The season has struggled a bit in recent weeks to overcome the midseason torpor that settled in after episode four, and "Hardhome" tossed all of that aside like a giant tearing apart a wight (wights are the resurrected corpses the White Walkers travel with). It was the season's best episode, crowned by one of the show's best-ever action sequences — and Game of Thrones is a show that knows good action sequences.
Let's go to the tape.
1) The wildlings and Night's Watch face off with the White Walkers and pals
Jon and Tormund travel north of the Wall to convince the wildlings that, hey, maybe it's a good idea for them to move south of the Wall, where there isn't the constant threat of death by White Walker.
It's all part of the episode's larger theme, which is the idea that people are at their best when they're coming together to make the world a better place and/or fight off gigantic, existential threats to their existence. This is explicitly mentioned in the scenes involving Dany (who wants to break the ever-turning "wheel" of power that crushes the common folk), and it comes up again and again as Jon tries to convince the wildlings that their common cause is stronger than the old grudges that drive the wildlings and the Night's Watch apart.
That common cause, of course, is best exemplified by an invasion of Hardhome by wight and White Walker alike.
The action sequence (which will take up two points on this list, so amazing is it) is beautifully staged by director Miguel Sapochnik and scripted by showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. They set the sequence so that the wights are constantly reaching through a giant wall made of wood, while the wildlings struggle to push them back, eventually being utterly routed, so the survivors must take to the sea, licking their wounds.
It's glorious, sustained action, and, even better, it's utterly unexpected. It'll be tough for the season's final two episodes to top this.
Back to the White Walkers in a moment. But first...
2) Tyrion aces Daenerys's job interview
Tyrion's traveled a long way to meet the Mother of Dragons, and when he gets to her, she eventually remarks that the smartest thing to do would be to kill him. He realizes that, too, but he also thinks he could offer her the kind of advice that would take her from being the queen of a few cities around Slaver's Bay in Essos to the queen of the Seven Kingdoms.
The first test Dany sets for Tyrion is to determine what to do with Jorah, whom she doesn't terribly want to see ever again. He manages to save Jorah's life, but the knight is banished from Meereen and returns to the fighting pits. (He also takes a long look at the blemish the Stone Men gave him, just so we can remember that his greyscale affliction is happening.) Tyrion's solution impresses Dany enough that the two kick back with some wine, where she reveals her ultimate plans after finally deciding to bring him on board the Targaryen train.
It's what she says later, though, that really gives this episode some kick. After Tyrion says that she'll need to win over the rich and the common people, not just the latter, Dany reveals that she doesn't particularly care about the current power structure. Targaryen, Stark, Lannister, Baratheon, Tyrell — they're all just spokes on the same wheel that keeps crushing the little guys, she says. And she aims to break that wheel.
It's a pretty breathtaking moment, and it clarifies the series' whole view of power — it's only worth something if you're using it to better the lives of others.
3) Arya becomes an oyster peddler
In and of itself, this sequence isn't as thrilling as anything else listed here, but Sapochnik's direction gives it a lot of light and life, something this season has sorely needed.
At the direction of Jaqen, Arya becomes a lowly oyster seller down by the canals of Braavos. He forces her to learn an elaborate backstory that she'll use to pretend she's always been this other person. It's the follow-up to what he said to her a couple of weeks ago — she's finally ready to become someone else.
Arya discovers some of the joys of becoming another person, then stumbles upon further intrigue down by the canals. But what makes this sequence so captivating is the way it breaks up the rest of the episode. Sometimes, checking in with a character who's disconnected from everybody else on the show can feel like Game of Thrones crossing a chore off its list, but this sequence is almost a little short film, tossed into the middle of everything else. It's downright charming.
4) Sansa finds out her brothers are alive
Sansa, still a de facto prisoner of her husband, Ramsay, angrily accosts Theon for all of the terrible shit he's delivered into her life (and not without reason), but amid her barrage of accusations, he accidentally lets slip something that he's only told Ramsay before — Bran and Rickon are alive somewhere.
It's a shoe that's been waiting to drop on both page and screen, where Sansa (quite logically) believes herself the only remaining Stark child. But if Bran is still alive, then he's the rightful heir to Ned's throne, thanks to the Seven Kingdoms' patriarchal system, and finding him will be of paramount importance. And if Bran is somehow gone, then Rickon (whom we haven't seen in years) is a great backup king.
In better times, Sansa might have wanted to be Wardeness of the North. These are not those times. And what's even better is that knowing Bran is alive gives her another piece of kindling to add to the fire she's building around Ramsay. It's not quite enough to extricate her from the awful situation she's in, but it's something, at least. It's also a crucial link between the Sansa who is and the Theon who was — and has been replaced by Reek.
5) Jon's sword can kill White Walkers
For those who are curious, Jon's sword is made of Valyrian steel, and that specific sort of steel's ability to kill White Walkers has long been discussed by book fans. You can read more about it in our post on the series' adaptation choices.
For everybody else, all you need to know is that this happened:
Look out, everyone. Winter is coming.
And it's bringing White Walkers with it.
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