Thursday 14 December 2017

Review: Game of Thrones, The House of Black and White

Stannis Baratheon and his army move north in series 5 of 'Game of Thrones'
Stannis Baratheon and his army move north in series 5 of 'Game of Thrones'
Ed Power

Ed Power

One of Game Of Thrones' great charms is its refusal to furnish the viewer with moral signposts

In this world of endless ambivalence and ethical murk, the distinction between hero and villain is often grey indeed – so that you can find yourself rooting for characters that, by rights, you ought to hate. Is that as the show intended? We have no idea – and therein lies GoT's particular allure.

This was made apparent in the second episode of season five as, against their better judgment, the viewer might have found themselves siding with Cersei and Jaime as they received a missive from Dorne insinuating that the life of their daughter was in jeopardy.

Let us be clear: Cersei (Lena Headey) is a monster, Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) toxically self-regarding, possibly psychopathic. But how they light up the screen – when Jaime announced he would depart for Dorne and rescue their child from the exotic natives (known for their progressive ways and so, naturally, an anathema to the Lannisters), you were practically cheering him on.

He's a twisted, amoral rogue – yet endlessly charming. If the Kingslayer's impeding buddy-movie trek south with reluctant sidekick Bronn is half as enjoyable as his series three hook-up with Brienne, consider us won over already.

The hero/villain dynamic is playing out in precisely the opposite fashion when it comes to the Mother of Dragons. We ought to be yelling Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) on as, Iraq War -style, she seeks to remake the political conventions of a half-understood country in the distant east.

However, it is increasingly obvious that it is going to require more than eloquent speeches – and two dragons in the basement – to remold Meereen's centuries old culture of indentured servitude and gladiatorial blood-letting. It seems Dany is setting herself up for fall – should we feel bad because it's weirdly enjoyable to watch?

With the Sons of The Harpy ratcheting up their campaign to restore the hegemony of the slave-holders, she was this week forced into a ruthlessness that did not sit easily.

When a trusted advisor took it upon himself to execute a member of the Sons of the Harpy awaiting judgement, Dany ordered the ally's beheading – in the face of Ser Barristan's caution that her father, the Mad King, had too often taken the bloody path rather than the conciliatory one, ultimately turning the populace against him.

This was an exquisite showcase for Clarke's acting – Dany visibly swirled with emotions as she gazed out at her hooting, howling subjects and then, nodding imperceptibly, ordered her super Daario lover proceed with the execution. As head was cleaved from neck, you could almost hear a powder-keg go off and it dawned on Dany that Meereen didn't want a just ruler, it wanted a strong one.

You were also torn watching Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) confront Sad Sansa –in addition to dressing head to toe in black she has taken a vow of grumpiness – and Littlefinger. On the one hand, it is understandable that the Stark princess (Sophie Turner) would be alarmed by a wild woman with a sword stepping from the blue to pledge loyalty.  Nonetheless, Brienne's fealty was genuine and who could doubt that Sansa would be safer under her protection than that of slippery Littlefinger ? (at least Aidan Gillen has ditched the 'Charlie' accent).

If there was a weak note, it was the return of Arya (Maisie Williams), who rocked up in Braavos and at the House of Black and White in search of Jaqen H'ghar of the Faceless Men.

She was initially given the bum's rush by a cowled stranger – then invited back, possibly by the same individual (who, it was suggested, was Jaqen in disguise).

Where is Arya's arc leading? Unless you've read the novels –  ever more divergent from the TV show anyway – it's hard to fathom what she hopes to accomplish crossing the Narrow Sea.

You fear her storyline may sag slightly this season – along with that of perpetually peeved Jon Snow (Kit Harington), now Commander of the Night's Watch – and that the real sport will be back in the Seven Kingdoms as Jaime heads south and Cersei attempts to impose her will on the ruling council at King's Landing. For now, the villains in Westeros  have all the best lines.

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