COME AT ME, SNOW.
Note: The following review goes into detail about the episode. SPOILER ALERT!
Halfway through “Hardhome,” I already had a high score planned. Several great scenes had already happened, such as Dany and Tyrion’s chat, Jorah’s second banishment and Sansa finding out that Theon hadn’t killed Bran and Rickon. Everything was combining to make a great episode, but then Jon Snow had his sit down with the wildling elders and an army of dead people decided to crash the party. The final 18 or so minutes was just complete and utter mayhem, with thousands of deaths and a whole heap of incredible moments. It’s very easy to get swept up in the moment after watching a brilliant episode of television, but “Hardhome” has definitely put itself into the conversation over Game of Throne’s best episode.
I kept expecting them to cut away from the action. Jon arrived at Hardhome around halfway through the episode, with the entire second half of the episode being taken up with this plotline. It all went better than expected for Jon to begin with, too. He wasn’t immediately slaughtered, and he even managed to get a sizeable amount of the wildlings to agree to his plan. But then those dogs started howling, and the dead closed in. While the action was the obvious standout, special mention must go to some of the wonderful little horror touches—the howling dogs, the wildlings at the gate suddenly going quiet, the White Walkers silently watching over the battle and the freaking zombie kids. There was some real, horrifying stuff on display here, and it matched up perfectly with the action.
And boy was the action good. Thousands of people died here, thousands. It was bloody and visceral, with people getting torn apart by the army of wights. The wights we saw here were definitely a lot more aggressive than their earlier appearances on the show. Part of me wonders whether it’s simply a creative decision or could it possibly be that they grow in power as winter takes hold. Either way, they were truly a force to be reckoned with. What makes this army of the dead even more frightening is that they used to be just like the people they now kill. Man, woman or child, unless you’re set on fire, you are destined to join their army once you die. It’s hard to take on an army whose ranks swell every time they kill one of your men.
I actually feared for Jon’s safety at several times throughout the battle. It wouldn’t be the first time a major character was killed off surprisingly, and Jon was really up against the odds here. His battle against that badass White Walker was incredible. The Walker was almost Terminator-like, as it easily dodged blows and beat the holy hell out of Jon. The big reveal that Jon’s sword could kill a Walker was one of those amazing “HELL YEA!” moments we all love, and I think I actually shouted out when it happened. The look on Jon and the Walker’s faces as they both realized what was happening was just perfect.
Final mention must go to the White Walkers and their assumed leader, the Night’s King. This was only our second ever proper look at him, and he came across as even more intimidating this time. As Jon drifted out to sea on that little boat, the Night’s King casually walked out on the dock, stared Jon down and then raised the dead. That was one of those moments where everything else on the show was made to look insignificant. So many people are squabbling over the throne, but none of that will matter if the Night’s King decides to bring his army south of the Wall. The Night’s King has appeared in two scenes now, but he’s already shaping up to be the true villain of the entire show, unless there’s a twist to come. Jon got to survey the true power at work here, and those closing moments really had a sense of hopelessness to it. How do you defeat an army when they can just use your own dead against you? I don’t even think we’ve seen the full strength of the Walkers either, and they barely got involved in this battle at all until towards the end. We keep hearing that “winter is coming,” but now it looks like it’s really here.
I’d normally be thinking about wrapping up the review around now, but there’s just so much more to talk about! I’ll start with Dany’s talk with Tyrion, which was my second favorite moment in the episode. After five years, there’s just something magical about seeing these characters together on screen. The most surprising aspect of this was how quickly Tyrion seems to have worked his way into Dany’s good graces. There were still threats of execution here and there, but Tyrion’s quick wit looks like it has won Dany over. She’s very smart too, so she obviously realized pretty quickly that Tyrion could be an important advisor, as long as he sobered up a little bit. Tyrion’s silver tongue also spared Jorah’s life, but the fallen knight then found himself exiled yet again. He’s lost everything he held dear, and now he’s dying, so his decision to return to his slave master wasn’t surprising. He’s going to give himself one last shot at redemption in front of his Queen in the fighting pits of Meereen, although there’s no guarantee that his reception will be any less icy if his plan goes well.
I know a lot of people have been waiting years to see Cersei get punished, so I’m sure a lot of them were pretty delighted to see what had befallen her here. She looked a far cry from the queen she used to be, now finding herself forced to slurp water off of the floor of her cell. She still has plenty of defiance in her, but her spirit looks like it is already on its way to being broken. She gets visited by a septa every single hour to be asked to confess, meaning there’s no way she’ll be getting a lot of sleep. That coupled with the isolation will take its toll, and her only way out at the moment seems to be confession. We got another example of how poorly equipped Tommen is to lead, with the news that he has essentially gone on hunger strike. With Cersei locked up and Tommen locked in his room, Cersei’s uncle Kevan seems like he is now essentially in charge of the realm for the time being.
We had a few big moments for the remaining Stark girls, especially Sansa. Arya was out and about in the world, pretending to be someone else, and now Jaqen has given her the first of possibly many assassination jobs. I’m pleased with how this story is now progressing quite well after a slowish start. Sansa discovering that Bran and Rickon are both alive was a major moment for her. It’s easy to forget that her two youngest brothers are even alive at the moment because they’ve been absent for so long, but it’s important to note that they are the next two rightful heirs to Winterfell. Either of them would be a powerful ally for anyone trying to gain support in the North, and they would also be number one targets for the Boltons. Speaking of everyone’s favorite traitors, Ramsay has cooked up a scheme to strike at Stannis and end the siege of Winterfell before it has begun. Ramsay saying he only needs twenty men points towards this being a surgical strike of some kind, but we’ll have to wait to see how it plays out exactly.
This episode was already in line for a very high score, but those final twenty minutes meant there was only one score I could give it. Daenerys meeting Tyrion and Sansa finding out that Bran and Rickon were alive are massive moments, but they all pale in comparison to the absolute carnage at Hardhome. Jon has now seen the most demoralizing event he could possibly have seen, and has to return to Castle Black with a few thousand wildlings and tales of the White Walkers overwhelming victory. I don’t even know how you’d begin to pick yourself up after witnessing all of that, but considering that the Walkers may not be too far behind, Jon’s going to have to do something quickly.
100/100 – STELLAR
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