Welcome to another season of Game Of Thrones reviews for those who have not read the books the series is based on. Since critics won’t be receiving screeners this season, each week I’ll publish the episode page once the broadcast ends and add my review to the page when I finish. That way newbies have a spoiler-free place to discuss the episode as soon as possible. As such, spoilers are strictly forbidden. Any spoilers in comments will be deleted on sight. Remember: Discussions of things that were different in the books or confirmations of things that won’t happen count as spoilers, too. Have you read the books and want to discuss what’s coming? That’s what our experts reviews are for.
Now that Arya’s time in Braavos has turned out to be such a chore, the question people keep asking is: What was the point? If she goes back to Westeros without getting her diploma from Murder Monk U, why did we spend two seasons watching her endure its frustrating curriculum in the first place? Was it just an act of juggling—keeping Arya in the air for whenever she really matters to the larger story?
“No One” isn’t immediately forthcoming on that point. True to form, the Braavos scenes are poker-faced red herrings through and through. The episode opens on Lady Crane, a character the plot might have dispensed with already, leading us all to wonder why in god’s name we’re back at the stage. Then it teases the possibility of Arya becoming an actor—maybe the only outcome worse than her finally getting to level whatever in Jaqen’s cult. When the Waif shows up to spoil the mood, not only does she kill Arya’s latest caretaker, but turns the sequence into yet another torture-thon.
We’ve seen this one before. It would make perfect sense for the Waif to feel like an unstoppable horror villain in this episode, if only the series hadn’t already squandered those feelings on earlier sparring sessions. Instead the tension plays as tedium. And when the Terminator finally corners Arya, the episode cuts away right before the clash. The Many-Faced God is hell-bent on denying us resolution, dragging out Arya’s apparent bleeding to death across two episodes and going on three.
But the episode isn’t over. We wind up in the House Of Black And White, and the most likely reason for that is correct: Arya won. She takes two important actions in the scene to come. She aims Needle at Jaqen, and he steps up to the point. “Finally a girl is no one,” he says. She tells him to shove it up his ass. “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home.” It’s Daenerys-level contrived to get us fist-pumping, not that that keeps me from doing so. After all this, Braavos gives us what seems like definitive resolution.
Frustrating as it is, I wonder how much more interesting the show would be if Arya had to worry that every new face she saw were a Faceless Man come to get her. Is Game Of Thrones getting soft in its old age? (Yes. The outsize sadism of season five paved the way for the equally exaggerated comforts of season six: resurrections, reunions, characters previously powerless gaining power.) But that resolution comes from Arya leveling up. She embraces who she is—a Stark—and she rejects who she’s not—“no one.” I’m not sure she could have killed Jaqen, but she at least symbolically spares him, even though he admits to taking a hit out on her. This is a far cry from the girl who brutally executed Meryn Trant. That’s why Arya defeats the Waif off-screen. It would have been impossible not to revel in that violence if we could watch it, and that would undermine the whole thing.
Arya didn’t necessarily need the House Of Black And White to dissuade her from her bloodthirsty path. She was already softening toward one target—The Hound—when she got there. (Now that she’s gotten in Cersei’s head a bit with Lady Crane, I wonder how coldly she could handle that execution.) She doesn’t want to be the ruthless assassin as much as she thinks she does. She just wants to feel power again after helplessly losing her father to injustice. She’s gravitated to a succession of surrogate fathers since. Tywin gave her espionage tips, The Hound gave her killing tips, and Jaqen strung her along. Now, for the first time, she’s truly independent. And her time on the streets of Braavos shows she might actually be able to stay that way.
In short, Arya’s getting a second chance, an opportunity to break the pattern, just like her old buddy. While the late name characters are all murdered off-screen in “No One,” the episode has no problem dispensing with extras. The Hound juggernauts onto a scene of four Bannerless Brothers, decapitating the first with a swing of an ax, slicing up a couple others, and lodging the blade between the fourth guy’s legs. He’s blazing a trail of corpses to the men who killed his friend. (“You’ve got friends?” “Not anymore.”) He finds them resting in nooses, awaiting execution by The Hound’s old pals, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros Of Myr. Season six is so good with loose threads that I expect Gendry any day now. After negotiating with The Hound over who gets to execute which prisoners, Beric and Thoros convince him to join the Brotherhood. It’s easy now that the somewhat kinder, gentler Hound has been primed for good works by the Septon. He’s still an enforcer, but now he’s working for a ragtag resistance group instead of royals.
Old enemies Beric and The Hound feel like old friends here. There’s a sense of situational loyalty at Riverrun, too. Jaime and Brienne are on opposite sides, but they each share the other’s confidence. Similarly, Bronn helps his potential combatant, Pod, learn to fight without honor. None of this is the way things are “supposed” to be, exactly. Soldiers aren’t supposed to help their enemies. The Hound isn’t supposed to have such an easy rapport with his former captors, nor Beric with his former, um, killer. But with the endless war chipping away at governing systems, personal history with someone feels a lot more reliable than military procedure.
That’s the heart of the drama at Riverrun, when a poor confused Tully soldier doesn’t know whether the Blackfish or Edmure is the salient Lord Tully. He settles on Edmure, the self-professed “rightful lord of Riverrun.” In that decision, the soldier essentially forfeits the castle and the Blackfish. He followed the rules. The rules were a trap. He might have done better (for himself and his lord) by sticking with the Tully he’s been with throughout the siege. Then again, the way things were going, if he had obeyed the Blackfish, they might both have been killed by Tullys loyal to Edmure. Instead, the Blackfish gets a second chance to stop his pattern, too. “I’m not running again,” he tells Brienne. He dies fighting off-screen, and another battle is over and done with.
The battle at Meereen is only beginning. In fact, the Meereen scenes are almost narratively pointless until the Masters’ armada arrives. Varys is off to shore up support in Westeros, and he shares a surprisingly flat moment with Tyrion. It’s meant to be a significant farewell from one comrade to another, but it’s hurried and half-hearted. Still, the attempt is part of the episode’s concerted effort to bring more life into all this narrative momentum. Hence the Brothers having a bawdy conversation, Arya and Tyrion both fantasizing about their futures (she wants to see what’s west of Westeros, he wants to own a vineyard where he makes wine for his friends), and that long sequence where Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm trade “jokes.” Those aren’t condescending quotes. The whole point is that they’re only questionably jokes. Unfortunately, the Masters crash the party with a fleet full of trebuchets. The view is magnificent, but far too short. The siege has barely begun when there’s a thump on the roof of the great pyramid, and in walks Dany, Drogon flying off in the background.
The far more successful overthrow of a queen occurs in King’s Landing, where the High Sparrow has now persuaded Tommen to forbid trials by combat after The Mountain rips off a sparrow’s head. The new world order is inescapable. Sparrows invade the Red Keep. Tommen’s busy praying. Kevan, whom we really ought to know more about, relishes putting Cersei in her place. Watching Lena Headey process the events of the throne room is the draw of the episode. She acquiesces to the indignities of not having been informed Tommen was making an announcement and having to watch it from the gallery. She gets visibly unnerved when she processes the news that The Mountain won’t be able to defend her—not legally, anyway. And she’s finally lost when she chases after her son only for him to dodge her.
The question is how much of this is credible. Tommen may be suggestible, but how is he so resolute in turning his back on his mother? Especially given their scenes together this season. Just because you start praying doesn’t mean you immediately tithe 90 percent to the church. Indoctrination takes time. And is he really too stupid to know what kind of impact his mother’s trial might have on the legitimacy of his reign? The High Sparrow is winning, and worse, he sounds right, cloaked in a garb of poverty, humility, and compassion. He might have finally, completely cornered Cersei. Unfortunately for him.
- “No One” is written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss and directed by Mark Mylod.
- R.I.P. The Blackfish, Lady Crane, Braavos (I hope), and the Waif.
- Welcome back! Beric Dondarrion and Thoros Of Myr!
- See You Soon, Probably, Gendry!
- Lady Crane took Arya’s advice on the script. She also messed up her acting rival’s face. Well, former acting rival.
- The Hound is not impressed with a victim’s last expletives. “You’re shit at dying, you know that?”
- While Jaime and Brienne convene, Bronn asks Pod, “You think they’re fucking?” Alas, no, but Jaime betrays himself in “No One,” right? “Only Cersei,” he says, but he clearly cares about Brienne.
- Update: There were two letters from Sansa, one given to Brienne and one in a raven, so the Littlefinger letter is still probable. Brienne delivers her letter to the Blackfish, requesting he give up Riverrun and get his ass to Winterfell. He refuses on both counts, although he does permit a human moment to remark how similar Sansa is to her mother.
- Qyburn and Cersei speak in code about some rumor Cersei wanted him to investigate. “Is it just a rumor, or something more?” she asks. “More,” he tells her. “Much more.” Thoughts? My only guess is a secret passageway to escape. Or maybe, given Bran’s visions, extant arsenals of wildfire. We should be so lucky.
- Jaime tells Edmure, “I’ll remind you that our houses are at war. I’m sorry if that’s an inconvenience for you.”
- Edmure tells Jaime, “You understand on some level. You understand that you’re an evil man.” Eye of the beholder, dude.
- The Hound: “Lots of horrible shit in this world gets done ‘for something larger than ourselves.’”