A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
The theme of identity has been a key one for Game of Thrones. From Daenerys discovering her identity as the Targaryen Mother of Dragons to Sansa coming to the forefront of being a Stark, identity has arguably played its most notable hand with Arya’s storyline in her struggling between the task of becoming No One and remaining Arya Stark. One of the main thematic notes of George R. R. Martin’s world that Martin most successfully underlies in each volume is the idea that certain consequences are simply inescapable, even if you directly had no hand in creating the circumstances that led to them being borne in the first place. Those consequences may be minuscule or even nonexistent, but in some cases they are quite notably terrifying and all-consuming. Arya tried to escape to her family so she could be reunited with them, make sure they were safe, but that attempt was brutally cut through at the Red Wedding. When the Hound carried her away from that brutal massacre, that aspect of her life for that particular moment was in a sense over. Arya of course had no hand in her family being so brutally slaughtered, but she had to bear the consequences of that brutality and so her arc with the Hound truly began from that moment forward. It lasted until she abandoned him on the hillsides to seemingly die, but even then there was the idea that Arya was shedding the identity of being the honorable Stark in order to pursue an identity of someone who was far more ruthless and pragmatic (two traits rarely associated with House Stark). But here, Arya has found her true root of an identity and it came about as a result of an opportunity where she could have sealed her fate toward a new identity but chose instead to embrace her own. Arya’s dramatic final choice was predicated upon her original desire to go home and be with the family that had been torn so thoroughly asunder for becoming no ones in the eyes of the Crown. It’s a powerful note for the episode to end on and Arya has certainly learned a lot that is going to be considerably useful in the, as the show loves to remind us, the wars to come.
The final line Jaqen says to Arya (and yes, it’s not necessarily Jaqen, I know) is a bit befuddling, serving up perhaps far more food for thought than the show runners intended (the myriad of theories regarding Arya’s stabbing is indicative of this being a probable truth). Eschewing the bustling House of Black and White from the novels, the show did what it always does and narrowed the cast down to him and the Waif. From a character standpoint, it made sense even if the narrative purpose of the Faceless Men was more expansive and intricate in Martin’s works. Arya’s training began with her finally losing everyone she could arguably have cared for, setting her perfectly on the path to shedding her identity, but she simply couldn’t. It took half a season for her to enter the grand Hall of Faces and by the end of the season, her Stark self had reawakened with the sighting of Meryn Trant walking about Braavos. She was punished for that by going blind, entering into her new phase of training. She received that sight back and another assignment that would further shed her identity. The test of her assassinating the actress playing Lady Cersei was no accident and when she knocked that vial out of her hand, it seemed to reaffirm that she would indeed not be leaving her true identity behind. Arya learned perhaps not to become no one in the traditional sense and she did, in contrast to some opinions, learn more than stealthy assassin tricks. She grew as a character, she grew from a young girl who had suffered so much that her heart had turned to stone (sorry about that one) to one who could look at a personification of two of her worst enemies and feel sympathy. She felt keenly the pain Lady Crane exhibited over the loss of her son, the grief that was pouring out of her getting to the very core of Arya Stark that she had seemingly lost in the rocks of the Riverlands where she left Sandor Clegane to die. She grew to know, to understand, to feel, and to not abuse the gists she had garnered. That’s a lot more personal growth than a plethora of characters on this show.
That growth does not negate her stupidity with the bridge scene last week, where she was taking in a seemingly last view of the city where she had learned so much. Sure, she was acting rich in order to get a quick ship, but she should have had Needle on her in some hidden capacity. That aside, I have, unlike some, found Arya’s time in Braavos to be quite well-executed and her growth here should quite an interesting future for her in Westeros (however long or short lived it may be). But what remains in my mind is what Jaqen tells her before she leaves in her triumphant motif. “A girl has become no one.” But what does Jaqen mean when he tells her this? He gets the face on the Hall’s wall as he promised and by any logical account the Waif was a fairly crummy No One herself, so there isn’t a great loss there as far as he or the Many-Faced God is concerned. There’s an implication that Jaqen knows more than he’s letting on (which is highly likely in several matters), and perhaps what he is noting with that terse, prophetic statement is an understanding that as Arya accepted at last whom she really was, she became closer to becoming No One. She had spent such a long time running away from her true identity, from whom she was that she couldn’t commit to being someone else entirely. There wasn’t a peace and stability within her and until that had happened, she couldn’t accept a new identity. Jaqen perhaps realized this, hence the consistency of her having to adopt the reality of her past during her “getting whacked by a stick” training phase. Arya affirmed whom she was and in doing so left the door clear to becoming anyone but leaving her core self intact. That’s my reading as it is, but feel free to chime in with your own thoughts below!
The Hound tried to adopt a new identity after Arya left him to die on the cliffside of the Riverlands, an attempt that went surprisingly to the Hound’s favor when he came across Father Ray and his band of followers that had come to eschew violence and the tactics that came with it. But this is a brutal world and that idyllic sense of calm and peace was dispatched within two seconds. There was something suitably cathartic in noting the Hound picking up his axe, going off to chop down the renegade members of the Brotherhood Without Banners. It’s tragic that he almost was able to leave that old life behind, that he had almost found something truly worth living for only to find himself picking up yet another axe. It’s a thrilling sequence when the Hound chops down members of the Brotherhood that were assumedly in cahoots with Lem Lemoncloak and his band of peasant-murdering marauders, but a sad one as well when the Hound’s near-escape is taken into account. Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr make their return hanging Lemoncloak and his two accomplices and it remains to be seen where this specific storyline is heading. Over in Essos, Tyrion had attempted to take on the identity of a deal breaker with the slavers, but that attempt came off as a massive backfire as the Ghiscari Harpy fleet sailed into Meereen and at night began lobbying fireballs into the city. Missandei and Grey Worm’s warnings about the Old Masters being a much more serious threat come to fruition and Tyrion discovers in the worst manner possible that there wasn’t simply a consistent negotiating tactic that he could use no mayor where he went that would deliver the goods. The scene caps off with an admittedly corny entrance from Daenerys, who doesn’t look too happy about the devastating distractions at hand.
Riverrun falls in a fashion that is considerably close to the text, with some revealing character work from Jaime, Brienne, and even Edmure coming together. Brine notes to Jaime in their reunion that if he continued with the siege, then honor would compel her to fight him. She asks that she be allowed to converse with the Blackfish so he could join the battle for Sansa in the North and Jamie acquiesces, not at the least interested in drawing out the siege farther than necessary. The Blackfish refuses Brienne’s request, noting that while Sansa sounds a lot like her mother, he had a responsibility towards his home that he couldn’t abandon for the sake of a niece he didn’t know. Blackfish would have a last stand as Brienne and Podrick sail away, but his death off-screen was tremendously disappointing, a major knock against this narratively slightly uneven hour. There at least was a quiet, kind moment between Jaime and Brienne as she sailed across the river with Oathkeeper in tow, the sword Jaime had refused to take back because, as he noted, it belonged to her. As Jaime made a fairly effective threat to Edmure of launching his baby boy from a trebuchet and into Riverrun, Cersei made her own threats to the Sparrows that went over just as well, for a moment at least. Lancel approaches and notes that the High Sparrow commanded that Cersei meet with him in the Sept of Baelor. Cersei scoffs at the High Sparrow’s remarkable insolence and the Mountain proceeds to literally grab a Sparrow’s chin after he was stupid enough to try and attack him. He grabs the chin and rips his head straight off, hurting it to to the other side of the wall. Cersei looks on in triumph but her triumph is short-lived. Tommen has done the unexpected and outlawed the barbaric tradition of trials by combat. Lena Headey does tremendous work as she looks upon her son in a deafened sense of disbelief. At least there’s the plan with Qyburn and if that goes through, regardless of whatever it is, the Mountain in a trial by combat might look like the choice that ought to have been made.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+Lady Crane was a fantastic addition to the series and Essie Davis knocked it out of the park
+The revenge speech
+“After what I did to her face…” Lady Crane pulls no punches
+Varys laying the groundwork for Daenerys’s return?
+Bronn and Podrick
+“Trial by combat will be forbidden.” This is a fantastic dramatic development but dear Lord, Tommen, you are useless.
+“How do you live with yourself?”
*Subtitle courtesy of an Adam Brunelle
Episode Title: No One
Written by: David Benioff & D. B. Weiss
Directed by: Mark Mylod
Image Courtesy: Newsweek