After last week's harrowing episode, you can't blame "Blood of My Blood" for wanting — needing, even — to take a step back. The flip side is that "Blood of My Blood" is a bit of a letdown. It's not bad, per se, and plots do get advanced. They're just not advanced very far, and in some cases, they're advanced in a way that makes them sort of baffling. Take, for instance, the strange cases of Margaery Tyrell and Arya Stark.
When we last left Margaery, she was holding her sobbing brother Loras, knowing he was about to break. Now she's suddenly a true believer in the Church of the Seven, as Tommen discovers when the High Sparrow very suddenly allows him to see his queen. Margaery doesn't exactly radiate religious fervour, but she says all the right things. And with poor, easily led, eager to please Tommen, you know where this is going.
When Jaime leads the Tyrell army through King's Landing to stop Margaery's Walk of Atonement, he's ready to order the deaths of the Faith Militant, but the High Sparrow already has him beat. He announces to a massive crowd that's gathered that Margaery has atoned by turning King Tommen into a believer (as Tommen exits the Sept for maximum effect. Like many holy men, the High Sparrow knows how to play a crowd). Tommen declares a total partnership between the crown and the church, and the people go wild. If Cersei and Olenna Tyrell were worried about riots in the streets before, there's no way the King's soldiers or the Tyrells or anybody could dare attack them now. Even Lady Olenna has to grumpily admit she's best bested.
So what's happening here? Has Margaery truly become a believer? This seems unlikely. Is she faking her faith in order to finally get set free, and/or avoid her Walk of Atonement, and/or free her brother Loras? Giving the Church power over Tommen seems short-sighted, but I could see Margaery so desperate to get out from under their power that she'd be willing to put her short-term benefit over the long-term — especially to save her brother. Except Loras is never mentioned, so we don't know what Margaery is really doing, or why. I assume answers are coming in future episodes, but that doesn't make it any less perplexing now.
But Margaery's new-found belief makes far more sense than Arya's decision. When we last left her, Jaqen had told her to kill the nice actress lady, or she'd be killed. Arya has come a long way to become a face-changing master assassin, so you'd think that she'd either 1) kill the nice actress lady and start her training in earnest, or 2) she wouldn't kill the nice actress lady and it would turn out that this is a secret test that she would have passed, and then she would start her training in earnest. (It's Game of Thrones, so #1 seems a lot more likely.)
Instead, Arya agonises about the decision forever, then poisons nice actress lady's wine, then gets caught by nice actress lady who gives her an impossibly on-the-nose talk about pretending to be other people, and Arya knocks the wine out of her hand at the last second and announces that mean actress lady wants her dead. The Waif, spying on her, sees this, reports to Jaqen, and Jaqen orders Arya's death. Arya, meanwhile, recovers her sword Needle (that she'd hidden in a rock pile at the beginning of season five, I believe?) and then finds a very, very dark hidey-hole to sit in as the Waif very happily hunts for her.
Um, the hell? Has Arya really failed the School of Face-Changing Assassins without learning anything other than a bit of blind-fighting? That seems unlikely, but mainly because of Chekhov's School of Face-Changing Assassins; if you make a School of Face-Changing Assassins a large part of a major character's storyline for multiple seasons, that School of Face-Changing Assassins has to go off — or at the very least, said character needs to learn how to magically change her face. If this is truly the end of Arya's journey in Braavos, it will have been a spectacular waste of time. Again, I can't really believe that's true, but last night's episode certainly presents this to be the case. It's aggravating if nothing else.
Arya seems to have made a very poor choice, but if you wanted to crown the King of Bad Decisions, that crown would go to Samwell Tarley who brings Gilly and Li'l Sam to his family in Horn Hill where his comically awful father lives. His plan is to present Gilly as his wife and Li'l Sam as his son, drop them off and then head to the Citadel. Sam tells Gilly that all they need to do is keep the fact that Gilly's a Wildling a secret… which they screw up almost immediately during dinner. Sam's dad, Randyll Tarly, starts heaping even more scorn on Sam, and Sam's nice mum flees the dinner table because she's so upset. This actually works out pretty well because Randyll begrudgingly allows Gilly and Li'l Sam to stay in Horn Hill — Gilly will work in the kitchen — but Sam has to leave the next morning and never return home. This is what Sam agrees to do.
Until he doesn't, suddenly deciding that his little family needs to stay together, even though he's already announced that the Citadel — his ultimate goal — does not allow women. That was the whole point of stopping by Horn Hill. And Sam doesn't just sneak out; he also steals his family ancestral Valyrian steel sword, Heartsbane, on the way out.
I repeat: um, the hell? Not only has Sam suddenly decided to bring Gilly to a place he informed us he wasn't at all allowed to bring Gilly (or at least couldn't protect her), he's decided to piss off the father who hates him by stealing his priceless sword? Yes, it's technically Sam's birthright as first-born, but 1) there's no way his dad just lets this go, and 2) swords aren't exactly Sam's forte anyway. Sam is incurring a huge amount of risk — endangering Gilly and baby, I might add — by both of these snap decisions. But the biggest mystery is this: Why the hell did the show even bother to stop by Horn Hill anyway? I assume it has something to do with Sam bringing Valyrian steel to the Citadel; we know it kills White Walkers, but I assume there's more to it. But if that's the case, it's strange that the show would need Sam to be this dumb to make this particular scenario happen.
At least there's one storyline where we got an answer instead of a slew of questions: Bran. Last night's episode picks up right where last week's left off, with Meera dragging the sled containing the unconscious Bran through the snow. Eventually Meera collapses and Bran wakes up, only to announce that the White Walkers' wights have found them. (Hodor bought them time, but that's all.) And this is when a mysterious rider, clad all in black arrives with a flaming chain, like some sort of Westerosi Ghost Rider bursts upon the scene and destroys all of the wights, picks up Meera and Bran and carries them away to safety.
Only later does the man pull down his mask, and it's Benjen Stark — Ned's young brother, member of the Night's Watch, last seen way back in season one, and gone missing north of the Wall long since. As Benjen explains it, he was stabbed by a White Walker's ice sword and left to die, but the Children of the Forest saved him and prevented from turning into a wight by shoving an obsidian dagger into his heart (Benjen certainly looks worse for wear). Since then he's been helping the Three-Eyed Raven do… whatever, and that includes showing up at the nick of time to save Bran… who he announces is now the Three-Eyed Raven. And, as Benjen says, when the Night's King comes, it will be Bran who stands against him.
It's certainly portentous, and man is it cool to see Benjen return as the Three-Eyes Raven's secret agent, but it also means Bran basically finished the escape he began last episode. Again, after last week's tremendous, traumatic "The Door", even the return of Benjen can't quite measure up. Part of that is a testament to last week's episode, and part of it's because this episode is a bit confusing. I absolutely trust Game of Thrones to have answers, and good ones. But until we get those answers, "Blood of My Blood" looks a bit like sloppy writing.
Again, the way this season has packed in the plot, I am thoroughly convinced they wouldn't waste time on any storyline that wasn't important, or going to be important in retrospect. So maybe in retrospect I'll like "Blood of My Blood" a lot more than I did last night. For now, I'll mainly appreciate it for giving me another week to emotionally recover from "The Door".
• Shit's about to go down at Riverrun: King Tommen dismisses Jaime from the Kingsguard and puts him in charge of a Lannister army to help their ally Walder Frey retake the city; Walder Frey makes an appearance to berate his sons for losing the city to the Blackfish (Catelyn's uncle Brendyn) and reveals he has Edmure Tully — the rightful heir to Riverrun — in chains.
• Daenerys finds Drogon and gives a big Braveheart-style speech to the Dothraki. It was boring. Daenerys gives a lot of speeches, you guys.
• While Bran is warging, he gets a lot of visions of the past and present (and presumably a little bit of the future, too, if anyone wants to check it out frame by frame). The scene I most noticed was Mad King Aerys screaming to kill them all — that's him in the photo above — referring to when he ordered all of King's Landing get doused with dragonfire, only to be murdered by Jaime. I really hope this means we'll be getting a full flashback/vision of that particular moment eventually.
• It's been so long since Jaime and Cersei made out that it was weird to see them kissing, but I thought it was also sort of nice to see they still loved each other. Then I quickly remembered they're brother and sister and that made it much weirder.
• I loved the small detail of someone needing to lead Mace Tyrell's horse because he's too bumbling to steer it. Oh, Mace. You are truly Westeros' answer to Mr Bean.
• Arya's storyline was not helped by the fact that we had to sit through another lengthy portion of the "Game of Thrones But With Farts" play — this time, covering Tywin's death on the toilet and Joffrey's poisoning — although Arya's laughing at faux-Joffrey's demise was a nice touch.
• I have a theory about Arya, actually: The Waif hunts her down, she kills the Waif, and that technically fulfils Jaqen's demand that someone's face gets added to the House of Black and White. I think this would be a cop-out for a couple of reasons — most notably it still means Arya is absolutely terrible at following directions, and should be kicked out of the School of Face-Changing Assassins anyway, but also because the Waif isn't exactly evil here. Sure, she enjoys beating Arya up, but it all seems to be on Jaqen's orders. She's not evil, just a bit of a bully, which shouldn't make her murder more "OK" than nice actress lady's. On the other hand, if this keeps Arya in the School of Face-Changing Assassins and prevents this storyline from being a total waste of time, I suppose I'll allow it.
• Meanwhile, it turns out the Faceless Men's face-changing magic requires people having their actual faces cut off. Good to know!
• I was taken aback by Walder Frey calling the Red Wedding "The Red Wedding", because 1) we were led to understand it was a name the smallfolk had given the event, and 2) it just seems weird to use the name if you, you know, actually participated in it. Then it occurred to me that Walder Frey is exactly the sort of arsehole who would see his infamy as fame, and revel in it. Of course he'd call it the Red Wedding, practically out of pride he committed it.
• So an obsidian dagger to the heart turns a living human into a White Walker, but it prevents a dying man from turning into a wight? Seems weird. But hey, maybe the Children of the Forest's magic is all obsidian-dagger-to-the-heart-based.
• I forgot to mention this last week as I was so traumatised by the Hodorigin, but the Starks are down to two direwolves: Jon has Ghost, and presumably Nymeria, who Arya shooed away waaaaay back in season one after she bit Joffrey for tormenting Arya's peasant boy pal, is running around somewhere. I… I did not expect this many of the Stark children's direwolves to be dead by this point. It really bums me out.
Warning! Assorted Musings That Contain Spoilers From the Books:
• In "Game of Thrones: Inside the Episode" — WHICH I TOTALLY WATCHED, BY THE WAY — co-showrunner David Benioff refers to Benjen Stark as Coldhands, just in case you thought the show might have brought Bran's uncle back in lieu of the mysterious character from the books. Now, George R.R. Martin has said Coldhands isn't Benjen in a note to his editor which was later discovered by a fan, which would be a super-weird place to deny it if it were true. So either GRRM lied to his editor, or fake notes were put in a donated manuscript of A Dance With Dragons on the off chance a fan would eventually find it, or the Coldhands of the book is still someone different. To be fair, I can easily see the show deciding to have Benjen be Coldhands just to mess with fans.
• Walder Frey mentions that the Brotherhood Without Banners as helping to rally the troops in support of the Tullys. We've heard Thoros of Myr will be making an appearance this season. Guys… I think we're getting Lady Stoneheart this season. I could well be wrong, and they could have actually dropped her to simplify the story, but come on. If you were making this show, why would you not include this utterly bonkers, Red Wedding-level mega-surprise? And to wait until season six, when even the fans have stopped talking about it because they're convinced it's not happening… this just seems so incredibly plausible to me.