Unlike several recappers (most notably the one at nymag.com), I find last week’s episode ‘No One‘ to be the weakest of the season.

Not because it lacked action, humor or story development; it just made it very obvious that the writers are working from the finale on backwards: there needs to be a sea battle in Mereen and a land battle at Winterfell, hence let’s stretch some storylines (Arya) or quickly wrap up others (Blackfish) in order to get all the chess pieces in place for the last two episodes of the season.

Still, there were a lot of stellar moments in Episode 9, especially when we’re willing to suspend our disbelief.

Arya

Arya’s arc is perhaps the most frustrating, because its resolution was predictable right from the start. Of course she would eventually return to Westeros to reclaim her ancestral home, much like her sister. Although their stories are polar opposites, and have been since Season 1, both seem to follow the same path 6 years down the line.

So why, exactly, did we need to spend 2 years watching her get her ass kicked in the House of Black and White? More to the point, why did we have to watch her get stabbed, briefly recoup with Lady Crane, tumble down an insane number of stairs, knock down all the oranges in Braavos and run around town although gravely wounded, just so we could end up exactly where we were 2 episodes ago? The fight in the dark could have taken place last week and save us from the impossible parkouring all over Braavos; as impressive as the Waif’s T2-like running style was (and as hateful as her character had become, especially with that cocky smirk on her face), the entire scene felt not only superfluous but also just… wrong.

Arya knew she would be hunted down by the Waif (or even Jaqen himself) after her botched mission to kill the actress; yet she parades around Braavos flashing some serious coin and is actually surprised to see the Waif disguised as an old woman, which is even more improbable behavior, especially considering she had seen that very face in the House of Black and White (which we now know thanks to a keen-eyed viewer).

I’m not buying into the theories that maybe she staged the whole thing – given that all the wild theories that emerged after Episode 8 were promptly disproved this week, I can’t lend much credence to the idea that she wanted to be found the way she did.

On the other hand, I’m not at all disappointed that the final battle with the Waif took place off screen; how could it not? A few minutes of grunting or screaming in a pitch black basement doesn’t exactly make for compelling television. The blood trail she left for the Waif to track her down in that dark chamber was much more like her than her previous actions, and seeing the Waif’s face on the wall was as satisfactory as the actual kill scene would have been.

The one theory I’m actually inclined to buy is that this was Jaqen’s plan from the get-go. He let her go far too easily for it to be anything else than his desired outcome of the situation. Add to that the fact that, after all we’ve seen him do, it seems rather plausible that he had allowed himself to be taken hostage all the way back when Arya first “saved his life”, suggesting that he had an elaborate plan, or at least a whole other end game in mind for the Stark girl, since the beginning. I’m curious to see if he will grace our screens again.

As far as Arya goes, it still feels like a wasted two years for that character. She was a killer and had purpose before ever showing up at Jaqen’s doorstep; she definitely improved her skills during her time in training, but it just dragged on far too long, and the payoff wasn’t as big. She began this arc with a kill list and a thirst for vengeance; she now seems to have abandoned that mission for a much grander plan, that just happens to fall in line with her sister’s own. Except Arya has no idea what’s been going on in Westeros while she was busy fighting off the Waif with a wooden stick.

Riverrun

The entire Riverrun story felt way too rushed, almost like a throwaway whose sole purpose was to reunite Jaime and Brienne. Those two never lacked chemistry and picked up right when they left off since we last saw them together. Bronn’s scenes with Podrick were fun – Bronn is always a joy to see – and offered some much needed levity in an otherwise heavily emotional scene.

Jaime and Brienne’s scenes were simply impeccable; they share an intimacy that is unique to the two characters, and their realization that they will probably end up fighting on opposite sides again soon was just heartbreaking. Jaime’s re-gifting of his sword and their goodbye wave as Brienne flees Riverrun by boat further underlined their complex relationship.

Bronn may have interrupted Jaime’s famous motto about a Lannister always paying his debts last week, but this week we also saw that a Lannister also keeps his promises; he promised Cersei to take Riverrun and return to her asap, and he did. He promised Brienne to resolve the Riverrun siege without bloodshed and he did that, too. It is perhaps the first time any viewer accepted a man’s decision to threaten another man with using his infant child as catapult fodder with little more than a wince.

What bothers me about Riverrun is that it was wrapped up before any of us could really get invested in the story. Both Tullys made pretty idiotic decisions, and the conclusion didn’t do much in the way of sufficiently justifying either one.

Edmure gave up his House without a fight, all for a baby he hasn’t even met; a Frey baby, to boot. Sure, imagining your child being flung at the castle is a particularly disturbing thought, but worse things have happened to children in the GoT universe and we barely flinched. After being held captive for years by arguably the most hated family in the entire show, he’s too spineless to put up a fight and once again relinquishes all power to his bitter enemies.

The Blackfish, on the other hand, is plenty feisty, but wastes all that spunk in order to hold on to a castle he loses soon after. Had he followed Brienne to fight alongside the Starks, he could have helped his niece reclaim the North and fortified his army to take back Riverrun once again. Hell, even if he had just jumped onto that boat with Brienne and Pod instead of going on a suicide mission, he would have been a lot more helpful to the Starks. And god knows they need all the help they can get, seeing as how the North has mostly turned its back to them. If only all the Houses were led by Lyanna Mormont….

Kings Landing

In true GoT fashion, all of Cersei’s plans seem to be backfiring. As satisfying as it was, seeing the evil queen mother knocked down a few pegs last season, it just feels anticlimactic now, even though all signs point to a combustible resolution.

The High Sparrow’s plan, on the other hand, is working brilliantly, thanks to Margaery’s scheming and Tommen’s highly suggestible nature. Not only are the Crown and the Faith united, we also get a date for Cersei and Loras’ trial, as well as the banishment of an old, long-standing tradition: the option of trial by combat.

Does this mean the end of hope for a Clegane bowl? Maybe, but with the Mountain virtually indestructible and the Hound safely northbound, there is still chance of that happening some time down the line.

The most important point in this arc, however, is that, with Cersei’s options becoming more and more limited, she might be headed for that very descent into madness people keep expecting Daenerys to fall into. We’re not sure what Qyburn’s birds have been whispering, but my money is on the wildfire. Cersei has stated before that she will burn cities to the ground, and this is as good a chance as any for her to make good on that threat.

The Hound

Sandor’s scenes were my favorite part of this episode. There was something Tarantino-esque about the argument over how many of the Brotherhood renegades he would kill and how.

More importantly, we see him reunite with the returning Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr. The fact that the (now dead) group who murdered Brother Ray et al were renegades probably signifies the end of the Lady Stoneheart theories, which is fine by me. We’ve had way too many people return from the dead this season, and there is plenty of Stark vengeance going around; did we really need a zombie-Catelyn on top of that?

From where I stand, it is unclear which side the Brotherhood is on, except that they’re on the humans’ side. They seem to know about the White Walkers, as every Lord of Light follower we’ve seen so far, which means they’re north-bound. If the Hound decides to join them – and all signs point to that this week – it means yet another supreme fighter on the good guys’ side. It also means that they’re all very likely to come across the Starks on their way north, which will definitely make the upcoming battle of the Bastards all the more exciting.

Mereen

The Mereen storyline has been the most lackluster this season, Daenerys’ awesome Khal-roasting aside, and this week was no exception.

What was the point of that drinking-and-telling-jokes scene, aside from pointing out that Tyrion’s idea of leadership consists of consuming all the wine in Essos and trying to get Grey Worm and Missandei to talk to him? We’ve seen him try and get them drunk before. The joke-telling was awkward and not funny enough to warrant all that screen time. It seems that Tyrion is being wasted, in both senses of the word, this season, and that just makes me sad.

It seems that it’s also about to make Dany pretty mad. Not mad as in ‘Burn them all!’ mad, but angry that during her absence he managed to screw everything up as badly as he did.

After two seasons of dealing with Mereen, the slave masters and the Sons of the Harpy, I just don’t see the use for this entire arc. If the siege of Mereen is simply to set up a battle with the Greyjoys in the next couple of weeks, it just feels like poor writing to me. With Dany returning, her three dragons would have little trouble roasting all those slavemasters alive. Even without the fleet attack on the city, the Greyjoys would have probably been welcomed with open arms when they offered her their ships, as is their intention to begin with.

And where is Varys off to? The only allies he is aware of, seeing as this Greyjoy plot is a recent development, would be the ones with an ax to grind against the Lannisters, and that would be the people of Dorne. Except now the Dornish are ruled by those awful Sand Snakes and, more importantly, the Dorne storyline is so dull I was hoping they’d just spare us the boredom and shelf it indefinitely.


So what should we be expecting in the next two episodes?

There is a lot to wrap up and very little time left to do that, even with the supersized finale.
Judging from the preview for next week, we might be getting a Winterfell-centric episode, which means none of the rest of the arcs will be advanced.

Which leaves a lot of juicy stuff for the finale to address, not the least being the battle at Mereen:

– Will we finally see the demise of Ramsay? Not a lot of important character have died this season and he has definitely overstayed his welcome. Everyone that made the character interesting is gone – Sansa, Reek, Roose, Miranda – and I feel like we are owed a satisfying death scene, preferrably by way of a direwolf.
– Speaking of direwolves, with Arya on her way back home, does that mean we get to see Nimeria again? Please say that’s so!
– Even if it’s a long shot, I’m still holding out hope that the great Northern Conspiracy is alive and kicking. We don’t know what happened to Rickon, and it just seems too conspicuous that every single House is the North except the Mormonts have turned their back on the Starks.
– And speaking of the Starks, what about Bran, Meera and Benjen? Will they arrive at Castle Black only to find it half-empty? Or will they get there at the last second, just as the White Walkers arrive? And what about Bran’s visions? Everyone is still waiting for that scene at the Tower of Joy, and if this is indeed “fan service season”, we should be getting that by the finale episode, shouldn’t we?

Just a few short days until at least some of these questions are answered, so here’s hoping for an amazing battle at Winterfell (with a positive outcome, for once!)

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