WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
After much of the this season has been spent clearing the decks from the events of the previous, No One was the perfect scene-setter for the rush toward the season’s final showdown.
In a season in which the writers seem more concerned with ticking off plot points, No One was an episode of rare clarity.
I loved this episode. It was less a succession of necessary events and more an exploration of characters and ideas. Mark Mylod’s direction was assured as he deftly foreshadowed looming threats. (The Hound slowly approaching the soon-to-be-slaughtered band of outlaws was a particular highlight).
In a show never shy of gratuitous brutality, Mylod left the camera lingering over blood dripping down drains and walls rather than gushing from severed limbs. Sometimes, it’s best to leave it to the audience to imagine the scale of what has unfolded.
But what I loved most was that the writers of this episode and tne showrunners, David Benioff and DB Weiss allowed themselves time to luxuriate with scenes that provided additional context to the episode. No One is the longest episode of the season to date and with the final two episodes set to run longer, Game of Thrones is using the extra time to flesh out its world.
Lady Crane adapted Arya’s advice and incorporated the revenge motif into her mourning monologue. It’s a wonderful piece of theatrical acting from Australia’s Essie Davis who will be sadly missed following her demise at the hands of the Waif. Her descriptions of her turbulent past relationships and how she dealt with the actress who wanted her dead told you he was not someone you mess around with. Sending the world’s top assassins after her made some sense.
The logic of the Faceless Men’s creed has been sketchy at best and the climactic duel between Arya and the Waif leading to her parting with mentor Jaqen was too. I’m sure no one believed that the camera following the path of blood to the Hall of Faces would lead to Arya’s face. I’m equally certain no one quite understands why Jaqen will accept the Waif’s death as a substitute. It feels an appropriate time to pronounce that Arya is indeed “no one”.
So with Arya heading back to Westeros and forsaking the Faceless Men, what did she learn during her time in Braavos? The episode title and final moments with Jaqen seemed to suggest that Arya, like her siblings Sansa, Jon and Bran, is finally casting aside the identities assumed for protection and is ready to reassert herself as a Stark.
No One seemingly brings Arya’s cadetship to a close. While the writers dug themselves a hole by never satisfactorily explaining what the Faceless Men were about, they managed to jump out of it with panache.
The logic of Arya’s battle with the Waif also shows some of the practical skills she has gained (including apparently, parkour). Whether her plan was to lead the Waif to her trap and utilise her heightened fight skills in the dark is questionable, but at least it provided closure for her time with the Faceless Men.
In an episode punctuated with thrilling moments of extreme violence it was a refreshingly offbeat choice to kill the only two characters who the audience may recognise off-screen. The Waif vs Arya fight made logistical sense – it did occur in pitch darkness.
News of the Blackfish’s death was delivered with little fanfare. The grizzled veteran warrior was last seen embarking on a suicide mission to take down as many of the Lannisters and Freys as he could before surrendering.
Many of the book series’ most legendary fighters (Ser Barristan, Areo Hotah, Arthur Dayne) were killed in circumstances not befitting their reputations but the Blackfish’s death leaves him an exalted status among the great swordsman.
The scenes at Riverrun were the best of the entire season. There was the humorous re-ignition of Bronn and Pod’s battle for sidekick supremacy, Brienne and Jaime’s touching reunion and the Blackfish staring down his own men. But the greatest scene was Jaime’s scene with Edmure Tully.
I’m an unabashed fan of Jaime’s previous redemptive story arc. His move from pretty, rich, arrogant jock who personified everything corrupt and contradictory about the supposed virtues of knightship to the crippled, misunderstood, flawed and oddly honourable man we now know is one of the show’s most successful moves.
His scene with Edmure (played by Outlander’s Tobias Menzies with great gravitas) encapsulated all of these paradoxes in a way that hasn’t been tapped into for a long time. Just as the Blackfish refused to countenance any agreement with Jaime based upon his reputation as an oathbreaker, Edmure is disgusted by him and shoots down Jaime’s generous peace offerings with a shudder of revulsion.
The audience know Jaime is a man who values honour and keeps his word but his reputation is still mud in the eyes of much of the world. But instead of arguing with Edmure in an attempt to right his worldview, Jaime plays the villain he is supposed to be; he threatens to murder every last Tully and deliver Edmure’s newborn child to Riverrun via catapult.
It’s a move his father Tywin would have approved but Jaime isn’t a butcher — for him death is something which should be avoided.
I’ve previously mentioned how some character pairings appear to be holding them back and Cersie and Jaime are one of them. Having two characters continually declare their devotion to each other doesn’t make for riveting television. It would be far more interesting if they break them up and tested themselves in new environments.
Assumedly there’s more to come from the riverlands plot this season as it feels inadequate to send both Jaime and Brienne there and resurrect the Hound and Brotherhood for just a few hung outlaws.
Considering how they left on such bad terms previously, the Hound and the Brotherhood’s hookup makes little sense. But it does hint at a theme left dormant too long – there’s not always good guys and bad guys but many flawed and contradictory people.
These contradictions add depth to many storylines, but one place where it’s hard to find anyone to root for is King’s Landing.
Neither the fanatical ideology of the Sparrows or the blunt use of force of Cersei are particularly endearing and Margaery’s manoeuvring, while also entertaining, is not something you would necessarily root for.
As Cersei is set to stand trial without the aid of zombie Mountain, the scene is set for an explosive finale between the separate forces. Qyburn supposedly finding “lots” of a secret weapon and Bran’s visions of wildfires indicate there may not be much of the city left to rule by season’s end.
Daenerys’ return to Meereen may signal a similar fate. With much of the city aflame from the siege with the Masters, dragons in place to make their presence felt and a multitude of fire priestesses in play, there may be little of Meereen left to rule when Daenerys decides to turn her attention back to Westeros.