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GAME OF THRONES Re-Throned: “Hardhome” (S5, E8)

Winter is coming, but not soon enough. So to help pass the time until season seven of Game of Thrones, we’re doing a weekly re-watch of the series, episode-by-episode, with the knowledge of what’s to come and—therefore—more information about the unrevealed rich history of events that took place long before the story began. Be warned, though: that means this series is full of spoilers for every season, even beyond the episode itself. So if you haven’t watched all of the show yet immediately get on that and then come back and join us for Game of Thrones Re-Throned.

Because the next best thing to watching new episodes is re-watching old ones.


Season 5, Episode 8: “Hardhome”

Original Air Date: May 31st, 2015
Director: Miguel Sapochnik
Written by: David Benioff and D.B. Weiss

We’ve known from Game of Throne‘s very first scene that who rules from what chair doesn’t matter compared to the coming Great War between the living and the dead. And no episode better highlights the true existential threat the White Walkers pose than the stunning, haunting events that take place in “Hardhome.” But while the relentless attack of undead lemmings stands as one of the great horror sequences in television history, the scariest—yet potentially hopeful—moment comes when it ends.

A beleaguered Jon Snow retreats back on a rowboat as the Night King walks out to the end of the pier and slowly raises the dead, turning the fallen wildlings into an ever-growing army for him to command. It’s arguably the single most iconic moment of the series (I vote it number one) because it’s the show’s most chilling.


But why does he allow Jon to get away? The rowboat isn’t far from shore, and he could easily have his horde of dead men form a zombie bridge to continue the attack. Instead he lets Jon leave with a full display of his awesome powers.

Is this moment just him being a total bad ass, sure in his inevitable victory, reveling in the fear he can instill in the living before he conquers them? Or is it more calculating than mere bravado?

Jon is not meant to survive Hardhome, as during the battle he is attacked by an actual White Walker (referred to by D.B. Weiss as a lieutenant). But when Jon defends himself with his Valyrian steel sword, Longclaw, it doesn’t shatter like every other weapon when struck by a White Walker’s weapon of ice. This shocks the lieutenant, who was clearly unaware such a thing was possible. He isn’t stunned for long though, as Jon strikes him with Longclaw, instantly breaking the White Walker into thousands of ice shards.


The Night King sees this from above, and his subtle expression of disbelief shows that he, too, did not expect something like this could happen. This has been a perfect slaughter/recruitment for him so far, as has the building of his army over the years, but Jon shows him he is not invincible.

Which again raises (pun intended!) the question of why he let him go. It’s a super villain move for sure, letting the hero know the evil that awaits him, but beyond that is there value in letting the living know what is coming? Is this an attempt to undermine their resolve?


Mance took 20 years uniting the wildling clans, and he did it by telling them they’d all die otherwise. Knowledge of the White Walkers would seem to be a unifying force, but yet before this attack half the wildlings turned down Jon’s offer of working together to stop them, despite knowing better than anyone the danger they are in. Even zombies aren’t enough to bring some enemies together, so why should the Night’s King fear Jon Snow’s unifying abilities? Sure enough, Jon will be killed by his own brothers for working with the wildlings, despite the logic of his reasoning.

If anything, Jon returning with such an unbelievable story about an unthinkable enemy might make him less credible as a leader. Imagine only hearing about what happened at Hardhome and how difficult it would be to accept. Would you trust the man who told you something so impossible?


And if you did believe him, would you want to face such an enemy? It’s one thing to risk death in battle, but it’s something else to know that your fate is somehow worse than dying. To fall against the White Walkers is to become their soldier. Why run north to fight such a foe when you can run south to avoid them?

It’s why that moment of silence is far more terrifying than the attack that preceded it. Death comes for us all. It doesn’t need to chase us.

However, there is hope here, hope that has nothing to do with Jon being a man who has literally conquered death. To let your enemy escape is an act of pride; it’s arrogant to assume you can defeat your opponent whenever you want. It’s a very human failing for a blue-eyed ice demon.


Because for all of the terrible magical powers the Night King has, and for as monstrous as he is, he still retains some of that humanity from when the White Walkers were first created from man himself. They are an army of the dead, but it’s the living part of them that makes them vulnerable, and a vulnerable enemy can be defeated.

Maester Aemon said that love is the death of duty, and that applies to the Night King and the White Walkers, too. He takes joy in letting Jon go, in letting the living know what comes for them, when the best thing he could have done was kill Jon Snow right then and there.

“Hardhome” stands as one of Game of Throne‘s best episodes, a master class in storytelling, told with a stunning and shocking spectacle full of humanity, bravery, and frailty. And while it ends on the most ominous of moments, their might be a sliver of light found in the darkness of that evil.

The living better hope so.

What do you think of this episode and the final scene? Row into our comments below to let us know.

Images: HBO

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