Monday, 30 May 2016

Game of Thrones - Blood of My Blood

Contains spoilers.

Family is a theme that resonates in Game of Thrones pretty frequently, and it surfaced again tonight in "Blood of My Blood". The phrase itself has Dothraki origins, yet the Dothraki themselves took a back seat tonight to allow other stories that had perhaps been sidelined so far this season to flourish. If it felt a tad scattershot and uneven it's because it was - we had to check in on a lot of stories this week and they're all at such different places that it's difficult for the show not to feel jarring occasionally - but, as usual, Game of Thrones gets by on the strength of the individual sequences. The theme of family is displayed most strongly in the moments we spend with Sam & Gilly, Bran & Benjen, everyone at King's Landing, and to a lesser extent Daenerys and her return with Drogon. It's a kind of loose thread to sow the episode together, as other stories don't really fit the bill at all, but it succeeds in giving some kind of framework to an episode that lurches all over the place with mixed results.

Take King's Landing, for example. King's Landing is currently occupied by a plethora of great characters - namely Cersei, Jaime, Margaery and Olenna - and it means that every sequence already has this burst of life. Even when events start to slow down they remain compelling viewing due to how well the show has written these characters. The showdown between Jaime and the High Sparrow perhaps wasn't as climactic as we were led to believe, but it still pushes the general story forward effectively while setting up new events for the back half of the season. I don't buy for a second that Margaery has legitimately atoned herself and joined the High Sparrow, but the way she is using Tommen as some kind of tool to achieve what she wants is the most interesting thing this character's been given in a long time. It brings forward that theme of family pretty heavily: Margaery is willing to use her husband to get what she wants, Cersei is trying to desperately to win her son back, Tommen sends his father away to Riverrun. We can see what family means to each of these people, and it's exciting to watch them use their family in completely oppositional ways.

The family theme is most dominant with Sam and Gilly this week, though, as we finally return home with Sam to meet his family. The sequence at the dinner table is uncomfortable viewing, but it seamlessly brings forward all of Gilly's character development across the show while also avoiding clich├ęs by having Sam genuinely sit and take the abuse rather than having a big stand-up-for-yourself moment. The closing resolution to this - that Sam won't leave Gilly behind and leaves with her and his father's Valyrian steel sword - is a perfect encapsulation of all that their arc has represented thus far. Similarly, despite my distaste of bringing back supposedly dead characters, Bran's reunion with Benjen was surprisingly effective. Perhaps it's just the sheer notion of gaining a Stark rather than losing one that boosted this sequence along, but nonetheless it was exciting, and I'm relieved that the show brought Benjen in and revealed his identity in the same episode rather than stringing it along for the sake of a good cliffhanger. It's further proof that this season is really striving to avoid the meandering narratives of season five.

Alas, not all stories can fare well though, and "Blood of My Blood" struggled mostly with two key characters this week: Arya, and Daenerys. We'll start with the former. Arya abandoned her mission tonight, and eventually retrieved Needle from under the rock. It's nice to see more progression in this subplot, but it runs a dangerous risk of rendering Arya's entire previous two seasons pointless. She needs to gain or learn something from this experience, and right now she's just as hot headed and empty handed as she was when she joined back in season five. If the show will have her leaving the Faceless Men by the finale, it needs to do a lot more work to prove that the whole ordeal was worthwhile. Obviously we can only speculate as of now, but this general lack of character motivation in Arya forces her sequences to feel notably less compelling when there is so little at stake. When she's off and away by herself, entirely disparate from the main plot, the only real stakes the show can achieve are ones personal to her character, so without these present Braavos can start to feel like a routine check in rather than genuine progression.

Danerys' moment in the spotlight suffers from a similar flaw, but in it's own way. Daenerys has plenty of character motivation, and she's heavily connected to the main plot, but there's only so many times we can see her looking awesome in front of an army of people. Off the top of my head I can think of five times the show has already done this - emerging from the flames in season one, sacking Astapor in season three, arriving at Meereen in season four, emerging from the flames again just two weeks ago, and then tonight. In fact, there's probably more that I've forgotten too. Emilia Clarke always acts the hell out of these sequences, but after so much repetition they become difficult to be wowed by. Tonight's final sequence displayed a complete lack of both character and narrative progression: we learnt that the Dothraki haven't changed their mind on following Dany, and that dragons can get big. The CGI was stunning but the content was lacking, and this is extremely problematic when you consider the pace at which the show is soaring through plot right now. Generally, though, this remains a solid entry in what is shaping up to be a strong season of the show, and if the back half of the season maintains the narrative progression that we've seen so far then I have no doubts that it will close out a hell of a lot more strongly than last year did.

Notes - 
  • I really love Gilly. I just really, really love Gilly. Watching her stand up for Sam in that hall was a great moment, even if she inadvertently made things worse for them both by revealing herself as a Wildling.
  • No Jon and no Sansa and no Tyrion tonight. They've been in every episode so far this season, so I'll allow them the week off. Come back soon, guys, I missed you.
  • Dorne also hasn't been present since episode one. I'm completely unsure as to where they're taking Dorne this season, but I haven't missed it at all.
  • Having Margaery Tyrell preparing for her naked Walk of Atonement only for it to be cancelled last minute is very mean to the viewers and I would like to file a complaint.
  • The super quick cut vision montage in Bran's early sequence was all kinds of exciting. We got glimpses of Aerys on the throne, echoes of his orders to "BURN THEM ALL", quick shots of Wildfire engulfing the tunnels of King's Landing, and we even briefly saw Jaime plunge his sword into the Mad King's back. I can't say I ever expected to actually see this in the show, but it was so great.
  • Drogon has grown a lot. Like, a lot. I wonder how big Viserion and Rhaegal are by now.
  • No one died tonight. No one at all. And there was no nudity, no real violence of any sort, and not even that much swearing. Could this be Game of Thrones' first ever PG episode?
  • I just remembered we saw Jaqen peeling a man's face off. Perhaps not, then.

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