Despite being home to the Faceless, the House of Black and White is filled with a variety of visages: statues to the various gods of Westeros. These are at once examples of the Many Faced God whom the Faceless worship and a pointed demonstration that the one true god is the one god who doesn’t need to be memorialized in stone—because that god, Death, is already everywhere. It’s a fitting setting for Arya (Maisie Williams) as she begins training under No One, the mysterious assassin currently wearing the face and name of Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha). It’s here that she can begin reclaiming her independence, after seasons of fear and flight, though—ironically—she can only do so by first figuratively murdering herself, casting off all her possessions in service to the god of Death. (There’s still a trace of the defiant girl from previous seasons when she chooses to hide her sword, Needle, rather than to throw it into the ocean.) It’s a perfect example of the erosive effects of tragedy, in that a person can only survive by becoming something else, and not for nothing does Arya spend the majority of this episode silently doing menial tasks, scrubbing away the past.
A similar transformation occurs with Arya’s sister, Sansa (Sophie Turner), when she learns that Littlefinger (Aidan Gillen) plans to turn her over to Roose Bolton (Michael McElhatton), the man who betrayed and murdered her brother, Robb. It doesn’t appear to be a scheme born out of malice: He seems to genuinely want to unite the North, even if it’s for his own profit, and wants nothing more for Sansa than for her to stop running. As the two stand on the lip of a cliff overlooking Winterfell, he cautions her to “stop being a bystander. There’s no justice in this world, unless we make it.” Visually, until this point in the scene, Sansa has been whipping around in the wind much like the banners carried by their party—a literal figurehead. But as she comports herself, steels her gaze, and mounts her horse, she’s entirely still against the blowing wind, as if she’s finally earned her right to return to the North. Sadly, her bold choice to marry Roose’s son, Ramsay (Iwan Rheon), is based on a lack of information: Because Ramsay was only recently recognized by his father, Littlefinger admits to knowing little about him and has no way of knowing the irony in Sansa once again pledging to wed someone who is every inch, if not more, the monster that Joffrey was.
On the other hand, some characters never change. Though Margaery (Natalie Dormer) officially becomes the queen early on in the episode, by marrying (and bedding) King Tommen (Dean-Charles Chapman), Cersei (Lena Headey) continues to operate as if she were still in command. While there’s a point at which it seems she might genuinely be apologizing to Margaery (after Tommen suggests, at Margaery’s suggestion, that Cersei would be happier returning to Casterly Rock), it later becomes clear that she’s simply lying in wait for the opportunity to win their passive-aggressive war of pleasantries. Such a chance presents itself toward the episode’s end, as her cousin, Lancel (Eugene Simon), and a pack of other zealots known as the Sparrows set about publicly (and physically) humiliating the High Septon (Paul Bentley), the nation’s religious representative, who they discover in one of Littlefinger’s brothels. Having noted earlier that the kingdom is held together by “faith and the crown” (and having lost her grasp on the latter), she sets about allying herself with the so-called High Sparrow (Jonathan Pryce). While it’s clear she can’t stand the man and his deeply Spartan beliefs, she knows that the only way to reclaim authority is to destabilize the kingdom enough such that Margaery and her underprepared son are forced to turn to her for help.
Another stubborn character is Brienne (Gwendoline Christie), who continues to follow Sansa to Winterfell, even though her oath of allegiance has already been refused. That said, her unwavering devotion at least comes across a little more clearly as she explains her situation to her squire, Podrick (Daniel Portman): She was a “lumbering beast of a child” and she was mercilessly teased—especially by the boys—until Renly, her former lord, offered her a small bit of comfort and security. Without her own honor, her pledge, she fears she would be nothing more than what all the other people in her life had seen: a pitiable, ugly, awkward woman. It’s not so much that she won’t give up, then, as that she can’t—not if she wishes to continue living. And perhaps that’s how it is for Cersei, too, a woman who has defined herself as Queen for so long that she can’t continue to exist now as the Queen Mother or Dowager Queen.
As for the episode’s two remaining main characters, Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) and Jon Snow (Kit Harington), one continues to run from his father while the other begins to resemble him entirely. For the first time, Tyrion finds himself unable to bed a whore. This is less a sign of maturity, since he has no problem drinking himself silly and mocking the religious practices of the slaves in Volantis who call Daenerys a savior, and more the residual guilt—no matter how justified—of the two murders he committed before fleeing King’s Landing. In any case, there’s a moment both of panic and resignation on Tyrion’s face when he finds himself abducted by Jorah Mormont (Iain Glen), who announces his plan to take him to the queen.
Meanwhile, Jon Snow, now the 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, finds himself struggling to maintain his honor and personal safety. Though Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) recommends that he send away the man he narrowly beat out for Lord Commander, Alliser Thorne (Owen Teale), Jon instead chooses to recognize the man’s valor and names him First Ranger. Then, after Janos Slynt (Dominic Carter) publicly defies Jon’s newfound authority, Jon is forced to establish it at sword point, cleanly executing Slynt as Ned Stark once demonstrated to him. If anything, this episode—which begins with that dedication to Death—is a stark reminder that both in the beginning and in the end we have very little control…and that even throughout our lives, we act more as a result of what the world has harshly taught us than because of anything we independently choose to do.
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