This Game of Thrones review contains spoilers.
Season 6 Episode 8
The name of this week’s hour in HBO high fantasy is “No One,” but it’s full title should have been “No One Has to Worry About More Time Wasted in the House of Black and White.”
And for that, there will be much rejoicing.
Indeed, after ending last week on a cliffhanger that I was not exactly thrilled as being the signoff, Game of Thrones spent the beginning and end of its antepenultimate episode wrapping up the “Arya Goes East” storyline in about as satisfying a manner possible. And for the most part it is a bloody success as she manages to cut her way through any lingering Essos subplots—such as my suspicion of her joining the traveling acting troupe on a voyage to Meereen—as well as finally making short work of the Waif, who had been quickly rising toward Ramsay levels of antagonism for many viewers.
But best of all, Needle finally was unsheathed and with it, Arya realized her destiny: to stab as many of her enemies in the eyes as screen time permits.
But to reach that epiphany, first let us consider how the previous cliffhanger was resolved. In a surprise to no one at home, Arya Stark’s life was saved by Lady Crane, who had taken the young wolf’s advice and spruced up her role in “Game of Thrones Season 1: The Play” with plenty of fanged anger. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house as the thespian version of Cersei vowed vengeance on the Stag and the Wolf, but little did she know that a young lupine was lying wounded in her dressing room. If only someone had warned her of the fate that befell a wildling named Osha after she too took a liking to a pair of stray pups.
As she nursed Arya to health, Crane offers Arya an intriguing proposition: to play Sansa Stark in their repertoire. Arya refuses, which is partially a shame since I predict this will be a long but fascinating tangent George R.R. Martin will explore in the literary The Winds of Winter (assuming it is ever published). Witnessing Arya search for some semblance of understanding and empathy for her long-lost older sister by embodying her as an archetypal villainess on stage provides ample dramatic opportunities that lean toward irony and tragedy.
Then again, the plot for Game of Thrones is moving like a prized stallion trying to outrun Drogon this season, and one of the benefits is that we are getting to the action much quicker, including with this week’s final moments.
For as much as Arya dreams of a life beyond these shores—as well as beyond Westeros’ nautical borders—it is not to be. Instead, while the Milk of the Poppy was no death sentence for a resting Arya, its kindness proved to be fatal for Lady Crane when the Waif came calling. Hellbent on making Arya suffer as much as possible, we are treated to a spectacular chase sequence that features the Stark girl pursued through the Braavosi equivalent of a Chicagoan shopping mall. Landing in a fruit cart was a particularly nice touch.
With tension so rife that we forget Braavos is supposed to double for the canals of Venice, I suspect few viewers had the chance to realize Arya was leading the Waif into a trap that was foreshadowed two weeks ago. Arya sleeps in the dark with Needle, and at the end of the day so did the Waif. Forgetting that she trained Arya in the Matt Murdock School of Martial Arts, the Waif’s cockiness of being lured into a dim room with only one candle was as satisfyingly cut short as the end of a flickering flame. I imagine her eyes were also the next two targets of Arya’s flick.
If the Many-Faced God is merciful, it was no quicker than Joffrey’s cut to black.
Speaking of which, the episode does cut to black with Arya confronting the Man Formerly Known as Jaqen about the whole “trying to kill me” thing, which he plays off as a lark. Ordering the Waif to kill you?! This Man does not care, which of you is dead… and um, Happy Graduation!
In an ending of pure catharsis, Arya remarks that she has reached a higher level of self-acceptance; this girl has a name and she is headed home in time for winter. It is an obvious bit of fan-service as we know for sure now that Arya will no longer suffer the fate of Tyrion Lannister and other great characters who are banished to the narrative rigidity that is Essos. And it most definitely feels like a turn made specifically by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss to put Arya on a quicker path toward the series’ endgame…. but it is also a highly welcome one.
Arya flipping the table on Jaqen and getting him to seemingly honor Arya’s request to leave his kooky little cult is the first truly major event in several weeks. With the game board reset during the last two episodes, this was an ace move that indicates a second major Stark reconciliation is on the horizon like the glimpse of dawn’s sunshine on the sea.
Still, there are a few interesting thoughts planted in the sidelines here. The first is Arya’s suggestion that there is a world beyond Westeros to the west that has gone undiscovered. The youngest Stark girl likens her dreams to that of Christopher Columbus with aspirations of discovering a New World. That is fortunately supplanted in favor of the high drama of returning to her ancestral home. But the suggestion of lands beyond Westeros would not have been mentioned tonight if it did not pertain the possibility of such exploration down the road. Who is to say that if this winter gets too grim that Arya might not lead an exodus to the New World that is free from religious persecution and fanatics like the House of Black and White? Assuming, of course, there is an indigenous population to be as problematically dealt with as “the Children of the Forest” were handled by the First Men.
Then again, I am not so sure we have seen the last of Jaqen. The Man agreed at needlepoint to allow Arya the ability to leave the Faceless Men Club with no strings attached. But eventually that ball of yarn might just be pulled loose, and I would not put it past Game of Thrones or George R.R. Martin for Arya to think she is about to hug Jon Snow next season, only for him to turn around with Jaqen’s face.
In any event, “No One” also included a slew of satisfying plot turns that have been built up all season long—and some much longer than that, considering Jaime Lannister and Brienne of Tarth have not seen one another in over 20 episodes.
While Bronn and Podrick horsed around outside, helpfully reminding viewers in their banter about the unspoken sexual tension going on amongst all the would-be knights in Brienne’s orbit (as well as the fact that Podrick’s penis is indeed magical), Jaime and Brienne were all sighing and stolen glances, as well as unspoken words so numerous that they might’ve both choked to death then and there.
Jaime Lannister had sent Brienne of Tarth on a fool’s errand to retrieve and rescue Sansa Stark, thus he is probably just as incredulous to learn of Sansa’s well-being as he is that the only other woman he might have ever loved besides his sister rode into camp. Later in the episode, he’ll claim he only cares about returning to Cersei, but his level of respect and admiration for the best knight he’s known in his adult life is why he shrugs off the fact that Brienne is carrying his father’s gifted sword while fighting Sansa’s battles.
Currently, Cersei wants the Stark girl’s head for her supposed complicity in Joffrey’s murder (Sansa can only wish she had done the deed). Jaime notes this apparent fact but allows Brienne enough latitude to first parlay with the Blackfish and then go on her merry way back to Lady Stark later in the episode.
It is a bit unfortunate that in the television version of these events that Brienne has to remind Jaime of his debt to Catelyn, but it might have been paid off if she herself could have negotiated the Tullys to stand down while gaining Sansa another army. Instead, it stands as another bitter disappointment for Brienne that she is unable to convince a man to do what is in his best interest. Fighting for his niece’s claim in the North would do more to reclaim the Tully name for the Blackfish than either losing Riverrun in abject surrender or wasted blood.
Luckily for many of his men, it was the former since Jaime convinced Edmure Tully to save the life of his babe, a child Edmure likely never met, by giving up his childhood home to the Lannisters and Freys, two families that actually did conspire to murder his sister and nephew-king while he was christening his marriage bed.
Edmure is of course weak to bend so easily to Jaime’s threats and to surrender Riverrun without a fight… but he is not necessarily wrong. Tobias Menzies does well with his scene where he causes Jaime and viewers alike to recall how awful a human being this knight really tends to be. Like everybody else, Edmure throws the fact that Jaime murdered his king in his face, but even though we the audience know about his legitimate excuse for justifiable homicide, this is also a man who threw a little boy out of a window to hide the fact that he is sleeping with his sister. Jaime is not a good man.
But he wants to be and what he did tonight was, in fact, a good deed and finally something worthy of scribbling down in his blank kingsguard page. Without firing a single arrow, he quickly subdued the siege at Riverrun in less than a fortnight. And Edmure aided in saving the lives of every man, woman, and child inside that castle. The Lannisters had 8,000 men strong outside the walls, and while the Blackfish was ready to die fighting for his home, many of the younger men probably were not—nor were they ready to leave their families victims for the bloodlusts and cruelties of an invading army. As awesome as the Blackfish is—and his refusal to give up his home without swinging his sword is definitely 31 flavors of badass—he would have caused the deaths of thousands of men who already lost a war just so he could hold his head up in pride that he did not bend the knee to those golden haired bastards.
The Lannisters are obviously bastards, and Jaime might be evil. But tonight, he was in the right as a good knight, and it was probably a good night too for the Tully army, though many none will ever realize it.
Who was, meanwhile, doing far worse is Jaime’s true love half a continent away. Aye, Cersei might have finally been allowed to unleash the Mountain, but only one Sparrow got squished underneath that rockslide. Granted, it was a beautiful slaughter. Like all other viewers, I had been waiting for the scene where Cersei’s election for “violence” would pay off in a Sparrow bloodbath. Yet how disappointing it was to then learn that Zombie Gregor Clegane was only fired at the one Sparrow stupid enough to swing a sword at him. Any hopes for Lancel Lannister also being decapitated were dashed when Cersei, in her typically smug condescension, suggested that the High Sparrow should personally pay her a visit next.
I’ll admit to chuckling at that line and wishing it were so, yet if Cersei wants to know why she was already losing Tommen to Margaery before this new wave of religious fanaticism, she need not look further than the last two episodes. Both Margaery and Cersei have been tested by the hideous monster Cersei stitched together due to her own paranoia—and I am not referring to Franken-Clegane. As the Queen of Thorns reminded us, Cersei created this threat by arming the fanatical Faith Militant. Nevertheless, it is Margaery who has made lemonade out of it.
By figuring out the High Sparrow is as much as a power-hungry sadist as every other courtier in the capital, Margaery offered the High Septon undiluted access for manipulating the king (for now) in exchange for being spared from a trial or walk of shame. Cersei, meanwhile, caved to the Sparrows’ charade when she confessed wholeheartedly in an attempt to end the torture last season, and only got a far more severe and misogynistic punishment as a result.
Now, instead of finding a way to manipulate the Sparrows, she is openly declaring war on them in the streets while they (and Margaery) further burrow themselves inside Tommen’s brain.
To paraphrase Cersei’s late father, Cersei is not only losing because of the inherent sexism in the court (which is totally there; just look at Uncle Kevan’s sneer as he banishes Cersei to the peanut gallery); Cersei is losing this game because she is not half as smart as she thinks she is. By killing a Sparrow, it allowed the cult to whisper slightly louder in Tommen’s ear. First, they have stripped Cersei of access to her son, which is an absolute must since Tommen will agree with whoever talks to him in any given moment. Secondly, they had him disband trial by combat, leaving Cersei at the simple mercy of the High Sparrow’s judgment.
This once again provides further proof that Tommen might just be the worst king yet on Game of Thrones. Sure, Joffrey was crazy, stupid, cruel, cowardly, and a sociopath… but he still knew how to keep order. Tommen has conversely conceded all power to a relatively small religious cult that has publicly humiliated and disgraced his mother, and is now planning her state-sanctioned murder. Cersei will probably sick the Mountain on more Sparrows in the season finale, but I suspect that her best hope of surviving this will actually be Margaery.
The younger queen has nothing for disdain for the mother in law that got them both thrown in a dungeon, but Margaery still has a brother standing accused of sodomy, which in this backwards world is a punishable offense. To save her kin, Margaery may yet bring the High Sparrow’s house of cards down, and in the process she might just accidentally save Cersei from the Church’s judgment. Then again, it would almost be cosmic justice if Cersei’s litany of mistakes ends in as logical and brutal a fashion as Ned Stark’s did in season 1: on the Steps of Baelor.
Also on the note of executions, it must be pointed out that it sure is nice to have the Hound back to his old ways. As endearing as Ian McShane was last week, the Hound isn’t exactly cut out for the pacifist’s lifestyle, and he is immediately more at home when he is plunging his axe into an enemy’s throat. I particularly love how he points out that “Fuck you” are lousy final words. When his intended victim can barely muster a simple “cunt?” after being offered a second chance at dying with grandiloquence, the Hound gets another fine zinger: “You’re shit at dying, you know that?”
Quickly reminding viewers why we love him, it isn’t long until the Hound is calling back to his passion for chicken and presumably the many men he killed in order to savor that preferred poultry. But for those who have not obsessed over rewatching season 3, who he broke mutton bones with might be a point of confusion. The Brotherhood Without Banners were mentioned last week, however “No One” expected viewers to recall who Ser Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr were. Suffice it to say that they were the two Robin Hood-esque blokes that foreshadowed Jon Snow’s resurrection since we saw Thoros bring Beric back from the dead for the umpteenth time.
Now Lord of Light followers, it is a relief to see that Thoros and Beric do not agree with Lem Lemoncloak’s choice of murdering an innocent septon. Rather, they’d see Lem dead just as much as the Hound, and in Game of Thrones’ closest reach toward peace, they convince the Hound to share in the execution fun—but only by hanging the men. Gorehounds, including Sandor Clegane, were displeased to be sure.
Intriguingly, it seemed that instead of just talking about the Lord of Light or the well-being of smallfolk, Beric and Thoros are now rambling about the coming winds of winter and the threat of something to the North. This could just be David Benioff and D.B. Weis setting up the Hound joining the merry band of outlaws as they too ride North toward the series’ anti-White Walker endgame. But for my fellow Sullied reading this… I wonder if we’ll have that long overdue A Storm of Swords epilogue in the season 6 finale. Between the return of the Brotherhood Without Banners, plus the Freys and other assorted characters roaming the Riverlands, it just seems like this is the moment for the stone to drop.
Fire and brimstone are meanwhile dropping all over Meereen, and it’s about bloody time. It would have been nice if the Masters of Astapor and Yunkai had taken Tyrion’s offer, but if they did, we’d have been stuck with another episode of Peter Dinklage forced into awkward third wheel games with Missandei and Grey Worm. Added to that storytelling cul-de-sac, Varys is now bound for what I can only assume is Dorne, further screeching Tyrion’s subplot to a standstill.
Luckily for him, warfare means he’ll have to start engaging in a higher form of realpolitik, and plus Daenerys has returned! It’s lovely seeing the Mother of Dragons back in the nick of time to hopefully put an end to this Meereenese repetition for good and all. Burn the Masters’ ships, and then burn all the masters. Let the Ironborn also show up and set sail for the West. The only hitch is that Daenerys’ Uber dragon took off before she could sick him on the foreign ships at the gate. Luckily, Dany has two more beasties waiting below the Great Pyramid, and Tyrion might just prove himself worthy of piloting one of them into battle.
But before we get there, next week looks to turn its eye toward another battle that has been building all season. And I for one cannot wait to return to Winterfell since as good as “No One” was, it’s still not on par with season 5’s eighth episode, the stunning “Hardhome.”
However, and on its own, “No One” was a grand hour for Game of Thrones that made good on concluding Arya’s two season training montage in Braavos, as well as offering one of Jaime’s best moments, and one of Cersei and Tommen’s very worst in terms of personal failings—which makes them all the better to watch. Like Brienne and Podrick, we now drift into the mist of the final two episodes of season 6, floating toward high-stakes battles, prodigal daughters returning to long lost homes, and a tenth episode veiled in a thick fog.
But n the meantime, let’s kick back and get ready to enjoy the Bastard Bowl!