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What an absolutely spectacular and magnificent final twenty minutes. Even several hours after the fact, I am still feeling a sense of awe at what Game of Thrones accomplished with its entire Jon Snow storyline this week. Traditionally, Game of Thrones has used the late episodes of each season as a showcase (think the Battle of Blackwater, the Red Wedding, and last season’s battle for The Wall). With that track record, I anticipated the major set piece of this episode would be the upcoming battle for Winterfell. Boy, was I glad to be wrong, because the battle at Hardhome was beyond anything the series had managed to do to date.
I’m getting a bit ahead of things though. First, I wanted to take a minute to say something I never thought I would say: I really want to see more of Jon Snow. In fact, for the first time in years, the Jon Snow story arc is shaping up to be one of the strongest elements of this late season push. Kit Harington is giving the performance of his career at the moment, and as someone who hasn’t particularly cared for Harrington throughout the course of the series, I have to give him major kudos for his work this week. The speech to the Wildings with superb and would have convinced me to throw my lot in with him and his brothers on The Wall. After years of dead eyed stares, Harington has found a way to actually make Jon Snow into a layered character with some charisma. I can finally understand why the men at The Wall believe in him.
But it wasn’t just Harrington and this newly engaging Jon Snow that made the entire Hardhome sequence work. Kristofer Hivju injected humanity and depth into Tormund that hasn’t been there consistently with the character. I finally felt as if there was more to him than meets the eye. And how about Birgitte Hjort Sorenson’s turn as Karsi, the Wilding elder with the two daughters? In the span of twenty minutes we were given a complete performance that gave us a complex and layered character, so that when she met her inevitable doom (the Game of Thrones writers took a page from The Walking Dead playbook with this one- introducing a character with lots of screen time and two kids is always a sure sign of impending death) it truly hurt to see it. I was legitimately sad that we wouldn’t get to see Karsi crack some skulls at The Wall in the remaining two episodes.
Beyond the excellent performances and writing (from the show’s co-showrunners, David Benioff and D. B. Weiss), the battle at Hardhome did something I didn’t think the series would do this early- it showed us the real danger facing Westeros. We’ve heard time and again that Winter is coming (and that winter is coming, but now I think we all understand the difference between the two), and we’ve had small teasing tastes of what the White Walkers can do. But I thought we would have to wait until deep into season six before the series would tackle the White Walker problem. After all, there are still a number of more mundane stories playing out, why tip your hand on the big supernatural story that has been building over the years? Plus, the novels don’t really touch on the Walkers all that much (and certainly not in this manner, which made the entire thing such a lovely surprise).
Yet here we are, with the true magnitude of what the White Walkers can do apparent. The speed, power, and invincibility of the Walkers and their army was a sight to behold. That avalanche that turned out to simply be troops of White Walkers? Beyond frightening. And nothing is more terrifying that a bunch of kids with blue zombie eyes. Your move, Walking Dead, because I don’t know if I can be afraid of those lame zombies after this terrifying display. The White Walkers are the true danger. Who cares about petty battles for the Iron Throne when the Walkers can sweep through and destroy entire villages in the span of minutes? And with only two known ways to stop them- dragonglass and Valyrian steel- things are looking especially dire for the humans in Westeros. If you can recall, Valyrian steel is incredibly rare (the only characters currently in possession of such swords are Jon, Brienne, and Tommen), and dragonglass hasn’t been forged for many years (although, with Dany having dragons, one would imagine there might be some new dragonglass coming our way in the future).
When your enemy can destroy your defenses as easily as the White Walkers, and then amass more troops from your fallen dead, well, that’s not good at all. Seeing the king of the Walkers stare down Jon and then simply raise his arms to raise up his new soldiers? Absolutely chilling. This is a fight that cannot be won while all of the Seven Kingdoms are in such disarray. It’s a fight that needs a Targaryen with dragons. And soldiers with Valyrian steel. And strong leaders. With the battle at Hardhome, it is clear that Jon Snow is one such leader. And that Tormund is another. But with all of Westeros still so blind to what is to come, I have a sinking feeling things will have to get much worse before everyone realizes that it’s not the other Houses they should be worried about. It’s the massive army of the dead standing just beyond The Wall.
— In the category of “Other Awesome Things That Happened,” how about that conversation between Dany and Tyrion? It was everything I imagined it would be and more. I particularly enjoyed Dany laying down the “no more drinking while advising me” rule. This was the first time I’ve really felt that Dany had potential as a leader, rather than being a young woman who was being ruled by her wants. I’m also thrilled that Tyrion has gotten her back on the path to Westeros. I was worried we would languish in Meereen forever.
— Sansa now knows that Bran and Rickon escaped, which will almost certainly be the thing that spurs her into action. That look of hope on her face was a lovely moment, since it’s been so long since anything good happened to Sansa.
— I’m not particularly engaged with Arya’s arc at the moment. Although, I suppose it will be interesting to see her make the clear transition from a girl who kills in revenge to an assassin who kills at will.
— Oh Cersei, things are not looking up for you at all. Although, I suppose it was nice to hear that the great zombie Mountain resurrection project is still on schedule?