Game of Thrones: 502 “The House of Black and White” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough
If I was asked to sum up the second episode of the fifth series of Game of Thrones in one word, the word I would choose would be: failure. Thankfully I am using this descriptor in relation to the common theme of the episode, and not the quality of it. Although that said, I have watched the next two episodes and this one is the weakest of the series so far. In each of the snippets of the characters stories that we see this week, a mistake on their behalf is addressed. Some are resolved, whilst others are not.
Following her surprise omission from last week’s series premiere, it was not a huge shock to see this narrative opt to open on Arya. The last time we’d seen her she was on a ship sailing away from Westeros, so there was a nice symmetry to open with her arriving in Braavos via the same ship. Within moments she arrives at The House of Black and White in search of the Faceless Men. She is left disappointed after she is turned away meaning that all of her travels have been for nothing. A dejected Arya resorts to anger which is itself a demonstration by the narrative that the young Stark is not yet ready to adopt the way of the Faceless Men.
Brienne’s storyline this week is an interesting one because as I have been reliably informed (having not yet read the books myself) that this is the first major scene that has been completely developed for the show. So far, this series looks like it could be setting up more character meetings than any of its predecessors. Perhaps this is suggestive that we have already crossed the point of divergence and now everything is moving together albeit at a very slow pace.
This week sees Brienne and Podrick stumble upon Sansa and Littlefinger. Being a woman of loyalty, Brienne approaches Sansa in order to enact her promise to Catelyn, Sansa’s mother. This allows Littlefinger to launch a personal attack on Brienne citing her past failures as a reason for Sansa not to trust her. An interesting theme which comes up is Brienne’s loyalty, which is suggested by Littlefinger to be to money and that Brienne has compromised herself by doing so. Of course as the audience we know that this is not true, Brienne’s loyalty to both Catelyn and Jaime stems from the fact they showed her kindness and earned her trust rather than buy it. It is very much in keeping with her character that this further setback serves only to strengthen her resolve to fulfil on her promise.
Meanwhile at King’s Landing, the Lannisters are facing difficult circumstances themselves. Having made decisions to benefit herself in previous seasons, Cersei finds herself a new enemy in the shape of Ellaria Sand, who has the ultimate weapon to use against Cersei: her daughter Myrcella. It’s somewhat ironic that she blames Jamie for being a poor parent to both Joffrey and Myrcella when the actual reason they find themselves in this predicament is Cersei’s vendetta against Tyrion which seen Oberyn Martell killed in trial by combat. It was this same feud that ultimately led to Tywin’s death which has removed the stability and protection he provided his children with. Instead of opting to play it safe, Cersei tries to tighten her grip on what power remains by taking control of the small council. At the moment this looks like a decision which can only backfire on her as it leaves her even more vulnerable, especially with Jaime out of the picture now too.
Daenerys Targaryen continues to face struggles in Meereen as the Sons of the Harpy continue to run riot. This is where I find the title of the episode quite interesting, because although The House of Black and White obviously refers to the headquarters of the Faceless Men, I feel it could also apply to Dany. When it comes to her decision making, she is only capable of seeing in black and white, there is no grey, no middle ground and no compromise. It is this ideology that makes Dany vulnerable and ultimately sets her up for her fall at the end of the episode. Like many fans I see her trails in Meereen as almost a trail run for when she eventually conquers Westeros, but it is quite hard to watch at time because her naivety it just too much at times. Even the intervention of Barristan Selmy is not enough to prevent her from making a huge mistake in front of her people which is sure to come back and bite her later.
The Bastard of Winterfell is a title which has hung over Jon Snow’s head since his birth. In that respect the biggest mistake of his life was one that occurred before he was even born. The reluctance of Eddard Stark to legitimise Jon proved as a point of friction between the two. So when Stannis offers Jon the chance to become Jon Stark (it doesn’t sound right anyway), you would have forgiven him for accepting graciously what he has wanted all his life. Instead he stays loyal to the Oath he swore to the Nights Watch and rejects Stannis. Something I don’t find of particular interest is that he was willing to break the same oath with Ygritte, which is perhaps suggestive that he had other reasons for not accepting Stannis’ offer.
The theme of failure which runs through the episode does a lot to tie it together. In terms of action, nothing much happens, so once again it feels like a story is being set up rather than being told. Whilst failure is a common denominator, in most cases it is rectified again by the end of the episode: Arya discovers that she was in the right place all along, Daenerys is comforted by the return of Drogon, and Jon Snow is given a new title which makes his past as a bastard all but irrelevant. As I said at the start of the review, this is a weakest of the first four episodes, and it still manages a strong score. Expect things to pick up next week!