no one recap

Every season of Game of Thrones has a weak spot or two, a few episodes where the wheel-spinning becomes a little obvious and transparent. While important things occurred in “No One,” this was undeniably the slowest episode of the show’s sixth season, an hour that pumped the brakes on plot in a big way. To be fair, the episode responded by providing more than its fair share of character development and humor, but it’s fairly obvious that this is intended to be the calm before the storm, the hour where a lot of business gets handled before all hell breaks loose next week.

Let’s sort through that business and discuss what went down.

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The Hound’s Revenge

No Game of Thrones episode that opens with a decapitation can be that bad, right? “No One” gets off to a bloody start, with Sandor Clegane’s quest to avenge the murder of Brother Ray racking up a quick body count. It’s nasty stuff and a reminder that the Hound is one of the most merciless, hardened, and effective killers on a show where just about everyone has tried their hand at murder once or twice. It’s also a reminder that Rory McCann is an absolute treasure, allowing Sandor to be terrifying and hilarious in equal measure. Watching him criticize one of his victims for dying poorly and choosing lousy final words is horrifying stuff, but McCann’s dry delivery renders it as pitch-perfect black comedy. He’s killed so many people and has seen so much suffering that he’s become an effective critic. As tragic as it is to see him return to his old ways after a brief attempt to atone for his past sins, there is so much giddy pleasure to found in watching the Hound do what he does best. At least he’s turned his rage toward people who actually deserve it.

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Cersei Chooses Violence

“No One” actually opens with two decapitations, both of which are pulled off by the Clegane brothers. While Sandor chops his way through the Riverlands, Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane tears the head right off the shoulders of a member of the Faith Militant, which is certainly an effective reminder that Team Cersei may be dwindling, but it’s far from defenseless. While most of the violence carried out by the Mountain has been against innocent or underserving people and has been rightfully treated as the work of a despicable monster, season six of Game of Thrones has placed this hulking monstrosity in a very interesting position – he’s the final line of defense between one of the show’s most sympathetic villains and one of its most unsympathetic.

That’s how awful the High Sparrow is. That’s how easy it is to loathe the Faith Militant. They have us rooting for Cersei Lannister, a woman who is finally reaping what she has sown after six seasons of betrayal and murder and deceit. And yet, she deserves to be taken down by anyone but the Faith, who have somehow turned out to be even worse. The fact that we’re cheering on Gregor Clegane as he removes a man’s hand at the order of one of the most twisted people on television is a testament to how effectively this show operates in shades of gray…and how Lena Headey is so very good at asking us to have sympathy for the devil.

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The Departure of Varys

Game of Thrones season six has showcased the show at its very best and unless the last two episodes drop the ball, it will probably rank behind only the glorious fourth season as the best of the entire series so far. And yet, the show has stumbled with the Meereen storyline despite maneuvering two of the cleverest characters in the entire ensemble within its walls. The promise of Tyrion and Varys running a city on the verge of civil war turned out to be more effective than the execution, with this dynamic duo frequently shuffled into the sidelines as more pressing matters took center stage. If you had told me a few months ago that I would be more invested in Jon Snow than the Imp and the Spider by this point in the season, I would have called you a liar. But here we are.

So it’s hard to feel too bad about Varys leaving on a secret mission to Westeros because he’s not leaving behind a storyline that has been handled with care. Tyrion and and the Master of Whispers remain one of the show’s most inspired duos, but Meereen suffocated them and has given them nowhere to go. Hopefully, they will meet again in a subplot that gives them more to chew on.

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