The implausible recovery of Arya Stark was just one of several puzzling elements in “No One,” a Game of Thrones hour rich in perfect one-liners and poignant reunions, but a bit clumsy in pacing and loose with in-show logic.
The same type of wounds that killed Robb and Talisa Stark were only enough to ground Arya for a day as she drank soup and chatted with the actress Lady Crane. Varys disappeared, Cersei hatched a game-changing new plot, and an entire siege was launched on Meereen with little fanfare or explanation.
Arya drank milk of the poppy, not an invincibility serum, yet the youngest Stark girl could fly from buildings, tumble down stairs, and kill the Waif in pitch-blackness, even as her wounds reopened and bled.
There was no explanation for why Arya so ostentatiously announced her departure to Westeros last week, slapping down bags of coins in a crowded harbor in front of men she’d just met. It was a move that rang false for survival-minded Arya—and indeed, this episode confirmed it was just a case of deus ex machina-induced stupidity, meant to flush out the Waif for their final clash.
Arya lures her would-be assassin into a candlelit room, which she quickly plunges into darkness—an ideal setting given her weeks of training while blind. Just like Daredevil, Arya is now the girl without fear, and that fight would have been the perfect payoff for those endless training montages.
Instead, for whatever reason, we skip past the fight to the bleeding, cut-off face of the defeated Waif, already resting in the Hall of Faces. There, Jaqen, pleased with Arya’s survival, says she has finally become “No One.” He’s wrong.
“A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell,” she corrects him. “And I’m going home.”
In Riverrun, the Jaime-Brienne reunion that was promised made for the most bittersweet reunion yet, with the star-crossed former travel buddies negotiating a plan to rid Riverrun of the Blackfish and bring him north to fight for Sansa Stark.
The enemies turned friends end up on opposite sides again, with Jaime fighting for Cersei and Brienne for Sansa. In a way, the reversal fits: Their relationship grew out of mutual hatred into the show’s purest example of deeply held, mutual respect. They first met with Brienne at Lady Catelyn’s side as Jaime taunted her about Ned’s supposed infidelity. Even through their long road trip to King’s Landing in Season 3, it was through her measured responses to his taunts and insults that Jaime understood who Brienne is: honorable, loyal, uncompromising.
It was through Brienne’s eyes that we first truly understood Jaime and why he killed the Mad King: to save King’s Landing and thousands of innocent lives. That devastatingly romantic scene, which ends with him fainting into her arms in a hot tub, became a turning point: She gained his respect by standing up to him (literally, and naked) and in turn, he opened up to her, showing more vulnerability than he has with anyone on screen so far, including Cersei.
They’ve saved each other’s lives, most memorably from a bear, and even now, Brienne wears the armor he gave her and uses his sword, a Valyrian blade she named “Oathkeeper,” echoing their conversation in the sauna. All of this is what made seeing Jaime call her “Lady” Brienne and refusing to take back the blade so poignant. “It’s yours. It will always be yours,” he tells her, clearly feeling some kind of way as they stare into each other’s eyes. For extra stomping effect on the shattered pieces of our hearts, the dialogue also echoes Ser Jorah’s last line to Daenerys: “I’ve loved you. I will always love you.”
In the end, the men of Riverrun surrender to the Lannisters and Freys, and the Blackfish surrenders the chance to save his own life. As Brienne and Pod row away from under the castle, the Tully warrior lunges back into battle and gets cut down. Touchingly, before she floats out of sight, Jaime spots Brienne from the castle walls, waves, and lets her go quietly.
In King’s Landing, Cersei’s plan to have the Mountain crush the opposition in her trial by combat is now moot, thanks to puppet king Tommen’s sudden condemnation of the “brutish” practice. (Coincidentally, the announcement comes moments after Faith Militant lackeys witness the Mountain ripping a man’s head off. I’m sure it had nothing to do with that.)
Cersei looks shaken as she scrambles for a new scheme with Qyburn, who’s been out investigating a “rumor” that could help her cause. There’s good reason to believe the “secret” Qyburn is referring to is the Mad King’s hidden wildfire, part of which is said to be stored under the Sept of Baelor. As Jaime once explained to Brienne, the late Aerys Targaryen loved to watch people burn and ordered his pyromancer to hide barrels of the stuff under the Sept during Robert’s Rebellion.
The rediscovery of wildfire could explain why the green flames and the Mad King were in the vision Bran saw before he broke Hodor’s mind. And from the sound of Qyburn’s report, there’s “more, much more” of it there than Cersei had hoped. That can only spell disaster for King’s Landing: In a mad king’s hands, wildfire almost burned the city to the ground. In Cersei’s, as she’s desperate and backed into a corner? Obliteration. (Is this how Tommen dies?)
Across the Narrow Sea, Tyrion’s deal with the masters of Slaver’s Bay, which gives them seven years to abolish slavery, has ended exactly the way Grey Worm predicted: It’s brought violence back to Meereen, a mistake the dwarf only acknowledges in passing before Daenerys (queen of not dealing with consequences) and Drogon sweep in again.
Grey Worm and Missandei deserve to fire off an “I told you so”—they warned Tyrion against trusting the masters weeks ago, with wisdom born from firsthand experience with them. Tyrion, overconfident in his own King’s Landing-style machinations, underestimated both his allies and enemies. Meereen, everyone: The city where everyone fails.
“No One” was also notable for the things it didn’t bring to the screen: The reappearance of Beric Dondarrion of the Brotherhood Without Banners seemingly signals that Lady Stoneheart, the reanimated, vengeance-seeking corpse of Catelyn Stark, has been shelved. (At least, for now—Lady Stoneheart leads the Brotherhood in the books after Beric’s passing.)
And “Cleganebowl,” the much-hyped fantasy face-off between the triumphantly returned Sandor Clegane and the Mountain, is no more without Cersei’s trial by combat. Instead, the Hound is joining up with the Brotherhood as they move north.
With chaos about to erupt in King’s Landing, with Meereen under fire yet again, and with Brienne admitting defeat in her mission to bring Sansa more men for the cause, the biggest battle of the season is about to unfold. Jon Snow will gather the Northern forces to try and take back Winterfell from Ramsay Bolton. With any luck, he, Sansa, Davos, Melisandre, and the Wildlings and giants will make it out with their skins intact.