Game of Thrones: Hardhome – Things are happening!

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GAME of Thrones has deviated from its source material on countless occasions, but the greatest difference of all between the book series and the television series is that the books come out whenever George R. R. Martin damn well likes while the show must produce ten hours of material every year. It’s been inevitable since the pilot that the show would eventually catch up with the books but, most awkwardly, they’ve caught up with some storylines faster than others.

Sansa is due to play a large role in the upcoming sixth book, but the writers were hesitant to have Sansa and Littlefinger both disappear, or seldom appear, while they hang out in the Eyrie. The decision to blend her storyline with that of excised character Jeyne Poole, who was married off to Ramsay disguised as Arya in the book, has been divisive as hell.

In the book iteration, Reek (nee Theon) is the focal character, while in the show it remains to be seen if Theon will be of any use. Sansa finally learned that Theon didn’t kill her brothers, which will hopefully be the drive she needs to take back Winterfell for the Starks. Legally, Bran should be the inheritor of the North, but Sansa is still the key.

In other news, Cersei has been arrested and her uncle Kevan (whose son I remind you is responsible for her incarceration) has become acting Hand of the King. Qyburn is her only friend in the capital, and he ominously promises that “the work continues”, hinting that Mountainstein is still under preparation.

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Meanwhile, Tommen is refusing to eat or speak to anyone because he’s so distraught over the arrest of his wife Margaery. This storyline is close to the book so far, except with the change that Tommen is significantly older in the show, his marriage with Margaery is officially consummated and, while still ineffective, he’s far more engaged in the politics of King’s Landing.

Over in Braavos, Arya’s training is moving right. along. While she’s not ready to wear another’s face just yet, she’s allowed to venture incognito to seek out people deserving of death. The Thin Man arc will cover at least one more episode, and Arya’s storyline in general is far divided from anyone else’s in the books, so little is certain. Arya’s new persona of Lana “The Cat of the Canals” is a fun addition to this otherwise very dark episode, but with the imminent arrival of Meryn Trant in Braavos the Arya Stark we know and love may well cross a new name off her list before the season is through.

In Meereen, Daenerys and Tyrion have formed an exciting new alliance. The books have teased this, but Tyrion’s road trip has been cut short and he and Jorah have arrived. As usual, Tyrion is written spectacularly, with yet more brilliant lines. It seems redundant by this point to call Tyrion the show’s best character, but somehow he keeps getting better.

For most characters, speaking highly of their brother to a woman whose father was killed by that same brother would be a total cock-up, but Tyrion doesn’t fear Daenerys because he doesn’t fear death. Tyrion may well find the will to live, but for now he’s treating Dany more as a curiosity and a project than as his saviour. Uniquely among her male followers, Tyrion doesn’t love Daenerys, or follow her with a warrior’s dedication.

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We’ve waited 47 episodes to see the show’s two most iconic characters share a scene, and of course it’s over a pitcher of wine in a council chamber. This is Game of Thrones as we know it, but as we’ve never seen it before. Tyrion and Daenerys have much in common, though the younger lady lacks the wisdom and experience of the elder imp. Tyrion could well turn out to be a greater weapon than any dragon, and let’s hope that this union delivers on its potential.

In other news, Ser Jorah has sold himself into slavery to Yezzen, knowing of no other way to find his way back into Daenery’s audience and having nothing else to live for. Jorah’s survival this season is uncertain, especially as his storyline has passed the books and he only has greyscale (which probably takes a long time to kill a person and has been cured at least once) in the show.

Ser Friendzone has nothing to offer Daenerys as a political advisor or as a warrior that she doesn’t already have, but he is the only person living who truly knows her, and that gives him tremendous work as a right-hand man. She may see the error of her ways, or he may end up being a tragic figure even by the standards of this series.

The final, titular storyline of the episode concerns Jon and Tormund’s mission to Hardhome. This whole section is newly created for the show; the Lord o’Bones died under different circumstances, the elders-come-wights were all made up anew, and the Night’s King we saw a brief cameo of back in the fourth episode of Season Four now makes his face known to the Nights Watch. Hardhome is discussed in the books, but in the show we see the massacre first-hand, and what a scene it is!

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I’m a little zombie’d out, as the zombie subgenre is so massive and prototypical. The wights are hardly interesting villains, but the White Walkers who revive and commend them are fascinating. They have an entire culture we don’t know about, and we don’t even know how many there are. Craster claimed to have sacrificed almost a hundred sons, but we’ve only seen a handful of Walkers at any one time.

The Night’s King himself has, according to some cursory mentions in the book, been living as a Walker for centuries after having once been a Master Commander of the Nights Watch. This exciting new villain, who has acknowledged Jon Snow as one of the few capable of killing his army, may not appear for the rest of the season. Whether we see them again for a while or not, in the long game of the Song of Ice and Fire, the Ice has made its presence known.

Episode Nine is named “The Dance of Dragons”. That’ll be the fire. Prepare yourselves, Thrones fans… Winter just came.

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