“He died fighting.”
The Blackfish dies offscreen in a lonely stairwell, his last words a wry observation that he hasn’t been in a proper sword fight in years and that he’ll most likely embarrass himself. The Waif dies in the dark under Braavos, skewered by the girl she tormented and beat, her face given to the House of Black and White as an empty identity to be put on and used. Lancel’s nameless comrade dies obscured by ser Gregor’s monumental bulk, flesh torn apart by a (semi) living embodiment of the horrors of war.
Ignominy, oblivion, and monstrosity. The only killing actually shown in the cold light of day is the Hound’s workmanlike butchering of the Brotherhood turncloaks and his and Beric’s equally no-nonsense execution of more of the same, a pair of scenes that marry violence intimately to daily life and personal identity. ‘No One,’ this week’s rolling boil of an episode, steps up to observe both how cheaply life is bought and sold and what, despite the presence of so much suffering, makes it worth living.
Tyrion’s heartfelt goodbye to Varys, departing for parts and purposes unknown, segues into a second attempt to make new friends of Missandei and Grey Worm. And it’s a success, of a sort, when he gets the pair to joke with him and share his wine, an alleviation of the loneliness that he must feel at being entrenched in an alien culture. Between Grey Worm’s deadpan “I make joke,” and Missandei’s morbid gag about drowning translators, it’s a tiny island of calm, and its rupture is as much proof of its meaning as of its relative insignificance when the Masters of Yunkai and Astapor sail into the harbor and begin raining fire on Meereen. Such moments are as much a fortress as the Great Pyramid itself, a sort of armor against life’s misery and disappointments.
Arya’s brief respite from life’s horrors while under the care of Lady Crane come to a grislier end, but it’s no less touching to watch the older woman tend to a girl who so clearly reminds her of herself. The chase that follows is a weightless dash through a city the show has outlined beautifully, the frequent focus on location imparting a strong sense of continuity to Arya’s flight and the Waif’s acrobatic pursuit. When Arya, wounded and weak, lures her pursuer underground and falls back on the skills she learned while blinded to finish the fight, it’s a poignant final thrust to her innocence. The House gets its face in the end, and Arya Stark departs a bloodier-handed person than she arrived.
Of the episode’s three transitions from quiet moments of friendship to much weightier and grimmer considerations, the sequence in the Riverlands stands out. Reunited, Jaime and Brienne discuss the war, the Blackfish, and other matters of import until Brienne unbuckles Oathkeeper and tries to give it back to Jaime. “It’s yours,” he says, almost embarrassed. “It will always be yours.” Her words, as much or more than the profession of incestuous love and the monstrous promise to deliver a baby via catapult to the walls of Riverrun he uses to force Edmure to surrender on his house’s behalf, keep Jaime from storming the castle’s walls and lead him to trying for, and getting, a peaceful resolution. It’s bittersweet, certainly, and the Blackfish’s loss of command and his quiet, ignoble death are tragic, but the last farewell shared by Jaime and Brienne shows what truly mattered at the end of the day. The bond between two friends saved thousands of lives, and while the Lannisters won and a good man died, Edmure will live out his life with his wife and son.
The Hound’s vengeful pursuit of the Septon’s murderers resolves last week’s thematic cliffhanger in a quietly melancholy fashion. Slaughtering half the highwaymen and interrupting the execution of the rest by the leadership of the Brotherhood Without Banners, Sandor goes from threatening to kill Beric again to pondering the rebel lord’s offer to join up. “Lots of awful shit gets done in the name of things greater than us,” he growls when Thoros tries to invoke fate and destiny to sway him. It’s Beric’s contention that he strayed from his nature as a fighter by joining the Septon and his followers that ultimately sets the Hound to thinking. In joining, he shows not that the Septon was weak or naive to eschew violence, but that he’s more like the men who pillaged and slaughtered the camp than he is his murdered friend. “It’s never too late to turn around,” Beric tells him, a grim echo of the Septon’s identical pronouncement.
In King’s Landing, Cersei contemplates using a cache of wildfire buried under the Great Sept of Baelor to send her nemesis to a horrible end. Her position at court slips yet again when Tommen, the High Sparrow obviously drinking water at his elbow to show it’s the King who’s talking, bans trials by combat throughout the Seven Kingdoms. Cersei, flanked by an unstoppable killing machine now useless in her upcoming ordeal, looks on with an unreadable expression. Her relative serenity here versus her paranoid break in the novels is a change which, like the absence of Jaime’s emotionally distancing himself from her during his time on campaign, I’m not quite sure what to make of.
‘No One’ is riveting from its opening soliloquy to its closing departure. Gorgeously shot, thoughtfully written, it showcases the fragile webs of connection between family, friends, and lovers while balancing in its free hand a cold white reminder of mortality. The end, as Sandor so elegantly grunts before kicking the bucket out from under one of his hanging victims, comes for everyone. What matters is not the thrust that kills you, not the inevitability of decay and destruction, but the willingness to keep cracking jokes, to keep making friends, to accept a stranger’s help or trust someone you love. Death can end a life, but those fragile things that shape it and give it meaning are, like Oathkeeper, ours. They will always be ours.