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As I said last week, I’m perfectly fine with Game of Thrones taking its time to set the chess board for the season’s final major moments. Three episodes of it is a bit much, but I would have been willing to let this slide had there been enough interesting character beats to justify the lack of forward momentum (as there were in the previous two episodes). However, “No One” was a pretty big miss on all fronts, essentially telling the audience that the time and effort they have invested in certain storylines over the course of the past few episodes (or, in the case of Arya’s journey, the past few years) didn’t really matter at all.
Let’s touch on the episode’s biggest disappointment: Arya’s journey. There has been a great deal of grumbling from all corners of the internet about how long Arya has been sidelined in Braavos learning about the Faceless Men. The idea that training to become a badass assassin takes time certainly wasn’t the issue with the arc- I think everyone could agree that one simply doesn’t roll into the House of Black and White and immediately become an expert in their art. But we have spent the past two years watching Arya going in circles, not growing or changing or even learning. The writers realized that Bran’s arc would stagnate if he were allowed to appear on screen in season five, so they opted to write him out for a year. Considering Arya’s two years at the House of Black and White turned out to be a journey that led her exactly back to where she was two years ago, perhaps the writers should have done the same with Arya?
I say this as a massive fan of Arya. She’s a great character, and Maisie Williams has done a great job with her. But man, we sat through two years of Arya, Jaqen H’ghar, and the Waif talking and fighting just to have Arya decide she’s better off as Arya Stark of Winterfell? This was a revelation that could have easily come in the span of a few episodes this season. If the plan was for Arya to shed her past disguises (and she has many), to decide she should take up her family name once more and fight in Westeros, that isn’t something that take two years to decide. Unless Arya has stolen a ton of faces from the hall and is planning on using them back in Westeros, I just don’t see the point in all that transpired. I was a bit encouraged when Arya mentioned she wanted to make it to the edge of the world, but one has to assume she’s now bound for Winterfell for one heck of a Stark reunion.
While the culmination of Arya’s pointless arc was the episode’s most disappointing element, there were plenty more throughout the episode. When Blackfish and Edmure (along with those atrocious Freys) appeared back on the scene, it seemed like we would get to spend some time with them (particularly the Blackfish). That, perhaps, Brienne might succeed in her mission to get the Tully army to leave Riverrun and support Sansa in the North. But now that the Blackfish is dead, Edmure remains under the Frey’s thumb (and presumably remains alive and well, although now that the Freys have the castle there really is no need to treat him particularly well), and Brienne and Pod are on their way safely back North, the entire arc appears to have been a waste of a few episodes- stalling until the show can get to its ninth episode in order to have its major battle.
As a book reader, a number of interesting things happen in the Riverlands, particularly with regard to Jaime’s character, who grows more disillusioned with Cersei and the goings on in King’s Landing during his siege. He does meet with Brienne during this arc, albeit under very different circumstances. So, how did the siege of Riverrun impact Jaime on the show? Well, it made him even more loyal to Cersei. It made him even more determined to get back to King’s Landing ASAP to protect her and their son. It reminded us that this is a man who doesn’t mind threatening children to get what he wants (to this end, the show had Jaime rephrasing the line he uttered before shoving Bran out of the window in season one: “The things I do for love.”). Yes, we got an all-too-short interlude with Brienne, where we were given another glimpse into who Jaime could have been had he not been born a Lannister. But the siege of Riverrun could have been a chance for the series to plant seeds of doubt in Jaime, to bring back the depth the character once had. Instead, the siege was a waste of several characters- Blackfish, Edmure, Jaime, and Brienne.
Speaking of wasting characters, man, Tyrion’s wine and comedy hour was a dud. Sending Varys back to King’s Landing on a secret mission was a disappointing, yet necessary, plot point (if Dany is ever going to make it to Westeros, there is groundwork that needs to be laid- perhaps thinning out the current ruling class of the capital?). And yes, the show did need to make it clear that Tyrion is out of his depths in Meereen (Westerosi political machinations don’t necessarily translate to other lands, apparently). But having Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm sitting around for five minutes cracking jokes? Not the best use of the show’s limited storytelling time. Everyone in the audience knew Dany was going to pop in sooner rather than later, and having her crack team of advisors “relaxing” as the Masters were about to mount their attack was about as cliched as you can get. Having Dany and Drogon ride in to the pyramid at just the right moment? That is as cliched as you can get. Just sloppy and disappointing writing all around.
— As soon as it was revealed that Lady Crane had nursed Arya back to health, I immediately pegged her for death (as I’m sure everyone else did).
— Bringing Blackfish back just to kill him off screen really bugged me. He could have been a huge help to Sansa, in terms of planning and leading warriors. I suppose his sole purpose was to give Brienne the confidence to fight for Sansa? I will admit to smiling when he told her she could help Sansa far better than he could.
— I would watch the hell out of a spin-off of Jaime, Brienne, Pod, and Bronn just roaming the countryside.
— So, now that trial by combat has been outlawed, what does that mean for Cersei? It definitely means Cleganebowl is off (with the Hound traveling North- perhaps to run into Sansa?- it looks to be permanently off). But does it mean that, perhaps, Cersei might have to order the death of her final child to save herself? That is, if the wildfire stores Qyborn was speaking about aren’t going to be the gun on the wall that goes off in the finale. . .
— For the Lady Stoneheart truthers out there, I think this theory is officially done as well. With Beric alive and well (and it being “years” since the Red Wedding), the back from the dead total will stand firmly at Beric, Jon, and the Mountain.