With “Hardhome” we find ourselves at the tipping point of various storylines in Game of Thrones. Jon arrives at Hardhome, the High Sparrow tightens his grip on King’s Landing, Stannis waits to invade Winterfell, and Daenerys has met Tyrion. It feels like Winter has Come, but not everyone has realized it yet. “Hardhome” show us how alliances can be made and how they can fail in Game of Thrones.
[For the recap, continue reading—but if you want to go straight to the review analysis of this episode, click here.]
Tyrion Lannister is trying to win over Daenerys Targaryen. His sarcasm doesn’t have the impact on Daenerys it does on others, which warms some people to his cause (like Bronn) and angers others (like Tywin). It is only when Tyrion talks genuinely about his political skill and how much better he could do if he was serving someone worthy that Daenerys takes interest. Tyrion points out that she will need more than an army in Westeros, but someone who knows the Houses and how to maneuver amongst them.
The first piece of advice Daenerys seeks from Tyrion is what to do with Ser Jorah Mormont. Tyrion points out that Ser Jorah Mormont is devoted to Daenerys, but even though he loved her, he did not trust her with the truth. When Daenerys suggests that she fulfill her promise to kill him if he returned, Tyrion tells her, “A ruler who kills those devoted to her is not a ruler who inspires devotion.” This lesson is one that Daenerys knows to be true after her experience having beheaded her advisor and former slave, Mossador, which incurrred the wrath of those slaves she had freed in the episode “The House of Black and White.” She orders Ser Jorah removed from the city.
Daenerys and Tyrion drink wine and talk about their messed up families. She decides that she is not going to kill him, but will have him advise her instead. He asks her why not stay in Essos, as she has done a lot of good there. She wants to ensure that no one will be born into slavery, and will continue to do that, but Westeros is Daenerys’s home. Tyrion lays out the challenges of ruling the Seven Kingdoms without the support of the great houses. He also reminds her how fickle the common people can be.
Daenerys: “Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell—they’re all just spokes on a wheel. This one’s on top, then that one’s on top, and on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground.”
Tyrion: “It’s a beautiful dream, stopping the wheel. You’re not the first person who’s ever dreamt it.”
Daenerys: “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel.”
Jorah is desperate to win back Daenerys’s favor somehow. He decides the best way to do that is to fight in front of his Queen once more in the fighting pits. The way he looked at his greyscale patch earlier makes us wonder what role his infection will have in his plan. He tells the slaver, “Let me fight for her—then I belong to you.” We suspect this may not work out the way the slaver thinks it will.
Arya has taken on a new identity as Lana, seller of oysters. She is sent out into Braavos to watch and listen. She tells Jaqen H`ghar what she has seen: a man who swindles the vulnerable. She goes back out to observe again, but this time with a gift: a poison. The waif does not believe Arya is ready. Jaqen H`ghar tells her, “It is all the same to the Many-Faced God.”
An imprisoned Cersei refuses to confess. She sasses the nun who withholds water to try to force a confession. The nun doesn’t seem bothered and hits Cersei in the head with the wooden spoon a couple times.
Later, Qyburn comes to see Cersei. He tells her that the charges against her include fornication, treason, incest, and the murder of King Robert. He tells her that her Uncle Kevan Lannister has returned to King’s Landing to serve as Hand of the King, at Grand Maester Pycelle’s request. King Tommen Baratheon is so distraught from the arrests of Queen Margaery and his mother that he stays in his room. Qyburn points out the only way out is to confess, but Cersei is having none of it, saying, “I made him. I rose him up from nothing. I will not kneel before some barefooted commoner and beg his forgiveness.” Oh Cersei.
After Qyburn leaves, the nun withholding the drinking water returns, yet Cersei continues to refuse to confess. When the nun walks away, Cersei begins drinking the spilled water off the cell floor. She is one stubborn lady. We wonder if Marie Antoinette acted like this before they cut off her head.
Sansa confronts Theon, asking why he told Ramsey about the candle. He tells her that he was helping her, because if Ramsey found out she tried to escape Ramsey would torture her. Sansa tells him that she would’ve tortured him the same way Ramsey did for what he has done to her family. As she challenges him further, he tells Sansa that he never killed her brothers Bran and Rickon Stark. He admits that he couldn’t find them so he burned two other boys. He realizes he has said too much, and leaves, terrified.
Roose Bolton is planning for Stannis’s attack on Winterfell. Ramsey tells his father, “We not sit and wait for Stannis to decide what sort of fight this is going to be. But we hit first and hit hard and leave a feast for the crows.” Ramsey suggests he can do it with 20 good men. Roose approves Ramsey’s plan. Is there any chance that Roose is just as hopeful as we are that Ramsey’s plan will result in him getting killed?
Sam and Gilly are scared, and with good reason. Things are out of control at Castle Black with Jon Snow at Hardhome. Olly brings food to the recovering Sam. Olly questions Sam about Jon Snow’s decision to bring the wildlings back to Castle Black. He has issues with the wildlings since the Thenns killed and ate his family. Sam points out, “Wildlings are people. Just like us. There’s good ones and bad ones.” Sam explains that the only way to fight the Army of the Dead is with allies. Sam tells Olly that Jon is doing what he feels is right:
Sam: “Sometimes a man has to make hard choices, choices that might look wrong to others, but you know are right, in the long run.”
Olly: “You believe that?”
Sam: “With all my heart. Try not to worry, Olly. I’ve been worrying about Jon for years. He always comes back.”
Jon Snow has arrived at Hardhome and it is a spectacular sight. Hardhome is a hardscrabble town set between the sea and mountain cliffs and it’s filled to the brim with wildlings who have come to escape the dead. As they arrive on shore, Tormund Giantsbane is greeted by the Lord of Bones. The Lord of Bones has some choice insults for Tormund, which he responds to by beating the Lord of Bones with his own staff. Way to convey your point in a manner Rattleshirt can understand, Tormund.
The wildlings’ elders meet with Jon Snow and Tormund Giantsbane. Jon tries to convince them that they need to work together. He offers the gift of dragonglass, which can kill a White Walker, to those willing to join them. The wildlings seem unimpressed. Things get ugly when the wildlings begin asking questions about Mance Rayder. Tormund steps in to point out that by shooting Mance with an arrow, Jon defied the Southern King and spared Mance an agonizing death. A wildling chieftainess, Karsi, says she will never trust a Crow, but she does trust Tormund Giantsbane if he believes their best choice is to ally with Jon Snow. Jon points out that they all need to band together to try to defeat the enemy—the White Walkers and their army of the dead. Magnar of the Thenn, Loboda, says that the Crows are the enemy, that they have always been the enemy. Really? Perhaps its all for the best, as Thenns are not the most popular of the wildlings.
Jon and Tormund are loading people onto boats to take them out to the ships Jon has docked in the Hardhome harbor. Jon is concerned that more are not coming. This becomes the least of Jon’s concerns when Hardhome is suddenly attacked by wights, the reanimated corpses that serve as the White Walkers’ army. The Magnar of the Thenn calls for the gate to be closed, even as it shuts on a mass of wildlings trying to get back inside. The screams of those outside the gates are suddenly silenced. When the Thenn looks through the gate, he can see the reanimated corpses of the wights. The wights start climbing over the gate and breaking through as the wildlings fight them off.
Despite the panic, Jon continues to try to get people into boats. When Tormund Giantsbane points out that everyone will die if they leave, Jon tells the men in the boats to take the wildlings to the ships, and takes the rest of his men to fight the wights. As they are fighting, Jon looks up at the mountain above Hardhome and sees several White Walkers sitting on their reanimated horses, looking down at the scene. Jon realizes he needs to get the dragonglass, as it is the one thing they know can kill a White Walker.
Jon Snow and Magnar of the Thenn, Loboda, enter the burning building where the dragonglass was left. As they enter, a White Walker enters from the other side of the shelter. Loboda is killed and Jon is separated from both the dragonglass and his sword. As the White Walker advances upon him, he is knocked outside, where he is able to grab his sword. When the White Walker goes to strike, both are surprised when John’s sword, Longclaw, stops the frozen blade rather than being shattered as most blades are by Walker weapons. Jon manages to strike a blow, and the White Walker shatters!
With this act, Jon has captured the attention of the Night’s King of the White Walkers up on the cliff. These White Walkers, wearing black armor for battle, are the same ones we saw in the episode “Oathkeeper” when one of Craster’s babies was turned into a White Walker. The Night’s King looks different from the other White Walkers because he has icy horns on his head that resemble a crown.
The wildling chieftainess Karsi is confronted by a group of dead children who have become wights. Being a mother, she cannot bring herself to fight them and they overwhelm her.
Jon and Eddison hear screams and look up at the black-armored White Walkers. They watch as a mass of wights throw themselves over the edge of the mountain. They land in a pile on the valley floor below, then get up and start fighting. At the same time, the gate is knocked down by wights. John, Tormund, and Eddison, with a Giant running behind them knocking out wights, run for the boats. They watch from the water as everyone left on shore is killed.
The Night’s King walks on to the pier, looking directly at Jon Snow, who is in a boat. As he stands on the shore, the Night’s King raises his arms and all the dead rise up. The newest recruits in the Army of the Dead number in the thousands.
Review of “Hardhome”
“Harhome” shows us a series of alliances. In Meereen, Tyrion and Daenerys begin to build a relationship for political purposes. Sansa’s attempt to align with Theon has failed, but his reveal indicates that there is still hope—not for reconciliation, but for collaboration. Cersei believed she was building an alliance with The High Sparrow that she could use to her own advantage, but it turned out she was helping the High Sparrow achieve his goals at her own expense. Jon takes the boldest risk of all as he tries to build an alliance with the Free Folk in order to save Westeros. After the attack on Hardhome the Free Folk may be more amenable to partnering with the Southerners, but as Olly shows us in his conversation with Sam, the men of the Night’s Watch lack the experience and fear that could change their thinking.
In Meereen we were left with both excitement and sadness. It was a relief that Daenerys understood Tyrion’s value, and a joy to see Daenerys’s fire reappear, something we have missed for several seasons. Daenerys makes a better revolutionary than bureaucrat. It was also a relief that Jorah was not killed when he returned, but sad that his hopes for forgiveness were crushed. Daenerys cares for Jorah, perhaps not in the same way he does, but clearly it broke her heart to send him away again. This first scene was acted masterfully by Peter Dinklage (Tyrion Lannister), Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont), and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen). Iain Glen’s ability to convey a great deal of emotion through very subtle movements and his eyes reaffirms that he is one of the best actors on Game of Thrones.
We probably could’ve waited another week to see Ayra Stark (Maisie Williams), particularly since nothing she is doing right now relates to any of the other major characters or storylines on Game of Thrones. We can’t help but wonder where this training will lead and when it will take us there.
For some time we have mainly seen King’s Landing through the perspective of Cersei Lannister (Lena Headey). Though it’s important to see how prison affects Cersei, potentially breaking her down and perhaps even transforming her, it’s not clear how others are experiencing the altered landscape in King’s Landing. How will Uncle Kevan handle the High Sparrow? Is the High Sparrow’s vision in which the many no longer fear the few aligned with Daenerys’s broken wheel? Daenerys seems to have more of a monarchical social liberal agenda, whereas the High Sparrow seems to be taking the populist route.
The brief glimpse we got of Winterfell gave us some hope. Sansa Stark has received her second bit of good news. In the last episode, “The Gift,” Sansa learned that her half-brother Jon Snow is Lord Commander at the Wall. This episode she learned that her brothers Bran and Rickon may still be alive. She has not given up, as evidenced by her verbal battering of Theon. The news of her family being alive may inspire her to further action. Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Alfie Allen (Theon Greyjoy) continue to be excellent in their scenes together as two tortured souls, one strong and angry and the other broken and fearful.
Michael McElhatton (Roose Bolton) plays the cold father very convincingly. Ramsey Bolton (Iwan Rheon) appears to want to impress his father. Let’s hope he fails in his mission because we can’t bear to see a flayed Davos or Shireen, or even Stannis. Melisandre though …
Every scene at Hardhome was fantastic. Full disclosure: We can never get enough of the North, and the White Walkers are the main reason we love Game of Thrones. We loved the majestic landscape of this hardscrabble town, bursting with Free Folk. What remains of the Free Folk, normally living in separate clans throughout the North, have essentially been herded into Hardhome by the White Walkers. Tormund’s confrontation with The Lord of Bones and the respect given him by the chieftainess Karsi showed what a leader Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) is among the Free Folk and reinforced the wisdom of Jon’s decision to work with him. Having the wildling leader Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) in the episode brought something realistic and believable to the scenes at Hardhome. We moved right past the Lord of Bones (Edward Dogliani), whose role would have been presented as more of a caricature, to deal with relatable wildling leaders.
The battle was epic. There were lots of images of Longclaw sticking out of Jon Snow’s scabbard, which only served to make his defeat of the White Walker using his Valyrian steel sword more thrilling. Don’t lie, you know you felt it when Jon Snow (Kit Harington) shattered the White Walker—you jumped up, shouted, pumped your fist, or at least gasped. The inevitable defeat of the Free Folk and Night’s Watchmen still felt like a victory when most of our heroes escaped with their lives. It wasn’t until The Night’s King added thousands, possibly tens of thousands, of dead to his army that the true nature of the defeat became clear. Jon had mentioned earlier that they will never forget their dead, and having to face their former comrades and enemies in battle will make it much more difficult to do so.
“Hardhome” was certainly the best episode of Season 5 of Game of Thrones, and is amongst the strongest in the series. More, please.