Airdate: April 19, 2015
Directed by: Michael Slovis
Showrunners: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss (creators); George R.R. Martin (“A Song of Ice and Fire” by); David Benioff & D.B. Weiss (written for television by)
Last week’s premiere served to reintroduce us to several storylines left hanging at the end of last season. Tonight, we caught up with one more – a personal and fan favorite – as well as catching a glimpse of what is sure to be one of the central new powers throughout Season 5. Others got a bit more time, and more than one character has already been dumped into the proverbial fire already, just two weeks in. Click through for my complete review and synopsis.
<<Spoiler Alert: The following review will discuss at length plot points of Game of Thrones S05E02, “The House of Black and White.” In discussing events, I will be quoting some lines with colorful language – read more at your own risk.>>
The new power is, of course, Dorne, and we got our first look at the Water Palace and Prince Doran Martell [Alexander Siddig] himself – but more on that later. We begin the episode at sea, as Arya Stark approaches the Titan of Braavos.
The captain of the ship tells her the tale of the Titan, and how in Braavos’s hour of need it comes to life and storms out to sea. She scoffs – she’s no longer a child, believing in children’s tales. Inside the harbor, the captain rows her to an outlying island himself, upon which stands the House of Black and White. Along the way, we get beautiful sweeping shots of the watery pathways of the city, and its beautiful and unique architecture. The crew did a fantastic job of realizing Martin’s Braavos here. Arriving at her destination, Arya thanks the captain, and he tells her that any man of Braavos would have done the same.
Arya knocks on the door three times before it’s answered by an old man in robes. He refuses her entry, and she tells him, “But I have nowhere else to go.” He replies, “You have everywhere else to go.” This is either a complete brush off, or an attempt to get Arya to experience more before entry. She chooses to wait, sitting at the door reciting her list of future victims. She stays through the night, through a rain storm, and into the next day. Finally, she gets up, tosses Jaqen’s coin into the water, and walks away.
We head next to the Vale, where Brienne and Podrick decide to stop by an inn to get a hot meal. Pod notices Littlefinger sitting at a table in a corner, and lo and behold, Sansa Stark with him. He tells Brienne, but warns her that there are too many knights protecting them to try to take the girl. Brienne orders him to procure horses, and she approaches the pair.
She offers her service to Sansa, but Littlefinger proceeds to belittle her, and Sansa refuses on the grounds that she obviously wasn’t able to save her mother. As she goes to leave, Littlefinger suggests that the roads can be dangerous, and perhaps she should stay. Recognizing that he intends to kill her, Brienne makes a run for it, elbowing one knight in the nose, and slicing another in the torso when he follows her out of the inn.
She releases as many other horses as she can, and she and Pod take off at a full gallop. Pod’s inability to hold a saddle quickly exerts its influence, and the two get separated, Pod getting thrown in a stream. One of the knights has followed him, and charges at him intending to run him through, when Brienne shows up and saves him. She dispatches a couple more of Littlefinger’s men, and she looks far more eager to get back on the road than she did just a bit earlier. During the chase, she espied Littlefinger and Sansa taking the East Road, and she decides that she and Pod will follow.
In King’s Landing, Cersei is given a delivery by Jaime – a message from Dorne. Inside the puzzle box is a stuffed cobra, a Lannister medallion in its mouth. It’s the match to a pair worn only be Cersei and her daughter Myrcella – this is a pretty clear threat from the Dornish. Cersei is in her usual “everyone but me” mode, accusing Jaime of being a bad and absent father, of all things. When he points out that claiming paternity for any of his children would have seen them stoned to death, she just ignores him and continues trying to make him feel inadequate. He tells her that he’s going to go to Dorne to get Myrcella back. Again, she belittles him, pointing out that he has only one hand, so how can he expect success. But he doesn’t intend to go alone.
On the seaside, we see Bronn skipping stones, his fiancee talking incessantly beside him about weddings and such. He’s not listening to a word, and it’s obvious that this will be a miserable union for him – especially when Lollys tells him that her sister, not she, will inherit the family castle. Bronn begins to tell her that nasty people, like Lollys’s sister, tend to get what’s coming to them – a not-so-subtle suggestion of violence. Before he can make any promises, however, they are distracted by a visitor – it’s Jaime, sitting on the lower battlements. His offer to Bronn is simple: come to Dorne as his muscle, and he’ll arrange for Lollys to marry someone else, as well as arranging a more advantageous marriage for Bronn in the future.
We next go to Dorne, getting our first glimpse of this sere desert province. The Water Palace is beautiful, classic architecture encompassing luxuriant gardens that could be hiding lovers – or other, more sinister guests. Prince Doran is sitting taking it all in, when the late Prince Oberyn’s mistress, Ellaria Sand, storms in. She wants blood, and she begins by warning Doran that she has the Sand Snakes on her side. He is the picture of restraint, telling her in veiled terms that the only reason he puts up with her is that she made his brother happy. She asks for Myrecella, so that she can send her back to Cersei a finger at a time, and he reminds her that they do not mutilate little girls in Dorne.
In Meereen, Dany’s indecisiveness may cost her dearly. Daario and Grey Worm are out looking for the Sons of the Harpy at her behest. Daarion is playing the braggadocio to the hilt, telling Grey Worm that his men have been able to track down this Son of the Harpy due to skills the Unsullied don’t possess. I get the feeling that everything with Daario is some sort of pissing contest. They enter a hovel, and Grey Worm looks a little smug when the place is empty. Daarion accuses him of not being afraid, to which Grey Worm asserts that the Unsullied are never frightened. Daario points out that, “Someone who’s forgotten fear, has forgotten how to hide.” As he speaks, he draws a dagger and stabs it through the wall behind him, wounding a man hiding there.
Dany is glad that they have brought the man in, but she’s uncertain what to do with him. Mossador, a representative of the former slaves in the city, wants summary execution, which Hizdahr zo Loraq, head of his (formerly slaving) family, vehemently opposes. Dany, uncertain, asks everyone to leave her. Ser Barristan asks to stay, and he tells her about her father. She initially tries to stop him, telling him she doesn’t want to hear the lies of his enemies. He continues, however, and tells her how Aegon’s madness caused him to do terrible things, driving the rebellion against his reign, and ultimately resulting in the deaths of all Targaryens save two – Dany and Viserys. His enemies, he asserts, did not lie. She tells Ser Barristan that she is not her father, and that she will give the accused Son of the Harpy a fair trial.
On the road to Volantis which is, according to Varys, the beginning of the road to Meereen, we find Varys and Tyrion riding along in a sumptuous carriage. As with last weeks, these two have all of the best lines of the episode, and I will write out a few of the choicer moments here. Tyrion is staring into his goblet, trying to find a bug that’s gotten into his wine, and Varys sarcastically comments, “Yes, best be careful, you might accidentally consume some solid food.” Tyrion’s vow to drink himself to death is still in full effect, a vow he reminds Varys about. Tyrion is still feeling trapped, but Varys reminds him that he can’t be seen, as Cersei has offered a lordship for his head. Tyrion has a slightly different idea as to what his sister should be offering, suggesting that she should give “The best part of her for the best part of me.”
Tyrion is full of gems. When Varys asks if all Tyrion is going to do is complain about the futility of everything, Tyrion glibly responds, “You’re right, no point.” When Varys tells him that he was a good leader when he was Hand, Tyrion replies, “I managed to kill off a lot of people.” Varys’s response is even better: “Yes, but you showed great promise in other areas, as well.” The banter between these two is acerbic, witty, and a pleasure. The fact that it comes so far in small doses is probably for the best, as the line-a-second pace would get pretty hard to follow fairly quickly.
As they talk, some real wisdom does occasionally make its way to the surface, and this is most notable when Varys addresses their predicament. Although they are perhaps wiser than most, no one wants them to rule. “People follow leaders,” he says, “and they will never follow us. They find us repulsive.” Tyrion: “I find us repulsive.” Varys: “And we find them repulsive which is why we surround ourselves with large, comfortable boxes to keep them away. And yet, no matter what we do, people like you and me are never really satisfied inside the box, not for long.” Sadly, that’s all we get of the two of them for the evening. We finish on Tyrion questioning how dangerous things really are for him – how many dwarves are there, he asks, “Is Cersei going to kill them all?”
We kind of get an answer immediately, as we see a head being dumped on a table before Cersei. It is a small person, and he has had a wound etched into his face in simulation of Tyrion’s wound. As the two would-be reward claimers go to leave, she tells them to take the head – but Qyburn, the ex-Maester she’s been using, asks if he can keep it for his experiments. Yes, we get it – he’s creepy.
She heads – pardon the pun – to the Little Council, where the usual suspects (Grand Maester Pycelle and Lord Mace Tyrell) are joined by her uncle Kevan Lannister, and Qyburn. She informs the council that she is naming Qyburn the new Master of Whispers to replace Varys, and as each begins to make a case for themselves to be Hand, the seat she is occupying, she tells them what function they will have instead, finishing with her uncle whom she wants to have running the army. He, however, calls her out, telling her he isn’t interested in being on a council stacked with sycophants – he nods at Qyburn when he says this – and that he won’t be her puppet. He tells her she can find him in Casterley Rock, should she need to.
This is the rare occasion when someone firmly puts Cersei in her place – he reminds her that she is the Queen Mother, not the Queen – and she doesn’t fight back. Granted, she looks ready to explode, but she doesn’t; it will be interesting to see if she tries to avenge herself on her uncle at some point down the road.
In the last of the storylines we get to visit, we head to the Wall. Stannis’s daughter Shireen is teaching Gilly to read, repeating the task she undertook with Ser Davos previously. Sam is researching Lord Commanders, tellingly pointing out that the youngest ever voted in was only ten at the time. Obviously, he’s got something up his sleeve. Gilly and Shireen talk about her greyscale, and Gilly admits that two of her sisters died of it. Sam perks up, and asks her what happened. By the end, she says, they had become practically animals, and their father had been forced to take them away on leashes. Sam looks inordinately interested – who wants to bet that he suspects something about greyscale that he has yet to reveal?
Shireen’s crazy mother arrives, and sends off Gilly and Sam. She doesn’t want Shireen playing or talking with Wildlings, as they are, to her mind, captives and traitors. But her worldview is distorted at best – yet another character I wouldn’t mind seeing leave at some point so that decent people could get about the business of being decent.
We head upstairs in Castle Black, where Stannis, flanked by Ser Davos (but not Melisandre, interestingly), is giving Jon a bit of an earful over his mercy killing of Mance Rayder. This is all preamble, however; what he’s really trying to do is to get Jon to go to his side, and he offers something Jon truly desires: legitimacy. Stannis produces a letter from Lady Mormont, a child of ten who now holds her House, and in it she tells Stannis that she recognizes no king but the King in the North “whose name is Stark.” Stannis proposes to make Jon a Stark, and install him at Winterfell, thus consolidating the North behind the Baratheon banner.
In the common room below, as the Night’s Watch is getting ready to elect a new Lord Commander, Jon tells Sam about the offer, and then explains that he won’t take it – his vows to the Night’s Watch take precedence for him.
The voting begins with opening speeches about the candidates. Janos Slynt stands for Ser Alliser Thorne, talking about his bravery and how he repelled the invasion from north of the Wall. A ranger stands for Ser Denis Mallister, an elderly ranger. As Maester Aemon begins the vote, Sam asks if he can speak. He stands for Jon Snow, and tells the true story about how it was Jon, not Alliser, that led the defense. When Slynt tries to shout him down, Sam eagerly exposes his cowardice, telling all that he found Slynt cowering in the cellars with women and children during the fighting. Slynt denies it, but everyone laughs at him – Sam had best watch his back.
The vote is taken, and it ends in a tie between Thorne and Jon. Maester Aemon casts the deciding vote, placing his token on Jon Snow’s side. There is much cheering and banging of mugs, although Thorne and Slynt look ready to murder.
We head back to Braavos, where Arya is using her cunning and skill to survive on the street. She approaches a pigeon, and lashes out quickly with Needle, whipping off its head. She walks down the alley, but is accosted by three men. They menace her, and pull knives. She calmly tells them to move on several times, but doesn’t look too put out that she will have to kill them; however, this doesn’t come to pass, as the leader sees the same robed man Arya met at the door to the House of Black and White, and the three turn tail and run. Arya follows him.
They arrive in front of the House, and the man hands her the coin she threw in the water, telling her she lost it. He reaches up to his face, and removes it, revealing Jaqen H’ghar beneath. She accuses him of lying about Jaqen being inside, but he tells her, “A man is no one, and that is what a girl must become.” She follows him inside.
In Meereen, Mossador goes to the cells where the prisoner is being held, and he takes him, nailing him to a wall with the words, “Kill the Masters” written in blood beside him. Dany has him arrested and brought to him, and although his story is touching – he tells her about his father, and how if the masters are allowed to win, it will be as though his father never lived – she remains firm with him.
Out on the ramparts of the city, most of the population has gathered, former masters on one side, former slaves on the other, both separated by Unsullied. Dany has Mossador brought out, and explains what he did, and tells everyone that the penalty for such is death. The former slaves call her mhysa, or “mother,” and also cry for mercy for Mossador. She nods at Daario, who pulls his scythe and puts it the ex-slave’s throat. He personally asks for mercy once more, but she nods a second time, and Mossador is executed. The crowd goes suddenly silent, then the ex-slaves begin to hiss at her, and at the former masters. Rocks are taken up and thrown, and Dany is hurried from the dais and back into her pyramid.
That night, she is in her chambers alone. She goes out on her balcony to look down at the city, on the verge of rebellion against her, when she hears a low rumbling from behind her: it’s Drogon, returned from his journeys (to dragons get rumspringa?). Unlike when she went to visit Rhaegal and Viserion, she appears less tentative, reaching out with a motherly love in her eyes. Drogon comes down toward her, sniffing at her hand, and then flies off over the city, roaring. Will his arrival help to fend off her enemies? Perhaps, but she’ll need to learn how to control him first.
Another strong episode to get the season fully into the swing of things. All major storylines that will likely be covered this season have basically been touched on, save for perhaps the Boltons and the Freys, who will still play a role at some point going forward. Arya’s story was intriguing, and as I mentioned earlier, Varys and Tyrion had the best lines of the night (although this time, Varys had a decided edge in cool nuggets of wit and wisdom). Ser Kevan’s frank disapproval of Cersei is yet another chink in her armor – how long before she just falls apart, what with her incipient paranoia and rapid loss of control? And will Brienne and Pod be able to get Sansa out of Littlefinger’s clutches – and would she want them to?
It was a real pleasure to get a glimpse, however brief, of the Water Palace of Dorne. While the Sand Snakes were mentioned by Ellaria, we haven’t yet gotten to meet them – something I’m very much looking forward to, as well as getting to know Prince Doran and his quiet strength just a little bit better.
The only resolution tonight – and it was a big one – was Jon’s elevation to Lord Commander. He is in the unique position of being a member of the Night’s Watch, having some respect among the Wildlings, and being a potentially useful ally for Stannis. He’d seem to be almost golden, right now, untouchable. But I don’t trust Ser Alliser, and I trust Janos Slynt even less. Watch for them to try to make things as hard as possible for Jon moving forward.
The cinematography was absolutely top-notch this week. Both of the new (or mostly new, in the case of Braavos) sites were lavishly filmed, with sweeping aerial shots of Braavos, and beautiful lush shots of the gardens in Dorne. Director Michael Slovis, directing his second consecutive episode, was formerly a cinematographer, and it shows.
Effects scenes also show the increased budget HBO has given Benioff and Weiss. This shows especially in the Drogon scene at the end, but also in the wide scenery shots, and even in the number of extras cast for scenes like the one in Meereen. Last week’s falling harpy and dragons, combined with this week’s effects, tell me that the show is just going to get prettier as we move forward.
Next week, I really hope we get to meet the Sand Snakes. I’d also like to see some more of the House of Black and White – it’s got to be chock-full of secrets and mysteries, and I think Arya’s might be one of the most interesting stories this season for it. Two excellent weeks down, eight more to go.
Steve’s Grade: A-
A solid second outing for the fifth season. Jon’s Lord Commander, Dany’s got her Drogon back, and Tyrion is drinking himself to death – what’s not to love so far?