The question on everyone’s mind this week: Can Game of Thrones survive without Hodor? Happy Days was never the same after Richie Cunningham left, and The X-Files suffered in its later seasons without Mulder. Removing the show’s lynchpin was a risky move for the Game of Thrones producers, but while Hodor continues to leave a massive hole in our hearts and on our screens, the show is weathering itself well in his absence, if only because we are richer for having known him, and his portly presence lingers.
In fact, were Sam Tarly to undergo a Rain Man transformation and confine himself to merely muttering his own name repeatedly, we might mistake him for a younger incarnation –because truly, the spirit of Hodor is apparent within his manner and bearing.
It seems only appropriate then that this week, with Hodor no more, the show turns its focus to Sam, as he travels home to Horn Hill with Gilly and little Sam. It also reminds us that the heart of the show, is, and always was, about families. Disparate, frequently vile, often bloody family units perhaps, but nevertheless, a contingency of human relationships, both loving and violent. In Samwell’s case, his dad, like most dads in Westeros, turns out to be a real bastard – insulting his son’s weight, his intellect, his manhood, and demeaning him in front of Gilly over dinner, who defends him stirringly. So, Sam steals the family sword while his dad is sleeping, grabs Gilly and buggers off. Way to go!
Meanwhile, in Braavos, Arya’s tenure in service of the Many Faced God came to a curious apotheosis, in as much as she abandoned it suddenly. Faced with the prospect of killing the actress she was ordered to, her moral instinct forces her to renege. She becomes Arya Stark once again, takes her sword, and ventures off, with Jaquen and The Waif vowing to murder her.
In a way, Arya’s plot has been a frustrating one, because it was locked for so long in a static holding pattern, that at this point one could mistake its conclusion for merely abandoning the story. The problem is that throughout the whole duress of her training, not a lot actually happened. That it has now arrived at the point it has is inevitable, even welcome, but it could as easily have happened sooner, and probably should have.
The standoff between Jamie Lannister and the High Sparrow also reached a turning point this week. As Queen Margaery is preparing to do her walk of atonement, Jamie rallies the crown’s troops to circumvent the event. However, he is surprised and dismayed when King Tommen appears on the palace steps to announce a new union between the faith and the crown –meaning Margaery will no longer have to do her work (that’s good) and the king and queen are now brainwashed pawns of the Sparrow (that’s bad).
Meanwhile, across the seas, Daenerys Targaryen pushed onwards towards global domination, discussing the logistics of ships in which to cross The Narrow Sea, and rallying the Dothraki populace with promises of blood and glory. Considering she incinerated all their leaders a few weeks ago, you would think the Dothraki might have second thoughts, but it happens fortunately that the Mother of Dragons is a very motivational speaker, of the John Edward variety –and so this small peccadillo proves not much of a problem.
This week also saw the return of the very cantankerous Walder Frey. Having recovered from the monstrous cleaning bill he incurred after the Red Wedding, Walder is now taken aback to learn that Riverrun has been taken by Brynden Tully, aka The Blackfish. Humiliated at not being able to hold the castle, Walder brings in his ace card, Edmure Tully. After holding Tully hostage for the last three years, Walder will now use him as leverage to take back Riverrun.
What this sets up is an intriguing conversion of future storylines, involving not only Samwell and Frey, but also Jamie Lannister, who has been ordered to take Riverrun as a show of force.
Overall, ‘Blood of My Blood’ managed to be both forward moving in several plot developments, while also acting as a breather between some of the heavier moments that had preceded it in the weeks before. While the primary purpose of the episode was positioning characters for future events, the dynamics of power and familial structures were compelling enough in their own right that the show’s mechanics were not overly transparent. As ever, Game of Thrones on an average day is still better than most shows on their best.
THE REEL SCORE: 7/10