GAME OF THRONES 5.08 ‘Hardhome’ Review
GAME OF THRONES Season 5 Episode 8
Episode Title: “Hardhome”
Writers: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Previously on Game of Thrones:
There are full spoilers ahead for last night’s Game of Thrones. You’ve been warned!
“Hardhome” was just what the fifth season has needed. The first half of the episode would have been enough for an above average installment of the series. But the second half was mindblowing.
Game of Thrones has always done spectacle well on the rare occasions that a big battle is depicted on screen. The massacre at Hardhome was more than just spectacle. The sense of dread that it created was amazing, as it truly made the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings look helpless against the onslaught of the White Walkers and their army of the dead.
Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) mission to recruit the Wildlings was actually a partial success. As Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) said, they’re now fools together. It was also darkly amusing to see Tormund beat the Lord of Bones to death before being allowed to gather the elders for Jon’s pitch.
Even though the Thenns rejected Jon’s offer, the Lord Commander still ended up fighting side-by-side with their leader, Loboda (Zahari Baharov), And it made absolutely no difference. Loboda was killed and Jon barely survived thanks to his Valyrian steel sword. Another new Wildling, Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) made a great first impression as both a warrior and a mother before meeting her demise at the hands of the creepy reanimated dead children. Watching her rise again as one of the dead was disheartening.
This episode also provided the best glimpse to date of the Night’s King, the leader of the White Walkers who was briefly glimpsed last season. Keeping the Night’s King quiet added to his mystique as he taughted Jon and the other survivors by reanimating the dead as a parting FU. The entire series has been building up the White Walker threat and this was an excellent payoff.
I’m surprised that this part of the story wasn’t held for the ninth episode of the season, but I was completely blindsided by the White Walker battle sequence. It wasn’t spoiled for me ahead of time, and apparently it’s a departure from the books. Another departure is the new alliance between Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke). I don’t think anyone is surprised by how well they play off each other. Dinklage and Clarke are both very reliable performers. But I never really saw the similarities between Tyrion and Daenerys until now. They’re both trying to emerge from the shadow of their respective fathers.
Unfortunately for Ser Jorah (Iain Glen), introducing Tyrion to Daenerys doesn’t get him back into her inner circle. Tyrion does Jorah a solid by arguing for his life, but he also suggests banishing Jorah as an alternative to having him killed. I don’t know where the show is going with Jorah unless it’s to give him one last shot at glory in the fighting pits. Jorah still hasn’t attempted to treat his greyscale infection and he’s now sold himself back into slavery just for the chance to fight in front of his beloved queen.
This week’s King’s Landing story was also very strong as Cersei (Lena Headey) held out against the confession of her sins while remaining a captive of the Faith Militant that she foolishly armed. Apparently, Lancel really did tell the High Sparrow everything as Cersei also faces charges of murdering the late King Robert. Cersei’s torture was also particularly cruel as water was withheld from her as an incentive to get her confession.
It’s difficult to feel any pity for Cersei since she brought this on herself and subjected Margaery and Loras to the same treatment just because she was threatened by Margaery’s hold on her son. Still, the desperation comes across as Cersei licked the water off of the floor. The palace intrigue took place off screen, but Qyburn (Anton Lesser) informed Cersei that Tommen has withdrawn and Grand Maester Pycelle has sent for her uncle, Keven Lannister to be the new Hand of the King. Even if Cersei gets out of this cell, she won’t have the same power that she used to have and she’s alienated the Tyrells.
Back at Winterfell, it was good to see Sansa (Sophie Turner) browbeat Reek (Alfie Allen) into confessing that her two younger brothers, Bran and Rickon are still alive. This was also one of the few times that Reek has admitted that he was Theon, even though he’s far too afraid of Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) to act against him or reclaim who he was. I’m still hoping that we will get to see Ramsay receive the fate that he deserves this season. But the show weirdly portrays Ramsay as boldly challenging Stannis’ army with a handful of men while his father, Roose (Michael McElhatton) was content to wait out any siege.
I wasn’t quite as enamored with Arya’s (Maisie Williams) story, even though she’s being groomed for her first kill as an assassin. Williams is always good in the role, but it just wasn’t as compelling as the rest of the episode. Similarly, the brief interlude with Sam (John Bradley), Gilly (Hannah Murray) and Olly (Brenock O’Connor) at the Wall doesn’t seem to exist for any other reason than to make it look like Olly wants to put an arrow in Jon Snow or Tormund.
Sam misinterprets Olly’s questions as concern for Jon, but look at the expressions on Olly’s face in that scene. That isn’t worry, it’s barely contained anger. I do have to give O’Connor credit for conveying that. Where do the Game of Thrones casting directors find these kids? Even the young performers on this show are really good.
“Hardhome” was easily the best episode of season 5 and it served as a reminder that when Game of Thrones is on top of its game, it’s among the greatest shows on TV.