“Blood of my Blood”
“The Door” is probably going to be an episode that’s added to the rolls of the TV series’ most legendary, and deservedly so. But as powerful as “The Door” was, “Blood of my Blood” is really the episode I’ve been waiting for since… Well, probably since Season 4. This was a great episode, yes, but for my money the first of “post-Martin” era that truly felt as if it was cut from the same cloth as Martin’s canon material. Big things happened, but not just in splashy bursts of action – they happened through silence, through words, and through careful machinations. The blows struck were emotional ones, not physical, and the major themes of A Song of Ice and Fire were unmistakably on display for all the see.
This was a very measured episode of Game of Thrones, especially by the standards of the last two seasons. The intensity was off the charts but it was driven by the characters and the situations, not by cinematography and special effects. In truth there were only four major arcs covered, though we did check in with a couple of others. And it found time to shoehorn in some huge revelations, including one that fans of the book have been clamoring for since not long after the very beginning of the series.
Bran: Of course it would have been cruel not to begin the episode where the last ended, and thankfully Game of Thrones didn’t make the audience suffer for long. This is really the only action sequence of the episode, but it’s pretty tame by recent standards. There was never really any question that Bran might die here, and that meant someone was going to have to save him – for all her bravery, Meera surely wasn’t strong enough to fend off an army of wights and white walkers. Most of us who knew the books assumed it would be the one called Coldhands, and if indeed it was (indeed it was), that would answer one of two burning questions in our minds.
As I hoped it might, Bran’s story has indeed become perhaps the most compelling of the TV series, as if making up for lost time. I really loved the moment when he woke up and Meera tearfully hugged him and he hugged her back as she apologized, both of them fully expecting to die within moments. Bran’s road has been a hard one, but with everyone close to him but Meera ripped away by deaths he feels responsible for and the responsibility for saving Westeros heaped on him besides, it just got a lot harder.
Thankfully, Bran too has finally been reunited with a member of his family, and it’s one we’ve been wondering about for a very long time. While Benioff and Weiss never specifically call Benjen Stark “Coldhands”, it’s clear that for all intents and purposes he is. Like Jon, Benjen was plucked back from the grave, but he by the Children of the Forest and their Dragonglass (which can apparently reverse what it starts). Benjen has been changed in more obvious ways than Jon, but for Bran’s sake I hope he’s retained enough of himself to be more than simply a protector of the Three-Eyed Raven – Bran very much needs for some of the uncle who loves him to be alive in there too, for this man to be as much Benjen Stark as he is Coldhands.
Sam: How good it is to have Samwell Tarly back. We always knew that returning to Horn Hill would be a brutal experience for Sam, much less with a Wildling girl and a “son” in tow. One senses that Sam fears his father Randyll more than a white walker, and I suppose it’s understandable. His mother and sister are kind, and his brother Dickon seemingly affable if stupid – but Randyll Tarly is every bit the vitriolic and hateful shit Sam led us to believe. As Gilly says, it makes one angry that horrible people are able to treat good people so badly in the world – but if anything sums up A Song of Ice and Fire, that’s probably it.
Those scenes in the dining hall were brutal to watch, especially when Sam didn’t stand up to his father on Gilly’s behalf. Then only thing Randyll hates more than his eldest son is wildlings, and she blew her cover soon enough (as you knew she would). But Sam is strong in his own way, and rather than leave Gilly and little Sam to suffer under his father’s hand, he sneaks away in the night and brings them with him – presumably to Oldtown, though I don’t know how that’s going to work. And more importantly in the big picture, he takes with him Heartsbane – one of the last Valyrian steel blades in the Seven Kingdoms, and one his father swore Sam would never wield. Well, Sam has done far more to deserve to wield it than his brother or even his father (though Randyll, for all his sins, has certainly distinguished himself in battle).
Arya: It’s been a tough stretch for Arya Stark. Every since her split from The Hound her story has basically been stuck in neutral, and while I like Jaqen and the Braavos sets are gorgeous, I’ve never really felt any of it going anywhere either for the larger story or Arya’s role in it. This was easily Arya’s best episode since the Sandor Clegane days. Arya’s situation – her dilemma – was as clear as day, and the tension surrounding what she was going to do about it was palpable. This was the moment, it seems to me, where Arya was going to decide what kind of person she was.
I must admit, I was never really sure where Martin was going with this whole House of Black and White plotline. What’s Arya’s incentive, really, to become A Girl rather than be Arya Stark? Is she just running away from the cruelty of her world by trying to embrace a different sort of cruelty? I, for one, was glad she rejected the false truth Jaqen was offering and didn’t kill someone she knew was a good woman for money. Arya saw truth in Lady Crane’s performance, even saw some of her own despair in her portrayal of Cersei’s at the moment of Joffrey’s death. Maybe I’m being too poetical here, but it seems to me that in that crucial moment, Lady Crane made Arya have empathy with Cersei Lannister – and if Arya can have empathy with Cersei, even for a moment, she can’t possibly have lost all of herself. Jaqen and The Waif aren’t going to let her go without a fight, but if it’s a fight you want Arya is just the girl to give it to you.
King’s Landing: After a week off, things got pretty crazy in the capital. The battlefield alliance of Lannister and Tyrell seemed to be going swimmingly, but the High Sparrow proved once again to be a far more canny and dangerous opponent than he appears. When wielded by someone like him, words can be more powerful than blades, and he realized that his best course of action was to pull impressionable Tommen under his sway. And for all his cunning, you know the High Sparrow truly believes in his cause – that what he’s doing is for the best for Tommen, for Margaery, for the Seven Kingdoms. He couches his fanaticism in softly-spoken and self-deprecating terms, and in doing so provides the perfect antidote to Cersei Lannister in appealing to Tommen.
Without a question the High Sparrow won the staredown at the Red Keep, but this isn’t over by a long stretch. Margaery’s speech to Tommen was probably completely honest, and her talks with the Sparrow probably did help her come to terms with who and what she is. But she’s playing him, no doubt about it – the question is whether or not he knows he’s being played (my money is on yes). As for Tommen he strips “Uncle” Jaimie of his place in the Kingsguard and orders him off to lay siege to Riverrun (which happened much earlier in the books), an order Jaimie is disinclined to obey until Cersei convinces him to play along for now and think of the long game.
Elsewhere: Speaking of Rivverrun, the big news there is that the Blackfish has taken it back from the late Walder Frey’s idiot sons, and the old pissant is none too pleased about it. Here’s another sign that the North does indeed remember – the Mallisters and Blackwoods (two prominent Northern houses) have thrown over the Freys and declared for the Tullys. It seems a squeeze may be beginning here, with the grip of the Boltons and the Freys slipping from both the north and the south. Both Walder and Ramsay (how sweet to not see him for two episodes straight) have sons of their enemy as hostages of course, and neither will hesitate to use that to their advantage in whatever means they deem necessary. Things may not end well for either Rickon Stark or Edmure Tully, but one senses that a great reckoning is coming for the traitors of the North, and the more atrocities they commit to try and stave it off the more terrible it will be. The North remembers.
Finally, we end the episode with Danerys as we so often do. Drogon has gotten huge, and so have Dany’s plans – but all I know is, she’s done absolutely nothing to convince a neutral observer that she’s in any way fit to sit on the Iron Throne. Why in the world would anyone want her as their Queen? If either Martin or Benioff & Weiss (this storyline is equally adrift in both Game of Thrones and ASoIaF) can successfully bring Danerys into the main storyline in a meaningful and believable way, I’ll be pleasantly surprised.