In this latest episode, ironically titled “No One,” characters throughout the land reclaim their identities and humanities. Over the years, inspired by Brienne, Jaime has found a sense of honor worthy of his true name, not the Kingslayer moniker that labeled him with disrepute. In this episode, Jaime may pretend to be the Kingslayer in his words to Edmure Tully, but his actions fulfill a long-held duty not only to Cersei, but also to Brienne and the late Catelyn Stark.
The former queen Cersei chooses not to give up the fight for her life and the life of her last remaining child. Even as her son outlaws trial by combats, she makes a clear choice: “I choose violence,” she tells Lancel and the Faith Militant, and though we only see one of their deaths, we can be sure that Cersei will continue to choose violence if it means protecting herself and her son. “Catelyn and Cersei… they’d do anything to protect their babies: start a war, burn cities to ash, free their worst enemies,” Jaime tells Edmure. Cersei has been pushed aside for too long. This is the episode where she reasserts the only kind of power she believes in: power, pure and simple. “Power is power.”
In Meereen, Greyworm and Missandei find their humanity in humor, laughing and smiling for what feels like the first time in their lives. Both of them—Greyworm especially—have been deprogrammed of their selves for their whole lives. Over time, with the help of Daenerys and now Tyrion, they are figuring out how to become someone more than a mindless cog in someone else’s machine.
Sandor Clegane is still searching for his larger purpose, but rediscovers his true nature as the Hound. For some time now, he has ignored his instincts and sought to live in peace, chopping wood for a rural septon and his followers. After last week’s massacre, the Hound emerges once again as he uses his superior skills of violence to get revenge on the rogue members of the Brotherhood Without Banners.
Finally, Arya has at long last stopped pretending to be anyone other than Arya Stark of Winterfell, running from her family and her past. She refuses to be No One, as the Faceless Men (seemed to have) wanted. She reclaims her true identity and sets on a path towards home.
To start, Brienne and her squire, Pod, make it to Riverrun in order to convince Brynden “the Blackfish” Tully to ride north with his troops and help Sansa reconquer Winterfell. Naturally, they find the castle under siege and are brought to Jaime Lannister’s tent.
Brienne and Jaime share a unique bond, though they are often at warring purposes. It all started in Season 2 when Catelyn Stark commanded Brienne, her sworn sword, to smuggle Jaime back to King’s Landing as a bargaining chip for her daughters. Along the road, Jaime was impressed by not only her fighting prowess, but also her deep sense of honor. When they were captured by men from House Bolton, he prevented her gang rape by convincing their captors of her family’s wealth. They then chopped off his sword hand. He saved her from harm a couple of times, and in return she kept his spirits alive long enough to make it back to King’s Landing. She used to refer to him only as “the Kingslayer,” the nickname of his dishonor; however, like Arya in this episode, he reclaimed his true name with her in both word and deed, and they’ve been friends ever since.
The sword that Brienne wears is Oathkeeper, the great Valyrian steel blade that Tywin Lannister forged from the Stark’s ancestral blade and gave to Jaime. These swords are the most precious heirlooms of the ancestral homes that wield them. To gift her with this weapon would be statement enough; he went a step further to command her to use it to protect Sansa Stark from all who would do her harm (most notably, his own sister and lover, who still believes that Sansa had a hand in Joffrey’s murder).
Brienne tries to return this sword to Jaime in their meeting, stating that she has fulfilled the purpose of the gift. Jaime graciously tells her to keep it, that it is hers forever, in a moment where his true affection shines through. As the commander of the siege, he also lets Brienne through to negotiate the Blackfish’s surrender.
Brienne enters Riverrun under suspicion, since she is advocating for the Blackfish’s surrender with permission from Jaime Lannister. Finally, she is able to convince the old Tully commander that she serves Sansa Stark, and Catelyn before her, and delivers her mistress’s letter imploring for the help of his forces. While he recognizes the voice of the letter, stating that Sansa is “exactly like her mother,” he says that he cannot help her retake her ancestral home when he is fighting for his own.
Jaime, meanwhile, visits with Edmure Tully (Catelyn’s brother and the Blackfish’s nephew) and gives him a choice: convince the Blackfish to surrender to save his family and young son, or have his son catapulted over the ramparts. This sounds much more like the Kingslayer of old than the Jaime we know today, and Edmure is horrified by him. To drive home the parallel, Jaime echoes his infamous line from the first season (“The things I do for love”) when he tells Edmure “the things we do for love.” He tells Edmure that, like Catelyn protecting her children, he’ll do anything to protect Cersei. He needs this siege to end so that he can return to King’s Landing to help protect her from the Faith, and he’ll do anything to make it happen.
Edmure, convinced of his bluster, gives in to Jaime’s demands and orders to be let in the gates of Riverrun. As the son of Hoster Tully, the former lord of Riverrun whose funeral we saw several seasons ago, Edmure is the true heir to the castle. The garrison is faithful to their lord and surrenders on his orders, though not without a twinge of regret. The Blackfish would have never relinquished the castle, but Edmure turns it over easily without a fight. He surrenders not only his home, but also his uncle, ordering that the Blackfish is captured and handed over to the Lannisters.
Brienne and Pod narrowly escape in a rowboat, insisting that the Blackfish come with them to aid his grand-niece, Sansa, in the north. He decides instead to stay and fight a futile battle to protect his childhood home, and we only hear later that he died off screen.
When Jaime hears the news from one of his men, he looks a little disappointed about the death of this once great knight. In the books, Jaime quietly reveres the Blackfish as a childhood hero. In this scene, we see some regret in his face to learn that his actions have resulted in the man’s death. When he looks out over the ramparts, his face notably without pride or accomplishment for all his success in Riverrun, he sees Brienne and Pod rowing down the river.
Thanks in part to his journey with Brienne, Jaime evolved and changed as a character from the man who pushed Bran out of a window in order to cover up his affair with this sister. He was able to rediscover his humanity with her on the road. Along the way, he became a fan favorite character. Solidifying his new status, when he returned to King’s Landing, he helped free his brother Tyrion and gifted his priceless sword to Brienne in service to Sansa Stark. This was not the same man from the start.
However, now that he is back in Cersei’s orbit, Jaime has regressed somewhat, though his heart is not wholly in it. His line, “The things we do for love,” is representative of his attempts to play the Kingslayer of old, but Brienne reminds him of the humanity she helped him reclaim. In his words, he shows no mercy to Edmure or the Blackfish, but his body language over the last two episodes has shown the quiet regret he feels for participating in this awful business. He took the castle with ease, but lost a childhood hero and destroyed Brienne’s chances of fulfilling her mission. When he sees her escaping, he salutes her sadly, and she returns the gesture.
I can’t help but feel let down by this chapter in Riverrun. In the books, the Blackfish escapes and is supposedly living to this day, as far as we know. In the show, we’ve not only lost this great battle commander, but we’ve also gained nothing from Brienne’s errand. My only hope remaining is that Jaime will feel that tug of affection for Brienne and duty towards Sansa and send the Tully forces north.
Speaking of disappointment, in King’s Landing, King Tommen crushes every hope of a Cleganebowl—the long-theorized trial by combat between the Mountain and his brother, the Hound. This seemed all but confirmed after last week’s episode, only for Tommen to declare trial by combats illegal. In his royal decree, he commands that Loras Tyrell and his mother, Cersei, will both stand trial before seven septons in the Sept of Baelor.
Tommen has always been impressionable, but this is an extremely bad concession for him to make to the Faith. He has to know that he puts his own mother at great risk, but must be convinced by the High Sparrow and Margaery that his loyalty to the “two pillars” of the Crown and the Faith is more important than his loyalty to his family. In this case, however, he has relinquished all power to the Faith; a trial with seven leaders in the Faith removes the Crown from any position of influence.
Margaery, who has been scheming behind the scenes, manipulating both Tommen and the High Sparrow, will be happy to see Cersei’s demise, but is she trading her brother’s life for it? Surely, there is much risk in putting Loras to trial before the Faith for his homosexuality. For Loras’s sake, let’s hope that Margaery’s long term plan will protect him from harm, but the Faith has proven themselves to be ungovernable.
Earlier, the Faith Militant (led by Cersei’s cousin and former lover, Lancel Lannister) invaded the Red Keep to demand that Cersei come with them to the High Sparrow in the Sept of Baelor. Cersei claims that he promised she could stay in the Red Keep until her trial, but Lancel denies that any such guarantee was made. When they attempt to take her by force, the Mountain steps forward to protect her. Lancel brazenly tells him to stand down or be met with violence. “I choose violence,” Cersei says coldly, and the man formerly known as Gregor Clegane rips one of the Faith’s head off by the jaw.
Cersei and her monster are on top only briefly until they are shunted to the side of the Great Hall during the royal announcement, then shocked to learn that Cersei’s plan to be judged in a trial by combat is foiled by her own son. However, there seems to be one more trick up her sleeve. After the king’s announcement, Cersei’s personal maester and sycophant, Qyburn, tells her that his “little birds” have been looking into a rumor she told him about. That rumor, whatever it may be, turns out to be much more than a rumor, he says.
What could this “old rumor” be? I’m guessing it has something to do with wildfire. A couple of episodes ago, in the series of Bran’s visions, he saw green wildfire exploding underground. At the time, I hypothesized that this was a vision of the future. Originally, I guessed that Cersei was secretly asking the pyromancers to stockpile wildfire, since she had ordered its production before the Battle of the Blackwater several seasons ago.
However, the “old rumor” could refer to the fact that the Mad King supposedly had wildfire hidden all over King’s Landing. In Season 3, Jaime told Brienne, “Aerys saw traitors everywhere. So he had his pyromancers place caches of wildfire all over the city. Beneath the Sept of Baelor and the slums of Flea Bottom. Under houses, stables, taverns. Even beneath the Red Keep itself.”
If the rumor is that there is wildfire beneath the Sept of Baelor, Cersei may decide to resort to desperate measures to avoid her trial in front of the septons. Jaime may have foreshadowed it again in this episode, saying to Edmure that both Catelyn and Cersei would “burn cities to ashes” if anyone hurt their children. If this is the case, and she burns some or all of King’s Landing with wildfire, could she inadvertently cause her own son’s death? After all, he is prophesied to predecease her, and killing him herself would absolutely be the ultimate tragedy of Cersei’s life…
In Meereen, Varys continues to critique Tyrion’s choice to ally himself with religious fanatics, who are now deployed throughout the city preaching Daenerys’s greatness. He then leaves on a mission to recruit allies in Westeros, hoping to set up fertile grounds for her eventual invasion, and they part as old friends.
Back in the Great Pyramid, Tyrion continues to try to squeeze any hint of personality out of Grey Worm and Missandei. Finally, he is successful (and hopefully we never need one of these scenes again). As he starts to tell a familiar story about bringing a jackass and a honeycomb into a brothel (one he started to tell in Season 1, but was similarly interrupted), he is cut off by a sudden bombardment from an invading fleet of ships. These are the slavemasters of Astapor, Yunkai, and Volantis destroying the peace treaty that Tyrion was so proud of himself for negotiating.
Much to Tyrion’s dismay, Greyworm decides that they should stay in the Great Pyramid and defend themselves from within, leaving the city to the invaders. Their prospects seem hopeless until they hear a sound on the roof. It might be a bombardment, or some other attack, but it turns out to be their queen and her dragon, returning at just the right moment. I don’t think the wooden ships of the invaders will last long against a fire-breathing dragon, unless Daenerys somehow manages to take the fleet for herself.
In the Riverlands, Sandor Clegane tracks down the Brotherhood Without Banners for their part in the massacre of the kindly septon and his followers. He kills them in a pretty gruesome manner with his ax, mirroring the violence of his brother in King’s Landing. When he finds the Brotherhood hanging three of their men for their part in the attack, he demands his right to vengeance and is allowed to kick over the logs beneath two of them.
Beric Dondarrion, the leader of the Brotherhood, and the man-bunned Red Priest, Thoros, preside over the hanging. We haven’t seen them since Season 3, which is also when Sandor last met them. At the time, he defeated Beric in a trial by combat, but the Red Priest brought the knight back to life. This puts to rest the idea that the Brotherhood has been corrupted all the way to the top; as it turns out, the men Sandor encountered before the massacre were acting on their own without sanction from Beric.
After the hangings, as the men share a meal, Sandor jokes that he would have preferred a chicken (in a callback to when he and Arya killed Polliver and all of his men, then rode off eating their chicken). Beric and Thoros try to recruit Sandor to their cause, telling him that there are bigger foes in the north who would kill the young and old, good and bad alike (referring to the White Walkers, of course). He tells Sandor that “cold winds are rising in the North,” which is very similar to a quote from Lord Commander Jeor Mormont’s letter to King’s Landing’s Small Council in Season 2. It’s not clear whether this is a common refrain among people of Westeros, or if Beric’s camp received a similar letter.
In any case, unlike most every other southerner, the Brotherhood determines to take it seriously and has set its sights on the battle with the undead in the north. “We need good men to help us,” Beric tells Sandor. “The Lord of Light gave you the power to defeat me. Why? …You’re a fighter. You were born a fighter. You walked away from the fight. How did that go? You can still help a lot more than you’ve harmed, Clegane. It’s not too late for you.”
According to Beric, Sandor’s true purpose is violence, but in service to a higher ideal: saving the world from the undead. I think the Hound is destined for something big. Last episode, the septon assured him that the gods still had a purpose for him. This episode, Beric and Thoros do the same. I would love to see the Hound heading north to fight the White Walkers and their undead army. (As a side bonus: I’d also love to see him reunite with Sansa, whom he always treated with a kindness that seemed unnatural to him, but that in fact probably betrayed his true nature.)
Finally, in Braavos, Lady Crane revises her monologue as Cersei, using Arya’s critique and promising revenge on those who murdered her son. As I guessed last week, Arya seeks safety with Lady Crane, the only friendly face in all of Braavos. The actress takes her to her quarters and stitches her up. She invites Arya to join the acting troupe in their journey to Pentos, then gives her milk of the poppy so that she might sleep. It was heartwarming to see her treat Arya like a mother would a daughter; in several instances, she nearly looked like Catelyn Stark.
It’s even more heartbreaking, therefore, that when Arya wakes up, she finds Lady Crane impaled on her chair. The Waif carries out the original hit on the actress, blaming Arya for the woman’s suffering. Arya manages to escape by leaping out the window, but the Waif chases her through the streets. Using the blood of her reopened wounds, Arya leads a trail to the room where she stored Needle. When the Waif finds her, she is unafraid of the sword. Then, Arya puts out the light of the candle and fights the Waif blind, as she has been trained to do. With this advantage, she manages to best the assassin.
Later, Jaqen H’ghar finds a trail of blood in the Hall of Faces. He follows it and discovers a new face on the wall—the Waif’s. Arya threatens Jaqen for sending the Waif to kill her, but he is undeterred. He tells her that she has finally become No One, passing her final test to join the Faceless Men. Instead, Arya declares, “A girl’s name is Arya Stark, and I’m going home.” Since Season 1, Arya has been pretending to be someone else, traveling to lands far from her ancestral home. At long last, she is can be herself. At long last, she is going home.
Other Thoughts on “No One”:
- That last quote was probably my favorite part of an otherwise disappointing episode. We pumped our fists with excitement for the prospect of a united front of Stark sisters. As I’ve said before, this is my number one wish for the end game.
- I also loved Sandor’s line to the Brotherhood’s archer: “Tougher girls than you have tried to kill me.” Both Arya and Brienne fit that bill.
- Much as I (mostly) dislike Cersei, “I choose violence,” was another great moment of note. For all her faults, I wouldn’t mind seeing her tear through the fanatical Faith Militant. I kind of love to hate her, and Lena Headey’s performance has wrung a great deal of empathy from me (and others, I venture)—more than you ever feel for Cersei in the books.
- My frustration with this episode is best summed up with a quote a friend shared with me: “This episode had so many anti-climaxes I lost count.” In less than an hour, we lost hope of all of the following:
- Arya being too smart to walk around out in the open, throwing money around, idling on public bridges when she has a hit out on her. There were so many theories about why she would do something so asinine, including but not limited to: the idea that Arya and the Waif were one and the same (like Fight Club), the blood was faked and her injury staged to lure the Waif to a trap, etc. Nope, the simplest explanation was the right explanation, which also means that Arya was disappointingly stupid. What if the Waif wasn’t so vindictive and just slit her throat, as she was instructed to do? What if Lady Crane didn’t know how to stitch massive abdominal lacerations?
- Actually seeing Arya vs. the Waif (a.k.a. “No-One Bowl”). I always guessed she would fight in the darkness, putting her blind training to use, but it would’ve been great to somehow catch glimpses of their battle.
- Actually seeing the Hound vs. the Mountain in Cersei’s trial by combat (a.k.a. “Cleganebowl”). This is arguably the biggest fan let-down in a long time. Fans have been theorizing about this epic confrontation for years—years! In one scene, Tommen erases all hope of something that felt all but certain in the last episode. The Hound may get a chance to face his brother by the end of the series, but not in this marquee matchup.
- A more interesting siege of Riverrun. This is the only anticlimax that was predictable, in part due to Edmure’s incompetence (as represented in his inability to hit his father’s boat with a flaming arrow during Season 3, while the Blackfish hit it in his first attempt). It makes sense that Edmure would roll over and give up his ancestral home without a fight, but it still didn’t make for very interesting television.
- Seeing the Blackfish’s final sword battle. Another legendary battle commander dying in a quick and silly way (looking at you, Ser Barristan Selmy). I know that no one is safe in times of war, but there are ways to show the random cruelty of war without being so anticlimactic. The only way this is salvaged is if the Blackfish is in fact alive (as you can always hypothesize when the deaths occur off screen). Edmure sent his own Tully men to capture Brynden, so it is possible that they faked his death.
- Brienne succeeding in her mission. What was the point in sending her to the Riverlands? Again, not everything can work out in times of war, but there was no real narrative benefit to having her there. If I’m being generous, I guess Brienne reminds Jaime of his humanity. And Pod got to learn how to fight dirty with Bronn. The only way this is improved upon is if Jaime, convinced by Brienne’s meeting, spares the Tully forces and sends them north unimpeded to help Sansa and Jon in their campaign.
- Seeing a much more awesome and triumphant Daenerys return. She walks through a window. Shrug. Would’ve loved it if she roasted a few wooden ships on her way in.
- Actually seeing LSH (book spoiler). There have been so many name-drops in the last few episodes, and with the return of the Brotherhood, I thought for sure this was happening. I called out on three different occasions “LSH is happening!” during this episode, but they were all red herrings. Seeing the Brotherhood without LSH and no mention of her among their camp seems to be the final nail in her coffin.
- Add up all of those disappointments, and you get a pretty substandard episode. I have really been enjoying this season so far; I’m no book purist, and the pace has felt satisfying and right. I had high hopes for this episode (and the final two to come), but now I’m getting worried. The showrunners, David Benioff and D.B. Weiss, have been told how George R.R. Martin wants his series to end and the general plot points along the way, since we’ve run out of the source material. I’m concerned that they’re plowing headfirst in a straight line to the finish, leaving the nuance and intrigue of Martin’s books behind. This series is called Game of Thrones and yet this season no one really seems to be playing much of anything at all. Everything is all straightforward plot with very little of the beyond-the-scenes scheming and twists of the earlier seasons. Part of the brilliance of this series, both the books and the show, is all the crisscrossing threads and complex plots. This has led to an incredibly rich source of theories and hypotheses on the fans’ part. Martin has left plausible breadcrumbs stretching out in so many different directions, you could have a wildly different theory from your friend and still back it up with evidence. To prove this point, watch any one of the hundreds of fan theory videos on YouTube. I’ve always appreciated the show’s economy and editing compared to the original books, but recently it’s left little room for interesting surprises or clever twists. It now feels like they’re just sprinting to the finish, and everything is exactly as it seems on first glance.
- For example, several episodes when Tommen told Cersei a “secret” from the High Sparrow, and she went to the Small Council claiming that he told her about Margaery’s impending walk of shame, I (along with several others) theorized that this was a clever trick to get the Tyrell army to invade the Sept. We wondered if the actual secret was that Loras admitted the Tyrell plot to kill Joffrey. Nope. Instead, everything was exactly as it appeared. Cersei wasn’t planning any elaborate backstabbing. As it happened, she just wanted the Tyrell army to do her dirty work. Then Jaime went ahead and got his hands dirty anyway, so none of it really mattered.
- Arya’s recent storyline is another example. In the last week, fans had any number of crazy theories about why Arya, a cunning character, was stupid enough to get herself nearly killed. Unfortunately, it turns out that there was no master plan, and Arya was exactly as stupid as she appeared. That doesn’t fit her character and just feels like lazy writing—the plot machine churning forward mindlessly to get Arya back to Westeros by hook or by crook.
- Jaime, for all his faults, does right by Catelyn Stark to this day. Long ago, after Catelyn set him free from the Stark camp, he swore to return Arya and Sansa to their mother. After her death, he continues to go out of his way to protect them. In this episode, he lets Brienne keep his ancestral sword and return north to protect Sansa, and captures Riverrun without any major bloodshed to Catelyn’s kin (besides the Blackfish, who likely died by the hands of his own Tully men). In a way, he also protects Brienne from having to fight him. He knows that Brienne is the most honorable knight there is, and as she tells him, “Should I fail to persuade the Blackfish to surrender, and if you attack the castle, honor compels me to fight for Sansa’s kin… to fight you.” She clearly does not want to (she may even be in love with Jaime), so Jaime spares not only the bulk of the Tully forces, but also Brienne’s conscience, in his scheme with Edmure. He doesn’t get enough credit for the honor he displays.
- There were tears of blood streaming from the Waif’s eyes on her peeled face, so Arya must have either stabbed or gauged out her eyes, much like what she did to Ser Meryn Trant. It also resembles the tears that drip out of the eyes of the weirwood trees, the symbols of the Stark family’s religion.
- Arya just strides into the House of Black and White, hangs up the face of one of the assassins she murders, threatens Jaqen, and walks away with her life? The only way this makes sense is if Jaqen, who once said “One way or another, a face will be added to the hall,” accepts the Waif’s face as the completion of Arya’s training. He does smile when she says she’s going home. Was that the point all along? To train her not to become No One, but to become a fighter without fear in order to complete her personal mission in the name of her family? If so, why would Jaqen care?
- Another stupid Tyrion conversation piece. This once-great character has been given so little this season. I hope that the next two episodes, or at least the next season, resurrects this character’s awesomeness and importance.
- The Faith Militant was probably sent into the Red Keep in order to see just how powerful the Mountain has become. When one of their own got his head ripped off, the High Sparrow determined that the trial by combat should be banned, and manipulates Tommen to make it so.
- To end: I don’t want to sound like a Debbie Downer. I’ve enjoyed this season a lot, and even enjoyed this episode quite a bit. I was disappointed by the writing of Arya’s Braavos sequence and the likely confirmation that several of my favorite theories and storylines will not be coming true. However, it’s not fair to judge a show (or book) by whether or not it fulfills some kind of service to the fans, and you could even argue that fulfilling fans’ long-held beliefs takes away all the ingenuity and surprise of the story. Still, it was almost comically anticlimactic. I couldn’t help but acknowledge it in my thoughts, but I remain hopeful for a really satisfying final two episodes. It’s been a great season overall.