Shane Ryan and Josh Jackson review Game of Thrones each week in a series of letters.
I want to offer a requiem for the following:
1. The Waif. We always kinda hated you, Waif, but with a sort of grudging respect. You were better than Olly, for instance, who we hated without disclaimers, and whose death we universally cheered. You were sort of soulless, beyond your mysterious hate for Arya, and you were always destined to die as part of her super long coming-of-age story, but you know what? You had a perspective, and you stuck to it. Never once did we get the sense that you had even a shred of mercy or kindness in you, and if you have to go out, you might as well dance with the chilly attitude that brung ya. The only really sad thing here is that I think you would have made a good bride for the Night King, when he finally crosses the Narrow Sea. But even he might have thought you were sort of a cold fish.
2. All the Arya Stabbing Conspiracy Theorists (of which I was one). Jaqen disguised as Arya? Nope! Arya and the Waif are the same person? Nope! Arya as shapeshifter? Nope! Arya with a lining of pig’s blood around her waist that Lady Crane gave her, since Arya somehow knew the Waif would stab her in the stomach? Nope, nope, nope, and nope. Turns out, Arya was just being kind of dumb last episode. Why? Because she’s a Stark, and Starks either get murdered because they’re dumb, or they try really hard to get murdered but then escape or get brought back to life.
3. All the Lady Stoneheart zealots. There had to be some major, major heartbreak around the GoT universe when Beric Dondarrion turned up alive. That means he hasn’t given his life to Catelyn Stark, even ages after the Red Wedding, and if he hasn’t done it by now, I got bad news, folks: It ain’t happening. Now, my personal opinion is that a Lady Stoneheart plot twist would have been kind of stupid within the context of the show, and I’m glad they’ve cut her out. But man, that is not a consensus…the sheer amount of Catelyn—R’hollor shippers out there is astounding, and they have to be feeling rotten tonight.
4. Trial by combat. This never made any sense to me as a form of justice, any more than Ned Stark’s “the man who passes the verdict must swing the sword!” stuff did. It’s archaic, corrupt by its very nature, and it needed to go.
5. The fleet in Slaver’s Bay. Hey dudes, nice fireballs you’re hurling at the pyramid. You like fire? You into flames and shit? Hey Drogon, you hear that? These guys are total pyros. Rhaego, Viserion, you won’t wanna miss this—we got some guys who like fire. Funny story, bros—we like fire too. We like it a whole lot.
6. King’s Landing. Speaking of fire, I think Cersei is about to make a life a whole lot easier for Daenerys by torching King’s Landing with all the wildfire in the city vaults. At this point, why not? She’s got no hope in her trial, and if you remember Bran’s vision of the city tunnels burning earlier this season, you know it’s got to happen sometime. The Mad King couldn’t quite manage to “burn them all,” since he got Kingslain, but the Mad Queen is on the case, and has willpower to spare.
7. The Blackfish. Brynden Tully, I’m legitimately sad to see you go. The idiot who let Edmure into the castle is a serious douche. I was hoping we’d get to see him die, for your sake. I’m starting to understand a key message that George RR Martin has been trying to convey since the beginning: “Honor” is just another word for “stupidity.” I only wish you had stayed alive to go see Jaime one last time, because I thought whatever gloat he had planned would have been pretty great.
8. Lady Crane. Life is messy in Thrones Universe, which is a lesson I keep forgetting. You know that girl you maimed, because you thought she tried to kill you? Turns out, she was innocent! It was some other dude, but thanks for saving Arya.
9. Anyone who fucks with The Hound. Free axe helmets to anyone who fucks with The Hound! Offer good forever, and includes your choice of last words. Fine print: Don’t be shit at dying.
10. Taking kissing advice from other dudes. NO. THANK. YOU. (Also, I love when we see weird shenanigans from minor characters we’ve never seen before. The minute they came on screen, I thought, “yup, these guys are all about to die.”)
So, Josh, with the requiems over, I’m trying to put this episode in perspective. Like the last two, it ended with me thinking, “oh my God, I can’t believe they left us hanging again!” Which is a feeling that lasted about 12 seconds, and I realized that no, once again, a whole metric ton of plot happened. Arya’s going home! Jaime’s in a race to rescue Cersei before she burns the city, and may have to reprise his Kingslayer role, and add “Queenslayer” and “Kinslayer” to the list of nicknames he hates. The Hound is officially jamming with the Brotherhood Without Banners, who thankfully haven’t turned into monsters, beyond a bad egg or two. Daenerys is about to lay waste to her enemies in Essos, and even though I think this particular ship has sailed (pun alert), part of me still hopes we get to see the dragons destroy the fleet. And the Blackfish really should have taken Jaime’s deal. Always take the deal, Josh!
But I’ll say this: It’s really, really hard not to look ahead to next week, when director Miguel Sapochnik—famous for helming the transcendent “Hardhome” episode last season—returns to bring us “BastardBowl: Snow vs. Snow.” My guess is that the entire hour will be devoted to the battle, and it’s going to be amazing.
There’s been a rising and falling rhythm to this season, with the first five episodes bringing us some hyperkinetic action that culminated with the heartbreaking Hodor episode, and the next three episodes resolving a few loose ends and setting us up for a mind-blowing finale. God, I hope Ramsay dies.
Over to you, but with a question: Why was Arya being so dumb last episode, and how do you pretty much fully recover from multiple abdominal stab wounds with some milk of the poppy and a day or two of rest? Is this just bad writing?
When I heard Arya hiding in the dressing room, my first thought was that all of the entertaining theories about what was happening were wrong. My second thought was, “Wait a second. All those conspiracy theorists had some pretty damning evidence to back up their conjectures.” Arya is left-handed. Why was she throwing the bag of coins with her right hand? Arya has trained to be careful. Why was she strutting around the city like she was First Sword to the Sealord of Braavos? And why wasn’t she wary of a strange crone approaching her, especially when she’d seen that face before?
The answer is either that she was being stupid or she was trying to lure the Waif out so she could run to the dark room where she’d hidden Needle. I think the writers intended to convey the latter. But if that was her long play, it wasn’t a great plan—she had to hope the Waif would disobey Jaqen’s orders and stab her in the stomach instead of delivering a quick, painless death. And then she’d have to make a miraculous recovery, land in a basket of fruit and hobble to Needle, which she’d hidden an inconveniently long way from where she knew she’d need to take refuge. That’s not the tightest writing the show has offered, and that made the delayed payoff a little less satisfying. Still, seeing the single candle in that room and the cocky look on the waif’s face when she saw Needle—I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy that.
So much of the violence on this episode was implied rather than shown. The Blackfish’s last stand and Arya’s disposal of the Waif both happened off screen—the latter for obvious reasons and the Blackfish to spare what probably wasn’t much of the fight. But I will miss the surly vet. It would have been nice to see him deliver a final flurry of insults to both Jaime and Edmure. We also didn’t see the dragons lay waste to the Masters’ ships. It looked more like she was just bumming a ride home from Drogon. But note to self: Don’t attack a city with wooden ships when you know it has three fire-breathing dragons. Even without Daenerys, Tyrion’s first thought after the attack should have been, “Hey, why don’t we just unchain these two dragons in the dungeon and see what happens?”
In keeping with Game of Thrones tradition, next week’s episode should be epic. “The Battle of the Blackwater,” “The Rains of Castamere” and “The Watchers on the Wall” were all penultimate episodes of their respective seasons. I’m a little surprised that we’re ready for Jon Snow’s march upon Winterfell. He’s had little luck rallying an army of Northmen and the Tullys won’t be helping. The letter Sansa sent with Brienne isn’t the only one she wrote, though, so I’d expect to see brave, brave, brave, brave Ser Robyn leading the men of the Vale into battle alongside his cousins. And Shane, I want to see Robyn in battle so badly. I can hear the drinking songs now: “When danger reared its ugly head, he bravely turned his tale and fled…” There may be licensing issues.
So much has happened this season, and even the Battle of the Bastards feels a little like a prelude. The final episode of the season is unsurprisingly called “The Winds of Winter.” No matter the outcome of next week, Winter is Coming. The Wall is in the hands of Lord Commander Eddison “Dolorous Edd” Tollett. Whoever holds Winterfell will have just fought a hard battle. Things aren’t looking too bright for Westeros, though we did thankfully learn that Beric Dondarrion and his merry gang haven’t turned into a bunch of child-killing fanatics. Those Team R’hllor butchers from last week were just fringe members of the Brothers Without Banners. It looks like they, along with The Hound, might be part of the first wave of defense against the undead army north of the wall.
You’ve suggested that Cersei’s next move might be to burn down King’s Landing. But what about Margaery Tyrell? We know that she’s going along with the High Sparrow because she believes it to be the smartest play for House Tyrell. But surely she’s not going to let her brother, the heir to her House, be left to the mercy of seven septons. Trial by combat is no longer an option. How does she protect the rose?
Check back for more letters from Shane and Josh on the Game of Thrones episode “No One”
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