Summary: Dany dismisses Jorah again but he is undeterred. Dany and Tyrion become allies. Arya is adopting a new identity and is sent on a mission to assassinate a gambler. Cersei struggles while locked in her cell. Sansa pressures Theon who reveals that he didn't kill Bran and Rickon. Jon successfully makes an alliance with the wildlings. They start heading to Castle Black but White Walkers suddenly arrive with the army of the dead and kill many of the wildlings. Jon is able to kill one of them. The survivors, including Tormund and Jon escape.
The Good: Leave it to "Game of Thrones" to bounce back immediately after the show's worst episode with an epic, intense, consistent and dramatic episode which is easily amongst the series' very best.
I can't possibly start this review without talking about that final attack on Hardhome. The show has always delivered its biggest climaxes in episode 9 of every season ("Baelor", "Blackwater", "The Rains of Castamere" and "The Watchers on the Wall"), so the switch-up to episode 8 caught me completely off-guard. I was taken completely by surprise when the White Walkers arrived at Hardhome and I hadn't even suspected that something would happen until we started to spend an unusual amount of time showing the boats leaving Hardhome. Then I slowly became sick with tension as I suspected that something was about to happen. The way this all built up was downright incredible, the music, the sound effects and the visuals of the cold descending upon Hardhome immediately had my attention. I especially loved the moment where the wildlings behind the gate just suddenly went quiet as a sudden wave of cold fog appeared behind the gates. It was quite possibly the most tense moment in the entire show, and did a terrific job of making me excited for the inevitable massacre that was about to happen.
Then the actual battle happened and it was fantastic, certainly the best one of the show thus far. The production was movie-tier and looked incredible with terrific CGI and snow effects. I actually felt cold while watching the scene which is a real feat, especially for a TV show. Even "The Terror", a show which took place in the Arctic never made me feel cold, but this show managed it with ease. But the production wasn't the only thing fantastic in this battle. The whole thing was 15 minutes of pure chaos and adrenaline; I was engaged and excited the entire time enjoying the pure action. This was helped by the way that the wights were portrayed. Zombies can be tricky, just look at how "The Walking Dead" doesn't really have a scary threat from zombies. They are slow and are portrayed as relatively easy to defeat. But the wights here aren't treated in the same way. They are fast, vicious, and seemingly invincible as the wildlings struggle to defeat all of them. Furthermore, there are tons of them, and the flood never stops which is a terrifying concept to imagine. Nothing exemplifies this better than that final attack sequence when the wights all flood over the cliff and charge at Jon and Edd who both desperately escape. The wights are a fearsome threat, and this episode demands that we must take them seriously now.
The battle sequence also had a terrific section where Jon fights the White Walker. This scene felt so significant as it was the very first time we have actually seen how White Walkers fight. To start things off, I thought the "video game boss" entrance that the White Walker made was surprisingly perfect, as the silent walk through the fire strikes horror into the characters. It was fittingly scary and put Jon in a truly deadly position. The fight itself was extremely tense and I thought it built up brilliantly for the moment when Jon is actually able to defend against the White Walker with Longclaw before killing him in a dramatic slice with his sword. I thought it was smart to have Jon kill a White Walker as it raises some important questions (see: The Unknown) and also builds up Jon as a significant threat to the White Walkers. Perhaps the Night King (the spiky head White Walker) will view Jon as a genuine threat.
Jon's scenes before the battle were really great too. Jon convincing the wildlings to join him went surprisingly well, but I don't think that's a bad thing. Jon was a great leader in these scenes and came off as very convincing in his arguments to get the wildlings to come south of The Wall. It was a great scene to highlight Jon's transformation to a strong Lord Commander.
What sends this episode over the top in my opinion is the fact that everything else in this episode was really good too. Dany and Tyrion's conversation was great and was the best conversation we have gotten in a while. Seeing these two interact is just great, and the writing for the scene held up as they both befriended each other in logical ways while still trying to establish a confident and dominant presence. I thought that using Jorah's situation to get Dany to start to believe that Tyrion could be valuable to her was really good, as I suspect that she started to believe in him as an advisor as he convinced her to spare Jorah with good reasons.
The other odd scenes were really good too. I enjoyed Arya's scene as we get the reveal that she is now doing official work for the Faceless Men, actually getting to portray somebody else's identity. I look forward to seeing how her story ends this season.
Cersei's scenes were strong too. I loved seeing her be so defiant and angry in her cell as she refused to believe that she is actually helpless for once with nobody to go to to help her. I despise Cersei, yet I felt a smidge of sympathy for her as she drank the water off of the floor which is pretty impressive. The show continues to do a good job of making these gray characters.
Theon revealing the truth to Sansa about Bran and Rickon was pretty good. It felt like a significant moment and it continues Theon on the road to potentially accepting his true identity once more. Alfie Allen has played the role really well, and I feel like that detail gets lost in how poor the storyline has been this season.
The Bad: Nothing in particular. I suppose the Hardhome battle didn't get me to worry about the characters in the same way that the Battle of Castle Black or the Battle of Blackwater did since Jon was pretty much the only character I cared about in that scene. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think the battle would have been even more intense with more important characters present.
The Unknown: What does Ramsay plan to do with his 20 good men?
Does Valyrian steel kill White Walkers too? Or is there just something special about Longclaw?
Best Moment: The entire Hardhome battle. It was stellar and dramatic from beginning to end.
Character of the Episode: Jon.
Conclusion: This was a fantastic episode. The stories were really strong for the first 45 minutes, a big improvement on the previous episode. But the final 15 minutes were some of the best television you will ever see, providing what was probably the biggest spectacle possible, a feat which shouldn't even be possible for a television show. This delivered on every level.
Just a university student who loves to watch TV. And criticize it like hell.