‘The House of Black and White’
Last season, much was made of the intention to have ‘a season of episode nines’ – a series of incredibly significant events – and that was certainly the case with countless developments from the first to the last episode. Having now watched the first two episodes of season 5, it seems as though the model of the show’s first few seasons has returned; this will be a season of build-up, leading up to the peak in episode nine.
We’ve seen how well characters can be developed through this structure, but it has cultivated unrealistic expectations of how much will go on early this year. Many people, myself included, have been expecting Joffrey’s murder all over again, when the material to be covered this season is clearly far better suited to the original dynamic of the show.
The two most important developments this week – Jon’s ascension to Lord Commander and Dany’s execution scene – felt like polar opposites; the former acting as a big moment that might not have any ramifications, and the latter being a single moment that could change things for good.
Starting with Jon’s scene and it’s debatable as to whether it changes anything more than his title. He was basically in command already – liaising with Mance both before and after Stannis’ arrival, as well as leading the defense of the Wall and at Castle Black. In terms of developing Jon, and for that matter Sam (whose endorsement of his friend was the best part of that whole sequence) the title change is a big thing, given the responsibility on his shoulders, but narratively we’ll have to see what effect it truly has.
Meanwhile, it felt like Dany’s scenes this week meant so much, even if she didn’t realise it. As she’s risen to power in Essos, she’s always seemed a fair alternative to those at King’s Landing and in Westeros – in touch with her people, ruling on behalf of them, not just ruling them. Yet, more and more, she’s drawing parallels to Robb Stark – first he ruled due to the loyalty of the North, then due to his initial wins in the field, but then it simply wasn’t enough to prolong his authority as he couldn’t maintain his success militarily or diplomatically.
More importantly, Mossador’s murderous act and subsequent death was almost exactly like Rickard Karstark’s murder of Marten and Willem Lannister, which was also followed by an execution. Both times advisors pleaded for restraint and mercy, yet as Robb declined to listen to Talisa, Brynden or Catelyn, Dany did listen to Ser Barristan. With the drop of Daarios sword, the mood instantly changed. The hisses, the anarchy…. even Drogon sensed a change in her, sniffing the air then flying the nest once more.
Elsewhere, we visited pretty much everywhere on the map. Arya arrived at the titular ‘House of Black and White’ (which looked like unusually dodgy CGI for this show). Seeing her turned away after all the fanfare of her journey was actually quite amusing; it included her revised kill list, down to just four names now, recited as she waited through the rain. The big reveal though, of course, was that of ‘Not Jaqen’ at the end, inviting her inside to who knows what awaits her…
Dorne made its first appearance, featuring a host of newcomers, alongside a vengeful Ellaria. Though he only got one scene, Alexander Siddig’s Doran was a great character to watch. You could see the similarities to his brother – the sense of honour for one – but also his differences – he has restraint and patience, where Oberyn was impulsive and angry. It’s a pity we only got a mention of the Sand Snakes though, as they seem like they’ll be the highlight of that plot strand if their paternal origin is anything to go by.
Tyrion had what seemed like the closest thing to a token ‘we can’t omit him from an episode’ scene, discussing the concept of ‘us and them’ with Varys on the road to Volantis, while for the second week running Brienne and Pod came within touching distance of Sansa and Baelish, only this time making contact. It’s always good to watch the internal torment of Brienne whenever a character questions her success in defending her charges – Renly, Catelyn, Arya – and here it was even better, coming as it did from Sansa herself, now firmly Littlefinger’s equal in emotional detachment and cool demeanour.
Finally, we caught up with ‘Ser Bronn of the Blackwater’ as he contended with the endless ramblings of Lollys Stokeworth, before Jaime’s arrival to request he accompany him to Dorne. Which means one thing – more Jaime and Bronn, which can only be good, given how much fun it was to watch those two last year.
Overall, it does feel as though something huge is brewing, even if we don’t have a clue what it is or where it’ll come from yet. All we know is that this episode was an important step towards it.