‘Game of Thrones’ rides the proverbial rollercoaster of emotion this week. The majority of the episode is frustratingly dull and the big action climax is a retread of my least favorite scene from the entire series. But then, amazingly, the final scene is the most heartbreaking moment the show has ever had.
Sansa receives a letter with a familiar seal that immediately raises her ire. With Brienne as bodyguard, she slips away from Castle Black and secretly meets Littlefinger at the ramshackle village of Mole’s Town. Baelish professes to be relieved that she escaped from Ramsay Bolton unharmed, but Sansa is hardly pleased to see him. She asks if he knew what kind of monster Ramsay was when he sold her to him, and doesn’t believe him when he denies it. She makes him guess what kind of horrible things Ramsay did to her and won’t let him off the hook when he says he can’t begin to imagine.
Baelish claims that he has come to her aid with the Knights of the Vale. Sansa doesn’t want his help or his army and essentially tells him to fuck off and die. Before they part, however, Baelish offers her a valuable piece of information: Sansa’s great-uncle, the renowned fighter Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully, has successfully fought off the Freys and retaken the land of Riverrun. Baelish suggests that, even if she doesn’t want his own help, the Tully army could be a valuable ally.
Later, Sansa returns to Castle Black and joins Jon Snow in plotting a campaign to overthrow the Boltons from Winterfell. Unfortunately, they are still far short of the number of men they’ll need. Sansa tells him about the Tully army, but lies when Snow asks how she heard about this. Rather than admit that she met with Littlefinger, she claims that she overheard Ramsay talking about it before she escaped.
Sansa orders Brienne to travel to Riverrun and secure an alliance with the Tully army. Brienne is nervous about leaving her, but agrees.
Now sighted again, Arya continues to train in stick-fighting with The Waif. She isn’t very good at it yet and gets her ass whooped. The Waif is kind of a bitch and tells her that she’ll never be one of them.
Jaqen tells Arya about the history of the Faceless Men, who were originally Valyrian slaves before rising up and forming the city of Braavos. Jaqen then gives her a vial of poison with instructions that she is to use it to assassinate an actress named Lady Crane. This will be Arya’s second chance to redeem and prove herself.
Arya scopes out her target by posing as a commoner and attending the actress’ new play, a broad farce about King Robert, Cersei and Joffrey. Arya greatly enjoys this part, but is less amused when a character representing her own father is portrayed as a total buffoon. Sneaking backstage between acts, Arya witnesses the actress drinking from a jug of rum that will make a convenient delivery method for the poison.
Arya returns to the House of Black and White to report on her reconnaissance. She tells Jaqen that the actress seems like a decent lady and asks too many questions about who paid for the hit. Jaqen tells her not to concern herself about it: “Does death only come for the wicked and leave the decent behind?” Arya speculates that the younger actress playing Sansa in the play is probably responsible.
The Iron Islands
At an election ceremony called the kingsmoot, Yara Greyjoy steps forward to make her claim for the throne. Many of the sexists in attendance scoff at the notion of a woman leading them. (Hmmm, could this be a teensy metaphor for real-world politics, I wonder… ?) One points out that Balon Greyjoy still has a living male heir – his son Theon. After a moment of hesitation in which his motives are not clear, Theon supports his sister, reminding everyone that she’s a badass military commander. He says that she’s their true queen.
Just as it looks like Yara has the election wrapped up, her uncle Euron Greyjoy reveals himself and announces his own bid for the throne. He ridicules Theon as a cowardly, incompetent eunuch and freely admits to murdering King Balon. (In fact, he apologizes for not doing it years earlier.) As a campaign platform, he pledges to sail across the Narrow Sea, where he will marry Daenerys Stormborn and merge the Ironborn navy with her army, forming the greatest military power in the world. The warhawks and misogynists in the crowd like the sound of this. Needless to say, Daenerys herself is completely unaware of his existence, much less his plans for her.
Recognizing their defeat, Yara and Theon flee the Iron Islands with their loyal naval commanders, stealing a big portion of the navy’s fleet. While they do this, Euron is crowned in a bizarre ceremony that requires him to be drowned in the sea first. If he survives, he’s king. Although it looks for a moment like he may not, he eventually coughs the water out of his lungs and recovers. For his first decree, he gleefully declares that he’s going to murder his niece and nephew. When he realizes what they’ve done, he orders a thousand new ships to be built immediately.
While she’s trying to decide whether to welcome him back as an advisor or banish him again, Jorah reveals his greyscale infection to Daenerys. She asks if there’s a cure, but he doesn’t know. Jorah professes his love for the queen but says that he must leave her. He plans to kill himself before the disease progresses too far. As he turns to leave, she gives him one last command. She orders him to search the world and find a cure for his disease, then return to her when he’s cured.
Following Tyrion’s treaty with the slave masters, attacks by the Sons of the Harpy have noticeably quieted. Tyrion declares this a “fragile peace.” In order to prolong it, he suggests that they need a hero for the people of Meereen to rally around.
Tyrion and Varys meet with Kinvara, the High Priestess of the Red Temple of Volantis, hoping to convince her to spread the word of Queen Daenerys’ greatness across the kingdoms. To Tyrion’s relief, she is very open to this. She believes that Daenerys is the fabled Prince That Was Promised. However, she also believes that the queen’s dragons will purify all the non-believers in the land. Tyrion isn’t so keen on that part, but he tries to brush it aside.
Varys is much less impressed with Kinvara or her religion. He reminds her that another Red Priestess (Melisandre) believed that Stannis Baratheon was the Prince That Was Promised, and that didn’t work out for her too well. Kinvara then demonstrates some of her power by recounting details about the night of Varys’ castration that only he could know, including a voice that he heard talking to him from the torch flames. Uncharacteristically for him, Varys is visibly shaken by her words.
Bran continues exploring visions of the past with the Three-Eyed Raven (Max von Sydow). In their latest, they return back to ancient times to witness the Children of the Forest holding a ceremony in a Stonehenge-like structure. The girl named Leaf briefly glances at the Raven, once again suggesting that these visions don’t just show the past, but actually interact with it. The Children have a human man captive. Leaf plunges a dagger made of Dragonglass into his chest. Rather than die, the victim’s eyes turn icy blue.
Bran awakens and accuses Leaf of creating the first White Walker. She admits that this is true. She says that the Children were at war with the First Men (the first humans in Westeros) and were desperate for a weapon to protect their sacred tree. The existence of the White Walkers is her fault.
Bran returns to see more of this vision on his own later, when the Raven is sleeping. This time, he sees the sacred tree surrounded by a huge army of the undead, all frozen in place. The scene is eerily quiet. Bran walks right through the zombies and skeletons until he finds their leader, the Night King. As he gets close, the Night King turns to look right at him, and then the entire army turns as well. Bran is startled and reacts too slowly when the Night King reaches out and grabs his arm.
Bran jolts awake again and tells the Raven what happened. The Raven is disconcerted when he hears that the Night King touched Bran. He says that the White Walkers will come for them soon and will be able to enter the tree now. He tells Bran that it’s time for him to leave, and that he will have to become the new Raven whether he’s ready or not.
Their retreat is delayed, however, when the Raven and Bran stop for one more vision to watch young Ned Stark in Winterfell again. Why this is suddenly so important is not clear to me. Bran’s friend Meera stands by waiting for him to wake up when she suddenly senses something wrong and runs to the entrance to the tree. There she sees the massive White Walker army outside. She runs back to get Bran while the Children attempt unsuccessfully to defend the entrance.
The army swarms over the tree and overwhelms the Children’s defenses. Much like the groan-inducing Season 4 finale, we get another cheesy scene of little girls flinging magical fireballs at a never-ending horde of CGI walking skeletons. This sort of thing is my least favorite part of the show.
Meera tries to jostle Bran awake, but he remains stuck in the dream watching his family and the stable boy Wylis, who will grow up to become Hodor. Meanwhile, the adult Hodor cowers next to him, sitting and rocking and ever-repeating the only word he knows: “Hodor, Hodor, Hodor…”
Meera screams and screams and screams for Bran, begging him to warg and take control of Hodor to defend them. Finally, Bran hears a faint echo of her voice. Although a piece of him remains in the vision, another part takes over Hodor. The lumbering oaf grabs Brans’ sled and hauls him toward a secret back exit.
The White Walkers push further and further into the tree until the Night King finds the Raven tangled in its roots and kills him. Bran’s direwolf Summer also dies in the battle. (Are there any wolves left after this?) A group of skeletons charge down the hallway after Bran and Meera. Leaf holds them off for a moment by pulling a Lt. Gorman and blowing herself up with a magical hand grenade.
Hodor and Meera race out the exit with Bran’s still-unconscious body in tow. Hodor tries to slam the door shut, but the skeletons are right on it, pushing their way out. Hodor stays behind as Meera picks up the sled and runs away with bran, shouting “Hold the door!” Skeleton hands reach through and claw at his face.
In his vision of Winterfell, Bran sees young Wylis suddenly collapse to the ground, suffering a terrible seizure. His body shudders uncontrollably as he repeats the phrase, “Hold the door! Hold the door! Hold the door!” The more he says them, the words become an unintelligible, “Hoe doe door! Hoe doe door! Hoe doe door!” and then, eventually, “Hodor… Hodor… Hodor…” Bran can do nothing but watch, devastated by the realization that he is responsible for what happened to his friend.
This is a very uneven episode. The final Hodor scene is so powerful that it certainly leaves a strong positive impression at the end, and Daenerys’ latest goodbye to Jorah is also pretty touching, but the majority of the episode is a bit of a slog to get to those parts. As much as I’ve said in the past that I enjoy the political maneuvering on the show, much of the plotting in this episode felt stagnant to me. The biggest developments come in the Theon and Yara storyline, but those just aren’t characters I feel particularly invested in.
I take it that we’re supposed to assume that the White Walkers kill Hodor at the end, but we never actually see him get an on-screen death. Will he be resurrected as an undead wight? Or will the fact that Bran was warged into him at the time prevent that?
A better question: Did the White Walkers only come at the tree from one direction? Didn’t they surround it? How were there none at all waiting at the back door? Even assuming that’s the case, how far can Meera possibly get dragging Bran before they catch up with her? That doesn’t seem like much of an escape plan.