Welcome back to my increasingly late review/analysis of Game of Thrones season 5! Well…now that we’re here a week and a half after the season finale but only on episode 8 in the review, there’s a bit of wibley wobbly timey whimey shenanigans to contend with. I will try my hardest to not make any mention of later episodes, but as I am also doing book to show comparisons, a little bit of the former might leak through..
Many of my beloved theorists consider this to be the best episode of the season, and they are raving about what happened prior to the conclusion as they should be. We will get to that when we get to it, and belying the title at the beginning, Hardhome shall be the last place we go in this review.
You’ll have to forgive me. It’s been a while since I’ve watched these reviews, but I must always give my favorite theorists their due since many of my ideas tend to branch off from something they’ve said. I would recommend watching all of them. The Small Council analysis is over three hours, but I usually listen to that while at work, an awesome luxury afforded to me.
Bar definitely puts this episode up there.
As does the Don, Tony Teflon
I enjoy the passion of Ideas of Ice and Fire. He was the first person to make me look more critically at the Children of the Forest’s motives (Tony doesn’t like them either).
Charlie also has a channel in French, which makes me wish I was more fluent in the language, but it’s been too long. Alas!
Preston Jacobs hands down has the funniest reviews I’ve ever seen. “Oh Brandon…”
Finally the illustrious Small Council with my role model LaDonna. Alas per her own words, she’s raised three kids and will not be adopting any more ;_;
Let’s begin with the title “Hardhome.” We have yet to see it in the books, but we have heard about it.
Hardhome is a ruined wildling settlement that lies north of the Wall. It was close to becoming the only true town above the Wall before its destruction 600 years ago. Like the antithesis comparison of Valyria (fire), Hardhome (ice) was obliterated by unknown means long ago, though according to the history the northern settlement may have also suffered the caress of the flames. Valyria and Hardhome in the past; Summerhall and Winterfell in the present day. The fire consumes it all.
In A Dance with Dragons Mother Mole leads thousands of wildlings to Hardhome after receiving a prophecy that ships will come there to carry them away. Jon Snow as Lord Commander sends Cotter Pyke to the frozen wastes to bring the wildlings to the Wall, but Pyke sends a raven back telling Jon of the desperate situation. He pleads with the Lord Commander to come overland as travel by ship is too difficult. In the show Jon goes himself and we are allowed to see what transpires. Book Jon intends to lead a ranging, but we know that never comes to pass…
The concept of a “hard home” can refer to several things in this episode. Cersei is certainly experiencing a hard home in the black cells. Sansa’s experience at her home in Winterfell is very hard. Dany is realizing that the road to home will be hard and fraught with misfortune, while Tyrion realizes if he ever goes home, he will receive a hard welcome.
This week we break the analysis into three. A Grudging Respect, Fatherless in Essos, and Go Hard or Go Home.
A Grudging Respect
Like everyone and their mother, I reveled in Cersei’s downfall. It’s even more delicious when you read about it in A Feast for Crows. As in the show, the queen regent is as proud of herself as a cat in the cream, and oh we love to watch the mighty fall. The moment when Cersei realizes that she is the one incriminated is one I read over and over and over again. But…but…seeing it on screen, seeing Cersei beaten by that septa, being told over and over again to “confess,” being denied food and water, I felt (dare I say it)…sorry for her. I also started to develop a grudging respect for the queen mother. Her obstinacy usually gets under my skin, but in this case, I was glad she didn’t give into that septa and showed more pride in licking the water off the floor than she would’ve had she confessed.
Tony Teflon (video above) is absolutely right in his assessment. You do not abuse prisoners. No matter what Cersei did prior to her incarceration nor what she did to be incarcerated, she is in their custody and does not deserve this ill treatment. It’s an abuse of power, and I don’t care that the queen regent abused hers; wrong does not correct wrong. In A Clash of Kings Stannis insists that a good deed does not wash away a bad (this is his reason for shortening Davos’s fingers as opposed to shortening his life), and in the same vein poor treatment of a prisoner prior to trial does not pay back what they might have done. I almost wish Cersei would take her revenge on that bitch septa with her sanctimonious smirk that puts Margaery’s merry mirth to shame. That woman enjoys seeing Cersei broken, which makes her no better than the queen, but many times those in power view themselves as above and reproach. Sadly, those in positions of religious power are often more likely to see their perceived sanctimony and righteousness as the will of the gods.
If Cersei does confess she could potentially receive the Mother’s mercy, which is quite ironic as Cersei herself as a mother has no mercy for anyone who stands in her way. Her entire life centers around protecting her children, thereby protecting herself by the prophecy. Her children are ticks on a clock. Once they are dead, her time is close. It really breaks open her character, because we must ask: does she care about her children because she’s their mother or does she only care about them as extensions of her life force?
There is a trinity motif occurring with motherhood in A Song of Ice and Fire. Cersei has three children; her mother before her had three as well. Daenerys has her three “children” in the dragons, and Catelyn had three sons. Of course we have “the dragon must have three heads” prophecy in regards to Rhaegar and Elia who would have borne a third if she could. Rhaella Targaryen had three children. The Clegane mother had three, too. Lyarra Stark (Ned’s mother) had three sons. There seems to be a pattern of either three children or three sons (except in the case of Sam’s mother with three daughters between her eldest son and youngest).
“Despair becomes madness” could very easily be Cersei’s fate. Someone in the Small Council said those words and they froze my blood with their resonance. Cersei seems to be spiraling towards the path her theorized father Aerys took. Like him, she is imprisoned and abused, and like him she may obliterate her enemies in fire and blood.
On the show and in discussions, I’ve heard the Mad King’s name pronounced as either a homophone to Eris or Ares, Strife and War, both of which he caused after his torment in Duskendale (I pronounce it the same as “Eris” for fairly obvious reasons), and I do not think this was chosen by happenstance. Martin is obviously dealing in mythology and religious tropes, and this amazing article shows just how much he’s tied Norse mythology into Song. Chills. However, I believe GRRM is doing this for manifold reasons. One, to lay a meta layer on top of his own narrative that shows history always repeats. He has it in the history of this world, but also serves to reveal it in the mytho-history of others. In showing these beliefs the author not only points out how much they mean to the zeitgeist, but he is also trying to make us see that “Belief is so often the death of reason,” as Qyburn says to Cersei.
I just can’t…I just can’t like him. He’s better on the show than the books because they cut out a lot of his more awful experiments, but the disgraced maester is suppose to show us the horrors of research without morals. Belief may be the death of reason, but science without morals is the death of humanity.
Fatherless in Mereen
So we forge ahead beyond the books to have Dany and Tyrion meet. Now some may say that this is a reunion of Targaryens, but I’ve already given my opinion on Tyrion’s Targ status (he isn’t one). In terms of father issues however, Daenerys and the dwarf are closer than kin. She just lost a father figure in the death of Ser Barristan, but where she lost a knight, she gained a far better adviser in the youngest Lannister. I think the books are going to mirror this: Barristan is going to die prior to Tyrion’s arrival, which is quite a shame and another missed connection. Seven hells…I could make quite a graph of that, couldn’t I? Missing Westeros connections: Catelyn and Arya, Jon and Bran, Jon and Ned’s non-conversation about his mother.
I’m okay…I’m okay, but I would love to read a conversation between Tyrion and Barristan, the past meeting the present. It was mentioned (and here’s where I’m unsure if I’m jumping to a later Small Council video) that there are/were only three people on the show who were alive prior to Robert’s Rebellion: Olenna Tyrell (née Redwyne), Ser Barristan Selmy, and Aemon Targaryen. Only Olenna remains alive. Are they the three pillars or are they the foundation? Either way they rotting away.
Tyrion and Dany do have something else in common, and this paradigm may be juxtaposed. Both of their fathers began as close friends and ended as bitter enemies. Tyrion and Daenerys stood on opposite sides of conflict; however, if trust can blossom, the two children may pick up long dropped threads and dance towards a worthier end. Neither Tyrion’s nor Dany’s patriarchs would’ve ever been contenders for father of the year, a truth the dragon queen is forcing herself to swallow. The usual opposition in a fantasy is good vs. evil, but this narrative is not nearly so simple. Tywin and Aerys were both ambitious and awful in their own rights, and when those ambitions converged (potentially on Johanna), it broke a lifelong friendship.
Tyrion seems to have a father connection with everyone he meets. Actually…he seems to have a father and mother connection with the majority. Jon Snow all the way back in the first book/season with their dead moms and lying dads. I am assuming R+L=J here, and if it’s so then Ned did lie to his “son” about the identity of his father and enacted a lie of omission about his mother. Tyrion’s story suggests (from the lips of numerous theorists) that his mother may still be alive (Jaime’s fever dream chapter), and while I think Tywin is most definitely his father, his twin siblings may only be half that.
Continuing along Tyrion’s journey we have Jorah whom he shares a father connection in an eerily odd way. Jeor Mormont was killed by his own men…and arguably so was Tywin Lannister in the singular. Tyrion is Tywin’s “own man,” in more ways than just being his son. He is Tywin to a tee, and it took a great deal to push Tyrion far enough to do what he did.
Then to Dany he has the mother/father connection again, and him, Jon, and her all fall under the victims of dead/missing mothers umbrella. He just keeps running into the main people who fulfill this paradigm. Daenerys’s mother died in childbirth as Tyrion’s was purported to do, and like Dany, he has an older sibling who never forgave him for that.
It appears as though Tyrion throws Jorah under the bus, but Jorah really threw himself into the wheels. While I understand Dany’s anger for it would be my own (I don’t do betrayal well and I remember every time someone has done so, ask my husband), Jorah is one of the few true knights in the world (the other being Brienne). He has to have something to worship/serve otherwise he has no purpose. Such is his devotion that he willingly sold himself into slavery, which is another point to the idea of freedom/free will being the choice of slavery, a point James Johnson consistently brings up in reference to the Night’s King. Better to serve in heaven (by Daenery’s side) than reign in hell (be the champion in the fighting pits. Literally, the “pit,” the “fiery pit” once we throw a dragon in there). Jorah is like a disgraced angel for they, too, must have something to serve, and he’s willing to climb his way back up into Daenerys’s good graces, because he does worship her like a god… This doesn’t do much to alleviate her god complex, which is something carried from her ancestor’s of old. Jorah is the courtly love paradigm twisted for nothing he does will ever win him what he desires. His first wife was like a practice run for Daenerys later. He could keep neither, but that doesn’t mean he’s not going to try.
Now we come to the heart. The majority of the episode was spent in Hardhome and for good reason beyond it being the name. We finally are shown a peek of an end game, and I use an indeterminate article, because while it’s still below the first layer of the “game of thrones,” it lies above what I’m starting to believe is the true story. I’m not going to go into that now, but the link goes to Dorian the Historian’s page who’s convincing me of this truth. Regardless, it is in Hardhome that we finally see the elusive Night’s King and prove James Johnson’s base prediction to be true.
Before Jon leaves, Sam gives him dragonglass to take with since Sam killed a White Walker with it before. I…can’t really call this gift a red herring because I believe it’s supposed to show (or possibly be another red herring reference to the fact) that Jon doesn’t need these “earthly” gifts because he’s Azor Ahai reborn, the Prince That Was Promised, etc. Speaking about this leads me to this random tangential thought.
I’m no longer convinced that Azor Ahai, the Prince That Was Promised, and the Last Hero are the same person anymore. Didn’t Rhaegar say that the “dragon must have three heads?” What if these are three different entities and not one as many theorists believe? So Jon is the Prince, which would make perfect sense in terms of him being Rhaegar and Lyanna’s son, and a “prince” may defeat a (Night’s) “king.” Jaime is Azor Ahai per the attached link, and Bran is the Last Hero:
“So as cold and death filled the earth, the last hero determined to seek out the children, in the hopes that their ancient magics could win back what the armies of men had lost. He set out into the dead lands with a sword, a horse, a dog and a dozen companions. For years he searched until he despaired of ever finding the children of the forest in their secret cities. One by one his friends died, and his horse, and finally even his dog, and his sword froze so hard the blade snapped when he tried to use it.”
Bran has set out into the “dead lands,” the Land of Always Winter with his “dog” and a “dozen” (or fewer) companions. It doesn’t completely fit, but the “dying horse” could be the elk that Cold Hands rode, and Hodor did wield a sword. Bran would be the Ice head of the dragon; Jaime would bee the Fire head, and Jon would be both Ice and Fire to balance the song. I suppose we must ask where does Dany fit into this…well the dragon must have three heads, and she is the Mother of Dragons. They could be her heralds; they could be her curse. I can’t say how it will fit together, but we need to consider that AA, the prince, and the LH are three different people.
Jon journeys to Hardhome and runs into exactly the trouble that you would expect. “Know your enemy” seems to be another theme in this episode. Cersei’s downfall came about because she unwittingly created an unknown enemy in trying to oust someone who wasn’t. Dany is trying to determine if Tyrion is her enemy, but assumes she knows that Jorah is and sends him away. I think this is erroneous in terms of the dispossessed knight. The Hardhome wildlings, too, need to “know their enemy,” and it is not Jon. The Thenns refuse to see this which is laughably stupid because they should know that the White Walkers are out there. They’ve been living in the cold belly of the wolf for this long. How is it they don’t know the WWs can raise armies of the dead?
Karsi, (whom many believe is a stand in for Val) realizes who the true enemy is, and she’s also the only mother in the episode to act as she should, even though those latter actions lead to her death. She puts her daughters onto one of the boats before going back to help the others (hm…help the “others…”), but when the dead children appear, she can’t bring herself to attack them, which leads to her demise. However, arguably, this is how a mother or any parent should be. Whether or not those children were hers, Karsi holds with a fundamental value of not harming children no matter what the cost.
She pays with her life and undeath for this choice (because choices have consequences. We learned that from Ned Stark), and her words of “remember the dead but think of the living” to that Thenn when he used the excuse of the “crows” killing his family as a reason for not joining Jon come immediately to mind. Remember the dead…because they could become the unliving. Unfortunately, we could also take Karsi’s inaction against those dead children as her forgetting her own advice. Was she thinking of her living children when she refused to attack or run? Is that why she didn’t act? Her choices cost her her life, but it may cost the world of men much more. In life she is both the Warrior and Mother aspect of the seven faced god. In the end she leans towards the latter, but in death she becomes the Stranger as do all those who were slain. They are all the Stranger and they are all strange.
The moment those four White Walkers appeared on the hill, I immediately thought of the Four Horsemen, and all four (or arguably five) concepts were there, as well. War, Death, Famine (the wildlings were starving in the book to the point where they were eating their dead…not a terrible concept when you think about what those dead can become), Pestilence and Conquest seem to be debatable translation points for one of the horseman, but they are both present in Hardhome. If we think of what the Night’s King is doing to bring back the dead or to turn Craster’s sons as a virus, we have our pestilence right there (this concept is also represented in the books as greyscale and pale mare, which is a reference to Death’s horseman), and Conquest is blatant in the leveling of Hardhome. There is no argument about which army won that battle.
The implications of the above are dire. There are now more dead for that NK’s army with their glowing blue eyes *shivers* (thanks for making glowing eyes even more terrifying Game of Thrones. Like I needed that…), and this just proves how simple minded humans can be. That one Thenn that Karsi argued with while living was adamant about not joining with the Watch because of past wrongs, but the more people who die the more will be “recruited” for the Night’s King’s army. Olly back the Wall is the same. Poor, simple Sam doesn’t realize he’s giving the boy more impetus to murder Jon, but Olly himself is also myopic to the fact that if the wildlings are left to die those are just more dead to fight. If there is a way to keep your enemy from gaining more soldiers, you take it.
The Black Cauldron/Crochan from The Prydain Chronicles (a retelling of Welsh mythology) was capable of reanimating the dead as silent, mindless warriors exactly as the NK. In the story of the same (initial) name, the heroes set forth to obtain this evil pot from Arawn and destroy it so that he no longer has the ability to make more deathless warriors. (It’s…a kind of fucked up eugenics isn’t it?? Immortal, invincible soldiers…) The point is, those on the side of the living should do everything in their power to stop those on the other side not war with the living over half-remembered dead, but one thing I did notice…the wights did not go into the water.
LaDonna made this observation, too. Perhaps like the Headless Horseman and other ghost stories, the wights can’t cross running water. Now if it freezes as Shivering Seas must one day do, what will the living do then?
This is where the term valar morghulis/valar dohaeris takes on a far darker meaning. “All men must die,” then “all men must serve.” He only had eyes for Jon Snow. He wanted Jon to see how great his power was. Even though Jon did kill one of the Night’s King’s own (stopping the WW’s sword in a similarly surprising fashion to Jaime and the Dornish guard), the NK and his followers killed everyone left behind, and he raised them for his own army. It’s like spitting on a drowning man.
The way he looked at Jon was as if he knew him, and not just knew who he was, but knew his heart, knew his blood, knew his truth. There was a fierce knowledge in those piercing blue eyes, and the two characters were juxtaposed. Jon running away even after doing the impossible: killing a White Walker with Valyrian steel (so him and Sam are even more brothers than they were before), and the NK standing on the shores raising his hand so the dead can only answer.
The story of the Night’s King has been told and retold many, many times, and one of the things that sticks out to me is the fact that his name was erased from history. That…bothers me, because not having this knowledge means you never know when you’re invoking the name. What if the NK was a Brandon Stark (though I’ve heard that a Brandon Stark took down the Night’s King and I don’t think brothers would have the same name, but…stories can be distorted), and every time a child is named and called Brandon, you are summoning this ancient, northern evil, which by the way, I have to say it. The northern horror, ancient evil. This is the fire, the passion I crave, a tide that runs through all my favorite stories, and to continue on this vein but go back to the name, the Night’s King’s expunging brings to mind the idea that there is power in names.
“There is power in names and power in blood, but there is also power in truth.”
I’ve taken to calling this concept “noli nomen vocare,” which is Latin (per what I’ve seen in translations) for “do not speak that name.” It is from the Advent Children version of One Winged Angel, which is linked, but touches numerous narratives. In Harry Potter no one speaks Voldemort’s name initially out of superstition, but then later the dark lord actually puts a spell on the utterance so that something much more dire will occur. A more jocular (but still eerie) version of this is seen in Beetlejuice, where saying the titular character’s name three times will summon him to the fore. The concept is ironic in its origin as “noli nomen vocare” is begged, but the name Sephiroth is said over and over again as though in invocation. The most well known example of this is obviously the devil himself. He has numerous nicknames such as “Old Nick,” “Old Scratch,” and often just “the enemy,” so that the more pious and fearful can avoid saying his name though I doubt even Satan is his original moniker.
The Night’s King’s name was obliterated from the Night’s Watch’s history, which is childish logic. Those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. It’s as though the men of the order shut their eyes to the truth or tried to hide it for reasons still unknown. If it’s the former, this is like a child shutting their eyes to the dark as if the dark itself can’t see. The darkness still exists behind and in front of your sealed lids. Avoiding it or ignoring it doesn’t change this fact, and what if by not knowing the name you are calling it over and over again. I am terrified but curious about the Nightfort’s truth. There are many theories. I like Tony’s; he’s the second person to make me wonder about the Children’s true motivations.
There is a huge debate about why the Wall exists, and honestly…before I started looking for these theories I never thought about it, and that makes no sense. The incongruence is right in front of your face. Why is there a Wall of ice built to keep out creatures made of ice? GRRM said in an interview that the Others/White Walkers can do things with ice that men can’t imagine. It sounds like the Others are to ice what the Targaryens are to fire, but I’m not so sure they (Others and Targs) are so different per other revelations. They may be two sides of the same coin with different elemental properties. I’ve already mentioned the incongruence of Targaryens looking like they do (winter pale with silver hair and cold colored eyes) but being akin to fire. How do you look like a winter angel, but have a connection with fire? Unless it’s that they are deep and magical ice, and that’s what gives them the fire resistance. Think about how long it would take a fire (no matter how big) to melt the Wall. Martin could be playing with the unity of opposites; however, having the Others exist and appear similar to the Targs brings up many, many questions.
With this in mind about the Others and ice, does the Wall really keep the White Walkers at bay? The dead were brought back to Castle Black and reanimated as wights. We’ve heard from the history/legends that the White Walkers ran rampant all over Westeros. Granted this was before the Wall, but that barrier could be a gigantic red herring. It may have weirwoods at its roots, and I believe in the video above Tony talks about a demon tree called Ygg (more than likely taken from Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse mythology) that ate human flesh. This could potentially be that gate that only a man of the Night’s Watch could pass, and that drop upon Bran’s head could’ve been blood… Perhaps the dead can only be brought dormant across, but once there reanimate. Perhaps the Other can’t cross because of the weirwood wards. I don’t know, but the Wall is a definitely Jericho reference. The horn of Joramund is prophesized to be able “to bring this cold thing down” per Ygritte. In the Jericho story that is what Joshua does to bring down the walls of the city. Will it be that “simple” in Song? Maybe…the Horn of Joramund is a dragon horn that will call forth a great beast to do just that.
The Stark Sisters and Final Thoughts
They are both playing the game of faces though Sansa’s has been revealed. She was Alayne Stone and now she’s herself, and Arya never stopped. The Faceless Men and the Iron Bank combination are similar to the Knight’s King. I either heard or came upon this thought while listening to the Small Council. We know the NK’s modus operandi. Where the Iron Bank matches is the small and insignificant people are being sacrificed to bolster the Bank’s power as the living are killed to become wights for the Night’s King’s army. The Iron Bank literally owns the Iron Throne.
As I was drafting this I observed there was another mother paradigm woven in the analysis of each part. Perhaps I’m reaching but I’m going to say it anyway.
Cersei is the imprisoned queen, the matriarch without power, the mother dispossessed. Daenerys has her own “mother of dragons” motif, but together with Tyrion they invoke the sacrificed mother as both of theirs are assumed dead in order to bring them life. Karsi in Hardhome is the dead/undead and corrupted mother who found herself in that position due to her matriarchal instincts and compassion. It is a bitter irony that that which caused her stay her hand turned her into the damned. Lady Stoneheart did not make an appearance in this episode, but her daughters remind us that she is the mother betrayed.
There is only darkness up ahead before any hope of light. Death rising is a dark fulfilled promise from Revelations. Night will fall and winter will come before there is any hope of a savior.