Oliver Davis reviews the eighth episode of Game of Thrones Season Five….
Directed by Miguel Sapochnik.
Written by David Benioff & D.B. Weiss.
Um…wow. Things…things really escalated quickly there. I mean, stuff got out of hand first. A lot of people died. And then those dead people got up to make more people dead. What do you mean we can’t talk about that first? The other plot lines?! They were good, but c’mon – White Walkers. Ok, ok…
Tyrion and Daenerys
Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) have finally met and the Imp is pitching himself as Khaleesi’s new advisor. Lord knows she needs one. Jorah’s (Iain Glen) been re-exiled to the non-friend-zone, Ser Selmy is dead and Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman)…can we not go onto the White Walker stuff yet? FINE.
Daenerys seems harsher in Tyrion’s company. Her guard is still up. Consider how she behaves in bed with Naharis, or at bath time with Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel). With Tyrion, she’s presenting the image of the Queen of Dragons.
But he’s just so darn charming. Daenerys annoints him as her advisor, specifically to navigate around the political quagmire that is Westeros – a strategy that explicitly states the heart of her campaign for the first time in the series so far: to break the wheel of Westeros, the feudal system that keeps the money and power in the hands of a select, highborn few.
It’s a 99% sentiment that mirrors the High Sparrow’s “and when the many rise…” line from the previous episode. In season 5, more than any other, Game of Thrones is starting to show an underlying socio-political message. But that doesn’t really matter when four horrifyingly cool White Walkers appear at the top of a cl-OH, COME ON. Fine. It’s going to be rapid fire, though.
Qyburn (Anton Lesser) came to visit. Cersei (Lena Headey) refused to confess.
Arya (Maisie Williams) continued to shed her identity for the Many Faced God. Sold some oysters to a prostitute.
Sansa (Sophie Turner) and Reek/Theon (Alfie Allen) continue to fight as-OH SCREW IT…
The last half an hour of episode 8 was some of the best television Game of Thrones has produced in its five season-long tenure thus far. Taking place at Hardhome, a snow-covered Wildling town on the coast of Really-Chilly-ville, Jon (Kit Harington) and Tormund (Kristofer Hivju) initially try to convince its inhabitants to seek shelter with them South-of-The-Wall. Why? Because when the Long Night arrives, all men are going to need to stand together.
As the segment carries on without cutting to another storyline – Tormund demonstrating his dimplomacy by bashing in the Lord of Bones’ head, Jon offering safe haven to Hardhome’s elders – the tension slowly increases. Each minute longer with Snow’s storyline is another warning that something significant is about to go down.
And then, signified by a vast, eerie snow storm, the White Walkers and their undead armies attack.
This is the first time – in the television show or books – that the Others’ full might has been depicted. Until now, it’s only been brief skirmishes or end-of-episode teases. Here, we see the rampaging horror of their hordes.
Firstly, the undead army: at first, they look like modified zombies, with the speed of the rage-infected in 28 Days Later and the single-mindedness of World War Z’s assailants. There are echoes of the latter’s Tel Aviv sequence when the undead climb on top of each other to breach its walls. Hardhome’s defences suffer a similar fate. The White Walkers’ armies burrow beneath its perimeter, or scale its turrets. In one of the episode’s most ‘oh crap’ moments, thousands of dead warriors hurl themselves off a cliff, to get up unscathed and ready to fight at its bottom.
Which brings us to the unsettling difference between your run-of-the-mill zombies and those North-of-the-Wall: they fight like skilled, living soldiers. These aren’t the plodding hordes of the Walking Dead; the Game of Thrones undead have much more in common with the stop-motion, sword-wielding skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts. The Others’ threat is now even more fearsome.
Secondly, the White Walkers themselves: apart from a mean Blue Steel pout, not much is known about the Others’ skillset so far. The Battle of Hardhome expands on this. During the one-on-one fight with Jon, they obviously have enhanced strength and reflexes. But, in a rare positive, it seems Valyrian steel may also kill a White Walker. Obsidian isn’t the only weapon at the Night’s Watch’s disposal now. Shame they’re both scarcer than brown-haired Lannister kid.
Their most impressive power, though, is the ability to raise the dead to fight in their army. This may or may not be limited to the White Walker that appears to be their leader (aka. ‘The Night’s King’, ‘Frost Maul’ or ‘Coldemort’), differentiated from the other Others by crown-like protrusions on his head…
It’s easy to forget that amongst all this chaos there’s a freakin’ giant. Wun Wun (Ian Whyte) is his name and, initially, he’s a bit of a yob. But then he starts crushing the undead beneath his feet. There’s a “and we have a Hulk” vibe to those few moments of Wildling/Night’s Watch success.
An incredible episode, one of the best Game of Thrones has ever produced. But with these types of mass action sequences happening in episode 9 of a series (Season 2’s Battle of Blackwater Bay and Season 4’s Battle at Castle Black), what could be in store for next week’s ninth instalment? Stannis is still marching on Winterfell, but the show could always use the other trick up its gauntlet…
Season 1’s episode 9 saw Ned Stark beheaded. Season 3’s staged the Red Wedding. By that pattern, we’re due for the death of a beloved character rather soon…
SEXINESS TALLY (in lieu of the Hodor Count):
Zero sexiness. Ultimate death.
Oliver Davis is one of Flickering Myth’s co-editors, curator of its Super Newsletter and Lead Producer of Flickering Myth TV. You can follow him on Twitter @OliDavis. Check back here every Monday for his episode-by-episode reviews of Game of Thrones Season 5.