Review: 'Game of Thrones' - 'The House of Black and White': Stupid Jon Stark?
A review of tonight's "Game of Thrones" coming up just as soon as I defeat this pigeon...
"I never said I was going alone." -Jaime
Power has long been this show's chief subject matter: how to get it, who already has it, what to do with it, and how easy it can be to lose it. With Tywin dead and so many significant characters scattered across the world, the show's power structure is as in flux as at any time since The War of The Five Kings came to an end. "The House of Black and White" involves a lot of characters, both high and low on the power scale, adjusting to their new normal, in search of allies both old and new t help them hang on to what they have, or to get back what they've lost.
It's an episode filled with reunions and character intersections, new leadership configurations and unexpected challenges to those who felt their power was absolute.
It's also a ton of fun, when it isn't being horrifying or just plain sad.
We begin with Arya — who has lost every protector she's ever had (or rejected one, in the case of Brienne) — making landfall in Braavos, which this week very much evokes Venice as our young heroine is rowed from place to place until she arrives at the eponymous House. It's a good Maisie Williams showcase, as for long stretches of her screen time she's either entirely alone (and running through Arya's kill list over and over and over again), and it's only in her last scene that she's shown interacting with a character we already know, even though it turns out Jaqen was the man at the door to begin with, and just using his Faceless Man powers to test Arya's resolve.
Cersei tries to become the unofficial Hand, while stacking the Small Council with cronies like Qyburn, but her word isn't as respected as it was when Tywin was still alive. Meanwhile, she accuses Jaime of not being a proper father to their children, even as he tries to remind her of why he can't be. Her concern for their daughter, and Jaime's guilt over being an accessory to patricide, inspires him to head to Dorne, but not without the help of the most capable — and charming — sellsword he knows. I cheered once at the sight of Bronn with his future bride, and louder once Jaime turned up to recruit him for the mission to Dorne. For a character who's done many despicable things (regardless of how you choose to interpret the incident in front of Joffrey's corpse), Jaime makes one hell of a buddy comedy teammate, and with Brienne otherwise occupied, I'm more than happy to watch these two go road-tripping together.
Speaking of Brienne, if last week's near-miss with Sansa and Littlefinger felt like a taunt, this episode not only puts them in the same pub at the same time, but allows Podrick to recognize their quarry. Their encounter, like Brienne's discovery of Arya in last season's finale, is a reminder that Brienne, much as we love her and understand the context in which each of her charges died, at first glance has a very poor resume, especially if she's trying to explain Renly's death to people who have yet to encounter any real magic. I'd forgotten about Littlefinger's time in Renly's court, but it worked well that both Sansa and Littlefinger had strong memories of Brienne, which is why yet another Stark girl has rejected her protection. And once things go south, we get a good old-fashioned horseback chase, followed by Brienne demonstrating how good she is at wielding Oath-Keeper.
We almost get a new Stark family member of sorts, as Stannis offers to give Jon Snow the name he's always wanted, as well as lordship of Winterfell, in exchange for helping him retake the North. And for those of us who aren't as fixated on honor and oaths as Ned Stark and his bastard offspring, it seems an offer he should at least consider. But instead of joining Stannis' army, Jon winds up with his own, when Sam nominates him to be the new lord high commander, followed by Maester Aemon casting the deciding vote over Alliser. It's a nice moment, and a satisfying payoff to years of scenes where Aemon offers counsel to one or both of the young rangers.
Over in Meereen, the combination of Daario and Grey Worm isn't brand-new, but positioning Daario for a few moments as Sherlock Holmes to Grey Worm's Watson was still amusing. Mainly, though, the scenes there offer even more echoes of Ned Stark, where Dany's attempt to rule through goodness keeps running afoul of the tricky political realities of the region. Her public execution of the freed slave who defied her will about the Son of the Harpy played like a dark mirror of Ned's death in season 1: a well-meaning monarch plagued by indecision instead of a cruel but certain one, and the crowd booing what's likely the most just outcome over the mob at the Baelor cheering Joffrey's decision to go back on his word and order the death of the show's noblest character. It's harrowing stuff, well-staged by director Michael Slovis, and yet another suggestion that Varys is going to be very disappointed when he and Tyrion complete their own buddy road picture and get a good look at Westeros' alleged savior.
The final scene brings with it one more reunion, as Drogon returns from his travels. For a moment, his presence on the balcony signals an end to Dany's troubles: with her mightiest dragon back in her corner, surely the recent unrest will die down, right? But as with Brienne's brief and disappointing encounter with Sansa, or most of Jaime's interactions with his sister since he was released from captivity, it's not a happy encounter, as Drogon gives his mother a brief once-over before seeming to decide that he still doesn't have to answer to her, and flies off into the night.
Hey, not everyone can fall back into old rhythms as easily as Jaime and Bronn. Still, "The House of Black and White" continued this season's push towards making the world feel like it's shrinking a bit, character-wise, even as it keeps expanding geographically. If that's the balance for now, I'll take it.
Some other thoughts:
* Speaking of geography, we get our first real look at Dorne, and at Alexander Siddig as Doran Martell, the kingdom's apparently disabled prince, and brother to the late Oberyn. Siddig's spent much of his career in either sci-fi or fantasy roles, and he fits in here nicely. Ellaria seems to have little use for him, though, and her promise of using Oberyn's bastard children — the "Sand Snakes" — suggests interesting competition for Jaime and Bronn when they make it to this part of Westeros.
* We know Bronn's a charming rogue if ever there was one, but it's still impressive to see how smooth he was with his drip of a fiancée, massaging her bruised ego and spinning sweet fantasies about how life works — "I've been all over the world, and if there's one thing I've learned, it's that meanness comes around" — to make her feel better.
* It's easy to understand why Sansa and Littlefinger would all but laugh at Brienne's account of the shadow demon. Arya, on the other hand, has witnessed at least a bit of magic, in seeing Jaqen's face change back in season 2, so her initial dismissal of the legend of the Titan of Braavos played a bit differently.
* Darkly amusing edit, from Tyrion in Essos wondering if Cersei will kill all the dwarves in the world, to a decapitated dwarf head being presented to the queen mother.
As usual (though this may be the last season in which we have to do it, as the show begins significantly deviating from and/or passing the books), all comments will be moderated to prevent book spoilers from slipping in. We are here to talk about "Game of Thrones" as a television show, not do constant comparing and contrasting of the show and the books. There are plenty of other places online to do that, and if your comment discusses the books, it won't be approved.
Also, given the leak of the season's first four episodes before the premiere, let me remind you not to comment on anything that hasn't aired yet. Thanks.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com