Arya Stark

Game of Thrones 5.02, “The House of Black and White” Review

WHEN YOU SPOIL THE GAME OF THRONES, YOU DIE!

I’d hoped we would start with Arya this episode, especially since she skipped the season premiere. Getting a proper look at Braavos for the first time was a real treat, too. The Northern Mediterranean inspiration is apparent (puts me in mind of Renaissance Florence or Venice) and a nice mix up from previous architecture we’ve seen in the show.

The House of Black and White stands tall and solitary off in its own corner in the bay of Braavos, looking distinctly more ominous and less organic in its design than the rest of the city. Arya clearly didn’t know what to expect when she knocked on the door, but was disappointed nonetheless to be rebuffed, especially after having come so far and feeling so sure of her way.

At least Arya’s pigeon slaying skills have improved. Intoning her list of names overnight and in the rain must have left her hungry and impatient. But the impassive old man still watched her all the same. Arya follows him back to the House, and it’s JAQEN H’GHAR!!!! FANGIRLING! How I have missed that third-person speech.

How did he get that coin back? Will we ever directly see him change his face? What does he mean by “and [no one] is who a girl must become.”? Questions for another episode.

Looks like I was right about Brienne and Littlefinger. Again, Brienne makes her case to the less naive Stark daughter, but this time she’s warded off, not by brute force, but by cunning and the bought loyalty of soldiers. Littlefinger easily sews doubt in Brienne’s trustworthiness and capability. Whether correctly or not, Brienne assumes that Littlefinger plans to have his men dispose of her, so she knocks them out, scares their horses and makes a break for it.

Despite hesitating, she decides to rescue Podrick instead of immediately going after Sansa again. This should be an interesting conflict. Littlefinger looked especially little standing next to Brienne but we all know his stature belies his considerable ambition and cunning. And who is he going to marry now?

A lion embossed necklace, dangling by its chain from the fangs of a serpent that springs from the most ominous jack-in-the-box I’ve ever seen? The Martells do have a flair for the dramatic. Cersei feared this the moment she learned that Tyrion sent Myrcella to Dorne. Now that Oberyn is dead, the Martells seem to be threatening to act on their anger exactly the way Cersei feared.

Jaime for his part, remembering that it’s his daughter too, decides to lead a mission of two to try and rescue Myrcella. Bold, in keeping with Jaime’s character. Before the season premiered, I expected Jaime’s mission to Dorne would be more diplomatic instead of deceptive. With both Jaime and Dorne having secrets and ulterior motives, it’s going to make it that much more interesting.

Who does he take with him? Bronn of course! Bronn looks to be doing well for himself, got himself a handsome castle by the sea with a ditsy blushing wife Lollys Stokeworth. Lollys seems to have no concept of just how self-centered and amoral Bronn can be.

Jaime shows up in Bronn’s front yard with the promise of an even better wife and better castle if he helps him rescue Myrcella. I expect that Myrcella isn’t going to want to leave.

Doran Martell, Oberyn’s older, shrewder brother is being careful to keep Oberyn’s Widow Ellaria Sand far away from Myrcella. Doran may be ruling Dorne, but his cautious diplomatic style doesn’t seem very popular right now. Ellaria and the Sand Snakes want revenge and Myrcella is the closest Lannister at hand. We see Myrcella with her betrothed Tristan Martell. I do hope we get a better idea of what her time in Dorne has been like and what her relationships to the Martells are like.

“We don’t hurt little girls in Dorne.” Doran and Oberyn shared an attitude of not exacting revenge on those other than who specifically wronged you. Will this relatively merciful practice by Westeros standards prevail or will disproportionate retribution have its long, long day?

I really wish we could see Dorne on the opening credits map. Perhaps as the series goes on and Sansa and Littlefinger get where they are going, they could switch up the Eyrie for Dorne.

When can we meet the Sand Snakes please? Grrr!

Elsewhere in King’s Landing, Cersei keeps running a tighter and tighter ship. Angering Pycelle with Qyburn’s increasing authority and creating tension with Kevan Lannister. Kevan is clever enough to see that Cersei is calling these appointments for herself, not Tommen, who she claims to be speaking for. For the good of the King and House Lannister, Cersei and Kevan can’t afford to be at odds right now, which means Kevan is going to have to accept trying to help the King around Cersei or Cersei is going to have to loosen the reigns. I can’t decide which is less likely.

Meanwhile, she’s offering lordships to whomever could deliver Tyrion’s head. Giving Qyburn left over heads, Ew.

Speaking of, Varys and Tyrion are on the road to Volantis to get to the Road to Meereen. Their flavor of banter for this episode is the role of the underprivileged, the low-born, the unattractive, the foreign, in positions of power. Perhaps being put into a new challenge as adviser to Daenerys Targaryen will rekindle Tyrion’s appetite for the game.

Seeing Shireen teaching Gilly to read was really, really sweet! Between Shireen, Samwell and Gilly, those three probably have the biggest share of brains and heart currently at and around the Wall. Selyse’s prejudice against the wildlings certainly isn’t endearing.

As I expected, Stannis gives Jon Snow plenty of shade for obstructing the King’s justice. Respectfully, Jon says that the Wildlings will never follow Stannis anyway. Stannis explains that loyalty to one’s own, like the Wildlings or the people of the North, is making recruiting for his bid difficult. Stannis wants to reward Jon for his bravery and potentially gain himself a loyal and popular lieutenant.

Making Jon Snow, Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell and Warden of the North is good move for Stannis certainly, but Jon Snow has spent too much time in the Night’s Watch and among the Free Folk to have his sense of honor compel him to choose Winterfell. Jon’s stated reasons, honor and duty may be a bit simple minded, and he didn’t know he was about to be elected 998th Lord Commander. However, since he does, he’ll be able to do a lot more good as he is, where he is, than if he was made Lord of Winterfell. While Tommen Baratheon sits on the Iron Throne, Cersei effectively rules and the Boltons hold Winterfell, A legitimizing lordship from a defeated claimant means little.

The scene where the Night’s Watch elects their next Lord Commander is so satisfying. Sam’s speech is rousing and funny and Maester Aemon casting the deciding vote for Jon was cheer worthy! Jon’s Command isn’t going to be easy though, not with several Watch veterans suspicious of his loyalties.

In Meereen, Daenerys’ fight against the Sons of the Harpy isn’t going well. Her Unsullied are too conspicuous to defend Meereen against such an insidious threat and Daario can only capture so many in one day.

Daenerys’ anger and desire for justice are encouraged by Mossador’s words that mercy and fair trial mean nothing to the Harpies. But Barristan Selmy, who served as Aerys’ Kingsguard his whole life, who saw the Mad King power trip on wildfire justice for all, cautions Daenerys. He warns her of giving into the feeling that might makes right, and Daenerys decides that the accused son of the harpy shall have a trial.

At least he would have, if Mossador didn’t take matters into his own hands. Daenerys’s sense of mercy, fairness and justice seem just as foreign to some of her subjects as they do to her enemies. If she wanted to serve blind justice to lawbreakers, fine, but making it public execution was a mistake.

This isn’t the first time in the show we’ve seen one of our favorite protagonist leaders make a mistake in dispensing justice. In season 3 Robb Stark beheaded Lord Rikard Karstark after Rickard murdered two Lannister prisoners of theirs who were boys.

Both times the men loyal to Robb and Daenerys disobeyed their orders and both times fulfilling the letter of their law was arguably an unwise decision. Robb Stark lost half his host which forced him to go crawling back to the vengeful Freys in supplication. Now Daenerys has lost the love of the people she liberated and the turmoil in Meereen is getting worse.

She can’t even get Drogon to stay when he ominously appears over the summit of her pyramid. The trailers made it seem as though Drogon may fly off to wreak havoc upon the city, but it seems like in the final shot he just flies away.

“The House of Black and White,” moved many characters in interesting directions, logistically and developmentally. Seems the Boltons and the Sand Snakes are the only major players still left to catch up with, and there’s plenty of intrigue, excitement and tension going on already!

 
 
 
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