Another Sunday another Game of Thrones. In which a girl gets her first gig, a half-man meets a Khaleesi, and a Queen Mother gets introduced to the business end of a spoon. Oh yeah, and zombies. Lots and lots of zombies. So who saw that World War Z mashup coming? I guess if you’re going to veer away from the text, you might as well go big. With an army of the dead and whatnot. Let’s recap.
We start off exactly where we left off, in Meereen, as Tyrion and his one-time-captor Ser Jorah Mormant now stand before Daenerys. It’s a scene book readers have long been waiting for–the fated meeting between the smarmy “Imp” and the Khaleesi. And it has all the witty banter (with promises of more to come) that you could possibly hope for.
Jorah is the first one to try to speak, but before he can even get beyond “Your Grace,” Dany tells him to save it: “You will not speak.” She instead peppers Tyrion with questions: “How do I know you’re who you say you are? If you’re Tyrion Lannister, the family that betrayed mine, why don’t I just kill you?” In pure Tyrion fashion, our favorite half-man points out dourly that he killed his mother with his birth and only recently killed his father. If she’s looking for Lannister killers as revenge, he claims to be the greatest killer of Lannisters–ever. When she asks if this is why she should enter him into her service (for killing Lannisters), he quips, “Into your service? Your grace, we only just met–it’s too soon to know if you deserve my service.”
And here we set up much of the banter to come–in which Tyrion engages in a back and forth with Dany on the ideology of what makes a good ruler. He makes it plain several times that while she’s interviewing him for the job, he’s interviewing her in turn. This picks up with a theme that we saw earlier, the very reason Tyrion (quite reluctantly) ends up setting out with Varys–to find someone worthy of the Iron Throne. If she’s there to find out if he’s a worthy adviser, he’s there to find out if she’s worth having as a ruler.
He tells her bluntly that she has no understanding of Westeros, the very place she wants so badly to rule–the houses or power struggles she will encounter. When she points out she has a very large army and three dragons (that’s overstating it, as they’ve all gone feral), Tyrion shoots back: “Killing and politics aren’t always the same thing.” He says he will advise a ruler worth the name–if that’s indeed what she is.
Dany says, okay, first test for the adviser job then–what to do with Jorah? Should she kill him, as she’s stated she would if he showed his face again, or let him go? Tyrion weighs Jorah’s crimes–his spying and betrayal–against his devotion to her, and all he’s done to try and earn her favor. Also points out the rather obvious fact that Jorah’s smitten and in love with her. He says a ruler can’t kill people who are devoted to them and then expect the devotion of others–but he also says that Jorah’s betrayal, that he did not trust her to tell her the truth, and her earlier edict, make it impossible for her to rule with him by her side.
We get to see Jorah’s heart break as his Khaleesi dismisses him–again. When we next see him, with the sentence of becoming a Stone Man marked on his wrist, he’s voluntarily returned to his former slave owner. He wants the chance to fight in the pits of Meereen again, hopefully in front of the Queen. A sucker for love and a man with nothing else to lose, two dangerous qualities.
When we see Dany and Tyrion again, they’re continuing their verbal jousting over some wine. They both acknowledge they are two terrible children of terrible parents. Tyrion gives Dany points for the decision to reopen the fighting pits and to marry Hizdahr zo Loraq, making a marked comparison with his sister’s inability to make similarly wise decisions in ruling. When he brings up Varys however, Dany balks–remembering him as the spy who Jorah reported to, who helped hunt her all these years as a child. Tyrion however offers an alternative view, that crafty Varys did what he must but also kept her alive. In a way, they might both owe their continued existence to The Spider. Tyrion even says Varys just might be the only man he trusts.
There’s also a part about how Jaime killed her father. Awkward. But Tyrion takes it in stride.
An impressed Dany decides in the end not to have him killed, but to make him her adviser. His first bit of advice is to suggest that maybe she doesn’t want the squabbling mess that’s Westeros. Maybe she should stick to what she’s built here as the great white savior. He points out that she doesn’t have as many backers as she believes in Westeros. While he lets slide her naive notion that the “common folk” will rise up for her, he lists the various houses who will likely not come to her side. And he says she needs wealthy and powerful allies if she plans to take back the Iron Throne. Dany however scoffs, repeating the names of famous houses: Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell. They’re all just spokes on a wheel, she says, spinning and crushing all beneath them. Tyrion finds it quaint, even idealistic, that she believes she can stop that wheel. But Dany assures him she doesn’t intend to stop the wheel–she intends to break it.
Meanwhile in King’s Landing, Cersei finds herself (in the mother of ironies) in a cell in the Sept–a prisoner of the very High Sparrow and the religious fanatics she helped empower. Decked out in a dingy prison sackcloth, the former Queen Mother is a wreck of her usual haughty self. No fine gowns and sauntering about the palace with a glass of wine now. Instead, she sits in a corner as a burly Sept nun hands her a ladle of water. “Confess,” the nun says. When Cersei asks to see Tommen instead, she gets slapped across the face with the ladle. Ouch. When in anger she tries to threaten the nun, smack goes the ladle again. She’s left to huddle in darkness, frustration and rage–where all she can do is scream.
She does get one visitor, of all people the failed maester and King’s Landing’s own personal mad scientist–Qyburn. He basically tells her what’s been going on since she’s been gone. She’s had charges against her and she’s about to be on trial for e’rything. I mean e’rything–sleeping with her cousin, her brother, treason in murdering the former king, you name it. The skeleton ain’t just out the closet, it’s brought along the whole damn cemetery. A desperate Cersei asks about Tommen, but Qyburn says the punk-ass-enest-king in the history of punk-ass kings is mostly just brooding in his rooms, refusing to eat or drink. There’s no word on Jaime either.
Worse still, her political enemies are moving against her. Old man Maester Pycelle has invited her uncle Kevan Lannister of Casterly Rock (Lancel’s father and the guy who told her off earlier) to take over the small council, leaving her out in the cold. None of them will even come visit her. Qyburn tells her there is a way out–perhaps the only way out. She has to confess, whether the charges are “true” (and they are) or not.
An indignant Cersei angrily protests against all of this–pointing out that she’s not going to confess to the very man (the High Sparrow) that she helped make! But she gets too loud, and that burly Sept nun shows up. Qyburn, enigmatic as always, takes this as his cue to leave. The Sept nun returns later, with that ladle and again offers Cersei the chance to confess. Cersei instead tries to think of all the ways the woman will die–and tells her so. The nun leaves eventually, but not before pouring the water on the floor. The humiliated Queen Mother, dying of thirst, is forced to crawl and bend on hands and knees to lick the drops from the stone. Oh how the mighty have fallen.
Over in Braavos at the House of Black and White, Arya is learning how to serve the Many-Faced God. We see her reciting a well-crafted persona to the temple priest with Jaqen H’ghar’s face, casting herself as an orphan girl who sells oysters in a cart by the canals. She’s given an assignment, to spy and learn as much as she can on a gambler who runs bets on ship voyages. Arya sells him oysters (which he likes with vinegar) and witnesses a desperate ship captain being dragged away. She learns the gambler’s cheating such desperate men and leaving their families destitute.Those families must then turn to the Many-Faced God for justice. Jaqen tells her to keep watching the gambler as the orphan persona, and produces a vial (of what we can guess is poison) as a gift to give him eventually.
A satisfied Arya walks off, smiling content with her assassins’ mission. The other creepy girl who occupies the temple sees her go and tells Jaqen that she (Arya) isn’t ready. He shrugs maybe she is and maybe she isn’t–but that don’t matter to the Many-Faced God. Either way one supposes, someone will end up dead.
Meanwhile in the North, Theon enters to do his part as Sansa’s servant at Winterfell. When she sees him, she demands to know why he betrayed her to Ramsay–which resulted in that old woman being killed and dashed any chance she had of escape. Theon says he’s Reek now, that he had to do it, to save her. He says he tried to escape once, but Ramsay hunted him, found him, and then cut pieces (we know which ones) off him.
An angry Sansa retorts–good. She says that what Ramsay did to him was all he deserved, and if she could do it herself she would. Theon accepts it, saying he deserves to be Reek now. He lays out his crimes, betraying Robb, taking Winterfell, killing “those boys.” An enraged Sansa cuts him off and demands he acknowledges “those boys'” names–her brothers, Brandon and Rickon. She badgers him to say it, and in the midst of this Theon breaks and confesses–the two boys killed weren’t Brandon and Rickon. They were two hapless farmers’ boys whose names we’ll never know. And for the first time Sansa realizes, her younger brothers are alive. She tries to ask Theon if he knows where the two might be, but he shouts “Not Theon! Reek!” and then exits the room. Drama.
Elsewhere in the castle, Ramsay, his father and their war council are having a talk over a map detailing Stannis’s approaching forces. Daddy Roose Bolton says they should just wait things out behind their walls: take a defensive position and let the weather wear down Stannis’s forces. Ramsay however suggests they should hit the enemy while it’s weak. When his father objects that they’d never get an army out there, he retorts he doesn’t need an army–just 20 good men. That’s gonna be messy.
Out at The Wall, Gilly tends to a busted up Samwell Tarly–both of who acknowledge that things at Castle Black are getting out of hand with Jon gone. They’re interrupted by Olly, who gets Samwell alone to question Jon’s actions–pointing out again that Wildlings killed his family. Samwell attempts to convince Olly that Jon is doing all of this because he recognizes a greater threat out there–the White Walkers. He tells a skeptical Olly that this is definitely a risk, but that sometimes a man has to make hard choices, even if they don’t look right to others. Olly seems to listen to this, but we’re not sure how exactly he’s going to interpret it.
Out in the waaaay North, Jon Snow is rowing with several Night’s Watch and Tormund Giantsbane on the way to Hardhome–the icy freehold of the Freefolk. They’re greeted just as you expect, by gathered Wildlings who stare at the return of one of their leaders in the company of Crows.
They don’t make it too far through the assembled crowd before they’re met by the Lord of Bones. Old Rattleshirt asks what in the Old Gods is Tormund doing here, with a Crow escort? Jon ends up replying that Tormund isn’t his prisoner, that he’s his ally. This is met with incredulity by Rattleshirt who calls Tormund a traitor who fights for the Crows–then pokes Giantsbane one too many times in the chest with his bone club, while intimating he engages in sex acts with the pretty boy Lord Commander. Musta been one polk too many because Tormund grabs that bone club and promptly beats Rattleshirt to death with it as others watch. Anymore questions? I ain’t think so.
The gathered leaders of the Freefolk, including a giant (a real live giant!) gather to hear Jon’s proposal. He tells them they aren’t friends and he’s not here to be friends–but that they all face a greater enemy, the White Walkers. He’s here to bring them behind the wall, to give them land to farm and forge an alliance. He even shows them his secret weapon he’s willing to share with them–dragon glass, the only known thing to have killed White Walkers as stated in the old legends, and as we seen done by Samwell Tarly.
As you can imagine, many aren’t buying it. This includes especially a pretty angry Thenn. When Jon brings up their old leader Mance Rayder, the Thenn asks–“yeah, where is Mance anyway?” Jon answers truthfully–he put an arrow through his heart. Things get tumultuous and tense then, and it looks like a fight. But Tormund steps in and gives the full explanation–that Jon’s act was one of mercy as Mance was being burned alive by Stannis. When others point out that the Crows killed their family and friends, Jon shoots back he’s seen his friends die by Wildling hands as well. But he makes the case that the White Walkers are a greater enemy, and that none of them alone can possibly face it. It’s a rousing speech, so much so that when asked, even Tormund vouches for him. He says Jon is prettier than both his daughters, but a good fighter and a leader.
In the end, it’s a hard sell. The Wildlings state outright they don’t trust “King Crow,” but a few trust Tormund. Some of their number decide to go with Jon and Tormund. Many others however, led by the Thenn, aren’t buying it. They warn as soon as the Wildlings get on the ships, Jon and his men will slit their throats. The Thenn says that is the way things are, and the way they will always be. He ends up leaving with a large number, who won’t be moved. A Wildling woman watching him says in annoyance, “I f*cking hate Thenns.” Tormund nods in agreement.
Plus, they eat people.
Out by the waters, those who decide to leave with Jon are loading onto the boats. Jon laments that’s not enough. Tormund however says it’s the best they can expect for now. When it gets colder and game disappears, more will come eventually. The other Crows preparing to leave go around trying to collect up the dragon glass, one of which is being held by a giant. A ponderous Dolorous Edd decides to let him keep it. And it’s about then that he hears the Wildling dogs start barking.
Outside Jon hears them too. He looks up along with many of the Wildlings to see what looks like an approaching storm. There’s a commotion somewhere in the back. The Thenn cries out to shut the gate–a wooden barricade that’s been set up around Hardhome. People start running then, away from something, and trying to get inside. The guards manage to close the gate before all of them make it in, trapping many Wildlings outside who pound in futility on the wooden barrier as the storm surges towards them. There are screams and shouts–then suddenly, everything goes deathly quiet.
The Thenn cautiously walks forward, to look through a gap in the gate wall into the storm–and a living corpse lunges at him. He falls back, calling for arrows. But there are more of the dead, breaking through the wood, pounding on the wooden barricade, trying to tear it down. And these aren’t your Walking Dead shuffling and bumbling zombies either. These are your World War Z, fast as hell moving zombies. Plus, they use weapons–hacking and cutting at the wood. They climb atop the fence, they climb under it, they climb onto the roof, all snarling and itching to fight. And did I mention they have weapons and sh*t? Like those skeletons from that old Jason and the Argonauts flick, but without the stop-motion.
That about does it. Wildlings start rushing into the water, trying to get to the boats like Jon is Noah. It’s chaos, as frightened people swarm the vessels in frenzy–hurling themselves into the sea. Tormund realizes however that everyone can’t run. Someone has to fight off the approaching monstrosities or everyone dies. Jon draws his sword and shouts out to the Nights’ Watch. Together, Crows and Freefolk, much sooner than they’d expected, rush forward to meet the dead.
It’s gory hand to hand fighting, against an enemy who seems bent on slaughtering everyone and who won’t stay dead, even with mortal wounds. As the camera pans to show us behind the wooden barricade we see it’s not tens or dozens–there’s hundreds out there, maybe thousands, stampeding forward in a flood.
At one point everyone looks up to a hill in the distance, and perched there are four White Walkers atop their dead steeds–the Four White Walkers of the Zombie Apocalypse. Creeeeepy!
The fighting makes for some of the best imagery we’ve probably seen on the show. A running Jon cutting a running zombie in two mid-stride. A giant bursting from a house with zombies atop him, ripping them off and stamping them beneath his feet. Zombie children that make fighters (well, the women fighters anyway…hrrrm…) hesitate only to be swarmed and killed by them. A mass of zombies jumping from a hill top and tumbling down World War Z style. Visually stunning. Enough of that here to make this episode go down as perhaps one of the most action-intense in the series.
Jon and the Thenn (once enemies now allies) manage to make it to the meeting house the giant just burst from–hunting any remaining dragon glass. They arrive inside to see the structure on fire. And who’s walking through those flames like some long haired ice demon? A White Walker with an icy spear. Sh*t!
The Thenn tries to take him on. But when axe meets that ice spear, the steel shatters like glass. He’s impaled and killed in moments. Jon doesn’t fare much better, as the White Walker pretty much handles him easily–flinging him around and moving in for the kill. Jon manages to get up and get his hand on a sword. But when steel meets ice, again, steel shatters. Jon ends up getting knocked down–hard. He rolls around gasping for air and it seems he’s about to meet his end. Fleeing, he grabs another sword. This time it’s his own, crafted of Valyrian steel. And when that Eastern steel meets the ice spear–it doesn’t shatter. Another swing and the White Walker himself shatters. Completely.
(So that’s new. Valyrian steel can kill White Walkers too? Both it and dragon glass are rare. Though I’d like to see how the Valyrian steel bit works against them.)
Who’s watching this fight go down? None other than the Night’s King–that creepy White Walker with a crown who reminds you of Darth Maul. When the wooden gate finally falls, the zombie horde races forward to the sea. Jon, Tormund and whoever’s left have to run for it. The giant picks up a flaming length of timber and makes a rear guard where he can. It’s a sight to remember–three men and a giant behind, running for their lives from thousands of the dead. When they reach the docks, they manage to get on the boat–all but the giant who remains behind to batter who he can before wading into the sea, flinging zombies off the whole way.
On the shore, the triumphant zombies finish their slaughter of whoever is left behind as Jon and the others watch from the retreating vessel–helpless. When it’s done, a lone figure walks out onto the dock. The Night’s King. He stares out at Jon, and the two meet each others’ gaze. Then with a slight smirk he raises his arms. All about him bodies begin to twitch, returning to life. And just like that, all those slain bodies stand up to join his army. They watch the retreating mortals in silence, as the once thriving Freefolk hold of Hardhome becomes a place of the dead.
Wow. Winter done come. A very distinct and direct deviation from the books (nothing like this in there) that I think was well worth the change. You can never go wrong with more White Walkers. Never. Note to HBO writers, if you’re veering from the text, this is a good way to veer. Proper.
Till next week.