‘Game of Thrones’ Review: ‘Blood of My Blood’ Coldly Hands Us Another Book Spoiler (Maybe)

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Warning – FULL SPOILERS for Tonight’s “Blood of My Blood”:

At long last, Game of Thrones dropped the mother of all surprises: a Season 6 episode without any notable deaths!

Sure, there’s the elk in the room to discuss, the six-season return of Benjen Stark, and seemingly in the guise of literary enigma “Coldhands” (the word itself was never uttered in the episode, but showrunners confirm it in the post-show featurette), and it made sense as a resolution to Bran and Meera’s plight in the immediate aftermath of Hodor’s sacrifice, given the vacuum for some kind of protective figure. As to the revelation itself, Game of Thrones has a habit of leaning more on the concept of its bigger moments and twists, rather than unfurling their actual impact in context, and it’s worth dissecting Benjen’s return on two fronts.

From a readers’ standpoint, George R.R. Martin has made more than a few headlines dismissing theories that the “Coldhands” of the book would turn out to be Benjen Stark, and given a similar separation stated of Hodor’s origin (itself supposedly one of three actual book spoilers, the final reserved for the show’s ending), it’s entirely likely both Benjen and Coldhands will share different fates on the page. As to the series, Benjen’s disappearance has admittedly lingered since the pilot, but I’d doubt if a majority of fans even remember the character, let alone formed enough of an impression by the early appearance to place tremendous stock in his semi-undead return. As I said, Game of Thrones has a talent for staging the big moments, but not fleshing out their significance in the moment.

"Look, readers or no, we lost Jojen, Summer and Hodor for this crap."

In a way, that idea more or less bookends “Blood of My Blood,” to open with such a dramatic return, and close on such an incredible visual of Daenerys rallying the Dothraki from a top an even-larger Drogon. The burning of Vaes Dothrak already made a case for this supernaturally inspiring leader, that a dragonback speech doesn’t sufficiently advance her cause in any measurable way. After all, Daenerys herself points out that they lack the ships to move on Westeros (enter Yara, presumably), and it remains to be seen if the Khalasar will make good on Daario’s suggestion of making it back to Mereen in a week’s time.

This was definitely a week for spinning wheels covered by flashy revelations, as “Blood of My Blood” also gave us the return of Walder Frey and Edmure Tully, both absent since Season 3, while we also got the chance to meet Sam’s family, and pivot into a new development from the High Sparrow. In Sam’s case at least, it feels reasonably clear that Season 6 has only so much time to follow the trip to Oldtown, that insight into Sam’s family history* and Gilly’s reactions make for a fun, if ultimately tangential dinner. After all, Sam may have his family’s Valyrian steel sword, and further admiration from Gilly, to adorably defy his father’s will, but what further story is there to tell, beyond Sam sitting down to years-long maester training?

*The year between Game of Thrones seasons can admittedly inflate the importance of certain castings, but I’d imagine we see at least Dickon Tarly again, even if Freddie Stroma’s heightened profile didn’t really come to prominence with UnREAL until after Game of Thrones was shot.

"And I don't want to split hairs, but we missed Coldhands for this crap."

As far as the hour’s other notable set piece, Kings’ Landing has felt increasingly isolated since the introduction of the High Sparrow, that where Jaime and the Tyrell army striding in on white horses seemed poised for a major upset, instead we’re left with news that Tommen has embraced the faith in a populist arrangement, stemming any further intervention. As I said with the last Margaery check-in, the narrative has only muddled the sense of commitment here, that even as an entire army rides to her rescue (and you can see the flashes of awe and opportunism spread across Natalie Dormer’s face), any through-line feels increasingly opaque. Tommen has long been a cipher subject to the most manipulative presence in the room, but is Margaery playing both sides, or actually a convert? Where’s Loras in this, to offer perspective?

Perhaps ironically, it’s Arya’s story that ended up the most fulfilling this week, even as the Braavos arc has seemed fairly one-dimensional from the get-go. We know that Arya could never completely give herself over to the Faceless* Men (and it’s heartening to have Needle’s return as a literal manifestation of that), but even as an obvious choice to depart Braavos looms, Maisie Williams got some strong beats to play in both watching Joffrey’s staged demise, and simultaneously feeling a pang of sympathy for Lady Crane (and perhaps even Cersei in the process). Obviously, the Waif isn’t going to succeed in taking her revenge any more than Arya would evaporate into a life of anonymous assassination, but at least we’re moving in a specific direction.

*Likely one of the casualties of adaptation, it’s never been clear why “Jaqen” or “The Waif” have specific personality traits, when last season seemed to drive home that either could change faces or discard identities as true “No one.” The Waif’s specific grudge against Arya is easily chalked up to rivalry, but why “Jaqen” should care if Arya suffers is beyond me.

She suffered enough to give up 'Hamilton' tickets for this crap.

I don’t know. Definitely a lot of big events unfurling throughout “Blood of My Blood,” but none that felt hugely revelatory in context, and if anything, Sunday’s hour felt geared toward establishing new threads for the latter half of Season 6. It’s nice to be spared any significant deaths, and there were a handful of strong moments between Sam and Gilly or Arya and Lady Crane, but the bigger reveals and set pieces left little to actually consider within the episode itself.

AND ANOTHER THING …

  • I imagine viewers will do more thorough dissection, but interesting to at last see the Mad King on screen, just one of presumably many historical faces we might see as Bran becomes the new Three-Eyed Raven.
  • Come on, Gilly and Sam practically dressed up for the ball had to make your heart skip a beat.
  • Fine, I’ll ask: How does Samwell stay so well-fed with the presumably meager proportions served at Castle Black?
  • All respect to Maisie Williams, I imagine Lady Crane would have a heart attack with Daenerys Targaryen’s eyebrows.
  • Eww x1000 at the age of Walder Frey’s new bride.
  • Have heart, LSH truthers, that we got Catelyn, throat-slit and Brotherhood Without Banners reminders tonight.
  • Boy, we are never going to have a practically-staged scene with Drogon ever again.

Game of Thrones Season 6 will return June 5 with “The Broken Man,” airing at 9:00 P.M. on HBO.

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