There is this whole trope from genre fiction about the mysterious survivor who knows what the hell is up with the bad guys. They have a hidey-hole that they've fortified. They know how to kill the powerful bad guys. And they often sweep in at the exact right moment to save our heroes.
Game of Thrones has been leaning hard into fantasy tropes lately — if the battle between wood sprites and zombies in the mystical tree didn't clue you in last week — and the opening of last night's episode was a situation in which Bran and Meera's survival hinged on the timely introduction of a masked badass who seems to have some pretty effective arcane knowledge of the situation.
There's a whole conversation to be had about Game of Thrones moving away from a work that often criticized the clichés of fantasy literature towards becoming a television show, if not a series of books, that relied on those same clichés to keep moving. Death used to feel shocking and final, and now we know that if you're a fan favorite, even if we see the body, there are ways to bring you back. More on this later.
Sam's dad is racist against Wildlings, and I'm glad Sam and Gilly hashed that rather significant detail out before arriving at Sam's family home. It's fascinating to see where Sam grew up, as well as meet his family, after hearing Sam describe them for so long. Watching Gilly react to the thought of a bath, or having "a color" preference for dresses, was a nice note. And seeing the character in the dress was such a pleasant moment for both of them.
I don't think Hannah Murray has gotten enough credit for what she's able to do with what could have been a purely comical character. Gilly is often put into nearly impossible, certainly uncomfortable, social situations with a very young child and an uncertain future. The character is played with a mixture of humor, grit and loyalty that may obscure how hard her life has been and how brave she's being in any of these scenes.
And hey, Sam's father really is terrible! But he doesn't miss a trick, and Gilly's need to defend Sam gets them both in trouble in a scene that was often hard to watch. Sam apologized to Gilly, who handled it in the best possible way: It was Sam's father who is an asshole. Not Sam.
"You're not what he thinks you are, Sam. He doesn't know what you are," she tells him. It was those parting words that likely convinced Sam to go back for them, and the sword. For better or worse. "He can bloody well try" may be brave words, but Randyll Tarly seems a formidable man. One who doesn't have a weakness for Dragonglass.
But let's check back in with Tommen and his problem with a certain local religi... oh wait, no. Problem solved, he joined up with Margaery. Happy feelings all around!
"A holy alliance between the crown and the faith" seems like a unifying thing, but you can see Jaime's anger and Margaery is, as always, using the king for her own moves in the game.
"He's beaten us, that's what's happening," Olenna says, and of course she's right. That's the problem with being a young king: You're not treated as a person, just a symbol of power. You're controlled and manipulated by those around you. It's never about what Tommen thinks — he barely has the maturity to think anything — it's about who can convince the young ruler that they're right. And The High Sparrow has been outplaying everyone for quite some time.
But I want to talk about one of the most thrilling and surprising moments of the show: That mysterious figure that came out of nowhere to save Bran and Meera? It's the long lost Benjen Stark, a character we haven't seen since the first season of a show. A character who had much to do with Jon's placement in the Night's Watch to begin with.
Benjen went North of the wall of to investigate the uncanny things that were said to have been happening, and his horse came back without him. But now he's back, and it seems as if he's become something new.
The Children of the Forest were able to stop his transformation into a White Walker using Dragonglass, and now Benjen seems to be caught somewhere between being a human and being undead. But, as we've seen, he's helping the Three-Eyed Raven, he knows how to fight White Walkers and having another Stark alive is a bit of a big deal.
This long-burning subplot is probably the most exciting thing the show has been doing this season. For a while it seemed as if the show had wiped out the entire family and scattered the last few remaining children to the wind to try to eke out some kind of living in the world.
But lately the surviving Starks have been reconnecting. They've been turning up in interesting places, or they've been reuniting. Sansa and Jon are together. Rickon is back at Winterfell, albeit under the "protection" of Ramsay. Benjen and Bran are together, and Benjen seems more than willing to continue to feed Bran's renewed sense of purpose.
Winter is coming, and suddenly it doesn't seem like the Starks are quite as alone as they had feared.
Odds and ends
- "Come with me." If you want to live? I also instantly though of the Terminator during this scene, but didn't make the Emilia Clarke connection.
- "Did you tell them how far north?"
- "I cried when the young lovers died in each other's arms." Every world has one of those, it seems. Or many of those.
- "Do you like pretending to be other people?"
- This episode gave some great dragon in that final scene, and there's a fan theory that says Daenerys could end up taking a heel turn and becoming the antagonist of the entire series. Her moment on the dragon from last night's episode shows how she would leading a conquering army, and the answer to the question is kind of terrifying.
- Walder Frey is delightfully frustrated by how poorly his post-Red Wedding life and holdings have gone. But hey, there's Edmure! Remember Edmure?! He was supposed to get married at the Red Wedding! He's a Tully! It's not quite as good as another Stark turning up, but with the Blackfish successfully retaking important structures, this "surprise" at least has some interesting implications.
- Cersei is comfortable sending Jaime away, because of course she has her own plans. Jaime wants to move now, but taking days to strike at an opponent who has taken months to put you in that position is rarely smart. Cersei knows what she's doing, and she has the cold disposition necessary for successful revenge.
- Arya's story is certainly interesting, if a few details were a bit on the nose. I just hope she's given a bit more forward momentum in her own personal story, much less the greater plot of the show. At least she wasn't hit in the face by a stick this episode!
- Season six of Game of Thrones has done something I thought would be much harder to do: I'm not desperately looking forward to next week's episode.
- One final note: It's been great to get away from Ramsay, both literally for some and figuratively for those of us watching the show.