Published on June 2nd, 2015 | by Bean


Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 8 “Hardhome”

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If it was excitement audiences wanted from Game of Thrones, look no further than “Hardhome”. The eighth episode of Season 5 draws as much dramatic tension and satisfaction from it’s conversations as from it’s fight scenes, as the show always has, but while grumblings have aired in the fan ranks at the slow pace of this season, surely none can naysay this instalment? Whilst it may be infamous for it’s carnage and debauchery, HBO’s flagship production is inherently a political drama, a show about dialogue; the real meat of the turmoil lies in the words and schemes, not the sword and sorcery (watch me eat those words later). For my money, Season 5 has revealed more and advanced further in it’s 8 episodes than much of the prior 40 episodes put together.

The various consultations in tonight’s episode range from regal majesty wrangling with drunken home truths, to Giants telling Crows to piss off in a language that sounds like a troll chewing granite. A charming array of confabulations, to be sure. The tether that links them is honesty, a long absent component in the discussions of Westeros where lies and deceit are the usual order of the day. More characters get down to brass tacks in “Hardhome” than ever before, and most arrestingly, with people we’ve been waiting for them to meet and greet for years.
The audience of the youngest Lannister with the the Stormborn Queen is everything I could have hoped it would be. Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke seem to be having as good a time as the viewers, parrying each other’s quick tongues with graceful ease. Tyrion’s counsel wins Daenerys’ favour by not sugar-coating the facts, the writers relying upon Tyrion’s natural wit and wisdom to earn her cautious trust. As he deconstructs the dilemma of Ser Jorah, an initial test of his services, he gives good account of the knight’s fidelity, betrayal notwithstanding. And yet, he does not discard the breach of faith, but advises mercy and dismissal.


The wisdom in Tyrion’s claim that “A ruler who kills those devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion” rings true, and Daenerys is wise enough herself to acknowledge it. However, as she proclaims Jorah’s banishment for a second time, there is much emotion behind her eyes where before there was steely hatred, an unspoken sorrow that their association cannot continue, their bond never be healed. This time she lets herself feel the loss, is honest with herself that she grieves his leaving.


Ser Jorah is not afforded the opportunity to speak his truth, so Tyrion does it for him, while Iain Glen continues to convey more in a glance or sigh than a thousand eloquent speeches could. When Jorah does express his feelings it is not with his Queen, as he wished, but with the slaver who bought him, the only man left who can connect him to his beloved Khaleesi, however vaguely. As Tyrion and Deanerys discuss their father later, the former is reluctant to explain his patricidal reasons. He’s not ready to face that fact yet, not with her. Though when Daenerys later cuts Tyrion’s boozing off, calling him out as an old soak, we can see understanding being born between these two new allies. As Rousseau is purported to have said, “A drunk mind speaks a sober heart”. Fingers crossed then.

While the Faith Militant’s nun’s-from-hell endeavour to tempt a confession from Cersei in Kings Landing, the Queen Mother remains resolute in her bitter stubbornness. Certainly, she may have few options at this point – essentially admit guilt to her many crimes or die of thirst, starvation, humiliation, or a combination thereof – but Cersei is wed to her own destruction. Her inability to own her sins publicly, the impossibility of that situation and it’s implications is what truly binds her. Living the lie for so long has made it reflex. She may declare doom on her captors, but it is her own ugly fate she seals by persisting with denial.


Obviously, we shouldn’t count the Lannister out. Qyburn’s visit may be a miserable packet of home-truths about her incarceration, isolation and hopelessness, but his enigmatic parting comment that “the work continues” is a slim strand, a light in the dark for her. He is persevering in his ‘project’ with the Mountain, whether more through a sense of curiosity and gladness that he can indulge such arts in her service than through actual loyalty; whatever the reason, her last weapon is not lost yet.

In Braavos, Arya must find the truth in what is still, for her, role-play. While she savours the mission, she must believe it or all will be for naught; merely a performance. Her becoming must be total, an immersion in another person. The scene with Jaqen feels a bit like a cabbie doing the knowledge, but Arya is in the process of surrendering her identity; whether she finally succumbs to the undertaking or not will likely be decided by what she is and isn’t willing to yield of her self. There is an air of submission about all this that doesn’t jibe well with Arya’s personality. Perhaps if she does succeed, what remains will be all the more powerful for it. If her self is the last thing she must lose, we can only hope the sacrifice is worth it.


Her sister, still captive bride to a psychopath, knows much about sacrifice, but at least she makes a discovery in “Hardhome”. Whilst Ramsey and Roose compare tactics for Stannis’ oncoming onslaught (the elder’s being the wiser by far – oh please let Ramsey’s hubris be his bloody undoing!), Sansa prises the real truth about Theon’s murderous misdeeds and treachery from Reek, finally learning that her two younger brothers may still be alive. Theon begins to confess this in the third person, distancing his new Reek-self from Theon’s betrayals, but when he says “I deserved everything… I did terrible things” we see the two fused, Gollum and Smeagle.

His remorse is sincere, and he confronts his own immorality baldly. Theon was always a character that lacked something. His father abandoned him to Ned Stark’s guardianship, and regardless that his new father figure showed him kindness, the wound festered, souring his ability to trust others. Theon is Iron-born, and the best way to degrade iron is salt-water. As he sheds honest tears, Sansa can sense some of the Reek ritual falling away, regardless that he tries to claw his protective identity back as he flees her.

And so to the Wall, and beyond. Sam’s hard truths with Ollie give us a brief insight into the continued dissent at the Lord Commander’s decision to head north with Tormund to the Wildlings, but “Hardhome” gives the last half of it’s running time to Jon’s parley at the titular port. This turns out to be smart storytelling, as the activity between the Crows and the Free-folk starts with the coiled tension of their arrival, and builds unbearably until all hell breaks loose. Literally.


Tormund proves useful in establishing the wary alliance with the Wildlings. His no-bullshit attitude blows right past the Lord of Bones, and into the summit with the Elders. His firm hand guides proceedings, but Jon Snow is the man that must sell the argument, and while he cannot persuade the bolshy Thenns (hey-ho), he convinces 5000 Wildlings that his mission is valid. The rest are not so wise and pay for it immediately, as a horde of White Walker pawns descend upon Hardhome’s harbour folk. Game of Thrones gives us much to marvel at in “Hardhome”’s final half. I may have been chanting “SPIDERS!” to no avail, but nothing about the Wildling/Crow/Walker fight disappoints, and each moment is shot beautifully, gliding and tumbling between apposite slow-motion and rapid, disorienting edits of the carnage.


The ensuing battle outdoes any of Game of Thrones’ previous conflicts. The attack is relentless, annihilating nearly all the participants, be they a fierce fighter or an old fishwife. Their lone giant scatters skeletons from his path and shakes them from his back, stomping on any strays, but he is one against thousands and as he wades into the water in retreat he looks done in. Jon Snow faces his most fearsome foe yet, as one of the Walker lords enters the fray. The revelation that Valerian steel (right?) can obliterate a White Walker is cause for massive celebration, as who the heck knows where to get Dragonglass from?! The fight is brutal and pretty terrifying, but not nearly as chilling as the Walker King’s gesture to Snow as he departs the harbour in shock; with a wave of his arms, the undead arise.


Review by Nina Clark

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