WARNING: This story is dark and full of spoilers.
Season 5 of Game of Thrones just gets more impressive with every episode. Case in point: Sunday’s “Blood of my Blood.” When compared to the previous five episodes, this one packs a lot less action and even excluded some big characters entirely. That could’ve been enough to make this a forgettable hour of television. But even though it lacked some of the wow factor we’ve gotten in the others, this was by no means a weak episode.
Arya made a fateful choice. Jaime’s forced to hit the road. Civil War in King’s Landing gets delayed at the last minute. A+ performances are delivered throughout.
Most prominent in “Blood of my Blood” are, as the title might suggest, family reunions. The Tyrells come back together, and Sam goes home for the first time in years. Most exciting is the unexpected reunion Bran gets with his Uncle Benjen, who was presumed dead for years.
So we can talk more about that, let’s dive in.
Bran on the run
We pick up soon after the tragic ending of “The Door,” with Bran and Meera fleeing the treehouse/cave now overrun by the army of the dead. Poor Meera is doing her best to drag Bran to safety through the forest, a task Hodor was most suited to (cue uncontrollable sobbing here).
Thank goodness Bran’s making things easier by -- OH WAIT; he isn’t. It seems Bran hasn’t stopped warging into visions since they left, though now it’s scenes from the past, present and future crammed in rapid succession. Interestingly, we get our first glimpse ever of Aerys Targaryen, the Mad King, whose miserable rule was a major factor in Robert’s Rebellion before the events of the show. He repeatedly shouts “burn them all” while we see images of green wildfire and the White Walkers' hordes, just before Aerys is murdered by a silhouetted Kingsguard, presumably Jaime Lannister.
Bran finally awakens once Meera’s tired out from dragging his butt around the most uncharming forest with some good news abou-- NOPE. Rather, he informs her that the wights have caught up to them. Thanks a lot, Bran, for causing this mess. (Ahem, HODOR).
As some wights descend on them and Meera braces to go down fighting, out of absolutely nowhere (for real) a hooded figure on horseback rides to the rescue. And he’s got a wicked cool mace that flames up on command!
This expert zombie-killer -- with suspiciously blue, dead-ish hands -- dispatches the few undead that have found them before he picks Bran and Meera up and rides off.
Later in the episode, this savior dices up a rabbit and drains its blood into a cup like nobody’s business while Meera tries to get a hold on this creepy situation. They have nothing to fear, though; this is family. As Bran wakes up, the hooded figure reveals his ever-so-slightly rotted face. This is Benjen Stark, Bran’s long-missing uncle.
For a little context to what makes this a big moment: We haven’t seen Benjen Stark since very early in season 1, and the mystery surrounding his disappearance has driven a lot of Jon’s actions ever since then. (Example: Jon was lured to his murder on the premise that a wildling knew where Benjen was).
Many have theorized for years about what happened to him, including that he became a figure in the books who has cold, icy hand and leads Bran & Co. to the Three Eyed Raven. While author George R. R. Martin has been iffy on this theory, it seems that showrunners David Benioff and D. B. Weiss liked it enough to make it true.
Benjen explains his less-than-stellar condition is because a White Walker stabbed him in the gut and left him to die. Before long, though, the Children of the Forest found him and brought him back in the same manner that they created the White Walkers: with dragonglass. That’s how he came to know of the Three Eyed Raven.
He tells Bran that he’s got to become the new Raven, though Bran says he can’t control his powers yet. He’ll have to figure that out soon if he’s ever going to stop the Night’s King from destroying the world of men.
In other words, Bran: step it the [choice word] up, son.
Sam and Gilly have traded their rocky voyage for a carriage ride and are on their way to his old home of Horn Hill. He’s eagerly describing all the sorts of trees in the South, but Gilly knows what’s up: he’s nervous to see his father, Randyll Tarly, who once threatened to kill Sam if he didn’t “choose” to renounce his claim to Horn Hill and join the Night’s Watch.
-- Aside -- During his fascinating course in dendrology, Sam mentions that autumn is coming up soon. Autumn?! What about winter?! Don’t do this to us, Dan and David, just don’t. -- End aside --
Upon arrival, the couple is greeted warmly by Sam’s mother and sister. Even Gilly gets a friendly welcome, with the baby playing adorably with his “grandmother.” (In order to get his family to accept Gilly and little Sam, big Sam is pretending that he’s the true father of the baby.) One of the episode’s best moments is when sister Talla tells Gilly, “you’ll want to take a bath after all that travel. Oh, and a new dress for dinner. ... What’s your color? Midnight Blue or Silver?” Needless to say, Gilly’s speechless at the prospect of a bath, let alone new clothes.
Just as good a moment is when we actually see Gilly cleaned up, wearing one of Talla's dresses and with her hair done. She can barely walk in the gown, but that awkwardness has got nothing on the dinner that's to follow.
Minus the baby, they all dine with Sam’s brother, Dickon, and Lord Tarly. Dickon is friendly enough, but their father is just as menacing as Sam described, staring down Gilly the entire time. He’d hoped that Sam would man up while at the Wall, but he’s disappointed with what he sees now. “You’re to be a maester,” he says, clearly unimpressed. He goes on to verbally castrate Sam in front of everyone, amazed that Sam’s stayed “soft and fat” while not even resembling a man. Any confidence Sam had gained from his time in the North immediately withers and dies.
Gilly stands up to him, saying that Sam has killed a Thenn and a White Walker, but she spills that she was originally a wildling. This fact disgusts Lord Tarly, as he dresses down Gilly and calls her an “it” instead of a woman. Despite that, because Sam’s mother likes Gilly and the baby, he’ll allow them to stay -- but Sam must leave at first light.
Later that night, Sam tries to tell Gilly and the baby goodbye. He’s ashamed about dinner, but Gilly isn’t angry in the least and now understands why Sam had a hard childhood. (Boy, Sam: Never let this girl go.) Still, he tries to duck out and leave, briskly kissing her and shutting the doors on his way out ...
... only to march right back in. Forget the plan: he’s not leaving them in Horn Hill without him, so they’re all going with him. On their way out, he grabs the family Valyrian steel sword, Heartsbane, off the wall. As we’ve seen before, ya never know when that’ll come in handy!
In the Sept of Baelor, Tommen is getting his latest schooling from/meeting with the High Sparrow. He’s afraid of what might happen when Margaery makes her walk of atonement, but, of course, the Sparrow knows how to soothe the boy. He even allows the little king to go see his wife -- how generous!
Margaery looks better than before and is excited to see her husband. Surprisingly to Tommen (and us?), she speaks highly of the High Sparrow and the Faith and shares how free she feels after embracing the wisdom of the gods. Is she playing her naive husband, or is this legitimate? She wouldn’t be the first to manipulate Tommen this season.
Before that can be resolved, we’re taken to the streets of the city, where the Lannister/Tyrell plan against the Faith is beginning to unfold. Jaime meets up with a host of Tyrell soldiers, led by the hilariously armored Lord Mace Tyrell (who gives the least inspiring speech to his men. In short: This all is madness; the madness ends here. Huzzah?).
Outside the Sept, the High Sparrow stands before the “good people” of the city, giving roughly the same speech he did before Cersei’s walk of shame. Dozens of Faith Militant are with him, as are Margaery and Shaming Septa. Before he can finish, though, Jaime and the Tyrells arrive and block off their exit. Even Lady Olenna is with them (probably not trusting her son, Mace, to do the job properly).
The promising signs of a good fight are made before the audience. Threats are shared, spears are lowered and frowns are exchanged. Just when we think the radicals might get their due, though, the High Sparrow thinks fast. He rapidly changes course and declares that Margaery doesn’t need to make a walk of shame because she’s “already atoned for her sins.” How? Well, her manipulating has paid off and she’s given the High Sparrow something far more valuable than a nude stroll: King Tommen.
Walking down to the High Sparrow, Tommen reveals that he has drank the Kool Aid and fallen under his influence. With a nudging glance from the High Sparrow, Tommen reads from a pre-written speech on his teleprompter (I mean, declares by his own initiative) that a holy alliance has been struck between the Crown and the Faith. Effectively, the two now equally rule the Seven Kingdoms.
“What’s happening?” a befuddled Mace Tyrell asks. “He’s beaten us. That’s what’s happening,” Lady Olenna responds, while the High Sparrow stands proudly beside Tommen and basks in the applause of the massive crowd.
To be clear, I cannot stand the High Sparrow. I am constantly annoyed whenever he's on screen, but that's only because Jonathan Pryce plays him so friggin brilliantly. The fake humility with which his High Sparrow carries himself (and, in this scene, the way he gives Jaime a subtle yet undeniable "I just won and you know it" face) makes him the most fun character to hate since Joffrey.
Anyway, the first order of business for newly religious Tommen? Stripping Jaime of his membership with the Kingsguard for “threatening” the Faith, now an extension of the Crown. Rather than be locked in a cell or executed, though, he’s ordered to aid the Freys with the siege of Riverrun in the Riverlands.
Jaime’s livid with this arrangement -- and with having lost his son to the High Sparrow. He also doesn’t want to leave Cersei while a trial looms over her head, but she assures him that FrankenMountain will be around to fight on her behalf. She tells him to lead the Lannister armies and to show all their enemies what they’re capable of. Gotta hand it to Cersei: Team Twincest may be down for now, but the wheels in her mind just keep on turning.
The last time we were in this wretched hall was the Red Wedding. Three seasons later, old Walder Frey is still ranting about how he’s been wronged, although now it involves the ineptitude of his sons.
Two of them were charged with holding Riverrun; now the old stronghold of the Tullys is back in that family’s hands under the leadership of the Blackfish. Compounding that problem are several families revolting against the Frey’s rule and the Brotherhood Without Banners (who we also haven’t seen since season 3) causing mischief among the commoners.
Walder Frey wants that stronghold back, but he knows the Blackfish won’t yield easily.
He tells his whiny sons to take the daggers that killed Robb Stark and Catelyn Tully/Stark to Riverrun to taunt the Blackfish. He’s also sending someone with them: a prisoner, Edmure Tully himself.
Yes, this is the man who was actually married at the Red Wedding, held hostage ever since that bloody night. That might not be enough to get the Blackfish to surrender, but it should be more than plenty to get the angry juices flowing.
We’re greeted to the Free City of Braavos by the sounds of Arya not getting beat up! Instead, she’s once again watching the Shakespearean version of events in King’s Landing with the portrayal of Joffrey’s poisoning. While the crowd is moved by the poor, innocent child’s murder, Arya’s giggling like a schoolgirl. At least we were giggling with her.
During the final act (Tyrion’s execution of Tywin on the loo), Arya sneaks back to poison Lady Crane’s rum as part of her mission. She hesitates for a minute, questioning herself while she looks in a mirror, but goes through with the plan.
On her way out, though, she’s stopped by none other than Lady Crane. The actress is no fool: she’s seen Arya attend the last several showings and asks why she’s there -- and if she paid to get in. Arya fesses up that she didn’t, which leads to some unexpected bonding over their shared experience of sneaking into plays.
When asked, she tells Lady Crane her name is “Mercy,” a revealing and ironic choice if anything.
Arya can’t help but like this woman and compliments her acting. Crane admits that the writing sucks and asks what she’d do differently. She's impressed with Arya's take, and just before it seems that Crane might ask her to join their troop, the girl who would be No One quickly excuses herself.
After Arya leaves, Crane goes to the back with the other actors and pours herself a shot of rum. The actor that portrayed Tywin, more than a little jealous of the crowd’s reception of Crane, berates her for judging his writing skill. We’re held on bated breath as she tries several times to take the shot before being distracted by his rant.
Just before she goes to drink at last, Arya pops up and slaps the glass out of her hand. With everyone staring at her, she tells Crane that the younger actress wants her dead and walks out like a boss. Arya may be a killer, but, gods be good, she won’t be a mercenary. Mic drop.
Unfortunately, the Waif was also watching. She reports to Jaqen, whose slicing a fresh face off a corpse, and is given the go-ahead to eliminate Arya. He tells her to not let Arya suffer, but that smirk on her face shows other thoughts.
Arya knows the Faceless Men will be after her, however. She (finally!) retrieves her trusty sword Needle and goes into hiding, waiting for the inevitable attacker.
On the road in Essos
Do the Dothraki enjoy singalongs? It would appear not, as Daenerys’ khalasar looks quite bored on their way to Meereen. While they ride through the mountains, Daario tells Dany that it’s at least a week’s ride back to her city and that afterwards they have to figure out how to get all the ships they’ll need to sail to Westeros. I’m guessing they don’t yet know that their old fleet was burnt up a few episodes ago?
Like any good mom, Dany’s likely wondering how to keep her brood entertained on this long road trip. Before she breaks out the travel bingo, she notices some (for lack of better phrase) unusual wind ahead and goes riding off, leaving Daario to entertain the kiddos. Poor guy; he can’t just give them his phone to play games.
After what seems like foreverrrrrrrrr, the riders hear a roar in the distance. Suddenly, Drogon appears above the horde with Dany on his back. It must have been a while since we saw him drop Dany off in season 5, because he’s gotten much bigger. These grown men and their horses are amazed and just a little frightened at the sight.
Drogon lands in front of the column, and Dany takes this opportunity to give one of her trademark Rousing Speeches with a Dragon. She tells them that rather than take 3 men to be her bloodriders, as all khals have done before, she’s elevating all of them to that honor. The respond excitedly, as if one would react any other way in front of a queen on a dragon.
Many of Dany's speeches have been inspiring for their humanitarian angles; this isn't one of those. She rallies her army on the promise to do what’s never been done before: cross the salt seas and invade Westeros. She uses almost the exact same, fiery speech that Khal Drogo gave to her in season 1.
Emilia Clarke has a passion in this speech that seems almost new to her this season, and her delivery helps to distract from some of the dragon's iffy special effects.
When she wraps up, everybody's cheering. Hoorah! They’re pumped! Now, let’s march ... another week to Meereen? Then chill a bit before we figure out how to get to Westeros?
Every episode this season has ended on some sort of a bombshell or spectacular scene. “Blood of my Blood” doesn’t get that, despite how it tries to make a mountain out of a molehill with Dany’s speech. It’s cool, to be sure, but anticlimactic when she’s rallying an army to essentially just keep up the pace for a bit.
While it’s hard to follow up an episode like “The Door,” which seems to just grow more iconic over time, “Blood of my blood” was as good an hour of Game of Thrones as one could hope for. It might’ve been a little sticky with the landing, but the rest of the trip was smooth sailing.
BONUS LINES OF THE WEEK:
(In Horn Hill) Sam: "Get your things." Gilly: "I don't have any things." C'mon, Captain Obvious.
(Braavos) Actor portraying Tywin: "No laugh for Ned's death. These people are worse than animals." No, YOU my friend, are worse than an animal.
Questions? Comments? Miss the eunuch jokes? Find me on Twitter @HJuncensored