TV Show Review

TV Review: GAME OF THRONES: Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome [HBO]

HBO’s Game of Thrones Hardhome TV Show ReviewGame of Thrones: Season 5, Episode 8: Hardhome is an exhilarating hour of television, offering the kind of cinematic action sequence usually reserved for the penultimate episode of each season. While Hardhome provided several exciting developments for the show’s main characters, most of the episode focused on Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) face to face in Meereen and Jon Snow’s (Kit Harington) travels north of the wall.

Television is a visual medium. Television conditions its audience to respond to the biggest shapes, brightest colours and fastest moving objects on the screen. In 2015, nothing engages viewer’s short attention spans like quick bursts of visual cacophonies. Our natural inclination to focus on the audacious is what made Hardhome’s director, Miguel Sapochnik’s choice to bookend this episode with silence all the more bold.

As the episode began and the camera lingered in Daenerys’ throne room, a suffocating silence hung in the air so thick and heavy one could choke on it. We watched as two beloved characters, Tyrion and Jorah’s (Ian Glen) lives hung in the balance of a cynical Queen that had been hunted by people both men were guilty of colluding with. As an audience, we know that Tyrion is the key to the languid Meereen storyline finally moving forward. The show has telegraphed this moment for weeks, the books have held off on this storyline for almost 20 years and yet, the camera just silently floated through the scene like a lily pad drifting across a pond.

When the silence finally broke, the conversation between Tyrion and Daenerys provided many of the questions and answers the audience waited so long to hear. So often, shows bring together characters that share a mutual goal only to keep them from having the kind of dialogue that would move their arcs forward in a convincing way. It was a relief to see how quickly Daenerys and Tyrion came to the understanding that they share mutual interests which are best served by working together.

Every guy that plays it cool while hitting on women is familiar with the negging tactic and it was fun watching Tyrion “neg” Daenerys while proving his value.  Tyrion intrigued Daenerys by telling her she may not be worthy of his services. In doing so, Tyrion established that he wasn’t desperate for her acceptance and planted the seed in her mind that he is a man of principals. Tyrion’s stirring “Started from the bottom now you’re here” recounting of Daenerys humble rise from vagrant child to conqueror of empires also helped convey his earnest desire to rebuild The Seven Kingdoms.

The most compelling part of Hardhome is that the episode may have defined where Game of Thrones central story is headed. From the first episode and onwards, Game of Thrones consistently told a story about power, and the lengths which people go to acquire and maintain it. For thousands of years, the perpetual cycle of power begetting violence has carried on no matter who has sat atop the iron throne. Daenerys’ declaration that she will “stop the wheel” means that she intends to completely stamp out the power vacuum, destroying the infighting between houses and redefining the very existence of the Seven Kingdoms.

Tyrion’s defining Daenerys as the right kind of terrible, one that “keeps her people from being more terrible” is one of the most telling statements about the show and how the story will unfold over the remaining 2 seasons (22 episodes). Season after season, Game of Thrones has delivered a brutal world where the worst thing that can happen often does. The show doesn’t give us happy moments as much as breaks from our despair, like letting a prisoner out of solitary confinement long enough to stretch their legs before sending them back in to serve their life sentence. Tyrion believes that although the world will never be good, he and Daenerys can impose their will to the extent that it will keep the world from remaining terrible. For thousands of years, the Seven Kingdom’s most powerful houses played the game of thrones the way kids at birthday parties play musical chairs. Daenerys and Tyrion’s master plan is to destroy the established power structure once and for all.

I love watching Game of Thrones, but it is a gloomy show. As unwaveringly ominous as Game of Thrones tends to be, the show’s brief moments on the streets of Braavos are always a pleasant diversion.  The series spends most of its time wallowing in the dark valley of despair. Looking at the colourful, bustling streets of Braavos feels like climbing to that dark valley’s edge and staring at the sunrise breaking through the clouds. I enjoy catching glimpses of a corner of the world that is more concerned with the price of clams at the local fish market than choosing an allegiance between the Bolton’s and the Baratheons. What makes Game of Thrones special is the way it creates a world so expansive yet painstakingly detailed. The vibrant streets of Braavos feels so warm and carefree, it’s as though winter could no more arrive on its borders than a pebble could stop a charging rhino.

Arya’s (Maisie Williams) storyline started to become interesting again after several repetitive weeks where not much happened. Arya finally moved on from manicuring the fingernails of corpses and looks to be on a clear path to becoming a master assassin. The biggest question right now is how committed Arya is to her faceless man training.  Arya is the most rebellious character on the show and we have not seen any reason to believe that she wouldn’t fall back into being Arya Stark given the right circumstances.

Sansa (Sophie Turner) had a brief yet powerful moment that will also have a major impact on how her story unfolds. Sansa is a prisoner in her own home, trapped and isolated with nowhere to turn. The only tool at Sansa’s disposal is Reek (Alfie Allen), and it was satisfying watching her put some bass in her voice and dominating what is left of his shattered humanity. Finding out that her brothers were not murdered sparked a fire inside of Sansa, one that will add further incentive for her to escape or overthrow the Boltons.

A big theme of Hardhome was how violence becomes a cycle. Daenerys touched on the theme as she vowed to break the cycle of war between the major houses; later on, Olly (Brenock O’Connor) discusses the cycle with Sam (John Bradley), mentioning his hostility toward the wildlings stems from the slaughter of his family, and later on, the wildings express a hatred of The Night’s Watch stemming from thousands of years of persecution. Jon explains that each side must embrace their mutual interest, survival, or face a mutual demise. Even though Jon’s words make the most sense, both The Night’s Watch and the wildlings cannot move past their shared history of bloodshed. It is only during the invasion by the white walkers, when survival literally means cooperation that both sides finally come to terms.

Who saw the ending of Hardhome coming? For the past 4 years, Game of Thrones saved each season’s giant action set piece for episode 9. Was the battle with the walkers the season’s big action sequence or is there more to come next week? If what happened in Hardhome is the season’s big battle, I have no complaints. Game of Thrones didn’t just raise the bar for blockbuster action sequences on television, Game of Thrones strapped the bar to a rocket and fired it into off into orbit. The onslaught of walkers crashing through the wildling’s gates was both terrifying and exhilarating. For years, Game of Thrones depicted the walkers as boogy-men, a vague threat that popped up occasionally to remind the audience of the terrors beyond the wall. Hardhome provided a clear look at the sheer force of their horde and gave the audience an idea of how unprepared the Seven Kingdoms are for the looming walker invasion.

Hardhome spent its last 15 minutes serving up a frenetic display of swordplay, the undead and a giant wielding a flaming log, and yet, it was the deafening silence during the closing moments that lingered in my mind long after the credits rolled. Much like he began the episode, Miguel Sapochnik utilized silence with the deft touch of a fugu chef carving up the rarest of dishes, one that toes the line between delicacy and disaster. The episode closed without a driving musical score, with no main character’s life hanging in the balance, only silence as Jon looked across the water at the walker army and saw the destruction of Westeros staring back at him. For years the show has warned the audience that winter is coming. For that one silent moment, as Jon locked eyes with the leader of the undead horde, winter was here.

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About the author

Victor Stiff

Born and raised in Toronto, Victor has spent the past decade using his love and knowledge of the city to highlight and promote significant cultural events such as TIFF, The IIIFA awards, and the Anokhi Gala. He is an avid reader of Sci-fi and Horror and constantly sits through indie film marathons in rabid anticipation of the genre’s next great film auteurs. He also contributes sci-fi and fantasy movie reviews to

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