Winter finally comes in ‘Hardhome’ – Game of Thrones review

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For all the unevenness of this season of Game of Thrones, one thing remains true. This is the one show on television that knows how to put on a spectacle. After getting bogged down in the messy twin story quagmires of Winterfell and Dorne, this week’s episode regained much of the momentum that seemed to have eluded it as we jumped from one Ramsey torture scene to the next. Rather than meandering down less meaningful plot threads (how many more times can Brienne stare expectantly towards that tower in Winterfell?), this week immediately focuses on the characters that will likely drive us towards what will undoubtedly be a breathless conclusion in just two weeks.

Daenerys holds court with Tyrion and Ser Jorah in a meeting that TV viewers and book readers alike have been anxiously anticipating for many years. Tyrion once again gets to showcase his most valuable attribute (cock merchants opinions be damned), his silver tongue. Verbally jousting with Dany in a scene that rivals any the show has thus far presented, he effortlessly fires off bon mots that would sound insulting if they weren’t so darn clever. “Into your service?  Your Grace, it’s too soon to know if you deserve my service.” Only the incomparable Peter Dinklage could pull off that line, without descending into hamminess or condescension. Tyrion’s words are stated matter-of-factly, even as he knows the wrong words could mean death by dragon breath. He ultimately gains the queen’s trust, even as he sells out Ser Jorah to do so.

In King’s Landing, Cersei so justly reaps what she had sown, having been thrown into prison by the Faith Militant that she personally armed and empowered. Charged with treason, murder, incest (so basically, par for the course in Westeros), she has now lost what little shred of power remained to her. The ineffectual Tommen remains offscreen, going on hunger strikes in protest of the loss of mother and wife, rather than, you know, doing something a king would do, like waging a war against the Faith Militant. Watching Cersei get knocked so low, just moments after her greatest triumph (I’m fairly certain giving Margery her leftover venison stew sits firmly in her top 5 memories), is yet another reminder that it never pays to be overconfident in Westeros. The world has a way of humbling those who start to feel a little too in control of things.

Arya continues her training with the Faceless Men, this time venturing out into the city of Braavos, selling shellfish to the locals, while surveying her first target. Although this week, she does little more than get a dossier on the man she will be asked to kill, and serve him some fairly questionable oysters.

The main event is reserved for the final 20 minutes of the episode. Jon Snow, fresh off his new alliance with new wildling leader Tormund Giantsbane, makes the long trek out to Hardhome with Tormund. There, he attempts to persuade the other wildling leaders to fight alongside the Crows against the White Walkers. And finally, after so many allusions, fakeouts, and feints, Winter finally comes. And it comes in the form of a massive zombie army, unkillable by traditional weapons, and led by a terrifying foursome of White Walker generals. Much like last season’s battle at The Wall, HBO spared no expense on this battle, pulling out all the CGI stops, including a particularly noteworthy scene where a wildling giant picks zombies off his pack as if they were insects, and crushes them beneath his size 42XL feet. Jon Snow, meanwhile, fights one of the leaders and discovers quite fortunately, that Valyrian steel can also kill these seemingly immortal creatures. But ultimately, the Night’s Watch and the Wildlings are overrun, forced to flee the camp, and watch helplessly as their dead are brought back to life, adding to the ranks of the undead army.

Game of Thrones has never been shy about creating controversy. The source material is rich in brutal and inhuman acts. But it’s moments like these that remind us that for all the machinations these Westerosi highborn play, there is ultimately a greater game to be played beyond the game of thrones. After all, it matters little who sits on the Iron Throne if an unstoppable undead army is marching down towards Kings Landing. After so many seasons of being teased about the “Big Bad” that was just beyond the wall, we finally get to see just how big and just how bad they really are. Winter is no longer coming. It has arrived.

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