"Game of Thrones" Season 5, episode 8, "Hardhome," was a busy episode that hopped around from Hardhome to Winterfell to Castle Black to King's Landing to Braavos and Meereen. But, there was unifying thread of power that tied the disparate storylines together. Of course, power means nothing when there is a looming threat of a massive army of wights and White Walkers ready to storm the Wall.
Warning: "Game of Thrones" Season 5 Spoilers and "A Song of Ice and Fire" ahead.
The Night's King
With everyone jockeying for the Iron Throne, Jon Snow meets the one individual with the most power. Daenerys has her dragons, but she's all the way in Meereen without allies in Westeros. No one likes Stannis and he's busy waging war against House Bolton. The Lannisters' grip on the Iron Throne is slipping as Cersei is locked away and Tommen is just a boy on the throne.
All of that seems petty when "Game of Thrones" Season 5, episode 8, "Hardhome," reveals the threat of the White Walkers led by the Night's King. It starts off like a routine encounter between two foes. Jon Snow and Tormund arrive at Hardhome and every pair of eyes looks at the small group of Night's Watch with distrust. Rattleshirt had a lot to say about the partnership between the Night's Watch and Wildlings, but Tormund has the final word. If there is one thing the Wildlings understand, it's power. Tormund asserts his own claim by killing Rattleshirt and the real talking between the two factions begins.
Jon lays out the threat of the White Walkers and shows off the acquired Dragonglass and it's ability to kill the White Walkers. Jon wants to recruit the Wildlings for the real war against the White Walkers. Both sides have suffered tremendous losses, but it's about the future and the Long Night that's ahead for everyone in Westeros. The White Walkers have the power to unify even the greatest of foes. In return for their cooperation, the Wildlings will relocate to the Gift.
Aside from the Thenns, the rescue mission was going as planned until an incoming blizzard hit Hardhome. The frost signaled the arrival of an army of wights. There's desperation as thousands of Wildlings try to get on the last remaining ships away from the undead horde. Jon Snow valiantly stays behind, but the Wildlings are quickly overrun. The wights unite Loboda and Jon. A White Walker kills Loboda, but it turns out Valyrian steel can also kill these dangerous foes. As Jon kills one White Walker, the Night's King is watching over the battle. "Discretion is the better part of valor," as Shakespeare eloquently put it, and a quick retreat is the difference between life and death for the remaining Night's Watch and Tormund. A huge assist goes to the giant who shrugs off would-be attackers.
Despite their survival, Jon looks back on defeat and the destruction of Hardhome. As the wights and White Walkers slaughter the remaining survivors, the Night's King reanimates the dead. It's a truly scary and powerful way to end "Hardhome" and the silence is deafening as they row back to Castle Black.
We only get a quick visit to Castle Black, but it reinforces the themes of "Hardhome." Gilly tends to Sam's wounds in a rare moment of peace. Olly's family was killed by the Wildlings Jon Snow is trying to save, and he's struggling with the Lord Commander's decision. Sam makes it clear -- there are even scarier things beyond the Wall than the worst of the Wildlings. "He always comes back," Sam says to Olly. These decisions are just a part of having power.
Tyrion and Daenerys Get Acquainted
The scene involving Tyrion, Jorah and Daenerys is tense. Tyrion tells the story of Daenerys' upbringing and rise to power. Born with nothing, Daenerys has emerged with everything and three dragons. Tyrion makes a compelling case for just how valuable he is to Daenerys. Whether's it's understanding the nuance of killing and politics or making the tough decision to exile Jorah, he proves he is vital for Daenerys' pursuit of the Iron Throne.
During the meetings between Tyrion and Daenerys, both are very carefully measuring every word and response. It's unfamiliar territory for both characters and they are being cautious because the future is at stake. Turning Tyrion away could destroy any chance of gaining a foothold in King's Landing.
Another great moment is the discussion about fathers. As Tyrion describes it, they are two terrible children of two terrible fathers. Is Daenerys the right kind of terrible? Daenerys is still trying to figure out Tyrion's motives -- and vice versa -- but she makes the decision to spare his life and takes him on as an adviser. Daenerys has the support of the common people in Meereen, but she will need the noble houses of Westeros to take the Iron Throne. Tyrion may be the key to her larger ambitions.
The entire encounter is worth rewatching because of all the themes discussed by these two characters. Daenerys leaves viewers with the powerful image of breaking the wheel of power that controls Westeros.
As for the exiled warrior, Jorah is dealing with Greyscale and once again failing to return to Daenerys. Jorah joins the fighting pit in another attempt to stand next to his queen. It's foolhardy, but admirable.
Cersei In The Slammer
Cersei is locked in a cell and she is not having a good time. She refuses to confess and remains defiant, thinking she'll get out of this situation because of her name or wits. By the end, she's brought low and resorts to drinking water that was spilled on the cell floor.
At least she has Qyburn, right? The disgraced maester tells her she's being charged with fornication, treason and incest. Cersei has no friends and no word from Jaime. Tommen is just a boy playing a king and her powerful uncle Kevan has now taken over as the King's Hand. Qyburn leaves with a cryptic update about the status of his experiments.
The Stark Sisters
In Braavos, we meet Lanna of the canals. Arya has advanced in her apprenticeship with the Faceless Men. She's taken on a new identity and learning about the people of the city. Her trips as a lowly oyster vendor lead to her first mission. A corrupt insurance agent deserves "the gift" and Arya leaves with a smile.
On the other side of the world, Sansa remains trapped in Winterfell, but there is some hope. Sansa asks Reek/Theon a simple question and his response shows just how broken he is under the control of Ramsay. Something that Sansa approves of, but through her interrogation Reek admits he never killed Bran and Rickon. It's a small victory, but it completely changes her demeanor. She now knows that Arya, Bran and Rickon may still be out there and alive.
As for her husband, he's busy coming up with a strategy to defeat Stannis. Roose Bolton wants to proceed with caution, but Ramsay wants to crush Stannis with just 20 men.
"A Song of Ice and Fire" Discussion
-- "Game of Thrones" continues to spoil viewers with an even better version of Hardhome. Viewers and readers know the threat of the White Walkers and the series deliver another look at the Night's King. These scenes are nowhere to be found in George R.R. Martin's series and further create the distinction between Martin's novels and the HBO series.
-- Speaking of diverging from Martin's novels, Daenerys' storyline has been streamlined to great effect in "Game of Thrones." Her story was stuck in neutral, but Tyrion's presence adds so much to what will happen in Meereen. The upcoming war with Yunkai will be even more interesting with Tyrion calling the shots.