People make mistakes! Fathers! Mothers! People make mistakes!
All of us have to believe that we’re decent to sleep at night. How do you tell yourself that you’re decent after everything you’ve done?
Sometimes a theme reaches out of the screen and rips off your jaw, Mountain-style, so you almost have no choice but to frame your recap that way. And “No One,” as written by Benioff & Weiss, centers on one thing across its disparate story threads: colossal blunders. But as each character sang their sad variation on “I’ve made a huge mistake,” missing from the episode was the one threat still hanging over them all. That, or at least something much closer to that, we’ll get to next week, and yet again raises the question of just how invested we even should be in the petty squabbles of Southron lords…
But for now, let’s run down the events of tonight by counting down the biggest boo-boos, in order of magnitude from “typo on your dissertation” to “land war in Asia”:
5. Lem & the Gang, Going Rogue
“Who’s Lem?” you’re probably asking. And, I get it. Thrones isn’t the most forthcoming series when it comes to, you know, naming its characters on screen. Last week, the Ian McShane Padre I kept calling the “Elder Brother” was actually named Ray, which doesn’t seem like it fits with the world (why not “Doug,” or just make it easy and go with “Al?”), which might be why they never said it. Anyway, Lem is — or was — apparently Lem Lemoncloak, Brother Without Banner, ruining his group’s reputation by murdering innocents, as we know. But when Sandor Clegane finally catches up to the twisted trio (after disembowling some randos in the forest, just because), he is surprised to find the oft-resurrected Beric Dondarrion about to dispense justice himself.
Hilarity ensues, as Clegane, Beric, and Thoros of Myr enter into intense negotiations over just how much pain the Hound will get to inflict, as the brigands sputter for mercy in the background. Hanging is lame, Clegane argues: “Where’s the punishment in that?” Thoros: “They die!” Clegane: “We all bloody die.” Except Beric, of course. But they wheedle him down from death-by-axe, to arm-chopping, to “grumpily kicking over the crates.” It’s a fine piece of a Python-esque black comedy, and the realization that Clegane may be hanging out with these guys for a while, instead of #CleganeBowl-ing (more on that later), suddenly sounds like a better trade-off. Sandor at first isn’t interested in joining another club so soon after his last one was slaughtered, but Thoros drops that “you’re here for a reason” line again, which leaves him thinking. Just what the group’s mission is, however, isn’t exactly stated. “Cold winds are rising in the North,” Beric says ominously. Wait, are these the only guys south of the Neck that care about that? Is Thoros seeing visions? Is the Hound about to start fighting White Walkers???
4. The Waif, Hot-Dogging It
First thing’s first: Arya’s not dead, obviously. Nor was there any other trickery afoot, like that not even being Arya, or that she was secretly wearing Westerosi Union phone books under her cloak, or that she was going to be magically rescued by a not-dead Syrio Forel. Sometimes the simplest answer is the right one: she makes it to Lady Crane, who sews her up. Done and done…except NOT done, because while Arya recovers, the Waif returns yet again to finish the job — not just finishing off Arya, but Arya’s original assignment, as poor Lady Crane cruelly bites it. That’s just too bad, because she was cool, and ruined the face of the evil castmate that wanted her dead, and wanted Arya to replace her. (She had also just received the “Meryl Streep in The Iron Lady Award for the Best Performance In a Terrible Production” after taking Arya’s notes to heart.)
But then the Waif has to go and make a thing of it, electing to Terminator-chase Arya through the streets of Braavos in a ludicrous extended setpiece that is only missing the lady with the baby stroller and the workers holding the giant pane of glass. Arya’s in no condition to run or jump or skid, or tumble down a flight of stairs, casting baskets of oranges (which symbolize Death, don’tcha know) in every direction, and soon re-opens her stitches. But she does ultimately reach her destination — Needle’s hiding place — and, after trading more words with the fatally inefficient Waif, plays her final card: blowing out the candle, to fight her blind. Okay, that was neat.
Now the Waif’s face is on the wall where it belongs, and Arya gets the drop on Jaqen, too: “You told her to kill me.” “Yes, but here you are.” Somehow, this leads H’ghar to announce that she is “finally No One” for like the third time, but Arya’s ready to wrap up this wheel-spinning semester abroad: “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I’m going home.” And he…smiles? Is that what he wanted all along? Arya leaves, not for the edge of the map, but for Westeros, and director Mark Mylod holds on Jaqen’s face just long enough to have me bracing for him to remove HIS mask and be, I don’t know, Littlefinger. Thank the Seven THAT didn’t happen.
3. Cersei, Betting on the Mountain
At first, it was all going so well. The Knight Formerly Known as Gregor Clegane had just ripped off a Sparrow’s face (a lot of gore from the Clegane Bros this week, and that was all just in the first ten minutes), as Cersei had made her point that the High Sparrow wouldn’t be ordering her to go anywhere, thanks. But then, at a royal announcement that she only found out was happening the moment before it happened (Uncle Kevan, sanctimonious as ever, even forbids her from standing anywhere near her son), Tommen drops his latest decree: so those trials for Cersei and Loras Tyrell that are coming up soon? Yeah, those won’t by by combat. That’s forbidden now. WHOOPSIE.
It’s a stunning defeat for the Dowager Queen, all the more painful that it comes from her own son, who she sacrificed her very soul to protect and who won’t even make eye contact with her now as he bounds out of the throne room. The Mountain was her ace in the hole, and now she can’t even use him for the thing that Qyburn created him for. With the High Sparrow unlikely to be lenient, that spells certain doom for Cersei…unless (unless!) whatever dark rumor Qyburn is onto can turn the tables once again. And as for the brother-on-brother matchup fans have been salivating for…well, we should probably let that go.
2. Tyrion, Trusting the Masters
Why ranked so high, when this is probably going to work out? Scale, for one — the Masters, having decided not to take Tyrion’s Seven-Year Emancipation Plan into consideration, launching flaming boulders at the walls of Meereen is slightly more serious than the travails of the doomed Cersei Lannister. But also, and more gravely, the fleet’s arrival interrupted this week’s dayenu scene (to borrow a device from Hitfix’s Alan Sepinwall) in Tyrion, Grey Worm, and Missendei’s terrible joke party. If the entire hour had been spent with them, drinking wine and Tyrion telling the equivalent of Longhorn/Aggie jokes to his dumbfounded audience, that would have been enough. Instead they get rudely interrupted, and Varys — who had just left to return to Westeros, to hopefully make some friends and gather some ships, unless he’s harboring another secret agenda — isn’t even around to give them the heads-up.
(It’s also worth mentioning that Benioff and Weiss go out of their way to let Tyrion talk about his future plans — owning a vineyard, having his own label called “The Imp’s Delight” — which, on this show, is another sign of impending death. Considering how many times Tyrion has seen this happen himself, he really should know better.)
Fortunately for them, the Meereenese, and the entire audience, they won’t have to defend the city for long: who should swoop in via the balcony, hair perfectly done: O WADDUP, IT’S DAENERYS. AND SHE LOOKS PISSED. Goblet half-empty, Tyrion has a lot of explaining to do…goblet half-full, hey, there’s a bunch of ships in the harbor! You still need ships, right? How precisely can you target that dragonfire?
1. The Guy Who Let Edmure In, Letting Edmure In
OH COME ON. How many different ways did that guy fail? Ed comes waltzing up to the drawbridge, after having spent years in enemy captivity, and this Tully officer is just like “okay we’ll let you in, because you’re my liege lord and there is nothing shady about this?” And THESE are the guys that Sansa wants help from? Now Riverrun is back in Lannister hands, predictably, and the Blackfish is dead (less predictably, but more sadly), and Brienne doesn’t even get to bring the beaten Tully army north. It’s a disaster on literally every level, and a rare example of Thrones stooping to an “idiot plot” just to get its story moving along. I didn’t actually expect a protracted siege, but I sure didn’t expect it to get wrapped up that quickly, or that dumbly.
A few quick hits from this story before we wrap up: before Riverrun falls, Brienne gets her moment with Jamie (alone, in the tent, as outside Bronn taunts Pod for still being alive, and still being Pod), where she appeals to his better nature and actually comes up with a decent plan: if she can convince the Blackfish to surrender peacefully, Jamie will just let the Tullys go unharmed. There’s nothing in this for Jamie, of course, but he does have some affection for Brienne (he says he’s “proud” that she actually succeeded to fulfill one of her many oaths), and doesn’t really care what happens in the Riverlands if it means he gets back to Cersei as quickly as possible. He even insists she keep his sword: “It’s yours. It’ll always be yours.” Of course, if this doesn’t work out, Brienne warns him, she’ll be honor-bound to fight him with it.
Unfortunately for Brienne (and Sansa and Jon, by proxy), the Blackfish isn’t going to walk away from his home, letting it fall back into enemy hands, just to help his grand-niece get hers. He doesn’t even really know his grand-niece, though he is somewhat moved by the letter Brienne is carrying. And in any case, the Kingslayer can’t be trusted, so no thank you. Edmure says the same thing, and, in dramatic closeup, gets to be the one to cut Jamie to his core: “How do you live with yourself?” he asks. With that square jaw and the golden armor, Jamie is the vision of an ideal knight, but it only masks the rottenness within. Or, that’s how Edmure — and, really, the realm at large — sees it. The truth, as always, is a bit murkier. And how much of Jamie’s actions are borne of his own feeling trapped by his reputation, that he must be what people believe him to be?
Jamie has done terrible things, it’s true, and in service of a single-minded vision, but not for power or wealth — for love. As Edmure’s sister, Catelyn, would have done anything to protect her children, so would Cersei, and so would Jamie for Cersei. “If I have to slaughter every Tully who ever lived to get back to her, that’s what I’ll do,” he tells Ed, threatening to send his young son over the walls of Riverrun in a catapult if he doesn’t open the gates to Jamie. So, purely to save himself and his own family, that’s exactly what Edmure does. The Blackfish, who smelled a trap from the very beginning, goes down swinging (and gets some dope last words: “I haven’t had a proper sword fight in years; I expect I’ll make a damn fool of myself”). And even though no one else died, the demoralized Tullys aren’t going anywhere, so Brienne has no choice but to row away, army-less, having failed Lady Stark once again.
The girl could really use a win (Someone is on yoooouuur siiiiide) and his name… is Tormund. (No one is alooooone!)
Next week: The Battle of the Bastards. The Snow Bowl. Raisin’ Hell in Winterfell. Get your popcorn.