Everyone Has A Choice To Make
There is literal and figurative meaning associated with the title of season 5’s second episode, “The House of Black and White”. The titular house is a real physical place, the mysterious building with the black and white doors that Arya Stark arrives at hoping to find her assassin friend from Season 2, Jaqen H’ghar. The duality of black and white also plays into pretty much all of the other storylines this week, as each character is confronted with two significant choices. Most episodes of Game of Thrones revolve around the show’s characters having to make impossible choices all the time, but this episode puts that aspect on display for analysis, resulting in a much stronger, focused episode than last week’s “The Wars to Come”
The episode begins with Arya’s arrival in the port city of Braavos on the ship she boarded at the end of last season. She gets a rude awakening, however, when she is denied access to the House of Black and White, seemingly the headquarters of the Faceless Men assassin’s guild. Since season 1, Arya has been on the path of gaining the necessary skills to take revenge against those who destroyed her family. As the door is shut on her by a mysterious old man, and she throws her cherished coin away, it’s apparent that Arya never considered that she would be denied the abilities she seeks, and is at a loss for how to proceed. Her problem is quickly resolved however; by the episode’s end, she is granted entrance to the House by none other than Jaqen H’ghar, who pulls off his old man’s face, telling Arya that he is “no one” and that she must become the same – a huge, but necessary change from the novels.
As if hearing the complaints from last week’s episode, two sets of characters are not only given something interesting to do, but collide in perhaps the biggest divergence from Martin’s books yet committed on the show. Rather than spend the rest of the season with Brienne and Podrick fruitlessly searching for Sansa Stark, they stumble upon her and Littlefinger in a random forest inn! Brienne pledges her life to Sansa while Littlefinger proceeds to discredit her appeal, all culminating in Sansa flat-out refusing Brienne’s offer. Brienne subscribes to a brand of loyalty and chivalry that has almost completely died out in Westeros. With both Stark girls having refused her offers, Brienne stoicly makes the choice of continuing to pursue Sansa, despite the task’s futility. There are few characters as driven and loyal as Brienne in Game of Thrones, and her conviction could prove to be a boon or bane as the season progresses.
The southern kingdom of Dorne is introduced for the first time on the series, with a new set of characters vying for power. The Dornish are furious with the Lannisters after the brutal death of their Prince Oberyn, a fan-favorite character from last season, and war could very well be in the cards — especially if Oberyn’s vengeful paramour Ellaria Sand has any say in the matter. This places her in direct opposition to Oberyn’s brother and Dorne’s ruler, Doran Martell, who does not want to risk open war. The Dornish still have a trump card, as they have Cersei’s daughter Myrcella under their care (a fact that infuriates and frightens Cersei in equal measure). Ellaria and Doran have conflicting opinions about what to do with the girl and whichever side gets their way will likely decide whether war between Dorne and King’s Landing comes to fruition.
Arguably the biggest development this week happened in the north at Castle Black, as Jon Snow found himself faced with his own struggles of loyalty. Stannis offers to make one of Jon’s deepest desires come true – making him a Stark and thus the heir to Winterfell. Unfortunately, this would mean disobeying his vows to the Night’s Watch, a sin Jon already struggles with due to his conflicted past with the Wildlings. Duty and doing the right thing have always been important considerations for Jon and by offering him a tantalizing proposition, the show presents a new internal struggle for him. Unfortunately, the show resolves this issue almost immediately by having his sworn brothers elect him as the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Jon’s ties to the Starks and the north will undoubtedly continue to present problems for him, but it’s disappointing that the episode resolves an issue this important almost as quickly as it’s introduced.
The last major plots this week deals with Cersei and Dany’s decreasing effectiveness as rulers in their respective cities. The episode does a great job focusing on the similarities and differences between Cersei and Dany’s approaches to wielding power. Cersei is completely driven by her power-hungry, uncaring personality, but she is finding it more difficult to get what she wants, as more people are poking holes in her station. Her uncle Kevan puts it to her bluntly, pointing out that she is only the Queen Mother, and wields no actual power, suggesting that Cersei will have to make a play soon if she wants to maintain her waning influence.
Meanwhile, Dany has power, but is struggling with how to use it while staying true to her beliefs and values at the same time. While Dany’s stories have been hit or miss over the years, season 5 is positioning a strong arc for her. Here, she makes her first real mistake as Queen when she incites the rage of her subjects after publicly executing a man for treason. Her faint grasp on power is exceptionally conveyed in the last scene, when she discovers her rogue dragon Drogon has returned, only to fly away before she can touch him. Without her dragons to protect her, Dany has to rely more than ever on her wits and natural abilities as a leader. Unfortunately, much like her dragons, secure power may be beyond her ability to attain.d
Other Events This Week:
-Braavos and its gigantic statue may be one of the most visually spectacular sequences in the show’s history.
-Jaime and Bronn are teaming up for a rescue mission! Bronn is one of the most entertaining rogues on the show and his partnership with Jaime will surely result in all sorts of sarcastic hijinks
-Sam and Gilly bond with Stannis’s daughter Selyse. Not the most riveting scene, but a definite improvement on the boring scenes that are typically assigned to the pair.
-The bloodshed in these early episodes has been lighter than usual, but Brienne gets the best kill this week with a brutal stabbing of one of Littlefinger’s men.
-Tyrion and Varys make great road trip companions. Honestly, a spin-off series with just these two bickering could be a winner.