‘Blood of My Blood’
Season 4 was rightly lauded as a ‘season of episode nines’, a season where significant developments occurred every episode. Yet as season 6 progresses, I’m starting to wonder if this isn’t going a step further. There have already been numerous big changes or events this year, and with every episode more happen still. This week was no different.
First things first though… Benjen is back! It’s been five years of the show since the First Ranger of the Night’s Watch disappeared, and it was at the point where any expectations of his return were words in the wind. Which of course, means it’s entirely unsurprising that it is now that he should return. By the same logic, Gendry should turn up just in time for the show finale to end season 8. But no, Benjen is back, and just in time. There was a slight element of fortuitousness to the nature of his reintroduction on screen, but it is his explanation that is of more interest to me. Any other book readers out there will be no doubt aware of the significance of his backstory, but even going by only what was shown on screen, it’s obvious Benjen is not fully Benjen anymore.
At this point, any potential journey south is getting to be a more and more dangerous prospect, with the magic protecting the Wall from the White Walkers long thought to be susceptible to those affected by them. Bran already falls into that category after last week, and it looks like Benjen does too. Yet going south seems like the only real option for them. The alternative is a ‘Frodo and the One Ring’ style journey to the home of the White Walkers glimpsed briefly in season 4, yet that feels too much of an ‘end-game’ to happen this season, and besides, what exactly could Bran do to affect them? He did experience more visions this week, including brief glimpses of the Mad King, Aerys II, bellowing the infamous ‘burn them all’ quote that Jamie has talked about so often. But as of right now, he still can’t control the visions, and even if he could, he’s not changing the future, but rather fulfilling it, as we saw with Hodor’s death last week. No, south it must be – let us just hope they don’t bring the Wall down on their way, or Edd and the rest of the Night’s Watch may well have more to moan about soon…As majestic as Dany’s brief scene was this week – and it was majestic, swooping in on Drogon before delivering a rendition of Drogo’s previous declaration every bit as passionate and fierce as his was – it didn’t actually change much. They needed to procure ships – they still need to procure ships. The Khalasar was a week’s ride from Meereen – the Khalasar is still a week’s ride from Meereen, even if Dany can fly ahead alone and calm things down over there. So as resonant as the speech was, I was sort of left wanting for some acknowledgement of reality at the same time.
Conversely, the best scenes of the episode came at Horn Hill, depicting Sam’s return home, precisely because the reality was exactly what we had expected. The fairy-tale ending to that particular arc would have been Randyll Tarly’s disdain for Sam turning to pride upon hearing he had killed a White Walker, finally accepting him as his first-born son, and Gilly and Little Sam happily living at Horn Hill. Yet this is Game of Thrones. It’s a phrase I find myself saying a lot, but a trait is only as true as the last example of it. Just like Oberyn’s death made tragic sense, the same can be said for the way this panned out. James Faulkner did a superb job as the Tarly patriarch; every aspect of his performance fitting the character, from his subtle mannerisms to his gruff demeanour. As much as it’s a relief to see Sam escape such an environment, it’s disappointing that we might not get to see much more of Randyll in the future. But then again, with Sam taking the Valyrian steel sword with him, and extended mentions of the Tarly predilection for hunting, he could reappear rather more abruptly soon.Over in King’s Landing, the standoff between the Lannister/Tyrell alliance and the High Sparrow reached critical mass. The armed advance on the Sept of Baelor couldn’t really be avoided, given that the only weapon Jaime, Cersei, Olenna Tyrell and co. had by this point was just that – weapons. Two rather large armies. Yet while the setup was as expected, the resolution wasn’t, and was far more unsettling for it. I’ve been of the mind up until now that Margaery’s newfound devotion to the Faith of the Seven was nothing more than a scheme to speed up her release. Yet unless she’s playing her cards so close to her chest as to trick Tommen as well as everyone else, that isn’t what’s going on, and she truly is a changed woman. I’m not entirely convinced by this development. Spending an indefinite time locked up with religion the only path out, would no doubt have an effect, yet Cersei came out of it in much the same mind-set as before – shaken and out for revenge, yes, but by no means a convert. The show has made it clear in the past that Margaery is just as cunning and clever as Cersei is, and so the idea of her genuinely submitting as opposed to putting on a front just doesn’t seem right to me.
What I can get behind, though, is the idea that Tommen has been taken in by the combination of Margaery’s apparent devotion, and the overtures of a true father figure in the High Sparrow. We saw how he reacted to Tywin’s influence before, and it feels like he craves that paternal influence that Robert didn’t really provide as his assumed father, and Jaime of course never has as his biological father. Even as someone with no love for the Lannisters – how people can like them is beyond me given – the subversion of the Lannister motif in the soundtrack as the High Sparrow, Tommen and Margaery looked out from the steps was effectively unsettling and ominous.On the back of this, Jaime has something to do again. After harking back to Barristan’s Kingsguard departure after Joffrey’s ascension, he was first stripped of his position and then sent to capture Riverrun from the Blackfish, bringing the events of the Red Wedding back into the fray. Which of course means a return for everyone’s favourite character – Walder Frey! I mean, he’s not nice or heroic or even proactive, but David Bradley can take any line he’s given and inject it with such an impressive amount of vitriol that makes Frey a great character. With all of those characters converging on Riverrun, something big could be about to happen.
Finally, we’ve left arguably the biggest development till last. As expected, Arya’s mission at the Braavosi play continued this week. Her discussion with Lady Crane reminded us that for all of Arya’s street-smart nature and increasing ‘Facelessness’, she still retains the sincerity of who she is. So it didn’t come as much of a surprise when she found herself unable to allow the mission to succeed, stopping Lady Crane from drinking the poisoned rum. And suddenly, her whole arc has changed dramatically. With the Waif watching on in disguise backstage, Arya’s betrayal has now made her a target. Despite the build-up in her training over the last dozen or so episodes, it’s always been clear she wasn’t made for the Faceless Men, not if that means abandoning her identity. Once again, the music was an integral part of the scene, building towards a crescendo as we saw her reunited with Needle, sleeping on the streets, and with her future rather uncertain.
This was another strong episode, and another set of important developments. With four episodes left, there’s plenty of time for things to change even more. And given the nature of the show, it’s a good bet that they will.