Sunday was a profoundly somber day of mourning in America, so it was perhaps for the best that the nation’s entertainment obsession Game of Thrones was in somber and reflective mood too.
Season 6 Episode 8, “No One,” could have just been one of those setting-the-table episodes where characters are moved into place for wars to come. But along with the maneuvering, we got some of the show’s best disquisitions on life, love and loyalty, with a side helping of honor and dignity.
Better yet, the episode saw cracks of enlightenment open up inthe bloody medieval hellscapes of war-torn Westeros and Essos. Even in a world as dark as this, it turns out, unlikely friendships can blossom. Old acquaintances can be reunited. The hangman’s form of justice can prevail over the butcher’s form of justice. All-but-inevitable battles can be avoided. Dragons and their mistresses can return in the nick of time.
And a girl can learn to be someone.
Indeed, the episode was largely about women coming to know themselves, and learning who they can and can’t rely on. The show has been tilting in this direction all season, of course see also Sansa Stark, Gilly and Lady Lyanna Mormont but it was never clearer than in “No One,” in which no characters displayed more agency than Arya, Brienne, Daenerys and Cersei.
You might quibble with including Cersei in this list, given that the Lannister Queen had to suffer two major indignities. First, to be relegated by her own uncle, Hand of the King Kevan Lannister, to “the gallery with the other ladies of the court.”
Moments later came the gut punch of seeing her own son declare from the Iron Throne that trial by combat, Cersei’s only hope in her forthcoming court date with the Sparrows, is now “forbidden through the seven kingdoms.”
But Cersei is smart enough to always keep at least two allies to hand. She has the brawn of Ser Robert Strong, a.k.a. The FrankenMountain, whose crushing of a Sparrow right in front of Lancel and his mob prevented Cersei from being taken captive. (And she didn’t forget her manners: “Please tell the High Sparrow he’s welcome to visit.”)
And she has the brains of Qyburn, who has taken over Varys’ “little birds” network and apparently been investigating an “old rumor” that is “much more” than they’d hoped. Could this perhaps have something to do with the vast stores of wildfire under the city? Or something even more nefarious?
All we know is: Never underestimate Cersei when she’s hatching a plot, and someone should probably alert whatever rudimentary Fire Department they may have in King’s Landing.
You might say Jaime Lannister has agency in this episode; after all, it is he, not Brienne, who ends the siege of Riverrun. He talks Edmure Tully into walking into the castle and demanding the inhabitants, his liege servants, lay down their arms.
But why does he do this? In a surprisingly unguarded moment, he tells Edmure that none of the battle to come will matter to Jaime, because he loves Cersei and is merely doing this to return to her. He would launch Edmure’s baby over the battlements in a trebuchet, because nothing matters.
“The things we do for love,” Jaime said, echoing what he said in the very first episode before throwing Bran out of a window for Cersei and setting the entire disastrous tale in motion.Then as now, he is very much her creature.
The only good in Jaime is brought out, then and now, by Brienne perhaps the only other woman he loves, and not in the crude way Bronn enjoyed joking with Podrick about. (Bronn also grudgingly conceded that Jaime simply has more game than he: “The way all women look at him is frankly irritating.”)
The long-awaited reunion of the Kingslayer and his former captor was much more sublime. Brienne reported that she’d found Sansa, and tried to broker a deal for the Blackfish’s life in order to bring him and his army to her. She tried to return his sword, appropriately called Oathkeeper, even as she warned him that an attack on the Blackfish was an attack on her.
Jaime bade her keep the sword a huge deal, this is Valryian steel we’re talking about and the worrying foreshadowing of Jaime and Brienne taking up arms against each other did not pass, at least not in this episode. She escaped, he saw it, chose to do nothing, and the two frenemies shared a final meaningful wave.
Brienne also received possibly the greatest compliment of the Blackfish’s life as he assisted her escape. She had previously informed him in no uncertain terms that she would serve Sansa until the day she died, so he had the measure of her. She insisted he come with her. “You’ll serve Sansa better than I could,” said the gruff old soldier, before laughing off his death by grumbling about how long it had been since he’d had a sword fight.
Arya hadn’t had a sword fight in a long time either, or a proper ally and in this episode, she found both. She also has renewed purpose, and even hinted at where she might end up at the end of the series.
“The edge of the world, maybe,” said the actress Lady Crane as she nursed Arya back to life from the stab wounds inflicted by the no-name waif, in response to Arya’s question about what was west of Westeros. Arya’s face lit up: “I’d like to see that.” Foreshadowing alert!
Lady Crane was killed by the waif, and the chase was on again. As Arya fled and jumped off very tall ledges in the backstreets of Braavos, it was even harder to believe she’d survive her injuries than it was last week, let alone make it out without breaking a bone. A girl has become very good at parkour.
But the waif was a genuinely scary threat (and a very corporeal one sorry, everyone who believed that “Arya and the waif are the same person” fan theory). Slicing the candle with Needle was a neat trick given that she’s learned how to fight in the dark.
Back at the House of Black and White, Jaquen gave his charge another ultimate compliment: “A girl has become no one.” The look on his face when Arya insisted on who she was, and that she was going home, was a nicely economical way of telling the story too. He acknowledged her agency.
Elsewhere in Essos, the lack of female leadership specifically, Daenerys Targaryen was being keenly felt. “She’ll come back,” insisted Varys to Tyrion as he left on a secret mission to aid Mereen, a sweet and sorrowful parting for one of our favorite buddy comedy pairings. “She has to. My heart’s been broken too many times already.”
And return she did, atop Drogon, though not before the rest of Slavers’ Bay launched a sneak attack by sea and Tyrion tried to get Misandre and Grey Worm to drink wine and tell jokes. After Tyrion’s killer Stark joke, we can only hope he gets a standup routine if only to hear the end of that “honeycomb and the jackass” gag.
Though through an odd editing choice, we barely lingered on Daenerys for a second before cutting away. She didn’t get to say a word to her people. A perfect opportunity for the mother of dragons to drop the mic went begging.
The best line of the episode, meanwhile, went to the Hound. Newly nihilistic after witnessing a massacre of many good people last week, he went on a rampage against the perpetrators, rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners. He didn’t have agency; his blind need for revenge did.
The hunt led him to his old frenemies, Beric Dondarrion, the Brotherhood’s undead leader, and Thoros of Myr, the Red priest who brought Beric back to life. Beric and Thoros convinced the Hound to execute the remaining guilty men by rope rather than butcher them by axe. But they can’t convince him that he has returned to their midst for some godly purpose.
Replies the Hound: “A lot of horrible shit gets done in this world for ‘something larger than ourselves.'”
On a day like this, we couldn’t agree more.
And as book readers know, the return of the Brotherhood, and the many discussions of Catelyn Stark in this episode, may be the greatest foreshadowing of all. The show may be about to reveal an angry, vengeful and powerful female figure to put all the rest to shame.
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