Hardhome: Jon Snow arrives at the remote outpost and convinces some of the Wildlings to return with him, then they’re all attacked by an undead army. I’m not going to detail every sword swing, but here’s my highlight reel:
— Wildling chieftain named Karsi (Danish Pitch Perfect 2 actress Birgitte Hjort Sørensen) is a Thrones rarity: A single-episode guest appearance of awesomeness (she even had one of the best lines: “I f–king hate Thenns”). But we knew she was doomed when she said that fatal line to her kids, “I’m right behind you, I promise.” She couldn’t bring herself to kill the zombie children, so she was horribly consumed. For awhile there, she was Imperator Furiosa to Jon Snow’s Mad Max, with the Lord of Bones as Immortan Joe. Who killed the world?
— When Jon declared, “at least we’ll give the f–kers a fight,” it made me realize how infrequently Jon Snow swears.
— Jon discovers that his Valyrian sword can kill White Walkers. So it’s not just dragonglass, after all. Sure they’re both rare metals, but it’s good intel that gives Westeros more ways to survive, and it seems to have a certain magic-y logic since both metals have Valyrian ties.
— I like that Game of Thrones has 28 Days Later-style speed zombies, while The Walking Dead has George Romero-style shambling zombies.
— A reference to the giant ice spiders! The last time we heard about them, I believe, was when Old Nan was telling Bran her pants-pooping terrifying bedtime stories in season 1. Are we going to get them, I wonder…
— The White Walkers on the hill. The four undead horseman of the apocalypse?
— Perhaps my favorite effect in an episode stuffed with impressive CGI was a real simple one: The White Walker general jumping down a level without bending his legs any any further. It was an idea I’ve seen before in films, but the execution of it here was so deft and inhuman.
— Giant stomp! But is “Wun Wun” the giant going to swim-swim back to Castle Black after wading out to sea? You had to think everybody escaping on a boat is thinking, “I hope the giant doesn’t want to ride on this boat.” Also: We learned “what the f–k you looking at” translates to sounding like “donkey kong” in giantspeak.
— The undead falling over the cliff, then coming to life. Here’s what’s crazy: That was more convincing-looking than the wall-attacking zombie hordes in the awful World War Z film adaptation.
— The last couple minutes of the episode…I mean, it was perfect, wasn’t it? Smartly, composer Ramin Djawadi went silent for this beat. The water-adverse Night’s King resurrecting the Wildling dead was staged wonderfully. Jon looked very cool on the boat; his expression was captivating. I’m trying to avoid the cliche description of “epic” here. Game of Thrones has had some difficulty unifying the White Walker storyline to the more grounded-feeling drama in the rest of the show, yet this sequence managed to retain the show’s usual dramatic sensibility along with the extreme fantasy elements.
Usually the big action setpiece is in the ninth episode of the season, but we still have two more to go. For those saying it’s been a sluggish season up until now, the last two episodes continue the high drama and pace we saw tonight. It’s no secret that there’s also one major action sequence still to come (the fighting pits). Until next week…
Here’s Kit Harington talking about making that Hardhome battle sequence, and George R.R. Martin revealing which five characters from the books he wishes were on the show (yup, Lady Stoneheart is one).