This was it. This was the Game of Thrones we’ve always wanted and felt coming, pulling together its separate pieces into a near-perfect whole. Without hesitation or a wasted moment, “Hardhome” grabbed hold from Dany’s opening command to Jorah; it held fast until those devastating final seconds that left us breathless, as Jon watched those he fought beside and saw die, rising up to fight again as enemy. Whatever wonderful conversations were had between Daenerys and Tyrion, who again worked his magic tongue to save his hide another day; no matter that we witnessed Cersei’s defiance and strength melt into solitary desperation as she realized just how fruitless a queen’s bribes or threats could be; despite watching a girl transform herself into somebody else — on her way to nobody — everything else disappeared when dogs began to bark, an ominous thunder rose, and the most terrifying enemy showed up so much earlier than anyone expected. This was Game of Thrones’ best episode yet.
We could speak of glorious monologue and dialogue, with Tyrion Lannister the king of all. That his knowledge of the past and eye for the future are far too valuable — even an uncertain queen knew she shouldn’t turn away such a worthy advisor. Scenes like these where Peter Dinklage chews up his lines and spits them out like ad lib poetry — we cannot help but sit up and take notice of cadence and rhythm; he simply begs for a stage. Iain Glenn, a perfect partner — mute — though a dance of emotions play across his wounded face; banished, but still unable to accept his sentence. Two men, wholly different, yet bound together by their inability to ever give up.
Far easier to break may be the newly imprisoned Cersei, who begins the hour obstinate and threatening, but after a visit from Qyburn, privately acknowledges that pride isn’t the key to survival. That quiet drink alone may be Cersei’s first step toward confessing to herself she is no longer in a position of power. From the woman whose ego is being stripped away against her will, to a girl who happily gives up her own identity, to a sister still uncovering her true self, we were rewarded by women of strength manifested in actions and words. Sansa Stark may be locked away in a tower like some Disney princess, but the closest thing to a rescue knight has lost himself part and parcel. She may not yet be able to find escape, but Sansa’s discovery is nearly as good — not all her family has been murdered — and hope is necessary motivation.
If not for a surprise attack, the battle before the battle might have been its own Game of Thrones vignette; our expectations are well-trained for stories meted out sparingly (as with Arya’s comparably slow journey). The Benioff we know would set up the fight for another hour, but on this night he was a benevolent television god. Jon and Tormund work at bringing together opposing forces to fight a common enemy. Where words fail to soothe, a staff can come in handy, but sometimes no form of negotiation can bring about the desired results. In the end there is no other choice; free folk and Jon’s men fight and die side by side.
Like the brutal, unforgiving opening of Saving Private Ryan, an unending horde of zombie wights began to descend upon the Wildlings’ shoreline home. There is an art to shooting a war scene that pulls viewers into the action, sometimes unable to discern friend or foe. In the masterful hands of director Miguel Sapochnik and DP Fabian Wagner, we were thrown right in the middle of the marvelously fluid battle; though several points of view were held, “Hardhome’s” last fifteen minutes nearly felt like a single, continuous shot. Jon gives his command, “Night’s Watch, move,” and from that moment on, the chaos of fighting an overpowering force pumped through our own hearts; exhilaration and hope giving way to dismay and defeat. Triumphant groans and swinging swords were no match against the many; a terrifyingly strong White Walker stood between Jon and the one weapon he needed to fight back…until by instinct, Jon makes the gloriously unexpected discovery (the looks on both Jon and the Walker’s faces!) that Longclaw’s Valyrian bite can kill. Over the broken-hearted sobs of a cello, the valiant Karsi (the fantastic Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) — who only just said goodbye to her own children — faces a haunting group of child wights who fall upon her and take her life. As scores of wights drop down from a mountain, Jon is finally forced to admit defeat, and in both his and Kit Harington’s finest hour, the Lord Commander can do nothing but watch the death and destruction, listen to the screams of the dying, and gasp for breath as a White Walker commands the dead to “live” again. With nothing but the sounds of Jon’s shallow breathing and the blowing winds, we are left nearly as haunted and broken as he.
(via Tumblr, other images, HBO)
Do Olly’s misgivings about Jon portend more trouble for the Lord Commander when he returns to the Wall?
That giant though, peeling off wights he swatted like flies, and tossing them aside — crushing their bones underfoot. Forget the Wildlings; Jon needs a giant alliance.
Will Roose let Ramsay have his go at a surprise attack on Stannis’ weakened forces?