This weekend was Memorial Day in the United States, and fittingly this episode of Game of Thrones revisited several characters who have fallen in the battles of the previous seasons and a few more characters who had survived, and some who we’ve only ever heard about. And one who’s somewhat between all those categories. It was an episode that spent a lot of time revisiting the past, presumably so that the way forward becomes even clearer. Spoilers ahead.
I should probably save my Benjen rant for the end when his identity is confirmed, but since he shows up in the first scene to save Meera and Bran, we’re going to talk about him now. So first of all, he did die. Benjen was dead. That the Children brought him back does not negate the fact of his death (see also: Jon Snow). But seriously, thank FUCK that he was dead because can we talk about how absurd it is for him to show up NOW?!? “Oh, hey guys, I saw the White Walkers and instead of racing back to The Wall to warn anyone as someone with my sense of honor and duty would obviously do, I decided to just chill in the forest for a few years. Because I love losing extremities to frostbite and surviving on a starvation diet of the occasional small game, some plants, and more likely than not bugs. The plot required me to be conspicuously absent, you see.” Benjen spending the last few years as a reanimated corpse who somehow managed to not change into a wight makes slightly more sense. Still not loving it, but whatever. Now we can stop asking where Benjen is. He was dead but he’s feeling much better now, though still mostly dead. And he’s also with Bran. Who’s having lots of interesting visions, more about those later.
Sam has brought Gilly home to Horn Hill, because after four years Hannah Murray deserves a costume change. We get to watch Sam’s dad be a complete dick up close and personal, while his entire family exchanges wordless whatadouche-sighs around him, and we get to see Sam muster what bravery he has by stealing off in the night with Gilly and Heartsbane, his family’s ancestral sword. The sword is Valyrian steel, occasionally called “Dragon Steel” in old Westerosi histories and able to defeat the White Walkers, as we saw with Jon and Long Claw at Hardhome. We spent a lot of time watching these things happen. I see no need to spend more time on them here.
Tommen is in the Sept discussing Margaery’s fate with the High Sparrow, and then gets to visit her in the dungeons. She’s been moved into a much nicer dungeon, is reading on her own, and still has her hair, which should be our first hint that she’s been scheming ways to get out of the Walk of Atonement that’s allegedly imminent. Margaery has certainly learned to talk the talk of a true believer, but given her ability to talk people around to exactly what she wants, I’m going to hold off on trusting that her conversion is genuine.
Arya’s hour of truth has come, as she watches the finale of the Westeros play, and sneaks backstage to poison the rum. But she watched too long, so Lady Crane has noticed her, and gives her a nice speech that sideways encourages her to run away and join their troupe. Arya, who has learned that her thirst for specific vengeance will not be slaked by being a Faceless Man, seems to take her words to heart. She does not want to be an instrument of others, she wants, and has always wanted, to mete out justice as she sees fit. As her father taught her, “The man who passes the sentence should swing the sword.” Arya would never be happy swinging the sword for others, particularly when she would not have passed that sentence herself. So she reclaims Needle, reclaims everything about her life that it stands for, and will now be outrunning the Waif in an attempt to conjure Mercy from nothingness.
The hour of truth has come for Margaery, and as she stands there with her hair well brushed and intact, it should be clear that there’s no Walk to come. But she does seem shaken when her father’s force rides in behind Jaime Lannister in gleaming gold, perhaps second guessing her choice. If she had known that this rescue was coming, would she have aligned herself with the High Sparrow? We’ll never know. But despite Olenna Tyrell’s admission that the High Sparrow has beaten them, I’m betting that the Queen of Thorns will be mounting a counter attack sometime soon. But it won’t be led by Jaime, who is off for the Riverlands to reunite with Brienne.
Hey! It’s Walder Frey! Still as disgusting as he was three seasons ago. But he’s helping to get us through some exposition about the strength of the force at Riverrun under the Blackfish. And Edmure is still alive! And headed over to Riverrun as a bargaining chip. Lots of people headed to Riverrun these days, now that they’ve all remembered it exists.
Oh, and before Jaime heads off to the Riverlands we do get a nice scene of him and Cersei getting romantic with each other because that’s not gross or weird for like seven different reasons at this point.
After we circle back around to confirm the identity of Benjen and his purpose, we’re off to find Daenerys plotting her journey to Westeros some more. As she has recovered her confidence, she’s also able to recover Drogon. As always, the dragons are most responsive to her when she’s in need, or when she’s in a position of power. This time, it seems like she senses Drogon and goes to him in order to fly him over her new Khalasar and win them to her purpose the way Khal Drogo won his Khalasar to this same purpose years ago. And, of course, no one delivers stirring speeches in fictional languages like Emilia Clarke. How Dany will keep that feeling and momentum up while they sit on their hands and wait for 1,000 ships remains to be seen. But as far as faces that launched 1,000 ships go, I find Drogon’s roar far more compelling than whatever Helen of Troy’s beauty may have been.
There’s been a lot of talk about the idea that Daenerys has inherited her father’s madness. That she is the Mad Queen to his Mad King. But with Bran’s vision, and the knowledge of how the wights and White Walkers are destroyed, could “Burn them all!” be what’s needed in the war to come? Why worry about dragon glass or dragon steel when someone can show up to the battle with an actual dragon. If the Wall comes down and the dead invade Westeros, she and her dragons may be the best hope for the Seven Kingdoms. She might not be the ruling type, but Westeros may be in need of a conqueror before the story is over. We’re also reminded of the Wild Fire that Aerys had stored under King’s Landing in order to take the city down if he couldn’t retain control. Jaime killed the pyromancer and the King before that could happen, but the Wild Fire is still there. I had thought it might come into play when the Knights of Highgarden arrived to the sept; that Cersei had found out about it somehow and was going to plunge all of Highgarden’s strength along with the High Sparrow and his followers into a pit of fire. But when Jaime led the force in, I knew that wasn’t the case. However it happens, it seems likely that King’s Landing won’t survive the wars to come.