This article is part of a series of reviews on the “Game of Thrones” television adaptations of George RR Martin’s “A Song of Fire and Ice” book series.
- Episode 1:"The Wars to Come"
- Episode 2:"The House of Black and White"
- Episode 3:"High Sparrow"
- Episode 4: "Sons of the Harpy"
- Episode 5: "Kill the Boy"
- Episode 6: "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken"
- Episode 7:"The Gift"
- Episode 8: "Hardhome"
- Episode 9: "The Dance of Dragons"
- Episode 10: Mother's Mercy
Episode 1:”The Wars to Come”
The new season opened with a flashback to Cersei’s teenage years, with Cersei meeting a witch in the woods so that she could learn about her future. The woman correctly predicted that Cersei would become queen and have children, but not with the king. Finally, Cersei learned that her reign would be short and that a new queen would take her place. The revelations presented in that flashback gave some interesting context to why Cersei has been so cold toward her future daughter-in-law Margaery.
The story then picked up in the present time at the funeral of Tywin Lannister with what one would presume to be Charles Dances’s last brief appearance in the role of the great Lord Tywin. Cersei stood angrily over her father’s body while blaming Jaime for indirectly killing their father when he let Tyrion escape from prison.
At Tywin’s wake, Cersei was approached by Lancel Lannister, who hadn’t been seen since season two when he was Cersei’s lover in Jaime’s absence. He had since joined a religious cult called the Sparrows and he asked for forgiveness for his part in killing King Robert. Cersei denied any knowledge of that plot, but his involvement on her behalf had been clearly established in the past.
Elsewhere, Tyrion was briefly shown with Varys having arrived across the sea in Pentos via a wooden crate. Tyrion initially seemed content to drink himself to death over the betrayals that he’d experienced last season but he eventually agreed to join Varys in traveling to meet with Daenerys Targaryen. One could presume that this pairing of Tyrion and Varys would pay delicious character bickering dividends down the literal road and that was a safe presumption.
Daenerys was again shown to be in charge of an increasingly chaotic situation in Meereen. She appeared to have upset the population by taking away traditions like the fighting pits. Negotiations began with a rebellion group named the Sons of the Harpy but Daenerys was resistant to their demand that the fighting pits be reopened until her lover Daario spoke in support of the pits. He had been a fighter in such pits and it had led to his present life as a supreme warrior. Finally, Daenerys went to visit the two dragons that she’d locked underground at the end of season four but they attacked her and she fled this prison. Could one blame them for not being overly pleased with their master? As was the case in the later part of the prior season, the Meereen storyline seemed to be drawing attention to the challenge of being ruler after liberating foreign peoples.
Sansa and Littlefinger briefly appeared when Robin Arryn pawned off to Lord Yohn Royce as a ward for training. Littlefinger was cryptic regarding his next moves, simply telling Sansa that they were travelling to the Fingers and a place where the Lannister clan would not find her. Sansa and Littlefinger’s carriage happened to pass near where Brienne was arguing with Podrick about their next steps, but Brienne insisted that Podrick should go his own separate way.
The episode’s capping moment came at the Wall, with Stannis speaking with Jon Snow in hopes that Jon could convince ManceRayder to pledge the Wildings’ support. Stannis needed a larger army to march south to confront Roose Bolton’s forces but ManceRayder decided that he would rather die than bend a knee to Stannis.
A show was made of burning Mance to death but Jon savedMance from that fiery death by shooting him with an arrow, a move that referred back to an earlier conversation between Jon and Mance where Mance shared his displeasure with the thought of burning to death. Jon would presumably be left under suspicion of supporting the Wildings with this action. It was a minor point to note, but Mance was killed for originally deserting the Night’s Watch prior to moving into leading the Wildlings and not necessarily for leading the Wildlings
Episode 2:”The House of Black and White”
Arya arrived in Braavos at the Faceless Men training facility known as the House of Black and White. This was an impressive building with double doors out front, one black and the other white. She showed the coin given to her by JaqenH’gharto a man who answered the door but that didn’t gain her admission. After sitting outside for what appeared to be several days, she left the area in frustration.
Arya then got into a confrontation with some street punks but that was interrupted and she was led back to the House of Black and White by the doorman who had earlier turned her away. The man then changed his face to that of JaqenH’ghar but it wasn’t yet clear to viewers if this man was Jaqen or simply a shape-shifter familiar with Jaqen’s appearance. Of course, Jaqen was himself only under an false appearance when Arya first met him, so everything with the Faceless Men was slippery business.
Tyrion’s brief scene with Varys took pace inside a carriage while the pair was en route to Meereen via Volantis. The scene involved a debate on power and Tyrion’s continued depression. The end of the scene served as a setup shock-cut to Cersei’s storyline. In her storyline, viewers learned that her reward on Tyrion’s head for the murder of their father had resulted in the mistaken deaths of other dwarves.
Cersei’s scenes served to setup a rivalry of sorts with her uncle Kevan Lannister. As queen, Cersei couldn’t become the Hand of the King but she could stack the Small Council with people who were loyal to her. She did just that but the result was that key positions in the kingdom ended up falling to people with nefarious histories.
Arguably more notable for the season’s longer-term storylines, Cersei shamed Jaime into promising that he would rescue their daughter Myrcella from the Martell clan over in Dorne. Myrcella had gone to live with the Martells back in season two, but relations between that family and the Lannisters had gone sour since Oberyn’s death at the end of last season. Dorne was shown on-screen for the first time of significance with the ruling prince Doran left under pressure from Oberyn’s lover Ellaria Sand to strike back at the Lannisters. Alexander Siddig from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” fame played Doran and he would go on to be a regular supporting character.
Jaime’s plan for rescuing his daughter involved first recruiting Tryion’s old hired sword Bronn. At the end of last season, Bronn seemed destined to wander off into a retired life with the rather unappealing but modestly well-off LollysStokeworth. Jaime’s offer to Bronn involved a better future wife than Lollysand a better castle to live in, so long as the pair was successful in rescuing Myrcella.
Brienne and Podrickmight have had a near-miss with Sansa and Littlefinger in the last episode, but they happened to meet up at an inn while dining. Brienne tried to offer her services to Sansa, but that offer was refused. Not unfairly, Littlefinger mocked Brienne for losing both Renly and Sana’s mother while both were under her watch in the past. Brienne and Podrick both fled the inn after realizing that Littlefinger was ready to spring a trap on them. Brienne ended up killing a couple of Littlefinger’s pursuit men but then vowed to again try to extract Sansa from Littlefinger. While Sansa seemed to be rejecting Brienne’s offer for protection during their encounter, a closer reading of that scene showed that Sana was more-likely trying to protect Brienne from the threat of Littlefinger’s guards.
Daenarys’ storyline continued to grow darker before finally showing a bit of positive direction on the horizon. Darrio and Grey Worm tracked down a Son of the Harpy member who had been responsible for a murder at the beginning of the prior episode and he was put on trial after BarristanSelmy reminded Daenarys that she needed to be a fair ruler if she hoped to not repeat the mistakes of her eventually-insane father. That plan went awry when former-slave Mossador decided to murder the man who had been arrested. Daenarys then had Mossador killed in a very tense public forum that led to the crowd turning against her. All seemed to be falling apart in Meereen when Daenarys’ missing dragon Drogon re-appeared. He didn’t attack her but he also didn’t necessarily stick around. Just the same, his return appeared to offer a tiny bit of reassurance to an otherwise messy situation.
That scene with Drogon was arguably the episode’s emotional climax, along with a series of turns in the life of Jon Snow. Snow was offered a chance to become a full-fledged Stark by Stannis. The condition would be Jon leaving the Night’s Watch to help Stannis win over support from the army of House Mormont. Instead, Jon found himself becoming elected as the 998th commander of the Night’s Watch.
Note that, had Jon opted to leave the Night’s Watch, that would have technically been possible under command of a King. While rare, that circumstance had apparently occurred in the past.
Like the first episode, there were a couple of new storyline introductions but most of the threads from the first episode were continued in this second episode. The Daenarys storyline showed some hope and life to it for the first time in nearly a full season and the Brienne storyline took viewers into territory as-yet not covered in the currently-release books.
Episode 3:”High Sparrow”
The title referred to a new character, played by Jonathan Pryce, that was introduced in this episode. He was the leader of the Sparrows, the conservative religious group that Lancel Lannister had recently joined. Cersei sought out the High Sparrow and began to form what appeared to be an alliance with him. Their first order of business was shaming the High Septon for having visited Littlefinger’s old brothel.
Cersei wasn’t necessarily having the best of episodes, as she had to witness the wedding of her son Tommen to Margaery Tyrell. Audiences then had to witness the uncomfortable aftermath of the wedding night between the young Tommen and Margaery, with Margaery giving the first taste of her plot to get Cersei moved out of King’s Landing. It wasn’t yet clear how Cersei would deal with her new daughter-in-law, but Mareaery was not shy in flaunting her new role as queen in front of her mother-in-law.
It was a shame that Diana Rigg, who memorably played OlennaTyrellwas only mentioned in a throwaway remark in the episode. Her character had returned home soon after her granddaughter’s wedding.
The only other notable event in King’s Landing involved a brief scene with ex-maesterQyburn in which the body of Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane began shaking. Viewers would learn more about the likely return of the Mountain in a later episode.
The big revelation in Sansa’s storyline involved Littlefinger bringing her back to Winterfell for marriage to Ramsey Bolton. She put the pieces together while traveling past the ruins of Moat Cailin and she only agreed to go forward after Littlefinger persuaded her that she would have safety with the potential for revenge in Winterfell. Sansa’s arrival at Winterfell was obviously bittersweet, as she found that she had allies there but danger lurked in the form of the Bolton’s reign of terror in the North. Littlefinger even found himself under suspicion after a communication from Cersei to Littlefinger was intercepted by Roose Bolton’s men.
Also in the north, Jon Snow began making appointments under his reign as Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Janos Slynt, former City Watch commander at King’s Landing, was disobedient when Jon assigned him to restore an unused castle along the Wall. Slynt appeared surprised to find himself taken out for a beheading. He begged for his life and Jon appeared to hesitate but eventually chopped off Slynt’s head. That action seemed brutal but was also seemingly necessary to establish Jon as the leader of the Night’s Watch. Stannis, in particular, was shown approving of Jon’s action.
Arya was shown performing cleaning tasks at the House of Black and White, although she was not content. A girl known as The Waif later struck Arya in her room before Jaqen intervened. He stopped the Waif from bothering Arya, but also told Arya that she needed to get rid of the things from her former life that she continued to carry with her. She did as told but ended up hiding her sword Needle for later use. Arya might have gotten more than she bargained for with the deal though, as she then graduated into being assigned to clean corpses with the Waif.
Tyrion and Varys arrived in Volantis, encountering an Asian-looking woman who was giving a speech about the Lord of Light in a marketplace. Unlike Melisandre though, this priestess of the Lord of Light was suggesting that Daenerys was the prophesized savior.
Tyrion and Varys then visited a brothel where Tyrion seduced a prostitute with his wit but found that he was not able to consummate the deal with her. It wasn’t clear if that problem was due to drink or his heartbreak or both. The episode ended with Tyrion urinating outside the brothel and being kidnapped by Jorah Mormont, who muttered that he would be taking Tyrion to Daenerys.
Episode 4: “Sons of the Harpy”
This was a busy episode that largely centered around a number of rebel group situations.
A series of problematic events took place in King’s Landing, with Mace Tyrell being dispatched to the Bank in Braavos after a portion of the kingdom’s debt was recalled. The kingdom had been established as far back as the first season as being in heavy debt and banker had shown concern in the fourth season about the possibility that the Lanisters might not be able to pay back debts to the bank if Tywin was no longer alive. With Tywin’s death, the bank obviously became concerned. Viewers would probably be more concerned than Mace Tyrell appeared to be when Cersei sent SerMerynTrant with Mace to travel to Braavos. As a refresher, Trant had been on Arya’s kill list after he betrayed her father and obviously his going to Braavos put him into proximity with her.
Even more immediately problematic, Cersei made the High Sparrow the new High Septon and re-established an old order known as the Faith Militant. That group of fanatical Sparrows then went on a rampage around King’s Landing, taking over Littlefinger’s old brothel and imprisoning Loras Tyrell for his homosexuality. Margaery then manipulated Tommen into trying to rescue her brother but Tommen refused to get into a bloody conflict on the stairs of the Great Sept. Margaery was disappointed by that outcome and called for her grandmother Olenna to help.
Jaime Lannister and Bronn landed in Dorne via a merchant ship. The pair encountered mounted soldiers that they dealt with and Jaimie admitted after the battle to having what appeared to be at least not entirely positive feelings toward his brother Tyrion. Elsewhere in Dorne, Oberyn Martell’s bastard warrior daughters were led by Ellaria Sand in a mission to kill Jaime’s daughter before she could be rescued. Their goal was to use that murder as a catalyst for starting a larger war.
Two key moments occurred at the Wall, with Melisandre trying unsuccessfully to seduce Jon Snow. Jon rebuffed her attempt by admitting that he was still in love with Ygritte. Elsewhere in Castle Black, Stannis had a tender moment with his disfigured daughter Shireen. He told the story of how she received her greyscale illness via a toy that he’d been sold as a gift for his then-baby daughter. Stannis pushed hard to have his daughter cured and he was ultimately successful.
Outside of Volantis, Jorah began taking Tyrion to Daenerys via a small boat. Tyrion managed to put together Jorah’s identity rather quickly and also deduced that Jorah hoped to regain Daenerys’s favor by supplying Tyrion to her. Of course, Tyrion questioned the probable success of that plan given that Jorah had been banished by Daenerys.
Sansa Stark was left behind at Winterfell by Littlefinger, but not before he told her a story about her aunt Lyanna being courted by Prince Rhaegar Targaryen prior to Rheagar’s alleged kidnapping of Lyanna. The pair discussed this scene in the same Stark family crypt where King Robert had discussed the same event with Eddard Stark at the beginning of the first season. Littlefinger then left for King’s Landing to answer Cersei’s summons but not before kissing Sansa on the lips. That moment was uncomfortable, to say the least.
Rhaegar was also mentioned later in the episode, this time by SerBarristanSelmy in a story that he told to Daenerys about Rhaegar’s habit of singing in the streets of King’s Landing. The then-Prince appeared to be a popular individual due to this habit. Events in Meereen then turned dark as Daenerys denied the request from HizdahrzoLoraq to reopen the fighting pits. Soon thereafter, the Sons of the Harpy ambushed some of the Unsullied. Grey Worm and Selmy were amongst those who fought back the Harpy attack but the episode ended on an ambiguous note with both men being seriously injured.
Thematically, this episode was interesting in that it showed similar upheaval facing both Cersei in King’s Landing and Daenerys in Meereen.
Episode 5: “Kill the Boy”
Viewers quickly learned the fate of SerBarristanSelmy in Meereen – he was dead. Grey Worm did live though and was tended to by Missandei. In response to the Sons of the Harpy attack, Daenerys rounded up all of the heads of Meereen’s ‘great families’ and had them brought to where two of her dragons remained chained in the catacombs. The dragon Rhaegal ate one of great family leaders as Daenerys claimed the dragons would determine guilt or innocence. Was that really the case? That wasn’t entirely clear.
Romance was in the air for Grey Worm and Missandei when Grey Worm admitted that he feared death only because that would mean being without Missandei. Less romantic and more formal was the situation with HizdahrzoLoraq as Daenerys decided to arrange a marriage with him to strengthen ties in the region.
At the Wall, Jon Snow received counsel from MaesterAemon regarding his plan to team up the Night’s Watch with the Wildlings against the White Walkers. Dissent for that plan was represented by Jon’s boy assistant Olly, whose family was previously killed by the Wilding’s raider party. Jon went ahead with the plan though and elsewhere Stannis conversed with Sam about how Sam had killed a White Walker. While Sam didn’t entirely understand the explanation, he knew that a weapon made out of dragonglass seemed to do the trick. Also at the Wall, Stannis’s confrontation with the Boltons eased forward as he prepared his army – and his family, with Melisandre in tow – to move toward Winterfell.
Various threads of activity were afoot at Winterfell, with Brienne coming across a Stark loyalist at an inn near Winterfell. The loyalist agreed to get a message through to Sansa alerting her to Brienne’s presence and offer of aid.
Ramsay Bolton found himself in an argument with his lover, the dogkeeper’s daughter Myranda. The pair used jealousy tactics on one another, with Myranda threatening to marry someone and Ramsay threatening Myranda’s life if she didn’t please him. For the moment at least, Ramsay seemed to regain control of the relationship but Myranda later pretended to be friends with Sansa. What seemed to be a pleasant conversation between the pair ended with Myranda taking Sansa to see Theon as Reek in a cage.
Ramsay was upset that Sansa saw Theon, but confronted the situation head-on by having Theon later join Sansa at dinner. Ramsey threatens to punish Theon for allowing himself to be seen by Sansa, but later ‘forgave’ him. Ramsey ended up encountering more important issues at the dinner, as he learned that his father’s new wife was pregnant and the child’s expected gender was a boy. If that were the case, Ramsay’s standing as Bolton heir would be in jeopardy. Roose compounded the situation by then telling the story of Ramsay’s illegitimate birth, his mother having been raped by Roose, and the resulting child being abandoned for Roose to accept.
The Boltons weren’t entirely oblivious to the threat from Stannis though, as word had apparently reached them that Stannis was intent on attacking Winterfell.
The episode closed out with Tyrion and Jorah taking their boat through the ruins of Valyria. Those ruins of a devastated and lost ancient civilization were beautiful and unnerving. The pair became distracted by the sight of Drogon flying through the sky, a sight that Tyrion had never before witnessed. Amid that distraction, Jorah and Tyrion were attacked by Stone Men. The Stone Men were victims of the Grey Scale disease and their touch spread that disease. Tyrion was knocked unconscious during the fight but Jorah fended off the Stone Men while saving Tyrion. Both Jorah and Tyrion wound up on shore, where viewer learned that Jorah had been infected with Grey Scale. He kept that fact from Tyrion.
Episode 6: “Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken”
Arya returned after a couple of absent episodes and was shown still cleaning dead bodies with The Waif. The Waif told the story of her supposed origin as the runaway child of a lord who had killed her stepmother. It wasn’t clear how much of that story was true though. JaqenH’ghar later tested Arya and she tried to tell her own recent history but with lies included that Jaqen easily caught.
A distraught father brought his ill daughter to the House of Black and White. Arya lied to the girl with a story about being cured of a similar illness by drinking from the temple’s well. That drinking was intended to peacefully kill the girl and it did just that. Jagenthen deemed Arya successful at lying and took her into the Faceless men’s Hall of Faces, showing where the heads of the washed dead bodies ended up. He told Arya that she had not yet given up being Arya to become ‘no one’ but that she was ready to become ‘someone else.’
Further to the east, Tyrion and Jorah were making their way across the rim of Slaver’s Bay on foot. They were several hundred miles from Meereen. While on the walk, Tyrion explained how he had ended up in Volantis after what Jorah appeared to acknowledge was a justified killing of Tywin. A conversation about fathers led Tyrion to mention the death of Joer Mormont back in the second season. Joer was Jorah’s father, the Knight’s Watch Commander whose men had killed him at Castor’s Keep. Jorah appeared to be visibility upset to suddenly learn of his father’s death.
Later in the walk, Tyrion questioned how good of a leader Daenerys would be if she ruled Westros and also wondered about the true legitimacy of her claim to the throne. The Targaryen family did, afterall, have a history of insanity that didn’t bode well for Daenerys. That conversation was cut short when Tyrion and Jorah were captured by slavers.
The leader of the slavers was a man named Malko who intended to kill Tyrion. Instead, Tryion managed to talk his way out of the situation by pointing out that his dwarf penis would fetch a higher price if he were still attached to it. He also pointed out how Jorah was a famous knight and Malko realized that he could get a good price for Jorah in Meereen, having misunderstood the reopening of the city’s fighting pits to mean that slavery was again a viable business in that city. As a result, Tyrion and Jorah found themselves being taken toward Meereen by the slavers.
Over in Dorne, Jaime and Bronn made their way to the Water Garden while dressed in disguise as local soldiers. They were in for a couple of surprises as Jaime found that Myrcella was in no hurry to leave Dorne. In fact, she appeared to be quite smitten by Trystane Martell, to whom she was betrothed. While Jaime tried to pull Myrcella away from Trystane, the Sand Snakes attacked. Prince Doran Martell’s guards stepped in to bring order to the situation though, with Jaime, Bronn, Ellaria and the Sand Snakes all being taken into custody.
Littlefinger met with Cersei at King’s Landing, the pair discussing the loyalty of the Knights of the Vale now that Littlefinger was the de facto lord of that area. He assured Cersei that she could count on those knights against the Boltons at Winterfell. Littlefinger’s request for doing such a deed would be that he become the warden of the North if his forces were victorious and Cersei said that she would speak with Tommen about the request.
Cersei also met with Olenna Tyrell, who called her out for not getting Loras released from custody but Cersei claimed that the High Septon would soon be performing an inquiry where Loras would like be acquitted. Things seemed to go fine at that inquiry with Loras denying the charges regarding his homosexuality and Margaery backing up his claims of innocence. Events turned bad for the Tyrells after Loras’s former lover Olyvar testified that he’d been part of a running gay relationship with Loras and that Margaery had been aware of it. Amid Loras’s angry response to the claims, both Loras and Margaery were taken into custody. Olenna appeared to realize the secret treachery that had occurred during the preceding scene due to Cersei’s smug reaction.
Up at Winterfell, Sansa was bathed with help from Myranda, who told her stories of the girls killed by Ramsay after boring him. Rather than be intimidated, Sansa told Myranda that she know of the girl’s relationship with Ramsay and her jealousy over his wedding to Sansa. That wedding indeed happened with Theon awkwardly giving away the bride under the ancient Godswood tree at night. Ramsay then took Sansa and Theon to a bedroom where he raped Sansa and made Theon stay in the room to watch. The sight of this violence inflected on a woman whom Theon had grown up alongside seemed to visibly make Theon distraught.
This episode’s most talked-about element was the dark ending, with Sansa yet-again having something horrible happen to her. Surely no other character had endured such tragedy, with her father dying in the first season and then much of the rest of her family either dying or seeming to die in the seasons that followed. One might assume that the episode’s title referred to Sansa, but actually referred to the Martell family in Dorne. Specifically, it refered to their ability to remain autonomous, having stood again the Targaryen rule until a marriage brought about an alliance a century prior to the series’ current timeframe.
Episode 7:”The Gift”
Sam was the unexpected star of this episode’s segments at the Wall. It was Sam who said good-bye to Jon Snow, as Jon headed off to the village of Hardhome to strike a deal with the Wildlings. It was also Sam who sat by MaesterAemon as he died of old age. Aemon was an unusual character on the show, a rarity in being shown as dying of old age. He’d had a chance to rule of the kingdom but he declined that opportunity due to having previously taken his Maester vows and then later having taken Night’s Watch vows to avoid being pulled into political intrigue. Many other characters on the show might have had much longer lives if they’d followed Aemon’s example of non-intervention. Finally, Sam saved Gilly from being raped by some of the Night’s Watch. Given critical sensitives around the show’s use of rape over the prior two seasons, what followed next ended up being controversial. Gilly seduced Sam as a sort of reward for his heroics and he broke his Night’s Watch vow by sleeping with her.
Speaking of controversy, the prior episode’s ending was followed up with Sansa being shown bruised in her bedchamber. She plotted against Ramsay by asking Theon to light a candle in Winterfell’s tower, a signal to Brianne that Sansa wanted help. Theon instead told Ramsay of the request and Ramsay later showed Sansa the dead body of the loyalist who had given Sansa the message about how to signal Brianne. The only positive of that entire scene was that Sansa took the opportunity to discretely grab a tool that she would use as a weapon in a later episode.
Stannis’s troops continued their march toward Winterfell, with growing concerns about the encroaching Winter weather and troop number losses as sell-swords deserted the army. Melisandre confirmed that she still believed that Stannis would win his battle but she requested sacrificing Shireen to the Red God as a way to ensure that victory. Stannis refused the request.
One of the episode’s more amusing character scenes involved Olenna Tyrell verbally sparring with the High Sparrow regarding the imprisonment of Loras and Margaery. None of Olenna’s pressure tactics worked, although she was given a ray of hope when Littlefinger discretely approached her. She reminded him of his expected loyalty to her given her ability to implicate him as a co-conspirator in the killing of Joffrey.
Later, Cersei went through motions for Tommen’s benefit, claiming that she would speak to the High Sparrow about freeing Margaery. Cersei instead went to Margaery’s cell to mock her, but the joke was on Cersei in the end as she found herself unexpectedly imprisoned. The High Sparrow had seemingly learned from Lancel about Lancel’s part in killing King Robert on Cersei’s behalf, as well as Lancel’s brief affair with Cersei.
The latest events in Dorne were presented in short but memorable fashion. Jaime was in custody and visited by Myrcella, who insisted that she was in love with Trystaneand had no interest in leaving Dorne. Elsewhere, Bronn was being held in a cell opposite the cell holding the Sand Snakes. He found himself in quite a situation, inching near death from a poisoned dagger that had been used against him during his brief fight against the Sand Snakes. Tyene Sand ended up seducing Bronn from opposite cells, eventually giving Bronn the poison’s antidote after he declared her the most beautiful woman in the world.
The episode’s big finale involved moving storylines ahead of the then-current source material. Jorah and Bronn were both sold as slave warriors, with Tryion briefly showing some manner of skill while attacking a slaver. The pair reached Meereen, where Daenerys and Daario were discussing Daenerys’s upcoming wedding. Daario advised simply killing all of Meereen’s noble families but Daenerys rejected that idea. The fighting pits re-opened with Daenerys in attendance and she was surprised when a single warrior dispatched all of the other warriors in the pit. That warrior turned out to be Jorah, a fact that didn’t impress Daenerys. As she was requesting that Jorah be taken away, Tyrion stepped into the pit to reveal his identity.
This episode served to mostly move pieces into their final positions for whatever climaxes various storylines would have for the season. The main threads would range from events at the Wall to the Sparrow trial and Stannis marching against the Bolton forces at Winterfell. Playing a lesser role would presumably be the situation in Dorne and also Tyrion’s arrival in Meereen he could begin advising Daenerys. Not to be forgotten in the season’s storylines was Arya and her training as an assassin.
Episode 8: “Hardhome”
Arya played a not-insignificant role in this episode, essentially being given her first mission as an assassin. She had been assuming the identity of an oyster seller named Lana and she was later told by Jaqen that the disgruntled customers of a Life Insurance Salesman had contracted the Faceless Men to kill the man for not paying on a life insurance claim. Arya was given orders to kill the Life Insurance Salesman after first learning any information from him that she could gather.
Cersei’s situation amid imprisonment in King’s Landing continued to get worse as Septa Unella tried without success to make Cersei to confess to her crimes in exchange for water.
At Winterfell, Sansa learned from Theon that he had not actually killed her brothers Bran and Rickon. This closed a loop in regards to Sansa’s knowledge that had lasted for several seasons. Ramsay met with his father to discuss the approach of Stannis’s army and he requested twenty top warriors to use in mounting an offensive push.
This episode marked the first of what would be several future scenes between Tyrion and Daenerys. The two characters verbally spared, each sizing the other up and finding common ground as the children of horrible fathers who were trying to do some manner of right in a crazy world. Tyrion ultimately agreed to serve as an advisor to Daenerys and Daenerys agreed not to kill Tyrion for simply being a Lannister. Jorah found himself again kicked out of Meereen and again sought out use of the fighting pits as a way to regain an audience with Daenerys. He continued to keep his greyscale infection a secret from everyone.
Up at the Wall, the boy Olly, whose family had been killed by Wildlings, continued to question Jon Snow’s willingness to work with the Wildlings. In this case, he badgered Sam on the topic and Sam simply pointed out that the White Walkers posed a bigger threat than the Wildlings.
Indeed they did. The last thirty minutes of this episode took place at the Wildling town of Hardhome and it featured a tense negotiation between Jon and the area’s Wildlings. Those negotiations resulted in roughly 5,000 Wildlings being loaded on boats and shipped back to the Wall to help defend against the White Walkers. Unfortunately, soon after most of Jon’s new allies had departed Hardhome, the White Walkers attacked the village.
An impressive battle then ensued with the Wildlings being aided by dragonglass weapons that Jon had provided to them as a gift. Hordes of zombie-like White Walkers eventually overwhelmed the village though just as Jon managed to escape. The battle had included some impressive moments, like a giant taking down many White Walkers and a strategy where the White Walkers jumped off a cliff en masse only to raise up again to fight. A segment involving several White Walker children was especially creepy.
As Jon was departing in a boat, he looked back to see the Night’s King raise up his own fallen allies as well as those who had been killed in the village. Viewers had to assume that fighting the White Walkers would be a nearly-impossible task given their ability to keep going and even add to their numbers as they went along.
Episode 9: “The Dance of Dragons”
Arya was in the midst of her mission to kill the Insurance Man from the last episode, but she got distracted upon spotting MerynTrant arriving in Braavos with Mace Tyrell. Trantwas the Kingsguard member who had been on Arya’s kill list for both betraying her father and also for potentially having killed the sword master SyrioForel. Arya tracked Trant to a brothel but was distracted before she could kill Trant and later lied to Jaqen about the Insurance Man not being hungry for her poisoned food that day. A plan was made for Arya to kill the Insurance Man the next day and the audience was left to wonder if Jaqen believed Arya’s lie or if he cared.
Jon and the Wildling escapees from Hardhome were allowed back through the tunnel under the Wall, although there was a moment where it seemed like perhaps Alliser might not allow the tunnel gate to be opened. Alliser did issue Jon a warning in private that his generosity toward the Wildlings would get him killed and there was a certain foreboding sense that Jon’s men might mutiny on him.
The situation in Dorne began to wind down with Jaime put on a trial of sorts, interviewed by Doran Martell. Doran didn’t want to incite a war though and he worked out a deal such that Jaime and Myrcella would be allowed to return to King’s Landing so long as Trystane took Oberyn’s spot on the Small Council. This scene was relatively playful, with Bronn also being freed after allowing Doran’s head of security to strike him in the face. The Sand Snakes even struck a deal for freedom when Ellaria pledged her loyalty to Doran.
Over in Meereen, the fighting season officially began in the fighting pits and Jorah was again revealed to be in the fights. He even managed to kill a would-be assassin of Daenerys while in the middle of one of his fights. Daenerys’ marriage to Hizdahr proved short lived after the Sons of the Harpy stormed the fighting stadium and killed him. All seemed lost when Drogon appeared on the scene to save Daenerys, killing a number of the Sons of the Harpy in the process of pulling off the rescue. The scene came to a climax as Daenerys rode Drogon into the sky and five seasons of waiting for just this moment was finally paid off.
As much as one might remember this episode for finally getting to see Daenerys ride a dragon, it would surely be instead remembered for another reason. Unquestionably, the most-shocking moment took place at the end when Stannis allowed Melisandre to burn Shireen alive. This was an ugly moment that took place after Stannis’s forces found themselves in a desperate situation. Their supplies had been burned by the actions of the twenty men who Ramsay Bolton had requested he lead in a covert raid on Stannis’s camp. Stannis realized that his forces had winter bearing down on them and went along with Melisandre’s plan to sacrifice Shireen to the Lord of Light. Stannis seemed to get the impression through conversations with Shireen that she was giving a blessing to his sacrifice of her, but the scene where she was burned was ugly to an extreme on a show known for extremes.
The one positive that came out of Shireen’s death was that it cleared up the on-the-fence position that Stannis had inhabited with the viewer. We’d never been entirely sure what to make of the guy, if he was hero or villain. After killing his daughter, he jumped up to the first or second position as the show’s primary not-undead villain, give or take how one wanted to compare him to the Boltons.
An interesting bit regarding Westros’s past was mentioned by Shireen in a scene where Stannis asked about a story that she had been reading. The story, “The Dance of the Dragons,” was apparently a recap of a Targaryen family war that involved dragon-against-dragon battles. That conflict caused long-term problems that led to the supposed extinction of dragons until Daenerys’ dragons appeared.
Episode 10: Mother’s Mercy
Arya delivered the episode’s first shocker when she posed as a young girl at the brothel seen in the last episode. She wore a mask that she used to trick and trap MerynTrant, whom she slowly killed while reminding him that she held him accountable for the Syrio’s supposed death. When Arya returned to the House of Black and White, it wasn’t long before Jaqen and the Waif confronted her about her having taken Meryn’s life without a contract. In a surreal scene, Jaqen appeared to commit suicide in a weird exchange of sorts of Meryn’s death by consuming poison and Arya removed numerous faces from his head before coming upon her own. The moment was evocative of Luke’s training in “The Empire Strikes Back.” Even more curious, the Waif suddenly had Jaqen’s face and voice. Arya then lost her sign and she screamed out for help.
Over in Meereen, Daenerys had left her advisors rather confused as to what they should do next. Jorah and Daario decided to team up to find Daenerys, with Grey Worm and Tyrion both requesting to join in the search. Of course, Grey Worm was still injured and Tyrion was the only person with the political experience to potentially hold down the proverbial fort in Meereen. Amusingly, Varys appeared in Meereen after having finally made his way there in slower fashion than Tyrion. Varys offered to contribute his own governing skills to the situation.
So where had Daenerys fled on Drogon after the end of the last episode? They landed in the grassy Dothraki Sea where Drogon was recovering from injuries sustained at the hands of the Sons of the Harpy. When Daenerys went off to forage for food, she suddenly found herself surrounded by Dothraki and became their prisoner.
In the North of Westros, the sacrifice of Shireen appeared to have resulted in softening weather conditions near Winterfell. Unfortunately for Stannis, that good fortune was offset by the desertion of half of his forces. By this point, Stannis’s army was a fraction of how it stood earlier in the season. Adding to Stannis’s problems was the discovery that his wife Selyse had hung herself in despair over the death of her daughter. Finally, Melisandre seemed to know that the situation was hopeless and had fled for Castle Black at the Wall before the battle.
Stannis thought that he’d be using his forces in a siege on Winterfell, but the Boltons simply attacked him by using a much larger army. The Bolton army was shown in dramatic fashion bearing down on Stannis’s forces and surrounding them. In the aftermath of the defeat of Stannis’s army, Stannis was confronted by Brienne. She had a brief discussion with Stannis about his involvement in killing Renly and her duty to kill Stannis in revenge. While Stannis’s death wasn’t explicitly shown, it was heavily implied that he was no longer alive after his encounter with Brienne.
Sansa took advantage of the general distraction inside and outside of Winterfell that Stannis’s attack caused and made her way to the Winterfell’s town to light a signal candle for Brienne. In doing so, she was confronted by Myranda and nearly killed before Theon pushed Myranda to her death. As Ramsay was returning from the battle, both Sansa and Theon decided to jump from the tower and into the soft snow below it as a way to get escape from Winterfell.
The situation in Dorne was left on an interesting cliffhanger, as Jaime departed for King’s Landing with Bronn, Myrcella, and Trystane. Soon after setting sail, Jaimie began telling Myrcella that he was her father but she cut him off and revealed that she already knew the truth. What should have been a nice moment for Jaimie quickly went bad after Myrcellafell ill. Audiences learned that Ellaria Sand had poisoned Myrcella and it wasn’t clear if she would have access to the same poison that Bronn had used to save himself from a similar poisoning.
Two final major character turns rounded out this season finale. In King’s Landing, Cersei finally gave in and confessed to adultery with Lancel Lannister. Cersei’s hair was cut and she was stripped naked, then put on a walk of shame through the streets of King’s Landing. This was quite a character turn for a woman who had at times been the most powerful woman in Westros. She was eventually taken in by her uncle Kevan and others, with the re-born monster-like Mountain seemingly serving as her new protector. Trivia fans might note that this marked Cersei’s first nude scene and that reveal was explicitly saved for this demoralizing moment.
Events at the Wall were even more significant, as Sam gained permission from Jon Snow to head for the Citadel to train as a Maester. With Aemon dead, the Night’s Watch needed a new Maester and Sam also seemed to be using this plan as a way to get Gilly and her child to safety away from Castle Black.
Davos, having been dispatched to Castle Black by Stannis to ask for aid, met with Jon snow. Jon turned down the request and, curiously ,Melisandre showed up at Castle Black soon thereafter but refused to get into any details regarding Stannis’s fate or the fate of Shireen. Given Melisandre’s despondent look though, it was fairly clear that any news from her would not have been positive.
With Sam gone from Castle Black, Jon was left with little to no allies amongst the Night’s Watch. A group of the Night’s Watch men had decided to take action against Jon for his controversial action of teaming with the Wildings. Jon’s uncle Benjen had been missing since the first season and faked news of his supposed return was used to lure Jon into a trap. While Jon was stabbed by the ambushing Watch men, it was young Olly who appeared to deliver the fatal blow. Olly’s disapproval of Jon helping the Wildlings had popped up throughout the season, with him still being bitter that the Wildlings had wiped out his entire village. It was hardly a surprise that he would be involved in what appeared to be Jon’s death.
It was remarkable to note that season five raced through the majority of two massive books within a single season after having spent two full seasons on George R. R. Martin’s third book in the series. Much of this economy spoke to a point that readers had complained about, namely that the fourth and fifth books in the series were bloated with unnecessary characters or asides.
The big talker at the end of the season was Jon’s fate, with both book readers and television viewers unsure of he was truly dead. Despite claims by the actor himself that the character would not be part of the sixth season of the show, skeptics insisted that his character was too central to the show’s most-significant unresolved mysteries.
The final character turn for Stannis was an odd and somewhat disappointing end to his shift from quasi-hero to villain. He’d been a hard and selfish man at times, but he’d also been the hero of the prior season while showing a softer fatherly side at times in season five. Rather than assume a longer role as the show’s main villain, he was quickly disposed of after the horrible sacrifice of his daughter.
The storyline at King’s Landing still needed to resolve the can of worms opened by allowing the Sparrows to have prominence. The Sparrows’ fundamentalist behavior seemed to bending just a little bit given that they ultimately had an interest in keeping the current power structure in place since they could control it.
The cliffhanger involving Myrcella and HBO’s show page listing her as dead stopped cold what had seemed an interesting “Romeo and Juliet”-like romance for her character. The repercussions of her presumed death would be interesting to see unfold.
Of similar levels of interest was Sansa’s fate with Theon and Arya’s future as an assassin. Theon appeared to be broken free of his Reek persona, with the controversial rape of Sansa likely being the catalyst that led to his freedom. Would the post-Reek Theon be more trustworthy than the slimeball that he’d been before his multi-season torture?
Arya’s storyline had raised questions as to what she’d signed up for when joining the Faceless Men. Arya’s motive had been to seek revenge on people who had personally wronged her. In joining what was increasingly appearing to be a magic-based murder cult, Arya was getting in deep with a group that was likely more than she bargained for.
Daenerys’s storyline finally started to get some momentum back into it after Tyrion crossed her path and audiences saw some dragon-riding action. The return of the Dothraki to the fold was a welcomed change after what had been nearly two seasons of dragging plotline for Daenerys. Tyrion would presumably bring some sense and wit to what was increasingly portrayed as a hopeless situation.
Season five ended on a higher note than it began but it didn’t quite reach the climactic heights that had marked moments at the end of the prior seasons. To be sure, there were some memorable high points though. Perhaps most importantly, the story did finally feel like it was beginning to contract toward a conclusion even if that contraction was not yet very significant.