Breaking the Wheel – Hardhome Recap (Part I)

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Because “Hardhome” (Ep. 7, Season 5) is nearly twenty minutes longer than most episodes, I’m publishing this recap in two parts. (The second part is dedicated specifically to the events at the Hardhome settlement.)

In this episode, we see how dark both Stark sisters have become as a result of the horrors of the War of Five Kings. Arya’s character arc has been on a dark, downward spiral for quite some time. Her nightly prayers focus on killing the people on her list. She has now joined the Faceless Men of Braavos to train as an assassin. Today’s Arya is a far cry from the mischievous girl who threw food at her sister years ago in Winterfell. This is direct result of the horrors Arya has experienced during the War of Five Kings.

Likewise, tonight, we get definitive proof of how much the War of Five Kings has changed Sansa. She has gone from the kind, sweet and naive girl who dreamed of being queen and was nearly always kind to a woman who relishes Theon’s suffering. She shows no remorse about her desire for revenge – and why should she? Still, today’s Sansa is much darker than she was five years ago.

We also get to see Tyrion and Dany’s delightful first encounter, which is full of lots of sharp witty dialog. These two characters have great chemistry. And, of course, for anyone who believes the spoiler-ish fan theory about Tyrion, this scene is interesting for other reasons.

Perhaps, apart from the superb battle at Hardhome, the best part of this episode is the big reveal of Dany’s intentions: she is a revolutionary who wants to change the social system. And, in this sense, she is truly an amazing character.

Daenerys is the avenging voice of all the queens and noble princesses sold and enslaved into arranged diplomatic marriages. She is the heroine the peasants People in the real world should have had for centuries. She is the anodyne to the failed 1358 rebellion of French peasants, the Jacquerie. She’s the regent the betrayed English deserved in Peasant’s Revolt. And, she’s the liberator that millennia of war-enslaved peoples deserved but never got. (It’s no coincidence that Dany is located in hot and dusty lands like Slaver’s Bay that evoke places like Ancient Egypt.)

Meereen: Breaking the Wheel

http://watchersonthewall.com/game-of-thrones-post-mortem-of-hardhome/#more-34219

Tyrion pleads his case before Dany in characteristic Tyrion humility. (c) HBO.

The episode opens with Jorah and Tyrion pleading their case before Daenerys. Dany silences Jorah and won’t even let him speak. Tyrion tells Dany not to kill him for revenge since he is already the “greatest Lannister killer of our time.” Dany questions whether a man killing his own family would give him the loyalty she needs in an advisor. Tyrion haughtily replies that Dany should be honored by his counsel, but he needs to decide whether he will work for her.

Tyrion implores her that she needs somebody at her side who understands the land she wants to conquer – and its noble houses. He has already been (effectively) the ruler of this land. Who better than him?

Tyrion tells her that he wants to see if she lives up to her legend. He says that as a young man, he heard of:

“a baby born in the worst storm in living memory. She had no wealth, no lands, no army, only a name and a handful of supporters who probably thought they could use that name to benefit themselves. They kept her alive moving her from place to place, often hours ahead of the men sent to kill her. She was eventually sold off to a warlord on the edge of the world and that appeared to be that. And, then a few years later… this girl without wealth, lands, or armies had suddenly acquired all three.”

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Henry VII took the dragon as his symbol.

All of this reminds me of none other than Henry VII of England, who spent much of his early life on the run, and was born to Margaret Beaufort during a harsh winter snowstorm in a wind-swept tower at Pembroke Castle. (See this article where we compare Daenerys and Henry VII.)

To test the Imp’s skill at providing advice, Daenerys asks Tyrion to advise her on what to do with Jorah. She swore she would kill him if he ever returned to Meereen. Will her subjects trust her word if she doesn’t follow through on her promises?

Tyrion states that Jorah is obviously a loyal and devoted servant – and possibly in love with Dany. Tyrion notes that Dany does not want to gain a reputation for killing trusted followers. With his advice in mind, Dany decides to expel Jorah from the city.

**

Jorah leaves the city with only the clothes on his back and whatever coin was in his pocket. How will he survive in this hot, harsh world? Jorah heads to the fighting pit where he first fought for Daenerys. He meets the slaver who bought him there – and whom he hit in his bid to impress Dany – and offers to re-indenture himself in exchange for the chance to fight in front of Dany again. After the fight, the slaver can sell Jorah to whomever he pleases.

**

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The characters of Daenerys and Tyrion have fantastic platonic chemistry in this scene. (c) HBO.

Meanwhile, Tyrion and Dany have retired to her chamber, where they drink and discuss what Dany should do with Tyrion. Should she chop off his head? Dany and Tyrion are, in Tyrion’s words, “two terrible children of two terrible fathers.” As they discuss their father’s misdeeds, Dany acknowledges that her father deserved his name. (And, yet, she still feels entitled to the Iron Throne. Funny how that works.)

Tyrion wants the chance to try to build a better world. Dany may be the right kind of “terrible” person, one who is terrible enough that she “prevents her people [IMO, read “nobles” here] from becoming even more terrible.” Dany is surprised to learn that Varys — the Baratheon spymaster who paid Jorah for intel about her — may be the reason she is still alive.

Dany decides to accept Tyrion as an advisor. Tyrion tries to dissuade her from chasing the Iron Throne.

“I fought so that now child born into Slaver’s Bay would know what it meant to be bought or sold.” While she will continue that fight, she wants to go home. While she has no noble support, she believes the common people will support her.

Dany has no supporters in Westeros, except maybe the Tyrells. And, how easy has it been so far ruling without the support of the rich? Dany’s reply…

DANY: “Lannister, Targaryen, Baratheon, Stark, Tyrell – they’re all just spokes in a wheel. This one’s on top and then that one’s on top. And on and on it spins, crushing those on the ground.”

TYRION: “It’s a beautiful dream, stopping the wheel. You’re not the first person who’s ever dreamt it.”

DANY: “I’m not going to stop the wheel. I’m going to break the wheel1 .”

What’s interesting about this exchange is that not only is it about our dream today of giving the common people some justice, it is also a reference to the ups and downs of the medieval wheel of fortune, Rotuna Fortuna.

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In this version of the medieval Fortune’s Wheel, the nobles on the bottom desperately try to hold on to their place on the wheel. (Image: Harley MS 4431.)

Matthew Blair wrote about Fortune’s Wheel on this site last week, and it played a critical part in the medieval mentality. The ups and downs many Game of Thrones / ASOIAF characters experience  echo the changes of fortune medieval people believed could easily come to pass.

Bored Arya Gets an Opportunity

After waiting for eons, Arya finally gets a chance to do more than clean the bodies of the dead. She is to go undercover, disguised as an orphan girl named Lana who flogs oysters, clams, and cockles by the docks. Her legend even includes a backstory and a route. “Lana” saved up enough money to first sell oysters at eight and then eventually buy a cart. Jaqen H’gar makes Lana rehearse her story. When she makes a mistake, he hits her.

The story – and time – of the narrative flips between Lana’s rehearsal with Jaqen and the time she spends posing as Lana at Ragman’s Harbor.

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“Lana” sells oysters at Ragman’s Harbor in Braavos.

After Lana reports back, Jaqen gives “Lana” her first assignment – kill a treacherous insurance-type man, a “gambler,” a thin man who refuses to pay out claims. (The insurance is actually a bet as to whether a ship will reach its destination.)

Jaqen and the Waif (Faye Marsay) argue about whether Arya is ready for such an assignment. Jaqen shrugs. If she isn’t ready, the Many-Faced God will get a new gift. (So much for this avuncular man having Arya’s back.)

King’s Landing: Cersei’s Comeuppance

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Cersei in her dirty shift awaits trial in her cell at the Great Sept — on the verge of dying from thirst. (c) HBO.

Cersei squats pitifully in her dirty shift on her cell’s stone floor. The stern septa continues to push her to confess, sometimes striking Cersei.

Qyburn, the creepy ex-maester, visits her with bad news: nobody will be coming to help her anytime soon. There’s no word from Jaime. Tommen is too distraught to eat or leave his room. (Frankly, I smell a rat there: another prince in the Tower?). Cersei desperately wants her son to visit her – no doubt so she can play puppet master and try to get him to follow some strategy to free her, but also because she sincerely misses him. Possibly worst of all, Cersei’s uncle Kevan — who left the small council in a huff after she dissed him by not telling him the nature of Jaime’s secret “diplomatic” mission – is now acting as Hand and refuses to visit her. Doesn’t sound like Kevan will be helping Cersei anytime soon.

Qyburn urges Cersei to confess and end her suffering. She scorns the idea. Kneel before a barefooted commoner whom she raised up from nothing and ask his forgiveness? Never. (As an aside, Qyburn continues his “work,” presumably this means on the “Franken-monster” thing he is building from dwarf’s heads on the slab in his laboratory.)

After Qyburn leaves, the septa brings Cersei water and orders her to confess. Cersei tries to tempt the septa with wealth and position and then scare her with death threats. Neither moves her.  When Cersei refuses to confess, the septa dumps the ladle full of water onto the floor and leaves. The last we see of Cersei she is desperately slurping water off the dirty stone floor.

Winterfell

Sansa Learns Some Important Intel

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Sansa’s conversation with Theon is a game changer for her. (c) HBO.

So far, Ramsay has been keeping Sansa in the dark about the fate of Bran and Rickon. He knows they are alive, but it isn’t in his best interest for anyone – including the potentially loyal-to-her-brothers Sansa – to know they are still alive.

(And, in this sense, Ramsay and Sansa reenact what may have been a potentially tense conflict between Henry VII and Elizabeth of York: what if Perkin Warbeck was really Elizabeth of York’s brother? See our article here. If one or both of the princes in the tower survived, whose claim would Elizabeth of York support?)

Sansa is furious after Theon ratted Sana’s escape plan out to Ramsay, which led the former bastard flayed her elderly servant. She corners Theon when he delivers her food. Why did he tell Ramsay?!

Quaking with fear, Theon explains that he told Ramsay to protect Sansa and then tells her of the horrible consequences when he, Theon, tried to escape.

“Good,” Sansa replies. “If it weren’t for you, I’d still have a family.” This reveals the war’s toll on Sansa. Like her sister, she’s become dark – and, perhaps, inevitably so. Sansa tells Theon that she would do the same – flay and mutilate Theon – to him if she had the chance.

As Sansa berates Theon for her brothers’ death and screams why did Theon do this – the boys were like his brothers – Theon confesses that he didn’t kill them. Bran and Rickon are alive. He burned imposters. (See our article here on the similarity between this act and the theories about the Lost princes in the Tower.)

Hearing her brothers are alive, Sansa is breathless and astonished. This is the first drop of hope she has received in months. Whether she knows it or not, this could be a game-changer for her – especially when combined with what she learned from Ramsay last week: her half-brother Jon is still alive. She has family in this world. Maybe somebody will rescue her. Maybe she will be reunited with people who love her one day.

 

  1. ~27:00 []

Jamie Adair is the editor of History Behind Game of Thrones, a website about the history behind George RR Martin's "A Song of Ice and Fire" novels and the hit TV show, "Game of Thrones."

16 Comments

  • Reply June 1, 2015

    Anonymous

    I was really hoping Karsi would show up again.

    • Reply June 2, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      So was I. I just *love* her. In the second half of this recap, which I’m still working on, I spend a good paragraph or so just RAVING about her. I love the strong female characters on Game of Thrones – and frankly they wrote this one perfectly.

  • Reply June 2, 2015

    Grant

    Personally I seriously doubt the possibility that Tyrion’s a Targaryen bastard, in the books anyway. Tywin might have preferred the idea, but he’d have probably had Tyrion killed fast.

    • Reply June 2, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      ==possible spoilers===

      Hey Grant,

      I have a wacky theory that I put on my (lol) very pathetic forum that Cersei and Jaime — and not Tyrion — are Targaryen bastards. I was rereading A Feast for Crows and part of A Dance with Dragons before the season began and I noticed some text and wordings that made me wonder. In particular, there’s a scene with Gemma Lannister and Jaime where Gemma makes all of these comments that could have double meanings. I may be reading between the lines too much, but I think Tyrion could be a red herring and the twist could be that Jaime and Cersei are the Targaryen bastards. Watcher noticed that Cersei is fixated with the flames when she burns down the Hand’s tower in the books.

      • Reply June 3, 2015

        Grant

        Tyrion is a theoretical possibility (having been born in 273 and Joanna visited King’s Landing in 272*), but from The World of Ice and Fire the timing doesn’t match for Jaime and Cersei. The event where Aerys took liberties was at Joanna’s marriage in 263, Jaime and Cersei were born in 266, by which point Aerys was at King’s Landing and trying to have children (plus he ordered that Joanna and the children should travel to King’s Landing as soon as the children were old enough specifically because it had been so long since he had seen her).

        So unless Martin’s really forgot the details, they’re Lannisters for better or worse.

        *But like I said, if Tywin really believed that Tyrion was Aerys’ bastard child by Joanna, he wouldn’t have let Tyrion live, and if would have been laughably easy to arrange for some ‘accident’ for the baby.

      • Reply June 3, 2015

        Chas D.

        In The World of Ice and Fire, Martin makes it clear that Joanna was nowhere near Aerys during the conception of the twins (after her marriage she didn’t return to King’s Landing until many years later, after the twins were born). They are all Lannister–for good or ill. Any similarities with Targaryen siblings thus comes down to acculturation (in world) and the fact that Martin is writing both (out world).

        When she did return to King’s Landing was approximately a year before Tyrion’s birth. Which still makes Tyrion’s potential Targaryen blood a possibility, but much more slight. For the large part Lady Joanna lived apart from Tywin it seems. Her in charge of Casterly Rock and Tywin as Hand in King’s Landing. No doubt that plays into why Cersei thinks she should get the Rock before Tyrion, as she recalls her mother running the Rock in her youth no doubt.

        • Reply June 3, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          The section about King Aerys’ rule in The World of Ice & Fire leaves some wiggle room (IMO). But, it is unlikely (like you say); however, IMO it’s not impossible.

          Martin includes a very cryptic (absent/present) type passage in which he tells us that Joanna may have actually been Prince Aerys’ lover and lost her virginity to him before marriage. He gives us this information by having Pycelle say the rumors are nonsense (which of course puts them on the page or in the record).

          In theory, a chronicler like Pycelle would always dismiss scandalous rumors about a queen or (near queen – like a very powerful Hand’s wife) since it would put him at risk. Yet by dismissing the rumors it gives him an opportunity to hint at them. Of course, the simple explanation might be true too: Pycelle might just be dismissing them! 🙂

          The World of Ice & Fire talks about Aerys’ “unwonted attentions” to Joanna’s body. But, what exactly does that mean? Unwonted by whom? Tywin? Joanna? Presumably it means rape or unwanted groping, but it could mean they were inappropriate and unwanted by the groom (Tywin).

          While Joanna was at Casterly Rock and not at court before the twins were born, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that she met up with Aerys – had a rendezvous- if they were lovers. This would have been difficult, of course, but not necessarily impossible. (I’m a bit skeptical though that this could have happened just because of the distance.)

          After the twin’s birth, Aerys commands Tywin to bring the twins and Joanna to court. Aerys claims it has been ages since he has gazed on Joanna’s fair face. (This could easily be a lie.) Tywin curiously doesn’t comply with the request. And, then, quite strangely (IMO), after Tytos dies, Aerys moves to Casterly Rock for six months or so. To me, this is a little messed up. I mean, you are busy ruling a kingdom in the capital and your Hand doesn’t show up to court (odd)/stays at his newly inherited ancestral home (a possible explanation). So you move the capital of the country for a nearly year??? I mean maybe this was because you relied on the Hand’s advice, but this is fishy.

          • June 4, 2015

            Grant

            Aerys called for Joanna and the children to come to court as soon as the children were old enough to travel, which they did at the age of six. As you mention, that’s a pretty long journey to make with medieval transportation over medieval roads, and not one you’d want to risk a baby on, let alone two babies who are the future of Lannister ambitions.

            It’s also a pretty long journey for a king to just make to try to rendezvous with a secret lover, especially since WOIAF makes it clear that in the 260s he was unsuccessfully trying for an heir. A king moving that much back and forth between King’s Landing and the Westerlands (and Joanna was in charge of Casterly Rock so she wasn’t going to be wandering close to King’s Landing) would inevitably cause a great deal of political disruption and raise suspicions until the affair was an open secret to all.

        • Reply June 4, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          Okay, so just to make my theory about Joanna and Aerys meeting up before the twins were born even more unlikely, I checked the distance between King’s Landing and Casterly Rock. I saw roughly 1000 to 3000 miles. I person estimated 40-60 days of travel time.
          I still think that Cersei and Jaime are possibly very Targaryen-esque though… e.g., the incest, Cersei’s fascination with fire when she burned down the Tower of the Hand, Joffrey’s madness…

        • Reply June 4, 2015

          Jamie Adair

          It did occur to me that Joanna may have seen Aerys at Kevan’s wedding. However, I can’t figure out exactly when he got married. It was sometime after 260 AC I think. It might have been a a few years later because what I could find says that Kevan “eventually” marries Dorna Swyft (after he takes her hostage)..Cersei was born in 266 AC.

  • I think that perhaps the most important thing about the Sansa sequences is that they show that the showrunners are not about to do what many people got very upset about them being about to do after episode 6.

    After the rape scene it appeared that there were only two ways out for Sansa, the rape causes Theon to pull himself together and rescue her or it causes Sansa to pull herself together and escape. Both would play to obnoxious tropes of using rape as a character development device for male characters (see ‘coward of the county’) or rape is empowerment.

    But that isn’t the point at all. Sansa goes to Winterfell after Little Finger persuades her that it is the only way that her house can survive. Now she knows that her Stark brothers are alive and that her half brother is commander of the watch. She doesn’t need Little Finger or his schemes any more, that is what gives her agency.

    This is a lot more complicated than people have been willing to expect of the show.

    Another point to consider is that now that Ramsay is married to Sansa and the marriage consummated, Ramsay’s position as Roose’s heir is at risk. He cannot produce an heir as long as Sansa is alive unless he can recapture her. Which is I think likely to cause the end of Fat Walder.

  • Reply June 2, 2015

    Watcher on the Couch

    I’m in a mixed mind about the changes from book to show but I am not going to get judgemental or post book spoilers here. Having said that episode 8 of the current season did draw me in. I hadn’t realised (or had forgotten that Henry VII was born in a snow storm. Dany does need a competent advisor.

    It’s true that the Stark sisters have become darker over the years. I suppose to some extent it is the instinct to survive kicking in – and their late father came to grief because he tried to be decent and give Cersei time to take her children away before he (Ned) told Robert the truth of their parentage. Then he was overtaken by events and we all know how the story played out….

    If Fat Walda’s days are not numbered something might “happen” to cause her to have a miscarriage.

    • Reply June 3, 2015

      Jamie Adair

      I really liked this episode. I thought the scene with Tyrion and Dany was really quite good — and of course I loved the Others at Hardhome.
      BTW, I didn’t mean to slag the Stark sisters by saying they’d gotten darker. (I don’t think you interpreted it that way, but I just thought I’d mention that in case anyone thought I was slagging them.) I think it is perfectly fair/normal they have become darker actually. I mean wouldn’t anyone be a little bitter after losing your family in such violent ways? I would be. Esp. like you say after losing your father, who was a decent guy, after he tried to do the right thing.

  • Reply June 8, 2015

    Jamie Adair

    @Grant, @Chas D. : Admittedly my Jaime/Cersei theory is pretty shaky in places. However, I did find it interesting to hear Ellaria tell Jaime that “if his name was Targaryen people would accept his affair with his sister” (or something like that). It seemed like that could be another ironic hint.

    • Reply June 8, 2015

      Chas D.

      The exact quote, was if it was 100 years ago AND their names were Targaryen. And even then, the faith tolerated Targaryen incest… they still grumbled about it off in the corner.

      Honestly though that speech was more about trying to be subtle about gay rights (you love who you love) IMO than hinting to this fan theory. Which I didn’t like the hamfisting of the message in there (I don’t have any disagreement with gay marriage, I just find equating it to incest distasteful and an unintentional insult to gay rights on the show’s part).

      • Reply June 9, 2015

        Jamie Adair

        Well, yeah, I’m not saying that they actually could get married… I just thought it was interesting because it lined up with my wacky theory (which probably isn’t true but now I’ve developed a pet liking for). :-s I think Tyrion is far more likely to be Targ if anyone is.

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