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Game of Thrones: The House of Black and White

"Are we really going to spend the entire road to Volantis talking about the futility of everything?"

In this episode of Game of Thrones, lots of spoilery things happen that we'll discuss below the cut. There's also a dragon. It's awesome.

Arya's back! Her story was mostly about how far she's come and how much she's changed since the first season. It's a tiny thing, but I loved how confident she looked when she said 'Valar Dohaeris' at the episode's beginning. She was clearly imitating Jaqen's attitude from season two. That was followed up by the pigeon-hunting scene, a parallel to Season 1, Episode 9. Then, Arya was haplessly chasing pigeons only to drop the one she'd finally caught on hearing that her father was about to be executed. Now, she calmly slices the head clean off a pigeon and confidently prepares to defend herself against a gang of bullies considerably less pleasant than Gendry, Lommy and Hot Pie. On the other hand, the early shots of her sitting in the rain outside the door of the House of Black and White were a powerful reminder that she is still a young girl, totally alone and with only a small sword between her and the world. Let's hope that whatever Not-Jaqen is getting her into is going to help her.

Although titled for Arya's arrival in Braavos, mostly this episode was about leadership. Jon tells Stannis people want leaders who are one of their own (and is then elected leader by a group of people who know he sympathises with both Night's Watchmen and Wildlings), and Danaerys struggles with ruling a people she does not belong to, who don't understand her ways. Cersei assumes she can lead because she is related to the king and discovers she is wrong, while Varys knows that he and Tyrion, who have the brains to rule, can never do so because they're outsiders to everyone, and must find a suitable figurehead to allow them quietly to run things behind the scenes.

Cersei is half drunk with power, half going off the rails in her desperation to protect her two remaining children. Jaime and Cersei's conversation is interesting, primarily because it's the first time we've heard them talk about 'our children'. Jaime is still concerned about keeping this a secret, but with her father dead and everyone else already knowing and more or less choosing whether to acknowledge it or not depending on what's in it for them, Cersei seems to have thrown caution to the wind. We see this even more in her attempt to become her father in the Small Council meeting. Unfortunately, Queen 'Power is Power' doesn't understand the first thing about why her father commanded so much respect or how to win people's loyalty. It's interesting that Uncle Kevan assumes Cersei sent Jaime away, though. Clearly everyone knows who wears the trousers in that relationship.

Brienne and Pod's story is rather frustrating, as they seem to be running around in circles, going nowhere. Brienne is determined to find a noble lord or lady to serve and serve them - all she wants is to be lead and given orders, and all she knows how to do is to follow them (which is surprising for a woman who's worked so hard to defy people's expectations of what women should do, but that's what makes her interesting).

Unfortunately, her desire to follow a leader, a person rather than a cause (first Renly, then Catelyn, then Jaime, although technically she still claims to be following Catelyn), simply suggests to everyone else that she keeps changing sides and has no loyalty at all, which is bound to cause her problems. Littlefinger observes that someone has kitted Brienne out with some fancy gear but doesn't specify who he thinks might have done so. Sansa remembers her from the wedding and presumably sees her as a Lannister loyalist. Still, I do like that Brienne respects Sansa for not trusting her, which certainly does seem pretty sensible and implies some character growth for Sansa too, who has so far trusted pretty much everybody who's ever offered to help her except Tyrion.

Meanwhile, we finally get a proper introduction to Dorne, and it's a great scene. Alexander Siddig is just brilliant as Doran Martell and I'm not just saying that because he's Doctor Bashir and I met him at a convention once and he's fabulous. The tension in the scene between him and Ellaria Sand is wonderful. Here is a true leader, who commands respect despite physical setbacks - the tiniest nod to his bodyguard determines whether Ellaria or Myrcella live or die, and he understands how things work much better than Ellaria - voluntarily taking part in a duel and getting killed is not the same as being murdered, not in this world. I loved it - more please!

Meanwhile, it's all going to pot a bit for Danaerys. My favourite moment in her story tonight was Ser Barristan telling her about her father, which clearly introduced the idea that Dany might not be a perfect, benign ruler into the show (oh, and the awesome scene with Drogon at the end of course!). The rest of her story mostly just had me a bit puzzled why she didn't exile the freed slave who killed the Son of the Harpy, thus showing mercy but maintaining that he must be punished for taking the law into his own hands.

Last season, episodes often ended with one long scene focusing on one story thread, or on a few that were gathered in the same place, with Joffrey's wedding in Episode 2 being a highlight. This season hasn't entirely left that behind, as the episode finishes with a relatively long sequence focused on Danaerys, but I feel like the choice Jon Snow has to make when Stannis offers him legitimacy and his subsequent election as Lord Commander of the Night's Watch could have used a bit more time, and I'd rather have seen more of that than Meerenese politics - much as I like Dany, my interest in her story more or less wandered off with Ser Jorah and will return when either Tyrion and Varys get to her (if they do) or if she brings back the fighting pits (I like gladiator stories!).

Bits and pieces

 - I really like the music the show uses for Braavos. It's still Game of Thrones music, but it has an Eastern-inspired edge and a slightly different feel that lifts it and provides a bit of variety, five seasons in.

 - I usually don't have too much of a problem writing a review of the TV show without referring to the books, but I found it quite hard to do for this episode. For spoiler-filled discussion of both, and of the various changes and adaptations, see our Spoiler Thread.

 - The DVD commentaries often talk about how Sansa styles her hair to imitate women she admires or looks up to - Cersei at first, then Margaery. This season, she's styling her hair like her late mother - partly to show she's going back to her Stark roots, partly as a deliberate play for Littlefinger.

 - Cersei apparently considers marrying Margaery as bad as being shipped off to Dorne or being murdered at your own wedding. To be fair, the wedding in question was to Margaery, so she may have a point.

 - It's a shame Cersei put a stop to Bronn marrying Lollys, they seemed well suited.

 - Dang, Jaime looks hot in that new outfit.

 - On which subject, I was so happy to see Jaqen again! Well, the face he wore to be Jaqen. Whatever.

 - Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Episode: Loras and Margaery, Tommen, Melisandre, Roose, Ramsey and Theon. Bran and Hodor will not be appearing in Season Five at all, and presumably nor will Rickon and Osha. Gendry is still missing in action, last seen rowing away from Dragonstone in the Season Three finale, and whether Ser Jorah will reappear this season remains to be seen. I miss him!


Pod: A bunch of knights with him.
Brienne: A bunch? What's a bunch?!

Bronn: We made a deal, your sister and I.
Jaime: I would have advised against that.

Tyrion: There's a bug.
Varys: Yes, best be careful. You might accidentally consume some solid food.

Still largely setting up the season, but awesome dragon. Three out of four poor leadership decisions.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.


  1. Now I come to think of it, maybe the reason Brienne and Jaime work so well together is that they're the only two people in Westeros who really just want to be lead, rather than to lead...

  2. Jaime did look especially hot this week.

    As much as I love the dragons, we've seen them twice already and yet I don't think we've had a Ghost sighting. Direwolves HAVE to be cheaper than dragons, come on GoT!

    Dorne looks perfect. Just like I imagined it. I'm really excited to see what they're going to do there and in Meereen. It's weird but I feel like the parts of the show that interest me most are the parts of the books that interest me least and vice versa.

    Sansa's hair is also darker. She's dyed it to help her cover her identity which is practical but it's also a signal of the darker, more mature route her character is taking (not to mention Cat's hair was darker as well). I was surprised Brienne didn't mention Arya to her.

    I don't care much about what happens to Jon Snow, but I teared up at the name "Jon Stark." Still, it was very Stark of him not to take Stannis' offer. Like he was choosing to be a Stark over being called a Stark.

  3. sunbunny that's such a great way to put it! (choosing to be a Stark over being called a Stark). I do wish his decision had been given a bit more weight - he doesn't seem to agonise much about rejecting this thing he's wanted all his life - but still, it was a nice scene. I loved his smile at the note!

  4. Juls - that was SO sweet. I wish Stannis had just let Jon have the two seconds of pride in his brother. I mean I know they were pitted against each other in war but Robb is dead so where is the harm in letting Jon smile just this once.

  5. sunbunny - I think Brienne wanted to tell Sansa about Arya, which is why she asked to speak with Sansa alone.

  6. I join you in wondering about Dany's apparent inability to modulate justice for the former slave who kills the Harpy and the needs of a volatile city. Contrast this with the "bad" leader Stannis' justice for Davos, he cut off the man's fingers and earned a loyal follower. I actually thought we might be foreshadowing the same sort of action in the scene where Jon is confronted over his mercy killing of Mance.

    Actually, if you think about the whole series the failure to moderate justice with mercy in the case of Ned Stark has driven the whole mess everyone finds themselves in at present. This may be the central theme of the series as stated by Tyrion when he warns Oberyn that if he's looking for justice he's come to the wrong place.

  7. The thin line between justice and vengeance is also very interesting on this show. Did Oberyn want justice for his sister and her children, or merely vengeance? What did his pursuit of that "justice" get him? What did Catelyn's yield? Or Joffrey's? Or the freed slave that Dany had executed? What will Cersei's and Arya's desire for vengeance yield? They all want to see the "mean" people get what's coming to them, but what does that make them? Should we be rooting for Arya to get her revenge or to find a way to let it go? It will be interesting to see this question further explored in Dorne, with Ellaria, the Sand Snakes, and Prince Doran, and likely with Sansa.

    I'm enjoying the season so far. It's been fun seeing new things spool out in unexpected ways and seeing characters we already know slide into stories in ways that let us have a connection to new arenas. I particularly think bringing back Jaqen for Arya's story was a smart move, as is using Ellaria, Jaime, and Bronn to let us better engage with the Dorne material.

  8. Quick clarification: I didn't mean to imply Sansa would be going to Dorne with the phrasing in my previous comment. I was just lumping her into the "let's explore the idea of vengeance" pool, as I expect a potential desire to avenge her family will come into play in her story (based on the teaser trailers for the season). Wherever she ends up.

  9. Good point about Arya, Jess. I've often wondered where her story will go if other people polish off everyone on her list (I'm losing track of the list a bit, but so many people want to kill Cersei, if and when it eventually happens, I'm not sure it'll be Arya that does it! And the Mountain is sort of maybe dead already...). But if her story is about letting go of the desire for vengeance, that could be really interesting.

  10. Her story always makes me think of the film Munich, which I thought was a really wonderful reflection on the futility of the vengeance cycle, and how perpetuating it will only lead you to destroy yourself. The old "Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves" proverb. I feel like whether she succeeds in her revenge or not, her desire for it has already destroyed "Arya Stark" in a way. Because it lead her here to the House of Black and White, where she has to give up herself to become the faceless, nameless assassin she now thinks she wants to be.

    I'm really curious about how it will all end up for her. Is hers a tragic tale of destruction, or will it end up being something we're supposed to view as empowering?

  11. I want to go on vacation to wherever they film the Dorne scenes.

    Thanks for the great review, Juliette.

  12. That's the Alcázar of Seville. :)

  13. A man finally catches up on this show. A man is glad to see the return of Jaqen, even if his face belongs to another man now.

    One of the things I was reminded of in this episode is how impressive the actors do at portraying emotion while speaking not only a foreign language, but a fictional one. It goes all the way back to Season 1, with Jason Momoa as Khal Drogo making his passionate vow to conquer the Seven Kingdoms for his wife and future son. Then of course there are the multiple times Emilia Clarke has done it, especially in episode 3.04, "And Now His Watch Is Ended". This episode was a fine example as well, with the scene between Dany & the former slave who killed the Son Of The Harpy. It's difficult to make scenes like that feel as though people are actually talking instead of just reciting lines they memorized(as I often felt during the subtitled sections of the Lord Of The Rings movies, for example).

  14. Another man catches up on this show. I agree, Patrick, the dialogue in a fictional foreign language is incredibly well done. As a viewer, I have to read the words while listening to the tone and quickly glancing at the actors. Their ability to convince me they are really speaking in their native tongue and holding an intensely emotional conversation is stunningly impressive.

    And Drogon was also spectacular. Dany needs to find a way to free his two siblings without getting toasted. She is finding that ruling is much more difficult than taking. This reminds me of someone else currently in that position in the real world...


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