Political Analysis of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 8, “Hardhome”

Now that’s what I call an episode of Game of Thrones! The theme of this week’s Salon.com essay is peacemaking in a dangerous world. Enjoy!

And a quick update on the Chapter-by-Chapter Analyses – now that I’m back from conference and grading’s done, my schedule is much more open. So expect to see Tyrion VIII soon.


46 thoughts on “Political Analysis of HBO’s Game of Thrones, Season 5 Episode 8, “Hardhome”

  1. winnie says:

    Great analysis to a truly great episode Steve.

    For what its worth I think the Nights King recognized Jon as AA.

    Expanding on your theme of alliances built on survival rather than friendship that may be what’s happening with Sansa and Theon. She may personally despise him but she needs his help to escape Ramsay-and he needs her to become Theon again.

    Liked the feast for crows bit. God I hope Ramsay’s scheme backfires horribly and Mel burns him.

    And one detail Dany and Tyrion got wrong…she’s not the last Targaryen. Not at all.

  2. Keith B says:

    Roose Bolton understands the situation, and Stannis is doomed. Winterfell is too strong to take with the forces he has. Unless Melisandre sacrifices Shireen to perform more blood magic (which I’m sure we all hope won’t happen) or the authors decide to throw credibility out the window again.

    • winnie says:

      Or unless someone leads Stannis’s forces into Winterfell through one of those hidden tunnels…or say the servants at Winterfell open the gates.

      • Keith B says:

        If only Bran were there. But right now he has no one. Jon is far away, and Sansa trapped inside. Could happen later, I’ll admit.

      • Tunnels would be a good bet – especially if say Sansa and Theon escape via the tunnels, which would be a good opportunity to show/reveal them.

      • Sean C. says:

        The tunnels have never been mentioned on the show. It would be a huge deus ex machina to bring them up now, with no buildup.

        • They were mentioned by Melisandre just a couple episodes ago.

          • Sean C. says:

            She guessed that Jon knows stuff about the castle. They haven’t been mentioned at all in the actual Winterfell story, nor is there any indication that any of the characters involved in it would know anything about them.

          • winnie says:

            Also Luwin mentioned that there were secret ways in and out of Winterfell when he was urging Theon in season 2 to flee and join the nights watch.

  3. haplo6 says:

    Great news on the chapter-by-chapter analysis coming soon, those remain my favorite.

    I do feel shallow in that an entire season to this point of disappointment in the show can be washed away by last night’s home run. So this is the Winter the books are rather coy about?

    • I don’t think it’s shallow – Season 2 was much the same way until Blackwater. If I was ranking the seasons, I’d probably go 1>4/3>2/5.

      • Mr Fixit says:

        I am curious: how would you rank the books?

        • Good question.

          I would say, 3>1>2>4/5, but 4 and 5 are very underrated,

          • artihcus022 says:

            I would rank it as 3>5>4>1>2. A Feast For Crows is really underrated in my view, its a book that read on its own without continuity is quite great for the vision of medieval warfare and I like the concept that GRRM’s bench strength is great enough that he can do an entire book without the Trio of Jon, Dany and Tyrion and still make it work.

  4. artihcus022 says:

    Based on the preview, my feeling is that Melisandre or Shireen is going to be captured and taken prisoner by Ramsay Bolton. I don’t think its Shireen because then Stannis’ Choice doesn’t get dramatic weight.

    Losing Melisandre could force Stannis to sacrifice Shireen. It would certainly make him desperate enough to do the unthinkable.

    • winnie says:

      Since Mel can see the future how would Ramsay get the jump on her?

      I think its more likely that Ramsay’s reckless move gets him killed.

      • artihcus022 says:

        melisandre can be wrong too. She saw herself walking the walls of Winterfell, but she didn’t see Stannis with her. The banners of Bolton dipping down could simply be snow making it stiff and they pull it down and replacing it. If they do that, it would be more fitting with the books, and very GRRMian.

        • winnie says:

          I think the Bolton banners are coming down….but it won’t be Stannis who replaces them. He won’t survive the Battle.

      • Fourten says:

        Unless that exactly what Mel wants. Get caught (boy, would she and Ramsey make for a cute couple…) to force Stannis to do what she thinks he has to.

        As an aside, I’ve never been sold on Mel as being anti-white walkers. Her lack of comment about anything north of The Wall is telling to me. The Red God could be a double agent.

        • winnie says:

          Whatever else Mel is, she’s a true believer in fighting the Long Night. Sadly she doesn’t necessarily go about it the right way and she often misinterprets the signs which is why she thinks Stannis is AA when its clearly Jon.

    • Nah, I think Ramsay’s going to burn Stannis’ food and shelter, forcing him to decide whether Shireen dies or they all die.

      • Keith B says:

        That’s a bit tame for Ramsey, isn’t it? But it does raise the question, where is Stannis getting supplies? He has an army of 6,000 men and it’s about 600 miles from the Wall the Winterfell. It seems improbable that he has a large enough supply train, but if he’s living off the land, how much forage can he expect to find in the North in wintertime?

        Next to distances and dates, I wish GRRM would pay more attention to logistics.

        • Winnie says:

          Yeah, burning food and shelter might be a logical move but Ramsay would prefer something more…extreme. The wisest strategy would probably have been Roose’s siege mentality but the son clearly isn’t as rational as the father.

  5. Winnie says:

    Great analysis by Marcotte of Pandagon…

    Here’s the link..


    I pretty much agree with everything she says EXCEPT for her theorizing that Tyrion is Dany’s half-brother. But I do agree that Tyrion is likely to be a dragon rider.

    • It’s an excellent essay, although being cited makes me a little biased on that score.

      Yeah, I’m not down for A+J=T.

      • Winnie says:

        I find it reassuring that the show has done NOTHING to set up A+J=T the way they have other developments like Jon’s heritage. For that matter the dye job they gave Dinklage certainly makes him look more like a Lannister as well.

        • Jim B says:

          Yeah, I don’t buy it either, for this reason among others. From a narrative point of view, who’s left who could “reveal” that Tyrion is (supposedly) a secret Targaryen? (
          (We know from the worldbook that even non-Targaryens have on occasion been able to ride dragons, so that by itself will prove nothing.) Joanna and Aerys and Tywin are dead, as are all of Aerys’s Kingsguard except for Jaime who joined much too late. On the show, Kevan’s still alive, but even if he knew, it’s unlikely he will live to chat with Tyrion again.

          I guess Varys knows everything about everyone, but that’s quite a revelation for him to pull out of nowhere. I think it’s unlikely that they’ll suddenly introduce a new character just for that purpose. “Why hello there, Tyrion. I was your mother Joanna’s maid, but I retired to Meereen for the weather and the fighting pits. Boy do I have some stories for you!”

          With Jon’s parentage, there’s Howland Reed (and presumably his children) who know the truth, and Melisandre seems to sense something.

      • You also have to remember that even if Tyrion was a bastard he wouldn’t be one of the heads of the dragon. The whole reason Aerys and Rhaella were forced to marry was the savior(s) was supposed to come of their line. That means Dany and children, Rhaegar’s children, or Viserys’ children only.

  6. I did want to post an update about my regular Chapter-by-Chapter stuff: I’m 2k words into Tyrion VIII, it’s coming along nicely, but I need to take some notes to flesh out the historical section, so it’ll probably be coming out a bit later in the week.

  7. SummerIsComing says:

    I guess I saw somewhere that actor Joseph Mawle was going to in this episode and was looking forward to that (I’m in the camp of people unworried about the show spoiling the books) so a bit bummed when he didn’t show up and kept thinking I didn’t learn anything new from this episode (there is a undead army, when humans are killed they raise up and join the army, Coldemort controls the undead army, nobody likes Thenns). Maybe it was just underlying and connecting the dots for all the audience which matters too. Still I think people are too harsh on the big battle too (Steven Attewell was right remembering Robb Stark at Oxcross when he was King of the Off-Screen Battles ).

  8. WPA says:

    I have to say I loved the expressions of Lovecraftian horror and dread on Jon, Edd’s, and (to an extent) Tormund’s faces in the last glimpse back from the boats. Well done acting, and a moment of utter despair is probably the only response to a scene like that.

  9. Keith B says:

    Question for discussion:

    We see the Night King reviving the dead wildlings and turning them into White Walkers. Previously we say Thoros of Myr returning Beric Dondarrion to life. And Qyburn is working on bringing back Gregor Clegane (although it’s not entirely clear he’s really dead).

    Is it the same kind of magic in each case (or at least the first two cases)? If so, why does Beric come back essentially as himself, while the dead wildlings become zombies bent on destruction?

  10. Rufus Leek says:

    I didn’t get the impression that Jon brought the whole cache of dragonglass to Hardhome. It would have made sense to bring a sample, but leave most of it at Castle Black.

  11. Tyrion and Dany have both father and mother paradigms in common. Both their mothers (supposedly) died giving them birth. I’ve heard some (more than likely crackpot) theories that both moms could be alive though there’s far more evidence for Johanna with Jaime’s fever dream in AFFC. There is a definite parallel with them as the youngest children of their houses.

    • artihcus022 says:

      Even Jon Snow’s mother died giving birth to him…well its not confirmed but that’s pretty much what happened.

      • The narrative is filled with dead/missing mothers. I have a great deal to say about that in planned essays.

      • Winnie says:

        And Jon Snow was the youngest of Rhaegar’s children as well.

        Interestingly since Jon survived both his elder siblings, as did Dany, that might suggest something about Tyrion’s future.

        • artihcus022 says:

          You know the phrase in the prophecy is “Salt and Smoke”, I always felt the salt part referred to tears and that happens when you give birth.

          While the books do have missing mothers, you also have Catelyn Stark and Cersei Lannister in the narrative, both of them are foils for each other. Then you have Sybell Spicer and Olenna Tyrell, two mothers (well Olenna is a grandmother and maybe I am letting the TV series affect my view) who conspired to kill their in-laws at a wedding. Sam Tarly’s mother seems to have been a good woman if not strong enough to oppose Randyll and Gilly likewise is another mother. There’s also Elia Martell in the background, and then Mellario who is another kind of mother.

          So you have a wide multiplicity there.

          • winnie says:

            I agree the salt part referred to tears but I thought the tears might be those of Bowen Marsh in the books or Olly on the show when Jon is killed.

  12. jpmarchives says:

    I found the Hardhome battle to be entertaining, well executed filler. Which is preferable to poorly executed filler (almost the entirety of the rest of the season) to be sure, but still worrying that this is quite clearly where all the money went. I liked the episode, but all the problems from the rest of the season will still be waiting by the time episode 9 rolls around.

  13. Sir Squirt says:

    Here is a crazy prediction for the show: Petyr Baelish sits the throne at the end of the season or during the beginning of the next. Why? How?

    1. He has an alliance with Boltons of the north.
    2. He has a tacit alliance with the Tyrells.
    3 He commands the anti-Lannister knights of Vale who can sweep into King’s Landing instead of heading north.
    4. Tommen is probably not surviving the oncoming trials.
    5. We know Kevan is not going to make it, leaving an even larger power vacuum.
    6. With all the chaos, what better person to take charge than the man with an army, alliances, and money.
    7. Without FAegon, the show needs an intermediary king between Tommen the abomination and Dany the liberator. Also, it would provide a satisfying end to Littlefinger’s arc.

    I’m not sure how the High Sparrow allows Petyr to be king though. Note also that the Iron Islands, the Stormlands. and the Riverlands don’t seem to matter in the show.

    • Doug McMillan says:

      He doesn’t really have control over the knights of the Vale. If he spins the right story he could get the houses of the Vale to back him in specific actions, but there’s no way he can get a group of lords who despise him for his low birth to back him for the throne. They value breeding and honor too highly to ever back such an action, and without them Littlefinger is just a corrupt civil servant and former brothel owner

      If he had Gendry on the other hand, and Cersei’s incest and Tommen’s bastardy was to become a political fact, then presenting him to the lords of the Vale could lead to an attack on King’s Landing. Littlefinger doesn’t possess the bloodline to win the support of feudal Westeros but he could prop up someone else for the throne; positioning himself as a humble supporter of the most legitimate heir remaining.

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