the names of her list – Cersei, Walder Frey, The Mountain, Meryn Trant – until dawn, when she flings the token Jaqen H’ghar gave her into the sea and leaves. By episode close, Arya’s fortunes finally take a turn for the better, and we leave her in the presumably badass hands of ‘a man’ – not Jaqen H’ghar, but a Faceless Man. As she becomes ‘no-one’, who knows what Arya will also transform into.
Back across the narrow sea, Poddrick and Brienne, two of Arya’s last known allies, are having little luck on their own quest. With her offer of service rebuffed by Arya at the close of Season 4, Lady Brienne still appears to be bristling from the affront and wallowing in her lost sense of purpose. So it seems their luck is on the turn when they share a tavern with Brienne’s other sworn charge, Sansa, and her new creepy ‘Uncle’, Littlefinger. Absurdly, of the two, Poddrick shows the most tactical nous, urging caution before they proceed; they are outnumbered and have no means of escape.
Alas, again Brienne proves her faculty for diplomacy is still lacking. Baelish, a master of the back-handed compliment, immediately undercuts her courteous introduction, saying “What did Renly Baratheon say of you? He said your loyalty came free of charge. Someone seems to have paid quite a bit more for it since then!”. (As her lavish armour was indeed supplied by a Lannister, she has no come back). Going down on one knee and proclaiming her oath to Sansa’s late mother may seem to Brienne like the noble best foot forward, but she comes across as stiff and overbearing, and cannot convince when questioned about Renly’s shadowy murderer. Sansa is unmoved, and we have another dismissal.
What follows – Brienne’s attempted capture, a quick slaughter of Baelish’s men, and the flight of Littlefinger and Sansa – could have been avoided, but for the Lady of Tarth’s impetuous overtures. Her sense of honour and bravery, her best strenghts, are robbing her of the tact and persuasion such proceedings require and now she is forced to chase her would-be-ward, who now thinks her possibly mad, cross-country. Side note to Pod; reign that nag in, son. Good grief.
Cersei continues to sling blame about while taking no responsibility for the state of affairs herself. The new crisis, a threat on Myrcella’s life, essentially a captive in Dorne, brings her fury down on Jaime once more. It stretches the imagination to ponder how he could still be enamoured of his sister/lover, as she commands him do something about it, then mocks him for doing it. She later totally fails to ingratiate herself to the Small Council, appointing the controversial Maester Qyburn Master of Whisperers, replacing Varys. Her flattery is poorly executed, and the new Master of War, her own uncle, Kevan Lannister, departs unceremoniously flinging insults at the “Queen Mother”.
She still wields power over Jaime though, and his mission, to retrieve their daughter from the clutches of Oberyn’s grief-ridden and vengeful family, sees him recruit a champion of his own; Bronn. It is at least pleasing to watch Jaime begin to accept his infirmity and employ strategy instead of force alone. There must be some evolution within the Lannister clan, or they really are doomed. How well thought through his plan is remains to be seen.
Cersei’s appraisal of the situation in Dorne is on the money of course, and as Myrcella wanders about the Water Gardens with her betrothed, Prince Doran’s son, Oberyn’s former paramour Ellaria Sand, looks on in a molten mood, like a volcano on the turn. When Sand pushes for retribution, Doran echoes Oberyn’s promise to Cersei that they do not mutilate little girls in Dorne, and his stance seems one of forbearance, following protocol rather than provoke a war. His lack of action only earns him her scorn and the mysterious Sand Snakes who back her are making their moves without his approval. Alexander Siddig is a welcome addition to the ever-burgeoning cast of Game of Thrones, and he appears to be carving himself out a nice niche in ineffectual but proud royalty after his turn in the BBC’s Atlantis.
Meanwhile, Tyrion and Varys have started on the road to Volantis (an Abbott and Costello comedy in the making). The spider gives him more pep talks, and Tyrion finally explains his reluctance to leave King’s Landing with Shae; he enjoyed the power. Some clunky metaphors later and their journey continues. You have to pity Varys his current companionship, or lack thereof. Let’s hope this season’s teaser poster of Tyrion facing a dragon promises a jolt that will bring back a more heroic Lannister.
The most advantageous choice of the episode is made at The Wall, where Jon Snow endures a bollocking from King Stannis, but wins the favour of his comrades in black. Stannis grants Jon his heart’s desire, an offer he (surely) cannot refuse, promising to make him Lord of Winterfell, a true Stark once and for all. Being Jon Snow (i.e. infuriatingly noble) of course, he turns it down.
However, his loyalty is rewarded, and at the election of Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, Samwell gives a persuasive and (to Jon at least) unexpected nomination speech. Tarly’s newfound confidence allows his wit to sell the winning argument. Whooping Alliser Thorn’s be-hind is a tiny triumph, and the slimy oik Janos Slynt is given a proper ribbing! That Maester Aemon (our erstwhile Targeryen elder) casts the deciding ballot is particularly satisfying, and a true vote of confidence in their new leader.
In Meereen, another leader faces difficult political choices. The Second Sons and The Unsullied join forces to root out the murderous Sons of the Harpy, who are picking off their incumbent enemies. Having apprehended the man they seek, Daenerys chooses to hold a fair trial rather than quietly lynch him, a decision met with objections from some of her counsel, namely the warriors and the former slaves.
She is persuaded by Ser Barristan Selmy, whose traumatic experiences with her father, The Mad King, lead him to urge her toward mercy. It is a credible argument, one which visibly affects the Queen, but her authority is slipping, and a man in her command slays the prisoner behind her back. The awful verdict Daenerys reaches, to execute him publicly, causes an ugly uprising of her previously faithful subjects. As the crowd hisses their dissent and begin hurling rocks at the Queen, she realises her mistake. So much for transparency.
In her loneliest hour, Drogon finally returns home. There is a beautiful moment between the mother of dragons and her prodigal son, he purring with pleasure, her awe and joy at his homecoming in evidence, as well as some fear. Perhaps it is this which he senses, drawing back at the last to fly away over the city. Somebody build that lady a saddle – she needs majesty now more than ever.
Review by Nina Clark
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