This week’s episode of “Game of Thrones” was full of welcome reunions, although they were mostly fraught with sadness, desperation, violence and urgency.
After last week everyone wondered not only what happened to Arya, but whether that was Arya at all who was stabbed by the Waif on the bridge. It was indeed, and apparently she has the healing power and endurance of Marvel Comics mutant Wolverine. Okay, maybe that’s an extreme comparison, but she bounces back from a vicious stabbing fairly well for a young adult.
Good thing she has some a friend in Braavos, too. Arya shows up bleeding and desperate in actress Lady Crane’s dressing area. The actress is good enough to tend to the young Stark’s wounds and offers her a place with the troupe before giving her a sip of milk of the poppy and sending her off to sleep.
Over in Westeros, Arya’s former partner in the fugitive life, the Hound, hunts down the bandits who slaughtered Brother Ray and his devoted following. Not only is he as brutal as ever with an ax, he offers some cutting snark as he chops down some of the Brotherhood Without Banners. The only one missing is the fellow with the yellow cloak, aka Lem Lemoncloak. The Hound hunts again.
In Meereen, the former slave city is again thriving as the Red Priests and Priestesses rally the common folk to Daenerys, spreading the word that she’s divinity made flesh, the Chosen One. We also learn that Varys is to leave soon on an expedition of some mysterious nature. It’s a shame that we didn’t get more of Varys and Tyrion together, although this last bit we see in the streets of Meereen is both funny and poignant. Here’s hoping they come together again. But for now, we have Tyrion’s comically awkward interactions with Missandei and Grey Worm, neither of whom are particularly good at drinking or joking, but they give it a good-natured go. Before things can get too weird, though, a fleet shows up. “The Masters have returned for their property,” Missandei says, ominously.
At Riverrun, instead of partings, there are reunions. Podrick Payne and Bronn have an entertaining exchange, which shows that Brienne still hasn’t quite trained Pod well enough in the martial arts. In Jaime’s tent, meanwhile, Brienne and the Kingslayer parley — and offer a sharp but funny recap of the tortuous history of the Tullys, Starks, Freys and Boltons. Brienne offers Jaime a deal: Allow the Blackfish and his men to ride north and aid Sansa against Ramsay Bolton, and Jaime can take back the castle for King Tommen. Jaime is dubious — when isn’t he? — but he grants her a chance to bring this deal home. Just as it looks like they’ll part as friends, with Jaime letting her keep his sword for good, Brienne warns him that she will fight for the Blackfish against the Lannister forces, because of honor.
The Blackfish, as expected, isn’t so keen on this deal, even after reading Sansa’s plea. If Jaime wants the castle, he can take it just like anyone else would — by force, or by protracted siege. The development crushes Brienne, but honor also binds her to inform Sansa that she’s failed. On the other side of things, Jaime visits with Ser Edmure Tully in a bid to talk him into some sort of deal. Edmure may have enjoyed the relative comfort Jaime gave him — clean clothes and food — but he’s not buying what Jaime’s selling. In fact, he insults the Kingslayer’s honor, asking him how he can even live with himself. Jaime’s used to it, though, so he fires back by talking about how he admired the late Catelyn Stark, how she’d do anything for her children. Cersei has the same quality, and he’ll do anything for her. That’s when he gets down to brass tacks. He threatens to send for Edmure’s baby son and catapult him into the castle. “If I have to slaughter every Tully to get back to [Cersei], then that’s what I’ll do,” he tells the broken Edmure.
In turn, Edmure is allowed to approach Riverrun and request entry since he is the rightful lord of that castle. The Blackfish demands the men ignore Edmure’s request, but the men are dutybound to Edmure. The Blackfish knows it’s a trap, but the knights are too honorable, and so they lower the drawbridge. It’s a big risk for Jaime. Edmure could easily just take over and fight back. However, he does just as Jaime wants: he orders total surrender and the gates lowered. What’s more, he orders the Blackfish found, chained and delivered to the Freys. Below the castle, meanwhile, the Blackfish escorts Brienne and Pod to an escape boat but insists on staying to fight. “I haven’t had a proper swordfight in years. I’ll probably make a damn fool of myself,” he says before dashing off to look for trouble. Jaime had hoped to see him, but instead he is informed that the elder Tully died fighting.
It’s then that Jaime sees a boat making its way down the river. It’s Pod and Brienne making their escape. Instead of ordering his men to track them down, he waves a wistful goodbye.
In King’s Landing, the Sparrows try to compel Cersei to come see the High Sparrow, but the Mountain gets in the way. When Cersei’s cousin and former lover Lancel tries to push her with threats of violence, she unleashes her massive guard, who promptly removes the head of one of the militants. The Clegane brothers are all about decapitating people in this episode. Meanwhile, King Tommen decrees that there will no longer be trials by combat, declaring them brutish and unbecoming of the fate. This takes Cersei’s trump card away from her — who could topple the Mountain in a trial by combat, after all? The Red Viper of Dorne almost did it — but he ended up with a crushed skull when he started taunting. Now Cersei is considering a mysterious nuclear option. It’s not clear what Qyburn is talking about when he mentions the rumor she ordered him to investigate, but perhaps he’s talking about a vast store of wildfire under the capital. Would Cersei burn it all down? Reminder: Bran Stark has likely foreseen such a holocaust.
A city does burn in this episode, but it is Meereen, which is under attack by the slavers. They need help, badly. Just in time, the queen arrives with Drogon. Unfortunately, we don’t see what happens. We may have to wait until the season finale to see how Drogon handles business because next week looks like it’ll be dedicated mainly to the Battle of the Bastards.
Catching up with the Hound, he comes across the Lightning Lord Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. The Brotherhood Without Banners is about to hang Lem Lemoncloak and co-conspirators. Turns out they were acting as solitary bandits when they butchered Brother Ray’s congregation and not on behalf of the Brotherhood. The last time the Hound met the Lightning Lord and Thoros of Myr, the Clegane brother killed Dondarrion in a trial by combat, but Thoros brought him back.
They allow the Hound to kill two of them by hanging. It’s not his ideal execution, but he’ll take it — and the Lemoncloak’s boots while he’s at it. After the hanging, the Hound breaks bread with the Brotherhood, and Beric and Thoros try to enlist him to join them as they prepare for the winds of winter. Their pitch is essentially what Brother Ray was telling him, except they want him to be violent — only in the name of good.
Back in Braavos, Arya continues to sleep while Lady Crane tends to her. An unexpected guest arrives: the Waif, at first disguised as a boy, brutally murders Lady Crane. Once that brutal bit of business is done, Arya wakes to again face off with her rival, although this time Arya takes off and hits the bricks in the streets of Braavos. But she can’t keep the Waif at bay for long. She leaps into the fruit market, where she knocks over a bunch of oranges — perhaps an homage to “The Godfather,” where oranges often served as an omen of death? Arya’s wound reopens, and she is leaving a trail of blood for the Waif to follow.
Once in her hiding spot, Arya grabs needle and squares off against the Waif, but as her foe makes a move, Arya extinguishes the candle and takes her chance. It pays off. There’s a new, bloody face in the Hall of Faces at the House of Black and White, which attracts the attention of Jaqen H’ghar. He turns to find Arya standing there with Needle pointed toward his chest. “A girl has finally become No One,” he says. “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and she’s going home,” Arya answers. Instead of trying to kill her, though, Jaqen beams as Arya runs off to fulfill what she believes is her destiny.
Was Arya simply baiting the Waif the whole time, and did she get hurt worse than she expected? Here’s hoping she can heal well on the way back to Westeros, because she suffered some pretty nasty wounds in the meantime. “Game of Thrones” is a fantasy show where people are resurrected from the dead and assassins change their faces on a whim, but Arya shaking off all those injuries is a bit of a stretch, no?