Blood of My Blood – Bran and Meera escape the undead with the help of a new friend; Sam brings Gilly to his family home of Hornhill but not everyone is welcoming them with open arms; Margaery’s Walk of Atonement approaches with many forces seeking to stop it; The Frey’s are losing hold of The Riverlands; and Ayra must complete her assassination in Braavos.
So after an emotional week of curling into a ball of feels every time someone asks you to hold the door, we immediately catch up with the fleeing Bran and Meera in what looks to be Bran’s Three Eyes Raven: Year One story. We get our first onscreen look at the Mad King himself (“Burn them all”) along with seeing Jaime becoming the King Slayer. Blink and you’ll miss it but a shot of bloodied hand-holding, accompanied by “promise my Ned” is clearly meant to be a tease of Ned and Lyanna Stark in the conclusion of the Tower of Joy flashbacks. The later mentions of Bran learning to master his powers implies we have a lot more vision-walking to come. These initial scenes really pledge the idea of an information overload; right now he can see everything but it’s too much to comprehend and focus on specifics. It’s oddly reminiscent of Tom Holland describing his Spider-Man powers in Civil War, and how the goofy goggles on his early costume help him filter things out. Then there is their new friend: known in the books as Cold Hands. Now there is a fair argument to labeling his timely appearance as a sinful use of deus ex machina, but it’s bloody cool so we can overlook that. His entrance is excellent to watch, flaming flail and all but it’s his reveal that’s a most effective by the way it achieves a genuine welcome surprise. The identity is a huge literary departure but if we’re going to be spending a lot of time with this character in weeks to come, there are many advantages to making them someone we’re already familiar with.
For the second week running, we get fun stroll through the past seasons courtesy of the comedy acting troupe in Braavos. It successfully manages to recreate the enjoyment of last week’s scenes without feeling like a repetition, and with some great foreshadowing too as the troupe portrays a fake death by poison while Ayra plans to kill one of them the same way. Again there’s a great central theme of conscience to the story with Ayra’s future depending on whether she can kill someone she believes deserves to live. It’s a wonderful reversal on her days of reciting her death list and sentencing people to die in a heartbeat: that just because someone’s put their name on a list, does not mean they deserve to die. The play out also gives her story a much needed shake-up. Could this be the beginning of her journey back to Westeros?
Speaking of homecomings, Sam’s return to the visually impressive haunts of Hornhill in The Reach is superb. It’s a mixture of laughs (Gilly’s every reaction to lordly mannerisms is brilliant) and awkwardness on the surface with so much going on underneath. Rather than just going straight to a disapproving father, we find Sam reunited with a loving mother and now grown sister which really helps remind us how tragic Sam’s story was. That he wasn’t just hated by his father upon being forced to leave home but leaving behind many people that genuinely loved and cared for him. Suddenly, we understand that this isn’t just about keeping Gilly safeSam wanted to be part of his family again, even if only to visit from time to time throughout his Maester studies. The confrontations between father and son take a more expected route but and still immensely enjoyable in the way Sam is reduced back to a timid child in Lord Tarley’s presence despite everything he became within The Night’s Watch.
Save the last few minutes, Kings Landing gives us the biggest spectacle of the episode as the Tyrell army storms into town for the battle of Margaery’s dignity. The larger crowd shots really help build the tension of the standoff. Despite the soldiers forming ranks outside the Sept, the nearby crowds of ordinary peasants clearly outnumber them ten to one and crucially, they’re hanging off the High Sparrow’s every word. It creates fantastic uncertainty over just who would be left standing should a conflict spark. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau gets his best moment of the season as he rides up the Sept steps: his confidence of old beaming out once more. There’s even a great undertone of fun to it all thanks to the wonderfully pompous Mace Tyrell. From his end of madness speech to those ridiculous helmet feathers, we’re almost waiting for him to fall flat on his face. As for the biggest spectacle of the episode, it does feel notably more like icing than cake with no prior visit to Slaver's Bay & Dany this episode but just as with Bran & Meera’s deus ex machina.... when the results are this good, who really cares about such protocol? It maybe just tacked on to the end but that doesn’t make it any less breathtaking.
So Blood of my Blood doesn’t match last week in thrills and has the clear feel of a transitional episode but it is a spread of delights from all over the map. We even get a little setup/catch up with good old Walder Frey, finally picking up that thread from Season 3. It appears that some long-awaited karma could be crossing his path. It’s an episode that makes big and tantalizing changes in several storylines while still delivering plenty of immediate enjoyment.