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What is Game of Thrones without Arya? Nothing, that's what!

Ah, for the days when Arya (Maisie Williams) was setting out for parts unknown!
Ah, for the days when Arya (Maisie Williams) was setting out for parts unknown!
HBO

Every week, Todd VanDerWerff will be joined by two of Vox's other writers to discuss the latest episode of Game of Thrones over the course of that week. Check out the recap for this episode here, and follow the whole discussion here. This week, Todd is joined by culture writer Kelsey McKinney and politics writer Andrew Prokop. Come back throughout the week for more entries.

Todd VanDerWerff: Picking up from you guys' discussion of who will end up on the Iron Throne, I actually had a discussion with a friend recently about how it would be really amusing for the show to end with Stannis perched there. It's probably the most realistic option, if you think about it. The boring, inevitable story is usually what happens in real life, and Stannis is very much the boring, inevitable option on this show.

But then, I love Stannis. I know a lot of fans think he's boring, but I love the way he seems perpetually irritated about the fact that he has to exist with all these other people. As played by Stephen Dillane, he almost seems like someone who keeps his emotions in a jar, so he can take them out and look at them every so often. That's why he's such a great foil for Jon, who's at least 75 percent pout as a general rule.

I'm generally with Kelsey when it comes to Jon's utter uselessness, but I did like his big closing moment in this episode. The problem, as Kelsey defined it in her excellent essay on this point, is that Jon rarely makes his own choices or takes control of his own destiny. Yet by shooting Mance through the heart, rather than letting him die from the flames and smoke surrounding him, Jon takes a big stand against someone he probably doesn't want to piss off.

It's a reminder of one big thing this episode has going for it — by bringing some of the characters together (like Jon and Stannis), the series only whets our appetite for when even more of them cross each other's paths.

That contraction pays off in momentum. One of the reasons I thought "The Wars to Come" worked better than some of the series' other season premieres was because it didn't work overtime to cram everybody it could think of into the episode. We didn't need to see Ramsay and Theon, for instance, because they don't really fit into the story at this point. (I would hold out hope that neither will be turning up, but I see their names on the list of characters HBO sent out for the season. Sigh.)

If there's one character I wish were here, however, it's one Arya Stark. Remember how the conclusion of season four was the girl sailing off toward a better, brighter future? Yeah, we don't really pick up with that, as the show resolves every major cliffhanger other than that one in this episode.

This is too bad! Arya has always been one of the show's best characters precisely because she represents a kind of brutal hope that's in keeping with the series' center. The greatest thing just about anybody can hope for on this show is to have their revenge, and that's the entirety of Arya's arc at this point. "Wars to Come" is overstuffed as it is, but I wouldn't have minded seeing Maisie Williams at least once, if only to remind all of us that she exists.

Yet there's another reason Arya doesn't show up — she doesn't fit into the episode's general shrinking. Even in stories where the characters don't actually meet (say, when Sansa spies Brienne and Podrick across an empty field, without knowing what she's looking at), there's a definite sense that the story is finally tugging things back together. That's harder to do with a girl who's headed toward a city none of the other characters will be in any time soon.

This is such a sprawling show, however, that there are always going to be characters missing and actors we'd love to see. Did you feel like there were any major players whom you would have liked to have seen turn up? And which characters do you want to see meet up already? Me, I'm hoping the Hound is somehow still alive, so he can start palling around with Sam. That seems like a buddy cop comedy waiting to happen.

Read the recap.

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Next: Kelsey tells us how Stannis became one of her favorites.