Sam Tarly is dead. Long live Sam Tarly: SEX GOD.
Yes, with Jon Snow absent from our screens this week (and what the hell was that about), the significant dribble from my rampaging libido had to be directed elsewhere. And where better than at Sam Tarly, Defender of Everything Good, Noble and Just and Stick-It-Upperer to Shit Dads Everywhere.
Sure, he has no visible six-pack, delectable curly hair or brooding gaze that just says “Be mine, Natalie”. But he does have decency, loyalty, kindness, a sweet smile and a family straight out of a fricking Jane Austen novel, and that brings us to the crux of this week’s episode.
What is more important - the family you are born into, or the one you choose? Is blood the thickest of bonds, or can it be more powerful to form and inspire your own original clan?
Season 6, Episode 6: Blood of My Blood
Harsher critics might use the adjective “slow”, but we can probably all agree this episode was certainly the most “measured” of the year so far.
However I quite enjoyed having some breathing space after the pace and thrill of the first half of the season. The luxury of time to sink into long, languid scenes was comforting, and it’s always nice not to finish an episode in a maelstrom of tears (Oh, Hodor).
Besides, the first few moments of Majestic Meera Reed dragging Bran’s sled through the snow his sled as best she could allowed the greenseer a beguiling cauldron of flashbacks the likes of which we haven’t seen since Harry Potter planted face first into the Pensieve.
There was Bran’s own fall from the tower at Winterfell, his mother’s death, his father’s death, his brother Robb’s death, the White Walkers, wildfire in King’s Landing, his father at the Tower of Joy and even shots of the Mad King Aerys II himself. “Burn them all,” we hear the old man demanding, before Jaime Lannister can be seen approaching the throne to create the nickname that would follow him forever.
Another teeny tidbit I managed to freeze frame was the shot of two hands, one bloody, one definitely female. Could this be an indication of what happened in the Tower of Joy - aka, that Ned Stark found his sister giving birth in a “bed of blood”, where she subsequently died? Am I now ready to join a Game of Thrones online forum and argue with people about fan theory minutiae?
The point is, Bran is too busy tripping to realise the danger he and Meera are in: namely, wights.
Her energy expended, all Meera can do is huddle close to Bran and whisper “I’m sorry”. It was as touching a sisterly moment as you’ll ever see anywhere, and if anything ever happens to Meera Reed, I’ll upend something. Of course I said that about Hodor and I’m now writing this recap on an op-shop typewriter with missing keys, so it’s getting to be a very e pensive threat.
Here is where we have to stop and pay tribute to a certain Russian scribe named Anton Chekhov, who ensured that a gun placed deliberately on show in the first season would now, five seasons later, finally be fired.
Yes, it was the long-awaited return of Benjen Stark, First Ranger of the Night’s Watch and Current World Title Holder for Most Alive Stark Sibling of That Generation.
Masked and on horseback, Uncle Benjen appeared just in time to Flame On and put a half dozen or so wights to the torch with a fiery mace. He threw Bran and Meera on his steed, and all of a sudden, they were safe.
Of course he only showed his face later, in relative safety. It had to be that way, of course, you couldn’t just burn a reveal like that in a frenzied fight scene. But boy, has that face changed. Pock-marked and sunken in parts, it has felt the touch of Winter.
Benjen explains that he was stabbed by a White Walker and left to die while out ranging, but was saved by the Children of the Forest. It turns out their neat trick of slicing your heart in two with obsidian to turn you into a White Walker works just as well as a cure-all for zombie-ism. I feel like this is an Important Piece of Information that we should probably remember, and makes me doubly cranky that Meera didn’t take one of those damned spears with her when she left the Meth Den.
Benjen also seems to have been on good terms with the Three-Eyed Raven, as he’s more up to speed with what having those powers mean than Bran is. “I can’t control it,” Bran mourns. “You’ll must learn to control it… before the Nights’ King comes,” Benjen replies, just as mournfully. Bran has finally been reunited with a family member, but will Uncle Benjen live long enough to help Bran see his destiny through? Or is he destined to be another sacrifice to ensure Bran’s safety, like Osha and Jojen and (gulp) Hodor? And what is it about Bran’s powers that makes him so vital to need such blood spilled for him?
Lord Randyll Tarly threatened to spill his own son’s blood simply because he didn’t like him. Samwell was not brave enough, not active enough, hell, just not man enough to inherit the fine estate of Horn Hill. And so he was sent to The Wall, in the hope it might make a man of him - or at the very least, get him out of the way so his younger brother Dickon could inherit the title.
Sam’s sad tale of paternal betrayal resonated so deeply when we first learned of it. If there is one thing that’s supposed to be true in this world - in any world - it’s that parents will always protect their children. And so it’s natural that he be incredibly nervous returning to the lush green estate of Horn Hill, a place he never imagined returning to alone, least of all with a girlfriend and baby.
Gilly, for her part, is happy to go along with the story that baby Sam is big Sam’s, in order for his father to take them in. Lord Randyll doesn’t like Wildlings, which is about as surprising as discovering Donald Trump doesn’t like *insert whatever* here.
On arrival, we realise what a high faluting, fancy-pants existence Sam lived before his exile to the Night’s Watch. Horn Hill is a genuine pleasure palace, with stately architecture, manicured lawns, huge expanses of balcony and ornate four poster beds.
With Sam Tarly’s mother and sister being amazingly sweet, kind and generous, welcoming both Gilly and the baby with open arms, it made me wonder - how exactly did a place as NICE as this survive in Westeros?
Randyll Tarly’s legendary toughness is probably most of the answer. He is an abhorrent man, merciless to Sam at the world’s most awkward family dinner. Yet with his relative tenderness towards his wife and daughter, it’s perhaps somewhat understandable (if not excusable) why he was so dismissive and mean to Sam.
How could a boy like Sam, intelligent and thoughtful, sure, but not physically intimidating or skilled in combat, look after his house and his legacy? How could he preserve it? By contrast, the younger son Dickon is not very bright. but he can probably lift heavy things, and he can certainly bring down a deer at 70 paces.
Nevertheless, Randyll is a bigot, and that should be inexcusable. But as Gilly points out a bit later, it’s maddening that bad things happen to good people in this world, and the bad people can just get away with it. Even when their family disapproves, as Sam’s mother and sister so clearly did in this dinnertime scene.
Lord Tarly pegs Gilly as a wildling, which is anathema to him. Gilly launches a spirited defence of Sam as the killer of Thenns and White Walkers. Sam’s posture just sinks further and further down, browbeaten out of eating by his father’s repeated jibes about his weight and appetite, and how he’ll never carry the family Valyrian steel sword, Heartsbane.
Finally it’s Sam’s mother who loses it, rounding on Lord Tarly and telling him he’s a disgrace. Nice work, sister. Lord Tarly says while Sam is away learning to be a maester, Gilly can stay on in the kitchens, as a favour to his wife, and baby Sam will be educated. This is the only deal he will make - and it requires Sam to leave Horn Hill at first light, never to return.
Later, Sam bids Gilly a sweet farewell, saying she’ll be safe there, and he had to do it, and other platitudes. He leaves, but no sooner had he gone and Gilly start tucking in baby Sam, he was back.
“We belong together, all of us,” he says, more forcefully than he’s quite possibly ever spoken before. Despite Gilly’s confusion, he insists on them leaving straight away, and that’s for one very good reason - he’s going to steal his Dad’s sword.
“Actually, it’s my family’s sword,” he points out. But what if Lord Tarly comes for it, asks Gilly. “He can bloody well try.”
Oh YES, Sam Tarly, you gorgeous man you.
Sam has chosen to distance himself from a family that is half amazing and half unbearable. In those situations I guess not even the light can outshine the darkness. What he does have is his own family, a new family, with no shared genes, history or culture. He has bonded himself to Gilly, and she to him, in the knowledge that they know everything that counts about the other. It may be harder trying to navigate Old Town with a girlfriend and baby, but damnit, they should be together, and together they shall be. And given Sam knows what's coming (his brother even questioned the existence of White Walkers), it makes far more sense for Heartsbane to be with him, not sitting uselessly above a fireplace.
In King’s Landing, Kate Middleton appears to have finally drunk the High Sparrow’s Kool Aid. Granted permission to see his wife for the first time since her imprisonment, Tommen finds not the gracious free spirit he married, but a demure penitent. Margaery has thought long and hard about her sins, and is perfectly happy to atone for them in whatever way necessary.
And that turns out to be a corker.
Ahead of Margaery’s scheduled Walk of Atonement, Jaime Lannister’s grand plan to fix the Sparrow infestation rolls into action. Kate Middleton’s father, Mace Tyrell, awkwardly leads his armed forces up to the Sept of Baelor, delivering a truly cringe-worthy speech about restoring sanity and blah blah blah. Jaime’s face as he indulges Mace’s numptiness is delightful.
Even Lady Olenna is in on the action, carried to the front steps by sedan chair. Never one to miss a good fistfight, the Queen of Thorns. She probably brought a cheese platter along with her to munch on during the punch on.
Unfortunately, it’s to no avail.
Jaime tells the High Sparrow that every one of his followers will die unless they back the f*** down and let Margaery and Slow Lorus go. The Big Bird isn’t stressed. His followers would all happily die for the cause - even Lancel Lannister, on guard with what looks like a car steering wheel lock.
There’s a weak tension in the air, mostly because Mace Tyrell is impossible to take seriously in his ridiculously over-plumed helm. It’s broken when the High Sparrow plays his trump card: Margaery doesn’t have to do a nudie run through Fleabottom because she has already atoned for her sins by bringing her husband, King Tommen, into the fold.
The doors of the Sept open, and out strides Tommen, his Kingsguard now sporting the seven-pointed star on their armour (talk about a speedy makeover). Jaime is stunned, Olenna is pissed, and poor Mace doesn’t know what the hell is happening (“He’s beaten us, idiot” is the essence of Olenna’s explanation).
Never more has Tommen resembled the Squeaky-Voiced Teenager from The Simpsons than when delivering his address about the twin pillars of the Faith and the Crown. If it wasn’t for the fact that Margaery was standing right there, I could imagine him saying “If I had a girlfriend, she’d kill me.”
Of course the obvious question is whether their conversion is truly sincere. One can believe Tommen falling in line to please Margaery, whom he genuinely seems to adore. But Margaery had been so adamant about resisting just a couple of episodes back. Is this self-preservation, or perhaps preservation of the family she loves so dearly - Slow Lorus still in a cell and her grandmother right there in front of her?
As a side note, the music that swells as the crowd hails their king and queen is the Baratheon theme, not the Lannister theme. The indication is that Tommen is breaking away from the power of his mother and uncle/father to establish his own genuine powerbase. Certainly that seems to be the case when he subsequently strips Jaime of his role in charge of the Kingsguard and packs him off to Riverrun to help take back the castle.
Jaime of course would prefer to give Bronn a fat sack of cash and go Sparrow-hunting inside the Sept. But Cersei of course won’t have that. Jaime is better off at the head of an army, the kind of thing their old man liked him doing, showing what Lannisters do to their enemies, rather than lollygagging around the Red Keep. Besides, nothing is worth the risk of losing Jaime again, which is very possible should he go up against the Faith Militant.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen Jaime and Cersei get, um, in the family way, but they do so here with gusto. More gusto than we really need to see, to be honest. Come on guys, you’re brother and sister. I know you think it’s romantic, this twincestuous “together always” stuff, but your interpretation of the phrase “close family” is really a bit too much. I suppose then blood is not the only bodily fluid that binds them.
Ewww, I just grossed myself out.
Speaking of gross, we finally see the return of BOOOOOO Walder Frey. It was his offspring that lost said Riverrun castle to Brynden the Blackfish, who was finally confirmed as not only getting away at the Red Wedding, but avoiding a Frey hunting party afterwards. Hooray! Petyr Baelish was telling Sansa the truth about that last week. Of course, with Walder seeking reinforcements from King’s Landing to retake Riverrun, and Brienne on her way there to let the Blackfish know about Sansa, Jon & Co, we could be about to see Brienne and Jaime meet once more. Could this be - gasp - a LOVE TRIANGLE? Jaime, Brienne, Tormund. Oh, the fan fiction. It writes itself.
Back to Walder Frey. His two disappointing sons try to get out of taking the blame for losing Riverrun, but Frey is having none of it. He may be old, skeevy, terrifying to his latest young victim/wife and in all likelihood suffering from piles, but he is still the Lord of the Riverlands, damnit, and you darn kids are going to clean up your mess like I told you.
But because he’s a good Dad, he’s going to help them out. He gives them a bargaining chip, in the dishevelled form of Edmure Tully, seen here for the first time since the Red Wedding. Hooray! He lived too. Sure, he’s a bit of a pratt, but he’s still hopefully more Catelyn and Blackfish Tully in nature, as opposed to Crazy Crazy Lysa. Can’t wait to see how he tries to rebuild family ties.
Over in Braavos, Arya Stark - aka “No One” - is back for more at the Travelling Mummers’ Murder and Boobies Show. Once again, there was more terrific onstage work from the likes of Richard E. Grant, giving Tywin Lannister the respectul death scene he deserved - with extra farting for the benefit of the cheap seats.
And gosh I loved his post-show rant about how “That audience was shit!”. Oh, beloved Throners, how often I have been in the same position, stomping down to the dressing room bitching about weirdly unresponsive crowds. This whole behind-the-scenes with jobbing actors storyline is just ticking all of my giggleboxes.
Lady Crane - aka Miss Fisher from Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries - is still the best talent in the troupe, as Arya explains to the woman herself in a tender scene a few moments after Arya poisons Lady Crane’s wine. But she does think her speech as Cersei after King Joffrey’s death could do with some edits. She wouldn’t be sad about it, Arya says. She’d be angry.
Lady Crane is quite bemused by this guttersnipe girl who keeps sneaking into their show for free (mind you, she could hardly pay. It would undermine her identity as “No One”). She sees something of herself in Arya, and starts sizing her up as a potential player. Arya, freaking out that she’s gotten too close to her intended victim, runs off, leaving Lady Crane to bring up the idea of script edits with Richard E. Grant. He, of course, is not amused.
Eventually, as Lady Crane starts to sip her wine, Arya returns to push it out of her hands, shattering it on the floor. “Be careful of her,” she warns Lady Crane, pointing out the imitation Sansa. “She wants you dead.”
Arya went all the way to Braavos to try to find a new family by burying everything left of her own. But the values instilled in her by her family - honesty, integrity, protecting the weak, are too strong even for the rigorous training of the Faceless Men.
She returns to the rocks outside the House of Black and White to find Needle, her family, the extension of her sword arm, still there where she left it. Alone now, she seeks refuge in some sort of basement room, quietly blowing out the candle and going to sleep clutching her sword.
“A shame,” is Jaqen H’ghar’s response when the Waif tells him smugly of Arya’s failure. “The girl has many gifts.” But he gives the Waif the go ahead to dispose of Arya, as long as she doesn’t let her suffer. Arya knows she’s on a list now, and as someone dedicated to making lists of people who should be dead, knows they won’t be kidding about.
Finally to Daenarys Stormborn, resplendent on a white horse at the head of her newest, mightiest army yet. Maario tells her she’ll need at least 1000 ships to carry everyone across to Westeros to retake the Iron Throne, and that nobody has that number of ships (no mention here of the Greyjoys’ access to nautical transport).
“No one… yet,” says Dany, as always a few steps ahead of everybody else. There’s a sudden breeze and low whispering around the valley through which they’re riding, and Dany instructs everyone to stay behind while she rides towards the sound.
Eventually the rumble is revealed as Drogon, massive, mighty, and somehow carrying Daenarys on her back. Despite a lack of Marshall speakers, Dany is still able to be heard over the raw breathing and snorting of the dragon, the beating of its wings and the wind, and she delivers a sermon from the mount so powerful it would have Moses asking for oratory tips.
She will not appoint three bloodriders as every Khal has done before her. Oh no, she chooses every last one of them, personalising her fight as their own. As she asks them to suffer for her, to ride across the black poisoned water and to fight the Iron Men (sadly not Iron Man - dragon V robot, now that would be awesome), she treats them not only as her army, but her family. These people have no Targaryen links at all, and yet they are more her relatives than the Mad King or even Viserys ever was. Viserys was obsessed with house purity, with his “Blood of the Dragon”. Dany couldn’t care less. Why have blood, when you can have undying loyalty?
Yay! Best Moments
Sam Tarly gets it hands down. Heartsbane? More like HEARTSBAE.
Zing! Best Lines
With no sign of Tyrion this episode, it’s a bit harder to pick out a zinger. I’d pip for Jaime’s petulant description of his new mission: “I’m being sent to deal with the Blackfish. Apparently Walder Frey can’t handle it on his own because he’s 400 years old.”
Did Benjen really skin a rabbit then squeeze the gizzards out of its butt into a cup, then feed Bran said cup? It sure looked that way. I get that a rolling Stark gathers no moss and they need to eat, but still. Also, Benjen looked like Elzar the Neptunian chef from Futurama, knocking it up a notch with his spice weasel. Bam!
I just don’t get how you can have Game of Thrones with no Jon Snow. I mean, did you ever see Murder, She Wrote without Jessica Fletcher? Sure, they’re slightly different genres, but they measure up in terms of body count.
The lack of action around The Wall also meant no Tormund lust for Brienne, which will disappoint so many fans for whom this taste of relationship destiny is like sweet nectar of the sugar gods.
Thank you so much for joining me again this week. I can't wait to read your comments and thoughts, either here on the 'Burger, or via my Facebook page: www.facebook.com/nataliesthrone
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