Recap: ‘Game of Thrones’ S5E2 “The House of Black and White”
The finale of last season’s Game of Thrones promised us new lands, faces, and enemies for all involved. Though “The House of Black and White” didn’t bring us a monumental death, twist, or gasp-worthy moment, the world of Westeros has opened up further, expanding the universe and revealing possibilities for war, betrayal, and other such dramatic plot points for the season to come. Though the locations are what give this episode it’s structure, “The House of Black and White” is more concerned with loyalty and power’s responsibility as well as pushing certain characters on their way forward, even if they are unwelcome.
The first face we see is also one of the most anticipated: Arya Stark (Maisie Williams). Recovered from Brienne’s attempt to take her into protective custody, Arya has reached Braavos and the House of Black and White seeking her faceless assassin. However, she is turned away, left to roam the streets of an unknown city repeating her kill list. Given that Arya is as determined, hard-hearted, and punchy as she is, it is no surprise that when confronted by three thugs she stands her ground, Williams embodying the emotionless, unafraid air she captivated us with in Season 2, and it is here that Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) reveals himself and accepts her for training, saying that she must learn to become no one. This meeting is the culmination of everything Arya has been moving towards, and to finally have her in the place we feel she is destined to be is massive, and it’ll be fantastic to watch Arya transform into the underdog that can take down everyone who has wronged her. It is sad that we won’t see her interact with The Hound anymore this season, but watching her train to become even more badass than she already is, is acceptable.
As for the other Stark girl, Sansa (Sophie Turner) continues on the road with her uncle Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen), but a run in with Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) and her squire Podrick (Daniel Portman) shows how far under his questionable influence Sansa has become. She stubbornly refuses to leave with Brienne after Littlefinger paints her as an imbecile in knights’ armor, and Brienne leaves, sword blazing before picking up their trail to follow and complete her sworn oath, though Pod suggests that perhaps she is freed of it with both Stark girls refusing her help. However, as Brienne is Brienne, she is honorable and loyal, one of the few in this Game of Thrones who truly are, which is why we love her.
Probably one of the least likeable characters on the show put (temporarily) on the side of the “heroes” is Sansa, and as she becomes more and more intrigued and entrenched in her uncle’s world she is molded into an even more unlikeable character as she grows darker physically and psychologically. With all the changes Sansa has gone through and her cold demeanor presented in “The House of Black and White”, one wonders if she even has it deep within her to become like Cersei. Sansa began this series as a blank slate of a silly girl, only wanting pretty things and a king for a husband, and now even with all the death and destruction behind her she is still a blank slate pleading for someone to take her under their wing and tell her what to do as she is passed from “protector” to “protector”. Unfortunately, she really has chosen unwisely in Littlefinger, and it will be interesting when and if she learns of how he betrayed her father.
Back in Kings Landing, Cersei (Lena Heady) is watching her power slowly coming apart, but as we know, she always has a way of keeping her pretty Lannister head above water. Her blatant stacking of the Small Council in her favor, clearly without any word from her king to do so, achieve grumblings of descent, and it is her uncle Kevan Lannister (Ian Gelder) who stands most firmly against her. Before he storms off home, Kevan reminds Cersei of her place as Queen Mother – like that always helps – cementing his place on her shit list. However, it is a very telling moment when it comes to showing exactly how divided the Lannister family has become, especially after the death of Tywin, and though Cersei is her father’s daughter to the letter, she cares too much about herself and her own power to be as effective a figurehead as Tywin was.
This over reactive, poisonous quality of Cersei’s comes out in spades when she receives a warning from the serpent country of Dorne. Heady, as always, gives a brilliant performance as she spits at her brother about how much she feels her family has fallen, a very powerful sentiment from the woman who once believed the Lannisters infallible. Jamie (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) comes to his sister/lover’s aid, leading a small mission into Dorne with Bronn (Jerome Flynn) to save Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free).
Here is where we finally head to the new country of the fallen Oberyn Martell. Indira Varna returns as the venomous Ellaria Sand, clenching her fists and plotting revenge as she watches Myrcella walk with her Dorne-born betrothed. However, despite her lust for revenge, the cooler, yet maybe not so amiable, head of Dorne’s royal family, Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig) reminds her who is in charge. Though Ellaria argues that the Sand Snakes and the whole country are with her, Doran refuses to go to war over Oberyn’s lawful death, but whether he will remain as steadfast or be able to keep Ellaria’s hothead cooled remains to be seen, especially since the root of hatred in their land is firmly pointed at the Lannisters. These two very different mourners will make for some great television, Varma providing a brilliant, fiery foil to Siddig’s calm yet clearly fierce prince, and more of them will certainly be needed.
With Mance Rayder dead by his hand, Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is offered freedom by Stannis (Stephen Dillane) from an oppressive Lord Commander Allister Thorne (Owen Teale), should he be elected. Jon, ever the loyal, noble bastard that he is, refuses to serve Stannis and leave his post, even when promised the Stark name. The voting begins with Thorne as the favorite until Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) puts Jon’s name into the fray, causing Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) to cast the deciding vote in a tie for Jon. Thus begins the first step on Jon’s path towards becoming King of the North where he belongs, and he did it his way without even wanting the title. Of all the characters suspected to survive until the very end, Jon is the one who is indeed the most noble, good of heart, and loyal, and in shoving aside Stannis’ offer of a name in return for loyalty, Jon stayed true to his first oath and was rewarded for it. However, will Thorne sit quietly as a young upstart takes his rightful place in the Night’s Watch? Certainly not!
Speaking of characters that should survive until the bloody end, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) had a rough episode, as she is forced to exact justice to the distain of her people in Meereen. The Harpy murderer, found by Daario (Michiel Huisman) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson), awaits trial despite Mossador (Reece Noi) arguing for Dany to just kill him. Unfortunately for the Mother of Dragons, her freed slaves may be loyal to her, but they also seek their own revenge upon their cruel masters as Mossador kills the Harpy prisoner. Though it facilitates his own death by execution for murder, Dany finds herself on the wrong side of flying rocks and ominous hissing as she is escorted away while riots break out between the two sides of Meereen.
Amid her ever-evolving costumes (this one has dragon wings as well as scales!), Daenerys has developed into one of the best characters on the show as she discovers her own power and improves her ruling style in preparation for being queen of Westeros. There is a great moment where we see a flash of the Dany of last season who took no prisoners and crucified slave owners for all to see, a side of her that is quickly quelled by a soft reminder of her father The Mad King, more backstory that we have been wanting to hear. Seeing too much of him in herself upon reaching Meereen, Dany has become a ruler to be reckoned with, one who seeks justice instead of cold blood, but having the people that call her “Mother” turn on her in such violent fashion when she executes that justice is a wounding moment for her, and Clark plays it very well. The highlight moment of Dany’s story in “The House of Black and White” is when Drogon returns for a fleeting moment, possibly drawn in by Dany’s power and strength of will, or maybe simply to remind her that there is more out there to conquer, save, and free. Drogon’s appearance also reminds us that indeed there are dragons in this show, and they’re gonna be awesome!
Even as a pure movement episode, “The House of Black and White” is intriguing and exploratory. We don’t see much of Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill), but they still have sharp things to say on their road to Meereen, the best Tyrion jab laying into Cersei’s ladyparts: “The best part of her for the best part of me”. Their scenes are great, and in an episode of such scenes it’s good to see Tyrion still around even if his story could become reminiscent of Bran with all this travelling.
Loyalty and the shifting tides that play for it remain one of the big themes in Game of Thrones, and there are only a few characters that possess the kind that will keep them alive to the end. Now in a position of power, Jon stands on a precarious ledge with Stannis breathing down his neck for control of the North, and Dany unknowingly has two visitors coming her way from Westeros who will join her cause while Arya begins her training to exact her own revenge, loyal to her mission to cross every name off her list. Meanwhile, the tides are turning for the Lannisters with Cersei as its main downfall as her self-loyalty is shrouded in strong words in her family’s favor, and it will be interesting to see if she can continue to stay in power through this season. Only Littlefinger is managing to remain two steps ahead of his comeuppance, though that will certainly come in the show’s final season in brilliant fashion, as he is duplicitous enough to survive until then.
Even if it didn’t provide the expected shock factor that we have come to expect from Game of Thrones Episode 2, “The House of Black and White” opened the doors to a much wider world, introducing us to new characters with veiled intentions and roles to play.(3.8 / 5)
(Photos copyright: HBO)