Jaime Lannister (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) isn’t a good person, but neither is he the villain that his prisoner, Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies), thinks he is. When Edmure asks how Jaime can sleep at night, his answer is simple: He loves his sister, Cersei, and he would do anything to be with her. Though there’s clearly at least one other soft spot in his heart, as he allows Brienne of Tarth (Gwendoline Christie) to escape from his siege of Riverrun, he claims nothing else matters to him, which means that all of his violence is justified. His terms to Edmure are just as straightforward: If he wants to stop Jaime from taking his infant son and launching him into Riverrun via catapult, he will seize control of the castle as its rightful lord, and force his uncle, Brynden “Blackfish” Tully (Clive Russell), and his men to surrender. With such a personal threat, there’s no hesitation from Edmure, though he knows he condemns at least his uncle to death, and this gives truth to Jaime’s worldview: Nobody is evil, they’re just differently intentioned.
The one caveat may be in how people go about getting what they want. The Brotherhood Without Banners doesn’t criticize Sandor Clegane (Rory McCann) for killing the rogue members of their order who butchered Septon Ray and his harmless parishioners. After all, the Brotherhood’s commander, Beric Dondarrion (Richard Dormer), was going to hang the murderers himself, for besmirching the company’s name. They bat an eye only at the ugliness of the way in which Clegane dispatches his first few victims, driving an axe up through one man’s testicles and then telling the disemboweled man that he’s shitty at dying. Beric is a man who’s been resurrected by the Lord of Light on many an occasion (once after meeting Sandor’s own blade), so he’s not afraid of death, but he’s insistent that a life mean something, and he echoes the murdered Septon Ray’s words to Sandor when he suggests that he join them: “You can help more than you’ve hurt. It’s not too late for you.”
On the other hand, if actions dictate one’s fate, then Cersei (Lena Headey) crosses the bridge of no return this week. It’s one thing to defy the High Septon, refusing to obey the summons delivered by her cousin, Lancel (Eugene Simon), a now-devoted member of the Faith Militant. It’s another to do so with belligerence. When Lancel asks her to have the zombified Mountain (Hafþór Júlíus Björnsson) stand down lest there be bloodshed, she stares the men down. “I choose violence,” she says, just before allowing the Mountain to demonstrate this willingness by wrenching the head free off of one of the Lancel’s cohorts. There’s a symmetry in the way the two Cleganes go about their butchering (Sandor decapitates a man with a single blow of his axe), but whereas Sandor seems to evolve by episode’s end, agreeing only to hang his remaining victims, the Mountain has grown even more brutal under the alchemical mind control of Qyburn (Anton Lesser).
The triumphant moment in which Arya Stark (Maisie Williams) reclaims her name from the Faceless, offering up the Waif (Faye Marsay) in her own place to Jaqen H’ghar (Tom Wlaschiha) is soured—perhaps inevitably—by the episode’s motif of winning at any price. That’s because it relies upon the needless death of Lady Crane (Essie Davis), the actress whom Arya spared in “Blood of My Blood.” After being stabbed in the previous episode, “The Broken Man,” Arya returns to the theater troupe for aid, and Crane mothers her, bandaging her wounds and offering her a place and purpose within the company. Arya’s reluctant to accept, fearing that she’d put the performers’ lives in danger, and sure enough, when Arya awakens the next morning, she finds that the Waif has brutally murdered Lady Crane, and that she believes one more life is owed to the Many-Faced God of Death.
What follows is an exhilarating chase sequence that cuts between a shaky cam meant to demonstrate Arya’s panic and a series of wide shots that capture all the bold parkour-inspired stunts through the narrow Braavosi streets and marketplace, all leading to the hideaway in which she stashed her sword, Needle, and the revelation, therefore, that this was a trap for the Waif. Closing her eyes, as she was taught to do while blinded by the Faceless, Arya snuffs the windowless room’s one candle and defeats her adversary.
It’s a sort of Pyrrhic victory for Arya, who first showed that she would no longer run from her abusers by running and then demonstrated that she would be willing to sacrifice a mother figure (Lady Crane) in order to bait a trap. Neither of these events were even necessary; the Waif could have found Arya’s room without that chase, and Arya’s wounds had reopened by the time the two fought, which means there was no need for her to have involved Crane at all. This suggests a callousness on Arya’s part; no wonder that Jaqen H’ghar congratulates her: “At last, a girl is no one.” Arya disagrees, holding Needle to his chest as she spits her true name back in his face, determined to return to Winterfell, but in that moment, she isn’t all that different from Jamie Lannister: However innocent they may occasionally seem, both will do whatever it takes to return home.
So it is, too, with Tyrion (Peter Dinklage), who proudly observes the way in which the Red Priestesses are spreading the good word about Daenerys, establishing her as a savior to the conquered people, and helping everyone to help restore Meereen to a more peaceful state. Tyrion’s far from the evil imp others have made him out to be: He confesses to newfound drinking buddies Missandei (Nathalie Emmanuel) and Grey Worm (Jacob Anderson) that he’d be happy to retire to a vineyard. But he’s driven by the same practicalities as his family, which is why he’s willing to make a deal with the Masters, setting aside their barbarous acts of slavery. Varys (Conleth Hill) warns him that there’s more to the measure of plan than its success: “If you shaved your beard with a straight razor, you’d say the razor worked. That doesn’t mean it won’t cut your throat.” No surprise, then, to find that the Masters have reneged on their promises, pulling into Meereen’s harbor with an armada of gunboats.
The depressing truth to the episode’s title, then, may be that no one—not even the dead of the north, apparently—can get what they want without violence. All that remains is the execution.
For more Game of Thrones recaps, click here.