“The things we do for love.” When Jaime Lannister says this to Edmure Tully, his prisoner and bargaining chip, he’s quoting no less an authority than himself. These were the same words he uttered just before he tossed Bran Stark out the window to cover up his sexual relationship with his own sister, Cersei. Now he’s using them to describe the intensity of his love for her — confident that his prisoner’s feelings for his own family (especially the young son he’s never seen) will lead him to surrender the castle of Riverrun to save them. His gamble pays off, of course. If there’s one thing that tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones — “No One” — gets right, it’s how much our desire to see the people we care about one more time can motivate us. That, and how much leaving them behind can hurt us.
Indeed, Jaime learns his own lesson bitterly. As he stands alone on the battlements of Riverrun at dawn, triumphant but despondent after the castle’s surrender, he sees Brienne of Tarth— the closest thing he has to an actual friend — escaping in a boat down the river. He raises his golden hand to wave goodbye, a wave she returns with evident sorrow. As she slowly floats away from him, the cold gray light of the early morning makes his face look carved from stone, like a statue in a crypt. Yes, he loves Cersei enough to threaten to murder Edmure’s baby. But the promises he made to Brienne, and vice versa, are the best part of himself. Now he’s watching that part sail away, likely for good. “Honor compels me to fight for Sansa’s kin — to fight you,” Brienne had told him during their earlier meeting. “Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that,” he replied. Both are equally upset by the notion of having to battle each other. That their farewell comes in this fashion rather than at swordpoint is a mercy they’ll likely both think about for a long time to come.
If the Kingslayer and the Maid of Tarth’s goodbye was the episode’s most moving, Tyrion and Varys‘ was a surprisingly close second. As they walk to the docks of Meereen, where the spymaster plans to depart for Westeros to drum up support for Daenerys, the pair banters about politics and their physical deficits; doing anything else would be too painful to contemplate. The Spider is a slippery character, and the Imp a cynical one, but Conleth Hill and Peter Dinklage invest their unlikely friendship with a warmth that easily transcends whatever doubts you might have about their sincerity. These guys like each other, and that affection has saved countless lives across the world. Like Jaime and Brienne, they bring out the best in each other, understanding one another like only outcasts (self-made or otherwise) can.
Some departures, however, are more symbolic than spatial. Take Cersei Lannister and her son Tommen, for example. When the boy king calls an unexpected meeting in the throne room, the Queen Mother is banished … to the gallery, with the other ladies of the court. It’s hardly being expelled from King’s Landing, or being thrown back into prison, both of which seemed possible. Yet the distance, small as it is, proves emotionally insurmountable when the young royal issues a ban on trial by combat. This was to be the Lannister lioness’ ace in the hole to prove her innocence, since her towering guardian Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane can literally tear his opponents’ heads off with one hand. By cutting her off from this option, Tommen’s essentially sentencing her to death. Parallel tracking shots, one following the child as he walks from the throne, the other following the mother as she races alongside in disbelief, emphasize how far apart they really are.
Yet there are reunions in this episode that aren’t engineered to break your heart. Jaime and Brienne’s may have been a colossal bummer, but that can’t be said for Bronn and Podrick Payne: Tyrion’s two former cronies, somehow among the most lovable characters on the whole show, meet again with all the dick jokes and horseplay you’d expect. The Hound‘s run-in with his former enemies Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, leaders of the Brotherhood guerillas, also goes much better than expected: After gruesomely slaughtering his way to them in search of vengeance for the massacre of his religious community last week, he finds that they too are equally outraged by the violence. He turns their execution of the perpetrators into black comedy — he’s the Hound, that’s kind of his thing — and literally pisses as they warn him of the coming war against the White Walkers. But he’s clearly considering taking up arms for a cause bigger and better than mere bloodlust.
His old partner Arya fares just as well. Her rescue by Lady Crane, the talented actor whose life she saved, ends in tragedy when her rival, the Waif, returns to finish the job she refused to do. (The strength of Maisie Williams’s sad, scared performance throughout the sequence makes it all that much more upsetting.) But the Stark child defeats her enemy and returns to the assassins’ temple, where she tells her mentor Jaqen H’ghar of her plans to return to Winterfell. Instead of stopping her, he smiles: The Many-Faced God has received his due, and the girl he clearly cares about has discovered who she really is.
But the most important reunion of all, geopolitically speaking, happens in the Great Pyramid of Meereen. After a drinking scene with Tyrion, Missandei, and Grey Worm, followed by a spectacular naval attack on the city by the slave masters, Daenerys returns, dragon in tow. We wouldn’t want to be the slavers now, that’s for sure — and we’re glad that scene after scene has shown that good men and women still exist in Westeros, each ready to take up her fight.
Previously: Dog Day Afternoon