After the tragic death of Hodor and Summer in last week’s episode, Bran Stark was due for a win — and many fans had hoped it might come in the form of his long-lost uncle Benjen, who has been AWOL since Season 1.
Last we heard, the loyal Night’s Watch Ranger had gone missing on a mission north of the Wall, where his story should’ve had an unhappy ending — but luckily for Benjen, Bran and us, after the Ranger was stabbed in the gut by a White Walker with a sword of ice and left to die, the Children of the Forest found him and were able to halt the spread of the White Walkers’ magic, preventing him from turning into a Wight. (I wonder if the same trick works on greyscale? Paging Ser Jorah!)
Admittedly, Benjen looked a little frosty, but he was still a lot friendlier than the Night King and his wrecking crew, and at this point, Bran needs all the allies he can get. The Three-Eyed Raven apparently called Benjen for help before he died, and it looks like he’ll be taking over mentoring duties while Bran tries to sort through the infodump the Raven gave him in “The Door.”
While Benjen’s return was undoubtedly a welcome sight (especially for book fans who have spent years speculating about the identity of a character called Coldhands, whose description seems to match a lot of what we see from Benjen here), Bran’s newly-received knowledge also offered us a glimpse into the past, revisiting the rise of the White Walkers and the deaths of Ned, Robb and Catelyn (along with another mention of Lyanna), but also going further back in time to the night when Jaime killed the Mad King, Aerys Targaryen, stabbing him in the back after Aerys tried to burn down King’s Landing.
That was also the night when Jaime earned the title of “Kingslayer,” and it was interesting to see those brief flashbacks juxtaposed with Tommen’s decision to strip his uncle-father of his Kingsguard position, when in both instances, Jaime was actually trying to do the honorable thing and save the city — once from Aerys’ pyromania, which would’ve seen the inhabitants of King’s Landing burned alive in their thousands; and once from the religious fervor of the sparrows, who could easily destroy the city with their zealotry, especially now that King Tommen is also drinking their Kool-Aid. No good deed goes unpunished, especially when you’re a Lannister.
That theme reverberated throughout the hour, as Arya went against her Faceless Man training and chose to save Lady Crane, the actress she’d been assigned to assassinate, after the woman proved that she wasn’t quite as soulless as the rest of her acting troupe. Unfortunately for Arya, the Waif was lurking at the playhouse and saw Arya’s act of rebellion, immediately rushing back to the House of Black and White to smugly tell Jaqen H’ghar about her failure. Instead of simply skipping town, which seemed like the advisable thing to do, Arya stuck around — although she did have the sense to retrieve Needle from its hiding place to defend herself against the Waif’s inevitable attack. Arya’s Karate Kid training has been an interesting diversion, if a little opaque in terms of how it ties into the overarching narrative, but given that Season 6 seems to be escalating more rapidly than previous years, I’m looking forward to seeing who her storyline intersects with next (she’s on the same continent as Daenerys and Tyrion, after all).
Honor certainly didn’t get Sam and Gilly very far with Sam’s overbearing father, Randyll Tarly, yet another contender for Westeros’ Worst Father in a show that already has an abundance of sadistic patriarchs. While Sam wasn’t quite brave enough to stand up to Randyll in public, he still got the last laugh, sneaking out of the house in the middle of the night and stealing the family’s Valyrian steel sword on the way out — a weapon that will undoubtedly come in handy once the White Walkers come knocking.
On the other end of the honor spectrum, “Blood of My Blood” also revisited Walder Frey and his treacherous family, who were still gloating about their role in the Red Wedding (just in case you’d forgotten who they were since we last saw them back in Season 3). As we learned last week, the Freys recently lost control of Riverrun to Brynden “Blackfish” Tully (Catelyn’s uncle), and the remnants of the Tully army, which prompted Sansa to send Brienne to meet with him and seek his help regaining control of the north. The Freys have at least one bargaining chip left — Edmure Tully, Brynden’s nephew (aka Tobias Menzies, who’s also doing swell work on Starz’s “Outlander”), the poor unfortunate soul who was forced to marry into the Frey family at the Red Wedding, before all the murdering and depressing music started.
Even more crucially, at least if you’re on Team Stark, this week the Freys revealed that they had lost the support of two other great houses in the riverlands — the Mallisters and Blackwoods — which was the same PR problem Ramsay Bolton and his Rickon-capturing allies from House Umber were having in the north a few weeks back.
There are very few throwaway lines on “Game of Thrones,” so it’s worth noting that the younger Freys also namedropped the Brotherhood Without Banners, who have been similarly absent since Season 3, but who play a pivotal role in the books, and are currently disrupting the Freys’ supply lines and “raising the commoners” against them. We last saw the Brotherhood selling Gendry to Melisandre (remember Gendry?!) and freeing the Hound after he survived a trial by combat against their leader, Beric Dondarrion, but in Westeros’ current political landscape, they’re probably the most honorable outlaws you could hope to find, and I have a feeling they’ll have more to do as the season wears on.
With the Freys losing control, Jaime revealed to Cersei that he was being sent by Tommen to help retake Riverrun as a consequence of Tywin’s old Red Wedding alliance with Walder, meaning war is coming to the riverlands. The only question is, will Jon, Sansa and the Wildlings be there to help the Tullys, or will they focus their energy on Ramsay at Winterfell first? Either way, it’s been kind of blissful to have two Ramsay-free episodes in a row; here’s hoping that the next time we see him, it’ll be on the pointy end of Longclaw.
Bran’s visions may have illustrated that the Mad King ruled by fear and intimidation — the preferred style of monarchy in Westeros — but over in Essos, his daughter has found a much more effective means of securing loyalty — showing up to the party on the back of a dragon and offering all of her followers a promotion (still feels a bit intimidating, doesn’t it?). Instead of ruling like a Khal and only choosing three warriors to protect her, Dany asked all of the surviving Dothraki to be her bloodriders and tasked them with helping her conquer Westeros by doing what no Dothraki has done before — sailing across the Narrow Sea and waging war. She’s still in need of a thousand ships to get them there, but luckily for her, there’s a homicidal Greyjoy in the midst of building them for her as we speak. Dany’s rise to power has been slow by Westeros standards, but Emilia Clarke sure can deliver a rousing speech when she needs to. The problem with feeling entitled to rule, as everyone from Joffrey to Stannis has discovered thus far, is that it seldom makes you an effective leader. Daenerys might be a conqueror, but judging by the trail of chaos she’s left in her wake from Qarth to Meereen, it’s debatable whether she’ll be any more useful to the inhabitants of Westeros than her father was, especially considering their penchant for setting people on fire.
Despite the fact that there have always been too many characters and storylines to fit into each episode (and I admittedly missed seeing Jon and Sansa at the Wall this week), you can’t help but notice how dense every installment is this season. The show has always done an admirable job of juggling many disparate storylines at once, and while that can sometimes make episodes feel disjointed, there’s a clarity of purpose in Season 6 that certainly gives the impression that we’re barreling towards a conclusion instead of just meandering through Dorne or killing time in Qarth. Armies are amassing, leaders are rising, and it’s debatable which potentially deadly power source will reach Westeros first, the White Walkers or dragons. Either way, drama is coming.
“Game of Thrones” airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.