Game of Thrones Hardhome recap: S5, Ep.8

Season 5 had been rolling along with some excellent moments, but it had yet to have that one episode viewers would look back on as the standout 60-minute outing. That arrived tonight in gate-crashing fashion as the show provided a breathtaking, movie-like quality battle that will be hard to top. For a change, Episode 9 might not be the must-see episode of the season. Winter is here and it does not take prisoners … or victims.

I’m pretty excited to dive into that amazing battle beyond the wall, but this episode featured a number of long-awaited moments that delivered on an emotional level as soundly as the final sequence.

Game of Thrones - Hardhome - Tyrion in Dany's courtFirst up, Tyrion’s sit down with Daenerys. Dany’s been used to people, even her political rivals, holding her in a certain measure of esteem and Tyrion quickly lets Dany know he’s not another sycophant walking on (dragon) egg shells before daring to speak to khaleesi.  Dany seems to appreciate Tyrion’s bluntness and agrees with his suggestion to spare Jorah’s life and exiles him (again). The poor guy just can’t cut a break as we’re reminded as the grey scale is spreading further along his arm. Dany clearly spells out her long-term goal of assuming the Iron Throne and ruling all the land. It’s a strong statement seeing as how Dany has done little to show she can maintain rule in Mereene, much less all of Westeros. Watching Tyrion shoot down holes in Dany’s great idea of the week should make for outstanding entertainment.

Cersei finally realizes the depths of her machinations in her petty vengeance against Margaery. She’s stuck in a jail cell under charges of fornication and incest with no help in sight. There’s no Jaime to bail her out this time as she sent him off to Dorne. Cersei’s efforts to neuter her son King Tommen’s power have proven so effective he can’t do anything to free her from the prison of her own making.

game of thrones - hardhome - CerseiHer only recourse? Confess, but Cersei is still far too proud to admit to her children’s true lineage and resorts to licking water off the floor to stay moderately hydrated. Much like Theon/Reek, Cersei is a character that’s had this miserable time coming and darn it, if I’m not fresh out of sympathy.

Back at Winterfell, the Boltons prepare their scheme to battle Stannis’ forces. Ramsay proposes a sneak attack with 20 soldiers. Since Ramsay has thus far been the only character on the show yet to even remotely taste defeat, I fully expect him to somehow manage to cripple Stannis’ army, skin Stannis’ wife and daughter and cut off Ser Davos’ remaining fingers and toes just for fun.

Sansa, meanwhile, confronts Reek about why he snitched on her plan to call for assistance from the few remaining Stark allies. Reek explains he was only doing it to help her by realizing there is no escape from Ramsay’s clutches. Reek isn’t going to get a lot of sympathy from Sansa, who still believes he had ‘their brothers’ Bran and Rickon killed. Ramsay has Reek so broken that he’s afraid to tell the last secret he withheld — Reek never killed Bran and Rickon, who as far as he knows are still alive.

Game of Thrones - Hardhome - AryaNeither Sansa or Reek are aware that Arya is also still among the living as she is in the midst of continuing her training. Now she’s trying out a new identity and learning the lay of the land — and corruption — in Bravos. Arya’s subplot feels a step or two behind everyone else’s this year and with only two episodes left, it seems unlikely that anything of any real significance is going to happen. Her storyline advancement has been the only real disappointment this year, but maybe there’s still a chance for something noteworthy.

Now onto that incredible final sequence. Jon knows winter is coming. Worse, he knows what winter will bring — a full-on invasion from the White Walkers. It’s for that reason alone he’s journeyed into Wildling territory with Tormund Giantsbane (Kristofer Hivju) hoping to strike a treaty with the Wildlings and have them stand in support when the Walkers seek to come beyond the wall.

Although the Wildlings agree they can’t trust a ‘crow,’ the Chieftainess Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) agrees to follow Tormund’s lead and align with Jon. Other Wildling leaders are less forgiving of their sworn enemies and aren’t swayed despite an impassioned speech from Jon.

Game of Thrones - Hardhome - Jon and TormundBefore Jon can get his new Wildling allies back to the ships and back to the Wall, the White Walkers arrive and bring war with them. The fight is hardly a fair one — despite the Wildlings having a giant in their midst — as the Walker King has scores and scores of crazed, walkers on crack cannon fodder at his disposal.

Since Season 3, ‘GOT’ has been decidedly lacking of heroes — survivors, yes, but not honest to goodness people of exemplary character that will fight when common sense says live to fight another day. In all fairness, most of those characters are now dead, but watching Jon’s ascension not just as the leader of the Night’s Watch, but as perhaps Westeros’ last true hero has been the most exciting storyline of Season 5.

Each season the fight scenes have gotten a bit more elaborate and intricately staged. While ‘The Watchers on the Wall‘ seemed like it would define battles on the show for years to come, tonight’s epic featured a little of everything. We had Night’s Watch back to back in combat with the Wildlings, hordes of walkers, a giant swinging a massive torch, zombie walker children and Jon shattering a walker general with his Valyrian steel sword (!) In each of these major battles, Jon seems thisclose from being killed, but it really seemed hopeless for him this time and as we all know heroes on ‘GOT’ don’t have long life expectancies. Game of Thrones - Hardhome - Jon, Tormund and Night's Watch

It says a lot about the kind of life that Jon has led that even after his father, stepmother, brother, mentor and true love have been killed, that at the moment the Night King resurrects all the slain Wildlings and adds them to his ranks as Jon and his forces retreat that this felt the most screwed Jon has been throughout the series.

Next week of course is Episode 9 where normally most of the stuff hits the fan, main characters get killed and the season long story arcs get resolved one way or the other paving the way for Episode 10’s reset for the upcoming season. The odds are pretty good that someone isn’t going to make it to Episode 10, is it all but a given now that those characters will be Jon or Stannis?