Recap Digest: Game of Thrones 5.2, "The House of Black and White"

Apr 20, 2015 by Alex Castle

Heavy is the head that wears the crown, as Daenerys continues to learn in her effort to turn Meereen from a slave state to a benevolent dictatorship. Her effort to install a little due process along with law and order badly backfires, as she orders a fair trial for the (clearly guilty) representative of the Sons of the Harpy who slit an Unsullied throat in the brothel last week; the prisoner is killed by another former slave while in custody, and this time the Mother of Dragons skips the trial and orders the former slave publicly executed, setting off a riot. Even the return of the wayward Drogon is fleeting, as the largest dragon barely says hello before taking off again.

Arya arrives at the House of Black and White in Braavos, and after being denied entry and told that Jaquen was not there, she camps out on the steps repeating her revenge list like a mantra; when she finally gives up and leaves, she immediately gets into a scrape with some local toughs, and is bailed out by a mysterious man who turns out to be… you guessed it… Jaquen.

Brienne finds Sansa with Petyr Baelish, and her services are refused once again, just as they were by Arya. Brienne vows to track the pair in case Sansa gets into trouble and uphold her vow to Cat Stark, but Podrick is right to wonder if Brienne shouldn’t just find something else to do.

And at the Wall, Jon Snow is presented with the chance to be un-bastardized by Stannis, who offers to make him Jon Stark if he will help bring the wildling army to heel under Stannis’ banner; as Jon ponders that option he is abruptly voted Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, nominated by Samwell at the last moment in a rousing speech that brings the first-ever smile to Jon Snow’s face.

Vulture’s Nina Shen Rastogi sees parallels between the plot of the show and the making of the show:

The game in Game of Thrones has always been a long one. Long-standing grudges animate contemporary scuffles; ancient prophecies fuel current obsessions. Individual character arcs have a massive, historic sweep. Even if you haven’t read the books, you watch the show at least half-aware that there are 4,000-plus pages of novel out there, tracing out the past and future of these complex, protracted journeys.

But we’ve also reached a kind of crossroads in that meta-story, in that we know the show is diverging from the books and will eventually outpace its own source material, like some kind of strange, semi-sentient plot contraption Christopher Nolan might have dreamed up.

For me, this backstory gave a little extra jolt to “The House of Black and White,” which was written by David Benioff and D. B. Weiss and directed, like the season premiere, by Michael Slovis. There’s something exciting — and I’d guess unnerving, for many book readers — about the uncertainty of what lies ahead now in Game of Thrones. And in tonight’s episode, many of the main story lines circled back to this question: What do you do when all your plans fall apart — when you, in essence, run out of script?

Brienne, Arya, and Daenerys each face this challenge in their own way.
Grantland’s Andy Greenwald [loved the scope](http://grantland.com/hollywood-prospectus/game-of-thrones-season-5-episode-2-recap-the-house-of-black-and-white/) of the episode:
The spectacle began in the very first frame. Arya, absent last week, is revealed in full wonderment: face tilted upward, eyes wider than the Wall. Thanks to some nimble CGI, we see what she sees: The Titan of Braavos — easily TV’s most compelling broken, oversize statue since this one — and surely a welcome sight after an untold number of days at sea. But to my mind, there were far more welcome markers lurking just through the statue’s massive thighs. Not just a new city, but an entire world! How wonderful was it, on a show famous for its gruesome deaths, to spend a few moments in a place teeming with life? Michael Slovis’s expert camera panned from floating markets, groaning from the weight of dangling watermelons, to seaside merchants flipping fish fresh from the water directly onto the grill. Smoke and the sound of merry bartering filled the air. It was overwhelming. It was intoxicating. Where’s the bannerman from House Bourdain when you need him most?

Though it lasted but a few seconds, Arya’s dreamy detour into parts unknown laid the foundation for all that followed. Everything fantastic and odd — from the claustrophobically cool yin-yang house that gave the episode its title to the return of the face-shifting Jaqen H’ghar — was built on the sturdy back of those precious moments by the harbor. They provided a high-flying show with weight, specificity, and context. For every dozen intestine-slicing reminders that existence in the Seven Kingdoms is brutish and short, it’s important to have at least one glimpse of life worth preserving. I get that Arya must become “no one” for the next part of her journey to begin — whatever that might mean. But I appreciated so much the time spent with her as very much a someone: alone, in the rain, in a distant land with nothing to keep her company but a sword, a coin, a carefully curated kill list, and, eventually, a decapitated pigeon. With certain notable exceptions — Daenerys is now more entrenched in Meereen than that blasted pyramid — Game of Thrones is a series defined by movement. So it’s crucial for it to provide a sense of where we are before careering into where we’re going.

The New York Times’ Jeremy Egner grapples with the episode’s title:

“Game of Thrones” returned for its second week with “House of Black and White,” a title taken from the citadel of the Faceless Men but also one that seemed to reference the polarities that vex us all.

From the opening shot of the Titan of Braavos, straddling land and sea, like the Colossus of Rhodes was purported to have done, according to (inaccurate) legend, this was an episode obsessed with duality, both intrinsic, as with young Arya, wrestling with her righteous anger, and external, as other characters wrestled with decisions that tested their mettle and challenged their conceptions of themselves.

The histories of kingdoms, which can seem preordained in retrospect, are built from such moments, when choices about shifting loyalties or how to define values reverberate far beyond the moment of reckoning. The trick, of course, is that such decisions are never totally black and white at the time.

The A.V. Club’s Erik Adams follows that thread into Daenerys’ storyline:

It’s a turning point for Dany’s time in Meereen, if not a turning point for the character overall. She makes a difficult decision, and witnesses the immediate (and bloody) public objection to that decision. It’s a polarizing decision, illustrated by one half of the assembled crowd immediately turning hostile and clashing with the other half of the crowd. “The House Of Black And White” traffics in these sort of right-down-the-middle splits and symmetrical compositions—freed slaves and their former masters, the contrasting doors of the titular structure, Dany’s white gown and Cersei’s black robes—but puts its characters through paces of greater complexity. The prophecy Cersei is futilely swatting away is shaded in gray, and the wrinkles of Mossador’s crime go beyond the “slavers bad, slaves good” stance that took Dany to the top of the great pyramid. Even being a mother is no longer as uncomplicated as it once was: Boy kings require Small Council puppet-mastering; just because Drogon comes back to the nest, it doesn’t mean that he’s going to stand by Dany or obey her. (The dragons are in full-on teen mode this season, aren’t they? “Ew, gross mom: Don’t touch me. Everybody’s looking!”) Pushing the woman who was queen and the woman who would be queen toward (or away from) those conclusions is where “The House Of Black And White” finds its narrative verve.

And HitFix’s Alan Sepinwall is happy to see the world of the show contracting:

The final scene brings with it one more reunion, as Drogon returns from his travels. For a moment, his presence on the balcony signals an end to Dany’s troubles: with her mightiest dragon back in her corner, surely the recent unrest will die down, right? But as with Brienne’s brief and disappointing encounter with Sansa, or most of Jaime’s interactions with his sister since he was released from captivity, it’s not a happy encounter, as Drogon gives his mother a brief once-over before seeming to decide that he still doesn’t have to answer to her, and flies off into the night.

Hey, not everyone can fall back into old rhythms as easily as Jaime and Bronn. Still, “The House of Black and White” continued this season’s push towards making the world feel like it’s shrinking a bit, character-wise, even as it keeps expanding geographically. If that’s the balance for now, I’ll take it.

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