*Spoilers, naturally, follow for those yet to watch Game of Thrones Season 6 Episode 6 ‘Blood of my Blood’*
Season six of Game of Thrones has, so far, turned out to be one of the absolute best of the show’s entire run, churning out episode after episode of fascinating, gripping television. There has scarcely been any dull moments, and the number of huge climaxes and significant deaths has kept the show at a level unmatched since Season 3.
But even Game of Thrones, as gripping a show as it is, has to suffer its mid season lulls; when the story is caught between the fascinating set ups of the early season and the brutal climaxes of the late, and ‘Blood of my Blood’ was the first true ‘hanging’ episode of the season.
Of course, with this show, the story is just too sprawling for there to be a truly dull episode, and therefore this episode had its moments- Uncle Benjen saving the day, Sam growing a pair and getting his ‘family’ away from his family, plus ancestral sword- and Dany’s bloodrider speech at the end comes to mind- but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this is the season’s weakest episode yet.
No shame in that- the worst Thrones episode is generally better than most other shows best episodes, and we saw it clearly here. Despite being a classic set up episode, there was more than enough action to go around, with the episode picking up right where ‘The Door’ ended. Meera had to haul Bran away from their attackers, now without the indispensable help of the tragic Hodor, and it seemed obvious they weren’t going to get anywhere before they were overtaken. Meera has a fraction of the strength of Hodor, and Bran as usual was little help, plugged into ‘the Matrix’ as he ‘downloaded’ all the info the Three Eyed Raven sent his way before his tragic death. As Uncle Benjen told him a few minutes later, he is the Raven now.
Uncle Benjen. When you talk about the size of the fantasy epic George R R Martin has created, sometimes outsiders might feel you are exaggerating. Yet here we are, in the middle of season 6, and we are seeing here an actor neither seen nor heard from since the first couple of episodes of the first season! We had some other nostalgic returns this episode as well, in the form of the two Tullys Edmure and Brynden- neither seen nor heard from since the Red Wedding. Only Game of Thrones could pull off a story so huge.
Benjen was presumed dead or lost since he led a ranging party far north, all of who were later found dead. His eventual fate is as much a mystery in the books as in the show, and his return satisfies show fans, but not book fans. There exists a character in the books who aids Bran and his entourage in the frozen icelands of the North, and therefore it’s simply a matter of the showrunners making a sensible choice with to use Benjen, more than a confirmation of who that mystery book character is. Game of Thrones surpassing Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire this season spoils a lot of things for fans of the latter, but not this, in my humble opinion.
Also, after seasons of doing everything to keep the Starks away from each other, we now cannot stop having Stark reunions. We just need to get Arya stateside now, in the works, and the internet would go into meltdown with all the Stark love being showered on us now.
Speaking of Arya, this week drew us closer than ever to her expected break from the Faceless Men. She went on her mission to kill the actress from the drama troupe playing Cersei, but Arya has not descended far enough down the rabbit hole to being ‘no-one’ to not realise that she was being asked to kill an undeserving person. We have seen Arya transform from a fun little girl into a hardened assassin, but she has always made it a point to harm those she perceives as peddling injustice. For her, harming an innocent person is not a line she’s willing to cross, as she indicated last week, and matters were further complicated when she had a sincere tête-à-tête with her target.
So Arya spectacularly failed the test, when she stopped the assassination at the last moment and instead warned the target. The Waif, of course, was on hand to report back, and finally got the authorisation to do what she has wanted to do for a long time, kill Arya Stark. Arya did not want to become an assassin so bad that she would let go of her identity, her ideals, her Starkness- but before she leaves Braavos, she must have one last reckoning with the Waif.
Arya might be leaving for Westeros soon, but one person definitely leaving for Westeros anytime now is Daenerys Stormborn, the first of her name. Khaleesi had an epic moment at the end of ‘Book of the Stranger’ when she barbecued the Dothraki’s entire Khal collection and gained the entire Dothraki horde to her cause- and this episode she made sure they would be willing to cross the ‘salt sea’ with her and take back her birthright. The Dothraki respond well to strength, and Dany made the biggest power play of all when she entered their midst mounted on Drogon, and gave that amazing speech in their tongue.
I mentioned last week that I suspect the season would end with Daenerys getting her entire army onboard ships and enroute to Westeros, and that seems likely with each passing week. The petty bickering in Westeros continues to grow with each passing week, but from the North and from the East, greater threats are coming that the noblemen are yet to pay heed to.
The internal strife reached a near breaking point in King’s Landing this episode, and once again the High Sparrow displayed political acumen miles ahead of what the noble houses of Tyrell and Lannister credit him with. Since Cersei elevated them to power in her shortsighted attempt to get Margaery humiliated, and which backfired so spectacularly in her face- the Sparrow has been three steps ahead of everyone else. And this episode, he played the lords of the realm so much they didn’t realise what had hit them- even the usually savvy Queen of Thorns was dumbfounded.
Tommen Baratheon has turned out to be as much of a wuss as his brother was a psychopath. It seems like with the Lannister children there is no moderation, and whichever character trait they take on, they take it to the max. At the moment, his weakness has put his family in the incredible tight spot of having to let go of their murderous instincts, something we know Cersei would be loathe to do. And Jaime gets banished to the Riverlands as a result.
The upcoming confrontations the show is setting up in the Riverlands promises to supplant some of our more familiar stories for sheer excitement in the episodes to come. The indomitable Blackfish has Riverrun, and if you know anything about that man, he is not letting go of that castle without a fight. Brienne is on her way to woo him to Sansa’s side, and with this unexpected turn of events, she’s certain to run into Jaime- and a certain vengeful character (from the books) if the writers are so inclined.
Horn Hill gave us the most infuriating scene this episode, when we met Sam’s infamous father, Randyll Tarly. The man who sent Sam away to the Wall for being too craven hasn’t softened one bit, and his reception to Gilly and little Sam once he found out their origins displayed the sort of irrational hatred that could make one renounce their own son without any compunctions. Sam had hoped Horn Hill would be a refuge for his new family, but he found the same implacable man who had sent him away. His mom and sister are warm enough, but Randyll, reluctant to accommodate them in the first place, totally lost his mind when he discovered Gilly was actually a wildling.
The scene, aside informing us about what a colossal a** Sam’s father is, also shined a brilliant light into the mindset of the southern families, who see stories of White Walkers and stuff like that as nothing but fables and legend. It explains a lot why they keep bickering over who would rule the land in King’s Landing and Dorne, whilst for those at the wall, there is no such luxury.
‘Blood of my Blood’ is far from this season’s finest hour, but as usual it advances the story, and sets huge events in place as we hurtle towards season’s end. Brynden ‘The Blackfish’ Tully makes his return next week, ready to parley with Ser Jaime over the eventual fate of Riverrun. We checked in with Sam and Gilly who we haven’t seen in a while, and for the first time in seasons, our two resident consequential characters domiciled in Essos, Arya Stark and Daenerys Targaryen, are set to make the trip back home with this week’s turn of events. Now the Ironborn just need to turn up for Dany to get her fleet, just in time to get her colossal army to head for the squabbling lords of King’s Landing. Ahoy Westeros, it is then.