Co-written by Danielle Ryan
After five stellar episodes this season with a great deal of content, Game of Thrones took a moment to set new pawns into play and orchestrate the rest of the season (and the next two seasons as well). Episode six, “Blood of my Blood” was entertaining but felt a bit like a letdown after all of the madness that’s gone on so far this year, and this episode can’t hold a
door candle to last weeks’ dramatic ending. The episode delves heavily into themes of family and loyalty, ideals that will be put to the test in whatever havok comes next.
This week, the Lannisters and Tyrells took on the High Sparrow in an anticlimactic showdown ruined by a newly-pious King Tommen, Arya made a big decision about her future, Drogon gives another assist to Dany, and a face we haven’t seen since season one reappeared. We’re past the halfway point now, and in the last four episodes, it’s time for the showrunners to turn things up to 11.
Brace yourselves: Spoilers are coming.
Westeros – The Seven Kingdoms and Beyond the Wall
Bran and Meera are still on the run. As they flee, Bran experiences some pretty monumental visions of the past, not only of his family but also of the Mad King Aerys. In the vision, Aerys raves and is slain by a young Jaime, Ned demands to know the location of his sister, and so many vignettes speed by that there is certain to be a frame-by-frame breakdown of the sequence on YouTube within the hour. Meers drags the unconscious Bran along on the litter, and when he wakes they share a touching embrace assuming that their days are at an end. For a moment, it seems that even Hodor’s existence-defining sacrifice will not be enough to slow the advancing horde of the undead, until a figure in black robes charges in on horseback and dispatches the wights with a flaming flail that would certainly make Thoros of Myr a bit red with envy. Despite the imminent threat, Meera is hesitant to trust this stranger and accepts his offer to ride with them only after they seem likely to be overrun by a second wave of skeletal warriors.
Later, around the campfire, the rider reveals himself to be Benjen Stark, Bran’s wayward uncle who was reported lost after a mission beyond the wall. His revelation puts an end to the long speculation about the true identity of his analog from the books, Coldhands. After recounting of how he was nearly slain by the Others, eventually saved by the Children of the Forest, and kept alive by the same magic that made the White Walkers to begin with, Benjen impresses upon his nephew the importance of his new role as the Three-Eyed Raven. Benjen says, in no uncertain terms, that when the Night’s King makes his way to the world of the living, Bran must be there to face him.
Samwell, Gilly, and Sam the younger finally make it to Horn Hill, and we are treated to one of the finest new setpieces in a long time. Sam’s mother Melessa and his sister Talla greet Sam warmly and immediately welcome Gilly with grace. Gilly, for her part, seems surprisingly well at ease as a guest in the home, walking awkwardly but still looking elegant in a borrowed dress, and curtseying with aplomb. She spoils her chances at finding a home in the Tarly household, though, when she defends Sam’s honor as a man and reveals during dinner that she is a wildling, prompting a crazy, racist rant from the Lord Randall Tarly. Between the gibes Lord Tarly makes at Sam’s expense about his weight, the virulent anti-wildling sentiment, and the marital strife between Lord and Lady Tarly, the whole affair makes even the most awkward Thanksgiving dinner seem as pleasant as sweet potato pie.
In a fit of passion, Sam absconds with Gilly, his adopted son, and Heartsbane, the family’s heirloom Valyrian steel blade. The blade will surely come in handy if Sam the Slayer has to face down another White Walker, but it may not be enough to fend off his vicious father’s wrath. After all, men of the Night’s Watch are forbidden to sire sons, and after this latest insult Lord Randall may not hesitate to turn Sam in.
In King’s Landing, Jaime, Mace Tyrell, and Lady Olenna put into motion their plot to stop Queen Margaery’s walk of “shame, shame, shame.” Marching horsemen and the full might of the Tyrell army into the square before the Great Sept, the assembled forces’ bravado is forestalled by the Sparrow and King Tommen’s proclamation of an alliance between the Crown and the Faith and that Margaery is free to go. For his trouble in staging what he thought was a daring rescue, Jaime is stripped of his role as a member of the King’s Guard and banished from the city. In the privacy of her quarters, Cersei comforts her brother/lover and charges Jaime with standing at the head of the Lannister forces and taking back Riverrun from Brynden Tully.
At the Towers, we have our first glimpse of Walder Frey since we saw him gloating in the aftermath of the Red Wedding. As he feasts surrounded by his quintillion children, the elder Frey upbraids his two sons for losing control of Riverrun, and while reliving the details of his bloody deed at the Red Wedding (and reminding the audience of the major players in the plot from three seasons ago), he parades the captive Edmure Tully into the hall. The rightful lord of Riverrun is set to be bait for the Blackfish.
Across the Narrow Sea, the-girl-formerly-known-as-Arya-Stark-who-now-has-no-name watches the Braavosi theater troupe put on another performance of “The Bloody Hand”. She laughs as Joffrey dies in the play, though she is sobered by Lady Crane‘s excellent performance as a grieving Cersei. She sneaks into the backstage area to perform her task of poisoning Lady Crane’s rum, then tries to sneak back out. Lady Crane catches her and begins to ask her questions, about herself and the play. Lady Crane is charismatic and sassy, and she regales Arya with a story about when she ran away to join the mummer’s troupe as a girl. Before Lady Crane can drink her poisoned rum, however, Arya knocks it out of her hand and tells Crane to watch out for her younger rival, because the jealous actress wants Lady Crane dead.
The Waif was listening in the whole time, and of course she runs to tell Jaqen that Arya has failed in her task. He is dismayed, and she reminds him that he “promised her”. He tells her not to let Arya suffer, so the punishment for Arya’s decision is death. Arya, meanwhile, has retrieved Needle from the rocks near the bay and is sleeping somewhere underground in Braavos. She’s likely to end up with the acting troupe, as that’s what happens in the books, but it’s hard to tell how things will go with the House of Black and White. Jaqen is pretty enigmatic, after all, and his approval of the Waif’s desire to kill Arya could be part of a larger scheme. It’s also entirely possible that Arya will simply stick her with the pointy end.
Out on the great grass sea, Daenerys continues marching her massive khalasar toward Meereen. She talks with Daario about how far they are from Meereen (a week, at least), as well as how many ships she will need to get across the Narrow Sea. She will need more than a thousand, and Daario tells her no one has a fleet of that size. She corrects him, saying that no one has a fleet that size yet. It’s typical Dany dialogue, but it works. She’s going to take her khalasar, the Seven Sons, and the Unsullied with her to Westeros and reclaim the Iron Throne, and for the first time in six seasons it seems like she really has a chance. Her fleet is currently destroyed, but there are other possible allies yet untapped. Euron Greyjoy had planned on bringing her a fleet, but since Yara and Theon took his best ships, maybe they will be the ones to sail to Meereen and offer Dany their help. She will find ships, even if it takes her until next season.
If the series follows form, we will be treated to fantastic battle in the penultimate episode. Most recently, we watched Jon Snow face the mass of undead at Hardhome. At Fandom, we’ve been debating which conflict is most likely to fill that space: will it be Jon and Sansa marching on Winterfell with a mass of Free Folk and an alliance of Northern Lords loyal to the Stark name, or will we see the Riverlands run red with blood at Riverrun? Dragons and khalasar and Unsullied requiring thousands of ships, it’s unlikely that Daenerys will make her way to the shores of Westeros this season. All the same, it will be spectacular to see dragon fire burn through the ranks of the undead when the true conflict of the series comes to a head. The Greyjoys make a brief appearance in next week’s episode preview at what looks like a tavern on the Long Bridge of Volantis. If they’ve already made it to Essos, they may be on hand to provide the first of the ships Dany needs to bring her armies to reclaim the Iron Throne, provided they can stymie Euron’s efforts to consolidate power. Dany is a powerful gravitational force, and for every conflict she draws close to herself, she gains more momentum to slingshot her way to her goal, even if it takes much longer than expected.
Benjen’s reappearance in the series calls to mind the way Barristan Selmy appeared in Essos to aid the young queen Daenerys. Many viewers had written Coldhands off as another Strong Belwas, a character from the books whose role in the show was fulfilled by another character already familiar to the audience for the sake of simplifying the narrative. With two characters saved from the brink of death, and so much focus on the riverlands, the show seems primed to surprise viewers with one more character that many had dismissed as truly, really most sincerely dead. That’s right – Lady Stoneheart.
Let’s break it down. At the Red Wedding, Lady Catelyn Stark was killed by the Freys and the story goes that her body was thrown in the river, where it is discovered by Beric Dondarrion, the leader of the Brotherhood Without Banners whom Arya and the Hound encountered in the third season. Moved by grief, Beric uses the power of R’llhor (which in addition to fire, presumably contains the powers of earth, water, wind, & heart) to breathe life back into Cat Stark, and he dies his final death. She assumes his mantle as the leader of the Brotherhood and sets about indiscriminately killing Freys and their allies across the countryside as revenge. She is a truly terrifying figure, and her introduction to the series would deepen the complex examination of life and death that is at the heart of the story’s true conflict. Narratively, bringing Zombie Cat back now makes perfect sense: the surprise resurrection of a member of the Stark family isn’t wasted before Jon makes his miraculous return from the brink of death. In this most recent episode, the Freys made mention of members of the Brotherhood harassing their forces, which would imply someone with a grudge against them at the helm. Brienne of Tarth is off on a mission to the Riverlands at the behest of Sansa Stark, and her ill-fated meeting with Lady Catelyn could easily occur during that dispatch. If Lady Stoneheart makes an appearance, it’s likely going to be in the very last episode of the season, as the conflict in the Riverlands is about to come to a head, and at a time when we as an audience will fear most for the safety of Brienne, the beloved knight so devoted to honor and justice.
Next week’s episode is called The Broken Man. Who’s the Broken Man? Is it the Blackfish, reeling from the death of his sister, nephew, and the capture of his brother? Is it Jon, resurrected from the dead? Jaime, who has clearly lost all faith in those closest to him? It could be someone entirely, but whoever it is, the denizens of Game of Thrones are unlikely to help him mend and will likely leave him even more broken than before.