So much happened this week on Game of Thrones, it’s honestly hard to know where to begin. There is, of course, the triumphant wrapping up of a two-season-long arc for Arya (who’s not dead! I like to think the showrunners take my wishes under advisement.); along with Sandor Clegane decisively demonstrating that, yes, he will be getting revenge, thank you very much; and his undead-slash-reanimated brother finally, finally, finally being able to do the things he was brought back from the dead to do; and the Brotherhood showing us that at least someone other than Jon Snow realizes that the zombies from the North deserve just a wee bit of attention; and Jaime and Brianne and the Blackfish; and there’s Tyrion about five seconds away from getting a big dose of “What the hell did you do to my kingdom?” from Daenerys; and, and, and… Geez. It’s a bit of a wonder, the juxtaposition between how Game of Thrones has tended, this season, to seem the most stagnant when it tries to juggle a maximum number of storylines, while here in Episode 8 we hear not a peep from the Jon Snow front, which has driven the majority of the plot this go around, and somehow still get more progression than any hour of the show thus far this season. And a good show needs to be able to confidently do that, every now and then—needs to be able to say to the audience: “Hey, we know that from day one, everything’s been leading to Jon and company going after Ramsay, but bear with us for an hour while we go down this other path.” Then again, maybe these aren’t digressions. Maybe—quite possibly—this is the last we’ve seen of a few of these stories this year. Indeed, Sandor’s made a lot of progress in just two short weeks: he’s gone from believed-dead, to peaceful peasant helping to build a town, to wrathful avenger, to potentially one of an army taking on the Night’s King and his undead legion. And Arya—she’s decided she doesn’t want to be a Faceless Assassin, nearly gets gutted, is almost re-impaled on a fallen peach from a street vendor’s food truck, finally kills the Waif, and then, with a sword pointed at his gut, tells the Faceless Man that no, she is not “No one”, she’s Arya fu*king Stark, and she’s going the hell home. Also: Cersei’s bodyguard guy. I really hate to do anything even approaching rooting for Cersei, but the fan boy in me nonetheless inwardly cheered when Cersei looks at the Faith Militant members and says, “I choose violence.” If it seems like I’m rambling just a bit, well…. I am. But that’s just because so much stuff happened this hour. And with each climatic moment of a secondary storyline, it just put more focus on the one story we didn’t get a glimpse of this week: Jon and Sansa’s mission to take down Ramsay. And not only were these digressions—if it’s even fair to call them that—satisfying, they were also necessary to the overall story, as well. Cersei thinks that by having the Mountain renanimated and re-assigned to be her enforcer, she is ensuring her own survival and, indeed, eventual triumph. But we learn this week that her son’s transformation to minion of the Faith Militant is complete, as King Tommen outlaws trial by combat—Cersei’s ace up to this point, because, really, who was going to beat her personal zombie in a fight?—and sets a date certain for his mother’s judgment. And while it could certainly be argued that Sandor’s return last week was shoehorned in and presented mainly for the benefit of the most rabid of fans, his brand-new direction is a very important one: as he sits with the Brotherhood along the banks of a river, he gives a subdued version of his nothing-matters-anymore spiel, and is then told that defending the world against an oncoming horde of ice monster certainly does freaking matter: It gives us, again, someone aside from Jon who sees the bigger picture. I must, though, digress slightly myself. In an episode that was, top to bottom, so well executed, it hardly seems fair to end on a low note, so let me get this out of the way here: Tyrion Lannister, Daenerys, and that whole side of the world continue to be absolutely wasted this season. Weeks ago, Tyrion made a very uncharacteristic move, making a deal with the slave owners to keep them from attacking the city, and at the time it seemed so, frankly, stupid, that one could be forgiven to for thinking that Tyrion actually had the bigger picture in mind, and a secret plan to unveil. But no, we learn this week, he just made a mistake, as his repeated apologies to Grey Worm, as the Slave Masters descend upon the city, make clear. And as the group is holed up in the pyramid as cannon fire thunders around them, Daenerys herself rides in on her dragon in what is clearly meant to be a triumphant ta-da moment, but which just feels needlessly flat—even the look on her face as she walks into the room says, “I’m so bored I want to go make another romantic comedy instead of doing all this nonsense.” Wisely, perhaps, the scene ends there, without another of her, “I am the Mother of Dragons, rah-rah-rah-boom-boom-pow” speeches. It would be even smarter if the next time we return to them it’s just to see a dragon circling over the charred remains of the would-be invaders, and we can skip a surely boring and certainly unearned battle sequence. But the weakness of the Daenerys/Tyrion/dragons storyline pales in comparison to the strengths of Arya’s journey. We all have our theories about how this show will ultimately end: from tried-and-true doom and gloom of the Night’s King winning out, to Jon Snow or Daerneys (or both!) becoming the triumphant hero, to Bran’s omnipotence Dues ex machina-ing the whole thing. But the most likely victor of the Game of Thrones, I feel, is Arya. Consider: In season one, we were all led down the path of thinking the great and virtuous Ned Stark would be our hero, and even in the very moments before he was killed we still believed he would be saved at the last moment (we didn’t yet know what kind of show GOT was). But the most important character in that scene—indeed, in that season—was Arya, who stood in the circus-like audience of her father’s execution and watched it all unfold. Already, she had begun learning to fight, and already was rejecting the go-along-to-get-along attitude of Sansa, her mother, and most of the other people in her life. And that moment when Ned died propelled her down the path to working under the Faceless Man’s tutelage, ultimately leading to her gaining all the ruthless fighting skills he could provide, while being saddled—apparently—with none of the murder-for-hire baggage his path would have entailed. Also, many, if not most, of the best GOT episodes contain bookends: We begin with one story, by and large ignore it for the rest of the episode while various others get the chance to progress, and then circle back to where we started shortly before the ending credits roll, with our seemingly inconsequential beginning ultimately becoming an important ending. For reference, see: Jon Snow being very dead at the beginning of an episode, and literally rising from the dead at the end; still with Jon: exchanging light-hearted banter with the other men of the Night’s Watch, and then giving up his mantle of commander; Sam and Gilly preparing to meet his horrible father, and Sam then stealing the man’s sword and setting off in the dead of night with his family, unwilling to abandon them; and Bran and Hodor hidden away from the Night King, wrapped up by Hodor’s ultimate sacrifice. And so, I believe, we are left with the very real possibility that our real story, all the way back in season one, began with Arya, and, if things continue true to form, we very well may end with her, as well. The only monkey wrench(es) in this theory, of course, is that you could say the same about Jon Snow, about Daenerys, and even about Bran. But while those other characters are motivated by honor, birthright, or providence, respectively, Arya’s motivation is much more simple: revenge. And if we’ve learned not one other single solitary thing in this whole six-year journey, it is that, in the Game of Thrones, vengeance and blood lust are survivors’ traits, much more so than honor (Ned), birthright (Daenary’s brother), or providence (Stannis). All that is to say that even without next week’s inevitable clash between Jon and Ramsay, Episode 8 gave us some truly important, potentially world-shaking moments. Tyrion, Daenerys, and the dragons have been more than wasted this year, from beginning to end, but everything else is finally firing on all cylinders. When the season six post-mortem is conducted, there probably won’t be much justification for one wanting to claim that this season stands close to the series’ best; but this particular episode, however, can justifiably lay claim to one of the strongest Game of Thrones installments of them all. Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.