“You have very expressive eyes, Mercy … Do you like pretending to be other people?” We’ve just seen a troupe of actors reenact the events of the show within the show. One of them, an actress marked for a hit by Arya Stark, notices the presence of her would-be assassin — the same young woman whose family is part of the play. Taking the girl for a fan of the theatre, the trouper strikes up a conversation. Arya gives her advice on changing the play’s script to better reflect the emotions of her character, Cersei Lannister: “She wouldn’t just cry,” the teenager says, speaking about herself as much as the wicked queen. “She would be angry. She would want to kill the person who did this to her.”
How many meta layers are we at, by this point?
There’s a lot going on in tonight’s episode of Game of Thrones, entitled “Blood of My Blood.” Isn’t there always? With so many characters involved in so many storylines spread across so many locations, the sprawl is simply incomparable to anything else on television. But that backstage sequence stands out because it demonstrates how nimble this series can be, despite its massive scope. Writer Bryan Cogman and director Jack Bender took time out of their busy schedule of zombies, dragons, and Dothraki hordes to craft an intimate exchange between two strangers, both of whom know the advantages and disadvantages of playing the role of someone they’re not. Yes, this gives the audience a big stand-up-and-cheer moment when Arya returns to stop the assassination she’d set in motion, but that’s almost beside the point. Revealing character through conversation, even if it’s buried deep beneath layers of deception, is what matters here.
Given how different the theatrical setting is from the rest of the show, it’s worth singling out a similarly unusual locale: the sumptuously appointed halls of Horn Hill, Samwell Tarly‘s ancestral home. Presided over by Lord Randyll, played with gloriously glowering meanness by Downton Abbey veteran James Faulkner, it’s practically a homage to the late, great PBS show. The awkward dinner conversation, the comedy of manners, the class conflict, the eruption of bigotry beneath the genteel surface — we’re one Dowager Countess quip away from running the table here. John Bradley is heartbreaking as Sam here, eyes downcast, head nervously bobbing as his father berates him for his weight, his bookishness, and ultimately for Gilly, his “wildling whore.” Even as his girlfriend and his mother stand up for him, he remains silent.
But he also gets an Arya-style fuck-yeah! moment of his own when, instead of meekly surrendering his new family to his old one, he takes the woman, her baby and his dad’s heirloom Valyrian steel sword and hits the road. “Won’t he come for it?” she asks. “He can bloody well try,” he responds. During the entire sequence, we’ve been contrasting the father’s tough-guy posturing with our knowledge that the son is the real deal; we know that this joke is, well, no joke.
The episode was no slouch in the visual irony department, either. For weeks now, we’ve been prepping for a throwdown between the High Sparrow‘s fanatical Faith Militant and the combined forces of House Lannister and House Tyrell, all over the fate of Queen Margaery. Sure enough, we get a confrontation on the steps of the Great Sept, complete with Jaime Lannister riding up the stairs on horseback like a hero out of legend. But his own son, King Tommen, puts an end to the plan by announcing a new alliance between the Crown and the Faith, apparently egged on by his brainwashed wife. So the Kingslayer and his allies are left to witness the Sparrow, the King, and the Queen standing there, basking in the adulation of the crowd. It’s a moment of defeat painted like a moment of triumph, and it’s clever as hell.
In sheer plot terms, the most momentous events involved characters accepting their destiny with the help of their magical friends. After all, Daenerys accepts the blood oaths of her entire khalasar while on the back of her previously M.I.A. dragon, who only returned once she appeared to agree with her boyfriend Daario Naharis‘ statement: “You’re a conqueror, Daenerys Stormborn.” Meanwhile, north of the Wall, Bran Stark‘s long-lost Uncle Benjen returned as a half-dead zombie slayer, wielding a fiery flail and telling the boy it’s his job to face the Night King at the Wall; the young Stark’s vision of Jaime Lannister, the same man who crippled him, slaying the Mad King while he shouted “burn them all!” appears to offer some hint of the future. And if that wasn’t enough indication that long-simmering storylines seem ready to boil over, there was the appearance of the hilariously crusty old bastard Walder Frey and his family full of Red Wedding planners. It’s one of the most impressive things about Game of Thrones: its willingness to stir all kinds of ingredients into the pot in the process.
Previously: Hold the Door
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