Game of Thrones Revisited: 6.08 No One
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO's programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing with a season six episode that attempts to wrap up several plots, but not necessarily in a satisfactorily manner...
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven...
Ahead of the epic battle to come between Jon Snow and Ramsey Bolton next episode, the eighth instalment of season six feels a little more functional, wrapping up a couple of the recent storylines while setting up the season finale. It's a somewhat mixed episode; by the time the credits roll, the siege of Robert in is over and Arya is returning home to Westeros but neither feel completely satisfactoraily resolved.
The siege of Riverrun is perhaps the last layover from George RR Martin's novels at this point and it seems to end as abruptly as it began, more concerned with the reunion of Jamie and Brienne then actually satisfactorily dealing with the fates of Edmure Tully or the Blackfish. Edmure, it seems has fallen foul of corruption, giving up the castle after years of captivity and conceding defeat. The Blackfish however, refuses both the offer to join his great niece Sansa in the fight against the Boltons or to yield the castle and goes out in a blaze of glory. Or so we are told. The fact that we never see him die suggests he's still out there and I kind of hope we're going to get more of Clive Russell's terrific Brynden come the final season. Otherwise the unceremoniously despatching of him off screen feels like a waste of a good character.
Better though are the reunions of Jamie and Brienne and Podrick and Bronn. The latter reunite and reminisce of their days with Tyrion, with the fellow sellsword teaching Pod a few dirty fighting tricks. Brienne meanwhile attempts to return Oathkeeper, granted to her by Jamie, who politely declines. There is a lovely, respectful relationship between the two characters, suggesting perhaps a hint of romantic feelings but perhaps more a bond of their shared experiences and acknowledgement of their other's skills and courage. Jamie waving to Brienne as she escapes with Podrick on a boat from Riverrun is bittersweet.
Arya's storyline is the most exciting it has been since she left Westeros. After being shockingly stabbed in the stomach by the Waif and plunging into the canals of Braavos last episode, she finds solace with mother figure Lady Crane, who finds her bleeding in her dressing room. There is a real tenderness in Crane as she nurses Arya to health in her home, making her murder at the Waif's hands all the more tragic; it seems she was always destined to die.
The pursuit through the streets of Braavos is a nail biting finish to her time in the city. The waif stalks Arya like the Terminator, Faye Marsay delivering a frightened performance as she hunts down one of the show's beloved characters. The fall down the steps is nerve wracking stuff, you can feel Arya's pain and there's a real hold your breath moment as her attacker closes in. Fortunately this isn't end of Maisie Williams on the show and the twist as Arya is lured into a room and then turns the tables with the reveal of her sword Needle is a great moment of comeuppance for the Waif; cutting out the light and embracing the training of her first mentor Syrio Forel, Arya finally dispatches of the girl that has been a thorn in her side the entire time.
But as satisfying as it is to have Arya return to Jaqen H'ghar and proclaim that she is - not in fact no one - but Arya Stark of Winterfell, there is a sense of 'was that really it?' On second viewing, knowing the bloody path she takes when she returns to Westeros at least offers some pay off on her training, but ultimately the end to the Braavos storyline still feels like something that didn't quite work. Two seasons of Arya training as an assassin and she just goes home. It doesn't have the impact that was perhaps intended when the storyline began.
More successful is Sandor Clegane's continued reintroduction to the show, hunting down the three men that killed Brother Ray and his people. Sandor may have learned some humility in his period of recovery but it's a delight to see he's just as foul-mouthed and violent as before, slaughtering the band of men bragging over the atrocities with shocking brutality. I loved his gruff exclamation that they are "crap at dying."
The episode also sets up the terrific Beyond The Wall next season when he is reunited with Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr as they attempt to hung the men responsible for killing Brother Ray's people. It's an interesting turn of events, bringing a wildcard into the Brotherhood Without Banners and giving them a new purpose on the show as they head North to deal with the 'cold winds rising.'
In King's Landing, the stage is set for the violent end to the Sparrows storyline in the season finale. Ser Robert, the resurrected Gregor Clegane is unleashed for the first time after Lancel and the sparrows attempt to force Cersei to return to the sept and are met with her choice of violence. This new Mountain is even more terrifying in his undead state. Tommen's proclamation that there will be no trial by combat in his mother's trial is a bold twist too, leading to Cersei's loyal ally Qyburn confirming that the rumours are true; those rumours will lead to her devastating actions in the finale.
And finally Daenerys returns to Mereen amid a dramatic battle with the slavers. After a wonderful scene where Tyrion convinces Missandei and Grey Worm to drink wine and tell jokes, his attempts to foster peace come crashing down with a assault from the slaver ships, making Daenerys's own fleet's destruction earlier this season part of the bigger betrayal. Interestingly, this season had suggested that it was Tyrion's wisdom and ability to negotiate that would restore order; instead Daenerys's fiery vengeance that will win through, bringing the Slaver's Bay arc to a quick close by the end of the season.
No One succeeds in moving the plot forward on several fronts, setting up Cersei's dramatic actions in the finale, bringing Arya's Braavos story arc and the siege of Riverrun to a swift close, even if they aren't as satisfactorily wrapped up as the writers would have liked. But is it still a strong entry in an increasingly confident season that has recovered from the pacing issues of season five. And with two huge episodes to come, there are plenty more surprises from season six yet...