Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers and speculation
Game of Thrones may have opened the season with two off-colour episodes, but the show has been on a roll since then. This week’s instalment, No One, continues the winning streak. This episode gave us a couple of heart-pounding Hollywood moments balanced with an understated, but equally wonderful, focus on character. Let’s consult our travelogue:
I have to start here, don’t I? Arya was the most talked about character going into this episode, and she is the most talked about character coming out of it. Despite a cool chase scene and a goosebump-inducing final line, the Internet seems largely disappointed with the conclusion to a girl’s storyline. Many people seem to think that the events of this week negated Arya’s arc over the last two seasons, effectively rendering her entire stint in Braavos a waste of time – a narrative stalling tactic. While I voiced similar concerns in last week’s review, I am still willing to give Weiss and Benioff the benefit of doubt.
Arya’s stay in Braavos need not be written off completely. You could argue that she is a far more accomplished fighter now than she was when she arrived. She also seems to have learned the valuable lesson that the House of Black and White, for all its cool aloofness, is as flawed an institution as any other in Westeros or Essos. More importantly, she recognizes this fact and rebels against it. Although the House takes no part in war or politics, it conveniently chooses to ignore moral questions in its supposed service of the god of death. Just like the Faith Militant, or for that matter any religion in any world, the House does not like questions. Why murder a merchant or a no-name actress? Don’t ask, it is the will of the Many-Faced God. Arya’s indoctrination into this philosophy, and her ultimate rejection of it, is a worthy enough story to tell simply because it establishes that she is one of the few characters on this show who have a strong moral compass. She would have aced Milgram’s experiment. And there’s always the chance that her geographical location may still be important – for example, she could run into the eastward-bound Greyjoys, or the westward-bound Varys.
Of course, this is me being generous and believing the best of this storyline. I can’t deny that it has seen some inconsistencies, as well as some very implausible moments. Even this week, Arya’s stab wounds seemed to magically fade by the end of the episode, and Jaqen H’gar, after everything that has happened, seemed inexplicably impressed with her decision to murder his Employee of the Month and walk away. But who am I kidding, I squealed and shivered when she said “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home.”
A few stray thoughts on this week’s Braavos events:
a) I just realized that Lady Crane was played by Australian actress Essie Davis! If you haven’t seen her brilliant performance in The Babadook, please make arrangements to do so at your earliest convenience.
b) Did anyone else pick up on the fact that the part Lady Crane was offering Arya in the play was essentially the role of Ssansa Stark? Arya declared that she wouldn’t be good at it because she could never remember her lines. This was a nice, tongue-in-cheek reference to her fights with Sansa over her inability to act like a lady.
c) I had a T-1000 joke about the Waif, but everyone seems to have run that into the ground, so I’ll pass. As much as I enjoyed the chase sequence, I wish they had lingered on in the darkness for a while after Arya cut that candle. A brief, sound-only sequence would have been a unique, cool touch. Missed opportunity.
d) For a cult of assassins, the House of Black and White sure are bad at killing people. Sell your HBW stock immediately. If you want to see a group of professionals who are woefully inept at their chosen skill, you can always follow England at the Euros.
The Imp’s machinations with the Masters of the East seem to have backfired spectacularly, and Meereen is now under attack. Dany arrives just in time, so everyone should be fine. I do think its interesting that Season 6 has shown a subdued, somewhat deflated Tyrion Lannister. Is this building up to a big hero moment for the most famous dwarf in the world? I enjoyed his joke, though. 10 points to Ravenclaw.
Another 50 points to Ravenclaw, courtesy Lord Varys, for getting the hell out of the city in the nick of time. At least someone from Meereen is going to Westeros. Kuch seekho, khaleesi. Where is Varys going? The Vale? The Iron Islands? My money is on Dorne. The Martells hate the Lannisters, and Elia was married to Daenerys’ brother. It stands to reason that they could be potential allies for the Mother of Dragons. Plus, they’ve disappeared after the season premiere, so you know they have to show up sometime soon.
The Hound doesn’t waste time, does he? I winced at his gruesome massacre of the outlaws, but found his interaction with Beric Dondarrion and Thoros hilarious. Between that, Tyrion’s joke session and the Pod-Bronn reunion, there was some nice humour in this episode. So it looks like the Hound is heading North to fight the White Walkers. So much for CleganeBowl, but hell yeah.
“Freddie experienced the sort of abysmal soul-sadness which afflicts one of Tolstoy’s Russian peasants when, after putting in a heavy day’s work strangling his father, beating his wife, and dropping the baby into the city’s reservoir, he turns to the cupboards, only to find the vodka bottle empty.” – P G Wodehouse
Poor Cersei was all about abysmal soul-sadness this week. After putting in a heavy day’s work watching her children choke on poison, getting raped by her brother at her son’s funeral and being forced to walk naked through Westeros’ equivalent of Gurgaon, she turned to the cupboards, only to find the Trial by Combat card missing. That’s what you get for overplaying your Zombie Mountain.
Although I am disappointed that the Clegane vs. Clegane Wrestlemania dream match now seems off the table, I like the move to ban Trial by Combat. It keeps things fresh, makes sense in the context of the story, and I don’t think anybody predicted it – so kudos to the showrunners for springing a surprise on us.
One of the things I love about the King’s Landing storyline is how it almost presenting Cersei of all people as the hero. I found myself actually cheering the Mountain’s brutal defence of her this week. Cersei’s journey from despicable to sympathetic is a remarkable achievement by the writers, and the fabulous Lena Headey. However, her odds of survival seem to be thinning by the day. If I read some hints this week correctly, she might at least go out in, ahem, a blaze of glory.
Ah, Jaime. This was your finest hour.
“It all comes down to what I want, versus what’s expected of me.”
I think this Mad Men quote efficiently expresses a deep human conflict – how do I choose between who I am and who people expect me to be? Game of Thrones frequently visits this dilemma. Sansa for example, has learned how to get what she wants by doing what is expected of her. Arya, on the other hand, has rejected expectations completely. What makes Jaime Lannister such a fascinating character is that this conflict seems to be ever-present in him, dominating his every deed and conversation. He knows exactly who he is and what he wants, but he rises and falls to people’s expectations of him. This episode explored that facet of Jaime magnificently.
We see him in the tent with Brienne, possbily the only person outside his family who values his word. She considers him an honourable man, rightful owner of a sword named Oathkeeper, and so he behaves like one, allowing her safe passage into Riverrun (and later out of it), and promising to let the Tullys go if they vacate the castle. But we see him later, in yet another tent – this time with Edmure Tully, a man who calls him Kingslayer and berates him for all his past misdeeds. Addressed thus, Jaime wastes no time in reverting to his worst self, threatening to catapult babies across castle walls, and using his ominous “The things we do for love” catchphrase.
And so Jaime frightens Edmure into surrendering Riverrun, but we see a flicker of almost regretful confusion on his face when he learns that the Blackfish has died fighting. It is perhaps a glimpse of the real man, a shadow of a similar expression we see earlier in the episode when he contemplates the thought of fighting Brienne. But is a man defined by his thoughts or his actions? Batman Begins told us that it is not who you are underneath, but what you do that defines you. This is true of course, but as Jaime shows us, it doesn’t end there – in a vicious feedback loop, what defines you can come to dictate what you do, until who you are underneath is lost. Your ‘true’ persona becomes an understudy for the mirage that has been built by other people’s consensus of you. In other words, a man becomes no one.
Overall Rating: 4 / 5 stars
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