Prior recaps can be found in here.
If season 6 had a subtitle, it would be the Greyjoys’ daily affirmation that “what is dead may never die”. Not only are characters resurrecting, but plotlines that had seemingly flatlined are returning left and right. This week, Benjen Stark resurfaces after a full 5 years. Walder Frey and Edmure Tully pop up for the first time since the Red Wedding, with the Blackfish to follow. Bronn and the Brotherhood Without Banners are name-checked, Drogon comes back to Dany, and the return of Needle indicates that A Girl may not be dead, but Arya Stark will rise again, harder and stronger.
There were some that predicted Benjen’s return after last week, since Bran was going to need some saving pronto. The more surprising aspect is that he has apparently gone through the vegan version of Frankenmountain’s high fructose zombifying, courtesy of the kiddos of the forest. They have apparently worked out the kinks in the process that created the Night King, and it’s hard to argue the results as he smashes zombies with his flaming flail. But I would like some context as to why they are still shoving obsidian into men’s hearts and hoping for the best, when it seems like they are still dealing with the fallout of the first time they tried it 2000 years later.
What made me more curious, though, was Bran’s quick-fire visions, which showed us a glimpse of the Mad King and his assassination, which suggests that we have another set of flashbacks coming up to illuminate another corner of the backstory. And it also includes a shot of the underground stores of wildfire going up in green flames. We know that thanks to Jaime, the palace and capitol did not burn down in the rebellion, so this could be a glimpse of the future mixed in with scenes of the past.
Across the sea, Bran’s sister is getting glimpses of the past in the form of the play she takes in again, before having a last minute change of heart about poisoning Lady Crane. Her decision to “change the writing” of her assignment was inevitable, but I did not think it would come this early. If she decides to join the traveling acting troupe, she could end performing for the royal court of Mereen before long. That would be good because it would connect another major character with a conflicting agenda to the Mereen storyline, but bad because extended subplots about actors or characters dabbling in the creative arts made up some of the worst parts of great HBO shows like Deadwood and The Sopranos, but also maybe good just because it will be amusing to see how Tyrion and Joffrey’s depictions are tweaked when performed in front of the dwarf and his boss.
But before we get to any of that, she has to reckon with the House of Black and White. The waif is (relatively) ecstatic about Arya’s failure to complete her task, as it allows her to get the green light to murder the little lady. But our girl has some surprises in store. Firstly, the waif doesn’t know she still has Needle and is apt to bring a stick to a swordfight, and secondly Arya has cannily chosen to wait for the blowback in a pitch black crypt, and only one of them has experience fighting blind. There will still be Jaqen to deal with, of course, but A Girl has stolen faces before. And A Man may not be wary enough to ask for two forms of ID when the waif comes back reporting that of course I killed that little nuisance, yes sir, I have the body right here, why don’t you bend down and take a closer look?
If Arya turning against the Faceless happened sooner than expected, the promised showdown with the Sparrows is deferred in highly frustrating fashion. Instead of seeing the Tyrells storming the sept and Frankemountain unleashed, Marge acts unilaterally to convince Tommen to capitulate to the Faith even more expressly than he has been previously. The show seems to be teasing the possibility that Marge’s conversion is sincere, but I’m not biting. She has always been adept at transforming into what the men around her need to see, it’s just taken her awhile to triangulate something that would work for the Sparrow, the king and her brother. And that means playing temporarily devout in order to free herself and Loras, even to Tommen, because he is too simple to maintain the deception on his own. This cuts the knees out from under her family’s rescue attempt, though, further legitimizing the Sparrows, and getting Jaime ejected from the Kingsguard in the process, in a scene that recalls Joffrey’s dismissal of Baristan Selmy way back when. Cersei is surprisingly sanguine about all this, convinced that her upcoming trial by combat is a cinch with the Mountain as her champion (gods, that is going to go so very wrong for her) and that Jaime will cut a more impressive figure at the head of an army than a one-armed bodyguard.
Jaime’s new assignment will take him to the Riverlands, where Walder Frey is apoplectic at losing Riverrun to the stubbornly surviving Blackfish. I am so excited to have these characters back in the mix after so long, and the potential for a Jaime/Brienne reunion, that I don’t even mind that it appears to be exactly the same circumstances that Jon and Sansa are facing in the North. Both the Freys and Boltons are in danger of losing the castles and titles they gained via the Red Wedding to the surviving members of the families they usurped, because they failed to command the loyalty of the minor houses. But both villains have an important hostage as a trump card (being Edmure and Rickon). I do not see both of these extremely similar scenarios working out such the good guys win and the bad guys lose, and no Red Women have made any prophecies about the Freys losing Riverrun, so I think things will wind up poorly for the Tullys. The alternative is too rough to bear, though I haven’t been able to avoid imagining scenarios wherein the prophecies could come true without getting the Starks actually winning. Maybe Jon’s army is repulsed, but Ramsay is backstabbed by the Umbers, and they take over Winterfell?
But let’s close out by talking of more positive things, like Gilly and Sam’s Meet The Parents adventure. It’s unfortunate that we couldn’t get Hornhill added to the credits, particularly since The Wall and Mereen didn’t even appear, but oh well. Randall Tarly lives up to his stern reputation, as Sam’s old man seems like he would have gotten along famously with Tywin Lannister or Roose Bolton. But Gilly is no stranger to horrible fathers, and she’s got steel in her that no frilly dress can obscure. She touts Sam’s not-inconsiderable achievements as a warrior, but papa Tarly is more interesting in body-shaming than hearing about how never mind the mythical creatures he’s killed, Sam also helped fight off a hundred thousand wildlings.
But while he is a raging asshole, Randall is right in that Sam becoming lord of Hornhill would probably have meant the end of the their house. Sam has many good qualities, but he is not built to be a ruler, much less one for winter or wartime. That isn’t the entire story, of course. He may be too cowardly (or practical, or an inseparable mixture of both) to defy him to his face, but he will disobey his father’s edicts and steal a family heirloom if he deems it will be more use in the wars to the North. The Night’s Watch did make a man out of him, it’s just not the sort of man his father always envisaged.
Subplot Report Card:
King’s Landing: B (great acting from the Lannisters, as usual, but balls are getting dangerously blue at this point)
Dany: C (Shouting in fictional languages is Emilia Clarke’s best look, but for my money the image of the Dothraki kneeling that closed last week established her dominion over the horde more effectively and economically. Don’t do stuff just to do it, show.)
Season Morgulis: Doran Martell, Trystane Martell, Areo Hotah, Roose Bolton, Walda Bolton, Balon Greyjoy, (-Jon Snow), Shaggydog, Bowen Marsh, Othell Yarwyck, Alister Thorne, Olly, Osha, Khal Moro, Euron Greyjoy (-Euron Greyjoy), Summer, Leaf The Child Of The Forest, The Wargist Formerly Known As The Three Eyed Raven, HODOR
MIA: I think I’m going to retire this bit, as with the return of Walder Frey, the Blackfish, Edmure and even longlost Benjen, it’s really only Gendry and Arya’s wolf that still seem genuinely forgotten. So I will just say that I have appreciated the respite from Ramsay these last 2 weeks.
Death Watch: I’m fucking horrible at this, obviously. I would’ve bet the farm that this episode would have the highest body count of the season, with at least 3 named characters going down. Instead, this may be the first episode where no one, not even an extra, is killed. In any case, it seems like the King’s Landing situation has been taken down to a low boil for the moment, so I’m going to switch it up and say…Grey Worm, but only because the waif seems like too much of a gimme.