The first episode of Season 5, The Wars To Come spent a little too long spinning its wheels and dwelling on the series’ past. It wasn’t a major misstep, but it was a mixed-bag that left some, myself included, wondering if the series’ lustre had begun to fade. Thankfully, The House of Black and White is a strong improvement that boldly begins to move Game of Thrones into new territory.
Game of Thrones: ‘The House of Black and White’ Review
Warning – Spoilers Ahead
The confrontation between Brienne, Sansa and Baelish in the bar was a highlight here. For a moment it seemed like the writers would be cruelly-taunting audiences with yet-another near miss between Brienne and Sansa – but then, things took a different path. Last season, the show began to dip its toes into the realm of post-book material but with The House of Black and White it began its inevitable descent into uncharted waters.
In Meereen, Dany forced to make a hard decision as part of her rule – a plotline with a familiar premise that ended in a refreshing and surprising amount of bloodshed. Dany’s string of poor decisions are adding up and her grip on Mereen may be more fragile than she thinks. A reality that Barristan was all too keen to remind her as he dealt her the hard truth about her father – a moment that book-fans have been awaiting for seasons now.
Elsewhere, it was a delight to see the show follow through on Tyrion’s all-too-literal promise to “drink himself to death on the road to Meereen”. It’s nice to see Peter Dinklage explore new territory with Tyrion’s character and I’m interested to see how far the alliance between the two will take them.
Jon also had some strong scenes this week. Stannis offer of legitimizing his claim to The North opens some compelling possibilities for the story to take – even if Jon has chosen to stay true to the Watch for now. It was also nice to see The Night’s Watch stand united and relatively-civil when it came to electing their new leader. The arguments put forth for the candidates felt logical and legitimate rather than driven by personal agendas and the disunity that’s rife within the ranks.
The other plotline to garner significant screentime this week concerned Arya’s arrival in Braavos. Stannis’ brief trip to Braavos last season only featured a handful of interior-scenes and it was cool to see the oft-referenced locale brought to life. There was a great sense of place to the scenery and I loved the way Arya’s scenes echoed the major influences on her growth as a character.
We also got our first look at Dorne – courtesy of a brief encounter between Doran Martell and Ellaria Sands. Alexander Siddig nailed it in this scene and did a great job of establishing the head of the Martell family as someone not to be messed with.
Though King’s Landing is beginning to take a back-seat in terms of importance (as it does with this stage of the books), the politics of the capitol remained engaging this week. Cersei’s friction with both Pycelle and Kevan was fun to behold – but I did wonder why it didn’t elicit more of a reaction from Mace Tyrell.
After a premier that I found a little-underwhelming, The House of Black and White felt like a new beginning for the series. We may only be two episodes into the season, but the relative-peace left in the wake of Tywin Lannister’s death seems more fragile than ever. The wheels are finally turning and, for the first time ever, neither show nor book watchers know which direction they will lead.