It felt like we hadn’t seen the last of Lady Crane when, two weeks ago, Arya Stark — who can’t even bring herself to murder people on her personal murder list, much less people she likes — knocked that poisoned after-work beverage from the actress’ hand. A little bit too much attention had been paid to her for such a sudden send-off, particularly to her acting chops. “Game of Thrones,” after all, values dedication to craft, be it drinking (Tyrion Lannister), killing (Sandor Clegane ) or lovemaking (Podrick, lest we forget). So when “No One” opened with Lady Crane delivering a soulfoul, tear-jerking performance as Bizarro Cersei Lannister in every Braavosi’s favorite political comedy, it felt like a well-earned encore. And when Arya was discovered bleeding from the gut in the actress’ dressing room a moment later, you didn’t have to be the local Casterly Rock witch-in-the-woods to foretell how that would end.
“No One” did little to surprise but a lot to delight, which has been true of much of “Game of Thrones” lately. After a fifth season spoiled by — in descending order of offensiveness — misogyny, nihilism and brooding, season six has been largely about making “Game of Thrones” fun to watch again. The sins of the past are not yet forgiven, but “No One” was as good a step in the right direction as there’s been.
A lot of credit for that goes to Rory McCann’s return as the Hound, whose scenes this week and last if stitched together into a supercut would make a revenge flick worthy of Charles Bronson or Mel Gibson. We knew the gist of what was coming when we saw the little Clegane brother grab that axe last week after his new crew of pacifist pals was slaughtered. We got it in spades when “Game of Thrones” produced its first ever axe-to-crotch moment. But better than the first-rate violence were the first-rate line deliveries. “You’re shit at dying, you know that?” Most characters who survive in “Game of Thrones” do so by being good at either fighting or talking. The Hound is good at both. It’s nice to have him back.
Also good at talking were Tyrion and Lord Varys, reprising their Aaron Sorkin walk-and-talk for what eerily felt like a last time. “I’m going to miss you,” Tyrion told Varys. “I know,” Varys said back. It felt like the Wise Masters of Yunkai were about to freeze Varys in carbonite. The spymaster is off on a secret mission to Westeros, and being worried for him seems like the right way to be. But hey, at least someone in Meereen is going to Westeros.
Admit it — when you saw those Wise Masters firebombing Meereen’s pyramid, part of you was rooting for them. Meereen is a black hole that sucks in the show’s best characters and renders them perfectly boring. Daenerys, finally back from recruiting her second Dothraki horde (she did such a good job running her first one), is clearly going to be ticked at Tyrion for his mismanagement of Meereen. But who cares? Let us pray to the Lord of Light that the Iron Fleet comes soon to deliver the two of them, Grey Worm and Missandei from this awful place where stories go to die.
So many good lines this week! Cousin Lancel: “Order your man to step aside, or there will be violence.” Cersei: “I choose violence.”
As gratifying as it was to see the Mountain separate faith-militant head from faith-militant neck, it’s tough to identify Cersei’s path out of her current jam. Tommen made that path narrower by setting her date before a jury of the High Sparrow’s peers and doing away with trial by combat, denying her use of the Mountain’s particular set of skills. The only avenue that appears feasible right now is the Lannister army, which looked quite fit in its (mostly) bloodshed-free victory at Riverrun, and is now available for weddings and bar mitzvahs. But King Tommen is even less likely to survive a fight between that army and the faith militant than Varys is to survive his secret mission.
Now about that Lannister victory: the Riverrun storyline gave us many of this episode’s best moments. (Last time, honest — Podrick: “Looks like a siege, my lady.” Brienne: “You’ve got a keen military mind, Pod.”) The Jaime-Brienne reunion gave us the smoldering tension that this show, with its hot-and-fast burning romances, rarely provides. The Bronn-Podrick reunion gave us talk of Podrick’s penis, which is always fun. And most of all, the taking of Riverrun by the Lannisters felt momentous. But was it? Until a few weeks ago, it had been years since we had reason to think about Riverrun. And now it’s back in the hands of the Lannisters and Walder Frey — just where we’d assumed until recently that it had been since the Red Wedding. The entire Riverrun campaign feels like a narrative stalling tactic, a way to keep key players such as Jaime and Brienne busy while other pieces get moved around the board. But hey, at least Edmure Tully’s kid will have good tutors.
(Also, so long, Blackfish. There’s a spot next to Doran Martell waiting for you in a special cemetery for “Game of Thrones” characters whose deaths were as underwhelming and pointless as their lives. You earned it.)
Now back to Arya. Lady Crane lasted long enough to patch up Arya before getting taken out in gruesome fashion by the Waif. That untimely end was telegraphed when, just before drifting off for her long, recuperative nap, Arya warned that the actress would be in danger so long as they stayed together. Prophecy fulfilled. Then we got an extended version of the last scene from last week, with Arya again bleeding all over the pavement and the Waif again in pursuit. Needle — the most famous small sword wielded by a short-of-stature fantasy hero since Bilbo Baggins hoisted Sting — made its symbolism-heavy cameo, and Arya was able to finally prove that her Daredevil training was not for nothing. Big ups to Tom Wlaschiha for the three-eighths smile he gave as Joquan in response to “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I am going home.”