Game of Thrones is a show where audiences always need to expect the unexpected. But sometimes, when you’re expecting something crazy to happen, that means the show will surprise you by not doing anything crazy at all. And that’s what tonight’s episode was: not crazy in the slightest. Of course, “not crazy” on Game of Thrones still means two people get brutally decapitated, minimum.
“No One” is obviously Arya’s story first and foremost, since it’s her status that gives the episode its title — her status being “her stomach is full of holes”. In Braavos, actress Lady Crane gives yet another standing-ovation-worthy Joffrey death scene, then returns backstage to see Arya bleeding in her dressing room. Crane bandages the girl up and gives her the milk of the poppy.
When Arya wakes up, Lady Crane has been brutally murdered by another Faceless Man, because it’s not like the momentary stay-of-execution Arya gave her meant the contract on her life was null and void. Arya seems shocked by this pretty obvious turn of events, and she seems likewise shocked that the Waif has found her at the scene of her recent failure. For those demented few who had convinced themselves that somehow Arya was not Arya, but someone else, and that maybe the Waif is actually Arya wearing her face, and… look, it’s too bizarre to explain, especially how Arya would be willing to kill an innocent girl who was wearing her face for some reason.
To be fair, Arya still acts like a weirdo in this episode; she originally tells Crane her plan is to see what’s west of Westeros, which seems a little out of the way if she’s still interested in seeing if anyone in her family is alive or killing everyone on her list. However, this was definitely not the case; Arya is Arya, and Arya has a gut full of stab wounds, and Arya has the Waif chasing after her like she’s the goddamn Terminator of Braavos. We get a full-blown parkour chase scene through the city, with the Waif running at a terrifying speed after her, pausing only for dramatic effect. Eventually, though, Arya’s wounds re-open, but she manages to stagger back to the hidey-hole we saw last week. When the Waif arrives (thanks the blood trail), Arya has Needle in her hand. The Waif is not concerned. And then Arya cuts through the sole candle in the room, and it goes dark.
In the House of Black and White, Jaqen H’ghar notices a blood trail too, leading to the Crypt o’ Faces. But it’s not Arya’s blood — it’s the Waif’s, or rather the Waif’s face, which Arya has cut off and very politely stuck on the Wall o’ Faces. Jaqen is pleased: “A girl is finally no one.” Arya disagrees. “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and she’s going home.” And she walks away.
So after nearly two seasons, Arya leaves without learning how to change her face at all. Sure, she’s grown better at fighting and maybe assassinating, but she leaves having only beaten the Waif because she rigged the odds. I don’t begrudge her that at all, but I’m not sure this was time well spent for Arya, nor for the viewers. We had all expected her to learn the skills needed to enact her vengeance, especially the face-changing magic. It was a long time without the obvious payoff.
Speaking of vengeance and a lack of payoffs, when we last left the Hound he was ready to kill Lem Lemoncloak. He finds four men joking (joking being trying to stick their fingers up their friends’ bumholes) who we’re to presume to be members of the Brotherhood without Banners, mainly because he kills the hell out of them. When he eventually finds Lem Lemoncloak and the other two who massacred Brother Ray’s congregation, he finds Ser Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr just about to hang them for their crimes. It turns out the Brotherhood Without Banners aren’t all murderous jerks! (Uh, which raises a rather important question about the four dudes Sandor murdered earlier.)
If you had expected the Hound to enact his bloody vengeance on Lem and the others — the Hound certainly did — you were treated to a very strange scene of the Hound and Beric negotiating how many of the trio the Hound can kill, and how brutally. The Hound even comments how “there was a time” he’d fight all seven of the BwB just to butcher these men, but at the end he ends up only killing two by kicking out the stumps under their feet so they hang. It’s an anticlimax for everybody, including the Hound.
Sandor may have started his journey looking for bloody revenge, but at the end, he may have joined the Brotherhood Without Banners, the one group devoted to protecting the smallfolk (minus a few discontents) — a group led by Beric Dondarrion, a man the Hound actually killed in a duel back in season three but who keeps getting resurrected by Thoros. Beric even says, “you can help more than you’ve harmed”. This directly echoes Brother Ray’s words last episode, except that the Brotherhood Without Banners has no problem killing bad guys to help the greater good. Has Sandor Clegane found the best of both words — a good cause that still will require him to commit acts of violence occasionally? That seems like as much peace as he could ask for. It’s a very surprising end to a journey that began with him brutally murdering four men. (Also surprising: the return of Beric Dondarrion, but more because of what it doesn’t mean — see “Warning! Assorted Musings That Contain Spoilers From the Books” below, if you dare).
Meanwhile in Meereen, everything is going great now that Tyrion has brokered peace with the Masters of Yunkai and Astapor. It’s actually peaceful enough that Varys leaves to head to Westeros to gain support for Daenerys’ arrival, as well as ships. It’s also peaceful enough that Tyrion spends his afternoon trying to get Missandei and Grey Worm to tell jokes — until a gargantuan fleet sent by the Masters arrives and starts peppering the city with flaming projectiles courtesy of the catapults loaded on their ships.
Grey Worm and Missandei gives Tyrion a giant told-you-so, to the point where Grey Worm even takes control of the Unsullied himself. His command of Meereen’s military forces lasts about 30 seconds before Daenerys walks into the pyramid’s throne room from the balcony (having just been dropped off by Drogon) with an exasperated look of total annoyance on her face that she’s returned to see her city under siege and partially on fire. (We don’t even get a boss scene of Daenerys flying to the pyramid, which means her entrance from the balcony into the throne room is even more like a parent returning home to find the kids have had a party and trashed the house.) But if you were expecting Dany to set things right, or at least let Drogon go to town on the Masters’ ship, well, you’ll have to wait for next week… or mostly the week after.
If Meereen is a long-expected battle that doesn’t get resolved, then Riverrun is a long-expected battle that gets resolved in a very surprising way, especially on Game of Thrones: with almost nobody dead. It helps that Jaime wants the siege to be over as soon as humanly possible so he can return to King’s Landing to help Cersei. Brienne, with Pod in tow, arrives and tells Jaime she’s come to convince Blackfish to bring the Tully army up north to help Sansa and Jon. If she gets Blackfish to agree to leave, she asks Jaime to promise that the Lannister/Frey armies will let the soldiers depart without incident. Jaime doesn’t think it’ll work, but the fact that he is willing to basically allow rebels (who took back Riverrun from the Freys, given to them by Tywin Lannister when he was Hand of the King) to go assist other rebels (the Boltons, also given Winterfell by Tywin in return for their assistance staging the Red Wedding) shows both how much he wants to be done and his respect for Brienne’s honour.
And man, Jaime is in top form — as fascinating as he ever was back when he was starring with Brienne in Westeros’ greatest buddies-on-the-road movie back in season two. His respect and affection for Brienne are so great he allows her to enter Riverrun, even knowing that if/when she fails she’ll be forced by honour to fight for the Blackfish, being Sansa’s kin. And when Brienne tries to give Jaime back the Valyrian steel sword he gave her, Oathkeeper, Jaime has no hesitation telling her to keep it. “It’ll always be yours,” he says, as genuinely as he may have ever said anything to someone who wasn’t Cersei.
But contrast this with the Jaime who visits his prisoner Edmure to have a talk about the future. Edmure only knows Jaime as the Kingsguard who murdered his king and a Lannister, the family that orchestrated his sister Catelyn’s death. His hate for Jaime is palpable. But Jaime talks to him of admiring Catelyn for how much she loved her children, just as Cersei does. He tells him how Cersei is the only thing that matters to him, which is why he’ll do anything to end the siege just so he can get back to his sister.
Jaime is being honest, sure, but he’s also being totally honest when he tells Edmure that he will catapult his infant son into Riverrun if it means he will get back to Cersei a moment sooner. He will kill anyone who stands in his way to get back to her. He won’t do it with malice, but he’ll do it. And, in a moment that strangely echoes Catelyn’s freeing of the Kingslayer when he was imprisoned, Jaime frees Edmure. The Blackfish demands the soldiers forbid his nephew’s entry — he knows that Jaime only allowed Edmure to enter the castle if he had convinced or forced him to give it up — but the troops cannot disobey an order from their actual lord (as he’s the eldest son of the late lord, Hoster Tully). And once he enters, Edmure orders his men to lay down their weapons. As the Blackfish wages a solitary fight for his home — quickly dying off-screen, the ultimate pointless death — Brienne and Pod escape down the river to return north to Sansa.
This may be the biggest anticlimax of the episode, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel right, in a tragic, Game of Thrones-appropriate way. Brienne fails, the Blackfish fails, and the horrible Freys may have taken Riverrun back over, but we get to see Jaime at his most caring and his least caring, his ultimate respect for Brienne, and his lack of concern for anyone who isn’t her or her sister. It’s Jaime in all his facets, and I think his talk with Edmure is going to go down as one of those great, quiet scenes of pure dialogue that the TV show wows us with every so often.
Really, there’s only one storyline that gets ratcheted up, and that only slightly. In King’s Landing, Cersei has had enough to getting pushed around by the High Sparrow. When he sends Brother Lancel and a group of his fellow fanatics to fetch Cersei and bring her to the sept for… it doesn’t matter, really, because Cersei ain’t goin’. When Lancel insists, here’s where Cersei delivers that amazing line from the previews: “I choose violence.” The zombie-Mountain steps forward, and when a foolish brother (not Lancel) sticks the knight with his spiked mace, the Mountain very efficiently rips his entire head off his body, including some of the spine, in truest Mortal Kombat Fatality-style.
First blood has been drawn, and Cersei has incurred the wrath of the Faith Militant yet again. But even this tension is short-lived. When Cersei later goes to the throne room and discovers Tommen is making a proclamation, it’s that the young, pathetically eager-to-please king has banned all trial by combat, meaning that Cersei (and Loras) will stand a regular trial overseen by seven septons “as in the old days”. So it seems like we’re not going to get that brutal Mountain-vs.-the Faith Militant battle in the future either… but Cersei has a back-up plan. Qyburn has been investigating a rumour for her, and it turns out to be true… very true.
In an episode seemingly determined to mitigate the surprise, the most obvious answer here is that Cersei had the Master of Whispers look into King Aerys’s secret stash of dragonfire, the green napalm Tyrion used to defend King’s Landing from Stannis’s fleet back in the battle of Blackwater in season two. He had the truly shocking amount of dragonfire stockpiles sealed up, but it wouldn’t be that tough for Qyburn to find it, especially knowing the maesters as he does.
But if Cersei is going to go scorched earth on the Faith Militant, we’ll have to wait until later — probably two weeks, in fact, as next week’s episode looks to be devoted solely to the upcoming battle for Winterfell, classic GoT-style. In that regard, releasing the pressure out of most of the show’s storylines makes a lot of sense, as next week will be about as high stakes as the show gets. It makes for a strange episode now, but given the breakneck pace of the season’s first half, it’s nice to have some of these storylines resolved so we don’t get distracted by al the conflict yet to come.
Of course, with Game of Thrones, you have to expect the unexpected. Chances are none of these battles — the fight for Winterfell, the fight for Meereen, or the fight for King’s Landing — will go how we think they will. Even if that means including no surprises whatsoever.
• Apparently Lady Crane has had a lot of experience stabbing her lovers in a jealous rage and then treating their wounds, which sort of belies Arya’s original decision to save her as the “good” actress of the troupe.
• Bronn’s a Jaime/Brienne shipper. “You think they’re fucking? I’d fuck her.”
• Kevan Lannister is back to hating his niece Cersei full-time.
• Poor Tommen. He clearly knows he’s just screwed over his mother, but he’s also at the complete mercy of the Church, which his mother empowered in the first place. He’s miserable.
• Tyrion wants to open a vineyard when he gets done being embroiled in politics (which is never happening). It’ll be called “Imp’s Delight”, and he won’t bother selling it, because he’s just going to drink it. Fair play.
• It’s when Jaime says “The things we do for love” in his scene with Edmure that you know shit’s about to get real — it’s the same line he said right before he pushed Bran out of that Winterfell window back in the very first episode.
• Brienne’s little wave to Jaime as he watches her escape is just perfect. I wish they had more time together, but this episode was all about not giving us what we want, and I respect it for it.
• If Cersei uses dragonfire against the Faith Militant, and most of Cersei’s plans end up blowing up in her face, what’s the chances that Cersei manages to burn the entirety of King’s Landing to the ground? It may seem unlikely… but having the old capital of the Seven Kingdoms destroyed would make Daenerys’s invasion go a lot more easily, and I don’t think she’d mind setting up a new capital for the new Targaryen dynasty, either. Fresh start and all that.
• Hey, Arya? I’m pretty sure the Faceless Men have to do something to the faces before they put them on the wall. They don’t stick them on while they’re still bleeding, because that’s messy as hell. Of course, you might have learned that ifyou hadn’t dropped out of Face-Changing Assassin School.
Warning! Assorted Musings That Contain Spoilers From the Books:
• I did not anticipate the return of Beric Dondarrion. I assumed that since we knew Thoros was returning, we’d have also heard that Beric was with him. Thoros without Beric meant a pretty good chance that Beric was gone for good, and the arrival of Lem Lemoncloak and very cruel Brotherhood Without Banners brothers seemed like proof that the BwB had a new, angry leader. But then Beric showed up and took care of those jerks.
• Unless something really, really insane happens, I don’t know how we’re getting Lady Stoneheart. Beric would have to have given up his extra-life for Cat — I assume Thoros can’t resurrect more than one person at a time, otherwise there are serious narrative problems — and he would have had to do it a long time ago. It’s been three seasons of TV and a minimum of six months, probably way more, have passed on the show since the Red Wedding. By this point there can’t be anything left of Cat’s corpse to resurrect.