[intro-text size=”25px”]Last week’s Game of Thrones dealt with power shifts among the great houses. This week episode, The House of Black and White, cuts closer to the bone and focuses on character development and the existential search for the true self. No one more than Arya Stark portrays the classic ‘hero’s quest’ typified by philosopher Joseph Campbell. She has lost her family, her home, her friends. Hers is a journey of enlightenment. She’s had many teachers along the way, from Syrio Forrel, Jaqen H’ghar, Beric Dondarrion, even the Hound. And now, on a merchant ship sailing to Braavos, she is prepared to learn at the feet of her newest mentors, the Faceless Men, a mysterious sect of suave assassins. I’m sure a few viewers heart’s skipped when she was turned away at the door but it was worth the wait to see Jaqen H’ghar peel his ‘old man’ face away, revealing that he had been waiting for his former apprentice to return. She entered the House of White and Black as Arya Stark, I feel once she leaves she will be someone else entirely.[/intro-text]
Another character searching for her identity has been on a dogged search for the Stark girls for what feels like forever by now. Still nursing her bruises from her tussle with the Hound, Brienne hunkers down at an inn off of the road for a quick bite to eat with her squire, Pod. What is unique about this scene is that characters actually run into each other. Too often this show has been one of near misses, so it is captivating to see Brienne break apart not only of the narrative’s protocol but her own written version. Show watchers are getting more resolution to storylines than book readers have at this point. For all the growth she has made, Brienne is still rather naïve to think that noble words or gestures account for anything in such a murderous world. Sansa has learned at least that much, which leaves her leery of Brienne’s offer. I’m not quite sure why Sansa was so against going with Brienne, opting to trust in Littlefinger instead. I’m quite sure who is playing who between the two but Sansa never had a record of making good decisions. After her introduction goes sour Brienne is turned on her heels and quickly dispatches Littlefinger’s men, shattering one of their swords with the Valaryan steel blade gifted from Jamie Lannister last season.
We finally get to see Dorne, and it is breathtaking. Of all the seven kingdoms in Westeros, Dorne seems to be the only one not covered in mud and blood. I have to give it to the Dornish, they know how to send a message. Literally. I want that cool snake box they sent Cersei! A package containing a red viper (the slain Prince Oberyn’s animal namesake) holding Myrcella Lannister’s pendant in its fangs paints a clear picture that her daughter is in a precarious position while betrothed in Dorne. Calling Jamie to her quarters, Cersei does what she does best; drunkenly rant about how many people are out to get them. Even still, Jamie realizes the danger his daughter is in, this being the first instance he has claimed them as his own children. He vows to sail to Dorne to rescue her but he had better hurry if Ellaria Sand, Prince Oberyn’s widow, has anything to say about it. She seethes from her balcony while watching the young Lannister prance through the water gardens with one of Dorne’s young princes and suggests to Prince Doran, Oberyn’s brother, that they should start mailing Cersei her daughter’s fingers to her. Dorne benefits from a level-headed ruler who is without a hint of sadism, a rare thing in Westeros, and Doran chides her for stoking the flames of war while mourning his brother’s death. I have to wonder if his mood would change if he saw Obyryn’s head smushed to pulp from the Mountain like Elaria had to.
Another benevolent leader, Daenerys, is still grappling with the Sons of the Harpy while ruling in Mereen. She has her best men out hunting the murderous dissidents down. Is it just me, or is Daario Naharis more like Han Solo every episode? The scruffy, rakishly good-looking rogue with a heart of gold archetype isn’t breaking new ground but he wears the persona well. Taking Grey Worm on his own episode of COPS, Dario captures a Harpy and sends him to the dungeons. Dany’s small council is diverse but not tactically sound, which leads to her not getting the advice she needs. Each member spouts what they think is best, but none of them work together to help her rule effectively. Ser Barristan seems concerned only with making sure she does not follow in her father’s psychotic path. This is for the best, but simply not acting like her father, the deposed Arys Targaryen, is not enough. After the Harpy prisoner is murdered by a former slave on her small council, she has the bright idea of publically executing the former slave in front of hundreds of sympathetic commoners. That does not go well and they begin to riot and throw stones. This is similar to the treatment that the Lannister’s were greeted with by the commoners of King’s Landing, which is not a good sign for the Mother of Dragons. Having the crowd falls silent the moment the former slave’s head is severed was a brilliant effect and highlighted the exact moment Dany has lost the will of her people. Tyrion can’t get there soon enough.
Speaking of small councils, Cersei is attempting to stack the deck in her favor back in Kings Landing, even if she isn’t the Queen any longer. After doubling down on Mace Tyrell, naming him both Master of Ships and Coin, she names her personal mad scientist, Qyburn as Master of Whispers now that Varys has flown the coop. Tywin’s brother, Ser Kevan, sits on in disgust at the petty scrabble for power and balks at Cersei’s offer to name him Master of War before storming off in the direction of Casterly Rock. Kevan has the right of it, but I wish he would stick around to remain a crotchety spoil to Cersei’s schemes.
For a man who does not like to be questioned, Stannis is taking Jon’s mercy killing of Mance Rayder rather well. Stannis needs men to fight for him but the people in the North swear allegiance to the Starks, even if there isn’t one. Stannis comes up with the next best thing and offers to make Jon one. A king has the power to issue a decree to bestow names and titles, but this is a check that can’t be cashed unless Stannis wins the big seat. A bastard son of Eddard Stark, Jon Snow can be the one to unite the North and bring them under Stannis’s banner. I have the feeling that this is more than just tactics for Stannis. It sounds strange, but I actually think Stannis likes Jon. There is a level mutual admiration in the two men that is rewarding to watch. I was disappointed how quickly Jon decided to keep his vows the Night’s Watch. This is supposed to be the most difficult decision in his life. Instead, they end the debate within the next scene. I feel it would have been better to leave Jon agonizing over which direction to break for several episodes before sticking true to his Black Brothers. While he is the midst of his decision he wins enough votes to be named the next Lord Commander in a campaign he did not even know he was running. This is an interesting development but really undercuts Stannis’s offer. With what could have featured in the season finale happening in only the second episode, I can only imagine what the Night’s Watch will have to deal with Jon leading the charge for the rest of the season.
We close with a quiet scene between Dany and Drogon, the prodigal son returned to his mother. The show has done a surprisingly effective job portraying emotion with the dragons. There was a marked familiarity in Drogon’s face as he approached Dany but not even he could stay with her. This was a farewell not a return for her largest pet. As it flew away, Dany could see her hopes of winning the Iron Throne while on the back of dragon flee with it.
Next week we meet The High Sparrow