Game of Thrones continues into its second episode, thankfully returning some focus to young Ayra Stark as she journeys to Bravos. In search of what, we’re not initially sure. As she sails into Bravos, we’re constantly aware that the backdrops surely must be mostly CGI, but the backdrop of stone buildings, bustling seaport, and giant armed statue are truly breathtaking. We’ve been here before, but never before have we looked at the city through a child’s eyes. Through Arya’s eyes.
In Bravos, Arya seeks the titular House of Black and White or, more importantly, a man she believes to be residing within said house. The house is appropriately named as its only colors (aside from stone grey) are black and white doors. One amusing side note of the scene happens when Arya literally knocks on the door, the front door of a massive stone building. The sound resulting from the knock sounds like the house is no bigger than a peasant’s hovel, yet her knock is answered by a man in a hooded robe. She shows him the coin given to her years ago by Jaqen H’ghar and wants to reconnect with him, but the hooded man claims not to know the man and slams the door in her face. Not knowing where to go, she sits outside of the House through the night, the pouring rain, and the burning sun of the following day – all the while repeating the names on her list of people she wants to kill.
Meanwhile, her sister, Sansa, travels with Petyr Baelish to a yet unknown destination. Stopping at a pub for food, Sansa and Baelish finally run into Brienne of Tarth. When Brienne pledges her undying loyalty to Sansa, Baelish manages to use his considerable skills with words to avoid any allegiance between the two. For the duration, Sansa remains firmly under Baelish’s watch (control?). Verbally defeated, Brienne initiates a skirmish with Baelish’s guards, and a battle ensues. For comic relief, Podrick, Brienne’s squire, becomes hopelessly lost and felled by his spooked horse. Brienne must come to his rescue, brutally stabbing two knights to save Podrick. After witnessing Sansa and Baelish riding away, Brienne swears to continue protecting the Stark girls as best she can. After all, no one trusts Petyr Baelish. Nor should they.
As Season Five seems to be developing as “the Cersei show,” Cersei and Jaime share terse words (I’m under exaggerating here) over the fate of their daughter, Myrcella, who has been promised to a Dornish prince and currently resides in Dorne. This is problematic given last season’s brutal death of Oberyn Martell and the subsequent thinly veiled threats on Myrcella’s life. Jaime volunteers to travel to Dorne and rescue her, taking Bronn for an additional hand. Because Jaime has just the one. It’s a good move, too, because Ellaria (Oberyn’s lover) quite literally wants Myrcella dead. Meanwhile, Cersei spends the rest of the episode slowly whittling away the group of King’s advisors, giving herself significant power in their absence.
In Meereen, Daenerys continues to be plagued by the mysterious Sons of the Harpy. At least it gives her Unsullied army something to do as they patrol the city, looking of members of the deadly shadow cult. Daenerys used to be one of my personal favorite characters as she transitioned from bargained bride to Mother of Dragons. Yet, a political stance based on her status as the mother of severely wild creatures probably isn’t the best way to go. Now, she’s stuck in Meereen in this slave-freeing subplot that feels as stagnant and as grounded as her own political campaign. Granted, if she wants to be Queen, then she’s getting valuable hands-on experience in Meereen. The episode closes with her shocking decision to publicly execute a loyal servant who murdered a captured Son of the Harpy. The decision, no matter how firmly she remains in her resolve, proved to be exceedingly controversial as the crowds once chanting her name in glory are now throwing stones at her.
Watching these two women (Daenerys and Cersei) assert their power is quite fascinating as they do it in vastly different ways. Cersei was raised within the kingdom and knows the art of subtlety. She is a Machiavellian Queen Regent, as afraid of losing her beauty as she is losing her power. To Cersei, men are objects, existing to her in one of two camps: those who stand in her way and those who she can manipulate to get what she wants. Watching Cersei play the game of thrones this season is akin to watching Bobby Fischer wield his power on a chess board. Daenerys, on the opposing side, knows nothing of subtlety. She is a ruthless leader – one given to public displays of violence to assert her power. Her heart is in the right place, though, as she only wants to protect the powerless. Yet, in doing so, she’s starting to become as bloodthirsty as we always feared her now-dead brother Viserys would be. She and Cersei appear as different as Black and White. But are they… Is Daenerys just a less savvy version of Cersei?
Finally, in a section that took up a great deal of screen time, Jon Snow turns down an offer from Stannis Baratheon to help retake Winterfell in exchange for the rightful name Jon Stark. Remember the surname “Snow” indicates status as a bastard child. Making the decision to remain at Castle Black easier is Jon’s nomination and election as the leader of the rag-tag group of wall defenders. I’m not sure I have much more to say about these scenes other than Jon Snow, again, proves to be a popular and compassionate leader. For those of you following spoilery Internet theories, there’s probably a reason he’s so frequently placed in leadership roles.
When the episode closes, Daenerys stands on her balcony overlooking Meereen. Perched on the roof above her is Drogon, the remaining free dragon who apparently still bears some sort of fondness for his mother. She tenderly (gingerly) reaches up to touch his face. Just before she does, he rears up and flies away. Still, the tender moment was a nice one for Daenerys and an appealing way to close the episode. Perhaps her relationship with the dragons isn’t quite gone after all. Perhaps she will regain some of the softer touch she once had.
Or perhaps the dragons will burn King’s Landing to the ground. That’s sort of what I want out of the conclusion of the series – scorched earth. Massive quantities of scorched earth.