Sunday, May 3, 2015

Game of Thrones 5.02: "The House of Black and White"

“The Mad King gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved, and each time it made him feel powerful and right, until the very end.”
-Barristan Selmy

“The House of Black and White” was one of those typical early-season episodes of “Game of Thrones” where the many, many plots all advanced incrementally. Despite the scattered focus, I think we viewers were able to get a sense of some of the big themes and conflicts we will be watching this season, though. Daenerys is going to continue to struggle to rule Meereen, which may lead to some disappointment if/when Tyrion and Varys find her. The Lannisters are going to make a move against Dorne, which happens to be ruled by the always awesome Alexander Siddig (most famously Dr. Bashir on “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”). Brienne is going to continue her potentially misguided quest to show her loyalty to the late Catlin Stark by attempting to save her daughters. Arya is going to learn to fight, although I’m not sure to what end. There are definitely interesting machinations afoot, although I continue to be torn between just enjoying spending time in Westeros and wishing the show would slow down and have a bit more focus.

Right from the beginning of this episode, we get to find out what has become of Arya. Her ship arrives in Braavos, and from the port she travels to a very large building with black and white doors. Presumably, this is the House of Black and White, and it seems to be where Faceless Men like Jaqen H’ghar live and train. Arya, however, is turned away at the door by an older man, even though she says the proper code words and shows him the coin that Jaqen gave her. Arya has to try and survive for a time on the streets of Braavos (I don’t think it’s for too long). She catches pigeons for food and has to fight off some locals who try to steal her sword. Eventually, she again encounters the man who turned her away from the House of Black and White. He’s actually Jaqen, and he reasons that he didn’t lie to Arya in their previous encounter (where he said there was no Jaqen at the House) because a Faceless Man’s true identity is no one. He takes Arya back to the House of Black and White, presumably to train her.

Sticking with the Starks, Brienne, Podrick, Littlefinger, and Sansa all wind up in the same Riverlands tavern. Podrick immediately recognizes Sansa and points he rout to Brienne. Brienne tells Podrick to ready the horses (even though they only have one horse) while she talks to Sansa. Brienne tells Sansa and Littlefinger that she was Cat’s sworn sword, and she offers to be the same for Sansa. Sansa, however, turns her down, considering everyone she has sworn fealty to has died (Renly and Cat). Also, Sansa says she saw Brienne at Joffrey’s wedding, so she doesn’t trust her. Brienne and Podrick end up taking off from the tavern on stolen horses. They are briefly attacked on the road, but Brienne holds off the attackers, and they are able to regroup. Brienne tells Podrick she still wants to try and save Sansa. She doesn’t trust Littlefinger with her at all, which is probably smart.

We next visit Cersei and Jaime to begin what will likely be one of the major plots of the season. Dorne has sent Myrcella’s necklace back to King’s Landing, and Cersei is scared. She thinks it’s a threat from Dorne in response to the death of Prince Oberyn. She calls in Jaime, and he agrees to travel to Dorne to get Myrcella back. Elsewhere, Bronn is just about to settle into his new estate with his soon-to-be bride when he gets a visit from Jaime. Jaime tells Bronn that his betrothed is now promised to someone else, and he will get Bronn a better bride and estate if he helps him on the mission to Dorne. It seems like Bronn doesn’t have much of a choice. In Dorne, Ellaria, Oberyn’s lady, confronts Prince Doran, the leader of Dorne (Alexander Siddig). She is very upset that Doran isn’t planning to avenge his brothers death. She wants to kill Myrcella, but Doran insists that the Dornish people don’t kill little girls. Ellaria threatens Doran, saying he might not be leader for much longer.

I like Daenerys a lot, but she is just unbelievably dumb in this episode. Daario and Grey Worm manage to find and arrest a member of the Sons of the Harpy, the insurgent group that has been working against Daenerys in Meereen. Daenerys struggles to figure out what to do with her new captive. A young ex-slave on Daenerys’ council advocates for executing the Son of the Harpy immediately. He thinks all the group understands is blood. He’s probably got a good point, but he’s rather obnoxious about it. Ser Barristan, however, argues for a fair trial. Privately, Ser Barristan tells Dany exactly why her father was known as the “mad king.” This convinces her to agree to the trial. The ex-slave, however, has already appointed himself judge, jury, and executioner. He kills the Son of the Harpy and publicly displays the body wearing the distinctive Sons of the Harpy gold mask.

Now Dany has an even tougher ethical dilemma. What does she do with the young ex-slave? He has technically broken the law in a big way, although her biggest supporters (the ex-slave community) aren’t exactly upset about it. Daenerys stages a big, public execution, which is most definitely not her finest moment. The assembled crowd of ex-slaves, who all call her “mother” at the beginning of the festivities, certainly don’t enjoy seeing one of their own brutally executed. Dany tries to argue that justice goes both ways, and she is trying to give everyone true justice, but the assembled crowd isn’t having it. The shouts of “mother” turn into literal hisses, and Dany has to be rushed off the stage. At the end of the episode, though, Dany’s missing dragon, Drogon, shows up, so perhaps all is not lost.

Cersei is also being kind of unbelievably dumb. Besides sending Jaime off on the mission to Dorne, she’s alienating all of her best advisors in King’s Landing. One of her minions brings her a head on a pike that is supposed to be Tyrion, but it clearly isn’t, and she dismisses him. Then she heads to the Small Council and causes all kinds of trouble. She appoints a man named Qyburn to Varys’ former position of Master of Whispers. Qyburn is generally regarded as unqualified but unwaveringly loyal to the Lannisters. Cersei also wants to appoint her uncle, Kevan Lannister, as Master of War. Kevan, however, rejects the offer. He thinks Cersei is filling up the Small Council with sycophants who will only tell her what she wants to hear, and he wants no part of it.

There is also some political intrigue happening north of the Wall in this episode, which is kind of unusual. First, Stannis takes a meeting with Jon to let him know that he’s not happy Jon cut Mance Rayder’s suffering short by shooting him with an arrow. Despite this, though, Stannis is willing to offer Jon Winterfell and the name of Stark in exchange for his loyalty. Jon, even though it’s his dream, doesn’t take the deal because it would be disloyal to the Night’s Watch. Of more immediate importance, though, the Night’s Watch is holding an election for their new Lord Commander. Ser Alliser Thorne, Jon’s nemesis, is the frontrunner. When it comes time to vote, though, Sam does a last minute pitch for Jon (mostly because he thinks Ser Alliser would send Gilly away if he won). Thanks to a tie-breaking vote cast by Maester Aemon, Jon actually wins the thing. He is now Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, and he may be in over his head.

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