Episode 8 of Season 6 of Game of Thrones offers no great shocks, yet everyone seems to be assuming position to shock everyone somehow in the last two episodes of the season over the next two weeks. Generally GoT's ensemble cast is so big that seasons conclude across the last two or three episodes, so next week and the week after promise some high drama. My purpose here is to point out some of the underlying details and not to retell or even write a summary of tonight's episode—you would do much better just to watch the show than listen to me. But I love to find the little symmetries and foreshadowings, and that, for the most part, is what I'm about here.
|Septons, including Cersei's own cousin, come to escort her to the Sept.|
But what for the septons is an order is a request for Cersei, and she has
the Mountain (v.2.0) to back up her interpretation.
The show plays a curious psychological game of relativity with me. When I see a scene with Cersei and a Stark in it, then my blood begins to steam, and I loathe the Lannister but love the Stark. Yet tonight, when I see a scene with Cersei and various defenders of the Faith of Seven, then I root for Cersei and the Mountain, Gregor Clegane—whom I absolutely hated when he killed Oberyn Martell in the trial by combat for Tyrion Lannister. Though Clegane killed Martell, he is laid low by the fight, and Pycelle and Qyburn theorize that Martell had poisoned his blades. Qyburn saves Clegane at no small expense—we don't see much of him beneath that solid armor, but the flesh around his eyes is purplish. He, like Uncle Benjen, is one of the few undead on the south side of the Wall.
Significantly Clegane is mute, but he understands and is ferociously loyal. He carries Cersei up the stairs after her walk of atonement—walk of shame would be more like it. Clegane has in the strange way of poetic justice become Cersei's Hodor to complete a strange circle. Now that Cersei has been laid low physically after a grueling incarceration and punishment, after the power shifts have confined her to the Red Keep, after the betrayal of her own young son, she has her giant to care for her.
The irony with Cersei's Hodor lies in her being in collusion with the hand—now amputated—that pushed Brandon Stark off the window sill. That seminal act of the series happened in 1.1, and it is one of the "the things we do for love," as Jaime says in his ironic voice. Indeed, Jaime professes that his love for Cersei is his only motivation in life. Yet tonight, in a conversation between Lady Brienne and Jaime, we see that he does hold her in high esteem, and her subtle tearing up suggests she loves him. Despite knowing all she knows about Jaime's evil side, they share affection because of all they have endured together. And then Jaime is a silver-tongued devil, a charming rascal. At the same time, Lady Brienne mentions that at some point they are likely, because of her sworn fealty to Sansa Stark, to find each other on opposing sides of a battle line. There are hints here of an enemy love (or friendship) story not unlike what happened with Jon Snow and Ygritte.
|Daenyris Targarean finally arrives home.|
Daenerys Targaryen returns to her pyramid in Meereen just in time. The ships of the old masters are in the harbor—contrary to the agreement they made with Tyrion—and she arrives with a thump, which is left for us to deduce that she arrived on the back of a dragon.
The slavemasters of the ships in the harbor seem unwise to mock Daenerys by hurling, of all things, fire at the city ruled by the Breaker of Chains, the Unburnt and the Mother of Dragons. In how many ways can my hubris mock someone who, once she finally arrives home to deal with me, will outpower me in every way? I can easily envision an opening scene in Episode 9 in which a dragon or two quickly sets fire to every alien ship in the harbor. Yet one of the reasons that Game of Thrones works is that it doesn't take the easy way out, and a dragon cavalry in this case seems too easy of a solution. Besides, Daenerys needs ships. It would be handy to be able to cleanse these of slave keepers and use them. On top of that, Varys has left on a trip about which we know little other than that he intends to return with ships. And what nobody but the audience knows is that Theon and his sister Yara (or Asha?) are also on their way to Meereen with a proposal that will also place ships at Daenyris's disposal. If all goes well, Daenerys may be headed soon to Westeros. Providence has a way of showing her the way.
The last time we saw Sandor Clegane, he picked up an axe and headed out of the camp of the faithful but now dead friends with whom for a while he thought he might change his life, and, drawn back into his old violent life, has gone marching at a strong pace to find the killers. Well, in tonight in Episode 8 we find ourselves with a bawdy bunch of guys who are indeed some of the killers, and after they joke around for a bit, we suddenly spot Clegane marching at that same determined pace. When he comes upon them, he doesn't stop to say "How do you do?" He just proceeds with the nonchalance of a man with a machete in a rain forest knocking away a few pesky vines. He amputates, mostly at necks.
Sandor moves on and, lo and behold, comes upon the Brotherhood without Banners, whom we haven't seen since Season Three. It turns out that Sandor and the Brotherhood have been engaged in the same project: rounding up the murderers of the community, three of whom they have strung up and are ready to kick. This super-hero-like habit of picking an injustice up from the ground and doing something about it makes Sandor and the Brotherhood a good match. They invite him to join, and he's like, been there, done that, but I bet he's going to hang with them for a while. He's looking for purpose, as he was with the religious community before. There's some bargaining in this darkly comic scene, and Sandor gets the right to kill two of the three men about to be hanged, but just as Sandor's about to swing an axe and eviscerate one of them, the leader grabs the axe. "We're not butchers," he says. "We hang them so it's quick." Sandor objects, but in the end he acquiesces and kicks the stools out from beneath his two and gains a pair of new (to him) boots in the process.
|The traveling acting troupe's version of history: the pietà of the dying Joffrey|
in Cersei's arms. The audience weeps as they watch.
But it was wounded Arya who has been on my mind constantly over the past week, almost as if I were the parent of a wayward child. The actor who plays Cersei nurses her back to health—and I admit that it bothered me a bit that those wounds turned out to be relatively easy to mend, given that each stab wound potentially creates internal injuries like sliced intestines, which present a high risk of peritonitis, which is often fatal...—but OK, I will suspend disbelief here and say that, maybe there's more to milk of the poppy than just opium.
|In a shot resembling a classical painting, the actor nurses Arya back to health.|
But Arya's time to heal gives the Waif time to find Arya, and a spectacular chase scene reminiscent of Assassin's Creed ensues. The suspense climbs because the stress of runnings causes Arya to bleed, but she finally comes to a room where she has been before, and as the Waif asks her whether she wants to die on her knees or on her feet, Arya pulls Needle out from beneath her mattress. "That won't help you," the Waif says, but Arya slices the candle in half, leaving them in the dark, so the two must now fight in the dark, and we know that Arya has defeated the Waif in the dark before—it's as if her spell of blindness was preparation for this moment.
There's a final discussion with Jaquen H'ghar in which he tells her, "You finally have become no one." Perhaps in the heat of fleeing the Waif she has, but Arya says, "A girl is Arya Stark of WInterfell, and I am going home." But through this Jaquen wears that faint smile of the teacher who has succeeded in imparting his knowledge on to his student.