I’ve mentioned Hardhome a lot in these reviews: it was a banner episode that disrupted the familiar structure of a Game of Thrones season. Throughout the White Walker attack, and indeed everything that came before it, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking: “but episode nine is next week.” Game of Thrones broke its own wheel to give fans a memorable back half of the season. No One doesn’t achieve the dramatic heights of Hardhome, an episode that involved moving some of the shows bigger plots forward. Instead, No One focuses more on character than actual incident.
There is a neat paradox to the episodes title, something the writers also use in The Book of the Stranger, its characters motivations and loyalties proving that no one can truly be no one. This is most apparent with Arya, left bleeding to death from last week’s cliff-hanger. Her eventual defeat of the Waif, and confrontation with Jaqen H’ghar, means that she has won back her identity (albeit an identity that she never fully let go of). Arya’s plot this week also shows the paradox of serving the Many Faced God, that the motivations of Arya’s teachers/tormentors prove that they can’t let their own feelings get in the way. The Waif, who is supposed to be the finished article that Arya would be at the end of her training, lets her hatred of Arya guide her into a vindictive pursuit. She wants Arya to suffer, whereas Jagen H’ghar wants Arya’s death to be merciful. In Jedi speak: their feelings betray them, which is exactly why Arya wins. She has something solid and alive to fight for, symbolised by needle: her last physical connection to her family and her tool of vengeance. And now she’s ready to get back into the fight.
Just like the Hound who was back in all his foul mouthed, blood spilling, glory this week. For anyone who thought that the kindness of the even fouler mouthed Ian McShane had made Sandor Clegane soft, well he took out five guys with an axe, and no armour, in about 30 seconds with the greatest sign off line in the history of the show: “You’re shit at dying.” He was Sandor, he was.
The Hound also has a new purpose, joining the Brotherhood, which is a smart move on their part since he could probably kill all of them in less than 30 seconds. After his return from the dead last week, it was great to see the Hound back to his best with Rory McCann having a whale of a time as he spits out some of the shows best dialogue.
Now to someone who isn’t having such a great time of it, Cersei. The battle between the crown and the faith, despite great scenes from Jonathan Pryce who was a notable absentee this week, has been a bit of a non-starter. That is until Frankenstein’s Mountain ripped a fanatic’s throat out at Cersei’s command. This little act of rebellion was short-lived as her son’s alliance with the High Septum meant that his mother’s upcoming trial has been made more complicated by his abolishment of trials by combat. All of a sudden Cersei’s act of defiance has been rendered moot, and her eight foot tall advantage has been taken away from her. It’s a brutal moment as Cersei is relegated to the stands as her son well and truly puts her in her place.
At least Jamie’s still fighting for her, as his own skills as a Lannister help him take Riverrun with minimal bloodshed. Jamie has always been a complex character within the shows fandom. His adventures with Brienne did a lot to humanise the Kingslayer, and make him a much more popular character. But he is still the man that pushed Bran out the window, and apparently rape his sister mere inches away from his dead illegitimate son. These two extremes are thrown into sharp relief in this episode through his dealings with Edmure Tully, and his reunion with Brienne. His chat with Edmure, played by Outlander’s excellent Tobias Menzies, gives the shows writers and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, a chance to see what it is exactly that makes Jamie tick. He knows he’s a monster, but he can also be a man. In Game of Thrones no one is completely good, nor completely evil. Jamie does what he does out of a fierce love for his sister, which can make him do unspeakable things to their enemies. The writers very cleverly remind us of this as Jamie repeats the phrase “the things we do for love”, the last words that Bran heard before being pushed out the window. The show does well with moral ambiguity: Jon and Daenerys are the undisputed heroes of the show, but Jon still hung a child, and Daenerys is a conqueror. In Game of Thrones the good guys are tainted by the bad things they’ve done, and it’s the reverse for Jamie. Through his relationship with Brienne, who he lets escape once he’s taken the castle, it’s shown that despite him being, in very general terms evil, the right person can bring out the good in him. Something which Tyrion could also do.
Tyrion looks like he’s in need of some of Jamie’s skills as Meereen has a siege of its own to deal with as the Masters renege on their deal and bombard the city from the sea. Not to worry though as Dany’s finally back and there’s a little matter of a certain fleet of Iron-borns also headed to Meereen. Although something tells me that it won’t be that simple.
8/10 This is the return to form that we’ve been waiting for. No One is an episode steeped in character and spectacle, and an ample warm-up for next week’s Battle of the Bastards. Roll on episode 9.