“The House of Black and White” focuses on the women of Game of Thrones, each powerful in her own way. As we move increasingly outside of Westeros we see our characters not as Starks, Targaryens, and Lannisters fighting for control of the Seven Kingdoms, but as players in a wider and increasingly complex landscape. There is still a lot of terrain to be explored in Season 5 of Game of Thrones and “The House of Black and White” gets us started on the journey.
[For the recap, continue reading—but if you want to go straight to the review analysis of this episode, click here.]
Arya Stark has arrived in Braavos and it’s breathtaking. Game of Thrones generally has beautiful backgrounds and architecturally interesting sets, but the introduction to Braavos was particularly striking. Arya arrives at the House of Black and White, and doesn’t get the welcome she was expecting (or at least hoping for). While she sits on the steps outside the House she goes over her death list—the enemies that she wants to kill: Cersei, Walder Frey, The Mountain, Meryn Trant. Though the list seems to have gotten a bit shorter, reciting the names of those she wants to kill still seems to be a comfort to her. We are reminded of The Hound’s words from “First of His Name”: “Hate’s as good a thing as any to keep a person going—better than most.”
After waiting outside the House of Black and White for some time, Arya throws the coin she received from Jaqen H`ghar into the waterway and begins to walk around the city. She is confronted by three men who want to steal Needle from her in order to sell her sword. She warns them, “Nothing’s worth anything to dead men.” Before she can slay them, they run away when they see the man from the House of Black and White arrive. It’s not clear why the man of the House of Black and White first rejects Arya but then comes to find her. Arya follows him back, and he shows her another face of his—the face of Jaqen H`ghar. When she asks who he is, he tells her, “No one. And that is who a girl must become.”
West of the Vale
Sansa Stark and Petyr Baelish have stopped at a tavern. When Sansa asks Petyr what message he received back in Runestone, he responds that his marriage proposal has been accepted. Sansa makes a sarcastic comment about him marrying so quickly after the death of her Aunt Lysa. We suspect, though, that this proposal may not be Petyr’s, but instead may be intended for Sansa. By a stroke of coincidence rarely seen in Game of Thrones, Brienne of Tarth and Podrick Payne happen to be at the same tavern. Brienne approaches the heavily guarded party, telling Sansa that she swore to Lady Stark she would protect Sansa and pledges her sword. After carefully studying the situation, Sansa rejects the offer, requiring Brienne and Podrick to make a hasty escape. Brienne is determined to keep Sansa safe, whether she wants it or not, and they follow Sansa’s party in secret.
Cersei Lannister receives a threat—a snake, ready to strike, holding her daughter Myrcella’s necklace. When Tyrion Lannister was Hand to the King he had betrothed Myrcella to Trystane Martell in order to strengthen their alliance with House Martell in Dorne. Myrcella is being held as a ward in Dorne until she is of age to marry. Cersei tells Jaime that Mrycella is not safe from the Lannister’s enemies in Dorne. Cersei is getting increasingly casual in talking about her brother Jaime being the father of her children, which Jaime points out will only get them killed. Cersei berates Jaime (which seems to be how most of their interactions have been going over the last couple seasons), and then he tells her he will go to Dorne to get Myrcella.
Bronn is enjoying the view of his future home with his betrothed, Lollys Stokeworth. He seems a bit bored by this gentleman act, but not so bored he thinks it’s good news when Jaime Lannister shows up. A royal decree has promised Lollys to someone else, and Bronn has little option but to join Jaime on his mission to Dorne.
Cersei has put a bounty on Tyrion’s head, but is having no success in having him killed. She then meets with the Small Council with the goal of making decisions for the Kingdom. Lord Tyrell offers to serve as Hand, but she placates him by making him Master of Coin. When she tells the Council that Qyburn will serve as Hand, the other council members are stunned. She wants to make her uncle Kevan Lannister Master of War, but he is not willing to be her puppet and leaves for Casterly Rock. Cersei clearly doesn’t have the knack for ruling that her father did.
Ellaria Sand, who we last saw watching her lover Prince Oberyn Martell die in combat defending Tyrion Lannister, angrily observes Myrcella Lannister walking through the gardens. Sand is the surname of noble-born bastards in Dorne, as Snow is used in the North. She goes to see Prince Doran Martell, demanding that he avenge his brother. She tells him that her and Oberyn’s daughters, the Sand Snakes, are with her, but he refuses to act.
The Road to Meereen
Varys and Tyrion are traveling, ostensibly to Meereen. Tyrion is spending the trip drinking and being morose.
Varys: “Are we really going to spend the entire road to Volantis talking about the futility of everything?”
Tryion: “You’re right. No point.”
When Tyrion asks why he mentioned the road to Volantis, Varys points out it’s on the way to Meereen. Varys tells Tyrion that he was a good ruler when he was the Hand. Though Shae had begged him to leave King’s Landing, Tyrion admits that he stayed because he liked the power he had as Hand.
Stannis’ daughter, Shireen Baratheon, is teaching Gilly to read, helping her to recognize the letter “S” by pointing out it looks like a snake. First Davos, now Gilly—she’s quite a teacher. They talk about her grayscale, and Gilly asks how she was cured. Gilly says two of her sisters died of grayscale. Eventually Shireen’s mother, Selyse, interrupts and scolds her daughter for spending time with a wildling. Selyse is certainly an unpleasant character—last week smiling as Mance Rayder burned, and this week slandering Gilly.
Stannis Baratheon and Davos meet with Jon Snow. He points out that Jon Snow prevented his orders from being carried out by shooting Mance Rayder with an arrow. Stannis warns Jon, “Show too much kindness, people don’t fear you. If they don’t fear you, they don’t follow you.” Jon tells Stannis that the Free Folk will never follow him, that they will only follow one of their own. Stannis is having similar problems with the Northerners. The Lady of Bear Island, a 10-year-old, refused to commit her house to Stannis, sending a note that said, “Bear Island knows no king but the King of the North, whose name is Stark.” Jon can’t help but smile—a rare occurrence for him. John acknowledges that Northerners are like Free Folk in wanting to be led by one of their own. Stannis shares his true agenda with Jon: he offers to legitimize Jon and make him Lord of Winterfell.
The Men of the Night’s Watch gather to elect a new Lord Commander. Jon tells Sam about Stannis’ offer. When Sam congratulates him, Jon tells him that he cannot accept the offer. WHAAA? He tells Sam, “I swore a vow to the Night’s Watch. If I don’t take my own word seriously, what sort of Lord of Winterfell would that be?” Jon Snow may not be Ned Stark’s legitimate son, but he sure takes after Ned. The meeting of the Night’s Watch begins, and Alliser Thorne and Denys Mallister are nominated. Samwell Tarly speaks up and nominates Jon Snow. It’s a tie between Alliser and Jon, but Maester Aemon uses his vote to make Jon the new commander. There is much rejoicing, particularly amongst GoT viewers. If Jon can’t be Lord of Winterfell, we’ll settle for Lord Commander.
In Meereen, Daario Naharis is helping Grey Worm track down the Sons of the Harpy. Daenerys Targaryen’s council debates what she should do with the prisoner. Daario and Mossador think he should be executed, while Barristan Selmy argues that Daenerys put the prisoner on trial. She dismisses her council, but Barristan stays behind. He warns Daenerys about following in the path of her father, the Mad King, and taking vengeance on her enemies. When she responds that she is not her father, he agrees, adding, “But the Mad King gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved, and each time it made him feel powerful and right, until the very end.” She assures Barristan the prisoner will not be executed without a trial.
Mossador takes matters into his own hands and kills the prisoner. When he is brought before Daenerys he speaks with hatred against the Masters. She reminds him there are no more Masters or Slaves, but it becomes clear that the divisions run deep. Daenerys feels she has no choice but to make an example of Mossador and brings him before a crowd, where she sentences him to death for his action. Despite the crowd’s pleas for mercy, and her own affection for him, she executes Mossador. The crowd quickly turns as the former slaves hiss like snakes and then begin to riot. As the former Masters are attacked, Daenerys retreats to the pyramid.
Alone in her room, Daenerys walks out onto the balcony and is thrilled to see Drogon there, seemingly waiting for her. She reaches out to him, and though he comes closer to her for a moment, he flies off, leaving her completely alone.
“The House of Black and White” Review
We get it. Daenerys Targaryen (Emilia Clarke) needs to learn how to govern. We got that during Season 4 too. But it’s just not that fun to watch (except for the dragon scenes, of course). Clarke is effective at conveying the challenges and resulting emotions Daenerys must deal with as she tries to lead, but the storylines themselves feel a bit bogged down. We are feeling almost as impatient as Rhaegal and Viserion. Let the dragons and the story fly free!
Another storyline that started to wane for us in “The House of Black and White” was Cersei’s (Lena Headey). We loved her last week in “The Wars to Come,” but right now we are not sure where she is headed or why. Without their father, both Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Cersei seem a little lost, story-wise. At least Jaime has a purpose now, and we can’t wait to see more Dorne. Also, Bronn (Jerome Flynn) is back! Yay! Bronn and Jaime on the road to Dorne–we’d watch that any day of the week.
Adding a glimpse of Lord Varys (Conleth Hill) and Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) to the story seemed unnecessary. We probably could have gone a week without seeing them, and their scene didn’t do too much to advance their storyline, except to throw a little suspicion on Varys. Yet, they are certainly the most humorous of the characters on Game of Thrones, and their brief scene was both funny and touching.
Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth) really stole the episode, along with Aidan Gillen (Petyr Baelish), during the scene in the tavern. Petyr was correct—Sansa is carefully observing everything. She was very carefully watching Brienne, while being aware of Petyr. Turner did the most acting of any character during this scene, while saying the least.
Sansa is allowing Petyr Baelish to see some of her intelligence and awareness. She has intentionally been hiding this aspect of herself, but with Petyr, showing this side may help her. She knows he was in love with her mother, so she is playing to that—not only by dyeing her hair, but by revealing other parts of herself. Catelyn Stark was bold, and someone Petyr saw as an equal. Thus Sansa strives to function as someone Petyr could partner with in some way, at least for now. Of course, Petyr is quite clever himself and is not sentimental enough to mistake Sansa for Catelyn, so who knows where he may actually be taking her. Regardless, we want to see more of Sansa and Petyr, as they have a fascinating chemistry together.
Another partnership that enhances the quality of the show is that of Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington). This is not only because the introduction of Stannis at the Wall has provided for interesting plot points, such as offering to return Jon to Winterfell as Lord Stark, but because the actors are dynamic together. We even like Davos Seaworth (Liam Cunningham) as a character when he is with Stannis and Jon, and we weren’t big Davos or Stannis fans for much of the series.
As we didn’t get to see Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) in “The Wars to Come,” we were happy to see her at the start of “The House of Black and White.” It’s strange to have a character that had been so enmeshed in the story of Westeros and the Seven Kingdoms go to a new land to start a completely new, separate life. It allows for exciting possibilities, though we can’t help but hope Arya will one day reconnect with her kin. We look forward to seeing a lot more of the beautiful and intriguing city of Braavos in Game of Thrones.
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