“The Crown and the Faith are the twin pillars that hold up the world. Together, we shall make the Seven Kingdoms great again.”
After all the recent sturm und drang, this week’s Game of Thrones felt like it was taking a hit of a breather. In actual fact, it wasn’t – once again, there was lots going on. It’s just that after the emotional punch of last week’s climax, it couldn’t hope to top that.
Perhaps recognising that, the script, by keeper of the show bible Bryan Cogman, took a rather more leisurely pace than of late, with plenty of lengthy dialogue scenes to underpin the drama. First, though, the show did something it rarely does by picking up straight from the end of the previous ep, to show how Bran and Meera were faring in their flight from the White Walkers and their undead army.
Luckily for them, in the ep’s only real action sequence, a mysterious masked figure turned up on horseback with a flaming mace to easily dispatch the Walking Dead refugees. Well, I say mysterious, but I recognised Joseph Mawle’s eyes easily enough above that kerchief. Benjen Stark was the first of several characters to turn up after not having been seen for a long, long time. He could also put a serious spanner in the works of the various parties angling for control of the North – unlike Jon, he’s a full Stark, and unlike Sansa, he’s a man. Harsh I know, but them’s the rules of this medieval Europe-inspired world.
Mind you, I got the impression he had his mind rather more on the challenger of taking out the Walkers. Bran’s opening vision, typical of the show’s depiction of such things, was fast cut and confusing; but one thing hit home immediately, the way the Mad King’s deranged order to “burn them all” kept being intercut with shots of the Walkers and the Wights. And then up pops Benjen with his flaming mace to do just that, in case you missed the point. Burning these things is the only way they’ll be stopped.
Fortunately, just across the Narrow Sea is a lady intent on storming back to Westeros with three giant, fire-breathing Dragons. Dany only popped up briefly this week at the end of the ep, more to catch us up on her progress than anything else. Nevertheless, Daario’s worried refrain that they’d need at least 1000 ships to convey her armies to Westeros was a point that didn’t really need hammering home. After all, it’s easy enough to cast our minds back to the dim and distant last week and remember that Yara Greyjoy’s on her way over with, ooh, maybe 1000 ships.
That’s clumsier writing than usual for this show, but Dany’s rousing speech to her Dothraki army, together with the return, fully healed, of her increasingly giant dragon, at least provided a stirring climax to the ep.
Also reappearing for the first time in several years was David Bradley’s dusty Walder Frey, fretting over his loss of Riverrun to its actual owner, Brynden “Blackfish” Tully. This too felt like information we already had, though it was fun to see the crabby Walder again – surely he’s due some karmic punishment in the near future for the Red Wedding. And we did at least find out that he’s still holding the actual groom, Catelyn Stark’s brother Edmure, also not seen since the wedding.
Also interested in retaking Riverrun were the Lannisters, but they had the small problem of still being hoist on their own religious fanatic petard. I never believed for a moment that Mace Tyrell’s army, with Jaime at its head,would succeed in retaking the capital by force. As I’ve mentioned before, you don’t defeat fanatics militarily, that just makes them martyrs.
And the High Sparrow may be a fanatic, but he’s also a shrewd man who knows when to back down. That point being when he’s actually swayed the King to his side; why would he need further demonstrations of power now? It was entirely in keeping with the established character of the impressionable Tommen that he’d be so taken in, but what of the previously Machiavellian Margaery? After her conversation with Loras, I find her apparent conversion unlikely – I think she’s faking it, but is shrewd enough to know that her family’s army isn’t the right weapon to defeat the Faith Militant. I wonder what her game plan is?
Over in Braavos, I was glad to see more of theatrical impresario Richard E Grant and his motley troupe of players, this time depicting the untimely (but most welcome) deaths of Joffrey and Tywin. This plot might have come across as mere comic relief, but for the epiphany of Arya in realising she can’t ignore her conscience to kill anyone she’d paid to. Jaqen looked honestly crestfallen at this development, authorising the Waif to kill his former protégé.
I think she’ll have a harder time doing that than she reckons, but still, Arya is now in the unenviable position of having to constantly watch her back against the finest group of assassins in this world, who are unlikely to just let it go. If the Faceless Men are now to be genuine adversaries, that adds yet another plotline to a shown rather crowded with them; nonetheless, I can’t see any easy way for Arya to escape their fury.
But amidst all this plotting and scheming, the true heart of the episode was the return of Samwell Tarly to his home, Horn Hill. This was pure character drama, but the lengthy sequences spent on Sam and his family felt well worth it. James Faulkner’s Randyll Tarly was every bit as nasty as we’d been led to believe – it was an interesting insight into the mind of a bigot that he was less concerned with finding out White Walkers were real than he was with his son taking up with a Wildling.
For her part, Hannah Murray as Gilly finally got given something to actually do,standing up to Sam’s domineering father when he still couldn’t. John Bradley-West made Sam as sympathetic as ever; this is a guy who’s confronted Wildling armies, the undead and the fearsome White Walkers, but he’s still cowed by his monster of a father. More than anything this week, that felt real, and I think the ep title – Blood of My Blood – referred (ironically) to this plotline more than any of the others.
Sex and violence
Again this week, precious little of the latter and none at all of the former. And despite its reputation, the show’s no less compelling for their absence. In violence terms, Benjen’s slaughter of the wights was plenty action-packed, but this show doesn’t take the same relish in dispatching its zombies as The Walking Dead – there was no actual gore to be seen.
We did get a somewhat nasty glimpse of Jaqen H’ghar literally peeling the face off a corpse; as I’d speculated before,it looks like the Faceless Men’s disguises are less down to magic than literally wearing somebody else’s face like Hannibal Lecter:
Choice dialogue this week
Unusually, this week had precious little of the show’s usual earthy humour, possibly because Tyrion and Varys were absent. What there was of it came entirely from the theatrical troupe in Braavos, including some slightly fourth wall-breaking comments that could have come straight from the mouths of the show runners.
Lady Crane, nearly dismissing her performance: “My final speech was shit. But to be fair to myself – and I always like to be – the writing’s no good.”
Richard E Grant’s Izembaro, taking umbrage at actor suggestions by channelling Withnail: “Who’s anyone to judge my work? I’m a professional, I’ve been doing this my whole life. You have no right to an opinion.”
You tell ‘em, Benioff and Weiss!
Otherwise, there was Olenna Tyrell, spitting teeth at realising she’d been outmanoeuvred again: “He’s beaten us, that’s what’s happening!”
And Sam Tarly, reflecting on the perennial problems of family politics: “Didn’t think I’d ever come back here, after my father made me renounce my title, and inheritance, and threatened to kill me if I didn’t. A person just doesn’t feel welcome at that point.”
After a run of simply superb episodes, this one felt like something of a drop in quality. Not that there was anything objectively wrong with it; there was a lot of plot and some very good character drama, especially in the sequences with the Tarlys. But last week’s jaw-dropping climax was always going to be impossible to follow, and I have a certain amount of sympathy with Bryan Cogman for having to try.