*Spoilers, naturally, follow for those yet to watch Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 8 ‘No One’*
Arya Stark has been divorced from the main storyline of Game of Thrones for so long, she has unfortunately started to feel like a cheap appendage, who gets trotted out every once in a while to remind fans she’s there, to keep us invested in her storyline.
In many ways that is inevitable, what with the sprawling nature of the series, and the diverse cast of characters. It is not uncommon to go one or even two episodes without seeing even consequential characters like Jon or Tyrion, so in Thrones that is a feature more than a bug- except for those storylines, checking in with them often gives you a suitable progression with the story that you can live with.
Arya’s story over the past couple seasons, since she left the Riverlands and travelled to Braavos, has been in flux. Fans knew the end game for her, but the road to get there has been long and torturous, with several detours whose utility have felt suspect. In some sense Daenerys suffers from this as well, as characters divorced from the main storyline often suffer with the impatience of fans to get them back to their destinies on the main continent.
After two seasons, Arya’s storyline has finally delivered big time, although, again, the road to get her there seemed more intent on dramatic tension than plausibility. When Arya blew out the candle towards the end of ‘Blood of My Blood’, it was obvious what her play against the Waif was going to be- get her to her secluded, dark corner, and use her zen like fighting abilities gained whilst blind to beat the crap out of her. So it was maddening that the very next week, we see her walking so nonchalantly through the streets of the city where a member of the most deadly assassins guild in the world wanted her dead. It was uncharacteristic of Arya, who has always been cautious since she saw her father’s head chopped off, it was foolish, negated all the progress we thought she had made; and it’s now obvious it was just a ploy introduced by the writers to ramp up the stakes in Arya’s fight for survival. Shame they couldn’t find a way to do that without completely undermining the growth my favourite character has made over the past five seasons.
But this episode’s Arya certainly made up for last week’s blunders, and finally managed to excise her nemesis since setting foot in the House of Black and White. The Many-Faced God was promised a name, and by killing the Waif, Arya paid the debt required. So at the point she ran into Jaqen H’gar at the Hall of Faces, the Faceless Men really had nothing on her. Perhaps their policy on deserters is to murder them, but she has always been something of a special one, and it’s obvious Jaqen thinks her training is complete, even if she doesn’t think so.
Jaqen: Finally a girl is no one.
Arya: A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I am going home.
And with those twelve words, Arya Stark delivered a more bada** episode ending than Dany has ever managed. It seems ironic that the Faceless Men have tried their damnedest to turn Arya into ‘no one’, yet her training seems complete (in their eyes) at the very moment she feels her strongest as a Stark.
Also, why not steal some faces Arya?
‘No One’ was a no one centric episode, of course, but there were also some loose ends to tie up before the biggest bastard bowl the world has ever seen next week. After a grand entry last week, the Blackfish turned out to be nothing more than an irascible old man who just wanted to die fighting, anyone really, so long as it was at his ancestral home. It’s a shame really, that this legendary warrior of the realm has lost all sense of reason and valour, in the service of blind pride. He turned down the chance to help his niece up north, perhaps understandably not trusting Jaime’s word- but the decision to foolishly die when he could be more valuable as a general in Sansa’s army just smacks of selfishness, and a idealistic clinging to a storied death that helps no one and soothes his pride. The Blackfish, as portrayed in Game of Thrones at least, lost a huge part of my esteem for him this episode. He’s still one of my favourite characters in A Song of Ice and Fire though, where he smartly sneaked out (again) when they lost Riverrun, to continue the fight as he only he can.
Jaime Lannister fully came into his own in this episode, this whole Riverlands episode cementing his transition from a gung ho fighter into a general who calmly assesses things from the rear, and uses words more than violence to get his way. His scene with Edmure was a little on and off, as he tried and sometimes faltered to go full Tywin with the threats. He finally managed to do so, threatening Edmure’s son- but he’s still a man motivated by the wrong thing, his love for Cersei- and refusing to see her for what she is and continuing to be in thrall to her and doing everything he can to please her is not likely to end well for him.
Speaking of Cersei, the dumbest queen the world has ever seen, it’s amazing that it’s even possible to feel sorry for this horrible woman, who was indulging her violent tendencies just earlier in the episode. But she has been so thoroughly outsmarted by the High Sparrow, browbeaten to the core, it’s hard not to feel sorry for her.
And as I mentioned last week, Cersei was being too smug in her ability to get out of her trial via combat. If she has thought of it, of course the High Sparrow has thought of it! And in the absence of anyone capable of beating The Mountain, the simple way is to eliminate trial by combat altogether. The best part, the rationale they gave for its elimination is probably the truest thing the High Sparrow has said ever since he joined the game.
For now, that decision seems to torpedo the very famous fan theory known as ‘Cleganebowl’- the notion that Gregor ‘The Mountain’ Clegane would fight his brother Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane in the trial by combat for Cersei’s freedom. The Hound is now domiciled in the Riverlands, considering whether to join the Brotherhood without Banners or not- after getting rid of the ‘fookers’ who destroyed his happy little community last week.
The dialogue on Game of Thrones is one of the show’s best qualities, one of the best on television. The Hound negotiating to gut those who killed his brothers was gold, as was his insistence that a man he was about to kill give him some last words that weren’t pitiful. The Hound has been forced to revert to his violent past, after the short, unsuccessful attempt to find peace in the Elder Brother’s community. It’s not particularly clear that he’s sorry about how things have turned out, as he’s back to his sassy best as The Hound. What is more clear is that his story has no clear way forward, and without a fan favourite like Arya or Sansa with him, he might not get much screen time going forward.
Finally, Meereen. Tyrion enjoyed a short period of peace at best with his plan, and then the Masters decided that ‘f*ck it’, they taking the city back. Tyrion seemed to lose all credibility with Grey Worm after the implosion of his peace plan, and thus got overruled in the decision of whether to advance or hold their positions. Both their opinions were rendered moot a few minutes later, though, when Mhysa herself waltzed into the pyramid through the back door. She’s home, Drogon is home, and we’re bound to get some excitement in Meereen, finally!
Just like Arya in Braavos, fans have never really warmed to Dany’s arc in Meereen, deciding to rule the city rather than going back to her home. Like Arya, she has now decided that she has to make her way home, but there’s still a war to negotiate before that can be possible. The Master’s have clogged Slaver’s Bay with their ships, and whilst Dany has a Dothraki horde with her, she’ll need some naval power of her own to contain this war. Luckily, Yara and her Ironborn are enroute, but what kind of situation they’ll meet when they arrive is open to debate.
‘No One’ was a step up in action from the past two weeks, as the season winds down for good. Arya’s story finally grew wings and soared this episode, with the final scene a powerful metaphor for the entire Stark kids this season. Jon and Sansa are going home to take Winterfell, Bran is returning south, more powerful and consequential than ever. There has been an awakening, and the protagonists of the series are getting ready to take back what is theirs.
Next week promises the largest battle this show has ever staged, per the show runners own words. Now that’s saying something, for a television show that has given us episodes like ‘Blackwater’, ‘Watchers on the Wall’ and ‘Hardhome’. The trailer is eerie as well, giving you the sense of scale of the battle that is coming. ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ (Jon Snow vs Ramsay Snow) is going to give us an epic more in line with ‘The Return of the King’ than ‘Spartacus’- and we have to thank this show’s success for enabling HBO to pony up this kind of budget.
Let the bastard bowl, begin.