Review: ‘Game of Thrones’ season 5, episode 2 – “The House of Black and White”

by W. Andrew Powell
Maisie Williams

Game of Thrones season 5, episode 2 – “The House of Black and White”

“The House of Black and White” is where things start to get interesting in Game of Thrones‘ fifth season. On almost all sides of the story, things are starting to move in new directions, whether you’re talking about Podrick and Brienne, Cersei, or maybe most especially, Arya Stark or Jon Snow.

Perhaps the most long-awaited storyline for many fans will be what kicks off the second episode: Arya (Maisie Williams) arrives in Braavos to make her way to this episode’s moniker, the House of Black and White. What awaits for Arya inside will have to wait until the next few weeks as she will spend this episode just trying to earn her way in, but this storyline promises to give us a new Arya that I can only imagine is bound for a greater destiny in the overall story.

The transient nature of this episode should be fairly obvious–although you could say that most of the series is actually about all of the characters being transients from one degree to another–when realize that three of the main story lines are all about getting somewhere.

Podrick Payne and Brienne of Tarth stumble upon Sansa Stark and Petyr Baelish, which leads to a chase sequence through the woods.

Jamie Lannister is off on a mission to Dorne with the former sell-sword Bronn to save Jamie’s daughter after his sister, Cersei, receives a troubling “message”.

And of course Lord Varys and Tyrion are also on their way to Mereen to find Daenerys Targaryen, the Mother of Dragons, but this episode all we get is their discussion about the trip, and the fact that Tyrion was not such a bad leader when he was in charge of King’s Landing.

Those stories all still show us just how much setup is required this season for what’s to come, and there’s still a lot of work to be done to get the storylines active, but trust me when I say that the next two episodes after this are much more exciting.

That said, we do get an exceptional series of scenes at Castle Black as Jon Snow essentially turns down Stannis Baratheon’s offer to become Jon Stark if he’ll just bend the knee to the would-be king. Instead, Jon tells his good pal Sam about the offer, and his plan to stay put, and Sam essentially gets Jon the title of Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. The speech by actor John Bradley is a stand-out so far this season, and it leads to a very fulfilling arc that will play out over the next two episodes.

Back at King’s Landing, my other favorite moment happens to be with Cersei, who gets put in her place just a little at the Small Council meeting. More of the same is on the way elsewhere in King’s Landing, but for now this was a great moment to bask in, if you aren’t a fan of Cersei.

Finally, there’s poor Daenerys in Mereen. Her fight with the Sons of the Harpy has not been going well, and this episode things go from bad to worse as one man’s loyalty leads to a revolt. The only thing that could raise Daenerys’ spirits is also what could be the most dire news for Mereen: Drogon is back, and while he’s not exactly going wild, he’s still not under the dragon mother’s control either.

“The House of Black and White” is a necessary, but somewhat unfulfilling episode for Game of Thrones that could only be improved by a longer runtime. The series is effectively juggling about a dozen plotlines that are only starting to come together, and from what I understand of the books at this point, the producers have also had to work to boil down a lot of material into one satisfying season.

That means that you can’t get into some of the more epic events this season (wait until you see episode four, “The Sons of the Harpy”) without a little work, and even at its most calculating moments, Game of Thrones is paying fans with a number of pivotal scenes that just feel so good they need to be savoured. If Sam’s speech wasn’t enough for fans tonight, the return of Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) had to bring a few smiles out, but for me it was hard to top the very subtle moments with Peter Vaughan as Maester Aemon, as he not only smiled at the craven nature of Janos Slynt, but the moment when he added his vote to give Jon Snow his new title.

It’s moments like these–with solid, beautifully realized characters–that make the show so compelling, and it only seems to get better each and every season, so I’ll gladly give the series a little more time to get ready for the bigger, startling moments, since I know the work will most likely pay off in the end.

Game of Thrones airs on HBO and HBO Canada Sundays at 9:00 PM (ET).

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