Last year, episode 8 brought us the brilliant battle at Hardhome. The year before that, episode 8 was ‘The Mountain & The Viper’. If doesn’t carry quite the same pedigree as episode 9 does, but those two episodes both had shocking, dynamic events that stuck in the mind long after the episode.
In ‘No One’, the equivalent sequence was undoubtedly meant to be Arya’s confrontation with The Waif, and ostensibly the ending to her House of Black & White arc (for now). And sure, it was exciting while it was on screen, but it wasn’t quite the epic moment it was meant to be. For a start, the portrayal of Arya’s new assassin skillset conflicted completely with the fact that she was genuinely injured. There was discussion about all sorts of permutations surrounding her ending scene last week – was it really her, was she wearing chainmail etc. – but it was Arya, and she was bleeding and hurt. And by the end of the chase, she might have led the Waif back to her ‘lair’, but Arya was still bleeding and hurt.
The fact that it didn’t affect her at all, pulling off all sorts of stunts in the scene – albeit not in a particularly graceful manner (the fruit market of Braavos shall never recover…) – actually just made it less about showcasing her development, and just plain unrealistic. If characters get taken out of reality at the most important times, what’s the point in having structured build-up. It’s a point the show usually understands, but perhaps up until now that understanding has only come through the source material of George R. R. Martin.In any case, the scene happened, and now it seems like a girl is going home. I say it seems, because although that’s where she said she was going, that’s where it makes sense for her to go, and that’s where she was trying to go last episode, something feels off. If it was literally a case of her doing just that, surely the scene would have had Jaqen see The Waif’s face, before cutting to Arya actually going home. The inclusion of a conversation between the two of them, as well as Jaqen’s line ‘finally, a girl is no one’, and the fact that there are two very long episodes left this year, means that there might be more to this arc before it ends properly.
Staying in Essos, the bonding session in Meereen was halted abruptly by a gigantic fleet of ships somehow creeping up on them. Despite being a man who has a large map of the world of the show/book on his wall, I try to avoid passing judgement on the geography, just because it’s not always that consistent in exact distances. But here, it just seemed wrong. For reference, cast your minds back to season 2. If you look at how close to shore Stannis’ fleet was when the wildfire hit them in ‘Blackwater’, you can see they’re about as close as the Slavers were this episode. Yet Stannis’ attack was presaged by reports of the fleet’s impending arrival episodes beforehand. Was there not a scout watching the harbours at Astapor, Yunkai and Volantis? How did the fleet get within firing distances before anyone noticed?
Regardless, Dany’s return was just in time, but then she’s flown ahead of her new army. Drogon isn’t a one-dragon army, having struggled against the Harpy’s last year, and so it’s not as clean cut an outcome as one might think. As for Varys and his mission, the logical destination for him seems to be Dorne – a similar hatred of King’s Landing and the Lannisters, and they have been absent since their set-up earlier this year. That isn’t to say I want more Dorne, but they’re still in the game for a reason.Back in Westeros, the best scenes of the episode came at Riverrun. With the glut of characters converging there, we got a few different interesting dynamics. The reunions between Brienne and Jaime, and Bronn and Pod were as good as expected, albeit for vastly different reasons, but far more interesting were the interactions featuring the two Tullys, Edmure and Brynden. In Edmure’s dialogue with Jaime, they each exposed each other’s flaws, flaws that have been established before. Edmure wants to be fearless and pragmatic like the Blackfish, to accept his likely death, but that simply isn’t him.
Yet his point about Jaime seeing himself as decent struck home. Time and time again, he has defended his actions – in killing Aerys II, but also in events during the show – to Ned, Brienne, Tyrion, anyone who questions him. Even here, he did so, arguing the honour in besieging Riverrun. Yet after Edmure’s comments, it feels as though Jaime has let that defence go, paring himself down to his base instinct – to be with Cersei. To that end, he will do anything – his remarks about catapulting Edmure’s son did not seem an idle threat, given Jaime’s disdain for such things. It wasn’t quite a threat on the same level as the book equivalent, which also has him talk of destroying the castle and diverting the river so that ‘no man will ever know a castle once stood here’, but the sentiment was the same – ‘the things I do for love’.
The Blackfish meanwhile, was a man realising the failings of those around him. His first exchange with Brienne showed a great range, from his indifference, to his acknowledgement of Catelyn’s influence on Sansa. But later, he knew why Edmure was being allowed into the castle, and what it meant. The only query I have is why he didn’t go with Brienne. Yes, he doesn’t want to run, and yes, Brienne is more loyal ‘servant’, but what is the one thing that our heroes in the North are missing? A General – someone to organise and command an army. And yet Brienne allowed the best one they had, a seasoned veteran who is actually part of the family, to go and die fighting on some stairs. Apart from anything, I’m just sad to see Clive Russell depart the show…On the subject of fighting, the focus at King’s Landing this week was all on violence. First we had the Mountain teaching some of the Faith Militant a lesson on ‘playing to your strengths’, the moral of that being, don’t try and fight an 8-foot undead guy in full armour. Then, we had the High Sparrow, via Tommen as his ever-more-influenced mouthpiece, seemingly learning that lesson, decreeing that there will be no trials by combat for Cersei or Loras (RIP Cleganebowl). Theoretically, it makes sense, focusing the trial on the faith, not on physical strength, but on second thoughts I’m not sure. I don’t see Cersei abandoning her violent trump card. If there’s to be a fight either way, at least with a trial by combat you have time to find the best guy for the job (though who is that exactly?), and at the end, that’s the trial over with. Instead, they might not even get a trial, and the combination of Qyburn’s research and plotting, and Bran’s visions of wildfire that certainly didn’t happen in ‘Blackwater’, means that Cersei is actually in a fairly strong position.
Finally, the other Clegane brother continued his rampage in the Riverlands (the Westeros version of Rumble in the Jungle, perhaps), taking him eventually back to the Brotherhood itself. At which point things stopped making sense. The fact that Lem Lemoncloak (the middling hanging victim) and friends were executed for the attack we saw last week was stated explicitly, and so it’s quite clear that wasn’t on the orders of the Brotherhood. So, beyond reintroducing the Hound, and giving him a purpose, why did that attack happen?
For all their problems, the Brotherhood have never wavered in loyalty to Beric and their cause. Yet even as they were put to death, the three ‘traitors’ didn’t try to justify their actions, with Lem’s only words being to beg for his life just before the end. The only explanation I can land at is that it was a setup to win over the Hound for some reason – simply due to the calm expression on Lem’s face as Sandor arrived, and the unlikeliness of the whole scenario. Also, in a week that killed off many a fan theory, it would seem a certain figure in the Brotherhood from the books will in fact, not be making an appearance…
‘No One’ was a better episode than last week, definitely, but still not quite at the overall level of this season. With two important episodes to go, hopefully we end the season on a bang.