Reunions and resurrections are becoming the recurring refrains of this rapidly passing season of Game of Thrones.
Blood of My Blood (directed once again by Jack Bender and written by fan favourite Bryan Cogman) dials down the histrionics dominating the closing moments of the past couple of weeks. Instead, it reacquaints us with forgotten family, smouldering foes and the latest moves in the ever-shifting sands of Westerosi power struggles.
It was a scene setting episode that laid the foundations for future climaxes rather than containing any of its own, but it was a necessary one. And unlike earlier season episodes nearly all of the characters’ actions and events made sense within the world previously established.
Margaery’snew-found submission and subsequent conversion of Tommen to the Faith of the Seven is baffling when taken at face value. While Tommen’s pliable nature makes him an easy target for the likes of the High Sparrow, Margaery’s defining character trait thus far has been her ruthlessness and refusal to be the pawn in other players’ games.
It may have been her grandmother who spiked Joffrey’s wine, but the lesson was quite clear – the Tyrell women are running the show and will dispose of anyone in their path, (since clearly Mace can’t even lead his own horse).
Presumably there’s a twist in this tail since it contrasts with everything we have seen from Margaery, (like leaving her brother Loras in the dungeons), but even then the move seems remarkably short-sighted.
Already one queen in King’s Landing has found out what handing the High Sparrow a whole lot of power does to the stability of the realm, so the idea that another queen would scheme to hand him even more power as a path to taking him down appears bonkers.
Any spillage of blood between the Faith Militant and the Lannister/Tyrell forces may have been averted here, but this round was only a delay of the inevitable.
The main target of the failed anti-Faith plot was Jaime, stripped of his position and title at the head of the Kingsguard and sent to recapture Riverrun from the Blackfish.
The return to the riverlands by both Brienne and Jaime is being accompanied by a rash of returning characters. It’s not just the Blackfish who is being mentioned on the show again only three seasons after last appearing, but also Walder Frey and Edmure Tully (welcome back Outlander’s Tobias Menzies) for a quick burst of handy exposition. With a name drop of both Bronn and the Brotherhood Without Banners it seems more are set to rejoin the fray in future episodes.
But if any of those players’ absences felt short, then the eventual reveal of Bran’s black-cloaked knight returned viewers to the very beginning of the show. Uncle Benjen has been missing since early first season (the reanimated wight Jon fights off in the first season was one of Benjen’s ranging party and the fateful expedition commenced by the Night’s Watch in season two was to locate him).
Like the origins of the White Walkers, the Night’s King’s “mark” on Bran’s arm and time-travel from last week, the mechanics of Benjen’s return is fuzzy and best left overlooked if you’re a fan of the coherenct. Like the former Three-Eyed Raven , Benjen appears intent on providing Bran with as little understandable information as possible.
Bran’s inability to sift through the waves of information crammed into his brain feels like a stalling tactic, but with such poor mentors guiding him you can’t blame him for having little to no idea what he’s doing.
The short bursts of vision provided us with a couple of intriguing snippets. The grizzled old man shouting “burn them all” and overseeing the production of wildfire was Daenerys’ father, aka the Mad King, and the man standing over his corpse, Jaime.
With Bran now proven to have the ability to influence past events and enter the minds of people across time to devastating effect, could the Mad King and his fixation with fire be another unintended consequence of Bran’s magic?
It’s been a long time coming, but finally Arya has left the Faceless Men. At no point did it ever truly feel like their single-minded subservience to death and destruction of identity was an apt fit for her. It took a conversation with an actress playing one of those on her personal kill list to make her realise what she truly desires – revenge.
The act of killing for Arya can never be a dispassionate one. Her training in Braavos has been an epic slow-build over nearly two seasons but finally the stage is set for a climactic showdown between her and the Waif.
Sam’s return to Horn Hill and introduction of his spiteful authoritarian father was a timely reminder of just how far he has come. He may not have lost a whole lot of weight since departing under threat of death, but Sam has grown into a courageous person.
Taking his family’s ancestral Valyrian sword may be a very dumb move practically in the short-term, but they have been proven to kill White Walkers so no doubt this trip will serve a later long-term plot at some point.
Gilly is a decent enough character in her own right, but after three to four seasons of treading the same terrain as Sam seeks to protect her in new ways and places — this pairing is in desperate need of a revamp.
Splitting them up for good may be the only way in which something interesting might happen for either of them. Given there is not a single example of a relationship with a happy ending in this show, surely this must be around the corner.
Daenerys’ scene felt oddly tacked on to this episode. As if shorn of any ‘big moment’ to rival last week the writers appeared to decide that a shot of a dragon would be enough. It continued to needle the division between Daenerys becoming a conqueror or remaining a ruler, but otherwise was the only scene that was unneccessary to this week’s plot.