Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Game of Thrones, Season 5, Episode 2: The House of Black and White


Arya arrives in the city, having fled the Westeros, the Hound and Brienne last season. She is heading to the House of Black and White to find Jaqen H’ghar, the face changing killer.

She knocks and the door is opened by a silent man – she tries to recite “Valar Morghulis” to him since that seems to be a catch all phrase to get anything done in Braavos (well it beats “swordfish”). She tries showing off Jaqen’s coin but this just gets the door closed in her face

Hey maybe she should have tried “swordfish.” She sits on the steps until night falls and she does her nightly recital of her death list. She chants it all night (really, I’m sure the list is longer than this). In the morning she leaves, throwing Jaqen’s coin in to the water

Arya takes to killing pigeons when some street kids try to steal her sword. She’s suitably menacing in the face of them – and it’s witnessed by the silent man from the Hours of Black and White. He returns the coin to her which she had thrown in the water – and changes his face to become Jaqen H’ghar (what, you thought we nearly had another POC character?). He reminds her he is “no-one” which is what she must become.

The Kingsroad

Podrik is still being massively optimistic and cheerful while Brienne is trying to glower the world into submission. They’re eating in the same inn as Sansa and Petyr and Sansa keeps asking questions about Petyr’s plotting (and adding “cunningly observant” to her growing list of skills), learning that Petyr has proposed marriage to someone – and been accepted. Podrik is also pretty observant – and tells Brienne that he has seen Sansa. Podrik tries to get Brienne to be subtle and restrained or at least ptient.

She goes and makes her dramatic pledge to Sansa that she swore to protect her. Petyr is there to fling mud, pointing out that other people Brienne has sworn to protect didn’t exactly live long lives (Brienne telling them Renly was killed by a shadow with Stannis’s face doesn’t help her much). Sansa isn’t impressed (suspicion, because she saw Brienne bow to Joffrey or Littlefinger’s disapproval) and tells Brienne to leave. To be fair, Brienne does have a terrible track record. Brienne does so – but not before punching out a knight and freeing several horses, slicing a Vale Knight then riding off with Poderik. She slaughters a couple of more knights saving poor Poderik.

Brienne still decides to follow Sansa despite, as Poderik points out, both Stark girls refusing her pretty much means an end to her vow.

Kings Landing

Cersei shows Jaime a package she’s received – Mycella, her daughter’s necklace wrapped around the fangs of a statue of a snake (is this the time to point out Oberyn’s daughters are called the sand snakes?). She, probably rightly, views this as a threat since Mycella is in Dorne (Tyrion having betrothed her to Trystane Martell, the Prince of Dorne, Doran Martell’s son), the Dornish hated the Lannisters before and it’s unlikely Oberyn’s death has made them more popular. This turns into more of an argument because Jaime is worried about her referring to Mycella as “our” daughter, admitting their incest. But Cersei is; in a full rant both against Jaime for not being a father to their children and his insistence on secrecy and how even with all his caution their kids have not exactly done well (referring to Tommen’s betrothed, Margaery, as a “smirking whore.”).

Jaime, stung by her rant, decides to go to Dorne and rescue their daughter. She scorns him and what he can possibly do as a one handed man. Jaime will need help

Which brings us to Bronn and his rather child-like new betrothed Lollys. Or former betrothed – because Jaime arrives to remind Bronn what a bad idea it is to trust the Lannisters – he’s had the marriage Cersei promised cancelled but, in exchange for coming with Jaime to Dorne, he will get a “better girl and a better castle”

Cersei’s reward for her brother’s head has led to men pretty much killing any Little Person they can find – something that doesn’t overly bother Cersei or her creepy Maester friend, Qyburn.

At the council Cersei is serving as the king’s “advisor” because, as a woman, she could never be the King’s Hand. She hands out titles and positions to forestall objections and appoints Qyburn the new Whisperer since he’s suitably creepy enough. Not all the Lannister uncles are willing to accept Cersei as the voice of the king


Ellaria, Oberyn’s ex-lover, tries to push Doran to seek vengeance for Oberyn (Doran’s brother) but Doran refuses –partly because Oberyn’s death was technically legal (he chose to take part in a duel to the death, you don’t get to whine when that ends up with you dead) and he doesn’t want to drag Dorne into a war against the Lannisters and whoever else they can drag up. Ellaria points out both the Dornish people and the Sand Snakes (Oberyn’s daughters) would support a war for vengeance.

Ellaria would also quite like to take all her vengeance out on Mycella. Doran draws the line – mutilating little girls is a no-no.


In keeping order in Meeren, Daario wants a less conspicuous police force than the Unsullied – he suggests his Second Sons mercenaries. He points out other flaws with the Unsullied’s training and thinking when it comes to tracking scared, underground groups and happily stabs a hiding Son of the Harpy in the leg through a false wall.

With him captured, Daernerys faces a choice of whether to execute him or not. There’s a lot of debate among her council over trials, questioning and assumptions, mercy and vengeance and justice. When she’s alone Barriston also has another warning for Daenerys – about her father the “Mad King”; she’d put the extreme stories of his cruelties down to her enemies’ lies – but Barriston confirms they were true. He warns Daenerys about the Mad King’s sense of “justice.” Daenerys agrees to a fair trial.

Unfortunately, one of Daenery’s followers (possibly a mole for the Sons of the Harpy) murders the man so she doesn’t have to execute him. When she denies there are slaves and masters now she has taken Meeren, he asks her who lives in the pyramids still…

She has him arrested. They go out to the adoring crowd chanting “mhysa” to her, She brings the man out for execution (the crowd hails him as “brother” and cries for mercy).

She has him beheaded and the begging crowd falls silent – before hissing and turning on her and a riot brews.

That night while she’s all sad and alone, she gets a visitor. Drogon, her biggest dragon

Road to Volantis

Varys continues to try and encourage Tyrion to join him and stop drinking. Among their reflections we have some gross slut shaming of Cersei and some musing about how they, no matter how skilled, could never be rulers because they are found “repulsive.”

The North

Shireen, Stannis’s daughter, teaches Gilly to read (something she’s better at than Sam who, being so extremely literate, doesn’t have the patience). Gilly tells them what happened to her sisters who had the same disease as Shireen – both of whom died rather terribly.

They’re interrupted by Syleen, rather sensibly, pointing out that Shireen should avoid Gilly as she’s a wildling and any wildling may be somewhat irate about their defeat and Mance being executed (and it’s not like allowing strangers to spend time alone with the princess is a great idea anyway).

Stannis is all pissy with John for killing Mance so he didn’t die by burning to death – Stannis thinks for people to follow him they need to fear him (he seems to have the same problem as the Lannisters when it comes to rulership). To top this off, Stannis finds that even Northerners south of the Wall are unwilling to follow anyone who isn’t a Stark (even Robert had problem with the Northmen, who he ruled because Ned Stark followed him). Stannis wants Jon to leave the Night Watch so he can set him up as Lord Jon Stark.

Sam encourages Jon to say yes – but, of course, he’s far too much of a Stark to become Lord Stark. So on to the election of the new commander of the Night’s Watch, with a man speaking in praise of Ser Alliser Thorne who has been acting commander and generally unpleasant for some time. Someone else speaks up in favour of Random Extra Who No-one Cares About Except He’s Not Awful Alliser. But Sam is driven to speak up – for John of course (and rather epicly as well).

Do I drag this out and pretend we don’t all know who will win? All hail Lord Extra! Nah, it’s John

Brienne! Oh how I love and pity Brienne. All she wants is to serve someone worthy of being served. A lord or lady who isn’t a complete monster and will respect her as the skilled and honourable fighter she is. And she’s trying so hard to be the quintessential honourable knight with all the formal words and honourable oaths and pledges – but her constantly aligning herself with those who are WORTH following has left a string of failures behind her; just as the Stark daughters are just too suspicious and too cunning to trust her. She has all the attributes of the Starks from the first season, but the death toll alone shows how much that works – now the Starks are learning and she’s so lost.

Game of Thrones can occasionally bring some interesting insight on the way the unequal society affects people: we’ve seen this before with Tyrion and the way that Tyrion’s trial progressed. Here we have the two people perhaps most qualified to rule in all the Seven Kingdoms but, ultimately, neither ever could because they’re seen as “repulsive”, Tyrion for being a Little Person, Varys for being a Eunuch and foreign. They build their boxes and find power where they can – usually in the service of the powerful; it is all they can hope for. Equally it’s clear that it is all they will ever be seen as, no matter what their other accomplishments –look at Cersei’s hunters killing any Little Person they find. No matter what else Tyrion is, that single attribute is how she and others define and see him.

Similarly, again expounding on issues we covered in Tyrion’s trial, Bronn is repeatedly caught in the traps of the Lannisters because he is so utterly powerless before them. The deals they make are meaningless, the rewards they promise are empty – because the option to disobey is never really on the table and there’s never any impetus for the Lannister’s to keep their word. Jaime can shift the goal posts and demand one more service as often as he likes.

Which makes it such a failing that these men in this position can’t see the same applied to women – or even the women themselves. Tyrion reduces Cersei to her vagina and Cersei herself insults Margaery through her sexuality but Lollys being traded like a horse and Cersei facing opposition for any kind of overt power at the council meeting both show that this is, all too often (no, not always, but still often), the only power women in Westeros society have. They are slut shamed for using the only tool they’re permitted to use. The episode does a good job of showing the sexist opposition Cersei faces but fails to really link that to Lollys being traded off or the slut shaming insults that abound.

Daenerys’s story continues to be complex and interesting – holding her conquests is so much harder than taking them. I love the conflicts she faces – slaves who have no professions, the ongoing class divide, the need not to become a tyrant like her father or the Masters before her, the need to uphold the law but still keep the goodwill of the people she so treasures and needs to rule. It’s such a welcome change from the simplicity of her storyline, with the simpering “Mhysa” praise. And now we end with Daenerys faced with becoming her father with a dragon – ruling by fear (as Stannis does – and I don’t think it’s an accident that Barriston mentioned how her dad burned people to death, just like Stannis)

And is this linked to Dorne? Where again we have a ruler sticking to what is right against the angry, vengeance-driven demands of his subjects?