When rating an episode of a TV show, there’s a dilemma: is it more appropriate to rate it relative to the rest of television or relative to the other episodes of that show? Game of Thrones really brought that conundrum to the fore with its antepenultimate episode of the series, ‘No One’.
It was certainly high quality television, but it fell considerably short of fans’ expectations. While the eight episode of the last series provided the stunning and frankly awesome ‘Hardhome’ and the series before it had the similarly shocking ‘The Mountain and the Viper’, this year’s eight offering felt like it could have done with something sharper and almost feels as though it completes a trilogy of ‘filler’ episodes.
At this point in the show, when it seems like there’s only going to be fifteen episodes left overall, nearly every scene begs the question of how it’s going to fit into the overall series. This is where fans might get bogged down. There are a lot of really fantastic scenes in the episode. If the only reasons for bring back Sandor ‘The Hound’ Clegane is to bring back Rory McCann’s stunning acting, memorable one-liners and the ability to make graphic violence look like art, then that’s fair because it still makes for compelling viewing. If sending Brienne down and Jamie up to Riverrun was purely to see the two interact again, give them something to do for a couple episodes without fundamentally changing them and provide an excuse to bring Bronn back, then that’s okay, because they’re still some of the best scenes to see. Even if Arya’s whole two series arc has left some wondering what exactly the point was of the Faceless Men and becoming no one, then…well…at least the mummers’ play scenes were pretty entertaining.
There’s a lack of payoff in this episode which causes some frustration. All signs have pointed to Cersei demanding a trial by combat to bring closure to her conflict with the High Sparrow – a climax now suspended by the order of King Tommen. Similarly, it seemed that something was to come of the Riverrun plot – Brynden following Brienne back to Winterfell for example – but this is now off the cards. The producers of Game of Thrones have made no secret about their affection for Tyrion, and so scenes are made for him seemingly just for the sake of including him. At this stage in the game this comes at the cost of developing the plot in the North which is probably this series’ most important arc.
It was the one-on-one conversations that were the best scenes in this episode. There were meetings between individuals that haven’t seen each other for two or three years: Sandor and Dondarrion, Jaime and Brienne, Bronn and Podrick being the three cases in point. Jaime’s manipulation of Edmure was an effective method of showing how keen Jaime was to avoid battle. Whether he would make good on his threats were up for speculation, but it seems plausible that given his conversation with Brienne he was largely bluffing. The Hound’s integration with the Brotherhood Without Banners likewise gives the impression that there are more important battles to be fought than the petty conflicts that characterised early Game of Thrones.
All eyes now rest on the final two episodes of the series, ‘The Battle of the Bastards’ and ‘The Winds of Winter’, which promise to resolve the Stark-Bolton and Cersei-Sparrows conflict once and for all paving the way for arcs that could wrap up the entire show.