Arya finds a parental figure, Sam returns home and the war against the High Sparrow takes an unexpected turn.
Game of Thrones, the critically acclaimed TV series by David Benioff and DB Weiss and developed from the best-selling series of novels by George RR Martin, has become a cultural icon. The tentpole of HBO’s programming with a stellar cast and mix of medieval-style political drama and war with a healthy dash of fantasy, Game of Thrones has enthralled audiences worldwide. And this year, the show will come to a dramatic end in its final run of feature length episodes. In the lead up to season eight, I explore every episode leading up to the final battle for Westeros, continuing with season six’s Blood of my Blood.
Warning: There may be spoilers for seasons one to seven…
Nothing was ever going to be able to top the jaw-dropping climax of The Door and indeed Blood of my Blood does slow things down a little with three well-paced storylines. But its opening is certainly a tense affair, Bran flooded with visions as Meera drags his body on a sleigh through the frozen woods while hordes of the undead pursue. The frantic visions are as intense as the events taking place in the real world, flitting between past scenes (the attack at Hardhome and Ned’s execution) to new unseen moments like the mad king Aerys screeching “burn them all.” We’re even given a terrifying glimpse of the future in the shot of wildfire tearing through the tunnels beneath King’s landing, a chilling premonition of things to come.
The rescue of Meera and Bran by the hooded rider with the flaming morning star is a fantastic piece of action and horror, the skeletons and zombies just moments from killing them all before they ride to safety. The reveal later on that is Benjen Stark, lost since early season one was a real surprise at the time, half resurrected from becoming a member of the undead army by the previous Three-Eyed Raven. His surprise return will pay off in next season’s dramatic confrontation with the dead in Beyond The Wall.
The core of Blood of my Blood however focuses on three distinct stories – Sam and Gilly’s arrival at his family home, the confrontation between the Lannister-Tyrell alliance and the High Sparrow at King’s Landing and Arya’s decisions when faced with murdering Lady Crane in Braavos.
The journey to the Tarly home of Horn Hill was always going to be an awkward homecoming for Sam and the episode does not disappoint. His father Randyll Tarly, who banished him to the Wall for not being a man, is notably absent, For Gilly, this a new world altogether, full of green rolling hills and trees and it fine silk dresses and yet she holds her own in this strange environment.
When Randyll finally makes his debut, played with a cold, silent menace by James Faulkner, it’s a boiler plate of a scene. Sam’s mother Melessa and sister Talla are genuine in their attempts to play the host and welcome him and Gilly to their home while Randyll’s first words, as Sam is offered a bread roll, are “you’re not fat enough already’. It’s clear who is responsible for the meek, frightened man we were introduced to back in season one. And not only is he a monster to his son, calling him less than a man, his venom is directed towards Gilly when she bravely stands up to him; calling her a wildling whore who will work in his kitchens rather than live in comfort while Sam is away.
And yet Sam has known bravery and courage; while he will not stand up to his father directly, he still takes charge, ferrying Gilly away from a life of servitude and taking family blade Heartbane with him, right under his father’s nose. It’s encouraging to see how far both these characters have come, from meek, frightened and bullied victims to powerful, empowered people in their own right.
The power games continue in King’s Landing as the conflict between the High Sparrow and the newly formed Tyrell-Lannister alliance takes an unexpected turn. Blood of My Blood is the episode where Tommen finally steps out of his mother’s shadows and starts to demonstrate leadership of the people; given his mother’s machinations however, it is all a little too late. Even so, leadership comes at the cost of his own corruption by the High Sparrow as he is granted a meeting with wife Margaery, who is playing her own game of ‘attonement.’
The scene on the steps of the Sept as the Tyrell and Lannister forces march to save Margaery is a rather tense turning point in the conflict with the High Sparrow. The threat of bloodshed is high, resolved, not by the queen’s rescue by Jamie Lannister and Olenna Tyrell but the High Sparrow himself, who masterfully diffuses the situation with the reveal that Margeray has repented, King Tommen is at their side. While the defeat of a great character like Olenna would normally be a cause of frustration for the audience, there was something admirable in the young king finally showing strength and confidence as he addressed the cheering crowds.
Perhaps just as surprising was Tommen stripping Jamie of his rank and sending him packing to deal with the Blackfish and the siege of Riverrun. It’s been a long time since we’ve seen some these players in Game of Thrones and Blood of my Blood sees David Bradley makes a welcome if loathsome return as Walder Frey, revealing that poor Edmure Tully has been his prisoner since the shocking events of season three’s The Rains of Castamere.
Meanwhile, we see more of the wonderful acting troupe introduced last episode as Arya continues to observe the ‘fall of Westeros’ – Joffrey’s wedding to Margeray and his murder at the hands of the villainous Tyrion. There’s a real sense of Shakespearean drama in Lady Crane’s Cersei speech to her dying son while Richard E Grant steals the show as he overacts Tywin’s death on the toilet at the hands of Tyrion.
Essie Davis brings such an endearing quality to the character of Lady Crane that you really feel for her as Arya carries out her mission to poison her. But the connection with Crane which will explored later this season, sees her become the first mother figure Arya has had in years and forces her to make the brave decision to save her from the machinations of younger rival Bianca. And in doing so, she sets up the end of her Braavos arc and her showdown with the Waif, who gleefully returns to Jaqen Hagar with news of Arya’s betrayal.
The episode is capped with a Daenerys’s rousing speech to the Dothraki as she unites them all into joining her in sailing for Westeros. It feels a bit tagged on but it continues her return to power after the humbling events of season five.
The caps of Bran and Daenerys’s stories aside, the episode takes the time to explore Sam’s family and his past, Arya’s reconnection with a mother figure and the first step towards her journey home and the showdown with the High Sparrow in King’s Landing that sees Tommen emerge the king of the people. Blood of my Blood is a solid episode in a continually strong season that steps ever closer to the bloodbaths to follow by the season’s end.
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