TV Recap: Game of Thrones, ‘House of Black and White’

Game of Thrones Season 5 Poster.

‘The House of the Black and White’ Plot Summary:

Arya (Maisie Williams) arrives in Braavos and eventually reconnects with a familiar face and gains entrance into the House of Black and White. After a chance meeting at an inn, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman) set out to tail Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) and Sansa (Sophie Turner), despite Sansa’s refusal of Brienne’s protection. In the Lannister camp, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) continue on in their journey to reach Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), Cersei (Lena Headey) attempts to seize control of Tommen’s small counsel, and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) heads to Dorne to retrieve Myrcella, along with some help from Bronn (Jerome Flynn). Over in Mereen, Daenerys continues to grapple with the struggles of ruling and controlling her “children,” both human and dragon, alike.

Brienne of Tarth.
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/ courtesy HBO

“The House of Black and White” is an aptly named installment of Game of Thrones, as though the title refers to the mysterious Braavosi citadel Arya eventually reaches, it also alludes to the many stark dichotomies set up between those we see grasping for power in Westeros and beyond. Nowhere is this black/white divide more apparent than in the widely divergent ruling styles of Daenerys and Cersei. After Daario (Michiel Huisman) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) capture the Son of the Harpy responsible for the brothel killing of one of her Unsullied, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) presides over her counsel, seeking advice on what to do with their prisoner. Though she’s inclined to execute him (a view vociferously backed up by former slave, Mossador), others advise a fair trial, specifically Barrison Selmy (Ian McElhinney), who provides her with some insight into the fatal hubris and folly of her father, the Mad King. Daenerys is initially reluctant to listen to what she deems the lies of her father’s enemies, but she acquiesces and absorbs the tales of her father’s atrocities. Selmy warns her that her father “gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved. And every time it made him feel powerful and right.” Justice isn’t about settling scores or your own personal grievances, it’s not about punishing those who aren’t on your side, but about the fair and impartial treatment of all of one’s subjects. In order to successfully rule a united Mereen and not just preside over continually warring factions, Daenerys realizes she needs to extend that justice to more than just those she’s ideologically in line with and agrees to a fair trial for their prisoner.

Yet fiercely loyal and ultimately misguided Mossador (Reece Noi) soon puts Daenerys’ newly strengthened notions of justice to the test when he disobeys her declaration and murders the Son of the Harpy. Though Mossador acted with the intent of honoring both his deceased slave father and his adoptive Mhysa, Daenerys sternly tells him that he had no right, regardless of his motivations, because “the law is the law.” She’s clearly taken Selmy’s counsel to heart and makes the difficult decision that justice must be black and white – Mossador broke the law and must pay with his life. In a moment that recalls both Ned Stark’s letter of the law sense of justice when he beheaded the Night’s Watch defector back in season one and his own later public execution, Daenerys ignores Mossador’s pleas and has him beheaded in the public square. This sparks a riot and the ensuing unrest, as well as Daenerys’ own lingering sorrow over the necessity of her decision, paint a picture of a queen still grappling with how to benevolently, yet justly control an ever-expanding kingdom that’s proving just as difficult to harness as her ever-growing dragons. (I loved how the Drogon cameo, dropping in and then flying away from her touch, was the perfect visual representation of Daenerys’ leadership struggles – she has an immense power at her hands, but still hasn’t learned how to control it. It goes without saying that the special effects team once again does not disappoint, as Drogon is now a massive, wild terror.)

Mossador in Game of Thrones - House of Black and White.
Photo Credit: Helen Sloan/ courtesy HBO

While Daenerys asserts that she is nothing like her father, Cersei (Lena Headey) wants nothing more than to take her father’s mantle and tries to assume the deceased Tywin’s role as Hand of the King and puppet master of King’s Landing. Whereas Daenerys actually heeds the counsel of her advisors, Cersei is not interested in anyone else’s advice, arrogantly interrupting and squashing any dissenting opinion and, as her Uncle Kevan (Ian Gelder) rightly alleges, staffing the small counsel with sycophants who will simply back her every decision. Cersei’s bad bitch attitude is partially borne of her considerable arrogance, but partially of necessity, as well, since women aren’t deemed fit to rule in Westeros and she needs to maintain an aggressive hardline just to sit at the table. While most of Kevan’s disgust with her attempt is justified, when he tells her that he doesn’t recognize her authority and dismisses her as “the queen mother – nothing more,” it’s hard not to pick up the underlying misogyny in his disdain.

Meanwhile, over in Dorne, Prince Doran (Alexander Siddig) proves a far softer leader than both Cersei and Daenerys, urging patience and diplomacy rather than revenge after Oberyn’s death at the hands of the Mountain, the latest in a long line of Martell tragedies wrought by the Lannisters. Oberyn’s paramour, Ellaria (Indira Varma), claiming the support of Oberyn’s daughters and the nation as a whole, demands vengeance be carried out on Myrcella, and sends Cersei a very thinly veiled threat regarding her daughter’s safety while housed in Dorne.

Danerys in Game of Thrones
Photo Credit: Macall B. Polay/ courtesy HBO

That threat leads to one of the most promising deviations from the books yet, as Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) heads off to Dorne to bring his daughter home, along with none other than everyone’s favorite sell sword and badass, Bronn (up-jumped to Ser Bronn of the Blackwater and betrothed to Lollys Stokeworth). While the first few seasons remained largely faithful to George R.R. Martin’s source material, show writers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have begun taking more liberties with the story, out of thennecessity of both having pretty much caught up to Martin’s novels and having to winnow his ever-expanding scope into a narrative fit for television, so at this point, I really don’t know what to expect any more than someone who hasn’t read the books. The choice to bring Jaime to Dorne serves to tighten the focus on the goings-on in that corner of the world, as well as bring the always entertaining Bronn (always a pleasure to have Jerome Flynn back on screen) back into the fold, since the character is relegated to the sidelines in the books once Tyrion leaves King’s Landing.

Another change that’s potentially promising, though I’m not as clear as to how it will ultimately pay off, is the chance meeting between Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and her squire, Podrick (Daniel Portman) and Littlefinger (Aiden Gillen) and Sansa (Sophie Turner). It’s an entertaining scene and I loved Littlefinger’s takedown of Brienne’s skills as a sworn sword and think Sophie Turner is really selling Sansa’s transformation from naïve innocent to legitimate player in the game (her stern rebuff to Brienne that yes, “sometimes you do” have a choice was particularly good), though the ensuing horseback chase did little more than offer a glimpse of Brienne’s renowned bad-assery. From a narrative standpoint, it makes sense to have Brienne finally locate Sansa rather than searching fruitlessly and seemingly endlessly as she does in the books, but now that Sansa has refused her offer of protection it’s hard to tell if Brienne’s decision to tail her anyway will lead to another dead-end or if it will somehow dovetail with Sansa’s impending Littlefinger-orchestrated betrothal (though judging from Benioff and Weiss’ track record, I’m going to assume the latter).

Tom Wlaschiha as Jaqen H’Ghar in Game of Thrones
Photo Credit: Macall B. Polay/ courtesy HBO

At the Wall, Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) turns down Stannis’ (Stephen Dillane) enticing offer to legitimize him as Ned Stark’s son and name him Lord of Winterfell, choosing instead to honor his vow to the Night’s Watch, and thus proving himself the honorable Ned Stark’s son more than a legal name change ever could. Benioff and Weiss also choose to speed up the action in Jon’s storyline a bit, having him elected as Lord Commander seemingly much earlier than this occurs in the books. While I often find the scenes at the Wall a bit dull in comparison to the goings-on elsewhere, I loved the scene of Snow’s nomination and election, particularly Sam’s (John Bradley-West) rousing speech proclaiming Jon’s honor and bravery, while simultaneously throwing shade at the pompous and cowardly Janos Slynt.

Since “The House of Black and White” caught us up with some characters we didn’t see much of in the premiere (or at all, in the case of Arya, who finally arrives in Braavos and reconnects with Jaqen H’ghar – or is he? – before gaining entrance into the mystical, imposing fortress that gives the episode its title) the episode still felt like a bit of a table-setter, lining all the pieces in place for what’s to come as the season progresses. Since my knowledge of the source material no longer serves as a trusty road map, I honestly have no idea where a lot of these plot points are headed and that has me extremely excited for what’s to come in the weeks ahead.

Rating: 9 out of 10

Kimberlee Rossi-Fuchs is a Senior Writer for Pop-Break, regularly covering Game of Thrones, Louie, Futurama, and Boardwalk Empire, as well as other delectable nuggets of TV, film, and music throughout the year. Since graduating with Highest Honors from Rutgers University with a degree in English, Kimberlee currently finds herself in a financially comfortable, yet stifling corporate environment where her witty and insightful literary and pop culture references are largely met with confused silence and requests to, “Get away from me, weirdo.” Still, she’s often thought of as a modern-day Oscar Wilde (by herself) and one day hopes her wit, charm, and intellect (again, self-perceived) will make her a very wealthy, very drunk woman. She’s also the mother of a darling little boy, Charlie Miles (aka Young Chizzy) who she hopes will grow up to not be too embarrassed of all of the baby pics she relentlessly shares of him on various social media sites.