Visions, long-awaited returns, and troubled families were at the root of this week’s episode of Game of Thrones. Was the wait worth it? Let’s take a look.
Spoiler Note: This post is for those who have read the A Song of Ice and Fire series. The post and the comments section will contain spoilers from the novels! Because no, we are not all Unsullied now. If you haven’t read the books yet, please check out our non-book-reader recap. Thanks!
Bran is still out, his mind overloaded with info courtesy of the Three-Eyed Raven’s last-minute megaupload. A scattered flickering of images fly through his mind, pages from the history of Westeros, some of them things we’ve seen on the show. Essentially, the Three-Eyed Raven has dumped the highlights of history into Bran’s brain- moments like the Mad King Aerys preparing to burn down King’s Landing during Robert’s Rebellion, a bit from Ned at the Tower of Joy wanting to see his sister, images from Hardhome, Ned’s death, Bran’s fall, and much more. (Fans will be analyzing this vision for days, if not weeks.) It’s fast and overwhelming and you can see why Bran would be trapped inside his head.
We’re off and running this week, with Meera dragging Bran along with wights hot (cold) on their tail. They’re the only survivors from the Three-Eyed Raven’s cave, and it’s not looking good as she desperately tries to press on in the snow. (Let me say, Ellie Kendrick is really selling this- Meera is at the end of her rope here. What an incredible burden Meera has had to carry, figuratively and literally.)
Dealing with the real world and dragging Bran’s dead weight along, Meera finally collapses in the snow. Then Bran wakes up. The wights are almost on them, but they’re saved by a mysterious rider who handily dispatches the wights with a flaming ball of kickass. The rider tells Meera to come with him, and us nerds recognize that voice and the eyes above the mask- that’s Uncle Benjen, hot damn! But the official dramatic reveal won’t come until later.
Nearing Horn Hill with Gilly and the baby, Sam is getting nervous about seeing his family for the first time in years. His abusive father forced him into the Night’s Watch, but Sam does believe that Randyll Tarly will take Gilly and the baby in. However, he hasn’t told them that Gilly is a wilding, and she sort of calls him on it- she is on fire in this episode.
The difference between Sam and Gilly’s lives is never more apparent than when we see the courtyard of the beautiful castle Sam grew up in, the bright greenery and the loving mother and sister. What a world away from Craster’s Keep beyond the Wall. The women of his family surprisingly give Gilly a warm welcome, with his mother instantly taking to baby Sam. And who could blame her? See what happens when you let the baby age after three years of being four months old? You get a cute expressive toddler!
Back in King’s Landing, Tommen and the High Sparrow have another chat. The king is worried about Margaery’s Walk of Atonement, set to happen soon. I can understand Tommen’s actions to a degree, even if they are strategically stupid. He did nothing to prevent his mother’s walk, and hated himself for it- it’s understandable he’d want to not make that error when it comes to his wife.
Tommen visits with Margaery and it appears she’s given into the Sparrows’ brainwashing praising the High Sparrow and, denouncing her previous self- and yeah, I don’t buy it.
Margaery is smart, she knows she has to get herself out of this and that Cersei’s high-handed methods didn’t work- that she has to be more clever. Now, she has to maneuver Tommen into a place where he’ll help her accomplish what needs to be done.
Listen, Gilly got the full She’s All That makeover and Sam is loving it. Nice work, Tarly women.
As for the Tarly family dinner…
You know it’s not going great when Randyll Tarly’s eyes are burning furious holes in Sam from the get-go. (I hope this is not the last we see of James Faulkner this year, because wow.) Poor Gilly is just trying to work out the silverware while the Tarly women and Sam’s jock bro make conversation.
The hunting discussion is notable for spawning the line, via Talla Tarly to Gilly, “I think our father could learn a thing or two from your father!”
The dinner dissolves into open hostility when Randyll realizes that Gilly is a wildling, as she speaks to defend Sam from his father’s bullying. Randyll lays into Sam even more and he just takes it, knowing he can’t risk the possibility of not being able to leave Gilly and the baby at Horn Hill, in safety.
Sam’s mother finally calls an end to the tension and the dinner. And it seems to me that Sam’s mother is where he gets his strength, not his father.
Sam has to leave Horn Hill though. He bids farewell to Gilly and the baby, only to return a moment later. He’s not leaving her there after all- they’re sticking together no matter what.
He does swing by the dining room to swipe the family sword. And Gilly is keeping the new dress, and praise be because I couldn’t handle Hannah Murray being subjected to that sack for another year.
Heartsbane, the Tarly family sword, is Valyrian steel. Handy against White Walkers and priceless. Will Randyll chase after Sam to retrieve it? I should think so. It was an incredibly ballsy move on Sam’s part nonetheless. After Gilly’s passionate defense of Sam at dinner and his moves tonight, it seems to me that these two are perfectly matched for their courage.
In Braavos, Arya watches the players put on a Westeros performance again. This time, it’s the Purple Wedding, with Arya the only one laughing and smiling as the troupe’s Joffrey dies a painful mock-death. Her target, Lady Crane, delivers another beautiful performance as the grieving Cersei, and Arya sees the Eve Harrington knockoff waiting in the wings and coveting Lady Crane’s starring role.
We’re also treated to their version of Tyrion bumping off Tywin. Arya takes the distracting scene as her opportunity to slip backstage and poison the actress’s rum. After accomplishing her goal, Arya runs into Lady Crane and makes the mistake of sharing a personal conversation with her target, with the actress reminiscing about how she first saw the theater. Arya gives her advice about changing her speech (one much more suited to the vengeful Cersei) and gives her name- Mercy.
Mistaking Mercy for a girl who is simply enamored of the theater, Lady Crane asks, “Do you like pretending to be other people?” And it’s a moment of truth for Arya. Does she?
Amid the complaining actors backstage, the actress is about to drink her poisoned rum, only to find it knocked from her hand by Arya. She tells her the other actress wants her dead and leaves. It’s then we see that the Waif has witnessed this entire exchange, and Arya is in serious trouble right away.
Arya runs back to the dock where she hid Needle and retrieves her blade. Meanwhile, the Waif reports back on Arya’s failure. Jaqen (absolutely chill while slicing off faces) gives the Waif permission to take Arya out. She very much wants personal permission to take care of Arya, and I wonder if Jaqen is using this also to test the Waif in some way. The Faceless Men aren’t supposed to have personal feelings about delivering death, but clearly the Waif is as flawed as Arya.
Needle by her side, and on the run from the Faceless Men, Arya hides. She can’t go back to the House of Black and White and pretend to be other people anymore. She has Needle, and she’s Arya. Now she just has to stay alive.
In King’s Landing, the Lannisters and Tyrells make their move against the Sparrows. The impressive Tyrell troops (that flower armor, my god), led by Mace Tyrell in magnificent feathers, join up with Jaime to confront the High Sparrow on the steps of the sept of Baelor.
The High Sparrow is giving one of his stellar TED talks when they arrive to break up the crowd. Jaime and the Tyrells demand Margaery and Loras back, and come close to action…and then the High Sparrow drops his bomb- Margaery has helped him bring Tommen over to their side. The Kingsguard by Tommen’s side now wear seven-pointed stars on their armor. The faith and the crown are one, and the Lannisters and the Tyrells have been outplayed. The commoners roar with approval.
The High Sparrow is thrilled. Jaime is fucking pissed. Mace is just…really confused.
The High Sparrow played well. Why have a queen when you can have a king as part of your cause? But what does this mean for Loras? Will he make his own atonement, possibly in the trial by combat also mentioned tonight? Very few would be willing to fight the Mountain, but Loras Tyrell might.
Jaime has even more problems than a nephewson who has found religion- he’s been fired. Tommen informs Jaime he’s in trouble for acting against the faith, and now they’re sending Jaime away.
In tonight’s episode, Walder Frey makes his grand return (uncomfortable young girl by his side- new wife, Walder?), berating his sons for losing Riverrun. The Blackfish, as Littlefinger reported, has taken that castle back, and Houses Mallister and Blackwood are also rebelling, plus the Brotherhood without Banners are causing trouble.
There is lots of exposition in this scene. Basically the Freys are not doing well in charge. Walder thoughtfully refreshes the audience’s memories that these two sons are the ones who killed Talisa and Catelyn at the Red Wedding. (Except one of them is a recast.) So, everything is going to hell for Walder, except he still has a pretty sweet ace up his sleeve. He orders his sons to get Riverrun back, and to use the reminders of the Red Wedding, including their hostage- Edmure Tully (Tobias Menzies).
So that’s Stark kid uncle #2 making his return tonight. It is quite the family-centered evening, isn’t it?
Speaking of Riverrun, Jaime stops by Cersei’s place to let her know he’s being sent to the Riverlands to handle the situation. If he was expecting a sympathetic ear, forget it. She tells him to do what he’s been ordered to do, and she’ll be fine in King’s Landing, as she has FrankenMountain to take care of her trial by combat.
Back up north, beyond the Wall, we find Meera and Bran again, safely away from the wights. Their companion is quickly revealed to be none other than Benjen Stark, the long-missing uncle of the Stark children, who went missing after a ranging.
He doesn’t look great. Benjen looks half-dead, and from the sound of it, he is. He explains that the White Walkers killed his ranging group, and stabbed him, but before their magic could take hold in him, the Children of the Forest intervened. They used dragonglass in his heart, like they did when they created the White Walkers, Benjen explains. It’s also clear from Benjen’s words that he has some sort of connection to the Three-Eyed Raven, and knew him during the years he was gone.
“The Three Eyed Raven is dead.”
“And now he lives again,” Benjen says as Bran wakes up.
He also warns that the Night’s King is headed for the world of men and- that Bran will be there waiting for him.
After that, I don’t give a fuck about anything else. Sorry, Dany. I think they should’ve ended the episode with Benjen’s reveal because how do you top that? They didn’t.
Headed back to Meereen with the khalasar, Dany’s had time to think on the long horse ride. She’s crunching numbers and they’re not adding up in a great way. They need a thousand ships for all their people and horses, and they just don’t have that. But she is still weirdly confident- she’ll get them one way or another.
Annnnyway, she decides to go for a little pick-me-up jaunt and disappears for a bit. Then we see overhead, Drogon has returned finally. And he’s not alone. Soaring in the sky, holding on, Daenerys rides her dragon.
She lands and makes a big speech in Dothraki about them all being her bloodriders, about how she’s going to ask a lot of them (doesn’t she always?), and it’s loud, and I’ll be honest, I wasn’t that into it. It probably didn’t help that the desert setting didn’t mesh well with the CGI of the dragon.
The only thing I found interesting was Daario’s reaction, and the fact that the camera made it a point to highlight and capture his reactions. As Daario watches, he doesn’t look totally sold on this moment…or he doesn’t speak enough Dothraki to follow what she’s saying. The vibe was off for a stirring speech, and I find myself puzzled a bit by it.
Riding a dragon is only that exciting if there’s an emotional payoff and there really wasn’t one tonight in Dany’s scene. It’s a strange thing when I’m more excited by a character simply standing there like Edmure or Benjen, than I am by a dragon soaring in the sky. But there you have it- the characters will always be more exciting than the speeches and tricks. There were a great many satisfying character moments and big returns tonight setting up the second half of the season, and they far outshone any fire and blood.