Game of Thrones: Characters show their true faces in No One

Old friends meet as enemies and have to make tough choices in the new episode of the HBO fantasy series.

Key characters show mettle, motivations in Episode 8 of Season 6 of HBO's fantasy series

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau stars as the morally ambiguous knight Jaime Lannister on HBO's Game of Thrones (Helen Sloan/HBO Canada)

NOTE: The following story contains major spoilers about Season 6, Episode 8 of HBO's Game of Thrones

"On some level, you understand you're an evil man," says Edmure Tully, rail thin, in chains and rags, to his resplendent captor, Jaime Lannister. "How do you live with yourself?"

Who people truly are, what makes them tick and how, with time, their true colours are always revealed, comprised a big theme in Season 6, Episode 8. For a Game of Thrones episode that was supposed to be "the one before the one" — next week's penultimate installment of this season already teased as "Battle of the Bastards," pitting Jon Snow against Ramsay Bolton — this was a strong episode with big, tense moments.

The weakest link of this episode remains Meh-reen, where Tyrion said some things the writers must have thought clever and Daenerys did some more of her dramatic "I'm your leader" walking.

But the show's writers must be commended for avoiding the trap they seem to have fallen into so far this season: dramatizing the conspiracy theories the book-reading fans covet. This episode offered up two opportunities to give the Thronies what they wanted, and the show-runners passed on both: one was Clegane-bowl (sorry, fans of the would-be combat between the Hound and the Mountain). The other was Lady Stoneheart (indeed, the Hound has now seemingly joined the Brotherhood of No Banners, but there was no glimpse of the undead Catelyn Stark anywhere around).

Riverrun: Jaime, Brienne, Blackfish

Crimson Lannister tents glow like drops of blood as Brienne approaches Riverrun, where "Blackfish" Tully is still holding strong and attempting to weather the Kingslayer's occupation.

For Brienne, this of course means something else: facing her friend Jaime, for whom she clearly still has feelings, as Sansa's emissary and therefore something of an enemy.

Brienne of Tarth, played by Gwendoline Christie, is a woman torn between duty and her heart on Game of Thrones season 6 episode 8. (HBO Canada)

Brienne's dilemma is not lost on Bronn and Pod, monkeying around outside the tent where Jaime and Brienne meet (by the way, so Bronn also fancies Brienne. In the new, girl-power Westeros, the sexual prospects of Lady Tarth sure have improved!). Jaime and Brienne's reunion was one of the strongest moments of the episode, in that it offered what Game of Thrones has largely been missing this season: not the mere movement of narrative chess pieces, or breathtaking brawls, but emotional moments where you find yourself sympathizing with characters, and feeling the toughness of their choices.

Scrambling for a compromise, Brienne suggests to Jaime that she tries to convince Blackfish to leave the castle and ride north with her to join Sansa's cause. Blackfish refuses, because such win-win situations just don't happen in Westeros. So the Kingslayer, who really seems to want to avoid a battle, comes up with a different plan: use Edmure Tully as a Trojan horse of sorts to gain access to the castle. Edmure, tortured and mentally broken, protests at first but when Jaime uses some Lannister-style diplomacy (read: threats to his infant son), he obeys. The soldiers, still loyal to Edmure, lift the bridge and let him in against Blackfish's better judgment. Edmure tells the soldiers to lay down their weapons and surrender the castle.

Brynden "Blackfish" Tully (Clive Russell) defends his home castle, Riverrun, to his death, in season 6, episode 8 of HBO's Game of Thrones. (Helen Sloan/HBO Canada)

Blackfish dies fighting for his home, but not before giving a lovely "you'll serve Sansa far better than I ever could" to Brienne. She leaves in secret, by a boat, but Jaime sees her. For a nail-biting moment, viewers are left wondering if he'll unleash his soldiers after her, but instead, he just raises his gold hand to wave her goodbye: the broken knight's sign of respect for the woman he never stopped admiring.

King's Landing: Cersei and Tommen

As Edmure questions Jaime about his conscience, we learn what the Kingslayer has claimed all along: his chief motivation in all things is his love of Cersei; to be near her, he says, he'd murder thousands of Tullys. And while nearness to Cersei seems in direct correlation to Jaime's evil-doing proclivities, he's probably wise to head back to King's Landing ASAP.  His sister/lover is about to face a trial, and as Tommen proclaims, it won't be by combat. This squashes both Cersei's plans to use her trump card: The Mountain, as well as theories of viewers who clamoured for Clegane-bowl (a trial by combat that would involve the Hound taking on the Mountain).

The zombified Mountain does get to snap the head off one of the Sparrows with his bare hands, though, in that "I choose violence" scene of Cersei's that's been teased from the beginning of this season.

Since this scene seemed pretty insignificant otherwise, its chief objective must've been to show us just how strong and vicious Ser Gregor is, and that the High Sparrow would perhaps do well to wear a full body armour over that burlap sack of his. Qyburn also whispers to Cersei that "little birds" have discovered the rumours they've been investigating to be true. Given Cersei's smirk in response, we can only assume the rumours are about the High Sparrow.

Meereen: Tyrion, Daenerys

"Oh, goodie, this episode has Tyrion trying to make conversation with Grey Worm and Missandei again," said no fan of Game of Thrones, ever.

Tyrion Lannister (Peter Dinklage) is a stranger in a strange land in Meereen, on HBO's Game of Thrones. (Helen Sloan/HBO Canada)

Other than a touching, and strangely foreboding goodbye between Tyrion and Varys, as the latter goes to Westeros to find allies, this part of the episode limped on for so long, so awkwardly, that the appearance of ships of the slavers attacking Meereen was a welcome diversion.

Tyrion's Westerosi-style diplomacy in Meereen is a massive fail, just as Grey Worm predicted. But as the commander of the Unsullied is about to draft up a military strategy, we hear some scratching along the side of the pyramid (one of the wonderful things about this show is that you can go "Oh, clearly it's dragon claws landing on the pyramid" like it's a totally normal thing). And in comes Daenerys. Mommy's home, and she won't be happy with the order of things.

Braavos: Arya, definitely not No One

Sorry, conspiracy theorists who thought Arya was fighting her "other self," Fight Club-style, when the Waif stabbed her in the stomach in the last episode. Turns out Arya has indeed been attacked, then saved by her one pal in Braavos: the actress Lady Crane, who conveniently has a gift for stitching up wounds.

Waif doesn't give up, and goes after Arya again, murdering Lady Crane by impaling her with a chair, in a scene so grotesque you needed to look at it twice to figure out what happened. A crazy chase through the streets of Braavos ensues, with Arya doing some Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon-style leaps. Arya leads the Waif into a dark cavern, and then, slices the one candle with her trusty sword Needle. We know Arya can fight in the dark from her days of blindness, but we're not sure what happened until we see Jaqen looking at the blood dripping down from a face freshly added to the Hall of Faces: it's the mutilated face of the Waif. Seemingly pleased with what he saw (what? Can anyone explain the pedagogical philosophy of the House of Black and White?), he says "the girl is finally no one." But Arya responds: "No, I'm Arya Stark of Winterfell, and I'm going home." 

Battle of the Bastards

While Arya's reunion with Jon and Sansa gives us something to look forward to, let's not forget: Winterfell does not belong to Starks yet. Here's a look at next week's Battle of the Bastards episode.

Yep, that's Kit Harington looking brooding, and more brooding. To jolt Jon Snow out of the malaise he's fallen into since his resurrection, something big and bad is going to have to happen. And we know Ramsay Bolton can be counted on for that.


Deana Sumanac-Johnson

Senior Education Reporter

Deana Sumanac-Johnson is a senior education reporter for CBC News. Appearing on The National and CBC Radio, she has previously reported on arts and entertainment, and worked as a current affairs producer.