After four full seasons, Game of Thrones fans have learned to expect the unexpected on a show where you never know which character will meet his or her demise. Possibly the most unexpected part of last week's Season 5 premiere, "The Wars to Come" (CLICK HERE to read my full review) is that it was a bit more underwhelming than we're used to, although it was still a damn fine premiere. I have a sneaking suspicion that this week's episode, "The House of Black and White", may have originally been envisioned and written as the Season 5 premiere, and it may have been moved to this season's second episode perhaps to temper rabid fan expectations. If that is the case, it certainly worked, since the premiere made us drop our guard, so to speak, only to be thrilled and blown away by this phenomenal second episode. Of course, there will be plenty of SPOILERS below if you haven't watched tonight's episode, so read on at your own risk.
The episode opens with Arya Stark (Maisie Williams), who left Westeros at the end of Season 4 on a quest to find her old friend Jaquen H'gar (Tom Wlaschiha) on the other side of the Narrow Sea in Braavos. Arya is taken to The House of Black and White, which is where she is told she will find the man she's looking for. However, instead she finds an elderly African-American man, who says there is no one here with the name Jaquen H'gar. Confused, Arya spends all night on the steps outside, and the next day, chucks the coin Jaquen gave her into the sea. Thankfully, towards the end of the episode, the elderly man finds Arya in the streets of Braavos, leading her back to The House of Black and White, where he changes his face to reveal himself as none other than Jaquen H'gar! He even gives her back the coin she threw into the say, telling her that he is "nobody," which is what Arya must become now, leading her into the house to begin, presumably, her training of some sorts. We haven't seen Jaquen since the Season 2 finale, "Valar Morghulis", and his return is certainly a welcomed one, at least for me.
We also catch up with Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Podrick (Daniel Portman), who, after just missing Sansa (Sophie Turner) as they bickered with each other on the side of the road in the premiere, luckily run into Sansa and Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) at a diner. Brienne tells Sansa that she is charged with looking after her, after pledging an oath to Sansa's late mother, but Sansa refuses her offer of protection. When Littlefinger says he wants Brienne to stay, she senses a trap, and attacks, before her and Pod flee on their horses. A thrilling chase sequences ensues, where Brienne saves Pod after they got separated. Pod tries to convince her that, if both the Stark girls refused her assistance, that may mean she is free from her oath to Catelyn Stark, but Brienne doesn't think Sansa is safe with Littlefinger, so they continue on after her anyway. It will be interesting to see how this story line plays out, since we know from the premiere that Littlefinger is taking Sansa somewhere so remote that Cersei (Lena Headey) won't be able to get to her, but we'll have to wait and see if Brienne and Pod can disrupt this plan.
This episode sets up a number of quests in the making, with Jamie Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) starting a journey to retrieve his and Cersei's daughter Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) from Dorne, after Cersei receives what she perceives to be a threat from Dorne. One important tidbit is revealed in this scene as well, when Cersei reveals that all three of her children, the late Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), current King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman) and Myrcella were all fathered by Jamie. Of course, we already knew that Joffrey was the product of their incestuous relations, but this is the first time (I believe) it was confirmed that all three of her kids were Jamie's. You may recall the flashback scene from the premiere, where the future-teller said that Cersei will have only three kids, but the king will have 20. While Cersei seems to think that Jamie is mad for going to Dorne by himself, he teases that he isn't going to Dorne alone, and he next pops up in the Crownlands to visit one of my favorite characters in the whole series, Bronn (Jerome Flynn). At the end of last season, Bronn struck a deal with Cersei to marry Lollys Stokeworth, and he is seen with his bride-to-be in this episode, before they notice Jamie. The one-handed Lannister brings some bad news, though, revealing that Bronn's deal with Cersei is off, as Lollys is now set to marry someone else, freeing up Bronn to journey with him to Dorne to bring back Myrcella. If Bronn agrees to come with Jamie, he promises him a better wife and a bigger castle.
For the first time in series history, we also get to see the land of Dorne for the first time, as we're introduced to Prince Doran Martell (Alexander Siddig), brother of the slain Oberyn Martell (Pedro Pascal), whose death is a point of contention with Oberyn's paramour, Ellaria (Indira Varma). She chides Doran for doing nothing in response to Oberyn's death, threatening to cut up Myrcella, who is seen with her husband-to-be Trystane Martell (Toby Sebastian), and mail her back to King's Landing in little pieces. Doran refuses to let Ellaria do so, hinting that the veiled threat Cersei received was actually from Ellaria, as she tries to provoke a war. While we do not see them in this episode, Ellaria mentions the Sand Snakes, Oberyn's daughters, who have pledged to avenge their father's death. With Jamie on his way to Dorne, and Cersei threatening to burn Dorne to the ground if Myrcella is harmed, this conflict could certainly be taken up many notches in the episodes to come.
In Meereen, Daario Naharis (Michiel Huisman) successfully finds the Sons of the Harpy member who killed the unsullied soldier White Rat. While members of Daenerys' (Emilia Clarke) council like Mossador (Jacob Anderson) want the murderer put to death, Barristan Selmy (Ian McElhinney) thinks he should be given a trial. One pivotal scene shows Barristan telling Daenerys, who thought stories of her father the Mad King were all lies, that everything she has heard was true, giving her a warning that the power she now wields could lead to her downfall, like it did with her father before her. She agrees to give the murderer a trial, but before that can happen, Mossador takes matters into his own hands, killing the murderer. After Mossador confesses to Daenerys, she tells him the murderer's life was not his to take. She sentences him to a public death by beheading, in front of all her new subjects, who scream for the queen to take mercy on him. Unfortunately, Daenerys doesn't take Barristan's story to hear, having Mossador beheaded and, in an instant, the entire city turns on her and erupts into chaos. The silver lining in this ordeal is the episode ends with Daenerys' missing dragon, Drogon, finally returns to her, but just as she reaches out to touch him, he flies off again. Why did Drogon come back, only to leave again? Hopefully we'll find out more next week, but one thing is for certain: Dany will certainly need all the help she can get, from dragons and humans alike, if she wants to maintain her hold over Meereen.
One of my favorite parts of the whole episode is where we see Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Varys (Conleth Hill) on their way to Meereen, riding in an elaborate horse cart. Tyrion, as he said he would, is still "drinking himself to death on the road to Meereen," growing insufferable at being trapped inside this "f---ing box." When Tyrion says he wants to go for a walk, Varys says he can't, because Cersei has offered a Lordship to anyone who brings her Tyrion's head. When Tyrion asks if Cersei plans on killing every dwarf in the world, it seems that is exactly her plan, as we cut back to King's Landing, where one of Cersei's hunters presents the severed head of a dwarf who is certainly not Tyrion. She mentions "other hunters," so it seems that she has men scouring the entire planet for her brother. We also see Cersei standing in for her son Tommen in a small council meeting, where she tries to appoint her uncle Kevan (Ian Gelder) as the Master of War, but he wants to hear this news from the actual King himself. Refusing to be Cersei's "puppet," he leaves to go back to Casterly Rock, insisting he will return when the King himself summons him. Of course, King Tommen is still very young, and we haven't seen him much this season, so we'll have to wait and see if his mother will continue trying to service her own agenda through him.
Finally, some high drama is brewing on The Wall, where Stannis (Stephen Dillane) tells Jon Snow (Kit Harington) that he showed Mance Rayder (Ciarán Hinds) mercy by plunging an arrow through his heart while he was being burned alive. Stannis asks Jon to help him take the North, promising to name him Jon Stark, Lord of Winterfell, if he helps him! While Jon Snow is stunned, he reveals to Samwell Tarly (John Bradley) moments later that he plans on refusing Stannis' offer, because he has pledged his life to the Night's Watch. The Night's Watch is holding elections for the new Lord Commander, a post that Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale) is expected to win. In a surprising turn of events, though Samwell nominates Jon Snow for the job, which he just barely wins after Maester Aemon (Peter Vaughan) casts the deciding vote for Snow. Now that Jon Snow is Lord Commander, it will be interesting to see how Stannis will change his plans to take the North, now that Jon Snow cannot help him do so.
That wraps it up for my review of this week's Game of Thrones episode, "The House of Black and White". Be sure to check back next Sunday for my review of next week's episode, "High Sparrow". Judging from the title alone, it seems that fans will get their first look at Jonathan Pryce, who plays High Sparrow, leader of a religious group called The Sparrows that was teased in last week's premiere, when Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon) showed up, telling Cersei that her soul can still be saved. Chime in with your thoughts on my review below, or @GallagherMW on Twitter. This season is shaping up to be the best one yet, so keep checking back every week for my thoughts on the new episode. Take a look at what's in store next week below.