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Game of Thrones' recap: 'The House of Black and White'

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  • Courtesy of HBO
  • DROGON, TAKE ME AWAY: Danaerys (Emilia Clarke) and her dragon

For a show shot through with death, violence and betrayal, “Game of Thrones” seldom feels like punishing slog. Light moments frequently occur when the narrative pairs off characters who strike sparks off each other. For all the sword-and-sorcery elements at play, “Game of Thrones” appreciates the dynamics of “Odd Couple”-style comedy and buddy-cop movies. Great pair-ups on previous seasons have included Arya and the Hound and Brienne and Jamie Lannister. Season five's second episode, “The House of Black and White,” is full of teams that are either mismatched or matched perfectly.
Tyrion makes a great foil to practically anybody, and has been bantering agreeably — if mordantly — with Varys so far this season. The bald eunuch and the now-shaggy imp striking a great physical contrast, and are two of the only characters on the show who can match each other’s wit. They don’t do much this week, but establish that Cersei has literally put a price on her brother’s head as they set off on the road to Volantis (like an old Bob Hope and Bing Crosby film).


Tyrion’s old servant Podrick is providing to be the least experienced squire imaginably to Brienne, arguably Westeros’ most steadfast knight. They’re almost like a gender-switched Don Quixote and a young Sancho Panza. The squire proves he’s not entirely useless this week when he points out to Brienne that the very person they’ve been seeking, Sansa Stark, is in the same tavern as them. After being rejected by Arya last season, Brienne gets the chance to pledge service to the other Stark daughter.


But Sansa turns her down, too! You can kind of see where Sansa’s coming from: from her perspective, Brienne’s an ally of the Lannister family, and as Littlefinger observes, Brienne doesn’t have the greatest work history, having failed to save Renly Baratheon from being killed by, uh, a shadow. (It’s hard put a positive spin on that on a resume.) Sansa decides to stick with Littlefinger, the devil she knows and trusts, up to a point.


Brienne and Pod flee the tavern, and Littlefinger sends some goons after them (I’m not entirely sure why). In the skirmish Pod doesn’t exactly cover himself in glory, but Brienne asserts her badassery, shattering one assailants’ sword before stabbing him. Brienne’s stung by the rejection of both Stark girls (heartbreaking scenes that don’t appear in the books), and Pod suggests that she might be released from her vow. But Brienne seems determined to protect Sansa whether she wants it or not.


Meanwhile, the former happy, if secretly incestuous couple Jamie and Cersei are on the outs, and find a pretext to put distance between each other when Cersei receives a sinister snake-in-a-box message. After the death of Oberyn “The Red Viper” Martell last season, one of the show’s best moments ever, his relatives in Dorne are even madder at the Lannisters than they were already. Cersei’s daughter Myrcella is in Dorne betrothed to a prince, so Jamie decides to go secure her safety.


The former Kingslayer decides not to travel alone, and picks as his traveling companion, none other than Bronn, Tyrion’s former bodyguard. Everyone’s favorite sellsword is contemplating retirement with an affectionate but yammering fiancé with money — but not that much money — and he doesn’t protest much about going on an adventure with a different Lannister brother.


We see a little bit of the sandy, quasi-Arabian Dornish capitol of Sunspear this week, including glimpses of Myrcella flirting with her fiancée Trystane Martell. Dorne’s effective ruler Doran Martell (Alexander Sidding, who nerds will recognize as Dr. Bashir from “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”) wants to keep the peace, but Ellaria Sand, whom you’ll remember from last season as Oberyn’s paramour, craves revenge.


Elsewhere, like the Riggs and Murtaugh of Mereen, Daario and Grey Worm, investigate the gold-masked terrorists called the Sons of the Harpy. Daario uncovers a ne’er-do-well literally hidden in a wall and yanks him out. Take him away, boys! The trouble is that one of Mereen’s freed slaves murders the Son of the Harpy when he’s in custody, ostensibly under Dany’s protection. Should she administer equal justice against one of her supporters? Ser Barristan Selmy points out that he’s seen firsthand the tyranny and rebellion of her father, the Mad King, hinting that she should tread carefully.


In a public hearing before followers calling her “Mysha,” or “mother,” Dany sentences the ex-slave to death. Neither the crowd nor the condemned seem to really believe she’ll go through with it until he’s actually killed. The mob lets loose a this blood-curdling HISS at her in a chilling, stuff-just-got-real moment. Dany gets whisked to safety as a riot breaks out. That night, Dany looks out over the city from the top of her pyramid and her unshackled dragon, Drogon, swoops in to pay her a visit. She gives him a look like “Oh, Drogon, you’re the only one who understands me.” He leans in, sniffs her and then flies off, as if to say, “You smell like you’ve compromised your ideals! Drogon away!”


At Castle Black, Samwell has been a great, loquacious, bumbling sidekick to Jon Snow, but he’s actually come into his own. Stannis offers to make Jon the official heir to Winterfell, but Jon doesn’t object when Sam nominates Jon as a candidate for Lord Commander of the Night's Watch. And Sam’s a great campaign manager, extolling Jon’s praises and roundly mocking a skeptical Janos Slynt. Jon’s annoyingly silent — come on, if you want the job, at least say so — and the election comes down to one vote, which Maester Aemon casts for Jon.


The episode begins with Arya effectively alone as she arrives at Braavos, although her sea captain pal points out the sights, like the Titan statue that seems to have an uncomfortably wide stance. He drops her off at the House of Black and White, clubhouse for the supercool killers called the Faceless Men. Arya knocks but gets turned away by the doorman. “I crossed the Narrow Sea! I have nowhere else to go!” she protests. “You have everywhere else to go,” he says, sending her away like more successful version of doorman in Wizard of Oz.


Arya doesn’t run along though, but hangs outside, reciting her mantra of revenge. I get the sense that Arya doesn’t want to just kill her enemies, but find independence, which is why she rejected Brienne last season. She wants to be in a position of power and self-reliance, and the Faceless Men, as far as she can tell, offer the best opportunity for her to find it. And when some young bullies threaten to take Needle away, the doorman shows up, welcomes her — and reveals himself to be Jaquen H’ghar, Arya’s assassin buddy. Finally, Arya’s found a friend — or is he?


Notes


Offstage this week: Theon


I wish the Dornish snake-in-a-box message had been one of those jars of peanut brittle with the springs that pop out.


As much as I like Bronn (who doesn’t?), teaming one-handed Jamie with the former sellsword eliminates a great dynamic from the books. In A Feast for Crows, Jamie secretly trains with Ilyn Payne, King’s Landing’s tongueless executioner.


Best transition: Tyrion, hearing the news that Cersei’s offering a fortune for his head: “Will they kill every dwarf in the world?” Cut to some other dwarf’s head placed on Qyburn’s table for the reward.


Stannis’s grayscale-suffering daughter Shireen Baratheon (Kerry Ingram) may be the sweetest character in the show. The way she taught Davos and now teaches Gilly to read makes her like a one-girl literacy program. I hope nothing terrible happens to her — maybe she’ll be the one to end up on the Iron Throne when the series is over. It’s bound to be the last person you expect.



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