[Review] - Game Of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 8, "Hardhome"

Courtesy of HBO
Finally, an episode of consequence. Not that events have not transpired over the past eight weeks, just that it doesn't feel like anything has happened. As I mentioned last week, this season has suffered from a distinct lack of build up, with characters inhabiting position rather than accelerating towards a new moment of transformation. That is what the episode nines have been, traditionally: transformative moments. The characters exist in a set pattern until episode nine comes along and resets them, changes their personal, professional and philosophical dynamics. Episode nines are where characters are left to understand who they truly are.

Which is all well and good, but this is episode eight. And it felt like it should have been episode three. This is a tension and character building sort of episode that should not occur on the heels of what I'm still going to presume will be this season's transitional episode. This episode is a reminder episode, a punch to the gut sort of episode that throws us off balance, but reminds us of what we're fighting for. If it had come sooner, I expect I would have been less critical of the way this season has unfolded. As it stands, it is the only episode of the season I can claim to have genuinely enjoyed. And not just because of all the corpses, but because of what those corpses meant.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that are rather indifferent to Thenns.

This episode showed us, for the first time, the true threat of the Song of Ice and Fire. After seasons of hearing Sam rave about the army of the dead, and catching glimpses of White Walkers, we finally know exactly what gives the Stark's Words so much weight. It also managed to shift last season's Jason and the Argonauts moment into more of an Army of Darkness motif. It was an important scene to occur, because the show couldn't have went on much longer under veiled threats, without illustrating exactly what it was that will soon be bearing down on the Wall and the South. It would have been as if the Star Wars movies alluded to Darth Vader for several movies, but only ever showed the tip of his cloak. Eventually you just have to show the damned baddie.

And here unveils one of my own personal issues I have with the series, book and TV. My favourite of the books is the first, largely because it contains the least amount of magic. I have nothing against magic, or the supernatural, but the draw in the books is the characters, their politics and manipulations. The occasional incursion of magic into those dealings, even in the measured and reasonable grounded way in which Martin has presented it, has long held me back form becoming truly immersed in his world, even if the magic is an integral part of it. Perhaps it is because there is so much depth of time and story written into the fabric of Martin's creation that it feels as real as a history, and my brain places a higher expectation of reality on history than ice zombies and fire witches allows. It is my own hang up, and I try to over come it, but by soaking the first volume so deeply in the real, the later addition of anything more makes it seem less.

So, the White Walkers and their army of the dead. As a metaphor for the peril faced by the world as winter envelops them, they work well. But on screen, we must see them; it is a visual medium. On the page, they can exist as a metaphor, hidden between the lines and in squalls of half-garnered perspectives. On the screen, that isn't going to cut it. We needed a scene like this, to establish the enemy, to root them in the physical. Except that solidifying them detracts from their metaphoric nature and undermines their effectiveness. They run the risk of being belittled by their own form, being less an oppressive and unstoppable killing machine, and more a response to a fad. The last thing I want for Game of Thrones is to undercut it's own identity by becoming yet another zombie story. I stopped watching Walking Dead long ago because I wasn't interested in that.

Perhaps the larger issue is, aside from Jon, this isn't a storyline that any of character is involved in. Dany's ascension to the Iron Throne is understandable given her predilections. Cersei's desire to maintain her power runs true to her character. Tyrion's wit and wisdom serves him well in every regard, and the various Stark children attempting to survive in their various situations give weight to their struggles. But they are all unaware of the "greater danger." Which I get is the point, this is a threat that when properly revealed will cause all the minor frays they have with one another to be rendered pointless, and the only way to break the wheel is to unite against a common foe. Except that, the White Walkers threaten to render pointless everything that is intrinsically interesting about every other aspect of the series. I don't watch this show for dragons and snow demons, I watch it for interpersonal relationships, lies and intrigue. I watch it for power being used for sex, sex being used for power, and power not being where the powerful think it is. I watch it for the craft, not the creatures.

So, how do we proceed, in light of that? How can we remain invested in Cersei's imprisonment, in Dany's crusade, in Arya's transformation, with the knowledge and the imagery that it will either: 1) all be overrun by an army of the dead, that can only be stopped by the coming together of all hands behind a wall of dragon fire, or B) be stopped by the Wall, never impact them at all, and be rendered a neutered storyline of little consequence. I know which I'd prefer, because what keeps me interested is where the characters will go from where they are. Dany got better council here in her two brief scenes with Tyrion then she has received in five years of the show. I genuinely want to know what she does with that, where that leads her. Much more so than I want to see her astride a dragon neck, putting to ash the bones of the dead. But can we as viewers afford to shut down the higher functions of our brain in favour of blind, base, visceral joy as swords hack at limbs?

A final note that I wanted to make last week, and was brought up again in this episode: the writers have forgotten their own chronology. Last week, Myrcella mentioned that she had been in Dorne for years. This week, Sam claims to Ollie that he's followed Jon for years. Except that they haven't. Even a cursory examination of the continuity of the series places the events of the last fine season as having occurred only over the course of months, a year at most. Like last year when they had English letters on a wall in Meereen, they have allowed a minor detail to slip through, one that shudders with a lack of self awareness. And that makes me sad.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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