Game of Thrones 5×8 Review: Hardhome
Trigger Warning: This review references themes of sexual violence from previous episodes.
Despite how upsetting the past few episodes have been, there was actually a lot to love this week. Game of Thrones is violent and cruel on a weekly basis, but it’s gone beyond my own incredibly high drama threshold lately and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to feel joy in other aspects of the show again. I’m happy to be proven wrong this week. Surprisingly, the best parts of this episode were the moments that were changed from the source material. Characters have crossed paths that never crossed in the books and it’s playing out in very interesting ways. Sansa and Theon crossing paths, though, is still incredibly poorly conceived and I’m still not able to move past how wrong this plot has become. Yes, it’s been two episodes since that horrible moment that set so many of us off and I’m still not over it. I’m sorry, but not sorry. My ongoing displeasure with that is just going to be a thing.
While a lot of the differences between the books and the show often cause a lot of ire for book fans like myself, having Daenerys and Tyrion meet was actually quite incredible. My Game of Thrones End Game has Tyrion possibly serving as the hand for Daenerys, so seeing it propelling in that direction at a rapid pace has me quite excited. These are two of my top three favorite characters and they play off each other in a beautiful, if somewhat reserved way. These are two characters who have heard a great deal about each other, but have never met. They seem to have an uneasy respect towards each other. They haven’t earned each others trust yet, but they are both willing to take a chance on each other. I need more of this in my life. Every single second between them was brilliant and I’m glad they took the show here.
While Daenerys and Tyrion take two of my top three favorite character spots, the third goes to Arya. Maisie Williams has some incredible acting chops. We know this already. But seeing her stretch her range with the current state of Arya’s story is really enjoyable. She’s on her own journey, removed from everyone else at this point. She’s discovering who she is at her core by putting on the faces of others. I want to see more of her evolution, but I don’t want to see her plot get stuck in a rut when everything else is moving so quickly. I love Arya. I love Braavos. I love the Many Face God. But I’d love all of this a lot more if her pacing kept up with the rest of the show. Either way, I’m happy to see Maisie get a chance to spread her acting wings week after week. Well done.
My feelings about Cersei’s plot are complicated. She’s definitely dug this hole for herself, but I’m kind of tired of seeing women get so battered this season. I don’t want to say much more about her plot as it ventures into book spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that the impact of what Cersei’s going through is worse on the heals of what happened to Sansa these past few episodes. Despite the fact that Cersei essentially put herself in this position, I do feel bad for her. She’s fallen incredibly far and, while she’s not exactly the cuddliest character on the planet, this is some pretty awful torture she’s being put through. Whether this torture will humble her at all or only strengthen her resolve against the rest of the world remains to be seen. I’m not looking forward to this. Had this season not already laid the violence and torture against women on so thickly, I might be in a better frame of mind to handle her story. As it is, this seems another step too far, despite my foreknowledge about her plot.
Speaking of Sansa, it seems that Theon’s plot is playing out much the same way that it is in the books, but it’s pretty horrible for reasons we’ve already mentioned at length. I would care much more about Theon’s pain if Sansa were a minor character like Jeyne Poole was. Alas, this entire plot has been completely ruined for me and I don’t know if it’ll be able to recover. I don’t blame Theon for how horrible this played out. His character has been through Hell and he does deserve sympathy. But I just can’t bring myself to care as much as I should because of the reasons already mentioned. In fact, I’ve talked about my displeasure at this plot so much in other articles that I’m not going to waste another word on it. Just read the article I linked to earlier and go from there. Moving on…
The story up at The Wall hasn’t been holding my attention as much as the other stories happening in the rest of the world. It’s been sort of stuck in a rut for the past few episodes. Besides the sweetness between Sam and Gilly and the whole voting thing earlier this season, I can’t really remember much of what’s been happening. This week, however, made up for lost time. It’s hard for me to come up with words beyond ‘wow’ and ‘holy crap’ and ‘I have no idea what just happened but I’m excited.’ There was a massive attack on the Wildling’s camp at Hardhome, resulting in most of the Wildlings being killed and subsequently turned into Wights. Only a small percent of them managed to make it onto the boats and escape before the attack decimated them. Now the Wall, which was already weak to begin with, is facing an even bigger army of undead that are heading right for them.
I’m so on board with this plot, guys. So on board. I mean, I don’t want my favorites to die, of course, but this is the type of drama and tension that gets me excited and proud to be a Game of Thrones fan. I almost thought I wouldn’t ever feel this way again. I thought the entire show had been irrevocably damaged. Thankfully, not all of the show has been tainted by the overly sexualized violence this season. Can we have more of this bizarre of stuff happening north of the Wall? And more Daenerys and Tyrion please? And, like, 98% less violent sexual assaults? This isn’t even me being a diehard book fan, guys. Most of my favorite stuff that happened this episode had nothing to do with the books. This is me just getting tired of women being used to up the stakes in violent scenes by turning things into yet another sexual assault. And I’m tired of women being consistently being written to further men’s pain. When there are so many incredibly awesome things happening elsewhere on this show, those parts just feel super lazy. This show deserves better. The viewers deserve better. The source material deserves better. And this show is quite clearly capable of delivering better, so let’s step away from the sexual assault and start producing more of this awesome stuff.
Stephanie “Angel” Wilson is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. She earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. She’s contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. She’s written for Friends of Comic Con and has essays published in Fandom Frontlines.
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