Game of Thrones S05:E02 - The House of Black and White
David Benioff, D.B. Weiss
Adventure, Drama, Fantasy
April 19, 2015 (HBO)
Arya arrives in Braavos. Pod and Brienne run into trouble on the road. Cersei fears for her daughter's safety in Dorne as Ellaria Sand seeks revenge for Oberyn's death. Stannis tempts Jon. An adviser tempts Daenerys.
Until characters’ paths start to converge a bit more, Game of Thrones is going to be a mess of giving each individual lead small, but equal screen time to keep everyone on the same page. As long as they can maintain this level of tension, world building, and general excitement, it’s not going to be a difficult ride to be on board for. “The House of Black and White,” strangely doesn’t follow much of the Temple itself, or Arya, but instead chooses to focus on building up more of Daenerys and her difficult role of leadership.
It’s hard to blame the show for the way it has to bounce around to several characters, with many not getting more than cursory explanations and the rest being left up to interpretation. A lot of times we have to just trust that characters aren’t doing stupid things, or they have solid motiviations behind their actions – and the large majority of the time they do. But with that said, it sure is nice when Game of Thrones decides to slow things down for one story line in particular and give the audience some meat to chew on.
In this week’s case, it’s Daenerys and the increasing dilemma she faces in her newly-conquered kingdom of Meereen. Previous to, heck, all of Season 5, the strife between the former masters and former slaves of the various lands she took over were only given to us in dialogue or implied through actions of the supporting cast. We actually get to see a lot of the decision making around these clashes within “The House of Black and White,” and it works to great effect. We can see that basically everything Daenerys does winds up being wrong – as it likely does for any leader – and we see her trying her best to deal with the consequences. If there has been a problem with the Mother of Dragons leading up to this season, it’s that she’s been too near flawless to really feel the difficulty of her conquest. But over the course of Season 5 thus far she’s gone through quite the character arc, and the events at the end of this episode prove that arc is just beginning.
In particular, I like how Daenerys is reminded directly about the Mad King and the similarities of her actions to what eventually became his downfall. Killing a bunch of slavers seems like justice on the surface, but it’s a slippery slope to go from that to killing a man while he watches his son burn alive.
Having played a lot of the Telltale Game of Thrones series recently, I can almost feel every decision she makes being followed by a little dialogue telling her that the people around her will remember that, or they aren’t happy with her answers. It creates a great feeling of dread and tension actually getting a chance to see her failures as a leader, instead of just hearing about the details being brushed under the rug as she frees another few thousand slaves.
The rest of the story lines are broken up into mostly even parts, with quite a bit of things advancing, given their short time on screen. Brienne, for one, is finally aware that she is just feet away from Sansa (after missing it last week while she was watering her horse), but things don’t go quite as she expected. Outside of an exciting escape and chase on horseback, there isn’t much that happens to her, but it pushes her story along quite a ways, now that she actually knows where one of the Stark girls are she finally has a purpose.
As much fun as the Pod/Brienne, Tyrion/Varys, and soon Jamie/Bronn parts are, it’s getting a little formulaic just how the show is handling its growing stable of characters. It pairs them off in twos in the most potentially interesting ways and runs with it. If it keeps working, fine, but otherwise it’s making it just a bit easier to see the seams between the writing, and with a show as much about immersion as Game of Thrones, it’s a very important balance that must be maintained.
Lena Headey, as always, absolutely kills it in her scenes as the distraught Queen Mother, Cersei. I’m amazed that she can manage to make words while her lips are held so tight, but I’ll be damned she manages to do it during an entire angry monologue aimed at Jamie. On the Lannister side of things, it’s also interesting just how wide open everything is now without Tywin holding everyone together. It’s especially apparent in the small council meeting, when you can feel just how loose all the alliances are – there is no longer Tywin to fall back on should someone screw everything up. Cersei is essentially the top of the food chain now, and she’s likely to eat her own tail before anything else.
Our fist look at Dorne gives a lot of new insights to more of Westeroes, and even a new familiar face. Oberyn’s former lover, Ellaria, has undergone major changes. Not only in appearence, as her hair is now clipped shoulder-length, but she is no longer the free spirit that she was when we saw her prior to Oberyn’s defeat at the hands of the Mountain. I love that Game of Thrones did not choose to show her transition to this darker character as well. Right from the start we see her as the brooding widow of sorts, and it sets up nicely how all of Dorne feels about the situation, without a lot of dialogue needing to be thrown about to do so. Dorne’s world has been quickly shattered, and we as an audience get to feel that sudden change through Ellaria. She also teases the sand snakes, but we don’t see them yet.
Considering the episode’s title, Arya’s story is surprisingly light. All I can say about it really is, wow, am I glad it was that Jaqen and not the one we last saw.