Show: Game of Thrones
Watched: Episode 56 – May 29, 2016
Title: Blood of my Blood
Summary: Great stuff, slightly rushed execution
NOTE: SERIOUS SPOILER WARNING. This review/discussion contains tons of spoilers about the episode and even ones crossing over from the books. It’s really my free-for-all musing given all the information at my disposal.
Plot threads are unraveled and discussed one by one.
Bran – and Meera flee desperately through the snow, picking up where they left off last week. Bran is still in his trace and we are treated to a rapid-fire montage of visions. Mostly bits of White Walker footage from previous battles (like Hardholme) and stressful highlights (like Ned Snark’s final moments) but also a touch of new footage including the mad king screaming “burn them all” and some Wildfire explosions (is Wildfire a key to fighting the undead horde?). Back in the real world, given storm and terrain, Meera is having a tough time with the sled. Bran wakes, but the zombies are coming out of the woods. Just as things look bleakest, with the dead about to strike, a horseman with a fiery censor/thurible appears and makes short work of the shambling nightmares. At last, the long awaited appearance of Coldhands!
Later, this mystery figure (who in the books helped out Sam and Gilly in the North and later Bran before he got to the tree), is beheading a rabbit — yuck (tie in with Sam and Gilly dialog). But he soon reveals himself to be Benjen Stark — achem, a little worse for the wear. Seems he was stabbed by a White Walker at some point, but was saved when the Children of the Forest used an obsidian dagger (shoved in his heart) to turn him into some kind of “good white walker.” He has apparently worked for the Raven since. The details of his transformation are unclear, presumably some similar magic to that which Leaf used to make the original White Walker. We fans have long suspected that Coldhands was Ben, and now it’s confirmed.
Overall, this is some great stuff and more of the rapid-fire reveals, particularly with regard to the Walker/Raven/Children mythology so long on slow IV drip. Ben didn’t look all that “transformed” and I would have preferred he appear more “wraith-like” or at least they showed his black hands. An elk/reindeer as opposed to a horse would have been cool too. The show is slightly uneven in how it embraces the high fantasy elements. Certainly they do, and in increasingly large measure, but it doesn’t play them to the LOTR max (and I mean good LOTR, not the Hobbit).
Gilly & Sam – Ride in a very fancy carriage through the southlands as they approach his ancestral estate of Horn Hill. They talk of trees (being green and different down south). Sam is a nervous talker and funny as usual. “A person just doesn’t feel welcome after that [being told to go to the wall or die]”. They inform the audience that Sam didn’t tell his family she was a Wildling (just a Northerner) in his letters and that his father hates Wildlings. Eventually they approach the house, which seen in the background is a giant complex I’m convinced was inspired (architecturally) by either the Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi or by the older examples of Roman villas (put through a “medieval filter”).
Either way, Horn Hills looks imposing. Inside we meet Sam’s mother and sister and baby Sam is introduced as his son. Later, Gilly is amusingly awkward in a fancy dress. She looks quite different without that greasy/stringy hair, but she’s always been a cute girl (under the dirt). Sam’s dad is at dinner. I thought he might end up being Ian McShane, who is supposed to join the cast for one episode, but no, he’s dour and underplayed. There is hunting talk and the father is on Sam’s case from the first instant and Sam just shrinks into his chair. It’s tough to watch because Sam is such a sympathetic character and he has come such a long way over the years — but clearly not with regard to his father. This I can believe because it’s easy to retreat to old behaviors (good or bad) when seeing important people in your life you haven’t in a long time. Much like how you can hang with old college buddies decades later and it feels like “no time has passed” in certain regards. Anyway, the dad “points out” Heartsbane, their family Valyrian steel blade. Gilly can’t help but defend Sam and taunts the father with her Wildling origin (as a side note she mentioned rabbit hunting which is deliberately paired with Coldhand’s rabbit butchering above). Sam’s dad calls her a whore and demands that while she and the baby can stay, Sam has to go at first light. Sam just takes it all. But later, after talking to Gilly, and even though she forgives him, he comes back and grabs her to leave — stealing Heartsbane on his way out!
It’s good to see him getting his backbone back, even if he just took the verbal assault, and even if he does it on the sly. I liked these scenes, but my biggest problem was how black and white “nasty” Sam’s father was without any nuance or complexity.
Arya – is back at the theatre in Bravos, watching another political drama, I guess a sequel to last week’s. This time it’s the Purple Wedding and the death of Joffrey. She enjoys getting to see him get his just desserts. It’s clear that as the Cersei actress (Arya’s target) says her lines that the younger one playing Sansa covets the part. Next, Arya sneaks back stage and puts her poison in the lady’s rum. On her way out she runs into her target. The actress is actually quite friendly and assumes Arya is a wannabe actress. So when the actress settles down to drink her rum Arya can’t bring herself to let it happen knocks the glass from her hands. I could tell this was coming as the writers weren’t about to make Arya into a soulless killer. But it’s still a big decision for her. She runs to her rocks and digs out needle (presumably to run away from the House of Black & White).
Later, the Waif reports to Jaqen H’ghar. She’s always had it out for Arya, but Jaqen is bummed. Still, he tells the Waif to kill her (but make it quick). So Arya is “free”, but a wanted woman. Like many of this week’s scenes I thought this was good stuff but a touch rushed. And while Arya will soon be on her way “back” (presumably to join one of the other threads of the story) it doesn’t feel to me that she has learned enough skills. She has better emotional control. She is better with the quarterstaff. But she hasn’t learned any secret Death God magics. Or maybe in the confrontation coming up (with the Waif and maybe Jaqen) she will steal some masks or mask magic. We shall see.
Walder Frey – For the first time since season 4 we return to the loathsome Walder Frey. This segment serves mostly as exposition as he’s dressing down some of his indistinguishable hooded sons about having lost Riverrun to the Blackfish. Walder orders them in no uncertain terms to take back the castle — although easier said than done for a bunch of lackluster men against a seasoned commander like the Blackfish. Having sufficiently cowed his underlings he trots out a barefoot and bedraggled Edmure Tully (Cat’s brother and the Blackfish’s nephew) so they have some added leverage against the Blackfish. This is no surprise to me, as I knew they had him in custody. It makes sense to have held onto him because he was never a practical threat, but might prove a useful tool.
Tommen – is talking to the High Sparrow again, about Margaery in particular. This week the king is allowed to see her. Cleaned up, in her homespun robe, she looks younger. And she sure talks the penitent talk. Hard to tell if she’s become a convert or is playing along. Last week, she seemed in full charge of her facilities, so I have to wonder. They talk about Loras and she draws the convo back to the Sparrow.
Jaime – supervises the arrival of the Tyrell army, nominally under the command of the ridiculously armored Mace Tyrell — who gives a rather lame speech. They march on up to the Sept where the Sparrow has Marg out on the steps. Even the Queen of Thornes is there (in her armored coach). Jaime rides up the steps and confronts the Sparrow, demanding that there shall be no walk of atonement. The Sparrow pulls out his trump card and trots out a pet Tommen, superficially yielding on the walk issue, but showing his domination of the king. He announces a new union between church and crown (including both king and queen). Olenna is the only one seemingly aware that he “won”.
Back in the throne room, Jaime strips off his Kingsguard armor in echo of the similar action by Barristan Selmy at the end of season 1. I think he was more fired than quit. He is being stripped of his command but sent with Lannister forces to deal with the Blackfish at Riverrun. Basically this is getting him back on track with the books.
Later, he’s furious when talking to Cersei. He wants to launch an all out attack on the Sept and knock out the High Sparrow. But this time she’s the one arguing for restraint. She isn’t worried about her upcoming trial because she can force it to “trial by combat” and have Franken-Gregor mow through whoever. They kiss passionately and reaffirm their Lannister Twin Pact.
Dany – marches through the desert with her army, talking about how many ships they will need to bring the hordes to Westeros. Suddenly, she spots a dust devil and her spider senses tingle. She makes the rather silly looking gang of Dothraki wait while she runs around the corner. I do have to note that the whole Dothraki look is just a little over the top and always looks silly in a group. Khal Drogo himself looked great, totally badass, but the gang of them just don’t pull off the rough warrior ethos. Maybe it’s because the extras they drum up aren’t really nomadic horse warriors. Plus it doesn’t help that when we see them close up, it’s only a few guys.
Anyway, after Dany runs around the corner she reappears a minute later on top of Drogon (who has been eating WELL since we last saw him) and lands in front of her “horde”. Here, she proceeds to give another of her excellent foreign language motivational speeches, this time in Dothraki and with parallel lines to the awesome oath Khal Drogo gave before the Mother of Mountains in season 1.
The speech itself I liked, but I somehow thought they could have come up with some better way for her to hook up with Drogon than to “feel” he was hiding around the corner. Plus the cheering horde had that silly Dothraki extra look.
Episode body count: Zombies, Arya’s career as an Faceless Man, and Jaime’s pride.
Overall, a good episode with a lot of stuff happening, mostly dealing with the threads that were not addressed last week. My issue, as I’ve said above, is that these events felt like good moves from a plotting department but weren’t entirely fleshed out in execution. I wonder how much this has to do with the shift of the “scene writing” from GRRM to D&B. The former is a master of wrapping up his plot turns in the context of great scenes. Examples would be things like the Red Wedding or even a simpler scene like where Cat captures Tyrion in that inn in season 1 or where Ned ends up stabbed in the leg by Jaime. At the plotting level we have the turnabouts, but GRRM really sells the moment. By contrast, turning the corner and just finding Drogon isn’t a sexy way to get them back together — even though their reunion is a desirable thing.