[This is a review of Game of Thrones season 5, episode 5. There will be SPOILERS.]
There is a moment late in 'Kill the Boy' when Tyrion and Jorah are sailing through the ruins of Valyria and they are witness to Drogon soaring overhead. There is a look on Tyrion's face that is surprisingly not one of terror, but something else, something more akin to pure wonder at the spectacle flapping its giant leathery wings above him. Tyrion knows he is seeing something special that goes far beyond confirming Daenerys is indeed the mother of dragons. He is seeing the past and the future converge in the sky, in the form an ancient, almost mythical beast brought to life before his eyes. And with it comes the possibility of real change. That unruly flying reptile is, for lack of a better word, something for men like Tyrion to believe in. It represents the idea that the past doesn't have to be forgotten in order to bring about the future, but that the past can be used to help bring about a future no one ever expected.
It is to Peter Dinklage's credit that he is able to sell the moment and give it the justice it deserves, as he conveys wonderment through such cynical eyes. It's a little like when Sam Neill and Laura Dern set their peepers on John Hammond's creations in Jurassic Park – the perfect blend of the past being used to open up the doors to a strange and unpredictable future. That's the idea behind 'Kill the Boy', which proves to be another solid, plot-advancing hour that also marks the halfway point of Game of Thrones season 5.
As surprising as it is to say, the Dany and Jon storylines have been some of the more compelling offerings this season, with their parallel narratives working like bookends to a larger story nestled between them. Moreover, they often help set the thematic tone for the rest of the episode. This time, the focus is squarely on the notion of the past, and the way ignorance or devotion to it impedes progress into the future.
And there is no place where the past and the future are more at odds than in Meereen, where Dany is busy laying Barristan Selmy to rest after the old swordsman painted the walls red for the last time during an ambush by the Sons of the Harpy. But as Dany's future fiancé, Hizdahr zo Loraq (Joel Fry) is quick to remind her, the mother of dragons has incited the Sons of the Harpy largely through her refusal to acknowledge the importance of past traditions, like the fighting pits. This creates a schism not only between Dany and the masters she and her army have deposed, but also between her and the free men and women whose traditions she is ostensibly trampling on. As the occupying force, Dany's forgetting that her job will be made a thousand times more difficult if she attempts to wipe Meereen's past clean; she must recognize that as badly as she wants to march into the future, there will always be a piece of the past that must come along as well.
You would think someone who is (more or less) in charge of three incredibly powerful relics from the past would be the first to concede how important history is. But Dany's so focused on creating the perfect future, it's not until she's had a good sit down with Missandei that it becomes clear how the two ends must meet in the middle every so often. That's the key to what Jon's trying to sell the rest of the Night's Watch, as he proposes thousands of years of bloody antagonism between the free folk and the men on the Wall be put aside for the mutual benefit of both sides.
Seeing Jon and Dany in positions where they not only have to make decisions, but decisions that will potentially have an enormous impact on large pieces of the story has been one of more impressive aspects of season 5. And here, 'Kill the Boy' demonstrates how the weight of those decisions will bear down upon both of them as they move forward; how they will have to do the unpopular thing in order to bring about positive change. And it's probably no coincidence how closely both Jon and Dany's storylines mirror real life events about protracted military occupations and groups separated by a relatively thin margin seemingly controlled more by the history of their aggression than they are the possibility of a peaceful future.
But if Jon and Dany are heading up threads wherein the past and the future mingle in interesting ways on the macro level, Sansa's thread is the very same thing on the micro level. In a strangely charming moment, Sansa gets a major win at a dinner table shared by two men who've helped practically wipe the Stark name off the planet. As Ramsay uses Reek to assert his power over his betrothed (and over men in general, really), Roose is quick to point out that although his bastard son is now legitimate, he's going to have to constantly work to prove that legitimacy with another Bolton on the way. It's a small moment, but the look on Sansa's face says as much about the past and the future as Tyrion's moment of awe watching Drogon fly overhead.
One of the key strengths of Game of Thrones is that the audience is often as enraptured by stories of the past as the characters are. It is a series that relies as much on those watching to be invested in the history of Westeros and beyond, as it does the key players. And if this episode accomplishes anything, it's in the acknowledgment of how important the past will continue to be, as the future begins to unfold before the characters and the audience.
Game of Thrones will continue next Sunday with 'Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken' @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below:
Photos: Helen Sloan/HBO