Game of Thrones: 508 “Hardhome” Review
Reviewed by Mark McCullough.
Having reached the eighth episode of the series, the show now has the freedom to begin to draw some of the character arcs for this series to a close whilst still sowing seeds for the next series. Given the apparent regular format of recent series with Episode Nine depicting a key-event which is usually large in scale, I had been expecting this episode to set that up. I would say it’s a safe assumption to claim that none of us seen that ending coming. This in itself serves to raise the anticipation for next week, not only has the show now fully deviated from the books, but it also appears to have given its format a minor shake-up. What this means is that for the first time since the series started it has reached a point where it is truly unpredictable.
The undoubted highlight of the week was the scenes shared between Dany and Tyrion. Last week the very thought of the two characters coming together was promising enough for any fan of the show. However what we actually got exceed my every expectation, and make no mistake I had set the bar pretty high. Something which the narrative put particular emphasis on was the similarities between the two characters who both seem to have matured greatly from where we saw them both at the start of the series. Tyrion has gone from being a depressed drunk back into the character who is almost universally adored for both his wit and wisdom. Dany has gone from naïve ruler set in her ways, to becoming more open, realising the needs of her people and most importantly recognising the value of advice from others. Another key point emphasised about both was the fact that they have done terrible things, yet still they are adored by the fans and represent the most desirable outcome for the Iron Throne. Another element of the story this week is Ser Jorah, who unfortunately faces Dany’s anger, and is essentially abandoned by Tyrion albeit in a manner which saved his life. There has to be an element of irony to Dany’s desire to make everyone a free man, because Jorah is as far from free as possible, everything he does is defined by his love for her. So it isn’t that much of a shock to see him opt to become a slave again in order to get another chance to be with Dany. Unfortunately he is a slave in more ways than one as the greyscale on his wrist dictates that he doesn’t have long left.
Dany’s line about breaking the wheel is somewhat ironic when framed with the situation in King’s Landing, the metaphorical wheel has already fallen off the wagon, however it remains to be seen if the horses have bolted. Cersei who has unsurprisingly found herself in the precarious situation of being arrested and imprisoned by a man that she empowered, is offered an olive branch of sorts. The revelation that a confession would aid her cause does not come out of the blue given that the High Sparrow informed her that it was an option for Margaery last week. This in itself is quite odd, because in comparison Margaery’s crime is a lot less and comes from a more understandable position of protecting a family member, so logically it would follow that Margaery is one again in a much stronger position than Cersei. I doubt that it matters anyway because Cersei’s confession is an option she can never take if what she said about protecting her son in the previous episode is true. A confession from here would invalidate Tommen’s claim to the throne and would not necessarily guarantee her the freedom to be his protector, thus leaving him vulnerable. Interestingly however is that this isn’t the reason Cersei uses in the episode when given the chance to confess, instead it is her own pride which prevents her from doing so. Her actions earlier in the series which turned her allies against her and took Jaime out of the picture have now well and truly come back to haunt her.
The Starks had a rare upturn in fortune this week. Before this series began, it was announced that Bran and Rickon would not feature in any of the ten episodes. This was a decision I was relatively happy with as I found their story to be one of the weaker threads of the TV Series, granted the Dorne storyline that assumedly took their place has not been much better. Their omission however does not mean their presence has not been felt, in fact it has formed part of the backbone to Sansa’s storyline and her interactions with Theon. The narrative this week finally saw the truth come out as Sansa is able to put enough pressure on Theon to get him to admit what actually happened. This is a key scene for two reasons: one because it shows that Theon still exists somewhere within Reek, and it is only fear of Ramsay which keeps him suppressed, this suggests that where something to break that fear of his captor, Theon could undergo a re-emergence of sorts.
The second key aspect is the impact of the information on Sansa, the controversial rape scene essentially destroyed her character, robbing her of her hope along with her dignity. Not only that, but she has never been so alone, so the news that her brothers might still be alive, on the back of learning that Jon has become Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch could not have come at a better time. I would suspect that the news will reinvigorate Sansa’s desire to resist Ramsay and give her a reason to fight on. Connecting this to Ramsay’s only seen of the episode which is suggestive of him leaving Winterfell to lead a cloak and dagger assault on Stannis, and we could see Sansa with an opportunity to escape her own personal hell quite soon. With Ramsay gone, Theon could become an ally and with Brienne waiting in the wings, it could be the best chance she gets.
Arya’s story picks up a little bit as well this week, as we see her progress further again in her training to become a Faceless Man. Her task leads her to meeting a man in the docks who is described as a gambler. This is probably an inappropriate description given that the man seems to be in the business of life insurance for the captains of the ships. We can forgive this mislabelling however as I highly doubt that insurance is a viable concept in the world in which the narrative is set. Anyway, the problem with this insurance broker is that he is not paying the families when the captains die as there is no-one to force him to. Arya’s task is to observe him and then to let him face the justice of the faceless god. We are yet to see how that develops as this week’s narrative crammed a lot into its runtime, so the decision to hold it over until next week (if Arya features at all) was probably a wise one.
And now we come to the biggest talking point of the episode, the adventures of Jon Snow in the Wildling camp. I can hands down say I’ve never liked Jon Snow as much as I did when he was talking to the Wildling leaders in the tent. The dialogue was some of the strongest and most thought provoking lines on the show, and the delivery by Kit Harrington shows just how much he has grown as an actor since first taking on the role. It’s now surprise that Hollywood has already come calling, and I can really see him as one of the country’s top actors in the near future. The content of the scene also mirrors an ideological view on how our world should be. Everyone regardless of who they are, where they come form or what their background is should have an equal right to life. Equality in the twenty-first century is an ambitious ask, go to Westeros and it becomes even more so. But that’s exactly what Jon Snow stands for, he respects everyone equally and has gone out of his way enormously risking the disdain of those he cares about in order to make his dream a reality. This in essence makes him the best role model Game of Thrones has ever had. His example is something we should strive to follow (writers take note in relation to how you write your female characters, they do not need sexually objectified). If the point of this section of the narrative was the equality message, it is hard not to look at the White Walkers as symbolic of prejudice, and unkillable idea in those lacking freedom of thought.
Speaking of the White Walkers, their arrival served to crank up the tension in the final moments of the episode to no end. The scale upon which the battle was presented was simply breath-taking and the backdrop of the icy cliffs served to frame the hopelessness which the Wildlings faced. The director deserves enormous credit for how the battle translated to the screen. Largely speaking the battle scene was a success, timing was perfect, the action felt real, and the conclusion to it was also believable and well realised. The decision to have the Jon’s boat rowing away in complete silence whilst the leader (not entirely sure if he is, but he seemed to be important) of the White Walkers raised an army of the dead gave the denouement an eerie feel to it, there was almost an element of breathlessness to it.
Unfortunately my only minor criticisms of the episode are in relation to the battle. The first is relatively minor and can be overlooked, but it was a tad annoying to see Jon appear to be badly injured, only to appear completely normal again moments later. The second downside is perhaps more important, obviously the purpose of the scene was to present the White Walkers as a threat, and remind us of their existence. Perhaps I’m being a little too critical, but I don’t think the narrative quite delivered on the former. Looking objectively, the attack by the White Walkers only served to aid Jon Snow’s cause as he would not have got a many Wildlings to go with him as he did, furthermore the only characters to die at the hand of the White Walkers were ones who were introduced with the same narrative, it would have delivered more of an impact if a more important character had died.
Finally we actually learned of another Whitewalker weakness, that they are susceptible to Valyrian Steel weapons. It doesn’t take too much knowledge of the lore of Game of Thrones to work out that the common denominator between Valyrian Steel and Dragon Glass is dragons, and with three of those belonging to the candidate looking most likely to secure the Iron Throne, it’s hard not to see the White Walkers taking a scorching at the hands of Drogon and his brothers. And as Tyrion so wisely pointed out, Dany will need to offer something to gain the support of the powerful families, surely the only hope for the realms of men would be sufficient.
I loathe giving an episode a score of top marks, especially two weeks in a row, and when both episodes did have faults within their respective narratives. However this week, as was the case last week the flaws are very minor, and I probably only picked up on them because I was trying to critically evaluate the episodes. In both cases I found that I really enjoyed the episode, and nothing the writers could have changed would have increased my enjoyment of the episode. For that reason both are deserving of the full marks. This also represents a stunning run of form for Game of Thrones since (barring that one scene questionable scene) has only dropped 0.5/30 in the last three weeks. It would be my hope that it can continue this run of form right into the last two episode (hopefully aided by some huge scale events) and end what has probably been its most divisive year on an unbelievable high.