Game of Thrones review – Arya’s return in the House of Black and White

arya stark

As Game of Thrones the TV show increasingly diverges from the path laid out for it by Game of Thrones the books, I find myself at a difficult crossroads. It’s true that George R.R. Martin’s novels, with their lush descriptions and intricate depictions of complicated characters should be lauded. His ability to world-build is unparalleled, as evidenced by the lengths the show must go to in shooting this increasingly sprawling epic. Yet even as I anxiously await the next book in the series, what greatly surprised me is that I am even more eager to see the next episode of the TV show. Against all odds, Game of Thrones on HBO has somehow surpassed its very rich source material.

Nowhere is this more evident than in “The House of Black and White,” the second episode of this current fifth season. Showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff have taken more liberties with the text, maintaining the spirit of the plot, but eliminating extraneous details and characters that would bog down the narrative. And characters that have relatively minor roles in the book come to the fore, based on their chemistry with the cast and how they enhance the overall story.  We saw this most clearly last season in the elevation of fan favorite Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal) before a Mountain fell on top of him and turned him into so much human paste. And we see it again this season with the reintroduction of Tyrion’s erstwhile sellsword and partner-in-crime, Bronn (Jerome Flynn). Only this time, Bronn is enlisted by the one-handed Jamie Lannister to help him rescue his [ahem] niece, Myrcella, from Doran Martell, the king of Dorne. Bronn played a perfect foil to Tyrion in the second season of the show, serving as both protector and banter buddy of the eminently quotable imp. And it was nice to see him back to his old wisecracking ways, astutely telling Jamie, “There’s no way this little visit could mean anything good for me.” Bronn played a small but pivotal role in earlier seasons, adding a degree of levity to any scene he was in; a welcome respite from the dour heaviness that pervades so much of the realm.

Speaking of the bastard son of Ned Stark, fresh off his latest feat of archery, Jon Snow continues to do the brooding nobility thing. He turns down Stannis’s offer to make him a true Stark (because apparently, claimants to the crown can just go out handing out last names to bastards), and instead stays to defend the wall. His dedication is ultimately validated when he is chosen to be the 99th Lord High Commander, with a key assist from BFF Samwell Tarly, who gives a stirring speech as to why Snow is the man for the job.

Meanwhile, in the chaotic morass of Meereen, Daenerys continues to ineptly bumble her way through governing this newly liberated city. She obtusely refuses to let the people reopen the fighting pits, even though both slaves and masters request this of her. So rather than giving both sides a small win, and an outlet for their pent up aggression, she instead sticks to her beliefs that “fighting pits are WRONG.” And when one of her subordinates murders a Son of the Harpy (you know, the terrorist group that is trying to overthrow her rule), she decides to…execute him as well?!  Maybe she thought this would prove that she was a just and fair monarch. That she played no favorites. But ultimately, all this did was make her look like an intractable dictator, incapable of mercy. This move angered both masters and slaves, and caused her to flee back to her castle, King Joffrey style. Well at least it’s clear that what “Khaleesi” does not mean is “Competent Ruler.”

But the star of the episode is the always compelling Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). After finding sea passage to Braavos at the end of last season, she makes her way to the aforementioned House of Black and White, home of the Faceless Men. She is turned away from the door during her first attempt to enter, and decides to makes a living on the streets, beheading pigeons and standing up to street bullies. This leads to the long awaited return of Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha), who takes Arya back to her new home in the House of Black and White. Game of Thrones has never been a predictable show (or book series for that matter), but the one constant is the continued growth of Arya. Whereas most other characters take two step back for every one steps forward, Arya continually propels herself forward towards her goals, even as her goals are abruptly taken away from her (See: Wedding, Red). It’s a delight to see Arya begin this next step in her evolution as a character. Because the one thing we know is that nothing will stop Arya from crossing every name off of her kill list. Well, except perhaps for Martin’s typewriter. But even HE wouldn’t do something like that. Right?  RIGHT?!?

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