Last week on Game of Thrones, we witnessed various examples of people dealing with their demons, either literally (as with Dany and her dragons) or figuratively (Tyrion dealing with his new role as Dadslayer). This week’s episode, “The House of Black and White,” continues the first episode’s pacing and purpose: we pay visits to the characters we hold dear, but we also get treated to new glimpses of new countries and cultures.
If I had to guess at one overarching theme of this episode, I would say it was the struggle for female empowerment. Arya, Brienne, Cersei, and Daenerys took huge steps this episode into taking a seat at exclusively-male-dominated tables. Ellia Sand seems eager to lead an army to war. Even Gilly is learning how to read! It is becoming very apparent that the future of Westeros, no matter who comes out on top at the end, can very well rest in the hands of a woman.
Quest: Avenge the deaths of her family and childhood innocence.
Ahhh, Braavos is lovely this time of year. The Titan stands guard, the port is bustling with honest commerce, there seems to be a refreshingly scant number of spies and beheadings. Arya is taken to The House of Black and White, and she bids her Braavosi sailor adieu with a “Valar Morghulis, Valar Dohaeris” (all men must die, all men must serve).
Arya knocks on the door, and a grumpy old man answers. She tries all her tricks: she flashes her coin, she chirps “Valar Morghulis,” she name-drops Jaqen H’ghar, she begs and tells the man she has nowhere else to go… but still, like a Latter-Day Saint during dinner time, she gets the door slammed in her face: “You have everywhere else to go.”
Undeterred (because she’s plucky and and full of fortitude and surely this is merely a small hitch in her grand life story), she sits outside the doors overnight, in the rain, in the sun, comforted only by her list of people she’s going to kill (which is now down to four: Cersei, Walter Frey, The Mountain, Meryn Trant).
Eventually, she gets the hint, and with an endearing flash of normal teenage hotheadedness, throws her coin into the canal and flounces off… to behead a pigeon. This poor kid is damaged forever. Some punks try to rough her up in an alley, she gets ready for battle with a dead look in her eyes, but the grumpy old man shows his face and the punks run off, terrified. Arya follows him back to the House of Black and White, and he gives her back her coin. He peels off his grumpy face, and now before Arya is the face of her old friend, Jaqen.
Arya: Who are you?
Faceless Man: No One. And that is what wee girl must become.
Characters: Brienne and Podrick
Setting: On the Road
Quest: Find Sansa Stark, protect her, fulfill their vow to Catelyn Stark.
Podrick convinces Brienne to stop at a roadside pub that seems popular with people with nice horses (the Westerosi equivalent of Yelp). And they are lucky he did that, because in that very same pub are… Petyr Baelish and Sansa!
Littlefinger and Sansa’s flirtatious banter makes all of us throw up in our mouths a little. She even drinks ale! What would her mother think!?!? Oh yeah, that ship has sailed.
Brienne tries to do the noble thing at first, kneeling on one knee and pledging her loyalty to Sansa in a tone that can only described as chivalrously romantic. Baelish runs rings around her with his wit and savvy, portraying Brienne as not just a failure as a knight (since Renly and Catelyn were both killed), but a traitor at worst (since she was accused of killing Renly herself), a lunatic at best (since she swore Renly was killed by a shadow with Stannis’ face). Sansa therefore rejects Brienne’s services, just like Arya before her. Man, what’s a girl gotta do to protect some Stark girls?!?
Littlefinger won’t just leave Brienne be, however, since despite his insults, he views her as a legitimate threat. With a flick of his chin, he instructs his knights to kill her and Podrick, either in the pub or on the road. But they were no match for our heroine; she saves her squire with a “Down, Podrick! Down!” because SHE IS THE BEST. AROUND.
Even after taking down Littlefinger’s knights and therefore knowing he is out for her blood, Brienne informs Podrick that they will follow Sansa, just to make sure everything’s okay, despite his (very valid) point that maybe they are free from their vow to Catelyn Stark if both girls were fairly offered, and soundly refused, their service.
Characters: Cersei and Jaime Lannister
Setting: King’s Landing
Quest: Try to keep their secret from the 10 people in King’s Landing who hadn’t figured things out by now.
Cersei received an ominous package from Dorne: a stuffed red viper with Myrcella Baratheon’s necklace tangled in its fangs. She calls Jaime in to see her, mostly to berate him for ruining everyone’s lives forever and ever. In fact, her listing of his failures as a knight, brother, son, and man sound worse than Littlefinger’s accusations of Brienne.
Quote of the Episode: Cersei calling Margaery “that smirking WHORE from Highgarden!”
Jaime pledges to ship off to Dorne to reclaim their daughter. He sounds very sure of his plan while simultaneously looking like a golden retriever, so Cersei almost smiles.
Later, Cersei tries to continue her Getting What She Wants streak by nominating herself the new temporary Hand of the King. She goes on a hiring and firing spree, but gets the smackdown from her own uncle, who rejects her nomination for him to be the Master of War.
“You are the Queen Mother, nothing more. If the King wants to send for me, I will be waiting for him. At Casterly Rock.”
Characters: Ser Bronn and Lollys Stokeworth
Setting: Castle Stokeworth
Quest: Get married, possibly kill Lollys’ older sister, live in a castle on the beach (aka F**k B*****s, Get Money).
Bronn and Lollys are taking a proverbial romantic walk on the beach when who do they see before them but “Jaime Fuckin’ Lannister.” Bronn asks Jaime what he needs now, and Jaime hints at his mission, offering “a much better girl and a much better castle.” Bronn being Bronn, looks like he’s going to agree.
Characters: Doran Martell and Ellia Sand
Setting: The Water Gardens of Dorne
Quest: Ellia would like to kill every Lannister on the planet, starting with the giggly blonde breathing her damn air; Doran just wants to mourn his brother in peace, goddammit.
Ellia is beside herself with grief and fury. She wants to go into all-out war with the Lannisters. Luckily for Myrcella, her betrothed seems very enthralled with her, and Doran, who sits in the most beautiful wheelchair in all the seven kingdoms, does not believe in hurting little girls.
Character: Daenerys Targaryen & (Second) Sons
Quest: The usual — figure out how to rule a starkly divided society while still maintaining the perfect complexion. Also: Where. Are. Her. Dragons?
Daario schools The Unsullied on how to street-fight. It involves a regimen of drinking, whoring, blending in with the proletariat for intel, and stabbing the exact part of the wall some conspirator is hiding in LIKE A BOSS.
“Someone who has forgotten fear has forgotten how to hide. Fear is useful that way.”
In the conspirator’s hidey hole, Grey Worm finds a golden mask, the symbol of the Sons of the Harpy, a group of former slaveowners who are trying to take back their city. Daenerys and her council (that now includes a freed slave named Mossodor) discuss this traitor’s fate. She opts to hold onto the man and give him a fair trial after Ser Barristan warns her of the dangers of following one’s own thirst for raw justice (using her father, the Mad King, as an example).
However, Mossodor takes justice into his own hands and executes the Son of the Harpy and puts his body on display. When the entire population of Meereen assembles for the Son’s trial, Daenerys instead executes Mossodor to show what happens to those who do not play by the new rules. The slave crowd, who just minutes before were shouting “Mhysa! Mhysa!” now hiss at her and attack the former slave owners. They rain rocks down as she flees back to her headquarters.
Later that evening, as she stands outside on her balcony, Drogon, her missing dragon, pays her a visit, albeit a brief one. She is overjoyed, and the look on her face is one of childish wonder and maybe a little hint of… madness?
Characters: Tyrion Lannister and Varys
Setting: The Road to Volantis
Quest: Find Daenarys, get her on the Iron Throne, and become her advisors.
Poor Tyrion; he is locked inside yet another moving wooden box. At least Varys’ chariot is bigger than a coffin, and there is more wine. But cabin fever has made both of them snippy.
Varys: Are we really going to spend the entire road to Volantis talking about the futility of everything?
Tyrion: You’re right, no point.
After a brief pep talk from Varys, Tyrion insists on going outside the chariot, just for a brief walk. “How many dwarves are there in the world? Is Cersei going to kill them all?” Actually, yes, yes she is.
Characters: The Brothers of the Night’s Watch
Setting: Castle Black
Quest: Nominate a new Lord Commander, not get killed by Stannis Baratheon.
Stannis is one of those leaders who gets more and more unsavory each time he talks. He chastises Jon Snow for defying a king’s orders by showing mercy to Mance Rayder, and perhaps he is suicidal, but Jon responds by pointing out that the Free Folk would never follow Stannis, no matter how tough he wants to look. In fact, even a 10-year-old Lady of Bear Island thumbed her nose at him (because honestly, who wouldn’t?).
Stannis offers Jon the title of his dreams if he bends the knee to him: Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. But of course, because Jon is who he is, he is not going to accept. Sensing another opportunity, his best friend Sam eloquently nominates Jon for Lord Commander, doling out a few choice insults while he was at it.
A Wildling girl, a baby, and Lord Janos. I saw him there after the battle was over, in a puddle of his own making.
As the Brothers tally up their votes (a refreshingly democratic process), there is a tie between Jon and Alliser Thorne. Maester Aemon delivers the tie-breaking vote, and Jon Snow becomes the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Something about his face makes me think he’s not relishing his new power.