Once again we have returned to identity politics in Game of Thrones. Names have power, but they also come with incredibly heavy baggage in Westeros. Whether it's the name you built yourself (The Hound) or the name you were born with (Arya Stark), your identity is not something you simply shed. But it's also something that the people in Westeros are getting really sick of, and something that gets undercut pretty much anywhere else.
And while The Hound goes through his rampage of (renegade) Brothers Without Banners (exactly where is beyond me), he revealed that his best attempts at suppressing who he is were failures the moment someone outside of the sept encountered Ray and his flock. As Beric and Thoros tell him — The Hound is a fighter. That is the name he built and there is no way he can walk away from that. But maybe, just maybe, he's done killing people at the whims of the elites who find great reasons for Sandor Clegane to just tear people apart. See, the Brotherhood are headed north to fight the White Walkers, and they're going to need a hellspawn of a fighter like Sandor to be apart of that fight.
Game of Thrones has a tendency to be the sort of show that encapsulates the best of Peak TV while engaging in some of the medium's worst habits. While most of the sixth season's episodes have managed to overcome (or at least hide) those habits by simply turning up the speed dial and giving the series a sense of forward momentum, 'No One' has such an uneven pace that those habits become very noticeable.
Now, to be fair, this is Game of Thrones we're talking about, a show that's long-in-the-tooth but still deeply embedded in the cultural zeitgeist, so a bum episode (provided it doesn't get rape-y) will still end up being entertaining than most of what's on at that time. But let's be clear: building up epic fights and then having their conclusions occur off-screen is a steaming pile of bullsh*t. If we spent all this time re-building Blackfish, we should see him go down fighting. If we have this tense cat-and-mouse game with Arya and the Waif, we should see Needle finishing her off.
Whatever thematic game was being played across those two storylines were completely undermined by their perfunctory conclusions. And considering what show we're watching, combat isn't exactly something they are incapable of handling in their sleep. They chose to have Blackfish and the Waif die off-screen, and for the life of me I can't see a thematic reason that would've made those skip-overs any less bull*shit.
But let's set that aside and check out Riverrun, where the seige comes to a plodding end, but has some interesting thoughts throughout. Personal identities trump names tonight as Brienne of Tarth doesn't get through to Blackfish by proclaiming who she is, she proves it with her intense defense of her mission and her loyalty to Sansa Stark. It's not Sansa's name that gets to Blackfish, it's reading her words and realizing she's just like her mother and Blackfish's niece.
Likewise, outside, Brienne and Jaime speak with a reserved affection, despite their opposition, Bronn teaches Pod how to fight dirty, and Beric and The Hound have possibly the latter's most relaxed conversation ever. Enemies are the few people in Westeros who know you beyond your name, and that tends to mean that they know you better than they should.
And sure enough, it's how Jaime cuts through to Edmure Tully, Cat's brother who's used as a bargaining chip we just can't seem to care about. But the Kingslayer (again with names) makes it clear that he could give a rat's ass about Riverrun or the Tullys. While his vocal love for Cersei lands thuddingly, when Jaime echoes "the things we do for love," what he said moments before pushing Bran out a window, he's found the one thing that Edmure can't handle — that Jaime could give a damn about Edmure or anyone in that castle. He'll kill them all to get back to Cersei.
And Edmure will let his castle fall if he can just go home.
Meanwhile, Cersei's finding that what people name her can bring profound anguish. King Tommen, in the typical teenage boy way (which is to say, with extreme cowardice), has Cersei moved far away from him as he declares that trials by combat are banned, and Cersei's entire plan to use The Mountain to secure a victory collapses. But what's most brutal to her — which you can see in her reaction — isn't that Tommen is effectively guaranteeing her a guilty verdict, it's that he's stripped her mother of any title of pride. She was once a Queen, a Queen Regent, and a Queen Mother, but now she's a "lady in waiting." She put everything on the line to protect her son, and it's that very son who's taking what she risked away from her.
So while The Hound/The Mountain battle is now less of a sure thing, we did get to see the latter just brutalize some Faith Militant weasel with a mechanical fury that reminds us yet again, oh, right, he brutalized The Viper, an incredibly cunning warrior, before he died, and these pipsqueaks in robes may as well stab themselves in the throat before he tears your head off with his bare hands.
The clearing of the throat prior to "The Battle of the Bastards" might have been necessary, but what wasn't were the decisions the showrunners made in how some of these threads tie up. If we'd received a true Waif/Arya showdown, we might be feeling completely different about this episode and possibly every scene Arya's has in Braavos. But what was clearly the more important moment was Arya reclaiming her name, and ostensibly given a promise she would not be hunted (having fulfilled the Many-Faced God's need for a body).
But the reality is, she'd already retaken her name long before we got to this point. And Tyrion's starting to realize, your name doesn't mean a damn thing if you can't make things work. After realizing that his brilliant plan to keep slavers off their backs for a while had failed miserably with Slaver's Bay's fleets violating their agreement and coming to take the city, we finally see the limitations of one Tyrion Lannister: He's a Westerosi, and a Lannister, and he tries to solve problems in a Westerosi-Lannister manner.
And then the seige of Meereen begins, with Grey Worm overruling Tyrion and preparing to defend the city to the death, when Dany flies in on Drogon, and we immediately see how Tyrion's name has been an anchor around his neck, even if he didn't know it, and Danaerys' name is a legacy that she's been aggressively living up to, which only makes her all the more dangerous.
Because people born with names are capable of buying labor for work you don't want to do, but Dany is a woman who made her name, and she's further strengthened that name by coming into town with all of the Dothraki army. But really, this is the Mother of Dragons we're talking about. It was always going to be Drogon setting these ships ablaze. You might try to forget who you are, but the reality shines through, whether a resilient part of you that never goes away, or when circumstances change even a little and the fiction you told yourself comes crashing down. Arya is Arya. Brienne is Brienne. Cersei is Cersei. The Hound is The Hound.