Game of Thrones – 56

“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.

 

 

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20 comments

  1. Y

    Lovely episode, though I’m seriously annoyed by how easily Tommen was swayed when he was oh-so-impassionately speaking about murdering the Sparrows only a few episodes ago. Also, regarding your views on Dany, I somewhat agree with what both you and Daario have said — she’s not exactly fit to govern from a royal hall. She has good intentions (mostly), but she’s hot-blooded; which, after spending weeks sitting on her sublime arse, makes her restless and more often than not leads to her making impulsive and unwise decisions. Nevertheless, I for one can’t deny she’s a crafty conqueror and a gutsy orator; I just hope she realises that sooner rather than later, lets Tyrion work his magic as her Hand (or just gives him the Throne and Seven kingdoms altogether), and goes off adventuring throughout the world with her winged kiddos and merry band of savages. Or sacrifices her life to destroy the White Walkers, whichever.

  2. Yeah, it jumped to my mind today that Dany really is a bit like Alexander the Great – one to conquer, inspire, and sweep through lands unknown pushing towards the boundaries of the world, but also one to leave ill governed, unstable cities behind her as she grows tired of them and wants even more. And probably one to burn bright and fast.

  3. e

    – Ah, Sam :,) I feel ya there. Just get that blade and go, you and your chosen famly deserves better emotional pastures if humbler ones. Bonus points to his mother standing up to mr. crappy pater familias in any limited ways she can btw.
    – While Bran’s sequences seem to be the key for the endgame*** my favourite scenes by far here were Arya’s. Not only they have been her best in a long time and a refreshing change from her previous material but I feel they were pretty good per se, and very nuanced and human… and also a bit of a meta commentary on the power of fiction and art to move us and affect our perspective. And they chose the empathy angle to boot. Win-win al around!
    – Parallel between Sam and Arya with Meaningful Sword Retrieval. Hopefully that’s some shared significance as well. (Re)claim your identity ftw!
    – A Girl Waif has one wish too many? Tut tut.
    – Daario sounds spot-on about Dany. She is a conqueror, not a ruler for time of peace or one who could bring a reasonably stable peace. She belongs with the Alexander the Great ilk in that thirst to go beyond and restleness and dreams of righteous divine grandeur, but then other people will have to work on managing her loot&land results long-term and clear the mess… that said I still hold hope for some Tyrion and his (smaller due to cave confinement and diet? ) dragon riding goodness happening sooner or later + he hopefully gets the chance to be Hand of whomever ends up sitting on the Iron Throne – if there will be any throne left at all that is -.
    – Is it wrong that out of all King’s landing developments the one I really care about concern Jamie’s path possibly crossing with Brienne’s again? Ah the anticipation! (sorry there Tormund )
    – the ‘1000 thousands ships wanted’ pops up again this week uh? The script does seem to foreshadow an Ironborn fleet scenario + dragons. But we also seem to have one rogue fleet vs Euron’s best laid plans bulding up. So.. which fleet if any, if either? Ah the tingly feeling of the bigger picture gaining momentum increases!

    ***relatedly… how much dragon glass and/or anti-Walkers ammo is stil available at present counting a bunch of surviving Valyrian swords, whatever of Sam’s dragonglass wasn’t lost in last week episode during Bran&Co’s predicament and… the dragonglass site mentioned somewhere once in Stannis’ territory (bit fuzzy on that detail atm)? Not clear on that from the TV clues I can recall. Or not?

  4. T

    Well Enzo Dario essentially was your voice to Daenerys in this episode. He told her straight to her face that she was not meant to sit in a throne room she is a conqueror. Granted I do hope we see the whole Meeren thing and the other slave cities resolved quickly because I would absolutely hate if our time there was for nothing. I mean seriously if she just leaves she will be proving to us the audience that she is an ineffective ruler. I hope everything Tyrion does will work out in the end because I so want others to see him for the effective advisor that he is.

    As for Bran I’m still salty about Hodor and Summer. Come back to me in a week.

    I absolutely hated Sam’s father. Its easy to forget how much influence our parents have over us and its quite clear for all of Sam’s amazing character development anyone would shrink in the face of an abusive father like his. I have immense respect for his mother who did not tolerate her husband’s bullshit and I’m sure she wouldn’t have stood by to see her husband kill her son. I hope her and the sister come out alive in the end. But yes I so happy Sam took Heartsbane because in the end of the day he knows what kind of war is coming and he is going to need that Valerien steel. Ultimately I do hope to see how will Sam and Gilly will reunite with their friends because as much as I want him to become a maester (a position that suites him and rightful deserves) it takes years and that is something we dont have the time to see so perhaps a maester will be recruited instead?

  5. What strikes me, honestly, is that if Tyrion and Varys were as smart as they think they are, they’d figure out that what they should do is let Dany conquer Westeros, and then kill her before she can actually govern it.

  6. They haven’t seen Dany governing much though, I just hope that she’s more open to learning from her mistakes after the Jorah incident.

  7. A

    Everyone talks about how Dany is not really fit to rule and how her plot is going nowhere which are both fair and true. On the same token though I don’t understand people’s love for Arya and her storyline which as gone nowhere, and her character itself is questionable.

  8. Well yeah, but isn’t that stuff about Arya exactly what I’ve been saying?

    And to be fair, I do think quite a few other people have been saying it too. She’s definitely been eclipsed by Sansa and now Bran, but hopefully this signals a comeback in the offing.

  9. A

    Btw Enzo completely agree with you regarding Bran, in my eyes has been the most interesting character since season 4

  10. A

    Fair point, loving your work on the blog! How are you finding this season compared to the early seasons? Asking to see because this is the first season for you where you are as much in the dark as non book readers.

  11. So far, pretty good. Too action-driven, but this episode was a change back to Martin’s style. Certainly an improvement on S5.

  12. I still feel the series is treading water. This episode did make me realize how much I like Sam. Sam is so wry.

  13. I agree that this was a very good episode, if only for the well handled Arya development. That arc has been going on for too long, and I kind of want The Waif dead because of how crazy and senseless she’s been all this while.

  14. D

    To a greater extent than most of the characters, Dany is probably constrained by the age issue

    Dany as one of the three core protagonists, probably has a story arc that can’t be deviated from as easily as some characters. And in the book, Dany is, by now, what? About 15 years old, if that? So, fairly often, while charismatic and brave, Dany also acts her age… and makes decisions that are not exactly wise. Which starts to look bad if you’re aged up to your 20s in the TV show, but are still stuck doing a plot line that was written to be appropriate for a 14-15 year old.

    Whether Dany is, ultimately, intended to be a hero (rather than one of the series anti-heroes like Jamie) is an interesting question. After all, she “paid” for her dragons through a blood magic act of human sacrifice, she crucifies her enemies (albeit some of them deserved it), etc.

    In a moralistic show with a modern vision (like, say, a comic book-style show such as Buffy the Vampire Slayer) all of this would indicate she was ultimately doomed . Martin, however, probably has enough historical perspective to consider that Dany is a product of her time, and despite something of a temper is no more evil than, say, Julius Caesar is (and probably somewhat less, given her enlightened view on slavery).

  15. Y

    I don’t think it’s just her decisions that are problematic, but also the way she implements them and handles the inevitable consequences they bring about. She’s a solid example of what happens when a person who has had very little power throughout the majority of their years obtains too much of it too quickly and becomes blinded by it. Perhaps what angers me the most about her is the fact that she actually does have the potential to be a good ruler — a great one, even — and she is utterly squandering it, to the point where it may very well be too late for her to tap into it and fully exploit it at this point; and she hardly even notices! She knows kindness is valuable just as she knows making difficult choices is an inevitable part of ruling, but she has so much bloody trouble balancing those two things out, it’s borderline ridiculous. A shame, really — she started out as one of the series’ most promising characters, and yet she has tumbled down from that dais spectacularly in the time since. I want to like very badly; she hasn’t earned that, but I hope she somehow does, and I hope it happens soon. I really don’t want any more of her character to be wasted (assuming things can still be salvaged at this point); she had the premise for such a fantastic story arc, it truly is gutting to see how little Martin and the showrunners have done with it in all the time they’ve had.

  16. I think that most people here are giving Dany more flak than she deserves for her actions in season 5, its insanely difficult to find out decent ways of ruling a city in the medieval era, with all the failed examples littered throughout the series(Even Jon Snow couldn’t succeed at controlling his small army!). Its good that the show had consequences for her actions, and to her credit she realised that her actions were mistakes, smartly transferring the role of governing to Tyrion and Varys. I’ll admit that her recent arc has been a bore and her arrogant attitude is pretty annoying, but I think she still has promise for the developments you are hoping for.

  17. I actually think most people here (certainly me) and elsewhere give Danerys flak for all her actions in pretty much every season apart from the first, and deservedly so. I think she’d been a font of bad judgment since the first moment we met her.

    I would also take issue with giving her credit for transferring the role of governance to the Imp and the Spider – that was in no way voluntary. If her bad decisions hadn’t led to the assassination attempt and being whisked away by Drogon, she’d still be a huge thorn in their side every time they tried to exercise common sense.

  18. She did give the Imp more power than he normally would have gotten in other kingdoms because of her previous mistakes, which let him have control of the city while she was gone, I’d call that a success at least.

    My stance of her bad judgement is that I don’t mind her being a flawed character if she eventually develops into someone better, and I see evidence of her gradually developing throughout the story, wavering being too kind to being extremely harsh. She’s gone through both directions and its interesting to see when she finds her sweet spot.

  19. A

    I suppose I’ll be in the minority here, but for me this has probably been one of the worst GoT episode in the entire show, and that’s mainly because I absolutely despise Sam & Gilly, and 20 mn of them was about 60 mn too much and 80 mn wasted (and no, it’s not an arithmetic error). Good thing that the rest of the episode was better, though the writing still feel a lot less precise than when it was before the end of the War of the Five Kings (which is still my favourite part of the show).

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