Disclaimer: There are no spoilers in this article. I have only read the first three books and I have no knowledge of what transpires in the show moving forward. Any views or content expressed are solely personal theories, opinions and insights.
For a while, it seemed like the great battle against the White Walkers, the one that will decide the fate of all humanity, was getting closer than ever. But, outside of Bran’s storyline, we really haven’t seen much of the White Walkers at all. And, several of the times we did see the White Walkers in Bran’s storyline, it was via his visions, and not actually happening in real present-day life. At the end of last season, when Jon Snow traveled to Hardhome with Tormund and ended up battling the White Walkers (and saving many of the Wildlings), it certainly felt like it wouldn’t be too much longer until the White Walkers made their move. And even though most viewers assume that this major battle won’t happen for some time, as it will likely be the ultimate battle that decides the fate of this story as a whole, it still felt like all the other “games” were starting to take a backseat to the only “game” that really mattered — the one against the Night King and his White Walkers.
But, in recent episodes, that has started to shift and we’ve been reminded that although that may in fact be the greatest game of all that viewers need to always be aware of, there are still many smaller games that need to unfold first. In many ways, the last few episodes, especially last night’s No One have felt like early-season episodes, in that they are focused around lots of smaller games with smaller characters jockeying for position. However, the one main difference is that in the first couple seasons, it felt as though most characters were playing a certain role in their respective game due to the position they were put in. This character was fighting for that king’s claim because his house pledged fealty, and so on. But at this point in the story, most of those notions have been broken down, and characters are acting on free will and making their own choices. The lines have all been blurred, the “rules” of which house is suppose to be pledged to another house have all been broken, most characters are far away from their starting points, and ultimately each is making decisions as to who they want to be and what role they want to play in their respective game. And now, as we approach the final two episodes of the season, it is starting to become more clear than ever the role that each character will in fact play in the wars to come.
This episode was entitled No One, pointing to the fact that Arya has officially become no one, as Jaqen tells her in the final moments of the episode. But in fact, Arya is somebody — she boldly responds that she is Arya Stark of Winterfell and she is going home. Rewinding a few minutes, Arya’s story in Braavos opens with Lady Crane playing the part of Cercei in the local play. This time, she takes Arya’s advice and portrays Cercei’s anger caused by losing the one she loved before she got to say goodbye, and her pledge to avenge the death of her son. As we talked about in earlier recaps, the moment Arya gave Lady Crane this advice seemed to be the very moment that Arya’s journey turned and she realized she did not want to kill Lady Crane or join the Faceless Men. Rather, like the advice she was giving Lady Crane, she wanted to avenge the death of those she had lost before she got to say goodbye. And in order to do this, she must in fact be somebody — she must be Arya Stark. So watching the episode open with Arya’s advice to Lady Crane come to life, certainly pointed at the fact that this would be the episode was Arya finally becomes Arya.
After Lady Crane dresses Arya’s wounds and attempts to nurse her back to safety, we see that Arya’s saving Lady Crane’s life would in turn result in Lady Crane saving Arya’s. What wasn’t quite clear was how a few bandages from Lady Crane was able to save Arya — after all, she got stabbed pretty intensely in the gut, the type of thing that doesn’t just get resolve by a few bandages, but we’ll let that one go. As we suspected, the Waif comes for Arya and kills Lady Crane before chasing Arya throughout the city of Braavos. Arya finally ends up in a dark cavern, the very place where she had lay Needle to rest a few episodes back. No doubt, this makes us wonder whether Arya somehow had this whole thing planned out. In any event, we see that all the blind training that Arya endured, mostly at the hands of the Waif, turned out to be her ultimate savior, as she cuts out the light and defeats the Waif by being the superior fighter in the dark. Arya takes the face back to the House of Black and White, a final gesture, where she finds Jaqen who tells her that she has finally become “no one.” Arya tells him who she really is, and you could send a slight grin on the face of Jaqen, as if this was his plan for her all along.
Maybe Jaqen was some sort of magical man who was pushing her to become nobody in the hopes that it would actually make her somebody — Arya Stark — and a stronger version of that somebody. Or, maybe Jaqen was trying to protect her from the dangers that come along with being Arya and trying to kill all the names on her list — so he was training her to become no one. Or maybe it was neither. Regardless, what continues to be confusing to me is the idea of becoming no one. It seems like Arya became no one so many times. After she became blind and Jaqen offered Arya her vision back if she would say that she was Arya, she refused, showing that she was willing to sacrifice her vision in order to remain nobody. At this point, she was told that she was ready. Then, she drank from the fountain that we know causes death, again showing that she was ready to become nobody and was even willing to risk death to do so, and once again, she was told that she was ready to become nobody, and even got her eyesight back as a show of this. So now, in their final moment together, for Jaqen to once again tell her that she is ready to become no one was just old news to me. Ya ya, we get it, we’ve heard it before. I was hoping Jaqen would tell her something more meaningful, something more profound — but we just got more of the same. I’m left scratching my head trying to understand the true meaning of Arya’s journey over the last few years. She traveled halfway across the world, dedicated her entire being to joining the Faceless Men, took countless beatings, begged on the street, lost her eyesight — the list goes on — all to eventually realize this isn’t who she wanted to be and that it was Arya all along that she truly way. I understand the premise of going through a journey of self-realization and don’t deny that she will now come out a stronger Arya, ready to kick some ass, but still — it seemed like a very long and confusion journey that was destined for some greater ending — and instead we just got Arya realizing she wants to be Arya and not no one. Feels like a waste of time, and probably a realization she could have had after one season in Braavos, not several, but none the less, Arya’s now destined for Westeros as a more seasoned fighter. It will be exciting to see whether she heads back to Winterfell to join her Stark siblings, or whether she has other business to attend to first. Reuniting with the Hound could also be on the table.
“I CHOOSE VIOLENCE”
These were the infamous words spoken by Cercei that have been all over the season six trailers for many months. So naturally, I was expecting a bit more violence in King’s Landing this episode when those words were finally spoken. Instead, we got the Mountain just ripping off one of the Faith Militant’s heads. So for now, the fight in King’s Landing is still not here, but we see Tommen further himself down the path of being a complete pussy. In his latest decree, he announces that trial-by-combat is outlawed, no doubt a decision aimed towards weakening the position of Cercei, who will now face a normal trial in front of seven priests who will decide her fate. Even more disappointment than Tommen who dooms his own mother, was the realization that we might not get to see the Mountain fight in another trial by combat.
So what comes next? Well, Cercei asks Qyburn if the rumors are true, and he responds that they are definitely true, more so than they had even thought. We’re left to wonder what these rumors might be, and we presume them to be a rumor that could maybe save Cercei. But, let’s explore another possibility. Maybe Cercei doesn’t get saved. Maybe she faces trial, is found guilty, and maybe, just maybe, is executed. Sure, our natural reaction is to say that there’s no way Cercei can die just yet. But, as we know all too well, anybody can die at any moment. And, it’s been a minute since any major character has been killed off. So, why not Cercei? The way I see it, Cercei has been holding Jaime back for quite some time, as was reconfirmed in this episode when Jaime tells Edmure that everything he is doing is just to get back to his sister. But what if his sister wasn’t in the picture? Think about who Jaime could become. He wouldn’t be tied to the evils of his sister or House Lannister. He’d be free to become the truly good man that we’ve seen glimpses of — the one that we want him to fully embrace. As the story starts to approach its final lap, and characters begin to assume their final position, it just feels like Jaime needs to be out there on his own, uninfluenced by his sister — and maybe that’s the direction this whole thing is headed.
Speaking of Jaime, we move over to Riverrun where he engages in a conversation with his prisoner, Edmure. This reminded me of earlier seasons and similar conversations, namely when Catelyn had Jaime as prisoner in the Riverlands. It was eerily similar — same location, same families (Lannister and Tully), only now the tables have turned and Jaime has the upper hand. We haven’t seen or heard from Edmure in many seasons, and he’s in no mood for Jaime’s small talk. He cuts right at the core of Jaime’s character, asking how he truly sleeps at night and accepts himself as a man. After all, Jaime is the guy who threw Bran from the walls of Winterfell (which should’ve killed him), put his sword through the back of the Mad King, and committed many other honorless acts. Edmure’s poignant words seem to cut through Jaime’s crimson and gold armor, as he looks off and appears to pondering the truth of himself. But then he quickly moves past these words, reminding himself of why he’s there — for Cercei — and tells Edmure that he would slaughter every last Tully to get back to Cercei. We’ve heard words like these before, and it goes back to the idea presented above — the idea that Cercei has consistently brought out the worst in Jaime, and that he’s been willing to commit terrible acts for the sake of Cercei.
Moments later, we see Edmure enter the walls of Riverrun and command that the Tully forces lay down their weapons. He also demands that Blackfish is turned over to the Freys. The assumption here is that Jaime’s words got through to him and that Edmure does not want to see any more Tullys killed. To avoid this, he’s willing to part with the castle of Riverrun. It seemed as though Jaime made good on his word and took over the castle without shedding any blood. As this is all happening, Brienne and Pod make off in a small boat, and it looked for a moment as though Blackfish would join them at Winterfell to help the rest of his family. But instead, he stays back to fight and die. After watching this, I kind of questioned Blackfish’s reinsertion into the story. After not seeing him for many seasons, we learn of his return and that he’s reclaimed the castle of Riverrun. At the same time, Jaime’s army is heading to Riverrun to retake the castle, and Brienne is headed that way as well to get Blackfish to join Sansa’s fight in the North. Certainly, we’d get to see at least one of these plots unfold — maybe even both. Blackfish would fight Jaime to keep the castle, or maybe Jaime would in fact take the castle peacefully, allowing Blackfish to take his men north to join Sansa. Instead, neither of these things happen and Blackfish apparently dies off-camera fighting a few insignificant men. So again, I ask, what was the purpose of reinserting Blackfish into the story many seasons later, for him to do not much of anything and go on to die an insignificant death? A bit disappointing for a character that was an epic fighter and legendary character in the books. And now, as Brienne heads back to Winterfell without any more men than she left with, we must assume that Sansa’s letter has landed in the hands of its recipient (likely Baelish) and that Stark-supporting men are on the way (likely the Knights of the Vale). If not, Sansa, Jon and company simply do not have enough men to even attempt to overthrow the Boltons.
For those who read this blog weekly, you know that I am generally not too high on Khaleesi’s slow-moving storyline in Mereen and the surrounding areas. After so much time, it just adds up to a whole lot of nothing. Most of the time, I readers tell me that they agree with this assessment, but every now and then there are some who disagree. So, I try to open myself up to Khaleesi’s story each week and approach it with an open mind. But like last night, time after time I continue to be disappointed. I’m not going to rant about how little Khaleesi’s story has progressed over the last few seasons, but let’s just look at last night’s Khaleesi story as a microcosm of her overall journey.
A solid 3-5 minutes was wasted as Tyrion drinks wine with Missandei and Grey Worm and encourages them to tell some jokes. Sure, it was nice to see Grey Worm and Missandei smile and laugh, something we’ve not yet seen to date. But with everything going on in the story right now, can anybody really tell me that this is not an utter waste of time? Even worse, this is not the third or fourth time we’ve had to watch Tyrion have a meaningless dialogue in Mereen. It’s almost as if Khaleesi’s storyline is so boring, that in her absence, the other characters literally have nothing to do other than drink wine and have insignificant conversation.
Then, a bit of excitement, as least compared to Tyrion’s converation. The Masters of Yunkai and Astapor have arrived to attack Mereen as a result of Tyrion’s negotiations. Khaleesi and her dragons are gone and Tyrion and company appear vulnerable. So what could happen next? Of course, Khaleesi is back with her dragon. But do we get to see what happens once she returns? Nope. Only that she’s now back. But for how long? The entire struggle of the slavery plotpoint consumed Khaleesi’s storyline a long time ago, and we’re still seeing that today. Of course, Khaleesi had to grow as a character and evolve with her dragons before being ready to take back Westeros, but the way the story has tried to achieve this, namely through an ongoing and never-ending saga centered around the slaves that she is trying to keep free versus those that want them in chains, has just been boring. No other way to say it. Oh, and Varys left Mereen to presumably head back to Westeros after telling Tyrion that the queen will need friends in Westeros.
IT’S NEVER TOO LATE
If there was one saving grace in this otherwise boring episode (though I’m okay with it being boring since this season has been so amazing), it was watching the Hound fall in with the Brotherhood Without Banners. The Hound stumbles upon a few of them and totally decimates them with his ax, which is a totally awesome weapon for him. He then arrives at the others who were responsible for the massacre of his village, who have nooses around their necks, thanks to the Brotherhood Without Banners. As I predicted in my last recap, these man were rogue members of the Brotherhood and their actions were not sanctioned by the Brotherhood, who are generally good men. As a result, the Brotherhood is making them pay for their crimes and sentencing them to death.
The Hound arrives on the scene and tells Beric and Thoros that he wants to be the one to kill these man. As usual, Beric and Thoros are reasonable men and offer up two of the three men. Yet, they will not let the Hound butcher these men, only kill them as humanely as possible. The Hound tells them that there was a time that he would’ve fought all seven of the Brothers, just to kill these three men the way he wanted. No doubt, that is true. But that time is in the past, and the Hound is a different kind of man these days. As they sit around the fire, Thoros sends a very similar message as did the priest the Hound was with. He tells him that everybody has a purpose and it’s never too late to do some good. They mimic the priest’s words in telling him that there is something greater than them and a great war is coming. Thoros reminds the Hound that the Lord of Light has saved Beric from death many times and that Thoros will have a great role to play. Though we haven’t seen these character in several seasons, and never saw much of them to begin with, it will be interesting to see what kind of role Beric does in fact play. The Hound seems sold and appears to be falling in with the Brotherhood, and he fits right in with these band of men who are rough around the edges, don’t kiss ass or serve any particular house and ultimately fight for the good of mankind.