The light is at the end of the tunnel. Since August, Fandomentals writers Kylie and Julia have joined forces as “Julie”, the sass-talkin’, time traveling Bachelor contestant, who spends her free time revisiting the plotlines of overrated TV shows. Most specifically—Game of Thrones (GoT)and its 6th season.
With retrospectives completed for the storylines that took place in King’s Landing, The Bay of Dragons, Horn Hill, North of the Wall, Dorne, and the Iron Islands, she now turns her eye towards Braavos, the City of Brotherly Love. And stabbing. Julie’s goal, like always, is to dive deep into GoT showrunners’ David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s vision for each plot/character arc, and see how it holds up on its own.
Arya’s Season 6 plotline was one of controversy, even among ardent show fans. Her parkouring adventure was a rather bald case of “plot armor” and her finale teleportation pushed the envelope of suspended disbelief to is breaking point. Even before that there were plenty in the audience who pointed out how contrived it was that she would have allowed herself to get stabbed so easily, knowing assassins were after her. Though these are very valid criticisms, and certainly ones we’ll be covering, what we tend to focus on more is what the entire story does for the character and what the meaning and take-away of that story is.
In order to do that, we first have to introduce you to the characters of this plotline.
You might think that just because you’ve read A Song of Ice and Fire (or even watched the show), you’ll know who these characters are. Oh, honey.
For full explanations of these nicknames, as well as the ones we just casually throw out because of habit (like “Deadpan” for Dany) please visit the world-famous (but only around here) Book Snob Glossary.
And now, we dive into yet another
Oh no, what a nightmare!
You might not remember this, but Arya ended Season 5 on a very confusing note. D&D tapped into some Dagobah magic to bring us a scene where Arya, having just killed the Kingsguard Meryn Trant instead of her mark, was “punished” by…thinking Tom died? But then pulling off masks to reveal it wasn’t his body, it was the Asshole’s! No wait, now it’s Arya! Now she’s blind!
Well, no one may have actually died, even though we were told “only death can pay for life,” but when we pick up in Season 6 Arya is still blind. So, yay for continuity!
She really sucks at being a beggar, just sitting sadly with a bowl. But in her defense, everybody in the City of Brotherly Love is a giant dillweed who give no shits about her, most not even sparing a glance in her direction. Instead, they’re super interested in current affairs, because we hear them whispering about Trant’s murder. They’ll be the only ones to do so, people of Carol’s Landing included. It seemed like this was going to be D&D’s clever way of showing Arya learning something from her temporary (spoiler!) blindness, but no, that’s giving them too much credit.
Instead, the whispering was just there for flavor or something, because our focus is soon drawn to The Asshole carrying two big sticks. She makes fun of Arya for being blind and not having any friends, before she drops one of the sticks and demands that Arya fight her. Arya, being blind, kind of sucks at the stick-hitting game, but The Asshole is completely unsympathetic…because she’s an asshole. So we’re treated to a full minute of someone brutally beating up a disabled person, before walking away with a, “see you tomorrow.” We can’t wait!
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow comes, and we get…more stick hitting! No really, it’s more or less the same scene, only now Arya’s face is puffy from the bruises of the day before. Before The Asshole wails away again, she asks Arya “what’s your name?” Arya responds, “no one,” but in a way that kind of sounds like she’s saying “No One Smith.” She doesn’t say “I’m no one,” or “a girl has no name” or anything. Trust us, it’s weird. The Asshole smirks and says she doesn’t believe her. Then we get another solid minute of a disabled person being shit-kicked.
The Asshole is bored with so much winning, so she just fucks off in the middle of this fun interaction, leaving Arya swinging the stick as though she can’t find the piñata at a birthday party. But lo and behold, Tom shows up and stops her random swinging. He “tests” her by offering her a roof over her head for the night, or a hot meal, in exchange for saying her name. Arya asserts that she doesn’t have one (but we thought it was “No One”!). Then he makes the same deal in exchange for her eyes. She still doesn’t have a name, she says.
Yay! She passed the test! Tom tells her “a girl is not a beggar anymore.” This was hard-earned. Or maybe he just wants to stop her from being randomly assaulted. We’re not sure, but we’re happy that there will be no more stick hitting.
We open the next scene in the next episode with some stick hitting. We guess Arya is still in a better spot though, because she’s now wearing her Bathrobe of Dark and Vague, complete with cute lil’ sandals! Wow, the City of Brotherly Love is sure temperate for late autumn.
This stick hitting sequence seems to be a bit of a training montage. We think. We have an obligation to remind you that it is very dark inside the House of Dark and Vague, and we can’t see a fucking thing. From what we can tell, while she’s getting beat up again (yes…still blind), she is also learning about poisons and providing the Asshole with her backstory in a monotone voice.
For those who don’t remember: last year, she and Tom had a similar scene where she told him about the adventures of Your Sister, and she’d get smacked anytime she lied. Same concept here! The Asshole smacks her for any deviations in the story of Arya Stark. And woe betide her if she accidentally counts her half-brother as a full brother!
Arya: She had one sister, Sansa, and four brothers. (Gets smacked with stick) Three brothers. Robb, Bran, Rickon. And a half-brother Jon.
Pause. We spent more than enough time last season talking about why Arya’s plotline was not a good adaptation of her Braavosi plotline from A Feast for Crows/A Dance with Dragons. We don’t think we need to dredge this up again, especially since (spoilers!) her plotline this year is more or less a complete repeat of it. She is treated like crap for Dark and Vague reasons, gets an assignment, blows it, and then murders someone from her list. Also, Game of Thrones isn’t really an adaptation at this point, so… *futile hand gestures*.
However. We are such unrepentant book snobs that we can’t help but remember how stick hitting was used to a much different effect in the books. And hitting in general. For instance, there is a moment when Arya and The Waif are playing the lying game (where they tell stories that include a mixture of truths and lies in order to learn to better control facial muscles) and The Waif smacks her. But this only occurred once, and had nothing to do with Arya lying. She smacked her because Arya chewed her lip in contemplation, which is a tell-tale sign of Arya Stark, specifically.
The reason we bring this up is due to the fact that the way stick hitting is employed here just makes no sense. Because for two seasons in a row now, we see Arya get smacked every time she tells a lie. What does this do? Are they just very anti-dishonesty in the House of Dark and Vague? We find that passing odd for assassins. And how does negative reinforcement for lying help her become a better assassin, exactly? If anything, they should be encouraging her to lie convincingly. (Is this what they’re trying to do and she really sucks? And they really suck at teaching and don’t bother to explain?)
While we’re at it, how does the ability to hit people with sticks make her a better assassin? Because we’re fairly certain she’s not paddling down a river with her mark. If you’re at the point where you have to hit your target with a giant fucking stick, then you’ve really failed at being a sneaky assassin.
It doesn’t seem like anything in this training montage, except for the two-second shot of her sniffing poisons, actually trains her in any way. Also, DON’T SMELL POISONS! What are you doing?! But no, the commitment to being Dark and Vague takes priority over logic, as usual.
Speaking of that logic, why are they having her tell Arya Stark’s backstory at this point? Isn’t she in a bit of trouble for killing someone on Arya’s list? They think the best way to get her to shed her identity is by having her talk about it in the third person? While asking prying questions as to the nature of her relationships with those who she only recently left behind in Weisseroff?
The Asshole: Tell me about the Hound.
Arya: Also dead. Arya Stark left him to die. He was on her list. He was not on her list anymore. She had taken him off it.
The Asshole: Why? Didn’t she want him dead any longer?
Arya: She did and she did not.
Yeah, “a girl” is clearly not still in-touch with her identity now! Otherwise how would she be able to talk about it without any inflection in her voice? Fool-proof! We’re also not exactly sure why the show wanted to focus on her relationship to a chicken meme over her family that she’s supposed to be doing these killings for, especially since we think this plotline was supposed to be about her reconnecting to a Stark identity, but hey.
The Asshole thinks this list is the best, and begs Arya to put her on it.
However, wonder of wonder, miracles of miracles, Arya manages to block a single stick hit. Dramatic music begins playing, and The Asshole is so upset that her student is improving in skills that angry tears form in her eyes, so she stomps off. Tom, who was watching from the corner, decides that Arya’s passed another test. He beckons her to the pool with the poison water that she used to euthanize a girl last season, and asks her to drink it. This is fine! She does, though hesitantly, but it’s alright—instead of killing people, now the water magically cures cataracts. Instantaneously, too!
So, as a quick recap, Arya was blind for three episodes while people hit her with sticks, and she learned what a couple of poisons smelled like.
Bryan Cogman’s Cry for Help
Now that Arya’s got her eyes back, she’s ready for new and exciting challenges, including MORE stick hitting! Okay, if anyone has ever heard of an assassin that uses a bō staff, please let us know in the comments.
Arya has vaguely improved, since she’s able to do a little Avatar Aang-esque, swipey move. However, The Asshole is the Lord of the Sticks, and still shit-kicks her. “You’re not ready!” she insists, for the five zillianth time.
Hey audience, we have another question for you: why is Arya still in Braavos this year? No seriously. We know we’re about to get into the meat of the plotline, but literally nothing happens that didn’t already kind of happen last year, down to us hearing The Asshole say these exact same lines. Oh, and one more thing to mull over: is getting beat up supposed to be part of the curriculum at The House of Dark and Vague, or is The Asshole overzealous, just like Septa Spoonella’s scripture reading was?
Once Arya is sufficiently walloped, The Asshole declares, “you’ll never be one of us, Lady Stark!” We think this is weird of her, since she was the one just asking for the dirty deets of Arya’s life, but Tom strolls in to say (and we quote), “she has a point.”
We’re then treated to a scene where he explains how the Faceless Men have always been social justice warriors, who got their start as slaves that murdered all the masters. Deadpan would be so proud of them. If we were worse snobs, we’d mention how in the books the first Faceless Man actually brought death to a slave who was praying for it, rather than the slavers, because the point is that death comes for everyone, and that it can sometimes be like a gift. But we don’t want to bore you.
Tom’s point in sharing the origin story is that because Arya is highborn, she might not be able to be “no one.” Which is either lazy classism on D&D’s part, or it’s incredibly nuanced and unexplored commentary on the identity-focus of the upper class being a luxury that commoners don’t have. Take your pick, because neither of these implications have any follow-through in the narrative.
Arya is into the backstory, so Tom gives her a new case. Wait…did anyone ever kill the insurance guy? Is he still there, eating oysters and refusing to insure idiot sailors who want to go through Valyria?
Doesn’t matter, this target is an actor, the wickedly talented Lady Crane, who escaped from Maergary’s flock of hens, apparently (only true book snobs understand!). Tom hands Arya a bottle of poison, because of course he does, and tells her that there “will not be a third chance.”
That brings us to…the Meta Players Club! That’s right, this acting troupe gives us the inside-scoop of D&D’s adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire. A really dumb Ned and a super sympathetic Cersei? Who would believe that?!
We’re also happy to welcome back Your Sister of the Canals, who looks right at home in the audience with her hamburger buns. She’s rather enthralled with the play, unlike Kylie and Julia.
We then are treated to Bryan Cogman trying to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear by giving us ten minutes of this vaguely-rhyming play that reenacts a vaguely exaggerated version of Season 1. We say “vaguely” because there’s some lines that are stretches (“tusks” and “guts”), but mostly because given the show’s white-washing of Cersei, dumb-washing of Ned, and demonification of Sansa, it’s really not all that different. In fairness, the Meta Players have a super-nice Joffrey and super-evhul Tyrion, but they’re so over-the-top with it that it only somehow reinforces the show’s biases more. It’s weird.
At the end of the day, we can only sympathize with both the play’s version of Cersei and with Carol, just as we can only shake our heads at how ditzy Sansa is. We’d like to pretend this is Bryan Cogman getting it, especially since it gets reinforced with Lady Crane being portrayed as really nice behind-the-scenes, and Bianca (Sansa’s actor) being catty and dramatic.
Sadly for us, both the narrative and Your Sister don’t seem to understand this meta-irony. She just has a gay old time laughing at Robert’s verbal abuse of his son.
However, things take a serious turn when Ned shows up, and he’s more or less the village idiot. You know what would have really helped the playgoers understand him? If they had been given insight into the internalized guilt that served as his guiding motivation for his entire life and for his actions in King’s Landing, perhaps through a fever dream. But it’s okay, we’re sure this play will clear that up six acts later through another character’s lens.
Instead, Ned shows a general bemusement and complete inability to understand simple things like the line of succession, and this is totally not Bryan Cogman shaming D&D for the season finale.
Lady Crane: The line of succession.
Actor Ned: What’s that mean?
Lady Crane: The proper progression.
Actor Ned: What’s that mean?
Lady Crane: The lawful ascension.
Actor Ned: What’s that mean?
Seriously, Cogman, the door is open if you want to come out as a book snob. We can even forgive you for your previous apologism. We understand you’re just working with what they give you.
Your Sister gets far less amused when the horribly-paced play volts ahead to the moment where Ned gets his head chopped off. Also she watches as “her sister” (like…her actual sister) is forced into a marriage with “Tyrion,” who rips open her shirt for the audience to see. However, it’s more important to get a reaction shot from the pearl-clutching Kylie and Julia than Your Sister for that particular part.
Okay, hold up. This play is going to be a recurring setting for the next few episodes. We believe, and this isn’t just steelmanning, that D&D, two men who hold MFAs in creative writing, would have to think that this play’s inclusion is accomplishing something beyond just…giving Arya a mark and the GoT audience, a clip show. And it truly makes sense to us that this could be the vehicle to get Arya back in touch with Arya Stark. In fact, on the first watch-through of the season, that’s kind of what we assumed happened, even if things like plot armor and Terminator-smiles got in the way of the story.
The trouble is, looking back at what we’ve outlined for Arya so far…she’s not out of touch with herself in the slightest. She killed Trant at the end of last season, which was decidedly an Arya Stark kind of thing to do. He was on her list and shit, and she also said this:
Arya: You know who I am. I’m Arya Stark. Do you know who you are? You’re no one. You’re nothing.
Then we jump to this season. There’s really no reason to take Arya’s assertions that she’s “no one” at face-value, since anyone who gets smashed with a stick for saying otherwise would likely also try to claim that they’re “no one.” Even weirder is that we were treated to an entire training montage where the voice-over centered on Arya talking about the shit that makes her, well, Arya. And getting hit with a stick if she lied about it. This is more bizarre than that time Ramsay made “Reek” apologize for Theon’s crimes, despite his own psychological torture of the guy to make him forget his true identity.
So even if we conclude that reconnecting with her Stark identity was what the play was trying to do, we can’t consider it to have succeeded, at all. Or even to have been necessary.
What also doesn’t succeed, and was very not necessary, was D&D’s attempts to “equal out” male and female nudity. We’re taken behind-the-scenes of the play, where we get a charming close-up of Joffrey’s actor’s warty dick, as he worries about his very obvious STI. Or maybe this was a walloping success and most of the male-attracted audience was super titillated; we’re just too snobby to appreciate this.
We also want it to be known that Bianca is just walking around topless. Maybe she was trying to give herself a breast examination, and we just didn’t catch that part. Early detection does save lives (doctors recommend doing this once a month).
We find out how down to earth and awesome Lady Crane is. She drunks rum, the drink of the people, and has flirty banter with Tyrion’s actor, who also seems pretty cool.
Honestly, it is kind of refreshing to like people on this show. We hope nothing horrible happens to either of them.
“A girl will poison the rum.”
Yup, we jump-cut away to Arya and Tom chatting in the House of Dark and Vague, where she spoon-feeds us with her assassination plan, despite the fact that she was given a bottle of poison already. What the fuck else would she do with it?
We also want to take a second to be irreverent book snobs. We’re sorry, but this whole “a girl” speech style is really irritating. Julia has stronger feelings about it than Kylie, and admits that it’s a small thing, but this began as a quirk in the manner in which Jaqen H’gar spoke (not the Kindly Man, the person in charge of Arya at the House of Black and White in the books), because he was affecting an incomplete knowledge of the Common Tongue in that role. And like everything else, D&D Flanderized it. It’s just really fucking annoying. Stahp it.
A Girl is the genius of the century though, because in addition to figuring out that she needs to poison the only thing anyone would poison in this scenario, she also figured out that thanks to the meta-nature of this play, Sansa’s actor must be the catty, jealous, awful lady who hired the hit on Lady Crane. Arya asks for a face to complete this task, even though no one has any reason to recognize her (except that insurance salesman. He wants his oysters!), but Tom says “no.” She is not ready.
Hey, remember that time she expertly donned a face and murdered Trant? How would this actually be different? Or did she improperly don it and that’s what turned her blind and made her hallucinate about Tom/the Asshole dying? No really, we’re asking, because we still have no fucking idea about that one.
However, instead of pondering that, let’s instead go to Julie’s favorite Game of Thrones episode in the history of time: 6×06, “Blood of my Blood”.
We’re back at the Meta Players Club, and Your Sister is acting as though she’s never seen what’s happening on stage before, even though we learn later that she attends this play multiple times. Maybe this is an episodic tale? Man, this playwright really is up to the tits in ideas.
The pacing is still questionable though, since we’re already in Season 4 with it. And if Bianca is upset that she’s getting shafted, imagine how upset Marg’s actor must be—she doesn’t even get a line!
We see “Joffrey” die at the Purple Wedding, and Your Sister giggles with delight. However, that joy soon turns to ashes in her mouth when Lady Crane delivers a heartfelt monologue about how sad she is to have lost her son. Poor Lady Crane/Carol, she’s so relatable!
What’s a little weird is that Bianca is so ambitious and dedicated to being a good understudy, that she chooses to stand in PLAIN VIEW of the audience, mouthing the words along with Lady Crane.
While the playwright might have a good breadth of ideas, he seems to know nothing about tone, because Lady Crane’s sorrowful monologue is sandwiched by two comedic deaths: Joffrey’s and Tywin’s. Also the play seems to end when Tywin dies? What an odd choice.
Backstage, Your Sister poisons the rum, and looks super conflicted about it. That gets even worse when the actors stomp in after the show. Tywin, the playwright, complains loudly that “the crowd was shit,” and Lady Crane just rolls her eyes because she knows she’s better than this. Then, upon seeing Your Sister, she stops her because she sees a budding thespian.
It’s actually kind of nice, to be fair. Lady Crane has noticed Your Sister at the play multiple times, and it reminds her of how she was so enthralled when she first saw an acting troupe. However, it means that Your Sister is the world’s shittiest assassin. Lady Crane continues to lay on the nice charm, praising her lovely eyebrows (what), and then asking for acting advice, because she’s displeased with her final monologue.
Arya: You’re very good.
Lady Crane: My final speech is shit. But to be fair to myself, which I always like to be, the writing’s no good.
Arya: So change it. It would all just be farting, belching, and slapping without you.
Good job, Bryan!
Your Sister recommends that instead of bumming the audience out with an effective commentary on the cyclical nature of violence, Lady Crane should deliver forceful dialogue about how awesome revenge is!
We’re not sure if this is supposed to show that Arya and Carol are actually similar people, since she’s relating to this situation. That would make sense, as (spoiler) Arya’s final scene this season is quite disturbing. But it also seems odd to us that the vehicle for which D&D are trying to show Arya reconnecting with her Stark heritage is being used to highlight parallels between those two women, rather than, perhaps, Arya and her sister. We’ll get more into this later.
Your Sister fucks off, presumably so she can get away with murder, while Lady Crane deals with Tywin’s out-of-control ego. And Cogman keeps it even more in-check.
Lady Crane: I do what I can with what I’m given.
Tywin: With what you’re given?
Lady Crane: Well, I was thinking…
Tywin: Oh, we’re all thinkers now, are we? Full to the tits with ideas… You have ideas, I have ideas, he has ideas. Why should my ideas have any more value than yours simply because I’ve been doing this my whole life? Who is anyone to judge my work? This is my profession.
It’s okay Cogman, we think your ideas are just dandy. Especially sending Larry to Porne. Go you!
When it finally seems like Lady Crane is going to drink her rum (after 5 or 6 fakeouts), Your Sister leaps out of nowhere to knock the glass out of her hand, and then warns everyone of Bianca’s ruthless cattiness.
It’s not often that we feel bad for people who have hired assassins, but damn Bianca! You really could have just poisoned the rum yourself without going through this trouble and probably paying more than you can afford.
Your Sister runs back out, but guess who was hiding the whole time? It’s the Asshole! And for some reason her 90s hairdo when she’s not in her Robes of Vagueness becomes more hilarious.
To better explain how dramatically satisfying these couple of scenes were, we give you Dan Weiss:
“Arya is kind of slowly getting seduced by these performances, and Lady Crane, the actor, she’s getting charged with killing, this is somebody who like her, has taken has her life’s work, the—uh job of becoming other people. When Arya’s looking in the mirror and she’s trying to decide who she is and what she is and is she actually the kind of person who can do this killing, knowing full well that if she fails in this task, one way or another, another face will be added to the wall (the implication is it’s her face or it’s your face).”
This struggle of identity sounds really interesting to us. Too bad the only way we know it exists is because the writer told us. We mean, in fairness, Arya did clearly struggle with the decision to poison Lady Crane. But to call this a “slow seduction” that centers on a performance of someone, just like she puts on the performance of Your Sister, is a bit of a stretch. Especially since a) Arya seemed on the fence about the assignment from the get-go, b) we had two scenes of her watching the play, and the first could not be described as a “seduction” given how livid she was with her family’s portrayal, and c) the moment this flipped in Arya’s mind seemed more a result of the one conversation where Lady Crane was nice to her than anything else.
Sure, the bare bones of what Weiss is talking about are there, but it’s sort of like making instant pancakes and calling them a soufflé.
Also, there’s a reverse honeypot (i.e., an unintentional story) here that needs to be discussed: Arya is just a really shitty assassin. She didn’t kill the evhul insurance salesman because she got distracted by Trant, and she didn’t kill Lady Crane because she got an eyebrow compliment. Her leaving the guild seems to be less about her struggle with morality and more about the fact that she just flunked. Fuck, this season is her being stuffed into remedial classes, and even there she can’t help but chat it up with her marks. It doesn’t really take a genius to see that effective assassins don’t make a habit of that.
Either way, Arya (we can’t even really call her “Your Sister” at this point) knows she done fucked up now, so she unburies Needle and goes to sleep in some mysterious, dark hidey hole.
It’s a good thing too, since The Asshole gets permission from Tom to murder her. It seems very important to The Asshole, and we learned that this was something Tom promised her she could do as soon as Arya fucked up. It totally makes sense that The Asshole is allowed to have, and act on, her grudges, but Arya can’t. We couldn’t possibly understand…it’s just so Dark and Vague.
Oh, but The Asshole isn’t allowed to make it hurt. We guess it can’t be too personal.
Lady Crane’s School of Medicine and Plot Armor
On what we have to assume is the next day for Arya, we see our drop-out assassin with a mark on her head arranging passage away from Braavos. Smart! We are a little confused by her super nonchalant demeanor, as well as where she actually secured sacks of gold to bribe a Weisseroffi ship captain, but as she says:
She books her passage for the next morning, and then wanders off (sans Needle) to see the sights just one more time.
Look, we’ve never had assassins chasing us, so maybe it’s possible that someone would take a moment of respite like this. We personally might have asked the ship’s captain to leave immediately, or to sleep in his cabin right away, or literally anything that would have put distance between ourselves and the House of Dark and Vague.
But hey. Arya’s “just a kid.” And despite going to bed hugging Needle the night before, there’s no reason anyone should expect her to still be worried. So it makes total sense that when a creepy old lady Bathilda Bagshots towards her, her reaction would be to smile.
Well sucks to be you! The old biddy shivs her, before pulling off a mask to reveal… THE ASSHOLE! Who is super living up to Tom’s request that she doesn’t make it hurt by stabbing Arya over and over in the stomach. She’s also super living up to the idea of being “no one” by making sure that Arya knows who’s killing her, and taking pleasure in her suffering. Which is exactly what Arya did with Trant! And shortly will do with Walder Frey! Perhaps this is an intentional parallel to show that they’re both just awful at being assassins?
Arya manages to hurl herself off the bridge into the canal below, getting the stagnant, shit-filled water into her multiple open wounds. The Asshole looks for all of five seconds to make sure she truly drowned before smiling, straightening her vest, and walking off all full of job satisfaction. But fear not, Arya somehow surfaces and staggers out of the water. What a shock! We totally thought they would kill off Maisie Williams.
Then the people of the City of Brotherly Love stare at a soaking, bleeding Arya with scowls on their faces, making no move to help her as she staggers down the street. Luckily for her, she manages to make it all the way to the Meta Players Club.
They’re super busy, once again performing the Purple Wedding episode. This time, Lady Crane took Arya’s advice, and delivers the most beautiful, vengeful monologue possible. This somehow puts the audience in tears, even though her dignified sadness was just as moving. Were we supposed to think the writing was shit before, and now it’s not? Are we supposed to just be automatically onboard with revenge as an awesome plot device to spice up a narrative?
Lady Crane: Let the crown fall. The Father above beckons you to his hall. In Seventh Heaven I’ll see you once more. But now I seek vengeance on Sansa the whore and my brother the Imp who killed his own king.
Give Tywin an Emmy now.
Full of dramatic satisfaction, Lady Crane makes her way backstage to find a bleeding Arya, who looks at her with baleful eyes.
Because Lady Crane is actually full of brotherly love, she saves Arya’s life by stitching her up and bandaging her. When asked where she got these surgical skills Lady Crane explains…how do we put it? She learned how to do this because she makes a habit of fucking stabbing her sexual partners, presumably over infidelity. Jealous women, amirite? This doesn’t disturb us at all.
Then she gives Arya a nice bowl of soup, but don’t worry, it tastes like shit because empowered stabby women can’t cook. Then, to round off this positive female interaction, Arya asks what Lady Crane plans on doing about Bianca. Lady Crane assures her that she mutilated her face, so it’s all good.
We’re sorry, are we supposed to like this crazed woman? What really grinds our gears is that this is maybe one of the only scenes of people being nice to each other. And it’s colored by lover-stabbing?
Lady Crane wants Arya to come with the acting troupe and start a new life as a thespian (just don’t piss her off, Arya), but she refuses since there are assassins after her. This is actually reasonable, and perhaps the first time in three seasons that someone made a decision based on an empathetic connection.
Lady Crane asks where Arya’s going to go instead, and then it’s revealed to us that she’s actually an aspiring Magellan. She wants to know what’s west of Weisseroff.
Look, we know it’s possible that she’s just saying whatever to Lady Crane here, but seriously, what? Why can’t she say that she’s going to go back to try and find her family? Is this truly what we’re supposed to believe Arya wants in this moment? Was her booking passage to Weisseroff earlier a clever ruse, or was she planning on commandeering the ship and taking it west of Weisseroff? Is this just cheap, stupid writing to preserve a “shock” later in the episode that no one was surprised by?
We’ll let you judge.
Lady Crane gives Arya opioids because half her guts were just hanging out, and she might need to rest. This is actually reasonable too, but unfortunately reasonable actions get punished on Game of Thrones. Therefore, some indeterminate amount of time later, Arya is stirring, and Lady Crane goes to get her more medicine. But oh no, a creepy dude is standing right there when she turns around.
We then cut away to Arya, who hears a thump. Drugged up and still recovering, she drags herself out of bed to find… Lady Crane’s broken corpse with The Asshole standing over it.
The Asshole: If you’d have done your job, she would have died painlessly. Instead The Many-Faced God was promised a name. He must always receive what is his. You can’t change that. I can’t change that. No one can.
Wait, does this mean a girl named “No One” can change this outcome? Also, does this mean that the insurance salesman died a horrible death off-screen that we were never told about? Maybe if Arya had known this, she would have approached the Lady Crane situation differently.
The Asshole insists that by not fulfilling her contract, Arya also got her name promised to the Many-Faced God. We guess this was seeded when Tom told her that there wouldn’t be a third chance, but this does feel extreme. Can’t she just get the boot? Also extreme is the look on The Asshole’s face:
Yeah, she clearly is ‘no one’ with ‘no grudges’.
Arya does the only logical thing: she hurls herself out the window and off the balcony. We suppose that given she was unarmed and The Asshole unhinged, this might have been her best chance of survival? And that an opium-addled mind is not the best to be making decisions on? But at the same time, when she miraculously lands in a squatting position and doesn’t have any damage from this fall, it becomes less reasonable and more like a Jessica Jones knock-off.
But then it’s time for…
This is about the only level of seriousness with which we can take the chase sequence. We’re not sure if D&D just played Assassins Creed or watched Casino Royale, but whatever the reason, we’re treated to the most improbable parkour scene with open-wound Arya versus Terminator-smile The Asshole. Featuring shit like this:
At various points, Arya crashes into things, drags herself on her belly, and falls down steps, ripping open her stitches. However, the people in The City of Brotherly Love yet again give zero fucks. They’re vaguely miffed that she knocked over their fruit carts, but the whole bleeding-out thing goes unnoticed. Is the implication here that they’re so used to Faceless Man quarrels being taken to the streets like this? Are they all shitty assassins and this is how the kills usually go? We’re so confused.
Arya, however, planned for this eventually (?), and lures The Asshole into her dark hidey hole by leaving a convenient trail of blood. When The Asshole stalks in, Arya pulls out Needle. The Asshole taunts her a bit, because need we remind you: Arya sucks at stick-hitting. There’s no way she can best The Asshole here. But Arya, undeterred, somehow finds the fortitude to do a fancy little sword flick and strike the one lit candle in half. Because candles work exactly like lamps, this causes the flame to instantly die, leaving them in total darkness.
Okay, Arya wins here. She fucking kills The Asshole. And the thing is, even if we’re supposed to assume that Arya trained blind whereas the Asshole didn’t (which makes no sense), that doesn’t erase the problem that she is still in crippling pain and bleeding out. The Asshole is also measurably better than her at stick hitting, since all Arya managed to do was block a grand total of one hit that one time. Okay, maybe the girl can get around slightly better in the dark, but she should be dizzy and hobbled, and all The Asshole would have to do is like, give her a good shove with her shoulder and it’d be over. Fuck, Arya probably has a high fever and is delirious from the infection she would have undoubtedly acquired in that shit-filled canal.
But logic be damned, the next scene we’re treated to is Tom finding a blood trail in his temple. Damnit, after all that floor sweeping! He follows it to the Hall of Faces, where The Asshole’s face is freshly bleeding in one of the alcoves. He has a complete non-reaction, before turning to find a miraculously healed Arya holding Needle to his face.
No seriously, there’s no sign of blood on her. She is not limping. At most, she looks slightly tired and a little schmutzy, but there’s no sign of the GAPING WOUNDS that she had been suffering from three seconds ago. And at least for the remainder of this season, there’s no consequence of the fact that she was stabbed in the stomach repeatedly in a pre-industrial society.
New Rule: anytime someone talks about the “historical accuracy” of this show, they owe us $5.
Arya confronts Tom about whether he told The Asshole to kill her. And we’re not sure if this is actually how promotions in the House of Dark and Vague work, or if Tom was just willing to say anything with a sword held to his neck, but he tells Arya that she is “finally no one.” Because she defended herself after refusing to kill her mark.
Then, the most earned moment in television history:
“A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell and I’m going home.”
Good, we were tired of the third-person.
But more seriously, what exactly did Arya do to earn a) the status of “no one” and b) this realization of her identity being framed as such a triumphant moment.
We made a joke about Tom just saying shit because he was under duress, but we’re actually at a loss for any other explanation. Perhaps this was a story about her and The Asshole competing for the title of “No One” the whole time, but we were never informed of this fact. Also, based on Arya telling Lady Crane that The Asshole has no name, we’d have to assume The Asshole is already “no one,” right? Is it truly just the title of the second-in-command in the House of Dark and Vague?
By the way, how has The Asshole acted in a different manner from Arya at all? Why is she successful at eschewing her identity in a way Arya was told she wasn’t (she’d be called out if she tried to say she was “no one” every time)? Is it because The Asshole is lowborn, literally never had a name, and doesn’t matter to anyone? But Arya can’t be as successful because she’s a highborn who inherently matters?
Plus, there’s the weirdness of Arya’s triumphant moment, when she says “I” to refer to herself for the first time. This should be marked, but The Asshole has been using first-person singular pronouns this entire time!
The Asshole: As I expected.
Tom: A shame. A girl had many gifts.
The Asshole: You promised me.
So is The Asshole supposed to be indistinguishable from Arya on purpose, minus having the whole name part? Therefore she’s just like, a lower-class foil, who ultimately dies? What the fuck kind of story is this?
And seriously, what’s The Asshole’s problem? We have never understood why there’s this random hatred on her part. Remember, this is the lady who we were introduced to when she just randomly popped into Arya’s room one day and begin wailing on her with a stick. We totally understand why Arya grew to be super frustrated with her, because their only interactions seemed to involve stick-hitting or taunting, but why does The Asshole have it in for her? Are we back to the idea of competition for the rank of “no one”? Save us from this spiral of incoherence.
As to the issue of Arya’s reassertion of the Stark identity being framed as a triumph, we once again remind you that since Trant’s death, she’s never shown any indication of being anyone else. Were we supposed to be so compelled by the success of the training montage—in which she discusses Arya’s life rather intimately—that we were supposed to believe she lost touch with her identity? And the evidence for that is…using third-person to refer to Arya? Were we supposed to take her assertions that she was “no one” during the blind stick-hitting at face value?
Even the play was a dismal failure in this regard, because she was immediately shown laughing at the parts Arya would find funny, and being upset with the stuff that Arya would find upsetting. Unless maybe part of the guise of Your Sister is being super pro-Stark. Because that makes sense.
Also, where does Lady Crane and Arya’s empathizing with her fit into this? There’s nothing Stark-like about this lady, and we are explicitly shown Arya’s relating to Carol’s struggles over her loss of Joffrey. So the whole “I’m going home” piece of this, which, as of the beginning of this episode wasn’t on the table since she wanted to be Magellan, feels exceedingly random. Unless we are supposed to assume the Magellan thing was just something she said in her delirium, and that she always meant to go home?
If this was the case, there’s still the fact that her desire to go home feels completely disconnected from the play, since she never gave us any indication she was losing touch with herself. The best she ever did at this was last year, when she told Tom about the adventures of Your Sister and her oyster cart in a monotone voice. However, killing Trant was a reassertion of her Stark identity, since she told him that’s who she was. And he was on her list.
The point we’re belaboring here is that the only coherent narrative we can get is that Arya joined a guild she thought would be cool, got hit with sticks a lot, found out that they murder nice people, and then decided to drop out. That’s it. We needed two seasons, with shockingly similar plot points, to convey this.
And you know, this could all be forgiven if Arya had learned any skills whatsoever. We guess she can now don faces, though her learning how to do that off-screen last year was already a problem. And she can hit things in the dark. But again, two seasons of material? We think not.
She Serves a Dark and a Vengeful God
Remember last year when Arya spent an entire season hanging out in the House of Dark and Vague, only to fail on a contract, don a face, and kill someone off her list?
Well, these seasons are like poetry…they rhyme. And after disappearing for 6×09 “The Battle of the Bastards” we pick back up with Arya in 6×10 “The Winds of Winter (fuck you)” in the Riverblands.
Wait, maybe we shouldn’t say that, because this is a super shocking surprise. You see, Walder Filch is having a party with Larry and the Lannisters, and Karen from Poldark is a serving girl. During the party scene, she seems to be making eyes at Larry (?), but it was more just so Bronn could talk about how hot he is. We can’t wait to get to this retrospective.
However, in the next scene, Walder Filch is inexplicably in his great hall all alone. Look, we could spend a few paragraphs explaining why this is stupid, but instead we’ll sum up. This is an incredibly unlikely thing to happen to an important Lord like this, especially one with 5,000 children. Maybe his guards are Pornish and fucked off.
Karen pops in to bring him a slice of pie, and after making sure she’s not a blood relative, creeps on her. This is both in-character and reminds us that he’s a Bad Dude. At least his poor child-bride isn’t going to be subjected to the terrible dialogue that’s coming.
He decides to ask this random serving wench where his two sons are, because Karen would have this information. And, well…let’s just let this Emmy-winning writing speak for itself:
Karen: They’re here, my lord.
Walder: Well, what are they doing, trimming their cunt hairs? Tell them to come here now.
Karen: (with more feeling) But they’re already here, my lord. (leans over and enunciates carefully) Here, my lord.
Catching onto this subtle hint, Walder Filch lifts up the crust to find a dirty finger poking out. Karen then begins to complain about what a pain in the ass it was to teleport across the Narrow Sea, murder the sons (and possibly Karen herself, unless she was a pre-existing face that Arya stole), butcher these two human corpses, and bake them into pies in a magically available kitchen that was somehow not full of hundreds of people feeding this castle. We guess Hot Pie taught her the fundamentals of baking, because that crust looked good.
Oh, that’s right. Karen whips off her mask to reveal…ARYA TODD, the demon baker of Winterhell. Then, in a complete repeat of last season, she tells Filch who she is:
“My name is Arya Stark. I want you to know that. The last thing you’re ever going to see is a Stark smiling down at you as you die.”
Then she fucking slits his throat. Oh vengeance, the only motivation a writer ever needs. We wonder if she’s going to grind him up, or let that meat go to waste.
And thus ends the story of that time she flunked out of college.
What the fuck is this?
We’re going to do something incredibly odd, and say something nice about D&D even after going through all that. They seem to realize that for a girl Arya’s age (whatever that is), murdering someone after toying with them in such a way is disturbing.
“It’s a–it’s a worrisome narrative for Arya, because you know she started out as this little girl who was always tough and plucky and whatnot, but, you know, she’s become a murderer, you know, and a highly skilled murderer uh–and even if the murders are justifiable, it’s still–we’ve witnessed the descent of this girl into someone who’s capable of–of slitting a man’s throat and kind of smiling as she watches him bleed out. So that’s, you know, I don’t think anyone’s going to be crying over the fate of Walder Frey, but if you love Arya, then you have to be a little bit worried about where she goes from here.” —David Benioff
Now, we would be remiss if we didn’t point out that her murder of Trant was no less disturbing, and more or less identical in meaning and style. She toyed with him first, too. Then she peeled off a mask and announced that she was Arya Stark. She even gives both dudes a wound to the neck. We guess the biggest difference is that she didn’t hunt down Trant’s travel buddies and bake them into some kind of oyster casserole for him to eat, but in terms of tone and ultimate implications…we’ve seen this before.
So that begs the question, again: why did this season’s plotline exist for her? We recognize that Trant and Walder Filch have very different roles in the narratives, so their deaths mean different things on that level. But from the perspective of Arya’s character, what did any of this do?
Also, we can expect that D&D’s commentary on the Trant death would indicate a disturbing and dark path for Arya, right?
“The Faceless Men don’t kill for revenge. They’re not killing out of anger… They’re killing because death is a gift and the idea is a painless death, and it’s almost like you’re…letting people go. And that’s not Arya’s way. I mean, Arya’s not dealing out death as—as some kind of gift to Meryn Trant, it’s a gift for herself. There are all sorts of mysteries that Arya is not yet aware of. She’s been very impatient from the beginning; she didn’t like sweeping the floor, she didn’t like having to tend the corpses. She wants to learn how to become a great assassin and then go kill the people she wants to kill, and she’s frustrated by, you know, learning that this dojo has philosophy, and all sorts of powers that the Faceless Men have that she hasn’t been taught yet.” —David Benioff
In this same Season 5 interview, Dan Weiss elaborates:
“You don’t take a face from the Hall of Faces until you’re ready; you don’t take the apple from the tree until you’re ready [sic] , and she did. More importantly, she did it for ego-driven reasons. She did it for personal reasons, for Arya’s reasons. She threw away Arya’s clothes, she threw away Arya’s money, she couldn’t bring herself to throw away Arya’s sword, cause she couldn’t bring herself to really throw away Arya Stark. And here, this was Arya Stark doing this, this wasn’t no one doing this, and it was a violation of the rules of the House of Black and White. And, she pays for it.”
Huh. So, there’s nothing in here about her dark turn. Possibly because this is no darker than anything Arya’s done for the past four seasons, just like her Walder Filch murder is not especially darker. Remember the rando she killed outside the Twins when she pretended to drop a coin? Or Polliver in Season 4?
What’s more is that reading these quotes after watching Season 6 makes us more convinced than ever that D&D don’t plan ahead. If the Faceless Men do not kill out of ego, or anger, or revenge, then what in the fuck explains The Asshole charging around Braavos with a dagger and giant grin on her face? How was this not a “gift to herself”, for The Asshole? In fact, Tom promised it to her as some kind of reward.
I guess we could consider the possibility that this was the point. That the Faceless Men are just stupid hypocrites, and too bad Arya needed two seasons to figure it out. Which is a story to tell, we guess, though it’s one that sits in contention with the way D&D talk about the Faceless Men.
Also, all these mysteries of mystery that Arya has yet to learn are mysteries the audience still has yet to learn. And they were clearly never mysteries we were meant to learn, or else we would have gotten something other than stick-hitting this year. It was once again, vagueness for the point of vagueness, so that D&D can feel deep when they talk about philosophy.
By the way, we’re not saying you shouldn’t be disturbed by Arya. We are. We’re also disturbed by Cheryl, Olenna, Sansa, Deadpan, Faullaria, Yara, Lady Crane…all the women (minus Missandei) who have demonstrated the capacity for chilling violence. Even Marg was capable of raping and manipulating a twelve-year-old to get her aims. So forgive us if we feel a little bit inured to Arya’s “dark turn.” We shouldn’t need marketing and interviews to understand how we’re supposed to feel about these characters, and it’s a problem when Arya’s actions (and motivation) are indistinguishable from every other person.
Please don’t make us break down the complete idiocy of Arya’s cross-continent teleportation and baking party. That’s just beating a dead horse at this point, and unlike D&D, we happen to think our readers can connect two dots.
A poor player who struts and frets his hour upon stage
We tried steelmanning this one, we really did. The play had to have been what D&D wanted to use to get Arya back in touch with her identity. But given how Weiss talked about Arya’s “slow seduction” being related to her relationship with Lady Crane (much more than the content of the play), and how as we’ve asserted, her losing touch with her identity was never even a feature this season, we’re left once again to conclude that the play existed because it’s a thing that happens in the book. It’s the Checklist Effect at its finest, and the play itself was little more than joke so we can laugh about those wacky plotlines.
Though to be fair, it probably was the best thing to watch in this season.
The thing is, what really gets us is how much of a missed opportunity this was. We admit that with Trant’s kill, it would have been a little hard to convincingly make us think Arya lost sight of herself. But knowing that this play was coming up, we’re questioning the necessity of Trant’s kill last season. It was a contrivance that brought him Braavos in the first place, so it’s not like he absolutely had to go. In fact, why not have Trant be the person Arya killed this year in her reassertion of her identity? That way we could have maybe spent last year and this year watching her hone assassin skills and getting increasingly involved in the guild, and we could start to worry that she was losing herself. Then it would actually feel triumphant when she boldly states her name, rather than repetitive.
[reveal heading=”%image% Adding to this, and be warned of Winds of Winter sample chapter spoilers: (show/hide contents)”]
…this is how the “Mercy” chapter functioned in the books. We’re introduced to Arya as someone named Mercy because she’s wearing a face. At first it’s disorienting, because she seems so committed to the role. Mercy is an actor in a troupe, (and she’s in a play where she’s playing her sister Sansa, btw) so it’s also a double layer of acting, which is kind of funny, and very cool thing to see an aspiring assassin pull-off. However, spotting a man on Arya Stark’s list, “Mercy” lures him, and ultimately kills him in a decidedly Arya fashion (at the exact same time as the narration calls her “Arya” for the first time in the chapter). She doesn’t pull off her face and announce herself or anything, but, frankly, in a visual medium, we’d even allow that. It’s a damn sight nicer than “that’s my father.”
So how is it that D&D adapted this Mercy sample chapter in some way three times, and never once got even close to the point of it? This wouldn’t have been that hard to execute.[/reveal]
Yet even with the Trant kill, this acting troupe could have been a clever way to get Arya to want to go home specifically. To us, the biggest missed opportunity is that they had her choose to bond with an actor portraying Carol, and not the actor playing Sansa. If they wanted to get her back with her Stark identity, or at least back to Weisseroff to finish off her list for her family, it just seems the most blindingly obvious thing to do. Maybe Bianca complains about her dialogue, and Arya gives a suggestion for how Sansa could be portrayed more accurately or empathetically. Because, you know, she loves her sister deep down.
Or maybe, at the fucking least, we could have had any sort of reaction from Arya to her “sister” being sexually humiliated and led off to be raped rather than a reaction shot of the pearl-clutching playgoers. We get it: it’s fun to thumb your nose at critics. It’s also really immature and comes at the cost of what could be an effective narrative.
What does Carol mean to Arya, exactly? We know that Arya wasn’t the biggest fan of hers, and even put her on the list, but it’s not like she spent all these years fixating on her, specifically, or that this relationship was emphasized in any way. Perhaps the point was that she’s able to empathize with Carol and that’s indicative of her dark turn? Or that it’s a bit of irony because they’re not so entirely different? But we are supposed to like the Starks over the Lannisters, right? We’re not sure anymore, but we think so…
And look. Her teleportation was fucking stupid. At the very least, couldn’t this acting troupe have been the way Arya got to Weisseroff instead? Maybe she takes Lady Crane’s eyebrow offer up, and they end up performing at Walder Filch’s party? Anything? Especially because then there would have been no reason for Lady Crane to be brutally murdered.
As much as we can objectively recognize that she’s a bit messed up with her lover-stabbing, we really did appreciate her caring about Arya and them having a nice relationship. Because that never happens on this show. If we’re meant to care about the White Walkers invading, we need human moments to remember why it’s important to stop them. Why is this stupid, mean society full of people who will get more upset over spilled oranges than bleeding neighbors so worth saving? And what the fuck is the point of such a nihilistic show, other than to exhaust us?
Can we also talk about apt it is that Sansa gets shit on yet again, this time in a meta-play? Of course her actor is petty and catty and shitty at her job. Of course.
What we’re trying to say is that the meta-play…it’s a clever idea. Amazing, given that it’s from the actual source material! But Benioff and Weiss couldn’t even use this in a slightly logical or compelling way. It was just a place where Arya learned that people who are nice to her fucking DIE.
It’s a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
If you enjoyed Julie’s thoughts on this plotline, then be sure to check out the Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire podcast starring Julia and Kylie, Unabashed Book Snobbery! You can subscribe/listen on iTunes, subscribe to our RSS feed, search for “Unabashed Book Snobbery” in any podcast app, or find a complete list of UBS episodes on Kylie’s personal blog. The Arya Todd episode is available here.
Images courtesy of HBO