Game of Thrones Season 5 Episode 8 - Hardhome - just finished airing and it was one of the most action packed episodes we've seen this season. Last week's episode - The Gift - had served as a reminder that this is a story that does not reward characters for being good; that justice rarely comes to those who deserve it. Episode 8 put a lot of focus on the action North of the Wall, possibly to remind us viewers that there are bigger things at play than the largely petty motivations of the characters we're spending time with.
The new season is being simulcast in India, but 6.30AM isn't really convenient for most people. If you couldn't catch today's episode and are worrying about what you missed, we've got you covered with our spoiler rich recap. We go beyond just the events in the show, and also look at how it compares to the books, and guess at what is coming next, so there are a lot of spoilers here. Game of Thrones S05E08 is titled Hardhome, and spends a lot of time North of the Wall, with a long action sequence taking place in a Wildling settlement. That didn't really leave much time for the rest of the story to develop, but we had a few short sequences in Winterfell, Braavos, Mereen and King's Landing, setting things up for the last two episodes of the season.
The episode opens in Mereen, with Tyrion and Jorah being questioned by Danaerys at her court. She asks Tyrion why she shouldn't just kill him, the way his family killed hers. The two families - the Lannisters and the Targaryens - were actually pretty close, and Tyrion's father Tywin Lannister was a good friend to Danaerys' father, Aerys. Tywin even served as Aerys' hand, but relations between the two eventually soured as Tywin's power grew, and Aerys became highly paranoid about people trying to depose him.
Eventually, Tywin would take arms with the Starks and the Baratheons in Robert's Rebellion, and gave his daughter in marriage to Robert Baratheon. The Lannisters had not declared for Robert though, and so when Tywin's army had marched up to King's Landing, Aerys had ordered the gates opened, thinking he was being rescued.
But it was Tyrion's brother Jaime Lannister who actually killed the Mad King - Jaime had been serving in Aerys' Kingsguard (he was the youngest ever member of the Kingsguard) and he'd seen enough to convince him that the King truly was crazy. When Aerys ordered the entire city of King's Landing set on fire, Jaime finally had enough and killed him. This earned him the title Kingslayer, and though he did something that he believes was the just and right thing to do, most men looked at him as a traitor without honour, which helped to define his character over the next fifteen years.
And it was one of Tywin's knights - the Mountain, Gregor Clegane, who killed Aerys' daughter-in-law Elia Martell and her children, presenting their bodies to Robert Baratheon as proof of Tywin's loyalty. That's why her brother Oberyn was so very keen to fight the Mountain last season.
When Danaerys asks Tyrion if she should have him killed, he tries to smart talk his way out of things at first, but she isn't amused, and threatens to send him back to the fighting pit. Tyrion replies by telling her that he wants to help her to rule, and points out something that Danaerys hasn't really understood so far - that you can't always build a better world on your own - he says, "Killing and politics are not always the same thing."
As a test, she then asks him what to do about Jorah - she promised to have him killed if she saw him again, but Tyrion tells her that Jorah is in love with her, and devoted to her. She still wants to have him killed, but Tyrion tells her that a ruler who kills off those most devoted to her, usually doesn't inspire much devotion. It's the kind of check that she's needed ever since she got her dragons and her army - all of her advisors have liked her too much to tell her that she's acting stupidly, so that scene was fantastic. However, he does agree that Jorah did betray her, and so should be exiled. It might not be intentional, but this is a smart move for Tyrion as well, since it means that he's the only person around to advise Danaerys.
Jorah leaves quietly, but checks his hand as he's departing. The mark from where the Stone Man touched him has been slowly growing in size, and Jorah knows that he's infected. Before he dies though, he still wants to see Danaerys again, and he comes up with a truly stupid idea.
Despite being banished, he goes back to the fighting pit owner who had bought him earlier, and demands to fight again. He wants to be allowed to fight in front of Danaerys one more time, at the great pit of Daznak. The pit owner is confused, but Jorah's proved himself to be a good fighter, and if he's willing to enslave himself to fight for Danaerys, who's going to refuse?
Tyrion meanwhile is talking to Danaerys and in the space of a five minute conversation, works his way through two glasses of wine, and manages to talk about his father Tywin, and also Danaery's father Aerys. There's a certain parallel here, as Tyrion wants to serve as Danaerys' Hand, just like his father served Aerys, but will this relationship go sour as well? Possibly, because after Danaerys finally agrees that she does need Tyrion's advice, she takes his wine away - and the last person who tried to part Tyrion from his drinks got greyscale, got enslaved, and got exiled, so really, you want to let the man have his wine.
Still, he suggests that Danaerys might want to turn away from Westeros, and focus on the kingdom that she has conquered. He points out that she has no support among the seven kingdoms, and that while the common people might (or might not) support her, that hasn't really helped her in dealing with her troubles, and that she needs the support of the great houses like the Lannisters, the Tyrells, the Baratheons and the rest. Danaerys responds with a speech about the houses being spokes on a wheel, and how she plans to smash the wheel - it's the same speech we've seen before in the trailer - which is a pretty speech, but also pretty meaningless, considering that her armies are steadily dwindling away, and she can't control her dragons anymore.
None of this happens in the books, so it's not quite clear where this is headed. Tyrion does eventually reach Mereen, along with Jorah, and does have a part to play in the Battle of Mereen after Danaerys disappears from the city. So far though, it doesn't look like the city is besieged, and with Barristan dead and Quentyn Martell not being in the show, there's not much else that needs to happen in Mereen either. It's pretty hard to guess at this stage how things will play out for Tyrion now.
In King's Landing, Cersei is being ladled water by a Septa (nun), who is telling her to confess. She responds with threats, and gets hit over the head with the ladle for her troubles, losing out on what little water she has. Later, Qyburn comes to visit her, and tell her about the charges that she is facing - fornication, incest, and the murder of her husband, King Robert. He tells her that the Faith does not have the same standards of proof as the Crown, which is worth a chuckle when you consider some of the high profile trials we've seen in the show so far.
Cersei also learns from Qyburn that her uncle Kevan has been recalled to King's Landing, to serve as hand of the king. The king himself has locked himself into his room, and is not speaking to anyone, or taking food, after his wife and then his mother were both arrested.
Some time after Qyburn leaves, the Septa is again offering Cersei water if she confesses. She still refuses though, and the Septa pours the water onto the stones and leaves. The scene establishes how broken down Cersei is, because instead of turning to threats, she just cowers, and then when the woman leaves, slurps the water off the floor.
This sequence is pretty much in keeping with the books - Cersei is thoroughly broken by the Faith, and eventually confesses her sins. She's made to march naked from the Sept of Baelor to the Red Keep as a sign of penitence, which is likely going to happen in the last episode of this season, titled Mother's Mercy. Just before leaving, Qyburn did have one piece of good news for the Queen - the work continues, he says - a secret project that he had been working on, to make an undefeatable warrior that could serve as Cersei's champion. Thanks to the books, we know that Qyburn is indeed successful in raising Ser Robert Strong who is made a knight of the Kingsguard, so that he can fight as her champion in her trial. That's something we'll probably see more of only next season though.
Meanwhile, in Braavos, Arya is now "Lana" - a girl who sells oysters, clams and cockles from a wheelbarrow. Jacquen H'ghar is telling her where to go and what to do, and eventually we see her sell an oyster to an old man, who sells insurance to ship captains. He refused to make a payment to the widowed wife of one of these captains after the ship sank; desperate, she turned to the Many Faced God. Jacquen has decided that "Lana" will deliver the gift of the Many Faced God to the old man, and gives her a bottle of poison.
This is a simplified version of Arya's story in Braavos - in the books, she's placed with a family, and has to figure out how to kill the man herself, instead of being gifted poison. The actual assassination is pretty cool too; here, the man is trusting, and buys oysters from her directly, making it easy to poison him. In the books, he can't be approached like this, and so Arya has to come up with a way to get to him first. She notices that he bites the coins he's paid, to see if they're real, and using her skills as a pickpocket, she plants a poisoned coin in the purse of a captain who is about to make a payment to the old man.
In Winterfell, we get a brief scene with Theon and Sansa - she demands to know why he betrayed her plan of escape to Ramsay, and he tells her that he was trying to help. He tells her about how he tried to escape, and was captured, tortured and flayed, until there was no Theon left, only Reek. Sansa isn't sympathetic though, and says that after all that Theon did to her family, he deserved his fate.
As she lashes out at Theon though, he lets slip about the two surviving Stark boys - Bran and Rickon. Now Sansa knows that they're alive, and that Bran is now the rightful lord of Winterfell. This obviously doesn't happen in the books, where Sansa is still living in the Eyrie, so it's not really easy to say where this will go. If the Boltons survive the battle with Stannis, will Sansa try and rally the North behind her missing brothers? If it's Littlefinger and the Knights of the Vale who take Winterfell, then will she tell him about the boys?
Meanwhile, the battle of Winterfell seems to be turning into a commando action. Roose Bolton is wisely dismissive of Stannis' army, knowing that the winter will do the work of killing the Southerners for him, but Ramsay points out that the Northmen will not like to watch the Lord of Winterfell do nothing while their lands are under threat.
Roose says that there's no way he will send out an army in the snow, but Ramsay says that all he needs are 20 good men. Is Ramsay planning on striking at Stannis and killing him, or will he end up taking Stannis' daughter Shireen, or the Red Priestess Melisandre prisoner? Filming a big battle scene is expensive and it makes sense that the show would want to cut down on the number of people it has to put on screen, but it's going to be interesting to see how this plays out, and how this will reconcile with the famous Pink Letter from the books.
At the Wall, Gilly is applying ointment to Sam, but he's too busy trying to talk about his feelings. Olly brings them food, but then he has a question for Sam. He wants to know if Jon Snow is really heading off to the North to save Wildlings. After all, these are the same people who killed Olly's village, and butchered Olly's family - if Jon wants to save them, then how can the Watch trust him? Sam tries to explain about the White Walkers, and why the Watch would be overrun without help, and tells the boy that sometimes men have to make hard choices, and live with the consequences. Something tells us that this won't end well for Jon, because it looks like Olly is getting ready to make a hard choice, for the Watch.
The last we saw of Jon Snow in the books, he was being stabbed by a long line of men from the Watch because he was suspected of being too close to the Wildlings. It looks like we're heading in this direction on the show as well, though if it's going to be fit into this season then the next two episodes are going to be very busy indeed.
Meanwhile we see Jon Snow and some Watchmen in a couple of longboats sailing up to Hardhome. They're met by large numbers of Wildlings, led by Rattleshirt, the Lord of Bones. In the book, Rattleshirt had also surrendered at the Wall, but was put to death in place of Mance Rayder, who was instead sent on a secret mission to Winterfell. Show Rattleshirt doesn't last much longer though - he starts to challenge Tormund, who smashes his head in with Rattleshirt's own club.
Then Jon makes his proposal to the Wildlings (a group that includes the giant Wun Wun) and points out that the White Walkers don't care if a man is a Wildling or a Watchman. He then gives them a gift of obsidian daggers, dragonglass, which can be used to kill the White Walkers.
The two groups argue, but Jon finally manages to convince at least some of the Wildlings to come south with him, and help defend the Wall.
Some still remain sceptical, and walk out of the meeting, but around 5,000 still go with Jon Snow. He's still worried that there are too many Wildlings staying behind, but Tormund reassures him, saying that the food is running out, and that the Wildlings will follow him once they start to feel hungry.
But the group has bigger problems - a storm is coming, and with it come the White Walkers, and the dead armies. Hardhome is besieged by zombies, and the Wildlings aren't willing to queue up in an orderly fashion to board the boats anymore. Jon Snow is getting stampeded, and the rest of the people aren't faring much better wither, with their walls being a temporary obstacle at best. The effects are a little B-Movie but it could be worse, so we're not going to complain.
It's a fun sequence, though it goes on for a bit too long - this show's strength is the characters and the dialogues they exchange, and the action doesn't entirely hold your attention. We do see one thing of importance though. There's a White Walker in the village, and so Jon tries to get some dragonglass to attack it. The Walker knocks him away though, and is about to kill him, but Jon draws his Valyrian steel sword just in time. While the Walker's sword had shattered all other blades before this, the Valyrian steel holds, and destroys the Walker entirely, proving something that is still a fan theory in the books right now.
A horned Walker, whom seems to be in charge, watches the fight from a distance, but then sends out a fresh wave of dead troops. The Watchment and Wildlings flee, while the shore is overrun with the dead - walking and actual both. The Night's King then raises the bodies of the people he just killed, raising the numbers of his own army dramatically. It's an effective reminder of how the stakes of this story are much bigger than just the political machinations of a few noble families.
This entire sequence didn't take place in the books, but it makes sense in the context of the story so far, and we liked it as such. The only problem, as we already wrote, is that the show's strength isn't really battle sequences. Despite that, it was an effective way to end a pretty good episode.
Episode nine is coming, and dedicated show watchers know what that means. Each year, the ninth episode of the season has seen some big deaths and some dramatic reveal. In the first season, this was the episode Ned Stark was beheaded in. Season two had the dramatic battle of the Blackwater, while season three's Rains of Castamere featured the famous Red Wedding, which saw Robb Stark killed, along with his wife, his unborn child, his mother, and most of the Northern army. Season four had us on the ropes with the eighth episode, "the Mountain and the Viper", which ended with another fan-favourite Oberyn Martell, getting his head crushed like a melon right at the moment of triumph. The ninth episode featured the battle of Castle Black, and the death of Jon Snow's Wildling lover, Ygritte.
The next episode for season five is titled The Dance of Dragons, and if we're lucky, that means we'll finally get to see the dragons flying around - something we've only seen glimpses of this season - and with any luck, we'll see a certain incident take place in the fighting pits. It's something we're very excited about, even if it is a pity because Tyrion's presence has already made the Danaerys scenes so much better than they used to be, and we wouldn't mind watching some more of Tyrion the advisor first.
We'll continue watching every Monday morning to keep you up to date in case you miss the episode, but did you watch this one already? What were your favourite parts of the episode? Tell us, via the comments.