Last week saw the premiere of "Game of Thrones" season five with "The Wars To Come," which laid the long list of enemies the Lannisters have earned. Yet there was one Lannister-loather left out of the episode completely: the wily Arya Stark, who nightly recites the names of Cersei and her cronies as a twisted lullaby. But episode two, "The House of Black and White," kicks off with Arya, safe aboard a Braavos-bound boat that's nearly arrived. And we see Arya smile for the first time since, I don't know--since Hot Pie gave her that awkward dire wolf bread?
At long last, Arya has reason to be happy, or at least optimistic. She has escaped the Stark slaughterhouse that is King's Landing, the clutches of the Hound, and reach of Cersei Lannister. Now, she's just a few steps away from reuniting with Jaqen H'ghar and learning the secrets of the Faceless Men! Except this is an episode of thwarted ambitions. So nothing will come so easy.
While Arya is being ejected from The House of Black and White, Sansa is rejecting the help of the bumbling but beloved Brienne and Podrick. It's easy to sneer at Sansa's decision, but that's because we know Brienne and just how downright honorable she is. She would keep Sansa safe, wouldn't she? Well, she'd try.
Ned Stark's bloody example proved being honorable isn't a great survival tactic in Westeros. Sansa saw that first hand. And as Littlefinger smugly points out, Brienne's track record as a bodyguard sucks, ranking 0 for 2 (Renly Baratheon and Catelyn Stark). So as far as Sansa's concerned, Brienne is a major risk factor. Ironically, Littlefinger is not. Or anyway, not for the girl who's got him wrapped around her little finger. Sansa knows where she stands with Littlefinger, and knows how far he'd go to keep her safe. It's a repulsive alliance. But frankly, it's the best option she has. For now. After all: Dark Wings, Dark Words. And where are they headed?
"I will burn their cities to the ground if they touch her!"
Back at King's Landing, Cersei is in a panic that the death of Oberyn Martell (whimper) will mean Dornish retribution will fall on Princess Myrcella. Why didn't she think of this last season before the trial by combat took place? Well, she's Cersei. She's not much for the longview. With Tywin gone and no one else to be trusted, Cersei manipulates her brother/lover Jaime to covertly sneak to Dorne and reclaim their daughter/niece. Because Jaime "The Kingslayer" Lannister -- with his golden hair and golden hand -- is totally the kind of guy who can sneak around into enemy territories unnoticed. Uh huh. Better get some backup. And who better than a bloke known for backing hopeless Lannisters?
For a brief moment we're given a peak into the quiet life of a lord he could have had. A nice enough wife that he'd be nice enough to. A big beautiful house that he'd claim by killing off his nice enough wife's mean older sister. In "Game of Thrones," that's about as happy an ending as you're likely to get.
But then here comes Jaime with news and a "one last job" scenario. Man, the nerve of Jaime to smile as he essentially orders Bronn into a suicide mission. But let's take a moment to consider. Even if these two make it into Dorne undetected, do they really believe they'll stay that way long enough to break into the palace? And even if they are able to escape with Myrcella, how does the King explain when they return to King's Landing? Basically, isn't kidnapping the princess given to Dorne a potential war starter? Without Tywin and Tyrion the House of Lannister is becoming The House of Usher.
Lucky for Cersei, that snake statue was not a message from Oberyn's brother, Prince Doran. More likely, it was a "gift" from Oberyn's enraged paramour Ellaria Sand. Having witnessed his grim end at the hands of The Mountain, she's returned home to rally her people to war. But Doran points out Oberyn's death -- though all kinds of messed up -- was legal. Ellaria won't get her war if Doran has anything to do with it.
"Every pile of shit has someone's banner on it."
En route to Mereen, Tyrion and Varys vent about being trapped in boxes both literal and metaphorical. Both have minds made to rule, but their otherness (being a dwarf and eunuch respectively) makes them too "repulsive" to appeal to the masses as a ruler must. Drunken Tyrion seethes over his time in the spotlight, his bit of power as the King's Hand. Then he confesses how being drunk on that power kept him from fleeing with Shae when he had the chance. Oh, Shae. Gone but not forgotten.
His grief is totally understandable, but Tyrion better pull himself together before he meets up with Daenerys. She'll need him with a clear head to help her sort out the omnishambles that is the new Mereen. Sons of the Harpy are slaying Unsullied. Her own adviser has murdered the rebel SotH, against Dany's order. Now to maintain the "law is the law" edict she herself set, Dany must execute Mossador, a slave who fought and lost his father for the freed Mereen. It's the latest in a long line of tough choices she's made on her charge to the Iron Throne. But this one sparks an unintentional riot that has silence turn to hissing turn to literal stone-throwing to class warfare in the streets!
Run, Dany, Run!
We can't talk about thwarted ambition without talking Stannis Baratheon. He's won the war at Castle Black. But now he needs to gather forces to march south to King's Landing and reclaim that throne for the rightful Baratheons! Looping in the Wildlings didn't work out, but how about appealing to the Northerners by banking on their loyalty to the Starks? Stannis dangles the carrot that is Jon Snow's first ever desperate wish. If he bends the knee in service to Stannis, he'll be made a Stark, by decree of the "king." Jon could reclaim Winterfell and restore honor to the name Stark. What more could he want? (I mean, Ygritte back. But realistically.)
However, Snow's nothing if not a man of his word, and so he sticks with the Night's Watch. And in a rare thing for this show, he gets a win! Lord Commander Snow has a nice ring to it.
Then the episode concludes with two more wins! Arya is allowed entry to The House of Black and White because… actually, why did Jaqen change his mind? Because she threw the coin in the ocean? Because she killed a pigeon and faced down some wannabe ruffians? I mean, I'm stoked they're reunited, so I barely care about the why. But frankly I expect better from this show than "just because."
Lastly, Dany, shaken from all that hissing and rioting, has a moment of hope when Drogon returns. He's bigger than ever, a wonder to behold. And he won't be tamed. So… yay? Actually, Dany seems pleased but is his return a good thing? After all, dark wings tend to bring bad news.
Lots to ponder on 'til next week...
- "Bunch?! What's a bunch? Six? Twenty?" I will never tire of annoyed Brienne.
- Things Pod is bad at: assessing enemy forces, riding a horse, rock throwing. Things Pod is good at: spotting lords and ladies, ducking.
- As much as I love Brienne I wish she'd figure out honesty isn't always the best policy. People don't need to know you and The Kingslayer are buds. They don't need to hear that a shadow with Stannis's face killed Renly.
- Every time Pod and Brienne are onscreen I'm filled with a mix of elation and fear. I love their buddy-cop vibe, but am always anxious that each misadventure will be their last.
- That's Valyrian steel for you: it cuts through swords and necks like butter!
- Myrcella could not stick out more in Dorne. Her pastel pink dress clashes with the jewel-toned environments that surround her. Her pale blond hair and porcelain skin becomes exotic against the olive flesh and dark locks of the Dornish. I wonder if she'll actually get any lines of dialogue, or will just be the prettiest McGuffin "Game of Thrones" has yet seen.
- "Meanness comes around." Sure, Bronn. Tell that to Cersei.
- I get why Mossador had to die. But after the lengthy discussions this show has had about who should wield the sword during a death sentence, I'm disappointed in Dany. Ned Stark taught us that it's the lord/lady of the land who must deliver the blow. But Dany passed it off to Daario just like Joffrey did to Ilyn Payne!
- Speaking of Ilyn Payne, how did he get off Arya's hit list?
- Uncle Kevin is not impressed by Cersei's casual coup.
- Selyse Baratheon is one cold mother. I mean, say what you will about Cersei, but she at least loves her children. When Selyse looks at Shireen, all she sees is her own failure to give Stannis a son and heir. But her resentment is puzzling when you consider her faith in the Lord of Light. If Shireen lived, she must have a purpose by Selyse's beliefs. Also, Melisandre told Selyse that directly. So back off, mom!
- Stannis has to work really hard to make allies. This is the kind of thing that might make him want to reflect on his whole being king gambit.
- Sometimes "Game of Thrones" gives us little victories. Samwell Tarly brushing off the jokes about Gilly and talking trash on Janos Slint (in service to getting Jon elected) is one of those rare and lovely moments. Let us savor it before winter comes.
- And now for a bit of fun: