After seven slow and tempestuous hours, the Game of Thrones wheel finally begins to turn.
Episode eight is the first time we’ve seen an extended setpiece with all the violence and brutality on display we have come to expect from this show.
The episode begins as has become the norm, flitting between the storylines but now the wheel is well and truly turning with a script that was not only exciting but, concise.
Arya’s brief screen time was excellent. More is revealed about the way in which the Faceless men work and Arya is doing what she has wanted to for so long.
Her scenes function as a brief training montage but develop her story so well that it begs the question: Why has it taken so long for Thrones to get the hang of this season?
Daenerys finally gets to bandy words with Tyrion. In an obvious turn of events Tyrion quickly wins her over with his gilded-tongue and in return is allowed to do her the favour of being her advisor.
Scenes of the two have been widely anticipated and the meeting does not disappoint, Daenerys is on top form, striking a path somewhere between Cersei and Margaery.
There’s a little bit of foreshadowing: something fans of the books have been speculating about for years (RT+LS=JS!).
Whether it will come to fruition remains to be seen, though George RR Martin himself has also hinted…
Tyrion bluntly explains the situation in Westeros to Daenerys, offering possibly her first taste of truly helpful council and maybe the least biased?
If at any moment Daenerys looks as if she is reconsidering she quickly reasserts herself: “I am not going to stop the wheel. I am going to break the wheel.”
Jorah is banished from Meereen but is spared his life, supposedly by Tyrion but would Daenerys ever really muster the malice required to kill Jorah?
Unwilling to stray too far from his mistress’ side, Jorah returns to his slaver and bargains his way into the fighting pits, determined to win – to prove his love, or loyalty, or something.
Thankfully, Sansa reclaims some of her autonomy this week, attacking Reek for his part in her traumas; she is rightfully hard on him refusing him her sympathy.
In exchange for her callousness she is rewarded with the knowledge that her younger brothers may be alive, somewhere.
Only briefly the show returns to King’s Landing to show us Cersei still incarcerated in the cells beneath the Sept. This is more than enough to show just how low Cersei has been brought, licking water from the floor like a dog.
As the High Sparrow promised we are being shown Cersei stripped of all her finery.
The last half of this episode is given over entirely to Jon’s trip to Hardhome to rescue the Wildlings from the White Walker threat.
A surprise addition to the cast is Birgitte Hjort Sørensen (of Borgen fame). She becomes a fast favourite, displaying true Wildling credentials if a tad posh. Sørensen’s character Karsi is an example of Game of Thrones at its very best.
This whole episode is an example of Thrones at its very best.
There was not a wasted word; the characters were three dimensional and raw. Karsi probably only had ten lines but she established herself as an incredible character in the first three.
Sadly we all know what happens to fan favourites…
The scene at Hardhome shows us again the brutality of life north of the wall; the Wildlings ruthlessly abandon their own kin to a fate worse than death.
The army of White Walkers and wights (there is a difference, keep up) reveals its innumerable size as it breaks through the mystical mists in a superb high angle shot overlooking the aptly named Hardhome.
What follows is an intense 20minute battle sequence, one of the best.
Keep an eye out for the importance of Valyrian steel.
Finally, a character known as the Night’s King is revealed to be the orchestrator of the White Walkers as he raises himself a new army of the dead.
The importance of the Night’s King was actually a secret that not even book-readers knew. In the books he is only a legendary figure mentioned in pasing by Ygritte.
He first appeared last season (he was the one who made Craster’s son’s eyes turn blue) but HBO accidently let slip his name and fans put two and two together and came up with holy crap!
If the last two episodes are of a similar calibre the season will go out on a high after a very rocky seven hours, however, the last two episodes are directed by the fifth director of this season: David Nutter, who has directed TV pilots including The Mentalist, the never-ending Supernatural and the upcoming Supergirl.
Let’s hope that Benioff and Weiss having got the hang of writing a decent script again can keep up momentum and that next week’s director took notes.
The wheel must turn a little more before it can be broken.
Image courtesy of HBO, via YouTube, with thanks.