This blog is published after the ‘Game of Thrones’ simulcast. Do not read ahead unless you have seen season six, episode six, or want to find out what happens. It contains lots of spoilers etc.
We’re all talking about
Ladies, gentlemen, wildlings and free folk – welcome back Benjen Stark.
Ned’s brother has been missing since the very early days of the first series, vanishing after leading a ranging party north of the wall and rarely spoken of since. What he may have lacked in visibility in the years since his disappearance, he made up for with his surgeon-like precision with that fireball, rescuing Bran and Meera as they struggled in the snow, surrounded by wights. Presumably the very same wights that clawed Hodor to shreds at the end of the last week’s episode?
For book readers, Benjen’s return confirms a long-held theory that he is indeed the mystical character known as Coldhands, but let’s not dwell on that, or the fact George RR Martin categorically ruled out Benjen being the supernaturally gifted wight-killer. Either the show is taking another wild diversion from the books, or Martin was fibbing all along. But no matter, Benjen’s unveiling makes sense – where else could he have been all this time? Shame he wasn’t riding the giant elk he’s known for having in the books, but we can’t have everything.
Benjen said he was stabbed by the Night’s King and rescued by the Three Eyed Raven and the Children of the Forest using the same method they used to create the White Walkers. What is it with dragonglass in the heart? We go six series without anyone having dragonglass plunged into their heart, and then we get two references in as many weeks.
On a related note, seeing as the wights were just behind Meera and Bran, exactly how long did Hodor hold that door shut for? On this evidence, he didn’t make it past the closing credits before giving up the ghost. The big question now is whether the showrunners decide to include a Hodor-shaped wight in the future.
Also, at the beginning of the episode was a quick montage of scenes racing through Bran’s mind, with glimpses of his fall from the Winterfell window, his father’s beheading, Hard Home, the Battle of Blackwater, the Night’s King touching, the Tower of Joy scrap and other various other things we’ve seen before. What we hadn’t previously seen – and let’s hope this is shown in full before the season’s end – was the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, ordering his minions to burn King’s Landing, and Jaime Lannister showing us all exactly why he’s called Kingslayer. There are theories doing the rounds that the Mad King wasn’t so mad after all, but rather hearing the voice of a visiting greenseer – either the Raven or Bran – so let’s assume we’ll find out what truth is in that quite soon.
We’ve broken down a slowed-down version of the scene into five key clues from Bran’s vision.
What else happened?
While Benjen’s return is perhaps the most-significant storyline, a great deal else happened this week. That did mean that after last week’s concentration on fewer storylines, Game of Thrones reverted to its slightly annoying habit of flitting around between locations this week, but at least Samwell and his ghastly dad got a look in.
Turns out Randyll Tarly is as big a horror as we’d been led to believe, insulting Samwell from the second he saw him, and giving Gilly a bit of a going over too. On the plus side, Samwell now has his family Valyrian sword, Heartsbane, making him one of a handful of people with such a weapon, and thereby making Sam a crucial character in the future of the show.
Over in King’s Landing, Tommen has been well and truly brainwashed by the High Sparrow. Mace Tyrell and Jaime Lannister may have amassed a small army and marched on Baelor’s sept, but Tommen ‘s actions undermined them, giving the Sparrow the upper hand once again. The king may think he’s forming a holy alliance between church and crown, but he’s being played like a fiddle. On the other hand, the Sparrow thinks the Jaime and his sister lover Cersei are terrible, corrupt people. Should we really be rooting for him and his crusade against incest, greed, murder and treachery? (Obviously the answer that is no, this is Game of Thrones.)
Margaery, meanwhile, seems less susceptible to the High Sparrow’s slippery chat. I refuse to believe she actually thinks about the way she lived her shallow former life. She’s pretending in order to save her brother, Loras, and for that reason alone. Her line to Tommen, about everyone needing to pay for their since “sooner or later, one way or another,” seems hugely prescient. It’s long been established Game of Thrones is about those willing to play the game, and those that understand the rules – Cersei, Tyrion, Littlefinger – last longer than those around them. Margaery has clearly learned a lot about what it takes to stay alive.
It may have just been a fleeting glance, but what was the shared moment between Jaime and his cousin Lancel meant to signify? How far they’ve drifted, or that the latter doubts the Faith and will return to the family fold once his hair has grown back? I can’t have been the only one reminded of dear old Barristan Selmy being removed from the Kingsguard in true style when a similar thing happened to Jaime here. And just like the wise old knight, the Kingslayer isn’t going to go quietly, either.
His talk with Cersei was revealing, him sounding almost as ruthless as her. Interesting, too, that she referred to the Red Keep, the place she coveted and protected no matter the cost, as a “stupid little castle”. She’s not even bothered about the prize now, for Cersei it’s all about the game.
In Braavos, the actors are back, and this week they’ve moved on to the Purple Wedding re-enactment. Whoever writes their scripts must be a big fan of the series, given that the players seem to know every small detail of the plot. How could they possibly know that much about the ins and outs of the court, on another continent?
Arya enjoys watching Joffrey die – don’t we all? – while she clocks a jealous ‘Sansa’ watching ‘Cersei’ from the wings. It comes in handy when she needs to think of a reason not to kill her mark, but trust The Waif to be spying on the whole thing. Let’s hope she’s stuck with the pointy end – yes, Needle’s back – very soon, and Arya can leave that terrible plotline behind for good. It’s been a tiresome season or so for Arya, formerly the show’s best character, and fingers crossed she’s going to come back to us soon. That said, Jaqen ordered her death, but no suffering. Aren’t assassins meant to have no compassion? Has Arya’s mission the whole time been to do what’s right, rather than what’s been asked of her?
Welcome back, too, Walder Frey, the horrible old bastard. He’s licking his wounds after learning Brynden Tully has taken back Riverrun. Nice shoutout for the Brotherhood Without Banners, too, who have been rallying the commoners to fight against the Freys. Surely that’s not a Lady Stoneheart reference? And poor old Edmure’s not looking so well. Still, things went a lot worse for most other people at his wedding. He got off lightly.
And finally, Daenerys, who made reference to needing 1,000 ships before being able to take back King’s Landing and seize control of the Seven Kingdoms. Little does she know there’s a mad pirate in the Iron Islands who wants to marry her, currently building that many boats. What are the chances?
And she has one of her dragons back. She just needs the other two to complete the set, and get her three blood riders. No Dothraki warriors for her by her side, she wants fire-breathing monsters. Never let is be said she doesn’t have a flair for the theatrical.
What does it all mean
There is still so much ground to cover. Many of the characters are still where they started, or not far off, even if only geographically speaking. Arya is still in Braavos, Daenerys is still across the sea, boatless, Margaery is still held captive, and, while we didn’t catch up with them this time, Ramsay and Rickon are at Winterfell and Jon and Sansa are still up north in or near Castle Black.
With that in mind, there is still an awful lot of violence left to come. And travelling. Loads and loads of travelling.
Tough competition this week, lots of strong scenes without there being any real standout, but if I had to choose – and I do, it’s part and parcel of writing this blog – I’d have to go for Benjen’s return, just for the shock value of learning he’s still alive and that he is Coldhands.
Predictions for next week
As we can see in the trailer for next week’s episode, the Black Fish will return and come face to face to Jaime Lannister. Considering what the Lannisters did to his sister, Catelyn, and nephew Robb, it’s likely they won’t get on, but from the teaser for next week, it looks as if there’s dialogue between the two, rather than fighting from the off. Are they going to unite against Walder Frey? And Brienne will be there, too, but aligned with the Black Fish, giving Jaime a bit of a dilemma to deal with.
Jon will meet the Wildlings, who, with the help of Tormund, has to convince them to fight for him against the Boltons, just as Sansa will have to do the same at various other houses in the north. Good to see Tim McInnery showing up in the trailer. The Blackadder star was apparently attacked by a pack of dogs while filming his episodes, so let’s hope his appearance is worth it.
Don’t be surprised to see Ian McShane’s priest turn up next week, along with an old favourite, and Arya and The Waif will have their final, bloody showdown.