Brow Beat

This Week’s Worst Person in Westeros: Jaqen H’ghar

Jaqen H’gar, even worse than the Night’s King. 

Photo by Macall B. Polay/courtesy of HBO

After each episode in Game of Thrones Season 5, we’ll be discussing a crucial question: Who is currently the Worst Person in Westeros? This week, Slate assistant editor Miriam Krule is joined by Slate culture critic and Outward editor June Thomas.

Miriam Krule: June! Thanks so much for joining me to discuss “Hardhome.” It is amazing to me how much more I like Dany now that she is acquainted with Tyrion—I actually even care what she has to say (something about breaking a wheel?). I could talk here about Arya as well—or Lanna?—and how terrified I am for her future (and lamely suggest that the weird gambling dude she’s stalking is the Worst Person in Westeros) but that would just be distraction from what actually happened in this episode: another massive battle, one with an insane number of wights and White Walkers. Is there any hope for us, or will our beloved TV show continue to be swallowed up by the walking dead? I don’t mind battle scenes—and I understand that this one is important—but it felt a bit too long and too repetitive for me. I would have been OK with a mere 10 minutes of battle.

June Thomas: I’m so happy to be here. As a proud daughter of the North (of England—albeit one who hasn’t lived there for 30 years), I’m glad to have a chance to talk about one of the few works of art that celebrates people speaking in Northern English accents. I confess I shared your feelings about the battle scene. We’re probably in the minority on that, but give me a classic Game of Thrones double act walk and talk any day. If Tyrion isn’t in the battle, I’m never that fussed—but this one had two additional problems:

1) I cannot stand White Walkers, wights, zombies (except Liv Moore in iZombie), or any type of regenerating creature. I don’t care if it happens in an existential battle behind the Wall or on an episode of American Horror Story: Coven. Once someone is dead, I like them to stay that way.

2) I barely knew anyone in that battle—Jon Snow, Tormund, that rodentian crow who looks like Robert Carlyle in his Trainspotting days—and that was it. Otherwise, just a bunch of strange wildlings and hideous walkers. Well, I was momentarily rooting for the Wildling elder played by Birgitte Hjort Sørensen, partly because she’s Katrine Fonsmark on Borgen and partly because her concern for her daughters made me think something horrid was going to happen to the kids. It didn’t work out that way, but we had a lot of concern for the next generation this week.

Krule: I think that’s what bothered me the most too—there were very few people I felt invested in during that battle, and the dialogue was nonexistent/lame. From the second Jon Snow got off the boat and “fucking” was every other word, it started sounding like a very uncreative high school football field (someone said something derogatory about sucking someone else’s cock) and I couldn’t even get behind the trash talk. As for Sørensen’s character, it’s pretty much guaranteed that once someone promises something, anything, on Game of Thrones, something terrible will happen. In this case it did—she promised they’d see her again, but she did not clarify in what form—now she’s a wight who wants to kill them (eat them? I swear those wight children started eating her face).

So we agree that the battle dragged on—aside from that moment when Jon Snow killed a White Walker with his awesome sword/Lightbringer. There wasn’t enough plot/conversation—the music was suspenseful, and, I have in my notes “Lost-like,” but no one was really Worst Person in Westeros material, unless we want to talk about the Night’s King/Coldemort (who still counts even if he’s beyond the Wall). Who’s your nomination? My nomination for Saddest Person in Westeros (who isn’t actually in Westeros, they never are anymore) is definitely Ser Jorah.

Thomas: Worst Person in Westeros is George R.R. Martin for inventing White Walkers. But before we leave them, can I just ask why they didn’t just get in the boats (or chase the fleeing crows and wildlings)? I know they can’t handle fire, but are they allergic to water, too? That feels like a pretty significant collection of weaknesses.

Ser Jorah is indeed pretty sad—the poor guy was banished but before that he had to hear himself discussed in the third person while he was in the room, one of the great humiliations of life. I’m glad Dany sent him away, though. His dry rot is spreading, and I worry about him passing it on. We’ve seen with the White Walkers how dangerous viruses can be. What about happiest-slash-luckiest person in Westeros? That has to be a tie between Daenerys and Tyrion. I have never shared your dislike for Dany—she’s the Motherfucking Mother of Dragons!—but now she’s finally hooked up with a wise adviser who isn’t betraying her somehow. And both Dany and Tyrion know how to fight with fire—remember Tyrion’s brilliant strategy of using wildfire at the Battle of Blackwater. That affinity could come in useful soon!

Krule: Ah, yes, a battle that actually involved strategy and plot and dialogue and a mother sitting on the Iron Throne with her son (and the poison to kill them both). Those were the golden days of Game of Thrones battles. I’m tempted to actually name the Night’s King as Worst Person for inflicting this battle on us as viewers—and, you know, being a terrifying entity that will destroy Westeros. If it weren’t for him, we could have had so much more Dany/Tyrion banter and maybe even the beginning of the much-desired Reekolution.

Thomas: The Night’s King could indirectly be the Best Person in Westeros at some point, though. He and his supermotivated army of the dead could ravage the great houses of Westeros and thus achieve Dany’s dream of breaking the wheel. Either by reducing the population of the living to next to none (would the survivors be called the Second Men?) and then being incinerated from above by Dany’s dragons. Or perhaps by causing the great families to forget their historic feuds to unite and fight together as the wildlings fought alongside the crows. (Only, with a better result if three giant fire-breathing creatures are raining down destruction from above.) But wait, I have a late-breaking candidate: Jaqen H’ghar.

Krule: You mean “a Man.” I’m almost willing to agree just because of how much his voice has started to grate on me. And the fact that he calls himself “a Man” but Arya “a Girl.” I’ve given him space to mold and shape Arya, because she’s needed some structure and direction in her life, but perhaps the kind of structure he has in mind is not exactly the way to go. I still have a somewhat delusional faith that Arya is in control of this situation—after all, she hid Needle and that hasn’t come up yet. But tell me more about why the Man should win the Worst Person crown this week.

Thomas: A viewer’s heart breaks to see Arya so far from home and to see the man teaching the girl to lose herself. I don’t want Arya to say goodbye to her Stark-ness, and I really don’t care for his lack of concern for her safety. It may be the same to the many-faced god if she lives or dies, but it is not the same to me! In an episode about the importance of good mothers and fathers, I was reminded how young Arya still is and how much she’s in need of a wise parental counsel. Jaqen is not capable of providing that—or perhaps he’s given her all he can and has no more useful advice to pass along. Besides, I worry that this exercise with oyster-seller Lanna is an elaborate heist of the thin man’s mountain of money. Arya has committed crimes before, but that was in the name of survival; her motives now are far less noble.

Krule: Arya has become such a good student while still deeply questioning the methods Jaqen H’gar is using that I still have hope, that she will realize she doesn’t actually need him—but how will she escape? I’m excited to see how that plays out. But for now, you’ve convinced me. Anyone who takes advantage of Arya Stark—or tries to rid her of her name—is on my list.

Thomas: Jaqen H’gar, the Night’s King, Cersei Lannister, those undead children who ate Katrine Fonsmark …

Correction, June 1, 2015: This post originally conflated White Walkers and wights. It has been updated to include both of them.