by Matthew Thompson
Much like last week, the second episode of Season 5 continues to set up the major stories that Game of Thrones will tell in the season to come. This includes seeing Arya for the first time since last year. Her brief tour of Braavos is a beautiful one (a location we visited with Stannis last season, but not to such a large extent) and I particularly loved Arya walking towards the camera with the doors of the titular House of Black and White split to either side of her. Things don’t go as simply for her as she’d hoped, but the episode’s end has her entering the mysterious house and reuniting with fan favorite Jaqen H’ghar (or at least the actor who played him). Arya has, in my eyes, been the most consistently entertaining character on the show throughout its run and this acts a nice introduction to the fresh direction that awaits her this season as she leaves the search for her family that occupied much of her time the past few seasons behind.
Along with Arya, Dorne seems to be the major cog in Season 5 that was missing from premiere. Much like Braavos we are treated to another beautiful new location, this time the famous Water Gardens of Dorne. With it comes the introduction of a new character, the ruler of the kingdom Prince Doran. We don’t spend a lot of time with him here, but I think they do a good job of portraying how he differs from his brother. Oberyn’s fiery attitude is even represented here through Ellaria as she asks what Doran will do to avenge his brother. Doran comes off much calmer and cooler than the Dornish we have met previously.
Both of these storylines see established characters (Ellaria and Jaqen) folded into them in new roles as opposed to introducing separate players like the book did. It is a smart move that will give viewers familiar faces as they get accustomed to new places and cut back on adding more characters to a show with plenty to service as it is. This extends to a detour from the books for Jaime who will be joined by Bronn on his mission to save his daughter in Dorne. Their scene together this week reminds us how great a pair they can be, so their journey is sure to entertain regardless of the results. I’m still a little worried about the show’s depiction of Jaime from last year. His relationship with Cersei has been handled poorly in my opinion. I hope that despite this and his new storyline, we can still see some of the character work that was the strength of his chapters in A Feast for Crows.
The other main portions of this episode see characters dealing with power, in some cases newly found, building on scenes from last week’s premiere. Cersei is not new to power, but with her father dead she finds herself with more of it than ever, setting up her own puppet show within the Small Council. My biggest takeaways here were the friction between her and Kevan whose aggressive reaction to Cersei’s moves made for a great scene and how much of her conversation with Jaime seemed to be informed by last week’s season-opening flashback as she feared for her daughter and spit more venom towards Margaery.
Dany’s struggles with power continue. I will fully admit as a big fan of Daenerys, her time in Meereen can be tough to watch sometimes. Her handling of the situation involving the man killing the Son of the Harpy was not exactly good. I like to think these mistakes now will help her in the long run, but that remains to be seen. The unrest in the city just got worse after this week’s episode and it will be interesting to see how she tries to solve the problems there and how Tyrion and Varys will play into it with their arrival looming. There were two scenes I really liked over there though: Barristan discussing the Mad King with Dany and the final one with Drogon coming to see her, the latter being particularly spectacular to watch. What can I say, I’m a sucker for dragons.
My favorite developments this week took place up North where Jon finds himself coming into power. The election for Lord Commander felt a little rushed, but I loved Sam’s speech that helped Jon get elected. Not only did he prop up Jon, he also managed to throw some major shade at Janos Slynt which was totally deserved and absolutely hilarious. Jon becoming Lord Commander isn’t surprising, I imagine whether you read the books or not you’d have seen this happening at some point, but it is exciting nonetheless. Adding an interesting wrinkle to all this is Jon’s meeting with Stannis beforehand which was the highlight of this week’s episode for me. The idea of Jon becoming a Stark and sitting at Winterfell is a dream for him and probably some fans too. But Jon takes his vows to the Night’s Watch seriously and won’t accept. Not only is this an interesting dilemma for Jon, but I think it shows Stannis’ intelligence. I haven’t always been a fan of the show’s portrayal of Stannis. It at times makes him too beholden to Mel for instance. But here he realizes he can’t win over the North, but that a Stark could and uses his new relationship with Jon to try to make a move that will help him in his ongoing quest for the crown. When compared with moves made my Dany and Cersei this episode, it is hard not to appreciate what Stannis is trying to do.
A few more things:
- Scene of the Week: Forgot I did these all the time last year for the first episode, but I’d have to go with the Jon/Stannis scene this week. For the reasons I mentioned above plus the note from Lyanna Mormont which was kind of the best. The handwriting complete with random capital letter in there really sold it. Ten years old and Lyanna knows what’s up. Jon even had a giggle about it.
- There were some great transitions this episode like the one where Tyrion says “How many dwarves are there in the world. Is Cersei going to kill them all?” and it quickly cuts to a dwarf head being plopped down in front of Cersei. These give the episode a nice flow despite how scattered the show remains.
- I’m not sure what I think of everything with Brienne, Pod, Sansa and Littlefinger. It seems kind of off to me. I guess it gave the episode a little action jolt with the chase and humor in the form of Pod. I’m still guessing these characters get involved in the northern plots somehow.
- No Dorne in the opening?!? *grumble grumble*
- The hissing in Meereen’s big scene made it way more comical than it should have been. Whose idea was that?
- Shireen is such a cute kid. I loved her teaching Gilly this week. Hopefully nothing bad happens to her. I also got a kick out of Lollys’ screentime with Bronn. Her reaction to Jaime was pretty great.
- I’m still a little bummed about Arianne being cut from the show. It seems Ellaria will be taking on some of her material. A couple of off-seasons ago I suggested they have Arianne accompany Oberyn to King’s Landing to introduce her character to the audience in preparation for this season. So they kind of did the opposite with Ellaria. Arianne’s position in Dorne makes her more important to keep though in my opinion.
“The House of Black and White” sees us in setup mode a bit still for the second episode this season. We see the beauty of Dorne for the first time and head with Arya to Braavos to see what she will get into this year. We get an idea of what Jaime and Bronn will do this season. But you also see the significant progress at The Wall and in Meereen with varying results for Jon and Dany after they kicked their seasons off last week. Jon’s storyline this year has been particularly impressive to me so far. What did you think of this latest episode? Let me know in the comments below. Thanks for reading!