Following form from last year’s 8th episode, Hardhome will likely be cemented in the memories of Game of Thrones viewers for quite some time.
It says quite a bit that an episode featuring such a massive change from the Song of Ice and Fire novels has gone down so well.
First things first, Cersei. It’s quite nice to see her finally being brought down a peg, even if she hasn’t realised that her threats and promises mean nothing, at least for now. I have a sneaky feeling that this experience will do nothing but strengthen her resolve to kill everyone, and that she is definitely getting out of this one way or the other. Qyburn’s cryptic promise of ‘The work continues…’ suggests something will be there to help in her upcoming trial.
Arya seems to be settling into her role nicely, taking on a new persona of an oyster seller named Lana. While she’s still on her first assignment, it should be interesting to see how she approaches it. Perhaps we’ll see her do something more subtle than the usual stabbiness that she’s been relying on for so long.
Sam and Gilly really ought to be heading to Old Town to make Sam a maester, as such, they’re still at the wall. Olly is looking particularly grim this week as he asks Sam what Jon is thinking in allying with the Wildlings. I can’t say I blame him, but the look on his face suggests he’s planning on knifing Jon for ‘the greater good’, based on the fact that he seems to have taken Sam’s words about making hard decisions in an unintended way.
Meanwhile Roose Bolton seems confident that they can withstand Stannis’ upcoming attack. Ramsay seems to think he can pull off an assassination with twenty men, and I really hope he can’t. Unfortunately Ramsay has plot armour (remember when he fought Iron Born and he was shirtless? In real life that gets you killed). Sansa has a hope spot, in that Theon lets slip that her brothers aren’t dead, but she’s still trapped in Winterfell.
Tyrion and Daenerys chat. Doesn’t sound overly exciting right? It’s pretty fun. Having two characters such as these get the chance to verbally spar with one another is one of the reasons I don’t mind this story arc being sped up. Tyrion manages to save Jorah’s life, but unfortunately he can’t honestly admit it’s a good idea to keep him around. Jorah himself is determined to fight for his queen in the pits. It’s not clear why, so that’ll be something to watch for next time.
The real icing on the cake this week is the sequence that unfolds in the last half, at Hardhome. Jon Snow proves once and for all that he is a leader. Despite having many Wildlings uninterested in helping the Night’s Watch against the upcoming Zombie Winter (patent pending), he manages to pull it off. The rest, Tormund assures him, will come around once their food runs out. It’s a typical ‘enemy of mine’ situation where it’s clear that the real enemy is the one with giant ice spiders.
The unfortunate truth is that such threats tend to be more impacting when witnessed first hand, and that’s what happens. The atmosphere generated as dogs start barking and an eerie mist descends from avalanche ravaged mountains sets the scene for an impressive spectacle. For something on a television show, the entire fifteen minute battle is a visual marvel. Clever editing and sublime wide shots help give the battle a terrifying edge.
Jon Snow and his men have to hold back an army of wights whilst the Wildlings escape. It has a very last stand feel about it, and comparisons to The Walking Dead have already been made (mostly parodies it seems). All the more unsettling is the presence of the White Walkers silently watching from the hills, except when one attacks John directly. I must confess this was a weak point in the scene because rather than stab Jon outright it decides to throw him around first and give Jon a chance to find out that Valyrian Steel works just as well as Dragon Glass.
Arguably the most chilling (ha) part comes with the arrival of The Night’s King. Briefly glimpsed in season 4, Game Of Thrones might just have its ultimate Big Bad. Considering he doesn’t get directly involved in the battle, he still leaves a mark. His unrelenting gaze as he stares down Jon whilst casually raising the freshly dead to swell the ranks of his army is troubling to say the least. All Jon can do is stare back as he gets the survivors to safety. Of course, they still have to get through the Wall.
How do you feel about this epic battle that was never in the books? Is the Night’s King worthy of being the over-arcing villain? Let us know what you think in the comments below…