After the twin climaxes of last week’s Hodor reveal and Daenerys’ enflamed emergence in the preceding episode, it was only natural for HBO’s Game of Thrones to need a bit of a breather. And in “Blood of My Blood”, the show provides just that, and also allows for more neglected storylines to get well-deserved attention in the process.
It’s a tribute to the depth of Game of Thrones’ robust world-building that characters the series ignores for a while can return without a narrative hitch, and the Sam-Gilly story fleshed out over the episode’s opening half epitomizes this strength. Whereas opening scenes of ignored arcs earlier in the season had often felt like little more than “Previously On” segments, it scarcely feels like we’ve been away from the couple as they travel to meet Sam’s parents. Their long and memorable history helps here, of course, but writer Bryan Cogman’s dialogue develops the relationship between the two characters without neglecting the factors that made us care about them in the first place. Sam’s still timid, Gilly’s still enthusiastic, and the two are overall as charming as ever.
The charisma continues to radiate as they meet Sam’s mother and sister, though the father, Randyll Tarly, feels otherwise. He rejects Gilly because she’s a wildling, as Sam fears, leading to a tense exchange over dinner. Although Sam can’t quite bring himself to defend her at the time, he later summons the courage to escape and take Gilly with him, stealing his father’s Valyrian steel sword in the process.
This subplot, though given a perhaps undue focus in “Blood of My Blood” amidst the crowded landscape of military and political conflicts throughout Westeros, brings a welcome touch of humanism and intimate character moments to Season Six. While Sansa and Jon’s preparations to attack Ramsay, for example, are certainly the show’s greater concern, stories such as Sam and Gilly’s call attention to the breadth of characters in Westeros without slowing the narrative momentum. Sam’s journey from milquetoast punchline to assertive hero has been among the series’ most satisfying arcs, and the resistance to his father’s rejection makes for a compelling addition to his story.
Also resisting authority is Arya, who becomes too attached to Lady Crane to make good on Jaqen and the Waif’s wishes. As entertaining as her fight scenes with the Waif have been, seeing Arya go off on her own ultimately makes sense as a step in her journey towards independence. And with Jaqen and the Waif as irritated by Arya’s disobedience as they seem to be, and her rescue of Needle from its hiding place, there very well may be more Arya combat scenes coming sooner rather than later.
But if Arya is determined to forge her own path, Tommen much prefers to do as others tell him. He’s easily swayed by Margaery’s embrace of the High Sparrow’s punishment of her by walk of atonement, much to Jaime’s disgust. He’s soon stripped of his title as Kingsguard by the seemingly fanatical Tommen, though, adding yet another wrinkle to Cersei and Jaime’s ongoing determination to regain power. They’ve had a turbulent relationship from the pilot on, but their kiss as they decide to seek revenge on the High Sparrow is among their more emotional and meaningful scenes.
Jaime and Cersei are no less ruthless than Daenerys, who gets to close yet another episode with a display of her might. It pales in comparison with her incendiary conclusion to “Book of the Stranger,” but it still allows for her to demonstrate her powers as Khaleesi: she has dragons, and she intends to use them.
By contrast, Bran and Meera now have the help of Benjen Stark, who returns to help them avoid wights. Bran and Meera’s journey inevitably feels like a letdown after the emotions of “The Door”, but Benjen does serve as a welcome mentor for Bran after the Three-Eyed Raven’s untimely death.
Benjen, Sam, Gilly and the others featured in “Blood of My Blood” have a difficult task: they have to follow episodes as exciting as “Book of the Stranger” and “The Door” without having nearly their overt firepower. As a result of not attempting the fever pitch of those episodes, though, “Blood of My Blood” is able to use its slower pace to explore different angles of life in Westeros.
Max Bledstein (@mbled210) is a Montreal-based writer, musician and world-renowned curmudgeon. He writes on all things culture for a variety of fine North American publications. His highly anticipated debut novel will write itself one of these days, he assumes.