No one: that is who a girl must become
Written by: David Benioff & D.B. Weiss
Directed by: Michael Slovis
After "The Wars to Come" laid some new foundation for Game of Thrones, "The House of Black and White" gets right to work ratcheting up the excitement and setting its new story lines into action. We've reached the point now where the series is very stingy about introducing new characters; now the excitement comes from shuffling our already established characters around and creating new drama by bringing some characters together and tearing others apart. As characters like Arya and Jaime expose us to locations we have yet to see, D&D also ensure that stationary characters like Daenerys and Cersei still have something to do. For this particular episode, it's about various characters making tough decisions. Combine that with the new locations, and you've got yourself a pretty darn good hour of television.
"The House of Black and White" and the next episode, "High Sparrow", turn out to be the most significant two episode stretch for Arya since....well, probably ever. It's already well-established that Arya is the black sheep of her family: she enjoys killing, and she feels repugnance towards fancy castles and elegant clothing, something that fueled her bitterness towards Sansa while the two were still together back in season one. I think this is the primary reason that George R.R. Martin gives Arya a journey in which she comes to embrace being alone: there's almost nowhere in the world she can fit in, so she has no choice but to create her own path through life. Having been on the road for so long, Arya has no clear sense of identity, and now having arrived at the House of Black and White and reuniting with Jaqen H'qhar, she will be asked if she is willing to shed herself forever of an identity and become "no one". This is exactly the kind of direction that Arya's story line needs to take, so it shouldn't be that surprising that Arya spends the rest of season five and nearly all of season six in Braavos.
That being said, Arya has now become another stationary character, like how Cersei and Daenerys have been for quite some time now. One of the most challenging things for D&D to do right now in King's Landing is to keep Cersei from drowning in irrelevancy, and they don't waste any time in making sure that she is still smack dab in the middle of this new conflict that has arisen with the Sparrows. In addition, Cersei now has to worry about her daughter, who has been hanging out in Dorne, but is now in danger of being killed. Ellaria Martell has not taken kindly to her husband Oberyn's death, and she is demanding for the ruler of Dorne, Prince Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig), to help her get revenge.
Let me pause for a second: of all the criticisms that seasons five and beyond have received, few have been as wild as the criticisms toward the Dorne story line. The reasoning behind the story line - rescuing Myrcella - is the one part I think no one has an issue with. The problem is simply a matter of execution: Oberyn's death was, by law, not murder, but this doesn't matter to Ellaria, who now comes off as extremely irate and psychologically unstable. This was not at all the impression she was giving in the few times we saw her during season four. but I guess D&D feel that seeking vengeance for something that wasn't at all unfair is what she wants now. At least we get our first glimpse of Dorne: the production design for these scenes is gorgeous.
So anyway, back in King's Landing, Cersei is now spearheading the Small Council meetings, and this should be an early sign of how paranoia and her ongoing desire for power are clouding her mind more and more. Now with her father gone, Cersei knows that no one can guard Tommen's back, and, in hopes of never losing a child again, Cersei is trying to have a say in anything and everything that does so much as flick one hair on Tommen's head. Hording power has always been a staple of Cersei's character, and now we're seeing how the losses of Joffrey and Tywin have sent that staple into overdrive. This is the time when Cersei starts to evolve and step into the spotlight of Westeros' central conflict(s), something that will become much more clear in the coming episodes.
At Castle Black, the spotlight is once again on Jon, who is elected to become the new Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. If we're talking about characters eventually stepping into a primary leadership role, then look no further then right here: the bastard of Winterfell now in charge of commanding his Night's Watch brothers. The only kind of leader that Jon has been up until now is the leader of some raiding parties, and now he's ready to put on his big boy pants and start to take on titles of true leadership. Sadly, Jon has always been the one Game of Thrones character that embodies the typical fantasy tropes that George R.R Martin has always tried to avoid: a reluctant hero who has all the makings of a "chosen one". With this new position, Game of Thrones is making it harder and harder on itself to control how much Jon embodies a cliched fantasy hero, but here's the thing: if Jon doesn't become the new Lord Commander, then how much sense does the Night's Watch plot make going forward?
As we have seen, kings and queens never have it easy in this series, and Daenerys is finding herself in her most challenging predicament since season two. First, she has the Sons of the Harpy to worry about. Then in this episode, she sparks a riot when she has a man publicly executed. The great thing about all this is that Daenerys is now getting a taste of something she has to be ready for if she plans on ruling as Queen: her own people acting against her. Daenerys has gone on her journey in hopes of winning over all but the most cruel and oppressive peoples. Everything had been fine and dandy in Meereen up until now, but it was inevitable that somewhere down the line, she was going to have do something that would cause split reactions. I'm happy that D&D are continuing to fuel Daenerys' story line by having her go through all the plausible things that would happen to someone who plans on being a ruler. We don't want her going off to Westeros if she doesn't have any kind of background in being a Queen.
I do fear that I repeat myself at times while going through these episodes, as well as talk a lot about some things as if I were saying, "This is building up to something later." Honestly though, I don't think it's possible to discuss Game of Thrones without ever thinking ahead to what could come next. This is a show that is masterful at building towards future events, and almost always, deliver incredible payoffs that will have you wondering if the series can find a way to top itself the next time. The early episodes in a season are usually the toughest ones to talk about, because, as is the case with "The House of Black and White", we are setting the stage for the moments that will end up defining the whole season and what it hopes to achieve. For season five, it's about moving certain characters closer to their true identities, as well starting to bring groups of characters closer together, until they all converge into one complete unit. "The House of Black and White" keeps up the momentum and promises that, even in a world free from source material, Game of Thrones still has so much of what we love to see.
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