NOTE: Full spoilers for this episode of Game of Thrones are present in this review
Well, so much for some of this season’s slower elements! Game of Thrones gave us an early prelude to what will likely be the traditional ninth episode season climax next week, as Jon’s mission to unite the Wildlings with the Night’s Watch took a very unexpected turn. Believe me, I will get to that.
Before I say anything else however, allow me to note that “Hardhome” is far and away the season’s best episode yet. It may even be one of the series’ overall best yet! After spending so much time wallowing in predictable, tired plot developments with many characters, Season Five finally found its sense of shock again, throwing a major curveball that appears to upend a good chunk of the series, not just with Jon, but also with Daenerys, who has some surprising developments of her own, now that she’s officially met Tyrion.
To start however, we finally check in with Arya over at Braavos, who now seems to have come along nicely in her training as a Faceless Man. Now getting better at the Lying Game under Jaqen H’Ghar, Arya patrols the docks of Braavos, keeping watch on a man who extorts the family of a sea captain, who must die for an insurance payout. Jaqen H’Ghar eventually tells Arya to take a gift to the man, no doubt awarding Arya her first assassination mission. It was a brief start with Arya, but it was very satisfying to see her still on the way to becoming a Faceless Man.
Over in Winterfell, Sansa is locked in her chamber, and gets the chance to confront Theon about ratting her out to Ramsay. Theon tells her that there is no escape from Ramsay, who broke him apart, piece by piece. Sansa has a pretty intense moment here, as she tells Theon that she would do everything that Ramsay did to him over again, after his murder of her two brothers. Despite Theon’s initial apprehension however, he eventually confesses that Bran and Rickon are still alive (though frustratingly absent from this season, apparently), and that he actually killed and burned two farm boys that he passed off as the youngest Starks. This appears to give Sansa renewed hope, and should continue to fuel escape attempts from Ramsay, though Theon’s days could very well be numbered, especially if a successful escape or killing of Ramsay by Sansa is traced back to him.
Meanwhile, also in Winterfell, things continue to look bad for Stannis, as Roose begins for siege preparations, appearing to have a considerable upper hand. Before any battle takes place though, the show offers a surprise, with Ramsay convincing his father to let him meet Stannis with just twenty good men. What exactly is Ramsay up to? Might he be conspiring against his father to take Winterfell? It would be another effective shock, seeing as Roose just named Ramsay as a true Bolton, and may have just signed his death warrant in doing so. We know Ramsay. He’s not a nice fellow, after all.
As for King’s Landing, we got a nice look at a thirsty, starving and dirtied-up Cersei, who is rotting in the cells of the Red Keep, probably not too far from Margaery. The Sparrows continually urge her to confess, but Cersei is undeterred, even as she must suck water from the floor. Her warning to Septa Unella also stays steadfast, with Cersei promising the Septa that she will kill her. Cersei also gets a formal list of charges read to her, including that she is being charged not only with incest, but also for the murder of Robert Baratheon, which she claims are all lies, but hey, we know better.
What’s more interesting here is Cersei being told that Grand Maester Pycelle has sent back for Cersei’s Uncle Kevan, having now seized control of the Small Council. Apparently, Kevan also refuses to visit Cersei in prison as well, which is ironic, since Kevan was Cersei’s only visitor in the source novels. Anyway, after delivering this news, Qyburn says that work on Cersei’s plan continues. Could Cersei have even accounted for being captured?! That seems shrewd, even for her, but you never know…
Anyway, over on Essos, the first meeting between Tyrion and Daenerys definitely didn’t disappoint. The tense initial dialogue between these two was another great chance for Tyrion to show off his silver tongue, getting Jorah out of a death sentence, yet also at the cost of him being exiled out of Meereen again. Tyrion also successfully convinces Daenerys to recruit him into her service as an advisor, seemingly taking the place of Jorah’s former role, and gives it to Daenerys straight about the difficulty of taking the Iron Throne with just dragons alone. It’s about time that someone told Daenerys that conquering Westeros isn’t as simple as waving some dragons around! Still, it’s interesting, as Tyrion might just end up being the final diplomatic edge that Daenerys needs before being able to stake her claim on the Iron Throne. I also get the feeling that a meeting between the armies of Daenerys and Stannis might end up being a big centerpiece in Season Six…
The Essos scenes end with Jorah returning to his former purchaser, urging to let him fight in the Great Pit. Surely, Jorah isn’t that cocky about his skills, is he? More than likely however, since he’s contracted Greyscale, Jorah is no doubt going to die, and wants Daenerys to see it, as a final show of Jorah’s devotion. I guess it’s better than waiting for the Greyscale to take him…
As usual for Season Five though, the best scenes were had with the Night’s Watch. At The Wall proper, we see Olly debate with Sam as to why Jon must rally the Wildlings. Gilly is also tending to Sam’s injuries at the same time, and one has to wonder if she’s really that rough in bed! In all seriousness, this scene mainly just served to set up for the bombshell later though, and boy was this a twist!
Jon and Tormund end up making it to Hardhome, announcing a nice greeting by killing the acting leader of the Wildlings (yay?), before meeting with the Wildling elders to discuss an alliance. Jon tells them in no uncertain terms that the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings must unite, as they will both be decimated by the coming of the White Walkers individually. After Tormund vouches for Jon, most of the tribes unite under him, but there’s little time to celebrate. Why?
White Walker attack!! Yep, “Hardhome” threw a hell of a curveball by having the White Walkers instigate a surprise attack on the Wildlings. A long, vicious and chaotic battle sequence is had, which single-handedly makes up for most of Season Five’s sad lack of action for the most part. This is an incredibly-realized sequence that is brutal, violent, and very intense.
Best of all however is the reveal that the White Walkers can’t destroy Jon’s sword. Jon’s sword also kills them, appearing to imply that old Valyrian Steel may have similar properties as Dragonglass, perhaps because it’s forged with dragon fire. This seems to fuel the fire of Jon being the reincarnation of legendary hero, Azor Ahai, whom Melisandre believes that Stannis is, and whom many fan theories point to Jon actually being. Jon did inherit his sword, so there might be more to this, but it would seem like pretty definitive indication that Jon will play a key part in the White Walker scourge to come.
Anyhow, with most of the Wildlings slaughtered, including several of the elders that Jon managed to rally to his cause, Jon and the survivors are left to sail away as the Wildling King is shown raising the dead to join his White Walker army. As the numbers grow, and Jon looks back in despair, things look incredibly grim. We knew that the White Walkers were dangerous, but never has the show made them seem like such a clear and present danger as it has right now. Winter is coming, indeed…
Despite this very bleak ending though, Game of Thrones delivered one of its best episodes overall this week, not just in Season Five. “Hardhome” was an intense, action-packed winner that effectively built up to its big climactic battle, while also giving great focus to all of the other major personalities in King’s Landing, Winterfell and Braavos. Dorne was the only location that sat out this week, but honestly, that wasn’t so bad, seeing as this season can’t seem to find anything useful to do with Dorne at this point.
As I said though, all of the pieces seem to be in place for a spectacular season climax next week. As excellent as it was, “Hardhome” is no doubt just the tip of the iceberg…
- Tyrion/Daenerys exchange
- Sansa learning her brothers are alive
- Outstanding surprise battle with the White Walkers at Hardhome