Game of Thrones Recap: “No One”
She seemed to be on the ropes for a while, possibly giving up her title as Game of Thrones toughest young person to the Lady of Bear Island, even (for a time) claiming she had no name, but, by the end of last night’s excellent episode, Arya Stark reminded viewers exactly who she is.
That final scene! In a season that’s given us several legitimately great endings, from the surprisingly emotional “Hold the door!” sequence to Dany emerging from the flames to become the undisputed leader of the Dothraki, the epic chase scene between the Waif and Arya, which played partly like a horror film and partly like a Paul Greengrass directed Bourne action thriller, was one of the greatest sequences in the show’s history. It wasn’t just satisfying on a visceral level, but on the much more important psychological and emotional level. Here was a girl with no name re-becoming Arya Stark. Here was the Waif, played fiercely by Faye Marsay, coming after Arya with an unstoppable, unflappable relentlessness that made her the ultimate foe. And here was the payoff for Arya’s months of blindness—turning what looks like her deathtrap to her advantage by luring the Waif into a dark room lit only by a candle, and snuffing that candle so she could fight the Waif blind, as she had done so many times before.
And surprise, surprise, who seems pleased that Arya has not only conquered the Waif, but removed the Waif's face? Yup, Jaqen H'ghar, with a look of smug satisfaction on his face as if he’d plotted the whole thing, breaking Arya down (taking away her name, her eyes) only so she’ll rise again, reborn, tougher, smarter, more brutal. He tells her that a girl has finally become no one, but of course she’s done the opposite, a fact he also seems to be well aware of. "A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I'm going home." Those are the words we’ve longed to hear, and those are the words that send us out of this excellent episode. That these lines were spoken in the same episode that Jaime Lannister praised the strength of Arya's mother, Catelyn, was no accident. While Sansa is no longer the silly, superficial girl we met way back in season one, Arya has always been more like her mother—resilient, tough, surprisingly ferocious. The episode also had the rarest of rare tinctures; a Lannister looking out for a Stark. This is the case when Jaime, upon encountering Brienne at Riverrun, refuses her attempt to return his sword. He tells her to keep it, and to continue to serve Sansa. The Stark House might not be dead after all.
In the context of the real world horrors that unfolded early Sunday morning in Orlando, watching the violent moments in this episode was especially queasy. "No One" ended up having a resonance it would have lacked without that tragedy on your mind. The Hound sounds legitimately rueful when he tells Beric Dondarrion, a man he once killed, that "lots of horrible shit gets done in this world for something larger than ourselves." Hearing that line last night felt especially poignant, and deeply sad. The Hound was hunting the men who had killed Septon Ray and his people, and found them already in the hangman’s noose. He and Beric have a brief negotiation on who gets to do the killing. The Hound seems to be acting out of violent inertia—there’s no joy in his actions. He’s never been an especially happy roughneck, and he would probably agree with his dead friend Ray’s point, in last week’s episode, that you don’t cure violence by “spreading it to more people.” But that’s exactly what happens on GoT and, unfortunately, in the real world, too.
Spreading violence seems to be exactly what Cersei’s about. When she’s confronted by the Faith Militant, she finally unleashes the Mountain on them. “I choose violence,” she says, and not without relish. It’s not a pretty scene, and one Faith Militant member pays the ultimate price so that Cersei can get her message across; I’m done messing around. The latest problem for Cersei is her son Tommen; he's removed her ability to ask for a trial by combat, sighting it as an archaic, barbaric institution. This is of course precisely what Cersei had been banking on, as no one could defeat the Mountain (save for, maybe, his brother the Hound), but now the trial by combat has been taken off the table. Who knows what the mad Queen Regent will do now, and who knows what Qyburn’s little sparrows have for her, but what is certain is Cersei’s not going down without a fight.
Her lover/brother has finally taken Riverrun. The Blackfish went down nobly, fighting for his ancestral home despite the offer to flee with Brienne. We’re also reminded, in the same episode he showed concern and care for Brienne, that Jaime can also be a pretty terrible human being. While he tells Edmund Tully that Catelyn Stark, his sister, was a proud woman (despite the fact that his family ordered the Red Wedding and had her killed), he also tells him that nobody, not a single person, matters to him save for Cersei, and he’ll do anything, kill anyone, for her, including every member of his family. Ugly stuff.
Violence was spreading, once again, to Meereen, where the Grey Worm’s prediction to Tyrion that the slavers were using him turned out to be absolutely correct. There the slavers were, approaching Meereen via fleet and raining fire upon the city. It was a late arrival by Dany that may keep her people from once again becoming the property of others, but here is a battle that didn't need to happen (as so many of the coming fights certainly do) but is happening, primarily because Tyrion misread the situation completely.
While the prospects for a Clegane Bowl might have suffered a major blow thanks to Tommen’s ruling, the Battle of the Bastards is definitely happening. Jon Snow versus Ramsay Bolton in a fight that will likely decide not just their own fates but the fates of Sansa, Arya and countless others. There’s so much pending conflict on GoT right now it’s hard to square how they’re going to fit in all the fights to come in a mere two more hours. Not only will the bastards battle, but Dany and the Dothraki will have to first quell the slavers and then come to take the Iron Throne, possibly with Yara and Theon Greyjoy. The Hound and the Brotherhood Without Banners aren’t the types to sit out a fight, and the Faith Militant aren’t just going to lay down their arms, hike up their robes and go away. There’s a whole lot of hell bearing down on Winterfell, not least of which is an army of undead, an army that has been more of a whisper in season 6 than it was last season, which means soon, they’ll reemerge as the true and primary concern for all of our players, turning the central conflict that has animated GoT since the beginning—the battle between the Starks and the Lannisters—into a black comedy. What does it matter which house wins a battle when the war with your real enemy is lost?