“Blood of My Blood,” the sixth episode of Season 6, several characters make important reunions with family that will drive the narrative in the final episodes of the season. Beyond the Wall, Bran reunites with his long-lost uncle, Benjen Stark, who promises to help him in his role as the new Three-Eyed Raven; when the White Walkers come south, he says, Bran must be ready for them. Sam briefly gets together with his family and decides to take Heartsbane—the family’s Valyrian Steel sword, a rare weapon needed to kill White Walkers—to spite his abusive father.
Tommen rejoins with his queen, Margaery, who manipulates him into accepting a pact with the Faith. In Braavos, Arya reunites with her past identity, embracing her family’s history and its moral code. No longer No One, Arya Stark braces herself for the blow-back from the Faceless Men. Edmure Tully, Catelyn’s brother and longtime prisoner of the Freys (ever since his Red Wedding), prepares to be sent back to his home at Riverrun as a political hostage. Finally, Daenerys reunites with Drogon and rallies her bloodriders to her cause: the invasion of Westeros.
We start north of the Wall. There, Bran and Meera are still being pursued by the undead. Bran continues to have a scattered cut of visions of the past, present, and (potentially) future. He’s still downloading the visions from the Three-Eyed Raven, who passed his knowledge onto Bran before he died in the last episode.
In the most interesting scenes from his visions, he sees the Mad King Aerys (Daenerys’s father) being murdered by Jaime “Kingslayer” Lannister, with Jaime taking a seat on the Iron Throne. He also sees blood on what looks like his young father’s hands (notably after a clip of him asking “Where is my sister?”), and the murders of his father, mother, and brother—the last two he would have had no knowledge of prior to this vision. He also sees the shadow of a dragon over King’s Landing, a vision he’s already seen in the more innocent days of the past.
Finally, he sees green wildfire exploding while the Mad King shouts “Burn them all!” In Season 3, Jaime admitted to Brienne that the mad king’s plan was to burn all of King’s Landing using the volatile substance. He killed the king’s pyromancer then killed the mad king as he fled, which we see in Bran’s flashback. However, if Jaime is correct, the wildfire was never exploded within the city, though we see it exploding in Bran’s vision. If it is not a past vision, could this be from the future?
Tyrion may have foreshadowed the burning of King’s Landing when he visited the pyromancer in Season 2: “The contents of this room could lay King’s Landing low.” Cersei was the one who originally rebooted the Alchemists’ Guild after their years of decline following King Aerys’s death. She ordered them to produce wildfire around the clock in order to have a supply with which to defend the city from Stannis Baratheon. With the current instability in King’s Landing, could Cersei be ordering wildfire production again? Has Bran just seen a dark future for King’s Landing? Or some unknown past event?
Back in the present, Bran wakes up from his visions as the undead wights descend on them. In the nick of time, a hooded protector rides in to save them using flaming flail and sickle as his weapons. Later, he reveals himself to be Benjen Stark, Bran’s long-lost uncle.
We last saw Benjen in Season 1 when he convinced Jon Snow to join the Night’s Watch. Jon worships him and aspires to be like him, a famed Ranger for the Night’s Watch. Benjen left on a ranging mission north of the Wall and never came back, though his two companions were found dead. The mystery of Benjen’s disappearance has been dangled in front of us throughout most of the series. Last season, Jon’s murderers lured him out of his room with supposed news of Benjen’s whereabouts.
Finally, Benjen reveals that he was stabbed by a White Walker and rescued by the Children of the Forest. Though he would have eventually turned into a wight (zombie), the children saved him by stabbing him in the chest with a dragonglass dagger—exactly what they did to create the White Walkers in the first place. He is somewhere between the living and the dead—not quite a White Walker, but more akin to them than any other living man. He also seems to have been working closely with the Children and the Three-Eyed Raven up until now, which means that his service to Bran will be all the more powerful and important, now that all of them are gone.
At Horn Hill, home of House Tarly, Sam tries to pass off Gilly as his non-wildling lover and baby Sam as his son. His mother and sister are both shown to be incredibly kind, like Sam, and welcome Gilly and the baby with open arms. His father, however, is every bit as critical and cutting as Sam has alluded to over the years. In defending Sam, Gilly accidentally reveals that she is a wildling. Randyll Tarly, like most Westerosi, hates the wildlings and berates Sam further for bringing one into his home. He only allows Gilly to work in the kitchens to appease his wife and orders Sam to leave Horn Hill forever.
Sam stays quiet, not wanting to further upset his father and endanger Gilly and baby Sam’s chances of being welcomed into the Tarly home (in any capacity). Later, he goes to Gilly’s room to apologize for this, only to decide to keep her with him. Before they sneak off together, he steals his father’s sword, Heartsbane.
This is significant because the blade is one of the few remaining Valyrian steel swords out there, and this steel (along with dragonglass) is one of only two substances known to kill White Walkers. Right now, the only other Valyrian steel blades we know of are Longclaw (Jon Snow’s sword), Oathkeeper (Brienne’s sword), Widow’s Wail (Tommen’s sword), and the dagger that was used in the assassination attempt on Bran in Season 1. Sam is now in possession of one of the most powerful weapons in all of Westeros, making himself a major player in the upcoming war against the White Walkers.
In King’s Landing, the High Sparrow allows Tommen to visit Margaery in her cells. He is surprised to find her sorry for her sins and supposedly swayed by the High Sparrow’s faith. She acknowledges her own vanity in helping the poor and, off camera, convinces the impressionable King Tommen to join her in uniting the crown with the Faith.
Later, as she is supposedly about to begin her walk of atonement through the city, her father and Jaime Lannister march the Tyrell troops to the Great Sept to demand the release of Margaery and Loras. The High Sparrow stops any attack by revealing that Margaery has already atoned for her sins and brought the king into the faith.
King Tommen then appears out of the Great Sept surrounded by his Kingsguard, who are bedecked with new breastplates depicting a crown and seven-pointed star, symbolizing the new union between the king and the Faith. The people of King’s Landing cheer as Tommen declares his commitment to the Faith. Mace Tyrell, clueless as ever, looks to his mother for guidance throughout the scene. In the end, he has to ask her what is happening, confused by this surprising turn of events. Lady Olenna admits that the High Sparrow has beaten them, with help from her own granddaughter.
A couple of episodes ago, Margaery told Loras, “If either of us give in to what they want, then they win.” He told her to “let them win.” Is that was she decided to do, for the sake of herself and her brother?
It’s hard to imagine that Margaery had any sort of sincere conversion, but it’s unclear what her plans are. Master-manipulator Margaery may have formulated this plan to save herself from her walk of atonement, not knowing that her family was intending to rescue her with the full strength of their forces. It’s difficult to read her expressions exactly, but it seemed to me that she was shocked and disappointed to see her family there in a futile effort to save her when she had already saved herself.
In any case, I cannot picture Margaery allowing the High Sparrow to share her power for long. She would only have manipulated Tommen into accepting an alliance with the Faith for her own gain. We’ll have to wait to see what her long term plan is, but she is certainly taking a risk by aligning with the Faith Militant. The immediate embarrassment to her family and the Lannisters is already an unintended consequence, much to Lady Olenna’s disgust.
Another consequence is Jaime Lannister’s position on the Kingsguard. His nephew/son decides to remove him because of his “attack on the faith.” Instead, he sends Jaime to Riverrun, where he has been instructed to help Walder Frey retake the fortress. The Lannisters allied with the grumpy old Frey when he agreed to take out the Starks and Tullys during the Red Wedding, so they still owe him their support in suppressing the Tully uprising at Riverrun, but Jaime feels like he will be wasted in the Riverlands.
He tells Cersei that he wants to stay in King’s Landing and crush the High Sparrow and his fanatical followers, but she convinces him that this will be futile and will likely result in his death. She urges him to go the Riverrun and retake the castle with ease, to show everyone how powerful the Lannisters still are. She claims that she does not need him in King’s Landing for her trial by combat, since she has the Mountain to fight for her, so he agrees to leave.
Interestingly enough, both Jaime and Brienne are heading for the same place: Riverrun. Brienne was sent by Sansa to try to rally the Tully troops to their cause. These two had a very interesting relationship with one another; Jaime had so much respect for Brienne, he gave her his Valyrian steel sword. I’ll be curious to see what their reunion might be like, especially now that Jaime has reinvested in Cersei’s campaign for vengeance against Lannister enemies.
Before Jaime leaves for Riverrun, we also check in on Walder Frey and the rest of his grey lot. Walder is upset about the loss of Riverrun to Brynden Tully (aka “the Blackfish”). Riverrun, the ancestral home of the Tullys (Catelyn Stark’s family), was captured by the Freys after the Red Wedding. As Littlefinger confirmed to Sansa, the Blackfish recently took his home back from the Freys. Walder’s sons get defensive, claiming that House Mallister and Blackwood have both risen up against them, and that the Brotherhood Without Banners is encouraging the commoners of the Riverlands to raid their camps.
You’ll remember that the Brotherhood is a ragtag group of knights without any real affiliation (although they were loosely tied to Ned Stark and are fairly anti-Lannister), set up to protect the smallfolk of the Riverlands. Beric Dondarrion, the knight who has died and been resurrected several times by the Red Priest, is the leader of the group. We haven’t seen these outlaws for a couple seasons, but may meet with them again soon enough.
Despite the clear opposition to his rule in the Riverlands, Walder Frey has one more trick up his sleeve: Edmure Tully, Catelyn’s brother. He has been in the cells of the Twins since the Red Wedding, but now Walder intends to use him as a bargaining chip with the Blackfish.
In Braavos, Arya watches another performance of the play. Tyrion is shown to be the murderer of both Joffrey and Tywin, and the crowd angrily boos the Imp. Arya is the only one laughing at Joffrey as he dies, the only one who seems to know Joffrey’s true nature. However, when Cersei delivers a moving monologue over her son’s body, she stops laughing. She sees the actress with empathetic eyes, clearly wrestling over her mission to kill her. In the background of the scene, she sees the actress who plays Sansa mouthing Cersei’s lines, confirming to herself the theory that Lady Crane’s death was purchased by this rival.
She initially sets out to poison Lady Crane’s rum, though not without a bit of hesitation. As she leaves the scene, Lady Crane recognizes her and stops her to speak. Once again, Arya finds herself empathizing with this seemingly good woman. She suggests that Cersei is inaccurately portrayed in the play, telling the actress, “She loved him more than anything, and he was taken from her before she could say goodbye. She wouldn’t just cry. She would be angry. She would want to kill the person who did this to her.” Arya may well have been talking about herself and her former quest for vengeance against her father’s killers—Cersei chief among them. Clearly, she is still unable to shed her past identity to become No One. When Lady Crane asks her name, she calls herself “Mercy.”
“Do you like pretending to be other people?” Lady Crane asks her, ostensibly to see if Arya would like to become an actress in their troupe. But to Arya, who has been training to become one of the Faceless Men for so long, this means something different entirely. She looks shamed and leaves in a rush.
“I have to go. My father is waiting for me,” she says. He is, indeed.
Arya was always close with Ned. She valued his teachings and followed his moral compass. He did not pardon everyone of their crimes, but at least insisted on being the one to swing the sword to punish them. For a while now, Arya has been diverted from her mission of swinging her sword against those who have done her family wrong. In this scene, her desire to become Arya Stark once again is clear. Just as Ned would not kill an innocent, like Lady Crane, he also would not forgive her would-be killer. Her father is waiting for her to continue her quest, and she’s finally ready to listen to her inner nature.
When Lady Crane is about to take a sip of her rum, Arya reappears and knocks the cup from her hand. As everyone stares at her, stunned, she points out the actress who plays Sansa and warns Lady Crane, “Careful that one. She wants you dead.”
As Arya’s words echo through the backstage, the camera tellingly pans over to the Waif, who wants Arya dead. The Waif gleefully reports the incident to Jaqen, begging him to let her be the one to eliminate the rogue Arya. Jaqen agrees, but tells the girl not to let her suffer, at least.
It was so wonderful to see Arya return to the waterfront and retrieve her sword, Needle, from its hiding spot. She has given up her desire to become a Faceless Man, once more becoming Arya Stark and resuming her previous quest to avenge her father’s death. “She would want to kill the person who did this to her,” she told Lady Crane. But first, she’ll have to kill the Waif.
As she prepares for the attack she knows is inevitable, she unsheathes Needle and blows out a candle. Perhaps all of that training while blind will now come in handy as the Waif comes to attack her in the dark…
Finally, we join up with Daenerys and Daario as they lead their new army back to Meereen. As they ride, Daenerys asks Daario how many ships they’ll need to cross the Narrow Sea with her Dothraki troops. Daario estimates 1,000 ships are needed (coincidentally the same number of ships that Euron Greyjoy is planning to build in the Iron Islands).
Daenerys then rides off suddenly and returns on the back of Drogon, controlling him better than ever before. She delivers a motivating speech to her army of bloodriders, who all promise to board ships to help in her invasion of Westeros.
At first, this scene with Daenerys rallying the troops felt a little bloated. Other than reuniting with Drogon, what was its purpose? And, the showrunners thought it was powerful enough to carry us into the credits this week. Arya blowing out the candle, or the Benjen Stark reveal, would have been a much more powerful ending. Did we really need Daenerys convincing her troops, who already follow her, to follow her still?
Perhaps the “reveal” is Drogon’s return, though it came so easily. To counter my point, the importance may be that she’s easily riding and controlling Drogon, and the speech is arbitrary. As Tyrion said a few episodes ago, many believe dragons are more intelligent than men. When Daenerys rode off on Drogon last season, she was not controlling him completely. He dropped her off in a field and refused to take her home. It’s as if he knew that she needed to be there, in the Dothraki Sea, so that she might acquire the troops she desperately needed. He disappeared and did not return to her until she accomplished it. When he stands before the Dothraki riders, he doesn’t roast them alive, and seems to screech in triumph. It’s appropriate that the episode titled “Blood of My Blood” ends with Drogon reunited once again with his mother, as she rallies her bloodriders to her cause.
Other thoughts on “Blood of My Blood”:
- Every week with Daenerys I worry more and more that she is the villain of this story. Game of Thrones is not so black-and-white as to have true “heroes” and “villains,” but I think we can safely categorize many characters into one of the two camps in general (though, like Jaime, their overall moral status may change over the course of the show—which is part of the reason why it’s so brilliant). Most people love Daenerys, especially to see her kicking ass and taking names. Who wouldn’t? However, as we seem to be nearing an invasion of Westeros (at long last), I’m beginning to see Daenerys in a different light. Before, I was really hoping she’d team up with Tyrion (check) and Jon to reclaim her throne and save the realm from the White Walkers. She may do that yet. But, at what cost? Are her untamed Dothraki soldiers going to sweep in and kill the likes of Sansa? Or Brienne? Or Jaime? Or Sam? What will be the cost of her invading Westeros with the Dothraki and sellswords? How can she control her bloodriders and stop them from raping and pillaging their way through Westeros? What happens when her mercenary troops are unleashed in the Seven Kingdoms to “tear down stone houses”? Surely there will be very real consequences of her invasion; it will not be the typical story of a hero’s return home to her rightful throne. Maybe Daenerys’s storyline will have been brilliant all along because we sympathized with her throughout her journey towards establishing herself as a ruthless tyrant.
- Sam taking the sword is also significant because he is not entitled to any inheritance. Though this episode makes it seem like Randyll Tarly sent Sam to the Wall so that he might grow a pair by killing some wildlings, he actually sent him so that he might legally disown him and make his second-born son, Dickon, his heir. Right now, Dickon is set to inherit Horn Hill and Heartsbane. By pledging with the Night’s Watch, Sam has forsaken all claims to his inheritance. That makes taking the sword one of Sam’s ballsiest acts of defiance.
- Jaime and Brienne heading to the Riverlands means that the show is starting to line up with their storylines in the books. They also mentioned the Brotherhood Without Banners again, which likely means that they’re set to make their first appearance in a while. It seems like the book’s events in the Riverlands, long thought to be abandoned by the show, are now on the table again. The show has played with the timeline in an interesting way, though I feel like it’s worked out well, for the most part.
- That being said, why was Jaime at the Great Sept? I thought the plan was for the Tyrell army to take the hit in “attacking” the Faith, leaving the Lannisters and the crown out of it. Predictably, this mistake is a costly one, but it’s also confusing with the preexisting narrative. I get that they had to get Jaime into the Riverlands, but this seemed like a silly way to do it.
- How great of an idea is it for Margaery to unite with the Faith? I’ve always thought of her as one of the most adept political manipulators in the game, but this feels like the wrong move. The High Sparrow is no dummy (unlike her husband, Tommen) and can’t be played as easily. This move works in the immediate (preventing her own walk of shame), but seems like a bad long-term strategy. It also results in the immediate embarrassment of her own family, which Lady Olenna seems none too pleased about. When the sure and capable Lady Olenna is sent scrambling, it’s never a good sign.
- It is interesting how sympathetic Braavos is to the Lannister narrative, given how unsympathetic the events of the show have been towards them. Clearly, though it seems like they’re totally falling apart in Westeros, they’re still powerful enough to control the narrative—even across the Narrow Sea. It’s an important reminder not to count them out just yet.
- Lady Crane complaining about how bad the writing is in the play, which is essentially a different take on what we’ve seen in the show, felt like a fun little wink at the critical TV viewer.
- Book readers have long wondered about the mysterious, hooded character found north of the Wall. Known only as “Coldhands” in the books, many readers have theorized that this man was the long-lost Benjen Stark. It hasn’t been confirmed yet in the books, and people even started arguing against this popular theory, but the showrunners have decided to make the theory a reality. In the “Inside the Episode” segment, D.B. Weiss calls Benjen “Coldhands Benjen,” and thousands of book readers rejoiced in being proven correct. Though, it’s worth noting that it’s not guaranteed that what we see on the show is what George R.R. Martin also intends for the books.
- Randyll Tarly voices clear denial that the White Walkers exist, as most of the people south of the Wall would agree. Tarly is one of the greatest generals and warriors in the land. The Night’s Watch could use him by their side in the fight against the White Walkers, but they have clearly failed in their messaging, which means Westeros will be quite surprised with what’s headed their way. It’s seriously time for Castle Black to send more ravens.
- I think it’s pretty clear that Arya’s latest mission was a test, which she may (or may not) have failed. But what if the Waif is also being tested by Jaqen? What if her desire to kill Arya is wrong, according to the Many-Faced God? Jaqen recently said, “One way or another, a face will be added to the hall.” What if that face is the Waif’s, not Arya’s? Would Jaqen continue to pursue Arya?
- A few recaps ago, I wondered if the Waif could be Syrio Forel, Arya’s old swordfighting instructor from Braavos. It’s not the strongest theory, but their fighting styles are similar enough to comment on. Could the Waif want to be the one to kill Arya because, as Syrio Forel, she actually doesn’t want Arya dead? I’m not convinced of this, but it would make for an interesting twist.
- My prediction: Arya will join the acting troupe to get back to Westeros and continue crossing names off her list.
- Could Lady Crane’s performance as Cersei, which clearly moves Arya (while Joffrey’s “sad death” has her in a fit of laughter), affect how Arya sees Cersei in the future, if she ever gets a chance to kill her as she’s long planned?
- Let’s put Arya on the Iron Throne (not really, but what a cool shot).