A retrospective of Game of Thrones’s Season 5 Arya/Braavos plotline
As you may be aware, fellow Fandomentals author Julia and I have been working on a series of retrospectives covering Game of Thrones’s Season 5 plotlines, by showrunners David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D). This has allowed us to dig deep at what most consider GoT’s worst season, and reveal the show’s utter illogic and horrific implications. Fun!
As a quick warning, there is a Winds of Winter sample chapter, “Mercy” (available on the world of ice and fire app) that relates to this plotline, and we will be discussing its content, especially in part 2, our analysis.
Following the format of our past retrospectives, we will be asking the following questions:
- What was the story they were trying to tell?
- Whose story was it?
- What was the result of this story, from a thematic and character perspective?
- What adaptational choices were made?
- Why did they make the adaptational choices they did?
- How did those choices change the story?
And our answers usually lead us to also wonder:
- What the fuck were they thinking?
This section will focus solely on the first question. So sit back and relax, as we recap the finer points of the show’s darkest plotline. Literally the darkest. We developed eyestrain writing this thing.
This thrilling saga begins on a boat. We get a first shot of the fan-favorite character and she’s… looking incredibly pissed off:
Salty Arya has a major attitude problem. What are we supposed to think of her? Because it really seems to us like this is not a very sympathetic establishing shot. She’s also not afraid of the horn inside the Titan, probably because she’s Not Like Other Girls.
Ternesio on the other hand (he’s close enough, so we’ll call him that) is simply delightful. This first part of the scene is delightful. We see the boat pull into Braavos where there’s sun and people just doing people things, like trading and fishing and stuff. Arya looks excited about the new location. We’re excited for her. This looks like a show we’d want to watch.
For efficiency sake, Ternesio rows Arya right to the House of Black and White. They have a nice exchange as Arya thanks him, and he replies “any man of Braavos would have done the same.” Remember that. Remember this moment of humanity and kindness and a world that you actually might give a shit about if zombies decided to invade.
Because it disappears…now. Arya knocks on the temple door, and Jaqen answers, but we don’t know it’s Jaqen, because he’s cosplaying as Moqorro or something. Arya tries to say “hello” and shows him the coin, but he tells her to beat it. For literally no reason. It’s not as if his book counterpart was nicknamed “The Kindly Man” or anything.
So because Arya has literally no place to go (which she told not!Jaqen), she just sits on the Temple steps through the day and night, probably growing significantly hungry and dehydrated. Don’t other people at least get to walk in to look at the idols? As she sits there, she recites her list, which is as follows: Cersei, Walder Frey, The Mountain, Meryn Trant. Looks like Arya is plugged into that Weisseroffi Twitter too, with Tywin conspicuously absent. And nice retcon about Mel, D&D. We barely noticed!
Finally, Arya gets as bored as we do with this worrying behavior, throws her coin in the water, and heads into town. Once there, she kills a pigeon. For food, we guess? Is the implication that she has no money, because she later has a bag full of silver. And we learn that a copper buys you at least a few oysters. Ah…fuck it, why are we even bothering?
Arya is then confronted by three rando street toughs with daggers and cockney accents. They want to steal her sword. Does this mean they’re not “men of Braavos,” because we definitely don’t see them offering her a lift back to the temple. But whatever, not!Jaqen just kind of pops out from a building and they get freaked out and run. Good thing he’s not a faceless assassin that absolutely no one should be able to recognize at a glance. Like, they’re legit terrified. One of them shouts “quickly, go, go!”
Arya follows not!Jaqen all the way back to the House of Black and White, and only there decides to ask him “what the fuck is this and why are people scared of you?” He doesn’t answer, but just tosses back her coin. Then he peels off his mask to reveal…that he is Jaqen! Kind of. He says that he’s “no one.” He then invites her into his the temple and seems very playful with her. Maybe he’s “The Kinky Man”? Arya follows him inside.
That brings us to the first of many scenes inside The House of Dark and Vague. No really, no one is exaggerating when they say the lighting is crappy. We open in the next episode to all these statutes and it’s actually, literally, hard to tell what the fuck they are. A lady, a lion, umm…actually can’t tell.
Arya is sweeping the floor and watching the Kinky Man talk someone into committing suicide. “Valar Morgulis,” says the poor man. “Valar Doheris” says the Kinky Man. What. “Valar Doheris” means “all men must serve”. Is he serving by assisting this suicide? Or do the writers not know what the phrase means?
Either seems equally possible.
Some indeterminate amount of time later, Arya is pissed that she’s still on floor sweeping duty; she’s all “teach me to be an assassin, already!” But the Kinky Man is deep into the Yoda routine and is trying to get her to be all spiritual. He explains what “Valar Doheris” means so…
He explains that here they serve the Many Faced God, and to do that you have to become “no one.”
Arya behaves like a moron for the sake of the audience and is like “which one is that?” (Yes, we know she said that in the book, but book!Arya is eleven.) The Kinky Man practically rolls his eyes as he gives the obvious answer then fucks off.
Some time later, she’s fiddling with her coin, when a random chick about Arya’s age comes in carrying a stick and looking smug. Arya’s like “whatcha doing in my room,” but this random chick decided at some point that she hates Arya, so she asks her questions Arya can’t possibly deal with correctly (because no one is teaching her anything) and then whacks her with her stick when she doesn’t give a satisfactory answer.
Arya calls her a “cunt”, because she’s such an awesome feminist.
But, don’t worry, the Kinky Man will swoop in to save the womenz from this odd competition they seem to be having for some reason. He tells the random chick (let’s call her The Asshole, because she sure as hell ain’t the waif) that Arya isn’t ready. But Arya insists she totes is. She’s ready to change her name to “No One.” The KM asks her why No One is surrounded by Arya Stark’s shit. The Asshole gives her this look like, “got you in trouble, bitch” and they both leave.
They should change the name of this place to Black and White High.
Arya weighs down her clothes and all her other shit with rocks and throws them in the canal. She’s wearing the lumpy robes. It was nice of them to give her a new outfit. Everything is in the drink but Needle. The Stark Cello of Extreme Emotional Significance™ plays. It’s nice.
She hides Needle in some rocks because it represents “Robb and Bran and Rickon, her mother and her father, even Sansa […] Winterfell’s grey walls, and the laughter of its people […] the summer snows, Old Nan’s stories, the heart tree with its red leaves and scary face, the warm earthy smell of the glass gardens, the sound of the north wind rattling the shutters of her room [and] Jon Snow’s smile.”
Or revenge. One of the two.
We guess that was a test or something, because the next time she’s on sweeping duty they leave a Mysterious Door open for her. She’s about to go inside, but the Kinky Man stops her and…tells her to go there, but with him. Okay.
She follows him down a creepy hallway (they built all these sets…) into a room with a dead body and an Asshole. He fucks off and the two women start cleaning the body. Thrilling. Arya asks her what they do with the bodies after they’re washed, but the Asshole’s just, like, “No, no, don’t ask questions, just behave mysteriously. That’s how we do it in the House of Dark and Vague, my young padawan. If we’re dark and vague enough, they won’t notice that this means nothing.”
Over in Carol’s Landing, we get a tangentially related set-up scene for this thrilling Braavosi plotline. Master of Coin Mace (good thing Carol puffed up his ego with this job appointment. That would have been awkward if she had refused him on thin grounds and stuffed a half-dead dude in his place) is talking about how the Iron Bank wants a tenth of the debt the crown owes to them. Then he offers for House Tyrell to pay for all of it. That’s convenient. Carol instead wants to send Mace to Braavos to treat with the bank and show them how committed to fiscal responsibility King Tommen is, because she’s accidentally a great ruler.
However the music doesn’t seem to know much about economics, because it gets all ominous at this, and swells when Carol reasonably assigns a kingsguard to Mace for protection. Were we supposed to think it was a trap? Did Trant ever do anything besides bitch about Mace’s singing? Are we really expected to believe it will take Mace an entire season to sail there, when ravens travel from King’s Landing to the Eyrie in one day?
Who cares. Just file that one away. We’ve got some catching up to do with Arya, and she’s…still cleaning bodies. Lots and lots of bodies. And it’s all filmed in such a way as to suggest that time is passing. This is good, maybe?
Less good: the Asshole comes in to be an asshole again, stopping Arya from going through another Mysterious Door (ooooohhhhh). Arya asks what the hell’s up with the mortician routine, but the Asshole refuses to answer yet again, and just gives her more pseudo-Yoda-esque bullshit.
Arya demands to know the Asshole’s backstory, so she bullshits a while with a backstory that’s a bit like Arya’s and bit like the waif’s. Arya smiles dopily because she’s a bit of an idiot and she thinks they’re bonding.
The Assholes scoffs at her for being gullible, then fucks off.
Again, no one is teaching her to lie, or detect lies. Just scorning her when she doesn’t magically know it already. And yelling at her or getting scornful when she dares to ask questions.
Then Arya is in bed and the Kinky Man comes to torment her some more. At least we think. Guys, it is SO dark. Did we mention that? He asks her who she is and she tells him the truth. Except every time she lies a bit he hits her with a stick. Which is an improvement over making fun of her, we guess. Although, like, she’s a person, not a dog, is this pedagogical best practice?
We also learn that she really bonded with the Hound and is all torn about giving up her identity. Yay!
So then Arya graduates from floor sweeping duty to floor scrubbing duty (double yay!). A dude comes into the Main Chamber of Badly Lit Expensive Props and tells her that his daughter is very sick and in pain and he “just wants it to end.”
So Arya goes over to where the little girl is sitting by the poison pool. Then she lies to her, saying that the poison will cure her, and she makes up a bullshit backstory. Triple yay for tricking children into suicide!
The Kinky Man looks pleased. We think. That’s what we would have scripted, but someone forgot to turn the fucking lights on.
Then we have Arya the Mortician again, but oh look! The Mysterious Door of Mystery is open! She walks through and starts down a hallway full of fire hazards, while the Kinky Man kind of Bathilda Bagshots in front of her. She enters an enormous chamber full of pillars with blobs on them. Oh, they’re faces! We can barely tell even that.
The Kinky Man asks her if she’s ready to reject her entire identity for the sake of this super vague philosophy. Then he concludes that she isn’t, but maybe she’s ready to be “someone else.” Cool?
We think the face she was touching belonged to a body she was cleaning earlier, which is a nice touch, we guess. It’s probably supposed to be meaningful.
So we find out who she becomes. Given Arya’s struggles with identity and refusal to truly give up her “Starkness,” she picked the most fitting name there is:
Cat Lanna Your Sister. Good choice, D&D! And her intricate backstory amounts to: I’m an orphan.
We’d bitch more, but Your Sister actually gets to step out into the sunlight! Holy crap, we’re blind from the transition, but also feel as though our seasonal affective disorder was magically lifted!
She’s clearly been selling her “oysters, clams, and cockles” (OMG. Book dialogue???) for a while, because she has normal customers and stuff. But after hearing her whole spiel, the Kinky Man only now asks her to take a different route so she can “see.” So like…she wasn’t “seeing” before? She was literally just selling seafood for a while? And working on a generic backstory that Steve the Intern totally didn’t think up over a coffee break?
Still, Your Sister delivers it dispassionately, so we guess that means she’s a good liar now. Character growth!
Anyway, down the new road, a dude, the “Thin Man,” is sitting down doing some paperwork and asks her for oysters. She lets him sample one and he orders four, but she has this giant scowl on her face so we think we’re not supposed to like him. This is furthered when we find out he’s a life-insurance salesman. But he’s mean! He won’t fund this guy’s…voyage through Valyria?
Isn’t it established within Weisseroff that you don’t want to be making that trip? Pirates are fucking scared of it, right? But the random sailor keeps screaming how he has three children and they’re doomed without him; how DARE he not get insurance? Maybe if you’re worried about your kids you could pick a safer route? One that you can actually get insured?
The Kinky Man breaks it down for Your Sister: selling life-insurance is a gamble, and you only win if the sailors return alive. But in case we were starting to think “okay, this seems like a fine business model and I don’t blame this guy for not insuring a very risky voyage,” The KM then just goes “But perhaps the gambler loses his bet and decides he does not have to pay after all.” Wait. You’re telling me that it’s very likely he wouldn’t pay? WHY WOULD ANYONE BUY INSURANCE? WOULDN’T PEOPLE HAVE NOTICED THAT THIS NEVER IS WORTH IT?
The KM isn’t done: “A destitute woman and her small child, what can they do to such a man if he keeps their money for himself? To whom can they turn for recourse?” Um, clearly to the most expensive assassins in the world.
But we guess they did this one probono because Jaqen then up and hands Your Sister a bottle of poison (it’s not as though her figuring out how to kill him on her own matters or anything) so she can take care of the insurer. What paragons of humanity. They’re like the Robin Hood of assassins’ guilds!
Oh and The Asshole is totes jelly of that bitch, Your Sister.
So, next episode Your Sister is still plying her wares. Some randos are all gross and street harassy and she
calls them a ‘camel’s cunt’ looks sad.
She walks over closer to the Thin Man and super surreptitiously gets out the bottle of poison. It’s so smooth, you guys. She’s such a badass assassin. When he calls her over for his daily dose of oysters she just kind of stands there and looks… conflicted?
Oh… it’s because she sees Moustache Mace arriving. And his super importance is rather undercut by how he’s arriving on a random dock in the middle of the day and only one dude is there to greet him.
Anyway, it’s not really him Your Sister is concerned about, it’s Meryn Trant.
She follows Mace and Tycho Nestoris (close enough…) through the streets as Mace is moderately humorous. Even though he’s pig ignorant about Westerosi history. (Seriously, we know it’s not that big of a deal, but the Maegor III thing is just unforgivably sloppy and indicative of how little they actually give a shit about the source material. Like, outlawing usury sounds like something Baelor would have done…)
So Your Sister sits outside eating her own wares and waits for them to come out. How did the negotiations go? No clue. But Mace seems happy.
Trant doesn’t seem as amused as we are. He bitches to the two Lannister House Guards (that makes all the sense) Mace brought with him (why would a Lord Paramount need more than three guards on a diplomatic mission?) as they go whoring in their armor at night.
And we KNOW Trant is an asshole because he won’t even treat his buddies to some tail!
Your Sister follows him in and one of the sex workers acts all decent and gets the guy she’s with to buy some oysters. No, she’s, like, acting nice for no reason. It’s weird. And the john is not an asshole either. Did we turn on the wrong show?
We guess Your Sister is confused too, because she gives up on that interaction and goes over to creep on where Trant is looking at a Hooker Buffet in a private area. He keeps rejecting them all as too old until he just turns to the brothel owner and is, like, “look lady, I’m a pedophile. I don’t see how I could make that any clearer.”
So instead of telling him to fuck off (this is apparently the best brothel in Braavos; we doubt she’s that desperate for the money) she says that of course they can provide. There’s a little bit of drama as Your Sister sells oysters to Trant and his buddies, but it’s only there to pad out the time it takes for the owner to pull a girl off the street, or something. Like, seriously, this kid obviously has no clue what the fuck is going on. Trant grabs her by the elbow and leads her off, but not before turning back to the owner and demanding to have “a fresh one” tomorrow.
Guys, do you think Trant is a bad guy? We’re not sure, we think he may be more of a grey character.
Your Sister goes back to the Kinky Man and tells him that the Thin Man wasn’t hungry. And he’s just like, “whatever, tomorrow.” Thrilling.
Fortunately, we’re not held in suspense for too long to see if this brothel owner acquiesces to Trant’s completely unreasonable demands. She does. By giving him three young girls. Like, seriously, we don’t care how bad business is, WHO WOULD AGREE TO THIS? You’re really telling us a brothel owner has no recourse against dudes demanding this shit? Or is she just trying to compete with Batfinger for inventing sexual predilections? What is WITH the casual whorephobia on this show?
But if child rape wasn’t enough to make you hate Trant, he also has a cane! And he whacks them as hard as he can, one at a time. The first two girls seem terrified, but the third girl has all her hair in her face. Like The Ring. Or maybe it’s like The Stranger and Trant’s into the Seven Kinky Gods as well? Parallels!
Whatever she is, when Trant beats her, she doesn’t react. Not even a second time, when he put a lot more strength into it. He’s pissed and orders the other two girls out.
With the room clear, The Stranger lifts her face to reveal…that same girl that Arya mercy-killed? We think so anyway.
But that kind of nonsensical “depth” is definitely the show we’re watching, so we’re comfortable calling it.
Anyway, Trant then immediately punches her, and she cries out in pain. But we guess not as much as he wanted, because he looks upset when she starts to pick her head up again. We see her futz with her face for a second, and then holy crap it’s Your Sister! And she has a dagger!
She lunges and stabs him straight in one eye, and then the other, and then she sort of cuts and drags it around his face? To be honest it is simply revolting and squicky and over-the-top, and we couldn’t really look after a point.
Variety: There’s also speculation about whether Stannis is truly dead. We didn’t see Brienne deliver that final, fatal blow.
Director David Nutter: I think that was basically in the script. Dan and David felt it best not to be gratuitous with that. You really got a sense that Stannis had nothing else to live for. Brienne’s life-long mission had come to an end. It’s a situation in which Stannis was ready to die and prepared to die. It would have been gratuitous.
Glad you kept it classy, oh wise director of this episode. Apparently people agree:
Whatever. We were so overwhelmed by the non-gratuity of this situation that we held in our hurl long enough to hear Your Sister loudly assert that she was Arya Stark, and he was nobody. Speaking of “nobody,” it’s a good thing nobody in the brothel has ears. Or, oh gods, honeypot: these were the noises they were expecting from Trant’s room.
Request granted. Your Sister managed to slip the brothel with no prob, because the next we see of her, she’s hanging her mask back up in the Hall of Blobs. We guess the masks work exactly the same as trying on hats in a store.
However, oh no! The Kinky Man and the Asshole are here to scold her for taking the “wrong” life. Apparently Asshole “was right about her” and the KM agrees. He tells Your Sister “now a debt is owed” and holds up another teeny bottle of poison. Then he drinks it. What? Too bad Tyene wasn’t there with her empowering antidote.
Your Sister gets super hysterical, and starts screaming and crying. Asshole just stands there with a stick up her…asshole, and asks what’s with that salty discharge coming out of Your Sister’s eyes. She answers that the Kinky Man was her friend. Asshole then is all, “well you didn’t listen to him because,” *dramatic voice change*
No, just kidding. Because “he was no one,” says the other “no one,” who suddenly morphs into Tom Wlaschiha. Well, this is awkward because there seems to be two “no ones” with the same exact face in plain view. So either this breaks the internal rules of the masks, or this means that Your Sister was slipped LSD off-screen.
And Option 2 actually seems likeliest, because Arya begins to peel off a crapload of masks from the “no one” who is on the ground and apparently deader than disco. The sequence gets trippier and trippier, until finally she peels off the last mask and sees her own face. And then, conveniently, she starts to go blind, which freaks her the fuck out. She screams as she develops cataracts over the course of 15 seconds.
Did anyone even bother honeypotting this? Did Arya apply the mask improperly because they’re not just fun party hats, and that’s what addled her mind? Which conveniently taught her the cautionary tale after the Kinky Man and The Asshole entered the room? When “no one” drank the poison, did her touching the body infect her with some kind of blinding hallucinogen? Did this really happen, and they have the ability to make masks from living people and they scanned her face as she slept? Is she secretly on the island from Lost and Locke clubbed her over the head and stuck a weirdo paste in her wound off-screen? In our minds, they’re all equally nonsensical, so take your pick.
But that’s it. That’s what happened. Those are The Adventures of Your Sister.
We hope you enjoyed that thrilling tale as much as we enjoyed our trip to the optician’s. Please continue, if you will, to Part 2: Analysis and Implications.