‘Game of Thrones’ 5.08 Recap: “Belief Is So Often the Death of Reason”

As if in response to complaints about how slowly this season has moved, ‘Game of Thrones’ delivered one of its hugest action set-pieces ever this week. The show usually reserves these things for the second-to-last episode of each season. Does that mean something even bigger is coming next week, or have we used up all our excitement for the year?

Meereen

Tyrion Lannister has finally been brought face-to-face with Daenerys Targaryen. We’ve been waiting for this forever! In their first meeting, they… sit and talk. I suppose that was to be expected. Still, these two characters could do interesting things together. Eventually.

For now, Dany is skeptical that Tyrion could be any use to her, and he in turn isn’t sure whether she’s worthy of his devotion anyway. Dany’s also still mad at Jorah for lying to her. As a test, she asks Tyrion what she should do with Jorah. He weighs her options and suggests that she should let him live, but banish him again. Daenerys agrees, and gives Jorah the boot.

Jorah has that greyscale disease anyway, so you’d think he might be happy enough to have been some use to his queen before his death. But no, he returns to the fighting pit and offers himself back up as an indentured servant. He knows that if he can win enough battles, he’ll get to fight the championship tournament in front of the queen, and he has some cockamamie plan to impress her again, I guess. Dude needs to learn how to take a hint. She’s just not into you, guy.

After further conversations, Daenerys agrees to let Tyrion live and accept him as an advisor if he can help her get what she wants. His first advice: Find something better to want than the throne of Westeros. She could become a great force for good where she is. What does she want Westeros for anyway? He describes it as a giant wheel where the major houses eternally cycle through periods of power, and no one has ever had any success stopping the wheel. Persistent in her determination, Daenerys says that she doesn’t want to stop the wheel; she wants to break it.

King’s Landing

Imprisoned and miserable, Cersei remains defiant and refuses to confess her sins, even when her jailers withhold water from her and force her to lick from a puddle on the dirty floor. How humiliating.

She’s allowed one visitor, her crazy maester Qyburn, who fills her in on what the charges against her will be at the trial (fornication, incest, murdering King Robert – you know, stuff she’s completely guilty of). He also tells her that poor ineffectual Tommen has locked himself away and refuses to see anyone. Before he leaves, Qyburn drops a cryptic hint that, “The work continues.” Of course, we know that he’s working on resurrecting The Mountain. I sense an imminent prison break.

Braavos

Arya prepares for her first assignment in service of the Many-Faced God. She will take on the identity of “Lana,” an orphan who pushes an oyster cart around the city’s docks. I expected that she’d have to learn how to change her face for this, but no, she still looks like Arya.

After she memorizes the route she’s supposed to walk, Jaqen gives Arya only one instruction – to turn left instead of right. When she questions what she’s supposed to find there, he responds that he can’t know what she’ll see.

So, Arya pushes her cart, hawking her oysters, and turns where she was told to turn. She comes across a booth where a gambling bookie (known for now only as the “Thin Man”) takes bets on whether ship captains will return safely from their voyages. It’s a no-win game for the ship captains themselves. Arya sells the Thin Man some oysters and reports back to Jaqen. Of course, he knew exactly what she would find. The widow of a ship captain has begged the Many-Faced God to help her get revenge. Jaqen gives Arya a small bottle of what is presumably poison for the next time she walks the route.

Winterfell

Ever the obedient dog, Theon delivers another meal to Sansa. Furious, she demands to know why he betrayed her. Theon tells her that there’s no escape from Ramsay. When she badgers him about all the terrible things he’s responsible for, Theon confesses that he didn’t really kill her brothers Bran and Rickon.

Meanwhile, the Boltons prepare for Stannis Baratheon’s impending siege. Roose is confident that Winterfell is secure, and all they need to do is wait out the attack and let the winter take its toll on Stannis’ army. Impatient, Ramsay insists that they should strike first. When his father refuses to compromise his army, Ramsay asks for just 20 good men. He has a plan.

The North

Jon Snow, Tormund and a small joint party of Night’s Watch and Wildlings disembark from their navy fleet and row to shore at the major Wildling enclave called Hardhome. (With a name like that, I’m sure it’s a lovely vacation spot in the summer.) They’re greeted with deep suspicion and unease.

The Wildling commander known as the Lord of Bones (you’ll recall him from Seasons 2 and 3, when Jon Snow was captured by the Wildlings and brought to Mance Rayder) confronts them and accuses Tormund of being a traitor. Without hardly missing a beat, Tormund beats the Lord of Bones to death, then demands a meeting of the Elders.

Jon Snow makes a big speech to the Elders and offers a gift of dragonglass, which he explains can kill the White Walkers. When Tormund vouches for him, some of the Elders (including a female chieftan named Karsi) agree to go south and join Snow’s army. Others, including a disagreeable Thenn (the cannibals with scars on their faces) remain unconvinced.

All told, about 5,000 Wildlings depart from Hardhome towards the navy ships. Many more will remain where they are. Those plans, however, are disrupted by the sudden arrival of an ominous storm that signals an attack by a massive army of White Walker zombies and skeletons.

Mass chaos erupts. The Wildling chieftans order that the gates to the harbor port be closed, locking out thousands of people while those inside flee towards their boats. Jon Snow and Karsi stay behind to organize a defense, which proves largely useless when skeletons and zombies burst through the gates.

Thus commences a massive, bloody battle in which lots of indistinguishable actors in identical-looking pelts helplessly swing swords and shoot arrows at various CGI things. I’ll be honest with you, much like last season’s attack on The Wall, for all the frantic action on display, I got fairly bored with the repetitive monotony and started to zone out. Random person stabs zombie, zombie gets back up and kills him. Another random person shoots an arrow at a skeleton, the skeleton gets back up and kills him. Repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat…

A bit where a giant stomps on skeletons is kind of fun, and the gaggle of zombie children that swarm and kill Karsi are creepy as hell. I’ll give the scene that much.

Jon Snow and the Thenn make a dash for the building holding all the dragonglass (why didn’t they think of this earlier?), but run into a big, badass White Walker horseman. This isn’t some mindless zombie. He’s decked out in armor and is clearly a command leader. The Thenn tries to fight him but is quickly dispatched. Jon Snow tries as well, but one after the other his weapons shatter when they touch the Walker’s ice blade. Snow is knocked backwards out of the building, where he scrambles on the ground until he finds Longclaw, the Valyrian steel sword given to him by Jeor Mormont. (Thank you, “Previously on…” recap, for reminding me of that obscure detail!) Remarkably, the blade blocks a blow from the Walker without breaking. Snow swings desperately. The blade connects, and the Walker disintegrates before him.

Now we know that Valyrian steel will kill White Walkers just as well as dragonglass will.

More hordes of zombies overcome the harbor’s faltering defenses right out to the edge of the water. Jon Snow retreats to a boat and pushes off. As he drifts away, all goes quiet. A new White Walker that I must assume is their king (based on his thorny skull that looks like a crown) stands at the dock, staring at Snow. To show his terrifying power, he raises his arms, and all the dead of the battle – Night’s Watch and Wildlings (even Karsi) included – rise up, zombified. Jon Snow can do nothing but watch and contemplate his utter defeat.

At this point, I’m not really even sure what I expect or want from ‘Game of Thrones’ anymore. I’ve complained most of this season that nothing much happened, and then something really big happens, and I complain that I’m bored with it. I realize that this may not seem fair. Maybe it’s not.

Honestly, I’m not looking for big action scenes. This show will probably never top the Battle of Blackwater in Season 2, and I don’t even think it should try. I’m more interested in big story turns. The Red Wedding in Season 3 upended the entire narrative drive of the series. That was incredible. To my mind, that’s ‘Game of Thrones’ at its best. A bunch of people I don’t know (or was just introduced to five minutes earlier) fighting a bunch of CGI stuff… That’s not nearly as interesting to me. It’s just a lot of banging and clanging.

To be fair, this episode gives us (and Jon Snow) a much better look at the White Walkers. It shows us that they have leadership. They’re organized. They strategize. They have deliberate goals beyond just “Kill everything in sight and move on.” All of that’s important – and the very final scene of the episode is incredibly spooky.

And yet, every time I see the White Walkers, they just seem so cheesy to me. If I want zombies, I’ll watch ‘The Walking Dead’. If I want walking skeletons, I’ll watch an old Ray Harryhausen flick. They both seem out of place here, and the more I see of them, the less I care for them. It worries me that the series has set itself up to climax in its final season with all of the human armies waging a giant war against the White Walkers. I’m not sure that I can bring myself to care about that.

27 comments

  1. Wow, one of the best episodes of the entire series and you are bored with it and think everything looks cheesy and hokey. Maybe your time with Game of Thrones should be over, I fully expected to come in here and read a very favorable review, like pretty much most of the internet right now….but alas, you pretty much hated it, guess I shouldnt be surprised anymore…

    I really have no idea how your mind works when it comes to movies and television shows, but I’m with the majority on this one, one of the best episodes of the entire series, excellently filmed with one of the best climaxes to an episode since the Red Wedding. The idea that the Walkers are coming and pretty much no one knows, the show of power and the unstoppable nature of the dead army is apparent now, the squabbling and petty shit that everyone else is involved in now really doesnt matter, its been building up to that for a long time now and you are completely disappointed with how they are proceeding? Yeah maybe its time to move on to another show 🙂

    • I was expecting a favorable review as well. I can’t fathom how someone could miss the gravity of what transpired in this episode. This episode is the beginning of the end. Bring on the dragons, the armies of men and the mystical unexplained stuff and fight!

    • I watched this episode several times and came away with more each time. This was an incredible episode and I cant wait to see what happens next. This show keeps getting better and these reviews keep getting worse.

  2. Also I’m not sure how you didnt see the series climax way before any of this, in the first Episode those Walkers are shown and are never seen again for a long time. Its always been about the looming death and destruction thats coming, while people sit there and connive, backstab, butcher, murder, rape and plunder each other all over the iron throne, something worse is coming. If you couldnt see that Dragon glass and the fact that Daeneyris has Dragons doesnt connect, you really werent paying attention. I think its been pretty obvious what will happen at the end of this show, it might not be the FINAL act but its going to be the MAJOR act before the finale at the very least, it has to be…..all of Martin’s intricate story lines, side stories and detailed world have been leading up to the impending doom coming from the north….if you arent behind that, not much I can say to you 🙂

  3. The first enemy you see in the entire show is a white walker and somehow they seem out of place in the show? I can see that they have been severely downplayed throughout the books and the show, but never out of place. This episode is one of the most important to the series thus far. It has never been very easy to grasp how big of a menace the white walkers will be to the world when very little time is spent on them. Before this episode did anyone really think the white walkers were a true threat to the entire world? I doubt it.
    I don’t think we watched the same action sequence. It was well-paced and provided key plot elements without skipping a beat. Did it really bother you that there were gratuitous zombie kill shots? What a terrible sequence it would have been if it skipped the zombie hoard attacking everything ferociously and just went straight to the plot advancement. You must have very VERY high standards of you think the CGI zombies look cheesy in this sequence, especially knowing of budgetary constraints.
    Like it or not this is the end game. This is why they used probably their big seasonal budget for this sequence. The show really needed this episode and I know I am very thankful for it.

  4. Josh Zyber
    Author

    I didn’t hate the episode. I was just disinterested in the commotion of the battle. Honestly, what were the stakes here? We only know two characters in the scene, Jon Snow and Tormund. I got Karsi’s name by looking it up online; I don’t think it’s even mentioned in the episode. If Tormund had died, it’d be no big deal because nobody cares about him anyway. If Jon Snow had died, that’d be a pretty big game-changer for the series, but he didn’t. So, other than that, it’s a bunch of anonymous redshirts getting slaughtered by indistinguishable CGI stuff.

    The staging of the scene reminded me of the World War Z movie. I didn’t dislike that movie either, but I never felt real tension during its action set-pieces, because they were just a lot of pixels on screen moving around chaotically. Same thing here, worsened by being derivative of a big movie that just came out a couple years ago.

    Yeah, I’ve understood for a long time that the show will have to climax with a war against the White Walkers. I’ve tried to put that out of mind because the White Walkers have been kept off screen for most of the show, and everything else has been so interesting. However, every time we have seen the Walkers, they’ve seemed kind of lame to me. I just find walking skeletons inherently goofy, no matter how well the CGI is done. And zombies, wow, never seen those before in anything else, right?

    If this is really what the show is leading to – setting aside all the politics and intrigue and character conflicts that have been so richly drawn and compelling, so that all the remaining characters can stand around swinging swords at waves and waves and waves of CGI crap… Sorry, I find the prospect of that incredibly depressing.

    You are free to disagree, of course.

    • There didn’t have to be named characters for the stakes to be high. The rest of the world now having to deal with this threat are the stakes. Those are much higher stakes than the potential of Jon Snow losing his life. That might have been higher stakes for us emotionally, but that isn’t what this sequence was about.
      The story isn’t setting aside anything for the big climactic battle. This huge threat is going to influence events, yes, but it’s not like everything we’ve become invested in will just lose all value or direction so they can tend to the white walker menace.

      • Josh Zyber
        Author

        But that is what’s going to happen in the final season. All of the storylines we care about will be dropped so that 90% of the characters can get killed by zombies until a hero saves the day for whoever’s left.

        • We don’t know that yet. If that were the case then that would definitely be awful. The only thing I can go off of is the fact that Martin wants the final two hours or so to be in theaters so I can only assume that it will be a giant battle. Hopefully the season will be lots of what we love about the show while building up to a giant climax.

    • Charles M

      The stakes were the lives of the thousands of people Jon Snow is trying to rescue and future threat of the White Walkers. We don’t need to know their names to care. I didn’t need to know the names of every citizen of Metropolis in Man of Steel to care about Superman not saving any of them. We learned more about these characters than we probably had to. Karsi’s character had better development than a lot of characters that have been here since season 1. I didn’t care for Oberyn as much as I did for her. Her death was a bigger shock than his.

      And there’s tension for Jon Snow and him failing to warn people of this threat. This is a show where any one can die. There’s no guarantee that Jon would’ve survived or not get captured.

  5. Barsoom Bob

    I think it is worth noting that the overall title of this saga is really “A Song of Fire and Ice.” If that doesn’t tell you that this was always going to end up being a throw down between between the threat from the North and fire breathing dragons you are not paying attention. And don’t be so negative Josh, that doesn’t mean that there can’t be the same quality of personal interactions leading up to this climax as things get sorted out in Westros. The evil doers get their various just rewards and the few truly good souls, an imp, a bastard and a girl sold into slavery end up being what saves humanity from Death and destruction. This episode was a great example of how the two can co-exist. There were stellar character moments in this episode as well the spectacle. I have faith that the show runners can keep that balance through to the climax of the saga.

    And on just a personal note, I too had no idea what that female warriors name was, but I instantly identified with her, even commenting to my friend, ” Oh, that will probably be Jon Snow’s new love interest” and then not five minutes later she was killed by some really freaky dead kids. I felt that loss of that character and it did very nicely personalize the raising of the dead thing. Only knew her for five minutes but it was emotional to me. AND, I loved, loved the Giant guy. The way he strode through the battle, throwing them off his back, squashing them under foot, tearing them asunder and then calmly walking into the ocean during the retreat. But, to each his own.

    • Oh yeah Wun Wun the giant is awesome! I was surprised they even brought him into the show. I thought he was going to pull Jon’s boat for them, but we got a deeply disturbing glimpse into what the White Walkers can do instead.
      I also thought they did a great job with that new wildling woman. They made clear her love for children by her response to Jon asking about what will happen to their children and by her brief moment with her own children. As soon as the white walker children showed up we all knew it was her worst nightmare and it was horrifying. A brief character that was done wonderfully in my opinion.

  6. Rick Austin

    This was one of the best episodes of Game Of Thrones ever. Finally we get the big White Walker battle they have been alluding to all season. And it was so much more than “another random person gets killed by a cgi skeleton”. I thought the effects were terrific, the pacing was incredible, the stakes were so high at that moment, and because it’s Game Of Thrones you are ill-at-ease knowing that any main character could die at any moment.
    Add to that a terrific Machieavellian tour-de-force scene between Tyrion and Daenerys (i know it was “just talking” which apparently bores you as much as all the boring action in this episode) and i found the whole thing gripping. You see a glimmer of what could make Tyrion and Daenerys are great team.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      I had a feeling most people would like this episode a whole lot more than I did. I’m totally fine with that. All I can do is give you my reaction.

      As I mentioned earlier, I find the idea of walking skeletons inherently goofy. Even presuming it’s magic that holds them together, they have no muscle and must weigh around five pounds. How difficult could they be to fight off?

      I did like the scenes with Tyrion and Daenerys, but as you say, they’re just a glimmer of what could make these two a good team. Considering that this season has spent a lot of time spinning its wheels and going nowhere, I was hoping for more than a glimmer.

  7. cardpetree

    Yeah, I’m in the crowd that loved it. I thought it was intense. I didn’t know Valyrian Steel was special so I was like oh man, how is Jon Snow gonna get out of this one? I loved it. The end of last weeks episode and this weeks episode made up for the whole season being slow.

  8. itjustWoRX

    We did see the “Night’s King” (horned white walker) in the (4th?) episode “Oathkeeper” last season. He took Craster’s last baby and turned him into a Walker. Very creepy 😀

  9. Southerndude

    Meh, this is why I tend not to place much stock in reviews.

    Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, of course, but I truly wonder where they come up with people who are payed to give them sometimes.

    Please understand me Mr. Zyber, I’m not at all being snarky with this reply ( and I’ll state that as I realize it could be read that way, and that text doesn’t convey tone or other clues ), but when not one single commenter has agreed with your views, that should tell you that reviewing this series isn’t your calling.

    /shrugs
    Just saying.

  10. What I dont see myself is that this season has been slow….its been more character driven than before, I’m not sure what people expect to happen on a show with this much story going on, but I dont see it as slow at all, did I want something bigger to happen? Yeah maybe but I’m always glued to the TV with the interactions and dialogue going on between everyone, capping off the last two episodes with Cersi getting tossed in the slammer and then the Walker attack on Hardhome, easily makes up for stuff “not happening” this season, but again, I didnt feel like nothing was happening, all the talking is just as interesting for me as the action 🙂

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      Normally I would agree with you, but most of the talking this season hasn’t accomplished much except to keep the storylines stuck in place. There’s been very little story movement this season, and what little movement we’ve had has all been very predictable.

      • Eh yeah I guess I can see that, guess it just didnt bother me, this season just gave me more time with some great characters. I just dont think it has to move through things so fast, spending some more time with everyone to develop their current story lines shouldnt be seen as slow moving or spinning its wheels. But again you can probably blame Martin for that one, one huge book got split into two that covered all the same events from different perspectives, I simply cant read his stuff, too much spinning its wheels on useless stuff, so if you think THIS is spinning its wheels, I think the books are far worse, I couldnt even finish the first novel because there was so much wasted space, so in comparison I’m guessing the show is actually doing this stuff and moving through things better than the books did 🙂

  11. Mr Apollo

    Honestly I don’t see why Josh is getting all this hate? I love that he goes out of his way to do reviews. It’s an opinion and I think that’s what people are forgetting here. Everyone likes what they like and everyone dislikes what they dislike. Josh is honest about what he feels and isn’t afraid to hide his opinions. Even though so many people have cooked up a shit storm over his opinion, he’s still here in this thread discussing what he thinks. You can’t get mad at a person just because they don’t view things the same way you do. To be honest, I loved this episode. Most people did. Yes, I definitely think that it’s been an excruciating slow season and Ep. 8 had a lot of what was missing. But, that’s how I feel. Some people on here think differently and feel the season has been building up towards these moments. That’s fine with me. I don’t care that’s what people think because that is what they think. You need to give people a break, especially the ones who go out of there way to do things like this. Josh does this as a hobby and because this is his site. He could just give up on everything if he wanted to but doesn’t. I feel people need to respect that and his opinions.

    It’s like fanboys arguing about comics vs their movie counterparts. I read a lot of comics but put many things aside when I watch the movie version of them. I thought that The Wolverine was an ok movie, and yes I feel like they should have done some things differently but that’s not gonna stop me from feeling the way I do about the movie nor is someone gonna persuade me otherwise. I think The Avengers: Age of Ultron is SHIT!!! Terrible movie. Do I care that most other people feel completely the opposite of me? No. I have friends that will argue and yell at me till they’re blue in the face, but it doesn’t change my feelings about the movie.

    So please, everyone, be nice to Josh. He does a lot for this site and it’s father site. Please be respectful of other people’s opinions as well and let’s not act like little kids. Most of you are arguing like little kids. Put thought into what you say. It’s fine to disagree with others but be respectful. By the way, I think all of the Lord of the Rings movie suck too, but I’m not gonna be mad at other people because they love them.

    • No one is mad at Josh, we are having a discussion and most of us disagree with him….thats all. He’s an excellent writer and always backs up his opinions with thought out replies, but we wouldnt have much of a discussion on anything if we all just said he’s right or his opinion is fine and we dont need to post ours 🙂

      Maybe they should just turn off comments on these things? Then we wont interrupt other people’s opinions for discussion 🙂

    • Timcharger

      Unless these comments postings have been
      cleaned up, or some have been deleted, these comments
      disagreeing with Josh have been some of the nicest, most
      gentle criticisms. Yes, Josh’s Mom, I mean, Mr Apollo,
      we’ll “be nice to Josh.” Oh and “the Lord of the Rings
      movie suck,” yes, time will prove that you’re right. Nice
      try, flamebait.

  12. Timcharger

    Josh: “A bit where a giant stomps on skeletons is kind of fun, and the gaggle of zombie children that swarm and kill Karsi are creepy as hell. I’ll give the scene that much.”

    I, too, like most other viewers give the battle more credit.
    I would add the scene where hundreds of zombies hurl
    themselves off the cliff. The shot of them racing past the
    mounted White Walker generals, plummeting down the
    mountain in pursuit of Jon Snow. The look Jon and a
    fellow Night Watchman give each other as the pile of
    mangled bodies being to rise and race towards them.
    Good stuff.

  13. Timcharger

    These lines of yours, Josh:
    “Honestly, I’m not looking for big action scenes. This show will probably never top the Battle of Blackwater in Season 2, and I don’t even think it should try. I’m more interested in big story turns. The Red Wedding in Season 3 upended the entire narrative drive of the series. That was incredible. To my mind, that’s ‘Game of Thrones’ at its best.”

    Because I could not shoot down all ravens, and that
    big spoiler for this season has infected my mind, I
    look forward to reading your next (or the one after)
    recap where you admit that you’re wrong.

    That event that is coming responds so perfectly to
    your complaints.

    Let me guess what you’ll write (you wrote it already,
    so I’m guessing what I’ll be reading):

    “I’m more interested in big story turns.”
    And boy has GoT delivered a big story turn!

    “The Red Wedding in Season 3 upended the entire narrative drive of the series.”
    This Season-5-turn has upended the entire narrative drive of the series!

    “That was incredible. To my mind, that’s ‘Game of Thrones’ at its best.”
    That was incredible. In my mind, this is ‘GoT’ at its best.
    I take it all back. I love this Season 5. I love GoT.

    Or not, I wouldn’t be surprised if you held fast.

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