This review contains spoilers.
6.8 No One
The sixth season of Game Of Thrones has been a course correction for the fifth season (and before). There were complaints about violence against women; now women are firmly in charge and the ones doing the violence rather than being on the receiving end of Ramsay Bolton. There were complaints about Theon’s torture; Arya’s similar breaking and rebuild at the hands of the Faceless Men ends up being triumphant, rather than depressing (though to be fair, Arya didn’t lose any important body parts). There have been lots of dropped characters, and it seems like they’re all coming back this season for various reasons. Even the stalled Daenerys plot in Essos seems to finally be paying off, if only because she’s got her long-promised Dothraki horde.
There are going to be three scenes in this episode that everyone will be talking about. One of them is the resolution of Arya Stark’s adventure in Braavos. In a show where there are routinely massive action sequences (this episode features at least one battle involving dozens of ships), the way Game Of Thrones is able to boil things down to a personal level is remarkable. The episode’s most exciting moment is the clash between Arya and the Waif, who has been tormenting her for months and has now been sent to kill her. It’s a thrilling chase through the streets of Braavos triggered by the death of Arya’s new friend the Lady Crane, and it terminates with a candle being snuffed out courtesy of a skilled slash from Needle. Unlike Reek, we’ve seen enough of Arya’s training to know what she went through, but not so much that it became a snuff film. We’ve seen enough to know that when Arya rolls down a flight of stairs and gets up, leaving a deliberate blood (or blood orange) trail, that the Waif is walking into a trap. Needle plunging the fight into darkness is just icing on the cake. Mark Mylod has another great fight scene to his credit; the chase between Arya and Waif was Terminator 2 levels of awesomeness, and it made sure to check every chase cliché on the list while still being surprisingly brutal (just listen to the landings Arya has and try not to wince).
Arya has learned a valuable lesson. She knows how to be a Water Dancer, and she was good at chasing cats, and she’s now able to combine that skill with the dirty fighting skills taught to her by the Waif and Jaquen during her time training as a Faceless Man. At her core, she’s still Arya Stark of Winterfell, but now she knows just what to do when it’s time to stop being chivalrous and start slitting throats in the dark. It’s a lesson that she’s learned well; it’s also a lesson for Pod to learn from Bronn. While the two are on opposite sides of the Riverrun debate, Bronn is willing to teach Pod all the things he won’t learn from someone like Brienne, who is one of the most honourable knights in the kingdom despite not being Ser Brienne.
That’s chivalry, albeit in a different way from the type Brienne and Jaime have between one another. Yes, they have fought in the past, and they’re possibly still going to fight since Brienne serves the Starks and Jaime is a Lannister, but throughout the episode, their scenes are wonderful in their interplay. Jaime is nothing if not honourable, and yet he’s also the guy who shoved a child out a window and who has committed terrible atrocities in the name of the only love that means anything to him: his love for Cersei. Brienne might be on Jaime’s good side, and it’s clear that he cares about her on some level, but as Edmure says, Jaime is still an evil man.
Everyone in Westeros has the capacity for evil; even noble Brienne fought dirty to best The Hound. Similarly, everyone in Westeros has the capacity for good. The Hound, for example, has made a complete turn around thanks to the good work of Septon Swearengen. Whether you’re good or bad seems to depend on who you’re trying to kill. If you’re The Hound, cutting off heads and genitals with an axe (this is another scene everyone’s going to be talking about), then you’re good because you’re getting revenge on the thugs who killed your friend. If you’re the Brotherhood Without Banners, you can be either good or bad depending on what you do: killing villagers is bad, hanging villager killers operating in your name is good. Cersei is even capable of occasionally doing good things; as Jaime says, her love for her children is her most redeeming feature, and it puts Cersei in the company of Cat Stark, who once freed none other than Jaime Lannister and who started Brienne’s mission to serve the Stark family.
Everything seems to come around in the end. Everyone seems to realise this except for perhaps Cersei Lannister. Her whole defence against the High Sparrow has been predicated on her access to Qyburn’s Monster, AKA FrankenMountain, and her plan to have a trial by combat. Unfortunately for her, as usual, she tips her hand and gives away her secret killing machine, and all it took was one ripped-off head in front of cousin Lancel to let the High Sparrow know that a trial by combat against an unstoppable killing machine is a bad idea, and since the Sparrow has King Tommen’s ear, well… Cersei once again chose short-term satisfaction over long-term success. (“I choose violence.” is a delicious line from the pen of Benioff and Weiss, and it’s knocked out of the park by Lena Headey).
Game Of Thrones has set up some interesting conflicts for the next episode; according to the preview images, it’s going to be a doozy on par with the other famous ninth episodes. Daenerys and her dragon against a fleet of ships? Arriving Greyjoys versus the Masters? The Boltons face Jon Snow and his wildling army? The Hound killing some more people? Some combination of all of these things?
Whatever happens, I’m excited; for all the criticism Game Of Thrones took in the fifth season, it’s clear that the folks behind the scenes have learned and adapted, and the sixth season is all the better for it.
Read Ron’s review of the previous episode, The Broken Man, here. And read the nine questions we’re pondering from No One, here.
US Correspondent Ron Hogan still believes in the power of the Cleganebowl to bring the world together. What is hype may never die. Cleganebowl forever! Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.