This review contains spoilers
‘Hardhome’ is a balance of spectacle and intrigue, an unexpected and exhilarating ride that begins to deliver the promises of earlier episodes.
It starts where the last episode left off, with Daenerys and Tyrion sizing each other up through a series of debates, each attempting to determine if the other is worthy of their time. In the shadow of this Jorah’s fate is wordlessly sealed, as he is banished once again, barely able to utter a sound in his defence. The greyscale begins to affect him psychologically and, now essentially a dead man walking, he resigns himself back to the fighting pits in the hope that he can fight for his Queen one last time.
Line of the week: A ruler who kills those devoted to her is not one who inspires devotion. – Tyrion
Cersei is at a new low; confined to a single cell, beaten for a confession and starved of water. She is finally getting her just deserts, yet it is difficult not to feel a stab of sympathy for her situation.
Arya’s scenes are of contrast to this. Her training to become a Faceless Man has begun and we are treated to colourful depictions of Braavos as she learns to take notice of details in her surroundings. The design is truly immersive and the representations of Braavos life and culture really do add to the Game of Thrones experience.
In Winterfell, Sansa and Theon share a brief scene; Theon attempts to persuade Sansa that his betrayal was an act to protect her, and reveals that the two boys he burned to death were not Bran and Rickon, while Ramsay hatches a plan to take Stannis’ army by surprise.
Olly talks with Sam at The Wall, once again voicing his unwavering hatred for the wildlings. This scene is uncomfortable to watch; Sam, blinded by his age, sees Olly as only a child, oblivious to the impact his words have on him.
The next half of the episode is dedicated to Jon beyond the wall at Hardhome and his mission to relocate the Free Folk. This leads to one of the most exciting sequences we have seen in Game of Thrones so far. It blends action with horror, perfectly building up a sense of dread until the very moment the White Walker attack begins.
This episode will be remembered for its final twenty minutes, not just because of the scale of the battle but because of the implications it has on the story as a whole. We are finally seeing what might constitute as an end game in the Game of Thrones world; the White Walkers have always been a major threat to the people living in the known continents, but now we have seen the extent of the power they possess, and it is terrifying.
While the high point of the episode is definitely the latter half, the earlier scenes are equally well constructed. Tyrion is finally allowed to shine again in front of Daenerys, and we are reminded why he is such a loved character. The wisdom in his advice really shows how naïve Daenerys still is. She has ambitious words – as she puts it, she will “break the wheel” – but she really has no idea how to actually rule. Tyrion will therefore be integral to her if she is to ever have any success. We have been anticipating these scenes from the very start of the season, and they deliver beautifully.
I loved Arya’s scenes simply because of how detailed the construction of life in Braavos was. Arya’s storyline has been slightly slower than previous seasons, partly due to her getting less screen time than she has before. However, this has helped to grow the element of mystery needed in her training process. I am happy that they have not rushed her becoming an assassin and they have left open room for her storyline to go in many different directions.
There has been a fairly vocal general consensus that up until this point the series has been a lot slower than other seasons. However, I don’t feel that the pacing of the season is the issue, because lots of major events have been happening. Rather, it is the general formula that the show seems to have been stuck in. Sansa’s story is an example of this – while we saw change in Sansa and assumed that she would be finally taking control of her life, she has once again been passed on to another psychopathic husband. Her scene this week was the weakest point of the episode. It felt more like an exposition dump in order to get Sansa up to speed in preparation for the final climax, rather than the meaningful revelation it should have been.
Overall, this was an exceptional episode, delivering more than anyone could have expected. From Cersei grasping at hope in King’s Landing to Jon beyond the wall, it was all executed flawlessly. The standout performance this episode came from Kristofer Hivju as Tormund, who almost felt like a normal human being and a potential future ally until he indifferently beat the Lord of Bones to death. We were also briefly introduced to the wildling leader Karsi, who was surprisingly likeable, probably because she hates the Thenns as much as we do. Finally, the episode could not have ended in a better way. The absolute chilling silence as Jon drifted away from Hardhome was the perfect closure to an unforgettable episode.