As much as I am a defender of TV adaptations as having the potential to be just as good if not better than their source material, Game of Thrones has one clear disadvantage compared to A Song of Ice and Fire: unlike the books, the TV show does not have the same freedom to leave main characters for entire seasons at a time when less is happening in their respective story arcs. Such is the nature of TV. As TV watchers, we have our favorite characters and plotlines featuring actors with contracts. Many people tune into Game of Thrones for Tyrion or Arya or Daenerys. Therefore, HBO is not going to give Peter Dinklage, Maisie Williams, or Emilia Clarke the season (or a good part of the season) off — even if it would be better for the narrative.
No, instead, we spent almost two seasons watching Arya getting bossed around by Jaqen and The Waif in Braavos. We have also gotten multiple scenes in Season 6 that are primarily about Tyrion’s drinking problem in relation to Missandei and Grey Worm’s relative straight edge.
The thing about Game of Thrones, however, is that — even when it is delivering an episode that is mostly filler and anti-climactic endings — the show does it so well. “No One” gave us a lot of a) stuff we already knew was probably going to happen (i.e. Dany returning to Meereen, Arya reclaiming her name) or b) stuff we don’t really care about (i.e. the slave masters attacking Meereen), but it did everything with enough panache that it’s hard to ever dislike an episode of this show. It also always addresses enough storylines in any one episode that, even if some plots aren’t totally working, there are scenes, characters, or plotlines that are damn near Shakespearean.
It’s hard to believe that, after almost two seasons hanging with Arya in Braavos, this plotline has finally (hopefully) come to an end. I’m just sad that Miss Fisher — excuse me, Lady Crane — had to die for it to happen. The episode started with yet another one of Lady Crane’s performances as Cersei. This time, rather than watching from the crowd, we are right there with her on stage. We see how deeply she feels this moment as she acts out Cersei holding a dying Joffrey in her arms. It is not only an impressive example of Essie Davis’ acting prowess, but gives us a strong connection with the character. Game of Thrones has granted Lady Crane the gift of close-up camera work and a lingering opening.
Our affection for the character is further cemented when she finds Arya bleeding out in her dressing room. Arya is somehow still alive, despite the numerous stab wounds from last episode, and Lady Crane immediately takes her back to her home to stitch her up. More than that, she offers her a place in the traveling acting troupe. Arya probably should have taken it — for both of their sakes. Before long, The Waif has found them, killed Lady Crane, and taken off after Arya through the streets of Braavos. A bleeding Arya manages to make it back to her hidey-hole and retrieves Needle. Using the skills The Waif herself taught her, Arya slices the flame off of the candle, throwing the room into darkness, and takes her mentor’s life.
But Arya isn’t done yet. She returns to the House of Black and White and gives The Waif’s face to the Many-Faced God, settling the life-debt owed to the deity. It seems to be enough for Jaqen who, let’s be honest, has always had a soft spot for Arya and never seemed to like The Waif very much (understandably so — she was terrible). Still, this journey has been a long-winded way to get to Arya’s reclaiming of her identity. It’s a wonderful moment, Arya telling Jaqen, the Many-Faced God, and whoever else might be listening that her name is Arya Stark and she is going home, but Game of Thrones could have earned this storyline moment much more efficiently and effectively if it hadn’t dawdled so long with mopping and Daredevil training.
Meanwhile, in Meereen, Tyrion is wishing best friend Varys bon voyage. (This would be the first of two best friend goodbye scenes involving boats in this very episode.) Varys is going back to Westeros as part of a vague campaign to gain local support for Dany’s rule, which is probably a good plan, but leaves Tyrion with only Missandei and Grey Worm for company — and they do not have the same sense of humor. Still, it seems that Tyrion’s good influence is finally rubbing off on them. Missandei tells a joke, then Grey Worm tells a better joke, and the three seem almost like friends. Sure, Tyrion will probably never truly understand Missandei and Grey Worm the way they understand one another — or the way Dany understands them, as someone who has been bought and sold (and stayed in slavery for longer than five minutes, unlike Tyrion) — but that doesn’t mean these three can’t still find some common ground.
The Tyrion / Missandei / Grey Worm alliance is solidified just in time. The slave masters have come to retrieve what they believe to be theirs — the freed slaves living in Meereen — and are skipping straight to the fiery catapult phase of their attack without so much as an attempt at diplomacy. This is cool with me. It saves time because we all know Game of Thrones isn’t actually interested in fleshing out Meereen and Slaver’s’ Bay culture in more nuanced detail. They’ve had the opportunity and have chosen Tyrion wine jokes instead. Rather, this storyline is about Dany’s return — even if it is only briefly rendered, more of a tease for a future episode than anything substantial here. Still, Ian McShane would be happy. We got our requisite glimpse of dragon.
As a follow-up to last week’s sojourn in the country, The Hound has turned full-on ax murderer since his friend Brother Ray was slaughtered by some rogue Brotherhood Without Banners members. Of course, Sandor Clegane doesn’t know they are rogue until after he comes along Beric Dondarrion getting ready to hang the Brother Ray-slaughterers himself. Skilled at diplomacy, Beric offers two of the men to The Hound to hang himself. Sandor also gets a pair of boots out of the bargain and a reminder that he still has something left to give: namely, his ax murdering skills in the coming fight between the living and the dead. In trying to convince The Hound to fight for something honorable, Beric echoes the same sentiment Brother Ray was trying so hard to get Sandor to listen to: he has the power to make up for all of the bad he has done. It’s not too late.
Beric is the poster child for Not Too Late, given that — like Jon Snow — he has been brought back to life by the good graces of the Lord of the Light. Multiple times. He is the first major apparent clue in this episode that a certain Lady Stoneheart might be making a surprise appearance sooner rather than later… (Editor’s Note: Read our refresher about the Brotherhood without Banners and the possibility of Lady Stoneheart’s debut here).
The best stuff in “No One” happened at Riverrun, where we saw Jaime and Brienne reunited. The two are friends who respect and care for one another, but who find themselves on opposite sides of the war. This episode was very much about the larger missions or people we serve. For Brienne, that higher purpose is her knight’s honor and the vow she has made to Sansa Stark. For Jaime, he will do anything for Cersei. She is the “higher purpose” she serves. As Edmure Tully points out in the best scene of the episode, Jaime thinks that he is a decent man — everyone always, to some extent, thinks that they are decent — but that doesn’t make it so. Just because you are serving a higher purpose or someone else doesn’t mean you are not accountable for your actions. It does not wash the blood off of your hands.
The conversation between Edmure and Jaime also gave us the second major Lady Stoneheart clue of the night — another conversation about the fierceness of Catelyn Stark and her undying (get it?) love for her children. Jaime compares Catelyn to Cersei. Edmure kindly asks Jaime not to talk about the sister who was slaughtered as a result of the Lannister’s thirst for power. We are left wondering if Lady Stoneheart isn’t planning Jaime and Cersei Lannister’s untimely death as their conversation takes place.
Ultimately, Jaime convinces Edmure to surrender Riverrun by preying on his own instincts and love as a father. Even though Edmure has never met his son, that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t do anything to save him. Even if it would have been more interesting to see Edmure try to call Jaime’s potential bluff. The Lannister army takes over Riverrun once again and the Blackfish apparently (though, it is important to note, off-screen) goes out fighting. Not before he helps Brienne and Pod escape, however. They will return to Sansa Stark and Jaime won’t stop them.
He sees them paddling slowly away (pick up the pace, Podrick!), and lets them go, giving us our second Best Friends Say Goodbye On the War scene of the night. Awkward, yet heartfelt waves for everyone.
The Mountain may be good at squishing heads, but that’s not going to help Cersei get out of her trial. The Faith Militant convince King Tommen to pass a decree abolishing the practice of trial by combat from the laws of the land, and it says a lot about how twisted this storyline has become that we, as viewers, for even five seconds, might think this is a tragic development. Sure, it’s certainly bad for Cersei, but it’s good for the people of King’s Landing and larger Westeros. Trial by combat is an affront to any kind of system of accountability and it should be abolished. But, because we have been slowly and subtly manipulated (as storytelling so wonderfully can do) into seeing Cersei as the victim rather than the agent of destruction she is,it is with conflicting feelings that Tommen’s announcement is made.
This means that Cersei will have to find another way to get out of justice — or whatever the Faith Militant has in mind. Luckily, she has a back-up plan. She has tasked Qyburn to determine if the “rumors” are true. Presumably, she is talking about the caches of wildfire the Mad King Aerys was rumored to have hidden around the city. Whatever the rumor is Qyburn confirms that his source do, indeed, confirm that it is true. Cersei is going to burn it all to the ground.
Rating: ★★★ Good
Lady Crane: “I’m good at patching them up.”
Arya: “And good at poking holes in them.”
Though Lady Crane plays Cersei, when she takes her wig off, she bears a resemblance to Catelyn Stark — a comparison even more uncanny when she is watching over Arya. In many ways, she is the corporeal manifestation of Jaime’s comparison of the two fierce mothers.
“You’re shit at dying, you know that?” — The Hound
Tyrion: “I’m going to miss you.”
Varys: “I know.”
Did Varys just pull a Han Solo?
“I choose violence.” — Cersei Lannister
Podrick: “Looks like a siege, m’lady.”
Brienne: “You have a keen military mind, Pod.”
“Podrick fucking Payne. I thought you’d be dead by now.” — Bronn
The Bronn/Podrick reunion was a nice character-driven note in a Riverrun-centric storyline that already had a lot to juggle. I’m so glad Game of Thrones managed to include it.
Jaime: “In my experience, girls like [Sansa Stark] don’t live very long.”
Brienne: “I don’t think you’ve met many girls like her.”
Brienne of Tarth, #1 Sansa Stark stan.
“It’s yours. It will always be yours.” —Jaime to Brienne
“Anyone not drinking is disrespecting our queen” — Tyrion Lannister, channeling his sister
“That is the worst joke I have ever heard.” — Grey Worm, telling a joke
“You understand on some level that you’re an evil man.” — Edmure to Jaime
“Don’t fight for pride when you could fight for your blood.” — Brienne, trying to convince the Blackfish to join Sansa’s cause. Everyone should listen to Brienne.
“Tougher girls than you have tried to kill me.” — The Hound
“A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home.”