When Cersei answers Lancel’s threat of “order your man (the Mountain) to step aside or there will be violence” with “I choose violence,” she’s not merely delivering a steely retort to her cousin’s attempt at intimidation through the force of the the Faith Militant, she’s essentially delivering the thesis statement of the episode. In “No One,” Cersei and Arya both “choose violence” in the face of very credible threats to their safety, the Hound chooses violence over the pacifism Septon Ray preached in the previous episode, and the masters of Slaver’s Bay choose violence in defiance of the diplomatic arrangement brokered by Tyrion, Conversely, Jaime and Brienne choose diplomacy, which is undercut by the Blackfish choosing violence by making his last stand at Riverrun rather than traveling north to aid Sansa in her campaign for Winterfell.
I don’t think I’ve ever rooted harder or more earnestly for Cersei as I did in the moment mentioned above. I’ve made no secret of my distaste for religious fundamentalism and religious violence in this space, and though I harbor no affection for royalism either, Cersei is still a human being and the victim of a sex crime perpetrated by the High Sparrow and the Faith last season and as such deserves protection from that institution which seeks to inflict further harm upon her, physical or otherwise, regardless of her “sins,” numerous though they may be.
The look of shock on Lancel’s face after the Sparrow got his head ripped off was amazing, especially with how it was intercut with Cersei’s trademark smug, self-satisfied smirk as she looked on. I also want to point out that the Sparrow taking the initiative to foolishly attack the Mountain mirrored exactly the moment in “Home” earlier this season where the one Night’s Watchman fired at Wun Wun and got himself smushed like a bug against the castle wall. Both of these moments were equally satisfying for me as a viewer.
Not that I haven’t been enjoying any of the Braavos material this season, but this was a stronger Arya episode than all the others from season 6 combined. I honestly feel like I’ve gotten my favorite character back after a hiatus. I’m completely willing to accept that her arc did what it needed to do and stayed where it needed to stay in the grand scheme of things as it concerns the larger narrative, but I cannot deny that with some notable highlights including last week, the season 5 finale, and “High Sparrow,” especially that beautiful scene where she can’t bring herself to discard Needle, this has been a tedious couple of seasons for the Arya storyline.
The parkour infused foot-chase with Arya and the Waif was excellently executed and suspenseful to the point that there were several moments where I genuinely thought Arya wasn’t going to make it. I especially loved the section of the sequence where she flings herself over the wall and can’t stick the landing, causing her to cascade down the staircase along with a great many oranges. This moment recalled two iconic films for me, the first being Soviet montage master Sergei Eisenstein’s seminal silent feature The Battleship Potemkin, which featured the indispensable “Odessa step sequence,” and the second being The Godfather where Francis Coppola used fruit as a motif indicating Vito’s mortality. With that in mind, I really thought Arya was dead after that moment.
Just as Riverrun sits at the intersection of two rivers, multiple storylines converge at that location this episode to dramatic effect. The Riverrun material in this episode was so dramatically potent because the characters involved are in legitimately difficult positions at the intersection of honor and emotional sentiment. This is illustrated with Brienne’s assertion that she’s honor bound to fight Jaime if she can’t convince the Blackfish to surrender as well as in the later scene dramatizing that very appeal.
In the first part of the scene with Brienne and the Blackfish, he is flatly and stubbornly refusing Brienne, basically shrugging off the familial argument Brienne is making on behalf of Sansa, who, as he states, he doesn’t actually know very well. Though he and Sansa are directly related, he clearly hasn’t forged an emotional bond with her. His demeanor changes after he reads Sansa’s letter and tells Brienne, “she’s exactly like her mother,” with a detectable and mournful warmth. Though his demeanor changes and he becomes more emotional and seems to have genuine sympathy for Sansa’s cause, his position doesn’t change.
I complain with some frequency that understated performances don’t receive the attention they deserve in terms of major awards and nominations, and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau is a perfect case in point. Peter Dinklage deserves all the awards he’s received and more for his work on Game of Thrones, but Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (and several other cast members) deserves a lot more attention for his performance than he gets. I don’t believe he’s raised his voice at any point over the course of the series, but he’s as commanding an onscreen presence as the show can offer and he’s absolutely perfect for his role. I’d never heard of him before this series but I’ve never been able to picture anyone else in the role.
The best scene in “No One” and the best bit of acting from Nikolaj Coster-Waldau so far this season was the scene in the tent with Jaime and Edmure (Tobias Menzies). It speaks to the quality of the writing and the performances that for a show on such a massive scale, so many of the best scenes on Game of Thrones are often quite minimal. The scene here is simply two excellent actors with some really great writing to chew on, all of it beautifully lit and photographed.
In addition to the sheer strength of the performances, what makes the scene mentioned above so effective is the masterstroke of screenwriting that has Jaime repeating the line he spoke before pushing Bran out of the window in the pilot, “the things we do for love…” before threatening to kill Edmure’s infant son if that’s what it takes for him to get back to Cersei. The viewer and, I think, Edmure know that the threat is credible because we’ve witnessed Jaime do something heinous (which he knew to be such) in order to protect Cersei (in his mind at least). It’s also worth noting that this follows Jaime’s chastising of the Freys for making empty threats to the Blackfish in the previous episode.
In the world of the series, Jaime is near universally regarded as being egregiously dishonorable, but he’s actually completely consistent in his adherence to his own honor code if not the ones Westerosi culture recognizes and imposes. His vows as a knight might mean little to him, but his devotion to Cersei and his loyalty to his family and loved ones such as Tyrion, his children, and I would include Brienne, mean everything to him. It is that very duality that makes him one of the most complex, challenging, and fascinating characters in the entire series, and Coster-Waldau seems to express that in his eyes and face with incredible nuance and subtlety on a consistent basis. His is one of the finest performances of the series.