A Television Review by Akash Singh
NOTE: SPOILERS OCCUR!!!!!!!
Medieval societies were structured in the grand old system of feudalism. Feudalism was an efficient systemic construction for a time, keeping the power of the crown intact while crafting a hierarchy of nobles who would keep those beneath them in check to appease the monarch. It’s a system that seems built upon an inherent fallacy of trust, an inherent understanding of the sturdiness of power dynamics that are never quite sturdy to begin with. Such a system depends on that fairly fragile understanding of power, however, and when feudalism crumbled apart after the Black Plague, it was astonishing to note it hadn’t completely crumbled apart far earlier (its replacement with different systems of oppression is a column for another time). A vital aspect of feudalism, one that is often ignored in favor of constructs that relate to knights and princesses and bloodletting in the name of religious fanaticism, is the construct of the family, of the bloodline that ties so many together and tears even more apart. Family is of great importance to the world of Westeros in both the series and the novels, the avenue that provides the greatest degree of protection, weaponry, and avenues to power. The show has taken a far more cynical look at the constructs of family than the novels in the sense of rapid kinslaying that has shaped season six so far, but Blood of My Blood constructs its entire narrative around the vitality of bloodlines and the show’s long, painstaking ground laying (both good and bad) pays off in spades within that thematic unity. Bryan Cogman’s script digs deep into that familial loyalty, that sense of truth in what drives so many of the characters in this universe towards some goal, towards some pathway for their future life. It’s a quiet episode in comparison to last week’s tearjerker but it’s one that arrives with a considerably tumultuous palate that serves to satiate the appetite quite considerably as it lays the groundwork for the future episodes to come.
Samwell Tarly’s family is a curious case of individuals abandoned as outcasts, arguably the most favorite of Martin’s character groupings. Samwell’s tragic history may ring as less tragic compared to the plethora of traumatized counterparts that exist in the Thrones universe, but it is a personal tragedy that hits close to the hearts of everyone and personally me. I’ve never been much of a warrior, or a bravado, good-looking type that rolls into accolades on account of anything but his relative wit, relative being the key word here. So perhaps I’m putting a lot more stock into this specific storyline than a good chunk of individuals watching the series are, but it is nevertheless extremely well-executed here, full of pathos and a genuine heart that Thrones so often seems to lack amidst the sea of brooding, devastating darkness. When Sam arrives home to the astoundingly beautiful castle that is Horn Hill (the Pantheon is notably jealous), he knows the pain and suffering he’s walking right into but at some level he has heartened faith that he has Gilly and little Samwell by his side. His mother and sister are positively lovely, which only makes them stand starker against the Tarly men. Sam’s father Randyll is a despicably nasty piece of work who shuns and drives Sam further into the ground while treating Gilly as if she were some subhuman who was defiling his dinner table by being there. Randyll is the very embodiment of toxic masculinity, unable to see any heart in those who are not worthy of carrying a sword and cutting down men like flies upon a battlefield. He holds honor in a more twisted, hardened sense that Tywin did in his heyday and that’s saying something. His oblivious warrior son Dickon seems kinder but far more vapid than her older brother, laughing at the thought of the White Walkers an episode right after they made their greatest advancement.
As with this season especially, it is the women who stand up to the men shackled by patriarchal notions and steadfast espousals of the past they simply can’t seem to shake in the face of impending death. Sam’s mother shuts down Randyll sharply and he bows for a second but even as he acquiesces towards her honor, he can’t help but use it one more time to put down the son he doesn’t believe is worth the family name (on that note, Lady Tarly is one of the handful of non-dysfunctional parents on this series and it’s a thorough joy to watch). Gilly does more for Sam than arguably anyone else, noting that he has held a weapon in his hands, that he used that weapon to kill a Thenn and he killed a White Walker. Dickon laughs at the notion but Gilly pays him about as much attention as anyone named Dickon would get in the first place. Sam, she notes quietly, is a greater warrior than either of them and Randyll’s furrowing brow takes serious note of the insult she throws in his face. A part of him one would hope recognizes the inherent truth of what Gilly was saying but I doubt Randyll would ever be as understanding as his wife and lovely daughter Tarla (who has a real gift for make-overs, truth be told). He fashions himself to be a great man and once someone has decided that they know everything, one stops learning anything at all. A great man does not talk to those beneath him as if he deserves to be above them. A great man talks to those beneath him as if they are his equal. Randyll is unable to do so and much to his impending peril. But for the moment, he loses the great Valyrian steel sword he places so much more faith in than his own child. His fury at the theft is sure to be great but it’s hard not to feel a significant sense of validation from Sam taking his despicable father’s most prized possession from right underneath his nose. He deserves to hold Heartsbane and knowing the threat the kingdoms face from the north, there are few who ought to hold it at all.
Speaking of fashionable weaponry, the Tyrell soldiers finally march on the Great Sept of Baelor, led by the impressively clad Jaime Lannister and Mace Tyrell in a funky hat that puts British royal wedding parties to shame. Margaery is one of the most intelligent characters in Westeros bar none and it isn’t difficult to imagine the choice she faced. She once told Littlefinger in a tent, standing over her husband’s dead body, that the thing she wanted more than everything else to be the Queen, not just a queen and if Renly wasn’t a king, then she wasn’t even a queen. She then proceeds to manipulate Joffrey in ways Cersei could never dream of doing, consolidating her hold on the throne before turning to do the same with Tommen before that entire endeavor went south. She arguably has no reason whatsoever to be loyal to her family with Tommen, not after all the Lannisters have put her and her brother through. There is some doubt somehow as to the degree of loyalty that Margaery has to the High Sparrow, but I have no reason to believe that Margaery for a single second truly believes in anything the High Sparrow says to the degree that she would abandon her family name and begin to serve a faith that thinks women are second-class citizens and that anyone whom engages in homosexual acts has committed a grave sin against the gods. Her scene with Loras contradicts that quite heavily. She, having no real sense of loyalty to a king who has let her down to such a grave degree, only has true loyalty for her family, for her bloodline. And so she takes Tommen in, converting him to adopt the position of the Faith Militant and in that same swoop throwing him right underneath the bus. She has loyalty only for the rose and not the lion. For the rose, however, this wasn’t the triumphant moment or even the foundation Margaery was truly seeking. The High Sparrow humiliated the Tyrellr and their army, the camera lingering heavily upon the family’s symbol of a rose to make a note of how visible they are to the public of King’s Landing. And the most impressive point arguably was that he didn’t even have to drop a single blood os sequence during the entire event. He simply gave his sermon and smiled serenely as one of the pillars of the world took one and toppled the other.
Arya’s connection to her family has been arguably the most directly contested, her legitimacy as a Stark threatening any semblance of legitimacy with the Faceless Men of Braavos. She finds herself at the charmingly and exceedingly well-cast play rendition of the War of the Five Kings, ending itself upon a comic death for Joffrey and Tyrion stabbing his father with two arrows upon a toiler. Arya is alone in laughing at the death of the play’s sweeter, more gentle Joffrey, a neat callback to when she had told the Hound how she was sad that she didn’t get to see Joffrey die in front of her eyes. She realizes that she’s the only one laughing but that laughter doesn’t quite disappear from her eyes even as the sorrowful performance of Lady Crane allows for her to observe her younger rival mouthing those words. In what is a notable move, Arya’s scene of dropping the poison into Lady Crane’s drink while Tyrion gives his monologue about killing Tywin is assuredly deliberate. But Arya can’t bring herself to kill an innocent human being, not when Lady Crane and herself were bonding in a way she didn’t expect. Perhaps it is because theater so naturally provides the avenues for becoming someone else that that is what drew Arya even closer to them in the first place. Disguising herself as Mercy (a great callback to the novels), Arya bonds with Lady Crane, who happens to ask a fairly pertinent question. Does she enjoy being other people? Arya takes that question to heart, running back to destroy the cup and reveal the murder plot against her. It’s understandable if unfortunate that the Waif was right there and she receives permission from a reluctant Jaqen to murder his protege but to ensure that she did not suffer from prolonged pain. It may be the Waif who suffers, however. Arya digs Needle out of its hiding place, crawling into the darkened tunnels and sniffing a candle out on this significant segment of her journey.
Great/Not So Great Moments Not Mentioned Above:
+“BURN THEM ALL!!!!!” Hello, Mad King Aerys!
+Benjen! His return provides for the second Stark reunion this season, keeping up the theme of family while bringing in some key understandings of what happened in his transition to being Coldhands.
+“There were so many lies in those stories.”
+Randyll referring to Gilly as “it”
+“You dishonor yourself.”
+“He can bloody well try.”
+“The writing’s no good.” Is that a meta joke?
+“You have very expressive eyes, Mercy.”
+The irony of theme that played when Tommen was crowned king theme
+Jaime deposed by Tommen but now running off to Riverrun
+“It’s a castle. Not a bloody sheep.” Welcome back, Walder Frey!
+The Brotherhood Without Banners
+So Drogon is now massive and Daenerys has thousands of blood riders to take back Westeros with fire and blood. Oh thank goodness that plot is moving forward!
Episode Title: Blood of My Blood
Written by: Bryan Cogman
Directed by: Jack Bender
Image Courtesy: Movie Pilot