Production design rules the latest episode of Game of Thrones, “The House of Black and White,” complementing the emotional and psychological developments of the fifth season’s second chapter. On one hand you have grandiose set pieces, elaborate costumes and beautifully constructed action sequences — on the other, there’s intangible virtues and vices mixed with hate, love, loyalty, and betrayal.
The episode opens with Arya (Maisie Williams) witnessing an enormous guardian statue on a great vessel entering the city of Braavos. Meanwhile, Brienne (Gwendoline Christie) and Pod (Daniel Portman) run into both Petyr Baelish (Aidan Gillen) and Sansa (Sophie Turner) before finding themselves entangled in some trouble in the woods. With Sansa elaborately fashioned in black and wearing an extravagant necklace, the coloring suggests disguise and even mourning, while the opulence invokes power.
Cersei (Lena Headey) fears that her daughter Myrcella (Nell Tiger Free) will find harm in Dorne, and Jaime (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) vows to travel there to ensure her safety. Both Jon (Kit Harington) and Daenerys (Emilia Clarke) are tempted and faced with new tests to their leadership.
Much of “The House of Black and White” focuses on the intangibility of virtue — what do morals count for if they do not yield any results? A brief, light-hearted scene between Bronn (Jerome Flynn) and his betrothed is counteracted entirely by the arrival of Jaime Lannister. He seems to quite easily persuade Bronn to abandon love, as he promises him a better woman for a wife in exchange for aiding him on his “diplomatic mission” to Dorne. Perhaps this is a reflection merely on this one man’s character, but human nature itself is fickle and maybe even innately selfish.
Further north, Jon Snow is nominated by Samwell Tarly to become the new Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch. Snow’s candidacy is slandered due to his previous sexual relationship with Ygritte (a wildling), and his opponents are championed for the depths of their hatred. Why is hate more noble than love? Somehow, it has become an emotion more associated with loyalty and truth than love ever could. I suppose that is why we say love is blind, as it supposedly cripples our sense of reason. Yet, isn’t love also what drives the world’s beauty and what should drive peace? We realize that men do not seek peace as much as they seek to satisfy their lust for power, revenge and blood.
Halfway across the world, this is similarly evoked as Daenerys is told of her father, Aerys II Targaryen “The Mad King,” who gave his enemies the justice he thought they deserved, and each time it made him feel more powerful up until the very end. What will the future hold for the Mother of Dragons as she continues her bid for the Iron Throne? Aerys II Targaryen began as a noble leader but was corrupted in his quest for more and more power. Will Daenerys suffer the same fate?
“The House of Black and White” contains natural beauty and rich compositions that rival the best of cinema. There is no superfluity at work, but a grandeur that reaches deep into our collective sense of mythology. The episode offers the ideal blend of high and low art — it appeals to our basic instincts while exploring emotions, ideas and morality that are universal and ageless.
Justine Smith (@redroomrantings) lives and writes in Montreal, Quebec. She has a bachelor’s degree in Film Studies, and a passionate hunger for all kinds of cinema. Along with writing for Vague Visages, she is the film editor of Sound on Sight and a freelance writer.