[WARNING – This article contains SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 6, episode 8, as well as open discussion of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels.]
These past eight hours of Game of Thrones season 6 have just flown by, but the overall narrative hasn't actually progressed all that far. With only two more episodes remaining, you'd think the series would be picking up the pace, but last night's episode 'No One' was yet another deliberate, slow progression of the narrative - with a little shock and surprise peppered in here and there.
Off in Meereen, we learn that Tyrion's decision to make peace with the Slave Masters did not go as he imagined and the city is now under assault from their giant armada. As Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm debate their next course of action, Daenerys returns and she does not appear pleased. Her return to Meereen feels like a move backwards, even if it's a necessary step ahead. It's also interesting, and no doubt more dramatic, having her return just as the siege gets underway, since in the novels the Siege of Meereen begins not long after she first leaves. And with book readers just as in the dark as show watchers when it comes to Daenerys' future, we can only assume she returns to end the siege in the novels as well. How she'll do this remains to be seen, but this sure seems like a perfect opportunity to whip out all three of those dragons.
And in our other Essos-based plot, Arya recuperates from her injuries in the care of Lady Crane, which sadly ends very badly for the actress, who is quickly dispatched by The Waif. This starts a chase throughout the city (the same shown in many of Game of Thrones' trailers) as Arya does all she can to escape the determined stalking of The Waif. When she's finally cornered, Arya is barely able to stand, but she holds out Needle defiantly and is in the end victorious. She later presents The Waif's face to Jaqen, declaring: "A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. And I'm going home."
It's a fundamental moment for Arya, who since seeing her father decapitated in season 1 has been running from her true identity. With her time at the House of Black and White over, the show neglected to ever include any of Arya's wolf dreams, which in the books constantly clued us that was still a Stark in her heart. There are two episodes remaining, so perhaps Arya will have those wolf dreams now that she's accepted who she really is? Either that, or any emphasis on the Stark children's connection with their direwolves has been reduced - only another casualty of Game of Thrones' need to condense and simplify.
Ending the Siege
Of all the storylines happening this season, Jaime's traveling to Riverrun to end the siege there is one of the few lifted directly from what remains in the published A Song of Ice and Fire novels. Book readers have known that the siege ends more on a whimper than a bang, but there was always the possibility Game of Thrones would make more of the conflict. They didn't, though it did unfold differently than it does in the novel.
Just as in the show, Jaime convinces Edmure Tully (well, threatens would be more apt) to enter Riverrun and order the men to surrender the castle. He does and the men listen to their leige lord, despite the fact that he's acting as a Lannister puppet. This obviously angers The Blackfish, a stubborn man who refuses to accept that his side lost the war, and when Edmure orders for The Blackfish to be arrested and confined to a cell, he escapes. In the novels, The Blackfish's whereabouts are unknown, and Jaime suspects he may have fled to another of the Riverland houses still in rebellion, but Game of Thrones did away with that ambiguity. On the show, The Blackfish dies in a sword fight, allowing for Brienne and Podrick's escape. It's a shame we don't actually see his final fight, since (as Jaime put it) all he could hope for was a good death in battle. Add his name to a growing list of a characters who could return, but now that he's served his purpose in the narrative, I wouldn't count on it.
Something new the Siege of Riverrun does offer viewers and readers alike, however, is a reunion between Jamie and Brienne - something that does happen in the novels, though under drastically different circumstances. Here, we have Brienne coming to Riverrun on orders from Sansa in the hope that she can convince The Blackfish to ally himself with his grandniece, instead of being sent to collect Jaime on orders from Lady Stoneheart (only more evidence that character is definitely cut, but more on that later). It's a scene that operates on several levels, but especially the conflicting emotions they both share - staying loyal to their opposing causes but also sharing a strong affection for one another.
This encounter could very well be the last meeting between them, and if so, it's at least a very fitting goodbye. Jaime refuses Brienne's offer to return Oathkeeper, one of the two Valyrian swords created from Ned Stark's Ice, and the gesture is certainly a meaningful one. Not only are these Valyrian swords exceedingly rare, but it's an acknowledgement from Jaime that Brienne is more worthy of it than he. Brienne, too, recognizes that Jaime has chosen a path that she cannot join him on. As she sails away from Riverrun, the two share a mournful wave, signalling that while they may not be enemies personally, those they serve - and even love - are diametrically and fundamentally opposed.
The Brotherhood Returns
When in the episode before last, 'The Broken Man', we saw members of the Brotherhood Without Banners massacre a peaceful community, it seemed all but guaranteed this meant they were no longer led by Beric Dondarian - a just man who would never authorize such a barbaric act. This, of course, sent Lady Stoneheart-truthers into a tizzy, now convinced this turn of events meant that only a woman as vengeful she could condone such action. Come this episode, however, we learn that was not the case at all. Those who attacked Brother Ray's settlement were acting of their own accord, and when The Hound finds the rest of the men he seeks (after murdering a few others), we learn that Beric is still in charge and is in the process of hanging the men responsible for the slaughter.
We haven't seen the Brotherhood since back in season 3, when The Hound killed Beric in a duel, only for him to be resurrected by Thoros of Myr, and Arya witnessed them trading away Gendry to Melisandre for supplies. What they've been doing in the meantime is a mystery, but presumably they've continued to protect the poor of the Riverlands from the continual ransacking and pillaging.
Without Lady Stoneheart, the course the Brotherhood takes from here on out will undoubtedly be different than what happens in the novels. Beric made mention of the cold winds rising in the north, a clear allusion to The Night King's growing forces. He is also is a follower of the Lord of Light, so he'd be only too well aware of the coming war between the light and the dark, the living and the dead. This may mean that on the show, the Brotherhood will travel north to do battle with the White Walkers, perhaps even again meeting with Melisandre - who can then reveal that she too has learned to resurrect the dead in the name of R'Hllor.
Then there's The Hound, Sandor Clegane, who by the end of 'No One' may be considering membership in the Brotherhood, at least for the moment. If he doesn't join them, then his future is even more in question. Sandor had begun making a life for himself with Brother Ray, but with that gone and now his vengeance (or justice, if you prefer) complete, what he does next is a total mystery. Needless to say, it doesn't appear the "Cleganebowl" will come to pass as so many had theorized.
Cersei Chooses Violence
The events of King's Landing have crawled along this season, with Margaery only recently being released from prison, and then only because she and Tommen publicly aligned themselves with the High Sparrow and his Faith Militant. Meanwhile, Cersei has been waiting all season long for her impending trial, one she always intended to be a trial by combat in which her Mountain monster would stand as champion, easily defeating anyone the Faith would choose as his opponent. That was the plan, at least, until Tommen decreed that trials by combat were a barbaric practice and are now outlawed. In its place, Cersei will be tried by a tribunal of seven septons - which, interestingly, is the sort of trial Margaery is currently awaiting in the novels.
Forced again into a corner by the High Sparrow - acting through her own son, which must particularly sting - Cersei is left with two options. She can either go through with their trial, which will undoubtedly find her guilty, or she can act before they even have the chance to get her trial underway. Knowing Cersei, she's already planning an offensive, and given Qyburn's reporting to her on that "rumor" she had him investigating, remarking there is "much, much more", there can only one thing Cersei has in mind.
That's right, wildfire, a dangerous and volatile substance that when ignited is nearly impossible to extinguish. We saw how devastating wildfire could be when Tyrion used it in season 2, and that was only a single boat. Imagine what would happen if the many storehouses of wildfire hidden all over King's Landing were set aflame? And the show has already established Cersei is aware of the wildfire, seeing as Tyrion only learned of it from Lancel when he divulged she had been meeting with the pyromancers.
It was in last week's discussion I mentioned that in A Feast for Crows, Cersei uses wildfire to burn down the Tower of the Hand. Again, it seems unlikely that this specific event will occur, but what Game of Thrones does in its place could be far more effective. The above image of wildfire tearing through an underground cavern comes from one of Bran's visions, the same one in where we glimpsed the Mad King screaming for his pyromancers to "Burn them all!". We know that didn't happen because Jaime then stabbed the king in the back, but what if the explosion of wildfire Bran sees in his vision wasn't what almost happened, but what will happen?
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘Battle of the Bastards’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview of the episode, below: