Last week’s Game of Thrones episode, “The Gift,” delivered the series’ most exciting merger of far-flung storylines yet: Tyrion finally made it to Meereen and introduced himself to Daenerys Targaryen, the dragon queen whose dynasty was practically wiped out by the Lannisters and their allies. Together, they’re a formidable duo with a solid shot at the Iron Throne.
But as we saw in this Sunday’s episode “Hardhome,” fretting over who’ll get to sit their silk-covered ass on a fancy chair is the Seven Kingdoms’ least pressing issue. A massive army of White Walkers and zombie-like wights is poised to vaporize everything south of the Wall—and only pretty crow Jon Snow and Stannis seem to care. (If Cersei shrugged it off before, she’s in no position to do anything about it now.) We’ve known that “winter is coming” for several seasons, but “Hardhome” illustrates that with new (and necessary) urgency. And it does it with the show’s most impressive battle sequence since Tyrion’s Wildfire blew Stannis’s fleet apart in Blackwater Bay.
Jon Snow leads a contingent of Night’s Watchmen to Hardhome, a wildling camp north of the Wall, where he and Tormund Giantsbane manage to convince a number of Free Folk to side with them against the White Walkers and come south. But no sooner are the kids and elderly packed into rowboats than wights begin rushing down a cliff to attack. There’s no getting around what happens next: “Hardhome” doesn’t end with a hard-won, emotional victory for the good guys, like the Battle of the Blackwater or last year’s Crows vs. Wildlings showdown at Castle Black. No, this time the good guys get massacred by an ever-growing legion of vicious soldiers that feel no pain and exist to kill.
From a show-making perspective, the battle is an expertly choreographed spectacle of death and destruction (that is, it’s super fun to watch). The wights are terrifying; they move like World War Z’s zombies on speed. The single-take shot where Jon Snow twirls and slices his way through three wights and stops just in time to watch a giant tear through a building was the kind of adrenaline-pumping moment we’ve seen so little of this season. And the shocked, mournful look on the wildling woman’s face after she sees little children turned into wights, just before she recoils her arms and lets them tear her apart, was unexpectedly affecting in the middle of all the carnage.
We even get a flicker of hope in those exhilarating few moments when Jon realizes that dragonglass isn’t the only weapon with the power to shatter a White Walker—Valyrian steel, the metal Jon’s sword Longclaw is made of, also seems to do the trick. But the secrets to forging the steel were lost along with the Valyrians and the handful of surviving Valyrian-forged swords are flung far across Westeros. Still, Jon’s discovery catches the attention of the formidable Night’s King (the White Walker with a “crown” of spiky ice on his head). That character has yet to physically appear in George R.R. Martin’s books, but according to legend, he was once a Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Perhaps he saw a little of himself when he gazed down at Snow, impressed by his leadership.
Over in the second-most miserable place in the world—Winterfell—Sansa extracts an apparently vital piece of information from Theon: her little brothers Rickon and Bran are still alive. She looks almost reinvigorated by the news, like it’s what will give her the hope and motivation she needs to somehow break free from Ramsay. But she’s also being raped every night by the living embodiment of pure evil—little brothers or no, that’s probably motivation enough, right? Right?
Happier times prevail in Meereen, where Daenerys and Tyrion finally get a chance to sit down and chat. (How surreal was it to see those two commiserating over wine?) They quickly discover how much they have in common—besides quick wits and ambition, they’re “two terrible children with two terrible fathers” who mostly just want the world to be a better place. He praises her “greater good”-oriented leadership, especially her decision to re-open the fighting pits and marry someone she despises for the sake of peace. By conversation’s end, Dany has decided to keep Tyrion alive and take him on as an adviser. This is massive. This power duo could literally change the world.
If the Imp and the mother of dragons unite, he could guide her back to Westeros to make her claim on the Iron Throne. With him in tow, she stands a better chance than any Baratheon or Stark ever did. Tyrion has connections in Westeros, knowledge of the Red Keep’s inner workings, experience ruling as Hand of the King, and—perhaps most crucially—absolutely nothing to lose. His lover is dead, his family hates him, and he’s a wanted man. Helping put Daenerys on the Iron Throne might be his only ticket to a pardon and a normal(ish) life.
But Tyrion isn’t convinced she’s right for the job just yet. Sure, he’s impressed by Dany’s accomplishments, but he suggests that maybe she “should try wanting something else,” like staying to rule in Meereen, where her leadership has already effected positive change. He pokes holes in her fairy-tale plan to sail to Westeros and automatically claim the “common people’s” loyalty—after all, ruling without the support of the wealthy proved impossible in Slaver’s Bay. He breaks down the odds: House Stark is practically extinct, the Baratheons and Lannisters would never offer their loyalty, and the Tyrells? A maybe, at best. No one of means in Westeros is waiting with open arms.
So, sure, under normal circumstances, the odds would not be in Dany’s favor. But what Tyrion doesn’t know is that now is an unbelievably perfect time to strike King’s Landing. Cersei is imprisoned, Jaime is stuck in faraway Dorne, and Tommen, the king, is on a hunger strike in his bedroom. Kevan Lannister is now Hand of the King, but as Cersei mentioned before, he’s a “mouse” when it comes to battle. Oh, and the entire capital is in chaos because of the Sparrows’ fanatical regime. Something tells me Tyrion will come around—the timing is too ideal to pass up.