[WARNING – This article contains SPOILERS for Game of Thrones season 6, episode 6, as well as open discussion of the A Song of Ice and Fire novels.]
With the speed at which Game of Thrones is outpacing George R.R. Martin's novels, last night's episode was a chance for audiences to catch their breath. Which isn't to suggest nothing happened, as there were certainly important developments, but in its sixth episode, 'Blood of My Blood', Game of Thrones brought the intensity down a notch to focus on a few plot threads not receiving the bulk of the attention this season.
One of these narratives is Sam and Gilly's journey south, where they stop at Horn Hill and have dinner with the Tarlys. These scenes, though terribly uncomfortable for poor Sam, were a treat for viewers and book readers alike. In the novels, Randyll Tarly is a character who crops up a couple times, but never in the company of his son, and Sam's mother, sister, and brother are never more than names on the page. But as it turns out, Sam's description of them is more than apt: his mother and sister are indeed lovely, wonderful people, only too happy to welcome Gilly and little Sam into their house, while his brother is an entitled jerk. Randyll, however, is horribly cruel and most of all to Sam. It's a telling moment watching Sam literally crumble at his father's biting words, and it's the sort of abuse one doesn't easily forget or shake off. Now, however, Sam has Gilly and she clearly gives him confidence in a way no one ever has. After all, choosing to leave Horn Hill with his family's ancestral sword, Heartsbane, isn't something done lightly, and Sam has to know there will be consequences.
Across the Narrow Sea, we check in with Daenerys, Darrio, and the Dothraki horde, but though the episode takes its name from the Dothraki custom of a Khal naming his bloodriders, in true Dany fashion, she does away with the custom. She names her entire army her bloodriders and echoes much of Khal Drogo's speech from season 1 while sitting atop Drogon, looking the very image of a conquering dragon queen. It's another instance of Game of Thrones repeating itself, much as it did with Dany's emergence from fire two episodes ago, but these scenes do seem to indicate she's back on track and set on retaking the Iron Throne. (Once she gets some ships, that is. I do hear the Greyjoy fleet is lovely.)
She Was Never No One
Family is a theme throughout the entirety of Game of Thrones, but this episode in particular took a hard look at what that really means. And for Arya, her family has never been far from her thoughts, no matter how much she tries to forget. In the books, readers are well aware of how much Arya recalls her family and her home, not too mention the wolf dreams she has, further reminding us of her connection with her long lost direwolf, Nymeria. Her blindness is also more of a punishment for refusing to become No One than it is for stealing a face, since in the novels she's blinded when she accepts a glass of milk intended for Arya.
However, much like in the show, her training continues and she's eventually cured of her blindness. Her next mission is to pose as an actress in troupe of players, where she'll serve under another Faceless Man, Izembaro. Game of Thrones isn't following along with that exactly, instead showing Arya as an audience member than an actress herself, altering how matters play out from The Winds of Winter preview chapter. Instead of going off on her own and killing Raff the Sweetling, a man from her list who is in attendance at the play, she chooses not to kill the mark assigned her by the Faceless Men. Obviously, the show has already covered Arya killing without permission when she murdered Ser Meryn Trant, another name from her list, but it's an interesting switch having her disobedience here be an act of mercy and not murder.
Those who've kept up with the preview chapters Martin will occasionally publish will recall that Arya's preview chapter is titled 'Mercy', and she even calls herself that name in this scene. The twist, then, may actually be something which will eventually happen in books. That, or the TV writers just couldn't pass up having her name and chosen action be one in the same. Still, whether it be by committing another "off-mission" murder or disobeying her direct orders by sparing a life, Arya is out of the Faceless Men's assassin academy. This is very likely the progression her arc will take in the novels, too, making this just a stop along the way in her mission to avenge her family.
Now armed with Needle and awaiting The Waif's attack, Arya is sure to prove herself a Stark for now and always. This would be a perfect time for Arya's warging to be revealed, especially if it somehow aids her in her fight with The Waif - only again reminding us of the power some of the Starks share. It'd also be a nice touch for her to begin experiencing those wolf dreams now that she's sworn off being No One, symbolizing that for the first time since season 1 she is truly Arya Stark.
Meet Me in the Riverlands
Last week, Sansa sent Brienne on a mission to the Riverlands, to Riverrun to meet with her uncle, Brynden "The Blackfish" Tully. And this week, more people plan to pay The Blackfish a visit, as both Walder Frey and Tommen send forces to take back Riverrun from the Tullys. Yes, it seems season 6 is prepping not only a Battle of the Bastards in The North, but also a Rumble in the Riverlands (™). For book readers, none of this should come as a surprise, and in fact many were likely wondering when Game of Thrones would return to the most savaged area from The War of the Five Kings.
Making his first appearance since season 3 and the now infamous Red Wedding, Walder Frey has changed very little. Still a disgusting and jealous man who demands respect for his house without really deserving it, Walder is furious that his forces have lost Riverrun to The Blackfish, a man they also let escape during the massacre of most of his family. In order to retake Riverrun, Walder is sending his army along with Edmure Tully - who's been his hostage since the wedding - with the intent that if The Blackfish doesn't yield, Edmure will be hanged. At least that's the situation as Jaime finds it when he arrives at the Siege of Riverrun, with each day the Frey army threatening to hang Edmure, and each day The Blackfish calling their bluff. Rinse and repeat.
'Blood of My Blood' also shows Jaime finally being given his orders to travel to Riverrun, though unsurprisingly, it doesn't happen as it does in the books. Jaime and Bronn's adventure in Dorne last season delayed his storyline, while the events in King's Landing involving the Faith Militant continued right along, with the High Sparrow's hold on the city only growing. That may or may not occur in the books, but Jaime leaving for Riverrun certainly does - except it's on Cersei's orders not Tommen's. He also isn't kicked out of the Kingsuard, a real interesting development for the show given how that had previously denied him of being his father's heir and inheriting Casterly Rock.
Either way, Jaime will also arrive in at Riverrun, presumably along with Bronn in place of Ser Ilyn Payne, where he'll not only treat with The Blackfish but likely also run in with Brienne and Podrick. The trailers for this season of Game of Thrones hint at a reunion between Podrick and Bronn, and that can only happen if those they serve are also nearby. Just how much of Jaime's time in the Riverlands as it's depicted in the books will make it to the screen is unclear, but Walder did make mention of other houses rebelling against the Freys and the Brotherhood Without Banners, so book readers may indeed have a good idea of where these narratives are heading.
Whatever Happened to Benjen Stark?
Picking up events directly after Hodor's sacrifice, Meera and Bran are on the run from the undead wights, and it doesn't look good. Bran is still trapped in a vision, reliving what appears to be the history of all of Westeros - with a few significant clips shown for viewers - and Meera is struggling to carry his weight. They are then miraculously saved by a figure all in black, wielding a flaming mace that quickly dispatches the wights. 'Is that Coldhands?,' asks book readers. 'Is that Benjen Stark?', asks show watchers. And 'Blood of My Blood' only answers one of those questions directly, but it has since been confirmed that the answer to both questions is: 'Yes.'
After the wights are dead and Bran, Meera, and their new friend sit down to enjoy some warm rabbit blood (yum?), the hooded figure reveals himself to be Benjen Stark, Bran's long lost uncle and former Night's Watchman. He tells them he was killed by White Walkers, as so many had suspected, but he didn't turn into one of their mindless zombies thanks to the intervention of The Children and their dragon glass. It's a great reveal and once that would seemingly confirm a long held fan theory from the novels - that Coldhands, the mysterious wight who saves Sam and Gilly and later leads Bran and his friends to the Three Eyed-Raven, is an undead Benjen. Except... Martin has already said Benjen isn't Coldhands.
This discrepancy is of course only another instance in where the show is condensing the books, compressing what is in reality a pretty convoluted tale. What actually happened to Benjen is mystery still, at least as far as the novels are concerned. And just who Coldhands really is also unknown - he may not have even survived the attack from the wights when Bran was first arriving at the cave. Still, it's very possible Coldhands will play the same role he did in last night's episode, again coming to Bran and Meera's rescue. It's also interesting to note that neither Benjen or anyone else refers to him as Coldhands in the episode, that connection has only been made in interviews. So, perhaps Benjen will be the one to return and save Bran in the novels, and Coldhands is simply another character who serves as proof it's possible for the dead to be saved from becoming wights?
Without a doubt, Benjen's return - whether he's actually Coldhands or not - is a significant boon to Bran and the Stark cause in general. It's our second Stark reunion of the season, and though it's far more supernatural, it's no less heartwarming. It's also fulfilling to receive closure for such a longstanding mystery. It was, after all, Benjen's disappearance that was the impetus for Lord Commander Mormont's ranging north of The Wall all the way back in season 2. What Bran, Meera, and Benjen do next, like so many characters' storylines after this episode, is unknown, but the moment of their reunion feels good and hopefully points to more good news for them as they continue Bran's training.
Game of Thrones continues next Sunday with ‘The Broken Man’ @9pm on HBO. Check out a preview below: