If I could only use a single word (instead of the thousand I likely will use) to describe “Blood of My Blood” it would be “predictable.” This has been increasingly true of the show for some time now, and I know I’ve mentioned in the past that it’s gotten extremely easy these days to extrapolate nearly all the events of each episode from just the “previously on” reel at the beginning. There were a couple of “twists” this week, but none of them were particularly interested, and all have been heavily, ham-fistedly foreshadowed either in earlier seasons or, sometimes, simply in the involved characters’ previous scene in this very episode. Alternatively, said “twists” come with no warning at all and make basically no sense if you think about them for more than a moment or two, which may make the “twists” somewhat unpredictable but is pretty much par for the course for the show. I’m never less surprised than when the show has a completely unearned and nonsensical plot twist thrown in to season the pot of badness it’s become.
After Meera and Bran’s escape from the army of the dead last week, we pick up with them again. Meera is struggling to drag Bran’s litter through the deep snow, and they’re still being pursued by hordes of snow zombies, which it’s frankly not clear how they’ve managed to elude this long. Meanwhile, Bran isn’t even conscious; his eyes are white as he experiences vision after vision of some of the more recent history of Westeros, which I guess is supposed to be the Three-eyed Raven’s knowledge passing into him. There’s a ton of stuff going on here—Winter is Coming has a very handy screenshot breakdown of it all—but, unfortunately, none of it is particularly interesting or makes very much sense. Much of it is dark and difficult to see, a lot of it is stuff we’ve already seen before, and there’s no very coherent message to be understood from the sequence aside from a generalized sense of foreboding mixed with nostalgia.
That said, there is a decent amount of new footage here, mostly from the final days of the Mad King and Robert’s Rebellion. It’s kind of neat, but there’s very little reason to care very much about it, which isn’t helped by Bran’s vision sequence this week being extremely jumbled and repetitive. There’s very little (and I’m being generous here) new information for the viewer, and the dreams primarily function as a convenient infodump for Bran so that he now has uncanny knowledge of recent events in Westeros, which will presumably be important for him later on. Alright, I guess, but this feels cheap and lazy, and the quickly flashing shots, some just single frames, are difficult to make out and a detailed analysis of them doesn’t make that much more sense of any of it. It’s very underwhelming, which is too bad. At 51 minutes, this is the shortest episode of the season so far and one of the shortest episodes of the show overall, so goodness knows they weren’t limited here by time constraints. They could have used Bran’s visions for actual storytelling purposes, but instead they end up being just a long string of tangentially related factoids that might be useful for Bran in the future.
Meera finally collapses in the snow, unable to keep pulling the sled, and Bran wakes up just as the zombies catch up with them, for maximum dramatic effect. Then, right as all looks lost for our young heroes (and Meera is busy apologizing profusely for her inability to drag Bran all the way to the Wall on her own I guess), Coldhands, or someone very like that character from the book rides in to save the day. I’m very bummed that he wasn’t riding a giant elk like in the book, and the flaming ball on the chain was a bit silly, especially in light of the piece I read just last week that suggests that weapons like this were never actually a real thing (and the fact that the weapon’s problems are obvious even onscreen, where we can see it sticking in targets more than once), but I guess it’s better late than never for him to show up. Keen observers will immediately recognize the actor, but I’ll wait until later in the recap to discuss the revelation of who this character is.
Far away in the south, Sam and Gilly are finally approaching the Tarly estate, Horn Hill. Even though they can apparently afford a very nice coach to take them there and Sam says that he’s concerned about first impressions—he hasn’t informed his parents that Gilly is a wildling at all—he still has her dressed in the clothes she’s brought down from the Wall. It’s a weird, uncomfortable conversation they have, and Gilly deserves so much better than this. She’s one of the few characters on the show that has had a character arc, small as it is, that mostly makes sense, and it’s been lovely to see her blossom as she learns more about the world. Sam, however, doesn’t seem to have changed very much at all since the first time we met him. On the bright side, Sam’s mother and sister are truly delightful women who instantly treat Gilly with warmth and kindness. It’s so seldom that there are any interactions between women on this show at all and even more seldom that they are nice ones that this short scene is surprising and pleasant. Obviously, when we finally meet Sam’s father and brother, they’re going to be colossal dickheads, but we don’t quite yet.
Instead, we’re off to King’s Landing, where Tommen is still for some reason being left completely unsupervised to hang around with the High Sparrow. The High Sparrow stuff in the show is nothing like in the books, and it often doesn’t make a lot of sense at all, but sometimes Jonathan Pryce is just amazing. Here, he’s wonderfully menacing to the naïve and oblivious King Tommen. Dean-Charles Chapman plays young and dumb very well, and there’s an interesting subtlety to his performances as Tommen, where he has mannerisms that occasionally recall the character’s older brother, Joffrey. While the dialogue between these two isn’t as engaging, I’d say I like this pair of characters together every bit as well as I liked Arya Stark and Tywin Lannister together once upon a time.
In any case, Tommen is very concerned about Margaery’s upcoming walk of atonement. The High Sparrow assures Tommen that Margaery will be well-protected, but then he lets slip that she’s had a sort of change of heart and found a new faith in the Seven. Tommen is finally allowed to see his wife, who is looking much better now, all cleaned up and bright-eyed as she evangelizes to her child husband and extolls (though in very vague terms) the virtues of the High Sparrow and his ways. I still don’t really get what Margaery’s great sins are supposed to be, but it sounds like she’s managed to confess to something or other that the High Sparrow accepted. She’s also either really bought into this religion thing or is very good at pretending in order to manipulate Tommen. I only wish that this change in Margaery felt organic and earned instead of contrived, and boringly—worse, expectedly—so.
Back at Horn Hill, Gilly has gotten the She’s All That treatment, and now it’s time for awkward family dinner with the Tarlys: Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner edition. I’ve always rather liked awkward family dinners on this show, but this one was a disappointment from start to finish. The guy they cast as Randyll Tarly is fine, but nothing about his character and the Tarly family dynamic makes a lick of sense. Why does Lord Tarly hate the wildlings so much? He’s never fought them, and his family holdings are too far south to even be threatened by them. Why would he have such murderous, genocidal feelings about people that he’s never had any reason to interact with in any way and who mostly mind their own business north of the Wall? Who knows. How are Melessa and Talla Tarly such awesome “feminists” willing to stand up to their highly authoritarian patriarchal husband/father who doesn’t seem like the sort of fellow to take any sass from his womenfolk? Why would Gilly feel comfortable standing up to this guy in even the smallest way? Why has Sam had no discernable character growth in five and a half seasons of the show?
Sam is sorry that he let his father treat Gilly so poorly, but Gilly is such a sweet and perfect soul that she isn’t even upset except in a sort of abstract way. Sam kisses her goodbye, leaves the room, but then comes back to take Gilly and the baby with him to… somewhere, I guess, because they “belong together.” On the way to running away from home, Sam stops to steal his father’s Valyrian steel sword, Heartsbane, for reasons. I’m not sure what the point of this whole interlude at Horn Hill was, to be honest. Sam absconding with Gilly, baby, and sword in the middle of the night seems to be being framed as a leap in character growth, but instead it’s childish and cowardly, the sort of thing that might be expected from season one Sam. It’s not even a selfless act on Sam’s part, as he’s now dragging Gilly and her son into an uncertain future, as he still can’t take them with him to the Citadel where he’s supposed to train to be a maester. That’s where this storyline ends for the week, however, so we’re going to have to wait and find out what Sam’s plan is—if he has one—in a later episode.
Next up is some more Braavos stuff, where the plot is moving at an absolutely glacial pace as Arya considers whether or not to go through with assassinating Lady Crane. We get to see some more of the play, and Arya is extremely sad for Queen Cersei in the play and resentful towards play!Sansa and Tyrion. I hope this isn’t how Arya is getting her information about current-ish events, and it seems downright bizarre that Arya would have this kind of reaction to Cersei’s story, however fictionalized. To make a long story short, of course, Arya is unable to kill the kind actress, but the Waif sees everything and promptly runs to Jaqen in order to rat Arya out and get permission to kill her. This seems weird, since the whole religion of the Faceless Men is based on self-abnegation and the sacrifice of individual ego and personal vendettas, but Jaqen is apparently totally cool with the bloodthirsty Waif’s desire to murder soft-hearted Arya. Meanwhile, Arya goes and retrieves Needle from its hiding place and returns to her room, blows out the candle, and I guess is waiting for the Waif to come. I suppose there is a sort of progress in this storyline this week, but it all could have been managed much more economically. It’s, again, predictable, but the unnecessary drawing out of it all is what takes it right off the cliff into snoozeville.
Back in King’s Landing, we finally get the big confrontation between the Lannister and Tyrell forces and the High Sparrow that has figured largely in promotional material for the season, and it’s a total bust. There’s a significant amount of buildup to the moment when it’s finally just revealed that Margaery and Joffrey have both drank the Sparrow kool-aid, at which point the whole confrontation just fizzles out. The people of King’s Landing seem happy about this turn of events, the Lannisters and Tyrells are furious, and it’s still not clear one way or the other whether Margaery is sincere or manipulating. In any case, it just turns out that Jaime Lannister and Mace Tyrell are all dressed up with no one to start a civil war with.
It would actually make a lot of sense for Margaery to be manipulating both Tommen and the High Sparrow, but I frankly don’t trust this show’s writers not to just have her be genuinely converted. If she is manipulating, though, it’s very clever. She’s always been shown as a character inclined to populist policies and public acts of charity as a way to earn the good will of the people, so the High Sparrow’s goals aren’t necessarily incompatible with her own. We also know that Margaery wants to be the Queen, and this move, if calculated, neatly separates Tommen from his meddling mother and father-uncle Jaime while also cutting Margaery’s own meddling relatives out of the equation. However, I’m not getting my hopes up that Margaery is being written this intelligently, mostly because it’s not that intelligent if the truth of things is so completely opaque to the audience. Like much of what passes for character growth on this show, this sudden change seems random and unearned.
The High Sparrow’s face while he’s making these announcements is amazing, though. Obvious highlight of the episode, for me. There’s a quick scene where Tommen strips Jaime of his position in the Kingsguard before we’re whisked away to visit with Walder Frey.
At the Twins, it’s infodump time as we get a quick rundown of all the stuff that’s happened in the Riverlands in the last couple of years since the Red Wedding. Interestingly, the Freys aren’t exactly doing that well these days. Apparently, while everywhere else in Westeros is totally cool with king- and kinslaying and violating cultural taboos like guest right, the Riverlands are not okay with it at all, and the Freys’ allies have been abandoning them in droves in order to support the Blackfish at Riverrun. It turns out that Walder Frey has been holding onto Edmure Tully this whole time however, and he’s sending his sons to deal with the Blackfish.
In King’s Landing again, Jaime is also getting sent to deal with the Blackfish, but first he’s going to spend a good while complaining to Cersei about it all. Jaime is ready to start an all-out war with the High Sparrow, but Cersei pragmatically advises him to bide his time. So it looks like Jaime is off to the Riverlands, and Cersei is going to have her trial by combat soon. I’m long past being angry over how messed up their relationship is and how poor the writing is, but I have to admit that it’s kind of hilarious just how obvious it is that this is D&D’s OTP. They just love this twincest ship, and I never get tired of smirking while watching it.
Back beyond the Wall, Meera isn’t very sure about this guy that rescued them. It’s quickly revealed that he’s actually Bran’s uncle Benjen, who got zombified but somehow rescued by the Children of the Forest so he’s not completely a zombie but also not a White Walker, even though they did the same thing to him that they did to make the Night’s King and his friend. It’s nonsense, and it’s shameless fan service bringing this character back at all, especially in this way, which explicitly contradicts what GRRM has said about the identity of Coldhands. But whatever. Coldhands Benjen is a popular fan theory, and D&D have proven themselves to be both completely disrespectful of the source material and highly suggestible about this sort of thing. Considering how far they’ve diverged from the spirit of the books, I have very low expectations, and this revelation was no surprise. They’ve probably been planning it for years.
Finally, we check in with Daenerys, Daario and the Dothraki, who are still en route to Meereen. There’s some random talk about Dany’s plans to invade Westeros and how many ships she’ll need (more than anyone has, apparently). There’s even the terribly regrettable line “I take what is mine,” but then Daenerys sees a little bit of dust kicked up ahead of them and rides off on her own. A little while later, she comes back, flying in mounted on Drogon, and she gives a “rousing” speech in which she mostly just repeats Khal Drogo’s promises to her after Viserys threatened to kill her. Drogon is gorgeous, and I never get tired of seeing dragons, but this speech is senseless. I have nothing but contempt for this idea of Daenerys’s empowerment being found through being a conqueror and violently taking what she feels entitled to, and I find it worrisome that this seems to be D&D’s primary understanding of what power is. It’s a toxic and destructive mythology that they are perpetuating, in addition to being profoundly stupid.
Next week we’ll get to see some more of these stories unfold. Plus, Bronn is back, so that’s nice I guess. Hopefully next week’s episode will be a little more interesting. This one was overall just dull, for all the “shocking” revelations we were treated to.