Although he is probably not one of the most popular characters in Game of Thrones, Varys often seems like one of the most thematically important. Early in season 2, he tells Tyrion, “Power resides where men believe it resides,” and that line functions as a thesis statement for much of the series, really. Political structures like the crown are built upon people’s belief in them, but Varys’ statement rings true even at a personal level. While some, like Brienne in Sunday’s episode, believe that people are inherently some way or another, be it honorable or evil, in the world of Game of Thrones, you are what others believe you to be.
Arya completes her training
As one might expect given its title, No One begins with the further misadventures of Arya Stark. When last we saw Arya, she was holding her guts in following a vicious attack by The Waif. The episode opens on another performance of the play about the life and death of King Joffrey, as Lady Crane (playing Cersei Lannister) gives a monologue about her desire to avenge her son. The play in Braavos is a story within a story that the show keeps returning to, and with good reason. It shows the audience that, however events may have actually transpired, this is how the people of Westeros and Essos view things. Cersei may be treacherous and incestuous, but to the wider world, she is a passionate mother.
Lady Crane walks backstage following the scene and finds Arya hiding in her wardrobe. The actress tends to the girl’s wounds, explaining that she developed her first aid skills after repeatedly injuring her unfaithful lovers. She offers Arya a place with the troupe, but Arya declines, as they would not be safe from her pursuers. Instead, she wants to explore the world to the west of Westeros, to see what lies off the edge of all the maps.
Arya’s strange dream is put on hold, however, as The Waif catches up to her, murdering Lady Crane while Arya sleeps. The girl wakes up to find Crane’s corpse and The Waif gloating, and sets off through the streets of Braavos. The Waif seems to have the upper hand the whole time, but this is may be part of Arya’s plan. She leads her pursuer into a dark tunnel where she has stashed her sword. Backed into a corner, she extinguishes a nearby candle, the sole source of light in the tunnel. During Arya’s blind training, The Waif was a constant tormentor. It’s only fitting that she meet her end fighting in the dark.
Arya returns to the House of Black and White, pinning The Waif’s face to one of the pillars. Jaqen is oddly pleased, telling her that she has finally become No One, but Arya disagrees. She is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and she is going home, much to the delight of viewers who have been watching her storyline every week, wondering what it has to do with anything else on the show. Arya’s time in Braavos has been overly long — given that it removed her from all the other action in the show, and that the showrunners have axed certain plots from the books to keep things running smoothly in a television format, a man wonders why they drew out Arya’s training for so long.
Cersei learns that ‘Cleganebowl’ has been canceled
Although Arya’s quest to become “No One” was the bluntest approach to issues of identity, Cersei is the character most emblematic of Varys’ aphorism. Although she in theory occupies a position of power, and has an undead giant as her personal bodyguard, nobody much likes Cersei, and that alone keeps her from operating on the level she once did.
Cersei’s trial has been looming over her for a while now, and the Faith Militant are eager to get things underway. The church dispatches a group of armed sparrows to take her into custody. Cersei, with the Mountain standing between them and her, declines their invitation. One of the sparrows attacks and the Mountain rips off his head.
Although Cersei can dispatch the Faith’s servants, her trial still approaches. Moreover, despite her massive, invincible enforcer, she commands no respect among the nobility. When she arrives to a royal proclamation that she wasn’t informed of, her uncle commands her to watch from the gallery, like all the other nameless aristocrats.
One of the consequences of George R.R. Martin’s writing schedule is that fans had years in between books to concoct elaborate, ridiculous theories about what may happen next. One of the most popular was the idea that Cersei, backed by her indomitable henchman, would demand a trial by combat. Sandor (representing the Faith) and Gregor Clegane (representing Cersei) would fight each other at Cersei’s trial, a theoretical event dubbed “Cleganebowl” by the fans. The show seems to have put the kibosh on this theory in a very pointed way, as Tommen bans trials by combat. Perhaps Cersei’s show of force alerted the Faith to a challenge they could not win, or perhaps the showrunners simply relished the opportunity to crush a fan theory that seemed so close to fruition. Regardless, Cleganebowl seems to be dead, along with Cersei’s hope for a winning verdict.
Tyrion socializes, Daenarys returns
Perhaps sensing that the show was moving at too steady a pace, Game of Thrones checks back in with Tyrion, whose alliance with the red priests is working. The people of Meereen believe Daenarys to be a divinely appointed queen, and the city is resuming normal operations. Varys embarks on a secret mission, leaving Tyrion to hang out with Grey Worm and Missandei, who are once again nonplussed by Tyrion’s attempts to socialize with them. Eventually, through a few glasses of wine, Tyrion gets them to open up and even crack jokes. Their party is interrupted by the arrival of the masters’ fleet, which lays siege to the city. As Tyrion and Grey Worm discuss their plans to repel the siege, Daenarys flies in on her dragon, marking a turning point in the battle that has lasted five seconds or so.
The Tullys flounder
More threads converge at Riverrun, where Brienne and Pod arrive to find the castle under siege. While Bronn teaches Pod to fight dirty, Brienne tries to negotiate a settlement with Jaime. She wants the Tully troops to go north and fight for Sansa; he wants to capture Riverrun. So Brienne offers to try and persuade the Blackfish to surrender the castle, as long as Jaime grants them safe passage north.
Brienne is unsuccessful in persuading him, but Jaime has a backup plan. He talks to his prisoner, Lord Edmure Tully, hoping to persuade him that the Tullys should surrender. Edmure responds to Jaime’s overtures with jabs, asking him how he can sleep at night despite all the evil he has done. Jaime puts on a strong face, telling Edmure that all he cares about is Cersei, and that he will do anything to get back to her.
Jaime’s intimidation works. He lets Edmure return to Riverrun and, once inside, Edmure’s first declaration is for his men to lay down their arms. Although the siege is over, the Blackfish goes down fighting, to Jaime’s apparent dismay. As he stands atop the ramparts, Jaime sees Brienne and Pod escaping, and he and Brienne exchange salutes. Jaime knows the pressure of public perception better than most. Although he killed King Aerys to protect the people of King’s Landing, people only see him as the man who stabbed his king in the back, a point Edmure throws in his face. Although Jaime may claim that all he cares about is Cersei, his guilt over his misdeeds always seems to nag at him, as does the fact that the Blackfish went down in a valiant fight to the death.
Sandor joins up with the Brotherhood
Last week, Sandor Clegane’s story ended with him grabbing his ax, intent on revenge against the Brotherhood members who killed the rest of his settlement. He finds four of them quickly, striding up to the louts as they prank each other and murdering them all. He eventually tracks down the last of them, a man wearing a yellow cloak, and finds him with a rope around his neck. The Brotherhood Without Banners, having found out about the ruffians in their ranks, are going to execute them. After some haggling, Sandor gets the right to kill two of the three men facing execution, though he must do so by hanging them, for the Brotherhood likes to do things by the book.
Sandor eats with the Brotherhood after, and they offer him a place in their army. Dark forces are rising in the north, and the Brotherhood aims to fight them. Although Sandor has tried to leave his fighting days behind, Beric points out that fighting is what he’s good at, and there’s nothing wrong with that skill as long as he puts it to good use. In many stories, Sandor’s return to the battlefield would be a tragedy, a sign that people cannot change who they are. Beric’s speech takes a more optimistic view. Some people have a violent disposition, and in a world where violence is capital, there is nothing wrong with embracing that. The Seven, like many pantheons, includes the Warrior, after all.