Season 5, Episode 2: The House of Black and White

Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. Any views or opinions expressed are based solely on where the Game of Thrones TV series currently is and no other knowledge or information is presented in this article.

THE TRUTH OF EACH CHARACTER

While there are many wonderfully unique characteristics of the Game of Throne series, perhaps one of the most identifiable is the unpredictability of most of this worlds characters. In most television, we understand who each character is at their core, what motivates their action and what they ultimately want to achieve. However, in the GoT world, as viewers, we’ve often had a difficult time discerning the true nature of a character. What truly lies at the core of each character? What do they really want? For one thing — we know that what they say they want, and what they actually want, are often two very different things. And for the first few seasons, we were often completely lost in trying to figure out things such as who we could trust or when a character was telling a lie.

But as we continue deeper into the fifth season, much of that is beginning to change; the true nature of each character is coming more acutely into focus. We are moving further away from the surface layer “games,” which often confused or misled us, and we are now dealing more in truth. Of course, this is still Game of Thrones, and mystery is never far from sight, but that thick cloak of deception that surrounded so many characters is beginning to be pulled back, and what’s left for us to see is the truth of each character — a truth that will drive each character as they continue on their individual journeys. And as we look back at the second episode of season five, The House of Black and White, it is important to assess the truth that continues to emerge out of each character.

ARYA IS MORE FEARLESS THAN EVER

After four years in the making, Arya finally arrives to Braavos, the mystical Free City where we hope she will find the tools needed to become the revenge-fueled assassin she desperately wants to be. After a horn blows announcing their arrival, the captain of the ship tells her to have no fear. In response, she gives one her emotionless stares into the distance and responds, “I’m not afraid.” And while she might’ve been responding to the captain in that moment, as she stares off into the distance and went off to a deeper place, we know that she is reaffirming that she is not afraid…of anything..period. After losing most of her family and enduring a tremendously painful journey, what could she possibly have left to be afraid of? And it is this fearlessness, this idea of having absolutely nothing left to lose, that we see as the undeniable truth of Arya’s character.

coin

Arya reciting the names on her list in front of the House of Black and White

As the wonderful Braavosi music plays in the background and the camera pans out to show Arya’s ship passing under the Titan of Braavos, the message is sent…finally, she has arrived. As she pulls into the harbor and looks on to see the local Braavosi merchants and villagers, we see a smile come across her face..that’s right — Arya shows a glimpse of joy and happiness. Perhaps there is hope for Arya after all in the land of Braavos. But things will not come easy. As she arrives at the colossal House of Black and White, the black man wearing all white tells her that there is no man there by the name of Jaqen H’ghar. But Arya is resolute, more determined than ever and driven by her fearless desire for revenge. She sits there day and night, repeating the names on her list: Cercei, Walder Frey, the Mountain and Meryn Trount — a list that has gotten much smaller.

titan

Arya arrives to Braavos, passing under the Titan of Braavos

BRIENNE THE OATHKEEPER

As Brienne and Pod enjoy a meal at the inn, Pod spots Baelish with Sansa and we see that Arya’s journey is not the only one that seems to have reached a destination. Finally, after much time, Brienne has her sights on Sansa. Before being approached by Brienne, Sansa asks Baelish about the scroll he received in the previous episode, to which he responds that his marriage proposal has been accepted..but to whom?

As Brienne approaches and pledges her service to Sansa, Baelish reminds her that Brienne failed to keep safe Renley or Catelyn, and also that Brienne had been implicated in the murder of Renley. As Brienne swears her honor and is intent upon keeping the oath she swore to protect Sansa, we see that Baelish’s manipulation and cunning words will be more convincing than those of Brienne, which are rooted in truth and honor. And, we are sadly reminded that noble concepts such as honor and duty will not always prevail, and often in this world, as in real life, the deceptive manipulator might come out on top.  We also see that Sansa quickly dismisses Brienne, showing no interest at all that Brienne had sworn an oath to her mother. It appears that Sansa continues to grow colder and darker — not the sweet little girl she once was. She also seems more willing to go along for Baelish’s ride and less questioning of what his motives might be.

Brienne and Baelish

Brienne and Baelish

As Baelish invites Brienne to travel with them, wanting to keep her close and eliminate a potential threat, Brienne makes a run for it and kills several of Baelish’s knights with her Valyrian steel sword, Oathkeeper, given to her by Jaime. After saving Pod from near-death, he suggests to Brienne that she might be free of her oath, considering that both Arya and Sansa refused her protection. But, Brienne does not think Sansa is safe with Baelish and refuses to abandon her vow. We continue to see a more realistic portrayal of the world around us, rather than the storybook version we are used to seeing in most television and film. That is, we did not see a picture-perfect reuniting when Brienne finally found Arya or Sansa. In this more realistic world, things do not go to plan and Brienne’s travels and hardships were all for nothing. But more importantly, we see what will continue to drive Brienne — the unrelenting dedication to her vow. Despite unfortunate results when she encountered the Stark girls, she will not give up and she will continue to be driven by the thing she holds more dear than all else — the words she swore to Catelyn Stark before she died.

KING’S LANDING

King’s Landing is appearing less and less like the grandiose capital city it once was, and more and more like a darker, grim place to be. It feels like a party — after most people have left and gone home — and there are just a few people left sticking around to clean up the mess. The cunning and deceptive characters of Varys and Baelish, so fundamental to the “game” once played at King’s Landing, are both gone. Tyrion as well. Joffrey and Tywin are both dead. Sansa has departed as well. King’s Landing is feeling less regal than ever before.

Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Nikolaj Coster Waldau as Jaime Lannister in Game of Thrones S5 Game of Thrones Season 5 Image Gallery Shows New Cast Members

Jaime and Cercei

But in the ashes that remain, we see a miserable Cercei who has received a threatening message, presumed to be sent from House Martell of Dorne. A viper, a symbol of House Martell, with her daughter, Myrcella’s necklace in it. Cercei tells Jaime that he has never been a father to any of their children, to which he responds that he had no choice as he had to protect the fact that they were born of incest. Cercei reminds him that in the end, his caution did nothing to actually save them — Joffrey was murdered, Tommen is going to be lost to Margaery Tyrell and Myrcella is hostage to House Martell in Dorne. Interestingly, in the previous episode, we recall that the witch Cercei went to see in her flashback who told her that “Gold will be their shrouds,” referring to the funeral shrouds of her future-children and alluding to their ominous fates.

Jaime tells Cercei that he will go to Dorne to rescue Myrcella and enlists the assistance of Bronn, who he tells they are headed “as far south as south goes.” And we again see the true nature of both Cercei and Jaime. The games, the politics, the schemes…those are all no longer important. Titles such as Kingslayer and Queen Regent no long matter. At their core, they are parents, and they will be driven to protect their children.

DORNE

And we finally get our first glimpse of Dorne, the most southern of the Seven Kingdoms, and home to House Martell. Princess Myrcella walks the Water Garden with a Martell prince, appearing to be safe after all. We also finally meet Prince Doran, the ruling prince of Dorne, and the older brother of Prince Oberyn. Suffering from the sickness of gout, what he lacks in physical ability, he appears to make up for in wisdom and patience. As Ellaria Sand, Oberyn’s lover, begs Doran to exact revenge for the death of the Red Viper, Doran reminds that his death in trial by combat was not murder, and that he will not go to war over this. Ellaria tells him that the Sand Snakes, the bastard daughters of Oberyn, support her and also seek revenge for the death of their father. She suggests that they torture Myrcella and send her mutilated body parts back to Cercei, to which Doran again refuses. He tells her that he will not let these things happen while he is still ruler, to which she responds “And for how long will that be?”

Prince Doran Martell of Dorne 

While the scene in Dorne was brief, it is clear that Dorne will play an important role as a new locale for season five. Furthermore, it appears that House Martell will be a major new house in the mix in the aftermath of the death of the Red Viper. We also continue to see the hot-headed nature that drives many of the Dornish, which we saw in the Red Viper and now in his revenge-driven paramour, Ellaria.

MORE PROBLEMS FOR KHALEESI

In Khaleesi’s seemingly never-ending stop in Mereen, the problems continue to stack up as Daario Naharis and Grey Worm discover the Son of the Harpy responsible for the murder of one of the Unsullied soldiers. Discord amongst her advisors continues as they express differing opinions regarding what they should do with their prisoner. And as Ser Barristan tells her of her father, the Mad King, and his practices of burning people alive as punishment, she vows to give this man a fair trial. But before that can happen, her ex-slave-turned-advisor kills the Son of the Harpy and mounts his body in the city for all to see. He explains to Khaleesi that he did this to protect her and serve justice. Her hands were tied as she was forced to offer a fair trial, when in reality, the punishment that needed to be served was death, which he was willing to do for her.

The dead Son of Harpy

The dead Son of the Harpy

Regardless of his loyal intentions, for his actions, Khaleesi sentences him to death. The irony is that she was unwilling to sentence to death the Son of the Harpy, who had committed the actual crime, while she was willing to sentence to death her own advisor who was acting loyally. Through these actions, we see what continues to drive Khaleesi: justice at any cost. She continues to make the difficult decisions, even sparing the lives of her own, if that is the cost of justice.

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

The ex-slave Khaleesi executes

So driven by the idea of maintaing justice, Khaleesi has not even mentioned taking the Iron Throne of Westeros in quite some time — after all, how can she rule the Iron Throne before she achieves justice in Mereen? And the problems continue, as the death of the ex-slave enrages the other ex-slaves, Khaleesi’s “children.” As a result, a riot ensues between her children and the Masters and chaos breaks loose. And just when things appear to have hit rock bottom for Khaleesi, Drogon returns, the largest of her dragons who had been missing for weeks. While his return is significant in showing that he’s still in the picture, it was the timing of his return that was even more significant — a reminder that Khaleesi truly is the Mother of Dragons, and that an emotional connection exists, as Drogon returns to her and lifts her up when she is at her lowest.

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

Drogon returns to Khaleesi

TYRION AND VARYS

It is undeniable that the characters created by George R.R. Martin are simply amazing. They are unique while still identifiable; they are bold while still rooted in reality; they are relatable, even if unlikable. He has created a depth to each character with which viewers can form a meaningful connection. And of course, the evolution of each character and the different perspective we’ve been exposed to, make them all the more amazing. One minute you thought you hated a certain character and the next you felt like you loved them.

And the only thing greater than these characters on their own is when they are together, particularly in twosomes and often on some sort of wonderful journey that forces them to grow together. Whether it was Brienne and Jaime, Arya and the Hound or now Tyrion and Varys, there is nothing quite like the way George R.R. Martin creates one-on-one relationships between characters who appear very different on the surface, only to show us that they ultimately are not very different at all.

Jaime and Brienne appeared to be characters completely antithetical to each other, only for their season-long journey to show us that in the end, they were not different at all, and they were binded by their true nature of honor and duty. Similarly, Arya and the Hound couldn’t have been more different at the onset of their relationship, but as they endured the troublesome journey through the Riverlands, we saw them united by their shared love of killing. And now, ass Tyrion and Varys continue on their journey from Pentos to Volantis to embark upon the road to Mereen, we are seeing the emergence of another of these priceless relationships.

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

Tyrion and Varys travel to Volantis

At first glance, Tyrion and Varys appear to be completely different characters. One is a a sarcastic dwarf from a very powerful Westeros family with an affinity for drinking and fucking. The other is a eunuch born into slavery on Easteros with a more serious disposition and no interest at all in the vices of sex or alcohol. Yet as they continue on their journey, we are beginning to see that when these surface features are stripped back, at their core, they are actually quite similar. They discuss the fact that they could both actually be quite good rulers, as they are two of the few men truly interested in making the world a better place to live in. Yet men like them could never rule as they are repulsive to society. And in turn, society is repulsive to them. And so they surround themselves with large comfortable boxes, such as the one they are confined to right now on their travel. Yet, at the end of the day, men like them are never really satisfied with being in the box…not for long.

And so we see the shared desire of each man to break out of the proverbial (and literal) box that they are in. They are driven by their true desires to make the world a better place. And while they cannot be the rulers themselves, Varys continues to try to sway Tyrion into realizing that this ruler does exist, and that they must find her to help her ascend the Iron Throne.

THE SMALL COUNCIL GETS SMALLER

Back at King’s Landing, we see the head of another dwarf brought to Cercei, albeit the wrong dwarf. Interestingly, Qyburn requests to keep the head as it may prove useful in his experiments. Which begs the question — what are these experiments he is working on? And what will they produce? And this also brings us back to the finale episode of last season when Qyburn performs one of his eery science-lab experiments in an attempt to save the life of the Mountain. He tells Cercei that if it saves him, it certainly will not make the Mountain any weaker. An already freakish monster — what happened to the Mountain and when, if ever, will we see him again?

Cercei and her new Small Council

Cercei and her new Small Council

At the Small Council, we see Cercei attempting to maintain control, though with little success. She appoints Qyburn new Master of Whispers in place of Varys, reminding the council of his qualification of loyalty. She appoints Mace Tyrell Master of Coin in addition to Master of Ships. And she appoints her uncle, Tywin’s brother, Kevan Lannister, Master of War. However, he refuses to acknowledge her authority and tells her that he will be returning to rule over Casterly Rock.

SOME BIG EVENTS AT THE WALL

At the Wall, Jon Snow tells Stannis that the Wildlings will never follow him after he killed their king, and that they will only follow one of their own. Stannis must figure out another way to win back the North, and he offers to remove Jon Snow’s bastard status and raise his up as Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell. As such, he would have Jon Snow lead the North as part of Stannis’ cause. Becoming a Stark is all that Jon Snow has ever wanted his entire life, yet still,  the truth of his character — his unrelenting dedication to the vows he took to the Night’s Watch, prevent him from accepting Stannis’ offer. The discipline Jon Snow shows creates a pretty amazing moment. We can all probably think of 1 or 2 things we have always wanted our entire lives — or at least a couple things we want more than anything right now in our lives. And for most of us, these things we want most would be impossible to turn away if ever presented to us. For Jon Snow to pass on the opportunity of no longer being the bastard of Winterfell, and to become not only a proper Stark, but Lord of Winterfell, shows unbelievable character and strength.

And moments later, after Samwell’s passionate speech about Jon Snow’s heroism, he is elected 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. There are many major implications about Jon Snow being Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, such as how will Ser Allisor Thorne react and how will Jon Snow command over the depleted Night’s Watch.

Kit Harington as Jon Snow Stephen Dillane as Stannis Baratheon and Liam Cunningham as Davos Seaworth in Game of Thrones S5 Game of Thrones Season 5 Image Gallery Shows New Cast Members

Stannis offers to make Jon Snow a Stark

Also at the Wall, we see Shereen, Stannis’ daughter, teaching Gilly how to read. The two begin to discuss Grey Scale, the disease that has scarred Shereen’s face. Gilly tells Shereen of her two sisters who were inflicted with this disease, who eventually turned into grotesque monsters, before being put out of their misery. Interestingly, unlike them, Shereen appears to have been spared as the disease never took over her full body. It is also interesting to think back to last season when Lady Melisandre told Lady Selyse that Shereen must come with them to the Wall as she will have a role to play.

A GIRL MUST BECOME NOTHING

As the episode concludes, Arya crosses paths with a couple street bandits who she tells to turn the other way if they want to live. Despite being one small girl against three larger men, we again see the absolute fearlessness that drives Arya. But before any fight ensues, the men flee as they see the black man in the white hood that Arya encountered early in the episode. As they stand back in front of the House of Black and White, the man gives her the coin back that she threw in the water, before changing his face back to that of Jaqen H’ghar. When she asks why he told her earlier that there was no man by the name of Jaqen H’ghar at the House of Black and White, he tells her “A man is not Jaqen H’ghar. A man is nobody. And that is who a girl must be come.”

The face of Jaqen H'ghar returns and lets Arya into the House of Black and White

The face of Jaqen H’ghar returns and lets Arya into the House of Black and White

These words are interesting for several reasons. First, it continues to show the mysterious and magical side of the Faceless Man, a league of assassins that we are dying to learn more about. But more importantly, it is the idea of becoming nobody or nothing. In response to the words Valar Morghulis, meaning “all men must die,” the Braavosi respond Valar Dohaeris, meaning “all men must serve.” As Faceless Men, they appear to strip themselves of any true identity, becoming nothing, and dedicate themselves to their service. This seems to be just the place for Arya, a girl who already has been stripped of most of her identity and is driven by the sole desire for revenge. In many ways, she has already been reduced to nothing and she could be a perfect fit for the Faceless Men.

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