And here I thought the rule was that it was always the second to last episode of the season that changed the game.
Either Game of Thrones is breaking from its traditional formula this season or there’s some huge changes on the horizon this Sunday, because this week already brought two huge changes to the way things are going. Both of which, I might add, made for some surprises to all audiences on this one.
Looking at it in series, I have to admit to something here and now – while Arya’s storyline makes for some interesting reading for just how much it goes into the world of the Faceless Men, it’s also arguably made for the slowest plot of this season. Three episodes from the end and she’s now being sent out on field assignments. Taken on its own, it’s not a bad storyline, but it really does feel like the Braavos story comes up light next to everything else happening.
Meanwhile, King’s Landing and Winterfell are somewhat stuck in holding patterns this week. There are some bits of progression, but ultimately Cersei’s still being ground down by the Faith Militant and Sansa is continuing to try and deprogram Theon. They make sense as progressions of their stories, but it’s still not a huge jump. That Ramsey is interested in trying to take on Stannis in the field has some potential, especially given the series is presenting things in a way to suggest Roose may be poising him to act as a shield in an ‘either way I win’ strategy.
All in all, not bad material for an episode as we come to the end of the season. But it’s the events at the Wall and in Meereen that really made this episode stand out.
After last week’s reveal, Tyrion’s first meeting with Daenerys is arguably some of the most interesting material either cast member has had since the season started. For all of his drunken cynicism on the start of this journey, once in Dany’s presence, Tyrion actually proves genuinely invested as an adviser, even going so far as to argue for sparing Jorah’s life when he could have easily thrown him to the dragons.
Probably the biggest surprise of this came from a later discussion between the two characters. After fighting her way to claiming the throne after this point, hearing Dany look at the situation in Meereen and instead declare her intention to completely overthrow a system that could allow people to live like this is an interesting development. I do feel like it might be a little rushed after how much of this season played with the idea of her flirting with her father’s bloodlust, but I’m also curious to see just what the show plans to do with it from here, especially with Tyrion on-hand to guide the matter.
Then comes the Wall, and the final scenes that left people talking for the better part of this week. After Jon’s talks with the Wildlings, an event that mostly went on course as the books outlined it, things took a HUGE turn. Any question of winter’s arrival was officially put to rest as this week culminated in an attack launched by the Others on Hardhome.
The resulting scene was arguably one of the best surprises to come out of this season – besides being surprisingly well directed overall, it was a moment that genuinely left one to wonder at the fates of many of the characters. I will admit I actually was beginning to suspect this week would see the deaths of either Edd or Tormund after how some of the chaos unfolded. In the middle of all this carnage, however, they still also did a good job of reminding you these were characters and not just faceless hordes to get bumped off. For the show’s first full-scale advance by the Others, it did well at conveying the horror this enemy actually presents, particularly during the final moments: an ominous staredown between Jon and the silent Night’s King.
Suffice it to say, with this element in play, things are about to change in a BIG way. Add on to that the fact this coming episode is the penultimate of the season – traditionally the ‘things go down’ episode – it has me wondering what the showrunners have in store for us with The Dance of Dragons this Sunday.
-The attack on Hardhome is a highlight for this season, easily
-Tyrion and Daenerys are showing the makings of a promising team-up
-For as impressive as the Wall and Meereen stories are this week, the other stories feel somewhat diminished by comparison
So, with the return of the Night’s King, and a revisit of the novels earlier this year, I’m struck by one change that hadn’t occurred to me before. Despite the book’s various hints towards it, it looks like the show isn’t going to be going with the path of Stannis as the reincarnated Night’s King. I could be wrong, of course, just going off of what we have seen here. Which, again, after how Stannis has been shown in previous seasons is a bit surprising. Now wondering what their planned end game for the guy will be.