“Game of Thrones” S06E08, “No One,” Should be Called “No One Changes”

“No One” backtracks on the character development that has dominated recent seasons to remind us of character origins. Key players return to their roots and embrace their core personalities: Arya Stark, Jaime and Cersei Lannister, Brienne and The Hound all begin to reclaim the people they are deep down. The episode reminds us that nobody changes too dramatically in the Game of Thrones world, and it redraws the original lines of battle established at the series’ start.
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Game of Thrones (2011 - ) Season 6, Episode 8, “No One,” could just as easily be called “No One Changes.” The episode highlights a number of central characters who have taken journeys but, despite their individual evolutions, still hold onto the qualities that defined them in the early days of the story. Perhaps it’s too dangerous for anyone in Westeros to be someone they’re not. Perhaps their natures resist existing too far outside the expectations of their house and history. Whatever its underlying philosophy, “No One” refreshes our memory as to where everyone started, indicating that these character truths hold the key to their futures.

Jaime Lannister

Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau as Jaime Lannister

In the episode, Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies) fires up the exposition machine in his captor, Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau), who spends a good stretch telling Edmure about his affection for the late Catelyn Stark (Michelle Fairley) and his own sister, Cersei (Lena Headey). He speaks of the impressive passion with which women like Catelyn and Cersei love their children, as if it is an intensity greater than any other. He shares his respect for Catelyn Stark… and then he reminds us who he is.

The series has done an excellent job of giving Jaime’s character a substantive arc, turning an arrogant prick guilty of grotesque crimes into a somewhat backable hero with an understandable if odd code of conduct. His heart isn’t exactly golden but isn’t completely bogged down by Lannister wretchedness; he has a complicated respect for Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) that he is uncomfortable acknowledging; and he wants to be an honorable Kingsguard instead of heir to Casterly Rock.

But then he tells Edmure Tully he’ll kill him, his son, his family and every Tully that ever lived in order to get back to Cersei because nobody in the world matters to him but her. “The things we do for love,” he says, and the series instantly transports us back to the series pilot. We remember pre-teen Bran Stark (Isaac Hempstead-Wright) climb that tower at Winterfell to catch Jaime and Cersei in their incestuous act before Jaime tosses him down to the ground. We’re reminded of the crass, unrepentant, very-much-Lannister side of the Jaime who wasn’t above challenging Ned Stark (Sean Bean) in the streets and who created the widely known reputation that, of late, he seemed to be defying. No longer: Jaime may have become a more likable, rounded member of the Lannister family, but “No One” reminds us we shouldn’t be too willing to rest comfortably in his golden arm.

Cersei Lannister

Cersei (Lena Headey) is pleased to see the Mountain at her side

Jaime’s love and sister, Cersei, also seemed (however briefly) to be tranforming as a character. After her walk of shame, the gleefully wicked ice queen seemingly lost her smirk. She appeared cowed, ready to succumb to the prophecies against her and crawl back to beg help from the Tyrells, whom she recently stabbed in the back. With her son, King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), under the thumb of his scheming queen, Margaery Tyrell (Natalie Dormer), and creating a disturbing theocratic state in the pocket of the High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce), Cersei finds herself in need of a pep talk from Jaime, who assures her in Season 6, Episode 1, “Fuck Prophecy. Fuck fate. Fuck everyone who isn’t us.” Maybe it’s because Jaime senses that Cersei has been losing her confidence that he is reviving his insensitive, Lannister-preserving self to aid her.

Either way, this episode saw of glimmer of the old spirit rising again in Cersei. She refuses the High Sparrow’s “request,” via her cousin, Lancel Lannister (Eugene Simon), to leave the Red Keep, and the Mountain gamely crushes a Sparrow who tries to compel her. “I choose violence,” Cersei says. The smirk is decidedly back.

Later she receives another blow when Tommen outlaws trial by combat, meaning Cersei can no longer use the Mountain as her champion. But she and her ally, Qyburn, quickly move on to discussing a “rumor,” which may be a hint at a store of wildfire under the city. It’s clear Cersei has no intention of rolling over for the High Sparrow, or even her son, this time.


Gwendoline Christie as Brienne of Tarth

Not surprisingly, Brienne stays true to the vigilant, die-hard loyalist we’ve known her to be all along. But in this episode, she reminds Jaime that they may wind up on opposite sides of battle (which ends up happening) and could become honor-bound to fight him. As much as Jaime has changed and evolved, he is an immovable object. He is a Lannister. And Brienne, faithful to a fault, is the unstoppable force that could meet him in a fight, especially since Jaime let her escape from Riverrun unseen. We saw the two bond in a powerful friendship that defied both of their roots, but now it’s clear that the people they both are cannot remain allied forever without abandoning their true characters.

The Hound

Rory McCann, The Hound

In “No One,” we see the resurrected Hound, Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann), rampaging across the lands and bloodying up the soil in standard Clegane fashion. The Hound softened a degree during his travels with Arya (Maisie Williams) earlier in the series, and his time with the religious folks had him looking like some manner of reform was in order. But while he may be the saner of the Clegane brothers, the Hound has the nature of a cold-blooded brute. “No One” puts him back in action, sword in hand, looking for a new master to defend. As a hound, he needs some sort of guidance for his rage and hatred, and feral life hasn’t suited him.

Arya Stark

Maisie Williams as Arya Stark

Finally, Arya Stark wraps up her two-season arc in Braavos by essentially reverting to how she started the series. When she takes out the assassin hired to kill her, Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) tells her she is “No One” (a claim that doesn’t really make sense based on what we’ve learned about the Faceless Men so far, but that’s neither here nor there). Arya disagrees: she is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and she’s going home. While it’s possible to wonder what the point of her two-season arc in Braavos was if she renounces the entire experience, at the very least the episode provides the push Arya needed to remember her heritage and become the Stark she’s meant to be.

Arya’s long, unsuccessful attempt to become No One culminates in her finally realizing this is the last thing she wants. Through her training with the Faceless Men and her interactions with the troupe of actors, Arya’s plot has delved most deeply into the theme of becoming other people. Arya, and other characters in more subtle ways, have flirted with the temptation to lose one’s own trials and flaws in the comfort of a new or shifting identity. Ultimately, though, with this episode, Arya rejects that option, and Game of Thrones overall rejects this escape for its characters. In this world, there is no forgetting who we are. If we try, we only leave ourself vulnerable to enemies.

Arya has been on the run since escaping King’s Landing following her father’s beheading in the Season One finale. She disguised herself as a boy, spent time as Tywin Lannister’s (Charles Dance) cupmaiden, traveled with the Hound, escaped to Braavos. She hasn’t been able to be truly Arya Stark since we first met her. Now that the Faceless have offered her a chance to gain perspective and realize her potential, she’s returning to the person we first knew, albeit older, more worldly, and possessing the deadly skills of a professional fighter.

What may be the overall purpose of all this character backtracking? One this is certain: “No One” redraws the battle lines in the sand and reminds us of the conflicts at the core of this narrative: The Lannisters fight the Starks. Meanwhile, Daenerys (Emilia Clarke), who shows up only long enough to park her dragon and offer a trademark Dany-stare, is getting ready to give both the Starks and Lannisters a taste of her fury.

If there are really only 15 episodes left in Game of Thrones following the closure of Season Six, we’re running out of time for more character advancement. While recent seasons have offered time and space for characters to grow and explore sides of their identities contrary to habitual behaviors, that time is running out. As the battle for the Iron Throne nears, people need to become who they are going to be, and stay that way. The momentum of the storytelling is guiding us in that direction.

Reminding us where everyone started illuminates how they might end. As the action ramps up, our loyalties and sentiments return to all the places where the showrunners want them.

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