Warning: this review contains spoilers. You can find all of my Game of Thrones reviews here.
“No One” was a solid yet frustrating Game of Thrones episode. It was rife with enjoyable moments, but several key scenes failed to land with their intended impact, and the episode was permeated by a sense of “What was the point?”
For instance, what was the point of Arya spending two seasons in Braavos? The Faceless Men story arc did not contribute much to her journey, neither in terms of character development nor plot. Much like Bran, we could have skipped over large chunks of Arya’s story without losing anything of value. Arya was benched in limbo for two years while the showrunners tried waiting for George R. R. Martin, and it shows.
One could say this story arc aimed to deconstruct Arya and build her back up again, cleansing her of her growing darkness. But it certainly didn’t need two whole seasons to do that. In fact, the theme was ultimately buried under all the meandering. Her declaring “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell” at the end of “No One” was less a triumphant moment and more a sigh of relief that this interminable story was finally over.
Despite that, “No One” had some great bits, including the horror-movie-like sequence in which the Waif chasing an injured Arya through Braavos, the latter finally killing the former in a duel in the dark, earning an approving smirk from Jaqen and her freedom. But it was a straightfoward, by-the-numbers ending, lacking the oomph needed to make us feel that this whole journey was truly worth it.
Another subplot that concluded in a way that had me scratching my head was the siege at Riverrun. Yet again, what was the point of this side story? Riverrun ended up back in Lannister and Frey hands, right where it originally was. Brienne failed to convince the Blackfish to join Sansa, so nothing changed there either. It also failed to deliver on the juicy potential of Jaime and Brienne on opposite sides of a battle. Even the Blackfish’s death took place offscreen. The whole thing could have been omitted entirely and nothing would have been affected.
But this subplot was also not without merit. Sure, it was anticlimactic, with Jaime using Edmure to retake the castle peacefully, but I didn’t mind that. It was a smart strategy on Jaime’s part and a peaceful one on Edmure’s. In fact, from the humourous reunion of Bronn and Pod, to the more emotional reunion of Jaime and Brienne, and the intense confrontation Jaime had with Edmure, Riverrun was buoyed by great character moments. It’s too bad that it ended on a dud and didn’t advance the plot. Its purpose was merely to keep Jaime away from Cersei and King’s Landing.
But in King’s Landing, some legitimate developments took place. Tommen outlawing trial by combat was a huge slap in the face for Cersei, putting a stop to her plan to escape judgment by using the Mountain (who ripped off a man’s head with his own bare hands at her bidding). It was another victory for the High Sparrow, but it seems that Cersei has something up her sleeve. What “rumour” did Qyburn’s spies confirm? Something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Cersei’s “I choose violence” mentality in action.
Another area where progress is being made is the Hound’s story, which took him to the Brotherhood Without Banners, and possibly to the North. Though “Cleganebowl” is a popular fan theory, I’m glad it’s being held off as now is not the right time for it. But I’m sure it will happen as the series comes to a close.
Finally, Meereen was the ultimate mixed bag. On one hand, there was forward plot momentum. The masters invaded, proving Tyrion’s strategy wrong, and leading up to Daenerys finally returning. On the other hand, in terms of execution, a lot of it fell flat.
Beautiful though that one shot of battle was, the masters’ invasion came out of the blue. The potential failure of Tyrion’s strategy was alluded to several episodes ago, but there was still a lack of buildup, making the attack feel far too sudden. In this case it’s too early to ask “What was the point?”, but it’s hard to shake off the feeling that much of Tyrion’s scenes this season were filler until Daenerys’s return. That said, his interactions with Grey Worm and Missandei were genuinely funny and the highlights of the Meereen story arc this year.
Daenerys’s grand return was also not very grand at all, and in fact rather hurried. I’d have much rather skipped the needless scene with her and Drogon from two episodes ago and saved the budget for a more epic return on dragonback this week, instead of her randomly bursting through the balcony door. Hopefully this pays off in a satisfying battle, though I worry that the masters might be dispatched offscreen too.
Season 6’s first half was notable for its forward momentum and intricate table setting, which makes “No One” stick out sorely with its lack of progress and failure to take advantage of existing setup. Though it was an enjoyable episode, it was frustrating from a storytelling point of view. Luckily, the final 2 episodes of the season promise to be explosive.