Game of Thrones 5.08: “Hardhome”

Are you not entertained? / Photo: HBO

When Jon Snow’s Valyrian steel sword met the White Walker’s ice-blade, a melody nine years in making finally rang out – a song of ice and fire. And so it was fitting that afterwards, as silence engulfed the end of “Hardhome,” we were left with the grim realization that everything else we've been focused on pales in significance to what just occured.

For five seasons, we’ve been force-fed violence, war, and death, while at the same time, only teased with glimpses of the White Walkers. And now, after seeing the Night’s King nonchalantly turn the dead into wights, we’re ironically reminded at how well stocked Westeros is for further resurrections. There are dead bodies everywhere. There’s literally an entire dead army lying off the coast of King’s Landing beneath Blackwater Bay, and should the White Walkers find themselves in the vicinity, well, let’s just say it won’t matter who sits on the Iron Throne.

This episode reminded me of The Wire, where in Season 1, we’re introduced to various street-level criminals responsible for Baltimore’s drug trade. It’s a cutthroat game, and many die attempting to ascend to the top. (Sound familiar?) Then, in Season 2, we take a step back and meet The Greek – the man responsible for importing the drugs on a large, global scale. The Greek couldn’t care less what gang runs the Baltimore drug trade, and it leaves you aware at how insignificant the fights for control of the street corners are. That’s the same feeling I had last night on Game of Thrones. The Iron Throne might as well be an inner-city street corner, because just like The Greek, when the White Walkers come knocking, it won’t matter who answers the door – it’s going to be blown off its hinges.

But there is a sliver of hope. Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) will arrive back at Castle Black with knowledge of the White Walkers’ weakness: Valyrian Steel. Here’s to hoping he can spread the word.

Elsewhere (and less-importantly) in the realm, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon) is feeling perhaps a bit too confident as he plans to lead a covert attack on Stannis’s camp. We know Sansa (Sophie Turner) will be praying for his demise, but she has other things to wish for too, now that she knows Bran and Rickon weren’t actually killed by Theon (Alfie Allen).

In King’s Landing, Cersei (Lena Headey) worsens by the day, as Septa Unella (Hannah Waddingham) continues to withhold water, in spite of Cersei’s death threats. When Qyburn turns up with news that Kevan Lannister has returned to the capital to serve as Tommen’s Hand, Cersei is finally forced to imagine her son being raised and groomed by someone other than her. For the sake of Tommen, I can only hope he is so lucky.

In Braavos, Arya (Maisie Williams) has officially become Lana, the merchant with the best oysters in town. If I were the gambling man at the docks, I wouldn’t ask for vinegar next time. With only two episodes left, expect Mace Tyrell and Meryn Trant to arrive in Braavos soon.

In Meereen, poor Jorah (Iain Glen) has once again been banished from Daenerys’s side, but he simply won’t take no for an answer and has decided to sell himself into slavery for the chance to fight in the upcoming great games. Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), on the other hand, won’t need to fight his way through the pits for the chance to be near Daenerys (Emilia Clarke); he’ll be sitting right next to her.

Riser of the Week: Tyrion Lannister

This is the comfiest seat Tyrion’s had in a long time. / Photo: Helen Sloan, HBO

A few, short weeks ago, Tyrion was happy with the notion of drinking himself to a numb death, but between Varys’s convincing and the idea of dragons, a better option presented itself. During Tyrion’s brief stint as Hand of the King, he was quite successful – especially considering, as he said last night, Joffrey’s lust for blood. Tyrion drips pragmatism, and with both Jorah and Barristan no longer advising Daenerys, his knowledge and guidance will be much needed. For the first time since the Battle of the Blackwater, Tyrion has a true purpose.

Honorable Mention: Tormund (Kristofer Hivju), for walking, talking, and not balking at the threats from the Lord of Bones.

Faller of the Week: The Wildlings

It’s been a rough few years for the wildlings. / Photo: HBO

Let’s think about last night’s events from the perspective of the wildlings. A few years ago, a man named Mance Rayder comes around and convinces you to put away your differences with rival clans and to take up arms against the Night’s Watch. You’re going to knock the damn Wall down, or die trying. Only that’s exactly what ended up happening to most of the army – they died trying. But not you. You managed to save face and flee to the harsh seaside town of Hardhome. And even though most of your family and friends were slain, and you’re more than a little beat up, you continue surviving. Then one day, a fleet appears on the coast, and then Tormund is back, and he’s brought a crow with him who’s prettier than even his two daughters. They’re telling you that it’s time to leave. That you all need to come with him back to the Wall – the very place you just fled from – otherwise you’ll die. This crow says he’ll let you all live; that he’ll give you land to farm. It sounds too good to be true, but even if it is, it beats freezing to death. So you reluctantly agree, and as your people begin boarding the boats, the White Walkers attack. And boy do they attack. Some of you stay back and valiantly fight, and some jump into the icy water hoping to make it to the ships. Almost all of you die, though it’s a short-lived death, thanks to the Night’s King, who wastes no time in resurrecting your recently fallen brethren. You though, you’re one of the lucky ones. You made it onto a boat. You’re still alive. But little do you know, the crow you’re with, he’s the only one of his kind with a softspot for the free folk. And while you’re sailing away from one enemy, you’re headed right into the home of another.

Honorable Mention: Jorah Mormont, for not telling the truth when it would have mattered.

Backstory of the Week: The White Walkers

Jon’s Valyrian steel really caught this guy off guard. / Photo: HBO.

Approximately 8,000 years before the events in Game of Thrones begin, a generation-long winter known as the Long Night set upon Westeros, and in its wake came the White Walkers. It’s unknown why they came, but it didn’t matter, as the White Walkers killed every man in their path, and then reanimated the dead into wights to carry out further killing on command. Eventually, the people of Westeros united and managed to drive back the White Walkers into the north. The Wall was raised to keep them permanently out.

In the present day, most people don’t believe that the White Walkers ever even existed. Even those who do believe, think that they went extinct thousands of years ago. As the Seven Kingdoms continue to concentrate on their petty wars, the Night’s Watch has grimly realized that they are all that remains to protect the realm from another White Walker invasion.

White Walkers possess magical powers, and have the ability to bring about blizzards and drastically drop the temperature. They are so cold that they freeze almost everything they touch. This is why normal weaponry is useless against them. Their greatest power, however, is the ability to turn the dead into wights. The only way to kill a wight is to burn it, which is why the Night’s Watch burns its dead. Together, the White Walkers and wights make for a terrifying army, and unless the realm focuses its attention up north, it’ll be an army almost no one sees coming.

Item of the Week: Valyrian Steel

It’s a good thing Jon didn’t let go. / Photo: Helen Sloan, HBO.

Until last night, the idea that White Walkers could be killed by Valyrian steel was just a theory from the books. But after Jon Snow shattered a White Walker with Longclaw, it’s officially been proven. Valyrian steel is a form of metal that was forged during the days of the mighty Valyrian Freehold. (The desolate land that Tyrion and Jorah sail through before being attacked by Stone Men is all that remains of Valyria.) Valyria was run by a group of noble families, similar to modern-day Westeros. Many of these modern families were dragon lords, and dragon-fire was an integral step in forging the steel. But when the Doom of Valyria all but erased the city from the map, the Targaryens found themselves as the last remaining group of dragon lords. Approximately 100 years later, Aegon I and his two sisters conquered Westeros atop their dragons. Even back then, Valyrian steel was rare and expensive to produce, and thus these weapons were already valued heirlooms, passed down by each generation. As a result, there are a finite number of Valyrian steel weapons, and unless someone figures out the forging process soon, the responsibility of taking down the White Walkers will fall into the hands of only a few people.

Maester’s Musings:

  • For the sake of fairness, I must give credit to David Benioff and Dan Weiss for this episode. I still don’t forgive them for Dorne and the Sand Snakes, but this episode definitely helps me forget. Top five episode, ever.
  • As soon as Karsi (Birgitte Hjort Sorenson) put her two children onto that boat, was anyone expecting her to live? Though brief, Karsi proved to be one of the best short-lived but complete characters to hit the show.
  • I loved Sam’s nod to all book readers. “He always comes back.”

Joe Brosnan is an editor and writer for Criminal Element. He’s a New York Giants fan, a Petyr Baelish supporter, and is only now realizing how weird it is to write in the third person. You can follow him on Twitter @joebro33.

Read all of Joe Brosnan’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. Sean Connaughton

    Slight correction, Valyria was not run exclusively by the Targaryens, they were one of many powerful noble families just like Westeros now.

  2. Joe Brosnan

    @Sean Connaughton: Thanks for pointing that out. I flushed out the bit about the Valyrian Freehold to clear some things up.

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