WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Game of Thrones.
Benjen Stark is back! Going into this episode, I was not expecting anything like that to happen, much less to see his return right at the beginning of the episode. I jumped out of my chair and was so excited, I almost missed the badass action he got himself into to save Bran and Meera. It was kind of lame that they held the “reveal” back until later in the episode since it was so obvious, but I’m sure there were some people out there that were still surprised. I haven’t mentioned this in any of my reviews when talking about the books, but there’s a character named Coldhands in the books that helps Sam and Gilly get south of The Wall, and people have been theorizing for a while that this was actually Benjen Stark. Now we know the truth, and the fact that the Children of the Forest saved him from becoming a White Walker. It’s pretty cool to know that, and that might have some impact moving forwards, even though all of the Children of the Forest are presumably dead.
I can’t be the only one that finds everything happening in King’s Landing to be a bit underwhelming. The High Sparrow storyline has been dragging along a bit too much, so I was super excited a few episodes ago when the plan was hatched to rescue Margaery and Loras. It was obvious that things weren’t going to go to plan (because they never do), but I was assuming Cersei had something up her sleeve. Instead, Tommen and Margaery have decided to side with the High Sparrow, going so far as to imprint a new united sigil on the Kingsguard armor. I definitely wasn’t expecting this, but it really only extends what has been a relatively uninteresting story even farther. Now that Jaime is leaving King’s Landing, what’s going to happen? We know Cersei’s trial is coming up, and she remains certain that it will be a trial by combat and that The Mountain will prevail. But again, things never go to plan, and she’s far too confident for everything to work out in her favor. Beyond that, I’m just not interested. I fail to see how the new status quo is any different than the old. The High Sparrow has been manipulating everyone this whole time, especially Tommen, and he continues to do so. Unless Margaery is actually lying and is plotting something else, I don’t really care anymore.
Thankfully, other storylines fared better in this episode, and the stage for new directions. Arya made her final decision regarding her life as a Faceless Man, and it seems like she’s going back to being Arya Stark. I’m still not sure how this will tie into the greater Game of Thrones story, as she’s pretty isolated from everyone else. But, the inevitable confrontation between her and Waif is sure to be exciting, and I’m not entirely convinced that Jaqen actually wants her dead.
Sam’s storyline ended up amounting to nothing, however. It was interesting to meet his family and learn just how terrible his father is, but it had absolutely zero impact on the trajectory of Sam and Gilly. Things would be the same for them if they’d ridden straight to The Citadel, minus the Valyrian sword Sam now has. It’s probably safe to assume that Heartsbane will be important at some point in the near future, otherwise they wouldn’t have made that detour. I will say that there was an important character moment for Sam, when he decided to stick with Gilly no matter what. It was great to see him grow some balls when it came to stuff other than White Walkers, I just think we could have gotten there with less time being spent.
We didn’t get much of Dany in this episode, and she still fell into that familiar writer’s trap of having her say really badass stuff without actually doing anything. Yeah, awesome, you have the Dothraki behind you (again) and you have Drogon (again). FREAKING DO SOMETHING BESIDES RIDE YOUR HORSES AROUND IN CIRCLES OR SIT ON A THRONE IN MEEREEN. It was interesting to note that Daario referenced her needing at least 1,000 ships to sail to Westeros, and that’s exactly how many ships Euron Greyjoy is currently building. Seems a little convenient, but I’ll give it a pass. I guess this scene was Dany finally totally committing to heading back to Westeros, but she’s made similar speeches before and nothing’s happened. I’ll believe it when I see it.
I also have some small notes to make on things that were said, that will seemingly have a larger impact later. For at least the third episode in a row, we had a character reference the Umbers. This time it was Sam’s mom talking about meeting a northern lord at some point in the past. Again, as of now the Umbers have betrayed Rickon Stark and handed him over to Ramsay, but I remain steadfast that this was all a ruse.
There was a lot that was said in the short scene between Walder Frey and his sons. We obviously got the return of Edmure Tully, and the plan to use him as bait to get the Blackfish to surrender Riverrun (fat chance of that happening). But the Brotherhood without Banners was also mentioned, and we haven’t heard anything about them since Arya left them a few seasons ago. Could we get the return of Gendry, Thoros of Myr, and Beric Dondarrion? For bookreaders, there’s also a chance that Lady Stoneheart will show up. One last small thing to note: when Bran is having those quick flashback dreams, we see the Mad King Aerys yelling “burn them all,” which is what happened right before he killed Bran’s grandfather and uncle, and before Jaime stabbed him in the back. This ties in very nicely to my theory that it’s Bran that causes this course of events. I’m a genius.
For the rest of the season, things are starting to come into place, in my opinion. I think I know where everything’s going to end up. Jon, Sansa, Davos, and Brienne are headed to Riverrun to recruit their uncle the Blackfish to their cause. The Freys are headed back to Riverrun with Edmure Tully in tow in order to demand the surrender of the Blackfish. Now, Jaime is on his way to team up with Bronn before heading to Riverrun to also demand the surrender of the Blackfish. There’s also a chance that Ramsay could be going there for the same reason, bringing Rickon along as leverage. Littlefinger vowed to help Sansa, so maybe he’s going to follow her to Riverrun. Seeing a pattern here? All paths lead to Riverrun, and everyone seems to be on a different side. I think this will be our big episode nine story for the season, since most of the craziness tends to happen in the penultimate episode, with the finale acting as cleanup. This could all end with Jaime and Brienne being reunited, before being captured by the Brotherhood without Banners. That would leave the Lady Stoneheart reveal for the end of the season, which would be completely awesome.
Overall, this episode kind of failed to execute on a lot of things that were set up earlier in the season. Sam’s trip home had little impact, Arya’s journey with the Faceless Men appears to be over without her finishing the trials, and the secret plan to free Margaery was over before it began. Also, Ramsay has been getting too little attention for the intrigue that his story brings, in my opinion. Still, this was an exciting episode, and the new trajectories of the characters will mean big things for the remainder of the season. Let’s just hope that we get a break from King’s Landing.