There's no denying that HBO's Game of Thrones
can be a pretty violent series. Set in a Medieval-type world where sword fights are common, war is ever-present, and the threat of death looms over each character's head, the show has seen its fair share of throats slit, guts spilled, and heads chopped off. But for as graphic as the show can get, the most recent episode, "No One,"
went out of its way to show that violence may not be the only option in the world of Westeros. Not only can characters avoid violence, but they can possibly take an alternate route if they truly want to win the game of thrones.
This isn't to say that there was no violence in "No One," but compared to most Thrones
episodes, the hour was relatively calm. Just look at the revenge that Sandor "the Hound" Clegane takes upon the Brotherhood Without Banners impostors. After seemingly coming back from the dead last week
, the Hound went after a group of men who had slaughtered a peaceful village, and once he found the men, he brutally decapitated one and disemboweled another. But his next victims got away and were captured by Beric Dondarrion and Thoros of Myr, the true Brotherhood Without Banners, and were set to hang. The Hound naturally wanted to kill them his own, brutally violent way, but Beric and Thoros prevented him from resorting to extreme measures to cause their deaths. "We're not butchers," Thoros said as he stayed the Hound's ax. The Hound seemed shocked by the change — it was as if the thought had never crossed his mind that he didn't have to utterly slaughter his enemies — but he gave in, and seemed to contemplate this new path being a viable option.
Then there was Jaime Lannister, holding siege at Riverrun and trying his best to get back to Cersei. Jamie had the option of ordering Lannister forces to attack the castle and kill every Tully soldier inside. But instead, he tried something else. Spurred by his intense desire to get back to Cersei, Jaime, took another route: simple threats. He tortured Edmure Tully with his words, threatening to catapult his baby son into the castle and murder every last Tully until he was reunited with Cersei, but his threats led to no real violence, and they actually saved lives in the end. By negotiating with Edmure, even via threat, Jaime avoided a drawn-out battle, and fewer people died as a result. He even let Brienne get away without conflict.
Back in King's Landing, meanwhile, Cersei used violence, only to have it backfire. Since Qyburn had made a sort of Franken-Mountain out of Gregor Clegane, Cersei had the option to simply have her guard slaughter anyone who threatened her. And indeed, that's just what she did. When the High Septon called her to meet with him and the Faith Militant threatened to take her by force, Cersei defiantly uttered, "I choose violence," and loosed her bodyguard upon them. The scene was a brutal one, the Mountain beheading a Faith Militant member with his bare hands. But Cersei soon learned that violence won't do her any good going forward. As Tommen decreed moments later, trial by combat was now forbidden. "The tradition is a brutish one," Tommen said. "A scheme devised by corrupt rulers in order to avoid true judgment from the gods." Cersei will have to be tried before a jury of seven septons, with her great plan to escape her fate through violence defeated by her own son.
Finally, there was Arya, who managed to defeat the Waif and announce, triumphantly, that she was no longer "No One," but rather that she was Arya Stark of Winterfell, and she was going home. Yet her glorious battle against the Waif was seen by, well, no one. Before beating her foe in what we can only assume was a slick fight, Arya doused out the candle in her hovel, and fought her opponent in the dark, just like as she had done while blind and training. There's no question that Arya's besting of the Waif was brutal (she did peel her face off, after all), but viewers saw none of it. The violence existed, but the the episode simply chose not to show it, emphasizing that Arya had used her wit and learned skills to defeat her enemy.
So what does it mean that a single episode detailed so many encounters where extreme violence was an option but was either rejected or forced out of contention? Perhaps it's a suggestion that, despite what both Thrones characters and fans have come to assume, violence may not be the ultimate thing that wins the game of thrones. So many of this show's players think they're going to take Westeros through war, but what if it's not as simple as whose army is stronger, or how many people one side can kill? What if this latest episode was suggesting that winning the game might involve another strategy, one of wit, negotiation, or simple determination? Perhaps the battle of Westeros won't be an actual "battle," after all.
And sure, viewers might feel ripped off if this ends up being the case, but haven't we gotten enough violence and battles to last the show's entire run? Episode 9 of every season seems devoted to a major battle, and the next episode, "Battle of the Bastards,"
seems like no exception, as the preview teases an all-out war between Ramsay Bolton and Jon Snow. The episode will no doubt include brutal scenes of war and disturbing deaths, so Thrones
fans shouldn't worry about violence being out of the picture anytime soon. Yet "No One" does raise the question — will violence always
be the answer on Thrones
, or will other methods of winning wars take hold? It'll be fascinating to see where, after next episode, Thrones
chooses to go — if it'll end in violent war as fans have come to expect, or if the game of thrones will end up simply being a competition of the mind.