Game of Thrones Griping 12: More Like Lady PAIN

By Bob Case
on Jun 30, 2017
Filed under:
Game of Thrones
This series analyzes the show, but sometimes references the books as well. If you read it, expect spoilers for both.

(This was supposed to go up this morning. Somehow I never got around to actually clicking the “publish” button, so it’s late… oops)

I want to take a closer look at one character in particular: Lady Crane. This character, and the way the show treats her, gives us (I think) a lens into how the writers think, and what sort of world they’re depicting.

Game of Thrones is not a black-and-white show, but there are certain characters we get the impression that we’re supposed to either like or dislike. And while it’s not always a clear binary value, I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to like Lady Crane. We’re supposed to root for her and consider her one of the good guys/women. So, by looking at her, we can look at what sort of character the show wants and expects us to like, and why. So let’s look at Lady Crane.

A Play Within A Show

I admit it: I’m a sucker for play-within-a-play stuff. And this unnamedI think? Braavosi theatre company is my favorite part of the Arya storyline. I always like to see story elements illuminate the setting, and here we get some sense of what version of Westorosi political current events has made into the court of public opinion. Here, Ned Stark is a scheming, power-hungry type, Joffrey a noble innocent, and Tyrion a vile demon.

We know this is all hogwash, but the Braavosi audience doesn’t, and you can’t really blame them. It’s also nice to take a trip down memory lane, and revisit plot points from seasons past. It all ends with Lady Crane’s star turn: her anguished monologue as she holds Joffrey’s body in her arms. Despite the determined use of sing-songy rhyming couplets, this is actually halfway affecting stuff. Maybe they should just do the whole show this way.

Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that these two aren`t the actual Cersei and Joffrey.

Sharp-eyed viewers will notice that these two aren`t the actual Cersei and Joffrey.

Later, Arya is lurking backstage, scoping out her best poisoning opportunity, when Lady Crane notices her. They show a bit of rapport and talk shop about the play. “My final speech is shit,” she says, then, later, “the writing’s no good.” Arya gives her opinion: add some revenge. “She wouldn’t just cry,” she says of Lady Crane’s character. “She would be angry. She would want to kill the person who did this to her.”

Lady Crane tries to run this idea by the playwright, who the script says is named Izembaro, but he’s not having any of it. We’re definitely not supposed to like this pompous blowhard, who basically tells her to take her notes and shove them because he’s in charge.

So, a crack performer, trying to make the best of what she considers to be subpar material, and the original auteur, who’s not interested in changes? Is this a meta-commentary on the show itself? To me, yes, it absolutely is. The only question is whether it’s deliberate or accidental. Either way, the takeaway is clear: revenge make things better.

In the logic of the show, grief is not enough. A mother distraught over the murder of her son? Bo-ring. But add anger, hate, and the tantalizing promise of future violence… now you’re cooking with gas. Maybe you think this is thin. On it’s own, maybe it is, but it’s part of a pattern, which we’ll see more of shortly.

“Putting Holes in Them”

Arya, her torso newly ventilated by the Waif, makes her way to Lady Crane’s room, and the Lady is good enough to treat her wounds. This is explained through a bit of dialogue that I think I should reproduce here in its entirety.

ARYA: You’re good at that. Where did you learn?

LADY CRANE: I’m a jealous woman. I’ve always liked bad men and they’ve always liked me. They’d come home, wherever home was that night, stinking of some whore’s perfume. So we’d fight, and I’d put a hole in them. And then I’d feel terrible, so I’d patch them up. I got good at patching them up.

ARYA: And good at putting holes in them.

LADY CRANE: And that.

I can’t be the only one who noticed what a conspicuously odd bit of backstory this was. Like I said above, I think we’re supposed to consider Lady Crane a sympathetic character, right? How many of your romantic partners can you stab and still be considered a sympathetic character? I might even say that one is too many, but maybe I’m just old-fashioned.

In any case, Lady Crane has stabbed more than one. If her dialogue is to be believed, this is a regular occurrence. We’re not given an exact number, but she’s stabbed at least enough boyfriends that she’s learned how to treat stab wounds just through trial and error. I’m going to risk sounding judgmental here and say that at that point, you’re stabbing too many of your boyfriends. You should really just collect your stuff and delete their number from your phone next time, before you reach for the nearest knife.

This brings me back to the time I stabbed Stefan. Or was it Christian? The guy with the man bun? Sometimes I get the names of the people I`ve stabbed mixed up.

This brings me back to the time I stabbed Stefan. Or was it Christian? The guy with the man bun? Sometimes I get the names of the people I`ve stabbed mixed up.

I suppose the writers needed some way to explain her medical skills. But there are many ways to do that. “Before I joined the theatre, I was apprenticed to a healer.” Or maybe, “Sometimes there are accidents with the prop weapons. Every traveling company has at least one member who knows how to sew up a wound.” Or you could just not explain it at all. The ability to bandage wounds is not so unusual that it requires a bespoke backstory to explain it.

So there was no particular need to write “serial boyfriend-stabber” onto Lady Crane’s character sheet, but they did it anyway. Not only that, she disfigures the faces of her enemies. The dialogue immediately after the part quoted above:

ARYA: What happened to the actress? The one who wanted you dead.

LADY CRANE: Bianca. She’ll have a hard time finding work as an actress after what I did to her face.

Yeesh. Okay, in her defense, Bianca did hire someone to kill her. But once again I have to wonder why this bit of detail is included. Lady Crane was a talented performer, able to move audiences to tears. She was also a kind person, who helped Arya without asking or expecting anything in return. Is that not enough to make her a character they trust the audience to like?

Apparently the answer is no. By the standards of this show being a good person who’s good at her work is not enough. The writers seem almost constitutionally incapable of respecting a character who is not adept at violence, either directly (doing it themselves) or indirectly (getting other people to do it for them).

Those who eschew violence are treated as naive and weak. Think of the Hound’s one-episode storyline with Septon Swearengen in “The Broken Man.” He and his band of god-hippies are attempting to create a life free from war, until, as punishment for their naivete, they’re slaughtered to a man, for almost no reason – unless it’s maybe to give the Hound a motive to kill some more dudes an episode later.

Think of Prince Doran Martell, who sought to avoid war with the Iron Throne. For that crime he was murdered by his own familyIn a hilariously nonsensical sequence which I may get the chance to cover in more detail someday., including Ellaria SandBy the by, the show version of Ellaria Sand is pretty much the precise opposite of the book version., who hisses “weak men will never rule Dorne again.”

The pattern of the show is clear: wanting to avoid war, wanting to break the endless cycle of tit-for-tat violence, wanting to do anything more than hype the audience up for violence to come – these are all signs of “weakness.” I point this out because the showrunners have gotten the message of the book series so exactly backwards that it almost seems like it was done deliberately, out of spite.

I’m going to revisit this idea either this coming week or the week after. In the meantime, there’s one more thing I want to mention.

Frey Pie

Let’s shift back to Arya’s storyline for a moment. If her conversation with Lady Crane is to be believed, Arya’s plan is someday become the Westerosi Magellan, and sail the uncharted seas on the far side of the western continent. Maybe it’s a gauge of my cynicism that I personally don’t expect that the writers will ever even mention this again.

But whatever. Arya returns home, and gets right to work, killing the stuffing out of local d-bag Lord Walder Frey, co-orchestrator of the infamous Red Wedding.

For a second it looked like she was just going to give him a shave, but nope, she kills him.

For a second it looked like she was just going to give him a shave, but nope, she kills him.

Before he dies, she points out – in a painfully hamfisted way – that not only is she killing him, she also killed his two sons, Lothar and Black Walder, and cooked their corpses into the pie he was just eating. There’s even a close-up shot of one of their fingers.

Earlier I described Lady Crane’s stabbing habits as “conspicuously odd.” Doesn’t this seem the same way? What is this, a Titus Andronicus reference, seemingly out of nowhere? If you’re a book reader, you probably already know about “Frey Pie.” But in case you’re not, I’ll explain: something vaguely resembling this happened in the books.

And when I say vaguely, I mean vaguely. In the books, some Freys were indeed strongly suggested to have been cooked into a pie and served to unsuspecting guests. But this was done by someone else, to someone else, in completely different circumstances. The act had a certain logic to it, twisted but nonetheless real, centered on the Westerosi folklore concerning hospitality and “guest right,” which was the cultural norm most egregiously violated at the Red Wedding.

Or course, in the show, all that context is shorn off, and we’re left with Arya tricking a father into an act of disgusting filicidal cannibalism. I can’t always tell how this show expects me to react to something. Is this supposed to be a fist-pumping “yeah!” moment? Am I supposed to cheer for Walder Frey getting his comeuppance, and not notice that Arya has just done something that makes her seem completely unhinged?

If I trusted this show I would maybe think there was some depth to what just happened, that it was an exploration of the damage lust for revenge and constant trauma can do to one’s sense of right and wrong. But I don’t trust this show anymore, frankly. I suspect that next season I’ll be expected to cheer for Arya again, despite the fact that she fed a father his own sons in a pie, which is not the sort of thing that people with a strong moral center do.

The Home Stretch

It snuck up on me too, but there are only two more Fridays until the seventh season of Game of Thrones starts. I’m going to get as many of my ducks in a row as I can before then, because I do have vaguely defined plans to do episode-by-episode reviews. Until then, thanks for reading, and I’ll see you next week.

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Footnotes:

[1] I think?

[2] In a hilariously nonsensical sequence which I may get the chance to cover in more detail someday.

[3] By the by, the show version of Ellaria Sand is pretty much the precise opposite of the book version.


2020201979 comments? This post wasn't even all that interesting.

From the Archives:

  1. Rutskarn says:

    Does Frey even eat the pie? Did Arya go through all that trouble to carve Frey’s sons, prepare a pie crust, and bake a giant-ass pie covertly to serve to Walder Frey just so she could point out there was a finger under the crust then stab him?

    I mean, did I miss something?

    • Somniorum says:

      Maybe they were MAKING a pie and then she back-stabbed them and they fell into the pie and she just went with it.

      • TheJungerLudendorff says:

        But why would those particular Freys (are they even named?) be making a giant, man-sized pie for their dad at that particular moment?
        Even if they did it as some kind of gift to get his approval, I would imagine the actual pie-making would be done by the kitchen staff, not the nobility themselves.

        Maybe they were going to hide his next wife in it? As a variation on the old stripper-in-a-cake-suprise?

    • Grey Cap says:

      Precisely all the kitchen staff, as well as everyone who came into the kitchen for three hours, are dead*. This is the price of Covert Pie.

      Also, Frey was never supposed to eat it. Arya is going to need a snack after all that stab-bakery.

      *Corvo could have left them snoozing in enormous, vaguely erotic piles on some roof, but I doubt Arya has the magic knock-out skills.

    • LCF says:

      Don’t worry, the writers will explain it in Lost’s next season.

  2. Syal says:

    What is this, a Titus Andronicus reference, seemingly out of nowhere?

    With the human pies and shaving murder I’d say it’s a Sweeney Todd reference. Although maybe Sweeney Todd is just a long Titus Andronicus reference.

    • Henson says:

      Definitely more Titus Andronicus, seeing as how the pies are made of Frey’s sons, and not just some random blokes from the village. And yes, that does paint Arya in a rather unpleasant manner (if she weren’t already unpleasant enough).

      • Mike S. says:

        Which in turn goes back to Atreus, who likewise fed someone his sons for revenge, and so further contributed to the doom of his house.

        But the main thing that all these things have in common is that they’re tragedies. If the showrunners are in tune with Western storytelling, then this is the moment that tells us Arya’s story simply can’t come to a good end.

        If the “you go, girl” folks turn out to be right (and I’ve argued with a couple of smart people in that camp on Twitter), then I think making this part of her story is a major misstep. But if Arya’s story is of a potentially great and gifted person who destroys herself and/or other things she loves by her need for revenge, then I think it’s an appropriate if gruesome element to include.

        • Syal says:

          Well, sometimes it’s in comedies, but that’s also not great company for Game of Thrones to keep.

        • lib says:

          Well, while it’s definitely a big likelihood that it’s setting up for a tragedy, that doesn’t mean they can’t bend expectations. Do the old “This will not end well” then have the hero/ine realise how far they’re falling and step back onto the path of right.

          It’s something you don’t see enough of in stories – the temptation takes the hero part of the way down the path and then they realise and walk back up it, trying to make amends for what they’ve done. No, usually it’s all or nothing in stories and we should incorporate more of a “well, we fucked up a bit here and there but hey, we’ll try to make up for that and get back where we were supposed to be.”

          Or perhaps they’re aiming for someone who is falling, is aware they are falling and don’t care that they’re falling. She’s been through hell so she’s giving back all the hell she’s had to live with up to that point, beyond caring about who it hurts because she hurts. At the end she either realises who she has become or doesn’t and continues the way she has, either living or dying. OR she could do the stop/start thing. Trying to get back but not knowing how. They could be setting her up for a redemption arc.

          Who knows? This kind of thing is what makes for interesting viewing, I think. I just hope they don’t be boring and do the tragedy thing. Even if it throws some people for a loop, I hope they go the way of making her walk back up that line away from the evils she’s started on.

          • Mike S. says:

            Atoning for a life’s wrongs is also a legit narrative. But I think it would be really hard to make it work structurally in the tail end of a long story that also has to give time to numerous other central characters and a main plot that’s coming to a climax.

            Arya coming to terms with and working her way back from having become the sort of person who slaughters a man’s sons and feeds them to him, smiling, would be a story in itself. Not something that can, I think, be worked into the last seventh (less, really) of this one.

            But maybe I’m wrong. If they can fit that satisfyingly into the seven remaining episodes, more power to them. I think sticking the landing on the tragic arc (while hardly guaranteed) is a lot more doable.

          • Syal says:

            At least in the books, there’s no “back” for Arya to go. She wasn’t always so violent, but she’d already rejected the offered life of a noblegirl that Sansa embraced. She’s not falling, because she didn’t start anywhere; she’s discovering.

  3. Malimar says:

    The question I had after the Frey pie scene: when did Arya learn to bake pie?

    • Somniorum says:

      She’s got a history with bad boyfriends – they’d come home smelling of cinnamon and apples and she’d get jealous and assault him with flour and pumpkins. She’d feel bad about it after, though, and scrape off the ingredients and bake them into pies. She got good at baking pies.

  4. MarsLineman says:

    Lady Crane’s speech about stabbing previous lovers is intended to make her seem more appealing to Arya, not to the audience. Arya has a long history of violence against men (largely in self-defense to this point), and she clearly respects Lady Crane even more after learning of her capability for self-defense. Also, it’s clearly implied that Lady Crane is stabbing men who are assaulting her- such is the way of most men in the Game of Thrones universe. A woman who defends herself fiercely, but still shows capability for compassion, is the ultimate role model for the pre-Braavos version of Arya.

    Which is why it’s critical that Arya later lets Lady Crane be killed by the waif. Arya’s subterfuge is to act like her previous self- a person who would be drawn to Lady Crane. This is why the waif isn’t prepared for Arya to be ready for their fight, and ends up being killed by Arya. She expects that Arya is truly wounded and seeking care from a person whom she cares about. But Arya is only pretending to be gravely wounded, and lets Lady Crane be killed in order to draw out the waif (and keep her off-guard).

    The entire point of the Lady Crane storyline (and the reason why Jaqen says “Finally a girl is no-one” afterward) is that Arya has fully shed her compassion and become a true assassin.
    Arya is now capable of letting someone her former self would have loved be killed, in order to trap and assassinate her target (the waif).

    Lady Crane dying = compassionate Arya dying.

    • The Rocketeer says:

      The entire point of the Lady Crane storyline (and the reason why Jaqen says “Finally a girl is no-one” afterward) is that Arya has fully shed her compassion and become a true assassin. Arya is now capable of letting someone her former self would have loved be killed, in order to trap and assassinate her target (the waif).

      I don’t know the show, but I’ve been following the comments here; am I wrong in thinking that compassion might be the only personal animating motivation she’s shed? Has she really “become no one” by snuffing her compassion when she still seems not merely swayed, but driven entirely by selfish motivations like revenge, spite, vindictiveness, and a developing palate for violence itself? That would certainly comport with Mr. B’s view of the show, and its writers’ respective disdain and thrill for “naively” goood-hearted motivations versus bleak, savage motivations.

      And that’s without even touching the book-centric froot loop sorcery argument that she effectively can’t become “no one” in the first due to acute psychic-dream-werewolf-ism.

      • MarsLineman says:

        Arya never leaves her Stark identity behind (and her Stark-ness isn’t a focus on the show like it is in the books), but she does become “no-one” in the sense that she becomes an excellent actor, capable of fooling a follower of the many-faced god. The meaning of Jaqen’s statement is divergent between the show and the books- in the books, a person becomes “no-one” when they completely surrender their identity to the service of the many-sided god. Whereas on the show, becoming “no-one” means being able to assume any identity, regardless of one’s motivations.

    • stratigo says:

      The show does not…. uh…. really give us this. Like, at all.

      Like Arya’s wounds are in no way minor. Not even a little. To the point where is strained credulity that she was running about with such vicious stabs in her gut that had been stitched less than an hour ago.

      The show doesn’t indicate she is faking at, well, any point.

      • MarsLineman says:

        Dude, the episode’s title is “No-One”. It opens with Lady Crane *acting* out the new version of her scene (to uproarious applause). She finds Aria bleeding backstage (acting?)

        The first dialog in the episode is this-

        ARYA is lying in bed. LADY CRANE sits beside her, treating her wounds.

        ARYA: You’re good at that. Where did you learn?

        LADY CRANE: I’m a jealous woman. I’ve always liked bad men and they’ve always liked me. They’d come home wherever home was that night stinking of some whore’s perfume.

        LADY CRANE stands and carries her tray of medical supplies into the abutting room.

        LADY CRANE: So we’d fight and I’d put a hole in them. And then I’d feel terrible, so I’d patch them up. I got good at patching them up.

        ARYA: And good at putting holes in them.

        LADY CRANE chuckles. ARYA smiles.

        LADY CRANE: And that.”

        This is the scene where Aria finally ends the waif’s life-

        “ARYA reaches the end of the marketplace and jumps off a high wall. She lands on a large set of steps where many fruit merchants have laid their baskets. She tumbles down the steps, knocking over the baskets as she goes and grunting with pain. The crowd clamors. ARYA comes to a stop at the bottom of the steps. She puts her hand to her stomach. Her hand comes away bloody. The WAIF appears at the top of the steps. ARYA sees her, stands, and throws herself over a small wall into an alleyway. The WAIF follows her. ARYA whimpers as she moves through the alleyway. She leaves blood stains on everything she touches. She enters a small, dark room, lit by a single candle. The WAIF follows her inside, knife in hand. ARYA kneels in the small living space she has made for herself. The WAIF enters and shuts the door behind her.

        WAIF: It will all be over soon. On your knees or on your feet?

        ARYA retrieves Needle from beneath a blanket and stands.

        WAIF: Haven’t we been through this already? That won’t help you.

        The WAIF advances. ARYA holds Needle up in front of her face, closes her eyes, and cuts the candle in half. The room goes dark.”

        https://genius.com/Game-of-thrones-no-one-script-annotated

    • evileeyore says:

      You really still trust the writers don’t you.

      • MarsLineman says:

        Replace “trust” with “understand”, and I agree. I think the show’s reliance on now-grown child actors and its focus on spectacle have made the underlying writing much harder to decipher in recent seasons. But it’s all there in the script, just with increasingly unclear communication to the audience.

        • ehlijen says:

          I looked at the script you quoted above, and I don’t see where it shows that arya is acting? She clearly has a bleeding gut wound. There isn’t really such a thing as a non-serious bleeding gut wound, especially not one that would have appeared serious to a woman practiced in stitching real wounds.

          We saw her get stabbed. We repeatedly see her bleed. A practiced wound dresser doesn’t say anything about it not being serious while treating it. She continues to bleed during her escape after being treated. But suddenly, at the end, she’s fit enough to fit again? How?

          If the viewer is to believe that she faked the wound, the signs that she was wounded need to explained for the illusions they were. If the viewer is to believe that she was truly deeply wounded, arya’s miraculous recovery into a badass needed to be better explained. Neither happened, and the result for many is simply puzzlement.

          • MarsLineman says:

            She doesn’t fake the wounds altogether, she fakes the severity of the wounds. Re-read that opening section. Does Lady Crane appear to be particularly worried while stitching her up? A true gut wound would be fatal- not in need of a little stitching

            Note that in the chase scene, Arya does everything possible to lead the waif to her chosen location.

            “She tumbles down the steps, *knocking over the baskets as she goes and grunting with pain*.The crowd clamors. ARYA comes to a stop at the bottom of the steps. She puts her hand to her stomach. Her hand comes away bloody. The WAIF appears at the top of the steps. *ARYA sees her, stands, and throws herself over a small wall into an alleyway.* The WAIF follows her. *ARYA whimpers as she moves through the alleyway. She leaves blood stains on everything she touches.*”

            All leading the waif to Arya’s chosen location- where she has stashed her sword, and prepared an ambush. The waif’s last line shows that she is not taking Arya seriously- she bought Arya’s act

            “She enters a small, dark room, lit by a single candle. The WAIF follows her inside, knife in hand. ARYA kneels in the small living space she has made for herself. The WAIF enters and shuts the door behind her.

            WAIF: It will all be over soon. On your knees or on your feet?

            ARYA retrieves Needle from beneath a blanket and stands.

            WAIF: Haven’t we been through this already? That won’t help you.

            The WAIF advances. ARYA holds Needle up in front of her face, closes her eyes, and cuts the candle in half. The room goes dark.”

            Arya *closes her eyes* and then extinguishes the only light. She has specifically prepared to ambush the waif in this room, in the dark.

            https://genius.com/Game-of-thrones-no-one-script-annotated

            • ehlijen says:

              That’s my point though, there is no such thing as a non-serious gut wound. If Arya needs medical attention, and if she didn’t why would Lady Crane not call her out on it, it’s a serious wound and should stop her from being able to fight well. If it isn’t, its not going to require stitches, and Lady Crane would say so.
              Lady Crane isn’t worried because she believes she’s good at treating wounds.

              All the signs that she is leading the Waif are also signs that she is seriously wounded (and we are not given a reason to believe that she isn’t). Script language is focused on describing visuals, so we get no definitive indication on what Arya is really thinking or feeling here. In fact, the whimpering suggests (but not proves) she really is in pain, as the Waif is unlikely to hear it over a distance.

              Yes, the final scene clearly shows a trap. But it does not answer why, if the wound wasn’t serious, a practiced healer didn’t call her on faking it, or why, if the wound was serious, how she recovered enough to fight during the chase.

              • MarsLineman says:

                I think we’re stuck on the gut wound. A true gut wound would be fatal *with* stitches. Not the kind of wound to simply be stitched up and left to heal. See Maester Luwin, for example. A knife that penetrates the stomach/ bowels is invariably fatal without complex surgery (not simple stitching) because of the mix of food material into the bloodstream.

                Lady Crane’s off-hand remark about putting holes in her previous boyfriends and then stitching them up implies that this is a knife wound to a non-critical area- such a wound would require stitches, but not be serious enough to prevent combat. There are plenty of areas on the midsection where one could “put a hole” without penetrating the gut.

                And critically, there is plenty of evidence that acting is central to the episode- the title is “No-One”, the opening scene involves acting, and the history of Arya’s training suggests that one becomes “no-one” when one is able to assume any identity. In this case, Arya is assuming the identity of Arya Stark as she arrived in Braavos- a girl drawn to Lady Crane. Which is how she lures the waif to complacency and to her death.

                • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                  I don’t think there’s any good evidence that Arya pulled off a masterful scheme on the Waif. She fucks up the entire situation, from letting her guard down enough to get stabbed and escaping by the skin of her teeth, from collapsing at the feet of a POSSIBLE ally. Instead of leading the waif to a cunning trap, she simply ran for her sword and couldn’t lose the waif on the way there. Her recent experience with blind fighting then gives her a HUGE advantage when fighting in sudden darkness. So this is the old “cornered animal is the most dangerous” trope in action. With that victory, she then drops off the face at Jaqen’s feet to pay her debt of one death owed to the Faceless God and ditches the training with some skills learned but the philosophy itself rejected.

                  • MarsLineman says:

                    Then why is the episode titled “No-One”? Why does Jaqen say “Finally a girl is no-one” afterward? It’s clearly established in the show that a girl becomes no-one by acting- by assuming a role. There are several scenes to establish this theme.

                    I agree that the subtext to the Lady Crane plot is not communicated clearly- I don’t think the actor playing Arya is able to convey these subtleties unambiguously to the audience. But it’s clearly established throughout the season what it means to be “no-one”- it means assuming a role so well as to fool even a follower of the many-sided god. If it was sheer luck/ chance that Arya was able to lure the waif to the exact location/ scenario where she would hold the advantage, the episode’s title/ Jaqen’s statement become meaningless. Not to mention that the opening establishes acting as a theme for the episode.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      I disagree that the subtleties are there in the script you quoted, either.

                      Yes, the title and jaq’ens final words become meaningless if we assume this wasn’t a trap. But if we assume it was, we are left wondering how Arya magically healed, and the seemingly only answer we get is “action heroes don’t have time to bleed (when inconvenient)”.

                      The script and episode are 100% clear that this wound is Nasty with a capital N. Short of Lady Crane possessing unseen healing magic, Arya should not be able to fight at all.

                      If the wound wasn’t real/that serious, that needed to be communicated to the audience. Have it be a wound to an arm (instead the writers chose to make it a gut wound with all the implications that carries), have arya drop a water skin full of blood before she snuffs out the candle to show that the blood trail was fake (instead we are fairly unambiguously shown that she’s doing it with her own blood). Show that faceless men can shed wounds as easily as they can shed faces. Show something!

                      We have a practiced healer accepting the wound as serious without a word.
                      We have arya wincing even when the waif isn’t seeing her face.
                      We have arya using blood dripping from her guts to smear a path.
                      We have the fact that it is a gut wound left by a piercing weapon.

                      All of this says “this wound is serious!” and none of it excuses arya fighting and then ignoring the wound later in the scene with Jac’qen.

                    • MarsLineman says:

                      I think the audience is supposed to be fooled by Arya’s act. We’re supposed to think that the wound is tremendously serious, that Arya is desperately running from the waif, etc. We’re intended to be kept in suspense.

                      I think the writers planned a surprise moment for when Arya finally springs the trap. And then for Jaqen’s statement to be final confirmation that, yes indeed, this was a trap. For a variety of reasons, I don’t think the surprise moment lands the way the writers intended.

                      But remember- this is fiction. Everything on-screen is put there for a purpose. The title is not meaningless. Jaqen’s statement is not meaningless. I think there is some sloppiness to the execution, and the focus on spectacle (blood, etc) distracts from the subtext. And there is probably some “action hero” logic here as well.

                      But to me, it is simply too implausible that the writers gave the episode the title “No-One” for no reason. And that they staged a scene with Jaqen stating “Finally a girl is no-one” for no reason. It seems far more likely that they simply bungled it and included some action hero logic (which is called that because it is so common in narrative fiction).

                      Is it sloppy? Yes. Does the surprise twist land well? No. But titles don’t appear out of thin air.

                    • ehlijen says:

                      There is also the rule of show don’t tell. The episode title means nothing if the action doesn’t back it up. You can fool the audience, but unless you reveal the trick, it will then just look like you pulled something out of your ass later.

                      As the article says: these writers aren’t that trustworthy. There was no proper reveal of the trick in the script either. So yes, they fooled the audience. And then they left the audience confused.

                    • MarsLineman says:

                      I agree that they left the audience confused. And personally, I hated this episode- I literally laughed out loud during the chase scene. But I think blaming the “writers” is too simplistic. I think, on paper, it reads like there was a subtly-laid trap, with a twist and reveal at the end. This was my first impression when watching the episode, and reading the script for this discussion seemed to confirm my interpretation.

                      I’m not disagreeing with the author that the show has declined in quality in recent seasons. Where I disagree is in blaming the writers exclusively for the decline in quality. As I’ve argued in previous comments (see the Gitchy Feeling post), there has been a tremendous talent drain among the actors, and the production has increasingly focused on spectacle over character. I would argue that these trends began all the way in season 2, and by the now, the reliance on grown child actors has made certain scenes borderline unwatchable.

                      Like this chase scene. I’m a biomechanical researcher- trust me when I say that this scene utterly lacks any physical authenticity (as I argued in last week’s post). You don’t have to be an expert in biomechanics to notice that Arya looks horribly un-athletic when running/ jumping etc. Pulling off a surprise twist in this scene would require the ability to convey physical nuance- something clearly beyond the scope of the actor playing Arya.

                      Which I think most people notice intuitively, but not necessarily consciously. They just lose their suspension of disbelief, and start to distrust the narrator. The first person they blame is the writer. But to me, this is an oversimplification, and ignores some of the writing interspersed with the spectacle, etc. The writing isn’t blameless in the decline of the show. But it certainly isn’t the only factor. And immediately leaping to blame the writers for the failings of the show means possibly missing some of the subtleties when they occur.

                    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      The episode is called “No One” but you’re assuming that means that Arya completes the necessary goals to be a perfect assassin. That clearly never happens, because she kept the trappings of her old life, and even uses them to kill somebody who HAS passed those tests. So why does Ja’qen say she’s no one? Maybe that was his opening statement “you can proceed for further training” but is also willing to accept her resignation at that point, as she owes the Faceless God nothing and is therefore free to go. Game of Thrones episodes are generally named after dialogue or a plot point, you can’t really use it to say that your idea of how things went is definitive.

                    • MarsLineman says:

                      “That clearly never happens, because she kept the trappings of her old life”. You’re inserting book information into a discussion of the show. It is never suggested on the show that one must completely abandon one’s identity to become “no-one”. Rather that one must be able to convincingly assume a role.

                      As I wrote earlier in this thread, “Arya never leaves her Stark identity behind (and her Stark-ness isn’t a focus on the show like it is in the books), but she does become “no-one” in the sense that she becomes an excellent actor, capable of fooling a follower of the many-faced god. The meaning of Jaqen’s statement is divergent between the show and the books- in the books, a person becomes “no-one” when they completely surrender their identity to the service of the many-sided god. Whereas on the show, becoming “no-one” means being able to assume any identity, regardless of one’s motivations. ”

                      And we’ve also ignored the fact that Arya knows (better than anyone) that Lady Crane has been targeted by the assassins. For her to take up residence with Lady Crane is either utter stupidity (and thus out-of-character), or the setup for a trap. The trap materializes (in Arya’s chosen location) when Arya pulls out a hidden sword, closes her eyes, and cuts the candle in half.

                    • Shoeboxjeddy says:

                      ” It is never suggested on the show that one must completely abandon one’s identity to become “no-one”. Rather that one must be able to convincingly assume a role.”

                      I’m sorry, that’s wrong. Arya is getting whooped on by the waif and finally it comes out that Arya is a fake “no one” because she still believes she is someone. She has to reject her old life and old identity to proceed. Which is why Arya walks to the edge of the shore and begins dumping possessions into the sea. However, Needle makes her think of Jon and she can’t bring herself to dispose of it. So she fails that internal test and lies about passing it.

                    • MarsLineman says:

                      Again, you’re inserting book information into the show.

                      “Finally it comes out that Arya is a fake “no one” because she still believes she is someone. She has to reject her old life and old identity to proceed.”

                      Where exactly is this established *on the show*? Jaqen tells Arya (when she is trying to assume a role) that she is still Arya Stark, meaning that she has not yet convincingly assumed her role (acted). However, in the books, Jaqen specifically tells Arya to get rid of her sword, and to purge all vestiges of her old identity. This never happens on the show. So the scene by the lake, while similar to the one from the book, does not have the same subtext.

                    • MarsLineman says:

                      lol, replace “lake” with “shore”. I’m tired

                    • Daemian Lucifer says:

                      He doesnt have to be specific.He tells her “become no one,shed off your old identity”,so she thinks she needs to purge all her stuff and memories.She tries that but fails,gets beaten for it.She tries faking it,but slips,gets her eyes removed for it.Finally in the end she gets rewarded for her actions and called a no one.So she either did shed her old identity,or she acted like it.We know that she is still arya,because she still holds her memories and her grudges,so the only conclusion is that her acting has improved.

            • Isn’t a huge problem with all this that at best it hinges on the Waif being not only so incompetent as to not be able to inflict a serious wound on her quarry, but also not knowing that she had not in fact inflicted such a serious wound? A sure sign of story collapse is when each new excuse only relies on invoking another weakness of the narrative.

              • MarsLineman says:

                Longtime medical doctors, using advanced scanners (X-rays, MRIs) regularly mis-diagnose the severity of injuries- sometimes prescribing unnecessary surgery, sometimes watching patients die for unknown reasons. Yet a medieval-era assassin is “incompetent” if she isn’t able to gauge the exact severity of every injury she inflicts? And after the victim has already been patched up by a skilled healer?

                Personally, I think the Arya storyline is the weakest of season 6. But to call it “story collapse” because an old-world assassin couldn’t gauge the exact impact of every knife-stroke- and after the victim has been patched up by a skilled healer no less- seems like more than a little hyperbole.

    • Shen says:

      I was feeling quite unkind to the show when I was watching, but this really was my first impression interpretation as well. Jaqen never wanted her to actually join his creepy cult but was just willing to give her the tools she needed to pursue her goals.

    • Sannom says:

      You, sir/madam, are honeypotting hard. From what I’ve seen and read, those writers are incapable of the kind of subtlety you credit them with.

      • MarsLineman says:

        Instead of a vague accusation of honeypotting, maybe try responding to the many observations I shared which support my conclusion? Such as the fact that the episode is titled “No-One”, it is established on the show that becoming “no-one” means convincingly assuming a role, and Jaqen tells Arya that “Finally a girl is no-one” after she kills the waif? Or the fact that the opening scene of the episode is concerned with acting? Or the fact that the script reads clearly like Arya springs a trap (in her chosen location), when she draws a hidden sword, closes her eyes and cuts the candle? Or the fact that Arya takes up residence with Lady Crane, knowing better than anyone that Lady Crane has been targeted by the assassins?

        If you’re arguing that the show failed to convincingly portray this trap/ turnaround, I agree with you. But the preponderance of script evidence clearly points towards Arya springing a trap on the waif. If you disagree (and actually managed to read the above thread in full), please share your specific points of disagreement

        • MarsLineman says:

          lol, I should have just googled this from the start. The director confirmed my interpretation

          “In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Game of Thrones director Mark Mylod revealed that he wanted fans to think that Arya was a goner the moment she tumbled down the steps — when in reality it was all just a part of her plan.

          ‘So, it was really just working the jigsaw puzzle on that, just working toward it, and actually knowing exactly tonally where I wanted to be at each beat, hopefully, in this misdirect that this was ultimately going to lead to the death of Arya,’ Mylod told WSJ about crafting the pivotal moment in which Arya jumps and falls down a bunch of steps, while knocking over oranges and the like. ‘And hopefully the audience will be caught up in that beat and then only retrospectively flip back and realize that actually Arya had been running things the whole time in terms of luring the Waif back to the place where she could have an advantage over her.'”

          http://peopleschoice.com/2016/06/15/game-of-thrones-director-reveals-the-arya-and-waif-twist-most-fans-missed/

  5. TmanEd says:

    “I suppose the writers needed some way to explain her medical skills. But there are many ways to do that.”
    The fun thing about that is that they probably could have gotten by just by changing a single sentence.
    “I’ve always liked bad men and they’ve always liked me. They’d come home, wherever home was that night, stinking of some whore’s perfume. So we’d fight, and I’d put a hole in them. And then I’d feel terrible, so I’d patch them up. I got good at patching them up.”
    All you gotta do is change that to something like:
    “I’ve always liked bad men and they’ve always liked me. They’d come home, wherever home was that night, with a hole in them from a fight that went a bit too far. And then I’d feel terrible, so I’d patch them up. I got good at patching them up.”

    BAM. Backstory and former character flaw all intact, no sense of “wait she stabs her lovers if she’s mad at them?” Of course that probably wouldn’t be violent enough for the writers.

    • TheJungerLudendorff says:

      That actually sounds like an interesting twist on her character.

    • lib says:

      Bad men. We’d fight.
      The key words here. Consider the universe in question and how men act towards women.
      Likely she was getting beaten by guys who were pretty rotten to start with, when she asked them why they were out whoring. It’s extremely likely she was acting in self-defense but at the end of the fights she’d feel guilt, having been brought up in a world where men are above women in every way (bar at the royal level, and even then) and feel that she was in the wrong, thus the line about feeling bad and patching them up.

  6. Thomas says:

    Having never read the books or seen the show, are you suggesting the meta commentary is about Martin or ‘previous fantasy writers’. Game of Thrones in general has a reputation for being fantasy ‘with the nasty bits left in’ – Horrible History style – so I could believe the Playwright is meant to represent all those _supposed_ staid and goody goody fantasy writers.

    Because I haven’t read the books/show I don’t know if the differences suggest it could be Martin.

    • Tintenseher says:

      Normally, it sounds like the kind of thing a disgruntled writer would put in about the showrunners (since, for many shows, different writers take on different episodes), but Wikipedia credits this episode as being written by the showrunners, so who knows? It’s still possible someone else on the writing team inserted it, or that they transplanted a scene from another episode.

  7. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Am I supposed to cheer for Walder Frey getting his comeuppance, and not notice that Arya has just done something that makes her seem completely unhinged?

    Im not sure if thats what they are actually going for,but from every scene with arya I get the feeling that she is increasingly more psychopathic and unhinged.So not one of the good guys?Yes still someone we should root for?I guess.Thats at least how I view the show at this point.

    • ehlijen says:

      She is Southpark’s Cartman with a more pleasant voice (he also did the trick someone into eating their relatives thing).

      • Daemian Lucifer says:

        She is Southpark’s Cartman with a more pleasant voice

        And less fat.

        But cartmans plan was smarter and more ruthless.And technically,he never killed anyone,just desecrated their corpses.

        • BlueHorus says:

          I think it’s the inept-ness of the show’s writing. In the books, she does come across as unhinged, and it is off-putting. Book Arya is a creepy, not-quite-in-control murderer and that’s a big part of her storyline.

          But the show…I don’t know, doesn’t have the balls? to do the same thing. They ‘whitewash’ her murders (Make Meryn Trant a laughable, clumsy charicature of a paedophile! Make the Waif a complete bitch, just because! Have her kill Walder Frey, ‘cos he deserves it!) to make them less bad.

          So instead of a tragic, creepy, but understandable character, she IS basically Cartman (v. good comparison). And yet the show does seem to want us to root for her.

          • Shoeboxjeddy says:

            I think show Arya is being shown as unhinged fairly well. When she found out some of the only living family she knew about was dead, she laughed like a crazy person.

        • Phil says:

          And technically,he never killed anyone

          He did, though, orchestrate their deaths, IIRC.

    • lib says:

      She’s the broken chick who was thrown out of her nest before she learned fully to fly and has had to struggle along on the road of life by herself, trying to find a way to live. We’re supposed to feel sympathetic to her – a young girl thrust into horrible situations in a horrible world, being led down dark roads and growing ever darker herself – but also upset about how she is falling.

      She is also breaking down psychologically through the things she has to do in order to survive. I mean, there’s plenty of examples in this world of such things – child soldiers who carry machetes and machine guns and will shoot you as soon as look at you, for example. Horrible circumstances lead to their creation but you can at least understand and feel for them, despite feeling horror at the fact that they exist and the things they do.

  8. Carlos García says:

    Off-topic for Shamus: I’m rereading the DM of the rings and I find in the new layout the images are cut off at the right. So far it’s not a breaking issue as every text balloon is readable, though some last letters get cut.

  9. MatthewCollins says:

    I’m reminded of one of my favourite scenes from the first season of Babylon Five. Two of the characters (who are diplomats) have just finished negotiating an agreement between their peoples, with the Babylon 5 station commander (basically the local governor) officiating. One of the diplomats (Londo Mollari of the Centauri) comments on how smoothly things run when “a certain someone” — by which he means G’Kar of the Narn, the resentful and bullying ambassador of a people who are rivals and former slaves of his own — isn’t present. He moans about how unreasonable G’Kar is. The other diplomat (Delenn of the Minbari) tries to suggest that G’Kar is more angry than inherently unreasonable, and so there is hope — because even the greatest anger will fade with time. Mollari scoffs at this. He says:

    “If the Narns all stood together in one place and hated, all at the same time, that hatred could fly across dozens of light years and reduce Centauri Prime to a ball of ash. That’s how much they hate us.”

    The human commander, Sinclair, suggests that “you don’t have to respond in kind”.

    Mollari, too cynical and apathetic at this point in life to really care, brushes this advice off:

    “There’s a natural law. Physics tells us that for every action there must be an equal and opposite reaction. They hate us, we hate them, they hate us back. And so, here we are: victims of mathematics.”

    He then leaves, with Sinclair expressing frustration that “he never listens.” Delenn assures him that she believes he will in time — if only because the alternative is too depressing.

    We certainly aren’t supposed to cheer for the Centauri and the Narn in their tired cycle of violence and revenge.

  10. BlueHorus says:

    From the instruction booklet handed out to initiates of the House of Black and White:

    Welcome to the Faceless Men! Here are some of our guiding principles as a Guild of Assassins.

    – As you may or may not know, our harvesting of dead people’s faces affords us an incredibly effective disguise during out attempts to assassinate our targets. That’s why we encourage our agents to tear off their false faces at the first possible opportunity during an assassination – preferably even before striking! Don’t worry about witnesses or escaping the scene, we’ll just fade to black after you’ve killed your target.
    Also, you should never just kill someone: if you see an option to sass or pointlessly taunt them first, you should always do so.

    – Don’t worry about being quiet. While you might think that a quick, silent attack is best, we at the Faceless Men take a different view. Make sure to stab your target in the gut and then let them run away, or put out their eyes with a tiny knife so that they scream loudly. For best results, you should always launch your attacks in a public place with lots of witnesses close by.

    – If you’ve decided to poison your target, make sure to give them as much warning as possible. Perhaps you could stand gormlessly in front of your mark holding a small vial of suspicious black liquid while staring at food you’re going to try and sell him? Or maybe you could wander uninvited into the backstage area of a theatre and just, y’know, talk to your target for a bit.
    Whatever you choose, make sure that whenever you do this you aren’t wearing someone elses face as a disguise.

    – Make a scene! Remember, true assassins want to get noticed. Why not chase your target through crowded streets while waving a bloodstained knife? While you might think that it’s a better option to go into hiding, pick a new disguise and try again at a later date, you’re never going to be able to knock over a fruit cart with that attitude! We also highly recommend that you try some parkour while you’re chasing your target – it’s a great workout and rally turns heads!

    Happy Hunting!

    • MatthewCollins says:

      This is rather the problem with trying to depict master assassins on screen, isn’t it? A true master assassin, we shouldn’t even know they were there. Or even that the dead person had even *been* assassinated, as opposed to dying from some other cause.

      • Syal says:

        In the books, Jaqen is explicitly killing people with magic; one of his victims is killed by his own dog. The assassins wouldn’t even have to leave the room to kill people if the show didn’t want them to.

        • BlueHorus says:

          You can show competent assassins on screen. You can be subtle in a TV show. GoT just…isn’t.

          Arya could have killed the moneylender the way she did in the books: applying poison to a gold coin, after noticing that he bites anything over a certain denomination.
          Then – disguised – she picks his pocket, swapping and replacing one of his coins so he doesn’t notice. When he goes home to count his money, he just keels over dead, in what could have been any number of causes.

          You could write that scene. I could write that scene. The showrunners could have written that. They just chose not to, and instead went with ‘Ayra attacks a full-grown, combat-trained knight in a public brothel, somehow overpowers him, then butchers him – noisily – getting away scot-free.’
          It was their choice.

          TL:DR?

          The book Faceless Men are (rightly) some of the best assassins in Westeros. Their victims just die, usually in mysterious accidents – no mess, no fuss, almost never any suspicion.

          The’s show’s Faceless Men are incompetent thugs who would long ago have been killed or imprisoned if they didn’t have plot armor. Though the show DOES only show two people working as assassins there – maybe all the others were killed or imprisoned.

          • ehlijen says:

            The idea that assassins are elite warriors rather than opportunistic backstabbing bastards reliant on catching their targets completely off guard has been around in popular media for a while (at least as far back as the Ninja Turtles).

            GoT is just following the trends there, both its own (the trend of badass underdogs getting payback) and the above trend overall.

        • EmmEnnEff says:

          Jaqen killed Weeze by giving his dog ‘basilisk’s venom’ – a poison that ‘drives men and animals mad’.

          His other murders are a quick shove off a castle wall, and a bit of a stabbing. Nothing magical about it.

  11. Gaius Maximus says:

    I point this out because the showrunners have gotten the message of the book series so exactly backwards that it almost seems like it was done deliberately, out of spite.

    It seems like so many adaptations turn out this way. This is exactly how I felt about the Lord of the Rings movies. I’ve never understood how it was possible to put so much effort into making a story look so good and yet so totally miss the point of what it was about. This was when I swore off adaptations of any source material that I actually cared about. I did watch the first couple seasons of Game of Thrones, since I only read the books once and didn’t love them, but I gave up midway through Season 4 when the deviations were getting to large and the whole thing was starting to feel like a grind.

    • Warclam says:

      It’s so encouraging to see someone who agrees with me about the Lord of the Rings movies. Turning a long travelogue trilogy into spectacle action movies really warped them, even if the result was quite spectacular.

  12. Blake says:

    “If her conversation with Lady Crane is to be believed, Arya’s plan is someday become the Westerosi Magellan, and sail the uncharted seas on the far side of the western continent.”

    When watching that I just assumed that was Arya doing the lying game thing and making up a story for Lady Crane.

  13. Geebs says:

    Later, Arya is lurking backstage, scoping out her best poisoning opportunity, when Lady Crane notices her. They show a bit of rapport and talk shop about the play. “My final speech is shit,” she says, then, later, “the writing’s no good.” Arya gives her opinion: add some revenge. “She wouldn’t just cry,” she says of Lady Crane’s character. “She would be angry. She would want to kill the person who did this to her.”

    Surely the point here is that Arya is the only person in the setting who actually knows Cersei, and that she’s agreeing with the writing being shit because of how little it resembles the real interactions she’s seen?

    The potential unreliability of the narrators has been brought up a fair few times in ASoIaF discussions; this is the show’s way of acknowledging it.

  14. Reach says:

    The delineation between the source material’s balance of diplomacy, intrigue, statecraft and violence as solutions to various conflicts, and the showrunner’s apparent desire to bring the latter to the forefront has been incredibly apparent as of late.

    For instance, the books (and for awhile, the show) paint the situation in Meereen as a largely cultural conflict; After a completely successful conquest, she finds herself in charge of a state with a completely foreign set of values that didn’t go away when her banners went up, and the roots of her opposition were in every facet of the society ostensibly under her rule. When she returns from Vaes Dothrak, this has been retconned and suddenly the problem is an enemy army that needs to be killed.

    There are a handful of these drastic shifts across the show’s entire ensemble, and it kind of makes sense; The writers are now officially out of source material, and that means blazing ahead on their own. They have more than demonstrated their inability to write interesting ways for the plot to advance without violence, which to be fair is a bit harder to adapt to the screen. With the final shots of season six I really have no idea what could turn this around, it seems like the show is now a dedicated hell-yeah-moment generator.

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