Each week, Adam and David Shimer analyze the latest episode of Game of Thrones from the perspective of a non-book reader. This week they discuss ‘Hardhome,’ but first they would like to assign some weekly awards:

Tywin Lannister Memorial Award for Best Political Maneuvering: The Night King
Honorable Mention: Tyrion

Eddard Stark Memorial Award for Worst Political Maneuvering: Jorah (banished yet again)
Honorable Mention: Lord of Bones (he was clearly all talk)

Brandon Stark Award for Most Boring Storyline: Sam and Olly (why is a 10-year-old even in the Night’s Watch?)
Honorable Mention: Gilly (just because…she’s Gilly)

Jaime Lannister’s Right Hand Award for Best Fight Sequence: Battle of Hardhome Honorable Mention: Favorite sequences from the battle: Jon vs. the White Walker and the Giant stomping on zombies left and right

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DS. Wow. ‘Hardhome’ was not only the best episode of Season 5 — it also was the most important. By far. In one episode the show laid the groundwork for the rest of Game of Thrones while also providing much needed momentum. Sure, we have Cersei’s trial and the opening of the fighting pits to look forward to, but suddenly that feels less relevant in regards to the true Game of Thrones. What really matters is to the east and the north because they are about to converge on Westeros and change “the game” as we know it. After seasons and seasons of hints and ominous declarations, we finally saw the White Walkers in action. With Joffrey dead and Ramsay’s character arc as flat and predictable as ever, the show needed a new villain: enter the Night King. Jon Snow’s valiant performance at Hardhome sets him up to be one of the show’s major heroes in the long run. Daenerys and Tyrion, meanwhile, lie thousands of miles away, plotting. It’s almost ironic: Tyrion pondering the allegiances of each house and Dany threatening to “break the wheel.” By the time Dany gets to Westeros, will the wheel even exist? Will the houses she obsesses over still matter? The White Walkers seem poised to cataclysmically disrupt world order — it is up to Dany, Tyrion, and Jon to restore it.

AS: I agree that by focusing on the two main external threats to Westeros — Daenerys and the White Walkers — this episode showed how when viewed from a different perspective, ‘the game’ that all of the top Westerosi houses play is really just a sideshow. Daenerys wants to “break the wheel” and the Night King wants to… actually what does the Night King want? Kill people I guess? Turn the living into the dead? If the King’s Landing politicians have had trouble figuring out the motives of the High Sparrow, good luck negotiating with the Night King. Anyways, in Westeros this episode, Cersei was rolling around in mud like a pig waiting for slaughter, letting out guttural screams and thinking of painful ways to kill her captor, while Ramsay and Roose Bolton looked over a map planning how to best defeat Stannis and his approaching army. They were either experiencing life for the first time without influence, or scheming how to hold onto newly acquired power. ‘The game’ was full of intrigue and engaging moments as it always is, but lacked the usual feelings of importance and gravity because of how breathtaking the Battle of Hardhome was. The Night King’s scorching gaze to close the episode made it apparent where the real fight for Westeros is taking place (hint: its not in Ramsay’s torture chamber or Tommen’s locked bedroom).

DS: To a certain extent I agree, but let’s take a step back for a moment. Would you really care about the White Walkers if you didn’t care about those they threaten? What I’m most excited for isn’t the conflict between Dany and the White Walkers. I’m most excited to see what roles the Westerosi players we know and love — from Olenna and Margaery to Sansa and Arya to Littlefinger and Varys — have to play in the next two seasons. Think about it: Will Arya start assassinating White Walkers? Will Varys advise Dany on how to beat the zombie army? Will Tyrion ride a dragon? Will Jamie redeem himself by stabbing a different king with dragonglass? Will Littlefinger creepily try to manipulate the Night King? I don’t know the answers, but before last night I wasn’t asking myself any of these questions. To a certain extent, Game of Thrones has played itself out in Westeros. Up until now we have more or less been watching the same interactions between the same characters under slightly different circumstances. The White Walkers mean chaos is coming. Get excited Littlefinger.

AS: Chaos has certainly been a ladder for Littlefinger this season, with Sansa up until this point being a casualty of his machinations. But her prospects are certainly starting to look up after this episode. Not only did Ramsay just decide to embark on a seemingly suicidal raid into King Stannis’s encampment, but Theon (cue Theon whimpering “not Theon, its Reek”), finally told Sansa that her two younger brothers are in fact alive. I think it is safe to say that we reached Sansa’s valley at the end of Episode 6, and that she is clearly back on the rise. Sansa and Theon’s conversation was not only significant because it reignited Sansa’s hope, but also because it finally gave us some insight into Theon’s view of his past actions. Season 4 was all Reek — there wasn’t even a glimmer of Theon Greyjoy — but Sansa’s entry into his life has allowed for that part of him to break through again. Theon actually showed remorse for betraying Robb, capturing Winterfell, and butchering the two orphan boys. He realized that what he did was wrong, and that in many ways he deserves all that has happened to him. We have been waiting all season for Theon to redeem himself through some heroic action that would somehow protect Sansa, and yet I think using a quiet conversation as Theon’s breakthrough moment was much more meaningful and resonated more truly in his road to redemption.

DS: Sansa and Arya are both on the upswing, but in very different ways. While Sansa is hoping that Bran and Rickon are alive, Arya has given up on hope. That puts her in a more stable position than practically anyone. Ask yourself: what more does Arya have to lose? Giving up her name means giving up the baggage that comes with it. Earlier in this review I talked about how Hardhome gave Game of Thrones momentum in the north and in the east. Arya’s plotline may be less grand than that of Dany or the White Walkers — but it has just as much momentum. I don’t know if characters in King’s Landing will remain interesting (or even alive) over the next few seasons, but I do know that these three plotlines will only become more relevant and intriguing as Game of Thrones finally moves toward its conclusion.

AS: Random thoughts to close the review —

  • So Valyrian steel (along with dragon glass) has been revealed as a weapon that can kill White Walkers. Where are the other Valyrian steel swords in Westeros? Brienne has one! Maybe that will come in handy soon. There is another one that belonged to Joffrey — unclear whose possession it went into after his death.
  • The interaction between Daenerys and Jorah was all in the eyes.
  • I swear to god if I have to hear Arya scream “oysters, clams and cockles” one more time…
  • “The Night King” wins the award for coolest nickname for a king yet (beats out King Beyond the Wall in a landslide).
  • Poor Tommen is refusing to eat his meals — does the King of the Andals need Cersei to spoon feed him?
  • The woman freefolk leader was probably my favorite single episode character ever. Its a shame her arc was so short, but it definitely resonated. Game of Thrones has a lot of female political leaders, and yet lacks female warriors (Brienne and maybe Arya are the only ones that come to mind).
  • “The work continues” — Qyburn’s ominous final words to Cersei as he exited their fun catch up session. It must be humbling for Cersei to realize that he is her only true ally left in King’s Landing (Jaime is gone, Tommen is weak and Kevan refuses to visit).

M.I.A. this episode: Tyrells, Littlefinger, High Sparrow, Tommen, Brienne, Jaime and Bronn, Stannis and Varys


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