This week's episode of Game of Thrones taught us one immutable law: a corny speech on horseback is still a corny speech, but any speech delivered from the back of a dragon is inspirational, no matter how corny. It is known. The show also resolved a loose thread that originated early in the first season, restored Margaery to Joffrey in a most unexpected way, and placed Arya in new peril of her own choosing. Not the explosive drama of the first half of season six, but surprises, to be sure.
As forecast last week, despite the selfless heroics of Hodor (RIP, big buddy. Please RIP), Meera is not able to outdistance the army of the dead for long. Bran is still in a trance seeing half a dozen things that the biggest Thrones nerds will deconstruct ad nauseum for clues about the ultimate outcome, but he wakes in time to announce, rather redundantly, "They found us." Just when all looks lost a mysterious rider with a flaming flail rides in and obliterates the lead pack of zombies. It turns out to be long-lost Uncle Benjen, Ned's younger brother who disappeared while ranging for the Night's Watch before Jon even swore his now-void vows. Benjen reveals that he was nearly turned by the White Walkers, but the Children saved him in the same way that they made the Night's King: by plunging a dragonglass dagger into his heart. It appears Benjen will be an altered version of the book character Coldhands. Benjen squeezes blood from a rabbit for Bran to drink, telling him he must learn to control the Three-Eyed Raven powers before the Night's King comes to the Wall. Let's hope the hare-blood cocktail removes the magic of the Night's King's touch, so the link will be broken. Bran is too important to turn to the dark side.
Sam and Gilly
At Horn Hill the little family meets Sam's lovely mother and sister, who welcome them warmly. At dinner they meet Sam's arrogant brother, Dickon, and his overbearing and awful father, Randyll Tarly, who are far less welcoming. You might recall that Randyll, a warrior of great renown, forced Sam to choose between the Night's Watch and death in a "hunting accident" because he was ashamed of his overweight, bookish eldest and wanted Dickon to inherit Horn Hill and continue the family name. Gilly defends Sam against his father's criticisms with stories of his conquest over a Thenn and a White Walker, but she lets slip that they met beyond the Wall. After deriding Sam for still being fat and for causing him to host a filthy wildling in his own hall, Randyll drives home the point of Sam's disinheritance by pointing to Heartsbane, the family's Valyrian steel sword, and insisting that Sam will never wield it. He will allow Gilly to work in the kitchens and the baby to be raised at the castle, but Sam is never permitted to return there. That evening Sam tells Gilly good-bye, only to decide mere moments later that they all belong together. They leave Horn Hill, taking Heartsbane with them. Sam's father might not have cared that they left in the night otherwise, but the missing sword--rightful inheritance or not--guarantees he'll pursue them. Since Sam knows Valyrian steel is one thing that can kill White Walkers, perhaps he believes it is worth the risk. When Gilly says Lord Tarly will take the sword back, Sam says, "Let him bloody try." The bravado does not sound false, somehow. Foolish, but not false.
After nearly two seasons' absence, Westeros' most loathsome nonagenarian finally reared his ugly head again. With his new preteen wife uncomfortably at his side Frey derides two of his many sons, Lothar and "Black" Walder, for saying they "lost" Riverrun. Since they still know where it is, Frey insists they have not lost it. Rather, the Blackfish took it from them. Walder orders them to take it back, using Edmure Tully (really, did anyone remember Frey had that useless guy imprisoned?) as bait. At long last, hopeful groundwork is being laid for Walder Frey's comeuppance.
The High Sparrow reassures Tommen that Queen Margaery's walk of atonement will be under the protection of the Faith Militant, so she has nothing to fear. You know, except abject humiliation. Tommen is allowed to see Margaery, and the two agree that the Sparrow is not what they expected, though neither discloses in what way. Margaery appears (whether genuinely or as part of a scheme) to have truly found the faith.
After Mace Tyrell delivers a rallying cry to his troops that elicits nothing more than an eyeroll, he and Jaime lead the column of Tyrell troops to the foot of the sept stairs. Jaime demands the release of Margaery and Ser Loras, but the High Sparrow says he lacks the authority to hand them over. To the threat of death the Sparrow insists that all of the faithful welcome it. But the Sparrow surprises everyone by announcing that no atonement walk will be necessary because Margaery has been absolved by "bringing another into the true light of the Seven." (Such a walk, incidentally, is not possible because Natalie Dormer's contract has a "no nude scenes" clause. Sorry, sports fans.) He is referring to Tommen, of course. The boy king emerges from the sept to announce that the Faith and the Crown are twin pillars of society who together will restore greatness to the Seven Kingdoms. Mace Tyrell is confused at the Sparrow's tactic. Lady Olenna sums up succinctly, "He's beaten us. That's what's happened."
Back at the Great Hall, Tommen strips Jaime of command of the Kingsguard, saying that an attack on the Faith is an attack on the Crown. Jaime will remain in service of his son/nephew, but he is being sent to the Riverlands to deal with the Frey and Tully situation. Though a true attack on the Crown by anyone other than the king's uncle/father would certainly have brought a worse fate, Jaime complains to Cersei nevertheless. She convinces him it is best to leave the High Sparrow alone and take his place at the head of the Lannister army. They share a moment of off-putting brother/sister (this incestuous mess is wearing out my slash key) affection that always seems to mean Cersei is scheming to use him for her own ambitions again. As we all know, he's about to reunite with Brienne. That can only be a good thing. Right? An incidental mention of Brotherhhod without Banners and Bran's vision of the Red Wedding suggest Lady Stoneheart may make an appearance in the show, after all. We must wonder what that might mean, for both Brienne and Jaime.
Last week Arya betrayed hesitation to carry out the Many-Faced God's assassination contract since the target, Lady Crane, was a good actress and a decent person. Ironically the performers in Braavos are re-enacting King Joffrey's death by poisoning when Arya slips backstage to put her own poison in Lady Crane's rum. Lady Crane stops Arya before she can slip away, and they discuss the weak soliloquy that concluded the performance. After Arya leaves, the actress and the playwright argue about Cersei's final monologue. As Lady Crane is about to drink the rum in frustration, Arya returns to knock the cup out of her hand. Looking at the young rival actress, Bianca, she warns Lady Crane, "Careful of that one. She wants you dead." Hiding in their midst the Waif witnesses the entire event. She reports to Jaqen, who permits the Waif to dispatch Arya, though he laments the loss of her talents. Arya meanwhile has retrieved Needle and holed up in a dark room somewhere else in Braavos to wait. Considering the effortless beating the Waif put on Arya the last time they sparred, it seems unlikely that a skinny sword will be enough to save our failed assassin in the fight to come. Clearly Arya is and always will be a Stark. Her quest to become No One ultimately failed when she was forced to confront the morality of unflinchingly doing the bidding of a mysterious deity without question. After her Odyssey of turmoil, Arya's moral compass remains intact. Now, will she survive the Waif's attack and get back to the things that matter? Also, did she learn anything useful at the House of Black and White (like the ability to change her face, perhaps?), or has this all been a spectacular waste of time?
Leading her horde of Dothraki riders through a desert canyon, Daenerys asks how many ships she will need to transport them to Westeros. Daario suggests a thousand, maybe more. They have no idea where they will get a thousand ships, though coincidentally viewers heard that very number at a certain kingsmoot just last week. Daenerys rides off, ordering the rest of them to wait for her. Just as impatience sets in she returns on Drogon's back. He lands, and she speechifies about choosing all of them to be her blood riders. "Are you with me, now and always?" she asks. They whoop and wave their arakhs in reply. The point of this frenzy seems a little lost, though, since there are no ships to deliver them to battle. Pace yourself, Mother of Dragons.
After the events of the first five episodes, it seems a little anticlimactic to end on a speech. And one in Dothraki with subtitles, no less. At least the scene included a dragon, so it was not completely devoid of drama. The big takeaways this week were Benjen's return, Arya's difficult decision, and the alliance between Tommen and the High Sparrow. Will Benjen be able to guide Bran to complete his training and defeat the White Walkers? Will Arya survive to return to Westeros with newfound knowledge to help her carry out her true mission? Is the King's Landing alliance genuine, or is it a subterfuge by Margaery to seize power from the Lannisters once and for all? And if it is the centerpiece of her own scheme, is Tommen in on it? Or has she used his innocent, trusting nature to manipulate him? Only four episodes left this season to ferret out the answers.
Scenes not Seen
- Brienne's latest fool's errand
- Littlefinger's next connivance
- The conclusion of the Tower of Joy tease
- Rickon's dungeon digs
- Cleganebowl II
- Bastardbowl I