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
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Sansa Learns Some Important Intel
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.
- ~27:00 [↩]