“No One,” is perhaps the most ominous title of any episode of Game of Thrones this year. As a name, “No One” was oft repeated by Arya Stark as an attempt for her to convince herself that she was prepared to give up her old life and adopt this new identity as a faceless killing machine. We all wanted to believe in Arya… and therein lies the problem. We didn’t want Arya to be “No One”, because this story has to be about someone.
The idea of “No One” ties back to faith and how important faith has been throughout season six. The predominant belief system in Westeros is the Seven– The Mother, The Father, The Warrior, The Smith, The Maiden, The Crone, and The Stranger. The Stranger represents death and the unknown; essentially it is the Grim Reaper. That evil spectre and all it represents hangs over this episode in a very big way and is about as subtle as a looming giant with a scythe can be.
I was surprised at the lack of payoffs in this episode– the eighth of the season. In the last two seasons, it has been the eighth episode that takes away the audience’s collective breath– “The Mountain and the Viper” in season four and “Hardhome” in season five. I was expecting a very Arya centric episode and a satisfying conclusion to her season arc. I was expecting an episode that would be concurrent with modern prestige television. What I’m saying is that I thought the whole episode was going to be leading up to her showdown with both the Waif and her violent expulsion from The Faceless Men internship program.
I didn’t get the episode I thought I was going to get because I realized I wasn’t asking the right questions. The idea of “No One” represents the choice a character has to make about one’s self and the repercussions brought on by that making that choice. “No One” the episode is the illustration of those choices which sets up the end of this spectacular season.
In each storyline visited in episode eight, very specific decisions are made by each character, the repercussions of which will be felt immediately in the final two episodes.
- Jaime has chosen to be with Cersei no matter what.
- Brienne has chosen to protect Sansa no matter what.
- Cersei has chosen violence no matter what.
- The Hound has chosen not to run from his nature.
- Arya has chosen herself.
Arguably there is more payoff in this episode than in any other in the entire series. There are very little decisions left to be made– there are only consequences left to deal with.
Let’s get into it.
THIS POST IS DARK AND FULL OF SPOILERS
BRAAVOS: The story-within-the-story troupe is one of the best one can find in any version of Game of Thrones– book, theory, or television adaptation. In the book series, this is how the history of Westeros is told and how many of the theories on the future of the story is formed. Throughout Game of Thrones, history seems to be repeating itself, so whenever a character tells a story, sings a song, or reveals a prophecy, book readers know to pay extra close attention.
The Lady Crane & The Mummer’s Show has been a very nice tip of the hat to that troupe in season six. The people of Braavos aren’t having their news delivered by raven and they can’t strap on their Bran Stark weirwood VR Helmets to take a trip through through the history of Westeros. They get their news through word of mouth. For the Braavosi who were able to see the mummer’s theatrical version of the Purple Wedding, they would assume this is how it must have happened. This is their Fox News and will be believed as such, despite being about as far as one can get from the version of the story we’ve been watching for the past six years.
As it would seem, Lady Crane has taken Arya’s notes to heart, added a little angry to her final soliloquy, and turned in what we can assume is her best performance to date as the grieving mother, Queen Cersei. She repays the favor by giving Arya something no one has for a very long time– compassion.
While the creators of the show denied us the hand to hand showdown we’ve been dying for between ‘a girl’ and the Waif, we got the next best thing: a Jason Bourne-esque chase through the streets of Braavos, a near-comedic tumbling down the stairs in which Arya bounced off baskets of fruit like an ameteur skiier bouncing off moguls, and a rope-a-dope that would have made The Greatest proud as Arya baited the Waif right into her trap. I would have loved to have seen Arya treat the Waif like a member of her infamous list, but I’ll settle for Needle slicing through a candle. Sometimes it’s the scenes we specifically don’t see that leaves the biggest impression.
Like it’s spiritual sister show, LOST, Game of Thrones is wonderful at asking questions and showing snippets of stories that leave the audience begging to know what happened. The answer I gave myself during LOST is the same answer I’m giving myself now:
The show runners on Game of Thrones are answering the questions we SHOULD be asking.
Did we see Arya get revenge on her evil doppelganger? No. Did we see Arya make the leap from pawn to player in the Game? Yes– and that has made all the difference.
Arya, the wild child of the Starks, has been out to prove that she can do it on her own since she left Winterfell in the second episode of the series. In that time she’s had to survive, and against all odds, she has. She’s become the person she thought she wanted to be– No One– only to finally settle on who she needs to be– Arya Stark. To paraphrase the advice her brother, Jon Snow, was given by Maester Aemon, kill ‘a girl’ so that Arya Stark can live.
THE RIVERLANDS: Game of Thrones loves to tease us. We’re teased with dragons, we’re teased with wars, we’re teased with with the most delicious of treachery. They’re all teases. All except two. The Cleganes. Boy oh boy do those psychos deliver.
As we inch closer and closer to the inevitable CleganeBowl, we get a reminder at just how brutal Sandor/The Hound/The NFC Champ can be. After a brief glimpse of some characters enjoying each other’s company– which as we all know by this point is the harbinger of death in Game of Thrones– Sandor Clegane comes storming out of the woods and lays waste to the bastards of the Brotherhood without Banners. As the Hound’s hunt for a bodycount continues, he eventually finds himself face-to-face with the rest of the bastards, only they’ve already been caught… by the actual Brotherhood. We haven’t seen these guys for quite sometime and it’s no accident that they are showing up now.
Like the Mummer’s Show in Braavos, The Brotherhood without Banners mini-story is giving us a show within the show. In last week’s excellent episode “The Broken Man”, we were reintroduced to the Brotherhood without Banners, only instead of being the Westerosi version of Robin Hood’s band of merry men, they murdered a religious sect in the woods for no reason. Pretty stark change from where we last saw them in season three. As we learned in “No One”, it was only a few brothers giving the Brotherhood a bad name.
I bring this up because we have constantly been reminded that the Brotherhood are all followers of the Lord of Light. As the followers of the Red God are playing an increasingly more important role in all aspects of the world of Game of Thrones, it stands to reason that what we’re seeing play out within the Brotherhood is a hint of what is happening on the larger scale. Some of the followers are good, and some of the followers are bad. My question is which side is rallying support for Dany in Essos, and which side brought Jon Snow back to life? Curiouser and curiouser.
KING’S LANDING: While Cersei’s time on-screen seems to have slipped in season six, it’s potency is twice as strong as it has ever been. The Faith has its claws in King Tommen and Cersei is being made to watch as they dig deeper and deeper. While she did get unleash Gregor Clegane/The Mountain/The AFC Champ on the Faith Militant, her joy was short lived as her Trial By Combat trump card just got yanked off the table by her son, who by the way, is getting worked like a puppet by the High Sparrow.
Her back is against the wall, she’s wounded, and she’s never been more dangerous. The Queen Regent has lost her dignity, her power, her family, and she’s watching her final child slip through her fingers ever so slowly. There is only one possible way for this to end– Tragically.
In each season of Game of Thrones, there has been a massive tragedy that seldom viewers have seen coming. Ned Stark’s judgement in King’s Landing, The Red Wedding, the betrayal at The Wall, etc. What is developing in King’s Landing between Cersei, the faith, and King Tommen is going to make all of those events pale in comparison. There is something heart wrenching coming, and it’s all going to make terrible, tragic sense once it happens. It’s been foreshadowed for seasons, and in no greater way than tonight.
RIVERRUN: While “No One” gave us the reunion between Jaime and Brienne we’ve been waiting for, and the reunion between Bronn and Podrick we didn’t know we needed, it was the stand-off between Edmure Tully and Jaime Lannister that stole the show. Jaime Lannister did in one night what has taken six years for everyone else to do– he officially ended the War of the Five Kings, and he did it without unsheathing his sword.
While every other article you read on this episode is going to point out the Blackfish stubbornly refusing to help his niece, or Edmure’s forced treason, or how Riverrun is now back under control of Walder Frey and his Monty Python looking sons, I’m going to focus on some next level foreshadowing that was thrown by Jaime.
While convincing Edmure Tully that the only thing to do is surrender, Jaime drew parallels between their sisters– Cersei and Catelyn, respectively. Jaime used three examples to illustrate just how alike these women are despite being on opposite sides of the war. In order to protect their babies, they would:
- Start a war
- Burn cities to the ground
- Free their worst enemies
I found this interesting because two of these things have happened… and I’m pretty sure the third is about to. “Burn them all,” are haunting words that were shouted by The Mad King in the throne room of the Red Keep before Jaime Lannister was forced to put a stop to that command and subsequently earn the nickname Kingslayer. Whenever presented with the threat of losing her family, Cersei has echoed the Mad King’s words by threatening to burn the city the ground. Without Jaime there to stop her and Cersei down to her final move, she may be preparing to make good on that promise.
Ultimately, “No One”, was an episode designed to move the entire story forward. It was the setup move designed to get the audience ready for the big finish. Both the best and the worst are yet to come. If you felt slighted by this week’s episode it’s because you’ve been asking the wrong questions all along, and the next two weeks are destined to prove it to you.