The follow-up to “The Door” was always going to have the built-in challenge of having to be good not only on its own but also next to “The Door.” And “Blood Of My Blood” doesn’t have the benefit of many exciting surprises or turning points. In fact it puffs up a highly anticipated conflict before farting it away in a purposeful anticlimax. Meanwhile the visit to the Tarly ancestral home ends in Sam asking for a do-over on the dumbest idea he’s ever had, and the visits with Bran and Dany are short, sweet, and light on information. But the problem isn’t that “Blood Of My Blood” is more invested in intrigue than immediacy. It’s that it doesn’t have a very firm grip on its characters.

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What is Margaery thinking? Last we saw Loras, she’s holding him, urging him to stay strong. Now she’s brainwashed to the point she openly acknowledges the selfishness of her charity and urges her husband to formally join the High Sparrow. You might think, based on, for example, everything Margaery has ever done on this show, that she’s manipulating Tommen. Perhaps this is part of the Tyrell-Lannister plot to rescue her. And why wouldn’t she be informed of it somehow? What better way to bolster her resolve? On the other hand, like I said, there’s no reason for them or us to think her resolve needs bolstering. Well, it turns out she wasn’t in on it after all. When the day of atonement comes, she’s surprised to see her grandmother fanning herself alongside Jaime with the Tyrell troops. So Margaery’s either genuinely pious now, which is awfully sudden characterization no matter how many heartfelt speeches you give Jonathan Pryce. Or she’s sold out her husband to free herself and left her brother to rot, which I don’t buy for a second. And since we don’t see her after the standoff, we don’t get to find out. Either way, for Margaery, “Blood Of My Blood” is a non sequitur. It doesn’t follow. And everything that happens in King’s Landing in “Blood Of My Blood” is resting on her character.

There’s a moment where it looks like, at last, the High Sparrow reveals a chink in his armor. Jaime rides up the steps. The troops aim their weapons. And the High Sparrow stands up to Jaime. “To die in the service of the gods…we yearn for it.” That’s the armor, not the chink. Martyrdom. It’s unwinnable for Jaime, because even if the Sparrow dies, the Sparrow wins. It’s the kind of thing you’d expect the Sparrow to say and to believe. But then: “But there is no call for it today. There will be no walk of atonement.” And for a moment this man has some shading. He doesn’t want to die after all. He can try to save face, but he’s intimidated by the prospect of death. Which doesn’t reflect well on his faith in the common people he preaches to, either. But that’s not why he calls off the walk. He had already called it off, because King Tommen and the High Sparrow have made some kind of alliance. Mace Tyrell speaks for me: “What’s happening?” Olenna replies, “He’s beaten us. That’s what’s happening.” There will be no dimension to the High Sparrow today.

Even with Margaery gone dead-eyed and the Sparrow all supervillain, it’s a powerful plot point, but it doesn’t play nearly as powerfully as it should. The Sparrow didn’t just beat the Tyrell-Lannister alliance at chess. He’s the left hand of the King now. Everything he’s done has been legitimized, and he seems to have carte blanche going forward. And he’s too smart to throw it away. Meanwhile there’s an intimate angle here that should play with our emotions. No, not Loras. Nobody spares a thought for poor Loras. It’s that Tommen has to punish his uncle-father for daring to march on the sept. So he fires Jaime from the kingsguard and sends him away from the city. And before Jaime has a moment to process that, we hear Walder Frey’s whine. There’s a method to the mad editing here. Walder Frey is just a brief interruption of the King’s Landing fallout, and his scene is set-up for Jaime’s plot. But the cut to the Twins and back squanders the power of Tommen ruling against Jaime. (Credit where it’s due: Lena Headey and Nikolaj Coster-Waldau make the most of the emotional climax of the King’s Landing subplot, although they embrace with such force that they’re almost off-screen.)

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The Tarly family visit is similarly unenlightening, but Sam gets a Valyrian steel sword in the process, so it’s not a complete waste of time. It starts with Sam telling Gilly about his father banishing him to the Night’s Watch and disinheriting him simply because Sam’s not manly enough. “A person just doesn’t feel welcome at that point,” Sam says. Later he adds, “My father doesn’t like wildlings.” So we’re not the only ones who think this is a dumb, unmotivated idea. Sam himself agrees. But the decision’s been made, and until Lord Tarly shows up, things are pretty good. It’s a surprise to discover that Sam’s mother and sister are so affectionate. When Lady Tarly grabs the girls and walks out of her husband’s diatribe, it’s a massive relief. Even though that castle is bigger than whole cities and Gilly’s all alone in it with her baby, it looks like Gilly might have some degree of protection. She might be okay there after all. Lord Tarly, though, is nothing more than an avatar of daddy issues not seen since Lost. Even Tywin Lannister thinks Tarly needs to take it easy. The plotting is schematic, too, but it hits all its marks. What better time for Hannah Murray to capitalize on years of building audience sympathy? Gilly stands up for her man, she and Sam make peace with their parting, and at the last moment, Sam rushes back in to take his family with him to Oldtown. His new family, that is. On his way out, he steals Heartsbane, the Valyrian steel sword that he ought to have inherited anyway. Gilly asks what he’ll do if Lord Tarly comes after him for it, and Sam gets this great hero moment, the camera looking up at him as he says, “He can bloody well try.” (But I think it’s a valid question.)

Bran’s family reunion goes much better for him and somewhat better for us. It starts with a moving “all is lost” moment, when Meera loses her momentum and crumples in tears next to a sled containing Bran’s unresponsive body. She’s all alone. The wights are on her tail. And she just can’t take it. Even when Bran finally returns, he has nothing to offer but bad news: “Meera, they found us.” In swoops Strider, er, a hooded horseman who handily takes care of the wights and spirits Bran and Meera away to somewhere. It turns out to be Benjen Stark. Since last we saw him, he was impaled by the White Walkers, was rescued by the Children, and made friends with the Three-Eyed Raven. Before anyone can ask for details, like why he never returned to the Wall or why he hasn’t been at the tree cave, he tells Bran some more unhelpful mumbo jumbo. He says Bran has to control his power but offers no guidance in that arena. He says the Walkers will find “the world of men,” and that Bran will be there waiting for them, which, again, unhelpful. Give us some details. In general this guy who’s seen some things is not very forthcoming, which makes him just like all the other men with knowledge in Bran’s life. No wonder Bran’s drowning in magic.

The best return of the episode is Needle. Arya finally reaches her point of no return, and she makes the only choice that makes sense. She’s not ready to become a Faceless Man, she knows it, and she rejects that life in a thrilling surprise. It’s a surprise because she does poison Lady Crane’s drink. But Lady Crane, dressed like Cersei, catches her backstage and asks her about the play. The conversation tantalizes by reaching in all kinds of directions. She asks if Arya likes playing different characters. Arya suggests she can change the script, which is a history. And there’s an electric parallel here to the original purple wedding: poison in the drink. Eventually Lady Crane asks, “What’s your name?” Arya answers, “Mercy.” Soon afterward Mercy’s out the door. So we stick with the actors in their dressing room, Lady Crane suggesting she could change the writing and Richard E. Grant’s character not taking the suggestion well. All the while she flirts with taking a sip of the poisoned drink. When she finally goes in for the kill, Arya suddenly reappears, knocking the glass from her hands. “Careful of that one,” she tells her, pointing at the younger actress. “She wants you dead.”

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Arya hasn’t just rejected the Faceless Men. She’s on the run now. Jaqen promised, in not so many words, but not so few either, that either Lady Crane’s face or Arya’s would get mounted in the hall. When the Waif reports Arya’s betrayal to Jaqen, he gives her permission to kill Arya. Which is what it feels like we’ve been watching the past two seasons anyway, but now the gloves are really off. Meanwhile Arya recovers Needle and holes up in some hideout. A trained assassin is coming to kill her, but this is the biggest relief in the Arya storyline since she left the Hound. She’s free. Talk about changing your script.

Stray observations

  • “Blood Of My Blood” is written by Bryan Cogman and directed by Jack Bender.
  • Bran’s flashes are a thrill. He gets split-second glimpses of Ned’s beheading, the Tower Of Joy, Craster’s baby, the Kingslayer incident, wildfire coursing through the city, Hardhome. If Game Of Thrones were more adventurous—not to say it’s not, but it sure has its formulas—we could get an episode like Lost’s “The Constant,” where Bran just goes from one vision to the next while Meera and Benjen are dragging his body to safety. The way it plays in “Blood Of My Blood,” it looks like he’s downloading all this information. I half-expect Bran to know pretty much the entire history of the continent now.
  • Jaime is now headed to Riverrun to “defend” Walder Frey’s “holdings.” Since when does Walder Frey have the leverage to compel Lannister military might anyway? He’s already served his purpose in their grand scheme. On the other hand, who cares if it means Jaime and Brienne are finally headed to the same place again. They were on opposite sides last time, too.
  • Oh, Dany gets another rally-the-troops moment, but, like, she’s not gonna top torching the ruling khals and showing everyone she’s fireproof. It’s like the Tarly sequence, a general waste of time except for the fact that our hero has recovered a weapon, in this case, her dragon.
  • Daario calculates they’re gonna need 1,000 ships to cross the Narrow Sea. Euron better get started.
  • For those counting, it’s now been five episodes since we’ve seen Dorne, which on the one hand means we don’t have to sit through Dorne, but on the other means Ellaria was all hot to trot for apparently nothing. Does she really mean to go to war with the Lannisters? Find out whenever the show gets around to her again, I guess.
  • Another mark in the “Margaery is genuinely brain-washed” column: She tells Tommen that her brother “just needs to atone.” No way does she say that if she’s not a true believer now. But no way is she a true believer all of a sudden in any event.
  • The sept standoff is also a waste of Olenna. Here’s the woman who took out Joffrey. You might have expected her to come up with something better than “just storm the sept, where there are armed sparrows guarding the Tyrell children.” But no. Everyone involved seems to have a little less going on upstairs than usual, except for the High Sparrow.
  • Worst part of the Tarly dinner is when someone offers Sam a roll, he accepts, and then his dad says, “Not fat enough already?” Sam’s so cowed by his old man that he opts not to have another roll.
  • What is The Waif’s problem? She isn’t just carrying out her duty to kill Arya. She’s thirsting for it. She made Jaqen promise her apparently. Is she really someone from Arya’s past? Short of being Joffrey resurrected, I will not understand her vendetta.
  • So Kevan Lannister’s cool with Tommen’s decisions? The writers have never been this reluctant to develop the Hand.
  • Apparently Littlefinger was telling the truth about Riverrun. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s genuinely on Sansa’s side. Which is…disconcerting.
  • R.I.P.: No one! Welcome back, Mace Tyrell, Edmure Tully, Benjen Stark, Drogon, Needle, and of course, Walder Frey and the Frey Family Band! Alas, despite a shout-out to Bronn, he’s still recuperating from the Emmy-winning “bad pussy” line off-screen.

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