No One

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This will be the EUGOTSOC Committee review of Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 8: ‘No One’ written by myself – Alexander Petkov: Publicity Officer.

When an episode is titled ‘No One’ I can’t help but wonder what does that imply for the storylines that take place in it and what themes would they explore. Of course, there’s the literal tie in with Arya’s storyline as on numerous occasions it’s been said that in order for her to become a faceless man – she has to become ‘no one’. However, an episode title is not simply a reference to one of the storylines in it and has to have some overall relevance. When you tell a story as huge as Game of Thrones as a TV series you need to have an idea that you want to put across with each episode. That idea is then somehow encapsulated in your episode title.

A big theme this season is ‘identity’ and the obvious candidate for the significance of ‘No One’ is ‘loss of identity’. However, this is not at all explored in any of the storylines this week. It could be a reference to a theme of ‘deceit’, but while I can see that as a potential interpretation for a small part of the storylines – it’s definitely not explicit and more likely due to me reading too much into things. And here lies part of the problem – I don’t really understand the Faceless Men and their concept of ‘No One’. That in turn prevents me from objectively following the theme of the episode, but I’ll touch on this more when I get to Arya’s storyline this week. After careful thought the one common theme I could extrapolate from all the arcs this episode was ‘cutting ties’ or more specifically – ‘cutting ties with your own kind’. This can be tied back to the idea of ‘No One’ if we assume that the message is that going against those close to you makes you ‘no one’. However, this ties back to the theme of identity loss, which is absent from the episode, and so the only possible theme for the episode that I could find is lacking a moral compass and has zero implications. This somewhat outlines some of my problems with S6E8 ‘No One’.

Last week’s episode featured the Hound heavily. This week the accent in this storyline is shifted to the Brotherhood without Banners. We start off with a cringey conversation between some characters we don’t know. I can’t help but feel that the showrunners are confusing toilet/dick humour with clever writing. I remember the GRRM-written episode ‘The Bear and the Maiden Fair’ in Season 3 which certainly had a fair amount of dick humour, but seeing how here it has no context (and provided we will see more of that later in the same episode), I really have to wonder what’s going on in the writers’ minds. This scene is quickly ended by the Hound’s arrival as he storms in and chops the men up with an axe without asking questions. In light of my previous comments I do have to say that this manner of appearance for Sandor Clegane comes most welcome.

Next we get to see Thoros of Myr and Beric Dondarrion back on the show – about to hang the rogue members of The Brotherhood we met last week. Here we get our ‘ties severed’ moment for this storyline. I must say – as much as I like seeing all these characters’ return, I am also really puzzled by their sudden appearance in the second half of the season, no less. There are already quite a few storylines that are fading out of focus (Sam, Jorah, Euron – to name a few), that it’s very likely that the Brotherhood will get tangled up in another major arc before the end of the season. For now, it seems the Hound will stick with Thoros and Beric so maybe that will lead to some sort of redemptive arc for the character. We know that the Brotherhood wants to head north, so the only crossovers with other stories it could have are with the Battle of Winterfell (which I seriously doubt) or with Brienne on her way back. Either way, I have no idea where this is leading – but I’m curious to find out.

In King’s Landing we start off with Cersei refusing to leave the Red Keep at the order of the High Sparrow and finally uttering her already famous line ‘I choose violence’ before letting Ser Robert Strong brutally murder a random member of the faith militant to get the point across. As much as I completely enjoyed this scene, I was a bit disappointed that it didn’t escalate further. It seems underwhelming, to say the least, that the most badass line from the season trailers led to nothing more than a single death of an unnamed character. Don’t get me wrong – the show is violent enough, but again – this is a consistent issue I have with this episode in particular: the pay-off does not correspond to the build-up – it ends up feeling dwarfed.

The King’s Landing scenes continue with Tommen’s announcement in the Throne room about Trials by Combat being hence forth prohibited. This is a huge deal as Cersei’s only plan for survival has been suspended, and by her own son – of all people. This runs with the theme of breaking ties as Tommen’s new decree is specifically to the detriment of his own mother. The power of the faith, complete with Margaery’s manipulations seem to have completely overpowered the young king. Then we get Qyburn whispering to Cersei about a rumour he has verified. This most likely has to do with the cellars of wildfire underneath King’s Landing. We’ve been teased with wildfire with Bran’s visions and it would be really poor if the show didn’t pay off this perfect foreshadowing. Also, Cersei is pretty much out of options and wildfire would certainly help her in her predicament. One problem is that we still don’t know what is Margaery’s endgame – and we might never know if Cersei just burns down Baelor’s Sept with Loras and the High Sparrow both inside. The show has been building up Margaery’s plotting even more than Cersei’s trial this season so it’s definitely something to keep in mind.

It’s impossible to talk about a Mad Cersei burning King’s Landing with wildfire without also considering Jamie. Seeing how his Kingslayer title has been referenced a truly disproportionate amount of times this season, it has to have some significance to his current character arc. Should the wildfire incident happen and should the Kingslayer return to the capital for the finale, Jamie’s love for Cersei as well as his reluctance to act against his family (as he expressed in front of Brienne) will set the stage for a perfect mirror of his confrontation with the Mad King. Anyways, speculations aside – the Riverrun plot (whose star is undoubtedly Jamie) this week is not lacking in discussion worthy bits.

We start off with Jamie and Brienne finally meeting again. While they’re discussing honour and how to deal with the Blackfish so that they avert conflict between each other, we get our second unnecessary and cringey scene filled with dick humour for the episode. This time it’s coming from Bronn as he reunites with Podrick. I understand that Bronn is supposed to be a wisecracker, but this is silly! He’s not twelve! I’m almost sure that the actor playing Podrick didn’t have to try and act uncomfortable during Bronn’s ‘Do you think Jamie and Brienne are fucking’ speech. If the point of this scene was to remind the viewer that Jamie-Brienne was a ship on the show back in Season 3, then it’s bad because ‘show, don’t tell’. Also the chemistry between Jamie and Brienne speaks for itself, curtesy of the two amazing actors. And if the point of the scene is to just have Bronn say stuff – then we have the scene with the unnamed Brotherhood members all over again.

The Riverrun story does, however, have one very strong redeeming point – and that is Jamie’s handling of Edmure Tully. In a very well-acted scene the Kingslayer brilliantly threatens his prisoner, convincing him to force the Tully banner-men to surrender the castle instantly. While there’s a lot of truth behind Jamie’s words (like his admiration for Catelyn and his love for Cersei) –  revealing a more ruthless and cruel Jamie, his entire scheme serves to quickly resolve the conflict without bloodshed. And in his seeming cruelty he demonstrates his honour and nobility as a parting gift to Brienne. I personally think this is very fitting for his character and quite liked how subtle the show was about it. In the end the only life lost is allegedly the Blackfish’s. That means that Brynden Tully’s disappointment in Jamie will continue to sting and will remain unresolved until (hopefully) the finale.

The ‘cutting ties’ in this storyline falls in the hands of Edmure, who betrays his banner-men’s trust in order to save their lives and his family’s. Of course, another candidate for representing this theme is the Blackfish himself. He refuses to give aid to his only family left – Sansa (and Edmure as well, for that matter) and even decides not to leave the castle with Brienne and not to reunite with his grand-niece. In that way Edmure and Brynden become completely mirror characters. One disappointing thing about this part of the episode is that the Blackfish’s death remained off-screen. And while the underwhelming reveal of his demise served to provide emotional weight for Jamie’s character, it was a large disservice to the audience and probably could have been handled better.

In Meereen we see religious fanatics everywhere in the city, which Varys realises quite well that is a terrible thing. Tyrion, however shares his sister’s early excitement at the prospect of working with religious zealots. We see Varys leaving Meereen on a mission to gain allies in Westeros. Of course, Varys leaving a city is never a good sign as he was pretty much all that kept King’s Landing stable. It is quite interesting as he left the Crownlands just before religious extremists took over the capital and now he’s leaving Meereen after the arrival of the aforementioned fanatics. It’s also unbelievably suspicious that the Spider would leave just before the Masters of Astapor and Yunkai attack the city. As Varys does not make mistakes, it certainly makes me wonder if he has some hidden agenda (I mean even more hidden) and is actually not really supporting Daenerys. All this remains to be seen, but I can’t help but hope that there’s more to Varys than meets the eye.

We then get treated to a very unnecessary scene of Tyrion drinking and forcing Grey Worm and Missandei to tell him jokes. I never thought this day would come, but Tyrion scenes this season have become my least favourite part of the show. Tyrion’s charm and wit have been replaced completely by him just constantly drinking. He’s lost all of his character motivation and now stands as a token comic relief. This is unacceptable. The scene is hard to watch as it feels like forced humour (and we’ve already had two other instances of that in this episode alone). It finally finishes after each has told a joke and Missandei laughs way too much at Grey Worm’s joke (probably to remind the audience that they have a sort of romance). Then the Masters suddenly attack the city by water and just in the nick of time Daenerys returns.

I have to say, her arrival is great. Emilia Clarke’s face is brilliant as she glares at her advisors disappointedly. Tyrion’s expression at the realisation that he’s in deep trouble is also priceless. Of course, the reveal that the Masters would attack the city came as no surprise – especially after the showrunners made that American Civil War analogy with Tyrion back in episode 4. One question that I feel needs to be asked is ‘Where are the dragons’. Tyrion unchained Viserion and Rhaegal in the beginning of the season and they’ve yet to make an appearance since. They haven’t so much as having been mentioned thus far, and one would think that they’d be quite effective at breaking the siege of Meereen.

Anyway, we now come to the big storyline this week – Arya’s. It was a few weeks ago when people started to catch on to the fact that she is not only not becoming ‘no one’ but is also pretty much wasting the Faceless Men’s time. She has learned to fight, yes, but is that really the only use that a guild of faceless assassins will have in the story? This seems off. I do have an interesting theory about what’s really going on, but I’ll get to that in a bit.

We start off with Lady Crane delivering an altered final monologue as ‘Cersei’, based on the suggestions by Arya/Mercy. It was a really nice scene, but I was personally taken out of it because it quite obviously outlined the structure of the Arya storyline for the episode. After last week there were tons of theories that explained Arya’s carelessness and how she survived infecting her already severe wounds with the sewage water in the canals. One of them correctly predicted everything that happened in the episode – based around Lady Crane’s involvement. And it that vein of thought – it is a bit disappointing to have realised that Arya was indeed just being careless and almost dead as a result. The scenes between Lady Crane and Arya were really nice, warm and well-acted, though one bit stands out to me. When asked where she would go, Arya talks about crossing the Sunset Sea. This dialogue surely can’t be there for no reason. The easiest thing to answer was ‘home’ or something along those lines. So for now I am quite curious to find out what significance to the story this exchange will have.

Finally, we get the chase scene between Arya and the Waif that we’ve been waiting for. Lady Crane gets killed and Arya escapes through the window. It’s important to note that even a non-severely-injured person could not attempt the stunts Arya did (or the Waif for that matter) without breaking a bunch of bones in their body. Once you look past that, the chase scene is very well-edited, is brilliantly-shot and accompanied by a great soundtrack. Most of the time during that scene I do get the feeling that the Waif simply enjoys playing with her food – hence why she engages in such a non-stealthy endeavour. It ends with Arya baiting her nemesis into a dark room, where she defends herself with Needle after she swings and cuts a candle in half (which is a very cool looking scene).

Apparently after all the running, falling, etc. Arya’s open wounds decided to close for good as she managed to sneak into the House of Black and White, leaving dripping blood at her wake and put the Waif’s face on the wall, without Jaqen noticing. After Arya confronts him, he tells her she is now ‘No One’, she replies she’s Arya of Winterfell and says she’s going home. Jaqen grins and does nothing to stop her. OK, let’s talk about this. This does not seem right. Two faceless men had to die, so that Arya can finish her training. The guild went through so much trouble to recruit her that they can’t just let her go. Unless they didn’t. Here’s my theory. As we don’t know how the Faceless Men really work, it can’t be known for sure, but what if the only way to become a Faceless Man is to kill one sent to assassinate you. This explains why there are so little Faceless Men in total and explains how they keep their eliteness (by having this harsh entry requirement). It also explains the Waif’s dislike for Arya from the start as she doesn’t want to be replaced. Thus Arya believes that she’s broken her ties with the guild but I think she is now one of them whether she wants it or not. I reckon this is not the last time we see the Faceless Men and I’m quite curious to see if they’ll try and push Arya onto certain paths once she’s back in Westeros.

If I am correct, then the theme of ‘No One’ gets shifted to ‘assuming someone’s place’, which is quite present in the episode. We see The High Sparrow acting through Tommen and completely overpowering him, Edmure taking charge of Riverrun instead of the Blackfish, The Hound executing Lem Lemoncloack instead of the Brotherhood doing it. In any case, this episode does not really explore its chosen theme in depth (or maybe I just don’t see it). Much like the Faceless Men who remain a complete mystery, the notion of ‘No One’ is lost on the story and its characters.

In the end, I should say that this is not a bad episode on its own. Its greatest problems come from wasting time on unnecessary and weak dialogue and following up on strong build-up with underwhelming resolutions. If you look past that – the episode is quite decent, even though I’d probably still say it’s my least favourite of the season. The first 5 episodes this year were really intense and eventful, and thus far the second half of the season has been falling behind on that front. Last week’s episode gave the impression that this trend would not continue onto S6E8, but alas ‘No One’ felt more like a step back. The last two episodes, however do promise to be incredible. Even Sophie Turner, who managed to get to see ‘Battle of the Bastards’ early stated that it was unbelievable. I guess we’ve nothing to do but to stay excited!

Thank you for reading my review of ‘No One’. We’ve only two episodes left – and they’re bound to be amazing!

 

Alexander Petkov

 

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