A review of tonight's Game of Thrones coming up just as soon as anyone not drinking is disrespecting our queen…
“I choose violence.” -Cersei
The last couple of episodes prior to “No One” had the air of “To Be Continued” wafting throughout, in a way that Game of Thrones installments tend to have more of in the earlier parts of seasons. But I went with them because they had nice individual moments, and because I understand that not every episode can feature Dany literally burning down the Dothraki patriarchy or Hodor's tragic origin/death.
“No One,” though, suggested that a lot of what's happened lately hasn't so much been set-up for the next big moment, but a way to kill time until it comes.
The title refers to Arya rejecting her role in the Faceless Men – after first offering the Many-Faced God a sacrifice in the Waif – to resume her identity and prepare to return to Westeros. Despite some nifty parkour action in the streets of Braavos, and a decent payoff to Arya's time learning how to fight blind, the end result of it all brought us right back where we started from: Arya, having apprenticed under another badass, ready to return to her list. Maybe she's a better fighter than she was when she was apprenticing under Syrio and the Hound, but it feels like the series needed to park Arya in an out-of-the-way place for a couple of seasons so she'd be available and relatively undamaged until the endgame. The show never convincingly sold us on the idea that she might really abandon her true identity to be No One, and so we got some nice action beats and amusing Jaqen doublespeak, but otherwise could have kept her off-camera for as long as the Hound was absent.
Arya actually rejects two paths in this episode, as she also declines the invitation of Lady Crane (RIP) to join the acting troupe and go to Pentos. And “No One” spends a lot of time on people refusing offers to unite, particularly in ways that might advance the overall story.
Edmure and the Blackfish have appeared so briefly and infrequently that they only vaguely qualify as characters at all – Hot Pie has a more clearly-delineated personality than Edmure – so if the point of coming back to Riverrun to deal with them and Walder Frey wasn't to add to Sansa and Jon's army, nor to turn Jaime's loyalties(*), then why were we there at all? At this late stage of the game, the show doesn't have to devote every second of every episode to advancing the major story arcs, but when it isn't, it needs to be giving that time to characters the audience actually has an investment in, and preferably telling us things we didn't already know about them. Even Jaime's confession to Edmure that he only cares about getting back to Cersei, no matter what monstrous things he has to do along the way, isn't particularly revelatory, given all that the siblings have said to each other this season.
(*) It remains entirely possible that both of these could happen – Jaime did, after all, let Brienne and Pod leave unharmed – but where we stand right now, it's all much ado about nothing much.
The Hound hasn't declined Beric's invitation to join the Brotherhood Without Banners quite yet – and their desire to head North does, at least, feel germane to larger concerns in the way the Riverrun material ultimately didn't – and at least in that storyline, the show is once again toying with our feelings about violence and retribution. One week after Brother Ray made his argument against violence as a disease that solves nothing, the Hound is right back to butchering men with ease, and while we might want to see him get vengeance for his friends, you get the sense Brother Ray very much wouldn't want this from him, any more than Ned would want Arya to have gone down the path she's been on ever since his head left his body.
Over in Meereen, the Mother of Dragons, Breaker of Chains, Arriver of Predictability came back in a moment that was as underwhelming as it was telegraphed. Given how dramatically unnecessary Dany's speech to the troops was a couple of weeks ago (that's the monologue she delivers after the Dothraki's support has started to waver, not when they are gladly following her to Meereen), I wonder if the show might have blown its FX budget on a dragon shot it didn't need, which denied us the image of her astride Drogon floating off the pyramid balcony, rather than her just walking through a door at a moment when she obviously was going to, because who else could turn back the Masters' fleet in this particular moment of the story? (Yarra and Theon possibly could, but it makes more narrative sense for them to arrive there after Dany.)
Even Cersei's quote about violence, which was the highlight of the pre-season trailers, feels a bit less giddy in context, not only because it's hard at this point to root for either side in her war against the Sparrow – which he has cleverly taken the upper hand in by eliminating the practice of trial by combat – but because recent installments of the show have warned us against reveling too much in murder and dismemberment. Which is an interesting approach to take for a show that features so much of it, but a refreshingly honest and reflective one.
Still, I've had enough cooling of my heels here, and am eager for the stories to start having real forward momentum again. This was among the more forgettable episodes the show's done so far, which you would hope wouldn't happen this late in either a season or the overall run.
Some other thoughts:
* We unfortunately didn't get the extended Brienne/Bronn scene I've been hoping for, but Brienne's reunion with Jaime hit some strong emotional notes – particularly when he told her to keep the Valyrian steel sword – and Bronn's own reunion with Pod was pretty delightful in its own right. Another reason to hope for Jaime to switch sides: it would give Bronn opportunity to continue teaching Pod how to fight dirty.
* As someone who obsesses a lot about the map, and about the parts of the show's world that we've never seen but had occasional hints of, Arya's suggestion that she might try to find out what's west of Westeros had me very intrigued. But, of course, she'll be too busy settling old scores to play Columbus.
* Varys heads back to Westeros to sow seeds for Dany's arrival, which not only breaks up the delightful Dinklage/Hill comedy team, but makes it exceedingly unlikely that we'll ever get Varys, Theon, and Grey Worm in the same room at the same time for a eunuch support group. Oh, well.
* I had forgotten how amusing the Hound's dry contempt for his opponents can be, as we saw when he offered one of the rogue Brothers a chance to change his final words from “Fuck you!” to “cunt.”
* Lady Crane took Arya's notes about her performance, and the audience was even more moved by it.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com