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GAME OF THRONES Season 5 Episode 2 Review, “The House of Black and White”

Game of Thrones Arya Jaqen The House of Black and White disguise

The following review is from the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the books. Go back to Borders, nerd.

Game of Thrones is really taking a vacation this year. And that’s a compliment. This was possibly the most purely fun episode that Game of Thrones has ever produced. If a typical episode is a tiptoe around a dark house trying to not wake up an angry parent, this episode was a leisurely, unburdened stroll through a Target (which is weird given the consistent threat of child death this episode provides that I have never experienced at Target). I know that I’m dancing with fire here, almost tempting the writers to kill the people I love, but I am enjoying what was, to a large extent, some fun.

The show can’t stay like this forever. Fun is not what Game of Thrones does best. It’s not in its DNA. We need to get back to absolute misery sooner or later, and it will definitely be sooner rather than later given the track record of our favorite medieval depressives, but sometimes we just need to watch Brienne kill some dudes on a horse. It’s a palette cleanser for the misery to come.

As per usual, this review will break things down character by character, and at the end I will crown this week’s winner. Because that is the kind of power I have.

Bran’d This Week (Those Who Elected Not to Join Us)

–Bran Stark is still gone and I still don’t miss him. Hodor’s cool, though. And, uh… the girl one. She has a name.

–Ramsay Snow and Theon have yet to make an appearance, and that has yet to affect the show for me. They were also absent last week and I sort of just forgot to include them here. The Theon’s Penis storyline was one of the worst frequent pitstops in the show’s run and I don’t really miss Ramsay either. His overbearing sadism never really did it for me. Maybe it’s all the penis stuff.

–The Brothers without Banners. I will always miss the Brothers without Banners.

FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY FINALLY Arya

I suppose the main benefit of making viewers wait eons for payoff on storylines is that when the payoffs finally come it is the most welcome thing in the entire world. Seeing Arya finally meet up with Jaqen and enter The House of Black and White to become the unceasing murder machine I guess we all want her to be is one of the single most satisfying moments in my recent memory of the show. As agonizing as it is to wait for the payoffs to all of Game of Thrones’ many dangling plotlines, more often than not the payoff is very satisfying. And indeed the eventual payoff is eventual. They do tend to happen unless an untimely beheading is involved. And it’s that delicate balance between extension and satisfaction that keeps Game of Thrones the infuriating, wonderful experience we all have come to enjoy.

I know not what awaits Arya beyond those doors or with that handsome fella with a Scooby-Doo villain level acumen at wearing masks, but I am more than prepared for when it comes.

Spain is Not Happy

The Civilization map of Game of Thrones continues to grow as we journey finally to Dorne to meet the family of our dearly departed Oberyn Martell: Red Viper, heartthrob, and chatty gladiator. For understandable reasons, Dorne is not pleased with the death of the most charming man of all time. In particular, his lover Ellaria is not pleased. She asks Oberyn’s brother Doran to please do something about all of this because Oberyn was too cool to die. There is almost nothing to go on here yet (the Lannister daughter plot will probably kick in around Episode 4 or 5), but I like to treat every new group of people on this show with an open mind. Just because I didn’t fall for Dorne as quickly as I did the Brothers without Banners doesn’t mean that this won’t become a very promising fighting ground. When characters only get six minutes a week, these things take time. We will have plenty of daughter threatening before we know it.

Jamie & Bronn: A New Hope

Thank you, Game of Thrones, for bringing this combination of elements back into play. We are finally getting the Jamie & Bronn buddy show a la Butch & Sundance that I never pitched to HBO but really, really should have. I understand that this is something that has changed significantly from the books, as neither Jamie nor Bronn are involved in the attempts to get Myrcella back (Jamie goes off to tie up loose ends or something and some random Kingsguard guy goes on the important storyline, which is just some weird writing), but this is one of those times where the show is making great improvements on the books.

Brienne and Podrick in Another One of Those Times Where the Show is Making Great Improvements on the Books

In perhaps the most horrifying news to cross my desk in recent memory, I have learned the Brienne of the books never runs into Sansa Stark. I will never stop thanking the writers of Game of Thrones for making this change. Thank you, the writers of Game of Thrones. Tonight’s episode alone was thrilling and twisting enough to show me that this is absolutely the right direction to go. Brienne’s quest to protect the Ladies Stark is one of the few noble endeavors on the show, and to see at least some progress on that front keeps morale high on a dour and sour show like Game of Thrones.

And, look: I understand that Brienne’s storyline from the books where she goes on a wild goose chase and misses Sansa Stark by leagues and travels the country taking in the absolute devastation of war is great for character development in that medium. But in a visual medium like a TV show, that’s a scene. That’s an episode. That’s not a storyline. On a show that needs wins for its characters as much as this one does, seeing Brienne hot on the trail of completing her duty will propel us from week to week. This is more interesting. This is more compelling. This is how writing works. And it’s just good television.

Game of Thrones Daenerys Drogon Dragon The House of White and Black

Tyrion and Varys in John Ford’s STAGECOACH (Presented in Glorious Black and White)

It’s always great to check in with these two. No matter how little actually happened in this little check-in, I will always welcome a Tyrion and Varys exchange. Always.

Cersei is Scary

By this point in the show, after losing both her son and her husband in such a short length of time, Cersei has finally snapped. All bets are off. People are bringing her dwarf heads one after the other. Her continual acclimation of power at King’s Landing is one of the show’s scariest prospects and it simply continues to happen. She is one of the show’s most compelling figures and that only seems to increase by the week.

The Night’s Watch in The Perils of Structuring

As we move further and further away from the Wildling attack on Castle Black, the more I come to say that making it an entire episode was a mistake. So far it’s the least interesting of Game of Thrones’ Episode Nine Showdowns. It was a previously unseen level of scope for a television show, but it lacked a real emotionality. Its best moment concerned four characters whose names certainly exist but that I sure as hell didn’t know bravely reciting the oath of their army as they faced down a charging giant. There wasn’t enough substance to devote an entire hour to the proceedings.

And it left us with this bizarre little episode for Jon Snow. As great as Stannis’ surprise appearance beyond the wall was last year, the better ending for a season is Jon Snow taking over as Lord Commander. It’s such a bizarre thing to be in episode two of a ten episode run. It’s a scene that really popped up unannounced and as quickly as it came it was gone and Jon Snow as in charge. Which he basically was already. It’s a necessary step to get us to where we need to be to progress, but it was still more than a little awkward and shoved together.

But whatever! Jon Snow’s in charge now and now he can make out with Stannis or something. Maybe this will continue his recent trend of being actually interesting.

TONIGHT’S WINNER: Daenerys Encounters a Metaphor

Did you… did you get it? Did you get that the dragon was a metaphor? And Dany can’t control that which she oversees? That all of this power and control that sounds so awesome is actually as much of a burden as it is a blessing?

Daenerys did a lot this week to get rid of all that pesky respect and affection she had worked so hard to earn. Not too long ago she was crowdsurfing on a crowd of slaves she freed with her might, and now they want her head. Daenerys is going through the growing pains of coming into power, and it may just cost her everything she has spent two seasons building. She still has her Loyal Council of Cool Characters, but how long will that last after things get hot. As much as Varys has absolute faith in Dany’s ability to lead, she has just made a huge error in judgment. She is going to need a hell of a PR team to repair the damage. And I don’t know if Daario and Greyworm are that PR team.

But there is a very crafty stagecoach headed their way…

Episode Grade: B+

Check out the Chekhov’s Gunman reservoir of Game of Thrones reviews here, Kevin’s podcast Talking Back to the Movies here, and his Twitter feed here.

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