Monday, 13 June 2016

Game of Thrones - No One

Contains spoilers.

Game of Thrones' sixth season has ricocheted between excellence and mediocrity so frequently that it's difficult not to head into the year's final two episodes without feeling a sense of whiplash. The season began strongly, then dipped to a deeply flawed episode before bringing back the momentum a week later. It then put out two stellar episodes in a row, before allowing itself some breathing room with a pair of slower instalments over the last two weeks. Naturally the preceding seven episodes all fluctuate in quality, but the point of the fact is this: Game of Thrones currently cannot decide whether it wants to be streamlined and awesome or meandering and dull, and it's causing the season to seriously suffer. While this is arguably the most eventful episode of the season since its double whammy of great offerings a few weeks back, the consistently shifting pace forces a number of stories here into unwanted and, frankly, bad places.

The worst offender tonight, by far, is Arya Stark. Arya's "Faceless Man" arc has been woefully uneven since it began almost two seasons ago, and tonight it finally reached its conclusion, and there's just one niggling question I can't get out of my head - "What's the fucking point?". Arya has learned seemingly nothing across her time there other than how to fight in total darkness (which isn't very useful seeing as, y'know, most battles are blessed with the gift of light) and the knowledge that she will always be a Stark. It fits in nicely with this season's theme, but it makes no sense in the longer run. The show needed to stall Arya - she couldn't have this big Stark-y moment until Jon and Sansa went through the same epiphany - and so she's been subjected to a pointless and frequently dull arc simply to kill time until she could re-enter the focal narrative again. It's terrible plotting, and represents without any doubt the worst structural writing Game of Thrones has offered. Arya has been a fan favourite since the beginning, and rightly so. Seeing her subjected to such an uneventful and meaningless story for two seasons is arguably the biggest offence the show has ever made.

I'm also frustrated by the focus on Sandor Clegane. Yes, OK, the man has some good one liners and he kills people a lot and I find myself generally enjoying his screen time, but why is he here? Season six began by showing signs of focusing on the show's endgame, and yet here we have a whole new arc to a revived character that now must forge its own beginning, middle and end within the central narrative, all while actually trying to find its belonging there. The story is fun and amusing, but structurally it doesn't work. Unless the show is building towards a big Stoneheart-shaped reveal - which I am 99% sure it isn't - then this seems set to be another large obstacle in a show that should be winding down, not opening up. It is difficult to feel fully invested in this story with the knowledge that, somewhere, something exciting could be happening with Bran, or that Yara and Theon could be nearing Meereen to join Daenerys. All of these threads work in their own right and tie in with the show's central narrative, and watching these get tossed aside (Bran is jarringly set to have three consecutive weeks off after occupying the majority of the season's opening half) in favour of a decently funny guy with anger issues is severely underwhelming.

There's also a significant issue of a wide number of stories hitting anticlimaxes here. The siege on Riverrun, whilst entertaining and enjoyably tactical, wasn't even close to hitting the dramatic heights the show promised us. Cersei's unleashing of the Mountain was a giddily exciting moment, but it stopped almost immediately and kind of felt jarring within the tone of the rest of the episode. Even the siege on Meereen - which actually began in this episode - was given no time to flourish before Daenerys lands back in the city and we're taken away from the action yet again. Whilst all of these stories generally worked fine (I particularly enjoyed all of King's Landing tonight), it's unfortunate that they all built to generally similarly conclusions within the same episode. It's doubly frustrating when you factor in the knowledge that we won't return to these stories for two weeks, as the show is set to abandon every narrative thread besides the North next week. The stories may work in their own right, but when you put them all in the same episode it's difficult not to feel a sense of disappointment.

But, much like all of Game of Thrones' weaker episodes, there are real slivers of hope found at almost every twist and turn. Tyrion's conversation about alcohol and jokes with Grey Worm and Missandei was an engaging and enjoyable dialogue piece, and serves as a perfect reminder that even small supporting characters still deserve to be fleshed out. The sequence inside the Throne Room, in which Tommen destroys all of the #CleganeBowl theories with one swift sentence, was beautifully staged and ended on a perfectly enigmatic note that both serves up new information while withholding the key to us figuring it out. Jaime's somewhat anticlimactic siege at Riverrun remained focused and driven throughout, and even if it wasn't as explosive as we'd have hoped it still featured a plethora of strong dialogue scenes focusing on thoughtful character motivations. Most of the stories here were built on solid foundations, but didn't quite fulfil their promise. Therefore as strong as the individual stories may be, "No One" as an episode can't help but feel like anticlimax after anticlimax, letdown after letdown, and disappointment after disappointment.

Notes - 

  • I mean seriously, the writing for all of Braavos tonight was atrocious. Not only does the Waif prove how useless she is as both a faceless man and an assassin, but Jaqen seemingly accepts Arya as a faceless man immediately after she reclaims her identity. The whole thing is a pardox of nonsense. I'm glad we won't have to put up with it anymore, but Christ guys, what a way to leave a sour taste.
  • Better: Bron and Podrick. These two should be the focus of a sitcom.
  • No North tonight, presumably in favour of the full sixty minute episode dedicated to this story next week. It's a Blackwater style battle, pieced together by the man who directed Hardhome. We're doomed. 

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