Of all the episodes this season, episode 6 has been the most expository. There’s a lot of moving parts, so let’s get started where we left off, right before the three-eyed raven dies, as he downloads “everything” into Bran’s brain. Here’s a short list of “everything” we see Bran downloading at the start of episode 6, which sees him being dragged away from Hodor holding the door:
– The decapitation of his father, Eddard Stark, in King’s Landing;
– A Craster baby becoming a white walker;
– Himself, falling from the broken tower in Winterfell;
– The crypt where the Mad King kept all his dragonfyre;
– The Mad King on the Iron Throne, ordering Jamie to “Burn them all!” as Jamie ascends the steps to kill him;
– The Night King, birthing new wights from the newly dead at Hardhome;
– The Night King, touching Bran’s arm;
– The murder of Robb and Catelyn Stark, his brother and mother, at the Red Wedding;
– Eddard Stark, immediately before the raid at the Tower of Joy; and
-A white walker attacking Sam outside Craster’s keep.
But one thing he curiously does NOT see is his uncle — one Benjen Stark, who comes in the nick of time with a flaming mace to save Meera and Bran from certain death, creatively destroying what appears to be a dozen wights and looking like a total badass in the process. We’ve been hearing about ol’ Benjen for some time; pretty much since he left Castle Black on a ranging way back in the third episode of season 1. If you remember, Jon wanted to accompany him on that ranging — Benjen told him he hadn’t earned the right, but that “we’ll talk when I return.” Jon’s heard that before, from his dad Eddard, and that didn’t work out too well.
After their escape, the trio sits around a campfire, and Benjen tells them the tale of how he was stabbed in the gut with an ice sword by a white walker and left to die; the Children of the Forest found and saved him with their heart-stabby dragonglass ritual. Benjen (known as “Coldhands” in the books), is essentially the Blade of Game of Thrones — half zombie human, half white-walker, he’s not alive, but he kills dead things good. One imagines he might be a good diplomat for the cause of defense from white walkers, since southern Westerosi don’t quite believe the threat to be real.
On the ride to his ancestral home of Horn Hill, Sam casually wows Gilly with his knowledge of local foliage. Het also lets her know that if his dad finds out she’s a wildling, he’ll probably kill her. As he expected, when they arrive, Sam’s mother and sister are both generous and gracious — and his dad still loathes his entire existence. After a super awkward dinner, Sam decides he’s going to steal away in the middle of the night, with Gilly, little Sam, and Heartsbane, his family’s ancestral Valeryian Steel sword. Stealing the sword seems like a bad move, since Dad could probably care less about Sam and his bastard, but would probably pursue him to the ends of the earth for his sword. Sam is thinking about the bigger picture here, something his father and brother can’t see — the sword will be incredibly important in the coming war because it can kill white walkers, which none of the Tarlys even believe to exist.
Back in King’s Landing, the Tyrells are making moves. Queen Margaery is the ultimate pragmatist; having seen her brother broken, it’s clear that she will need to need to take control to ensure their survival. She had abandoned all hope that her family or husband would swoop in to save her, and learned to say the right things to the septa. Without any allies in a dungeon, she’d have to make some compromises to save her brother, and herself.
So when Jamie and her dad show up on the steps of the sept to forcibly reclaim them, she’s surprised — it doesn’t fit into her plan. By playing along with the High Sparrow, she’s allowed to reunite with her husband, which means she can finally get back to whispering in his ear, and manipulating him. Even her speech to Tommen, she doesn’t actually say too much specifically about the High Sparrow, instead playing to Tommen’s own preconceived thoughts.
It appears she’s playing right into the High Sparrow’s hands, which could be troublesome for her, but Margaery’s cunning certainly outstrips Cersei’s. Even if it was unwittingly, her own machinations behind the scenes usurped Cersei’s, which almost unquestionably would have ended in a bloody disaster. The people have always loved Margaery; after this day, they still do. If her dad’s army had cut down the faith militant on the steps of the sept, they would likely have had to kill commoners who objected as well, and their hold on King’s Landing would have become even looser. Instead, with the King lifting up the Faith to status as “Twin Pillars,” Margaery is back at the king’s side, and Jamie is dismissed from the Kingsguard, sent to Rivverrun to assist the Freys in its seige. So is Brienne, sent off by Sansa to bring the Blackfish and his forces to the North to help retake Winterfell. If they reunite, it will likely be on opposite ends of the battlefield.
In Braavos, “a girl” is being given another test; to kill the woman playing Cersei in a Braavosi production of the events in King’s Landing. The meta play-within-a-play is a bellwether of Arya’s dedication to the House of Black and White; if, after being reminded of all that she came from and all the revenge she still holds in her heart, she can still leave it all behind to join the Faceless Men, she will have truly killed Arya Stark.
But we kind of already knew this would happen; the moment that Arya buried her sword Needle rather than dispose of it, it was clear she never really intended to abandon her identity as a Stark. The play was clearly part of Jaqen H’ghar’s test for her, a clear reminder of her past life. The actress who she’s supposed to kill (who’s so good at her job that even Arya emotes sympathy for Cersei’s character, despite the fact that she completely hates the real person) is a test not just of assassination, but to prove she’s done with her past life and story.
When she makes her choice, she takes every precaution possible, knowing that The Waif is coming for her. The two were almost equals when it came to wielding sticks; but Arya is a water dancer, and recently reunited with Needle. Shit’s about to go down.
If you missed Walder Frey, the lecherous child molester who broke the oath of guest right when he consipired with Roose Bolton to murder Robb & Catelyn Stark at the Red Wedding, this was your week — he’s back. Yaaay. He’s furious with his inept sons for losing Riverrun to the Brynden “The Blackfish” Tully, Catelyn’s sister. Frey reminds them that he still has his nephew Edmure, who is technically lord of Riverrun and married to Frey’s daughter (theirs was the Red Wedding), but in actuality lives in a dungeon at the Twins. Walder hopes sending him to Riverrun might help swing the siege in their favor.
So who’s Edmure? Well, if we’re being honest, Edmure is kind of a douche. After Catelyn Stark’s father, Hoster Tully, dies of being old, Edmure is next in the line of succession, and takes control of Riverrun. His ineptitude is on display from pretty much the start; at one point he’s scolded by a 15-year-old Robb Stark for his poor planning and false bravado. But the scene that best explains who should really be running the show at Riverrun is Hoster Tully’s funeral ritual. In the Riverlands, they set the casket off on a small boat into the river, and someone fires a flaming arrow to light it up and burn it. Edmure is a punk, and can’t hit the boat with his flaming arrow, so the Blackfish has to step in and fire it, just to ensure that the casket is properly burninated. It’s a bit embarrassing, and shows that even though the Blackfish is a family outcast, he’s still by far the most capable Tully. When he squares off against Jamie and the Freys next week, we’re sure he’ll show us exactly how capable.
The Queen of dramatic moments has yet another still in store for us, as Dany makes the most of her short screen time this episode. On the road with her khalasar, she’s frustrated that it will take a week for her to get to Meereen, and even then, that they’ll need someone with 1,000 ships to get her squad across the narrow sea. By this point, she’s already sensed Drogon around the corner; the information is just to confirm the fact that she needs to speed things up and start dragon riding.
Combined with the naked fire ritual, the site of Dany flying in on her dragon has pretty much solidified her hold over the khalasar; not one of them is silent after the rousing speech she delivers from atop Drogon’s back. We can’t wait to see what happens when they get to Meereen.