“Game of Thrones” sure seems to have found its footing. After last week’s astonishing “The Door”, this week’s “Blood of my Blood” offers the rest of the picture for a mighty one-two punch. Where “The Door” concentrated quite a lot on the North, the focus this week lays squarely with the South. But let’s unpack this bit by bit, shall we?
We get new stuff from North of the Wall as well, giving closure to last week’s door-hinging (heh) cliffhanger. Meera unsurprisingly isn’t able to outrun a horde of very quick wights while pulling Bran’s sled around, and so we have to cue for the appearance of a mysterious rescuer. In what doesn’t exactly count as a twist, it’s Benjen, who was mortally wounded by the White Walkers but rescued by the Children. First to call “Coldhands” gets a free cookie, but this is obviously a departure from the bookstuff, so let’s stick to “Benjen” here. With a rather unconvincing make-up and ninja-scarf, he doesn’t offer the most dashing picture, but the scene works well enough, and Benjen informs Bran that he is now the Three-Eyed-Crow (which seems to be more of a title than person) and needs to train. Whatever, the juicy stuff are of course Bran’s visions.
You are forgiven not to catch every detail of the extremely fast cutting here, so let me oblige you and link to a slow-motion-video of the visions. What we see is rather interesting. On the one hand, we get some quick images from events long passed, like the Red Wedding or the Tower of Joy. So, Bran now knows exactly how Robb died, which I’m sure he was dying (heh) to know. He also has the same vision that Dany had back in season 3, with the dragon flying over King’s Landing. Foreshadowing! There’s quite a bit of the latter, as we see the alchemists preparing wildfire all down in a tunnel under the city, and then Aerys screaming that everyone should burn, and then Jaime kills him.
There’s even more to unpack here. The images of Jaime stabbing Aerys are interspersed with images from other stabbings we know, including the death of Robb – is this suggesting some equivalence here? We also get Jon’s fight at Hardhome and, again, the Children creating the White Walkers. Even more interesting, however, is the explosion of the wildfire in the tunnel while Jaime is killing Aerys, the backstabbing stuff and the White Walker stuff are interspersed. To me, this suggests several things: one, Chekov’s wildfire is in the show as well, and the explosion in the tunnel is likely the near future when Dany returns and unsuspectingly blows King’s Landing to smithereens. Two, the stabbing of the Game of Thrones is put between this explosion (of Fire) and the fight of the White Walkers (Ice), which suggests a thematic connection. Well, that wasn’t actually all that crafty of me, but there you have it. A vision of Ice and Fire, with a pinch of the Game of Thrones. And all in the span of seconds. Way to go, Game of Thrones.
I’m deviating from the usual formula here and jump right to Braavos, because Arya’s storyline this episode and the last ties in very nicely with this, basically providing a meta-commentary on what’s going on. Watching the show, Arya first laughs at Joffrey’s (staged) death, but everyone else is just sad, and Arya is quickly taken in as the actress she’s about to kill gives the speech where she mourns Joffrey’s death. For Arya, the planned assassination suddenly becomes a lot harder as she emphasizes, of all people, with Cersei Lannister grieving for Joffrey. For us as watchers, it’s important to be reminded that the Lannisters, for all their horribleness, are people too, and this reminder is woven extremely neatly into the plot here.
Arya then hesitates a bit too long and is confronted by her victim who wants to recruit her because she seems like “she likes to pretend she’s someone else”. You think?! The key phrase is here is “pretend” of course. Also note how everyone berates everyone else on the low quality of the play, and how Arya advises the actress how to really portray Cersei, which is of course exactly how Cersei reacted, though Arya can’t know that. This scene is a marvel of screenwriting, editing and acting. This really is Game of Thrones at its very best, connecting all those threads and needling (heh) them together into something coherent, responsive to its audience. Arya’s assertion of her identity as Arya Stark and preparation for the inevitable confrontation with the waif is only the icing of the cake.
But back to Westeros. We’re back at the Twins! So nice to be reminded why we didn’t miss the cockroach clan of Frey. They still wear their ridiculous hats and give us the confirmation that the Blackfish did indeed take Riverrun from them, with the help of the newly rebellious Blackwoods and Mallisters and the Brotherhood without Banners. A lot of stuff happened onscreen since Gendry started rowing, it seems. Wouldn’t be surprised to see him with them. Walder Frey, pulling his familiar charm, tells his grandsons to show Brynden the knives that killed Robb and Talisa and to threaten to kill Edmure. Yes, Edmure! He’s still there as well. Nice to see them all. This is getting increasingly promising. One is almost ready to forget that season 5 opted to forego all this nice stuff for a road trip to Dorne. Almost.
The ball really gets rolling in King’s Landing, though. Team Despotism is taking on Team Fanaticism head on, and the only thing we can ask ourselves is whether somehow they can both lose, because it remains impossible to choose who you’d want to succeed. While Jaime is marshalling the Reach forces in a marvelous display of imagery (seriously, this looked great!), the High Sparrow is marshalling a new force of his own – the pliable mind of Tommen and the now broken mind of Margaery. I have to admit, I wasn’t exactly sure whether or not Margaery was only faking her new devotion, and then I was a bit confused as to why she wasn’t shorn before her Walk of Shame – sorry, Walk of Atonement, because this is totally about moral cleansing and not misogynistic destruction of female identities – but it all cleared up in time.
This plot twist is the first political plot that the show has produced standing on its own legs without the books to lean onto that actually works (because, you know, Dorne and Meereen). The suspension in this scene, with the populace ready to spill blood, is really great. And then the High Sparrow stands down (with Olenna Tyrell pulling a Dowager Countess, fanning herself air because really, the air is insufferable there) and you think they forceful approach actually worked, only to reveal the ace in his sleeve. Of course the preparations for invasion weren’t going over quietly, and the High Sparrow banked on the exact display that Jaime, the ridiculously pompous Mace and Olenna delivered. When Tommen marches down the steps flanked by his kingsguard, now with Seven-Pointed-Stars on their breasts, you can see a new player arisen and taken control of the capital. The fanatics won, and the despots have to roll over.
Jaime is stripped of his armor in the throne room in a scene explicitly mirroring the one with Barristan in season 2, trying to sell the king his version of absolutism (“in that chair, you don’t need to answer the gods”), but that train has left the station. Jaime is ordered to retake Riverrun, or else “do stuff, but don’t do it here”, much like Cersei commanded him to do in the books, only here, it’s Tommen on the High Sparrow’s orders. I have to say, I really warmed up to the show’s Cersei-Jaime-dynamic. It works quite well, and I guess the trial-by-combat next episode (?) will upend the dynamics established this episode quite a bit. I have an inkling that there will be some collateral damage to “Robert Strong” proving Cersei innocent.
Anyway, “Game of Thrones” got me really excited for a political plotline again. This is no small thing, mind you. It’s about the hardest stuff you can do. Slapping some dragons on screen and letting your lead deliver a rousing speech in an invented speech is quite easier. And wouldn’t you know it, that brings us to Meereen, because this week, fuck geographical continuity in the review!
Dany’s scene was serviceable. To be honest, it felt like a filler, despite the epic bombast of an Dothraki army and Drogon descending. I’m not quite sure why they didn’t mesh this with her turning the Dothraki in episode 4. Play the scene by day, have Drogon have some role in the fire part and let him tower in the background behind her, then you can even ditch the speech. This week as mainly a reminder that, yes, she’s still the badass Mother of Dragons we learned to love in Astapor. Well, take that over Tyrion’s lame jokes any day.
And with that, let’s jump to Horn Hill. Would you have thought it was so beautiful? I first thought they were moving to Highgarden. Man, can’t wait to see THAT place! Sam and Gilly are greeted by the female part of Sam’s family, and all is very nice. They put her in a dress (hilariousness ensues) and then it’s right off to what Sean T. Collins dubbed a “comedy of manners” at the most awkward dinner since the Red Wedding. Randyll Tarly is spot-on, a menacing presence and entirely unsympathetic, just as he should be. It’s really nice to see the women standing up to him, and utterly devastating to see how easily Sam snaps back into being cowed by the awesome presence of his shitty father (and surprisingly nice jock of a son).
Of course, the charade with Gilly being “from the North” doesn’t hold up for more than five seconds, and the typical Randyll charms come to full display. A Mole’s Town whore, that would be okay and just about what Sam could manage, but a wildling whore (Tarly seems to use “woman” and “whore” interchangeably), that’s below all standards! How could Sam betray him like this! Gee, I wonder if being threatened to be murdered by your own father had something to with it. A paragon of virtue, that one. He would get a long real nicely with the High Sparrow, all hypocritical bullshit.
Luckily, Sam remembers that he actually isn’t the frightened little boy anymore but that he really killed people and a White Walker, and that a guy whose greatest accomplishment it is to have killed some deer after 70 hours of tracking in “only one shot” (gee, congratulations, slow clap) doesn’t have any business to tell him who is the real man of the family. And just to prove the point, he takes the symbol of revered masculinity, that damn sword, with him. Take that, Randyll! This doesn’t exactly count as a smart move, but it is of highly symbolic meaning to Sam to take the phallic reassurance of his father for his own.
Here’s to more episodes as good as that one.