Rukma: This episode raised a question for me that art critics and literary scholars have often wrestled with, one that refuses to resolve itself: do narratives and imagery work similarly to tell stories? As good questions tend to do, the original spawns auxiliaries: is one better than the other? Are images narrative? Are narratives imagistic? While visual art and prose narrative might subtly imbricate the two, film and television are conspicuous in their combination of visual and verbal storytelling. Good television masters both techniques and hold them in delicate balance. Great television manipulates the balance to produce specific affective responses. Gorgeous images combined with superb narrative technique propels “Hardhome” to the very top of my (and almost everybody’s) episode rankings for this season. It follows on the heels of a pretty routine torture-and-tedium episode from last week, and begins with a series of check-ins with increasingly less relevant characters. If the latter half of the episode was a triumph of narrative, the first half was a constellation of images. The images–Theon’s trembling profile sillhouetted against the window, Arya’s tiny smile of triumph, Cersei’s hair tumbling over her face as she scrabbles for water, Tyrion and Dany dreaming about a better Westeros–lay the emotional groundwork for the narrative to do its work. They take their beholder to an affective resonant frequency, allowing the final half-hour story to wreak as much as emotional impact as possible.
Dylan: For once, an episode where the majority of the action takes place north of the Wall was interesting. Well, interesting enough. Jon Snow looks like a sad, helpless puppy and is also almost killed (for the umpteenth time), but at least Tormund is back and the other wildlings, especially one kickass wildling woman, manage to make the last half of the episode really riveting. Excellent dialogue between Tyrion and Daenerys (who are all of a sudden allies), scenes of a destitute Cersei suffering through her imprisonment, and Arya’s first assignment as a faceless assassin make this episode one of the better ones we’ve seen this season in my opinion. That’s really about all that happens this episode, though, and several characters—Brienne and Podrick, Jaime and Bronn, Stannis and Melisandre, Margaery and Loras—are unfortunately left hanging, their plotlines sacrificed for the almost thirty-minute scene beyond the Wall. Now that we’ve gotten the obligatory confrontation with the White Walkers out of the way, I’m hoping this means we’ll mostly stay South for the last two episodes of the season. At least we can actually see what’s happening down there…
SPOILER ALERT: The rest of this review contains spoilers for Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 8: “Hardhome.”
Tyrion, Jorah, Daenerys, and Missandei have an intense face-off in the pyramid. Daenerys asks Tyrion what he thinks she should do with Jorah.
Rukma: Missandei’s abs, though. She’s really cut.
Dylan: Cute top, too.
Tyrion: Killing and politics are not the same thing.
Rukma: YES! This is what I’ve been saying in every review. Preach, Tyrion!
Tyrion: Whomever Ser Jorah was…
Dylan: We always appreciate proper grammar.
In a bizarre twist, Daenerys decides to make Tyrion her advisor but banishes Jorah.
Rukma: This whole “Jorah is a boring person” storyline is boring. I cannot be persuaded to be sad. Like, this music is sad, but I’m just not that sad.
Dylan: Yeah, Dany has better advisors anyway. Like Tyrion now, I guess.
A crazy nun of the Faith tries to get Cersei to confess by hitting her with a ladle.
Dylan: Whose resting bitch face is better: Cersei’s, or this nun’s?
Rukma: Ooh, tough.
In Braavos, Arya is given her first assignment as an oyster-shucking orphan girl.
Dylan: Those oysters look so good.
Rukma: Ugh, now I want an oyster.
Dylan: Let’s just go get oysters.
Arya sees the Thin Man cheat widows and children out of money, so she kills him at Jaquen’s request. Arya has also finally started speaking with third-person pronouns, which gives her so much edge. That other girl at White House Black Market (or whatever) expresses doubt that Arya is ready, but Jaquen gives no fucks.
Rukma: Jaquen’s motto is my motto: perhaps I fail, perhaps I don’t, it’s all the same to the Many-Faced God.
Maester Qyburn (Dr. Frankenstein) visits Cersei in her cell, and she denies all of the absolutely true charges against her. We learn, unsurprisingly, that Tommen has done nothing about his wife and mother rotting in jail.
Theon delivers afternoon tea to Sansa, who confronts him about his many betrayals of her family. He reveals that he actually didn’t kill Bran and Rickon, but instead killed two innocent farm boys, which is supposed to make us feel better.
Dylan: Bran hasn’t shown up for eight episodes and I’m praying we make it through ten.
Meanwhile, Ramsay and Roose disagree over how to fight Stannis’s army. Roose wants to let them die in the snow, which Ramsay wants to venture out of Winterfell to fight them. In other words, Ramsay is an idiot.
Back in Meereen, Tyrion and Dany enjoy a nice glass of wine and throw shade at each other and others.
Dylan: This is literally us.
Rukma: You’re Dany, the cute, badass one. And I’m Tryion, the cynical wine drinker.
Dylan: …oh, okay.
Tyrion: We’re both terrible people.
Dylan: Wow, still us.
Tyrion: If you execute me, at least my last days will have been interesting.
Rukma: And drunk. Interesting and drunk.
Dany takes Tyrion’s wine away to show him who’s boss. Using a spinning wheel as a metaphor for the great houses of Westeros, she declares that she’s going to break the wheel. Aggressive, but we’re so about it. Meanwhile, Jorah sells himself back into slavery for a chance to fight in the fighting pits for Daenerys one more time.
Dylan: Oh my god. I’m so done with him.
Rukma: Give it up, Jorah, she’s just not that into you.
In King’s Landing, Cersei licks water off the filthy stone floor while dreaming up hideous ways for the resting bitch faced nun to die. Then, up North, Sam and Gilly have a sweet scene.
Gilly: Does it hurt?
Dylan: It clearly does, Sam.
Olly asks Sam whether or not he believes in Jon Snow’s plan to fight with the Wildlings; Sam, the perfect sidekick, has unwavering faith in his Lord Commander.
Rukma: Go away, Olly. This show didn’t need ten-year-old boys when Bran Stark was around and it doesn’t need you now.
On the other side of the Wall, Jon Snow, Tormund, and their allies land in Hardhome, where the wildlings are.
Dylan: Jon Snow looks like a sad dog.
Rukma: Tormund looks much hotter. Just look at that angular face. Jon needs to lose this fur and get his peplum back.
Rukma tries to convince Dylan that the inevitable war with the White Walkers will be interesting. Dylan continues to give no fucks about anything north of King’s Landing.
Rukma: You are such a Southerner.
Dylan: Why yes. Yes I am.
Tormund brutally bludgeons the Lord of Bones before meeting with the wildling elders to negotiate their alliance.
Rukma: It’s official: Tormund Giantsbane has replaced Stannis as Lord of my Ovaries.
Jon Snow: My name is Jon Snow. I am Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
Dylan: HE DID IT AGAIN. He fucking did it again! I hate Jon Snow.
Rukma: It’s like Jon Snow is always at an imaginary Career Fair, constantly reintroducing himself as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch.
Rukma: Why couldn’t Tormund have given Jon Snow’s speech instead?
Dylan: It would’ve been a lot less basic…
Jon Snow reveals, like the drama queen he is, that he shot Mance Rayder through the heart. He is almost killed, but Tormund provides much needed context. This dope wildling woman appears and sasses the fuck out of everyone.
Dylan: Are the zombies a metaphor for global warming?
Rukma: Can the zombies just be zombies, please?
Tormund: Jon Snow’s prettier than both my daughters, but he can fight.
Dylan: The thing is I don’t believe his daughters aren’t pretty because Tormund is SO pretty.
Rukma: Yep, wildling women are clearly hot af, I mean look at Ygritte.
Dylan: Not to mention this one who just showed up.
The wildlings agree to work with the crows and begin heading to the boats. Dylan and Rukma debate whether or not the wildling woman will die, have sex with Jon Snow, or both (so far, these have been correlated). When she hugs her two small children goodbye, it becomes obvious that she is going to die.
Rukma: Parting from children is almost always death foreshadowed.
Rukma: Tormund! Put me in your boat and take me away!
In the worst possible coincidence, the White Walkers attack Hardhome on the SAME EXACT DAY that Jon Snow and Tormund arrive, storming the wildling settlement mere hours after they agreed to evacuate south of the wall. An epic battle ensues.
Jon Snow kills a powerful zombie with his Valyrian steel sword named Longclaw, barely escaping with his life. The badass wildling woman fights through, like, fifty zombies before being taken down by a bunch of zombie babies. (What?)
Dylan: Why couldn’t Jon Snow have been killed instead?
Rukma: Oh my god.
Dylan: I’m just saying.
Having been almost completely slaughtered, Jon Snow, Tormund and the others retreat to the sea. The Night’s King (leader of the White Walkers) reanimates the fresh corpses of the slain wildlings as Jon Snow stares back in horror. As usual, we are sad.
Rukma: It was clear, by the end of the episode, that nothing happening south of Winterfell and west of Braavos is relevant anymore. Arya, Dany, and Jon have the most significant storylines, and while Olenna-Cersei faceoffs and fragrant water gardens can be entertaining, they just don’t carry enough import to change where Westeros and Essos are headed. Which, in the case of the former, is directly into the arms of Winter and the White Walkers unless Lord Commander Jon Snow stops the onslaught. It can be hard, with a story as fragmented as Thrones, to focus on one strand for too long. And yet, on very rare occasions, Benioff and Weiss stick to one story for a whole episode. “Blackwater” in Season 2 did it, and “The Watchers on the Wall” did it last season. And they were two of the best hours of television Thrones has delivered. This episode espouses a hybrid format, beginning with the obligatory plot-stagnating vignettes but finishing with a concentrated half hour of narrative pyrotechnics. It had all the elements our fiction teachers told us good stories should have–Sam and Olly’s introductory discourse, slow rising action as Jon and Tormund parleyed with the Wildling elders, an epically climactic zombie fight, and desolate falling action as Jon rowed away to Castle Black. Giants, acrobatic choreography, war music, special effects, and a prettily-rumpled Jon Snow were sprinkles on the cupcake. But I’ll stop being facetious, and take a moment to mourn the almost-Ygritte lady who is now a Wight.
Dylan: Of course, OF COURSE, they introduce a badass female character who’s not only wise as fuck but a warrior AND a mother, only to kill her the very same episode. I’m serious about Jon Snow dying; Game of Thrones used to be notorious for unexpectedly killing off major characters, but every death this season has been utterly predictable (with the sole exception of Barristan Selmy). Episode nine is just around the corner, so perhaps I’ve spoken too soon, but really. On another note: I’m glad karma is finally catching up to Cersei, but I still adore her, so it’s hard not to cringe at her suffering even if she does deserve it. I’m terrified as to what they’ll do to her before the season is over, though I’m confident they won’t kill her. Cersei, Tyrion, Daenerys, Jon Snow, and Arya: these are the characters I’d bet will last at least a couple more seasons. The only characters. Watch the fuck out, everyone else: Benioff and Weiss are coming for you.
Photos courtesy of here