Monday, June 15, 2015

RECAP: Game of Thrones 5x08 - Ice Zombies Are Scariest Zombies


Man, that was some Game of Thrones finale last night, wasn't it? I mean, I assume it was some finale. I haven't actually seen it yet because as you may recall, we're a little behind on Game of Thrones recaps. So while you all discuss that finale around your watercoolers and what have you, here's a quick take on an episode from three weeks ago. You're welcome.

Last time on Game of Thrones, we finally got to see Cersei reap the religious fanaticism she's sown, enjoyed a blissful moment of Daenerys and Tyrion staring each other down, and discovered that Theon Greyjoy is way way way too brainwashed to be useful to our poor embattled Sansa. Also Melisandre told Stannis that the only way to save the world was to sacrifice his only daughter to the Red God. So, you know, a pretty normal week by Game of Thrones standards.

This week our story jumps ahead a little bit and shows those plotlines carrying out. Well, most of them. Stannis and Melisandre and potential child-sacrifice will have to wait, but otherwise we catch right up on all of our favorite delinquents and degenerates to find out who's advanced a space on the "game of thrones" (get it?) and who is going to have to go back to start. I'm not sure what kind of boardgame this is, but clearly no one on the show is particularly good at it.

Our stories here revolved around the really central plots - King's Landing, Meereen, and Jon Snow's adventures with the Wildlings - as well as some less central but still engaging stuff. Sam and Gilly's domestic soap opera, Sansa's continuing woes, Jorah's very bad day, and Arya's pyramid scheme. So as per usual, we'll start with the least important/smallest plotline and work our way up.

Sam and Gilly! It's not that Sam and Gilly aren't important characters, it's just that their contributions to this episode were pretty minimal. And, well, they aren't important characters, at least not yet. I like them purely because they're not super important, actually. They're the rare set of characters who we see who aren't out to move mountains or change the world. They're just two nice kids who love each other and are trying to make a go of it, weird circumstances aside.

Sam and Gilly are important for the narrative if only because they remind us that not all battles in life are giant sprawling tales of epicness. Sometimes the biggest fight in your life is to be respected by your coworkers, and that doesn't make you less of a person. It's okay. 

Anyway, we catch these crazy kids as they're continuing to deal with the aftermath of last episode. Gilly is treating Sam's wounds and they're both pretty jumpy when there's a knock at the door. But it's just Olly, Jon's protege kid, with a question for Sam. So Gilly begs off and Sam gets to play wise elder to the child. What's your question, young Olly?

Basically, Olly has issues with what Jon is doing. Jon is, as you may recall, going up North to rescue the Wildlings before they can be turned into more fodder for the White Walkers, and that decision has been a teensy bit controversial with the men of the Night's Watch. Not least of all with Olly, who watched his whole family slaughtered and then had to see the man who saved him turn around and team up with the guy who stuck an axe through his mum's skull. Olly has feelings about this. Bad feelings.

Sam, for what it's worth, is completely not getting where Olly is going with this. He thinks Olly is worried about Jon's safety, so he gives a nice speech about how a man has to do what a man is going to do, whether he thinks others will understand or not, and then he assures Olly that Jon will come back. "He always does."

Which is not what Olly wanted to hear, I think.

A little further south in Winterfell, Sansa gets just one scene to tell Theon/Reek exactly how displeased she is that he told Ramsay she wanted to escape. And, unfortunately, the scene quickly becomes all about him and not at all about her, which isn't fair. She wants to know why he did it, and while his reasons are understandable, they still blow. He took what little agency she had left and shredded it. So, no, your choice to "do it to protect her" is not noble, okay? 

And while Theon/Reek's recounting of what happened when he tried to escape and how Ramsay ultimately broke him is sad, it's also not enough. Sansa is a damn survivor, while Theon was always a little close to breaking. We saw it in him before, that he would bend for whoever was in front of him, but he had little iron of his own. Sansa has iron. She has iron and steel and winter in her veins. I'm not worried about her. Unless the writers screw it up...

At any rate, her interrogation does yield some fruit. While Sansa yells and rages at Theon/Reek for betraying her, she uncovers a surprising secret: Theon did not kill her brothers. He killed two little boys, yes, but not Bran and Rickon Stark. So Sansa gets the first taste of hope she's had in a long time that, far from being the last Stark left alive, she has a family out there somewhere.*

Meanwhile, Roose Bolton and Ramsay plot for war. Roose is happy to hole up in Winterfell and wait out the "Southern king" knocking at their gates. After all, Stannis and his men are mired in snow and short on supplies. Winterfell is made for winters, they'll be fine.

But Ramsay has a counter-argument. The North will follow a strong leader, not just one who sits behind and waits for nature to do their work for them. There's no sense in sending out soldiers to battle the Baratheon army, instead he can just send Ramsay and twenty good men. They're Northerners who know the land and can move more quickly through snow. They'll do some damage for sure.

In King's Landing this week we actually got just a bare taste of story. Cersei, having been locked up at the end of last episode, is understandably not doing great in prison. She's all hissing and yelling and spitting at people, reminding the septa who comes in to check on her that she's rich and powerful and would make a terrible enemy. The septa does not care, and we are treated to a very entertaining scene of interrogation by water. As in, the septa holds out a ladle full of water and asks Cersei to confess. Cersei refuses, usually with insults. The septa pours the water out on the floor. Repeat.

Which of course ends with the septa going away without a confession and Cersei having to lap water up off the floor. Not even a visit from a member of the Small Council can cheer her up. It seems that King Tommen has taken this final indignity - the loss of his mother after the arrests of his wife and brother-in-law - as the last straw and is locked up in his room refusing to eat. He won't visit his mother, and neither will her uncle. Said uncle has returned to King's Landing and is taking control of the Small Council, but that's basically just one big screw you to Cersei, because he did tell her at the beginning of the season that she was going to mess everything up...

No news on Margaery and Loras, but I think we can safely assume that they're still miserable and bored, if being treated slightly more kindly than Cersei is. I mean, Margaery's great crime is basically perjury, and Loras' crime is sodomy. Cersei, on the other hand, is accused of incest and regicide, so I feel like the pressure is off our Tyrell kids for the moment. The faith has bigger fish to fry than two weird nobles in their twenties.

Over in Braavos, Arya is finally getting to play her "game of faces". As in, Jaqen is helping her build a new identity as a carapace over who she really is. He sticks to what he said, that she's not ready to be no one, but she is ready to be someone else. That someone else is Lana, an orphan from Braavos, who has saved up enough money to have her own oyster cart. She sells oysters every day, and she's even picked up some regular customers. 

There's a really funny comic online about how this is actually the House of White and Black's pyramid scam, but the reality of this storyline is a little more complex. Arya is learning how to lie about her identity, but she's also scouting a mark. Jaqen tells her that her mission is to go down to the docks and tell him what she sees there. That's all.

What she sees is a man, a thin, hungry-faced man, who buys some oysters from her. The man, she sees, does business with the ship captains who come through, and as Jaqen explains it, he's basically an insurance broker. The captains pay him some money so that, if they die at sea, he will give their wives and children money to live on. If they don't die at sea, the man gets to keep the money. The problem is that apparently the hungry-faced man keeps the money either way. A poor woman and child? Who will they go to for help? Who can they turn to who will believe their plight?

So I guess the House of White and Black is a form of social justice in the incredibly unjust world of Westeros. And this is Arya's first assignment. She will watch the hungry-faced man, she will sell him oysters and she will smile. When the time comes, she will kill him. This is her test. The waif doesn't think she's ready, but it's time to see if she can become ready.

Okay. We're down to the big stuff.

In Meereen, Daenerys is still reeling from the reveal at the fighting pits. She legitimately never expected to see Jorah again, and certainly not dragging Tyrion Lannister behind him. She's also got kind of a problem on her hands, because when she banished Jorah she told him that if he ever came back she would have him killed. She doesn't want to have him killed, but he's rather forced her hand.

Tyrion takes a minute to stand up for Jorah here, inserting himself already as Daenerys' advisor. She shouldn't kill Jorah because he's devoted to her. She wants people to be devoted to her, and if they figure that the reward for that is death, then it's not apt to happen. Also, she probably doesn't want to emulate her super crazy father.**

But she can't just let him wander freely around Meereen either. So Daenerys has no real other choice than to gently banish Jorah a second time, escorting him out of the city and basically gently putting him down on the other side of the gates. It's as kind as Daenerys is able to be, really, but Jorah doesn't think it's enough. He marches himself right back to the guy who bought him at slave auction and demands to be put back in the fighting pits. He won his round, so he should get to fight for the Queen in the grand arena, right?

Jorah, let me stop you right here. This is neither healthy nor sane. it's getting kind of weird, really. You need to move on, or at least accept that continuing to chase after Daenerys is only going to put her in more and more precarious positions. Come on, dude.

Meanwhile, Daenerys and Tyrion have a nice lunch in her study and size each other up. It's a fantastically written scene, and I can't do it justice here, but suffice it to say that they're both auditioning here, really. Tyrion wants to know if Daenerys is a queen worth following and serving. Daenerys wants to know if Tyrion is an advisor worth listening to. In the end, they are both satisfied with each other and decide to work together. Yay! At least something has gone right this episode.

And it's basically the last thing to go right in the episode, because our final plotline is epic, but a total downer. Jon Snow and his boats reach the Wildlings at Hardhome and are greeted by a particularly frosty reception. Get it? Frosty? Nevermind.

For some reason the Wildlings aren't super stoked about trusting a bunch of Crows with boats. Who's to say that the Brothers of the Night's Watch won't just wait until they're all on the boats and then torch the damn things? Well, nothing is to say that, except that Jon says it won't happen and Torvald says he's trustworthy. Things take a dive even further when Jon lets slip that he's the one who killed Mance Rayder, but Torvald continues to vouch for him and that sways a few of the clans. Not enough, though.

Five thousand wildlings board the ships and are ready to sail out of Hardhome, but that still leaves too many behind. Torvald is sure the rest will follow once they realize there's no other way out, but there might not be time for that. With twenty minutes to go in the episode, suddenly we find ourselves flung into the middle of a particularly good zombie movie. The White Walkers attack Hardhome and it does not go well.

Jon brought a supply of dragonglass - the only thing known to kill White Walkers - with him, but it's trapped in a burning building. So we essentially get twenty minutes of really cool setpiece, and I'm not going to torture you all by describing it here. The end gist is that White Walkers are terrifying and apparently have differing levels of intelligence and power, that you can also kill Walkers with a sword made from Valyrian steel, and that the White Walkers can make more White Walkers if their king raises his arms a little. Also that the the one new female character introduced here turns into a zombie, so there goes that dream of having more female leads.

The upshot ends up being that most of the Wildlings get away, and Jon of course survives because he's got plot armor, but the dragon glass is left behind and the White Walkers have a couple thousand more troops to add to their zombie horde. So that's not good.

All in all, this episode was more buildup than anything else. I mean, it had the requisite set piece that I guess all Game of Thrones seasons must have in the eighth episode, but other than that it was really just laying groundwork. Arya's plot trudges along. Stuff is happening at Winterfell, but not super quickly. Cersei is in jail. Daenerys continues to be mired in Meereen, which is logical for her and boring for us. And Jon continues to show that he's a great military commander and positively crap with people. 

And I know it's funny recapping this now that the season is over, but I think it's worth it all the same. Game of Thrones is beautiful and artistic and represents some of the best acting in television, but it's also a show that really needs analysis and lots of it. I like it, but it's incredibly problematic. We all know that. It's a show that desperately wants to prove how edgy it is and how much people who aren't nerds should feel good for liking it. It's a show that insists on "proving itself" and has rather turned into some dude at the bar doing shots just to say he can, even though no one cares.

But that's just me, and maybe I'm bitter. Who knows. All I can say is that we have two more episodes left, two more recaps left, and things had better get a lot more interesting for the women of Westeros or I'm out of here.

More of this, less of everything else, please. Thanks.
*Which is interesting, because she actually has a fair bit of family. I mean, Bran and Rickon are still alive, but so too is Arya. And Jon, whichever side of the family he gets it from, is half Stark. So really the only ones missing are her parents and Robb. This is not to say that Sansa's pain is illegitimate, just that things aren't so dire for the Starks as they sometimes seem.

**Or, as I like to think of it, their super crazy father, because I subscribe to the theory that Tyrion is a secret Targaryen.

2 comments:

  1. We catch right up on all of our favorite delinquents and degenerates to find out who's advanced a space on the "game of thrones" (get it?) and who is going to have to go back to start. I'm not sure what kind of boardgame this is, but clearly no one on the show is particularly good at it.

    I think it was the Wire that had the line about how the players come and go but the game is always the game, and so the game is the only winner. It seems applicable here too.

    And, unfortunately, the scene quickly becomes all about him and not at all about her, which isn't fair. She wants to know why he did it, and while his reasons are understandable, they still blow.

    One of the most frustrating things about this storyline is that while I'm not all that interested Theon, after what Ramsey's done to him he's due some "all about him" time. But it's like he's got Sansa's instead of his own.

    There's a really funny comic online about how this is actually the House of White and Black's pyramid scam, but the reality of this storyline is a little more complex.

    It could be both - waste not want not.

    So I guess the House of White and Black is a form of social justice in the incredibly unjust world of Westeros.

    That is something I did not expect. I wonder how often they take cases like that. And if one of the hungry faced man's victims asked them to or they chose it themselves. And if so whether it's his face or that victim's or both that'll end up in their collection.

    With twenty minutes to go in the episode, suddenly we find ourselves flung into the middle of a particularly good zombie movie. The White Walkers attack Hardhome and it does not go well.

    Team Fangsforthefantasy favourably compared Game of Thrones zombies with Walking Dead zombies, to which I replied that it's amazing how much better zombies and zombie stories get when the zombies are treated as something that matters instead of hungry scenery.*

    * Though actual hungry scenery would be bloody terrifying.

    It's a show that insists on "proving itself" and has rather turned into some dude at the bar doing shots just to say he can, even though no one cares.

    What a very good description.

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    1. Dude, great line. Yes, I think that's a very accurate assessment. Which makes Daenerys' declaration that she wants to "break the wheel of the world" even more compelling.

      I agree. I would be totally down with having Sansa time AND Theon time. That would be cool. But they're treating it like it's either or. And that's not at all okay.

      I really just want more information about the House of White and Black in general. I want to sit down and just read a huge explanation of how that place works, how many people there are there, how many faces there are, etc. WHAT DO THE PEOPLE OF BRAAVOS THINK OF THEM? I need to know these things.

      Hungry scenery sounds like something out of my nightmares, but yes. Having the zombies actually be characters does make a big difference.

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