After the emotional revelation of the origin of Hodor’s name, HBO’s Game of Thrones has been in a bit of an awkward place. Can the series tie up the various plot strands of Season Six while still leaving material for the rapidly approaching finale? The Stark siblings’ fight to reclaim their family name and the Lannister siblings’ determination to get revenge looked, at one point, to be the compelling character arcs that Game of Thrones sometimes lacked. Add the appalling nature of the High Sparrow and Ramsay Bolton — the two ultimate targets — to the equation, and the season seemed to promise emotional and satisfying battle sequences on the level of highlights such as Hardhome and Blackwater.
Since the Hodar reveal, though, Game of Thrones seems to be doing all it can to postpone the Lannister/Stark battles, and the result finds the series at a pace even more ungainly than the nonsense back and forth regarding Jon’s resurrection. As wonderful as the rhymed dialogue in Lady Crane’s plays has been, the Arya/Jaqen/Waif triangle appears to be adding up to little more than a demonstration of Arya’s determination for independence. The girl has a mission, it requires her to go out on her own and her abandonment of Jaqen ultimately leaves her more or less where she was before finding the Many-Faced God. The show doesn’t end up spending enough time with Lady Crane to have her death be all that meaningful, leaving the entire arc feeling circular and lacking a purpose beyond killing time until Sansa can finally give Ramsay the retribution he’s long deserved.
The same goes for The Hound, whose reappearance continues to feel like little more than the addition of yet another unnecessary plot to an already convoluted season. The one episode with Septon Ray is hardly enough to make his vengeance on the murderers feel particularly satisfying — violent, yes, with director Mark Mylod lingering over the men’s hanging in a manner reminiscent of the execution of Alliser and his men earlier in the season. But the comparative lack of investment in the rogue Brotherhood men and their victims makes the scene lack the earlier sequence’s dramatic heft.
Tyrion, by contrast, is perhaps the character Game of Thrones has invested the most time in, but even his arc finds itself in a rut in “No One.” Daenerys’ return promises more intrigue in Mereen soon to come, but the preceding moments find Tyrion straining to get Grey Worm and Missandei to laugh in a scene that doesn’t quite manage to be as funny or charming as it hopes. Varys is off, well, somewhere, but his departure doesn’t quite move the Mereen arc forward enough to justify the time spend on it.
The other Lannister siblings, by contrast, have the most intriguing stories in “No One,” but even their arcs only offer the hint of development rather than any real payoffs. The ban on trials by combat hurts Cersei’s chances of survival, leading her closer to her doom, but the episode only hints at the impending fate rather than exploring the emotions involved with it. Unlike the Walk of Shame, which works as well as it does by investigating the psychology of a once proud woman stripped of her dignity, Tommen’s collusion with the High Sparrow against Cersei feels like mere punishment and little else.
Jaime’s siege at Riverrun has a similar lack of gravitas. His speech to Edmure doesn’t quite give the storyline the emotional push it requires, nor does Brienne’s dedication to Sansa feel all that meaningful in this particular context. Jaime and Brienne are two of the show’s most compelling characters, but the Tully storyline hardly gives them the setting they deserve.
And so, “No One” is languorous in a way the show has been since “The Door”: there’s the promise of impending climactic moments, but David Benioff and D. B. Weiss don’t seem to know what to do until they come. In the meantime, circular storylines like Arya’s may pass the time leading up to a Ramsay/Stark fight, but they ultimately do little else.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.