‘Game of Thrones:’ Face/Off

Game of Thrones
“No One”
June 12, 2016

And as fast as The Hound could massacre a group of bandits with nothing but an axe and a bone to pick, two popular fan theories are now dead. R.I.P. Fan Theories. It was fun while it lasted.

In the Riverlands:

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Oh, Brotherhood Without Banners, I warned that you messed with the wrong Hound when you killed Septon Ian McShane and his back-up band, The Innocent Villagers. And now the Hound is out on a murderous tear, burying his axe in your heads and necks and man bits.

However, the Brothers he is actually looking for, Lem Lemoncloak and his little buddies, are not among the first round of kills because they are about to be hung by the actual leadership of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. Seems they weren’t terribly happy about Lem’s raid, either, and after a little negotiating with the Hound, they let him kick two of the three hanged men to their doom, and take a pair of their boots as a souvenir.

That nasty bit of business taken care of, over dinner Dondarrion and Thoros invite the Hound to join them: the Lord of Light brought Dondarrion back from the dead for some higher purpose and they’re taking that purpose up North to fight some White Walkers. The Hound is like, “Thanks, but I’m not a joiner, and in any event, a lot of terrible things happen for a ‘higher purpose.'” Dondarrion points out that the Lord of Light allowed the Hound to beat him once before, why? The Hound is like, “Uh, duh, because I’m a better fighter than you.” Dondarrion agrees: The Hound is a fighter who tried to walk away from the fight, and how’d that turn out for him? The things they are going to fight in the North, they’ll kill anyone and everything. If the Hound is willing to fight with them, there is still some good he can do in this world.

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Elsewhere, Brienne arrives at Riverrun to find it overrun with Lannisters, including her old frenemy, Jaime. While Bronn and Pod are busy reuniting over a discussion of Brienne’s attractiveness (Tormund’s vote: “SUPER HOT”), Brienne meets with Jaime and explains the whole “Sansa wants to take back Winterfell” situation: could she pretty please have the Blackfish and all the Tully troops? Jaime points out that the Tully troops are currently occupied, but agrees to let her try to talk the Blackfish into surrendering the castle and join her in the North. Brienne then tries to return Oathkeeper, but Jaime urges her to keep it, she’ll need it to kill some White Walkers its hers now. As she leaves, Brienne warns Jaime that if she can’t convince the Blackfish and Jaime attacks the castle, she’ll be compelled by her oath to Sansa to fight Jaime.

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So, under a truce banner, Brienne goes to see the Blackfish who is first skeptical of her intentions, seeing as she’s a buddy of Jaime, what with that lion’s head sword of hers and how she just waltzed right into the castle like NBD. Brienne explains the whole thing about protecting Sansa and gives him the letter his niece wrote, begging him for help in taking back Winterfell. This softens the Blackfish a bit, but he explains that while he appreciates the desire to take back one’s ancestral home, he doesn’t have enough troops to help Sansa. Now, if you’ll excuse him, he has to get back to his siege.

Meanwhile, in his tent, Jaime tries to convince Edmure to talk his uncle into surrendering already, and Edmure is like, “I’m sorry, have you met Uncle Blackfish?” Jaime then is like, “Hey, wouldn’t you like to meet the little Tully-Frey baby you made before your family was killed and you were taken prisoner? Because I can make that happen!” Edmure is unwilling to take the Kingslayer on his word for obvious reasons, and after yammering at Jaime for a while about honor and decency, Jaime is like, “Look, I just want to get back to banging my sister, and you are wasting valuable sister-banging time, so how’s about instead of meeting your new Tully-Frey baby, I fling him over the walls of Riverrun from a catapult?”

So Edmure goes out to the drawbridge and is like, “Oh hey, guys, it’s me, Edmure, the Lord of Riverrun. Could you do me a solid and put down the bridge and let me in?” The Blackfish is like, “Uh, no?” But the rest of the Tully men are like, “But…. he’s the Lord?” And so they let him in, only to have Edmure immediately surrender the castle, because of course he does.

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The Blackfish helps Brienne and Pod escape the castle, but stays behind to fight to the last. As Brienne and Pod slip away on a small rowboat, Jaime waves goodbye from the castle. It’s all very bittersweet.

In King’s Landing:

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Meanwhile at the Red Keep, the Faith Militant arrive with the King’s permission to take Cersei to her trial, but she’s like, “No thanks!” When Lancel and the rest of the Militant announce that if she doesn’t come willingly, there will be violence, she’s like, “Cool, cool, cool.” One poor idiot steps forward and tries to attack FrankenMountain, who, in response, peels his head off like a sticker from an apple. And with that, Cersei announces that the High Sparrow is welcome to stop by anytime before retreating back to her chambers.

Later, Cersei arrives in the throne room, having heard that there was to be a royal announcement and thoroughly irritated that she hadn’t been informed beforehand. She’s even more irritated when Uncle Kevan is like, “Yeah, you and FrakenMountain don’t have VIP seats anymore, go hang out with the other ladies over in the gallery.” Then King Tommen comes out and declares that Cersei and Loras’ trials are going to be soon, and, oh, by the way, he’s decided to discontinue trial by combat, because it’s gross. PEACE OUT.

At this, Maester Pycelle sidles up to Cersei to tell her that the old rumor she had his little birds investigate was more than mere rumor — much, much more, in fact.

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In Meereen:

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Over in Braavos, Red Priestess Aisha Tyler is busy spreading the gospel of Daenerys as Tyrion and Varys mosey down to the ship that is taking Varys on a “secret mission.” As they walk, Varys worries about involving fanatics in their cause, but Tyrion’s like, “you do what you gotta do.” And with that, Varys leaves to go try to find more allies and — importantly — ships.

Later, Tyrion bullies Grey Worm and Missandei into drinking with him while he fantasizes about retiring at a vineyard and making his own wine.

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Tyrion then tells a joke involving a Stark, a Martell and a Lannister that would be lost on a lot of casual viewers and is totally lost on Grey Worm and Missandei. Tyrion demands jokes from Missandei and Grey Worm who oblige! But then the masters’ fleet arrives and begins raining fire down on Meereen, ruining everybody’s funny joke times. “WE TOLD YOU SO,” Missandei and Grey Worm shriek at Tyrion, “WE’RE GONNA TELL MOM.” Grey Worm and Tyrion then argue over military tactics when there is a loud shuddering from atop the pyramid, and who should walk in but Daenerys who was dropped off by Drogon. MOMMA’S HOME, KIDS, AND SHE IS NOT HAPPY.

In Braavos:

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So, it would seem Lady Crane took Arya’s acting notes and made her Cersei less sad, more hell-bent on revenge. When Lady Crane returns to her dressing room, she finds Arya bleeding and  looking worse for wear in her wardrobe. Lady Crane stitches Arya up and tells her that the girl who put a hit out on her will have a hard time finding work as an actress after what she did to her face. Lady Crane invites Arya to join the troupe in her place and move on to Pentos, but Arya declines, insisting that Lady Crane wouldn’t be safe as long as She is looking for her. Instead, Arya is going to go west — whatever is west of Westeros. So Lady Crane gives Arya some milk of the poppy insisting that all she needs to heal from her multiple gut wounds is a little sleep. Alright. Ok. Sure.

Later, Lady Crane checks on a sleeping Arya, only to be ambushed by The Waif. Arya awakens to find Lady Crane very dead, and The Waif standing in her room going on about how the Many Faced God was promised a name and no one can change that. And now, the Many Faced God has been promised another name. Arya leaps out the window and leads The Waif on a chase through Braavos, eventually drawing The Waif into her secret hiding place. There, Arya retrieves Needle and slices away the only illumination in the room, giving her a decided advantage against The Waif, having been blind before and all.

At the House of Black and White, Jaqen finds The Waif’s face has been added to the face wall, and Arya who is like, “ARE WE COOL HERE?” Jaqen announces that Arya is finally, “No One,” but Arya corrects him: “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell and I’m going home.”

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She’s out!

Between two fan theories being summarily dismissed, the weirdly quiet end to Arya’s training and a long-awaited reunion that didn’t exactly live up to expectations, a lot of fans were underwhelmed with this episode — let’s explore why.

Let’s begin with this strange end to Arya’s story: as Arya concludes her business with the House of Black and White and declares herself to be Arya Stark of Winterfell, Jaqen gives her a curious little smile? Like he’s pleased? Even though the whole point of the Faceless Men is that they are No One?  What was that about? I wasn’t sure how to read that scene — Jaqen’s response specifically — but fortunately for us one of the showrunners, D.B. Weiss, cleared it up in an “Inside the Episode” segment:

“Arya’s telling Jaqen by putting the face on the wall that ‘this account is settled, and we’re good here, and now I’m going to walk away,’ and I think she knows what the answer’s going to be. The implication, obviously, is that Jaqen was, on some level, rooting for the outcome that he got. He may be ‘no one,’ but there’s still enough of a person left in him to respect, and admire who this girl is and what she’s become. Arya finally tells us something that we’ve kind of known all along, that she’s not no one, she’s Arya Stark of Winterfell.”

So there you have it.

Obviously, Arya’s time in the House of Black and White was transformative — she went into her training as an immature young woman, still clinging to her desire for revenge and she was supposed to emerge from it an egoless, trained assassin. Instead, she emerged a more powerful and mature version of herself. It’s not your typical hero’s journey, but it nevertheless was one: Arya left the world she knew and entered into the unknown; there, she endured trials and initiations, including her blindness; she experienced something of a symbolic death and resurrection with her milk of the poppy sleep; and she achieved the ultimate boon: by killing The Waif, who was a mirror image of Arya, representing all of her darker, vengeful impulses, Arya triumphed over herself and became “No One.” But like any hero, she must make the Return, she must now take that gift back to her people and use it. If Arya were to just become another Faceless Man in Braavos, we wouldn’t have much of a story, now would we?

I certainly could be wrong here, but I think the problem that some people are having with Arya’s story is that it felt somewhat rushed. Arya’s story with the House of Black and White is told in two novels and counting — we know that it will continue in The Winds of Winter — and I believe narratively it could have been as large and long an arc as Jon Snow’s time as a member of The Night’s Watch, a story that spanned five seasons. But as Game of Thrones heads towards its conclusion, we have to start tying up stories and moving our characters back towards one another. And so because it’s time for the show to send her back to Winterfell to exact some much-needed revenge on some Freys, Arya’s time with Jaqen and the House of Black and White felt abbreviated and maybe a little unfinished.

That said, the takeaway from Arya’s House of Black and White story is that she has a whole new set of skills thanks to her time there: she knows more about the art of killing and how to defend herself, she can fight in the dark, she is a talented liar and actress, she can read when others are lying, and she has developed a sense of mercy. She also, curiously, has seemed to have developed a shred of empathy for Cersei Lannister of all people, as evidenced by the character motivations she shares with Lady Crane (which Lady Crane puts to use in this episode). Arya recognizes herself in Cersei: that Cersei would, like her, not wallow in grief, but instead seek furious vengeance against those who would kill the people she loves.

I don’t know if this means that Arya has chosen to remove Cersei from her kill list once and for all, but I do think it suggests that Arya won’t be the person to kill Cersei in the end — it’s looking more and more like that person will, in fact, be Jaime.

Let’s revisit the prophecy that young Cersei received from Maggy the Frog (who is described in the book as “short, squat and warty, with pebbly greenish jowls.” Basically, she’s a Child of the Forest who managed to survive the purges of her kind, for what it’s worth):

“Three questions may you ask,” the crone said, once she’d had her drink. “You will not like my answers. Ask, or begone with you.”

“When will I wed the prince?” she asked.
“Never. You will wed the king.”
Beneath her golden curls, the girl’s face wrinkled up in puzzlement. For years after, she took those words to mean that she would not marry Rhaegar until after his father Aerys had died. “I will be queen, though?” asked the younger her.
“Aye.” Malice gleamed in Maggy’s yellow eyes. “Queen you shall be … until there comes another, younger and more beautiful, to cast you down and take all that you hold dear.”
Anger flashed across the child’s face. “If she tries I will have my brother kill her.” Even then she would not stop, willful child as she was. She still had one more question due her, one more glimpse into her life to come. “Will the king and I have children?” she asked.
“Oh, aye. Six-and-ten for him, and three for you.”
That made no sense to Cersei. Her thumb was throbbing where she’d cut it, and her blood was dripping on the carpet. How could that be? she wanted to ask, but she was done with her questions.
The old woman was not done with her, however. “Gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds,” she said. “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”
“What is a valonqar? Some monster?” The golden girl did not like that foretelling. “You’re a liar and a warty frog and a smelly old savage, and I don’t believe a word of what you say. Come away, Melara. She is not worth hearing.”

Excerpt From: George R. R. Martin. “A Feast for Crows.” Bantam Books

“Valonqar,” as we’ve discussed in previous entries, is the High Valyrian word for younger brother or, technically, younger sibling, as Valyrian does not recognize gender in nouns. Cersei grows up with this prophecy believing that it refers to Tyrion — one of the reasons she is so eager to have his head after Joffrey’s death — but as twins, Jaime was born second, making him Cersei’s younger brother. I would say there is a chance that the Valonqar could also refer to Tommen: perhaps he kills his mother after she, interpreting the part of a “younger, more beautiful queen” to be Margaery, does something to have his wife killed. The only problem with this scenario, is that “gold shall be their crowns and gold their shrouds … and when your tears have drowned you…” part, which suggests that she sees all three of her children die before her.

There is a theory out there that Cersei, finally pushed a bridge too far by something (Tommen’s death?) or someone (the High Sparrow?), decides to burn King’s Landing with all the wildfire stored underneath the city by the King Aerys: she becomes the Mad Queen. And Jaime, having been through this before, is the only person who can stop her. So, in a terrible parallel to his killing of the Mad King, Jaime kills the woman he loves and dies in the process — either killing himself or being killed by FrankenMountain.

It’s a fitting ending for the twin lovers: They are born together, they die together.

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And I think we are beginning to see the shape of this theory come to fruition in this episode: when Cersei and Pycelle discuss the “old rumor,” I believe it’s in reference to the wildfire, which I suspect will be Cersei’s Plan B for her trial (now that trial by combat appears to be out): threaten the High Sparrow that she’ll burn the whole city down if she doesn’t get her way.

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Speaking of that trial by combat, I suppose CleganeBowl, as the much-theorized fight between FrankenMountain and The Hound is affectionately called by the fans, is not going to happen after all? Between the High Sparrow Tommen outlawing the practice, and the Hound apparently headed North rather than down to King’s Landing, it looks as though the much-anticipated showdown between the Clegane brothers been cancelled. Granted, The Hound hasn’t officially decided to join the Brotherhood in their fight against the White Walkers, he could still decide to go to King’s Landing for some reason. But considering for all The Hound knows his brother is dead, it’s not like he has any reason to believe he still has an opportunity to settle that particular score.

And while seeing The Hound kill his (literal) monster of a brother would have been satisfying, it would not have been particularly redemptive — and The Hound needs a little redeeming. The Hound has always been a semi-tragic figure: He was born into a life of violence, with a psychotic older brother who tried to kill him, may have killed a younger sister, and is strongly implied to have killed their father to inherit their house. The Hound has always been on the defense against this hyper-violent brother, and managed to survive by being a fierce fighter who would kill when he had to. But though he is shown to be willing to kill even children, like Arya’s friend the butcher’s son, The Hound also has a softness to him, as seen in the way he protected both Stark girls to the best of his abilities. He didn’t necessarily want to kill innocent people — he’s not the psychopath his brother is — he just didn’t feel he had much choice in the matter. But just when he had an opportunity to start over, to embrace a non-violent life as a means to make up for all the bad he’s done in his past, it was taken from him by Lem Lemoncloak and the other bandits.

But as it turns out, perhaps the path of nonviolence is not the one and only way for The Hound to do good in this world — maybe The Hound’s entire life has been leading to this moment where he can use his formidable fighting prowess to save lives rather than take them. While we still don’t know what his decision regarding joining the Brotherhood is going to be, I couldn’t help but notice that after The Hound kills Lem, he takes the bandit’s boots for himself. Now, I’ve been accused of over-reaching with symbolism, but I read this as representing The Hound really starting over, he is putting on a new sole/soul. He wants to be someone better.

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Kinda like that time Kate took the boots off the dead body on ‘Lost,’ amirite, Losties?

And if he heads to the North, rather than continuing to seek revenge against his brother, I think The Hound has an opportunity to be that person. In fact, if Arya truly does make it back to her home at Winterfell, I would not be surprised in the least to see The Hound defend her with his own life against the threat from the North. I predict he, like our other semi-tragic figure, Jaime, will die a heroic death in the course of saving the lives of many.

As for the other fan theory I mentioned at the beginning of this post that was axed in the head this week, I think it is finally time we let go of our Lady Stoneheart hopes and dreams. For one thing, Lem Lemoncloak — the one character that excited all of the Lady Stoneheart truthers — is now dead. He is not going to be translating for our zombie queen anytime soon. Additionally, if the Brotherhood were actually being led by her, where was she? Because it certainly felt like Beric Dondarrion was in complete control of our Lord of Lighty bandits.

Then there was Brienne’s scene with the Blackfish. So, as I mentioned last week’s recap, in A Feast for Crows, before she reveals herself to Brienne, Lady Stoneheart and the Brotherhood question Brienne’s ties to the Lannisters, namely that she’s carrying around documents saying she’s working with the Lannisters, and her sword with a lion-headed helm. Though it’s not word-for-word, this scene is basically played out in this episode when Brienne meets the Blackfish and he skeptically calls her Jaime’s “friend,” noting that she had an easy time walking into a castle under siege and is carrying a sword with a lion’s head on it. The Blackfish is playing the role of his zombie niece here — although it goes a little more easily for Brienne on the show.

But the final nail in Lady Stoneheart’s watery coffin for me was the much-anticipated, and somewhat underwhelming Brienne-Jaime reunion. For those of you who haven’t read the books, the siege of Riverrun pretty much unfolds the exactly the same way as it did on the show minus the involvement of Brienne. Jaime arrives at the castle to find the Freys messing up the siege; he parleys with the Blackfish; Jaime and Edmure have the long talk about honor before Jaime threatens Edmure’s unborn son to convince him to talk his way into the castle and turn it over. One other small difference: in the books, once inside the castle, it’s implied that Edmure helps his uncle escape through the water gate, and as of this point in the books, the Blackfish is alive and on the run.

As for Brienne, she’s caught by the Brotherhood and strung up to hang when she refuses to kill Jaime for Lady Stoneheart. But when she sees Pod is dying, she calls out a “single word” (we never learn what it is). We know she lives because we see her briefly in the fifth book, A Dance With Dragons. Jaime is at an inn, on his way back to King’s Landing following the successful recapture of Riverrun. He has the inn surrounded by his men to make sure no one surprises them, and two of his men bring him a woman they captured:

It was near midnight when two came riding back with a woman they had taken captive. “She rode up bold as you please, m’lord, demanding words with you.”
Jaime scrambled to his feet. “My lady. I had not thought to see you again so soon.” Gods be good, she looks ten years older than when I saw her last. And what’s happened to her face? “That bandage … you’ve been wounded …”
“A bite.” She touched the hilt of her sword, the sword that he had given her. Oathkeeper. “My lord, you gave me a quest.”
“The girl. Have you found her?”
“I have,” said Brienne, Maid of Tarth.
“Where is she?”
“A day’s ride. I can take you to her, ser … but you will need to come alone. Elsewise, the Hound will kill her.”

Excerpt From: George R. R. Martin. “A Dance with Dragons.” Bantam Books

And then Jaime rides off with Brienne to not be seen again for the rest of the novel.

So, this is a key difference: in the books, Jaime is lured away with a lie by Brienne (Brienne knew that The Hound actually had Arya, not Sansa, but in any event, she assumes The Hound is dead) presumably to face Lady Stoneheart. What happens next to Jaime remains a mystery. (I worry one of them will tragically be forced to kill the other. ~cough~ Jaime will kill Brienne ~cough~) (ALSO: WRITE FASTER, GEORGE.)

However, on the show, Brienne meets with Jaime under completely different circumstances, they share a moment of mutual respect, and then take their leave of one another in what felt like a final goodbye. One of the reasons the Brienne and Jaime scenes felt underwhelming, I think, is because they were purposefully shoehorned into the story by the show writers. Brienne and Jaime were one of the great pairs in this series, and their story was clearly not over when she leaves the Red Keep on Jaime’s orders to find Sansa. In the books, they are brought together again by Lady Stoneheart for what I assume will be a more climactic end to their friendship and story. But if, as I believe, Lady Stoneheart is really, for reals not going to be on the show at all, the writers needed to bring these characters together to say their goodbyes somehow, and this is the best we’re going to get. Stop trying to make Lady Stoneheart happen. Lady Stoneheart is not going to happen.

Speaking of goodbyes, I think this is probably the last we’ve seen of our face-changing friend, y’all:

Status of Jon Snow: STILL ALIVE! And getting warmed up for the Battle of the Bastards.

Game of Thrones airs on HBO and will return in the summer of 2017.

This post originally appeared on the Hearst site chron.com.

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