The plots in this season's
Game of Thrones
have been rocketing along in the far north and far east, and this episode was no exception, with the long-running and cold-handed mystery of Benjen Stark's fate finally revealed, while Daenerys gets to use her fiercest and meanest dragon as the most awesome prop for a political speech ever.
But the stories in Braavos and King's Landing have been glacial in comparison, and while the latest episode takes some significant steps forward, there is still a long way to go.
Arya's story this year has consisted mainly of being hit in the head and being told she wasn't ready for great mysteries, and now she has finally turned away from the nihilistic philosophy of the Faceless Men, just like we all knew she would. When she couldn't give up her sword, there was no chance she would ever gave up her name. She's still a long, long way from home, and still needs to get out of Braavos alive, but might be able to hitch a ride back west with the actors. It's about time Arya got moving again.
The scenes involving the High Sparrow in King's Landing have also been a drag on the season, with interminable scenes of his false humility and blatant hypocrisy. His religious insurgency looked to be coming to a head this week, with the army turning out to force a bloody retribution, but the High Sparrow won the day with his power of passive aggression, and showed there were a few more chapters to go before anything is getting resolved here.
There are only four more episodes to go in the season, and the past two episodes have been clearly setting the stage for the usual end-of-season pyrotechnics. This stories have been boiling away for a while, and it's time to serve them up.
Cameron McMillan: There have been some great TV dads: Danny Tanner, Michael Bluth, Philip Banks and Heathcliff Huxtable. But Thrones certainly hasn't come close to adding to this list. Oberyn Martell probably had potential but we never saw him packing lunches for the Sand Snakes. Jamie has shown glimpses. Ned taught his kids a few valuable lessons but he then lost his head in front of his daughters. That's not good dadding. Neither is Balon Greyjoy (led a war which killed two sons, shunned his other son), Stannis Baratheon (led a war which killed his son, also burnt his daughter at the stake), Roose Bolton (initially shunned his son, who then killed him), Tywin Lannister (shunned his son, who then killed him), Walder Frey (general prick), or Robert Baratheon (drunk). Mace Tyrell let his kids sit in imprisonment for a decent time before finally attempting to do something in last night's episode. It seems he may have at least hugged them when they were young.
We met the latest Thrones dad last night in Randyll Tarly who joins Frey in the 'general prick' category*. He's a bad father to Samwell, having disowned him and sending him to the wall at the start of the series. He showed during the frosty dinner scene that his opinion hasn't changed - calling Sam fat and disowning him a second time. Randyll also called his other son Dickon. Classic bad dad move.
* Funnily enough actor James Faulkner played a similar role in Downton Abby as Lord Sinderly.
Rachel Bache: Did anyone else catch that? That little glimpse at the beginning of the episode while Bran was trapped in his warg-state? Yes, that was the Mad King, telling everyone to "burn them all".
It was just a spilt second, but it could have just proven the fan theory that Bran - and his reckless wargging - is what drove the Mad King mad with images of White Walkers and Wights in need of a good charring. Also, having Benjen return as Coldhands (a mysterious character who features in the books) confirms another fan theory that was at first debunked by George RR Martin himself. There are definitely going to be a lot of smug Thrones fans on Reddit right now. The revelation was so cinematically satisfying, especially after not seeing Benjen since the first season and not really having a definitive answer on what happened to the Stark, until now. Hopefully the addition of Benjen to team Bran will help Bran make the most of his new status as the Three Eyed Raven.
I must say, it was lovely to see Gilly all scrubbed up and Sam stick it to his dad (after the fact) by taking off with the family's Valerian steel sword. We all know that's going to come in handy later on.
Also, no Tommen! Just no. Why must you be so easily manipulated by the bloody High Sparrow?! Can't you tell that this is all going to end in a very, very bad way for you? Fingers crossed that Queen Margery has something up her sleeves. She's obviously playing a part to get herself and her brother out of this bad situation, and once she has, maybe she can pull some strings to make the High Sparrow go away ... Anyone have some of that poisoned wine left over from season four?
Chris Schulz: I was in quite the pickle. I'd been busy cooking dinner, with Game of Thrones switched on in the background. But something wasn't right. I'd braised the meat, and it looked medium-rare and delicious. I'd simmered some greens so they had that perfect combination of softness and crunchiness.
And I'd baked some potatoes, squashing them halfway through, sprinkling them with rosemary and drizzling them with olive oil to give them that "smashed look".
But it wasn't enough. My meal needed something else, something to set it off. I racked my brain, scanning through every 15 Minute Meals memory I had to work out what it was I needed to fix things. I was stumped, backed into a corner. I had chef's block.
Then, not for the first time, Game of Thrones came to the rescue.
There was Bran. There was Meera. They were peckish after their daring White Walker army escape. And there was Benjen Stark, getting his Jamie Oliver ish on and coming to the rescue. Benjen was a chef on a mission, delicately preparing a deliciously fresh rabbit jus for his hungry guests.
I looked at the screen and I had one thought: This is perfect! That's just what I needed to set off my steak. Thank you Game of Thrones for providing cooking inspo. Now, if I can just remember the ingredients ...
All hail queen Arya. The most badass Stark has returned. Never mind all this nonsense about nameless men and peeling people's faces off, there's nothing quite like re-living the crimes committed against your family to remind you of your mission.
When fake Joffrey died on stage and Arya stood there laughing, I knew she was back. And when she talked to that player about how her character should seek revenge rather than just being sad, I knew Arya would be whipping that list back out and getting back to work.
Watching her pull that sword out from its hiding place was just as powerful a moment as Dany getting back on her dragon - it's a reacquainting with a former self and a reclaiming of power (yes, I am way too invested in this show).
And can we also talk about Sam taking charge of his own destiny? Seeing that beautiful, kind man hunched over in shame at that table was heart breaking.
Sam might be the bravest character on this show because everything he's done has been for other people, no matter how terrified he is. He went north of the wall, killed a White Walker and ventured off to become a Maester, all for Jon you-know-nothing Snow. And he faced his father and took all that crap for Gilly and her child.
But when he burst back into that room and said they were leaving, it was the first thing he ever did for himself, and the first time he ever really took charge.
Here's to the underdogs taking charge and proving you don't need a dragon, an army, or a witch to do it.