Another season of Game of Thrones is nearing its inevitable end. It’s been a season filled with surprises, deviations, and controversy. And what’s a season of Game of Thrones without controversy? What’s different this time around is that the show has been actively distancing itself from its lengthy source material, resulting in some brilliant storytelling choices, some divisive, others rather questionable. But to continue to judge the show by its own merit, we have to leave behind certain expectations from the books. After all, the showrunners have been making significant strides in that direction leading up to season 5. So, instead of holding the show hostage to George R.R. Martin’s novels, I’ve decided to realign my expectations and revisit season 5 with a different analytical lens. I encourage other fans of the books to do the same. We begin with episode 2 – The House of Black and White.
This is season 5’s true opener. You can jump right into this episode and feel like you haven’t missed a thing. We pick up with Arya, who has left Westeros behind. The Braavosi captain brings her to the mysterious house of black and white, and after much waiting she is greeted by Jaqen H’gar (a man has a strange and difficult name to spell). Her arc is probably one of the few storylines that the show is following by the books. Fans can breathe a sigh of relief.
On the road we find Brienne and Pod enjoying a horn of ale when, to everyone’s surprise, Littlefinger and Sansa happen to be at the same inn. In keeping with her oath, Brienne tries to offer fealty to Lady Sansa, but is reminded of her poor track record courtesy of Littlefinger, which begs the question: is Sansa better off with either of them, or none? Now, for someone who’s grown bored of Brienne’s pointless trek across Westeros in the books, I am happy to see that she has more luck and more to do on the show. It seems the writers have found a proper use for her, though I’m curious to see what they have planned for her in the long run.
I am curious about Sansa as well. The show thus far has rapidly progressed her journey, outpacing her character in the books. She had quite the transformation last season, so to see her continue to evolve shows promise (more on that controversial episode later). Both Stark girls have learned quite brutally what it takes to survive in this world, and both have come out farther than most in the game because of it. Arya is at the doorstep of the many-faced god, while Sansa has blossomed into a key political player, putting on many faces along the way. I don’t think the sisters will ever cross paths again, but I do believe their journeys will continue to run parallel with each other.
My favorite moment in this episode came with the unexpected pairing of Jaime and Bronn. Like the books, Jaime has emerged as a uniquely complex character. I could watch him stand in his kingsguard armor alone and still be riveted by Nikolaj’s performance. Fortunately, he has other matters to attend to than serve as a glorified bodyguard. But he is not alone. Bronn makes for a hell of an on-screen presence and thankfully, the writers didn’t want to shelve the character just yet. It’s quite interesting how certain characters bridge family ties. The Hound, for example, was the Westeros version of a knight in shining armor for both Sansa and Arya. Similarly, Bronn was a fitting companion for Tyrion and now Jaime. It appears he’s the third brother they never knew they wanted.
At Castle Black we find Jon Snow between a rock and a hard place, which is where the character is at his most interesting. The-would-be-King Stannis offered him the chance to strike down his bastard name and rise as Jon Stark. But it appears it was an offer that simply came too late as Jon was then elected as Lord Commander, besting Ser Alliser Thorne. Knowing Jon’s supposed fate in the books, did he make the best choice for himself in the end? Only time will tell…
Lastly, at Meereen we find Dany, torn as ever on what is to be done with a traitor among her ranks, one who took it upon himself to bring justice to the Sons of the Harpy. Any wise ruler knows that treason cannot go unpunished, so Dany makes a bold choice that harkens back to the show’s first season, when the people of King’s Landing called for Ned Stark’s head. Dany is faced with the exact opposite because it’s not a choice made on impulse, but rather a sentence that has to be carried out. The riot that ensues is but a painful reminder that nothing can be done to please the masses. You can only watch as your decision impacts thousands, which is what makes Game of Thrones the epic drama that it is. Now, one can only wonder if this moment foreshadows Khaleesi’s downfall. The brief visit from Drogon seems to suggest so.
This is the episode I wanted to see in terms of moving forward. It’s what the show does best, when characters aren’t just moving, but are faced with decisions that will liberate and haunt them all the same. After all, this is the house of black and white. Leave your honor at the door.